02/01 Direct Link
Blizzard. Facebook friends chat: "Thank God for FB!" happy to connect from solitude, be it house or apartment, living alone or in the midst of family or roommates. Icicles cover my kitchen window, and outside wind blows at 40 or so miles per hour. My son calls to tell me that from his twelfth floor dorm window, he can see "thunder snow"--lightning streaks amidst the flurries. Already snow comes halfway up my basement kitchen window. For the first time I can remember in my 55 years, Chicago will come to a complete stop tomorrow, schools, businesses, and agencies closed.
02/02 Direct Link
When you work at home, you don't get snow days, but it's worth it to be able to write at your own desk and have felines for company, and to brew your own flavor and brand of coffee and listen to your own station while wearing sweatshirt and jeans--or even PJs!

Of course, there's no water cooler, no chitchat about the Bears or Sox or Cubs, no joining in potluck lunches, no idle chitchat about the weather except via email--not the same. And sometimes neighborhood people don't believe that you actually do work; the 7-11 guy thinks I'm retired.
02/03 Direct Link
Words come so slowly and I'm never sure how to revise. I tend to write until I'm stuck and then take a break, and then when I come back, I know what the character is thinking or what he or she will say or do. I give my subconscious a chance to have a vote. Still, when I realize that M. and I planned to finish our drafts by June 15, that doesn't give me a lot of time with this approach--even a chapter a week won't do it, not to mention critiquing the works of my fellow KC members.
02/04 Direct Link
"Aren't you lucky--you don't have to shovel," the neighbor says, shovel in hand by her car. I'm heading for my lunchtime walk--she probably thinks I'm retired, watching ME-TV all day and drinking hot chocolate. I wish I could wear a hat that proclaims, "I telecommute!"

But I smile. "I'm lucky not to have a car right now--need any help?"

I'd never tell E, "Your lucky you don't have money problems." Or tell that neighbor, "You're lucky you have a husband."

My bestfriend J. never said, "You're lucky you can walk." M. never said, "You're lucky you can see and hear.""
02/05 Direct Link
At the KAIROS welcome home ceremony, each kid got up, one at a time, on stage and spoke directly to their family members; lots of sobbing and Kleenex.

T. simply said that he thought about his dad a lot during the retreat--all the other kids were talking about dads--but whenever he did he thought of me, and I was more than a mom, I was his dad, I was his best friend, and I had made him the person he was today.

Very beautiful.

Then, home, we ordered Pizza Hut for our before-test ritual--he had ACTs the next day.
02/06 Direct Link
"I've never had a wonderful birthday," she says to her fellow barista. "I'd really like a surprise party--"

"We should throw you one!" the other barista says, amidst filling a cup with steaming water for an Americano order. He is an older man, and the younger woman flicks her mouth into a polite smile. Of course she wants a young handsome man to do the planning and would rather do without than have this guy, pleasant as he is, take charge.

"Yes, but I'm asking for one. Not the same. Not a surprise." She squirts whipped cream on a latte.
02/07 Direct Link
The article on the brain is depressing. Your brain is at the height of its power from age 22 to 27, but then it's "downhill all the way." It gets worse--in a list of suggestions, people age 65 and over are to eat chocolate, almonds, and yogurt to "avoid grumpiness." I would love to shove this article in the writer's face when he or she turns 65 and see what he or she thinks then! I wonder, though--I read about a study that found fewer cases of Alzheimer's in countries that respect age. People of all ages live up--or down--to expectations.
02/08 Direct Link
Daisy sits on the counter, watching me, probably lonely for T. Yet I know that if I pet her, she'll bite me. She's like a two-year-old, wanting attention--and what cat plays catch? But she runs, excited, if I throw a bottle cap, and she'll bring it to me in her teeth and look up at me with those yellow eyes and wait. T. thinks she bites because of her "bad kittenhood"--the shelter found her, abandoned, in the streets--and he calls her Daisy Fisher, after Antoine Fisher, the real-life hero of a movie bearing his name, who survived abuse, too.
02/09 Direct Link
I sit here and feel content. My son came home to write a paper; he's just back from Walgreen's, getting an energy drink to help him through what may be an all-nighter. I hear Daisy playing with the belled toy that came with Helinda's hyperthyroid medication.

This weekend T. is going to visit friends at C. College. I'm happy he has such a nurturing group of buddies; I love hearing laughter from their Skype sessions. I'll miss him--I won't see him this weekend--but that makes me grateful that I do see him most weekends, that he likes to visit.
02/10 Direct Link
What makes a family? My half-siblings and I met as adults, yet my son says "You and Uncle J. even walk the same way!" My sister-in-law S. insists, "You're an O. I'm not saying it's a good thing, I'm not saying it's a bad thing--you're an O.!" I share the O. sense of humor, which isn't all it's cracked up to be. (See what I mean?) Blood means something.

And yet, there's A., F's mom. F., my bestfriend, died in 1998; since then, A. and I have adopted each other. I call her daily, and she introduces me as her daughter.
02/11 Direct Link
M.M. looks at M.'s photo. "She was beautiful."

"What difference does that make?" I ask. M. was my best friend and I miss her every day--but what difference would it have made if she'd been ugly as Frankenstein's monster? Would she have been a worse friend?

"But she was," M.M. insists.

"But what difference does it make?"

M.M. changes the subject.

T. says, well, humans are biologically programmed to think beauty equals goodness, as beauty often equals health, which is good when you're choosing a mate. A mate, sure--but a friend?

Emphasis on beauty--something you have no control over--irks me.
02/12 Direct Link
C. gripped the telephone receiver: "Hello?" She prayed to a God she doubted existed that the person at the other end wouldn't hear her dad's curses. Their apartment was so small, and her father paced the floor, fuming; "You and that damn college--living there--going to be a whore like your mother!"

If only whoever it was on the phone didn't hear…

"Yes--this is C.M.--" Could it be--she'd only filled out the application last week. She needed this job--her scholarship didn't cover everything…

"Ms. M.? Sergeant G. from the F. Museum. Good news! We'd like you to start on Monday."
02/13 Direct Link
I look like a bum in this yuppie Starbucks, but it's on the way home from church, and I want time to focus on R and the Cousins without temptation of checking email or updating my Facebook status or even (not sure this is temptation) doing dishes or taking out garbage. I fell on ice three times walking from All Saints to Damen; the bottom of my jeans, knee down, are dirty and wet, plus the back of my coat. But my Starbucks neighbors aren't perfect either; the barista comes by with a mop after the dad spills his entire latte.
02/14 Direct Link
Dr. C's son comes in the eye clinic and is welcomed like royalty--no waiting room for him, the doctor of his choice to check his eye.

What a difference parentage makes. At a family gathering, when I identified myself to a second cousin, she jumped, giggled nervously. I don't usually talk about my mother's mental illness.

I remember M., a cashier at the art museum, who saw nothing wrong with the caste system between rich and poor. (She called free day "garbage day.")

"It's not fair," I said.

M. disagreed. "Accident of birth--what can be fairer than that?"
02/15 Direct Link
Why I Feel Sad…

- T.'s back at school. I miss him. I hope he knows I miss him; the other day, he said he thinks A.'s folks miss A. more…

- Dear Abby letters today came down hard on fat folks--we should be confronted, just like smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts are, about our evil unhealthy ways.

- Yesterday was Valentine's Day.

- Writing goes slowly, and my brain doesn't think in terms of plot and structure.

- I have no idea how I'll get out of debt; I feel guilty for indulging in flavored decaf and White Sox tickets.
02/16 Direct Link
Procrastination. A good friend sends me a link to a site showing the state of Illinois owes me a little money--somewhere between ten and one hundred bucks--so I go on a hunt through a mishmash of papers, looking for proof of old addresses, for divorce papers proving change of last name--I'm unhyphenated now. I find a W-2 and a bank statement, so I'm good. Then I decide to search for email receipts for T.'s college textbooks, getting ready for Saturday's tax appointment. Should have worked on my novel revision first, while I was feeling fresh and creative. Now I'm tired.
02/17 Direct Link
My Irish Catholic ancestors are not easy in their graves--I went to an Episcopalian church yesterday and plan to go back, definitely for Christmas or Christmas Eve--whichever my son prefers. I may go to other events--maybe the longest day service would be fun, or caroling. Every Tuesday night they operate a soup kitchen (to complaints of yuppie neighbors), and I told the priest that I'd be happy to come by and help wash dishes.

In this church, a woman can be--and is--a priest--and people asked my name and welcomed me by name to the communion table. Yes, I'll be back.
02/18 Direct Link
Why do I socialize with people I don't trust? I chat with S., telling her about my move to an Episcopal church. She said a friend goes there--yikes! Will S. follow me? S. soured my choir experience at B.'s--she relayed M.'s message that I'd better start coming to rehearsals. Had he really said it that roughly?

Once S. and I sang carols at H. Someone asked, "Who is that with the strong voice?" S. laughed, bragging about choir experience as though I weren't there.

My voice may have been strong; I wish I'd been strong and stood up for myself.
02/19 Direct Link
I constantly worry. Did I tip the cab driver enough? The fare was 4 something and I gave him 6. Maybe I should have given him 7. Yesterday at story studio they fed us Thai food--was I supposed to offer to pay something? I didn't see anybody else offer--but still…Shouldn't I at least have brought something?

T. would shrug all these anxious thoughts off and turn to a baseball or hockey or basketball or football game. M. would shrug and say, "He/She/They'll get over it."

Funny. In my novels, my characters shrug too much--but I need to learn to shrug more.
02/20 Direct Link
I first read Betty's Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" when I was 14, but it is still my favorite book, and its characters are still my friends--Francie and Neeley, their mom and alcoholic dad and Aunt Sissy, Kate's saintly mother and evil father, and the teacher who doesn't "get it" when Francie, after her dad's death, begins turning in morbid stories instead of waxing eloquent about the joys of nature.

That teacher was an idiot--why the hell didn't she ask Francie, "Is everything OK at home?" But humans are often idiots--we never fully reach our highest principles--
02/21 Direct Link
How young I felt, sitting on the grass of Deering Meadow, luxuriating in dandelions, piercing their stems and feeling the smooth sweet liquid that smelled of spring, sunlight bathing my arms. Yet how alone I felt--much more alone than I feel now that my son is off living on a college campus himself. He is my son and loves me--and I have relatives now who love me, half-siblings and nieces and nephews--and friends who email me daily. Back then, almost as a mantra, I proclaimed the joys of aloneness--still I was always combating a hollow feeling.
02/22 Direct Link
M. says that if you're from an alcoholic home, the instability makes you doubt that stability exists. You're always going to mess something up--if you make a friend, somehow you'll alienate that person. You get a fabulous new job, you'll find a way to lose it. Good luck is not to be trusted. I think being from a home where your mom is mentally ill gives you the same problem, because your life is just as chaotic. I remember evictions, especially the one when I was ten and the sheriff's men pushed our couch out the window of our basement apartment.
02/23 Direct Link
When people refer to the Arizona shooter in terms like nutcase, deranged, or whacko, I cringe. Of course I despise what I did--but how much control did he have over his own actions? Was he grasped by the demons of mental illness--a sickness we fear so much that we stigmatize its victims? Studies show that criminals are accepted more readily than people with mental illness.

I grew up with a mentally ill mother. She'd been hospitalized and given shock treatment three years before I was born; years later, a counselor said her diagnosis was schizotipo, a personality disorder resembling schizophrenia.
02/24 Direct Link
I hope T. calls me this evening; I feel bad that yesterday, when he asked, "Did I wake you?" I was honest and said yes and said I'd talk for a few minutes and then get back to bed. But later he teased me about making him feel like a bother. At least, I hope he was just teasing! Now that he's back living in a dorm I need to appreciate his calls and be happy when he takes time out from dorm life to call his mom. The apartment is so quiet and the cats look at me: "Where's T?"
02/25 Direct Link
Favorite Books:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

Range of Motion, by Elizabeth Berg

A Circle of Friends, by Maeve Binchy

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster

If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland

02/26 Direct Link
Some fellow writers don't like my character R., wanting her to be more active, aggressive, maybe--she's not "edgy." But my friends all love R., many exclaiming, "I was R.!"

R. is eleven, recuperating from being bullied, still getting over her mother's death. R. is trying to survive, and she's learned that the more she yells back at the bullies, the more they laugh and discover even more creative ways to taunt her. So she walks quickly, not trusting that footsteps behind her might be those of a friend, but more likely a kid getting ready to throw snowballs or words.
02/27 Direct Link
I drink coffee these days the way I used to guzzle Diet Rite as a child. I suspect coffee connects me to my late father, who bought me fancy Krups and Bunn coffeepots and introduced me to almond-flavored coffee during a long-ago visit.

Of course, for years I was furious, once cursing his abandonment to my friend E. and her husband.

"Don't, " she urged me, "you sound--bitter."

But I was bitter; he'd abandoned me to a childhood of abuse.

Yet, later, he tried to make it up to me. Of course he couldn't--but I loved him because he tried.
02/28 Direct Link
Daisy sits atop my computer monitor, glancing down at the moving lines of print and sniffing, her whiskers quivering. What does she think, feel? Does she feel a prisoner unable to leave this apartment, or does she relish the cozy spots--the warm monitor, the laundry basket--and does the beauty outside our kitchen window suffice? Although it's probably not the beauty she enjoys, but the sight of scampering squirrels, sparrows, and pigeons. Are the bottle cap catch games we play actually fun for her, or is she just obeying instinct as she runs and brings the cap back in her teeth?