07/01 Direct Link
My friend's child's kindergarten class is doing a fun activity called "Coming to America" about ancestors coming to Ellis Island; they'll pretend they're actually arriving as immigrants long ago. I can't help but think--what about African American kindergarteners? Surely the school wouldn't want them pretending to arrive in America, forcibly separated from families, chained sardine-close in ships, doomed to lives of backbreaking labor under the whip? I wonder if the teacher thought about this; probably none of the kids are African American. Not the teacher's fault--just shows how lives of African Americans and whites are only similar to a point.
07/02 Direct Link
I watched the family members speak forgiveness to the one who killed their loved ones; one relative even counselled the killer to repent and find God and "You'll be better off." My God. This is the essence of Christianity, the best example I've ever seen of how love is so, so much stronger than hate and I feel ashamed of my grudges. Don't know if I'll ever go to church again--my last experience is a boulder that I don't know if I'll ever be able to move. But I can pray and try to have my life be a prayer.
07/03 Direct Link
When I was in high school, I wrote a paper about "South Pacific," and I remember reading the liner notes on the soundtrack album cover. They said that the Caucasian heartthrob broke up with his Asian girlfriend because of "cultural differences." What? Had the writer actually seen the movie? The song "You've Got to be Taught" is one of the greatest anthems against racial prejudice, and the movie shows Nellie's journey from rejecting her soul mate because his late wife was Asian and he had Asian children, to realizing her biases were idiotic and fully embracing Emile and his children.
07/04 Direct Link
Taking the bus memories:

One time, we left a Little Golden Book or Dr. Seuss on the Belmont bus; the next day, the driver waved, waited for us to cross the street. He'd saved the book for us!

One time, reading T a Boxcar Children book, a woman paused before getting off: "You are a good mother. God bless you."

Once, when my son was tantrumming--maybe we didn't have seats, maybe he hadn't earned a gold start that morning--and everybody was directing dirty looks my direction, one woman stopped and said, "They're not parents. They don't understand." God bless her.
07/05 Direct Link
Seventy degrees and I feel torn--to be out enjoying sunshine, or to type on my Chromebook at Dunkin' Donuts with pop songs and the music of companionable chatter in the background? Tomorrow it'll be forty, a fellow customer warns. I worry, have I wasted rare spring warmth? But I sip green tea flavored with peach, listen to friendly tones and wouldn't want to waste this either. I remember J.K. Rowling's words about the joy of entering a coffee shop with a notebook, feel reassured that I'm not alone in this love of playing with words, even on a gorgeous day.
07/06 Direct Link
Our 17-year-old calicoes

Snooze in windowsill sunshine

Lie almost touching on couch pillows.

(In younger days they'd hiss

Whenever a few inches apart.)

Do they finally remember

Their beginnings?

The shelter?

Other litter mates?

At night, H sleeps by my head

Daytime she brings me socks

Gifts, maybe?

Despite L's arthritis

She still tries to sneak out

Wants to be first in the window

Demands to be lifted to the sill

Twice a day I squirt medicine in their mouths

Twice a year, we carry them to the vet for blood work

Never want their golden cat years to end
07/07 Direct Link
The subway conductor doesn't just let the automatic voice do the talking, but announces each stop and tells us to have a nice day, a great day, it's our choice, so make it a wonderful one, he encourages, at this stop we can connect to the renowned Navy Pier, do we know that Chicago has a zillion museums and universities, do we know that today is to be sunny and in the fifties, enjoy, spring finally here! I smile and look about for kindred spirits. Most are staring expressionlessly straight ahead, but just a few hide or display wide smiles.
07/08 Direct Link
I want to buy a birthday card for my brother that says "brother," but most talk of childhood memories. My brother and I didn't share pillow or snowball fights or tattle on each other--when we met, he was 22, I was 30. Yet my son says we have the same gait; we're both writers; both our foreheads are broad. Now I'm turning 60, he's turning 52. We've accrued memories, though not Hallmark ones. He and his wife stayed with me every night when I was in the hospital; I take his kids to museums. It's OK we missed pillow fights.
07/09 Direct Link
I first learned the word "yuppie" in 1984. E and I were out sipping drinks after work of a Friday night and she told me it stood for "young urban professional." It's come to mean more than that--it's not the youth or the urban or the professional as much as a certain attitude of liking nice things and feeling entitled to nice things and bulldozing into a neighborhood of families or less-well-off folks and molding it to suit the desire for nice things, or developers watching and seeing the yuppies invade and setting up Starbucks and Jamba Juices for them.
07/10 Direct Link
The woman walks down the street with a cane, expression determined, propelling herself forwards with the cane's support. Only a few years ago I would have felt sympathy, detected weakness, labeling her old and disabled because of the cane. But that was then. After two total knee replacement surgeries, after being home bound awaiting the surgeries, canes are now symbols of strength to me. Using a cane to get around beats staying home and shutting yourself off from life for fear of falling; it takes much more courage to go places than when you have no need for a cane.
07/11 Direct Link
My grandmother spoke of Sinn Fein and the Troubles; at her knee she told me of how the English took over Ireland, and how unfair that was. Her sister still talked of famine deaths and bragged of scolding Liverpool airport workers about deaths over a hundred years ago as though the young person bore responsibility or approved of the English exporting grain while Irish babies died. Gran and Auntie P. got drunk on whiskey and sangria playing come-all-ye's; I had to summon Uncle D. to give me and his inebriated mother a ride home, his face blank with frustrated disappro
07/12 Direct Link
On the bus I make the horrendous error of choosing to exit the back door--the bus sardine crowded, it looked like the path was clearer that way. I said "Excuse me" but that wasn't enough for one woman. "Why is SHE going out the back door? Sitting right up front, but SHE goes out the back door!" I respond, "Because it looked clearer." But she continues complaining about the terrible SHE. The Irish in me rises; as I push out the door, I call, "Thank you for your kindness." Later I realize, I'm sad, not angry--why did she embarrass me?
07/13 Direct Link
In the women's locker room at the Y, an ivory thank you card is taped to the mirror underneath the hair dryers at the sink: "Dear YMCA Ladies and Gents, Thanks for coming out to remember our mom--you meant so much to her--" and I think of how community sprouts, a routine of swimming or being part of an exercise class forging connections, and people known mostly in sweats dressing up and wearing black to honor friendship. And as I write now at the nearby Dunkin' Donuts, three people at a nearby table chat about Y lessons and exercise machines.
07/14 Direct Link
My brother C sends us pictures and a report of his road trip, similar to the one he went on in 1978 with our brother D; he describes how he scattered D's ashes near where they stayed in Arizona. In 1978, I didn't know C or D or any of my half siblings, but I was on a road trip through the Southwest, too, traveling with a fellow UFW volunteer to California. Funny to think our cars could have passed. If C hadn't bothered to look me up one cold January evening in 1983, our lives would have passed by, too.
07/15 Direct Link
What does it mean to be Irish? So the advertisement for an MA program at Dublin City University asks. Can you be Irish if your skin isn't white? My son is as Irish as my cousin--he's half Irish, she's half Irish--yet she is welcomed at Irish events, my son gets stares. Can you be Irish if the family you grew up with distances themselves from you, and later you reciprocate, because of your mother's illness? But maybe that--the shutting down of emotions, the pretence to be "normal" no matter what--to be "lace curtain" Irish instead of shanty Irish--is very Irish.
07/16 Direct Link
Glaucoma hurtles towards me, like an oncoming train with me a damsel in distress but with no movie star hero waiting to rescue me. Unless you consider glaucoma drops heroic. Sometimes they work for years, sometimes they don't. The doctor will let me know at my next semi-annual visit if I need them. Will I eventually go blind? I work with blind people, for God's sake, who are very accomplished and independent. But am I as strong as they? Will it still be easy to write? Will I get so angry and crabby that I'll alienate everybody who loves me?
07/17 Direct Link
I haven't written in two weeks, not since I learned that J, my son's childhood best friend, was shot over Fourth of July weekend. A number in newspaper headlines, but the child I remember watching Friday nights while his mom worked. I remember he and my son, age ten, playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, gleefully designing rules to torment imaginary guests, having deep conversations at the hot dog place about being biracial, about being in a single parent household. One time the boys presented both us moms with single roses. Yet now he's gone, his casket solemnly carried into the church.
07/18 Direct Link
I see fellow white Facebook friends post stuff like "Blue Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter" and wonder what in the world they are thinking. Do they truly not know of all the incidents where Black lives have been snuffed out by cops for nothing, with no charges even pressed? In the Sun-Times, one letter writer self-righteously says that the best way to avoid getting shot by a cop is to make it very clear that you're a "good guy." But this isn't the stereotypical Wild West, and cops aren't supposed to execute anyone they suspect isn't a "good guy."
07/19 Direct Link
A writers' discussion board question: Have you prayed for people after promising prayers? Um, good question. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What is prayer? Is it actual words in my head, directed to God? Or is it a kind deed, a friendly word, a smile directed towards someone? Does God accept these substitutes? Does God realize our intention to pray, or is He/She a stern taskmaster, only listening to more formal requests? Could he maybe be "Daddy," an endearment truer to the word used in the original Biblical Aramaic, loving and indulgent to his kids and getting that they're just kids?
07/20 Direct Link
What made me happy today?

Talking with my son about racism. No, racism isn't a happy thing, but I'm so glad my biracial son feels comfy enough with me to talk about what he experiences and thinks.

Memories. I miss our cat H, whom we had to put to sleep yesterday, so she wouldn't be in pain, but what a nice 17 years we had with her.

Sending block party/game day invites to friends and family.

Summer weather, no sweater necessary (although I still tie one about my waist, protection against too-cold air conditioning)

Writing at Dunkin' Donuts, free WiFi.
07/21 Direct Link
A meal with family when growing up: Depends when. When Gran and Uncle D lived with us on B Street, when I was little, Sunday dinners were formal, with salads with tomatoes and a white linen table cloth, with leaves extending the mahogany table; for some reason I remember a toaster fire, the fire department coming out. But Uncle D got married and left, we moved, my mother's mental illness flared up, Gran moved away, and meals were solitary and not particularly tasty, and thank God for books to distract me from my mother's cursed screams against her dismal life.
07/22 Direct Link
Yesterday my son and I took our cat H to the vet to have her "put to sleep." A euphemism, yet, as the vet put the needle in her vein, H lay on the blanketed exam table, peaceful, seeming to be falling asleep until the vet, checking with stethoscope, said, "She's gone." Said we could stay as long as we liked, but her little furry body now just a shell. They made a clay paw print for us to bake. We walked home, my son carrying the empty carrier. It was her time; she's been withering away. Still...I miss her.
07/23 Direct Link
We had H put to sleep this morning. It was time; she started hiding last night, always a sign of pain. She'd been losing weight over the last few months, but we wanted to give her enough time, so that we weren't snatching life that she wanted away from her, A week before, her routine was the same, she was just tinier. But last week, she lost half a pound and now could barely get around our small apartment. It was time. The procedure was peaceful; she was injected, fell asleep, though she would never wake up. I miss her.
07/24 Direct Link
The 27th will be the 13th anniversary of my last conversation with M. She called me early on a Saturday morning, waking me up; thank God I didn't groggily ask to call her back. It was an upbeat, cheery chat; her last words: she'd try to call me later that day. She never did, never could. Kind soul that she was, she didn't let me know how ill she was, that her cancer was beyond chemo or radiation or other "cure." I was a pest, calling and leaving too many messages her husband and best friend had to sift through.
07/25 Direct Link
What I've learned while learning to swim at the Y:

-If you're dealing with endurance and fear issues, try half laps in the deep end. While you're improving your endurance, you can tackle your fear in manageable doses.

-Over time, you get used to the fear and you're not so afraid.

-It's OK to spit.

-Breathe out bubbles underwater, and then turn your head and gulp in air.

-Use a little travel-size shampoo bottle, and then keep refilling it from a big bottle. I like Pert; see which brand works for you.

-Nobody cares if you're fat at the Y.
07/26 Direct Link
It's impossible to appreciate anything enough; anything we enjoy today is transitory, from health to our own lives to the lives of people we love. I immerse myself in a mystery book on my Nook while outside neighborhood sights fly by--from the Serbian restaurant to some sort of event with canopied stands at the park to the cheery yellow Golden Nugget sign to leaves and blue sky and St. B's tower in the distance. But even if I put down my Nook and inhale all these images, knowing with my family history I'll be blind someday, how to appreciate enough?
07/27 Direct Link
I hate that race separates me from my son; that we are automatically seen as being different. I hate the guilt, knowing I automatically have it easier; hate seeing the cashier's eyes narrow when she sees my Black son, assuming my upstanding son is up to no good because he has more melanin in his skin. I hate the fear I anticipate when he gets his driver's license, subject then to stops by racist cops. Thank God my son is laid back, unlikely to Sandra Bland-like speak his mind--but why the hell shouldn't he be able to speak his mind?
07/28 Direct Link
Every Saturday A calls me, to practice using her cell phone so she won't forget how to use it; she only uses it for emergencies, like when J is in the hospital, or when she and J take the bus to visit her sister. Then I call her back on the regular phone--why waste minutes, and besides, we both don't hear well on cell phones--and read the TV guide to her, especially what's on Channel 11. She especially likes Doc Martin. Yup, I guess we have a mother-daughter relationship; her daughter, who in life was my bestfriend, would be happy.
07/29 Direct Link
T is out of town with his best friend's family. Part of me is happy that he has such great friends, but part of me is jealous. I wish I were married and had enough money to treat T's friends to out-of-state vacations. I haven't even been able to afford having an out-of-town vacation with my son; instead, we have going-to-Sox-games stay-cations. Of course, the rational me realizes that money is far from everything, and that we have a hell of a lot more than a lot of people, and I was blessed to send him to Catholic school. Still...
07/30 Direct Link
I read "Go Set a Watchman"; three words that come to mind are "engrossing, disturbing, realistic." Couldn't put it down. But very disturbing, the n-word used nonstop; even Scout, aghast at realizing her father's racism, used it as a matter of course. And Scout, upset that her father didn't look at African Americans as fellow human beings, still thought they were inferior to white people. But the racist views depicted in the book were probably common in that time and place. How I wish Lee had let Scout grow even more. Better, I wish she'd let Calpurnia speak much more.
07/31 Direct Link
Some Favorite Things:

-watching Perry Mason on Friday nights

-having game days with family and friends

-lunchtime 7-11 walks

-writing at Dunkin' Donuts to pop music, drinking flavored decaf

-calling A every night

-sending T good morning emails when he's away

-going to Sox games with my son

-reading mysteries on my Nook

-finding a new flavor of tea (red velvet chocolate!)

-getting published

-reading my stuff at a launch party

-having cats

-Bruce Springsteen

-Pandora radio

-summer days where you feel blanketed with sunshine and warmth

-hot chocolate in winter


-the blue chlorine smell of the YMCA pool