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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gracie Girl

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, I chose the topic, and I asked everyone to write about a time music touched their very soul.  Here’s my take:

            My Five Loyal Readers know me well enough to make an educated guess that I’m going to write about Bon Jovi.  I certainly could write about the way in which Bon Jovi music has touched me, again and again and again.  I could fill many posts.  Hell, I could write a book.

            But not today.  No, this post goes out to Ben Folds, a musician I rarely talk about, someone whom I don’t follow, someone I’ve seen live exactly twice – and only because he was a co-headliner with someone I do follow, Rufus Wainwright. 

            So, a little background.  I love music.  Love it.  I’m partial to rock, but I will listen to anything once.  I’m not one to say I hate an entire a genre; sure, I’m not a huge fan of current pop music, but you’ll find some Robin Thicke on my iPod, and I kinda like that one Taylor Swift song.  I take songs and artists as they come.  Hell, I’ve even got a soft spot in my heart for Bro Country and all things Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.  Mock if you must; I like what I like.

            Many years ago, I stumbled upon the music of Rufus Wainwright.  He’d recorded a cover of He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother) for the Shrek soundtrack, which I bought for my eldest, who was then my only.  I absolutely loved Rufus’ voice.  The depth is incredible.  He’s also a talented pianist, guitarist, and songwriter.  I bought his then-current CD and the ones that came before, and I became a fast fan. 

            I happily bought a ticket to see Rufus during his Want One tour, and it was worth every penny.  A few years later, he came to Ravinia, just down the road from my home in Chicago, and I again bought tickets.  This time, Rufus split his stage time with Ben Folds, each using only a piano to play their songs.  I’d never before heard Ben Folds, and I enjoyed him.  His songs were gentle and well written, but I took a particular shine to a song entitled, simply, Gracie.  The song was written for Ben Folds’ daughter.  It’s sweet and funny and I love it – because I, too, have a Gracie.

            I don’t like to use my young kids’ names when I post or Facebook, but many of you know my kids and know that my 12 is named Grace.  When she was little, on her own volition, she started calling herself Gracie.  She would walk up and introduce her little self and say, “Hi, I’m Gracie!”  We went with it – why not?  So, of course, Ben Folds song made me smile, and I went out and bought his CD so I could play it for her.  (She, being a toddler, of course, could not have cared less.)

            Several years after I saw Ben Folds at Ravinia, Grace’s doctor suggested we take her for some testing, as he suspected she had Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism.  The process took three or four months from start to finish and involved numerous visits to a major medical center in Chicago.  I can’t say the process was hard, because it wasn’t, but it was stressful, because an autism diagnosis – even one of mild autism – is scary and life changing.  But even in the face of the fear, we did what we were told to do, starting with our first consult in September or October, through the final diagnosis at the end of the year.

            The diagnostic process finished with a parent/doctor consult at the hospital in mid-December.  We left Gracie at school and climbed into the car to drive the ten or so miles to the medical center.  My husband and I were both nervous, for the same reason.  We knew what we were about to hear; the tests had really been more of a means of having an official diagnosis and advice as to therapies.  We handled our stress similarly, neither wanting to talk about what we knew we’d hear until after we heard it.  Neither of us wanted to talk about much of anything, really, and so Jerry turned on the radio to distract himself while he drove. 

            Unfortunately, he’d turned on something God-awful (we don’t have similar musical tastes), and I knew ‘80s Chicago songs were going to make me more tense, not less.   So, I pulled out my iPhone and plugged in my earphones and Shuffled my music, trying to calm myself down.

            And then Gracie came on.  And then I ever so quickly turned Gracie off.

            I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t listen to it.  So full was my heart with fear and sadness and love, I simply could not bear to listen to the song that Ben Folds wrote for his own daughter, the song I’d long identified with my own.  I’m not much of a crier; I don’t like to cry and I didn’t want to cry then, for many reasons.  I didn’t want my husband more stressed out, and I didn’t want to walk into a meeting with messed up makeup.  I needed my wits about me.  Which meant I could not listen to that song at that moment.  

            In fact, it would be a long time before I could again listen to Gracie.  My Grace is coming up on her third anniversary of her diagnosis, and my views on autism have grown and changed.  I no longer feel the fear I once did (not that I have none, because I do).  More importantly, I’ve come to appreciate that my Gracie would not be the child I know and I love without the special wiring in her head.  I see the strengths and benefits autism imparts to her – and there are many.  Of course, I still see the struggles, but I try to focus more on the progress she’s made, the struggles she’s overcome, the incredibly strong young woman she’s turning into.

            I can listen to Gracie now, because I might tear up, but I’m no longer crying for the reasons I once would have.  I’m crying for the feelings every parent shares:  the pride in watching a child grow and change, the love that bursts your heart every now and then (when you aren’t wondering how you’re going to survive the ‘tween and teen years). 

            My husband says he can’t “hear” lyrics, and I feel badly for him.  Maybe that means he will be spared from the reactions I have when I hear a song that truly hits me in the heart, but that’s just sad.  How lucky am I that I can hear a string of sentences set to music by Ben Folds, and my heart can just open up and let go.  It’s not always desirable, but I cannot imagine living without that feeling.  The loss of that ability would be enough to make me cry.

            I’m guessing my words don’t do justice to the feelings inspired by Ben Folds’ song, or to his beautiful, clever words.  So, here’s a link to Gracie, along with the lyrics.  Try reading them in the context of my Gracie.  And try not to cry.  Or, better yet, go right ahead.

You can’t fool me, I saw you when you came out
You’ve got your momma’s taste, but you’ve got my mouth
And you will always have a part of me
No one else is ever gonna see
Gracie girl

With your cards to your chest, walking on your toes
What you got in the box only Gracie knows
And I would never try to make you be
Anything you didn’t really want to be, Gracie girl

Life flies by in seconds
You’re not a baby, Gracie, you’re my friend
You’ll be a lady soon, but until then
You gotta do what I say

You nodded off in my arms watching TV
I won’t move an inch even though my arm’s asleep
One day you’re gonna want to go
I hope we taught you everything you need to know
Gracie girl

And there will always be a part of me
No one else is ever gonna see but you and me
My little girl
My Gracie girl


Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Middle-Aged Woman and the Blog

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, Froggie chose the topic, and she asked:  How does your blogging differ from when you first started blogging?  Here’s my take:

            Although I had already set up my blog when Froggie invited me to join this group two years ago (wow!), I hadn’t posted a whole lot, mostly just stupid stuff I thought was funny, mixed with an occasional “thought piece” that probably wasn’t all that thoughtful.  I posted inconsistently and not very often, and mainly to amuse myself.

            I suppose the latter part hasn’t changed:  I still kind of amuse myself via blogging (or I sure try).  But my posts feel more thoughtful these days, largely because the topics chosen by my co-bloggers often require such depth.  I try to match the level of “heft” of the various topics, and I take a great deal of time writing each post (though it may not seem that way), likely more than it appears when reading my entries.  (I write and then re-write and then edit et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).  (Ten points if you get that reference.  See?  Still amusing myself.)  I take more pride in my blogging now, and that’s because I know that at least three people (my co-bloggers) read it, and that keeps me accountable.  Years ago, my Dad told me that all you have in life is your name and your credit rating.  As a former journalist, I took those words to heart whenever my byline would be attached to something I wrote that would be published in print.  (Also, I’m totally Type A.)  I didn’t feel quite that way when I first began blogging, as I saw the online endeavor as a “goof” – and because I had no idea if anyone would even read my stuff.  I do care more today and I do apply the “byline” rule, so in that way, my blogging has, indeed, changed.

            I also post more consistently now versus then.  I don’t have a perfect track record and have missed a week here and there, but there aren’t any six month-long gaps as there once were.  I could still use some work in this area, as my self-motivation seems lacking when not connected to the other bloggers.  This past summer, when the blogging group took a break, I didn’t post anything.  Not one single word.  I could have written whatever I wanted on whatever topic I chose, but I didn’t feel the urge.  More than once, a topic popped into my head, and I entertained the thought of actually writing about it but, somehow, the motivation never came.  I guess I prefer the challenge of writing on a topic suggested by someone else; I suppose both as a journalist and a lawyer, I’ve always worked off of an “assignment.”  Maybe that’s just easier for me, or maybe I’m just not creative enough to think of my own topics.  I don’t know.

            Froggie did not ask us to look forward in our blogging, but as I looked back, I could not help myself.  I began thinking about how I would like to change my blogging as I go on.  I would like to publish a few of my own posts, ones not connected to my co-bloggers.  I always have a lot to say (part of my charm) – why not reduce it to electronic paper?  Occasionally, I think of a topic that isn’t necessarily right for the blog group, and I have absolutely no reason not to write about it on my own.  So, there’s one goal.

            But more than that, I’d like to be more honest in my writing.  I do try to be true and open when I write, but I have found myself avoiding certain topics out of fear of offending someone who might read the post (I truly have no idea who reads my posts unless a comment is posted).  My natural desire to avoid confrontation coupled with my hopes to never purposely offend someone has forced me to limit what I talk about at times, and I wonder whether I should ever cross that self-imposed line and talk about subjects that, to date, I’ve considered taboo.  Only time will tell, I guess.

            I truly don’t know where this blog is headed; at this moment, I don’t see much change in the pipeline.  That’s fine . . . for now.  But I am big on change, as I believe that change almost always equals growth.  For sure, had I not accepted Froggie’s invitation and joined the group, this blog never would have gone from where it was to where it is now, and that would have been a shame.  So, I can only hope that my blog continues to grow – either in subject or in frequency or both – and I hope that it turns into something that people look forward to reading.  Or, even better, something that inspires them to sit down, set up a blog, and start writing.  I promise I will read and comment, even if you’ve just shared cat photos or observations about the Kardashians.  I’m fairly certain that’s how Hemingway got started, right? 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

(All I've Got is a) Photograph

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

Merryland Girl chose this week’s topic and she said, simply:  Nostalgia.  Here’s my take:

            My Dad did not have any brothers, just a younger sister, Sophie, who passed away really young, before I was even born.  However, my Dad did have two relatives who were like brothers to him:  his cousin, Philly, who was a few months older than he, and his uncle, Junior, who was in that same age range (he was a “surprise” baby, or so I’m told).  The three men grew up as would siblings, and my Dad has the stories to prove it.  (My favorites involve them stealing hot pies off of a windowsill and eating the insides of the free bread they got from the nuns at school, bringing home only the empty crusts.)

            Many years later – after Uncle Junior was gone – cousin Philly put together a set of photo DVDs for himself and for my Dad.  He spent a great deal of time compiling photos and setting them to music.  He mailed a set to my Dad, as Philly had long since moved to Northern California, away from his childhood Chicago home.

            God, how I hate those DVDs.

            I don’t hate them in principle; I think Philly’s gift is sweet and thoughtful and loving.  No, I hate them in practice.  I hate watching them.  It depresses me.

            I’m sure my dislike has something to do with my Mom’s running commentary whenever we, as a family, sit down to look at the photos:

            “Oh, there’s Steve!  Remember him, Len?”  A pause.  “He’s dead.”

            “Look, there’s your Uncle Johnny!”  A pause.  “He died right after your Grandpa.”

            “Awww, is that Uncle Al?”  A pause.  “How did he die, Len?”

            And the Parade of the Deceased goes on.

            I was lucky enough to meet maybe half of the people featured in the DVDs, to meet them and know them and love them . . . before they died.  I miss them, and seeing their photos (while hearing my Mom’s comments) is hard sometimes, particularly when it comes to seeing my Grandpa and Grandma (passed in 1990 and 2001, respectively), my Uncle Tilly (real name:  Attillio, who passed in 1992 (when I lived in L.A. and couldn’t return home for the funeral), and, now, Philly, who himself passed away last year.  I knew them the best and miss them the most.  The photos are just reminders of that lingering, tamped down grief. 

            But, more than that, my Dad’s silence during the photo montage tells me that he, too, is saddened by the pictures.  Rarely does he laugh or smile while we watch, even when he sees video of himself playing the drums (which I love) or of his long-passed sister or parents, or of Uncle Junior or Philly.  I feel his grief, too.  I do.  He is watching memories, but it’s more than that:  he is remembering – and missing – his family, people he hasn’t seen in years, people he will never see again.  My Dad has the unenviable role of being the patriarch of his family, the eldest male in a group where he was once the baby, or at least the child.  He’s mentioned it more than once, which in Dadspeak means it bothers him.  He wishes it were different.

            Yes, I might enjoy the photos without my Mom’s comments, but I’m not so sure.  I’d still feel my Dad’s pain, and my own.  I’d still wish I could once again hug my Grandpa, see my Uncle Tilly’s beautiful blue eyes sparkle, hear Philly’s devious laugh, smell my Grandma’s perfume.  I keep their images in my head and their spirits in my heart, and I guess I don’t need – or want – any other reminders.  At least not now.  Not when seeing the pictures hurts more than it helps, not when I watch my Dad and wonder how much longer I will have him, knowing the day will come when he, too, is reduced to a memory – a photo in a frame, an image on a screen, a tugging on my heart, a name on my lips.  A loss.  Nostalgia. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where as the Party of the First Part Writes a Haiku

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, Moma Rock chose the topic, and she said:  Creative Writing.  Lets share an excerpt from something were currently working on, something weve worked on in the past, or ideas of projects we either have in the works or want to have in the works.  Here’s my take:

            Years ago, when I worked as a journalist and wondered what to do next (the small newspapers where I worked were closing, one after the next), I considered law school.  There were definite pros to attending law school, for sure.  But one of the cons that popped into mind was this:  the law didn’t seem like the kind of career that would allow for much creativity.  I imagined reading and writing boilerplate contracts and mundane deposition questions and transcripts.  It seemed so different from the kind of writing I did as a journalist – and not in a good way.  I said as much to a college friend who worked at a bank, and he said I was wrong, that even in his numbers-driven job, there was lots of room to be “creative.”  I rolled my eyes.  I didn’t believe him.  (And I hoped he wasn’t doing “creative accounting.”)

            Fast forward fifteen years, and I believe we both were right.  One of the things I hate the most about practicing law is feeling like my creative side is, indeed, stifled.  However, having said that, I cannot say that I have never done some creative legal writing; one look at some of the briefs in my sure-to-lose cases and my creativeness is fairly obvious.  I’ve made creative arguments in creative ways.  I’ve creatively used case law to support creative claims.  However, in the law, “creative” equates to “loser.”

            But no one can say I wasn’t creative.

            I hate that the bulk of my creative writing in the last decade and a half was legal writing.  It hasn’t always been so.  Back in the day, back in grammar and high school and college, I loved to write creatively:  short stories and poems, essays and op-ed pieces.  I just loved to write. 

            I still love to write, but I feel my years of legal writing have changed what I care to write, and they have slowed my ease in doing so.  Legal writing is largely formulaic, and not just the contracts.  Even substantial motions tend to follow the same pattern:  state the facts, state the law, apply the latter to the former, lather, rinse, repeat.  This routine way of working has done a number on me.  Early on, I struggled to learn the craft of legal writing, as I was trained to be a journalist, and journalistic writing has its own rules, ones very different from those involving court documents.  But once I learned to do legal writing, I had trouble not doing it.  A few years ago, as I sat down to attempt to tackle a huge creative writing project, I found myself almost unable not to write in that tight structure.  I struggled to find adjectives and adverbs – we lawyers don’t use those too much in our briefs and motions (as much as we’d love to).  Eventually, I found a new rhythm and can now jump back and forth between the two, but not without pause.

            Although I don’t practice law full time, I still do some legal writing, spill over work from friends in Illinois.  It’s almost all research and writing, which suits me just fine, as I’ve never been one for the courtroom.  My legal writing is almost all the opposite of “creative.”  Or at least I hope.  (And I know that sounds odd.)

            And I do some “creative writing,” too, though, lately, it’s been limited to this blog and some book reviews (which I love doing).  Sadly, I struggle with developing independent creative writing “ideas.”  I’ve never had the impulse of John Grisham or Scott Turow to mix the law with creative writing (I’ve never read a word of either of them, with the exception of Scott Turow’s memoir about law school, One L, which was very good).  I would love to be a true crime writer; even as a reader, I tend to draw more toward nonfiction (especially true crime) than to fiction, and I am totally fascinated by the criminal abnormalities of the human mind.  I’ve done a complete one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn from when I was young and constantly scribbled (really bad) fiction and poetry on any nearby paper surface.  My tendency now is to write that which I know (which isn’t much), which is why I enjoy this blog and why my first attempt at a book was nonfiction.  Writing fiction now strikes me as hard.  I don’t believe I possess that skill to any measurable degree.  Maybe that part of my brain was used up with my high school-aged drivel.  Or maybe law school drilled it out of me.  I don’t know.  And I don’t know whether that skill set will return.

            So, I wouldn’t expect to read a book of fiction from me, or even anything much more creative than what I come up with each week on this blog.  As a blog group, we have dabbled in a little fiction on here, and I’m game for doing that again.  But, overall, I guess I find real, everyday life odd, interesting, strange, and colorful enough to write about.  I simply don’t feel the need – or have the ability – to imagine a different world. 

            It is my loss, for sure.        

Thursday, October 1, 2015

And Now I Have That Hall & Oates Song Stuck in My Head . . .

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, I chose the topic, and I asked everyone to write about missed callings. Talk about those jobs or paths you now realize might have been good choices, and why.  Here’s my take:

            There’s a question that nags at me.  If I could, I would blame it on a midlife crisis, but the question has always hung over me, even long before I was on the wrong side of 40.  It’s stayed for years, and it continues to burn.  What’s next?” it whispers.  What’s next?”

            I cannot explain why this question still haunts me so.  I mean, I have a new home and a decent car (ok, it’s a mini-van and it’s uncool but it’s newish and it runs well and I can actually raise the seat high enough to see over the dashboard).  I have a law degree from a great law school.  I have fun hobbies, including flea marketing, decorating my home, and making jewelry.  I was volunteering for a hospice (and hope to again, soon).  I exercise almost every day.  I have three kids, one of whom is technically an adult.  I have wonderful friends, some I’ve known my entire life and others I’m just getting to know.  My life is quite full; I can’t say anything in particular is missing.  And, yet, that question:

            What’s next?”

            I’ve often heard that question in the recesses of my mind while working various jobs.  My parents – and even my older siblings – are of the generations where you took a job and stayed with it forever.  It wasn’t really a “career,” but it didn’t matter.  It paid the bills and, if you were lucky, you made some friends and maybe even enjoyed the work from time to time.  They did not ask, “What’s next?”  What was “next” was the next day, the next week, the next month, year, decade as the years sped to retirement, which often included a party and a watch.  There might be a promotion or a change of worksite, but little else would change.  That has not been my reality.  I’ve heard and heeded the call of the question as I sat in my cubicle/office/press room:  What’s next?”  I’ve moved on, many times.  The question pushed me to search for something else – maybe not something “better” but at least something different – and for that, I am grateful.  I would have crumbled under the stagnation.

            So, yes, I’ve switched not only jobs but also careers and, yes, I’ve moved houses and cities and states and, yes, I’ve even gone back to school, once so far, when I was 29.  All because I’ve long been nagged by the question I once again ask myself:

            What’s next?”

            I’ve never hidden the fact that although I like some things about the practice of law, I can’t say I’ve ever loved it (one exception:  when I represented my friend Obadyah Ben-Yisrayl when he was on Death Row).  Practicing law, to some extent, has satisfied my need to do smart things, to do work that requires me to think, hard and outside the box, and to look at an issue from all sides.  It’s also allowed me to write (at times, quite creatively!).  I met one of my closest friends through a law job, and I have made many other good friends through my legal career, as well. 

            But law was not my calling.  I never saw it that way, and I wasn’t wrong.  It has paid the bills, but the law has left me lacking in many ways.  It simply hasn’t satisfied me.  And now, fifteen years into it, I wonder, “What’s next?” because there is still so much empty space left to fill.

            I love to write, and I’ve considered attempting to once again make it my career.  I started my professional career as a writer – a journalist.  In some ways, I loved it, but I was a print journalist and my timing was poor (I graduated, newspapers folded, I had no desire to move to Kansas City, etc.).  And I could only write so many stories about school board meetings.  There’s also my hatred of deadlines (both journalistic and legal).  I’ve recently dabbled in memoir writing, which is very different from journalistic and legal writing, and quite enjoyable.  And so I ask:  Did I walk away from writing to soon?  Is what was “then” now also “what’s next?”  Did I once heed my calling and yet somehow miss it?  Is it calling me back? 

            Most importantly, if so, how will I answer?  I simply do not know.

            There is one thing I do know, and that is that even though my birthdays are coming more and more closely together, I am not too old to have another “next.”  I am nowhere near slowing down.  There is too much life in me (even though I now get ready for bed at the time I used to get ready to go out).  Case in point:  Two months ago – which was exactly four months after moving into my new home, mind you – my husband asked me where I’d like to retire.  I couldn’t even process the question.  I mean, I haven’t even settled into living in Tennessee.  But, more than that, the idea of retirement baffles me.  “Nothing” cannot possibly be my “what’s next,” can it?  It doesn’t seem right.  And it’s not just the fact that I’m years away from the traditional retirement age – it’s more that I don’t know that mentally I ever will be ready to retire.  It seems so boring.  And scary . . . because we all know what comes “next.”

            I was a journalist, I’m now a lawyer.  I was born and raised on the Northwest Side of Chicago; now, I live in Middle Tennessee.  The road from “there” to “here” was circuitous and largely unplanned.  I don’t know where I will die, and I can’t even begin to predict what the path will look like between here and there.  If I am lucky, the road will be long.  If it’s true to history, it will not be without its bumps, its twists and turns.  But it will also be interesting, unpredictable, and fun.  And that’s all I can ask for.  That much I know, for sure, is “what’s next.”