Monday, October 22, 2018

Failing Forward



Fear—we’re all afraid of something. None of us want to fail.

When I do my bike trips people are constantly saying: You’re so brave. Not really. I’d wake up every day while on my trips wondering if I’d make it to my destination. You see, I don’t always ride with maps. But, even with maps, I often get lost.

This past summer I rode my bike by myself from Amsterdam to Sandnes, Norway. I had to deal daily with different languages, currency, kilometers, road closures, my smartphone dying. Yet always by the end of the day I got somewhere. I’d put up my little tent, fire up my tin-can stove, and prepare a bit of supper. Always there was a tomorrow where I would once again wake up and question my abilities—and as usual ride closer to my destination.

In Norway on my last day, I made the decision to ride a plateau rode that is known for its difficulty. I climbed and climbed up past the tree line, up above alpine lakes—then when it came time to descend into the fjord below there were 32 hairpin turns on a single one-lane road plus one dark tunnel. I was scared.

But needs demanded I keep going. It was too late to change my mind. I rode down, carefully. When done I celebrated with an ice cream. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty—yet I was so glad to have accomplished what I’d set out to do.


“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

C.S. Lewis


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

One Day This Will All Go Away

The other day in the car I passed a shuttered piano store. Like so many retail outlets, brick and mortar stores are closing up. Sears. Treasure Island. My favorite tea shop. People order things on-line. The tea I used to buy I have to order from Amazon. Virtually every place—in Chicago a metro area of over 3 million people—doesn’t offer the brand I like.

But how do you order a piano. Drones can’t deliver it. Those people on bikes can’t run it up the steps. My UPS guy already has a bad back. Certain things can’t be plucked off the conveyor belt, packed, and shipped at an Amazon warehouse.

Will pianos become extinct?

In a way they are already a rarity, and the people who play them. And the neighborhood ladies who advertise lessons. All of this will become a thing of the past. We’re too busy with our devices and pressing buy.
Image result for abandoned piano

Monday, October 15, 2018

Ann Marie--a memory


When my daughter was little we were always losing her shoes. Not sure why I say “we.” Maybe because if I wanted her out of the house and to school on time, I had to become involved.

Basically, I’d just look out the window.

We live on the 4th floor of our building and I can see down into the play yard below. That way I might spy her shoes mixed in with the wood chips under the monkey bars or by the splash pool area or on one of the benches. And, always, there would be Ann Marie sleeping on a bench.

Image result for cartoon, sleeping on a park bench
In my building the top three floors are reserved for low-income seniors. Many are only on Social Security. Ann Marie was queen of the house coat—a cross between a robe and an all-over apron. It can be worn over clothes or as it. Women of a certain age sport just a house coat. I’m almost there myself.

She was also afraid to sleep in her own bed. She was convinced someone was out to get her. There was a rumor that her late husband had been part of the Chicago Mafia. I believe she was merely paranoid. Either way, we’d find her asleep in the lobby, senior’s lounge, or outside when the weather was good, laid out on one of the benches.

Grace would run downstairs and outside and pluck her shoes up from under a sleeping Ann Marie without waking her. Eventually Ann Marie would arise and begin vacuuming or wiping things down—tucking used Kleenex into the pocket of her house coat.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book News: Cloud of Wintesses




--from a reader: When my mom lived in Ohio she made it to the State Final as a Quiz kid. All I could think of when I read your book.

At my book launch I had a diverse crowd. From my contacts in the neighborhood there were a few folks who used to sleep under the bridge in the park, and are now, thankfully, housed. A few days after the launch ----- approached me and said, “I read your book.” I told her it means a lot to me that she bought one (on her limited budget!), and that she’d read it already. “Oh, that’s nothing—I’m half way through reading it a second time.” I really did want to cry. I appreciate so much her reading it once let alone a second time. “You know who I identify with? Hassan, the kid they made fun of, an outsider.”

You see my friend grew up outside of American society. As a Native American she has struggled all her life with identity; how does she fit in this land, this country?

Thank you friend for your kind words and thoughtful reading.

Thank you everyone who came to the Book Launch Party and are connecting with Cloud of Witnesses. I look forward to hearing your story/stories.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Nostalgic for Muzak


The other day driving home listening to the Kavanaugh hearing on the car radio I became nostalgic for Muzak. You remember, that inane background music you might hear in an elevator or dentist office. Maybe the pain of the hearing reminded me of the dentist’s office.

Actually what I was yearning for were better times. Days where we weren’t confronted with anything more challenging than “A Summer Place” by Percy Faith and his Orchestra.



As a kid I would have rather been taken out and shot than admit I liked Muzak. I mean the euphemism was “Elevator Music.” The kind of characterless, benign stuff my parents listened to. Yet, there in the car I wished to travel back fifty years. I wanted to be left alone. To not have to listen to a woman telling her story and a roomful of men dismissing her.

Now to be honest fifty years ago Christine Blasey Ford would not have been called to testify. She would have been given “Mother’s Little Helpers” (a tranquilizer) and told to go home and get dinner started. If it were fifty years ago I would be driving a station wagon instead of a minivan. Nevertheless, I imagined a sweeter time, where no one had to be made uncomfortable, where we could nod along with each other, and sleepwalk through our days—listening to Muzak.

I crossed from Evanston into Chicago and immediately woke up in this century. I kept the radio tuned to the hearing, while ranting out loud to no one.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Illinois Reading Council

Join me in Peoria at the 
Illinois Reading Council Conference on Friday, October 5

The theme is Read the World, Oct. 4-6, 2018
at the Peoria Civic Center


My presentation is The Rural Child in Juvenile Literature


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Lifters


Image result for the lifters
The Lifters
Dave Eggers, Alfred A. Knopf, 2018

Is magic enough to fix the morass of Middle America? Are Earth balls enough to stop the collapse of a small town? How can two middle schoolers stop the madness of grownups tearing their community apart?

These are questions divergently addressed in The Lifters by Dave Eggers. A young Gran moves to Carousel, which despite its “fun” name, is a place of desperation, depression, and insurmountable sadness. Carousel is in the midst of an economic downturn as is Gran’s family. Both had seen better times. Thus, the town is suspicious of new comers—hear any political echoes here?

Gran and his newfound friend Catalina attempt to prop up the town. This means taking risks, free-falling down deep, dark holes.

There are parts of the book where I seriously had to ask myself—why are these kids working so hard and there isn’t a lot of chemistry between the protagonists. Do they even like each other? But it’s cool to think teenagers are holding up the world, that when things fall apart—turn to a Lifter.

The problem of one small town, who has lost its manufacturing base and has literally collapsed (City Hall has fallen into a sink hole), is addressed as a global fight. The kids try to inject a maker spirit, as well as joy and peace into a chaotic town torn apart by fears and something called The Hollows (still not sure what it is, a big wind?). The town’s population has forgotten who they were, and the teens have to work to excavate the town’s identity/history.

 Overall, the book is about hope in hard times, how to rebuild unity and resilience. Something I think we can all identify with.