In Defense of Living

Do you ever sit down to write one thing, but something completely different bursts forth and demands to be told? It happens to me all the time.

This is one of those posts.

As I prepared to write a glowing review of the touring Broadway production of Aladdin, I froze. “How,” I asked myself, “can I possibly write about something like that, with what is happening right now in our country? In the world?

How can I even admit that I went to go see a musical in the midst of tragedy, much less justify it?”

And then, as they so often do, a Harry Potter quote rang in my head. (I will try to introduce the quote with as little spoiler as possible.) 

SCENE: A battle of the ages in the ultimate war of good vs. evil looms. Guests mingle at a wedding, in a mix of joy and discomfort.

Ginny: Seems silly, doesn’t it? A wedding. Given everything that’s going on.

Harry: Maybe that’s the best reason to have it. Because of everything that’s going on.

Yes. This simple exchange has stuck with me ever since. There are so many embedded sub-questions in here: Is this the time for happiness? Is this the time for celebration? Is this the time for love?

Sometimes, you can’t explain why one thing affects you more than other things. Ever since the Charlottesville violence a few weeks ago, dark clouds have filled either the front or the back of my mind. People died in the name of protesting hate–I’ve been stunned into a cycle of mournful quietude and exchanges of dismay and sorrow with the people around me. 

We spoke of these dark times by the candlelight around my sister’s birthday pies (lovingly homemade by my mom). Every gathering of loved ones is a blessing, one we take less for granted than ever.

How can I write about a sparkly joyous moment like a musical, which lifted my heart and filled me with wonder? How can I rationalize the disconnection from the somber everyday when playing “escape from the monster” with toddlers in sprinklers at my boyfriend’s nephew’s birthday party?

Who was escaping what?

And, again, a quote from literature resounds with me:

Fairy tales are more than real, because they prove that dragons can be beaten.” –G.K. Chesterton/Neil Gaiman

Those questions about the time for love and joy–the answer is yes, now–right now. They are essential to our makeup. If we don’t have those, if we aren’t working towards those, why fight for anything? What is the point of anything, if not those two things?

I am not suggesting we soothe away our anxieties and sadnesses about the world with shiny distractions, ignoring problems as if they don’t exist. 

I am saying–we need both. We need the armor of our loves and joys to equip us for our–the world’s–battles. Eat the birthday cake; smell the flowers; hug your family. We need these to center our focus on what we can do to help, not sink into paralyzing despair.

I’m going to focus on the animal shelters around the country sending pet food for the dogs held in loving arms above the floodwaters in Texas, on the crowded lanes of people towing their boats from other states to help those stranded in Texas–where news sources have noted a beautiful unity in the face of tragedy.  I’m going to donate used clothes to a shelter nearby bringing relief supplies to Texas this weekend–check Facebook or the news for one by you.

And as her mother heartbreakingly, inspiringly said, let us focus on Hannah Heyer’s message of love and acceptance in the face of total evil–her message only amplified by her sacrifice, ringing louder than anything so transient as death.

Holy Cow: Cubs Win the World Series and Our Hearts

This is a story of resilience, of hope rewarded, of an underdog rising to greatness. It’s a story of generations, of love passed down through DNA, of unifying triumph, of a storybook “happily ever after” and banished curses.

It’s a moment in history that’s been over a century in the making, and everyone wants a part in it. Five million people filled the streets of Chicago on Friday in the seventh-largest human gathering of all time–and the largest ever in our country–to watch the Chicago Cubs’ victory parade. “Thank you for your patience,” the lauded World Series Champions of 2016 said, giving as much praise to their fans’ perseverance as their own. The Chicago Cubs had had the longest drought of any professional sports team in the history of the USA: 108 years without a championship.

#FlytheW–the Cubs won the World Series! Photo courtesy of my friend Arnaud Buttin, who attended the rally.

That number, 108, keeps popping up in uncanny ways, signs of destiny that 2016 really was our year–according to Inside Edition, the list includes:

  • The building that broadcasts Cubs games: 108 stories high
  • Stitches on a baseball: 108
  • Original address of baseball manufacturer, Spalding: 108 Madison St., Chicago
  • Run time of movies Back to the Future 2 and Taking Care of Business, who predicted future Cubs World Series wins: 108 minutes

Here is the Inside Edition video, published 10/25, predicting the win:

Also, another that came forward, necessarily after that video: Joe Maddon, the manager of the Cubs, presented the championship trophy to the rally in Grant Park at 1:08 p.m. on Friday.

This feeling of destiny is a heavy weight lifted off the shoulders of so many who have inherited this love of the Cubs from others. At first, I thought the story I shared last week about our family Cubs tradition was unique, but over this past week, I’ve read many other touching stories of people rejoicing more on behalf of their loved ones than themselves.

One man drove all day to Greenwood Cemetery, Indiana, to keep a promise to his dad–that they would listen to the World Series together. He set up a radio and a lawn chair, and they did just that.

In my own family, my dad kept an unspoken promise to his mother, who raised him to be the Cubs fan he is today. She wasn’t far away during that epic game 7 of the World Series. Her mass card sports St. Anthony of Padua, who she always loved as the patron saint of lost things–and lost causes, she added. My dad kept her mass card and the lucky marble he’d shared with her on the table we surrounded while we bit our nails, jumped up and down, hyperventilated, and nearly collapsed during that game.

St. Anthony of Padua on my grandmother’s mass card, and the lucky marble my dad shared with her

The next day, he looked everywhere for a newspaper to take to her grave–an acknowledgement, a celebration, of the moment they’d been waiting for for many decades. And while she didn’t get to see it while she was here with us, she had the ultimate view from Heaven.

The newspapers were sold out at four different stores my dad went to, but he randomly found a pristine copy of two in the wrong spot by the coffee at Jewel. Even the cashier shared her shock he’d found one, but he smiled, knowing it was a special delivery.

Special Delivery: Victory Newspapers

We figured out later that our grandma was definitely watching the game from Heaven, when we realized the three final winning games had significant dates for her: her death anniversary, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day.

The game went on forever, in a good but completely nerve-shattering way. After jumping at a leaf the next day, my mom announced her nerves were shot. Several of our friends had to turn off the game at one point because they were about to be physically ill. As for me, my heart was racing for the entire game, but I determined to make it through, no matter what! After all, if these underdogs were about to change history, I didn’t want to miss it. As a bonus, I discovered I actually can hold my breath for 4.5 hours.

The game was as epic as a Lord of the Rings movie–and this, coming from an LOTR superfan–but it was like the climax lasted the entire duration. Movie producers would dismiss a script like that because it would be too unbelievable. When the game went into an extra 10th inning because of a tie, and then when there was a rain delay–even nature was adding to the drama–that was the breaking point for some people. For the Cubs, though, it was the moment of truth–Jason Heyward, outstanding outfielder for the team this year, gave a rallying speech to the Cubs that they could break the tie, break the curses, that not all was lost.

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, it reminded me of another rallying speech:

Image result for aragorn speech gif       Image result for aragorn speech courage of men

Indeed, after that rain delay, the Cubs pulled it together to achieve a final score of 8-7. To say the crowds went WILD is an understatement. It’s no wonder that the celebration is still going strong–“Go Cubs!” has replaced “Hello” around here, and “Go, Cubs, Go,” is the anthem of every place music might be played, from my own band’s performance to our hospital’s black-tie fundraising gala. Fans–of the Cubs, of Chicago, of the underdog story–want to acknowledge this moment of unity, perseverance, and reward of faith invested, breaths held for over a century. Our fandom only increases as we learn how the players are using their fame to give back to fans, including Anthony Rizzo’s foundation for cancer research he started after beating it himself. These aren’t just good players; they’re good people. These are heroes for America’s kids that we can be proud of. That goes for the Cleveland Indians, too–I was really impressed with the civility and kindness between the opposing teams. Now that’s a lesson we could carry with us!

Thank you, Cubs, for bringing us such a happy moment in history–something we could really use right now, especially in Chicago. Here’s to hoping we can carry this optimism and camaraderie with us beyond baseball. And even though 108 might be my new favorite number, here’s to hoping for another thrilling win in 2017.


Drawing by my very talented sister

One Voice: Orlando Shooting

What can one voice say in the midst of such a tragedy?

The largest mass shooting ever in the history of our country:
49 dead, 53 wounded. Countless loved ones devastated. A ripple effect of fear throughout the world.(If you haven’t read the news story of the Orlando shooting at Pulse on Sunday, you can here: ).

I’ve never understood the hatred against the LGBT community. Live and let live, I say. Love and let love.
Love is always good. Love is peace.

As a writer, I am always seeking to make sense of things. I think that’s everyone’s draw to stories: to find the cadence of meaning that drums through a course of events. It resounds through our own lives, helping us understand our own biggest challenges through symbolism, allegory, dragons.
And, as a writer, it’s imperative to get into the heads of villains–to understand their motives. My own villains, when not abstract, are usually damaged beings that have been hurt by the one(s) they’re trying to retaliate against.
This massacre is so senseless it would make for bad fiction. The more I learn, the less sense it makes. These innocent people did nothing to the shooter. They were shot at random. They were there to have fun, to find love–not to be violent.
What I do understand is the light shining through the darkness. (“Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers tells us. “You will always find people helping [during tragedy].”) We can’t let one extremist’s hatred control us, reverse us, put us back into the dark ages. I’m humbled and touched to see the response of the world in the wake of this tragedy:

(Photos of mourners from Pulse Nightclub’s Facebook page)

Here are the ones who were lost:

This story is all of ours. We own it. Gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, atheist–this grief, this fear–it’s ours. Orlando is one of my favorite cities. Several of my friends are gay, including one of my very best. It could have been me in that club. It could have been you. It could have been anywhere.
Let us shine a light and show that good people will unite and shine brighter than hate. We cannot devolve into fear and counter-hatred–remember that Muslims stand with us in love and sorrow, and that it was an extremist who committed this atrocity.
Be the light–be that kindness you want to see in others. Only love can overpower hate.

What can one voice say in the midst of tragedy? When one voice joins another, and another, and another…praying for love, praying for peace…we will be louder than the ugly shouts of hatred and violence.
We stand with Orlando. We stand with the LGBT community. We stand for love.

Facebook Turns 10–Reflections on Our Decade-Long Relationship <3

TGIF, dear readers! It’s been a long week for me, fighting a battle against getting sick and ultimately losing. However, that means more time indoors cuddled up under a blanket with a book or notebook, so I suppose it hasn’t all been bad. So, my dears, please forgive the decreased eloquence on this post.

This week was a monumental anniversary for Facebook: 10 years. It provided an opportunity for reflection not only on how Facebook has changed over the years, but how Facebook has changed us.

I won’t say that the anniversary meant the most to people my age, but it has been the longest relationship possible, since when Facebook was launched, you had to be a college student in order to use it. I’ve been a member since 2005–I actually waited about a year to join, even though I could have in the inaugural 2004.

In some cases, Facebook has been a tool for changing lives. The news was abuzz this week with stories of reunion, nostalgia, and sometimes, heartbreak. This article from the New York Times blog said it well, complete with personal anecdotes.

The overarching theme in the aforementioned article and all of the ones I’ve read this week: connection. I’d have to agree–that’s what Facebook has meant the most on for me. I’ve gotten to stay connected with my best friends when we all went away to different colleges. I’ve gotten to reconnect with childhood friends I’d lost touch with 20 years ago. I’ve gotten to see the personal side of business colleagues. I’ve gotten to see some very personal moments, like newborn babies, that I might never have seen from friends across the globe.

Some people decry Facebook, saying it’s led them to lost jobs, lost relationships, etc. because of a detail that got leaked. Well…in my eyes, the world is becoming more and more public, so we need to work harder to keep things private that we really want to. It’s not “Facebook’s” fault, really–it’s our own choices that lead to consequences. For me, as a memoirist, I’ve already made the decision to “live out loud”–put myself out there. That doesn’t mean I’m constantly posting a food diary (OK, maybe some of the more special meals, like Thanksgiving bread with the family). But it does mean that I’m aware of the images and thoughts I’m sending out into the universe. Shouldn’t we be proud of the things we do and say? I don’t know, that’s my thought, anyway.

For me, Facebook is somewhat like skimming a newspaper by reading headlines. You catch the major events of loved ones, like babies or engagements, but you don’t always have the stories behind them, like how the happy couple came to choose the baby name or the ring. It’s a great way to read a little bit about a lot of people, but picking up the phone or getting together for coffee is still essential–something I learned firsthand. It’s something I think we all learned firsthand, those of us who grew with Facebook: that Facebook is a helpful auxiliary tool, but not the only answer for anything. Some customs are still best non-electronically: paper wedding invitations, physical hugs, ranting about job or familial woes (some people are still learning all of these, actually…).

From a business side, it’s very funny to me how at this point in my life, I use Facebook for business as much as I do for personal use. Until a few years ago, I often felt guilty for logging onto Facebook and emerging hours later, having perused through endless photos, status updates, events, personal notes, etc. Now, I know that it gave me the edge of knowing how best to communicate through social media to promote myself as an author on Facebook, as well as various social media stuff for Marianjoy, in particular, managing the Marianjoy Scholarship Facebook Page. Who knew, when Facebook started, that it would become the personal-business-news-fandom conglomerate it is today? Not I.

Besides teaching me skills for marketing, Facebook has also been a reflection of my life over the past decade or so. It’s a virtual scrapbook of so many memories. Something very neat that Facebook did to commemorate the anniversary was offer a feature where they make a one-minute video featuring your history with it, including significant photos and posts. (Make your own here.) I’m not quite sure how they chose from thousands of posts and photos, but they did a great job (and if you didn’t like yours, today, they added an “edit” feature). I’ve enjoyed watching my friends’ and mine, too. 🙂
Some videos have been more meaningful than others. Facebook granted a request of a grieving father to make a video from his deceased son’s Facebook, which had been inaccessible to him. The father is now able to see a touching reflection of the last ten years of his son’s life. (Read the full story here.)

If you’d like to see my own video, I’m including the link below. A lot of my best memories from the last decade are in here: parties with friends; fun cosplays; dates with Jeremiah; events with Jennifer; Chris and Erica’s wedding; getting into grad school; patient–>scholarship–>employee at Marianjoy; Chad; and more. I’ve watched it more times than I care to admit, enjoying the trip down memory lane, reflecting on the people and events that have changed my life.

Maybe that’s just it–maybe Facebook is more of a record of the changes in our lives, rather than a life-changer itself. It is a wonderful tool, but we have to be the ones to use it to reach out.

(Screencap of the opening collage of my video–click the link below to view the entire video.)

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey. 

My Facebook Look-Back Video

Readers, if you have a video you’d like to share, I’d love to see yours–just leave the link in the comments. 🙂

Join me later this weekend for this week’s Top 10–ways Facebook has changed our language forever.
Next week, I will be featuring many literary Valentine’s-themed posts–some sweet, some sassy, for the romantic and cynic alike. 😉

Chicago Public Library Ranked #1 in U.S.

Dear readers, despite the return of the polar vortex,

yesterday was an exciting day for Chicago! Yes, it’s cold, but we got some great news that warmed our hearts: our very own Chicago Public Library has been named the #1 library in the country and #3 in the world!

I’ve only actually been to this particular library once, when I waited in a line with thousands of fans to see Neil Gaiman for the “One Book, One Chicago” event celebrating the citywide reading of Neverwhere, in spring 2011. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually make it in to see him–fire codes or some such formality. (Someday, Neil…) I suppose it was good they followed safety rules, which I’m sure contributes to their high ranking, but I drowned my sorrows in buying a copy of all of the books he’d autographed. Plus, I got to explore the beautiful, historical library (est. in 1873).


Please read on to see’s coverage of the award. Stay warm and well-read, dear readers! ❤

Frozen: An Arctic Midwest Creates Dangerous Beauty

Hello, dear readers! I hope you’re all keeping warm. If you’re anywhere in the Midwest, that’s been pretty difficult lately. Wind chills in our region were about -50º F today. That’s right, FIFTY DEGREES BELOW ZERO. (The actual temperature was a bit better, at -16° F.) Some lucky ducks got to telecommute today (ahem…Jennifer…), most schools were cancelled, and extreme safety precautions were advised. My parents went to Costco on Saturday, and it was so jam-packed with thousands of people that they ran out of carts and shelves were bare–the same was reported at many grocery stores. In fact, it’s being called a “Snowpocalypse”–half-jokingly. As much as I love Frozen, I didn’t think we’d be experiencing this real-life deep freeze.

I sent out this plea to stop the winter via Twitter on Saturday:

…but it was to no avail. The snow had been falling since before New Year’s Eve, and the temperature was soon to follow.

Of course, although I’m a summer girl through-and-through, I really have no right to complain. My personal chauffeur, a.k.a. my father, took me from garage to curbside at work, meaning I only had to brave a few steps in the cold (bundled up as I was: turtleneck tunic sweater, pants, snow boots, down coat with hood, warm gloves). Actually, I felt like a bit of a wuss, but the shame faded as I watched my dad maneuver expertly around tricky black ice and even trickier drivers–who were less expert-like than my dad. 😉

Nevertheless, the weather made me long for the balmier snowy temperatures in Antarctica, currently at 33º F. And the South Georgia Island, a sub-Antarctic island, was 50° F at midnight last night. Yes, a full 100º warmer than it felt in the Midwest during our daytime high.

Olaf, the snowman from “Frozen,” is also a big fan of warmer snow.

However, this unusual blast of Arctic wind has created unique beauty this region has rarely seen before. One photographer, Nick Ulivieri, was brave enough to endure the cold and capture the sight. He was rewarded for his efforts by an interview on NBC News tonight, which gained him scores of new followers who have fallen in love with his photos (I am one of them!).

Isn’t this breathtaking? I think the lesson here is that if we close our eyes to what is uncomfortable, we might miss out on what’s beautiful. Well done, Nick. You can follow Nick and see his photography on Twitter at @ChiPhotoGuy, Facebook, or Flickr.

I hope you stay safe and warm, dear readers. This blogger has to thank Nick for his reminder to look at things jelly-side up. 🙂

Join me later this week for a winter-themed Top 10!

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95–NY Times

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95–NY Times

The world is mourning the death of peacekeeper and humanitarian Nelson Mandela, who passed away at the age of 95 in his home on Thursday night. The former first black president of South Africa fought for peace, unity, and equality in his country–even avoiding a civil war, often at great personal cost and risk, which made him beloved worldwide.

The New York Times wrote a wonderful, comprehensive article today about Mandela, detailing his life’s journey. An excerpt I found astounding and poignant:

Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.

I invite you to read the rest of the article–even if you think you were familiar with Mandela as a person, or Mandela as a politician, you’ll know more after reading it–it’s that thorough. It’s also tender, which I find refreshing; I think journalism could use more of that tone, which I know is difficult to interject when cramming facts into tiny places.

I’ll leave you with this inspirational quote by and photo of Mandela that Tin House posted today on their Facebook:

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
― Nelson Mandela

November Tornadoes Rip Through Illinois

November Tornadoes Rip Through Illinois

My prayers go out to the people affected by the string of as many as 65 tornadoes that ripped through Illinois, primarily devastating the Washington/Peoria area. Luckily, we weren’t hit, but we did have some pretty big storms and winds. Apparently, they took everyone by surprise, because November isn’t a typical month for tornadoes, but we had unseasonable warmth today–which for the Midwest, can actually be typical indeed–November is unpredictable.

Please keep the people who lost their homes and lives in your prayers. ❤ This article and video from ABC News is very informative. The video pays tribute to a storm-chaser who lost his life but made crucial discoveries for science in the way that tornadoes work.

Alice Munro Wins Nobel, Canadians and Women Feel Quietly Superior

The big news in the literary world this week was that Canadian author Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize. Whom were you expecting to win? People were speculating Philip Roth would, but no one seems up in arms about Munro’s winning. Have you read Munro before? I know that I’ve read a few short stories by her, but never a full book–and it was so long ago, I can’t remember them well! I look forward to revisiting her work soon. Congratulations, Alice Munro! 🙂 Please enjoy this essay from Flavorwire about the charming account of Munro’s surprise at her victory, as well as her friend Margaret Atwood’s response.

Historical Journalism Move: CEO of Amazon Buys the Washington Post

Breaking news came in when Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, bought the Washington Post yesterday for $250 million–in cash.

The media flurry begins in the most likely of places: on the Washington Post‘s site itself. I first caught wind of it with Publishers Weekly’s announcement. “The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future,” said Donald Graham, the Post’s  CEO. “But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success, but it gives us a much greater chance of success.”

The news came as a shock to everyone, especially the employees of the paper. But when you stop to think about it, printed newspapers have been facing new challenges for some time now, especially with the advent of technology changing the way news is reported and published. A different approach kind of makes sense, though how different it will be remains to be seen. This is what Bezos says about the change: “There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.” Well, that sounds promising.

Though Amazon is also a Seattle-based company, it reportedly will have nothing to do with the deal. It is just another company that Bezos owns.

If there’s anything that you can count on all writers to write about, it’s writing. Too simple? Maybe; Twitter was abuzz with the news to the point where it seemed like the entire world was engulfed by this event. We’ve seen what happens when literature becomes corporatized, after all! In fact, it is found in our (OK, my) favorite genre: dystopia, because it is so horrifying a concept it sends chills down our spines. But I guess people were tweeting about it more than actually speaking, because no one outside of my Twittersphere seemed aware of this colossal news! For some great “mediaception”–that is, media about the media–check out Mediabistro’s compilation of reactions around the web. You’re in for a laugh.

Bezos, CEO of Amazon, speaks to the press about purchasing the Post. (Image courtesy of the Washington Post.)

But before we get swept away in epic drama–I’m talking to you, Twitter–let’s take a look at what Bezos said. In a smart move, he released an open letter to the staff of the Washington Post, basically saying that just because ownership was changing didn’t mean he wanted them to change at the core. Classy, Bezos. An excerpt:

The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.

I, for one, will be laying down my torch. If you think about it like a business, which I guess is what it comes down to, Bezos saved a newspaper from collapsing. If he lives up to his claim, he’s not taking away free speech–he’s enabling it.

I just have one question for him: Mr. Bezos, did you receive free super saver shipping® with your purchase?