Eye of the Beholder

burning tree    I like pretty art. Call me simplistic, and some may, but I have trouble understanding modern art and not just because it’s often not pretty.  The art, such as the piece above, challenges me and makes me think. That’s not such a bad thing. But there are often times I flat out do not get what I’m seeing. Last Sunday at the Phoenix  Art Museum, which has arctic-like air conditioning and thus a great place to be on a hot summer day in the desert, I wandered into the modern art area. The photo of tree, whole and then reduced to ashes, might represent humans who, like the once mighty tree, will one day turn to dust. I often wish I had the artist beside me to explain. 

dead people

      Did this artist get inspired by yoga? Or is it that pesky concept of death again? I’m not even going to try to guess with this one. In the photo, the woman gazing down at the prone body with her arms crossed is wondering the same thing herself…or maybe she “gets it.” I don’t. Near each piece of art work is the name of the artist and some explanation of the artist’s vision but, again, I often leave scratching  my head trying to understand.  Art like this doesn’t leave me in awe, but it does make me ponder metaphorical meanings.  

    In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages writers to take themselves on artist dates to spur creativity.  Attend the opera, a quilting exhibition, or visit a historic home to find inspiration from another’s artistic work. It doesn’t mean we will like everything we see. There are some books people have encouraged me to read that stunk. I read one or two chapters and can not make myself read any further. Modern art is sorta like that for me, too. 


After the modern art, I found myself in the portrait exhibit area. Now this painting inspired me because it is of a woman who was the mistress of King Charles. Not sure what century.  A long time ago as is obvious by her shimmering gown. She had five children with the king, and also several other lovers. She  died in her forty’s,  so she was one busy gal. Her dark eyes, creamy skin, wistful expression (another lover perhaps?) made me want to write a story about her. I wanted to make her come alive on the page and answer the questions about her life such as how did the king’s wife never learn about the five children her husband spawned with this beautiful dark-haired woman? Scandal is not reserved for 2017.

Scottsdale The title of this oil painting was Scottsdale, Arizona 1935. Really? Today Scottsdale has more plastic surgery offices than any other city in America. The days of horses, and Native American women in traditional garb, and dogs lounging in the street have been replaced with trendy restaurants, expensive malls, lavish resorts and a lot of Botox. Art is like a visual history book. I wish Scottsdale still looked like this, at least in a few places. The city could stand to lose a spa or nightclub and add a few horses.

    And then, just when I had written off modern art, I saw this on my way out. 

velvet tree

 The tree’s trunk is covered in velvet and that is rock salt as the base. The birds on the tree are clear containers filled with Windex. That’s pretty cool. Saying cool is not the most sophisticated way to explain art, but I looked at this tree for a long time. I have absolutely no idea what the artist was saying, but it didn’t matter, because it was fun to view. 

The lesson from all of this is that the artist writes or dances or makes modern art to please his or her own self first. If other people come along for the ride, fine. That’s a good reminder for any creative pursuit, or life in general. Some people will like it, some won’t. Bottom line is to be true to you.  







A Buffet of Mother’s Day Memories

hoffman-estates-jewel-2     This isn’t my mom, but it could be. Taken at the Jewel Grocery Store in Hoffman Estates, Illinois where I grew up, this is where my mom shopped every  Friday night after my dad brought home his paycheck. This is before debit  and credit cards filled everyone’s wallets, so she had to wait until my dad cashed his weekly pay check in order to buy groceries. My mom wore dresses to the grocery store and makeup as did most the women who pushed around a grocery cart at Jewel in the 1960s. (Now there are times  I go to the grocery store where I look as if I just posed for a mug shot. Who has time for lipstick and a comb, pantyhose, when all I am buying is detergent and dog food? I’d go in my pajamas if I could, and I have seen people in pajamas at Walmart shopping. My mom would likely be appalled.)

I don’t like to grocery shop, it’s just a boring chore to me, but as a little girl I loved going each week with my mom to Jewel with it’s shiny polished floors, and colorful boxes of food and fresh-looking vegetables. Seeing this photo from the historic archives of an Illinois library, made me remember those Friday night grocery store outings and, of course, made me miss my mom. Especially so with Mother’s Day right around the corner.

mom givng me a bathI’m keeping this photo small as it is myself  bathing in the nude. The only naked photo that will ever be seen of myself on my blog. (I want to keep my readers). Somehow bathing me in a plastic dish bucket on our kitchen counter doesn’t seem safe. Poor mothers. No matter how hard they try, they still get blamed for imperfections. I survived the bath, as well as any other missteps by my mother who, like most mothers, did the best she could. 

We all are so different, but we all had mothers. I’ve seen even the toughest guy soften when speaking about his mom. So often writers write about his or her mother and it’s obvious no matter how old we get our mothers  remain with us, in our hearts and minds, for good or for bad.  I have often wrote about my mother. I will miss her this Mother’s Day just as I have missed her every Mother’s Day since she died forty two years ago. Yikes! It never gets easier, but for me remembering my mom in my writing somehow eases the great loss, just a little.

mom and grandmaOur moms had moms, and this is my mother in front of my grandma’s house in Chicago. Every Mother’s Day,  our family took my grandma out to eat. This Sunday there is a fancy buffet at the hotel where I work. People will spend a lot of money  to eat, even drink champagne and hope that they made their mom feel appreciated. It’s one of the busiest days in the resturant industry. So much has changed in our world, but not wanting mom to have to go to the grocery store and cook, remains the same. And the resturant industry is grateful. Servers groan about that day because it is hectic, but it’s also lucrative. For the past four decades, I’ve wished my mom was alive so I could take her to a busy, over-priced resturant and make her feel special. 

   I hope my words travel upward and reach the angels and that my mom can hear me wish her a Happy Mother’s Day! And I wish the same to all mother’s, and I hope you all feel special on Sunday and that you are loved.

My mom.







Out of Print

morning paper

       Above is a photo of the most despicable thief you can imagine. This man has been seen stealing, gasp, newspapers. He was caught on a neighbor’s security camera taking The Arizona Republic off the driveway.

      I’m not surprised he looks like an old guy. What millennial reads the print newspaper anymore much less would want to get up early in the morning to steal one? News can be found online with just a few taps on the cell phone. The print version of the paper has become as old fashioned as handwritten letters and the milk man. We didn’t have a milkman, but my friend Chris, her dad was a milkman. That always seemed like a fun job, going from house to house depositing dairy products though I imagine her dad had to  get up way early in the morning as do newspaper delivery people. Not much need for milkmen anymore, and in the near future home delivery service of newspapers, too. 

      A lot of people of my generation don’t bother to subscribe to the newspaper anymore, either.  I shudder for the day when the newspaper will come only via the Internet. Every morning when I wake up, after I walk Darla, (who of course is the best and cutest dog on the planet) I eat breakfast and read the newspaper. My day wouldn’t feel right without this much-beloved ritual. I love opening the paper, turning the pages, spreading it out and drinking hot tea.

My father would bring home the Chicago Sun Times every day after work. I would take it into my bedroom and read it from cover to cover. Highlight of my day, as odd as that might sound. Old habits and true loves never fade, and I loved the newspaper. It provided a written window to a bigger world beyond middle-class suburbia. 

goldieOne of the things I will miss if the print version of the newspapers ceases is receiving clippings from friends. Just recently, my dear 92 year-old friend, Goldie, who lives in Denver, and subscribes to the The Denver Post, sent me this clipping about a historic tavern in  Denver being sold to new owners. We both loved going to this tavern which was just down the hill from our neighborhood.  I ordered grilled cheese and she had a cheeseburger. The tavern had great pickles.  She wrote me a little note on the clipping. “Thought you would like to read this.” And I did. Sure she could have sent me a link, but finding it in the mailbox meant she took extra time for me and that always feels special when our loved ones think of us.


    Then, a few days later, my sister sent me this article from The Chicago Tribune. She lives in southern Illinois now, but she still appreciates the news of her former home town north of her. This humorous article about the couple that were on a popular home fix up show, but were now divorcing, made my sister smile and she wanted me to smile, too, at the Chicago columnist’s wit.

   Recently, I met a woman and was discussing with her an article I read in The Arizona Republic regarding her  tour company. I happened to have the print version of the article with me. She was thrilled to have a version she could hold in her hands and slip into her purse.  Several people had read the story,  she said, but no one had the print copy. I was happy to give her the article, but also sad that no one had the paper copy. Another sign of the demise of the print version. 

Tracy  My friend, Tracy, often writes letters to the editor of The Arizona Republic. Next time I see her I will give her this clipping of her letter that appeared a few weeks ago. She only gets the paper on Sunday, but I think she goes to her mom’s house and gets the daily newspaper to read. 

my clips

    During journalism school, and during my writing career, I saved all the clips of my work. Now anything I write is online. I’ve kept some of my clips, neatly as you can tell, but I’ve thrown out a lot of articles I’ve written. Why bother keeping so much paper. And yet I love that I had the chance to see my words in black and white and not just on a computer screen. Call me old school. I don’t mind. 

    This morning as I was crunching on my cereal and flipping the pages of the newspaper I saw an article I want to tear out and send to a friend. I’m grateful I can still do that, and I hope now and then people will send me new’s clippings.

    Because it makes me sad to think of that one day there will be an end to my morning paper, I will finish with a picture of my adorable dog Darla. Just to cheer me up and anyone else who might feel sad about one morning not finding the newspaper on the front stoop anymore, not because some old guy stole it, but because it no longer exists. 


Telling Your own Life Story

    The artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her close friend Anita Pollitzer wrote a lot of letters back and forth to one another during their decades-long friendship. They met in college, and after work and life geographically separated them, they continued the friendship via sitting at a desk and writing. (Fancier desks than the one above, but I just liked this photo of an old fashioned writing desk with inkwell and pen).

     They wrote about all the things girlfriends now text or email each other about except they had to use stamps and the post office.  Because everything was on paper, actual paper my goodness, the letters are saved. No delete button. And because one of the women became a world-renowned artist, the correspondence between two friends about everything from romances to idle gossip to career goals is now kept in the archives of none other than Yale.  Not too shabby. At the time most of the letters were written, they were just two women who had common interests and a shared respect for one another. Girlfriends.


     I thought of all the letters I wrote back and forth to my girlfriends when I left Illinois in 1977. I threw them all away and because I’m not famous I don’t think any fancy university will be pining for them. Still, I wish I still  had all those youthful letters if only to remember the girl I once was. Not saying I don’t like email or texting, but now it’s hard to imagine someone taking the time to write me a letter on paper, get a stamp, address an envelope and mail it to me. So much time invested when now we can just hit a few buttons. I keep any letters someone sends me now. There are none but I would keep them.

    When it came time to write Georgia’s biography, Anita was asked to do the honors. That was the beginning of the end of their friendship. Oh there were other issues that eroded the friendship in time, (read the letters to find out) but the final blow for Georgia was how Anita portrayed the artist’s life in a manuscript she had hoped to publish about her long time, and now oh so famous, artist friend.

     Georgia got picky. She didn’t like how Anita said there were “fields of many-colored flowers” near Georgia’s birthplace. There weren’t that many flowers, said Georgia in one of the many long, downright snippy, notes she wrote to Anita about her misconceptions. Anita made the mistake of saying Georgia was happy. No I wasn’t, said Georgia. In fact, said Georgia, I don’t even like the idea of happiness. Then Anita called her friend “a shy beauty.” Nope. On that one I agree as Georgia was actually no beauty. Regal looking, but Anita was the beauty.  And so  Georgia’s complaints of how  Anita saw her life went on and on. Finally Georgia refused permission to her friend to publish any book about her famous self.
     So instead many years letter this book of the letters between the women was published. Anita was a champion of Georgia’s work, and was her ally and dearest friend, but in the end Anita could not write Georgia’s life to the artist’s satisfaction.

volcanoI met a woman recently who was going to take a group of people on a trek through Peru. This is Costa Rica. Haven’t gotten to Peru yet. So I said that would be interesting story to write. She said that I should I write her story. I said No. I think people, if at all possible, need to write their own story. How we perceive our own life can be very different than what people see from the outside. Anita saw her friend living in a house with flowers and smiles. But the person who had lived the life didn’t see the flowers. And that was her right.

jo anna

   This made me think about my friend Jo Anna who died about a year ago. I now and then will remember stories about her.  No one told her life story, but if they did how would it be told? Example.  I thought her husband was decent, but then I spoke with another woman and she said Jo Anna said he was a brute.  I won’t be writing Jo Anna’s life story, but It would be difficult for me to write it any other way than the way I perceived her life. If nothing else, we should get to tell about own life through our own lens. However cloudy or clear.

What does this all mean? If you want to be remembered a certain way, better start putting it on paper. If you don’t care either way, then however people remember you is just fine. As long as they remember you. Especially the ones you’ve loved. Also if there are journals and diaries lying around that you don’t want read, or possibly letters, decide now if they need to be shredded or would it be okay for grandchildren to read about grandma’s or grandpa’s wild nights listening to the Bee Gees and disco dancing.

me from LeeP.S. This is an old photo an old friend sent me during my years as a cocktail waitress in a rock and roll bar in Denver. I know he’s not a writer, so I think I’m safe because I think he might get my story a little too accurate. 




Do you believe in Magic?

photo 1     Deep in the forest lived a woman in a small cabin all by herself. She didn’t mind living alone, in fact she wasn’t alone. She had the birds and the foxes and the squirrels as her friends. Also, she had a unicorn. 

horseShe named her unicorn Moonbeam because it arrived to her cabin on a full moon night. She awakened and the unicorn was standing there beneath the bright glow of the smiling moon. The woman wove roses and daisies into the unicorn’s mane and rode it by the  river each morning so the unicorn could drink from the clear water which ran down from the mountain peaks. Silver fish with yellow fins would leap out of the water with joy at the sight of Moonbeam.

bed in trailer

At night in her pretty little bed, the woman would open up her curtains and stare at the stars and make wishes upon each one. All her wishes were different, but all were happy and kind.  Now and then she would have a visitor from the nearby village at the base of Blue Mountain. The woman grew up in the village though she never visited there anymore. She was content in her cabin.

sitting area in trailer She would read tea leaves using her lavender tea and china cups.  Some of the people in the village called the woman a gypsy, which wasn’t a good thing to be called then, and warned people not to go to the cabin. But this did not deter certain villagers and they would bring the woman warm pumpkin bread, rich stew or ripe cherries and tiny frosted cakes. There were rumors that the mushrooms that grew around the woman’s cabin were either poisonous or magical, but some people still tried to pick them but they would tug and yank and they mushroom would not budge. Only the woman could pick them. 

mushrooms2She fed them to Moonbeam and the unicorn liked them very much. Then one day a visitor came to her cabin and knocked on the door. She opened it and there stood a man with rooster feathers in his hat. 

fancy man

Alright so you are thinking I must have eaten some magic mushrooms myself. No my latest kick is champagne. I love the bubbles. Seriously, I was thinking of writing something about well, writing, or about being a waitress but realized I needed something magical in my life. I understand reality. I accept the responsibilities of home ownership, of washing my car and paying bills. 

      However, I don’t want to be such a grownup  that I forget about magic. In fact, it’s essential and not just for writers. Sure writers need imagination to create, but we all need to have a vision of something beyond what we can see with our eyes. With our imagination, skyscrapers get built, and life saving medicines get invented and novels get written. Skill plus imagination is a winning combination. Oh that sounds like a advertisement for tennis shoes.  

 People will sometimes ask writers where they get their ideas. My goodness. We might have to look up from our cell phones or computer screen now and then, but they are there.  Even the writer Jane Austen, who lived in a small English village and didn’t have the Internet, put her imagination to work and invented some unforgettable characters.  We don’t have to travel the globe. It’s right outside our door.  Put on the imagination glasses.  Everything I photographed above exists in the real world. Even the unicorn.

    There’s magic all around. So sure there are bills to pay, groceries to buy and chores to do, but if we can take to stop now and then and appreciate the magic in our world then maybe life will sparkle just that much  more. Now back to that little cabin in the woods.

caabin 2







Clean Plates and Clean Copy

     One of my writing goals for 2017 was to find a writer’s critique group. I appreciate and enjoy my writer’s inspiration group that I joined more than a decade ago, but it’s more to stimulate creativity with short prompts, no critiquing of one another’s work. I hoped a critique group might motivate me. I work well with deadlines and never had problems turning in stories on time when I worked as a journalist,  both on a weekly paper and on a freelance basis.  But on my own I’m like a toddler, easily distracted by a shiny pin wheel or a puppy which is not an optimal method to get novels completed. me-and-jo-anna-and-tracy      My writer friend Tracy, seen above, and myself went to the critique group a few weeks ago. She also is in dire need of deadlines because on her own she’s also distracted by the myriad of entertainment options we have at our fingertips today. So many movies and so little time. We both hoped that we could bring in a few pages of our manuscripts each week to the group and get feedback that would inspire us to keep writing.  We had hope.

     Our hopes were dashed on the rocks of…well on an inept group leader. What troubled me the most was the advice the woman leading the group told the novice writers in attendance. Go ahead, she said,  just write and send out your work. Don’t bother with those pesky skills of revising or editing. The editors at the publications will do that boring clean up work for you. 

   My mouth fell open which is not an attractive look. I did not drool, but I did want to pipe up and tell the silly woman  she was leading her novice writers astray. I stayed silent because, after all, she was the boss of her group. Tracy and I won’t be back, but that woman’s wrong advice haunted me. I started thinking about how writing is like a resturant. 

kitchen2The kitchen where I work starts out clean. It is like a  blank piece of paper. Sure it looks tidy, but nothing is being created. It’s like a writer who just sits and stares at the computer screen but does not type. When the grill is fired up, and cooks start chopping vegetables and stirring soups, that’s when the action begins.  People are waiting to be fed. The kitchen gets loud and messy. It must in order to create anything.  It’s like a story. First comes just the white emptiness.  

plateThen the writer’s mind starts to work adding and discarding ideas. Our imagination, or our memories, or both, get to work and we write. A cook stands before a hot stove and we sit alone in our room.  Our first drafts are suppose to be a mess. Just as the cooks have to keep checking temperatures or flipping a steak, we keep working on a piece of writing until we decide it is completed. 



      But not so fast. Food is not just prepared, thrown on a plate and sent out to the dining room. Here is Andria my co-worker making sure a plate is looking perfect. She has that winning waitress smile, too. Often there is an expediter, usually the chef, standing at the line with a towel and a keen eye, making sure the plates look the way they are suppose to look, with all the right ingredients. The expediter makes sure there are no blobs or spills on the plate. It must look perfect. The chef does not want the dining patron to have to clean up his or her own plate because the kitchen was too lazy to do the job. That spoils the entire meal. 

      Same with writing. No writer can expect a book publisher or a magazine editor to clean up spelling or punctuation.  That would be like sending out a salad without dressing and half the ingredients missing  and expecting the person paying for the salad to finish the job. Silly. Even when I attend a critique group, I don’t expect anyone there to teach me how to use commas. I’m looking more for suggestions to improve a story, or to encourage me to finish a story, not how to spell. 

     Thankfully I have my writer friend, Stella, who is always willing to look at my writing before I submit. She lives in Santa Fe, and is always busy doing something artsy, but she takes the time to offer me helpful suggestions for which I’m grateful. My avid reader friend, Laura, has offered to look at my writing, too, which I hope she knows what she has gotten herself into.  So it takes a village to truly produce a clean manuscript just as it takes an entire kitchen, including the front of the house staff, to make for a memorable meal. Even famous writers make sure they are doing the best job they can to submit a clean manuscript. It’s just a matter of pride. 

revisionLet me add this, though, my writing always feels to me as if it could be improved. I had a short story published years ago. When I got the book in which the story was included, I saw so many things I wanted to change. I even went back and with a pencil and made all the changes as if the book hadn’t already been published. I know. I’ve been called crazy before. 

Just as the food at the resturant has to eventually be served,  so does a manuscript finally have to be declared done. A chef could keep fussing and fussing  and there would be a lot of hungry people waiting. I’ve seen cooks do that. I want to scream at them…just serve the food. With writing, sometimes when we have done our best, we just have to let our work go and hope someone will eat it up. 












Envisioning 2017

vision-board      Some years ago I started making a vision board each January. I’ve made them at home alone, with friends at my house, in a church, in a healing center and this year at a yoga studio. It’s simple. All that is needed is a stack of magazines, glue, a cardboard poster board, and a vision, an imagination, for the coming year. In the past, I took a couple hours to do my vision board, browsing through magazines and stopping to read the articles. This year required quick thinking. First was an hour of yoga and then an hour of cut, paste, add a few flourishes, and completion.  No ruminating, pondering or second guessing. I added some fake rhinestones and a few rose stickers, for fun. We all need fun in our lives. Might sound silly, but a vision board always gives me hope for the coming year. 

     That day the women with me at the yoga studio were talking about goals and dreams. No one said that dreaded word. Impossible.  One woman wanted to move to New Orleans, another planned to lead a yoga retreat to Peru. Another woman hoped to retire. As I listened to the background music of their voices, I found inspiration to think beyond my own limited awareness and dream big for 2017. I wanted to ask the women about their dreams, but I had a deadline and needed to focus. 

letter-goals     Two weeks ago at the Writer’s Inspiration Group we did yearly writing goals. Each writer put his or her goals on paper and then sealed them in these envelopes. This year I’m responsible for keeping safe the envelopes which we will open at the end of 2017. I look at the stack of envelopes and feel as if I am the keeper of purpose and possibilities. I keep a copy of my goals near me so I don’t forget what is sealed in my envelope though if I don’t meet my writing goals I could say I forgot which at my age is allowed. Saying I forgot. We are never allowed to give up believing in dreams. That’s just too sad.

christmas-readingA few days before Christmas I had people over for a tea leaf reading. Whether or not the tea leaves can predict the future, I’m uncertain. I’m not a gypsy though there were times in my life I moved so often I just kept boxes packed.  I like to think though that there is power in sharing  with friends our yearnings and desires.

      As we sat with cups of hot tea we listened as one woman wanted to buy a home, another have a baby, another a new job. We read the tea leaves and laughed and talked and I think when my friends left they at least had the opportunity to voice what so often gets shoved in the background of our busy lives. Before we know it, 2017 is over and hello 2018. It’s good to stop and map out what we’d like happen in the coming year, make space to voice what we hold dear to our hearts.


So you might be asking…do vision boards work? One of the first vision board classes I took the teacher said what you hoped for in the coming year might take another year to happen. Patience. And the images may not come out exactly as expected…but there is something metaphorical that happens. If that makes sense. I keep the last year’s vision board in a closet and sometimes it does take awhile to make sense. This was last year’s board and the saying STAND UP really was significant for me. How did my subconscious know that would be? That’s the mystery. There was also a photo of white water rafting. I have no desire to white water raft, but the year really was filled with many personal, and sometimes, scary rapids that I had to navigate.  And yes there have been images I selected, of landscapes and objects, that have materialized in my world. 

     Finally, I am contributing to the American Writer’s Museum blog. The museum will open in my home town of Chicago in 2017.  I wrote a blog recently about Erma Bombeck. Remember her? I came across a column she wrote just a few years before she died of kidney failure. I will end this blog for 2017 with words she wrote in 1991 but are still as relevant today. 

      Erma wrote, “I have a friend who lives by a three word philosophy. Seize the Moment. Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from their routine.” 

       What moment do you want to seize for yourself in 2017? Keep the vision.