Even a friend’s published work is an unbelievable experience


The other day my girlfriend Emily Thornton Calvo picked me up from a doctor’s appointment. My husband was leaving town so he could only drop me off. Both daughters were working. For some odd reason, Emily actually had an hour break in her otherwise insanely busy schedule. And this, mind you, is post treatment for both cancer and leukemia. Look no further than Emily for an example on how to live life past the fullest, making over-doing it look like a vacation scenario.

As we headed home, she reached into the backseat and handed IT to me. Her New Book! Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd is a compilation of her insightful, eloquent poetry honed over decades of life-transforming experiences and more recent watercolor artwork, both of which present a sample of beautiful in the otherwise crazy world we inhabit. If you’re a Poetry Slam supporter, you must know her work through her Sunday evening readings at the Green Mill Lounge. Her artwork is already so spot-on, she’s had several successful art shows, too.

She’d been talking about putting the two together into a book for a while. Recently she revisited visual art through watercolors, and I am proud to have one of her masterpieces on my wall. Emily’s no rookie, having already published two other books with a co-author, so she’s well awareLCOA of the time and challenge of taking the traditional route to publish her latest creation.

Therefore, in 2014 when Emily applied for an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council, it’s really not that much of a leap to believe she won the grant. As a result, Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd became her latest masterpiece within one year, self-published through the generous support of this Arts’ program.

I held the book. I propped it up between the shift and dashboard to stare at it. Then I held it again, until we reached my front door. To know Emily is already a gift. To understand and access her vision of life in various stages is such a huge and special expression of the world  that only her words within the pages of this book begin to articulate it.

I can only hope to one day have a book of my own, capturing so many universal truths, to share with others. This creates a standard tough to achieve, but still worth the effort. To journey through all the physical, emotional, wonderful and agonizing experiences my friend has conquered, and to capture them with such presence of mind, is a rare talent. As is Emily.

The book will be available in print and electronically on Amazon and on her website, emilycalvo.com, later in October. It’s a holiday present no-brainer just as it’s a must-have for anyone searching for some sanity in this otherwise crazy world we call home.

I’m so happy and proud of you, Emily. And so honored to call you my friend. Congratulations!

Fairy Tales Coming True, It Can Happen To You


Once upon a time a little girl with long brown hair lived in a castle with her mom, dad, sister, dog and other pets, like fish, lizards and hamsters. She had her own bedroom painted pale pink, her favorite color at the time. Eventually she even had a full wall mural of a sandy beach with water and palm trees, and a blue suede chaise lounged in front of it.

Her sister, 8-years her senior, had a room right next door, painted in her then favorite colors of navy blue and yellow. She had a long closet where her friends signed their names, leaving permanent messages in pen and marker.

The castle was remodeled with the top floor converted into a giant master bedroom suite, huge walk-in closet, a long bathroom with a shower and a whirlpool bathtub. The addition, like a loft, overlooked the downstairs living room. Looking up were double doors revealing a beautiful office with custom-made bookcases and a large cherry-wood desk sitting in the middle. On the opposite wall upstairs sliding glass windows brought the sun and the stars inside, the chirping language of spring’s first birds, splashing water and laughter from kids  playing in the pool.

For a brief time, the little princess with the pale pink room liked sleeping upstairs with her mom and back-scratcher. It was 13 stairs up to the master bedroom where double doors opened to the huge bedroom and a sitting area complete with a couch, television, plant stand and some more books, separated from the office only by the long bathroom.

During this bewitching period in the past, the moon sitting on the horizon, the young princess felt compelled to climb up the stairs, look at her mom and the empty spot next to her on the bed, then return to the double doors and yell down: “Dad, can I sleep up here with mom tonight?”

Both the mom and dad waited excitedly every evening, hoping to hear those few precious words.

Next the little girl would lie on her stomach, legs stretched over her mom’s, her back in perfect reach for scratching and massaging. She never wanted her mom to pause, nor did her mom want to, but soon she was asleep. I would straighten her out so she could rest comfortably through the night.

Those nights flew past with unfathomable speed, and soon enough the little princess didn’t need  mom rubbing her back to help her go “night-night.” Instead her bedroom became her sanctuary with closed door, long phone calls and something called MySpace introducing her into a larger world she would one day conquer with successes even her greatest admirers still can’t envision.

Mom still alternates between abandonment and accomplishment, recalling those times tucked under the duvet in the big bed with her little princess, sharing magic that happens when backs need to be scratched and Full House is running a new episode.

Last night, a successful, beautiful woman stopped by the family’s down-sized castle in a rare moment of free time. It was particularly special because for a couple of hours she lie next to her mom in the big bed, watching TV, chatting, occasionally texting and often just resting comfortably and quietly next to me as if we’d quietly traveled into once upon a time.

In each second I appreciated the differences, both minuscule and monumental, reveling in the miracle of a parallel past and present storyline magically merging into moments my memory routinely replay until this new episode unexpectedly ran. Every now and then if you pay attention life will give you a peek into something seemingly unbelievable—like fairy tales coming true.

The Endless Gift from Birthdays


My granddaughter Caitlin turned 7 last week. The same week she started first grade. I’m not sure if physicists simply are keeping it on the QT, but unquestionably the world is spinning faster than ever. No way are there a full 365 days in a year anymore; time flies by way too fast to follow the traditional 12-month calendar.

Last week we celebrated at Wrigley Field. My daughter Jill and her husband outdid themselves. They treated us all to the Cub’s game. My stemanriques@wrigleypson and his three awesome kids joined us. My beautiful niece Nikki, her husband, their youngest daughter who looks so much like her mother that I still have goosebumps, and their son who’s six-months younger than Caitlin, came quite the distance to be there. Grandma and Grandpa G and Uncle Joey were there too. Our youngest daughter and her beau weren’t Cait:Avabecause I’m convinced they’re on a mission to redefine Type-A tendencies to the point wjason:brynleehere those of us who have them look like slackers. But that’s for another post.

We grabbed some pizza  and cake afterwards, and I’m sure we were all passed out before the 10 pm news.

But, as my avid readers know, my daughters are rock stars, so today Jill took Cait and four other little princesses for mani-pedis and then dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. We always had great birthday parties for our girls. Jill’s outdone us already. But I don’t believe it’s a competitive thing. Last weekend was family, and I think Cait caitmanipediwas fine with just that. But I know my daughters, and I can imagine Jill deciding Caitlin had to have a celebration with her friends, and that’s what they did this afternoon.

Having children is a lesson on the infinite nature of love. I felt it for Jill. When I was pregnant with Jackie, I was actually scared I wouldn’t have enough love left. How absurd does that sound? And how exhilarating to learn love is infinite. But as the years pass, we’re tired and frantic trying to raise a family successfully, pay bills, and those love lessons get lost in the chaos. Then along come grandchildren. My love for Caitlin reminds me of the love I have for my daughters and overwhelms me all over again. I love Nikki and her children, Chris and his kids just as much. I simply just don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with them.

That has to change. This gift of infinite love is nothing to recall occasionally. It’s something we must revel in every moment and every opportunity. The value in and beauty of life exists in that which all the money and success can’t buy. It comes from a heart with the ability to contain inexhaustible compassion.

We Write Because & Hope to be Published


The difference between being a writer and getting published reminds me of the difference between wanting to be a good parent and actually being a good parent. They appear as a continuum but couldn’t be more unrelated. There are legions of great wordsmiths in endless varieties like journalists, poets, fiction writers, essayists and others. Many create outstanding work but aren’t published simply because the quantity of material editors, agents, publishers and other gatekeepers must review is overwhelming.  Can you imagine the percentage of writer to agents, editors and publishers? That’s one of the few facts  I never want to learn.

Nonetheless, writers keep on writing. I don’t believe we have a choice. I could no more stop writing than I could turn down a mani-pedi with either of my grown daughters. Being published rivals sitting in a salon with one on either side of me. It’s probably hard for the non-writer or childless adult to comprehend, still it’s indisputably true.

In March I spent 18 glorious days at Ragdale, a writer- and artist-in-residence retreat. I reveled in the company of like-minded souls who struggle with all the thrill and torture of our calling. My bunk-mate was Jill Wine-Banks. More precisely, we shared a bathroom, and any woman knows after 18 days that alone creates an indestructible bond. She was working on her memoir about an inexperienced Dept. of Justice prosecutor in DC who happened to be the only female prosecutor on the Watergate case. Among others, she questioned Rose Mary Woods, then-President Nixon’s White House secretary and long-time confidante, about the 18-minute gap on  audio tapes used to record phone conversations in the White House. In the 1970s. When maybe 3% of law school graduates were women. Maybe 2% trial attorneys. Can you imagine the sexism facing a brilliant female attorney working to oust a US president and his senior advisors? Who also remains beautiful? And those were only some of the challenges she faced at that time.

She’s still working on it and no less concerned about getting published than I am about the essays I’m painfully aware can’t come close to the drama and infamy she participated in at the highest levels in a milestone moment of U.S. history. If she’s worried about getting published, you’ve got to believe me when I say we don’t choose to be writers. We just are.

I’m currently helping a long-time friend promote a book of poetry and water colors, entitled Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd by Emily Thornton Calvo. Emily has two other books published the traditional route with a co-author:  How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have is Talent and 25 Words or Less, a primer on finding a soulmate on-line. She’s co-founder and associate board member of Chicago Slam Works and tallies other credentials I couldn’t accumulate in 100 years. Still, this time she went the self-publishing route because she won an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council.

She dreaded the time-consuming and unsure fate of finding a traditional publisher. The grant supports the cost of Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd. The book’s words and images represent the lifelong journey of an incredibly talented, warm and brilliant soul wanting to help interpret or “color” the absurdities of life with “a beauty, irony or compassion that makes nonsense less disagreeable and even amusing.”

Introducing...Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd

How lucky is she that her application rose to the top in a city the size of Chicago and with a bureaucracy that has nothing on Washington D.C?  Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd will be available in October. You’ll want to own this masterpiece and share it with others. It’s truly a gift.

In less than one year I’ve been privileged to work side by side with two fascinating women, each struggling to share their remarkable experiences with words and images. Writing is one profession where members rely heavily on each other, depend on each other in fact, for constructive criticism and reality checks―a lot. We read, edit, workshop and consume each other’s efforts as no others can. That I think my words compare with these two seems laughable, but their encouragement is genuine. I know these are friends who wouldn’t let me waste a minute chasing a fantasy. Still, it’s hard to imagine….