What Would You Do Different?


If you knew you would be okay, what would you do different? It’s a great question, and it was asked last Sunday by one of the nine stars in “My Second Act, Survivor Stories from the Stage” at the Athenaeum Theater. My friend Emily was one of the nine, although I wish she were in the audience sitting next to our friend Lori and me instead having to play this part. The show is produced by the Women Survivor Alliance, a growing organization working to empower, educate and connect women affected by cancer. Their mission: to help survivors find their voice, improve the quality of life and embrace their 2nd Acts. emily

The Emily I know has always embraced life, even after a diagnosis of an impossible-to-prounounce leukemia caused by the treatment needed to beat breast cancer. But last fall she gave us all a huge hug by publishing a book of her poems illustrated by her water colors: Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd.

For as much as I wish I didn’t have a reason to sit in the audience, it was enlightening. And humbling. It gives one pause to sit quietly and listen to nine brave women from every measurable demographic talk about the wisdom gained while beating down that horrible medical monster called cancer. And what a great question from one of her co-stars: If you knew you would be okay, what would you do different? group-on-stage1e Would you be doing what you’re doing now? Are you waiting for some allusive milestone before going after your passion? If by some miracle every roadblock you see in your path were torn down, do you know where you’d be headed? It’s worth thinking about. And if you need further inspiration, keep a copy of Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd by your side.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost – Bookworms Club


My laptop continues undergoing a tune-up before I start school in mid-January, and both packed and yet-to-be filled boxes abound around the condo we’re moving from at the end of the month. I’m focused on organizing the pieces of our lives so the next stop in our journey unfurls as uncluttered and stress-free as possible so I can participate in class without being too distracted. Still, I’m hard-wired to find time to write and read. I picked up Meaghan Daum’s new book of essays, “Unspeakable,” and am up late into the night reading and re-reading it. What an amazing piece of work. She’s a brilliant writer.

This morning skimming through email I found this timely and timeless poem in a LinkedIn discussion. We’re all entering a New Year if not a new home. I hope you, too, are as inspired by this masterpiece as I head back onto the path full of boxes.

 “The Road Not Taken” is one of Frost’s most critically acclaimed poems. The poem starts with the narrator standing at a fork road where he is supposed to make a decision about which road to take. As he knows he cannot take both road at the same time, he try his best to look at one road till it bends in the undergrowth, but then he takes the opposite road. While travelling through the selected road he is constantly thinking of the road not taken. As most of us do, probably Frost is pointing to the truth of life. That none of us try to concentrate on our present task or the path which we have taken. We always try to think of the lost benefits from those untrodden paths, as the saying goes – “ The road is always greener on the other end”. 

 Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference  

 In the end our narrator writes that he will be recalling this journey with a “sigh” in the future. Whether the sigh is a happy sigh or sad sigh, is something we as readers have to interpret. Or maybe even the narrator also didn’t know. All he knew was that, “All the difference in your life was finally because of the road you selected.”

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost – Bookworms ClubBook

How do you manage your writing time?


Outside of ensuring my family and friends are happy and healthy, I have only two big goals over the next two years. The first is to move, and that’s simply a matter of timing. The place is ready to be shown. We already did the “big” downsizing when our girls had the audacity to leave us so this next one is much easier.

My second goal is to finish the two-year Writing Certificate program at the University of Chicago. Tonight is class #2. I’ve done my homework, and I’m excited to get to know my colleagues and teacher better as well as learn to become a better writer.

Still there is also so much info on the web to read from credible sources like “What turns editors on?” “What gets you thrown off the slush pile?” “10 ways to impress an agent,” “How to manage your time!” Then there are the magazines—Poets & Writers, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Sun not to mention all the great literary publications from Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, Fifth Wednesday JournalAnd the on-line journals and blogs—way too many to list. But so many great ones to read.

I’ve worked hard to keep up a writing routine. In the morning I go to my desk. It’s somewhat away from the hub of the house so it’s relatively quiet. But people know how to find me! At least once a week I go to my girlfriend’s. She lives on top of offices. We work in the offices, and truly get very few distractions so we do get a lot of work done.

But we never end a long and intense day without feeling like there’s so much more we need to do, learn, research, double-check. Writing is hard, time-consuming, and we know it’s unlikely to make us wealthy. But writers have to write.

Any suggestions? I guarantee I’ll find time to read those.

What an overwhelming week for family & friends


Two infected teeth, preparing for my first day of school and my daughter having the audacity to step into 30 years of age, fearlessly, makes today feel like Saturday already. But on top of that,  25 copies of Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd by my girlfriend Emily were delivered early to allow for a “soft launch” of her poetry and watercolor book at Ed Hinkley Studios this Saturday and Sunday, October 4 and 5. His 16th annual Waterworks exhibition will include some of the paintings included in Emily’s book, some new ones, and of 20141002_113331course there will be the first pile of books on sale!

It’s so great to watch good things happen to good people. Here they were this morning waiting to open up the first box of books! If you have a free time between noon and 5 pm, come join us celebrate this awesome piece of work at 4052 N. Western Avenue.

By then despite how my teeth feel, I’m going to enjoy the wine, cheese and excitement surrounding a new exhibit. And I’m getting some holiday shopping done at the same time.

As for my daughter Jill, it seems three decades flew by faster than three years. I remember being in the hospital for two days as they induced labor for this little pip-squeak who’d clearly moved in. Thankfully, my doctor wanted to make it home for dinner the second night, and delivered she was. Perhaps a little well-done, but otherwise perfect. As fast as the time seems to have flown, the 21760_380724235336667_1537020678_nyears I’ve spent being proud of her mountain of accomplishments assure me it’s been at least 30 years.

But now I understand why my mom was bummed when my sister turned 30. She said it made her age 10 years―to 49 years old.

Those were great days. And so are these. I’ll take two messed up teeth as my family’s biggest problem any day.

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!

Swag, Song, Images & Words


Ragdale held a contest for its residents. We had to respond to “Ragdale is…. ” with words and/or images. Both the awesome visual artist Olivia Petrides and I won. Chances are this is the only time Olivia and I will ever be in the same sentence, she is an artist beyond words I can express.

We won some Ragdale swag―↗︎a coffee cup and t-shirt. My memories of the last three weeks won’t ever need prompts, but it’s cool stuff and I’ll use/wear it all the time, and therefore remind others that once upon a time….

Last night artist Jane Deschner and composer/pianist/songwriter/uke-strummer-extraordinaire Vanessa Vincent from the Old Town School of Folk Music both shared their work. And after dinner, writers read portions of ours.

 ⬆︎ Jane, and on the other side of the studio, Vanessa shared the hauntingly moving music she created to complete an album.


My very first dorm-mate had never read her memoir’s word’s aloud before an audience, so we broke her in……………….➩

My mentor happened to be here. She just completed her first novel! She protested the chapter her editor chose, but read it anyway.  ⬇︎

The other fiction writer, and the last remaining representative of the Y-chromosone bunch (we gave the last one heart-problems), shared the first  ↖︎chapter of his second novel.

And what’s a retreat without a resident poet and playwright? Both shared their beautiful words.

 The poet:
               The playwright: ➡︎

Yes, I read, too. But I don’t possess a photogenic gene, and that was proven without doubt again last night so you’ll have to trust me on this one. I’ll be happy to read my personal essay to anyone who cares to listen. It’s not my words, it’s my images that pose a problem 🙂
Tonight we get a peek at Olivia’s work; I can hardly wait, and I’ll share it with you soon. Until then, back to the little remaining time to write. It is, after all, the first time since I’ve been writing my own words that they’ve earned me anything concrete. That’s heading in the right direction―I like black almost as much as green!