Musings on writing


Tomorrow I head to Ragdale, an artist- and writer-in-residence retreat in Lake Forest, IL, to spend 18 glorious days focusing on my writing. I’ve wanted to write for as long as long as I can remember. I was blessed with a career and awesome bosses who allowed me to write for clients and—god love them—a salary. The idea of being allowed the time, monastic quiet and like souls to work on my own words and ideas that have been percolating in my mind, on my computer and in notebooks is akin to winning the lottery (I’m guessing).

I’ll miss my family and friends. We just moved to a beautiful highrise overlooking the frozen lake. I’ve finally emptied the last box. Admittedly, the thought of how all that time-consuming organization might be rearranged is a little bit more than a nagging concern. But I can use the change in scenery, and I know my family can use a break from me!

My oldest daughter, Jill, is moving into her first house today. Last year when I left for Ragdale, I’d been helping with her newborn son. This year within weeks after I return she’s due to deliver a brother to Patrick Xavier (Pax) and Caitlin. For one week in my absence my youngest, Jackie, is heading to Florida as assistant softball coach to North Park University’s softball team and to help recruit new players in return for a Master’s Degree she’s earning there. I cannot articulate how surreal it is to write and read this last paragraph. Where did the time go? How did this happen so fast?

We moved into our first home 31 years ago, a few months before Jill was due. Reagan introduced his trickle-down effect, Ghostbusters was a hit and my friends made those costumes for a Halloween party! Tina Turner was asking What’s Love Got To Do With It and the clothes we were wearing are too silly to even try to describe. Phones attached to wires and walls, computers were a new technology and we got mail through the post office in an envelope with a stamp. Addresses were at least three lines long, and I don’t know of anyone who thought much of an @ symbol.

We were in our second home when Jackie arrived. Clinton defeated Bush, Sr., Johnny Carson turned The Tonight Show over to Jay Leno after a 30-year run, Basic Instinct, A League of Their Own and A Few Good Men were at the box office, and I’m pretty sure a bunch of my girlfriends and I attended our first Madonna concert.

I’ve learned of love and loss, shared laughter and shed seas of tears, survived what I was I sure I wouldn’t and experienced moments I never dreamt could happen. Very little remains the same except my desire to write. Can I capture those fleeting moments and the profound significance of so many of them with my words? Will anyone care if I do?

I don’t know that I’m writing for fame or fortune. Maybe it’s to share that universal experience of the sum of those days and months where we plan and fail, trip and fall, get back up, celebrate successes and mourn losses big and small and repeat it all, thinking that combined those events lead us to something more meaningful than the sum of those days and months.

All my life, all our lives, add up to right this moment, don’t they? We’re products of our past, but all we really know is only in this very moment. It’s been said we make plans and God laughs. I wonder what She thinks when we work so hard to share the meaning in our lives?

Happy New Year


With my laptop starting the new year getting tuned up and ready for a 2nd semester at the Writers Studio, this post will be short and–thanks to a couple of beautiful grandchildren–sweet.

To all my friends and family, a happy and healthy 2015. I love you all more than any words I can adequately line up could express. For now at least…:)

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The Greatest Gift


Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mom. The lingering scent of Chanel No. 5, a reference to Gone with the Wind, a sip of scotch and water and now baking Christmas cookies—those and a million other prompts bring her top-of-mind even though she’s been gone nearly two decades.

I think of how much she’d love her great-grandchildren. She adored our daughters for the too short number of years she knew them. She was as wonderful a grandmother as she was a mom. My niece who has a handful of years over my oldest daughter remembers her the way I do. To share memories of her with my niece is priceless. She’s a reminder that those recollections are real and not just exaggerated reminiscence of the years when I, too, had the title of daughter.

Everything I know about being a mom and a grandmother are from lessons I learned from my mom. She had a huge heart, and she shared it mightily and without condition. Maybe that’s because she was so close to her mom, my grandma Toto. Toto left her husband when my mom was very young. He hit her, once. She wasn’t going to wait and see if there was more to come. Instead, she got a job in the men’s department at Sears Roebuck & Co. on States Street in Chicago and kept it over 25 years, eventually transferring to a mall in the suburbs when she moved in with us. One day my mom and Toto went downtown to cash in some of the Sears stock she’d been accumulating. It happened to be on a day the stock split. My mom and I got new cars, my sister a down-payment for a house. And Toto still had money left. They laughed about that day all their lives. Sharing it was never in question. It’s what they did.

My mom and Toto lived together most of their lives. During the war when all the husbands and dads were gone they had a studio apartment on Hampton Court in Lincoln Park. After that, Toto went back to Sycamore to live with her mom, my great-grandma Mama, until she got ill. Then they both moved in with our family in the suburbs of Chicago.

“Room in the heart, room in the home” is a saying I grew up hearing and my family exemplified day in and day out all of my life together with them.

Sometimes I’m sad my girls didn’t get a chance to really know my mom—and my my dad whose heart was just as large. I know they’d understand me better. And I’m sure they’d have a clearer idea of what I miss so much some times, particularly around the holidays. But then they too would feel that big hole in their hearts, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

It’s bittersweet to be blessed with such wonderful family only to loose them too early. Yet, I wouldn’t give up the memories and the lessons I learned from Sycamore and Glenview for anything. Funny how life works. Their loss is indescribably painful, but everything about their lives was soothing, healing. I was blessed to be born into that family and the cousins who remain are powerful reminders of my great fortune.

I only hope I can do justice to those who filled my life with so much compassion and helped guide me into my future with such a strong moral compass. While the first to admit they were far from perfect, they were the first to offer all they had to those they loved. What more can we ask from our parents? As if that alone isn’t an incredible gift. Now as a veteran parent I understand I lucked out big time. If I can be half as missed and memorable I’ll have succeeded. Even at that measure, those are huge shoes to fill.

Maybe that’s why not a day goes by when I don’t miss my mom and dad, Toto and Mama, and all the others who loved and laughed and made the most of every day they had.

How to Learn the Value of Thanksgiving


Miss it. I was contagiously sick. The kind you can’t hide because you sound and look awful and no one wants to get near you. 50+ years and this is a first I never wanted to experience, especially because my beautiful niece and her family were joining us at my oldest daughter’s apartment, something that doesn’t happen often enough.

Jill's husband, Chris, and my granddaughter Cait at a dance. He's one of the nicest men I know.

Jill’s husband, Chris, and my granddaughter Cait at a dance. He’s one of the nicest men I know.

My firstborn, Jill, whose smile lights up the city.

My firstborn, Jill, whose smile lights up the city.

AND, as if we don’t have an incredibly selfish amount to be thankful for, Jill couldn’t drink any wine because she and Chris are going to have another baby! Patrick  turned 9 months on the 16th, so the love that we are surrounded by continues to grow, and at the end of April we look forward to another healthy bundle of love.

My "baby," Jackie," and this tall guy hanging around her A LOT:) He's Drew and he's a great guy, too.

My “baby,” Jackie,” and this tall guy hanging around her A LOT:) He’s Drew and he’s a great guy, too.

To think, when I was pregnant with my second daughter, Jackie,  I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough love left, I just loved Jill so much.  I couldn’t imagine until Jackie entered our life how love is an infinite gift. It makes me think we should make every day Thanksgiving.

My niece, Nikki, and her handsome husband Jason. Nikki is the placeholder for my mom, dad, her mom and my brother, gone too soon-and she will never know what that means to me.

My niece, Nikki, and her handsome husband Jason. Nikki is my placeholder for my mom, dad, her mom and my brother, gone too soon-and she will never know what her presence means to me.

After all, we’ve long disregarded the true meaning of the holiday, and with all the nasty finger-pointing and meanness going around, we should awake every morning to a sign that says, “We don’t need turkey and dressing to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving Everyday!”


Pox and Pax–there are no words.

Here are some of the people I missed so much it hurt my heart last Thursday. Some of the pictures were taken on Thanksgiving, others weren’t. And I don’t have everyone here.

But to all of you, I missed you as much as I love you, and I could not be more thankful to have you in my life. I am one lucky woman.

Cousins Caitlin & Brayden (Nik & Jason's son).. Friends for life.

Cousins Caitlin & Brayden (Nik & Jason’s son). Friends for life.

Jason & Nik's daughter, Brynlee. When I see her I get goosebumps. Mimi-mom.

Jason & Nik’s daughter, Brynlee. When I see her I get goosebumps. Mimi-mom.

He Speaks for Himself


His babble is adorable. His tears are heart-rending. One look and you go through every emotion in the most overwhelming way. Need I say more? Now this is how to start your week!



Patrick Xavier Gattorna 9 whole months today!

p.s. it is also an excellent source for a writer with writer’s block. But now back to my homework.

Once you get started…


it’s so much easier to be nice and not nasty. Sadly, that works both ways. Once you get started on the nasty route, it’s often too easy to stay on that and not quickly get your foot on the brake and turn yourself around.

We live in a scary, contentious world. Long before we put our condo up for sale, I wrote in marker over the closet (the first place you see when your eyes spring open) “Wake up with joy, then take it with you wherever you go.”

My granddaughter was mortified. Her very own grandmother wrote on the wall with a marker?!?! I finally completely understand the concept, “being beside one’s self.”

After convincing her it was erasable and that she should never think about doing it herself because I was the only one on the planet that owned that particular kind of marker, she slowly got back to the point of the message—but I must add this was traumatizing. It took quite awhile for her to get her head around what Grandma did before she could think about what Grandma was trying to point out.

We laugh about it now. After all, she was only a young, unknowing 6-year old then. She’s all of 7 now, she gets it, and we talk about it often because she likes to sleep w/me when she stays over. The house didn’t sell, but we had to paint the room so the message no longer exists―physically. It remains as real and concrete as I imagine an algorithm is in a techies head.

Wouldn’t it be great if some similar thought could be implanted in everyone’s thoughts when they are most vulnerable and remain as tangible? We could shake them up enough so they wouldn’t forget and keep tcait+grammahe message alive so they wouldn’t forget.

Think about it. They’d get started on the right foot. Default is “kind.” Whenever that doesn’t power up, we know to call in a technician to fix the problem immediately because we know beyond any question something’s amiss. We’re able to catch it and bring someone in to fix it right away, and we’re right back to waking up with joy.

A little naÏve? No, a LOT naÏve, but worth thinking about every now and then.

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.