Archives for category: Writing

"Van Mom" Caricature by Eric, the Pioneer Press's Uber-Talented Cartoonist

[This newspaper column appeared in the Pioneer Press in January 2011.]

Years ago, I attended a writer’s party at a Barrington estate.  We nibbled on Paula Deen-ish hors d’oeuvres.  It was “BYOR: Bring Your Own Reflux.”

We settled into couches, and gazed out at a rambling front yard forested by oaks and maples.

A woman approached our wordsmith cluster and introduced herself as Barb, a high-school English teacher.  She joked she was married to “the most hostile person in the room.”  I burst out laughing, because my husband usually grimaces at the idea of a “party” and waits in the car for me to say goodbye – about fifteen minutes after we arrive.

In between wine coolers and wisecracks, we shared our dreams.  Barb was also an Erma fan, and wrote fiction and humor.

The inevitable drifting happened.  Schedules got busier.  She had her baby, then I had my two.  Once, I faced a family-related crisis and she wrote a heartfelt letter.  She sent photos of her son’s school pictures at Christmas.

I sent Barb a silly essay, about my husband and I scrambling to finish a Wright Brothers plane made of popsicle sticks.  Barb chastised me, saying that parents shouldn’t really do their student’s work, but then confessed she had once built a rainforest inside a Florsheim shoe box.

According to Barb, teaching creative writing was rewarding yet intense.  “In addition to the assignment, sometimes my kids will write in the margins, ‘my mom is dying from cancer,’ or ‘my dad is drinking again.’”  Their writing was a window to their souls, and Barb listened.

For awhile, I noticed there weren’t any cards or e-mails.  So, I Googled Barb’s name.  To my shock, I found out she died in July 2009.  She was only 50.

We were not everyday friends.  Our children didn’t play together.  I never met her husband.  But she was the person I wanted to have coffee with.  I wanted to be like her.

Henry Thoreau said, “You cannot dream yourself into a character, you must hammer and forge yourself into one.”

Barb’s death feels like a hammer to my cozy world.  I say, “Things will work out,” and reassure myself there is still time to do it all.

And there isn’t.

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Yep, That's Our Post-Civil War "Prez"

During a Web search-and-deploy, I somehow landed on this image.  I squinted and said, “Do mah lil’ ole nearsighted eyes decieve me?  Why, that  looks like Ulysses S. Grant.”

And by golly, it is.  

Billed as “Chas. Banks’ Original Spectacular Burlesque… General Grant’s Trip Around The World.”  Perhaps a promotional poster, long before Twitter and Facebook ever existed, circa 1879.  Can you imagine Grant living this down in the current political climate?

Mr. Mirriam-Webster just informed me that burlesque means: “a theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous, often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits and sometimes striptease acts.”

For the common slob writer, the Internet is a researcher’s cornucopia, overflowing with all kinds of nifty links, facts and fascinating info.  While researching for my latest project, I happened upon the Library of Congress site — chock full of historical images, some laugh-out-loud howlers. 

Copyrights-wise, it’s best to check… although my writer buds and I talked, and an image prior to 1920, 1900’s, should be safe to reprint.  But there could be a rabid lawyer out there, ready to smote my ruin with such a statement.

Click on the image if you’re curious about the Library of Congress website.  And remember, tell those librarians — Cheryl sent ya.

A science-fiction writer, Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, is honored with a Google Doodle today.

Behind Today's Google Doodle

So I go to research a topic via Google and I’m struck by the H.G. Wells-ish illustration, something my husband would like.  Very Steam-Punk-y. Crazily, I contemplate all the Windex this guy with the cane would need… to keep those windows sparkling clean.

Clicking on the illustration, I learn that it is the birthday of a science-fiction writer from Argentina.  He was born 112 years ago.  “Unable to support himself as a writer… Borges worked as a literature professor.”  How many of we writers can relate to that sentence?

Well, I scan the Christian Science Monitor article on Borges, click back to Google… and completely forget why I went there in the first place. 

Simply click on the illustration and you’ll go to the CS Monitor explanation.

Is there anything that can reduce a woman to a sobbing, swearing wretch – other than when she inadvertently downloads “malicious malware?”

I’d had a busy day of writing and stayed up to finish while my family snoozed.  My eyes felt gritty as I blinked from fatigue.  A glance at the microwave clock confirmed it was twelve midnight, beyond the ‘witching hour.’   If I stayed up much longer, I’d morph into a witch.  And not the button-nosed ‘Twilight’ kind.  Naw, we’re talking warts, sags under the eyes, a cackle.  We’re talking Hansel and Gretel.  Small children screaming and other women judging.

I sat, clicked… and then something went wrong.  The computer screen looked funny.  Dear God, not this.  Not a freakin’ flippin’ virus.  My head throbbed, my ears rang, I felt a surge of rage and violent impulses.  And no, I hadn’t watched “The Real Housewives.”  No, I was in deep do-do, because I’d done a no-no.  I uploaded some kind of malware, which is a quasi-virus, according to the Guru IT Guy, El Husbando.

The first sign… my anti-virus software choked and gagged.  Second sign, a pop-up with Bill Gates rolling his eyes.  Third sign, the mouse under my hand bit me. 

Those tricky @#$% hackers connived their way onto my laptop and stuck out their tongues at my technical ignorance.  How is it that Stephen Hawking and others can contemplate the mysteries of the universe, and I don’t know a “control panel” from wood paneling?

Computers.  Bah, scum bug.  Only one thing can make me this desperate, and that’s when I’m holiday shopping at Woodfield Mall, searching for an empty parking slot.  Turns out, the only available parking is in a forest preserve.  Near the Wisconsin border.

Wonder what your idea of a nightmare is.  When your computer goes kablooey?  Facing a pile of laundry that must be mounted with a rope, pick and a rescue team?  Facing a three-way mirror in a dressing room in your granny panties and a Playtex that should’ve been retired two years ago?