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This is What Happens When You Opt-In

Looking out my third floor window as I tap words into my MacBook Air, I see three crows bounce from bare tree limbs to the ground and back — caw, caw, cawing at each other about their breakfast. The internet once told me if you look a crow in the eye, it will 12196091_952754094793732_8173525927943455115_n-1remember you for three years. Momentarily anthropomorphizing these superior animals, I connect to them telepathically. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Crow for visiting me this morning. This connection more than compensates for those mornings when their caw, caw, cawing wakes me earlier than I’d wish.

All of a sudden, something pops up in the corner of my screen: “White House forced to reverse course on Trump’s golfing.” I instantly break off my birdwatching and open the link to this urgent story. I don’t dislike golf, but I’m not interested either. However, since the tragedy of 11/8, I involuntarily relinquish my time to so-called breaking news. I click and read. The next thing I know a little box appears with a photo of a pair of shoes I covet. Hmmm, I wonder if those are on sale. I click.

Pope Francis calls these commercial intrusions “opprobrium of savage capitalism.” Yikes. I’m ashamed. But still I click.

When I retired in 2011, I left behind a well-serviced computer and an outstanding modern invention, the Blackberry cell phone. On my own, I wasted time and money trying to replace these gadgets of convenience. Mourning the loss of IT department expertise, I succumbed to the sales pitches of Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile, gobbling up three different mobile phones within six months. The first one, an android, made sparkling photos. It accidentally slipped through my fingers into Lincoln Park’s South Pond as I leaned over to click a photo of a turtle sunning on a rock. For my second cell phone I decided to forego the camera and try a much less costly flip phone. Alas, my thick Irish fingers couldn’t navigate the buttons. The well-trained manager at T-Mobile suggested an iPhone and showed me how easy it was to use, how cheap it would be on a monthly payment plan and how all the information stored in the cloud downloaded (or is it uploaded?) into the phone.

Acquiring a computer was simpler. I knew without an ever-ready IT department, I had to thbuy an Apple since it was the only brand with a store on Michigan Avenue, which I equate, rightly or wrongly, with quality. And it has a walk-in IT department.

After a prolonged learning curve, I have enough knowledge to use my gadgets for news, restaurant suggestions, bus schedules, appointment reminders and a depository for my writing, rants and raves. I maintain an online community of friends, enemies, strangers, relatives, and acquaintances, larger than I could ever handle offline.

Well, Reader, it’s time to brake for breakfast. But first I must read two articles that just extralargepopped up:  “Is a ‘deep state’ subverting the presidency?” and “Bald Eagle Population Booming In Chicago.”

Surviving Grade School: Leave Thy Low-Vaulted Past

Surviving Grade School: Leave Thy Low-Vaulted Past

 

First Grade  You have chicken pox and can’t go to school. You have mumps and can’t go to school. You have measles and can’t go to school. We’re all going to live in a hotel for a while so you can’t go to school.

Second Grade We’re moving to a new town and you’ll be going to a new school. The nun says you can’t read so you have to repeat First Grade.

First Grade We’ll buy you a bicycle to take your mind off your shame. What color do you want? Green? Ok. Oh, your sisters want bicycles too, blue and red.

Second Grade The nun says you read well enough to advance to Third Grade.

Third Grade Why don’t you know how to multipy? Come to the convent after school. We’ll have snacks and I’ll teach you arithmetic. You’ll be late going home. Can you cross the street by yourself?

Fourth Grade We’re moving to a new town and a new school. We’re moving again and you’re going to another new school. We’ll be living in a hotel until we find a home. You’ll be riding the public bus to school.

Fifth Grade We’re moving to another town and a new school. We’ll be living in a hotel until we find a home. March to class. March to lunch. March to recess. No talking in the hallway. No talking in the classroom. No talking at lunch. We’re moving into a house in another town and another school. They don’t wear uniforms, so let’s go shopping. Whew! No uniforms. No marching. And lots of talking.

Sixth Grade Hey new girl! Let’s sneak into the church at recess and read the booklet about sex. Let’s go ice skating after school and play Steal the Bacon with the boys. Want to join Girl Scouts? We’ll go camping and collect badges. We’ll sneak off in the middle of the night to meet the boys. I hear the nuns sent you home for wearing a sweatshirt to school. It’s ok. You just have to know the rules.

Seventh Grade We’re moving to another town and a new school. You have to iron your own white shirts, polish your brogues. Learn French. Work harder on arithmetic. You and your sister are playing palace guards, dressed in frog costumes, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Ride your bike to play summer softball. Ride your bike to Cathy Riley’s, then ride her horses into wild raspberry fields.

Eighth Grade You’re on your way to win the all-school trophy for all-around best student. Keep up your grades, sports, tutoring and extra credit projects. We’re moving to a new town without your father. You’ll be living with relatives for the last six weeks of the school year. The school requires all eighth graders to memorize nine poems in order to graduate, including Oliver Wendall Holmes’ The Chambered Nautilus:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Change Your Life with Lima Beans

Change Your Life with Lima Beans

     When I put the light green kidney shape in my mouth, my tongue moved it to my baby molars, gingerly munching up and down, side to side, until I felt a mushy bean pop out of the slimy skin onto my tongue. I gasped, and my reflexive inhale involuntarily pulled the glob to the back of my throat. I gagged on the paper-like skin, exhaling the sodden lump back through the front of my teeth and out onto my plate. My little five-year old body sat at that table until “you eat those lima beans.” After everyone went to bed, I dumped the loathsome things in the garbage. That night I vowed to forever hate lima beans and thus seeded a recipe for an unyielding, uncompromising, black and white life.

     Whatever possessed my mother to force me to sit at the table of uneaten lima beans for hours? Was it a doctor who told her that her children needed to eat vegetables? Or perhaps she was trying to introduce exotic foods into our menu so she could show off her three little girls and their sophisticated palates.

     My sisters and I all hated vegetables. The older, Mara, would feign putting a forkful of beans in her mouth with an air of superiority, a competitive streak born in her and never pruned. Erin, the youngest, figured out how to put her vegetables in a neat pocket formed by her napkin and dump it in the trash while no one was looking. Hiding unpleasant situations is perennially rooted in her life.

     When the self-actualization movement bloomed in the 1960s and ’70s with books such as The Prophet, I’m Ok You’re Ok and Be Here Now, I cultivated my deeper self by rooting out my hatred for lima beans. I tilled the soil for a backyard garden in Toms River, New Jersey, and planted the formerly-detested vegetables. When they sprouted, I thought the light green shape hanging from the stem was a single bean. After a few weeks, bumps appeared under the thick skin of the seed pod. I diligently hosed away aphids, leafhoppers, and mites, but I was sure my crop was deformed. Consulting Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening book, I learned the bumps were actually beans – four lima beans per pod. After a few months, I pulled the bean pods from the vines, broke them open and started eating the sun-drenched crop right there on my knees in the garden. My neighbor flew out of her back door and yelled Stop! You can’t eat raw lima beans! They’re poison!

     Uh-oh.

     This was a new reason not to eat them, cooked or uncooked, but I was determined to use lima beans to crack open the hardened space between “what is” and “what could be.” I brought an apronful of beans inside, cooked, salted and buttered them and ate the day’s harvest for breakfast. They were good.

     Abiding in the distasteful takes practice. The once indigestible lima bean aerated my closed mind and paved the way toward a paradise of tasty, fresh vegetables.

 

What Is My Work, You Ask?

What Is My Work, You Ask?

 

1962. My work is to stop laughing like a nervous little girl and start smiling like an unflappable young lady in the coffee shop on the Asbury Park boardwalk. To turn away from the seagulls fighting over dead fish on the beach and write “pancakes” and “bacon” on my notepad. To pay attention to the old telling the story of the 1934 wreck of the cruise ship SS Morro Castle on the beach. To save money for tickets to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the Asbury Park Convention Hall.

1967. My work is to read Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care and apply its 51hjigsfuol-_sx309_bo1204203200_commandments to week-old smiles, cries in the night, a nine-month old sprinter and a child who eats only chicken. My work is to stand my ground in the whirlwind advice from mothers, aunts and grandmothers. To learn to ride a baby on the back of my bicycle. To animate words as I point to clouds, trees and cars as if I’ve never seen these things before in my life.

1976. My work is to bypass the door to the secluded basement with its graveyard of empty vodka bottles. To surrender to my new single-motherness. To trust my untrustworthy father and move from a sandy Jersey Shore cottage to a downtown Chicago highrise. My work is to know this is the best plan for a nine-year-old boy’s future happiness.

1982. My work is to dress up in business clothes, act smarter than I am, eavesdrop on everyone’s conversations in a boiler room full of political operatives, ask stupid questions and digest enough information to schedule Nancy Stevenson in places that help win votes for her husband’s campaign for governor.

1990. My work is to be a motherless child. To lament the loss of my uterus and ovaries, and, my boyfriend. To escape to Paris and London with my twelve-year old niece. To atone for all my past sins.To feign self-confidence while running the Illinois Democratic Party.

1993. My work is to take Prozac on the way to Washington to join the management class of the Clinton Administration. To imagine I have power and to hide humiliation when I’m exposed. My work is to honor the ruling class. To recognize they are human. To protect myself from evil-doers and self-promoters. My work is to mourn the loss of naiveté.

2006. My work is to shield myself and others from Cook County Government officials who believe if you are happy at your job you’re not working hard enough. To cherish those I lead for what they are today and not for what they will be tomorrow. To protect them from those who refuse to know their names.

2017. My work is to record how far my shadow falls behind me. To tell the truth about myself and trust God with where the words go and what they do when they get there. My work is to proclaim the US Constitution guarantees me the freedom to assemble publicly and express myself openly without retribution. My work is to say I love America and when the saints go marching in, oh! how I want to be in that number.

Inspired by “An Address to My Fellow Faculty,” by A. Papatya Bucak, from brevitymag.com

Irish DNA: Inheriting A Stigma

Irish DNA: Inheriting A Stigma

Irish DNA seems to have a gene actively predisposed to alcoholism though there’s no scientific evidence that it’s hereditary.

The first ugly secret in my family is that my twenty-three year old mother, Agnes Donnelly Ryan Burke, was drunk in the Georgetown Inn in Washington with my father at the time her mother died. She wasn’t located until the next day. Later that year my parents were married in Key West where my father, Bill, flew reconnaissance planes across the Florida Straits to Cuba. Their married life began with Bill spending two weeks in the brig after a drunken brawl over Agnes.

Alcohol addiction begins with an immature reaction to the emotional and physical pain of adverse childhood and young adult experiences. When and why did Agnes and Bill cross over from heavy drinking to alcohol disease? Bill’s mother died when he was three so he had early trauma. Agnes was prescribed Guinness Stout when she was twelve for anemia so she had early permission. Their chaotic, calamitous alcoholic marriage intruded on the childhoods of my three sisters and me but as far as I know we are not all alcoholics. We all manifest common characteristics of growing up in an alcoholic home: fear of emotions, conflict avoidance, perfectionism, compulsive behavior, depression, melodrama, overreaction to change, and the denial of all these traits and their connection to alcoholism.

In the forty-one years I’ve been in Alcoholics Anonymous, there have been ongoing, persistent discussions, “Is it hereditary? Is it a disease?” Since the1900’s the language describing alcoholism has screamed out to the non-addicted populace, WE CAN’T HELP IT. The world has been given plenty of messages to enable it to accept us alcoholics as normal people with medical problems. Currently, the community that studies these questions is
untitledpromulgating the idea that addiction is a biological disorder from a dysfunctional brain – not inherited and certainly not a moral failing.

This past year I had coffee after church with a new acquaintance. In swapping little tales about ourselves she told me she had a match.com date who told her he was in AA. “Isn’t that disgusting?” she said. I abruptly excused myself saying I had forgotten to walk my dog and had to run right home.

Alcoholism was shameful before I was born, shameful in my family growing up, shameful in myself, and shameful now. All the work that has gone into trying to change negative thinking against alcoholics has not shifted the stigma one iota. Two million recovering alcoholics still sneak off to life-changing, life-saving AA meetings, keeping their recovery a shameful secret.

Agnes died of alcoholic brain syndrome (wet brain) when she was seventy. Bill joined AA when he was forty-five and stayed sober for 35 years until he died. He was proud to be part of a recovery community and thrived by helping others. But he never felt as though he quite measured up to the world outside of the AA fellowship. He wasn’t secretive about his alcoholism, nonetheless, the stigma hounded him until the end.

The Exorcist: RIP

The Exorcist: RIP

Truth is Stranger than Fiction
…but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” ― Mark Twain
I was 24 years old and six months out of Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital in Monmouth County NJ, when I read the The Exorcist in 1971. Marlboro was a notorious looney bin where patients attacked one another, food-borne germs killed people, and the criminally insane were constantly getting loose. I landed there after a year-long binge on LSD and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine. My psychiatrist terrified me with photos of headless babies born to LSD-consuming mothers.

After my release, I went to AA meetings, lived with a friend, got a job making terrariums at Julius Roehrs Garden Center in Farmingdale and saved for a home for me and my four-year-old son Joe. He was living with my ex-husband and his parents.

I’d picked up the paperback at Main Street Pharmacy after dropping Joe at his interim home in Belmar. We’d played at our beloved seaside for our weekly visit and parted cheerfully. I drove to the Belmar Diner, ordered a grilled cheese and coke, and opened the book. An hour later I was in my VW van in the diner parking lot, bewitched by the reading.

The book’s demon-possessed 12-year-old girl is called Regan. I’d seen my name printed on report cards, paychecks, my social security card and driver’s license, but I’d never seen the name Regan in any context outside of myself. The author, William Peter Blatty madereference to Regan’s name coming from Shakespeare’s King Lear. My p
arents had told me my name came from King Lear. Exorcist Regan’s mother was an 51evfuyqtdl-_ac_us160_actress whose director, Burke Williams, visited frequently and drank too many martinis. My father’s name was William Burke. He loved martinis. Exorcist Regan lived with her mother in Georgetown. My family had lived in Georgetown after my sisters and I were born.

I finished the book in the parking lot as the sun set on the Shark River Inlet, then serpentined down the road to my mother’s house in my slow-moving van. I was having periodic LSD flashbacks in those days, and the dizzying words of Regan’s possession plundered my healing nervous system.

My mother, Agnes, sat up from her beer-soaked abyss as I blasted through the front door and slammed The Exorcist down on the coffee table. Who is this guy? How do you know him? Why didn’t you warn me about this? How could you let me read this?

Agnes, an avid reader but detached from pop culture or bestsellers hadn’t read the summer blockbuster. I told her about Regan, Burke, martinis, Shakespeare. She joked the author must have been one of those undergraduates who attended parties at our house in Georgetown when I was a baby. I consulted my father in New York, and he had no idea who William Peter Blatty was, though after The Exorcist movie came out he pretended he did.

Years later a friend ran into Blatty and asked him if he had named Regan after me. “Absolutely,” the author replied, “They had the best parties. That name always haunted me. Who would name their little baby after one of Shakespeare’s most craven females?”

RIP William Peter Blatty January 12, 2017. Vaya Con Dios.

Farewell Obama

Farewell Obama

Hope Against Hope

It was three degrees in Chicago. Amy and I were driving around at 7 a.m. on a Saturday looking for a parking space an hour before the ticket booth opened. We spotted the long line as WGN radio announced tickets were sold out. Why were they queued up outside McCormick Place a mile from the entrance knowing there were no more tickets? Hope against hope?

We despaired. Back home I contacted Ethan in Atlanta, a devoted friend who honed his political PR skills working for me during the Clinton administration. Ethan was on call for eight years as one of Vice President Joe Biden’s advance people. He had connections. By Monday night, he’d emailed me two tickets for President Barack Obama’s farewell speech the next day.

The confounding street closures on our drive back to McCormick Place frightened us into imagining we were shut out of the mysterious world of a presidential event. Blockades finally led us into Parking Lot A. We left our coats in the car and grabbed our coveted tickets. Out of the parking garage, across the fourth-floor bridge over Martin Luther King Drive, down the escalator—we hurried up to a suited young man with a big badge that read, VOLUNTEER. He said, “Oh, you have red tickets. You’re in the expedited line. You don’t have to get in line now—go enjoy yourselves and come back at 5 o’clock.”

We exchanged lucky-us glances and twirled around toward the McCormick Hyatt hotel. Amy asked for guardian angel Ethan’s address so she could send him a thank-you gift, maybe a Chicago pizza.

In the hotel food court we luxuriated in a booth that had outlets for our phones and img_1180-1televisions tuned to CNN. We lunched on pizza and salad, then turned our attention to the televised Senate confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General. We hardly spoke as the senators’ questioning revealed that civil rights, voting rights and protecting women from violence were bills that Jeff Sessions had voted against.

The McCormick Hyatt is attached to the mammoth halls of the McCormick Convention and Exposition Center. Obama celebrants poured into the hotel lobby past us in the food court toward the farthest hall to wait for one of the most bittersweet hours of our lives.

We joined the stream of believers to the red-ticketed line-up thirty minutes before walking through metal detectors and down a long gated chute to our seats—and a perfect view of the President’s podium.

The chatty crowd had tissues ready. My cell phone buzzed. “What? What?”

I shrieked at Amy next to me to read CNN news on her phone. Jake Tapper was reporting the Russians had damaging personal and financial information on Donald Trump and the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to fix the election. People around us were buzzing about the story. Some shrugged their shoulders as if they expected it. Some said, “More nuttiness.”  And some, like us, had the look of weary scavenger hunters receiving one more piece of the multi-level puzzle explaining Hillary Clinton’s loss.

0011060ae1214f529ad359da0c73d5a6-1dba7ec2c01f4ded8486de6775f69b6f-3Just then, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and the Voice of Chicago children’s choir came on stage and sang Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.”