The Best Seller

Reading the preface to a best-seller is a bore. Writing one must be worse. It’s like trying to keep the attention of the cute guy at the cocktail party by talking about yourself. Your mouth is moving, but you sense he isn’t listening. His eyes are scanning for something, someone—else. 

Seeing this lapse in his attention you speed up a bit. You coyly augment your story with your humble greatness. You make intelligent jokes and drop names. Finally, you throw your hair back with a knowing shake. None of it works. He’s gone. He’s gone directly to Chapter One, that bitch who puts out within the first few paragraphs. She’s not refined. She doesn’t hold back.

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Earth Day in the Garden

Every Earth Day I do something like pick up trash in the neighborhood. We live off a postcard perfect old road that used to be an indian trail. It runs along a small hill and traverses the creeks and in and out a narrow bank of craggy oaks and walnuts. Living in northern Illinois, which is flat, I was drawn to the trees and hills, mini forests really, that still dot the land, although they are dwindling as the population of Chicago 


The backyard pond

moves further and further west. I used to say we are so far west we’ll be in Iowa soon.

Prairie does not speak to me. It is too quiet. It is too dry. The wildflowers, with their thin petals, are not enough to satisfy this water girl. I prefer lush greens from wide leaves. Huge blossoms that hang heavy on the stem, almost tropical, but in beautiful balance with humidity, light and loam.

Ah humidity, my friend. My gardens in Illinois, once I learned how to amend soil, are soul-satisfying because of it. Each home we’ve had has benefitted from my gardening, however one family who bought my forever house, has planted over one garden with grass. Too much trouble for them. They preferred a fire pit which they planted smack dab in the middle of the shade garden, among the ferns and forget-me-nots, jack-in-the-pulpits and foam flowers. They even tore out the best species of viburnum that I propagated from a 4-inch hardwood twig in the middle of winter, kept under a heated cold frame for months until roots and leaves emerged. I stalk the old house and dream of rescuing plants. Stealing, really, but I don’t think they’d notice.

So today I am going to the corner to clean out the small bog with the cattails that catches plastic bags and pop containers, putting on my version of a cheap Wellie and wading in. Frogs like our latest place and on summer evenings, when the water in the bog goes too low for them to croak about, I see them flopping across the road to our place, where we keep a man-made pond splashing until November. Usually they don’t make it through the winter in our pond, but the other day I found a mud brown frog hiding in the filter, stunned from the cold water and waiting for the sun, like me.   

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Fishing in 1966

On any summer night, bedtime in a child’s room is license to play with magic. Once the cheeks are kissed and the still-damp hair is smoothed bdolly a mother’s tired hand, once the footsteps fade down the hall and little eyes adjust to the dark, the air becomes charged by fireflies and fairies, creatures given permission from eager little souls to sprinkle them with energy for the night, energy not seen since the ice cream man jingled by at 4:10.

In this particular bedroom, two little girls a year apart in birth, who during daytime hours fight over important things like who gets the fancy spoon at supper and who sweeps the floor, are now equally anxious to burrow deep into a game of Fishing. In case you don’t recall this game, it requires a wire hanger and a youth bed with so much stuff shoved underneath it that when a hook is made out of the hanger and then swished around underneath the bed all sorts of curious things appear when it’s yanked out again: a crusty gray ankle sock once white, a Golden Book that is too babyish to read anymore, a glow-in-the-dark rosary, a pair of underwear, a Lincoln log and wait….it’s a doll’s leg. No doll body, just a leg.

The younger girl, hanging head first over the side of the bed like a true fisher-girl reaches for the lone leg, brushes some sand off it and tries to identify its owner. It’s not a Barbie leg because Barbie dolls are not allowed. It’s not Susie Sad Eyes because it’s too long. It’s not Skipper or the Elly May Clampett doll. Those dolls are small. It seems to be the leg of an older lady. One who wears high heels because it is up on its tippy toes in a very adult lady way. Through the process of elimination the girl decides the leg must be from the Jackie doll, once belonging to an older sister. The rest of the doll was ruined by an older brother who stuck it up on the dart board and threw darts at it.

In the swirling dark of the bedroom, with the teensiest bit of light shining under the door, finding the leg is enough. To a girl sprinkled with magic, it becomes the entire beautiful Jackie doll and the wall next to the bed becomes a fancy apartment and the little girl taps the leg along the wall, walking it from room to room because that’s what you do with dolls. You create life for them.

She imagines a wardrobe and an entire social calendar filled with dates with doll men that look startlingly like Ken. She imagines the leg wearing makeup on her eyes and probably smoking cigarettes and driving a convertible and drinking things with olives in them. She probably lives in a big city and has lots of pretty high heels to match her outfits.

The girl looks over at her sister who is silent across the sea of debris on the floor between them. The gentle summer night softly buzzes with crickets. She is tired and drops the leg back to the floor. For a few minutes more she lies suspended in that magical place of creation right before sleep.

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Tao of the Beater

She will never feel the back of her thighs sizzle on a black vinyl bench seat of a ’68 Suburban station wagon as it sits in the sun on any typical day in July.

She will never know the reassuring churn of a 1970 Plymouth Fury III at 7am on a January Tuesday while it flattens 12 inches of Michigan snow like a Clydesdale in a beer commercial.pinto

She will never sit three abreast in a Chevy pickup, sandwiched so closely between two farm boys that the hair on their arms tickles her legs as one shifts gears and the other slams an Eagles tape into the 8-track.

She will never see asphalt whizzing by under her feet through a hole the size of a football in the floor of her boyfriend’s green Pinto, the one he can’t give up because of the radio that pulls in Canada even during the day.

She will never wait two days in a tiny mountain town for spark plug wires for a Fiat.

She will never flirt with the California Highway Patrol guy when her white Ford EXP blows the head gasket while turning onto the busiest entrance ramp to the busiest highway in America at the busiest time of day.

And she will never know what she is missing, this daughter of mine who drives a reliable Toyota and dreams of a brand new Volkswagon convertible, butter yellow with a tan top. 

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The One Rule to a Life With No Regrets

This is reposted from my website Soul Sleuth.DSCN0247

August is the dying month in my family. As July smolders into August, the buzzing days of late summer appeal to the fathers and grandfathers in our family as a good time to go out – held in the swollen glory of a humid day, a day so full of family reunions and ball games that it is possible for them to slip away without fuss, making the transition from sweaty matter to incandescent soul by themselves, lifted by the sounds of family.

The grandmothers are not ready just yet. They still have life in their soft days filled with small tasks and gardens, smidgens of food and long hours with photo albums. These women remember. These women are in life review, recalling best friends and parties, boyfriends and first loves with girlish detail and private smiles. These women have no regrets and that is how it should be.

Impending death is not the time to feel bad about your life. There is never time in life for regrets.

I used to go over events in my life to see which ones I’d like to do over. Should I have stayed in Colorado when I was twenty-four instead of continuing to California? Why didn’t I kiss that guy when he was standing right in front of me?  Why didn’t I buy that butter-yellow old Porsche when I had the money and no children? It has taken me years to accept that there is no purpose in beating myself up over past decisions. I have free will. I exercised it.

A life of no regrets requires no bucket list of pseudo-experiences to define it, and until we can all easily transport ourselves to another time and dimension using astral flying and handy bi-location, we are stuck with our lives as they happen and regret just gets in the way.

Don’t despair. Here is the one rule to a life of no regrets: Be grateful. That’s it. Be grateful for every little thing that’s ever happened to you because you know what? It really DID happen for a reason, a reason you helped bring about (with the help of thoughts, emotions and the wonderful world of physics!).

Stop regretting the one who got away, the money you never made and the trips you didn’t take. Get living, do what you want and be grateful. Gratitude is love energy and that is powerful stuff. It propels the Universe and lives inside of you making every cell sing with happiness, health and those nifty rejuvenating hormones.

Gratitude is the plan for the day, the focus of your prayer, the sound of silence. Gratitude is the wind on your face and the scent of lilies, the sun on your arms and tears on your cheeks. It’s the smile on your daughter’s face and the love in your husband’s eyes. It’s the sand in your shoes, the stones you collect, the business that tanked, the dog you found, the hair that’s thin, the wrinkles you hate. It’s the life you live.

So go ahead and make your plans, live your life and don’t look back. It’s all good because you made it good and you are an incredible energetic being within the Universe.  The Universe doesn’t make mistakes. It operates with no regrets.

When I ran into an old friend (the one I regretted not kissing when I wanted to) I was ready to reminisce over a bottle of wine about a love life lost when he put everything into perspective for me. “Mimi, if we had gotten together then, I’d be divorced from you, not from my second ex-wife.”

Bullet dodged. So grateful.

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SCAN0097When I was four I decided my favorite number was five because it seemed happy. To a child five is a milestone. Once I turned five I could venture beyond the driveway and the long lonely days waiting for  my older sisters to return at 4 o’clock. At five I could go to school just like the other kids and start to be somebody.

Five has turned out to be my major life scheduling number too. Five years in college (I know, I know). Five years in California. Five years in Chicago before marriage. Then it was five years at the new house, five years at my dream house, five years in Denver, and now it is looking like five years in the suburbs until my daughter graduates from high school and life adjusts again.

For a while I toyed around with the number seven thinking it would be lucky, but it was just awkward. Yes, the age seven was great, but 14 wasn’t. Yes, I looked forward to turning 21, but since I’d been drinking beer since I was 14 that was no big deal even though the numbers fit. And who looks forward to 49? Or 56?

My husband’s mother divided her life up into 20-year segments. Twenty of marriage. Twenty of raising kids. Twenty of being alone. These days 20 years seems way too big of a life chunk. It’s gone before you realize you’re on your third chunk.

I prefer the more nimble five. It’s flexible. Responsive. Modern. Not as hip or edgy as two I admit, but still cool. Two can come off as a tad flighty. We all know three is predictable, and four is just boring, so it’s five. Five all the way.

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The Bitch of it All

I once had a boyfriend who dumped me for getting an $800 loan from my mother when I was laid-off. He sneered at me for filing for unemployment, which I collected for three soul-crushing months of job searching. In the late ‘80s, three months of looking for a job was nothing compared to how it is now, but I have seen that sneer again, this time among members of the GOP who think helping out the long term unemployed is an undeserved luxury. They seem to delight in treating the unfortunate with game dog cruelty, as if families deserve to suffer harder and starve more just because they are already suffering and starving. They already know how.

What I don’t understand is how a country this rich can be so poor in kindness? Why are we so mean and stingy when we have so much?

The political stage is a great place for Schadenfreude. In fact, a 2009 (Coombs et al.) study suggests that Schadenfreude lurks among those who identify closely with their political party. Schadenfreude shows up more when misfortune happens to those who are disliked or are considered to “deserve” their fate. To many Republicans, that’s obviously the poor – to start with.

This may explain some of the unsavory fervor exhibited by some of the GOP who want to deny help to those who have suffered the most from the recession instead of helping them to recover. Their propensity to not want to help reminds me of the Michael Moore film Sicko.  Moore goes to Canada looking for their ghettos, only to find none. Apparently Canadians take care of each other. They don’t let each other starve or get thrown onto the street.

The night the lights went on at Wrigley Field in 1988 I moved into a small street-level apartment on Pine Grove. It was the end of a gentler era for the Friendly Confines as the park reluctantly entered the artificially-lit future of baseball. Unaware of the history unfolding just a few blocks away, I was unpacking clothes and swatting 4-inch centipedes off the walls with a shoe. Despite having no bed and no furniture, I did have the one thing necessary to survive my own future: a job.

Calling on Michigan Avenue ad agencies was not an intimidating prospect to me after being a media buyer and planner in Los Angeles. The typical agency media department back then was a thankless place. I was expected to sit at my desk for 12 hours a day like Bob Cratchit, muffled under a pile of demographic data, extracting meaningful nuggets and writing meaty recommendations for our clients.

Every day in my cube I met with well-dressed sales people and placed orders for hundreds of ads in hundreds of magazines and newspapers that totaled millions of dollars each year. This made the reps thousands in commissions and the agency millions in fees. I was nice when I could be nice and ruthless when I was forced to be. Once (and only once) I missed a deadline for an important ad. My supervisors made it very clear that mistakes were never my fault, they were the magazines’ fault or the newspapers’ fault. Media planners never make mistakes. We were infallible.

After LA, where it was considered a privilege to walk on the eggshells dropped by media supervisors and managers, my new job in advertising sales in Chicago was a comparative dream. Positioning myself on the other side of the media desk finally got me out of the office and in control of my own income. I was an account executive for a magazine rep firm, selling space in a sports magazine based in the Midwest.

Every industry has its own culture and in advertising you need to look polished and perfect or you might as well sell ads for the back of cash register tapes. My power outfit was a black wool Ann Taylor pencil skirt paired with a blinding white shirt and topped with an exquisite black leather jacket. It was my “LA Ad Girl Meets Chicago” outfit, good for lunches and cocktail parties.  For once in my life I stood out in a crowd. For once my average frame and not-quite-blonde-enough-for-LA hair was enough to get me noticed. I had confidence – even if I was only wearing it from 9-6pm. One day I came out of an important sales call to find three women trying on my leather coat which I had hung in the hallway closet.

They were giggling like high-schoolers and I realized that was me just six months before.

All was good for a while. I watched summer brown into fall from my office in a drafty River North loft. It faced Cabrini Green, a crumble of violent gang-run projects at the edge of the gallery district. Despite the scary neighborhood that I walked through every day nothing bad ever happened to me. I was more fearful of the people I encountered at the office than anyone on the street.

For weeks that fall I was nurturing a big account- one that required feats of persuasion to maneuver around the flimsy audience research I had to sell with.  It was an account that demanded all the forces of my intuition and media experience to know how to handle. This account could open doors for even bigger advertisers. It would let me breathe easier- if only for a month at a time.

I hit the mother-lode right after the holidays when a contract for this account, a liquor company, finally came through. Immediately the manager decided the account was “too big” for me to handle. The rules changed when he saw the potential for real money. Instead of thanking me for the business I brought him, he took it for himself and kept the commission.

 A few weeks later I got a phone call at home that I was “laid-off.”  Not even my boss had the guts to tell me to my face. It was my boyfriend who reminded me that getting “laid-off” really meant I was fired. Thanks for that. I had no idea.

And then it was deep winter. The Illinois unemployment office lost my file before I got a single check. I was forced to call my mom for the second time in my life and ask for money. After a soul deflating lecture about taking a good long look at the decisions I’m making in my life I got the money and paid the rent for two more months.

I was looking forward to a night out when we headed to a place my boyfriend liked but I despised. It was RJ Grunts, the kind of bar that always has sticky tables.  An obnoxious place filled with young business people, many of them in advertising. To me it was a place that requires hand washing as soon as you walk in the door. In other words, it was an appropriately awful place to get dumped.

 He told me I was weak and lazy and self-entitled for getting unemployment and especially for getting a loan from my mom. He had no respect for me and was embarrassed to have an unemployed girlfriend.

I looked into his eyes, staring dispassionately back at me through his square-framed accountant glasses. I finally saw him as the enormous jerk my subconscious had been telling me he was. I was so furious it was tempting to leave him sitting at the table while I snuck out and got a cab, but I had him drive me home instead to save the fare. He jabbered the whole way home, filling the air with his excuses for dumping me.

“I wouldn’t have married you anyway,” he assured me as he dropped me off into the slush on the wrong side of the street.  As if he was doing me a favor by telling me. I was puzzled.  Did the M-word ever cross my lips?  Did I ever want anything more than an occasional date? Was I dying to marry a cold-hearted money-monger? Did I lose my mind and say I wanted short-legged, far-sighted children with him? No, no, no and god help me, no.

 “I hope you find your marriage material,” I said as I slammed the door of his dented grey Bui-k with the missing ‘c’.

It was a door slam as hard as my weak, lazy arms could muster after one Miller Lite and no dinner. I was swinging that slab of Midwest steel for wronged women everywhere.  It was a slam for every woman dumped by a hard-hearted idiot. It was a slam for all women dumped at RJ Grunts when clearly it’s punishment enough just to enter a place with a name like a hillbilly bowel movement. It was the Mother of All Door Slams barreling through infinite space for every woman who ever got screwed out of an account, a commission or her job by corner office weenies who hire them to do their work, and make money for them, only to steal it back later. It was a beautifully executed, estrogen-invigorating slam for all womankind.

As I think back on those bruising days that started my career and my current joblessness that could be the end of it, I hope that door slam is still vibrating out into the Universe somewhere, rattling the bones of corporate jerks, GOP tightwads and terrible boyfriends everywhere, unsettling them, forcing them to look over their shoulders.

There is only so much you can pilfer from others before there’s pushback. And I hear karma is a bitch.


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