Quotable: Angels & Demons

Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. – August Wilson (Goodread’s Daily Quote 4/27/14)


One of the many reasons I love using Goodreads is the Daily Quote. Not a day goes by that I don’t check my GR home page for the day’s inspiration or thought. The Wilson quote above stopped me in my tracks.

When my brother and I were children, my mom told us we had an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Each day, each moment was simply a question of which side would win out. Would I listen to my angel or my devil? This duality was a simple case of right and wrong, strength and weakness. It’s a tactic I’ve used often raising three sons.

But what struck me about Wilson’s quote was the internalization of those demons. They don’t just sit on our shoulders whispering in our ear; they live inside of us.  From his viewpoint, it’s not enough to simply listen to right over wrong.

This is the story of Wilson’s work, his plays and essays. Yes, they are a portrait of the black experience in America, but they hold the same “everyman” appeal as his fellow playwright Arthur Miller. That is why his plays and this quote have stood the test of time.

To be our best selves, we must actively engage, battle, “wrestle” our internal demons. I think he’s right.

Monday Quote: Happy Anniversary

“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.”  ― Paul Sweeney

I love this quote for all the ways it describes marriage. Today is my thirteenth wedding anniversary and I am every bit as “in love” as I was on that beautiful November day in 1999, but I am also much wiser.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew I was a lucky woman that day. I had found a man who would love, honor and protect. (Plus, he’s smart, funny and handsome to boot.) But I could not have known the “tolerance” and “tenacity” parts of marriage. Life to that point had been pretty easy. We were responsible to no one but ourselves. We both had both our parents and even grandparents. Financially comfortable (even carefree), we liked our jobs. “Love, trust and partnership” seemed like more than enough.

For many years, they were. But other years, we’ve held firmly to tolerance and tenacity. This has been one of those years. My father’s illness and death, my new job, the two ‘tweens in our house – the world of our marriage has not been all flowers and rainbows this year. As I ricochet from one stress point to another, I am grateful for tolerance, for good humor, for patience, and, frankly, for the delicious hot meals on which I can depend each evening.

I recognize that we are among the lucky ones, even in the face of life’s challenges. With a tenacity that startles some people, we have each other’s backs. We are in this life together with deep love, unshakable trust, true partnership, a lot of tolerance and fierce tenacity. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy anniversary to my “forever and ever.”

Monday Quote: Please vote


Apathy (Photo credit: Toban Black)

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel

I avoid politics in the social media world. I figure that since I am not defined by my political viewpoint, neither are others. Frankly, I’m tired of the campaign slogans, the same old “scandals,” and skewed numbers trotted out on Facebook. Who are these things supposed to convince?

I am not even really sure I understand “undecided.” “Conflicted” I can get – there has never been a candidate for any office in my lifetime who has been without flaws or perfectly in line with my beliefs and priorities. But, I make a decision.

I don’t fit some cookie-cutter description of either political side. This is also why I know I love people who will not vote the same way I will.

But I love people who will vote.

What I truly can’t fathom are people who don’t vote. (And I love some of these people too by the way.) I just don’t get it. Every time I hear the statistics about the number of eligible voters versus actual votes cast, I feel a little sick.

Voting is a right. It is a responsibility. It is a privilege.

I think of Elie Wiesel. I consider the history of Rwanda, South Africa, Sarajevo, Armenia. All over the world and throughout history, people have lived without basic human rights and dignity. They have had their very existence threatened – all made possible by the indifference of others.

It may seem dramatic to compare genocide with not voting, but I don’t think so. To claim your vote “doesn’t matter” is to show an indifference to a basic American right. The very act of showing up at your polling place and taking a ballot shows that you care about the future of your city, your state and your nation.

Please vote.

Monday Quote: Innocence

“I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.”— F. Scott Fitzgerald

A study of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Gordon Bryan...

A study of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Gordon Bryant. Published in Shadowland magazine in 1921. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw this quote on Goodreads this week and fell in love with it. It seemed to touch some place deep inside of me, identifying a feeling I wasn’t even aware that I had. No surprise that it comes from one of my favorite American authors. Fitzgerald has been stopping me in my tracks since high school. Every time I think I understand him, I discover something new. (He, by the way, is among the many fine authors censors have tried to ban over the years. I’m celebrating these authors during this week’s Banned Books Week.)

I’m fond of my “no regrets” way of looking at the past. There are certainly choices I would change with the knowledge of hindsight. And, occasionally, I shake my head in wonder that some of my mistakes did not cause more injury to me or others. When it comes down to it though, all of my mistakes are part of what led me to the road I ultimately chose.

Likewise, I would never want to go back and relive my glory days. In fact, I’m kind of hoping my most glorious days are still ahead of me. When I hear people tell me that high school was the happiest time in their lives, I feel a little bad. I know what they mean, but I definitely don’t agree. High school was good, again molding the choices I would make in my future, but I don’t want to go back and repeat it.

But “the pleasure of losing it again” is another idea altogether. I would like to go back to the feeling of innocence I had as a child. I marvel at that sense of innocence in my own children. I don’t think it’s possible to enjoy the loss of it while it actually happens, so, of course, it’s a romantic idea to think of loss as a pleasure.

Just thinking about this makes me question, “What is innocence?” Is it the belief in endless possibility? Is it a fearless sense of good in the world? Is it unhurt? Is it unwise?

I like to think it is a time before we become jaded by the ways of the world. A time before we think about the ways we can get hurt or let down by others. A time when we truly believe we have all the answers.

I don’t want to turn back the clock, but I would like to own a sense of innocence once again.

What about you?

Monday Quote – Autumn

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
―    Albert Camus

I’m so glad autumn, my favorite season, is here. I took some time this weekend to go through my closet, packing away summer tops and capris to make room for a few sweaters, some long-sleeves, and, best of all, some boots.

I am not really a fashionista, but I do like fall fashion – boots, scarves and cardigans that I’ve missed wearing. But it’s not all about the clothes. I associate fall with some of my favorite memories.

Yes, I was one of those geeky kids that loved the start of a new school year. Sure, I liked back-to-school shopping, but now I’ve come to realize that what I really liked was the newness, the fresh start. And, even though I now understand that school technically starts in summer, that sense of renewal is definitely a fall feeling for me.

Fall has the best weather in Chicago. Spring here is so wet (and usually so cold). It’s no fun to be outdoors when the ground is freezing and wet. Summer is really hot and muggy, making me feel constantly sticky and craving air-conditioning. Winter…well Chicago winters are just no one’s favorite season. It’s just plan cold (and snowy, and windy, and icy). But fall…fall is crisp and fresh. Temps in the 50s and 60s are exactly in my comfort zone.

Best of all, when I think I fall, I think of some of my favorite family memories. My wedding, despite its November date, occurred on the perfect fall day. I vividly remember the mild temperature and leaves crunching under my white shoes.

For as long as I’ve known my husband, we’ve gone apple picking each fall, tramping through the orchard in all kinds of weather, eating fruit right off the tree. In fact, this year is likely to be the first time we don’t honor this tradition. The summer drought has left slim pickings (literally). That, combined with our new fall soccer schedule, may prevent our annual trip.

Our house and our neighborhood look beautiful in autumn. Fall begins our holiday decorating months. We break out the scarecrows, corn stalks and mums. I light candles and cover our mantle in gourds and leaves. My sons and I walk down the block gathering leaves of all different shapes, colors and sizes. Our outdoor chimney gets going on the weekends, providing the scent and fall and a great evening gathering spot.

And, there’s football, which I’ve always loved watching. I just love Sunday afternoon Bears games, the boys and I all in our “comfy cozy” clothes, comfort food in the oven. I am just so grateful for my many blessings on these days.

What’s your favorite thing about autumn?

Monday Quote: I’m a little bit Liza

English: Liza Minnelli at The Heart Truth Fash...

“I feel myself trying to be charming, and then I realize I’m obviously trying to be charming, and then I try to be even more charming to make up for the fake charm, and then I’ve basically turned into Liza Minnelli: I’m dancing in tights and sequins, begging you to love me. There’s a bowler and jazz hands and lots of teeth.”
―    Gillian Flynn,    Gone Girl

Now we all know how much I loved Gone Girl (along with millions of other people), but that’s not why I chose this quote. I also don’t think I try to be particularly charming, but I sometimes I recognize that Liza Minnelli moment. I actually get caught up in the moment of just trying to be me.

During lunch with my coworkers last week, one of my new friends asked me what these “good reads” were that kept showing up on Facebook. So I explained the beauty of Goodreads, which led to another discussion of, “How do manage to read so many books?” which somehow led to, “And you have a blog?” As I tried to explain myself, and my penchant for sharing life’s moments with the virtual world, I felt the glare of the spotlight.

First of all I became the center of attention. This is a place I used to love. I literally grew up on stage. I can hold my own in the spotlight, but it’s no longer a position I seek. And I wondered in that moment how the conversation became about me? All of these people read. They all have families and most have on-line identities.

Then I started to feel a little defensive. As they asked me how I managed to keep up with all these things, the implied question seemed to be, “Why?” Why do I maintain so many threads of conversation? Am I trying to hard? Should I let something go? (I’m sure Liza has asked herself versions of these questions many times.)

In the end I laughed off the questions with a general, “I know. I’m just crazy.” (Deflection is another of my great skills.)

Once I was out of the spotlight, I realized that I am a little crazy — for imagining a spotlight where there was just inquiry.  I am so grateful that my new friends are interested in me, that we can chat and laugh at lunch. It’s just been so long since I’ve let new people into my life that I forgot for a minute how to do it.

All of this happened in the space of 5 minutes. It left me a little winded.  Poor Liza. This is her whole life.

Monday Quote: Marriage

I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Perhaps I should have chosen a quote about labor to celebrate the holiday today, but I have marriage on my mind. My beautiful niece Sara married her best friend Mike this weekend and love is still in the air.

Sara is the first “grandchild” to get married. I found my position as “aunt of the bride” a little hard to grasp since I remember vividly the baby shower some friends and I held for her mom. How could it be that the girl who was just a child at my own wedding could be the stunning woman in white walking confidently down the aisle?

But in the blink of an eye, I saw her journey from child to teenager to the amazing woman I am proud to call my friend. We can talk fashion or food or family or books, making time spent with her a real pleasure.

So, back to love and marriage. Sara and Mike, while young, are not naïve. In their years together, they have faced trials and traumas many mature marriages have not. Father Rich used the analogy of a metal that does not gain its strength until forged by fire. I keep going back to that image.

I have seen relationships fall apart in the face of heat, but the best couples bond together. I’ve always known that Mike adores Sara – it’s evident in the way he looks at her, enough to melt your heart. But now I know – I’ve witnessed – the way they hold each other up. It was with complete confidence that I stood with the rest of the guests to offer my blessing and full support of their marriage.

Of course I hope that their life together is smooth sailing, but I know better. I know we can never predict the challenges we’ll face. I am thankful every day for my husband who walks by my side as my best earthly companion.

I don’t have any pics of the bride and groom to share, but I do have a few shots from the evening.


My best earthly companion

Me and mine all dressed up.

a beautiful wedding.



Monday Quote – Back to School

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. ~Aristotle

Today is back-to-school for my sons, and I swear they are only focused on the “bitter” half of this quote.

  • No more sleeping in.
  • No more wearing pajamas ALL DAY.
  • No more afternoons at the pool.
  • No more endless hours of video games.

I can see where it might seem bitter.

But I think it’s sweet.

  • No more rotating baby-sitters.
  • No more coming home to “Operation Destroy the House.”
  • No more “Mom, there’s nothing to do.”

I have convinced myself (if not them) that deep inside, they’re really looking forward to the start of school. I know I am.

Monday Quote: Are you ready?

“So mom, are you ready for school to start?

Well buddy, yes and no.

I know just what you mean. I’m totally dreading it, but I’m ready for something new.”

–          My 7 year-old son


This Monday quote comes courtesy of my youngest son and was part of a priceless conversation we had while lying on the lawn at Millennium Park, listening to Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.” Pretty sweet, right?

His words have stuck with me because they pretty perfectly reflect my feelings, not just about back to school, but new ventures in general. I “dread” change, yet revel in the idea of something “new.”

We’ve had a great summer. Because I went back to working full time last month, my boys have enjoyed seriously lazy mornings. A variety of babysitters have filled their afternoons with pools, parks and field trips. We’ve had family adventures, lots of sports and general good times.

So I dread that ending. Back to schedules and homework and uniforms. And, come on, he’s 7. Of course he dreads school.

But he’s ready for something new? That surprised me. He really gets it. School is not just a return to the old drudgery. It’s a chance for something new. Every school year is a fresh start. Kids are so lucky to get that each and every year.

Monday Quote: How do I measure success?

Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.”
Susan B. Anthony

I admit it. Deep inside of me lives a numbers girl – one who wants to chart, measure and order everything. I’m convinced that if I could just assign each thing in life a place value, I could organize it. Judging by the chaos in my life, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t opt to become a mathematician.

But social media milestones are the same to me. I can become obsessed with the numbers. How many page views? Did anyone retweet? Have I posted 5 times each week? Any new Facebook comments? How close am I to my book reading goal? Has my Klout score changed?

This blog, which I began in March as a personal writing exercise, has taken on a milestone life of its own. Early on, my dear friend Patti cautioned me not to get wrapped up in WordPress stats. (Like standardized tests, they are only one measure of reach I guess.) But I’m like a junkie – checking page views and search terms, wondering when my number of followers will hit triple digits. Is it true that early week posts have more life than those posted on Fridays?

I understand how crazy this is. My blog is not commercial. I don’t have any sort of life changing mission (unless you count inspiring someone to pick up a book.) This isn’t my job.

I need to write. I like to share. It should not matter if that sharing happens with one person or one hundred. My friend Molly wrote on her blog that she writes for everyone and no one in particular. I love that idea. I just need to accept it and live by it.

And I am inspired by Susan B. Anthony. Alena’s life cannot be measured by followers or views or comments. I must measure my life, my sense of success, by “the stray dogs that amble in.” If a book moves me, I will write about it. If I have a good story to tell, I will tell it. I will choose quotes that reflect or inspire my life.

And, this week at least, I will avoid chasing milestones. I’m going stats-free for a week. Then I will see if I feel and more or less fulfilled as a blogger.

Wish me luck.