Friday, March 27, 2015

Youth Suicide: What To Do About It?

The following article appeared in the April 26, 2015 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Officials: Crystal Lake teen suicides highlight prudence needed in response

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Mythologized Story of Our Births - Part One

All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth: it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.
                        Diane Sutterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

            The story of my birth on July 25, 1945, a few weeks before the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and six months before the official start of the “Baby Boom,” has morphed into a drama of heroic proportions.  Well, maybe not heroic but courageous, gallant, determined.  It was, after all, a time of war when ordinary people lived extraordinary lives.  I have no doubt that over the years the details have been exaggerated, even modified to provoke suspicion in the minds of the most trusting of souls. What if the story has been mythologized?  It’s not the truth that matters but the persistent memories that count. Memories are like the whispered words in a game of “Telephone.”  By the time the last player repeats the words out loud, they are nothing like the original.  The fluidity of the game mimics the ever-changing stories of our lives—stories that create reflections of the past and decisions in the future.

And do share your birth story with me below.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Little Things

Maybe I'm trying to rationalize my return from two months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Perhaps it's the leave taking of delightful weather, speaking Spanish, taking yoga from the best instructor I've ever had.

Or maybe it's the festivity of the place.  The fiestas left and right.  The chance to just let it rip.

But there are the little things I won't miss . . . the things one has to put up with when traveling in a foreign country like Mexico:

*     The cobblestone streets that look charming (see above photo) but that make walking a challenge.  Sturdy shoes and head down required.
*     The lack of central heating.  January and February mornings and evenings can be rather chilly.  The temperature can drop into the 30s.  But there's no thermostat to dial up.  Nope.  It's a gas fireplace(s), small electric heaters, piles of blankets, multiple layers of clothing . . . Still, with all of these accoutrements, there's no guarantee that you'll be warm.
*     The water, when sipped from the tap or accidentally used to wash fruits and vegetables, that often leads to "Montezuma's Revenge."  Bacteria.  A parasite.  Who knows?  But gulping down a cool glass of tap water is a no-no.  Eating fruits and vegetables that have not been washed in aqua purificado is also a big no-no.  And, dear me.  Don't dare swishing water after brushing your teeth or you risk spending a good deal of your vacation on the toilet.
*     The signs in most bathrooms, public and private, plead for you not to flush toilet paper but to put it in the available can or waste paper basket.  Now, I don't know about you, but the idea of putting used toilet paper in an often open container doesn't smell right.
*     Ah, and speaking of smells, it's the polluted canal that runs through the city that sends visitors and locals alike for cover, or, at least, a pair of hands over nose and mouth.  I've actually seen those in the know wear those face masks that are most appropriate for working in a hospital, not walking down a charming but smelly street.
*     While I'm at it, I have to mention the casa-shaking noise after every toilet flush (okay, we cheat and flush), every hand wash and definitely after bath or shower.  One night someone forgot to release the toilet handle, and we were bombarded all night long until my husband dragged himself out of bed, followed the noise, and lifted the handle.

My friends will kill me if they ever read this blog (They won't!) and all of my complaints.  After all, they were stuck in Chicago and suffered bone-chilling temperatures, dark, gloomy days, and piles of snow that required shoveling from morning until night.

What right do I have to complain about minor inconveniences?  I guess it all depends on your perspective.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


     Here I am in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, consumed by finding a vacation rental for 2016 and what I see as the end of a friendship.
     I met Alice (I'll call her that) and her husband in a Spanish class five years ago.  We became fast buddies and shared not only our desire to learn a second language but art, travel, food, and a love for the Mexican culture.  She and her husband were finishing the renovation of their casa in San Miguel and already talking about sending more time away from their home in the frozen tundra of the north.
     The next year, Alice and I became Spanish buddies and helped each other learn irregular verbs, direct and indirect objects, expressions not found in any Spanish books.

     I looked forward to our classes and to the social time we spent together --- enjoying Mexican restaurants, sipping wine on their terrace with a view of all of San Miguel, traveling to Lake Patzcuaro and beyond.  Alice and her husband were two of the most laid back, take-it-as-it-comes people we'd met in a long time.  We appreciated their patience and apparent lack of major stress.

     Then things changed.  We remained Spanish buddies but spent less and less time together socially.  I was hurt.  Confused.  Didn't understand why our friendship had changed.

     When I asked her about this and why, for example after bumping into them with another couple at the cine but not invited to join them for dinner, she became stiff, distant.  "I refuse to play the high school game."  I took that to mean that she was uninterested, annoyed at having to consider my feelings and unwilling to have me or anyone else suggest that she ought to be loyal or cage herself with one group or another.

     No matter the "I" statements I gave, she didn't budge.  No matter the "I" statements about how we valued her friendship, she wasn't moved.  Never once did she acknowledge my feelings.

     And this year during our two months in Mexico, nothing has changed.  Alice seems to see our time together working with a Spanish tutor as the extent of our friendship.  There have been no dinners, no drinks on the terrace, no jaunts outside of town.  Oh, there have been empty invitations from both Alice and her husband.  "We really should get together."  "We bought a new case of wine. You should share some of it with us."  And so it goes.  We have one week left before returning to the frozen tundra and have not once spent any time outside of class.

     So, how have I juggled my hurt and frustration?  I left our class together and am working alone with our tutor.  I wait to respond to her emails and make them short and sweet.  Even when she "vented" (her word) in a recent email about all the decisions she has to make to expand a second home with gardens the size of a small botanical and the apparent stress between her and her husband, I didn't respond.  Yes, I thought about it.  I even penned a draft.  But it's remained unsent.

     It pains me that I have been so disappointed, so hurt.  I'm almost 70 years old and should be spending my time on more important things.  But good friendships are hard to make the older I get, and I sure thought mine with Alice would last and grow.