Two gals hard at work

My mom. I don’t have a pic of Mom and Rani together but this kind of captures the collaborative moment.

Today’s prompt is Describe your perfect birthday cake.

When I was five or six years old, I remember catching a glimpse of my mom and sister Rani baking me a strawberry shortcake for my birthday. I was watching them from the kitchen door and could only see their backs. The two gals were hard at work at the counter with the cake in between them. It was the first time I had ever seen people — let alone females — let alone a mother and daughter — legitimately collaborating. It stunned me to see them behaving as equals in the kitchen. I was fascinated and wanted to keep watching but when they noticed I was observing them they instructed me to shoo.

“You’re not supposed to see this yet.”

Well, I saw it. I saw two people working together. I know I only saw a few seconds but I’m telling you their collaboration was harmonious.

Most mother/daughter and father/son moments that I observe or participate in are displays of a parent instructing a kid who wants to learn something. They’re good enough moments, but not necessarily collaborative. With that said, I have a new parenting goal.

Later, the cake was revealed to me at the dining room table in its white and red glory. It was magnificent but of course the moment of seeing two artists hard at work is what I carry with me.

Thanks for reading. Are you a leader, a self-leader, a team player or a collaborator?

Striving for collaboration,

Connie

A good-hearted woman

Today’s prompt is What are the pros and cons of procrastination?

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I’m pretty lazy. I can sleep anywhere, anytime. It takes a no less than a gallon of coffee to get me going every morning. But I’m not a procrastinator. I don’t think there is anything “pro” about it. Whether it’s writing, chores or paying bills, I’m a “do a little bit every day” kind of person.

I wasn’t always this way.

When I was in my early twenties, I procrastinated. Though I was driven to do theatre, the pay was lousy and my bills piled up.

I applied for a loan from a place called “The Associated.” It was located in one of the suburbs. I had a beater car and drove there on fumes convinced I was wasting my time.

I knew they wouldn’t give me a loan because I had seen movies where a good-hearted woman goes into a building of architectural renown. She enters the stately building with her head held high. She is wearing a tasteful dress, hosiery and pumps. Lipstick.

A secretary escorts her into a private office that has a shade on the window. The good-hearted woman sits down and explains her financial situation to a pragmatic meanie who is sitting behind his desk.

“My hands are tied,” he says. “There’s nothing I can do.”

He aggressively stamps DENIED onto the paperwork. She says she understands, thanks him for his time and walks out with her head held high and her heart filled with goodness.

It wasn’t quite like that for me.

When I drove to Eagan, Minnesota, I chain-smoked half a pack of Virginia Slims all the way up to the door of the sleazy strip mall storefront. I flicked the butt of my ciggy into the parking lot (yes, I littered) and walked through the door. I smelled of cigarettes and flop sweat. Some kind of beep was triggered upon opening the door. A modern “doorbell” had replaced any need for a secretary. I quickly scanned the room. There were a few cubicles and desks. A man stood up and said, “You must be Constance.”

He walked over to me and passively shook my hand.

“Constance, I’m Aaron.”

He escorted me to his cubicle with the paperwork already prepared. He congratulated me and said I was approved. He explained to me I’d have a couple months of a “grace period” before I had to start paying the loan back. He showed me where to sign.

It had a ridiculously high interest rate — I think it was more than 20% — but I signed it with a sense of relief.

Of course I quickly fell behind. When I couldn’t pay my monthly installments on time he started calling me every day. If I saw “Associated” on the caller ID I didn’t answer. Too chicken.

“Call me back, Constance,” Aaron would say. “Today.”

It was the most off-putting male attention I have ever received but one day I finally answered.

“Hello?” I answered the phone with the grand innocence of a good-hearted woman.

“I see you’re having trouble, Constance,” he said. “Would you like another loan?”

I was stunned by his generosity!

An idiot, I let the feeling of relief wash over me and I took out another loan.

Within a month, my bills started piling up again. This was procrastination at its finest. It took me several years to climb out of that debt and here’s the beauty of it: I had nothing to show for it! I was doing mediocre theatre, wasn’t taking care of myself and didn’t have a clue about how to plan for “the future.”

Eventually, my beater car died. I couldn’t afford another car so I started riding my bike everywhere and the quality of my life started to improve. I stopped smoking, became super fit and found my focus. It took a few more years, but I pedaled my way out of debt, started doing better theatre and by the time I was 29 realized I wanted to write plays. Lots of good changes.

I’ll tell you something: I didn’t particularly enjoy my twenties and am not sure how anyone actually does. But I loved my thirties. I grew up, I guess you could say. I found love and health and adopted a “do a little bit every day” approach to life.

A lot of people think they “can’t write.” Some will only write when they are inspired. It’s a free country and people can do what they want, but there is one thing I believe about writing: anyone can be a decent writer if they simply write a little bit every day. And you can keep a clean house and pay down debt with the same mentality.

It’s 8:30 and I have to go to work. Ironically, this blog took longer than usual to write. And it needs an edit but I don’t have time. I didn’t procrastinate. I just didn’t like going back to this awful time in my life and it took me a long time to write about it. But it’s over now.

Thanks for reading.

Running late but not procrastinating,

Connie

Carolyn who?

Today’s prompt is What language do you wish you could speak?

If I traveled to France, I’d want to speak French. If I traveled to Mexico, I’d want to speak Spanish. If I traveled to Italy, I’d want to speak Italian. And so on. Wherever I go, I would want to do my best to learn the culture and language. Blend in.

I wouldn’t mind reading a few books in their native language. Voltaire’s Candide, for instance, would be fun to read in French, if I were fluent in French. I’m sure there is a long list of books and plays I would appreciate more if I read them in their originality.

In high school and college, foreign languages interested me so I studied Spanish, Latin, Greek and Russian. I enjoyed those classes, but it wasn’t until years later I realized I just liked having any excuse to write and fill up my notebooks. I learn best through note-taking and repetitious writing, plus I love to write. Fun fact: my handwriting was always much neater when I wrote in a foreign language.

***

Before I was married, I used to read an advice column in the now defunct Minneapolis City Pages. I think the columnist’s name was Carolyn, but I can’t remember and now there is a Carolyn Hax who writes for the Washington Post and I can’t tell if it’s the same Carolyn. I don’t believe so, but they share a similar look.

Anyway…

The Minneapolis Carolyn once wrote that parenthood is like traveling and it was one of those reading moments things that has stuck in my head all these years: parenting is like traveling. Her point was you see nearly everything with new eyes when you become a parent. I read that and I was like “I want that.” I’m 18 years in and still travel this way every day.

Sure, I would love to travel with Jesse in the traditional sense more. But for now (and the next six years) being a parent and learning the languages of my kids is travel enough.

Thank you for reading.

Striving for fluency,

Connie

Under his ribs the heart of the people

My kids reciting the Chicago by Carl Sandburg in 2014 for National Poetry Month.

Today’s prompt is What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?

I think about the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg nearly every day. I have for years. I love the imagery, personification and rhythm. I love its grit. I love how organic and industrial it is. Most of all I love the commitment. The narrator’s commitment to “this my city” speaks to me, not just as a person who loves the city of Chicago, but as a person who loves people.

Here, read:

Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
   Bareheaded,
   Shoveling,
   Wrecking,
   Planning,
   Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
                   Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Currently, there is a snow plow naming contest in Chicago and “City of the Big Shovelers” is one of the “contestants.” God I hope it wins.

***

I look and listen for poetry everywhere I go. Sometimes it sneaks its way into a conversation and other times it’s just right there in front of me, written on the wall. I’m grateful for it all.

Gallery 400 on the University of Illinois Chicago campus.
A closeup of the things that poetry can do.

Thanks for reading.

Poems not emojis,

Connie

Snowman

My man in the snow.

Today’s prompt is How do you show love?

In the movie Love Story, Ali MacGraw’s character Jenny famously said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Then she died.

I love that movie. The snow scenes, the theme song, the…love story. Beautiful!

But I never understood what that line meant. Furthermore, it spooked me. As I sit here writing this blog, I am realizing that I’ve lived my life in a constant state of saying “I’m sorry” because of that line! The reason? I don’t want to die young!

BREAKING NEWS: Blogger, 53, realizes she’s no longer young and decides to stop saying she’s sorry. Wonders, is end near?

***

What’s your favorite love story?

To answer the question, “How do you show love?” I will tell you something: I love taking pictures of my man in the snow. I love taking pictures of Jesse in all kinds of situations, but I especially love taking pictures of him in the snow.

Thanks for reading. Also: I’m sorry.

Living in fear so I don’t die,

Connie

Gone Extrovertin’

Guilford’s chess team lines up for a photo after a tournament. Chess players: introverts or extroverts?

Today’s prompt is What’s a lie you tell yourself?

I tell myself I am “extroverted” but…am I? I’ve never looked it up. I don’t recall ever taking a test that determines introversion, extroversion and ambiversion. No doctor has ever diagnosed me as an extrovert. I just decided one day, “I’m an extrovert, fuckers!”

And that was that.

What would my life be like had I “gone introvert?”

I imagine I, Connie, introverted, would have long eyelashes and pink cheeks. I’d shun politics and favor civil discourse. I’d be a Christian with impeccable posture. Cloth napkins, goblets, linen table cloths 24/7. I’d set the table with those things because introverts have taste. I’d have a Swiffer Sweeper and know exactly how much bleach to use when I’m washing a load of whites.

I read somewhere that introverts have real meaning in their lives, much more than us mothereffin’ extroverts.

What is “real meaning,” mofos?

I don’t know. All I know is one day I am going to die and while I don’t mind living la vida extroverta, please God, let my death be introverted. Let it be a quiet departure with a simple obituary in the local paper. I know they’re expensive but the introvert in me craves a quiet goodbye.

Thanks for reading.

Gone Extrovertin’,

Connie

Cursive and curtsies

View from my desk at work. See the turkey?

Today’s prompt is What was your dream job as a child?

In first grade, Mrs. O’Connor asked my classmates and me this and I said I wanted to be a mommy. Disgusted with my answer, O’Connor and my classmates promptly berated me with a first grade version of “you suck.” I clearly remember Tony Robertson swinging around in his seat and looking at me like I was an idiot.

“You could have said anything.” He was gesturing like a madman. “A doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a…anything!”

It was my first time being mansplained. Tony was cute and I confess I rather liked the attention. Hey, at least I didn’t say “housewife.”

In second grade, my mind started to open to different possibilities. There was a talent show and *anyone* (not just the 8th graders) could participate. I signed up to play a song on the piano. I thought it was so cool that anyone could sign up.

I had a private run-thru with Sister Catherine the day before the show. She told me I would have to curtsy after I performed and she showed me exactly how to do it. Sister really broke it down. If you’ve never seen a nun curtsy then you aren’t living your best life.

The talent show was a blast. I loved seeing different kids from different grades traipse onto the stage and do their thing. It was my first “open mic” and I was hooked. More please.

Second grade is also the year my Aunt Carolyn gave me a book about art. It was one of those enormous coffee table books. I thought she made a mistake in giving it to me. My mother and I share the same first name and I thought maybe I had opened my mother’s gift. But Aunt Carolyn assured me that it was for me, Connie Junior. She told me she heard I liked art and that she thought I could handle a mature book.

And second grade is when I learned how to write in cursive which I completely loved. Writing in cursive still makes me feel responsible.

I didn’t know it at the time but by the time second grade was over, my dreams were spelled out (in cursive) for me. I wanted a life of open mics (theatre), writing opportunities, art, books and, of course, kids. Nowadays I’m the music and comedy director at Tuesdays@9 where I also am a contributing playwright. And I’m the producer of the Rockford Fringe. I love those gigs wholeheartedly.

The audience from an open mic I performed at in November. Photo by Dr. Ada Cheng.

As for my day job, I’m currently enjoying my 1200-hour contract with AmeriCorps quite a bit. With the goal of getting more people outside and into our forest preserves and green spaces, I organize and lead hikes that are free and open to the public. Cool.

But Sundays and Mondays are my days off. Jesse is home from New York and we aren’t doing a damn thing except snacking and building a fire. Now that is what qualifies as dreamy.

Thanks for reading.

Yours in cursive and curtsies,

Connie

Two scenes — an interactive blog!

Today’s prompt: Who is your favorite author and why?

Sometimes actors are asked, “What’s your favorite role?” and they’ll answer: “The role I’m currently playing.” Younger actors might toss in a grand Shakespearean role to prove they have the chops.

It might go something like this:

INTERVIEWER: What’s been your favorite role to perform?

ACTOR: (pretends he’s never heard that question before) Oh, that’s a hard question. (looks lost in thought for a second) If I’m being honest…and I know this will sound cheesy…I’d have to say it’s….it’s…the role I’m currently playing!

INTERVIEWER: Fascinating!

ACTOR: (laughs) Ha ha ha, yes. (lowers voice to whisper) But I absolutely adored the time I played King Lear in the Finger Lakes. Such fond memories.

End of scene

***

BLOGANUARY PROMPT-WRITER: Who’s your favorite author?

BLOGGER: Oh that’s so tough. Let me think. If I’m being honest…and I know this will sound cheesy…I’d have to say the author I’m currently reading! (pauses, lowers voice) But I loved Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Such fond memories.

End of scene

***

In the words of Natalie Portman, “No more questions.”

Thanks for reading. Who is your favorite author?

Connie

Homebody

Today’s prompt is What irritates you about the home you live in?

House is more than 100 years old and is in a constant state of needing some kind of humongous, expensive repair. But House is our home and I don’t feel right calling it — or any part of it –“irritating.” That would be like talking about someone I love behind their back. I won’t do it.

We’ve been with House for 15 years. We added the library in 2012 and it still gets used every week. Right now there is an abundance of self help books in there, which I’ve noticed happens every January.

House hasn’t always been purple. We painted it in 2020. Here’s what House used to look like pre-purple.

I appreciate history as much as the next person but whenever I see the “old” color, I cringe.

We also added a pond in the back several years ago. One afternoon Sam started digging and now we have this. It attracts toads, ducks, opossums, raccoons, great blue herons, snakes and foxes and it’s where our goldfish live in the warmer months.

Here’s what it looks like when it’s cold. I love all the turkey tracks.

Our house takes good care of my family. It provides free books to the neighborhood and a safe place for wildlife to get fresh water and food. House, if you’re reading this, please know I love you and am thankful for you every day.

As for the rest of you non-house readers, thanks for reading. I am thankful for you, too!

Homebody Kuntz

Baby simple

Cracking open a cold can of diet coke

What color describes your personality and why?

I like the Bloganuary challenge but these baby simple prompts get on my damn nerves. That said, I’ll answer. The color of my personality is brown. Brown is reliable and adaptable. It’s a color you see in every season, in every person, in nature, coffee and artificial things like Diet Coke.

I was at a board meeting last night. When a young man was delivering public remarks in favor of funding education that reaches underserved kids and communities, one of the board members opened up a can of Diet Coke.

Crrrack! Tsssss!

Even a baby knows what sound a can of soda makes upon opening. If a six-month-old has heard it a few times, they know to anticipate the sound. The elected official knew she was interrupting.

Slurrrrrrp.

Minutes later, she said the whole thing had gotten out of hand by “the media.”

Talk about baby simple. When you don’t want to be accountable, just blame the media!

The media, by the way, had simply reported that the board was not forthcoming with data. The community, through public remarks, addressed the lack of data. The majority of the room applauded the young man who expressed concern for the lack of data. The applause was louder than the opening of the can of Diet Coke.

She offered no data and said they had to do what was best for the taxpayers. The board moved on to discuss gambling and slot machines, of which they had plenty of data. They went line by line with that data. Thank God our golf-playing taxpayers will have easy access to slot machines! That’s certainly more important than making sure kids develop a respect and appreciation for nature and the environment.

This is a developing story which I’ll try to keep separate from this Bloganuary challenge. But I had to write about it today.

There are two different types of brown. The browns of our earth and the manufactured brown of Diet Coke. Which brown are you?

Yours in earth,

Connie