Monday, June 30, 2008

The Ladies Quintet: It's Never too Late for Actresses, Either

It's unusual for me to promote a theater event, especially one I have't even seen yet. However, I'm impressed by the idea behind this series of monologues by actresses who are no longer young. For that reason, I'm posting a press release for a show due at Chicago's Raven Theater Complex, 6157 North Clark Street, July 10-20. This is a show I plan to see. If you're in the area, give it a try!


Her car’s license plate reads: SRVIVR1.
But Sonja Christopher, the first contestant kicked off the popular CBS Reality Show Survivor, doesn't sport the plates because of her connection to the show.

The real meaning behind the handle comes from her bout with Breast Cancer over a decade ago. Like the other cast members of THE LADIES QUINTET, a "smart comedy" written by Kathryn G. McCarty, Christopher has been through a lot in her last 7 + decades – and she’s survived it all.

THE LADIES QUINTET, produced by San Francisco Bay Area’s Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre (GPET), plays July 10-20 on the West Stage of the Raven Theatre Complex. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30 p.m.

According to McCarty, THE LADIES QUINTET, is “a series of one-act monologues, designed for mature women. Essentially, they are intimate solo performances, by actresses who have been performing in Bay Area Theatre for “over 150 years!”

McCarty explains she only points out the number because “That’s a lot of history, many important lessons we’ve had the experience of enjoying!” McCarty, in her 40’s, is 3 decades younger than the other actresses, “And I still struggle to keep up with them.”

“We’re not broads you can hold down,” adds Helen Means, who founded the Onstage Theatre Company, in San Francisco's East Bay, 30 years ago. Like Christopher, Means had her own life-or-death battle, with lung cancer. Now, some 40 years later, she maintains “the faith it took to get through that stage of my life helped get me right where I am now.” Means has been honored with several awards for her commitment to theatre in the Bay Area, and is known for her jovial disposition and sense of humor.

Means, who traveled to Hollywood two years ago with THE LADIES QUINTET, explains the play’s subject matters are relevant to people of all ages. “Let’s face it, dating is no easier at 20 than at 75,” she pauses, “except you know you’ll get through it alive.”

In her early 20’s, Means studied acting in LA, but cut her career short - just after being asked to join Lucille Ball’s production company – when she and her husband discovered they were expecting their first child. “Two daughters and 5 grandkids later and I’m blessed to still be acting!”

Means was introduced to McCarty 15 years ago when McCarty was producing “The Marriage Encounter” by then unknown Craig Brewer, who went on to write “Hustle and Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” Since that point she has fostered the playwright, and Means interjects: “Actually I adopted her.”

The Bay Area theatre matriarch says she’s watched McCarty’s progress through last August’s publication of her first book and productions of almost 20 plays in the last decade.“The Bay Area has been good to me,” says McCarty, who grew up in Benton, IL and attended Southern IL University. Benton boasts many hometown alumni, including actor John Malkovich and Doug Collins, former Chicago Bulls coach and McCarty's cousin. "Chicago was the place everyone wanted to go," McCarty says, adding that after college her apartment became a "revolving door" for young people moving to the Windy City.

In the early 80’s she lived for several years in Chicago and worked for several prominent theatres and film casting directors, before falling in love with a man who lived outside San Franciso. While the relationship did not work out, McCarty discovered an entirely new path.
“Watching new plays develop is a passion of Bay Area audiences, and I’m thankful for having the chance to live and work in such a rich community – but there’s no place for theatre like Chicago, that's for sure."

Actresses Sheilah Morrison and Carolyn Kraetsch traveled with Means to Los Angeles to perform QUINTET. “It’s a wonderful second career,” said Kraetsch, who graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, then spent 22 years in an elementary school classroom before finding her “niche” performing. “All paths in your life lead to discovery,” said Kraetsch who was raised in Chicago, and met her husband Ralph while they were students at New Trier High School. “But - my father didn’t let me go out on a date until after I’d graduated high school,” laughs Kraetsch, who has lived in Walnut Creek, California for over 50 years and is eager to perform in Chicago. “Eight year olds have much stronger opinions than critics and audiences, so it was really good training!”

Kraetsch plays a character who is President by default of her Community Garden Club. “There’s so much diversity in QUINTET, and each performer is well-showcased,” she explains, admitting, however, that a 20 minute monologue can be rather “daunting.”

“The pieces stand alone as One Acts; together they create a beautiful picture of a variety of perspectives on a well-lived life,” said Morrison, who plays a widow preparing to go out on a date that might lead to sex. “I remember when my own mother began dating again, it was such a difficult time in her life.”

Morrison, a native Coney-Islander (Brooklyn), was surprised to find the Raven Theatre Complex is only blocks from the home she lived in from 1957 to 1964. “I’m sure the neighborhood’s changed some, and someone will have to point the way to the best Happy Hours and late night joints for dancing. And I can’t wait to hit the Blues bars!” Morrison is a very active lady, acting in film and commercial work, working out 3 days a week, tap dancing and performing “a mean Lucille Ball imitation” at area Festivals, churches and Retirement facilities.
“I’ve lived all over the country,” said Morrison, “and I love exploring new cultures and communities, meeting people. I come from a family that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukah,” she jokes. “We know there is much to be learned from every aspect of life.”

"I’ve survived being kicked off the island, breast cancer, a brain tumor, divorce and being a single mother,” quips Christopher, “The other actresses and myself, we’ve all experienced many joys and hardships in this life – and we are all prime examples of what faith can do to keep us going, moving forward with our lives and goals.” “And that sure as hell beats out all alternatives,” adds Means.

THE LADIES QUINTET runs July 10-20, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. on the West Stage, at the Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N Clark St. Tickets are available on the company’s website,, at or by calling (773) 272-5790. Tickets are $15-$20.


WHAT: The Ladies Quintet, by Kathryn G. McCarty

A smart comedy, this series of Intimate Solo Performances on Life in the 21st Century is performed by some of San Francisco Bay Area's First Ladies of Theatre.

Directed by Roberta Tibbetts & Scott Marden
Featuring: Sonja Christopher, Carolyn Kraetsch, Kathryn G. McCarty, Helen Means & Sheilah Morrison

WHEN: JULY 10-20, 2008, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays 8:30 p.m. Sundays 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: on the West Stage, at the RAVEN THEATRE COMPLEX, 6157 N Clark St Chicago, IL 60660


TICKETS (773) 272-5790 $15-$20

THE LADIES QUINTET has been performed throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, where reviews have included the following:

Bay Area Critic Circle Member/Contra Costa Times writer Pat Craig: "Playwright Kathryn G. McCarty has taken a remarkable change in direction with her latest work.... a quintet of short, solo works that are as achingly introspective as they are engaging.....a gentle, heartfelt show that examines the unguarded and quite revealing thoughts of five different women at different stages of their lives..... They range from touchingly funny the bittersweet poignancy.....There is considerable laughter in all of the pieces, but it comes in bursts, between bouts of sadness and bitterness and the other emotional condiments that season a well-lived life....."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blogs, Rictameters, Haikus, Six-Word Memoirs, "Your Week in Three Words," You Tube, Books: The Power of Brevity

Many “What’s the World Coming To?” grouches lament the materialistic rush of our world: no time to write, think, contemplate nature, enjoy life. They have a point. We often expect our news in short sound bites, our books (if we read at all) as quick, easy reads, our food fast. Of course there are many exceptions, but at least in large cities, the hustle and bustle seem to be increasing, while newspaper sales and reading—and attentions spans—are decreasing.

I am reminded of a passage from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

As Captain Beatty explains the origins of the futuristic book-burning society, he says, “Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. . . . Speed up the film, Montag, quick. . . . Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes. Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary time-wasting thought!”

I prefer to look at the brighter side: I’m talking about the trend toward various brief writing and video forms. At best, they can inspire fledgling writers to go on to longer, better things.


Blogs (web logs or on-line journals) provide the ultimate democratic opportunity for self-expression, usually at no cost, to anyone with computer access. The subject matter can be informative, humorous, controversial, or mundane: anything from useful basic information to political diatribes to accounts of daily activities. Blogs can provide family communication or a way to reach the whole world with one’s thoughts and opinions. Good or bad, blog posts are usually quite short.


The rictameter is a relatively new nine-line poetry form using syllable counts to maintain its meter. The lines do not rhyme. The syllable count is 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and the first and last lines are identical. There are a few variations of the form, too. An on-line search will reveal various examples and explanations. The Gather web site has a Rictameter group. I’ve published what may be the first poetry book to feature rictameters exclusively: Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters (Lulu 2008). You can also find many rictameters on my blog, “Write Your Life!” ( Great art? No, but it’s fun.


The haiku, a Japanese form, has been called the shortest poetic form with the most rules. I have never fully understood it or had much success in writing it. There are many variations. Here again, do an on-line search for more information.

Six-Word Memoirs:

This idea appeared in a joint Smith Magazine/Twitter book called Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. It was mentioned on many web sites, and many people have tried writing their own. Mine reads, “Seventy-five, wrinkled, writing, still enjoying life!” See my blog post on the subject at

ABC Good Morning America Weekend’s “Your Week in Three Words”:

GMA Weekend solicits short videos from watchers of all ages, each featuring a sign or some other representation of three words that describe the week: “Wrote a Book,” “Better than Good,” and “Everything Has Beauty” are three recent, unexceptional ones. Some are more poignant: “Back from Iraq,” showing a wounded soldier surrounded by family. I’m sometimes amazed by the skill of the amateur videographers and the cleverness of the chosen words. This is often brevity at its best.

You Tube:

You Tube has something by and for everyone. Anyone with a video camera can post nearly anything he or she wants, and some videos are amazing and/or amusing. I have never tried to make a video; I prefer words, but the web site is certainly giving everyone a chance at self-expression, usually in brief form.


Finally, I and many others write relatively short books, and according to my reviewers, that’s not a bad thing. One reviewer of my book Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write wrote in the “Books on Aging” section of the September University website, “Seniorwriting is a non-technical guide to help you decide if you want to begin writing. It is a short, quick read, but full of sage advice predicated on a theme To Discover, To Heal, To Reinvent, and To Share. Ironically short books are much harder to write than long ones and Seniorwriting contains all the elements you need to begin writing.” Another reviewer for Story Circle Network wrote, "Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write lives up to the promise of its title. It is brief: 81 pages. I consider this a good thing. Too many books that purport to help others to write are unnecessarily wordy. This in itself can be discouraging. "

Incidentally, my book Reinventing Myself contains just 135 pages, and Elder Expectations just 56. Perhaps old age shortens the attention span, but I’ve always been a woman of few words.

It’s not my intention to defend the superficial, but it seems to me that there’s something to be said for brevity, especially if such forms encourage everyone to think and write. I am frequently amazed at how much can be said in very few words. As one reviewer says, short is not necessarily easier, but it may seem less daunting for a beginning writer to attempt a blog post or short poem than a full-length novel or autobiography. Brevity is generally not a bad thing in our complex, fast-moving world.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, June 27, 2008

Early Plans and Thoughts About Moving

Yes, the Clare at Water Tower, my future home, is nearing completion, at least on the outside. Finishing the inside will take a while. It looks as though my moving date will be sometime near the end of this year, or early in 2009. It's been a long wait already.

I've not moved many times during my long life. I did sell my house and move to my present condo about seven years ago, but my coming move has an air of finality about it. Unlike many or most of my fellow seniors, I have no children or grandchildren to help me, and my few relatives, willing to help though they are, live far away. My friends are generally younger and still employed, and none live nearby.

I've promised to write from time to time about my journey to the Clare, a continuing care community where I'll move into a lovely new independent living apartment, so expect occasional posts about the process.

As a first step, I reached a state of panic. The real estate market is poor--not as bad in Chicago as in some other places, but certainly not good. The Clare management has warned us to allow a long time to sell, so the time to put my condo on the market has come. My condo is in a good location, and it is professionally decorated, has a garage space, a balcony, and a walk-in closet. Actually, I hate to leave, but my days of living in isolation must end soon. I eventually stirred myself to take some action.

I now have a real estate agent, an on-line listing with beautiful pictures, and not much hope--or need--for a quick sale. I'm just waiting to see what happens. That was the easy part.

As I began to consider all this, I realized that my place, while neat on the surface, contains tons of clutter in every closet, cabinet, and drawer. Somehow, I seemed unable to deal with this clutter in any efficient way, and I had to do so before the agent would agree to list my property. It seems that prospective buyers always look in the closets (and probably the cabinets).

That's when I learned about Mature Transitions by Design, a Chicago-area company that offers Planning Consultation, Barrier-Free Home Renovation, and Coordination for Relocation. The latter is obviously what I needed. I didn't know that such services existed; they are rather costly, but certainly worth considering. Two efficient women arrived and worked long and hard to get things in order. In consultation with me, they sorted out my "junk" and divided it into things to keep, things to throw away, and things to donate to charities.

A trained interior designer, the company's owner drew a floor plan of my Kensington unit at the Clare and worked out the placement for my furniture. Since I'm moving to a similar-size unit, most things will fit (although I need to replace a few things, and she'll help me with that later). Fortunately, I do not need much downsizing. Those moving from large homes may need help with that, too.

After two long afternoons of hard work, the two women from Mature Transitions (who, unlike me, can climb and stoop), made my closets and kitchen cabinets look spacious again. To me, it's like magic! They carted off several carloads of things, in addition to the many bags of trash they disposed of. I will probably use their services again for packing, unpacking, and generally getting things in order. I'm grateful for having found them!

Could I have done much of this myself? Probably when I was younger, but aside from my physical problems, I've found the thought of the whole process tends to turn my brain to mush and send me back to the comforts of reading and writing. I'm happy to know that help is available, and I'm feeling much better about my coming move right now. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

For information about The Clare:
For my real estate listing:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Poetry Especially for Seniors? A Book Review

When I first encountered Ed L. Dorsey’s book Real Poetry for Seniors ((Noble House, 2007), I wondered why seniors would need “special” poetry. Most of us are certainly alert and intelligent enough to read and appreciate poetry of all types on all subjects, although perhaps few of us do.

When I read the book, I discovered that Dorsey believes poetry needs meter and rhyme. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand his point. In his short poem “Books Out of Balance” he writes, “Our books are out of balance at present time / and we’re much poorer than we might suppose; / Missing from all accounts are metre and rhyme / and the only measure left to poetry or prose, / Alas, is simply the length the line goes!” Elsewhere he says that poems lacking verse and rhyme “are like a song with the music gone, there’s just no place for the words to belong.”

My own poems (mainly rictameters) do not rhyme, but they have a regular syllable pattern and a shape. I’ve always preferred to write (not necessarily to read) poems that do not too closely resemble prose. A senior reader of one of my poems commented, “I thought poems had to rhyme.” So perhaps seniors relate better to poems with rhyme (and/or pattern) to find some sense of order in this rapidly-changing, often confusing world. It’s an idea worth thinking about: I believe that seniors should read poetry and feel confident enough to write some themselves. It’s a great way to express one’s thoughts and describe one’s life.

Real Poetry for Seniors should appeal to anyone dealing with aging or the aged. As a fellow senior, I found myself enjoying retired trial lawyer Dorsey’s many insights into common fears, his reflections on growing older, and his thoughts on the present state of society.

Dorsey has a wry sense of humor. In the first stanza of “Sausage and Eggs” he writes, “Some doctors say it’s cholesterol in foods we eat / that robs the heart and head of blood’s supply; / Others claim it’s caffeine in coffee or sugar in sweets, / or smoke or booze that causes us to die.” The poem ends with “Throughout this trek our doctor gladly bills us-- / when probably it’s just the living that actually kills us.”

Many aspects of life, especially senior life, appear among Dorsey’s poems: appreciation of nature (“That Soothes my Soul”), a transition to more realistic expectations (“I Wanted To Be”), “Growing Old,” a poem that begins “It’s the fear of growing old and small / that seniors make such fuss; / But it’s only when we stop growing at all / that old catches up with us.”

In one of his few longer poems, “To the People of Jerusalem,” Ed L. Dorsey dreams that God is speaking to all current residents of the city. “All who pray to Yahweh, Allah, or by name / Lord, Most High, The Creator or God, pray to Me the same!” God has some strong warnings for the warring factions: “How can your tongue say: I am the One True God, / that you put no other god or idol before Me, / When with your heart you covet the idols of war and revenge?” There’s more.

This is not “great” poetry, but I heartily recommend it to everyone, especially the senior who likes rhyming poems and personal insights from a voice of experience. In “True Poetry” Dorsey laughs at the kind of poetry that is “Written for only the intellectual / With a Princeton dictionary at their bed; / Appeal reserved for the highly sophisticated, / The ivy-clad, elegant, the well read, / Who claim to know that never meant nor said!” He asks that his readers “Hold high the saintly poet prized, / who writes for the common casual read, / And freely reveals to the lean learned head-- / the gist of what he really said.”

When you have a spare moment, pick up this book and read a poem or two. Rhyme or the lack thereof is not the main issue here. Real Poetry for Seniors is well worth reading.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Remembering My Father: Clifford W. Marshall, 1905-1974

In my book Reinventing Myself, I described my father as an enigma. He seemed to live in my mother's shadow. Like me, he was quiet and reserved; like me, he apparently suffered from clinical depression for much of his life, or at least that's my unofficial diagnosis or my explanation for his being the way he was.

As I look back, I realize that Clifford William Marshall was a good man, forced to be a farmer during poor economic times while he dreamed of better things. He never "made his mark on the world" in any way that befitted his intelligence and his college degree (in an age when college degrees were rarer).

My father was easy to overlook or ignore, but I realize now that he was a good man who did his best to meet his responsibilites. If he was sometimes reclusive and unpleasant, he probably had reason to be. He was browbeaten by his mother, and to a lesser extent, by his wife, my mother. I don't blame her; she did what she had to do to cope with life.

My father, pictured on the left (above) in about 1933 with my mother and me, had red hair, which I always coveted. Later, he grew bald, and he put on weight because of his unhealthy eating habits: a daily pint of ice cream at bedtime will do that to you. He also developed heart disease and diabetes toward the end of his life, and suffered a major stroke. He died at age 70 when he suddenly fell from the motor scooter he was riding along a snowmobile trail in northern Wisconsin. I missed his funeral; my husband and I were in London at the time, and couldn't get back in time.

My father was a kind man. He befriended an alcoholic acquaintance and tried to help him in an ultimately futile struggle to remain sober. He never drank himself, but he smoked for many years in an age when the dangers of smoking were not as well known as they are today. He took me for a boat ride on a northern Wisconsin lake once; we didn't talk much, but I remember that he was amused at my adult fear of water, my inability to swim, and my insistence on wearing a life jacket.

What else can I say? Here are the last lines of my chapter about him in Reinventing Myself: "Maybe he was even proud of my brother and me. Maybe under his quiet demeanor and his lack of communication, he knew some secret joy. My brother pities him as a victim of a dominating wife and a domineering mother, but I see him now as a victim of clinical depression that was never diagnosed or treated. I wish I'd had a chance to know him better--but perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention."

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the family collection

Saturday, June 14, 2008

More on Senior Blogging

If you have access to the Wall Street Journal, either the on line or the print version, check out today's edition for an interesting article on blogging by Ronni Bennett of It's called "Put it in Writing," and it's on page R12.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Red Ball Project

Imagine my surprise this morning when I arrived at my usual volunteer post at the Washington Street information desk in the Chicago Cultural Center to encounter a large red ball almost in the center of the lobby, just six or seven feet in front of my desk. My view of the lobby was effectively blocked, and of course I was curious.

I'm not talking about a small red ball here; it was fifteen feet in diameter, touching the mosaic ceiling arch above my desk. A surprising sight, indeed! Before I had time to read the material thoughtfully provided by the Cultural Center honchos, my imagination went crazy: a tomato? I was thinking of the current salmonella-tomato investigation. The Target logo gone mad? A soccer ball on steroids? At least it is my favorite color, red. I was impressed by the ball's size and the element of surprise involved in its location.

Once I settled down with my coffee and accepted the prospect of being virtually cut off from the lobby, I read the information. It seems that this is a work of art, not even a new one; it has appeared in various cities around the world. Perhaps if I'd kept up with the world of modern public art, I'd be familiar with it, but alas.

Here is what I found out:

The artist is Kurt Perschke. "Through the magnetic, playful, and charismatic nature of the RedBall the work is able to access the imagination embedded in all of us." The ball, apparently made of heavy canvas and inflated after transporting, was constructed by a U.S. inflatable kayak firm.

This one-day installation at the Cultural Center is a preview of a September event that will take the ball to about fifteen locations around Chicago. I assume that most of them will be out-of-doors, considering the ball's giant size.

As I assume the artist intended, the most interesting part of my red ball experience was noting the reactions of those who passed my desk (there was barely room for them to do so). It certainly got people's attention! How can you ignore something so large? There were a few puzzled expressions, but mainly smiles. "What is it?" was the major question. My answer was, "It's a work of art." I then referred them to a brief explanation posted nearby.

Reactions seemed to vary by age. Children were gleeful, touching, kicking, and leaning against the ball. Children love balls, perhaps the bigger, the better. The elderly sometimes wore bewildered "What's the world coming to?" expressions, sniffing "That's supposed to be art?" To one twenty-something, it was "Super cool!" One young man stooped down to assume an Atlas-holding-up-the world pose. Touching and leaning against the ball were popular for all ages--and permitted. The ball seems very sturdy.

At first I scoffed at the big red ball with the same attitude I assumed toward the wrecked vehicle installed as art outside the Museum of Contemporary Art a few years ago. But then I began to mellow. Yes, this certainly does stir the imagination. I'm not to old to appreciate and imagine. The ball is an attention getter, all right. There's nothing wrong with influencing people to smile, laugh, imagine, and ask questions.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo of the ball in an unknown city, from the Internet

For further information, go to
See also my rictameter at

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Nostalgic Look Into My Past

Imagine my surprise to discover a reference to a 1976 book, long out of print, that includes my late husband and me! In "The secret to turning two dozen bucks into half a dozen cool books" (Tempo section, June 9), Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick T. Reardon tells about spending $23.95 at last weekend's Printers Row Book Fair. It's a great place to find both the new and the old.

One of his choices caught my attention: City Families: Chicago and London, by photographer Roslyn Banish. The book features families from one London and one Chicago neighborhood, along with brief interviews. The Chicago neighborhood featured is Lincoln Park, and I got out my old copy of the book to take another look, especially at pages 166-167.

There we are: "Marlys and Julian Styne. Mrs. Styne: College English teacher. Mr. Styne: Federal marshal." We talk a bit about our family beginnings and our lives. Our confidence and optimism are remarkable as we fail to answer the author's request for three wishes. Here is our reply: "Mrs. Styne: I don't think I coud think of three things I want, except more of the good life we've had. Mr. Styne: I think we're at the point in life now where we have the rewards of our work. We don't have the things to worry about that young families have. Mrs. Styne: We feel now that we can do pretty much what we want to, within reason." Yes, I had the last word, as usual. There we are at ages 44 and 48, seemingly without a worry in the world.

Perhaps even more memorable are Banish's two photographs of us. The first shows us seated on our living room sofa (gold velvet, as I recall, although the photo is in black and white). On the coffee table in front of us are newspapers and magazines and a snack tray. I can't tell what we had been eating. The antique lamp is one I still have (actually, I had two of them then, but the china base of one of them has since shattered). The wall behind us holds four old pictures from my family and one painting I actually did myself (not a good one, I might add). The ancestral pictures hang in my condo now, although not in the living room. My painting has been relegated to a closet, where it belongs.

The second photo shows us seated on a Kawasaki motorcycle in front of the house. The little house on Cleveland Avenue looks neat and tidy: white shutters, smooth parkway grass, black wrought iron fence. Toward the end of my stay there, it didn't look that good. The house next door, not yet updated then, looks much better today. Perhaps our old house does too; I haven't passed by in a while.

Both photos show my husband's dark, bushy mustache and graying, receding hair. My hair is longer than usual, and curly. Fortunately, that was one of my thinner periods, so I look old-fashioned (now), but not bad. Our clothing is nondescript; we obviously didn't dress up for the occasion, except to add motorcycle boots and carry helmets for the second picture.

What a picture of the mid-seventies! As I recall, Lincoln Park home prices were already rising quickly (we bought our little delapidated house for $17,500, although we spent a lot more than that to renovate it), and we were happy with our relatively carefree lives.

Of course nothing lasts. We replaced that Kawasaki with a series of BMW motorcycles, and our first European motorcycle trip came later in 1976. That's the trip on which I broke a leg, so nothing's perfect. We both eventually completed our careers and retired optimistically, but Jules died in 2000, leaving me depressd for a while.

All in all, while that mid-life smugness seems exaggerated, we need surprise reminders like Reardon's article to remind us about how things were. I've changed a lot in thirty years, and while I'm no longer that optimistic (or that thin), I'm happy to be reminded of the life I've had. I'm also happy that I'm still alive and able to revisit this book. This is another reminder of the lasting power of the written word--and of photographs.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Book Fair Blues from the IWPA Tent

Chicago's Printers Row Book Fair was disrupted not once but twice this past weekend. I was reminded how powerful Mother Nature is. It was not a tragic experience, fortunately, but it was certainly an annoying one. I heaved a sigh each day when I got back home to my recliner.

On Saturday, we could see dark clouds rolling in and out all day, but we hoped for the best. Our materials kept blowing around, and we had to anchor everything. I met interesting people, sold six books (not bad for me, although not profitable), but shortly after four, the rains came (the fair was to last until six). They lasted long enough to send everyone home, and fortunately I was able to catch a ride with a fellow author who lives in my neighborhood. I had traveled to the fair by taxi.

On Sunday, most of us returned (some were there only one day, as planned), and we were joined by a few others. That day looked even more threatening. The sky was dark, and the winds were still blowing strongly. However, the early morning weather forecasts suggested that the rains would hold off until late afternoon or evening (I understand that the predictions changed later).

As the weather got more ominous, most of us began to pack up our books and display materials and get ready to flee if necessary, but we hoped that the storm would blow over quickly, as it had on Saturday. No such luck! Soon after noon, the deluge hit: heavy, nearly horizontal rain and winds that seemed of almost hurricane force. We stayed under our tent until it collapsed, sending tables, chairs, and just about everything flying. Many, or most, of the tents survived, but ours did not.

Being less than young and agile, I grabbed my rolling bag of books and my purse and fled (through running water) to the nearby bus shelter for refuge. Later, some prophet of doom came by and suggested that we get inside a building in case there was a tornado. Soaking wet, I went to the closest building, an unfinished restaurant space next to Hackneys. We had quite a crowd there, all ages and races. Even the small children did not seem to panic; after all, we are all used to Chicago's changeable weather. One of my fellow authors offered me seating space on a large portable cooler, and I accepted. I probably looked as though I were about to collapse.

Eventually, the rain and wind died down. Fortunately, I had a quirky folding umbrella in my purse, and I managed to unfold it and venture out into the light rain. I made my way from our location on Dearborn Street south to Polk and east to State Street, and, wonder of wonders, I soon caught a cab.

By then, I was completely wet, especially my feet, since I had walked through a lot of flowing water. I couldn't wait to get home. I changed my clothes completely and collapsed into my recliner, happy to be home. Fortunately, the few books I had with me were not ruined. Oh yes. I had sold a couple of books that morning.

Some final thoughts:

It appeared to me that people are not buying books--or anything--as freely as they once did. The author who sat next to me on Saturday sold only one of her books. Perhaps it was because hers is an expensive hard cover book. However, another paperback non-fiction author in our booth sold eighteen copies. One seller of inexpensive children's books did well, too.

I was impressed by virtually all the books our IWPA authors had for sale, and I was reminded how difficult it is to make money as a writer. I applaud my fellow authors for trying hard, but for myself, I've never had high expectations. Is that good or bad? I'm not sure, but I am happy to be a relaxed writer. Writing books is fun, but the book promotion process seems very difficult, especially when the weather does not cooperate. Fortunately, I have no large stock of books to worry about.

Will I go back next year? Probably. The fair organizers did a fine job, but Mother Nature did not cooperate.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I'll See You at Printers Row This Weekend

The annual Chicago Printers Row Book Fair takes place this weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) on Dearborn and Polk Streets. I'll be there in the IWPA booth on Dearborn just north of Polk, Booth BB. Here's your chance to see and/or buy all three of my books, Reinventing Myself, Seniorwriting, and Elder Expectations.

Of course you will be able to see and hear best-selling authors as well. Check out the fair's web site at for further information, as well as a map.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Poetry as Punishment?

Can young vandals be reformed by exposure to poetry? Poetic justice? I'd like to think so, but I have my doubts. According to a short AP story in this morning's Chicago Tribune, "More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost's former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment."

The incident happened at the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton, VT, where Frost spent more than 20 summers. It is now owned by Middlebury College. Up to 50 people broke windows and antique furniture and china. They also discharged fire extinguishers and left the carpet soiled with vomit and urine.

The poetry class was apparently the idea of either prosecutor John Quinn or Frost biographer Jay Parini, who is the teacher. I'm a great believer in the therapeutic effects of poetry (see my other blog, "Write your Life!") but I'm cynical enough to hope that the other parts of the young people's punishment are a bit more draconian.

My experience as a teacher taught me that it's hard to get young people, or any people, for the matter, engrossed in poetry or poets, especially dead poets. And poetry as punishment? That doesn't strike me as a way to encourage a love of the art. Still, since the road those students took led to trouble, they may profit from reading "The Road Not Taken."

I'd like to hear from some of those young students after the class is over.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Why No Recent Posts?

I've been very busy lately: getting my condo ready for the real estate market, writing my eGenerations column, reading, getting ready for next weekend's Printers Row Book Fair. I'll be back. Meanwhile, I'm still doing my "Rictameters of the Days" on my other blog, "Write Your Life!" Check them out. I welcome your comments, both here and there.