No matter where I am in life, I will always look back on 2012 and say,

That was a very good year.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s been the best year of my life, second to 2008, the year I left a job I despised and lived off savings until I started a research assistantship six months later. It was the first time in my life I just “was,” and I grew enormously from the experience.

This year, to my surprise, some fears melted away and my creative self resurfaced. It was the last thing I expected, but today, on the last day of 2012, I feel closer to my true self than I have in decades. There is no happiness quite like getting back to your roots. That is what I will be wishing for you at midnight tonight, dear reader: that you find your way back to your roots. Because nestled in them are some gifts you ought to be using.

2012 taught me good lessons. Here are some:

  • The things I love now are the same things I loved when I was ten years old. Avoiding them for forty years was like trying to hold a beach ball underwater: exhausting. Much easier to relent and be the good things you were meant to be.
  • I no longer care about how much money I make, other than enough to pay my bills. It is more important to do the work I love.
  • I want to live the life of an artist for the rest of my life.
  • It’s okay not to go to Ohio. For the first time in the nearly sixteen years I’ve lived in Wisconsin, I did not travel to Ohio once all year. Although my family and close friends there may not like it, I think they understand that every once in a while you just have to live in your cave.
  • I’d rather have ten people in my life who show their true selves, warts and all—who are sometimes annoying because of those warts—than one person who takes great pains to hide them and then out of the blue tries to mess with my head.
  • It’s not often you can get four people together in a room and all get along, much less eight. In our band, while we don’t always agree with each other, we are clearly eight people who like each other. With the added bonus that we make good music together. This is gold.
  • When you have a chance to reconnect with significant people from your past who still mean a lot to you, take advantage of that opportunity. This includes beloved teachers, old neighbors, lost relatives, and the ex-husband with whom you are still on good terms.
  • Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. When I arrived at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Chicago at the end of February, I never would have believed that by the end of it, I’d start creating a Web site. And that I’d publish personal essays there. And that they’d attract the attention of a New York Times reporter, the family of a man in jail who doesn’t believe he should be there, the family of my first-grade teacher, and readers from all over the place.
  • Take individual people on a case-by-case basis. Generalizations just don’t work.
  • Be careful about who you let into your life. That heart of yours is sacred.
  • You can’t please everyone. Even if you have a good heart. And that’s okay. If you’re a jerk, though, you really should work to please a few more people.
  • Among the best gifts you can receive: an unexpected phone call on your birthday; a note that says “I’m proud of you”; a “Miss you big time” post on your Facebook; a card signed “With much love and respect.” All from people you’ve loved and who’ve loved you for years, warts and all.
  • There is no better man for me in this lifetime than John, and I need to let him know more often than I have been. I don’t ever want to regret not letting him know.

While I’m sad to see 2012 end, it’s all a continuum. So I say to 2013: “Hello there. I look forward to living in you.” Tonight I’ll be lifting my glass to you all. Happy New Year.

Edwin Starr wrote “Oh How Happy” in 1966. The Shades of Blue made it a hit that same year. They broke up in 1970, the same year “War” became a number-one hit for Starr (after scoring big with “25 Miles” in 1968).

ME_BOYS_SANTA 2In June I wrote an essay about Miss Gluntz, who left our school at the end of the year I had her as my first-grade teacher to get married and start a family.

In it, I thank her for something extraordinary she did four years later during a visit to our school. I also apologize because I acted like a dork at the time.

Well, this past Monday, I received an email from a family member of Miss Gluntz’s, who’d found and read my essay, shared it with Miss Gluntz, and took the time to let me know that she is alive and well and would love to hear from me. I was at a loud Christmas party with some friends and John when the message came through. I cried and cried.

“She OK?” asked one friend.

John asked what was going on and I told him.

“She’s fine,” he said, smiling and patting my knee.

The family member and I have since exchanged more emails, and the upshot is that I plan to write to Miss Gluntz after Christmas and tell her just how much she means to me.

It reminds me that I need to do the same with Mrs. Peterson, who told me in high school, “You should be a writer.” At the time, I scoffed at the idea.

It also reminds me that I need to send a card to the wife of Louis T. Milic, a brilliant Columbia-bred scholar of eighteenth-century British literature and my mentor in college, who, like Miss Gluntz and Mrs. Peterson, saw something in me that I never saw in myself and still don’t know if I see.

In 2004, when I was applying to graduate school at Marquette University, I did a computer search for Dr. Milic. I wanted first to reconnect, because it had been a few years, and second, see if he might be willing to write me a letter of recommendation.

I found him right away. His obituary. He had passed away just months earlier. The anniversary of his death is New Year’s Eve. Since I did not get a chance to tell him how much he meant to me, I have always wanted to write to his wife and tell her.

These teachers of ours.



The family member of Miss Gluntz’s who contacted me on Monday is the wife of her nephew. The universe works in beautiful ways sometimes and I kid you not: as I was publishing this post, a comment from Miss Gluntz’s daughter arrived in my inbox.  

IMG_2090You cannot be a woman in this world and not be perpetrated on by creepy guys at least a few dozen times in your life.

Becoming a working musician has increased my chances of encountering at least one every time we play out. At one of our last shows, a pock-faced bald man wearing a burnt orange sweater that was being severely tested by his big belly sat on the barstool closest to us and watched as we set up. A dour-looking woman in big glasses and hair the same color as her skin sat next to him.

“What’s that a tattoo of?” he hollered at me after a while. Since our trumpet player had been talking to him and didn’t look unhappy about it, I joined them.

“It’s based on a piece of art I have at home,” I said.

“You any good?” he fired next.

“Yeah. We’re good.”

“I mean you.”

Our trumpet player excused herself. I told him that for taking up the alto sax a year ago after not having played it since I was a teenager, I was doing all right.

“I’ll know right away if you’re good or not,” he said, “and I’ll let you know.”

“You don’t have to bother, ” I said. And I left.

During our first set the dance floor fills up but the pock-faced man and dour woman sit there like big rocks. Every time I happen to look over where he is, he’s looking at me, hard.

As soon as the set ends he makes a beeline for me.

“Do you ever correct your husband?” he asks.

Odd question but I decide to treat it as a joke. “All the time,” I say. Our tenor sax player laughs. Pock-faced man doesn’t think it’s funny.

“You,” he says sternly, “corrected the band seven times.”

I don’t even know what this means, nor do I want to.

“You know what?” I say, “I need you to stop talking to me.”

He looks me up and down. “I have 50k to spend on music next year,” he says, “and your band is out.”

“I wouldn’t work for you anyway,” I tell him.

Two of my bandmates come to my rescue. The creepy guy alternates between chatting up our drummer and throwing me looks. By the time Set 2 starts, he and the dour woman are gone. Our soundman, who knows everyone in the music scene, has no idea who he is.

Up until we started playing out in August, it had been many years since the time I hung out at live music clubs in The Flats in downtown Cleveland, where some of my earliest encounters with creepy guys began. After one of them grabbed my behind on my way to the ladies’ room, I spun around and yelled at him. By the look on his face, he wasn’t expecting it.

This incident seems tame compared to everything I’ve encountered since then. I’m sorry to say that some of it has been pretty dire. There was the marketing communications manager I’d never met whom I was waiting for in the lobby of the company headquarters. I was expecting him to come down in the elevator like everybody else; instead he flew in the front door breathless, in an overcoat, and said, “You Robin? Come with me.”

A few minutes later I was riding in a car with a man whose ID I wished to God I’d asked to see before jumping into his vehicle. I prayed real hard that it was really the employee parking garage he was taking me to.

There was the man from several lifetimes ago whom I met at the airport during a layover. He had been lovely in writing. In person, however, there was a vacancy that was disturbing. As I boarded my next plane, I turned and waved. He was facing the wall, talking to himself.

There was the old friend who picked me up for dinner during a visit to Cleveland who refused tell me where we were going. A half hour later we were crossing the long bridge that links Cleveland’s East and West Sides. In the middle of it he tells me he researched thirty-four restaurants before choosing the absolutely perfect one. For a second I considered jumping out of the moving vehicle and off the bridge.

There’s the guy who used to work in your office, whom you considered strictly a friend, who invites you to lunch to “catch up” and then plays footsie with you under the table. The one on the plane who doesn’t stop when you do and rams his briefcase halfway up your skirt, who instead of apologizing, smirks and says, “Don’t worry. I didn’t see anything.” The guy who makes sexist remarks to your face and expects you to laugh too.

The family members who do these things to their own kin.

Last week, out of the Facebook wilderness came this cry: “Mother bleeeeep!! Creepy Guy is at Panera. WHY?!”

It was one of my writer friends, who’d gone there to get some coffee and some work done. It reminded me of the time I went to the diner to grade papers and a foot fetishist slipped into the booth across from me. “Mother bleeeeep,” I told him after I finally caught on fifteen minutes later, “get the bleeeeep away from me.”

The waitress stifled a yawn and said, “Oh yeah, I saw that. He’s in here all the time.” Sometimes women are creeps too.

One of the things that kills me about creepy guys, even after so many years of dealing with them, is their stealth way of perpetrating on you. You can believe you’re prepared for it, but you are never one hundred-percent prepared for it. They have a way of seeming innocuous at first, safe enough to sit kitty-corner from at Panera. But then they say something, do something that makes you feel like a sucker. Again.

That may be the creepiest thing of all.
IMG_2483 2

This is our view of Lake Michigan, along the coast of Milwaukee. We’re lucky: even though the front of our apartment faces west, the back of it faces east. And so we are afforded two spectacular views.

Since it’s been a while since I posted shots of the ever-changing lake – and I’m more in photo- and music-mode than reading- and writing-mode at the moment – here is a new group of them. Although a few are from 2010-11, most are from this year, culminating in a shot from this morning during our first snowfall of the season.

The eerie-looking pink-orange-purple one and the one before it were taken October 30, when Hurricane Sandy was expected to create 18-foot waves but didn’t.

As I’ve said before, the two things I love about our view are: 1) it is the same shot every time, framed by three buildings behind ours; and 2) viewed in this way, Lake Michigan – in combination with the sky over it – is like an ever-changing work of art, sometimes changing color and texture three or four times in one day.

I feel honored to document Lake Michigan in this way. I try not to take it for granted. Just as I am ever aware there is a moon in the sky, I am ever aware there is a lake out there.

For more photos of Lake Michigan from our place, see Part 1.


Ever since dog-friendly Park Lafayette opened – two new towers built atop a former green space a block and half away from our building – we have a lot more pups in our neighborhood. Big, small, pedigreed, mutts: they are everywhere now, chasing balls on the beach, sauntering past sidewalk cafés, waiting for their owners outside the market.

It never occurred to me to take their pictures before, but with this installation of “Sidewalk Series” – photos of things I find on City of Milwaukee sidewalks – I’ve begun. In addition to canines, you’ll find fall leaves. Heartwarming graffiti. Heartbreaking graffiti. An intact, left-behind McDonald’s meal. A country-fried steak sandwich still in its wrapper, sitting outside the District 1 headquarters of the Milwaukee Police Department.

There’s Homer Simpson. A page from a very old book written in Spanish. White paint tracked down Brady Street. Hairbands and hot peppers, the two objects I find most often. I wonder why so many bands fall out of hair without their wearers knowing it. The hot peppers – peperoncini and jalapeños mostly – are always strewn about as if someone, upon opening his or her to-go container on the way home from one of the dozens of restaurants on the East Side, was so repulsed as to discard them immediately.

One of the more interesting objects is a clothespin with “Eric” stamped on it. Turns out Eric Sommer is an East Coast musician who’d just played in Milwaukee at The Up and Under on Brady Street and uses the clothespins as business cards.


I have a Tumblr now! It’s where the pictures I don’t use here live.

For more photos of fall leaves on sidewalks, seeIn the fog

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of “Sidewalk Series”