Monday, September 2, 2019


Lynn and Jack. I still can’t separate that in my mind (it would be literally etymologically incorrect). Lynn and Jack had a profound impact on my life. They changed my perceptions, my ambition, my very philosophy.

I don’t come from a close family. My mother used to brag that we were so independent from each other. She told me once how proud she was that we were all just four people who happened to share a roof. I wouldn’t know a cousin if I passed them on the street. I haven’t spoken to an aunt or uncle in 20 years. I once went 12 years without my father calling me. I love my brother, but I'm not sure I'd characterize us as friends. I have no nieces or nephews.

That’s where I came from.

When I met the Kearneys in my late 20s it absolutely turned my world view upside down, because the Kearneys, anchored by that etymological entity “LynnAndJack,” are a close family. This became my inspiration, and my model as I created a family from scratch. My children Nora and Julian may or may not be aware how much I used the example of the Kearneys to make us more than just four people under the same roof. I look at my kids’ closeness now with wonder and gratitude.

Lynn and Jack are why the Nelson Chins are all artists today. My own parents were artists who could not see how to be artists in this world, and turned their backs on it, to their unhappiness. So, like the idea of the close-knit family, I had no model for that until I met Lynn and Jack. When Wei and I would think, this is too hard, I would say, Lynn and Jack did it.

But the most amazing thing about this amazing family, is their confidence in each other, in those internal bonds, and how it gives them incredible emotional generosity, a generosity so encompassing that it spills over the edges, dripping onto people like me. Never, in almost 40 years, did I ever feel that one scintilla of the love that Lynn and Jack felt for me was ever anything but shared and amplified by Jill & Dan, and then by their own children. That there is no limit to the embrace, no boundary on love because of that generosity.

I am so honored that Lynn and Jack brought me into that magic circle. It made me a better person. I will miss them more than words can say, and I will carry their love with me forever.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Losing Lynn

I worked for Jack and Lynn at the Workshop from 1982 to 1986, when my son was born. I would have come back, but Lynn told me to stay home and take care of my son. Plus, she couldn’t exactly fire the person who’d taken my place, I guess.

The thing about the Workshop, is that no one ever really leaves, although I think I was probably a little stickier than most, and stuck little pieces of me to the rest of the Kearneys, and a few McDonnells, as well.

Lynn and Jack created a magical family. I don’t know if they realize how magical, because all families have strife, and tragedy, and squabbles small or large and you can’t always see the magic from inside. But those of us outside it, even just outside it, wonder at it. From inside that magical circle, Jill tells me that she would worry that her mother worried about everything so much. And I saw a little bit of this, too, because Lynn was constantly worrying at me, but mostly, from outside the magic circle, Lynn’s worrying looked like righteous caretaking, and unshakeable loyalty and an almost pathological optimism. She enfolded me when my husband left, and again when my father died, and I know would have continued to do so no matter what.

After I stopped working for Lynn and Jack I like to say that I refused to let them go, but I think it was more the other way around: they folded me in to that magic circle and told the resident elves, fairies, gnomes, and other fey creatures, that this was a person who mattered, frankly in a way that my own birth family never did.

Every now and then I’d show up at Lynn’s behest at some family event, and there would be a cousin or a granddaughter or a spouse, or another like me, invited in, and you could see the thought: who in the world is this random person at our Thanksgiving. And by the end of the meal, the relentlessness of Lynn’s love would have brought them along:

Oh, I know who this is. This is family.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanks, or not

I have a family, a small one: brother, my adult children and their significant others. There's my–I guess I have to use the modifier to be entirely honest–former in-laws. I am assured, via the grapevine, that they do not count as family according to my former husband, as we are not blood relatives, and that I therefore have no right to consider them such.

My memory of Thanksgiving since he left was that I claimed the holiday. But looking through old calendars I discover that I didn't even claim the family–I just conceded.

This is what happened to Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving without him, and the second, I went to a friend's. The third, my daughter claimed, but he wouldn't come because I was there. The fourth, he sent me an email claiming Thanksgiving forever, and "giving" me Christmas. I told him to fuck right off, and held Thanksgiving as a christening for my new house. It was cramped and awkward and the food wasn't very good. Last year, the fifth, I went to the friend's again.

This year I turned down what felt like pity invitations from the friends. I bought some lamb chops and will make a non-traditional meal, for myself, by myself.

It is like a physical pain, spending Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, alone. But it's too painful to do to a friend, knowing that my family goes on without me. It's like being dead, a ghost. And too painful to go to family Thanksgiving as well, knowing that if he and his new family are not there, it's because I am.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Banquo’s chair

There were twin bright blue crushed velvet armchairs
With curved backs and deep arms

You could curl right up in one of them, like a cat,
or push them together to make a fort.

I must have been very young
because i can feel the top of my head
and the soles of my feet
barely brushing the backs of the chairs
as i stretched out
with a book
or for a nap

or just to hide.

If I close my eyes I can see Olga sitting in it
Incorporeal and as young as she would have been
When that little girl used them for a bed.

After Olga died,
Mary and Wei-sun bought them
for twenty-five dollars each
and reupholstered them
in a hard dusty rose.

For 40 years I sat in them
at family dinners
Easter Thanksgiving Christmas

Until yesterday.
When one of the set came back.
To sit in my living room,
like Banquo returning to the scene of the crime.

Monday, June 18, 2018


I have an imaginary friend. No one can see them except me, and I can't really see them. They follow me around, just over my right shoulder; if I could turn fast enough I might catch a glimpse, if I wanted to.


I don't look into mirrors at night, because I'm afraid of who will be looking back.


Like a Klingon, I have an entire alternate vascular system, but instead of being filled with blood, it's filled with depression. It flows out of my heart and into my brain and all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes. Like my regular vascular system, most of the time I'm not really aware of it, but every now and then I bump it and a bruise forms, or it bleeds into my brain.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I'll never leave Chicago

First, a confession. I did, actually, leave Chicago last year. I moved 50 feet north of Howard Street, and now live in Evanston. It wasn't on purpose--I couldn't find a house in Chicago that met my needs of neighborhood, price, and timeline. But "stone's throw" was pretty much invented to describe how close I am to the city.

I came to Chicago nearly 40 years ago for a man. In the intervening years, I lost the man, but added a couple of great native Chicago offspring, who came to the same conclusion that I did: you don't have to leave Chicago, because everything you need is here.

We have bars, music, theater, art, from the scruffy neighborhood to the world class variety. We have a popcorn-worthy political sideshow, and some of the nation's most inspiring public figures like Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson Sr. (We also do corruption the best.) Our architecture is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Great housing stock and actual zoning laws, because of that whole thing where the city burned down that time, and instead of just giving in to the moneyed interests, we actually did something about the danger.

We have a forever open and free lakefront, with the greatest stretch of free public beach in the world.

It's not all sunshine and lollipops, of course. Although I've spent my whole time in Chicago in the last truly diverse neighborhood of Rogers Park, we have some of the worst segregation in the country, as well as pockets of bad violence (though not the citywide apocalypse that the national media would have you believe), a dysfunctional school system (again, not the sewer that is widely reported), and racist police system (this one is worse than reported.) It would be really nice if people on the west side could get somewhere other than the Loop with public trans other than nausea-inducing buses (circle line anyone?). But our neighborhood system means that we actually know our neighbors, and have honest-to-god local shops, and even, still, some light (and even heavy) manufacturing.

We have jobs, and summer youth programs; the museums are free to residents in February, and the beaches are free always, to anyone. We're midwesterners, too, so we're super friendly, and have a Goldilocks attitude toward pace--not too slow, not too fast; we're just right. Our downtown sidewalks are crowded but not packed, and there's always room for a picnic or a pick up game in one of our beautiful parks. We'll start a conversation, even with a stranger, with a little bit of hobnobbing, and then get down to business before you get uncomfortable, or bored. And we're pretty good at business, too.

This is not to say we're pushovers. Never ever ever tell a Chicagoan that the Pacific Northwest, or Texas, or New York does X better, or does it in a certain way (which we also do exactly the same way here, so that's always a little puzzling), at least not if you ever want one of us to feed you ever again. Don't disrespect our pizza, our hotdogs, our ice cream, our beer, or our sports teams, all of which are the best (science fact). Don't like them? Don't consume them. And remember we're laid back midwesterners, so we'll be cool with that!

There's lots of reasons to leave Chicago.  It's not "home." You want to be close to farflung family.  You can't handle the weather, which I hear they also have in other places, sometimes accompanied by things like hurricanes, nor'easters, and earthquakes. We'll be sorry to see you go, as long as you're leaving for personal reasons, and not because you feel the need to blame someone.

Chicago's a great place. There's really no reason to leave. But if you do, check in on Facebook every now and then. If we're not busy at the beach, or the ballpark, or a downtown festival, or a museum, or having a great time with our friends, we'll be sure to say hi, and see how you're doing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

This is my America.

This is my America.

Because until the Civil Rights Act, for the vast bulk of our history, racial animus, racism, has been the entrenched social and legal norm.

I was born before Loving, before the Civil Rights Act, before Engel. I was made to stand outside my 2nd grade classroom during the Pledge of Allegiance because my parents didn’t worship God the right way.

But the beauty of 20th century America is that the people in it decided to look at the Constitution and instead of using it as a bludgeon of oppression, to see it as a way to create a new human being. An inclusive, better human being. 20th Century Americans decided to expand the tribe in a way that’s never been attempted in all our 60,000 years of organized human endeavor—a tribe that includes everyone.

They took the flawed document, and noted that while it was full of subtle and not so subtle cues to suppress our brown and black brothers and sisters, because they could only be cues, because for the most part it couldn’t come right out and say “oppress this group because of their ancestry” we could also decide that this is not what it meant at all.

And we did.

Incredibly, against the heavy weight of human history, experience, and psyche, 20th Century Americans said ENOUGH.

And even though the “originalists” wanted that other, less noble interpretation, even with 60,000 years of civilization screaming “tribe”, we did it. We listened, at last, to the better angels of our nature and called all people family. All men brothers. All women sisters. All children ours.

It’s only been 50 years. I don't know about you, but I like those odds.