Adopted in the last century

Sometimes I meet people who've been adopted, or who have adopted kids, and I tell them that my dad was also adopted. Because he was born in the 1920s, adoption wasn't openly discussed, so he didn't know about his origins until later. I've been binge-watching Red Oaks (which I'll write about once I finish Season 3), and in some respects, it reminds me of some of my family's experiences. One time I told my dad that I wanted to get a bling ring, and he gave me one that looks like an ostentatious wedding band that a character wears in Red Oaks. The ring he gave me was made in the 1940s and wasn't meant to be a wedding band; it was a fancy men's ring, but and he didn't really like it. It looks sort of gaudy but it's fun, so I wear it. My dad wasn't tacky; he was highly educated, well-read, and dressed well, even when he was teaching in a public high school.

I was recently looking through my online files and found the eulogy that I wrote for his funeral. I'm posting it here because it expresses my gratitude for the people who helped him out, and to show how an adopted person from almost 100 years ago shared similar feelings to adopted people now.

Recently I asked my dad when he was the happiest, and he said his childhood; he had a very good childhood, which was the beginning of his long, fulfilling life. What bothered him though, through his old age, was the fact that he had found out that he was adopted. He didn?t find out from his parents but from another kid, and from that point forward, while he continued to have a good life, he felt like the enjoyable world he thought he had was somehow artificial, not what he thought it really was. The family that his parents said he had--cousins, aunts, uncles (he was an only child)--were not *really* his family because they weren?t biologically linked to him. 

I kept telling him that he was very lucky to have been adopted by a supportive, stable, well-off family who gave him everything he wanted (except for a BB gun). It didn?t matter that they weren?t biologically connected to him; they *were* his family, the family that chose him and brought him into their lives. And he was taken care of in various ways; even during the Depression, when a lot of the country barely had anything to eat, he had his own bedroom in a nice neighborhood in Youngstown Ohio, played golf with his cousin, ate large meals with homemade desserts, rode his bicycle around the neighborhood...and after he moved to Canton he lived out the Depression and many of his adult years there in comfort. 

Fast forward to his old age, when I spent a lot of time with him due to his physical limitations and illness. It became clear to me, while he still spoke of what I call an existential perception of existence (as he described the fact that he was adopted, so he was essentially ?alone? in the world), I noticed that there was a *larger* family that had adopted him. Of course, family members called him, visited him, took him out, and made sure he was okay. But the family extended from there; it was the family of society. 

Many people who had no familial ties were very good to him. Friends and neighbors took him out, offered to help him in any way needed, talked to him, and treated him with respect. And it even extended beyond that. Many people, including strangers, treated him well and encouraged him. On a number of occasions, people he did not know at all would walk up to him and help him get out of a chair or out of a car. A cashier at Jewel would hand him a tissue when his nose was runny. A waitress would give us free meals. A man who didn?t speak English would give him a thumbs up. A woman would step out of the way to make room for him and his walker, telling us that she understood since she, herself, helped elderly relatives. The incredible reaction of people around him helped him to not feel alone.

As he got older, he became a relaxed person who had a very good attitude and lived in the moment. He pretty much never worried. I think his positive attitude and pleasant demeanor opened up doors for him, and caused others to respond favorably. Thanks to all the people in his life (as is evidenced by all the people here), the excellent doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff at Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, and the Kellogg Cancer Center, he was able to live--and die--in dignity. 

His life serves as a reminder that even the little things we do can have a huge impact on another human being. I feel that this is important to remember as we see increasing evil in the world, because the good we do can offset the bad. 

Author : Margaret Larkin

Just because they got lucky doesn\'t mean you will too

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I think that when someone hits the jackpot in a difficult industry and gets lots of attention for their incredible success, other people think they can achieve the same thing. But it's way more difficult and impossible than the hype makes it seem.

For instance, there are successful authors who are interviewed on major national shows, get paid big bucks to speak at events, and who get their books optioned for movies. They are wealthy, successful, popular, and are never short of an interesting experience around the corner. They hang out with other successful, interesting people and they are fully participating in the culture to the level that they want. Other writers look at them and think that what the pros have achieved is attainable, so they hold on to that dream and plug away and talk about their own bright future, even though it's a total long shot. The same can be said about musical performers, influencers, national TV anchors, comedians, talk show hosts, artists, etc. People look at all those majorly successful people and think what they've achieved can be duplicated, but such success is very rare.

Back to the writing example: I recently met a couple of successful writers. One of them tried to get an agent and get published, but was having no luck. Then the cultural expectations and publishing business changed, so the door was open to them, and they got a good book deal, a loyal readership, marketing and publicity support from the publisher, and it seems like they can make a living from their writing. They were flown across the country and put up in a hotel (and maybe paid?) to speak to a group. 

Contrast this with what usually happens, which is when a writer has to pay their own way for any kind of trip, and they're lucky if they're asked to speak anywhere. They're also really lucky if they get an agent's attention, because people usually have to pay to speak with an agent at a conference. For every writer who gets a book deal and publicity support from a publisher, there are thousands who are hoping for that chance but will realistically never get it.

Another writer I met broke through in a different way. They got a certain kind of education, got short pieces published, made important connections, got a book deal and then a movie deal. They've been reviewed and interviewed in prestigious outlets and have representation. Whenever a writer gets exposure, I'm sure many aspiring writers think they, too, can take that path and get the same results. But it doesn't happen that way and seems to be random. 

Even writers who get published don't necessarily get the publicity support they need. They have to hit the pavement and do their own publicity, which ends up being a business in and of itself. So after they've spent a long time writing, they have to put forth extra energy to get attention and try to sell books, and they're very lucky if they manage to sell 1,000. People say that having to make back an advance is hard, but many writers don't even get an advance, so they're pretty much starting from scratch. Or they have to recoup the money they've spent on editors, etc. because they weren't successful or favored enough to have someone in the business provide the editing and other tools they need. Basically, when a writer has the backing of a publisher who is willing to pay them something up front, plus do their publicity, plus collaborate with them, that writer is really in a special group. But because such successful writers are interviewed and speak publicly about their journey, many people think it's possible to do the same, and there are companies making money off such dreams. 

And again, I can apply these concepts to other areas, especially creative pursuits. We see the successful people being celebrated, but it will rarely happen for other people. They can express encouraging words for all the hopefuls out there, but the positivity is just messaging; it rarely gets realized. But someone I was talking to had a good point: people have to be ready for opportunities, so it's important to develop talents and skills in case a door opens. 

Author : Margaret Larkin

Guest post: experience in 1970s downtown Chicago

I ended up getting a Letter to the Editor published in the Chicago Tribune about how downtown Chicago isn't a scary place, and mentioned that the 1970s and 1980s were worse. Then Marilyn Cosentino, a coworker from Daley College, sent me a link to a post she wrote about an experience she had in downtown Chicago in the late 1970s. I am reposting it here instead of merely linking to it.

The Night of Terror

called the parental homestead to see how Sibling #6?s Special Olympics basketball tournament had gone. Father answered the phone; I never actually learned how the games had turned out. And despite having been at the basketball tournament with Sibling #6, the most mundane of topics can quickly become hot button social commentaries for Father. ?Boy, have you been watching all the trouble in Egypt?? he asked. Then, without missing a beat as the two events are connected in ways perhaps only a lunatic would immediately comprehend, he added, ?Do you remember the night of terror?? I laughed. Even though I wasn?t a participant, how could I ever forget the night of terror?

Many years ago, my Irish Aunt was in town for a visit. She spent a few weeks with us before taking the Greyhound on an unmercifully long journey to the upper reaches of nowhere in western Canada to visit her daughter. Downtown, where the bus station was located, was little more than a cesspool. There was no Millennium Park, no flower boxes, and lots of criminal activity during the day, let alone at night.

The Aunt?s bus to the middle of nowhere Canada was departing the Greyhound Station at around ten o?clock at night. While late 1970s downtown was shady at best, the Greyhound depot was Starsky and Hutch type stuff. Working security there one night, Father noticed a guy hanging around that looked an awful lot like one of the country?s ten most wanted at the time. The guy took off when he noticed Father giving him the eye, but eventually Father made the arrest. It turns out he was one of the guys on the wanted poster. Like I said, the bus station was real life Starksy and Hutch.

Anyway, as Mother didn?t drive, the job of getting the Aunt to the bus depot fell to Sibling #2. Along with the Aunt and Mother, Sibling #2 brought along the Boyfriend to provide some semblance of protection. It was one of those stiflingly hot summer nights where the air is so heavy and unmoving you feel like you just might suffocate so Sibling #2 had on the air condition in the old blue wagon on the drive downtown. Now, should she have known better? Of course, but the Boyfriend had some entitlement issues so I?ve no doubt the air was on for his sake and not for the sake of the Irish Aunt so completely unaccustomed to Chicago?s height of summer mugginess.

Everyone was a bit on edge to begin with, what with the heat and having to descend into the bowels of the city to bid the much loved Aunt adieu. So naturally, about a mile from the depot, the blue wagon caught on fire. (We refer to it as the blue wagon to distinguish it from its predecessor, the yellow wagon.) Turns out Sibling #2 really should have known better about use of the air conditioner. Thus began the night of terror.

In a scene reminiscent of Scooby Doo, they decided to split up. Sibling #2 and the Boyfriend set out in search of Father who was on duty somewhere downtown, to let him know where his car, with its melted air conditioning belt, had been abandoned. Mother and the Aunt found a cab and took that to the bus station. After getting her sister on the Greyhound, Mother began walking back to State Street where she would catch a bus home. The problem, of course, is that Mother?s sense of direction is never particularly good. And when the underworld of derelicts that crawled the streets began to accost her and literally paw at her, she fled in a blind panic. I can just picture Mother, dressed in one of her signature paper thin t-shirts with the sleeves and neck cut-off and a pair of really short running shorts, streaking through downtown in absolute flight mode.

Turns out she was running in the right direction as she eventually ran right past Father, who was hanging out in a dark doorway. He called out to her as she sped past, but she was so terrified, his presence didn?t register even when he repeatedly called her by name. He gave chase and when he finally caught up with her, he had to grab her in order to get her to stop. When Father tells this story, his eyes crinkle up as he chuckles over his disbelief at seeing this familiar looking red-haired woman sprint past. We all have trouble catching our breath because we are laughing so hard as his eyes turn into two moons in imitation of Mother?s unseeing, terror-filled eyes. I?m sure the event probably left a deep, damaging gouge in Mother?s heart, but that doesn?t seem to detract from the event?s hilarity. And I?m not sure why Father was standing around in a dark doorway. In fact, it has never occurred to any of us to ask him about it. This is, after all, the man who would run home from work in subzero temperatures and shrug off our concern for the large black patches of frostbitten skin on his body by saying, ?It?s nothing. Just dead meat.? Really, why wouldn?t he be hanging around in a dark doorway?

Meanwhile, Sibling #2 and the Boyfriend had set off from where the car had died near State and Wacker. They walked south on State, with groups of undesirables literally circling them and making sucking noises and ?come on, baby? type comments to Sibling #2 and threatening comments to the Boyfriend. Like Mother, Sibling #2 was fond of the little outfits. Therefore, she was also experienced with having sucking noises directed at her, but never by groups of people that would circle her while doing so. Eventually, they made it to the Burger King on State and Congress where Father sometimes hung out to protect the non-criminal element that unwittingly entered in search of sustenance. As he was lurking in a dark doorway at the time, they instead found a different police man at the Burger King who then radioed Father and told him where he could find his car.

Sibling #2 and the Boyfriend then caught the #62 Archer Bus home. Father also put Mother on a #62 Archer bus and she, too, got home safely. The Aunt made it to Canada and then back home to Ireland, where she was able to regale her countrymen with her harrowing tale. As for Father, by the time he got off work much later that night, the car had cooled off sufficiently enough for him to drive it home, not quite the worse for wear.

And while I only wanted to find out about a basketball game, Father, ever the police man, used a favored lunatic parable, The Night of Terror, to reinforce the importance of serving and protecting. As Father discussed in great detail, whether it?s street protests in the Middle East or criminal gangs in Chicago, both are rooted in a fundamental break down in basic humanity due to our unfailing acceptance of intolerance and inequality coupled with a devastating lack of compassion for our fellow man. When burdened with all that, I could see how a basketball game might seem rather insignificant.

Author : Margaret Larkin

I like people who like people
A while ago, I was talking to a boss about how much work they have and how many fires they have to put out. They also have to deal with lots of different people in different jobs and departments, and it all adds up to complexity and what seems like a bunch of headaches. But the boss simply said, "I like people." And I believed it. I rarely hear people say that they like people, because I think a lot of people don't like people. They just tolerate them, or act friendly and then talk about them when they walk away. People are, of course, able to run their personal lives how they want, pretty much, but when it comes to work, it's important that managers like people. (ok, I just realized this is related to another blog post that I wrote: If you're in the people business, like people)

I've experienced managers who don't like people. They don't say it, but it's clear they don't. They want the position, money, and/or title, but they don't want to deal with people. They seem to want to work alone and avoid interaction, or they have little tolerance for questions or comments. They don't even like small talk. Why are these people working with people? They should make room for people fans who want a management position and who are willing to learn how to most effectively maximize their human interaction.

Outside of teaching, I haven't had to manage people, but I really like people. And I like working for people who like people, because they have a kind of appreciation of people's quirks, and aren't afraid to leave their office doors open, or walk around the place to see how folks are doing, or answer their phones and emails when there are problems. It's very important to have private time, and no one should have to work 24/7, but it's really great when someone takes the time to explain something or say hello instead of expecting people to work like robots devoid of emotion.

And it's not about avoiding confrontation and doing only what others want you to do in order to be liked. People who like people can have standards and give constructive criticism, and still like people even when they don't really reciprocate. It's really an appreciation of human beings and all the drama of life. Those are the kinds of people I like and enjoy working for; they know not everyone is perfect, and they appreciate diversity, not just in terms of ethnicity and background but viewpoints as well. People who like people don't mind if people disagree with them; they're fine with discussing something and will listen to someone else's varying opinions, because they know that the world is vast and not everyone is the same. Plus, they know that only knowing others who agree with them is limited; there's so much to explore, and they're not afraid to dive in.

Sometimes I meet people who explicitly state that they don't like people and don't want to deal with them. Other times people I encounter act in a way that reveals how repulsed they are by people, especially those they can't control or who don't match up exactly with their standards. We're not going to like everyone, but people should at least give others a chance, and give them a break when they mess up or aren't perfect. Some people are so petty that if someone doesn't look or act in a way that they want, they blackball them and make them feel small. Others simply shut people down; they can't stand small talk or attempts to connect (unless everyone is busy working or making a deadline, which is understandable) and cut off the conversation. All they want to do is function in their own space and don't want any kinds of interruptions to their own agenda.

Now that the social world is changing during this virus, the anti-people folks who have jobs or situations where they don't have to interact with people can thrive because they can just remain alone, and the new societal framework will support them. I want to say more about this topic, because this is really more of the work-related aspect of it, and in the general world, I really like people who like people, so maybe that deserves a post as well. But the bottom line is that when I get the chance to work with people who like people, it makes the work environment a lot more pleasant and less detached or cold.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, 

Author : Margaret Larkin

New year, new job

I think I've already written four or five versions of this post because I feel like I'm over-sharing or being too detailed and personal. But this work-related milestone is worth noting because I started this blog when I was always working at home (before it was a trend or a social-distancing necessity) and needed an expressive outlet, and now I'm not working at home all the time anymore.

Okay, so after many rewrites and revisions is this: the bottom line is that I have gotten a full-time job after 30 years of not having one. I've only had one since becoming a post-college adult, and that wasn't even in the USA. I've been working for myself, then eventually as a one-person business (established in 2009), since the mid-90s.

Even though I have written the amount of years more than a few times in previous posts, I still feel uncomfortable about stating that because in some industries, there seems to be a bias against people who are older than 35 in the workplace. But don't worry, ageists; I'm technologically savvy, exercise regularly, have good references, a solid work ethic, and am adaptable. I wouldn't have gotten the full-time job or have been so busy, even during the pandemic, if I weren't capable. 

I'm one of those people who has benefits that seem to make up for the pay. And I'm not being falsely modest about my deflated situation; I should get paid more for my experience and attention to detail, but let's just say the cash doesn't seem to be flowing that much, so I am still doing other jobs in addition to my full-time one. I always thought that if I took a full-time job, I'd quit freelancing and teaching, but I've spent too many years building up that equity to stop doing it. So right now, I'm simultaneously working in academia and in the non-academic world. I was even asked recently if I could teach yet another class, but I have no time left. I wish I could do it all, but I can't.

Even when the take-home pay doesn't seem like that much, having benefits seems like a luxury. For several years, if I didn't work, I didn't get paid. If I got sick, I didn't get paid. If I wasn't given a class to teach or wasn't given hours at a part-time job, I wouldn't get paid. Now I can take paid time off, can get sick, and can even take a personal day. I'm still getting used to it. Over the years, between all my gigs, I've called in sick only once in over a decade and have rarely gotten sick because I've figured out how to stay healthy. I'm not going to become a slacker, but at least I have that buffer now. 

Before I took this full-time job, I was offered five full-time jobs, and I didn't have to apply for any of them; they asked me to work there after seeing what I could do. Even though the money was better, I didn't take them because I really liked working for myself and living on the edge, essentially. It was an adventure to stay in the game and stay sharp. But when this full-time job came up, I had a good feeling about it and applied. I had already done the job temporarily, so I knew what to expect in terms of responsibilities, but I was worried about office politics and mean girls/guys. I hadn't grown up with such people in my sphere, but now that I've encountered them in my adult life, they're enough to cause me to avoid the whole scene. I was also worried about going to the same place every day, sitting at the same desk, doing the same things. My days used to be complex and different; many times I'd wake up and forget where I was going. Now I know that eventually I have to go to that full-time commitment, even if I have to do one of my other jobs before that. 

But so far, it hasn't been bad, though it took a month to get used to it. The first couple of days I closed my door and didn't talk to people because I couldn't believe I'd committed most of my hours to one place. I can't make appointments or go to the gym at random times during the day any more, so I have to do things after business hours or take a chunk of day to go to the doctor. I used to do freelance work, play tennis, then resume the work. I don't even know when I can play tennis again, or if I'll be able to meet people to play with who are at my mediocre level. I need to explain to people why I can no longer join their Zoom groups during the day, and if I want to meet up with people, or just talk on the phone, I have to do that on weekends or at night. My part-time schedule, where I had to show up at a physical location, was random, but I worked around it and it added to the thrill ride-type of existence. Now my days are solid. I feel more calm, but I can't let go of having to have a backup plan in case the situation dissolves.

I was just talking with someone who worked at other places full time, so they didn't have to adjust like I did to showing up five days a week. But we both agreed that because the environment is professional, the job is enjoyable. No drama like at other places. Plus, my boss is probably one of the best I've ever had, maybe the best. They allowed me to keep teaching, trust that I will put in the forty hours (which I do), and trust that I will meet the deadlines. They leave me alone to do what's needed, and their constructive feedback is polite. I'm never yelled at or demeaned, and I can discuss issues when needed, and work independently successfully. I also don't feel like I have to dumb-down my speaking style with them, end my sentences with question marks or vocal fry, or act like an airhead to get their attention. It is very hard to find good bosses and non-toxic workplaces, and here's where I highly recommend the Asshole Survival Guide, which is a must-read for anyone who is working anywhere. 

What I realized working full time is that I like to be in control of the process and work flow. Previously, I was in control of how I was shaping my work life, but I always had to follow what someone else wanted, and if I implemented it to their liking, I stayed employed. I couldn't really speak freely to suggest another way because the other person had already set a process that worked for them, or they basically didn't like people and didn't want to engage in unnecessary conversation. As long as I could effectively fake introversion and stay subservient, I was fine. I even had to be careful about what my emails contained; they could not include any personality. Now, even though I'm still working alone, which is what I've done for years, I don't have to fake bland introversion in emails as well as offline; I can add a smiley face, and it won't be held against me.

Now I'm the one in charge, and it's fantastic. No one works for me, but I'm still in charge of my occupational slot. I work with wonderful people who are conscientious, friendly, and deadline-oriented. I really appreciate them because I've worked with people who blow off work and don't care if other people have to pick up the slack, and others who mock the idea of having a work ethic. Since I can get work done on time or according to an optimal plan that I've created, people rarely bother me because the system I've set up goes smoothly. It's satisfying and seems nerdy because the accomplishment is in the details of implementation. Overall, I'm treated well, not nitpicked, and not perceived as weird, intense, or serious. At the end of the day, I essentially feel like I haven't worked. Because I have other gigs, I am tired, but I feel a lot more grounded and am really enjoying life.

I think one great characteristic of solopreneurs like moi is that we are used to being super-productive because the consequences of laziness or lying include losing hours, a class, a project, and our reputation. If we're jerks, people won't want to work with us. If we're high maintenance and can't learn things on our own or work independently, people won't want to keep us around. We are constantly being assessed because if we fail, we won't make money. So I should be able to be well-employed for the rest of my life because I bring a lot to the table. And as long as employers are open-minded to hiring Gen X'ers like moi who don't take anything for granted, I should be considered for future work as well.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, 

Author : Margaret Larkin

I finally took a vacation

I recently went to Southern California for a family event, and I made it into a mini-vacation that was very different than the life I live in Chicago. Even before the pandemic, I didn't travel much, so I wanted to be sure that the few days away would be enjoyable.

We (husband and I) had unused credit-card bonus points, so we decided to use them to get business-class plane tickets to LAX. It was easy to get through O'Hare because they were organized about checking documents, etc., and it wasn't as scary as I thought; most people were wearing masks, were polite, and were social distancing. There was no obnoxious behavior that I'd seen in viral stories about airports and airplanes. 

When we got on the plane, we settled into our business-class seats. A flight attendant asked if I wanted champagne or water. The choice was clear: champagne of course. Everyone on the plane was great; again, no screaming passengers or people refusing to wear masks. Since it was early in the afternoon, I figured we'd get to California in time to see the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean before joining the family later that night. But the plane just sat there. Then we heard an announcement saying that we had to wait until they made some repairs. No problem, got another champagne. Then they told us to get off the plane and wait for another one. I figured it wouldn't take long, but it took over six hours before we were on a fresh plane. So our vacation started out being stuck at the airport for seven hours. We got a free meal in the food court, but Day 1 of California was gone.

If you care about virus precautions in addition to good weather, beautiful scenery, and delicious food, Los Angeles County is the place for you. Most people at the airport wore masks, even at the car rental place, and I've heard the vaccination rate is more decent than other areas. Since we were traveling in January, there weren't a lot of tourists around, so the mindset of those around us seemed to be of people who were used to following public health measures. 

By the time we got to Redondo Beach it was past midnight, and no one was outside. Since we rarely travel, we decided to make the trip more special by staying at a resort in a bay by the ocean. There were no ambulances or sirens that I usually hear in my neighborhood, just seals making noises on their lounging platform. I could see twinkling lights in the distant hills and smell the ocean, and I felt like I'd landed on another planet. 

I only got a few hours sleep because we had to get to Rancho Palos Verdes in the morning, and I wanted to wake up early to enjoy what we'd missed the day before when we were stuck at O'Hare. Our room faced a small bay that opened up to the Pacific Ocean, and the seals were continuing their party on the platform, diving into the water as if they were also fluid. Birds kept their wings open as they glided onto the water, then turned in their wings to float neatly on top. I watched them whenever I could, and wanted to take a picture or video of their elegance, but I didn't. I decided to enjoy the animals and the sea in the moment to keep that feeling with me, because I knew I'd leave that planet and would want to retain its sparkle with no barriers.

Stand-up paddle boards, sailboats, and motor boats passed by, including the fire department and other water authorities. Even though I never took any pictures, I will never forget what I saw because it was so different than what I experience every day. I saw large, beautiful homes in the hills of RPV and neatly cultivated and grown flora in the area. The plants and flowers are different from the Midwest, adding to that otherwordly experience.

It was hard to leave all that nature behind to go to the City of Los Angeles. After we dropped off the rental car at LAX, we had to get a bus to Union Station to take the Amtrak sleeper back to Chicago. Even though I love cities, especially downtown areas, I wasn't expecting much from downtown LA because I'd been there before, and it seemed to be gritty desolation. Once I got there, though, I was pleasantly surprised. The Union Station building is incredible. I live in a fantastic architectural city, but there are no buildings like that one. In the front are beautiful flowers and trees, and it's located in the old part of town, pretty much where the city began. 

And the area was lively. There was Mexican music in the historic area across the street (El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument), and because our train wasn't leaving for a couple of hours, we walked over. Several people were dancing and listening to the music, and there were stalls selling handmade items and jewelry. I bought a colorful purse that I will definitely use once the weather in Chicago becomes warmer. The atmosphere was lively, and the historical buildings were well-preserved, which added to the quaintness of the square. The weather was perfect and I had a great time, especially because I didn't expect all that festive activity and cheerfulness.

Then we rode the Southwest Chief for a couple of days until we arrived at Union Station in Chicago. The pandemic had affected Amtrak staff and travelers, so the train was smaller than usual (I'd taken it a few times before) and there weren't as many people, so social distancing was possible (and most people were wearing masks). On the way to LA, Arizona is featured more during the day, but on the opposite trip the train goes through a lot of Arizona at night, so we ended up seeing more of New Mexico during the day. Both Arizona and New Mexico have awesome, in the true sense of the word, red rock formations that look like supernatural  sculptures, making the desert look like a planet related to Mars. All the nature that I saw from the train was humbling. And a positive aspect of winter is that I could see more beauty beyond the leafless trees, whether in Colorado or Kansas. When I've taken the train in non-winter months, all I've seen was green and flatness in the Great Plains. But winter adds another dimension, and the snow that I usually see in patches in my area creates a borderless blanket in the countryside.

I got back a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about my vacation out West. It was probably one of the best trips I've taken in recent years. I was tempted to take pictures or videos, but I decided to totally live in the present in every moment, being a participant or real-time observer rather than removing myself to try to capture what is best seen as-is.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site,

Author : Margaret Larkin

I wish I understood this Timo Torikka interview

I saw Timo Torikka in a couple of episodes of one of my favorite shows, Maigret (the French version with Bruno Crémer), and I kept wondering how he learned to speak such fluent French even though he's from Finland. I found an article in French that is now gone, so I did another search and found a French interview with him about "his life, his career, and his relationship with France" ("sa vie, de sa carrière et de sa relation avec la France"). I was excited to read it because I would finally find out about him, and if I didn't understand some words, I could easily look them up. 

But then I saw that it's a video interview, and the whole point of it is exactly what I want to know: "Comment Timo Torikka a-t-il fini par jouer en français et en France?" If I knew French well enough, I'd know by now because I would've watched the video and skipped to the parts that answer my questions! 

But now I have to figure out what they're saying. My French is horrible even though I studied it and translated it into English for more than a few years, but it's easier to read than speaking or listening, and if I don't understand what I read, I can look up the words online or in a dictionary. 

I turned on the video's CC which are French words generated by YouTube to attempt to transcribe the dialog, so I can understand it ok, though it's not precise. But the bottom line is it's difficult to understand what they're saying. Frustrating!

I'm sure if I ever go to France, or even Montreal, my French will improve because I will hear it all around me and will try to speak it. We have to use different parts of the brain for different language functions, and the speaking part of my brain is underdeveloped. I have the same issue in Spanish, though I have no excuse for not trying to speak because there are many areas of Chicago where I can speak to people from Latin America. I rarely see or hear French people in Chicago. But especially during this pandemic time, I should make more of an effort to improve those language skills. Bon chance to moi.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site,

Author : Margaret Larkin

Getting the booster

I would've written this earlier, but I wrote other blog posts that I haven't posted yet because they might be too personal. I showed one to a friend, and she said it was fine, but I still am not sure. But I want to describe my experience with the Moderna Booster shot because it wiped me out, as the second shot did.

I got the booster on Halloween, when availability was still limited to people over 65 and those with immunity issues, because I teach a few classes in-person, and education workers were amended to those earlier lists. I also live and work in one of the most populated areas of Chicago, and have been an Essential Worker throughout the entire pandemic, so I was pretty worried about the virus and wanted the booster for extra protection. 

I was incredibly happy to qualify, and figured I wouldn't experience many side-effects because it's less potent than the regular vaccine. But a couple hours after I got it, I started to feel lightheaded. I thought that would be it; I was lightheaded and spacey for a few days after my first shot, so I thought it would be similar. But then I started slowly feeling really horrible. I had a pounding headache, nausea, and I felt like I had the flu, without the fever, because my body felt heavy and I could barely move. I was horizontal for several hours and I felt like I had the stomach flu. I couldn't eat and felt so nauseated, I couldn't sleep. But I was exhausted and I felt like I couldn't think straight because I was trying not to get sick and my head was pounding. 

I lay down all day and night, and I was going to skip work on Monday because I was so wiped out. I'd already learned my lesson after the second shot: it's very hard to work when you're not eating, feel very nauseated, and feel like the earth is trying to pull you down to get you horizontal again. But I had a few things to get done at work, so I lay down as late as a I could, scraped myself off the floor (or couch; I don't remember because I was moving between my bed, couch, and floor), and got to the office. I got the work done, immediately went home, and lay down again. Thanks to the flu shot, I haven't had the flu in several years, but this felt like it; my body felt very heavy and I felt very tired, and I really thought I wouldn't make it.

After several hours of off-and-on sleeping, I finally emerged feeling relatively normal, though I hadn't eaten for a couple of days. I know that some people think not eating is great because we can lose weight, but I appreciate having an appetite because it is a sign of health, and I appreciate food. Now I am fully vaccinated and not worried about living and working in an area with tens-of-thousands of people. I'm still being careful about where I go, and I wear my mask. These limitations aren't fun and can be frustrating and depressing, but I'd rather deal with all that than get COVID, even a mild case, or pass it on to someone who could really suffer from it!

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site,

Author : Margaret Larkin

It\'s easy for people to say they don\'t care about money, etc. when they already have it

One time I was in a person's house that was so large, I forgot the way back to the room where I was staying, and that was one of their two homes; they had another one in another state. The person also drove a luxury car, wore fine jewelry, went to upscale grocery stores, took amazing vacations, and could enroll their kids in whatever activities they wanted. They also didn't have to work, so they went to the gym, tried different diets, maintained their fit figure, and was in charge of managing their family's life. They told me that they didn't really need all that (the houses, money, cars, jewelry), didn't care about it all, and could live without it, which made me wonder: why did they purchase it? Why didn't they protest against it? And if they lost it all, how would they feel? What if they had to work to support the family, could not send their kids to tutors or good schools, and had to shop at discount stores and Goodwill? Would that really be okay with them? 

I doubt it. One famous speaker said that her husband had "made up his mind" that if he couldn't play golf anymore, he'd be fine with it. But he is still golfing and hasn't lost the ability to play. So what they're talking about is just a theory; the reality could be a lot more depressing. Why not make some kind of pronouncement once the golf goes away? Then that would be more believable. But until then, it's a nice message to deliver to people who would love to be able to play golf, or be able to have the time and money to do any hobby. There's nothing noble in saying you don't need something when you clearly have it.

There are many people in history who had a lot and through political upheaval, war, or just a bad economy, lost what they had and had to start over. Then they really found out what they need or want. We can be inspired by such people. But I don't really believe people who say things that are hypothetical. If you really don't need that wealth, give some to me. I know what I would do with more money, even though I technically don't need it.

I think that sometimes people say things to distract us from what we don't have. So if someone is being interviewed and they downplay what they have, or talk about how they love what they're doing so much, they can't believe they're getting paid for it, then fire the agent that got you that huge contract, and give some of that money away. Losing a job, prestige, support, friends, respect, money is not fun. It's much better to be able to afford things, shop for food without budgeting, live in a safer neighborhood, and not starve. It is much better. 

When I see people talking about not needing something, that their earlier struggling days were better, they're saying that because many people are struggling, and they're trying to connect with people. But I seriously doubt that they want to go back to the struggle, when they weren't sure if they could pay their rent or eat three meals or go out for dinner or drinks with friends. Even going on vacation seems like a luxury to a lot of people. The posers are nostalgic for "simpler" times while their bellies are now full and they can shop wherever they want. But if they lose it, they'll want the richer times much more.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site,

Author : Margaret Larkin

Fictionalizing what people aren\'t sharing

I recently read an article in the Chicago Tribune about a lawsuit "alleging radio star coerced sexual favors," which made me wonder why the Me Too movement hasn't touched the Chicago TV and radio scene. A lot of people in national media and movies have come forward with allegations, but not even a handful of people here in Chicago have spoken publicly about any kind of incidents. And not much seems to have been shared in other cities, even though I know it has happened at various radio and TV stations throughout the country.

Even though the "Me Too" phrase started in 2006, the movement didn't really blow up online until more than ten years later. But because I'd seen and heard various things in the media biz, I wrote a fictional piece about a Me Too-type of situation in 2009. It was in an anthology that my business published called Down the Block, which includes more than 15 authors' and bloggers' pieces (read the book below). One reader seemed to be impressed that I'd written something way before the Me Too movement. Another reader thought that I'd experienced this story, but honestly, I never have. But there are people out there who have had a similar experience, and have stayed silent. Why? 

Mister P

Mr. P lived in a penthouse near the Swissotel, right on the Chicago river. That?s where he prepped for his radio show, which was number one in Chicago. I had to go there because I was his producer, and he always had an open bottle of wine, which he knocked off during our meetings. He never offered me any, which was fine with me, because I was afraid of what I might say if I got even a bit tipsy. We?d meet there in the early afternoon, after he took his long nap and after I returned calls from desperate PR reps who wanted access to his near-million listeners.

He always liked calling me ?babe? and it never stopped annoying me, but there was nothing I could do, because there were only a few shows in Chicago, and I didn?t want to leave radio. In a normal company, I?d be able to go to HR to complain about him, or at least would be able to talk to our supervisor, and there would be an understanding that such treatment wasn?t right, but the Program Director at the station was a good friend of his from junior high, and since his hobby was collecting candid photos of barely dressed teens off of MySpace to post on his office wall, there was no way I could talk to him about it. So I just ignored the ?babe? and ?sweetie? names, and I?d focus on the next day?s run-down, which Mr. P wouldn?t look at until right before he went on the air. Which made me wonder why I had to go to his place to prep, because he could care less about what was going on, as long as he kept getting his million-plus paycheck and could keep paying his ex-wife alimony, while I did all the work to put the show together.

?You know doll, you never told me if you have a boyfriend,? he said and leaned over until his belly spilled over his pants.

?I do,? I lied. There was no way I was going to let him know anything about my personal life. Or anything else, because I just wanted to put in my time with his show, pack my resume with experience, and move on to something better ? and more normal.

?I remember when I dated this girl, I met her at my last station in Milwaukee,? he said, and continued telling me stories of how and where he bagged her, then chuckled when he told me she cried when he blew her off to move to Chicago.

?Lovely,? I said, staring at my laptop to find a good story for the 7:00 hour. I really wanted to tell him off, but I couldn?t because I needed this job to get ahead, and that?s what I kept telling myself as he continued to talk about himself, as he always did, no matter what the topic was.

?You ever do anyone at the station?? he asked, pouring more wine into his goblet, which had his face on it and the name of one of the show?s biggest sponsors.

?No,? I said, and tried to divert his attention away with a juicy story of Mayor Daley once again denying corruption in the city, but he ignored it, of course.

?I did ? every station I?ve worked ? keeps you on edge. You never know if someone will walk in, ha ha.? His double chin jiggled while he let out a snort.

There was no way I could sit there any longer.

?Yeah, well, I?ll see you tomorrow,? I said, and packed up my things. I started to make my way towards his private elevator, and thought I was free until I felt a tug of my sleeve.

?Where you going?? he asked. He had a cigar in one hand and an almost-empty wine bottle in the other. ?You want a glass??

?No ? I?ve gotta go,? I said, and was almost on the elevator when he suddenly pulled me back.

?Come on, we?ve been working together a long time.? He was so close, I could smell his cigar-wine breath, and could tell he doused a bunch of cologne on his lard to drown the body odor.

?I really have to go,? I said, and pushed the elevator button again since the door closed.

Then he pulled me back more violently, which made me fall to the floor. ?Stop!? I yelled, and he pinned me down with his thick arms until I couldn?t move. ?Help!? I screamed, but he stopped my speech with his slobbery smelly mouth.

I managed to free my legs enough to kick his flabby stomach, which was hanging over me. He slightly moved to the side, then tried to return on top of me, which just made me kick him harder. I kept kicking and kicking until he rolled to the side, and I ran out to the emergency exit, setting off an alarm. I flew down several flights of stairs and down to the street, where the sidewalks were filled with suited workers watching the tourist boats on the river. Everything looked normal, and it was even sunny outside, but I felt awful enough to take the next week off, because I was so broken inside, and could barely get out of bed.

So I was fired, and Mr. P even managed to get a smear piece written about me in the Times? media column because the writer was a good friend of his, and he?d never believe my side of the story. Or care. Nobody cared, actually, because other people just saw it as a chance to try to get my job. So I took a break from radio.

Until now. I?m currently the Program Director of another talk station on the northwest side of Chicago, which I partly own thanks to some investors and my generous grandparents? will. So I can hire who I want. And right now, Mr. P and his agent are sitting in my office, right in front of me, trying to convince me to hire him because his morning show was replaced with a syndicated one out of New York, and the new owners didn?t want to pay his high salary anymore. And now, Mr. P wants to work with me. At my station. So what do you think my answer is going to be?

p.s. Order and get info about my novel Wicker Park Wishes at the Eckhartz Press site,

Author : Margaret Larkin