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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Writing on the L

(NOTE: I've been going through my writing files and discovered this essay from several years ago. Though it was never published, I quite enjoyed writing it. I've edited it for length, but left the obvious anachronisms.)

Friday around noon, I board the Brown line for a downtown visit with friends. The train car I enter is half full, with plenty of seats and no obviously disturbed riders.  Then moments after sitting down, I hear the grating sound of some handheld device set at stun.  There, half way down the aisle, a 40-ish fellow dressed in jeans and a blue cap sits enveloped in the noise, his legs bouncing up and down, arms flying as he plays imaginary drums, eyes tightly shut. 
Moments later, another sound, a loud rhythmic tapping.  Sitting at the other end of the car is a young, dark-haired woman playing the castanets.  Her eyes are also tightly shut. 
Now I’ve ridden public transportation in Chicago for over 30 years now. Even when I owned a car, I’d regularly take buses and trains to downtown restaurants, nearby bookstores, friends’ houses, and work. In the mid-80’s, I completed an entire masters degree on public transportation, reading Chaucer and Milton and writing ponderous academic papers on the long ride between my far north side apartment and the University of Illinois at Chicago. 
So I’m a certified fan of pub trans, and cannot imagine why anyone would daily submit themselves to rush hour traffic, pay a king’s ransom to park, and foul the air for generations to come.
Still, I confess to a certain crankiness when riding Chicago’s trains and buses.  Excuse me, I find myself saying to my fellow riders, but would you please pick up that garbage you just tossed on the floor.  Or lower your voice while on your cell phone, describing in some detail your naked girlfriend in the shower.  Or maybe wait to clip your nails when you get home.     

But I fear I am at the losing end of a cultural tsunami: the blurring of the lines between private and public behavior.  More and more people act on public transportation as if they were sitting alone in their darkened living rooms, in their pajamas, scratching, belching and farting, screaming at some screen, often with only the bewildered family dog as witness. 
And so this latest incident with the drummer and the castanet player has inspired me.  Personally I think it’s brilliant. Though some commuter trains now have a Quiet Car, I’d go several steps further, designating six specific cars, each reflecting the diverse needs of Chicago’s riding public: 

The Music Car would accommodate all riders with headsets, CD players, real instruments, and anyone moved to spontaneously tap their feet or sing out loud. This car can also be used for overflow from The Loud Talkers Car and the Car for Teenagers.

The Restaurant Car would accommodate all riders who eat and drink while in transit—carryout Chinese, Wendy’s burgers, KFC, six-packs of Bud.  These riders will be free to guzzle drinks, lick their fingers, belch loudly, and toss bones, wrappers and cans on the floor or just leave them on the seats. This car can also be used for overflow from the Car for Teenagers.

The Toilette Car would be reserved for those riders who haven’t finished their personal grooming before leaving home.  People in this car will be free to brush their hair and floss their teeth, apply or remove make-up and nail polish, pick their pimples and noses, and tweeze things. 

The Loud Talkers Car would accommodate people who sit across and down the aisle from their family, friends, and co-workers and carry on long conversations in loud voices sprinkled with obscenities and punctuated with high-pitched laughter. Also in this car, cell phone users, especially those who still don’t believe that the person on the other end can actually hear them. This car can accommodate the overflow from the Car for Teenagers.

The Car for Teenagers

The Heavenly People Car will be reserved exclusively for those riders who sit quietly in their seats and read, write in their journals, stare out the window, say the rosary, nap in place, and speak in normal voices to their seat mates. No overflow from any other car would be permitted. 

Not a perfect system, of course. For starters, there’s the enforcement issue. What if a strolling troubadour winds up in the Toilette Car?  Or one of the finger-lickin’ crowd wanders in with the musicians?  Well, come to think of it, who’d notice?

So maybe in the end, all we really need is one designated car—the Heavenly People Car. It’ll come equipped with special sensors to instantly eject loud talkers; amateur bongo players; and, of course, teenagers. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

R&R With Not Much of Either

Well, despite having taken a few weeks off for some R&R, I seem to have been quite busy, especially with writing and teaching. Which is just fine, as they are two of the most enjoyable things I do. Well, and plus watching night baseball games at my local bar and schmoozing with fellow fans.

Following, then, are the writing and teaching updates. As for the baseball games, I refer you to your favorite source of sports updates. Mine is WGN, mostly so I can also get the weather news from one of Chicago’s greatest treasures, Tom Skilling.

Here is the workshop update…

On August 17, I posted two of my September workshops currently registering: “Journaling as Spiritual Practice” at St. Margaret Mary Church in West Rogers Park on Monday, September 18, and “Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories” at the Newberry Library on Saturday, September 23.

Here’s the status of each:

The journaling workshop is half filled, so six spaces remain. The Newberry workshop has only one space remaining.

Please revisit that August 17 post if you’d like more information on both. I handle registration for the journal writing workshop, so you can email or call me at, 773.981.2282.

The Newberry takes registrations for the Finding Your Voice workshop. Online registration is closed, so please call the Library at (312) 255-3700 to sign up.

…and the writing update

On Tuesday, September 5, I was very honored to have my (brief) Vietnam story accepted and posted on this PBS website:

On August 25, the essay I mentioned in the June 8 blogpost—“My Spiritual U-Turn—was published in the National Catholic Reporter, both in print and online:

Oh, and on August 24, I had a piece rejected that I’d submitted to a magazine in July. I’ve since revised and renamed the essay and will be submitting it to another publication within the next day or two. Onward and upward.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Just a Little R and R

Dear Faithful Blog Readers, it is that time of the year for all of us here at LaChapelle INK to engage in a little rest and recreation. Look for our return after Labor Day.

Until then, here are two September workshops that are currently registering:

Journaling as Spiritual Practice
When/Where: Monday, September 18, 6-8 pm at St. Margaret Mary Church in West Rogers Park.

Cost: $39/person

To register: Maximum registration is 12 people. Please contact me at 773.981.2282 or for more information or to sign up.

Workshop Description
Keeping a spiritual journal has been practiced for centuries by men and women of all faith traditions.  Private, personal writing encourages us to explore our authentic thoughts and feelings, especially those that express our encounters with the Divine in our day-to-day lives.

In this workshop, we’ll do several journal writing exercises to help guide us along our spiritual journey—wherever we may be in the process, and wherever we may want to go. All levels of journal writers, and people from all faith traditions, are welcome.


Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories
When/Where: Saturday, September 23, 10 am - 4 pm at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton.

Cost: Early Registration Price (by September 1): $130; Regular Price (after September 1): $143

To register: Maximum registration is 20 people. Register directly with the Newberry Library here: Register Online

Workshop Description
Whether in private journals, family histories, or published memoirs, telling our personal stories is a transforming experience. When we write down the important events in our lives, we better understand the meaning they have for us. Rachel Naomi Remen says in Kitchen Table Wisdom that “facts bring us to knowledge, but stories lead to wisdom.” In this workshop, we’ll use a series of guided writing prompts to recall and record our significant life stories. We’ll also discuss the various uses for our stories once we have set them down in writing. One session.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Spiritual Practice: A “Broad and Ecumenical” Definition

I’ll be conducting an introduction to Journaling as Spiritual Practice next month in West Rogers Park. And though it meets at my local church, the workshop is open to anyone interested in the topic.

One of the resources for the exercises I’m designing is Lewis Richmond’s book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, which I’ve written about before on this blog. The workshop is not focused on aging per se, but much of what Richmond has to say about spiritual practice—both in the book and in this 2012 interview with—applies I think to adults of any age.

His own definition of spiritual practice reflects that:

Q. How do you as a Zen Buddhist priest define “spiritual practice”?

A. I define spiritual practice very broadly and ecumenically: as paying close attention to the things that really matter. What are those things? Beyond having a deep sense of meaning, there is also a feeling of belonging to something greater than ourselves. Research shows that people with an active church membership or spiritual practice live on average seven years longer than those who do not. That should tell us something. Finally, there is what I call a sense of the sacred or the divine, which the meditations I teach in the book invoke and develop.

To read more of the interview, click here:

To learn more about the Monday, September 18th workshop that meets from 6 – 8 pm, please email me at

Friday, August 4, 2017

Strangers on a Train

Carless now for 30 years, I walk, bike and ride pubic transportation everywhere. Each has offered an opportunity to meet and occasionally have meaningful encounters with strangers.

Which is what happened last week.

Riding the Metra train downtown from Rogers Park, I sat next to a casually dressed businessman a few years younger than I, in his mid-to-late sixties, old enough to have served during the Vietnam War, though not in Vietnam.

I learned all this because as I sat writing in my journal, he asked me if I was, well, writing in a journal. “Yes, I’m a writer, so am always writing.” With that as our official introduction—including first names—we didn’t stop talking until we reached Ogilvie Transportation Center some 25 minutes later. As we exited the train and waved goodbye, Paul’s last words to me were “I’m going to start journaling again.”

We crammed a lot into our brief conversation: how he’d kept a journal 15 years ago and enjoyed going back and re-reading it; how his father had emigrated from Greece alone and in his teens; and my experience of the Vietnam War through my relationships with two men who’d served there: Eddie, my first real love, who was killed in action at age 25, and Philip, whom I married after his tour of duty ended in 1967.

Philip was fortunate never to have seen action during that year, though the war and its aftermath did haunt him in some way, enough that his descent into drugs resulted in our separation and eventual divorce.

That conversation then led Paul and me to talk about the Wall, the Vietnam Memorial where I first saw Eddie’s name inscribed on a small traveling replica in Grant Park in the late ‘80s. (I’ve written previously about that experience and how it so undid me to see his name listed there--and nearly twenty years after he’d died.)

I then asked Paul if he’d ever seen the Wall. Turns out, he had. While working in D.C., he’d visited it the night before it officially opened on November 13, 1982. And when he started to describe the experience, he suddenly choked up and turned away to regain his composure.

Only it didn’t work.

Turning back toward me, starting to talk, he had to turn away again, the lump in his throat even more visible. Finally on the third try, he managed to speak about what had so moved him, including the stark, simple design of the Wall, and how each of the two sections slanted downwards into the ground. (And maybe put him in mind of the number of graves holding the remains of those 58,000 plus who’d died in the war?)

And then we paused, and the conversation shifted, got lighter. We even laughed about how there we were, two strangers on a train, talking as if we’d known each other for years.

And maybe we had, I thought later. We both grew to adulthood as part of the Vietnam generation, each involved in our own way in that war. We shared that history, a kind of bond, and so perhaps were not strangers after all.