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Thursday, January 11, 2018

How Broad Are Those Shoulders?

I’m a daily communicant at my local Starbucks. It’s not only the coffee, but the friendly baristas, and especially the newspapers that get me there. Every morning, I read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the two Chicago papers.

And of course I take notes in my 5 x 3 inch memo book: quotes from articles; books I should read; news items that might make their way into my writing or onto my blog.

Or, as in the case of a recent editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times (12.31.17)—"8 New Year's wishes for Chicago and Illinois"—a Letter to the Editor. For among those wishes—including “more money for schools” and “fix the broken property tax system”—I didn’t see one that I and many others dearly wish for: affordable housing.

And so I sent this to the Sun-Times on January 3:

To the editor:

Re: "8 New Year's wishes for Chicago and Illinois," may I suggest a 9th? And, given its urgency, maybe make it #1? Affordable housing. For without decent and affordable places for people of all ages, races, and finances to live, Chicago will lose what makes it worth living in: its unique diversity.

Carol LaChapelle

Short, to the point, no whiney tone, and so I was pleased to see it published on the paper’s website on January 7.

Now shortly after I sent it, I got to wondering how I became someone who so values diversity. How I want to, even need to, live in neighborhoods where I encounter it daily: on my walks and train rides; at both the Jewel and the Mexican market; at my favorite bar and in my parish church; and at Starbucks.

How did I—raised in an all-white, lower middle-class suburb in the ‘50s, and where I lived until my early 20’s—make the transition from that small homogenous community to one so large and diverse? And how, over time, did I come to prefer the latter?

Seems to me, from this vantage point, that coming of age in the ‘60s had a lot to do with it. I went to a commuter college on Rush Street, hung out after night classes with a guy I met there, and then later married a Vietnam vet who would move us to New York, to the Upper West Side, in 1968.

And while I didn’t especially like living there at the time, the pace, the pulse, and the variety of people I encountered in New York unalterably changed me, made me choose urban living, starting with when I separated from my husband and returned to Chicago in the ‘70s.

And as I’ve aged, it’s only gotten easier to live in the city: I don’t have to own a car to get around; all the walking I do keeps me in pretty good physical shape; all the daily stimulation on those walks, including the people I talk to at Starbucks and the bar and the Mexican market, keeps me in pretty good mental shape.

But the part of aging that’s definitely gotten harder in this place is being able to afford to live here, even as I’ve kept moving farther north and west within the city. Over the past 20 years, I’ve been gentrified out of more Chicago neighborhoods than I can count on one hand.

Hence that letter to the editor. Because if this City of Broad Shoulders can no longer accommodate the poor and the rich, the old and the young, and the rich mix of races throughout than it may no longer be a place worth living.

Come and explore how "place," among other factors, might figure in your own experience of aging:

The Purpose of Aging, Aging with Purpose: 
A Journal Writing Workshop
Thursday, February 15, 2018, 6 – 8 pm
7430 N. Ridge Blvd, Chicago

For more information re: fee and registration, please contact me at or 773.981.2282.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

My Good Friend in the Heavens

On Monday, New Year’s Day, I read my horoscope in the Chicago Sun-Times. And though I’m not given much to astrology, it was the first day of 2018, which means the prediction blather was in full tilt in both print and online media.

So why not take a look, I figured, at how the planets might align for Scorpios in the new year? Here’s what it said: “This is the beginning of a very lucky year for you because lucky Jupiter is in your sign. The next time this happens will be 2030. Enjoy your good fortune!”

Now, I’ve no idea why Jupiter is lucky, or what it means for it to be in my sign, but I quite liked the idea that it was. I know that luck plays some role in how things go in our lives, maybe even a significant one, so I’m willing to let it arrive in whatever form it takes, even, per NASA, as “the largest planet in the solar system….so large that all of the other planets in the solar system could fit inside it. More than 1,300 Earths would fit inside Jupiter.”

OK, that’s a good start: like Walt Whitman, Jupiter contains multitudes, which is kinda, sorta how my own mind works.

Next, I had to investigate how all that we know scientifically about Jupiter translated astrologically. A simple google search brought this from

“Luck and good fortune are associated with Jupiter for good reason. This is a kind and benevolent planet, one that wants us to grow and flourish in a positive way. Jupiter may be judge and jury, but it's mostly an honorable helpmate, seeing to it that we're on the right path. While our success, accomplishments and prosperity are all within Jupiter's realm, this largesse can, at times, deteriorate into laziness and sloth (Jupiter, at its worst, is associated with weight gain!). More often than not, however, Jupiter will guide us down the primrose path.”

OK, not so crazy about the laziness and sloth and weight gain part, but then it turns out that leisure, as distinguished from laziness, is “also one of Jupiter's pastimes. Sports of all kinds, games of chance and a stroll in the park with the family pet (Jupiter loves animals) –- these are all ruled by this planet. Finally, Jupiter often presages great wealth, material and otherwise. This is a good friend in the heavens!”

So given all of that, and my penchant for journal keeping, this next year I plan to record how and when good luck and fortune show up in my life. Which I guess I may already be doing, though I call it a gratitude journal.

And maybe in the end that’s what having a “good friend in the heavens” really means: some one or thing that helps us focus on our life’s great wealth—in whatever form it takes—and of how grateful we are for it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

On Taking a Purposeful Break

Lucky me, I’ve been given next week off by the CEO here at LaChapelle INK. And so I’ve been lining up movies to see—including Coco, Darkest Hour, and The Shape of Water—though what I should be doing is plowing through the stacks of books overtaking my living space.

Among those that keep rising to the top are Mary Oliver’s Devotions; Brenda Peterson’s memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here On Earth; Thomas Moore’s Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy; and a book by one of my favorite English professors from grad school, American Indian Literatures by LaVonne Ruoff.

Oh, and then there are the titles I keep adding to my reading lists—books reviewed in the print and online publications I scour daily.  The latest one on that list is philosophy professor Michael Ruse’s On Purpose, in which he considers the question of the purpose of life, even of a life, a topic of great interest not only to philosophers, of course.

Among the review details, what I found most memorable is Ruse’s short list of what he believes makes for a meaning-filled or purposeful life:

“Taking his cue from his own Quaker upbringing, [Ruse] argues that three things remain deeply satisfying in life, even if philosophically one ends up on the side of Epicurus and his denial of design: family; a life of service to others; and, not surprisingly for a philosopher, the life of the mind.”

It is a most interesting selection, methinks, especially the second, which makes me want to read Ruse’s book. Maybe it will reveal the intersection between the author’s Quaker past and his philosophical present.

See you in the new year.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What I Wonder About Aging

I recently read actor Bill Pullman’s comment about his new movie, “The Ballad of Lefty Brown”: that it was his “coming-of-age-at-63” role. Meaning, I think, that not only does he play an older character, but that he is doing so at age 63.

Kind of fun, that phrase, and it put me in mind of what’s been written lately about the current (vs. traditional) aging process: that there are different stages, tasks, and opportunities within it.

One of the authors who considers this is Michael Gurian. In his book, “The Wonder of Aging,” he suggest three developmental aging stages:

--the Age of Transformation: approximately 50 to approximately 65;
--the Age of Distinction: approximately 65 to the late 70’s;
--the Age of Completion, approximately 80 – 100 and beyond.

I quite like Gurian’s use of the word “approximately,” as we know that no one person ages the same as another. In fact, though age-wise I’m tucked comfortably in the Age of Distinction, I may not quite reach it by my late 70’s. Some of us—as my father remarked when I completed my master’s degree at 45—are clearly late bloomers.

Which means I could be transforming, distincting, and completing all at the same time, assuming I live as long as my father did, until age 95.

What I mostly wonder about the wonders of aging is whether we should use “coming of age” to describe it. After all, that term typically refers to our moving from our teen-age years into adulthood, when, as the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it, we attain “prominence, respectability, recognition, or maturity.”

But then isn’t it true that each developmental stage in our too brief lives has its own “coming of age” markers? Childhood, adolescence, adulthood? And so why not old age? Or what psychologist Erik Erickson called Late Adulthood, his 8th stage of development?
So it would seem that we agers need to figure out how to move into and through our Late Adulthood. And decide what we want to attain while there. Each of Gurian's three-part aging process offers its own distinct tasks and opportunities, which might give us some useful ideas.

To learn what those elements are, you can read Gurian’s book, "The Wonder of Aging." Click here to see more info about it: