Alone, But Not Lonesome

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Not to get all tragic, but when I go out, I go out alone. It happens to be the way I roll these days. I dine alone. I go to movies alone. I attend the theater alone. Table for one. A single ticket. Just one ice cream cone. I am fine with this. It’s Milwaukee that seems to have a problem. I have practiced my aberrant lifestyle in New York, in London, in Lugano, Switzerland, and along the decidedly uncosmopolitan north shore of Minnesota. Never have I been as challenged and pitied as I have been since I moved to Milwaukee. When I and my latest Nora Roberts novel crave lobster, the maître d’ looks past my shoulder at the … Read More

When Writers Write about Writers

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When the voice of a superb writer is stilled, a community of people who make their living by putting feelings into wise and nuanced words does what it does best. Writers write about writers we have lost. The colleagues and friends of New York Times media columnist David Carr have remembered and mourned him since his untimely death in the newsroom on February 12. Before he was published in The Atlantic Monthly and the Times, Carr wrote for and then edited an alternative weekly newspaper in Minneapolis/St. Paul called the Twin Cities Reader. The Reader took on civic issues of urban policy and social justice, running long form stories that annoyed and delighted people, depending on whether or not you … Read More

Why Do Men Hit?

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THINGS TO CONSIDER while dating: Do we both like Szechuan? Does he get along with my cat? Will he kill me? For women, the chief relationship issue isn’t how to find one. It’s how to survive one. If a woman is abused, beaten, or killed, it will most likely be by her husband or her boyfriend. Being hit—eventually—is a very real risk a woman runs when she agrees to go to dinner and a movie. It’s a risk she can no longer afford to minimize or ignore, because all of us, from the news media to the courtroom, hold her responsible for his behavior. Over and over again, when domestic violence is discussed, victims, shelter staff, divorce lawyers, domestic court judges, … Read More

The (Belated) Graduate

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I GRADUATED FROM college last month, at the ripe old age of never-you-mind. Mine might’ve been the last cohort of young people who could earn a good living without initials stuck to the end of our names. While the boys older than us stayed on in grad school to avoid Vietnam, we Nixon-era kids dropped out as often as we graduated. Back in the 1970s, I, along with half the teenage population of the country, was in journalism school trying to be Bernstein and Woodward. With two or three reporting courses under my belt, I left school behind and set up for the real world to be a writer. Tolstoy, Twain, Thackeray and people whose names begin with other consonants, as … Read More

Mother & Child Reunion

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I WASN’T TOO HAPPY about him leaving at kindergarten, either. As I watched my son Ian race up the steps to the school’s front door, he suddenly looked defenseless and tiny. I had obviously not been feeding him enough, causing malnourishment in some essential way. He bravely disguised it with that twinkle in his eye, that flashing dimple in his cheek, and that lilt in his step. When he broke away from my hand to run into the classroom and grab a sheet of green construction paper with a yelp of pure glee — “Cool! I can draw Ninja Turtles!”— I knew he was being strong for his mother. Driving home, I had to pull over and work my way through … Read More

The Best of All Worlds

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Being half Irish and half Norwegian means, among other things, never having learned to cook   MY FATHER WEARS orange on St. Patrick’s Day. According to him, it is the only honorable thing for a Norwegian to do. He maintains that the most worthwhile traits among the Irish were deposited by Vikings who visited the Emerald Shores in ancient times. My mother is Irish. She believes that Scandinavian blood is much improved by the wearin’ o’ the green. “My, but that’s an interesting combination,” the nuns at St. Raphael’s Elementary School used to say to me, referring not to my clothes but to my cultural heritage. My Irish grandmother’s bedroom was a library of enlarged-type issues of The Liguorian; my … Read More

Breakup Joints

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Anyone can think of a romantic spot to dine on Valentine’s Day, but finding the right restaurant to leave your lover is another story   I’M NOT A GOOD dumper. I have no style. Well, at least not the kind of style you might expect from a woman who has had as many husbands as you have fingers on your right hand. When it is time for me to check out of a relationship, I am gone. Not always gracefully, not always politely, but gone. I am not inclined to hang around for weeks planning a dramatic exit. Nevertheless, I can certainly make a case for leaving a man with a lingering memory of me in black velvet and pearls, … Read More

Summer School

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I learned about church as community from my hymn-singing Iowa aunts.     IT WAS ONLY an Iowa farmhouse filled with Lutherans. But to me, a Catholic kid from Minneapolis, it was an exotic destination. Summers we would travel there, my five sisters and I, squeezed into the backseat of a two-toned Chevy station wagon, breathing down my father’s and mother’s necks. When we turned left at the grain silo, off the highway, and across the railroad tracks into tiny Duncombe, Iowa, we cheered. We were almost there—at my grandparents’ farm. My father’s five sisters and his brother’s wife gave me seven aunts. Some still lived on the farm; some were married and visited when we did. They were all utterly … Read More

What’s In A Name?

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SO THE GUY who blows the leaves off my sidewalk turns off the turbo-charged jet engine he carries slung on his shoulder, lifts his goggles, and asks me, “What’s the name of that plant over there?” He means, of course, coreopsis auriculata—a tall, hardy perennial covered with yellow blooms that look like a daisy and a chrysanthemum smooshed together. “You oughta label these things,” the lawn guy suggests. Actually, I have been thinking about doing just that. I even bought 100 sturdy metal stands and one of those letter-punch contraptions that spits out a sticky tape with whatever you type printed right on it. But I have balked at starting the task, and here’s why. I don’t care what the … Read More


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SHE HAD ASKED  for no flowers at her funeral, likely fearing her gardener friends would struggle to outdo themselves, enveloping the church in combative perfumes. But a man brought in irises, an immense basket of them, and set them down near the altar. Simple, purple, everyday irises—not the exotic black, red, yellow, or white species she nurtured in her Riverdale Iris Gardens formal beds. Just the violet backyard plants she gave away like cups of coffee, now growing alongside my deck, alongside my mother’s pool, clustered near my sister’s driveway entrance. Not a noble plant, but just the commonest of garden varieties. And they undid us. There was an audible gasp in the congregation. A few people began to cry. I … Read More