Image taken on April 8.

We visited the University’s arboretum when we last saw our daughters. It has been in the sixties and seventies there since they returned from spring break; their blooms are weeks ahead of ours.

Speaking of weeks, it has been two since my last post. The time passed in yard work, bike rides, books, two flute lessons, and several volunteer hours, among other things. I also completed “Literature in the Digital Age,” a FutureLearn MOOC. And I saw Remy Bumppo’s Born Yesterday, which runs through the end of this month.

Paul: A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.

By the numbers

The 2.75-mile trail along which we logged five geocaches.

Number of weeks, more or less, since my last post.

Number of days in our daughters’ spring break, during which they studied, researched, and recharged at home.

Number of geocaches we logged during their break. What a delight to share this new pursuit with them!

Number of trips into Chicago during spring break: one for the Lyric Opera’s Eugene Onegin (review here) and one for Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (review here).

Number of hours I will have worked (early voting and Election Day) for the Consolidated Primary and the Consolidated Election. The turnout was much larger in October and November, which is both normal (Presidential Election) and puzzling (when you consider that local elections have an immediate impact on a voter’s life).

Number of weeks I’ve completed in my latest MOOC. (Three to go.) This one concerns reading in the digital age and has sent me to the shelves for my copies of The Shallows (Nicholas Carr) and The Gutenberg Elegies (Sven Birkerts).

Number of books I’ve already read this year. This is shaping up to be the first “Big (Reading) Year” I’ve posted since adopting a “reading slowly” approach. I haven’t moved away from that; rather, I simply have even more time to read. Book notes to follow.

The Shakespeare Project of Chicago

The Changeling
By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
Directed by Steve Scott
February 24-28, 2017

She that in life and love refuses me,
In death and shame my partner she shall be.

From the Shakespeare Project of Chicago‘s performance announcement: Lady Beatrice has a problem: she is unhappy about the husband her father has selected for her to marry. With her wedding looming, she devises a solution with the help of DeFlores, her father’s servant. The price for murder is never cheap, and never higher than what is revealed in this Jacobean classic from Thomas Middleton (The Revenger’s Tragedy) and William Rowley. The Goodman Theatre’s Steve Scott makes his Shakespeare Project directing debut with a cast that includes Gary Alexander, Theo Allyn, Jordan Brodess, Tony Dobrowolski, Kurt Ehrmann, Jose Antonio Garcia, John Green, Torrey Hanson, Andrew Jessop, Patty Malaney, Jeff Parker, Matt Penn, Christopher Prentice, Rebecca Spence and Randy Steinmeyer. Music and sound design by George Zahora.

Friday, February 24, 2017 at 7 p.m.
The Niles Public Library*, 6960 W. Oakton Street, Niles, Illinois

Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 10 a.m.
The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton Street, Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 2 p.m.
The Wilmette Public Library, 1242 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette, Illinois

Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 2 p.m.
The Highland Park Public Library, 494 Laurel Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois

Monday, February 27, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Vernon Area Public Library*, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire, Illinois

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 7:15 p.m.
Mount Prospect Public Library*, 10 S. Emerson Street, Mount Prospect, Illinois

An introduction to the play commences 15 minutes prior to curtain.
Admission is free, but seating is limited.

* Pre-registration required; call the library.

Reading notes

img_1546Books about books appeal to me, and in 2012, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club proved to be an amiable enough contribution to the genre, as did his recent Books for Living. One of the delights of the books about books genre is adding to one’s TBR pile, so what a pleasure it was to find that the recommendations that most interested me were already on my shelves.

To read: The Importance of Living (Lin Yutang); A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara); A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry); Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann)
To reread: Stuart Little (E.B. White); David Copperfield (Charles Dickens); Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark)

The only purchase I made while reading Books for Living was The Confession, a John Grisham novel about the death penalty, which, because I read Just Mercy earlier this month, touched a chord of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity.

For the commonplace book:

p. 188
The world is filled now with huggers. Maybe that’s because we live in such a technological age that people crave human touch. Men and women whom you barely know hug you hello and goodbye. Kids in school hug each other. Even in business meetings, people will give you a hug if they’ve sat with you in meetings a few times before (though not if they work at the same company). I really don’t like being hugged by anyone other than my husband. People regard this as a character flaw. One friend even devoted an hour of time with his analyst to discussing why I didn’t like to hug. I gather he takes it personally.

p. 255
Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

(This entry from late last year discusses an excerpt of Books for Living: On reading.)

Speaking of the commonplace book, much of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros might be pressed into mine, but I will content myself with the following bits from Act III, when Dudard and Berenger discuss the way things are:

p. 75
BERENGER: I understand what you mean, at least I’m trying to. But you know — if someone accused me of being a bad sport, or hopelessly middle class, or completely out of touch with life, I’d still want to stay as I am.

p. 78
BERENGER: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, and blue-stockings and artists and people. And the ordinary man on the street, as well — it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you’re involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against the brutal facts you can’t help feeling directly concerned — the shock is too violent for you to stay cool and detached. I’m frankly surprised, I’m very very surprised. I can’t get over it.

The Remy-Bumppo Theatre Company hosted a staged reading of this oft-read but rarely seen play last night, and as I did when watching the Shakespeare Project of Chicago’s King John last month, I thought, This is a play for our time, to be sure. From the conclusion:

People who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end. [He shakes himself out of it.] Oh well, too bad! I’ll take on the whole lot of them! I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end.

I’m not capitulating!

I first read Rhinoceros in high school and thought myself so clever for “getting” it and Sartre’s No Exit and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. As so many of us discover when we return to the books we swallowed whole as younger readers, though, I “got” little more than the tattered texts I purloined from the shelves of the English department — well, that and the tacit promise that I would return to the treasures at some point, (which, happily, I have).

On the topic of returning to books, as I mentioned here, The Last Policeman (Ben H. Winters) so pleased me that I was reluctant to begin Countdown City, fearing the second in the trilogy would disappoint. It did not. I plan to read the third book later this week.

Much of the “Shakespeare in Year” project also represents a return of sorts, although I find that I am less chagrined by these past readings than, say, by that of Rhinoceros. This is probably because I have been (re)reading Shakespeare for the last fifteen years; as an adult and an autodidact (as opposed to a cocky, know-it-all, “I ‘get’ it” teen), I have approached the plays and now the sonnets and long poems knowing that so much remains for me to learn.

Other commitments require that I continue to read ahead in order to keep up with the schedule, so at this writing, I have read through Sonnet 27 and Line 576 of Venus and Adonis and completed the following plays:

The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III
Titus Andronicus
The Comedy of Errors
Love’s Labour’s Lost

A few notes: I appreciated Titus Andronicus much more than I had thought I would, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy read. Even if one accepts the idea that the plot is willfully over-the-top, it’s still horrifying. Given the graphic sound effects in the Arkangel recording, I had unhappily anticipated close-ups of violence and bloodletting. The film featuring Anthony Hopkins in the title role was, however, rather restrained, for which I was most grateful. Not all of the production choices appealed to me (frankly, I just didn’t understand a few), but overall, it earned a thumbs-up for both acting and restraint.

Maybe it was my mood, but The Comedy of Errors fared much better in this, my third or fourth, reading. Would that I could say the same about my second reading of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I’m actually a little concerned because we will see the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production next month; can they make this seem less… ridiculous? Again, maybe it was my mood.

The Sonnets. Sigh. Don Paterson’s commentary, though, makes the journey bearable. And perhaps I am too old to encounter Venus and Adonis for the first time because I have, several times, wondered, Kissing is a polite euphemism, right? What this work has made me realize is that I must read Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (I read some early in our home education days and some more before seeing the Lookingglass Theatre presentation of Mary Zimmerman’s play.) This year’s reading plan is already wildly ambitious, but Ovid is moving up.

Well before I get to Ovid, though, I will reread Edward III for “Shakespeare in Year” and finish The Changeling (Thomas Middleton and William Rowley), which the Shakespeare Project of Chicago will present later this month.

I will also read a few more books about geocaching. To explain: As an election judge, I have met some interesting folks with whom “What are you reading?” has been the perfect way to step around both banalities and (most) politics. Last week, a fellow election judge mentioned a popular fiction novel I had tossed across a hotel room in disgust three years ago, but rather than going there, we moved onto EMPs and emergency preparedness, which is not my usual fare, but in confirming via Amazon that, yes, he was talking about the tossed book, I saw Ted Koppel’s Lights Out, a book I knew was already on my shelves. It was clear-sighted, but I was glad to finish. Since early November, I have felt, well, not unlike Berenger: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers….

The same judge also talked about his family’s interest in geocaching. When I first heard about this pursuit years ago, it seemed like a perfect fit for our family, but our days were already so full. The rhythm of our lives has changed a great deal since then, though, and the judge’s enthusiasm was contagious, so as we parted, he extracted a promise that I would tell him about our adventures when we work together again this week. On the way home from the polling place, I borrowed The Joy of Geocaching (Paul and Dana Gillin) from the library. That evening, I created an account at and downloaded the app to my phone, and this weekend my husband and I found our first cache. Actually, the truth? I found the cache on Friday afternoon, but I didn’t understand what I was looking at. When I brought my husband to the same spot on Saturday afternoon, he indicated that I had read the map and the app’s compass properly (I defer to him in such matters; he is an Eagle Scout), so it should be here…. “I’ve got it!” I hooted softly. “I’ve got it!” Aware that I needed to be discreet, I showed him the contents and the ingenious hiding spot, and we logged the cache in hard copy and in the app. We are late to this but, oh, how it dovetails current pursuits: biking (we took the first ride of the year on Saturday, by the way: thirteen easy miles; it was beautiful), walking / hiking in the county and state parks and conservation areas, and archery.

In addition to Rhinoceros, Books for Living, and The Joy of Geocaching, Calculating God and Diary of a Provincial Lady are pictured above. The latter is a reread. In recommending it recently, I suggested that if one thought Downton’s Dowager Countess was the primary reason to sit through any episode of Downton Abbey after the middle of Season Two, if one fancied the idea of British Bombeck, and if one craved a book that would take him or her completely and utterly out of this place and time, then one might be advised to reach for Diary of Provincial Lady.

Calculating God arrives on my stack via one of those “blind date with a book” gimmicks that popped up around Valentine’s Day. I answered a flurry of questions and landed on this. I read and enjoyed Sawyer’s WWW : Wake in 2010, so I am actually looking forward to my date.

Who tells your story?

img_1366The Book of Joseph, a biographical play based on correspondence collected in Every Day Lasts a Year, runs through March 5 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

From Stuart Sherman’s “A Scholar’s Perspective: Here?”:

The story told in The Book of Joseph is simple, true, and fraught with loss. In Kraków, Poland, 1939, Joseph Hollander — Jewish, enterprising, and alert to the approaching storm of hate and death — arranges a swift departure to safer places for himself and his large, loved family: mother, sisters, in-laws, nieces. But they decline to leave, calmly convinced that (to echo a novel published three years earlier an ocean away) it can’t happen here. Only Joseph knows it can. They stay; he leaves, intent on securing their escape somewhere down the line.

Then there’s a second story, without which we would have far less access to the first. Baltimore, Maryland, 1986: in the wake of Joseph’s death, his adoring grown son Richard finds a briefcase full of letters postmarked from Poland, stamped with swastikas, dating from the early 1940s, written by the Hollanders, under deepening duress, to the their cherished, distant son, now dwelling precariously in America and still trying like hell to get them out.

Entwining these two stories, from the middle and the end of the twentieth century, The Book of Joseph documents the Hollander family’s wholeness and its sunderings.

Our family shares a great enthusiasm for talk, talk, talking about what we read, see, do, think. This, coupled with my mental quilting — stitching this experience to that book to this film to that exhibition, and so on — is how I learn (and how I learn how much remains to be learned). So, on the long drive from Chicago, my husband and I discussed The Book of Joseph. The second act, which, I pointed out, propelled the material from quite good to must-see, focuses on who will tell the — “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” I offered. My husband acknowledged the Hamilton reference. The Book of Joseph is a Holocaust story, but it is a family story first. What parts of their narrative will survive? Who will remain to tell their story? How will it be told? Will it be told?

This play deserves a wide and appreciative audience. Reviews here and here, and I heartily agree with Chris Jones: Sean Fortunato, gives “the performance of his professional life” as Joseph Hollander.

Speaking of mental quilting, by the way, before I saw her name, I recognized Amy Carle’s face: She read the female lead in The Hill You Die On. Her Neve roams the rooms of my imagination still. (I’ve republished my entry from that evening here.)

The Hill You Die On

The following was published on my original site on November 15, 2011.

Last night was the reading of Sheila O’Malley’s play, The Hill You Die On.

No traces of the play that had closed the night before were apparent in the small theater space where the reading was held. All that remained was bare, black, blank.


Two chairs and two stands on a platform. Another chair and stand off to the side.

The audience entered, greeted, rustled, embraced, connected, acknowledged, made room for, settled.


And then a relationship unfolded.

And I was reminded all over again that what happens to each of us is both unique and universal. The story is ours alone, but it has all been told before, hasn’t it? The coming together. And apart. The tenderness and sorrow. The beginning and the inevitable conclusion.

If you have heeded my recommendations over the years, if you have bookmarked The Sheila Variations or added the site to your feed or done whatever you need to do to ensure that you’re keeping up with her, you already know that she can, vernacularly speaking, write her ass off. The Hill You Die On is simply further evidence of her gifts.

Humor punctuates the first half of the play; Sheila’s dialogue reminds us that laughter comes easily early in a relationship. Wit has a different sound when it ends, though, doesn’t it, and she captures that, too. Most importantly, she captures the truth of it all – the honesty that is both tender and devastating.

A quiet moment all but undid me: Jack explains to Neve why he reads obituaries. Over the past year, I’ve perfected the art of the silent sob, so I don’t think I distracted anyone with my reaction to that beautifully written, perfectly delivered scene.

And the conclusion… well, I don’t think I was alone in my response to that.

Jeff Christian portrayed Jack. As I have mentioned, Jeff was the artistic director for the Shakespeare Project of Chicago (SPC), which played an important role in fostering my son’s (and my own, for that matter) love of Shakespeare. I had a moment after the play to tell Jeff how much I appreciated not only his wonderful performance but also his work with the Project. Damned if he didn’t ask me which plays we had seen. The Winter’s Tale, which we saw in February 2005, immediately came to mind, as did The Merchant of Venice from the 2003-2004 season, but for the life of me I could not remember Two Gentlemen of Verona, from that same season. “Uhhh….” It came to me as we were driving home. Of course. Well, we introverts don’t score high on small talk, do we? (More, let’s face it: Two Gentleman of Verona is not exactly one of Shakespeare’s great ones.) Still, once I learned that he was going to play Jack, I determined that he must know how important his work with SPC had been to us – and that meant talking to him. So I tried.

And Amy Carle portrayed, no, became Neve. Had I simply read the character, I would have loved her, but Amy Carle’s performance ensured that Neve will roam the rooms of my imagination for a long time. Beautifully, beautifully done.

The reading was followed by a discussion with Sheila and the director, Mitchell Fain (who also deserves a shout-out, as does the person who read the stage directions, which required impeccable timing – and he had it; regrettably, I don’t have his name). If all that I’ve already written hasn’t persuaded you that the play was absolutely terrific, then this confession may: Following many articulate audience responses to everything from scene changes to cultural references to character, I spoke. Pretty animatedly, in fact. Ayup. Deeply moved and likely inspired by the play’s frank language, I attempted to describe what, to me, was Jack’s emotionally brutish behavior during the “scorched earth” argument and in the penultimate scene.

And I did so in the most unflattering terms.

A slang word was involved.


It will haunt me for weeks. [Note: Five and half years later, it haunts me.]

Couple that episode with my sincere but inept conversation with Jeff, and, well, there you go. The introvert’s worst nightmare.

Don’t worry, though. I’ll get over it.

Heh, heh, heh.

Sheila, thank you. Your characters, their relationship, your way with words, the wisdom and humor you revealed, the truths you told — all of it moved me, made me think, made me feel, made me hope to understand. Thank you. And congratulations!

“Space is freaking awesome!”





img_1076The above are images I took during our recent visit to the Adler Planetarium. What I love about the last one is that I can see my daughters through the display.

After the museum, we saw A Disappearing Number at the TimeLine Theatre. Yes, a play about math. What did you expect? My site is called “Nerdishly.” My youngest recently secured a spot with a high energy physics research group that is working on the ATLAS experiment, so insert a muted nerdgirl “Squeeeeee!” when Anish Jethmalani’s character, Aninda, announced that he was a physicist lecturing at CERN. The script is not a seamless one, but this production is so fabulous that one forgives the weaknesses in the text. Highly recommended.