Monday, December 23, 2019

Get to know them

I have always been curious about people and their inner worlds. What does my doctor enjoy doing in her free time? Is the actor playing a villain a kind soul in his daily life? What goes through the mind of a rock climber when the rock underneath his foot gives in? Why did my sister preferred reading books to playing with me as a child.

I met Beth Finke, an award-winning author of Writing Out Loud, teacher, and journalist when I took her memoir class for seniors in the Fall of 2018. Flattery may take you anywhere, but a lie about my age got me into her writing class. And so it began, an unexpected fascinating journey into the lives of retired Chicago folks. With every writing assignment, a different layer of a personality revealed. Vulnerability gave way to openness and intimacy. Strangers shared personal stories for no other reason but reflecting upon life and passing on their legacy.

In these classes Beth taught, guided and encouraged us writers, yet rarely shared much about herself. I challenged the status quo and asked Beth for an interview. On a crisp January morning Beth and I found ourselves in the cozy recording studio of Story Corps’ where I tried to get to know her better.

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. I wrote about the experience a few months ago. Recently StoruCorps’ launched an on-line archive and now you can listen to my interview with Beth - 42 minutes of shared life experience I deeply cherish.

In the middle of this Holiday Season, I invite you to give the gift of your time and attention to the people in your life--family, friends, strangers. Get to know them! And you might open a door into a world of marvel.

Today is Beth’s birthday and I dedicate this post to her. Happy birthday, Beth!


4:12 When Beth was 25-years-old she started seeing spots from diabetic retinopathy and eventually became blind. She got married at that time too.

6:40 Iliana asks what advice Beth has for people when going through early stages of trying to save their sight. Beth says she should have gone to Europe with her husband like they had planned but instead she kept having surgeries for naught and didn't go. She says not knowing what's going to happen during the surgeries was the worst part.

8:15 Beth talks about writing her memoir and learning only then about what it really felt like to learn there was no hope for her sight. She says she felt relief to give up.

14:30 Iliana asks if teaching senior citizens memoir writing is difficult knowing they could die. Beth says it happens. She keeps them alive through their stories. She says the essays they write in her class are often read at their memorial services.

20:00 Iliana asks what Beth would like Smartphones to do for blind people. Beth suggests a way to translate sheet music.

33:00 Beth says it's a gift she lived part of her life sighted because she can understand both pretty well. Beth says, "I feel watched a lot. I'm still me but I'm not me because I can't see anymore so it's hard to figure out sometimes how to act. I think getting older I quit worrying about it and I'm just me."

Monday, December 09, 2019


My parents wanted me to be a wife and a mother,
My school wanted me to be a straight-A student, and not a bother,
My bosses wanted me to get the job done, quick and well ,
My friends wanted me to be like them or go to hell,
My boyfriends wanted me a little slimmer, a little taller,
My country wanted me to be obedient and loyal.
I gave them all the finger, laughed and I left.
Life and I alike are so bereft
of perfection!