My Office Assistant

My Office Assistant

I knew I could write. The problem was, no one else did.

I’d been writing since I was four years old. “Dear Mommy,” I crayoned. “I love you. Do you love me?” My first query letter.

After college, I wanted more than familial correspondence. I wanted to write for the Chicago Tribune. I sent off my resume and soon received a reply that thanked me for my interest but pointed out I had little journalism experience.

No experience? I was an English Literature major. I was the editor of the campus newspaper at Elmhurst College. I had been a high school correspondent for my hometown press. My weekly column, the Dragonland Review, covered basketball scores, homecoming queens, canned food drives and other goings-on of interest to those whose revered mascot was a winged reptile.  That’s experience, I thought.

The job I did land was in the public relations department of a large toiletries company. Mostly I wrote letters of apology to customers who had bought aerosol cans of hairspray that clogged and sputtered. On the side, I modeled wedding gowns at bridal fairs and taught make-up classes for a modeling school.

A year later I updated my resume for the Chicago Tribune and received another copy of the previous rejection letter.

A department store chain, however, was impressed by my background in haute hairspray and hired me as a stylist. I auditioned teen models and produced fashion shows in the mall.

Another year passed, and again the Chicago Tribune turned me down. I still hadn’t written anything, by the company’s definition of “anything.”

I continued modeling and teaching. I produced a fashion show for Bonwit Teller, and I created a feature spread that paired luxury cars and fur coats for a suburban lifestyle magazine. I became a creative consultant for a chain of edgy boutiques. My name appeared in a couple of industry publications, and my wardrobe was quite chi-chi. That’s because more than once my rent money was diverted to a designer dress or boots.

One morning a friendly colleague, who was the promotions director for a regional shopping center, called to chat. An editor at the Chicago Tribune had asked her to write a weekly column about suburban fashion events. But she was too busy, she said, and suggested the editor call me instead. I was thrilled.

The editor called and gave me the first of many assignments: 600 words on fashion trends for men. I didn’t need writing experience any more–I had become an expert, and that was just as good.

The Art Ladies

March 4, 2011

The Art Ladies at Ten Chimneys

I call them the Art Ladies. Actually, they are the Community Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago, but that’s way too long for everyday conversation. I’m a member of the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton chapter, and our purpose is to look at art. Any kind of art. Art that hangs on the walls of the Art Institute, for sure, but also glass, tile, architecture, sculpture, fashion and mausoleums in the Chicago area and beyond. And we eat and shop for souvenirs. About once a month we board a very nice bus and go someplace, such as Ten Chimneys. That’s the former estate of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who were Broadway legends between 1930 and 1960. Ten Chimneys is in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin.

My favorite outing was the Chicago cemetery tour. We first visited Graceland Cemetery, a Victorian-era resting place, where many of the city’s founders and notables are buried. Among them are Bertha and Potter Palmer, who sold his retail emporium to Marshall Field, and architects Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham. Then we went to Bohemian National Cemetery, a working-class burial ground that embraced 143 victims of the 1915 Eastland boat capsizing in the Chicago River. Such a contrast between the rich and the poor! Many of the markers at Bohemian are sculptures of branches or cut-off trees, which signify lives cut short. At Graceland, the monuments are stately and the landscape is lush.

Another good day was themed around angels. We bussed to the Art Institute for a presentation on how angels are portrayed in art throughout the ages. We learned the differences between archangels, cherubim and seraphim. Then we lunched “in the heavens,” on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building. In the afternoon, we viewed the 14 human-sized angel sculptures at Fourth Presbyterian Church.

The Art Institute has 16 Art Ladies groups. Our group is the largest, with about 350 members. Occasionally we meet for lunches or desserts at a nearby banquet hall, and art experts come to give presentations. We’ve had programs on art restoration and on fashion during Jane Austen’s lifetime.  At those events, some of the Art Ladies wear suits. And hats, even.

The Art Ladies take a break during the summer, but that’s when I look forward to receiving my new program booklet in the mail. I can hardly wait to see where we are going next.