St. Benedict

as far as it goes

I was looking for something else deep in the guts of my hard drive, and I ran across this. I wrote it almost eight years ago, but it still feels right to me. So I’m posting it. To prove I’m still here, and writing.


St. Benedict High School
Class of 2000 Commencement
Chicago, Illinois
May 26, 2000
Rosina Lippi

all rights reserved

Twenty-six years ago I sat where you are sitting right now. Somebody else — and I have absolutely no memory of that person — stood at this podium and gave the class of 1974 advice about how to go out into the world. I’m sure it was a very good speech, just as I’m very sure that you’re going to follow in my footsteps. Twenty six years from now you’ll have no idea who I was, or what I said. So I can be honest. I can give you the very best advice I have to offer, knowing that if you take it and it goes wrong, you won’t be knocking on my door in 2026 to tell me so. So here we go. Continue reading…

and while we're on the subject of books

TtttpubbannerYou realize that Tied to the Tracks is about to come out, right? You might not realize — because I just found out myself — that the publication date has been moved up to June 8. Three days from now.

Now, of course I hope you go out and get a copy but what I was brought up to say is something like this:

Of course it may not be your kind of book, and please don’t worry about it if you don’t have time/energy/interest/money/inclination or you’re too busy/too depressed/not interested/caught under a large piece of furniture without hope of escape. Because of course books are expensive and you probably have more important/interesting/rewarding things to do with your money. So really, I insist that you don’t bother. Send your money to the charity of your choice, I’ll feel so much better about that.

That’s what I should say, according to the good sisters of St. Francis who were my teachers at St. Benedict. Self promotion was as horrifying as self abuse in that setting. Modesty and humility, those were the things that mattered.

Case in point. I am sitting, right now, at Starbucks getting up the energy to open the PJ manuscript. I sit at a corner table so nobody can come up behind me and read what I’m writing. It’s right next to the pickup spot on the counter. Two women just came over to ask me about my computer. This happens once in a while; mac people are drawn together by a mysterious magnetic-y force. So they come over, admire the computer, remark on the new intel based macs, and then they ask me what I do.

Here’s my standard answer, which I gave them: “I’m a writer.”

Sometimes people ask what I write. I prefer that they don’t, but I answer if they do ask. This time they didn’t ask, but because I’m sitting here writing about the challenges of a new book coming out, I was infected — infected, I use the word purposefully — with the need to be proactive. So I said: As a matter of fact, I have a new novel coming out this week. On Thursday.

Oh? came the answer. With a slightly glazed look. The oh no look. The more information than I wanted look. The how quickly can I walk away look. But having jumped in, I wasn’t going to drown. I said: A novel. called Tied to the Tracks. On Thursday!

Then they went away, leaving me here to feel embarrassed, but also with the odd and almost irresistable urge to stand up and talk to the whole room. In my old teacher voice.

Hey! If you come in here regularly and often see me sitting right here typing, you might be interested to know — well okay, you might not but I’m telling you anyway. What I was writing was this novel (holding up example I don’t have with me) about half of which I wrote write here. It’s a darn good novel. BookList says so. So on Thursday, why not wander by the bookstore and have a look? Why not INVEST in my writing career? You’ll get a good story and my thanks.

You know what? I bet that would cost me sales. I bet people who might otherwise have picked up Tied to the Tracks will decide, when they do happen to see it in a store, not to. Because of the weird, self promoting, loud mouthed author.

You see my dilemma. The damnedifIdodamnedifIdon’t nature of the beast.

However. If you are reading these words you came on your own power, and so to YOU I can say: (repeat refrain).

Village Books
If you have time, of course. And interest. You would find it — if you’re so inclined, really, no obligation, at Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, at your local independent bookseller by means of Booksense, or you could order a copy from Village Books, my local independent. You can even request first edition signed and/or inscribed copy — I stop by there to take care of such things — and then they ship it off to you. Give ’em a call (360 671-2626). If you are so inclined.

the role of memory in writing fiction

The writing is going. Note the lack of qualifier, because every superstitious Italian cell in my body is telling me to shut up now.

So something very different.

Once in a while when I’m procrastinating, I will go online and look at real estate in Chicago. In the neighborhood where I grew up, which is sometimes called the St. Ben’s neighborhood. Because St. Benedict Parish is in the middle of it. That’s where I went to school, first grade to twelfth. I do this out of perverse need to see what I can’t have, and also because it’s just amazing. The neighborhoods around Ben’s are mostly made up of brick two flats, with an occasion full fledged stand alone house, or an apartment building. I remember when I was eighteen, a friend of my father’s bought one of the two flats for 34K.

In the eighties the neighborhood teetered on the edge of real trouble for a while, and then it got sucked into the gentrification process. So now I browse real estate listings of those old two flats that have been renovated into one family homes, and go for someplace between $700K and over a million. These are nice neighborhoods, mind you. Lots of old trees and little postage stamp grass yards front and back, a real sense of community. That’s what you get for your million.

So while I was looking at houses, a map of the neighborhood came up and it seemed off to me. I had to study it for a few minutes before I realized what was wrong.

A whole hospital had gone missing.

Martha Washington Hospital used to sit on about five acres at the corner of Irving Park Road and Western. It was a small hospital by any standards. My great uncle Ben was on the board of directors, and he got me a job there. I worked full time as a nursing assistant for almost a year, and then part time when I was an undergrad.

My memories of that period of my life are pretty vivid, but I almost never talk about them. Or I never used to talk about them. But ever since I read about the hospital being torn down (to make way for senior housing), images keep popping into my head and bits of stories and memories. I think this has to do with the fact that I’ve finally admitted to myself that the Chicago I remember, the one I grew up in and lived in until I moved away for good at 25 — doesn’t exist anymore. Pieces of it are still there. Ann Sather’s, and Wrigley Field, and Lutz’s Cafe. But so much is gone. Martha Washington is just one example. The Maxwell Street Market, Riverview, these are institutions that are long gone, but are still very much present in my internal picture of the city.

Now see, I went and got all maudlin. Obviously I need to go back to work.