The Wax Museum

Whatever happened to Baby Jane is starting to happen to me. I’m not talking about serving up parakeets on a platter (not yet), like Bette Davis did to Joan Crawford in that twisted cinematic tale of sisterly rivalry gone to the birds. I’m talking about a jolt far more frightening than any horror flick frenzy. I’m referring to that monumental moment in the mirror when girlish becomes ghoulish (or boyish becomes oyish). Suddenly the look that worked for so long is now so unworkable. The porcelain complexion has faded from translucent to Transylvanian – the wax museum is calling your name.

For men, aging is a simple matter of accepting a bad toupee and stocking up on luau shirts.

For women it’s a little more complex, like having a youthful replica of yourself, courtesy of Madame Tussauds, fitted with a wick, lit with a blowtorch and you get to watch while it melts.

Forget about crinkles and crow’s feet, your complexion will soon resemble a crepe de chine blouse. And that’s the most fashionable thing that can be said about your appearance. When your skin starts to sag more than your sweat pants, you begin to wonder: can housecoats and babushkas be far off?

Your creamy white throat is still tempting, but not in the way it used to be. The resemblance to turkey skin makes you hungry, (what doesn’t?) but now you get to accessorize your wardrobe with wattle.

For the rich and famous, aging poses no problems because looking like a mutant freak is apparently considered chic in Hollywood. For regular humans, however, some semblance of humanoid features is required to successfully co-mingle in society. And besides, the average budget doesn’t allow for anything other than Oil of Olay. Heck, forget about the budget, you pass out at the dentist – are you really going to let someone inject toxins into your body (other than whipped cream and cheese whiz?)

Botox brow and collagen lips may work on the red carpet, but in real life, children are so easily frightened. Cultivating a colorful personality profile is a far more realistic solution for the not-so-rich and far-from-famous.

For men, becoming a spunky geezer is always a popular option.

Single gals can consider the cat lady lifestyle.

Classic choices for moms include: Muumuu Mom – billowy dresses, boufanty hair and bosomy hugs; Manic Mom – glued-on grin, piercing pitch and busybee bravado; Matronly Mom – plump, placid and proper. Or you could go full-out eccentric (Norma Desmond style) and become Madcap Mom sporting age-inappropriate clothes, embarrassing dance moves, and hop-on-a-motorcycle-just-before-you-break-your-hip joie de vivre.

Whoever you are and whatever you choose, remember your new mantra: No one will notice your wrinkies and frownies, if you keep them distracted with cookies and brownies!
Eileen Mitchell is an award-winning essayist and playwright with recognition from The Robert Benchley Society Thurber House and the Will Rogers Writers Workshop.


Guest blog by Matt Cortez

In a place no one can see, maybe in the dark of night, someone is slamming himself or herself in the head with a blunt object. Or, someone is cutting his or her arms not to commit suicide, but to inflict pain.

This is called “self-injury,” a behavior I’m quite familiar with. I have been beating myself in the head since 2006.

Most if not all people who engage in this type of behavior suffer from some form of mental illness. Friends and family often can’t or don’t want to understand what it’s like to be mentally ill, and many have abandoned me because of it.

These acts evoke images many people don’t want to see. But these people do walk among you. Is someone you see every day at the office or a parent dropping off a child at your kid’s school secretly suffering?

My partner knows I injure myself, and he has not left me. Unfortunately, he can’t do anything to prevent it.

If my partner sees a head wound of any kind, he will be very stern and abrupt, as he should be. “Why?” he’ll ask.

The only answer I can give him is that I am severely depressed. The goal is to inflict so much pain that it exhausts me.

Even in the process, I tell myself, “Two hundred times is not enough. I need another hundred.” And then I’m there: both in pain and peace. It’s a baffling juxtaposition. But I can sleep after I do it.

I’ve concluded there is no panacea for what I have — an illness with traits that torture me mentally and physically. Mental illness is this huge mosaic of illnesses inside an illness.

It’s a cancer we are neither trying hard enough to cure nor making bold advances to address.

Using cars as an analogy, we are not all “Pintos,” but we’re different vehicles sitting in a used car lot. Our lives are highways with different exits.

My car, you might ask? Metaphorically, sometimes my car is on the side of the road with a flat tire. It’s raining. It’s dark.

I’m frustrated, crying and alone. I have a blunt object in my hand that I drop to the ground.

Matt lives in Pennsylvania and suffers from bipolar disorder with self-injury tendencies.

The Authentic Tragedy of Speedy The Snail

Guest Post by Marc Ross ©2015

Several years ago my wife and I, while living in our first apartment, had next-door friends, Dave and Brookie, who were both frequently out of town. On a Friday I was invited into their kitchen and shown their latest prize, a small snail named Speedy, occupying the bottom of a large shallow bowl. He was, as Brookie explained, a fond pet that she had smuggled home on an airplane. They were once again going on vacation for a week and would I care for him.

“Of course,” I said, unsure of what that entailed. I was reassured that (a) he only needed a few daily drops of water and a pinch of fish food and (b) he would never leave the bowl. I reassured them that I would care for Speedy. They gave me their key and left the next day.

The following is, as best as I can reconstruct, is the letter that I left on their kitchen counter:

Dear Dave and Brookie,

Welcome home. I know that you will both be saddened by the absence of your beloved Speedy. I will attempt to explain.

On Saturday I dropped by and there he was in the bowl. I gave him water in an eye-dropper then gave him a pinch of fish food.

On Tuesday, I noticed that he had moved from the center of the bowl. Just getting some exercise, I thought.

By Wednesday he had ventured further, nearly to the bowl’s edge. That contradicted my understanding of Speedy’s mobility. I shrugged it off and picked him up gingerly by his shell, replacing him in the bowl’s center. Again, water, food, and done.

On Thursday I became alarmed. I could not find him. Detective that I am, I followed his tiny slime trail and discovered that he had suctioned to the underside of the bowl. Again…replace, water, food. I was becoming concerned. Had I been mistreating him or not following instructions?

Friday. I entered the kitchen with no small trepidation and switched on the light. The bowl was empty. As I approached I noticed an ominous vertical trail of slime on the wall. There he was, close to the ceiling. What a desperate effort he must have exerted.

I knew something had gone haywire. I stood on a chair and reached high to hold his shell between thumb and forefinger. He seemed attached to the wall by some force.

I jiggled his shell a bit to break the bond and then…he exploded. His insides had, under pressure, exerted themselves all over the kitchen and me. It was horrifying….like the Manson family had been there only with snails. I washed his remains from my hands and face and, I confess, ran from your apartment.

Judith explained to me that I had to return to the scene to clean it up, that you would both would be home Saturday. I knew that it was something needed doing and I hope you both feel that I did a thorough job in at least that small regard.

It must feel so terrible to lose a pet that you loved. I know I let you down and I feel responsible even though I don’t know exactly in what way. Judith and I wish we could bring him back so he’d continue “speeding” through your lives.

With deepest regrets and sympathy,

I dropped the hand-written letter into the late-Speedy’s dish and hoped that after this we’d still be friends.

Saturday morning there was a knock our door. I looked through the peephole and saw, however distorted, the faces of Dave and Brookie. Were those tears in their eyes? I opened the door.

They stood before me holding onto each other, my letter clutched in Dave’s hand, laughing that kind of soundless gasping laugh, tears indeed streaming from their eyes. Finally, Brookie collected herself, took the letter from Dave and pressed it into my hand. She managed to squeak out, “We don’t give a shit about Speedy!” Then they collapsed again into helpless laughter…

…laughter that will haunt me for the rest of my life.


Marc Ross is a playwright, essayist, and actor. He’s had plays staged throughout the Chicagoland area, including The Sedgwick Stories and Button For Nuttin.

How Organizing Can Help When You Can’t Give Up Your Stuff

by Marilyn Labendz


Need help? If you can’t give up your stuff, you do!

Having just listened to George Carlin’s routine about “Stuff,” I found it funny and true. As he says, “Houses are just piles of your stuff with covers on them.” And should you get robbed, “while going out to get more stuff, they only take the good stuff. Nobody else wants your 4th grade math papers!”

Organizing or Downsizing, the dilemmas and the decisions are the same.

Ask yourself:

  1. What defines me?
  2. What are my prized possessions…(Or do they possess me?)
  3. If I had to leave in a hurry, what could I not part with?
  4. What items do I have that I haven’t looked at or used in the past year or two…or ten?
  5. What things are worth the physical and financial cost of moving from place to place?
  6. Can I rise to the challenge to benefit myself and my family?
  7. What can I donate to benefit someone else?

Tips and Tricks

The first thing that one needs to do to de-clutter is to decide to do it but to take it in steps. Never attempt to accomplish one whole room in one day or it can be overwhelming.

Here are some steps that should help, regardless of what you are de-cluttering, a closet, workspace, bedroom, etc

It often helps to take before and after photos so that you can see what you have accomplished. It proves you are on the right track and have made a difference.

Getting Started

  • I like to work with the “bones” of the project first.
  • Go from large to small, the perimeter of the room, for starters. Example, your bedroom has a space between the dresser and the wall, a perfect place to drop things and “get back to them later.”  Somehow, later can come several months down the road.
  • Start with that corner and other spaces like it first.  It will feel so good to have finally gotten to it. (In the initial stages clutter creates clutter because of all the sorting you are doing.)
  • Close the closet door and wait till the room is done. You’ll then have more space to work.
  • Have 3 piles, boxes or bags for “Discard” “Keep” and “Not Sure”. 
    1. In the Discard pile you may want to divide that into “donate” vs “toss”
    2. Each time the “discard” container is filled, put it out of the way, out of sight.
    3. Put the items in the “Keep” section back where you think they belong, for now. You will probably rearrange the kept items later because you will have so much more space.
  • If you have the space in another room put the “Not Sure” pile there and leave it for a day or so. Then go back to it with the same 3 containers of “Keep,” “Discard” and “Not Sure” until piles are done.
  • Work from the outside in, (even top of the desk before the inside).  If you keep the pattern I set above you’ll soon give a happy new meaning to “being out of sorts.

What’s in Your Boxes?

A new client told me that when she walks into her cluttered rooms filled with “stuff” that she starts to hyperventilate and runs out, closing the door behind her.

My reaction when I walk into a cluttered room, I begin to salivate.  Let me at that stuff!


Marilyn Labendz lives in New Jersey. She has extension experience organizing and de-cluttering. If you need help organizing your stuff, contact her at so together you can sort through your “stuff,” lighten your load, lessen your stress and give up your stuff feeling good about it.


Blog Your Book

Guest blog by The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer

Woman at desk thinking

Writers write to share their story with readers. That’s it in a nutshell. Of course, getting paid is nice, but don’t count on it. Getting your writing out in the universe is the objective.

Writing your book can take a really long time, sometimes years. And all this time you are likely floundering along, rewriting and editing, stuck in a bubble that lacks feedback or motivation. But finally, you deem the book done.

Now your choices are traditional publishing, self-publishing, or sticking your masterpiece in a drawer….

What about blogging your book?

  • Set up your blog.
  • Post short installments of your book weekly. This will build a following on Facebook or other social media sites.
  • Encourage constructive comments, the operative word “constructive” i.e. useful and insightful.

Maybe you’ve already established a following by blogging funny stories about your children or pets. Collect them and publish them in book form. You already have your audience.

If your genre is fiction:

  • Finish each post with a cliffhanger, and never miss an opportunity to market your book-in-progress everywhere you can.
  • Develop an enticing tagline.
  • Publish a weekly or monthly e-newsletter to your followers with side notes about your book.

Make it short, and make it frequent, the keys to effective blogging. When you finish your book, you will already have readers and feedback.

Postscript from Sue Powers:

Pat Childers, the Oldest Living Middle-Age Writer, is writing a mystery, working title You Name It, and I’m writing a mystery [as S.J. Powers] called Twist.

Stay tuned…..

Weighing on My Mind

'I'm scared that there's a fat woman outside of me, trying to get in.'

By Guest Blogger: The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer

 I’m closing in on losing 50 pounds as we begin 2015, and while I have more poundage to lose, I am close to my goal. Just last night I found a hip bone and my happiness bordered on that of an anthropologist unearthing the hip bone of a prehistoric mastodon.

As someone who has read every story available on how to lose weight, I’m sure you’d like to know how I did it. You want to see before and after pictures. You want to know if I have found a simple, painless way to lose weight. Well, get used to disappointment. I didn’t find it and pictures are not yet available.

I also didn’t have an epiphany. I simply got on the scale one day and clearly saw that there was no ceiling on gaining weight. Left to my own devices, I would someday morph into SpongeBob Squarepants, except with smaller feet. And I wouldn’t live at the bottom of the sea.

My mom said it best. “You just eat too much.”

“No,” I answered, “I’m just too short.”

We were both right. I’m too short to eat so much. If I were an NFL linebacker, I was definitely eating the right amount.

But for a short, middle-aged woman, a box of Oreos with milk was a little over the top, even if breakfast was a 90-calorie granola bar. I couldn’t climb stairs. I couldn’t get up off the couch. If I fell down, I couldn’t get up. After a couple of hours, my dogs would eat me.

So, I was forced to do this:

I started in July with gastric-sleeve surgery. For me, this was the only way to do it, but it’s a tool, not a panacea. This surgery removes 80% of the stomach so you eat less. You still have to choose what foods you put in your stomach—a Kit Kat bar or nonfat yogurt.

Following Woman with carrotsurgery I was on a diet of liquids for a week, and foods like protein shakes, sugarless jello, and broth for three weeks. I lost a total of 4 pounds. Every day I would weigh myself, and the needle would either go up, or stay the same. It was agony. One month, and I only lost 4 pounds?

But I plodded on. After all, I’m short, old, and have the metabolism of a tree.

Now I find myself on the precipice of success. In retrospect it seemed easy, but if memory serves, it was not. It’s very hard to break the habits I’ve taken a lifetime to form. But it is far from impossible.

I guess that’s the key to losing weight. Don’t give up. Take it one day at a time and if you are honest with yourself on what you eat, you can’t help but be successful.


The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer (aka Pat Childers) lives in Midwestern flyover country with her dogs. There have been reported sightings of her husband. In between innings of the Cubs game she works on her novel.

When You’ve Got To Read It – But You Don’t Want To

read me

Compliments of Guest Blogger, Richard Shandross

I would venture a guess that, like me, you have a lot of things going on in your life and work. A lot of things.

Sometimes our obligations involve reading things that – just right now – we don’t really want to read. For me, it can be a report, a submission that came back highly edited, the text of a government regulation – the list goes on – which would be welcome at another time. But at this moment there are too many other things on my mind, other things I have to get done. Let’s face it: it can be a pain to switch gears on a dime from, say, writing a proposal to reading a marketing analysis.

We can always just put it off until the last minute – after all, when do-or-die time comes around we can tap our fear to overcome pretty much any obstacle. But that is hardly healthy or enjoyable, nor is it good planning.

Naturally, I haven’t found anything that works 100% of the time, and I’ve been trying different solutions for quite some time. But recently, as I was dealing with this very situation, I realized that I’ve made a lot of progress.

The key for me is this: get it done without getting it done.

No, no Taoism or Zen is involved here – I just mean that I refrain from trying to steamroll over my internal resistance. I drop the intention of reading … at least in any normal way … and treat whatever it is as though I am window-shopping it:

“Oh, it’s 12 pages. That’s nice. Look at all the grammar mistakes … ha! How the heck is this darn thing organized, anyway? I can’t make heads or tails of this from just looking!”

“I think I’ll just see what the last paragraph or two says. Maybe they summarize everything so well that I don’t have to read any more than that. Oh, I guess it’s not quite that good, but I did learn a thing or two about what’s inside.”

“Say, there are a few graphics. I can get some info from those. Egads, this table is weird.”

Actually, the piece I am avoiding might be a great document. But whether it’s good or less-than-stellar, here is what is happening at this point: I find myself developing some interest and connection with the document in spite of myself.

Ok, sometimes I put the piece down at this point, happy just to have gotten that far. Wandering attention happens. Roadblocks happen. Fear of what is in the item (say a critical response from a client) happens.

But here’s what happens as I spend more time with the document, even if I am not reading it per se: my brain starts taking in and interpreting the contents anyway. The edges of the wall between me and the document start softening, even crumbling.

cranky man readingMost frequently, one of these four things will happen:

  1. My defenses lower enough that I can read the item without a Herculean effort.
  2. I actually find myself getting involved enough, mentally or even emotionally, that I start to want to read the thing.
  3. I keep “studying” and exploring without getting much traction, until I run across a section of the piece that I find interesting. After finishing that section – it could be a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or more – I may find myself back in difficult straits, in which case I just go back to “non-reading.”
  4. I do not make a whole lot of progress and need to ratchet things up a bit.

If the going is just too tough, I will try using a timer (I like the free Pomodoro software tool at Sourceforge) and chew into the document (or whatever it is) one bite at a time. No more Mr. Non-reader Guy!

There have been times when I literally chop up a reading task (or editing, for that matter), into dozens of 5-minute intervals. It can be torture. But, almost always, I find it possible to extend the time chunks to 10, 15, 25 minutes at a time. And it is not uncommon for me to finally get into a flow and just sail through the rest of it.

Of course if all of the above fails, and if the task involving reading or editing is really important – well, sometimes I just end up procrastinating until I have to ride the panic like a wave. After all, isn’t that why God invented coffee?


Rich is a professional reader, writer, and arithmeticker who occasionally suffers reader’s block. He is an energy consultant for Navigant Consulting, and I’m pleased to say, my brother. 

In The Middle of the Night….

Compliments of The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer

Murray was in a dark, dank warehouse crouching at the end of an aisle in a sea of cardboard boxes. Upstairs, drugs were being bought and sold. Blocking the exit downstairs, 50 feet from Murray, was a tall, determined man with a large gun. The only thing on Murray’s side was the element of surprise.

It was middle of the night for Murray, but middle of the day for me. I had errands to do and his dilemma would have to wait to be resolved. So I left him there in the back of my mind while I sallied forth to the grocery store.

I envy the prolific writer whose typewriter spews page after page of witty dialogue and tension-filled action sequences. My process involves sticking my arm down my throat, grabbing my heart, and ripping it out of my chest. Then I type a few words on the page. Reread them. Cross a few out. Add a couple, and move on.

Meanwhile, poor Murray was still stuck in the warehouse and he had to get out before the upstairs drug guys finished their meeting and came downstairs. I decided he had true boxing skills that he honed weekly with his friend, Hugo.

But by then I had reached him and hit him with a straight right to his jaw. He was taller than me and my blow slipped slightly south, lacking the impact I’d planned. Robo squared up and I barely had time to block a hook to my gut.

I could see him digging for his gun. I switfly lowered my head, swung it up and left, and shattered his jaw. Robo went down like a big sack of sand.

Then, exhausted, I took a nap.



The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer lives in Midwestern flyover country with her dogs. There have been reported sightings of her husband. In between innings of the Cubs game she is working on her web site and can be contacted at

Moving in Stages

Compliments of Guest
Blogger, Kevin Standifer


I moved to Chicago from Austin, TX just over ten years ago. Now after ten years of learning how to moisturize, shopping for the right humidifier, buying the wrong winter coat and then buying the right one, and never ever finding a pair of gloves that actually warmed my hands, I’ve decided to migrate back to the warmer climes from which I came. Moving is never easy, but this time is probably the worst:

1. I’m not just moving myself, but also my partner and temperamental cat, Minou;

2. The partner had to find a job in our future home in Austin;

3. Our lease here in Chicago isn’t up for another six months, winter is beginning, and it’s the worst time to try to find tenants for an apartment.

We’ve found ourselves moving in stages. The original plan was to move in spring, close to when the lease is up. My partner, afraid that he would have trouble finding work, began looking in September. Two weeks later, he had found a job and needed to move in early October. This began what I’m calling The Stages of Moving.

Stage 1: Denial and Light Arguing

Since we can’t break our lease and cannot afford two, I quickly realize this means I’ll be staying in Chicago until someone takes over it. Meanwhile, the partner gets to move, take the car, explore a new city, get a fabulous new job, and generally have a lovely time (a friend is generously putting him up for the interim). I spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to think of ways to not have to sit around in Chicago by myself. No dice. I pick on him for no reason.

Stage 2: Panic


Unhappy Minou escaping the mayhem.

I force the partner to help me pack everything in our house before he leaves. We do so in about two weeks, with the exception of the stuff I will need in the coming months. The cat gets angry as furniture and boxes are shuffled around the house. Our living space looks odd and echoes now. Our landlord helps us look for new tenants and issues dire warnings that we won’t find anyone until spring. We cavalierly ignore him.

Stage 3: Candy Store

Partner leaves, which is sad but we firmly believe I’ll be joining him in six months. For two weeks I enjoy my newfound bachelordom, watching movies and playing video games to my heart’s content. I make a point to go to restaurants I’ve never been to, and go to museums I never got around to. Life isn’t so bad. I’ll be in Austin soon! …right?

Stage 4: Okay, Ready to Move Now

The initial fun of being solo wears off. I postpone coming home from work because I don’t like being confronted with the empty house. No one to speak of comes to look at the place. No longer optimistic about moving before 2014.

Stage 5: Panic, Part Two

I realize that even though “everything” is packed, there will be a whole second phase of packing that will take just as long when it comes time to actually move. Clothes. Pots and Pans. The TV and all attached gadgets. Bedding, computers, things in the closets, cleaning supplies, tools, bathroom stuff. I have actual panic attacks. I see things to do everywhere but cannot act on it.

Stage 6: Bitterness

After two months, I realize I’m probably stuck here until winter is over. We’ve bumped back the rental date for prospective new tenants twice. I’m also constantly thinking about all the things I need to do once we do have a renter. Book a flight to move the cat, arrange for my dad to come help us move, cancel utilities, find an actual place to live in Austin, plan a going away party, the list goes on and on. Again, I can’t act until we know.

Stage 7: The Actual Move

I envision this as a joyous flurry of activity, ending in a joyous move to a perfect living space in Austin, full of warmth and sunlight. It will be so glorious, it could only be celebrated properly with a song and dance number. The reality will probably fall slightly short of this, and my furniture will probably get damaged.

So now I wait, and wait, and literally count the days. As much as I’ve loved living here the last ten years, spring cannot come soon enough.


Kevin Standifer knows a really great two bed, two bath place in Andersonville you could rent. Interested? Contact him at

The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer On Reading (worth reposting)

Compliments of Guest Blogger, The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer

read meWell it happened again last night. I started reading a well-known book (Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years) and I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t read it. It was just so much pablum. I even checked the end to see if anything happened that I would miss. Nope. And this has become more frequent of late.

Take “50 Shades of Grey.” I’ve found cookbooks more compelling. Now I consider myself knowledgeable about sex; I’ve seen some interesting movies. If memory serves, everybody has the same basic original equipment but honestly, eventually you have to run out of things to do with it. I could probably write a short story, or even a novelette, but to write three books about sex between two people there would have to be clowns and a horse involved.

I couldn’t read “The Life of Pi.” I tried three times and you would have to duct tape me to the couch to get me to try again. The premise was so interesting and I understand the movie was beautiful, but the book was… boring.  I bailed on “The DaVinci Code” halfway through even though self-flagellation is one of my very favorite topics.

I’ve been a big fan of bodice rippers all my life, but I am unable to get past the lack of hygienic facilities on a wagon train, or under the wagon train for that matter. So I cannot suspend disbelief to read them anymore.

I’m looking for that book that holds my attention and makes me think about it when I’m not reading. It holds me captive forcing me to read late into the night. Laundry piles up around me but I have to read. I can’t return calls. It’s all about the book.

Read anything like that lately? I’m all eyes and ears….


The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer lives in Midwestern flyover country with her dogs. There have been reported sightings of her husband. In between innings of the Cubs game she is working on her web site and can be contacted at