Sunday, May 25, 2014

Together We Can Bring on The Change By: Karen Pilarski

The devastating events in Isla Vista, CA has left people reeling with horror. Unfortunately this type of mental illness is prevalent in these tragic times.

With each breaking news story, are we becoming desensitized to violence?

I studied news writing in college. I understand the 'if it bleeds, it leads' mentality. The mass shooting are plastered all over the cable news and more attention is often given to the murderer than his/her victims.

I know people want answers, we need a resolution. The focus on the killer may help give a picture into his/her psyche.

Without warning, finger pointing and blaming begins and anger boils over. Are guns to blame or is it society's reactions to mental illnesses?

Every shooting has unique circumstances.

In my hometown of Milwaukee, Sierra Guyton was shot last week while playing on a playground. She was caught in the cross fire during a fight. She is ten years old. She is now brain dead and is clinging to life.

There was no mental illness. Only stupidity and carelessness of everything around the people who shot her.

In Isla Vista, a 22 year old named Elliott Rodgers, who was mentally disturbed created and unveiled his attack with knives and bullets. Before the attack there was YouTube videos that contained insane rants. He blamed everyone for his problems and failures.

The people on the streets had no ill will, they like Guyton were living their lives. In an instant lives changed and lives ended.

Each time blood is shed, we weep and exclaim "This has to stop!" Yet, no one knows how to make the madness and senseless actions diminish.

There are people calling for the right to carry or a ban on guns. Protests about better mental health screenings and treatment. 

It is a battle ground out in our world today. One minute people in a crowded movie theater are watching a movie or kids learning in school. The next minute bullets spray in the air.

My heart is heavy thinking of those who died and the ones struggling to live.

In my creative writing class we discussed Mariah Carey's songs. We analyzed "There's Got To Be A Way." 

"There's got to be a way
To connect this world today
Come together to relieve the pain
There's got to be a way
To unite this human race
And together we'll bring on a change."
Her strong words still have an effect on me in my 30's. Separately we are all spinning our wheels and not accomplishing our shared goal. Together, united we can make the change we seek.

Violence sometimes can't be prevented just as car crashes happen unexpectedly. In the meantime, hold your children close and thank the heavens above for each day with them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Story Of Your Life By: Karen Pilarski

Barbara Walters (picture from
There is something calming about reading the rich history of a life lived. I'm always curious as to where a person is coming from. Memoirs and biographies are the mind map of the subject.

The intricate experiences of childhood and life's ups and downs spilling onto pages of a book.
The reader is a mere observer of a bumpy story told.

Oprah and Barbara Walters are amazing interviewers and journalists who I admire.

Both women inspire and ask hard hitting questions to get at the core of a person's soul.

As a writer I find solace in learning about how others have lifted themselves up.

Life can get bubble gum sticky. Without forethought or caution, the heel of the worn down shoe get stuck in the pink goo. It stretches into thin glue like stings. Yet, it still remains on the shoe.

The beauty of memoirs I find, is that the gum doesn't need to be removed either. The journey of accomplishment despite the dirtied spot of gum is what uplifts me.

I also love titles of books and figuring out why people called their books that. I'm sure many people try to make a connection to what they are known for or a play on words with their names.

Blogging for me is a way of scribing my history. I love reading fellow writer's take on this crazy world.

I wonder if I wrote my own memoir what I would title it.

What would you name the story of your life?

A fellow blogger/writer and friend Rochelle Dukes Fritsch has a blog called "The Late Arrival." I adore the title and her poignant and thought provoking pieces. She is a fellow Milwaukee writer and a wonderful person.

I would totally borrow her title for my memoir.  At the very least a similar theme.

 I was born premature yet I've been late to do just about everything. I was developmental delayed due to being a premie. I was four pounds when my mom gave birth to me. I didn't walk or talk right away, I was a late bloomer.

Then I look at other aspects. I didn't go to college right away. I didn't marry till I was 29 years old. I'm sure I was have a biological child when I hit 50. That is a post for another time. 

Here is a list of my favorite memoirs I have read. My list is in no special order.

1. Audition (2008), Barbara Walters- She is iconic and a legend in journalism. Her book conveys the struggle many women deal with. How to make it in a man's world.

2. Bossy Pants (2011) Tina Fey-Fey is bad ass. She provides a history of a lady with big dreams who made them a reality. My favorite chapter was peeing in jars with boys. There is no big controversies or feuds she unleashes. I have read this a million times. Funny and a road map for us creative types who aspire for more.

3. Peter Jennings: A Reporter's Life (2008)- A seasoned journalist that has covered and reported on the world's biggest stories. Sadly, he passed away from cancer. This is a fitting tribute to his life and career and family told by family and friends.

4. Stories I Only Tell My Friends (2011) Rob Lowe- This is a smart and well written description of growing up in the Midwest. Lowe recounts his raise to stardom and the ups and downs that come with it. Although it is interesting to hear him regale the reader with tales of celebrities, I enjoyed his family stories the most. There is a realness in his tone that I found captivating. He discussed his rough relationship with his father and mother.

5. I Shouldn't Be Telling You This (2012) Kate White- Former editor in chief of Cosmopolitan writes advice to help women to become successful. She discusses how each experience in her career was a learning process. Although a great book for writers and editors, a terrific resource for any working woman.

I'm currently reading Billy Crystal's Still Fool Em' and Where are My Keys (2013). If you have suggestions for a terrific memoirs/biographical story please comment below.

I'm always on the look out for new books and blogs to read. What are your favorites readers?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Candy Induced Childhood in Milwaukee. By: Karen Pilarski

Me as a Cheerleader
A fellow writer was on social media discussing my hometown of Bay View. When I started thinking about it, I realized it had a small town feel in the big city of Milwaukee. 

I moved to Bay View in third grade. I don't remember starting at Dover Elementary, but remember Mrs. Ritter gussying up after recess. 

Each day she would run the brush through her red coursed hair and apply mint scented lip gloss. My school chums lived near me and we could walk to and from houses. My childhood friend Tracey's mom would take us to school. 

Every morning "Video Killed The Radio Star" by the Buggles was played. We begged if she had any other song that could be played but she insisted on that song. From the year we were born, 1979. 

My family often bought food from Bay View Quick Mart (which is still there). I remember Tony who was always funny.

When people think of their parents as youths it is often thought as malt shops, candy stores and flipped hair. Strangely enough I was exposed to similar experiences. Down the street was Gull Pharmacy.

Gull was a  poor man's version of Walgreen's. Penny candies and fun cheap toys that would break after one use.  The neighborhood kids would find any loose change and buy a bag full of of  Cry Babies, Atomic Fireballs, Candy Cigarettes and Laffy Taffies. I adored tart lollypops and Fun Dip packs. 

The Cry Babies were most fun as we tried to trick people into eating one of those sour candies. Faces would scrunch up, eyes would water and lips would pucker.

In the summer my mom would haul out the bucket of ice cream and scoop out melted mounds of it. One of my siblings would run out on the porch and say "Ice cream, ice cream read all about it." This would cause the porch to shake as us kids would stampede to get at it. 

That silly chant was not just designated to ice cream. It was for any treat that would cause a commotion. 

From early morning until the street lights flashed on, kids were outside playing. No distractions other than Atari or Nintendo if it rained. Bay View had a rec center named Beulah Britton. We would play on the swings or buy Swedish Fish from the candy cart inside. If that was boring, a walk around the back alleys and railroad tracks would occur.

The Avalon Theater was a classic place to see a cheap movie. When I was a kid it was a buck to see a movie. The sky was painted with clouds and sparkled with stars. 

I still giggle thinking about seeing "The Crying Game" with my friend Jenny in that historic theatre. 

There was all these older folks thinking it was a good war movie. During the part when..the lady is… as a male, the older folks gasped. They all marched out in a hurry as Jenny and I howled with laughter. 

The Avalon had special effects props from older movies in a case. I wish the theater was still open. I fondly remember pelting my older sister's date with Nerds candy from behind them.

During June there was a church festival across the street from my house. Music shook the duplex until 11pm. It was amusing watching the drunks stumble and fall as they made their way home. 

The festival at the Tilt-A-Whirl which after a cherry snow cone became Tilt-A-Hurl.  When the festival was over, the lot was used for kickball and a game of horse.

My friend April (my brother's now ex-wife) lived across the street from us. My sister Rachel, April and I would make up dance routines and perform them for her mother. 

Bless her heart, she would patiently watch our geeky moves to Cyndi Lauper and Weird Al. Rachel and April would do splits and cartwheels. I never could do a cartwheel. I just 'supervised.' Ironically in high school I was captain of my cheerleading squad!
We disliked Anna, the show off in the blue house. She would go in front of her house and twirl her little baton. She certainly craved the attention. She had a backyard where should could have twirled until she got dizzy. 

Often we would wish her to drop the stupid thing or fall on her butt as she twisted herself around. 

What do little kids do when green with envy? 

Compete and show off in the front yard as well. It was quite silly having a dance off. Ah, amused the elderly neighbors and the little ankle biters.

Speaking of elderly neighbors, we lived between the infamous Cupertino brothers. We nicknamed them "Porch Men." 

They hissed when a kid lightly pressed a foot on their sacred lawn. They had pigeons and would teach them tricks. 

Amazingly enough the birds never pooped on our heads. We would hear clapping and see one of the Cupertino's toss around some robe type thing. The birds would circle around and go back into the bird cages. 

The bad thing about living by guys who spent much time on their porches was they would nark on us kids. I remember my dad becoming furious with me asking why I was making out with my boyfriend on the back porch. Gulp! In retaliation my friend and I jumped around on his lawn. 

Speaking of  kisses.. My first kiss was with Rick at the bus stop next to the church. I always point it out when I'm in the area. 

There were regular people who would ride their bikes or walk on our street. 

Oh and we had nicknames for them too. Cigarette lady notoriously bugged us for smokes. Yup, a preteen and this desperate woman was asking if I had a smoke.  

Then there was Gabby Hayes as my mom called her. She would just start yammering away. My mom became quite skilled at avoiding her by darting back in the house. 

I'm sure my childhood friends remember Mental Mike. It some scrubby guy on a bike that would cackle for no reason. We would scream at him "MENTAL MIKE!!!" He would do his evil laugh and pedal off. 

Sometimes the graffiti car would whiz by us. It was covered in papers and literature about God and abortion. There was a speaker on top of the car. It was a mission to see if we could spot the elusive driver. 

It is weird to think about the makeover Bay View has undergone since the mighty 90's. 

My middle school Fritsche is no longer a school. Bay View High School (class of 97) is now a middle and high school. My elementary school is now vacant. Word on the street was it might be turned into a home for teachers.

The drug store is not there nor is the tea shop I lived across the street from. 

The landscape of the small town feel has become modernized.

I dig it, don't get me wrong. 

I love all the artsy coffee shops and restaurants.  It is odd to see Sven's in the same location my brothers used to load up Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspapers from.
The wonderful part of Bay View was all those rituals that gave me a normal childhood. I didn't have the best upbringing but because of that community I felt a part of something warm and inviting. 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vacation By: Karen Pilarski

Me in Jamaica
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. While most parents took their brood on cramped road trips in the summer, my large family stayed home.

There was never any money to go on vacations and we did not always have a working vehicle.

Imagine two perky parents and two grumpy kids in the backseat. Now picture seven more kids in that backseat.

Fighting over who would get to sit on the hump while one of the little ones puked on a cooler.

My dad with no patience and steam coming out of his ears. My exasperated mother appearing to ponder jumping out of the moving car at any second. Wails of one kid accusing another one of 'looking at them.'

Most summers the kids played in the yard or around the neighborhood. Milwaukee always had small church festivals and State Fair, Summerfest, Bay View Water Frolics.

I still enjoyed summers going to the candy store as kid or leafing through Teen Beat magazines as a teenager.

I didn't feel as if I was missing out. Honestly unless a kid was going to Disney World, they were stuck going on some lame trip their parents picked out.

My husband gives me a hard time about the fact that I don't like to camp or take road trips. He has titled me "vacation snob."

I went on a road trip with my husband's family before we were engaged. We drove to South Dakota. The kids were Kung Fu fighting me as they slept.

His brother 'bogarted' the trip and the children got into screaming matches. I was forced to go on boring excursions.

People complained (mostly me) and my husband refused to pay money for a hotel room on the way back. We ended up spending the night in the car at a deserted rest stop.

The only good aspect of the trip was I was semi proposed to on a golf course overlooking a parking lot below. My husband to be looked at me and said "Uh, should we get married?"

2010 DC Trip with Kids
After I was married I finally had my first airplane trip to New York. I was scared beyond belief but I did it.

I have my father's impatience so getting somewhere quickly by plane was fine. I enjoyed our vacations together.

We even took the kids on some trips (by plane).

I love the giddy feeling before a journey. I make lists of what to pack, what we want to see when there and looking up reviews on Trip Advisor.

Since I'm a huge nerd, I stalk the Accuweather for the ten day forecasts.

When life gets too hard and a need of scenery is evident, a trip far away is just what the doctor ordered. Butterflies flutter in my stomach right before taking off.  The rush of adrenaline as the aircraft rumbles.

The calming sky with puffy clouds and drinking a ginger ale while in the air is comforting. I love the small package of five pretzels.

We loved flying AirTran, American Airlines and United. We would research on the web looking for a excellent package deal.

Due to finances, we haven't been able to do those type of trips. My husband insists on doing a trip to the Wisconsin Dells.

For our honeymoon we stayed there. We had a great time. As a kid I went to the Dells for day trips with friends or a few of my siblings. It just gets stale and redundant to always go to the Dells or Door County.

Personally for me, anywhere in Wisconsin is not far enough. I need to have a space cushion of at least two states in order to feel 'away.'

I'm so desperate to travel, I go on the Travel Channel website and enter in vacation sweepstakes. If someone wants to take pity on me and gift me plane tickets I would be over the moon.

Actually if airline prices would decrease that would help my cause immensely.

Although running from problems doesn't solve anything, seeing them become tiny like ants from above helps.

What I love most is the the chance to take a vacation from being myself. 


 Vacation by: The Go-Go's

Friday, May 2, 2014

Masking It By: Karen Pilarski

I was working on an article about cleaning restrooms. One of the wonderful consultants I spoke with mentioned sometimes when there is nasty odors a less ideal fix up is to use a scented spray.

The air smells fruity but it doesn't smell clean. The same can be said for dousing a body with perfume after an intense workout. It smells like flowers drenched in perspiration.

That got me thinking about how when faced with something unpleasant there is a tendency to try to mask the problem.

The foul denial hides away the truth for awhile. Our lives put on the facade that all is neat and tidy. However, the huge stain on the floor is covered with area rugs and furniture.

In my rec room/basement is a hideous patched up chair that is a million years old. It belongs to my husband. It now has a maroon colored blanket thrown over it. That is how ugly the chair appears. In full disclosure, the blanket also is my husband's and not in great condition. Two for two.

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The chair
I bet the chair could tell many stories of his family's history. In some regards I think it is a blessing the blanket conceals it.

Messes and damages are ever present but often ego stands in the way of admitting that everything isn't perfect.

As a writer I enjoy adding a sprinkle and dash of my own life experiences in what I create. However, I do self censor about off limit topics.

I'm afraid of hurting feelings and embarrassing myself. Writers have an ability to take disasters and heartache and change names and facts. We are not being dishonest, we are protecting privacy and relationships. In other cases reputation and careers.

Remember Pee-Wee's Big Adventure?

Pee-wee Herman:"There's a lotta things about me you don't know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand."
Pee-wee Herman: "You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel."

 A bit over dramatic but appropriate.

Am I reserved and shy, yes. Although I do enjoy being sociable. A rebel? I'm not gun slinging or smoking cigarettes in the rain.

No one understands situations and relationships unless directly involved in the thick of it. We put up walls and shades so that innocent people don't get mixed in with our chaos.

Each person has darkness and turmoil that cleverly is shaded from the judgemental light of day. Similar to the character and rationale of Pee-Wee, there are aspects about things I or a loved one have experienced. The reality of what lurks under the blankets and rugs is too scary and so it is put out of sight.

Out of sight and out of mind is a saying used. Although, I don't agree with the phrase. It lingers out in the corners of the mind but pops out like a villain in a scary movie.

When you least expect it.

Until I can come to terms and make peace with those people, events, situations, than I shouldn't be discussing it. Although I do talk with other writers with similar strife.

Scars and blemishes on faces are smudged with creamy concealer. Yet the sores and lines are still felt. Deep down we know what is under the disguises.

I've been vocal about struggles with infertility, stepchildren, marriage, careers and contemplating infidelity. A creative mind crafts messages in an open and soul searching way.

If the afflictions and adversaries of my history uplifts someone than it is worth uncovering it.