My Chicago Fortune Teller

IMG_7488A few weeks ago, I walked into a room at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago and it looked familiar. The room had a modern feel and the view of Navy Pier was great. About 15 years ago I stayed at that hotel. Fifteen years ago I was there with my husband and two of my three kids. But this time, I was there with my boyfriend.

Back in 2002, or whatever year it was, I was living about an hour outside of St. Louis and was a stay-at-home mom raising three kids. I’m guessing the year because it pre-dated uploading things to Facebook to find later. I remember using Priceline to find a hotel and taking grade-school daughters to the city and leaving my toddler son at home with grandma. I remember visiting the American Girl store and riding a tour boat on the river and onto the lake on a very cold night.

So, how did I get from that hotel 15 years ago with a husband and two kids to now – that same hotel with a boyfriend? What the hell happened? And what if a fortune teller would have found me in the lobby of the hotel during that stay 15 years ago to tell me what my future would hold? Well, lemme tell ya.

I was in the lobby all those years ago, getting an overpriced Coke from the gift shop, and a lady in an olive-drab cape approached me. I thought she was a fellow guest, albeit, in an unfortunate outfit. Wrong. She said she was a fortune teller. My fortune teller. She asked if we could chat; she wanted to tell me something about my future. Of course, I thought she was a kook, but I was also mildly intrigued. So I followed her over to one of the couches in the lobby and thought “this oughta be good.”

Just then, she reminded me of my 5th grade year in New Jersey; some friends and I bought a pack of cigarettes at a local hospital’s vending machine. Holy shit! She’s for real! Before I could wrap my head around that one, she started talking. “Dawn, you poor thing. I’m wary of telling you of things to come, but feel I must so you can prepare yourself. In the not-too-distant future you will move across the country and have many surprises. People you trust will be dishonest. You won’t see it coming. You will be betrayed. And abandoned. You will lose your home at a really bad time. Rewarding job prospects will be non-existent and you will work low-paying jobs. You will work really hard to earn a Master’s degree, but you won’t use it. There will be long periods of time when you and your kids won’t get along. They will struggle. You will be brought to your knees and sometimes will feel that you don’t really want to be alive. Those times will scare you as you have never experienced them before. You will spend a lot of time crying and feeling anxious. You’ll feel traumatized. Oh, and you’ll have a heart attack. You will experience three life-altering phases. You will wonder why all of those things are happening to you. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine in the end. FYI, you’ll be back here in 15 years and you’ll have a wonderful time at a conference with a professor you call Jimmie Jailbait.



With that she got up and walked toward the lobby doors. I could see her trip and fall before she reached the revolving doors. She got up and left the hotel in a blob of olive-drabness.

I sat on that couch in a stupor. I didn’t have much time to think about what to do next, because a few minutes later, a woman with bright pink hair plopped down next to me. She looked like Cyndi Lauper. Before a word could escape my mouth she said:

“Hey there you hot piece of ass! I’m so glad you came to Chicago Dawn! I know you are feeling a bit lost now as a stay-at-home mom, but no worries. Things are certainly going to change for you in the next decade or so. You are going to have some big changes and surprises coming your way but you will handle them with grace. You are surrounded by love and people who truly love you. You will be helped by your first husband when the chips are down. And when despair comes, you will survive the waves like a ship toiling at sea. What you need will appear. And you are so strong. You will rise up like you always do. You will be hurt, and scared, and lost. But you will find strength you never knew you had. And you will find true friends. And you will continue to be a great mother. Stay the course sister. You will create something that helps others after you weather your own battles. You will invite people into your pain and triumph. Oh, and you’ll be back here in about 15 years at a conference for nerds and you’ll LOVE it. And the guy you’re with is a keeper. He’s gonna help you and you’re gonna help him.”

She gave me a long hug and got up to walk away.

I jumped up and said “Wait? What? First husband? You mean there will be more than one?!”

She just winked and said “Due time sweetness, due time. Just keep in mind that all this stuff happens for you – not to you. You’ll figure that out too. It’s all in the way you think about things. You’re gonna do great. And you’re gonna do great things. Oh – and that drab chick that was here before me – I tripped her on the way out and told her to go back for more fortune teller training. Her delivery sucks.”

With that, she was gone. But not before she stopped at the lobby bar for a six-pack to go.


Anyone who knows me well knows I often say “If you would have told me then, I would never have believed you.” That’s what I kept thinking during that recent stay in Chicago. That thought comes to mind often, especially at the holidays. For example, if something odd, challenging, sad, or wonderful happens, I often think “Wow, it’s the 4th of July. If you would have told me last year on the 4th of July when I was (fill in the blank) that today I’d be (fill in the blank), I never would’ve believed you. Yep, life sure changes.

And there are many narratives we can use to tell the stories of our past. So many lenses to look through. So many thoughts we can create.

Lately, I’ve learned so much from life coaches Martha Beck, Brooke Castillo, and Susan Hyatt. They share their own work and the wisdom of many teachers. I listen to their podcasts and/or read their books. I think Oprah SuperSoul podcasts are great too as she interviews wonderful teachers/guests. Check them out if you are interested in looking at life through a new lens.


The syllabus that killed my self-esteem.


photo by Alamy I found at the Guardian site
(I am citing my pilfering)

“Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt; by way of Gregg Rogers)

which reminds me of….

Thou shalt not covet” (God; by way of years of Catholicness)

I was working on my first syllabus. I’d heard it would not be fun. It was for a freshman rhetoric and composition course at the university where I’m in my second year of teaching. The kitchen table was full of crap. I had piles of stuff. Most of it was made of paper and had words on it: a pile of new textbooks, a folder, a spiral notebook, the battered syllabi from my first year, a pen, my laptop, and a half-cup of cold coffee. Sitting closest to me was the text book I planned to use this semester. God. I sat there hoping I’d picked the right one. If I didn’t, the world would probably stop spinning and sweet, innocent freshmen would be damaged so badly they’d never drink again.

The syllabus I used last semester was designed by my department. So it wouldn’t work now that I’d gone feral and picked my own book. I also have a new teaching schedule; last time it was MWF classes but now it’s T-Th.  So I sat at the ready with my spiral notebook and my spiraling thoughts.  And a pen. The spiral notebook wasn’t even mine, really.  It was a middle school leftover from one of my daughters.  The cover had monkeys with wings and halos.  Angel monkeys.

I was at the table with my monkeys and notes from the first few days of classes from last semester. I also had the new text book. I started to scribble into the notebook in an attempt to get the first week onto the books. After I’d been at it for a couple hours I felt like I was making progress. Well. Kinda.

I was having the brain melt down I had in grad school all the time; I was doing four things at once. This time I was thinking about which papers students should write.  I was thumbing through the text.  I was finding readings online.  And I was having thoughts.  Lots of thoughts. This thinking lead to reading the book. I started with the regular chapters. Then I moved to the essays in the back of the book. Then I was onto more essays that had nothing to do with anything I’ll be teaching:  Did you know guys with no hair on their chests are called “smoothies?” There’s loads of bangin’ stuff in this book!

During this brain melt down I was unloading the dishwasher and feeding the dog. Crapfest – my rescue goldfish needed a water change. Had I eaten? Where was my son? Oh, there he was. I’d fed him while I was cleaning a spaghetti sauce explosion out of the microwave.

That was the first day.  This continued for a few weeks.

During this syllabus debacle, I had some ideas about what tidbits I’d add to my own syllabus; things from last semester. Things like: don’t bring a computer to class and don’t text.  Basic stuff.  But I needed some help.  A mentor.  Mentors.  Professors and lecturers who have gone before me. The Grand Syllabists.  That secret group with the special handshake and the peculiar nod.  I’ve heard some of the men even have funny mustaches.  So do some of the women.


Love this drawing! (Found it at nooutcasts.or)

So I went to the departmental website looking for syllabi samples.  And there they were.  Free samples.  Just like toaster strudel in a dixie cup at Wal-Mart.  A flavor for any schedule you may be teaching.  I downloaded a few freebies.  The Grand Syllabists would save the day.

I clicked one open and it started out great.  I enjoyed reading the opening paragraphs.  Damn!  I should take this class. This sounded like a great teacher.  I kept on with my gander and got to the schedule of classes.  This was very important.  How did this teacher parse out classes per topic?  What types of papers were assigned?  Did they have nap time built in?

My gander was gandering along just fine through the first week.  It looked pretty standard. But –  there it was – in the second week of class. Foucault. FOUCAULT?  What?  What! Are you kidding me? Is this freshman English?  I used to hear his name bandied about in grad school.  It wasn’t my area so I ignored it.  But now, years later, he popped up again.  Jesus.  Mary.  And Joseph.  Seriously?  Fou- Who?  How could I use one of his writings if I had no idea who he was?

What it really meant is that I’m an idiot and I should not be teaching.  Obviously.  I know his name.  Foucault. I can pronounce it as I took French for four years.  But that’s it.  I’m 49 years old and I wouldn’t know Foucault from F-Troop. I had to go to Wikipedia to get some basic information.  It didn’t really help.  Why didn’t I ever take a philosophy class? Damn the Grand Syllabists!

After a few hours of feeling like a complete loser I made myself step away from the table.  I tried to think of the two quotes at the top of this blog.  And I remembered something I’d heard from a peer at a recent departmental meeting.  He said he teaches to his strengths.  So, I focused on last year, which was good.  Nobody died.  I tried to think about all the good papers I read last year.  Obviously I taught my students something.  Either that or they were Grand Rhetors when they arrived.  Maybe it was a bit of both.

I finally got my syllabus done about two days before classes began.  And I’m happy with it.  I did find another sample that helped.  I’d say it was more my style.  I even stole an idea for a reading.  It’s about the use of the word “retard.”  I like doing provocative things in class.  We analyze TV commercials and song lyrics. I also sing.  Their ears are dying.

*  I fully support the use of Foucault.  More power to you.  Can you come give me a tutorial?