99 New: Bummer

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

—-Casey at the Bat, Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Our beloved Milwaukee Brewers lost tonight 5-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This means the Dodgers have won the National League Pennant and are going to the World Series, playing against the Boston Red Sox. We had tickets for the World Series – our first – but that was if it was played in Milwaukee which it sort of won’t be now since we LOST.

I had to come upstairs before the end of the 9th inning (I tracked the play by play on my phone) so I didn’t have to watch the Dodgers hopping around and celebrating when they win. The Gatorade pour would have put me over the edge. When a team wins out of town, their celebrations are always excessive and grotesque, like they have to do ten times extra high-fiving and fanny patting just to rub it in. Meanwhile, the Brewers will slink off to the locker room, spitting out their huge wads of bubble gum and sunflower seeds and mumbling about next year.

Ugh. No joy in Mudville is right.

Life Lesson

I reached over the chain link fence to pet the white dog and he leaped up and sunk his teeth into my left breast. I was fourteen.

It seemed then that I should hate white dogs forever. He was a big dog, a German Shepherd-looking dog, so maybe, so I thought, I should hate German Shepherds forever as well. Of all colors.

I am notorious for the holding of grudges but my commitment to hating all white dogs or all German Shepherds because of this breast-biting incident failed. However, I will no longer reach over a fence to pet a creature.

Lovely Enough

After I put the paint away and finish cleaning my brushes, I see the spots I missed. They emerge like tiny arid ponds on the unblemished wall. A white dot here, a thin white line there, giving lie to the imagined perfection of my new orange wall, my burnt orange, sorrel, chestnut wall.

I know if I look closely there will be so much that is wrong. Unevenness, shadows not caused by the light, brush strokes. It is better not to know, wiser to just move on, move furniture back in place, hang the pictures. Store the paint for next time.


The kids in the orphanage in Nicaragua where we adopted three children didn’t cry. They’d already done their crying someplace else.

They might have looked concerned but they didn’t cry when passed from one person to the next like a bowl of mashed potatoes being passed at Thanksgiving dinner. In their tiny heads they had figured out the futility of complaint. There was no use crying, it wouldn’t change anything.

They had already lost everything.

Children cope with abandonment. They will appear to cope at least. And how they appear to cope is that they don’t cry. It won’t be long before the little children who have been separated from their parents by American immigration officials, who feel the same as if their parents had abandoned them on the side of the road, it won’t be long before they stop crying. Because crying won’t change anything.

In their minds, they have lost everything. They don’t know about immigration law or Congress or what their parents are doing to find them. They have been abandoned as surely as my three kids in the Nicaraguan orphanage. And while my kids have grown up and are good, decent, loving people, they were damaged by what happened to them. There is no talking it through, no making sense of it. The damage they suffered was organic, visceral, sudden, and terrifying. And permanent.

So it is quite disturbing that any elected official would consider causing such desolation to a child as part of a political strategy to gain advantage in negotiating an immigration bill. This is intentional psychological maiming of children done to win concessions, a border wall, perhaps, or drastic limits on legal immigration from various countries or from everywhere. The cost of this strategy will be enormous. People’s lives will be permanently changed by what happened to them as small children in these terrifying detention centers; they will grow up hurt and damaged. And there won’t be eager adoptive parents on the receiving end, committed to teaching their babies to cry again.

The kids in the Nicaraguan orphanage were there for a million different reasons – death, poverty, illness. Every reason was an accident in life. No one planned to inflict the pain of abandonment on their children, it just happened as a terrible consequence of hardship. So there was the fact of abandonment and its terrible effects on the psyches of young children, but there wasn’t an intention to harm them.

The deep and durable harm being visited on border children right now by our United States government is fully and completely intentional. The government means to harm these children and it is doing so in our names. Yours and mine. And now the perpetrators are quoting the Bible as justification for their actions. Lord help us.

We can’t allow this to continue. We can’t be part of intentionally maiming children who came to our country for safety. We are people who rescue the hurt and wounded. That is what we need to do now.


Photo by Dominic Chung 道明 on Unsplash

Tell your Congressional representatives to support the Keep Families Together Act. Call or write your elected Representative and Senators today. Remind them that we are not a country that intentionally harms children.






One Bird Two Wires

She sat across the conference table from me, an unintended meeting nearly forty years in the making. She was an old boyfriend’s other love interest, the woman he was with when he wasn’t with me which was often because we fought. He went on long binges of drinking and depression and when he scared me too much, I withdrew, not for long though because I’d panic and go try to retrieve him. It wasn’t a healthy relationship but it was a pretty long one – five years.

I mentioned none of this. I was meeting with her about business. Nothing personal, all professional.

I didn’t know if she knew that I knew about her. Her name had popped up on Facebook the past few years when she would comment on the posts of mutual friends. For a long time, I felt the old reflex, the same bile, as if her status as the ‘other woman’ was still important, still hurtful. That was crazy. It was a long time ago. She had gotten married to someone, not our old mutual boyfriend, and had children, I think, hard to tell just from Facebook photographs. I had been married to another man for nearly 34 years. I hadn’t seen the old boyfriend for probably twenty years although I did go to his funeral a few years ago. It isn’t important to the story how he died except that it was violent and by his own hand and had been something I’d left him to avoid discovering in my own kitchen.

She was very kind and measured. We talked about the work she was doing with abused women and part of me wanted to ask her if she had chosen that work because of him. He hadn’t abused me, not really, just scared me to death, and made me think I should sit up all night looking out the window waiting for him to drive up and park in front of my house. He had a key which was a mistake but it was a time when I made a lot of mistakes. There were threats and dangerous situations which I’d lived through unharmed but not unaffected. I wanted to ask her if the same was true for her. We had, after all, lived parallel lives in many ways.

But I never brought it up.


Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash


The Photo Shoot

I reported for the photo shoot in a brown pantsuit with wide-leg pants and a short jacket with three-quarter sleeves. I love this suit because it makes me look taller than I am and slim, but I think it’s only in my head that this is true. A lot of my fashion decisions come from the dream world, not reality. The local paper once asked for a head shot to accompany a long opinion piece and I sent them a photo that I thought made me look great. That I was wearing a bathrobe at the time (you could only see the neckline of it) has brought scorn from at least one influential corner of my family, her raised highbrow is sometimes felt across country.

Anyway, under the beloved brown pantsuit – now 12 years old – I wore a new white, boat neck, jersey from Target that I loved because it had gold grommets on the shoulders. I thought the white would make me look vivid. Seriously, I thought that. Vivid. And I loved the grommets like a kid would love Batman band-aids. But can clothing actually have grommets or is that just something for sailing vessels and flags?

It doesn’t matter because when I got to the botanical gardens that was the site of the photo shoot, the photographer right away said, “Keep your jacket on,” like he’d spied tomato soup I’d spilled on my shirt. He would have been right to look because my alternate shirt was a really beautiful sleeveless brocade number on which someone had spilled wine a few days before, knocking it out of photo shoot contention.

So I kept the jacket on and the photographer had me stand here and then there, sit on the bench, hold my glasses in my right hand, look down, tilt left, then right. “Pull your shirt down,” he directed. “No, give it a good tug.” I worried that there would be a two-inch rim of white below my jacket like I’d mistakenly grabbed my husband’s t-shirt walking out the door. Maybe I should tuck it in, I thought, but lord, no one has tucked in a shirt since 1953. I would be the first. At one point, he walked over and straightened my jacket. “Your shoulder pads are making little wrinkles here.”

Shoulder pads. I forgot. I was wearing a suit with shoulder pads. Little ones. But still. I felt in that moment like I had come in my bathrobe.

The photographer would shoot and then look at the photo in his camera. “Beautiful!” he’d say and I teased him that he probably said that about everyone’s photos. “No,” he said, “when they’re terrible, I don’t say anything.” He was businesslike and kind. He himself wore dark jeans and a very form-fitting short-sleeved button shirt with a very faint yellow plaid pattern.

As he clicked shot after shot, I decided not to worry about my shirt or my suit and do two things: be my tallest self (which is something I always say when I walk into scary situations) and beam, beam from the deepest inside out. I may be in a bathrobe but I want to glow. (I forgot to say I wore my red, pointy-toed, faux alligator heels. Which should probably be the end of the essay. The original ‘enough said.’)

So I went from the photo shoot to the video taping where I sat on a stool in front of a green backdrop and answered a lot of questions related to my being recognized as a 2018 Woman of Influence by the Milwaukee Business Journal. It is a wonderful and big deal which took me 70 years to earn (most of the awardees are half my age) so I won’t for a moment say I don’t deserve it. But it’s mind-blowing, nonetheless.

The photos and the video will be shown to a lot of people at a big luncheon in June. There are 29 of us Women of Influence though so it won’t be like an hour-long documentary on Jan. Maybe a minute or two. I can cover my eyes and it will all be over. For better or worse, the photo shoot is done.


Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash


It occurred to me, driving across town and then up along Lake Michigan where there were short whitecaps on very blue water, that I might possibly be happy.

Are you happy without reservation? I searched that thought, flipping through my inventory of dissatisfaction and worry but it was if someone had upended each file folder and shaken its contents over the Grand Canyon. Whatever had been there was now laying thousands of feet below waiting for a rain to come.

Someone complimented my hair tonight. She, who complimented, had a beautiful, closely-shorn head. “We short hair lovers need to stick together.” Everyone has so much hair, I wonder how they stand it.

I ran into an old friend at an event and he kissed me hard on the cheek like I had just come from the old country; he seemed to be awash in gladness to see me. He told me that we need to let the younger generation be in charge. I agreed but only partly. I’m not about to defer when I’m just coming into my own.

My granddaughter and her friend bought plaid man shirts and white baseball caps for twin day at school while I shopped for dangling earrings, fundamental to my new look, which is the same look to many but not to me. We split up at the department store so as not to aggravate each other and it worked.

I spoke briefly at an Interfaith luncheon today, starting by saying, “I’m Jan Wilberg and I’m all about tampons, pads, and underwear” and it felt as delicious as chocolate pudding with whipped cream. The kind people there laughed and applauded and gave me a lot of supplies for homeless women.

While I was looking at earrings and envisioning my new look, I dipped down to check myself in the mirror, straightening my hair just a bit, you know how you do, when there’s a mirror, you check yourself? A black woman walked by, saying over her shoulder, “You look alright.” But she said it with such a lilt and a smile that I laughed out loud and then her mother who was following in a walker laughed and we each took turns spinning the earring displays and laughing about looking alright until I finally left to go look at shoes on clearance. Even then, I was laughing.

So it could be true. I might possibly be happy.