The Beaches of Rogers Park

the beaches of rogers park

I’ve seen sand in blue and red and brown reflecting the seasonal light,
and waves in red and blue and black and churning white,
sluggish with crusted mandalas of ice.

I’ve seen wind rock the trees, working their many colored falls.
The same trees for years and years,
old trees, new trees, slow growing trees,
elms and maples and catalpas and trees of heaven,
bowing and shaking like wooden rattles
in the charged wind.

On the long, distant side of Pratt Ave. beach,
on the pier’s North side,
three willow trees anchor the sand.
Their branches a home for buzzing insects.

Their roots restrain the rising water,

The rising water of
the lake that owns the coast here,
the lake that rises and takes back the paths and park benches in winter and spring,
the lake that is the spirit of this place called Rogers Park,
this place where I have always lived.

As a child,
As a child,
my feet slapped soft, oozing sand
the length of the lake from the stained-glass catacombs in the basement of Loyola’s Church
to the happy ice-skating place at Tuohy.

As a child, I ran and skipped the length of the lake,
holding my breath while flying past the sign that said

“No Trespassing-Private Beach”

by the brick building at North Shore, where women
with long dark hair
and red nail polish on their toenails sunbathed on their porches
while their dark hairy-chested husbands barbequed
and said “Scram,” if you lingered too long,
hands clasped behind your back,
looking hungry.

At North Shore
At North Shore,
concrete, giant steps
challenged a child’s short legs to descend,
and once you beached on the sand
you faced a long trudge through the burning sinking pebbles
before the slippery, silky water licked your naked toes.

The beaches of my childhood,
the beaches of my childhood soon stretched into adolescence
where the ritual exodus to the lake
gained power with each street crossed in East Rogers Park
as you called to your friends.

“We’re going to Albion!”

You joined one by one, sometimes walking arm in arm, and singing

“Doo, wah, Ditty, Ditty, Dum Ditty, Do!”

until you were a pack,
a pack of 10 or 12 or 18 or even more.
A pack of fresh-faced, chattering Catholic girls.

You walked past two-flats and houses
and past large courtyard apartment buildings

“Forward, east! ”

past furry, crew-cut lawns
and tailored gardens that were always being watered,
and you usually visited silently
the house of a friend grounded by her parents,
pulling yourself up

“Hurry up. Don’t get caught!”

peeking over the tall fence, waving,
then dropping to the ground giggling as you ran away.
Or you traveled the gangways,
tiptoing at the places you knew like traffic lights,
the places where grouchy old people would yell
and startle you for startling them.

You could easily travel only the gangways
each and every one that you knew by heart
and that everybody knew by heart like some secret highway
for high-top Keds, army boots and saddle shoes.

Forward East!

past two flats and houses until the black asphalt stopped
and neopolitan flavors of blue and brown rose to greet you at Lake MIchigan’s edge.

At Albion Beach
At Albion Beach
Budweiser abuse bred violence,
frisbees twirled and spun
all of the day and all of the night,
and the older boys drank too much mescal
and the older girls got into trouble
on the rat infested rocks
watching the submarines.

Before lights were put in to protect the park,
the only protection the boys and girls needed was the hushed sucking of the peaceful waves.
Bonfires were built and burned in the very darkest night
and when the boys and girls swam at night
they would take off their clothes
if they were wild enough
or if they didn’t care what anybody thought
if they were caught naked
in the sweeping headlights of a car.

It was there
It was there
where first cigarettes were smoked,
first whiskey seals broken,
bras first unhooked,
flies first fumbled
and then hands –no heads were ever used
hands busy groping,
groping awkwardly,
groping as they found their way

to the back door knocking at the Granada Theater,
where the ushers were your friends
and they let you in to see the first-run movies free.

There in the gold and red velvet balcony,
boys and girls auditioned to be men and women,
and more whiskey poured from half-pints,
and boys dropped their blue “bomber” jackets
trampling them with their muddy, steel-tipped boots,
soles hard-packed with frozen sand from Lake Michigan’s beach.

And then really drunk,
really drunk.
the boys would hit the streets
falling down and fighting,
brother upon brother,
until the neighboring gangs heard something was up,
heard about the action.

And soon, a hundred, midnight-blue zippered jackets lined up
to fight in the dank fog
at the chilly lakefront,
hitting out with rank rage,
a drunken rite of passage,
a rumble,
the fight between adopted Irish families
that claimed turf limits at Hartigan Park.

One night a stranger, a black man,
wandered onto Patch turf,
and I watched handfuls of his shredded black hair
erupt from a plunging pummeling huddle of blue-jacketed boys
and then drift to the ground where it rolled up the sidewalk,
circling itself over and over like forlorn miniature tumbleweeds.


The boys said.

And you knew the world was bigger than Rogers Park,
and things more exciting and romantic
than the submarine races at Hartigan Park would call you,
and many beautiful things would happen
that could blow away the ugly smokey thoughts that rose from Connolly’s Bar
and tarred the racist smiles of the young men there
Their eyes already ached alchoholic red.

And you knew that love knew no color
and that war was wrong
and that adults had heavy hands and even heavier hearts that they’d press on you
to hold you back and down.
If you let them.

There was escape, there was a place.
Past the sea wall at North Shore, past the frat house on Columbia,
past the new breakwater,
lay delicious and different beaches
teeming with older teen-agers
and men with long hair and beards and handsome mustaches,
and women too.

Women who wore peasant dresses,
but no bras or shoes
and slept in the bushes.
They made love in the bushes
and hid from police during the night.
The park was theirs they said.

“Take back the park.”

And they sold all kinds of things during those hot muggy summers of drug love,
they sold illicit goods from the open trunks of their cars at Morse Ave.’s Pill Hill.
They swarmed the close, mossy street like moths crashing in the white street light,
they peddled their wares,
tangled, pungent branches,
leaves and buds
and rainbow colored capsules
in shimmering, see-through sandwich bags,
and micro pieces of puttied sky wrapped in tin foil.
The long-haired mustached men sang.

“Chocolate mescaline, peyote, man.”

And they looked like pirate princes
and the women looked like princesses of a lost promised land,
floating by in their billowing dresses,
bare breasts, soft, pressed against the thin, gauzy cloth,
against the thin, tender cloth of their gowns
native to some distant, crowded place where veils hid women’s faces from men’s eyes.

In the carnival nights at Pill Hill
anything could happen and it always did
and that’s why the police came every night to clear the park
and beat the bushes.

But hiding places were plenty,
and the police couldn’t reach them all.

The black horizon of the lake,
the longest stretch of beach bowing far out from the walk was empty,
and distant from the path of a patrol car,
and the police never used their legs.

So, there,
on a cool, fragrant summer midnight,
you could hide by the ink of the lake, snuggling in sand until morning
when the sun rose flamingo pink and blinding
from the cobalt-turning-turquoise water,

the orange light in blinding stripes of gold and silver.
The sun burned spots into your eyes,
spots seered like white flies into your eyes,
fantastic insects caught
in the sticky fiery surface
of the blazing, brilliant horizon.

And in the summer days and dusks,
guerilla theater, and Free Street theater players roamed, handing out props to any who’d play,
and guitars strummed,
and bells rang on ankles,
and incense burned
and often there was a belly dancer,
and hundreds of people – all young and mostly white and long-haired.

And you were one,
one of them, one with them finally.

One night, hundreds of people gathered under the street light and waved their arms in unison,
shaking their fists at the Park District curfew sign.

“Park closed at 10:30”

Hundreds of frustrated fists slammed the air together that green heavy night.
And the sign came down amidst cheers and confusion,
and the sound of police on the bullhorn.
And you ran home after curfew, arriving at your parents’ house
breathless that night,
what a night,
that night you’d kissed a red-haired boy
He had said you were beautiful
You’d held hands with a wigged out girl from school
who’d seen Beethoven’s Ninth symphony expressed
in perfect musical notation in the lightning-filled sky.

You could barely sleep waiting for the morning,
when all the excitement of the promised land would begin again.
And you swore to yourself
that you would toughen your feet so it was easy to walk barefoot,
and wear granny glasses and a floppy hat
and never, ever, ever wear a bra.

You would ditch your shoes behind your mother’s favorite bushes,
in the morning,
and ready yourself for the world outside,
for the beach in Rogers Park.

I practise Tai Chi in the autumn sun by the lake,
Carry Tiger to the Mountain.
I lift my hands, palms up to the burning mid-day sun,
and then drop them flat, like a gull drops its wings settling in tall, scratchy dune grass.

Around me brown and black and white babies play,
and their mothers speak clicking, clattering
rolling poetry in languages I’ll never know
as they picnic in circled dozens under the trees, Krishna cymbals ringing,
passing dishes of dried fruits and nuts
from hand to brown hand.

On the park benches gold teeth flash.

“Bam, Bam Nyet. Bam, Bam Nyet”

Boomboxes broadcast rap at the basketball courts
where bottles of Night Train pass with no lack of lip,

“Hey Bro! Pass it this way”

bomber jackets and steel-toed boots
replaced by baseball caps and baseball bats and guns.

And you’re filled with wonder at how
love knows no color,
and you know that war is always wrong,
and you lift your hands and heart
to the sky.

Copyright 200-2001. Sduros Communications.

Stedman Graham on creating a personal brand

I interviewed Stedman Graham when he was the keynote for ChicWIT’s celebration of International Women’s Day, March 2, 2004. In this interview, Graham discusses his methods and his passions and how they helped him develop a personal brand platform. He also discussed how his famous life partner, Oprah Winfrey, inspired his own personal development.

Q: What is your nine-step process about?

Stedman Graham: Most of us don’t focus on personal development because we are so programmed to buy into labels and titles in our daily lives. Then we do the same thing every single day. We become so busy doing stuff that really has nothing to do with who we are

Real freedom is about being able to take information and make it relevant to the 24 hours you have every day.

I have developed a process to use the world’s resources to build your own life. It is a nine-step process of understanding and discovering who you are. And second, developing who you are. My process has been well received in the United States, Canada, South Africa. Corporations like it, and I have spoken at Harvard and Wharton about it.

Even at Harvard and Wharton, students wind up, when they are done, simply sitting in a room somewhere. They might get paid more but still they’ve learned little about how to leverage their own intellectual worth.

Most of us are never engaged in the world because we wind up doing the same thing every day. We can work at a job and after 30 years look back and see that we have no more than we had in the beginning. That’s Ok if that’s what you want.

This process (of building a personal brand platform) is for people who want a better life.

Q: Do you see a trend in time of life or gender related to when individuals become earnest about connecting with their authentic cores?

Stedman Graham: Women are in special need of the process because they are defined so much by the external world. They live in such a small box, and it is so programmed. They have such an expectation of what they should do. Their programming is very difficult to break out of without any help. It is very difficult for anyone to break out of if you don’t have the network, if you don’t have the information, if you don’t have the good old boys club, if you don’t have the ability to exchange information with other people who really know how to do it.

Unless there is an alignment of your talent, your skills and your passion with a process for developing them, you are not going anywhere. It doesn’t matter what you want to become, how determined you are, how smart you are. It is impossible to do it unless you come from a core competency that will allow you to grow.

It is a problem of self-empowerment and how to take responsibility for your own actions – which is really centered around personal excellence, results and performance.

You can’t possibly brand yourself unless you have a personal understanding of who you are.

I know that there is nothing that you can’t do. It doesn’t make any difference what your background is, whether your parents had money, etc, you can become equal to anybody following my process. Q: What was it like for you growing up?

This belief system that I could do it is different from how I grew up. I grew up in a small town, part black and part Native American in New Jersey. I grew up believing that it was all about white America, race and government control. I did not understand my own potential as a human being.

It took me 30-something years to understand that my potential was
predicated on my skills and talent. I did not know how to self-actualize. My parents told me to go to school and go to work, that was it.

This (blindness) is about not knowing how to process or how to think. It is not centered around other people.
This is about taking responsibility and being able to transcend bias. It is about all those things that will allow you to look at yourself and learn what you need to know about yourself to become more of a leader.
You have to align yourself with the resources of the world.

You have to create a platform that will create some opportunities in the market that you are residing in.
It is a process that blows me away every single day. It closes the achievement gap.

Q: Was there a specific aha! moment for you?

Stedman Graham: It was a combination of things.

I was in a relationship with a very powerful woman, Oprah, so I had pressure every single day to prove myself.
Most people don’t have that kind of pressure so they become comfortable where they are.

Because of the pressure I had to define myself under an umbrella that was bigger than life. That was one influence, and so was understanding business, and how business worked. Having a lot of different mentors was an influence too. I also am a person who is organized and I like that. It helped me come up with a program that I think all successful people have.

I did a comparative analysis of where I came from and where these people were going. And I saw a huge difference. I put that difference into my nine-step program.

It was like this… You’re a man in a relationship with a very powerful woman who reaches 20 million people every single day. You don’t get any respect for that. So the idea of having to find that was part of the catalyst. Being in that circumstance allowed me to look within to survive in that setting. From there I discovered that it is all internal. .

Q: What is your favorite part of your work?

Working with companies and working with business is something I do very well. I really enjoy being able to work with people who are smart. People who are a-plus folks and who are trying to maximize their potential in all spheres. That is what I enjoy most.

Q: What will you be talking about at ChicWIT’s International Women’s Day?

Stedman Graham: I will be talking about the nine steps, and internal and external branding.
I do this work with Merrill Lynch working with small businesses and high worth individuals. We change the trajectory of people’s lives.

We go into the idea of success circles. We teach them how to organize their lives based on three areas: education, career development and community development. As a core base of organizing their lives, we want them to be branded as an expert; we want them to make as much money as possible; we want them to be able to give back.
We organize their lives around their passion – what we call their life theme.

It really does change the entire financial landscape when you are able to understand what legacy they want to leave and what kind of brand they want in the marketplace.

Lots of people have financial tools. But a lot do not have alignment. That’s what I bring to the table. We give them the process for owning their world.

Q: Many people talk about this kind of personal development. One of the most interesting aspects of your work must be seeing the switch go off when people finally get it… Can you give me a good example of having seen that?

Stedman Graham: There are a number of switches and everybody’s different. Some women may have been held back by their lack of understanding that they can be anything they want. That’s the first switch. Once that switch gets turned on then there is another switch that needs to be turned on and that is “how do you do it”?

Then there are the switches of discovery, planning, being able to integrate that with financial tools, and further alignment.

The idea of being able to change the way you think about your possibilities and about yourself, that is the big switch.

That’s the key to owning your world.

For my own personal life, I wasn’t a great student in school because I never turned it on. Once I did, I realized that I could do as well as everyone. There was unlimited opportunity for me.

Q: Has your relationship with Oprah changed since your switch went off?

Stedman Graham: It doesn’t make any difference about anyone else. It just makes a difference about what you want to do in your own personal life to develop your own potential. The thing that you bring to any relationship is the fact that you are able to be your own man, to be your own person. That is the greatest gift.

You don’t ever have to rely on anyone else because you know how to make things happen, end of story. You can share, and you can talk and you can advise and you can help each other. But you stand alone. That is the greatest gift. Wherever you go you stand alone. And you can hold your own.

You never have to apologize anywhere, anytime for who you are. And you understand how to build and to grow and every day you become better than yesterday. If you get that, that’s freedom.

Regardless of how the world might define you or how other people might see you that’s not the real world you. That’s an illusion.

Q: What do you say to nay-sayers, to those who focus on circumstance?

I say it is harder at the top than at the bottom. It is harder when you have to think. It is more difficult when your life is in the limelight.

Leaders do not have it easy. People at the top know that. Success is not an easy thing to deal with. It is difficult to deal with from the family aspect of it. People change. It is much easier when you are playing softball at the lake.
The naysayers don’t understand what it’s like to be in the limelight. How the media can destroy you.

So it’s not what happens to you. It’scan you handle it. Do you have the capacity to deal with it every single day?

Q: How do you deal with questions of perceived scarcity vs. abundance? How do you counsel or help a kid in the projects recognize the resources around him when he sees pain and disappointment?

Stedman Graham: It’s a process that takes a long time.

You have to have the capacity – what it has taken me to get to this point. Serving in the US army, playing ball all over Europe. It’s taken me graduate school. It’s taken me four years in undergraduate school. It’s taken me working five years in the prison system. It’s taken me working in public relations. It’staken traveling around the world, traveling to South Africa. It’s taken me seeing Winnie Mandela’shouse being burnt down and being right there. It’s taken me almost losing my life in a couple of situations.

You are not here (at this level of awareness) because you have just arrived. You are here because you deserve to be here, not because someone gave you anything. For example, I can tell that your life as a journalist is based on countless hours of writing and developing and reading and working on your craft —- otherwise you couldn’t do it.

You are where you are because you deserve to be there. People might look at you and say, “Oh yeah, you have it easy because you work for this newspaper or that newspaper.” They don’t realize what it took to get there. And you can lose that in one second. Or in one week or two weeks, your life could change.

Q: Many women attending ChicWIT’s International Women’s Day have experienced the tiny little box you described at the beginning, and they have also been through repeated loss related to their careers. How would you counsel them to handle those ups and downs?

Stedman Graham: You have to have gone through that to be the success that you are. You had to have had failures. If you don’t know what it’s like to worry about missing payroll then you can’t appreciate when the money comes.
You are not at the top because you are given anything. You are at the top because you have processed your way through. Most people don’t see the process. They see “A to Z” and think that you have gotten there because of such and such.

What they don’t know is that it is impossible to do (get to the top by maneuvering or circumstance). You can’t maintain the posture. You won’t last. People who are experienced, and people who have gone through the process, and people who have earned the right to be where they are understand that.

Because the determination, the work and the perseverance that it takes to make it – you’ve got to have that. Otherwise you won’t make it.

It’s the never quit and never give-up syndrome. If you don’t have that, no matter what you get involved in, you will never make it.

Q: Many of us fare well at the small victories, but these days sometimes it feels as though you have to be heroic – any advice for that?

Stedman Graham: You have to keep going. You have to have the determination and keep going and not have your spirit broken or give in because it’s hard.

—Sally Duros
Consultant, Editor, Writer and Member of WorldWIT Steering Committee

An interview with
Steadman Graham

International Women’s Day
June 25, 2004