Meet Ann Dwyer
Ann is the assistant managing editor of Crain’s Chicago Business. She believes she is blessed to have a job that allows her to monetize her worst tendencies: Be a prying busybody and an insufferable know-it-all for fun and profit. When she is not editing stories, bothering reporters and sticking her nose into her fellow editors’ business, Ann is writing editorials. She has been married to one lovely and long-suffering man for 22 years. They have two extraordinary children and one very nervous dog named Lemon. Native Oak Parker. Blackhawks fan. Janeite. (Fellow Janeites will know what that means.) Mojo magazine lover.
What do you know for sure? Most of what I know for sure is stuff that I learned from my dad. He wasn’t really big on sermonizing – and he died when I was 14, so he didn’t have much of a chance to sermonize at me anyway – but he conducted himself in such a way that the lessons couldn’t help but seep into my brain. Of course, everyone knows the Golden Rule – that is, to treat others the way you would wish to be treated – but my father took it a step farther. He always, I mean always, treated everyone he came into contact with – waitresses, cabbies, CEOs, secretaries – with an equal measure of respect. He had a naturalness around others, an elegance that was completely unschooled, and it was a powerful thing. He saw the dignity in people – even people who seemed on the surface to be very different from him — and he responded accordingly.
As I get older, I find that I sometimes fail miserably at the “do unto others” part. I yelled at (or in the general direction of) a much younger colleague in the newsroom, for instance, and it’s bothered me for days. High drama is part of a newsroom culture … but, still. Years ago, when I was full of a little more vinegar, I might not have thought twice about blowing my stack in the newsroom. But I don’t like to do it now if I don’t have to. Lately, the actions I regret most are the ones where I displayed a lack of kindness.
What do you believe? I’ve already said my father taught more through example than through words, but even he favored a few maxims that he repeated from time to time, and they’ve stuck with me.
"You can’t unring a bell" is one. There’s that theme of unkindness and regret rearing its ugly head again. Some things, once said, can’t be unsaid.
Another one of dad’s standbys: “Say what you mean, mean what you say.” This is a prime virtue in my book. I think people can pretty much count on me to do what I say I’m going to do. I continue to be amazed at how few people really do this – and I confess that it drives me a little crazy sometimes.
And then there’s the old chestnut, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” In other words, don’t be a fuck-up.
I’ve picked up a few more beliefs and maybe even insights along the way, but they didn’t come from dad. Things like:
Take care of your skin. SPF is your friend!
Don’t buy shoes that don’t fit, no matter how cute (or discounted) they may be.
Cloth napkins make every meal better. Paper napkins suck.
When you feel like whining about the state of women in the world, remind yourself: Now is the best time to be a woman in the history of ever.
Dogs are superior beings.
A child’s love is not as simple and straightforward as you’ve been told. It’s complex, mysterious and deep.
There’s nothing wrong with me that a repeat viewing of the 1995 BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice” can’t fix.
Who do you admire? My childhood heroes came to me through the teevee – but, even now, I still have a soft spot for them. Ray Rayner was one. He had a morning show on WGN, the kind that you just don’t see on TV anymore – Bugs Bunny cartoons, traffic reports, a duck named Chelveston, and goofy art projects. What I loved about Ray Rayner was that, there he was, on TV, and he was a slob — completely disorganized, with notes pinned to his chest, stumbling around … sort of a borderline fuck-up – just like me. I loved him. He gave me hope. Similarly, I adored Julia Child – I’m talking about the old “French Chef” show now. That’s how ancient I am. Like Ray Rayner, Julia Child was a study in imperfection, and I thought she was just terrific. When she scraped a spilled omelette off the stovetop, shimmed it onto the plate, and served it – “voila!” – it was an affirmation. This stuff isn’t that complicated. You can do it. And I did. I’m often glad I didn’t grow up in the Martha Stewart era – you know, where the aspiration was to do everything Just. So. It would have been sort of discouraging. Julia Child’s message was: Go for it. And if you screw up, laugh at yourself and move on.
As I became a writer, I came to admire George Orwell, just for his clarity of thought. He taught me more about writing in one essay – “Politics and the English Language” – than I learned in years of studying and practicing the craft. If you haven’t read this piece, do it now. You won’t regret it.
I admire Martin Luther King Jr. for all the usual reasons, but I also admire him as a writer. His work has a quality that’s similar to Orwell’s – namely, that bracing clarity of thought. I re-read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” every now and then for inspiration. There’s so much to admire about it but, for me, it’s how he manages to say what needs to be said, not allowing what had to be immense anger to overwhelm his ability to think and persuade.
I admire my grandmother. Talk about a badass. She was born in 1901 and came to Chicago from rural Ireland in the ’20s with pretty much nothing, knowing she’d never see her home or her family again. She lived through some downright miserable times, particularly in the Depression. As I kid, I shared a bedroom with her – she snored and even cursed in her sleep – but I loved her blindly. I still do. I think of her every day and sometimes feel that she’s standing right over my shoulder, telling me what to do. One day when I was about seven or eight, she overheard me telling a friend that I was Irish. She took me aside later and whispered to me, with her tobacco-tinged brogue: “I didn’t drag my carcass 3,000 miles here to have you calling yourself Irish. You’re an American, and don’t you forget it.”
In the land of the living, I’ve got to say I’m really starting to admire Pope Francis. I have sort of a crush on Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow. I admire Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Bill Moyers and Gail Collins. I admire some of my co-workers. I admire my friend Bo Nora because he’s one of the smartest and bravest people I know. And I really, really admire my husband, Paul Budin – not only for putting up with me, but because his work is actually Important with a capital “I.” Paul is a school social worker – or, as I put it, a professional nice person. And no matter how tough a day I may have, all I need to do is come home, compare notes with him on *his* day, and I am reminded of what a lightweight I really am.
What don’t people know about you? I tend to be sort of a nice gal – at least I think I am, most of the time – and so I think sometimes people are maybe a little surprised to run into my temper. But I definitely have one. I have a pretty long fuse — it takes a while for it to burn down. But when it does, you don’t want to be around. Every now and then I have to remind people that they shouldn’t fuck with me. They usually don’t have to be told twice.
On a less disturbing note, I will add that one little-known and very embarrassing fact about me is that I’m currently obsessed with Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel “North and South,” and have recently lowered myself to reading fan fiction inspired by the book. Curling up with romantic fanfics – that’s not a seriously badass activity, I realize. It’s a guilty pleasure, though. And while 95% of the fan fiction out there is just dreadful, some of it is actually surprisingly good. I might even write one myself.
What do you suck at? Math. It’s my Achilles heel. I’ve often thought
that if I could re-live college, I would have majored in Economics because I’m fascinated with it – but, in reality, I know that my innumeracy would have been a major impediment.
I’ve also never been able to turn a cartwheel. Not once.
Want more? Follow her on twitter @AnnDwyer_Crains