Wednesday, February 10, 2016

True Love, a year later

A while back I posted True Love and True Love Will Go On. It has now been a year since Don Hill passed (February 13th).

This time last year I was finishing up my bike ride in Florida, Jacksonville – Key West. I had Don in my thoughts as I rode. I had health, I was fit, I had the gumption to ride over 550 miles. I was hyper-aware of my own mortality and how it is a fleeting thing. I loved being alive to the sun, the flower, the palm trees, the slate blue ocean. I wished Don could have seen it.

Still missing you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Rummage Room

The homeless shelter I help support, Cornerstone Community Outreach, has started a physical store called the Rummage Room with an on-line presence. Go to Facebook and LIKE to see their specials.

I remember when I first came to Chicago and volunteered with this group. I was put in charge of the Freestore. Times have certainly changed.

My husband reminded me Sunday that when the Freestore started it was a time still emerging from the groovy 60s—where a lot of stuff was supposed to be free. There still is: the shelter offers free hot meals and a weekly food pantry. Just drop in, no need to “qualifiy.” And, of course, all that free stuff from the 60s such as free love came at a price. It’s just at the time no one wanted to count the cost.

CCO has been helping people since 1989 and over the years funding for the homeless has been getting less and less. Illinois and Chicago in particular are in a budget crisis that doesn’t seem at all near to being resolved. So the shelter has started selling good used and new items donated in order to offset funding losses.

Anyway, here is a story I wrote a few years ago about my early years at the Freestore. It’s entitled: How I Met My Husband

Every couple has their own story, but certain stories are stranger than fiction. That’s our story.
It was 1985, a time buried in the armpit of disco and the Euro New Wave. By the mid-80s I knew that the decade would go down as a footnote. Seemingly all the real history was behind us and we were stuck with Reagan and mediocrity. I think I was entering my cynical years, post-collage, and just realizing that the world had nothing to offer me. Especially a career. We were in a recession, nothing new—except that this one peaked right when I was graduating and needed a job. When nothing came fast enough I panicked and took a bus for Chicago where I ended up doing volunteer work. In exchange for room and board I worked at a city mission where I was promised a chance to use my educational background tutoring underprivileged kids.
Instead I ended up sorting through donations.
In retrospect I can see how my classes in psychology were helpful. I developed a character profile on who donates old clothes caked with feces to charity. After ripping open a bag that smelled like cat pee I insisted on wearing latex gloves. Who actually thinks: There’s still wear left in holey underwear? Who donates ONE shoe? It was enough to confirm my low opinion of mankind. Cynicism was a coping mechanism, not just an attitude.
For every fifty gross bags there was maybe one containing something fantastic—like a vintage gown or a black-dyed lamb’s skin fur coat with oversized buttons. Once I found $20 in an old purse. Each day I was greeted by a mountain of black garbage bags. I’d pull a few out, but the pile never went down because the mission was always getting calls from people wanting to donate. That’s the worst part—our brothers went out in a snub-nosed old mail truck and picked this stuff up for free when the owners should have been taking it to a dump.
Let me back up and explain. The mission operated a Freestore. On assigned days we opened to our clients to let them “shop” for the things they needed. We had regulars. One came so frequently that I struck up a conversation with her. What do you do with all the clothes you get? I asked. Miriam had about 5 kids. I say about because she also kept her friend’s children and had a revolving door policy of hospitality, so she was constantly on the lookout for sizes anywhere from 0 to 13 juniors. One of the older daughters also had a baby, I think. Miriam seemed embarrassed at my question. I assured her that this was why we were here, to help people like her.
She finally confessed, “We get new stuff when the other’n get too dirty. But don’t worry, we give it all back.”
Well, that took care of my profile. I simply didn’t have that category in mind. The person who gives because they hate doing laundry.
I was set up in an annex, a building that was in a perpetual state of repair and, because the work was being done in-house, the renovation was going slow. Like whenever there was money, which wasn’t too often. During my entire Freestore tenure the abandoned annex was one brick away from collapsing. At one point the walls had been demo-ed down to the lath, the wooden slats beneath plaster, awaiting drywall. If I needed to use the bathroom I had to walk an obstacle course, through walls and around pipes and hanging electrical wires (!), to the opposite end where there was a stall without a door but those clinking beads that you see in the Mediterranean where it seems climate appropriate and not a side effect of poverty. It was like a Cohan movie or a Beckett play where life is cruel and somewhat absurd. Along the way I passed through an “office” where a guy sat taping on a typewriter.
What are you working on? I asked one time.
I’m working on a story.
He had clunky glasses, sturdy, and always dressed neatly in casual office Friday attire. Like the stuff I pulled out of the sacks stacked up to the ceiling three rooms over.
I explained I was looking for the bathroom and he continued typing, while sitting in architectural chaos. One day he asked me if there were any new book donations. I said, yes, in fact there had been. He followed me back to the Freestore where I’d set up a display rack in what used to be a shower. Watch out, I warned, pointing to the hole in the floor where the toilet used to be.
He helped me sort out the books. What do you do with the totally lame stuff? He wanted to know.
I knew what he meant. Mass paperbacks. Thrillers, romance, Christian prophet and Christian profit titles. How to live like a King’s Kid. I throw it down the hole, I said.
We tossed in some John Grisham and Tom Clancey.
We opened a banana box of books on childrearing. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, etc. Mike attempted to put a book down the toilet hole. Wait! I halted him. What are you doing?
He was embarrassed. I just thought.
Breast feeding is important. A lot of women have questions about it. I put them over here.
There was a baby swing, the kind used to soothe a child into slumber, I had six or seven books stacked in the seat along with a handful of breast pumps, the cheap models that resembled torture devices.
We continued sorting and I was grateful for his help. It gets a little creepy in the Freestore by myself. Once I found a guy sleeping in the bathtub I used for the one-of shoes (I kept them just in case, a totally hopeless situation.) He’d wandered in off the street drunk and had no idea where he was. He’d been looking for a bathroom. After a brother escorted him out I peered down the hole. There was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey at the bottom pelted with piss.
On really slow days I tried on clothes and modeled in front of a bleary mirror. There were some really funky styles. I don’t know why I wasn’t freaked out about bedbugs or head lice. On really cold days, the days when frost collected on the inside of the windows (none of the radiators worked; they’d all been disconnected when the pipes burst), I wore layers of coats and rag-picked wearing fingerless gloves like a character out of Our Mutual Friend.
Yet I always had reading material. Whole libraries were donated. I could easily guess the former owners and their preferences, likes and dislikes. I acquired what was left of the estate of a university professor. His specialty was antiquities. The books were all hardback, the pages brittle and liver-spotted, and smelled of basement, as if they were in fact artifacts, stolen from a sarcophagus or pried from the hands of a mummy. It was sad. A couple divorces and liquidates their combined library. The kids are grown and their old books given away. I randomly collected Newbery Award winners, most inscribed by a literary auntie or uncle to their favorite niece or nephew. Christmas 1962 or To a Special Boy on His 12th Birthday.
Mike got into the habit of stopping by to help me organize. Of course he took home whatever struck his fancy. We got to know each other and found we had a lot in common, not the least books and writing. One day he asked me out.
So when people ask how we met, my mind wanders back to those cold days leaning over crates of books, my breath a noir-ish fog, the wind rattling the loose frost-glazed glass in the window panes, bundled beneath layers of dead people’s coats. Mike, he just tells people, I found her at the Freestore.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hot Flash Friday--Imagine

Hot Flash Friday is my attempt to get my many readers (both of you) writing. A flash can be anything from a 50-word story up to 1,000 words. The important thing is: getting started.

That’s what prompts are for.

There are times when all we need is one-word to get the juices flowing. But there is another way to let go and enter in—ever hear the phrase: a face that launched a thousand ships or a picture is worth a thousand words?

I sit and meditate. What is this feeling that I’m feeling, what is it I’m after, where is it? Abstracts. But have you ever googled these same questions. In that tiny space, that is actually infinite, I’ve typed in stuff such as I thought I saw you through the rain or the happiness that is just beyond me just to see what pops up in images. It’s interesting what Google gives you. Sometimes it allows me to see more concretely the intangible or a possibility.

The very idea that my device can sense my needs, is somewhat disturbing and at the same time comforting. Especially on melancholy days where the clouds touch the earth. I can’t see further than the darkness, but there is, out there, around the corner, something. So yesterday I uploaded 2 new profile/cover pics to Facebook that helped solidify my aspirations. I could easily write 50 new words about these images.

Why not do the same—Google and go.
I'm coming to you, just stay where you are, I'll get there soon

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Keep on Flashin'

--#febflash Starts Today!

Mom Egg Review and Half-Shell Press are sponsoring a Flash Fiction (and creative prose or prose poems) Challenge for the month of February.  Just write a short short story (1-250 words) every day for the month of Feb.

Three ways to participate:

It's a great way to keep those words flowing!  Please share the links with your writer friends.

Facebook Group

#febflash on MER website

Monday, February 1, 2016

Min stad, My Town

When I traveled to Sweden the fall of 2014 and met up with an old friend (we’re both pretty young!) she asked at the time if I might help out on some future projects she was working on. Lotta is a journalist who has also been recruited for writing for the web—just like most of us. Her English is excellent but to actually translate something out of Swedish into English, an English that sounds native, well, she needed a native English speaker.

Thus, I somehow got involved with an English translation of this book. Min stad or My Town.

I wish I could take credit for such a beautiful book, but I actually had no idea what I was getting into. I thought the end product was going to be a promotional pamphlet stacked up on a tourist counter in TranĂ¥s, Sweden.

Instead it is a gorgeous coffee table book with over 300 pages of photographs and text. I’m proud to have been part of this project. Though after looking through it I have begun to see numerous mistakes. I didn’t have the advantage of the photographs when asked to “translate” certain paragraphs or captioning. It’s funny what I imagined and what the picture actually depicted.

Thanks Lotta—looking forward to our next project, something we’re both 100% familiar with—70s British rockers! (Not.) 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Frozen Chosen

Have you written any 50-word memoirs this week?

If not here is your chance with Hot Flash Friday. The day where I give you a prompt and you flash. A lot of the time my prompts are mundane. The stuff of the ordinary.  Your job is to get inside, core down, dig wherever it leads.

Today’s prompt is: Frozen Food Aisle. That’s it. What is the story? What bubbles to the surface? What about those foggy doors after you’ve rooted around inside. How long have you stood and studied the individual flavors of ice cream, wishing life could be as various and exciting? What does the frozen food aisle tell you about yourself?

Maybe it’s where you met your mate.

Or where you first considered going for your MFA.

Get inspired.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Unique Thrift

Last week I introduced blog readers to the 50-word challenge—today’s blog has to do with Hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain where long-term memories reside. If you can’t recall a name on the tip of your tongue, blame your hippocampus. Hippocampus Magazine is an exclusively online publication dedicated to creative nonfiction. Each month it publishes 8-10 new CNF pieces: essays or memoir excerpts from established and emerging writers.

A few years back I really enjoyed reading a winning essay by Jim Gray entitled Sweating the Sweater about a dad thrift store shopping with his daughter. This piece really resonated with me because 1) I shop Unique Thrift and had no idea it was a chain. I thought it was just in Chicago. Come to find Unique isn’t quite so unique. 2) I have a daughter and probably once a week for the first 20 years of her life we went to Unique. That’s all we had to say, Unique. It was a noun and a verb. Shopping together hasn’t been all fun. She and I have argued at Unique. She’s broken up with friends while at Unique. I’ve lost her at Unique, searching over the tops of the racks for her, only to find her hiding between columns of clothes. Nine tenths of my wardrobe is from Unique.

Until recently, that is.

For about the last 24 months Unique has been undergoing a transformation from thrift to boutique. Unique is no longer the Unique of the past. It’s gotten pricey and way more selective. No more packed rows of red, green, blue, brown sweaters, skirts, etc. Probably the internet is putting it out of business. I mean I couldn’t ignore all the hipster shoppers filling up their shopping carts with vintage and name-brand items in order to re-sell them at their shop in Lincoln Park.

It’s the end of an era. Our place is no more. And it’s a little sad. Every time I pass Unique on my way to Salvation Army I long for the old days, for those smelly crowded aisles with clothing scattered everywhere and a book in with the shoes. On Mondays I could get a 1000 piece puzzle for 25 cents. Albeit it was likely only 998 pieces but so what!

So I searched my hippocampus and Google for Jim’s essay. Why not submit your own CNF essay to the Hippo--
there were days my fingertips were raw from pulling out staples from the clothes I got at Unique