Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If These Walls Could Talk


I’ve been busy working on another e-book related to writing—and always am intrigued by prompts or how writers can trick themselves into producing something we wouldn’t normally think of.

There is an on-line journal asking for submissions of 375 words maximum—but here’s the catch:
dialogue only.
Dialogual publishes quality dialogue-only stories.
Any genre, except erotica.
However, we do not take anything that has been accepted before, or that has appeared on blogs or similar sites. In other words, we want fresh material. We are looking for stories that say something, but we are not looking for one-liners, two-liners or whatever else-liners. That's only a small punchline best left for something else.
Also, refrain from sending things that tell, such as "Janice said," or "Brian advised."
Basically, anything that is not dialogue-only will not be accepted, regardless of how good it may be. 
We publish two to four times a month, on Thursdays. 
You can send up to 3 pieces. Times New Roman, 12, double spaces, no indents. doc, docx, rtf, odt.
Simultaneous submissions are in okay.
There are also a few themed months. Valentine's February, April's Jokers, Sci-Fi September, Halloween October, and Christmas December.
So take the dialogue challenge. Can you write a story or scene using only dialogue? This kind of challenge is also helpful in establishing “voice”—something essential to strong narrative stories.

Also my writing group partner Claudia Martinez is doing a give-away for her new book, Pig Park.


Here are the details on how to win a copy--the official release date is September 16th. But the give-away is only 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Washing Clothes



Sort of in a sentimental mood today. As I mentioned last week my anniversary is coming up. Twenty-eight years. So I composed this as a tribute, not so much autobiographical but a poetic imagining.

We’ve had a life.


I was thinking about it the other day when I was washing clothes. I took them warm out of the dryer and quick picked the shirts out of the basket. I like to snap them by the shoulders to make sure the wrinkles fall out. I drape them over a bar or hang them on hangars.


We’ve seen and done a lot. 


The hems of his pants are frayed, and we’re both going to need to upgrade our wardrobe just as soon as there’s money. I matched the socks and was careful to fold them over so the elastic doesn’t get stretched out.

Just the other day, he remarked what an old couple we are. Not too old, I replied.

It wasn’t too long ago I was trying to get baby barf out of the shoulders of my shirts or washing tiny bibs stiff with rice cereal or rubbing Fels-Naptha into grass-stained knees. She’s doing fine now and washing her own clothes, though I wouldn’t mind if she dropped by for a visit and brought her dirty laundry.


There’s a ghost-ring around the collar and discoloration at the armpits. Not so old that we still can’t work. 


A lot of hard work to make a marriage. I know quite a few couples who haven’t made it. Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of luck, a roll of the dice, the stars lining up. I hold a t-shirt up to my cheek and smell the lavender, the spring, the ocean tide or whatever fragrance the box claims. But I know the truth. There is something I can’t put my finger on.


The blood, sweat, and tears. It smells so sweet.
                                         Making Pies--Patty Griffin

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Campsite #7 Newport State Park

So we went away for the weekend and outside of coming home to find out my computer had re-started and Internet Explorer had replaced Firefox as my default browser--everything went fine. Great, in fact!

I got several signs. One of which was before we even left and I was packing up the car. It was early and no one was around when I saw 2 cardinals on the fire escape, a male and a female. My husband wasn't quite convinced. What were they doing? he asked. I wasn't sure what the right answer was, so I responded: mating.

Then while swimming in our own private cove on Lake Michigan I saw a bald eagle fly over and settle in the tree top of a dead tree. He watched out over me.

The weather was so perfect--perhaps even a bit on the chilly side--which made nighttime fires so pleasant.




The above pic shows a hearty oatmeal I prepared over an open fire with thimble berries growing wild in bushes around our campsite added in!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

28 and 28 more and 28 more after that

My wedding anniversary is rolling around--the first week in September. This weekend my husband and I are planning a camping get-away. We actually spent our 15th wedding anniversary at the same place--a few days after 9/11. It was a crazy time, to say the least. You felt like anything could happen--because it had. The unthinkable.

We were out by ourselves in the dark woods, which sounds romantic, except not right after being attacked. Well, not me, but the US of A. I was still working through a lot of emotions. And, though, you might think it would be great to get away from the endless news cycle and media loops showing the two towers falling, turning to dust, and thousands of New Yorkers fleeing on foot--it also had the affect of making me feel stranded, without a safety net.

All I wanted was to know everything was going to turn out okay. But I had a feeling nothing was ever going to be the same.

Thirteen years later, we now know that was exactly the case. Two unresolved wars later and after hundreds of thousands of deaths nothing good has come from that blue-sky day when planes rammed into the Twin Towers.

I remember camping by a cove on the shores of Lake Michigan, beneath pine trees. An idyllic spot not withstanding the internal turmoil and fear. It was hard to forget what had just happened. Every moment felt like I was standing on a precipice.

And then, one morning we awoke and not too far out on the water were fifteen pairs of swans. It seemed to be some kind of message. Fifteen for each year we'd been married and cool because I knew swans mated for life. Were the gods of the universe trying to tell me something? I chose to believe they were.

So now, on our 28th wedding anniversary, I'm looking for another sign. We live in turbulent times of financial meltdowns, of aging and dying parents, of our kids struggling to make their way. Nothing is for sure. I guess it never has been. Marriage, especially. So we go hoping for more swans, loons, or maybe a family of racoons. Or simply nice weather.

Thank you universe, cosmos, super moons.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ugly Mugs

Hey! Check out my guest blog called Ugly Mugs at In Some Measure.




AND go out and enjoy the sunshine!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Migrant Mother—She Has a Name



My experience on a clean-up at Lollapalooza this past weekend has helped to remind me of that iconic Dorothea Lange photograph that became known as Migrant Mother. 
  
Dorothea Lange was contracted by the Farm Security Administration from 1935 to 1939 to bring to the nation’s attention the plight of sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers. Lange was funded by the federal government and had no rights to the pictures nor did she collect royalties. The Library of Congress titled the photo “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” Lange’s own notes were sketchy and riddled with errors. In 10 minutes she took 6 images and left. She never got the subjects names—only the woman’s age, 32.

It was a photograph that would change lives.

Notices had been sent out for pickers but when the workers showed up they learned the pea harvest had been destroyed by freezing rain. There would be no harvest nor wages for the 2,500 to 3,500 in the migrant camp already starving. Within days, the response from the sorrowful photo rallied the public and the camp received 20,000 pounds of food from the federal government.

The anonymous family in the picture by then was long gone. One of the things Lange got wrong was that the woman and her children were waiting in the camp for her husband and the men folk to come back with parts to fix their broken down truck. True enough she was a migrant worker, just not at that camp. Lange photographed the woman and her 5 children—truth be told she had a total of 10.

It took 45 years for someone to think about tracking down the woman and identifying her. In 1978, a reporter from the Modesto Bee found the Migrant Mother in a trailer park outside Modesto, California.
This from Wikipedia:

Florence Owens Thompson was born Florence Leona Christie on September 1, 1903, in Indian Territory, Oklahoma. Her father, Jackson Christie, had abandoned her mother, Mary Jane Cobb, before Florence was born, and her mother remarried Charles Akman (of Choctaw descent) in spring, 1905. The family lived on a small farm in Indian Territory outside of Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
17 year-old Florence married Cleo Owens (a 23 year-old farmer's son from Stone County, Mississippi) on February 14, 1921. They soon had their first daughter, Violet, followed by a second daughter, Viola, and a son, Leroy. The family migrated west with other Owens’ relatives to Oroville, California where they worked in the saw mills and on the farms of the Sacramento Valley. By 1931, Florence was pregnant with her sixth child when her husband Cleo died of tuberculosis. Florence subsequently worked in the fields and in restaurants to support her six children.[2] In 1933 Florence had another child, returned to Oklahoma for a time, and then was joined by her parents as they migrated to Shafter, California north of Bakersfield. There Florence met Jim Hill, with whom she had three more children. During the 1930s the family worked as migrant farm workers following the crops in California, and sometimes into Arizona. Florence would later recall times in which she would pick 400-500 pounds of cotton from first daylight until after it was too dark to work. She added, “I worked in hospitals. I tended bar. I cooked. I worked in the fields. I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids.”

The family settled in Modesto, California in 1945. Well after World War II, Florence met and married hospital administrator George Thompson, which, compared to the previous years of toil, brought more security.

That is sure one hard-luck story. Right out of the pages of The Grapes of Wrath. She had one of the most recognizable faces and yet no one knew who she was. She was a famous model and yet was able to live under the radar for years.

The reporter asked Thompson about the life she eked out for her family. She spoke plainly, with no sentimentality. “We just existed,’ she said. “Anyway, we lived. We survived, let’s put it that way.”
It is a picture that depicts very little hope and a lot of hard work. That’s what I observed on the faces of the women sent out to clear the grounds of Lollapalooza. Tiny little migrant women in trash-filled fields after all the thousands of concert-goers had vacated. I recognized those furrowed brows and the look of suffering on their faces.

I didn’t catch their names.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Lollapollution





 

I just got done with Lollapalooza this weekend and am exhausted. BUT, before you think I am some hip rock’n’roll mama, let me clarify: I was on a clean up crew.


Actually Saturday started out like any other weekend—a little bit of relaxing and a little bit of catching up. I was just taking a pie out of the oven when some people staying in our building said they needed 3 more people to fill out a clean up crew for Lollapalooza. I asked how much they were paying and thought they said $10 an hour, which sounded about right. The shift was 2 pm until midnight. I wasn’t doing anything else that couldn’t be done Sunday, so within ten minutes I was in the back of a van and being shuttled downtown. It felt a little bit like human trafficking—though I haven’t had any first-hand experience (up to this point, I mean.)

We were escorted quickly through a staff gate and wristbanded. The guys in the grey shirts were our bosses and they divided us up into crews. I had someone looking out for me and he said she needs to go backstage. I was about to protest—I mean I have run marathons and bike everywhere—but hey! I’ll go back stage. I was told to get into a golf cart—that was after a guy in a grey shirt said, “If you see movie stars, do not act all goofy or ask for autographs and shit.” Okay, I thought. Groovy!

I was whisked into the VIPest of all VIP lounges. (Apparently the expensive cost of attending Lolla is nothing compared to the upgrades one can purchase. Access is just a matter of how much you’re willing to spend—and for some people that’s plenty.) Some of the guys were taken to an artist backstage area, while I was told to wait under a tree. Dang, I thought. I wanted to work backstage, but then in minutes we were moving again through a maze of chainlink fences and areas guarded by tight security—and of course, we wound our way through beautiful people, people who in heat and humidity still look good. I on the other hand had on a Hello! Kitty bucket hat to keep the sun off and Smurf blue gloves because I thought I’d be picking up trash and a fanny pack for my coldpack water bottle and granola bars—haha, no need, I was taken into the land of frozen Daiquiri’s and gourmet finger foods.

There were enough workers that I mostly stood inconspicuously in a corner and only emerged to clear up a table. The catered and drink-filled venue provided its members (Really, how do you become a member because it certainly wasn’t because you were wearing a lot of clothes, bra and panties seemed the only requirements, and I’m not sure even those were necessary.) There was fancy mac n cheese and kibble mixes, up-scale mini baked potatoes with bacon bits and melted cheese, kale chips!, and a s’more dessert in miniature glass jars (those mothers were hell to clean out because I was savin’ them jars). In fact I saved the glasses that were supposed to be disposable. I gladly “cleared” the cups where the drinks were chilled with some kind of alcohol-laced popscicle upside down in it. By the end of the evening I had a blue bag full of them.

So while the beautiful people were listening to Foster the People and Outkast I had a side gig goin’ on collecting glasses for the shelter. It was a ballet of balance to scoot through the crowds to toss empties and those little food boats. One lady who was obviously drunk came up and said, I love your hat! Another person said, “It’s so great that you’re doing this.” I wasn’t sure what they actually meant—was it great that workers cleaned up after them or what I think they were saying was that someone my age was hangin’ out in the Samsung Galaxy VIP lounge. I smiled as if to say, I know, crazy!

Meanwhile, my daughter was at Lollapalooza, attending. She was one of the disgusting masses, one of the peons in the open-air fields with the sun and dust pouring down on them. I could observe them up on the shaded terrace from the best seat in the house. I texted her—come see me, after Fitz and Tantrums. What!? she replied. I’m on a deck above the field. Get out!? But, I couldn’t get her back with me. Unfortunately the guys at the gate said no way, no black wristband, no entrance. Every once in a while I’d sneak her out a hot dog on artesian bread. She was desperate for a bathroom. I told her we had deluxe bathrooms where you actually felt okay touching the walls and I could off-load my fanny pack onto the floor while in progress—something you wouldn’t even think of doing at the event portos. She begged me to get her backstage like a bathroom groupie. Nothing doin’. She hated me for my privilege and because I was using a fanny pack.

Everything was hunky dory until the last band—after that, we went into high-speed clearing the lounge, then we got pulled into cleaning a place one step down, a mid-VIP place and definitely a lower-class crowd who’d never heard of garbage cans, but still nothing like the fields which, now devoid of crowds, were knee-deep in litter.

With that done we had less than an hour until we clocked out. It took us ten minutes to get across the fields to HQ where I stowed my bags of cups I’d collected. We picked up little brooms and dustpans and went out on the sidewalks in front of vendor stands to do itty-bitty when a woman named Angel descended upon us. She was no Angel. She made us get in the cart against our protests. We only had half an hour left. She countered that she wouldn’t take us far, but she needed more workers in a field. Then she drove us almost to Indiana, for real? I thought, what am I getting into. Under haze-filled lights I observed the inner-circle if Lollapalooza hell. I wasn’t even sure there was terra firma beneath the top layer of trash. Angel asked us to pick it up. With what? I asked. With this little broom? I had no idea she wasn’t used to people asking her these kinds of questions.

So with a child-size broom I started pushing plastic bottles, cigarette packs, shoes (Don’t you need these?), and socks, and all sorts of random refuse. It was like using a spoon to empty the ocean. Angel drove around the field in her golf cart shouting orders like a Nazi kapo—what are you doing? It’s not break time. Get moving! I immediately began to devise a plan to sneak away. I tried to fake-work toward the shadows.

I felt bad for the workers I saw laboring under the dim lights. They were just starting their shift and didn’t have the language skills to stand up to Angel and her absurd demands. It was a job for a machine, not humans. For all of Outkast’s outspokenness—AndrĂ© 3000 wore a jumpsuit embossed with the statement that across all cultures dark people suffer the most—I’m not sure the message was working. Before my eyes like some bleary nightmare, I saw these tiny migrant women clearing a field heaped with crap with little brooms. 

There needs to be a Lollapalooza union advocating for the clean up crews—who, by the way, aren't making $10 an hour. It averaged out to less than minimum wage, less than $7.25 an hour.