Tuesday, December 27, 2011

For all that has been hard and good, easy and overwhelming

What We Need is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them in their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for a new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
--Wendell Berry

This amazing little poem, bit of wisdom was left on my pillow at the Cenacle, a retreat center here in Chicago on Fullerton Ave. right next to the zoo. The retreat was anything but zooey. It was the first weekend of 2011 and I used it to get started on a novel that I'm currently finishing up revising. I also wrote a short story that I've revised a couple of times this year and finally submitted--hopefully to win a prize.

If in the area why not sign up for the SCBWI New Year's Retreat--and get your 2012 off write, right?

Contact me if you need further info.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day 1942

Merry Christmas!

Here is a Christmas Day excerpt from Beyond Paradise my book ready now for a download. Louise and her mother and several members of the mission are in an internment camp in the Philippines.

Christmas Day arrived—my second in the Philippines, my first in captivity. It came without store-bought presents, without Papa, Julie, or mother. Mother mostly lay in bed except for when I took her by the hand and led her to the shower, the toilet, or to meals. She had hardly spoken a word since her outburst about the wedding album. As I looked into her vacant face, I often wondered what she thought about. Was she thinking of Papa? Without Papa she was missing her other half, the part of her that said she fixed good meals, thanked her for being a good wife, held her hand, and smoothed her hair at the dinner table. It was hard watching her crumble a little bit more each day.
I thought long and hard about what to give Mother. She didn’t need a new cup or bowl. I knew what she wanted, and I couldn’t get it for her.
Daisy came into the room shouting, “Santa Claus has been here after all.” She waved an old mended sock in the air. Inside her stocking was the tin cup I had made for her and a gift from Mrs. Urs—cardboard stars decorated with green wrapping paper with the words Merry Christmas in cursive gold lettering. Frank had carved the girls darling little rings from caraboa bones.
“Merry Christmas, Louise.” Ann came up behind me to give me a hug.
A lump stuck in my throat. “There is nothing for me. What I want can’t fit into a stocking. It isn’t here.” I broke down crying.
“You’re a very brave girl. You’re doing the best you can taking care of your mama. Louise, I know our heavenly Father will provide for you. He will bring you out of here. There will be an answer, and deliverance will come.”
“Oh, how can you be so sure?” I pulled away and went outside to sit down on the verandah.
Ann followed me outdoors and sat on the steps beside me. “Let me tell you a little story. A Christmas story.
“My people were poor; I didn’t expect much at Christmas. My father was a preacher. He liked to tell people about the year of Jubilee. You know what that is, Louise?”
“I think so. Isn’t that in the Old Testament? When slaves were freed and their debts forgiven?”
“That’s right. A time when the poor would have plenty. My daddy rarely ever got paid in money. Always with a sack of something. A sack of pecans, a bushel of apples. People brought these things when they could. It’d make me so mad. I always wished they’d bring us something really good.”
I understood her there.
Ann was lost, telling her story. When talking about home, her Southern accent came out with every word.
“I remember one night. Seems I was your age and always starving. You can only get so far on bread, pecans, apples, and other people’s handouts. One night a man came with a lantern, telling Daddy to come down to the Gulf. We didn’t live too far from the Gulf, where the warm waters come up from Mexico. Daddy took me with him, since I was the oldest. By the time we got to the shore, we couldn’t see the water, there were so many people. Dead of night and a hundred people standing at the water’s edge holding lanterns, like fireflies up and down the coast. I came closer and saw folks were scooping up fish. Something about the moon and warm waters had messed up the fishes’ sense of direction. A freak of nature. They were actually swimming into our nets! You could put your hand down and they’d come up just like a stray dog to be petted.
“My pa called it a Jubilee. Folks around us were almost spent—no jobs, no work, no food. Nothing to hope for. Then this harvest came in. All night long folks were cooking the fish over open fires or salting them and laying them out on logs to dry. Some took them home and pickled them. It was one night and then no more. We lived off those fish for six months, and I suppose other families did the same. It sustained us through the hard times.
“I always remember how God gave to us at just the right time. In the year of Jubilee he will provide. Keep this in mind. Be strong for your mama. She isn’t like you. She can’t remember a time of harvest right now.”
I thanked Ann for her story. I wasn’t sure about the Jubilee, but one thing I knew: If by some miracle or luck the tide actually ever came in, I’d have the misfortune to be drowned.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

How to Start a Revolution

Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, was laid to rest yesterday.

Often we don't find these words used in tandem: president and playwright.

Throughout time artists have been rebels, the outliers, stunning the populace with their "weird" ideas that, eventually, get integrated into the mainstream--as even more "weird" ideas are getting introduced. This is the cycle of which the artist is essential. As a rebel and a dissident, Vaclav Havel changed his country, changed the world--by the jangling of keys, with thousands of BIC lighters held high in the square. By promoting art and peace, lightness and brightness through performance, he took his plays to a wider stage.

Can you and I start a revolution today? The wall of commerce/commercialism/the general appetite for MORE OF THE SAME is a wall, a fence that can either keep us in or we can decide to break through.

I grew up in a home that didn't especially value books or story--when all I ever wanted was to read and invent. I had to step outside that environment and find a new tribe, a home of my own making where if left to ourselves my husband and daughter and I would read and write all day. Okay we also like movies and sitting around talking, and we do own a TV. But the number of books far exceeds the inches of the TV.

How to start a revolution--start by keeping literacy alive, staying open to new ideas, listening.

Thank you Mr. Havel.

People light candles and lay flowers at Vaclavski square to pay respect to former Czech president Vaclav Havel. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images) from the Wash. Post

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From your loving old granny

When I was going through my dad's stuff found an old birthday card to him from his "Granny"
she was a wise woman from the hills of Kentucky; she possessed a simple and profound faith and thought I would share it.

A happy birthday wish for you from Granny Feeback

Dear Grandson
I have been trying to write you for some time but found out I do not have your address, but got it in time for your birthday. I hope. It seems a long time since I seen you, but it has only been a year. Still a year seems a long time to not see the ones you want to see so bad. But I hope you are all well. I am very well. Of course I don’t feel like I did when I was young, but I am the same old Granny. I miss Granddaddy as much as ever and I guess I always will. I have a very good place to live now and a good Christian woman to live with I like fine here and I hope won’t be moving anyways soon. I like Mrs. Stephenson very much, and she seems to like me. We attend church together and both belong to the same church.

I was so uneasy about you when you was on your trip. I prayed for you all the time that God would keep you safe from accidents, harm or danger in any way and send you back home to your family, for they need you so much. And now I have so much to thank God for now that you are back. How is Ann and the boys? You do have such a interesting family. I hope you go to church and to Sunday school all the time, and I hope you are united with the church, and are living right. We owe it to our children. I know you are just as good as you can be in your own strength, but there are some things we to look to God for.

Give my love to Ann and the boys and come to see me when you can. Hope you have more and more happy birthdays.
From your loving old
Granny Feeback

Friday, December 16, 2011

Harold Caywood Feeback 1925 - 2011

This is my mom and dad--when they were just dating, way back in college. Dad died last Sunday. He was 86.

Harold Caywood Feeback was born in Kentucky in Horse Country. For vacations we used to go back there and visit. I remember going to the Man O' War monument. If you don't know who Man O' War was--well look it up--the greatest horse that ever lived. Dad's kin were old time folks. Go-down-to-the-river Methodists. He called his granny Granny. Dad used to laugh and say he never knew that a Depression was going on because everyone he knew was poor anyway.

Before his senior year in high school his dad got a job with Coca-Cola bottlers in Cincinnati. Harold graduated from Withrow High School in 1943 and immediately joined the Navy and served on the USS Porter. He did his training at Great Lakes Naval Base just north of Chicago.

Harold attended Ohio State University on the GI Bill getting a degree in Business with a specialization in International Finance. He was big on education and made sure all four of us kids went to college.I love the picture above because it shows him at a desk writing.

In college Mom and Dad did the typical student thing. Note: the bottles, Also note: Mom's great legs.

this isn't Mom, but whoever it is Dad sure is swinging her
My dad was quite the dancer. He and Mom married September 17, 1949.

After he graduated from college Dad was called up again to serve during the Korean War. In a box of old maps I found a log book he kept. Mostly it was a few one liners such as shoved off from this port or under way on this sea--and tucked in there was an entry from April, 1951--son born. He would get a 2-week leave to come home and see his son, before rejoining the war and being gone for a year. 

Dad and Mom move to Dayton in 1953 where Dad first worked for NCR (National Cash Register) and then Monarch Marking Systems where Dad was on the development team for a product that would revolutionalize the supermarket industry.

Have you seen one of these? Before the label price gun there was the ink stamp, which didn't quite work on frozen foods (the ink smeared). With the price gun a stockperson could cut open a box and zip zip zip price a case of canned peas. Of course soon after the invention of the price gun came bar coding.
Here's Dad at the zenith of his powers.

It's hard to think of him gone. It was a slow transition. After retiring in 1987 he and Mom built a house in Fairfield Glade a sort of Stepford golfing community. All the houses were too big and too nice--but again it fit their lifestyle. Everything was going great.
Until Dad suffered a stroke about 6 years into retirement. It seemed an awful irony--finally the time and opportunity to play golf and he's paralyzed. He would remain debilitated by the stroke for 16 more years. So it wasn't the stroke that took him, but his heart. Slowly he was wearing out.

Harold (because we all called you that, even the grandkids) you lived a long and good life. Those who knew you will remember you as the guy in these pictures: dancing, golfing, enjoying life. You leave us--your wife Ann and the four kids--to mourn and miss you.

The Hallelujah Chorus

Flash Mob from Uptown Christian School
(pretty cute)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I was gonna

start a diet after the holidays until I had to spoon-feed my father a mashed banana. And then, after he died, I decided all I wanted was to eat candy and enjoy the season (as best I can).

Harold Caywood Feeback

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Report: Homelessness Among Children Up 38 Percent Since 2007

 This is from NPR

More than 1.6 million American children were homeless at some point in 2010, the nonprofit National Center on Family Homelessness reports today, adding that the number is about a 38 percent increase from 2007.
The figure, which includes children under the age of 18 who are living with one or more parents or caregivers on the streets, in shared housing because of "economic hardship" and in "emergency or transitional shelters," underscores how the recession that began in late 2007 "has been a man-made disaster for vulnerable children," Ellen L. Bassuk, founder of the national center, says in a statement.
She adds that:
"There are more homeless children today than after the natural disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which caused historic levels of homelessness in 2006. The recession's economic devastation has left one in 45 children homeless in a year."
Bassuk tells NPR's Pam Fessler that the children are a "very traumatized group of kids" who face challenges such as hunger, poor health and lower educational achievement. About one-quarter of the children attend three or more schools in a year.
USA Today writes that today's report:
"Paints a bleaker picture than one by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which nonetheless reported a 28 percent increase in homeless families, from 131,000 in 2007 to 168,000 in 2010. Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor of social policy, says HUD's numbers are much smaller because they count only families living on the street or in emergency shelters."

My picture book Home is Where We Live  (see BOOKS)

is a look at homelessness from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl I observed and interviewed at the shelter. Her story is a composite, a small glimpse and actually has a happy ending--the family is helped through the shelter, eventually finding an apartment. As Christmas approaches please think about the nation's homeless children and give a donation to your local shelter or food pantry.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas is in the Air--along with the bullets

Tonight my husband and I attended a Christmas Gala at CCO (Cornerstone Community Outreach Shelter). Getting there was the hard part. Both ends of the street are sealed off because of police activity--nothing to do with our shelter. It was an out-of-town fugitive dropping in and holding someone hostage above Gigio Pizza. Helicopters and SWAT team called in.

Let it snow, let is snow, let it snow. 'Cause the fluffy stuff is better than shell casings.


Happy Almost Holidays

What's the use of having a blog if you can't share these types of things.
Check out this link to my "Elf" video.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Beyond Paradise

A YA historical novel written to ask ourselves: What makes you happy? Is it place, family, or something deeper, inside of you. Beyond the externals--despite time limitations, the lack of money, privacy, the ability to travel or do whatever you want.

I know this is a hectic time of year, but please check out Beyond Paradise. Here is a small clip that appeared on the back cover of the hardback edition.

“I used to listen to this shell before going to bed at night in the internment camps. It reminded me that out there, beyond the fences, the guards, the machine guns, was freedom. I couldn’t get enough of hearing the waves wash the beach. I loved the sound of unbroken movement.”

And, if you could, please. Go to: the Amazon Kindle page

and "agree" with the tags. What I mean is:
scroll to the bottom to Tags Customers Associate with This Product
agree with these tags

Heard this type of action HELPS my book. Of course this is all voodoo.


ALSO if you know anyone interested in military history--specifically the Pacific theater, Beyond Paradise might be a nice gift idea. Hint, hint.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ANNOUNCING: Beyond Paradise

Back from Thanksgiving vacation and now I'm ready to climb another mountain.

Yes, I've put another book on-line. Beyond Paradise was my first venture into publishing. I remember when I got the call from my editor Rosemary Brosnan at Morrow Junior Books. It was weird. I've now learned that no one gets accepted out of the slush pile (according to my friend Esther Hershenhorn of SCBWI fame). Maybe the fact that this was 11 years ago accounts for the phenomena.


I signed a contract, I celebrated, I waited. Pretty much hot dogs have a longer shelf life.

Part of the problem was that Morrow got bought out by Harper (is it Harper Collins, Harper & Bros, or simply Rupert Murdoch?). Anyway, my baby, the work of my hands, the thing I had gone over and over again with my editor--let alone revised numerous times on my own--got remaindered. Remaindered without the chance for me to buy back at a reduced rate author copies (THOUGH IT WAS IN THE CONTRACT).

So today I upload, celebrate, and make pennies on the dollar--BUT STILL I'm not complaining. I only wish I had more books to put on-line.

Beyond Paradise is about a young girl, Louise Keller, who travels with her missionary family to the Philippines on the eve of Pearl Harbor. At first the country seems like paradise, but soon Louise and her family are captured by the Japanese and forced to live in internment camps. 
"How would you like to go to paradise?" asks Louise Keller's father, a Baptist minister who has accepted a position as a missionary on the small island of Panay. Fourteen-year-old Louise, a writer of poetry who chafes at small-town life, is eager for the change. But the new experiences Louise has dreamed of soon turn nightmarish: when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the war, which had seemed so far away, rapidly threatens their island existence.

This unusual first novel is based on true accounts of the imprisonment of American citizens in Japanese detention camps in the Philippines during World War II.
Here is a small Thanksgiving excerpt from the book:

Our Thanksgiving meal was a banquet for poor, hungry eyes and also a feast for our empty stomachs. When we entered the small cookhouse, we discovered a turkey on a platter. Our “turkey” was a large squash called a camote, something like a sweet potato. This camote was naturally shaped like the torso of a turkey. The neck was the stem. Long bananas fastened on with copper wire stuck out like legs, and the turkey’s wings were made of slices of camote. Surrounding the “turkey” on a platter were red beans and rice, which looked almost like dressing.
The camote turkey was just a centerpiece. There was real meat with vegetables and fruits, donated by friends outside the camp. For a week the women cooked over an open fire in the afternoons, preparing one thousand pieces of chocolate-coconut fudge so that each of the 146 internees could take several pieces back to their rooms.
Mother and I ate on the verandah with Ann, Frank, and the girls. It was the closest I’d felt to home in a long time.

Friday, November 18, 2011


could you please go to the Amazon page where Orphan girl (Kindle edition) http://www.amazon.com/Orphan-Girl-Memoir-Chicago-ebook/dp/B0065LVRXC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1321628773&sr=8-2
and click on the tags.

What I mean is:
scroll to the bottom to Tags Customers Associate with This Product

agree with these tags

Heard this type pf action HELPS my book. Of course this is all voodoo. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm trademarking the phrase FLASH MEMOIR

I just had a short--what I'm calling Flash Memoir--taken by this:
Telling Our Stories Press, forthcoming short memoir anthology

I thought some of you might want to contribute too

here is the link and more info:

Telling Our Stories Press
Short Memoir Submission Guidelines~
Telling Our Stories Press seeks raw, close to the bone writing about meaningful personal experiences. We are seeking memoir that enlightens, entertains and connects with the reader at a basic human level – which usually naturally occurs when one examines ones life with depth, sincerity, and a desire for knowledge and understanding.

However, as with any memoir, there MUST be some uncovering of whatever wisdom was gained, (however slight) from a backward glance at an era in your life, experiences you’ve undergone, persons in your life, persons you’ve become, lessons learned, etc. We are especially partial to narratives created by the interior, personal writings derived  from creative journal writing. Your memoir should comprise meaningful moments, and readers should get a sense of why it was important to you to tell your story.

We are seeking literary personal narratives with well crafted writing employing literary techniques such as explicit or implied storyline, conflict, symbolism, theme, interiority, rich imagery and description. Entries will be judged on originality and the use of various structural forms, language and cohesive storytelling.

BUT, here at Telling Our Stories Press, we are also seeking memoir of different
SHAPES & SIZES.  We are seeking to push structure to create memoir art.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WOW! So Much Hard Work

We've all heard that catch-phrase: Learning Curve. I just climbed a Learning Mountain. I won't go into details, but to get my 2 books Orphan Girl and Beyond Paradise turned into e-books has been one long haul.


For this e-book edition I’d like to thank author Megg Jensen for her tremendous help. Megg offered advice and tips on e-book publishing. Check out her books at Dark Side Publishing and at www.meggjensen.blogspot.comIn addition Mary Jo Guglielmo was the one who told me to get my butt in gear and 1. get a blog and 2. get in on this e-book thing. I know this is the current of publishing today, but I tend to resist and go against the flow. Definitely having a blog has helped to generate interest in my short stories, books, and memoir seminars.

Lastly, I am grateful to the final contributor to the Marie James’ story. The last piece of the family puzzle fell into place when I got an e-mail from Marie’s great-granddaughter Amanda McKay. We talked for an hour about how the memoir has impacted her life and the life of her family. I asked her to share what the book has meant to her for this e-book edition of Orphan Girl. While not exactly a reflection or a memory of Marie (as they never got a chance to meet), Amanda shares Marie’s knack for telling a story. Her beautiful piece is a fit ending.

When Orphan Girl first appeared in print form in 1998 who would have thought that the memoir of a bag lady would have had so much reach and impacted so many lives. Today the book is used as part of a literary project in Buffalo, New York and has been adopted for classroom use at various universities around the United States. Many readers have been inspired to write to say how much the book moved them or that they were planning to volunteer at a homeless shelter as a result of reading Marie’s story.

More than anything, so many people have said that they knew a bag lady or someone who is homeless. They passed them on the streets every day and in the back of their mind suspected there was a story there, something that caused this person to eat out of Dumpsters or build a house under the viaducts made out of cardboard. But out of fear or nervousness, they didn’t know how to approach the bag lady or gentleman with the frayed coat sitting on the park bench and begin a conversation. I was lucky, in that Marie sought me out. She came to me with her compelling story and shared her life with me.

Some readers have mentioned that a loved one, a family member perhaps, because of mental illness or circumstances, has lived on the streets. Orphan Girl has given them insight into the plight of these invisible individuals, survivors.

Never was I more surprised than to open my inbox one day to find a message from a stranger. *You don’t know me, but I am the great-granddaughter of Marie James.* Full circle, I thought to myself. I asked the writer of that email if I could call her. We chatted for over an hour and while talking I knew that Amanda needed to share her story.

Though the two had never met, Amanda and Marie have a lot in common: a fierceness to overcome their surroundings, to do better. While Marie was never able to enter the mainstream of “normal” (I think she loved being an outsider), she contributed richly to the lives of others through her music, playing the piano at an area feeding program, and by telling her life story. Amanda in turn was also generous and honest in talking about her family.

This e-book edition represents a complete picture. Amanda McKay’s piece is the period to a tragic life—leaving us with a seed of hope.

Monday, November 14, 2011

That Heavy Funny Feeling in the Pit of One's Stomach

I just booked overseas airline tickets.

Why does it always feel like you've walked over the edge of a cliff when you click SEND?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

Didn't want to write Happy Veteran's Day--because it doesn't seem to be the case.

NPR this morning was reporting "Nearly 1 in 8 veterans who left the service in the past decade is unemployed." Specifically "Some 240,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are out of work."

And then this from a published study on homelessness: "Homeless veterans are more likely to die on the streets than non-veterans, a new study revealed."

Yesterday at Cornerstone Community Outreach, the shelter I volunteer at and lead discussion and creative writing groups, there was a HUGE Veteran's Day party. CCO Director Sandy Ramsey said she met an older gentleman at a bus stop and from talking discovered he was a Tuskegee Airmen. I'd seen the movie--though someone told me Denzel was not in that film--must've been thinking about Glory. Anyway, Sandy invited him and any other airmen in the area to the Veteran's Day party at the shelter. She also got a band to play. And of course, there was good food. Ribs and bread pudding, etc. A feast to commemorate the day.

Some VERY old guys walked into the shelter covered with medals. The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of African American pilots who formed a squadron at the beginning of WWII. They ended up fighting several battles at once. From Wiki "The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subject to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army. Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction." They were called the Tuskegee Airmen because they trained at the historically black Tuskegee Institute. Anyway, the program got an unexpected boost when then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspected the unit and even flew with them. She pronounced, "Well, you can fly all right."

The shelter was packed. It was a great celebration, but also a wake-up call. So many of those there at the party were struggling. They'd lost jobs, housing, some had lost family support, some were physically and mentally damaged.

Let's pray these wars will end--and that more of our veterans find housing and employment.

More links: http://www.wilsonstation.com/?p=4916


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Italian Meet Up

There was a time my husband and I thought we could learn Italian.

We’d accidentally gotten to go to Europe (see The European Schedule http://www.frostwriting.com/issues/article/the-european-schedule/) and fell in love with Italy. We had friends living there at the time and somehow we imagined that someday we might go there to live. We liked to pretend that we could escape the Bush years and the embarrassment of the Iraq War.

So we signed up for an Italian language Meet Up. Do you know about meet-ups? They are a self-organizing on-line social networking thing that goes like this: If you are interested in geo-caching you can sign up for a Geo-Caching Meet Up, if you are interested in exploring abandoned buildings you could sign up for an Urban Explorer’s Meet Up. There were meet ups for just about any interest. A friend of mine signed up for 6 of them and after going to 2 decided that was enough. There are Knitting Meet Ups, Doll Collector Meet Ups. There’s probably one for bloggers.

After signing up we got an e-mail reminder that the group was meeting at an area bar. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I thought with enough conversation and prompting I could master Italian. For Christmas my husband had given me flashcards. I probably had memorized a hundred words. What could I possibly talk about at the meet-up besides Hi, my name is—

We walked in and ordered vino and took a seat in the back on cozy couches. We sat across from a couple conversing in rapid-fire Italian. One of them turned to us and spoke in what sounded like Italian. My mind suddenly emptied out. I did the only thing I could. In baby Italian I said, Hi, my name is—

But that was as far as I got. Even though one of the women slowed waaay down, I still didn’t know what she was saying. I just smiled like a simpleton. After awhile the two women continued talked amongst themselves. As more people arrived there was a flurry of ciaos! and come va!

My husband turned to me and said, We’ve got to get out of here. I agreed, but how without making it obvious.

Another guy came up and asked how things were going. We were relieved that he spoke to us in English—even though the whole point was to learn Italian. We learned that he was a native Italian and was in the States to study. He’d come to the meet up to improve his English. Listen, I wanted to tell him, if my Italian was as good as your English, I’d be flying high. But to even say that sentence in Italian would have taken me an hour, looking up each word in my Italian dictionary.

We had several Italian primers. Most comprised of ready-made conversations that had nothing to do with real life. One contained a scene between a potential tourist and an equestrian. Perhaps for the traveler planning to buy a horse and gallop around the Boot. In Italian my husband practiced asking me, Is this horse tame? Non, I managed to answer.

We also had a beginner Italian book picture book for kiddies. Ciao Teddy. In the picture book Teddy (a cute little teddy bear, un orso) buys ice cream (gelato), goes to a circus (circo), plays with a ball (una palla) and a train (un treno). Teddy has a madre and a padre and a sorella. In one of the scenes he goes to the circus and buys a ticket, a bigletto! At the circus are leoni, coccodrilli, giraffe, zebra, and grande elefante.

We knew them all because, of all things, the little tots who come to visit us always pull the Ciao Teddy book off the shelf. It doesn’t matter to them if we read it to them in English or Italian. I’d come up with a theory that the kids felt safe and secure with the accessible pictures, the simple language: Teddy loves his mother and father, his mother and father love him. This message translates into any language.

So when the Italian tried to ply my husband with questions in Italian I watched him go from engaged to distracted. I was about to interrupt to say we needed to get going when my husband suddenly brought up the circus. Si, si, our new friend nodded. Then Mike began to rattle off the names of different animals.

One of the women came over and sat on the edge of the couch near Mike. She named a few animals, I recognized from Ciao Teddy. She stopped, Shit what’s the word for monkeys?

Scimmie, Mike answered.

The woman was so impressed I thought she was going to lean over and kiss him.

After deciding to leave—we ended up staying for another hour.

So if we’re ever in Italy and need to go to the circus—we’re totally ready.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Saturday was my birthday and it seems it was the BEST ever!

All together I think I spent about $12. I had free tickets to the Humanities Festival downtown on Sat. So we went there. I biked! And got to enjoy the scenic waterfront on the bike path. Afterwards I rode over to Lutz Cafe where the theme is Old European-style pastries. I don't mean old like stale, more like old world. Where I spent a groupon with my husband and had a nice time chatting and eating this:
It's a lemon log, the ends are dipped in hard chocolate and there is lemon-flavored butter cream in the center. More than a glorified Twinkie to be sure.

Then yesterday me and my friend Stefi took the #80 Irving Park bus to the end of the line and got off at Cumberland to begin biking north on the Des Plaines River trail. Here are some pics from our ride:

It was like riding through a leafy autumn wonderland. The Cook county half of the trail is a bit more undeveloped. We were virtually riding through forests on paths COVERED with red, gold, and dead leaves. The Lake County half is more developed and marked, with not so many leaves--so we could go faster since the trail wasn't obscured by leaf debris. We had a plan to ride with the wind at our backs. The plan was also to end the ride at the Lake Bluff metra station after 50 miles. BUT I read the schedule wrong and the next train wasn't due for another 2 hours! I had to get home to a birthday party for ME. So we rode another 15 or so miles to Wilmette where we picked up CTA.

Today I am beat.

Also this month is the ONE YEAR anniversary of this here blog. so wish us both good tidings, God's speed, etc. Actually, you can just say it all to me, since the blog is me.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Save Chicago Public Libraries

Dear Mayor Rahm Emmanuel
Alderman James Cappleman
Ms. Laura Jenkins, Librarian Uptown Branch

I am writing in regard to the proposed budget cuts to the Chicago Public Library. Chicago now is considered a national model in the use of libraries as magnets for development. Do you actually want to forfeit Chicago’s standing in this area?

In 1994 the former Mayor Richard M. Daley tapped Mary Dempsey to be library commissioner for the Chicago Public Library. Ms. Dempsey, not only oversaw the opening of the Harold Washington Library, but also added 40 new libraries. In addition she improved the 79-branch network — many of whose facilities had been located in small, leased storefronts — but anchored the revitalization of entire neighborhoods. When the private sector saw the city investing in handsome, freestanding library buildings, new businesses, restaurants and mixed-income housing followed. Chicago NEEDS libraries if it wants to attract new businesses.

Also, who did Mayor Daley turn to in a time of personal and professional crisis when faced with a minority-contracting scandal in the purchasing department—a librarian. Ms. Dempsey streamlined the purchasing process, eliminating a backlog of contracts and revamping the affirmative-action program in an effort to identify white-owned businesses that were using women and minorities as fronts. Chicago NEEDS librarians if it wants to help solve its budgeting problems—not eliminating librarians.

The Chicago Public Library serves 12 million visitors per year. No other cultural, educational, entertainment or athletic organization in Chicago can make that claim. In addition, the libraries are there for children after school to work on homework or to catch latch-key kids while parents work. Without libraries these kids will be out on the streets. With Chicago’s widening gang problem is this what we want—more children available to the gangs? The libraries also act as warming/cooling facilities for the city’s elderly and other at-risk populations. Where will community advisories send people who need these necessary services—to the city’s hospitals, to City Hall, to Starbucks and Best Buy? Chicago NEEDS libraries to keep or even expand their hours.

If Chicago really is the city that works—then work with the Chicago Public Library to keep LIBRARIANS, HOURS OF SERVICE, AND A REASONABLE BUDGET FOR NEW BOOK PURCHASES. It would only be wrong to cut any of the above and expect to keep Chicago as a city of prestige.

Jane Hertenstein
A loyal CPL patron

Never Forget

I know, I know. It’s been like 2 weeks, but I had to relearn how to use the Internet after being away from it for so long. In fact, I couldn’t remember how to turn on a computer after getting home from vacation.

BUT here is an interesting item http://www.burialday.com/gothic-blue-book/ 

Perfect for Halloween and All Saint’s Day. Why not order or download the Gothic Blue Book. My kid has a story in it called “Death and All His Friends.”

Also here is a link to my latest short story, recently published by Foliate Oak Literary Magazine http://www.foliateoak.uamont.edu/archives/october-2011/prose/never-forget-by-jane-hertenstein

I welcome all comments or complaints about this controversial story. In fact I was expecting a firestorm or angry letters after it came out and have been gravely disappointed. Not one bit of hate mail.

You see I’m trying to build on my reputation as a rebel-rouser.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Food Trucks

Wanted to blog before taking off for 10 days where I’ll be OFF THE GRID. I’m taking a VACATION! Really it’s quaint. We have a trailer in the woods, a bit rustic, where we can do a bit of cooking, sleeping, and READING. But no phone, Internet, etc. Sounds like magic, huh.

But before I leave, a few thoughts to my readers. Both of you.

My husband and I were walking around an adjoining neighborhood last week and I noticed a food truck! Yay! So many up and coming cities have been getting roaming food trucks. Such as Seattle where the son of some friends of ours owns Skillet. Seattle has a way advanced street food culture. http://www.skilletstreetfood.com/ The parents were telling us about how hard it was in the beginning. You know, how they welded a truck from bits and pieces. You can only launch a project like this with the concentrated help of friends and family.

But their son came up with a hit. Not only with his food truck, Skillet, but with his premier BACON JAM. Yup, Josh Henderson was the one who came up with the idea of a bacon spread. Of course, someone would eventually get the idea—because, of course, bacon goes with everything. Why else would vegans want fake bacon? http://www.skilletstreetfood.com/shop.php

Not that anyone is getting rich off Bacon Jam, but it did put his star on the map. I’ve been tracking Josh’s progress through reports from the parents. And, couldn’t wait for a version of Skillet to come to Chicago UNTIL this:

Sweet times for Chicago food trucks

by Marissa Oberlander
Feb 16, 201

Started as cheap wheels for chefs without startup capital, food trucks are now affordable expansion vehicles for brick-and-mortar restaurants and bakeries. And if the new Chicago mayor passes an ordinance allowing on-site cooking, this national trend could see exponential growth in the Windy City.
Under current law, Chicago food truck operators can only sell pre-packaged food. The proposed ordinance, championed by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), would allow operators to cook inside their trucks with health standards enforced by random city inspections. It also calls for licensed trucks to follow specific routes that keep a fair distance from restaurants and retail food stores.
If Rahm Emanuel, the frontrunner in next week’s mayoral election, wins a mouth-watering future is all but guaranteed for Chicago food trucks.
“I do not believe cook-on-site food trucks should be illegal,” Emanuel said in an interview with Time Out Chicago. “I believe we should be doing more to promote access to fresh foods throughout the city and encourage innovation in our food industry.”

SOOOOO when I saw a food truck on the streets of Andersonville near my neighborhood in Uptown, I thought WOW! There were lines of people, nice upscale-looking customers with lattes in one hand and a dog leash in the other. THEN I noticed just how many dogs were around this food truck. (Dogs love bacon too!) The truck was called Bark! Or Barf! Or something similar, which didn’t exactly sound appetizing.

It was a food truck for dogs.

I had two opposing thoughts at the same time. Where’s the bacon? and There’s something perverse about a food truck for animals. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s the same feeling I get when I’m downtown and see all the little girls walking around with American Girl Dolls. Have you been to the American Girl Doll shop? It’s where you can buy luxury items or dolls clothes for more than you’d actually pay for stuff for YOURSELF. The first time I went into one of those places I felt dirty—especially when I came out with a shopping bag full of stuff FOR A DOLL. And then a homeless guy asked me for what amounted to spare change to buy a coffee and I felt stingy.

I immediately went home and vowed to never buy an American Girl Doll item. (Sorry if I’m offending some people’s American Doll sensibilities). So the people lined up to buy treats for their dogs cast the same vibe, for me.

Me and my husband walked home to our neighborhood—the step-sister of Andersonville, where the yuppies go to buy vanilla lattes—for their pets—to Uptown where I saw this:

That’s a picture of homeless or people with low-incomes lining up for food and health services from the Night Ministry van. About 70 people were waiting in line.

Here’s the Night Ministry website if you care to check them out:

Maybe send them some Bacon Jam.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


At AROHO Marilyn Robinson spoke about this. Of course I’m aware of today’s paranoia over borders, terrorists that have turned many people inside out to the point of demonizing the “other”, this was just the first time I’d seen it used as a verb, as in “othering” others. Basically the other is someone other than you.

I know pretty broad. Yet it is only in the broadest language that one can describe something as all-encompassing as the universe outside of our self. Some people have attempted to mitigate this generalization by saying something like this: I’m not racist, I’m just not comfortable with a black president or what’s wrong with profiling—we need better border security.

Well this is all fine except it is “othering”. A great example of this is in a book I referenced earlier this month: Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Years, where Wendy and her beau traveled to downstate Illinois to attend a weekend festival revolving around farm skills ie putting up tomatoes, canning peaches, making beef jerky, learning how to cut logs, or make a composting latrine. One of the main organizers was a woman who spun her own wool, who knitted and wove. Cool! I know I love the DIY movement, people who use recycled materials and are learning to live off the grid etc.

Except this wasn’t so much about getting back to nature as about survivalist skills—because the end is coming, nigh unto us. The insinuation was that some of those attending just didn’t know what was going to happen, ahem, cough, now that that man is in office.

Scary, but Wendy makes the scene read humorous, yet the subtext is ominous. It reminds me that there are crazies out there intent on “othering”.

Today I was sitting and thinking outside of the box. I love that phrase because it would indicate there is a box, borders to understanding. Most mysteries though are unknowable. On the list of World Heritage Mysteries (see link) is Stonehenge, where for a while there Western man thought they had the secrets of Stonehenge figured out. It was in the box. Then . . .

In If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson (published by the National Geographic Society) Aronson tells the story of archeologist Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield who first had to travel AWAY from England, half way around the world to Madagascar to begin to unravel the secrets of Stonehenge. It was there in Madagascar that Parker-Pearson met a retired archaeologist, a native of Madagascar, and asked him to come have a look at Stonehenge.

Wow, this is outside the box. Asking someone from outside the culture, outside one’s hemisphere, and from a totally different tradition to get their opinion on something that baffled mathematicians, historians, anthropologists, archeologists, and academics from esteemed universities. What could an African man have to contribute? Another perspective.

It was his conclusion that Stonehenge was built to honor ancestors and the dead. And so Dr. Parker-Pearson began to look at Stonehenge, study aerial photos from this new perspective, and, working this new hypothesis, began to collect evidence that supported this idea, as well as the notion there was a sister complex made of wood for the living in the near vicinity. This idea was radically different from the previously accepted theory of Stonehenge being used as a temple. Dr. Parker-Pearson pursued deeper research that ultimately changed how the world viewed Stonehenge, the legacy of an ancient people, and pretty much discredited a long-accepted theory based upon astronomy.

So sometime, ask a 90-year-old person what they think about . . . . I don’t know, what makes you happy, what do you look forward to, teach me from your wealth of knowledge, tell me the secret of life.

Or sit down and chat with a homeless person about  . . . (see above)

Or listen to a 4-year-old.

Or visit another country.

Open yourself up to others by “othering” and you might come away with your box blown up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chicago Marathon--Then & Now

Employing a technique I picked up from reading Joe Brainard's I Remember, I'd like to wax nostalgic about the Chicago Marathon. 

I remember when 6,000 people ran the marathon, yesterday it was 45,000.

I remember when my husband who was then my boyfriend could meet me at the finishing line. Yesterday we couldn't find the finish line for all the people.

I remember when it maybe $45 to sign up for the marathon. Someone yesterday told me they paid $160.

You used to be able to run the Chicago Marathon bandit--meaning just jump in at the last minute. Yesterday they were ONLY letting people with numbers into the park. So that even your family, loved ones, etc
couldn't even GET INTO the park to see their runner start. It was absolutely draconian.

I remember when the marathon wasn't sponsored by Bank of America--and it was A LOT BETTER.

We used to be able to glean clothes the runners flung at the last minute when the race started. We'd walk up and down Columbus Drive picking over the multitude of shirts, sweats, etc after the runners had cleared out. Yesterday they kept all the gleaners out and volunteers bagged the gear up. They were told it was going to be donated to homeless shelters. Listen , I work at a homeless shelter, ever since I can remember we've NEVER gotten a donation from Streets & San regarding running gear. Yesterday as me and my friend started taking the bagged clothes out of the jaws of on-coming trash compactor trucks, even the volunteers were appalled. WHAT A WASTE! they exclaimed. They then started helping us go through the bags; they too started looking for stuff they wanted--since it was really going into landfills.

I remember when the Chicago Marathon was about running. When you allow 45,000 people to sign up all you have are clogged streets where only the elite have a chance to run their race their way.

The Chicago Marathon has become a victim of corporate greed and sponsorship. Occupy Wall Street, sign up for the Milwaukee Marathon next year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just Wondering

What is going to happen to people's memories--when instead of committing an event to memory or contriving to later describe it in a journal--we simply go, hey! and take a picture with our cell phones.

In the future will everything of significance be recorded only on cell phone?

Just wondering.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Truth (and Untruth) of Language

As many of you know I am intrigued by the blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, between the truth, the whole truth and nothing but—and, well, a lie. I’ve always thought there should be a third way. And, maybe, I think I’ve found a secret door.

In blogs past I’ve talked about black and white—and how for some of us it’s all gray. Religion especially. Or say the bones of St. James. My husband was having coffee with a friend, an iconographer, and mentioned that next year we were thinking of walking the El Camino trail in Spain which leads to Santiago, to a cathedral said to house the actual bones of St. James. Do you think, Mike asked his friend, those are really the bones of St. James?

He answered that it didn’t matter what he thought, it only matters what the pilgrims think. Of course many walk the trail without an inkling of faith. For some it isn’t about belief but about the discipline. The walking toward something becomes secondary to simply walking.

I like to quote Ann Sexton to my memoir writing workshops. “It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

Again it is the perception that matters, and fact is somewhat inconsequential.

Thus, on one hand we have the historian, whose approach to St. James would indeed want to know whose bones are behind the altar and the hagiographer who wants to write about the saint and his/her martyrdom.

And here is the third way. Metaphor. What if we allowed the bones to speak? That’s right. We can do that as writers. Through fable and myth and metaphor we are able to explore not just the black and white—but also the gray, making a way for the black to be more palpable to the white, and for the white to make concessions for the black.

Only through poetic language is one able to bridge the gap and bring the two sides together.

So next year when we are walking toward Santiago and my feet are blistered and we are still miles away from our nightly refugio where we’ll stop and rest until the next day’s walk—I can tell myself it is MY perception that hurts. 

                                                     EL CAMINO TRAIL

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gone in Sixty Seconds!

Okay not gone and not exactly sixty seconds, but close. One of my favorite ways to keep up on new calls for submissions and to organize the submission process is Duotrope duotrope.com which is delivered weekly to my inbox. It lets me know which literary journals have opened up for submissions, which have closed, and which are now kaput. AND at the bottom is a list of THEME issues. This list has been VERY good to me in the past.

So messing around last Friday I saw there was a mag xalled Writer's Haven http://www.original-writer.com/writershaven.html where there was a call for pieces having to do with tranquility or peace. I had one! Composed last spring while on residency at Starry Night in T or C, NM. It was only 322 words, but hey! So I e-mailed it off and as I was still sitting at the computer I got a reply.

Accepted! And it only took 6 minutes.

Sorry if this sounds like bragging, because, it is. There is very little us writers have--except for random, scattered, not often, bragging rights. Now if it happened all the time . . .  or if i got PAID for my stuff . . .
Well, that's just not going to happen. BTW my daughter also got another acceptance.

Does anyone need an agent?


Good Bye Erica!

There's nothing better than a BADDDD character. So engrossing, so intriguing. We kept watching just to see what she'd do next.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

John Keats and "Negative Capability"

It’s a great feeling to get things all sorted out. Right now I feel like I’ve been on hyper-drive to get everything done. Maybe it is the fact that summer is nearly over and I haven’t had a single grill out at the lake, or maybe the fact that I work at the market 2 days a week in addition to getting up Mon- Fri @ 4:30 to cook breakfast for 300 people, or that I work 2 markets on Wednesday which means I’m on my feet for over 18 hours, on top of that I’m gone all day Thursday taking a class in Winnetka with Fred Shafer here http://www.ocww.bizland.com/. Time to write is getting squeezed, so that I have no more creative juice left.

But, on the other hand, getting organized can have a soul-deadening effect. Once we no longer have to juggle contending thoughts or activities, once we have finally eliminated mounting tensions then . . . What?

Keats coined a phrase called negative capability. In short negative capability is the ability to hold onto reality when it doesn’t fit any categories. I can think of a number of artists who don’t fit any categories, who were misunderstood in their time and later rose to posthumous stardom. It is the ability to dream when the world tells you something else. I think in the Gospels this was called a paradox. Sarah in the book of Genesis certainly experienced this when as a post-menopausal geriatric she was told to get ready for the birth of her first child. She laughed, and then got very very afraid.

I’d freak out too.

Now Keats might have had a tenuous hold on reality anyway. He certainly never let it bother him. So his negative capability was in fact a gift. And, perhaps, it was the exact right thing that allowed him to ignore naysayers, his unmanageable debts, the indefatigable Fanny Brawne who pursued him, and, of course, his impending early death. He was a poet who was able to hold in one hand the world as it was and at the same time to see beyond to the beyond.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wrigley Dogs

The inner city mission where I live and work is situated not too far from Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play. Maybe it was a friend of a friend or through the city or food depository, but our organization is one of a few invited to come about thirty minutes after the game to pick up unsold stadium hotdogs.

So after every home game Chris and Stewart go in an old van to drive the one and half miles to Wrigley to load in a box (or two depending on the weather) of assorted grill items ie either a hot dog, hamburger, brat, or Italian sausage.

The whole neighborhood gets a piece of this action. It’s a neighborhood comprised of homeless shelters, half-way houses, people pushing grocery carts down the alleys, and old Hungarian-looking women feeding pigeons next to signs saying Don’t Feed the Pigeons! Trash and bread and bagel debris swirl at corner curbs and once in a while a drunk sleeps one off on a bus bench.

But about forty-five minutes even before a game is over, people start streaming into the mission asking for a Wrigley dog. Here’s a play-by-play: Freddy files in and when we say not yet, he asks if he can stay. No, because he’ll just be in the way. Then two or three more come in to ask to use the bathroom. No, I have to tell them, because they’ll hang out in there in order to be first in line. Then the seniors will come down in the elevator and ask if the dogs are in the house. Several of them are so cool—I want to hook them up. I write down what they want, but can’t make any promises. Just be here when they come in.

As the minutes pass and it gets closer and closer to the first pitch, so to speak, the players begin to mill around out front. There is a strategy to snagging a Wrigley dog and everyone is trying to out psyche the competition.

When the dogs finally arrive there is a lot of throwing of the elbows and hip checking getting in the door. I see them stampeding. One at a time, I yell out, but no one is listening. Please line up! The only thing to do is to get the dogs out quick. So I begin to hand out two to each hand stuck up in my face.

No, not that one, comes a gruff voice from up above. I look up at a man with a jail-house build. He demands a brat. So I dig around for a brat amongst the dogs. How can I tell the difference? The wrapping is orange, Freddy informs me. Sister, he calls me, can you give me a hamburger. I’d seen some of those earlier, but in the melee I might have given them all out. Here, Freddy, I say in a hurry, just take these, handing him two dogs.

No, sister, he insists, can you find me a hamburger?

I’m striking out here Freddy, I tell him. Take this or nothing.

But the heartbroken look on his face drives me to continue searching until I come up with a hit. Freddy leaves with one hamburger and one Italian sausage.

By now only three minutes has gone by and we’re almost out of dogs. There are still twenty or so people lined up, plus the seniors sitting around on benches. Finally I give up and toss the last of the box’s contents up on the phone counter. There’s a wild scramble, a virtual bench-clearing. I withdraw into my little receptionist dugout.

Within seconds the room is empty except for Freddy still wanting to just hang out. Sister, is there any ketchup? I get Freddy a couple of packets and a cup of kool-aid, warning him not to tell the others.

I couldn’t handle a rush on kool-aid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Hertenstein

Readers of this blog know that I am intrigued by the blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, the so-called lie and reality--which today has been skewed into scripted entertainment by reality TV--which leads us all to ask the question: What is real and what is not? Post real, I guess.

So to make my point I'd like to cite 2 movies--one forthcoming and one released as a small independent--again I'm not a critic, only a helpful teacher trying to say: WRITE THE DAMN THING. This compulsion to ask yourself is this memoir, can I make it a story(?), I don't think is necessary in the draft stage. Yes, it's important, but only when you are discussing with your editor who the audience is, what your market may be, and where it gets shelved in the bookstore. Up to that point--see the above in bold caps.

Lena Dunham is a young filmmaker and by young I mean UNDER 30. She graduated from Oberlin with the most economically competent degree known to mankind: the creative writing degree. Yes, this will help you all the way to the bank--where you ask for loans to cover your--ahem, see the above in bold. Right, she was in that abysmal netherland that exists post graduation. She went home to live with her parents--and wrote a movie and then cast her mother and sister and got funding and for $45,000 made a PRETTY GOOD movie about her life.http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131761926/lena-dunham-s-big-dreams-rest-on-tiny-furniture

Tiny Furniture is based upon herself and her life experiences--as minor and random as they might be--they actually ended up being pretty funny, and has now gotten a BIGGER gig for a series.

snip from interview from NPR
On whether the film is fictional or based on her actual family
"I think you're watching a fictional version of [my life.] I've started to notice that I answer the question in different ways depending on how I'm feeling about my mom and sister on the day that I answer it, because I still live with them. So even though the movie is this kind of time capsule, it's this completely evolving and changing thing. So right now, I've been working, my sister's at college, my mom's about to have a new show open. We're all having our parallel lives, and then really enjoying each other when we come together. ... But there are moments where I'm like, 'Nothing has changed since we made this movie, and like, my mom is still screaming at me to take out the trash and I'm still telling her to look at me.' But one answer that my mom came up with, which made a lot of sense to me, is that the people who had the relationship depicted in this movie wouldn't be able to make a movie together."
end snip

Tip number 1: Use the material you're most comfortable with. Even if (for right now) it might offend someone). As they say, you can fix it in the mix.

The next film is called Moneyball. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/bennett-miller-moneyball-director_n_957304.html
Based on a real-life guy who took the game of baseball  to a whole other level. By the numbers. The trailer looks hilarious, and of course Brad Pitt is always easy on the eyes. He picks challenging roles.

snip form Huffington Post article
That Beane is a real person, and not just a character to infuse with convenient backstory and motivation, required that the filmmaker strike a careful balance of fact and fiction.
"I was interested in telling the story that's going to make a good movie, that respected the essential truth of his character, of who he is, and essentially what happened," Miller explained, allowing that he was willing to bend certain details to create a better narrative. "He's not the kind of guy who likes to bare his soul to somebody that's doing something that could possibly be construed as an exposé, but we did spend a bunch of time with him and get to know him, and of course, Michael Lewis' book illuminates the things that are portrayed in the movie, about his past, the failure to live up to expectations."
end snip

So tip number 2: Write a GOOD story, use writerly craft, get down scenes and dialogue even if it isn't EXACTLY what happened. Give your self permission.

Tip number 3: WRITE . . .

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Memoirs

Today I'd like to do a couple of quick reviews of three memoirs. I'm not a REAL critic, but am always on the look-out for memoir material I can share with the classes and workshops I lead.

The first book I have already used at the homeless shelter where I facilitate a creative writing program. The book is I REMEMBER by Joe Brainard. The concept is so simple, you're surprised more people haven't done it. The book first came out in 1970, fell out of print and is now back. It is 170 pages comprised of remembrances that begin I remember. For example I remember Payday candy bars and eating the nuts off first. I remember drawing pictures in church on pledge envelopes and programs. I remember rainy days through picture windows. I remember Peter Pan collars. I remember autumn. Many of the remembrances are banal, quotidian, of no significance--except that they are his. We often think, What do I have in common with others? Also many of us as artists also grew up feeling like weirdos or outsiders. Joe's reflections are unique and universal.We all have something we can remember. Even women living in homelessness. I gave them a list and we wrote down one or two lines for each and had a hoot reading our answers aloud. Even Oksana who refuses to write talked about her first kiss. We couldn't get her off the subject. Long after we were done with that prompt she still wanted to talk about it.

Next I read House of Prayer No. 2, a memoir by Mark Richards.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Richard
The book is not a straight forward memoir in the "I" sense as the author chose to write about himself and his circumstances using the "You", second person. This is NOT my most favorite, and was a bit put-off, but after awhile I let it slide as I started to gobble up the story. So you see, I gave it a chance. The author was born with a genetic problem--deformed hips, wasn't always sure as it seemed he got around, but with much effort. As a child he was in and out of charity hospitals and it was these scenes that gave the memoir a unique look into the lives of an invisible other. Also all my friends from the south would agree--there's something Different about a southern writer, and it comes out in Richard's writing. You can hear it--a bit self-deprecating and sardonic. Growing up his mother seemed to have an on and off relationship with the Catholic church. Finally she turned to solace in the pentecostal House of Prayer No. 2. Richards after a youth of sowing wild oats--or maybe he's still at it--but after success in writing for Hollywood decides to help his mother's church get out of the space they are leasing in a strip mall and build their own church. It is a spiritual memoir that draws us into his faith--not a faith that would build a megachurch, but one that picks out lumber and shingles and with much travail eventually gets the job done. BTW, Richard is appearing at next years Festival of Faith & Writing, a biannual conference that I have managed to attend EVERY YEAR since it started. http://festival.calvin.edu/

The third book, also a spiritual memoir is An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson, one of the co-founders of A Room of Her Own, where myself and ALL the participating writers were given an advance copy of the book. The memoir actually comes out this week--on sale at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Unquenchable-Thirst-Following-Service-Authentic/dp/0385527470.  

Over 500 pages long the book begins with  Johnson joining the Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa's sisterhood). The early days were certainly austere, intentionally so. But, as any decision embarked upon when one is only 18 or 19 year's old, Mary changed and found that the sisterhood wasn't all that she wanted. She wanted more or other things and there wasn't always guidance about how to incorporate those into her calling. It's not exactly a positive look at community/vocational living. And I certainly can identify with many of Mary's struggles. The book outlines a slow unraveling of that early "do or die" faith where it was all or nothing. I find that it is difficult for people to keep that kind of mindset as they mature in their faith. I loved a line from the movie Saved--when one of the characters complains to his youth pastor dad--with you it's all black and white, Dad is dumbfounded, what? The kid tells him it's all gray to me. That's where I live. There are those of us--perhaps Mark Richard--with a nuanced relationship with God, the church, where we can stand BOTH inside and outside of it. Appreciating and yet also shaking our heads.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wells Memorial Library

I'm passing this on from Vermont College of Fine Arts regarding author Kate Messner, who started a drive to help a tiny library in a poor area.

I'd gone with my meteorologist husband to take photographs of flood damage in Essex County, just to our south. Roads were washed out, bridges closed or in pieces, familiar sights to anyone who's seen news coverage coming out of Vermont this week. But these tiny towns along Adirondack rivers haven't gotten much media attention.

"Go on up ahead," one town supervisor told us from his pickup. "You need to see Upper Jay. It's awful."

We made our way through roads that were down to one lane, and took detours when there was no road.

As we drove around a bend in the road today, my husband slowed down. "Whoa…look at all the stuff in front of that house."
But it wasn't a house. It was the library.

They lost virtually their entire children's collection. All of the picture books.

"They were all on the lower shelves," library director Karen Rappaport explained, "so the kids could reach them."

Would you like to help, too? Here's how we can rebuild the children's collection of a small Adirondack library…

1. Send a donation. Checks may be made payable to the Wells Memorial Library.

2. Donate a new, hardcover children's book. Picture books are needed most. They were all destroyed except the five waiting to be re-shelved and those that were signed out to homes that didn't get flooded.

The Bookstore Plus, a terrific independent bookstore in nearby Lake Placid, NY, is helping to coordinate this effort. I talked with owners Marc & Sarah Galvin this morning, and they've set up three options for folks who want to donate books:

1. You can call The Bookstore Plus at (518) 523-2950, and a bookseller will help you choose a book to purchase, based on the library's needs. They'll keep track of what's already been purchased. These books will be collected and stored, and when the library is ready, we'll deliver them all at once.

2. The bookstore is also setting up a "virtual gift card" for the library. You can call and let them know you'd like to give $20 or any amount. They'll charge your credit card and add that money to the library's gift card for the purchase of books later on.

2. Or you can order a book online through The Bookstore Plus website, and have it sent directly to the library at the address below.

Here's the library's address for checks & new book donations being sent through the regular mail:

Wells Memorial Library
P.O. Box 57
Upper Jay, NY 12987

If you are sending new books via UPS, please use this address:

Wells Memorial Library
12230 State Route 9N
Upper Jay, NY 12987

Authors & illustrators: If you have a spare author copy of a book you'd like to donate, the library would love that.

Children's Book Editors & Publishers: If you're cleaning out the shelves of new children's books in your office & would like to send a care package, it would be most welcome.

Bloggers: If you have hardcover review copies of kids' books that you're finished reading, the library will make sure they get into kids' hands. (Note: No ARCs, please.)

Both monetary donations and new children's and YA books may be sent at any time. Library director Karen Rappaport assures me that books can be stored safely until the library is ready to reopen. I hope it's soon.