Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Art of Seeing and Remembering

Me and my girlfriends have a joke about sending our husbands to do something and 1) they come back empty-handed because they forgot or 2) they come back with the wrong thing or 3) they come back and say they couldn't find the thing that was RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR NOSE. We call this man's disease. sorry about 1/2 the population or what is it now--about 51% of the population because of gender selection, women are becoming a minority--something I've noticed for a long while--anyway!

But come to find out it isn't just man's disease, but a characteristic of just being human.

NPR Radio did a story not too long ago, a story that as I listened I thought--geez can this get any worse, and then it did, I listened more and it got even MORE worse. Here's how it goes:

Officers in Boston got the report of man down, one of their own had been shot. The bulletin went out and many officers arrived at the scene. One of those who responded was a black undercover officer wearing plainsclothes, he started chasing the assailant. But as he was running he noticed that his fellow cops were like CHASING HIM. Whoa, they took him down and beat him half to death. Nevermind that he was a cop.

Several officers also in pursuit ran past this pileup. The report never mentioned if the assialant was ever captured.

But the black man, the officer, pressed charges. And of course, cops investigating cops is always a tricky thing. Not one of the officers came forward to say who had participated in the beating. The cops who had run past the conflagration were also questioned, but none of them could identify anyone--there was even a few cops who said THEY'D SEEN NOTHING THAT NIGHT. One of these cops was charged and found guilty of perjury and was sentenced to jail.

Well a Boston reporter and a university professor decided to look into this phenomenon: was it possible for a cop or anyone to be so close and not see anything?! They instituted a study and had several participants run after someone and like talk their observations into a recorder ie he's wearing a hat, we just passed a Dunkin' Donuts, etc. The participants did really well with their observations because they were focused on the task at hand, but several entirely missed a faux fight taking place right beside the running path. They had a couple actors stage a fight. The participants just kept on running.

Of course the scientists are thinking it all goes back to primitive man, coping mechanisms, skills for survival of the fittest. If we kept getting distracted by other stuff then we'd never get the mastodon or Sibertooth (cybertooth?) tiger we're actually hunting down. We tend to tune out the peripheral like a horse wearing blinders and keep our eyes on the prize or the thing we were told to do.

Thus, sometimes missing the bigger picture. And there you have it: man's disease decoded and explained.

But it also teaches us a lesson about memory and observation and how 5 people can experience the same thing but yet come away with 5 different interpretations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mom Pride

Just found out today that my daughter has gotten a story of her's accepted into a magazine/zine. I told my husband that if I had had this kind of affirmation I might have gotten started earlier. I mean I was ALWAYS writing as a kid, but didn't get much encouragement. I don't want to be one of those whiney adults who blames everything on their parents, but face it--the day and age I was raised in isn't like now where parents lie all the time to their kids--"You're great. In fact the greatest thing since the discovery of fire!" Overkill, I know.

I'm not like the Tiger Mom, more like Tigger Mom, who wants the best for my kid, but I also know she has to face life's ups and downs. That's why we gave her a fare card and told her to get her own way home from art camp at the MCA downtown. She wouldn't be the only 12 year old on the train alone (maybe she was 13, not sure). And she didn't have to sit alone because a kid from the camp got on with her and they talked until one or the other got off first.

It's hard to be a Tiger Mom, or a Tigger Mom, or even a mom for that matter. There's so much about trust--that it's hard to give up control. What control! See, we fool ourselves, all the time.
Anyway, in college I was accepted into an advanced writing class and was given encouragement by professors to continue on a creative writing track. I still remember Dad looking at me as if I'd announced I wanted to become a cat burglar--"Why would you do that?"

He was right. It was a huge risk. But come on! I had NO college debt. I had money put away in the bank, in fact. I could live with friends or go out West and work and still write, but he wanted to see me get a job in the marketplace. I'd trained in college to become a teacher. So I applied, applied some more, and when nothing came quick enough I panicked. I left Dayton, Ohio for Chicago and, well, the rest is history.

But years later I got published. My parents still ask when I'm going to get a real job.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The woman who started the Civil War

How I wish this professor had taught me the novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. I read it as an undergraduate in the 1980s (okay, I've never been anything other than an undergraduate). So I was a little dumb and out of it, but full of self-confidence and strident opinions. I thought Uncle Tom's Cabin was a waste of time. Ha.

Then about 15 years ago a friend from Norway, when she came over she said her life goals were to read Uncle Tom's Cabin and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I'd read both and frankly found the former sentimental and out-dated and the latter way to depressing. Again I was a little dumb and out of it. I ask myself will I ever be anything other than this--always I seem to "get" things way after the fact.

Anyway, I asked her why. And she said this: she started the Civil War. I revised my previous observations and since then Harriet Beecher Stowe has become one of my literary heroes.

The woman who started the Civil War

The woman who started the Civil War
Harriet Beecher Stowe

When Harriet Beecher Stowe published "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1852, the American slave trade was a thriving institution. The courts condoned it and, as Southerners were quick to claim, so did the Constitution and the Bible. Twelve American presidents had been slave owners, and the abolitionist movement was fragmented and marginal.
But Stowe, a seminal figure in American liberalism, had a knack for making radical concepts palatable to the general public, and her novel became one of the first genuine pop culture phenomena in American history. Within 10 years of its publication, the United States devolved into civil war. And as historian David S. Reynolds argues in "Mightier Than the Sword," a new book that explores Stowe's life and the global impact of her work, it was "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that catalyzed  the conflict.
We spoke with Reynolds recently and discussed the enduring significance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," modern criticism of its use of racial stereotypes, and Stowe's own place in history.
Why was "Uncle Tom's Cabin" so popular?
I'm fascinated by the impact it had. It far outsold any previous American novels, and it was an international sensation. And it was dealing with a very unpopular theme, which was anti-slavery ... [Abolitionist] William Lloyd Garrison was once dragged through the streets of Boston by an angry mob -- this was a very unpopular movement. People wanted to let slavery alone.
But what Harriet Beecher Stowe did was bring [abolitionism] together [with] all these different strands of popular culture -- from religious and temperance writings, to women's writing and domestic literature, to adventure fiction and sensational fiction. She'd never written a novel [before], she'd only written short stories for magazines. But she brought all these elements together and did it in such a passionate, human way.
She said that God wrote the book. She felt that it came through her in a series of visions; she was a very religious person. I think it's just a very moving book, even to this day. Actually, when I taught it -- I don't usually cry over books myself, but when I taught it last fall, I realized just how much sincere personal anguish over slavery went into it, and it actually made me cry.

for the rest, keep reading here:

Monday, June 13, 2011

CAAP Grant

Picked up my grant package today at the Cultural Center, in the Grand Army of the Republic meeting room. Love it!
I am so so so happy Illinois hasn't defunded the arts, and thankful that our new mayor Rahm Emmanuel is a huge proponent for the arts--check out his wiki (he used to be a ballet dancer, little known fact of the former chief of staff, Mr. Sharp Elbows).
On NPR this morning there was more chatter about Kansas and the d-- a-- move to banish the state's arts council. The new plan is corporate sponsorship of the arts. Oh EM Gee. Okay, it might work for Mobil/Exxon and Masterpiece Theater, but really, how many corporations are going to care about the last native grass basket weaver on the prairie??
And I don't blame them, I'd gladly sponsor something where I knew I was going to get bang for my buck. Hence, the Cadillac Theater, Verizon Stadium, Target Amphitheater, the Shell Oil Company presents the Chicago Orchestra. Smaller dance companies, a photographer that captures the last vestiges of decay in urban landscapes (, and Louisa May Alcott up in her garret aren't likely to get covered. Artists taking risks, these are the people who will get left behind when states look to corporations for funding.

My 2 cents--which thankfully, did not get defunded.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'm Lying to You

I’m Lying to You  by Najeeb Asmin-Wolfe
  by  J. Hertenstein

  Is it possible to cross the line between writing fiction and living it?

At first I did it just to see. Not really a prank, more of a lark. What could it hurt? Certainly not my reputation already swimming in a sea of uncertainty. I mean who would really know. And, anyway, does it matter?
Call it frustration, the hard knocks of life bowling me over, utter rejection. Desperation. Or maybe I did want to transform myself, be someone other than the miserable person I was. The liar I turned out to be. 

my latest story in the spring 2012 Greensilk Journal 
n I was. The liar I turned out to be.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What's Good About Kansas

here's an article in its entirety from ArtInfo about Brownbeck the governor of Kansas defunding the state arts commission

BUT before you read it, let me explain the two grants I just received 1) from the Illinois Arts Council and the other 2) from the city of Chicago CAAP. These are grants for professional development. Not income, not a fellowship. Thus the monies granted from them has already been spent or will be spent on: 1) transportation, 2) housing 3) programming/conference staff. This all represents jobs. Along the way I also had to pay for food and souvenirs, etc. Again, I contributed to the economy in small part in T or C, New Mexico.
So please Mr. Brownbeck before you go cutting anything else, do the math.


Q&A With Henry Schwaller, Who Was Head Of The State's Recently Liquidated Arts Commission

Posted: 06/ 7/11 01:06 AM ET
Over Memorial Day Weekend, while most people were relaxing, Henry Schwaller was facing the reality of the assault on the arts in the United States. The chair of the Kansas Arts Commission found his agency in the crosshairs of Republican governor Sam Brownback, who employed his line-item veto to completely eliminate support for the arts in the upcoming state budget. The move made national headlines, not just for the dire affects that it will have on the arts in Kansas, but because Brownback publicly claimed to be setting an example for the rest of the nation.
On Friday, ARTINFO's Ben Davis talked to Schwaller about the background of the cuts, the governor's plans to replace state money with corporate cash, and the possible effects the liquidation of the Kansas Arts Commission on communities throughout the state. Minutes after the interview, Governor Brownback removed Schwaller from his post as chair of the now defunded agency, replacing him with Linda Weis, chair of the governor's newly created private-sector arts foundation (her letter of introduction can be found at the Kansas Arts Commission Web site).
According to Schwaller, staff were ordered by the governor's office to delete the commission's Twitter account, Facebook page, and other online content advocating for state support of the arts. Weis also canceled the June 16 open meeting of the commission that Schwaller speaks about below, saying that it did not have the governor's backing. However, a new Facebook page has already been established to continue advocating for arts in Kansas, dubbed Kansas Arts Movement.

You've called what happened the "Saturday morning massacre." Can you go over how you found out about the cut and the sequence of events that led up to it?
Let's start with the sequence of events and then we can go to that day. When the governor was inaugurated, he gave a "State of the State" address, indicating that because of budget concerns he would eliminate eight state agencies. This was in January. He then submitted a proposed budget to the state legislature, in which those eight state agencies were eliminated -- and one of those was the Kansas Arts Commission. But in that budget he also provided $200,000 in funding for a new entity called the Kansas Arts Foundation. The Kansas Arts Commission received $800,000 in funding in the current fiscal year, so that still represented a big change. Then, on February 7th, he signed what we call in Kansas an "executive reorganization order" that eliminated the Kansas Arts Commission and replaced it with the Foundation. Now, under Kansas law, either the state House or the Senate may override an executive reorganization order with a simple majority -- and the Kansas Senate did so on March 16th. Subsequently, in the process of creating a budget to present to the governor, both the House and the Senate agreed to fund the Kansas Arts Commission $689,000 for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1st, and they transmitted that budget to the governor.
So, at this juncture, we had heard rumors that the governor would absolutely, positively line-item veto us -- he has that power. But he was very coy. He wouldn't say. When he was approached by fellow Republicans, certainly donors, he would say, "Well, I just haven't made up my mind," or if it was a Republican who he knew was in favor of the arts, he would say, "Yes, I know you are a big supporter, thank you." He never really made any statement. Even his spokesperson said that the cut was something they were "considering." Then we received word last week that the governor would absolutely sign the budget with line-item vetoes last Friday, but this did not happen. So we were kind of confused -- and then on Saturday morning, I received an email from one of my board members that a newspaper was reporting that the governor had indeed line-item vetoed us. The reason it came as a surprise was that it really could have been done at any time. He chose Saturday for a reason. He chose the weekend because he knew it was a quiet time for the media. He also knew that most people would be thinking about either those who served our country or celebrating a three-day weekend with their loved ones. He has not had the guts to stand up and say this is my decision and I stand by it; he keeps kind of tap-dancing around it.
If you go the Kansas Arts Commission Web site, one of the first things you find is a set of pictures of you at something called the 2011 Governor's Arts Awards. How do you go from the Governor's Arts Awards to the Governor specifically targeting the arts with a line-item veto?
Well, that's an interesting thing. In fact, the Governor's Arts Awards have been a tradition for not quite 40 years. This incarnation, I don't know how long it's been around. But this particular governor was contacted when he was governor elect to ask if we could use his name for the Governor's Arts Awards, and to see if the date we chose, March 3rd, was convenient for him. His office never responded. They wouldn't approve the invitation, they wouldn't approve the date, and they wouldn't give us his name. He was invited. He sent no one, not even a lowly cabinet secretary. It was probably just as well, because the audience had a lot of fun without the governor there -- it was much more relaxed than if he had been present. Because there was a lot of tension. That was the day that the Senate considered and passed out of committee the resolution, so there were hundreds of people who had come from across the state to convince the Senate to support the arts, and we had been successful.
What is this Kansas Arts Foundation that he wants to replace the Commission with?
The governor created, through staff and friends, a private-sector, nonprofit foundation entitled the Kansas Arts Foundation. And the theory is that this group of citizens will raise corporate money that will be used to replace the state money that had been funding the arts. But there are a few problems. Number one, the foundation really hasn't got off the ground with much success. The governor has had difficulty finding 12 people to serve on his Foundation -- most arts people have avoided him, because they're not happy. Second, there has been some conflict with the National Endowment for the Arts. Originally, the governor said that his organization was just like Vermont's arts organization, which is a nonprofit. Since then, the executive director of the Vermont organization has said, "No, what you're doing is not at all like what we're doing." So, he had to keep changing his tune. The point is that he thought, falsely, that he could invent something that could replace state dollars and still receive matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

What has the public response been to the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission?

It's been overwhelmingly in support of the Commission. The folks that have been supportive of the governor have been few, with comments such as, "I don't want my taxes raised to pay for art." Or there was a comment from the state representative for Americans for Prosperity: "We all have different tastes, from Beethoven to 'Dogs Playing Poker' -- it's not for the state to decide." Now, I don't understand why we can't have both: I love Beethoven, I love "Dogs Playing Poker." The state has never decided what art is appropriate. We take money we receive from the state and the federal government, and we distribute it to 190 local arts organizations and artists for programming, arts education, professional development, and programs that are appropriate for their communities. We don't pick art and say this is what the state's art is. I believe very strongly that there is an incredible misunderstanding in the governor's office -- and in the governor's mind -- of what the arts mean for Kansas.
Are there some things that the Commission has sponsored in the past that are particularly notable?
Absolutely. We are the lead agency for Poetry Out Loud, and we have a really fantastic young woman in Topeka who has gone two years in a row to the finals in Washington, D.C. We sponsor Arts in Education programming that provides arts experience to young people, primarily grade school but really K through 12, throughout the state. For many, many young people this is their only experience with the visual or the performing arts or meeting an artist. We support operational funding for all local arts organization. This is not a lot of money -- some organizations get as little as $1,500. But that's what keeps tiny arts agencies in rural communities open. In addition, we provide really important training and programming for the administrators of these local arts organizations. We talk with them about how to put a budget together, how to put together a balance sheet, how to run a board meeting, how to pick board members, how to write a strategic plan. So, it's not just about money, although that is important. It's about getting everyone prepared to run a professional organization.
What are the immediate effects of the cuts? I know there has been a lot of talk about how rural arts programs are going to be hit. What's going to happen?
Well, on July 1st, 150 arts organization and 40 or 50 artists will not have a source of money. They will certainly have no outlet for professional development opportunities. So many of them are now scrambling to think about other places to turn -- maybe the city, maybe the county. But it's very difficult to make up those dollars. So I am sure that at some point these local arts organizations are going to have to think about staffing, that is, whether or not to maintain or reduce pay for staff. And certainly they will have to ask what programs will get cut. And probably it will be youth programs, young adult programs.
We know that there are about 4,000 nonprofit arts jobs in Kansas related to what we do. They generate $150 million in economic impact, and $15 million in revenue for the state. So this is going to be a slow, painful process.
And as for your own staff, there are five people affected?
There are five paid office workers. Their last day will be Friday, June 10th. They received layoff notices last month on May 10th -- before the legislature even passed a budget. We had two program directors, a communications officer, an individual serving as our financial officer, an interim executive director, and an office manager. Those folks are now unemployed.
Governor Brownback framed the ending of state arts funding as a "good trend." Obviously, you don't think it's good, but do you think that what happens in Kansas is going to affect the direction of arts policy nationally? Is it a trend?
You're right, I don't think it's good. But no, I don't think it is going to set policy across the country. Most legislators in other states, and most governors, know the value of federal money. They understand that every dollar they put into this program comes back to them, first from the federal government. And they also understand the economic impact of the arts. Certainly, two or three other states have flirted with this idea. But the overwhelming message that they received from voters in their states is "don't touch the arts." So I don't think this is going to set a national trend. It really follows up on Kansas's foray into not discussing evolution in science and discussing creationism, and it just keeps sending the message across the country -- in fact across the world -- "What's the matter with Kansas?" And that's sad to me.
The reason why the arts are important is not just the jobs, although that is part of it. It's also because the arts create a quality of life, particularly in rural communities. There's a small community in the southwest portion of the state, a tiny town near Dodge City, and its arts center is the community center. People go there -- little old ladies go there to paint watercolors, but they also go there on the holidays to wrap Christmas gifts for service members in Iraq or needy children, and they gather there for coffee and other things, and that's what the arts centers across Kansas do. They provide access to programs and a quality of life we wouldn't have otherwise. As I said before, for young people, the Arts Commission and our programs give them exposure to things they have never seen before and probably would not see, and give them an opportunity to think creatively and be innovative. These are people that could be very good employees in the future. And on top of all this, certainly there's the economic impact of the arts that I talked about before. It does raise money for the state. It's an industry, no different than aviation or agriculture.
What's next? Is there an opportunity to fight for the arts, or is it pretty much a done deal?
Well the legislature had "sine die," which is a Latin term for adjournment, on June 1. They need a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override the veto. Typically, only about half show up, and that's what happened this year. So there were not enough people present to override the veto. Consequently, beginning July 1, there is no funding for the arts in Kansas.
We are going to continue to work. Our board has a meeting on June 16. We're going to prepare a strategy for moving forward. It's going to difficult, there's no doubt about it. But in Kansas we're no strangers to difficulties. We just roll up our sleeves and keep working.
-Ben Davis, ARTINFO

Monday, June 6, 2011


I didn't mean Missouri--the Show Me state--I meant . . .

well you get the idea

We all have a lot to lose in this game of defund the arts. Every state has an art legacy built upon the shoulders of brave pioneers who went out there into uncharted territory and created. Whether it was Georgia O'Keefe from Sun Prairie, WI but who popularized the southwest to the pt that she is a painter from New Mexico, specifically northern New Mexico, to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings from Florida to Steinbeck who wrote about the canneries and migrant camps of Salinas Valley. These states CLAIM these artists. They are good for tourism as there are centers and historical parks dedicated to them now. Can these states really AFFORD to lose tourism dollars?

That's why it makes sense that my grant from the City of Chicago that I received over the weekend came in an envelope from the Office of Tourism--without culture, Chicago might not have a bean, the Art Institute and a thousand other cool things. They might only be left with Michigan Ave. posh shopping stores. Humpf--good luck with that.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I mean Missouri--not Nebraska
Missouri home to Mark Twain, T. S. Eliott, wasn't Marianne Moore, Kate Chopin from St. Louis. Tennessee Williams spent time there before relocating to New Orleans and NYC and Tennessee. Many great writers are from Missouri--home of the excellent Missouri Review which holds annually this contest:

Editors' Prize Contest

Jeffrey E. Smith
Editors' Prize in
Fiction, Essay and Poetry

Not Just Any Contest!
Select winning entries in the past have been reprinted in the Best American series
$5,000 Fiction | $5,000 Poetry | $5,000 Essay

As artists no one can afford to lose funding. I googled defunding and read a little bit of a tea party blog called Liberty, I think. Really, who cares. Anyway the blogger said that it would be fine by him if the governor defunded the arts council because that was big government and big government is bad. His argument was that the market should dictate who gets funded. I mean if people want to support theater then they should just go to that theater, spend their money there. If they want to read a certain book, then they should just buy it--why the heck FUND these artists through the state arts council. Maybe the "people" don't want or like that art--why should government be in the business of funding public murals, paying for sculpture on the lawn, or grant-match a non-profit theater.
Sounds good if all you care about is seeing Cats or reading Tom Clancey pulp fiction. 

Because the real cats and the real writers are all going to be in the alley experimenting with their art and trying to get it right. This by no means is meant to be a slam against commercial enterprises--it's just that they don't need the support.

By the way--thank you Illinois. I got my grant check in the mail yesterday. Please, please don't ever got away, IAC.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"I Hate Being Poor"

The March sisters (Little Women): "I hate being poor,"  sighed her sister, Meg, looking at her old dress.

Most of the time I am okay with being poor—I mean what else can I do? Like the March girls who imbued that hearty New England spirit, I embody Midwestern grit and determination, the make-do pioneer attitude. If it rains lemons then make lemonade. Lately what has descended upon me is discontent, a striving for something out there beyond my reach. There is something I want that I can’t get on my own.

Any close readers of this blog (all three of you) must by now know that I am restless for the next big thing. Maybe that’s why I keep applying for grants, residencies, scholarships even though I lack really great credentials. It’s a bit like what I blogged about a few entries back. Hope. You send it out there and see what flies home. Esperanza. A flitty, flighty thing is faith. You crack open the coconut to dig at the sweet flesh inside—it might satisfy or leave you only wanting more. That’s the problem with exotic fruit in these northerly climes.

Maybe that’s why I keep sending off stories. Not because they’re all that, but because I need to keep open the door to—   The Great Whatever.

Sometimes I think the only thing that will help is getting my book published. I have an agent who is peddling my manuscript. Yet I can’t keep from sliding into despondency. The market prognosis is so poor that I have less than a slight chance. As I wrote last time, I’ve placed 15 pieces (fiction and creative non-fiction) and made only $65. Why even Louisa May Alcott in her early career in the mid 1860s made more from selling her short stories than I’ve made 150 years later.

Who I really feel sorry for is Nebraska, who just defunded the arts in that state. Ha, the joke isn’t on those poor starving artists, like the March sisters they’ll make do. Nebraska the place of Willa Cather, O Pioneers!, John Neihardt and Black Elk. Mary Pipher, the famed writerly family therapist. My role models. No, the artists will continue, like their sod farmer great grandparents endured, but what about the people? The foreclosed, the unemployed, the meth users, those caught up in the poverty of their artless lives. Art, like the last carrier pigeon, just got shot down because no one had a clue, the foresight to see down the road and into the future.

So my prospects are not good. The future of publishing is looking bleak. So why bother, why do it?

Because of the intersection of head and heart, that senseless folly that says follow your instincts, and things will be all right. Because no matter what, you stayed true to who you are. Hope, taking wing.