Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wilson Men's Club

Things I miss seeing in Uptown:

Rows of posters for upcoming concerts plastered along gray, grimy walls
Patients from Wilson Care spilling out in the morning in their pajamas to buy cigarettes
The lady in leotards standing at the corner with her boom box, jiggling defiantly
The escapee from Weiss Hospital with IV tubing poking out of his hand, his blue gown open in the back for all to see

Now add to that list:

The last of the old pay-by the night/week hotels that cater to the down-and-outers. This type of facility is by no stretch of the imagination a hotel or even a club, but offered a bed. I’ve never been inside the Wilson Men’s Club but I heard that men sleep in cages made of chicken wire. That is before there were improvements. Now I’ve heard there are walls—they just don’t go all the way down to the floor. Cubicles.

I suppose it’s strange to miss seeing these things. I mean shouldn’t I be glad it’s cleaner, safer (comparably). Sure! Uptown is getting an L station re-do; it now has a Target. I don’t want to go back to the 80s when landlord set fires and the cops were called every other night to break up street fights.

Yet there was something authentic to the diversity that made Uptown, Uptown.

Uptown has always had an eclectic mix of poor white, African Americans, and Native Americans. In 1952 the Bureau of Indian Affairs initiated its Relocation Program. Thousands of Native Americans—with Federal promises of relocation assistance and counseling—left reservations and moved to Chicago. Between 1950 and 1970, Chicago’s American Indian population grew from 775 to 6,575, according to census records. The largest concentration was in Uptown. By the 1980s, Uptown saw an increase of refugees escaping the killing fields of Cambodia or boat people from Vietnam. Southeast Asian immigrants settled on Argyle Street. African American and Latino populations also grew rapidly from 1960 to 1970, after being displaced because of gentrification in Old Town and Lincoln Park. Also beginning in the early 1960s, an influx of patients from state mental hospitals arrived in the neighborhood as the result of deinstitutionalization.

According to Area Chicago, an article by Alison Fisher entitled “The Battle for Uptown” “Reporters in the early 1970s boasted that Uptown’s diverse and ‘gutsy’ character might prove appealing to the young and trendy, following the march of gentrification along the northern lakefront.”

Gritty and gutsy are two adjectives that certainly define Uptown.

And since 1990 there has been a steady march of gentrification that is slowly eroding what makes Uptown, Uptown. From the July, 2002 issue of the Chicago Reporter, Uptown has lost 269 of its 652 Native American residents between 1990 and 2000, according to the census. Today white residents make up 42 percent of the population, up from 39 percent. There has been a rapid shift in condos and in the first 2 months of this year the average listing in Uptown was  $262,052, with the median sale $165,000. Though not as expensive as Lincoln Park, Lakeview, or neighboring Andersonville, according to a 2011 article in Chicago Real Estate Daily “Uptown sees decade’s biggest uptick in home prices.”

Jump to 2013:
This snippet from Area Chicago, article by Alison Fisher, “The Battle for Uptown.”

Uptown’s hotel buildings have long proven stubbornly resistant to forces of gentrification, functioning as flophouses or well-managed low-income housing run by nonprofits such as the Lakefront SRO Corporation, and for-profit affordable housing developers like Peter Holsten. Several buildings in the Flats stable are distressed properties (one of the major targets of the current Alderman, James Cappleman), with multiple building violations and reputations for crime, purchased by Michael for as little as 20 percent of the previous owner’s debt. To his credit, Michael is working with local housing organizations to discuss new options for the displaced residents of his buildings. Yet, if his current plans to purchase nine buildings in Uptown go forward, it will result in a net loss of hundreds of units for the poorest of the poor.
There is some irony to the fact that the swinging singles “Flats lifestyle” promoted by Michael mirrors the ideal promoted by the first developers of Uptown hotels, including the formerly glamorous Lawrence Apartment Hotel, now a mismanaged and decrepit property under consideration for Flats treatment. . . . .
Flats may herald the last era of “slum clearance” in Uptown and turn back the clock on 80 years of advocacy, agitation, and self-determination.

Good bye diversity. And, what ever happened to that lady in leotards at the corner of Sheridan and Wilson? She was out there rain or shine, in snow and blistering heat. And what about that guy who used to walk around dressed like a character out of Dickens with a dress coat, top hat, and cane who looked a little bit like Prince?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eyes on the Prize

Summer of 2011 I received a grant from the Illinois Arts council to attend a writer’s conference called A Room of Her Own (AROHO) at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
It was a very, very encouraging time. The group of women I met with in the afternoons gave me the confidence to go bold. The group was led by Mary Johnson author of An Unquenchable Thirst now out in paperback. Also in the group was Renny Golden whose latest poetry collection Blood Desert won the WILLA Literary Award by Women Writing the West.

One afternoon I sat in on a breakout session led by Kate Gale of Red Hen Press where she extolled us to go bold. What do you really want?

It’s not that no one has ever asked me that—just not lately.

One of the things I wrote down as a goal was : Win a prize.

So far in 2013 I’ve had 4 pieces accepted and been paid for 2 of them. In addition I’ve been shortlisted at The Red Line. Next month at OCWW I am schedule to teach a course on The Art of Writing Small (flash memoir) on March 14.

Without AROHO I don’t know if I would have moved forward, to go bold.

Right now is the time to register for A Room of Her Own. If you are looking for a supportive network and a conference just for women, please think of applying. They are really selective, so good luck. Oh yeah, the conference setting at Ghost Ranch is also truly inspiring—see some of my post from 2 years ago.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I've been shortlisted!!!

The Red Line: Writing for Citizens of the Global City

Please check out my story here at The Red Line an on-line journal for international writers and readers. A journal without borders.

And, oddly enough, their first call of submissions had to do with the theme: Borders.

And, oddly enough, your truly has been shortlisted. You cannot “vote” for me, but check out my story (Vigeland Park) here. Hint. 

It is about Norway, life, death, and the human condition, told in that wry way I have. *On a personal note I have been trying to place this story for over a year. I never lost faith that it would find its audience.

ALSO read the fabulous others on the list.

Designated Staircase Number Two by Sophie Monatte
The Gold Mountain by Jay Merill
The Odyssey of Marius Kolgar by Graeme Lottering
First Memories by Nena Callaghan
Fuel for the Fire by Geraldine Creed
Aubergine by Steve Thompson
Comment below and tell me what you think. I love being short!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Love & Obstacles

In reading Aleksander Hemon’s collection of short stories (linked?) Love & Obstacles I am at once struck by the similarities of his bio and the presumed narrator of his stories. It is also hard to write this review without unintentionally applying the weird angles with which Hemon comes to the English language; I keep wanting to write in choppy tourist-ese, a beguiling translation from an original language into what is English but without the usual syntax and adjectives a person who has spoken English all their life would never employ. I saved as a souvenir some tour notes a guide handed to me before I boarded a bus in Montenegro to go to Albania. My husband and I in a desperate attempt to get to Albania booked a tour from a kiosk along the beach promenade in Budva. “What do you mean you don’t want return ticket? No one stays in Albania!” We also declined the “adequate lunch” as we wanted to save a few Euros.

Hemon’s stories are a feast. But never too far behind the romperous stories of youth (“passing around a cigarette, discussing, as we were wont to, masturbation and ways to die”) is the soft-focus of The Siege of Sarajevo. Of the number of friends he writes about, all up to “mischiefs” doing what kids do: getting into trouble, messing around at construction sites, trying to derail trains, pestering girls, pleasing/displeasing parents—is the unasked question  (except in “American Commando” where Alma the interviewer asks . . .) Whatever happened to these guys? Dead, most/some/all of them from sniper/market bombings/casualties of war.

As someone who is mostly against war (whatever confusing hypocrisies that “mostly” entails) the Bosnian War (but what about the Croats, the Serbs you may ask!) whatever the war was called, a war for Independence or a war to Preserve the Union—as a pacifist American the conflict made no sense. And, later, traveling between Croatia and Montenegro, and the bits and pieces of the Yugoslav break-up, as an outsider I could discern no real difference. Except at the border. All these different passports, such colors, and everywhere the double-headed eagle.

In all his books Hemon has been able to ably convey that he is a Nowhere Man, a foreigner American, new to English yet a master of the language, an immigrant who knows us better than we know ourselves. He is a communicator, his stories hit us in both a place we recognize and know nothing about at all. Some call it the soul.

With his stories there is always a before with an unmentioned after. Yet it is out there, lingering in the shadows. His stories are thinly disguised memoir, where the “I” character is a stand-in for Hemon, in one form or another, or perhaps he is a stand-in for a story he’d heard or for a friend from that vanishing circle of friends. They are nostalgic in the fullest sense of that word, warm reminisces that hide the real truth, a fractured reality that wakes us up in the middle of a seductive paragraph.

So I checked the front matter. What? Why? Maybe like turning over a photograph to see if the figures are identified or the event possibly dated. The book was copyrighted 2009. And, for some reason (What? Why?) I thought these stories were likely written before the financial crash. Before life got hard and then real hard. Before we knew what was coming. Before we cut back on meat or started saving ridiculous things “just in case.” Before my parents died and before (as I read later) Hemon’s second daughter, only 1 years-old, passed away.

I enjoyed his stories very much, but cannot help imagining what they’d feel like without the war, without loss, or even the crash. They strike a cord that resounds with laughter in the face of grief, that despite hardship: now is all we have.

I highly recommend Love & Obstacles, and maybe start near the end with “American Commando” for his version of dissociation self-revelation.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Comet Watching

I woke up today to hear about a meteor hitting the earth. Actually somewhere in northern Russia. Why is it that they usually hit Siberia? Good thing, eh.

Anyway, I wasted the better part of this morning looking at YouTube clips of the bright streak in the sky and the sonic boom or “blast wave” that rocked nearby towns and blew out windows.

I’ve always been interested in nightsky phenomena. Is it good luck or bad luck to see a comet? I guess it depends on the society. Halley’s comet—the most predictable, coming every 75-76 years and the easiest to observe with the naked eye—throughout recorded history was either a sign the world was ending or a time of cyclic uniqueness. In his autobiography, published in 1909, Mark Twain wrote, “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley’s comet.” Twain died on 21 April 1910, the day following the comet’s closest sweep. The last time we had a visit from Halley’s was in 1986. I will not live to see it again.

Technically, I didn’t exactly see it in 1986 either.

I believe it was the springtime when we went out to view the comet. This was before Internet and live blogging. For amateurs such as ourselves we had to read the newspaper (remember those things) to figure out the optimum time to catch a glimpse. The best time was before dawn. So sometime in the middle of the night my friends and I decided to go comet hunting. We had to borrow a car and what we came up with was an old shortie school bus. Next we had to pool our change to come up with gas for the bus. Then we had to get out of the city, away from the light pollution.

Little did we know how far we’d have to go.

We drove I-55 past the Saturn rings of the suburbs and warehouses that ringed the city. Past the Des Plaines River, a geographic marker, which meant we were out of Cook County and past Joliet—but the sky was still twilight! We were running out of time looking for dark sky—soon it would be getting light. So we took the next exit.

The road was narrow and unlit, though in the distance we could see the ethereal glow of Chicago and a bright light on the horizon. As far as getting out of the city, we were definitely away from subdivisions. There was no a single house or person around. We kept driving over broken and then dirt roads. Finally we parked. It was now or never to see the comet.

We tramped over open ground and in the near-dark sighted a mound, more like a heap of dirt or slag, so we climbed up for what we supposed would be a better view. I lay down on the rough hillside next to my husband who wasn’t my husband then. We might have been engaged. Anyway, I imagined it being romantic, lying together watching a once-in-76-year event. We probably held hands. Slowly the sky lightened. We didn’t spy the comet at all, but came to realize we were sitting on a toxic waste dump right outside the Joliet Arsenal Plant.

We hurried to get back into the city before rush-hour traffic stopped us in our tracks. We were on Lake Shore Drive when we ran out of gas. Had we been paying attention to the gauge we might have noticed we were running low, but back then we were ALWAYS running on empty. Who was to say we wouldn’t make it back on fumes? All I can remember is sitting in the right lane with traffic building and cars honking, thinking we were going to get rear-ended at any minute. Just as a city tow truck pulled up to get us off the roadway, my husband and another guy returned with a plastic jug of gasoline for the tank.

We made it home, comet-less and possibly contaminated from rollicking around on an industrial Superfund site. A few years later the arsenal closed down and was turned back to prairie and Mike and I got married and had a baby girl with more or less all her limbs in tack and toes and fingers accounted for. And since Halley’s, other comets have come and gone. This memory of a crazy night out comet-watching is like a fuzzy, white streak against a fast and far receding past. It will not come again.

Run for the Health of It (and Raise $$ for a Worthy Cause)



The deadline to register for the Chicago Marathon is Monday, February 19th and usually it sells out in a couple of hours (I know crazy) but what's even crazier is that once it is sold out people will PAY ANYTHING to get a number and so they end up paying anywhere from $500 to $1000 for an entry number.

What we're hoping is that people will:
Step one, go to read it over and fill out the Team CCO 2013 Early Contact form, and we will contact you within 24 hours. Step two will be to sign-up for your individual Team CCO page on Step three will be for you, on February 19th at 12pm Central, to register yourself for the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Prior to the registration date, Team CCO will send you your own registration redemption code and unique URL. Step four is run, raise and be proud of the work you are doing!
Join TEAM CCO and receive these benefits that begin IMMEDIATELY:

—a redemption code when you register to run with TEAM CCO
—access to a unique URL that will help you with fund-raising and training goals
—the choice for a certified personal trainer that will help personalize diet and training
—all TEAM CCO runners can reserve dorm housing and save on hotel expenses (limited space available!)
—pre-race spaghetti dinner and post-race THANK YOU banquet
—drop off at starting line and van pick up at finish


Or CALL: 773-858-0497

We need as many runners as possible to commit to TEAM CCO. Registration is February 19th and always sells out quickly.
Let us know if we can support you in your dream to run the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon!

*Oh, and did we mention that you’ll feel good knowing you are fighting homelessness in Chicago?

2012 TEAM CCO pre-race @ dawn


Monday, February 11, 2013

One Year Hence

Lately I’ve taken to staying up late watching tsunami footage on YouTube. I’m sure there’s an explanation for this. It’s been almost 10 years since that infamous Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, and it’s been about 1 year since the passing of both my parents. What do these two separate events have to do with each other? Nothing, except loss, and trying to understand the universe. I sit in the dark, in my cave of sorrow, waiting for that fatal wave to wash over me.

And there is nothing I can do about it. Not a single thing can change what happened.

The carnage and broken lives left behind after the water receded is not quite the same as the betrayal I’ve encountered in the wake of Mom and Dad’s death. Yet here I am, asking myself why.

Just like a tsunami, I was caught unaware. I didn’t see it coming—just like those unsuspecting tourists gatheried on the beaches of Phuket in Thailand. They came out to see a phenomena, the bay suddenly emptied of water. They had no way of knowing. That a wall of water was bearing down on them—even when it was out there, a white crescent on the horizon. The people lining the shore had no historical context, no perspective on which to judge the height of the wave.

I had no idea my father had written me out of his will, a will that endowed 2 of his 4 children, with no explanation.

My father was not a man to hold grudges or keep a ledger. He loved us all equally. There was never in my mind a premonition of preference. I was struck, blind-sided, sucked out to sea.

So my grief is doubly bound. Not only are they gone, but I am left with flimsy pieces, unresolved questions tossed out upon unquiet waters.

Should I have been worried, ran, done something differently?

There are nights I go to bed and instead of praying, I whisper to the darkness—“Dad if you see me—why?

Is there any cosmic recompense, any karmic evening up? I am wondering.

At the end of one of the videos posted at YouTube a couple who had lost their only daughter wiped tears from their eyes. They were alive and she was dead. They accepted this truth. They’d decided to move on. There wasn’t anything else for them to do. Another couple endeavored to live life to the fullest—as if they were living for all those who’d died that day. I’d like to do that.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blizzard by James Schuyler

I think many of you, dear Reader(s) by now have figured out that I adore James Schuyler's poetry. For Christmas I got two copies of his Selected Poems--long story.


Tearing and tearing
ripped-up bits of paper, 
no, it's not paper
it's snow. Blown side-
ways in the wind,
coming in my window
wetting stacked books.
"Mr. Park called. He
can't come visiting
today." Of course not,
in this driving icy
weather. How I wish 
I were out in it! A
figure like an ex-
clamation point seen
through driving snow.

This was from Mr. Schuyler's Payne Whitney series--Payne Whitney being a psychiatric facility on the lower East Side of Manhattan. Reading this poem I feel claustrophobic, as if I'm locked in (as James probably was when he wrote this)--probably tearing up (as in tears running down his cheeks) wishing, so wishing for a visit from an old friend, but he understands. The weather is terrible.

Good luck Northeast.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Windy Corner

The Windy Corner

February rooftops on a Friday afternoon
Covered in snow and all-types of white
I sit and contemplate, looking out my office window
Watching wisps of smoke from the stacks
Bend and blow in the wind, the wind that
Shakes and rattles the panes, trying to get inside.
Christ Died for Our Sins. While beneath
Folks clutch their coat collar to their throat,
Traversing Sheridan and Wilson,
Fighting to get home.