Thursday, October 31, 2013

War of the Worlds or War of Words


Happy Halloween!

The world is celebrating 75 years of war. The radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by the Mercury Theater headlined by Orson Welles (adapted from H.G. Wells’s novel, a confusing bit of wells) is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

I bring this up at my blog Memoirous because of a documentary that was on the other night on public TV (American Experience). A number of people later reported after hearing the radio drama that they actually smelled the sulfur in the air, people reported witnessing bright lights, seeing ash on the wind. Fear took hold of their imaginations and caused them to physically react to what they thought was an invasion from Mars.

This is how memories can get blurred. We can be totally positive of something, that it happened a certain way. Of course, we take into account it is from our perspective, but the event we claim ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

Only to be told later that it wasn’t in that sequence, or that we have conflated it with something else, or that it didn’t happen to us, but to a cousin or our best friend. Even the most significant event can get mixed up—maybe because of its significance (indeed, the more emotionally charged something is, the easier it is to get skewed)—in the stewpot of our memory.

I remember asking my parents if they remembered listening to this broadcast. October 30, 1938 they would have been about 12 or 11 years old. Perfect! Though it doesn’t seem to me that age had anything to do with the listener’s gullibility. In fact, Dad related that his mom had been very scared. He didn’t mention if she’d gotten into a car and was trying to drive frantically away from any perceived danger. I don’t think they even had a car back then. They were pretty poor during the Depression down near Lexington, KY. Pop, my granddad worked for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. at the time.

I’m intrigued by how fear plays into our imaginations. Just like today, the media is shaping our perceptions. Government shutdown, Obamacare, or any other of the current news-cycle overload. Not that these things aren’t real. They are/were, but they affect us at all different levels, or maybe not at all in our daily lives. But because of 24/7 news outlets, the Internet, etc we are fed massive doses of news and sometimes we can get sick of it and because of it. Thus, 75 years hence, how we remember what’s happening today will likely be shaped by how much we let it affect us and our mentality.

Some people are going to remember being afraid and wanting to jump into their car in order to get away.

Another element to the public television documentary about the War of the Worlds 75 years since the Mercury Theater radio play was that they had black and white footage of interviews about the broadcast—from ACTORS. It was staged to look real. Pretty much what Orson Welles had done. He put one over on the public. The documentary was meant to do practically the same thing. Make the documentary seem more “real” by using a Ken Burns-style format.

Were they trying to trick us? Was Orson Welles trying to hoodwink a nation?

Who knows—the end-result is what people take-away. How they feel, how it made them feel.

So much on TV these days is presented as reality when actually it is all scripted. Sorry if I’m bursting anyone’s “Biggest Loser”/ “The Bachelor” bubble. The network will never go back to 1938 and being surprised again.

Thus, Orson Welles production was perhaps not the first use of, but an early example of “reality” entertainment for an audience. And, because of how REAL they staged the drama, the more it resonated.

This is something to keep in mind when writing fiction, even fantasy. Putting your reader there, making it tangible, helping them to smell the sulfur will make for a better read.





Monday, October 28, 2013

Cliff Dwellers


Beautiful fall-ish weather. The last two weekends I’ve been out on my bike—rambling not too far, but to entirely new places.

I especially love riding my bike through piles of crisp leaves—except I can’t ride through them without remembering something my sister said to me once long ago (I think we were both in high school) and I can’t think for the life of me what spurred her to think so bizarrely. We were on bikes riding down our street and it was fall and I said, I love riding my bike through piles of leaves! And she said in return: What if there is a baby in there?

I can’t remember what or how I answered her, because it was so random and illogical. Maybe I said something like, I’d feel pretty bad if I ran over a baby hidden in a pile of dead leaves. What I remember mostly is being very confused. So now, every fall, I ask myself that question, every time I ride through a pile of leaves.

So last weekend I went and toured Chicago Open House. My address, the building I live in is part of the tour in Uptown.

One of the places I stopped was The Cliff Dwellers. Atop the Symphony Center at 200 S. Michigan, the impressive lounge/salon hangs in the clouds—like a peregrine hawk resting on the ledge of a skyscraper—the lounge looks out over Lake Michigan and Buckingham Fountain, and, of course, the Bean.

Cliff Dwellers was founded by Hamlin Garland. I’ve read Hamlin Garland’s Main-Travelled Roads, a short story collection, and 2 books from his Middle Border Series, A Son of the Middle Border and A Daughter of the Middle Border. I was very impressed with Main-Travelled Roads and the author’s focus on stories from the period after the Civil War. We seldom ask ourself: what was life like after a massacre, after a huge upheaval, after a whole country has been rocked by division and war. Farmers came back to farms, husbands came back to wives. This from Wiki: Describing a young man gazing over a valley of hills and wheat in "The Return of the Private", Garland writes, "An observer might have said, "He is looking down upon his own grave". Garland was a prolific writer. Producing almost a book a year between 1891 and 1930, though he wrote until the late 30s.

Garland was friends with many artists of the period. His brother-in-law was Lorado Taft, the great sculptor. He started the private club as a sort of salon for fellow artists and creative thinkers of the day. From their website: Now, as then, it is a private club and functions as a non-profit organization for men and women either professionally engaged in, or who support, the fine arts and the performing arts.

Which led me to wonder: How do those professionally engaged in the arts today afford to join Cliff Dwellers? The Club offers a three-month trial membership for a one-time fee of $150. So for $50 a month one can enjoy conversation and ambiance—the rooftop deck is breathtaking—probably more for the summer.

Anyway, I think I should start a Free Content Club. So many writers and musicians and photographers are busy trying to build clients and followers and begin by offering free-content. It’s a lot like an internship. Where we tell ourself that it is only this one time and then “real life” will kick in.

I’m still trying to kick the free content habit.

So for one hour I got to bask in the Cliff Dweller and ate some peanuts at the bar and snapped photos from the rooftop terrace.

Our Club was named after the novel The Cliff Dwellers by Henry Blake Fuller. Fuller however refused to join the Club and does not appear to have used it after it was established.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

You, Me, all of Us



What we talk about
when we talk about
The Walking Dead.
Are we talking about
life without coffee?
Tea-colored skies, choked
with smoke and ash and residue.
Or are we talking about sleepless nights,
sleepless days, hell
no sleep at all?
Because there are no
days, only nights,
and we’re tired to death.
Tired of government
big, small, not at all.
Tired of media, talk radio,
Obamacare, who cares?
What we talk about
When we talk about
zombies, or the “other,”
the enemy, the devil,
the felon, the ex-con,
homeless, tramp, hobo,
homo, Roma, trans,
the teacher, the cop, the
man at the top, 
the Mexican, migrant
immigrant, ignorant, illegal,
alien, Martian, cosmonaut.
When we talk about
The Walking Dead
we’re usually talking about
Them.
You.
Me.
Us.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Because we'll never know


Because we don’t know the future (think: recent debt ceiling, sequestration, even the 2008 market crash) I’ve always thought that it is better just to go for it now.

Easy enough to write. Time and money are detracting factors. Even still, I’ve tried to take advantage of my good health and high energy level. That’s why this past April a friend and I hopped on Megabus with our bikes, boxed and in the bay beneath, and de-bused in Nashville in order to ride the Natchez Trace. A few weeks earlier sequestration put a pinch on our plans. Bathrooms along the route would not be open or every other would be open. No matter—all systems were go.

I’m so glad. Because we never know the future. There was no way I’d guess then that my riding partner of 10 years would make a sudden move to Minneapolis. (Her husband’s desire to devote himself full-time to getting his Bachelor’s degree necessitated this.)

The last few days of this autumn season have felt raw and rainy. Today, though there is no rain, it is blustery and cold. Of course I knew spring would move into summer, and summer fade into fall, yet on these overcast days it is a wonderful memory to re-visit my 400-mile bike trip.

Of time and money we spent very little. I’m so glad we went for it without letting gov’t shutdown and pressures from our jobs/schedules rob us of the opportunity.

So on these dark mornings, I’ve been reading trip journals from this website: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/

Now I might not agree with some of the commentary, but mostly the philosophy of the contributors is the same as mine: people who have decided life is short and the need to experience what’s left. I’ve been surprised by the number of entries from retirees on cross-country bike trips. (I thought college kids would predominate the list.) At times there are complaints about knees, hills, repairs and breakdowns, but these issues are minor compared to the photographs of wildflowers, a surprise deer walking through a campsite, a nice counter clerk at a convenience store, a road that follows a river, the feel of wind on your face as you fly downhill.

This is a blog about memories. How especially sweet are those memories of one-of-a-kind experiences. Whatever you do—be adventurous! You’ll never forget what happens next . . . because we don’t know the future.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Uptown for All


I appreciated this article by David Byrne of the “Talking Heads” (I put in quotes because does the Talking Heads still play?)= If the 1% stifles New York's creative talent, I'm out of here because I see the same thing happening in Chicago. There are very few affordable cities left in America for artists, both emerging and mid-career. (Though Byrne does acknowledge he is able to live in secure housing without being too worried about the cost.)

He writes about how many cities are thriving because of tourists. People who come and visit and then leave while residents struggle to live within the boundaries. Today many of the creators of a city’s creative energy are getting squeezed. Many are no longer able to afford or are re-thinking how much longer they can afford high rents.

Snip

Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.

Snip

 

Gone are the days in NYC when Robert Maplethorp and Andy Warhol (The Factory) could afford a warehouse loft. Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler lived in coldwater flats where there was a shower in the kitchen! You had to pull a curtain around you for privacy and to keep the floor from getting soaked.

 

O’Hara and his buddies cut corners on housing and food, but always had money in their pocket for the movies, for drinks at the Cedar Tavern. They went so frequently to the symphony and the ballet that they followed certain conductors or the career of certain dancers. (They might have slept with some of these dancers too.)

 

The hub of energy that is generated by a core group of artists can become historic, a legacy. They eventually get a plaque on the front of the building that is now a multi-million dollar condo.

 

Byrne asks: Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian?

 Is there room for all? The alderman of the ward I live in here in Chicago is dead set on seeing property rates go up. For the longest time Uptown has been a landing place for all kinds of people, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the whole city. That is changing. Especially with real estate going up and rentals going condo. The few studios and SROs (single-room occupancy) left are being bought up by a group of investors called Flats. They just bought the Lawrence House with the hopes of converting a building that once housed seniors and people with disabilities to hipster studios for people willing to shell out $800 ("starting at") per month. The building will be wired for WiFi! There will be a “bike-sharing” program out front. (I’ve written earlier about Divvy bikes.)

Great! I love hipsters, but this doesn’t always equate into arty. Most artists I know are barely making it. I’m afraid that in ten-year’s time Uptown is going to look like other trendy neighborhoods where the life has been wrung out of it. Replaced by boutiques! Fancy tea shops! Places to buy granite tile and flooring!

 

In an article by Will Doig at Salon.com the best places these days for artists to move to are Detroit and Cleveland where city services are so stretched that artists are able to burrow in and create enclaves without a lot of bureaucratic oversight. Without “planning.” Without designating a “district.”

Hopefully, the powers that be will let Uptown BE Uptown, in all its colors, economic classes, and unconformity.

 


Friday, October 4, 2013

Time in Fiction


When it is going to be fall?

The weather outside is a miasma of abnormally high temps and sweltering humidity and—excuse me!—it’s October!

This is the first autumn in five years that I haven’t been tied up working the Green City Farmer’s Market. A number of circumstances conspired where for one reason or another I ended up not getting hired.

A little bittersweet. I loved have weekends off, but have missed the customers and the smells. Especially now as it is apple time. I used to work a stall that was next to the Nordic Cheese guy who once it started getting frosty brought in his wife to crank up a propane fryer in order to fry cheese!

Another stall had HOT apple cider.

One time, after a dreary morning of very few customers (and the ones that dared come out in the rain were there for business and not pleasure; they ran from stall to stall and then quickly left) so I was sent on an errand to the Zullo’s stand for some hot from the fryer Zeppole.

So right now I’m missing the market—and the cold mornings.

***
Nothing new to report as far as acceptances. I continue to submit flashes, stories, and other manuscripts. Except this past Thursday at the last session with Fred Shafer at OCWW my story was awarded a WONDERFUL critique. I loved the thoughtful comments and how truly engaged the class was with an awfully long story (yet less than 7,000 words). I’m already missing Fred Shafer’s TIME IN FICTION class.

Autumn: A time for missing what used to be. A time for leaving (leafing).