Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Last night was a momentous occasion—and I neglected to get a new outfit for it. Nevertheless, we had a great time at this: Goreyesque.

As you can see from the details, my daughter, Grace Hertenstein, was a featured reader, reading her creepy short story (completely in the Goreyesque vein) “The New Arrival.” She was second to last before Joe Meno, whose work The Office Girl I loved.

Anyway the reading gala gave us free access to the exhibit, where coincidentally one of the first display cases I visited made mention of Gorey illustrating V.R. Lang’s memoirs.

The name rang a bell, but could it be . . . ? Bunny?

What triggered this question was the fact that Gorey in 1949 was at Harvard and was initiated into drama poetry—this was exactly what happened to Frank O’Hara, AND one his muses was Bunny Lang. He would often return to Cambridge to write and perform in the Poet’s Theater.

Gorey said of Poets’ Theater,

“I was connected with this thing called the Poets’ Theater of Cambridge while I was at Harvard and afterwards. I loved it. It was kind of a goofy amateur theater where we all did the very arty plays and so forth. It was great fun… It was the most fun I had in the early days because of the variety of people who were involved – faculty, faculty children, graduates, undergraduates, and strange people.”

From Banalization.blogspot: The Poets’ Theater performed in a small 50-seat theater on Palmer St. where the COOP Annex now stands in Cambridge. When the Palmer St. theater burned down in 1968, it temporarily halted The Poets’ Theater. It was resurrected twenty years later, but in the process the Poets’ theater lost its avant-garde edge since its revival was headed by Harvard’s faculty. In Gorey’s day, one of Poets’ Theater’s claims to fame was that it staged an early production of Dylan Thomas’s work. Gorey liked to call these theatricals “entertainments,” which is inline with his affinity for Edwardian language and visuals.

I’m not sure how Violet Ranney “Bunny” Lang became the glue for a wide assortment of creatives. The Harvard class of 1950 graduated a bumper crop of poets who went on to pretty much set the stage of American poetry in the latter part of the 20th century. John Ciardi, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Adrienne Rich, John Hawkes, Harold Brodkey, John Updike, George Plimpton, and Alison Lurie.

Again from Banalization: After his service Gorey began his studies at Harvard in 1946 at the age of twenty-one, though he was initially accepted into the school in 1943. He was part of the fabled class of 1950, the first to capitalize on the GI bill after World War Two. During that first post-war year Harvard’s student body ballooned in terms of sheer size, and also expanded in terms of social diversity. Though by no means a “multi-cultural” class in the way we think of that term today, the GI bill did allow many to attend Harvard who would otherwise never have had the financial wherewithal to do so. This was the case, for instance, for one of Gorey’s sophomore and junior year roommates, the poet Frank O’Hara. Gorey said of O’Hara: “We were giddy and aimless and wanting to have a good time and to be artists… we were just terribly intellectual and avant-garde and all that jazz.”

For O’Hara’s Try, Try, a play later included in O’Hara’s Hopwood award-winning manuscript, Gorey did the sets; the stars were John Ashbery and Bunny Lang.

I can’t believe she was that strong of a personality—I mean there were so many strong personalities—that I wonder what it was that made her stand out. I know O’Hara had a passion for witty repartee, snarky back and forth conversation that sometimes went on all night long. Also from what I’ve been able to glean (there seems to be so very little written about her) that she was supportive of the experimental arts—especially performance poetry. She paid attention.

From Alison Lurie’s memoir: People were addicted to her opinion of them; she seemed to stamp her followers with her own authenticity. “She was a special kind of woman--one who combined great literary talent with great organizational ability, driving energy and a gift for publicity.” She once wrote, directed and starred in her own play. Her “angry loyalty’ to friends and lovers helped, of course; the absolute social security of her background was perhaps even more important. “Bunny had grown up in a society so small and stable that to give someone's name was sufficient description. She was unique only in that she extended this rule to people from outside this society.” Apparently she came from money.

And costumes. As Alison Lurie marveled in her  memoir of Lang, “From the beginning Bunny was involved in every Poets’ Theatre show, as actress, director, writer, designer, and producer.” Not only that, because she never discarded something that could be worn, she had a curious collection of old clothes out of which entire poetic plays were spun. 
Whatever her influence, it faded like a meteor fairly quickly. She was dead by age 32 from cancer, Hodgkin’s disease in 1956.

In his Lunch Poems, “A Step Away From Them,” O’Hara writes of his friends Jackson Pollock, John Latouche, and Bunny Lang who have died, “Is the earth as full as life was full, of them?”

One more thing before I close—there is a Cape Cod connection with Edward Gorey. He had a house called Elephant House at 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port. The home currently serves as a museum celebrating the life and work of Edward Gorey. Not sure if I will get down there, but would love to see it when I go to Cape Cod next week.

REMEMBER: if by any chance you—both of my readers—feel compelled to send a donation of $20 to help with my travel expenses (I’m not biking, the woman laughed, “honey you couldn’t ride over that much sand”) e-mail me or leave a comment. I surely would appreciate it—and I’ll send you a FREE PDF of my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir. Thanks for considering

Friday, April 25, 2014

At The Right Place At The Right Time

A friend just posted at her blog (click here) about how she was recently rescued by her friends when the car she borrowed because her’s had suddenly stopped working got towed while picking up her daughter from school. I know, convoluted. But in a matter of ten minutes life got even more complicated,

Usually this happens to me when I have especially low blood-sugar and can no longer function rationally—that’s when crazy gets even crazier. Why is it that things decide to go haywire when I need to either eat or pee?

Anyway, Tammy blessed me with her blog by basically telling her readers I was a saint. Not really. So I wanted to pay it forward today also.

Wednesday I had to drive up to Winnetka to pick up some artwork for a show I will tell you about at the end of this blog post. Driving back at a relatively slow speed I hit what felt like the curb. It was that abrupt. Wham! But, what was likely a pothole. I swear I NEVER saw it. Right away the car did this far-rump, far-umph and I knew I’d blown the tire. Great. I had borrowed the car and was supposed to have it back in one hour.

I pulled off onto a side street and put on my emergency flashers. No sooner had I stopped than a construction worker ran across the street. “You’ve got a flat.” Yeah, I answered, upon which he said, “Pop your trunk.” I obeyed. In fact before I knew it the guy had pulled out the spare and was jacking the front right of the car up off the ground. He pulled off the bolts, gave the flat tire a kick and it let go and then he installed the spare. He was like the pit crew at a NASCAR race.

Ten minutes later I was good to-go. I tried to give him $20 (and felt cheap doing so because it was worth so much more to me), but he wouldn’t take it. Come’on I said, “Time is money. I took you away from your job.” I held out the $20 bill, but he still refused. “Consider it a good deed,” he said.

And I drove off. I never asked his name. I wondered what the protocol was. I was embarrassed about everything and not thinking clearly—as I’d postponed lunch and using the bathroom, thinking I’d be home soon enough.

Anyway, he blessed me. Really. There is no way I could have problem solved it that fast or that thoroughly. It would have taken me half an hour just to find where the spare was kept.

It has made me think of all the people in the right place at the right time. People simply following their instincts—or else resisting their instincts and acting counter-intuitively. I was in Winnetka picking up photos from a gallery for a show opening tomorrow at Wilson Abbey. Bob Rehak was a young graduate in the early 1970s just getting by. He was an emerging copy writer with an ad agency downtown and daily passed the Uptown neighborhood. From his L-train-car window he’d look out upon the blighted neighborhood and think, that place looks scary. But one day he decided to get off the train and descend the platform steps and began taking photographs. Well . . . the rest was magic. That day in 1973 was the beginning of a collection that would grow to 5,000 images by the time he left in 1977.

In August of 2013, Rehak started a photoblog ( and posted several of his Uptown photos, thinking they might help land his company some commercial work that involved gritty portraiture. Within a week, however, the Uptown photos went viral. Since then his site has received more than seven million hits. The interest led to the publication of his first book of photography Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s by Chicago’s Books Press.

About 17 of Bob’s photos will be on display at Everybody’s Coffee from April 26 – May 30. Opening Reception will take place Friday, May 2, 6 – 8 p.m. Please join us in celebrating a newly discovered treasure trove that will bring back many memories.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dune Shacks, Thalassa

Here is some information about the Dune Shacks in Cape Cod (see my previous post!). The shacks were originally built to house life-saving personnel or serve as shelter for shipwrecked seafarers. I believe there is a bit of the seafarer in me, one who has lost her way and needs a place of respite.

The structures were built in the 19th century and today there are only 18 left—most incorporated into the National Park Service, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. They are weather-beaten and storm battered. The boards like bleached bones. Airy, mice-ridden, more open to the elements than protecting from them. None has electricity, running water, or toilets. You come to commune with nature or find your muse amongst the sand or the saints who have gone on before.

Apparently the playwright Eugene O’Neill, who spent many summers there with his wife, Agnes Boulton. O’Neill wrote Anna Christie (1920) and The Hairy Ape (1921) while living in his shack.

My shack has a name: Thalassa, named after a goddess of the sea. The woman who currently “owns” the shack is Hazel Hawthorne Werner and, a longtime figure in the area of Provincetown. I can’t wait to say P-town and refer to Boston as Bean Town! Mrs. Werner first came to the dunes in the early twenties.
Thalassa is the smallest of the shacks maintained by the Peaked Hill Trust (since 2000) for one and two-week sojourns for artists. It was built in 1931 by the surfmen, and brothers, Louis and Frank “Spucky” Silva, who salvaged its windows from Eugene O’Neill’s life-saving station, gave it a front porch (now gone) and called it “Seagoin’. They sold it to Werner in 1936. Her guests included E. E. Cummings, Norman Mailer and Edmund Wilson.

I was inspired to write an application for an artist residency at the Dune Shacks in Cape Cod not because of all the authors who have written there, but from reading a monograph about Edward Hopper. Hopper began coming to the Cape in the early 1930s and after marrying his wife Jo, they rented and then built a cottage. Hopper spent nearly 40 of his 84 summers in Truro. His Cape paintings reinforced his basic themes of isolation, stripped down wide open spaces, figures turned away—overwhelmed by the surrounding landscape. Hopper loved the light on Cape Cod—it suffused every object, even a blade of grass, the side of a barn, offsetting shadows. The golden tones, the somber hues, the ever-changing water.

Snip from The New York Times:
“The light here has color,” said Rob DuToit, a landscape painter who has been living year-round in Truro since moving there from New York 22 years ago. “Blues are more blue, reds are more red. It’s similar to the south of France: the luminosity is so refractive; sea and sky mirror one another.”

Below are Cape Cod Morning, Cape Cod Afternoon, and Cape Cod Evening. Enjoy!
Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Afternoon

Edward Hopper Cape Cod Evening  If by any chance you—both of my readers—feel compelled to send a donation of $20 to help with my travel expenses (I’m not biking, the woman laughed, “honey you couldn’t ride over that much sand”) e-mail me or leave a comment. I surely would appreciate it—and I’ll send you a FREE PDF of my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir. Thanks for considering.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Psalm for the January Thaw by Luci Shaw

This Luci Shaw poem expresses how I felt on my bike ride--was it only TWO DAYS AGO that the ground was covered in snow and the wind whipping around me??

I was praying for an April thaw at the time

Psalm for the January Thaw

Luci Shaw

Blessed be God for thaw, for the clear drops
that fall, one by one, like clocks ticking, from
the icicles along the eaves. For shift and shrinkage,
including the soggy gray mess on the deck
like an abandoned mattress that has
lost its inner spring. For the gurgle
of gutters, for snow melting underfoot when I
step off the porch. For slush. For the glisten
on the sidewalk that only wets the foot sole
and doesn’t send me slithering. Everything
is alert to this melting, the slow flow of it,
the declaration of intent, the liquidation.
Glory be to God for changes. For bulbs
breaking the darkness with their green beaks.
For moles and moths and velvet green moss
waiting to fill the driveway cracks. For the way
the sun pierces the window minutes earlier each day.
For earthquakes and tectonic plates—earth’s bump
and grind—and new mountains pushing up
like teeth in a one-year-old. For melodrama—
lightning on the sky stage, and the burst of applause
that follows. Praise him for day and night, and light
switches by the door. For seasons, for cycles
and bicycles, for whales and waterspouts,
for watersheds and waterfalls and waking
and the letter W, for the waxing and waning
of weather so that we never get complacent. For all
the world, and for the way it twirls on its axis
like an exotic dancer. For the north pole and the
south pole and the equator and everything between.

From Image, issue 64, also can be found in her book Harvesting Fog

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I'm Back--part 2

So on my way back from the Festival of Faith and Writing I got a phone call.

But, first I have to tell you about coming back from Grand Rapids. If you read part one of this post, I’d alluded to my fragile sense of mortality. This past winter had snowed me, the cold wore me down. What I considered part of my mental and emotional psyche had been buried under what meteorologists were calling a mini-ice age. I felt like a giant ground sloth.

from Field Museum
So I cooked up a plan. I was going to ride my bike back from Grand Rapids to Chicago. Of course I came up with this idea back in the warmth of December. I did research and booked tickets on Greyhound because I could bring my boxed bike, re-assemble and be good to go. Sort of. I unpacked the bike at the GR bus station to discover I’d left the front wheel back in Chicago.

One snafu behind me. I had my husband UPS the wheel and borrowed a bike to get to the conference the first day. By day 2 and 3 I was using my own wheels, literally, to get around.

Always a moving part in the mix was weather. I saw models where everything from hail to thundery downpours were predicted. Highs in the 60s but considerable wind—from the wrong direction. Then I noticed there would be a significant dip in temperatures as the week progressed. Not sure how all this would impact the ride home.

Also I had no GPS. I printed out on paltry paper Google directions.

I never felt so vulnerable as I did on Sunday a.m. after thundery downpours to mount my bike and immediately tip over from the weight. I couldn’t even ride in a straight line there was so much shimmy in the front fork. I slowed down to cross potholes—and there were millions of them! I just knew any little thing and I was going to fall into a ditch with all the fresh roadkill and not be discovered until next spring. I rode sooo sllooww.

But, the weather held in there. I got about 60 miles down the road, using the Google directions that at one pt blew out of my front bag and into the street where I had to ride in a circle and lasso them. I didn’t make it to my projected campsite and stealth camped along Lake Michigan where by 5 pm an evil wind blew in off the lake in the form of thick fog and the temp dropped 25 degrees in 10 minutes. No joke.

That night I camped in gale force winds and freezing temperatures. I made it through warm and cozy and bundled up to ride the next day in my rain pants—only instead of rain, ice pellets came out of the sky. The wind was also an issue—from the wrong direction.

The second night I almost made it out of Michigan. Again I didn’t make it to my destination and stealth camped in some woods. I heated up a can of soup, brushed my teeth, got into longjohns and crawled into my sleeping bag. Eventually I fell asleep. Around the lunar eclipse I awoke and unzipped the tent to pee by a log I’d designated—and it was a winter wonderland. That shush shush sound was snow falling. It was as if the trees had shed feathers. It was beautiful, and oh so cold.

The next morning I thought it would burn off, but it was still there. Rare glimpses of blue sky had no effect on the snow and ice. The roadways were a flashpoint of slickness. I passed an elementary school where a digital read-out/red-out flashed 30̊. The wind—from the wrong direction—was off the lake. I felt like I was riding uphill wearing 6 sweaters. I was wearing 6 sweaters.

In Michigan City (in Indiana) I called it quits—or rather my husband called me to ask if I wanted to be picked up. I said yeah. Felt bad. But didn’t change my mind. He met me at a hot chocolate shop in an hour. What would have been 70 more miles for me—or another day of riding, through Gary and Hammond and what they refer to as East Chicago, or what we recognize as those tall mountains of landfill and refineries.

So I’m BACK and still alive and writing and reading and so excited about what comes next. As I mentioned I got a phone call while riding by that stormy grey/green lake with churning waves—the call was from Carol with the Peaked Hill Trust and my application for a residency at a Dune Shack in Cap Cod had been approved!

Once I thaw out I’m going to Cap Cod in mid-May to write in my very own Dune Shack

Watch this video.

If by any chance you—both of my readers—feel compelled to send a donation of $20 to help with my travel expenses (I’m not biking, the woman laughed, “honey you couldn’t ride over that much sand”) e-mail me or leave a comment. I surely would appreciate it—and I’ll send you a FREE PDF of my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir. Thanks for considering.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I'm Back!

I cannot begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to this writer’s conference after what seemed like a forever winter (ongoing?).

I kept checking the website at least once a week to see if new writers had been added as speakers. I signed up for the Festival newsletter and got updates. I read the recommended books—not all of them, but enough to tell you I loved Chris Beha’s Whatever Happened to Sophie Wilder. Please read this book—it is a mystery, not really, in a style that reminded me somewhat of Oscar Wilde (Pic of Dorian Grey). The mystery it turns out has to do more with incarnation and transmutation, about grace in the face of struggle.

I also needed this conference. I needed a piece of warmth in the midst of what felt like human coldness. It was a spark. A rekindling. What I hoped would be the start of spring.

Well . . . .

I’d been attending the FFW since 1994, twenty years. So I’ve gotten used to what to expect. The first person I ran into—and this is the kind of conference where it is possible to run into authors and actually say hi and have a quick conversation, in fact speakers often show up at other speakers sessions, oh the warmth, the new life springing!!—was poet Luci Shaw, who, and I don’t think I'm exaggerating, holds the cornerstone to this event. She is a stalwart presence. Yet I was still surprised that she was the first person I might run into. This was a very good sign of fresh air, what I’d been craving.

Later Luci would hit it out of the ballpark. At her session almost every seat was filled at the C-FAC. At the end of the hour I had to knock about a dozen people all over age 70 out of my way to get to the bookstore. We were ALL racing to buy her books. Within minutes, no joke, after picking up a copy of Adventure into Ascent (IVP) all her books were sold. I could have re-sold the copy in my hand, flipped it for more than I’d paid. The line for book signing stretched into next Sunday. Way to go, girl.

I sat in on Exclusion and Embrace Miroslav Volf, Scott Cairns, Marilyn Nelson (loved your necklace, girl!), Anne Lamott with her self-depreciating wit that empathizes with me, me in the upper deck, struggling to feel spring and sparks or a creative edge. Plus dozens more I’d never heard of, but was so glad I was finally finding out about. Right now my request queue at the Chicago Public Library is out of control.

There was the general conversation about: Are people still reading today? Huh, yeah. This is a conference, a particular group of attendees that have no qualms about reading, writing, and buying books. They find themselves in words. From words spring new life. Words made flesh. Words of bone and blood. Words that filled me up and pushed winter aside.

And mortality. And the all too frequent news that someone I know has died. It’s been that kind of winter—that tries the soul and makes us doubt. Am I still here?

I’ll be blogging more this week—because I’m BACK!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hidden Valley Ranch--still hidden

Memoirous is about memories. Memory-ish. Last week I taught a class in Winnetka, at OCWW (Off-Campus Writers Workshop. Not sure why campus, because we are definitely not on any campus.) I led a seminar on writing memoir. My abilities are of the –ous and –ish variety. A kind of instructing where I tie in life experience and what I think of as horse sense.

Reaching back in our mind for a memory, and from there building. One memory leading to another.

Preparing for the class I had a synapse flash of memory. It was triggered from reading the Collected Poems of Ron Padgett, a second-generation poet of the New York School (which was never a school—just as OCWW was never on a campus). There was a line hidden Valley Ranch and immediately I wanted to Google my memory banks. As a kid my family went two or three times to a horse farm in Kentucky—not even to the horse farm country of that state, closer I believe to the wasteland side, where nothing grows except commercial real estate. Hidden Valley was tucked in there somewhere.

Somewhere because even the vastness of the Internet cannot bring it up. There is no cyber footprint that I can find.

I still remember the sweatshirt my sister and I had from the ranch. A ranch of sorts. I seem to remember a concrete stables. I’m not sure what we did at the resort. There might have been a volleyball pitch and a playground with rusty playground equipment. The highlight was a guided horse ride. We were placed on sleepy dotering horses that probably dropped dead soon after the ride of old age. In the heat of a Kentucky afternoon we’d ride dusty trails with flies wasping around us. Later we’d take a dip in the pool.

It was a family-run operation, on a shoestring.

We probably had a kitchenette in our room in order to save money on meals. That’s how my family ran things. On a shoestring.

Later we’d trade up for vacations at Myrtle Beach S.C. and after that my parents (without kids) would travel out West, eventually doing a package trip to Europe, the kind where a group pulls in in a motor coach, snaps pictures, before re-boarding and going on to the next site. They loved it!

It’s hard to believe I can’t even re-visit the ranch on the Internet. I guess I’ll have to rely upon my memory. Images of rust and dust and horses long gone.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Order of the Universe

People can be so awful.
Nicolae Ceaușescu was awful.
I was horrified when I saw pictures of little AIDs babies crying in their beds,
rocking back and forth in their cribs,
infected and abandoned because of Ceaușescu and his repressive policies.
Then I felt sorry for Ceaușescu and Elena his wife when they were shot,
their bodies lined up for evidence on Christmas Day 1989.
Then later I hated all the ugly regime architecture that he wasted
million, trillions of leu building while his people starved.
But I was sure to visit the Palace when I was in Bucharest.
At the time I was checking out Casa Laura built for AIDs orphans,
but now empty. All the children had managed to grow into adulthood
and the ones still needing supervision because of disabilities were
finally placed with loving families.
I felt sad that the house was no longer needed, but
heartened that it had fulfilled its mission.
I felt bad about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hapsburgs,
and the assassination of the Archduke and his hat-wearing wife Sophie.
Yet the monarchy had to go so that a re-drawn modern Europe could emerge.
I celebrated when the Wall came down and Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia declared independence, except a few years later when conflict in the region resulted in
genocide, mass graves, and ethnic cleansing.
This year marks one hundred years since the Archduke’s touring car
made that fateful wrong turn.
All this to say, one thing has to happen so the next thing can take place—
and after that is over, comes something else.
People can be so awful, but just wait
things will change.