Thursday, May 28, 2015

Belonging for Becoming

I’ve been following the career of Jean Vanier for nearly 35 years now. And, by career I mean mission. And by mission I mean sacrifice. Jean Vanier is an example of self-lessness.

Yet so many people have never heard of him. I guess this just proves my point.

As a couchsurfing host (I host about 10 – 15 internationals per month!) I always tell my French visitors—one of your countrymen is an inspiration to me—and they give me a funny French look. Who? Qui?

In the early 60s he did this incredible thing. He took people out of mental institutions—or asylums as they were referred to back then. Or more aptly prisons, because once in you didn’t get out. So Jean Vanier took one or two men out and asked how would they feel to come live with him? To live as brothers, not as able and disabled, but as peers? Before they said yes, he probably had to explain the house they would start out in needed some work. From a story I remember reading they didn’t have hot running water and the roof leaked. But together they fixed and mended: their spirits and souls. That first house became a movement eventually called L’Arche, named after the ark of the Old Testament that saved mankind/animal life from the rising waters.

Last week Vanier was awarded the Templeton Prize worth close to a million dollars.

From the Catholic News:
Vanier received a standing ovation from the congregation as he received the prize. After expressing his gratitude to all present he went on to speak about people with learning disabilities. They are often the most overlooked, the most ignored, the most humiliated people in our society, he said. In the past, disabilities have been seen as a punishment from God and often these people were hidden away in institutions.
"People who are not endowed with intellectual gifts have ... unique and marvelous gifts of the heart, and can open us to love in a special way," he said. "They are not crying out for advancement or knowledge or power, but simply for a personal relationship of love that will give them life and meaning."
In a world where teachers cheat and change test scores and were parents fight to make sure their children get into the right schools—here was someone saying it’s okay to be who you are. You are accepted for the person you are.

Not just accepted—but special:

Society is so divided, he said. "Let us meet across differences - intellectual, cultural, national, racial, religious and other differences. Then from this initial meeting we can begin to build community together. "Community is a place of belonging where each person can grow to become fully him or herself. It is belonging for becoming. We belong to each other so that each member can become more human, more loving, more open to others, particularly to those who are different, and finally more free."

Towards the end of the ceremony, a group from L'Arche came forward and laid a symbolic table for a feast and invited people with disabilities forward to join the party.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Strange Experience of Having My Memoir Turned Into a Movie

I really enjoyed reading this piece on-line at Vulture:

The Strange Experience of Having My Memoir Turned Into a Movie

I’m sure we’ve all fantasized about who would play us in the movie of our life. In a world of reality TV sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between reality and what is scripted. There are days when it all feels fake.

Now we all take poetic license even if we’re not poets. Same with memoir. As this blog states: what’s important is how we think it happened. I’ll be the first to admit that to make a good flash memoir I have to conflate events, narrow down the cast of characters. Often I nudge reality by giving it an arc. I end up with quasi fiction/quasi non-fiction. A blended remembering.

This same notion can be applied to film adaptation. That’s why most movies with novel titles usually have a disclaimer of sorts: based upon . . .

A Jane Austen movie is not a Jane Austen novel. Movies and books are not apples and oranges, more like apples and orangutans. More than anything: We want story.

Stephen Elliott discovered that his memoir The Adderall Diaries made a great manuscript and a good movie, but the two were not the same.

From the article:
In 1986, I was a 14-year-old runaway. I’d been sleeping on the streets for a year. I sneaked into the house my father was trying to sell and spent the night on an old couch, the only piece of furniture left. My father caught me in the morning, beat me, and shaved my head. After beating me and shaving me bald with clippers, he saw a cigarette burn on the windowsill and declared, “You deserve it.” That’s my memory. My father almost certainly has a different memory. In his memory, he didn’t shave my head; he gave me a haircut. In his interpretation, he was trying to sell this house, and he needed the money and to teach me a lesson.
The movie version is much simpler. In the movie, Stephen Elliott destroyed the house, broke holes through the plaster, burned the carpet, graffitied the walls. It’s possible the compression and removal of subtlety was necessary to fit a complicated story onto the screen. And art is subjective. But what was shown isn’t true.
I’m sure it was difficult to see twists and turns that were never there. That might the author seem more of a liar than a memoirist. But in this day and age of publishing, Elliott was lucky to get published. Doubly lucky—he also got a movie contract. Obviously he doesn’t have to teach freshman English anymore. He also got to see James Franco play his character. Hey, I’d take a film treatment of my life as long as Julia Roberts takes the role of Jane Hertenstein!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Traveler

Ever notice that the image you hold in your head doesn’t always align with reality. This is especially true of when traveling. You can do the research, buy the ticket—and then real life intervenes to bend the edges of your mental postcard.

Last fall I decided to take a friend up on her offer and booked a flight to Sweden. I planned a three-week vacation in the land of the midnight sun. In September. After the season, whatever that meant. I was soon to find out.

Before taking off I googled the top 10 tourist destinations of Sweden. I had a few days after visiting another friend in Gothenburg before meeting up with Lotta. I thought it might be fun to ride a bicycle along the Göta Canal, a World Heritage site. All I had to do was get to a little town named Sjötorp. Actually all I had to do was be able to say the name of that town. Which proved to be impossible.

It took something like 3 buses and each time I tried to tell the driver where I wanted to go the more embarrassed I got. Sheesh how was I ever going to navigate all by myself this göd-forsaken country with too many Os and too many dots over its Os? It was mid-afternoon as I alighted from my last bus in a puddle-filled street. It had been raining off and on all day. That was not part of the picture I had imagined. I tromped down to the metropolis city center, an  ice cream shop where there was virtually no one. The waitress/cashier/cook asked me who/what I was looking for. I told her I was there in shn—nops—to hire a bike and ride the famous canal. Her response was that it was past the season and there were no bikes.

I refused to take no for an answer. You see, I had it all planned out in my mind. I’d ride and it would be beautiful and sunny. She said to try the shop down the street and over the bridge.

Gracias. Not really, but I knew they must have a word for thank you. Not one I could pronounce, mind you, but a word that related how I felt at the time.

I walked over and indeed saw what looked to be one bike at a little convenience shop. A man, probably originally from India but who spoke perfect English told me he could rent me a bike. I told him I wanted to ride the entire canal and leave the bike at the end. I informed him that the tourist bureau had told me it was possible to do this. I might have read it at the Göta Canal website. Yes, he said, but it was past season. That pesky sentence.

Indeed it was really quiet where I was in the unpronounceable town. Most of the shops were locked and bolted, the shades pulled down. I was beginning to understand.

The kind man told me I would need so many kroner for the bike and then so much for the room because if I biked until 8 pm I would need to stay the night. The rate he quoted me sounded like college tuition. I burst into tears. It had already been a long day.

Suddenly his wife was there beside me telling me to take a deep breath.

Together they operated the Sjötorps Vandrarhem och Rum which I assumed was a bar. Come to find out that a vandrarhem is like a nicer hostel. The rate they quoted equaled about $36 US dollars. Okay. Gulp. Breathe. Drying tears. Yes. YES.

Within 30 minutes I was on the bike and pedaling beside the canal. Living the dream.

I watched the long slow Swedish sun dip and hang above the horizon for about as long as it took to ride 30 miles that evening. I slept in a nice soft, clean bed and when I woke up the owner told me which bus to take. I was ashamed to tell him my other problem.

The Euro credit card has a security chip in it while the American ones, the ones always getting hacked, do not. I couldn’t use my credit card on the bus to buy my ticket and the driver did not take cash. No problem. And, somehow he fixed it with the driver. I was able to board and go on to the next town I couldn’t pronounce where I met up with Lotta.

Because of this man and his wife I was able to hold together for a little longer a picture in my head. Really without a number of people like them my trip would have been over before it even began. Everyday there were small miracles that allowed me to travel. Not always did the picture in my head line up with the current situation, but I was getting better at navigating the margin of difference.

Thank you kind strangers.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Impromptu Parade for Dying Boy

 When I was five years old and we lived on Princewood Avenue I woke up one morning, looked out my window, and there was a parade. I saw cars decorated with streamers and shaving cream. The neighbor lady down the street sat on the hood of her husband’s car wearing a funny costume with feathers and scarves and bright lipstick. She waved as they drove slowly by. I recognized her daughter and another son from the upper grades at my school. The girl twirled a baton and the boy carried an instrument, possibly a shiny brass horn, in which he made terrible marching music. The family hound wore a bucket hat tied under his doggie chin; he high stepped to the beat. Bringing up the rear was their youngest son sitting on top of the back seat, waving from an open convertible. His face swollen from what my mother told me was the medication.

A few months later I learned he had passed away.

Just yesterday I programmed parade music on Pandora. I wanted to remember that impromptu parade for a sick boy.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

500th Post

I've been blogging since 2010 and just saw that I've written my 500th post. I began this blog to celebrate memories and to encourage others to use the flash method to get their own memories down on paper.

Thanks for the memories!

Stay tuned for more content (hopefully) and more prompts to get you writing.

ALSO, in the meanwhile check out two publications featuring recent work by ME!

A magazine called Writing for Peace took a fable-ish tale I wrote called Un Espiritu Libre about a bird and a monkey, inhabitants at a zoo, having an existential conversation. One believes he is incarcerated, the other one feels cared for--but what happens when the zookeeper fails to come one cold night??

Locution Magazine, where literature speaks many languages, liked my piece on The Italian Meet Up, where me and my husband in a fit of delusion try to speak Italian to humiliating results.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Soul Tells a Story

Sign up TODAY.

Writers or near-writers or those hoping to write, here is a workshop sure to conjure up inspiration.

Through conversation, reflection, and writing exercises, access the creativity that is uniquely yours. Explore the creative process and practice the craft of writing!
Vinita Hampton Wright is a book editor, author of fiction and nonfiction, and workshop presenter on topics of writing, editing, creative process, and spiritual practices.
This workshop is sponsored by The Mudroom, a collaborative blog based in Chicago. Saturday, June 20th. 9am to 3:30pm. $40. Register here:

HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE. And, please share if you live in Chicago or nearby!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ed & Hilde: Where the Streets Have No Name

I remember when this album came out. Like a powerhouse, it upended my life. I can’t even begin to translate the impact it had upon me. From that first strum of Edge’s guitar, from that very first note of the opening song “Where the Streets Have No Name” I am taken back to May 1987. I can’t remember any other album that was as anticipated as the new one from U2.

But lately, it has become another marker: I think of Ed & Hilde. Of the crowd I hung out with, of any of my friends, they were counting down the days until the release of Joshua Tree.

There used to be a Rose Records around the LBA (Lincoln, Belmont, Ashland) area about 2 miles from where we lived in Uptown. I say used to because I think it’s a mega-block Whole Foods now. Anyway, they stood in line to buy it. Maybe it was like one second after midnight. Remember those days?

There must have been other things as well on their mind. They were only a week or two at the most away from getting married. Her family was coming over from Norway and Ed’s would be traveling in from Michigan. But first they had to get this disc.

And, because they didn’t have a car and didn’t want to waste money on the bus, they decided to run home. Their CD player had 2 jacks, so they plugged in separate headphones and running beneath street lamps and down deserted streets, their breath foggy in the dim light, they listened to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Together they experienced the album that would revolutionize our early 20s.

Together they found what they were looking for. Happy Anniversary Ed & Hilde. 29 years and running strong.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Misty's Story

“I Don’t Have To Run Anymore” – Misty’s Story

My mother was a former nun. She left the convent to take care of my grandmother. All my life she has been a Christian woman, a great listener. She’s a very non-judgmental person. Every time I got in trouble she was there for me. To this day, she’s my best friend. My father worked two jobs. He provided for us and worked hard but he was an alcoholic. We didn’t see him much. My parents divorced when I was 5. As I got older, I wanted love and I went looking for it.

When I reached my teens I started to drink and smoke marijuana. I was looking for affection and attention. At fifteen I became pregnant and I dropped out of high school. After I had my baby, Carlos, I got work at a local grocery store and by 16 I had my own apartment. Rent was $300 a month back then. My aunt helped with babysitting.

I was 19 when I found out I was HIV positive. . . TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

Cornerstone Community Outreach, the shelter where I volunteer, is experiencing a gap in finances (the amount of time between expenditures and when the city promises to reimburse).

We could use your help:
 1) go to and enter your email address in the box to receive CCO's most recent eLetter. 2) Forward to friends and family, letting them know about this opportunity to participate in this amazingly creative and effective outreach to at-risk women, children, families in Chicago. 3) Also, participate yourself. Cornerstone Community Outreach could use $ome participation this month. Thanks.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Come Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day!


May 2, is Independent Bookstore Day.

There are book giveaways and raffles held throughout the day PLUS each store will be able to start 10 people collecting an exclusive story written by Stuart Dybek and illustrated by Dmitry Samarov. This story is limited to 120 copies total.

Open Books River North:
  • 1 pm- Book signing and cheesecake samples with Jo A. Kaucher (author of THE NEW CHICAGO DINER COOKBOOK) and Micky Hornick of The Chicago Diner
Powell's Bookstore University Village:
  • 12 pm- In-store reading with Blue Balliett in celebration of her new book, PIECES AND PLAYERS
  • 7 pm- In-store reading with Audrey Niffenegger
Women and Children First:
  • 10:30 am- Storytime with Miss Linda
  • Specially baked samples from Mindy Segal's new book COOKIE LOVE
  • Signed copies of Aleksandar Hemon's new novel ZOMBIE WARS
Women & Children First in Andersonville!
Unabridged Bookstore:
  • 12 pm- Book signing and pie samples with Paula Haney, author of THE HOOSIER MAMA BOOK OF PIE and owner of Hoosier Mama Pie Company
  • Signed copies of Aleksander Hemon's new novel ZOMBIE WARS
  • Staff baked samples from Mindy Segal's new book COOKIE LOVE
  • Cornucopia of raffles including a collection of staff favorites, signed books from Other Press, a bundle of fun from Chronicle Books and HarperCollins selections
  • Special display of Ed's 135 favorite books from 35 years of Unabridged (10% off!)
Sandmeyer's Bookstore:
  • 11 am- Meet Beth Finke, author of HANNI & BETH: SAFE & SOUND, and her seeing eye dog and learn how they work together.
The Book Cellar:
  • 10:30 am- 1pm- Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar with celebrity bartenders Sam Irby and David MacLean
  • Cake and more cake!
  • Signed copies of Aleksander Hemon's new novel ZOMBIE WARS
  • 7 pm- reading with Columbia College graduate students
  • Raffle every hour on the hour
Roscoe Books:
  • 11 am- Storytime hosted by local author Tim Sheridan
City Lit:
  • 10:30 am- Storytime
  • 5 pm- reading with Curbside Splendor authors Halle Butler, James Tadd Adcox and Chris Bower
  • Bookseller baked samples from Mindy Segal's new book COOKIE LOVE
57th Street:
  • 11am- Books about Books - A Themed Storytime with Dominique!
  • A sampling of free treats from our neighbor cafe Z&H
  • Signed copies of brand new books by Blue Balliett, Liesl Shurtliff, Kate Hannigan & more
  • Book scavenger hunt for kids (and adults!)
  • Make your own bookmark table
  • Raffles all day from Obvious State, HarperCollins & more
  • Bookseller-baked cookies
Seminary Co-op:
  • Free coffee from our neighbor cafe, Plein Air
  • Signed copies of 2014 Man Booker Prize-winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Amit Chaudhuri's Odysseus Abroad & Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen
  • Schroedinger's Cat is Missing: Find Unemployed Philosopher's Guild finger puppets hidden throughout the store to win prizes!
  • Bookseller-baked cookies
Uncharted Books:
  • 3pm- Treats from Rachel Adams of
  • 6pm- readings from Poems While You Wait
  • 7pm- Nathan Rabin reading from YOU DON'T KNOW ME BUT YOU DON'T LIKE ME
  • Raffle every hour on the hour