Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blood Moon

I awoke Monday morning to a Blood Moon.

Actually I went to bed Sunday night beneath the gaze of a blood moon. But it was Monday morning when I checked on-line to see all the beautiful pictures from my friends at Facebook recording the Blood Moon. Literally friends from all over the world were posting.

I love the idea that we can all share in this phenomena as it will be 33 years before it comes again. I'm not going to say how old I'll be then, but for me it might not come again.

Beautiful. Dirty orange. Tattered clouds obscuring. Friends on a rooftop. Dogs barking. Children allowed to stay up late. Sharing a moment.
from Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Genius

Congratulations to Ta-Nehisi or as I blogged only last week about this writer--the man--who has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award which carries with it a huge cash prize.

I remember when I first heard him speak at an AWP panel. (And, lets be honest, his body of work is not overwhelming. He has not written a novel and had at the time a published memoir The Beautiful Struggle). But it was his non-fiction, his essays, his opinion pieces that spoke the loudest. Not like Trump loud, but a methodical common-sensical deliberate straightforward plain talk journalism that brought many more people into the "conversation." His writing goes beyond the echo chambers, the news media chatter, and the polarized position points that we've all become accustomed to.


In the article link above about the award the committee in fact cited his unique blend of "personal reflection and historical scholarship" about race relations in the US. The foundation highlighted his 2014 essay, The Case for Reparations, which it said "prompted a national conversation" about the treatment of black Americans.

Congratulations to a young man who deserves this award for his work and also representing under-reported views in the media. Thank you. You're the man.

Friday, September 25, 2015

City of Tomorrow

 I tune in to the three or four PBS channels we get automatically. There’s nothing on any other channels I’m generally interested in, so the last couple of nights I watched the 2-parter on Walt Disney. Such a sad/happy man who loved children/money/legacy. Yet certainly a visionary. It’s hard to imagine another country at the time who could have produced a Disney except a post-war America.

That being said, I’m not sure Disney had it right with his City of Tomorrow.

How does one go from flying teacups to Epcot, Ford and GE headquartered next to each other. It’s not surprising that corporations didn’t share his vision of utopia. The only place you might see clusters of corporate headquarters might be some offshore island. Remember when Walgreens threatened to leave Illinois and relocate overseas because they were done paying taxes? Epcot: concentric circles of progress, connected by a mono-rail. Not if the Republicans have anything to say about it, they’re constantly threatening to defund highspeed rail.

In this polarized nation of today is there room for a City of Tomorrow? Or would we all just turn on each other with ray-guns or legalized handguns or the Bushmaster .223 with a 30-round magazine.

The City of Tomorrow has to be able to tackle global warming, the disappearing middleclass, and lack of manufacturing jobs. Why does the City of Tomorrow seem so yesterday? Because Disney was in fact looking backwards as he designed his city. It was after a visit to his hometown of Marceline, Missouri (before the family lost their farm) that he began to form ideas for a futuristic “modern” city.

Modern based upon . . . what?

But Walt was slowly dying by this time, unable to catch a deep breath. Eventually “EPCOT: A SHOWCASE TO THE WORLD OF AMERICAN FREE ENTERPRISE” was scaled back. Now it’s just a corporate theme park.

Which is a little scary.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Facebook Memories

It’s always something new at Facebook—except a button to change things back to where they were.

Lately they’ve added a new feature. Facebook memories. Borrowing from your own timeline, Facebook will post something from your past. The first couple of times I smiled. The memory was precious.

But the last couple have been painful, which got me thinking. What about the couple who has now split? Or the accidental death of a loved one? Or any number of scenarios where the past thrown back at us brings heartache.

I’m sure I can google and find out how to turn this feature off. I can go to Facebook support and under a pull down menu select what my problem is and then receive an automatic response saying they have received my message, and it is in the queue. Whereupon I receive another message asking how that response was. If my problem has been resolved.

No, and no, and no.

Sometimes there is no resolution to hard memories. They continue to haunt us, make their way back to the forefront of our mind. There is no escape from Facebook and Facebook memories.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Hair Cut

I don’t have very good luck with salon cuts. Probably if I were more decisive or picky it might help the haridresser. Instead I go in and serendipitously say do something. I don’t go very often.

But I had this Groupon for a cut and color.

The experience reinforced the impression that I am an old lady. I showed her a picture and gave her what I thought was a good verbal description: short and sporty.

She kept showing me Pinterest pics of models with hairdos that require blow drying, gels, and a live-in stylist.

She conferred with her colleagues and came back with pretty much the same hair style. It was someone I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to say it any plainer. Short and sporty.

I should have said, Let’s forget this. But I was starting to feel like I might be wrong and just wanted to go with the flow. Again, this isn’t how a customer should feel. I was reminded of when I went shopping for my wedding dress with someone who had good taste and strong opinions. She kept pushing me to go punk when I kept thinking English Tea Garden. Finally I just gave in and bought a dress that she suggested, something that reminded me of the female vocalist in Cowboy Junkies. Not me.

Thank God I returned it.

She wetted it and pinned it up in several places and took two snips. “What do you think?”

Uh, I thought you’re going to keep going, right? She had the picture right in front of her.

Anyway, this kept up for over an hour. She’d hesitantly make an incision and ask me what I thought. Finally, I said, You have to stop with the questions. Can you make it look like the picture? By the way, she was NOT in training. Though I wondered if because I had a Groupon they might have assigned me someone new, someone needing to build up her own list of clients.

What was killing me was the abortive effort—combing out a clump, pulling it toward her scissors and then letting it drop, and then repeating this motion without making a cut. After two or three tries she’d finally do something, only to do the same thing all over again. At a certain point I wanted to snatch the scissors out of her hands and ask, Can I just finish up here?

After 90 minutes she asked if I needed another tea, more water? My blood sugar had dropped. What I really needed was a sandwich. How close are we to being done?

She seemed hurt. I can go get my manager. Yes, I thought, maybe she could finish me off. They conferenced in a corner. Then it hit me. She’s crying. She’s likely complaining about the bitch in the chair whom she just can’t please. I get it. I stood up and pulled the cape off.

But do you love it? she begged. She followed me to the front desk,asking over and over, if I loved it. I realized I had to make her happy. So I lied. YES!

It was the most unfeminist thing ever. And, I hated myself for it. I caved in like I used to, used to with my parents, teachers, the wedding shopper. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. But first she told me, if I didn’t like it I could always come back.

Like never.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Year Ago

A year ago I was in Sweden. It’s hard to say what I was doing exactly—it was such an amazing trip. Catching up with old friends, tea on a hillside overlooking a ruined monastery, picnics by big glacial lakes, swimming in those cold, cold lakes, biking, hiking, and those long incredible breakfasts.

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal and the morning smorgasbord in Sweden hits all the high notes. A thick creamy yoghurt, Wasa crisp bread, and thin slices of cheese.

Every day the sky was a miracle of bright blue. I think I have Swedish blood running through me. The way the sun moved and moved me, the way it hung and stayed up there for way past what would have been sunset for me back home. There are moments here where the sun is suspended and sends a golden glow over the landscape and my pulse quickens: Sweden!

I went “after the season” which I’m not quite sure what that means as the temperatures were moderate. I’d ride my bike all day soaking up the sunshine without burning, but tanning instead. The few days of rain only made me love the country more—once as I sat under an awning eating a snack at an old Roman ruin (I know, crazy how those Romans got around). I stayed dry contemplating a statue in the corner of the mother and child while eating some sweet bread from a konditori: KONDITORI (noun) \Khan- da- tor- ree\:
1: Traditional Swedish gathering place to enjoy friends over great coffee, fine     baked goods and confections.
2: Where one goes for a coffee break

I was able to relax and let go before coming home.

Perhaps a year ago I was cycling Gotland island. Riding across the pastoral landscape, checking into a hostel at the tip and taking a ferry to Faro where that evening I sat in a candlelit church and listened to a gospel choir and toured the Bergman Center. The next day I cycled past several old churches that served the fishing communities that once made up Gotland. I sat on the steps of such a church waiting for my hosts to come back from a scout meeting. Yes, it had been a rainy day and the sky was getting darker, but with lights on the bike I followed their car down a gravel land to the farm house at the end.

I miss the feeling most of all. Sweden felt safe and do-able for a solo female traveler. The world was mine. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I'm Lying to You

Remember the old days? Before the internet—I used to read physical books. Read poems that shook me to the core. I’d go to the back of the anthology and read the 2 – 3 line bio and if possible there might be an entry for them in the World Book Encyclopedia. Maybe not, if they weren’t white or mainstream.

Of course I didn’t need to know someone’s gender (Evelyn Waugh is a guy? S.E. Hinton is a woman?), or their orientation (hello! Go Tell It On the Mountain James Baldwin), or if they were black or white. Countee Cullen was REALLY confusing. I got the work though.

Once riding in old Baltimore,
    Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
    Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
    And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
    His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
    From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
    That's all that I remember.
-"Incident" by Countee Cullen

Growing up I often felt like an outsider, so these words resonated with me regardless if Countee was a boy and not a girl, regardless if he was black, which he was, or gay, yup. I read blind.

Which brings me to this headline: Sherman Alexie picks White Man’s Poem for Best

Actually it’s more complicated than that. More like: White man uses pen name Yi-Fen Chou to get published.

I love the idea of persona, embracing an alter ego to write or adopting a pen name. Deceit is another story. Further complicated by this: Family Protests White Poet’s Use of Chinese Pen Name

The family of a woman named Yi-Fen Chou, who attended the same high school in Fort Wayne, Ind., as Mr. Hudson, has stepped forward, demanding that he immediately stop using it. “I’m just aghast,”  Ellen Y. Chou, the sister of Yi-Fen Chou, said in an interview. Mr. Hudson’s use of the name, she added, showed a “lack of honesty” and “careless disregard for Chinese people and for Asians.”
So . . . some white dude ripped off a woman’s name, a woman of Chinese descent, appropriated her name for a contest which won him best of the best in the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry.

This reminds me of a story I wrote, no, really, I wrote it, that appeared a few years ago in Greensilk Journal called I’m Lying to You by Najeeb Asim-Wolfe.

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. After a year of submitting stories to various journals I was ready to call it quits. I sat in front of my monitor and rubbed my hands vigorously over my face, maybe hoping to pull my eyes out. What was I thinking—that I could make it as a writer? I hadn’t exactly gone out on a limb i.e. quit my job or taken out an additional loan—Thank God! I was already in hock, debt up to my ears—though I did cut back on my hours at work in order to write every morning. What was I thinking! I stupidly told my friends that I was doing it, the BIG PUSH, come hell or high water (Aren’t these clichés?). I’d either make it or not. Not.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Writing: A Set-up for Failure

Remember the old days? Before the internet—I used to read physical books. Now, of course, you can find it all on-line. I just watched a video this a.m. of Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about his writing process. I’ve got to admit he’s the man. If there is anything out there written by him, I read it because he’s the real deal.

He said writing is about failure.

Pretty much failure after failure, like one word after another. You write one crappy thing and then come back and fix it and then see other things that got to be fixed. Like a Whack a Mole. Writing is basically getting started and then changing it and seeing where you need research, where you need to pull it together. Relax and make mistakes.

I write about this in Freeze Frame and 365 Affirmations forthe Writer. Montaigne called his style of writing “essay,” meaning attempts. Listen, you don’t have anything to prove. Just try to write that memory from your point of view; you don’t have to have all the answers or photographic recall. It’s about reflection, revealing one facet and leaving the rest for some other time. How the new hat felt, the way your sister made you always pull the sled, that first Easter after Mom’s cancer treatments that were only meant to prolong her life 3 - 4 months, moonlight on the back patio, your first bite of key lime pie, meeting the love of your life for the very first time—and perhaps letting them go.

Try. Then try some more.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Humanity Washed Ashore

Continuing on themes of the 21st century—has anyone else thought about the irony:

Trainloads of humanity stuffed into railway cars trying desperately to get INTO Germany.
 Let this be a lesson to the 20th century self who thought people can’t change, that countries are evil, that the world is hopeless. I’m sure it felt that way 100 years ago in the trenches and 70 years ago in the camps.

Forgiveness is never cheap or easy.

But here is a nation leading other nations to open their borders and accept others not like them but like them in so many other ways.

Humanity washed ashore. I don’t need to post the picture of the little 3-yr old boy face down in the surf, on the coast of Turkey to tell you all of our hearts have to change.

After Kristallnacht German Jews were desperate to get out, to flee what might not at first seemed like a crisis. No one ever thought it was going to get too bad. They weren’t at first asylum-seekers, but they knew that something was coming, a dark tide, that would overwhelm them if they stayed. And, that only became so much clearer as the Third Reich continued with their anti-Semitic policies.

And countries such as the US and elsewhere had quotas, only allowing so many Jews to enter. History now tells us, we should have done more.

Will we reach out to those fleeing Syria, who have seen their government turn on them and then radicals overrun their cities. They are fleeing catastrophe. Or will we wait for the pages of time to tell us how late we were, how short-sighted, how we lacked imagination—for the terror that may befall a nation, a generation?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Couchsurfing in the 21st Century

I have been a proud Couchsurfing host since 2007. 

making moussaka with y very FIRST couchsurfer
Couchsurfing is where you stay with total strangers using the Couchsurfing website in order to connect on-line, matching hosts to travelers.

I probably host 20 surfers a month, but that is nothing compared to the requests I receive daily. I tack it up to living in a world-class city, but also there just aren’t too many reliable and willing hosts. In the cosmic balance of things there are way more travelers than those offering a couch.

Why do I do this—when of course it takes up a LOT of time. 1) reading the requests 2) responding to the requests 3) then the actual hosting? Because I love to meet people. Not always, and especially not when their train, plane, bus is late and I have to get up early the next day. But, because I have a memory of traveling and wishing I could get inside a culture.

There was a time (and probably still is) when I wanted to go and live in Italy. To change my country, to change my life. To be someone else.

At none of the ex-pat websites was I able to find people who wanted to adopt a 40ish-year old woman with meager savings.

But I did discover Couchsurfing and because I didn’t have plans at that moment to travel I decided the next best thing was for me to host. And that was the beginning of a never-ending parade of guests from everywhere.

Really, everywhere. Little islands in the Pacific. Small towns in the south of France where the village school only has about 20 students. We met a man from Iran here on a student visa studying engineering who carried a dream of writing a story in English. He inspired me. We’ve hosted different kinds of family traveling with their children to explore other ways to do things. I can say that I have fallen in love and wanted to adopt a good many of my surfers.

We even stay in contact to this day. Are Facebook friends. Have visited one another since that initial visit. This is what couchsurfing to me is all about.

I have also learned to take the bad along with the good, knowing the cosmic reality and acknowledging the disproportionate balance of things.

Lately though I have been getting an overwhelming number of requests from people without a profile, who don’t even phrase a request in such a way that they acknowledge that they are asking you a favor. They think it is an app like Uber and are dialing me up to stay in my house. Sometimes hours before they actually arrive in the city.

This is scary. Like I would automatically take in a complete stranger without references. Yeah, sometimes, but always they have to be able to communicate via their request and tell me in a completely filled-out profile who they are. The question is: Why aren’t people doing this?

I have a form response I send back explaining how—and they still write me that they CAN’T—“can you help me with this?” And, I think, have you NEVER filled out an application for a job, school, fellowship, on-line dating. Do you not update your status on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Tinder. It’s hard to image in this digital age that there isn’t something out there that even in a pinch they can snatch and grab and paste.

What really is freaking me out is the number of women, young, naïve, pretty who say they don’t care if it is a bed or space on the floor they are so desperate for a free place and I am worried for their safety. Is a free place to stay worth the risk of staying just about anywhere??? I am not going into detail because the stories and facts belong to the individuals—but I get urgent requests from women who have gotten themselves unwittingly into danger. I tell them to leave IMMEDIATELY. Do not base your actions upon if I have a place for you. Always get out of danger.

The question I really want to ask—is even if you think it is an app, does that mean you stop thinking, that you stop using common sense, that somehow technology, your cell phone, something will save you from a truly harrowing experience. That perhaps another app will rescue you???

I would love to tell the women who request to stay with me, like some wandering orphans, empower yourself. Fill out an interesting profile, communicate to your potential host that you are a traveler, someone who is interested in cultural exchange, who wants to understand the what and why of a locality. Tell them you are more than someone who needs a bed for one night.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

From One Girl Child to Another

According to Martin Amis, "fiction is the only way to redeem the formlessness of life."

Without story my own life narrative would be rather bleak. I need fiction, stories, lies even to move forward.

When I come across fiction so powerful it blows me away I’ll want to get on Facebook or run up to the rooftops and scream: READ THIS BOOK! I’m also lucky in that I have a good friend who reads and absorbs fiction like it ain’t no fiction, just like me. We are able to talk book. A language of intuition, that automatically assumes that most pain can be assuaged or distracted by an enthralling fable.

I think this is how mankind has been able to continue in the face of wooly mammoths, armies of invaders, revolution, stock market crashes, hurricanes, job loss—all the marquee stuff that stops us cold. We can pick up the flag and go on if only we can carry a really good story around inside of us.

Tammy read Girl Child by Tupelo Hassman and had a literal literary reaction to it.

She walks away from the trailer park
The Nobility double wide,
turning into spark and smoke
roaring and crackling
lighting her way
casting shadows that hover and slink.

READ THE REST HERE, because she had her poem published in an on-line literary journal called Across the Margin. Tammy can be found blogging HERE.

I wanted to send out a prompt for my readers (both of you)—try writing a flash or essay response to some work that has resonated with you. I’d actually LOVE to see Tammy write a series of these poems—one to Scout (To Kill A Mockingbird), to Lily Owens (The Secret Life of Bees), or Bone from Bastard out of Carolina. To the multitude of girls who read and dream and reach.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Gluten-Free University

School is back in session in just a few weeks! Do you know any young adults who are gluten free and/or suffer from food allergies? I am sharing an e-book that I help nurture along. Jack Donahue has been gluten/dairy/corn free for over 12 years and knows how to negotiate the world with food allergies.

Check out his book at Amazon, and download a copy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dissecting the Corpse Flower

The corpse flower, a rare and infamous plant from Sumatra that blooms occasionally, like every 7 years, and when it opens, for the magic of 6 – 8 hours, mostly at night, it emits the most horrendous smell. The smell of death that attracts carrion beetles and flesh flies so that pollination occurs.

The build up to this event was on par with the Chicago Fire Festival that took place downtown last year which resulted in millions of visitors clogging the riverfront on a cold night to watch papier mache floating houses ignite. Except they didn’t. The whole thing was a dud.

Poor Spike fell victim to its own media hype. He, she, it, refused to open. The natural signs leading up to the phenomena were all there, the anticipation was grounded in science, but perhaps conditions were not right. Anyway, Sunday morning the botanists knew something was amiss and cut her open to peel away the leave and reveal the maroon-colored spathe. These leaves were accordion pleated like a beautiful vintage dress.

I happened to be one of the lucky visitors that got to see Spike, undressed and naked before the adoring crowds. I needed to get in a long bike ride and from my house to the Chicago Botanical Gardens near the Lake/Cook line round-trip is about 55 miles. I say lucky because even though I signed up for an e-mail notification I never received news about the intervention. I stood in line with members who said they didn’t know either but had just dropped by. They had been visiting Spike for a week just in case.

web can, recorded images

story behind the story

Because she was still-born there was no actual smell. We might have to wait another 7 years for the next flowering. There is poetry here, somewhere.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Uptown Girl

Thursday night we walked up to Wrigley—not for a game but for the Billy Joel concert. Okay, not exactly the concert but for the atmosphere outside the stadium. We’re used to slumming it for dates.

Case in point: we showed up with lawn chairs and set up outside to listen in.

We did the exact same thing September 8, 2012 when we were celebrating our wedding anniversary. My husband and I were sitting outside Wrigley Field waiting for Bruce Springsteen to take the stage.

And then this happened: “Isn’t that the guy who tried to pee in our closet?”