Friday, February 26, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Postcards

Souvenirs. Postcards. Today these words almost seem quaint. My husband and I once when traveling told our host in Slovenia that we would send him a postcard from our next destination.

He seemed puzzled. You mean like an auntie or my grandmother?

I guess it did seem rather old-fashioned—especially since we could easily send an email or upload a picture from our phone. Or any number of things. And easier too. Our next destination was Montenegro then Albania. How does one even ask for a stamp in Albanian? How reliable is postal service? Postcards in the US have been known to take decades. Mail sent from the front during World War II is still getting delivered.

I LOVE postcards. I buy them and send them and appreciate getting them in the mail. I save them and tape them to the walls of my office or upon the door to the room we have reserved for couchsurfers.

Going through my parents old photos I stumbled upon old postcards. It seems postcard writing runs in the family. I have postcards written by my mother to my grandmother and aunts “back home.” In one she mentions that she is going to a New Year’s Eve party in New York City and that she hasn’t gotten into any trouble yet. She has written slantwise on the blank side of the card in order to save space.

In addition there are two sets of postcards from Rome, bought but never mailed. One dates from around the 1980s when my parents visited on a post-retirement adventure and the other set is from 1944 when the Allies were working their way up the boot.

I have a jumbo-size postcard from the late great Cornerstone Festival that a photographer/ad man named Bill Latoki gave away some years before the festival ended.

Some journals refer to flash as postcard writing. As in send us a postcard! A story written in as much space as a postcard allows.

Take an old postcard and send out a message. Museums such as the Art Institute have a whole section devoted to postcards which can be useful as prompts—your postcard entry can be a short flash having to do with Van Gogh’s bedroom.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


The word souvenir is French for remember.

While traveling I like to pick up little things: a pebble, a pinecone, a seashell to bring home. I have a small shelf where I keep these momentos. I also buy things to bring to friends to let them know I was thinking of them while gone. That even though I was having a great time, they were never far from my thoughts.

Souvenir is from the Latin subvenire ‘occur to the mind.’

Memories are souvenirs of the mind. Keep and cherish them. Place them on the shelf of a journal or diary so that later you can revisit them.

It is on snowy days such as these that I gaze upon my cheapy Walgreen snow globe I bought in Key West—a margarita floating in a sea of glitter—and relish those warm tropical days of birds chattering in the top of palm trees and warm gulf waters washing the shores.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Double Double Life

In The Double Life of Liliane, (see my past post) Lily Tuck weaves anecdotes, hearsay, reminisces, family myth, to create a double entendre of a novel/memoir. Fictional autobiography.

Always the queen of the last line—something that suddenly sets the paragraph or heretofore off-kilter, Tuck has woven a tapestry of fiction and nonfiction. Told in vignettes—a way of remembering and re-telling—memories domino one after another until a house of cards has collapsed. Greater than one story, one life, we are the sum of many stories, many lives.

Succinctly told (again her style)—less than 250 pages—the novel is epic, but not overwrought. Tuck refuses to comment, expand, expound, or pass judgment upon her characters. They are who they are. I wonder about this author, about the hand of God, and who decides fate. There are many sudden twists that no one, much less the reader, has no control over.

They story centers upon Liliane a young girl, the offspring of survivors, a globe-trotting diaspora, chic refugees left without a country. Always seeming to sidestep war and holocaust, who have the ability to make champagne out of tap water. They dine, gamble, live out of hotels, one step ahead of absolute catastrophe.

But, even as they live, they are already dying. Seldom happy or content, they age, lose lovers, children, homes, countries. A story (the last story told by Liliane’s grandmother from her nursing home bed?) sums up much of the book.

During the First World War, two wounded soldiers share a room in the hospital. The sodier who has the bed next to the window keeps regaling the other soldier with what he sees. He says he sees beautiful women walking by and he describes what they look like—blondes, brunettes, redheads—and, of course, the soldier who is lying in the bed that is not next to the window becomes jealous and he, too, wants to be able to look out. So one night when the soldier who is in the bed next to the window takes a turn for the worse and begs the other soldier to fetch help, the soldier in the bed next to him ignores his anguished cries and lets the poor soldier die. The next day , after the body has been taken away and the nurse makes up the bed again, the soldier asks to be moved to the bed next to the window and when he finally gets to look out the window, do you know what he sees?
--a brick wall

I love Lily Tuck’s writing. I love the gaps she leaves, leaving room for the reader to ask questions. What is left unsaid.

“ ‘All narratives are allegories because of the gap that occurs between what the narrative does not say and what the reader does not say.’ ” So says Professor Paul de Man, see The Double Life of Paul de Man by Evelyn Barish. No one can be believed.

“ ‘I consider autobiography as an act of self-restoration in which the author recovers the fragments of his or her life into a coherent narrative.’ ”

Thus, much of memoir is about rehabilitating our memories, to line up with our retrospection/how we perceive the past.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Old Photo Prompts

I’ve been going through old photographs, in preparation to send them to a digital scanning service. Finally all those old scallop-edged photos from my parents, from the 1950s, early 60s will be on a memory stick so that I can share them with my cousins, brothers and sisters. I was extremely hesitant when sending them off. What if they get lost in the mail? What if the company I decide to use are reckless? You can insure mail, but you cannot replace these old photos.

Organizing by size, etc, the photos became like a flipbook of the past. A past not even always shared. Some of the photos I have no idea who is in them. Where were they taken? I only know they are important, and, perhaps, an older cousin will recognize something and we can build on that shared information. How many times has an old photo opened up doors you never even knew about?

Often I wonder: What happens to all those digital pics we take on our cell phones? With SnapChat they will simply disappear, but what about the ones that remain in the cloud or on our desktop? Will we ever retrieve them or will they be cached forever in cyberspace?

We’re a family of photo albums. I still get prints made and filed away in an album. There are weekend where we’ll sit around and share a laugh or memory provoked by an old photo.

Go to your cloud or physical albums and download a memory. Using the photo as a prompt, write a flash. 
Mom and Dad during their crazy college days

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Horse Affair

I’m not sure what brought up the topic, but during a conversation I mentioned The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur. Perhaps it was a discussion of art by women or masculine subjects tackled by women artists or masterpieces at the Metropolitan Art Museum. Little did I realize I’d stumbled upon a unique touchpoint.

We were virtual strangers, having just met, so it was a huge coincidence that a single artwork connected us.

It was Christmas 2002 about a year after the Towers fell and New York City was still jittery. Nevertheless, Rockefeller Plaza was all lit up and the sidewalks were packed with tourists and holiday shoppers. My daughter was probably thirteen at the time. I’m sure the last thing she wanted to do was hang out with her parents, or visit a museum. But it had been my dream to see the Met. All sorts of promises were made and incentives offered, yet after an hour both my husband and daughter were done looking at pictures. I, on the other hand, was just getting started. We finally compromised by letting them leave while I stayed.

Heaven. I meandered the galleries to my heart’s content. At one point I remember turning a corner and—there—tucked away was The Horse Fair. A lively rambunctious, ambitious masterpiece by a woman. Rosa Bonheur painted in Paris during a time (mid 1800s) when women were primarily the subject/object and not a creator of art. Rosa certainly took the reins. I was transfixed.

My acquaintance recounted a similar experience. She and her family were in town also over Christmas, her son being about the same age as my daughter. The Met was hers for the day while the others were off exploring. She too was pulled into the frame, spending time studying the swirling circle of horses.

What are the chances that it would be art from over a hundred and fifty years ago from an artist seldom on the top list of must-sees! Marge Malo and I bonded over The Horse Fair. Check out her website where she has a graphic blog.
The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur, 96 1/4 x 199 1/2 in. (244.5 x 506.7 cm)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reviewers Needed!

I need to crowd-source my readers and generate more reviews for my books at sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, etc. The number of reviews greatly affects sales and my overall rating. If this is something you’d like to do to help me out, I will return the favor and review your books. You may contact me via this blog. If you are a reviewer who would like a PDF copy, please let me know.

Friday, February 12, 2016

True Love

This week I’ve updated my post about True Love and written about How I Met My Husband. It is fitting as this weekend we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.

For Hot Flash Friday let’s take a minute to meditate on true love. Stumped? There have been endless love songs and poems written about true love and yet we’re still as lost as ever. Who can know the ways of the heart? All we know for certain is when it hurts. Heartbroken, downhearted, disheartened.

Are you from the heartland, that place of memory that holds the secret to part of the pain and the joys that make you YOU. Some say that memory resides within the heart.

Memory like love creeps up on us, surprises us. We are overwhelmed.

Some of us have left love behind only to discover it looping back around, to encompass us.

The saddest word in the English language is lonely. The very word stirs us—when we least suspect it. In our lonliness looking for love. Touch, A hug. To connect. An invitation for coffee, a movie, a walk.

How many of us have at one time or another read MissedConnections at Craigslist; it’s addicting. Many a story can be spun.

Write me a flash, a 50-word missive like an arrow sprung straight to the heart.
George Taylor, my one true love

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

True Love, a year later

A while back I posted True Love and True Love Will Go On. It has now been a year since Don Hill passed (February 13th).

This time last year I was finishing up my bike ride in Florida, Jacksonville – Key West. I had Don in my thoughts as I rode. I had health, I was fit, I had the gumption to ride over 550 miles. I was hyper-aware of my own mortality and how it is a fleeting thing. I loved being alive to the sun, the flower, the palm trees, the slate blue ocean. I wished Don could have seen it.

Still missing you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Rummage Room

The homeless shelter I help support, Cornerstone Community Outreach, has started a physical store called the Rummage Room with an on-line presence. Go to Facebook and LIKE to see their specials.

I remember when I first came to Chicago and volunteered with this group. I was put in charge of the Freestore. Times have certainly changed.

My husband reminded me Sunday that when the Freestore started it was a time still emerging from the groovy 60s—where a lot of stuff was supposed to be free. There still is: the shelter offers free hot meals and a weekly food pantry. Just drop in, no need to “qualifiy.” And, of course, all that free stuff from the 60s such as free love came at a price. It’s just at the time no one wanted to count the cost.

CCO has been helping people since 1989 and over the years funding for the homeless has been getting less and less. Illinois and Chicago in particular are in a budget crisis that doesn’t seem at all near to being resolved. So the shelter has started selling good used and new items donated in order to offset funding losses.

Anyway, here is a story I wrote a few years ago about my early years at the Freestore. It’s entitled: How I Met My Husband

Every couple has their own story, but certain stories are stranger than fiction. That’s our story.
It was 1985, a time buried in the armpit of disco and the Euro New Wave. By the mid-80s I knew that the decade would go down as a footnote. Seemingly all the real history was behind us and we were stuck with Reagan and mediocrity. I think I was entering my cynical years, post-collage, and just realizing that the world had nothing to offer me. Especially a career. We were in a recession, nothing new—except that this one peaked right when I was graduating and needed a job. When nothing came fast enough I panicked and took a bus for Chicago where I ended up doing volunteer work. In exchange for room and board I worked at a city mission where I was promised a chance to use my educational background tutoring underprivileged kids.
Instead I ended up sorting through donations.
In retrospect I can see how my classes in psychology were helpful. I developed a character profile on who donates old clothes caked with feces to charity. After ripping open a bag that smelled like cat pee I insisted on wearing latex gloves. Who actually thinks: There’s still wear left in holey underwear? Who donates ONE shoe? It was enough to confirm my low opinion of mankind. Cynicism was a coping mechanism, not just an attitude.
For every fifty gross bags there was maybe one containing something fantastic—like a vintage gown or a black-dyed lamb’s skin fur coat with oversized buttons. Once I found $20 in an old purse. Each day I was greeted by a mountain of black garbage bags. I’d pull a few out, but the pile never went down because the mission was always getting calls from people wanting to donate. That’s the worst part—our brothers went out in a snub-nosed old mail truck and picked this stuff up for free when the owners should have been taking it to a dump.
Let me back up and explain. The mission operated a Freestore. On assigned days we opened to our clients to let them “shop” for the things they needed. We had regulars. One came so frequently that I struck up a conversation with her. What do you do with all the clothes you get? I asked. Miriam had about 5 kids. I say about because she also kept her friend’s children and had a revolving door policy of hospitality, so she was constantly on the lookout for sizes anywhere from 0 to 13 juniors. One of the older daughters also had a baby, I think. Miriam seemed embarrassed at my question. I assured her that this was why we were here, to help people like her.
She finally confessed, “We get new stuff when the other’n get too dirty. But don’t worry, we give it all back.”
Well, that took care of my profile. I simply didn’t have that category in mind. The person who gives because they hate doing laundry.
I was set up in an annex, a building that was in a perpetual state of repair and, because the work was being done in-house, the renovation was going slow. Like whenever there was money, which wasn’t too often. During my entire Freestore tenure the abandoned annex was one brick away from collapsing. At one point the walls had been demo-ed down to the lath, the wooden slats beneath plaster, awaiting drywall. If I needed to use the bathroom I had to walk an obstacle course, through walls and around pipes and hanging electrical wires (!), to the opposite end where there was a stall without a door but those clinking beads that you see in the Mediterranean where it seems climate appropriate and not a side effect of poverty. It was like a Cohan movie or a Beckett play where life is cruel and somewhat absurd. Along the way I passed through an “office” where a guy sat taping on a typewriter.
What are you working on? I asked one time.
I’m working on a story.
He had clunky glasses, sturdy, and always dressed neatly in casual office Friday attire. Like the stuff I pulled out of the sacks stacked up to the ceiling three rooms over.
I explained I was looking for the bathroom and he continued typing, while sitting in architectural chaos. One day he asked me if there were any new book donations. I said, yes, in fact there had been. He followed me back to the Freestore where I’d set up a display rack in what used to be a shower. Watch out, I warned, pointing to the hole in the floor where the toilet used to be.
He helped me sort out the books. What do you do with the totally lame stuff? He wanted to know.
I knew what he meant. Mass paperbacks. Thrillers, romance, Christian prophet and Christian profit titles. How to live like a King’s Kid. I throw it down the hole, I said.
We tossed in some John Grisham and Tom Clancey.
We opened a banana box of books on childrearing. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, etc. Mike attempted to put a book down the toilet hole. Wait! I halted him. What are you doing?
He was embarrassed. I just thought.
Breast feeding is important. A lot of women have questions about it. I put them over here.
There was a baby swing, the kind used to soothe a child into slumber, I had six or seven books stacked in the seat along with a handful of breast pumps, the cheap models that resembled torture devices.
We continued sorting and I was grateful for his help. It gets a little creepy in the Freestore by myself. Once I found a guy sleeping in the bathtub I used for the one-of shoes (I kept them just in case, a totally hopeless situation.) He’d wandered in off the street drunk and had no idea where he was. He’d been looking for a bathroom. After a brother escorted him out I peered down the hole. There was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey at the bottom pelted with piss.
On really slow days I tried on clothes and modeled in front of a bleary mirror. There were some really funky styles. I don’t know why I wasn’t freaked out about bedbugs or head lice. On really cold days, the days when frost collected on the inside of the windows (none of the radiators worked; they’d all been disconnected when the pipes burst), I wore layers of coats and rag-picked wearing fingerless gloves like a character out of Our Mutual Friend.
Yet I always had reading material. Whole libraries were donated. I could easily guess the former owners and their preferences, likes and dislikes. I acquired what was left of the estate of a university professor. His specialty was antiquities. The books were all hardback, the pages brittle and liver-spotted, and smelled of basement, as if they were in fact artifacts, stolen from a sarcophagus or pried from the hands of a mummy. It was sad. A couple divorces and liquidates their combined library. The kids are grown and their old books given away. I randomly collected Newbery Award winners, most inscribed by a literary auntie or uncle to their favorite niece or nephew. Christmas 1962 or To a Special Boy on His 12th Birthday.
Mike got into the habit of stopping by to help me organize. Of course he took home whatever struck his fancy. We got to know each other and found we had a lot in common, not the least books and writing. One day he asked me out.
So when people ask how we met, my mind wanders back to those cold days leaning over crates of books, my breath a noir-ish fog, the wind rattling the loose frost-glazed glass in the window panes, bundled beneath layers of dead people’s coats. Mike, he just tells people, I found her at the Freestore.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hot Flash Friday--Imagine

Hot Flash Friday is my attempt to get my many readers (both of you) writing. A flash can be anything from a 50-word story up to 1,000 words. The important thing is: getting started.

That’s what prompts are for.

There are times when all we need is one-word to get the juices flowing. But there is another way to let go and enter in—ever hear the phrase: a face that launched a thousand ships or a picture is worth a thousand words?

I sit and meditate. What is this feeling that I’m feeling, what is it I’m after, where is it? Abstracts. But have you ever googled these same questions. In that tiny space, that is actually infinite, I’ve typed in stuff such as I thought I saw you through the rain or the happiness that is just beyond me just to see what pops up in images. It’s interesting what Google gives you. Sometimes it allows me to see more concretely the intangible or a possibility.

The very idea that my device can sense my needs, is somewhat disturbing and at the same time comforting. Especially on melancholy days where the clouds touch the earth. I can’t see further than the darkness, but there is, out there, around the corner, something. So yesterday I uploaded 2 new profile/cover pics to Facebook that helped solidify my aspirations. I could easily write 50 new words about these images.

Why not do the same—Google and go.
I'm coming to you, just stay where you are, I'll get there soon

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Keep on Flashin'

--#febflash Starts Today!

Mom Egg Review and Half-Shell Press are sponsoring a Flash Fiction (and creative prose or prose poems) Challenge for the month of February.  Just write a short short story (1-250 words) every day for the month of Feb.

Three ways to participate:

It's a great way to keep those words flowing!  Please share the links with your writer friends.

Facebook Group

#febflash on MER website

Monday, February 1, 2016

Min stad, My Town

When I traveled to Sweden the fall of 2014 and met up with an old friend (we’re both pretty young!) she asked at the time if I might help out on some future projects she was working on. Lotta is a journalist who has also been recruited for writing for the web—just like most of us. Her English is excellent but to actually translate something out of Swedish into English, an English that sounds native, well, she needed a native English speaker.

Thus, I somehow got involved with an English translation of this book. Min stad or My Town.

I wish I could take credit for such a beautiful book, but I actually had no idea what I was getting into. I thought the end product was going to be a promotional pamphlet stacked up on a tourist counter in TranĂ¥s, Sweden.

Instead it is a gorgeous coffee table book with over 300 pages of photographs and text. I’m proud to have been part of this project. Though after looking through it I have begun to see numerous mistakes. I didn’t have the advantage of the photographs when asked to “translate” certain paragraphs or captioning. It’s funny what I imagined and what the picture actually depicted.

Thanks Lotta—looking forward to our next project, something we’re both 100% familiar with—70s British rockers! (Not.)