Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Storms at the Festival

There is nothing like tent camping to make a person hate storms. From the comfort of a home or even a trailer, storms can look like a lot of fun. The sudden fireworks-burst of lightning and the concussive boom of thunder. A powerful display of God, nature, the helplessness of mankind.

There are three instances that come to mind when I think of storms at Cornerstone Festival.

One was just after midnight. We were just settling down to go to sleep when Sally Watkins came by. Her meager flashlight bounced off the sides of the tent like a meandering firefly. From inside I heard her going from tent to tent warning occupants that the police had informed them that a powerful storm was coming. I didn’t know whether to be thankful or freak out. There was actually nowhere to take cover. So all I could do to prepare was stay awake and listen for distant thunder moving closer. I’d seam-sealed and laid down a ground cloth. I’d even taken the pre-caution of setting up beneath the wide canopy of a tree in order to keep off the sun and rain. An updraft billowed the sides of the tent. I could hear wind shrieking through the tree top, violently shaking branches above us. Then one snapped. Even in total darkness I knew what had happened. It hit the tent with force and slit the rainfly as well as the tent roof before bouncing off onto the ground, as if it’d hit a trampoline. It was only later in the morning light I saw how lucky we’d been.

The second storm also happened at night. The fest had just finished up and thankfully we’d been spared storms and excessive rain. We’d certainly seen years of mud fest. So this storm wasn’t exactly viewed with fear or trepidation. In fact now that nothing could get ruined or interrupted, rain was welcomed; it might settle the dust, cool the earth, and help the grounds to recover. We watched at lightning in the far distance came closer and closer. It was like waiting for a train down the tracks to come and sweep by. From across the ground, under the arc of a street light I could make out a curtain of rain let down, a gauzy veil dancing, racing toward us. We took off running, as if we could out run Mother Nature, time, fate, as if we could escape our destiny. We ran hurtling our bodies, turning over our legs as fast as we could into the darkness.

The third storm was the worst, still brings back bad memories. It was the kind of day that went from perfect to terrifying in an instant. We’d been working all day in the exhibition tent where it can be stifling hot under the canvas. The side shad been rolled up to create air flow. Anyway, it was almost time to break for dinner when in the southwest corner of the horizon a cloud appeared. I went over to the pump to clean up and then into my tent to change. I’d come out early and the rest of my family was due to arrive later in the evening by car. Through the tent walls I overheard a kid, my neighbor’s kid asking his dad what they’d do if a tornado came. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but 1) what could they do, any of us in the face of a twister, and 2) who said anything about a tornado? Yet I turned on a radio and tried to tune in a local station. All I could get was chatter about taking cover. If in a trailer get to a permanent structure immediately. And, I thought, what if you are in a tent and the only stable structure nearby is a trailer? I was screwed either way. The block toilets a mile away were the only permanent structure on the grounds. But, again, who said that a tornado was on its way?

Then the radio announcer delivered in monotones as if reading cables from the Weather Service—life threatening conditions, danger is imminent, take cover, cell approaching Fulton/McDonough County area. The festival straddled that very county line. Emergency services could never untangle who to send because we were half in and half out of both jurisdictions.

I opened the tent fly and saw several other tents not staked down roll down toward the lake. I thought I saw the exhibition hall tent and then I could see it any longer. A powerful wind was coming. I zipped up and lay flat on the air mattress as if it were a life raft. The updraft was significant, in fact it wasn’t as much as an updraft as a river, current of air lifting me and the tent and air mattress to which I clung. It only took a second but in that moment I knew I was going to die. The likelihood of multiple fatalities was impressed upon me in an instant. That I might be one of them seemed sure. I breathed out prayers for me, my family, all of my friends. It’s all I had time for. And hung on.

Time ticked by, slowly, until I came to a point where I thought, maybe, just maybe I might live after all. It passed much more quickly than I imagined, the storm was over. I once again undid the tent flaps and stared out. Like the lone living creature after the apocalypse, I emerged into a wet world raked by winds and swept clean. The huge exhibition tent was gone—as were most of the neighboring tents. A few trees were down. The trailers were unscathed.

Slowly other survivors appeared and together we started to pick up the pieces, save merchandise blown to smithereens or into puddles in the fields. We worked way into the night sorting and cleaning and talking through our fears.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Further Along the Way--a reprint

For 28 years summer meant Cornerstone Festival. Beginning in 1984, I and my family would make the familiar odyssey out to the festival grounds. This year would have been our 32nd festival. More than half my life was Cornerstone Festival. My engagement picture was taken at the fairgrounds in Lake County following Cornerstone ’86. I was EXTREMELY pregnant while at Cornerstone ’89, aptly named Family Reunion. By the time my daughter was a year old we had moved the festival to Bushnell, Illinois where we had purchased some property for the express purpose of holding the festival there. It seemed like we might be able to stay forever.
2012 was the end of the run.
Chalk it up to a downturn in the economy, an aging Jesus population, other concert options—but we had seen a significant decrease in attendance after our peak years of 2000 and 2001 where the festival drew close to 20,000. Cars lined up days in advance of opening day. There evolved a whole pre-Cornerstone culture of kids with their generator-fueled amps playing beside parked cars. The state police assisted us in crowd control on the one main road back to the property. The portos were on continuous round-the-clock, 24-7 cleaning and emptying schedule. That says a lot, right there. I had a friend whose clothes got wet the first day and put them out to dry. That night someone pitched a tent over them and he ended up wearing the same outfit for the rest of the festival—until the people next to him packed up to leave.
Then suddenly we didn’t need three entrance gates or an opening-day registration crew to get the cars in off the road. We didn’t need to schedule around the clock porto cleaners. There were still popular concerts that were jammed packed; mostly, though, we could find a seat. People started sitting instead of standing near the front. We were getting old, but not tired of the festival. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
I still remember sitting on the hillside looking down at Main Stage in that natural bowl of an amphitheater with a stream running past the semis that worked as green rooms and were somewhat air conditioned, relief from the heat. Just as you got to the point where you couldn’t stand it anymore, the heat, the intense sun beating down on you from a cloudless sky, the sun lowered, a gift. And that same sky went all orange and purple, rose-colored in the diffused light, filtered through a stratosphere of dust worked up by feet, golf carts, and vehicles always on the move. The heat softened, nudged down to a clammy comfort level, and the insects came out a thousand strong to chirp and whine in cadence with whoever was on the stage. We sat there in descending twilight, grateful, before the sun set in a firework crescendo.
Cornerstone sunset. Photo by Neil E. Das
Life was beautiful at that moment.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Not Really a Unique Situation

I’ve blogged here before about Unique Thrift store. It has been part of my Chicago experience ever since I moved here in 1982. But, like a lot of things as we age, there are hard losses.

Yesterday Unique Thrift closed its doors.

The shop had recently undergone a brain-dead upgrade. I mean the whole reason people shopped there was to save money. Instead the new owners decided to make it into more of a boutique. Less choice and higher prices. Please tell me—is this good sense?

In the thrift store market you need to overwhelm the customer with crap. So much of it that eventually you make money off of it. It used to be you could go into Unique on payday and come out with 3 – 4 grocery sacks of stuff and pay as little as $20. But that was a steady flow of money—until the upgrade. It was sad really, you’d go in and the aisles would be clear, the clothes arranged according to size (WTH!) not just color, and you could actually hear the musak. No more sloppy aisles with clothing getting tangled up in the wheels of your cart—ha, if you could score a cart. No more loud, crying children and mothers screaming SHUT YOUR ASS! No more finding bras mixed in with the cutlery. Books (their biggest mistake) no longer priced at 10 cents to 50 for a hardback, now a dollar or 2. And for absolute dreck. Several times my husband and I would wander in after perhaps an old professor donated his entire library. Titles you seldom see except at higher-end resale shops or used bookstores.

Chalk it all up to the Internet, that fiend replacing all of us. Except who really wants to bother leaving their house when you can push a button and have a drone deliver it. Even CCO the shelter where I volunteer has both a physical store and an on-line presence. On-line sales now accounts for a 1/3 of their business.

Anyway, the news was devastating, but it really hit the young people the hardest. So many friends’ kids grew up with Unique that it is a bit like losing their innocence, like learning the hard lessons of life (and commerce). They are grieving as if they’ve lost a loved one.

Growing up—you had many touchpoints, things you took for granted until one day they were no longer there. Sometimes this is the death of a parent or other close person, sometimes it divorce. As kids we are suddenly struck that behind that golden curtain there might not be a wizard. Things do change. Irrevocably. And, we have no control.

That’s what hurts the most. The fact that some things cannot be fixed.

Right now write—what was that moment when the glasses came off, when you suddenly knew, when you grew up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, meta FFFFIIICCTIONNN

One of the most interesting books I’ve read since becoming interested in the puzzle within a puzzle of meta-fiction is the GRAPHIC NOVEL The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew.

Okay let’s just begin by talking about Singapore.

That was quick, right? If you’re like me (semi-engaged and somewhat geographically astute) then you know basically where Singapore is, but not much more. Such as I did not know it is a city-state. One of a very few cities that act as nation states. They are what they are.

Then I went to Wiki and read a GLOWING account of Singapore’s history. Mt first reaction was WOW, I did not know this—but then, on second thought, why does EVERYTHING sound great.

Sonny Liew born in Malaysia, lives in Singapore. (What’s the difference? Well, now I know.) But the biggest question is this: What does history and geography have to do with comics????

I can’t answer that except this book works. On so many levels. One hand you have real history and then on the other—what is “real” history. History has always been written by the victors and only recently have historians tried to correct a record. Then there are revisionists. Some revision of history does merit to minority groups, gving them a voice in what was once a narrow field of voices, but some revisionism reveals a bias that continues to marginalize and leave others out. History is riddled with subjective view points that we might not ever be able to escape.

Thus, enters Sonny Liew with an outsider’s eye. His main character could perhaps be argued as his alter ego, Charlie Chan Hock Chye, an aging comic designer/illustrator whose story takes us through Singapore’s modernist and multi-cultural history. (It is an old culture but with new beginnings.) He gets behind the curtain of the shiny Wiki entry and tells a nuanced story where opposition is easily dismissed as “communist” and young passionate leaders are destined for prison and exile. In order to attain a veneer of multi-culture amidst unity—there is a price to pay. In order to arise from back streets unto an international mega-city—there are untold sacrifices. The “real” story is much more complicated. And Charlie Chan’s personal narrative loops and is interwoven into the upheavals of Singapore. And not only Charlie’s story but the marginalized comic writers and drawers fighting for shelf space and to gain the backing of a publisher. In a small country you not only have to make it big locally but become internationally renown. For Charlie it is bitter medicine to swallow that he might not ever be able to break out as an artist. His superheroes are the ordinary ones that fight for everyday justice.

AKA the Night Soil Man who turns into a Giant Cockroach

This is a book that is mesmerizing and dizzy with front and back, looping, and turning a story this way and that. We get to see history and the underside of history. And, in the end, our heart hurts for the hopes and dreams of a lonely comic artist.

Monday, June 20, 2016

More About Meta Fiction

 This is not so much a review as an aside. If on a winter’s night a traveler . . . . is a novel by Italo Calvino.

An experimental novel that explores the intersection of meta fiction and fantasy=surrealism. It is about readers and writers and Italo Calvino.

It is an interesting thought experiment though not an engaging read. Thus, I started but did not finish it. I did find it fascinating. Books like this often feel, to me at least, like a gimmick, where technique is valued over story. AND, believe me, I often think plot is overrated—but at some point I want to be able to begin the story without having to flip back and forth to know what’s happening. At some point I need to begin to care about characters—not wonder in a realm of symbols and metaphor what they represent.

Nevertheless, If on a winter’s night seems way ahead of its time.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Animal Memoirs

Since this blog is organized around memoir/memories I began to wonder if animals are sentimental, long for the good ole days, wax nostalgic.

Dogs forget an event within two minutes. Chimpanzees, at around 20 seconds, are worse than rats at remembering things, while the memory spans of three other primates—baboons, pig-tailed macaques, and squirrel monkeys—exceeded only bees . . .

Exercises with captive animals revealed that while some had great long-term memory they flunked at the short-term and visa versa.

Elephants are known for having remarkable memories. From
Whenever they encounter the scent of another elephant's urine, an elephant can record in its computerish brain the location and direction of the pisser. This enables them to devote a sizable portion of their working memory to maintaining these expansive mental maps.

Now if only my husband could pay that much attention . . .

But the winner was a real bird brain. A small bird with the name Clark's nutcracker. This unassuming little bird is able to remember the exact location of up to 30,000 pine nuts.

For today’s Hot Flash Friday let’s write about the cat that came back, the dog with the incredible journey, the homing pigeon that carried vital message that helped win the war.

I know you have an animal story. Nabokov’s life story is full of butterflies. This website is devoted to animal memoirs. Go, write right now!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

All the Crazy Stuff I Used to Do

It used to be that I jumped headfirst into every crazy thing. If someone came in the middle of the night and said we need you to go to the suburbs to rescue so and so, I wouldn’t think twice but would pick up my purse. If someone needed driven to the hospital, I’d ask do I have time to use the bathroom? I can remember being asked to do a lot of crazy things.

That’s why when I checked Facebook Saturday a.m. and saw that my daughter had posted about leaving her phone in an Uber, I knew my morning might not be lazy. She often works nights and takes a ride home instead of her bike.

Mid-morning she stopped in and I immediately asked if she’d gotten it back—no, but I know where it is. The iCloud had tracked her phone to the far northern suburbs. Without batting an eyelash I stood up and said, We’re gonna go get it.

But first I’d have to borrow a car, since I don’t have one. Not an Uber, though. A friend loaned us her van and we took off, tracking the phone to outside of Libertybville, where every village is called Round Lake, Grayslake, etc. We ended up outside of an apartment building.

There it is! We found the car, but when I rang her phone we realized it wasn’t in the car. We’d have to find the driver—amongst one of the units in the building. We started with one where we could hear people moving around inside. A woman answered the door and Grace asked for Ahmed. She got her grandson to interpret for her since she only spoke Spanish. No.

We realized we’d have to knock on many more doors. I was starting to feel foolish for taking off on this hair-brained venture. We didn’t really have a solid plan. Grace knocked on another door and a man in a bathrobe answered. Did I mention that in my advance state of second-guessing I began to think: We could be killed, cut up into tiny pieces, stuffed into a Dumpster. The usual train of thinking I used to have when off on an escapde—something along the lines like this might turn out really bad.

But it was Ahmed and yes he had her phone. He’d contacted Uber to let them know, but because Grace hadn’t ordered the ride (her friend had) she didn’t know who to contact and they didn’t have her info either.

Success! But it yanked me back down memory lane. So that when I told an old friend about our adventure she said, “Do you remember that time we went to check out a serial killer or some cult guy?” I seriously did not remember. Are you making this up? No, she said, I’m pretty sure it was you—and all I could say was, well, it sounds like something I would do.

Now I’ve got to track down that story and write it up later.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Shoppers Faked Out By Prices at Sports Authority Liquidation Sale

There are relatively very few tools I have in my tool box as a consumer. With Sports Authority’s liquidation sale—I mean, who cares if I wasn’t happy with their service or lack of—they’re going out of business. They are bankrupt in every sense of the word.

But then my tweet ended up in an article on how people are feeling scammed—and I kind of felt validated.

Shoppers Faked Out By Prices At Sports Authority. More like shocked by prices at the register.

I had walked in and everywhere were signs advertising 10 – 30% off (most items). It’s the small print that I totally missed. I got to the register and asked her to scan the first two items. Hmmm, is that with the discount I asked? And she said yes, so I asked her to put those aside. (There wasn’t a discount, I would soon realize.) But the other stuff I knew how much they’d cost because there was a sign where I picked them up giving me the breakdown. I knew exactly what I’d have to pay. Except the reduced price did not scan. I moved to the side and checked my receipt.

Hey, I said, my socks didn’t scan properly. I should be saving $5 not 95 cents.

I was directed to a manager who immediately told me his hands were tied. That this isn’t like any regular sale. In essence there was nothing he could do.

Nothing? I asked, because, and I might’ve said, isn’t this like stealing. And, then he countered with some crazy-ass logic: I’m losing my job!

I know things are hard these days and people have to sell their souls to pay off student loans (see Chicago Tribune story on Sugar Daddies paying students tuition), but what makes a person bold-face lie and say there is nothing they can do when a register doesn’t ring a customer up properly?

What can be their motivation—because as he said—he is literally out of a job in a few weeks? Why not just go, yes, I see, and I will ring up the difference and refund you $1.64. What was preventing this manager from reacting in a relational way instead of like a bot?

So as I stated earlier, I have very few tools in my toolbox. I don’t have a lot of money—even less after the Sports Authority sale—but I can register my dissatisfaction by writing a post and sending a tweet.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=freedom, fireworks, and FLASH!

I went to Cathy’s Comps and Calls to cull our Hot Flash Friday prompts. There are several journals looking for flash having to do with the 4th of July/Independence Day/Freedom.

*Indiana Voice along with its sister radio station is accepting submissions for a special July issue! The theme is "Freedom"-what does it mean to you? The deadline is June 12, 2016.
*24th Jun 200-word stories on the theme of Canada Day/US Independence Day. PAYING

So right now write—

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose . . . as the line goes from “Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson) and sometimes that’s what summer is all about: long days, endless nights, lazy, hot days. But we also know that they will come to an end. School will start, the days will turn colder. We have this luxury right now. Warmth, sand, waves, barbeque pits, rollerblading, orange sunsets. Take a minute and tell me about one single aspect of your summer. Right now.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

More Good News

This past spring has given me a harvest of acceptances. Very exciting.

Bop Dead City has accepted a flash called City of Love, which will be out in their Summer Issue.

Pennyshorts (The Best New Voices In Fiction) has accepted In Her Garden, a short story I've been rather fond of. Glad it has found a home.

I'll let all my readers (both of you) know when these stories are up and out. THANKS.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Hot Flash Friday--unmade phone calls

Many of my blog readers know that I am a fan of the New York School of poets—which is not really a school at all but a collection of friends who inspired and collaborated with each other. It even spawned a second-generation of poets—who really weren’t a generation removed but only a few years younger. Trust me—these writers aren’t anything like you would expect!

Frank O’Hara said that many of his poems worked as unmade phone calls. This was back before social media. Anyway his poetry could be interpreted as missives to friends, ideas, thoughts he wanted to convey. They were often short, full of innuendo, and shorthand that only those within his circle might truly understand. Sometimes Kenneth Koch might start a poem and then mail it to O’Hara who might in turn after adding some lines send it off to John Ashbery. And so on.

Our idea is to do something with language
That has never been done before
Obviously—otherwise it wouldn’t be creation
We stick to it and now I am a little nostalgic
For our idea, we never speak of it any more, it’s been
Absorbed into our work, and even our friendship
Is an old, rather fragile-looking thing.
Maybe poetry took the life out of both of them,
Idea and friendship.
—Kenneth Koch, “Days and Nights”

Frank O’Hara wrote poetry almost every day of his adult life. He would pause wherever he was to write a poem off the top of his head. Some of his most famous poems were written while he was on his lunch break or out for a walk. His small book Lunch Poems appears to have been composed primarily during O’Hara’s lunch break from his job at the Museum of Modern Art.

“A Step Away From Them” begins, “It’s my lunch hour, so I go/for a walk among the hum-colored/cabs.” “Personal Poem” begins, “Now when I walk around at lunchtime/I have only two charms in my pocket.” In the poem he mentions several friends: Mike Kanemitsu, LeRoi Jones, Miles Davis, and several other writers. He also references street signs and other familiar points, jazz joints in NYC: “I walk through the luminous humidity passing the House of Seagram,” “get to Moriarty’s where I wait for LeRoi,” “last night outside of BIRDLAND.” Toward the end of the poem, O’Hara wonders: “if one person in 8,0000,000 is thinking of me . . .”

Right now write, pen an unmade phone call to someone, tell them what it is that you are thinking about, wish with all your heart to communicate. 

To learn more about flashing using some of my methods borrowed from the NY School--buy Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir where I go into great detail. Also available from Smashwords.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Places to Submit--Speculative, Fantasy Flash

87 Bedford

We’ll take any great story that can be classified under the umbrella of commercial or genre fiction (romance, mystery, crime, etc). What gets us excited is speculative fiction in all its guises (fantasy, science-fiction, magic realism, surrealism, slipstream, urban fantasy, horror, steampunk, silk punk, cyberpunk, etc).

Flash Fiction
We define flash fiction as stories between 500 to 1000 words. Submitted stories that fall within these limits will automatically be classified as flash. Just like a great short story, a great piece of flash ought to impress us with finesse throughout its entirety, instead of hinging solely on an unexpected twist at the end.
Micro Fiction
For a bigger (or smaller) challenge, send us a work of micro fiction (less than 100 words). Be sure it still tells a “complete story” that has a beginning-middle-end with conflict and resolution. Micro fiction shares a lot of the same elements with prose poetry. We like to think the difference is an emphasis on character and character development rather than on an image.

The Argonaut

– Short
We love flash fiction. Stories between 250 and 1,000 words are some of the best being written today. It’s a form that cannot get enough attention, so another journal to showcase it makes a lot of sense to us.
– Fun
Over time writers tend to write stories simply because they can, they have that talent. What is lost by doing this is the sense of fun and discovery they likely had at the beginning of their careers. The white page should not be a place writers go to do nothing more than what they are able. It should be a place where, like children, they see endless possibilities that bring smiles to their faces. If you didn’t have fun writing your story, it’s probably not going to be much fun for us to read it.
– Polished
It goes without saying that any literary journal will have to endure its fair share of amateur work. However, if you’re serious enough to be submitting your writing for possible publication, you should be serious enough to make sure it’s the best work you can manage at that time. Polish it and make it a goal to present yourself as a professional.

A few likes: magical realism, surrealism, modern fables, innovative structure, lyrical prose, light horror and science fiction, unique voice.