Monday, October 16, 2017

Writing Out Loud

Writing Out Loud
Beth Finke
Golden Alley Press

I probably met Beth Finke a decade ago. We met at a party at the offices for Open Court Publishing, parent company of Carus Publishing, parents of Baby Bug, Spider, Cricket, etc. magazines for children. Beth had just wrapped up a picture book about her seeing eye dog, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound.

Through the years we’ve kept in touch. At certain points living parallel lives. For instance last summer she was attending the IOTA Short Prose Conference on Campobello Island about the same time I was cycling down the coast of Maine to reach the mailboat to take me out to my residency on Great Spruce Head Island (Art Week). In addition Beth is a prolific blogger. But the main thing we have in common is memoir. Beth facilitates 3 or 4 memoir writing groups all over the city. I released an eBook this spring Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing while Beth launched Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors.

Writing Out Loud gets its title from the fact that class participants read their 500-word essays out loud. Everyone has to listen and follow along. Every week she gives out a prompt at the end of class and “students” work on them, sending their essays ahead of time. Beth reads over each and every one, commenting. The essays are kept to 500 words—about the amount of time it takes her to deliver one of her NPR personal essays. Beth has also figured out a system of Scrabble tiles the students select to see who gets to read first. From reading Writing Out Loud you come to realize one has to get up pretty early in the morning to outwit Beth Finke.

Writing Out Loud is part Beth’s memoir of how she became a group facilitator and starting her own memoir-writing class. It’s also a platform where her students could share their work. Beth wrote in loving detail about dozens of her students. Included in Writing Out Loud are essays that fill in the gaps of not only personal history but stories of Chicago, resistance, identity, and rivalry (Sox and Cubs) from class members. We also learn methods for leading memoir-writing as well as some of the prompts Beth has used to great success.

This is a book about listening, being present to the world, using our senses to interpret life around us. We begin to “see” life through Beth’s eyes. Her message is: Stay open.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Forgotten Chicago, Museums

The Lincoln Park Zoo
This is not exactly a museum, but it is a memory. I remember going to the Lincoln Park Zoo on numerous occasions. It was FREE! (Though over the years I’ve had two bikes stolen, locked up out front of the zoo—so not quite a bargain!)

Through the years animals have come and gone. Gone are the elephants. Humanely it was not possible to keep such a large animal in a small enclosed space. The polar bears have also suffered.

I’d have to say one of the most popular exhibits has been the Ape House which went through a recent renovation: They now have a great outdoor playground. The old house really did come across like cages behind glass (as opposed to the new facility which is also cages behind glass but disguised to look like a jungle).

One of the my first observations at the zoo was not so much the animal behind the glass, but the animals in front of the glass. The people who came ritualistically, daily, to connect with their friend, their special hairy ape friend. They are a vanishing species.

These were real relationships. I once saw an orangutan go “ape” after catching a glimpse of their special human. And, if you know orangutans, they can be especially dismissive, actually coming across bored. They’d sit behind glass picking their noses staring back vacantly. Until, suddenly . . . they rush the window. The person next to me wouldn’t have normally stuck out. In fact, some of these obsessive visitors I might have concluded were homeless, carrying dirty, overstuffed shopping bags, wearing greasy, wrinkled overcoats, their hair unwashed, their faces unshaven. The apes in contrast seemed more well-groomed and cared for. Of course they didn’t have to work for their room and board, and health care was free.

But then the same could have been said of me—why was I there in the middle of the day observing the human/ape interaction? Maybe I was the loser. I know I was because when I saw the connection between the orangutan and the visitor, I saw what I was missing out on. Someone who couldn’t wait to see my face everyday, someone to talk and coo at me, call me baby. I really felt like an outsider. I longed for an orangutan friend.

To this day whenever I enter the ape house which now looks like the suburbs with all their play equipment, I get a little glitch in my heart knowing I’ll never have as good a friend as those apes and their special human.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Forgotten Chicago, Museums

Art Institute of Chicago
What a wonderful world to get lost in—this place of armor, hydra heads, Nighthawks, Ivan Albright, Louis Sullivan, and miniature houses/interiors. When I first came to Chicago in the early 80s you could get into the Art Institute with a donation. I once paid 25¢, rather donated.

I have to admit I wasn’t always an aficionado. Today I work for a gallery, helping to curate their exhibits and write up descriptions. Back in 1982 I used to think what was the difference looking at art in a book or up close in person. Then I turned a corner.

It happened in Washington DC at the Corcoran, I turned a corner and came across the Moor, with his black bold face, flaring nostrils. I loved that picture. And, because it was hard to find my way around, I kept turning that corner and encountering the Moor. At lot of how I discover cool stuff is by getting lost.

When I came back to Chicago I paid a visit to the Art Institute and it was as if I’d woke up; I was alive to art in a way I hadn’t been before. I loved Paul Klee’s little girls—they made me happy. There was a ceramic lotus flower in the Korean part of Asian Art that I would visit like one would a favorite palm or orchid at the conservatory. I was held spellbound by the trompe l'oeil in the basement—I memorized galleries and could wind my way to them without a guide. When the Terra Foundation of American Art donated many of its holdings to the Art Institute I fell in love with a straw hat full of cherries. I fell into the simplicity of the image. There are so many more that weren’t just images, but evoked feelings, memories, flashing synapses in my brain. Most of all I loved to visit on rainy days, spending all day wandering around, eating lunch at the cafĂ©. Indulging myself as if I were a tourist, a foreigner in town for a day. I loved to pretend I was someone else: Georgia O’Keeffe in the desert with my skull and bones, my whitewashed churches, black crosses. I wanted to soak in the liquid blue of the Chagall windows, put myself inside one of those little Thorne Rooms. I’d stand there peering inside wondering what it must be like to live in that space, peer through the windows, open the door to another landscape. Even if it was all make-believe.

Today you need to take out a mortgage to visit the Art Institute, even with a student pass it’s $20. Of all the museums, the Art Institute is the most generous with Free Days for Chicago residents. I look forward to February when I can browse for free the entire month. 
Head of a Moor by Henri Regnault, 1870 - Corcoran Gallery of Art
Terra Foundation for American Art: Collections

Friday, October 6, 2017

Forgotten Chicago, Museums

Shedd Aquarium
I find it rich that the aquarium is one of the most expensive museums in Chicago. It costs as much as a trip to Europe and yet every day during the summer there are long lines waiting to get it. Forget Spring Break—you’d need to start lining up in February when the wind whips in off the lake and freezes you as you walk down Roosevelt Avenue from the train. It could easily cost a family of 4 $200 for same-day admittance.

Hard to believe that when I first visited the Shedd in the early 80s it was free. Truly you could not pay someone to go there. The place was always empty, and smelled like a chlorine pool, one with a little bit of mold growing in it.

This was before the addition of the Abbott Oceanarium. Back when I went the niftiest thing was when a guy or gal in a scuba diving outfit entered a tank to feed the sharks. The divers burbled around while the lazy sharks lay at the bottom totally uninterested in fresh meat. I just checked the website: $89.95 for adults; $80.95 for children; $54.00 for members.
Dive deeper into Wild Reef—and experience mealtime with the sharks—during this new 90-minute guided exploration . . . Really?

The aquarium was dark and dingy with a couple of galleries full of fish tanks. I remember dark paneling as if it were your parent’s basement. The fish were colorful and exotic, but all they did was flit about.

The new Shedd is definitely a step up from the old days, yet as much as I love the new displays I miss the old prices—when Chicagoans could actually afford to see the displays. So now it’s either you can buy a new car or a ticket to the aquarium, or as things keep evolving a can of soda pop. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Forgotten Chicago, Museums

I moved to Chicago in 1982 from Dayton, Ohio and going to university in Athens, Ohio. So, yeah, Chicago was the big-time. I immediately set out to explore the city. I remember every weekend depositing my token into the turnstile and hopping a train to downtown to walk around or explore a museum.

The museums opened up whole worlds to me.

Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry in the early 80s seemed super corporate. For instance there was the General Motors Gallery and the AT&T Gallery. Nowadays this is somewhat standard. You can’t even build a stadium without naming it, not for a benefactor but a business. The Ramen Noodle Arena. Quicken Loans. Remember the Enron Stadium until they went belly up, taking investor money with them. I believe the AT&T Gallery had a display of telephones, a concept so far in the past that it now belongs in the nostalgic Main Street display, the one with “gaslight” lamp posts and the ole Walgreens Pharmacy, where remedies were devised from caffeine syrup and sold as elixir along with malts and open-face corn beef sandwiches.

What I remember most is getting lost. The stairways were color coded, but yet I couldn’t seem to connect one floor to the next in a straight line. I kept ending up by the chick hatchery or more creepily in a somewhat darkened stairwell with slabs of crosswise-cut kidneys and hearts pressed air-tight between two pieces of glass and sealed inside. It was the kind of thing that would amaze a future doctor, not someone simply trying to find the Fairy Castle. I was grossed out. Not the least by the babies floating in jars. There was a display of fetuses in different stages of growth on up to pre-birth preserved in formaldehyde on one of the top floors.

Of course there was the WWII German submarine, the flight deck, and the coal mine for an “interactive” experience, but the lines were so long I didn’t feel like waiting to get in. The mere act of getting to the MSI from the northside was enough of an interactive experience for me, at least a train and a bus—it took a couple of hours both ways to get there and back. We didn’t go more than a few times.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Words You’re Hoping to Hear

Recently I read a small graphic book, Make Trouble from a commencement speech delivered at the Rhode Island School of Design by designer/film maker/artist/idea-ist John Waters. One line that stood out: A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is someone to say “get in” . . .

This really resonated with me, a middle-aged been at this a long time writer who seemed to have some early success, but had stalled out and turned to writing about writing ie Freeze Frame and Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get you Flashing. I’d definitely put in my 10,000 hours, plus. And, now all I was looking forward was someone to email me back with the right words, the words I’d been hoping to hear for a good decade.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I’d sent this poor, page-stained, corners curled digital manuscript out to numerous untold agents. With no luck. Those who say it isn’t luck, that luck means you have no real talent are already well on the road to publication, having solo shows, etc. I needed a miracle, a lightning strike of good fortune—a bit like how my first manuscript was pulled out of the slush pile and published by a respected editor at Morrow Junior Books.

Time and technology has assured me since that 1) there is no transom or slush pile in the world of digital submissions and 2) even if there was a portal, that door has long been slammed shut to citizen writers without representation.

I was having trouble making inroads after the initial publication and good reviews for my YA novel Beyond Paradise. Morrow merged with Harper Collins a few weeks after my debut novel released and, well, let’s just say hot dogs have a longer shelf life than my book.

Until—last month I got a phone call. Wait. Listen. Because my editor at Golden Alley Press said the words I’d been hoping to hear: I love this manuscript. It was a car pulling off the freeway, the driver motioning for me to get in.

Then something else happened: She said, It made me laugh. Then it made me cry.

Dear readers, thanks for reading this blog, for continuing to persevere and pushing me along. Get ready; we’re going on a ride. Tentative pub date, Fall 2018.

Monday, October 2, 2017

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Friday, September 29, 2017

My Bike Trip to Nova Scotia, NB, coast of Maine

Day 14, Acadia to Deer Isle

Thursday June 29, 2017, 46 miles (74 km) - Total so far: 638 miles (1,028 km)

This was my official last day of riding. I won't complete the blog until I put in pics which might not be for a couple of weeks. I leave Saturday for my one-week residency at GSH island.

So today. Not a high-milage day but a toughie nevertheless. I left via the shuttle to Trenton which cut out some miles but also dropped me by the road at 10:30,which meant I missed riding during the cool of the a.m. Winds were relatively calm, but would ramp up with the heat. I got through Ellsworth, the town itself was quaint. There were also some sizeable hills. Not sure why, but I walked the bike up more today than any other day.

I was making good time and told myself I'd stop for lunch and put on sun screen in Blue Hill. Well outside of Surry I felt my back wheel to phlump. It wasn't flat yet didn't feel round. I tried to go and the brakes grabbed. Finally I pulled over and had a proper look. I'd thrown a spoke. I'd need a mechanic. On top of this I discovered I had no cell service. I got data so found a shop, in Blue Hill, but no way to call to see if they were open, viable, etc. I kept going.

At a 3-stop in Blue Hill a woman saw me checking directions. She asked where are you trying to get to. I told her, and Charlotte said put your bike on the back of my car and I'll drive you. So glad she offered, Kingdom Bikes turned out to be as far out as kingdom come. The mechanic was great, and for such an out of the way place he did great business. He certainly is the only mechanic for miles around.

After a great fix plus bathroom and water I wanted to hit it hard and get going. I'd snacked while he was fixing, so thought I'd be okay, but after three or four hills I had no steam left. My legs were shaking. I could barely keep the bike up. I had to eat. I stopped at Tasha's Amazing Food and put-putt golf. It really was a good burger. Too much, I had the rest wrapped.

Now I really had to book. On a map it doesn't look far yet it took me another 1.5 hours. My Warmshowser's host was not easy to find, plus there was a long way and a short way and I did double the long way until getting to their house.

Relaxed, in the ease of a comfy chair in a bucolic surrounding. I am here one more night.
Signing off from Merry Time.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My Bike Trip to Nova Scotia, NB, coast of Maine

Day 13, Mainayr to Acadia Nat. Park,

Tuesday June 27, 2017, 46 miles (74 km) - Total so far: 576 miles (926 km)

So perfect. Really a great day all around. Now sitting in tent waiting for a thunderstorm.It took me about 39 miles to get here and it wasn't too bad. Some roadworks on 1 made things a little hairy. I took the turn-off for 3, and continued to the entrance info center. There I used a special phone to call around to the campgrounds. Everything inside the park was full, but I was able to secure a tent site at Bar Harbor campground for 2 nights for $68. I know, it aS much as a hostel. Overall though it is a good value. Everything is convenient, the shuttle bus, the showers, and washrooms. There's even an ocean view.

After getting settled in I took the shuttle with my bike and got on carriage trails at Hull Visitor Center. I had absolutely no idea what this would be. Let me tell you it is a dream come true. Like riding in Paradise. Tomorrow I plan to get up early catch shuttle complete a circuit and then hike Cadillac Mt.

Feeling satisfied.
Fun Day in the Park

Wednesday June 28, 2017, 17 miles (27 km) - Total so far: 592 miles (954 km)

And when I say fun, I mean it.

One thing before I begin about today. Yesterday at a gas station diner I got the special. Chop suey with garlic toast. Yes an odd combo but what came on the plate was even weirder. It was macaroni hamburger goulash. Nothing as close to exotic as chop suey.

And also about yesterday, I realize I didn't say why it was paradise on the carriage paths. These are not merely cycle paths or mult-recreational paths. These are lanes through pristine forest, by still waters, up mountains with views. It is like backpacking but without having to carry all that stuff and work all day to go 5 miles. I did 17 more miles today on paths and it was terrific. I just love it here.

After cycling I caught an island shuttle to the trailhead for Cadillac Mt. It took me under 2 hours to get to the top and it was steep. Some boulder scrambling and walking on sheets of granite. Pics will come. I caught a ride down from a couple, caught another shuttle, and headed to Bar Harbor village green for a chicken wrap. These sandwiches are so big they last me a meal plus a snack.
Then I locked the bike and caught the Sand Beach bus, got off at Thunderhole and hiked the sea trail to Otter Cliff where I caught another bus. Which was good because at that minute it began to pour. Rain.

Anyway, retrieved my bike and caught yet another shuttle back to Bar Harbor campground. I'm tired, but --wait. A man with a truck painted pink is going through the campground ringing a cow bell selling handmade pies and cakes. I bought a red velvet whoopie pie from him. So excellent. Ate it with the last bit of hot tea I made this a.m.--a thousand years ago now it seems. Off now for a HOT 25 cent shower.
carriage trail
climbing Cadillac Mountain

view from Cadillac Mountain

view from Cadillac Mountain

storm brewing

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake

pond view

Witch hole Pond

view from Cadillac Mountain

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My Bike Trip to Nova Scotia, NB, coast of Maine

Day 11 @ St. Brendan's

rescue donkey

Sue and Alan

Day 12, Dennysville to Steuben, Mainayr Campground

Monday June 26, 2017, 63 miles (101 km) - Total so far: 530 miles (852 km)

I'd like say today was easy, but I had to put on my game face. First, it was hard to leave St. Brendans Retreat Center also called Holy Trinity Chapel. Alan and Sue welcomed me into their home. Even the dogs started to love me. We'd sit around the table and have deep talks. There were also chores to do: goats to feed and milk, donkey pens that needed mucked out, and little baby goats that needed to be bottle fed twice a day. This a.m. I helped separate about 2 gallons of goat milk. I left with the sweet taste of cream on my lips.

I knew I had at least 60 miles to do today--and 1/2 of this is up. Nothing like my JOGLE but yet it is taxing--especially in the hot sun. Yes, there was sun. A blessing and a curse. Then I got a flat tire. I pulled over and ex a mined it and found a tack stuck in the rear tire. Off came the bags and I turned the bike over. I was a trooper, yet anxious. I'm terrible at changing tires. I did almost everything then knew I wouldn't have enough finger strength to slip the tire over the last bit of wheel rim. I had made an out of the way turn and was not on the main road, yet I went out and stood by the road and the first car that came I flagged down. It was a nice young man with his own bike on a car top carrier. He was able to manipulate the tire into place and helped me inflate to proper PSI.

For the next 20 miles I worried I'd get a second flat. I saw nails and glass everywhere.

Plus my bottom hurt. I counted down the miles to Mainayr Campground, a picturesque pearl on the banks of Joy Cove/Bay. I have a campsite that over looks the water (tide is out). There's boatloads of mosquitoes, but everything else is perfect. Having tea and cookies and watching the sunset.
Blueberry Land

Mainayr Campground

view from my tent

dusky sunset

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Bike Trip to Nova Scotia, NB, coast of Maine

Day 9, New River Beach to St. Stephens

Friday June 23, 2017, 40 miles (64 km) - Total so far: 428 miles (688 km)

After yesterday on route 1 I wanted to make sure I didn't have a long day in the rain. So opted to leave campground at a fairly leisurely pace. Route 1 was taken in 2 segments, to St. George's then to St. Stephens. I got to St. George's and bought a chicken pot pie right out of the oven. Nice!

The day started sunny but rather quickly faded to cloudy. I kept my orange long sleeve riding shirt on the whole time. Wind was NOT an issue so route 1 went a lot faster. Easier than yesterday going up and down the hills. It began to spit rain after lunch, but continued on route 1 to Oak Bay right outside of St. Stephens. It was 50% rain predicted for today and 80 tomorrow. So after an ice cream at Teepee dairy bar I found a hidey spot. It's still quite early, but don't mind being settled before rain comes. I'd stopped at a campground, but they wanted $31 for a tent site. This way I'm only 2.5 from a Tim Hortons and 3 from the border.

Also saw my first cycle tourists, going the opposite direction. We stopped and chatted and they have a blog on CGOAB, Too Far.

Day 10, St. Stephens to Dennysville, ME

Saturday June 24, 2017, 39 miles (63 km) - Total so far: 466 miles (751 km)

Today was about firsts. First time riding bike over a border. First time riding past 45th Parallel, and first time milking goats.

So glad I broke ride into 2 days. 80 might have been pushing it. Got here at st. Brendans Retreat Center at 11 a.m. I realised when crossing border that I went from Atlantic to Eastern time zone. Took route 1 coastal road. Very good shoulder. A delight, but some long hills. In fact there has been lots of hills this trip, yet none have felt defeating.

I'm glad to be here with my hosts Sue and Alan for a few days.

half way to north pole


hello goat

Tom Turkey

Monday, September 25, 2017

My Bike Trip to Nova Scotia, NB, coast of Maine

Day 8, Digby/St. John Ferry to New River Beach

Thursday June 22, 2017, 30 miles (48 km) - Total so far: 388 miles (624 km)

What a lovely morning, almost hot and I didn't need to be anywhere until 11. But I left early for the ferry. Probably only a handful of times I've actually been early for a ferry. The last coupe of times I've just caught it before the doors closed. Had a nice chat with a wonderful woman, age 86, touring NS with a group. We had a lot in common--opposed to the fact she was a psychoanalyst--yet we agreed: neither of us dreamed. I'm usually too tired at night.

I got onto highway 1,and let me tell you that was hectic. It is a super highway that allows bikes. There is a wide shoulder that keeps me out of the way of traffic. Yet the trucks just barreled past me making me nervous. On top of that the wind was a huge factor. I rode right into it. With the sun and the wind and riding uphill, I was constantly parched. I had to plan drink breaks because I didn't dare drink while cruising. The wind made it such that I had to gear down going downhill.

I was so happy to turn off and ride to New River Beach Provincial Park, right by the Bay of Fundy. I arrived at low tide and took a 2 hour walk exploring the exposed shoreline. Right now at 10 pm the bay is completely submerged.

Still haven't decided if I'll take an extra day here and ride into the States on Saturday. The 1 is so stressful maybe Saturday will be less traffic. On the other hand it's a lot of miles on 1 and maybe I can break it up by riding to St. George tomorrow and rough camping. Rain is also in the forecast.

clear seas ahead

exposed rock, Bay of Fundy

exposed rock, Bay of Fundy

exposed rock, Bay of Fundy

wide beach, Bay of Fundy

wide beach, Bay of Fundy

Friday, September 22, 2017

My Bike Trip to Nova Scotia, NB, coast of Maine

Day 7, Yarmouth to Digby

Wednesday June 21, 2017, 68 miles (109 km) - Total so far: 358 miles (575 km)

Last night my motel room was a drying factory. There was so much--even if it wasn't wet it was damp. I aired out my sleeping bag and all the contents of my handlebar bag. It literally took all night for my riding shoes to dry. Every surface was scattered with items in various degrees of wetness.A couple of times I opened the door wondering if I was just being a baby and each time the wind and rain confirmed my instinct to stop.

This a.m. there was no fog. No rain. Nothing but sunshine and birdsong. The motel offered a continental breakfast and the clerk insisted I take extra for the road. I did.

Now let me say today was one of those days, so perfect, that it makes you love riding. You can ride and ride forever. There was sun and some clouds, low humidity, not a lot of traffic. Wind at my back. I cycled uphill like a pro. I didn't get lost or have to worry about making my destination.

I stopped at Church Point in Acadia country to tour the largest wooden church in North America. There were 2 other churches and will add them here later. St. Alphonse, St. Bernard, and Eglise Sacre Coeur.

A beautiful ride past St. Mary's Cape and on up the Evangeline Trail/route 1. Really a perfect ride. I got on 101 which doesn't have a lot of berm. But, again, traffic was courteous. I stopped for a blueberry and cream ice cream about 6 miles out of Digby. I'm staying the night at Digby campground about 2 miles from ferry.
camping Digby Campground

Saint-Alphonse de Clare Church, near Mavillette
Sacre Coeur Catholic Church, near Saulnierville
Church Point, I saw the spires a mile away, biggest wooden church in North America
St. Mary's Church, which is located on the campus of Université Sainte-Anne, was constructed between 1903 and 1905 in the form of a cross 58 m (190 ft.) long and 41 m (135 ft.) wide and the spire rises and impressive 56 m (185 ft.) above the surrounding countryside.

St. Bernard

working fishing/canning port