Tuesday, February 28, 2017

3 Janes Go To See Hamilton

3 Janes Go To See Hamilton
Dedicated to Jane McSweeney and her niece Jane

A confluence of Janes in the play-going stream,
pushed upstairs to the
first balcony.

We take our seats
but not without discussion
and shuffling.

At this height I feel
my vulnerability:
I need eyeglasses
to read the Playbill.
Don’t stand up—
for fear of being pitched forward.

The curtain rises
and immediately
the audience begins to sing,
clap and cheer.
It’s hard to hear
the actors,
and history passes
at a two-act clip.
Nevertheless, I am in the midst
of a phenomena
a country struggling,
a diverse cast/audience
taking shots.

We all want liberty,
happiness, power, prestige
a chance.

What’s playing out
two stories below me on the stage
reflects the story
playing out on the streets behind me.
Duels=gun violence
Adultery/blackmail=how things get done

The finale and we
(in retrospect there is no curtain).
We simply depart,
a waterfall of humanity,
pouring out onto the sidewalks
as we hurry by folks
rattling cups for change.

Everyone wants change.
We say goodbye
awkwardly by scaffolding and
the Janes go their separate ways
into the night

into the third act.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Visitation Ladies

When I first came to Chicago in the early 80s I volunteered at a city mission. It was fairly disorganized and chaotic. I never knew from one day to the next what my assignment would be. Often the mission got requests from the elderly for help with household chores. Some of this was ridiculous—they didn’t need help, they needed a bulldozer. I got used to heading out with an address in my pocket expecting anything. I remember wading through an apartment filled thigh-high with trash. Mixed in were bags of money, just randomly tossed about. I wrote about visiting Ida and her vermin-filled apartment. Later she was found dead beneath a blanket of newspapers. (see "That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do", Spring 2012, Adroit Journal)

The point is you didn’t know what you’d get.

In these current unsettling times I’ve been having déjà vu. My mind keeps flashing back to past visitation ladies.

Back then Ronald Reagan had been elected on a wave of populism. Supposedly a happier day was on the horizon— after deregulation, after the recession, after the factories closed. There was an explosion of homelessness. AIDS was largely ignored, a plague visited upon gays. The only thing that made facing each day easier was that there was no Internet or constant news cycle. Now I wake up and am instantly bombarded: attacks on Jewish community centers, Jewish daycares, Jewish cemeteries. White supremists marching in the streets, waving their flags. Hundreds, thousands of people being rounded up and deported. Citizens afraid to leave their home. Journalists derided as the “enemy.” Rumors of a Muslim registry. Travel bans.

Several visitation ladies had lived through the worst of times. Niki, Nevena Stojcic, was 18 years old when she was kidnapped off the streets of her town in Serbia by German soldiers and forced to work in a submarine factory. She had been born with a dislocated hip. Back then something as simple to correct was left, so she was hobbled. Consequently her back became twisted with scoliosis. Permanently small, she was perfect to get in to tiny, tight spaces to rivet. She lived through air raids and bombings of the factory, daily she was threatened with sexual assault, always she was in physical pain. At the end of the war, unwilling to return to communist Yugoslavia, she went first to France and after five years as a displaced person, she was able to immigrate to the United States. By this time, 1950, she was 24.

Hilde “visited” Niki until her death in 1999. Towards the end of her life, after several surgeries and a hip replacement, her body began to give out. Infections caused her body to become septic and she had to have a leg amputated. She became wheelchair bound. According to Hilde: “One amazing thing about Niki was that in the midst of all her hardships she knew that God loved her and would listen to her. She loved the psalms in which David would pour out his complaints to God. ‘If he could do it, I can do it,’ ” she would say. Hilde once told me that if she had another daughter she would have named her Nevena.

Hilde memorialized Niki in a song that she wrote and performed with her band The Crossing.

Eva was a Jew who escaped from Nazi Germany in 1939. As she matured into a teenager she saw the writing as it were on the wall. She complained to her father about perceived injustices. Her father, a doctor, basically told her to chill. It’s not going to happen; it’s not going to get that bad. Our neighbors will never turn on us.

Nevertheless, Eva and her boyfriend and two other friends just 19 years old make plans. She bribes an official to get papers for the four of them. They have to figure out (pre-Internet!) how to safely cross borders. And, they cannot take anything with them. Luggage would be a dead give-away. So the day arrives and Eva and her boyfriend set out. Her mother comes with her as far as she can, as she has no papers, and at a certain stop they say good bye.

She never saw her mother, father, and sister again. She never knew what happened, their letters suddenly stopped.

After a series of connections Eva and her boyfriend arrived in New York City. He proposed to her in a comic fashion. He went to get a driver’s license and came back with a marriage license instead! Afterwards they settled in Chicago to wait out the war.

Meanwhile her brother made it as far as Canada where because he was a German citizen he was interred in a camp. It was only later Eva learned the truth about the rest of her family. Her father died of an illness, but her mother and sister were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz. Eva and her husband visited the Holocaust Museum in DC soon after it opened. A staff person took her aside—would you like to go to the Archive Room. There, was the records the Germans had kept of all the deportees. Eva’s mother and sister were killed immediately after arriving at the camp.

Eva and her husband never had children and he passed away before her. She was sick and lonely when Sarah Sullivan, my friend, met her. Little by little age incapacitated her and she’d complain. Sarah told me she’d have to say to Eva: Listen you escaped from the Nazis, you can do this! Until the end she attended the opera. She lived until age 94.
Eva and husband at outdoor Berlin cafe, right before leaving, Eva in the middle

Eva with friend who was killed during war as a spy/saboteur

Eva when Sarah met her

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hot Flash Friday: sketches

Because I’m trying to read authors from Maine see Artweek, I stumbled upon an old copy of Country Byways by Sarah Orne Jewett published 1881. I’d read a long time ago Country of the Pointed Firs so I was familiar with Jewett. She has a very interesting personal history and is recognized as an outstanding regional writer, though lately her work has not received a lot of interest. Byways according to Wiki is described as “sketches.”

Again, I was familiar with this term. Louisa May Alcott wrote Hospital Sketches (1863) about her experience working as a Union nurse during the Civil War. Her literary hero, Charles Dickens wrote Sketches by Boz (1839). Sketches to me seem like an early form of blog posts. From Wiki: A sketch story, literary sketch or simply sketch, is a piece of writing that is generally shorter than a short story, and contains very little, if any, plot. The genre was invented in the 16th century in England, as a result of increasing public interest in realistic depictions of "exotic" locales.[1] The term was most popularly-used in the late nineteenth century. As a literary work, it is also often referred to simply as the sketch.[2] A sketch story is a hybrid form. It may contain little or no plot, instead describing impressions of people or places, and is often informal in tone.[1]

For Hot Flash Friday why not attempt a sketch, your impressions. Compose an impressionistic scene, a loose rendition of a recent experience or memory, or a quick jot from your travels.

Just now I am making up a book which is to come out in the fall -- called Country By-Ways. It is mostly sketches of country life -- and of my own country life. So far I have simply tried to write down pictures of what I see -- but by and by I am going to say some things I have thought about those pictures. I don't know whether the pictures or the meditations will seem truest, but I know that I have found out some bits of truth for myself --
    Letter from Sarah Orne Jewett to Theophilus Parsons, 12 June 1881

Right now, write!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oban, Scotland: Paying it Forward

I’d met Alex in Fort Augustus after ascending the Suidhe Viewpoint on the south side of Loch Ness. He looked terrible. I was no masterpiece either. I’d spent the night in a field behind a pub near Whitebridge as I had no more energy to tackle another climb. At one point I was tempted to throw my bike on the ground and give up. I was defeated by rain, wind, and relentless steep climbs. I learned Alex had gone ahead and tackled the climb and spent the night stealth camping in a clump of trees beside the road. No wonder he looked a wreck. We hooked up and rode together to Fort Williams.

Together we followed the Caledonian Canal or the Great Glen Way, essentially a forest track for 30 miles. Alex had promised himself this trip after passing his bar exam in Montreal. (He seemed so young!) He’d rented the bike in Inverness and was planning a bike tour of the Outer Hebrides. I of course was hoping to complete a JOGLE. We decided to ride together at least to Oban. At Fort Williams we stopped at a bike shop where they tried to replace some broken spokes. It was only his second day on the bike. As we pulled out in the RAIN from the shop another spoke popped, indicative of a way bigger problem. But at that moment we were looking for a place to camp. We rode through thick milky rain to a campground at the base of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain.

We sent up in torrents and made a dash to the campground restaurant where we charged our phones and ordered a hot meal. I recall a feeling of deep warmth washing over me—until I had to go back out into the rain. That night the wind howled and my little tent shook.

In the morning Alex was on a mission to get his bike fixed and so we parted—hopefully to meet later. Indeed, later on that day I came out of a café and met Alex on the trail! Just like that we went on serendipitously. In Oban we discovered a great hostel in a former church and after settling and showering went out to secure food. We bought ingredients to make a huge pasta dinner. On our way to Tesco we passed a small shop where he bought a soda. On a candy rack I spied a Lion bar.

Once while in Prague we were on holiday with another family, one more familiar with the place than us. The couple had actually lived there for a few years before coming back to the States. Anyway, she spied a Lion bar at a shop. “You have to try this,” she said. She went in and bought one for me and her.

Wow. She was right; it was a GREAT chocolate bar and one unlike anything I’d ever had.

So I said to Alex, “You have to try this.” And I told him the story of being in Prague and my friend introducing me to the Lion bar, the world’s greatest chocolate bar. We continued onto Tesco and afterwards we passed the same convenient store where he asked me to wait. He went in and bought another bar since he loved it so much, and one for me. With a smile, he said, “You have to try this.”

So the cycle continues, each of us paying it forward.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Once Upon a Time: Siena, Italy

Once Upon a Time: Siena, Italy

We had just arrived in Siena and spent the day checking out the candy-cane striped cathedral, duomo, in the historic city center. As evening settled a light rain began to fall. We passed restaurants and read the chalkboard signs out front. We observed diners cozy and warm in their familiar setting, talking and laughing in their native language, while outside, we felt outside. Strangers wanting nothing more than to be inside somewhere, part of this wonderful place.

Which seemed impossible.

Around us residents hurried carrying groceries, crusty bread, wine for their dinner. We were like a rock in a stream as they flowed by. The drizzle added to the incongruity we felt, blurring street lamps, creating glowing arcs that radiated out to us.

Then out of the darkness came a little old lady in a trim-fitting coat navigating the steep cobbled streets. We ran over to her. I extended an arm for her to lean on while my husband lifted an umbrella over her. Together we walked her home.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Once Upon a Time: Tranås, Sweden

Once Upon a Time: Tranås, Sweden

I blindly followed Lotta. We were on a bike ride around Lake Sommen. The roads reminded me of driveways, tiny little lanes, some dirt-packed. I couldn’t imagine cars navigating these narrow byways. At some point even Lotta was lost; she stopped to consult with a farmer.

Of course I didn’t know what they were saying. Sometimes when traveling I’d often feel an out-of-body experience, as if I was observing myself reacting. This is just one example of how travel transports us out of comfort zones; everything is new and slightly off-kilter.

We continued on, pumping up a sudden, steep rise where we entered an emerald forest. Earth and sky were this amazing mossy green. Spongy moss carpeted the forest floor while the tree canopy sheltered us, Only patches of blue sky showed through. Even the tinkling stream nearby gleamed green. Eerily dark, fecund, musky—all my senses were attuned. Lotta explained to me that we were in a mushroom forest and that the farmer had said he knew where the best mushrooms were. It was a secret.

Once out into brilliant sunlight I felt as if I had my own secret: this special place that I may never see again.
44 km, 8 kantareller o 1 Karl-Johan - dagens accomplichments.
44 miles, 8 Cantharellus O 1 Karl Johan - contemporary accomplichments.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Once Upon a Time: Goreme, Turkey

Once Upon a Time: Goreme, Turkey

One time we took a night bus from Selçuk to Goreme, better known as Cappadocia. Just like nomads traveling by night we’d come upon an oasis in the darkness where a squadron of attendants ran out to gas and wash down the exterior of the bus before we moved on into a vacuum. Eventually we arrived in town before sun up. We still didn’t know exactly where we were. That’s how it is with travel—especially in places with little doodley hooks on their letters; I was continually lost, unsure how to pronounce words, what to order to eat, afraid I wouldn’t see the right stuff. Somehow we managed to make it to our hostel.

It was early; not a thing was stirring except a cat lounging on a cushion in the unlocked reception office. There was a computer there and I checked my email—though once again I was flummoxed by the foreign keyboard. Nothing was where it should be. I wandered outside. The sky was beginning to lighten, stars were growing dim. Slowly I became aware of shapes.

I remember feeling awestruck in sudden light as I realized I was standing in a courtyard surrounded by sand cave rooms carved out of unusually soft volcanic rock. It was like no place I’ve ever been.

pic of me

Monday, February 13, 2017

Creepy Genealogy

Over the weekend I read about a new genealogy website, actually a controversy brewing over a genealogy website that spends time analyzing the present—and perhaps, eerily, revealing too much information, about you. In the the article a woman did a people search and her name popped up, not unusual as she was an author, but the troubling part was that at this website the names of her children and their ages was listed. So this wasn’t so much about researching the past, but the present. She didn’t want that info out there.

I’ve been off and on conducting research into my family. What I find on the web is both interesting and confusing. For example one bit of misinformation about my dad has snowballed into all the websites that collect and generate genealogical information. It started with a misprint in an on-line newspaper obituary and spread from there. He did not die in 2001, but in December of 2011. Yet, now and forever on the WWW he will have died in 2001. That date will carry much more pervasive weight than anything I put together.

Secondly, why is this lady so upset? Her personal info is out there, no matter what she does. Privacy on the internet is complicated and unless she is a rich author and can afford to hire someone to keep track and manage her on-line reputation, then what recourse does she have.

From the article: Profiles on FamilyTreeNow include the age, birth month, family members, addresses and phone numbers for individuals in their system, if they have them. It also guesses at their “possible associates,” all on a publicly accessible, permalink-able page. It’s possible to opt out, but it’s not clear whether doing so actually removes you from their records or (more likely) simply hides your record so it’s no longer accessible to the public.

The woman pulled up her file and opted out.

One other note on my own research. At the turn of the century—the last one—it was considered an achievement for someone to be a high school graduate. Apparently in Nicholas County, Kentucky in 1900 you did well if you made it that far. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hot Flash Friday: Write a Flash Mystery

In  places to submit on Wednesday I gave the link to:

Flash mystery

Flash bangs are a type of contusion grenade meant to flush an assailant out of hiding or from shelter. They startle.

Right now write a sudden mystery, a flash bang that will leave the reader startled. Flash is typically anything under 1000 words. Start small, the hardest challenge, by attempting a tweet mystery of 140 characters, and grow it, adding different word counts, 50, 100, etc The above is looking for:
  • We want stories that feature believable characters who speak naturally, realistic situations that bleed conflict, and surprise endings that stay with us long after we reach the final period.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Places to Submit

Splicikty, post complete

The Bumblebee looks soft and cuddly but hides a venomous sting.  Entice us with your inviting prose that serves up a pointed ending in 750 words or fewer.  Want feedback on your story?  Get a professional critique from one of the Pulp Literature editors for only $15 more.
Contest opens:  1 January 2017
Deadline:  15  February 2017
Winner notified:  15 March 2017
Winner published in:  Issue 15, Summer 2017
Prize:  $300
Entry fee: $15
Earlybird fee (before 15 January): $10
Entry fees include a 1-year digital subscription to Pulp Literature.
This contest is for previously unpublished works of fiction up to 750 words in length.  Total entries limited to 300.

Flash mystery

1000 or less

Monday, February 6, 2017

Innocents and Others

Book Review
Innocents and Others
Dana Spiotta

To be honest I was tempted NOT to finish reading. Then I had to ask myself—is it that I’m hating this book or is it making me feel uncomfortable. The latter, so I returned to finish it. So glad.

This is a book about disturbing self-realization, about loneliness, and the hunger for intimacy—our fantasies and fears about it. Nothing sends me into a spiral as much as loneliness. Just saying the word is enough to bring tears to my eyes. They’re there, just below the surface.

Fame is one of the underlying messages of the plot: what’s it good for, where does it get us? Andy Warhol once said: Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

The novel works through a process of confession, small incremental revelations. In the end all we can sometimes manage is a bit of good. Not always redemption but a similitude of absolution.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hot Flash Friday=Centerville, Ohio

Hot Flash Friday=Centerville, Ohio

Check out my latest appearance in 50-word Stories, literally stories that are 50 words.

You try it; write your own flash memory based upon a place you used to live. A once upon a time, and go from there.

Right now: write!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Waiting for Christmas

Waiting for Christmas

At Christmas every light comes on,
in the basement where my daughter
home from college retrieves ice cream,
in the dining room a lamp illuminates
the abandoned puzzle, the laundry nook
dazzles, while the back porch radiates a
smoky incandescence, the TV flickers
a blue twilight, in the middle of the night
my heart pulses as I reflect. Soon
the house will be silent, the only light
the bulb above my reading chair.
I'm lonely and miss you