Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Catching Up--my latest story now posted online

Check out my story “Catching Up” at Sunlight Press. A tiny slice of life about how we slowly fall out of shape and that it’s never to late to catch up.

Black Wednesday Sale

5 out of 5 stars  Great for writers and teachers of writing.
ByMichelle Schaubon November 15, 2017
In this clever craft book, Hertenstein outlines a plan for busy writers to build a memoir in little flashes- those seemingly inconsequential moments that, when strung together, create a powerful memoir. Hertenstein provides a series of accessible yet thought-provoking prompts that can be completed in "the time it takes you to brush your teeth." Great for writers and teachers of writing as well.

5 out of 5 starsExcellent#
ByMel G.on June 18, 2016

I have read this book twice, and highlighted extensively. As a new memoir writer who works in slice of life and brief moments, I find her approach helpful. Highly recommend to all writers of memoir. Enjoyable read!

Available from wherever you download books. Also you can click on the icons and go straight
to Amazon

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hannah Arendt: Don’t Kill People

We’ve imbued our political parties with morals. For example, Republicans care about life. Thus, they will appoint pro life judges. Democrats care about human rights. Thus, they’ll be better at foreign policy—saying NO to Russia.

Bviously this is simplified. Also obviously I have no right to write about Hannah Arendt. A brilliant thinker.

This weekend I watched the movie Hannah Arendt. I knew about her peripherally like in the sense she was one of the people (émergie who fled Nazi Germany) who helped ferment The New School where my daughter went.

Once I saw the movie I was able to sort her into—Oh you thought that up, that line of thinking, about the question of evil. The movie released in 2012, Hannah Arendt died in 1975. Some of her books are:
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Revised ed.; New York: Schocken, 2004.
The Human Condition (1958) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). (Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1968.

I was surprised at how relevant and timely the movie felt. The notion of evil and abdicating what we know is right in order to achieve a particular outcome that we believe is ultimately right. For example voters in Alabama. Voting for a man who likely if elected will be thrown out of the Senate or at least censored because they
1)      Cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat
2)      They feel Judge Roy Moore will be a moral leader and see to it that the “right” people get on the Supreme Court
3)      Some believe that he’s God’s chosen (more on that later)

Belief is a tricky thing because in some of these cases people have abandoned their beliefs wholecloth. They’ve left off thinking all together.

Hannah Arendt in her pursuit of understanding evil in a post WWII, post-Hitler, post-Auschwitz, nuclear world struggled with alliances and fealties. She would not sacrifice what she believed just to keep things normal, to protect the status quo, or to satisfy family, friends, or country. That isn’t how philosophy works. Philosophy isn’t nationalistic or gender-specific. It has affairs and dabbles in various camps in order to get a reading, a report of what that space occupies. Thus, she angered many Jews.

When she wrote that evil was ordinary and that given a chance we would—all of us—sell out our mother, our tribe, our deepest sense of right and wrong for a higher purpose—or in Eichmann’s case, per someone’s order.

It’s how Trump got elected.

The very people who need a tax break, healthcare, housing, recovery treatment, safe food and drinking water, who care about family, the unborn voted against their interests. Against the published news reports, even against the candidate’s own words—they decided to believe in an alternative.

So we are at a crossroads. Of fake news, fake facts, conspiracies. The Russia Thing, if you will. People have decided to believe whatever they want because either there are no facts or they chose to believe in alternative facts.

Hannah Arendt got into trouble by blurring the edges of what the Western world fought and died for, by diluting their mottos and deconstructing their manifestos. We all have the ability to be evil. It is an individual choice and one frankly not all of us are able to acknowledge, myself included. I’ve held my nose and voted for someone I didn’t like just because they’d make the trains run on time.

Thus, some good Christian people are going to vote for Judge Roy Moore.

I think what Hannah Arendt was saying is that we are all capable of killing, of supporting killers, that we will find a way to justify genocide, and rationalize mass murder. Just don’t make us think about it too deeply or have to explain why.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Last Tab

Last Tab

Lastly, in closing up the tabs: an article at the BBC website: (Credit: Edouard Taufenbech)


Both articles are basically profiles of people who file away data/memories. Who can never forget. Some of us have excellent memories, some of us—mostly husbands—cannot remember what they went to the grocery for.

Researchers are not yet certain what forms the basis of memories. The assumption is that most memories are language based—thus, it is unlikely to have memories pre-verbal. Yet, I know I can recall certain images—an overhead light over my crib because I associated the seemingly glazed spiral with a honey bun, even though I still didn’t have a word for honey bun. I guess looking at it made me hungry. I wanted to eat that thing over my crib.

I remember climbing out of my crib. I wasn’t tall enough to open the door, so I would fall asleep in front of the door, making it difficult for mom to come in and check on me. Now some of this memory could be stuff Mom later recounted. Like the sleeping part. I suspect I was under the age of three.

The subject of the article, her memory stretch all the way back to being a baby. “I’d always know when it was Mum holding me, for some reason. I just instinctively always knew and she was my favourite person.” She has been diagnosed with a rare syndrome called ‘Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory’, or HSAM, also known as hyperthymesia. This unique neurological condition means that Sharrock can recall every single thing she did on any given date.

The second article has to do with the ability to hang onto every random date and memory and retain it at the fingertips of recall. The blessing and curse of this kind of memory is that it can be an anvil weighing you down. Every regret, mistake, coming back to you to be rehearsed all over again. Scenes of sadness, grief replayed over and over. It is a tremendous burden to bear.

‘Highly superior autobiographical memory’ (or HSAM for short), first came to light in the early 2000s, with a young woman named Jill Price. Emailing the neuroscientist and memory researcher Jim McGaugh one day, she claimed that she could recall every day of her life since the age of 12.
The subjects themselves find it hard to put their finger on the trigger, however; Veiseh, for instance, knows that his HSAM began with meeting his first girlfriend, but he still can’t explain why she set it off.

I remember applying mnemonic strategies before a test. In order to remember A I remember B. The whole house of cards can easily come undone. One presupposes the other. Very tricky. There were even courses you could send away for to help improve memory. For the person who cannot escape their memories they would gladly change places.

Two of the people interviewed with HSAM: “It can be very hard to forget embarrassing moments,” says Donohue. “You feel same emotions – it is just as raw, just as fresh… You can’t turn off that stream of memories, no matter how hard you try.” Veiseh agrees: “It is like having these open wounds – they are just a part of you,” he says.

It is a narrow road we travel, the tension between recall and what the memory represents. We don’t want to live in the land of memories 24/7. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Autobiographical Songs, Taylor Swift Hitmaker

This week I’m closing tabs. Those needling articles I’ve clipped or stuck a pin into and left open on my desktop hoping to get to later. One had to do with Taylor Swift. I know only what the Internet tells me about Taylor Swift as I have not followed her career or spent time listening to her music. Except to say some of the earlier Youtubes of her music seem really simple.

She’s a sensation. According to the radio her latest album, Reputation, has blown up the universe. On track to have the biggest sales ever. “Swift on track to sell more than 1 million records in the record’s first week.”

If only this kind of success could transfer to books. Not since Harry Potter has a new release made such a splash.

From the beginning she has been writing autobiographical songs, inserting herself as a character into the ballad/narrative/soundscape. From the BBC article:

Take, for example, her first US number one, Our Song.
Written for a high school talent show, it's a fairly typical tale of teenage romance until the final lines: "I grabbed a pen / And an old napkin / And I wrote down our song."
That's smart, self-assured songwriting for someone who wasn't old enough to vote. Notably, the lyrics insert the musician directly into the narrative - something she developed into a tried and tested trope.

Well, she must be doing something right. The reviewer went on to say that she’d also mastered the one-note melody—a bit of fast-talking rap/gush of words she piles up on notes. What could on paper be awkward, confusing, clumsy turn into (hits, yes and) conversational songs that are accessible to most listeners.

I’ve written here at this blog in the past about conversational poetry. Poetry that rejects form, that feels more like prayer, intimate revelations straight from the heart to the ear of the reader. The reviewer observed that by mimicking the cadence of speech, her lyrics are effortlessly conversational and vernacular. This must be a recipe worth repeating.

Also as someone who writes flash—it cannot be denied that Taylor Swift can work a whole story into a one-line lyric.
"She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / She's cheer captain / And I'm on the bleachers" (You Belong With Me)
"We're dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light" (All Too Well)
"I never saw you coming/ And I'll never be the same" (State of Grace)
"Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream" (Blank Space)
"Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room" (Out Of The Woods)

So no matter if you’re a fan, there’s a lot that can be gleaned from studying pop hits. And, perhaps, we might hit just the right note.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The core of it is true

I’ve been catching up on news, on the tabs open on my computer, the articles I’ve been saving to read. Actually I was embarrassed into doing this by my daughter who immediately seized upon my psychotic condition: the inability to let go. I always think I’ll come back to finishing that story, article etc later. Then later turns into 37 tabs on my laptop.

Mom! What’s going on!?

So today I dedicated my morning to determining if the open tabs are something I really want to read, have expired, or no longer relevant. With the dozen or so tabs left I began plowing through them, skimming or actually reading.

In the middle of this process I ended up opening a few more doors. I stumbled across an article in Vanity Fair online about the new movie Lady Bird. One of the pieces had to do with the art director and how he was able to make the movie look like a memory. He simply took it down a generation like a Xerox making a copy of a copy. Which is a good way of describing a memory. Essentially an open tab in our brain that gets corrupted by neglect, diminished by layers of overcopying, wish fulfillment, projection.

An interviewer asked the writer and director Greta Gerwig about her autobiographical movie. She had to backpedal. It is not autobiographical. At its core it is autobiographical. But also a work of fiction. This is a lot how I write—both memoir and fiction. Blurring the genres.

Because I try not to get stuck on definitions, or hung up on truth, I can keep going—hoping something sticks.

As many times as I close a tab, a new one opens.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Dutton, 2016

Not exactly a memoir, told in the form of a textbook. A cute gimmick. But it works. Really, really works.

We get patches, glimpses where we nod our head in recognition, then slowly, think: I could be writing about that except—

I never once—and here it is strange because all I do at this blog is tell people to record the ordinary—except I didn’t think it was important. The very meaning of ordinary. We don’t recognize it until it is gone.

Just like, you always thought there would be, would never go away, could never imagine the world without, until a sighting becomes a cause for celebration. Things that used to be always:

Monarch butterflies
Worms on the sidewalk after a rain

So next time you get that niggling thought—jot it down. You might not end up with a New York bestselling Textbook, but you will have a record of having lived a life.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Examples of Synchronicity

They could just be meaningless coincidences, but if so then why do I remember them over and over and shake my head. Flashes of recognition where my path crossed someone else’s. What re the chances!

Girl at Sherwyn’s Health Food Shop

It’s now closed. They sold vitamins and health food before gluten-free and other foods were more readily available. Before the Whole Foods swallowed up the block. Anyway I went there with some friends. It was an excuse to hang out. I was standing in line with Terry and I heard, almost a murmur, “Jane Feeback.” I looked around. Was it the Muzak? I thought I heard someone saying my maiden name.

It was the cashier. She said I wasn’t sure it was you. She then proceeded to tell me her name. I tried to fake it, but I didn’t remember her. She said, I came to your house collecting for --- cause and you went upstairs and brought down a pickle jarful of coins and cash. I seriously did not remember. The idea I was so extravagant—it was embarrassing. Apparently I just handed over like a week’s worth of tips to her. I’ve never forgotten it, she said.

It was a moment and then we left the store. Since then I’ve not forgotten this encounter.

Meeting Rick and Karen on the Bike Path

I was cycling back from Milwaukee. In early spring. Brilliant sunshine but chilly. Somewhere outside of Zion in the middle of nowhere. I know random. In the distance I spied 2 other cyclists. I caught up with them only to discover it was Rick and Karen. Hi guys! They were on an anniversary outing, coming back from a B & B in Zion. I rode with them for maybe a mile but thinking they might be wanting some alone time I sped up and left them.

Another Bike Encounter

This one is much more recent. It was nighttime and I was riding to the train. Friday, and the station in Wilmette was deserted. I wheeled my bike on to the train. I was the only customer. Then, before pulling out another cyclist hurried on. He pulled back his hood and I was surprised. Teel! We looked at each other and laughed. Neither of us expected to see another rider at that hour, at this time of year. We chatted the whole way back into the city.

Out of the Mist

This last instance doesn’t necessarily involve me personally, but tangentially. My friend Johanna was just here from Germany visiting. We’ve known each other for 20 years. In fact we had a reunion camping trip up in Door County. When she was here the first time she and I and Monica went to Newport State Beach and camped by the shore of Lake Michigan.

Back home in Germany sometime in the late 1990s she met a guy walking in the forest. It was foggy and not very crowded. In this nature park were giant relics left behind by the Romans, supposedly marauding barbarians scared them off and they abandoned big stone things. She noticed his T-shirt, a band she recognized. He said he was from Chicago and she asked him if he knew Jane Hertenstein. Well, in fact Terry did. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Flash Back, Meta Me, Our Souls at Night

Monday, April 18, 2016
Meta Me
OUR SOULS at Night=now a movie

Meta is an odd word; it is all about me. Self-referential. And, we do it in the subtlest of ways. Right when I’m enjoying a work of fiction I get a glimmer, a suggestion, that this book is all about the author. It is likely their story.

At this blog I’ve reviewed Aleksandar Hemon’s short stories, Love and Obstacles and Lily Tuck’s Liliane—all supposedly fiction, but both hovering on the edge of autobiography.

With Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and The History of Great Things by Elizabeth (Betsy!) Crane we are easily clued in. The author actually references themselves. In Our Souls at Night the main characters talk over the morning newspaper while at breakfast and mention that that one writer, his latest novel is being made into a play. She’d enjoyed the last production the playhouse did of his work and now it looks like they are launching another.

“He could write a book about us. How would you like that?”—she asks.
Louis replies to her,  “I don’t want to be in any book.”

The joke is on them—and a bit on us. It is all imaginary, it is all so real. Holt the imaginary county and imaginary county town were all spun over 25 years ago from Haruf’s head. He was blessed before he passed away last November to see several of his novels transformed for the stage. It must have pleased him immensely because he brings it up in the course of conversation between his characters. Louis says:

“But it’s his imagination. He took the physical details from Holt, the place name of the streets and what the country looks like and the location of things, but it’s not this town. .. It’s all made up.”

I like to imagine Kent Haruf writing those lines with the flicker of a smirk on his lips. I loved Plainsong and his follow up novel Eventide and also Benediction. Our Souls at Night is his last. Unless one of his characters cares to recreate a novel about Haruf; that would be interesting.

Monday, November 6, 2017

This Past Year

November 5th is my birthday and just thinking about life a year ago is a bit depressing. It seems the world has cracked and broken into two. November 5 seems so naïve, so innocent.

Democracy before reality TV invaded politics.

Anyway thinking about this I have compiled a list of how I’ve managed to get through this past year:

*Cds: Josh Garrels The Light Came Down, Carrie Newcomer The Beautiful Not Yet
*“fake” news: BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, NPR
*Podcasts: Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Snap Judgment
(this is my new favorite, I spend a lot of time listening to these)
*counseling (lots)
*writing/not writing
*bike rides: just this year alone=Nova Scotia, coast of Maine, carriage trails in Acadia National Park, Old Plank Trail, I & M, Centennial Trail, North Shore Channel Trail, Green Bay trail, Des Plaines River Trail, Kal-Haven Trail, Prairie Duneland Trail, Oak Savannah Trail, Lakefront, etc
*walks along the lake (see also running)
*Anina Fuller: her letter to me last December accepting my application to Art Week was a major boost!
*Great Spruce Head Island: my week there was a lifesaver, in my dreams I go back
*Food: specifically carbs, anything bread
For example muffins, bagels, scones, Baker Miller Doughboys, doughnuts, pizza crust, pie, pita
--honorable mention: ice cream
*prayer: a big thank you to Crystal Chan’s Evening of Calm and Grounding, votive candles, yoga poses, group therapy, meditation, and, yes, prayer
*tea, candles, pretty cups
*strangers smiling at me, holding the door, scooting over on the bus

All of this has helped me hold it together this past year. What about you? Do you have a list?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Three Rivers Press

Reading this book posthumously—hers not mine—means every word, every thought experiment takes on a life of its own, an importance not originally intended. Even the subtext on the cover:
I have not survived against all odds.
I have not lived to tell.
I have not witnessed the extraordinary.
This is my story.

Rosenthal is contagious. Her joy, her exuberance. She is not annoying. What she’s been able to do is make me think, just possibly, we might someday to walk this road together, the ones of us still here.

Things Amy and I have in common:
Kenneth Koch
A few mutual acquaintances
An appreciation for the ordinary

That’s why her book has resonated with me. Even the prescient entries that when I read them I cringe:

Thanks for your 51 years and insights into life. You crammed a lot of observation into a short span. How many times can I write the word bittersweet? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal Posthumously

First—just like Amy—I used to think the word was a typo; it should be post-humorously, meaning death is beyond humor. There is no more laughter.

You see Amy died earlier this year. March to be exact. A crappy month is the crappiest of years. Years we will come to think of as post-humorously.

Which makes reading her wit and zest for life and love all the more bittersweet. Every word, every reflection is now colored with this knowledge: she writes no more.

I dwell in this tension—I wish I’d known her when alive. Glad I hadn’t known her, as the idea of losing her would be overwhelming, especially in last days of winter in a hard, hard year.

Then came the viral of viralist: her piece in The New Yorker announcing 1) she was dying, 2) she hadn’t passed yet, 3) why I might like to date her husband.

If you haven’t read this essay then what rock have you been hiding under. You must be the last person on earth not to have read it. The world cried reading it and cried again days later when it was announced that the viral of viralist authors:
Amy Krouse Rosenthal Dead at 51 of Ovarian Cancer

Which makes reading Encyclopediaof an Ordinary Life a surreal experience. If I had read it in 2004 when it first released or even during the Obama years I would have said, Yes this is how the world works. I’m inspired! We’re all on the road together.

But reading it now, ¾ of the way through 2017, on this side of a shit tipping point I feel 1) terrible I never personally met her, 2) wish her family peace, 3) wish us all peace, 4) wish—if ever there was a chance for this world that Amy would see it and come back and whisper it into my ear.

Because she would be able I’m sure to see the upside. I know I can’t.