Thursday, November 29, 2018

That Time of Year--again

"Advent" by James Schuyler

Open my eyes on the welcome
rosy shock of sunshine.

Open the first little door
of my Advent calendar:

a darling hobby horse
on wheels. Open

the window a crack: and
quickly close it against

a knife-like draught. The day
looks warmer than it is.

My other job is helping to curate art at Wilson Abbey/Everybody's Coffee--here is a glimpse at our current project #biggestadventcalendar

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Come and See

Wilson Abbey Windows #biggestadventcalendar are back! Located at 935 W. Wilson Avenue in Chicago, the three-story building will again unveil each day of Advent a new window decorated with seasonal images.

Beginning December 1, celestial themes with a mix of magic realism will occupy each window, culminating with the final center window December 25. “This year there will be doves in outerspace,” says building manager and co-founder of Everybody’s Coffee, Karl Sullivan. “For instance the Tuskegee Airmen represent the Three Wisemen.” New this year will also be a Winter Wonderland in the ground floor windows of Everybody’s Coffee.

According to Karl Sullivan: “Our objective is to show the intensity and beauty of the Advent season.”

The windows will be composed of mixed media such as sculpture, textiles, innovative lighting, as well as layered paintings. Designers and artists are Karl Sullivan, Suzanne Stewart, Genesis Winter, and Diane Borden.

Wilson Abbey and Everybody’s Coffee invite you to Come and See. Follow them on Instagram and at Facebook=Wilson Abbey Windows and at Twitter using the #biggestadventcalendar. Stop by every day for a new reveal. As you drive by 935 W. Wilson Avenue be sure to look up!

Instagram theabbot939
Facebook Wilson Abbey Windows

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sleeping beneath Southern Lights

Readers of this blog know that I’ve written about being a poor writer. Jobs in the arts don’t exactly pay like jobs in finance. So many of the journals I’ve appeared only offer publishing credit and not payment. I walk a tightrope between wanting to see my work in print and insisting that I am reimbursed for my effort. Anyway, suffice it to say when I drove down to Kentucky for the Book Festival I wasn’t planning on staying at a hotel.

I’m a couchsurfing host in Chicago and went that route first—only one person responded to my request, with the reply that they were busy that weekend. Then I googled camping to find that RIGHT NEXT TO the Horsepark All-Tech Arena was the Horsepark Campground. It seemed like a good idea until the day I left Chicago—in the midst of flurries, with a week of BELOW average temperatures.

I had a few concerns, but took extra layers.

I’m a pro at camping, and have had experience sleeping outside in cold. I just didn’t know if I wanted to do it the night before a book show.

When I pulled into the campground, though I began to get excited. They were ground zero for an outdoor light festival called Southern Lights. Imagine synchronized lights, horses galloping, tin soldiers marching, snowflakes softly falling. There were lights displaying the twin spires of Churchhill Downs, jockeys leading horses, gingerbread houses, and horse stables=all lit up for the season.

After setting up my small tent I walked the circuit and then crawled inside my sleeping bag with the lights glowing around me. It was like falling asleep in a Winter Wonderland.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Stories of a Family Christmas, 1963

Stories of a Family Christmas, 1963

I loved these pajamas! I wore them until the pants became shorts. I kept the cap, for a favorite stuffed animal. This was the house on Hackney Street in Kettering; I must be about 4, almost 5. Nancy is 6. The metal kitchen set was a shared toy, though I might have appreciated it more. Eventually it got moved to a backyard playhouse where it rusted and one day I opened up the oven door to discover a nest of spiders. After that I never touched the kitchen set.
A rare instance of Nancy and I playing together—though to be exact it might be more parallel play. Growing up we were nothing alike. Never one to fall into gender prescribed roles, she was more a tomboy, at home on a basketball court rather than in a kitchen. My sister was a mystery to me. I think today she might be referred to as on the spectrum. Someone with sensory issues. She could not abide clothes with tags on them; they had to be removed. Clothes in general made her itch. She was picky about fabrics and textures. Physical activity was her language. Nancy could occupy herself for hours shooting hoops, whereas I would hole up reading a book. Years later she would likely unwrap baggy shorts and jerseys and basketballs, while I’d cherish gifts of books. One Christmas I read through my stack of books in one afternoon before turning to a book given to my dad, The Summer of ’42, where I came across the word fuck and a scene involving “rubbers.” This definitely felt like a bridge too far.

I remember this girl! Busy Janie wearing her Christmas Day pajamas, with her skates strapped on, making something at her kitchen set. I’m sure I’m trying to tell my older sister what to do. I could never keep my mouth shut. I always had a bright idea. Going a hundred miles an hour, doing two things at once, trying to be the boss. Driven to go further than anyone else.
–––No wonder most times Nancy wanted nothing to do with me.

Wrapping paper is tossed to the side. Grandpa bushed from an early chaotic morning has fallen asleep on the couch. Days of anticipation have now been realized. The momentous moment has passed, and Nancy and I are busily playing with our new kitchen set. We were meant to “share” this gift, just as the older boys, Steve and Tom, were given shared toys. Ones too expensive to be for just one kid.

I might cook up a breakfast and then tackle the dishes in the play sink. I loved to pretend. I could enter a Jane World to escape just as Pop-pop did when snoozing.

It is a picture of American middle-class security, a time of prosperity, as the “greatest generation” forged ahead.
–––Yet there is so much left unsaid.

We are on the cusp of tumultuous years, the Vietnam War, generational divisions, addiction, shame, mental illness.

In the aftermath we will quietly play house.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Holiday Flash

Here is a contest you might want to consider sending flash work inspired by the holidays.

Friday Flash Fiction is about to launch this year's Christmas Competition – usual prize, $50 in the winner's local currency. As ever it'll be sponsored by Comely Bank Publishing.

You'll be invited to take part in two ways:
You'll be invited to submit one (or more) stories to the competition; AND
You'll be invited to vote for the story you think is best.
First of all we'll be inviting anyone to write a flash fiction story of 100 words or fewer. The story has to be in the English language but that's about the only limitation. This year is theme-free – the door is wide open for you.

Every 100-word story posted in from the 1st December until entries close on TUESDAY 18th December will be eligible to win. Entry is COMPLETELY FREE.

In accordance with tradition, last year's winner, Lyn Miller and I will select around half a dozen contenders. Our choice will be purely subjective, but we hope you'll like the ones we pick. We'll be looking for a combination of originality and plain good writing.

Once we've chosen that short list, we'll get back to you – probably just before Christmas – and what will happen is that we'll invite each of you to vote for the winner from our short list.

We'll get back to you towards the end of the month to remind you again. The competition is a public one, but we hope lots of you will enter.

Friday Flash Fiction is a 100-word challenge site that publishes selected work online every Friday. For more information go to

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kentucky Book Festival, Nov 17th

Where else can you go to see a rodeo and a book show? The Kentucky Book Show had it all: Words & Hooves, Books & Horses!
a Stein with a Stain, Berenstain Bear

super excited

on a panel with David Joy and Crystal Wilkinson

Monday, November 19, 2018

Flash Fiction and the Holidays

Flash Fiction and the Holidays

The Yuletide season is a perfect time to write flash memoir.
1)      We have no time to write a gajillion words, so keep it simple and small, haiku Christmas! Remember Dicken’s A Christmas Carol was one of his shortest and MOST popular stories, The best things come in small packages.
2)      So MUCH material is generated by dysfunctional families, Christmas feast disasters, Gift of the Magi moments. We all have memories conjured by this festive/unfestive time of the year.

So I have some ideas I’ll share with you this week as we head into Thanksgiving—which launches us into Black Friday and the Advent Season.

My first tip is to come to a class I’ll be facilitating at OCWW in Winnetka.

Jane Hertenstein - Holiday Flash
December 20, 2018

9:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln Ave., Winnetka IL
Guest – $20.00
Member – $10.00
Non-Member – $20.00
Student – $10.00

Jane Hertenstein leads us in a special Flash Fiction and Memoir workshop and contest. We'll get a flash course in writing flash, then Jane will turn us loose to write 500 words or less, fiction or memoir, on something related to holiday experiences. A week later, member participants are invited to submit their final drafts to Jane, who will select up to three entries to feature in the OCWW newsletter.

Go to for more information and to register for the class. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Radio and Memories

Susan Jordan, This American Life
Radio and Memories

Even on the radio I could tell: She was a nice person.

I recently listened to the podcast This American Life where they re-aired a piece originally from 2001—the theme was A Return to Childhood, where Alex Blumberg went in search of his old babysitter, Susan Jordan, in “Ich... Bin... Ein... Mophead.”

It was as much about how we remember and misremember than about how Alex eventually tracked down Susan using a private investigator.

--That was 17 years ago. She must be about my age or a little younger.

I could tell just by the sound of her voice that she was a nice person. It wasn’t said but I could tell as much: Alex had been secretly in love with his fearless babysitter. She was his champion. She would have beaten up a motorcyclist to defend her young charge, whom she felt a bit sorry for. Alex, she hesitated to mention, was a bit bookish and obsessed with stuff beyond his years. She was compelled to “play” with Alex and his sister.

But Susan had her own story, as we learn. Because of family dysfunction she’d moved out of her house or—and it was not clarified—her family had left her. She was a freshman in college, trying to make it on her own on a babysitter salary. The kids she watched came to be stand-ins for her younger siblings whom she missed.

At the end of the call, at the end of the piece she finally confessed. She was afraid Alex had called her because of something she’d done or said. She remembered that time period as not one of her best. She was lost, abandoned, struggling. She was afraid somehow she had messed him up.

1) How sweet and
2) How many times have I thought the same thing. –What a horrible person I was (the unsaid thought is that I still am) The thoughtless, horrible things I’ve said to others, That smug, self-righteous persona I give off=all this will come home to roost someday.

The whole piece is immersed in humanity. In longing. Our desires to change and go back, readjust the dial of memory. It was melancholy and immutable. Frozen in time.

Susan of the 70s, a listening ear to young Alex, Susan of the grocery store, a young newlywed, still the older woman to Alex, and then years later, where the age gap makes them more or less peers—they still cannot bridge the difference. His life went one way and hers another. We cannot plot the course of our lives on a vertical and horizontal graph.

This was a magnificent piece of journalism reflecting memories and our own perceptions of reality.
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Alex Blumberg, as an adult
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