Monday, April 29, 2019

New Work out, Colere Journal

New work out today at Colere, a literary journal, you can purchase a copy through Coe College, write to:

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Autobiographical Songs, Songs of our Father

Kishi Bashi and the musician Passenger have a lot in common: 1) both use stage names and 2) both have recently released a song about their father.

One of the most popular posts at this blog had to do with autobiographical songs. I know, why do I check my stats? Except for self-doubt, I might not have revisited this subject.

Kishi Bashi (Kaoru Ishibashi) is an energetic Japanese/American violinist. I’m sure he is classically trained but quickly began to experiment with rock violin and beatboxing, etc. He has accompanied artists such as Regina Spektor. He explores soundscapes, building up layers and looping. I first found him when I downloaded “Bright Whites”. I loved the flavor of the exotic combined with up-tempo lyrics. It went into my RUNNING playlist. His latest music is an ode or tribute to his father, an album called Omoiyari and the song, “Summer of '42” abut his father’s experiences during World War II inside an internment camp in the US.

From NPR:
“this is a very important song for me in that it's the finale piece to the symphonic piece I premiered last year. It's a love story set in World War II, about falling in love in an incarceration camp and ultimately losing that love. The significance is that the idea of love, loss, and desire are consistent themes throughout history and help us to empathize with a people in a disconnected past.”

It is no coincidence that many artists who are sons and daughter of immigrants or immigrants themselves have decided to explore the topic of welcoming the outsider and viewing the journey of their parent’s through today’s lens. Meaning the travel bans, talk of walls, heated rhetoric of caravans that dehumanizes.

Passenger (Mike Rosenberg) a solo artist with a “band” name had a big hit with “Let Her Go” in 2014. He is the son of an English mother and a Jewish father who hailed from New Jersey. I know, New Jersey. America must seem like such a complex place. We are this land of democracy, which has Constitutional gun rights. We love and hate in extremes. We went from a president named Obama to someone named Trump. Passenger has recently released a song called “To Be Free” about his father.

Rosenberg’s grandparents were living in France when the war started and fled to Switzerland and stayed in a refugee camp. Later they moved to the US.

[Verse 1]
Vineland, New Jersey, farm land stretching
Far as the eye can see
Not much down there, but sun-scorched pastures in
The war is over, they came searching
For a place to be
They left the Rhineland, they lost their homeland, and
All their family

Like feathers on the ocean breeze
They went spinning and tumbling 'cross the sea
Never know where they'd come down
Or who they'd be
Like heather on the hillside
They were bruised and they were battered by the breeze
Searching for a place
To be free

Verse 2]
Sun burn summers and frost by winter
Kids were plainly dressed
Left the farmhouse when he was old enough, and
Headed out west
From California to Southern Africa
And all the way to France
And on to England to meet my mother in

[Verse 3]
Now here I am, thirty-three years down
I've seen the Rhineland, I've been to Vineland, I'm
A feather on the breeze

Both of these artists and songs are autobiographical and show how their own father’s journey have impacted their art—and how the circle of generations closes in on us, spiraling ever faster with the passing of years.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Bikes of Wrath, a review

 Image result for the bikes of wrath

The Bikes of Wrath
Demand Films
A review

This film combined two of my passions: cycling and literature. It is the story of 5 young men from Australia—from the hinterlands—such as one grew up on an egg farm—who fell in love with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and decided to come to America to ride bikes from Sallisaw, Oklahoma to Bakersfield, CA following the tire treads of the Joad’s old jalopy. On its own the travel documentary is not that interesting as they mostly adhered to Route 66 or the ghost of it, mostly riding beside heavy traffic on divided highways. The beauty of the film lies in the happenstance, the random encounters with folks living Joadlike in the interior of Middle America.

Image result for the bikes of wrath

If an American had attempted this film they would have failed. It took an outsider to bridge the huge chasm that now separates most of America, between Republican and Democrat. Ironically, Trump is rarely brought up. The film was made in the summer of 2016 when the campaign was going on. It was a forgone conclusion that Hillary would be elected—I’m not sure the guys would have thought that by the end of their trip. They met enough people who echoed the same sentiment: they have been forgotten—to guess that perhaps Trump might have a chance.
But the film is not about politics, at least not contemporary politics, but about socialism and the fight for the “little” man in Steinbeck-speak. It has been years since I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath and I was surprised how much the snip-its read aloud in the film resonated with today. The huge disconnect between Washington DC and the problems of Middle America, the poor farmer struggling with draught and foreclosure, the heavy burden the rich has loaded onto others. The crazy people with guns loaded scared of the Deep State.

Yes, there is that. But also, empathy for the outsider, the immigrant. Okkies remembering how hard they had it, how they were despised and treated as less than human because they were down on their luck. The boys explored all of this through the lens of their cameras and face-to-face conversations with hosts, store clerks, busking outside a gas station. (Before they sold their trailers and guitars. Sheesh, these guys were green when it came to bike touring.) Using bicycles helped them to put themselves into the shoes and circumstances of the Joads. Their mission was to do the trip in thirty days and using basically the same amount of cash the Joads started with.

At first they experienced big-hearted America, an outpouring of generosity, the ability to embrace the stranger no matter what your beliefs or where you come from. But along the way they encounter a homeless, mentally ill guy trying to “walk to his death,” they run across racists and gun-toting delusionals. They are all harmless and willing to share their stories. It is these realities as well as the fact that they have to pick up the pace if they want to make it to Bakersfield that forces them to suffer—not a lot, but to put more of a Joad perspective on their adventure. They push themselves to ride harder, more miles, eat less, and ultimately to sell off their stuff—except for cameras.

This documentary is part travelogue and part the human experience, the ability to survive despite the odds. They make it to Bakersfield and are interviewed on the radio—and by coincidence a woman hears them and invites them to her house to share with them a letter written by an aunt who experienced the Dust Bowl and journey West as an 11-year old. As a viewer you feel included on an incredible trek back in time to see once again the forces that made this country and what at the same time drive it apart. Hatred and suspicion for the outsider, the ability to welcome the stranger and fire shots over their head. We are a complex story.

The bike parts of The Bikes of Wrath are there also. 1) the over-packing 2) leaving late and arriving in the dark 3) an under-appreciation for how far things are 4) headwinds 5) flats, blow outs, falling ill—and simply falling. I can’t tell you how many times they filmed the guys climbing onto their bikes and then tipping over. Continuing the litany: 6) the hunger 7) exhaustion 8) unpredictable weather. One of the funniest moments from a theater crowd that could possibly relate, was when the boys started out staring into the face of an on-coming thunderstorm and thought they might beat it out. Two miles later they turn around and sail back to the overhang of an old barn. There were many low-mileage days.

You really feel a sense of exultation when they “arrive,” at a sign outside of Bakersfield announcing they are within the city limits. The place looks like crap, but they did it and they have a story to tell.
Thier next project: Floatin' with Huck.

Friday, April 19, 2019

2001 in Paris at the Notre Dame

Thumbing through our 2001 album of photos from our first trip to Europe I linger over pages of photos taken from the ramparts of Notre Dame.

The trip was a miracle, a fluke for people who only recently opened a bank account and got a debit card. We were poor but rich in friends and connections overseas. So we decided to cash out and see if a trip abroad was possible.  The result was The European Schedule: where we visited friends in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and along the way explored Florence, Venice, Prague, and Paris. We had no idea how big the world was or how old monuments were—everywhere we looked was something older than the oldest building in Chicago. We crossed borders and used currency since replaced by the EU. It was on this trip we first saw Notre Dame.

Let me be honest. Most of the history was a blur. There was so much of it. Not to say I didn’t understand the significance of the cathedral. The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame had just come out. Just getting to Paris and navigating the Metro and buying a pastry would have been enough, but on top of that was everything else. I was overwhelmed. So standing on the ramparts next to gargoyles exhibiting human characteristics, I tried to take it all in. It was impossible.

So 19 years on all I have is a photo album to remind me of our family trip. Shot after shot of gargoyles as if we couldn’t get enough of them. One day I hope to return and see them still there, guarding the roof of Notre Dame.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Notre Dame, April 15, 2019

I was one of those shattered yesterday watching live streaming at the BBC News of Notre Dame burning. You don’t have to have visited to know how meaningful it has been to millions of people. Not to mention a landmark of Paris, the City of Light.

But I have been there, stood on its ramparts, and looked out over the city. I have peered upward toward the rose window and watched late afternoon sunlight streak through and cast rainbow colors on the floor of the cathedral. Yet, even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be less horrified watching the flames climb higher and higher in a darkening sky.

It felt awful, catastrophic, hopeless; I couldn’t turn away.

In a few remarks at close to midnight Paris time Marcon looks absolutely shaken. Those around him appear equally devastated. The past few years Paris has experienced a lot of loss and tragedy. The grief was palpable. Marcon finishes and receives a hug.
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from Notre-Dame's roof
BBC News, smoke and flames are seen billowing

Oaken roof supports were said to date back to the 1100s.
Circa 1860

An 1853 photo by Charles Nègre of Henri Le Secq next to ‘Le Stryge’ gargoyle

To all of Paris, thoughts and prayers, an outpouring of condolences. Our Lady will arise from the ashes.

Monday, April 15, 2019

How did I get here?

Where is this place--
I always start with a question
endless wondering . . .
How did I get to this place?

Sore Feet, aching teeth
I drink a cup of coffee
and it goes right though me
But I sure do love caffeine

When i go to bootcamp
the instructor lowers the bar
I lift half the weight
and still leave exhausted
I forget my purse at the grocery
and drive back--
How did I get to this place?

Of vulnerability and incontinence when
yesterday I was twenty-three
running from the cops, staying
out all night
when now I fall asleep at nine PM

I don't want to go back
turn the time dial to my youth
I like who I am now--
       except sometimes I don't recognize myself

Who is that grey haired women in the mirror?
Where did the blonde go?
How did I get here?

The lines in my brow answer: Go to bed.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Foot Doctor

Image result for fungus toe

We used to have a resident foot doctor called Mr. Fung--an unfortunate name.

I'm not sure why it took three years--my feet have been killing me--to make an appointment to see the foot doctor. My quality of foot life has gone way downhill. I went from running 5 miles to 3 to 1 to none. I haven't run for months now because of my feet.

Today I walked over to the Foot Clinic. After checking in I sat and waited. There were some sorry characters there. People who had had toes amputated, who sat in wheelchairs, who limped in on crutches. I wanted to run out of there--except I couldn't.

Finally my name was called. I was shown to an office where I kicked off my shoes and socks and prayed. Not to say there hasn't been moments when I wanted to lop off the undesirable bumps now crowding the bottom of my feet--I just didn't want it to happen now. Or without numbing.

The doctor came in and said her name. I didn't catch it because she was busy studying my feet. And within seconds--I'm not kidding--she was scraping my feet with a sharp object.

I can't say it felt good, but it didn't matter because after a minute she was done.


I checked. She'd removed calluses the size and color of cornflakes, bony spurs, even the big one the size of a marble= gone. I walked, skipped out of the office a liberated woman, ready to run.

If you have been putting off getting the knobs and bumps on your feet checked out--don't delay! Go to the Foot Clinic at 4646 N. Marine Drive and ask for Nicole Fields. She was so fast it left time leftover for a coffee at Everybody's.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Writing Prompts to Get you Flashing!

November 21, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
While Jane Hertenstein’s book Flash Memoir is ostensibly geared toward writers, this book is a must-have for anyone who is creating art of any kind. Filled with amazing historical factoids (check out Hemingway’s lost valise or Wordsworth’s almost-permanent houseguest, Samuel Coleridge) as well as the writer’s personal examples of following her own advice, the main thrust of the book is to get the reader’s creativity flowing, and boy howdy, the author succeeds at that.

I would highly and enthusiastically recommend Flash Memoirs for writers, artists, photographers, fabric-art creators, poets, gem artisans, musicians, and everyone else who is using their creativity to explore and understand the world. Creating is tough. It’s hard. But Ms. Hertenstein hands anyone who reads her book a skeleton key to the treasure chests of imagination that all of us possess.
November 15, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
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.

December 5, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
As writers, sometimes we have "writer's block." When this happens we look for writing inspiration to come in different ways.
Hertenstein's book does a great job in giving writing prompts that really make you "think" and feel inspired in a "new way" focusing on memories from your past. I found this interesting, because I have not thought to write a memoir, but her book made me "think" and "remember" stories I could write and share with others. One clever idea was to write about what we see in the "Frozen Food Isle." I highly recommend this book - every day you'll have a new story to write! Excellent!

Monday, April 8, 2019

365 Affirmations for the Writer--get inspired!

January 7, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book is a miracle of inspiration for writers. I highly recommend it to anyone who even dabbles with the thought of getting stories down on paper. It may be the only encouragement you need to begin.
One person found this helpful
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March 3, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a lovely and helpful book. Sometimes just the right quote is all it takes to remind me that we writers are in this together--that it's hard for all of us, but that a writing life is a considered life and a terrific life. I came across a number of quotes in this book that I had never read before, almost all of them provocative and useful. I recommend this book to other writers to dip in and out of, for that little bit of inspiration and affirmation whenever you need it.
March 19, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Totally feeling inspired to write after flipping through just a few pages. Can't wait to make reading this part of my regular writing routine.
January 2, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
If you are a writer in need of a little inspiration, this book is for you. The quotes are great, but I especially liked the bonus material which provided concrete exercises to spark my creativity.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Freeze Frame--a book about writing flash memoir

June 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I have been interested in writing flash memoir, and this book is an excellent resource! This resource is well written, easy to follow, has concise and well-structured chapters, and lots of prompts to get a writer going. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing flash memoir, or learning more about it.
September 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is helpful for those of us who are new to flash fiction and flash memoir writing. It is a good reference book to read when we have questions. As a writing teacher, I will continue to use it with my students.
June 18, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
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!
April 20, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Just recommended this book to my memoir-writing friends. She has freed me from the shackles of narrative and chronology.

July 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Very useful, clear, concise introduction to "flash memoir."