Friday, January 29, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Frozen Chosen

Have you written any 50-word memoirs this week?

If not here is your chance with Hot Flash Friday. The day where I give you a prompt and you flash. A lot of the time my prompts are mundane. The stuff of the ordinary.  Your job is to get inside, core down, dig wherever it leads.

Today’s prompt is: Frozen Food Aisle. That’s it. What is the story? What bubbles to the surface? What about those foggy doors after you’ve rooted around inside. How long have you stood and studied the individual flavors of ice cream, wishing life could be as various and exciting? What does the frozen food aisle tell you about yourself?

Maybe it’s where you met your mate.

Or where you first considered going for your MFA.

Get inspired.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Unique Thrift

Last week I introduced blog readers to the 50-word challenge—today’s blog has to do with Hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain where long-term memories reside. If you can’t recall a name on the tip of your tongue, blame your hippocampus. Hippocampus Magazine is an exclusively online publication dedicated to creative nonfiction. Each month it publishes 8-10 new CNF pieces: essays or memoir excerpts from established and emerging writers.

A few years back I really enjoyed reading a winning essay by Jim Gray entitled Sweating the Sweater about a dad thrift store shopping with his daughter. This piece really resonated with me because 1) I shop Unique Thrift and had no idea it was a chain. I thought it was just in Chicago. Come to find Unique isn’t quite so unique. 2) I have a daughter and probably once a week for the first 20 years of her life we went to Unique. That’s all we had to say, Unique. It was a noun and a verb. Shopping together hasn’t been all fun. She and I have argued at Unique. She’s broken up with friends while at Unique. I’ve lost her at Unique, searching over the tops of the racks for her, only to find her hiding between columns of clothes. Nine tenths of my wardrobe is from Unique.

Until recently, that is.

For about the last 24 months Unique has been undergoing a transformation from thrift to boutique. Unique is no longer the Unique of the past. It’s gotten pricey and way more selective. No more packed rows of red, green, blue, brown sweaters, skirts, etc. Probably the internet is putting it out of business. I mean I couldn’t ignore all the hipster shoppers filling up their shopping carts with vintage and name-brand items in order to re-sell them at their shop in Lincoln Park.

It’s the end of an era. Our place is no more. And it’s a little sad. Every time I pass Unique on my way to Salvation Army I long for the old days, for those smelly crowded aisles with clothing scattered everywhere and a book in with the shoes. On Mondays I could get a 1000 piece puzzle for 25 cents. Albeit it was likely only 998 pieces but so what!

So I searched my hippocampus and Google for Jim’s essay. Why not submit your own CNF essay to the Hippo--
there were days my fingertips were raw from pulling out staples from the clothes I got at Unique

Monday, January 25, 2016

What color was it?

The State of the Union—it might be crazy out there and dang cold, but Michelle was HOT in her sleeveless Narciso Rodriguez dress. BUT here is the question: What color was it?

wearing a marigold dress
I’ve been reading Mark Doty’s The Art of Description, a small book on craft, where he discusses color and the sensations it evokes. One could have said Michelle wore orange. No, that’s not it. We sat around the living room for the next ten minutes dissecting the color. Was it mustard, pumpkin, tangerine, coral—not so says the Washington Post. I guessed saffron, a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”, usually known for how much it costs. It is sold by the gram just like cocaine. A thread or two is enough to enhance any meal. Why wouldn’t Michelle be wearing saffron?

Within 20 minutes it was sold out.

When writing I have at my fingertips the world wide web to bring up a palate of colors, but sometimes it is a word I’m looking for, a feeling that is attached to a particular color. It is not enough to star at a swatch of blue or a Pantone color wheel. There is something hidden in the back of my mind that needs to be fleshed/flushed out. It is all tied up with memory.

Is that dingy water rusty or the color of apple cider? Is that flash of red in the trees cardinal or taillight red? We bring a past and perspective into all our choices when it comes to description.

Back to the living room, Steve argued it was sunflower, some said it was mango, some said it was mac’n’cheese. Whatever. If this is the most controversy stirred up the whole evening—it was worth it just to watch.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hot Flash Friday—Clearing TSA

The 50-word challenge: bite-sized fiction everyday! was something started in February 2009 by Tim Sevenhuysen. The goal was to post a 50-word story EVERDAY for one year. Well, that was 6 years ago and the rest is history—he’s still going. With a little help from reader submissions.

What is a 50-Word Story?

From the website: A 50-word story is a piece of fiction written in exactly 50 words. That doesn’t mean “roughly” 50 words; it doesn’t mean “as close to 50 words as possible”; it doesn’t mean 50 words or fewer. It means exactly 50 words.

As with any other form of fiction, a 50-word story should have a beginning and an end, a plot and character development (even if they are only implied), and a theme, meaning, or purpose of some sort. Many 50-word stories are built around twists or climactic moments.

To submit your stories for possible publication, see the Submissions page. A $10 prize is available for the best submission each month.

So why not set yourself a 50-word challenge and write EVERYDAY about something EVERYDAY. And, since this blog is about inciting, giving a poke to our memories, why not write about Clearing TSA. What’s this like for you? Is there pent-up anxiety followed by instant relief? What do you think about whilst standing in line? What could possible go wrong?

I picked Clearing TSA because it is something we have ALL gone through—as opposed to childbirth, winning a $902 million dollar lottery, etc. We’ve all queued up shoeless to expose our underwear, our carry-on, or toiletries in zip-loc baggies. What was your latest experience?
 AND don’t be afraid to take a memory and re-shape it. Francis Bacon, the artist has been quoted as taking an idea and pouring it over the nervous system—to heighten it emotionally.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

James Schuyler, In January

"In January
After Ibn Sahl

The yard has sopped into its green-grizzled self its new year

A dog stirs the noon-blue dark with a running shadow and dirt
        smells cold and doggy

As though the one thing never seen were its frozen coupling
        with the air that brings the flowers of grasses.

And a leafless beech stands wrinkled, gray and sexless–all bone
        and loosened sinew–in silver glory

And the sun falls all on one side of it in a running glance, a
        licking gaze, an eye-kiss

And ancient silver struck by gold emerges mossy, pinkly
        lichened where the sun fondles it

And starlings of anthracite march into the east with rapid jerky
        steps pecking at their shadows."
— James Schuyler, “In January”

James Schuyler, 1970 or '69 

He wrote poems for friends, to mark a day or morning, to say he was still alive. He wrote for himself, for Joe Brainard, for Frank O'Hara, for Joe and Jane Hazan, for a whole circle, school, the New York School. God bless James Schuyler.
a pugnacious James
The poems of Schuyler catch time as movement, as
fluid, graceful, beautiful —

and quick.

They don’t suggest much agency I guess.
I am not going to judge him.
--Poems by Ken Bolton 

What if we all decided in 2016 to catch time in our words, a line or two each day. Just to say Hi!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Update to My Update: What Would Happen

Update to My Update: What Would Happen

A few weeks back I told the story of Ted who traveled to Africa—a trip arranged by a Sudanese Lost Boy that Ted helped out by sending money to when Lual Pach Pach was in a refugee camp. Some would have thought that that would be the end of the story. But a relationship developed and finally Lual was in a position to properly repay Ted for all his help.

America has a tradition of honoring people say with a trophy or Golden Globe or a plaque or silver punch bowl—but in Africa honoring a person, especially one you owe your life to, is an elaborate affair. The pic I posted earlier (and now again) only shows a fraction of what happened the day Ted arrived.

He was greeted at the airport and draped with a heavy beaded Sudanese cape. He was also given 2 sticks, one with feathers (also part of their tradition) and then photographed with Lual’s immediate family. Lual had rented a shuttle bus to get them all across town where the rest of his family or clan was waiting. There were around two hundred people gathered for a formal welcoming party. The rest of the day was spent in feasting and dancing and speech-making. Lual had invited several dignitaries (a former governor) from South Sudan to attend and hired a famous South Sudanese musician to play a traditional instrument. The rababa, meaning 'a bowed (instrument)' is a 3-string instrument

I cannot imagine such overwhelming hospitality. Could Lual even afford this? Why spend so much—especially on a man he’d never even met? Because his heart was so full of gratitude toward a stranger who reached out of his comfort zone and took a chance. Certainly a moment for celebration.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hot Flash Friday

Abandoned houses. Abandoned houses/buildings awaken something in all of us. Could it be mortality?

Some people have made a hobby of exploring abandoned warehouses and industrial sites.

There is something melancholic about these old buildings/houses. A faded grandeur, a real sense of loss.

“The Ruins of Detroit” (2005- ) (image from Photographer Kyle Fleischhaker
Remember as a kid coming upon some ruin and wondering what used to be. In the woods near my house were several dilapidated farmhouses—abandoned since a proposed bypass 675 was soon to be constructed. The houses were all scheduled for demolition. Unless, of course, they just collapsed all by their self.

I can still recall the strips of ancient peeling wallpaper, roses faded into the weathered and aged paper, until the image is barely visible. A soiled mattress in the corner, stinking of urine and mouse infestation. The wind-swept corners piled with litter=remains=the midden* of life left behind—a forgotten doll; a cheap plastic toy; a chipped tea cup; a dress wet, now dried, a stiff mound not resembling anything.

*From Wikipedia: A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap; from early Scandinavian; Danish: mødding, Swedish regional: mödding) is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, vermin, shells, sherds, lithics (especially debitage), and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation. The word is of Scandinavian via Middle English derivation, but is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life.

Write about a ruin in your own life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I’m more than just a little bit in love with Nyles DiMarco’s interpreter. Of course it helps that Nyles himself is a wonderful piece of work. But I just love his interpreter’s voice.

For those of you not caught up with reality TV and pop culture, Nyles DiMarco won cycle 22 of America’s Next Top Model, which I’ve never been a fan of. I mean I might catch an episode here and there, but I was not a follower. Until this season. Until I saw a video of Nyles signing and thought—this guy is going to win it.

And he did. He was only the show’s second male winner and the first deaf winner. He is a graduate of Gallaudet University, the only university for the deaf. So how does someone with a language not easily understood by the hearing world communicate on a reality TV show? They hire an ASL interpreter who signs for Nyles and then becomes his voice. I’m not sure if Ramon Norrod was assigned to the contestant or how the match was made, but I cannot look at pictures of Nyles without hearing Ramon’s voice.

In writing a novel or short story I’m always considering voice: how does this character sound. Even if the story is told mostly through narrative—there is a way that story is told, and that is voice. Ramon reflected an upbeat tone, indefatigable, not easily thrown off. Since the non-ASL audience could only read Nyles facial expressions, we needed Ramon to tell us what was going on inside Nyles’ head.

I’d like to adopt that same voice for inside my head when I’m struggling with writing or downward spiraling emotionally. Even if it’s just an encouraging word, like “You can do this!”

I’m pretty sure Ramon nailed Nyles or else he would have been fired, if he was not doing a very good job of expressing the nuances as well as the meaning. Of course we have heard of some very bad interpreters (see Nelson Mandela’s funeral for instance). So it takes work coming up with just the right voice and refining it for the piece you are working on.

A distinct voice can make all the difference between winning and losing.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Writing Prompts--a new feature of this blog

This year I also want to introduce a kind of structure—which may or may not become quasi permanent—and that is Hot Flash Friday. Not just for post menopausal women! On Fridays I’ll send out a prompt—this prompt is not about writing only but to prod memories, disturb them from their sleep, awaken your memory. With a hot flash it is here, then gone—but while in the sizzle and heat of the moment, let yourself go to unfurl words. Soon you will have a whole collection of these flashes. Perhaps enough for a flash portfolio that might serve as building blocks to a longer piece such as a memoir, a short story, a vignette.

Admittedly you might have to be of a certain age to immediate latch onto the nostalgia, the history behind some of these prompts, but all in all I believe they are universal. They all will touch a place inside of us longing, longing for . . . .

Today’s Hot Flash Friday is: the Sunday newspaper.

Remember the Sunday newspaper, delivered to your doorstep, tossed into the hedges and bushes or at the end of the driveway. Did you ever have to deliver the Sunday paper?! Even a single one was of such gargantuan weight that it never was far from your mind about dumping the mess of them into the sewer and riding your bike back home. The advertising insert alone probably weighed 10 pounds. Oh, but the hours and hours spent immersed in the Sunday paper, spread out on the floor, each one diving for a section. What about the funny papers? How many of us remember lounging around on a Sunday catching up on the news we hadn’t had time throughout the week to absorb. Today “news” is everywhere, but does it mean relaxing, family time, slow mornings? What does the Sunday newspaper mean to you?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

365 Affirmations for the Writer

Here is just a sampling of what you’ll find in 365Affirmations for the Writer—if you like this little sip, take a long drink and download the whole thing.
eBook from Amazon and other outlets

January 1
You Determine Where You’ll Go
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go...
Dr. Seuss, from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

January 2
Books are the grail for what is deepest, more mysterious and least expressible within ourselves. They are our soul’s skeleton. If we were to forget that, it would prefigure how false and feelingless we could become.
― Edna O’Brien, from It’s a Bad Time Out There For Emotion

January 3
A room without books is like a body without a soul.
― Cicero

Can you recall the first book you read? Right now write about that experience and what keeps you coming back to books?

January 4
Outlines—Yes or No
I’m one of those writers who tends to be really good at making outlines and sticking to them. I’m very good at doing that, but I don’t like it. It sort of takes a lot of the fun out.
Neil Gaiman, winner of both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals, and many other awards too numerous to list, from and interview by Chris Bolton,, August, 2005

January 5
Outlines—Yes or No
A lot of new writers assume you have to know the where the story is going and that it flows out as molten gold. But really, sometimes you think you are going to one place, but then you decide that is dumb idea. Then you go somewhere else and it is a worse idea. But then you switch again and you might have a beautiful accident.
Patrick Rothfuss, writer of epic fantasy, namely The Wise Man’s Fear

Do you use an outline or go by instinct? Mindmapping is one such way to free associate. Rather than work consecutively or following a certain set of logic, mindmapping allows you to start with one idea and link it to another, even if there is no obvious connection. Some work with words and images, drawing pictures or icons or simply the use of color to describe their feelings. It is the same part of your mind that doodles during a lecture. There is the main idea, but the supporting material under the surface that you want to access. Allow yourself to explore what appears to be non-sense.

January 6
There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.
― Doris Lessing, Nobel prize-winning novelist

January 7
First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.
― Ray Bradbury

January 8
The Writer as Witness
When I think about writers who use fiction as social commentary and to raise social awareness but who are also very popular, I think of Dickens.
― Jodi Picoult, New York Times Best Seller author

January 9
The Writer as Witness
As writers, it is our job not only to imagine, but to witness.
― Dani Shapiro, fiction writer and memoirist, from Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life

January 10
Writers in Action
Mark Salzman ran into a bad case of writer’s block. He was desperate to break out and find his groove. He discovered that the only way to write was to sit with a towel wrapped around his head and headphones clamped onto his ears to block out all noise. In addition he fashioned a skirt of aluminum foil to keep his cat from continually jumping in his lap. Eventually he finished his third novel, Lying Awake.

Analyze your writing process. Do you need a few minutes before diving in? Time to get set up? Some writers have a routine such as a cup of coffee or tea, lighting a candle, a writing playlist.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Welcome to a New Year--Memoirous

Greetings 2016!

Welcome to a new year of memories.

Last year about this time I was making memories by riding self-supported by bicycle Jacksonville to Key West. In fact 2015 saw 3 such trips, the 2nd being Minneapolis to Chicago and the 3rd Pittsburgh to Washington DC.  2016 is sure to hold many more cycling opportunities . . . since I got a new bike!

Torker Interurban Mixte From Uptown Bikes, on sale $600

Last year at this blog I posted 135 entries=the most ever since I started it in November of 2010. Consistently I get about 2,000 pageviews per month and a total of 72,483 since inception. Last year also saw the January ePublication of

Writing is a journey. Every time we sit down to begin a piece or write the first chapter or the first line we are venturing into uncharted territory. 365 Affirmations for the Writer is about listening to those who have gone before us and letting them guide us with their insight, their own trials. By reading what others have said, we can survey the path before us, count the cost, and plunge ahead.
I am earnestly looking at the benefits of self-publishing, asking other author friends about their experience. I am at a mid-career point where I’m wondering how many more years I have to wait. Wait for an agent, an editor. I know there have been earth-shaking changes to the publishing industry in the past twenty years. Agents today are busier than ever, but the stakes are so much higher. There seems to be very little time to wait out an author with a slow arc of success. The dividends must come quicker, with almost immediate returns.

I love story. I love writing stories. And I want them to be the best they can be. 2016 will be about trying to find balance in a changing industry—between self-publication and going the traditional route.