Friday, July 29, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Forgotten Chicago

At this blog (Memoirous--about memories) I’ve mentioned in the past certain blogs or websites that can help to spark flashes. Right now I’m onto Forgotten Chicago and Abandoned Spaces. I signed up for notifications so whenever there is a new post it shows up in my feed. Which is all Facebook gobbely-gook. What I mean to say is I love the pictures and they motivate me to flash and write about memories.

Abandoned Spaces viscerally calls up nostalgic curiosity. I am always intrigued by the various spaces, once inhabited but now abandoned and the various relics left behind. 
The abandoned Helmsley Castle, Yorkshire, England
Sometimes it is a shoe store still warehousing and displaying styles from the 60s, sometimes it is a schoolroom from Chernobyl with decaying textbooks fertilizing a tree growing up between broken desks. Who isn’t fascinated by ruins? They call to us, remind us that we are all mortal, that nothing stays the same, but will eventually breakdown, go back to nature. Even notions of religion—how many hollowed out churches and abbeys are there? In Turkey we toured grottos and underground Christian churches that are now archaic, in Rome we visited huge basilicas built upon the foundation of pagan temples, what was in suddenly becomes passé. Or, in the true style of history, wait long enough and the pendulum swings back; it is cyclical.

Nevertheless, we are drawn to these spaces. Here in the US Detroit is now a major tourist stop for people who are curious about modern-day ruins. Friends of mine travel to Gary, IN to break into abandoned buildings, business sites to explore and take pictures.

Looking at these pictures stirs something up inside of me, causes me to think long and hard about what was, what might be, and who we could become.

Forgotten Chicago is truly a Facebook community. There is nothing like throwing up an old pic of Chicago to arouse comments and an outpouring of memories. Just the other day a pic of the old Morrie Mages sports store was posted even I waxed nostalgic, it was like 8 floors of sporting goods! (One whole floor was dedicated to golfing equipment.) Morrie sold out to Sportmart and then it became Sports Authority—a subpar store compared to Morrie Mages.

From the amazing Internet:
``I`m not tired. I`m not that old. I`m aggressive and alive, and I love this business,`` said the 71-year-old Mages. ``But in order to get bigger, you got to have more money behind you, and I ain`t got it.``
The colorful Mages, dubbed ``Chicago`s Mr. Sporting Goods,`` says, ``I`ve been thinking about selling for the last six months--somebody must`ve read my mind,`` said Mages, who still handles all buying and merchandising for the stores. Mages said he recently turned down offers from Peoria-based Brown`s Sporting Goods and from Sportmart.
Mages is one of few surviving Chicago merchants who started his career on Maxwell Street, the city`s Old World-style bazaar on the Near South Side, hawking bargains from a pushcart in front of his Russian immigrant father`s sporting goods store. He became a partner in the business with his father and brother in 1938.

There is also Calumet 412, and Uptown Chicago History offering photos to riff on.

Miller’s Silver Palm Burlesk Revue, 1117 W Wilson Ave, 1951, Chicago. PHOTO by: ?
Here is a sample post under comments:
Well it was about 1948 on a Saturday afternoon, I was 12 years old,
me and my buddy Jimmy Thomas were going to the DeLuxe Theatre at the corner of Wilson Ave and Clifton which is just west of the El tracks,

Jimmy and I stopped in Front of the Silver Palm to see if we could peek
in and see something that would be worthwhile for a 12 old boy to see.

Three Big black Sedans pulled up, men jumped out of the cars carrying sledge hammers and axes . they smashed through the locked front door,
Jimmy and I, being Boys followed right in after them.
we stood on the side and watch them smash tables, bottles, the bar and even the walls

and there on the walls were pictures of Nude Women, we were in our
glory. The smasher guys told us to stay out of the way and we could
have anything we wanted.
We stole an old wagon from the outside
back of the bar, took all the pictures and behind the bar were some
small cartons containing little plastic telescopes on a key chain,
inside the scopes were women nude from the waist up.
other boxes contained "8 pagers"

the outcome was me and jimmy took the wagon back to the "Pretzel
Benders Inn" on Leland Ave. just west of Kenmore and sold everything
we had to a few of the "boys"
we made about $10 each
We didn't really want to see Abbot and Costello meet Captain Kidd any way
an 8 pager was exactly that, page 1 was the cover then 7 other pages of hand drawn sex acts.
the Deluxe Theater was razed and is now part of the Truman Campus
$10 was a huge amount of money for a 12 year old. 12 cents got me into the movie
Riverview had 2 cent day can you imagine 50 rides for a buck?
Who were those guys in the Black Sedans? I never found out, it never made the newspaper
the speculation in the neighborhood was the"mob" or the IRS or "Big 10" from Townhall police station
Big 10 was an unmarked squad car with three detectives and nobody ever messed with Big ten

Write right now: pull out a box of old photos, write a caption, begin a memory, call up your sister, brother, friend, write about the day they took that picture, or what you recall of that place and what went on there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Life, Animated

You don’t realize how much of real life is squeezed into a Disney animated film. Life, Animated is a new documentary out by Roger Ross Williams about Owen Suskind a young man with Autism obsessed with Disney animated classics. Throughout the film Suskind and his father quotes lines from the movies that directly relate or are pertinent to Owen’s life: the fears, the highs, the lows. Even Owen himself sees parallels, how things always look worse before they get better, how the bad guy is all part of the hero’s journey, the necessary role of the sidekick. Owen’s life could be a Disney classic.

For someone who needs the help of social cues, these movies become tools for Owen to navigate his life.

As a 3-year-old Owen suddenly lost speech and retreated into a world of his own. A room without doors. His parents with the help of therapists and teacher searched for inroads, but ran into roadblocks. UNTIL one day, once upon a time, they discovered Owen repeating some lines from The Little Mermaid, appropriately the scene where Ariel makes a bargain with the Sea Witch, her voice for human legs. Who knew Disney was the cure! Could unravel the mystery inside Owen’s mind!

Stories such as Peter Pan, afraid to grow up, and the coming-of-age story of Lion King, and Pinocchio about becoming a “real” boy all feed into Owen’s own narrative. He’d stop and rewind and live through certain scenes before embarking on some tough choices or life benchmarks—such as moving out of the house, graduating high school: stuff that send all of us through emotional hiccups.

Even the romantic parts of Aladdin and Snow White pave the way for Owen to work through his first real boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is another example—his deformity of hunchback doesn’t go away, but he learns to live with it and amongst the barbaric village people who don’t know how to accept him. In fact reviewing the list of Disney films, with a few exceptions, are mostly about accepting the outsider, how to be a friend.

Life, Animated is truly inspiring, giving hope to individuals who struggle or work alongside of those who struggle with Autism.

Monday, July 25, 2016


We have been hosting a refugee family from Syria. With 7 kids.

I can’t begin to name them all. Three of the bunch are triplets. The majority were all born during the civil war. One was actually born in a refugee camp. Her name is Haneen meaning nostalgia. A yearning for yesteryear, for what they once had, for their homeland. They named her that so they would not forget. Looking back, yet moving forward. Remembering the good times, prayers for what lies ahead.

Don’t lose heart.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Pain + Time

I was listening to an interview on Fresh Air with Garry Marshall (re-aired since he just passed) about his career writing comedy and for TV and movies. He is best known for developing and writing for Happy Days among others. He said something interesting: time + pain=comedy. We’re always looking for that elusive creative spark.

Sometimes it is simply butt in chair. Sitting down and writing. Spending time with your material. This is not sexy advice. We always wish for the “secret,” the inside scoop, the magic formula. But often it comes with a prosaic thud. Live life, write about life. That’s it.

He said when looking for material he went back to an embarrassing moment. As a boy he would never take off his shirt at the beach because once his mother said you have so many moles. I bet I can connect the dots. Thereafter he was self-conscious about his moles and freckles. Later he would turn this into a famous episode on the Dick Van Dyke Show, the one where Rob falls asleep on the couch and his son (Ritchie?) comes in and connects the dots with an ink pen. Laura discovers that Rob’s freckles form a facsimile of the Liberty Bell. He ends up appearing on “Reality” TV show, “Odd But True.”

This is exactly what I say in my flash memoir seminars: mine memories from your own life. Riff on stuff from your childhood, and sometimes the pain from the past becomes your most compelling material.

Let’s look at an example. A detail became the basis for a short short 100-word flash. A woman slipping her cellphone into her bra. I took that thought and crafted/flashed a piece called Granny’s Pockets about someone who grew up referring to boobs as pockets because her grandmother was constantly tucking things away down the front of her dress. I wrote it, researched 100-word story journals, submitted the piece, had it accepted, and ONLINE within a few hours. Really.

That was a record and gave me a real boost. (I boast.)

Right now write a flash based upon some fledgling memory from your childhood, suppressed pain, the stuff of nightmares and turn it into a narrative. Revisiting these memories might make for horror, comedy, or slice-of-life- anecdotal flash. Give it a try.
Odd but True

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Think, think again

When is a truck not a truck—
When it kills 84 revelers after a fireworks display
On a busy boulevard
When is a plane not a plane—
When it is used as a missile and
Flown into tall buildings
When is a train no longer a train—
When it becomes a bullet bomb
Mail, parcels, parties
Bible studies, peaceful protests
University classrooms
Can you think of any other ways
Where everyday life, the ordinary
Has been co-opted? Where something
Like eating at a restaurant, watching a soccer game,
Walking your dog, attending a concert
Have been turned into the most horrific
Moment of your life—
Can you imagine?
Think, think again . . . 
seaside promenade, palm trees, rollerbladers, ice creams stands=all take on new meaning

Monday, July 18, 2016

3 New Places to Submit Your Memories

This blog is all about memories and writing flash memoir. (If you need a quick guide to writing flash memoirs download my eBook
Anyway, here are 3 journals looking for flash memoirs:

Send Submissions to Souvenir.litjournal(at)

The Remembered Arts Journal

AND cash prizes awarded (entry fee required)
nothing over 500 words

Submit a piece this week!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Recipe Memoir

I saw a call for submissions to an anthology called TheShell Game based upon borrowed forms. For example using the platform of a recipe as a springboard into writing about something else. Just like last week we experimented with the LIST memoir, you can use ready-made forms such as directions to a restaurant to meander into a rant on how the date went.

From the webpage:
Within the recent explosion of creative nonfiction, a curious new sub-genre is quietly emerging. Hybrids in the truest sense, "hermit crab" essays borrow their structures from ordinary, extra-literary sources (a recipe, a police report, a pack of cards, an obituary…) to use as a framework for a lyric meditation on the chosen subject. In the best examples, the borrowed structures are less contrived than inevitable, managing not only to give shape to the work but to illuminate and exemplify its subject.

Here’s one that spoke to me—remember in Ladies Home Journal the column: Can this Marriage Be Saved? Even as a kid I read it. Here is an interesting story from the Bellingham Review based upon this concept.

Can This Troubled Marriage Be Saved: A Quiz
Nancy McCabe

1. Which best describes your reasons for marrying him?
a. You have no idea. You were only twenty, too young to know what you were doing.
b. You have no idea. You were twenty, old enough to know better.
c. This is what you’re trying to figure out. You weren’t in love with him. You weren’t even attracted to him, even though he was a perfectly nice person, clean and wiry, his prematurely receding hairline and thick brows and goofy humor reminding you of a Muppet, sweet and cartoonish. You felt toward him a fraternal affection.
d. You were trying to somehow fill the emptiness that came over you at dusk the months after your first love disappeared.
e. Marriage seemed like a healthier refuge than drugs or drinking. You imagined escaping into it, like going to sleep and waking up a new person.
f. Your husband-to-be cried the day he confessed to sleeping with an old girlfriend. You were in bed with the flu, and you thought, oh, good. Now I don’t have to. He’d brought you milkshakes and roses; he’d played endless rounds of gin rummy. But now he was saying, “I’m so sorry.” You tried to shrug off the blankets, turn the pillow for a cool spot, but the bedclothes were weighed down by something: his head, burrowing into tousled sheets. That’s when you realized he was crying, pinning covers against your feverish skin. “It’s okay,” you said, patting his head.
g. You were saddened by his anguish, seeing in it your own anguish over your first love, seeing in it all the world’s unfulfilled longings.
h. He begged you to marry him, and you thought: he’s a good person. Someone in the world ought to get what he wants.
i. One evening you fell asleep while he was fondling your breasts, and you woke to find him wearing your bra tied to his head like a bonnet. And you thought: I could do worse than wake up every morning to someone who makes me laugh.
2. True or False: You sometimes feel like you don’t really exist.
Sometimes a recipe makes us remember—the people who handed it down to us, where we were when we made it, all the picnics or special suppers when we sat around a table and enjoyed the meal.

Right now write—a recipe memoir. A memoir based upon a borrowed form.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

About Memories

I’ve been think a lot lately about early-onset Alzheimer’s. I think it has to do with the recent death of Pat Summitt, former head coach of the Lady Vols at the University of Tennessee. She was only 64.

There is another reason I am saddened by her death: My father loved the Lady Vols. He watched every game he could on television.

After retiring my parents moved to a kind of “Stepford Wives” retirement community where every lawn was groomed, the houses perfect, and the residents (mostly white) golfed and drank martinis. Maybe it was a bit like Mad Men too, with a dark underside. Anyway this community lay along the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, so close to the basketball action for that state. On weekends you’d see cars with little flags whipping on the back of SUVs Go Lady Vols. The women were taken just as bit as seriously as the men.

And Pat Summitt was no joke, but the real deal. No one wanted to get between her and victory. She coached the team to eight NCAA championships. So thinking about Pat reminds me of my dad—and how surprised and pleased he might be that she has joined him in some eternal basketball court. Surprised that she was there already, but pleased to watch replays over and over again with her.

Since this blog is about memories, I also cannot help dwelling on the incredible tragedy of early-onset Alzheimer’s. It seems such an ironic disease to be visited upon someone with such potential. Truly a person of 59 or 60 should not be looking forward to a painful diminishing death—but to world travel, long dinners at fancy restaurants. At this moment in life after kids are grown and through college, and (fingers crossed) the house is paid for there is suddenly some wiggle room, time for oneself, possibly to reap the fruits of one’s labors.

Now life takes a sudden turn. Which is another reason I feel lucky to be able to cycle and in about 7 weeks begin a bike trip of a lifetime—JOGLE, from John O Groats to Land’s End.

A Marriage to Remember | Alzheimer's Disease Documentary | Op-Docs | The New York Times

Monday, July 11, 2016

JOGLE=John O Groats to Lands End

Now July. Officially staring down 2 months before lift off. In September I will embark on a 1,000 mile journey from the top of England to Land’s End in Cornwall.

This past week I tested out camping equipment on a car road trip--of 2 thousand miles. Chicago to Portland, Maine. It was both stressful and pleasant. A lot like life. And a chance to test some of my armchair traveler theories. You see, it's easy enough to plan a trip in front of a computer, but reality has a way of throwing a wrench into the mix.

One: relying on phone and Google maps. One of my biggest worries is navigation. I'm not quite ready to sink $300 or more dollars into a Garmin. My Smartphone has changed my life. On my trip back from Grand Rapids self-navigation became a breeze rather than the laborious torture of other trips. The constant stopping, getting my eyes adjusted to tiny map print, then sometimes ultimately taking the wrong direction. Boom: Google pops me thru towns. BUT: now there are problems of keeping the device juiced. My reliance on it is paramount to getting home or getting anywhere.

I’m concerned about cellphone coverage and getting a signal in the far northern reaches and in between places of the Scottish highlands.

On my road trip to Maine we also stopped at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport. Let me say right now that the outlet store is a rip off. It was busloads of tourists looking (like me) for a deal, but walking away merely with anything branded with Bean. All the rain pants I looked at were close to $200. No bargain. So I went across the street to the Bean mega-complex to their specific Bike, Ski, and Paddle store. Not department, but each activity has its own store. Bean has a pretty big retail footprint in Freeport. But there I found Showerspass rain pants in my size for a less than website price. Affordable. Still as I ran my fingers over them trying to decide because it was still a lot of money--aren't these just nylon? Yes, but waterproof and breathable I tried to tell myself. Also England rains a lot I heard in my other ear. So I bought them.

There and back we camped in New York state where on the 4th of July weekend in Owego, NY we caught a live community orchestra accompanying a fireworks show all in sync. A slice of hometown Americana.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=The List Memoir

Summer is half over. I know hard to believe. But the 4th of July signals that we are past the solstice of the longest day and once again moving toward shorter days.
A list poem is a combination of haiku and the prosaic list. It is an itemization but also creative way of looking at something.

Here is an example from my own archives:

You know summer is over when
—snow piles up on window ACs.
You know summer is over when
—all the swimming pools are empty hulls.
You know summer is over when
—the streets glisten from icy rain.
You know summer is over when
—you shiver stepping out of the shower.
You know summer is over when
—even the dogs put on jackets.
You know summer is over when
—the marigolds die.
You know summer is over when
—they bring the patio umbrella inside.
You know summer is over when
—the mice run into the house.
You know summer is over when
—Starbucks begins to advertise their Pumpkin Chai Latte.
You know summer is over when
—the lake turns green beneath a slate gray sky.

Right now write—a list memoir. What is it you still need to do this summer, the bike rides, the grill outs, the concerts in the park. Or the friends you need to meet up with. Write your own list.
Joseph Sterling
From 1958 -1964 Joseph Sterling photographed teenagers mostly around the Chicago area. This is from the book “The Age of Adolescence”

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: The Voice of a Generation

Or something like that. We can all contribute our voice, become one of MANY voices that make a generation distinct.

Are you familiar with the term Millennial? It makes me laugh. People get labeled without ever getting a vote—is this how you want to be referred to? Gen Xer. Baby Boomer, Lost Generation.

The group of young people disillusioned after a horrific World War (I!—often called The Great War, because they had no idea there would have to be TWO of them) decided to drink gin, hang out in cafes, and write “modern” stories. Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound (though to be honest, he was part of another generation—the super crazy), HD, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald—to name a few of the “lost” souls.

And the British poet Stephen Spender.

I was introduced to his work by Marilyn Nelson who recently gave the Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Harold Washington Library. He was a poet whose writing spanned several great and ungreat wars, dozens of love affairs and liaisons, and upheaval. It seems he knew the questions and didn’t propose any answers. He was a voice of that time.

Millennials are also referred to as the Harry Potter generation which makes them sound so cute—but who is envious of a generation stuck with student loan debt, lack of job security, falling wages, and rising sea levels. They are basically screwed (by the Baby Boomers—and the GREATEST Generation—who pretty much sent planet Earth to hell in a handbasket). They are writing and creating under a tremendous burden, beneath the dark shadows of an impending apocalypse.

I plan to write more later about Spender and his poems about his parents, about waiting in Railway Halls, about Berlin, about his friends.

Sometimes all we can do is record the NOW, use the present in order to preserve the past.

Write now write. What is happening now in your life (albeit a boring one) but one of significance. Add your voice by flashing a flash memoir of the here and now. Write the hard things.