Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Talking to Fred

Today, standing at the grill (I work mornings as a breakfast cook, so about 5 a.m.) I had a flash. A memory of someone I love. I say love because even though he is deceased, he isn’t really dead, not really. Sometimes I talk with Fred.

In my head, not out loud. Though sometimes I’ve done that while out bicycling. I’ll look around and say, Fred you’d love this. But mostly I flash and think about him.

I wonder: are flashes a bit like prayers? My heart reaching out to the universe. Are you there?

I miss Fred. I miss talking with Fred. I used to have an office on 8th floor, down the hall from him. So after working on my writing I’d stop by for a chat, and our conversations covered a multitude of topics, mostly the arts. One blog post I shared years ago had to do with a movie. I tried to tell it to him and he interrupted me, WAIT! I saw that one too!. And, together we finished telling each other the story and which parts we liked the best, and how we related to the main character—a woman in a bad relationship who began to find herself by taking photographs.

So I don’t know what first sparked the memory at the grill this a.m.—was it the movie or the missing of Fred? So many things we talked about that I cannot untangle the emotions; they are all wrapped up together.

This is grief. When everything reminds you of that person. The one you love. Not loved, past tense, but love. Still.
PHOTO by: Otto Jensen
Fred Burkhart died August 30, 2014. Two years ago. And, I still miss him.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


So in about 2 days I leave with my boxed bicycle on an international flight to England, once there I will cycle the length of the island, from top o’Scotland (John of Groates) to Land’s End. JOGLE.

Now for the scary part.

The last couple weeks leading up to this have been hectic and stressful. I’m not writing for sympathy (I’m probably also suffering from survivor guilt) or to say my circumstances are worse than others. I’m just saying that I really, really need this ride.

In January I sat down with myself and did a quick evaluation. What made me happy? Truly happy. Where was my sweet spot? And I wrote down: bicycling. For so many people when they hear what I’m about to embark upon, they laugh and say, that’s not a vacation.

The past 12 months have been rough: viz a viz relationships and writing (at the same time my critique group that I relied upon for feedback fell apart). I’ve needed to find the things that bring me back to a center, to a bit of hope.

It’s not the news—Syrian barrel bombs and gas attacks upon civilian populations, refugees, whole families drowning at sea, ISIS beheading hostages, Donald Trump, etc. Any number of these things got my adrenaline going in a very negative way. The helplessness I feel compounded with guilt, that I should be doing something.

Then the past couple of weeks. A woman crossing the street in front of Uptown Baptist Church, age 57, is shot and killed. Then Friday night a man walking in front of my building, age 55, gunned down. I am so angry at politicians, the system, the inability of justice, all the people who stand in the way of reasonable gun control. Until that time these senseless murders will keep happening. Then also last week a good friend’s husband SUDDENLY died. She heard a thump in the bathroom and that was it.

All this loss, pain, suffering built and built until Saturday I felt paralyzed. I literally had broken out into hives. People say to me, I couldn’t do what you do, meaning (I suppose) live in Chicago as a religious worker and try to make a difference, try to be peace to our neighbors. And, they’re right. This weekend I had to reevaluate—is this something I can continue doing? Is there still good I can do?

All I really know is this: in two days I will fly to England to ride my bike. I will be thinking of the many souls these past few weeks who have lost their life. I will say to myself: This is my now.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Update on Sport’s Authority

Anyway here is an update. In May when I was cheated, not given the advertised discount at the register, the manager half-heartedly told me I could come back when stuff was 70% off and ask for a free pair of socks.

Okay, like this will never happen.

Yesterday I rode past Sports Authority on my bike and saw that, indeed, stuff was down to 80% off. I went in and it was chaos, empty shelves and super long lines, but I found a pair of socks and waited in line and at the register I told the guy my story. I swear he didn’t blink twice. Take ‘em!

I had the feeling I could have left with a pair of dumbbells. No one cares. So my faith in humanity is now restored. Now onto news of doping in the world of athletics and the Olympics.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: This isn’t going to turn out good

 How many of us have had that feeling, that tickle inside your stomach, that your brakes have failed?

Let’s just say as a kid growing up, a lot. I was constantly getting into trouble. Not shoplifting, skipping school, smoking behind the garden shed kind of trouble. More like smoking outside the fireworks factory.

I still remember snaking out late at night to go on a motorcycle ride with my friend. He zipped me into a jumpsuit—in case we crashed, he said, I wouldn’t lose the top layer of skin. Good thing, because we came to a sign at the bottom of a steep hill that as we flashed by it—my brain translated the letters: Bridge Out.

Go ahead—tell us about the crazy, the craziest of crazy. Flash about the inkling you got before all hell broke loose, before the wheels came off. (The worst part is when your mother/mother/conscience asks: Why? There is no answer.)

Right now, write.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The sky eats up the trees

Readers of this blog also know that I love (my boy) James Schuyler. He was a master of the Write Right Now. Thus, his National Book Award winner, The Morning of the Poem which is one continuous dream of a morning, of a poem, of life observed. The Award was well-deserved. His work continues to influence writers of today.


The world seems scary. There isn’t a lot of solace. So I turn to poetry. Now is the time to immerse ourselves in poetry. To turn away from the world and all it’s turmoil and trauma. I’m not exactly going to put my head in a hole, but rather I want to describe to you another world. One without a ranting and raving orange-haired man. Thank you.

The sky eats up the trees

The newspaper comes. It
has a bellyful of bad news.
The sun is not where it was.
Nor is the moon. Once so
flat, now so round. A man
carries papers out of the house. Which makes a small
change. I read at night.
I take the train and go
to the city. Then I come
back. Mastic Shirley,
Patchogue, Quogue. And for
all the times I’ve stopped, hundreds, at their
stations, that’s all
I know. One has
a lumberyard. The sun
puts on a smile.
The day had a bulge
around 3 p.m. After,
it slips, cold and quiet
into night. I read
in bed. And in the a.m.
put a recond on to
shave to. Uptown in a
shop a man has blue
eyes that enchant. He
is friendly and inter
esting to me, though he is
not an interesting man.
Bad news is a funny kind
of breakfast. An addict
I can scarcely eat my
daily crumble without
its bulk. I read at
night and shave when
I get up. That’s true.
Life will change and
I am part of it and
will change too. So
will you, and you, and
you, the secret—what’s
a secret?—center of
my life, your name and
voice engraved like
record grooves upon
my life, spinning its
time between the lines
I read at night, a
graffito on the walls
of flavored paper I
see, looking up from
pages of Lady Mary
Wortley Montague or
a yellow back novel.
A quiet praise, yes,
that’s it, between the
lines I read at night.
From Collected Poems, James Schuyler, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993.

Monday, August 22, 2016

September Memories

In 2014 I went on a solo trip to Sweden. It didn’t seem like such a big deal to go by myself—more like an adventure. Until the airlines lost my luggage, until I couldn’t explain to the bus driver where I wanted to go, until my credit card stopped working. I could go on and on.

Right now I am stressing about my upcoming trip to England, September 1 – 26, where I plan to ride my bike from the top o’Scotland to the bottom of Cornwall, Land’s End. A journey of over 1,000 miles. I can think of an endless stream of things that might go wrong. And, likely will. But as I think back over Sweden and that trip two years ago, I had a fabulous time.
The weather was perfect.
I managed to meet up with 2 of my friends and have a great time re-connecting.
I ate wonderful food, and fell in love with Konditori cozy cafés that sell great pastries and coffee.
For the most part people spoke English—why don’t I speak 2 or 3 languages!?

And all those problems: the luggage got delivered the next day to my couchsurfing host, I made it to Sjötorp even though I could never manage to pronounce the name of the town, walked to a B & B and hired a bike to ride along the Gota Canal, and somehow my credit card started working—though never on the buses because I didn’t have the chip. (see The Traveler, post)

Always, always there was a way. This is not simply optimistic thinking. In tight places or times of travel confusion and mayhem, I felt the universe, God, the spirit of Marco Polo guiding me, telling me to walk through doors, trust, take another step.

Thank goodness for friends (you know who you are) for talking me down off the ledge yesterday when I started to panic. I just need to remind myself—to fall into the ever-loving hands of life, and live. Take the problems as they come, knowing there is a way.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Write Your Own Epitaph

The importance of an epitaph

Epitaph a short text honoring a deceased person. Technically it is inscribed on a tombstone or plaque. The essence of writing small. The original 6-word memoir, the ultimate flash. This is an easy task, a flash you can write in your bathing suit sitting on a towel at the beach. Take a second or two to scribble down what you think you might be known for, what you want to leave behind, the last word.

Right now write, your own epitaph.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Also a Poet, 50 Years Later

Frank O’Hara, Poet Among Painters, Marjorie Perloff
1998, University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction

O’Hara was about intense friendships.

Actually he was about many things: art, dance, classical music, travel, gay theater, movies. He was about the exclamation point. It is the singular fingerprint of his work.

How many of us grew up, in school being told the exclamation point was to be used rarely, in instances of the extreme. Indeed, I once sneaked a peek (okay, I was spying)at a roommate’s diary, a girl I didn’t like and liked even less when I saw the page covered in exclamation points. She was as shallow as I suspected, is what I told myself. The (exclamation) point is she probably was, exclamation points aside. So I planned to be careful, judicious, barely rising above a whisper. Early Jane Hertenstein work does not display an ounce of exuberance.

Then I discovered Frank O’Hara, and the fun began.

I could be playful, fey, charming, bantering about. Just like Frank.

All along he brought me inside his circle of friends. For once I felt as if I belonged. I was allowed to feel, to let my voice crack in enthusiasm, talk a little loud, eat noisily, sit with my legs spread. Life on the edge of exclamation.

Take a look at his poem, “Today,” included, along with the other poems in this essay, in the 2008 collection Selected Poems:
 Oh! Kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
Harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! All
The stuff they’ve always talked about
Still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day

From the website: The Millions
The essay:
Frank O’Hara’s Lessons for Being Gay
By Christopher Richards, July 1, 2013
He’s so sincere, that as much as I admire him (and I really admire him!), I’d feel embarrassed to have written some of his poems. Not because it’s shameful, but because it’s just too, too much. But he means it.
O’Hara’s poems are an antidote to this feeling of shame over the tastes we find natural and immovable. James Schuyler, perhaps the most sublime poet of the small thing made infinite, in one of his many catty, bright, loving letters to his dear friend O’Hara put it best:

Your passion always makes me feel like a cloud the wind detaches (at last) from a mountain so I can finally go sailing over all those valleys with their crazy farms and towns. I always start bouncing up and down in my chair when I read a poem of yours like “Radio,” where you seem to say, “I know you won’t think this is much of a subject for a poem but I just can’t help it: I feel like this,” so that in the end you seem to be the only one who knows what the subject of a poem is.
But there’s joy in loving what you love, a purity in expressing it exactly in its unchecked, effusive and messy truth, and O’Hara felt no shame in putting that feeling out there with an exclamation!

At O'Hara's funeral, Larry Rivers said, 'Frank O'Hara was my best friend. There are at least sixty people in New York who thought Frank O'Hara was their best friend.' That sentiment was echoed repeatedly by those who knew him. Everyone he befriended felt the greatest intimacy with him, even as they recognized that his intimacy was exclusive only for the time that they were with him. As John Gruen wrote, 'When Frank talked to you he made you feel everything you did was of vital importance and interest - at least for the moment.'

The exclamation point never detracted from his seriousness, that he was seriously briliiant, an intellectual, could think and talk most people under the table. That sense of riding the wave of the present can be felt in much of O'Hara's best poetry; the urgency of his need to be right there, right now.

It has been 50 years since his untimely death on Fire Island (July 25, 1966) when he was hit by a dune buggy before succumbing to grievous internal injuries the next day.

He left us a legacy, an example of how to be a friend.

When I die, don’t come, I wouldn’t want a leaf
to turn away from the sun — it loves it there.
There’s nothing so spiritual about being happy
but you can’t miss a day of it, because it doesn’t last.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where Do You Summer?

DeKooning’s Bicycle: Artists and Writers in the Hamptons
Robert Long, 2005, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Group Shot, John Jonas Gruen
(Back row): Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roland Pease (Middle row): Grace Hartigan, Stephen Rivers, Larry Rivers, Herbert Machiz, Tibor de Nagy, John Myers (Front row): Mary Abbott, Sondra Lee, Maxine Groffsky, Jane Freilicher, Joe Hazan
Is a fun little read that puts you there—because who can actually afford the Hamptons in the summer?! Maybe it once was in the 1950s when artists and writers were moving there.

Larry Rivers: he first thing I did in Southampton, Fairfield accompanying me, was rent from a Mr. Ralph Conklin a two-story eight-room house for $85 a month at 111 Toylsome Lane, down at the end of a long, muddy driveway. Alongside the house, fortunately, was a weathered no-doors, no-windows shed with enough space to carry on my life as an artist. There were trees all around and above the house, and one small lawn boxed in by tall, thick privet. The house had dark umber shingles except where green moss grew on them. . . I began referring to the house as ''my place in the country;'' more apt would have been ''my slum in the trees.'' . . . He paid rent with a bad check.

A considerable amount of time is spent in this volume about Green River Cemetery, a place I would love to visit—and could possibly afford. I’ve always had the feeling that the further out you go on Long Island the less wealthy the residents. This is probably a matter of percentage points amongst the top 1%, but hey!

Buried at Green River are some of my all-time favorites: Frank O’Hara, Elaine de Kooning, and, of course, famously, Jackson Pollock. Joe LeSueur is also there, not next to Frank. Larry Rivers lies not too far away in Sag Harbor at the Independent Jewish Cemetery. I’m not sure where Janie Freilicher is interred; she lived in Water Mill, long Island, not far from Pollack’s place or where the Fairfield Porters resided in East Hampton. Jimmie is still there. James Schuyler was the on-and-off eternal guest of the Porters and his ashes are at the Little Portion Friary (Episcopal), Mt. Sinai, Long Island, New York. Someday I will make a pilgrimage to see him. "June 30, 1974," is a poem that takes us back to a morning at Water Mill in the Hamptons, as lazy as any summer day.
The Sun Breaks Through, 1991
while Jane and Joe (Hazan, her husband)
sleep in their room
and John (Ashbery) in his. I
think I’ll make more toast.

View of the interior of Jane Freilicher's art studio, Water Mill, Long Island,
Schuyler describes a tranquil morning, nothing urgent.

. . . a millionaire’s
white chateau turns
its flank to catch
the risen sun. No
other houses, except
this charming one,
alive with paintings,
plants and quiet.

I can almost feel it, the summer solitude. No plans, just friends.
Jane Freilicher, self-portrait at Water Mill studio
From the viewpoint of deKooning’s bicycle we circle the east end of the island, drop in and visit some of the troubled souls that once lived and created there. Now there houses are museums. Hushed monuments to many summers, to drinking, and flirting, and playing. Painting and poetics. Thank you Mr. Long for taking us there.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: The Woodshop

The Woodshop

Joan Didion spent the night in the same room as her work when it was almost finished. Don DeLillo kept a picture of Borges close by. Where, and how, do you do your work?

CutBank Literary Journal is looking for photos of writers’ workspaces, and some thoughts about their practice. Take a few moments to respond to the following:
  1. Where do you do your work?
  2. What do you keep on your desk?
  3. What's your view like?
  4. What do you eat/drink while you work?
  5. Do you have any superstitions about your work?
  6. Share a recent line/sentence written in this space.
Then, along with your responses, send us a well-lit, high-resolution photo of your workspace. [Note: Please keep files smaller than 1MB.]

Submissions should also include your name, e-mail address, a brief bio, and a link to your website. Please email your submissions and use “Woodshop” as your subject.

Right now write: a brief flash about your workplace--where you create.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Olympics Then & Now

Watching the Olympics last night with a roomful of people (one stops by, then another, then another until we are all talking over the announcers), got me wondering: How has the sport of women’s gymnastics at the Olympics changed through the years?

Take a look at this video compiled from the 1936 Olympics. It looks like they’re going in slow motion. They are seen walking on the beam, another move is sitting on it, TOUCHING it with their hands. Virtually everything in the video would be a MAJOR deduction today. The uneven bars—it’s painful to watch, the athlete sort of lowers herself from the top to the lower, then STOPS. None of those two and half double-twist layouts. Truthfully the routines remind me of those videos of seniors doing exercises in their wheelchairs, moves merely to keep their arthritics hands and torso flexible.

Fast forward to 2016 Rio. Can you imagine the gymnast of 1936 watching Simone Biles?

One: the outfits. The athlete of 1936 is wearing a baggy one-piece, something along the lines of what I was forced to wear in gym class in high school. The announcer last night said the leotard used by the USA team costs $1200 each. Not sure why? Maybe for all the glitter?? Also the gymnast, though fit, doesn’t strike you as athletic. More like a girl you might pick up at a Wisconsin bar and share a plate of hot wings with.

More than glitter, the USA team shines. They were brilliant. They made the Chinese girls look like 1936. Not quite, but you get the comparison. Instead of tenths of a point, fractions, they surpassed them by actually 8 whole points. 

The floor exercise was a performance in physical strength and grace. Enter the samba, exit Rachmaninoff and those tired routines where the girl twirls and flirts with the crowd. You could literally hear the floor mat bouncing when they hit it to execute no-hands back and forward flips, flying to the rafters.

Anyway, have fun with the videos. Celebrate the 2016 games.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Places to Submit=Nostalgia

Here is a list of places to submit your flashes of nostalgia (gleaned from Cathy's Comps and Calls)

1st Sep Poetry, fiction and more on the theme of Nostalgia. PAYING

Also these:
15th Aug Flash fiction on the theme of triskadekaphobia and/or – philia: a fear of or fondness for the number 13. PAYING

Who knew!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Frank O’Hara, a Millennial

At this blog I frequently quote from the New York School of Poets (which wasn’t a school at all—see Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Fiction). Frank O’Hara was born in 1926 and died July 25, 1966, on Fire Island (NY) from a freakish dune buggy accident. He was a true Millennial.

Just fifty years before the technology.

If O’Hara were alive today he’d be tweeting and Instagramming, and Tumblr-ing and posting all over Facebook. He’d be one for the Snapchat.

Frank O’Hara was a conduit for his friends. He was constantly reaching out to people. It sounds shallow to say he was the life of the party, and truthfully I’ve never read that in print, but he brought people together. He also had his snappish, snippy side where he could cut friends off. He collected people. Bu sending them letters, poems, telegrams. I could easily see him writing for Tin House or Barrelhouse, or a gossip column for AWP. He had a sense of humor and a sardonic wit. A hedonist, maybe. Running headlong into the waves. Schuyler described O’Hara as having a “black ear” from talking on the phone so much. Today Frank would have totally had a cellphone in his hand, keeping up with all his contacts, typing in witty texts, and captions to pics.

Then as now, we’d all be amazed at how much writing he’d be able to accomplish.

Frank O’Hara, by Alex Katz oil on wood cutout

Joe’s Jacket
Entraining to Southampton in the parlor car with Jap and Vincent, I
see life as a penetrable landscape lit from above
like it was in my Barbizonian kiddy days when automobiles
were owned by the same people for years and the Alfa Romeo was
only a rumor under the leaves beside the viaduct and I
pretending to be adult felt the blue within me and light up there
no central figure me, I was some sort of cloud or a gust of wind
at the station a crowd of drunken fishermen on a picnic Kenneth
is hard to find but we find, through all the singing, Kenneth smiling
it is off to Janice’s bluefish and the incessant talk of affection
expressed as excitability and spleen to be recent and strong
and not unbearably right in attitude, full of confidences
now I will say it, thank god, I knew you would
an enormous party mesmerizing comers in the disgathering light
and dancing miniature-endless, like a pivot
I drink to smother my sensitivity for a while so I won’t stare away
I drink to kill the fear of boredom, the mounting panic of it
I drink to reduce my seriousness so a certain spurious charm

can appear and win its flickering little victory over noise
I drink to die a little and increase the contrast of this questionable moment
and then I am going home, purged of everything except anxiety and self-distrust
now I will say it, thank god, I knew you would
and the rain has commenced its delicate lament over the orchards
an enormous window morning and the wind, the beautiful desperation of a tree
fighting off strangulation, and my bed has an ugly calm
I reach to the D. H. Lawrence on the floor and read “The Ship of Death”
I lie back again and begin slowly to drift and then to sink
a somnolent envy of inertia makes me rise naked and go to the window
where the car horn mysteriously starts to honk, no one is there
and Kenneth comes out and stops it in the soft green lightless stare
and we are soon in the Paris of Kenneth’s libretto, I did not drift
away I did not die I am there with Haussmann and the rue de Rivoli
and the spirits of beauty, art and progress, pertinent and mobile
in their worldly way, and musical and strange the sun comes out
returning by car the forceful histories of myself and Vincent loom
like the city hour after hour closer and closer to the future I am here
and the night is heavy through not warm, Joe is still up and we talk
only of the immediate present and its indiscriminately hitched-to past
the feeling of life and incident pouring over the sleeping city
which seems to be bathed in an unobtrusive light which lends things
coherence and an absolute, for just that time as four o’clock goes by
and soon I am rising for the less than average day, I have coffee
I prepare calmly to face almost everything that will come up I am calm
but not as my bed was calm as it softly declined to become a ship
I borrow Joe’s seersucker jacket though he is still asleep I start out
when I last borrowed it I was leaving there is was on my Spanish plaza back
and hid my shoulders from San Marco’s pigeons was jostled on the Kurfurstendamm
and sat opposite Ashes in an enormous leather chair in the Continental
it is all enormity and life it has protected me and kept me here on
many occasions as a symbol does with the heart is full and risks no speech
a precaution I loathe as the pheasant loathes the season and is preserved
it will not be need, it will be just what it is and just what happens.