Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Art Week Residency, Great Spruce Head Island

A new week. A new day. But somehow I am having a hard time shrugging off last week and the election. I am trying to move forward.

Winter is coming.

When I was younger this might have been the time of year when each week brought something wonderful. Starting with my sister’s birthday in October, followed by Halloween, then my birthday, it was one party after another. Festivities leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas took over school. I was in choir so we rehearsed for a Christmas program. Industrial arts/home ec was given over to a great selection of craft-making options. My brothers and sisters and I always made some top-notch presents that when we were clearing out Mom and Dad’s last home, an assisted living place we were still unearthing these prizes. That’s tells you either how much they loved junk or how much they loved us. A bit of both.

Now—after the passing of my parents, and some of my friends and peers, I’m feeling a bit melancholy about the holidays. Not exactly looking forward to them. So I have to make some new horizons, something in the distance to work toward. That’s why I applied a couple weeks ago to an artist residency.

Last June when taking our daughter to start the next chapter of her life in Portland, Maine I had this thought: I would love to visit the place where Jimmy Schuyler vacationed and stayed with Fairfield Porter and his family off the coast of Maine. I knew it was an island. The Internet helped me locate it on a map, and indeed, it isn’t too far from Portland, but sadly Google and Wiki told me that the island was no longer in the family, but privately owned. I don’t think I was serious about visiting, but the fact it was now off limits felt like a giant period at the end of a sentence. Besides dropping in on an island probably would take some logistics.

Further research brought me to information on Art Week so I applied a couple weeks ago.
Now this has NEVER happened before. I got a response within a week of applying. Furthermore, I have never received a personal message, handwritten in stationary. Basically it was the most positive, art-affirming, soul-gratifying piece of mail I’ve ever received. They not only said yes, but alluded to funding being available. Anina Porter Fuller wrote that the island is still in the family, but held as a corporation, which made sense. For over a 100 years! “I would love to share this paradise with you since you have the sensitivity to appreciate it. I’m honored to have your application.” I re-read this portion of the letter again. They want me! Such welcomed news!

Thank you Jimmy, Fairfield Porter, all the Porters for giving me hope, that horizon to sail toward. I need this so much right now—you have no idea. 

Air Canada (long story, but they WOULD NOT reimburse me for lost reservations when I was held up in Montréal) has offered a 25% discount off my next flight with them—so I’m thinking of flying into Halifax with my bike and cycling around the Maritime Islands (especially Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail) and then cycling down the coast, visiting Arcadia National Park and then meeting the mail boat out to the island for the week. Bring on 2017!

Here are some lines from Schuyler’s poem “Today”:

The bay today breaks
in ripples of applause.
The wind whistles.
Spruce and bright-leaved birch
at the edge
are flat yet plump
as letters with “see enclosures.”
A gull mews, the mailboat toots,
the wind rises and pours with a noise like water
and spills black jazz
from spiked brown seed cups of red columbine …
A sailboat scuds,
a poplar tugs at roots
in soil a scurf on rock.
Everything chuckles and creaks
sighs in satisfaction
reddens and ripens in tough gusts of coolness
and the sun smites

John Ashbery and James Schuyler vacation at Great Spruce Head Island

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

365 Affirmations for the Writer

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. We never know how it is going to turn out. Oh, we have a certain idea, like most pioneers or explorers. But, these journeys can take detours; we have to react to circumstances and often go with our gut.

365 Affirmations forthe Writer is about listening to those who have gone before us and letting them guide us with their insight, their own trials. They know the terrain, how harsh it can be; they know where we can find water, shade, and rest along the way. By reading what others have said, we can survey the path before us, count the cost, and plunge ahead.

My motivation for compiling 365 Affirmationsfor the Writer is to offer light along the way. From day to day, week to week, we are getting further inside our writing, further down the path.

The book is 365 days of inspiration—quotes from writers and writing prompts. Here is a what you might expect, from the first week in January:

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woods

A couple of weeks ago I went to hear Jacqueline Woods read from Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn at Women & ChildrenFirst Bookstore. What a refreshing evening—saw some old friends from AROHO.

Brown Girl Dreaming is straight up memoir. It won National Book Award for Young People's Literature in non-fiction. Another Brooklyn is another story. A lot of good fiction reads like autobiography. And, certainly, there is little division between the two. Our lives inform our stories, and visa versa. Yet, any reader of Brown Girl Dreaming will see resounding strains in Another Brooklyn. Certainly Woodson’s love for her adopted hometown. Also something else—nostalgia.

Many of us look back with different glasses on our past, but in NYC and Brooklyn the neighborhoods are dramatically changing. Readers of this blog will know from my posts that I’m no fan of gentrification. Yet there is no stopping these population shifts. Those who are ousted or forced to leave because of high rents, a building getting renovated and out-priced, or simply going condo. In Uptown we have witnessed through the last 30 years a shift from diversity (Uptown was noted in a National Geographic article as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago)—ethnically and economically toward a more white, educated, higher-income demographic. New development favors people with income—who else can at least afford a studio renting for $1,700 a month!

In NYC these changes have been seismic. Family-run businesses or locally owned are having to vacate so that another Banana Republic can lease. Brands are bordering both sides of the street. Brooklyn and Flatbush, once a refuge for newcomers, affordable rent, a melting pot has this past decade become another Manhattan. Sought-after real estate. 

While one can celebrate less crime, there is also a sacrifice in diversity. Say goodbye to characters, impromptu street theater, the crazies that made life interesting, the old days when people knew each other, before social media called you out, before the haters. Woodson in Another Brooklyn recalls kids hanging out, stolen kisses in gangways and parks, boomboxes and crooners at the corners, the candy store. Platform shoes! 

Is it me or were folks just cooler back then?

As we have already learned, post-election, there is no going back. Time marches on and change is inevitable. Even the most unwelcome of changes. Money certainly does rule. But it doesn’t have to corrupt our memories.

I loved Another Brooklyn, a perfect read for adults, young adults, anyone in love with NYC, Brooklyn, nostalgic for the 80s. Anyone who has ever looked back with longing.
speaking and reading from Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn at Women & Children First Bookstore

Friday, November 25, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir

Today's Hot Flash is lifted entirely from Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir, my eBook available EVERYWHERE. Oder it today.*

One of the first things one wouldn’t see in an autobiography or at least very little of is
dialogue. It is not possible to reconstruct dialogue according to memory—unless one used a
secret camera or spy-recording device.

As the author of your memoir feel free to include dialogue. Frank McCourt’s Angela’s
Ashes would only be half as interesting without the use of written dialogue. Frank McCourt
was the consummate Irish storyteller. I can easily imagine him telling some of the same
stories from Angela’s Ashes down at the pub (or pubs, he had a few favorites).

EXERCISE: Devise a flash told completely in dialogue, this can either be straight memoir,
fictional, or a combination thereof. If it helps, write the flash as a small scene. Feel free to
include plot twists and surprise endings. If stuck here is a prompt:
A couple fighting in a car. What are they arguing about? Are they about to arrive or depart a
party? Are they outside the hospital or a bank? Have they simply pulled over to answer the
phone or to let an emergency vehicle get by?

*The link takes you to Amazon, but also available through

Baker & Taylor Blio

Baker-Taylor Axis360

Barnes & Noble



Gardners Extended Retail

Gardners Library

Inktera (formerly Page Foundry)


Library Direct









Thursday, November 24, 2016

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

I just wanted to say thanks to all my readers for making this blog a roaring success. Not sure what sparked a movement—but Memoirous gets about 20,000 hits a month!

I want to say thank you and encourage all my readers to BUY my books. If just one in 100 of you buy a book (or books), then I will . . . I was never good at math, but I like the sound of 1 in 100! Christmas giving is around the corner, PLUS after the commotion of the holidays, you’ll need to get yourself back into gear and refocused on your writing.

Freeze Frame, available as an eBook for 2.99. Many of us are looking to write memories—either in the form of literary memoir or simply to record family history. This how-to book looks at memoir in small, bite-size pieces, helping the writer to isolate or freeze-frame a moment and then distill it onto paper.

365 Affirmations for the Writer, is an eBook for 3.99. 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.

Every morning I read 365 Affirmations for the Writer by Jane Hertenstein. It's a daily shot of encouragement in the arm.

More than affirmations there are countless writing prompts to get you started and keep you inspired.

Also check out Orphan Girl.Available as an eBook but also in paperback. Tens of thousands of homeless people walk the streets, forgotten, yet each with their own story to tell. Marie James, a 69-year-old bag lady, and a frequent guest at an inner-city mission in Chicago, sat with Jane Hertenstein through the summer of 1995 and recorded this shocking and moving story of life filled with sorrow, loss, mental instability, and hope. Her memoir will break one's heart, yet encourage and inspire. -- "Harrowing inside view of homelessness", -- Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1997

The link takes you to Amazon, but also available through

Baker & Taylor Blio

Baker-Taylor Axis360

Barnes & Noble



Gardners Extended Retail

Gardners Library

Inktera (formerly Page Foundry)


Library Direct









Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton was something I picked on a whim off the library shelf. I have not read her other works, namely Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer prize. The story is set up almost as vignettes that bounce back and forth between the past, the “present”, and then the “present” turns into past reflection. It is a book about memories—and possibly mistakes.

I say possibly as I don’t want to rob it of broader themes. A daughter, bedridden in a hospital with an unknown ailment, becomes the basis for her mother’s unexpected arrival. And, for 5 days the mother sits vigil and the two begin to revisit the past. A complicated one, but nothing out of the ordinary. There is no GREAT revelation; this is no The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls). We have here in a fairly slim volume, the story of a family making ends meet in rural Illinois. We also have the story of the families around this family, the surrounding community. It is a book about marriages and desires, and what keep people together. The ties that bind.

What I want to emphasize is how “real” the narrative feels. Maybe it is my Midwestern sensibility, but the language resounds, to my ear, as authentic. Also the suppressed “niceness” (when the whole time people are judging you)—you can almost feel the chokehold. 

The daughter’s own marriage may or may not be on the rocks. We never know why exactly she needs to be hospitalized for 5 weeks. I suspect depression. There is more than physical fragility here; there is mental exhaustion as well. 

Growing up, my mother used to have these confessional talks with me such as the mother and daughter in the novel. Where Mom would confide under her breath about someone’s failings, their sins, how they “run off,” or had a black boyfriend, or was a secret drinker. Maybe the husband beat the wife or the son was known to wear his mother’s clothes at times. Families and small towns are full of such stories. The point is: for one second I felt close to Mommy—she was a friend in arms, rather than the undependable, moody mom I was used to. It was as if I could trust her.

And when the mom leaves to return home, nothing much has changed. My Name is Lucy Barton is about a moment in time, a moment of flashback and recall, without nostalgia. Looking back does not re-vision the past. It was hard then, it is hard now. There weren’t any answers, there aren’t any answers now. It took me all of one morning to consume this novel, a slice of life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Not Hate Speech, Free Speech

I wish I did not have to come into work every day and write another post about DT. At a certain point I want to go back to YouTube and babies belly laughing and cats playing pianos. Really. I do not want to start my week talking about politics. If only it were politics.

So let me begin by saying I went to a concert over the weekend at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I almost wrote Old School. Well, it is. Today’s folk music seems to draw inspiration from the 60s, and their audience. The singer between songs spoke in a sing-songy voice that reminded me of Garrison Keillor aka Prairie Home Companion. The atmosphere was peace, love, and No More Nukes. Sort of a throw-back.

I felt right at home.

You see since this election there have been few safe places. Not social media, not the news, not my extended family. Thankfully, I live in a place where I get a lot of support. Don’t get me wrong—I could unfriend a lot of people and write my family off, but I sincerely like them and most always enjoy a diversity of opinions. I don’t want to live inside a bubble. Yet there are times, like this weekend, where I just needed to feel like people got me. Where I could settle back and not have to wait for the next shoe to drop. I think everyone was feeling the same.

The singer, Carrie Newcomer got our pain, and sang to the heart of it. She also said a bunch of encouraging stuff like don’t give up. We can do this, together. She had us sing along to “Lean In toward the Light.” She featured many songs off her new album,The Beautiful Not Yet. In particular I loved “You Can Do This Hard Thing.” It’s what I tell myself a lot when the going gets tough, when I think I just can’t take one more thing, one more burden. Just this hill, then the next, and likely one more after that. I can do this hard thing. Also the cut, “Sanctuary” speaks to the refuge in the midst of the storm.

And there was a shit storm unleashed this past weekend. Probably while I was at the concert. Mike Pence went to see Hamilton where the cast, at curtain call, as they are wont to do, as sometimes happens (see Cubs Win!) delivered a special message to the VP-elect. It was not hate speech, nor not actually a rebuff, more like a reminder. Which seems especially apropos since the show revolves around government, the Constitution, etc. How things work—or don’t, the hardships and trials of leading and governing. The theater is about communication—and if we don’t like the message then don’t buy a ticket. Actually you can’t anyway because the thing is sold out until 2020 or whenever the Cubs win the World Series (again).

If someone had come into the Carrie Newcomer concert and said I don’t like what you’re singing or bantering about between songs: Apologize! A lot of us peaceniks might've started throwing chairs.

DT tweeted that the theater needs to be a safe place—this brings up a lot of questions (and anxiety for me)—safe for whom? I love that Saturday night I had a Sanctuary, a place where I could go and feel welcomed. I hope the arts can remain a place of refuge. We will see.

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Book of Sorrows, part 2

I used to wonder: What is fascism? I realize most eight-year-olds don’t spend their time puzzling over such matters, but I was not your typical kid. I used to save news clippings of super serious events in a Girl Scout Handbook. A baby repeatedly bitten by rats, a slew of kids mowed down by a drunk driver, Beth Ann Mott—a girl who was snatched and later her body recovered. I wasn’t obsessed, yet I dwelled with these things, like how I reread The Diary of Ann Frank, always pausing near the end to contemplate: In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

I think there was a bit of the time traveler in me, the history detective. If only we could go back in time and “fix” things or jump over a particularly devastating moment. Change the trajectory, the course of human events. Rewind that moment in the opening intro to Wide World of Sports where the skier flies out of control, crashing—send them back to the slopes, in pursuit of victory.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around the word, fascism. Was this communism, which I’d heard a lot about during the Cold War years, but yet had no idea what exactly it was? I read in class about dictators and how America threw off the yoke of tyranny and fought for our independence. Good bye King George and taxation without representation.

Later I learned about the Holocaust. Again if only I’d been there, I would have stood up for the Jews, I would have been like Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place; I would have protected Jews even if it meant I’d go to jail or a concentration camp. How in the world did the German people let this happen? What kind of person let’s other people, the government skin other people, gas millions, crush an infant’s skull?

Obviously I did normal stuff too; I played four square and converted big refrigerator boxes into playhouses. Yet at night when my kiddy insomnia took over, I’d pull out the Girl Scout Handbook from the back of my closet, opening the pages to a news clipping. My book of sorrows. (see an earlier blog post on this subject)

After this election I mentally revisited these questions: What is fascism? How can people be so indifferent? How does history allow this to happen?

Are you tired of all the analogies to Hitler, to Brown Shirts, to purges of certain populations? Sorry, but not sorry. Steve Bannon, Kris Kobach, Rudy Giuliani. And, this is just 6 days. It seems as if we will all have to get used to the registering of Muslims, deportations, Hillary getting locked up, attacks on “liberal” media, the smoke screen of “law & order” impacting Blacks, terrorists, protestors, the rollback of gay and transgender rights. And, we haven’t even gotten to the Supreme Court and the possible damage there.

Is it really so hard to imagine? To see myself having to stand up? Or, worse of all, to rationalize, normalize, to just let it go because what can one person do anyway. What if I turn out to be like those people who lived within sight of the smokestacks, who saw everyday wisps of white smoke, who told themselves that that foul odor would eventually go away.

I finally get it, what the word means, and I’m totally freaking out.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Leonard Cohen’s Writing Process

Not sure what happened last week, but I was not able to post on Friday/Hot Flash. (We all know what happened last week.)

Leonard Cohen died.

Outside of Bob Dylan I cannot name another more prolific songwriter/poet. He was someone who embodied my mantra of Write Right Now. I don’t think he ever passed up an opportunity to chronicle a moment, experience, a relationship, turn it into words, something to be sung.

Cohen’s writing process, as he told an interviewer in 1998, was “like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it.”

A perfect description of what it’s like to write for any writer. I wished I’d had this quote when working on 365 Affirmations for the Writer 
There’s also no denying the inspiration for these lines:
from Ceremony, by Leonard Cohen
When you kneel below me
and in both your hands
hold my manhood like a sceptre,
When you wrap your tongue
about the amber jewel
and urge my blessing,
I understand those Roman girls
who danced around a shaft of stone
and kissed it till the stone was warm.
Kneel, love, a thousand feet below me,
so far I can barely see your mouth and hands
perform the ceremony,
Kneel till I topple to your back
with a groan, like those gods on the roof
that Samson pulled down.
What I like in this piece is how he goes from one image to another: Samson, roman girls performing a ceremony, gods and goddesses, biblical as well as classical imagery=into an erotic poem.

What if as a writing prompt you took an Old Testament story and spun a poem, or some other well-known tale, a fairy tale, Where the Wild Things Are and used it as a jumping off point, an analog to a flash piece?? Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat, The Night Before Christmas, find the parallels and then diverge.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Election 2016

I know, I know, we are nearly sick to death of this subject—a campaign that went on way too long with a world-altering aftermath. I’ll leave all the discussions to Facebook.
 I’m here to blog the virtues of SAME-DAY VOTER REGISTRATION.

Chicago/Illinois is definitely left-leaning—meaning we do not try to shorten early voting or restrict access, making people jump through hoops in order to vote. We do not require ID—if you are in the poll books. Some say this is fraud, but as someone who has been an election judge since 2000, I can only say: for some people the act of voting is hard enough. For example EVERYONE knew it was election day—and if you didn’t know then you probably didn’t care in the first place. For the love of God get to your polling place on time! We had a gentleman show up at ten after 7 expecting to vote. No. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 pm. 

Same-day voter registration is not a ploy by Democrats, it is not handing the election over to fraud, or a way to game the system. Some have suggested that minorities benefit the most from same-day voter registration.
I’m here to say that it is a MAJOR plus for those of us helping to run a fair and accurate election. People are on the move. Millennials especially: college, job, marriage, move in with boyfriend, move out, parent’s basement, then with your bestie. It is impossible to say from one year to the next where they might end up. The professional experiences job change, transfers, or has to work remote temporarily. None of these people are tricksters, trying to sneak an extra vote in. They simply want to know WHERE they can vote.

We had them sit down at a table, sort out their new address, and if we were their precinct then we had them vote. If their precinct was somewhere else we gave them the address and sent them on their way. We didn’t want the voter to feel compelled to return to their “old” address or vote under their former name. All they had to do was prove with documentation such as an ID or piece of mail they are who they say they are and their current address. There were a couple of NEW voters, kids with birthdays right before the election or who had had a birthday while off on a gap year and were now back home, eligible to vote. We wanted to get it right, for us and for them.

Same-day voter registration made for a smoother election. We had to issue only 2 provisionals. Instead of the countless ones in years past. With same-day voter registration we made sure your vote counted.
Maybe other wards, precincts, other states have another experience, but for us this system works. And, how great is it, to be able to put a person at ease, assure them that they’re not a problem, that this is not too hard to solve, and then hand them a ballot! You’re good to go.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Frances Willard, woman cycling pioneer

Frances Willard—how did I not know about you?!

During last months Open House Chicago I visited the Frances Willard house in Evanston. A little cottage with gingerbread trim. Fairly humble—even though I suspected it was 2 houses, next to each other, retrofitted to be one slightly bigger residence. Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was an American educator, temperance reformer, and women’s suffragist. Her influence was instrumental in the passage of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Thus we have Frances to thank for the right to vote.
The tour guide talked about matching the wallpaper and carpeting to look authentically Victorian. I had about 10 places I wanted to hit in Evanston and was only half through that list, so I began to glide into and out of rooms on the first floor (second floor was not on the tour). In a dining room/study I saw pictures of 1886 Frances astride a bike with her billowing skirts. What! you say! A progressive woman cyclist. I was suddenly in love with Frances Willard.

Keep in mind that at this time a woman’s place was in the home. Women were bound by how far they could walk—and if going far were usually escorted. They needed a companion. Suddenly 2-wheeled transportation, the bicycle, intervened. Women were able to go further afield, explore. They even began to fashion and wear attire that permitted them to easily straddle a bicycle. The bike craze of the 90s (1890s) was largely due to women. Women were learning how to ride and buying bicycles. A favorite book that helped me adjust to switching schools in the middle of 3rd grade is The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes where the main character, a young girl) gets a bicycle. The freedom and joy of being able to go under her own power and discover the world, the world being the country roads around her, was paradise. Anyway, that book was pivotal in helping me accept a huge life-change.

Back to Frances. Frances went bike crazy. She penned A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, 1895. Mind you, she only learned to ride a bike at age 53. Her achievement was symbolic of how she set out to conquer the inequalities she saw around her. Nothing was going to hold her back.

Willard named the bike “Gladys” and over the period of three months, and with several teachers, she learned to ride. Inspired by the will to show the women in her organization what they were capable of, Willard wrote a book about her experience with “Gladys” called How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle. It was published in 1895, only three years before her death. In her book Willard testifies that “all failure was from a wobbling will rather than a wobbling wheel,” the “will (being) the wheel of the mind”. (Willard, 31)

Thank you Frances Willard. You are my hero and a true inspiration—from a woman age 57 who had to conquer her own fears while doing a JOGLE this past fall.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

There's Got to be a Morning After


I’m honestly flattened, knocked for a loop. I want to walk the middle of the road so as not to put off readers or get people twisted up. The Cubs, the White Sox, the Bears, the Packers, North and South, and, dare I say their names, Hillary and Trump. We all knew someone was going to lose and someone was going to win.

We just all hoped it would be us, the other guy’s pain, not ours. Last night, this campaign will forever go down in history, in collective memory, as a bad nightmare.

I have friends on many sides of the aisle. On Facebook I read posts thanking Jesus to others where the F-word showed up, with a few others. I care about all of you. I care about the future, my daughter, the economy (which just crashed), foreign policy. There is a lot that I wish could change. I wish for a do-over.

This morning I was tired. Really really tired. A good friend passed away last evening. He enjoyed walks in the park and last night he walked down to a bench, sat down, and never got back up. He watched the sunset. I learned of his death an hour or so before the polls closed. After getting home from election judging I met some of the family coming in the back door from the hospital where he was taken (across from the park). In the midst of shock and sadness they told me—He voted! He was still wearing the wristband given out at the polling place.

So this a.m. I worked my shift, showered, and watched Hillary concede on TV. I tried to remember what made me happy, that sweet spot. Biking! Reading books! Books! Being with my friends! So I hopped on my bike and rode to Women & Children First Bookstore. (LIKE THEM) I walked in and the lady behind the counter said, How can I help you?

I stood in front of her and began to cry. She came out from behind the counter and hugged me. Linda Bubon had spent her morning (a little hungover) reading books to toddlers. Bless you. We gathered, talked, commiserated, cried. I want to say we encouraged each other, but that’s not the case. I ended up buying a book. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar. [A Map of Home is a 2008 novel by Randa Jarrar. The book tells the life of a girl named Nidali, the feminine version of Nidal, which means "struggle". A Map of Home is a coming-of-age tale, telling the story of Nidali's life in Kuwait, Egypt, and the United States. Set during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a larger backdrop, the novel depicts the struggles of Nidali and her family, exploring the question of what "home" means, and the character's identity.]

Friends, sisters, readers, cyclists, let’s commit to each other to support our local feminist bookstores. They are a rallying point, a place where we can find solace in these trying times.
The brilliant and funny Jacqueline Woodson read from BROWN GIRL DREAMING and ANOTHER BROOKLYN--I'm to the left in this photo, not in the pic

Postcard Flash, places to submit

I know I've posted here many times (click on the label at the bottom to see other posts on POSTCARD FLASH). Anyway here is a place you can submit.

Postcard Poems and Prose Magazine needs very short fiction. (225 words or less) Tight prose written in active voice that grips the reader from the opening sentence is certain to catch our attention.
For more info visit us here.
Our guidelines to submit are tabbed to the home page. ​

ALSO check out HOOT
HOOT is a monthly literary magazine. On a postcard! We publish current fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and book reviews all at or few than 150 words. Give a hoot and tweet us a submission!
We're looking for original material, about 250 words or so - as much as you could more or less fit on a postcard.
Postcard shorts is open to all genres of flash fiction.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Today’s blog entry was provoked by a strain of threads that I will try to weave together into a coherent post. Part movie review and opinion piece on welcoming the outsider, the other.

First did anyone catch the Washington Post article, The White Flight of Derek Black?

Derek Black was the son and heir apparent to a white supremacy movement. He was a junior cadet so to speak and even authored his own column/blog at their Stormfront website which spews hate and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Of course, we have been hearing a lot of this lately. And, in America, free speech is a right. Derek Jr. even helped his father host a radio talk show show and podcast. These guys were committed to their message.

So what would make someone so comfortable with their ideology change course, to decide to chuck it and actually become an outcast from his own family? I was surprised to read this in the article:

“He joined a new online message group, this one for couch surfers, and he opened up his one-bedroom apartment to strangers looking for a temporary place to stay. It felt increasingly good to trust people — to try to interact without prejudice or judgment — and after a while, Derek began to feel detached from the person he had been.”

Since 2007 I’ve been a Couchsurfing host here in Chicago. I get about 9 requests a day and have hosted a total of at least 300 surfers. Some people get the philosophy behind it, while others simply see it as getting a free place to stay. More often than not my guests want to hear more about me, as I do them, we both want to interact and engage. I try to sit down with my guests and have a meal at least once during their visit. Occasionally the connection goes further and we return the visit in their home country. There is also the case where my guest returns and we have been able to establish an on-going relationship. It’s crazy what offering hospitality can open you up to. My life is definitely bigger. No longer do I have to travel in order to meet people because every couple of weeks, the world comes to me.

Just by offering hospitality and making ourselves available to others changes us.

This is basically what happened to me this past week and was reinforced last night at the Chicago International Film Festival, with the film Malaria.

I got a request from a surfer and it seemed in his halting English like he was requesting for almost 2 weeks. This is a long time when you’re not sure if you might want to even host a person for one hour. But after reading his profile, I thought: he sounds interesting. He was an actor from Iran coming to Chicago for the opening of a film he participated in at the film festival. I told my husband and within seconds he emailed me back, TAKE HIM. Apparently his family cinema royalty in Iran, as his father started a theater company in Tehran and his sisters have all acted in major roles in international films. My husband Mike loves Iranian cinema and actually has seen a film by the director of the movie Azi appears in. It seemed like a match made in heaven for us. But I only wanted to take him for at most 5 days.

But 5 days melted into 2 weeks—and last night we went to see him in the movie.

We got to the theater and of course our tickets were not at Will Call. Azi had to come out and talk us into the showing. I mention this because this exact scene is actually PLAYED OUT IN THE FILM. Everywhere there was a sense of déjà vu. A film about a film and about how we record our lives, perhaps even living through our camera phone. But the film was also about an open-hearted man who picks up 2 hitchhikers and how offering hospitality to these 2 travelers ultimately changes his life, and theirs, and not exactly for the better. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the film Azi who plays a character called Azi who is a musician much like the real-life Azi. Also in the movie he invites his new-found friends plus his band, which in real-life are his actual band, to a movie that he’s in! But after waiting in line and talking to theater staff about the free tickets they are denied entry. Thankfully we were able to get into the film—an example where art did not imitate life. Instead they go back out onto the streets of Tehran where crowds are gathering to celebrate the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal—which was in the news and was woven into the movie because it simply was. It was a film about making a film while the players were filming. A sort of hall of mirrors.

But this connection, his offer of hospitality turns controversial and Azi is arrested. I won’t reveal too much more—as you need to look up the movie Malaria and watch it yourself.

By the way: Azi is the MAIN CHARACTER in the movie—so we have ended up housing a film star! I’m so glad we took a chance! *The title of the film is the name of the band that Azi is in.

In Farsi with subtitles
A young woman elopes with her boyfriend to Tehran. To cover her tracks, she tells her father she’s been kidnapped. With her family in hot pursuit, the couple takes up with a band of bohemian street musicians and forms an elaborate plan for a more permanent escape. Mixing real-life on-the-streets footage with a tense lovers-on-the-run drama, Festival alum Parviz Shahbazi crafts a lively look at the cultural clashes that exist deep within Iranian society.

Director/writer Parviz Shahbazi and actor Azarakhsh Farahani are scheduled to attend both screenings.
Azi got lots of love from a Venice Film Festival reviewer: “This central conflict is also embodied most fully in the character of irresponsible slacker Azi (Azarakhsh Farahani), who is easily the highlight of the film. Through his love of the Beatles, and pop-culture t-shirts, Azi is the most outwardly modern character. He exudes a simple kindness towards Hanna and Mori, two people he has no real reason to help. This eventually turns him into a tragic figure as he suffers thanks to their actions...” The reviewer describes the film as “highly likable…thanks to Farahani’s portrayal of the lovely Azi.”

Friday, November 4, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Make America Great Again=Halloween

I was reminiscing with someone in their thirties, I know, what do they have to reminisce about, but this person hit the nail on the old pumpkin head. How Halloween has grown into a major American holiday. “When I was little it was just one day. Now my kids are sucked into harvest parties and activities for a whole month—not the least a whole weekend of unending trick or treating.

Growing up it was monumental to carve a pumpkin. Now suburban moms buy a station wagon full and put them everywhere for decorations. Trick or treating was one night only. And, we didn’t drive around and hand-pick the best neighborhoods. We simply walked up and down the streets. We didn’t spend half a year figuring out a novelty costume. I wore what my siblings had outgrown.

Ahh, simplicity.

Anyway, my friend took a garbage bags of random costumes to the Syrian refugees she’s been visiting and mentoring. To say the least, the kids were beside themselves with excitement. I can’t imagine fleeing war-torn Syria, barrel bombs, and food shortages—to end up in America, in Evanston going door-to-door where people HAND OUT FREE CANDY. How great is this place!

You must have a favorite Halloween memory—your first spook house, walking hand-in-hand with your dad, hanging out with your friends, that moment when you realize you’re too old to go trick or treating.

Right now, write!
Welcome to America!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cubs Win!

 I’m writing this a bit bleary eyed this morning. Last night was truly special. And, I’m not even a hard-core fan. But call it a life-changing moment, that second when the world turns, and you feel a shift. That glimpse when suddenly hope swells and you feel like you are standing on the edge of eternity. It only lasts but a flicker and is gone. Except imagine everyone around you is experiencing the same thing—and it continues to roll over you, like a memory, that you are, indeed, a winner, that all your hard work has been recognized and your prayers heard.

I know there are people out there trying to stop a pipeline, promises broken to the poor and homeless, and just earlier this week, a young man I watched grow up was killed on his bike out in LA. Yeah, there’s still all that, but now this too.

This series (like the election) has showed up the differences in some families. Someone was going to get their heart stomped on. Someone was going to walk away the winner and the other person, well, there is no second place. I have a brother and sister-in-law rooting for the Indians. Last night on her Facebook timeline there was nail-biting tension and exhilaration. Same thing on mine. Whose team was going to pull this thing out?

They might also be a tiny bit on the other side of the political divide also.

How can we stay friends, stay family? How can we let each other have their moment without hurt feelings?

So we have a few more days of this tension until things are decided. And, again one of us is going to be disappointed, crushed, at a loss as to the future. What next?

But, for now I want to live in this space, where Harry Carey, from beyond the grave, is calling the game and all those past players in pinstripes are doing a happy dance.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey
By Wordsworth

A poem of memory, longing, nostalgia
I am in a phase/place, where looking back, I am revisiting my trip
Miss it, the days where I simply woke up and pedaled, all that was required of me was to keep going, see new things, follow the map/Google lady
Survive the weather, the hills, ride, ride, ride
inexorable rhythm, breath
Wye Valley
Once again do I behold—this is certainly a question
Age, time, mortality
And connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky
Soft hum of the A(466) what has changed, absolutely quiet, uncrowded, empty parking lot

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:

Emptying an entire clip at the corner, a few days after returning
I go back in my mind, in memory to those ruins
That feeling

Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:

In the moment, more than any other time

While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye!

Moonlight on the water, slow, silty
Exiting The Anchor Inn after a hearty meal
Steak and ale pie, peas, carrots, mash
Standing in the empty parking lot, in the arc-light lit shadows of the abbey
The frames and ribs darkened,

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. 

Lonely, seeking, what?

The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,

That time has passed, yet is still with me

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; 

Time, years from now, old and decrepit, can no longer ride, a thought like death to me

Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; 

Years to come
Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

Since returning from my JOGLE (1,100 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End) my life has collapsed back into the vacuum of routine. Days go by, hours and minutes filled with trivial details. The 20 days spent pedaling, waking and packing, mounting and dismounting, stopping to check directions, or curse the Google lady, hills, weather are over. They are now static memory.

And my heart breaks. Like Wordsworth, I long to return to Tintern Abbey.

Next month I will be 58, time is fleeting, fleeing. I may not ever touch my toe into that river again. (see Heraclitus)

William Wordsworth in his 159-line poem senses mortality, time—past, present, and future: it will betray us. All we have is now, the scene spread out before us, this feeling
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:

On my bike trip my mind was always churning, my legs in constant motion. It was a zone of perpetual striving, but at the same time a still-point. The constraint that this is all I have to do, eliminated choice, decision-making. The day I made it to Tintern I had ridden 73 miles. When I finally turned a corner and saw the grey-stone ribs of the ruined abbey, I knew I was there. I could rest.

Tintern itself is not a town, more a hamlet (with a population of 750 claims a Tintern website), on the southeastern Welsh border, in a valley that is old, as old as civilization. Ten minutes after closing, without the tourist crowds, parking lots empty of cars, motor coaches, there was just me and a pasture beside the abbey with cows. Evening was settling, and I felt the loneliness around me. In the distance, way up on a hill, is St. Mary’s, the church where Wordsworth sat composing his lines. Lines Written (or Composed) a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798. I could barely make the structure out, overgrown with ivy, it too was now abandoned.

Ruins tend to make me melancholy.

It is a meditative poem, a poem of memory, of lingering over the past, anticipating the future, before coming back to the present, the scene of broken walls, windowless windows, roofless roof open to the sky, a sky softening into a hazy twilight. I snapped pictures while at the same time scoping out a possible hiding spot. After the few dog walkers vacated the pea-gravel path beside the river, I ducked into a clump of woods in search of level ground.

I was not the first person to use this spot. There were crushed beer cans, condom wrappers, wadded up toilet paper, a foil emergency blanket. I swept all this aside with a stick and unfurled my tent. There was just enough room for me to crawl in and out of the zippered opening. The Wye River, sluggish within its muddy banks, shimmered silver as the sun set.

As Wordsworth sat there in 1798 ruminating, he was no longer a rambling youth. He’d already suffered the loss of his mother, father, separation from his first love—and the child that affair had produced. He might have felt himself on the cusp. His first book of poems had been published, with an inheritance and funds finally recovered after his late father’s death, he could establish himself as a poet.

One part of me could imagine Wordsworth surveying the valley, the spot I occupied. Very little seemed changed. Cows and rocks, the bones of the abbey sliding into darkness, the thatched roof houses clustered at a bend in the river. Yet into this bucolic reverie was inserted the sporadic hum of vehicle traffic on the A466 which paralleled the river and the steep-wooded hills on the other side. The backdoor to the Anchor Inn, a café and pub slammed and a worker emerged, out for a smoke. A sliver of moon was beginning to sharpen.

In the two weeks preceding my trip a woman crossing the street in front of Uptown Baptist Church in my neighborhood was shot and killed. A few days later a man walking in front of my building was gunned down. Then a week before I left a good friend’s husband suddenly died. She heard a thump in the bathroom and that was it. At the same time I was dealing with the end of my marriage, thirty years of togetherness was unraveling. I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore.

It was just me and Tintern Abbey and the ghost of Wordsworth. I wanted to soak in the sublime, breathe in the restorative power of nature, the peace that comes from surrender. If only I could live in this place forever.

I changed clothes in the claustrophobic tent and walked over to the Anchor Inn for a meal and to charge my phone. By the time I left the restaurant the thumb-nail moon was fully up, washing the abbey with pale light. Standing in the parking lot, I sensed I was already forgetting what I longed to forever remember. I wanted this evening, the JOGLE I was near completing, to remain with me always.
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; 

Now during these winter months, as my windowpane clouds up from thick, syrupy rain and wind rattles the lose screen, autumn and the Wye Valley seem far away. My body has grown lax; my knees hurt climbing a flight of stairs. Darkness comes early and I light candles to ward off depression. My mind wanders back, again and again, to that night wild-camping beside Tintern Abbey.