Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Update on Bootcamp: My Second Month

Time for an update on the bootcamp I joined in January 2018 through the Chicago Park District. I’ve trudged through snow, ice, and bitter cold to reach the doors of bootcamp. February has been no exception.

While changing out of snow boots and snow pants I watch the instructor set decorating the room with mats, weights, various contraptions of torture. Seriously, I never have any idea of what’s ahead as so far he has not repeated a routine twice. It’s probably part of the strategy to throw us off our game; no room for complacency. I’m always the last one to get what he’s trying to say. So you want us to do what?

And once I do understand, I’m pretty sure my body can’t do that.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the instructor cues us or shouts out, sort of like a kapo, stuff like: Challengers take it up a rep or grab the heavier weight. Sometimes he calls them tough mudders (after the race where you steeplechase over mud-covered walls, slipping and sliding, and through obstacles consisting of—MUD)—you tough mudders can probably do it on your toes or with the full kick out. Then he begins to work down: Beginners if you need to you can pulse, just get your shoulder up off the ground, if you need to go down on the weights okay, just be sure to do the squats. ETC. Then finally he looks over at me: and, for Jane, do whatever you can.


Is it so obvious I’m a complete weakling? Actually just doing the warm ups the other day I pulled something. Sheesh. It must be ugly watching me attempt to do the routines he sets out for us. I feel like my body is unhinged in several places. I fling my arms and flail. None of it really exercising. In fact I always know when I’m doing it wrong by the fact I can do it. The first couple times this happened I thought, Whoa, finally, something I can do—only to have him come over and say, You’re supposed to be coming all the way up/down. Oh.

Really he is a nice guy and very easy to follow. If only I wasn’t such a klutz. By the end of the session I'm whimpering. He works us so hard I begin to hallucinate.

I try to let my imagination go. Try to imagine cycling out in the country past windmills, or running along a Malibu beach—instead of sweating through a burpee, instead of toppling over while doing a lunge. I try to groove to the music—a large percentage being about sex. Apparently it is a motivator. There’s one whole song where they repeat on auto-tune—take off all your clothes, take off all your clothes, take off all—you get the message. They’re a teensiest bit sexist, assuming the lady wants it. Then there’s the song where I swear she’s singing mac-n-cheese. Absolutely no idea.

I wake up on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the first thought through my head is: Oh my god, I have to go to bootcamp. But always afterwards, I’m like: I made it without crying! (Sometimes I do cry, nearly all the time I feel like it.) Lately, I’ve begun to see results. Things feel a little tighter, not shaking when I walk. I feel more in control of my body—as if it might start to listen to me when I tell it what to do. My pants fit better.

Good because when you have to wear two pairs in order to fight off hyperthermia on the walk up you need the extra room.
Thanks the Rise Fitness Boot Camp

Monday, February 26, 2018

Dedicating this to the Ones I Love

I have a book coming out FALL 2018, Cloud of Witnesses (Golden Alley Press) about a 14 year-old boy growing up in a bookless home in the foothills of the Appalachians in southeastern Ohio. This isn’t exactly an autobiographical novel—though I tried to write what I knew. I was in teacher training at Ohio University in Athens and was sent out into the county for student teaching assignments.

Working on edits and promo for the book has reminded me of books in our home. My parents had a weird collection. There were show books with elaborate illustrations probably produced and sold as a subscription. I remember being intrigued by a title and the surreal illustrations: Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what the book was about. My father had a basket by his chair stacked with a couple random mass paperbacks, popular back then: The Moviegoer, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Slaughter House-Five, The Naked Ape???

I never saw my father read. Mom would start reading and immediately drop off asleep. She preferred series romances. I flipped through them a couple times, thinking these seem super easy and uninteresting.

I have a strong memory of ordering a book through Scholastics. I was probably just 5 or 6 and in kindergarten, just learning to read. Flip, about a foal who eventually got over his fears and learned to jump a fence. I read it to myself over and over. I might have memorized it, because I’m not sure I could even read. I definitely understood the story from the pictures. Anyway I asked my mom what the words in the front were. She told me it was a dedication and explained what that was. Without a doubt, I answered her: When I write my first book I will dedicate it to you.

I was reminded of this this past week as I worked on the interior of a CreateSpace edition of the first book I published, Beyond Paradise.

This book is now available through Amazon—if you want to order a copy and check out my dedication.
Ready! Beyond Paradise is in paperback

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Pushcart Nomination!

Here’s a link to Ink &Letters, the magazine that nominated me for a Pushcart. Order a copy and read my short short: Arriving at Night.

As an aside, a few friends hearing my good news were worried—if we knew you needed a cart we’d have loaned you ours. It’s in the closet. I gently told them not that kind of pushcart.

Also check out by clicking on the link to my latest piece online at Yea, Tenderness: The Seven Stages of Replacing Things.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=Taking Your Bike with You

Taking my own bike especially overseas is quite a commitment. I’d packed a bike a couple times for a bus and each time it felt stressful. The first time I forgot my front wheel and had to have it shipped. The second time I nearly forgot my pedals.

Add to all this that my first bike as over 30 years old. Most of the parts had seized and you needed different size wrenches, etc. Once I got the Torker things got easier.

You have to remove your pedals, take off your front wheel, and turn your handlebars. This can mean loosening and turning, but for me to make everything fit I had to totally detach them and strap them to my crossbar. The only thing that held them to the bike were the cables. I also worried about the rear derailleur getting smashed. In addition I have to remove the seat.  

Ask for the biggest bike box the bike shop has. Once I got a smallish one. Usually a mountain bike box will do. I lay the bike down and watching YouTube remove the pedals. Laying it down helps the other pedal not to move while with a pedal wrench you give it a crank. I set these aside. Next I take off the seat. Put aside. Open your brakes and take off the wheel. I go ahead and take out the quick release skewer, keeping track of the little springs and knobby thing on the end. Put by the other stuff.

The handlebars are easy enough. I loosen the bracket and take them out and hook them under my cross bar. You can use zip ties, or what I do is use bread bags and tie them. It adds cushioning, then I use them on my ride for storing stuff in. Also because I’m afraid that when cutting the ties I’ll sever the cables.

Then I slip the bike into the box upside down. A sensitive area is the forks. They seem to get less impact if upside down in the box, thus UP to you when in the box. I’ll also wrap the ends with foam and if possible put a block of wood or something solid in between in case they get knocked around. These are all tricks I’ve picked up watching YouTube.

I put the pedals, skewer, bike lights in a plastic bag and stuff into my handlebar bag. Into the box I put my closed-cell sleeping mat. One end cradles the derailleur. I also put things in various places to act as buffers and padding, plus the seat (I have the post marked so that when reassembling I know exactly where). The pedals, skewer, and bike lights go into my handlebar bag. It all has to be under a certain weight—usually 70 pounds (but check airline baggage, oversize, bicycle requirements), and my bike weighs about 32.

Be aware: no bike oil or glue tube from patch kit can fly. Possibly flammable. And, of course, no camping fuel. Matches can be checked, not in carry-on. Same goes for your camping knife and any other sharps.

Which leads me to my next entry: Solo Woman Cyclist=Packing for a Long-Distance Tour.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=Packing for a Long-Distance Tour

My experience has been cycle touring with the intent to camp. I’ve utilized Warmshowers and Couchsurfing, but love the ability to camp gypsy-style whenever I get tired or see a great opportunity. It gives me more flexibility. Plus cheaper.

Thus, I pack a lot of stuff. Ultra-light, but still it adds up.

I have 2 Ortleib Back-Roller classics. Into each I put my squished (into a compression sack) sleeping bag, my cat-food can stove, pot, spork, drinking cup. Various candles, matches, etc. A sack where I’ve stuffed clothing. Fuel and basic food items. A microfiber travel towel, toiletries. Minimal first aid kit. Straddling the top is a SealLine Baja Dry 10L Bag which contains tent and sleeping pad. Wedged in between are some clogs in a plastic bread bag.

Extraneous stuff goes in the front handlebar bag, not the least my thermos of hot tea and snacks. Snapped to the bars also is pouch which holds my phone and Swiss Army knife. In case I have to defend myself.

Just kidding.  
too much of a good thing, can be too much
just remember: you have to carry it. I tend to go ultra-light

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rethinking Incarceration: a book review

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Rethinking Incarceration
Dominique DuBois Gilliard
Intervarsity Press, 2018

I think a majority of us are familiar with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow where she laid out the argument that the US penal system is in place to enslave and criminalize an underclass of the black population. She was very persuasive. The facts underscored her conclusions. Since the publication of that book we’ve seen the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Issues of not just social justice but literally justice are/were starting to be addressed.

If anything the current administration and Attorney General have put unequal sentencing back into focus.

This is not an easy read. And, I read a lot. I reckoned I could whip through the book in plenty of time to review it before Dominique’s book launch this Friday, February 16 at 7:30 pm at Wilson Abbey, 935 W. Wilson, Chicago, IL 60640. FREE admission. But as I read certain questions began to sit with me. How much money are for-profit prisons making? Is it a coincidence that stocks in the two major prison corporations soared after Trump’s election? Why the high number of incarcerated women? The pipeline of high school to jail for black and brown children. The number of mentally ill inmates. It seems all of our social ills have coalesced around prisons.

And now add immigration. Deportation centers are full of people being rounded up and quickly pushed through immigration court without due process.

As I’ve mentioned before I wish authors of non-fiction could use that one voice, the one that says: Yo! This is messed up!

Gilliard pulls together a dystopian picture of a population regularly avoided and seemingly discarded by society. Virtually out of sight, out of mind. He asks: Why? For what purpose?

But instead of going into deep-state speculation, his conclusions are meant to propel us forward, not toward a silver lining, but toward quotidian action. A long, slow, hand-to-the-plow turning back of injustice. The second half of the book is where he seeks to empower the reader.

Gilliard is the director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice Initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church and sits on the board of directors for CCDA. Christian Community Development was founded in 1989 by Dr. John Perkins to engage the church at large on issues of social justice. As someone picked by President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Hunger, Perkins employed revolutionary language to contemporary problems. When was the last time you heard someone speak truth to power about redistribution. A-huh. Yeah. Like, why do certain school districts get top-of-the-line million dollar technology and some schools can’t get heat in winter???? Yo! Like, why can’t a rich country such as ours spread some of its wealth around?

Well, we’re still here, says Gilliard. He doesn’t sugar-coat the approach of the church. He tells it like it is. Much of the evangelical church is in bed with power, with a system that continues to penalize without wearing a blindfold. He traces the history and demarks where the church made certain turns—especially in the philosophical view that crime/sin needs to be paid. That criminals get what they deserve. But what are these “just fruits”?

I’m particularly struck by how ICE rounds up people—under the pretense of law and order. It’s framed that they are “illegals” and “aliens.” But where is justice? Gilliard makes the case for a balance of mercy and righteousness when determining individual cases. Under the current administration Trump has imposed quotas that ICE agents are striving to make—using a wide net to capture often law-abiding, tax-paying individuals, mothers and fathers. For instance please read:
We are not that country. We should not be the people who stand by and watch as community members are subjected to police profiling/intimidation, unfair sentencing, fear tactics.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=Bike Hire

If you’re like me, the idea of traveling with a bike and all your stuff seems overwhelming. In my armchair, in front of a computer there is no simple way to figure it out. Maybe a crystal ball. . . .

I first looked into the idea of an international bike trip when considering meeting up with friends/family in France. They weren’t going to be available the whole time and I may as well think about doing my own thing for a week. I knew I wanted to see Mount St. Michel, so spun an itinerary off of that. I found 2 or 3 places that offered bike hire for a week.

The trip ended up not taking place, but planted the idea in my head.

Then when going to Sweden in September 2015 I Googled the top 10 sights to see while in Sweden and up popped the Göta Canal. I then referenced places to hire a bike and, voila!, it seemed do-able.

I never once considered early September to be out-of-season. The whole town of Sjötorp was closed down or so it seemed. I eventually found a small grocery to rent me a bike for the day. Actually half a day as it was by this time way past noon. I saw my dream of cycling the canal dissipating. But, wait! This is Sweden and the sun doesn’t set as much as hang in the sky. It didn’t get dark until way part 8 pm, so I did about 40 miles. Enough to get a feel for the World Heritage site. That evening I spent the night in a room also offered through the grocery. Sjötorps Vandrarhem och Rum

Also on my trip to Sweden my friend Lotta talked me into going to Gotland. Actually I’d thought about doing it but thought it was simply a ferry ride. It turned into a much bigger thing where I ended up spending 4 nights. Before alighting in Visby (also a World Heritage site) I checked out bike hire and corresponded with a place. The next morning I hiked with my backpack and picked up a bike. Then shyly asked if I could leave some of my stuff. Yeah. Then asked—do you have a pannier I could borrow. Yay! All I needed next was a map and I was off.

The rate was super reasonable, maybe because it was out-of-season. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Smile! History repeats!

These days with a numbskull obtuse racist president in the White House it’s hard to find a silver lining. Maybe this will help, or not. But the US has made a lot of mistakes—and somehow we’ve kept going.

So I’ll let that sink in as good news. Our Supreme Court has made lousy decisions, Congress has passed some unjust laws that impinge on the rights of certain demographics, the citizens of these United States have collectively made unwise choices. It’s one reason to be afraid of but also believe in democracy. Or maybe it’s about having faith.

Faith that the universe will somehow right itself. That people will at some point in history go, My bad! And turn the ship around.

You might think I’m alluding to Dreamers and the end of DACA, to that stupid wall. But, no, I’m referring to the Dread Scott Decision. Sorry, Dred Scott. Also known as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Summarily: this meant that a runaway slave who had resettled in the North, perhaps for as long as 30 years, could now suddenly be fair game for the police. Neighbors, suspecting neighbors, could turn in a black skinned person upon suspicion of them being a runaway. Immediately they could be seized and returned to southern jails to be repatriated to their master.

Much like the Polish doctor who has been in the States legally since age 5, about 30 some odd years, now in custody waiting to be deported. He had a Green Card. And speaks no Polish. His wife and children miss him.

Dreamers and others who at least for now have papers can likely relate to the Fugitive Slave Act. Suddenly one’s whole life is turned inside out. You have a job, school, social network, and Poof!

I’m reading a biography of Henry David Thoreau and when the Dred Scott passed and the Fugitive Slave Act he and his friends ran to Boston to stand up for people much like we did when Trump tried to ban Muslim from entering the US, we ran to the airports. In Concord Thoreau and his friends who had already been instrumental in the Underground Railroad now assisted locals in moving on to Canada. A black person was no longer safe anywhere. Without provocation they would be stopped and ordered to show proof/documentation. (Remember they were not able to vote.)

Consider also the division this caused among law-abiding whites. They were simply following the law. Isn’t that what Sarah Huckabee-Sanders was trying to say the other day to the press corp. Except that one needs to stop and think: these laws are anathema to the Constitution.

I guess that’s why “On Civil Disobedience” resonated back then as it does now. Sometimes we simply have to follow our conscience and hope eventually the laws will change.

The case of Fred Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which ordered Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II regardless of citizenship.

We’ve dealt with shit, will continue to deal with shit, and work towards a shit-free world.
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Thursday, February 8, 2018

365 Affirmations for the Writer now out in paperback!

Order Today: 365 Affirmations for the Writer

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Democracy of a Pencil

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On weekends I have more time to read. Good thing because I began a doorstopper of a biography about Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls. It might be more Thoreau than I bargained for.

There has always been something compelling about Walden and “On Civil Disobedience” that reminds me of my 20s. It was a good time to drop out or become a rebel. I’ve come back to Walden again and again and each time I feel anxious—there’s got to be more to this story. But, there isn’t. He lived by himself for a few years “off the grid” and then that was it. I guess I wanted it to be about something other than simplicity.

Anyway, the opening chapters of the biography explains that Thoreau’s parents, though modestly middleclass, made their money from—wait!: pencils.

I know, random. In today’s economy I cannot imagine someone making a fortune from the humble pencil. But that’s the beauty of it! It isn’t humble—the manufacturing of pencils revolutionized the worker, the intellectual, the thinker. It out the revolution into the Industrial Revolution. In today’s terms, it was like going from analog to digital.

The area was ripe for pencil manufacturing because 1) unlimited sources of timber, 2) deposits of graphite to be mined. Up until the 1800s the quality of pencils was spotty. Mostly the graphite was soft and indelible. The lead was always breaking. Some of the best pencils were imported, mostly from France and England. The process was slow and went through many phases . . . then [from Wiki: philosopher Henry David Thoreau discovered how to make a good pencil out of inferior graphite using clay as the binder; this invention was prompted by his father's pencil factory in Concord, which employed graphite found in New Hampshire.]

Just imagine: as a writer you were deskbound. You needed a quill pen and good India ink. The costs were often exorbitant as well as the paper. Even though there were pulp mills everywhere, paper was scarce; no one wasted it. A pencil freed the writer to get up and walk around. Take a notebook. It allowed the laborer to go out into the field, just as Thoreau the surveyor did, and scribble numbers. The costs were relatively cheap. Soon most people had pencils in order to record their thoughts, stories. In order to write essays—such as “On Civil Disobedience”—the predecessor of the blog.

Today the pencil is much overlooked, easily dismissed as we tap and text with our devices. Truly it is humble. We don’t give it a second-thought. Sometimes I feel like the lowly pencil—yet if I stop for a moment, I remember I have a lot to contribute. That not all things are as they first appear. 
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certainly not a "looker"

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Freeze Frame now in paperback!

Ready! Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir is out in paperback

Monday, February 5, 2018

Lorraine Hansberry Turns Real Life into Award-Winning Play

This blog is about Memoir, about turning memories into words, building a portfolio of writing that can be used for a novel or non-fiction. All experience is fodder for literature. That’s why the crazy comp 101 English teachers told us: Write what you know. That can be intimidating when you realize you don’t know much of anything. That’s okay, take a deep breath, and let your mind go. Flash. That insignificant moment might just be the thing. The springboard that launches a thousand words.

So how did LH come to write her groundbreaking Raisin in the Sun? A native of the southside of Chicago her father moved the family into an all-white neighborhood called Woodlawn—and all-hell broke out. Eventually after firebombing and rocks through the windows the family moved out to one of her father’s other real estate ventures. But the memory never faded. And, after her father passed away, she surmised that the stress of that situation played a part in his death. His heart was broken.

Lorraine always wanted to be a writer and chose the path of journalism. She went to NYC to work at the Black activist newspaper Freedom where she wrote a column. In NYC she mingled with other great artists—an experience as 20-year-old that was better than an MFA. It’s hard to believe she didn’t have a degree. She graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Hansberry wrote about all aspects of injustice. She advocated for women’s rights, gay rights. In 1959 she introduced Raisin in the Sun to Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. She was a bright star that burned itself out. A few years later she would be dead from pancreatic cancer.

I think I speak for all of us: I get a chill. A shame that such a young, vibrant, woman could be extinguished. We will never know all that she could have gone on to produce. 
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Friday, February 2, 2018

Paperbacks Available at CreateSpace/Amazon

On a stress factor scale this week I’ve topped out. I’ve joined a gym doing boot camp plus I’ve been converting files to CreateSpace in order to make the titles that I have rights for over into physical paperbacks. It’s hard, but for my own good.

Who could’ve guessed that formatting and working out would feel the same? Yet each new exercise comes with a steep learning curve.

Both the boot camp and CreateSpace were something I’d had planned and knew I needed to get to. They were hanging over my head and just needed me to get into the head space for. And both are leaving me quite exhausted. Until I scream, No more!

I joined boot camp because I’m getting as big as a house and not getting any younger. I need to be able to walk down the hallway and climb the ladder to my loft bed. Also I’m planning a 1,000 mile bike ride early summer. CreateSpace is necessary because I’ve had people asking for physical copies of my books and I also need copies for conferences and workshops I’m doing.

At boot camp I swear I’m the biggest klutz there. Just when I think I’m getting the hang of a new exercise the instructor switches things up. I’ve been going for three weeks now and  just to have the stomach muscles to cough is a feat. Last week my quads got a workout making it almost impossible to stand up. I have to use the table to hoist myself up. Weights made my arms ache, thus lifting my arms to put on a coat felt like moving heaven and earth. To watch me in action is cringe-worthy. My arms and legs are flailing as if I’ve come unhinged. The instructor always adds especially for me: “for our newer class members, you only have to do half of this. And Jane, if you want to—just do whatever you can.”


With CreateSpace I’ve made every mistake possible and what should probably take ten minutes takes me half a day. And, even then, I leave for a walk hoping that by the time I get back the computer will have magically fixed all the stuff I wasn’t sure about. Sometimes I have no idea why my cover has been refused or the interior is wrong—or why I can’t find a certain file after I spent all day on it.

All I know is that when I’m done, I’m gonna be rock hard and ready.

Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir is out in paperback

365 Affirmations for the Writer in paperback

Beyond Paradise is in paperback

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