Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019, okay, wow

2019, okay, wow

As much as I felt like I was standing still, I kept going. I got a first draft done and a pretty good revision of another. I’ve been sending stuff out. Getting rejected and getting acceptances.

I got prospects for next year, and the critique group is getting back together.

Even though I felt washed up, I had 12 pieces accepted and wrote 4 new stories. This year I posted 130 blogs. I made new friends and lost a few.

A couple friends died this year—I miss them.

I started this year the same weight I ended it. Boot camp is working, nevertheless, I can keep up. On a good day.
This year I read a lot of books! There’s still a pile beside my bed, but let’s not talk about those.

I wrote a poem that a friend said was brilliant. This made me glow inside. I plan to submit it in 2020.

My daughter got married—and it was beautiful. Friends and relatives came from far and wide to celebrate. We made merry.

I rode my bike to Kingdom Come, actually to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont—where moose outnumber humans. It was remote and hot and VERY hilly. You could see the sky reflected in the ponds and the water was refreshing. And, as we know, what goes up comes down, where I coasted back to New York state (with a side trip to Brooklyn).

I came back refreshed and better able to see how a writing project might work if I reframed it. A week before Christmas I took an old idea that hadn’t gotten traction and suddenly was able to see it through. I surprised myself.

Good bye to 2019, hello 2020 . . .

Image result for 2020

Saturday, December 28, 2019

YEAR-END Sale, Dec 25 – Jan. 1

Have you ever wanted an Ebook copy of Freeze Frame or Flash Memoir? End of Year Sale Runs December 25 through January 1= 50% off, follow the link, https://www.smashwords.com and type in name of book to search (Freeze Frame is only $1.50) PLEASE feel free to share!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christ in the Desert, Christmas Eve

Nearly 40 years ago I went to visit my sister who was spending her Christmas break at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian conference center outside of Taos, New Mexico. She had spent time working there as part of the college staff the summer before. Soon after arriving we grabbed snowshoes off some pegs and trudged back into Box Canyon where our voices echoed off the icy walls. During the long twilight, we slowly made our way back to the house following a trail of twinkling lights, like sparkling crystals in the haloed atmosphere. After a quick cup of hot chocolate we bounded into the back of a pickup truck and set out over gravel and blacktop roads.

I had no idea where. It was Christmas Eve.

We arrived in pitch darkness at a monastery lit by candlelight. The small chapel was packed. I can still recall the smell of wet wool coats and candlewax. The monks began to chant Noël in Latin. A drowsiness descended upon me.

Suddenly I was awakened when the mass was over and both Benedictines and congregants moved toward a vestry for homemade wheat bread, butter, and honey. There might have been jams.

It was after midnight when we left. I remember looking up at the starry sky, piercing points of light, guiding our pickup back to the Ranch. I was warm beneath the blankets; my heart bursting.

Image result for christ in the desert new mexico in the snow

Image result for christ in the desert new mexico in the snow

Monday, December 23, 2019

O Holy Night

O Holy Night is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" (Midnight, Christians). I remember it as the finale to the Christmas Eve program at the Presbyterian church we attended in Kettering.

It can be a long night until the next morning to hold off on opening presents. At least the car ride and time at church filled those tense, anxious hours.

O Holy Night seems to be the perfect vehicle for a soloist, and, indeed, the woman who sang it annually was a trained professional, the daughter of one of the congregants, who came down from New York City. I remember one snowy Christmas in particular when there was speculation whether she would make it in time. Yet, always, in the end she rose up from the robed choir to take her place at the podium. The lights in the church were dimmed, lit mainly by the Advent candles, all of them now burning. The coughing and fidgeting ceased—in expectation. Or perhaps, we were all tired from busy days of wrapping and baking, and last-minutes shopping. Preparations for the “big” day receding as she began.

It is a song meant for a hushed sanctuary. It starts slow and low, painting a picture of the weary world, waiting. Yonder, over the horizon will come a glorious morn. Of, course this is the morrow, the day of presents. But, maybe more. There seems to be something even grander out there as the words come crashing down. Fall on your knees, the song and soloist demand.

The room fills with her voice and shakes—or is it the flicker of the candles, sleepy eyes blinking away fatigue. Hear the angel voices, o night divine. My heart wakes up as her voice rises.

Here is something to think about: the slave is our brother. Nowhere else do we hear this. In the 70s there were calls for social justice and ecology in the form of Earth Day, but here is an absolute truth: all those people who look different from us, who eat different foods, and worship other Gods, they are a part of us; we are one family. And, on a night such as this, I firmly believe it.

Christ is the Lord! It builds to a crescendo and by now I am fully alive to the message. Presents and the temporal have fallen into the background as she sings a series of pitched ohhhhhhs. Ending on a finale note. Divine.

We sit stunned. We do not know whether to clap, move toward the vestry, reach for coats. Hard to believe it is over for another whole year. I long for those angel voices, for that pure feeling that the slave is my brother, for that moment when even the candles burn brighter, higher, and the universe aligns.

The afterwards is an afterglow. Driving through neighborhoods decorated, lit up. Bleary blinking colored lights lulling me asleep.

And, I wonder, could anything ever be better than this. This now.

Image result for o holy night

Friday, December 20, 2019

Moments frozen in time

Via Facebook—I know the thing we love to hate and is stealing our elections—at the Uptown Historical Group, I discovered the wonderful little photo postcards of CR Childs. These have been featured at the site several times and this weekend decided to check them out.

Places to click were plentiful through Pinterest and eBay—aka examples of his work available to purchase. The subject matter seeming to be the Midwest circa 1900 – 1910. Outside of that I was having difficulty finding a bio. It seems as though Lake County and the Chicago Historical Societies have CR Childs’ postcards in their archives. Childs started his own printing company that produced these penny postcards. Regional photographer Charles R. Childs (1875 – 1960) was born in Elmwood, Illinois and worked for the Joliet Daily News before moving to Chicago to start his own commercial photography business about 1900. By 1906, Childs was specializing in real-photo postcard views of Chicago's neighborhoods and suburbs, including Lake County, Illinois. Childs set up shop as a commercial photographer after he moved to Chicago around 1900. He started making postcards and taking other printing jobs, as well, a few years later. Needing more space, he moved his business from the Loop to a three-story building at 5707-15 W. Lake St. in the Austin neighborhood. His business remained open on Lake Street into the 1950s. He lived nearby until his death of heart failure on Jan. 14, 1960. He never married.

The rise of the penny postcard

Following the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition introduced the American souvenir postcard, Childs was on trend, recognizing the collecting phenomenon of postcards. His postcards were an instant hit with his ability to capture small ubiquitous moments. Children playing in haystacks. Passengers waiting for the daily train. Lakeside photos.

After 1907, postal laws changed and allowed postcard messages to be written on the address side of the card, the industry spurted again. Before that, the message had to be tucked under the picture, making brevity the rule of the day. Several Chicago printers such as the Curt Teich Co., the Barnes-Crosby Co., the V.O. Hammon Postcard Co. and the United Card and Novelty Co., cashed in on the climate of postcard mania by printing and distributing millions of cards each day.

"People would send a postcard if they got as far as the Chain O' Lakes for a holiday," noted Ralph Teich, a son of Curt Teich who joined the family business in the 1940s.

About CR Childs’ perspective

The majority of his postcards capture romantic scenes such as a pastoral Naperville, row boats floating through lotus beds in Fox Lake or a dirt road heading into the shaded countryside from Evanston.

His legacy

The Chicago Historical Society bought the Childs archive of postcards and negatives from a now-deceased Chicago area collector and the estate of another deceased collector holds another voluminous archive. The Lake County Discovery Museum has over 600 Childs' postcards. It is estimated that Childs, along with the photographers he employed, produced 40,000 to 60,000 different photo postcard views of the Midwest. Focusing his lens on postcard images from the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Mr. Childs sent photographers out on the interurban trains from Chicago to various towns in the Midwest to capture views.

Today his early penny postcards sell for the premium price of from $15 to $30 at postcard shows and online.

Wilson Avenue Beach

A CR Childs' RPPC is now up for sale on eBay. It appears to be Buena and Kenmore Avenue in Buena Park. $14.99

Early 1900s RPPC showing Wilson Avenue east from Evanston Avenue, now known as Broadway. Available for purchase on eBay. $16

His genius seems to have been in capturing the mundane city-scapes that we now use to reference the past, to make it come alive, and center us where we are today.

New Work Out

Little Old Lady (comedy) or Laugh out Loud or LOL
just put out a 50-word flash of mine titled Her Time

about reinventing yourself--it's time--your time!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Cloud of Witnesses in the News Cycle!

Children’s Book Title Suddenly Relevant
There has been an uptick of interest in southeast Ohio because of Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow’s viral speech. In his acceptance speech he mentioned his hometown and the poverty affecting that part of Ohio, where, as he mentioned, students often go to bed hungry.

Cloud of Witnesses recently released by Golden Alley Press is a middle-grade novel about an Athens, Ohio eighth grader struggling to find his place in school, his family, and the world outside his small-town. Author Jane Hertenstein has given talks and compiled a bibliography of books written about children growing up in rural areas of America. “There are very few resources that reflect these children and their particular struggles.” She gave a seminar at the Illinois Reading Council for teachers and librarians. She cited Dave Eggers’ new novel The Lifters as a book using a rural setting.

Appalachia and what is termed “fly-over country” has suddenly captured our nation’s imagination.

Cloud of Witnesses is set in a small town in southeastern Ohio in 1979. Tested as gifted, Roland Tanner is bused to the town school, where his new classmates only see him as a hillbilly. Self-conscious to a fault, Roland is ashamed of living in a trailer. He hopes someday to be able to go somewhere, maybe college, and forever leave behind his family, the sorriest characters he’s ever met: a sister who works at the Curl Up and Dye salon, a brother who takes motors apart in their front yard, a grandmother who flashes him the evil eye from her ragged vinyl armchair, and a father who keeps him at arm’s length.

Lists of Appalachian literature are scant, but have been widely received and honored. Missing May, Cynthia Rylant, Newbery Medal, Because of Winn Dixie, Kate DiCamillo, Newbery Honor, Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Newbery Medal, and Casing Redbird, by Sharon Creech to name a few.

Published by Golden Alley Press, Cloud of Witnesses https://goldenalleypress.com/jane-hertenstein/media-kit-for-cloud-of-witnesses/
Download press kit and reading guide for teachers, as well as other resources.

CONTACT: Nancy Sayre at Gold Alley Press
610-966-4440 for more information

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Bright Invisible

Bright Invisible

From Kyle White of Kyle White Ink a fellow flasher and November 5 birther brother:

Hi Jane, I read this in one-sitting in the Northwoods today. I enjoyed the Chicago start, the history, your vivid poetry, and your tributes in-the-style-of. Felt like I was on the island. Resonated with your "imposter" moments, too! Thanks for sharing it! It's lovely.

Bright Invisible: Word Sketches from Great Spruce Head Island

a PDF chapbook, This chapbook will appeal to readers of the New York School—particularly fans of James Schuyler and John Ashbery. Great Spruce Head Island has been a source of inspiration for generations of artists and writers. I was invited to GSHI to spend a week walking where Frank O’Hara, Ashbery, and Schuyler walked. Through essays, journal entries, persona letters where I channel James Schuyler, I attempt to experience the island through their eyes. CLICK on image to request *FREE PDF

The “imposter moments” refer to persona letters—where I borrow James Schuyler for a bit and channel him.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Affirm yourself

365 Affirmations for the Writer

We all need affirmation. Remember that line in the film/book, The Wife by Meg Wolitzer—“everyone needs approval”
That film could actually be titled The Writer. Anyways, here is a year’s worth of encouragement, approval, affirmations to keep the writer going. Plus there’s bonus material of warm-up exercises and ideas to get the writer motor purring. Download or order a copy today—from Amazon or wherever you get books these days.

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.

From an Amazon review: If you are a writer in need of a little inspiration, this book is for you. The quotes are great, but I especially liked the bonus material which provided concrete exercises to spark my creativity.

Friday, December 13, 2019

365 Affirmations for the Writer

We all need affirmation. Remember that line in the film/book, The Wife by Meg Wolitzer—“everyone needs approval”
That film could actually be titled The Writer. Anyways, here is a year’s worth of encouragement, approval, affirmations to keep the writer going. Plus there’s bonus material of warm-up exercises and ideas to get the writer motor purring. Download or order a copy today—from Amazon or wherever you get books these days.

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.

From an Amazon review: If you are a writer in need of a little inspiration, this book is for you. The quotes are great, but I especially liked the bonus material which provided concrete exercises to spark my creativity.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Also accepted

TWO 50-word flashes to a online journal named
Little Old Lady comedy

she has a section called Brainfarts--sounds like my kind of place

so far I'm on a roll--just when last week I was feeling washed up. Time for some Affirmation.
Image result for little old lady comedy

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


I wrote a short piece last week. 529 words—from a brain challenge/philosophical exercise about the nature of things that become obsolete. Lately it seems that everyday objects are becoming hard to find. We all know that mass manufacturing is the most efficient way to produce/grow something. It’s why chickens were bred to have heavy breasts that weigh them down and forced to live in chicken concentration camps. It’s way easier.

But what about those items that defy mass production, that regardless of how cost effective they are to produce just don’t sell that fast. Like birthday candles. How many times in your life have you been forced to buy birthday candles—at the most once a year? As opposed to buying milk or some other commodity. Nor does one want to buy birthday candles in bulk—and so on I put forth in the piece.

Anyway, it was nice to take an idea from start to finish in one sitting—as opposed to the huge project I’d just taken on and been living with for over 3 months. Long story short: I thought it, wrote it, submitted it, and had it accepted in one day.

I’m going to try to remember this when I’m feeling like a loser—which happens every time I hve to face the blank page.

Links to published piece forthcoming.
Image result for boom box
obsolete, boom box from Radio Shack, also obsolete

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Autobiographical Songs=Mike Posner, Living in the Now

Mike Posner seems like a real good kid (age 31). Like everyone he’s had his ups and downs. An up might be his song I Took a Pill in Ibiza, downloaded over a billion times, a down might be:
Father dying of brain cancer
Friends and musical acquaintances dying
Broken relationships

In his video “Moving On” he confesses that he’s been feeling a little off. So, Mike Posner did a brave thing: in the middle of a promising music career filled with concert dates and album deadlines, he stepped away.

And, not only that, he decided to walk across America.

I am old enough to remember the articles in National Geographic by Peter Jenkins walking across America in the 1970s. Peter had graduated college and found himself at a crossroads. His marriage was on the rocks, the world seemed like it was on fire, the Vietnam war and hippie movement were winding down, and he needed a cause, something to go for. Jenkins documented his journey with text and photos. A camera was supplied by National Geographic when he stopped at their offices in Washington DC as he was passing through—the sponsorship paid off as Jenkins articles generated tons of interest from readers.

Anyway, it seems that there are junctures in life where folks decide to get off the fast-track, treadmill and hop into a slow zone or reboot. For some this is called bucket list—which can have selfish connotations attached to it. Either way, it is about finding one’s self, or truer self. Or just trying to get real.

1) My mission is enjoy my life and help others enjoy theirs.
2) Be as authentic to other people as possible.
3) Help others to experience transcendence.

You might think this kind of decision would put his musical career on hold. Instead it reinvigorated it and in fact supplied material for 2 new albums. Many of the songs could be categorized as autobiographical.

Posner drew from his walk to write songs about moving on, feeling good, talk about his father's death, or simply as a springboard to focus on other things. He was doing life different and seeing things from a new perspective.

He walked through weather, rain or shine, hot and cold. Road traffic and even worse, road boredom. He was forced to look inward and re-evaluate.

1.      Leave each town we go through a little bit better than when we arrived.
2.      Practice deep listening: I will be spending periods of my walk compassionately listening to people with as much of my full attention as possible. This means listening to others, not to the voice in my head.
3.      Love everybody.
4.      Sing for people.
5.      Enjoy where I am in the journey. Don’t waste time obsessing about getting to the end.

Along the way he was bitten by a rattlesnake. Now, I thought there was like an anti-venom magic serum that reversed the effects, but apparently this is still a very real thing, as in=Mike had to be airlifted and go through re-hab in order to walk again and finish the journey. He returned to the place where he left off to continue walking.

A Real Good Kid might be described as a concept project as he asks in his introduction that people listen to it all the way through in one sitting. The songs are highly personal and reflective. There aren’t a lot of hooks or throw-away lines. Some of them are difficult to listen to, but they are nitty-gritty authentic. Same for “Move On.”

The song “Live Before I Die” (see here on YouTube, https://youtu.be/uXeZNXdu-gs) is a good example of an autobiographical song—it tells the story of his walk, in 4 minutes. Also, he wasn’t exactly unplugged from music on the actual walk—“While I walk, I will be playing free surprise concerts for people.”

So in my opinion Mike exemplifies my own philosophy about how to live for yourself and at the same time living for others.
Image result for mike posner walk across america
Related image
Image result for mike posner walk across america

Friday, December 6, 2019

Flash and the prose poem

I remember the first time I read/heard a prose poem and was suddenly enveloped with a sense of oh, okay, this is a thing.

At Calvin College’s Festival of Faith & Writing I sat in an auditorium and heard Stephen Dunn in discussion with Scott Cairns about “At The Smithville Methodist Church.” I imagined this poem as a piece of prose. I saw how easily it told the story of a moment.

Immediately I thought two things: 1) why can’t I do this? And 2) would this be okay?

The answer to both is of course. We are “allowed” to try anything.

I was also at this point deep into Robert Bly and the form called ghazal—and how it meanders and leads us back, round and round to a certain place. I imagined a prose poem much like a ghazal—that unwittingly tricks us into a small epiphany, by mostly juxtapositioning 2 seemingly unrelated ideas, the contrast showing them up more clearly and recasting them in a different light, possibly a third way.

I love these moments. That crack us wide open to new possibilities.

From the Poetry Foundation website: A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry.

At The Smithville Methodist Church by Stephen Dunn
It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week,
but when she came home
with the "Jesus Saves" button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.

She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they weren't
twisting and folding paper into dolls.
What could be so bad?

Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
in good men was what
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
that other sadness.

OK, we said, One week. But when she came home
singing "Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so," it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus

doesn't love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.

It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
sufficiently dead,

that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you can't teach disbelief
to a child,

only wonderful stories, and we hadn't a story
nearly as good.
On parents' night there were the Arts & Crafts
all spread out

like appetizers. Then we took our seats
in the church
and the children sang a song about the Ark,
and Hallelujah

and one in which they had to jump up and down
for Jesus.
I can't remember ever feeling so uncertain
about what's comic, what's serious.

Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.
You can't say to your child
"Evolution loves you." The story stinks
of extinction and nothing

exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
she sang the songs,

occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do
but drive, ride it out, sing along
in silence.

Image result for stephen dunn, prose poem, at smithville
Stephen Dunn

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Struggling Artist

Whew reader(s) it has been a hectic last few months, and this blog has suffered. I’m used to posting at least 2 – 3 times a week and lately it’s been sometimes once a week, 4 times a month. I’ve been hard at work on a new manuscript that will likely go nowhere. This is how it goes for unsigned, unfamous writers. A struggling artist.

Yet, I feel a bit of satisfaction. To have finished.

It is about bicycling.

Many reader(s) and friends have “suggested” I write about cycling since it is a passion of mine. But, there is a lot of distance between an idea and the actualization of it. I needed a jumping off place, a framing device. On my Adirondacks/Vermont Green Mountain Loop I was able to visualize what it was I wanted to do.

--Of course, there is a lot of distance still between that moment and getting words on paper/digital file. I hadn’t yet realized the scope. Every line or paragraph I found myself gping deeper, filling in backstory and giving historical content to what I first thought to summarize quickly before going on to the “point.” The small project began to fill out. At one point I had 40 tabs open.

Now, I’m back. I’m not done—by a long shot—but at least I’m feeling not so distracted. This is the first writing project where I needed 2 or 3 monitors to keep all the threads in front of me. I’d like to think I did all right, but I have a feeling there is going to be a few tabs and more work to be done.

So if you know a publisher of agent that needs a pile of s---- about solo woman bicycling at age 60, please contact me here!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Shameless self-promotion

my new ebook chapbook is FREE
this is a hybrid incorporating persona letters, poetry, memoir
travelogue, musings

Bright Invisible: Word Sketches from Great Spruce Head Island

a PDF chapbook, This chapbook will appeal to readers of the New York School—particularly fans of James Schuyler and John Ashbery. Great Spruce Head Island has been a source of inspiration for generations of artists and writers. I was invited to GSHI to spend a week walking where Frank O’Hara, Ashbery, and Schuyler walked. Through essays, journal entries, persona letters where I channel James Schuyler, I attempt to experience the island through their eyes. CLICK on image to request *FREE PDF=see side bar at upper right to CLICK

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Shameless shilling

available in both print and ebook download

Friday, November 22, 2019

“December” by James Schuyler

Yesterday while walking past the Jewel parking lot I smelled pine. Already the Christmas trees have arrived. Suddenly I was engulfed in a James Schuyler poem

“December” by James Schuyler

Il va neiger dans quelques jours FRANCIS JAMMES
The giant Norway spruce from Podunk, its lower branches bound,
this morning was reared into place at Rockefeller Center.
I thought I saw a cold blue dusty light sough in its boughs
the way other years the wind thrashing at the giant ornaments
recalled other years and Christmas trees more homey.
Each December! I always think I hate “the over-commercialized event”
and then bells ring, or tiny light bulbs wink above the entrance
to Bonwit Teller or Katherine going on five wants to look at all
the empty sample gift-wrapped boxes up Fifth Avenue in swank shops
and how can I help falling in love? A calm secret exultation
of the spirit that tastes like Sealtest eggnog, made from milk solids,
Vanillin, artificial rum flavoring; a milky impulse to kiss and be friends
It’s like what George and I were talking about, the East West
Coast divide: Californians need to do a thing to enjoy it.
A smile in the street may be loads! you don’t have to undress everybody.
“You didn’t visit the Alps?”
“No, but I saw from the train they were black
and streaked with snow.”
Having and giving but also catching glimpses
hints that are revelations: to have been so happy is a promise
and if it isn’t kept that doesn’t matter. It may snow
falling softly on lashes of eyes you love and a cold cheek
grow warm next to your own in hushed dark familial December.
Image result for christmas tree lot

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

My presentation in Bolingbrook, IL

I have only the most tenuous hold on my time and schedule lately. Since returning home from a bike trip to the Adirondacks and Vermont I have been working hard on a manuscript about bicycling--not a travelogue.

There are so many loose threads I'm trying to hold together--I need two or three monitors for this book! Right now I have about 40 tabs open--which drives my friends crazy--except it should be me going insane and not them!

Anyway, apologies for being a slacker at the blog. The blog slog.

This past weekend I experienced a first: the first time I presented a seminar and met someone who traveled to get there. Meaning: she said she came up the night before and stayed in a motel. Wow! I thought, I'm just like a real author. My talk was about flash writing and flash being the building blocks to longer writing--such as the novel. About 12 people sat through my rambling. They did seem to get something out of it.

Kathleen definitely won the prize for coming from the furthest away, over one hundred miles from Lanark, IL

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bear With Me--book(s) review

A cascade of coincidences. Kyle White and Jane Hertenstein, both writers of flash and THE SAME BIRTHDAY.

I discovered Kyle’s work, Wisconsin River of Grace, when he was doing a reading at Everybody’s Coffee. I never intended to buy the book, but had to once I opened it and read a snippet (the good thing about flash is you can dive in anywhere and get a taste). Since that 2012/2013 publication he has continued fermenting flash.

Bear With Me is a field journal that reads as a contemplative children’s book. In the sense that I could see it being shared with the whole family, the meaning explicit on so many levels. Just like a good Jon Scieszka book—there is something there for the adult and younger folk to hang their hat on. Mostly I enjoyed the pace of Bear With Me: short, pithy haiku-type entries with a unspoken “selah” at the end where one can sit and pause, ruminate over the importance of hibernation, relaxing, listening to your body, nature calling, living in tune with the seasons. Such as a bear drinking coffee in a birch grove puffing on a pipe. Giving space to ourselves to think and breathe deeply.

Sky getting lighter.
Finally back to sun’s warmth.
But naps end, sadly.

Or this:

Solitutde: pipe smoke,
Morning prayers, walks, sketchbook,
Coffee, toast, butter.

The simplicity of the lines is like a spell, a kind of wake-hibernation. Bear With Me is a cozy read. *Illustrations are also by Kyle L. White

Neighbor As Yourself (2016) is a collection of flash observations. The subtitle explains: Midwest essays, poems, etcetera.

It is the act of knowing we are not alone, that all around us are people—some lonely, solme frustrated, some frustrating.

One essay details a spring break to remote Washington Island in—let’s be honest—winter (as soring breaks are wont to be). The writer discovers an Eastern Orthodox monastery chapel and spends time each morning just being in that sacred (unheated) space before joining the party of others, his friends gathered to grill and vacate during a vacation. I sense the quiet, the candlewax, the rough wood board walls. I see tiny rabbit tracks in the snow which refreezes every night. Another selection enumerates (get it!) the writer’s brief career as a census enumerator.  

Winter is Scissors (2018) is his latest project, consisting of 31 flash essays or “daily” readings for winter. The daily is not tied to any particular day, so can be randomized. Dipped into. I’m particularly looking forward to Winter is Scissors because of the fact that winter has come early to Illinois/Chicago. Last week we had a Halloween snowstorm and this weekend we will have a double-dip Artic blast (two in one) with forecasts into the 20s. Brrr. I can just imagine the Bear in Bear With Me shivering inside his furcoat and snuggling deeper under covers. There are so many life analogies one came make about enduring winter, watching the titmouse peck up and down the walkway for a crumb, the lonely tree branches dark against a winter sky. We see these things and know that if we can just hold out that the sun will return. To cold, barren fields, to the winter-bleached concrete buildings with “smoke” coming out of the stacks on frigid mornings. We wait in hope, because spring has always come before.

Image result for kyle white wisconsin
Image result for kyle white bear with me

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A note from an occupier

Last night I heard the most disappointing news about Abraham Lincoln. As an Illinoisan (formerly Ohioan) this was really bad. I mean I always knew as a lawyer he defended corporations and slaveholders, but he also fought a case in defense of a black woman.

There are at least two cases where Abraham Lincoln worked both sides of an issue. In 1841 Lincoln argued before the Illinois Supreme Court a case involving a slave girl named Nance. A man by the name of Cromwell sold Nance to his neighbor, Mr. Bailey. When she left Mr. Bailey’s service after six months declaring herself free, Mr. Bailey refused to pay for her. Lincoln argued that the girl was free because in the state of Illinois it was illegal for a slave to be bought or sold. Lincoln won the case.

On another occasion, though, in October 1847 Abraham Lincoln defended a slaveowner. Every year Robert Matson brought his slaves up from Kentucky to harvest his fields in Coles County. They were only in Illinois a short time before returning to Kentucky. When a family of slaves escaped with the help of abolitionists Matson sued for their return. The judge ruled against Matson and Lincoln lost the case.

His decision to free the slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation was more a matter of keeping the Union together. That was always his priority instead of the ideological argument that all men are created equal.

I remember reading in his biography that Lincoln fought in the Black Hawk War on the western border of Illinois in April 1832. From Wiki: Black Hawk’s motives were ambiguous, but he was apparently hoping to avoid bloodshed while resettling on tribal land that had been ceded to the United States in the disputed 1804 Treaty of St. Louis.

Such a simple sentence for a tragedy.

Again from Wiki:

The Sauks were divided about whether to resist implementation of the disputed 1804 treaty.  Most Sauks decided to relocate west of the Mississippi rather than become involved in a confrontation with the United States. The leader of this group was Keokuk, who had helped defend Saukenuk against the Americans during the War of 1812. Keokuk was not a chief, but as a skilled orator, he often spoke on behalf of the Sauk civil chiefs in negotiations with the Americans.  Keokuk regarded the 1804 treaty as a fraud, but after having seen the size of American cities on the east coast in 1824, he did not think the Sauks could successfully oppose the United States.

Although the majority of the tribe decided to follow Keokuk's lead, about 800 Sauks—roughly one-sixth of the tribe—chose instead to resist American expansion. Black Hawk, a war captain who had fought against the United States in the War of 1812 and was now in his 60s, emerged as the leader of this faction in 1829. Like Keokuk, Black Hawk was not a civil chief, but he became Keokuk's primary rival for influence within the tribe. Black Hawk had actually signed a treaty in May 1816 that affirmed the disputed 1804 land cession, but he insisted that what had been written down was different from what had been spoken at the treaty conference. According to Black Hawk, the “whites were in the habit of saying one thing to the Indians and putting another thing down on paper.”

Black Hawk was determined to hold onto Saukenuk, a village at the confluence of the Rock River with the Mississippi, where he lived and had been born. When the Sauks returned to the village in 1829 after their annual winter hunt in the west, they found that it had been occupied by white squatters

Abraham Lincoln was part of a frontier militia that formed. On August 2, U.S. soldiers attacked Black Hawk’s band at the Battle of Bad Axe, killing many and capturing most who remained alive. Black Hawk and other leaders escaped, but later surrendered and were imprisoned for a year.

One thing Mark Charles said was the deeper he dug into history, the worse it got. A bit like watching the movie The Mission over and over. Plus, he told us last night: There are no winners. Even the perpetrators of violence on marginal or indigenous people were left traumatized. He tried not to boil things down, but one thing he feels sure of is that white people carry trauma of the genocides their ancestors perpetrated or condoned. Christians, in particular, are guilty for rationalizing their actions by saying what they did was in the name of God or Jesus.

Wow—what a weight, the heaviness of history toward native peoples. We took their land and the best we can do is name a subdivision after the original hamlet or use their names—such as Sauganash or Somonauk Street in Sycamore, IL.

I can’t wait to dive into his book, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles, Soong-Chan Rah, InterVarsity Press
PW Starred Review: “This sobering critique presents a disturbing yet welcome analysis of how the Doctrine of Discovery has split American church and society along racial lines...”

Be prepared to have the top of your head blown off—in a “good” way. Also recommend, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah, another depressing read where you cannot turn your eyes away from the foundational truth that humans have created a lot of chaos. Acknowledging this is the beginning to conciliation.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

This Does Not Belong to You/My Parents by Aleksandar Hemon

Readers of this blog know I appreciate Aleksandar Hemon’s writing. I re-read his novels and loved The Book of My Lives—so much so that I recall passages from it at random moments (especially since I live in Uptown where he based some of his observations). He has the peculiar ability to offer a surprising word in a sentence. I owe this to the fact that English is his second language. He uses it to its fullest.

His newest volume is non-fiction comprised of flash memoir pieces. The book is divided between memories of his parents, perhaps their memories, and his own thoughts back on his life—including preambles on mortality, writing, and other philosophical meanderings. Early on he riffs on Robert Shields who recorded his life in 5-minute segments, accumulating eventually more than 94 cartons of diaries. It is like always being “on.” It also begs the question: Who cares?

This work reflects a kind of Bosnian nostalgia=meaning there is no Yugoslavia. It is a pragmatic look back at something no one can no longer conjure. When I reminisce about the Ohio of my youth—there is at least a Ohio to refer back to. We take so much for granted, such as childhood. It vanishes along with childhood friends, places, and culture. Childhood culture of the 70s meant running the sidewalks with your pals until the street lights came on and then coming inside to the family.

We are so far away from that point in time—see Parent College Admissions Scandal, see Life360—an app that allows you to track your offspring, even if they are in their 20s and in college.

Here’s a small excerpt—it leaves me in a nostalgic mood.

We’d drive back home on a Sunday afternoon in early September, the experience of my time in the countryside ebbing already, the cherry stains on my hands fading like misremembered jokes. The last stretch of road, before Sarajevo opened like a palm of a hand, went through the Bosna River Valley. The sun would already be tucked in beyond the hills, a blue sky turned gray, the river fading into black, the cars would have their headlights on, ready for the onslaught of darkness. Summertime shuddered, quietly awaiting its end. We would see the rash of feeble fires on the slopes where the peasants scorched the summertime grass and dry bushes. That smell of burning in the Bosna Valley is the smell of coming back home at the summer’s end, a few days before school started, before my birthday, before the rains, before everything stopped being what it was. The smell of home, however was different: when we walked into our apartment, it would have the fragrance of our absence, of silence and cleanliness, of no one being there. I’d always be the first to inspect the apartment as if to see if something had changed, if somehow the order of things as we’d left them was altered, if something other than our life had taken place in that space, if someone had slept in my bed, touched my toys, read my books. But nothing, if course, would ever be different: when we were not there, and I always found comfort in that. Home is a place where there is void when you’re not there; home is what your body fills out. Nowadays we live elsewhere and otherwise, but there is still nobody in our place when we are not there. When I visit, that’s where I may be. I’m always absent somewhere. Home is fragrant nothing where I am not.

--and this from a guy who left home and was unable to return because of a war, suddenly seeking asylum in Chicago.

Absent from this volume are political analogies or observations. Perhaps because Hemon surmises that whatever he writes today will within minutes change—as current political news moves so fast. Suffice it to say: there are correlations between blind, obedient populations willing to follow a leader into oblivion.

I highly recommend this divided memoir of flash memoir.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What's Wrong With You?

Over the weekend I got hit on my bike--

I'm okay.

It was by another cyclist at a 4-way stop. I stopped and he came around me to pass into the intersection as I made a turn left. Definitely it was an accident. As I picked myself up off the pavement (he was able to stay up as he was skirting by; I hit his back wheel and fell) he immediately said: You didn't signal.

True, I thought, but you didn't shout out "passing." Then also thinking these things take a while to sort out, I guided my bike over to the curb and out of the intersection. Once off to the side I asked him his name. "Why do you need to know?"

Hmm, okay, I thought, this guy's a jerk. He was a middle-aged white guy and I immediately picked up a whiff of privilege. I also surmised he wanted to control the narrative--even though the only thing I'd said so far was to ask his name.

"Are you okay?" I knew he wanted me to be okay so he could keep going and get on with his day. But as someone who has been riding for over 50 years (I know, I'm pathetically old) I knew that I needed to access myself and the bike before letting him go.

I answered him by saying, "You didn't want to give me your name." I thought maybe adrenaline was making him present as a jerk and he'd snap out of it. No.

"Jeremy. What's yours?" His tone was demanding. I stood there staring at him. Really?

I got on my bike and rode away, disgusted. There was no way I wanted to continue looking at this bully. Later at home I bandaged my scrapped elbow. I'm okay, but angry.

Angry at myself for giving up and not letting him know then and there that I was a person. Angry at him for his smug privilege. Are people so afraid to be real and show authentic concern without automatically assuming I'm going to sue?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ann Patchett, everyone’s BFF

I need to start this entry with an admission: I have not read a single Ann Patchett book. I have heard her name come up in literary circles for over a decade and it is “on my list.” FredShafer uses her material in his workshops at OCWW, but I just haven’t gotten around to reading Bel Canto, The Commonwealth, and—now, The Dutch House.

I moonlight At Wilson Abbey an event space and especially show up for book events put on by The Book Cellar and Women and Children First, as well as book launches held there. As much as I’ve decried buying more books, I am packing out my shelves more than ever.

Back to Ann Patchett who had a Chicago appearance to support The Dutch House at Wilson Abbey last week. I wanted to hear this woman that everyone talks about so glowingly. There were 350 people in the auditorium. I stood in the back. When she came on at exactly 7 pm she apologized for being late??? Then told us that she’d missed an earlier flight and had to take the next one out of Nashville, being United that was 3 hours delayed. Okay, this sounds like a kerfuffle—then she shared why she missed that first flight. She was able to get into the dentist office to repair two crowns that had broken.

Okay. So now the stage is set for a brave, high-functioning woman, not only a writer. She was only a smidgen sedated.

For the next 90 minutes she stood and spoke non-stop without a moderator or the benefit of an interviewer to carry part of the load. She spoke extemporaneously and with great wit and clarity. We were held in the palm of her hand.

She seems to be everyone’s best friend. She lauded friends’ books and promoted various writers, not just for their lyrical voice but because they are wonderful humans. She is someone who can wrangle a favor for you and give one in return.

Ann Patchett reminded me of Charles Dickens on a speaking tour. Because little money was made in publishing (then and now) he converted his fame into a speaking tour. Imagine the Beattles in Yankee Stadium, now picture Charles Dickens coming on stage. He was greeted like a rock star, once of the most famous people of his day.

“As painstaking a performer as he was a writer, Dickens had prepared diligently for the tour, rewriting and memorizing key passages from his books especially for these engagements. He used a book only as a prop; he was so familiar with the material that he could improvise with ease.” He spoke for over 2 hours most evenings.

Patchett then took question from the audience before going to a back table to personalize books. I had to leave early so did not stay till the end. She outlasted me—and I hadn’t been to the dentist and rushed to an airport.

Ann Patchett is a class act.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Keeping a Blog during the Trump Impeachment

Okay, maybe it was the wedding. Last week my daughter got married, but, seriously folks, I have not gotten a lot done these past few months. When all else fails, blame it on T-rump.

I owe people I love, fabulous writers, reviews of their books. There is flash articles queued up inside my head to be written. I’m also working on a sudden book—a manuscript that has lain dormant for a while and perked up suddenly asking to come to life. Then there is the other bits of life such as relationships that needed attention. Coffee conversations, birthday, etc etc.

The etc is what has crowded in lately, usurping the plan. The pan being to be on top of things. Which is always going to get inconveniently interrupted.

Then there’s the constant computer card playing, checking Facebook, commenting on stranger’s posts, ugh! The impeachment.

The messing around before buckling down to put words on the page. I promise to be better.

As I drift off to favorites: Pinterest, crazyguyonabike.com—when all other distractions fail, I plan a bike trip.

Prayers, light and love, good Zen thoughts appreciated.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

New Work (out soon)

Sorry MIA--crazy last coupla weeks--
daughter got married
the house was full

should I write a poem about white roses?

NEW WORK will be up soon at  The Blue Pages Journal http://bluepagesjournal.blogspot.com/
which accepted a weird piece, a flash series called Tiny, Little Horrors about intersectional moments
flash memories of being suddenly scared or grossed out and how those memories have never left me--or left me scarred.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019


Pajtim Statovci
Translated by David Hackston
Pantheon Books, New York, 2019

I like to think of myself as a fairly astute and close reader: I literally did not see the ending of this book coming.

But once I read it I understood and wanted to immediately begin reading it again.

Let me start at the beginning: Albania, a place so foreign and exotic that there is no category for it. It is a land that has been trampled over and over by foreign invaders and then largely left alone. Their language is quite like nowhere else. We traveled to Albania via a tourist bus from the small country of Montenegro. In Tirana we slipped away from the tour group. We had a contact of a diplomat, an attaché staying in the capital. Little did we know the little we knew.

Albania had just emerged from a repressive regime on the scale of North Korea. Under their version of Kim Jong-un, Enver Hoxha erected a series of bunkers—in case the West invaded. They only wished. Albania was a small forgotten place.

What finally it pushed it into the forefront of media and the Western attention was the problem of Kosovo, a mainly Muslim republic occupied by Albanians, Serbs, and ethnic Kosovars. In the late 90s Serbian forces attacked Kosovo. During the two-year conflict 13,500 people were killed or went missing. The Yugoslav and Serb forces caused the displacement of between 1.2 million to 1.45 million Kosovo Albanians.

After the death of Hoxha in 1985 different schemes initiated by Italian developers/businessmen defrauded man Albanians of their savings. When I visited in 2007and stayed with the diplomat at his apartment it was still a chaotic country. Every evening at about 7 pm the entire capital of Tirana lost power, plunged into sudden darkness and a weird pause. For the split second before the generators kicked in there was a soylent-green/apocalyptic atmosphere of a breakdown in society. All over the neighborhood you could voices, the howls of dogs. But it also felt joyful and spontaneous—as if by ingenuity anything could happen; they were remaking their history.

Even their stories spring from their own local sources—and are particular to that area. For example we heard a couple times while in the country the story of brothers building a wall to keep out invaders. They could only finish the wall or hope for it to withstand an army if they inserted into the wall a woman. They flipped a coin as it were to see whose wife would be encased into the brick wall. I remember upon hearing this story that it sounded misogynous—why a woman? The spirit of the woman haunted the brothers, the castle walls. There was an addendum to the story that she only asked for a breast to be bared so she could continue to nurse who son until she died of starvation/asphyxiation/thirst. Again, there is something terribly wrong here.

I remember as we were about to leave for the bus station. Our acquaintance called a taxi. The driver had pulled up and was cleaning the windows with newspaper. The curbs and sidewalks were full of litter. People drove as if they’d never had a lesson—which is exactly the case. There was no appreciation for road rules. As we were about to take off the driver tossed the wet newspaper into the street and opened the doors for us. This, I thought, is Albania.

In Statovci’s novel we are introduced to 2 boys, Bujar and Agim, both a bit outside of their family and society. Bujar has grown up listening to the stories of his father about the origins of Albania and the Skanderbeg Monument in the main square of Tirana. At the same time the country is weakening and growing sick and impoverished, so also Bujar’s father is dying of cancer. None of this feels good. Just as the stories carry a dysfunctionality to them, so also the parallel story of the country of Albania. The novel is a hall of mirrors. One part speaking to another—even as Bujar travels, leaving Albania for Italy. In fact, the book opens in Rome. From Rome to Madrid to New York, then to Finland. In each place Bujar takes on a new persona.

The idea of crossing is analogous to both an internal and external narrative. Agim and Bujar are both somewhat fluid characters sexually. Throughout the scope of the novel Bujar traverses different sexual and relational boundaries. Through relationships and moving to a new place he is looking for connection. Ultimately he has become separated from his home/heart and must return in order to find forgiveness.

Crossing is a complex and layered novel exploring identity, immigration, homeland, and how story factors into our own story. No matter how we react to the main protagonist and his choices, we will be brought into a deeper level of understand and compassion for those crossing over.

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