Wednesday, January 30, 2019

12th Grade

12th Grade

I remember walking up to the photography studio the end of August. This is it, the beginning of the end. The start of my senior year. What was I supposed to feel? I wished someone would tell me.

I also wish someone had told me not to wear that blouse. Sheesh! Now, decades later, I ask myself—couldn’t I have found something more interesting? I had no idea how important a final picture would be, that this might be the one to define me. I must have thought it would be like anything else.

The humidity that morning was thick. With thin hair such as mine, it was hard to give it body, a soul, The heavy air acted like gravity and weighted it down. I had a hard time getting my bangs to appear effortlessly flyaway without falling flat into my eyes.

My whole last year in high school I was continually disappointed by how boring and complacent my life was in what should have been a monumental time. I was always expecting more.

Bob Staley took me to my first and last high school dance when he volunteered to take me to Homecoming. At the end of the evening I mulled the experience over to realize I hadn’t been missing much. Still, I’m thankful.

And, so my public school career wound to a close. After graduating I turned in my cap and gown and kept the tassel and tossed it over the rearview mirror of my Bug. I had no idea what would happen next.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Take care of others

Have you been charting the upcoming temperatures predicted for Chicago?


Translation: Holy Mother of Vortexes! Or is it Vorexi? Either way—send help. More than a St. Bernard with a barrel of hot chocolate. We need to hold hands.

That’s what an email I received last week promoted. It was an icy morning and a friend wrote to warn me and others in an in-house thread to be careful of treacherous sidewalks and crossing the street. He said to hold hands.

That directive really resonated with me. It sounded so warm and cozy. Friendly. Not angry or political. I think even the #MeToo Movement might even agree—non-threatening. It is the opposite of a government shutdown or shouting match. It means coming together and caring.

After reading that email I ran some errands. I passed old ladies, a gentleman with a wheelie walker—snow dusting the shoulders of his jacket, half-way house residents with their coats thrown open to the cold. I wanted to hold their hands.

Let’s take time to make sure our neighbors have groceries, their water is running, that they are staying warm during this especially cold time.

Thank you.
No photo description available.

Monday, January 28, 2019

11th Grade

8th Grade
No pic

9th Grade
No pic

10th Grade
No pic

11th Grade

A junior in high school. This was the best time of my school career. I had a set, a circle of friends I hung out with and went over to their house in the evening and on weekends. I drove a Volkswagen “Bug” that during the day looked red, but under street lamps at night appeared orange. I was always losing it in the mall parking lot. My friend Jane and I drove everywhere. We’d spent a summer at a Young Life youth camp in Pittsburgh and met other kids like us, only a year older. We’d drive up to Canton or Mount Vernon or wherever to visit them.

Youth group was a huge part of my life. One night a group of friends spontaneously baptized me in a culvert creek that dribbled behind the house. It was nothing for me to run miles or bike to another state—for fun.

Eleventh grade was uncomplicated. I wasn’t worried about college or thinking ahead to graduation. I was part of the Quill Club—quill, as in writing implement. We were a motley group. I remember a quiet kid who hung out in the smoking area reading aloud a science fiction story about fire ants. Linda leaned her head on my shoulder and listened as I read a story I’d written about a lonely waitress that worked at the Blue Star diner. It was full of sentimentality and tropes, somewhat Flannery O’Connor-esque, yet at the end Linda breathed out an “ahhh,” like the quiet hush after a symphony. I wanted to live forever in that feeling, that my words had evoked an emotion.

Friday, January 25, 2019

7th Grade

7th Grade

The back of the picture says “Janie, 13 yrs old.” Yet I look twelve or younger. Certainly nothing like a thirteen year old today. I’d lost weight, so likely was not wearing chubby girl clothes. In 6th grade I’d discovered running—a solitary sport. It started innocently enough (it might have been a punishment) the Phys Ed teacher sent the class consisting of 6 – 8th graders on a one-mile run. We left the school and wound through back streets. Again, no one would be allowed to do this today without a drone or security camera following. I remember passing 8th grade boys who looked like men until finally there was no one ahead of me. I remember thinking: This is crazy; I can’t be this good. I expected to die of exhaustion. But I kept going and ran back into the front parking lot of the school.

If middle school is hell then 7th grade was the absolute inner ring. I suddenly had no friends. They were too busy having sex or illicitly drinking or smoking or doing drugs or talking about all of the above. I wasn’t impressed—and so an outlier. I kept trying to persuade my old friends that it was stupid, pretentious, and actually immature. But to them it was I who was immature for not going along.

I spent a lot of time reading and writing in my journal. I read the book The Outsiders and it was as if my head snapped off my shoulders. This was real, a story that I wished I had written.

It was a difficult time. I was too fat, too small, too smart, not smart enough, kinda cute, but not pretty. Definitely nerdy before nerdy was a thing. I kept a calendar of bad days and good ones and by the end of the year had accumulated many more bad than good. If I were to name the worst time in my school life it would be seventh grade.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

6th grade

6th grade

I look into the frame of this picture. I’m wearing a dress. In elementary school the best I could do was shorts under my dress. There were so many times while on the jungle gym on the playground that I would realize I’d forgotten to put on shorts and that boys could look up and see my underpants. I always had to remember before swinging on the monkey bars, and tuck the hem of my dress into my shorts so that while hanging upside down my stomach didn’t show. It wouldn’t be until middle school that we were allowed to wear slacks, dress pants. Though certain girls wore jeans.

Hithergreen Middle School was a whole other animal compared to elementary school. I attended an open school, meaning there were no classroom walls. We’d meet in pods to go over lessons. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades fuzzily blended together. There weren’t textbooks per se, but packets that we worked on at our own pace.

I was a self-motivated learner and was allowed to explore subjects according to my own curiosity. The school librarian recommended I read A Separate Peace. I loved the more realistic “problem” novels. Young adult as a genre was still coming into its own.

This is what I remember: For a unit on the justice system (I can’t imagine why else) there was an incident acted out in the middle of the day in the middle of middle school that would seem to characterize that period in time. Meaning—no way could this happen today. A kid ran into a pod with a fake gun and “shot” a fellow student and then ran off. A teacher came forward to ask for witnesses. What at first seemed like a crime quickly turned into an object lesson. We spent a week looking into the rhetoric of debate and how to build a defense. We improvised a courtroom, selected a jury, and held a trial. A point I’ve always carried with me is how memory shifts according to where we stand in a scene. There were many interpretations of what happened that afternoon and who did it. It taught me the importance of detail, for someone’s innocence could rest upon the color of their eyes or hair.

I’d love to connect with other students of the open classroom system. Soon after I graduated from high school they put up permanent walls and/or repurposed the schools. For example, Hithergreen is now a senior center.

Monday, January 21, 2019

5th Grade

5th Grade

I lied. I do remember my 5th grade teacher’s name. Mrs. Medillo. She said in my school year book that I was her “busy bee reader.” I kept track of all the books I read on index cards. I had a stack of them. I didn’t know how to score the books I read more than once. It seemed a miracle that because of redistricting I was able to spend 5th grade back at my old school Driscoll, except by this time my friends had moved on. We were different on a scale that only a tween would understand. I was desperate to read a friend, a book that loved me for who I was—somewhat nerdy, existential, an optimistic fatalist.

Little Women.

I could actually see Jo staring into the depth of her grief when she opened Beth’s hope chest, where the mementos of her short life were stored. Even today, my throat catches every time I read this passage. I am Jo, the writer, smudging the outside of my finger as my hand rushes over fresh ink on the page.

Secretly I nurture a secret power.

Friday, January 18, 2019

4th Grade

4th Grade
We moved in the middle of 3rd grade, from one neighborhood to another. Yet it necessitated a switch from Driscoll Elementary to Stingley. At recess I was an outcast. There was a sign, a symbol really, by a door that we never used. I must have asked someone and they said it was a bomb shelter. What?

At Stingley I decided to read every book on the shelves in the school library. I got through the Ds. I stumble upon an old-fashion book by Nancy Barnes titled The Wonderful Year about a girl much like myself whose heart breaks when her family has to move. She also rode a bike. I read the book through once, twice, three times. I remember telling my mother about it. Here was my story, told in fiction, about another girl in another time, yet it was also about me.

In my school picture I flash a cheesy grin. I took the photographer literally when he demanded that I smile. Pinned to my jumper was a seal with a marble-size fake pearl for a body. I still have this pin.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

3rd Grade

3rd Grade

No one bothered to straighten my bow. Peter Pan collars were very popular growing up. Later I would gravitate toward angular, heavily ironed collars. In high school I’d sew my own clothes. But for now I was stuck with whatever my mother picked out for me. One time she took me shopping at Elder-Beerman’s where I was forced to browse the chubby girl section. It took a while, but eventually I would attempt to assert some autonomy over my clothes choices. Mostly I wore hand-me-downs from my sister Nancy who was only one year older.

Case in point: 

Though I was a slow reader, books became very important to me. My teacher (I cannot remember a single teacher’s name) read Charlotte’s Web to the class. I can still hear the sing-song back-and-forth lyricism in her voice as she read the scene of the kids on the tire swing in the barn. I was confused by the ending because up to that point no one had ever died in a book I’d read. Also I thought the title should feature Wilbur. It would be later that I’d realize the sacrificial heroics of Charlotte. She was a true friend.

Never diminish the importance of reading aloud to children.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Spooky! The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition
Deadline: January 31, 2019
The Ghost Story is seeking fine flash fiction on a supernatural theme. $500 first prize, and $100 for each of two honorable mentions. All three will be published online and in our print anthology, 21st Century Ghost Stories: Volume II. Ghost stories are always welcome, of course—but we're searching for well-crafted sudden fiction incorporating any supernatural theme or element, or magic realism. 250-1,000 words; $10 entry fee.

Image result for ghost

Monday, January 14, 2019

2nd Grade

2nd Grade

Same bob haircut. My teeth are like boxy appendages stuck into rubbery pink gums. It will take years for me to grow into my new teeth. My parents did not believe in braces. Orthodontics was for rich kids, or for the most serious cases.

I would come home from school and change into play clothes. It was possible to climb a windbreak of hedge apple trees separating our backyard from an undeveloped field. Starting at one end, I could go from one tree to the next without touching the ground. I’d carefully navigate the branches, trying to avoid inch-long thorns, slowly making my way through the canopy. Sometimes I’d just sit in the crook of a tree and make up stories inside my head.

I was largely left alone by my older brothers and sister. I knew it was dinnertime when the sky began to darken.

Friday, January 11, 2019

1st Grade

1st Grade

Hard to believe how short my bangs are in this picture. I might have tried to cut them myself and then a hairdresser had to even them out. I remember telling my Dad I had a loose tooth, and he tied a piece of string around it and the other end around a door knob. Then slammed the door shut. I screamed seeing the bloody stump of my tooth dangling at the end of the string. My brothers and sister were like planets orbiting around me—or perhaps I was a satellite circling my family. None of us seemed to fit together. A picture I hold in my head is sitting in front of our console black and white TV, a newspaper spread before me and my sister Nancy, eating popcorn before bed. I remember one night the show was very boring. A man was taking numbers out of a capsule inside a tumbler. I came to understand that if unlucky my older brother would have to go away to a place called Vietnam.

I also came to understand that no one knew what was going to happen—not even the adults.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019



My mother cut my bangs and set my hair in pigtails all askew. She suffered from depression and would go to the hospital for “treatment.” During summers a neighbor lady would watch me so Mom could rest. I was often left alone.

I remember exploring the woods behind our house on Princewood Avenue. One time, pretending to be an Indian, I stealthily stalked a man walking ahead of me. When I think about this now—I cannot blame my mother for being so anxious. I’d return home late for dinner with muddy shoes.

Funny—no one would ask me where I’d been all day.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Wife

The Wife
Movie review

Almost typed The Good Wife, a TV series I never watched but can tell from the title and synopsis—a typical story of the wife who stands by her man who has gotten himself into trouble. The definition of a good wife. Faithful, loyal.

Thus, The Wife, originally a book by Meg Wolitzer, a very intuitive writer. She’s able to bring readers into her characters using few words. Much like a good actress. I once read an interview where an actress told a director—I can communicate this without words. With her eyes, small gestures, she acted. Glenn Close did the same thing in The Wife.

To be fair, I saw this movie on the plane from Seattle to Minneapolis. It left me shaken—or was it the turbulence? The time change? The shifting taking place emotionally within me. As a writer I’ve lived a lot of The Wife.

A recent conversation about the #metoo movement with a feminist friend: I’m not all in. Me too, no pun intended. Yeah, I’m afraid this might come back to bite us on the butt.

The subtext is this—I’ve been to writers’ retreats, conferences, residencies and seen writers interact, drink, and sleep with each other. For a week or two folks are just kicking back. It seems mutually beneficial. I’m not talking rape, but adults making choices. Sometimes bad ones. Maybe they’re bored with their marriage, maybe they are eager for appreciation, for their work to be advanced, etc. Of course, as an outsider I can’t judge specific situations. This is merely a generalization. Which makes retrospective judgment against a writer male or female seem like a slippery slope.

So, yeah, I still read Junot Diaz and Ernest Hemingway. I respect their work, their words. Maybe not every choice or lifestyle decision they’ve ever made.

Watching The Wife you respect the writer whose body of work is about to be celebrated by a Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet what unwinds through the course of the film is another narrative. About the wife behind the writer and her contributions. Here is where Glenn Close worked acting magic, communicating so much through a look, a breath, accepting a cigarette and blowing away the smoke. She is in love with the writer, disgusted by the man. Her’s is a hard decision.

In this film the character of the wife refuses to be a victim. Yet she still needs her own story arc. Space to dream and grow. Here is a snippet from Glenn Close’s acceptance speech:
“Women, we are nurturers, that is what is expected of us. We have our husband and our children and we have to find personal fulfilment and follow our dreams and we have to say, 'I can do that' and, 'I should be allowed to do that'.”

Congrats, The Wife.

First & Last Ride

First & Last Ride

The scent of pine
& the sound of Christmas
a one-legged vet waits at
            the corner for the light
to change, to roll backward
            into the intersection
            of Broadway & Oak
we shop at St. Vincent DePaul Boutique where
everything is picked over—

Can we stay close
            though far away
Can we harness time
            & stand still?

Lights twinkle, the
            shortest day of the year
We order an Uber—
            We are Kerry’s first ride
Ever? we ask . . .
He goes left, right
            Left, right, right
he accidentally cancels the ride
seatbelts don’t work
                        dog hair covers the floor carpet
We eventually direct him

Early morning, we
            hug good bye,
the neighborhood sleeps—I emerge
onto the mossy deck, slick with rain
“I’ll be right down.”
            Are there words left unsaid, unthought?
We don’t live close.
The taxi idles, I linger,
            Smell one last time the pine.
As we speed to the airport
            Jim tells me I am
his last ride.
Next week he starts a new job.
He is injured from the war &
            Will go to school on the GI Bill.
I look back at the
dark hills. We are already
Image result for taxi in a dark forest            so far away.    

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Work Up @ Spitfire

by Jane Hertenstein

Have you ever just wanted to connect with someone--even a stranger or ghost
Ashley digs deep into the world wide web to find that someone

Image result for missed connections

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

In January, 2019

James Schuyler, In January

"In January"                                            After Ibn Sahl

The yard has sopped into its green-grizzled self its new year

A dog stirs the noon-blue dark with a running shadow and dirt
smells cold and doggy

As though the one thing never seen were its frozen coupling
with the air that brings the flowers of grasses.

And a leafless beech stands wrinkled, gray and sexless–all bone
and loosened sinew–in silver glory

And the sun falls all on one side of it in a running glance, a
licking gaze, an eye-kiss

And ancient silver struck by gold emerges mossy, pinkly
lichened where the sun fondles it

And starlings of anthracite march into the east with rapid jerky
steps pecking at their shadows."
— James Schuyler, “In January”

James Schuyler, 1970 or '69

He wrote poems for friends, to mark a day or morning, to say he was still alive. He wrote for himself, for Joe Brainard, for Frank O'Hara, for Joe and Jane Hazan, for a whole circle, school, the New York School. God bless James Schuyler.

a pugnacious James

The poems of Schuyler catch time as movement, as
fluid, graceful, beautiful —

and quick.

They don’t suggest much agency I guess.
I am not going to judge him.
--Poems by Ken Bolton

What if we all decided in 2016 to catch time in our words, a line or two each day. Just to say Hi!