Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Labor Day

I know we’re a few weeks off from Labor Day (it’s coming up quick!)

Still ruminating about “Wichita Lineman” the Glen Campbell song, and the line: I know I need a small vacation.

As I mentioned Jimmy Webb who wrote the song lyrics was in the midst of a couple of projects and on deadline when Campbell called him requesting another hit song. No biggie.

I’m sure he had to go for stream-of-consciousness kind of composing, randomly stringing thoughts, lines, phrases together. Perhaps he thought I need a small vacation. As soon as I get done with all this I’m taking off, splitting town.

I’ve been conferring with a couple of engineers working on the CTA Wilson Red Line renovation for a photo exhibit at Everybody’s Coffee. We talked about representing all aspects, all the different kinds of laborers who contributed to getting this project done. It was a complete tear down of both tracks and station and rebuilding—all while keeping the train running.

Iron workers, construction, flaggers.

We’re looking forward to this next show. The city that works. Way to go!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse Viewing in Chicago

We’re supposed to get 80 - 85% coverage. If there is no cloud cover. Of course we’re not supposed to look directly at the sun.

My friend Beth Finke had an interesting take on all this. Here is her memory of a solar eclipse as a child. “On March 7, 1970 using a pinhole camera our school teachers taught us to make out of cardboard shoeboxes.” She goes on to relate that she is now blind (totally unrelated to the eclipse). And that there is an app for those who cannot see it this year. Here is a link to her blog post and to the app—to give you a virtual experience.

NASA (@nasa on Twitter) is also live streaming the eclipse which is set to begin here in Chicago at 11:54 a.m with maximum eclipse at 1:19 pm.

I’ve made for me and my friends view boxes. For instructions on how to make one of these is less than 10 minutes go here.

AND, more importantly, there is an ambiance soundtrack, NPR has put together a list. So has Spotify

Friday, August 18, 2017

The World Needs a little more Tenderness

New work accepted at

I submitted because I liked the look of these rambunctious girls--editors and founders of tenderness, yea
tenderness, yea was founded after a series of readings in new orleans, when we realized all the best writers we knew didn’t have a place to put their work. it’s a place for them, and a place for you too. 
we understand that the word tenderness means  “kindness and gentleness” as well as “a sensitivity to pain”, we want to know what this word means to you, as well as how the multitudes of its definition intersect. 
tenderness, yea is jo gehringer, zoĆ« blair-schlagenhauf, and amelia seidel. please excuse our mess. 
I liked the idea that they were going out there and doing something. Crazy, I know. We all need to be a little crazy.

Will post when the piece is up. Until then, keep submitting.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Master Race

This is the phrase that keeps popping up inside my head. What does this mean?

It’s a bit like pre-destination. People are either born with it or without. Despite DNA, personality, determination, physical ability. A master race is about who your parents and grandparents are. The color of your skin, the color of your eyes, the shape of your lips, nose.

Growing up, even as a little kid, I knew all these distinctions who so unfair. Yet, I didn’t know what to do. I remember my father shouting at the TV, at a black football player, C’mon you spook, pick up the ball! I remember Howard Cosell, TV sports commentator, calling an African-American player a monkey. My father referred to Brazil nuts on the bridge mix as “nigger toes.”

I also remember a tension rising up inside of me, an inner voice whispering: This isn’t right.

No one had to tell me. Of course I was curious. Were Jews schemers? Money grabbers? I had no idea, I’d never met any. Until one day in 3rd grade for show and tell one of my classmates brought in her mother, a woman who seemed small and slightly hysterical. Her eyes darted around the room. The story she began to tell was about a camp, but it was unlike any camp I’d ever been to. She and her family escaped. She recounted how when they finally got something to eat her mother screamed at her about dropping a crumb. The tone of the mom’s voice (the one sitting in front of our group) was high-pitched, tight with emotion. There was palpable fear in her voice and eyes.

Afterwards I read as many Holocaust survivor stories as I could get my hands on through the library and the Scholastic book club. Like this book where I read about the Brown Shirts:

 Then there was this:

The day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed a teacher in a small town in Iowa tried a daring classroom experiment. She decided to treat children with blue eyes as superior to children with brown eyes. I must have seen a clip of this on the news because I remember a part where a young girl begins to tear up from shame, from the affront of racism, the coldness of the teacher and loneliness when her friends turned their back on her.

I have many more memories of—what can I call it? except—that feeling that this is not right.

God, it’s been forty years and why am I sitting here at the keyboard crying. Yet I can so vividly recall the horror and—here’s something important—the implied implication, the collective guilt I felt. I believe (this is not science, just a theory) that all children with a conscience must also feel this and how they act upon these feelings determines who they will be for the rest of their life. Either someone who empathizes with those being discriminated against or someone who denies that feeling, rationalizes it away, or decides it’s not important. Or maybe even a joke.

I can remember as if it were yesterday: my friend’s parents had adopted African American children. Nicole’s brother and sister were black. They came to the house to pick up Nicole, likely the parents were out in the car because they didn’t live in our neighborhood. Without knowing who the child ringing the doorbell was my brother made the wisecrack, Hide the chicken. (We were sitting down at the dinner table.) And this is what I remember the most, how hard my parents laughed. I was horrified walking to answer the door. I didn’t have the words back then. My anger only made them laugh louder.

I’ve watched the clips of the Unite the Right March in Charlottesville, the news conferences and press statements by --- and I’m telling you now—that feeling rolls over me like waves. A hand flutters to my mouth.

I cannot change my past, the color of my skin, eyes, my nose and lips, but I can use this mouth to speak. This is not right.

I think I’m going to be sick for a long, long time.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Seeking Asylum

New story "Seeking Asylum" up at

“Things are a little crazy right now,” I tried to explain about the mess. My idea of crazy must be on a whole other planet from what was going on in Venezuela. I mean it was like Mad Max meets The Hunger Games down there. In an oil-rich/cash-poor country with empty grocery shelves and a president in denial, life had gone from difficult to a death spiral. There were not enough printing presses in Venezuela to keep up with the inflation. People were killing each other in the streets for toilet paper. I may only be slightly exaggerating. I only knew what I read in the papers and from Abraham’s essays. In his last paper I learned that he had been employed as an engineer. His specialty was hydroelectricity. Apparently Venezuela was powered not only by oil reserves but by water—except that there was a drought and levels in the reservoirs had fallen. Whole sections of the country were without power. The president called upon Venezuelan women to stop blow-drying their hair—as if that might fix the problem brought about by decades of mismanagement. 

The country was in an apocalyptic state of affairs—yet I couldn’t have this woman with me indefinitely.

“Only for a few days,” Abraham sought to reassure me. I had the distinct impression I was being taken advantage of, the same feeling I get outside Starbucks when the bums ask me for change. Just because I buy a coffee doesn’t mean I need to feel guilty about it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wichita Lineman

Glen Campbell passed away last week. I really hadn’t listened to him for years. As a memoirist and someone interested in memories I was drawn to his heartbreaking song “I’m Not Going to Miss You”: the obvious reason being that he will no longer remember the people who once populated his memories. Campbell was about to enter the last stages of Alzheimer’s.

As I read the numerous tributes to him I came across a piece about one of his signature songs, “Wichita Lineman” and how it came to be. Jimmy Webb wrote the lyrics. He’d delivered on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” for Campbell. He was called upon at the last minute for a song to complete an album. Campbell was in the studio and needed something ASAP. And, could it be another town song.

From the BBC Culure:
"They called me and said, 'Can you write us a song about a town?'" he recalled in a Radio 2 documentary about Campbell's career.
"And I said, 'I'm not sure I want to write a song about a town right now. I think I've overdone that'.
"He said, 'well, can you do something geographical?'

Webb was in the midst of another project and wanted to pass. The song almost didn’t happen, but Webb had a flash. An image of a lonely telephone repairman all by himself at the top of a pole.

He had called up the image of a lineman from a childhood journey across the panhandle of Oklahoma.
"There's a place where the terrain absolutely flattens out," he told the BBC. "It's almost like you could take a [spirit] level out of your tool kit and put in on the highway, and that bubble would just sit right there on dead centre. It goes on that way for about 50 miles.
"In the heat of summer, with the heat rising off the road, the telephone poles gradually materialise out of this far, distant perspective and rush towards you.
"And then, as it happened, I suddenly looked up at one of these telephone poles and there was a man on top, talking on a telephone.
"He was gone very quickly, and I had another 25 miles of solitude to meditate on this apparition. It was a splendidly vivid, cinematic image that I lifted out of my deep memory while I was writing this song."

He acted upon this image and quickly wrote “Wichita Lineman” which went on to win Campbell a Grammy.

So the point being—when the pressure to write bears down, we sometimes produce our best work. We need to act on those flashes, those unbidden images that pop up out of seemingly nowhere. There really was no point, no resolution to the song—just an idea, that went on to resonate with listeners. It was said the song was a hit with soldiers fighting faraway in Vietnam. My guess is they understood that loneliness, missing loved ones, the feeling of being on a mission and all they had to do was get the job done and get home.

It’s surprising what can be communicated in a 3-minute song.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing

Available wherever you download books.

Baker & Taylor Blio
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Gardners Library
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