Friday, December 8, 2017

Advent by James Schuyler

"Advent" by James Schuyler

Open my eyes on the welcome
rosy shock of sunshine.

Open the first little door
of my Advent calendar:

a darling hobby horse
on wheels. Open

the window a crack: and
quickly close it against

a knife-like draught. The day
looks warmer than it is.


I’m not sure how I made it through this year. With all the Trump triggers. The mashup every Friday of an executive order that disenfranchises some segment of the US population. The frenzy of weekend tweets sure to distract. How did I manage to accomplish anything!

Yet unbelievably I’ve had more success this year than ever. Not only a book contract for a novel I’ve been trying to sell forever, but 13 acceptances of “Other Writing” plus an eBook, Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing. Whew!


Nevertheless, glad to see the end of 2017, and the advent of 2018, opening the little window on a new year and hopefully some surprises.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cycle Touring: It’s about problem solving

When I tell people about my various bicycling tours they usually blurt out, That doesn’t sound fun! They’re right. A lot of it is simply crazy. As a solo woman cyclist my tours are mostly about problem solving. One after another.

Take for instance my very first solo international trip. I figured England: they speak English! It should be flat! Not sure why I thought that. Maybe I was contemplating that saying about being led down the garden path. That phrase refers to being deceived, by the way. So I booked a flight.

I practiced taking the bike apart for the box and quickly reassembling it. I planned how I was going to get to and from the airport and manage check in and odd-sized carry-on, explaining to TSA what a spork is and that it isn’t lethal. Yet nothing prepared me for missing the international leg of the flight. The hurry of arriving early at O’Hare Airport had no impact whatsoever on the fact that my Air Canada plane would be late thus a stopover in Montreal turned into a layover. I asked if I could get the next flight out to London. Sure. That would be in 24 hours!

Really. They only flew one time a day. So I spent a night at a hotel courtesy of Air Canada. This did not assuage my fears. I had train reservations. Lovely hard-fought tickets for a night train to Thurso, Scotland where I was to begin my trip at John O’Groats. This was my first problem.

I spent the next day tooling around Montreal on my own, realizing how difficult it was to access GPS when one’s phone no longer received data. You have no idea how hooked you are to your phone for info and directions until—nada. I started off walking in the wrong direction, away from Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Once straightened out, I then had to work out how to leave the oratory and walk the paths of Mount Royal. One decision led to a panic-racked next decision. I made it back from my adventure in the city of Montreal with only minutes to spare before catching a hotel shuttle to the airport. I arrived in London a day late.

No problem. I’d just get new train tickets (a later article to detail how my travel insurance came in handy) and be on my way. I made it to Euston station for the 9 pm departure to discover that the Caledonian Sleeper didn’t run on Saturday. By now it was dark and raining and cars drive on the left! I rode away from the station and, of course got lost. I stopped at a Starbucks! Got WiFi and with my phone booked a hostel. I felt proud of myself. I was doing it. I’d worked through already several unforeseen hiccups. I got directions, made it to the hostel, carried my loaded bike up a flight of stairs, got buzzed in the door—only to be told I was too old for the hostel. This is ageism I stated, but they didn’t relent. I should have made them carry my bike for me and then tell me I’m too old. I rode around looking for a vacancy somewhere/anywhere. I found a slightly rundown family-operated hotel. Isn’t the pound like two American dollars? I was freaking out about how much this was going to cost (after paying for brand new train tickets without the advantage of advance reservation). When the proprietor answered the door and saw me with a loaded bicycle in the rain I didn’t give him a chance. I need the cheapest room you’ve got. He said he only had a triple available. It was as much as a Jaguar. I countered with half that amount—cash, I said.

Unbelievably I got in. So I spent the next day exploring London. That evening I got off on the train, now 2 days behind schedule. My entire trip I was playing catch-up with my itinerary.

All this before even putting on bike shorts. All this before encountering the expected hardships of touring: headwinds, rain, detours, sheep. Those were coming, but this is just an example of how one woman, alone ran the gauntlet of bike travel and persevered.


More stories to come.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Black Friday Sale

5 out of 5 stars  Great for writers and teachers of writing.
ByMichelle Schaubon November 15, 2017
In this clever craft book, Hertenstein outlines a plan for busy writers to build a memoir in little flashes- those seemingly inconsequential moments that, when strung together, create a powerful memoir. Hertenstein provides a series of accessible yet thought-provoking prompts that can be completed in "the time it takes you to brush your teeth." Great for writers and teachers of writing as well.


5 out of 5 starsExcellent#
ByMel G.on June 18, 2016

I have read this book twice, and highlighted extensively. As a new memoir writer who works in slice of life and brief moments, I find her approach helpful. Highly recommend to all writers of memoir. Enjoyable read!

Available from wherever you download books. Also you can click on the icons and go straight
to Amazon

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Catching Up--my latest story now posted online

Check out my story “Catching Up” at Sunlight Press. A tiny slice of life about how we slowly fall out of shape and that it’s never to late to catch up.


Black Wednesday Sale

5 out of 5 stars  Great for writers and teachers of writing.
ByMichelle Schaubon November 15, 2017
In this clever craft book, Hertenstein outlines a plan for busy writers to build a memoir in little flashes- those seemingly inconsequential moments that, when strung together, create a powerful memoir. Hertenstein provides a series of accessible yet thought-provoking prompts that can be completed in "the time it takes you to brush your teeth." Great for writers and teachers of writing as well.




5 out of 5 starsExcellent#
ByMel G.on June 18, 2016

I have read this book twice, and highlighted extensively. As a new memoir writer who works in slice of life and brief moments, I find her approach helpful. Highly recommend to all writers of memoir. Enjoyable read!

Available from wherever you download books. Also you can click on the icons and go straight
to Amazon

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hannah Arendt: Don’t Kill People


We’ve imbued our political parties with morals. For example, Republicans care about life. Thus, they will appoint pro life judges. Democrats care about human rights. Thus, they’ll be better at foreign policy—saying NO to Russia.

Bviously this is simplified. Also obviously I have no right to write about Hannah Arendt. A brilliant thinker.

This weekend I watched the movie Hannah Arendt. I knew about her peripherally like in the sense she was one of the people (émergie who fled Nazi Germany) who helped ferment The New School where my daughter went.

Once I saw the movie I was able to sort her into—Oh you thought that up, that line of thinking, about the question of evil. The movie released in 2012, Hannah Arendt died in 1975. Some of her books are:
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Revised ed.; New York: Schocken, 2004.
The Human Condition (1958) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). (Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1968.

I was surprised at how relevant and timely the movie felt. The notion of evil and abdicating what we know is right in order to achieve a particular outcome that we believe is ultimately right. For example voters in Alabama. Voting for a man who likely if elected will be thrown out of the Senate or at least censored because they
1)      Cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat
2)      They feel Judge Roy Moore will be a moral leader and see to it that the “right” people get on the Supreme Court
3)      Some believe that he’s God’s chosen (more on that later)

Belief is a tricky thing because in some of these cases people have abandoned their beliefs wholecloth. They’ve left off thinking all together.

Hannah Arendt in her pursuit of understanding evil in a post WWII, post-Hitler, post-Auschwitz, nuclear world struggled with alliances and fealties. She would not sacrifice what she believed just to keep things normal, to protect the status quo, or to satisfy family, friends, or country. That isn’t how philosophy works. Philosophy isn’t nationalistic or gender-specific. It has affairs and dabbles in various camps in order to get a reading, a report of what that space occupies. Thus, she angered many Jews.

When she wrote that evil was ordinary and that given a chance we would—all of us—sell out our mother, our tribe, our deepest sense of right and wrong for a higher purpose—or in Eichmann’s case, per someone’s order.

It’s how Trump got elected.

The very people who need a tax break, healthcare, housing, recovery treatment, safe food and drinking water, who care about family, the unborn voted against their interests. Against the published news reports, even against the candidate’s own words—they decided to believe in an alternative.

So we are at a crossroads. Of fake news, fake facts, conspiracies. The Russia Thing, if you will. People have decided to believe whatever they want because either there are no facts or they chose to believe in alternative facts.

Hannah Arendt got into trouble by blurring the edges of what the Western world fought and died for, by diluting their mottos and deconstructing their manifestos. We all have the ability to be evil. It is an individual choice and one frankly not all of us are able to acknowledge, myself included. I’ve held my nose and voted for someone I didn’t like just because they’d make the trains run on time.

Thus, some good Christian people are going to vote for Judge Roy Moore.


I think what Hannah Arendt was saying is that we are all capable of killing, of supporting killers, that we will find a way to justify genocide, and rationalize mass murder. Just don’t make us think about it too deeply or have to explain why.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Last Tab

Last Tab

Lastly, in closing up the tabs: an article at the BBC website: (Credit: Edouard Taufenbech)

And


Both articles are basically profiles of people who file away data/memories. Who can never forget. Some of us have excellent memories, some of us—mostly husbands—cannot remember what they went to the grocery for.

Researchers are not yet certain what forms the basis of memories. The assumption is that most memories are language based—thus, it is unlikely to have memories pre-verbal. Yet, I know I can recall certain images—an overhead light over my crib because I associated the seemingly glazed spiral with a honey bun, even though I still didn’t have a word for honey bun. I guess looking at it made me hungry. I wanted to eat that thing over my crib.

I remember climbing out of my crib. I wasn’t tall enough to open the door, so I would fall asleep in front of the door, making it difficult for mom to come in and check on me. Now some of this memory could be stuff Mom later recounted. Like the sleeping part. I suspect I was under the age of three.

The subject of the article, her memory stretch all the way back to being a baby. “I’d always know when it was Mum holding me, for some reason. I just instinctively always knew and she was my favourite person.” She has been diagnosed with a rare syndrome called ‘Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory’, or HSAM, also known as hyperthymesia. This unique neurological condition means that Sharrock can recall every single thing she did on any given date.

The second article has to do with the ability to hang onto every random date and memory and retain it at the fingertips of recall. The blessing and curse of this kind of memory is that it can be an anvil weighing you down. Every regret, mistake, coming back to you to be rehearsed all over again. Scenes of sadness, grief replayed over and over. It is a tremendous burden to bear.

‘Highly superior autobiographical memory’ (or HSAM for short), first came to light in the early 2000s, with a young woman named Jill Price. Emailing the neuroscientist and memory researcher Jim McGaugh one day, she claimed that she could recall every day of her life since the age of 12.
The subjects themselves find it hard to put their finger on the trigger, however; Veiseh, for instance, knows that his HSAM began with meeting his first girlfriend, but he still can’t explain why she set it off.

I remember applying mnemonic strategies before a test. In order to remember A I remember B. The whole house of cards can easily come undone. One presupposes the other. Very tricky. There were even courses you could send away for to help improve memory. For the person who cannot escape their memories they would gladly change places.

Two of the people interviewed with HSAM: “It can be very hard to forget embarrassing moments,” says Donohue. “You feel same emotions – it is just as raw, just as fresh… You can’t turn off that stream of memories, no matter how hard you try.” Veiseh agrees: “It is like having these open wounds – they are just a part of you,” he says.

It is a narrow road we travel, the tension between recall and what the memory represents. We don’t want to live in the land of memories 24/7. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Autobiographical Songs, Taylor Swift Hitmaker

This week I’m closing tabs. Those needling articles I’ve clipped or stuck a pin into and left open on my desktop hoping to get to later. One had to do with Taylor Swift. I know only what the Internet tells me about Taylor Swift as I have not followed her career or spent time listening to her music. Except to say some of the earlier Youtubes of her music seem really simple.

She’s a sensation. According to the radio her latest album, Reputation, has blown up the universe. On track to have the biggest sales ever. “Swift on track to sell more than 1 million records in the record’s first week.”

If only this kind of success could transfer to books. Not since Harry Potter has a new release made such a splash.

From the beginning she has been writing autobiographical songs, inserting herself as a character into the ballad/narrative/soundscape. From the BBC article:

Take, for example, her first US number one, Our Song.
Written for a high school talent show, it's a fairly typical tale of teenage romance until the final lines: "I grabbed a pen / And an old napkin / And I wrote down our song."
That's smart, self-assured songwriting for someone who wasn't old enough to vote. Notably, the lyrics insert the musician directly into the narrative - something she developed into a tried and tested trope.

Well, she must be doing something right. The reviewer went on to say that she’d also mastered the one-note melody—a bit of fast-talking rap/gush of words she piles up on notes. What could on paper be awkward, confusing, clumsy turn into (hits, yes and) conversational songs that are accessible to most listeners.

I’ve written here at this blog in the past about conversational poetry. Poetry that rejects form, that feels more like prayer, intimate revelations straight from the heart to the ear of the reader. The reviewer observed that by mimicking the cadence of speech, her lyrics are effortlessly conversational and vernacular. This must be a recipe worth repeating.

Also as someone who writes flash—it cannot be denied that Taylor Swift can work a whole story into a one-line lyric.
"She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / She's cheer captain / And I'm on the bleachers" (You Belong With Me)
"We're dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light" (All Too Well)
"I never saw you coming/ And I'll never be the same" (State of Grace)
"Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream" (Blank Space)
"Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room" (Out Of The Woods)

So no matter if you’re a fan, there’s a lot that can be gleaned from studying pop hits. And, perhaps, we might hit just the right note.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The core of it is true


I’ve been catching up on news, on the tabs open on my computer, the articles I’ve been saving to read. Actually I was embarrassed into doing this by my daughter who immediately seized upon my psychotic condition: the inability to let go. I always think I’ll come back to finishing that story, article etc later. Then later turns into 37 tabs on my laptop.

Mom! What’s going on!?

So today I dedicated my morning to determining if the open tabs are something I really want to read, have expired, or no longer relevant. With the dozen or so tabs left I began plowing through them, skimming or actually reading.

In the middle of this process I ended up opening a few more doors. I stumbled across an article in Vanity Fair online about the new movie Lady Bird. One of the pieces had to do with the art director and how he was able to make the movie look like a memory. He simply took it down a generation like a Xerox making a copy of a copy. Which is a good way of describing a memory. Essentially an open tab in our brain that gets corrupted by neglect, diminished by layers of overcopying, wish fulfillment, projection.

An interviewer asked the writer and director Greta Gerwig about her autobiographical movie. She had to backpedal. It is not autobiographical. At its core it is autobiographical. But also a work of fiction. This is a lot how I write—both memoir and fiction. Blurring the genres.

Because I try not to get stuck on definitions, or hung up on truth, I can keep going—hoping something sticks.

As many times as I close a tab, a new one opens.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Dutton, 2016

Not exactly a memoir, told in the form of a textbook. A cute gimmick. But it works. Really, really works.

We get patches, glimpses where we nod our head in recognition, then slowly, think: I could be writing about that except—

I never once—and here it is strange because all I do at this blog is tell people to record the ordinary—except I didn’t think it was important. The very meaning of ordinary. We don’t recognize it until it is gone.

Just like, you always thought there would be, would never go away, could never imagine the world without, until a sighting becomes a cause for celebration. Things that used to be always:

Monarch butterflies
Worms on the sidewalk after a rain
Bookstores

So next time you get that niggling thought—jot it down. You might not end up with a New York bestselling Textbook, but you will have a record of having lived a life.




Friday, November 10, 2017

Examples of Synchronicity

They could just be meaningless coincidences, but if so then why do I remember them over and over and shake my head. Flashes of recognition where my path crossed someone else’s. What re the chances!

Girl at Sherwyn’s Health Food Shop

It’s now closed. They sold vitamins and health food before gluten-free and other foods were more readily available. Before the Whole Foods swallowed up the block. Anyway I went there with some friends. It was an excuse to hang out. I was standing in line with Terry and I heard, almost a murmur, “Jane Feeback.” I looked around. Was it the Muzak? I thought I heard someone saying my maiden name.

It was the cashier. She said I wasn’t sure it was you. She then proceeded to tell me her name. I tried to fake it, but I didn’t remember her. She said, I came to your house collecting for --- cause and you went upstairs and brought down a pickle jarful of coins and cash. I seriously did not remember. The idea I was so extravagant—it was embarrassing. Apparently I just handed over like a week’s worth of tips to her. I’ve never forgotten it, she said.

It was a moment and then we left the store. Since then I’ve not forgotten this encounter.

Meeting Rick and Karen on the Bike Path

I was cycling back from Milwaukee. In early spring. Brilliant sunshine but chilly. Somewhere outside of Zion in the middle of nowhere. I know random. In the distance I spied 2 other cyclists. I caught up with them only to discover it was Rick and Karen. Hi guys! They were on an anniversary outing, coming back from a B & B in Zion. I rode with them for maybe a mile but thinking they might be wanting some alone time I sped up and left them.

Another Bike Encounter

This one is much more recent. It was nighttime and I was riding to the train. Friday, and the station in Wilmette was deserted. I wheeled my bike on to the train. I was the only customer. Then, before pulling out another cyclist hurried on. He pulled back his hood and I was surprised. Teel! We looked at each other and laughed. Neither of us expected to see another rider at that hour, at this time of year. We chatted the whole way back into the city.

Out of the Mist

This last instance doesn’t necessarily involve me personally, but tangentially. My friend Johanna was just here from Germany visiting. We’ve known each other for 20 years. In fact we had a reunion camping trip up in Door County. When she was here the first time she and I and Monica went to Newport State Beach and camped by the shore of Lake Michigan.


Back home in Germany sometime in the late 1990s she met a guy walking in the forest. It was foggy and not very crowded. In this nature park were giant relics left behind by the Romans, supposedly marauding barbarians scared them off and they abandoned big stone things. She noticed his T-shirt, a band she recognized. He said he was from Chicago and she asked him if he knew Jane Hertenstein. Well, in fact Terry did. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Flash Back, Meta Me, Our Souls at Night

Monday, April 18, 2016
Meta Me
OUR SOULS at Night=now a movie



Meta is an odd word; it is all about me. Self-referential. And, we do it in the subtlest of ways. Right when I’m enjoying a work of fiction I get a glimmer, a suggestion, that this book is all about the author. It is likely their story.

At this blog I’ve reviewed Aleksandar Hemon’s short stories, Love and Obstacles and Lily Tuck’s Liliane—all supposedly fiction, but both hovering on the edge of autobiography.

With Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and The History of Great Things by Elizabeth (Betsy!) Crane we are easily clued in. The author actually references themselves. In Our Souls at Night the main characters talk over the morning newspaper while at breakfast and mention that that one writer, his latest novel is being made into a play. She’d enjoyed the last production the playhouse did of his work and now it looks like they are launching another.

“He could write a book about us. How would you like that?”—she asks.
Louis replies to her,  “I don’t want to be in any book.”

The joke is on them—and a bit on us. It is all imaginary, it is all so real. Holt the imaginary county and imaginary county town were all spun over 25 years ago from Haruf’s head. He was blessed before he passed away last November to see several of his novels transformed for the stage. It must have pleased him immensely because he brings it up in the course of conversation between his characters. Louis says:

“But it’s his imagination. He took the physical details from Holt, the place name of the streets and what the country looks like and the location of things, but it’s not this town. .. It’s all made up.”

I like to imagine Kent Haruf writing those lines with the flicker of a smirk on his lips. I loved Plainsong and his follow up novel Eventide and also Benediction. Our Souls at Night is his last. Unless one of his characters cares to recreate a novel about Haruf; that would be interesting.

Monday, November 6, 2017

This Past Year

November 5th is my birthday and just thinking about life a year ago is a bit depressing. It seems the world has cracked and broken into two. November 5 seems so naïve, so innocent.

Democracy before reality TV invaded politics.

Anyway thinking about this I have compiled a list of how I’ve managed to get through this past year:

*Friends
*Cds: Josh Garrels The Light Came Down, Carrie Newcomer The Beautiful Not Yet
*“fake” news: BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, NPR
*Podcasts: Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Snap Judgment
(this is my new favorite, I spend a lot of time listening to these)
*counseling (lots)
*writing/not writing
*bike rides: just this year alone=Nova Scotia, coast of Maine, carriage trails in Acadia National Park, Old Plank Trail, I & M, Centennial Trail, North Shore Channel Trail, Green Bay trail, Des Plaines River Trail, Kal-Haven Trail, Prairie Duneland Trail, Oak Savannah Trail, Lakefront, etc
*walks along the lake (see also running)
*Anina Fuller: her letter to me last December accepting my application to Art Week was a major boost!
*Great Spruce Head Island: my week there was a lifesaver, in my dreams I go back
*Food: specifically carbs, anything bread
For example muffins, bagels, scones, Baker Miller Doughboys, doughnuts, pizza crust, pie, pita
--honorable mention: ice cream
*prayer: a big thank you to Crystal Chan’s Evening of Calm and Grounding, votive candles, yoga poses, group therapy, meditation, and, yes, prayer
*tea, candles, pretty cups
*strangers smiling at me, holding the door, scooting over on the bus

All of this has helped me hold it together this past year. What about you? Do you have a list?


Friday, November 3, 2017

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Three Rivers Press

Reading this book posthumously—hers not mine—means every word, every thought experiment takes on a life of its own, an importance not originally intended. Even the subtext on the cover:
I have not survived against all odds.
I have not lived to tell.
I have not witnessed the extraordinary.
This is my story.

Rosenthal is contagious. Her joy, her exuberance. She is not annoying. What she’s been able to do is make me think, just possibly, we might someday to walk this road together, the ones of us still here.

Things Amy and I have in common:
Kenneth Koch
A few mutual acquaintances
An appreciation for the ordinary

That’s why her book has resonated with me. Even the prescient entries that when I read them I cringe:
RETURNING TO LIFE AFTER BEING DEAD
YOU
DISTRACTION


Thanks for your 51 years and insights into life. You crammed a lot of observation into a short span. How many times can I write the word bittersweet? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal Posthumously

First—just like Amy—I used to think the word was a typo; it should be post-humorously, meaning death is beyond humor. There is no more laughter.

You see Amy died earlier this year. March to be exact. A crappy month is the crappiest of years. Years we will come to think of as post-humorously.

Which makes reading her wit and zest for life and love all the more bittersweet. Every word, every reflection is now colored with this knowledge: she writes no more.

I dwell in this tension—I wish I’d known her when alive. Glad I hadn’t known her, as the idea of losing her would be overwhelming, especially in last days of winter in a hard, hard year.

Then came the viral of viralist: her piece in The New Yorker announcing 1) she was dying, 2) she hadn’t passed yet, 3) why I might like to date her husband.

If you haven’t read this essay then what rock have you been hiding under. You must be the last person on earth not to have read it. The world cried reading it and cried again days later when it was announced that the viral of viralist authors:
Amy Krouse Rosenthal Dead at 51 of Ovarian Cancer

Which makes reading Encyclopediaof an Ordinary Life a surreal experience. If I had read it in 2004 when it first released or even during the Obama years I would have said, Yes this is how the world works. I’m inspired! We’re all on the road together.

But reading it now, ¾ of the way through 2017, on this side of a shit tipping point I feel 1) terrible I never personally met her, 2) wish her family peace, 3) wish us all peace, 4) wish—if ever there was a chance for this world that Amy would see it and come back and whisper it into my ear.

Because she would be able I’m sure to see the upside. I know I can’t.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Riding Bikes on a Warm October Night

Next to last weekend in October
we leave the campfire mid-way through
with the idea we will go for a ride

We see the city lights from Montrose Point
we ride the lakefront path in semi-darkness past
the golf course
the tennis courts
the batting cages
the dog park
the quiet zoo
streets deserted, riding into
the heart of the city as if it were
a full moon

At a certain point the wind picks up leaves
scatters them before us
a swirling yellow tide
and I try to say it makes me feel
sad, a sense of transience
and you say in English your second language
how the blowing leaves always makes you feel
happy

We are both right
a moment pregnant with happiness and sadness
is bittersweet

We rode home content.

Friday, October 27, 2017

365 Affirmations for the Writer

Writing is a journey. Every time we sit down to begin a piece or write the first chapter or the first line we are venturing into uncharted territory. We never know how it is going to turn out. Oh, we have a certain idea, like most pioneers or explorers. But, these journeys can take detours; we have to react to circumstances and often go with our gut.

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

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

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

January 1
You Determine Where You’ll Go
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go...
― Dr. Seuss, from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

January 2
Books
Books are the grail for what is deepest, more mysterious and least expressible within ourselves. They are our soul’s skeleton. If we were to forget that, it would prefigure how false and feelingless we could become.
― Edna O’Brien, from It’s a Bad Time Out There For Emotion

January 3
Books
A room without books is like a body without a soul.
― Cicero

Can you recall the first book you read? Right now write about that experience and what keeps you coming back to books?

January 4
Outlines—Yes or No
I’m one of those writers who tends to be really good at making outlines and sticking to them. I’m very good at doing that, but I don’t like it. It sort of takes a lot of the fun out.
― Neil Gaiman, winner of both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals, and many other awards too numerous to list, from and interview by Chris Bolton, Powells.com, August, 2005

January 5
Outlines—Yes or No
A lot of new writers assume you have to know the where the story is going and that it flows out as molten gold. But really, sometimes you think you are going to one place, but then you decide that is dumb idea. Then you go somewhere else and it is a worse idea. But then you switch again and you might have a beautiful accident.
― Patrick Rothfuss, writer of epic fantasy, namely The Wise Man’s Fear

Do you use an outline or go by instinct? Mindmapping is one such way to free associate. Rather than work consecutively or following a certain set of logic, mindmapping allows you to start with one idea and link it to another, even if there is no obvious connection. Some work with words and images, drawing pictures or icons or simply the use of color to describe their feelings. It is the same part of your mind that doodles during a lecture. There is the main idea, but the supporting material under the surface that you want to access. Allow yourself to explore what appears to be non-sense.

January 6
Rules
There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.
― Doris Lessing, Nobel prize-winning novelist

January 7
Characters
First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.

― Ray Bradbury
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

flashback to a few years ago

The Great Pumpkin


Pumpkin latte
Pumpkin parfait
Pumpkin flambé

Pumpkin pie
Pumpkin fries
Pumpkin chai

Pumpkin cheesecake
Pumpkin pancakes
Pumpkin shakes

Pumpkin soup
Pumpkin mousse
Pumpkin juice

Pumpkin oats
Pumpkin compote
Pumpkin floats

Pumpkin spice
Pumpkin diced
Pumpkin n’ rice

Pumpkin gelato
Pumpkin dough-nos
Pumpkin gumbo


Oh pumpkin, late have I come to know ye

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Random Footnote

I’m still working on a hybrid manuscript I started this summer on Great Spruce Head Island on James Schuyler and his connection to the island and the Porter family. In re-reading Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-1991, I came upon a random footnote.

First some context. James Schuyler was crazy.

He didn’t start out that way. He was a curious, witty, conversational gay young man. He was a self-taught poet, once serving as a secretary to W. H. Auden at his vacation home on Ischia in Italy. Moving amongst heady circles he associated with renowned poets and artists. Until his breakdown, or series of breakdowns. This was in the days when psychological drugs were still in their infancy. If you were diagnosed as schizophrenic you were sentenced to a life of lithium and being zoned out. No wonder most creatives risked psychosis rather than being medicated.

Mostly Schuyler kept his episodes in check. The stability of living with the Porters helped as well as the support of a network of friends ie The New York School.

Footnote from Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-1991

Schuyler in Vermont General Hospital in Woodbury, VT following a breakdown while visiting Joe Brainard and Kenward Elmslie at their vacation home

…This episode began on a night that Schuyler locked himself in a v=bathroom and proceeded to wash his money. In the morning Elmslie and Joe Brainard and John Ashbery, who were also staying in the house, realized that Schuyler was not going to snap out of it. Elmslie called the state police, who came with a doctor. Not wanting to be institutionalized again, Schuyler refused to go until Ashbery agreed to accompany him in the police car.

A footnote, in time, giving me pause. I could just imagine the scene.

Some context. I’ve been crazy.

I remember times during college when I went on crying jags, lost my mind over the stress of academic workload, money worries, anxiety about friendships, the future. Who wouldn’t feel on edge? I wrecked a friend’s car (because mine was in the shop getting fixed)—I was all right—but had to figure out how to get it back from the shop out of town and pay for repairs. And I was graduating in a month about to embark on—

I had no idea.

Friends walked me back from the ledge. Got me sorted and launched in Chicago. Whew!

I imagined Kenward and Joe knocking on the bathroom door, shouting Are you okay? Then John stepping up, Hey buddy. Promising he won’t leave him. I’ll go with you. Whatever it takes to get you better.

I can bet this wasn’t what Ashbery went to Vermont for. He was probably looking forward to a vacation, relaxing in the Vermont woods with the fall colors. Maybe getting some writing done. This must have been perceived as a huge disruption.

He rode along in the police car with James to the hospital. I’m sure he didn’t want to see his friend committed, navigating the sticky landscape of seeing a friend go off his rocker and convincing him—this is for your own good. I’m sure he had to do a lot of verbal dancing ie lying. An act of betrayal. The whole time hating himself.

It was a short, random footnote that spoke volumes.


This past September we lost John Ashbery. A true friend.
Schuyler and Ashbery

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dog Eared: a reivew

Dog Eared: A Year’s Romp through the Self-Publishing World
W. Nikola-Lisa
Gyroscope Books

A million years ago I was strolling through a book fair. I know, remember those things. It seems a whole world has changed since those days. Though we are still reading, it is just by a variety of conveyances: usually electronic—even as I write this review it will be typed into a computer and likely read by others on a computer.

Nevertheless, children’s books are still the domain of the physical book. Children love to be read to and also spend time leafing through books to look at the pictures. W. Nikola-Lisa was at this children’s book fair in the reconstructed Stock Exchange room of the Chicago Art Institute. We got to talking, I made a faux pas, he corrected me and the rest is history. I commented that I loved the illustrations of Night is Coming and re replied he was the author not the illustrator. I then said I loved the lyrical writing, more like a lullaby, perfect for lulling a child to sleep. Tells you how long ago this was as I haven’t tucked a child in for a number of years.

Anyway, W. and I connected over writing. He now has a new book out: Dog Eared: A Year’s Romp through the Self-Publishing World, scheduled for release Sept. 7, 2017. Nikola is self-publishing these days and has started his own imprint, Gyroscope Books. It give him the freedom to write along wide interests. He uses CreateSpace and Ingram Spark to print paperback and hardcover copies of his work. All are readily available through wherever you get books—either digitally or print-on-demand. See it is a new world.

Dog Eared is a year-long romp through the trials and tribulations of being a writer and bibliophile in a world of shrinking shelf space. Those of us who collect books are finding ourselves running out of space or needing to downsize. Nikola uses this as an excuse to write abut how books have impacted his life, giving us a memoir and a how-to on becoming an independent publisher. We read the journey he took from being a traditional author to an authorpreneur.

He’s broken the memoir down into 4 sections to represent seasons of the year, even as he takes us through the years he spent getting published, established, on up to today’s current publishing landscape. Children’s publishing is a bright spot for many publishers, having rebounded since the crash of 2008/9.


Nikola good luck with your words and wisdom for those hoping to follow in your footsteps!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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