Friday, September 22, 2017

On Diary Writing and Writing Projects

I've been going through my diaries to find my jot-downs for my book on psychoanalysis but found this from May 30, 2016 and, of course, have gotten sidetracked. It wasn't as neat as it is here - just diary scribbling - so I had to drop my "project" - what I came to the diaries for - to work on it. How could I put this aside? Now for the "major project," which will take me to my diaries again.... and so it goes ... 

Annie at the Park
       - for Heather, Jonathan and Sue

She closes her eyes, 
tilts back her head -
and feels a slight breeze
loving her face.

This child,
a mere three years old - 
stops in the middle 
of her busy life
to appreciate the wisdom 
she was born with.

She is like a butterfly
stopping for a peak - at
the rest of her day.
       - Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Emma at Eleven

Emma's been watching me read
and write in the gazebo
since she was three months old.

Now she's eleven,
sitting on that same perch,
still watching me.

I love her paws and those ears,
always in the perked-up position.

If she hears a sound that doesn't belong here, she's up and running; and that sweet little girl turns into a creature you don't want to mess with.

But when people she knows stop by,
and she recognizes their smells
and their body energy isn't creepy,
she kisses them all over.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Words From the Cafe: an anthology

Words From the Cafe: an anthology edited and introduced by Seattle writer Anna Balint and published by Phoebe Bosche's Raven Chronicles Press (2016) is a book about community; and if there is anything a writer needs it is community.

The contributors to this publication write within a group called the Safe Place Writing Circle; it's housed at the Recovery Cafe in downtown Seattle. Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur: "The Recovery Café is a community, built from the heart of a woman named Killian Noe.

"For 10 years Noe....has been the center of this place, which serves those battling drug and alcohol addiction. She greets, she listens, she hugs, she shares, she remembers every name. And she believes in people who have all but stopped believing in themselves."

The Recovery cafe is a true community center. In addition to coffee and food, it offers a variety of classes, including meditation, yoga, dance and résumé writing.  It helps people find housing. It helps them recover from addictions. “What I see in every person who walks through this door is someone who has suffered with not just one trauma, but one after another and another,” said founding director, Noe, author of Finding Our Way Home: Addictions and Divine Love. [Seattle Times, September 7, 2014]

Enter Anna Balint, writing teacher extraordinaire. With help from Jack Straw Productions, 4Culture and others, Balint has brought together men and women who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to put pen to paper, to tell their stories--for their own benefit, the class's (they share what they write) and,not the least,those of the reading public who are interested in learning how to pull a writing class together and who value voices of our neighbors in recovery.

Esmeralda Hernandez, one of twenty-two contributors to the anthology: "If you watch butterflies, you will see they only interact in small, short moments of safety."

Balint provides a safe environment in her Friday afternoon classes, as measured by the returning participants - those who show up every week, as well as those who drop in occasionally. Anonymous: "You reached into my dark isolation and urged me out with writing." (from the "Introduction").

For the book's epigraph, Balint calls forth words of poet Taha Muhammad Ali:

... it has taken me
all of sixty years
to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless
unless it plants
a measure of splendor in people's hearts.

Developing a writing class is an art, especially if it develops into a community of writers from different backgrounds, writers who share life stories regardless of where they used to live or where they live right now. Moreover, once one writing group forms, its good will spills over into the larger community - the city - where seeds for fairness and justice are planted and may even be realized.

I share my story, you share your story.
They're not the same story,
but with our stories
we give each other kindness.
- Tamar

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fireworks, Springhill Avenue, Baltimore, Md. circa 1953

I was twelve and, with the other neighborhood kids, I sat on top of the hill across from “T.A.,” the Talmudical Academy, where the religious boys went to school. I was with the seculars, the public school kids: Alan, Beverly, Carl, my best friend  Marlyn, and I don’t remember who else. Maybe my little sister. My brother was uptown. Or maybe he was at Towanda, the playground with the cigarettes and baseball field, where the 7th grader, Malcolm, set himself on fire because he was afraid to show his “Papa’s All” father his poor grades. 

My father, from Belarus, called us his American children and though watching fireworks was an American activity, I think I felt more immigrant than American-born. We didn’t know about indigenous peoples, didn’t know to speak a tribal name. This was a Jewish neighborhood, and in Baltimore every sect had its own alcove. Nancy Pelosi - her father was Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro -  lived downtown in Little Italy. She was just a year and a half older than me, but we wouldn’t have known each other anyway. I being Jewish and she being Italian.

The only time I went to Little Italy was a few years later, when on a date, we all went out for Italian food. I don’t know if Nancy D’Alessandro Pelosi ever came to my neighborhood. Maybe if she wanted to try Jewish food and sought out a delicatessen. I know I’m stereotyping, but that’s the way it was then; at least, that’s the way I remember it. Poles here, Irish Catholics there. The only time I had contact with Blacks, before the schools were integrated, was when I took the #5 bus downtown through Pennsylvania Avenue. White Christians lived in Roland Park, where Jews and Blacks were not allowed. Adrienne Rich's family lived there. They passed, and she was in her twenties before she found out she was Jewish. (Read her Split at the Root).  

Anyway, watching fireworks in Northwest Baltimore was a strange kind of fun then. The flourishes and colors weren’t particularly exciting, but sitting on a hill (and not in a synagogue) with members of my tribe was. Watching those fireworks on that hill gave me a sense of belonging. They don’t do that for me now. My mother didn’t get excited about them either. While I was outside with the neighborhood kids, she was home sewing. My father? He was out somewhere, probably playing pinochle.

I’ve lived in Seattle since 1976; the Pacific Northwest since 1970. When the fireworks start my dog sits in a corner shaking. I sit with her. Neither one of us appreciates what some call a celebration. Especially in this age of Trump, I see nothing to celebrate.