Both of the memoir-writing classes I teach are taking time off in June, and one of the last topics I assigned before the break was this: choose a photograph, any photograph, and describe it to me in 500 words or less. “But please don’t say, well, this is a woman in a yellow skirt with a blue blouse standing in front of a doorway,” I said, asking them to consider telling their readers what happened right before the photo was taken, or the reason someone thought to take the photo in the first place. If they decided on a landscape, I suggested they could write about the significance of that building or mountain or whatever.
I don’t usually do the assignments I give my seniors, but when Ellen Sandmeyer emailed this photo from the Sandmeyer’s Bookstore 30th anniversary party last week, I decided to give it a try. While I may be unable to see the photo, I can guess what it might look like. After all, I was there when it was taken! Here’s the photograph:
This is me on stage at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. A gorgeous two-year-old copper-colored Golden Retriever/Labrador cross named Whitney is at my feet, and Charlie Parker has my back.
I’m looking just as stunning as I wanna be, adorned in my belted black Lana Turner shirtwaist dress. The sleeves are turned up to three-quarter length, and the top feels like a man’s classic button down shirt. After that, it’s all woman. The waist is cinched under a fabric belt, and pleats end up draping the skirt right at my knees. From what I’ve been told, this dress picks up light and shines any time I move – oo la la!
If I look happy in this photo, well, that’s because I have a lot to smile about. Earlier that afternoon I’d been surrounded by a dozen-plus of Chicago’s most talented writers, and after that senior-citizen memoir-writing class was over I’d rushed home, gobbled down lunch, grabbed a cab to the Chicago Public Radio studio on Navy Pier, recorded an interview (more on that in a future post), rushed home again, fed Whitney, changed clothes, and after following my clever and courageous dog’s lead down the street to Jazz Showcase, we arrived just in time to be escorted onto the stage to do my thing.
Brent Sandmeyer took this photo from across the bar – he and his brother Rolf had flown in from opposite sides of the country to celebrate their parents and the sensational bookstore they opened here in Printer’s Row 30 years ago. It was an honor and a thrill to be one of the handful of writers and publishers Ulrich and Ellen Sandmeyer chose to speak at their celebration, and while I could have gone on and on about Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, I kept my talk uncharacteristically short: I’d promised myself I wouldn’t have a glass of wine until my talk was over. Cheers!