Archive for the 'writing' Category



Never again

The writers in the memoir classes I lead keep me amused, alert and alive. One of them phoned this week bemoaning our assignment. “I’ve been thinking and thinking about it all week,” she said. “I can’t come up with anything to write about. I want to keep doing everything! We both laughed. “You are my role model,” I told her. I meant it.

The assignment this past week? Never Again. “If you’ve ever gone to a new place or tried a new experience and decided later that you’d never do that again, tell your readers about that,” I said, noting that this assignment also provides an opportunity to express thoughts about someone or something they miss. “And if you are happily retired or feeling grateful about something you are never going to have to do again, write about that.”

A writer born in Germany came back with a poignant piece about the holocaust, and I wasn’t surprised by the tributes writers wrote to friends who had died. What did surprise me was the number of Never Again essays that had something to do with water.

Mel described taking scuba lessons in an indoor pool in Chicago decades ago., He passed the test, headed to Florida, rented scuba gear, jumped off a boat and into the Atlantic, and then…unbearable ear pain. When I complimented the vivid descriptions of the shapes, colors and sizes of schoolfish Mel had managed to get a look at before the ear ache forced him to resurface, he just shrugged. “It’s easy to remember when you only go once.”

Kathy’s essay was about her attempts to water ski. “It wasn’t until I was 23 and moved to Chicago that I came face to face with this new challenge,” she wrote. Kathy described her first try in Lake Michigan, the many different occasions and bodies of water where she’d attempted again, and ended up with a pretty strong metaphor on the likelihood of her giving it one more try: “The possibility that Katherine Zartman, at 83, would attempt to water ski is about as likely as North Korea’s Kim Jung-un receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.”

That's the Brigantine Romance. Michael Graff spent four months aboard the Romance as a crew member--thanks to Michael for the phot.

That’s the Brigantine Romance. Michael Graff spent four months aboard the Romance as a crew member–thanks to Michael for the photo.

Michael was only 20 years old when he worked on the Romance, a two-masted Brigantine sailing vessel in the Caribbean. His stint on the ship lasted four months, and he did everything from furl sails to galley duty. He even stood at the helm to steer from time to time.

When young 20-year-old Michael was leaving the Romance to return to college, he brooded out loud that he’d never be a sailor again. The ship’s first mate responded, assuring Michael he would always be a sailor.

That first mate was right: Michael sails his own 13 foot sunfish on Lake Michigan now. “When the lake is rough, I’m reminded of my days on the Romance,” he wrote.  “I’ve never sailed on another square rigger, but I did drive my dad’s 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. It was pretty big, too.”

And that brings me to one last common response to my Never Again prompt. Driving.

Sharon doesn’t own a car. She rarely drives, but when she got a letter from the Illinois Secretary of State saying her driver’s license would expire on her birthday this year, she took it on as a challenge, studying for the written test, taking the practice written test online over and over again until she finally aced it. In practice, at least.

It’d been a long time since Sharon had been behind the wheel, and she knew she’d should brush up on driving, too. Without a car of her own, she relied on stimulation. “In my minds’ eye, I practiced parallel parking and stopping at the white line.” The night before the test, she had a dream about being bas mitzvahed. “I guess I thought of all of this study as bad a studying the Torah.”

Sharon meditated on the morning of the test, chugged her tea and left for the car rental office. She’d asked for a “simple model,” and drove it to the DMV no problem. A clerk there told her that since she hadn’t had any moving violations for the past year, she wouldn’t need to take the written exam. “I should have been relieved,” she wrote. “But I felt cheated, as I had studied so much” And so, it was on to the driving test. In Sharon’s words:

A tester came to my window and asked me to turn on my left and right signals. Then he asked me to sound the horn. I looked at the steering wheel and there were 6 buttons on it: three to the left and three to the right. I pressed each one. Nothing happened. At the car rental agency, they forgot to tell me where the horn was.

“Where do you usually find the car horn?” the tester asked me.

I pressed the middle of the steering wheel, and there it was. He said, “Not a very good start for you.”

Sharon ended up doing fine in the driving test. “Near the end, I thought, ‘I’ve got this one,’” she wrote. Sure enough, she walked out of the DMV with a new license in hand. She had the rental car for the rest of the day. What to do? Drive around the city. “I stopped for stop signs short of the sign, I went down a one way street the wrong way, I made a u-turn in a non-u-turn area,” she wrote. What the $*) @! was she doing? She wasn’t sure until she sat down to write her essay for class. “I think I was trying to get a moving violation — that way next year I can show everyone at the DMV how smart I am.”

My “Eyebrows up!” award for this week goes to Jane, a writer whose macular degeneration diagnosis left her saying “never again” to more than just driving. “I was told that smoking was very detrimental to my eyesight,” she wrote. “I had to give up this pleasure.” When it became difficult to read books in print, she learned how to use a digital player to listen to audio books. And when she gave up driving, she started memorizing the Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train schedules.

Jane ended her essay telling readers that in her dreams now, she still reads books, still smokes cigarettes, and still drives a car. In class she allowed that in some dreams, she is doing all three at once. “There is a humorous aspect to these Never Agains,” Jane wrote. “This makes me look forward to going to sleep.”

A new way to think about the space around you

I published my quick review of our Too Much Light performance earlier this week, and then it dawned on me. Some of you might like a description of what the show actually looked like. Reveca Torres to the rescue!

I played a toilet paper roll dispenser Saturday in Reveca’s play called The Anti-Toilet. Reveca was one of the disco dancers in my Night at the Emerald City Disco play. We got to know each other in class, and Reveca generously agreed to write a guest post here about our Saturday performance from her point of, well….view.

by Reveca Torres

Seven dancing human silhouettes and one dog silhouette pose against a bright violet background.

Reveca was one of the dancers in my play “Night at the Emerald City Disco.” Photo by Malic White.

 

My thoughts late Saturday afternoon once our Too Much Light performance was over: “Phew! Glad that’s over. I was nervous! Glad I’m not an actor. Not planning on doing that again soon.”

My thoughts Sunday morning with coffee: “I had so much fun! I should do that again!”

Some background: This summer the Neo-Futurists used grants they’d received from The Chicago Community Trust and Alphawood Foundation Chicago to team up with the Victory Gardens Access Project to offer their popular Intro to Too Much Light playwriting program free of charge. The class was accessible to performers and writers with and without disabilities, and last Saturday we presented our two-minute plays to the public.

The performance was sprinkled with short plays written and performed by our class, each causing moments of laughter, intensity, awkwardness, sadness, compassion, and a whole spectrum of emotions and reactions from the audience. The lights and sound crew helped bring the words and actions to life by offering a soft backdrop or intense lights-out.

Performers showed up at noon to go through our rehearsal and tech. Some of us were maybe more nervous than others — pacing, stretching, sitting in a corner reciting lines. Looking out into the theatre and observing the empty red seats I wondered how many people would show up and if I was going to blank.

Right before the show we huddled up, put our hands in the center and said, “For Whitney.” At that moment I gave myself a mental pep talk. “OK, this is for Whitney. It’s not about me. You know your lines. Suck it up and don’t f*** up!”

I went to my spot next to Beth and Andrew, shut my eyes…took a deep breath…exhaled. bright lights in my face and the audience disappeared into the darkness. I can do this. It’s Showtime.

I went into this class not knowing what to expect. I hadn’t seen a Neo-Futurist performance ever because unfortunately their current space is located on the second floor and I am a wheelchair user. I’d wanted to see a show for years, and I missed my opportunity during the special Too Much Light performances at Victory Gardens’ accessible facilities earlier this year. Our classroom and rehearsal space for our Too Much Light show at Victory Gardens was wheelchair accessible – fantastic!

The shortness of the writing exercises in class and the short performance Saturday was cool. I loved playing with different forms and thinking about “being myself” in all the pieces. There was vulnerability and truth and voice and power in that. I think that element works really well with anyone, but giving a population of people with disabilities a medium to express oneself in their own voice — that’s something that is not common.

The writing prompts and class activities were fun to do and got me thinking differently about myself and the space around me. Definitely left the class every Saturday feeling good and looking forward to more. I think it helped me write differently as well.

Snaps to the meditation and face exercises at the beginning of each class, too. They stopped me from feeling awkward and helped me shed tension. I really enjoyed the cross-disability, what each classmate brought to the class, and the way all our work was focused on art/creativity. Two thumbs up!

Reveca Torres was 13 years old when her spine was fractured in an automobile accident. She received a Bachelor’s Degree from the  University of Arizona in theater arts with an emphasis in costume design. She is a fashion designer and artist, and her artwork will be featured in Unbroken: Art After Injury at the Bridgeport Arts Center, 1200 W. 35th Street in Chicago from September 8 to September 28, 2016. You can meet the artist in person at the opening night celebration & Silent Auction at the Bridgeport Arts Center on September 9, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.

Seeing Eye dog steals the show

Seven dancing human silhouettes and one dog silhouette pose against a bright violet background.

Our cast rehearsing my play “Night at the Emerald City Disco” before our performance yesterday. Photo by Malic White.

A huge thank you to the neighbors, friends and writers from my memoir classes who made it to Victory Gardens yesterday afternoon for my Chicago stage debut. Your enthusiasm and laughter was very reassuring, and performing on stage ended up being a lot of fun – especially for Whitney the Seeing Eye dog. She stole the show.

I celebrated with friends afterwards and returned home to find a note in my in box from our Neo-Futurist teachers congratulating us for “nailing” it. “The audience left with huge smiles on their faces,” they wrote. “Your dedication this summer paid off in a big, big way.”

The best news of all? Too Much Light’s accessible theater program is going to continue. “This is the first time Trevor and I have taught an accessible Neo-Futurist class AND it’s the first time we’ve taught a Neo-Futurist class that lasted for as many weeks as ours did,” Malic continued. “We want to keep doing this!” The note asked for feedback from all of us before they move forward on future classes, and I’ll get to work on that shortly. Right now, I’m heading out with Whitney to bask in her spotlight.

Are you a happy camper?

Last week’s writing prompt was “Happy Camper.”. After explaining that the phrase is American slang for a happy, contented person, I asked the writers in my memoir classes to think of a happy time in their lives. “Picture the setting, where you were, the sounds, what it smelled like, the feeling in the air,” I said. “Show readers what it was about that time that made you feel so good.”

Writers can take my prompts any direction they choose. If they preferred focusing on the camp part of the prompt, they could write about being in the military, a camp they attended as a child, how it felt sending a child off to camp, or an experience visiting a camp somewhere.

Annelore took the prompt quite literally, describing how the Volkswagen Westphalia Camper Van she and her husband Roy bought in 1969 became a member of the family. Annelore interviewed the people who phoned her when, after 50+ years of service, her family finally put their beloved VW van up for sale. “One woman told me she’d be keeping it outside,” Annelore said, slapping the table in disgust. “Can you believe that?” The man in Indianapolis who passed the audition drove the VW back later to show Annelore and Roy — and their children and grandchildren — how he’d refurbished the van after his purchase. Seeing their treasured VW in such good shape made Annelore , you guessed it: a happy camper.

We heard stories of Girl Scout camp, of day camps, camping at national parks, camping on honeymoons, but the camp Brigitte attended was far different than any of the others.

Born in Czechoslovakia and raised in West Germany after World War II, Brigitte went away to camp in 1947, when she was only five years old. “In those post-war years, summer camp in Germany was provided free of charge to boost children’s health,” she wrote. . “There hadn’t been enough to eat, although my parents always provided for us children first. Still, all I remember from that first summer camp is all the food we ate.”

Other writers used the slang interpretation of “happy camper” to write about a time when all seemed right in the world. , I was especially moved by those who wrote about blissful moments in the here and now. Audrey wrote about hearing a TED Talk on the radio last week called Older People are Happier. She heard a lot of her own thoughts and feelings in what social scientist Laura Carstensen had to say in that talk. “She talked about how older people’s goals change as they get older, we are less bothered by trivial matters, we are more appreciative of positives, we don’t focus on failures, and we are relieved of the burdens of the future,” Audrey wrote. “As death comes closer, older people focus more on life…that’s what matters.”

Donna sees her 75 years of life as a crazy quilt she spreads out from time to time to study the patterns. “Sometimes I see periods of joy and sometimes unbearable sadness,” she wrote, conceding that the quilt can not be corrected and ripped out to obliterate the mistakes. “These are stitched in forever. And along with the triumphs, they are indelible, like it or not.” Donna says thinking of life as a crazy quilt protects her and provides a “layer of contentment.”

The scene at Chicago Summer Dance.

The scene at Chicago Summer Dance.


Lois will celebrate her 81st birthday at the end of this month and attends the same Summer Dance program in Chicago that Mike and I enjoy so much. For her “Happy Camper” essay she wrote of a blissful moment she experienced at Summer Dance just last week. I’ll say goodbye here, happy campers, and end with an excerpt from her essay:
Watching from the sidelines. I noticed a beautiful young dancer in a corner practicing tap moves. His concentration was total. I fall in love with anyone so totally absorbed in their art. His skill was professional and he was dressed as a dancer.

“I would love to dance with you if I can find a place to put my purse” I said, approaching. He indicated some bushes behind him, where he had his stuff.

Facing me, he looked into my eyes as he raised his hands to lightly engage mine. Contact, wonderful connection, sensing me and judging my ability through my hands and what they told him of my body. Serious and respectful. Where are you? What can you do? Do you understand this? A strong leader, comfortable, considerate – taking me with him. Making sure I had what I needed to respond. I have the swing vocabulary, but the most important elements in partner dancing are connection and lead and follow communication. As we gained confidence in each other, he began to smile and do shines. I didn’t try to copy but only to keep the time and be in the right place to support him. It was exhilarating,

At the end, I said, “Thank you, that made my evening. What is your name?”

“Mauricio”, he said. We shook hands and I walked away. His dark, intelligent face was not beautifully made, but his body and sensibility were eloquent. It was a blissful experience.

I can’t believe I’m telling you this

Public speaking comes fairly easy to me. Acting on stage does not. But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing at Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theater in Chicago this Saturday, August 13 at 2:30 pm.

My class: (Clockwise - Andrew Lund, Beth Finke, Kathleen Guillion, Rukmini Girish, Michele Lee,, Whitney the Seeing Eye Dog, Grishma Shah) Courtesy Neo Futurists.

My class: (Clockwise – Andrew Lund, Beth Finke, Kathleen Guillion, Rukmini Girish, Michele Lee,, Whitney the Seeing Eye Dog, Grishma Shah) Courtesy Neo Futurists.

Some back story. Earlier this year I attended one of two accessible performances of Too Much Light put on by the Neo-Futurists. The Neo-Futurists are a collective of Chicago writers-performers “dedicated to creating honest, unpredictable theatre,” and in Too Much Light productions cast members attempt to perform a perpetually rotating list of two-minute plays in 60 minutes.

After the success of their two accessible performances this year those honest and unpredictable Neo-Futurists took things one step further. They used funds from grants they’d received from The Chicago Community Trust and Alphawood Foundation Chicago, teamed up again with the Victory Gardens Access Project, and offered their popular Intro to Too Much Light playwriting program to a class accessible to performers and writers with and without disabilities. The class was offered free of charge. I couldn’t resist.

The hope was that half of the enrollees would identify as having a disability. The Neo-Futurists achieved their goal. In fact, we outnumber the others: of the seven performers, Two use wheelchairs, I am blind, and one uses a prosthetic arm. .
Over the course of ten three-hour sessions every Saturday (we started on June 4, 2016) the seven of us have:

  • explored the process and tools needed to create a two-minute play
  • followed the Neo-Futurist tenets of honesty, brevity, audience connection and random chance to write plays from our own life experiences
  • examined specific play formulas and styles that are similar to plays performed in Too Much Light
  • pitched a few of our plays to teachers to have them performed Saturday

These productions used to be called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. I’m not sure that they took the Blind word out because I am involved, but must say, I prefer the shortened title.

And while we’re mentioning that blindness of mine, I need to tell you that losing my sight some twenty-odd years ago left me with a unique version of paranoia. While I don’t mind people looking at or listening to me when I’m sitting or standing still (like when I’m giving a talk),  the thought that people might be watching me attempt a task — even one as simple as finding a doorknob — fills me with anxiety.

I started waking up Saturdays wondering why the heck I signed up for this thing. The commute to Victory Gardens isn’t easy, days off work are precious, I stink at memorizing lines, and I hate having people watch me perform.

I liked learning about playwriting, though, and every week I grew more fond of our teachers and my classmates. Most of them have acted before. It was a treat to experience their work, and hear it improve from week to week.

I stayed in class, and was determined to keep news of this Saturday’s performance a secret from my friends. But then last Saturday we had our dress rehearsal.

That's me in the spelling bee piece.

That’s me in the spelling bee piece.

I have speaking parts in a play one classmate wrote about a spelling bee and in one another classmate wrote about a trip overseas. Whitney does not have a speaking part (Seeing Eye dogs are not allowed to bark). She plays a major role in my Dear Boss play, though, so her name is in the program on the cast list.

The four of us with disabilities wrote some plays that address accessibility, and many others that don’t mention it at all. One thing the plays have in common? They’re all pretty good. And so, I’ve changed my mind. Everyone should come this Saturday.

The performance Saturday won’t go any longer than 45 minutes and will feature live captioning and American Sign Language for people who are hard of hearing and audio headphones for people who want the action on stage described. Victory Gardens is wheelchair accessible, and a touch tour of the stage and props will take place ahead of the show for anyone interested.

The play starts at 2:30, so come experience it for yourself on Saturday afternoon, August 13, in Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue . No need to RSVP, and no need for tickets, either: It’s free!

Of course it was illegal

Here's my Thursday afternoon cast of criminals.

Here’s my Thursday afternoon cast of criminals.

“Of Course it was Illegal” is one of the many, many writing prompts I’ve assigned over the years out of pure curiosity, and lucky you: generous writers in my memoir classes have given me permission to share some of their confessions here on the Safe & Sound blog.

A number of writers came back with essays about stealing gum or candy from stores, and these shoplifters seemed to remember the scenes of their crimes pretty vividly. Hugh was no exception, but his quest was a little different. “I was seven and Dean was ten and we were deeply involved in casting lead soldiers,” Hugh wrote, pointing out that the lead he and his big brother needed to cast soldiers back in the 1930s was the same lead in the fishing sinkers sold at the neighborhood Sears store on 79th Street on Chicago’s South Side. “They were about two or three inches long,,,and slipped easily into a pocket.”

Darlene’s pre-teen crime took place at the Eckerd’s Drug Store on the corner of Florida Avenue and Bearrs in Tampa, where her family was living at the time. “Money was extremely tight for us with a very big family to care for,” she wrote, describing a 1966 fashion-statement-wooden-tigers-eye ring a friend had bought there. “I wanted a ring like that, too!” I’m not gonna fink, ahem, on Darlene. I’ll let you guess the rest.

Marijuana was illegal when my writers were young adults, but that didn’t stop some of them from smoking pot, and, in some cases, trying other drugs, too. A co-worker Bruce described as “attractive and a little edgy” invited him to relax and tuck a small disc of LSD under his tongue during a drive to see Alice in Wonderland at the movie theater. “She had access to the drug and she agreed to join me in the experiment,” he wrote. “I worried that my starchy life style would stifle the effects of chemical.” He needn’t have worried.

Some confessions were quite serious. Early in her marriage Regan discovered her then-husband had walked out with their joint checkbook. Knowing he would drain the account, she climbed into her 1963 Volkswagen bus and pursued him. Regan crashed into his 1970 Ford Mustang every time it slowed down. “Eventually I was able to get up enough steam to bulldoze him off the road and cram him into a tree,” she wrote.

Regan posts her essays on her own BackStory Essays blog, and you can link to her entire The Secret Years post to hear the rest. I will tell you this, though: her ex-husband survived.

Other stories involved international intrigue. Brigitte grew up in Germany, and when she received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Vassar in 1961, she came on an exchange visitor visa. She married an American, they had a son, and she didn’t bother applying for citizenship until 10+ years later in 1974.

“The real truth about my past life: I was… hmmm, I was… an illegal alien,” she wrote, insisting it never occurred to her at the time. Nor did it bother anybody else in charge. “I suppose coming from a Western European country didn’t hurt, either.”

Another story of international intrigue came from Mary. Her husband had traveled from America to West Berlin with a church group before he and Mary were married. It was 1954. He was 17. He crossed the border from West Berlin to East Berlin illegally.

Getting east was relatively easy. Not so on the way back. Police wanted his papers, and when they saw the American passport, they arrested him.

Mary and her husband recently celebrated their 80th birthdays, and she beamed in class while reading about him spinning a tale to his captors 60+ years ago about having come to the Russian sector looking for books by Engels, Marx and Lenin. “He said he’d been prevented from learning about socialism in America,” she wrote, describing his captors returning with a “scuffed carboard suitcase” filled with English language editions of Engels, Marx and Lenin and sending him on his way back to West Berlin.

A few of the essays were downright educational. Jim’s piece about his career in the airlines taught us how the decision-making between a flight dispatcher and a pilot can be reviewed later to determine which decisions are legal–or not.

Lorraine’s piece taught us something about underage drinking. She was only 11 when her relatives routinely asked her to head to the corner store to buy groceries — including liquor. While doing research for her essay she discovered that from 1872 until 1961, as long as you had “parental permission,” it was legal in Illinois for children to buy drink and be around alcohol. She sounded a bit disappointed to discover that some of her childhood “hooliganism” really wasn’t illegal after all.” I grew up thinking drinking was part of our religion,” she sighed. “And that it was illegal.”

And who knew that it is illegal to possess a migratory bird, even a dead one, without a wildlife permit? Pat did — she’s an avid Birdwatcher.

So years ago, when she came downstairs to find that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had died after crashing into her apartment building, she knew she shouldn’t have put the migratory bird into a shoebox to store in her freezer. “The truth is, I really wanted to see the guy who was the Collections Manager for Birds at the Field Museum,” she confessed. “That sapsucker was going to be my excuse.” Pat had met the collections manager briefly a couple times before. She noticed he didn’t wear a ring, but she thought that was probably because he spent most of his day cleaning the innards out of bird carcasses. “But he seemed single,” she wrote. “There was a boyishness to him that gave me hope.”

After six weeks breaking the law, Pat finally decided it was time to act. Here from her essay :

The next morning I took the shoebox out of the freezer and set off on foot for the Field Museum. It occurred to me that the shoebox could reveal my extravagance in spending $120 for a pair of Mephisto sneakers and my unattractively large shoe size. Well, it was too late to find another woodpecker coffin now.

And so, did Pat ever meet her dream man at the Field Museum? I’ll let you decide……

My Favorite Place? In class with memoir writers

The living room couch with an afghan nearby. Jamaica in the 1950s. Our backyard in the 1950s. A sandy cliff on Grenada. Petra. The woods near the family farm. The dining room table. A rocking chair. A Buddhist temple. A Wisconsin monastery. A Catholic church. Anywhere with trees. Grannie’s Jackson Heights apartment. Our garden. Eating ice cream with dad on the front steps.

Those are just some of the places writers in the memoir classes I lead wrote about last week. The writing prompt? My Favorite Place.

I lead four memoir classes in Chicago every week now, and each has its own feel. Our Lincoln Park Village Monday class meets in Mel and Pam’s living room. The two of them have been married 50+ years, and eight years ago they moved into a condo overlooking Chicago’s gorgeous Lincoln park. Pam opened her essay saying, “My favorite place is…right here.”

I was certain Pam’s opening line would be my favorite of the week. But then, at the Thursday Lincoln Park Village memoir class, Judy Roth started her piece with this: “My favorite place is…first!” She edged Pam out with that one.

Pat is in the class I lead at Grace Place across the street in Printer’s Row. Her essay describes going to a concert at the Quiet Knight on Belmont Avenue in Chicago when she was 17. “The opening act was a young local singer-songwriter named Steve Goodman,” she wrote. “After that epic introduction to the Chicago music scene, I went to folk clubs every chance I got.”

Writers in my Me, Myself and I memoir class downtown grew up on Chicago’s South Side, on farms, as military brats, in plush Chicago suburbs, in India, Canada, Germany and the Philippines. Their favorite places were as diverse as their backgrounds, but when they each read aloud in class, we noticed one similarity. They’d all chosen places that helped them escape the everyday world.

Sharon Kramer is in that downtown class, and one of her favorite places to be is “in a large dark movie theatre with comfortable seats and a handful of strangers.” She acknowledges curling up on a couch to watch a movie can be pretty good,“but it is not the same as going to the movies, purse swollen with snacks concealed in baggies.”

That's me with Sharon Kramer and three other writers from our downtown class:, Audrey Mitchell, Wanda Bridgeforth, and Darlene Schweitzer.

That’s Sharon Kramer to my left and three other writers from our downtown class: Audrey Mitchell, Wanda Bridgeforth, and Darlene Schweitzer.

When Sharon enters a theater, she looks for a spot with empty seats on either side. She imagines her mother sitting on one side, her grandfather on the other. “It seems natural to enjoy a movie with two people I miss, two people who loved movies as much as I do.”

Sharon’s grandfather was the father of seven children, and he was married to “a wife who could think of a thousand chores he hadn’t finished.” The movie theater was her grandfather’s secret office away from home, and if Sharon’s mother wanted to talk to him, she knew where to look. “In the nearly empty movie theater, she would slide in next to her father. He would say, ‘What’s the problem, girl?’ And, they would talk.”

Her mother was overwhelmed with sadness when Sharon’s grandfather died. “ She Walked to the Embassy Movie Theater and sat down next to the seat her father used to occupy,” Sharon recalls. “A great sense of calm came over her.”

Sharon says now, sitting between the empty seats she saves for her mother and grandfather, she feels a sense of calm as well. “Sometimes I find myself turning and smiling to let them know how much I enjoy their company,” she writes. “I wish I could tell them things I didn’t have the courage to say while they were alive.”

Sharon’s essay was a superb example of how a relatively straightforward prompt – My Favorite Place – can spark a myriad of meaningful memories. I’ll say goodbye here and leave you with the conclusion of Sharon Kramer’s “The Magic of Movies:”

Leaving the theatre is a shock. Especially if it is daylight. It takes a while to come to grips with reality. The story that was so engrossing is made up. The characters I felt a fellowship with are just actors. My mother and grandfather are gone. But it was a great moment.


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