Archive for July, 2012

I wanted to share some of the good stuff rendered by my maiden journey to “the hog butcher for the world” (thanks, Mr. Sandburg).  I found that even when I boiled down my experience to my favorites, there was too much for one post.  Add in the peripherals, and I decided I’d have to do a series.  Welcome to An Outsider’s View of Chicago.

We should begin, I suppose, with Chicago en masse.  My first reaction to the city was something like shock and awe.  The skyscrapers were amazing.  The variety of activities was overwhelming.  The human element is still a matter of cogitation for me–such variety of individuals and groups, and such a vast spectrum of interplay amongst them.  I was surrounded by a feeling of density, solidity, weight, and at the same time a breathlessness and motion.  The spirit of the city was the expiration of its substance: the constant flow of traffic, the El, the river, and the people around and between immovable stone and steel.  Often there was darkness even at noon, a sense of always being in shadow, again an effect of the surrounding tall buildings.  It raised feelings of uncertainty, of aloneness amid the crowds.  It made me wonder about what I could not see, what waited in the alleys and in the hearts of the people I passed.  It bred distrust and caution.  The atmosphere was tense, even dangerous.   And the people.  The masses dissolved into individuals and each individual became a mystery, a blend of experience, of action and reaction, of pain and joy, of past, present, future, only a moment of which I had any relation to.  It was like watching fractals develop all around me, and there was no escape.  It was overwhelming.  I had to exercise emotional self-containment just to venture out into the street.  I can understand so much better now some of the description I’ve read of the city over the years.  And yet, it is a place too complex for a casual visitor to fully comprehend.  It is disconcerting, challenging, fascinating, powerful, ugly, beautiful.  During the planning stages of the trip, I told my husband there was too much to see and do.  We needed to move there for at least a year, I said, to fit it all in.  Now that I’ve been, I don’t think I could live there.  But I definitely want to visit again.

[For a general overview of the Windy City check out Wikipedia, or go to the city’s website for a version straight from the hog butcher’s mouth.]

At the top of my to do list was the Art Institute of Chicago, chiefly because of its Impressionist collection.  Needless to say, the originals hanging in the museum made those posters on my wall at home seem like faded copies.  Which, um, they are.  And they look even worse now.  Two things I discovered at the museum were the Asian Collection and the Thorne Miniature Rooms.  I have a thing for India, and the centuries-old artifacts spoke to me of a culture I will never completely understand but still find intriguing, much like the city I was visiting.  I also have a long-held fascination with miniatures, especially dollhouses.  The Thorne collection did not disappoint.  Each little scene allowed a glimpse into someone’s life.  People had actually lived in homes like these, on a slightly larger in scale.  I like to project myself into the spaces, sit at the tables, play the pianos, wander through the gardens.  I wonder who I would have been had I lived then and there.  My one piece of advice about the Art Institute is to check the website ahead of time.  I am only now realizing that I missed several exhibits I know I would have enjoyed because I was not aware of them.  Planning ahead will allow you to see the collections that most interest you because there is simply not enough time to see everything in one visit, much like Chicago itself.

On a more dramatic note, we were able to see a matinée of Crowns at the Goodman.  Just as I had noticed elsewhere in Chi-town, the people who surrounded me were tightly woven with the occasion.  It was a moving and enthusiastic play, visually and musically stimulating, and the audience response illuminated and elevated the experience.  I thought it was ironic that I travelled from the South to Chicago to watch a play about a girl who travels from Chicago to the South.  Her journey led her to closure and to revelation, from emptiness and fear and anger to peace and hope and love.  I don’t know that mine was as productive a journey, but it did challenge my openness and expand my vision in unexpected ways.  The play itself?  It did what I seek to do in my writing—challenge perception and increase love, understanding, and appreciation.  At the center of it beat the heart of my own philosophy: the sanctity of the individual and the power of the collective.  I left feeling indebted to the artists, to the writers, to the characters and their stories, even to the audience, many of whose personal stories seemed to connect them intimately to what was happening onstage.

The Architecture River Tour was another highlight of the trip.  The architecture, in general, was fabulous.  We spent most of our time in The Loop, as I imagine most tourists do on their first visit.  Even within this circumscribed area we were unable to give more than cursory attention to the storied offerings of the skyscraper’s birthplace.  Studying these astounding constructions merits a trip of its own.  Along with limiting our Loop explorations, the time demon also prevented us from venturing outside the area to see the work of another architectural giant.  One of the catch-you-next-timers is definitely Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago.

The spirit of the Windy City is whispering to me that I should wrap it up.  This return to the insistent theme of architecture seems a good place to end, for now

If you’ve been to Chicago, what were your first impressions?  If you haven’t visited yet, what are your expectations?  If you are a resident, what would you most like us to know about your city?

And does anyone have a good synonym for “experience”?


Lucy missed LA and the beach.  Everyone would be there today.  She glared at the old jug, turned the spigot, and drew a cupful.  The water winked back Georgia sunshine.  She sipped, looked around.  There was her mother beneath a tree, the air beside her shimmering in the heat.  Another sip.  A vague form appeared.  A third.  Lucy saw tiny blue Sunday-dress flowers and silver hair braided and piled high.  She drained the cup and watched Gramma move through knots of kith and kin. 

“Refills!” someone called over new ice and cold drinks.

Lucy drew another cupful from the jug.


Hope you enjoyed my 100-word story.  I love comments and critique.   See the photo prompt, read more great stories, or add one of your own at “Friday Fictioneers” on Madison Woods’ website.

I’m really not presenting a long discourse on copyright law. I was just amused that the “Right” issue I addressed in my first post arises so often in my life. What I am going to do here is share a blog post I was turned on to by Jan Morrill, comment a bit, and share some other links I found helpful as I studied the issue a little more deeply. (Is this way too much like grade school: “My report is on…” Oh, well. Onward.)

The original post recounts a personal experience of author/blogger Roni Loren concerning her own unintentional copyright infringement which, in her case, involved photo usage on her blog. I think it took courage and humility for her to lay this all out and accept responsibility for it, but the information I gathered about how to avoid the situation was the real prize in the piece. I gleaned a few links I thought I’d share in case you don’t have the time to comb through the nearly 400 comments yourself. Before we get to that, however, a little business–

Disclaimer: I’m no lawyer nor in any way an expert on copyright issues. This post is not to be construed in any way as legal advice. It simply presents some tools that may be useful in staying on the right side of copyright, particularly in the usage of photos on blogs.

Meghan Ward shares some pertinent information on her Writerland blog, including a nice guide to the Creative Commons logos and codes, and info on stock photography available for purchase.

Try out some of these sites for free photos. Just make sure you pay close attention to usage restrictions and attribution requirements. They aren’t all the same, and this is where a lot of the confusion about copyright comes from. Some of these sites have images for sale as well, so be aware of which are really free (and royalty-free does not mean free).

While I won’t get into a big discussion about copyright, the following links may be useful to increase general knowledge of the subject. This applies to all creative endeavor, not just photography, so it is important stuff to understand for writers, artists, and musicians as well.

Unfortunately, the discussion on Roni’s blog included some nastiness and unnecessary recriminations so she had to shut it down.  I didn’t get a chance to comment, and perhaps I wouldn’t have anyway, but I did comment on Jan’s blog and I thought I would share that here. “Incidentally, I don’t think it’s copyright that confuses, but the exceptions and different types of rights. We all get that you don’t claim another’s work, but I think there’s a difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement, and the usage area can get murky, especially on the internet. There is also a difference between understanding the principles involved and having the knowledge necessary to apply those principles.” My intent with this post was to present resources that may impart a little of that knowledge.

As I mentioned, I’m not an expert. Any further information, tips, and warnings would be most welcome, and it doesn’t have to be limited to photo usage. (Does anyone else think it’s hilarious that I’m so nervous about the issue now I’m afraid to attach any form of image to this post?)

Part of the skyline of Chicago on the eve of a...

Part of the skyline of Chicago on the eve of a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Taken from the Adler Planetarium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are times when inspiration comes very much as its name indicates. Mere breathing initiates creativity. It is like walking through a garden: on every side sights, sounds, scents, the touch of the elements on the skin, and with every inhalation the gift of connection, of enlightenment.

This is what I expected on my recent first trip to Chicago. What I got instead was more like the process of making Green Juice. When you first prepare that big bowlful of veggies, you expect a lot of juice. Cucumbers do produce a bountiful light, watery yield. Kale, on the other hand, reduces to a few tablespoons of dense, dark liquid. We had a great time in Chicago. We saw shows, cruised, visited museums, checked out Chinatown, caught a White Sox game, and ate amazing food. That part of the trip was like cucumbers, easy and refreshing. But the inspiration I expected? More like kale. It came in moments, intensely, unpleasantly. It was not the falling of soft, summer rain or the perfume of fat, summer roses. It was tough and prickly, and had to be wrenched from experience before it could be used.

That’s the way of writing and of life. Sometimes it comes easily. We just have to breathe in the essence around us and embrace the free occurrences in our daily lives. We put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and the story tells itself. At other times, nothing seems right. We wrestle ourselves out of bed in the morning and force ourselves to keep taking steps until we collapse into sleep at night. We stare at blank screens or pages of print that need reworking or bits of dialogue and description that go nowhere and wonder if we will be able to squeeze just a little spark out of the morass. It is in those distressing times that real brilliance is born. The wrestling makes us stronger. The pinpoint of light is all the brighter for the darkness that surrounds it.

Ultimately, Chicago yielded a nourishing mixture of effervescence and intensity. Perhaps I will share my experiences precisely as they happened. Perhaps they will appear piecemeal, in characterization or action within various stories or poems or essays. Certainly they will come out between the lines, in tone and motivation and perspective because I, as a person and as a writer, was changed by them.

How do you experience inspiration most often—as a gift or as a prize you fight for? Which type affects you most deeply and enduringly?