Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Use Scent to Heighten Writing

The best writing employs the use of the five senses to explore metaphor, to show instead of just tell. In the book, "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook," the author Michael Gelb poses this self-assessment test to help you become more aware of your sense of smell:
-- I have a favorite scent. (What is it? Why do I like it? What does it remind me of?)
-- Smells affect my emotions strongly, for better or worse.
-- I can recognize friends by their scent.
-- I know how to use aromas to influence my mood.
-- I can reliably judge the quality of food or wine by its aroma.
-- When I see fresh flowers, I usually take a few moments to breathe in their aroma.

Gelb also suggests making "smells" a theme for a day. This could be a perfect journaling "date." Record what you smell and how it affects you through the course of a day. Spend a half hour at your favorite florist. Inhale the aroma of ten different perfumes or essential oils and describe your reactions. Others have suggested smelling a crayon, chalk, a rubber ball or other simple items from childhood.
How does smell affect your mood or memory? Write down your observations. What does each scent remind you of? Comparing sensory reactions to real life experiences or memories is the core of metaphor and image. You might want to even create a poem out of these images.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes and Giant Peppers

It took a month and a half of weekends to clear our 25-foot Chicago which included hauling ten yard bags of leavings away. I found, as usual, that actually planting tomatoes and peppers to be the easiest part. I ordered heirloom tomato and giant pepper plants this year from Wisconsin, which conveniently arrived on my doorstep just before Memorial Day weekend.

I intensely pruned our three grape vines in late March. They are prolific nevertheless with tiny, baby grape clusters forming in green and blushed red. Fredonia, Swenson Red, Edelweiss! I reluctantly ripped off the blossoms the past two years. This season's vines are hearty enough to bear fruit. Each "grape" is the size of a bb-shot at this point. I recall my son's toes the size of petite peas, way back when. But these guys are growing before my eyes, instead of over the years.

Also strung up five strings on the neighbor's garage (oops, don't tell him) to serve as props for pole beans, which I've never grown before.

Note to self: Remember the order in which you planted from house to alley (blogs are handy archives)! Tomatoes: Big Beef, Amish Paste, Yellow Brandywine, Red Brandywine. Peppers: Super Heavy Weight, Giant Marconi, Fat 'n Sassy, Big Bertha. I always say I'll remember, but I never remember. Even if I tag plantings, rain washes the words away. Thanks, blog. ◦

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lit reading at Woman Made Gallery, May 17

I've been to a literary reading at Woman Made Gallery before, and it is more than a reading -- it's an experience. Not only can you enjoy a couple of hours of new poetry, fiction and nonfiction work read aloud by the authors, but also take in the clean, spacious gallery tastefully arranged with paintings, sculptures, crafts and jewelry made by women, mostly from the Chicago area.

On Sunday, May 17, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. come on down to Woman Made Gallery for a lit reading on the theme of "The Emotional Body." Woman Made Gallery is located at 685 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. For more info call 312-738-0400 or visit its poetry site.
"The Emotional Body:" Think of body as object or actor, in whole or in part, in function and malfunction, sickness and health, stark or embellished. Think active body, gendered body, consuming body, sexual, emotional, physical body...our most inescapable abode.

Join curator Nina Corwin and a body of fabulous writers:
● Allison Joseph, author of Wordly Pleasures
● S.L. Wisenberg, author of Cancer Bitch
● Nikki Patin
● Laura Dixon
● Sara Parrell
● Cynthia Gallaher, author of Swimmer’s Prayer and Earth Elegance (reading poems about medicinal herb and plant healing)
● Kristin LaTour
…and a special guest appearance by Marty McConnell, recently returned from NYC.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Met Audrey Niffenegger Last Night

I met Audrey Niffenegger last night, author of "The Time Traveler's Wife." My husband Carlos and I attended a benefit for the Ragdale Foundation and book release party for Luis Alberto Urrea's "Into the Beautiful North" at Tumbao bar and restaurant on Armitage near Kedzie in Chicago.

Since Niffenegger is a Ragdale alum and her book was part of a special raffle going on that night, she was a definite invitee, who walked through the door with a striking presence. She is a beautiful brunehilde of a woman, with long red hair, in a hue that's unique but complementary to her features.

She is not only a writer, but an artist as well. Audrey Niffenegger's self portrait appears above. I approached her while she ordered a wine at the bar and complimented her on Time Traveler's Wife, which was a book selected by my family book club. I told her I liked her Chicago references, in particular of the Get Me High Lounge, which was a notorious Chicago poetry reading haunt back in the 80s. In that same scene, she described a bartender named Mia who had relatives in Glencoe. I told her my stepdaughter Mia also has relatives in Glencoe, but Niffenegger laughed, saying everything in the book is fictional. She's noted other such coincidences among her readers.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Wine and cheese tasting at Bin 36 -- Chicago

What better precedes a long evening of music with Leonard Cohen then a dining experience of short courses of cheese, hummus and soup at nearby Bin 36 at 339 North Dearborn in Chicago.

I took the 'el' downtown, walked north over the river, through the shadows of Marina City, and met my husband Carlos, awaiting me at Bin 36 with glass of Stella Artois in hand. Once seated at a relaxing booth, we had fun stretching our free time before the concert with little plates of pleasure.

Many patrons order flights of four red or white wines, which arrive in full-sized wine glasses, each filled with just a sampling of wine. Because I didn't want to get sleepy at the concert -- I heard Cohen keeps going until 11 p.m. -- I chose a tiny glass of 2007 Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec/Pinot Noir blendng called NQN, Picada 15 Tinto, Neuquen from Patagonia, Argentina. It was very good, fruity and dark.

Flights of cheese are also a specialty of the house, served with thin, crisp crostata bread. Since Carlos only likes goat cheese and I prefer cow milk cheese, we again didn't order a flight, but individual cheeses. Flights of sheep cheese are also available.

He loved the Cabra al Vino from Murcia, Spain, which is marinated in a local Jumilla wine. He said the cheese had "walls, floor and architecture. Very round and extremely satisfying." The Bridgewater cow milk cheese that I chose from Zingerman's Dairy in Ann Arbor, Mich., was creamy, mild, with a slight rind and spicy peppercorns throughout. Excellent! We also ordered a side of apricot/fig terrine and a small pot of honey to spread on bread along with the cheese, and it proved a bright, tasty addition.

The bowl of mushroom and walnut soup I ordered teetered between above average and just O.K. Would have preferred a salad. But the generous hummus plate accompanied by soft pita triangles was, according to Carlos "stunning, including the best oil, red onions and tomatoes." Our tab was just a little over $30. By midnight, when we turned in for the night, we still weren't hungry again. ◦

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre

It's been more than 15 years since Leonard Cohen played Chicago, and I was fortunate to grab two tickets only 1/3 back -- through a preview buy as a "fan." You know how it often can be to sit through live music that isn't quite up to par to a band's CDs? Quite the contrary with Leonard Cohen's show.

His musicians, singers, sound system, lighting and, of course, Leonard himself drove the entire occasion above and beyond the recorded disc -- a spectacular experience that pushes Cohen's legendary quality to the forefront, in a friendly way, and makes his 70-plus years just a side grin, which even he occasionally pokes fun at. But what other guy his age can get down on his knees over and over and rise without effort, sing for nearly three hours and dance off stage a couple of times between curtain calls?

Dressed in pork-pie hat, backed by six musicians (including Spanish guitarist Javier Mas) and three female back-up singers (one who is collaborator Sharon Robinson, as well as the two Webb sisters, who cartwheeled between numbers), Leonard Cohen brought forth beloved lyrics such as "dance me through the panic...dance me to the end of love;" "it was the shape of our love that twisted me;" "everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied;" "I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel;" "we are so lightly here, it isn't love that we are made, in love we disappear." ◦