Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heighten Five Senses: Hearing

I'm continuing the series on developing the five senses, based on "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook" by Michael Gelb. Try this sense of hearing self-assessment:
-- Friends describe me as a good listener.
-- I am sensitive to noise.
-- I can tell when someone is singing off-key.
-- I can sing on-key.
-- I listen to jazz or classical music regularly.
-- I can distinguish the melody from the bassline in a piece of music.
-- I know what all the controls on my stereo system are for and can hear the difference when I adjust them.
-- I enjoy silence.
-- I am attuned to subtle changes in a speaker's voice tone, volume and inflection.

However, I personally wouldn't agree that you have to proficient in all of the above to be considered attuned to the sense of hearing. I can't sing, but I consider myself a good dancer. I took dance lessons, not music lessons, as a child for seven years, and subsequent Irish, Brazilian, Zumba and Group Groove dance classes as an adult, not to mention flat-out dance induction on the disco floor back when.

I think being aware of rhythm is essential to my poetry as well as song lyric writing, though you wouldn't want to hear me personally sing any of the songs I've written. I've never been good with the bass or treble controls on either my car or home stereo (is this really a guy thing?), but am acutely aware when a spoken word performer, whether reciting poetry, prose or drama, is just missing the emotional points and high and low subtleties of the piece. This is particularly sad when he or she is the actual author.

Stretch your hearing awareness. If you do like to listen to jazz and/or classical music, you might want to play a game of "guess the composer" with your friends and family that we enjoy at my house. ◦

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heighten Five Senses: Vision

To continue this mini-series on the five senses, which is both inspired and adapted from the book "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook" by Michael Gelb -- let's now take a look at what we see -- with impressions on the mind's eye leading to true vision. Can you identify with the following:
-- I am sensitive to color harmonies and clashes.
-- I know the color of all my friends' eyes.
-- I look out into the far horizon and up to the sky at least once a day.
-- I am good at describing a scene in detail.
-- I like doodling and drawing.
-- Friends would describe me as alert.
-- I am sensitive to subtle changes in lighting.
-- I can picture things clearly in my mind's eye.

Don't think that journaling or even drawing, for that matter, needs to end up as finished works of art for all to admire. Look at Leonardo da Vinci's methods -- he didn't necessarily draw to please others but because he loved to draw. Most of his drawings are contained in his "unpublished" notebooks. He valued process more than product. By first observing, followed by writing or drawing, we can enhance our capacity for "saper vedere" or knowing how to see. ◦

Let Wabi-Sabi Happen in Your Journal

Wabi-sabi, the quintessential Japanese aesthetic, can be applied to journaling and is, in fact, an integral part of true journaling, whether we realize it or not. Wabi-sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest, humble and unconventional.

Published writing is usually rewritten, edited and polished writing, set in symmetrical fonts and printed in uniform order and quality.

Journaling, most often, is composed of our raw thoughts or emotions, scribbled down in an unsteady hand on a commuter train or a dimly-lit kitchen. Perhaps the pages are occasionally smudged with ink or stained by drops of coffee. Entries may be heartfelt and passionate, but can simultaneously be random, incomplete, unconventional and bold, without need to please an audience.

In the long run, the journaling process may add up to a complete picture or an epiphany of revelation, but tracing any single journal's pages, one-by -one, can render a modest journey, the humbleness of following a foggy path with no promise of reaching a clearing.

Most distilled, the Wabi-Sabi of journaling embraces a sense of faith -- in yourself, in life, and in the promise of a future. ◦

Friday, September 10, 2010

Practice Naikan While Journaling

Naikan (pronounced nye-kahn) is a Japanese practice that blends meditation and gratitude. The word means "inner observation," made up of nai (inner or inside) and kan (observation). Naikan creates awareness by helping you remember the significant people in your life.

In the book, "Wabi Sabi Simple," author Richard Powell suggests taking your journal to a quiet room and sitting comfortably with no distractions, preferably in a corner behind a screen. Write down the names of one to five people who mean a lot to you, whether relatives, friends, teachers or coworkers. Then ask yourself three questions concerning each person:
1. What have I received from _________?
2. What have I given this person?
3. What troubles, difficulties or worries have I caused this person?

Write down concrete examples, such as "My mother always made lunch for me for school and told me she loved me as I left the house in the morning." General statements such as "My mother was nice to me" doesn't work. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to feel what he or she has felt.

Through your meditations and writing, what you find important about your relationship to this person will become more clear. When the time is right, express to each person on your list your gratitude for the specific things that they have given you. ◦

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

British blog features Wisconsin organic retreat

The British blog, Shedworking, which is devoted to stories on garden offices and other small dwellings, recently featured a story on my two-week experience on the Poetryfarm in southern Wisconsin.

While there, I spent half my day working on a 12-acre organic fruit farm, which sold its goods at the Madison Farmers' Market, and the other half day spending time on my own creative writing. I was assigned a private, one-room "pod" where I wrote, read, slept and sought inspiration from the clean air, rustle of apple trees and grape vines, sunsets and the magnificent, starlit sky. ◦

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fabulous Flamenco at Chicago's Alhambra Palace on Fridays

The guitar, the drums, the flamenco dance, the romance of Alhambra Palace on Fridays! Soul and Duende Flamenco Dance Company performs for no cover charge every Friday night from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for patrons who dine at the Alhambra Palace Restaurant, 1240 W. Randolph St, Chicago. 312-666-0456. It's on the far west end of Randolph Street's restaurant row.

Chicago's Alhambra Palace has to be seen to be believed. It is named after and inspired by the 13th century fortress in Granada, Spain. After I entered the arches of its grand entrance, I asked myself, "Am I really in Chicago anymore? Could I instead have been suddenly beamed down into an elaborate dining den in the Casbah -- or the most plush Las Vegas nightclub?" Ah, Alhambra's over-the-top facade, inviting balconies, ornate balustrades, secret nooks and exotic crannies of its bar area, the vastness of its main room. Alhambra Palace is beyond fabulous and so is the entertainment.

My party and I sat in the sideline mezzanine at a table for four, noshed on small plates of hummus, baba ghanous and batata, sipped on Almaza beer from Lebanon, and took in the wondrous hour-long show. Soul and Duende is a flamenco dance company based in Chicago, offering up multiple numbers of group and solo flamenco dances in an endless array of authentic costuming. The troupe is headed by Azucena Vega, who has danced with the great Jose Greco and the Ballet Espanol de Madrid. Soul and Duende's set also includes two numbers by Mexican dancers who perform authentic folk dances from the Mexican state of Jalisco.
For a great night out for a big party or a special date for two, I am pressed to think of where in Chicago you can get so much atmosphere and entertainment than at Alhambra Palace, all for the price of a meal or, perhaps, just some appetizers and drinks.

Musical accompaniment is by guitar, castanets, and two drums -- the Spanish cajon, and darbuka or goblet drum, which is a thick ceramic drum traditionally covered in sturgeon fish skin. Orale, ole! The Soul and Duende flamenco performance is followed by an Arab band and bellydancer at 9:30, which we stayed for and enjoyed, as well.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Acting Irish International Theatre Festival in Chicago May 17-22

Where else can you enjoy nine Irish plays in six days? This is the first year Chicago's Irish American Heritage Center and Shapeshifters Theatre hosts this annual international event. Irish theater troupes from Dublin, Canada and the U.S. gather together under one roof to give their dramatic best to Chicago audiences.

The 2010 Acting Irish International Theatre Festival takes place from Monday, May 17 through Saturday May 22. The Irish American Heritage Center is located at 4626 N. Knox Ave. just off the Edens Expressway at Wilson Ave. For more information call: 773-282-7035 ext. 10.
Tickets are only $15 for each play, available at IAHC and online. Buffet suppers and spirited beverages are available at the fest between the Wednesday and Thursday matinee and evening performances, and the 5th Province Bar onsite is open on Friday and Saturday.

AIITF 2010 play schedule:

Monday, May 17 at 8 p.m.: And Neither Have I Wings to Fly, Shapeshifters Theatre, Chicago
Tuesday, May 18 at 8 p.m.: There Came a Gypsy Riding, Estuary Players, Dublin, Ireland
Wednesday, May 19 at 2 p.m.: The Patrick Pearse Motel, Gaelic Park Players, Chicago
Wednesday, May 19 at 8 p.m.: Moll, Irish American Theatre, Cincinnati
Thursday, May 20 at 2 p.m.: Portia Coughlan, Liffey Players, Calgary, Canada
Thursday, May 20 at 8 p.m.: The Passion of Jerome, Heads on Stage, Dublin, Ireland
Friday, May 21 at 2 p.m.: Close to Home, Irish Theatre of Florida
Friday, May 21 at 8 p.m.: The Cripple of Inishmaan, Rochester Irish Players, NY
Saturday, May 22 at 8 p.m.: The Factory Girls, Toronto Irish Players


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brenda Cardenas "Boomerang" Book Release Party in Chicago

Come to a new spoken word venue in Chicago, Dragonlady Lounge, on Sunday, May 30 at 7 p.m. You're invited to a book release party for and reading by Brenda Cardenas in celebration of her first full poetry collection, Boomerang, published by Bilingual Review Press. She will be joined by poet Roberto Harrison.

In Boomerang, Cardenas spins lyrically taut free verse, sculpts prose poems, sapphics, and sonnets, and punches the rhythms of spoken word in what Juan Felipe Herrera has called "a sonic calligraphy, hand-thrown spirals of spirit."

Open mic the first half hour. Arrive early to sign up. This free event, organized by March Abrazo, Inc., takes place at the Dragonlady Lounge, 3188 N. Elston Ave. (at Belmont & California). Come on by this special event the day before Memorial Day. Bonus: You won't have to get up early on Monday morning. For more info call: 773-597-5617.

Brenda Cardenas is the author of a poetry chapbook Tongues of Brick & Stones and co-editor of the women's anthology Between the Heart and the Land. She is an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dedicated to Organic & Sustainable: Chalkboard Restaurant

Even though we enjoyed dinner at Chalkboard Restaurant in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago last night at 5:00 p.m., my husband and I aren't senior citizens. We were having a celebratory dinner with our son before heading off to an early poetry reading on the westside.

As we entered, a gaggle of 20-something women were getting ready to leave after holding a bridal shower at the restaurant during its afternoon tea session. We were the first to arrive for the dinner seating and had the whole place to ourselves for awhile.

Chalkboard, a long, cozy room of simple, yet highly tasteful elegance, reminded my husband and I of the Fritz & Frites bistro we had fallen in love with during a recent weekend in Galena, Ill. Chalkboard is what it says, its menu a huge chalkboard wall, divided into appetizers and entrees, changing daily and actually before our eyes. The changeability of the menu reflects dishes prepared "as much as possible" from organic and sustainable foods in season or of particular availability from local suppliers.

Selections vary from emphasis on nouvelle cuisine to southern comfort. The chef, Gilbert, received some of his culinary indoctrination in the south, and offers an utterly delicious southern fried chicken and gouda mac and cheese as regular standbys. The chicken reminded me of the fabulous "Chicken in the Rough" recipe I cherished as a child, which originated in Oklahoma City. Actually, Chalkboard's is much better, making theirs using free-range chicken, teamed with collard greens and heaped mashed potatoes with sausage gravy to die for.

Two of us noshed on the house salad, made mainly of baby argula and garnished with a simple olive oil, lemon and parmesan dressing, of which its tastes together excelled its parts. Entree-wise, my son opted for the organic pork tenderloin with creamed corn dotted with red peppercorns and sprinkled with arugula. The expression of bliss remained on his face throughout his meal. My husband enjoyed the vegetable pot pie, served in a sizeable black bucket, using chunky pieces and/or whole organic beans, carrots, brussel sprouts and cauliflower.

A "dessert" of foie gras in caramel sauce was recommended. Amusingly, it arrived at the table with upright squares of toast and foie gras balanced atop looking like a small Stonehenge. Upon eating, it really didn't do it for me, but my son thought it was spectacular.

Service was top-notch from our server, Nick, who in a friendly, easy fashion explained dinner details that appeared on the chalkboard and made wine recommendations when asked. We really liked the place and look forward to bringing friends along for our next visit. 4343 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Remembering Effie Mihopoulos

Chicago poet and arts critic Effie Mihopoulos, who published and promoted her fellow poets for decades, and took an active role in the Chicago dance and theater scene, passed away from breast cancer on Thursday, January 14, 2010.

When I first met Effie Mihopoulos, she struck me as fun, friendly, eccentric and bigger than life. And that's exactly who she was. I was a graduate student at Northeastern Illinois University, studying English literature at night, working in Marshall Field's hardcover book department as a management/buyer trainee by day. One evening, I found out that Northeastern was holding its semi-monthly Apocalypse poetry reading series in the very room in which I just had taken a class.

I had been feverishly writing poetry for the past year, taking up the pen in a more serious fashion after being part of an undergraduate workshop at University of Illinois at Chicago with poet Michael Anania. I decided to attend the Apocalypse reading. Effie spotted me as a new face and introduced herself. Wearing flashy gypsy earrings and funky little slogan buttons on her jacket, she took me around the room to acquaint me with some of the "regulars" who frequented the series, such as Art Lange, Paul Hoover, Maxine Chernoff, Terry Jacobus, Barbara Barg, Peter Kostakis, Arnie April, Rose Lesniak, and even Bob Holman, who used to live in Chicago. Richard Friedman and Darlene Pearlstein were on hand, ones who also ran the ongoing Yellow Press Series at the Body Politic Theater every Monday night.

After I read at the Apocalypse open mike a few times, Effie asked that I submit pieces to her poetry magazine, Mati, which she subsequently published. Effie lived nearby the Northeastern campus. I stopped by every so often and got to know her and her darling mother better. Even though Mrs. Mihopoulos didn't speak a word of English, I grew close to her thanks to Effie's rapid-fire translation skills between my English and her Greek. I yearned to learn more about the poetry publishing process, and Effie agreed to take me under her wing, making me an intern of sorts and eventually "managing editor" of both "Mati" and "Salome: A Literary Dance Magazine," another of her publications under the Ommation Press imprint.

Effie and I hung out quite a bit in those days, meeting up at Body Politic poetry readings and at universities, attending dance performances together at MoMing and Auditorium Theater, and even party hopping one New Year's Eve, making appearances at five different get-togethers.

On a non-literary note, Effie and I shared an interest in Japanese culture, rubber stamp madness and a passion for Steve McQueen. We watched short documentaries about Japanese tea ceremonies and cloth dying. We created haikus on handmade paper embellished with rubber stamps on her dining room table. Effie had a huge poster in her dining room of Steve McQueen on a motorcycle from "The Great Escape."

In fact, Effie loved blond men in general, shunning her Greek counterparts who she called male chauvinist pigs. But in all the years I knew Effie, I never saw her with a boyfriend, though she had many male friends. One day, she came to my office downtown with a handful of photos of her arm-in-arm with some righteous blond beefcake, who she evidently met in Florida during spring break. I was happy for her temporary bliss, but sad as well because she never had a long-term partner or close family after her mother died. But that was her calling.

Effie saw her own work reach book form in The Moon Cycle and Languid Love Lyrics. However, one of Effie's greatest literary triumphs was publishing Cornelius Eady's Victims of the Latest Dance Craze poetry collection via Ommation Press. Effie was vacationing in Greece when word reached her that the Academy of American Poets in New York had given the book the Lamont Prize in 1985. The Lamont was awarded for the best second poetry volume of a poet published that year. Never had an award of this caliber been given to a work published by a press so small and independent.

Effie Mihopoulos, over the decades, helped carve a pathway to the lively, active poetry scene that Chicago enjoys today. She will be missed and remembered by all who knew her. A memorial service is planned for Friday, March 5, 2010 5-7 p.m. at Northeastern Illinois University in Alumni Hall, as well as on Saturday, March 6, from 1-3 p.m. at the Newberry Library where poets and friends are invited to read something in Effie's honor, pay last respects and offer fond remembrances of Effie.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Paradise found: for the scrub of many lifetimes

I must be still ringing in the New Year, because I finally got around to my semi-annual treat of a body scrub at Paradise Sauna in Chicago (on Montrose near California) on my day off. Yeah, people tell me about the great salt scrub they had at a special resort, or an energizing sugar scrub they received at some other chic spa. Believe me, as humble as the place is, there's no where else on earth where you will experience a cleansing body scrub of the caliber that Paradise offers. This Korean-run enterprise, which is to me one of Chicago's hidden gems, has the hottest, strongest jet spa tub I've ever hopped into, a dry sauna, a cold plunge pool and quite excellent steam room, as well as body scrubs and massages at an additional charge. Men and women have their own complete, separate facilities.

My exfoliator, Catty (emphasis on first syllable), was a little grumpy and bossy early on a Friday morning (if you can be bossy using hand signals and grunts, since she speaks only Korean). However, she delivered a dynamite, if somewhat brutal, body scrub using special mitts that must be a Korean secret or something, because I've never seen them anywhere else.

It reminded me of the rough treatment Tony Bourdain once received in a Turkish hammam on a "No Reservations" episode. The Chicago Tribune calls the Paradise experience "a once-in-a-lifetime scrub." I wager I've had many lifetimes scrubbed away at Paradise, and for some reason, I keep returning.

I've dragged numerous skeptical friends to Paradise who claim they scrub thoroughly every day in the shower with a loofah. Ultimately, they are shocked by the amount of dead skin one of these samari ladies at Paradise roll off their hides. Admission to the general spa room is $18; a half-hour body scrub is another $30.

When Catty finally slid me off the scrub table as if she were pulling a slick martial arts move, it was a good thing I landed on my feet. It was all over and, only then, she cracked a sly smile. Was this her repayment for the war or something? Wait a minute. She's Korean, not Japanese. My father-in-law fought in her country for their freedom. Maybe she's just bored, or awfully mad I got her out of bed so early for the appt.

As I drove off with newly smooth, silky skin, I felt more rested and glowing than ever. Strange how such an intense experience of relentless due diligence could leave me feeling so light. Then, I turned a corner and suddenly found myself in front of Rod Blagojevich's house on Sunnyside and Richmond. Not wanting to spoil my good mood, I hit the accelerator. Ah, only a block away from Paradise, but for Blago, it might as well be 10,000 miles. ◦