Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Travel and Writing

There won't be any posts here for a while. I'm traveling to South Africa for nearly three weeks. While I'd like to send regular reports of my trip, alas, it's just too much trouble for me to carry a laptop computer and figure out the connection problems.

I plan to keep an old-fashioned pen-and-notebook journal, so I'll share the trip--with photos, I hope--after I get back in May. Meanwhile, keep writing!

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Book Based on Grocery Lists?

Hillary Carlip's a la Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers, according to Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick T. Reardon (April 8, 2008), is a "gloriously idiosyncratic project that taps into the deeply human pastime of daydreaming about the lives of others."

Carlip gathered 26 grocery lists (for example, "Coors, Oreos" written on the back of a matchbook cover), imagined what each writer was like, and then dressed up in that role for a photograph at a supermarket. She later wrote back stories about the shoppers and their shopping trips.

The idea apparently came from Hillary Carlip's teenage discovery of a discarded list in a supermarket cart. Since then, she's collected some 2,000 to 3,000 lists.

This idea fascinates me, at least the writing part. Carlip is also an actor and performance artist, which led to the photos and assumed personas. I have not read this book, but reading about it reinforced my beliefs that we reveal a lot about ourselves through our writing, and that almost anything can be a worthy topic.

What would my list reveal about me? That I'm no cook, am concerned about my weight, live alone, and am not poor, since I waste a lot of money on prepared foods: cooked, sliced chicken breast; packaged salad greens; lo-cal frozen dinners; sugar-free Jello.

I like idiosyncratic writing projects (see my coming rictameter collection). However, perhaps those of you especially concerned about your privacy need to shred your grocery lists along with your credit card statements.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Life in Rictameters

Just in case anyone is interested in my rictameters, I will be publishing a collection of them in a month or two. The title will be Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters. It will contain 39 poems in 56 pages. This is obviously not a money-making proposition, but it is fun! Stay tuned.

Any interested agents or publishers or potential reviewers out there? I doubt it, but I'm always open to suggestions. Hope springs eternal.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Finally! Someone Reviewed my Short Stories

I've never claimed to be a fiction
writer, but I've experimented anyway; two of my stories were accepted by Amazon Shorts. Like my other works, they have not been best sellers, and I learned long ago that writing would not pay in monetary terms. Still, I was pleased to notice that each of my stories, "Marie's Story" and "Volunteer," has received a four-star review from a reader. Update: each has received a five-star review as well! Update 2: "Marie's Story" has now received a second 5-star review!

Check out the reviews. If you have a credit card and an extra 49 cents, download a story, read it, and write a review yourself. It won't make me rich, but I'll appreciate it. Tell me what you think. Be honest. And you can read the current reviews without buying.

Click on one of the Amazon icons on this page, or on this link:

Sunday, April 6, 2008

One Word Answers: Another Bloggers' Writing Challenge

Here's another of those little challenges that's been passing around in the blogosphere. I credit The Joy of Six ( for it, but from there the links go backward. I'm not sure who originated it, but here it is. You have to write your own answers. Please note: I've changed it from one word to one word or phrase. Do it either way.

You're Feeling: Worried.

To Your Left: TurboTax installation disk.

On Your Mind: See above.

Last Meal Included: South Beach four cheese pizza.

You Sometimes Find it Hard To: Get started.

The Weather: Beautiful.

Something You Have a Collection of: Small Travel souvenirs.

A Smell that Cheers You Up: Chocolate.

A Smell that Can Ruin Your Mood: Smoke.

How Long Since You Last Shaved: N/A.

The Current State of Your Hair: Limp.

The Largest Item On Your Desk/Workspace Right Now (besides computer): CD Rack.

Your Skill with Chopsticks: None.

Which Section You Head to First In the Bookstore: New.

After That?: Chicago Authors.

Something You're Craving: Chocolate.

Your General Thoughts On the Presidential Race: Depressing.

How Many Times You've Been Hospitalized this Year: None.

A Favorite Place to Go for Quiet Time: My recliner.

You've Always Secretly Thought You'd Be a Good: Newspaper columnist.

Something that Freaks You Out a Little: Crowds.

Something You've Eaten Too Much of Lately: Chocolate.

You Have Never: Driven a SUV.

Never Want To: Lose my mind.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring Reflections: Observe and Write

I've written before about my long walks that often terminate at the McDonalds at Chicago Avenue and State Street in the Gold Coast area of Chicago, just off Michigan Avenue and very near my future home, The Clare at Water Tower. Between bad knees and bad weather, I haven't been able to take one of those walks for some time, but today, a sunny Saturday, I finally did so.

The crowd at this location today seemed to be a bit lower in collective social and economic status than the usual weekday crowd. During the work week, the homeless and the less fortunate mix with affluent business people, but on weekends, most business people drink their coffee and dine elsewhere, often near their homes in the suburbs.

Why, in a neighborhood of exotic dining spots, do I choose McDonalds as a desitination? Well, I don't eat there; I go only to drink a small black coffee and to rest. My long walk requires athletic shoes and comfortable exercise clothing, so I don't look presentable enough for the average Gold Coast restaurant. I like the anonymity of looking a bit shabby (or perhaps I'm basically a slob). And as a writer, I like the usual variety of interesting people to observe, all ages, all races. Here's what I saw today.

First of all, I noticed several morbidly obese people. I am a bit heavy, but seeing these people (most of them with full trays, not cups of black coffee) reminds me of the folly of overeating. I feel compassion for most people with weight problems, since I am one of them, but I need that reminder. I was also reminded of how easy it usually is for me to avoid or ignore the less fortunate members of Chicago's society. At this particular McDonalds, they are in full view.

Today, one older, shabbily dressed, obviously demented man was talking to himself in a loud voice. I couldn't quite understand what he was saying, but every sentence seemed to contain the profane GD words, and worse. Finally, a plain-clothes Chicago policeman asked him politely to quiet down, and for the most part, he did. I wondered about the man's problems. Is he alone in the world? I admire the social service workers who try so hard to help. I have no such talents.

Remaining aloof as usual, I finished my coffee and walked to the nearest bus stop, where I used my senior free fare card. Soon, I hope to be able to walk both ways, but I'm not ready yet. I could have paid full fare, but . . . Anyway, the walk brought a combination of hope and despair. Perhaps I sound like a snob, but it's not my intention to put down those less fortunate than I. I do have to admit, however, that they make me feel lucky, as well as slightly uncomfortable.

Be an observer of people. Have a cup of coffee at a place slightly ouside your usual realm or your comfort zone. You may get some good story ideas. Perhaps that's the search that keeps me going back to McDonalds at Chicago and State.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Evaluating My March Challenge

What have I learned from my crazy March poem-a-day challenge? Several things. Most of all, writing regularly gave me a routine and a goal in a dreary month when I was rather short of both.

The most surprising thing I learned was that these short rictameters allowed me to say a lot. I've always been a person of few words. In fact, one reviewer of my books noted that both, especially Seniorwriting, are short, and he saw that as a positive factor. I've never been long-winded, either in person or in writing.

Brief though they are, my poems manage to tell a story, the story of my present life and routine and how I feel about it. There's nothing remarkable there. However, writing about one's life can bring self-realization. "Write your Life!" has never had a large number of readers, yet the managing editor of Chicagoland's Senior News (basically an advertising paper) discovered "Elder Expectations" and asked permission to reprint it in her April publication. The same poem also was reprinted in the Chicago Cultural Center's Volunteer Newsletter, again with my permission. Neither publication will bring me fame or fortune, but I like to see my work--and my name--in print. Egotistical? Perhaps.

No, I'm not claiming to be a poet. I'll never be a be a best-selling author in any literary genre. My point is the same as it's always been: Write for yourself, your family, and/or your friends. You'll be surprised by what you accomplish and what you discover and whom you reach.

Before I go on to other things (soon, a trip to South Africa), here is my concluding rictameter. It probably won't be my last.

My Rictameters

Great art?
No, not these poems
Of mine, and yet if they
Just make you ponder, wonder, think
Or dream, consider your own life or write
A story, draw or paint the truth,
Learn who or what you are,
These poems inspire
Great art.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne