Friday, October 24, 2014

Holding Class at the Hemingway House

My Advanced Memoir Workshop meets in the dining room
of the Hemingway Birthplace Home. What a cool occasion
to take a group selfie!

Yesterday my Advanced Memoir workshop, usually held at StoryStudio Chicago, met at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park where I am currently writer-in-residence.

This class has been running since 2008, and this was the first time we ever did a "field trip." It was fun to hold class in such historic surroundings, have the grand house to ourselves (I gave a tour, including my attic studio!), and of course our book discussion for this month's meeting was Hemingway's wonderful memoir A Moveable Feast.

For me it was also the first time I’d been to the house in the evening. I arrived as dusk set in, so the volunteers who hold tours during the afternoon had already left and closed shop. Letting myself into the house, I still got that Goldilocks feeling as I wandered from room to room searching for the light switches. Turns out many of those lights are rather dim, something that hasn't changed since the Hemingway Family lived here. Hemingway’s older sister Marcelline notes in her book, At the Hemingways:“those bulbs were so dim that the electrical company still must have made a profit off the $20 they charged my grandfather annually” (This was around 1900). 

I had planned to hold class in the parlor, but alas, it was too dark in there, so we perused the illuminated dining room, where Hemingway's grandfather, Ernest Hall, called "Abba" by the children (which means father in Hebrew), would entertain the children with stories about, for example, the brown squirrel that lived in the oak tree outside the window. Those stories were the reward for being quiet while he had his breakfast (Hemingway's parents ate before the children), until one morning little Ernest announced that he didn't have to be quiet because he had made up his own story. Thus a storyteller was born not only in that house, but in that room. What a privilege it was to hold class in the very spot!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Open House Chicago: New Regal Theater

It might look like I traveled to the Middle East to take this picture, but I only traveled to the far South Side of Chicago to peek into the interior of the New Regal Theater.

If you've looked at my Our Chicago book, you know that Open House Chicago is my favorite public event in the city. Hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, buildings all over the city open their doors to the general public (for free!) for one weekend in October. Each year I squeeze as much Open House touring into that weekend as my family's schedule allows. So yesterday, by happenstance of other obligations I had to fit in, I toured sites on the far north and far south neighborhoods of the city.

The lobby of the New Regal Theater was the title photo of this year's event guide, and it was so enticing that I simply had to get there.

Luckily, the New Regal Theater is located not too far from where I live. In fact, I've driven by many times as the access ramp to the Chicago Skyway swings by just a block west of the theater.

I can't believe I drove by hundreds of times without even knowing about the gem that lies below that Moorish style tower you see from the highway.

Even if this kind of opulence is not your style (it isn't mine), you can't help but be impressed by the fact that someone built something as ornate and elaborate as this. The New Regal Theater was originally called the Avalon Theater and built by architect John Eberson in the Moorish-revival style. It opened its doors in 1927. Not only is the interior stunning, it can also seat up to 2,250 people.

The New Regal Theater was the most stunning site I visited during Open House Chicago this weekend. Afterwards, the friend I was touring with and I kept racking our brains as to how this unbelievably beautiful theater could be a functional venue again as it still seems to be in better shape than you'd expect. To the naked eye, only the roof clearly needs repairs.

Sadly, the neighborhood is in disrepair as well. Fortunately, however, the theater is currently owned by a Chicago investor who wants to restore it to its former glory of a vibrant cultural venue. In any case, I'm thankful that I got to see it, and I sincerely hope it will be around for many years to come and remain a living example of the lavish styles of the past.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Challenge of Daily Walks

For October I've given myself the challenge of going for at least a 20-minute walk every day. This is part of me digging deeper into Julia Cameron's book The Vein of Gold, which in turn is part of me continuing to home in on my creative core. Cameron contends, and many, many writers concur, that you can walk out just about any problem, and that, while walking, ideas can percolate and your mind can sort itself out. And then, of course, a daily walk is good for your body. Lastly, a daily walk is also part of my mission of savoring fall. What better month than October to be outside every day, ideally walking through the brilliance of fall foliage?

Nevertheless I was reluctant to take on this challenge, mainly because I typically don't like challenges like this, and if I do take one on, then I want to be able to succeed, and I know doing something every day is a big challenge. Why? Why would a daily walk be hard? I actually love walking, and I love being outside. So that's not it.

Mainly, for me, it is a scheduling challenge, meaning I have to prioritize something I want to do. On some days one obligation chases another and by the end of the day, when it's already dark outside, I have to co-opt my husband to go out for a walk with me. That's nice, actually, as it's not something we would do if it weren't for my daily walk challenge.

A daily walk is also a mental commitment. I'm on day 16 now, and there have been a few days already when I almost forgot to go for my walk preoccupied as I was with lots of other things. So again it'll be 9 p.m. by the time my husband and I head out. However, we have thus gotten to enjoy some of the neighborhood Halloween decorations that can only be appreciated glowing in the dark.

Natalie Goldberg warns against taking on a practice that you can't keep up, because a practice is all about doing it every day. It's precisely about overcoming that inner resistance and all the excuses one can come up with, and making the commitment to do it, even if it's already 9 p.m. and you're dead tired. The reward, according to Goldberg in her book The True Secret of Writing, is confidence in being able to do whatever you set out to do. That confidence comes from having overcome, consistently, that inner resistance. It also comes from demonstrating to yourself that you can do what you set out to do. It comes from mastering your own mind (I'm getting Zen here, I know! That's Natalie Goldberg's fault...).

Embarking on my daily walk challenge I reminded myself that I'd already succeeded at a daily challenge three times before by doing the Blogathon. Come to think of it, however, in blogging you can "cheat" by preparing a few posts ahead of time and scheduling them to publish one day after another. I can't do that with the walking. I simply have to put on those hiking boots and head out every day. So that's what I'm doing. If you have any tips on how to make it through a month-long daily challenge (and maybe continue on?), please let me know!