ANOTHER “TASTE OF BOLLI” – THE WRITERS GUILD
On Thursday, the six members of BOLLI’s writing group provided a glimpse of what the guild is all about. Group organizers Maxine Weintraub and Sue Wurster started the group last spring as they came to the end of their five-week course with Betsy Campbell, “Five Short Stories in Five Weeks.” Both were concerned that, without such a group, they might not keep up the momentum they had developed during the course. Since that time, the group has met, weekly, to generate, share, and get feedback on their writing to help them improve their skill.
The high standard of their work was evident in their reading, and the pieces they chose to read demonstrated the wide range of styles and genres they have explored. Margie Arons-Barron shared fiction and memoir; Judy Blatt provided some of her characteristic “surprise ending” fiction; Larry Schwirian shared fiction and a personal reflective essay; Karen Wagner provided poetry; Maxine presented memoir; and Sue read fiction rooted in both imagination and real-life.
The group is provided with a writing prompt for each week, which some use while others don’t. But, on Thursday, the BOLLI audience was provided with a prompt and was given five minutes in which to “free write” in response to it. Bunny Cohen volunteered to share hers, saying, “I am not a writer” as she stepped to the microphone. And yet, what followed was a lovely, short poem–demonstrating, once again, that we are all writers!
The group meets in the Gold Room on Fridays from 12:30 to 2:00. Prompts are provided in the weekly Bulletin. All are invited to attend!
ANOTHER “TASTE OF BOLLI” – THE POETRY CIRCLE
“Why a Poem a Day Will Change Your Life, and How to Get Started”
Arlene Bernstein and Charlie Marz of BOLLI’s Poetry Circle treated us to a wonderful hour focused on poetry provided by Harvard Professor Lisa New.
While several of New’s young graduate students joined us for this session, she believes that the largest group of “passionate learners” in our culture are those who range from 40 to 100 years old, and she has been focused on finding ways to reach this group in her teaching. Thus, she has developed a free online course called “Poetry in America” to encourage global conversations about poetry. She has also created a TV show with WGBH to bring individual poems to wider audiences. One of those shows features Robert Pinsky’s poem Shirt which she shared with us.
Before reading the poem to us, Professor New said that, when she first reads a poem, she likes to “go on a date with it.” She slips it into a pocket, goes off on her own, spends time with it, and gets to know it. After reading it, she showed the short film in which Pinsky is joined by Herbie Hancock, Kate Burton, Nas, and Maria who help him to bring his poem quite vividly to life.
As a full group, then, we talked about the poem which focuses on how workers, over a long stretch of time, have been exploited in the making of garments…and yet, we find the garments to be…well,good. The discussion was very rich.
At the end of the session, Charlie Raskin made a striking comment. He said that, while he had spent an entire career selling shirts, he had never really thought about who had made them.
In order to find Professor New’s upcoming free, online course, Google: “Poetry in America” with Lisa New which will be coming at some point in the next few weeks.
The Poetry Circle’s next session will be held on Monday, May 9 at 3:30 when the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop will be explored. The poems to be discussed will be linked to The Bulletin a week or so ahead. All are welcome!
Want to receive a poem in your email every day? Go to: The Poem a Day Project at poetryfoundation.org and scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up.
In my life before BOLLI, I taught 6-year-olds how to write stories. Now I am doing the same thing with 86-year-olds! No matter the age of the author, I am always surprised and delighted at the results. Everyone has stories to tell, and they are always different. I’ve been writing my own for years. Some are true. Most are fiction. But this part is true…. I taught high school English for a short while. Kindergarten and First Grade for a long while. I love Mozart Operas, Billy Collins’ poems, and the Boston Red Sox. When I’m not writing, or going to BOLLI, or rushing to catch the ferry, I’m at home reading and feeding the cat.
By Betsy Campbell
They stopped at Dunkin Doughnuts on the way to the Ferry. Alice had a small latte while Bill had a glazed doughnut and a large coffee with extra cream. She offered to drive the rest of the way while he ate. It was the least she could do under the circumstances. Cars were already driving up the ramp to the ferry when they arrived at the dock.
“They’re loading,” said Bill. “You better hurry.” He wiped a smear of sugar from his mouth and took a swig of coffee. She left her unfinished latte in the cup holder and got out to collect her bag from the trunk.
Bill opened the car window. “Got everything?”
“Yes. I’m all set.” She hoisted her shoulder bag in place and raised the handle on her roller bag.
“Bye,” she said. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Have fun,” he said and took another bite of doughnut.
Alice hurried up the gangplank and dragged her suitcase up a flight of stairs to the outside deck. She found a seat near the rail on the stern from where she could look down on the parking lot. Bill’s car was still there. He was probably still eating. A line of cars moved toward the loading ramp. Alice leaned on the rail, watching the activity below, trying to calm the sad, nervous feeling in her gut. She had done it. She had left him, and rightly so, for he hadn’t even bothered to kiss her good-bye.
She had moved into his place with great hopes, and it had seemed a happy choice at first. But, gradually, she saw that he was content with his routines. Frozen waffles every morning. Pasta for dinner every night. Sports radio and fantasy football. Even sex had to happen when the Red Sox had a day off or when there was no football on TV. Alice had tried to adapt to his ways, but there were things he didn’t notice. Little things that she tried to do for him. Clean sheets and towels didn’t matter to him. When she replaced a mildewed shower curtain with a new one, he didn’t care. He didn’t notice flowers on the table and had no taste for fresh green salads or healthy grains. She began to feel that there was nothing she could do for him. Sometimes she thought that, if she left, he wouldn’t even notice.
“Get out,” her friends advised. “You have to end it. He’s never going to change.”
But Alice hated making scenes. Even now, she had told him she was going to visit her sister for a few days without hinting that she might not be coming back. He had offered to drive her to the ferry, and when she said he needn’t bother, he had said, “No problem. I can listen to the game on the way back.”
With a blast on its horn, the ferry started to edge away from the dock. Alice looked down at Bill’s car and saw him fling open the door, jump out, and race toward the departing boat. He was looking up, searching for her among the passengers lining the rail, waving his arms, and yelling. Her heart jumped. He was calling her back! She leaned over the rail, straining to hear. him call her name.
“Alice! The keys! Where are my keys?”
As the ferry slid away, leaving an ever larger stretch of water between stern and shore, Alice slipped her fingers into her pocket and felt a familiar clump of keys. She knew, without looking, that they were attached to a New England Patriots key ring. She pulled them from her pocket, dropped them over the rail, and raised her empty hand to wave good-bye.
By Linda Brooks
After four years and eighteen courses at BOLLI , I continue to be an eager and voracious learner. I’ve enjoyed classes in history, philosophy, literature, poetry, music and more. Thanks to three writing courses, I am now assembling my memoirs. Best of all, I discovered my very first “creative” hobby –photography!
For BOLLI’s spring term 2015, I signed up for Joe Cohen’s Photography course. When Joe described the term project, I was intrigued. We were to present an essay of twenty photos on a single theme. He distributed a sheet with dozens of theme possibilities. I scanned the list and the word “WINDOWS” jumped off the page. Joe suggested we keep our topics a secret from the class.
During the last three weeks of April, I was married to my camera, visiting many sites and taking hundreds of photos of windows. I wanted to capture the reflections both inside and outside of the glass. The early ones were just awful, but slowly they improved. At the last class, we were called on to present our slide shows with commentary. I was very proud that “Windows” was well received by Joe and the group.
Immediately following my presentation, Linda Dietrich was called upon to present her project. Linda is a charming woman I had sat beside and chatted with throughout the term. I often thought that I would like to continue our relationship outside of BOLLI. Much to my utter surprise and delight, Linda’s topic was “DOORS”! She had assembled photos from her New England travels that captured doors or entryways in the most beautiful and unique way.
That did it! Linda Doors and Linda Windows laughed heartily, and so began a dear friendship outside of BOLLI. We decided to put our favorite doors and windows into a 2016 calendar. It was modestly published and distributed to family members as gifts. We are presently working on another joint project—a calendar for 2017.
With the busy life at BOLLI, it’s always a challenge to make new friends, but definitely possible!
Here is a photo of “Linda Doors” and “Linda Windows.” If you see us at BOLLI, say hello. We’d love to chat.
Our 2016 Calendar
Well, if you eliminate political cartoons a la Pat Oliphant, and funny papers, and illustrations, and graphic novels, you are left with the spot cartoon–a single drawing or sequence of drawings that have no particular meaning beyond a simple comment on either something going on in the Zeitgeist or in common amusing experiences. For example, a great Peter Arno cartoon shows a lonely spot next to a street lamp. It is night, and a young couple is talking to a police officer. The guy is carrying the back seat of an auto, and he says to the cop, “We wish to report a stolen car.” No social message. No moral. Like any good cartoon, it is self-referential, and its only purpose is to garner a laugh. Like this one–
How are cartoons conceived? Well, in my case I may be thinking of something or observing something, and a switch occurs to me–something that relates to the original notion but turns it around or reveals an unexpected consequence.
Let me trace one idea I had for a cartoon. For some reason, I was watching some ants. What do ants do? They bite people. What if one bit an ant expert? How would the ant feel about that? How would he behave afterwards? And the cartoon flashes in my head. One ant is prancing about in a very conceited manner, and another ant says to his companions, “He’s been impossible ever since he bit E.O. Wilson.”
How did I get interested in cartooning? I suppose it was because when I was very little, my father would read me the funnies after I was tucked up in bed at night. My heroes were not sports figures or soldiers: they were Moon Mullins, Mutt and Jeff, and Ignatz Mouse. So I guess that’s when I started scribbling down little sketches. At Harvard, I had a lot of cartoons and stories printed in the Harvard Lampoon, and later, when I got a Master’s Degree in Journalism at Columbia, I contributed cartoons and a cover to the Columbia Jester.
In New York, I worked for various advertising agencies as a copy writer, finding time to submit cartoons to national magazines. I even placed a couple of drawings in Collier’s and Argosy; alas, they both went out of business, killed by television.
Of course, every cartoonist’s dream is to place a drawing in The New Yorker, and though I sent in hundreds of “roughs,” none were ever accepted. Frankly, I think the cartoons they do print just plain stink, but that may be sour grapes.
While working in New York, I met Na’ama, married her, and became the father of Gideon, Seth, and Aliza. Then our family returned to Boston where I took over the family business – we were wholesalers of glass and plastic bottles. After I retired, we divided our time between the USA and a home in Italy. Returning to America, we felt a need for intellectual stimulation, so when we heard about BOLLI, we enrolled and have been taking classes ever since. And every once in a while, an idea strikes me, and I draw it up.
Editor’s Note: Sam also provides cartoons for BOLLI’s newsletter, The Banner. This month’s volume, now available online and in hard copy, features yet another gem. Be sure to check it out!
I was an elementary school teacher for over thirty years, Judy Blatt says, first in New York City and then in Sudbury. I retired in the year 2000. I always liked to write. While I was teaching, I wrote plays for the children in my classes. When I retired, I joined BOLLI and began to write both memoir and fiction. I swim laps early in the morning four days a week. There are no distractions in the pool, so it’s a perfect place to think and come up with ideas for stories.
Judy has been a “regular” participant in Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing classes, and her work is always applauded by her classmates and SGL. She is currently taking Betsy’s “Five Stories in Five Weeks” course, and the pieces she wrote for two of Betsy’s assignments are included here. For the first, “Waiting,” the task was to write a short piece about three people who are all waiting in line at the same place. And for the second, “How to Be the Life of the Party,” the challenge was to do an instructional piece using the second person point of view. As you will see, Judy’s point of view tends to take unexpected turns.
The line moved slowly past the open casket. The widow, hysterical just a few hours earlier, remained upright and subdued thanks to the family doctor’s injection and pills. As each mourner stopped to pay respects and murmur, “Sorry for your loss,” the grieving widow quietly thanked them. But as soon as they walked away, she turned to her daughter and whispered, “What will I do without him?” or “He was the perfect husband,” or “he was such a good man.”
Before long, every eye in the funeral home was on Lani–model, actress, drama queen and long-time mistress of the deceased. Dressed in a long black raincoat, sunglasses, and an ill-fitting black wig, she stood, sobbing loudly, in front of the open casket. Lani had announced beforehand that she would slip into the wake quietly and mingle with the crowd in order to go unnoticed by the widow. It was often said by those who knew Lani that she was dumb as a doorknob, but was she?
Benny Scorboni bent over the coffin and scrutinized the corpse carefully to make sure it was actually Gabe Hammer and that this wasn’t another one of his tricks. Satisfied that it was the man who owed him fifty thousand dollars, Benny longed to reach in, grab the dead guy, and kill him all over again. Now he would never get his money back. “I’m the only one here with a real reason to cry,” he thought.
HOW TO BE THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
Dear Problem Solver,
My husband works with a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. He won’t listen when I tell him that I’d rather put my head in a plastic bag than be forced to spend another evening with his boring colleagues and their wives. What should I do?
Miserable and Depressed
Dear Miserable and Depressed,
If you want to enjoy yourself at the party, then you will have to be the one to provide the fun. But first, you must be prepared. This is a list of what you will need:
A bright red dress with a low bodice and a matching jacket
A pair of long gloves (elbow length)
A deck of cards
A pair of flat shoes
You will also need to learn to play a few danceable ditties on the harmonica and study a movie starring Marilyn Monroe
It is common knowledge that nothing brings a party to life more than music. It’s difficult to carry a piano or a harp, but a harmonica will slip easily into your purse. As soon as the men head toward the library and the women begin chatting about their grandchildren, whip out your harmonica and begin playing one of the tunes you practiced. The beauty of the harmonica is that you will be able to play and dance at the same time. As soon as the others hear the catchy rhythm and see you dancing, they will join in.
But if that doesn’t work:
The purpose of the jacket worn over your dress was to keep your spouse from having a fit before you left the house. He will be too embarrassed to say a word in front of other people, so you can now remove it and reveal whatever you have to reveal. When all eyes are on you, that’s the time to think like Marilyn Monroe. What would she do in this situation? Sit on the boss’ lap? Sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”? You’ll think of something. Flirting definitely livens things up and gives everyone something to talk about, not only for the evening but for the following days or weeks.
But if that doesn’t work:
Pull out the cards, suggest a game of poker, and start slowly peeling off those long gloves. When your husband stands up and looks as if he is about to murder you, it will be time to run. You’ll be so glad you wore those flat shoes.
Now your problem is solved because you can be sure he’ll never want to take you to one of those boring parties again.
Fred Kobrick refers to himself as “a highly experienced amateur hobbyist” who loves the challenges that taking pictures provides. “Here is a recent photo of me,” he says, “out in Wyoming, one of my two favorite places in nature to photograph, the other being Africa.”
Fred describes his passion for nature photography in this way: I love being close to nature. Attempting to get superior results pulls me into the scenes, takes my mind to wonderful, calming places, and even takes over my mind at times. I love the open-ended challenges and creative endeavors. Sitting and flying birds, for example, are geometrically more difficult than fast-action sports shots, and I love improving at that.
He talks, too, about some of his most memorable moments “in the wild.”
The moment on the Snake River, after endless practice and attempts, when I got the perfect “fish catch” photo of an osprey taking a big fish from the river–capturing both eyes of the bird and the eye of the fish…
Two lion cubs playing over their dinner remains, after eating their fill…
A perfect sunset in the Okavango Delta taken from the Fish Eagle, the world’s best outdoor bar…
Walking the streets of Hanoi and seeing a young boy’s changing facial expressions as he read a Vietnamese Conan Comic Book, photographing it as he turned the pages…
Another Snake River moment–this time, getting the almost impossible picture of a red winged blackbird with his wings fully stretched out, including his full and perfect reflection in the water…
And the perfect candid of a mother and baby moose looking at each other in the water, as I hid, unseen, in the bushes.
Among other favorite shots are…
Recently, at the urging of his kids, Fred entered several of his nature photos in Smithsonian Magazine’s annual nature photography contest. As a result, he now has a Smithsonian gallery online. To see this stunning work, go to:
Fred says that he came to BOLLI after he heard great things about the program from friends several years ago.
I tried a short one-week program, loved it, took a course or two, and was told by some people that they thought I would enjoy teaching BOLLI students and do that well (I had been a popular teacher in two graduate programs at Boston University). I’m looking forward to more interesting and new subjects to explore as both a student and a teacher and am thinking about possibly creating a sequel to my China course, which many students have requested. My friends were right. I’ve loved BOLLI.
It’s clearly mutual, Fred.
FRED KOBRICK PHOTOGRAPHY: ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
During my 40 year career as an academic gynecologist, the only writing I did was technical, for journals, teaching, or medical-legal opinions. I expressed my creativity in the operating room, performing innovative and original reconstructive procedures. I have been a closeted humanities lover all along, however, taking courses in Shakespeare and classical music while majoring in Physics in college. Now that I’ve retired and discovered BOLLI, writing memoir and short stories has come to the fore.
FOREVER IN CONTROL
by David Chapin
The organist played Gershwin tunes as the mourners filed in. Almost everyone chatted with his or her neighbors. Self-appointed “ushers” moved up and down the aisles attempting to keep the seating orderly. A mood of almost inappropriate levity prevailed. The synagogue, the largest in town, filled to capacity a full half-hour before the scheduled start and then overflowed into the foyer and the community hall on the other side. Family, former co-workers, mentees, and friends. Brilliant rays of sun sliced through the panes of the floor-to-ceiling window, illuminating the bimah from behind.
A brilliant attorney, a celebrated raconteur, and an inveterate jokester, Eli had dominated virtually every personal encounter he had ever faced. His bright blue eyes sparkled when he smiled, and he captivated every audience, the life of every party. Those eyes could cut right through you like a spear when he was angry. Fun-loving on one hand, a rigid disciplinarian on the other, you either hated him or loved him. Especially if you were one of his children. I was glad I wasn’t. He wanted nothing but the best for them, but he rode them relentlessly to do well in school, to perform their household chores, to take responsibility for their actions. If you lost your gloves, “you could ski barehanded,” he said. At his law firm, he was known for firing incompetent associates on the spot and riding and disciplining the good ones as if they were his children. You either hated him or loved him.
Eulogizers, one after another, told Eli’s favorite jokes or recounted hilarious, intense, or scary incidents. No one except his wife and children had seen Eli for at least five years, as he had descended the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s. The piercing blue eyes had turned blank; the smile had become a droopy frown; the jokes and stories had faded away. The firm managed to carry on without him. Nonetheless, his everlasting humor, his no-nonsense approach to business, and his overpowering personality persisted in everyone’s memory. So they came.
Eli’s friend Billy spoke from the pulpit. “A recent arrival at a Florida retirement community meets a more seasoned resident at breakfast,” he begins. “I am unhappy, the man says to his new friend. There is nothing for me to do here. How come you are always happy and smiling? The other man says, ‘it is easy to be happy here; you just need a hobby.’ You got a hobby? ‘Yeah, I got a hobby. I catch bees.’ How do you do that? asks the unhappy fellow. ‘I go out with a jar and a net. I catch the bees in the net, and then I dump them in the jar and close the top.’ You got holes drilled in the top, right? ‘No. I just screw it on tight.’ But don’t they die? ‘Sure. So what? It’s only a hobby.’”
Everyone knew Eli’s favorite joke, but it was still funny. After the laughter died down, Billy descended from the pulpit and shook hands all the way up the aisle as if he had just read from the Torah on Shabbat. Eli’s former junior law partner Lenny then ascended to the lectern.
“In my first year with the firm, we were handling the bankruptcy of a dairy farm. Eli sent me to the farm to inventory the cows. I arrived to find three men loading the cows into a truck. I went to the payphone on the corner and called Eli. ‘Under no circumstances are you to allow them to take the cows away,’ he bellowed into the phone, ‘keep them there; I am calling the police.’ I went back to the farm. The men had just finished loading the last cow into the truck. Faced with the prospect of having to return to the office and tell Eli that the cows had been carried away, I laid down in the driveway in front of the truck until the police arrived.”
Again uproarious laughter and nodding of heads as most of us recognized this oft-told tale. Eli’s body may have been in the coffin, but he was still controlling the room. He would have loved the laughter.
As I savored my memories of Eli and enjoyed the jokes and stories, my mind wandered to the time of my father’s funeral several years earlier.
My father, a businessman, came home from work at 6:30. Dinner would be on the table. Meat and potatoes. His sense of humor was subtler than Eli’s. You had to know him to know when he was joking. With his children, he relied more on setting high expectations and showing quiet disapproval when they went unmet. At his office, younger executives learned by following his example, not by reprimand. He quietly maintained control with his calm demeanor and deep understanding of the business. When angry, he said a menacing, “Now look!” accompanied by a glare that made you snap to.
My father played golf with Mort Etkin almost every Saturday and Sunday throughout the short Buffalo summers. Neither one of them ever broke 100. Mort, appropriately named, was the undertaker; also appropriately, had no sense of humor. Knowing Mort so well socially, my father had worked with him on all the funeral details of various uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even some friends. He knew which coffin to order, which vault was best, and all the Talmudic rules of the Shiva observance.
Dad died after a four-year battle with cancer. Stoicism, grit, and determination had exuded from him as he went through chemo, radiation, and still more chemo. With great effort, he dragged himself to work every day until two weeks before he died. Immediately upon returning to the house from the hospital where he died, my mother brought out a piece of paper in his oh-so recognizable scrawly handwriting, with a list of answers to Mort’s expected questions. “Call Etkin,” she said.
“I was expecting that,” Mort replied. “Will you come down to pick out the coffin?”
“American Casket Company catalog number 1050B.” I read answer number one from the list.
“And a vault.”
“Vault number 8350.” Number two on the list.
“How about flowers for the casket?”
“No flowers.” Third item on the list
“Folding chairs for the Shiva house?”
“No folding chairs.” Right in order.
“Coat rack for the Shiva house?”
“No coat rack.” Just as I expected, right on cue.
A smile came across my mother’s face. She recognized the order. I looked quizzically at her hoping for an explanation.
“Your father felt that if there were extra chairs and a place to hang their coats, Shiva visitors would not know when to leave and would end up staying too long. However, if all the chairs were full, the people who had been there the longest would get up to leave as newcomers arrived. That is what he wanted,” she said. “As for flowers, he thought they were a waste of money.” His body may have been lying in Mort’s mortuary, but he was still telling Mort what to do. Controlling the event.
As Eli’s funeral service continued, he and my father were watching from above. “How come you let them put flowers on your casket?” my father asked. “It’s so unnecessary.”
“So what?” answered Eli. “It’s only a hobby.”
A “PAINTERLY” PRINTMAKER
Eight years ago, I retired from 33 years of teaching art in the Boston Public Schools, and, soon after, my sister took a class in monotype printmaking. When I saw the variety of techniques used in the process, I was greatly intrigued and took a class myself. I’ve been printing ever since!
Monotype printmaking involves planning, spontaneity, and unexpected outcomes. Although the basic technique consists of painting on a plate and then running it, with paper on it, through a press, the print does not end up being an exact copy of the plate because of what happens as it’s put through the press. Monotype has been called “the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques” and is often called “the painterly print” or the “printer’s painting.”
I particularly enjoy monotype because the process offers infinite potential for variation– including working on prints after they’ve been through the press. I use watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, acrylic paints, and collaging. I’ve also worked with styrofoam and linotype and created several collages out of cut up, rearranged, and recombined monoprints.
Although I’ve been aware of BOLLI for about 10 years and encouraged my husband David to join, I didn’t join myself until one and a half years ago. I’m so glad I finally did. I have really enjoyed the classes and meeting so many vibrant people through it. I like taking a variety of courses and being exposed to so many new ideas. In addition to BOLLI, I really enjoy time at our condo in Williamstown. There’s so much to do out there– theater, museums, and the beautiful outdoors!