Flying with a lucky 8-Ball

February 26, 2014 • Posted in blindness, Braille, memoir writing, travel, Uncategorized, Whitney, writing by

Hello from Seattle! I flew out here with Whitney – our first solo trip since my emergency open-heart surgery last year. This was a major milestone, and I’m not ashamed to admit I was pretty anxious about it before we left. The flight was loooong, and already at takeoff Whitney decided she didn’t like her spot under the seat in front of us. Good thing the passengers next to us loved dogs –Whit was a bit of a sprawler. I was thrilled to hear our Seattle friend Greg calling out my name at baggage claim after we landed, and Whitney was happy to see him, too. She had to go, if you know what I mean.

I brought a Magic 8-Ball as a gift to thank Greg for picking us up, and I almost didn’t get it through security – to many ounces of fluid, doncha know. It got through on a technicality – they regarded it as a snowglobe, and snowglobes recently got approved by the TSA. In exchange for his Magic 8-Ball, Greg treated me to a couple of Seattle micro-brews (Mack & Jack’s lager  – yum!) at the hotel bar before Whit and I settled into our room.

I’m here to attend the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) here in hopes of finding a publisher for my next book

All the snow and ice in Chicago this winter has had one (and probably, only one!) benefit: it provided a lot of time to stay inside and write. I made major progress on the book I’m writing about the memoir classes I lead for Chicago senior citizens, and Whitney and I will spend a lot of time at the AWP book fair going table to table to talk about my new project to anyone who will listen. (By the way, it’s in the 50s, sunny and I’m not wearing snow boots.)T

My author friend Audrey Petty encouraged me to do this, explaining that AWP is the perfect place to come with a writing project that isn’t quite finished. Publishers and other writers I meet might like my idea and give me guidance on how to shape it differently or rework it somehow before it’s entirely finished.

That's Audrey with Alex Kotlowitz during a presentation about High Rise Stories last year. (Photo: Janet Smith)

That’s Audrey with Alex Kotlowitz during a presentation last year. (Photo: Janet Smith)

You might remember Audrey from blog posts I’ve written about her before. She started thinking about doing an oral history of people who’d lived in high rise public housing back in 2008, and after McSweeney’s took notice, she spent most of the past three years under their guidance, tracking down former residents of Chicago’s housing projects and interviewing them for High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing, published by McSweeney’s Voice of Witness series late last year.

The conference doesn’t start until tomorrow, and I’ll meet up with Audrey then. She’s invited Whitney and me to come as her guests to the McSweeney’s cocktail party tomorrow night. Before then Whitney and I need to learn our way to the lobby from our room on the 26th floor of this absolutely huge hotel blocks away from the convention center. (Whitney is in front of our floor-to-ceiling windows enjoying the view as I type this blog post.) Once we tackle finding our way through the lobby, we’ll tackle making our way the four blocks to the convention center. I figure if I register before the conference starts they might let me in to figure out the lay of the land ahead of time. That way I’ll feel much more comfortable going table to table at the book fair tomorrow, asking each person there who they are and what they do, and then leaving my business card (it even has my name in Braille on it) to anyone who takes interest. Wish us luck!

Janet On February 26, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Luck!!! And I think we should market the lucky snow(8)ball — every shake is a prediction of how many inches of snow we will get. Enjoy your time away from Chi-beria. See you at Hackneys when you get back. Miss you my friend. XO

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 9:56 am

Miss you, too, and LOVED hearing about the UIC strike on NATIONAL Public Radio, eager to catch up an hear all about it. Go, Janet, Go!


Mary McHugh On February 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Good luck, Beth!!! I know you’ll find a publisher. Great idea for a book.

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

Thanks, Mary, It’s early Thursday morning now, and I sure hope the people I meet at the book fair later this morning are as enthusiastic as you are…


Carolyn Alessio On February 26, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Beth Please introduce yourself to crab orchard review Editors Jon tribble and Allison Joseph. Audrey knows them

Sent from my iPhone

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:03 am

Oh, Carolyn, I shall! A woman in my Chicago writing group (not a senior citizen from my classes, but a writer who just finished her low-residency MFA at Queens) is here, too, and I know she’d love to meet John and Alison as well. I’ll rendezvous with her and we’ll find the table together. Thanks for the tip —


Lois Baron On February 26, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Good luck, Beth! And enjoy. Lois

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:03 am

Will do!


Cheryl On February 26, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I would love to be with you in Seattle, but I’m sure we’ll be back there when the book is published:)

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

Now, *there’s* a plan!


Crystal Klir-Oleff On February 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Sending you and Whitney all the good juju we can so you both have a happy and successful trip! So glad to hear you’re out and about again and feeling well and confident in your endeavors! Lots of love, Crystal

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

Oh, Crystal, I’m feeling your juju. ALWAYS so lovely to hear from you, thanks for taking the time to write with such good wishes. My best to you and your family, too —


Bonita Mall On February 26, 2014 at 10:22 pm


Did not know of your surgery. Glad to know you are doing well. Back in Seattle! You are.

Let me know if you have time to catch up in Chicago when you return.

As always,


bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:14 am

Yes, I had a flashback on the street yesterday — you and Pam and me all those years ago. And gee whiz, I thought I’d bored everyone I know with details of my heart miracle last year. Guess I should add a link to that in this post, you know, in case any potential publishers happen to come here to check me out and worry I might not live to publication time. Will do that now, and I’ll make a note to contact you, Bonita, when I’m back in Chicago and things settle down a bit –may not be until end of March, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s the link to more than you’ll ever want to know about what happened to me last April:


Hank On February 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Good luck, Beth. I know you will be a big hit! Can’t wait to read the book.

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:18 am

Can’t wait to have you read it, either, Hank. Thanks for the good wishes —


taraisarockstar On February 27, 2014 at 3:16 am

This is so exciting. Best of luck to you!

bethfinke On February 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

Exciting? Hmmm. I’d say nerve-wracking. It’ll be exciting if something comes of this, though, and it’s been good for me to have to figure things out on my own in re: finding the coffee maker in my hotel room and navigating the hotel lobby and working our way to the convention center. I’m getting my travel chops back, something I’ll need again when (not if) this next book gets published.


Charlie Simokaitis On February 27, 2014 at 11:15 am

Have a fun a fruitful trip! It was great running into you on the street last week.

bethfinke On March 1, 2014 at 9:34 am

Yes, running into you on the sidewalk was serendipitous, Charlie. Just glad we didn’t literally “run into” you, if you know what I mean…!


Monna Ray On February 27, 2014 at 11:23 am

Here’s wishing you lots of luck, Beth. Monna

Fancy Nischer On February 27, 2014 at 11:27 am

Have a wonderful and hopefully successful trip!
Fancy Nischer

Cam On February 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Can’t wait to hear all about how you snagged a publisher!

Have a great time and say hi to Linda for me.

bethfinke On March 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

Monna & Fancy (gee that sounds like a special coffee brand, or the soap you buy at boutique stores!) -thanks for the good wishes. and Cam, I spent a fun and fruitful morning at the conference with Linda, so nice to have that time together.


glivingston On February 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Luck? You do not need it–you are well equipped and I know it will be a fun trip. Enjoy your time away from Chicago.

bethfinke On March 1, 2014 at 9:39 am

Oh, I really did enjoy time away from the snow — so freeing to wear shoes (didn’t even pack snowboots) and walk on dry sidewalks!


Barbara Timberlake On February 27, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I’m thinking about you in Seattle with love and prayers in my heart.

bethfinke On March 1, 2014 at 9:40 am

I felt your prayers when Whitney and I got lost on our way to the convention center Thursday afternoon –we eventually found our way. thanks, Barbara!


Catherine Rategan On February 27, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Beth, we missed you today at Memoir I but had a good session anyway.

I felt so anxious for you as I read your blog about learning your way down to the lobby, then to the convention center and then from table to table. Jeez, girl, what guts you have!

See you next week.


*Catherine Rategan* Writer, Inc. 312-266-8146

bethfinke On March 1, 2014 at 9:45 am

Someday you memoir-writers are going to figure out you don’t need me there to motivate you to write! Hope that doesn’t happen for a long, long while, I so enjoy being there to hear you all read your essays in class and was sorry to miss it Thursday. Looking forward to what you all come up with for next week’s topic, in honor of my hotel stay: Waking up in a Strange Room.


Nancy B On February 27, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Hope you are having a great time in Seattle! Good luck! And hugs to you and Whit!

bethfinke On March 1, 2014 at 9:46 am

Thanks, Nancyb. Whit needed those hugs –the plane trip there was squishy and the hotel lobby a bit confusing. Like always, though, she was a trooper. Hugs to HK, too.


Heidi Thorsen On March 1, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Hi Beth, I am a very new subscriber to your blog and was fascinated to hear you were in Seattle, which is where I live, well close by anyway. I look forward to reading more about your fearless ambitions and accomplishments. Being recently visually impaired, I was intrigued to stumble on your blog. I am not connected to any VI people who are carving their way through the regular trials and triumphs of life. Reading your stories is inspiring. Also I am intrigued by your book topic. I have been a classroom teacher for 31 years to middle school age children and over the years we have written many memoirs, it was one of my favorite units to teach. I hope your trip was successful.

Deborah Darsie On March 17, 2014 at 9:00 pm

I hope you enjoyed your visit to Seattle. I wish I had known you would be in the area, I would have enjoyed a chance to meet you.

I am glad the TSA folks decided you had a lucky 8 snow-globe.

bethfinke On March 17, 2014 at 9:11 pm

A lucky eight snow-globe. I love it! It wasn’t *that* lucky, though — if I’d been luckier, I would have rememberred that you live in/near Seattle and we could have gotten together. next time?


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