Mondays with Mike: Fighting the good fight     

April 10, 20176 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, politics

Last week Beth and I had the honor of attending an event held by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). If you’re not familiar with the SLPC, it’s a non-profit that does difficult and often-dangerous legal work and research to fight racial prejudice and injustice, and helps those who could not otherwise afford legal services. It also tracks and fights hate groups including but not limited to the Ku Klux Klan.

SPLC founder Morris Dees.

Some might think SPLC’s work is less relevant or important than it was back in 1971, when it was founded. Current SPLC President Richard Cohen and SPLC Founder (and current Chief Trial Attorney) Morris Dees made it painfully clear that it’s as big a fight as ever. These folks do an enormous amount of legal grunt work, and they’ve gone up against some very dangerous, ugly people—at real risk to their own lives. (As evidenced by the stout security presence at the Harris Theater the night we were there).

I hope – regardless of your political stripe – you’ll visit the SPLC site and learn about their work. And, take a look at the tracking they do of some nasty, hateful groups.

Meantime, one interesting piece of work they’ve been at has involved Google. Specifically, they tracked the case of Dylan Roof, the shooter who shot eight African-American worshippers in cold blood at their church in South Carolina. (And who just plead guilty.)

Roof didn’t grow up in a racist household. But by tracking his online travels and his writings, it was clear that the Internet played a giant role in the conversion of nice kid into monster. Once he started searching on terms like black-on-white crime, Google returned a plethora of sites that spewed made-up statistics and hateful, inaccurate stories.

This last election cycle opened my eyes to sites I barely could believe—including the one that said Hillary Clinton used a D.C. pizzeria for child molestation. But I’m telling you, the sites the SPLC representatives showed us were downright chilling. And when you think of an adolescent swimming around in that stuff, it becomes easier to see how Dylan Roof could happen.

SPLC saw a problem in the way these sites are not vetted at all for accuracy by Google’s algorithms. Google, responsibly, has met with SPLC twice. There’s evidence that some good has already been done — and Google just announced another step in the fight against bogus information.

I hope you’ll consider supporting the SPLC. As Morris Dees said in his closing remarks they will continue their work, as Dr. Martin Luther King put it, “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”


Mondays with Mike: St. Joseph’s Day

April 2, 20177 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

Yesterday, a lovely Chicago Sunday morning, I awoke to the muffled sounds of people outside our window cheering sporadically. And I remembered, it was the Shamrock Shuffle, an 8k running race.

I like running events. I especially like watching them, cheering them on, while I eat Jays potato chips. Seriously, the good spirit, people cheering on total strangers, it’s kind of contagious, even for curmudgeons like me.

But this one is different. First, It’s April 2. But it’s called the Shamrock Shuffle. Like we don’t get enough faux Irish here in Chicago all year.

To start, you’re not Irish any more than I’m Italian or I’m Serbian, unless you actually were born there, which, in that case, you’re probably not gonna act like an idiot pretending to be Irish.

Photo of Ducati motorcycle

Forget shamrocks, gimme a Ducati.

Second, if you live downtown, St. Patrick’s Day is a train wreck in Chicago. The city dyes the river green and hordes line up to watch that most unnatural act. Parade goers  watch  that awful toe dancing that that awful man Michael Flatly made popular with that awful Riverdance. People vomit on the street at lunchtime. They wear horrible clothes the color of their vomit.

Do I sound cranky? Well, yes I am. You would be, too, if you lived in downtown and had to put up with this lot. Beth and I were talking about this and she brought up a sort of antidote thought exercise: What if we celebrated St. Joseph’s Day instead?

We’d awake to opera.

Instead of putrid green getups, we’d have men in tailored slacks, fine leather shoes, and fedoras. The women. Oh the women. They’d all be Isabella Rossellini and Sophia Loren. Dressed in sensuously flowing elegance.

We’d sip some deep black espresso in the morning, as we watched gondoliers go by on the Chicago River.

The parade would be short but sweet. Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Alfas. And of course, all led by the sexiest motorcycles in the world, Ducatis, Moto Guzzis and MV Agustas.

Then we’d have a leisurely lunch, antipasto, primo piatti, secondo piatti, all with a fine Italian wine. Then dolce, and a bit of grappa.

Then we’d all go home and nap.

A person can dream.




Something Fishy: a panel discussion at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

April 1, 20175 CommentsPosted in blindness, Blogroll, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, Whitney

A couple days ago I sat on a panel at Chicago Shedd Aquarium with a theater director, a mother of three school-aged children, and a lawyer.

Theater director Brian Balcom uses a wheelchair, one of Laurie Viets’ children is on the autism spectrum, attorney Rachel Arfa is profoundly deaf and uses bilateral cochlear implants to hear, and then there was me, with Whitney the Seeing Eye dog at my feet. What do we all have in common? We enjoy going to plays, to concerts, to museums.

The four of us were there to talk with staff from a variety of departments at the Shedd (from VPs to Senior Directors to Facilities staff) about ways museums and cultural institutions can be welcoming to all visitors — including those of us with disabilities.

Some of the ideas we shared were new to the audience, others served as good reminders. We played well off of each other, and one staff member said afterwards that we’d shared information they would have never considered. “Even though when I thought about it, the idea was really just common sense.” A few examples:

  • Brian said he’d love to be able to join with others at the Shedd’s Touch pool exhibit and feel a stingray or sturgeon fish, but the way the touch tank is mounted you have to be able to stand up and reach over to get your hands in the water. “You have stools there for the kids to use, but I can’t stand on a stool.”
  • Rachel said she’d been to the Dolphin Show at the Shedd but without audio captioning she wasn’t able to take it in the way others did.
  • Laurie said taking breaks at quiet areas can help avoid meltdowns in museums, but when at a museum for the first time, she doesn’t always know where those quiet areas are.
  • For my part, I said I don’t mind at all when people ask me if I need help, but I like to know who’s offering.

Brian pointed out that a lot of kids come to the aquarium. “How old are kids when they’re this high?” he asked. I imagined him in his chair, placing his palm on the top of his head. “Seven or eight? When you’re planning new exhibits, maybe you could Arrange everything so a kid who’s seven or eight can see it, that way anyone using a wheelchair should be able to access it, too.” Rachel encouraged them to use audio captioning with all their shows and videos, noting that some older adults who are hard of hearing like audio captioning, too. Laurie suggested signage and maps that mention where the quieter areas of the museum are. I said I’m more comfortable accepting assistance if I know the person asking is someone on staff. “I can’t see yourr uniform, though,” I reminded them . “So if you think of it, introduce yourself before you ask.”

Our presentation occurred right smack dab in the middle of spring break week in Chicago, and the aquarium was p-a-c-k-e-d with kids. Eyebrows up! Instead of sitting at home watching TV, the kids were all learning how important the waterways are to us, and to the creatures who live there. Bonus: the Shedd Aquarium gifted all four of us with free passes to visit when it isn’t so crowded.

Photo of river otters that links to Regan's blog.

Click on the river otters to check out Regan’s “Something’s Fishy” essay at her blog.

Back on dry land, the presentation inspired this week’s memoir-writing prompt. I asked writers to write about “Something Fishy.”

Al came back with a piece about growing up on a block in south-suburban Chicago Heights full of neat brick and wood frame bungalows. “A 2 ½ story Victorian home at the end of the block always stuck out like a sore thumb among the more modest abodes,“ he wrote, adding that he went to grade school with the boy who lived there, Chuckie Costello. “Rumor was that the home had bulletproof glass. I never gave it much credence until Charles Siragusa, head of the Illinois Crime Investigation Commission, subpoenaed Chuckie’s father.”

Sharon’s essay acknowledged patience isn’t one of her virtues. On vacations with her partner David, She opts to enjoy the birds and waves from a hotel balcony with a cup of java in hand rather than join him out there fishing. “Impatience and fishing are not good friends,” she explained. “They have absolutely no tolerance for each other.”

Regan’s “Something Fishy” essay pointed out that only 500 whooping cranes exist in the wild in North America. After spotting one during a recent trip to the Platte River in central Nebraska, she told her friends, “If I see a river otter before we head for home you can throw me from the plane, because my life will be complete.” Of course they saw an otter an hour later. You’ll have to read Regan’s entire essay on her Back Story Essays blog to find out how her parachute trip from the plane went.

What a Feeling: winning an award for writing

March 29, 201712 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, technology for people who are blind

Some writers in the Memoir-writing classes I lead have had their memoirs published, but none has ever won an award (with a cash prize, no less!) for their writing…until now.

Photo of Andrea Kelton.

That’s the award-winning Andrea. Photo courtesy Darlene Schweitzer.

A poem Andrea Kelton wrote has been awarded a cash prize for Second-Place in the Magnets and Ladders poetry contest! Andrea’s poem What a Feeling will be published in the Magnets and Ladders Spring/Summer 2017 edition along with a memoir called Water Balloons that she wrote for class.

A visual artist, Andrea was running a pottery workshop for children in 2005 when she first enrolled in our “Me, Myself and I” class sponsored by the City of Chicago’s Department on Aging. I couldn’t see the low vision magnifying reading glasses she used to wear to read her essays in class. It wasn’t until she read an essay about losing a job after being diagnosed with an eye condition in her twenties that I realized she can’t see well: Andrea has uveitis.

In 2009, glaucoma started setting in as well, leaving Andrea unable to read print. Like so, so many other writers in the classes I lead, Andrea did not give up. She learned to use an audio and magnifying computer program called Zoom Text to write and edit her pieces at home, and when it’s her turn to read in class, she passes a print copy to Wanda, who is hard of hearing. Wanda reads the piece aloud: the deaf leading the blind.

Magnets and Ladders is an online magazine with a tag line that says it all: Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities. The submission guidelines make it clear the magazine “does not feature advocacy, activist, how-to, or what’s new articles regarding disabilities” and prefers poetry, memoir, fiction and non-fiction.

You can read the magazine or sign up for the Email edition by visiting the Magnets and Ladders website. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a sneak preview of Andrea Kelton’s prize-winning poem here. Congratulations, Andrea.

What a Feeling!
By Andrea Kelton

The easel
Holds a painting
Featuring a free-form tree
Under an explosive yellow sun.

The artist
Brush in hand
Stands back
Admiring her masterpiece.

Satisfaction bubbles
Glee gushes and rushes
Through her four-year-old body.

Andrea glows with wonder
At this treasure she’s created.

Emotions explode
As she discovers
Doing art
Creates bliss.

Monday’s with Mike: Hospital etiquette

March 27, 20173 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

A very near and dear friend of ours was off the radar last week for a few days. Which isn’t terribly unusual, but we live in the same little neighborhood, and we usually do run into each other by accident at least once a week.

We came to learn that he’d been in the hospital for four nights after a scary episode that was successfully treated. He’s back in circulation.

He’d intentionally not informed anyone except a friend in a faraway place—which was entirely his prerogative.

Still, we—and his many other dear friends who hadn’t known—were kind of miffed to learn about it after the fact. (And we kind of piled on him, poor guy.)

Picture of a man in the hospital being visited by several other men.

Some people like visitors, others not so much.

Which on one hand doesn’t make a lot of sense. I mean, the only thing that really matters is that our friend is fine. None of us could’ve done much of anything but worry. Or visit, which our friend didn’t want. I didn’t’ used to understand why you wouldn’t want visitors while in the hospital, but Beth has taught me that not everyone wants to have company when they’re not at their best. And besides, it’s hardly like you’re alone—you’re visited and pricked and prodded and measured pretty regularly.

Still. I remember when my parents were still around. They only grudgingly reported on one another’s maladies. Anything short of crisis was kept mum. And they’d come clean only when they absolutely had to. You know, like, “I hate to bother you, but your father’s had a major heart attack.” Nothing to see here!

And even Beth, who doesn’t like visitors when she’s been in the hospital, wrote in Long Time, No See about the power of not feeling alone. She wrote about a sensation she had while in the hospital shortly after our son Gus was born—he arrived in deep distress, and his very survival was in question at the time:

I felt somehow that a lot of people were thinking of us, all at the same time. I don’t know what the trendy word is for it now, but back then it was “vibes,” and they were good and strong.

This interlude was interrupted by Dr. Ionnides’ return to my bedside. “We’re not sure how it happened,” he explained, “but the baby’s condition has reversed itself.”

For me, I guess it’s always been sort of simple, if not necessarily defensible: If I care about you, I’d always rather know than not know. I might not be able to do anything, but it gives me a sense of being in it with you. And while I’m not all new age or religious about this stuff, that just may count for something.

So, to my friends reading this: if you land in the hospital with a health scare, you damn well better let me know.