Happy Birthday, Dave Eggers

March 12, 20176 CommentsPosted in blindness, memoir writing, writing

I subscribe to something called The Writer’s Almanac and wake up every morning to a poem and an email message listing things that went on in the literary world that day in history. Today’s listing includes something about writer and publisher Dave Eggers that I thought worth sharing here.

Cover of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and link to review.

This book launched an empire, of sorts.

I could still see when I was a student at University of Illinois, and I worked at the Daily Illini, our college newspaper. Dave Eggers worked at the Daily Illini, too, and it’s his birthday today. “When he was in college at the University of Illinois, both his parents died of cancer within six months, and he was completely on his own at the age of 21,” the Writer’s Almanac reports. “He was also made the guardian of his eight-year-old brother, Christopher, so he had to drop out of college to support the family, and wrote about it in his best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”

Eggers went on to launch his own publishing company and start a tutoring center and writing school. He’s written and edited dozens of books and screenplays, too, but what really struck me about his mention in today’s almanac was something he said about those life-altering events during his college years. I didn’t have anything nearly as catastrophic happen to me when I was 21, but the life-altering events that occurred a few years later help me understand his reaction to it all. I’ll end here with that quote — see what you think:

He later said: “On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There’s a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started.”

Thank you, Dave Eggers. Happy birthday.

Mondays with Mike: Watashi ni shiawasena tanjōbi (Happy birthday to me)

March 6, 201715 CommentsPosted in baseball, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, travel

This coming June, I will celebrate a significant birthday. As in a big round number. To be honest, they’re all sort of blending together at this point, and none seem that significant.

Photo of a woman diver holding an octopus.

A photo from “The Village Across the Sea,” a book of Brian’s terrific photos of Ama, traditional Asian divers.

But I’m not letting this one go by without using it as an excuse to splurge on myself. And so, to celebrate my birthday this year, I’ll be flying to Tokyo.

I’ll be staying with our nephew Brian, who’s fashioned a career teaching English while also building a marvelous professional photography portfolio. Beth’s posted about him at the blog before—he specializes in shooting two very different types of subjects: Japanese heavy metal and punk concerts, and Haenyeo—traditional female divers of Asia.

Photo of a rock musician.

Brian also shoots metal concerts.

Brian just got a brand spanking new job, and he’ll be living very near to Tokyo by the time I visit.

He’s making plans for us to take in some Nippon Professional Baseball games. I’m told these games are an absolute hoot and it’ll be a chance for he and I, at last, to root for the same team (he’s a Cub fan, I’m a White Sox fan). With any luck, we’ll get to see Shohei Otani, a phenomenal player who pitches when he’s not playing outfield or serving as designated hitter.

Brian will also give me a guided tour of, well, whatever he thinks we should do. He’s been in Japan for several years now, and I’m trusting his judgment on what I should not miss.

I’m also going to trust his judgment on what foods I absolutely must eat, as well what beers and sakes I absolutely must drink.

Plans are being made as we speak and suggestions from blog readers are welcome. Meantime, I’ve got to do a little research on the Japanese baseball scene. Sayonara until next Monday.

Guest post: How to stay forever young

March 4, 201711 CommentsPosted in blindness, Blogroll, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, guide dogs, memoir writing, Seeing Eye dogs

I met today’s guest blogger Jeff Flodin when he and his Seeing Eye dog joined our downtown memoir writing class for a few sessions in 2009. Writing has been Jeff’s primary vocation ever since: He is working on a short story collection about vision loss, and a version of this guest post originally appeared on his Jalapeños in the Oatmeal blog.

Jeff Flodin with his Seeing Eye dog.

Jeff Flodin with his Seeing Eye dog.

by Jeff Floddin

My wife and I were high school sweethearts—for half of sophomore year, that is. We attended colleges 427 miles apart. She returned home for high school reunions, I didn’t. We neither saw nor spoke for thirty-two years.

During our decades apart, she had her first bout with breast cancer; I lost the ability to see faces.

When we reconnected, we shared lots of stories and, in the telling, she sounded the same as I remembered. Then and now, when I hear her voice, I see the face of a sixteen year-old girl.

My last trip to the picture show when I could see the picture was The Untouchables. That was around 1989, when the blind spots in my visual field meant I had to look from one face to another to follow the conversation. I saw that Sean Connery was balding. I had noticed that I too was balding. I saw how virile a balding Sean Connery was. I thought the same applied to me. But my algebraic truth that if a=b and b=c, then a=c sadly didn’t apply when a = Sean Connery and c = me. At least, that’s what my friends told me, and, bless them, they broke the news in a Disney way.

At our wedding seven years ago, the friend who introduced us read from my wife’s sophomore yearbook “Hey,” I had written, “it was fun being your boyfriend for four and a half months (132 days). Maybe we should try it again sometime—like in 25 or 30 years.”

Everybody oohed and aahed.

I smiled serenely, like a prophet. I scanned every face, every dear face that had not changed in forty years. And I saw and heard kindness and caring, joy and love. And I became aware of what beauty truly means and where it dwells.

And then I kissed my beautiful bride.

Jeff Flodin and his Seeing Eye dog Randy will make a cameo appearance in my upcoming book. You can get a sneak peek of a short chapter from Writing Out Loud online now, free of charge. Just complete the form here.

I’m writing as fast as I can

March 1, 201715 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind

Some of you have heard my good news already, but worth repeating: Golden Alley Press, an independent publisher outside of Philadelphia, is publishing my new book!

Writing Out Loud is due out next month, and I’ve been meeting with Nancy Sayre, my Golden Alley Press editor over the phone every week since we signed the contract last year. In addition to helping me with revisions and rewrites, the good folks at Golden Alley Press have been hard at work
revamping all things re: my online image.

Mike’s already posted about the new site and blog design. The book is next, and here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s description–it’s straight from the Books by Beth Finke page:

Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors is the touching story of Beth’s experience teaching older adults how to capture their stories on paper – and deliver them aloud to their classmates.

In this memoir that reads like a novel, you will come to love the men and women whose poignant memories intertwine with Beth’s. Through telling their stories, the members of her classes come to know each other and connect more deeply with their own families. The experience is rich with life lessons for both students and teacher.

The revisions and rewrites aren’t done yet, but Nancy’s counsel over the phone has been indispensable. She makes me feel like we’ve been friends for years, and it’s astonishing how comfortable she is with my blindness: together we’ve puzzled through ways to include me in decisions on everything from cover design to branding. During last week’s meeting we thought hard about how many photographs to include in Writing Out Loud.

I was flattered when Nancy credited the “clear imagery” my writing creates. She wondered out loud whether it might be better to use very few photographs and let readers imagine what everything in Writing Out Loud looks like.

I heartily concurred with that thought. “That’ll help the readers get right into my head, they’ll have to imagine things the same way I do.”

Nancy continues to help me shape my writing for the better, and you can get a sneak peek of a short chapter online now: Just complete the form here.

And stay tuned, there’s more to come.




Mondays with Mike: Real life comes calling

February 27, 20173 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, parenting a child with special needs, politics

As many of you know, our son Gus lives in a group home in Wisconsin that is operated by Bethesda Lutheran Communities. Gus is developmentally disabled, and he lives with three other developmentally disabled men in a yellow ranch home in a bucolic little burg called Watertown.

Beth, Gus, and the late, great Flo hanging out in his room.

Some terrific people have cared for Gus and his pals. A lot of them, over time, given that the turnover is pretty high. Which is sort of a problem but also, given how difficult the job is, an understandable one.

And the low pay doesn’t help the case a lot. Still, even though the names and faces change, we always feel like the salt-of-the-earth Packer, Badger, and Brewers fans do right by our Gus.

And we have, since he moved up there, felt lucky and grateful to have found a good place for him. We wish he lived closer, but Illinois—a relatively wealthy state—has always been abysmal when it comes to services for people like Gus. I put that down to a lot of things, including what I’d call the corruption tax. That is, resources that could go toward things like solid safe group homes and services for developmentally disabled people are essentially wasted on corrupt contracts, employing well-connected hacks, etc.

States like Minnesota and Wisconsin have always stood in stark contrast to Illinois in terms of their politics—Illinois hardly shining by comparison. It’s no accident that Gus ended up in Wisconsin in his adulthood.

But we got some bad news the other day—Bethesda is closing four homes in the Milwaukee area. I learned about it from a woman, with whom I served on the parent league board. Her daughter is in one of the homes to be closed. (Gus’ home is not affected by this closing.)

The good news is that Bethesda has worked to find placement for the residents of her daughter’s home—they are moving together to a home operated by a different organization, that’s relatively close by.

Still, it’s sobering. A TV news story on the closings stressed that a shortfall of donations is to blame. I’m doing a little research on that, but meantime, I’m quite sure that’s not the only reason. The state’s reimbursements to operators of group homes are woefully low—they have been for years, and apparently, in Milwaukee, push has come to shove.

The funding issue is pretty complicated, a little too much to try to wrestle with in a blog post.

But, in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that for all the Sturm and Drang in the news and on our Facebook pages, there are real consequences to public policy. I’m pretty sure we all agree that we can do better.