What Change Looks Like


It has been an unusually busy fall, enough to keep me from my twice-monthly posting. But I suspect your inbox has been as full of political email these past months as mine, which has made logging in even more overwhelming than usual.

May this message offer you a brief respite from all of that, bringing you literary news and perhaps a twinkle of inspiration.

Since we were last in touch, I’m delighted to share that Thread has:

More important to me than the numbers is what I’m seeing in the variety of submissions. I was determined to publish a diversity of voices across gender, age, perspective and geography. Contributors to Thread, Stitch and the live readings write from as nearby as Chicago to as far away as Switzerland and Spain and their experiences were formed in the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and Hawaii.

I’ve been teaching “Writing for Personal Discovery” workshops in my home since January and thrilled that the work of six students – John Hahm, Ellen Hainen, Marie Davidson, Nina Kavin, Brad Rosen, Michael Rabiger – made it into Thread, Stitch or a live lit reading this year. While it isn’t everyone’s goal to write for publication, I am committed to publishing emerging writers who are seeking just that.

Next winter and spring, I’ll be trying something different by offering shorter-length workshops  – one day and four-week sessions – for busy people who would like to give this personal narrative thing a try. I’m also teaching a morning workshop on Friday, December 16th titled “So That Your Values Live On: Writing Your Ethical Will” at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue. Check the Workshops page of my website for more about my winter and spring workshop schedule.

Finally, I promised to keep you updated on my inhale year. I’ll provide you with a complete report in my next post, but until then, let me say that the experiment in not writing has had some very surprising writerly results.

I leave you with a quote I found in a wonderful book I’m reading called The Artist’s Torah by David Ebenbach. He reminds us that creation is the result of destruction. Change is hard. Scary. Our tendency is to keep what we know, because even our current scary is a known one. But he reminds us that,

As artists we are asked to the truth we see, without and within. It asks us to be willing to grow – to destroy what we’ve been so that we can be something new.

What better example of this than in autumn’s own natural art exhibit?

Could next year be your year to start – or return to, writing?  Private coaching can make this happen. Gift certificates make a very thoughtful – and unique – holiday gift.


In Search of Yarn, Stitched with Color



“Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” W.S. Merwin


The spindle of June has turned, allowing me to catch up on Thread submissions, update the site and rev up for my new publishing project within a publishing project, Stitch.

Stitch celebrates the short-form essay, otherwise known as flash non-fiction. It’s a magnificent mix of personal narrative and poetry; a challenging hybrid to write, but oh so satisfying to read. I’m choosing the 100-words-or-less variety and today, July 1st, I’m opening up the site for submissions, hoping to publish at least one new piece each month.

How do we define flash nonfiction? Because it’s art, there’s very little agreement. But I offer two articulate attempts:

In the introduction to The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, (2012), editor and essayist Dinty Moore writes that flash nonfiction is “individual, intimate, exploratory, and carefully crafted using metaphor, sensory language, and precise detail.”

Essayist Bernard Cooper writes that short nonfiction requires “an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens … until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.”

I especially love Cooper’s line about being human. This idea is central to my essay sensibility. Thread explores the moments that expose and connect us and what it means to be human.

I was over the moon when Thread was reviewed recently and the writer noted this, saying that the pieces “describe every day events kissed by a haunting sense of larger meaning.” Yes! That’s exactly what Thread is going for.

So have a sensational summer, but don’t stray too far. I’ll be keeping you posted in my blog (you can subscribe for free here) and on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.



Art in the Afternoon



I didn’t know this would happen when I launched Thread in December of 2014, but it turns out that my literary publication has two very distinct identities.

The first, which takes most of my time, is as a high-quality literary publication that is released three times a year. I LOVE the process but it involves only me, a few writers and photographers, a graphic designer and programmer. I couldn’t do it without them, but outside of production, it can be a lonely business being a solo editor-preneur.

Its second identity is as a live reading series. I host two a year, in the Spring and Fall, and this is when Thread gets to unfurl its spools. The event celebrates the local writers whose work is published in Thread of course, (Sheri Reda, John Hahm and Ellen Hainen), but their essays are embroidered and embellished with food and drink (from The Curragh Irish Pub), guitar-harmonica-and-vocals (by Bar None with Lori Wyatt), storytellers (including Jill Howe, Alan Neff, Bobbie Scheff and David Barish) and … an audience!

Which turns Thread into a community maker by way of the arts.

Which is what happened at yesterday afternoon’s Spring Thread Reading. An afternoon of art, offering a rare window of time to gather for lots of folks, but especially art-loving sports fans. It was the day before the start of baseball season, a day off for the NCAA basketball championship players, and the event was scheduled AFTER the Chicago Blackhawks game and BEFORE the Chicago Bulls game began! So a lot of people came. Somewhere around 70!

Which put people in just the right mood in spite of the fact they were pushed together like sardines and we had to turn a few folks away. (Those folks have been offered a seat at the next reading as Thread’s guest.)

Titanic thanks to everyone who helped make yesterday so memorable as an arts event and community connector. You can see how it went through these photographic highlights supplied by Emily Barish, Nina Kavin, Jill Howe and Frances Freedman. (And mark your calendars for the next reading, tentatively scheduled for October 16th.)


crowd pix #2 Bobbie Scheff close up Ellen Hainen Ellen & Allen Ellen & David Ellen & John Ellen Hainen smiling Jill

sheri5 2

David telling

Ellen at the mic

crowd pix #1

Painting by Sir John Everett Millais

My Inhale Year

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“The average human being has about 55,000 thoughts a day: some of them are about injustice; some of them are about ketchup.”  Ada Limon


Since January, as friends and colleagues have asked what I’m working on, I’ve responded by telling them that I am taking the year off from creative nonfiction. I’m still blogging and posting on social media, but I’m taking a kind of breather, what musician and writer Henry Rollins coined as “an inhale year.”

Rollins writes: “I’ll have inhale years and exhale years. In an inhale year, like last year, I will travel and get information so I can have something to say on stage while I spend a whole year exhaling. So an exhale year, I’m on the road touring and the material is derived from all the crazy stuff I did last year.”

For someone who has been writing since the 1980s and publishing without a break, my response has lifted some eyebrows and roused some quizzical expressions. If one is a writer, shouldn’t one be writing?

I keep an ongoing index of my published pieces and that count is somewhere around 500. In thirty-some years of writing, that’s an average of one published piece a month. That’s a lot of words.

While I’m not in making mode right now, I am sticking close to the process. I don’t like to be too far from it. I’m focusing, quite happily, on the work of others. My workshop students. My private writing clients. Writers who submit to Thread. I’m nose-deep in writers and their process, and it is very gratifying indeed. Few things make me happier than seeing a writer’s work expand, contract, shape-shift and then transmute into artful, articulated expression.

So why am I doing this? Why decide what kind of year I should have, creatively speaking? Why not let the juices flow as they will?

I’m doing it, in part, for a much-needed break, so I can concentrate on the writers in my life and, also, to work on publishing and business aspects related to Thread.

But I knew there were others reasons that I just hadn’t identified until a writer friend, Rebecca Talbot, passed this gem of an essay by Ada Limon along to me. It beautifully articulates what I had not yet been able to: that there is pleasure and value in not writing.

Limon, who is a poet, writes, “What I mean is, there are times poems do not come and life is too heavy to be placed on the page, or life is so deliciously light and joyful you must suck it down before anyone notices. That is okay. You are still the writer watching that train, doing laundry, getting lost in this massive mess of minutes. There is value in this silent observing.”

We are still writers even when we aren’t writing. I know this. I’ve told my students this. But I needed reminding.

While I may not be writing in the traditional sense of the word, I am taking notes. A steadily increasing list of ideas which, because of my inhale year, will have the luxury of percolating. Marinating.

So watch out because next year – my exhale year – may bring along a very big wind.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.


A Theatre and a Literary Magazine Cross-Pollinate

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While he was traveling in Barcelona, Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls was struck by bold promotional posters for a book featuring pink crosses in the desert.

The images compelled Falls to read that novel, a 900-page work that stirred him in its scope and structure and how it seamlessly moved between comedy, film noir, hyper-realism and fairy tale across Spain, England, Mexico and Germany and from the 1990s to World War II.

The book, 2666, written by Latin American writer Roberto Bolano, inspired Falls to bring it to the stage and the world premiere opened last week at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

At five hours with three intermissions, it’s an ambitious play, but how else to express Bolano’s aspirations? It’s a five-part, multi-media mingling of reality and fiction based on a real-life crime wave. Fifteen actors portray 80 roles wearing 120 costumes and includes video, projections and original music.

A recent New York Times article says the play is about “evil, memory, chaos, futility, dread, hunger for meaning, and, not least, the sometimes maddening lure of literature itself.” Bolano, who died at age 50 in 2003, was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for the book in 2008.

So when the Goodman Theatre reached out to Thread to help showcase this production, Thread was delighted to become a partner. As the editor of a literary publication that explores the breadth of human experience via personal essay, how could I resist a play that addresses such a wide range of themes that grew out of a real-life event?

The Goodman may be an iconic theatre and Thread, a new literary publication and reading series, but we are Chicago-based art organizations who share audiences who love both the literary and the stage. And, we each released new work just last week!

You love the arts, right? Show your support by reading the latest issue of Thread and clicking on the Goodman artwork you see at the right of this blog post. You’ll find everything you need about getting tickets to the show. 2666 has a limited run from February 6 – March 20.

Subscribe to Thread.

Submit to Thread.

Support Thread.

If you are local to Chicago, or planning to be in the area in early April, circle April 3rd on your calendar for the next Thread Reading series to be held at a new location, The Curragh, in Skokie.  Go to the Readings page of the Thread site for updates.