Plume Service Vol. 1: Sensual Perspectives of Time & Space


About a week ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, fifteen people participated in the first ever Plume Service writing workshop, the first in a series of monthly writing experiences whose goal is to bring The Pfister’s paintings to life.

We gathered on the mezzanine, with a view of the lobby below and an ear to the flurry of activity into which we would soon enter (or from which we would retreat, as it were).  A beautiful spread of tea sandwiches, wine, and other beverages promised to keep us satisfied for the following two-and-a-half hours.

Participants wore nametags with their real names and their noms de plume, which included delightful disguises like “Lelia Allen,” “Lady T,” “Alexis St. Amand,” and “Salvadora Hemisphere.” I invited them to unveil and reveal the stories in the paintings they would view today, whether in the lobby, the 2nd floor, the 3rd, or the 7th.  Their methods: use their senses and their perspective.  Today, they would–not literally, of course, I warned them!–hold their ear up to a painting and listen to what the subjects were saying or enjoy the waves lapping onto the shore.  Today, they would lick the paintings and taste the apple or the cold, thick air.  They would sniff deeply to detect the flirtatious perfume or Venetian river banks, reach out and pet the hunting dog or the delicate dress, and, of course, observe closely or from far away. They could, too, if they were careful, step into a painting and become part of the landscape or join in on a conversation–or eavesdrop.

Their range of observations, I told them, did not have to be limited to the framed space that each artist had offered us.  Instead, they could imagine what was to the left or the right, above or below, in the foreground or the background.  They could, too, unstick the paintings from time and travel to the moment prior or just after, or three years before or two days after.  They could focus on the entire painting or just one part, one just one painting or many.  And they could choose to write in any form they wished: narrative, poetry, monologue or dialogue, pure description.  The operative word was “could.”  No limits, no rules.  Just use their senses, play with perspective–and don’t touch the paintings! 

I certainly got my exercise trying to find the fifteen writers all over the four floors.  At first, some of them dispersed in pairs or small groups, but eventually I found almost all of them in various states of contemplation: sitting on the carpet in the long second floor hallway in front of an intriguing painting, lounging on the chaise on the grand landing, scribbling prodigiously while standing, or relaxing in the lobby or the mezzanine.

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We talked about each painting briefly: about the sensuality of Love’s kiss or where the woman with the empty basket was going. About the longing gaze in one or the surprised expression of a monk as he witnessed the canoodling of two lovers.  About the three women in the sea of curling (as in the winter sport) men or the composition of the hunting dog painting.  Each participant had found his or her writing home for an hour or so, had taken that time to escape from the hecticness of their own lives to contemplate a work of art and be moved by it to tell stories.

When we reconvened in the mezzanine, they spent some time sharing their writing with their fellow participants.  Few instructions were needed–they leapt directly into the experience with positive, affirming, interested attitudes.  In one corner there was laughter about a witty poem, in another there were nods of approval and insight.

20161112_134156 20161112_134133 20161112_1341340Finally, to cap off our first Plume Service, we retreated to the plush white carpet of the Pop-Up Gallery (many with wine in hand–white wine, not red!) and gathered in a circle for an informal reading of our work.  Each new work was greeted with snaps or claps and often words of praise.  You can tell by the photos that much fun was had as we honored each other, each others’ writings, and the paintings that inspired them.

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Over the next week or so, I will be sharing excerpts from some of these writings for your reading pleasure.  After the workshops are concluded in early spring, I will be working with The Pfister to create placards to accompany some of the paintings and an audio tour that will enliven guests’ stay at the Hotel.

The next workshop will be held Saturday, December 10, again from 12-2:30 pm.  Same goal, different focus: VOICE.  Please sign up on the Plume Service Facebook page or RSVP at  I hope to see some of the same faces–and new ones–next month!

For now, enjoy a little literary Plume Service!

consuelo_fould_reverieReverie | Zoë Lindstrom aka “Countess Zoëlla Germaine”

he said it once to me,
in a simple garden
before corsets
crushed the colors
of my breath.

he placed a raw hand
on the ivory roses,
tinged salmon by the evening,
caught in their last pure meaning
before the frost.

No, I did not–
I did not linger then,
though later I pricked my fingers
with the thorns of privilege
in the grey garden of another.

I wait,
I stay,
seeking to look again, with clear girls’ eyes,
at that moment.
Was it you I loved–
or the image of petals
left in mercy on the flower?


HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | NOVEMBER 2016 | A Month of Gratitude | “If Not Now, When?”

I sat down with Helene Fischman, who spoke about the importance of stepping into another’s shoes and two of her inspirations: Hillel the Elder and Martin Buber.


?אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי


I am thankful for the words of Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 BCE-10 CE): “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  But if I am only for myself, who am I?  If not now, when?  This is a core tenet of Judaism: the first question is about personal voice, the second is about community, and the last is about social action now.  I live and teach by this.

Recently, Martin Buber has been popping up on my Facebook.  Rabbi Hillel’s questions are like Buber’s I/Thou philosophy. [Note: “Often characterized as an existentialist philosopher, Buber rejected the label, contrasting his emphasis on the whole person and “dialogic” intersubjectivity with existentialist emphasis on “monologic” self-consciousness.”]   I think about how I am a white woman, which automatically makes me privileged.  For others, being in the minority forces them to see from another’s perspective.  If you are in the majority, though, you don’t have to do that. You’ve already “won,” so you’re not expected to have to see from another’s perspective.  But you have to know who you are AND how others are.  You need to step into another’s shoes.  That’s what I/Thou is about.  If not now, when?

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | NOVEMBER 2016 | A Month of Gratitude | “Seeing History”

20161115_124734Recently, I met with Richard Klatte Prestor, author of the photography books Milwaukee Wisconsin and Langlade County (in the Images of America). He talked at length about his extensive collections of historical photographs that he uses to document our American past.  Richard also spoke about current projects, which include a photography book on World War II and a fascinating novel-in-the-works about backstage security at 1970s concerts, from Bruce Springsteen to Led Zeppelin.  He is looking for a talented fiction writer to take on this latter project (so if anyone has any leads, get in touch with me!). We’re here now, though, to share Richard’s gratitudes!  Without further ado:



Something that can fit in a box?  I would have to say my camera.  I started taking pictures when I was nine years old.  People can write big things about American history, but I like seeing it.  I like seeing people at play, at work, in their coffins.  I love old photos that people tend to throw away.  For instance, I have an extensive collection of circus photos, original photos of writers (my favorite is a young Mark Twain before his well-known white hair and mustache) and over 500 original photos from World War II, including early pictures of Hitler and Julius Streicher.  Apparently, when Hitler was let of prison in 1924, Streicher and a photographer met him at the gate.  I got these photos of Hitler from my father, a captain, who fought in Germany and found a room with several shelves of brass-bound binders of photos.  My dad grabbed a few dozen of these, which included a 1925 photo of Hitler on a couch with Streicher and pictures of Jewish men–just headshots–that Streicher used as propoganda to show how “disgusting” Jewish men were.


I’m thankful for my mother.  She suffered a lot–she lost lots of her identity when she got married in 1946 (on 4/6/46–it’s easy to remember her birthday!).  I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s, and dad was not always around.  It got to the point where one day she just said, “Whatever happened to me?”  Despite this, she was always there for me.


A big idea or value?  This one’s hard.  I’ll say honesty.  I was born on Abe Lincoln’s birthday (2/12/47) and back then we knew him as “Honest Abe.” My honesty, however, is something I’ve had to learn how to control: I tend to be up front sometimes and say what I think right away.  Not everyone likes that.  But I’d rather someone give me a suggestion about something I’ve said so I can fix it.  I will.


HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | NOVEMBER 2016 | A Month of Gratitude | “She Types Like the Wind”

A month of gratitude.

I will be asking Humans this month for three different kinds of gratitudes: 


Thanks for something that can fit into a 1’x1′ box.

Thanks for a human or group of humans.

Thanks for a something non-physical

whether it’s an idea, a value, a force–

as long as it’s something we can’t see physically.

stick_man_clip_art_24915Let me tell you: my wife has been a court reporter for 50 years.  She types like the wind, the wind in the trees.  She used to type on a Selectric typewriter, but she had to slow down because the mechanisms couldn’t go that fast.  So I got her a computer–you remember those box computers, right?  That was, say, 25 years ago.  But the spaces and line numbers were different than a typewriter.  So I finally got her set up to type on it, but it was too slow.  It was always two or three lines behind what she was typing and would have to catch up.  So I had to get extra memory to help out.

She started court reporting typing manually on a typewriter, before printing and cheap copying like at, not Kinko’s but . . . ah, Pip Printing–remember that?  Then you could Xerox at a reasonable price.  And she had to use–what was that called?  The three pages that would give you three copies of the same–oh yeah, carbon copy.  Imagine having to type on carbon paper and then making a mistake on all three copies and having to make three corrections!  Although she barely ever makes a mistake.  And she doesn’t count in terms of characters per minute. How about pages per hour?!

My wife is the last one at the courthouse that still uses the old stenograph machine.  She’s retiring next year, though, since she’ll be 70 years old.  Even though she’s been working all this time–and she’s loved it–our life has been interesting and fun.  We’ve been married 41 and a half years!  We go to different things every day.  We’re actually known in Milwaukee as “The Dancers.”  Yes, you’ve probably seen us at Bastille Days, right up in the front, dancing.  We’re also folk dancers and she’s a belly dancer.  And you can often find us on Fridays with Phil Seed, dancing in the Mason Street Grill.  They call us “The Mason Street Dancers,” too.

We lived in Bay View for 18 years, then the last 22 years in Jackson Park, but, of course, we’ve been coming to The Pfister for decades because it’s like another one of our living rooms.  In fact, we have The Pfister to thank, too.  Two years ago, we were here around Christmas.  I had had a surgery to fix my vocal cords.  One day I just couldn’t talk–and I was a singer! It turns out only one vocal cord was working.  Anyway, there was the Narrator from that year, Anja Notanja, who was writing people “Letters from Santa.”  And we asked Santa to please give me my voice back.  Anja wrote the letter as a beautiful poem that we still keep underneath our St. Patrick statue because it helped give me the confidence to train my voice again.  I’ve had to learn to build up to a particular volume so that now–you can hear me, right?


HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | NOVEMBER 2016 | A Month of Gratitude


So far, HUMANS OF THE PFISTER has captured stories of life, liberty, happiness, augustness, education, and fear.  The Humans have been so willing to share their stories, whether happy or sad, simple or philosophical, funny or serious, unique or universal.  So I can’t wait to hear what they have to share with me and you this month.  Our theme?

A month of gratitude.

I will be asking Humans this month for three different kinds of gratitudes: 

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Thanks for something that can fit into a 1’x1′ box.

Thanks for a human or group of humans.

Thanks for a something non-physical

whether it’s an idea, a value, a force–

as long as it’s something we can’t see physically.

If you don’t get a chance to come to The Pfister and talk to me, then please leave your three stories of thanks in the Comments Box below or on Facebook (my or the Hotel’s page).  I’ll publish them on the blog as they come in!

Without further ado, here are your first three thankful Humans of The Pfister:


This gentleman visited Pamela’s studio while I was there, genuinely interested in why she was intrigued by the architecture of the Hotel (he had stopped to read the sign outside her studio).  He was at the Hotel to volunteer at an entrepreneurship awards ceremony for BizStarts.

lunch-box-clipart-black-and-white-clipart-panda-free-clipart-18i8wh-clipartI give thanks to my eyeballs, my sight.  Just imagine trying to describe this hotel.  It’s so beautiful.  Try describing this, for example, to Stevie Wonder.  I don’t take my eyesight for granted.  One of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever seen?  Just people, I guess.  Just people.  And the act of love.


I give thanks to lots of people.  I was literally raised by Milwaukee.  I grew up in the foster care system, so I bounced around a lot.  Even as an adult, I struggled with homelessness.  But you know what?  There are a lot of good things in this world.  Even in the crevasses.


I give thanks to Love because when you think about it, what’s life without Love.  I mean, even Hitler loved somebody.  Didn’t he love that one woman?  You know, people in the urban community have a saying: “Love, bro.  Love.  Just Love.”  I don’t know, we just say it to each other.  Maybe that means solidarity?  I deal with a lot of non-profits and their favorite word is “unity.”  Everyone’s about unity.  And that’s because you need love.  Even though yesterday I was dealing with some stuff, telling myself “You don’t need love,” I know that I really do need it.  Think about it: when you were two years old, you couldn’t do anything.  You needed someone to love you, right?


This gentleman just lost his mother last week and was dealing with a viable mixture of grief and regret and second thoughts.  At the time I approached him, it was difficult for him to open up, but he did share a “stick figure” gratitude about his mother.  There is more that we talked about that is not recorded here.

stick_man_clip_art_24915I give thankfor my mother.  Over the past year, I realized that one of my main personality traits is that I love helping people.  I’m a software engineer by trade, but now I’m what you could call a sales engineer.  I’m the “architect” that helps engineers with their problems.  My mom, well, she touched a lot of people, too.  I have five biological siblings and count thirteen total as my brothers and sisters.  But all told, I’d estimate that she had at least twenty-five foster kids over the years.  She was a good person.


This gentleman was volunteering for BizSmarts.  Alex introduced me to him.

lunch-box-clipart-black-and-white-clipart-panda-free-clipart-18i8wh-clipartI give thanks for belts.  You know, we need a belt to hold our pants up.  You present yourself as an example to others when your pants are held up.  There are some people, though, who walk around with their pants down, pants sagging.  In other people’s eyes, they lose respect, even if they don’t deserve it.  I don’t disrespect people who don’t wear belts, but perspective is a big thing.

stick_man_clip_art_24915I give thanks to my mother, my father, and God.  If these didn’t exist, I wouldn’t exist.  The greatest thing they have given me is my life.


thought-bubble-student-think-bubble-clipart-free-imagesI give thanks for my visionary thoughts.  I think outside the box.  I think of the impossible.  If someone says “No” I say “Yes.”  I do almost the opposite.  If someone says “Why can’t we do this?” I say “You’re not doing enough.”

From the Mezzanine: Milwaukee Art Museum Teens Descend on The Pfister

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

Windblown and soggy, they escaped the dark cold.  They entered the bright gallery space where new art was being hung for an upcoming exhibit, one girl wrapped in a beach towel for warmth, others with curls worried about frizzing.  One boy shook his purple hair, others nudged each other as they talked about their day. Last Wednesday, a dozen teenagers introduced themselves to me with friendly smiles that revealed their eagerness to begin their experience.  At their exuberant leader’s suggestion, they immediately got into a circle on the carpeted floor and began introducing themselves more formally, if “formal” means taking turns gently tossing a Nerf-like skull to each other.  I had a good vibe about these kids.

Last Wednesday, a dozen teenagers introduced themselves to me with friendly smiles that revealed their eagerness to begin the experience.  At their exuberant leader’s suggestion, they immediately got into a circle on the carpeted floor and began introducing themselves more formally–if by “formal” I mean taking turns gently tossing a Nerf-like skull to each other.  I had a good vibe about these kids.

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil
Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

Helene Fischman, the Manager of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Teen Leadership Program, had arranged to bring these twelve teenagers to The Pfister, a few blocks west of where they typically meet, to learn about the Narrator program and to practice their writing by responding to their experience of the Hotel.  This special Teen Advisory Council is, according to MAM’s website, “designed to develop teen leadership skills, build teen career connections to museum- and arts-related professionals, and bring about systemic change within the Milwaukee Art Museum.”  The teens–who attend schools as diverse as Marquette, Rufus King, and Milwaukee High School of the Arts–were invited to serve on the Council based on their demonstrated leadership and enthusiasm for the arts in previous MAM programs.  Helene takes them through intensive exercises that focus on how to respond to the world around them in different ways.  And, as was clear by how they acted with each other and with Helene and me, she teaches them how to respect that world and the people with whom they interact.  They are currently creating a monthly eNewsletter–with articles about goings-on at the Museum and around the city, recommended pairings of art and music, comics, interviews, and more–and getting ready to set up a Teen Art Exhibition.

Before most of them got a chance to view the magnificent lobby (only two of them had visited before), I offered them a mini-history of the Hotel as we relaxed in the Pop-Up Gallery.  I’m not the greatest historical storyteller (aka I’m no Peter Mortenson), so my histories usually get reduced to timeline highlights.  However, the teens listened dutifully (and with what seemed genuine interest).  In fact, we even had some good laughs.  For instance, once I told them that a fire destroyed the grand Newhall House in 1883, everything after that became, for the teens, about fire.  They guessed, incorrectly of course, that Guido Pfister died . . . wait for it . . . “in a hotel fire!”  That four days after the Hotel Pfister opened in 1893 . . . wait for it . . . it, too, “burned to the ground!”  (The correct answer?  The stock market crashed.)  So we had a little fun and took some liberties with the history of the “Grand Hotel of the West,” amused by Dick and Harry (the stately lion guardians), awed by the idea of the glass ceiling, tickled by the fact that someone wrote a march just for the Pfister Hotel, and, well, I’m not sure what they were thinking when I told them there used to be Turkish Baths where the WELL Spa + Salon is now.  I detected a smirk or two.

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

We made our way to the Mezzanine, got ourselves settled on the floor again, and I talked to them about the joys and difficulties of being the Pfister Narrator, in particular what it’s like approaching strangers.  “Sometimes, honestly, it feels like I’m looking for a date,” I tell them.  “I know, that’s creepy, but it’s kind of true.”  I give them my best Joey from Friends: “How you doin’?”  Sometimes, I add, it takes some coaxing and getting over inhibitions or even language barriers.  Sometimes it’s about seeking out the “loudest” person in the room, whether that means volume-loud (like the LSU fans when they were here to go to Lambeau) or appearance-loud (like the one person in the room that looks like he works on Project Runway, covered in tattoos and incredible floral skinny jeans).  I admit that sometimes I’ve prejudged people unfairly (“too sporty,” “too quiet,” “too north woodsy”–whatever those things actually mean, which is nothing) and that I’ve more often than not been humbled by what people are willing to share with me.  I meant to give them these examples in particular: the “too sporty” guy who I thought was just going to talk about golf but who told me that the time he felt most alive was after he gave one of his kidneys to his eleven-year-old daughter and started embracing Buddhist values; the “too quiet” woman who wowed me with her photography and oil paintings, embracing her inner Bohemian; and the “too north woodsy” guy who talked about fishing like it was a spiritual experience.  I do share with them one of my most recent Humans of the Pfister, Claudia, an Associate at The Pfister who was serving wine and hors d’oeuvres at a recent function that I was at.  I told Claudia to take a break from pouring us wine–we could do that ourselves–and tell me a story about a fear.  After breaking down her inhibitions a bit, I got to hear her moral philosophy on the light and the dark.  I’ve come to not be surprised when eloquent wisdom comes from the mouths of anyone I talk to here at the Hotel.  I think I used the word “humbled” at least a dozen times.

Photo credit: Helene Fischman
Photo credit: Helene Fischman

It was time, then, for the teens to do what they were here to do, which was to explore the Hotel and respond to it.  Helene and I had decided to offer them three main observation subjects: Painting, People, or Pillars (a third “P” that meant any of the architectural details of the Hotel).  I invited them to imagine what was to the unseen and unrepresented left or right each painting’s scene, or above or below, beyond or in the foreground.


I suggested they observe guests’ and Associates’ characteristics and eavesdrop a little, or even talk to them if they seemed willing.

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil
Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

And Helene asked them to consider what the pillars or carpeting or handrails had to say to them, or imagine who had constructed or walked or touched these elements in the Hotel’s past glory days.

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

And then they were off.

Some of the teens headed directly to the third floor, others ventured down the stairs into the lobby, gazing up at the ceiling or walking down the hallway toward Mason Street Grill.  At least one remained in the mezzanine, contemplating the rendition of Domenichino’s The Hunt of Diana.  Jack West and I were doing some serious art criticism about this piece!

Jack West (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)


Helene had encouraged them to be patient and take some time to look around, observe, and listen before they took their thoughts and imaginations to paper. As Helene’s beautiful photos show, the teens took her words to heart and also embraced the Hotel’s offer of “Salve”:

Josiah Grabber (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Marcelo Quesada (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Tom Krajna (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Sarai Van Leer (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Joicelyn Brenson (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Suvan Praseutsack (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Sheyenne Wilson (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Margaret French (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)

When they all returned, we took a break, ate some boxed dinners prepared by the MAM chef, and talked about, among other things, the seniors’ college application process (two of the teens were still juniors), where they were applying, what their dream schools were.  The teens enjoyed each others’ company, clearly enjoyed having Helene as their leader, and welcomed me into their conversation with ease and delight.  In particular, talked a lot with Montaser Abduljalil, a polite and inquisitive young man.  We talked about art at his school and the school where I used to teach, about my photography project called ZIP MKE, and about how marvelous the Hotel is.  Monty, as people call him, loves that “one of the Pfister’s goals is to make your stay feel as cozy and home-like as they can, with carpet and marble everywhere and the welcoming staff.”

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

When we moved back to the Pop-Up Gallery where there was more light and less noise (the lobby was hopping!), I learned that some of them had talked to Pamela in her studio and that Monty had approached Dr. Jeffrey Hollander at his piano and talked to him for awhile, learning how Hollander remembers every song that anyone has ever asked him to play.  (In fact, before we left for the evening, Monty asked him to play Debussy’s Claire de Lune–and was simply in awe when he heard Dr. Hollander play it.  We had to stay to hear the entire piece.)

Photo credit: Montaser Abduljalil

Dang, these kids were good!  And then, again gathered in a circle on the floor, Helene and I heard each of the teens share what they had written.  Each was written in a different style and form.  Some were poems, some were lists of observations, others were dialogues imagined or overheard, still others were written from the perspective of, say, the carpet or an empty display case, as with Sarai Van Leer’s insistent poem:

A space waiting to be filled
Hollow, for decoration?
They are saving me for something special that’s why there is nothing in me yet.
Every other one is filled with careless objects,
Just things to look at
Never to take note of
Wine, conditioner, advertisement, glasses, and more liquor
Why am I empty?
They must be saving me for something special, right?
I mean they must be!
I won’t be just something to pass by and look at,
Never to take note of!
Yet, I am special.
I am not filled
Nothing is there, my beauty is too precious
Too beautiful to be filled with nonsense objects.
I am something to take note of!

Sarai’s inspiration

Or Thomas Krajna’s elusive “Vending Behind Closed Doors”:

Fitting in is obsolete.
Practicality and manner outweigh her. Endless possibilities of consumerism.
One action outweighs your trust.
The windows can’t see.
The doors can’t see.
Technology inputs and uneventfully changes history.

And Marcelo Quesada’s vision of the lobby:

The people mingle. The walls tower, a rich light brown of milky coffee. They curve in a heavenly, sweeping motion towards the ceiling, switching to a creamy baby blue that sings of church hymns and lullabies from my mother. The angels, depicted as children–soft, floating, just like the warm mumble of the lobby conversations. The piano is distant–the notes drip and sing and dance off the mocha walls, giving dead paintings a kiss of life. Glasses of ice and liquor clink and swish in a familiar gesture. Soft, dim yellow lights warm the space. It is full.

Photo credit: Helene Fischman
Photo credit: Helene Fischman
Photo credit: Helene Fischman
Monty (Photo credit: Helene Fischman)
Photo credit: Helene Fischman
Photo credit: Helene Fischman

All the pieces were rough drafts, but each held a new an interesting insight into the life of the Hotel–and each was read not from the floor but from a ceremonial chair, holding the ceremonial Nerf skull.  And, more important than the writing they had accomplished, after each reading the teens snapped or clapped for each other and rolled an orange to someone who would be the designated reviewer, offering one thing they liked about the piece their Council colleague had shared.  This was no time for critique, just celebration and positive response.  It was a pleasant bookend to the evening, which had begun in a circle of warmth from the cold and warmth in each others’ company.

Oh, and did I mention that Monty was taking photos the entire time?  A few of his photos are above in the article, but here is only a handful of the nearly 75 that he sent me.  I don’t think that last Wednesday will be the last time that Montaser Abduljalil (or the other teens*) will be visiting The Pfister Hotel!


HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | OCTOBER 2016 | Fear Edition | “Through Thick or Skin”


I really hate seeing anything pierce through skin.  Of course, I date a medical resident who loves watching videos of anything gross.  And he does surgery 4 or 5 times a day.  But even when I get blood drawn, I don’t care about the pain–just don’t let me see it.  Like in the first episode of LOST when Kate has to sew Jack’s arm–ew!

My biggest fear, then, would be having to pierce myself somehow.  I know–this is more of a selfish fear, but it’s still scary.


I fear death in general.  Everyone does, don’t they?

I haven’t had any close calls with death or anyone close to me die yet.  I just don’t like it.  It scares me, the idea of not having someone there anymore, not existing.

Recently, we moved into a new house.  We talked to our neighbor a handful of times.  And then just a few weeks ago, I came home from work and the cops were there and a white van was outside her house.  They think it might have been . . . it’s just sad.

And sometimes, now, I’ll look over at her house–and there’s a light on.

PLUME SERVICE: Bringing the Art to Life


If these walls could talk…

Over 80 Victorian paintings and other art pieces grace the walls of The Pfister Hotel, an impressive art collection worth more than the original cost of the Hotel in 1893.  It is considered to be the largest collection of Victorian art in any hotel in the world.  Each art piece captures people, animals, and nature, sometimes posed, sometimes in medias res, in the middle of some exquisite, or mundane, action.  Very often, the carved and gilded frames are artworks in themselves.

On Saturday, November 12th, from 12 noon to 2:30 pm, you will have the opportunity to join me for PLUME SERVICE, the first in a series of free writing workshops that will have you not only staring intently at the paintings but stepping into them (well, not literally–I don’t think the Marcus Corporation would appreciate that!) and imagining what it would be like to exist in their worlds.  If not stepping into them, then stepping back and contemplating the bigger picture, the world just outside the frame. What’s to the left and the right that the painter’s eye has cropped out?  What’s happening above or below?  What is that figure looking at beyond the boundaries of the canvas and wood?  If not stepping into or stepping back, then stooping a bit closer to the oils and watercolors to notice details you might have missed.  If not stooping to look, then bending an ear to listen, perhaps imagining the taste of a fruit, even breathing in deeply through your nose to smell the salty air (no one will judge you!).


What is Diana telling to her women at the beginning of the hunt?  What are the two women talking about at the altar of Athena?  And what is going on in the head of the nude figure at the edge of the pool?

The paintings offer us intriguing compositions and perspectives and colors, but since Domenichino, Bompiani, and Mayer are no longer here to give us the scoop, we’ll become art (and artistic) sleuths uncovering the stories these paintings tell and expressing them in our own words, through flash fiction, poetry, and other written forms.



I want to know how the girlfriends in Scadrone’s painting met, what’s going to happen after the chianti is bottled in Giachi’s, and who loses Lesrel’s card game.  I’m curious to know the words to Peluso’s romantic serenade or how the woman in Grolleron’s piece is going to get that man to leave. her. alone!

Speaking of which, there are plenty of, uh, amorous scenes–I’ve never seen someone so happy while cutting an apple.



I also wouldn’t mind hearing your vivid descriptions of the horses in Schreyer’s “The Wallachian Post-Carrier,” the title of which fails to capture the raw intensity of hoofs and sweat and earth.  Or of Lindsay’s “Mahomet,” the noble lion (who actually looks a bit perplexed), and even of those too-cute kittens in a basket by LeRoy.  Oh, and the monks–very amusing!

I envision the pieces we write together becoming placards that will accompany the paintings on the walls and, quite possibly, becoming audio recordings that will be available to guests who would like to take an art tour.  Imagine: your words becoming part of the life of The Pfister Hotel.

So please join me on November 12, bring your favorite notebook and writing utensil, and prepare to bring the Pfister’s art alive in a new way!

You can RSVP by emailing me at or by visiting the Plume Service Facebook Page.

NOTE: The December workshop will be on Saturday, December 10.  We will continue our work of storytelling.  You can certainly attend both–there is a lot of art!–but you do not have to attend the November workshop in order to join me in December.  And stay tuned for early 2017 plans!

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | OCTOBER 2016 | Fear Edition | “Conquering Fears”


A good story about fear–well, it’s kind of vain–is about when I was 21.  I conquered a lot of fears by going to school in London.  I was going to UW-Parkside and found a study abroad program through UW-Platteville.  I really had no monetary understanding or issues; I just didn’t care.  I just knew I was going to do this.

But I was scared shitless.  For one, I didn’t know anyone in the program because I was at a different school.  I just wanted to get out and do stuff–and I knew I’d have to conquer any fears.  When I was there, I had to figure out the Underground by myself–I did that.  And one time I figured out how to see four plays in one day!  LENNON, 42ND STREET, GIGI, and LES MIS–seriously, the opening night of LES MIS in London!  

When I came back from London, however, all the normal fears came back, especially since I didn’t feel, from London, like I had to make any real decisions.  But of course I did.

I want this kind of experience for my daughters.  I want them to experience a different culture and conquer their fears–at least temporarily.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | OCTOBER 2016 | Fear Edition | “The Light vs. The Dark”


In my experience, we always are afraid, afraid of how we’ll be in different situations.  We try a lot of good and bad stuff, but then you start doing the bad things to get noticed.  You don’t like it but you feel you have to do it.  Sometimes you feel you might not make it doing good. That’s when you’re stuck with not much light, without some kind of life.

You have to be there to help other people because they can’t break something–the bad–until they understand the life/light.  That’s where you can help: to help others be clear about the difference between the light and the dark.