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

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-40-10-am

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.

20161112_13015020161112_131803 20161112_131322 20161112_130109
20161112_130218

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.

20161112_142811 20161112_142813 20161112_142809

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 hotelnarrator@gmail.com.  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”

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

Wait–
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.

Now
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?

 

Rules of My Engagement

Hello. And, physician boy, am I happy you’re reading.

Whenever I start a venture I like to understand the rules of the engagement.

Please note, however, that I haven’t said that I like to follow the rules.

Oh dear me, no.

That’s not necessarily my path. But if we all understand the rules together, we’ll certainly have a good time understanding how to bend a few in the service of seeking out a great time.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the rules I’m setting for my engagement as Pfister Narrator:

  1. You’ll hear from me on Mondays and Fridays. For sure, for certain, absolute.
  2. You’ll also hear from me on Wednesdays. It would be easier to say that you’ll hear from me three times a week, but that terrifies me to say so I’ll leave it as a separate rule that I may break from time to time.
  3. I would like you to read my words, but I’m making it possible for you to listen to them, too. I’ll be recording my entries every day and posting them along with these stories. There is no rule against both reading and listening (and frankly you should understand by now that I have a pretty loose relationship with rules, so please do what suits you best). And you’ll see that I’m a horrible liar because I’m not recording today’s rules and I’m simply forcing you to read.
  4. Invite yourself to join me at work. I plan on being at the Pfister a lot (I mean, come on…have you seen this place—IT’S GORGEOUS!). Find some time to come down to 424 Wisconsin Avenue, and let’s sit side by side and talk and do the things that people do when they want to learn more about each other. I really want to hear your Pfister Story.
  5. Someone should always wear a suit and tie. I will wear the suit tie. Bow tie, that is.

It’s thrilling to begin the best job a writer could ever imagine. Write me at jonathan@jonathantwest.com and I’ll write you back.

Let’s have some fun now, shall we?

The Fuel of Magnificence

Artist at work

“When I first decided to be a professional artist, I wanted that fishbowl experience, so I got a storefront studio,” Reggie says.

“It’s not intimidating to discover an artist in public space,” adds Caitlin.

A group of us are seated in the Lobby Lounge, discussing the two residency programs the Pfister has developed for art and writing.  As the current artist-in-residence, Shelby Keefe, is out of town, the inaugural AIR, Reginald Baylor, joins us instead – along with his business partner Heidi Witz.  One of the managers, Jessica, is also taking part in the conversation, at the head of which is Caitlin Strokosch, Executive Director of the Alliance of Artists Communities.  The goal of the Alliance is a clearinghouse of information for artists seeking residencies (places to cultivate their particular art) and for residency providers.  While these residencies are certainly there to help an artist create original works and become better at what they do, there is an important public component to them.  90% of the more than 1,000 programs worldwide have an engagement with their local communities.

This public engagement is hugely important.  A 2003 study by the Urban Institute found that while 96% of Americans valued the arts, a mere 27% valued the artists.   The study concluded that “Making a real difference in the creative life of artists will entail developing a new understanding and appreciation for who artists are and what they do, as well as financial resources from a variety of stakeholders. Achieving these changes involves a long-term commitment from artists themselves, as well as arts administrators, funders, governments at various levels, community developers and real estate moguls, not to mention the business and civic sectors.”

There’s a clear disconnect between the art we see and experience, and those creating it.  Caitlin explained, “a lot of residencies struggle with that aloneness of creating art, wondering how to you let the public into that process.”

The assistant front desk manager, Jessica, originally thought the artist-in-residence program at the Pfister was primarily for enriching the guest’s experience.  “What I noticed was a lot of people would come here – not just stay here – and consider the Pfister a part of that Milwaukee experience.  The community and city has gotten involved.  It was such a pleasant surprise.”

Seeing artists as “regular Joes” by seeing the backs of their paintings as opposed to the fronts that create a sense of idolization, that separation of the artist from the art viewer that results in the divergent numbers of people who appreciate art, but not art makers.

For-profit companies are one path to bringing the public into the artist’s process, bridging that gulf between art and artist in the eye of the public.  Businesses that see creativity as an asset, that invest in the new creative economy, find themselves nurturing a different craft or conversation product, one that’s not much different than the culinary arts of Mason Street Bar & Grill, the fashion arts of Roger Stevens or Boutique B’Lou, the music artistry from pianists in the lounge or in Blu, or the healing arts of WELL Spa.  Customers and guests then see each of their experiences has having artistic merit, which bolsters value of other arts.

The struggle between artists creating “to create” and artists creating for production and money is a historically constant one.  “It’s a conundrum,” Reggie says, “Professionals won’t do their work if they’re not getting paid.  Why should artists have to be any different?”  With the rise of local art shows like Made in Milwaukee, and online marketplaces like Etsy, artists are finding ways to create art, but also make, or supplement, a living with those creative gifts.

The Pfister’s unique approach to this investment into the creative economy has now stood for a few years as a shining example of how art and business and co-exist in a mutually beneficial partnership.

MPT production/gallery space

Just down Wisconsin Avenue, at the hollowed-out Grand Avenue Mall, a similar partnership has begun.  The new owners had an open house in June that featured a local design firm and Creative Alliance Milwaukee, showcasing how the mall plans to open up to more nonretail use.  Already, two arts organizations, ArtMilwaukee and Milwaukee Public Theatre, have moved into empty storefronts there, joining the same wing as the offices of online magazine ThirdCoastDigest.

Milwaukee’s creative economy is growing fast, and being a part of this sort of new, engaged partnership between business, art, and the public has certainly lit a fire under me to continue to remain engaged and supportive of these endeavors.  And, I see the next Pfister Narrator, Ed Makowski (stepping up to the proverbial desk on November 1st), taking this program to even greater heights within that growing community.

Stories to tell by the Pfister Narrator

It’s that time again. The transition that has been coined the Passing of the Pen. As our current Pfister Narrator prepares to step down from her title, she has some words of wisdom and some insight for our next Pfister Narrator.

Stories to tell by the Pfister Narrator from PfisterHotel on Vimeo.

The Pfister Hotel Selects Ed Makowski as Next In-House Storyteller

The historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee has named Ed Makowski as its third ‘Pfister Narrator.’ In the role, he will spend time in the hotel’s lobby, interviewing visitors and guests and sharing their stories on the Pfister’s blog (blog.thepfisterhotel.com). As narrator, he will be posting blog entries at least twice-per-week over a six-month period.

“I’m excited to try my hand as Pfister Narrator,” says Makowski. “For years I’ve written and recorded poems and stories that recreate the unique interactions I’ve picked up along the way. Having a position where I’m not only invited, but employed to collect stories… I don’t think I could dream a job I’d rather have. I’m excited to get to know the rhythm and spirit of the Pfister Hotel, it’s guests and employees.”

Makowski is a poet, writer, and dabbler in visual arts. While publishing as Eddie Kilowatt, he released the poetry collections Manifest Density (Full Contact, 2006) and Carrying a Knife in to the Gunfight (Full Contact, 2007). Density was included in Best New Poetry of 2006 and Carrying won the Carma Writer’s Award. His poems have been published in many print and Internet journals. Makowski contributes interviews to Milwaukee’s NPR station 89.7 WUWM, where he also curates the Lunch Counter storytelling series. He looks forward to bringing that series to The Pfister, where he will be recording regular segments.

Makowski was chosen to serve as narrator based on his writing style, experience and personality, from a significant pool of qualified applicants by a review panel, which included publisher of The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee, Mark Sabljak; Tom Strini of ThirdCoast Digest: Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee.com; Judith Moriarty, a longtime local writer; and representatives from the hotel, including The Pfister’s first-ever narrator Julie Ferris, and Stacie Williams, the outgoing narrator.

“We had another great pool of applicants to choose from for this round of our narrator program,” says Joe Kurth, general manager of The Pfister Hotel. “We’re looking forward to adding Ed to our hotel staff and seeing what new stories will be told. Our guests have a special connection to The Pfister and interesting stories to tell—it has been wonderful sharing their unique experiences and backgrounds with the rest of Milwaukee and beyond.”

Makowski will begin his residency as narrator on Nov. 1, 2011. More information about the Pfister Narrator program can be found at www.ThePfisterHotel.com/Pfister-Narrator.

Words in Blu

An artist, a summer camp director, a theatre operations manager, a board member, and two poets walk into a bar.  There is no punchline, this is something that happened a few weeks ago.

“Hello sir,” the bartender greets them as they arrive, setting a napkin on the bar, “what can I get you to drink?  Do you need to see a menu?”

The menu is taken by all, perused slowly – considering all the flavorful options.  The bartender offers to “whip something up on the spot, we’ll just charge you by the ounce.”  Tonight, charging by the ounce would go a long way.  It’s just after 5:30 in the evening and happy hour is luring this mismatched group to Blu with the added incentive that every drink made drops a donation into the coffers of a local nonprofit.  A semi-regular occurrence on the 32rd floor of the Pfister, one haphazard temporary bartender (sometimes two) takes up the shaker and taps behind the bar, with the over-the-shoulder support of manager Adam Jones, with a portion of each drink and all tips benefiting a nonprofit or charity.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is Celebrity Blutending.

The night’s organization benefiting from each cocktail and pint of beer is Woodland Pattern Book Center.  Tonight’s guest bartender?  Yours truly, the Pfister Narrator.

I admit to being nervous about my one hour “bartending,” though I always fancied myself a natural since multi-tasking and being good with people are two of my strengths.  Once I finally stood surveying the bottles and glasses, while Adam gestured and pointed out the basics, I realized I had no idea what I was doing.  Lucky for me, the first drink, a gin & tonic, is easy, followed by a couple of draft beers (trickier than expected), requiring more finesse.  Eventually, a board member requests a Celia’s Rosedrop Martini.

“My favorite!” I gush to her, while I try to figure out what in the world “rose essence” looks like and where it would be stored.  It’s a good thing Adam is there to pass me the opaque ketchup-mustard-bottle filled with a pale pink liquid.  Measuring the ingredients, shaking the tiny metallic cylinder, pouring it to the brim – it’s all much smoother than I expect.  Adam had told me earlier the key was to slow down, and I found it to be perfect advice.  I could chat, hesitate and even make a mistake (“you only get one do-over!” Adam jokes) without worrying too much.

Right after I convince two gentlemen it’s okay (“kind of awesome”) to wear matching hats and order the same drink (two Hendricks gin & tonics), I meet the person I’m most excited to see at this event: Jenny Henry, Woodland Pattern’s education coordinator.  She moved to Milwaukee for this job just over a year ago from Boulder, CO, excited to expand on the book center’s mission to promote reading and writing, and offer a community resource for writers and artists in the Riverwest neighborhood.

We talk about the work she does particularly with a program titled The Urban Youth Literary Arts Program, which focuses on enriching the reading and writing lives of kids in neighborhoods near the Riverwest one where Woodland Pattern is located.  They offer poetry camps, creative writing excursions, and tutoring for students, with the goal of not only improving basic skills, but also encouraging kids to think outside the box, express themselves clearly and creatively, and perhaps find a new love of reading.

“It always challenges my thinking, how to frame things in ways they’ll understand, and then I get to rearrange my own ways of working with words,” Jenny says about directing the program.  She fills me in on some of their upcoming programming which includes a workshop on inter-generational writing, poetry, comic books and claymation and nature.

The results are telling: Students involved in the most recent academic year of the program improved their communication skills (written and verbal) and critical thinking skills by 86-92%, with similar numbers gaining confidence in public speaking, learning how to respect others’ ideas with an open mind, and finding positive role models through the program.

A recent documentary, Louder than a Bomb, follows several groups of students from the Chicago Public Schools as they write, perform, and compete in poetry slam events.  It clearly illustrated the incredibly positive impact this sort of work has on kids, especially those who might be leading difficult lives, and was the inspiration for my choosing Woodland Pattern’s program as a recipient for the evening’s funds raised.

“How was your drink?” I ask a guest who had a VO & 7, “can I get you another?”

“It was great,” he replies, “but I’ll just have a beer.”

I manage to manipulate the tap without making too much of a mess.  He pays Adam, and throws the change into the large decorative tip can.  The sound of bills swishing and coins jangling as they land, is a reminder that each drop fills the glasses of kids who are eager to find ways to write about their own experiences in the world.  Who knows, maybe one of them is a future poet, artist, camp director, or Pfister Narrator?

Letter to a New Narrator

As the proverbial pen is about to passed to the next Pfister Narrator, recently chosen through hours and hours of deliberation by a committee of writers, editors, marketers and businessfolk, and soon to be announced, I wanted to pass the pen not only to my successor, but also extend it to those who didn’t get selected or who have yet to apply.

Dear New Narrator,

So it begins: your quest to write about the people, events, and moments that occur within the historic Pfister Hotel.  Where else can you walk the same floors tread by every U.S. President since McKinley and also play a round of Jenga with visiting businessmen?  The vibrant scenes and people of today meld with the ever-present ghosts of the past in a way unmatched by most other places.  It’s all the creative juice any writer could possibly need or want!

However, the excitement and anticipation can be overwhelming, or perhaps there is an underlying uncertainty about how to approach this novel opportunity.  I would, therefore, like to offer you some thoughts about the position, as I near the end of my own six month tenure watching, listening, talking, laughing and writing.  “So I’ve devised a sort of Ten Commandments that are the result of some of my own struggles with this blessed occupation,”*

1.  Be prepared.  You saw the call for Narrator applications.  You read the description of this grand hotel’s search for someone to hang out at the hotel, talk to people, and write about it all.  It sounded exciting!  You talk to people all the time!  You write and you’re good at it!  Before you do apply, here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the blog posts, comment, engage in the discussion with the current narrator and other commenters.  You will find yourself getting to know the hotel and its guests so that when you do put your foot on those marble steps, you’ll already feel as if you belong.
  • Drop in.  Pass through.  Comfort and familiarity breeds confidence.  Experience leads to clarity and a unique view.
  • Tailor your writing samples.  If you’ve been reading the posts, you’ll get a feel for what the position requires, even if your own voice and approach differs from the current narrator.  This allows you to cultivate a writing sample that stands as not only your best work, but which is then representative of the work you intend to do.
  • Reapply.  If you didn’t get selected, and you really want it, try and try again.  The next narrator applied three times!

2.  Eavesdrop.  That couple over there that’s arguing with great animation?  It could be they’re engaging in a philosophical discussion, or it’s something personal and human that can remind you of the greater connectivity we have beneath surface appearances.

3.  Don’t interrupt.  Listen carefully, take notes, write down everything.  Don’t engage a guest who’s getting tips from the concierge.  Let the bartender make his or her expert recommendation.

4.  Interrupt.  Ask questions!  Leap into the fray, crack a joke with the group of laughing guests at your elbow.  Offer a recommendation!

5.  Know when to do both.

6.  Befriend the staff.  They are the Pfister’s lifeblood.  They will give you the best connections, insight and -yes- gossip.  They will help you feel at home.  They will welcome you with open arms, make suggestions and refer you to the intriguing characters they have also recently met.  They know the hotel, the guests, the city and their knowledge will enrich everything you write.

7.  Read and re-read.  Go back and read what the previous narrators wrote about: you may find you don’t want to repeat something, or you’ll find a different angle, take or perspective that only adds to the nuance of a topic.  Read your own posts out loud to yourself before publishing them.  Re-read them.  Edit with consideration and care, but don’t be anxious.  You want the posts to reflect a real person’s voice, view, and experience.  Read the comments.  Reply right away.

8.  Take lots of pictures.  They may inspire your imagination, or remind you of something, when you most need it.

9.  Be honest, but be discreet.  Don’t direct the conversations you engage in – with the staff or the guests.  Let the conversations happen.  But inquire, probe and reach; connect with your own stories and experiences in a way that will lead them to open up further, deeper.  Respect the “off the record” statements, but don’t rule them out.  Understand that there will be things you see and hear that you cannot write, but which will give you a fuller character, a better sense of the truth beneath what you will write.

10.  “As for the rest, let life happen to you.  Believe me: life is always right.”**

 

With thanks to *Richard Bausch’s Letter to a Young Writer and **Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet .

Dinner for Books

“Life is a bunch of crazy!” interjects the young man seated across from me at a table in one of the back rooms of Mason Street Grill, as he shakes his head with slow acceptance of this fact.  Nate, 14, is the son of one of the dinner guests, herself the long-lost childhood friend of the guest of honor, Lisa McMann.  Lisa’s other guests are all fairly nondescript, which is not a surprise once you find out they’re all booksellers or librarians.  Book people aren’t known for their flamboyance, but they certainly get animated when you get them going, as Lisa has with a game she’s proposed to the group.  The premise of which is this: the group owns a 24hr television network and gets to decide on the programming.  Each person takes a turn saying what show(s) would be fun to share with the world.

As the appetizers arrive, a sampling of nearly everything on the menu, half the lineup is set, ranging from reality shows (Survivor and The Biggest Loser) to British classics (Dr. Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Fawlty Towers) to contemporary sitcoms (Modern Family, and How I Met Your Mother).  By the time the entrees have been ordered and wine glasses have been refilled, the lineup has rounded out with some kids programming (Reading Rainbow, of course, and Phineas and Ferb), fun educational shows (Mythbusters), dramas (Deadwood and E.R.), and some “news” (Colbert Report and Daily Show).  Book people, it turns out, watch more T.V. than you might have thought.

Naturally, the conversation turns to the written word.  Lisa has been in in town for three days doing events at schools and libraries in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties while promoting her new kids’ novel, The Unwanteds.  Imagining a world where artistically inclined kids are separated out from society, Lisa was inspired to write it when her own creative kids (her daughter is into theater and music, while her son loves to draw) came home with letters saying their school’s arts programs had been cut.

Considering this, it’s an exceptionally wonderful thing for her to interact with middle grade students in a way that encourages them to take up the pen for themselves.  Lisa says she tells them, “You don’t have to be an adult to write a good story.  You don’t need a college degree.  You can be an inventor today.”

In fact, one of her visits was to Lincoln Avenue School, which supports a selection of artists-in-residence who get free use of studio space in exchange for helping out in classes.  As a result, there is art everywhere in the school, which enthralled Lisa to no end.

That same desire to connect and inspire is why Lisa arranged this dinner at Mason Street Grill.  When she was 19yrs old, working as a bookseller, and writing in her spare time, she watched a lot of authors pass through the bookstore.  One night, one of them invited her out to a dinner after a reading.  That author?  Madeleine L’Engle, author of the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time.  The ensuing conversation at dinner with such a literary superstar pushed Lisa to become the writer she is today, with an emphasis on reaching out to inspire others to write.

“This kind of setting is really important,” she says, with a big smile, as she passes the desserts around to the librarian at her elbow, “you never know when you might inadvertently encourage a fledgling writer.”  I smile back.

writersblockwritersblock…or, not.

Recently, I got to sit down and have a thoroughly engaging conversation with several people about the nature of art and creative economy, of how to meld creative non-profit ventures with for-profit results – as it pertains to the artist (and now writer) residencies that the Pfister hosts.

One of the things that came up in conversation was how things like the Pfister Artist-in-Residence program offer a chance for the public to get a look at the process of art creation: of how a painting comes together, or what inspires a sketch, and they can watch this process happen in real-time. This discovery of an artist in a public space strips away the intimidation non-artists generally feel when face-to-face with a completed work of art. As someone whose other job is hosting authors in public events where that exact stripping away occurs—bringing readers out of the intimidating space of a book’s interior and into a conversation with its creator—I know that this can be revealing, insightful, educational, or even inspiring.

However, unless you happen to be someone watching me make conversation while sitting at the lobby bar or standing in a hallway, you don’t get to see me actually create my art. The process for these blog posts is virtually invisible. So, as I struggled with the writing of a post, and bore out some conversation with writer friends about writer’s block, I realized that this was an opportunity to do just that: let you see into my process.

Just as each artist-in-residence here has had their own individual process in creating their unique paintings, so the different writers for the blog posts will have different approaches. This is, essentially, mine.

First, I simply spend time at the Pfister Hotel. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. Make conversation with the employees, get a finger on the pulse and mood of the day.
  2. Write down some notes (Uni-ball Jetstream pen, 0.7, black ink). Snap a photo (Olympus Stylus 770SW or smartphone).
  3. Check out the happenings sheet at the concierge desk, see what’s going on in the ballrooms, up at Blu or over at Mason Street Grill.
  4. Wander. Take notes on sights, smells, colors, sounds, etc.
  5. Sit somewhere. Eat something. Drink something. Eavesdrop.
  6. Catch someone’s eye, gauge responsiveness. If positive, engage in friendly conversation.
  7. Scribble in notebook (red Moleskine, hardcover, lined).

Usually, at some point during the above list, something will have a light shone on it. Whether it’s a story a pianist shares, sounds I heard on a quiet Sunday night, a conversation with two out-of-town businessmen, or a morning in the Café – it’s really about drawing the lines, and connecting the dots, to create a story arc. So, what happens when those hours of time or pages of notes don’t seem to spawn anything? What then?

A writer friend replied to a recent complaint of mine about “writer’s block” by saying “Not. You’re just busy writing the wrong thing in the wrong forum.” Of course, what he meant is that as writers we sometimes get stuck staring at blankness, not feeling as though we have anything to say, despite having plenty to say. It’s a reminder that sometimes a writer simply needs to step away from the material and the delivery system, and try something different. It’s often about simply getting the juices flowing.

Not writing

So, I will…

…drink my favorite coffee and nosh on mini peanut butter cups (fuel).
…read something else. Or lots of something elses: last week I read three whole books and finished a fourth.
…watch funny videos about kittens scared of apples, or upcoming indie movie trailers.
…call my mother.
…take Vito for a long walk through Lake Park or around the East Side.

Eventually I sit back down, upload the photos I took, stare at my notebook, flip through some pages, until something jumps out at me. I then like to write straight through, and prefer to not do too many drafts or major revisions. I put in links as I write, and add photos where they seem to fit the narrative.  One thing is for certain: I’m never short of good material.

When a post is done being composed, I prefer to have a particular friend of mine read it. He points out simple mistakes, like grammar or punctuation, but also offers style observations and even corrects major errors (like one post where I—who knows how this got jumbled up—said that Shaq was retiring from the Chicago Bulls), while still giving the much-needed affirmations and compliments.

Then, up it goes, onto the blog.
It gets posted on Facebook, and tweeted on Twitter.
A copy is saved in a separate file for future archival use.
I close the computer, stand up, stretch, and…go do something else.

Until it’s time to start all over again.

Meet Stacie Williams: The 2011 Pfister Narrator

With a love of stories and storytelling, Stacie Williams has worked at a local Milwaukee bookstore for more than five years, and has experience in travel writing and blogging. She studied theater at University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee and is active in its creative writing program.

Williams was chosen to serve as narrator based on her writing style and outgoing personality from a significant pool of qualified applicants by a review panel, which included publisher of The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee, Mark Sabljak; executive director of the East Town Association, Kate Borders; Judith Moriarty, a longtime local writer; and representatives from the hotel, including Julie Ferris, The Pfister’s first-ever narrator.

“To say I’m excited to be the next Pfister Narrator would be inaccurate and a little bit of an understatement,” said Williams. “More accurate would be to say that I’m a little nervous, as there’s great pressure in telling people’s stories with truth and honor. I am also more than excited, I’m thrilled: this is a chance to share the love of my adopted city of Milwaukee, to do so through such a beautiful historic establishment and via the voices of those who, often, like me, are not natives either.”

Stacie will be sharing the stories of hotel guests and employees on The Pfister Hotel Blog twice a week for the next six months.