WBEZ | Karen Brenner http://www.wbez.org/tags/karen-brenner Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Local librarian offers quiet lessons and friendship http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-11-25/local-librarian-offers-quiet-lessons-and-friendship-94333 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-November/2011-11-23/Geoff Coupe.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><a href="http://www.chicagobudget.org/" target="_blank">Chicago’s 2012 budget</a> passed unanimously last week. Initially Mayor Emanuel proposed steep cuts to public libraries. The final budget restored some funds, so, the layoffs and scaled-back branch hours will not be as severe. That likely came as a relief to Chicagoans who count on their libraries for more than just the latest hardcover. Take Chicago writer Karen Brenner; she told <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> about a soft spot she has for a librarian who played a special role in her own life.</p><p>When we first moved to Chicago I was scared to death. I was from a small town in the South—a &nbsp;young wife with two babies—when I came to live in this unknown city. I remember walking our children in their baby buggy through the streets of Lakeview, humming the theme from the <em>Rocky</em> movie to give myself courage to face the unrelenting concrete and the cold streets. It was the late ’70s and <em>Rocky</em> was still cool and Lakeview wasn’t yet &nbsp;</p><p>One solace in those lonely days was the small Chicago branch library in our neighborhood; it was just a two-room library. There was a small office with the head librarian’s name on the door, Marilyn; the sort of name for movie stars, not shy librarians.</p><p>At first I didn’t notice the bookshelf that stood alone near the library entrance. One day I saw that one of the books on this shelf was pushed out a little, standing in front of the others. It was a book by a rather obscure English writer, Barbara Pym. I was so taken with the writing that I stood by the shelf reading until someone asked me to move. Two weeks later, I returned the Pym book and searched the same shelf for another great find. Once again, I saw a book pushed out slightly ahead of its mates. I pulled out a P.G. Wodehouse book and found myself laughing out loud as I read. It was in this way that I was introduced to a whole host of wonderful writers. The unseen hand that guided me had an eclectic and eccentric approach to literature. I began to believe that my silent teacher was Marilyn, the shy head librarian.</p><p>While I was being quietly introduced to the likes of Anne Tyler and Tom Wolfe, my children were growing up and learning to love the library and reading, too. When our son Frankie turned four, he asked if he could have his own library card. The impatient, part-time librarian behind the desk—not Marilyn—told him that a four year old couldn’t read or write and that he was too young for his own card. Frankie, peered over the counter as he stood on tiptoe and informed the librarian that he could certainly read and he could write his own name, too. Suddenly Marilyn appeared with a wooden box in her hands. She invited Frankie to stand on the box and proudly handed him his first library card. She stood back watching with delight as my son painstakingly wrote each letter of his name on the card. I looked at Marilyn, wanting to say thanks, but we were both too shy. &nbsp;</p><p>Recently, I passed by the little library that had been my home away from home when our children were small. I decided to stop in and finally tell the head librarian that we were all very grateful for the help and guidance she gave to all of us years earlier. I went to the circulation desk and asked to speak to her. The young girl behind the counter looked stricken and then informed me that Marilyn had died two years ago.</p><p>I walked the few steps to the shelf by the library entrance. Now it held only bestsellers and all the books lined up perfectly. Marilyn had been my first friend in Chicago; my mentor in literature and a champion for my children. I had never had a conversation with her, never told her how much she and the library meant to us. Now it was too late to thank her. As I ran my hands over the perfectly lined up bestsellers, it occurred to me that perhaps, Marilyn had taught me one last lesson, the importance of thanking those people who touch our lives. I found an old Barbara Pym book and carefully placed it in the middle row of the shelf by the library entrance. I pulled the Pym book out just a little so that it stood out from the others, a small homage to my silent teacher and my first friend in Chicago, Marilyn, the head librarian.</p></p> Fri, 25 Nov 2011 06:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-11-25/local-librarian-offers-quiet-lessons-and-friendship-94333 Writer Karen Brenner sees friendship in Chicago's melting pot http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-08-30/writer-karen-brenner-sees-friendship-chicagos-melting-pot-91237 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-August/2011-08-30/4981347986_bcb5cf89c2_b.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483678-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/neighbors essay.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>Writer Karen Brenner no doubt heard Arabic and many other languages in her Northwest Side neighborhood. Everyday, her neighbors remind her that Chicago is the ultimate melting pot. She shared notes on her neighbors on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>.</p><p>Two very different families live next door to us on our street of two flats. One family has a young daughter with hair the color of the sun; hair that streams across her face so that she is constantly pushing it out of her eyes and mouth. Upstairs lives her best friend, who has hair the color of night; hair that hangs down past her knees when it is not gathered into a long, thick, braided rope.</p><p>During the bitter winter months we barely see them. Now that it is summer, they are constantly out of doors, riding their bikes, or playing in the little garden that their families share.</p><p>The girl with the dark hair has a large family. They have planted strawberries and tomatoes in their side of the yard. We give them some of our bean plants; they give us a kabob hot off the grill, dusky with spices. Her family cooks out almost every night, accompanied by smoke and laughter.</p><p>The girl with the blond hair has only one little brother. Her family gives us pirogues, fat with sweet, mild cheese or pillowed with potatoes. We give them bouquets of roses. To both families we smile and nod over the fence to say, “as-salamu alaykum” or “dzien dobry."&nbsp; Those are the only words we can speak to our neighbors.</p><p>But the little girls switch effortlessly from one language to the other. When their mothers call them, they answer back--without missing a beat--in the staccato of Arabic, or tongue-twisting Polish. Then they turn to each other and continue their conversation in the broad, flattened-A of Midwestern American English.</p><p>They call to us as they fly by on their bikes--best friends; bold adventurers. Their hair streams out behind them--one the color of sun; one the color of night. They wave and shout, “Hello neighbors!”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>We wave back, smiling, watching what is special and wonderful about America ride by.&nbsp; Here, in this great city, in this good land, there is a child of the Middle East and a child of Europe who daily cross the cultural chasms of religion, world view and language with complete ease and grace. As we watch their bikes disappear into the distance we know that they carry with them the promise of our country and the legacy of our city; the world comes here and becomes our neighbors, and sometimes our best friend.</p><p><em>Music Button: Second Sky, "Hourglass", from the album The Art of Influence, (Rhythm &amp; Culture)</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 30 Aug 2011 14:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-08-30/writer-karen-brenner-sees-friendship-chicagos-melting-pot-91237 Writer Karen Brenner disconnects to reconnect http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/writer-karen-brenner-disconnects-reconnect <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blackberry-ap.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>There are times when a little bit of disconnect can actually bring you closer to what really matters. With a memory of such a moment, &quot;Eight Forty-Eight&quot; heard from writer <a href="http://www.brennerpathways.org/about/" target="_blank">Karen Brenner</a>:</p><p>On a warm summer afternoon as the Chicago traffic buzzed down Clark Street, we sat under the umbrellas of a sidewalk restaurant watching the world stroll by. Next to our table was a young family, mom and dad and two little boys. While the boys enjoyed their handmade ice cream cones, we couldn&rsquo;t help but notice that both of their parents were completely immersed in their hand held devices. Both parents were turned away from their children, and turned away from each other, staring fixedly at the small screens in their hands. This moment: the lovely summer sky, the colorful people walking by, the yellow and green umbrellas of the restaurant, the flower boxes in full bloom on the sidewalk railings, the ice cream, and the little boys&rsquo; enraptured faces, all lost to the two people staring into their hands.</p><p><br /> We live in a marvelous age of great leaps in technology, almost a renaissance period of change and growth. But if we surrender moments of engagement, moments of relationship to this technology, we will begin to lose pieces of our lives. These moments are usually just ordinary things, a family dinner, a run by the lake, a child in our arms. But these are the moments that matter; these are the moments that make up our lives.</p><p><br /> When I was a teacher of young children, every September I gave the parents of the children in my class one assignment: spend five minutes each day talking with your child. I told the parents that this conversation needed to take place while they were doing nothing else; they could not be driving, or cooking dinner or working on the computer. I encouraged the parents to look directly into their child&rsquo;s eyes and to have a real conversation with give and take and real listening. Every year the same thing would happen; parents would nod in agreement, smile at me rather patronizingly for being such a simpleton; of course they talked to their children all the time, why was I making this such a big deal? Inevitably, a few weeks later, parents would begin to stop me and ask me for more details about this assignment. Could I recommend some topics to discuss, did I have some ice breaker questions? I will never forget the panic on one father&rsquo;s face as he grabbed my arm and told me in hushed tones, &ldquo;I found out that I don&rsquo;t know how to talk to my own kid!&rdquo;</p><p>As the year progressed, the parents and the children usually found a way to talk to each other. I encouraged the parents to speak to their children about their own childhood experiences. This type of reminiscence usually opened the door for their children to start to tell them what was really going on in their lives. I was a parent of young children myself in those days, and so I knew how hard it could be to make the time (even five minutes) to just talk to your child one on one and to really, really listen. But those five minutes, those quiet talks, those little moments are how we build and grow relationships, memories, our lives.</p><p>So, here is your assignment: Pay attention; look at the faces of the people you love, listen to the music of your life, feel the wind on your face, taste the ice cream. These moments are the jewels of our lives strung on the necklace of time.</p><p><em>Music Button: Four Tet, &quot;Circling&quot;, from the CD There Is Love In You, (Domino) </em><br /> <br />&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 18 Jan 2011 15:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/writer-karen-brenner-disconnects-reconnect