From the Bird's Nest...
The Writing Mentor Speaks Her Mind, Makes You Laugh, and Lights Your Fire!
Sharon Nesbit-Davis wins The Keyboard Award!
I still like this photo. And still like the book.
I miss Aunt Claire's back yard.
She knew how to build a strong house that was a home, not a showcase. But every time of year, something in the yard, like these laugh-o-dils, insisted on making a show of it.
Thanks to Katherine Keller, editor of Bay View Compass, and Sheila Julson Thompson, reporter (and Redbird writer!) for putting our pretty faces on the front page of the March Compass. Their headline: SO LONG BAY VIEW, WE'LL MISS YOU, is right on target.
Bay View Couple moves to Brookfield due to a dearth of appealing senior housing on the near South Shore
February 28, 2019
By Sheila Julson
Judy Bridges, founder of Redbird Studio writers center, and her husband, David Blank, have lived in a 1920s duplex on Indiana Avenue since 1986. This year, however, the couple, along with Chloe, their 14-year-old Black Lab, reluctantly said goodbye to Bay View.
Bridges, who is 79, and Blank, 67, had difficulty finding senior housing on the South Shore that fit their needs. "We would have happily stayed here, but friends who are a few years older than us strongly advised to move before you need to. And I'm kind of bossy, so I needed to move while I can still push a couch where I want it," Bridges laughed.
Although she and Blank have no physical limitations, they have no children, who they may have relied on to help maintain a house in their later years. After debating for two years about whether or not to move, and searching for senior housing they liked, they eventually found an apartment complex in Brookfield designated for active age 55-plus seniors. Options they found attractive included two-story buildings with patio doors that lead to an outdoor area.
"It took a long time to find a place that had the look I wanted. I can't stand these senior places that are six stories high," Bridges said. "There aren't many choices with regard to senior apartments around here (on the South Shore), maybe some condos, or places for ailing seniors with oxygen tanks, but we're not there yet."
As Bridges sat in the empty living room in the lower flat of the duplex - save for a few boxes and stray chairs, she reflected on her time in the neighborhood, watching children grow up, teaching a neighbor to knit, organizing a block party, and other milestones. The duplex was home to six people in the years since Bridges bought it in 1986. Bridges and Blank, her mother and stepdad, and later, an aunt and uncle, whom she cared for.
From wanderlust to settled
Before moving into the duplex on Indiana Avenue, Bridges lived in 61 different places. She lived in Milwaukee until she was 9, when her parents moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. Her parents divorced soon after, and she lived with each of them, and she also stayed with other relatives. "At one time, I had clothes in three different places, so it was a strange upbringing," she said.
Bridges' career included office management, market, training, and sales support. "Those were the days when you got as high as you could get within a company in six months, if you were smart, but there was no going anywhere after that," she said.
She pursued more work opportunities in Cleveland, Washington D.C., Richmond, Chicago, and San Francisco. By the time her second marriage ended, Bridges, then in her late 30s, packed up her little red Ford Fiesta and toured the United States, zigzagging to her different destinations. "I just looked at a map and chose places that I had seen and wanted to go back to, or places I had not seen and wanted to check out," she said.
It was also around that time that Bridges started to develop a serious interest in writing. "I looked at where the good writing was coming from around the country. Places like Iowa and the South were strong, but I started reading the stuff coming out of the Midwest, and to me it was better than what was coming from anywhere else," she said. "It looked like it came more from stability than from an intellectual or literary place. It was solid."
By the early 1980s, Bridges decided to return to Milwaukee, her hometown, and pursue a bachelor's degree in writing. She had taken classes at the University of Maryland and other schools, but she had not finished a program. At age 43, she earned her bachelor's degree at UW-Milwaukee, and it was there that she met Blank.
Bridges began to earn a living as a writer, chiefly composing corporate and business articles, which was a natural progression from her previous work in marketing, sales support, and training. She went back to school again, and at age 53, earned a master's degree in adult education from UW-Milwaukee in 1993. That year she also married Blank, who sold first aid supplies for a living and performed in community theater groups. She also launched Redbird Studio to teach writing.
Marian Center for Nonprofits
In 1992, Bridges rented an 8-by-10-foot studio on the top floor of the Marian Center for Nonprofits, the former St. Mary's Academy building after the school closed. The artist in the space next to her suggested that they teach a class. "And [Redbird] went off like a firecracker," she said.
Bridges taught the writing craft to thousands of writers of varying levels of experience. "We stopped counting at 6,000," Bridges said.
Her Redbird memories are vast and could fill a book. Bridges told a story about subletting Redbird studio space to writers. There were little placards above each studio door that read "Our Lady of . . ." a holdover from the building's days as a Catholic girls school.
"One of those sublet spaces had three artists, and two of them had lost their husbands. The placard above their studio just happened to read, Our Lady of Sorrows. I thought, that's not going to do," she said. Further down the hall, she spotted a placard that read, Our Lady of Victory. "One night, I got a ladder and I switched the placards, so then we had Our Lady of Victory here, and there was another, Our Lady of Hope there, and I thought, that's better!"
When she moved Redbird Studio from the Marian Center in 2015, she took the Our Lady of Victory placard but did tell one of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, who operated the Marian Center, that she did. "She just said, 'That's very good,'" Bridges chuckled.
Bridges also partnered with Riley Elementary School to lead children's writing workshops. For inspiration, she took students to the lakefront and for walks on the Marian Center campus. Initially, she was reluctant to work with kids, but after she saw how inspirational her programs were for the students, she held regular children's writing camps.
"The teachers from Riley told me they heard kids asking each other, 'Hey, will you get to go to Redbird this year?' That's the one thing that thrilled me, and that's exactly what we wanted out of that!"
Looking back at a career working with so many writers, how does she define success?
"Here's the thing about 'successes.' They are already writers before we connect, at workshops or on park benches, and we become friends. I hesitate to name them because they already, to one degree or another, have [success]. My gift is to notice what they have and figure out how they can make the best use of it," Bridges said. I have trouble naming successes because I can't get myself to see success as the brightest star or the most famous book.
"What is most gratifying is when I read the second or fourth version of a story and know this is it, the writer got it. The characters sing. The canoe scratches on the rocks. You hear rapids around the bend…and I know then that this writer quit waiting for the muse to do it for her and started the serious work of her craft."
Bridges stays in touch with many of the people she taught at Redbird over the years.
"I keep a box of notes from men and women who write, sometimes years later, to say thanks, and tell me how they're doing, what they've written, or not written," she said. "One day, Old Me will sit in a white rocker on some shady veranda, open the box, and say to myself, Well, how about that?"
Now semi-retired, she still operates Redbird, but in a smaller capacity, leading master classes in her home. She also leads writing retreats at The Clearing Folk School in Door County.
She self-published a guide to writing fiction and nonfiction in 2011, Shut Up & Write!
A new chapter
Bridges was initially drawn to Bay View because she felt its warmth and realized it was going to grow into a good, solid community. "Sometimes you are in a neighborhood and it feels like it is on the way down," she said. "But here, it was clear in my mind that it would just get better and better."
She said that her neighbors share strong bonds of trust, and many have keys to each other's homes.
She joked that after a time, she and Blank became the elders of the neighborhood, and after a while, their neighbors began automatically shoveling snow for them. The community gave Bridges the stability she had been yearning for. She said, "I wanted to sit still for a while, to be able to go to a local store and walk in and have somebody say, Hi Judy."
During their time in Bay View, Bridges and Blank supported a group dedicated to preserving Seminary Woods, the historic woodland on the grounds of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee's property.
In response to series of sexual assaults in Bay View during the late 1990s, Bridges founded Whistle Sisters, a group of women who met at the Bay View Community Center. They distributed whistles to women to use as an alarm if they were threatened. The group also provided self-protection tips and strategies. "It didn't seem like there was enough attention being paid to [the assaults] at the time," she said.
She was also a strong supporter of St. Mary's Academy and the Marian Center for Nonprofits. The building, now demolished, was reminiscent of a boarding school Bridges attended as a youth, St. Clara Academy, in Sinsinawa, Wis. Several of her cousins attended St. Mary's Academy, so she always felt a strong connection to it. It was razed in 2018 to make way for a new convent for the sisters.
A group of neighbors took Bridges and Blank out to dinner before they moved to their new apartment in Brookfield. "It's kind of like family," she said. "Although you're not in everybody's life every day, you see glimpses, and that will be a definite miss. I'd prefer not to move away from that, but the options (for senior housing on the South Shore) were not that great."
They will also miss their favorite local businesses like Outpost Natural Foods and Colectivo Coffee, along with the progressive attitudes of Bay View.
Bridges and Blank have a small RV, "a tricked-out hippie mobile," so they will be able to travel now without the responsibilities of owning a house. "But we might stick to more regional travel. We're not anxious to go traipsing around the country," she said. "I've already been everywhere!"
Senior Housing in Bay View?
The Compass asked Ald. Tony Zielinski about the prospect of senior housing being developed in Bay View. He has championed the large new apartment developments in Bay View on Kinnickinnic and Ward and Robinson.
"We have been looking to promote senior housing on Kinnickinnic Avenue. I have been and continue to be very interested in helping to get senior housing on our business strips," he said.
Asked who "we" is, he responded, "We means me and anyone who may be interested in promoting that goal."
To date, none of the 500+ new existing apartments, nor the 350 new apartments proposed for Kinnickinnic Avenue, include senior housing.
According to nepa.gov (National Environmental Policy Act), "Senior housing is housing that is suitable for the needs of an aging population. It ranges from independent living to 24-hour care. In senior housing there is an emphasis on safety, accessibility, adaptability, and longevity that many conventional housing options may lack. "
- Katherine Keller
Disclosure: Sheila Julson was once a student of Judy Bridges at Redbird Studio.
What a kick — a full house at Sugar Maple for the 2nd Annual presentation of "A Picture and a Thousand Words." Ten photographs. Ten excited authors reading work inspired by the photos. The audience was quick with laughter, gasps, and applause. Who could ask for more?
Thanks to project organizers Laurel Landis, Jonnie Guernsey and Dan Wilson for nursing this from idea to exciting evening. Watch their new website — writeapic.com — for photos of this event and (I hope) plans for 2019.
I'm ever so proud to be included in the 2018 lineup: Sheila Julson read "Cracks in the Foundation," inspired by Meg McCormick's, "Steps to Luxury." Stephen Jansen read "Pont Marie," inspired by Nicole Wayne's, "Pont Marie." Barrett Westberg, read an untitled piece inspired by Jason Hillman's, "ta.lis." Ken Walker read "The Summer of my Discontent," inspired by Dan Wilson's, "The Badge of the Broad Minded." Dan Wilson read "Loading Dock," inspired by Troy Freund's, "Moving Day." Judy Bridges (Hey, that's me!) read "The Window," inspired by Jason Hillman's "ope/rum." Harvey Taylor read "Waiting for the Sun to Shine," inspired by Azure Bielefeldt's "fruitful." Myles Hopper read "The Unfortunate Fortune Cookie," inspired by Ryan Laessig's, "Milwaukee alt/B." Dave Thome read "Joe Blueberries," inspired by Peter Wallace Lee's, "Ecoute moi beni." Kim Suhr read "The Virgin's Wink, inspired by Anna Rodriguez', "Madre of the Punk Rock Cafe."
The 2019 A Picture and a Thousand Words event is accepting submissions from writers and photographers. See the website for details.
For your reading/writing pleasure these winter days
Boswell Book Company In Milwaukee has a fresh supply of Shut Up & Write! books — just waiting for you. They are also available at Little Read Books in Wauwatosa, Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Red Oak Writing in West Allis, Book Cellar in Waupaca, The Clearing in Door County, and of course, Amazon.com. This is just what I hoped for this book — that it would find its way to the minds and hearts of writers everywhere for a long long time.
Dave Blank's cityscape, "Thiele Tanning", won 2nd in Category and 3rd Overall in the "best of the best" of 596 entries in the 8th annual Light Space & Time Online Exhibition. The "Cityscapes" competition included entries from 22 countries and 32 states in two categories – 'Painting and Other Media' and 'Photography & Digital'.
Dave and the other winners will receive worldwide recognition. Thanks to the awards committee and all who admired and encouraged his work throughout the years.
That's my guy!
With the buildings fenced off for demo,
I look through the chain-link and see memories I think are held in the bricks, of writers, artists, school girls in uniform, nuns in full habit. I admit to stealing the sign that hung over my door in Redbird Studio. It says "Our Lady of Victory." That's how I choose to think of this building — a million victories, large and small, public and personal — fostered by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi since they laid the first cornerstone and dared to start teaching — of all things — girls! Let me rephrase that. They allowed girls to learn. We take that for granted now, at least in most cases in this country. That's a victory I wish we could spread worldwide.
Before I married Dave Blank,a mutual friend stood at a window at UWM and said he was looking at the scene the way Dave does, with eyes that see — and appreciate — details we often overlook.
Today this FB "memory" popped up and putting 2 and 2 together, I have to say that like our friend, I have loved learning to "see" the David way.
Free reads in the Little Libraries
This one's on the driveway into Canticle and Juniper Court, 3201 S. Superior (Lake Drive), Bay View, alongside the soon-to-be demoed Marian Center. I can still feel myself standing at the 4th floor windows in Redbird Studio, staring down at this spot. I wrote a good bit of this book up there, also met and learned from a lot of wonderful people — friends for life. This summer we'll be putting more books in more little libraries. This seemed like a good place to begin.
Good news for Indie Bookstore Lovers!
We stopped in at The Little Read Book in Wauwatosa and were thrilled to see that most of the yellow construction tape that was wrapped around the Village is gone and parking was downright easy.
The shop is as beguiling as ever – the staff is knowledgeable and welcoming, books are well displayed, the kid's corner is enough to make me want to shrink a couple feet and start my reading life all over again.
We also eyeballed face-out copies of our favorite guide for writers — Shut Up & Write! – signed by the author.
After so many months of yellow cones and tapes, I guarantee they will be very happy to see you. 7603 W State St., Wauwatosa. Mon-Fri 10-8, Sat. 10-6, Sun, 12-4.
My brother Bob and I really did a number on the thousands of photos inherited from 3 families.
Best decision: get rid of the ones where people don't look like themselves — like the last photo of Grandma with her hair mussed and that vacant look on her face. In real life, she was never ever vacant. Also ditched all remaining uglies of ourselves and friends. Result: we're getting cuter all the time. Process highly recommended.
This photo taken from our front porch shows the sweetness of living in our cozy neighborhood on a snowy night.
We've lived in fancier places, and poorer, and this one fits us just right.
We wish everyone in the world had at least this much.
One of the nicest parts of my life is hearing from students I fell in love with,
like Rudy Hummel (Kids Camps) and his dad, Mark (Shut Up & Write class).
Rudy's in college now, but his last year in high school he slept outside every night to bring attention to – well, I'll let him tell it. All I'll say is the Hummels live in Duluth!
Here is a slice from Rudy's website, written at the time...
"I thought about what's important to me, like the outdoors. I also thought about how many people have to sleep outside all the time, without sleeping bags or warm clothing. At first glance, these don't seem very well connected, but to me they are. Caring for people is important, and so is caring for the environment that sustains us. Treating nature well is treating each other well, both now, and for generations yet to come. It's our habitat, too. We all live on this planet together. I chose Habitat for Humanity because it sets a wonderful example of caring for people. It's an organization that builds houses for people who are homeless. I chose Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory because it connects people to nature and helps them understand why we need to care for it."
~ See Rudy's blog: Snoreoutdoors.com
"May we all feel shaken up a bit, and be inspired to do something."
From an post by Rudy's Mom, Gail Hummel
"Rock Story" books written by young authors in Ms. Beehler's K5 group.
How Writers Create Ripples
Meet Sparkle, Rainbow, Bee, Shorty, Diamond, Twilight, Rocky, Jay, Treasure and Emerald, the very special friends of Ms. Beehler's K5 class.
At our farewell to the Marian Center party there was much talk of how the ripples of things begun at Redbird have spread and become part of many lives. Adults who were kids in the 90s remembered hiking down to the beach, finding their special rocks and writing stories about them. I often hear from grown up "kids" who still treasure their rocks.
But this story has another slant, from one of the teachers who joined Redbird and led several of the early grade summer camps. Judy Beehler is a Milwaukee Public School Montessori teacher at Fernwood Elementary in Bay View. She adopted the "rock story" concept, developed it further and, well, here's a note she wrote after the farewell party.
(from Judy Beehler, June, 2016)
"I was late because, thanks to you, I was hosting my own young authors' party at Fernwood. I have taken so much of what I learned from you and applied it in my own teaching. Every year my K5 students culminate their years with me by writing a magic rock book. I still use my story that I wrote at Redbird to get my students inspired to write their own books. We go to the beach to find our magic rocks. Then they name them and decorate them, and for the next month or so those rocks become members of the class as the children write and illustrate their own books.
"The results amaze everybody (including me) each year. The books are wonderful, and the children grow so much as readers, writers and artists as they work on their books and then share them with anyone who will sit down with them to hear their stories. I am no Judy Bridges, but thanks to your inspiration, I have "edited and published" around 125 magic rock books. They write and illustrate, and I type their stories and mount their illustrations in their books. The finished books are treasured by the authors and their families. As I learned from you, everyone can write and not one of my K5 students has left my class without producing a book. I credit you with my passion for helping children learn to write and becoming pretty successful at it. I am going to try to send you a picture of this year's books. I wish you could actually see them and hear their stories."
Ms. Beehler sent the photos of the kids and their books. (We blurred the kids' names.) The beach photo was taken a few years ago, during a Redbird writers' camp.
Young Authors in Ms. Beehler's class at Fernwood Montessori Elementary,
an MPS school in Bay View (Milwaukee) WI.
Ms. Beehler helping kids find their magic rocks.
Taken while she was teaching a Redbird Studio summer camp.
I write, therefore...
I help other people write.
Does that make any sense? Maybe not in any other occupation, but it's true in writing. Every writer I know gets a kick out of helping another writer over a hurdle. As one friend said, "We have to be the only professionals who work so hard to help our competition."
Why do we do this? We learn while we're helping, for one thing. And I suppose we like being in the company of other writers. And then there's this little ego thing: it feels good to see someone jump the hurdle and get where they want to go, knowing that you contributed to their success.
I guess that's the big thing for me. In the 23 years since the Studio opened, and in the years before that when I wrote for a living, I got addicted to the thrill of seeing writers win. Like Doreen, when she wrote that first perfect story; Maria, when she heard the applause after her play was read; Gene, when he saw his book in print; Steve, when he sold his first article. The list goes on, happily, for a long, long time.
We see a lot of wins around here. Seems whenever I start out a day cranky, someone will call, or write, to say "Hey, guess what!" They'll say thanks, to me and all the other writers at Redbird who help one another.
So okay. We write, therefore... we help other people write. I think that's a pretty good thing to do with our time.
One day we ran a survey asking writers to finish the sentence: I write, therefore...
Here's what they said:
"I write, therefore I spend a lot of time staring at my computer."
"I write, therefore my family and friends think I'm unemployed."
"I write, therefore I drink."
A few answered:
"I write, therefore I AM A WRITER."
We liked that. But we liked this better:
"I write, therefore I think."