Flashbacks – Good and Not So Good

What is it about the urge to revisit our past, either in our thoughts or in person? Why do we do it? What are we hoping to feel, learn, experience, see? A few years ago my husband and I decided to take a trip “home” to where we were born – Rockford, Illinois and Buffalo, New York – both once heavily industrial cities, both trying to rebirth themselves.

 

Rockford, Illinois, courtesy of illinoisreview.typepad.com

Rockford, Illinois, courtesy of illinoisreview.typepad.com

 

One of the first stops in Rockford was at a childhood home of my husband’s which his father had built. We parked in front of a neat, well-tended bungalow. When we went to the door and introduced ourselves, the owner invited us in, gave a home tour, served cider and cookies, and told us all about the changes in the neighborhood.

From there we went to a baseball field where the Rockford Peaches once played fast pitch softball. Remember the film A League of Their Own? For a brief time, we stepped back into that world. My husband had practiced his own baseball skills here.

Then we went to his elementary school. When we arrived at the front door, it took us a minute to register the sign posted on it: Abortion Clinic. M-m-m-m. Focusing on the place and not the abortion debate, it was not quite the school he remembered.

Flashback success score for the feel good factor? 2 – 1.

When we reached Buffalo, I wanted to go to the Grosvenor Research Library, pronounced Grove-ner, built in the late 1800’s.  It was a reference library only, books and resources had to be used on the premises. There were valuable collections, primary sources, and pieces such as Mark Twain’s original manuscript Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Twain had been part owner and editor of a Buffalo newspaper called the Buffalo Express from 1869 to 1871.) It was here at the old Grosvenor I’d done a bit of studying during college and a great deal more of meeting a boyfriend.

 

courtesy of grorarebookroom.wordpress.com

Grosvenor Library courtesy of grorarebookroom.wordpress.com

 

Since the parking lot near the library was full, we parked on the street. I ran along the sidewalk, up the steps, eager to go inside. But that wasn’t to be. Yellow tape and a big sign on the double doors announced: This Building Condemned. My body sagged like a deflated balloon.

Several blocks from the library was another spot I wanted to see, a place called The Encore. It was a coffee house and the place students went to discuss the state of the world and life and love. I remembered its dimly lit atmosphere, small tables, coffee, and smoke. Sadly, the coffee house had been replaced with a printing business.

 

Buffalo, New York, courtesy of www.audioconnell.com

Buffalo, New York, courtesy of http://www.audioconnell.com

 

From there we drove to see a house where I spent my teens. It was located in a small town on Buffalo’s outskirts called Getzville, originally a German farming community. It was a dull little place with a long bus ride to school over in the town of Williamsville. But the house I liked. The backyard sloped to Ellicott Creek which meandered its way to the Niagara River and eventually over Niagara Falls.

 

Getzville, New York, courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Getzville, New York, courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

 

Built on close to an acre, the house, a two-story Craftsman style, had a white picket fence, gazebo, carriage style garage by the road, and a boathouse. (We used to go canoeing along the creek.) The place had once been the summer home of a wealthy Buffalo businessman.

When my husband and I drove up, I saw a front lawn full of untrimmed trees and bushes, the house barely visible. We parked and I got out of the car, camera in hand. The plan was to take several pictures and then we’d go to the front door and introduce ourselves.

As we took a few pictures, I became aware of a woman making her way through the trees toward us. She moved like a battle ship. She spoke like a navy commander.

“Why are you taking pictures of my house?”

“I-I-I-I used to live here,” I stammered. We introduced ourselves.

Still suspicious, she grilled me. We learned she was the person who bought the house from my parents.

“What happened to their baby grand piano?”

“I have it,” I replied.

“I wanted that piano, but your parents wouldn’t sell it to me.”

Good grief, was she still angry from not being able to buy a piano? Happy to finally dump that anger? No, it turns out she thought we were from the county. It seems she and Erie County were in some sort of litigation. Needless to say, we were not invited to do anything. I’d really wanted to walk onto the property, down to the creek, see the old boat house, stand under the weeping willow trees along the water’s edge. The stroll down memory lane that day was like a character’s bad flashback in a short story.

Flashback success score for the feel good factor? 0 – 3.

When I did my intern teaching, I taught at an elementary school in the city of Niagara Falls. Everyday I saw the Falls, heard the roar, felt the rising mist. Everyday the sight had thrilled me. We drove to that city the next day. I discovered the sight still held the magic. At least one place we visited hadn’t changed much at all.

 

 

What did the trip accomplish? There were real surges of excitement at seeing the places that helped shape us as individuals. There were surges of sadness that places had changed, knowing, of course, that time marches on. There were feelings of nostalgia, knowing, despite everything we’d encountered growing up, the drama and the trauma, the ups and downs, that things turned out pretty well. Mainly, there was a sense of understanding and appreciation for the environment, the people, and the society that had given us so much and so many precious memories. Unexpected signs on doors had not changed those.

Posted in memoir, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Fiction Writing – Like Your Own Political Convention?

Fiction writing is like your own political convention. Pardon me? Really? Okay, hang with me on this. First, let’s look at what happens when you’re writing a short story. I attempted to analyze this conundrum with a story I just finished.

The idea for the story had been with me for some time. I had a beginning and an ending which could be dark or happy. I had a feel for the scenes and settings the protagonist had to navigate. There was an antagonist and a champion. The hero had an internal and external conflict. Great. The mystery was the middle of the story, not quite so clear. I jotted down a sentence outline, very minimal.

Conversations in Color by Lorri Kelly

Conversations in Color by Lorri Kelly

My story writing steps seemed to go something like the list below, the steps sometimes happening solo, sometimes simultaneously. (Writing gurus tell us there are two types of writers: planners and pantsers. I seem to be a combination. Does that make me a plantser?)

  1. I wrote the story through to the end, doing some editing as I went along. My main thought was to keep the story moving forward from the opening, to the conflict, to the  denouement. Some sentences arrived pretty, some arrived ugly. Some were deleted immediately. But I kept going.
  2. I gave the story a makeshift title, the hero’s name, in this case Stephen.
  3. With the story written down, I evaluated it to see if the basic storyline and plot hung together, although I knew discoveries would be made in many areas.
  4. Next came fleshing out the bones of the characters. In my mind, they often talked at once and had to be sorted out. Or else they said something I wasn’t expecting. The protagonist had to have depth. The reader had to care about him and his plight. He had to be human with strong traits, with weak traits. His champion couldn’t be too goody-two-shoes. His antagonist had to flex some unpleasant muscles.
  5. The settings had to be woven in, enough description to be visualized and understood, but not too much. Transitions had to help the flow from scene to scene.
  6. Midstream the title changed.
  7. I looked for any significant object or action I had dropped and then discovered I needed later in the story.
  8. Next came checking for the use of the senses, beyond what a character could see. Taste, smell, sounds, and textures were blended in.
  9. The ending could go one of two ways. I struggled here. Did the protagonist deserve to have success or not? Which ending would work better with the tone and mood of the story? I tried it both ways, more than once.
  10. I played with paragraph and sentence structures, varying the length of each. I moved paragraphs around.
  11. Next came reading for wordiness and for flow, adding, deleting, and changing words where things were bumpy. I wanted the writing clean, direct.
  12. Word patrol was next. I checked for the words and, was, as, like. I checked for words I seemed to enjoy overusing. In this story the word was session.
  13. At last came the final edit.
  14. For the final title, I created a word cloud around the central character and selected from there.
  15. A search of literary journal listings in Poets and Writers for places to submit was the last step.

During the story writing process, I allowed the story to sit for a few hours or overnight or for a total day. Whatever the time span, at the next session new ideas flowed, new discoveries were made. I fleshed the story bones. Some days the story felt good, other days I wanted to burn it.

As I wrote, I realized I was in my own political arena, with choices a lot like the recently concluded Republican and Democratic conventions. (I watched them both.) At my convention, the vote for what happened next was my keyboard.

Good Rockin' by Debra Hurd

Good Rockin’ by Debra Hurd

This writing/political convention analogy could go off the deep end with humor or vitriol or prognostications. I’ll just make this two scoops of vanilla. So here goes.

Like my story, the political story had been in process for a period of time. There were a variety of possible titles – The Conventions, The Next President, to name a few. There were characters in conflict against a wider world backdrop and a parade of characters all talking at once: protagonists, antagonists, best buddies, acquaintances, walk-ons, strangers. We had a convention setting rife with architectural detail, moods of light and shadow, high tech running rampant, nooks, crannies, halls, signs, music, and local color. Enough sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds abounded to stimulate the five senses for a lifetime. There were moods from hopeful to dark to funny to serious and a rising action building to a choice between two endings. There was a storyline rife with plot, intrigue, truth, fiction, and subplots trying to appeal to our human dreams and foibles.

As writers, we have to sort out the story, streamline the material, and arrive at a conclusion, all the while revealing man’s universal truths. In the political realm, we do the same, looking at promises, plans, and slogans. All the while making people care about the story. Whew!

Posted in fiction writing, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The gift of the gathering

We’re all familiar with the interview question, “If you could spend a day with a famous person, living or dead, who would it be?” As I thought about the question, I decided if I did this, I would choose a woman. Then I realized I couldn’t decide on just one famous woman. What if I chose ten? It might be exciting to bring a group together for a conversation or a gathering or a retreat. And how would I choose? Long story short, I used a not so very scientific method. I narrowed the field by choosing women with birthdays in July. What kind of group might that commonality produce?

by Francoise Colander

painting by Francoise Collandre

Then the question became, who would I invite? After researching several lists of women with July birthdays, I chose Malala Yousafzai, Angela Merkel, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rose Kennedy, Amelia Earhart, Estee Lauder, J.K. Rowling, Ann Landers, Diahann Carroll, and Princess Diana. I’m curious as to what drives them today or what drove them during the society of their day. I’m curious as to their joys, their fears, their dreams. What are they like inside? Would I bond with some more than others? Would the group experience a moment of oneness, a lifting of hearts and spirits?

"Tapestry" by R. C. Gorman

“Tapestry” by R. C. Gorman

Why these choices? I chose Malala for her bravery and dedication to education for girls, Angela for achieving leadership of a world power, Emmeline for courage and perseverance in the fight for women’s suffrage, Rose for being the matron of a power family, Amelia for being a forward thinker and pioneer, Estee for her business acumen, J.K. Rowling for her literary success, Ann for her homespun advice, Diahann for the breakthroughs she forged, Diana for her struggle for identity. I think they would bring many roles, many ideas, and many gifts.

The Gift of the Gathering

together we gather
joyous
worried, contemplative
optimistic, stoic, sad
our world view guides our thought
our life experience bonds us
women … searching and strong

mothers they call us
bearers of children
nurturers of body and soul
family guide in crisis and joy

daughters they call us
our mothers’ students
learning daily life
peeking beyond its boundaries

wives they call us
joined in ceremony
partners through life’s
trials and uncertainties

sisters they call us
first playmates
safe havens for secrets
confidants and rivals

girlfriends they call us
coffee meets and
shopping treats
pillars for each other

teachers they call us
bearers of society’s values
its art, music, manners
culture, the written word

grandmothers they call us
keepers of the family story
of man, his traditions
protectors of keepsakes

trailblazers they call us
changing laws
changing institutions
opening doors and breaking ceilings

talents they call us
heroes for growing girls
making our marks
in everyday life and in the world

but mostly they call us women
governors of our own destiny
strong, constant,
ever emerging
finding strength in each other
in times of sadness
finding strength in each other
in times of great happiness
finding strength in ourselves
in spiritual silence

finding ways to go on
always

"The Group" by Itzchak Tarkay

“The Group” by Itzchak Tarkay

Posted in Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What the Attack in Orlando Taught Me

Life has a way of offering lessons. And Orlando, Florida, offered some of the starkest and, in contrast, some of the most beautiful, touching the depths of compassion in all of us. Forty-nine lives were taken on June 12, 2016. And, in domino style, lives of survivors changed. Families changed. A city changed. I wonder, did a nation? And what did I learn? I learned I could weep for victims, for survivors, and for a city. Again.

I learned Pulse Nightclub, the scene of the attack, was more than a club where people gathered to have fun. I had missed the bigger picture of its role in the LGBT community. It was a home, especially, if in your own home, people do not accept you for who you are or don’t know who you are because you haven’t “come out” to them. It was a safe haven from elements of a society who you know from experience aren’t always tolerant or understanding or nonviolent toward you. It was a community where you were free to be yourself, and you supported each other like friends do. It was a viable part of a city’s economic community, providing employment, paying taxes, dealing in commerce. I didn’t realize its depth and breadth. I apologize. Again.

I learned there’s a difference between a legal civilian version Sig Sauer MCX  and a military one. One is semi-automatic, the other fully automatic. However, the results are the same. Again.

I learned of the intensity of an ideology. I’m reminded of the song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” from the musical South Pacific. Although the song addresses racial intolerance, the words ring true to the teaching of hate in any form. The three lines of lyrics I’ve placed in italics strike at the core of something we know. However, it often seems some have never seen or heard the idea before. Again.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I learned compassion comes in many forms and hope stays alive. For Orlando this feeling arrived in unique ways. A 49 foot lei called the Lei of Aloha arrived from Maui. It was composed of “flowers, tea leaves and 49 shells from the island with each victim’s name written on the shells,” made by Polynesians of Maui. Compassion arrived when Boston Marathon bombing survivors visited the hospitalized victims being treated at the Orlando Medical Health Center. It arrived with vigils being held in cities across many countries. It arrived in the form of 49 wooden crosses set up on the campus of the Medical Center.  The crosses were made by Greg Zanis of Aurora, Illinois, who said when interviewed, “Love your neighbor. Don’t judge.” People know this, but have trouble putting it into practice. Again.

I learned communities can unite, not only in Orlando, but across the nation. Again.

I learned that our society has individuals and groups with mental issues and hostile ideologies who can easily buy guns. Again.

I learned Isis inspired warfare is insidious, that attacks on soft targets are cowardly. Again.

I’ve always believed in change and new experiences and new vistas. In exploring ideas, new and old. I’ve always believed change is possible. Carl Alaska, Ph.D., in Psychology Today in an article titled “Change Your Beliefs, Change Your Life,” states:

On the individual level, real change can happen only when you recognize that it’s your responsibility to feel, think and act differently. The same is true for the wider society. The reason it’s so difficult to make meaningful social or political change is because a large bloc of people believe it’s neither possible nor desirable … until we simply decide, “I’m going to initiate a new set of beliefs.”

A country’s laws may begin the process, but individuals have to commit to change, to believe change is possible and/or believe coexistence is possible, whether dealing with religious, social or political values.

Orlando, your lessons are difficult and heartfelt. We have to keep trying. Yet again.

Posted in Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cut Off the Label

You know, when I wear a blouse and the label sewn into the collar or neckline bothers me or irritates my skin, I cut the damn label out. And, currently, in this political season, labels being sewn on people and groups are not only irritating my skin, but they are getting under my skin.

I’m tired of the labels and the labelers – the media, the candidates, the exit pollers, the political parties themselves. Let’s get rid of them, the labels that is. Instead of slicing and dicing the voting public and people by color, ethnicity, economic status, level of education, religion, and gender, let’s simply call the American people “voters.” And let’s debate the issues. Let’s offer solutions.

courtesy of geekalicious.co.uk

courtesy of geekalicious.co.uk

There’s constant talk of unification – unifying the nation, unifying “the parties,” – yet we keep using terms that separate us. Watching the coverage of a recent political rally, I saw a peaceful protester in one camp shoved by a not so peaceful protester from the other camp respond with, “But I’m an American, I’m an American.” Yes, she is, we are.

As a nation of immigrants, we all have roots in other countries. We all bear these roots proudly. And we’re curious about our past. Look at the number of people going to a site like Ancestry.com to find their roots and buy a DNA test. While we each enjoy our uniqueness, we are also team players on the American team.

We can’t ignore poverty, crime, gun violence, health care needs, shortfalls in education, economic differences, world crises, terrorism,  or turn a blind eye to segments of our society in need. We can’t view the world through rose tinted Ray-Bans. But why can’t we use, at least in the case of the upcoming election, inclusive terms like residents, constituents, and voters?

Certainly, labels have purpose and use. According to an article in Psychology Today called,Why It’s Dangerous to Label People” by Adam Alter:

Labeling isn’t always a cause for concern, and it’s often very useful. It would be impossible to catalogue the information we process during our lives without the aid of labels like “friendly,” “deceitful,” “tasty,” and “harmful.” But it’s important to recognize that the people we label as “black,” “white,” “rich,” poor,” smart,” and “simple,” seem blacker, whiter, richer, poorer, smarter, and simpler merely because we’ve labeled them so.

Labels have a way of sticking to people. The old adage of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” comes into play causing some to think, I’m labeled that way, I might as well behave that way.

Let’s realize what people labeling does. It affects our actions and beliefs.

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Can we, for the remaining political season and general election process, retire the divisive labels? I’m campaigning for the use of terms like voter, American people, and team. Thanks for “listening.”

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For Your Tomorrow

Our news is filled with daily coverage of wars taking place in various areas of the world. And through history to modern time, destructive events such as these have motivated people, military and civilian alike, to write about their deep visceral feelings and their life changing experiences. They write of their sadness, joy, and fear. They write of death and survival.

I thought of America’s war history and became curious about how we as a people have expressed our emotions and recorded our experiences in writing. This led me to look at America’s war poetry. I wish I hadn’t found so much from which to choose for inclusion in this post. But choose I did.

Some poems are by famous writers, some by individuals who were there, some have well-known lines. Styles and perspectives have changed. The poet’s voice may be distant or lofty, the poet’s voice may be close. But the inner cries of loss and questioning haven’t changed.

The pieces I collected from America’s war poetry begin with the Revolution and a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. (My father’s middle name was Emerson for RWE.) For the Civil War, I chose “The Blue and the Gray” to honor both sides. These are followed by poems of World War I, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq. See what you think.

*** The Revolution

National Guard Heritage Painting

National Guard Heritage Painting

Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

*** The Civil War

"Hancock at Gettysburg" by Thure de Thulstrup

“Hancock at Gettysburg” by Thure de Thulstrup

The Blue And The Gray by Francis Miles Finch (1827-1907)

By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray

These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day
Under the laurel, the Blue,
Under the willow, the Gray.

From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day;
Under the roses, the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So with an equal splendor,
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment -day,
Wet with the rain, the Blue
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won:
Under the sod adn the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

*** World War I

Over the Top by John Nash

Over the Top by John Nash

Rendezvous by Alan Seeger

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air –
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath ­
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

*** World War II

Military Artworks - Band of Brothers

Military Artworks – Band of Brothers

The Sonnet-Ballad by Gwendolyn Brooks

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate–and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

*** The Korean War

We Remember by M. Garvey

Those we left there in the cold
We remember, we remember
Have no fears of growing old
Oh do we remember

Those who fell in prison yards
We remember, we remember
Savage weather savage guards
Oh do we remember

Those who died face down in mud
We remember, we remember
Asian soil Yankee blood
Oh do we remember

Those whose names we can’t forget
We remember, we remember
Comrade spirits with us yet
Oh do we remember

Heartbreak Ridge and Pork Chop Hill
We remember, we remember
If we don’t honor them who will
Oh do we remember

Those who died when far too young
We remember, we remember
It is for them this song is sung
Oh do we remember

*** The Vietnam War

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial In Washington, D.C.: Memorial Sculptures Of The Three Soldiers

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – In Washington, D.C., Memorial Sculptures of The Three Soldiers

Nam Night by Pete “Doc” Fraser

God, how I hate the night.
Twilight creeping in graying out the green,
turning the jungle black.
Fear grows inside like the winding of a clock.
Under the black cover of darkness,
the hunter becomes the hunted
and Charlie owns the night.
The fear is as real as the night
and grips us all in its unrelenting hold.
Through the sleepless hours the fatigue builds
sapping both mind and body.
In the tense haze of early morning,
you lie on the jungle floor
while waiting for the morning sun
to take away the night’s hiding blanket of darkness.
It is in the morning,
as the sun paints the jungle from black to green
that you begin to relax the night’s vigil
and you take the countryside back from Charlie.

***Iraq

Courtesy of blogfromamerica.wordpress.com

Courtesy of blogfromamerica.wordpress.com

Ashbah by Brian Turner

The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,
unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice
sounds from the minaret, a soulfull call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,
leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.

*** Hope

Courtesy of news.discovery.com

Courtesy of news.discovery.com

Terra’s Land by Carol Mann

The woman knows
the ruins of war,
her heart pierced by
despondency and loss.

She clasps
an injured child
to her breast.
Where is his family?

With gentle touch,
she wraps him
in her warmth.
Will he survive?

The fragile child,
the hallowed homeland
upon which she stands,
give her strength.

She pushes aside the
seeds of chaos,
clears the debris of hate.
unearths her resolve.

Her land and people
are survivors,
indomitable,
children of the universe.

***

The lust for power, political beliefs, and religious beliefs can lure reasonable men to pursue destructive ways. Respect, tolerance, the universality of our wants and needs, and the safety of the world for our children become buried in baser instincts. But hope isn’t easily extinguished. May our leaders, negotiators, and strategists continue pushing forward toward co-existence and humane actions.

Thanks for taking this journey through history with me. Memorial Day is everyday.

“For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today.” John Maxwell Edmunds 1916.

Posted in Authors, Creativity, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Public Reading of Another’s Work

Doing a public reading of another author’s work is an honor and a responsibility, and definitely feels different from doing a reading of your own stuff.  With your own, you’re protective and vulnerable. Nervous. (See my post from 10/15/15 called “What is it about a literary reading?”) When reading another’s work, you want to do the piece justice and be true to the author’s intent, much as a director, when mounting a play, wants to be true to the intent of the playwright.

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Reading your own work

Sharing your own work makes for a high sense of risk. These are your words, ideas, thoughts, and feelings. You wonder if people are liking what they hear. You wonder if it’s bombing like an Off-Broadway flop. Feelings of euphoria or defeat are close at hand. But let’s face it, as writers we want to be read and heard. Hopefully, those hearing your work will want to read more and buy your books.

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Program

Reading someone else’s story at a literary event has a different feel. I recently was the reader for the first place short story in a local writing contest. I felt a big responsibility even though I didn’t know who the author was. The author’s name was announced by the emcee after the reading.

In preparing for the reading, I did my homework. I made sure I understood the story and its intent. What was the author saying about the characters, about life? I looked at the structure to see what the writer was doing craft wise to help me understand the highs, the lows, and the rhythm. I noted where the author was close to his characters and when he was in exposition.

And as a reader I had to be sure of word pronunciations. In this particular story, the author used Hawaiian words and several sentences in Hawaiian which were integral to the story and couldn’t be skipped over or just immediately given in translation. My prep involved a call to the University of Hawaii at Manoa on Oahu. I spoke with an Hawaiian woman who patiently took me through the words and sentences (which I wrote in my own phonetic code), told me which syllables to accent, and gave me the cadence.

You may love the piece you’re sharing with the audience, like it, or be apathetic. But your opinion really doesn’t matter. The judges have chosen. A reader’s responsibility to another author’s work is to be as true to the piece as possible and do that author’s work justice. You’re holding someone else’s baby. It’s delicate and important and deserving of care. What happens when the words hit the airwaves is in fate’s hands. Of course, you hope the audience enjoys the piece.

Nuts and bolts

Nuts and bolts

Then there’s the nuts and bolts. If the reading is not from a book, I print out the story, double-spaced, in a larger font than the traditional 12 point. I put the “script” in a notebook and fold up the bottom right corner on each page. This prevents turning two pages at once which would really put the story in a spin or standing there trying to peel two pages apart. I add any cues about pacing or pronunciation or volume or anything else I’ve discovered during practice sessions.

Time is the biggest factor in prep. It gives a reader the opportunity to understand the piece, catch the nuances, subtleties, and subtext. Time allows for practice runs. Sometimes, a reader has to change a word or two or eliminate or add one to help with the flow. Whatever the circumstance, you give the piece your best shot. You’ve been given temporary custody of another’s work. Honor the trust. And enjoy.

And the story belongs to ...

And the story belongs to …

Posted in Authors, fiction writing, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments