Friday, April 27, 2012

Finding a Refuge

I teach creative writing at a homeless shelter. I use the word “teaching” very loosely. The emphasis is really on talking and sharing and if anything good or creative comes from it, then so be it. Writing is just an excuse to communicate with each other. Actually that’s what it’s always been for me. It’s my secret power. That thing I carry around inside of me and pull out when I need it. Like a sharp knife or jewel box, a treasure trove. It makes me feel special, set apart, desirable.

Anyway, I like to keep things easy and as non-threatening as possible for the ladies. I have to be careful when choosing a subject for the women to write about—even the Cubs can bring up dark stuff hidden inside of them. So I started with a prompt sure to arouse good memories. Ice cream truck!

We went around in a circle sharing. Orange push ups. Mickey Mouse Pops. Drumsticks. Twenty-five cents. Fifty cents. The change their mama’s gave them from the bottom of her purse. The tinny tunes coming from the loudspeaker. Pop Goes the Weasel. Little Brown Jug. Farmer in the Dell. And—why did they always seem to come around at dinnertime?

One participant, though, had a hard time with the topic. She had written of the Waahoo Man that her mother always warned her about. She was told to never chase the ice cream truck, that the man who drove it was naughty and snatched children. He kept a big stick under the seat to whack kids with and kidnap them.

Okay, I said. Let’s try something else. How about swimming pools! We all love to go to the pool on hot summer days.

Again we went around reading our pieces. Suntan lotion, flip flops, belly flops, chlorine eyes. Water glistening on our skin, relaxing on a towel, listening to B-96 over the sound system. Blowing bubbles, holding our breath, touching the bottom. Someone confessed to peeing a little bit in the water. Yeah!

Until it came around to the same lady. Well, I got some bad experiences with this one too.

She proceeded to tell a convoluted story about a crazy, retarded boy at the swim pool. He bothered all the little girls. He just didn’t get how rough he was because every time she and all her friends jumped in he’d come over and try to drown them. He’d grab their head and push them down until they saw stars. They were constantly fighting to swim away from him. Until they just stopped going. Later her friend had a baby born with water on the brain. Always she wondered if it had anything to do with the crazy, retarded boy. Since then she’s stayed away from pools.

I nodded and prayed. God, give these, my ladies, a safe place, a shelter to run into, to hide from their past.

Tentatively I asked: Y’all like to grill out?

If you'd like to learn more about the shelter or to even donate, GO HERE:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Festival of Faith & Writing

Just got back from THIS.
Besides being inspired and rejuvenated and getting once again to hear the brilliant Marilyn Robinson, I was approached in the exhibitors hall by someone saying they appreciated my work. Whoever you are: THANK YOU. It sort've made my conference.

Also got to hear Bruce Cockburn do Wondering Where the Lions Are.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Treasures in the Sand

When my daughter was five or six I packed the car and drove to the lake. For some quality time. But the traffic was bad and it was sweltering hot. I had to lug bottles of water, a bag of fishy-smelling beach toys, a lunch cooler, and a lawn chair across the parking lot and down the stairs to the beach. I stopped to take a breath and take in the scenery.

Broken flips flops, water engorged diapers, plastic bags, and pieces of glass littered the shore from the weekend. My daughter took off barefoot to scare a gaggle of seagulls. I screeched for her to be careful, I imagined her cutting her foot and getting an infection, but only managed to scatter the seagulls before she got to them.

I cleared a space for the blanket and set up my lawn chair, trying to avoid a pile of smashed potato chips left by the last occupants. Almost immediately we were surrounded by a horde of children wanting to borrow our beach toys. I could not keep track of them and my daughter, who had wandered ankle-deep into the water only to run back when a frothy wave unfurled and threw itself at her. I didn’t even bother to sit down. What was I thinking! This place was a death trap. Not far from us was a decomposing fish with flies buzzing around its dead jelly eyes. In a minute my daughter came running back, “Look Mommy,” she shouted excitedly. In her hand she clenched a plastic tampon applicator, a shiny foil condom wrapper, and tabs from beer cans. “Treasures!” she exclaimed.

It took every last frayed nerve not to slap the items back into the sand.

This past week my daughter came home from a semester abroad in London and traveling solo through Spain. Just like that day on the beach, I envisioned every last thing that could go wrong—and did, a little bit. She had her phone stolen on the train, she got caught in the rain, she missed her flight home, but despite all the bad stuff that happened she made it back with treasures: a button found outside a West End theater, a picture a friend had scribbled on the back of a napkin, a postcard from Madrid, a seashell found on the beach at Malaga, the fragment of a map folded and refolded in the rain outside a castle.

I might not be done freaking out—there is ALWAYS something to worry about—yet I’d like to learn to distill treasures from trash, memories like smooth sea glass from the nitty gritty, the shitty beach. Hold them close, keep them in the back of my mind for later.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Only Known Photo

I can't imagine growing up without a camera, but I noticed with both of my parents there were photos of them only starting near the end of their high school career--probably around 1941, 1942. Both my parents and their families were severely affected by the Depression. I rolled my eyes growing up every time they started in about how poor they were. Now I wish I'd listened.

Anyway, Mom said she'd never had a picture of her Dad. He died when she was thirteen. BUT later they found in a book that was being compiled about Upper Sandusky, where she grew up, a picture of the first fire truck. Whoo-hoo!

And in that photo was her Dad, Harvey Myers. The only known photo of him.(FOR ALL OF THESE PHOTOS, CLICK AND YOU CAN SEE THEM LARGER AND IN SLIDESHOW)
He was about age 50 or so in this picture, possibly the mid-1930s. I plan to do more research and also post his obituary. Stay tuned for more info.
Here is a picture of his wife, my grandmother, Margaret Snyder Myers:
Her obit will also be posted sooooon. The story is that she greyed VERY EARLY.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wild Waves Motel

As promised (to who?) I've posted some new pictures of Mom and also Wild Waves Motel (see Once More to the Lake and other entries).

Here's a pic of Mom and the sign to Wild Waves Motel (a motor court!).

Need more info, look here:

There is nothing sadder than a "resort" past its prime, than maybe an amusement park that has seen better days. Believe me--I've done both. (Remember LeSourdesville Lake?)

And here is my FAVORITE, a classic. Now this is definitely someone I never knew, but then again, I think I would have loved to have known this person. Is the word RADIANT?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Impact: a review

Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs
Edited by CoCo Harris

Old Friend from Far Away
Natalie Goldberg
Free Press

Telling our stories. I study the names on the back cover—so many, each person has a story to tell, so many stories. Lately I’ve been working with flash memoir, taking a singular memory, freeze-framing it, then exploring it through the window of the present. Impact took the same view.

A decade ago the average short story was 16 – 20 pages double spaced, today flash fiction and even micro fiction is all the rage, for the digital age, formatted for the hand-held device. By freeze-framing different memories/moments, we are led to examine and perhaps draw insight. For writers of memoir, looking back on an entire life is sometimes overwhelming like attempting a marathon, but by breaking it down and taking it one step at a time, we can find joy in the journey.

The book’s strength is that one memory or entry in the anthology usually led me down a path of my own memories. For this is would be good to help jumpstart other readers/writers, inspiring them. It is good for stirring up old fires and rekindling memories. Much like another book, Old Friend from Far Away written by the well-known writing teacher Natalie Goldberg whose Writing Down the Bones is a standard in every serious writer’s library. Old Friend from Far Away is more than a manual on writing memoir, but a deep well from which to source memories just below the surface.

I would definitely recommend both Impact and Old Friend from Far Away for writing instructors, critique groups, and book clubs to help propel members into their past and hopefully inspire them to write it all down.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April Showers--UPDATED

When it rains it pours.
Last month I had 3 (THREE!)(OOPS! SORRY--THAT'S FOUR!! NEWER UPDATE: as of today FIVE!!!) short pieces taken. SEE OTHER WRITING

I've been developing what I call Flash Memoir--when you isolate or freeze frame a memory and then simply write (SHORT) about it. The pieces are usually under 1,000 words and sometimes between 250 - 500. The idea is to exercise the memory muscles and also if you're like me you can easily get overwhelmed by contemplating a longer piece--and sometimes the memory is better left as a flash than to over analyzing.

If you are interested in hearing more about this Flash Memoir process then consider joining us for our next CHICAGO NETWORK meeting Monday, April 16th @ 7 pm at the Sultzer Regional Library. More info at the SCBWI-Illinois website HERE