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:

1 comment:

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Memoir writing allows the dark and the light to come out, and any topic can become dark if enough leaps are taken in the writing.