Summer Dreaming

Writers from the San Diego Memoir Showcase 2018
Laura Engel with the writers and producers from the 2018 San Diego Memoir Showcase.

San Diego Memoir Showcase

I’m in my home office getting ready to hit ‘submit’ on the computer screen. Submitting my work for our local Memoir Showcase is as scary for me today as it was that first time I submitted work in June of 2017. At that time my memoir was simply an outline, a dream. 

The Pain

I have weeded through several scenes saved in my documents, trimmed and edited a few and now decided on the ones to submit. But there are other scenes I read through and ponder. Here is the scene that, while writing it, I often had to stop typing and go outside to stare at the sky. Huge gulping sobs came from deep inside of me as I trembled on my patio. I was inconsolable. I had written about the birth of my first son in the sweltering heat of New Orleans in 1967. Remembering that night, alone and petrified, knowing I would have to leave my baby there was overwhelming. Writing it was excruciating. My heart ached for that young girl.

A New Perspective

Another scene makes me cringe while reading it.  This scene with my ex-husband on a miserable hot steamy night in Mississippi brought me to my knees when I first wrote it. I remember unchecked tears streaming down my face as I tapped away at my keyboard, my shoulders feeling as if someone was beating on them. His angry face still as real today as it was on that night over fifty years ago. A black fury overcame me as I pushed away from my desk. How dare he treat me like that? I questioned all these years later. I wanted to hug that sad young woman who thought this was to be her life forever.

The Bliss

Ah, and here is the scene when I meet my beloved second husband.  Once again, the day was in late summer. The sun is hot, my sons are there racing for soccer balls, and my life is about to change in ways I would never have been able to predict. I love this scene and remember as I typed it how my heartbeat reliving those first words, those first moments that would result in love so beyond reason that it would knock to me to my knees and take me to heights I had never dreamed. I rewrote that scene over and over and loved my husband more with each revised piece. I wanted to tell that young woman ‘you are thinking with your heart, and it is the smartest thing you will ever do.’

Finding the Humor

Another scene makes me laugh out loud. Me, in my thirties, flying across the Coronado bridge in my yellow Volkswagen bug stuffed to the brim with our five kids along with towels and beach toys for a day at the beach. As I typed, I remembered the wind in our hair as we sailed over the bridge singing at the top of our lungs along with the Bee Gees’ “Stayin Alive.” I can feel the golden sun burning my shoulders as I l sit in my bikini on an old quilt surrounded by my ocean wet giggling kids.  I see my children gobbling sandy sandwiches and cookies, all talking at once. Tears for what once was run down my cheeks. Oh, to have one of those days again. That summer was my halcyon summer, and I didn’t even know it. 

Reliving Memories

Okay, time to stop reminiscing, reading through my writing, living again as that young and sometimes fearless woman. I could sit here and do that for days. After all, there are seventy summers and countless tiny scenes that, patched together, make as colorful a quilt as any glorious midsummer sunset I have ever seen.

As I write memories, I relive them. I feel the sun. I feel the love, the sadness, the joy. The heft of my newborn sons in my arms, my Grammy’s fleeting kiss on my cheek, the chilly indifference from my mother, my crippling fear of my ex-husband crawl through me again. 

  I smell the scents of summer, my sons’ wet hair, Coppertone, freshly mowed grass, chicken sizzling on the grill. I bite into the first peach of the summer again, taste the salt of my lover’s skin, sip sun tea. I hear the crash of waves at the beach, my sons’ young voices calling “Mom,” our dog barking, my Daddy’s voice, my beloved husband whispering he’ll “love me forever” the first time. 

Submit

I marvel at the gift of writing those memories. Time does stand still, if for a short spell, because when I write it, I relive it. Is that not the best gift of all? I will continue writing my story as there are many more summers to revisit, some wretched, but most splendid.

Okay, here goes. I click on submit. Good luck to me and good luck to all the writers who submitted.

The author, Laural L. Engel

Laura L. Engel’s Bio

Recently retired after 35 years as a regional sales representative for a national title insurance company, Laura left the corporate world and plunged headlong into writing her memoir in 2017. She has completed the Memoir Writing Certificate Program with Master Writing Coach Marni Freedman and currently serves as President of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association. She has won a place in the San Diego Memoir Showcase twice with scenes from her memoir. Her scene, “Secret Son,” was published in the anthology, Shaking The Tree: Brazen. Short.Memoir, in 2018. Along with SDMWA, Laura is also a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, Thought Leaders Who Write in San Diego, and San Diego Writers, Ink. Recently Laura was interviewed by Dani Shapiro for her Family Secrets Podcast.

Laura’s memoir in progress is You’ll Forget This Ever Happened.: The Story of a Mother’s Love and Secret She Never Forgot. For more information, please visit Laura’s website and listen to her Dani Shapiro podcast by clicking here.

You can follow Laura on Facebook at Laura l. Engel Author and on Instagram at @storytellerlaura

Leaning on Your Beloveds: Breaking Through Writer’s Block with Tarot Centos

The cover of a book of poems called America, We Call Your Name, Poems of Resistance and Resilience.

Writing Centos

Let’s say you, writer, are at a loss for words. Some life event has completely stunned you into silence. This happened to me the day after the 2016 election results were announced when my hopes for witnessing a female candidate win the Presidency were dashed. Unable to write my own poems, I created a class, “Election Blues: The Gift of Agency in Poetry,” during which we took up writing centos.

What Is a Cento?

A cento is a poem comprised solely of a group of lines, each borrowed from a different writer. The idea is that you borrow the lines and leave the words largely intact, in order, within the line, but the expectation is that you will rearrange the lines themselves into order in line with your focus.

My First Step

Here’s what I did: I grabbed volumes within arm’s reach off my bookshelf. They were by women writers (with the exception of William Carlos Williams) I admire and love from across time as well as contemporary writers. Working with the cento form, I drew on the strength and power of their words to “get back home” and find my passion again. My dozen or so books were authored by:

  • Emily Dickinson
  • Joy Harjo
  • Bhanu Kapil
  • Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Audre Lord
  • Malinda Markham
  • Colleen J. McElroy
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Kay Ryan
  • Joan Swift
  • Ruth Thompson
  • William Carlos Williams

Adding Tarot Principles to the Writing Process

As a longtime tarot reader, it also occurred to me that I could apply tarot-reading principles to my cento writing process. When you read tarot cards, you focus on a question of the heart, shuffle the cards and choose cards blind (meaning the cards remain face down while you are choosing so the images are hidden until you begin the reading).

The Drafting Process

So when drafting my centos, I used my stack of books by other writers as my working tarot deck. For my project, I focused on five individuals: The female candidate vying for election (Hillary Clinton), the sitting President Barack Obama, the First Lady Michelle Obama, the incoming Republican candidate, and the incoming First Lady. Focusing on one person at a time, I put my hand on my heart and paid attention to the mix of emotions I was feeling. Each time I allowed the book in my hand to fall open and let my eye fall on a line, mimicking the process of selecting facedown tarot cards. Once I had copied down my lines, one from each volume for each person, I brought my poet self to bear on rearranging the lines into a meaningful order that best reflected my various states of love, gratitude, fear, and concern.

Looking for Synchronicity

Having worked with the tarot for so long, I was prepared for synchronicity—and indeed I found it in the five centos. Each randomly selected group of lines provided an accurate mirror for my sensibility. Of course, you can argue that any random group of lines can be made to mean one thing in one context and something entirely different in another, but this didn’t stop me from trying the form and enjoying the inadvertent “reading.”

Poetry, like tarot, works powerfully by association and context. When we plug in a question for a tarot reading or we plug in a person as the focus for a cento, the associations boomerang back to that central question or person, inviting us to look deeper. And more importantly, the process of leaning on our beloveds (other writers, in this case) and the process of asking, seeking and playing gets the pen moving across the page, nudging us to create again.

Writing Your Own Tarot Centos

1) Start by choosing a dilemma, question, dream, or desire you have for which you’d like to consult the oracle of poetry through the work of other writers.

2) Gather up your “oracle books” off your shelf. You may wish to add a randomizing quality to your “deck” by choosing every 3rd book on your shelf or even doing so in the library or bookstore. I focused my “deck” by choosing mostly women writers, a very specific group. Your stack of books can be as diverse or as singularly focused as you wish.

3) Put your hand to heart and go over your question/person in your mind’s eye as you point the arrow of your inquiry. Take one book at a time and either randomly select lines or use some kind of organizing principle (3rd line on every other page). You decide how long or short you want your resulting cento to be, and copy each selected line from each author onto your page.

4) Read over your entire group of lines. Have fun…rearrange them in the order that makes sense to you.

*Keep track of your line attributions to give each writer credit.

Here are links to MP3s of three of the centos from the series of five.

An Iris for Hillary MP3

An Iris for Hillary

*An Iris for Hillary was published in America We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2018) https://www.sixteenrivers.org/authors/our-anthology/

Open Letter to Donald Trump MP3

Open Letter to Donald Trump

A Thank You Letter to Barack Obama MP3

A Thank You Letter to Barack Obama

About Tania

Tania Pryputniewicz, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is the author of November Butterfly (Saddle Road Press, 2014). Recent poems appeared in the anthology America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience and NILVX: A Book of Magic (Tarot Series). Her poetry chapbook, Berkeley Postcard, was a finalist for the Comstock Writers Group Chapbook Contest in 2018. The poem, “Two Gardens,” from Berkeley Postcard is forthcoming in Rockvale Review and won Tania a residency in Tennessee at the Rockvale Writers’ Colony. She teaches poetry at San Diego Writers, Ink and she’d be delighted if you walked into her workshop with a cento of your own to share. Tania lives in Coronado with her husband, three children, blue-eyed Husky, and one formerly feral cat named Luna. She blogs at Tarot for Two and can be found online at www.taniapryputniewicz.com.

*This Tarot Cento exercise is sample chapter from Tania’s Heart’s Compass Tarot and Writing workbook forthcoming from Saddle Road Press; it was also shared with students attending The Bold Poet: Finding Your Muse workshop at the inaugural 2019 San Diego Writer’s Festival.

The Drop-In Technique

A stack of rocks in a cairn

About the Drop-In Technique: A Guided Meditation To Access Your Life Experience 

For years of teaching memoir classes, we needed a way for writers to bring their true life experiences to the page as if the reader was a fly on the wall—in the moment with them. Yet, at the same time, if it was a difficult life experience, we wanted the writer to access memories without feeling overwhelmed.
We tried many techniques and finally found success with a guided meditation that helps the writer visualize their life as a timeline they can drop into at any moment, yet feel a sense of protection from the raw emotions the writer may have experienced during the time they first lived through the experience.

,
It’s been a powerful tool I have used for years. Usually, I read the meditation out loud and then allow for time for free writing in class. No tool has been met with more excitement and success and many had asked if I would record it. However, making a recording never felt right until I met Kimberly. She is a writer, healer, and yoga instructor and has a natural gift when it comes to guided meditations. Kimberly took the drop-in technique, added in music and made it her own. Please give yourself the gift of taking some time out to drop into a guided meditation. I would love to hear your thoughts about your experience. Enjoy!

Drop-In Technique for Memoir Writers

Warmly,

Marni

A photo of Kimberly Joy

Kimberly Joy writes to share messages that uplift and inspire. Her pieces encourage and provide new ways of perceiving the world and life’s experiences. Her background as a Physical Therapist, Restorative Yoga Teacher, and Guided Meditation Specialist gives her a deep understanding of the mind-body connection. She loves to share this wisdom in hopes of assisting others on their journeys of health, healing, and inner peace. You can find more of her writing at MessagesfromJoy.org

Music Credit: Christopher Lloyd Clarke

Photo Credit: Kimberly Joy and Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Writing about Mental Health – What to Do When What You Find Out Freaks You Out

by Madonna Treadway

Studying the Research on Grief and Loss

A few years ago, while doing research for my book 6 Healing Questions, A Gentle Path to Facing Childhood Loss of a Parent, I began studying the leading thinkers on grief and loss. I was hoping to find a clearly defined path from grief to healing. I wanted to better understand the process, and I wanted to know what the experts considered the “right way” to travel that path through grief. Furthermore, I thought that maybe I could then do grief and loss right, or at least do it better. In the most traumatic of ways, I had lost both of my parents before the age of eight. I knew that I had experienced a lot of healing, and I thought, with research, I would be able to communicate just how that healing had taken place. What I found out, however, wasn’t clear; in fact, it was highly confusing and downright overwhelming.

Is There a Roadmap to Grieving?

First, there simply wasn’t a concrete consensus about how one travels along a healing journey. Some researchers saw the grieving process as a series of steps. Some saw it as series of tasks or seasons. Still others argued over the very definition of ongoing bereavement. In the end, I found lots of varying approaches, but no clear guidelines or path. This was surprising and confusing, as I expected the experts to agree.

Then I began delving into information about the different types of grief. Again, there was no clear agreement on the definitions of the different types of grief. And when I threw in what I learned about the mental health codes in the DSM-V that therapists use to diagnose bereavement, I got even more lost.

A Hidden Danger

Even after all the confusion, there was another hidden danger, and I was about to get officially freaked out. As I diligently did my research, I learned that if you have experienced the violent death of a loved one (this includes homicide and suicide), you may be more prone to delayed grief and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you experienced this as a child, PTSD is even more likely, as your grieving process was probably interrupted because of your age. This may create seriously negative consequences in your life and behavior. Serious. Negative. Consequences.

Like what, you may ask.

Like an addiction, severe food-related medical disorders, serious mental health issues, and higher rates of depression and even incarceration, to mention a few. As I continued to read, I began to feel my chest tighten. It was beyond upsetting.

Freaking Out

Without my permission, my brain began recounting my early experience of my father’s sudden death. My heart beat faster and faster. My mind reeled. And my body felt—well, it was a cross between feeling frozen and feeling terrified. A panic attack seemed imminent. Was I going to develop a serious mental health issue? Would depression or anxiety overtake me?

I told myself to put down the research and focus on my breath, one breath at a time.

That night, I found myself shocked by my reaction. It was as if some part of me was fearful for my younger self. I was terribly afraid of what could have happened to me. This fear seemed illogical, and I felt odd even admitting this. I was clearly still a bit freaked out.

So I did more breathing. Then . . .

Time for a Break

I reminded myself that I was okay. And I decided that I needed to put down the research and take a break.

I backed off. I stopped writing for several weeks. I absorbed what I discovered and spent some time on self-care. Long walks and warm baths interspersed with my normal busy life. I spent time meditating and visualizing my child self on a safe path. My little dog Auggie gave me lots of sweet snuggles. My shock faded. I began writing again with valuable information about my topic and myself.

As I processed what I had learned, I also looked at the evidence of my current life.

I had not developed any of the serious disorders mentioned. I knew I had experienced delayed grief and trauma, yet I eventually processed it in healthy ways like therapy and dream work. I had done so much therapeutic work on myself that I felt I was finally ready to share what I had learned with others through a book.

What’s Next?

My advice? Do the research, but don’t take it as gospel. Turns out my truth was my truth, and that was all that mattered. And if you ever find yourself knee deep in overwhelm, take a well-earned break. Put the writing down. Enough with the research. Get out into nature. Remind yourself of the life you are living now and all that is beautiful and possible. And I highly suggest having a really cuddly dog on hand.

Photo by Cyndi Pérezita on Unsplash

Writing About Grief? Don’t Forget the Box of Tissues

I have been writing about grief for my upcoming book, Six Healing Questions: A Gentle Path to Facing Childhood Loss of a Parent. During the process, I wrote heartfelt stories about the early loss of my parents and the grieving or lack of grieving that followed. My motivation for including personal stories is to help others who have experienced similar early loss.

Why Cry Over Spilled Milk?

During writing class, I have told these stories out loud numerous times without a tear. Yet, to my surprise, writing these vignettes continued to break my heart. When I described the last time I saw my mother alive, I cried as if it had happened recently. One side of me welcomed this as cathartic. Another voice in my head was appalled. Can I still be crying over what happened so many years ago? My answer to my chagrined self was, “I guess so.” The hackneyed phrase, “why cry over spilled milk,” kept intruding in my psyche.

Writing with Tissues in Hand

I kept writing and kept my box of tissues close. What I learned was it got easier. I also learned that my inner child still needed tenderness. I imagined her sweet eyes looking up at me and accepting my love. After all the personal work I had done, it became clear that my child still needed care.

It Gets Easier

It is getting easier to share the stories without tears. I am more accepting of feeling the occasional emotional tug and not afraid of shedding a tear. Never being a crier, this has been a challenge. I now find that crying is good for me, and I plan to do as much as needed going forward. Not crying is a hard habit to break. I may need a bigger supply of tissues. I study my tissue box with blue and white stars and think of how cute it is.

For us non-criers in the world, I think we really are criers. Something has stopped us. The same person who told us not to cry over spilled milk likely told us other things to shut us up or maybe to help us move on. Who knows? They were wrong. Damn! I’m getting over this and plan to cry when I want to. Hoping you will join me in protest and cry too.

Taking Back My Home: Leaving the Jabberwocky Face Down

spider web

When I was in fourth grade, I was inspired by The Bailey School Kids series to write mysteries on index cards. But as soon as I hit double digits, the form of writing took on a new shape; the words created puzzle pieces that I desperately wanted to put together to understand the realities in life.  Years of therapeutic writing has helped me face how my innocence was taken away–an innocence that left through two family divorces and when those closest to me tragically left this world.  Writing about these negative situations enabled me to see my strength, so I could deal with and grow from them.

In college, I had the opportunity to explore with Therapeutic Uses of Writing courses, directed by Dr. Allan Hunter. Hunter saw therapeutic writing as self-exploration. He offered exercises that allowed us to process emotions. Some exercises rooted from different stages in our lives such as childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. On more than one occasion we listened to Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.  Next, we’d draw and write about our own Jabberwocky, a current struggle in our lives. It wasn’t until the third semester, the last part of this class, that the Jabberwocky represented a past struggle for me. I could no longer keep silent. It was unusual to lie to myself in my writing, but I had done it, dancing around the truth in journal entries and poetry.  Going around in class we described our monsters. I soothed my throat with water and announced, “I was molested by my ex-brother-in-law” for the first time.

For my written reflection on this exercise, I closed the shades in my mother’s basement, zippered myself in a hooded sweatshirt and kept a pool stick nearby for protection. I had to do this alone but felt as though I was wrong, even with a classroom full of support. Though therapeutic writing is beneficial for processing emotions, it can re-traumatize, which is what I experienced as I re-visited details in my piece:  “The turning of the doorknob is persistent and more upsetting to hear than anything else. The young naked girl in the mirror backs herself into a nook between the cabinet and towel rack.

Before I knew it, warm tears pushed their way up and out of my eyes. I needed to pause, bend my knees in the chair and self-rock.

“I don’t see it as an act of bravery in the moment but looking back, using judgment to lock myself in was the best thing I could’ve done for myself.”

 I did find a slice of peace knowing that when something bad was looming, intuition and self-care were present.

A few years later, I realized that my written reflection acted as a catalyst that strengthened my voice as I peeled back my trauma even more. I tricked myself into thinking that the bathroom scene was the most difficult layer of the truth, but it was the scene I hadn’t processed that was the most frightening: the beginning. So here I was, in the nook of a local library by the window challenging the damn Jabberwocky again, four years after college. Just as I did the first time I wrote about my Jabberwocky, I shut out the light. The irony of being in a nook, albeit a safe nook this time, did not go unnoticed.

I was not attached to a pool stick or hooded sweatshirt for protection. I only had my mind, my laptop and my iPod for support. Once Microsoft Word opened its blank document, I marched right back into my fear.  “Stop running. This is where I turn and get angry the most; the rawness I never want to type and see.” With ears under headphones, I couldn’t hear the pounding of fingers on the keyboard, but I felt the anger coming through them, leaving my body:

I am cross-legged on the couch. We are one seat width apart when his hand moves up my chest. Soon after that, his fingers wander where they shouldn’t.  Then there’s pressure–very uncomfortable pressure. When I was older I realized it is the same poking and pushing sensation that a woman feels when visiting her gynecologist. I’m sure I’m one of the very few who cry on the exam table when getting a pap smear.”

Each word pushed out in the open was a punch to my Jabberwocky, each paragraph another defeat that I felt less and less wrong about.

 “Sitting on the couch, I internally scream. He shouldn’t be the first person exploring my body, even before I’ve explored it!  My eyes never leave the screen, nor does the rest of my body move; my head remains straight ahead. The characters on Roseanne stand in the kitchen arguing.

I keep watching, though not really seeing.

I paused once and skimmed over what poured out of my body and onto the screen. Dr. Hunter taught us to pay attention to language in our writing because it can tell us how we are doing. For example, writing from a place of observation with questions can help problem solve and comes from a Conscious Voice. Words like should, ever, and judgmental phrases echo what he calls a Parent Voice, while “I don’t care,” wishes and desires echo a Child’s Voice. I noticed where the child in me showed her anger, and yet, writing the scene almost like a journalist did help compartmentalize from a distance, even if only moments after being in the fight with the Jabberwocky. As I finished skimming, I felt present, exhausted, and no longer like prey. I finally took back my home.

While writing has been medicine to transform fear into courage, writing the scenes does not erase them. Being a raw writer means carrying the feathers of truth and the weight of truth. Being a raw writer breaks the mold of what is right to write. 

 Your turn…

  What is your Jabberwocky?

References used:

  1. Hunter, Allan.  The Sanity Manual. New York. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2003

BellaBianca Lynn takes her Life List, including riding a Ferris wheel and chasing fireflies, very seriously! Her love for movement and learning follows her constantly–who says you can’t shimmy your shoulders and practice Italian while driving?  Lynn has taken many yoga teacher training courses and is 500-hour certified with a focus on Therapeutic Essentials. She has taught Yin Yoga as well as Yoga for Anxiety and Depression.  Her essays and poetry have appeared in the American Dance Therapy AssociationBelly Dance New England, Boston Seniority, and Eunoia Review. A recipient of the Poetry Award and Freshman Essay Contest from Curry College, she weaves her creative and non-fiction writing into the art of belly dance and yoga practice.  BellaB resides in Massachusetts.  For more of her work visit: https://bellabiancalynn.com/

Photos courtesy of BellaBianca Lynn.

Conversation: Accountability

A picture of a strawberry milkshakeMy seven-year-old grandson, Beckett, knows the name of my book. I don’t remember ever talking about it with him. Maybe he heard a relative asking about my writing pursuits during the holidays. Wherever he heard it, listening to him say it made me feel more accountable than anything else has in months.

We were going through photos on my iPad to distract his five-year-old sister Emerson—who was having what seemed like the worst day of her life—because she found out that Beckett got a milkshake at lunch while she was at preschool. Never mind that we all got frozen yogurt after we picked her up. He had gotten something she hadn’t, and that was just plain wrong.

The photos had a magical effect. The sobs were stifled. She was mesmerized by seeing herself in so many pictures. Backward through time. Watching them shrink. The majority of photos I take are of my grandchildren. Followed by, in order of volume, pictures of Scotland in the summer and photos from other trips. No pictures of food, no selfies.

Once in a while, I grab a photo of something because I’d like to have a copy of it. Sometime in the last few years, someone brought a hand-out to my writing group that they had received at a workshop at San Diego Writers, Ink. It was about query letters. I had taken a picture of it so I could study it later.

Beckett is an advanced reader for his age. I know he was read to from the time he was a baby, but I think the ubiquitous billboards in Los Angeles helped. The world’s largest flash cards.

He saw the headline and asked, “What’s a query letter?”

“It’s a letter you send to someone when you want them to publish your book.”

“Has your book been published? Hair on Fire?”

I felt my face getting red, hearing him say the title of my book.

“No, I haven’t finished it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t really know why not.”

“Well, you should.” This was ambiguous to me. Should I know why? Or should I finish? You always hear people say you should do things for yourself, not for others. But I want to be who this precious and precocious little boy thinks I am.  

The moment passed, and we kept going on our reverse journey. I have almost 2,000 pictures. There would be more, but I winnow from time to time to avoid having to pay for iCloud storage.

We finally reached the end. The first photo I ever took with my phone was Beckett at about three months, sleeping in a carrier.

“Where am I?” asked Emerson, still sensitive to being left out.

“You weren’t here then.”

“Why not?”

“Because your part of the story hadn’t started yet.”

“Oh.”

They both wandered off after I refused to let them watch YouTube videos on the iPad. I sat there staring at the screen, wondering… when am I going to start to finish my story?

 

headshot of Andrea Moser

Andrea Moser spent 35 years writing for other people and organizations, from elected officials and civic leaders to universities and non-profits. These days, she is animating the characters who inhabit her first novel, Hair on Fire. She is an avid theater-goer, in San Diego and in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she has been attending the annual Fringe Festival for 20 years.

 

Photo Credithttps://pixabay.com/3287788

A Story of Heroes

Book cover for Disturbed in Their NestsI just read a new book that touched my heart, and I’d like to recommend it to you. Disturbed in Their Nests: A Journey From Sudan’s Dinkaland to San Diego’s City Heights by Alphonsion Deng and Judy A. Bernstein (Black Stone Publishing, 2018) is an important and amazing story.

Alphonsion—who goes by the name Alepho—was one of over 3000 Sudan Lost Boys who came to the United States in 2001. Along with thousands of other children, he had literally walked across the African continent. He couldn’t go back home to Sudan because a vicious ethnic war still raged there. Alepho considered himself lucky when he and his brother and cousin were chosen to go to San Diego. They had no idea where San Diego was or what life would be like for them. But anything would be better than life in the refugee camp in Kenya where conditions were worse than harsh with barely enough food to survive.

Judy Bernstein was a writer and homemaker, volunteering with the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. When she was asked to help three young refugees, she thought her task would be to give them a tour of the city—take them to McDonald’s, Sea World and maybe the zoo. She had no idea that for the next twenty years, her life would be tied to theirs, and she would be immersed in helping these young refugees.

Disturbed in Their Nests is, in part, a story about the confrontation between different cultures. Beautifully written in two voices—Alepho’s and Judy’s—the story unfolds from their different perspectives—and their different misunderstandings of the other’s culture. Alepho and his friends had nearly starved on their trek across Africa. But in San Diego, no one had told them what to do with sticks of spaghetti. How were they supposed to eat something like that?

Disturbed in Their Nests is a double adventure story. With flashbacks to their time in Africa, Alepho tells a harrowing tale of their walk and precarious survival. But their adventure in San Diego, with Judy’s mentoring, hard work, and diligent efforts, is also a story of survival—negotiating a new culture, living in a cheap apartment in a dangerous neighborhood, and seeking real jobs for their livelihood.

This book is a follow-up to their award-winning and best-selling earlier book, They Poured Fire On Us: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan. Alepho and Judy have given workshops all over the country to educate Americans about the tragedy and travesty of the Sudan war. Their new book is another important contribution to the literature on refugees. Alepho Deng and Judy Bernstein are true heroes.

At a time when America is cruelly turning its back on refugees, their story shows poignantly why that policy is so very wrong.

A photo of author, Lucy Rose Fischer

 

Lucy Rose Fischer is an author and artist living in Minnesota.  Her most recent book is a whimsical picture book, I’m New at Being Old, which received a Midwest Book Award and an Independent Publishers Gold Award.

Alephonsion Deng is a featured speaker at the San Diego Writers Festival on Saturday, April 13, 2019. For the Festival event schedule, register here.

 

Photos Courtesy of Lucy Rose Fischer

The Sacred Truth

A self portrait of the son of Guest Blogger, ELizabeth Eshoo as he looks for truthI cracked open. I was sprawled out on the oblong yoga cushion like Jesus on the cross—arms wide and chest towards the heavens—as my yoga instructor’s guided meditation took me back to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I saw the yolky sunrise break through the ink-black sky, remembering the night I spent so close to the summit. I felt the frigid numbness in my toes, fingers, and eyeballs. I felt the power of that moment, standing on the roof of Africa more than twenty-five years ago like I was back there fully.  

Our instructor, Kimberly Joy, said something like, “Go to your sacred place,” and it took all of a second for me to be there. Whatever she said next, maybe “What’s sacred to you?” broke me wide open.  I was sobbing, convulsing with emotion, my spine still pinned to the yoga cushion, my heart on full display, and raw emotion spilling out into the unfamiliar yoga studio. 

The Truth

My brain had connected the sacred moment atop Kilimanjaro to my most sacred self—being a Mother. The weeks of stress and strain I’d been carrying around with me in the form of impatience with my 17-year-old son, Alex, transformed. Right there, in the little yoga room, I fell into deep belly sobbing that illuminated the reason behind my terrible mood.

Alex is leaving the nest. My nest, our nest, the one I’ve so joyfully built and tended these past seventeen years. My firstborn child is months away from flying the coop, albeit to a wondrous place, no doubt. But my truth spilled out of my heart as I laid it all on the floor of this unfamiliar place.

I tried to stop crying and couldn’t. Kim placed her warm hands on my head, massaging my scalp, pouring her tenderness over me. At the end of the session, when I was finally able to stop bawling and articulate what had happened, I was taken aback. I realized this struggle I’d been having with Alex, with his lack of urgency over college essay writing and looming application deadlines, was really more about the impending, inevitable moment when he leaves for college. Ah-ha. Clarity. Truth. Relief.

The Enlightenment

I surprised myself in this unexpected moment. I thought I’d be having a relaxing hour of stretching and breathing during a restorative yoga session. Instead, I had a life-changing moment of enlightenment that brought much-needed awareness to me. Thankfully, Alex and I are on better soil now, working together on his writing, making progress and, surprisingly, I have been able to empower him to become his own storyteller—to use his authentic voice and to actually enjoy the process. So much so, in fact, that now he is helping his friends find their stories, tossing aside the canned, predictable tales of teenagers for the deeper, more reflective ones that often sprout from solitary moments. Teaching Alex to become a thoughtful storyteller feels like one of the most important lessons I’ve passed along to him.

Storytelling is what makes us human. It seems like it has never been more essential. I feel like all of the sudden, I am submerged in all things story. I’ve been inspired by the courage of others telling their powerful and heart-wrenching stories of the #MeToo Movement, the Parkland stories of terror and survival, and Dr. Ford’s stunning testimony to the Senate about a night she will never forget, and now, we won’t either.

The Empowerment

I find that I am drawn to reading memoir again with a new sense of urgency. I am motivated to finish my own ten years in the making memoir, while my daily dog walks serve as brainstorming sessions for my next book or two. A fellow writer asked me to help her sift through her life stories to pluck the gems out and find the scaffolding to display her valuable life in the most authentic way. Even the support group I’ve attended for years to help me manage my daughter’s epilepsy is now using storytelling as a tool to cope with the unpredictable nature of the disease. I am swimming in words and stories, and I feel Powerful.

As if that wasn’t enough, I had a book signing—a book launch party and a reading from an anthology of stories with 29 other writers. Sharing my story, the “Maasai in the Mirror,” allowed me for one evening to step inside the skin of a published author and feel what it is like to be exposed and adored. Sharing this magical evening with my fellow authors, I had no fear, surprisingly. I felt joyful, delighted, happy, thrilled, energized, surprised, nurtured, welcomed and yes…Empowered. Moments before I stood before the group of incredibly enthusiastic readers, book buyers, friends, family and total strangers who were so happy to be there, the butterflies flitted for a few moments. Then I was up and being introduced by the MC who happened to be my editor. Her kind words boosted my confidence. I took hold of the microphone and began.

Let me back up a moment; I left out a crucial part of the yoga story. Kim, our yoga teacher, told me that when she saw me crying, or rather, before she saw me break down, she felt my guides surrounding me—lots of them—those were her words. It was a powerful presence—nurturing, protecting and swarming around me, providing loving energy to me at that moment. Later, I asked her what they looked like, and she had to think about it. “Definitely beings, but amorphous bundles of energy and light.” Sounds woo-woo, but honestly, I’ve always felt surrounded by something protective, and so I wasn’t surprised, just stunned that someone else saw them, too.

The Wrap-up

Back to the book reading. I stood at the front of the crowded room with the microphone in my hand and the “cluster of beads” the Maasai Warrior had given to me in my pocket for good luck—tangible evidence, even to myself that I had, in fact, come face to face with a warrior on that trip to climb Kilimanjaro. I began to read. The silence became loud as the noisy room settled into a low hum. I was transported back to Joe’s safari camp somewhere in the middle of the East African bush. I could feel the weight of my leather Raichle hiking boots on my feet, the sharp pain in my injured knee. I could smell the smoky scent of the campfire. And I could feel my guides surrounding me as I continued to read, remembering my fellow climbers: Catherine, NN, Dennis, Ribby, Eric, Bill, Mandy, and Laura. They were there with me, always, as is the sacredness of my peak moment on Kilimanjaro.

As is Mark, my loving husband, and my daughter Emily, my heart and soul. As is my incredible son Alex, who, no matter where he goes or however the rest of his story unfolds, will be with me in my heart, deeply embedded forever.

We need our stories. We need our sacred moments. We need our guides surrounding us so that we can feel empowered at this moment in history when the only thing that seems to matter is telling our sacred truths.

Feisty Writer Writes Feisty Characters

Flapper Wears Mile-High Pearl Tiara Inspires CharactersI’m a feisty writer who spent over ten years working on my first novel. After being an inner city educator for twenty years, I turned to writing. I thought I’d create children’s books or a memoir about my classroom experiences, but that’s not what happened at all. I had no idea I had begun to create a dual timeline trilogy!

The books are about Anne, a San Francisco artist, who discovers vintage clothes and imagines through art making the lives and experiences of young women from past eras who originally wore the clothing pieces. Through many years, coaching from wonderful editors, and grit I’ve finally learned how to weave a novel. And who knew my main theme would be about women searching to find their place in the world?

Through attending Judy Reeves weekly Brown Bag, drop-in writing group, I learned how to write intuitively, and my feisty characters began to appear out of nowhere. Sylvia, an early 1960s young heiress, led me down paths where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. And the kernels of The Black Velvet Coat were born. Learning the craft, I spent years writing the first draft. I took it through two read and critique groups. And then hired a line editor to clean it up so I would feel comfortable enough to share it for professional feedback.

Marni Freedman read the manuscript and told me it was good and coached me that it could be so much better. For instance, she said Anne shouldn’t be a waitress to make ends meet, because that had been done before, and also that I was too nice to my characters. It was hard for me to hear. Marni was right though—I do love my characters, and I did make things easy for them. So I returned to the drawing board.

I thought about my early trips to San Francisco and considered what would be the most demeaning, difficult job Anne could have. I remembered driving up and down those hills in a stick shift and how hard it was to find a parking place. So Anne became a parking valet for a large hotel on Union Square. I brainstormed all the plot point problems that can arise for a thirty-year-old single woman trying to make it as an artist and wove those into the story too.

Sylvia, my 1960s character, falls for a scoundrel, does the unimaginable, and escapes to Northern Arizona. She experiences guilt, fear, a flash flood, howling coyotes, etc., but other characters kept saving her right away. On the next draft, I ramped up the peril to make the reader want to keep reading and had Sylvia work through many of the obstacles by herself.

As The Black Velvet Coat was at a final editor, Clair, a 1929 New York debutant, arrived on my pages. She pushes past the constraints of her controlling father to become a flapper but when the stock market crashes she becomes entwined in the world of burlesque. After I was almost finished with Clair’s story, Anne appeared on my pages and told me she wanted to be in this book too. I thought Anne’s story had ended at the conclusion of The Black Velvet Coat but it had shifted again and she had to figure out her life all over again. From the get-go, I focused on obstacles to throw in Clair and Anne’s paths.

After that first draft of my second novel, which became The Silver Shoes, I used Marni’s plot points from her book, 7 Essential Writing Tools, to guide my second draft.

In the third novel that I’m working on now, The Green Lace Corset, I’m instinctively writing in obstacles for Anne and my Midwestern, 1865, Sally Sue who is kidnapped on a train and taken to the Wild West. Both of these women are trying to find their true life’s’ purposes and the meaning of love. Haven’t all of our lives been like that? With stick-to-it-iveness, we find the strength to keep catapulting over our challenges to discover our true purpose in life. I know I have.

Six Tips for Writing Feisty Characters

  1. Develop a daily writing practice.
  2. Write from your heart, not your head.
  3. Find your fellow writing community.
  4. Keep your characters in peril until the very end.
  5. Put yourself in your character’s shoes.
  6. Consider writing play instead of work.

My Three Favorite Writer Books in My Library

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves

7 Essential Writing Tools: That Will Absolutely Make Your Writing Better (And Enliven Your Soul) by Marni Freedman

Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing by Brooke Warner

 

Photo of the author with blond hair in an up-do and red shirtJill G. Hall is the author of dual timeline historical novels The Black Velvet Coat, an International Book Award Finalist and the recently released, The Silver Shoes. The Green Lace Corset, the third book of her trilogy, is scheduled for a Fall 2020 release also by She Writes Press. Her poems have appeared in a variety of publications, including A Year in Ink, The Avocet, and Wild Women, Wild Voices. On her blog, Crealivity, she shares personal musings about the art of practicing a creative lifestyle. She is a seasoned presenter at seminars, readings, and community events. In addition to writing, Hall practices yoga, makes mosaics and collages, tap dances, and enjoys spending time in nature. Learn more at jillghall.com.

 

Photos Courtesy of Jill G. Hall