Tag Archives: writers

Wordkeepers: An Ode to my Writing Group

“If a story is in you, it has got to come out.”
– William Faulkner

artscenterTake a trip with me. Come along as we make our way to a tiny stone building that sits on a street corner in a small town in the mountains. In this tiny building, there lies one little room. At first glance, there is nothing special about this room—nothing magical. A few pictures on the wall, a podium, some fold-out chairs. A few windows that allow the last slants of evening light to dance across the hardwood floor.

People begin to arrive and fill the chairs—a wide variety of ages and genders. (There are probably even bigger varieties in religion, profession, and political standings, but you do not know this, nor do you care.) You hear the shuffling of papers, the scraping of one of the chair’s legs across the floor as its occupant tries in vain to find a comfortable position. You hear a nervous cough or two. More paper shuffling.

Now, the silence will be broken as the first makes her way to the podium.

A throat clears. A nervous voice rings out. “I wrote this piece when I…”

Ah. This is where the magic begins.

You are in the storytellers’ room, my friend. The first storyteller has begun her journey and soon the others will follow suit, including you.

Welcome to the group.

This is where we meet to shed the life outside these stone walls and dive headfirst into the world within. This is where the stories are set free. All are true, even the fiction ones, for they come from within the mind and heart of the writer, and what could be more real than that?

Join us. Experience a new consciousness. That thing that has been sleeping inside you will gradually open one lazy, hesitant eye and take a quick peek. Once it sees that it is safe to awaken, both eyes will snap open and, with a yawn that stems from far too much time spent in hibernation, the sleeping creature will come to life.
Prepare yourself. For once it’s alive, there will be no stopping it. You will no longer remember the life you lived before this being inside of you was allowed to roam free. It will rule you. You will be at its mercy. You will not be able to rest until you obey its command to release your stories into the world. At first, it will scare you. But soon, you come to realize that it is not there to harm you, it is there to save you.

You are free. You are free from the chains of self-doubt that kept you prisoner. You are free from the fear of criticism and critique.

You are free from the fear of succeeding.

You walked into this room not knowing what might lie within. Now you walk away knowing that you will never be the same. You are one of us.

You are a storyteller.

Welcome home.

***

 “Writing is an extreme privilege, but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.”
– Amy Tan

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To Read It or Not To Read It….

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero…”
– G. K. Chesterton

There’s a debate in the literary world that most of you have probably heard of in some form or another. A “new” novel by Harper Lee was just released yesterday. It’s called Go Set a Watchman and was apparently written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird.

GSAWNow, depending on which story you hear or believe, the overall gist is that Harper Lee supposedly provided this book to her publishers, and they felt that there was a better story to be told—a story that the world needed to hear. They wanted the same characters that were in her book, mind you, but wanted the story moved back a few years. Altered a bit. Told from the viewpoint of the little girl, “Scout,” instead of the grown woman Jean Louise that is telling us the story in Go Set a Watchman.

Now, before I go any further, I want to give you this disclaimer. I have not read Go Set a Watchman. Not yet. Will I?

Therein lies the question.

Harper Lee is an incredibly private individual. I’m not going to profess to be a Lee scholar by any means, but I do know that she will not give interviews and detested the amount of publicity she received after To Kill a Mockingbird became such a phenomenon. So, why would she allow this publication now?  Ah, therein lies the rub. Did she allow it?

I read one article that stated:

Residents of Monroeville [where Lee now lives] gossip that Ms. Lee is mentally infirm these days, does not recognize old friends, could not possibly have signed off on the publication, never wanted to do a second book. But those who are closest to her scoff at such conspiratorial theories, saying Harper Lee, now 88 and admittedly frail, remains fully capable of making up her own mind.

Quite the fodder for controversy there, huh? Did she or didn’t she?  Is she a frail little 88-year-old woman (now 89, I think) who is being taken advantage of by those who stand to benefit from the profits that this new book will bring in?

Or is she truly what the article I mentioned above says she is?  (Click on the link to check it out if you haven’t already.)  Is she a little old lady who wrote a book long ago – back before the digital age where there would have been copies upon copies of drafts saved on a hard-drive or flash drive somewhere – who truly misplaced the draft?  According to the article, she was delighted when it was found.

I have to interject here for a second while I imagine this scenario to be true. I’m a writer too…obviously not of the caliber of Harper Lee…but a writer nonetheless. And recently, I lost a portfolio full of poetry that I had written over the past ten years. Why were they not saved on a computer somewhere? I don’t know. I just know they were in a folder and I lost them. I was devastated. I searched the house over to no avail…only to find it months later hidden in the back of my closet. I can’t think of another word to describe that feeling other than joyous. All of that work hadn’t been for nothing! My work had been found. Was it any good? I don’t know. A few of them had already failed to win anything in various writing contests I had entered them in, but did I care? No! It was my work and it was found.

Could I have, on some minuscule scale felt what Harper Lee felt when her baby, her novel was found? Did she care that it had once been deemed “not good enough” for publishing? I’m betting not. And when it was suggested to her that it was time to publish it, would she have denied such a suggestion?

Hmmm. I wonder. Some think she would have. And that she did.

But all of that “Did she or did she not want it published?” stuff aside, I think the bigger, truer issue lying behind the controversy is what has been revealed now that reviews have been released. Turns out, Atticus Finch – the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird – might have had a darker side.

Now, trust me, I get it. I get the reaction that literary lovers of Atticus are feeling. We LOVE Atticus. Atticus is the true epitome of goodness. He lives in our hearts as a hero, as a true pioneer of equality and justice. But you know what? He isn’t real. Really. He’s not. He’s a product of one author’s imagination…and only after influence from others as to what and who he should be. So, did Harper Lee really create Atticus Finch? Or did we?

Go Set a Watchman was written first.  What that means is that Harper Lee’s original intention was for Atticus Finch to be who he is in this book. Again, I look at this through the eyes of a writer. Do I have the right to tell Miss Lee that the image I have in my head of her character is better than the one she had? Is that my place? Like many others, should I thus refuse to read a book that tarnishes the glow that I put on this beloved man who touched my heart the first time I read this book at the tender age of 18?

I don’t know. But you know what? I don’t think so.

What it comes down to for me is this: there’s a new book out there. It’s a much-talked about book. A much-anticipated book. And a book that’s shrouded in conspiracy. Am I going to read it?

You bet your patootie I am.

Am I doing a disservice to Harper Lee if the rumors are true? Am I reading something that an author intended to keep to herself?  Possibly. But my writer’s heart just somehow knows that an entire novel could not possibly have been written only to keep hidden from readers’ eyes. Look at the history of it…she presented it to publishers years ago. Does that sound like a hidden manuscript?  I just can’t believe it is.

In my heart of hearts, I feel like this is the story that Harper Lee wanted told.

Will my mind change after reading Go Set a Watchman?  Will I wish I had never picked it up? Will I wish that my memories of Atticus Finch remained the way I had him – in all his saintly glory?  Hmm. Who knows?

But I can tell you this…I’m definitely going to give myself the chance to find out.

***

The only way you can truly get to know an author is through the trail of ink he leaves behind him. The person you think you see is only an empty character: truth is always hidden in fiction.”
– Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Brandy

“A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.”
– Toni Morrison

Have I ever mentioned that I have an 11-year-old sister?

Yep, it’s true.  My teenage children have an 11-year-old Aunt Brandy.  I know, crazy, right?  (And you better believe she tries to use that fact when they’re arguing over something…”You HAVE to listen to me, I’m your aunt!”…)

familysibsNow, Brandy’s not my only sister, mind you.  I’m actually the oldest of a clan of six.  My mom and dad split when I was just a baby, so I’m the only biological child they had.  But then my mom remarried and had my three sisters and one brother.  My dad, on the other hand, didn’t get around to having any more children until much later in life when Brandy came along, so now he is the proud father of two daughters….24 years apart!

Well, recently I’ve started to notice something.  I’m thinking this whole ‘writing’ thing may have come from my dad’s side of the family.  Because that little 11-year-old has some seriously mad skills with the written word.

Here, let me show you something.

Sleepless

No dreams. No rest. No nothing. Night after night of restlessness. Night turns into day, and day into night. Over and over again. No sleep. Sleepless.

I lay awake on a cold, rainy night. Looking out the window and seeing all the lights off I think “Ah. So many people can get sleep. But, why can’t I?” The windows are as cold as ice. Touching the window made my fingers numb. But, I still feel that lifeless cold against my fingers as I look out into the darkness. No sleep. None.

Sleep well, my friends. Because there are those who are sleepless night after night…

Umm…hello!?  Did I mention she’s ELEVEN YEARS OLD?  Look out, missyspublicjunk, I think brandysbetteratthisthanmissy is on your tail!

Or, how about this one?

Hard To Love

Have you ever felt like you can’t be loved or you can’t love anyone? Truth is, everyone in some way is hard to love.

Maybe it’s that little anger issue you have. Or you cry so easily that your friends tease you over it. It could be that you won “Miss Drama Queen Of The Year.” You could like nerds and geeks. You could have likes and dislikes far bizarre than others’. You might put up a wall between you and other people. And there’s still over millions of other things that make people hard to love! But we all are human beings. We have our flaws. We are who we are. You should be proud of yourself for all that you’ve done!

So next time when you feel unloved, remember, you’re not the only one. EVERYONE is hard to love.

Again.  ELEVEN.

How about this line from a poem she wrote entitled “I Am From”:

“I am from darkness, with pieces of heaven falling down…”

I am just absolutely blown away at the talent this little girl possesses.  I wonder if she knows that?  I’ve told her so, but I wonder if she really knows it, you know?

My dad told me that she has been reading my blog.  He thinks that seeing what I have written has influenced and encouraged her to write.  Wow.  How proud I am to have influenced something so great.

mebranSee, I used to be eleven, too.  I used to sit in my room writing feverishly in my little trapper keeper.  Poems, stories, journal entries.  You name it, I wrote it.  And I didn’t show anyone.  What if they didn’t like it?  What if they made fun of me?  But not this 11-year-old.  This girl is putting her writing out there for the world to see.  Thank goodness she has that kind of courage.  It took me over 30 years to find it.

This girl is going to go places.  And I hope she knows how proud of her I am.

Thanks for letting me take the time to brag on my little sis.

***

“A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”
– Marion C. Garretty

Get Over It

“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them.  You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have.”
– Norman Vincent Peale

So, for the past few days I have been sitting here wondering what my next blog topic would be.  My last blog about my dad was pretty heartfelt and emotional, and I wasn’t quite sure how to follow up after that.  How do you switch gears after writing about something so personal and moving?  How was I going to find something else to rival that kind of emotional response to spur me to spill my guts in another blog entry?

And then, (grrrrrrrrr) I saw THIS.   An article called “Ok, You’re a Runner.  Get Over It.”

And I got PISSED.

(Should’ve known it wouldn’t take long to get my blood pumping over something again…)

I can’t even believe I’m lowering myself to post a link to this nonsense, but I didn’t know how else to comment about it without allowing you to take a look for yourself.  In case you don’t want to take the time to read through all the B.S. (for which I don’t blame you one bit and wish I had been smart enough to do the same), let me give you a basic rundown on what Mr. Jerk Face was saying in his rant.  (That is, if I am allowed to use the word rundown.  Because, ya know, it might look like I’m broadcasting that I’m a runner.  And we can’t have that, right, Mr. Jerk Face?)

So, Jerk Face (who has a name, but I don’t care what it is) says, among a bunch of other crap, that runners only run “to be seen.”  Or, in his words:

“There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running. When runners are dashing down a street in the middle of town or through a subdivision, they know that every driver, every pedestrian, every leaf-raker and every person idly staring out a window can see them.  These days, people want more than ever to be seen.”

042812101008_edit0Oh, dear God, Jerk Face, do you have any idea how wrong you are?  One of the sole reasons I remained a non-runner for as long as I did (aside from being lazy) is that I did not want to be seen.  It was such a struggle to don those running shorts and t-shirts and go out on public roads and plop my flab up and down for all the world to see.  And I don’t think I’m alone in saying that.  So many of us want to become healthier, but we are embarrassed by how we look in the process.  We see those runner magazines with the tiny little girls with the six-packs stretching their tan legs out as they glide effortlessly across some trail…but what we don’t see is the majority of us who are the ones holding these magazines and poring over these articles and debating whether to get up the courage to take those first steps out the door.  We are the 30-something year-old moms with the stretch marks and love handles squeezing over the top of our spandex.  We are the real women, the imperfect women, who want anything but to be seen.  We are the out of shape, somewhat chubby runners who try to hide in the back of the pack at our first 5k race and pray that our sports bra is tight enough to not cause an embarrassing scene as we waddle down the course.

mebrrrAnd then, ever so slightly, over time, we become the slightly less lumpy, slightly more energized, slightly more confident women who can now run three miles without stopping.  And then, before you know it, we’re the woman who hesitantly clicks the button to sign up for her first half marathon, wondering what on earth she has just done.  And then we become the woman who pours her heart and soul and dedication into pushing and pushing and pushing until she can run 4 miles without stopping.  And then 5.  And then 6, 7, 8….  And with each mile, our pride edges up ever so slightly and little by little we start to realize that we are capable of so much more than we ever thought possible.

And then…we become the woman who has mastered her first half marathon.  Who has put all of her energy into succeeding at something she never thought possible.  We become the woman who purchases her first little oval “13.1” sticker and, with a tear in her eye, places it right there on the back of her car to remind her that she did it.  She did it!  racecollage4And she wants all of the other women out there passing by in their cars to look at that little oval, and then see the normal, every day, non-magazine model driving the car that proudly sports said bumper sticker and see that she looks just like them.  And she wants them to think, “Hey.  If she can do that, maybe I can too.” And before long, we become the women that have inspired others to go out there and get some of this beautiful thing called self-confidence.  This beautiful gift of knowing what it feels like to be proud of yourself.  This beautiful gift of coming out of hiding and showing the world that we are survivors and can do anything we put our minds to.

So, Mr. Jerk Face, to sum it all up – I salute you.  Thank you for writing this article.

Yep, that’s right.  I said, thank you.

Thank you for reminding me that I have a passion.  Because some days I forget.  Some days when I feel tired, or slow, or lazy, I forget that I’m a runner.  ME2And then I see something like what you just wrote…and the intense pride for who I am and what I do swells up inside of me and pushes me forward.  Your article makes me feel more motivated than ever to go tie up my shoelaces and earn more and more of those little stickers to plaster all over the back of my car.  Because you know why?  Not because I’m a bragger.  Not because I’m mean or spiteful.  But because I have succeeded.  I have overcome much more than little puny articles like yours that have tried to stand in my way.  I am a two-time cancer survivor.  I am a divorce survivor.  I am a single mom.  And I am a RUNNER.

And you can bet your sweet ass that I am proud of that fact.  Finally.

And you know what you can do?

Get over it.

***

“Press on.  Obstacles are seldom the same size tomorrow as they are today.”
– Robert H. Schuller