June 17 – Gone Fishin’

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Early one Saturday morning when I was about ten, Father gently nudged me from a deep slumber. “Time to go fishin’, Sweetie.”

Reluctantly I uncovered my face; blinked; closed my eyes, and blinked again. I sat up, stretched my arms above my head; and yawned, remembering how I’d pleaded with him the night before.

“May I go with you, pleeeease Daddy?” I begged.

Taking me wasn’t easy, for I was squeamish around worms and water. But I’d tolerate almost anything just to have some alone time with Father.

“But Daddy, it’s dark outside. Aren’t the fish sleeping?”

“They’ll be awake soon enough. Get a move on!”

He loaded me and his fishing gear into his pickup truck and drove to the nearest lake where at the crack of dawn he launched his flat bottom boat, the Nini-Poo, into the water. It was a sultry, windless August morning; and the lake, flat as any mirror, lay before us without a single ripple as if time itself had been frozen. From the tall pines around the edge came not a sound, no movement of branches and no birds calling.

Father tugged on the choke of his outboard motor and pulled on the starter rope three times before the engine sputtered into action. We skittered across the lake, shattering the lake’s glassy appearance. Once we reached an isolated cove, Father turned off the ignition, letting the boat come to a gentle stop. He reached under his seat; fetched his bucket of worms; nabbed one of the larger ones; and drove the hook into the thicker end. He cast my live worm into the water and handed me my cane pole.

“Watch the bobber,” he said, his finger pointing to the water. “When a fish nibbles, let him have a taste, then pull.”

“Okay, Daddy. I will.”

He baited his own hook and cast his line into the water; we sat and fished for hours. From the pine trees around the lake’s edge came nary a sound, only the sound of my father’s breathing. For a moment I forgot to watch my pole. The end splattered into the water, sending dragonflies off their lily pads. “Whoa, watch your fishing pole!” he said, reaching over to steady the cane pole.

Father sat as still as the pines as if time were suspended and our minutes were as countless as summer strawberries. “Daddy,” I rested my cheek against his arm, “are you SURE there’s fish in this cove?” He chuckled and kissed me on the cheek.

Suddenly, the bobber zinged under the water. “It’s a whopper!” he cried. I leaned back into his arms; we pulled together. Breaking through the water, erupting into the glimmer of the morning light, burst the biggest fish I’d ever seen. Father unhooked the shimmering fish. I held my breath, and Father beamed. Neither of us spoke; we just stared at one another. The gift of that afternoon spent with Father was one of the best presents I ever got.

The Author and her Dad – 1999

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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June 12 – Talking Through the Night

By Debra Dolan

A soft beautiful breeze washed over me for eleven hours this week as I was visited by a beloved niece I had not seen in eight years. It was a last-minute sojourn as she made a stopover on the west coast en route to summer employment in Japan. Instantaneous, unconditional big-big love for this precious sweet human being so full of joy, contradiction, and sorrow. Tears and extended arms of happiness as we greeted one another. Such a special night sharing life’s present-day events; first, in the local neighbourhood pub as she nourished her body and, later, in the quiet intimacy of my home as we fed our souls, surrounded by flowers, books, and candles, sleepy by the late hour.

Our journeys since 2010 have had parallels and divergence; not surprising given the nearly 40 years apart in age. Lina was conceived while I traveled in my brother’s new homeland attending the Nagano Olympics and I last saw her when the Nishibori-Dolans were in town for the Vancouver Olympics. Now she attends university in eastern Canada with the same confidence and vitality I have always observed while I, after decades of employment and intense social interaction, feel displaced and exhausted coping with a prolonged head injury.

Spending time together was an enormous gift. Sharing our personal bliss and challenges was the best restorative antidote for the myriad of topics exposing raw emotions with a thunderous force. It was unbelievably refreshing and energizing to be in the company of someone bursting into adulthood so full of exuberance for the future while struggling to shed childhood angst, uncertainty, and unhappiness. A great honour was bestowed on this dear-old-aunt when she revealed the truth of her recent experiences with openness, insight and a longing to understand.  She exhibited a strength of character, complete with integrity and forthrightness, which is rare at any age. I am immensely proud of the woman she is becoming and I am enormously grateful I was in a position to offer her refuge, comfort, and a listening presence.

It was one of those treasured spontaneous opportunities to ‘pay forward’ the kindness, solace and care that so many have gifted yours truly. I eagerly await her return visit in August.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

June 4 – A “Dad-Shaped Hole” in My Heart

by Kali´Rourke

Father’s Day approaches, and although I rejoice in the wonderful Dad that my daughters have, I take no such joy in my own.

He was an unsolvable mystery to me. He married my mother when she was seventeen and they had me when she was nearly nineteen. My only impressions of him as I grew up came from family members who shared stories of his selfish, immature treatment of Mom during their short marriage. He seemed unable to connect emotionally with others, and from an adult perspective, I wonder if he may have been somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Soon after my birth, my mother divorced him and married her next husband. He was the one I would think of as “Dad” until that marriage dissolved when I was about six or seven years old.

My father checked back in briefly when I was fifteen; traveling from Memphis to Tulsa to sue for my custody when my mother temporarily gave my guardianship to my manager. I was a professional singer living in Oklahoma with my manager while my family stayed in Washington.

He strode into the courtroom, acting as his own attorney, and seemed totally oblivious to the realities of the situation (no, my mother was not giving me away) or any emotions I might have about meeting him for the first time. He lost his case, but my manager graciously invited him to her home to meet with me. I sang for him for the first and last time in my life, and tears came to his eyes.

Silly me; I thought we might have connected.

Later, I received a bus ticket to travel to Memphis to spend a week with him and his latest wife (he married multiple times) and I must admit, I was hopeful. My strongest memory of this ill-fated expedition was meeting his wife, who immediately gave me a gift. It was a set of shorty pajamas in bright colors and I was thrilled. I wore them when I went to bed and made sure that they knew that I was delighted with the present.

The next morning, she scolded me for “flaunting myself at my father,” making me feel foolish and ashamed. My father said nothing at all. I called Mom, told her I would be taking the next bus home and left, never to see him again.

I find myself wondering how much emotional damage and insecurity his wife suffered in that marriage. He and I spoke a few times over the phone through the years, (I suspect Grandma made him do it.) but he had no real interest in me or his beautiful granddaughters and I eventually wrote him off.

“Ignore me if you like, but my daughters will never deserve that,” I thought.

When he committed suicide in prison at the age of 59, it was as if a stranger had died, leaving the “Dad-Shaped Hole” in my heart to be forever unfilled.

 

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

May 31 – Fiction vs. Memoir: Finally I Made The Choice

by Len Leatherwood

canstockphoto16227556-danr13 (c) Can Stock Photo / danr13

 

After a huge cry this morning, I feel better.

I have spent the past five days immersed in one of the toughest/saddest times of my life – moving to LA in 1994 to be near my brother who was about to go into active AIDS just at the point when the life-saving protease inhibitors were first introduced. (My oldest brother had died of AIDS just 3 years before.) My husband, three kids and I came after my brother offered me a job in his laser surgery center so that I could run his business when he and his partner got sick and we could be near him as he died. If that weren’t bad enough, he also had a “loving” boyfriend who had targeted him for his money. I wish I could say it all went smoothly. It didn’t. The result was an emotion-ridden roller coaster ride that forced me to grow up and understand that tough love is sometimes the only love that makes sense.

Robert had the opportunity to choose life over death with the help of those coveted protease inhibitors. In truth, Robert chose death. In the book, I had him do one thing differently, which helped him to see why and how he could choose life. In both real life and fiction, my brother and I made peace with each other and were deeply bonded as a result of this experience.

I went with fiction for lots of reasons, primary among them being that the predatory boyfriend is still alive and would sue me in a second. However, I also wanted the freedom of fiction and to have the chance to “re-imagine” what life could have been if my brother had made a different choice. Plus, John Rechy, my writing mentor, with whom I workshopped this book for five years in a Masterclass, is well-known for calling all of his books fiction even when some mirror his life fairly closely, and he strongly encouraged me to go this route.

I read through every volume that I have produced over these past 18 years of trying to wrestle with this subject – five major drafts most of which were memoirs – and finally concluded that my decision to factionalize this book was indeed the right choice for me.

Alas, I worked 18 hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and then stayed up almost 24 hours on Tuesday so I could finish the editing.

Is it perfect? No. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I’d forgotten a scene that must be included. I also have a few scribbled notes regarding details I need to make sure are right. In addition, the pacing might have a bump or two and the ending might need one more run through. However, am I finally going to be able to put this baby to bed so I can move on? I believe so.

I am tired, but also happy and relieved. Hooray.

Len Leatherwood: Program Coordinator for SCN’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past 17 years. She has received numerous state and national teaching awards from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest. She is a daily blogger at 20 Minutes a Day, as well as a published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir.

May 25 – Lost Then Found

By Letty Watt

With eyes still sleepy I turned on the computer this morning to write. No plans on the calendar for anything but ‘write.’ I thumbed through books looking for inspiration from which to write a new “Found” poem. My eyes widened with a page showing words that matched my soul today, then my husband asked, “What’s for breakfast?” “Oh, hum. Let’s see.”

One hour later I’d lost my direction. By then we were in the yard in the cool of the morning. The wheels in my husband’s brain churned. Like the dog at my side, I waited. Then he pointed to the birdseed under the tree, and said, “Let’s start this project now while it’s cool, and then finish it over the weekend.”

I raked and vacuumed. I know. Not words we commonly use to describe gardening, but the birdseed needed to be removed. That was my chore. Near noon my job was done, and a shower refreshed me. He returned from Lowe’s with bags of topsoil and mulch; his job tomorrow.

Clean and invigorated I headed to my “Art Gecko” room to write, and no sooner sat down when I heard these words, “Before you get comfortable what do you say we fix a bite to eat?” “Sure,” I smiled half-heartedly.

I must admit my everything salad tasted delicious. What better combination than lettuce, leftover bacon, cheese, avocado, lamb from a Greek sandwich, and salsa? Jack devoured leftover grilled chicken.

“Now,” I said to myself, “I must write.” It took another hour before I ‘Found’ my poem. Thanks to SCN and Kitty McCord my brain and I have been delightfully entertained with a new format in poetry called “Found Poetry.” Today I finished my series of classes from Kitty and felt accomplished and yet empty. Kitty responded to my every poem with deeply thought-out descriptions of what I’d written. She lifted my writing soul and created a new focus to look at the written word differently.

LettyPoem

The idea in “Found Poetry” is exactly what it says. It is the art of finding the words on a page, from a book, newspaper, magazine, or other poems, and using the order given write a poem that has no connection to what the actual story describes. In other words, a poem that means the opposite from the context of the page.

Today, even though I lost a lot of time, I found time to write. I thank Kitty for sending me these words that pushed me. This is why I love art. There’s no test, there’s no formula, there’s really nothing that decides you are an artist, except you have to do it. Talent is having to do it. That’s all we know. If you have to write, you are talented. Period.

Writing soothes Letty Watt’s soul and clears her mind. She began writing a weekly blog over five years ago, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, but things changed. Now she writes because stories hidden in the recesses of her mind are begging to get out into the world. Check out her blog, Literally Letty, at https://literallyletty.blogspot.com.

 

May 20 – And The Winner Is…

by Kali’ Rourke

2018 Austin Under 40 Awards

I have been involved in mentoring since 2005 when Austin Independent School District Principals asked the nonprofit I was working with for a mentor program for children who had lost a parent to prison. You see, in public schools, when a child loses a parent for any other reason (divorce, death, etc.), all sorts of programs and help snap into place for them. This does not happen when Dad or Mom is hauled off in handcuffs and life changes in an instant.

I dove into an area of service to children that taught me a great deal, I saw the program grow and flourish as President of the Board of Seedling, and then I began mentoring personally. My first mentee was a first-grade girl that I was blessed to know through fourth grade before her family moved away.

Now, I mentor a kindergartener who is processing her new reality, and I hope to be with her for years to come. I mentored a young woman through the Austin Young Women’s Alliance Connect program last year, and she has become another daughter to me, and I have added another YWA Connect mentee this year who is one of the most positive people I have ever known. All of these girls and women are unique, smart, fun, and gave me at least as much as I gave them. Really good stuff!

2017 Austin Under 40 Awards

Last year I was nominated for Mentor of the Year by the Austin Under 40 Awards that are sponsored by YWA and the Young Men’s Business League and I was one of five finalists. (Mentor of the Year is the only award they give to those of us who are over 40 and no, I did not win!)

This year I was nominated again, named a finalist, and last night was the Gala where the winners were announced. My two YWA Mentees and my older daughter were at my finalist table, along with my wonderful husband and a dear friend from the Seedling Board who had written a recommendation for me.

I did not win. It was not a big surprise to me, considering the amazing finalists in my category, but it allowed me to reflect on the influence mentoring can have. Role modeling and mentoring in success feels natural, but mentoring through loss, failure, and challenge can be much harder if you let it. I think, however, that it may be one of the most impactful places from which to mentor.

For women and girls who may not have opportunities to see and learn what losing gracefully looks like, through sports or other competition, observing a Mentor’s loss can be a powerfully positive experience for them to share.

Kali’ Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

May 13 – Shaping Words

By Sara Etgen-Baker

winifred christine stainbrook etgen

Winifred Christine Stainbrook-Etgen

Before giving birth, Mother undoubtedly read child development books and baby-proofed her house. But no one could tell her what to anticipate. No one could tell her that the little girl she’d soon birth would come with a personality all her own and it would often run in direct opposition to her own.

I guess what got me thinking about Mother was a Mother’s Day keepsake the six-year-old me prepared for her in school. Our teacher mimeographed pictures for us to color; I selected the rose picture and colored the roses red because Mother’s favorite flower was red roses. When I ran across the keepsake in one of my scrapbooks, my mind was flooded with memories of Mother.

I remember the summer I picked plums with her from the tree beside our house and made plum jelly. I remember walking with her to the nearby corner store, buying a package of M&Ms, and washing them down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I remember her making me peanut butter sandwiches; combing the tangles out of my wispy, fine, hair; and making me wear the itchy, frilly dresses that she made. I remember the five-year-old me sitting on her lap while she read me books. The older me remembers her reading the dictionary to me every night.

“Words are powerful,” she repeatedly said. “Learn their meanings, how to spell them, and how to use them properly.” The teenage me half-heartedly listened as she impressed upon me, “Choose your words carefully and kindly when conversing with others.”

Mothers Day Card FrontFrom kindergarten on, she dropped me off at school. As she drove away, she rolled down the window and said, “Remember, you’re smart. You’ll do well in school.” Whenever I wrote a paper for any class, she always read it before I turned it in. Rather than offering criticism, she asked, “Is this your best effort?” Even now, her words echo in my mind whenever I’m critiquing or editing my own writing. Her methodology gave me confidence by teaching me to measure my own abilities and efforts from an internal standard and compass.

Mothers Day Card Inside

I thank Mother for her shaping words; words that made a difference. There have been those times in my professional career and personal life when I felt stretched beyond my ability. But I would always hear her gentle voice telling a younger me, “You’re smart; you can do whatever you need or choose to do.” Her words pushed me beyond where I might have been tempted to stop.

The much older version of me stares into the eyes of the reckless, demanding, know-it-all child I was; it must’ve been difficult to be my mother, for my personality and hers clashed. Frequently, I think about the words I said and wish I could take them back. I was unbelievably blessed with the quintessential mother. Were Mother still alive, I’d thank her for the words she gave me and the non-stop encouragement she administered; encouragement that’s sustained me my entire life.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.