Monthly Archives: May 2018

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.

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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. 

May 11 – Six Police Cars…What’s Up?

by B. Lynn Goodwin

BLynnGoodwin 11:49 pm: Drove about two miles from my house to Starbucks and saw six police cars…What’s up? After the events reported on Monday I can’t help worrying. Monday at about this time, a fifteen-year-old high school freshman was found face down in the high school’s swimming pool. A coach pulled him out as class was starting and tried to resuscitate him. How I hope the kids weren’t already outside to see that!

He was air-lifted to Kaiser Hospital and he died there.

There’s a memorial on the chain link fence outside the Big Gym, which was called the Boy’s Gym when I taught drama at that high school back in the seventies. Lots of notes. Lots of flowers. A couple of on-site news trucks with dishes and size zero reporters, telling the same story I just told you—except for the part about my being a teacher there in the seventies.

I know some of the drama students I taught there are now grandparents. One recently lost her husband. I keep in touch with those I’ve found on Facebook. Back when I was in my twenties . . .  but what’s the point in looking back? Students die in car accidents, and I’ll never forget the one who killed himself in his garage when he was supposed to be in my English class. He was a quiet boy who did excellent work up until his last couple of days on earth when he did nothing. Then one spring day he was out. His first absence all year. When I heard that he sat in the family car and asphyxiated himself, I was stunned

At Starbucks right now a helicopter is flying over, going south, where I saw the police cars. Please God, don’t let another tragedy be happening while I write this. Are they looking for a fugitive? Looking for a teenager responsible for bullying Monday’s drowned boy to his death?

The high school administration had virtually nothing to say, except that a lot of rumors were going around. Something more than rumors is happening right now, and I can’t get this case out of my mind. It influences my dreams. Parents should not bury their children. If there was anything I could have done to save Tim, the student who inhaled gas in his garage when he should have been in my class, I don’t know what it was, and I’ve had thirty years to think about it.

BLynnGoodwin 2I took a quick look in e-mail and found this report at 2:05:

“Danville Police are currently searching for a missing elderly man. Reynaldo Rabia, 72, was last seen in the vicinity of Laurel Drive wearing a blue striped shirt, blue vest, and khaki pants. Mr. Rabia suffers from dementia and may be confused about his location. He uses a walker with a yellow towel on the handles.”  

“Any person spotting Mr. Rabia is asked to contact Danville Police Dept immediately either at 9-1-1 or (925) 820-2144.”

I’m breathing easier, and now I have a totally different question. How can Mr. Rabia be an “elderly” man when he’s only 72 and my husband is nearly 74? He’s not elderly and neither am I—except when I stand up.

B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice,. Her memoir, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 was released in December. She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers and Talent, which was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award, won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was a finalist for a Sarton Women’s Book AwardGoodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers, Hip Mama, Dramatics Magazine, Inspire Me Today, The Sun, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com and many other places. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network.