Tag Archives: Inspiration

April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

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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March 10 – Truth Be Told

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Barbie Doll

I frequently watched Mickey Mouse Club and imagined dancing on stage alongside Annette Funicello and growing up to become a beautiful star like her – that was until I saw my first Barbie commercial. From that moment on, Barbie became the girl whom I wanted to emulate. She had it all; a shapely figure, beautiful clothes, independence, AND a Dream House.

“Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” I sang along during the commercial, “…
Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you.”

I became consumed with having my own Barbie and her Dream House, often pleading my case with Mother.  “Mom, Barbie’s amazing! She’s beautiful, independent, and even has her own house. May I have her, please?”

“No!” Mother said firmly. “Barbie’s too expensive. ”

“But, Mom…”

“No buts! There’ll be no more discussion.”Barbie Dream House

Pressing the issue any further with Mother was futile; yet, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head! My best course of action was saving my allowance to buy Barbie. Barbie was expensive, though. She cost $5, and her Dream House cost an additional $8; a lot of money for a girl who received only a nickel allowance each week. Saving my meager allowance took too long, and I grew impatient. What would Barbie do? I asked myself. She’d raise some money, of course! I set out to raise the $13 I needed to buy Barbie and her dream house.

The only skill I had was ironing clothes. So, I ironed clothes for the neighborhood women, ironing their blouses for a nickel; pants for a dime; and dresses for a quarter. I liked ironing clothes in their living rooms and watching Soaps with them, but the novelty of my entrepreneurial enterprise quickly wore off. Ironing clothes became a painstaking way of earning cash.

One day a neighbor lady handed me a dime, “Love, go buy me a soda. And here are two empty bottles to return. You may keep the 4 cents you get for them.”  I scurried down the street, ecstatic in discovering an additional source of income. I scrounged the neighborhood for empty pop bottles and redeemed them for cash, getting 2 cents for each 6.5-ounce soda bottle and 5 cents for each empty quart bottle. Weekdays I earned roughly 50 cents in returned bottles.

Piggy BankWeekends were more fruitful, and I typically netted $1-$2 by collecting and redeeming pop bottles tossed onto the ground at the nearby park. I deposited those coins into my piggy bank along with my ironing money. When I had $13, I purchased Barbie and her Dream House and took them home

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy playing with Barbie and her Dream House as much as I’d imagined. I actually got more pleasure from ironing clothes; collecting and redeeming pop bottles and saving money. Still, Barbie influenced me. She was my 12-inch life coach who unwittingly taught me to embrace my desires; to set a goal based on those desires; to work towards accomplishing that goal, and to relish achieving it.

Author Age 10

The Author at Age 10

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.

December 10 – Giving in Paradise (California)

By B. Lynn Goodwin

Volunteers matter—especially when emergencies come up. At the Butte County Fairgrounds in November my husband and I found a mixture of hope and despair, of gratitude and anguish.

We couldn’t get near “Paradise Lost,” as reporters dubbed the Northern California town ravaged by fire, so we went to the tent cities at the Butte County Fairgrounds and the parking lot next to Walmart.  We found unparalleled need along with volunteers helping those who’d lost everything but their lives.

My husband and I took a huge stack of $50 gift cards donated by people in our church.  We followed the suggestion of a church guest, who returned to Paradise on weekends. He was there with his wife, who barely made it out ahead of the flames. They’d lost their home but had each other. He said, “Take gift cards and give them directly to the people.” My husband loved the idea.

What would you take with you if you had three minutes to escape the flames racing down the hill towards your home? Cash or pictures? A wallet or clothes? Your bankcard or your child’s favorite toy?

What if you never bought insurance because you couldn’t afford it and now you had no cash for socks or a tank of gas?

Admittedly a $50 gift card doesn’t go very far, but you wouldn’t know that from the reactions of displaced people who never dreamed of strangers handing them a gift card outside their tent. I will remember the shock and amazement on their faces forever.

All we did was offer enough to fill a gas tank or buy a family dinner or “buy my wife a pair of pants so she can get out of her pajamas,” as one man said. Even though we’ll never see those people again, some will remember they were “visited by an angel” as a middle-aged woman told us while picking up her child’s toys.

What a pleasure to see all the volunteers working directly with those displaced. Whether they were delivering the take-out donated by local restaurants, supplying hygiene products, or simply listening to those with a missing relative, they were providing a much-needed service. How the problem happened doesn’t matter. Finding a solution does. We all went there to be a part of the solution.

The people in our church rock. Their generous donations gave us a chance to play Santa and Mrs. Claus early. With so much controversy over human behavior and ethics in this country, it felt good to remember that giving makes everyone a little richer. It’s the original win-win.

B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advicewww.writeradvice.com. She’s written Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 (memoir), Talent (YA) and You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (self-help). Never Too Late and Talent are multiple award-winners. Shorter works have appeared in Hip Mama, The Sun, Dramatics Magazine, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com, and Flashquake. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network. She lives east of Berkeley and west of the San Joaquin Valley with her husband and their highly intelligent terrier.

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September 24 – Trauma’s Shadow is Rage

by V.J. Knutson

The author at the time of the incident.

“…he had always been popular and happy and things had always worked out.”
(Holly LeCraw, The Swimming Pool)

I close the book, feeling the rage shifting just below my sternum. It’s the second time this week that words have elicited this response. The first was an online post and the author had written something about how gently we come into this world; a man, of course, whose lack of birthing experience allowed him to think glibly about such beginnings – and, I know otherwise.

Flesh tears from flesh.

Pain builds and peaks and in a bloodied push of exasperation life emerges.

I’m not discrediting the miraculous. Birth is miraculous. And in time, joy overshadows the trauma, and we conceive again. This, too, is a miracle.

Maybe it is all this talk of he said/ she said dominating the news; women daring to call out their abusers. The ensuing backlash.

I named my assailant. Included his address, and full details of the abduction. Then buried the memory, and self, in a well so deep it wouldn’t emerge for fourteen years; knife-edged fragments butchering my complacency. Memory works that way.

No charges were laid, no subsequent trial; the judgment occurred on the spot the day that they found me, missing overnight, in a state of shock. I had asked for it; my clothes, the unfortunate choice to attend a bar underage, the willingness to get in a stranger’s car with friends. The defilement was my fault. How could I not bury it?

Happiness is desirable – no different for me – but I am also a realist/cynic; and life does not unfold in candy-wrapped sweetness. It stumbles along, meets with obstacles, and demands that we look within. To say that someone has lived an unmarred existence, as suggested in the quotation above, is just laziness on the part of the author. This is not truth, so why write it?

Life commands character.

Real life, that is.

The rage subsides. I’ve said my piece. I turn the page.

V.J.Knutson is a former educator, avid blogger, and grandmother. She and her husband are currently traveling cross-country in a 40-foot motorhome. Originally from Ontario, Canada, V.J. hopes this journey will provide healing for her ME/CFS, or at the very least, inspire further creativity. Find her online at One Woman’s Quest.

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August 7 – GLOW

by Carol Ziel

The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – GLOW – showing now on NETFLIX

I want to be a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling, to show up for work in a spangly sequined leotard, full of feathers, glitter, and bangles. I want to have a name like Spanish Red, Mathilda the Hun, Thunderbolt, Beastie, or Lightning. I want to be part of the drama between good and evil played out each night in the ring. I want to belong to a group of women who use the full strength of their bodies to enact that struggle—- to know the complete abandon of leaping and tumbling, flipping, bouncing, and to feel the trust each woman has in the other.

I grew up Catholic. Female wrestling was not an option. Getting married or becoming a nun was. I joined the convent. But what if the bishop, instead of requesting vocations had said: “Be strong, be wild and adventurous for the spirit. Test your physical and creative muscles to the limit because that is your true vocation.”

Of course, now that I’m 70, it’s a little late to change professions. I’m seriously overweight, have had 3 knee surgeries, and am getting ready to retire. I became a social worker instead of a wrestler, frequently fighting for justice and healing from a cubicle. For many years I was wired to a headset. My uniform was frequently navy blue, instead of feathers and glitter. The evil I most frequently battled was the bureaucracy that hired me, but then created obstacles to actually doing the job. Still, I think I did some good.

How I would have loved to tussle with a corporate figurehead in the ring: suit and tie against myself in that sequined, spangled unitard. I’d start with a Leg Drop, followed with a Knee Shot to the Ring Post. I’d use the Arm Wringer, Gorilla Press, and Glam Slam. Then the Keister Bounce, Spike Pile Driver, and Monkey Flip. I’d flip him from rope to rope and toss him like a pizza until he begged for mercy. But he’d get no mercy until I’d get his pledge, a pledge to give us the time, space and staff to be truly compassionate and effective. The grace to be more focused on the soul of our work, and not the financial gain, the imperative to put the client first, the clarity that corporate rules were to serve the well-being of the client, and not primarily the company.

That can only happen in my dreams, and now it’s time to retire. I am grateful for the trust that clients had in me when they revealed their pain, confusion, and loss. It was a privilege to be part of their lives, and I frequently believe that they have gifted me more than I have gifted them.

I will never know how I would have made it as a gorgeous lady of wrestling, but I do know that I had a splendid career as a social worker!

Carol has been an SCN member for six years and is grateful to be nurtured by such wonderful women writers. She is also a gardener, grandmother, social worker, Quaker and Goddess-centered woman who primarily writes poetry but is branching out into more essay types of writing. More to be revealed.

August 1 – Why I Love Story Circle Network

by Len Leatherwood

Story Circle Network Founder and President Susan Wittig Albert leads an award ceremony

I have just returned from the “Stories from the Heart IX” writing conference in Austin, where I had the honor of spending time in the company of the most open, honest, loving and wise women I’ve had the occasion to meet in a very long time. I don’t even know quite how to put these feelings I have into words because they are so visceral.  Let me see if I can share a few glimpses of my time there, just to give you a sense of what I mean.

I arrived at a dinner for the Story Circle Network board the night before the first day of the conference and there I was seeing these women I only “talk” to mainly on the Internet. I felt shy for just an instant, then spotted my beloved Pat Bean, who has been in my e-circle writing group since I joined SCN ten years ago.  (The e-circles are small groups where we share our writing online.) Pat was wearing her usual tie-dye tee-shirt and the minute she saw me, she stood up and held her arms wide open.

The Author and her friends at dinner.

The next day, I presented my pre-conference workshop on Flash Fiction/Flash Memoir and found myself surrounded with women who were all there for the exact same reason I was there: to figure out how to be a better writer. In my presentation, I read them one of my student’s nationally award-winning essays, and as I read, I watched as every woman in that room was moved, some to tears. I was so pleased to see that my student’s writing had touched them; I was just sorry she wasn’t there to witness that reaction for herself.

Luncheon Keynote Speaker Bird Mejia shares the power of wild women!

Linda Joy Myers, our opening keynote speaker spoke about the power of women breaking their silence and telling their personal truths. She was humble, self-disclosing, real. Bird Mejia, our Sunday lunch keynote speaker, emphasized the importance of embracing who we are and sharing that pride with women of all ages. She brushed out her beautiful curled hair to show us the power of the “wild” woman when her locks extended full and wide into a glorious fan that framed her entire head. Jeanne Guy, the incoming SCN president, made us all laugh with her ever-present sense of humor and perfectly timed quips. The Sarton winners and finalists awed us with their beautiful words when they did a noon-time reading of excerpts of their books in historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction; memoir as well as biography.

Incoming President Jeanne Guy is supported with a friend on each side!

The workshop presenters offered insight and advice on a whole host of topics, ranging from writing about your mother without guilt to using the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment for character development to creating space for writing to publishing through CreateSpace to developing and facilitating a writing-from-life workshop and more and more and more. On Saturday night, there was an open mic where conference attendees could read their work. In between, there were countless conversations about writing, life and each other. The entire weekend could be summed up with these words: love, kindness, generosity, openness, connection, sisterhood, learning, and hugs.

Dear women friends, please join Story Circle Network!  This is an organization that can use YOU and your unique gifts, whatever they are. I believe you will find this group exemplifies women helping women at its best. You will not be sorry. You might even find – as I have – your life changed forever through this experience.

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 published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir. A longer version of this post appears on Len’s daily blog: 20 Minutes a Day.

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.