Today I provide the guest writing prompt at storyaday.org. This site is considered by Writer’s Digest to be one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” so take a look at https://storyaday.org/ to learn how you can mine your memories for writing gold.
Apparently my high school superlative award is very important to me! My classmates thought I could eventually get something done so I keep a framed picture of this yearbook drawing near my desk for emotional support. I’d hate to let them down.
They should not be worried though because I don’t seem to be giving up on this project. My latest beta readers have provided feedback after I completed a major restructuring of the story this July. It took a whole year because I read three books on the craft of writing after a Simon and Schuster editor suggested I needed attention to the underlying themes. I took notes on each book then applied those notes to the manuscript, then rewrote and reworked and reconsidered. That editor was quite right and I am forever grateful to her for taking the time to comment. Now I have addressed those themes and my beta readers have noticed.
I paraphrase below what one of my recent readers said.
“You have a phenomenal resolution to the circumstances of your story, showing tremendous strength and courage as you face the dragons and giants of your life and try to connect with them. So many people would benefit from your story because it shows a person can come out of terrible circumstances and rise above them,offering hope while working towards reconciliation.”
So, for all of you high school friends out there who thought I was most likely to succeed, do not give up yet. I’m almost there.
I recently learned of a podcast that is pretty funny and useful for settling down. It is called Sleep With Me (https://www.sleepwithmepodcast.com/.) There are hundreds of episodes and it is designed to help people fall asleep by telling really boring stories. These are “bedtime stories to help grown ups fall asleep in the deep dark night.”
The one I listened to was called “Baked Beans: The Adventures of Mr. Triangle and Isosceles.” A town of math-appreciating people will see a show that they must pay for with cans of baked beans, but there is trouble when it is realized that the wagon scheduled to carry all the cans of baked beans cannot stand the load. This story, told by a man who drolls on and on, often stumbling around for words and deftly emphasizing little parts of speech that make you stop and question what you just heard, breaks all the rules of writing by never getting to the point, using mindless dialogue, reiterating points and leaning on cliches.
The other one I heard was called something like “20 Steps to Self-Skin Care” and the first ten minutes were devoted to applying one’s fingertips to the face very deliberately and specifically in order to execute a light massage he called “running through Strawberry Fields.” It’s hilarious and relaxing and soporific.
I am planning on sharing this with the students in the Creative Writing class come Fall because it really drives home the idea that good writing should not put one to sleep.
This year’s creative nonfiction writer’s conference, Hippocamp 2018, in Lancaster, PA was wonderful. I was particularly delighted with two contacts I made, both offering future collaboration on projects I am thrilled about. This doesn’t even cover the many other writers I met who were fun, inspiring, and helpful, the great speakers, and finding some wonderful books for sale at the book table.
One of the notable speakers was Lisa Romeo, who gave a talk titled, “Reconstruction: Transforming Essays into a Narrative Memoir Manuscript.” I’ve attended her workshops before and always, she had plenty of very useful information to share. This year’s topic, well it is precisely what I need to know right now: how to use what I have already written to recraft the story I want to tell. After the talk I spoke with her further, then ended up at a lunch table with her later in the day. We hit it off so well that she asked me to write a guest blog post for her blog, Lisa Romeo Writes (http://lisaromeo.blogspot.com/) about my job as a theme reader at the local high school. I am thrilled to tell people about the cool job I get to do as a writing coach to young people, that also supports my own interest in writing.
The second wonderful encounter I had was with Alexander Monelli who held a session titled, “Call the Doc: How Documentary Filmaking Can Help Creative Writing.” Well, I love documentaries, so sitting in a class where we discussed their structure was fascinating. It was actually a bit frustrating, though, because the instructor kept stopping the video to make a point about how the narrative was developed just as the story was most compelling! Got to watch those online to see how they end up! (https://www.monellifilms.com/) During the course of a Q&A I realized he might be the perfect person to talk to about producing a short book trailer for my memoir. My book proposal, which goes to various editors, promises that I will put a book trailer on my website once the book is published. Yikes! What was I thinking! No problem, Alex told me, he’d be willing to work with me to put it together. Yay! This story will be continued…
One of these days shortly I’ll be showing up in the New York Times in a story about bank scams. Yes, I made some mistakes and landed at the local branch of my bank looking for help getting my account resecured. It was my son’s money that was taken and when he tweeted about it, a New York Times reporter, Stacy Cowley, who likes to write about Wells Fargo, contacted us and did an interview. Should show up in the financial section soon.
Turns out I’m on the cutting edge of scams relating to the latest banking feature, Zelle. It’s supposed to make it easy to move money out of your account, a bit like venmo or paypal, and I can tell you for sure, it was easy.
After failing to log into my bank account one day because I kept putting in the wrong password I got an email indicating the online access had been shut down due to too many false tries. If you want to reinstate your account click here and log in again, it said. I did that and thought nothing of it since I obviously was the one who had tried the multiple erroneous passwords. In my defense, I was trying to talk and enter my super-secure-confusing-and-difficult-to-remember password at the same time.
This alone was not enough to get me in trouble since there is a two step process to sending money through Zelle. The next day I got seven calls (!) from the same 800 number, all of which I ignored. It continued to the point, though, that we felt compelled to do a google search. That indicated it was my bank’s fraud detection unit so I answered. A wire transfer was supposedly in progress and we could intercept it by blah blah blah. I was texted, from the fraudster via my account and the Zelle function, a code number which I gave them. That was the second mistake. Then he siphoned off dollars as we spoke, but promised to reinstate my account with new credentials he’d fedex in 24 hours.
As soon as I hung up, a gentleman from the bank’s real fraud detection center called, but there was no way to recognize him as real. He was not as friendly, or as easy to talk to as the kindly fellow who had just bilked me, mostly because he wouldn’t even give me his name or the reason for his call, except to say he thought my account was under attack. Same as the first guy. He gave me some unlikely information that sounded suspect about how to be in touch with the fraud detection unit (call between 4:30am and 6:00pm Pacific Standard Time even though we live in the east and I was already on the phone with them right?, for instance), but he did urge me to go into the bank right away. It was unclear whether either of these calls was legit or not. Even the banker was confused once we explained it to her.
Three hours later and after speaking to a Wells Fargo representative at the fraud detection unit I could barely understand due to his accent, and who would not discuss certain elements with me because they had to do with my son’s account (which I have full access to), and after mistakes he made were corrected, we felt secure again. The bad guys sure were easier to deal with, though!
In the end, the bank returned our money in just days.
I want to be in the New York Times but I was thinking it would be for a book review or some other literary accomplishment some day. For now, I am going to bask in the glory of this tangential event and the happy ending Wells Fargo was able to secure.
A few weeks ago I met with a woman I did not know, my first beta-reader for my manuscript of You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen, specifically to get her reaction. She, of course, knew all about my life and had opinions on it, and that was a shock. It was a surreal experience. Because I grew up in isolation one of my childhood dreams had been to have a witness, someone there to see it all unfold, so I wouldn’t have to live it alone. I used to tell the stories of my life to the trees, to the air, to no one, pretending there was someone there, and practicing in case someday someone would be there. Now that I have done that, told the stories to that nebulous someone out there, it feels pretty crazy.
She called the book “compelling” and “honest”. I was aiming for that! She said that the characters were living in her head even when she wasn’t reading the book. She even put in writing on my feedback questionnaire this: “It was also a powerful reminder of the importance of staying in touch with one’s feelings. From the standpoint of a writer, it was a strong example of powerful writing techniques.” When I asked what the theme was she wrote, “Finding one’s own voice, self, and sense of purpose in spite of great family challenges.”
She is a co-director at the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project whom I’d met at a writing workshop two years ago where I got her name and email address. So glad I dared to contact her recently asking if she’d be up for reading my story. I could not have asked for a better first beta-reader experience. Many thanks, Janice.
I always jump at the chance to read my work aloud. I just love doing that because I find it fascinating to see what people think of it. I also get to hear how it sounds out loud, for real. It’s one thing to read aloud in your dining room and quite another to do so in public with everyone looking right at you. This was a successful reading and folks came up to me afterwards to talk about the story I read, “Lots and Lots of Love and Kisses” an excerpt from my memoir.
Here are a few photos of me at the podium that night, May 18, 2015.
I went to the West Chester Story Slam again last night to watch and learn what it is to tell your story. I am also sizing up the competition so I can be prepared to compete in the Grand Slam storytelling event in November. I am eligible for that since I am this year’s January winner (see my video tab above) and all the year’s winners compete against each other at the end of the year. It gave me a chance last night to talk to the winner and ask him about his process. Even though he is about as smooth as they come, easily rattling off his story and hilariously, I’ll add, it turns out he preps just like I do. He writes and he rehearses and he does all the things I was sure I was doing as extra work that ‘real’ storytellers surely do not have to do.
But the real winner of the evening was a gentleman I’d never seen there before. He stood and told a spellbinding story of childhood sexual abuse of a sickening proportion. I went looking for this guy just afterward but I think he left quickly because it had to have been a monumental feat to do what he did. Michael Trageser told a poignant, eloquent, heart-wrenching story that ended with him admitting he is wracked as an adult by guilt and shame and cannot carry on in an adult role because of his haunting, debilitating past. I wanted to find this man and tell him how proud I was of him for standing up there and telling his story. It’s hard to tell your story when it isn’t about your life having been ruined at the age of five, so to do what he did, I am sure, was excruciating. I wanted to let him know that by telling his story he starts conversations among people that then allows light to come to a topic that is usually hidden in the dark. I wanted to tell him that although he feels he cannot carry on in an adult role, he is indeed doing something only adults can do, and that is to bear witness to a childhood stolen, for all the kids out there too young to speak for themselves. I wanted to tell him to keep telling his story, to contribute as an adult to the rescue of children who are so victimized. Being brave enough to tell your story is scary, and this guy did exactly what he should do, and exactly what only he can do.
I would have liked to have talked to this fellow. I would have liked to have urged him to forgive himself for the life that happened to him, and to encourage him to continue to share his story as a way to heal himself and help others. I really liked that guy.
I certainly appreciate all of my readers here and especially those that are very loyal and offer comments, but you might have noticed I have slowed down my postings quite a bit. It’s because I have been changing my writing focus and trying to honor my own sense of what I want to write about. For a long time I’ve done talks to mom’s groups about the importance of playing with our children and actively developing relationships with them. I love doing this and I have tailored my blog to support that. And I will continue.
But I stumbled on the West Chester Story Slam in January and it has changed everything! See my Video tab above to see the stories I have told there.
As a writer I was taken with the opportunity to write a five-minute spoken story that could reach so many more people and get an immediate reaction from them. And, since I love addressing audiences, and since I love writing, I have been focusing all my attention there. This blog has been so satisfying for me as a place to carefully examine my feelings about families and children and, as my tagline suggests, things I am learning while growing up, but the one-way nature of it is isolating and quiet compared to the live audience at the Side Bar Restaurant downtown.
For example. Although I did well the first time I tried telling a five-minute story at the story slam, I tied for first place with two very good story tellers, the second time did not go as well. I attempted to tell a less funny and more serious story and halfway through lost my way and told the audience I had to ditch the effort because I couldn’t regain my footing. Amazingly the crowd yelled out for me to keep going, to try not to give up! They actually shouted for me to try again and not be defeated. I’d love to think that this was because my story was so fascinating but I am pretty sure it was because of the very supportive nature of the group and the spirit of the whole idea of sharing stories in this way. People wanted to see me succeed at what I had set out to do. It might have helped that I very sincerely told them that even I was disappointed because I’d been looking forward to sharing my story. So I did continue and although there was break in the middle while the audience offered counseling, I did complete the task, and felt a resolve to return the next month and get it right. (Which I did with a story about my dead cat.)
So the point is, that the story slam is a place where I have placed great effort in the last few months because I feel a connection with the crowd there. The immediate feedback from them is priceless as I stretch myself to try to tell more broader-based stories.
I’ve noticed that my stories there help me work on my larger project, my memoir, since the stories can be chosen directly from the memoir and honed both for the story slam and for the book. So if you like this blog and if you are out there, feel free to yell from the back row that I should not give up and that you appreciate what I do here, because otherwise I cannot hear you and I am afraid that at the moment the folks at the story slam have got my greater attention.
I am mighty frustrated today by my interactions with my Goth student friend in second period at the high school. My charge today, from the teacher I work with, was to help this gentleman get his essay accomplished since he’d missed a lot of school due to a suspension he fulfilled much of last week.
He wasn’t having it though. No, no interest in working on the essay. His preference, which is the case most days, is to sleep during class. The three adults in the room often, in turn, urge him to wake up. We hand him pens to write with, a book to read, the outline of the essay that was due last week. The other students are working independently, revising their essays, reading the next text or completing a study guide. I offer my help to them, too.
But when I suggest to my Goth student that he and I work on the essay, he says he’d rather read. I say I’d rather write. He says he’d rather read. Okay, I say, read it is. But I feel the pressure from the teacher who asked me to help him get the essay accomplished. I feel the pressure from the student who legitimately chooses to read instead. After all, the entire class is given the same choice, do one of the three tasks at hand: essay, read, study guide.
And he did read, a bit. He read and he dozed, and he read some more.
It’s never a good idea to get in a battle of wills with a student. It is his choice to fail the class. I cannot make him do anything, I can only offer my support. When class is done the teacher, the aide, and me, despite our frustration, appreciate that he did some reading today.
In the end, I gather the spirit of what is supposed to happen here and tell him that maybe tomorrow we can work on the essay together.
He says, yeah, maybe tomorrow.