Member Monday: Stoplight Refugees by Dale Angel

Welcome  back to Member Monday.  Today it’s my pleasure to share another piece by the lovely and talented Dale Angel.

Stoplight Refugees

by Dale Angel

He heaved against the shopping cart to push it over the pitted pavement, grabbing the top of its contents to balance the overloaded basket full of what looked like sleeping bags, sacks of personal items and plastic jars.

She followed behind pulling her coat around her tighter, it was a sharp wind.  Her hair blew around her head. She turned her face into the wind to clear away strands of hair.  She looked exhausted, teary and cold.

He lifted the front of the cart to get it over the curb.  A little boy waited, the dad laid his hand on the little boys back gently. Turning his head, the dad’s face wore acceptance and disillusionment.

Another little boy waited ahead for his brother who came running.  They grabbed each other in embrace, their thin arms wrapping around each others shoulders.  As familiar as lovers, they threw their heads back and laughed. They wore no coats, but were warmed by each others presence and delight as they skipped toward the next stop light laughing in each others love.

The next cross street under the freeway around the corner was another stop light, and another and another, homeless refugees waiting for a green light.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: Cursing Clyde by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday.

It’s a joy to spend a slice of Christmas Eve with you. Christmas Eve comes after a long ten days. For those of you who don’t know me, when I’m not busy doing webmasterly things here, I teach first grade. Ten days ago, I walked out of my classroom to my car and was flooded with the news of the children and teachers who had been killed in their school. I’m slow to process grief, to truly understand loss. My brain protects me and goes on autopilot. On Friday, I felt the tragedy of it, but I felt it at a distance. I felt the blessing of being alive and well. I felt the joy of knowing that my students were all happy in the arms of their parents.

On Saturday morning, I laid tucked under a blanket hoping for snow, hoping for beauty to fall from the sky when I needed it most. I read the newspaper, in truth trying to avoid articles on the shooting. It was too much.

One headline stopped me cold.

All the children who were killed were six and seven year olds. 12 girls. 8 boys.

I looked away from the article, watching the lights flicker on my Christmas tree. My tree is filled with ornaments from former students, six and seven year olds whom I’ve had the privilege of teaching, hundreds of children who are healthy and safe and growing into young adults.

I know I’m partial, but first grade is the best grade to teach. The children lose their first teeth. They learn to read and to tie their shoes. They believe in tooth fairies, leprechauns and Santa Claus. They sing with abandon. They believe everyone is an artist, everyone is a writer and most importantly that everyone is good. It’s a magical time and I count it a privilege to be a part of this magic and to help protect their innocence.

This Christmas Eve, I thought you could use a sprinkling of first grade magic as well. This is the story of cursing Clyde and the most beautiful rendition of Silent Night I’ve ever witnessed.

Cursing Clyde

by Alicia McCauley

“HOLY SH*T!”

The words bounced off the spines of books carefully shelved in our school library. I stood frozen, considering how the year had led up to that exact moment.

My classroom had a small hole in one of the windows. In the span of years I taught in that room, it was never repaired. The winter wind whistled through that hole, a faint sound I only heard during quiet moments of peace before school or after I’d zipped my little ones into their jackets and sent them home for the day.

That year my students were particularly noisy, there was not a timid voice in the whole bunch. They were hard workers, but in their work they were noisy, talking aloud to themselves, reading with enthusiasm, counting in booming rhythms. Even their whispers were deep and throaty. The constancy of their voices was the running dialogue of our classroom. And it was loud.

Clyde was six years old and his legs grew quickly, stretching out his kindergarten belly, inching his pants up above his ankles. His face was milky pale, with only a hint of color gathering in the hollows under his eyes. His brown eyes were wide and his forehead wrinkled into folds under his shaved head whenever he asked a question, which was all of the time.

Clyde’s mother was deaf and his primary language was sign language. In class he constantly searched for the words to voice the thoughts he could so fluidly convey with his hands. When he heard a new word, he snatched it up and added it to his vocabulary regardless if he knew the meaning.

It was this voracious hoarding of words that brought Clyde to words like sh*t, holy sh*t, to be exact. When he was excited about something, that pair of pungent words flew out of his mouth. The first time I heard him curse, my mouth fell open. His face belied the fact that he didn’t know what the words meant. I pulled him aside and explained their meaning and we came up with a list of phrases he could say instead like, “Oh, boy!” or “Wow!” To his credit, Clyde did his best to use the substitutions and only slipped up now and again.

Clyde was a meticulous artist. He could draw anything and everything in exquisite detail, but most of all he loved to draw cars. He drew convertibles with sleek lines and monster trucks ready to rumble off the page.

Every week our class went to the library to check out books and each week the librarian handed out library awards. There were two things a class had to do to earn a library award; keep the library clean and remain quiet. My class excelled in keeping the library tidy, but we’d never earned a library award, because try as they might, my little ones just couldn’t keep their voices under wraps.

That is until one particular trip to the library.

Every child was quietly checking out books, quietly reading them at tables, quietly poring over the pictures. I grinned as I watched the librarian pen an award for us. I pictured it hanging front and center in our classroom, a monument to the day we’d finally, finally quieted ourselves.

The librarian mentioned that there were some new drawing books over in the corner. Clyde’s ears perked up and he walked over to the corner. The new drawing books were on display on top of a bookshelf. There were books with sketches of horses, cats, dogs, and carton characters.

And there was a shiny new book about drawing cars.

I watched Clyde flip to a page demonstrating how to draw a race car. I watched his eyebrows shoot up. I watched as he hoisted the book above his head like a trophy. And I watched him search for the words to describe his jubilation. I waited for one of the phrases he’d been practicing in class. As I walked over to share in his excitement, he let fly.

“HOLY SH*T!!!”.

My entire class, my entire formerly quiet class, let out a collective gasp followed by an explosion of voices all calling out, “Mrs. McCauley, Clyde said a BAD WORD!” Realizing what he’d done, Clyde quickly plugged in one of his substitute phrases, stammering out an embarrassed, “I mean, oh boy!”

But it was too late.

I smiled at his effort, smiled at his enthusiasm over a book and I even smiled at the librarian who tore our library award right down the middle before throwing it in the trash can.

A day or two before Christmas vacation, I sat at my desk after school scrawling lesson plans. The Good News Club was meeting in my room and I listened as they sang Christmas songs. Clyde was a regular member and he sang along happily with the CD of carols. When Silent Night came on, he excitedly told the club leader he knew how to sing this song in sign language. I put my pen down and watched as Clyde stood in front of thirty or so other kids, signing each word, each verse with small hands still dirty from the playground. The other children began to sign with him, copying his motions with their own small hands.

I was captivated.

Clyde’s version of Silent Night was so beautiful that it both broke my heart and filled it at the same time.

His hands moved through the air, telling the story of Christ come to Earth, telling it in a way that brought me to tears. The stunning story of the holiest of nights as told through the hands of a six year old was breathtaking. After the song, Clyde sat back down on the carpet without ceremony. I sat dabbing my eyes. For a moment there wasn’t another sound in the room.

We never did get a library award that year and that’s okay. On the last day of school, I fingered the hole in the window, feeling the hot breath of summer leak into my classroom. There was no wind to blow through and in the silence of my empty classroom I found myself wishing for the voices of my students.

Today as I think about the hundreds of children I’ve taught, I think of that loud group of children, but mostly I think of Clyde. I love knowing that the kid who peppered the year with profanity was also the child who used his hands to sign the sacred silence of the season.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Writing (Our Own Life Story) InsideOut by Claudia Mosby

Welcome to Member Monday!  It’s a pleasure to feature Claudia Mosby.  Claudia is a freelance writer and an instructor at Shasta College.  She writes for The Record Searchlight and Enjoy magazine.  You can read more about Claudia’s dedication to exploring the relationship between writing and wellness through a variety of workshops, classes and retreats.  For more information please visit Writing InsideOut.

Writing (Our Own Life Story) InsideOut

by Claudia Mosby

Mark Twain once said, in part,  that “Truth is stranger than fiction…” I would argue that it’s more compelling and now research shows it’s good for our health, something I knew intuitively long ago.

In love with language from an early age, I have used writing to self-reflect, to make my living and to breathe life into characters arising from my imagination.

After many years in non-writing occupations, last year I returned to writing and teaching part-time.  Both required heavy research and with the writing the ability to tell in an interesting and compelling way a portion of someone else’s life story.  Interestingly, I’ve found a natural tendency, particularly among those who have undergone a traumatic life event, to shape the meaning of that story.

While researching I came across the literature on writing and wellness and discovered the intimate connection between expressive autobiographical writing and the storytelling strategies used by fiction writers.  Most importantly, is the role this kind of writing plays in health and well-being.

This connection made sense.  Early on my writing took the form of diary-keeping.  I remember well my first official diary, a small red leather-bound book with golden lock and matching key that I received for my 9th birthday.  Later, when I reached high school I began writing for the school newspaper and in college I majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing.

Looking back, not surprisingly there was more than a grain of re-worked truth in my short stories and poems.  Writing was a kind of creative therapy, an opportunity to imaginatively work out on the page any unresolved bits of my life experience and produce what I hoped was art.

Because I now teach college communication and because the research shows expressive writing improves working memory (and because of my writing bias), I started incorporating a short writing exercise in the classroom after each new unit.  My student’s were tasked with choosing one of three writing prompts I provided (ranging from less to more creative) and to somehow relate it to their life experience.  The results have been astounding.

When we covered the unit on conflict, one of my students wrote an “unsent letter” about having been raped.  This gave me an opportunity to talk with her about her well-being and available resources.  I’m fairly certain she would not have disclosed this information to me in a conversation.

It’s interesting to observe the noticeable increase in her participation in class discussions and activities since that writing exercise.  She now regularly volunteers to speak.  While this example is anecdotal and I can’t prove the writing caused her changed behavior, copious research suggests a likely connection.

Intrigued, I began researching more deeply the connection between writing and wellness.  I looked at the research on psychological and health outcomes for both academic studies and clinical trials that used writing as an intervention with both healthy and ill populations across a range of conditions:  chronic and terminal illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, major life transitions, and explorations of spirituality and faith.

Study after study revealed not only the psychological benefits that result from expressive writing, but perhaps even more notably improvements in key health markers (immune system functioning, pain level, white blood cell count, etc.).  I even looked at the research on hemispheric dominance theory (popularly known as left brain, right brain research) and which hemispheric functions lend themselves to certain types of writing activity.

For most of us, hindsight is 20-20.  Expressive creative writing is a tool to gain insight and perspective on the things we haven’t yet been able to completely leave behind us. The beauty of this type of writing is that it can be creative, empowering and used as needed, particularly attractive to those who do not view themselves as writers or want to commit to “journaling” or “diary-keeping” as a regular practice.

There’s more to that Mark Twain quote: “ … but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” I disagree.  While the facts are what they are, each of us has the power to construct our story’s meaning, and therein lies the possibility to authentically record our history using creative techniques.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Authors Fair Photos

The Authors Fair was again a huge success!  Thanks to all of the featured authors for participating.  Thanks also to the Writers Forum board for putting on such a fabulous event to showcase our local authors.  Writers Forum Secretary, Darbie Andrews, captured some shots of the day.

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Member Monday: Release by Linda Boyden

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a pleasure to feature author, storyteller, illustrator and poet Linda Boyden.  

Release

By Linda Boyden

Full-term clouds slouch,
sullen and bored, against the waning day.
Heavy laden, anxious, they sling their bellies
low along the western sky;
smudge the faint glow of the trembling sun.

Behind the milky gray barrier
The sun labors, languishes,
lapses into silence.
Disappears.Bathed in pink, the clouds strain,
Bear forth their liquid burdens:
deliverance to the parched land.Rain!Against the pane, my fingers strum
echoes of the tempest’s drum.
Linda BoydenLinda Boyden has spent most of her adult life leading children to literacy.  From 1970-1997, she taught in primary grades, receiving her master’s in Gifted and Talented Education in 1992 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In 1997, Linda decided to change careers and abandoned full-time teaching for full-time writing.  Her first picture book, “The Blue Roses,” debuted in 2002.  It was the recipient of Lee and Low Books’ first New Voices Award, the 2003 Paterson Prize, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers’ Book of the Year, Children’s Literature, 2002-2003, and was included on the prestigious CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) 2003 Choices list of recommended titles. In 2007 she wrote and illustrated her second picture book, “Powwow’s Coming” which was published by the University of New Mexico Press. She has also written and illustrated “Giveaways, an ABC of Loanwords from the Americas” published also by the University of New Mexico Press in 2010. In 2011, Giveaways was the recipient of three Finalist Awards from the International Book Awards, Finalist in the 2012 New Mexico Book of the Year Award and was included in the California Reading’s Association’s 2012 California Collections list of recommended titles. In her writing for adults, she has had poems included in a number of anthologies. In 2006, she won the Adult First Place and Third Place awards at the Pleasanton Poetry Festival. Linda is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers.  She enjoys doing author visits and storytelling at schools and libraries as well as presenting workshops at writing conferences around the country. Visit www.lindaboyden.com.
A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: Why We Look and What We Hope to Find by Jennifer Phelps

Welcome back to Member Monday.  As the holiday season presses forth, it’s a pleasure to welcome back Jennifer Phelps, who always writes with stark honesty about love and loss.  Welcome, Jen.

Why We Look and What We Hope to Find

by: Jennifer Phelps

This morning I am walking the dogs.  I take a different route, just a small deviation from my regular lopsided figure eight, a short trip down a side street.  I want to walk past the house where the murder took place last week.

We’re all rubber neckers, I think as I wind my way down the mossy sidewalk beside the pink and white oleanders that bloom in front of the house.  These are actually theiroleanders, trimmed before ithappened. There is a crime scene inside, and outside the grass is cut and the sprinklers are going on timers. As if its inhabitants went to the store, or to the lake for a day of boating.

I question my own motives – why do I detour down the street to see the quiet house where something awful took place?  Will someone notice me strolling by, a way I usually don’t go? People might think I have an unnatural interest in the misfortune of others.  Do I?

I don’t think so. I think I’m like everyone else, wanting to catch of glimpse of that place.  It is the place where what we think we know and what we believe we understand meets the unknown, the unfamiliar. It’s the departure point, the place where the ocean meets the sand. There’s some overlap in that moment when the surf slides up the beach, some commingling. A little sand gets caught up in the ocean; a little salt water sinks into the sand. But then the ocean retracts, pulls back into itself. The beach is still there, but it’s different. It looks the same, but microscopically it’s changed.

That’s how it is with a murder, or a car accident, or someone who has fallen grievously ill. They are on that shore, touching that deep unknown. It’s lapping at their feet, or maybe they’re already deep in it, caught in the undertow. And we want to see it, as if witnessing their struggle, their transition could help us understand.

It doesn’t. What we are left with is only our perceptions, which defy understanding and utterly confound us when we try to express them with language. We are left saying absurd, typical things like, “I just can’t believe it,” and, “How can things like that happen to such nice people?” As if there is some moral balance sheet in the universe; I have decided that if there is, it doesn’t follow our logic.

My mom recently died. I feel the urge to attenuate that statement because it seems to shock people. They want to hear softer terms, like “she passed away,” or my least favorite, “she passed.” The truth, to me, is better, however stark it sounds. She died.  She was alive, and now she isn’t.

The first thing I wanted after my mother’s death was the shirt she was wearing when she died, soft and worn like only an old T-shirt can be.  It had been washed along with the bedclothes.  I found it and brought it home.  First I put it on, but that didn’t feel right, either.  I just wanted to be close to where she is now, wherever that is.  The shirt held her body as she made that transition.  Maybe somewhere in that shirt, I felt, was the answer.  That place we want to witness.

Mom’s shirt hangs in my closet.  I don’t want to wear it, but I do want to see it.  “Mom died in that shirt,” I tell myself when I look at it.  It’s still just a shirt. I could give it to someone and they could wear it, never knowing it held her last breaths, never knowing that shirt is my shore, beyond it the ocean, never knowing that is the shirt that bore her out on heaving waves.

I don’t know where she is, but I know where she departed from. I guess that’ll have to be enough.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

A Message from the President: December, 2012

Phew…another very successful Authors Fair is under our belts. Or, to keep it in a Writers Forum vein, “on the bookshelf.” We had fewer authors than last year, but more full tables and more all day sign ups. Books were sold; one table sold out of what they brought (18!). Hailing from Chico to Lookout (in Modoc County), they networked and made friends with other authors.

We ran the popular First Sentence Contest again this year with two categories.  There were 14 adult entries and 4 child entries. A remote panel of judges picked their top three favorites, and the votes were tabulated electronically.

The winning adult author was one of the presenting authors, member Janice Austin Bates, with “If it hadn’t been for the terrible burn scars on Emily’s face, most people wouldn’t have noticed her.”  The winning child author was Betsy Allred, age 7, with “On one sunny day there were two girls who became best friends while playing hide and go seek.” Each wins a $25 Gift Card from Barnes & Noble.  Congratulations, Janice and Betsy!

The December meeting is one of our semi-annual gatherings where members do 5-minute readings of their work; either past, published or in work, as long as it is yours, you can read it.

I have some tips.

  • It is not a contest to see how much you can read in 5 minutes. Slow down, and enjoy it. Put some feeling in to it. This would be an excellent time to put to voice what you gleaned from Robb Lightfoot’s excellent presentation in October.
  • Practice your selected reading. Time yourself. Remember, 5 minutes only, including introduction or scene-setting. No “just another few sentences” allowed. When time has elapsed, everybody starts clapping. And remember, if you are cut off before you finished your reading, take heart in that you can submit it in its entirety to our Newsletter Editor, Ed Sulpice, at writersforumeditor@gmail.com. This is where no time limit applies.
  • This is also our annual holiday potluck; finger foods are recommended, but if you do bring non-finger food, please ensure it is not sloppy. No BBQ ribs!

One more note: Our Scholarship Fundraiser buyout of Riverfront Playhouse for Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig is Thursday, February 7, 2013. Tickets are only $15.00.  This farce centers on two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark and Jack Gable. The pair discovers that Florence, an older ailing woman, has been unable to find Max and Steve to include them in her multi-million dollar inheritance. They decide to pose as Max and Steve only to discover that “Max” and “Steve” are actually “Maxine” and “Stephanie.” Undaunted, they continue on in drag. Tickets will be on sale at meetings, or contact any board member.

Meanwhile, between the sugar plums dancing in your head, and the seven swans a’swimming, have a blessed holiday season, and keep the fingers to the keyboard.

Larry Watters, Writers Forum President