Spelunking

By Sarah White

The plight of the Thai soccer club trapped in a cave got me thinking about a memory from 1972 or ’73, when I was very nearly trapped in a cave under similar conditions.  I have only limited recall of what actually happened, so I wrote what I remembered and shared it with the friends who were also present. The following is a group reminiscence that explores the unreliability of narrators as much as it does the events of one summer evening.

That spring of 1972 we begin to call ourselves “the family.” In the nucleus were Marty, Donna, Colette, Victor, his brother Ric, and me. Around the edges floated some boys and girls. Don was one of the more regular floaters. His thing was outdoor adventures. He was the one who started us on spelunking.

Don had the gear—helmets with carbide headlamps, ropes, maps, some knowledge of technique, although caving doesn’t really take any technique. It’s just hiking in the dark on irregular surfaces.

You go caving in Indiana in the dead of summer and the dead of winter, because it’s always 50-some degrees in a cave. It’s a great place to escape from unbearable weather. We’d often head south from Indianapolis in mid-afternoon for the hills around Bloomington, where there were many caves in the limestone karst bedrock. We’d eat a picnic supper before climbing in, or pack it with us. When we’d stop to rest, the boys would turn off their headlights and we girls would squeal. There would be giggling and sometimes smooching in the dark. We’d climb back out in the wee hours of the morning, clean up in the bathroom at the Waffle House and refuel, then head back to Indianapolis in time to go to work or school. We were in our late teens. We were invincible superheroes.

We did just this, one summer afternoon in 1973. The family set out from Indianapolis—were we in Marty’s van or  Don’s? No matter—and arrived at a cave around suppertime. A barn stood near the entrance, and a box with a sign-in book.

When we arrived, a group of Eagle Scouts were cooking their dinner and settling in to camp overnight. We nodded coolly at them—we freaks didn’t associate with organization men like them—signed in and proceeded to the cave entrance.

When you enter a cave, you go through a change in relationship to your body, and this is what I loved about spelunking. At first you’re still a biped, adjusting to being a sightless one, the bright beam of the carbide headlamp extinguishing all peripheral vision. But then, kinesthesia takes over. You become aware of every part of your body. You know exactly where the back of your head is. You crawl on all fours as easily as walking. It’s a dance with the infinitely changing surfaces around you. Your hearing adjusts to the silence that blooms into a chorus of echoes and dripping water. It is magical.

That summer evening, unbeknownst to us down in the bowels of Monroe County, a summer thunderstorm passed through. Torrents of rain funneled in the same cave opening through which we had army-crawled down a narrow passage of some 600 feet. Someone noticed a change in the sound—the drip became a purr, then a burble.

“We’d better head back,” Don said. “That’s rising water.” He led us back the way we came. (I never paid any attention to direction underground, trusting my tribe. Don had a technique of turning around to memorize the reverse view, each time we transitioned from a narrow space to a chamber.) We made it back to a wide ledge near the cave’s opening. Between us and the mouth, a little underground creek flowed through the narrow entry passage. It had been a mere trickle when we crawled in. It was now a few inches deep and flowing fast.

“The rum!” Marty exclaimed. “I left the canteen back where we stopped to eat!” The boys looked at each other with concern. We girls looked at the boys. “I’ll go back for it,” Victor said, always the gentleman. “I’ll go with you,” Marty said.

This is the point at which my memory diverges from those of my friends. Marty tells me we were planning to sleep in the cave that night, and we had left more than rum—our sleeping bags and other gear were back in one of the chambers.

Victor and Marty crawled back into the dark behind us. The rest of us waited on the ledge. The little creek rose. And rose. It came close to the ledge on which we perched. The headspace above it, the air we would breathe as we crawled through the narrow passage, diminished. Where were those boys? We waited… and watched that headspace narrow. At first, Don and Ric tried to tease us with scary stories. Then they stopped. We hallooed the boys—no answer. We waited… and contemplated going forward without them. No. Yes? No. Had something happened to delay Marty and Vic’s return? What to do?

Here’s where my memory goes dark. I recreate the following: At the last minute, they reappeared. We crawled through water with our noses up against the rocky roof. We climbed out into the humid summer night, feeling electricity in the air. A major summer storm had clearly unleashed its fury above that cave.

Victor tells me that when he and Marty reached the chamber where our half of the party had been waiting, “Some kind of atmospheric inversion caused smoke to funnel into the cave. It was like Armageddon trying to get out of there.” Donna says “I wasn’t there.” That leaves me to infer that it was Colette, Don, Ric, and me who left our friends behind in the cave—I’d like to think it was because we realized we could be more useful in calling for help if we weren’t also trapped—and somehow managed to light a little fire. But Marty says, “Victor and I left when the creek started rising and swamped the fire,” so maybe we lit the fire inside the mouth of the cave? Or it was the Scouts’ fire, quenched by the downpour, that sent that smoke down the hole? Darkness shrouds the details.

Here our unreliable memories converge again. We all walked up to the barn where the Eagle Scouts had taken shelter. Feeling like Odysseus returning to Penelope, we burst in, expecting—what? That they had noticed we might be in peril?

One of the Scouts was in the middle of telling a long, circuitous, and very lewd joke. Gripped as they were by the storyteller, no one noticed us. We settled in and waited for the story to end, passing our canteen and quieting our shaken nerves. The guffaw at the story’s end was a lightning flash—horribly savage, brutally male. While I’d felt relatively safe all the time in the cave, now I felt bodily danger.

Luckily, Marty remembers the joke. Here it is, the shaggy dog shaved bare: “The god Thor was having sex with some women that lasted throughout the night. In the morning he stood against the rising sun, raised his hammer, and proclaimed, “I am Thor!” One of the women, still lying on the bed, replied, “You think you’re thor, I’m tho thor I can hardly pee.”

We backed out of the barn, stripped off our muddy coveralls, climbed back into the van, and headed toward Indianapolis. We pretended we were fine. We weren’t fine. We had entered that cave young gods. Now we knew we were mortal.

© 2018 Sarah White

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Join me for “Flash Memoir” 4-part online workshop, offered by Story Circle Network

Memories are frequently more like snapshots than movies. Most of my memories that feel story-rich are just flashes (Remember flashbulbs? That burst of light, that popping sound, the super-dark that instantly returned?) “Flash Memoir”–an approach that borrows techniques from the genre of flash fiction–is an excellent way to hone your ability to pay close attention, to write tight and make every word work its hardest, while exploring those “flashbulb” moments in your past.

In August, I return to teaching online workshops for Story Circle Network after taking a hiatus while I taught my online courses through the Association of Personal Historians’ education program. The first workshop I’m offering is “Flash Memoir” in a four-part version. The class has been popular here in Madison and I’m excited to bring it to an online audience.

What IS “Flash Memoir,” you ask? I’ll answer with a free preview from the first week’s lesson.

Flash Memoir essays are….

  • Free of preambles. They start at the flashpoint–the moment when conflict ignites motion that drives the story forward.
  • Scene-based—they frequently take place in one run of time, without jumping around.
  • Observant—they tend to feature not the “I” but the “eye.”
  • Insightful—Like a flashlight illuminating a dark corner, they explore something that provoked an insight.
  • Specific—they stick with concrete, observable events and actions rather than abstract concepts.
  • True—as a subgenre of creative nonfiction, Flash Memoir must uphold the nonfiction contract that what is reported actually happened.

Since 1997,  Story Circle Network, a non-profit exclusively for women writers, has provided learning/writing opportunities in memoir, reminiscence, journaling, fiction, poetry, family stories, and more. I’ve known several of their teachers and am honored to be among the faculty.

You’ll find more information about the workshop here on SCN’s website and a registration form here.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to what I consider an excellent example of Flash Memoir right here on True Stories Well Told.

Balloons Are for Kids” by Kay Frazier

I hope you’re intrigued enough to join me in the workshop!

– Sarah White

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Day and Night on the Promenade

By Julie Rosenzweig

It’s the summer of 1995. I moved to Jerusalem a few months ago, from the gritty Negev town where I had spent my first two years in Israel. I’m still walking around with a mindless grin on my face. What, real people can live here?

Yes,it turns out that even on an Israeli librarian’s salary, it can be done. If, as an unmarried thirty-year-old, you’re willing to live with multiple flatmates and rickety furniture in the pre-gentrified Katamonimneighborhood – it can be done.

Reveling in my privilege, I decide one Shabbat afternoon to walk up to the Tayelet – a popular south Jerusalem promenade that overlooks the Old City. I will enjoy the Tayelet’sbreathtaking view– one of the perks of living in this expensive, difficult, but inspiring city.

The Tayeletis plenty crowded on this lovely summer Shabbat. Lots of families picnicking. Clusters of religious singles singing zemirot together– Shabbat mealtime songs. The singles are pouring their hearts and souls into it, sending their solitary longings heavenward in chorus. A religious single myself, I could easily have been in one of those clusters, but for some reason decided to come to the Tayelettoday with only a book for companionship.

Yet before I’ve made it very far along the Tayelet, I find I have another, uninvited, companion. A man is following me. Wherever I stop, he stops. Even when I sit down on the grass a short distance away from a picnicking family or a group of singles, he sits down next to me, telling me all the thing she’d like to do to me.

I could approach one of the picnicking families or choral clusters for help. But while I’m frightened and disgusted, I also feel a kind of clinical curiosity. How long can a skuzzball harass a woman in a crowded public place before being scared off?

Quite a long time, it turns out.

At some point, I sit down on a bench. He sits down beside me. If his oratory was impressive before, it’s really something now that he’s in physical repose. He’s really pouring his heart and soul into it. As for me, I’m speechless.

His eloquence goes on and on. I stare straight ahead of me, jaws working. A frisbee lands near my foot, is retrieved by a smiling teenager. A father grabs a straying toddler by the back strap of his overall. Pasta salads are passed around in Tupperware containers.

Just when it seems that my companion has outdone himself, having issued his most evocative verbalization yet, I turn to him and spray his face with the mouthful of saliva I’ve been collecting.

He scurries off to the public restroom, turning repeatedly to shake his fists and hurl invective at me. The surprise shower hasn’t rendered him any less articulate.

Once he’s inside the men’s room, I hot-tail it out of there. They say you shouldn’t run on Shabbat, but this is pikuach nefesh– a matter of life and death that overrides regular Shabbat observances.I run all the way home, back to my walk-upon the very edge of the Katamonim, where there’s just enough funk to make my life interesting, but not too much.

Where I feel safe at any hour of the day.

I pant my story to my flatmates. Was “You go girl!” part of the lexicon back then? If not, then they would have said the mid-’90s equivalent.

It amazes me that something like this could have occurred in broad daylight. What would happen to a woman who dared to walk the Tayeletat night? Oh, but she wouldn’t.

* * *

It’s now spring,1998. I’m still single, still living with multiple flatmates in the same Katamonim walkup. Yet a lot has happened in the past few years. A prime minister has been assassinated. Buses have been bombed. There have been elections. On a personal level, I’ve “done” the bitza– the Jerusalem singles’swamp– and am about ready to leave. A brief but memorable engagement to a Russian musician down south has made me homesick for the Negev, and I’m thinking of moving back there– single or no.

In the meantime, I have a second date with an American guy that a co-worker set me up with. There he is, one arm outstretched, hand on the doorframe, a pose that conveys restrained energy without detracting from an overall air of politeness. He’s wearing a plaid shirt looks like it made it not only across the ocean, but across several decades and fashion cycles.

“Where to?” he asks.

“The Tayelet,” I find myself saying. I’ve avoided the Armon HaNetziv Promenade since my little Shabbat contretemps a few years back. Why now? Why him?

He escorts me to his car. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been inside a private vehicle in the nearly six years I’ve been in Israel. Used to lurching along the circuitous routes in which the local bus company specializes, I’m amazed at how quickly we reach the Tayelet.

We get out of the car, walk up to the low wall, lean over it. It is warm for March. It’s dark and the place is nearly deserted. We have the lights of the city below us, and the stars up above, for companions.

We chat and take in the view. I tell my date about the spitting incident, which cracks him up.

Eventually, we fall into a comfortable silence. As I gaze at the stars, I’m reminded suddenly of my former flame, the Russian musician, who was into astrology. He’d found proof of our compatibility in our birthdates – well, so much for that. I’m also reminded of a silly employee-bonding event to which I and my co-workers had been dragged a few weeks earlier– breakfast at a hotel, followed by a lecture on astrology.

I start telling my date about the lecture. He wordlessly communicates his opinion of astrology– an opinion I share– but listens attentively nonetheless.

Among other things, the lecturer had offered an analysis of the Israeli political scene. Why hadn’t Peres worked out? Why did Bibi seem to manage against all odds? Apparently, it was all in the stars.

My date is unimpressed. “Yeah, Bibi’s hanging on because of his zodiac sign,” he chuckles.

Suddenly, I need to know. But I can’t ask.

I turn toward him. “The lecturer said air signs have a better chance of making it as prime minister,” I breathlessly intone, watching his face.

“What’s an air sign?”

Aquarius, Gemini and Libra,” I answer, grinning mindlessly. I know what’s coming.

“Well, glad to hear I could be Prime Minister,” he says.

We make our way back to the car. He opens the door for me. Before I get in I thank him for bringing me to the Tayelet.

“I don’t even come here during the day, let alone at night. It’s nice to have protection.”

He glances at me, then looks away.

“Maybe I’m the one who needs protection. Or at least, a handkerchief.”

(Reader, I married him.)

© 2018 Julie Rosenzweig

Julie Rosenzweig is a Jerusalem-based translator, librarian, and mom. Her work has recently appeared in Literary Mama, Eunioa Review, the antiBODY poetry anthology, and the Times of Israel, among others.

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“Good as a Girl” — excerpt from newly published memoir by Ray Olderman

My good friend and writing mentor Ray Olderman has published his memoir! If you are local and know Ray– or just like being around funny friendly people–congratulate him at his book launch party Thursday June 28, 6pm at the Goodman Community Center.

Many people know RayO from his stint as a professor of comparative literature on the UW faculty in the 1970s.

Ray in the classroom, circa 1975

 

Good as a Girl

By Ray Olderman

This is true.  When I was eight, I promised my mother I’d be good as a girl. it was 1945 and here was my mother with another baby boy. While my dad temporarily took the baby off somewhere, mom lay in her bed silently crying. She was a loving mother, and I hated to see her tears.  I knew why she was crying.  I knew because we had already picked a girl’s name for my brother. Dad and mom had planned a girl’s name for me, too. My girl’s name had been abandoned. Now another girl’s name would have to go the same way. So there was mom, crying.  And there was me all by myself plunked in the doorway, put there by my dad who wanted me to welcome my mom home while he was busy with the baby. That’s when I made my vow to be good as a girl.

“Don’t cry, mom,” I said, trembling a little to see her tears because usually no one in my family cried much. “I’ll be good as a girl.”  It just flew out of my mouth.  What did I know about what that meant?  Not much.  Boys didn’t even play with girls. Boys didn’t even go in the same door at school.

Good little Ray cleans the stove.

 

****

We lived in the projects when I made my vow. But we got to move to a slightly better neighborhood. And about six months after moving into my new neighborhood, just after I turned nine, Tommy Veneto kicked me in the balls and that turned me into a determined person.

First of all, the kick hurt a lot. But what bothered me more than the pain was that I told my mother about it and she examined me to see if there was some damage. I was mortified.  I decided right then, standing on a stool with my pants down, that I would not keep my parents informed about my street life. I would deal with it myself.

 

****

We moved to Newington, a suburb. At the high school there, I connected with a foster girl from the Hartford slums named Dawn, who was as outside the norm in Newington as I was. We hung together but neither of us cared for the boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I was carrying the torch for dark-haired Vicky in Bridgeport. Dawn and I reinforced each other in the face of the clean, middle-class world of Newington. We were attracted to each other, but mostly we were comfortable talking to each other honestly. She was the only one I told about my vow to be good as a girl. She told me I was nuts. “Girls ain’t that good,” she said. “Your mother would find that out pretty quick. Only I don know much about how mothers think,” she added with a shrug.

Dawn had sorrows of her own. She went from foster home to foster home. Her Newington foster parents barely acknowledged her existence. And she had baggage. One time, for example, a former boyfriend and his pals came after her when we were putt-putting along in my little German Ford. They chased us and Dawn was clearly upset. I couldn’t outrace them with my feeble four cylinders. So I used my big mouth and a hunting knife my dad had slotted into the inside wall of the car near the steering wheel.

The doors of the car opened from front to back instead of back to front like American cars. So as the creeps left their car and came toward us, I swung open my car door and in one smooth move emerged with hunting knife in hand.  If that wasn’t crazy enough, I shrugged my leather jacketed shoulders and spit out a Marlon Brando challenge: “I can take you one at a time or all together.” Since mostly only gang members wore leather jackets in that part of Connecticut in 1954, the creeps backed off. They must have thought I’d have a gang to back me up. Whatever their reason, mine was that my big mouth beat my brain to the punch again. I never would have used the knife. In Bridgeport, I’d be dead.  I told you once already. I’m a lucky guy.

I’m afraid Dawn was not so lucky. Later on in 1958, after I got out of the Army, I tried to find her. She was living back in Hartford in a tough neighborhood. I got her phone number and called. I’m sure it was she who answered. I asked for Dawn, and she said twice in a very tired voice, “There’s no Dawn here.” All metaphors aside, her voice chilled me.  I just hope I am completely wrong about everything I imagined from that phone call.

Talk about female sadness, the suburbs sunk my mom. In Bridgeport she got around by bus and by walking to neighborhood stores. But in Newington she couldn’t get anywhere without my dad or me driving her there. I took her shopping whenever she asked but I wasn’t around much. I fell victim to the habits of the middle-class kids around me, drinking beer and putting me first. I didn’t really understand how the powerlessness of her situation was affecting my mom. Asking for help made her feel too dependent. She didn’t like it. In retrospect, I could see the suburbs wrecked her good humor. She took Valium, which was the 1950s answer to the suburban housewife’s isolation. She fell into wishing she were a bird. Someone who was as good as a girl might have noticed she was hurting.

 

****

How I Learned to Talk Right

I got cast in plays right away in my first year on the University of Connecticut Storrs campus, 1960. My insomnia allowed me to attend classes, work some weekends at the moving company, do a meticulous job on my homework, and act in plays. I was cast first as a dancer in a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The production was some big hotsy-totsy deal. The Theater Department built a replica of the Globe Theater of Shakespeare’s time, and to play Romeo they jobbed in a professional actor who was coming off a Broadway gig.  Three of our own theater department actors were good enough to later have short professional careers. But the production stank. The Broadway guy couldn’t get rid of his twangy Western accent, and Juliet had a squeekee-sqawky, unattractive voice, beautiful as she was.

Audiences at UConn were used to high-quality theater. At the time, there were no championship athletic teams, like the ones that developed later. Girls weren’t even playing regular team sports. In fact, unlike the boys, they still had a 10:30 p.m. curfew weekdays, and midnight on weekends. Back then in the early 1960s, theater was as popular as sports. And the audiences let their disapproval for our production of “Romeo and Juliet” show.

One night I was the cause of a graphic demonstration of audience rejection. In the ballroom dance scene, I had a brief solo where I danced and juggled three balls. It was tough because I was wearing a full face mask and had trouble keeping all three balls in my sight line. On the fateful night, I dropped one and it rolled off the stage before I could pick it up. Then someone threw it at Juliet in her death scene, just as she was screeching out, “Oh happy dagger, here is thy sheath/Now rust and let me die….”  Next night I juggled two balls only, and my acting career at UConn would have been over if I hadn’t already been cast by a different director as the cab driver in “Harvey.” My Bridgeport accent served me well and I was a big hit in that small part. In fact the same director cast me next as Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls,” and I was an even bigger hit. I was “boffo” wid my dems and dose accent.

What a lucky guy. The Theater Department thought I was good enough to do more comic parts. My director wanted to cast me as the comical Bob Acres in a Restoration Comedy called “The Rivals.” The Bridgeport talk would not work anymore. A second director took on the task of fixing my diction. What a wonderful person. My horizons totally changed when I learned to talk right. I mean, my Bridgeport sound was crude by educated standards. How could I find Romance if I kept sounding like a thug. People were always asking me if I was a prize fighter, and was I “still in the ring?”  Only a classy guy gets the girl of his dreams. It’s like in England. The guys with a cockney accent are “the low characters.” They don’t get the British, Black-Haired, Brainy Beauties.

To teach me, that wonderful theater director put me on a stage and made me say tongue twisters over and over again to get rid of my “nasty plosives.”

“A three-toed he toad loved a two-toed she toad who lived in a tree.”

That’s the one I remember best, and I said it over and over, day and night till the dems and dose largely went away. I owe that director for widening my possibilities, removing an obstacle to my future. I mean, in addition to the effect of my Bridgeport diction on chances for love, what would have been my chances of becoming a tenured English Professor if I had kept talking like a thug? And, come to think of it, how could I have quit a tenured position, as I did, if I hadn’t once been a bit of a thug? The fact is that the change in my diction and bearing put me at a borderline in the American class system. Did I look both ways before crossing? Not that I remember.

In the end, Ray got the girl of his dreams.

© 2018 by Ray Olderman

Ray Olderman is an award-winning teacher, writer, and actor. He crossed class lines to move from pin boy to professor, from street kid to professional writer. His published work varies from the pioneering, award-winning Beyond the Waste Land to The Ten-Minute Guide to Business Communications. As a teacher, he was voted one of the ten best professors at the Madison Campus of the University of Wisconsin. 

To purchase a copy of Good as a Girl, visit Henschelhaus Publishing.

 

 

 

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“It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again,” by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively

In January 2017, I convened an unusual book club. We were comprised of members of the Association of Personal Historians, coming together around the book It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond, by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively. (Lively is Cameron’s longtime business manager.) The book filters Cameron’s advice on creativity from The Artist’s Way through the lens of the transition to retirement. Cameron wrote in her introduction: “It is my attempt to answer, ‘what next?’ for students who are embarking on their ‘second act.”

As a discussion group of personal historians, we weren’t exactly Cameron’s target reader—no retirees here. We were most of us already on our “second acts,” busy with creative and fulfilling work helping others capture and share their life stories. Our book club’s purpose was to examine the usefulness of Cameron’s approach in our own businesses. Some of us anticipated working her methods into our own workshop curriculum. Others were just considering adding teaching to our services, and a few were indeed thinking about scaling back to where personal creativity could thrive in balance with remunerative work.

We met regularly to discuss each chapter, with one individual volunteering to read and report each time. Like the original The Artist’s Way, each chapter dealt with recovering (or reigniting) a sense of something missing in one’s life, adding up to a twelve-week curriculum.

There is a great deal of similarity between the two books, and yet each seems to fit its own niche. Let’s compare: In The Artist’s Way, those “somethings” were:

Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, and Faith.

In Never Too Late, they are:

Wonder, Freedom, Connection, Purpose, Honesty, Humility, Resilience, Joy, Motion, Vitality, Adventure, and Faith.

Where the themes of the original book dealt with the doubts that might confront a young person attempting to hang onto a creative flame as the tide of adult responsibility rises, the second book deals in themes that correlate with the developmental stages of later life.

Not surprisingly, the methodology Cameron presents in Never Too Late is very close to that in The Artist’s Way. Students perform weekly tasks. While The Artist’s Way required merely two tasks, Morning pages (three daily pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning) and Artist Dates (weekly fun solo expeditions), students of Never Too Late take on two additional tasks: a twice-weekly 20-minute solo walk and writing a memoir. (I guess new retirees can be expected to have more time for tasks and to need exercise.)

Each chapter ends with prompting questions for that memoir, and each week/chapter the prompts guide the student through life’s arc from earliest memory to summing up. The memoir prompts seemed derivative of Dr. James Birren’s prompts in Telling the Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups.

Our group found parts of the methodology suitable for use in our work with  clients, whether one-on-one or in group workshops, but as a whole, it seemed absolutely overwhelming for a 12-week curriculum. (The same can be said for the original Artist’s Way process.) Spending a year on it, with a month devoted to each chapter, seemed like a more appropriate pace.

We disbanded our discussion group after six months, but not before having a number of interesting conversations, including how one might expand a personal history practice using the Life Coaching model and curriculum like Cameron’s. There is a deep relationship between finding meaning in one’s own life experiences at times of transition and wanting to share the stories that hold that meaning. Today’s life coaching client may become tomorrow’s memoirist.

Our group’s final meeting took place exactly one year ago, June 21, 2018. I assume the others were as melancholy as I was about losing the “Wonder, Freedom, Connection, Purpose, Honesty, Humility, Resilience, Joy, Motion, Vitality, Adventure, and Faith” we found in sharing our experiences with each other, guided by the loose structure of Cameron’s Never Too Late.

I must admit, I didn’t find enough to like about Never Too Late to recommend it with enthusiasm. In the end, it didn’t matter that the book was not a revolutionary breakthrough or a work of staggering beauty. It brought some people at midlife and beyond together, and engendered some discovery of creativity and meaning. Nothing wrong with that.

© Sarah White

p.s. What have you read lately that might interest readers of True Stories Well Told? You too can write a book review! Drop me a line–sarah.white@firstpersonprod.com.

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Who Cooks for You!?

Chef-journalist Anthony Bourdain’s death last week brought to mind the chefs I’ve known, including the one I married.

I first encountered this band of pirates (the only men in uniform I find sexy) when my roommate-boyfriend became the pantry chef at the Fess Hotel in 1982. It was one of Madison’s finest restaurants.

By the mid-1990s, we had begun our ritual of Sunday day-hikes in the Baraboo Bluffs. Jim had moved on to work for other restaurants, all on the fine-dining end of the spectrum, all staffed with pirates of the sort Bourdain introduced to the world when his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly was published in 2000.

One Sunday—it would have been a winter day in late 1992 or early ‘93–we invited two of Jim’s chef coworkers to join us. when we picked them up at their house, they loaded plump backpacks into the car.

We drove an hour into the hills, then parked at the side of the road at the base of Pine Hollow, west of Baraboo. We hiked up the frozen creek, working hard as we clambered over fallen tree branches from winter storms. Water burbled happily under the layer of ice in the hollow. Owls hooted from the ridgeline.

Our party reached a sandstone overhang and stopped to rest in its shelter. The three chefs opened their backpacks. Out came a thermos of mulled wine, another of coq-au-vin. Out came a loaf of crusty bread, a paper sleeve of sliced roast beef, crumbly cheeses. Out tumbled an assortment of chocolates.

Hungry from the hike, we tore into the feast. Then we sat back to enjoy its afterglow. Weak sun filtered down through bare trees. The stream continued its happy song. The owls called from above.

“Who cooks for you?” they asked. “Who cooks for you?”

I looked around at the handsome trio of chefs now reclining on the loose sand at the outcropping’s base. They do, I thought. Who cooks for me? The best chefs of Madison.

Whether in down jackets or chefs’ whites, a foodie is always a foodie. Those of us who get to live with them are lucky indeed.

©  2018 Sarah White

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That’s It!! Butt Out!

By Melodee Currier

When I was a little girl, I remember being fascinated with cigarettes – the chocolate and bubblegum kind. It was a real treat when my parents bought them for me.  They were smokers and I felt so grown up when I had my own candy cigarettes.

At five years old, my parents divorced and twice a year I was put on an airplane to visit my father in Miami Beach.  In those days, the airlines had a policy of giving each passenger a sample pack of cigarettes.  It was a real treat when the flight attendants let me pass them out to the other passengers.

When I was fourteen, after a flight, I decided to take my sample pack of cigarettes home with me.  As soon as I got home I closed my bedroom door, quickly lit a cigarette, inhaled, and had a coughing fit.  My mother always told me that she had eyes in the back of her head – and I believed her.  So, I ran straight into her bedroom to tell her I tried to smoke a cigarette and had a coughing fit.  She said my body was trying to tell me not to smoke.  I vowed I would never smoke again.

That promise lasted only three years.  The next time I smoked a cigarette was when I was in high school.  My friends would gather in the school parking lot during lunch hour to smoke.  I thought it was cool, so I took a puff of someone’s cigarette.  I didn’t realize it was the beginning of a love/hate relationship with cigarettes that would last the next twenty years.

I loved the ritual of smoking – the process of taking the cigarette out of the package and lighting it seemed so sophisticated.  I kept a lit cigarette in my ashtray at work nonstop.  I couldn’t talk on the phone – or even sip coffee – without lighting up first.

When my son was in high school, he despised when I smoked and would beg me to quit, but I just kept on puffing.

A few years later when smoking finally lost its allure for me, I tried many times to quit –with nicotine patches and even taking a class through my local hospital, but nothing worked.  Until one day.

I’d like to tell you the reason I quit was honorable, but that isn’t true.   I quit because I was in a relationship with a man who wouldn’t live with me unless I quit smoking.  One day at work I experienced a pain in my back and thought it might be related to my smoking, got scared, snuffed my cigarette out in my ashtray and proclaimed out loud “THAT’S IT!”  And it was.

Withdrawal was difficult especially when I was around my triggers such as drinking coffee or alcohol, talking on the phone or being with friends who smoked.  In fact, I cried, screamed and used some four-letter words the first couple weeks. I didn’t know how I would ever be able to have a cup of coffee or a drink without a cigarette.

What happened to the relationship — the main reason I quit smoking?  It didn’t last — but it was a blessing because I believe the Universe brought him into my life just so I would quit smoking.  It’s been over thirty years and I have never looked back – on him or the smoking.  Now when I have coffee or a drink or talk on the phone, it never occurs to me that I need a cigarette.

Did I mention I gained eighty pounds after I quit? And after all these years of trying, I still haven’t lost the weight.  That was the only negative outcome of quitting, but it was still worth it.

They say former smokers are the worst -– and it’s true.  I cannot stand to smell cigarette smoke now and will go to any length to get far away from it.   Not only does the smell nauseate me, but second-hand smoke has proven to be lethal.

The notion that smoking is glamorous or cool is no longer believed.  It’s certainly not glamorous to see friends and family saddled with an oxygen tank wherever they go or die of a lung-related disease.

The only “action” required to quit is simply to throw away your cigarettes and don’t buy anymore. Simple, but true.  Going cold turkey works.  As author Edith Zittler says, “The best way to stop smoking is just to stop – no ifs, ands or butts.”

© 2018 Melodee Currier

Melodee Currier left corporate America in 2008 where she was an intellectual
property paralegal.  Since then she has devoted her time to writing and has
had numerous articles published on a wide variety of topics.   Her articles
can be read on her website www.melodeecurrier.com. Mel is an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told.

 

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