Martie McNabb, “Heartist”: Holding Space for Story-Sharing and Listening

I’ve found a partial solution to how to blog while experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic-related form of writers’ block: I’m sharing resources offered by friends/colleagues who are finding their own ways to help “ordinary” people cope in such an extraordinary time.

Martie McNabb

In a world where meeting with others in person has become Russian Roulette, one of my friends from the world of personal historians is hosting virtual events that nourish the human heart—and helping others do so too.

Brooklyn (the Van)

Martie McNabb, formerly of Brooklyn, NY and now living part-time in rural Vermont and Brooklyn (the RV), has been dubbed a “Heartist” for her unique blend of creative pursuits. When we first met as members of the Association of Personal Historians, her work involved creating visual narratives from client’s photo, document, and memorabilia archives. Before long, she was developing her signature story-sharing events, dubbed Show & Tales. Now, she’s coaching others to use these events to build their community and drive new business opportunities.

“It’s like Antiques Roadshow meets The Moth,” Martie says of Show & Tales. What makes these events unique is that people bring a special photo or object and share its story for up to five minutes. The room fills with laughter, tears, and camaraderie, as people bond over recalling memories triggered by each “show-er.”

Martie originally launched Show & Tales after she attended some storytelling events, but found them restrictive. “I wondered, ‘Why no props, no objects? Why can’t things be shown and a story told about them?’” she said. Martie uses the term story-sharing, not story-telling to differentiate the Show & Tale ethos. “It’s nice to come to a space where the stories aren’t practiced.”

Martie chose a friend’s bar, the Branded Saloon, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, for her first event, creating a casual atmosphere where guests could relax, sit back, and listen. There’s no pressure to “deliver” or “perform” the story. “Look-ers”—the people who come just to look and listen—are just as welcome as “show-ers.” Both connect on a deep level, bearing witness to the meaning that resides in everyday objects (if you know their story).

She soon learned to focus each event on a pre-set theme, which brought out the common ground among participants’ experience. Themes also made finding event partner-sponsors easier. A natural fit for the theme “Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue” would be a wedding venue, photographer, or planner. Her vacation-themed events make partnering with the travel industry (which is looking for new opportunities these days) easy.

An in-person Show & Tales

Martie envisioned Show & Tales as a way to call attention to her work as a visual artist who “tells stories with other people’s stuff.” She thought it might help her build business, Memories Out of the Box. Then she realized the Show & Tales model could help other artists and legacy professionals (what I call “memory savers”) build their businesses, as well.

She shared the event model with members of the Association of Personal Historians, which offered its members a “grab and go” kit with everything a host needed to organize an event, such as how to select venues, attract attendees, and approach partner-sponsors. “Then I got people reaching out to me, wanting to know how to get people to the events,” Martie said, and that led to the growth of her Show & Tales brand.

“My original model when I decided to start a separate business for Show & Tales was Paint Nite,” Martie said, who admired the way that company gave artists an additional income stream and brand-building opportunity with very little investment required. She prepared to launch Show & Tales nationally with a similar licensing model, but pivoted to a membership model earlier this year. Members who join the Show & Tales community receive access to all marketing collateral, branded merchandise, training to learn how to host their own events and grow their business, and opportunities to collaborate with her on retreats, reunions, and corporate events.

Since its start almost ten years ago, Martie has hosted over 130 Show & Tales in person. When the COVID19 pandemic put in-person events on hold, she moved her events online. Reservations are necessary to receive the log-in link. A donation is suggested, but not required.

An online Show & Tales hosted over Zoom, from inside Brooklyn (the RV).

“Show & Tales is one of the major ways I can be of service” during the pandemic, Martie said. Show & Tales offer a meaningful way to connect with each other, countering isolation and loneliness. The events bring together people from different backgrounds who might not otherwise meet. Superficial differences disappear as stories showcase our shared humanity.

I hope I’ve made you want to attend a Show & Tales event yourself! Find Martie’s schedule of upcoming virtual meetings at her website, ShowandTales.com.

© Martie McNabb and Sarah White

Posted in Commentary, Guest writer | 1 Comment

I have these workshops starting in July–all online!

Wherever you are, you are welcome in my virtual classroom for 2 workshops starting in July. Originally planned for in-classroom, these two workshops have moved online and are open to anybody, anywhere.

WRITE YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

3-week workshop offered by the Fitchburg Public Library

Be the ancestor you wish you had! Learn to create lively, richly detailed stories for future generations to enjoy. In this workshop for beginning writers, we explore how to write and share stories that reveal your family’s formative experiences, values, and life lessons. We will spend three sessions discussing how to find the stories worth telling; how to convey the essence of people, places and events; and how to share your work with others! For each class meeting, students write a few pages. Each class meeting includes time to share writing in a supportive environment.

  • When: Thursdays 10:30-12:30 (central) on July 9, 16, and 23
  • Where: via Zoom.
  • How much: Free
  • To register: Send email to: library.reference@fitchburgwi.gov

WRITE YOUR TRAVEL MEMOIR

6-week workshop offered through Madison College

At a time when we cannot travel or even make plans, memories of past travel can be a lovely escape. The trip of a lifetime can also be the story of a lifetime. Turn your photos and travel experiences into a compelling essay that can be your best souvenir! In this workshop, explore what to write about, why, and who to write for. Bring your story to life with vivid characters, settings, focus, and drama, and find the personal meaning in your travel memories. Whether you’re new to writing or a working writer, you’ll learn skills that you can apply in writing a piece of work for publication, for blogging, or memorializing your experience to share with friends and family.

I hope you’ll join me in the virtual classroom in July!

  • Sarah White
Posted in writing workshop | Leave a comment

Janelle Hardy: Connecting body, mind, and spirit through life story work

I’ve found a partial solution to how to blog while experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic-related form of writers’ block: I’m sharing resources offered by friends/colleagues who are finding their own ways to help “ordinary” people cope in such an extraordinary time.

Janelle Hardy, life story practitioner (and more)

What’s a bodyworker/workshop leader doing to be helpful during this time of pandemic? That’s the question I asked Janelle Hardy, creator and teacher of an online transformational memoir-writing course called The Art of Personal Mythmaking. Her process uses body-based trauma-informed writing prompts, fairytales, and themed modules to support creative folks who are interested in healing from their lifestories as they write their memoirs. Born and raised in Canada’s Yukon, she now lives in British Columbia.

Asked what she is seeing in this time of pandemic complicated by justified anger at systemic racism, Janelle says, “A lot more people are enrolling in my classes. The change I’m seeing is that people are taking the leap with more ease—which is not what I expected, but makes sense in times of crisis. Folks are really wanting to learn and grow, and receive support. Rather than retreating, it seems to push them to say ‘I will do this for myself.’ It’s great for me, and for them.” (Find more information on the workshops at the end of this post.) A new workshop starts in in Autumn of 2020.

Janelle worked as a trauma-informed bodyworker for more than a decade, and has been a working artist (writing, painting + dance) for even longer. Throughout that time she’s taught adults out of her living room, arts centers, universities and community colleges.

“I bring a lot of body-based nervous-system-regulating techniques into the process of life story work, because I’ve found that it is really common for people to confess to me that they’ve wanted to write down their life story for over twenty years—but haven’t started.” Janelle told me.

“A lot of times it’s a fear of not knowing if they will be able to handle the difficult parts. And there are other fears—am I a good enough writer? Is my life interesting enough? Although I’m not a coach, I do a lot of coaching around resistance, self-doubt, procrastination, and overwhelm—those are, in my experience, related to a need for healing. The more I direct people toward nervous system re-regulation, the more the resistance seems to melt.”

I asked Janelle how she came to connect bodywork to life story.  “In North America, we are socialized to stay stuck in our heads. I’ve always been an artist, and I studied anthropology. Mind, body, and spirit are connected, which again, is something, we’re socialized to not understand.”

Through her work as a Structural Integration practitioner (Rolfing), Janelle learned that releases in the body were accompanied by an emotional release that brought out stories, feelings, and memories. “It’s not possible to separate that. I got interested in integrating creative writing with body-based awareness and healing.”

Janelle connects life story to personal mythmaking, saying, “We have more agency to reclaim our stories than we think. There’s a lot of power in examining our stories, first for ourselves, secondly for our loved ones as a legacy. I make it fun by bringing myth and fairytale into the process.”

Janelle’s interest took her deep into how we make meaning out of our lives, connecting individual life experiences, family culture, and social history. She pointed out that in North America, because of our colonial imperialistic history, many people know very little about their past, having lost knowledge of their ancestries, languages, cultures and lands of origin. “Reclaiming that is essential to understanding ourselves as well.”

We talked a bit more about the impact of racist colonial processes on minds and bodies, and then our conversation came around to what Janelle is doing to be helpful in the time of COVID.

Janelle’s workshop business model centers on her course,  The Art of Personal Mythmakingwhich she teaches as a live online workshop offered twice a year. The next cohort of students will begin in Autumn of 2020. The 5-month course involves a supportive weekly class and interaction with “creative, caring classmates,” according to Janelle’s website. The fee is $2100, or $215 in 10 payments, but there are early bird rates when you sign up for her newsletter. Find more here.

Janelle offers a free introductory workshop, Outline Your Memoiron demand. It consists of a recorded 2-hour video plus downloadable prompts and chat support. Access it here.

Janelle also occasionally offers a DIY Marketing workshop geared for creatives and what she delightfully terms “sensitive solopreneurs.” The course offers tips on marketing, especially online—crucial at this time—and access to a comprehensive resource library.

“I created it for people like me—healers or teachers—big-hearted people who are not thriving in their practices. It’s knowledge that’s hard to find, so it’s the course I needed when I was getting started,” Janelle said. During the pandemic, she is offering the workshop at “super-accessible pricing” and a sliding scale. Find more information on the workshop here.

“If you’re curious about my work—try the free outlining workshop,” Janelle suggests. Whether you’re interested in writing your own story or building a business helping others save their memories, Janelle has a unique approach worth checking out.

© Sarah White and Janelle Hardy

Posted in Guest writer, writing workshop | Tagged | Leave a comment

COVID19 has jailed our elders

May 15, 2020

On March 15, the assisted living facility where my mother lives went into lock-down to attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Visitation was immediately restricted to only those receiving end-of-life care. Group dining was suspended. So were all group activities.

I am a member of a cohort of daughters who are lifelines to the free world for our elders in care homes like this one. For nearly everyone, that lifeline was severed that day in March. My mother is enrolled in hospice, so I was still allowed in. What I see is taking its toll on me.

One of the things we Daughters do is decorate to mark the passing seasons. This is especially important in winter months when most residents stop going outside. Our displays provide reminders of the passing seasons for their daily strolls around the halls.

As the weeks–now months–since March 15 unfolded outside the institution, time stood still inside. The impact of all those daughter-visits gone missing gradually became visible. In mid-May, according to the displays, it was still St. Patrick’s Day.

Memos from the institution’s management advised of ongoing restrictions. We all knew, as the memos told us, that “in a long-term care setting, the potential for rapid spread can be extremely high and life-threatening.” TV news of nursing-home deaths made that clearer than any memo could.

Warmer days arrived, and residents began to be allowed outside to meet a family member or two in socially-distanced groups. Family members occasionally “chalk-bombed” the sidewalks, cheering on their elders and their caregivers.

May 27, 2020

Between the lines of the memos from management, you could read the increasing desperation. “We understand the challenges of staying in place. However, we each have responsibility to help stop the spread of the virus…. You understand that if you fail to follow the community’s rules and protocols, you are placing yourself, our residents and others in our community at higher risk. Avoid outings or limit outings outside the community to only essential outings, such as hospital or health care visits.”

I visit almost every day, grateful for my relative privilege due to the administrative exception for end-of-life. I try to bring a little joy in with me in any way I can… cookies for the staff, flowers for the front desk. My husband and I planted up a flower box outside.

5/23/20

Now, Summer Solstice is approaching. My heart cracks each time I walk past those St. Patrick’s Day displays. I want to see them sent to the Wisconsin Historical Society, to commemorate this pain.

There is so much I want to unsee–the Culver’s burger and milkshake consumed by mother and son on either side of a closed window. The front-desk clerk lumbering to her feet to unlock the door yet again, her desk job transmogrified into a concierge with life-and-death responsibilities. The staff wheeling the styrofoam boxed meals through the halls, which are gradually becoming stained with food-spills no one has time or energy to clean up.

This is an inhumane way to live, especially when you consider any month may be any resident’s last. It is unspeakable, and has stolen the words from my mouth.

But not from Beverly Blietz’s, who penned and read her essay for Outbreak Wisconsin, which I heard on WPR last week. Outbreak Wisconsin chronicles people’s journeys through the coronavirus crisis, exposes failing systems and explores solutions. Beverly speaks the truth about “independent living” in COVID times.

Listen to Beverly Blietz’s first audio diary, produced by Coburn Dukehart for WPR

© 2020 Sarah White

Posted in Sarah's memoir | Tagged | Leave a comment

No Words

By Sarah White

Lake Superior, around Ontonagon, Michigan, 46° N, 89° W.  Zero positive tests for COVID19. 100% positive energy. Wish you were here,

-Sarah

Posted in Sarah's memoir | Leave a comment

“Black Is the Body” by Emily Bernard

By Sarah White

Is there anything so satisfying to hold in one’s hands as a new hardcover book, purchased from a good independent bookstore found on a solo getaway, cracked open in the bookstore’s café? It’s like settling in for a conversation with a new friend. Oh, for the days when we could do that! Square Books in Oxford, MS is closed except by appointment during the COVID19 pandemic. Vacations and conversations are likewise in scarce supply.

On this morning, when for the second week our nation is wracked by grief and justified anger, reflecting on a book grounded in the boundary experiences between black and white lives feels both right and unapproachably difficult. But I’ll try.

 

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard is a collection of linked personal essays. Its author teaches English at the University of Vermont. She was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. Families, both current and of origin, comprise an important theme throughout the book.

Each essay  is anchored in the mystery of how hard it is to tell the whole truth, a mystery encountered by any individual who sets out to write true stories drawn from real life. Bernard is driven by her need to explore and understand her past experiences, the shade or light they throw on her life today and beyond.

“Each essay in this book was born in a struggle to find a language that would cpture the totality of my experience, as a woman, a black American, a teacher, writer, mother, wife, and daughter. I wanted to discover a new way of telling; I wanted to tell the truth about life as I have lived it… The only way I knew how to do this was by letting the blood flow, and following the trail of my own ambivalence,” Bernard writes. Elsewhere she moves her motivation from the personal to the larger community: “I meant to contribute something to American racial drama beyond black innocence and white guilt.”

The blood she refers to is both metaphorical and physical. The key experience that drove Bernard to attempt this essay collection—the “branching point” as I would describe it in my memoir writing workshops—is an incident in which Bernard was stabbed in the abdomen by a stranger in a random attack that sent her and six other people to hospitals. The first essay describes this attack and its aftermath. It occurred in August 1994. The lingering damage to her body echoes through the essays that follow.

All aspects of life are held up for examination in Black Is the Body: teaching African-American Autobiography to white college students (“The N-Word”), introducing her white Vermont fiancé to her  black extended family in Tennessee (“Interstates”), belonging in adoption (“Mother on Earth”).

The essay “Black Is the Body” investigates her young daughters’ growing awareness of race and racism in their adopted homeland. (They were born in Ethiopia.) Bernard gracefully handles writing about her children’s experience without attempting to speak for them. “My daughters will have their own stories, and the ones I tell in these pages may or may not describe them, or even interest them at all,” she writes.

Just as gracefully, Bernard handles writing about her Southern family. The essay “Going Home” muses on a summer spent in Hazlehurst, Mississippi with her grandmother, conducting research on her family history. “It was not an easy summer. My grandmother and I argued. One of the things we argued about was my approach to the project. The distant, anthropological lens I had adopted made her wary. She was suspicious. Why was I so eager to go to church, for instance?” The story that follows is one of my favorite in Bernard’s book, an example of both great writing and great self-reflection.

This essay collection is a delight, in both its thought-provoking content and the power of Bernard’s lyrical writing, from first word to last. The epilogue concludes:

But the beauty of the condition of blackness is that it is capacious enough to carry both despair and hope, rage and delight, ambivalence and fortitude, which are all as intertwined as my intestines and scar tissue, which seem driven to entangle themselves periodically, and form adhesions that serve as a regular reminder that the scar and the story are eternally connected. I am helpless to stop, just like the blood that courses through the interior of my black body.

 

This moment, when our nation is again wracked by grief and justified anger, calls us to move forward the project of understanding how our collective scars and stories are eternally connected. Let the anti-racism work begin: educating ourselves, making meaningful reparations, and centering voices of People of Color. Reading Bernard’s essays is a good way to engage with that work. 

© 2020 Sarah White

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book review | Leave a comment

A Fund for Women Responds to COVID19’s impact on Dane County’s Women and Girls

Readers of this blog will know that very occasionally, I mention a philanthropic organization I support, Madison’s A Fund for Women. this group support the women and girls of our community in reaching their full potential, through the vehicle of an endowment fund and annual grants from the proceeds. We are structured as a Giving Partner of the Madison Community Foundation (MCF), which means our fund is managed by their extremely capable financial managers. (I say “we” because I serve on AFFW’s Advisory Committee.)

Launched with just $100,000 in 1993 raised from Madison’s leading feminists, at the end of 2019 our fund passed the $3 million mark. That gave us a little over $100,000 to distribute in grants this year. But just as we were preparing to update our grant application process, the coronavirus pandemic came to town. I’m extremely proud of how quickly our Advisory Committee came together (virtually, of course) to prioritize getting money NOW to the local agencies serving the populations we we realized would be hardest hit.

Instead of a 6-month-long cycle of soliciting grant applications, reviewing, deciding, announcing decisions, and releasing funds to be used in the following year, we knew we needed to get that money to where it was needed NOW.

Here’s the press release.

MADISON, Wis., April 20, 2020 – A Fund for Women has taken immediate action to help women and girls faced with increasingly insecure access to shelter, food, and income due to COVID-19’s impact on Dane County. Over 25 years, thanks to the support of donors, the Fund has awarded meaningful grants focused on women’s economic empowerment. Now, to address our community’s urgent needs, the Advisory Committee has paused its 2020 grant-making cycle to make proactive emergency funds available to nonprofit organizations helping to meet the unique needs of underserved women and people who identify as women.

 “Our mission is now more important than ever,” said Jennifer Seeker Conroy, Chair of the Advisory Committee. “The impacts of this pandemic are exacerbated for women and girls. We want to get funding to the agencies on the frontlines of this crisis now. We’re also asking our donors to make a special gift if they are able to during this turbulent time to support women who need our help.”

Nonprofit organizations selected to receive funds include Latino Consortium for Action, DAIS, Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, and YWCA.

Karen Menendez Coller, Executive Director of Centro Hispano, said, “At a time of such need and anxiety for immigrants and undocumented workers in Dane County, these  funds will go a long way to help stabilize homes and in turn support women who are the backbone of our beautiful community. This contribution is more than support during a time of crisis–it provides encouragement and hope.” Centro Hispano is the  fiscal sponsor for the Latino Consortium  for Action.

Past AFFW grants have supported women’s access to education, job training, entrepreneurship, plus assistance in breaking cycles of poverty and abuse. For additional information about donations to support A Fund for Women’s emergency distributions, visit https://www.madisongives.org/affw.

# # #

Notice that last part. As a permanent endowment, A Fund for Women has grown over decades through gifts large and small from people who care about the wellbeing of women and girls. “When women and girls thrive, everybody wins,” is our core belief and call to action.

Please consider making a donation to A Fund For Women, either immediately to help get more funds to women at this time of crisis, or in your estate plan, where making a planned gift is an act with impact far into the future. Read about both ways of giving here.

I have included a planned gift in my will. I have made gifts semi-regularly to the endowment fund. I have given of my volunteer time. All because I believe heartily that  this is the most strategic way I can help my community. “When women and girls thrive, everybody wins.”

In this uncertain, troubling, crazy-making moment, when I can barely find words to write, it helped my heart immensely to join with trusted colleagues in figuring out how much and to whom our emergency relief funds could go.

Won’t you help us continue to help the most vulnerable among us?

– Sarah White

 

Posted in Call for action | Tagged | Leave a comment

“The Kid Kit: All you need to interview your grandparents” from Dawn Roode

I’ve found a partial solution to how to blog while experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic-related form of writers’ block: I’m sharing resources offered by friends/colleagues who are finding their own ways to help “ordinary” people cope in such an extraordinary time.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred Dawn Roode of Modern Heirloom Books to create several free and low-cost resources, available through her website. “People are valuing the connection more, when we’re disconnected from the world. Hopefully that will be a lasting impact from this experience.”

Particularly useful in these pandemic days might be The Kid Kit: All you need to interview your grandparentsa downloadable PDF booklet that Dawn created with the help of her 10-year-old. Designed for kids 8 years old and up, it offers activity suggestions ranging from cooking with grandparents to a photo scavenger hunt. “There’s something for every mood, from light to deep,” said Dawn. Conversations between generations might be just what’s needed to create some silver linings in these days of shelter-in-place and home-schooling.

Dawn, during an interview

Dawn was a lifestyle magazine editor for twenty+ years before discovering personal history work. She was inspired to explore saving family stories when her mother passed away unexpectedly. Dawn’s son was just three months old. “Being a storyteller was what I turned to, to help me cope,” Dawn said. “I wrote about my memories of her, going through photos, and over time, I made a book in her honor.”

Dawn realized how healing that process was. Friends expressed interest, and soon she began using her professional skill set in a new way. “My ideas evolved from primarily doing tribute books about people who had passed away to helping people to capture their stories before it was too late,” she said. “I was able to make it a much more personal process.”

Now, through her business Modern Heirloom Books, she produces coffee-table books that set her apart from competitors through a strong visual approach. “They’re meant to be opened to any page, rather than a chronological telling of someone’s life,” said Dawn.

An example of a Modern Heirloom book

Interior of a Modern Heirloom book

Dawn frequently uses photographs to prompt her clients to tell stories. “It creates a living heirloom, something that becomes a tool for continued storytelling among the family,” she said. “Once those first few stories are told, often the storyteller is surprised how much they have to say, and by how well received those stories are. Curiosity is sparked. People want to hear even more. That gives me great joy.”

Find these free resources on Dawn’s website:

The Kid Kit – Everything You Need to Interview Your Grandparents

56 Essential Questions to Ask Your Parents to Capture Their Personal History

More Free Resources, including additional lists of interview questions, memoir writing prompts, and one of Dawn’s favorites, How to Use Photographs as Prompts for Writing Life Stories, can be found in this toolkit on Dawn’s website.

 

© 2020 Sarah White and Dawn Roode

 

Posted in Call for action, Commentary, Guest writer | Tagged | 1 Comment

Loss and Love in the Time of Covid

This essay by my MFA colleague Esmeralda Cabal is republished with permission from Understorey Magazine, where it recently appeared. Understorey provides an accessible and aesthetically beautiful venue that illuminates the life experiences f writers and artists in Canada who identify as women or non-binary. 

By

Evenings of board games and laughter, intellectual discussions over dinner, days of drifting from reading to knitting to cooking elaborate meals and baking beautiful bread. Walks in the woods with my dog, the odd bike ride with my husband. Gardening in the sun. I had unrealistic expectations, perhaps, but this is what I dared imagine life in self-isolation might be, the four of us all together for the first time in years.

There have been elaborate meals—nettle risotto, roast leg of lamb, slow-roasted vegetables, homemade pasta. The bread has indeed been beautiful, thanks to the plethora of no-knead recipes out there now, and I’ve also made hot cross buns and nut loaves and cookies and yogurt. But discussions over dinner have often disintegrated into nit-picking and arguments, conflict over the Netflix account, and whose turn it is to walk the dog. Ah, the children are both home. Except they are no longer children.

I get it, life changed practically overnight for them, but also for us. The global pandemic caused us all to come to a pause and rethink our future in two-week blocks at a time.

Our daughter, at twenty-one, was in her last month of classes at university, about to graduate. The world was full of possibility. She had a few leads on jobs, a budding romance, and was looking forward to crossing the stage in cap and gown to collect her well-earned degree.

Our son, at twenty-five, was working and living with his girlfriend at a resort in the Rockies. It had been a cold winter and he was looking forward to spring skiing. They mapped out future adventures and dreamed dreams, their world full of possibility too.

And then, the new coronavirus we’d vaguely heard about became more prominent. It was proving to be more virulent than expected, more deadly than anticipated. The world reacted. We became familiar with terms like physical distancing, self-isolation, quarantine. Stores closed and we lined up for groceries, stocked up on hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes and toilet paper. The shortage of flour and yeast would come later.

There was the email from the president of the university—in-person classes were cancelled, graduation postponed indefinitely. Our daughter would finish her term, and write her exams, online. She and her friends lost their part-time jobs and, unable to pay rent, many returned home to different parts of Canada and the world. They didn’t have a chance to say good-bye in person. Some of them will likely never see each other again.

The budding romance came to an abrupt halt, the boy returning home to Ontario for the foreseeable future, our daughter staying in Vancouver with us. Now they talk and do crosswords and even workouts, all on Facetime. Love in the time of Covid.

The resort in the Rockies closed and staff were laid off. Our son’s girlfriend headed east, on a flight back to Ontario, to spend time with her parents. He drove west, to Vancouver, piled his stuff in our garage, and reclaimed his old bedroom. Their plans for another year or two of the wanderer lifestyle up in the air. Now they too are together but apart, connecting on Facetime. How to plan when he is here and she is there and everything, absolutely everything, is uncertain? Love in the time of Covid.

For my husband and me, life hasn’t changed that much. We are newly retired and had already learned to slow down and spend days together. We walk the dog, go on the odd bike ride, garden when the sun shines. Sometimes it feels like we will run out of things to talk about. Yesterday, we danced in the kitchen. Love in the time of Covid.

I love that our family is together again. And yet, I know it is not the adult children’s first choice. We are lucky and we know it—we are healthy, we eat well, and we have a comfortable home near the woods that makes self-isolation bearable, even pleasant. But we are getting cranky. It’s raining today and we are all inside. Whose turn is it to walk the dog?

© 2020 Esmeralda Cabral

Esmeralda Cabral was born in the Azores, Portugal and now lives, writes and cooks in Vancouver, Canada. She writes creative nonfiction and is a recent graduate of the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is currently writing her first book length manuscript – a memoir about returning to her home country with her Canadian-born family and her Portuguese water dog. Her work has been published in various anthologies, the Globe and Mail, and aired on CBC Radio. 

 

What is the story of your resilient moment? How are you facing this challenge and coming through?

See submission guidelines here–then send me your true RESILIENT story well told. Or hey, just a link to any resource that helps you refill and recharge.

Posted in Guest writer | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cobblestones

By Sarah White

 

You know how a phrase will barge its way into your life and become part of your permanent collection, of inside jokes? It was like that with the cobblestones.

In 1991 I was accepted into a Group Study Exchange program offered by Rotary International. With a Rotarian leader, I and five other “outstanding young professionals” would be sent to a Rotary club district, to spend five weeks visiting Rotary clubs. This year the exchange was with a district in central Italy. In each town we would have what they called ”vocational exchange opportunities” and present a slide show about our home district of Wisconsin.

On our team consisted of four women and one man. For our leader the Wisconsin Rotary district had chosen Bruce, a man of such distinctly odd character that I have spent nearly 30 years trying to describe him. Picture Humpty Dumpty crossed with Hoss Cartwright.

Bruce looked like a big hardboiled egg. Bruce sounded like a TV left on in the background. He smelled of suits that should have been dry-cleaned sooner. At 53 years old, there was a childlike helplessness to him that might have been endearing if he hadn’t been the authority figure of our group. In a word, he made us nervous.

Bruce had been a child prodigy (so he told us) but said little about his adult achievements. Born to wealth and married well, he’d been taken care of every day and in every way. As a result, he met the world with an excess of buoyant good humor.

That was Bruce. Who were the rest of us? Just five people in our early to mid 30s, chosen for our better-than-average knack for making a good first impression. We quickly bonded over the dilemma of how to get through five weeks led by Bruce.

We arrived in Rome in late April and spent three days being guided about by the first of many Rotarian hosts. Each day we walked miles with our guide pointing out the layers of history all around. Once back at our hotel, the guide would leave us and we would make forays to local restaurants for dinner.

By the third night, Bruce was limping badly.

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

“I bought new shoes just before the trip,” he said. We looked down—where we had been walking Rome’s streets in athletic shoes, he wore men’s leather lace-ups. Bruce reported that his feet were a mass of blisters.

“But don’t worry,” he added brightly. “I’ll be alright as soon as I get off these cobblestones.”

We were on Day 3 of a 35-day trip. We would not be off the cobblestones anytime soon. We whispered to each other about what kind of pampered son-of-a-bitch sets out on a month-long trip with his shoes not broken in.

The next day we boarded the Rotarians’ rented motor coach and headed north into Tuscany where our duties would begin. We would spend the next month touring factories and museums and ruins, followed by four-hour meals where we would quickly learn to make small talk in Italian with our tablemates. Bruce would remain preternaturally good-natured as the rest of us frayed into petty squabbles under the pressure to keep up the good first impressions.

When my husband came to meet me at the end of the Rotary tour, I told him about Bruce and the new shoes. “I’ll be alright as soon as I get off these cobblestones” entered our marital in-joke repertoire.

 

Everything eventually comes to an end, be it cobblestones or a bed of roses. I find that comforting, especially in these pandemic times.

We will be alright, as soon as we get off these cobblestones.

© 2020 Sarah White

What is the story of your resilient moment? How are you facing this challenge and coming through?

See submission guidelines here–then send me your true RESILIENT story well told. Or hey, just a link to any resource that helps you refill and recharge.

Posted in Sarah's memoir | Tagged , | Leave a comment