There’s Something Special About the First One

By Patricia LaPointe

Photo courtesy of Robert Linder (@rwlinder)

Graham was born on May 5, 1998. I spent most of his first months helping his Mom adjust to motherhood. Although I have so many memories of holding him, rocking and feeding him, there was one event that I really treasure. I was changing his diaper and singing the ABC song to him when he babbled “boogs”. This became his nickname then and remains so today. In respect for his age, however, I sometimes refer to him as “Mr. Boogs”.

As he grew, we spent many delightful times taking long, long, long walks. And thanks to Boogs and our walks, I dropped a bunch of weight.

Boogs’ favorite toys were his Thomas Trains. When he was nearly two years old, he’d ride in his stroller the two miles to the next town where there was a store that sold the Thomas Trains. As we entered the store, I’d tell Boogs that he could pick out two trains. He’d stand in front of the shelves picking up one train car and then another when he’d then see other cars or accessories that interested him. Before long he’d be holding four or five Thomas items in his little hands. I’d ask him which two he wanted. His response, those beautiful blue eyes, first looking at the items and then up at me, always had the same result. Of course, Grandma, or Gamma as I was called at that age, would walk up to the cashier carrying five Thomas items.

Boogs was a really smart kid and a devout follower of the PBS children shows. So, I wasn’t surprised whenever we were out for a walk and approached a corner with a stop sign, he’d instruct me to stop the stroller: “Stop, Gamma, stop.”

He was also a very observant child. Whenever we passed a house displaying an American flag, he’d jump up and down in the stroller and shriek: “Gamma! The fags are fapping!”

On these walks we always had our drinks: my coffee and his juice in a sippy cup. We’d take a break to sip our drinks and when we finished, he’d say “Re-fretching” His Papa and I still say it after taking sips of “refreshing” beverages.

There was one fast food restaurant that Boogs really liked. It had hot dogs, burgers and Italian food. Boggs’ order was always the same: “doodles” and “meballs.” Papa, or Bapa as he was called back then, would always order pasta, bread and olive oil/parmesan for dipping. On one occasion, Bapa put the oil/parmesan dip a bit too close to Boogs. Being a curious child, he reached over to get a better look at the concoction and in doing so spilled the entire dish all over his powder blue outfit. I immediately grabbed him and headed to the restroom. I soon found out that oil and parmesan do not rinse off very well. It was a very hot August day and the scent of parmesan heating up filled our entire car on the ride home.

Eight more grandchildren have entered my life, and I have wonderful memories of my time with each of them. But my Thomas Train, “refretching”, parmesan-coated Boogs holds a very special place in my heart. When he was leaving for college a few years ago, I didn’t see the 6’1” young man, duffle bag in hand, walking away. I saw the little Boogs, holding the trains and I just wanted to say “stop”.

©  2022 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, creator of Share Your Voice, an online interactive community for all women. She is editor of the anthology; The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she has conducted writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely in anthologies, literary journals and on @patromitolapointe. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2022.

Posted in Guest writer | 3 Comments

I Meet a Masked Man on a Bus and We Attend a Museum Movie

By Nancy Levinson

Los Angeles transit photo by Nancy Levinson

I am sitting on a front seat reserved for the elderly trying to catch a read of a few paragraphs at the red lights. At Wilshire and Greenley a man boards, and although he’s not elderly, sits across from me and right away asks, “What are you reading?” He has pleasant brown eyes crinkling at the edges as he smiles beneath his mask and doesn’t appear to be an unfortunate down-and-out fellow like some who ride the LA bus.

So I hold up the cover, smiling beneath my mask because it happens to be a high-falutin,’ impressive-looking book (and challenging) by a fine poet and writer, Kevin Stein, “Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age.” 

Up rise the eyebrows of the man. “I just finished reading Hamnet, an ambitious Shakespearean historical fiction,” he dives into an adjacent topic. “Have you read it?” “I have and loved it,” I share.  We two gregarious, loquacious ones dip into literary talk, but only for a mile plus, as coincidentally we both reach for the stop-request-cord to exit at Santa Monica Blvd.

At the corner we exchange destinations. Mine across the street for an ophthalmology appointment.  His to meet Barbara Rush at Whole Foods. Do I know her, he wonders. “Of course, a lovely movie star of yesteryear,” I reply. It turns out that Hank, his name as he has told me, has known her since his days working as a Hollywood agent, and now in her nineties she is just as lovely as ever.

“Hey,” his eyes light up. “It happens that tonight we’re going to a Hammer Museum showing of an old TV production, CBS Playhouse 90. Barbara starred in it with a slew of other well-knowns in the cast. Come join us. Tickets are free.”

At home I google Hank. He is sixteen years younger than I, and way younger than Barbara, who is in her mid-nineties.  Hank seems to be a solo guy who befriends older women, no doubt among any number of other people who appear interesting to him. 

Barbara is not able to make it, as it turns out, but Hank and I enter the museum’s Billy Wilder Theater, and he sits in the Billy Wilder ‘memorial seat,’ so marked on a small bronze plaque, then mentions that Wilder once kindly helped him write a movie script.

The film opens on the large screen, presented exactly as it was shown on TV in 1960, program sponsors, station identification and all. “Alas, Babylon,” is the title, purportedly adapted from a book somewhat as a civil defense guide. In a small Florida town life is fine for a bevy of characters until a massive nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Mushroom clouds everywhere.  We witness destruction, death, radiation burns, blindness, violence, starvation. . . all the aftermath horror that the United States of America hopes to prevent in reality.

The tense drama (dated as it is) is broken by a sponsor, Camel Cigarettes. Hank and I totally remember that spokes/ad man, James Daley, who narrates. An esteemed pilot lands his plane, and upon stepping onto the field, the first thing he does is light up . . . ah that good taste. “Are you smoking more and enjoying it less?”  We film goers peppered throughout the theater laugh, an OMG laugh. Really? Then Hank whispers that Daley was the father of Tyne Daley, the TV actress.  Hank is a font of inside Hollywood industry asides.

He walks me the few blocks back to my apartment, as we talk further about the production (it was broadcast live!) and the current national and world scenes . . . imminent dangers and threats we live with right now.

What a super evening! I smile beneath my mask and thank him ever so much.  As he turns to leave he simply suggests meeting for another show or a new art exhibit one of these days, and we exchange phone numbers.

I have not related this day’s story to anyone yet. Imagine the dropped jaws when I tell my sons and friends that I spent an evening with a man I’d just met on a city bus.

© 2022 Nancy Smiler Levinson

Nancy is the author of MOMENTS OF DAWN:  A Poetic Memoir of Love & Family, Affliction & Affirmation, as well as work that has appeared in Poetica, Voice of Eve, Panoplyzine, Rat’s Ass Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Constellations, Jewish Literary Journal, Sledgehammer, and elsewhere.  In past chapters of her life, she published thirty books for young readers.

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It’s Mardi Gras–that means it’s time to “Throw me somethin’, Mister!”

It’s Mardi Gras and the parades are back in New Orleans. What’s that got to do with “True Stories, Well Told”? It means my tradition continues. I mark this season by inviting readers like you to “Throw me somethin’, Mister.” But it’s not plastic trinket “throws” I want–it’s your stories, true and well told.

Here is a link to the New Orleans parade cams. Have yourself some virtual fun!

Image wantonly grabbed from

In other news….

Who’s up for some creative writing? In a real, live, in-person workshop?

I’m teaching Creative Writing, presented by Madison College, starting March 22. We’ll meet for 8 weeks on Tuesday mornings, 9:30-11:30, on the MATC Truax campus in Protective Services Rm 220.

Class Description: Beginning or advanced writers explore the possibilities of writing for fun and publication by practicing specific writing skills that enhance descriptive language usage, story telling, and exposition, including styles, grammar usage, and imagery. The format is primarily aural, meaning you mostly won’t turn in written assignments but you will read your writing aloud for feedback in real time.

What I love about this class in particular #1: This is the only class I teach where fiction is permitted. For the first four weeks I ask people to stay close to the truth; “write what you know.” It’s really interesting to see how those intent on writing Fantasy or Sci-Fi find a way to bring that into “what they know.” Aliens in the classroom, anyone?

What I love about this class in particular #2: I do review written submissions from students at two points in the class, up to 1500 words. Since I don’t often offer draft reviews as part of my workshops, this is an intriguing change of pace for me, and an opportunity for students to receive more detailed feedback than they get in class.

To register: The fee is $156.50. Call 608.258.2301, choose option 2 and ask for Class #60801121, or click this link to register online.

I’d love to see some of you in class. It appears we’ll be able to be in person, masks off, smiles on!

Posted in Call for action, writing workshop | Leave a comment

John Lewis Lights Our Way

By Jeremiah Cahill

Currently, there’s a bill in the United States Senate, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This proposed legislation would restore parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the United States Supreme Court a few years ago.

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President Barack Obama makes remarks during the Medal of Freedom award ceremony in the East Room of the White House Feb. 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

I wish our U.S. senators had the strength and good sense to pass this legislation. John Lewis, of all people, deserves to be honored by protecting the right to vote.

Many of you know the outlines of his life as a civil rights pioneer. Not only did he famously have his skull fractured by an Alabama state trooper’s club at the bridge outside Selma. He had been in most major civil rights actions in the years leading up to the transformative Voting Rights Act. Lunchroom sit-ins in Nashville. Freedom Rides on interstate busses across the South. Enduring almost unimaginable beatings, jail time, and other indignities.

Judy Woodruff, the host of the PBS Newshour, described Lewis shortly after his death in July 2020:

“I first interviewed John Lewis in 1971 in Atlanta when he was director of the Voter Education Project. He was in his early 30s but was already a hero of the civil rights movement. I remember being struck by the contrast between his burning determination to make a difference, and that polite, soft-spoken demeanor.”

Her recollections are amplified by one of Lewis’ fellow participants in the 1960s Freedom Rides, recounting the ever-present threats of violence and death as they protested segregated travel:

“John Lewis simply did not posture. He made his decision, he chose his course, he accepted the consequences because he had decided on a greater purpose for his life. That was his great strength. It was impossible to separate religion from politics in his philosophy. If they (the Freedom Riders) did not accept the idea of death, then they could not move ahead.” (From David Halberstam, The Children)

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Mississippi, 1961 “Even though I was under arrest, I smiled because I believed we were on the right side of history.” Image: public domain

Recalling John Lewis takes me back to an early 1980s encounter in Wisconsin. I was invited to a presentation from the newly chartered National Cooperative Bank. The event was held on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, with about a hundred people attending. The keynote speaker would be the woman who was then Co-op Bank president. With her was John Lewis, serving as the bank’s community affairs director before being elected to Congress in 1986.

I entered the Memorial Union that morning as a crowd was gathering, getting coffee and sweet rolls, and socializing prior to the morning program. We were a lily-White mid-west co-op crowd—professionals, comfortable with each other, chatting and renewing contacts. There was only one Black person in the room—standing alone. I’d seen John Lewis’s name in the promotional materials and quickly recognized him.

I wasn’t about to waste that moment. I walked over, introduced myself, and said something along the lines of “I know your name from the civil rights movement, Mr. Lewis. I was in Selma just a few weeks after your trouble on the bridge.”

Talk about an instant connection! His face lit up with a smile, and we were joined in conversation.

After so many years, I can’t remember exactly what we talked about. Probably reflections on Alabama and the importance of those direct actions. He was warm and gracious—clearly pleased that the two of us had met over coffee. But time was short, and soon we were called to begin the program. We shook hands, voiced our mutual appreciation, and said goodbye.

Perhaps John was conducting a workshop later in the day, but I didn’t see him again. I was simply left with a memory that, over the years, has caused me to appreciate him more fully.

John Lewis was devoted to the principles of justice and equality. He was a clear-eyed practitioner of nonviolence—a man who put love into action. He saw in everyone the potential for growth, for change, and for redemption.

One such example involves a former Ku Klux Klan member who attacked the Freedom Riders at a South Carolina bus station in 1961. Lewis and another rider were seriously beaten. Late in his life, Elwin Wilson, the former Klansman, sought out his victim—the man he had bloodied—in order to seek his forgiveness. He discovered that man was Georgia Congressman John Lewis. Wilson traveled to Washington, met with Lewis, and apologized for his actions. Lewis welcomed him, heard him out, and without hesitation forgave him. The two men became friends and later made appearances together.

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John Lewis and Elwin Wilson share 2009 Common Ground Award
Image courtesy of Search for Common Ground,

The stunning Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary special with Oprah Winfrey includes a four-minute interview with Lewis and Wilson, (18 minutes into the show.)

Again, Judy Woodruff says it best. “John Lewis defined what it meant to be courageous, and was truly one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.”

His legacy endures as a beacon, lighting the way forward. For activists or citizens simply yearning for a stable, democratic nation, his love and determination live on.

John, thanks for those few minutes we shared. You’re with me all the way!

© 2022 Jeremiah Cahill

Jeremiah Cahill, Madison Wisconsin, recalls “I was 18 when I wandered into the civil rights movement in 1965, assisting in small ways in Selma, Montgomery and, Camden, Alabama. My experiences there changed me and helped shape the rest of my life.”

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Follow the Naked Guy (Part 3 of 3)

By Joshua Feyen

Click here to read the first two posts in this three-part story.

I stopped to ask Jay about his time in the Hotel. We walked for a while in silence, and then he shared how frustrated he was with himself and with the evening. He had decided not to follow the crowds, and instead to see what he could discover on his own. This resulted in missing many of the performances and not experiencing as much of the Hotel as I had.

For several years following this immersive event, I was as haunted by Jay’s disappointment as I was by the surreal Hotel and its performers. I considered adding “Sleep No More” to one of our subsequent trips to New York, but I was apprehensive that a second visit might disappoint Jay again, or be too familiar to me to be of interest.

Despite these hesitations, four years later, I suggested that we visit “Sleep No More” again and Jay agreed, saying “I’d like to get back on that horse.”

We were again separated at the elevator, and I revisited familiar rooms, had a few new interactions, and came upon the witches’ scene from a different hallway. But this time, I didn’t need to pursue Macbeth; I knew what happened next, and hoped that someone else would follow the naked guy, decipher his gestures, and help him dress. As the performance wound down, some doors shut while new doors opened, directing the wandering audience toward the finale below.

Jay and I found one another right away, more than 20 minutes before the conclusion. This gave us time to explore the banquet scene together. We found a hidden staircase to the balcony and watched the finale from above. The lights brightened and we left the Hotel silently.

I remained quiet to give Jay space to tell me about this second experience. He was glad we returned, and this time decided to follow performers when he came across them. He enjoyed watching the dancers, and discovered new scenes. “I found a room with a billiard table, a bar, and some stuff on the floor,” he told me. “They danced a tango.” He also had two interactions with performers; one gave him a small ring. And he was happy that we explored the final scene and balcony together, a location neither of us had visited previously.

Thanks to having returned, I confirmed that indeed fortune favors the bold. And even though I didn’t follow the naked guy on my second visit, I take that attitude when it comes to making choices outside the Hotel. Since our first time experiencing “Sleep No More,” I started and didn’t give up on a master’s degree while working full time. I published a book that I had been working on for 35 years. And I started a new project; this story is one of 50 I hope to write during my 50th year. While each of these goals involved challenges, frustrations, and long-range planning with uncertain outcomes, the journey and the results have all been worth following the naked guy.

Read about the play “Sleep No More” on Wikipedia.

© 2022 Josh Feyen

Josh Feyen was raised on a farm, went to college in Milwaukee, lived abroad for four years on three continents, and now finds himself with pandemic free time and stories to tell. In the middle of 2021, Josh set about writing 50 short memoir stories in his 50th year. Sharing this story with is an unexpected surprise; the main focus of Josh’s 50 in 50 writing journey is to share what he’s learned with his four teenage nieces and nephew. Josh lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and writes from his COVID-converted attic studio.

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Follow the Naked Guy (Part 2 of 3)

By Joshua Feyen

Click here to read the first post in this three-part story.

I explored a couple more hotel rooms, rifled through a suitcase full of trinkets and more letters, climbed into a wardrobe and discovered it had a false back. I pushed it open and stepped into the apothecary. That’s where I first spotted someone without a mask. A woman danced by, pursued by a man. It was time to watch the dancers, so I joined the dozen guests trailing the couple. We stopped in a large room with a bare Edison bulb suspended over a billiard table. The walls were made of stacked cardboard boxes, intact, not flattened. The floor was covered with rubber shavings. At one end of the room, a second man without a mask tended bar. I pulled up a stool to watch the performance.

The couple danced a tango on the floor, the billiard table, the bar, and even on ledges protruding from the box walls. The music ended abruptly and the woman hurried out. Her companion walked to the far end of the room, lifted the flap of a cardboard box, and disappeared into a hole in the wall. I turned to the bartender who was engaged with one of the guests. He pushed a glass of brown liquid toward the woman, she pushed it back to the bartender. He pushed it toward me, I picked it up and drank it. It was scotch, which surprised me but didn’t disappoint. I set the glass down and returned it to the bartender. He refilled the glass and pushed it back my way. I drank the second glass, this time merely colored water. The bartender put the glass away, locked up the bottle, and walked out of the scene.

The waiting lounge in the McKittrick Hotel (Sleep No More), from

I followed him down a narrow flight of steps to a cavernous room. “Sleep No More” is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and I recognized this is when the three witches gave Macbeth advice. The room was dimly lit, the witches were macabre and they swayed around a steamy cauldron. The music picked up, strobe lights flashed and the witches danced frenetically. Macbeth removed his clothing, donned a taxidermied deer head with a huge rack and the witches painted him with something red. The room went black, then got very bright. The witches had disappeared but I spotted Macbeth running down a hallway.

At this point, I had to make a decision. I could stay and explore this room. I could track down the witches. Or, follow the naked guy.

And that’s when I made the most important decision of that day, that year, and what I like to think of as the rest of my life. I followed the naked guy, trailing bloody Macbeth down a narrow stairwell. We descended two flights, exited, and arrived at a small bathroom. Macbeth sat on the floor, the shower rinsing his naked body. The red paint washed onto the white tile floor and curled its way to the drain.

Macbeth turned off the water, and with his raised hand, pointed toward me. It took a moment to realize he wasn’t pointing at me, but rather at a towel hanging on the wall behind me. I handed it to him. He began to dry himself, at first sitting on the floor, then standing up. He pointed again past me and now sensing what to do, I handed him a pair of trousers, and then a shirt. He returned to the stairwell and I followed him to the basement.

The two-story room was large and surrounded on three sides by a balcony. The audience was watching Macbeth’s final scene. A banquet table was set on a dais, and many of the characters I had seen earlier were seated at or standing around the table. I found Jay just as the scene ended. The house lights came up, we collected our coats and phones, and re-entered the real world to walk to our hotel.

I excitedly related my experience in the McKittrick, sharing how I followed the “fortune favors the bold” advice and interacted with both the physical space and the dancers in it. Then I stopped, knowing my husband well enough to recognize that that while I was doing all the talking, there were other reasons he hadn’t yet said something.

Come back next week to read the final part.

Read about the theater experience “Sleep No More” on Wikipedia.

© 2022 Joshua Feyen

Josh Feyen was raised on a farm, went to college in Milwaukee, lived abroad for four years on three continents, and now finds himself with pandemic free time and stories to tell. In the middle of 2021, Josh set about writing 50 short memoir stories in his 50th year. Sharing this story with is an unexpected surprise; the main focus of Josh’s 50 in 50 writing journey is to share what he’s learned with his four teenage nieces and nephew. Josh lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and writes from his COVID-converted attic studio.

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Follow the Naked Guy (Part 1 of 3)

By Joshua Feyen

We arrived at 7:30 p.m. for our 8 o’clock entry, and shivered in line for 20 minutes on a dark and wintry New York City side street in Chelsea. The line moved, and we were grateful to enter the warm lobby. The bellhop showed us where to hang our winter coats, and how to stow our phones for the next three hours. The receptionist checked us in, handed each of us a playing card, the two of hearts to me and the three of diamonds to my husband Jay. “These are your room keys,” he said, “Enjoy your stay.” We proceeded down a hall lit by dim electric wall candles and arrived in a 1920’s style cocktail lounge. A woman welcomed us, saying “Hold onto your cards, get yourself a drink, and I will call you shortly.”

Jay and I take an annual trip to New York City to attend a conference, and we make time before or after to do something fun. On this January night, we visited the McKittrick Hotel. In one corner of the lounge, a three-piece jazz band played quietly. The bartender wore a thin mustache, a white shirt with black sleeve bands, and looked like he only served martinis in fragile glasses. To his chagrin, we ordered two sparkling waters and sat with a view of the trio.

Within 10 minutes the woman asked that guests with room keys 2 through 10 follow her. Six people met her at an elegant elevator door. Our hostess handed each of us a white plastic mask, asked us to put it on, and then delivered a brief set of instructions.

“From this point forward you are not to talk. You are not to remove your mask. And do not touch the performers. If you get lost, need some help, or simply want to get some air, find someone who is not wearing a mask. These are your hosts who can return you to the lounge. You may re-enter the Hotel whenever you want.”

We boarded the elevator and our hostess selected the fourth-floor button. When the door opened, she silently nodded to me to step out. Jay started to follow, but sensing that we were together, she stopped him, indicating that someone else should disembark instead. As the elevator door closed, she whispered a final bit of advice, “Fortune favors the bold.”

The other person disappeared into the darker reaches of the room, and I was left to explore the scene before me and ponder those final words. “Fortune favors the bold,” I said to myself as I entered a grove of leafless trees planted in the wood floor. Except for the three instructions, there were no further rules. I touched the trees, I ran my hands along the walls looking for hidden places, I sat down on a bench.

“Fortune favors the bold,” I repeated. I came across a tub full of reddish water. Wet footprints lead away from it; someone had just taken a bath. I picked a piece of paper off the floor. It was a correspondence scribbled in small handwriting but was difficult to read in the dim light, so I moved along.

This is how I started my three-hour exploration of the five floors of the McKittrick Hotel, a vast warehouse decked out like that 1920s hotel lounge, the leafless grove, this bloody bathroom, a taxidermy shop, an antique apothecary, and many other exotic scenes. This was “Sleep No More,” and as fascinating as the scenes were to explore, this was also an interpretive dance performance and I had yet to see a cast member other than the woman on the elevator.

Come back next week to read the next part of Josh’s story.

Read about the play “Sleep No More” on Wikipedia.

© 2022 Josh Feyen

Josh Feyen was raised on a farm, went to college in Milwaukee, lived abroad for four years on three continents, and now finds himself with pandemic free time and stories to tell. In the middle of 2021, Josh set about writing 50 short memoir stories in his 50th year. Sharing this story with is an unexpected surprise; the main focus of Josh’s 50 in 50 writing journey is to share what he’s learned with his four teenage nieces and nephew. Josh lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and writes from his COVID-converted attic studio.

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The Center of our Universe

By Suzy Beal

We went to the kitchen with our cuts, our slivered fingers, our bruised knees, and our tears. Our first-aid station dominated by Mom as she administrated iodine, bandages, and a soft word. We found solace, pain relief, and sometimes a treat. She settled quarrels with precise fairness. Even though we might not agree with the result, we held to the fact that she was right. Her discipline ranged from spankings with a switch to having to do chores, or the one we hated the most, missing a favorite dessert.

A warm moist kitchen meant bread about to come out of the oven, or perhaps mom’s cinnamon rolls. In the winter months during the school year, bread awaited us as we got off the school bus. Butter dripping down to our elbows, we hardly savored the taste, so intent on getting our share. There were seven of us and we each had an uncanny ability to sense when someone else was getting a bit more bread, more pudding, more pancakes, more attention, more…more…

The counter top in the kitchen, where we sat lined up as in a café, became the center for our homework problems. Math, spelling, diagraming sentences, preparing, and memorizing for tests all took place with mom on the other side of the counter, her sewing or her newspaper in her hands, while she answered our questions or listened to us read.

We waded into the mudflats and returned home to the kitchen to show off our bounty of sand shrimp we would use for fish bait. We picked huckleberries until our hands and lips turned purple and took the berries to the kitchen, hoping for pies.

In the kitchen, we felt secure. A place where our problems melted away and our hunger sated.

In today’s world, while we battle the Covid pandemic and more people are eating at home because the restaurants are closed, I’m hoping we will return to a time when our kitchens become the centers of our universe, once again.

© 2022 Suzy Beal

Writer and budding poet Suzy Beal spent twenty-five years helping seniors put their stories to paper and this year just finished her own memoir. Suzy’s work has appeared on, including a serialized portion of her travel memoir. She writes personal essays and is currently studying poetry.  Her work has appeared on Story Circle Network, 101words, Central Oregon Writer’s Guild, and recently an essay in  Placed: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon. She lives and writes from Bend, Oregon.

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Guided Autobiography: The Magic of Small-Group Reminiscence Writing

By Sarah White

In 2004, I was deep into pivoting my work (and life) from being a freelance business writer toward personal history work. I tried out several methods for helping people capture, preserve, and share their life stories. Oral history-style interviewing was one method, where my clients reminisced and I did the work of writing in their words and preparing what we wrote for distribution to family and friends. The other method I tried was Guided Autobiography—small-group workshops using a curriculum developed by pioneering gerontologist Dr. James Birren.

Fifteen years later, I blogged here about how offering my first Guided Autobiography workshop (we call it “GAB”) led to developing my own Remember to Write curriculum, with more focus on writing craft, and how eventually I felt pulled back toward Birren’s approach.

In 2020 I brought the idea of teaching GAB to Madison College. I completed my first GAB workshop for the college. A small group met using Webex for ten weeks of writing prompts on different themes common to life experience. In weekly 2-hour sessions, participants read and shared their writing. There was some instructor-led discussion, but the beating heart of GAB is the stories—hearing others’ truths and bearing witness to your own.

The magic of GAB is that you will do more than start writing down your memories—you will gain insights into how the events of your life have contributed to the person you are today—and may become tomorrow. Research has shown that this workshop method decreases anxiety and isolation, and increases self-esteem and social connection. Who couldn’t use a little of that as we face down our third year of COVID19?

I have a new GAB workshop starting next Wednesday through Madison College. A few seats are available. Find more information and how to register on the Madison College website here.

In 2015 I learned that there was a community of Guided Autobiography Instructors and a certifying body—the Birren Center for Autobiographical Studies. I have found a collegial home among the GAB Instructors, and have given back to it by offering marketing workshops for GAB Instructors, drawing on my past career in marketing.

Onward includes an essay I wrote about my COVID19 experience, first published here on True Stories Well Told.

Now that community has something to celebrate: the first collection of reminiscence essays written BY GAB Instructors, Onward! True Life Stories of Challenges, Choices, & Change. “The book started as a challenge posed to our global community of memoir teachers–‘Tell us about a crossroads moment in your life,'” wrote editor Emma Fulenwider in her Introduction. “As you read these true stories of challenges, choices, and change, you will learn something about yourself, about humankind, and ways of being in our world,” wrote Cheryl Svensson, Director of the Birren Institute in her Foreword.

I encourage you to read this remarkable collection, written by people of deep soul and heart. Available on Amazon, but your local bookstore will be happy to order you a copy.

Posted in Book review, writing workshop | 1 Comment

Keep the Stories, Lose the Stuff?

By Sarah White

I went to Italy. I turned 65. I came back feeling my life didn’t fit as comfortably as it had. The urge for change had been sparked.

However, any change I could envision brought a chain of thoughts that all circled back to the same place: I need to declutter. To downsize. To take charge again of the stuff that has reduced the size of our living space, lining the walls like the soft detritus an animal lines her burrow with.

I am 65 and I want to deal with my stuff.

Would you like to join me for a virtual conversation about the stories around our stuff? Email me here.

I didn’t realize this would be a psychological process as much as a physical task. A 2020 article on Next Avenue interviewed David Ekerdt about his book, Downsizing: Confronting Our Possessions in Later Life. Ekerdt described downsizing as a complicated task with cognitive, emotional, and social aspects. I’d better buckle my seatbelt.

Ekerdt strongly advised that people do their downsizing while in the sixties. It’s the last age at which we will physically be up to the task. By our seventies, we’re too likely to have trouble with the crouching and kneeling, lifting and carrying, that the work entails.

Now I’m 65! I was already motivated to deal with my stuff when I read that the clock is ticking on my physical ability to do so. I’ve started, by moving a great deal of stuff to offsite storage, ostensibly to make room for a home office remodel but just as much, to force me to deal with it by adding a penalty if I don’t.

Watching the moving men removing bookcases and boxes, my life flashed by like a film running in reverse—whole epochs were excavated and carried out. My decade of promoting and leading reminiscence writing workshops, my decades as a business writer and graphic designer. Old work samples, job files, inspirational resource material—so much soft detritus that had lined my nest. There, it quietly whispered stories to me about my identity, my role in the world, my purpose. Now, in the storage cubicle, things mutter to each other, “what will she do when she gets to me?”

I will dispose of as much of it as I can, keep as little as possible, to travel lightly into my next epoch. And I will respect a psychologically-helpful strategy Ekerdt identified, which he termed safe passage: “With downsizing, people are intentionally trying to give their possessions a safe passage into the future to people who would value them and use them and respect them as they did.”  

That brought to mind how a yard sale I held in my thirties had temporarily shattered my identity. I hadn’t tried to give special items safe passage, just sold to any who would buy. I spent the rest of that summer hunting for my lost treasures at other neighborhood yard sales—and found a surprising number of them. I wasn’t ready to let go of certain parts of my identity that those items symbolized. This time, I will give stuff with value safe passage, if possible.

Asked how did downsizing, or a failure to downsize, relate to identity, Ekerdt responded, “Possessions are an extension of ourselves… And that’s why it takes a great amount of courage to surrender these things and decide you’re going to move forward.”

So, I’m asking: how do we muster that courage? And, being me, I will write about it. “Keep the stories, lose the stuff,” I tell myself. Would you like to join me in this work? I would happily convene a virtual discussion group around decluttering and downsizing. Send me an email if interested.

And meanwhile–here are some links that might get you thinking.

The Power of a Thing, Or, The Tea Cart Goes Away (previously published here on True Stories Well Told)

From my friend Linda Lenzke, who blogs at Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!, come two stories that address ‘stuff’:

The Ties That Bind –

 Moving Story II – 

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