Don’t Tempt Me

By Faith Ellestad

Faith at 2 years old

Don’t tempt me.  You will be disappointed.  I think I am immune.

Well, there were little things, like eating a caterpillar, sneaking down to the neighborhood deli, drinking Ripple with my brother, but I’m just not a Type A. More like a Type L.  I resist the big stuff.  I’m scared or maybe rigid. Or righteous. Think of all the fun I missed, and all the angst.  There’s enough of that without adding guilt.

So much for the great secret romance, or that heist I never got around to planning.  Not gonna eat that second cupcake, either.  Don’t tempt me with your cigarettes.  I quit and I’m not going back.

I know it takes two to tango. Does it take two to tempt?  A tempter and a temptee? I suppose I could tempt myself, but then I would have only me to blame.  What would be the point of that?

Surely I must be more daring than I seem. Oh, I know, once I was smitten with a friend’s boyfriend, and agreed to a date with him. We had a great time and I was reveling in a flush of guilty triumph, as we returned to my dorm whereupon we ran into my friend just back from a date with my boyfriend. Buzz kill. What I thought was unique and daring escapade turned out to be a common occurrence among my dorm mates. Giving in to temptation worked out better for her, since she and my boyfriend got married, and her boyfriend and I broke up. Lesson learned there.  I just don’t do sneaky well.  And I feel overwhelming guilt.


How I wish I were relaxed and spontaneous.  How I wish I could make decisions on impulse, black or white, instead of agonizing over every shade of grey, even moving toward sepia, before coming to a conclusion.  I imagine my loved ones wish so, too.

Ann (holding Thomas) Mom, Faith, Coby and Grandma watching TV in 1954

As a child, I wanted to please everyone, which frequently put me in uncomfortable situations. Temptation was everywhere.  I wanted to go out and play red light green light with my friends, but I promised Grandma we would watch My Three Sons together.  Score one for Grandma. Jeannie and Mary asked me to play house with them, but Jimmy wanted to build with Lincoln logs and his mom made delicious lunches. Lunch won. If I didn’t tell my mom I threw up, she would let me go on the Girl Scout field trip to Chicago.  That was a tough one.  But I told.


Edging into adolescence, I became more and more cautious, and avoided doing anything that would make me stand out.  I actually asked if I could attend parties, sleep-overs were just sleep-overs, and the most daring drinking I did with my friends was putting aspirin in Coke because someone said it would make you giddy.

Nowadays, I waffle between buying one or two pairs of jeans, the 300 or 600 thread sheets, having toaster waffles with syrup or Crispix for breakfast. I’d really like to grab my spouse and take a free-wheeling trip out west, or up north, but that would mean blowing off a lot of pressing family obligations.  Oh, get thee behind me, Satan.

If I could replay my life, would I be a different actor?  Would I indulge in risky business, or become less rigid? More daring?  Could I separate the two?  I’m not sure. I am trapped in my own damn chrysalis. No sign of a butterfly breaking through any time soon.

© Faith Ellestad

Faith describes herself as a serial under-achiever, now retired after many years as a hospital scheduling specialist.  When her plan to cultivate a gardening hobby resulted only in hives, she decided to get real and explore her long-time interest in creative writing. She’s so happy she did. Faith and her husband live in Madison, WI . They have two grown sons of whom they are very proud, and a wonderful daughter-in-law.

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Frank Dreams Big

By Sarah White

In 1998 I began taking Italian conversation classes at the Italian Workingman’s Club on Regent Street, on Madison’s near-west side. In the class I met Frank. He lived not far from me on the east side, so I offered to drive us both to class. Thus began several years of weekly conversations with Frank (in English) as we came and went.

Facts about Frank’s life gradually came out during those drives. He was taking Italian in hopes of contacting relatives in Sicily. His parents had immigrated before he was born. He had never seen the Old Country or talked to his relatives there, but he had the address of a cousin. If he could master enough Italian to write a letter, he could reach out. If he got a response, he needed enough Italian to talk to his cousin on the phone. That was the goal.

Frank was a retired mail carrier. He liked to garden. Like a good Italian peasant, he had a big vegetable garden in the fenced side yard in addition to the well-tended peonies and irises out front. I observed that he had planted a circle of hostas around a nice little birch tree and placed two metal lawn chairs, the old fashioned kind, in front of his house.

Frank had a wife who was disabled; I never met or even saw her. One time he said she had some ailment that forced her to sleep sitting up in a chair. I wondered what that meant for their love life, but of course I never asked. He was a slight little guy, and I worried about whether he could manage whatever assistance she needed.

Frank began to talk about fixing up his basement to create a guest suite. He had an idea that if he was able to contact his cousin in Sicily, at some point relatives might want to visit him in the U.S.


And you know what? It all came to pass. Frank learned to converse in Italian. He reached out to his cousin, got a response, went to Sicily, and found an extended family of likeable people. A niece wanted to study in the U.S. He helped her apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she came to live in his basement suite for several years while she completed school. I like to think about the cheery new life that must have brought into Frank’s household.

By that time I had dropped the Italian class, after about four years. I learned about Frank’s progress with his master plan when I’d run into him at the neighborhood grocery store.

Eventually, I saw a for-sale sign in front of Frank’s house. Maybe his wife died and he chose to downsize. Or maybe they moved to assisted living. I like to think they moved to Sicily to rejoin his family; I don’t know and probably never will.

Every time I wonder if it’s worth having big dreams, I think of Frank.

© 2019 Sarah White

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Traveling with Strangers

By “WanderN Wayne” Hammerstrom

He was drinking a beer, while driving.

This first ride on a hitchhiking adventure from Oregon to my home in Wisconsin was making me quite uncomfortable, if not also presenting unanticipated danger.

What a crazy impulse, to hitchhike over 2,000 miles. But what choice did I have? My summer job as an assistant leader with Outward Bound had ended in August. I hadn’t earned enough to consider flying or taking a bus.

Outward Bound Schools are an international program teaching wilderness survival. I’d spent three months in the mountains of Oregon teaching older teens an outdoor curriculum of wilderness hiking, mountain climbing, cliff repelling, and how to endure a 3-day solo retreat beside a mountain stream. We created experiences to “maximize apparent danger with a minimal actual risk.” We wanted them to embrace the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

“3-Finger Jack” in the Cascade region of Oregon

My beer-drinking driver let me out near Portland, Oregon. The Interstate route towards home was clearly eastward now, but I still had to get other drivers to pick me up. In the summer of 1968, hefting a large pack on your back may have conveyed to others that you were a draft dodger, a wily vagabond, even a homeless person of questionable intentions. I was none of these, but first impressions count when thumbing rides. I tried to look presentable: young, clean and not desperate. These traits, of course, fatigued after long lengths of time waiting for kindness to stop and give you a lift. That is, a ride to some distant destination.

Three young airmen picked me up somewhere on America’s rocky spine in Oregon. They were returning to their Air Force base adjacent to Mountain Home, Idaho. To hitchhike is to travel by obtaining free rides from passing vehicles. Thus, hitching a ride removes choice from your options; drivers select you, not you them. Daisy-chaining a succession of rides as a passenger means you lose some control as to when you might eat, sleep, or use a restroom. Luckily, I was about the same age as these guys. We passed over miles of highway talking about cars, girls, and sports. Before dropping me off outside their base entrance, they even bought me lunch, a last taste of hitchhiker’s good luck for a while.

My next state, Wyoming, was the worst place to catch a ride. In a state with few people, no one wants to remain long in its wind abraded landscape. Cold winds of the western highlands chilled me as cars flew past. My extended arm was as useless as the motionless arm of an abandoned oil pump. I stood outside a highway restaurant. Brazenly, I asked people as they exited if I could have a ride anywhere east of this place. No one accepted my plea. Walking back to the highway, I waited hours, hoping for my next ride.

The request was unusual and possibly conditional. He’d drive me as far as central Iowa. Would I be willing to help pay for gas and occasionally drive? Hell, yes! Foreign born, he didn’t talk much as we tag-teamed driving and sleeping. He told me I was hitchhiking poorly by standing on highway shoulders. At his suggestion, I made a sign, “Need Ride East,” to hold up to a side window whenever we passed a vehicle with license plates of a state east of the Mississippi River. I got a nibble from a driver of a van with Illinois license plates. Our vehicles slowed together to a stop on the highway shoulder.

My transfer to the van came easily, though I was shocked to see that the driver was a mother traveling alone with her two young daughters. Any possible threat I might have displayed vanished quickly when I fell into a deep sleep, remaining oblivious to motion, sounds, and where I was. Her family lived in Highland Park, a wealthy residential community north of Chicago. This ride alleviated all worry I had about how I would hitchhike around or through Chicago.

I spent the night in the dormer of their home after meeting her husband when we arrived in darkness after midnight. As a guest I would be taken back to the highway following breakfast the next morning.

Too excited by my nearness to home, I awoke before my host family and quietly explored downstairs. In a corner of the huge living room rested a grand piano. Centered between a couch and sitting chairs was a large circular table covered with stacks of social and political magazines, books, and papers. Surrounding me and the contents of this room were walls of hewn logs. I had spent the night in a log home.

My overnight happened only a week following the riotous 1968 Democratic Party Convention in downtown Chicago. My host family was politically active, and they provided lodging for several of the protestors. Contentious discussions had been held nightly around the table I now stood next to. During my breakfast with the family, conversation covered similar topics of government, military, social and moral arguments; although my comments were weakly positioned compared to theirs.

A last ride to my parent’s home came from a man who was one of “Shirley’s boys.” I knew him from a group of men who dined every Friday with Shirley, a waitress in the restaurant where my mother and I also worked. Opening the door at home completed my hitchhiker’s journey from a tent in Oregon 2,000 miles away.

I never hitched a ride again after this adventure. Maybe it was some of the frustrations I had, or the uncertainty of waiting alongside busy highways, or never knowing what the driver might be like.

Of course, these are the experiences that made my hitchhiking a storied memory. Each ride carried me over varied landscapes, mile by mile, inspiring my sense of places with wonder. Shared stories during hours of riding together drew me from the expansive outdoors to interior lives of people I hadn’t known.

Because of my decision to hitchhike cross-country, my life was enriched through the random kindness of traveling with strangers.

© 2019 Wayne Hammerstrom

Wayne Hammerstrom (WanderNWayne) lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He wanders through life as a verb, many times directionless in travel and becoming.

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“Pequeñas Cosas” Little Things

By Suzy Beal

This is the 11th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.


Mom’s Spanish improved with her need to understand our housekeeper Catalina. She signed up along with Jan and me to start Spanish lessons hoping to better communicate with our neighbors. I found it hard to concentrate because the lessons didn’t connect with my life. Grammar and verb conjugations didn’t apply to making friends, but Mom took the classes seriously and studied hard. She felt a need to keep up with us kids, she said.

One afternoon at the dining table she suddenly broke out in Spanish saying, “Pequeñas cosas no son importantes.” Stunned, we listened to her explanation of “Little things aren’t important.” She thought the problems and complaints we were experiencing weren’t important and that we should concentrate on the big things such as living in Spain and learning new languages. She wanted us to stop complaining about these difficulties, I guess. Not being able to speak or understand, no telephone, having to carry the groceries home every day from the village, having to ask for sanitary pads in the pharmacy with a boy my age at the counter! These didn’t seem like little things to me. Mom’s knowledge of Spanish grew and her words “Pequeñas cosas no son importantes” soon became the family motto. We tried to not to complain, keeping that for the bigger issues.

I didn’t pay attention to how difficult this time was for Mom, but I thought her days didn’t have much fun in them. She spent her time at home with the little ones while Dad worked on building the boat at MYABCA (Mallorca Yacht and Boat Construction Association) and then he accompanied the men to the bars in the evenings.

Frank, Mom, Conrad

She found it difficult to make friends with the Spanish women. Several English folks and a few Americans lived in Puerto, but most of them only spent the summer there. Those who lived in Puerto year-round had their own circle of friends with whom they spent their time, and weren’t particularly interested in letting new people into the circle.

Mom told me that living here in Mallorca was the first time she’d encountered a “class system.” She found it the most pronounced with the English. We kids didn’t notice it as much, but sometimes the English kids on vacation refused to associate with the German tourists on vacation. It was hard to remember WWII had ended only sixteen years before and only twelve years ago the Berlin Blockade ended.


That fall of 1961, we kids planned a Halloween party at our house. Because we didn’t know many kids yet, we let Mariano do the inviting. We didn’t know how many to expect, but as the house filled up, we realized we had a success on our hands. My brothers and sister and I decorated the living room with scary Halloween props including a fish net strung across the ceiling. We made tapas and sweets to eat and had music for dancing.

We learned the next day that a few local kids who didn’t get invited, felt left out. We regretted this, but since Mariano did the inviting, there was little we could do. These issues were difficult because we tried to live NOT as the “ugly American” abroad. The book The Ugly American had come out in 1958 and our parents read it and tried to instill in us the necessity to be compassionate and considerate Americans.

The night of the party, a couple of girls left our house and stayed up late somewhere else. They got into trouble with their parents for arriving home so late. We didn’t realize anything was wrong until one mother came to our house complaining about her daughter’s tardiness getting home that night. Catalina came to our rescue and told her that our party ended at 10:00pm. She knew because her daughter had attended.

Notes to the Harbor Light

(The editor of our High School newspaper had asked me to write to him about the things I experienced in our travels.)

We are beginning to make friends. We had a Halloween party at our house with 18 to 20 teens showing up for the festivities. They didn’t seem to understand the “Halloween theme,” but it didn’t keep us from having fun. We had our record player with American songs and we discovered the Spanish kids were familiar with many of them. They dance here almost the same as in Newport except Spanish dances, such as the Samba and the Pasadoble. They dance Rock-and-Roll the same. Everyone dances with everyone and they don’t single off in pairs for the evening like at home. We are still struggling with speaking Spanish, but we can understand almost everything said to us.

A few weeks later we went on our first excursion with the local kids. They decided to go to a monastery perched atop a mountain called Puig Major to spend the night. We took chaperones so the local girls’ parents deemed it safe. This was a working monastery with monks and rules we had to follow. The boys and girls would sleep in separate buildings. We took a bus to the base of Puig Major. The leaders packed food, and overnight things they distributed among the guys for the trek to the top. We learned several Spanish songs on the way up the mountain. Mariano helped me with my Spanish and taught me how to sound out the Spanish vowels. He told me every letter in Spanish had its own sound and if I listened I could hear each letter being pronounced.

When we arrived at the top, we saw the monastery. Built entirely of stone, it looked just like so many of the homes and churches in Puerto. The monks showed us where dinner would be served. They showed us the rooms where we would sleep, boys separate from the girls. Everyone laughed and giggled, but I couldn’t understand most of what they said. We spent the afternoon walking around the monastery gardens and visiting. There were areas off-limits to us, such as the building where the monks lived. We ate at long tables separated from the monks, but had to keep completely silent during the meal.

That night in the dormitory room, I felt accepted into their pandillagang. I showed them how, in Oregon, we wore our cardigan sweaters buttoned up the back. We tied scarves around our necks the way girls back home did. They seemed as curious about my life as I did about theirs. I’d never slept in a bed with another girl except my sister and tonight we were three to a bed. Between the giggles, I understood enough to realize they were talking about the boys. I even recognized the names of my brothers “Henry and Tommy” being bantered back and forth in the conversations.

Suzy far left –The Gang “La Pandilla” – Hank far right


© 2019 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.


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By Katie Ravich

April, 2019. I am having very similar feelings to when I brought my baby home, feelings which eventually developed into full blown postpartum depression that landed me in the locked ward for four days.  But this time it is not a new baby but an adopted dog!  This is definitely on a smaller scale than the postpartum incident and I am fully medicated (which I wasn’t postpartum), so I expect a speedier return to normalcy. But I am shocked by the similarity and depth of these post-dog-adoption feelings.

The dog is Domino.  A two-year-old hound mix we adopted from the Humane Society.  We don’t know much about him except he came from Mississippi and was surrendered with another dog to a Mississippi shelter because his owner had a terminal illness.

We picked him because he is not a puppy and seemed calm and gentle.  When he looks up at you, it seems he is smiling.  He came to us named Baylor but my daughter renamed him Domino because he is primarily black and white. We had plans to adopt a dog this spring, mostly to give my daughter a companion and something to do.

Domino loves Sonia but he really loves me and seems to only feel comfortable when he is very close to me. Right now we are sitting on the couch and his nose is touching my leg.  The look in his eyes when he looks at me is hard to define but I guess the closest thing I have experienced is the way a baby looks at her mother.  It is satisfying but it is also scary.  I can feel his emotional world reaching out for me when he looks at me and I can’t help but be drawn in.

The first night we had him he slept on the floor next to me.  He snores and tosses and breathes erratically just like a newborn.  I wasn’t lying awake all night listening to him, as I did when we first brought Sonia home, but I was intensely aware of his presence.  I couldn’t help but think about those I guess touching but in some ways creepy things they tell you about sleeping in the same room as your newborn. Newborns sleep much better when physically close to their mothers.  The mother’s heartbeat and the infant’s synchronize, their breath aligns.  There is some kind of pheromone exchange.  This is great for the newborn but not so great for the mother if she is feeling anxious and trapped in the new reality of motherhood.  I worried this was happening with this dog.  Was there some kind of disturbing alignment going on between us?  I should have made him bed down in Sonia’s room so they could exchange pheromones or whatever, but he rightly picked me as his mother.

Sonia isn’t capable of mothering anyone yet.  She loves the dog and has done more walking, willingly, than she has ever done in her life since we got him. But she is still devoted to her core activities which are looking at YouTube on my phone, playing video games, and playing with her stuffed animals.

For me, the dog has changed everything and completely upended my routine.  This upending is mostly mental.  My physical routine hasn’t changed that much.  I have always kept erratic work hours and gone on long walks.  One reason we decided we could handle a dog is that I am hardly ever away from home for more than five hours.  I work part time and I always have to be home when Sonia gets off the school bus.  We have organized our family life like this since Sonia started school, but I feel the same anxiety and mental tether to home that I felt when Sonia was a newborn. It is like I am never off the clock. The timer is ticking once I leave the house and I must get back as soon as I can to tend to the physical and emotional needs of my dependent.

When I first had Sonia, I could not adjust to this mental tethering to another being.  I was crushed by anxiety and then depression that this was my permanent condition (parenthood).  I would never have that “free” feeling again like when the semester is over or you quit your waitressing job.  Something will always be “hanging over you” and that something wasn’t a term paper or a double shift but the entire future and well-being of another living creature.  Slowly, with the help of drugs and time and Sonia’s growing out of the infant stage, I learned to live with it.  I still get flashes of that crushing, trapped feeling when Sonia needs me urgently again (like up all night vomiting) but I don’t panic anymore and I can see the larger picture.

I am sure I will come to terms with my dog parenthood eventually too.  Things will normalize with time.  I hope.  Domino had separation anxiety issues.  He is not content to be left alone in the house for any length of time.  He is on drugs for this!  He is on the same kind of drugs I am!  He has his first day of doggy daycare later this week.  I hoping the distraction of the other people and dogs will occupy him when I sneak out the door.  That didn’t work when I took Sonia to preschool at age three.  She wailed inconsolably for at least an hour after I left for the first time but Sonia is my baby.  Domino is just my dog!

© 2019 Katie Ravich 

Also by Katie Ravich: The Underpants, Surviving the Kalahari, Raising Sonia, Spirit of the Cimarron, and Fudge Girl


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Nightmare on Union Street

By Faith Ellestad

It’s the day before closing, the stuff is out of the house and all that is left to do is clean. I’d like to skip it, but the contract specifies “broom swept”.

Moving took much longer than I thought.  Dinnertime has come and gone, and a brilliant sunset is fading to dusk. I’m hungry now, and indulge in a fleeting moment of self-pity as I survey the job ahead.  I had hoped to be home in time to say goodnight to the kids, their first night in the new house, but I doubt that I will make it by then.  At least my mother-in-law and husband will be there to help them adjust.  I am here alone except for a tank full of shamefully neglected tropical fish languishing in fetid water, which we couldn’t pack, and will have to be moved by me in the car when I am done.  Where to begin?

I will start upstairs and move down. The lighting is eerie with bare bulbs and no curtains up there. Shadows seem to be moving independently of me, and I’m feeling a little creeped out as I ascend the stairs, remembering the time a mouse appeared out of nowhere and beat me to the landing when we first moved here.  If there are any left, I hope they stay hidden, and I deliberately thump up the steps to frighten any curious rodents.  Broom, dustpan and plastic bag in hand, I open the first attic door. Clear. A cursory whisk and I am on to the second door.  Inside, I see a mouse trap holding a small skeleton.  Shuddering, I sweep it up and deposit it in the garbage bag.  No other signs of life, so I move on.  Cleaning two more closets, I find an old rolled-up poster on a back shelf, a couple of legos, and the sword and cape from a cherished Star Wars figure.  I start a keeper bag.  Dust, sweep, and the upstairs is as clean as I can make it.

I am suddenly overwhelmed by the memories in this tatty old house. The bright peridot green paint and Knights in Armor curtains I made for my older son, and the wonderful wallpaper, which looked exactly like an autumn landscape we chose for the baby’s room. As I start to tear up, I become aware of a strange scraping sound outside. Those damn neighbors.  I remember why we’re moving, and the tears retreat. I trot downstairs to see what is going on.  Through the front window, I see that the pile of junk we had left for the street crew has been spread all over the driveway. A garbage bag of old coloring books, barely visible in the encroaching darkness, appears to have moved slightly.  Or maybe it’s not a garbage bag. It seems to be growing limbs, like those tadpoles we studied in grade school science.  The last purple steaks of light in the sky are being shoved behind the horizon as the night advances aggressively into its space.  I can just make out a man digging through the detritus.  Hopefully he will be done soon, because I really want to put the trash out, move the fish out to the car and leave here forever.  Should I turn the porch light on?  I am suddenly feeling very alone and uncomfortable.  To keep myself focused, I decide to de-smudge the woodwork, moving from the kitchen through the dining room to the front of the house.  I wish I had gotten a new battery in my watch, or left a clock unpacked, but I didn’t, and now have no idea what time it is.


Maybe the scavenger has left, No, he has edged closer and is pawing through a pile of ripped cushions.  He’s been there a long time now.  I wonder anxiously if he is homeless or a resident from the half-way house up the street. One of those guys recently had a psychotic episode and had to be taken away by the police.  Could he be back? Now what do I do?  I don’t think it’s safe to go out until I’m sure he’s gone. My stomach growls, the least of my problems.  I peek out a side window and see him sitting on the bottom porch step.  He’s getting closer.  I crawl over to the front door to make sure it is locked, then sneak to check the back door.  Now I must check each window.  All closed and locked, but naked.  The curtains have gone to the new house.  I hear creaking and start to shake.  Peeking around the kitchen door, I discover, to my horror, the intruder is looking through the front window.  He knows I am in here.  I am now sweating profusely.  All pretense of cleaning has dissolved, like I am about to do.

I am here alone, armed only with a broom.  The phones were turned off this morning. I have neither flashlight nor any way to summon help.  The door handle rattles noisily.  My heart may be beating even louder. I feel faint, my hands are clammy and individual hairs on my scalp are tingling.

Panic makes it hard for me to think, but I have to do something. Perhaps if he can’t see me, he will lose interest and leave.  I decide to sit on the floor, out of view and not move. I inch my way into the bathroom, which has only one small window, and press my back against the ancient iron clawfoot tub.  I could almost fit underneath it, maybe, if I sucked in my stomach and contorted, but I am afraid I might get stuck, so discard that idea.  I will just stay alert and bide my time.


I think I have been sitting forever. The cold of the metal tub has penetrated my spine. My rear end is sore and numb, my knees are stiff, I am soaked with sweat and so thirsty my tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth.  Is it midnight? Close to dawn? Have minutes gone by or hours? Is my family at home sleeping or waiting up for me?  Can I look out now?  I start to crawl to a window, but the sound of snoring wafts in from the front porch causing me to scuttle back to the safety of the tiny bathroom. My heart has been pounding for hours.  If I can’t slow it down, I think I may have a heart attack. I am not religious but begin to pray anyway,” Please let him leave. Please Please let him leave.”

Now I realize I’m shivering and spy my jacket in a heap on the living room floor. Just as I start crawling toward it, I detect the first hint of pre-dawn emerging bravely from behind the ink-black sky. Black becomes indigo, then grey, and inches slowly toward day.  As soon as it is light enough to recognize shapes, I crab-walk to a side window to peek out.  No snoring. A hopeful sign.  Then I hear voices, a car door opens across the street.  The neighborhood has awakened and I realize I am safe.  With a rush of what reserves of adrenalin I still possess, I quickly empty all but three inches of water from the fish tank, rush it out to the car, grab my bag and lock the house. The new owners will be here in just a few hours. Too bad they will have to smell my sweat.  But I don’t care.  Me and my fish are heading home.


© Faith Ellestad

Faith describes herself as a serial under-achiever, now retired after many years as a hospital scheduling specialist.  When her plan to cultivate a gardening hobby resulted only in hives, she decided to get real and explore her long-time interest in creative writing. She’s so happy she did. Faith and her husband live in Madison, WI . They have two grown sons of whom they are very proud, and a wonderful daughter-in-law.

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Sarah’s take on Scrivener, the super-duper word processor

I was asked recently about whether I use Scrivener. This morning I’ll share my thoughts on this powerful tool… kind of a Swiss Army knife for writers, and just as likely to confuse you with too many tools crammed into one interface.

I was a desultory Scrivener user before entering my Big MFA Adventure. I’d use it when I had to write an article based on multiple interviews–the main thing that drew me away from Word into Scrivener was its beautiful ability to let you see two documents side-by-side. (Sure, you can do that with two documents open in Word, but there was something elegant about how Scrivener let you move easily between the two.) As I clipped bits from an interview into my main document, I’d highlight the used bits in gray, so I could avoid reusing them.

Here’s an example of me clipping bits from an interview to use in a piece of writing–in this case, a chapter of my Glory Foods history.

If I didn’t need to do a two-into-one task like that, I never touched it, so I never became very proficient with it. Scrivener is a powerful tool, evolved to serve novelists and screenwriters, and its easy to get lost among its features. If you don’t use it day-in and day-out, expect to have a browser window open for googling “Scrivener how to…”.

Scrivener is essentially a word-processing program. Here’s a description on Wikipedia. We students in the U-King’s MFA-Creative Nonfiction program were encouraged to use it, as well as Evernote for managing our research. I followed that advice, and here’s the workflow that I evolved for my book-length MFA project, working title The Soulful History of Glory Foods:

  1. I use Evernote to collect my research notes. (I’ll write about Evernote another day.)
  2. As I prepare to switch from research to writing, chapter by chapter, I build my outline in Scrivener. If you’ve ever been in a workshop with me, you know how I structure around an outline of “a complication, three developments, and a resolution”–Jon Franklin’s “writing for story” approach. Each chapter is based on that, as you can see if you look closely at the screenshot from Scrivener above. In the early stages, that outline is just a pile of notes about where the research a section draws on can be found–in Evernote, in my interview transcripts, etc.
  3. I start writing! In a Scrivener document pane my chapter starts to take shape, chunk by chunk. (These chunks are called “scrivenings.”) I always use the left pane for the document that will become my chapter.  In the right pane I open other scrivenings that contain text I want to cut and paste from–interview transcripts, notes, etc.
  4. I move scrivenings around. Sometimes my initial structure isn’t working, so I try different orders. For me, this is the other compelling feature of Scrivener, besides the side-by-side documents–the easy way you can see the outline of your work in that far-left pane (called the “Binder”).
  5. When I feel the structure is final–everything’s in the chapter that ought to be, in an order that pleases me–I’m ready to move to paragraph- and sentence-level refinement. At this point I’ll export the document from Scrivener (they call this “compiling”) and move over to Word to continue working. Why? I am more familiar with the formatting tools in Word. Word is easier to share with other people. I don’t know, this is just the workflow I got comfortable with.

Want to learn more about Scrivener? Here are some links…

Never stop learning–including how to use tools that aid your creative process.

– Sarah White


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