Archives for March 2017

Poem of the Week: Fear and Want in Revolution (A Russian Pantoum)

by Linda Newman Woito
Iowa City, Iowa Branch

 

It has been a bitter winter.

Russian guards are still outside.

Who will watch the horses dancing?

Priests lead them all in prayer.

 

Russian guards are still outside.

Children of the Village have forgotten how to dance.

Priests lead them all in prayer.

Chickens hide within the barn, emptied of drying hay.

 

Children of the Village have forgotten how to dance.

Today the sunrise comes two hours late.

Chickens hide within the barn, emptied of drying hay.

Water in the cow-barn is freezing now.

 

It has been a bitter winter.

Who will watch the horses dancing?

Today the sunrise comes two hours late.

Water in the cow-barn is freezing now.

 

Russian guards are still outside.

Today the sunrise comes two hours late.

Chickens hide within the barn, emptied of drying hay.

Children of the Village have forgotten how to dance.

 

Water in the cow-barn is freezing now.

Russian guards are still outside.

Who will watch the horses dancing?

Priests lead them all in prayer.

 

We Are What We Create: The Memoir of a Latter-Day Saint

In this week’s guest blog post, Laura Walth shares how love for her brother and her religion inspire her creativity.


 

“Out of the bad comes the good” is a phrase my brother Phil often liked to repeat during our Sunday morning phone conversations. Phil so desperately wanted me to finish my memoir, to know what life was like for the eight years before he was born. He felt mine was a story that needed to be shared.

 

He had no idea about the struggles I put myself through to get to where I am today. He wanted to know it all. He instinctively knew he didn’t have much longer to live but denied death to hear my story and know how it was going to end.

 

Phil and I were never very close growing up. He annoyed me to the point where I didn’t like being around him.

 

When he was in 2nd grade and our parents were out of town, I got so mad at him I kicked a hole through his bedroom door and knocked his pet, Myrtle the turtle, to the floor. I felt sorrier for my grandmother, who was taking care of us; she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to explain what had just happened. It scared both my brother and me.

 

After that, we just left each other alone. I found out much later in life that he was afraid of me yet always admired me as his big sister.

 

In 1995 I received a call from my sister in South Dakota. Our brother was in the VA hospital and not expected to live. He had been diagnosed with AIDS and had pneumonia. We all went to say our goodbyes.

 

We were prepared for his death, but he didn’t die. He later told us it was the love he felt from us that gave him the desire to live.

 

We had to find a place for him because we weren’t prepared to have him live with us in his condition. We found him a group home to stay in until he decided to move into an apartment with someone he’d met at that place for the terminally ill. They weren’t ready to die. They moved to Arizona, where his partner died several years later.

 

My brother moved to Florida, where he lived with AIDS for many years. He survived cancer, a staph infection that could have killed a healthy person, and pneumonia several times throughout his life. It was a stroke that left him unable to walk or talk and took away his quality of life, yet he chose to hang on. Ten days before he passed away, my sisters and I let him know it was okay to let go. We expressed our love for him over the phone. I made a promise to finish my memoir and then wondered what good that would do if he wasn’t here to see the finished product.

 

Having faith that there is life after death gives me the belief that his spirit lives on and my story needs to be shared. I feel him smiling as these words appear before me. Making that promise to him made me believe that he’d be the muse I needed to create a life story for a book.

 

That’s how I arrived at the title for my memoir.

 

I have wanted to be a Saint since childhood, but I was not born into the Mormon faith. My husband and I moved from North Dakota to New York in 1974. In 1982 a Jewish friend of ours and his Christian girlfriend discovered something that they said “just changed” their lives. We were curious to know more, and we found what we were looking for. They didn’t join the LDS Religion, but we did. Mom joined about seven years later.

 

Phil was very concerned for us. He thought for sure we’d joined a cult and convinced Mom to join as well. Then he saw positive change in Mom. She no longer needed a drink to calm her once-troubled soul. She found peace and joy in life without the alcohol. Later, he told me it was the best thing that ever happened to her.

 

The conflict taking place in California between the Mormons and the gay community was what brought my brother and I together. It was called Proposition Eight and regarded same sex marriage. A commercial was made that depicted Mormon missionaries in a very bad light. It bothered me so much, I called my brother to ask what he thought about what was said about Mormons in this commercial. He said he was upset that the gay community was wasting good money that could have been spent on far worthier causes than bashing Mormons for their beliefs.

 

That phone call changed our relationship for good. We found a common ground that let us open up about past experiences that kept us apart for so many years. We discovered that it was fear that kept us from communicating: He was afraid of me because of what had happened when he was a child, and I was afraid he’d seek revenge for what I’d done to him.

 

We became friends. He called me on Sundays before I went to church. When I was teaching Sunday school, I would share my lesson with him, and when I was asked to give a talk at church, I would share that with him. He would give me feedback.

 

While looking for photos of my brother, I found the two below. On the left is my father, and on the right is my brother.

I never realized how much Phil looked like our father until I saw these pictures. Like me, Phil also felt he could never please dad no matter what he did, including joining the 82nd Airborne.

 

One time Phil told me I’d brought tears of joy to him because he finally understood that my religion is about service and compassion. He felt my love for him, and he understood that it was more about love than being judgmental of others.

 

So, Jack and he visited an LDS church service in Florida to learn more. Phil then shared how much he’d enjoyed learning more about the religion through the Sister Missionaries he invited to his home. He wasn’t ready to make a commitment to membership, but at least he was willing to find out more. Whenever anyone in the gay community would start Mormon-bashing, he defended the faith. He was proud to tell them that his sister was a Mormon.

 

At first, I thought it a bit presumptuous to think of myself as a Saint. My life experience has helped me see how I used to be an overachiever, attempting to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. Writing my memoir has helped me to change my mind. I can replace negative thoughts with positive ones about the image I want to create. It’s not easy living the life of a Saint, but it’s a fun challenge.

 

To fulfill this calling means being a person who is good, kind, and patient. I can be recognized as a Saint because of the way I live the rest of my life. If we are what we create, then I will truly strive to be a Latter-Day Saint. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect; it’s just something to aspire to before the end of my life on Earth. It’s a work in progress.

 

We Are What We Create: A Memoir of a Latter-Day Saint won’t just be about the Mormon religion; it will be a story about the life experience that led me to where I am today. My goal is to have it published by Pen Women Press in time for the 49th NLAPW Biennial in Des Moines, Iowa, which I volunteered to host in April 2018 because I believe I can handle the challenge.

 

Phil always encouraged me to run for a political office. He liked how I listened to both sides of a story and didn’t judge others for their beliefs. My brother would have been thrilled to hear about my involvement with the National League of American Pen Women.

 


Laura Walth is President of Des Moines Branch NLAPW. She also serves as Outreach Chair for our National society and as Chair for the coming NLAPW Biennial in 2018. Photos appearing herein are from her private collection.

 

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

Art of the Week: Rainbow Teapot

 

“Rainbow Teapot” by Melissa Woodburn
Golden Gate/Marin Branch NLAPW
Ceramic with underglazes and glazes

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The Call

In this week’s post, Mary Joan Meagher advises listening to your inner voice on your special day. 

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What did you do on your last birthday? If you became 40 or 50 years old, you probably had a stressful day. A comedic cousin, friend, or even a spouse might have thought that it would be fun to tease you about your age.

 

Perhaps someone threw you a surprise party at work. Everyone showed up wearing black clothes. They gave you a cake with black and white frosting that featured a grave with your name printed on a headstone emblazoned with the initials “R.I.P.” Everybody laughed and thought it was hilariously funny… until it happened to them.

 

Birthdays are hard enough without someone else taking them over and telling you how to feel. We all mark the passage of time in different ways, but it is always a time of account-keeping. We think about our faces and bodies, and we measure them against what we remember we looked like at sixteen or twenty.

 

This exercise is usually detrimental. Your spirits sink as you consider wrinkles, gray hairs, and double chins, or notice the effect that too many fast food stops have had on your waistline.

 

One saving measure to take at zero birthdays (when you enter a new decade) is to do another kind of accounting. Take a measure of how far you have moved in getting closer to your goals.

 

Dean Koontz, a best-selling novelist, says he writes and edits ten pages each day. What are your goals? Have you kept your promise to yourself to write or create something new each day? Have you finished a chapter of your novel?

 

You need to get in touch with your inner self.  You need to listen to your inner voice. For this exercise, set up a quiet space of time on your birthday. Get up earlier than normal. Find a quiet peaceful place either inside or outside, in the house or in the park, in the library or in the woods. This is your day. Find your place and time.

 

When you learn how to listen to your inner voice, you will know what you are called to do at this time in your life. Each stage of your life has a different calling. If you are too tuned-in to the voices of others constantly deciding your fate each 24 hours, when can you ever know what is right for you? Go back to your youthful dreams. What were you called to do then? What were you looking for? What were you going to be?

 

Your birthday can be a wonderful experience if you use it to launch a new enterprise, to take the first step to improving your relationships with others, to listen to the voice within calling you to be all you can be. Cyril Connolly, critic and editor, said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

 


 

Mary Joan Meagher, a member of Minnesota Branch NLAPW, taught English and Speech at Regina High School in Minneapolis for 24 years. She also taught journal writing at Bloomington Community Education and was script writer there for The Time of Our Lives Show for 20 years. She is a poet, a watercolorist, and an essayist.

 

Image above courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Poem of the Week: Gaining Perspective

Rev. Nancy Schluntz
Diablo-Alameda Branch

 

Sunday, Monday, Thursday

It doesn’t matter

It won’t turn off.

 

Part of living and loving

Is getting used to things

That won’t turn off.

 

All trembling and hurting

From laughter and hidden tears

That won’t turn off.

 

A beautiful giving and

Making room to hold things

That won’t turn off.

 

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Swimming Upstream: Creative Solutions to Mental Health Issues

This week’s guest blogger, Bonnie J. Smith, shares how a challenging life experience inspired her creativity.



In 1999, I suffered a work-related injury. Being told that I might never be active on my feet or work the job I so enjoyed again and that I would have to use a wheelchair was a shock I didn’t handle well.

 

Having to sit 100% of the time in 2001, I decided to take a quilting class. I thought creating a few heirlooms for my family would be a nice gesture. Well, quilt I did—and to the frustration of my teacher, I could not stay within the pattern. My thought was, why do I want to create something that looked like everyone else’s?

 

Having moved to a new home with a lot of empty walls, I informed my husband that we’d purchase no new art; I would create art for our walls. Create, I did. My work has now traveled the globe, been juried into the prestigious Quilt National, and is held in private collections—and I feel like I’m just warming up.

 

For many years, I wondered how to translate that unrelenting horrific situation of my work injury into my artwork, but always avoided the subject in my art.

 

After I sat and let my body heal, the doctors said, “You can start exercising.”

 

“How about swimming?” I asked.

 

Thereafter, I swam every day.

 

One day, my youngest daughter Shara purchased me a pair of swim fins. Well, I had my doubts. Within about eight months, however, I witnessed a remarkable change in my feet. I then realized that those fins were probably the best physical therapy I could have had. The fins forced my feet to rebuild the muscle. I knew I was on my way.

 

While enjoying my swims, I would imagine what an artwork of myself swimming would look like. Could I create it? Would viewers accept my minimalist creative style or reject my work?

 

I rarely shy away too long from taking on a task, so I created Swimming Upstream:

 

  Swimming Upstream by Bonnie J. Smith

 

I looked at the finished work for a long time. It came to me that the artwork was not just about myself; it’s about everyone trying to navigate through life. For some, it’s hard to pick up the pieces and keep swimming upstream. For others, it’s just about trying to survive life.

 

Ideas keep coming to me for new works. Some show how we have days when we feel strong, and then other days when we need to pull back, maybe feeling just a little too much hubris. This series has been fun to create and visualize how I feel about myself moving onward and upward. People have gravitated to this work, as swimming is an iconic image that most of us can do or try.

 

I tell those who want to swim but say they can’t to just float or hold onto the side of the pool. One day, you will get the courage to let go and feel your body enjoy the stability that the water—or the world—can offer, depending on how you see it. Even if you never try swimming, you can always imagine yourself swimming upstream through life. Just imagine!

 

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Bonnie Jo Smith, textile artist, is a member of Santa Clara Branch NLAPW. She attended IUPUI, Indianapolis Campus; Indiana Central College; and has taken Master Dyeing Classes under the direction of Prof. Joan Morris of Dartmouth College. Her most recent installation, “Swimming Upstream,” provided the inspiration for her book Swimming Upstream: A Memoir. The “Swimming Upstream” installation will be exhibited at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK, during the summer of 2017. Her web site is bonniejofiberarts.com.

 

Poem of the Week: Once

Patricia Dennis, Santa Clara Branch

 

We were young girls
holding hands
playing hop scotch
whispering secrets
sneaking into forbidden rooms
trying on the jewels of our mothers
and dressing up in their gowns

With skirts held high above our knees
we would twirl and swirl around
landing only for a brief second
just long enough to strike a saucy pose

With hands on our hips we would wiggle our derrières
Then turn around tilting our heads this way and that
Puckering our lips and blowing silent kisses

We’ll never be old! We would cry
Always young at heart and
meeting adventures head on
We gave nary a thought of what lay beyond

Years later, children grown, husbands gone, I see you again

We cry in unison, Where have you been!

Our minds flicker to when we stopped trying to stay in touch
when other needs and wants filled the space.

A silent prayer of gratitude for here we are again.

No longer youthful, no longer slim. The years have added wisdom to our faces.

Giggling and laughing we take a moment (to) step back in time
pause and remember those years of innocence
It seems just like yesterday
we were those two young girls
prancing unsteadily in mother’s high heels
and playing make believe

A long heartfelt embrace and a vow: to not let time separate
friends of the heart. Distance and time should never tear apart.