“Rainbow Teapot” by Melissa Woodburn
Golden Gate/Marin Branch NLAPW
Ceramic with underglazes and glazes
“Rainbow Teapot” by Melissa Woodburn
Golden Gate/Marin Branch NLAPW
Ceramic with underglazes and glazes
In this week’s post, Mary Joan Meagher advises listening to your inner voice on your special day.
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.
Rev. Nancy Schluntz
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.
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:
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!
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.
Patricia Dennis, Santa Clara Branch
We were young girls
playing hop scotch
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.
Marsha J. Perlman
SW Florida Branch
I’ve been to court countless times.
Not because I broke the law.
Not because I was arrested or presented with a warrant.
I, an instructor of English as a Second Language.
They, my classes of Central American female and male students.
Yes, crossed the border illegally at night while entire villages
lived marginally to support one of their own to start a new life.
At first they couldn’t read the rules they were expected to observe.
Acquired English by day, but not fast enough to understand that
in this country one doesn’t offer a bribe to a police officer
when pulled over, hand-cuffed or incarcerated.
Jail cell was home until court date.
Lost wages, hungry families.
Lost English lessons, no jobs.
Lost cars, no transportation.
What _is _our definition of_ JUSTICE?_
Imagine an unbroken world designed for compassion with:
Harmony rather than conflict.
Unity instead of threats.
Defense in place of blame.
Acceptance without prejudice.
Laughter replacing tension.
Let us wage peace and rediscover _JOY._
In this week’s guest blogger post, Carol Mann shares the joy of her creative collaboration with former fellow Pen Woman Lynn Centeno.
I recently made a creative journey culminating with the publication of the book All Ways a Woman, a collection of art and poetry celebrating women, done in collaboration with artist Lynn Centeno. As Lynn and I worked on the project, we recognized the uniqueness of every woman’s life. However, we also realized a universality of experience. Women inspire and encourage each other with their strength, their resolve, and grit; with their vulnerability and ability to give; with their talents. We wanted to capture this story, these feelings.
The book, published by AquaZebra Press in hardcover, became available on Amazon in January 2017. Within its pages, we walked a woman’s path, gave voice to her life song, and honored her journey. We celebrated being in all ways a woman, always.
The collaboration began in 2011, but we didn’t know it. Lynn and I participated in an Ekphrasis (EHK-fra-sis) program for writers and artists, sponsored by the Palm Springs Branch NLAPW.
Branch artists submitted their art online, and branch writers selected a work of art about which to write. I chose Lynn’s watercolor “I Care Not.” For the final program, each artist’s work was displayed and the writer read her accompanying piece. By the end of the event, a calm could be felt in the room. The women in attendance, whether they knew each other or not, seemed to feel what can only be described as a palpable closeness, a bonding of spirit, and a sense of well-being. The Palm Springs Branch repeated the event in 2013, and I again chose one of Lynn’s watercolors to write about: “Girls’ Night Out.”
Both watercolors and poems are in the book.
Three years passed. In the summer of 2016, Lynn casually suggested we do more. We each went through our body of work, searching for everything “woman.” Themes came to life about thoughts, loves, and lives. Some poems had been previously published in literary journals; some watercolors had been in juried shows. We also created new work. We had a story—a woman’s story.
As with any endeavor, we discovered a few tricks along the way that apply when involved in a collaborative effort:
Our creative journey taught us about collaborating and creating an enduring work of art. It inspired us. We hope women will become inspired by their own journey.
walk with us
For together …
– from All Ways a Woman,
by Lynn Centeno and Carol Mann
Carol Mann is a Letters member with the Palm Springs Branch of NLAPW and co-author of All Ways a Woman. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Buffalo State College (SUNY) and a Master of Arts in Theatre from California State University Fullerton (CSUF). Her short stories, personal essays, and poetry have appeared in literary journals and magazines such as Six Hens, Bloodroot, RiverSedge, Phantom Seed, Dual Coast Magazine, Coachella Calling, and The Sun Runner Magazine. Her blog can be found at carolsmann.com.
Fort Lauderdale Branch
She stripped down to her underwear
Slowly stripped down
To her bones
She reached deep into her being
Found the child
In this week’s post, Sara Etgen-Baker discusses how stepping out of one’s comfort zone–and writing routine–helps to inspire creativity.
In 2010 my mother-in-law gave me her rather simple but graceful antique secretarial desk. I was delighted to have it and cherished this nostalgic piece, for it both served and inspired me as I began my writing journey.
The antique desk easily fit into the tiny loft at the top of the stairs. The desk was comfortable; I felt so cozy, secure, and confident when I began each writing session. Although I quickly outgrew the desk, I was unwilling to give it up and acquire a larger one.
Despite the desk’s comfort and coziness, its limited storage capacity meant that I often scattered file folders and books on the small floor space around me. I also crave organization and closure, however, so after each writing session, I painstakingly gathered up the scattered tools of the trade and either placed them on a nearby shelf or in one of the desk’s three drawers until the next writing session. Because I’m also a creature of habit and routine, I repeated this process hundreds of times—much like a batter who comes to home plate and repeats a similar process each time he prepares to swing at the first pitch.
I accepted this process as the way that I entered into and exited my writing mode. Subconsciously, I convinced myself that the desk and the rhythm of my routine were my lucky charms, and I needed them to be successful.
A few years into my writing journey, we moved into a bigger home. Subsequently, I acquired my own office. My husband Bill offered on more than one occasion to buy me a new desk for my office, but I ignored his offers—like the day we stopped at the local office supply store.
Bill escorted me to the back of the showroom where he’d found what he thought was THE perfect desk for me. “I want to buy this for you, Sweetie. My writer needs a bigger desk.” He hugged me. “You know you deserve it. Besides, a bigger desk means bigger possibilities.”
“But I don’t want a bigger desk!” I turned and marched away. “I like my little desk.”
“I don’t understand. Why don’t you want a bigger desk?” He scurried to my side. “You must be afraid of something? What is it? You can tell me.”
“Whatever do you mean? I’m not afraid of anything. What makes you say that?” I folded my arms across my chest and looked him straight in the eyes. “Like I said, I really like my little desk. I’m satisfied with it. It inspires me. Besides, we just moved; I’ve experienced enough change. Changing to a bigger desk will just mess with my writing mojo. So don’t ask me again!”
He didn’t ask me again.
Then a few days later, while working in my new office, I looked around at the folders, books, and papers strewn all over my office floor. I riffled through several stacks and couldn’t find what I needed to meet a contest deadline. My heart raced, and beads of sweat appeared on my forehead—the telltale signs that I’ve allowed panic and fear to take hold. I leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath, and looked around my office. The room literally swallowed the tiny desk, making it look a wee bit insignificant and slightly out of place. Hmmm. Maybe I do need a bigger desk. But the idea of graduating to a bigger desk sent tiny shock waves through my brain.
Perhaps Bill was right. Was I afraid of something? If so, what was it?
Unable to continue writing, I closed my laptop, stood up, and paced around the room, focusing my attention on the certificates, awards, and checks that I’d framed and hung on the wall. When I began writing, I never imagined the success that now stared back at me. Each represented either an exciting moment or a significant step forward in my writing career. I was both thrilled and content with the level of success I’d achieved.
I closed my eyes and relived the vulnerability and fear I sometimes felt as a new writer. Often when I sat down to write, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to write or where I was going on my writing journey. But during the past few years, I trained myself to love both the ambiguity and the not knowing.
I smiled, returned to my chair, and retrieved C. Joy Bell C’s book of poetry, All Things Dance Like Dragonflies, from the bookshelf. I flipped through its pages, and her words about faith jumped off the page into my heart:
I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.
At that moment, I recognized that a bigger desk symbolized bigger projects, bigger possibilities, more challenging contests, and being once again suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight.
Bill was right, of course. I was afraid—afraid to force my complacent writing wings to once more unravel and begin a new flight. C. Joy Bell C’s words helped me grasp, at a deeper level, that once I spread my wings anew, I could trust that the winds of creativity would carry me further, where I needed to go.
So when my bigger desk arrived a few days later, I sat down at it, opened my laptop, and once again felt the miracle in the not knowing and the strength in the unfolding of my wings, confident in their ability to begin anew.
Sara Etgen-Baker has been a member of the Dallas Branch of NLAPW since 2014. She enjoys the support and fellowship her affiliation with NLAPW brings to her writing life. Her manuscripts have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, My Heroic Journey, Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, and The Santa Claus Project. When not writing, Sara spends time with her husband, Bill, to whom she’s been married for 34 years. She may be contacted via email at email@example.com.
Linda Newman Woito
Iowa City, Iowa Branch
Prudence opened a narrow door and was surprised
she was walking into a closet thinking it was a women’s
bathroom but since she was already holding her legs
tightly together she decided to pull the door closed
and have at it in a little drain that sat in the corner
of the closet below the handy-dandy pull-chain light
and so she did. As she began relieving herself
the light dimmed once then twice and everything
went black including the drain itself which she was
straining to see as she aimed with as steady a stream
as she could manage under the circumstances. Yet
all she could think as she tried to relax was did I lock
the door when I came in, knowing I’d need a moment
of personal privacy. But before she could answer
to her satisfaction the door opened and in walked
a young janitor with a mop and a glass of champagne
in his hand, and soon he was bending over as she
tried to yank up her too-tight jeans in the most
lady-like manner she knew when suddenly the light
came on and she heard him ask: Can I help you Lady?
You lose something Lady? To which she replied
No, not at all in fact I’ve found precisely what I’ve
needed for a long long time and in exactly the right
time place and manner…indeed in the right order
and so she pulled the pull-chain once then twice
and out went the light in time for the next tale
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