Monday, January 16, 2017

Why I'm Not Attending the Women's March on Washington

Yesterday in church I chatted with a fellow parishioner. She told me she stopped reading the newspaper because she “had lost interest in the news.”

“I just skip to the crossword puzzle and the obituaries,” she said.

I could identify because it's all so horrible and terrifying.

We got to talking about the Women’s March on Washington.

She said she had thought about taking her grandchildren to the march but decided not to bother. “What I really wanted was to attend her inauguration with them. I even researched buying the tickets online that’s how sure I was.”

“Speaking of the march,” I said, “I had opportunities to attend, but decided not. I feel like I’ve done enough marching in my lifetime.”

Another woman who joined us in the church fellowship hall chimed in. “Susan, I can imagine you have done a lot of marching.”

It’s true. And since this is a blog on writing, call this post a “memoir moment." Here's why my marching days are over.

***

Last week I read that fifty-three percent of white women (without college degrees) did not vote for Hillary Clinton and that she lost the white women vote overall. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering the vitriol of this campaign, but still I felt myself cringing reading that―and then rereading it. Fifty-three percent!  (Here's another report on the breakdown.) When I mentioned it to my son over lunch that day, he said, “A woman not voting for a woman. That’s like me not voting for my brother.”

The Women’s March in Washington just seems SO AFTER THE FACT―or to quote a popular cliché these days, “too little too late.” In a world where political opponents are destroyed by unsubstantiated reporting, foreign interference, a public who lacks critical thinking, and misogyny, I’ve said goodbye to my marching days.


All of this has brought back memories of a young student at American University majoring in literature, wearing a knee-length tweed winter coat with fur collar once worn by her grandmother. She chanted, “We don’t want your dirty war!”


Not long after that march against the Vietnam War, she marched on a bitterly cold gray January day in Washington, DC demonstrating against the inauguration of Richard Nixon. As his motorcade passed by, she joined the ranks of protesters. Life held so many possibilities and she had found her voice!

A couple years after she left Washington for good, she landed her first job as a reporter on a suburban newspaper. Her editor offered her the opportunity to write op-eds. So she cogently ―passionately―cited all the reasons why passing the Equal Rights Amendment was a ‘no-brainer’―and watched that go down to defeat. Years later, she volunteered for Hillary, who lost the nomination to “the more charismatic” Obama. In 2016 … by this time she had married, been widowed, raised two sons and traveled the world … she gave more time, more energy and money to Hillary’s campaign. She supported her on Facebook right from the beginning of her grueling nomination, put a bumper sticker on her car that read "Hillary for America" and a big HILLARY sign near her front door as the Pennsylvania primary approached … naively believing this time would be different.

****

Two nights before the election, I confidently texted a friend my prediction that―notwithstanding the Comey outrage―Hillary would “win in a landslide.” The next day I stood in line for over three and a half hours on the sidewalks of Philadelphia under moonlit autumn skies in hopes of seeing her, Bill, Michelle and Barack share their joy at the imminent election of our first woman president.

***

This past weekend I attended a very powerful and moving ceremony that brought various stakeholders together in the community for a peace vigil. A tableau of diversity and collaboration between clergy of all faiths; the LGBTQ community; the Hispanic Alliance; organizations devoted to advocating for the disabled, the disenfranchised, and the lonely, I felt right at home … a small, local vigil held on a cold January night, no news media present. Earlier in the day, I had facilitated our Women’s Writing Circle which brought together incredible energy, talent and pathways to healing life’s traumas through the written word.

It was here, in these settings, I felt I could make a difference and even continue to realize my own potential as a woman.

Sure, thousands of women marching this Saturday portends powerful visuals on television and the internet. But after the 24-hour news cycle ends, pundits will analyze the energy and spit it out. Then what? It’s back to the Twitter tirades and the men whose mantras revolve around power and money.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today, I feel hope, against all odds, in a world teetering on the verge of lunacy. It was eight years ago today I stood on the University of Arizona campus with the citizens of Tucson and my fellow VISTA members in National Service. As we marched in solidarity, we were handed long-stemmed red roses under blazing desert skies where in the distance the Santa Catalina Mountains offered majestic eternity. It was a march to commemorate we can never take freedom for granted; to honor those who fought so hard for civil rights. The tenor of that march was peace, not anger; joy, not anguish; moving forward under a new president―the first African American president―not fear that hate and deplorable conduct have infiltrated every corner of our society and our country.

I have spent the last seven years facilitating this writing group for women to honor and find their voices. I think I’ve learned that my energy is best spent in ways other than marching and politicking; in living my life as an empowered woman … sharing my gifts with the community. I don’t feel I’m standing on the sidelines, but on the front lines.

So, I won’t be marching with my sisters in the streets of DC or Philadelphia. I’m with them in spirit and in heart and I wish them only the best. But here’s the thing. My journey has taken me down a quieter, less noisy path, hopes no less high, yet tempered with age and experience.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Metaphor in Writing and 'The Life Unexpected'


One of the most creative aspects of participating in an anthology centers on collaboration ― it's an ensemble cast, if you will. By its very nature, an anthology serves as a “casting call” for diversity; it’s great exposure for both the new and experienced writer who learn from each other by virtue of differences in voice, writing styles, and story.

The beauty of our new anthology The Life Unexpected is on full display, not just within its cream-colored pages and the variety of stories and poems, but its cover, which employs that most powerful of “arrows” or literary devices in the writer’s quiver―the metaphor.

We all learned about these devices: simile, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, and metaphor in high school English classes, remember?

Aristotle described metaphor as this: “The act of giving a thing a name that belongs to something else.” Using metaphor to describe or portray universal concepts: for example, love, desire, jealousy, hope, grief, depression, sickness, betrayal … is powerful.

The "truth" of the metaphor represents something you experienced, not just as a writer, but as a human being. The image possesses a universal quality.

In The Life Unexpected, many readers have commented how much they love the cover. There’s a little history behind that cover, which I want to share.

The anthology editors went through many discussions and iterations of cover ideas, running up against, at times, worries about copyright infringement by our publisher. In the end, the image that served us well was a bit of serendipity; one of those unforeseen, unexpected gifts that often accompany a creative work of art.

The foxglove flower graces our cover; the flower growing improbably―willfully, out of a barren landscape of rock. Interestingly, the artistic rendering of that image is from a photograph of foxglove I captured on the South Island of New Zealand, near Lake Tekapo when I traveled there with my son. This photograph sat in my files for over two years. As I trolled through my pictures one summer morning looking for book cover ideas (we were working on a limited budget), one stood out, although at the time I had no idea of the history of the foxglove.

The history of  the plant, with its bell-shaped tubular blossom, is this: It is one of the few plants that escaped from the well-cultivated garden to naturalize in New Zealand. Wild and independent, it seeds itself over and over, year after year and grows in riotous profusion and abandon along the grassy slopes leading to Lake Tekapo, whose brilliant turquoise color comes from the finely-grained rock flour ground by glaciers.

How perfect a metaphor for “the life unexpected” ―the unplanned twists and turns that indelibly change our “well-cultivated” plans―is the foxglove! (The potent drug digitalis is also derived from the foxglove’s leaf, and is used for the treatment of heart conditions.)

One of the great challenges we face as writers is offering the reader charged and transcendent images. In my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, I used forsythia as metaphor for the fleeting nature of love. John had planted those bushes … how could they bloom so brightly when he was gone? Like love, the forsythia bursts into a wall of sunshine, only to quickly wilt and fade … gone in a heartbeat.

Memoirs, journals, poetry and the well-told novel focus on our most intimate and significant moments and experiences. Metaphor is neither random nor lacking in purpose, just as self-understanding, healing and wisdom are integral to our journeys as writers. We must be attentive to the images, which should carefully be chosen to reflect the larger theme.

How about you? Did you employ an image in your novel, memoir or poem, or book cover, and, if so, what was it and how did you decide on it?


The Life Unexpected: An Anthology of Stories and Poems created by sixteen writers from the Philadelphia area offers diverse perspectives and experiences of women’s lives as told through fiction, memoir and poetry. In this compact collection life’s surprises and revelations along the journey of ‘the life unexpected’ are revealed offering a new way of looking at the world. The Life Unexpected (Lucky Stars Publishing) is a collaboration of two Philadelphia-area writing groups, Just Write and the Women’s Writing Circle. It features ten original photographs that enhance the prose and poetry. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Women’s National Book Association, a nonprofit promoting reading and women writers in community.

The writer’s job is not just to craft a narrative with clarity and precision, but to express the emotional truth in a story. The Life Unexpected does just that. In this anthology, sixteen women tackle one of life’s most important—and difficult—questions: What do you do when life doesn’t go the way you expect? Bringing together a diverse group of voices and perspectives, this collection of poetry and prose will break your heart, then warm it right back up again.” ~ Gabriela Pereira, founder of DIY MFA and author of DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A New Year and Welcome To Our Writers



A new year has begun and it is with great anticipation we look forward to our Women's Writing Circle.

A writing group helps us grow as writers. Our sacred container offers us a place to share our journeys, both as writers and women. Together we break the isolation of the writing life and encourage and renew each other as we move forward on a positive and energizing journey to make a difference through the written word and story.

Our "table" seats and honors a diverse array of voices, stories and writing techniques. How wonderful to be offered a seat at this table!

This year we continue to emphasize writing strategies and techniques to create ever more readable and professional writing, as well as monthly writing prompts listed under Circle Read Arounds. Authors are welcome to attend the Circle to sell their books, and critiques for aspiring authors are especially valuable.


For those who have already made a commitment to the Circle, I thank you. As always, the Hilton Garden Inn continues to provide a beautiful meeting space, along with complimentary bottled water, coffee and tea; notepads and pens.

We have openings for full time and part time memberships. This offers the opportunity to mark your calendar and make a commitment to your creative life. As I wrote in this post, life is busy and the demands on our time as women are many. Can you allow yourself the luxury of devoting a morning to yourself and your writing?


Writing is at the very least a journey of self-discovery. As Virginia Woolf said, “The man who is aware of himself is henceforth independent; and he is never bored, and life is too short, and he is steeped through and through with a profound yet temperate happiness.”
Thank you for your continued support. None of this would be possible without you.

I've included the link to membership. Note that this year we will begin at 9:30 a.m. and conclude at noon every second Saturday of the month except for February and July.
I hope to see you for our first read around of the new year on Jan. 14. This is always a very popular session so RSVP soon.

Best wishes and with gratitude,

Susan

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Women's Writing Circle Year in Review

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. I envisioned myself as Margaret Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame writing the next great American novel, hunched over my typewriter, sharing life as I knew it on the written page.

Fast forward fifty years and I achieved my dream thanks to PCs in the newsroom and my trusty Dell laptops, as well as the knowledge that writing resided in my blood and bones. While I may never have written that great American novel, my work, both as a journalist and an author, touches the lives of others even in a minuscule way and I am honored.

Along the writer's way I attained something never envisioned in those early years; becoming part of a dynamic writing community whose creative talents empowered me to continue forging a path of reminiscences, memories and ultimately the first tentative sketches that transform into stories.

Our Women's Writing Circle has evolved over the last seven years from four of us who met at a small independent bookstore called Wellington Square to a setting where literally hundreds of women found a place to "share their stories"; 2016 marked the first year in our new home, the conservatory meeting room of the Hilton Garden Inn. There we found the privacy - and dare I say? - elegance of our own writing space without prying eyes or casual listeners who wandered in as we read our most personal and private work.

Many women come and go and ours is a spirited group possessing tremendous energy and talent and a commitment to learning; our two critique sessions and our wonderful poetry workshop taught by Merril Smith filled our small room which holds fifteen to capacity.

From the Women's Writing Circle, I formed a philosophy of life; our daily lives are what we make it out of the broadcloth of creativity, compassion, empathy and humor . . . all of us connecting through a work of art that is often amazingly universal.

Where would we be in this world without a spiritually transcendent experience, even if only once a month? I thank the women who attended the Circle and those who "signed on" for another year of frankness and originality through the written word.

And to those writers who took the time to comment on our many blog posts, written by a diverse group of writers and authors, I offer gratitude.

Our most popular blog posts of 2016 were all on the topic of memoir: strategies for writing a memoir; reflecting on important relationships in memoir, and memoir as a healing journey. We averaged as many as 9,000 views a month on this blog.



In 2016 I appreciated the opportunity to teach both fiction and memoir to adults in the Philadelphia region, and will continue to do so in 2017. I learn as much as they.

This year also saw the publication of our second anthology The Life Unexpected. The women whose stories power this collection shone the "lamp of memory;" what Virginia Woolf describes as "the adventure and excitement of real life, turning that beam inwards and describing ourselves."

So, it is with great anticipation that I look to a new year of read around, critique and workshops in the conservatory meeting room. As we light the candle and ring the chime I - and I hope you - continue to explore together the never ending mysteries and gems of the writing life.

Happy New Year!  ~ Susan

Monday, December 19, 2016

Writer Explores Mother-Daughter Relationship


Whether through fiction or memoir, writers have been drawn to explore the mother-daughter relationship. I know I have. In my memoirs and here on this blog, whenever I wrote about my mother I always found the journey elucidating and healing.

It's one of the reasons I honor the courage of writers who take on the task of exploring the mother-daughter relationship. This is deep and important work.

As our About the Author series continues, Ginger M. Murphy shares her 'story behind the story' of "A Daughter's Dilemma," appearing for the first time in our anthology The Life Unexpected.

***
I am perennially grateful that writing offers me a space to land where I can deposit and then explore experiences in my life that inspire, baffle and grieve my spirit.
Ever since I was little, I have asked questions incessantly. I am so curious about the world around me.

I simply can’t imagine how anyone can be bored in this world filled with so many loud, chaotic, changing, immense and tiny details that rush at us as we go about our lives.

I can literally have an adventure while walking one block from my house to the post office to get my mail. I might see a strange object on the sidewalk that I scoop up for further examination, or greet a fellow walker with an especially intriguing-looking dog to ask about the breed of their canine cohort. One day, I picked up a piece of paper that I thought was trash and it turned out to be a love letter!

And I think about things that happen and people who puzzle me and I wonder why… as if in response, writing offers refuge when even my closest friends start to say things like, “why do you even think about that?!” Then I am glad for the company fellow writers. What I’ve discovered is that many of us who write are curious and reflective. And we notice things that other people might overlook. As we hone our craft, we learn to use our curiosity to mine our lives for details that bring to life the stories we feel driven to tell.

In “A Daughter’s Dilemma,” I felt drawn to explore a mother-daughter relationship and specifically the transitions that occur as a parent ages and the “child” steps more and more into a parental role. In my story, the dynamic is further complicated by the fact that the mother has a mental illness. Her behavior and responses are often unpredictable and combative. Her daughter is confronted by the limitations this imposes on their relationship and her efforts to help her mother move to a comfortable place near her own home.

For the daughter, her mother’s persistent dissatisfaction with the move provokes childhood memories that are fraught with conflict and bewilderment. Why did she run over her little girl’s herb garden just because she hadn’t weeded it? After all, that little girl was only six years old. And WHY now as a middle-aged woman did she feel like she was six years old again as her mother admonishes her, “you’d better hope you never end up in a place like this” as they pull up to her new home at the assisted living campus?


The daughter struggles to help her mother make this transition by attending to endless details as she strives to insure her mother’s comfort and – dare she hope – her serenity. Instead, her mother bridles at what she sees as dwindling independence and loss of control. This tense atmosphere is softened by the warmth and abiding loyalty of the daughter’s childhood friend Sarah who takes her phone calls, shows up when needed most and finally implores, “Promise me you won’t try to make her happy.”

Ultimately, the realization of her limits is simultaneously heartbreaking and a huge relief to the daughter.

The “life unexpected’ theme came out of a conversation among our fellow writers about what we felt inspires our most potent writing. As I listened, I was increasingly struck by the vividness of stories that spoke of our responses to life experiences that utterly blindsided us or rendered us totally at the mercy of emerging events. After all, our human impulse is to plan.

But when exploring what begs to be written, I find it’s the stories that unfolded when I had to toss my plans right out the window.

How about you? Has the journey to your story differed than originally anticipated?

Ginger M. Murphy is currently a program coordinator at Citizen Advocacy of Chester County. An ardent believer in the power and promise of civic engagement to unlock the unique potential in individuals and their communities, she finds particular and timely inspiration in American author Alice Walker’s words, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.” Ginger’s writing frequently explores themes of human friendship and resilience, especially in the face of life experiences which strip us of the illusion of control, forcing us to forge new meaning. Her story “A Daughter’s Dilemma” reflects on the effects of mental illness on a mother-daughter relationship. She has served as a board member and volunteer for the Chester County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a way to lend meaning to her own experience.

English teacher, tutor, grant writer and nonprofit administrator are a few of the positions she has held at schools and organizations across the Philadelphia region where she has lived most of her life. Ginger completed her undergraduate work in English at Wesleyan University and holds a Masters degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Her short story “Live Your Dream!” is featured in Slants of Light: Stories and Poems from the Women's Writing Circle. An avid hiker and photographer, she now lives in Phoenixville, PA where she is participating in the renaissance of a feisty old steel town which is reinventing itself in ways that inform and energize her own creativity!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Life Unexpected: Crafting Fiction From Life Stories

Our About the Author series for The Life Unexpected: An Anthology of Stories and Poems continues with bestselling author Jeanette Perosa.

Jeanette shares "the story behind the story" of "Lines," a tale about a couple desperate to have a baby which appears in our anthology.

When I was asked if I was interested in participating in The Life Unexpected Anthology, I was unsure. I realized that many of the pieces were going to be memoir. I, however, am a fiction writer. My stories are not personal experience but imagined characters and experiences. I create their identities and their circumstance. I determine how their lives are impacted by unexpected events and obstacles.

So, how could I write a piece that seemed to fit?

I felt like I was cheating; simply playing make believe in a world of reality. I contemplated writing a new piece, something inspirational, but my muses were not kind. I began to look at older pieces that might be a “good fit.” There were several stories I had written that would have worked; maybe the one about the wife showing up on the doorstep of the mistress— that’s unexpected. Or maybe “Believer”, where a mother gives her daughter the gift of faith during her terminal illness. I have several that fit the theme, but they didn’t fit me for the collection. Then, I remembered “Lines.”

This piece was a last-minute effort from an overworked graduate student with four children, a house, a husband and a deadline that was looming in only a few hours. So, as I often did during my MFA schooling, I sat down at my desk and threatened my family not to come near me and just wrote. It took me a few tries to get the first sentence. It was cut and pasted from another unfinished piece. The assignment was to use time and flashbacks in the story. “Play with time,” my professor had said. That was easy. I rarely write linear, so this assignment should be simple. The words came rapidly. I tapped into that inner self that contains creativity. That is why I decided on this story. It was as close to truth as a fiction writer can get.

I have come to realize that I am not so far removed from the memoir writer
. My stories are about women, mothers, daughters, lovers, and more. All of my characters are women that I have met in life; bits and pieces of them pasted together to form a character: the walk and stare of an old teacher, the laughter of a best friend, the tears of my mother. All my life experiences kept inside like a spice cabinet until I need a small dash or pinch to build a new fictional person.

This anthology has taught me that my fiction is constructed of people, places and ideas that I have either witnessed, read about, watched or imagined. I have pasted them together, like paper dolls onto the background of a scene I have created. It was easy to write “Lines” because although I have never struggled with infertility I have witnessed and experienced longing, disappointment and sorrow.

The death of a dream or expectation is an emotional thing. I have held the hands of friends who had faced insurmountable disappointment and grief. I have experienced what is to be a mother and the love that follows through you. I have lived through loss. It’s all those emotions and experiences that I tap into for my characters. They are not just my creations; they are a part of me. Susan, the character in my story, is a part of me and her tale one of many women.

This short story also launched my career. It was my first published story and went on to win the Best Fiction Award for Montgomery County Community College Alumni in 2012. It started a cascade of unexpected publications world-wide. It made me the writer I am today.

How about you? Can you share how stories often offer a "fine line" between fiction and memoir?


Jeanette Perosa is a graduate of Arcadia University’s MFA Program. Her women’s short fiction can be found in over sixteen literary journals worldwide including: Mamaloda, Euonia Review, Fiction on the Web and Delta Woman Magazine. Her debut novel The Secret Keepers spent over two months on the Kindle best sellers list. Jeanette lives in Limerick, Pennsylvania with her husband, four children, a pack of miniature schnauzers and a cat. She is an active member of the Just Write Writing Group and has taught numerous seminars at the local community college. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her website: jeanetteperosa.org.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Writing Beyond Fear: 'Just Write'

Our About the Author series for The Life Unexpected: An Anthology of Stories and Poems continues with Patty Kline-Capaldo. Patty hosts Just Write, a Collegeville, Pennsylvania writing group that collaborated with the Women's Writing Circle to create the anthology. She shares in this essay the 'story behind the story' of  "My Father's Daughter," a memoir piece she wrote for the collection.

When we first settled on a theme for a new anthology about the unexpected twists and turns of life, half a dozen story ideas ran through my mind. I made lists, I journaled, I started drafts on a few subjects. I tried to convince myself that I could follow through on any one of them, when in reality, I knew which one it had to be. I even met with a group of writers for a brainstorming session on topics we wanted to write about. I told them straight out, “I know which story I have to write, but I don’t want to.”

Why was I so resistant to writing about the one thing that had consumed so much of my life for the past seven years—assuming the role of caregiver for my father and stepmother? I believe it is essential to be real, even raw, in my writing. To do that I would need to reveal some unflattering truths about myself and my family. Welcome to memoir.

A quote by Nayyirah Waheed inspired me to press through my fears and write the story that wanted to be told: "The thing you are most afraid to write. Write that."

When my stepmother had a stroke in 2009, much of my life became about communicating with doctors, driving to appointments, managing medications, handling the stress of their multiple falls, and trying to convince them to move to a safer environment. But when I read my journals from that time period, my struggles were all about attempting to hang on to normalcy, trying to maintain a writing practice, focusing on my goals and desires instead of focusing on them.

I was afraid of hurting my father or damaging my relationship with him. Dad didn’t want anything published about him. He was humble and self-conscious and feared that old friends would accuse him of thinking he was better than they were. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I was writing this story. I wasn’t even sure I would tell him after it was published.

How did I get past my reservations and get to the heart of the story? Just Write—I started writing thoughts, memories, emotions. This is my normal practice that I’ve learned over the years, thanks in large part to National Novel Writing Month. The key is to keep writing, fast enough to outrun the inner critic and the censor that wants to stop me from getting to the core of what matters. Then edit and refine and make it shine.

What emerged for me was the truth that, in spite of the stress and struggles of caregiving for an elderly parent, I found gratitude—for the time I was able to spend with him, for the ways I was able to make his life easier, for the stories he told.


My stepmother had passed away a few years before I wrote my story for The Life Unexpected, so it was just Dad and me. My sister lives in Florida, and she has Mom on her hands.

When I met with that group of writers, trying to decide which story to write, a man I hadn’t met before asked how old my father was. When I told him ninety-seven, he said, “Well, by the time the story’s published, he’ll probably be gone.” It was a cold and heartless statement, but it turned out to be accurate. Dad passed away on August 29th, just days before the anthology went to the publisher.

Now that he’s gone, I wish he could read it. I would welcome that battle with him if he could only see the lessons he taught me, and the pride and thankfulness I feel as “My Father’s Daughter.”

How about you? Have you written beyond your fears, and, if so, how did that feel?


Patty Kline-Capaldo is a writer, teacher, and creativity coach. Her passion is supporting writers and visual artists in their creative endeavors. Patty hosts two Meetup groups, where writers and artists gather for instruction, mutual encouragement, and inspiration: Just Write (http://www.meetup.com/Just-Write-in-Collegeville-PA) and The Artist’s Way Circle (http://www.meetup.com/The-Artists-Way-Circle-in-Collegeville-PA/). She has also taught writing classes at Chester County Night School.

Patty earned her BA degree in Journalism and History from Indiana University and teacher certification from Ursinus College. She lives in Pottstown, PA, with her husband, Rich, and their three cats—Sarah, Splash, and Snapple.

Read Patty’s blog at http://pattyklinecapaldo.com/blog/.