Monday, January 28, 2013

'Sharing My Story Brought Healing'


“Write clear and hard about what hurts.”  ~ Ernest Hemingway
 
Our About the Author series continues with Patty Kline-Capaldo, memoir writer and novelist.  She talks about her story in Slants of Light: Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle.

The memoir piece I wrote for the anthology – “Legacy of a Childless Woman” – is one that has been pushing at me for years, begging to be told. When I read about the Women’s Writing Circle anthology, it seemed like a message – now’s the time.
 
I’d kept so much inside for so long – just locked it away and moved on.
 
Sitting in the Women’s Writing Circle for the first time and hearing other women share their stories – some joyful or funny, some heart wrenching and brave – inspired me to share my own.
 
I sat in a circle with a dozen women I’d never met. Susan lit a candle and declared it a safe place to share our stories. I’d brought just a few paragraphs – the fitful start of the story I wanted to tell. I listened as others read. Beautiful writing; touching stories. As the talking stone passed from one to another, my stomach clenched. Would I read or wouldn’t I? I tried, but I couldn’t choke out the words, so someone read for me.  
 
I’ve always believed in the healing power of writing. The catharsis of dumping my feelings onto the page has gotten me through many a crisis. But I’ve learned that weaving those musings into a story and sharing it with others is where the real healing comes.
 
Becoming a mother is what society expects of every woman. It is the natural order of things, which makes me unnatural, abnormal. Being made to feel "less than" - not fully a woman - silenced me in many social situations and made me feel like I had nothing to say. A slight turn of the back to close you out of the circle of conversation; a change of subject to something that doesn't include you. This is how people are marginalized. It's not always done with evil intent. In fact, it's usually quite unintentional. But the result is the same - isolation.
 
 
Writing this story - my story - brought release; sharing it brought healing. I returned to the Circle certain that now that I’d written my journey down I’d have no trouble reading it. But when the stone passed to me, I started and stopped, started and stopped, barely able to push the words past my throat. The others waited patiently and gave me the time I needed. I got through it. I told my story about being a childless woman. I found my voice.
 
I’m grateful to the women of the Circle for their boundless support. My experience with the anthology project has given me courage to follow through with another dream – helping others fulfill their writing aspirations. I currently host Just Write (http://www.meetup.com/Just-Write-in-Collegeville-PA/, a weekly writer’s group.
 
Patty earned a BA in Journalism and History from Indiana University and teacher certification from Ursinus College. A National Novel Writing Month winner in 2011, Patty enjoys writing short stories, memoir, and the occasional poem. But most of her writing energy is focused on finishing her first novel. Patty resides in Pottstown, PA with her husband, Rich, and their three cats, Sarah, Splash, and Snapple.
 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Taking Risks in Life and Writing

Some might call it fate when a place resonates and a voice whispers I belong here . . . some might call it alchemy. Instantly, mysteriously, illogically, you fall head over heels in love.

I am going back to Arizona . . . if only for a week. 

The visit is not totally timed to the Tucson Festival of Books, although I look forward to meeting and connecting with authors at the University of Arizona. http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/  I've needed to go back to Tucson to explore feelings.  I saw no reason putting it off.  After all, I'm not getting any younger.  None of us is.

It's been four years since I saw a rainbow arch over the Santa Catalina Mountains, drove through Starr Pass with its panoramic views that were backdrops for John Wayne's Westerns, basked in sunsets painted by the hands of heaven.

It was in Tucson I began Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again.  Writing that book changed my life.

I  wanted to live out West as long as I could remember.  (May sound like a cliche a la Georgia O'Keeffe or D.H. Lawrence.)  I wanted sunshine, the high skies, the romance, the possibility, if not, impracticality of a new start. A clean slate away from memories of a time and place that could no longer be.

Believe me, I was not looking for my life to be an episode of Californication, even though the main character in that show is a writer.
http://www.sho.com/sho/californication/home
 
Raising children, working a job, always got in the way of these fantasies to try something totally out of my comfort zone. Once my sons were grown, no more excuses were left not to move, to give it a try.  Instead, only a need to overcome lassitude remained.
 
Moving to Tucson that year of 2008-2009 I took a risk to do what all the self-help books, the movies, the "bucket list" testimonials tell us.  Live your dream before it's too late.  Life is fleeting.

My advice. They're right.  Do it.  Do what your heart desires. This applies to writing, too.  Take a risk. Plunge into the unknown, explore your feelings with words.  Construct your voice as a writer.

Once I got to Tucson, the days proved an adventure.  While I worked during the week as a volunteer coordinator, the weekends were mine. I hopped in my car, drove through the Sonoran Desert, and then south to Tubac . . . or east to Tombstone and the high country. 

I drove the winding, impossibly high ascent to Mount Lemmon where clouds seemed hung on trees. And I met people through what has always been my passion - writing.  No matter where you go, you find writers . . . kindred spirits.   I wrote about this  in Morning at Wellington Square.

As a writer, I will keep exploring these feelings of synergy, synchronicity, and spirituality that come with a certain place.
 
Sometimes, dreams fade when we try to recapture what once was.  I wonder . . . will the dry desert grasses glowing in the sunlight still embrace me, as surely as a lover? 
 
What about you?  What place or "place in time" do you remember feeling truly "at home"? 

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Portrait of Four Friendships

"My friend, if I could give you one thing I would give you the ability to see yourself as others see you. Then you would realize what a truly special person you are." ~Barbara A. Billings


Our About the Author series continues with Vicki McKeefery. She explains what inspired her story, "A Portrait of Four Friendships," and  talks about the glue that holds women together . . .  their friendships with other women.
 
Originally, the working title was “The Girls” because my grandmother called her group of friends “the girls.” It was obvious these women were far from “girls,” rather more akin to “oldies.”  My siblings and I thought it was hilarious. 
 
In my story, the four friends I write about have always been “the girls.” I now realize that the name represents more a state of mind than a chronological age.  We are not girls, yet I don’t feel like a senior citizen which is, however, exactly how the world sees me.  So, I permit myself this delusion. 
 
"The Girls"
Last year we celebrated forty years of friendship. We openly acknowledged how special it felt to have remained close for such a large part of our lives.  We began as colleagues, hired by the same school district to teach what was then known as Junior High school.  Over four decades we've stayed friends through a combination of luck - none of us moved too far from the original school district - and our determination to remain friends even as our lives expanded and took on new commitments.
 
I began my teaching career in 1971 on a team teaching World Cultures to 9th graders and U.S. History to 8th graders.  Although I wrote about the four of us, I can truly say that I met many amazing men and women and talented teachers in that school.  I went on to become a reading specialist.  Then I taught reading in a secondary private school before I was hired in a neighboring school district as an elementary school reading specialist.  Everywhere I went, I met dedicated and gifted teachers.
 
Reading to my two children as they grew, and working with reading during my career, I appreciate the power of the written word.  I can think of no higher honor than to write words that others feel are worth reading. 
 
 I am the history teacher narrator of my story.   For the last twenty years, my small nuclear family has had no extended family close by.  Consequently, these three women in the story became my family, pitching in to help in overwhelming situations and just being there to talk to in simple, everyday situations.  I wrote this story to honor our friendship and the support these women have given me, without which, my life would have been so much poorer and lonelier. 
 
I learned by writing this memoir piece that, ironically, it may be a sort of epitaph too.  “The Girls” have had forty years together, but change comes to everything and everyone.  We are no exception.  Another stage of life looms. Some of us will not stay in our present houses and may move closer to children who are in other states.  Some will move to retirement centers which will take them out of the area. 

“The Girls” may end, but I hope this simple portrait of four friendships will stand as homage to those people who walk beside us and share our experiences through the significant parts of our life.   
 



Vicki McKeefery graduated from Penn State with a bachelor's degree in Psychology and from Villanova University with a master's in American History.  She lives in Malvern, PA and works for the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, coordinating their youth and family programs.  A teacher in public and private schools her whole career, she has taught every age group imaginable!

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Woman's Responsibility To Share



"Live your life from your heart.  Share from your heart.  And your story will touch and heal people's souls." Melody Beattie

Our About the Author series, highlighting the women who have contributed to Slants of Light:  Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle, continues with Candice Swick.
                                                                                 "When life is spinning around us and slyly incorporates us into its chaotic cyclone of madness, it’s time to reevaluate our lives. I’m a 40 year-old divorcee, who has recently done some reevaluating.

Since my divorce two years ago, my life has been both a slow motion blur and a fast forward flurry. It's been a confusing, yet an eye-opening time for me.

When I joined the Women’s Writing Circle this past February, I was learning to breathe again; literally and figuratively speaking. Recovering from open heart surgery and learning how to be just me, without my spouse of 15 years, was frightening, but a necessary part of my life’s journey.

A big part of going forward is looking back and trying to make sense of nonsense. I had my opportunity to do this through writing two short stories, “Why Women Stay” and “Shriver’s Bench - Why Women Leave” for Slants of Light.

This project gave purpose and forced me to quickly graduate from the woe is me stage of healing.  It’s easy to let life’s difficult times pull us under into its greedy quicksand, but with age comes the realization that our time on earth isn’t just about us and our survival, but our contribution to others. We all have gifts entrusted to us by our higher power, and with these gifts comes a responsibility. Slants of Light reminded me of my gift of writing and my responsibility of projecting my voice as a strong woman having the courage to start over.

My stories are about a woman quickly approaching middle age and realizing that life isn’t exactly what she hoped it would be. Her sense of self has dissolved and she’s forgotten how to take care of the most important person . . . herself. Her lack of self-esteem, partially born from her dysfunctional marriage, has created a debilitating anchor.

The last three years of her relationship with an emotionally handicapped man begin to extinguish her internal flame. The ideals of society have convinced her to stay in a stagnant marriage for various reasons: her low-earning potential, the negative consequences for her stepchild and the undesirable label of being disloyal.


With a shaky voice, yet with conviction, I’ve reached my goal. Working together, my stories depict a woman who found the strength to recreate herself out of necessity, while hopefully breaking down some misconceptions of divorce. There are more reasons to justify a woman leaving an unhappy marriage than a man’s infidelity, or physical abuse.

Our responsibility as women writers is to dig deep into our pain. Then reflect and grow. Our growth has the power to breathe life into the courage of other women sharing their invaluable stories. Slants of Light houses a collective voice of passionate women making a difference through words. I’m honored to be a part of it.

One last thought, ladies: "Job well done!"
 
Candice L. Swick is a graduate of West Chester University where she earned her BA in American Literature.  She lives in Downingtown, PA and has enjoyed writing poetry since she was a teenager. In 1999, Candice had a poem published in The Poetry Guild’s anthology, A Shimmer on the Horizon. For the last year, she has been a member of the Women’s Writing Circle.  Candice is currently pursuing an interest in writing short stories and possibly a memoir.

Monday, January 7, 2013

About the Authors - Kimberly


"When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
"Gift from the Sea"



What are the stories behind the stories our women writers penned for Slants of Light: Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle?  How has her unique journey embraced the collective experience of being a woman?  Our authors share this in  our "About the Author" series which begins with Kimberly.

"I have been writing stories since I was in middle school. I can still remember the assignment given to us in my 6th grade English class. A creative assignment-- you can write anything you like, just be sure to tell an interesting story. The task was given to us early in the school year, to encourage us to figure out what we like and talk about it. I often imagine teachers telling themselves, "This is easy enough...the kids will like it because it is so non-restrictive."

What my teacher did not, perhaps, anticipate, was that she would feed my hidden passion. Someone not only gave me permission, but encouragement to write and write and write. And once the gates were opened, I could not be satiated.

I submitted about twelve pages of text to that teacher. The story was about a dynamic duo who solved mysteries. There were ghosts, murders, and unexpected thrills. And I was hooked on writing and the art of storytelling forever.

When Susan asked our anthology contributors to write about what inspired us to tell our stories and share our voices, I laughed to myself. What inspired me? The same thing that inspired me as a middle-schooler. Writing. The thought of writing. Simply having someone say, "Why not write this for our anthology?" is enough inspiration to get me going.

Writing is like breathing. I need it, I want it, I will always do it.

 
The story I contributed for Slants of Light is one of some heartbreak. I wanted to tell this story in particular because it is one of failure. So many times in life, I find that people, and women especially, are embarrassed or even ashamed to fail. Many of us are perfectionists chasing the perfect dream: great job, great marriage, great home, great kids. But sometimes, we walk down a path only to find it was the wrong road. The wrong journey. None of it felt right from beginning to end, and yet we walked forward anyway.

My story, "Steps - And Missteps - In the Right Direction"  is about a failure that became a moment of teaching for the unsuspecting protagonist . . . ME! I love telling the story and hope it inspires readers to fall down, fall down a little harder, crash head-on, and LEARN. These are the things that make life worth living."

 
Kimberly Ely is an editor and adjunct professor at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. She is pursuing her MFA at Arcadia University and resides in Downingtown, PA, with her husband, Mark.   Visit Kimberly at her blog: www.KimberlyEmilia.com

Friday, January 4, 2013

About the Authors - A Series


Career - By Jane Choc
On Monday, January 7, the Women's Writing Circle begins an "About the Authors" series.  This features the women who contributed to our anthology, Slants of Light:  Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle, which comes out this Spring.

The authors talk about what inspired them to write their stories and poems and how each - through this collaborative project - gained greater awareness about themselves, a woman's life, and the craft and alchemy of writing. 

This anthology reflects the scope and diversity of the women in the Women's Writing Circle, whose ages range from late 20s to early 70s, all lively and engaged, dedicated professionals and retirees, wives, single parents, widows, and divorcees, mothers and grandmothers.
 
The book includes five black and white interior drawings from illustrator Jane Choc, who also designed the book's cover.  http://www.janechoc-ink.com/
 
The illustrations depict themes in our book:  relationships, childhood, career, motherhood and aging. 

In the Foreword to Slants of Light, I write:  I believe our stories and poems illustrate a courageous attempt to support and advance the woman’s voice within and that – individually and collectively – we contribute to our understanding of one another and the world around us. Together, we belong to one grand group working out through our writing the vital and universal themes of a woman’s many-faceted life.

I hope you enjoy the series and please feel free to join in the "conversation" by posting your comments to our authors.  Thank you. ~ Susan