At the August meeting of Alleghany Writers it was all about the dialogue.
There were eleven writers at the Thursday meeting of Alleghany Writers and that many different variations of a conversation between the two women in the photo below. Were they mother/daughter/granddaughter/acquaintance/friend? Yes! We had them all!
Every story had a validity. Each writer played out the scene using these characters and this particular setting. The orange liquid was fruit juice in one story and a veggie smoothie in another. Either way, it was perfect. Intentional.
It’s why the prompt exercises are my favorites. We have a very diverse group. Our minds drift in different directions, and each path is just where our stories need to go.
This is what I heard when I looked at the picture:
What are you doing over there Mrs. Findlay?
Looking at these peas. They are so perfectly round and look so pretty against the white plate.
Why, yes they do, don’t they? But why don’t you put down the knife. Try your fork. It will scoop them up better.
But its fun this way. Counting peas just like I counted pills at the drugstore. Put them in tall rows and funnel them down into the little pill bottle. Watch.
Well good. I’m glad you found that memory, but your hand will get all greasy if you scoop them right off the plate. And you know we’ve talked about how it’s not nice to eat with your hands in the lunch room.
You mean it’s alright to eat with your hands in other places? Great. Let’s go there for dinner!
Now, Mrs. Findlay. Let’s not get funny. You know the campus has everything you need. Just a few more bites of dinner and we can go over to the park and watch the sunset. You know how you like to do that.
You’re pretty new at this angel thing, aren’t you dearie?
Yes maam, you are my first assignment. Is it that obvious?
I have dementia. I’m not dumb and blind. You’re trying, I can see that. But your trying is very trying. Get it? Trying and trying, same word but different definitions.
Oh, yes, I get it now. I’m sorry. I don’t always get what you’re saying, Mrs. Findlay.
I know. You millennial angels are a bit slow on the uptake. You need to learn some references from other generations, for goodness sake. Spread your wings. Get a dimension.
As the Sisters of the Scorched Soles complete their first working weekend, goals have been established and assignments made. Permission to nag has been given and each sister has a timeline for our projects.
Neda has her historical novel about Frederick Stowe. Jill has her series of short stories about the five senses. I have this blog.
Let the writerly activity begin!
Establishing our roles in the Scorched Sisterhood: Neda, the nurturer and provider of food and comfort. Jill, the practical, logical, techie youngest sister. Ginger, the cheerleader and lifter of spirits.
Ready to Begin Again
I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I reached the bottom of the mountain. How much I needed the comfort of my sisters and the ease of mutual analysis and shared opinion that comes through extended time with close friends!
There is the point at which you can say almost anything, be yourself, unvarnished. It came easy with my St. Joe friends. We had years of history and shared experiences. There was no BS because everyone knew the best and worst already. Nothing to hide.
My first two days were spent stripping the built-up varnish of daily life to let the natural wood of my being breath for a while. I became a spiritual nudist, floating along on a cloud of joy, easily moving toward a positive and enriching purpose.
How fortunate we are to have found each other and to be at this point in our lives where vision can become clear and action can be taken.
When Ron Houchin met with our writers in April he stressed the fact that even though we may have our favorite place to write, with the atmosphere, music, silence, candle, cushion that gets us “in the writing mood,” we need to be comfortable writing anywhere, because if that’s where the spirit moves us towards a thought or idea or reflection, we should not wait to capture it on paper. Let those words fly onto the page, red hot, fresh out of the oven.
As I sit in the Alleghany Library I’m putting that advice into practice. I’m writing off the top of my red head as I decompress from one meeting and prepare for the next. Later this afternoon I’ll lead the monthly meeting of Alleghany Writers. Days aren’t usually this jammed and I’ve been working hard to unjam even more, but sometimes the personal, home, and community interests converge in a perfect storm that requires seamless preparation, full attention, and a professional manner. All the things that spell out work instead of play.
So, even though I am drawn toward creating a copy draft for a Horizon Bistro brochure, I feel compelled to write some words that are soft and round and curly before I start writing something as pointed and sharp as a promo piece for catering and carry out.
My first thought is to finish the piece I started early in the week for our monthly prompt exercise. It’s a picture prompt, and the challenge is to describe the setting. The look, the feel, the abstract, the concrete. All of it.
I got a good start and knew the finish. What I didn’t have was a middle. When I started working on the middle the word count grew and the story took off into its own novel! I was going for a cute little vignette with an ending twist. What I got was a rambling beginning going nowhere.
Guess I’ll dig into the ramblings and carve out 500 words that describe the setting….an outdoor summer wedding. I’m envisioning the love story you see on the Hallmark movies. She’s the rich girl. Privileged. Not yet spoiled, but on her way there. He’s the hardworking guy who works on the family property. A “hand,” who has a special connection with her horses. Each sees the potential in the other. The photo shows the final scene, their wedding day.
I’m off to write some soft, round, and curly words………………………………….
I wrote this early Monday morning. I “let the cookies cool” as Ron Houchin says about first drafts, and went in for edits this afternoon. When it felt good enough to pass on, Melvin read it for his approval. This one passed, barely. I might be willing to recount an evening with airplane bottles of rum stuffed in my shirt to prepare for a concert, but the hub gets last look and sign-off on what goes into print. Essays and memoirs…fiction, too.
Preparing the post I decided to add videos from YouTube, but only if they were clear representations of the scenes I described from memory. They magically popped up on the second key word, and, in the case of that Jewish boy from Long Island, he was exactly as I remembered. Exactly.
I really do love music!
You will rarely see me at one of our local outdoor music events. I have never been to the Blue Ridge Music Center, except for a quick run-through with my friend Martha on a sunny afternoon Parkway drive.
You probably won’t see me at the indoor music events, either. Maybe a Camerata or the Symphony, but not the mountain roots music so prevalent in town. It’s just not a draw for me. It isn’t connected to anything I know.
And yet, I really do love music! Singing around the house is the norm. Lyrics embed in my mind and I’m compelled to vocalize. Always harmony. Especially strong with twangy, country duets like Love Can Build a Bridge by the Judds, or anything from the Eagles or Doobie Brothers. The draw for me is the memory it provokes. I like music that takes me on a ride back in time.
Walking through a store the other day, I caught the tune playing on the stereo in the background. I had to force myself from diving into the harmony with Billy Joel singing Piano Man. “And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar, and say man, what are you doing here?” But, I wouldn’t pay money to see Billy Joel in concert. The 2018 Billy Joel is not what I want running through my memory. Still a dynamic performer, yet not the Billy Joel I remember performing “Always a Woman to Me” on Saturday Night Live, some smoky night in 1979.
I watched from my spot on the carpet at Mary and Steve’s apartment in Westerville, Ohio. Our group met there weekly as the last stop of the evening, the place to gather with a date, after a date, or as the first venture out for the day. We watched Saturday Night Live together, our whole crew snugged into a sofa and two chairs, with the others resting their backs in between. Drinks were fresh, mostly sweet things like Tia Maria, or Baileys, or Drambuie. Nightcaps. Matches were lit and ashtrays settled in communal spots. No one was asked to step outside and smoke. Actually, not sharing was considered rude.
The focus was on the television. Laughing at Belushi and Ackroyd. Since I went by Barbara in those days, there was always the residual Baba Wawa joke after Gilda Radner did her anchorwoman skit. Then Billy Joel sat at the piano. He wore white. He had those big eyes and that strong voice, and all of us girls wished we could be the one he met backstage after the performance. Christy Brinkley got that gig.
There were the times I flashed my Marshall University Journalism press pass and got back stage at the Dick Clark traveling Bandstand. Got in, got an interview, promised to send a copy, never did.
The most memorable of that era took place at the Memorial Field House in Huntington, WV. Probably around 1966. My friend Jane and me were “chaperoned” by two black guys we knew from Marshall. It was the visceral experience of a lifetime. Two white girls in a sea of dark, learning what integration felt like.
But, it was “cool”, because everyone was there for the same reason. James Brown, with Ike and Tina Turner. Yes, James Brown and his Band of Renown, on stage with Ike and Tina, in front of a crowd of maybe 1,000 fans. Remember, it was the mid-sixties, and a gathering that size made up of mostly African-Americans was not a common occurrence in Huntington, West Virginia. That’s why Jane and I wanted to be there. So we could say we were there. So I could write this story fifty years later.
We stood on folding chairs and watched James Brown sing, “Please, please, baby please don’t go.” He collapsed, men ran out with the shimmering cape to scoop him off stage, only to see him throw aside the cape and do that signature strut back to the center microphone. The building reverberated and the crowd roared. Slim pints of gin and whiskey were passed along the rows without a thought of the dangers in communal drinking. Take a drink, pass it on. We’re all friends here. To prepare for the evening, Jane and I refilled minis bottles and stuffed them in our bra. The rum was warm but it was 150 proof, and we were set in case a stray Coke was available.
Then came skinny Ike on guitar, with that lower-than-low bass voice. Next to him beautiful Tina swirling in an orbit of fringe while her arms churned, “Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.” The backup singers with thighs like cheerleaders and voices full of growl and three-part solidarity.
It was an electric night and it’s where I go when I hear Private Dancer or What’s Love Got to Do With it. It would never cross my mind to go see her in concert today. I agree, she is still amazing, rocking those heels and swinging that hair, but I don’t want to replace my 1966 Ike and Tina memory.
Showing my age?
Concerts just aren’t for me anymore. I’ve become impatient about the traffic, crowd, and noise. I’ve seen Bowie at Wolf Trap, and danced through the early 70’s with Bachman, Turner Overdrive, Three Dog Night, and Fleetwood Mac. So, I’m good. I’m sure I’m not alone, but sometimes feel that way in a community hard-wired for the “get up, get out, and listen to the mountain music,” crowd.
So, to my friends in town…don’t think that I am shunning your efforts to bring vitality to Alleghany County. They just aren’t my thing. I’m focused on the alternative. I’ll do my part to promote art and community culture by focusing on our writers, helping them develop the art and craft of the written word, and offering a performance venue at the Horizon Bistro. Local talent, regional names, and national bestsellers. That’s what gets me up and out!
I’ll keep my treasure chest of musical memories and let the written words in my stories be the lyrics, while I hum along in harmony.
When we visited Aruba on our honeymoon in 1993, I had only a hint of where our lives would lead. I knew I had finally chosen wisely, and now had my last and best husband. The years have confirmed this to be true. I have been his navigator on road trips, first mate to his captain, and the one who held the stick when he measured out our new home site. All exciting adventures. Maybe not holding the stick, but definitely building a new house!
Island Time – Aruba, February, 2018
Over the years Melvin has always been supportive when it comes to my writing…my desire to work with writers, play with writers, and surround myself with writerly folk. He understands my passion for Alleghany Writers and the development of a literary community in our county. Even on our second honeymoon last February, he was happy to follow as I pursued the island writers of Aruba.
The following essay tells the story of what I found, who I found, and the impact of the experience. It was printed on the Op/Ed page of the Alleghany News, May 2.
Experiencing the Power of the Arts
When Melvin and I decided to spend our 2nd honeymoon in Aruba I became determined to connect with local writers while I was there. My initial goal was to find Dan Putkowski, an American ex-pat novelist who writes about the island with an unvarnished view. But contact information was slim. He had no social media presence. Dead end. His book, The Blue Flag, was fascinating and I knew I had to visit the setting, San Nicholas. I wanted to drive down the streets for a better look at the buildings and establishments he described. If I couldn’t find the author I could at least absorb the atmosphere that served as the backdrop for his stories, see how close the real thing was to what I imagined while reading.
When we arrived at the condo I pick up a local lifestyle magazine from the coffee table. Immediately my initial goal of finding a famous author was replaced with the desire to meet Maria Silva, the “PR Diva” of Aruba. The magazine pages told the story of her Poetry Nights and described how these literary events provide entertainment while fostering positive change on the island. The article celebrated ten years of “Poetry Night on Aruba,” and the success of “Poetry is an Island,” Aruba’s first poetry festival, held in August, 2017. I realized this was my opportunity to connect with the island writers, and to meet a woman who shared my mission.
We made the initial connection through Facebook and arranged to meet at Flor de Oriente, a recently remodeled rum shop tucked away in a neighborhood of Oranjestad, just past the rim of where cruise ship tourists drift. The distinctive block buildings nod to their Dutch heritage, colored in a deeper version of the usual Caribbean pastels.The outdoor bar area sits at the end of an open-air market space.
I wait for Maria and watch vendors wind down for the afternoon. My eye catches on a figure still full of energy, sorting through a rack of shirts and dresses. He is Nelson Gonzalez, contemporary artist and founder of the Art Rap Foundation.
Nelson markets a unique line of hand crafted accessories and works to organize community art projects around the island. He has represented Aruba in educational collaborations with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, and tells me of how the writing, music, and visual arts work together, opening doors for young artists, and building bridges through cultural arts. Does he know Maria Silva? Of course he does!
When Maria arrives, I find her to be a beautiful and charismatic woman, passionate about promoting the local writers and artists of the island. Venezuelan by birth, but firmly rooted in Aruba, Maria is the owner of Vibrations PR, and an organizer of local events. We sat outside in the always-present Aruban breeze and talked about all the ways writers add to the cultural development of a community.
“The intention of Poetry Night has always been to promote creative self-expression through the spoken word,” Maria explains. “When the event outgrew its first location it became a pop-up event. It moved from backyards, to vacant lots, to abandoned theaters, gaining followers every month.”
“Not just adults,” says Maria, “but kids and teens, too. As the audience grew, the usually conforming and predictable regulars evolved, and began to share a mix of rebellious and vulnerable thoughts with the audience.”
To celebrate their ten-year milestone, Vibration PR and BASHA Foundation joined forces to present Aruba’s first poetry festival, “Poetry is an Island” on August 27, 2017. While poetry was the main attraction, the event included a pop-up street fair, music, limbo dancers, and interactive games.
The festival was a definite success and audience members have already marked their calendars for August 2018. Maria Silva’s goal was to support and develop appreciation of the written word. The goal was reached, and more. The audience enjoyed quality entertainment, and the individuality of each artist in the community was acknowledged.
The value writers add to the community is universal, but it took a trip of 1700 miles to see an example of how local writers can enhance the cultural mix and add a certain dynamic to the community.
As Alleghany Writers wraps up our 3-days of poetry workshops with Ron Houchin I am even more convinced that Alleghany’s new interest in creative writing can move us toward a richer and more diverse community.
I watched Ron interact with students after the workshops, and overheard conversations during our workshop lunches and breaks. There was talk of history and famous poems, and how it’s possible to inhabit the poet’s frame of mind while reading. There were other conversations about how darkness can come to light and truth can be told through the words of poems and short stories. There was some pretty heady stuff happening in our small town of Sparta, North Carolina. I suddenly felt like Maria on that first Poetry Night in Aruba ten years ago. Full of possibilities.
This story developed from journal notes taken during our recent trip to Canada, and time with our friends on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I’ve written several stories from this travel journal. On the Orangedale Road appeared in the Alleghany News November 8, 2017.
We turn down the Orangedale road. It’s the same sign. No real show of wear. But it’s only been five years. How much could change in that short period of time?
The curves. I remember those curves. Dodging the potholes. Making a game of it. Seeing how fast the old Silverado could go. The April night when snowflakes big as salad plates slid like wet meringue down the windshield as I crept across a one-car bridge with no side rails. This time Melvin drives, and I work hard to cram in as many memories as possible. I want to capture precious bits for future savoring. A little squirrel gathering nuts to relish in hibernation.
Around the last corner, bordering the property line we used to call ours, there is a For Sale sign. I gasp. The road opens to a clearing at the water’s edge. The current owners have taken out the patches of scrub that blocked the full view of the lake from the house. They’ve etched a gravel path and created a boat ramp. The entrance to the inlet has been dredged. There is a mooring ball bobbing in the distance.
Taken on the day we closed on the property. It was definitely a “fixer upper!” We tore down walls inside and reconfigured the floor plan. Old siding came off, a new porch and deck went on. It went from a 3-bedroom ranch with an indoor pool and in-law suite to a 4-bedroom with a large master suite, spa bath, and new kitchen.
Melvin and I suffer pangs of jealousy. We wanted to do those things. They were on our to-do list. But in the end, we knew this was not our forever home. It was our adventure house, so we renovated, landscaped, and decorated, having lots of fun in the process.
We are hailed from the front porch of our former home and invited up. They are Carl and Teresa, a carpenter and a teacher from the Nunavut Territory, north of the Arctic Circle. Our adventure house has become their forever home. Besides the work at the shoreline there’s a new workshop partially constructed, and Carl has started to blaze a trail 80 acres back to a small lake on the property’s edge.
They are developing the land to fit their needs and enriching its contribution to the scenery along the Orangedale-Iona Road, a heritage road, (meaning dirt and gravel) which is the local route along the Bras d’Or Lakes shoreline.
Taken from the air soon after we took possession of the property.
It’s a road thick with maples, spruce, and white birch. Add a sprinkling of neat, little houses. I remembered that there was one particular bridge across a wide creek that always had someone fishing off the side, and dogs would bark at your passing car for the length of their property line. It was the unique character of this scenic road that first attracted us to the location.
We felt that same attraction on our first drive up Shawtown Road in Alleghany County, North Carolina. We had seen so many pieces of property. Some were obviously not right for us, and others were just not the perfect fit we were hoping for, but as the car wound up Shawtown we felt a spark. When we made the turn onto the worn-in tire tracks leading back from the road, we came over a little rise to a flat stretch of hayfield rimmed with evergreen, farmland in the short distance, mountains in the long distance. And there it was, the spot where we would build our forever home. Just as Carl and Teresa saw Cape Breton as the place to set down their roots, we knew this piece of Alleghany County was the land we wanted to shape into our senior nesting place.
And, what about the For Sale sign on the Cape Breton property? We didn’t ask. Maybe Carl is selling the acres just off the left side of the house. This land has the highest points, the widest views, and water access, which makes it very desirable. It’s only a guess. Could be that Carl plans to market the land to folks above the Arctic Circle. That would make sense. For people who live with a scant five months of temperate weather, Cape Breton’s warm summers, shouldered by mild spring and fall transitions, make the island look like the Canadian version of the Bahamas!