Let the river take me: Learnings from facilitating an at-risk group

I originally wrote this article for Chrysalis, The Journal of Transformative Language Arts (which is currently under maintenance), April 2016 

 

Let the river take me,  a compilation poem

Let the river take me —

Even when it hurts, it breathes with the joy of laughter, undulating.

I choke on life, I’m really here in the world.

I keep trying. I am a survivor.

Manipulate the truth; truth to be heard.

The road to hell is as slow as molasses.

Sometimes it feels like a web of pointlessness — all shit.

I keep trying. I am a survivor.

Let the river take me, to be free.

I’ve come to acknowledge that… my life has been heavily influenced by broken relationships, terrors of my past bad influences or bad teachings from my childhood. Breaking free of the twisted mold of my childhood is no easy task. Knowing, acknowledging, and a desire for change is a beginning. – Grant, “Write to Recover” participant

I can’t deny it: I’ve lived a sheltered existence. I have seen only glimpses of the tougher sides of life – a couple screaming at each other as they walk down my street, an addict sitting in a car on my corner before the dealer’s house was busted, the child at the street fair asking for more free cotton candy because she’s hasn’t eaten all day. 

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Path to Publication, pt 18: Book Launch!

2 books 2 authors2-page-001

This photo of Lilian Baker Carlisle, the subject of my book, from 1970 when she published her first book, has been a source of inspiration for me over the last two years. I envisioned creating this side-by-side from the first time I came across it. 

Well, I did it. The book is finished. Lilian Baker Carlisle: Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure — A Scrapbook Memoir is, finally, gosh-darn really real!

I truly didn’t believe it was real until the moment I first held it in my hands at the book launch. It’s always just been a one-dimensional design on the computer, even the printer’s proof was digital. Now I can literally flip through the pages instead of figuratively doing it by clicking the “next” arrow. And, oh, it feels good. Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 17: It’s happening! (pt2). Subtitle: ARGH, the Critic!

Good grief.

Nine months ago I wrote a post in celebration of the fact that the first draft of the book manuscript was imminent and that layout was finished, meaning in just a few months more the book — a (mostly) visual biography of a local historian and writer — would be ready for publication.

HAHA… heh.

Yeah. No, that didn’t happen. Why?

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Path to Publication, pt 16: It’s happening!

Wow, it’s been a looooong time since I last wrote, especially on this publication series. And here’s one of the reasons why: I’m about to get published!

Quick background: Over 18 months ago I was hired — as a history buff, writer, and someone with some graphic lilian-scrapbookdesign skills — by a historical society to put together a biography/memoir on a local historian — Lilian Baker Carlisle. This required traveling regularly 90+ minutes to Lilian’s former home (now owned by her daughter) to go through 80 years worth of scrapbooks she kept starting in 1925 when she was in 8th grade. Now all these months later, the text is written and the layout (which looks like a scrapbook itself) will be finished next week.

And let me tell you! For the past few months, since I have been able to see the end of the tunnel, I have been like a woman possessed. Having dropped all other freelancing projects so I can give this one my full attention, I have nothing else to occupy my mind (oh, don’t worry, every once in while I remember to take a shower or feed my kids).

I go to sleep thinking about the book and I wake up thinking about it. Like this morning, a Saturday, I was awake at 5:30AM worrying about the details — I wonder if the table of contents page get numbered? How do I know what goes on that very first page where the publication details go? Will I EVER finish?! And even when I’ve put in a “full” day of work (“full” for this intensive work is at most six hours, but I can usually get in four hours before my eyeballs start to shrivel and shoulder muscles go into full spasm), I am thinking about what and when I will do next, sometimes forcing myself to stay watching TV instead of escaping to my office to put in a few more minutes.

When the book committee first told me the details of this project, passing over a large file book smelling strongly of stale cigarette smoke (Lilian was not a smoker, it was from the researcher before me), the stage at which I am now seemed an impossibility. How to pull 94 years of an extremely active life into one book with a theme without it sounding/looking like a long run-on sentence of “and then she did this, and then she did that…” felt like a monstrous challenge.

Did I doubt I was up to it? Of course I did. Almost every day. But I didn’t let that stop me. I kept doing what I had to, believing the next step and then the next step would become clear. And they did, step after step through the stages of the research and the compilation.

lakeviewAnd every step was fabulous! I carefully skimmed crumbling scrapbooks from the 1930s and ’40s, guided the photographer through shoots and scanning photos and brochures and newspaper clippings and articles in huge binders from every decade, all while looking out over the most amazing view of Lake Champlain from Lilian’s house. I visited museums and the state historical society. I enjoyed a comfy bed, good food, and good conversation provided by Lilian’s eldest daughter and I oogled over carefully preserved clothing my grandmother might have worn in her younger days. AND I will have a book with my name on the cover at the end! I feel like I hit the jackpot of freelancing.lilian-suit

But here I am, just weeks away from having a completed manuscript in my hands and I feel like I will never make it. All the details are swimming in my head and I have never felt quite so overwhelmed. I’ve never put together a book before and so I don’t know all the details, and I don’t have to (*she reminds herself as writing that sentence*); the members of the historical society have done it many times and the printer we are working with is ready to help in any way. But that doesn’t help my obsessive thoughts. Even on weekends (notice I am writing this on a Saturday), I can’t leave it behind my office door.

This is, I realize, a lot like a pregnancy. At first you’re in disbelief that one day there will be a new little person (book) in your midst but you just go along doing what you’ve got to do, eating right, mulling over names. Then it starts getting kind of uncomfortable, your belly (manuscript) and thoughts of the new arrival get bigger and take over your life. Then the reality of it all takes over and you begin to think, I can’t do this! But you know you have to. This book is in its last month of gestation and soon it will enter the world. When it does, I will be exhausted but ecstatic.

When I began this Path to Publication series, I never, ever thought it would veer off in this direction, that the path would take me to publishing someone else’s book before my own (but that’s next!). But I’ll take it, happily. It has been — and continues to be — a fantastic ride.

I will be very glad to be done with it though. I’m tired (obsessive thoughts are pretty tiring), I’m ready to sleep for about a month. I’d also kind of like to (don’t laugh) clean my house and start paying my bills on time. And shower on a regular basis.

In January 2017, look for news about the “birth” of this book. I will most likely be doing some book tour-ish type things at local libraries, bookstores, and museums, mostly in the Burlington, VT area but hopefully in my hometown too.

So, I’ll be off — back to my worrying, er, I mean, pondering pagination and ISBN numbers…

I am alive and not ashes in the ground

This the ninth in a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of four participants who were writing on the prompt, “To move forward I must…

I have many lessons to learn;
Unlearn things that don’t work,
The too many “shoulds,”
The crazy thinking as a child that has settled
On my shoulders and my heart.

I only get in my way,
A little boy lost in a big wood.
Everything’s discombobulated, but
One step at a time I will move forward.

I have overcome what could have destroyed me —
I am alive and not ashes in the ground!

I have to be upbeat to keep up
And there will be some hellos and some goodbyes.
But I’m able to walk straight,
Leaving the ill-fated voices behind.

I’m the flower lady,
Blooming everywhere.
I have learned to be happy,
The peace I have been looking for…

Never forget me.

I’m strong enough to live through hell

This the eighth in a series of poems from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of seven participants who were writing on the prompt, “I have learned…”

train

My fear is to melt
Into the status of a nothing.
I’m already quite empty,
There’s just this comfort place inside my head.

Sick people with good intentions
Draw me back into the insanity, where
Behind the smile is a knife,
Under the mean is fear.

Fear’s right in front of me on that
Train back to hell.

I need stilts to boost me into the sky
Where I will not get sucked in.
Thoughts can be redefined —
I can be accountable,
Live without the chase to drugs.

I want to preserve humanity
Build people, walk with them
Connect with everybody,
To be a part of life, a life with hope.

It’s OK to fail –- but I passed.

The day is here and
I feel strong.
I will find peace and make
Sense out of insanity
In the cracks and crevices of my gray matter.

I keep coming back to the best of me.
There is always something better waiting.
I can give myself a break without breaking myself
Because
I’m strong enough to live through hell.

Me is who I am

I put this poem together from phrases written in the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. Writing down phrases that caught my ear (and heart) while they shared, snippets of poems just appeared. We all have a poet inside when we get out of our own way and let the words flow. This one is comprised of the words of six participants.

 

giftbox

~

I had to lie to survive.

Gift of desperation,

A box that could never be opened.

Leaving myself behind,

Demons by my side,

Colors fading to pale.

~

But I don’t want to wear a blindfold.

I must stop making excuses —

I am ready for release;

Gain control by letting go of control.

Because that’s my problem: I think.

It is a gift to clean the mess.

~

Obstacles can be fun

When energies align.

I stepped over my dilemma

Into a friendly good morning and

A better understanding of myself.

For that I’m so grateful!

The beginning of color is here —

Brought me a new love.

~

So now, I speak from my heart:

~

Me is who I am

I’m pretty damn good

I’m bat-shit crazy.

So here I am —

I’m part of the whole

I am all and all is me…