How best can we meet the challenge of being helpful/supportive to friends, co-workers and employees who may have experienced deep and lasting wounds from traumatic experiences? In fact, old emotional wounds can cause numbness, rage and anxiety and may be invisible to the rest of the world. For example, when 1st Sergeant Louis McShane received his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 1947 after World War II, he remembers throwing his duffel bag over his shoulder and walking out into sunshine after a handshake and hearing the words: “Go home and get a job.” Fifty years later, after his wife’s death, Louis broke down. He began to speak about the horrors he had heard and seen on the beaches of Normandy where he witnessed comrades impaled by bayonets and others drowning as they tried to swim to shore wearing ninety pounds of gear during the Allied Landing. “I don’t know how I made it back alive,” he repeated. “I always carried a kind of guilt.” For years, Louis kept the burden of what he had seen to himself. His employers, family and even his close friends knew only that he had been in the army and that he was a workaholic when he returned. No one except Louis knew that he woke most nights in a cold sweat. Working long hours was his way of coping with obsessive thoughts and nightmares. Direct experience with traumatizing events has the potential to evoke a lasting stress reaction. Besides war – motor vehicle accidents, plane crashes, nuclear meltdowns, child and spousal abuse, being a victim […]
I’m very happy to my book in my hands after ten years in the making. It is available for pre-sale here on my website. Just go to the “Publications and Projects” button above. The official launch date is May 17, 2014. Stay tuned!!
My friend Martha from Oak Ridge, Tennessee has started to write about growing up in a town created by the efforts to build the atomic bomb. Oak Ridge was one of the areas dedicated to the Manhattan Project. Overnight, an entire town was built up in which every adult was somehow connected to the develop of, and the building of, the most lethal weapon the world had ever known. Martha’s father was a brilliant young scientist. Her mother was from the small sleepy town of Sugar Tree, TN. Today, Martha is an accomplished singer and songwriter and she is just beginning to tell her story in prose. She has come to the realization that the best you can do is to tell your story and hope that you can inspire and encourage others because of your journey. Here is the beginning of Martha’s story about the events that shaped her life and all of our lives from that time forward. Dogwood Daughter: 3 ANGELS PROJECT Postcards from the Secret City – In Search of my Atomic Childhood Recently, a new book titled The Girls of Atomic City, the Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, by Denise Kiernan, was published. It’s been a best seller, not only here in Oak Ridge, but even landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Kiernan’s book features interviews with the now very old women who came to the Secret City, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during WWII to work on the Manhattan Project. Little did they know, at the time, that they were working on an atomic bomb, the bomb that would ultimately be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, ushering in […]
Story Circle has been celebrating women’s writing for more than 10 years. I’m honored to be recognized as “Star Blogger” for January, 2014.
In December, 2013, I was notified that my essay, What the Dog Understood, published in O-Dark-Thirty (the journal of the Veteran’s Writing Project) had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I had submitted this piece to more than twenty journals before it was accepted by the editors at O-Dark-Thirty. The lesson here is – perservere. Besides honing your writing skills, you must believe that there will be a home for your work and your light will shine – sometime, somewhere. Certainly it has to do with crafting your best work, but timing is another essential ingredient. This particular essay began more than ten years ago. When I felt it was ready, I sent it to journals whose contents seemed sympatico with my style of nonfiction writing. Rarely do editors tell you why a piece is rejected, but those who did write words of encouragement on the rejection letter alluded to something like, “not right for us at this time.” If you’re like me, you might ask yourself: “What does that mean? Am I too early or too late?” The other thing I did was to pull out a tiny volume entitled, Rotten Rejections, edited by Andre Bernard with an introduction by Bill Henderson, the same Bill Henderson who created the Pushcart Prize in 1976. Reading a few lines from Rotten Rejections always makes me feel better. For example, in 1931 Pearl Buck received these words from a publisher about The Good Earth, “Regret that the American public is not interested in anything on China.” Or – how about this note from a publisher after receiving the manuscript for Mastering the Art […]
HRH could be conferring with a friend about her book, but perhaps she should have asked Ray Bradbury. Ray was not only a highly motivated and prolific writer, but also a ferocious reviser. He said, “When you write – explode – fly apart – disintegrate! Then give yourself enough time to think, cut, rework, and rewrite.” If and when he did show his work to others before publication, he had already logged double-digit revisions. But, most of the rest of us earthling writers need support and encouragement along the road to the finished product. There are those writers who show their manuscript to no one until they think it’s ready for publication, but often, when I’m still revising, I like a nudge now and then from a carefully chosen reader who will be honest enough to say that they have no sense of what I’m trying to say, or they lost interest after the first paragraph, or they just couldn’t figure out what my characters were trying to do. This usually happens when I don’t know what I’m trying to say and I’ve wandered off into a thicket of ideas. My reader is not going to tell me what to do or how to find my way, however they might offer a clue or notice that there is too much of something and not enough of something else. Perhaps I won’t agree with my helpful reader – but I was the one who asked! Now I can decide if and how I’ll revise. Something mysterious happens, though, when a friend asks me to read their work. Suddenly, in spite of having critiqued many manuscripts, I doubt my […]
(a workshop presented at a meeting of the SE Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association in Groton, Connecticut, October 21, 2013) People will always assume that what you write is true – whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. We cannot know in advance what people will be offended by – and sometimes you will be shocked. They may resent that you haven’t included them enough in your story. Vivian Gornick – author of “The Situation and the Story” says that good writing must do two things. It must be alive on the page and it must persuade the reader that the writer is on a voyage of discovery. Writers of all genres wrestle with putting autobiographical material in their work – and writing things in which friends and relatives might recognize themselves. For writers who write memoir this is an especially important question. In fiction you can use false names, new settings, or even a different ending to the story. Memoir offers no such hiding places. With family stories, the stakes are particularly high – especially if family members are still alive. You have to make ethical and practical decisions at every stage of the writing. You have to decide – what is yours to explore and what should be respectfully left out. (a large part of this decision is related to what really needs to be in the story. There are some things that should be left out simply because they don’t actually contribute to the story) Every writer has to make the determination of what is too private and how to know when enough has been said and all writers approach this control differently. For example, Paul Austin, an emergency room physician who wrote a memoir entitled: “Something for the pain” wrote about his feelings […]
(This essay originally appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Spring 2012, and is listed in Best American Essays 2013 as a notable essay.) Sam’s Way “We call contrary to nature what happens contrary to custom; nothing is anything but according to nature, whatever it may be.” Michel de Montaigne Of a Monstrous Child “Look at that face! Okay you kids – get close to Sam – give him a tickle – let’s get him to smile – here we go.” Click. The earliest memory I have of my brother, Sam, is this photograph taken by my father with a Kodak box camera in 1950. Sam sits scowling in a red Radio Flyer wagon pulled by our older brother, Bobby, over the bumpy flagstone walkway in front of our childhood home behind the nursing home in Old Mystic, Connecticut. I am standing next to the wagon, my blond pig-tails sticking out like a four year old Pippi Longstocking, with a child-sized garden rake in one hand and the other on Sam’s tiny shoulder, steadying him on his perch. This pose with me as the big sister trying to keep a grip on Sam foretold our future. His expression, with his chubby lower lip pulled up to his nose and eyebrows scrunched together under a wide-brimmed girlie sun hat, was also prophetic. There were arrows coming from his eyes towards the camera. He was eight-months old in that snapshot, but I would see that same expression many times over the thirty-nine years of his life. From his earliest days he could aim that scowl at anyone and the word went out: “Sam’s not happy.” He sent mood telegraphs with his facial expressions. As soon as he could stand up on his […]
Recently – as I tried to jumpstart another essay – or at least get a few words on the page, I felt that familiar numbness spreading down my shoulders and arms and paralyzing my fingertips on the keyboard. Instead of writing I was listening to the little voice from writer’s hell that likes to play with my common sense. Some writers call it monkey mind. When it happens to me, I feel confused and drained of ideas at the same time. Of course you have ideas, I prodded myself, but my genius moments were just wisps of smoke - amorphous, intangible, lost in the jungle undergrowth of my mind. Accessible only to the chimp in my brain. When I reached up to snatch a thought, it was nothing but air. Not even a gnat’s wing of substance. Dr. Beatrice Hinkle, who opened the first psycho-therapeutic clinic in the United States at Cornell Medical College in the 1920s and specialized in treating artists, wrote, “ Every writer, …suffers from periods of drought, in which not a trickle flows. He is in full command …carried along on a flood of creation.” I love her generous sprinkling of adverbs. Hinkle is certainly not the first or only therapist who has tried to understand artistic temperament and productivity, but I like the simple way she describes what is fundamentally an indescribable process; the torturous road of creativity where putting one foot in front of the other seems like an Olympic […]
A recent issue of The Writer magazine featured writer Alice Hoffman speaking about how and why she writes. On the subject of reading and writing she says “Writing serves the purpose that reading used to serve for me. I always feel like reading save my life because it was a place for me to escape. I feel like quitting all the time, but the act of writing is like being in an ecstatic state. It’s like being high because you are not there. You’re experiencing something on a different plane.” I feel what she means about writing, but what exactly do I feel? Making a list is always a good thing to do when this kind of question comes up. Here is my list of eighteen reasons why I write: To understand what I’m thinking. To revisit places and people of the past via my imagination. To entertain myself. To feel the magic triangle between ideas, the pen on the page and the written result. To dig for buried treasure. To reflect on common things. To reflect on extraordinary things. To approach an understanding of human nature. To contemplate death. To open a window in my brain. To translate experience into understanding. To be with others through language. To discover my childhood. To describe. To play with words. To find lost worlds. To remember To forget.