Blue Moon Vows

3231536686_b8b6382acd_zI vow not to smoke.

I vow to stay with myself without caving to the well-known disappointment of that moment: The corner store, buying a pack of Djarum Blacks, packing it in my left palm, lighting up and undoing the benefits of weeks, even months of healing lungs, reclaiming life without this addiction.

Yes, I vow not to put myself through this again. And indirectly, not to put Aviva & Pearl through it, through the bummer of Mama smoking again. And not to put Mani in harm’s way, which it really is, because if I smoke, she smokes. And when we smoke one, we smoke the whole house down, baby and all, and we both know it.

I vow to stay present.

I mean this very specifically. It’s the best and perhaps only effective shield against anxiety and fear and rabbit-holing. By “stay present,” what I mean is not that I won’t plan or prepare or think about the future–these are good, necessary, important, vital aspects of being a parent and of working for oneself. No, what I mean is that when worry creeps in, when self-doubt and questioning threaten to topple me over, rendering all other efforts futile, I will return to now. I will take a moment or many to feel the floor beneath my feet, to do a mental inventory of my physical surroundings–a plant, a table, a cup of coffee, a woman who adores me, a child chattering, a notebook, a mirror, a pantry with dry goods. To take in the solidity of what is here as a way of recovering my balance.

I vow to keep my priorities straight.

Which is to say: My children, my wife, health (all of ours), integrity, creativity, kindness, generosity, faith, courage, connection, reaching out rather than erecting false barriers — these are my pillars, touchstones, points of return, and reasons for rising each day. Not to mention the simple act of breathing, the prospect of a morning run, a chance to see my parents, sisters, a friend, to know that everyone I encounter can be a teacher. To leave the house, walk to the library, and chat with the person on the other side of the counter.

I vow to stay awake to ignorance and injustice.

To teach my kids that we are all equal but the world doesn’t act that way and they can use their privilege to do so much more than skate. They can listen, learn, and lead. They can reach beyond the bubble, befriend the kid alone at the table, and risk unpopularity in the name of what’s good and right when the moments come–and come they will. They can live with awareness that it’s not all fair, and that bad things happen to good people for reasons deep and insidious and systemic, and that there are a lot, a lot of American realities beyond their experience. They can speak up, and they can also be quiet and listen to those other realities.

I vow to see the good.

To plant seeds and water what’s growing and focus on the good stuff and catch myself, whether it’s with my work or my kids or how clean the apartment is, when I’m starting to complain or nag or sink. If it’s dusty, then wipe it clean. Do something. But don’t just fuss. This does not mean being falsely positive. Just aware of perspective, and choice.

I vow to answer the phone when it rings.

To go to the door when someone knocks. To roll down my car window and make eye contact with the human being standing in the median with a cardboard sign. To respond to questions and queries with an open heart. To say: I’m open for business. And also to say: Closed for the night, come back tomorrow. To unplug, to sleep (perchance to dream?!).

I vow to be wholeheartedly here.

For as long as I’m here, to keep unfolding, learning, emptying and filling.

**

This post came as a freewrite from the Day Ten prompt of a two-week writing group that wraps up today.

Want to free up your writing voice without having to worry about being good?

Join me and a small group of others who will celebrate you for showing up–no matter what words come. My next two-week online writing group is August 17-28. Click here to learn more and register. (I don’t make guarantees, but I do vow to support and encourage your practice as best I can.)

Alter Ego

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“Firebird” by Isabel Bryna

She’s the best of me. She’s calm and collected. She’s unflappable. Organized. Present. She sits and does the thing she’s doing, a slight smile on her lips.

She swoops in when she gets the slightest vibration of second-guessing or self-doubting and sits across from you with her hands gently on the tops of your knees. She knows everything is ok.

She lives only now in this moment, and she also time-travels and embodies timelessness, a space-time continuum that defies linear thinking or logic.

She breathes the same air as you and I breathe, and soaks up sunlight the way the plants on the windowsill soak up sunlight. She is part plant, part woman.

She is fluid and fluent in hundreds of spoken and written languages, languages living and dead; she brings to life that which lies dormant but not done for.

She attracts life force and goodness. She emanates abundance and well being. She never worries about a thing.

My alter ego is unmitigated opulence and angels hop about her gorgeous shoulders like little birds, like little cartoon birds except these are real birds, small and lovely, and they are real angels, too.

My alter ego knows you by name. She will answer your call. She is not a superhero or superhuman or super anything; she is mortal, not invincible. She just likes being here so very much that each day is a pleasure and there’s no need to fret about tomorrow, which naturally will come unless it doesn’t in which case, sigh and c’est la vie.

My alter ego gives birth to a thousand babies and ideas and blossoms and blooms.

My alter ego’s words fly into the day and deliver messages on the hour and sometimes on the half hour, too.

She is petite like me but you’d think she stood ten feet because of her presence. She is rich in love and rich in art and rich in seasons and rich in faith and rich in honor.

My alter ego is planning a dinner party, where all of us can gather and tell the truth of things. Nobody will interrupt, not even once. Nobody will talk over each other; my alter ego is patient and teaches me how to listen without jumping in and around and on top of the other people at the banquet table.

She prefers a smaller table, anyway, for two or four, maybe six.

She counts and skips numbers like stones and does complex math problems in her head and always gets the right answer, helping children everywhere by teaching them these skills of the brain and its infinite, untapped power.

My alter ego is all delight and seeing into things and feeling the depth of pain in this world and doing what she can to touch things like silver, soft rain.

The alter ego in me sees the alter ego in you.

Image credit: “Firebird” by Isabel Bryna :: Visit on Etsy

The Roar Sessions: Nyarkoa Mensah-Jordan

The Call
by Nyarkoa Yaa Mensah-Jordan

I’ve been seeing the signs
there’s a reason and rhyme for the way
things are going today
We’ve been tearing the tweed
Fertilizing the weeds
Standing round weeping for the death of the seeds (hey, hey, hey)

I’ve been feeling the wound
There’s no stopping it soon
I can cleave. I can get up and leave
But there ain’t no escape
Even death ain’t a break
If among the living your required to awake

And the wheels don’t’ stop. I hear the ticking of the clock
Yeah the rivers gonna rock. But I’m here to stay, ay ay ay…..

Black lives matter we cry
As the blood of black boys, women, men
spill in streets with no end
police claim defense
lynching out, chokehold in
The evidence is captured on the video lens (hey, hey)

Jim Crow ain’t really dead
It just lives underground through the law
Protect supremacies cause
Discriminate high, show constitutional lies
American democracy ain’t nothing but hypocrisy now

And the wheels don’t’ stop. I hear the ticking of the clock
Yeah the rivers gonna rock. But I’m here to stay, ay ay aya…..

There is something within
That ain’t touched by the lies or fear
It’s holy and clear
I’m putting my trust in treasure that won’t rust
Lay my weapons by the riverside this war has got to stop
With me

And the light does shine
Through the darkest times
Holding the world for us all
For us all

**

unnamed (3)Nyarkoa Mensah-Jordan is a dancer, singer-songwriter, social worker, mother, wife, sister and daughter of the Land of Enchantment, on sojourn in the green mountain state.  Her deep connection to the earth and its people was born in New Mexico.  That is where the songs first came alive, spilling out into the waiting air.

The holy blood of three great nations runs through her veins, and she honors them all.  She gets great joy from dancing, singing and sharing deep and honest connection with other beings and the earth. Her relationship with God sustains and strengthens her.  All is well!

The YAK Sessions, or, Freewriting as a Form of Self-Inquiry

11796381_10206596797255190_670805056911804570_nStuck? Deciding? Navigating?

I’ve shared my poem, What If You Knew? so many times at this point that I finally realized it wanted me to use it as the basis for a return to my coaching work–but in a way that blends coaching with writing practice.

But my words won’t bring you clarity.

Yours will.

Because when you pay attention to your heart and not your fears, when you really listen, chances are good that these three words will ring true:

You Already Know.

The YAK Sessions are for you if you’ve been:

  • torturing yourself in the disguise of careful consideration;
  • dragging out a difficult decision;
  • longing to be really heard.

Want to learn more?

Visit the new YAK Sessions page for details!

Ripe

11041516_10206589301347797_6093626625082184377_nThe peach was perfect. Yielding without turning to mush. Generous, juicy, with just enough firmness to maintain its self-respect.

There were two remaining from last week’s rare trip to Whole Foods; a friend had sent us a $50 gift card, which Pearl and I went to spend mostly on organic produce (though even then, the ripe cherries were out of the question–$8 for a not-so-big bag of them).

We proudly kept the whole excursion within budget, coming in at $49.98 no kidding, with the help of a nice cashier who gave us several five-cent bag discounts even though we did not, in fact, remember to bring our own.

Pearl likes shopping with me. She asked, as we waited in the check-out line, “Next time you go here, can you invite me?” A novelty from our usual Stop & Shop outings. And oh, did I ever feel her. There is nothing quite like it, being surrounded by gorgeous, ripe, organic fruits and gorgeous, largely local vegetables, and so many other products lovely in their pricey packaging–you just want to fill your home and body and fridge and kids and life with that kind of elemental purity and goodness.

I cut the one peach up on an old plastic cutting board that may have even been in this kitchen when we moved in nearly a year ago, then used the dull edge of a butter knife to slide the diced pieces onto the oats and milk in my bowl before stirring in a spoonful of cinnamon honey, also a gift from a friend, come to think of it.

I glanced up at the fridge door and instead of lamenting that we cannot do our regular shopping at Whole Foods Whole Paycheck when I have no paycheck, hell even when I do have a paycheck, instead of rabbit-holing into scarcity or fear or envy or judgment of those who can, instead of these things, I looked at the fridge door and there was another gift! So many gifts! This one for $50 at the Amherst Farmers’ Market.

On Saturday, I will make a point of walking the two blocks to town–with bags this time–to peruse and purchase the ripest of the ripe, the greenest greens and juiciest berries, to stain my hands and feed my cells, those that are repairing my mistreated insides with each bite of this simple breakfast.

I write it down to remind myself, that the choice is always here to make: To wish for something other, to envy or compare. Or to savor each spoonful, to feed myself with what is ripe for the taking.

The Roar Sessions: Ozzie Nogg

When Bubbie Becomes Baba Yaga
by Ozzie Nogg

oz-2I’ve never felt the need to roar.

Okay, so fine . . . over the years I have yelled at my husband, at my kids, at my God (OMG, yes. He/She has gotten an earful from me lately . . .) But honest injun, my life has been (and continues to be) full of family and friends who love and support and appreciate me and I’ve never needed to roar to make my voice heard.

Really.

Never.

Until now, maybe . . .

When Helen Reddy’s recording of I Am Woman was released in 1972, she was thirty-one, I was thirty-nine, and her lyrics described me. Strong? Invincible? I can do anything? You betcha. Handsome husband, adorable children, the mid-century house, glamorous career, picture in the paper, recognized at the grocery store. (Did I mention a diagnosis of GERD and ER visits for panic attacks? Shhhhhhh. Our secret, OK?)

But (as we say in General Semantics) 1972 is not 2015.

And boy oh boy oh boy, am I not the girl I once was.

(Well, duh . . .)

I’m no longer the youthful Maiden with perky boobs.

I’m no longer the Mother guide who ignored the weed wafting from the basement because if she tossed her kids and their cronies out of the house because there was weed wafting from the basement they would consider her a narc and no longer think she was cool.

I am now a certified, card-carrying Crone and let me tell you I am really pissed because so many too many of my friends are on canes walkers dragging oxygen tanks with spots on their shirtfronts in nursing homes and they wear clunky black lace-up shoes or sometimes white which is even worse and they only blather about the olden days  and they drop over dead (thud thud thud) and my world gets smaller I start to feel invisible mute teeny tiny and I’m in the ER where they know me by name here I’m still F.A.M.O.U.S. with a thump-a-thump-a heart racing can’t breathe panic attack and I try to not weep over yesterday or shiver over what tomorrow will bring and when I try to live in the moment all I wanna do is look in its cloudy eyes its wrinkled face pull its wispy hair beat its stupid pink scalp to a pulp and bellow Fuck! Shit! This sucks!

Holy cow. I just roared. How about that . . .

And now, a C*A*U*T*I*O*N*A*R*Y tale.

What We Roar About When We Roar About Old Age

On her sixtieth wedding anniversary, Ida decided, “Enough is enough.”

She texted her children. “I’m outta here. Don’t ask. They predict a scorcher. Wear sunscreen.” Then Ida packed a bag, grabbed her car keys, drove to the airport and flew the coop.

Her husband, Sam, asleep in his chair, didn’t hear Ida leave the house.

*

When the plane landed, Ida hopped on a bus and rode to the end of the line.

“This is the end of the line,” the driver said.

“Not for me,” Ida said.

She got off the bus and set up shop.

The sign read: Suck It Up Saloon. Open 24/7. Let’s talk.

*

Word spread. Women came in droves to schmooze and knock back the vodka.

“My Sam,” Ida groused, “tells the same stories over and over until I wanna sock him.”

The women groused, “Me, too.”

“He wipes the dishes and always asks, ‘Where does this salad bowl go?’ even though I’ve told him a million times. It make me nuts,” Ida griped.

The women griped, “Me, too.”

“He wears a hearing aid and needs a magnifying glass and shuffles his feet and makes inelegant noises and I hate that we’re not young anymore,” Ida bawled.

The women bawled, “Me, too.”

“I’m worried he’s going to stumble and trip and break a hip,” Ida sobbed. “And die.”

The women sobbed, “Me, too.”

“I’m scared,” Ida wailed.

And the women wailed, “Me, too.”

Then Ida and the women formed a circle and held hands and stamped their feet up and down and roared, “Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Daammmnnnnnnn!

“I feel better now,” Ida said.

“Me, too,” the women said.

The next morning, a note tacked to the door of the Suck It Up Saloon read, “That helped. Thanks. Buy yourselves tulips once in a while. And wear mascara.”

*

Ida tiptoed into her house. She walked over to Sam, asleep in his chair, and kissed his forehead.

Sam opened his eyes. “Must have dozed off for a minute,” he said.

Ida texted their children. “Come for dinner. I’m making meat loaf and roasted potatoes. It’s supposed to rain. Wear boots.”

“I love your meatloaf, Ida,” Sam said.

“I know,” Ida said. “Me, too.”

(almost but not quite)

THE END

**

OzOzzie Nogg lives in Omaha, NE with her extraordinarily good-natured husband. Her flash fiction has been published in Diddledog, Flashshot, 50 to 1, Apollo’s Lyre, RAGE machine Magazine, Dew on the Kudzu, and Apocrypha and Abstractions. Her very short work, Escape From Crete, is represented in the 100 Stories for Haiti Anthology.

In 2003, her story, Blue Plate Special, appeared in MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magic Realism, and was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Ozzie’s book of personal stories, Joseph’s Bones, won First Place in the 2005 Writer’s Digest Press International Self-Published Book Awards.

Visit her at http://www.ozzienogg.com or http://www.ozzienogg.com. Being a typical Gemini, Oz can’t decide which site to finish first, so both remain under construction.

Elixirs of the One God

11752425_10206558222810853_6052729574801626937_n“I thought you were going to sit and write,” she says.

“I am. But I need to clear this space first,” I say.

I climb across the bed to reach for her. Bury my face in her neck for a moment, inhale deeply.

Enjoy the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.

For the past hour or so, I’ve been in motion. Breaking down cardboard boxes from Ensure deliveries and the new bright yellow desk chair I’m now sitting in. A few days ago, I moved my desk from the living room — it was serving as a table for the old keyboard we use in lieu of my beloved piano, which lives for now at my parents’ house — to our bedroom, flush with my dresser, facing the bay windows that face the overgrown wild behind our house.

I wanted to be able to write in here, since here is where Mani spends 99% of the day, and being near her, being able to glance over and see her resting or coloring or watching Netflix or whatever she is doing, settles me. Brings us both an inexplicable feeling of peace.

I broke down the boxes and then tackled the piles on my dresser, figuring out which papers to file and which still need my attention. I moved the unfolded laundry from on top of the typewriter where I dumped it last night, too tired to deal, to the end of the bed. I folded and put away the clothes — hers, mine, so much of it actually shared as our wardrobes seem to merge more and more.

I emptied the trash cans, pulled the paper bags filled with recycling from the pantry to carry down to the garage, grabbed the way-overdue library books from my night table and put them by the door, to return when I go running a bit later. Ran my hand over the other books and felt a thin film of dust, noticed my impulse to get out the vacuum and a damp rag and start cleaning for real, and knew I was walking that line between clearing space in order to write and simply putting off writing.

For as much as I write during the weeks, I still put off writing sometimes when it comes to coming here.

Because there is so much to say, and when I don’t know where to start, it’s tempting not to start at all. Easier to clean house. Easier to putter. Easier to scroll through Facebook.

And then: Aaaaaaaaah. This. This quiet. This diving in. This swimming in words.

Enjoy the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.

The relief of it. Of sitting down in the new yellow chair facing the wild through the windows, listening to the birds, seeing what comes. The freedom not to write a killer blog post, but just to write.

Man, that voice! It’s incredible how persistent it is, despite all of my walking and talking and walking the talk about showing up. But I show up anyway, sprinkling these seeds around, mixing metaphors, opening my palms and inspecting them, getting really close up and curious about which ones I’m holding, what kinds of flowers are these?

Yesterday morning, Aviva took her math assessment at her new school while I completed a bunch of paperwork. As we were getting ready to leave the house, she did something that struck me. It was so normal and simple and ordinary, you might be surprised that I even noticed or that I’m bothering to mention it here.

She folded a blanket.

She folded up the orange blanket in the living room, where she does most of her camping out during these unscheduled summer days. She was straightening up before we went out. Without my asking her to.

So simple. So easy to overlook. And yet — I noticed. I’m noticing. That she is growing up, and that she has been paying attention all this time, consciously and not-so-consciously, to all of my tidying and clearing space and folding and cleaning…

It’s also entirely possible that I’m reading way too much into the fact that my daughter folded a blanket, picked up a bit without my asking. I’d say, what’s the big deal, except that this evidence of maturing is popping up a lot lately, like in her self-declared feminism, surprising me after years of rolling her eyes at my words and my ways. Wow.

Enjoy the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.

A female cardinal landed on a branch outside my window just now. I paused to watch her stand there for several seconds before she flew away.

It feels good to slow down.

While I was going through the piles on my dresser, I came across this quote, something I scribbled down on the back of whatever piece of paper had been stashed in my purse several Friday night ago:

“Consider your own creative power. Think about the work you have done in the week that has passed, and feel your own pride and pleasure in that work. Try to set your work aside. Try not to think about the work ahead next week. Rather, take a few long, deep breaths, slow down, and enjoy the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.”

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Actually, I think this might work.

Today marks ten days since I stopped smoking cloves. This is not the non-sequitur it sounds like.

(A quick aside: Clove cigarettes have three times the tar, tobacco, and nicotine of regular cigarettes, disguised by the sweet oil that tastes so good and that also happens to anesthetize your lungs when you inhale, making it easier to take deeper drags, hold the smoke in longer, and basically get more of the drug. Quitting these is akin to quitting heroin, though it’s legal and on the face of things does not appear to fuck up your life completely.)

Anyway. The bald-faced, no-shame-because-enough-of-that-already truth is that I have quit smoking seven times, for durations varying from three weeks to six years, since taking my very first drag of a Camel Light at age thirteen in 1987. Thirteen. THIRTEEN. My daughter is almost thirteen. I would like to meet my grandchildren when they are thirteen. Needless to say, I’m taking a lot a lot a lot of long, deep breaths these days.

Enjoy the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.

Coming back again and again to this words, this refrain, I think about Aviva folding the blanket and texting Mani to recommend feminist documentaries and telling me the other day that she is “…kind of coming out, but as myself.”

I think about the relationships that form in my writing groups, some over just two weeks and others over the course of months, the surprising depth of sharing and trusting and stories that emerge. The incredible beauty of sometimes wrenching pain and always the magic of this kind of connection with others. Others who I know have not appeared in my world by accident, who come as inadvertent teachers and healers.

I think about Mani getting better. How we both know it in our bones without knowing how we know.

I think about how sometimes everything is not going to be ok. This is part of life.

Enjoy the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.

There’s a bottle of Stag’s Breath Liqueur from Scotland on my dresser, a gift from my parents’ recent trip to the Highland Region. Aviva opened it to see what it smelled like, making a disgusted face. Not much of a drinker myself, I haven’t even had a nip yet, but I like the way it looks, all honey-colored in the morning light.

My elixir of choice lately has been water. Straight-up, drown the cravings, flush the system.

And then there’s the Holy Water from Lourdes on my dresser from Isabel, next to the whiskey and my glass of tap water. Between the three, I figure, I should be golden.

Oh, yes. This is what happens when I sit down after all that busying about. After the laundry and the recycling and the scrolling and the tidying, I type away while she sleeps, her morning meds having kicked in, knocking back her pain which remains erratic, hard to predict by patterns. What happens when I sit down is this circling. The naming of gods and elixirs, the breathing. Considering my own creative power and allowing for a moment of pride and of pleasure. Realizing that I still spend so much time rushing, and the rushing feels habitual and false, untrustworthy. Remembering: This is optional.

And that slowing down, way, way, WAY down, is the best nectar ever of every God that ever had a name.

Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad — Listen, O Israel, the Lord is Our God, God is One.

Each night, as she closes her eyes, I sing this prayer to Pearl. I imagine it seeping into her subconscious and filling her cells with memory, with something soothing perhaps she’ll be able to call on someday when she needs it and I’m far, far away.

God is One and has many, many names. I sit and write, and it seems that so often, maybe not every time but damn near close, this is where my writing leads. This is why I sit here in the yellow chair and feel my way through the seeds and the not smoking and the surprises and what always feels like total rambling.

It IS total rambling. I just reread this post and could not follow it myself. No matter. It does not matter. It’s just a flush of the system. A cleansing downpour of words. A maze, a puzzle, a moment. A prayer, a landing pad, a thank you, a question, an answer, a breath.

Quiet now in the room. Relief. No rushing. Just being here, with myself. With her. With you. Enjoying the chance for rest this Shabbat brings.

Shabbat Shalom.

The Roar Sessions: Sondra Hall

Leaving Job City
by Sondra Hall

IMG_0444Looking back now, at 55, I realize that I felt landlocked for most of my professional life. For years, I did “good work” for nonprofits, producing conferences and fundraisers. I earned a living, but part of me was desperate to get to the seaside, so to speak, to inhale and exhale deeply, watch the rhythm of the waves and feel the expanse of sea and sky.

To continue the metaphor, it was like being stuck in the middle of Job City without a car. Life was fine, I had what I needed, but on the rare occasions when I would get out to the beach I was reminded that there was another horizon; I remembered how to breathe.

Eventually, I decided to quit working in Job City and leave my landlocked life behind. I packed all of my stuff and moved permanently to an entirely different place where I could really breathe. I call that place Creativity and I’ve lived there ever since.

You have to take a lot of air into your lungs to breathe deeply and even more to let out a roar.

Now that I’m allowing myself to breathe more deeply, I roar quite a bit.

One of the things that I believe in wholeheartedly is the power of writing to transform. Writing has been a conduit for my frustrations and fears, aspirations and anger since I can remember. I’ve got several shelves filled with journals where I mused and questioned, proclaimed and confessed from high school, through my twenties, and into my thirties. It’s always felt good to express my feelings on paper, as well as to write stories and poems.

Because writing creatively has always been so important to me, I wanted my two children to have the opportunity to have adventure with words as well. By the time they were in elementary school George W. Bush had signed the “No Child Left Behind Act” that started the obsession with testing and assessments. Art, music, dance and creative writing got the short end of the stick and my children weren’t getting much time during school to explore their author-selves.

It upset me tremendously that public school kids weren’t being encouraged or supported to explore their creativity because it couldn’t be measured and tested.

This state of affairs made me roar.

One day (and I still remember the moment, sitting up in bed that morning) I woke up and decided that I was going to do something about this. I wanted to create a place where elementary school kids could use their imaginations and be encouraged to “color outside the lines.” I called it, “Take My Word For It!” and seven years later we’re going strong with 20 plus programs throughout the Bay area, outside of D.C., in Cambridge, MA and in Chicago. Our aim is to create an environment where kids feel supported and safe in expressing themselves and are free to dive into their imaginations.

Our curricula are designed to let them stretch their creative muscles, the ones that have been too dormant in school all day. They write about reaching into their pockets to find polar bears and portals to other worlds, and compose odes to calamari and chocolate mousse. They embrace metaphor and simile, personification and alliteration and are thrilled to discover the places they can go with words.

They learn that what they have to say is valid and important. They learn to R O A R.

At the end of each session of classes we put on a reading where the kids have the chance to share their work with family and friends. I’ve attended countless readings over the years and have never ceased to be bowled over by the power, poignancy and inventiveness of their writing. Here’s an example of a Question Poem, written by one of our students, Patrick, who was in fourth grade at the time. (His spelling has not been corrected.)

Questions

Is rain the tears of god?
And why hasn’t god been crying lately, there is so much to cry about?
Why don’t fish go to preeschool,
and learn how to share?
Why do some kids hate preeschool?
And why do some of the smartest people on the planet have few friends?
Why is there so much discrimination in the world?
Why can’t people that are so much the same yet so different be friends?
Why do people be unkind to people only slightly different than themselves?
Why can’t people be friends?
Why can’t I spell freainds right?
Why do people have to yell to be heard as a whisper?
If I were to ask the man on the moon why he is so silent would he answer?
Why do I say what I write in my head as I write it?
Why Is the world so complex yet so simple?
What trigered the big bang?
What is Luck?
Why does the human race have such a major sweet-tooth?
Why is the human race never satisfied nor content?
Why does the earth grieve when the sun goes down and dawns its black cloak?
Why do people get sick?
Why is it when I ask a question I get the answer no, more than yes?

Pretty amazing, right?

So, since I moved and set up my professional life in the town called Creativity, I’ve never looked back. Actually, that’s not quite true. I have looked back and when I do, I know I made the right choice when I got out of Job City. I’m doing something I believe in, that has purpose and meaning and, I love it. I’ll roar about it to anyone who’ll listen.

**

Sondra bio picSondra Hall founded “Take My Word For It!” in 2005 (takemywordforit.net). They offer after-school classes, summer camps, in-school residencies as well as a program specially designed for very young writers in Pre-K and Kindergarten called, “Tiny Tales.”

You can find them in the S.F. Bay area, northern Virginia, Chicago and Cambridge, or join their online writing club for kids from any city called, “The Next Chapter Club.”

Sondra and her team of dedicated and talented teachers lead kids on word expeditions where they dive into their imaginations, and learn to discover the joys of language and self-expression.

You can read examples of students’ writing here.

The Fire Escape :: A Freewrite

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My mouth is a fire escape.
The words coming out
don’t care that they are naked.
There is something burning in there.

– Andrea Gibson

My mind always goes back to the apartment on Carroll Street in Brooklyn.

Long before cell phones, before I started smoking again, I’d sit on that back fire escape.

What did I do there? Write? Or just sit?

I find fire escapes everywhere I go. I like perching on them. I like climbing them illegally and looking out over whatever town or city I’m in.

I like the anonymity and the iron and metal and how they are at once solid and transparent, designed to rescue yet always inviting me to look down through the slats, the cracks, between the lines.

Today, I woke up in Vicki’s guest room. It was raining. No way, she said yesterday when I asked. They’d fine you like that, she said, snapping her fingers.

And so I complied, stretching under the white sheet, listening to the rain and a mockingbird and the garbage trucks outside, glad for the extra few hours of sleep after I willed myself not to get up at 6:30am.

The fire escape. The fire. Escape. Sit like your hair is on fire goes the meditation instruction. Write like your hair is on fire goes the writing instruction. But live like your life is on fire when it’s not? No.

To escape is sometimes the only option. Sometimes survival, to save your own life.

But when you can’t see all the way through the smoke and mirrors or your own mind, better to stay. To wait. To move slowly into the day. To look through the screen and cut yourself some slack and feel the gift of balance as you rise, place one foot then the other on the hardwood, walk out into the kitchen where she says, your latte is in the fridge.

My heart is on fire, burning away the debris of doubt and fear and overreaching. I come back to less, the less that is far more than enough. I do not want to escape my life or ask any more questions for a while.

**

This was my ten-minute freewrite yesterday, for my Get Your Muse On group’s Wednesday prompt.

Seeing writers publish work that they wrote or started as freewrites in several of my groups always makes my heart flutter. Check out these recent beautiful posts by Madhuri Blaylock, Christa GallopoulosErica Sternin, and Lisa Sadikman.

Whether you blog, publish, journal, or haven’t written in years (or ever), I would love to practice with you. My next two-week group will take place July 20-31. If you’re curious about writing from a prompt for ten minutes a day in an encouraging and intimate group, sign up here.

The Roar Sessions: Vicki Hoefle

An Unguided Roar Becomes Rage
by Vicki Hoefle

Will Barnet, "Mother and Child"

Will Barnet, “Mother and Child”

I let out my first roar of protest after they anesthetized my mother during my birth. Seconds later, as my mother lay unconscious and I fought my way from birth canal to the beyond, I made a life decision– keep your roar close at hand and use it whenever  ……. whenever what? Whenever your life is in jeopardy? Whenever you BELIEVE you life is in jeopardy? This is my struggle. I never gave that roar good instructions or direction or guidance and so it was left to raise itself and me.

I listened to the roar before I listened to anyone else, including my parents.

I was what you might call a problem child. To my parents I was like a nagging headache. I would flare up unexpectedly one moment and and then retreat into the background the next. But I was always THERE. I knew it was the roar inside of me that had no guidance that was causing me trouble, but I was unable to do anything about it. It was as raw and volatile and unshakable as any untamed thing in nature and yet so dependable that I came to rely on it unconditionally and unquestioning.

Although my roars seemed random and unprovoked and mysterious to everyone else, I could already sense a theme emerging. I roared at unfairness and injustice, selfishness and cruelty, and I roared when I was afraid that the adults in my life might be “checking out.” I suppose that had anyone known what was going on in my head, they could easily have convinced me to use the roar sparingly and with great consideration, but no one understood what was happening any more than I did. What I knew was that when I roared, even a small inconsequential roar, I could get things to happen. My roar and I were a force to be reckoned with. I let that roar go unchecked and, as is often the case, my roar began to destroy my life.

My unsupervised roar got me booted out of Bluebirds and religious education classes. It got me politely evicted from dance classes and sleepovers. And in most cases, I heard people tell my parents: “She has something, something big and strong and fierce… but it doesn’t work here.” They were mystified by me and in their confusion and embarrassment, they named my roar rage. The roar I believed saved my life and got me from the birth canal to the world was now referred to as my “rage.”

By the time I was a teen, my roar had taken over my life.

It was unchecked and unapologetic and completely justified in what it did. I was miserable and I made everyone around me miserable. My grandmother was the love of my life and she was my salvation. One afternoon in the kitchen, while she was making cinnamon rolls she put her rolling pin down, she wiped the flour off of her hands and the sweat off her brow and she looked at me until I was quiet. Really quiet. Quiet on the inside–until the roar was behind me instead of in front of me and she looked at me with her steady stare and said, “I am not afraid of you but everyone else in this house is. You will lose the people you love most if you do not learn to understand and make peace with this rage you feel inside. Today you decide. Today you decide if you will remain miserable and make those around you miserable or whether you will try a new way.  If you decide to let your rage run your life, I will be the first to say goodbye.”

My grandmother never made threats. Never. I loved her more than the roar that had turned to rage. For two months I was silent. I went to war with that roar. Not to destroy it, but to understand it, to learn to work with it so that we could do something other than hurt and destroy. No one but my grandmother understood what was happening and she assured everyone that I was fine, that I was battling, and that I would come out sooner or later stronger and clearer and happier. And she was right. Those two months marked the beginning of my journey of understanding of making peace with my roar, of calming and consoling and listening and guiding that roar.

To say that my life was in a constant state of unrest is an understatement. I might have made the decision to tame my roar, to use it for good rather than evil, but I didn’t have many skills and it was a long and arduous process learning how to work with my roar.

The year after I graduated from high school, my life came into laser focus and with it, my roar. At 19, I gave birth and was forced to make the hardest decision of my life. I roared till the rafters shook when I watched the nurses walk out of the OR with my child and… I roared with love. I had found my direction and in one wildly uncensored, soul-crushing roar, I was reborn. My life began again. I roared this beloved child of mine into the arms of parents who were ready for him. My roar had a name and a focus.

For the last 30 some years, I have been committed to one cause and my roar has one purpose and that purpose is to inspire parents to risk everything in order to deepen the relationship they have with their kids each and every day. I use my roar to entertain and educate audiences full of nervous parents who believe they will be judged harshly and instead find humor and acceptance and forgiveness in my storytelling. I use my roar to support parents as they find the courage to change the way they interact with their kids and develop their own true north that will guide their parenting decisions. I use my roar to clear a path for parents and their children as they learn to reconnect, forgive, and rebuild their relationships.

Today, I use my roar to build rather than break.  This is my purpose, this is my calling and my roar lights the way.

**

3014-Vick-079dreVicki Hoefle is a professional parent educator, national speaker, family coach, and author of the best sellers Duct Tape Parenting and The Straight Talk on Parenting. She is a mother who has raised five children into young adulthood and lives in Burlington, Vermont.

Vicki is committed to supporting parents as they create an approach to parenting that works with their family, their values and their unique perspectives. Visit her at www.vickihoefle.com.