Goodbye and Farewell

GOODBYE

Dear Readers: This is my last post for Live to Write – Write to Live.

It has been deeply gratifying to post my thoughts about the business and craft of writing here every other week for almost eight years. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge, my successes and my challenges with you. And I’ve loved the “Likes” and comments you have given me in reply.

I’ve come to recognize many of your avatars, enjoyed stimulating correspondence with others of you, and consider a few of you my on-line friends. I will miss you, but it’s time for me to consolidate.

CONSOLIDATION

The impasse I came to with Vermont Public Radio has shaken me in curious and unlooked for ways. Most notably, I am honoring a need to consolidate my thoughts and energies to telling the two stories I’ve been working on in fits and starts these past years. I recognize the need to make telling them my priority, and to do that, I have to give up the shorter, easier, extremely gratifying work of writing for you.

TURNING INWARD

Between the death of my father, the end of my term as Chair of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, and my break with VPR, I sense in myself a great moving inward, as if I’m finally ready to sit still and listen to the voice rising from deep inside.

LIVING IN PLACE

I will continue to post an essay every Wednesday on my personal blog, Living in Place. I invite you to join me there, where I write about our human condition by telling stories. Humans are a narrative species. We thrive on stories.

For reasons I don’t begin to understand, I seem to have been chosen to tell them. I hope you will honor me by subscribing to Living in Place. I look forward to seeing your avatars there, and to engaging in thoughtful exchanges of ideas and opinions.

FARE WELL, WRITE WELL

I wish you all the courage to tell your own stories. May you always find the exact word you need to say what you mean and thereby engage in that intimate relationship between writer and reader.

Fare well,

Deborah.

Goodbye and FarewellDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who blogs weekly at Living in Place.

 

Reply to Readers’ Comments

I no longer remember which of my colleagues at Live to Write – Write to Live first advised me to reply to readers’ comments, but it’s been great advice, so I’m passing it on.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s easy to send stories out into the world; it’s harder to know if they ever get read, and harder still to know if they hit home. When a reader comments, it’s like an out-of-the-park homer. Replying is simply cheering for the home team.
  2. When a reader’s comments offer me a new perspective, I thank them for widening my world-view. I live a somewhat solitary life, and I appreciate other’s opinions, life experiences and wisdom.
  3. When a reader reveals uncertainty about their writing, I reply with encouragement. I know both how easy it is to become discouraged and how important kinds words can be. Everyone has stories to tell; not everyone has the courage or wherewithal to write them down, let alone send them out into the world. Everyone benefits from kindness.
  4. Humans are a narrative species. We need stories. Stories are a way to build empathy, trade information, and resolve conflict. I want to do what I can to promote such peaceful behavior.
  5. Sometimes, this somewhat solitary writing life gets lonely, and hearing from readers has led to some on-line friendships. I’ve been in love with letters and intrigued by letter writing since I was a kid, and I like epistolary relationships. I still love snail mail, but email is easier and faster.
  6. Recently, an acquaintance I made through my blog turned into a face-to-face visit. Last week, this reader from England stopped by for coffee. (Read about it here.)

The chance to comment on a blog and reply to a reader’s comment is a gift of the internet. Yes, I received fan mail when my novel, Into the Wilderness, came out. No question, it was terrific. But I write novels slowly; I post blogs about six times a month. The frequency allows me to reach more readers between books, and these readers’ comments sustain me. So replying to comments only makes sense.

Thanks to all who read my posts both here and on Living in Place. This post is a special shout-out to those who respond with a comment.Deborah Lee Luskin

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, public speaker and educator who lives in southern Vermont. There are still a few spaces left for the WOMEN WALKING AND WRITING TO WISDOM WALKshop on November 4th. Learn more here.

A Demonstration of Point of View

Two Points of View

Despite the events of Labor Day Weekend 2004, Tim and I are not only still married, we’re still hiking together.

Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told.

One of the best ways to understand Point of View is by example, so here are two versions of the same story told from two different points of view.

A Touching Reunion is a story about a time when my husband and I became separated while hiking. I told it to a live audience at a Vermont Public Radio event. It was subsequently broadcast. If you read it or listen to it, you’ll understand why my husband wanted to tell his side of the story.

He’s too busy to write it down, so I’ve taken the liberty of doing it for him. It follows below.

Searching for My Wife

I don’t know that I’ll ever live down forgetting the color of Deb’s eye ever since she broadcast what happened on the radio the time we became separated on the Long Trail.

We didn’t get on the trail until after 3, but Deb was right behind me – right on my heels – even though she was carrying a heavy pack. So I walked faster and pulled ahead.

The next time I stopped, she wasn’t behind me. I doubled back and couldn’t find her, so I hurried ahead.

Desperate, I called the police from a woman’s trailer just before dark. Then I headed back to the trailhead and slept in the car. Or tried to, but a carload of guys from out-of-state pulled in about midnight and started to barbeque. They offered me a burger and beer, said they were heading out first thing to climb Killington. I told them I’d be searching for my wife.

“Sorry man,” they said. If any of these frat boys were married, they didn’t act like it.

I liked being married. I liked being married to Deborah. And I was worried: where was she? What happened? Was she okay? I wouldn’t allow my mind to go further than that.

At first light, the frat boys were snoring in tents pitched in the parking lot. They didn’t even stir when the rescuers started to pull in.

A woman named Josh was in charge. She asked me Deb’s height, weight, hair color, eye color, and her birthday. Deb’s always riding me about getting her birth year wrong, always making her younger than she is. It isn’t intentional, but it’s become one of those tics that’s hard to correct once you’re unsure. So I was afraid they wouldn’t believe I was really her husband if I didn’t get it right, not after being unsure about her eyes. So I guessed a year earlier than I usually do. I think that was right, but what would they do if her ID didn’t match what I said? I couldn’t even prove we were married. Sure, both our names were on the car registration – our different names. Was that going to be another barrier to my credibility? If they didn’t believe I was her husband, how would I ever get her back?

Just then, Josh stepped away to the radio. When she came back, she said, “Your wife’s just called in. A trooper’s gone to pick her up. She’s okay.”

I was so glad to see her, and I did look deeply into her eyes. I wasn’t ever again going to be in doubt to their spectacular, loving, hue. So I did shout, “They’re blue!”

But really, how important was it to the search – if there had been one. As far as I was concerned, the Search and Rescue people could just round up every medium sized, brown haired forty-eight year old white female lost in the woods and we could sort them by eye color later.

 

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin tells a story every Wednesday at Living in Place.

Personal Becomes Universal Through Research

Guest Post by Novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Book cover

Donna Vitucci’s new novel, Salt of Patriots, published on Earth Day 2017.

The answer to my question, How long does it take to write a book? is fifteen for the novelist Donna Vitucci, who has just published Salt of Patriots after fifteen years of research, writing and revision. In this guest post, Vitucci describes what motivated her – and kept her going.

Origin of Salt

At my mother’s wake in the summer of 1999, the reminiscences we’d heard through the years got dragged out and enlivened by re-telling. The time all Uncle Bobby’s hair fell out when he was working at Fernald. The spills and inherent danger of any other kind of factory, but Fernald was processing uranium. A different kind of plant, in the early atomic days, in the 1950s.

Fernald closed after dust collectors failed in the 1980s and leaks into the Miami Aquifer hit the press. A class action lawsuit helped shutter the plant and place it on the Superfund Cleanup List. A Public Information Center was established as an aspect of remediation activities—eureka! I’d write my family Fernald stories infused with true and accessible information.

Research

To write it, I needed to understand it, and I’m no scientist. I dashed daily to the Information Center, reading and trying to understand what Fernald workers did. What were their jobs? What might Uncle Bob have done once he clocked in for 2nd shift? What made his hair fall out?

I read The Atomizers, the Fernald company newsletter. I studied processes the Fernald scientists developed, and the chemistry and metallurgy that had men in various buildings turn out uranium ingots or rods. I sought the secrets and security, the rumors in the community, how everybody had a relative or friend who worked there, or lost their acreage, or got sick or died. Newspaper articles on microfiche announced the building of the “new plant” and how it was going to bring hundreds of jobs—which it did. The nuclear industry was in its infancy. They were playing with dice and hoping for the best in beating the Russians.

Interviews

Uncle Bobby was my eyewitness, my conduit to the past, to the plant, to the human aspect. At the time, I’d envisioned the book completed and published to celebrate Fernald’s 50th anniversary—2001. I really had no idea.

I questioned Uncle Bob: “What about losing your hair?”

“That was nothing.” Same closed-mouth attitude from interviewees and others beholden to their government, their employer, and their own promises.

“Loose lips sink ships”—caution right there in The Atomizer. I don’t believe the workers were afraid. I believe they were patriotic. I believe they believed the government wouldn’t ask them to enter a dangerous work situation. And as long as a man was working he was doing the right best thing–echoing Uncle Bob and dozens of Fernald employees in their interview transcripts.

Striving for Authenticity

What did Uncle Bob do at Fernald, what it was like, what were his buddies like, did they understand the danger, and did they care? I took notes; I had a binder of industry and government papers I’d copied. I studied these like I’d be tested. Above all, I wanted to write with authenticity, and I knew it would be so hard. Till then, I’d only written stories that emerged from inside me. This story would have to be, on many counts, outside of me. I would immerse myself in research until I was busting with the Fernaldia I ingested.

Writing, Revisitng, Revising

A year and half later, nowhere near finished mourning my mother, and now her brother, Uncle Bob, was dying. Feed Materials, as I called the book, was where I poured this loss, revisiting my loved ones, revising them, and being among them, seeing them so clearly in memory and then freshly relevant in the stories where I cast them. No wonder it took me 15 years to complete. Writing this book kept them alive, and I didn’t want to lose them twice.

Donna VitucciDonna D. Vitucci is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, shines light on the nuclear industry’s early days at the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) by focusing on ground level workers in this rural Ohio uranium processing plant. Characters and events are inspired by her uncles, who worked at the FMPC, and imagined from hundreds of true interviews conducted as part of lawsuit remediation activities in the 1990’s. Donna lives, works, and shares the best of urban living with her partner in the Historic Licking Riverside District of Covington, Kentucky.

Deborah Lee Luskin has been a regular contributor to Live to Write – Write to Live since 2011. She blogs weekly about Living in Place, Lessons from the Long Trail, Middle Age, and Vermonters By Choice at www.deborahleeluskin.com. Hope to see you there!

Telling Stories

TELLING STORIES ON THE LONG TRAIL
On August 15, 2016, we started our hike from Massachusetts to Canada on The Long Trail.

On August 15, 2016, we started telling stories as we hiked from Massachusetts to Canada on The Long Trail.

Hiking eleven hours a day is hard, but it was never boring, because my hiking buddy and I took turns telling stories.

Jan and I met in college and have been living apart ever since: she in Alaska and me in Vermont. We’ve kept in touch with infrequent letters before email and Facebook, rarely saw each other, and never phoned.

All I can say is: we were busy. We had careers and jobs, husbands, children, and nearby friends. Nevertheless, the friendship we formed in college has sustained us through long periods of separation. Hiking the Long Trail was a chance to catch up.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Jan started by narrating the story of her recent divorce, ending a marriage that appeared rock solid for thirty-seven years, until he fell in love with a co-worker. It took about five days to tell it from beginning to end, during which time we covered fifty-five miles over two significant mountains. But who noticed? I was too busy listening.

Storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Generally, I walked ahead and set the pace while Jan served as my live audiobook, telling me a story that’s rich, complex, heartbreaking and wonderful. Yes, wonderful. While the process of decoupling was at times harrowing and heartbreaking, Jan is on a new path of enormous personal growth. And in addition to the through line – the divorce – Jan filled me in with lots of backstory about her last thirty-odd years in Juneau, stories about her children, her siblings, parents, co-workers, and friends.

Eventually, Jan’s story caught up to the present and it was my turn. I told Jan about my work “advancing issues through narrative; telling stories to create change,” about my life in small-town Vermont, my children, my brothers, my parents, my friends. I also told Jan about my surprising thirty-year marriage.

Right after I decided I would never marry, I met Tim, pictures with me here, thirty years later.

A month after I decided I would never marry, I met Tim, pictured with me here, thirty years later.

Right after college, I was the one who decided I’d rather be single than marry one of men I’d dated and dumped. In July of 1984, I’d decided I’d probably never get married or have kids, and I was okay with that. In August, I met Tim. Jan’s never dated, so I told her the stories that led me to develop my rule: the worst thing about a partner had to be better than the worst thing about living alone.

Since we were walking the length of Vermont, I also told her stories about the Green Mountain State – history, personalities and politics – topics I’ve researched for two novels, countless commentaries and many public lectures.

MOMENTS OF SILENCE

At day’s end, we took time for quiet reflection.

Occasionally, one of us would ask for fifteen minutes of silence. It never lasted that long. Almost all the time we were walking, we talked. This may help explain while we never saw any charismatic mega-fauna like deer or moose; they would have heard us coming. But once we made camp, we stopped. Off the trail, we retreated to quiet reflection.

STORYTELLING AND ENDURANCE

We quickly realized that storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Once we’d run out of autobiography, we told stories about mutual friends, about books we’d read, about movies and plays we’d seen, music we’d heard and other adventures we’d had in different parts of the world.

And because we’re both the sort of people who like to find meaning in what we do, we carried on a meta-discussion about the hike itself: what we were learning from walking day after day over challenging terrain. This led to Lessons From the Long Trail, a series of essays which you can read on my blog.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STORIES

Storytelling is a distinctly human activity. It’s how we make sense of the world, and how we connect with others. Telling stories shapes our experience, and hearing them expands our knowledge. Knowing the same stories creates community.

Telling stories is central to the human experience. Being a storyteller is an honorable job. Keep writing your stories.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

Deborah Lee Luskin tells stories every Wednesday on her blog.

When Was the Last Time You Told Your Story?

There are three questions that healers of a Central Oregon Native American tribe ask their patients before beginning medicine work:

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

The healers believe the answers a person gives tell them how deep the illness, injury, or damage lies.

I thought of this as I was singing and dancing alone in my kitchen the other day. I thought about the times I didn’t sing or dance—or tell my story.

Whole years have gone by when I didn’t sing or dance—not even when I was alone in my house or car.

And whole years have gone by when I didn’t journal. Those times, when I stopped telling my story to myself, those were the worst times in my life. I can see it so clearly now but of course, when you’re in the middle of the bad time, you can’t see much of anything.

I started keeping a journal when I was eleven years old. Since then, there have been many times I felt I couldn’t share my thoughts or feelings with anyone else, but I wrote them in my journal as a way of working through those thoughts and feelings. A journal entry, to me, is always a dialogue with myself. Like most conversations, it usually ends with a shift or change in perspective: Some kind of resolution.

And it was a way of saying, if only to myself, “I matter. My story and my life count.”

I almost never look back at my journal entries, with the exception of my Five Year Journal. (I love seeing what I (or my son) was doing a year ago today or two years ago today.) My regular journal entries are “of the moment,” and they help me process whatever I’m going through at that particular time and place. They are only for myself and they are not interesting to me once the moment has passed.

I told my story, now I’m moving on. When I stop being able to tell my story, even to myself, I know I need to make some changes.

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I can’t sing but I enjoy singing. I think I can dance, a little, and I enjoy that, too. I enjoy telling my story (and almost any story) best of all!

Friday Fun – Has art ever inspired your writing?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Have any of your stories been inspired by a piece of visual or performing art – a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, a dance, or vocal performance? What struck you about the piece and inspired you to write? 

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: In so many ways! I run a service organization (StageSource) for the New England theater community, so I see a lot of theater, and talk to a lot of theater folk. Since storytelling is in the DNA, that inspires me. And the dramatic structure of plays is the same for mysteries, so there’s that. Also, using Scrivener, I often take a photograph or a painting and use them as reference points to describe a place, or an emotion. And music is frequently a mood setter for me, though I can’t write with music in the background. Artist dates are my creative food–I am pushing myself to explore new (to me) art forms. Sorry that there aren’t specifics, but I love that my life is full and inspired by art and creativity, and I know it makes me a better writer.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: Absolutely. I have many short stories whose inspiration came from photos I’ve come across (or taken on my own). I’m always inspired by B&W drawings or photos – something about the lack of color and the different shades of gray pulls me in and gets the muse extremely excited and creative.

I’ve been watching a lot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes via Hulu and although pulled in by the mystery, the b&w filming also pulls me in as I wonder about all the colors that I can’t see. It’s a fun creative exercise to wonder what the set was really like – did they care about having complementary colors? Or just use whatever was on hand since it would only convert to a shade of gray, anyway?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I can’t think of a specific type of art that has inspired my writing other than poetry and literature. Over the years I’ve written sonnets after reading some of Shakespeare’s, haiku’s after discovering the form in a book of Eastern poetry, and I’ve even written my version of an epic journey after reading The Odyssey. While some might not consider this art, I’ve even written about an eventful day as a Star Trek episode. The limitation of different forms somehow boosts my creativity–and it’s really fun..

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin: Absolutely! Classical music – especially chamber music – was a huge influence and became an important theme in Into the Wilderness. Music is the common language for Rose and Percy, who have no other way to communicate when they first meet. Percy (the leading male) even learns how to play the piano in the course of the story. Landscape and fashion are key elements of Elegy for a Girl, the novel currently with my agent. And I’m now writing Ellen, a story about a character who is hugely influenced by nineteenth century British fiction.

headshot_jw_thumbnailmermaidJamie Wallace: All. The. Time. The quantity and diversity of artworks that have sparked my writer’s mind are nearly impossible to measure. A beautiful bracelet gave me the idea to write a series of linked short stories about the bracelet’s many owners. This painting of a mermaid (which I coveted for years and which my parents gave to me as a Christmas gift last year) made me want to write a story about this beautiful and fierce merwoman. I wanted to find her story and explore her world under the sea. My daughter takes dance classes at a local dance studio that is well known for its modern choreography and gorgeous aerial work. Each time I watch one of these abstract, wordless shows, I can sense a story coursing along just below the music – reaching out through the dancers’ moves. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually write any of these stories, but they stick with me and I feel like even as time passes, they continue to percolate in the back of my mind – slowly brewing themselves into something more tangible than an ephemeral breath from the muse.

Take this song by Sting – a track off his 1999 album, Brand New Day. This song has been rattling around in my head for fourteen years.

Born Yesterday

I wasn’t born yesterday – but I might as well have been. The technologies of contemporary life are all new to me. In the past month, I’ve upgraded to an iPhone, purchased a Kindle, and brought out an electronic edition of Into The Wilderness, a novel that appeared in print last year. In the process, I’ve had to create a dizzying number of new user names and passwords, and I’ve had to learn to navigate in lesser-known waters – at least lesser known to me. But I’m determined not to become an old dog unable to learn new tricks. Indeed, I became a first-time author in middle-age; I’m just starting my career.

Not only was I not born yesterday, I’ve spent most of my intellectual life in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. For me, living at the pace of a walk, in a world where penned notes passed by hand were the height of communication, seems normal. I was born in mid-century America and grew up in an era when phones were attached to the kitchen wall with a long cord, and long-distance calls such a rarity they almost always carried bad news. By the time I went to college, electric typewriters had become portable – if you were strong – and in 1984, I purchased my first computer: a MacIntosh with less memory than today’s microwave oven.

For those who were born yesterday, texting will be the norm – until something else comes along, and the best thing that those of who weren’t born yesterday can do is pretend that we were – not superficially, with cosmetics, injections and surgery, but profoundly, with a commitment to staying au courant with the technologies of publishing, which are evolving even as you’ve been reading.

To lament the end of the printed book or bemoan the advent of the electronic one seems pointless. It’s not an either/or proposition. What is new and scary and exciting is the possibility of an author controlling her own publication. When I sold the English World Rights to my publisher, I sold only the print rights and held the electronic ones for myself. Dumb luck, is all.

I found someone to convert my files through shewrites.com, an on-line writing community, and I was able to blunder my way through uploading it onto amazon myself – which is an indication of how user-friendly the process really is. Versions for iBookstore and googlebooks are in the works.

As much as I try to embrace these new technologies, I also try to honor my own limits – and to contain the business side of writing and publishing to the afternoons; I try not to let these necessary tasks interfere with the important one of creation. Because despite all the changes that technology has wrought, one thing has not changed: We are a narrative species. Lucky for us writers, humans have an insatiable appetite for stories.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” between two 64-year-olds, set in Vermont in 1964. Luskin is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio, an editorial columnist, and a free-lance writer. In addition, Luskin teachers literature and writing in prisons, hospitals and libraries; she holds a PhD in English Literature from Columbia University. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com

The power of meditation in story telling

Although I am not a Buddhist, I practice group Buddhist meditation. If you think meditation is an easy, relaxing thing, think again. In Buddhist meditation you are supposed to mediate in a sitting position with your eyes open for a full hour. 

Yup, you try not to move, stretch, or wiggle (although those Buddhists are pretty forgiving if you do). It is an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you have gotten through it.

In the middle of the this particular meditation session people get up to walk slowly around the room in “walking meditation”. I don’t do this part because of orthopedic injuries, by the time I’d get warmed up the walking part would be over. So instead I sit for the full hour with my eyes open.

At first I thought about every reason why I shouldn’t be spending (read wasting) an hour meditating when I had so many other things to do. But after having a severe talking to myself I was soon that it really was for the good of all involved.

After months of meditating I now look forward to the practice, not so much because it is relaxing me, or even that’s I think I’ve gotten somewhat accomplished at it, but because releases me. I watch my thoughts float in and out like short action movie previews realizing that what I’m seeing are the highlights even though I might not have initially recognized that. When I see a thought that keeps coming back I make a mental note – it’s probably something I should address. Later.

A few weeks ago, while I was sitting and processing some things that were coming up, I started “seeing” an entire plot line for a fiction book. It was amazing. As clearly as if I were watching a movie, I saw the main characters, the plot points, how the characters reacted, and I also saw a resolution that made sense. TO. MY. LIFE. Afterward I sat in my car (in the cold and dark) scribbling down as much as I could remember about the story line.

I’ve since presented the story line to two other writers and with only a few changes from it’s original design, it has potential for becoming a very compelling story. Although I don’t normally do a lot of fiction writing, I am going to work on this particular piece and will write it up.

After all, I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that this storyline elegantly addresses and answers some of the big questions currently in my life that I only even realized I had once I took the time to be still and listen.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons. Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).

Photo credit: Marc Nozell