UBC Day 10, 20171010 Tech Trials

It’s 0:dark:30 and I’m trying to binge on Season 6 of 7th Heaven. I can get to the landing page for CBS All Access, and I can get to Season 6. But when I try to get to Episode 13, I get the eternal buffer of death.

I haven’t been online all evening. At 0:dark:33 I try getting to Gmail. (Yes, I only waited three minutes. What? The Internet is supposed to be blazing fast, it’s after midnight, and I’m jonesin’ to cruise the Information Superhighway. I can’t even get my engine to turn over!)

I can get TO my Gmail account, but I can’t get to any of my messages. And there are scant few! What happened to all my peeps, wanting to stay in touch? How can I upload this UBC post when I finish my rant? How will I ogle Remi Chassé in his 2014 blind audition on The Voice, rockin’ out on “Whole Lotta Love”? (Hey, I may be in my 60s, but I’m not dead yet, and the kid does it justice and then some. And he’s cute. Great combination.)

It’s 0:dark:35 and I’m trying to get onto Facebook. My newsfeed taunts me with UBC posts unread, cute cat videos unseen, friends’ updates on what’s happening in their lives — unshared! Can I get to any of it? No. Technology, that which makes my work-at-home life possible, is decidedly contrary tonight. If this keeps up, I’ll be robbed of income, world events, friendly contact, LIFE!

Enough! I grab the cell phone and call Spectrum. I already have a service call scheduled for tonight, because sporadic service first beleaguered me last night. But last night, I couldn’t even make a connection, so Tech Support couldn’t do anything at their end. Tonight, I can at least access wifi, even if only intermittently. Maybe they can do something now.

Alas, no.

It’s a long way to tonight at 6 p.m., when Spectrum Support will come to fix what ails my modem.

What to do? What to do? Well, I can always fall back on posting one of my “Sal” stories, the story-poems I created in a frenzy when I forgot that I was supposed to take a kid’s book to the Library and read it as part of the Library’s “Thousand Stars” reading event.

I was working for Vision Cable at the time (which is, ironically, now Spectrum, the very company that can’t get me online!), hosting a handful of shows every week, and that evidently qualified me as a “star,” along with police, firefighters, beloved teachers, local authors …

Tom Simpson, the Assistant Library Director, had approached me three months earlier about volunteering for the event. I had one job: pick out a book and bring it to the Library and read it to the children who would hang on my every word. Ten minutes out of my life. I could manage that.

But he gave me three months’ notice. Who does that? Eighty-nine days later, at about 10 at night, I suddenly remembered my commitment, and seriously thought about getting committed. I didn’t own any children’s books. Barnes & Noble hadn’t opened a single store in the entire country yet. Where was I gonna find a kid’s book at this hour?

Ah, but I’m a writer! And a poet! I was still at work, still had access to a computer, still had a few brain cells to tap, so I sat right down and wrote myself a story-poem, “Sal’s Balloon Adventure,” drawn largely from my highly unsuccessful and painful attempts to learn to ride a bike. Sal solved my/her problem by tying an impossible number of helium filled balloons to her bike, and riding aloft all around the world. (Hey, it’s fiction. Doesn’t matter where she got the money, how she found six million balloons, or how she didn’t pass out from lack of oxygen up there. Work with me, here.)

I finished crafting this masterpiece at about 2 a.m. Punch drunk from lack of sleep, I became unsure of my result, so I called a friend and asked her to listen to me read it.

“At two in the morning?” she complained. But she listened, sulking, and told me it was “cute.”

Not a ringing endorsement, but hey. She was 30 and asleep. I took my story and myself home to … pace half the night, memorizing it and practicing my delivery. I was still up at 6 the next morning, when I realized that it wasn’t cute. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t ready for prime time. And I wasn’t going to be able to stand in front of those kids if I didn’t get some sleep.

Ninety minutes is not “sleep.” But it’s all I had, because the program was set to begin at 9.

I dragged myself to the shower, mumbling lines from my story-poem. Like Sal, I have gumption. You just can’t keep me down! (check it—it’s in there)

Amid the rushing pellets of water, inspiration struck. I could be a little late. I could hit the party supply store and buy a few dozen helium filled balloons. I could bribe the kids to like my story!

I called a cab (did I mention I was between vehicles?), grabbed the pages of my story, and headed out to get my balloons.

You ever try to hang onto 36 helium filled balloons from the back of a cab? I had balloons out the left window, balloons out the right, and it wasn’t till we got to the Library that I got the full force of the driver’s irritation. I hadn’t noticed that the balloons had been pummeling the side of his face through his open window, hadn’t considered that he couldn’t see past the balloons to change lanes while driving. Oops.

Tom was waiting for me outside the Library, a little startled to have 18 tangled strings with balloons floating overhead thrust at him. I held onto the other 18 while negotiating my way out of the cab, trying to apologize to the cabbie with an obscenely large tip for a 10-block trip.

Tom looked uncomfortable, and why not? I was supposed to be there by 8:45 and it was now 9:35. Baaad Billie!

That wasn’t it. 

“Um, good morning, Billie! Thank you for coming,” he stuttered, almost, but not quite, failing to meet my eye (Douglas Adams fans? Check out “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe.”

“Mmmpf,” I responded, from the depths of my sleep-deprived psyche.

“Um. Look. You organize a lot of events, right?” Instead of waiting for my reply, he just kept going. “And you know that things don’t always go as planned, right?” Again, no pause. “Well, ha! You won’t believe this, but I overbooked! We have too many readers, and I have tocutsomeonefromtheprogramandsincewe’refriendsIknewyou’dunderstandsoIcutyou.Pleasedon’tbeupset!”

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

“Upset? Of course not,” I lied, my lack of sleep and the buoyancy of the balloons conspiring to pull me sideways and a little up. “I stayed up all night writing this story, but that’s okay. Here, give the balloons to the kids.” I turned to find the cabbie had left me high and dry and without transport.

“No,” said Tom. “I’ll work it out. You come in and sit down!”

I did. Tom added his “special guest star” to the end of the program, and the kids liked my story! Not just because of the balloons, either—they laughed at the funny parts. They shrieked at the image of Sal shooting off to the east after a grossly messy sneeze (they got it!). They applauded when I was done! (They liked me! They really liked me!)

Tom approached me after the program. “I can’t believe I was going to cut that out!” he effused. “We’re going to do this next year … will you come and tell the story again?”

There are days when I don’t have the sense God gave a cue ball. Without hesitation (I hadn’t slept, remember. I wasn’t responsible.), I looked Tom dead in the eye and said, “Oh, NO, Tom. I’ll write you another one!”

A promise I forgot for about 364 days and 18 hours.

I don’t learn from year to year, so there’s a series of Sal stories, now, all produced lovingly with the impetus of panic at the last minute.

Oh! And look! I have Internet for a few minutes! Time to post …

Good morning!

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UBC Day 9, 20171009 Look Back and Laugh…?

“Some day, we’re gonna look back on this and laugh.”

Who comes up with these little chestnuts?

What, pray, tell, what could be coming down the pike that will make some events seem funny by comparison?

When we were waist-deep in water from Hurricane Agnes years and years ago (I was about 17 or 18—the Dark Ages) somebody tossed that phrase out as they paddled down the middle of the street, watching neighbors standing outside their open doors, surveying their ruined carpets and furniture. Power was out for days, so the perishables in the fridge were in danger of … perishing.

People set barbecue grills up on the hoods of their cars and cooked up everything in their freezers. We shuttled between houses for days, trading grilled burgers, dogs, and steaks and passing needed ingredients from house to house. We kids learned the best delivery routes over submerged chain-link fences and across formerly manicured lawns that it was worth our lives to traipse across in drier days. (Okay. That was kinda fun. But still.)

We set pots on the grills to make stews and soups from the veggies and meats in the fridge before THEY spoiled. We made every flavor of Hamburger Helper we’d ever known and hated on Girl Scout camp-outs.

Mom made the biggest batch of her World Famous Cream Cheese Dip that I’ve ever seen (yes, this is the dip that gains me entrance to parties of complete strangers; no, you can’t have the recipe till I’m dead), and the whole neighborhood brought chips and veggies for dipping. PAR-TAAAAY! (Okay. That was fun, too. Still.)

We got a glimpse into each others cooking secrets, including how to create a spaghetti sauce that is sweet, not acid-y.

We learned, too, that staging the sauce makes a difference. Nobody planned on staging it, mind you: People were constantly being interrupted to deal with the emergency of the second, so on Day One, when someone made spaghetti sauce, it went like this: 

  • Take stock: Ground beef—lots of ground beef, shrooms, sweet onions. Canned tomato sauce. Spices. Paddle around the neighborhood announcing the future spaghetti sauce, and asking for things to add to it. Invite the neighbors to dinner.
  • In a medium frying pan, caramelize the onions, with liberal amounts of garlic and oregano. Somebody has basil? Go get it! You have nutmeg? Sure, we can use a little bit. Parsley? Sage? Bring the whole damn song! Toss in a package of mushrooms and keep cooking. The dog just did what? Oh, hell. Recruit a reasonably responsible neighbor kid to watch and stir … no, I’ll add the ground beef when I get back.
  • After fishing the dog out of the neighbor’s yard, dry him off and get back to the grill. Discover that even the spices are caramelized, but hey. Smells good. Doesn’t look bad. Drain the fat and move the mix to a big bowl and get a pound of ground beef and … somebody has sausage? Bring it! Add the ground beef and sausage to the frying pan and … hell. Who has my tomato sauce? Great. Manual can opener? Yesss! Slippery hands take a little longer to open the unusually small cans, but … This is tomato paste! Okay, toss that in with the ground beef and sausage, stir it up, and add more spices. Heavy on the garlic. We’re all friends today. Leave the reasonably responsible neighbor kid in charge of stirring again, and run off to find someone (several someones) with tomato sauce.
  • 40 minutes later, come back with everybody’s stash of tomato sauce, puree, and diced tomatoes, and extra boxes of uncooked pasta (all types; we’re going Bohemian) because the neighborhood’s coming to dinner. This is beginning to be the post-hurricane version of Stone Soup (storytellers will get the reference). Oh, look! The tomato paste cooked right into the meats. And … more people are coming, so add more meat. Stir, stir, stir.
  • Discover the frying pan is too small for the meats that keep getting added. Transfer to the “I’m never going to need this” sized frying pan that came with that great TV deal a few years ago. The size that can feed a wedding reception … or a neighborhood without electricity. Decide to use both frying pans to handle the volume. More ground beef! More sausage! More tomato paste and spices!
  • Add enough canned tomato products to each frying pan to cover the meats. Add more spices, too, because the extra tomato sauce, puree, and diced tomatoes kinda drowned them out. Stir, stir, stir. How did Jimmy get on the roof? Here, reasonably responsible neighborhood kid, stir this …
  • Three quarters of an hour later, with Jimmy grounded for life, discover that someone dropped three whole cans of black olives (drained) and a couple different varieties of mushrooms into the mix. The mix! The onions and mushrooms that were cooked up earlier! Hell, no room for all this. Somebody get a stock pot! (It, too, came with the TV deal.)
  • The over-full frying pans are emptied into the stock pot, and there’s obviously too much “stuff” and not enough sauce, and not nearly enough to feed all the neighbors who are coming by to check on the progress. More tomato sauce! More meats into the frying pans! More spices! (It’s a big stock pot.)
  • Some of the water is receding, it’s only up to our mid-thighs, now, and the spices and sauces, meats, and veggies are … the veggies! The ones we cooked up earlier! Forgot about them again! In they go and ahhhh! What an aroma! Stir, stir, stir.
  • About this time, the local police and fire/rescue come driving through in their monster trucks, sending WAVES of water to inundate us yet again. The whole neighborhood swears furiously, holding empty bowls aloft as they converge on the Community Spaghetti. The emergency workers know a good thing when they sniff it, so they stop and join us. Recruit more bowls …
  • Decide that the tomato paste, cooked into the meats, was a good idea, and, since we have so much to work with, cook more sweet onions, mushrooms, olives, and … yes! Yellow and red bell peppers! in with them, too. Stir, stir, stir. Shoo the neighbors off because now we’re cookin’ with … charcoal, and we’re zeroing in on a sauce of epic proportions, here. Nobody samples it till it’s done! (Except the cook, of course! Gotta maintain QC.)
  • Four hours after starting the sauce, the second (third? fourth?) batch of meats and veggies, more sauce, more spices, more STIRRING … all have combined to create this totally radical spaghetti sauce. Somebody has cooked the pasta: the spaghetti, the angel hair, the egg noodles, the macaroni elbows … several somebodies put garlic bread on their own grills, and added the foil-wrapped loaves to the makeshift tables we set up on a high-and-dry porch.
  • The waters are lower, now, and people can wade easily enough. Several families rummaged through their fridges and got creative. We had a truly impressive (and huge!) salad, a couple of bakery pies (minus one or two pieces) … a regular feast!

We didn’t have power, but the relationships we forged that day went well beyond acquaintance and were a powerful testament to what a community can do when we work together. Oh, a couple of kids got in each others faces, but that was quickly resolved over our seat-of-our-pants meal. We traded jokes and swapped stories. We brought out candles so we could continue talking late into the night, as we watched the water pull back into the bay and leave us with God-awful messes to clean up starting the next day.

That spaghetti sauce is now one of my specialties (I was the reasonably responsible neighbor kid, and saw the whole process, from start to finish), and it takes about three hours to make my way through all its stages, with no hurricane-induced interruptions to deal with.

The caramelized veggies, the simply sautéed veggies, even some raw veggies added in the last 30 minutes of cooking, give the sauce layers of flavor. The tomato paste cooked into the meats, with more added for thickening, is a nice touch.

Every time I serve this meal to someone new, I feel a need to tell its story, and I can’t help but look back and —

Oh.

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UBC DAY 8, 20171008, Shameless Self Promotion

I usually like to use Billie Noakes, Writer & Storyteller, one of my Facebook pages (YES! Please click on the link and LIKE my page!), to promote the work and milestones of other authors, storytellers, musicians, and visual artists.

But every so often, I lean toward shameless self-promotion, and I decided to do that here, today.

Here’s another of my original stories, “How the Stars Came to Live in the Nighttime Sky.” It even includes the backstory for how I came to write it!

The video is about 13 minutes long, with the backstory at the beginning. The story begins at :34. It’s a creation myth. Hope you enjoy!

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UBC Day 7, 20171007, Interviews Gone Awry

A day or two ago, UBC admin Paul Taubman suggested, as a writing prompt, that we interview someone and post what we learned.

Oh, Paul, you know not what you suggest!

Between being a community journalist and editor; a TV reporter, host, and producer; and a medical marketing writer, I’ve done my fair share of interviews, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not a matter of simply asking questions and dutifully recording the answers.

Especially when you’re interviewing on live TV!

Here in Pinellas Park, Florida, we have our share of local characters, and none was more colorful or beloved than the late Helen Howarth.

Helen was a shade under five feet tall, and carried her ample weight with aplomb. She was in her seventies when I met her, a feisty woman who kept Park Oil Company going despite a runaway partner and husband. She drove her company’s big oil trucks, and could heft an oil drum onto her back and install it without turning to feminine wiles to get help from the guys.

Helen was … plain spoken. One day at a city council meeting, she got up to speak, and in the middle of her comments the mayor made the mistake of interjecting an observation of his own. “Well, goody for you,” retorted Helen, and proceeded to verbally clobber the council for not doing a job up to her standards. Let us say she didn’t spare any words, even those starting with the letter “F.”

She often said that God “premonitioned” her about things. She swore to her dying day that she’d seen souls leave their bodies when friends passed, and maintained that the Catholics were withholding the cure for leprosy so they could keep collecting money for the people afflicted with the disease.

Once, she took it upon herself to give me advice about intimacy. “Don’t get too skinny,” she told my then-diminutive self. “A man doesn’t like to be slapping the mattress when he’s f***ing you.”

Yep. Helen was a character, all right, but her good deeds significantly outweighed those verbal bombs.

When she learned that a family was having tough times, she bought and delivered groceries to their back door, anonymously, for weeks. When she was found out, she told the man who discovered what she was doing to mind his own damn business and keep his (fill in the blank) mouth shut. Another customer, an aging woman whose son pretty much ignored her, was without oil to keep her home heated during an unusually cold winter, and had no money to pay for it, Helen simply kept delivering, and wrote off the charges.

There are dozens of similar stories about Helen’s kind heart, so no one was surprised when she was named our city’s first Citizen of the Year in the 1980s, and I asked her onto my live TV show to be interviewed.

Oh, I knew I was taking a gamble. You never knew what Helen was going to say, or how she was going to say it!

I prepped my questions carefully, and planned with my director the ways we would cover if Helen’s language got particularly blue. This was a woman who could talk over God himself. For the first time in more than five years, I worried about an interview.

I’d like to introduce my next guest, Helen Howarth, the first person recognized by our Chamber of Commerce as Citizen of the Year,” I said to my home audience. “Helen, welcome!” (I figured that was safe enough.)

“Thank you,” said Helen in the smallest voice I’d ever heard pass her lips.

Thank you?! OK, she was being especially polite for the cameras. I tried a drawing-her-out question: What did you think when you heard the announcement at the Chamber banquet?

“It was humbling,” she said, and looked down at her hands, fidgeting with a hanky. A hanky. Helen always carried a bandana to sop up her sweat while working. I didn’t know she owned a hanky!

Ob, boy. The award was presented in part because of the good things you’ve done in the community, the people you’ve helped. What guided you to those acts of kindness?

“God wants me to serve.”

How did you decide what to do?

“I saw a need.”

Does any particular situation stand out in your mind, from all these years?

“No.”

This was probably the longest, most painful twenty minutes of my life. Helen answered in short, quiet sentences the entire time. She presented a meek, soft-spoken demeanor that nobody would have believed had they not been watching. For me, it was the Chinese water torture of interviews. People talked about that interview for months, marveling at a side of Helen we’d never even suspected.

Another live interview that held a different surprise was with then-Library Director Barbara Ponce.

Those of us who knew Barbara for any length of time were impressed not only with her hard work and dedication to making our Library a wonderful literary oasis, but also with her sense of humor.

Many were the hours we’d swap jokes, trying to one-up each other with plays on words, unexpected twists, and plainly bawdy offerings.

On one of my monthly shows, the library had a regular segment that involved me interviewing Barbara about whatever was going on in and around the stacks.

The first time Barbara appeared on the show, she was understandably a little nervous. Talking for a TV audience is different from talking to a group of library patrons. I spent a few minutes before the show trading jokes with Barbara, and by the time we went live, she was doing just fine.

Or so I thought.

You know how sometimes you get nervous and you say things that don’t come out quite the way you expect? Happened that night to Barbara.

“So,” I said to her about 30 seconds into our 8-minute segment, “I understand that the Pinellas Park Art Society is using the library as a sort-of extended gallery, hanging original art in your meeting room. Tell us a little about that.”

Barbara nodded, acknowledging my comment. She took a breath and smiled. She had plenty of grist for this conversational mill, knowing just how the artists were selected, and how carefully the exhibit had been planned. Barbara was here to give a boost to our local culture.

She looked right into the camera and with absolute clarity told God and everybody,

“Oh, yes, Billie! Many of our artists in Pinellas Park are well hung!”

My eyes went wide open, and as the import of her bungled opening line hit Barbara’s brain, I could see the panic rise!

I did the only thing I could think of, and gave my director a near-heart attack by looking at my camera and announcing, “And we’ll learn more about art exhibits at the Library right after this!”

So when Paul suggested we just do an interview for one of our blogs, I thought I’d share these.

Interviews. Not as easy as you’d think!

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UBC Day 6, 20171006, Oh, TOO Funny!

Every so often, I go in search of videos to share on Tellers On YouTube day on my FB page Billie Noakes, Writer & Storyteller (Yes, I could use some LIKES! Please!). I ran across John Branyan, telling a timeless tale in a wild way!

 

 

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UBC Day 5, 20171005, A StoryBox Legend

UBC DAY 5, 20171005, A StoryBox Legend

Today, I’m turning to the “storytelling” part of Just For Fun & Storytelling. This is an original, inspired by teacher and storyteller Kevin Cordi’s StoryBox Project. Kevin wanted a story about the StoryBox project, and this is what I wrote.

(Please keep in mind that this is a story meant for LISTENING TO, not so much reading. So grab a friend and share. Aloud is allowed!)

A StoryBox Legend

by Billie S. Noakes

A long time ago, all the stories ever told had been shared so many times that all the people in the world knew them all very well.

So well, in fact, that people felt confident that they would never forget them.

Because they were so sure of this, people simply didn’t make time to listen to stories anymore.

Well, we all know that if no one is listening, it’s not long before no one will be telling, either, so you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that soon the stories of the world … started … to … disappear.

Now, it happened that there was one very bright young child, Lee, who understood something that all the grown-ups in the world had forgotten, and it’s simply this:

People need to hear stories!

After all, stories hold all the magic in the world, and all the really important information, too.

Why, if it weren’t for stories that had been told generation after generation, no one would know that the willow tree holds the secret to easing pain, or how the Stars came to live in the night time sky, or why the Wind lives in the haunted house!

Lessons of kindness and wisdom would be lost; there would be no trickster tales to delight with their humor and shorten the long winter nights; no fairy stories would linger to carry children gently to sleep.

It hurt young Lee’s heart to know that people had become too busy to listen to stories, the old ones and the new ones, with their wisdom, charm, and humor.

It was a sad and lonely time for stories, but Lee knew that someday people would want to hear stories again. So Lee was determined to save and preserve as many stories as possible. Then one day, when people wanted them again, the stories could be retold.

So Lee started to write the stories down, one by one, and put them in a big box for safe-keeping.

Lee wrote “StoryBox” in big, bold letters on the lid, so as not to forget what was inside.

Some of the stories that went into the box were so old that Lee had to concentrate for days remembering all the details before printing them out carefully on long sheets of paper.

Some were so new that Lee had to learn them quickly and write them down on whatever was at hand, so they wouldn’t slip away unnoticed.

Eventually, Lee was sure that all the stories ever told were in the StoryBox, and just in time, because almost no one remembered any more that stories were once a very important part of everyday life.

By this time, Lee had grown up and was raising a family, but no matter how busy the days were, Lee always made time to visit the StoryBox, to read and remember the wonders inside.

Each time Lee finished reading, back the StoryBox would go, to the very center of the very top shelf in the closet, and Lee’s children grew curious about the big box that held Lee’s attention, yet was so far out of their reach.

Sometimes, the children would draw close as Lee read from the papers in the mysterious box, straining to understand the words forming silently on Lee’s lips.

Sometimes, Lee would fall asleep holding one or two of the pages from the StoryBox, and the children would grow bold and carefully ease the worn pages from Lee’s  fingers.

Eagerly, they would gaze upon the words preserved so long ago, concentrating on the unfamiliar names and places, struck with wonder at the mention of creatures that were magical and mystical. The children wondered why, of all the places in the world, it was in Lee’s closet that these marvelous tales had come to rest.

Mystified, the children carefully slipped the pages back into Lee’s hands,  moving ever-so-gently so they wouldn’t wake Lee up. They never suspected that each time they sneaked a peek at Lee’s pages, Lee was watching them from beneath eyelids eager to fly open and share their wonder. Lee wanted nothing more than to share these magical stories with imaginations ready to be sparked.

But Lee knew that telling the children about the stories in the StoryBox might seem too much like a lesson. Allowing them to explore the StoryBox in secret would seem like a high adventure that would lead them, one day, to rediscover the magic of stories for themselves.

Lee was right! One day, the children’s curiosity overcame their caution, and when Lee wasn’t looking they sneaked to the closet where the StoryBox was kept.

They dragged a big chair to the closet, and two children sat on it to hold it down while the other two  stood on tippy-toes on the high back and stretched their eager arms up … up … up!

They reached up to the very center of the very top shelf, and they took the box from its special place and oh-so-carefully set it on the floor. They were almost, but not quite, afraid to touch it.

“StoryBox,” they read from the top of the box. “A StoryBox!” they whispered excitedly to each other.

“But … what’s a Story?” they puzzled, unaware that Lee had stepped into the room and watched, delighted to see their curiosity piqued and their interest held fast.

“Here,” said Lee, stepping closer. “I can tell you.”

Then Lee picked up the StoryBox and carried it outside and across the yard, and  sat with the children on the soft grass in the shade of a huge old elm tree.

“A Story,” Lee began, “is what you tell someone when what you’re saying is very important.”

“Oh,” the children said, disappointed. “It’s like a lecture. Or a sermon at church.”

“Not at all,” Lee assured them. “A Story is a way of telling a secret, without coming right out and saying it.”

“Is it a riddle?” the children asked. This was more like it!

“Sometimes, but not always,” answered Lee. “A Story is a way of telling  something so what you say will always be remembered.”

And with a gentle smile, Lee lifted the lid all the way off the StoryBox, reached inside, and carefully took out a handful of pages.

Then, Lee began to read …

Lee read with all the love that cherished memories can hold. And the stories Lee read kept the children enthralled all afternoon, coming to life as the words on the pages leapt to the smile on Lee’s lips.

It wasn’t long before reading gave way to telling, and even the oldest stories were made fresh and new again as Lee’s children listened to  tales of worlds they’d never known of before.

Soon, other children in the neighborhood noticed that something special was happening in their friends’ yard, and they gathered around the old elm tree to listen, too.

Lee was so excited to have such an eager audience that the stories  came easily, one after another, each more captivating than the one before, and the stories were separated only by awe-struck silence as the children  held their breath, waiting for the next wonder to unfold.

It was well after dark when the children went home and told their parents about the StoryBox, and their parents grew quiet, and remembered, and knew that something important had been missing from their lives for a long time, something their own children had just discovered and returned to them.

It wasn’t long before sharing the StoryBox became a favorite afternoon activity for Lee’s children and their friends. And soon, the grown-ups started coming by to listen to the stories, too, and as they listened, they thought about the stories they’d heard when they were young.

They wrote down those stories, and brought them to Lee to keep in the StoryBox.

The bones of all those stories were already there, of course, but each story someone brought was just a little different from the stories Lee had collected. That’s because stories are shaped by the people who share them, and every story changes just a bit with each retelling, so as each new telling of a Story was offered, Lee added it to the StoryBox for safe-keeping.

Time went by, and Lee grew too old to carry the StoryBox, now that it was heavy with so many stories from so many people. Lee asked the children if they would like to take care of the StoryBox, and instantly, a whole new generation of Story Keepers was created!

The first thing the Story Keepers did was look at the StoryBox with a certain amount of concern. It was old and worn, and so tattered that it didn’t really do justice to the beautiful stories it contained.

The Story Keepers wanted a StoryBox that was worthy of its contents, so they took light and color, sunshine and moon glow, and painted another StoryBox, bigger and stronger, to hold all the stories.

The new StoryBox made such an impressive sight that no one wanted to keep it hidden away on the very top shelf of a closet any more. They wanted to send the StoryBox out into the world so everyone could enjoy it!

And that’s just what they did.

They sent the StoryBox to hospitals where the stories it contained reminded people of the days before they became ill, and the sick began to grow stronger with the power of love and happy memories.

They sent it to schools where the stories inside the StoryBox taught children about far-off lands and fired them with a desire to gather the knowledge of the ages.

They sent the StoryBox to their friends and families, too, and it was always received with great joy and enthusiasm. Sharing the contents of the StoryBox became so popular that it wasn’t long before all the wonder tales of the world were once more a part of everyday life.

And everywhere the StoryBox went, people added their own versions of the stories as they remembered them. The StoryBox grew heavier and heavier with the  memories and the joy and the love that each person added.

Why, soon the stories were too numerous to fit into just one box, or two … or even ten!

So people began to make their own StoryBoxes, and they sent their StoryBoxes to family, friends and strangers in distant cities and lands. And everywhere these StoryBoxes went, people still added stories flavored by their own memories and cultures.

And for all their differences, the stories of love and loss, hope and heroism, courage and curiosity showed again and again how people all over the world are so very much alike.

So.

Now you know about the StoryBox. Maybe you’ve even seen one, since several of them are now making their way around the world. Hand to hand, heart to heart, stories continue to enrich and inspire us, and I hope this legend about the StoryBox has helped to make a Story Keeper of you.

More important, I hope it makes a Story Sharer of you, because stories can’t work their magic until we tell them! So tell your stories often. Tell them to your friends and loved ones. Tell them to people you don’t even know, because a story can often turn a stranger into a friend, and isn’t that the best kind of story magic there is?

 

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Day 4 UBC, 20171004 On the Way Over

I am not Little Suzy Homemaker.

 Check out one of my more disastrous kitchen escapades here.

 Or my leap into needle arts here.

I wasn’t even very good at stocking a lemonade stand. The only good thing to come out of that was a poem I turned into a children’s book, “Sal and the Entrepreneurial Spirits.” (Yes! They’re for sale!)

 So anybody who knew me knew I was out of my mind the day I said, “Oh, maybe I should run a coffee house / art center!”

I don’t drink coffee, and as for art, I can barely draw my name.

So there I was in 1989, single and wanting to meet people.

I don’t drink much in the way of liquor, beer, or wine (maybe oNew Year’s Eve, every ten years or so), and I don’t smoke. Oh, and did I mention that I’m awkward in social situations? So the bar scene was OUT.

What was a gal to do?

Using my philosophy, best described as, “Step off the cliff and grow your wings on the way down,” I decided that if I provided musicians and poets with a weekly open mic, I’d soon be surrounded by the kinds of peeps I was most drawn to — creative folks who needed a place to mingle and share their art.

What was I thinking?

At the time, I was president of my local art society, and I cajoled the membership into allowing me to use our building to embrace the performing arts. They didn’t like it much, but I was their president, so …

My first night, I dragged out the banquet tables, used every table cover I could lay my hands on, topped them with little votive candles in little glass … glasses, and put down a small throw rug to define the performance area. I set a four-legged stool on the rug and turned out the overhead lights. Voila! Instant coffeehouse.

My friend Elaine and her husband Drew, and my former fella Jack and his new wife Georgia were the only comers. Fortunately, both guys were exceedingly talented musicians, and Elaine was an English teacher who had a great store of poetry, and I write poetry, so we made a decent night of it.

The five of us talked up the CAMS Acoustic Coffeehouse, and within a month, we had wannabee musicians, tentative poets, and a couple of real hitters joining us to swap our talents.

Some nights it was SRO. Others we nudged each other to stay awake. But word spread, and soon we needed a larger venue and a sound system. It was working!

At the height of CAMS’s popularity, we even had a spontaneous “mosh pit.” People actually surged the stage (my Dad built it) and passed performers overhead, hand over hand, to the back of the room. We were happenin’, man.

And then there were the poets … who could clear the room in five seconds flat. Not the good ones, mind you — we had a good number of talented wordsmiths — but the chronic ones who thought “poetry” was another way of saying “personal journal,” and turned up to share the worst of their pain in front of total strangers.

Many of them started their sets by informing us, “I wrote this on the way over,” and, as if on cue, every seat in the house emptied in a flash. I was left to brazen it out, watching nervous not-really-poets hold their newly penned works in their shaking hands.

All these years later, I feel like I know what they were going through, trying to find a compassionate ear in the audiences of local open mics.

As I sit here at the keyboard, typing away at what’s running through my mind, I realize that when I post this blog, I’m confessing that I, too, “wrote this on the way over.”

Good morning!

 

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UBC Day 3, 20171003 | Surrender

OK. Here’s the truth: I’ve been staring at this blank screen for a couple of hours, now.

“You’re a writer,” self says sternly to self. “Write.

Oh, yeah. You’ve never heard that oft-quoted (and widely attributed) old saw,

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed” ?

Well, here I am, sharpened pencil poised over my wrist, and despite the imminent threat to my veins, the words just aren’t coming.

 I can feel them sneaking around the nooks and crannies of my brain, teasing me, taunting me, but will they step out of the shadows of my psyche? Hell, no.

 I fling my pencil away in disgust and resignation. And just like that, inspiration!

OK, inspiration, and a bit of a cop-out. But I am a writer … and a poet! My salvation? HAIKU!

 Writer’s block haunts me

Words, ideas will not come

Off to bed I go

 

 

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UBC Day 2, 20171002 They’re Coming to Take Me Away

I’ve been petless for a while, now. Housing disruptions, health challenges. When my last furry friend (Sparse, my second Maine coon) left this world for eternal bliss, I decided to wait before becoming a “mom” again.

About six months ago, I had a chance to assist in caring for a couple of Chihuahuas, and even though “ankle biters” aren’t my pet of choice, I was happy to be around even these diminutive guys.

The Chihuahuas, Martin and Lewis, are about 9 years old, and they’re brothers.

Lewis wannabeeLewis is a long, thin, sharp-snouted beast, like this one.

 

Martin is compact and muscular, similar to this guy.Martin wannabeeThey sensed, despite my hugs and pets and endless treats, that they are never going to grab my heart the way a big dog can. But I did my best to build up their bite-sized egos, to feign terror at the slightest flash of their teeny-tiny teeth, to cower and hug the wall as they rushed by on their way for a walk. But despite my best efforts, they snubbed me.

Nay, not so. They snubbed me, until their shifty little brains developed a plot. And then they worked to win me over.

One day, I was the bothersome Treat Lady. The next, I was their New Best Friend. To my eternal embarrassment, I wasn’t the least bit suspicious.

Lewis isn’t a kisser, but he likes to be cradled in the crook of an arm. He’s so cute.

Martin doesn’t like to be held, but he will go to great lengths to slobber me with kisses while he’s trying to get away.

All this faux affection worked. I began to feel real warmth for the guys. When I grabbed their leashes to take them for a walk, I actually enjoyed putting on their little harnesses and steeling myself for the uncomfortable experience. I was bonding, for heaven’s sake!

We set out together. I’m wobbly, and they’re frisky and quick, so there was a lot of “Wait a minute!” mumbled as they strained to find the right place to … you know. Then there was the groan and bend to pick up the … you know.

After about a week, I saw that Martin and Lewis spent a lot of time looking back at me. And one day, they seemed to sense when I was at my most unbalanced, because just as I extended my reach to pick up after them, Martin and Lewis decided to test my grasp of their leashes.

By the grace of God and a lot of arm waving and hip swiveling, I stood my ground.

Martin and Lewis shared a look that can only be described as “fiendish.” One went left. One went right. They wrapped their leashes around my legs and took off, their short little legs going a mile a minute.

Unprepared, I toppled over and landed on the hip that hurts most. I held fast to the leashes, though, because I knew I’d never catch two frisky Chihuahuas if they ever got loose.

I swore fiercely under my breath. I recalled the YouTube video that I’d seen, teaching wobbly folks like me how to get up from the ground. Right leg over left. Groan and roll to the left side, quick (I use the term loosely) flip to get both knees on the ground. Hands on the ground. PUSH up to a runner’s starter position, and walk my hands in till I could balance and stand. Took me half an hour, with Martin and Lewis doing their best to snatch the leashes from my now-cramping hands.

The only good thing is that I live in Florida, and it was high noon. The little schemers hadn’t counted on being outside in the hot sun so long. They wore out faster than I, being so small. By the time I could get them back into the air conditioning, they realized that hurting me meant near death from the heat. They barely made it up the ramp to the air conditioning without collapsing. Hah! That should teach them!

Should have, but didn’t. I now know that their diabolical plotting knows no ends.

I wasn’t concerned when I saw Martin kicking up the grass behind him after he did his business. Dogs do that! But over time, I noticed that he seemed to be tearing up the grass in a surprisingly straight line. Lewis, who could barely be counted on to lift a leg, much less tear up the grass, always positioned himself a few feet from the end of the line, almost like a point of reference. What the …?

I soon found out. When I lifted these two comedians up onto the bed to share a nap, I began to notice a ritual of sorts. Lewis would walk slowly from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, make a right turn, pace off the width of my body, then yip at his brother. Martin would do the same, almost like he was double-checking Lewis’s measurements.

Within weeks, Martin had kicked up a rectangular space in the grass that looked suspiciously like it was designed for me. Lewis suddenly got interested in digging holes in the ground, inside that rectangle!

I’m lucky They’re small and I’m not. I can take the heat and they can’t. But some day, they’ll finish my shallow grave, and with one quick lunge they can topple my unsteady self into it. Fortunately, it’ll take them a couple of weeks to kick enough dirt back in to cover me.

So if I suddenly stop posting, please: send the cops!

 

 

 

 

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UBC Day 1: 20171001. What Was I THINKING?

A few years ago, I signed up for Michele Rafter’s WOURDCOUNT Blog-a-thon, a blog a day for the 31 days in May. I fit it in around a slew of paid writing gigs and 2011blogathon_badgepart-time jobs that kept me in groceries, my volunteer projects, my HOME projects (I make lace—old-timey delicate lace, and I knit Infinite Hugs and seamless slippers), and the occasional community event. I slaved over my keyboard and completed the month-long commitment with about two nerve cells left in my store of sanity.

The following year, I THOUGHT I was re-upping for the WORDCOUNT Blog-a-thon, and I was prepared to take it in stride, me being a veteran of it and all. But it was ANOTHER blog challenge that I registered for, by ANOTHER Michele, and it was the month before WORDCOUNT, so I had two commitments. My replenished sanity suffered another serious depletion.

And before I knew it, I was blogging for a THIRD challenge, The Ultimate Blog Challenge, and those folks renew their blogging commitments EVERY. SINGLE. MONTH. Aaaugh. You wanna talk burn-out? I was in flames by the middle of the month.

ultimateblogchallengeIt wasn’t like I needed the pressure of daily writing—I was already writing every day, sometimes for three different clients. What I needed was a challenge that would inspire me to grab a nap, but I never found one. So I just scaled back, left the blogging world alone for a while, and discovered that I LIKED not having the pressure of blogging, reading, commenting, and sharing every night of the week. I quietly dropped out of the blogging scene.

LgDoilyLaceIt’s been a while, now. Life, and my writing life, had settled into a comfy routine. I was content to write when I had work, and read an occasional blog from a friend, and fill the rest of my time with quiet, homey pursuits.

And then … my very first editor in the world, Lauren McLaughlin, enlisted my help in promoting her upcoming e-book, “The Handbook of Spiritual Tools.” Would I share her daily posts? Would I help her find new audiences?

SpiritualToolsCoverSince she was already POSTING about these spiritual tools every day, I suggested that she BLOG about them, too, and find a whole new fan base with The Ultimate Blog Challenge. Write the blog, post it to the group Facebook page, visit two blogs by other writers and comment/share, and voila! Instant wider audience.

BUT. Lauren didn’t have a “home” for her blog, and wasn’t sure how to register, so I said, “Oh, no problem. Let me walk through the procedure and then guide you through.” What I forgot was … in walking through the procedure, I was actually registering to participate.

So here I am on October 1, committed (through no intent of my own) to writing a blog a day for all 31 days in October.

Thanks a lot, Lauren! See you in the Facebook group!

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