Featured Writers

Featured Writers 
from Laura’s Classes

Enid Brock: My Mother’s Closet

 

Enid Brock is a member of the Wednesday morning women’s writing practice circle and also attends the Friday feedback class where she regularly produces wry, thoughtful essays on food, parenting, families, and domestic life. Her article, "A Real Life Reality Show" appeared in the Creative Solutions column of FamilyFun Magazine in June, 2009. This is her response to the prompt, "My Mother’s Closet."

My Mother’s Closet

She wasn’t a clotheshorse, my mother – still isn’t.  When I was a girl, she mostly wore shorts and tee shirts and sandals she had made at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach.  No bra, ever.  She kept her red hair short, refused to pierce her ears, and wore no jewelry at all for many years, except for the silver bangles all the women in our family wear.  She didn’t even wear a wedding ring, because the jade one my father had married her with was broken beyond repair.  At UC Irvine faculty parties, my father — who was a Physics professor — always introduced her as his friend, and people who didn’t know better assumed they had an open marriage, which they did not.  But this was the 1960’s, and that is the way things were then, in the academic world. 

Becky Wecks: The Dream Police

 

Becky Wecks is a member of the Friday morning feedback class. She is writing a memoir about her experiences with an amazing, unusual old woman that Becky helped care for until her death.

Becky wrote this piece in response to a writing prompt I borrowed from Deena Metzger’s excellent book Writing for Your Life. This was the version I gave in class: "Imagine that the dream police have come to wipe out your memory. Everything you do not write down in the next ten minutes will be lost to you. Everything you want to save, to remember, write it down now. Go, you have ten minutes."

Here is Becky’s response:

I love laughter. I love tears. I love the stuff in life that’s happening beneath the surface. I love the twinkle in someone’s eye when they own a secret joke. I love the look of love a mother has for her child–the goofy adoration between new lovers. I love old people who can still tell a good joke–who can laugh at old age and death–who aren’t afraid of being old. I love smells–the smells of good food–the smells of nature–trees, dirt, rotting seaweed, salt water. I love mountains and desert and I love the sea. I love the sound of children playing–the chatter of a child who knows how to play alone.

I love men who don’t make you feel stupid–men who know how to love someone beside themselves. I love fat laughing Buddha–nuns and monks wearing saffron robes, bald and smiling and beautiful. I love the smell of candles and incense and tuberoses. I love strong black coffee and soft pillows, quiet mornings, blank journal pages and Pilot G-2 pens with lots of spare cartridges. I love books, stories, fairy tales and romance and true crime and drama–historical fiction, memoirs, biographies and fantasy. I love Dumbledore and Gandalf, hobbits and pipe smoke–brandy and cigars and big wide bare feet.

I love men with big shoulders and wide backs–strong arms that can wrap all the way around. I love my kids. I love their laughter and their stories. I love the people they love. I love them thoroughly. I love all the joy they gave me when they were little. I love chubby arms around my neck, soft round cheeks pressed against my face, the warm weight of a child on my lap. I love reading stories out loud. I love being read to. I love movies that make me laugh and cry and dream.

Julien Kupiec: 10 Years of My Life, 3 Words at a Time

I gave my Wednesday writing students the following assignment, an exercise developed by writing teacher and author, Abigail Thomas: "Describe ten years of your life in two pages, only using sentences with three words. Not four, not five, but three." The results were funny and wonderful and amazingly revealing. This piece, by new writing practice student Julien Kupiec, had us all roaring with laughter and simultaneously touched by the poignancy of the piece. Try reading this one out loud:

She’s got depression. Seems from nowhere. Just another illness. Can be treated. I stay even. One must work. Leaving is coming. I was clueless. Leaving has arrived. A total disaster. Big black hole. Deeper and deeper. And still deeper. Just let go. She starts divorce. Lawyers are scum. Like, real scum. On the hook. Alimony for life. Law is immoral. No feeling left. Must try something. 

Jodi Richardson: Hair

 

Jodi Richardson is a member of Laura’s writing practice and feedback classes. She is also working hard in the Memory to Memoir Intensive. Jodi is writing a memoir about her experiences as a support person to her good friend, Joann, who had cancer. This excerpt, "Hair," is typical of Jodi’s unique style–the ability to tackle a difficult subject with irreverence and humor. 

I shaved down my hair three times during my friend Joann’s illness. Shaving my head felt good, but not like the big sacrifice some people gave me credit for. Some people would comment, “ I don’t know if I could cut off my hair for my friend, my sister, or whoever…” I usually spared people that didn’t know me very well my personnel encounters with loss and death, which in part fueled my decision to go hairless.

In early spring of 2007, before she was diagnosed with leukemia, Joann had said to me, “You know Jod, if I have cancer I’ll probably have to get chemo and lose all my hair.”

 “Yeah,” I agreed. I was way ahead of Joann in having these thoughts but I wasn’t worrying only about hair; I was worried about Joann’s life. Secretly, I thought if I acted optimistic enough on the outside, maybe I could convince myself that things would work out. I had seen cancer’s handiwork and I was sensitive to Joann’s predicament. She was good-looking and much more conscious of her own outward appearance than I’d ever been. I worried how cancer might ugly her up.   

While contemplating these private thoughts, Joann hit me with a zinger, “Yeah, but Kenny would probably like to see my muff hairless.”

Gail Burk: Hand-Me-Downs

  Gail Burk is a long-term member of the Friday morning feedback group. She is an avid genealogist and many of her stories center around family history. This piece was written in response to the writing prompt, "Hand-Me-Downs." No matter how much money I have, and it’s generally not all that much, I’m drawn to …

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Cooper Gallegos: The Driving Lesson

Cooper Gallegos is a student in the Friday morning feedback class who has just completed the manuscript for her first full-length book, The Waterhauler, a series of interconnected stories set in the Mojave Desert in the 1970s. This piece came from a guided meditation leading the class back into a time "long ago, long before this time, when you were sitting in the back of a car…" The visualization when on for a along time, then ended with the words, "Now tell me what you saw and heard, how it smelled and felt in the back of that car." 

The good thing about braids is you don’t have to sit on a kitchen chair with your mother unsnarling the knots in your hair.  Braids just stay in and the fray around your head keeps growing until you look like a dandelion or some other weed from the back yard.  I get one of the window seats, me and my big brother because we’re the oldest.  My little sister and brother are wedged into the middle between us.  My brother and I are not charitable, especially in the dark, and we spread out, squeezing our younger siblings into thin immobile planks who don’t have enough air or space to complain.

Once in a while just to be sure that doesn’t change I pinch my sister’s elbow and she moves sharply away like she’s been bitten by a mosquito.

We’re on a road trip, just for tonight, so my stepfather can teach my mother to drive.  Or so she can pass the test.  She already knows how to drive.  She’s a brash driver.  She drives down the center of the road. My stepfather who isn’t much of a talker and always drives in the ivy on the side of the road, keeps his eyes on the glove compartment like there’s a pistol inside and at any moment he could pounce on it and finish us all off.  My mother is taking the back streets out of town.  Our windows are rolled down and the summer night air is like a blast furnace.  My sister’s hair is a tangle, a thin web that hangs on her neck in the heat.  But mine, tied up with ric rac around the ends of my braids to cover the rubber bands stays put.  We’re all sweating.  I can see the sheen across my sibling’s faces like we’re a line-up of garden snails.

Georgine Balassone: What I Learned From My Mother

Georgine Balassone attended the March Memory to Memoir retreat and is part of the first group going through the Memoir Intensive. She wrote this piece to celebrate her relationship with her mother. It seemed a fitting choice for the May newsletter.

Never have too many chairs at a party. You don’t want everyone to have a seat; it kills conversation. People socialize more when they’re standing up. Always invite an interesting mix of people – gay, straight, black, white, Italian, non-Italian. Don’t serve the food too early – you want people to be able to get a buzz first. Never put an end time on the invitation. 

What I learned from my mother. Be tough. Don’t take any shit from people. Stand up for yourself. If you don’t like the food, send it back. If you don’t like the drink, ask them to make you a new one. Men are assholes. Most people are slobs. Men are definitely slobs. Marriage sucks; people shouldn’t get married. My mother will never get married again, except maybe to Jimmy, if he really wants to. 

Lisa Buell: Purple Dress Pease

Lisa Buell was a founding member of the Thursday feedback class. She attended the Memory to Memoir retreat and is participating in the inaugural Memoir Intensive. A published author, Lisa is writing her first book, entitled “Call Button,” a collection of essays about the continuation of life in the face of treatment, navigating the waters of grief, celebrating communities and the clinicians who care. This piece, "Purple Dress Pease" describes a critical period in her oldest daughter’s life.

It had been a warm summer, the breeze filled with the scent of sweet jasmine. The bright magenta of the Bougainvillea bloomed with fiercness, its roots running deep, tapping into the water below. It bloomed despite the lack of watering and stood as a physical sign of our family’s battle with cancer, just as we continued to bloom. It was early spring and Madison had just finished her last chemotherapy. We were at the hospital getting what was supposed to be a series of scans over several years, this was our first, we would be able to wait three months till the next and six months after that.

Gilda Zelin: Caught Between Two Worlds

Gilda Zelin was a long-time member of the Wednesday morning writing practice group. She joined the group shortly after the death of her husband, Joel, and wrote her way through her grief. She published the resulting book, A Widow’s Journey: A Story of Love, Loss, and Letting Go, in 2008.

Gilda wrote this piece in response to the prompt, "Tell me about a time you were in the middle of something–in the middle of sex, in the middle of the night, in midlife, in the middle of a divorce, in the middle of childbirth."

Caught Between Two Worlds 

Way back in the turbulent 1960’s-70’s, I found myself caught between two cultures. Do I listen to my mother’s advice about bringing up my children, go with my gut feelings about motherhood or tend to the yearnings of my children.

My mother, while a thoroughly modern woman in many ways, had never been able to free herself from the confined upbringing of her youth. Families must stay together. Children should live with their parents until they were married. If they wanted to go to college, definitely never out of town. Once you send your children away, you lose them. These were her beliefs. I, for one, was not allowed to go to camp, not allowed to sleep over at a friend’s home, not allowed to go to an out of town college.

My children were starting to think about colleges. The heated conversations about keeping them home and their desire to break away were becoming more frequent. I was caught in the middle.

My first child, a son, won out and went to a school in Ohio, met a woman, married, raised a family and has lived there for thirty-five years.

Laurie Simpkinson: I Never Got to Say Goodbye

Laurie Simpkinson is a member of the Thursday feedback class. She wrote this piece in response to the prompt, "Tell me about someone or something you never got to say goodbye to."

I never got to say goodbye to the Dreamer I used to be, perhaps because I never wanted to believe that she left when Reality moved in.
 
I ask what she would do if she had my life now, and she smiles, not really understanding. She’s taking the kids into the meadow on a sunny afternoon to pick wildflowers and dance.
 
I worry about who packed snacks and water and the Band-Aids, where the bathroom is, and when to give the five-minute warning so we can make it home in time to make dinner.
 

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