Until the death of the president of Training, Solutions, Inc. in 2020 and the closing of the company, for decades I frequently taught courses in creative writing to telecommunication union employees, primarily those employed by AT&T.
I enjoyed the work, and the platform we used in the classes allowed me to log in at the specified time, mount my PowerPoint, and begin conversing with my students located in Florida, Minnesota, New York, wherever.
I taught them to write poetry, short stories, memoirs, plays, and novels, and my mantra was always, “You are American authors, and your writing is meant to be read.” As we workshopped their writings, I was always pleased with their camaraderie, their support for each other, and the ways in which they suggested options for alterations. I worked with them year after year, and now that the company is closed, I hear from them via email or Facebook.
I continue to encourage them: Pamela Lawson of Florida to complete her memoir which features early black-and-white photos of herself and the persons she has known and loved. I hear from Karen Wallace whose photographs, poems, and stories have been featured in college publications and who has a collection of exemplary short stories and a novel which she is close to finishing. There is Lynette Piotrowski, a very competent writer with twists and turns in her stories which surprise and baffle readers, and who promised to start submitting once she retired from AT&T. She is now retired. And there is Paul Beckles of New York who is now enjoying the sun and sand of Florida.
My list could go on, but for the column this week, I’m focusing on Michelle Jones. Several years ago, we produced a play of hers on veteran suicide at Edison State Community College and at the Mayflower Arts Center with Vietnam War U.S. Army veteran John Looker (recipient of two Purple Hearts) handling the Q &A component with the audiences.
Recently, Jones emailed me to indicate that she had received notice that her work would be published in an upcoming edition of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. The book, subtitled “Navigating Elder Care and Dementia” with a publishing date of 2021, arrived in my mailbox last weekend. I, of course, immediately turned to her story entitled “Mother and Daughter” under the section “Accepting a New Reality.”
I wanted to ascertain if Jones was writing at her best. Did she take an important story (Isn’t telling stories what we always do as creative writers? Am I telling you a story as you read this column?)? Did she choose a point of view that worked well for the story? Had she plotted it so that the characters, the dialogue, the narrative presented the theme(s) in ways that resonated with an intended audience?
The preface to her story/essay is by Kristin Hannah and reads: “My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, rich and strong.”
Jones details a moment when she is sitting with her mother in a facility for patients with dementia and thinking of the “pathway of thousands of moments rolled together like a quilt intertwining both our lives.” And in her reverie, she catalogues the moments of her life in which she wishes she had more often hugged her mother, expressed her appreciation, communicated with her when she was away at college or traveling abroad.
She thinks of the beautiful opal ring her mother gave her for her fiftieth birthday, something her mother no longer remembers. And she reflects on how she is handling matters that some consider routine now that her mother is no longer able to do so.
The pandemic/endemic has taught us all that our realities no longer exist, allowing us to connect in ways we once did with those we love. It’s important that we use the alternate approaches that we are now forced to consider.
In conclusion, as an educator and a teacher of creative writing, I am always encouraging those I know to write, to use the written word to express feelings: frustrations, joy, sadness, regret, anger.
Know there are publishers out there who want to know how you are processing your life. Go to the Chicken Soup for the Soul web site where you will discover the topics on which they are currently working: Angels, Cats, Counting Your Blessings/Attitude of Gratitude, Dogs, Messages from Heaven, Miracles, Preteens, Teenagers, and Crazy, Eccentric, Wacky, Lovable, Fun Families.
Surely you have stories to tell on one or more of these themes. The editors have done an exemplary job at the site in explaining what they want and don’t want. They also have series of prompts to get you considering what you might share. And their proofreading/editing of what you submit and they publish is outstanding.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.