The 2014 Invitational Summer Institute featured two writing marathons-- one on the first day, June 30th, and one on the last day, July 24. These excerpts are from both days, from teachers writing in various places around Saint Joseph ranging from familiar old haunts like Pony Espresso to experimental new marathon stops like the License Office.
Featured in this story are 2014 Summer Institute Facilitators Christie Leigan, Mya Ezzell,and Susan Martens as well as several newly-minted Teacher Consultants whom we warmly welcome into our PLWP family.
Watch for news of our PLWP Open Writing Marathon coming this Spring!
Nature Sanctuary 10:00 a.m.
Caught between then and now. Concrete and river of water. Neutral grass in between. One side is structure--rivers of man-laid concrete. The other, bigger, more free side is God-made water--the Missouri River.
As I walk beside the river, I see something small floating peacefully. It seems to be matching my pace, even as I stop to look at signs or take pictures.
Inevitably, I know my meandering must come to an end. As I look over toward the river, I watch “my friend” pass me and continue on its journey. I try to capture it in photographs. It cannot be captured, nor would I want to take from it its freedom.
I know the time has come for me to write my thoughts and meet back at a designated spot and time--back to the concrete river for me.
Krug Park 2:10 p.m.
I’m back after 23 years when I brought girls here from Synergy Girls’ Home. We’d gone skating, but the girls, my co-worker, and I weren’t ready to go back to Parkville.
As I sit here, I notice the peacefulness that surrounds me. Nature is singing its song, and it’s filled with geese, ducks, whistling birds, and wind rustling through the trees. These are the sounds I hear.
What I SEE has a different feeling and it takes me back to the Girls’ Home. It was called a home, but to a lot of those girls, it was a jail--a holding place until their lives got straightened out. The place I sit now has bars--nine sets and more continue beyond both exits. I see these bars, unlike the invisible bars of the Home.
The Home had beautiful furniture in its family and living rooms. There was a beautiful and large dining room table complete with a matching china hutch. The girls’ bedrooms were also lovely. The game room was filled with all kinds of things for them to do. And the kitchen--except for the oven that couldn’t regulate the temperature--was any cook’s delight. Despite all the “comforts of home,” I wonder if the girls felt like it was surrounded by huge chains similar to the chains which bind the tables in this space.
My hope is that the girls who lived at Synergy found a sense of peace and safety--free from the cruelty, pain, and torture they’d lived with in their homes. I pray that despite the feeling of being trapped in a system not of their making, that they were able to shake off those invisible chains. I wish for each of them that they have found a place as beautiful as this place, and that they can look beyond the bars that once held them. I hope their spirits are soaring and singing--that they have found their synergy!
Mount Mora Cemetery 11:00 a.m.
All these life journeys ended here. Their final proof that they existed lay in disheveled rows among unkept grasses that flutter with the breeze. Several stones have fallen apart or are too weather-worn to read the name and dates. The sun shines, the breeze blows, but all here are quiet.
At the Smith Mausoleum, the ants work diligently at some task unknown to me. Up the column and then back down again, their tiny orangish red bodies truck along. Leaves and grass have their own special place in the forgotten corners.
The stories these trees could tell. They have witnessed thousands of burials. Comforted twice as many loved ones and yet, they linger. Guardians over the resting. They show their age appropriately with height, volume, and wisdom unlike any other. What will become of these guardians? Is there a corner in this maze for their final rest?
A bumble bee as fat as a tick on a hillbilly coon hound circles a grave. Fannie O'Toole. She died at the age of four. I wonder if she lived long enough to experience a bee sting. These trees witnessed the day her parents lay her in the ground. They wept with them for a life gone too soon.
Jesse James Museum, 10:30 a.m.
1890’s Victorian Outhouse
I find myself very amused at the Victorian Outhouse, like if it is Victorian with a pointy roof you are going to the restroom in style or something. Even though I hate to admit it I am old enough to remember when my still living ninety eight year old grandmother had an outhouse. That was all she had, no indoor facilities. I guess hers could have been called Victorian too if they had put a fancy roof on it. In my mind it was just country, a two holer for sure. Whether Victorian or country I am for certain they worked the same. Oh, but there was the day grandma went to town and bought a toilet seat and lid to put in there for an upgrade.
Remington Center/Nature Walk 9:15 a.m.
The Missouri River is directly in from of me as I stop along the walking path near Remington Center. Today, the river is wide and you can see it moving. A piece of wood just floated by and I am being harassed by a sweat bee. But, I will remain in this spot, where Lewis and Clark made their way west many years ago.
When I come to this area, I can’t help but think of the people who once lived here. The signs along the way tell me that Missouri was once home to the Missouri Indians and even a Kansa tribe whose remains were found on King Hill in the south end. Being from the south end, I went to King Hill often and knew it was connected to an Indian tribe, but never knew which one. In fact, the original Benton High School was located near King Hill and its location was moved. I always heard it was because the original building was housed on an Indian burial ground. I really don’t know if that is true or not. But as I sit here, gazing at the river, a calmness comes over me. This is the effect I often get when I’m near water. As I look out on to the moving river, I see and hear the modern world. I hear a train behind me. I see the interstate highway to my left. I hear traffic. It makes me wonder—did Lewis and Clark ever imagine what this place would become?
Wyeth Hill 10:45 a.m.
Standing at the top of this hill, you might think that you were on top of the world. The view is incredible. Looking from my position up against the wrought iron fence, I see the mighty Missouri River far below me. Fitting—the first sight I had when I began this journey, was of the same river, just from a different perspective. Now I can see it from above and how it twists and turns. I see the walking trail that I was on that first day, but I’m sure I’m a fair distance from where I sat. I can also see the walking trail twisting and turning , following the curves in the river. To my left, I see the highway and that bridge that will take you to the far away land called Kansas (which, by the way, I’m staring at right now). Do you know what? That sweat bee’s brother is finding my flesh just as his brother did four weeks ago. It is sunny and hot today, just as it was on my first day. So, my time with this marathon is coming to an end. It ends with the same view as before, just from a different perspective—just as my experience has been during this past month. I see many of the same things, but I have a different perspective. In conclusion, God speed my fellow writers and thank you for the experiences shared. I have learned so much from each and every one of you.
Boudreaux’s 11:00 a.m.
The smell of spice hits you when you walk in, that and fried food. All around are the colors of New Orleans; the purple, gold, and green that represents a place and culture I have never experienced.
Along the back wall stands a thick and rich wooden bar. Carvings throughout the face and sides. The rose stained glass awning in the middle grabs your attention and pulls you in to the large mirror reflecting the dining area. Years of alcohol being poured from that very spot. Celebrations among friends, individuals drowning sorrows, buddies cheering on the LSU tigers.
I think of the men who took the time to carve each scroll, indention, and overhang. How many hours were spent sanding the surface to give it a smooth finish? When they finished did they enjoy a round around their hard work or pass it along never to be seen again. Did they work late into the night, hands stiff, clothes covered in sawdust and shavings. Stopping to wipe their brows with hankies, crumpled from being shoved in pants pockets. These men who have carved our history, who get no glory from their work. I wonder who they were.
St. Joe Public Library 11:10 a.m.
In the middle of all the books is this very cute rod iron design. Where I sit, there are lights strung above like an outside porch or a scene from The Notebook, very romantic and relaxing. It is so quiet and serene I could sit here all day and gather my thoughts or write. All you can here is the pitter-patter of footsteps going up and down the stairs. I can picture this porch-like setting outside on a patio, in the dark, underneath the stars with a candle light dinner. On a beach near the ocean with the waves crashing in the background would make it even better. A place just like this would be where I would like my future husband to propose, just him and I. Maybe one day...but for now, I will just sit here in the middle of this library and dream.
Wyeth Hill 12:05
I smell something that sinks-a cigarette or cigar smoke coming from two older gentleman sitting under the shelter house visiting. They are talking about their lives and I assume they know one another. They had a conversation about something new they had bought that would last the rest of "their lifetime." Exactly how long is a lifetime? Some lifetimes are never long enough...are others too long? Hmmm...
Pony Espresso Café 11:45 a.m.
Long wavy, almost curly locks flowed down over the small shoulders. Their strawberry blonde color reflected the small ambient light running across the ceiling. The large black sunglasses were perched at an angle, were pulling the flowing tresses from the bright eyes.
Sitting there in striped jeans with a homemade string bracelet around the banned wrists, this gift giver waited patiently to speak to the owner. Those braceleted wrists connected to a hand holding several small, home-grown organic peaches offered out to the owner of the café.
After presenting the barista with the precious gems, Jason, the side burned, goatee wearing gentleman ordered his caffeinated beverage.
In the “Tap Room” of the Albreckt Kemper Museum. 10:45 a.m.
After Dinner Smoke
The fabulous meal was over and the men slowly withdrew from their women and the dining room, making their way to the “Tap Room”. This segregated ritual always followed the meal when guests were in the home.
They bellied up to the black and red semi-circular bar or made themselves comfortable by one of the ashtrays on the red leather tufted bench that framed half of this partially rounded room. The room began to grow cloudy from the smoke of their Cuban cigars as the men mingled and enjoyed a brew from the tap, while discussing politics and other topics that women has no business commenting on.
Hazel’s, Anderson Ford, License Office, Olympia Lands June 30, 2014
Watching a Real Writer
As soon as we were given our assignment, I knew what I would do. I’d watch the writers writing. I’d listen to their words. I’d hear their stories and chart their progress and see what writers do….
As we started out on this journey, this marathon of words instead of miles, we stop at Hazel’s and I notice, they are so different- Cara and Terrance. Cara never seems to look up from her writing, absorbing all the sights somehow. She feels, and in that feeling, she becomes a part of the woodwork, a piece of the atmosphere. Terrance gets his news in snippets, glancing continuously around, putting together the pieces in his own mind until he has the picture ….
At Anderson Ford, Cara prowls, shifting through the lot with the quiet grace of a cat, slinking between vehicles, catching a glimpse of the sky or feeling a breeze here and there…. Her presence unnoticed, Cara uses a cat’s vision to gain the insight that she needs. Terrance, however, goes straight for the kill, marching right into the lair and waiting, waiting, waiting for their anticipated response. When at last they share their confusion in a futile attempt to get an answer, Terrance gives them only what they ask. Leaving them even more confused as before he answered, Terrance however got the choice tidbits that he came for, leaving the Ford Dealers maimed but still intact. Like his strike moments ago, very direct and so precise Terrance crafts the words to tell this tale.
At the Drivers Bureau, Cara looks nervous, almost like we shouldn’t intrude. She spends more time writing to document her thoughts almost like she can escape by doing so, instead drawing out her thoughts until she feels them and makes the people real. To Terrance, the world seems an open book and he looks like he’s having fun creating memories for the harried workers as he attempts to steal some for his own.
At Olympia Lanes the differences between these writers are most apparent. They really show their true colors, Cara, young and bubbly gravitating to the kids while Terrance perches in the middle, again ready to challenge anyone and make a stand. Cara works from the sidelines; Terrance moves the boundaries in. Cara observes and feels emotion; Terrance takes life as it comes understanding the tides of emotion but rolling with those waves.
Il Lazzarone 12:30 p.m.
Pizza Superhero Eric stands proudly beside his imported Italian pizza oven,
invites me back into the prep area to get a picture, and--
I’m sure I’m violating some kind of health code—but I can’t help it.
He’s humble and proud all at once, basking in the lunchtime rush love and
in the heat of flames licking dough into Neapolitan magic.
According to the News-Press, it cost $30,000 just to get the oven from Italy to St. Joseph
Totally worth it from a foodie standpoint, but my writing group worries for him;
restaurants struggle in this scrappy little town.
We resolve to keep bringing Eric and his oven our money and our love,
Hometown pizza superhero,
Eric the Good,
Eric the Brave.
License Office 10:05 a.m.
We pull up to the scene of the first marathon’s crime, and I can feel some healthy anxiety in the car. I’m a guest in this group, lured by their stories from the first writing marathon and by the faint hint of danger. I turn to Terrance and say, “This is going to be ok, right?”
He smiles and says, “Well. The worst thing that will happen is that we will be arrested. Or maced.”
With this reassurance, we enter. We sit in the long rows of backless brown chairs and get out our notebooks. The place is mostly empty. A woman that Terrance will eventually name She-
Ra calls to us in a practiced voice. “Are you here for driver’s license or motor vehicle?”
Deb says, “Neither.”
Terrance says, “We’re writers.”
I explain that we’re teachers who are also writers, working together this summer, and that we’re looking for inspiration.
She-Ra says, “I used to write.” She looks away, a little sad. “I used to write poems. It always took me to another place, you know?”
I tell her yes. I do know.
She-Ra slowly realizes that Deb was her science teacher back in middle school, and they start reconnecting.
About that time, another woman walks by behind the counter and notices us writers. Terrance and Deb recognize her as The Other Deb who questions them during their first marathon visit. She says, “You’re back!”
We all smile. Terrance explains about the quest for inspiration and our return. “We like the feeling,” he says.
She-Ra says, “In the DMV?!”
We all laugh. The Other Deb says, “Good to see you again.”
We return to our notebooks, scribbling away under the watchful but benevolent eyes of the DMV ladies, their patient, daily chant washing over our pens.
“Ninety-four? Ninety-five? Ninety-six?”
Krug Park 10:00 a.m.
As I sit here on a bench overlooking the water at Krug Park, I hear the ducks and geese. I feel the breeze blowing and all I can recall are my grandparents. How much I do miss them.
As a young girl I would spend my summers with them at the lake, which is what this atmosphere reminds me of. The warm sun beaming down on me, the warmth on my toes, if I close my eyes I can still picture the lake at Standing Rock.
Their friends were so kind to me, everyone enjoyed the summer days. There was always something to do, check the trot-line early, early in the morning with my grandfather……
The breeze interrupts my thoughts as the smell of the water faintly floats my direction.
I hear a commotion in the distance, flapping of wings and geese screaming, water splashing, it appears a few of the geese are having a disagreement.
Parks like this were so cherished when I was a young girl. Pride and preservation in nature.
License Office, 10:35 a.m.
I am a writer…
Even at the :DMV...
Department of Motor Vehicles.
Yes, even there,
Where....instantly, we were noticed. Instantly, we were questioned, "You guys are riders? Or you are writers?”
Upon entering, I take a ticket before I sit to justify my visit.
I have number b-94.
Irrelevant, really. But the silly writer in me wanted to give this number significance...the experience of what it is like to drop the number 94 and simply
something more than people see or don’t see. So we sit and wait while they try to make sense of said senselessness: "Not riders, but writers who drove to the DMV to write.
"Right!" I affirm, nodding and grinning with thumbs up to confirm she's winning this guessing game. To my immediate right sits my writing team. To my left I see Mrs. OCD walking around, using a Clorox Bleach wipe to buffer the germs collected over time by skin dust debris of those who would dream to ride off in the sunset, legally. She wishes that the back of her mind was like the back of the wipe, having the potential to buffer out the words that we write.
But our words are too buff to buff!
So we, the Prize Fighting Writers/crimeless inciters, continue writing in this sunless atmosphere. And the most fear compels Debra to ask. Again. "You guys are riders? Or are you writers?"
"Writers", I write with words spoken soft in tone but sharp in volume, loud with love enough to fill up a family room and allow her to read between the lines.
Another woman who longs to leap from her seat,
belt in hand, stares in seething disbelief. Then she looks up as to decode my spoken words. Confused. I know she is confused because she says, “I'm so confused.” Her Face slightly pursed...an opened purse revealing Wrigley Spearmint gum with the occasional show of bared teeth. She would love to throw a spear, I meant, cause she’s staring daggers. But her long line of riders drives her away from those colliding thoughts running over this short line of writers. Clearly, somebody…somewhere…at some point, wrote details of wrongdoings that really went down here. I want to ask Debra," Do you want to talk about it?”
I know she would say, “Ain't nobody got time for that.”
Pony Espresso 10:15 a.m.
Dr. Atkins smiles out at me from his spine on the bookshelf, rubbing shoulders with Pearl S. Buck The Good Earth and a miniature Missouri Theatre—that restored movie palace that serves as our local cultural beacon. He’s smiling, but I feel the weight of his bony finger pointing out the evil carbs in my giant blueberry muffin. I’m still enjoying the delicious melding of muffin and iced coffee in my grateful mouth. The enticing aroma of coffee beans mixes with the acrid smell of an old building that has once housed cats. The smell hits you as you enter this funky little emporium in downtown St. Joseph, strong, a little unpleasant, a little homey, echoing the olfactory traces of past lives, their stories swirling in the dense air. A box under the Chobani yogurt reads “Lost & Found.” I imagine people and buildings and fashions and trends of thought crowding such a box, but in reality there is only a hat and two unmatched gloves. A door with a fetching shape like something Moroccan or Indian swings back and forth with an oversize cup of coffee above it that reads Java Jolt. I imagine the doorway as a portal to other times and places, exotic and complicated.