PLWP Open Writing Marathon 2016

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PLWP Writing Marathons inspired lots of writing from Teacher Consultants and Community Members in 2016.  In April, seven writers gathered to explore St. Joseph and draw inspiration from each other’s good company at favorite stops like Café Pony Espresso, the Downtown St. Joseph Library, and Bourbon Street.  In the fall, nine writers participated in the PLWP graduate course ENG/EDU 502: Professional Learning Communities—Writing Marathons and wrote at several more stops, including Paradox Coffee and Theater, the St. Joseph Frontier Casino, and the First Ward House, in additional to a diverse array of solo stops which they shared on a virtual writing marathons as part of the class. Participants in both of these marathon experiences were invited to develop their writing into the pieces shared below. 

Watch for our upcoming Open Writing Marathon—a Foodie Writing Marathon with special guests from the culinary world—on April 8, 2017, launching from MWSU at 9:30 a.m. and concluding in downtown St. Joseph by 3:30.

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Mt. Olivet Cemetery
By:  LuAnn C.

I thought it would be different. I didn’t expect to feel melancholy as I visited this cemetery that has only harbored memories of life, not death, so far. But, when I pulled up past the chapel sadness washed over me. I’d never taken this road towards the chapel and then realized that it was the way my car would come in if one of my families here in St. Joseph were to die. My husband, two daughters, or myself.

We usually drive in through the lower road, down near where the Stations of the Cross edge around the open circular road. Here are happier memories. My daughter ran against her anxiety here. It chased her but she kept ahead of it.

During her first semester of middle school, my daughter suffered her first panic attack. She hid her anxiety from friends and teachers by excusing herself to use the bathroom where she would try to get her nerves under control and where she would text me that she was shaking and couldn’t stop. She joined the cross country team that same semester and wanted to gain endurance by practicing her running on her own. To self-conscious to run down our busy street where “everyone” would see her, she asked if I would take her to the quiet cemetery that was just a few blocks from our house. Over multiple trips there, she strengthened her body, her mind, and her endurance.

Initially she ran in the cemetery to better herself for her Cross Country team, but our walking and talking there strengthened us as mother and daughter. We didn’t fear these headstones with dates that meant a final ending. We loved their hidden stories, the obstacles that those souls must have overcome in their lives. They comforted us. They had been human just like us. We all have to experience life’s beautiful and ugly before we can make it to the afterlife.

I wipe a tear from my cheek. I’m sitting on a marble bench outside the chapel-- a perch I’ve never used in all my visits here. Amazing I’ve never been here for a funeral. Our family finds this a peaceful and beautiful place where we’ve seen a doe and her fawn in the twilight, found a four-leaf clover, and imagined stories of those who rest there through the dates and names on their memorial stones. It is a place where I have bonded with my daughter, taken restorative strolls with my husband, and gathered on Good Fridays to walk the Stations of the Cross. Most times I took the girls in their stroller or walked alongside them and sometimes had to carry them when their little legs got tired, other times I went alone, especially on the rainy or cold Fridays.

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Today the many cumulus clouds pass above- brilliant white at tops and deep purple on their undersides-- a promise of rain this evening.

A young couple, maybe in their twenties or thirties, just showed up. They stand together in front of a grave that doesn’t yet have a headstone, just a little vase with red flowers behind a footstone. He puts his arm around her shoulders, and they stand there for a long while looking down at the ground. Tears pool my eyes. Who are they mourning? Is it a child, a friend, or a family member?

He releases his arm and now they look at each other and talk a bit then retreat back to their white SUV and drive away. I look back at the little bouquet of red flowers now alone and remind myself that the one they mourn is not here. These places are for the living, not the dead- a place to mourn. A place where it’s okay to cry, even expected sometimes. Here is a safe place, a place to release anxieties and fear-- and run.

Pride                          
By: Jamie Duddy

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Marching Band.
Mocked and feared by many, honored and cherished by few.
Hard work and dedication.
Sweat and tears.
Pride.

The work is hard.  The job has little praise.  Starting my musical relationship in the second grade, music has been a part of my life for over twenty years, marching band for fifteen.  The uniforms are hot and smelly.  It usually always rains on game day.  Having to wake up sometimes before the sun, to learn the music and steps, each movement broken down with precision.  Judges criticize every note, every step. It’s a rare moment when something is good enough for the half time show of a football game.

Just the half time show, a time when most people use the restroom or go get snacks.  This is the time when the band lights up the field, not only technically strong in motion but flawless to the ear. Every eight to five stride and flawlessly tuned note is with pride for the team and school being represented.  With sweat running down the face at the same time, fingers are too cold to move.  Hats perfectly aligned, arms held at the right degree, toes up, shoulders back, stomach in, feet together.  Does anyone even notice?

It doesn’t matter if anyone notices.  The marching band is there to do a job.  A job that is overlooked by football fans across our nation.  Next time a marching band is on the field, watch for just a second.  You will see the dedication in the movements.  You will see the sweat pouring down.  You will hear the magical sound of hundreds of people working together.  Most of all, you will see the pride.  Pride in knowing you are part of something bigger than yourself.

And you might all see something better than a football team losing 0-52 on Homecoming.  You tell me.  Who has more pride and dedication now?  That football team or the marching band?

Injustice constantly.
Ignored entirely.
Pride with every step, every beat, every note.
This is your half time show.
Marching band.

Rats
By: Nicole C.

Rats. Such a dirty word! We are not dirty. We clean ourselves and we take care of our families. You know, as long as the White House has been standing, we've been there too, minding our own business. The people don't like us much, so we have to hide. Believe me, there are tons of places to play hide and seek, or cat and rat as we like to call it. There are so many tunnels and secret passageways. Rat heaven!  

During the day we tend to stay out of sight. At night is when the real fun begins. You've seen the movie Ratatouille, right? Well, that's got nothing on us White House rats. You've heard of the CIA? We have them, too. We call them the PIA, People Intelligence Agency. Their job is to figure out the schedules and comings and goings of the people in the White House. They have an important job of letting us know where the safe places are. They wear suits and ties, sort of like the guys in RIB, Rats in Black.

The first reports of us living in the White House go back to the presidency of Benjamin Harrison in 1889. His wife, Caroline, had tried to get money from Congress to upgrade the mansion, but it didn’t pass. She did, however, get money to clean the White House “from the attic to the cellar.” This also included money to try to get us out of there. She wrote in her diary about how we were everywhere. She called us “bold.” She accused us of getting up on tables and even a couple of people’s beds. Well, I can’t say that didn’t happen because I wasn’t around then. I will say that, speaking for myself, I try to steer clear of any and all contact with humans. They just cannot be trusted.

Former President Jimmy Carter hated us with a passion. He is a legend in our circle. He was having an important meeting with the Prime Minister from Italy when he realized there was a dead rat in the Oval Office. He was so embarrassed because he knew what that smell was and where it was coming from. He had watched several of us run around his office before and he was furious. There had previously been a policy of getting rid of us using humane tactics. Animal rights groups had been speaking out for us because the traps hurt our necks and cause us to suffer. That was not flying with Carter. He threatened to fire people if we weren’t “cleared out.” So, the General Services Administration “declared war on the West Wing.” They were even briefing him as to how many of us were murdered daily! Can you believe that?! They set up over 300 traps and 150 bait boxes all over the place. You know how they tricked us into all those traps and bait boxes? Peanut butter! It quickly became our downfall.

After that, things got pretty bad for us, poisons, traps, cats. Man it was crazy. One time, this young rat that had no clue how things worked around here, strolled into the kitchen for a snack. We tried to warn him, but he thought we were a bunch of old fogies and he knew it all. So we just sat back and waited. Ha! Doris was ready for him. She is one of the cooks in the White House kitchen. She spotted, Nimrod, as we call him, and armed herself with a broom. She beat the tar out of him. He was so dizzy, he had no idea where he was going or which way to go. He made a run for a closet door and she slammed it on his tail. On his tail! Now we call him Stubby. Isn't that funny?! We tried to tell him not to go in there. That's what they call Karma.

Another time, we were having a pool party minding our own business when the First Lady, Barbara Bush, dove in for a swim. Needless to say, we scrambled as fast as we could. All except one. Oh, he is hopeless. We were screaming and yelling at him to get out of the water and he completely ignored us. He just swam right beside her! She screamed and nearly drowned herself and poor Charlie trying to get out of the pool. The first to rush in and try to help her was her dog, Millie. He swam after poor Charlie, but couldn’t quite catch him. However, her other hero, her husband George, didn’t miss a beat. He grabbed Charlie with his own hands and held Charlie under the water until he died. All we could do was watch in shocked horror as he breathed his last. There was nothing we could have done to help him.

The most recent story was not all that long ago. You may have heard about this one. You haven’t? Oh, it’s a good one. So, President Obama is giving a speech in the Rose Garden. He’s just talking away and doesn’t see Ralph running across the step in front of him. Maybe Ralph just wanted 5 seconds of fame. I don’t know what he thought he was doing, but man you should have heard some of those reporters squeal!

So there you have it. We rats have been around for a long time. If we can survive the White House, we can survive anywhere. I guarantee you that you don’t have your pantries and cupboards guarded like Fort Knox. Say cheese, just not peanut butter!

St. Joseph Casino
By Rachel Daniels

The smell of cigarette smoke smacks me in the face as soon as I enter the inner wooden doors. I make my way past the overabundant buffet and enter the dimly lit, hazy casino floor meant to confuse patrons on the time of day in the hopes they will lose hours and money in here. The neon lights flash from every direction enticing customers to have a seat in the worn leather stools and place a bet. Loud tones compete with upbeat music flooding my senses. 

“I’m 300 in the hold today,” a man says in defeat as an aid wheels him by the penny slots. I imagine that much of this man’s existence revolves around these outings. Outings determined by the public transit schedule. Outings that are the highlight of his week! In the casino he is special. In the casino he is catered to. In the casino he can be 300 in the hole at 11:00 on 

a Saturday morning and no one bats an eye. Maybe the casino acts as an escape from reality for him. 

 “You’re here early today,” a cocktail waitress pushing 50, but clinging to 20 says as she places a mixed drink sweating with condensation in front of a woman whose eyes are glued to the screen in front of her. The bright flashes illuminate an inch of ash precariously dangling off the end of her cigarette. Her eyes never leave the screen in front of her. She never acknowledges the waitress or the drink. It is the waitresses’ job to know the “regulars,” and to build relationships with them. To make them feel special. It is all part of the mask that the casino relies so heavily on. In the casino these patrons matter. In the casino the employees care about them. They mean more than a paycheck. The flashing neon lights and competing musical tones are meant to entice employees and patrons alike down the rabbit hole and into the altered reality that the casino offers. 

American Horror Story: Northwest Missouri
By Jay Scott

Horror and the supernatural element of life is something that has fascinated cultures for millennia. Perhaps the fascination is borne by a desire to cling to those we’ve lost; perhaps it comes from man’s desire for a good scare and adrenaline rush now and then. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself examining the supernatural in my life, as of late, trying to discern fact from fiction, myth from reality. My search for the truth has turned up both disappointing realities and also intriguing revelations.

When I think back on my limited experiences with the supernatural, three places come to my head. They are places that I encountered in my youth, with tall tales and legends surrounding them. The validity of those tall tales will propel our investigation today.

Site #1: Boy Scout Hill - 80th Road, Agency, Missouri

 Boy Scout Hill is located on a gravel road in the middle of miles of forests and cow pastures. It is a narrow path, barely big enough for a pickup truck to wander through. There’s a bit of debris on the road around it: beer bottles, Walmart sacks, a condom wrapper. But Boy Scout Hill is untouched. Its path is canopied by tree leaves. To an outsider, it looks like any of the thousands of forest trails dotting Northwest Missouri.

But to me, I see memories. I remember legends. I hear the words of ghost stories. Allow me to backtrack for a moment; to those of you that didn’t grow up in a farming community with nothing to do, attend a school with a graduating class of forty people, or drive 20+ miles to the nearest mall, let me fill you in on a little secret… Those of us that did grow up in similar circumstances had to learn to make our own fun very early on. Part of that fun, after getting your driver's license, is to drive around with friends on the county’s back roads. The car became our nightclub, confessional, bedroom, and sanctuary. A favorite pastime of ours was to drive to all of the supposedly “haunted” locations in our area and see if we could prove or disprove its supposed super naturalness. That’s where Boy Scott Hill comes in.

The legend is that it used to be a campsite for Boy Scouts back in the day until - gasp! - a whole camp of them was murdered on a dark night. I couldn’t find any evidence of this online, of course, but other mysteries surround this site. Supposedly in the ‘80s a group of Satanists killed a sacrificial cow at Boy Scout Hill, using its blood to paint the ground with pentagrams. There actually is a bit of speculation to support this; several people in the area have confirmed versions of this story, and there was a bit of a Satanist subculture among some teens in the Midwest area in the 1980s, but again, no concrete proof.

As you can imagine, trips to Boy Scout Hill usually resulted in walking twenty or thirty feet up the path, getting spooked by a raccoon or deer, screaming, and running back to our car. My seventeen-year-old self was never able to prove the existence of anything macabre at Boy Scout Hill, and it appears that my current self won’t be able to either. For now, Boy Scout Hill’s spookiness will exist only in my memories.

Site #2: The Hanging Tree - (Location withheld by request of owner), Agency, Missouri

IMG_5625.JPGThe Hanging Tree is this huge tree on a hill with one giant branch sticking out of it at almost an exact 90-degree angle. As the story goes, the tree was around back when Missouri was a slave state; if a slave owner caught a slave trying to escape or if a runaway slave was found, they were hung at the Hanging Tree.

Growing up in Northwest Missouri, where small whispers of the Ku Klux Klan are still echoed today, it’s easy to see these stories being true. However, the story of the Hanging Tree crosses into the realm of unbelievability; some say the tree is haunted by the spirits of slaves who almost made it to freedom. The spirits are angry and will hang anyone who gets too close to the tree.

I haven’t been able to verify any of this, but there are plenty of results on Google about numerous lynching sites throughout slave states, so it’s not in the realm of impossibility that lynching’s occurred there. I even spoke with the owner of the land; she said that she knew of the occult stories surrounding the tree, but had never experienced anything supernatural while she had lived there. She also mentioned that she knew for certain that a man did hang himself on the property (tree unknown) decades ago, but most believed that it was a drunken prank gone wrong. I was not able to confirm or disprove her story.

Site #3: Dragon House - SE 45th Road, Faucett, Missouri

To find Dragon House, take a narrow gravel road that runs parallel to Interstate 29 for a couple miles; eventually on your right you’ll see a very very long gravel driveway, peppered with weeds and adjacent to a small pond. The driveway has to be almost two miles long; you’re on it forever, with multiple “No Trespassing” signs on its sides as you drive. At the end of the driveway, you’ll see a rickety old barn that looks like it would house bloody body parts hanging from hooks. You’ll also see a gorgeous old two-story house overlooking a pond.

However, despite the stark contrast of the barn and house, your gaze will be immediately drawn to the terrifying metal dragon that dominates the yard. It is probably eight feet tall and must weigh several hundred pounds. Its arms are raised and its mouth is open, revealing sharp shards of rusted metal. Just looking at it makes me feel like I need a tetanus shot. Whether you believe in the occult or not, the dragon is incredibly ominous at night; the harsh lights from your car seem to distort its features, and the shadows it casts make it appear even larger than it is. It really does look like it stepped out of one of my nightmares.

So what’s the story? Well, I really don’t know. Dragon House was just another one of those spots we’d drive around to in high school on fall nights. Some of the stories suggest that the dragon is always in a different position every time you go there, the sculptor of the dragon was driven to insanity and killed his family, etc. Nothing very original. However, the location does have the spookiest air about it, in my opinion. The house is abandoned, although it still looks remarkable. Those that have been brave enough to get out of the car and look in the windows have said that the inside of the house is furnished, the dining room table set the with the finest china and crystal. I think I know where the dragon originated; our high school mascot is the dragon, so I would guess that someone sculpted this metal beast as a display of school spirit, years ago. However, time and age have morphed it into something grotesque and sinister. I could find no information online about Dragon House. It continues to live in the physical world as its own urban legend.

       Part of me feels a little bit relieved to have found so little proof proving or disproving these “haunted” locales. The part of me that wants these places to remain a mystery just about outweighs the part that wants the truth. That’s the beauty of horror: the unknown. The unknown is what keeps these stories going. What’s also beautiful is that these three places are just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands and thousands of places just like these all over the United States, each with their own unique histories and legends. And who knows? Maybe one of them really is haunted…

Home
By Lisa K

FullSizeRender.jpgHome. They say home is where the heart is. I have to agree. I’ve had several homes over the years. Therefore, my heart has wandered over the years too. This has made a variety of houses become my “home” over time. There is certainly a difference between a house and a home. Currently my heart resides in a home on a small lake. Life is good here and my heart is content here.

The house itself was just built last fall. What a whirlwind experience. From drawing floor plans to the still unfinished dwelling I sleep in each night. It was an exhausting journey. There was no kitchen sink installed on move in day and although that issue has been eradicated, several things are still in need of completion. Yet this home is where my heart is.

I sit here this evening looking at an amazing view of the lake. On so many summer days and evenings this cove is cluttered with boats and pontoons which haul every type of summer lover imaginable. There are skiers, swimmers, floaters, drinkers, fisherman, and families simply taking their small children for some summer fun. This evening though it is peaceful. The gentle warm breeze caresses my face as it moves on its journey to who knows where. The sun is setting and the array of oranges, yellows, blues, and pinks in the sky are intoxicating. The dock slightly squeaks with each movement of the water, although the water is almost as smooth as glass. Fall brings with it a gentler, more intimate side of lake life. Those who only have summer homes here have gone for the season and we “full-timers” have full reign of the lake once again. The subtle sound of the water lapping at the shore line is like a lullaby and the sunset is mesmerizing. I almost need a flashlight to write here, but it is the perfect scene for inspiration and gratitude.

I am thankful for this amazing view, for nature and all its wonders, for the opportunity to live in such a beautiful setting, and for my home. Home IS where the heart is and this little house with its little lake view is most certainly where my heart is.

Sunday Mornings at the Lake
By Carol Brown

Sunday mornings at the lake are quiet except for muffled voices of early risers getting ready to depart as they pack up, load their vehicles, and prepare to bring their boats or jet skis to the ramp for loading. We have spent many mornings watching boaters new to the lake struggle to get their boats out of the water as we silently cheer them on, resisting the urge to yell out, "You're going too slow, you're not going to get it!" or "Slow down! You're going to ram the trailer!"  We were new to the water once, so we remember the struggles.  You can always tell the old hands because it's smooth landings.  They know how and where to secure everything and they're done in minutes and make it look easy.

lake.jpgSunday mornings at the lake are quiet except for the crows calling out to each other.  We've often imagined their conversations.  Are they making fun of us humans?  Do they know how it freaks some of us out when they gather on the dock handrails as if to dare us to walk by them?  Are they expressing their relief that there will soon be fewer boats and other noisemakers on the water--at least until next weekend?  Are they expressing their regret at our leaving because who will scream out as they soar ever so close to the screened porches?  Are they flirting with each other, perhaps arranging to meet later?  

Sunday mornings at the lake are quiet except for the last minute boat rides that often contain fishermen who don't mind the morning chill if it means that one last chance to get "the catch of a lifetime, " or "the catch of the weekend," or maybe any catch at all.  I've seen people catch a fish just before leaving the lake only to throw the lucky fish, even the keepers, back in the water. The battle was won, i.e. a fish was caught.  No time to skin or fillet it, just time to catch and release, savoring the victory of having caught a fish.  

Sunday mornings at the lake are quiet except for droppings of acorns on decks, roofs, and docks.  I suspect the squirrels are throwing a lot of these missiles or knocking them out of the tree.  Sometimes I think the squirrels wait for unsuspecting humans to walk by.  "Bombs away!" followed by snickers and giggles as the crows join in the celebrations as we grab our heads or jump at the pummeling plop of an acorn.

Sunday mornings at the lake are full of quiet movement everywhere the quiet movement of the fog lifting from the distant hills.  If I look away for a few seconds, it's clear that the puffs of mist have risen higher. After a few minutes, it's virtually gone except for a few stubborn patches that, like us, seem to want to postpone their leaving.  The quiet of the flags waving in the gentle breeze until they hang almost motionless until they are summoned once again to softly wave goodbye to those leaving and hello to new arrivals.  The quiet of the no-wake buoys whose constant bouncing and swaying remind me of the endless energy of the water.  The quiet of the water as its waves approach the shore. In the morning, the water makes no sound when it reaches the seawalls as it gently brushes the rocks before heading out again with the tide.  The quiet of the birds as they swoop and soar in silent splendor, whether they are looking for food or adventure or dancing in courtship, they keep it to themselves as they fly out of sight in perfect tandem with wings spread wide.  

There are not enough Sunday mornings at the lake.

Coleman Hawkins Park
By Lisa O.

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Today, I take my perfect afternoon break between a delightful cup of dark chocolate mocha at Paradox Coffee, and a Tequila Mockingbird at The Tiger’s Den.  Greeted by the Spirit Bear, I follow the sidewalk chalk graffiti that winds through the park and around the gazebo to its entrance where I find my writing spot for the next segment of my day.  The cement floor of this gazebo is littered with leaves, cigarette butts, an empty packet of beef flavor from a cup of Ramen noodles, and even a movie ticket stub from 2013.  My mind wanders, thinking of what kind of journey this ticket stub must’ve already traveled in the last three years only to wind up in a pile of leaves.

Oh, the memories this gazebo must have witnessed.  I can’t help but smile when I hear a new friend reminiscing of the times she used to bring her little girl to this place in the summers.  Just for fun, they would ride the city bus to the library and check out as many picture books as they could carry.  Their next stop was Hazel’s to pick up a delicious milkshake right before enjoying their perfect afternoon break in this gazebo reading, laughing, and sharing the occasional brain freeze.  I can only imagine these are memories her daughter now treasures as well.  

My attention is quickly drawn to a young boy who has just discovered his new toy, a lonely bicycle wheel abandoned at the top of the hill.  In no time, he’s chasing the tire all the way down the hill where they both plunge into a pile of crispy leaves.  As quickly as he stops, the toddler jumps up and rolls the tire up the hill again for the first of many trips.  He has this entire hill to himself while his mother seems to be enjoying her perfect afternoon break with a book on a bench near the sidewalk at the top of the hill.  

As if this squealing little boy and his new toy aren’t entertaining enough, a group of five rambunctious teen boys are approaching.  With brittle leaves crunching under their feet, they begin to dash toward the gazebo as one of them intentionally drops his 32 ounce styrofoam cup on the ground.  His careless littering makes my blood boil.  I’ve got my best teacher glare ready and aimed, but decide to continue just observing instead.  I’m not certain I can resist the urge to demand he throw it away, but I remind myself that he’s not one of my kids and I’m not on duty. Today I am a writer on a perfect afternoon break. All five juveniles gather in the gazebo as two of them stand face to face right smack dab in the middle.  “What ya gonna do, big boy?” the cherub provokes.  “Remember this from yesterday?” I anticipate becoming a witness to some horrendous bullying, or maybe a spin-off of Fight Club.  How will I react? Should I intervene, or step back and call the cops? I can’t believe these troublemakers are oblivious to the three adults sitting silently in the same gazebo. Before I can devise my master plan, the largest of the boys takes a few steps backward, toward the bench I’m sitting on.  I’m feeling invisible as he runs, jumps off the opposite bench, and hangs from the rafter.  “Whoa! Your butt crack’s showin’!” announces his scrawny friend.  “Yeah, but your brain isn’t!” he responds.  I’m so amused at the snappy comeback and can’t believe I was worried about what mischief these wannabe hellions might cause. Before long, the teenyboppers are scampering off to their next destination for their next perfect afternoon break and I take a stroll to The Tiger’s Den.  

Four Writing Marathon Inspirations
By Cayetana Maristela

Pony Espresso

A three-year-old boy sirening
But where is his police car?
Instead he’s holding a smart phone
Perhaps the police car is whizzing on the screen.
Shouldn’t he be on the floor
Skootching around?

Pony Espresso

I remember Naymet when I asked, “Puede ba ako’ng tumikim?” May I have a taste?
She said no, that I was too young.
Because she loved me she said I could smell all I want instead.
I pulled the cup close to me.  I hovered over it, steam wafting into my nostril.
Deep breath.
Again.
Lung after lung-full of strong aroma.
Potable liquid tar.
I was satisfied, for the time being.

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Downtown Library: Family Place

“Children who tidy up after playing will get a sticker!  Ask a librarian!”

I was bothered by this sign.  I was bothered that the librarians felt it was necessary to put up such a sign.  Why don’t the parents, guardians, or baby sitters automatically clean up and get their charges to clean up? Even if the play happened at their house, it’s still necessary to clean up and to have the child help.  The idea of cleaning up should not be new.

The second reason the sign bothered me was that is it necessary to be given a sticker? Can’t cleaning up be a joy in itself? Do the children need to be paid with a sticker? For 3-year-olds stickers are enough.  What would a 5-year-old ask before cleaning up? What would a 10-year-old ask before doing a chore? What would a 15-year-old ask for before….  Where will it end?

Downtown Library: Family Place

Dear School Administrators:

We need more play time, and not just arranged play time.  We need time to just run outside where children are safe.  Even when it’s cold we need play time.  Don’t cut out recess just because you feel we need to compete with Singapore.  We need brain breaks to dance, sing out of tune songs, color blank pages, doodle, and write random words. 

Me, My Selfie, and I
By Mary S.

Saint Joseph Downtown Library was a stop on our Moveable Marathon.  In the library’s entrance is a statue in honor of Eugene Field.  Once upon a time Eugene Field was a journalist and editor for the St. Joseph Gazette.  The statue commemorates one of his famous nursery rhymes Little Boy Blue. The statue was erected by the St. Joseph Women’s Press Club.  It is of special interest to me because I am a member of this esteemed club organized in 1893. The club is for like-minded women whose tastes and aptitudes are in the writing field. 

We fellow marathon writers respectfully entered the hushed domain of fact and fiction.  Buried in the stacks one will discover Eugene Field’s children’s poetry Wynken, Blynken, and Nod and The Duel.  In The Duel there is a line “’twas half-past twelve”.  And what a coincidence--‘twas half-past twelve’ and time for our lunch! 

Before we departed a fellow writer pressed us to look upward.  We focused our eyes on a stained glass dome.  The glow of the sun shimmered on this immoveable highlight.  How best to capture our crowning halo?  Why with a group selfie! 

The word of the day was majuscule. I thoroughly enjoyed my Majuscule ME time on our moveable feast marathon.  Thank you Susan M

 

The Home for Little Wanderers
By John Gregory

A pink square upon a 1913 book of blue prints, a hand written note proclaiming it The Home for Little Wanderers. Today it is simply the Noyes Home, but the old name inspires me to a book I was recently reading. The Home for Peculiar Children, a place for those whom the world shunned or were frightened of, a place to keep them safe from those who would judge them or abuse them. Little Wanderers does not bring to my mind the image of children who have lost their way, of families broken by circumstances created intentionally or not. I think of a small comic from Finland called Moomin, a story about these hippo-like trolls who go on adventures with their friends in the peaceful Moomin Valley. There is a character in those pages that travels constantly, shunning the idea of staying in one place for too long and moving with the seasons. Snufkin if I recall the name correctly. He wears a wide brimmed hat and wears old green clothes, he enjoys nothing more than a day where there are no obligations he owes to anyone and no one who owes him any obligations. I think of The Home for Little Wanderers and I imagine all sorts of interesting little creatures and beings stopping by for the night for a warm fire and a hot meal, only to move on the next morning towards hidden places and unknown adventures. Perhaps this is why we give euphemistic names to places that we otherwise do not want to think about. An orphanage is a place where every story begins with grief, but a Home for Little Wanderers is just a resting point for a journey. 

One Good Thing
By Susan Martens

I’m here twenty minutes early, and yet I still missed the chance for the prime parking spaces in the shade, on the “good side” of the traffic light.  So I’ve taken the last one in the row, the one in the sun, the one right next to the crosswalk that is such a pain to back out of.  But, it’s ok. I’m comfy now under the big maple tree in front of the school, writing and enjoying the autumn breeze.

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 3.07.07 PM.pngAt 3:03, I take my place with the Door Number Ten People, as I like to call them, have gotten used to me waiting with them each Tuesday and Thursday.  They’ve even taken me, the newbie, under their wing a bit, offering advice about after school traffic. Mostly they stare at their phones while I stare at the sycamore leaves waving above the red brick school walls, but sometimes we chat, sharing town news while we watch the school staff herd eager vehicles and get ready to funnel children.

At 3:05, the Safety Patrol emerges, efficient fifth graders in fluorescent green vests with matching flags. They take their posts at crosswalks and corners.

At 3:10, the school bell rings, Door Number Ten People put away their cell phones, and Door Number Ten becomes a one-way valve for kiddos. 

The little boy I’m waiting for always comes to me in a burst from the bundle of arms, legs, and backpacks. He hugs me and hands me his little blue backpack, then takes my hand.

I never get tired of this tiny feeling of triumph. Of this one good thing I’ve managed to do, no matter how the rest of my day has gone: to be there to greet a child after school and take him safely home.

“How was your day?” I always ask.

“Good,” he always says.

On the way to the car, we chat about fourth grade things. He asks me if I know any Spanish, then demonstrates the little bit he’s learned that day. The week before, we talked about how great it was to have cool umbrellas on rainy days. Standing under my own “Starry Night” umbrella, I helped him open his bright red one blazoned with characters from Disney’s Cars, with the handle in the shape of Lightning McQueen. When I turned back around, one of his little friends was standing under my umbrella with me.  He was holding a large rock up to his face.

“This rock is really hard,” he said, staring at it with huge eyes.

“Is it?”  I said, smiling. “It sure looks hard. Hmm.  Well, have a good day!” 

He ducked out, then, and moved on to the next umbrella shelter he could find.

Today it is clear and warm. The edges of the leaves are just barely showing their fall colors.  We walk through the parking lot, past the carousel of vehicles in the pick-up lane, down the little steps to my car. I buckle him in and tell him it might take a while to get out today. 

I get in and crank my head around, watching for an opening to back out but knowing that it will just take time.

“Did you do anything fun?” I ask while we wait.

He shakes his head “no,” his eyes smiling. He’s heard this line of questioning before.

“Did you do anything scary?”

After a pause, he shakes his head again. No.

“Did you do anything weird?”

One more time, he shakes his head. 

Then, with a wry grin, he says, “At least not yet.” 

I nod.  “It’s still early.”

Finally, there is a break in the traffic. I wave at the Safety Patrol, and we’re off down the leafy lane.

 

 

Original Event: 
Open Writing Marathon