Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

Our little candle continues to glow!

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Screenshot of NYTM online article by McKenzie Funk

This morning’s email was full of commentary and requests from friends and from strangers — even one from a journalist/immigrant activist in Spain about my 2017 series “Stories from the Heart” written for the Chinook Observer.  When Editor Matt Winters and I first talked about the possibilities, I remember saying, “Erin Glenn and I have an idea… Maybe we can light a little candle to illuminate what our own Hispanic community is enduring… Maybe we can help…  Maybe…”

Screenshot of NYTM article by McKenzie Funk

And so we lit that candle.  The fourteen stories appeared in the Observer each week from July 26 through October 25, 2017.  They attracted the attention of the big city newspapers in Seattle and of the international media, as well.  An Aljazeera news station in Mexico interviewed a wife and mother from Ocean Park who had been deported by Ice.  BBC did a spectacular film which featured local fisherman “Rosas” as well as Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright and others.  And an investigative reporter for the New York Times Magazine, McKenzie “Mac” Funk, came to the Peninsula several times to talk to victims, advocates, onlookers and law enforcement.  And to learn more about ICE and their methods.

Mac’s story, “How ICE Picks Its Targets in The Surveillance Age” has been long in the making.  Yesterday, he sent me the link to the online version:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/magazine/ice-surveillance-deportation.html.  The “hard copy” version will be published Sunday, October 6.

Mario – Screenshot from NYTM article by McKenzie Funk

The article is focused on what happened (and is still happening) right here on the Long Beach Peninsula — mostly at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta and in Ocean Park — but in all our other communities, as well.  The article is long and detailed and frightening.  My eyes filled more than once as I read, remembering when Erin Glenn and I first approached the families who agreed to be interviewed.  Their fear and their bravery and their hurt were palpable.  I’m so glad their stories are reaching an audience wider than we had ever imagined.  And, of course, I hope the ripple-effect continues until change is effected and we can all say, “We helped.”

By fools like me…

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

Box Top at Adelaide’s

You’ve probably noticed — Poetry is having a huge resurgence right now.  According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the share of adults in the United States reading poetry grew 76 per cent between 2012 and 2017.  Last year, the numbers doubled again!

And, it seems, our Peninsula is right in the thick of things.  Tony Pfannenstiel and Steve Kovach, both of whom I’ve met only recently, are among the movers and shakers who are encouraging poetry appreciation by establishing Poetry Boxes here at the beach.  The first went in at Adelaide’s a few weeks ago and one went up at the Ocean Park Timberland Library last weekend.  Other locations that I know of are at Bay Avenue Gallery, at Abaracci Coffee Bar in Long Beach and at the Norcross-Renner’s out on Stackpole Road.  Wow!

Poetry Box at the Library

Too, Peninsula poets have been sharing their works — not only by postings in the boxes, but by gathering to read in various venues.  Even I have been asked to read my poetry!  Say what?  I was astounded — mostly because poetry is SO intimidating to me.  I think my poetry-shyness began in the ’50s when the big pastime of some of my more intellectual college mates was to go to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and schmooze with the beat poets and wannabes.

As I recall, I got the idea during those sessions that nothing should rhyme, that the thoughts expressed had to be deep, and that a poem was successful only if it elicited hours of discussion interspersed with long silences.  It was all totally intimidating and, though there are some poems and poets I like very much and maybe even understand, I am loathe to hop in, myself.

Inspirational

So when Tony asked me to read at a wordfest to be held on Veteran’s Day at the Port of Nahcotta, I asked if I couldn’t read prose instead of poetry.  Even “prose” sounds pretty serious to me.  I’ll probably be reading some of my chicken blogs.  No long discussions or profound silences required.  Just some polite clucking, please.

 

 

When First I Heard Him Sing

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Yesterday, I received a mystery package in the mail.  It turned out to be a copy of the Timberline Review – “a voluntary literary journal operated by Willamette Writers.”  About the journal, poet Kim Stafford wrote, ““In the Timberline Review, each poem and story is a beacon calling to the best in us to read deeper, climb higher.”

As soon as the book was released from its wrappings, I knew the who and the why of it.  And there on the back cover among the names of the writers included in this particular issue was “Casey Killingsworth.”  He had told me last summer that he had submitted some of his poems to a few publications and he would “let me know.”  The back story goes way back—to 1993!

That’s the year Casey arrived as Oysterville’s new postmaster.  He quickly became an integral part of our community and found a permanent place in our hearts. During the years he was here, he met and married Cynthia, oversaw the restoration of the Oysterville Schoolhouse, always had a joke or story to tell his customers and, in our case (probably in many other cases) became an extended member of our family.  He even delivered mom’s mail when she was no longer able.

In 1996, his first book of poetry, a handbook for water, was published by Cranberry Press which was then located in Oysterville way out on Stackpole Road.  My uncle Willard wrote the introduction in which he said:  He has created here a remarkable community of poems and songs – at once joyous and sad, exhilarating and heart-breaking. 

By then, we had heard Casey sing some of his own compositions and so his poetry came as an affirmation, not a surprise.   Every time we get together – which is not often enough, now that he and Cynthia live ‘out of sight’ (though never out of mind) – I ask and cajole and probably whine.  “Are you writing?  Have you submitted anything?”

The mysterious package in the mail was my answer!  And, in response to my kudos and clapping, I received an email from him with a P.S. that said: I had a good year of having poems accepted. Here are a few and he included this link:  https://www.cogzine.com/copy-of-poetry-master-4  I hope you read them.  Then you, too, will hear him sing.

The Scribbling Aunts

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Mona, “the eldest daughter” on the left

My cousin Mona sent me some of her (as yet unpublished) children’s stories to read.  They arrived by email this morning and I am sorely tempted to drop everything and get to it but my own writing calls so I’ll probably leave Mona’s treasures for evening “dessert.”

Mona is my uncle Willard Espy’s daughter.  His “eldest daughter” she likes to say, pointing out that she arrived six minutes earlier than her twin, the late Freddie Espy Plimpton.  I wonder if Willard ever read any of Mona’s writing and, if so, what he said.  I’m sure he was encouraging.  He always was.  But getting helpful criticism from him?  Never!  At least not in my experience.

On the other hand, it was Willard who gave some of his great-aunts the sobriquet, “The Scribbling Aunts.”  I always took his reference to infer that they weren’t particularly good writers but when I read his descriptions of them in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, I decided that what I took to be a pejorative description was probably just Willard being Willard.

The “scribblers” were my great-grandfather Richardson’s sisters Mat Richardson White and Shae Richardson Stein and their cousin Mary Bamford.  Of them Willard said: it was the women who set the cultural and intellectual tone of the Richardson household. By today’s standards, women in the 1880s and 1890s were chattels.  If so, somebody forgot to tell grandpa’s sisters and his cousin…

A Bit after Mary Bamford’s Time

Mary Bamford, he wrote, wound up with the curious title of Poet Laureate of Oakland…  Of Mat he said:  After a disastrous first marriage, she had to write frantically for newspapers and magazines to keep herself and her children fed, clothed, and roofed… And of Aunt Shae: …the most inveterate scribbler of all…  Her outlets included Golden Days, The Portland Transcript, The San Francisco Examiner, The Interior, The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder and The Youth’s Companion then known as The Companion.

So, if Willard referred to his sainted older relatives as “scribblers,” I wonder how he might have referred to us younger ones who do a bit of writing, especially his eldest daughter Mona. After reading all of his comments on those illustrious women forebears, “scribbler” might actually be considered complimentary in the extreme.  I’ll have to ask Mona if she has any thoughts on the subject… after reading my dessert!

Down Memory Lane

Friday, February 1st, 2019

Mom looks at Dear Medora with Nyel, 2007

I remember, a few years back, when it was popular to say – perhaps after a family outing or a special event – that you were “making good memories.”  Perhaps people still use that expression and I’m just not hearing it.  Ten or twelve years ago I noticed it bigtime because it was when my mother was still living.  She had dementia and, although she ‘knew’ me until she died at age 97, she had no memories of much else.

I remember when my book Dear Medora was published in 2007, two years before mom died.  Medora was my mother’s older sister who had died unexpectedly at age seventeen when my mother was just three.  The book is full of photographs of the family and house and Oysterville from that period of time.  Mom had been helpful with my information-gathering in the beginning but, by the time the book came out, I knew it would mean very little to her.

Nevertheless, I took her the first copy.  I wasn’t surprised when she showed no interest at all.  The next time I visited her at ‘the home,’ though, I tried again and, on that occasion, she went through the book page by page, stopping at each picture of a family member.

“That’s Mama,” she would say.  “Is she dead?”

“Yes,” I would nod.

“That’s Papa. Is he dead?” and she’d turn the page.

“That’s Medora.  Is she dead?” she’d continue.

And on the next page, “That’s Mama, is she dead?”

And so it went through all 168 pages.  Since mom was last living member of her family, I had to answer with “no” after “no.”  At the end of the book, of course, there was no closure (so to speak) and Mom was doing fine.  I, on the other hand, was thoroughly depressed.  And, so much for “making memories!”

A page from 2008

Yesterday, in connection with another writing project, I went through some scrapbooks from 2008 and 2009.  They are loaded with photographs of events and activities from those years – things I had not thought about for eons – and every photo showed friends and family members, many of whom are “no longer with us,” as they say.  Gordon and Kaye and Charlie, Jim and Carol and Beeg and Dennis, and oh so many more.

As the memories came flooding back, I had the fleeting thought that when all the people are gone who have shared memories with you… what then?  Who remembers my mother when she was young?  Who is left that remembers the MG TC I had in 1956?  And who remembers riding Sugar or Spice, the Shetland ponies at Miss Elliott’s Camp Willapa in the forties?  And… just what is a memory if it can’t be shared with someone else?  Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I write down the stories.  It’s not quite the same, though.

… should you care to accept it…

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

I am so enjoying the interviewing and researching process involved in my current Observer series, “Our Grands and Greats.”  I am blown away by how much (but sometimes how little) those I interview know about their forebears.  I’ve just completed the eleventh article in the series and I have a formed a tentative rule of thumb about our knowledge of our ancestors:  the closer the family has stayed to their ‘roots,’ the more they know.  In general, those who are fourth or fifth or sixth generation here on the Peninsula know far more about their forefathers than their recently arrived neighbors.

It stands to reason, of course.  If people didn’t move on to start a new life, they obviously remained better acquainted with and connected to the place of their origins.  And, probably, their ‘things’ did too – the photographs, perhaps some treasured letters, their “good” furniture or Sunday dishes were less likely to become disbursed.  And with the things, there are often stories.  If we’re lucky those don’t get lost either.

For me, it’s the stories that really connect us to our forebears.  With all the possibilities these days on ancestor.com and similar sites, we may have the illusion that we are learning about great-grandpa or great-great grandma.  But are we?  What lies beyond the dates and place names and copies of marriage licenses?  What sort of person was he or she?  Who were their neighbors and how did they get along? What of their character traits?  Did they have a good sense of humor?  Were they outgoing?  And what would they have considered their crowning achievement?

I loved listening to my grandmother when I was a child.  One story she told me was about her love of swimming in the “tank” (as they called the indoor swimming pool) when she was a girl.  “As soon as I dove in, I’d kick off my swimming togs,” she told me.  “I loved the freedom of being unclothed in the water.”  I remember only that I wondered why she felt that way, little realizing what the swimming ‘togs’ of the 1880s looked like and must have felt like weighted down with water.  Nor did I wonder about who else might be with her or any other privacy ramifications.  I wish I’d asked, but I’m ever grateful that I had that even that little peek.

And my mom’s story about being the only girl of the 14 kids about her age in Oysterville.  “I was always a tag-along,” she told me.  And when I asked, she said, “Yes, I was definitely a tomboy.  I was the youngest of seven and I think my mother just let Willard and Edwin look after me.  She let me wear coveralls at home, but I had to put on a dress when I went up to Grandpa’s house.”  My totally feminine mom — with her hats and her jewelry and her love of clothes shopping!  A tomboy!  Putting that together with her first-ever purchase of blue jeans at 86 years old – she was going out with Les Wilson on his boat – gives a totally different look at who she was.

That R.H. Espy had a “tot” of whiskey every day before breakfast makes him a little more human.  That my great aunt Dora – so stern and formidable seeming as an old woman – begged and begged her mother for hair ribbons when she was a girl or that my garrulous Aunt Mona confused “no” and “yes” when she was very young — until the day someone offered her a piece of candy and, at her response, didn’t give it to her.

The stories don’t have to long.  They just have to go a bit farther than a name and a date.  Write them down!  One here; one there.  They’ll add up to more than you can imagine.  And while you’re at it – write down your own stories – What was your most embarrassing moment as a teen?   Who was your best friend before you started school and what kinds of things did you do?  What was your biggest adventure as a young adult?  Write it down!  For posterity!  So your descendants will know more than a name and date.

Tooting My Own Horn

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Just last night, I took a lot of (fairly) good-natured ragging from my own beloved husband for “telling all” in my blogs.  All about him, that is.  The subject came up because it was “Friday Night” at our house and a number of our friends had gathered for our usual “guzz’n’gossip” session, as someone once termed such get-togethers.  Comments about Nyel’s experiences of the last week – broken leg, hospital(s), EMTs, wheelchair, etc. – led him to remark that, because of my blog, he had no secrets.  I agree.  That’s pretty much true.

So, in order to balance things out a bit, today I’ll talk about me.  (Not that I don’t do that quite frequently, anyway.)  This time, though, I am unabashedly tooting my own horn!  The first thing I saw when I woke up my computer this morning was a photograph of a plaque with my name on it and this message from Chinook Observer Editor Matt Winters:

Chinook Observer news, photo and opinion coverage of immigration enforcement on the Long Beach Peninsula today was honored with the top statewide Community Service Award at the publisher association’s annual convention in Yakima. Sydney Steven’s landmark series on the subject led the way. Special thanks is owed to the brave individuals who spoke with us during this months-long effort, often at grave risk to their freedom and ability to remain with their families in this country.

Erin Glenn

Matt also wrote:  Congratulations to Sydney Stevens for this major statewide honor. Though we couldn’t quite pull off a Pulitzer in this hectic news year, winning Washington state’s top press honor is no small thing!

I have to confess I felt a little teary, and that whole cliché thing – my mind flashing back to all my journalism teachers and professors – did, indeed happen.   So corny.  So real.  But, mostly, I thought of my friend Erin Glenn and her gentle insistence that I should “do something” to help and my (equally insistent) reply that all I can “do” is write.  I’m so glad she prevailed and paved the way for me with introductions and translations and insider insights.  Her name should be on that plaque, too!

About “George by George!”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

My cousin Ruth’s book is out!  I am so pleased for her and proud, too.  She did what so many of us “threaten” to do – documented a branch of her family by writing and publishing a hard-cover book, complete with reproductions of documents, photographs, and letters by and about her beloved grandfather, George Maloney.  But it wasn’t just a two-and-a-half year project.  Her documentation is rounded out by information gathered on her trips to the UK over the course of a lifetime and by her contuing contacts with family members there.

Ruth retired several years ago from her long-time job with Farmers Insurance and has devoted a huge portion of her time to this project ever since.  I think it’s a “limited edition” with enough copies printed for family members and perhaps a few more.  She was her own publisher but she did hire an editor to assist with the final putting-together part.

Ruth Espy Maloney is my second cousin on the Espy side.  Her father and my mother were grandchildren of R.H. Espy.  George Maloney was Ruth’s mother’s father – the “grampa” on the other side of her family.  She grew up right next door to him and can credit many of her interests, skills, and character traits directly to him.  I know this because I had the pleasure of reading the book about Grampa George earlier this year and the privilege of writing a foreword for the book.  And I’ve known Ruth all her life.

Shortly before Grampa George died at age 86, he began writing the story of his life.  He called it “George by George” and when Ruth completed her book based on that autobiographical material, she thought it was a most fitting title.  It evokes a long-ago time – the time when my own grandfathers and their friends used the expression, “By George!” to underscore or emphasize a thought or an idea.  “A mild expletive” the dictionary says, that can be traced back to the 16th century, “comparable to words like golly and gosh.”

I don’t know about the “expletive” part – but I do know that Ruth has set the bar high for the rest of us family members who have the idea that we’d like to write about a relative or forebear.  Ruth, you did a great job, by George!

Previews and Insider Information

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Yesterday morning I spent being whisked from one delightful setting to another that I’d love to tell you about – and will! – but not yet.  Six beauty spots right here on the Peninsula.  Each to be featured on the upcoming Music in the Gardens tour on July 21st.

But it’s not quite time for the Big Reveal.  Maybe in a week or two.  Right now, gardeners are doing a lot of fluffing up and last-minute grooming, musicians and visual artists are learning where they will be ‘stationed’ for the day, and refreshments are being planned.  I felt like I was on a backstage tour as preparations for the opening night gala were being fine-tuned.

Delight in the Dunes

I was chauffeured, escorted, and introduced to the gardens by Nancy Allen and Darlene Houser, the two extraordinary organizers of this annual event – a fundraiser for the Water Music Festival.  Proceeds each year are earmarked for the Ocean Beach School District’s music program.  My teeny-tiny part in all of this is to do a bit of writing for what the Music in the Gardens website describes as a keepsake brochure.

I don’t think I’m telling too much to say that each of the six gardens could be the subject of an entire book, not just a short description in a brochure.  And each could be classified within its own separate genre – an art garden, an instructional garden, a children’s garden, even a garden that I would classify as a mercantile garden.  But, lest I reveal too much too soon, I’ll not extend this little ramble.

Work in Progress

Speaking of which, the gardens varied in size from what Nancy described as a “grandma garden” (which would be just about a manageable size for some of us less sprightly gardeners) to an acreage among the dunes with trails to walk and vistas to behold. Every garden…  different!  Every one magical!  Every one with secrets to reveal.

And here we are back to secrets!  Stay tuned (as they say in the music world.)  Meanwhile, you can pre-order your tickets online through the Water Music Festival website at https://watermusicfestival.com/event/music-in-the-gardens/.

When Perfection Isn’t Good Enough

Friday, May 4th, 2018

The Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange

Eleven of the photographs submitted to Arcadia for “Washington’s Cranberry Coast” are not acceptable for one reason or another and need to be replaced.  In the great scheme of things, eleven out of 198 isn’t too bad, I guess.  We are scrambling to find suitable substitutes.  Another deadline!  Yikes!

There are two that are going to be difficult.  The emails between the Title Manager (my Go-To-Contact-and-The-Buck-Stops-Here person) have been flying back and forth. Today I’m sending the original 1913 brochure (from which one of the photos came) back to South Carolina for ‘Production Team’ to take a look at.  Maybe, just maybe, they can find a way to use that one.  It’s the only known image of the Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange building.

The other is apparently hopeless.  Sadly, it effects the ending of the book and I’m wracking my brain on how to salvage the concept with another photograph.  The rejected image is also from the early 1900s and is a picture of two women holding the sign for Cranberry Station – one of the railroad stops on the old IR&N.  It’s the perfect photo to make my ending statement and, as far as I know, there is no other like it.  The trouble, according to Arcadia, is “low resolution” and the image will apparently pixilate when reproduced to the size needed.  Total bummer.

Cranberry Station Sign

So, I’m on the search for a period photograph (early 1900s) from Washington Coast that has the word “cranberry” in it and, if possible, shows a bit of context in the background.  And I have exactly a week to find it and re-write the text accordingly.  Oh, yes.  And it will have to pass muster at the other end of things.  Perhaps the Cranberry Gods read my blog and will get in touch with me…