While in college the second time, this time for an English degree, I took several creative writing courses from Jeffrey S. Hillard, a professor who was an excellent poet and writer, and also was well-loved by the students. After graduating, I worked with Jeff on web editing RED!webzine, a publication Jeff initially started to share stories of transformation in the lives of prisoners and individuals reentering society and of innovations making it happen.
Jeff is an excellent poet and recently won a poetry contest sponsored by the Cincinnati Public Library. I wrote the following poem in Jeff’s Poetry class at the College of Mount St. Joseph in 2004.
I post it here in honor of National Poetry Month.
White airy puff balls leave flower stems to float away
Squirrels and rabbits scramble for food, a spider clings to a twig.
Fresh sprouts shoot up, a delicate green mist covers the wood.
A breeze of warm air carries whispered voices of
I plant a seed in the rich black soil of the earth and watch
A cricket chirps and so do the restless birds
For more about the ghazal poetic form see Poets.org.
In April, I’ve had three speaking events about Dancing in Heaven. I wanted to share a few of my experiences with you.
A gathering of women
This morning I’m being true to my initial conception of Random Thoughts from Midlife and am blogging about what was on my mind and in my heart when I first woke up this morning.
I was still experiencing the love and care from a group of women gathered at the home of a friend I knew in high school and with whom I’ve been recently re-acquainted. I met Nancy Henry the summer before my freshman year of high school. She was a close friend of one of my sister Carol’s friends and the two of them got the two of us together. My memories of Nancy from all those years ago include Pot-O-Gloss, hot steam electric curlers, walks at night, papers read aloud in English class, and a trip to Florida. As often happens, we drifted apart and lost track of each other until her daughter and my youngest son brought us both together at an Arts Works opening day. We sat together in the balcony of a small auditorium. I met her husband there and learned her name is now Nancy Chadwick. Recently we’ve shared lunches together and an evening out with husbands. I am thrilled to have her, with all her intelligence, wit, and compassion, back in my life again.
Nancy is a writer waiting to begin. I am a writer who compelled myself to finish. Nancy has been a tremendous supporter of my efforts. Last night she hosted an event at her home for her book club and other friends to discuss Dancing in Heaven. As has been the case, it was an uplifting and emotionally draining experience for me to talk about Annie’s story. But the women were awesome. It’s an incredible experience to sit in a room filled with women who have read the words from my heart, yet want to know more. Who, in some cases, have shed a tear over my written words, yet still listen intently for more.
One woman said, “I was reading Dancing in Heaven at an athletic event, and it made me cry. I had to stop reading it until I got someplace private.”
Her friend standing beside her said, “She called me and told me not to read it in public.”
The first women who arrived at Nancy’s last night were a mother and daughter. They were family members of a young man named Michael who had been born with cerebral palsy. “Your book was like reading our story,” they said. “We related to so much of it.” Since they were talking about Michael in the past tense I asked if he was gone now and found out that he died over 20 years ago at the age of 21. Michael’s sister said, “The obituary at the end of the book said it all for me.” She said, “You expressed exactly how I felt. I didn’t know there was someone who really understood our experience.”
From the beginning I have felt that readers validated me and my family’s experience with their comments, reviews, and questions. Last night I felt the great wonder of validating the experience of someone else.
I know I’ve had my ups and downs with the whole self-publishing journey, but nights like last night make it all so worth while.
Nancy Henry Chadwick has my unending gratitude.
Cincinnati Authors class
On April 5th I visited Jeff Hillard’s Cincinnati Authors class at the College of Mount St. Joseph. This was the second time I’d done that and both were easy, fun, and rewarding experiences for me. Jeff likes me to speak a little about why I wrote the book, my writing and publishing process, and the aftermath. The students are extremely well-prepared. Since Jeff uses the book as part of the coursework, the students have read it, discussed it in small groups, written personal responses, and generated questions before I ever step foot inside the door.
Afterwards, a non-traditional student came up to me and told me he has a child with cerebral palsy, but who is highly functioning. I think he said his child was even married. He said he felt bad or a little guilty that our family had had it so rough compared to his. And he wondered if I ever resented other people whose disabilities weren’t as severe as Annie’s. The question really surprised me. I said, “When I see someone who is disabled, I see the abilities they have. I focus on that. And I celebrate and rejoice in that. I don’t resent them for being able to do whatever it is they are able to do. It makes me happy to see it.” This is my truth.
I hope Jeff realizes how much I appreciate his past and continued support.
Friends of the Library at Kettering College
One day last month I answered the phone and it was a high school classmate who I hadn’t spoken to in years, except through messages here and there on Facebook. I remember Teresa Hutson as being a quiet student in the honors classes with me. I never knew her outside the classroom, but always liked her. Teresa falls in the category of those people I would make the effort to get to know better if I had a chance (not that I would want the chance) to do high school all over again. A missed opportunity. There are others.
Now her name is Teresa Hutson Simmons and she is a librarian at Kettering College of Medical Arts in Dayton, Ohio. Teresa has been following my blog and, in particular, my self-publishing journey. Over the phone she told me she had the privilege of putting Dancing in Heaven in the international book catalog (I’m sure she used other terminology, but this is the best my memory-failing brain can do this morning). She invited me to come and speak to the Friends of the Library group and students from two of the members’ classes.
Last Wednesday I did that. It was a different experience from my two previous classroom experiences at the Mount because these students had not had the opportunity to read the book, although several members of the FOL had read part or all of it.
I started with my usual two opening comments. “I want to tell you that I am not a public speaker and it makes me nervous,” I said. “I usually calm down eventually.” I got out my little travel pack of tissues and placed it on the table. “The other thing you need to know is that I cry easily. This is an emotional topic for me. I’m not likely to get out of here without shedding a tear or two.” I said. “I’m okay with it if you are.”
The students were from psychology and sociology classes, so I tried to tell the story and select readings that might be of interest to them. I spent pretty much time talking and reading. Then we opened it up for questions. I was pleasantly surprised at how many thoughtful and good questions came out of the group of students with so little advance preparation. These are people who will be working in the medical field. When Teresa asked me to come she said, “We are trying to teach our students how to be compassionate professionals. Your book addresses that from a family’s perspective.”
Sometimes the things that make me cry surprise me and everyone else. Teresa had explained that we were in the Honors classes together throughout high school, and that I was a cheerleader. One of the students asked why I thought I was able to succeed or do well, or why I didn’t act out for attention given my family circumstances. “I never wanted to make my parents worry about me,” I said, and I got all choked up and could barely finish. “They had enough to worry about.”
Thank you, Teresa, for the opportunity to speak to future medical care-givers. It was a wonderful experience and you’ve been a great supporter.