Category Archives: writing exercises

What A Woman’s Shoes Say About Her

high heels

 

cork heeled sandal

flats shoes

 

Several weeks ago, I drove from Colorado to Kansas to be with my mother while she was treated for pneumonia.   Mom remained in her apartment taking antibiotics, receiving nebulizer breathing treatments, and being cared for round the clock.   I was the non-essential personnel, the daughter who brought in favorite foods, encouraged her to drink more fluids, and read aloud all her favorite children’s poems and prayers at night before she went to sleep.

Staying busy is not the same thing as accomplishing important goals, but thanks to a local Kiwanis “shoes for everyone” program, I spent one day doing both.   Armed with lots of coffee to drink, damp and dry cloths to clean shoes that had sat unworn for years, and boxes and bags to fill, I tackled the main closet that had held my parents’ clothing and shoes since they moved into assisted living.

At the end of the day I had collected, cleaned and bagged sixteen pairs of dress shoes, summer sandals, pumps and flats that Mom would never wear again.  Each pair brought back memories of her active, busy, productive days before dementia claimed her life.

Imelda Marcos once haughtily proclaimed, “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand sixty.”  To which I would proudly now reply, “Well, my mother had a pair of dress shoes that would amaze even you, Imelda.”

In the back corner of Mom’s closet, behind a purse and under a pair of slippers, was a pair of brown leather, sling-back dress heels.  I didn’t remember her ever wearing these shoes, and when I studied them I realized something else, too.   They both were for the left foot!  The expression “two left feet” certainly never applied to my mother.

The writer in me said there had to be a great story in this somewhere, and I laughed at the possibilities: mystery? romance? suspense?

The daughter in me felt sad because the woman who was once an intelligent, happy, helpful, fun-loving woman, would have said, “Let’s figure this out together,” and we would have had a great time coming up with a story.   Now, because of dementia, she didn’t even know exactly who or where she was; shoes, clothing and jewelry no longer meant anything.

I took the two left shoes with me back to the hotel that night.   No great story ideas replaced the sad feelings, and the next morning I threw them away. Driving back to Mom’s apartment, I got a coffee for me and a warm Danish for her, hoping a little morning sweetness might make her smile. I   knew she would be resting in her recliner, wearing warm casual clothes, fluffy socks…and slippers instead of shoes.                                                                                            duck galosshes

bare feet

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

FACING FEAR

Dentophobia (fear of dentists)

Dentophobia (fear of dentists)

Cyclophobia, fear of bicycles.

Cyclophobia  (fear of bicycles)  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Before her dementia, my mother loved to try the writing exercises I created for my students. Here is one of our favorites.

There are hundreds of phobias. Some are very familiar: Aerophobia (the fear of flying); Claustrophobia (the fear of being in tightly enclosed spaces); and one of the most common ~ Glossophobia (the fear of speaking in public).

For my classes, the assignment was to understand fears and incorporate them in the personalities of characters. I wrote out dozens of phobias (and their meanings) on slips of paper. Students drew a slip, and in one page they were to create a character suffering from that fear…and also create the event that made the character afraid.   My mom loved this activity because it didn’t stop with the WHAT, but also attempted to understand the WHY.   She was the kind of mother, teacher, friend, CASA volunteer and ally of children who believed that if people could identify both the WHAT and the WHY of their problems and worries, they had a very good chance of also finding a solution.

My mom was an avid learner who enjoyed new facts and ideas, and the phobias I selected were uncommon.   Here are some examples: Achluophobia (fear of darkness); Chorophobia (fear of dancing); Aulophobia (fear of flutes), Allodoxaphobia (fear of opinions); Arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth); and with apologies to my friends across the ocean, Anglophobia (fear of England and/or English culture).   Other phobias are illustrated on the pictures above and below.

Since Mom is deep in dementia now, I share these phobias with all of you. Have some fun with them, creating a possible WHAT and WHY for one… and maybe a solution as well.    March 26th is “Make Up Your Own Holiday,” and you never know:  you might create a Freedom from A Phobia Holiday.  Don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Achluophobia  (fear of darkness)

Achluophobia (fear of darkness)

Ophidiophobia  (fear of snakes)

Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Special Days in March, writing, writing exercises

Innie or Outie?

 

old school picture

setting sun outside Ft Scott

Is There Life After HS?

Are you an innie or an outie?   The question has nothing to do with navels.

Recently, as the cashier rang up my groceries in the checkout line, I overheard the chatter between the young man bagging my groceries and a younger grocery bagger for the next line. “First, you have to admit if you’re an innie or an outie,” he said to her.

The cashier and I exchanged looks of surprise.

As it turned out, the young man, home from college and working over the weekend, was describing a psychology course that compared high school perceptions with future expectations and achievements.   The course included Ralph Keyes’ 1979 book, IS THERE LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?  “Innies” in high school were basically popular insiders: “outies” were outsiders who had less popular or well known friends and less public activities.  Briefly, the young man assured the high school girl that ongoing studies revealed that many outies often did better in the long run than innies, but students in the middle of the two were most likely to rise up and achieve multiple successes.   He concluded by winking at the girl and saying, “Be proud if you’re an outie. Think of all the really successful people who didn’t bloom until after high school.”

For 30 years I taught high school students, and while the bagger’s summary was incomplete, he did capture some of the main points. Ralph Keyes’ closing for his book is called “101 Ways To Get High School Off Your Back,” and the examples are a mix of funny, exaggerated, and thought-provoking suggestions.   For both students and teachers, high school is, at best, a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly for “innies” and “outies” and everyone in the middle.

But here’s some good news: the most embarrassing, off-the-wall, funny experiences you had in high school might become winning entries in The Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest. There is NO entry fee, but $2,500 in prizes, and First Place receives $1,000. It’s an open contest, the deadline is April 1, and if you don’t want to write about high school humor, write about any topic that makes you smile, blush, or laugh out loud.

Your poem can be long, short, rhyming or not. Even if you don’t write poetry, use the link below to click on previous winners.  You can have a lot of fun and might be inspired to jump in and give it a try!   https://winningwriters.com/our-contests/wergle-flomp-humor-poetry-contest-free

 

One of my favorite greeting cards.  Could be a prompt for a poem about working out, high school angst, or awkward efforts in general.

One of my favorite greeting cards could be a prompt for a poem about working out, high school angst, or awkward efforts in general.

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, paying writing opportunities, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

Donated Inspiration

It's no longer a war theme, but a challenge to choose a single word.

It’s no longer a war theme, but a challenge to choose a single word.

Winter can be hard on us all. What can we choose to get us going...and stay focused?

Winter can be cold, barren. What word will get us going…and keep us focused?  (picture by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Television talk shows have been giving attention to the topic of how single word themes are replacing lists of New Year’s Resolutions. Motivational specialists seemed to agree this is a wise move, selecting a single word to give your thoughts and actions focus throughout the year.

One program asked viewers to Tweet their single word themes. By the end of the segment, these were some of the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen: unafraid, release, balance, achieve, persevere, observe, win, play, simplify, learn. The word that came to my mind was very different.

For several years, I volunteered at the local Women’s Thrift House on the third Saturday of each month. I was often amazed—and sometimes saddened—by the handmade items and gifts that were dropped off as donations. Knitted scarves and gloves, pottery bowls and pitchers, crocheted baby blankets and booties. Some were donated in their gift boxes, and a few still had sweet cards written to the recipients by the senders.

One Saturday eight years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about one of the handmade items, so at the end of the day I purchased it. The one-word hand-stitched message was matted and framed, and it was like a reminder tapping me on the shoulder: YAGOTTAWANNA

I took the 5”x7” framed message with me to show my mom on the next visit, and I remember she studied it a moment to figure it out. Then she laughed and said, “I think this message was made for you, Marylin. No matter what, when you really, really want to do something, you find a way to do it.”

That was then, and now my one word for 2016 is YAGOTTAWANNA, a reminder that if there’s something I need to do, want to do, hope to do…my first step is to grasp the reason WHY I really, really want to do it. The Why will guide me to the HOW…and the commitment to get it done.

I have three supporters in my corner. The first is Confucius: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Abraham Lincoln is the second: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than anything else.”

Third, and best of all, is my mom, who believed this message was made for me as a reminder that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do if I really, really wanted to do it.

Yagottawanna

 

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

OCTOBER IS “NAME YOUR CAR” MONTH

If this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top, it would look like Old Yeller.

Instead of being pink and black, if this 1958 Thunderbird was yellow with a white top and had a smiling teen waving from the driver’s seat, it could be Old Yeller.

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I'm crazy about her!

This is Sunshine, my amazing FJ Cruiser. I’m crazy about her, and we’re going to grow old together.

Even Smokey the Bear likes Sunshine when I drive her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

Even Smokey the Bear liked Sunshine when I drove her as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. (pictures by Jim Warner)

In 2008, when my mother’s dementia was not yet overwhelming, I took her out to see my new FJ Cruiser and said, “This is Sunshine.” I had to help Mom up into the passenger’s seat because real off-road vehicles in Colorado need a lot of clearance. As I strapped her in, Mom looked around, smiled and said, “I know why you chose this color, Marylin. It’s because of Old Yeller.” I hadn’t thought of a reason other than I just loved Sunshine’s color, but Mom was right.

Many decades earlier, Old Yeller was the car my dad trusted me to drive during my senior year in high school after my brother went to college. She was a 1958 Thunderbird, which later was a much sought after classic, but in 1966 she was just a used car. A wonderful used car that was mine to drive and keep filled with gas, to use as practice for changing a flat tie and checking the oil and all fluids. Because of her I worked at the dealership more hours after school and on weekends to pay for her maintenance, but I loved her.

I am the daughter of a car dealer whose work commitment and love of cars built five successful corporations of dealerships and employed generations of mechanics, sales people, and staff. By the time Dad died of Alzheimer’s, he’d been out of the public eye for years, but at the visitation the line to pay respects wound its way outside, and at the funeral the church was standing room only. The stories about his honesty, fair play, kindness and generous help in difficult times were numerous and touching.

My dad had laughed when I named the Thunderbird Old Yeller, but I’m sure it worried him, too, because to name a car is to form an attachment. I had Old Yeller for only a year. We shook hands on that—with my dad, a hand shake was as binding as a contract—and a year later I went away to college, sad to leave Old Yeller behind.   But the new owner, and my dad, knew that a named car also has often received excellent care. TLC.

Old Yeller was not just my first car, but decades later she was also my first memoir writing sale. I had published a good number of short stories and articles by the time I sold “Memories of Old Yeller” to the national FORD TIMES magazine, but the editors actually paid me a dollar a word for my account of naming my first car and learning unusual lessons. This was exceptional pay, teaching me that memories make for excellent writing exercise, and also encouraged me to spread my writing wings into other genres.

This post is a tribute to Ray Shepherd, who smiled when his daughter named her first car Old Yeller. It’s also a tribute to my mom, Mary Shepherd, who worked along side him to build successful businesses that looked out for their employees and cared for them as friends. My parents went out of their way to help people who were having hard times replace bald tires and get the trustworthy service to keep driving safely.

October is “Name Your Car” month. Before their Alzheimer’s and dementia, my parents were happiest when any car they sold was loved enough to be named.

“General Lee” from THE DUKES OF HAZARD” (Grange picture)

“Christine”–star of the Stephen King novel and movie by the same name.

“Herbie” from LOVE BUG.
(R. Cartwright stock photo)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, writing, writing exercises

WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY?

My mom's favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.

My mom’s favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.  I think it reminds her of poems and prayers from her youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the mark we leave behind?  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

What is the mark each of us will make to leave behind? (All photos by Marylin Warner)

When I visit my mom, my favorite time is at night when she’s tucked into bed, and I pull up the rocking chair and read to her. Her favorite book—the one I always read several times from start to finish—is Joan Walsh Anglund’s A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS. Sometimes Mom naps, sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she hums along with her own rhythm to the words and poems.   All else falls away.

This is the first example on the first page of Anglund’s book. Originally the page displayed only the title, but this handwritten addition was made later:

What you do ~ What you say ~ How you work ~ How you play ~ Day by Day ~  

It all matters ~ When all is done ~ It’s what you leave behind ~ Saying who you were.

Imagine taking a philosophy class and having the professor write this quote by Aristotle on the board: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act but a habit.” And then, instead of assigning some deep, intellectual essay to expresses the best way for individuals to live, imagine that the assignment was to write a very brief set of instructions, so simple a child could understand them. If a professor gave you this assignment, what would you write?  I’ve already shown you my simplistic answer. (Obviously, the assignment was not to write good poetry.)

August is WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY? month. It’s intended to be a time for us to reflect on our past and present actions and vow to make positive changes that will affect the future and be the legacy we leave behind.

The suggestions for making the most of this month are numerous. Everything from thanking those who have made a difference in your life to “Playing The Legacy Game” and having everyone in your group tell how they would like to be remembered and what they can do to make this happen.

What you decide to do—if anything—is up to you. I’m fairly certain that if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would say that since she and Dad were married in August, everything that came out of that union—including their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, plus the business they built and the differences they made—was their legacy.

If thinking about your legacy—or writing a bad poem about what you want to leave behind—isn’t what you want to do, August has numerous other opportunities. It is also Happiness Happens Month, Boomers Making A Difference Month, and Get Ready for Kindergarten Month. You’ve already missed Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night and National Garage Sale Day (both on August 8th) and S’mores Day (August 10th), but you can go ahead and do those things anyway.

That could be your legacy…breaking the rules and doing things on the unexpected days!

P.S.  —   https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015  The link I gave for the 50-word Gotham contest had an “invisible space” (according to the very nice Gotham editor who responded to my email cry for help.)  Here is the correct one, which seems the same, but the space has been removed.   I tried it, and it works!  Jump right in and enter by the 17th!!!           black butterfly

grasshopper on leaf

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Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

There are Doors…and then there are DOORS

Door fence at Molly's

door on side w:bird cage

In architecture, protection, and decoration, doors are getting second looks…and second lives. One new trend combining all three is “door fences.”   My favorite example is pictured above.  These very old doors were given new function and appreciation as a privacy fence entrance to a charming Kansas farmhouse, built in 1881 and then restored after a tornado in 2008. Only one door actually opens and closes. Can you guess which one?  (Answer at the end of the post.)

In moments of confusion and forgetfulness, doors offer an opportunity for clarity. For instance, when you go from one room to another, intent on getting or doing something, if you can’t remember what it was, turn around and go back. Crossing the threshold of the original doorway often triggers the memory.

In life and literature, doors are metaphors for opportunities and choices.  Boris Pasternak, author of DR. ZHIVAGO, advises us to listen closely because    “…when a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.”  Actor Milton Berle’s advice is to choose our “tools” and take charge: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”  Whatever our approach, Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Be an opener of doors,” and Emily Dickinson reminds us to be open and ready: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

Building on the words of Emerson and Dickinson, here is a contest to open the door for a writing opportunity. The contest asks: what would be the title of a book written about your life—and then made into a movie? This is not a time to be serious or profound.  Interesting titles that make the judges smile, or even laugh, will have an advantage.  For instance, here’s a sample idea of a title and tag line from the contest judges: A LITTLE OFF THE TOP ~ One man’s struggle with male pattern baldness.

There’s no entry fee; length is a maximum of 50 words total for title and tag. The online deadline is August 17 (come on, you aren’t actually writing a book or movie script; have some fun with this!). The winner will be posted in early September, and the prize is the online Gotham writing class of your choice. This is open to everyone. https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015 

Charles Dickens wrote: “A very little key will open a very heavy door.” Try this contest and see if a very few words will gain you a very good prize.

(Answer to the question in the first paragraph: The door that actually opens and closes is not the door on the side, next to the bird cage. It’s the white door with the glass pane.)

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are much shorter and more narrow, almost child size.  (all photos by Marylin Warner)

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are actually much shorter and more narrow, almost child size. (all photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, special quotations, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises