Tag Archives: personal experience

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Memoirist Lynne Hakes joins us today with her story of turning away from her family culture of prejudice and elitism. This is a story for today, as our world becomes more and more divided. When did you realize hate isn’t the answer?

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I grew up in a family of bigots. I was led to believe we WASPS were superior to other races, other beliefs, other anything. No one needed to act out to prove it because it was just true. The grown-ups sometimes used derogatory terms for the “others,” but not in public and not in anger. It was like saying,   “Of course white bread is the best.” We were taught to be kind to everyone, and rudeness was never tolerated.

My dad didn’t talk about race or social classes. He grew up on a small farm in Illinois where everyone was the same. His father, grandfather and other ancestors were Masons who, historically, had no use for Catholics or Blacks, but as a teenager he left the farm to escape asthma and moved to Southern California. There he blended in with the local culture.

Mother grew up in New Mexico and Southern California where there were Latinos but few Blacks. Her parents were nice people who treated everyone well, and I never heard any talk of other races in their home. But there was Aunt Inez, Grandad’s sister, who was an elitist and lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills. As little girls, Mother and her sister spent a lot of time with their aunt and learned bigotry first-hand.


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Aunt Inez grew up modestly in Kansas. But when her husband struck oil in Oklahoma in the 1920s and became a millionaire, they joined the “upper crust” in Southern California. Aunt Inez took on airs and lived up to the Hollywood stereotype of “rich people.” A self-absorbed woman with no children, she was close to my mother, her niece.

Superiority was one of Aunt Inez’s less endearing qualities. One should be kind to everyone, but one should know her superior place in the world. Mother and her sister were groomed to be bigots.

A critical review of the novel The Help

When I was a teenager, a black woman named Annie cleaned house for us. She was treated well in our home, but of course we knew she was “different.” I went to a small high school, where there were a few Latinos, but no blacks. We were a small, close-knit class in our sheltered little community. Racial bias never came up.

Until I was a freshman in college, the cleaning lady was the only black person I knew. There were a few on campus, but I didn’t have any contact with them until my philosophy teacher, Miss Rose, decided to give us alphabetically assigned seats in the large classroom. I was an “H” and right next to me was another “H” and she was black. We introduced ourselves and shared a common fear of taking a hard class like philosophy.

As the teacher took her place in front and we settled down, an imaginary bolt of lightning struck.

Next to me, chatting with me was a black girl. And it didn’t feel any different from being next to the white girl sitting on the other side. What was the big deal? We were two frightened freshmen, wondering how we would get through this class. How could I be better than she? I was puzzled. I admit to having some biases, but the one against race left me that day. It didn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. Do any prejudices make sense? My life is richer for having friends and acquaintances of other races and cultures.

Thank you, my black classmate, wherever you are. I’m glad you were an “H.” And thank you, Miss Rose for giving us assigned seats and forcing me to face up to my training in bigotry.

         Global Educator Institute

Sorry, Mother, it didn’t work. I adjusted my attitude. No, I guess “H” adjusted it for me.

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          Miracle at Soda Canyon part 1

Mary Jane Stevens joins Building a Better Story with Miracle at Soda Canyon, A Tale About One of the Worst Fires In California History. Mary Jane, a Napa resident for over 30 years, lives part time in Truckee. A retired business owner, she has begun to write about her life, her two adult children, one grandchild and husband Bob. She feels blessed in her marriage, which recently has survived more than the usual troubles of modern life. Please enjoy Mary Jane’s harrowing tale of fire and miracles.

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cnbc.com

Late Sunday evening, October 8, my husband Bob, called me at our home in Truckee to say that there were helicopters with bright lights hovering low outside our house in Napa; over loud speakers they were saying, “Fire! Evacuate! Evacuate Immediately!” 

Bob asked what he should take and I suggested a few necessities, cash, the insurance policy file, our laptop computers and my good jewelry, all which were in easy to reach places. I said, “Get out of there fast and call me when you get down the hill.”  He wanted to take all the paperwork out of the office but I told him to leave it, his life was the most important thing. I told him we’d made it through a fire in 2011 when the house was gutted, and we could do it again.

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videoblocks.com

About twenty minutes later I saw Bob’s name on my cell phone screen. I was relieved—a little prematurely it turned out. He was calling to say he couldn’t get down the hill—the road was blocked.  He and about twenty-five people, including neighbors and some vineyard workers who’d been picking in the dead of night, were trapped by the fire.  They were at the top of Soda Canyon Road near Atlas Peak Road seven miles from Silverado Trail, close to where the fire may have started.  No way out!

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wvah.com

And no one knew they were stranded.

The helicopters had moved on to warn others.  The group decided to move to a clear area at Stagecoach Vineyards which happened to be near vineyard manager Esteban’s home where they still had cell service.  

 

I sent my kids a text then called them to let  them know what was going on.  Casey and Kelly deserved to know their dad was in serious danger. They would never have forgiven me if something happened to him, and I hadn’t warned them.

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Kelly, as it turned out, had her phone turned off for the night, so she did not get my messages until the following morning. 

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Casey, who is a Los Angeles City Firefighter, immediately hung up and called Bob to get the GPS coordinates from his cell phone. With those coordinates he called someone he works with at the department’s command center. Casey told his contact about the people stranded near a fast moving fire in Napa, gave him the coordinates and asked him to contact the Cal Fire Commander in Napa with the information to rescue his dad and the others. 

 Whenever Casey was not out on calls we talked on the phone during the night.  Both of us feared the worst, but neither said what we were really thinking.  Friends from Napa had told us the fire was huge, and the winds the strongest anyone had seen in recent memory.  Bob told us, in our last conversation, the fire was raging right toward him. It was excruciating not having more information.

 

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Atlas Fire    Napa Valley Register

Earlier my friend, Carolyn, called me from the deck of her home in west Napa as soon as she saw the fire across the valley.  She was supposed to join me, along with several of our friends, at my home in Truckee the following day and knew Bob was home alone. A childhood friend, she’s has known Bob all his life. She was watching the fire scream across the mountain at an unbelievable pace and worried about him.  She stayed on the phone with me, off and on, most of the night giving me much needed emotional support.  Many of my Napa friends texted me throughout the night with words of encouragement and prayers for Bob’s safety.

When we talked, I told Casey how quickly Carolyn could see fire spreading and it wasn’t looking good for Bob’s evacuation. Unknown-4

To be continued…

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Fire Season, Students

Blessings in Ashes

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“Fire Season” takes on new meaning in Sonoma and Napa Counties, California. Now a month after the night fires raged through our mountains and valleys, cities and vinyards, homesteads and housing complexes, people are telling their stories. 

Memoirist Lynn Hakes’ Napa neighborhood wasn’t evacuated or burned. They were some of the lucky ones, but the disaster didn’t leave anyone untouched. Here is her story. 

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Photograph Cathy Carsell October 9, 2017 Napa Valley

Blessings in Ashes

Lynne Hakes

Waking up to a red glow in the bedroom, I wondered what was happening. Was it the end of the world? Then I smelled it – smoke. Out of bed in a flash, I peeked outside and saw nothing. The radio! Maybe there’s something on the radio. The dreaded words shot through me like a bullet: “…fire in the Napa Valley.”

“Quick, grab your bathrobe.” I muttered to myself out loud. Flying down the stairs, tripping on the last step, turning on the TV, there it was. Crackling fire; embers flying everywhere. Announcer in a blue jacket standing in front of blazing pine trees. This was a big deal.

My husband followed, and we settled down to watch, he in his recliner and I on the couch. We were rapt, struggling to understand what we were seeing and hearing. No thoughts of coffee; no thoughts of breakfast, we sat there wide-eyed for the rest of the morning. Will it come to Napa? Should we be prepared to run?

Well, we should probably get ready. Grab the birth certificates and the passports. A few family pictures off the wall; the albums are too heavy. Address book, purse, phones, medications. Clothes? What do you wear to an evacuation? Is there gas in the vehicles?

Phone calls came from family and friends out of state. “We’re OK. We’ll call you if that changes.”

I don’t remember getting dressed or eating that morning. Longing to help in some way, we tore ourselves away from the TV and made the rounds of the shelters, offering to volunteer or bring food or water. We were too late; there were already enough people with offers of help. They turned us away.

Back at home we sat glued to the TV the rest of the day and into the evening. Again, the next day. And the next. We were safe. A few miles east, a few miles west, people lost everything. Why were we spared?

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As the days went by, gratitude replaced fear and anxiety. Gratitude for our safety; gratitude for the firefighters, the medics, the brave souls who worked together to warn, to help evacuate, to organize the shelters, to feed people. And compassion for those who lost homes, businesses and loved ones. Struggling to imagine their losses and their feelings, I knew I couldn’t come close.

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Hearing more and more stories of loss, my feelings of guilt crept in. Survivors’ guilt, they call it. What do I do with that? Are there lessons to be learned?  Be a little more tuned into people, their stories, their fears, their feelings from now on? Could more caring and compassion replace guilt?

Is it possible to find blessings in the ashes?

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Tell It Like It Was

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@memoirmusic

Why write it? Why illuminate your innermost self and risk potential pain of ridicule or criticism? You ask yourself this, over and over, even as you name your secret places, confess your transgressions, light up your dark desires.

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Thanks Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens

Perhaps you reveal your wild and strange garden because of that gnawing, burrowing inner gopher. You know the one—nibbling the tendrils of your memories and digging through your synapses in his blind foraging. You know the dark feeding will stop in the light of your pen.

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ramweb.org

 At first you write to expose the bully, the crazy parent, the mean sister, the pain-giver. That may be your catalyst, but will revealing trespasses against you trap the hungry rodents like a hunting cat, pouncing on those unseeing beasts, dragging them from the dark and laying them at your feet?

In the end the revelation is you.

images-5        Writing your memoirs? Creating a family legacy?

                      Looking to publish your story?

Join the Rianda House memoir writers:A forum for craft, critique and positive encouragement.

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This group welcomes beginning memoir writers as well as more experienced writers who wish to explore their lives through the written word, both creative non-fiction (memoir, personal narrative, essay, autobiography) and poetry. Writing craft is discussed in the group and writing topics are suggested. All participants are encouraged to share their work in class.

Mondays 3:00-5:00 at Rianda House 1475 Main St. St. Helena Free

#70755 (Pre-registration at Rianda House) Feb 6-May 22 (no class 4/10)

 

Resources:

http://namw.org

http://www.judithbarrington.com

http://shewritespress.com/

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Classes, Memoir, revision

Stripping the Veil—The Modernists

Poetry strips the veil of familiarity from things. ~Shelley

What is poetry? Poetry can be “prosey” (think of prose poems) and prose can be “poetic.” There’s an enormous range of mood and approach within each. So?

Definitions are as numerous as poets. I can think of several things to say to describe poetry, but in the end, poetry is words. Robert Frost defined poetry as “what gets lost in translation.” John Hall Wheelock put it well, “A poem will result when the genius of a language—its words, their sound and their sense—offers the genius of a poet an opportunity to perform a miracle. That masterpiece of coincidence, that achieved miracle, the poem, with its unique syllabic patterns, its unique consonantal and vowel music, its seemingly inevitable cadences (partly the result of skill, partly the result of sheer good luck), is not translatable.”

Some claim poetry is a way of knowing. Language is human’s greatest achievement. We can use words to symbolize, or stand in for, complex experience. A poem is a “constellation of such symbols, representing a poet’s rediscovery of some phase of reality.” (Wheelock) It’s a rediscovery because as we become familiar with things we lose sight of them; we take what we know and experience for granted. Poetry, like any of the arts, is a revelation. It gives the poet’s world back to the poet. Poetry reveals what we know to ourselves. However, poems often require imagination and familiarity with the conventions of the art to be understood. In fact, to some poets, the more obscure and erudite the poem, the better. They want to keep the reader in the dark. It isn’t surprising that poetry often has a bad rap. Goethe’s advice, “Don’t tell it to anyone except the initiated, because the multitude will only jeer at you.” More than obscure, modern poetry has been accused of being cerebral, and empty of feeling. Wordsworth might define poetry as “emotion recollected in anxiety with distaste.”

Poetry might be considered a form of communication, or better, communion within a universal fellowship. The poem doesn’t come as a desire to communicate, but is what happens when a poet rediscovers some part of her lost reality, because it has “been overlaid by the veil of familiarity.” (Shelley) The poem is part of the rediscovery—through it the poet learns what she has forgotten. You might say the poet is talking to herself, established communication with herself, and through that with others. “What was subject has become object. What was on the inside is now on the outside.” (Wheelock)

Poetry changed radically over the last century. T.S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s work began a revolution. They shifted focus from the  Romanticism of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Perception began to overtake emotion in poetry. Poetry shifted to a more observational style with less searching for meaning. Mid-century poetry has been described as analytic, precise, and emotionally uninvolved, rather a scientific method. Poetry left the realm of common knowledge and imagery and moved into a private system of reference, essentially: classical references have given way to intensely personal experience. This isn’t surprising as not all readers and poets share the same background of knowledge anymore, but some lament the loss of feeling. Elizabeth Jennings puts it, “We only move it through the mind…/Perhaps the deeper tragedy/ Is then the inability/ To change a thought into emotion.”

We’ve all heard the many opinions of modern verse. One complaint, it’s lost its music. Free verse can be “disjointed, episodic, and staccato.” (Wheelock) But look at the world that is producing modern poetry. If poetry has become more objective recording and less feeling, it has also become more accessible with the use of common speech.

Wallace Stegner nailed Modernist poetry in his:

“Of Modern Poetry”

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed

To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

The Modernists changed the definition of poetry for better or worse. The next post will look at  the further evolution of poetry: Postmodernism.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

(Don’t hesitate to comment with your definition!)

Adapted from What is Poetry?, John Hall Wheelock, 1963, Charles Scribner’s and Sons

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