WV Can’t Wait: This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around Redux

May 16, 2011, I wrote this in a blog post:

Life is short.  There are people out there who want to tell the stories of their youth as grand adventures in engaging serious problems with  their whole hearts. These are not the same people who want to tell stories of bar-hopping and overspending and trips to casinos.  These are people who are modern journalists and water quality scientists and child advocates.  They are health care specialists and teachers and professors.  They are small business entrepreneurs and artists and historians and contractors.  They are responsible natural resource leaders and sustainability experts.  

Hold that thought. I’ll get back to it, I promise. There’s a brief backstory.

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I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed a week ago yesterday, and up pops, “Mark Wolfe is live now.” I chuckle to myself thinking that man is nothing if not LIVE, and move along.

But every now and then I realize it’s still there. Mark Wolfe is still live now. I get suspicious. What’s this creative genius doing, anyway? (Yes, he designed my blog header and the masthead for Essays on Childhood, made art for the WV Land Trust and a revamped logo for the WV Alliance for Sustainable Families…..along with hundreds of other things. It’s good to know what Mark is doing at any given moment.)

I’m not 100% sure what is happening in this video, but then I see John Barrett. John is someone who has always impressed me with his sincere and affable demeanor, his quick mind, and his commitment to West Virginia. He was on the board of directors for the WV Land Trust when I worked for them. Just rock-solid, good governance, can-do, let’s-do-the-right-thing stuff flows from John.

Now I really have to know what’s going on, because whatever it is, my gut is telling me I want to be part of it.

And then there it was. It was the last thing I expected to hear.

I was being introduced through cyberspace to the next Governor of West Virginia.

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Stephen Smith (left), 38, who ran the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, announced he is running for governor as a Democrat in the 2020 elections. Photo accompanying Jake Zuckerman’s 11/28/2018 article the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “Community organizer launches 2020 gubernatorial bid as Democrat”

This can’t be real. But it is real.

And he’s not a coal baron. Or a lawyer. Or the 9th copy of the same family politician over generations.

He’s a dad. And a nonprofit executive. And a WV native. And a WV native who came back — to help.

He’s 38 years old. His relative youth is one of his greatest assets, and potentially also such for the state. When you’re 38 and running for elected office for the first time, you do not accept all the things the jaded Gollum-like creatures crawling out of their offices try to sell you. Extractive industry is not yet the precious.

I email with Stephen, we talk on the phone, and he’s real. He is a different brand — more informed by ideas of equality and partnership than most. He talked about his family, and his interest in building a movement that has legs to carry it apart from his candidacy.

He really listened to me, and he asked me questions about myself and clarifying questions about my ideas and observations.

He is not kidding when he talks about a movement that shifts power and resources from corporate outside interests and back into the hands of regular West Virginians. It will be very difficult, and as the effort progresses I am sure it will get a little bit scary. I’ve seen how established power brokers react to challenge. (Pro Tip: They are not nice about it.)

I’m excited about this, which has my attention because it’s been years upon years since I was excited about the potential to move the needle in West Virginia. I feel so strongly about this that I joined the campaign as a part of a leadership team making contacts with “ex-patriates” and trying to help make connections with friends in other states who might do the same where they are.

No matter how this goes, I believe supporting a candidate like this — the kind of candidate who rarely comes along — is a needle-moving opportunity in itself.

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I know what it’s like to believe and be disappointed, but this feels different. Maybe it’s different because I am different.  Two ideas about that:

  • It may feel different because, truly, West Virginia Can’t Wait. A lot of disillusioned people in my generation and beyond tried to build a life in WV and faced challenges we couldn’t overcome. And that is in fact on me; I decided the cost-benefit analysis didn’t work. That was my choice. But gosh darn it, it didn’t have to be that way. Life is challenging no matter where you are. I needed vocal people in leadership positions to care a lot more about the future for me and my family, and they were too few or too hard to find. It’s only gotten less friendly since I departed. I am astonished by the friends who have left, who are still in the process of leaving. It’s not a few. It was a core constituency of Create West Virginia at one time. The organization never wanted to go political, and I thought then and still think that was a mistake. I understand the concerns, but we are at a chance-against-a-certainty-stage now. We all have to take a risk. It’s true that a ragtag gang of believers in the knowledge economy were going to lose a street fight with extractive industry, but you don’t always fight to win the battle. Say it with me: You fight to win the war.
  • I’m over 15 years older than I was when I decided to move back to West Virginia. I was a few years younger than Stephen Smith is now. I had nothing but optimism and hope in my soul for helping my home state; at some point, I lost that hope. I was severely discouraged, and scared, and I left. The power structure in state government seemed stacked against my concerns. In hindsight I think I may have retreated to recover; for the first time in a long time, I am thinking about how to get back into this fight.

Right now, that looks like serving on a leadership team to communicate with WV “ex-pats”  living in Virginia about how we can help leverage the movement for change.

If I can pass this spark to you, well, I would be delighted. Give the movement a look-see. Then consider emailing the campaign about how you can help.

There’s a place for you in this.

No foolin’ around.

 

Passion Is a Perk—Not a Prerequisite

Passion is a perk.

Loren Eaton

Note: To listen to audio of this post, please use the widget below or visit my Soundcloud page.

When William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published their little book of verse entitled Lyrical Ballads in 1798, they revolutionized poetry in particular and literature as a whole. How? Exalted diction, highbrow subjects, stolid structures—all of these they whisked away like dust before a broom. In their place, Wordsworth and Coleridge put forward irregularly styled poems penned in everyday language that mostly focused on nature. It was common stuff that common folks could enjoy.

What’s more, Wordsworth also argued in the introduction to Lyrical Ballads that poetry should “follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature.” And that meant that he believed verse ought to flow from out passions. It should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”

So what, right?…

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New Feature: Ask the Editor

“Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!” – Lee Gutkind

Longridge Review

Ask the Editor is a new resource for our readers and writers in which we review and respond to popular questions about our journal, essay writing, submissions, and literary potpourri type stuff. Have a question you’d like to see answered here? Send it to edg dot longridgeeditors dot com. Chosen questions will be kept anonymous.

First up is a great question that ponders, just what is creative nonfiction writing, anyway?

Q:  I’m new to writing and submitting my work. The story I sent you is non-fiction in that it actually happened to me. I was the little girl. But I consider it fiction in that it is radically embellished.  Am I confused about genres?

A:  If you are confused about genres, you are not alone. Creative Nonfiction is a relatively new genre, at least in terms of a single definition. Within the literary community there is debate about…

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Give Thanks for Good Reading!

essay writing

In the latest issue of Longridge Review (Fall 2017):

Victims or Others?
Gina Ferrara (New Orleans) remembers a colorful crew of men who play cards at her grandfather’s bar and clubhouse in the French Quarter. “Chicago Mike” always seems to have an assortment of random gifts on him. One day, Gina and her sister are the recipients of some of those gifts, and she finds herself asking herself questions about what it means to be involved in something you’re not even sure you understand.

How to Be on Time
Andy Harper (Illinois) weaves a narrative that goes to an unexpected place. When he finds his young adult self beset by unexpected anxiety, he is determined to follow the bread crumbs to its origin. The conclusion is shocking. This essay broke a couple of hearts at our editorial table, and is an excellent example of why we publish Longridge Review.

Sepia
Anne Muccino (Kansas City) reflects on the first time she repeated a term spoken inside her family and realized it wasn’t something said aloud to others, most importantly not to the people being labeled with that word. This is a poignant snapshot of a child’s dawning awareness that not everything said casually or even said warmly has a causal or warm effect on others.

Shooting Stars
Jonathan Sonnenberg (New York City) deftly tells us something about himself by writing about an influential teacher.  Mr. Bell likes to ask his students prickly questions. Have they ever been drunk? Tried pot? Cocaine? The class is pretty used to his provocations, until one afternoon a question sucks the air out of room. Mr. Bell is after more than discomfort. He has something he needs them to know.

A Bowl Full of Jelly
Victoria Waddle (Claremont) is devastated by her grandmother’s death, but learns how to conjure her presence in dreams. These visits help, some, but become increasingly dissatisfying as her grandmother never comes fully back to who she was in life. Eventually, the dream woman sends a message that makes it plain her visits are over. But will she ever truly not be there, somewhere?

Sentence Enhancers
Teige Weidner (Oregon) has a story about his childhood that will ring familiar to too many readers. He is bullied, a lot, and the abuse is taking a toll. No one seems to appreciate how bad things are for young Teige, but they are about to find out. After all, we all only have so much fuse, and his is about to burn down.

via #9, Fall 2017: 6 New Essays + Deb Farrell = Your Longridge Review

Ripping | Eclipse Flash Fiction

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There’s a ripping and it seems to come from around the sun.

The child’s words were clear and matter-of-fact.

“What . . . what did you just say?” I asked her. She looked up at me, her eyes placid.

“What did you hear?” she intoned.

I gazed back at her for a full 30 seconds. She never looked away. I wondered then if I had heard anything at all. But something was there. I was starting to think I should not have looked directly at her for so long.

It seemed maybe heard wasn’t right. It was more of an appearance. I saw the edge of a circle, ragged with blinding light fighting a stony obstruction that was trying to smother it, the painful saw-toothed edge of a migraine aura. I considered the stony thing might be my own skull.

Everything was both transport and trap. I could see nothing but bluish white-hot light, even when my eyes were closed. I stumbled away from the child and  found my way down the stairs using only the sense of touch, a nauseous lump firmly set in my upper throat. I found a telephone and called a friend for help. I was blind.

***

There’s a ripping and it seems to come from around the sun.

“What did you just say?” Jesse asked.

He handed me a cool washcloth. “And put this over your eyes, it will help. These auras don’t just go away at will, but they go eventually. Just try to relax and keep your eyes closed. You were mumbling about something ripping. Are you okay?”

I kept my face behind the washcloth as I said, “There is a little girl here in the office somewhere. I don’t know who she belongs to, we have to find her parents before we go. I don’t know why she’s here.”

He rested a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll look around, okay, but I don’t think anyone else is here. Your car is the only one in the parking lot this weekend. You’re working hard, too hard if you ask me. It can bring on these migraines. I’m going to drive you home so you can get some rest. I need you to rally for the eclipse viewing party on Monday. It’s going to be sick.”

Now I took down the cloth and labored to raise my eyelids so we could look at each other when I said, “I think I’m going to pass.”

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Note: I wrote this bit as part of  friend Eric Douglas’ eclipse-themed story challenge. Please visit Books By Eric for more tales.

Some wise words of advice regarding memoir

“…I had to admit that I was often spending too much time telling stories about the past and remembering myself as the younger person I once was. I was not spending enough time thinking about what had really happened to me and the questions that were raised.”

If You Have Five Seconds to Spare

doorway Your memoir needs to include the outside story as well as the inside story.

Photo Credit: Wiebke Flickr via Compfightcc

I’m prepping for my beginning memoir class at The Loft Literary Center (6-8 p.m. Wednesdays for six weeks, starting July 12), and I thought I’d share a handout I’m planning to use.

I excerpted some passages from “Let Me Think About That: The Memoirist as Ruminant,” by Joyce Dyer (The Writer’s Chronicle, September 2013, pp. 90-99). These passages highlight the importance of reflection in memoir. Memoir requires a duality: the story AND the reflection, often referred to as the outer story and the inner story. Memoir needs both to work. A memoir can be crafted from any story, even something that at the surface seems “small” or “quiet.”

Excerpts:

“We need material—particular and original material—to chew on. Without it, any thoughts we might have will be bare—hackneyed or…

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