Tag Archives: Memoir

The Magic Called Focus by Clayton Clifford Bye

The wind and the waves slammed into us with icy indifference. Air temperature plummeted to near freezing in a matter of seconds, and numbness began to crawl over the exposed flesh of my hands and face. I saw a brief flash of white as terror clawed at the corner of Danny’s eyes, then he turned wordlessly back to his oar. He was right to be afraid.

Things had started out well enough. We stopped at the Big Trout Lake weather office, where we both worked as meteorological technicians, looked over the current reports, got an updated forecast and checked both the barometer and the wind recorder. Everything seemed to be fine. We’d be fishing for walleye on the Bug River within an hour.

And everything was fine—until our motor quit. Even then, we had no reason to be alarmed. The skies were trouble free, and the lake was calm enough for rowing. All we had to do was backtrack in the shelter of a couple of islands and cross the quarter of a mile of open water which lay between them and the mainland. This done, we would be in sight of the village. Rescue would simply become a matter of waiting to be noticed. Such was our plan.

We were about a hundred yards from where we wanted to land the boat when the storm caught us. And even though a fast-moving wall of water (extending from the surface of the lake to the sky and preceded by a seething mass of ugly white waves) is hard to miss, we really didn’t have much notice. It wasn’t just one cell either, but a whole line of thunder clouds. They can move with remarkable speed.

I’ll confess I was concerned when the storm first appeared, but I wasn’t frightened. The fear didn’t really surface until a few minutes later, when we found ourselves being tossed around in ten foot swells that were crested with white-caps which looked like they belonged on the ocean. In the space of less than five minutes, and without moving a single meter closer to shore, Danny and I were blown a quarter of a mile south.

It happened that fast. One minute we were thinking about landing the boat and starting a fire to warm ourselves, the next minute we were being swept south towards thirteen miles of open water. This was something we definitely didn’t want to happen. Big Trout Lake is a killer when rough weather sets in. We both knew that once we hit the main lake there would be no avoiding capsize or the near-freezing water that would seal our fate. By the time a search party thought to look for as at the south end of the lake, instead of the west end, we would be goners. Yes, I think Danny had good reason to be afraid.

I suppose it was because of this train of thought that I just happened to be looking at Danny when it happened. I think I had some sort of notion that by focusing on him I could keep my own fear in check. And I was very much afraid. You see, the waves had gotten so large we could see through the curl of the white caps as they raged down toward us. The sight made my stomach knot up into an iron ball. When our boat was in the trough of a wave, my friend had to stick his oar upward into the side of the thing and pull with a clumsy down and backward movement. Similarly, each time we found ourselves perched at the crest of a wave, I couldn’t draw water with my oar. As for the sudden slip-and-rush down the side of each succeeding monster wave? That’s something I still don’t like to think about.

Anyway, we were at the bottom of one of these boat-crackers, and I was monitoring Danny’s every move. I watched in awe as his oar pierced the wave at no less than an upward angle of 45 degrees. He bunched up into a ball, pushed hard with his legs, rose up off his seat a little and arched backward. The oar snapped.

I can still see it clearly on the screen of my mind: Danny’s feet shot up past the top of his head as if they had been fired from the barrel of a pistol. He did a 360 degree flip in the air and then stopped abruptly when the back of his head connected with the front seat of the boat. I thought his neck was broken. But I didn’t have time to make sure. I checked for a pulse and to see if he was breathing. Yes, he was alive. He was also out cold.

At this point, we were about 200 feet from shore and only 50 feet from the last point of land that could save us from certain death. I have a vivid memory of the sinking feeling I got in my chest when I saw how quickly the remaining shoreline was disappearing. I also remember how angry I got at that response. In fact, I was so angry with my lack of faith in myself that I forced myself upright, stood there with the storm raging all around me and literally willed myself to stare for a long moment at a rock on the shore. I didn’t pay attention to such things back then, but what happened next is etched permanently into my mind. I asked myself a question. I asked “How can I do this?”

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the answer that popped immediately into my mind. It was a crystal-clear picture of me rowing with the passion and speed of a fiend, followed by a phrase that rifled up from the depths of my brain … “Paddle like a madman!”

It’s amazing what a focused mind will do. With no one to lean on but myself, and the only options being death or not death, I found myself determined to do whatever it took to drive our boat onto the rock I’d chosen as a target. I used my oar as a paddle, reefing on it with superhuman strength and the crazed fury of a madman. I dug so deep and with such tremendous force that I was continually lifted off my feet and slammed into the side of the boat. It mattered not. Nothing in the entire world mattered except hitting that rock. And so, I did.

Danny was only unconscious for a minute or two and, other than a headache, he suffered no ill effects. We spent the afternoon, cold and wet, working our way back to our intended landing sight – on foot. Shortly before dark, and long before we reached our destination, we were rescued by a native fisherman.


Clayton Bye is an eclectic writer, an editor, a ghostwriter extraordinaire and a publisher of strangely different stories in multiple genres. He lives in Kenora, Ontario on beautiful Lake of the Woods. You can find many of his books at http://shop.claytonbye.com

The taste of war (Chapter 4 of A Different Warrior by Deng Atum with Kenneth Weene)


Since there were no cows for us to watch, the four of us boys were playing in a swampy area not far from the village. It was the dry season and much of the water had disappeared, which made it a great place to hunt for snail shells. In the drier times, the birds could get to the snails which meant many shells for us to find. It was a competition to see who could find the most shells, the biggest, and the greatest variety of colors.

We made believe the snail shells were cows and took great care to clean and arrange them.

“I found the most,” Aleu bragged.

“Hey, I found something better,” Manyang shouted. We ran over; he pointed at a hole in the mud.

“A loung,” Aguek said. “You found a loung.

We used our spears to widen the hole and Manyang stuck his bith into the fish’s mouth. When the loung clamped down on the spear, Manyang pulled it from the mud. It was not a big loung, not much longer than my little brother was tall, but it would be a feast.

Lungfish are a great treat among Dinka men and boys. Women are not allowed to cook or eat them or snakes. It is feared that if a woman eats or prepares snake or loung, their babies will have small eyes and bodies like a snake. It is a great insult to tell a person that they have the eyes of a lungfish and is cause for a fight.

Aleu cleaned the fish, taking out its insides while the rest of us gathered grass, wood, and dried cow dung to make a fire. To start the fire, we used a spear shaft to drill into a piece of soft dry wood until it made heat.

We sat by the crackling fire and waited for the fish to cook. Aguek poked at the meat with a stick to see if it had become soft. Manyang and I made a mat of clean grass on which to place our treat when it was cooked.

Finally, we all agreed the loung was ready for eating. Before we could eat, Manyang made the proper sacrifices to God, to the totem of his clan, and to our ancestors. He took a bit of flesh, threw it to the ground, and said, “This is for DengDit.” DengDit is the highest of the Dinka life gods; he is the bringer of rains which make it possible to grow the grain on which the people live and the grass that feeds their goats and cows.

The next sacrifice was to Atem Yat, the snake. Manyang, his brother Aguek and I all were members of the snake clan, so he made made a gift of this bit of fish to the totem of our clan.

Before Manyang could throw a third bit of lungfish to the ground as a sacrifice to our ancestors. We heard gunfire erupt in the village.

Tap. Tap. Tap. All of us heard it and froze in fear.

“They came back,” Aleu yelled. “They came back. They came back again.” His shout startled all of us into a mad dash. Where? I would have run back to the village, but Aleu grabbed me and pulled me after our two friends. The four of us ran toward a neighboring village for safety; the people of that village were also running into the jungle. We joined them in their flight

One man was trying to bring his cows with him. The people were yelling at him. “Take the cows away! The Murallan will come for the cows; Take them away.”

A small red heifer decided it was time to play and began to run around in circles. The man could not catch the calf; she was too fast and ran back and forth. Now her mother was running after the heifer and all the cows were lowing. Aleu and I tried to help the man. I gathered some grass and tried to trick the little cow while Aleu got a wien to tie her.

People were afraid that the militia would hear the cows, so the man took them into the bush on one side of a stream while the rest of the people went and hid on the other. Aleu and I went with the man and his cows. Pulling on the rope which he had tied around her neck, Aleu kept the heifer close to her mother.

I prayed to the creator god, Nhialic Wai, who had created all the world, even the other gods, that the cattle would not make noise. Hopefully, my father’s god would guard us. I also prayed to Kan Wadit Atem Yat, my great-grandfather’s jok. Could his spirit protect us at this moment as he had protected our clan?

“Grandfather,” I prayed, “let me make it out of here. I cannot stand it anymore.”

The heifer yanked on her halter rope.

“It is your fault, Aleu. Why do we have to go with this cattle guy?” I complained.

“It is okay. The militias are not coming this way.” Aleu answered.

“How do you know?

“They will go directly to the wutPaRiak cattle camp.”

“Where is that?”

“It is to the west of our village. It is where most of the people have gathered their cattle for summer grazing. The Murallan’s informants will take them there.”

“Who are these informants?’’ I asked.

“They are traitors, Black Arabs or sometimes people the militia have captured.”

“That is not good,” I said.  “I have a bad feeling they might have passed through our village.”

“They might not have. Since they attacked us last week and burned everything down, chances are they didn’t see any buildings or huts.”

That made me feel a bit better. “How long will this go on?” This was, after all, my first summer in Korok Achieng and I did not understand what was happening.

“Until the end of the summertime. I thought you went through similar attacks in your village.”

“Only once in a while. I can’t stand this anymore. I hope my father will come soon and we can go.”

We hid in the bush for two days. The Arab militia had returned to that neighboring village with all the cows they had found. We could hear the cows mooing and the sound of guns shot into the air as the Arabs celebrated.

I was afraid that they would come into the bush where we were hiding, but Aleu said, “They already got the cattle they want and they want to go back home safe with our cows.”

In the cold night we huddled together and listened to the sounds of the jungle. There were many wild rats rustling through the tall grass. Aleu jumped up and used his tong to whack at the rats and drive them away from our spot.

Other people had taken refuge near us, and we could hear grownups quieting children and covering the little ones’ mouths and noses when they coughed or sneezed.

During the night, a group from the Sudan People Liberation Army attacked the Murallan. The SPLA was considered a rebel army by the government of Sudan, but they were the fighters who were protecting us Dinkas from the Arab militias; they were our heroes.

The night sky was lit with gunfire. The fight lasted about an hour. In the end, the Murallan ran off with some of the cattle. They shot their guns in the air as they rode away.

Many cows, frightened by the fighting, ran away and would have to be gathered in the coming days.

The SPLA soldiers stayed near the village waiting for morning when they would find and kill any wounded Murallan who had been left behind. There were no prisoners taken in this war.

In the morning there was some shooting and then quiet. Some of the men crept closer to the village to see what was going on. Aleu and I followed two grown men. One of them said, “Don’t come with us. You won’t be able to run if the militias are still in the village. Let us go first to find out what is going on there.”

We hung back and followed at a distance. From time to time, Aleu or I would climb a tree to watch the two men and see how far they had gotten and if it was safe. When we saw them talking with some of the SPLA soldiers, we ran up to hear what was going on.

“You boys don’t listen,” one of the men scolded. “What if these were militias and they captured us? They would have captured you, too. How would your mothers feel if you were taken by the Murallan? Who would take care of them and find them wood for cooking and food to eat? You need to be careful. Listen to your elders.”

We nodded as if we agreed, but I knew that Aleu and I would never hold back. Were we not Dinka men?


The village was filled with dead. There were dead soldiers and militia. There were also many dead cows. Three men had been executed; their wrists were bound and they had been shot in the head. “Probably they were prisoners of the Murallan,” one of the soldiers said. “They were forced to show where the cattle were hidden, and when our soldiers came, the Arabs killed them.”

“They were lucky,” one of the villagers replied. “If you had not come, they would have been taken to be slaves.”

There were dead people and dead cattle everywhere.

One man had been shot in the head and had fallen on a dead cow. His blood and that of the cow had mixed in a pool of sticky red. The man’s head was blown open, and his brain was leaking from the wound and onto the the animal.

The villagers and the soldiers started separating bodies—people and cattle. The people of the village and the dead soldiers were taken to be buried. There was no time to bury the soldiers separately, so we dug one grave to hold them all.

A beny bith came to preside over the burying of the dead villagers. Everyone treated this man with much respect not just because he was able to speak to the gods but also because he was supposed to always tell the truth. As master of the fishing spear and the most important of Dinka spiritual leaders, a beny bith carries many spears. The beny bith’s spears were dirty. Long before, my father had explained to me that the biths of these sacred men must not be cleaned for to do so might cleanse them of their power.

The beny bith stood beside the grave holes and mumbled to himself. He asked the gods to allow the souls of the dead to join those of their ancestors. He took a spear with two pointed ends and shook it in the direction in which the surviving Arabs had gone. “The Murallan will not return,” he proclaimed.

Beny biths always speak the truth,” my father had said.

It was hard for me to believe his words. “If this man’s power can keep the Arabs from returning,” I wondered, “why have they been able to come to this village at all?”

When the beny bith had finished his praying and singing, he allowed the villagers’ bodies to be buried.

A flock of vultures and other birds had gathered nearby. The dead militia were thrown to them. The birds jumped up and down and fought over the dead bodies. First they attacked the soft parts, eyes, noses, gunshot wounds, and buttocks. Even in their feasting, they fought among themselves for the best bits.

An old man with no teeth, a bent back, and only wisps of gray hair on his head, tottered up leaning on a cane that was festooned with maroon ribbons. Dressed only in worn, holey, gray shorts, he carried a tobacco pipe and a black cow’s tail which he swished at the flies that had gathered beyond numbering and buzzed about the living and the dead. The old man stopped and watched the soldiers throwing the Arabs to the scavenging birds.

The old man coughed before each word he uttered. “They should be buried. Raanchol. They are human beings.”

One of the soldiers said, “Old man, you are crazy. These murallan would have killed you if they had found you. Let the birds eat them.”

Raanchol,” the old man responded.

One of the Murallan was wearing a strange armband. “What is that,” I asked.

“That is wals athar,” Aleu told me.

“Why is he wearing magician stuff?”

“It is supposed to protect him from being killed.” Aleu kicked a cloud of dirt at the dead man’s head.

“Oh.” I paused for a moment. “But he is dead now.”

“Let’s go,” Aleu answered. “Better that we stop looking at him.”

The dead cows were butchered and the meat was roasted. Everyone was given meat to eat. The old man would not eat.

I was given a piece of meat to eat, but when I tried to bite into it, I thought of the human brain and the blood that I had seen. I retched and wanted to vomit.

“Don’t do that,” Aleu whispered. “You will make other people throw up and they will not be able to eat the meat.”

I walked away and thought about all the death I had seen that day.

When it was time for us to go back to our village, the people gave Aleu and myself meat to take with us. Our family was very excited to see us. The meat was cooked by my sister Nuariak and my stepmother. Everyone ate it except me.

Aleu saw me spit out the meat. He looked at me, and I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I tried to shrug it off. My mouth was filled with the taste of war.

Author Ken Weene is also co-host of It Matters Radio.

Deng Atum, a survivor of the wars that led to the separation of South Sudan from Sudan. He is a leader of the South Sudanese community in Phoenix, Arizona. A Different Warrior is the story of Deng’s life as is being written in collaboration with Ken.

Memories of Marcia

Fran & Sister

If you think that this article is going to evoke tears think again. My memories of my sister that I want to share with you I hope will make you smile, laugh or just plain feel the fun that we had being sisters. This story will make you understand just why my sister was so amazing, my best friend and had to invest in earplugs or a soundproof room.

I majored in music in college. I played both the violin and the piano and had to take other courses too. Keyboard harmony, transposition, strings, woodwinds and anything that involved the piano I really enjoyed. Opera and classical music having to be able to identify any part of a symphony, sonata or concerto when the professor dropped the needed on the record was really quite challenging but not s challenging as the two courses I dreaded the most: VOICE AND SIGHT SINGING! You have to understand I CANNOT SING! My sister on the other hand started in many musical productions such as Oklahoma, Carousel and the King and I to name few. She had a magnificent voice in the soprano range and she could dance like she was Ginger Rogers. Marcia was talented in all of these areas and I well let me explain.

At the end of the semester everyone had to prepare two programs to sing in front of all of the professors to determine how well you progressed. I progressed but not exactly the way they would like. I have perfect pitch in my head and can tell you if you are sharp or flat or off key. That’s in my head but when the notes come out and the words are sung it’s a whole other story. So, when I attempted to sing an Aria from Madame Butterfly I spoke the words quite well and refrained from torturing the audience. My professor agreed that I had this down pat but not exactly the right way so he agreed that I could create a program for the final that would make me shine in my own way.

You know how some call Help me Howard when they have a story to tell or others call Ghostbusters when they want to rid their homes of unwanted spirits I called Marcia Joyce who I knew could rescue me the same way Jon Taffer rescues bars. So, we sat down together at the piano in my mom’s house and planned what we hoped would be a great four song program to dazzle and wow an audience of about fifty students and five professors. Now, you have to understand that not only did my final grade depend on this program but the audience and the professors would critique it too. The pressure was on to create something spectacular and we did. At least I thought we did!

We practiced the songs with and without the piano just in case they would not let me use the piano to help me with the melody. I was told right before that there would be someone who would accompany everyone but not with the melody but in my case they would make an exception. See! I am special and you will soon learn why! We practiced several hours a day and then when my sister was at work we practiced using the tape she made so that we could work on the program on her lunch hour. She deserved more than just a medal for this.

When the day of the performance arrived I dressed for success or in whatever outfit my mom thought appropriate but that’s another story. I looked great I hoped: Hair, makeup, clothes shoes to perfection my mom and sister said. Too bad Marcia could not be there but I put one of those pocket recorders in my bag and another in my jacket pocket and turned them on before I sang so she could hear just how well I did.

Standing in front of all of these people was terrifying and conferring with the pianist that would play the songs in several different keys scary. They told me in order to see how wide a range my voice had. Well! It had a range but more like the gas jets on an oven or gas range!

For my first selection I chose to sing the song in the key of G with one sharp and then the same selection in C with no sharps or flat. Both major keys. The second selection I chose the key of F major with one flat and then C major again. The third and fourth songs I chose to sing in D major with two sharps and G major with one sharp. I sang all four songs to perfection I think. The audience was stunned. You could hear a pin drop! No one said a word. My professor had to grade my work on the spot and this is what he said:

I realize that your voice is unique and that you had to create a program that would be different. Everyone else sang arias and songs from well known shows or the radio but you sang four songs of your choice and considering the fact that you know you cannot really sing but your instrumental skills are first rate and I know how hard you and your sister worked I am giving you a B+ for your efforts and the same grade in the course. I will even offer you another B+ not to take the next class and just get the credit for it.

I think that was great. So, would you like to know what songs I wowed or stunned the audience with? I bet you are totally curious: For my first selection I sang: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in both Keys that I stated above and if I do say so right on key. I THINK! The next song was Are You Sleeping? In French and English and the third Mary Had A Little Lamb and for my fourth song I chose something more difficult: America. Now are you not impressed! My sister when I called her was totally excited. My mom would have liked an A but she understood that this was more than I hoped for.

My sister and I went shopping that weekend and I bought her the outfit she wanted in her favorite store New York and Company and her favorite bag from Kate Spade. That’s the least I could do for her hard work and effort. Then, we sat down and listened to the tape and wherever she is now she is smiling or laughing or both. Miss you Marcia Joyce.

Your sister and best friend forever: Frani


My Bio:

Fran taught for 36 years in a public school in the Bronx. Fran was the reading and writing staff developer and dean. For many years Fran ran the musical shows and talent performances helping to showcase the glee club, dance groups and music groups in the school. Fran has three master’s degrees in education, reading and learning disabilities and administration and supervision as well as a PD in supervision. She is a member of Who’s Who of America’s Teachers and Who’s Who of America’s Professionals. She had her own network on Blog Talk Radio: MJ network in memory of her sister Marcia Joyce as well as her magazine in MJ magazine. She has written 12 books and is working on her next to hoping to have the release dates in the fall. Fran is an avid reader and loves spotlighting the work of authors when reviewing their books and posting her thoughts all over the net. Fran’s books are on Amazon and here is the link to all of them:



 I am climbing a steep staircase leading to the attic studio where a famed ballerina teaches dance. The light has drained away, making it difficult for me to find the right room. But I must if I am to study with this woman.

Finally, I reach the top of the stairs, and I see her. More than that, I become her. And I realize simultaneously that I am the teacher, and that I cannot walk. My crutches, scarred, wooden ones, lean against the wall, and I am sitting on the floor, my useless legs hidden beneath my skirt. I crane my neck, put my eye to the keyhole, and watch the class that I am supposed to be teaching.

It is a dream, of course, one of those morning dreams that lingers after I wake. I don’t need to analyze it or the ballerina on crutches. I have agreed to teach a class in writing for publication, and I feel like a fraud.


“It won’t be permanent,” Craig, the friendly school administrator had said when he asked me to take over a Tuesday-night adult school writing class because the real teacher had dropped out. Although I had published freelance articles in magazines, I had not realized my dream of selling a novel, and I had the rejection slips to prove it. Furthermore, I could not speak in public, and the few times I tried, I was silenced by chest-splitting panic attacks.

Yet something in me wanted to accept Craig’s offer, and I tried to talk myself into it. Only eight weeks. “It won’t be permanent.”

“I’ll do it,” I told him.

Tuesday had always been an optimistic day for me, an anything-can-happen day with blue Monday behind and enough of the week ahead for undreamed-of possibilities to occur. But who the hell did I think I was? How did I, a failed novelist, have the audacity to teach this class?

Before the first night arrived, I happened upon this Edith Wharton quote. “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Just the mirror. I could do that.

As I drove the thirty minutes to the school that evening, a thought came to me. Focus. Like the lens of a camera. Not wonderful writing, not hopeless writing. Just in or out of focus. Sure, that might work. At least it was a starting place.

When I reached the campus about six-thirty, the downpour had stopped. I parked as close as I could to the classroom and carried my packet of registration materials inside.

I got about halfway across the parking lot, telling myself that it would be okay, when a panic attack hit me. I broke out in a sweat, and my legs turned to water. The anxiety that had plagued me since my early teens had left me alone as long as I avoided airports and shiny, waxed floors. This new undertaking must be as stressful as climbing into a jet. Why had I agreed to do it? And what was I going to do now? For starters, ditch the shoes.

I took off my high-heeled pumps and walked in my stocking feet toward the classroom. It was March. The parking lot was wet from the rain that had left its scent in the air. I didn’t care. My breathing began to return to normal.

“Something wrong with your shoes?” An African American man with short, neatly trimmed hair, immaculate slacks, and leather jacket the color of butter joined me. He held a briefcase, and the way he carried himself telegraphed authority figure loud and clear. All I needed: an administrator to check me out.

Panic attacks teach one to improvise around the truth in any situation. I once faked car trouble on the freeway when anxiety gripped me so hard that I couldn’t drive another mile.

“I always teach in my bare feet,” I told him. “Keeps me grounded.”

“Really?” The lie was so ridiculous that he believed it. “Are you the teacher for the writing class?”

“Yes.” I bit back the impulse to spit out my feeble credentials. “I’m Bonnie.”

“Walter.” He reached out and shook my hand. “My wife suggested it. I’m retired, and I guess she wanted me out of the house one night a week.”

I didn’t know yet that most people lie about why they’re taking a writing class or pursuing any heartfelt goal, for that matter. They’re not going to say, “Oh, yes. I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, but I’ve been too terrified to attempt it, and now whatever happens in this classroom—and with you, who are probably going to tell me that I’m no damned good—is going to make or break my dream.” I wouldn’t have said it, and neither did Walter.

He surveyed the empty room with its elementary-sized desks and box of yellow pencils on the podium.

“Want me to help you sharpen these?”

“I can do it,” I said. “We won’t need more than ten, maybe only five or six.”

He gazed steadily into my eyes. “What if no one else shows up? It happens a lot in these classes.”

“Then we can get some coffee and talk about writing.” I was almost hoping the scenario would play out that way.

Just then, another man came through the door. Then two women. And another.

“Is this the writing class?” asked a redhead about my age in a soft blue denim shirt. She had a San Joaquin Valley accent, one that echoed Southern roots.

“Sure is,” Walter said, and took the registration slip she handed him.

She looked at the pile of slips on my desk. “You need some help with these?”

I nodded. “Do you know what to do with them?”

“I can figure it out.”

Soon close to twenty students sat in those small desks and looked up at me.

Some moments are so clear and defining, that although we don’t know it at the time, they remain with us like visceral photographs. I can see those faces as clearly today as I did then. I can feel the red Macy’s dress I wore with its shawl collar and ridiculous shoulder pads, the black linen summer shoes I placed behind the podium. Most of all, I can feel the fear tightening my throat as I tried to swallow.

It wasn’t about me. It was about them. They were there for the same reasons I had ventured into similar classes, only to be disappointed by someone who didn’t know, didn’t care, or both.

The room began to blur. My hands grew cold and moist. For a moment, I was all hands, all breathing. Count the breaths, I thought, two, three four. Don’t let the panic take over, two, three, four.

Walter took the registration slips from my desk and handed them to the redhead with the drawl.

These people had come out in the rain to be here, two, three, four. You don’t have to be the light, two, three, four. Just the mirror, two, three, four. Just the mirror.

“This class is about writing for profit.” The words escaped my lips, and the students looked up from their desks. “Actually, most writers probably earn minimum wage, if you consider the hours of thought and torment they put into their work.”

The room was silent. What next? The reflection, not the light.

“First, I want to know about you,” I told them. “Tell me what you write or want to write and what you expect to get from this class.”

In the front row, between the redhead and the babe with the hot pink toes, Walter raised his hand. “Walter Smith, retired educator, high school counselor, and army major. I have a series of vignettes, and I’m looking for ways to improve them.”

He turned to the redhead, who was sifting through registration slips and money.

“Ella.” She ran her fingers through her short curly hair. “As you can probably tell, I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve been writing most of my life. Don’t know if I’m any good, though.”

“I’m Gladys, and I feel the same way,” replied a heavyset woman. “I can’t seem to stop though.”

“And you?” I asked a terrified-looking woman in the back of the room. Anxiety buzzed around her like static.

She looked down. “Gloria. I want to write bilingual books for children. Inspirational stories.”

“Do you read children’s books?”

“Oh, yes, but my English is not so good. I hope I am not too stupid to be a writer.”

She had spoken what everyone else, myself included, was feeling.

“I don’t think any of you would want to write if you had no ability.” Once the words were out, I realized that they made sense. “I mean, I don’t feel called to mathematics or brain surgery.”

Even Gloria laughed at that, and I wondered if I was right. Could their desire to do this be strong enough to propel them toward their goals? Could mine?

“Well, I don’t think I’m stupid, and I’ll bet you aren’t either.” The woman with the hot pink toes and jeweled gladiator sandals had what my mother used to call a whiskey tenor. She tapped the notebooks on her desk. “I’m Mary, and I have three finished novels right here. All I want from this class is for you to read them and tell me how to get published.”

Finally some confidence, but I had a feeling that might not be a good thing.

As the rest of the class members began to talk, I was able to respond to their concerns. I had knowledge within me, answers, that I didn’t know I possessed.

I’d never seen a writing class from this perspective. Instead, I had looked at it through the tunnel of my own need. Now, all of these tunnels were directed at me. I tried out my focus idea on them. I liked the lack of judgment in that word. An unfocused manuscript could be brought back into focus. It wasn’t a failure.

By the time the hour expired, more than twenty students had spoken and registered.

They clustered around me. “I want you to read my novels.” Nancy shoved her notebooks onto the podium.

“I brought a little poem,” Gladys said.

Over the sea of heads, I saw Gloria head for the door. Her long dark hair hid her face but not her fear. She glanced over her shoulder at me. “My husband called. I left the oven on at home.”

Before I tried to figure out why Gloria’s husband couldn’t just turn off the oven, Ella nudged closer. Dollar bills and checks fanned out in her hand. “Looks like this class is a go,” she said.



California author Bonnie Hearn Hill taught writing for twenty years, and this selection is from a memoir-in-progress. Her fourteenth novel, IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN, will publish in the UK in July, 2015 and in the United States four months later. She writes suspense dealing with social justice and women’s issues, and a film based on one of her books is currently in pre-production. Last month, twenty-five years after that first class, her student Gloria’s book was brought out by a large inspirational publisher.



Life’s Lessons by Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

Life’s Lessons Reveal Who We Become

Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

What is the purpose of life if not for the love of our children and how we prepare them to become strong, positive role models for the next generations to come? Isn’t it our inherent responsibility to shape the hearts and minds of our little ones to ensure that the mark we leave on them will pass solid values onto their own children? Thankfully, most families achieve this nurturing lifestyle on a variety of acceptable levels, most in close healthy and loving relationships.

Regretfully, not all children get to wake up each morning to a cheerful family atmosphere. These are the hidden children whose suffering is endured in secret while, for all intents and purposes, the truth is lurking just behind the eyes and closed doors of their hearts. Though such families appear to the outside world to lead a normal existence, these are the children who lose their innocence through suffering neglect and abuse. They never learn to share their pain safely with the very people who might be in a position to help, and they are too afraid to reach out to strangers. Imagine the tiny child who has every right to expect love and affection from her parents but is deprived of it from early childhood. Such a child may never learn to smile naturally or trust the very people who are responsible for her welfare and who gave her life. Such a child wears the heartbreak in every fibre of her body, locked in so tightly that she fears she will never find the key to safety or happiness. We may all know such a child but rarely do we comprehend the depth of heartbreak and nature of the influence that such a child may bring to bear on her own future and her descendants. It is entirely the responsibility of such a child to find the right turns in life, if only by adopting role models to hold dear. Her dreams may be her only reality where she pulls those she loves into her own world. Sadly, many such children are not so fortunate and without intervention will never see the light of a healthy and wholesome existence.

Now, imagine the little girl who never experienced affection or any love whatsoever from her Mommy, yet witnessed it given to a younger sibling in full measure. This is a little girl who bore the daily physical and emotional welts inflicted by a sadistic Mother and patently ignored by a Daddy who loved her but lacked the backbone to intervene. This child would pray nightly, “Please God, why does my Mommy hate me so much? Please make her love me!” “Please God, let me come live with you.” She cries out in fear and pain each day as she tends to her wounds that resulted from yet another beating. These and so many more tragic examples are true accounts of one such child’s memoir that persisted from four to fifty-four.

Do you know a child suffering from such abuse?

Next I ask you: Is it possible for such a deprived individual to overcome the trauma of childhood abuse and move on to raise her children in a loving and responsible way? My answer is yes; however, the damaged life experience will never leave the forefront of the victim’s memory while specific events will remain buried until they are triggered to rear their ugly heads when least expected. As a victim of such a traumatic lifestyle, I am testimony that the ravages of abuse can be largely overcome. I emerged a strong and determined survivor with an iron will to help and teach others how I did it in the hope that it will assist them as well. Are there hangovers from the past? You bet! Have I overcome all of them? No way, but I consider it my life’s work to continue to learn and contribute to the welfare of abused children and adults in the best way that I can. Can parents give what they have never experienced themselves? In other words, can they teach what they don’t know? I believe that some can and some will, while acknowledging that others yet will never have the chance to find out. My prayers are with these perfect little ones, both here and in Heaven.

And so we come to the purpose of my message, and it is hope. Hope comes in many shapes and forms and often of a magnitude that can educate en masse. I now introduce you to a significant organization which has dedicated itself to educate and protect innocent children from every nature of abuse you can possibly conjure up. Dreamcatchers for Abused Children is that agency, and they will help no matter the nature of the abuse or the location. They are a non-profit agency and depend on private funding to reach out. Naturally, I support this agency financially and in spirit.

It wasn’t until I got involved with their program in a very small way, that I discovered the many facts surrounding this, what I call epidemic behavior, worldwide. Some of these facts will absolutely astonish you and perhaps rip at your emotions, because you may know someone who fits the description but for whatever personal reason have been reluctant or unable to intervene. We just don’t know enough about that secret life behind closed doors to spur us into action, but I urge you to reach out if you suspect a child is in trouble. If you would close your eyes for just a moment and imagine being beaten with whatever weapon is handy and having the flesh torn from your body while screaming the words “I promise I will be better,” then a picture emerges of how it is for so many victims. Most such criminals, and that is what abusers are, will never be prosecuted, but by helping the victims at the root of their tragedy, we inspire hope and immense potential for carrying a positive message forward to the next generations to come.

Dreamcatchers for Abused Children may be contacted at: http://www.dreamcatchersforabusedchildren.com.

A few thoughts to ponder as given to me from http://www.childhelpusa.org:

• 1 in every 3 girls will be sexually molested before the age of 18
• 1 in every 6 boys will be sexually molested before the age of 18
• Every 10 seconds, a child is raped or killed in the U.S.
• Today, up to 5 children will die from abuse or neglect
• 85% of the 1.2 – 1.5 million runaways are fleeing abuse at home
• In 13 seconds, another child will be abused in the U.S.
• ONLY 28% of the children identified as harmed by abuse are investigated
• Today 6 children will commit suicide
• Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death (ages 15-24)
• The typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children– most of whom do not report the offense

Imagine the outcry if these statistics represented a disease, which was wiping out 5 children per day, victimizing millions, and whose by-products were disabilities and expanding violence. The good news is that many can find their way to a peaceful resolution if they NEVER GIVE UP, but if more people reach out to help, these new hands will be welcomed by Dreamcatchers and by the victims themselves.

Take my hand so that we can fight this thing called abuse together. It cycles in families, and if victims cannot find their way out, it can and most often does, keep on going.

Through life’s lessons, I have learned who I am. Through these lessons, I hope to share the roads I have walked so others won’t have to walk them alone.

Video Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5DFxtGKK8I

Reflections of Mamie-A Story of Survival
Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins

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