- TERESA’S THOUGHTS:
On Monday I attended a writing group which meets in a conference room at our local library. This is not a critique group where writers share their work in progress. Instead, this group meets to write.
Most bring laptops we plug into a shared outlet at the center of the room. A few old school writers put pen to paper in notebooks and well-worn journals. Looking around the room, we seem rather ordinary. I wonder if J.K. Rowlings also seemed ordinary in the café’s she sat in while writing of muggles and wizards.
Sitting around four tables facing each other we write in silence for forty-five minutes until our leader signals we have earned a fifteen-minute break. We repeat this cycle four times. There is coffee and tea for those needing caffeine or peppermint hydration.
The woman I sat next to came prepared with a smoked turkey leg. During breaks she used her fingers to pull pieces of seasoned meat off to eat. Either she was a noisy chewer, or libraries make everything seem louder. At one point she began humming. I was both annoyed and in awe of her hutzpah.
During one of our writing breaks, we were invited to share our name and what we were working on. “My name is Teresa. I have written poetry and short stories but now I am working on a memoir,” I said.
One writer, a retired cop, writes for his mental health. One is beginning the third chapter of her life by taking off in an RV and documenting her journey in a blog. Another makes a living from a blog she started six years ago focusing on motherhood, running and a vegan lifestyle. Still another is using postcards from decades of living abroad to write a book just for her family. Unlike me, some had published books in genres like romance, western and teen fantasy.
In hindsight, my introduction was bland and cowardly. For what I am really doing is an autopsy of my own racism. I am an archeologist digging through the bones of my past. Uncovering clues my ancestors left and revisiting ways of believing which left me kind-hearted, yet blind.
I was scared to say all this for fear of what they would think. For isn’t racism a downer? A subject some feel is talked about way too much and should be left in the past. What this session of writing with others showed me, is I still have a way to go in being truthful and brave.
- WHAT I LEARNED THIS WEEK ABOUT WRITING:
I like using the delete key to make words disappear from the page. After I have written an initial draft of a chapter, I get satisfaction from going through it again and again to see what I can eliminate. How many redundancies can I find? How many examples can be cut? How many tangents did I go off on?
For while I want to get my point across, I do not want to bludgeon readers over the head or risk them dying of boredom. Keep it simple. Less if quite often more.
- EXCERPT FROM BOOK IN PROGRESS:
“Daniel described feeling as if he was being hunted like a wild beast in the forest. Once while traveling alone on horseback, he bravely stood his ground against an angry mob. Facing them, “bold as a lion,” with his finger on the trigger. Although he didn’t want any trouble, he was ready to, “blow them through,” if needed.
It was not uncommon for his children to hear shouting outside their home by those who wanted them gone. While Daniel and his teenage son Henry stood watch, Mary held her children close, trying to protect not only their small bodies, but their innocence in seeing the word as a safe place.
Daniel taught his children to never deny their faith, even in the face of potential violence. He viewed this as an unforgivable sin against God. He did however find creative ways to care for his family without going against his moral code. Once a city they were living in was under mob control which meant Mormons weren’t permitted to enter or leave the city to trade and get supplies. Daniel noticed well-dressed men who appeared to be Mormon were being targeted. Knowing he needed to provide for his family, he began wearing ragged clothes to blend in. He sewed a red patch to the shoulder of an old coat similar to those worn by the militia. This change in attire allowed him to move about more easily and even be given rations of food from wagons entering the city with supplies meant for the soldiers.
Growing up I learned of the hardships the early saints faced, but it wasn’t until reading Daniel’s journals and diving deeper, where I understood more clearly why their mass exodus to Utah was so critical. As a child I was proud of the Mormon pioneer’s fortitude and hoped I inherited some of their strength. Utah was a blessing for a people who spent nearly two decades seeking a place to live free of fear and violence. This is the reason July 24th, Pioneer Day, is celebrated each year with parades and fireworks. For on this day Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers entered Utah’s Salt Lake Valley.
But the story doesn’t end here, with my heart full of pride at all the early saints, like Daniel overcame. For what we are all accountable for is not just what we stood for, but what we stayed silent to.”