Tag Archive | learning

Critics and My Soul

One thing I’ve never told my blogging friends is my love of classical music. It started back in high school when our choir sang pieces by the old composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I had a dream someday I might sing on Broadway, but I listened to the dream dashers in my life and went on to work in an office instead of pursuing MY dreams in college.

Years went by and as a young mother, I was invited to join a semi-pro group of singers which performed entire movements by the same composers I enjoyed in high school. Up until then, I always had the best voice in the whole choir. Now I was surrounded by sopranos who could sing as well as I could.

After a year in the group, I figured it was time to let the director know I wanted to sing a solo in the Schubert Mass. He agreed and assigned me the Kyrie. I learned very quickly the piece required more skill than I possessed because every time I opened my mouth, unpleasant noises came out of me. As hard as I tried, I could not successfully sing the solo. Luckily, one of the women in the group was a voice teacher, so I asked her if she would take me on as a student. I knew getting help was necessary, but my ego got bruised admitting I didn’t know everything about singing.

Weeks of exercises, vocalises, and hours of practicing got me in shape to sing the Kyrie. When the big moment came, the first couple of bars were a little shaky, but after that, I relaxed and the high notes floated out on pitch. After the concert, the compliments came my way and I felt accomplished, but I wanted more chances to stand out so I continued my voice lessons.

At that point in my life, I needed to be recognized and my voice was the only tool I had. People wanted to listen to me, and that fact made me happy. I was something more than a daughter, wife, and mom. My voice let me be me. And if anyone ever criticized me, I felt wounded. Later on I confessed this fact with the director and he said, “Of course a negative comment would hurt you, Barb; it’s the artist in you; it’s your very soul.”

I don’t sing regularly any more; my arthritic hip doesn’t allow me to stand in one place for an entire hour. Instead I’ve carried my thirst to be special in my writing and in my art work. I “work” at both endeavors and luckily my soul has grown a thick enough skin to let the critics take their best shot because I know every time I sit at the keyboard or at the easel, whatever I produce will be better than it was in the past. It’s called growing. When you think you know it all, dive in and you’ll realize how little you really know.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 22

North Africa-November—When Josie completed the training in Arizona, she left Camp Young feeling strong, confident, and ready to get to work. She easily adapted to Army life, attributing her easy assimilation to growing up on a farm where she experience hard work and waking in the early hours of the morning.

After four weeks of Army hardening, Josie’s orders sent her to an Army hospital in Topeka Kansas. She cared  for retired and wounded veterans who returned home for rehabilitation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, she would be one of sixty nurses attached to the 48th Surgical Hospital Unit. This would be her first job as a surgical nurse. She also was chosen to supervise the activities of ten other nurses. She called her mother as soon as she got her orders for deployment to North Africa.

“Hi, Mom!” Josie said with excitement in her voice.

“Josie, how wonderful! How are you, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine. I’m calling to tell you I received new orders.”

Mrs. Schneider held her breath. “Oh, that’s nice, dear.”

“I’m assigned to the 48th Surgical Hospital.” She took a deep breath before she uttered the next sentence. “We’re going Africa.”

“What?”

“Please be happy for me, Mom. I finally get a chance to use my training.  I’m going to be a surgical nurse!”

“You’re going to Africa? Isn’t it really hot there?”

“Of course the weather is hot in Africa; that’s why we trained in the Arizona desert for six weeks. I ship out in two weeks.”

Mrs. Schneider’s stomach churned. “Will you come home before you leave?”

Josie recognized a quiver in her mother’s voice. “Now, Mom. I’ll be fine. If I can survive boot camp, I can do anything.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes. The Army is sending me home for a few days before I ship out. I bet after being under your feet for a few days, you’ll be glad to send me packing after you see what the army has done to me.”

“You aren’t going to sound revelry, are you?” Her mother forced a laugh. “A bugle will scare the chickens!”

Josie smiled at her mother’s attempt at humor. “I love you, Mom. I’ll be home soon.”

“I love you too, Josie.” Her mother sat down on a kitchen chair and took deep breaths. She closed her eyes and forced herself not to think her little girl going to war.

Chapter 23

New York – October—After flying from Kansas to New York City, Josie and sixty other nurses met at the dock where a transport ship would take them and hundreds of soldiers to the coast of North Africa. Once they boarded the ship, the nurses learned they would be part of the first wave of Operation TORCH to hit the beach in North Africa.

On the morning of November 8th, Josie climbed down an rope ladder on the side of the destroyer to a Higgins boat bobbing in the surf below. She and the other nurses were dressed in fatigues, army boots, and four-pound steel helmets. They were  indistinguishable from the men except for the Red Cross patch they wore on their sleeve. Instead of a rifle and ammunition, each nurse carried a backpack of medical supplies, a small canvas bag with a shoulder strap called a musette bag, a gas mask, and a canteen filled with drinking water, which hung on a belt around her waist.

The boats sped to the beach and dropped the ramps in waist-high water; soldiered ran ahead firing as the nurses followed them onto the beach. Gunfire whizzed by, and the unarmed nurses got down on their bellies and crawled on their elbows to the nearest sand dune. Josie huddled with five other nurses as the enemy snipers shot at anything moving. The girls lay pinned down for hours with no escape. When darkness fell, a handsome lieutenant and his patrol escorted them to an abandoned shack along the shoreline where casualties of the day waited for treatment. Josie gasped she got close to the shack they used as a hospital. Thoughts swam in her head. “How are we ever going to keep instruments sterile in such a place? Will our supplies be enough? How in the world am I going to organize such a dump?”

When they entered the “hospital” the odors of filth, dirt, blood, and urine lingered in the air. Seeing the deplorable conditions made several nurses gag and vomit. They soon learned the building had no electricity and running water. Worse yet, the medical supplies they ferried in on their backs didn’t provide nearly enough to properly treat every wounded man. Josie looked beyond the horrid conditions and took command. She assigned two nurses to cover the blown out windows with rough green army blankets to prevent snipers from picking them off in any light. Next she triaged the wounded, and  at her direction corpsmen  moved the most severely wounded upstairs to the make-shift operating room. The rest of the wounded  laid in pools of their blood on the concrete floor while nurses bandaged what they could while rats and other vermin nosed about. Some men cried out, but others bit their lips trying not to cry out in pain. None of them complained.  They understood help  finally was within reach, and they thanked the nurses for any kindness or pain relief.

Doctors operated by flashlights held by corpsmen in the make-shift operating room. Surgical nurses stood beside doctors for hours repairing what they could with the limited supplies they carried ashore. When the doctors closed the wounds of one soldier, another wounded GI took his place. Surgery went on through the night. As the sun rose, six more soldiers held on for their turn on the table. But supplies dwindled. Morphine and either got to critical levels. The continued fighting on the beach prohibited getting the much needed supplies to the hospital. In the meantime medical personnel did their best to keep the men alive.

The doctors and nurses hung on for two days. With no sleep for forty-eight hours, Josie collapsed where she stood. A sergeant hoisted her willowy frame and laid her down on a blanket in the hallway. As she slept, a surging anger fired combative dreams. Why would any nation inflict such suffering and misery on so many?

Chapter 24

Anrath, Germany – December—Prisoners at the Anrath facility toiled sixty hours per week, while civilian workers only worked forty. They worked in abhorrent conditions. Rayon dust produced breathing problems. Vapors from the highly acidic material nearly blinded workers. If a civilian worker complained, she received treatment immediately, but prisoners did not get such care. German overseers forced prisoners to stay at their machines until they went totally blind.

As Emma toiled, the wardress stood in front of Emma and announced, “You received a letter from Paris, frauline.” She waved the envelope. In a glance Emma recognized Marta’s distinct handwriting. She lunged at the wardress and tried to snatch the letter from her. The witch pulled back and laughed. “You cannot read this, frauline. Remember no letters allowed. I just wanted to tell you that you got mail.”

Emma slumped back into her chair. She lowered her head as her vision blurred with tears. Up until now, nothing defeated her, but seeing Marta’s letter and not being able to read her words defeated her to the point of not caring any more.

*****

Viscose burns were a constant source of agony for the women who worked in the rayon factory. Civilians received gloves to protect their hands, while the prisoners received none. Working with bare hands produced cuts and blisters. Emma’s left hand developed six viscose wounds and her right hand suffered from three. The acid ate into her untreated wounds, making them swell and blister. She endured excruciating pain, and if she complained, the guards would beat her.

The wounds on Emma’s hands got worse as the weeks passed, but the factory doctor still considered her fit to work. She needed water to make a dressing for her wounds, but prisoners received no water for wounds or thirst.

After returning to her cell after a ten-hour day, Emma tore a strip of cloth from her work dress hem and soaked the fabric with her own urine. Then she wrapped the wet rags around her hands. Much to her surprise, the pain eased, and she fell fast asleep. After that first night, Emma repeated the process every night.  In a few days, her hands began to heal. The improvement empowered her to fight on. She outwitted the cruelty of everyone in power at the prison. Her cleverness brought a small miracle.

*****

Weeks after Emma’s hands healed, her eyes got so bad from the vapors, she not only experienced blurred vision but suffered debilitating stabbing pains in her irritated eyes. Splitting headaches accompanied the lingering neck pains. Then blindness and the pain made it impossible for her to work. Emma complained to wardress and didn’t care if she received a beating. Her reflection in the store windows attested she appeared half dead already.

The overseer shook his head and dragged her to the factory medic. The doctor probed her eyelids with filthy fingers. He deemed Emma unfit for work, but instead of receiving treatment for her injuries, she found herself in a group of women who suffered the same injuries.  The pitiful women sobbed in pain; Emma wanted to cry with them, but her pride wouldn’t let her. Worst of all, the time away from her machine gave Emma time to think. Of course, her first thought wondered what Marta wrote in her letter. Part of her wished to ignore the letter’s existence, but she consoled herself that now with inflamed eyes, she probably couldn’t read it anyway.

 

 

That Four-Letter Word: WORK

When I first started painting about three years ago, I just looked at the activity as a tool of stress release. Every afternoon I walked to the back bedroom and slopped some pigment on canvas and called it painting.

Painting, like writing, needs constant attention and practice to get better, so I reached out to my friend Marie who is an outstanding water color artist. At the time she lived in Florida and tried to tutor me over the computer. Learning this way was difficult; I wished I could have attended one of her classes, but I got a little better.

Last summer she moved back home to Racine. Marie out-lived most of her Florida friends, and she wanted to be near her children here in Racine. Since coming back north, Marie has continued to work with me to hone my painting skills.

What I’ve learned through this journey is any artistic talent needs to be honed. Finding and inspiring teacher is a gift and a curse. The teacher can pinpoint the things you need to work on and other things you are do well. The curse is this: if you listen to your teacher and become aware of the proper techniques to use, every time you sit down to do something you started as fun becomes work. Yup, that nasty four-letter word. . . WORK.

I’m not saying work is bad, I’m just saying the activity would never be the same. I felt the same when I took voice lessons and writing classes. I always need a challenge and staying in a stagnant place is harder than striving for better results. So, WORK shows up. Just remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You be the judge.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 (Continued)

Chapter 19

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – Summer, 1940—Mrs. Schneider welcomed Donna to stay in Josie’s bedroom, until Josie came home for the summer. By that time, Donna saved enough money to afford an apartment of her own. She moved into a small, affordable flat downtown within walking distance from her office.

By now Rosalie had recovered from Angelina’s birth, and baby Angelina became her mother’s most precious little girl. Angelo worked overtime on Saturdays, so the girls could visit without male intervention. Autolite got a government contract to make spark plugs for military boats which required the line to be redesigned and Angelo had been promoted to “Apprentice Mechanic” at the plant. Rosalie missed her usual leisurely Saturday morning breakfast with Angelo, but today she happily prepared the house for a visit with Donna and Josie.

Rosalie greeted them with a broad smile. “I’m so glad you both are here. Come in!” She hugged them as they entered the cozy little home. “I made some tea sandwiches and cinnamon rolls for us. Let’s go into the kitchen.”

Donna and Josie gave Rosalie the flowers the brought and followed Rosalie into her bright delightful kitchen. The white walls made the small kitchen appear large. The tiled black and white floor, the trend of the time, gave the room a diner-like aura. White painted cupboards lined two of the four walls, and a new white Formica counter-top edged in chrome trim matched the chrome lighting fixture which dangled from the ceiling. Rosie painted the table and chairs white to match the cupboards. Images of bright red geraniums appeared in the wallpaper, which brought some warmth into the otherwise sterile setting.

The table top was covered with a crisp white and red checked tablecloth, and three heavy restaurant mugs sat waiting to be filled. A dessert plate and a linen napkin sat beside the cup. In the center of the table Rosie arranged the sandwiches in an attractive configuration with colorful fruit pieces surrounding them.

“Jeez, Rosie, your kitchen looks like one pictured in ‘Better Homes and Garden’s magazine.” Donna said. “And I can’t wait to bite into one of those luscious rolls! You’ve become a real Suzy Homemaker, sweetie.”

Josie concurred. “You and Angelo really made a nice cozy home.”

Rosalie beamed. “Thanks. I’m just so glad to have you both over. It seems like eons since we’ve been together. Since the baby, I don’t get out much.” Rosalie looked down. She didn’t want to talk about the birth or her lack of nurturing behavior she felt toward the baby after she got home from the hospital.

“Are you back to normal now?” Josie asked.

“The birth was hard and my recovery took about two months, but I’m okay now. When I first got home, I felt pretty sick, but now it is all worth it. Gina is my precious little girl. I can’t wait to show you how she’s grown!”

The girls relaxed and spent the afternoon catching up on their lives until a tiny cry came  from the next room. Rosalie jumped up to attend to her daughter while Donna and Josie waited for her to return. The new mother came back in a couple of minutes with a rosy cheeked, chubby little baby girl dressed from head to toe in pink.

“Well, no doubt she’s your little Italian girl! Look at those big brown eyes and curly red hair! Oh, Rosalie, she’s the cutest thing!” Donna said. “When Angelo made her, he definitely followed the pattern in front of him.”

“Donna!” Josie blushed. “Sometimes the things you say!”

Rosie giggled, “You can’t deny she’s right.”

Josie smiled. Seeing Rosalie with a baby on her hip seemed unreal.  After all a year ago they just graduated from high school. But when Rosalie lifted her blouse to nurse the baby, Josie and Donna felt a little uncomfortable; Rosalie’s reality was a little too much for both of them.

 

Chapter 20

Paris, France-August—The summer of 1940 changed Paris, even though the Nazis wanted the world to believe French citizens went about their lives in the same way they did before the occupation. They allowed many cultural aspects go on without interference. In reality, life in Paris existed with a threatening undercurrent.

The occupation spoiled Paris for Marta. The city no longer appeared as a new toy she wanted to unwrap and explore. Her adventure ceased. Fear took hold.

As Emma predicted, the Nazis required the French Jewish citizens to wear yellow stars on their clothing; they also sectioned off a part of the city for them to live in. Marta hoped Paris would be different from the other cities across Europe, but as time went on, Paris followed the rest of Europe under German rule.  Defenseless people took beatings from Nazi thugs in the streets. Their barbarian behavior made others flee because if they came to the aid of the Jewish man, they received the wrath of the attackers too.

Emma cautioned Marta to be alert at all times. “Marta, you must never be alone. Always walk to the trolley with other people. If you sense you are being followed, duck into a store or cafe where other people are gathered. Never be alone with any Nazi even though you might have gone to school with them. They might consider you a traitor.”

Marta nodded. “I want to gag when they come into the Louvre, especially when giggling French girls are with them. I suppose the girls think they will be treated better by befriending our captors.”

Emma nodded. “Do not worry about such girls. They will suffer in the long run.”

*****

One warm afternoon Marta left the Louvre after her shift and walked to the plaza where she always met her friend Brigetta to ride the trolley home. Today Brigetta seemed to be late because Marta did not find her in the groups which usually gathered there.

Hairs on the back of Marta’s neck stood up when she sensed a SS officer was watching her like a menacing hawk. A chill washed over her when she realized he now walked in her direction. Emma’s words rang in her head as she looked around to seek refuge from this possible stalker. She quickened her gait toward the trolley stop. Where is Brigetta? Her heart hammered as the man in black got closer. The click of his heavy black boots on the stone plaza quickened. Marta ran. Her Nazi pursuer picked up his pace too. Then he yelled, “Marta, please Stop!”

She gasped when she realized the voice belonged to Franz Reinhart.

Marta squirmed like a trapped mouse. She saw no escape. She decided to be pleasant and then excuse herself after a few cordial words.

Franz came up behind her. “Marta! It is you!”

“Franz! What a surprise!” She smiled sweetly.

He smiled back. “When we marched into Paris, I hoped I would meet you again.”

“Really? Why? Leisel wrote and said you are now a married man.”

He looked sheepish. “Well, yes. But we still can be friends. Right?”

She said nothing and looked at her feet.

He shifted his weight from foot to foot like an awkward secondary student. “We did not leave things on a good note before you left the Fatherland.”

“You are right. We did not.” She turned to walk away from him.

He rushed to stay by her side. “I would like to make up for our argument. Can I buy you a glass of wine?”

“You need not be sorry, Franz. I remember you did nothing wrong. I’ll take the blame, but I must go.” She continued toward the trolley stop.

“Please, frauline. I insist.” He grabbed her elbow with a pinching grip and steered her into the nearest tavern called the Le Cheau. He pushed her onto a stool at the bar and barked, “Bitte sitzen.”

She sat on his order.

He banged on the bar to demand service. He ordered a beer for himself and a glass of Merlot for her. When the drinks came, Franz took a long swig of his beer and wiped the foam on his face with the back of his hand. “Not exactly as good as home, but it will do.”

Marta didn’t attempt to drink the wine.

His smile turned to a scowl. “What? Why will you not drink with me? Now that you are in Paris, are you too superior to drink with me?” His voice boomed with a threatening tone.

“Franz, please.” She whispered. “I do not drink alcohol.”

He turned to the other patrons in the bar. “Do you believe a beautiful girl in Paris does not drink wine? The only answer must be she must not be a true French woman, ja?” He laughed.

The patrons seemed to shrink into their booths, and they kept their heads down staring into their drinks.

Marta jumped off the stool. “I am expected at home, Franz. I need to go.”

He caught her arm and twisted her back on the stool and screamed, “Bitte sitzen!”

Sensing trouble, the other patrons got up and left. The bartender scurried into the back room.

“Do you understand what I suffered after you left Berlin?” He yelled.

“Yes. You went on with your life and married Leisel.” She said flatly. “I would think you would be very happy.” She faked a smile.

Franz rose, went to the door, and turned the lock. The bartender ran out the back door slamming the door.

Marta gulped. She was alone to fend for herself.  She froze.  Franz snickered. “It seems your superior French countrymen realize I want to be with you alone, mademoiselle.”

Marta attempted to leave, but Franz dragged her back to a bar stool. He slammed the glass of wine down on the bar. “I will teach you to love wine.” He snarled before he pulled her head back by her hair and poured the wine over her face. “I said we will drink together.”

She sputtered as the wine went up her nose. “Franz, stop!”

“Stop! I am just getting started!” He poured another glass of wine from a bottle sitting on the bar. He slammed the full glass down in front of her and ordered. “Trinken!”

Her hand shook as she picked up the glass and sipped the bitter vintage.

“Much better.” He sneered as he gulped down another beer.

Trinken!” He ordered again. Obediently, she gulped down the wine. Her cheeks warmed and turned red before the wine sent a numbing sensation throughout her body.

“You lied to me, mademoiselle. You do like wine. The blush shows in your pretty traitor face.” He poured another glass. “Trinken!”

Marta wanted his assault to stop. She tried conversation. “So Franz, tell me how you like married life.”

He growled. “I do not want to talk about Leisel.”

“Why?”

“Because she is not the girl I wanted. The good things about her are her flawless beauty, and she’s a lioness in bed. I married her because her father is rich and a senior officer.” He gulped down another glass of beer. “Her old man helped me get good assignments and rise in the ranks.” He pulled at his collar. “I am already a full lieutenant!” His speech started to slur his words.

He slithered close to her. He turned her on the stool to face him then pulled her onto her feet. His arms engulfed her, and he pulled her into his body. The scent of stale beer lingered in his breath as he kissed her mouth with force. His forceful tongue lunged into her mouth. She clenched her jaws shut and struggled to push him away. “Marta. Do not play with me. Clearly, you want me. Do not fight me.”

“What?” Her voice quavered.

“You know you want me.”

“I know nothing of the sort. Let me go, Franz.”

“Not before I get what I want!” He tore at her blouse, ripping the buttons away, exposing her bra. His face turned to stone.

Marta pulled her blouse tightly across her body and attempted to reach the door.

The strong man screamed. “Oh no. You will not deny me!” He wrenched her arm and tore her blouse away. He unlatched her bra and her breasts spilled out. “You will not get away, my little bird.”

Marta stood shivering, too frightened to move. He paced around her like a threatening panther before he grabbed her breast and squeezed with a crushing grasp. He bent down and bit her nipples.

She cried, “Franz, stop! No! You are hurting me!”

He dismissed her pleas. He pressed himself closer His arousal evident.  She squirmed and beat his chest.

He taunted. “You have become a weak little bird, mademoiselle.”

Marta snarled. “Stop! I do not want you! You are disgusting and crude.”

Nein! You will surrender to me!” He pulled out his pistol and pointed the gun at her. “Nehmen sie rock aus!” He ordered her to take off her skirt.

She didn’t move. He moved toward her and put the gun to her head. “Nehmen sie rock aus!”

She stared at him with hate and spat in his face. “I would rather die.”

He backhanded her with the pistol. She reeled backward and crashed into a chair before falling to the ground.

She screamed.

He picked her up with one hand, reached around her back, and unbuttoned the closure of her skirt. Now she stood only in her panties, garter belt, and stockings.

His nose flared as he pawed at her underwear to fully expose her. He growled, “I wanted this since my fourteenth birthday. You shamed me when you rejected my marriage proposal last summer. But before you die, you will experience a real man!” He slammed her face down over one of the tables.

The impact with the table bruised her cheek. Her attacker held her head down with a powerful grip and laid his two hundred pounds of muscle on top of her. Marta shuddered when his belt buckle hit the tiled floor with a clunk. His sweating legs pushed up against her. He separated the cheeks of her buttocks. She screamed as a piercing pain split her in half. His hand smothered her cries as he growled, “Halt den Mund!” She obeyed to keep quiet while she swallowed the powerful pain.  He thrust himself in and out of her virginal body until she collapsed. His semen ran down her legs, leaving a warm sticky mess behind. As soon as he withdrew himself, he spun her around and forced her to look at him. Tears streamed down her face.

“Oh, poor little Marta.” He hit her again. “Am I not good enough for you?” Anger burned in his eyes.

Marta trembled and remained silent. He crushed her onto the table and attacked her again; this time he faced her. After he ejaculated the second time, he collapsed in a chair and closed his eyes. Marta realized this might be the only chance to escape.  She dragged her violated body into the backroom. She stumbled into a shelf of bottles, and the crash of glass woke him. He rushed toward the sound and caught her just before she got to the door. He grabbed her and forced her back into the bar. He had once again regained an erection. He threw her down onto the cold tiled floor and dropped on top of her. He attacked her even more violently than before; Her skin tore as his animal groans made her choke on her vomit.

Marta slipped into unconsciousness. Franz removed himself from her body, stood, and sneered at her. “Never again will you be superior to me! You bitch! No one humiliates Franz Reinhart.” He spat. “You can thank me, frauline. At least you experienced a real man before you die!”

The last thing Marta remembered was the sound of the small bell above the front door tinkling as he left.

*****

When she regained consciousness, the darkness shrouded the bar. Marta struggled to get to her feet, but her broken body didn’t cooperate with her wishes. She lapsed into unconsciousness again. The street lights lit the front of the bar when she woke again. Her head throbbed. A sharp pain pierced her chest when she took a breath. She tasted her own blood from a gash on her lower lip. She couldn’t open her right eye. She crawled to retrieve her torn, dirty clothing. Getting dressed took over an hour. She used a bar towel to wrap her head and to hide her battered face. She limped to the trolley stop, willing herself not to pass out before boarding the vehicle.

She exited the trolley at her usual stop and stumbled in the direction of her flat. She opened the door and collapsed on the stairs. She broke down and sobbed. She cried in a weak voice, “Emma. Emma. Please help me!”

Emma poked her head out of their apartment to find a woman lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh my god!” She rushed down not wanting to believe the woman could be Marta. “Marta! My darling! Whatever happened?”

Marta gazed at Emma with pleading eyes. She wept from the bottom of her soul sounding much like a dying animal.

Marta leaned heavily on Emma to travel up the stairs. She removed the towel from around her head and gasped when she revealed Marta’s battered face.

Anger rose in Emma’s chest.  “Who did this to you?”

Marta eyes went blank. She trembled unable to speak.

Emma laid Marta in their bed and stripped off her tattered clothes. Her bruises came alive throughout her entire body.  Emma cried as she cleansed Marta’s wounds. She redressed Marta in a soft cotton nightgown and covered her with a warm blanket. “I will be here for you, my darling. Do not worry. No one will ever touch you again.” Emma never told Marta she bought a gun and kept it in the night table beside her bed.

Marta’s sobs turned to whimpers like a puppy on his first night away from his litter mates. She fell asleep and Emma’s heart broke as tears rolled down her cheeks imaging what Marta had endured. “I love you, Marta. You are safe.” Emma whispered.

After several hours of vigilance beside Marta’s bed, Emma slipped into the kitchen. She made a cup of tea and tried to quell the rage overtaking her. She had toyed with the idea of volunteering for the French Resistance movement for a long time, and Marta’s attack made her decision clear. She would serve the resistance in any capacity.

 

Curiosity Results in Life-Long Learning

curiosityPeter Mallet’s blog is one of my favorite blogs. He’s dedicated his blog to giving other writers very good advice. He also offers a variety of links to other helps a writer can use. While I was reading his post this morning, I came across these words:

“The best writers are curious. I think the addition to that rule should be, “Always strive to know more than you do at any given moment.” Never stop learning.”

In those two sentences, Peter summed me up. I think this is why I chose to write historical fiction. First, I was curious about the time period of my parents, and second, I constantly love to learn things I didn’t know.

Right now, I’m researching women  pilots of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Most people have heard about Amelia Earhart, but have you heard about Jackie Cochran? Did you know that British women and American women pilots provided a valuable service of ferrying planes from the factories to the airfields, so men could devote their time to combat flying? Did you know there were women who actually flew in combat? I didn’t either until I started researching.

I believe my natural curiosity drove my mother nuts because she felt, as my parent, she needed to know everything instead of saying, “I don’t know, let’s go find out together,” she made something up. That technique worked until I got old enough to prove her wrong. From then on, I never asked her questions any more. Instead, I headed for my neighbor’s encyclopedias.

When my children came along, I thought the best thing I could do for them was cultivate their curiosity. As we drove along in the car, I’d say something like, “I wonder why that tree grew so crooked.”  As we walked through a park, I’d ask, “I wonder what kind of flower that is.” Then we would go home and look up the answer. I wanted my girls to be aware of the world around them, and I wanted them to grow up asking their own questions.

One of the things which concerns me is the lack of curiosity I’ve seen in today’s young people. I would be happy if they had questions and satisfied them quickly by searching the Internet. They have this powerful tool as close as their “smart” phones, but they are more apt to text their friends and wonder, “Whatssup?”

We live in a world where if you stop learning and asking “Why?”, you may as well lay down and die. When I see this kind of attitude in my students, I worry about their futures as well as that of our country. Curiosity is cultivated by parents and teachers. We need to ask our children, “What do you think?” Light their fire. Make them think. Get them excited about the world around them.

The Final Chapter on Teaching

colorful libraryThis is the time of year we all get excited about the holidays, except if you are a student and are coming down the home stretch with final exams leering in the near future. Last night was the last class that I will teach for the year; the two remaining class periods will include a practice test and then a FINAL exam.

We covered our final chapters last night, and I gave the students one final opportunity to raise questions on topics they still have failed to grasp. I can’t say I was surprised at some of the topics — like antecedents, appositives, comma placement, reflexive pronouns, and infinitives. I was surprised, though, when I learned some were still having trouble with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. God knows why these parts of speech are so problematic.

I sure wish there was a magic bullet for these students. English, even when it is your first language, can be so tough to understand. Truthfully, I think the originators of the language wanted to keep outsiders out–kind of like an exclusive club with its secret handshake. Just when a person grasps a concept, there is always an exception. It’s a wonder how immigrants ever pick up our language. I’m happy I didn’t have to learn it; I was born with it. So I can be patient with students struggling with concepts we learned early on in the class.

The saddest part of this class session is the final curtain has fallen on my teaching. I need to devote more attention to Ken, as well as my writing. I have “fallen off the wagon” with my novel, and I want to devote myself to producing another good story by next spring. I also don’t want to deal with the cold and snow when my old bones creak. I would have been a very good bear in winter because I’d just like to hibernate until spring.

Yes, I’m closing this chapter of my life. I’m ending yet another career. Not surprisingly, the constant thread running through my varied careers has been writing. From now on, I will grow where I’ve been planted. I will write until I have passed this life and go on  to the next. Writing and reading take me away from my small living room in a small house in Mid-west America. I can travel anywhere I want to go from my recliner when my real life commands I must stay put.

Do I regret not teaching any more? Yes and No. I’m a little burned out when it comes to trying to excite students who have no curiosity. Students who watch me with a blank stare are impossible to reach. They have no desire to learn, and I wonder why they are in the classroom in the first place. No matter what I try, I don’t seem to be able to light a fire in these individuals. But I will miss those students who look at me with bright eyes and truly do their best work. Seeing their progression is a wonderful thing because I know they will succeed at whatever they decide to do after they leave me with a few more arrows in their education quiver.

Mondays and Antecedents

Garfield and MondayWell it was Monday again. As usual, I put off grading papers until the eleventh hour last night, so I had to get up early this morning to finish the job and post the grades on the school “blackboard” before I left to teach my nine o’clock class.

In the beginning of the semester, I put off grading papers because  the plethora of grammar and misspelling mistakes fill me with pain and show me how much work I have to do. By now, though, I am pleased to report most students have advanced leaps and bounds, and I enjoy hearing their stories. Why I procrastinate at this time of the semester, well, I don’t get it. I guess it’s just a bad habit I’ve fallen into.

Truly, I love this time of the semester with my folks. By now, I’m left with the people who really want to learn, and we’ve reached a level of trust. Today, we covered the different elements of pronouns. As I went through the text and stood in front of the room, I spied several heads looking at the test. Oh, no. Classroom, we have a problem!  I recognized some of the grammatical terms were perplexing them. OK, grammar has terms–after all, we have to call a part of speech by a specific term, otherwise we couldn’t communicate when we dissect sentences. A term like “Antecedent” threw them for a loop.

So, I shut the door and said in a quiet voice, “I want you all to know that this room is a safe place. If you don’t understand something, I’m not going to think less of you if you tell me you don’t understand. You are letting me know that I need to try again to help you turn on that little light in your head. If you’re having trouble, don’t you think someone else might be having the same problem? By asking a question, you’re helping your classmates and you’re helping me be a better teacher. And as long as I’m your instructor, I will do my best to help you learn.”  Everybody took a collective sigh of relief. It was like I recognized a huge elephant in the back of the room and had the audacity to talk about it.

Finally, a hand went up and the student said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t get this.” Then another student said, “I was having trouble, too.” We all laughed together and took another swing at antecedents. I felt confident when they walked out the door today of two things. One, I don’t think anyone will be afraid to ask a question going forward, and two, I had slayed the antecedent mystery.

It was a good day, wouldn’t you say?

A Day in The Life of an Adjunct Instructor

great teacherIf you have been following me for a while, you know I have been teaching writing as an adjunct instructor at the local community college for the past two years. I’d like to share something that happened in my class yesterday. I have a couple of darling male students who wanted to play the game, “Stump the Instructor.”  I realized what they were doing right away because I’ve been down this path before. I’m happy to tell you, the game was over as soon as it started when I flat out told them, “I don’t know everything. Look it up.”

I continued the class by telling him, “I don’t know everything about everything. But I know more about writing and English grammar than you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here.”  Done.

I think teachers who set themselves up as omniscient beings are asking for trouble. Even grade school children go to work to prove their parents and teachers are wrong about something. This is the very reason I tell my classes I don’t know everything. I tell them I make mistakes once in a while. I do so because it makes me human, and a better teacher.  My role is to coach and guide them through the class, instead of parking myself on some know-it-all pedestal. I want my feet firmly on the ground to connect with my students. I do this by sharing it wasn’t so long ago I was sitting in their seat. I tell them I was an adult student just like they are now, and say I understand they have other responsibilities in their life, which can throw a monkey wrench into their worlds once in a while. In the next breath, also share I graduated from college Magna Cum Laude in four years with two children and a part-time job. In other words, I subliminally say, “There are no excuses. If you want an education,  you will find a way to get it done.”

I know one of the best things they can do for themselves is to show up. When they are in class, they have the benefit of my experience. I give them tips on how to approach an exam, how to take good notes, and encourage them to ask “why?” As we go through the textbook from week to week, I try give them memory aids I’ve made up. Like ABIOOTU, which is my made up word for all two-letter prepositions. Then there’s the tried and tested, “I before E, except after “C” jingle.” And once in a while, I come up with something new. I before E

Yesterday as I stood at the white board explaining the difference between infinitives and prepositional phrases beginning with the word “to,” I had a spontaneous inspiration. I said,  “Here’s a Barbara tip  — the “V” in the word INFINITIVE tells you “to” is paired with a VERB, where as, the word PREPOSITION has an “N” so in this case, “to” is paired with a NOUN.” I realized I am a  frickin’ impromptu genius!

I love when my creativity has the chance to inspire others who want to learn. I even love teaching  students who still are lumps of clay, not sure if they want to learn. But I despise students who come to class only to collect their financial aid and have no intention of learning because they not only want cheat the system. Little do they know, they are cheating themselves, too.

So on it goes, from one class to another, from one textbook chapter to the next. Learning happens somewhere in the process. I can only hope that some of the things I try to teach will stick.

Sleepless, Sleepless Night

city scape (1)A couple of nights ago I couldn’t sleep, so I went out to the sofa at midnight and turned on the television. When this insomnia hits, the experts say I should not let anything electronic interfere with a dark, quiet room. Well, that just doesn’t work for me. I’ve already lain in my bed for hours trying to tell my body to nod off, so, I’ve formulated my own therapy to bring sleep . . . a couple of Tylenol and a television show that has a monotone narrator.

I’ve figured out I’m an auditory learner. I love sound. I learn by listening. I also am soothed by voices that show no excitement. So, History and Science channels are my drug of choice after midnight when I experience insomnia. With my head on my favorite pillow, my pug on my tummy, both of us covered by my favorite blankie, I let the illuminated television do its magic.

The program I chose was called, “The History of the World in Two Hours.”  Seeing over half of the program was over before I switched it on, I saved myself from all the whoo-ha about the big bang and the billions of years it took to make our solar system. I landed smack-dab in the middle of the development of humans. (The narrator made the point that if you shrunk the 14 billion years of the existence of the universe down to 14 days, the human experience would take up THREE SECONDS.)

And in those three seconds – boy have we been busy!

homo erectus (1)Did you know that we actually lived in trees at one time? And when the large trees disappeared because of some climate change that brought the grasslands into being, the trees became too crowded, so a few of us more enterprising humans decided to leave the tree apartment and venture out into the flat grass?

But the grass didn’t provide protection, so we got up on our two feet and stood erect, so we could see predators before they could see us. We learned to make cutting tools from rocks. We used those tools to hunt. We invented fire.  Being able to cook the food gave us more calories so our brains could grow bigger. We were on our way to conquer earth!

After a few more years, the larynx dropped down in our throats, and we learned to communicate through sound. We could talk! We developed language! We could share experiences! We broadened our experience through the experiences of others, and we got smarter because our world was bigger than our own experiences. Then we learned to write our language, and the world expanded even farther. We also did other marvelous things, like learning to plant seeds so we didn’t  have to totally rely on killing something in order to eat. But this ability to share experiences was the one thing that captured me.

I think being human makes us NEED to communicate with others. It might not be in our DNA, but being social certainly is part of the human experience. I think that’s why books are so important. I think we NEED to learn from each other. I think we NEED to listen to others. That’s why we have TWO ears and ONE mouth. We only learn by listening.

Interesting, isn’t it? Listening is more important than talking for any writer. Maybe that’s why we eavesdrop in restaurants and other public places. Or maybe we’re just basically nosy; I don’t know which. But at any rate our ears are always open and our eyes are always observing. Then we go home and write it down. God, I love being a writer!

And yes, eventually sleep does come in the early morning hours and when I wake,  I get up and write down my dreams.