Archive for May, 2013

Do the Poor Know Your Name?

homeless_rect

I don’t know what I’m doing.

I know that I’m called to

be obedient to exhortations like “’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for
I met a man named James.  A quiet guy who shuffles about, generally keeps to himself (unless he needs to bum a smoke from you), and has a good nature about him.  We didn’t seem to have a lot in common and I struggled to find a way to connect with him.  Then I decided to shut up and listen.  James told me his story.  As I got to know him, I came to realize that James couldn’t read. me.’” (Matthew 25:40) and “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (I John 3:17).  But I didn’t know what that meant or what that may look like in my life.  All I know how to do is make friends.

(Continued on the Messy Spirituality web site)

Random Pics from My Seton Catholic Central High School Trip

I just came back from a whirlwind visit with students from Seton Catholic Central High School.  They are part of my buddy’s, Kevin Lucia, creative writing class.  I had the chance to read and critique their work, give a speech, and field their questions.  It was a total BLAST!  (Special thanks to the Farrell family who hosted me during my visit and Mary Sangiovanni for popping by for a visit!).

Kevin Lucia reflects on the visit here.

Here are some random pics (swiped from Kevin’s collection):

 

crit group 1 crit group 2 crit group 3
crit group 4 kids speech
speech1 swag Photo05291704_1

Also, my visit made the local news.  Remember, the camera adds 5 pounds.  And there must have been at least 6 cameras on me.

[Here’s the text for when the article goes away]

A visiting author is sharing some of his expertise with Seton Catholic Central students.

Acclaimed urban fantasy writer Maurice Broaddus, has been critiquing the work of students in teacher Kevin Lucia’s creative writing class. Broaddus is known for his trilogy The Knights of Breton Court which takes the tales of King Arthur’s Court and casts them in modern day inner city Indianapolis. In addition to writing, he also works with homeless people in Indianapolis.

Broaddus says it’s useful for young writers to integrate parts of their own lives into their story telling. “I actually do a lot of volunteer work with homeless teenagers. And so we were doing some writing exercises together, and I had thrown out just a random line of why don’t you imagine yourselves as princes and princesses of the streets. Just something random like that. And the idea just sort of stuck with me. And I’m like what would that look like for them to actually be modern day knights of the round table here in this environment?”

This is the third time Lucia has brought nationally-acclaimed writers in to speak to his class. After grant funding dried up this year, Lucia says his students held fundraisers to pay for Broaddus’s visit.

 

 

No More Secrets – By Reese Broaddus

So my oldest had a homework assignment to write a mystery.  His teacher said that I could help as long as Reese did most of the work (and we had to include at least 20 vocabulary words).  So this marks our first quasi-collaboration (though I don’t even rate a James Patterson-like acknowledgement of his co-writer).  Like with many authors, despite him being much older now (to the point where he brags about the peach fuzz mess he calls a mustache), he has the same author photo he’s had for years.

 

ReeseAbout the author:

Reese Broaddus is officially a middle grade student now.  He claims to hate writing, yet is continually called upon to do it anyway.  He dreams of being a famous quarterback or wide receiver but is content to grow up to be the man who signs the checks of famous quarterbacks or wide receivers.  He is no stranger to being published as his stories Surviving the Day and Police, as well as a love letter he once wrote, have appeared on this blog before.

 

 

No More Secrets

By Reese Broaddus

 

Javen Harper didn’t go to college to learn how to take a punch so well.  He was re-thinking his journalism major as he was being thrown into another set of lockers.  But sometimes he just couldn’t help himself, he had to just keep running his mouth.

“Is this what you did to Kyle?” Javen asked.

“You think this is funny?” Mitch Summer screamed at him.  His real name was Michael, but he had everyone call him Mitch.  He was the back-up quarterback for Oakwood University.  Go Rangers! Javen didn’t think quarterbacks would be so strong.  Mitch picked him up and held him against the locker with his left hand.  His right fist was cocked, ready to punch him in the face.

Javen held back his first answer, “no, but your momma is,” as that would probably get him punched.  Harder.  And it probably wouldn’t get him the information he wanted.  “I want to know why you were so mad at Kyle.”

“Why does it matter now?  He’s dead.”

“Because I think you had something to do with it.”

“Whatever.  Kyle couldn’t mind his own business either.”  Mitch calmed down, as calm as football players got.  He let him go and Javen collapsed into a pile.

“I heard you’d been beating up your girlfriend, Amanda.”  Javen massaged his arms and neck as he stood up, careful to keep an eye on Mitch in case he went all “Hulk smash!” on him again.  “Kyle tried talking her into leaving you.”

“Where’d you hear that?”  The hurt in Mitch’s voice seemed genuine.

“A reporter never gives up his sources,” Javen said.  “So, is it true?”

Before he could answer, the coach came running in.  “Do we have a problem in here?”

Javen and Mitch looked at each other and then said “no, sir” at the same time.

“Good.”  The coach turned to Javen.  “Only people who play sports are allowed in the locker room.”  The coach started to talk away, but kept his eye on them.

“Just so you don’t go spreading any lies, yeah, me and Amanda had problems, but that clinic filled her head with all sorts of noise.  But I didn’t hurt Kyle.  Much.”

#

Javen believed one thing:  people lie.  Everyone would fabricate stories to make themselves look good.  At best they weren’t impartial, reliable witnesses, especially when their own butts were on the line.  Some of what Mitch said rang true, even accidentally.  He confirmed that Amanda had been to the Campus Clinic.  It was obvious that Mitch was no paragon of integrity.  One of the reasons he was a back-up instead of a starter was because he’d been implicated in a scam to plagiarize term papers.

Javen had touched a nerve.  Mitch had a temper and he was easy to infuriate, even to the point of violence.  Quick to retaliate, he implied that he did hurt Kyle, thus explaining some of the bruises.  Amanda visited the Campus Clinic where Kyle volunteered.  Javen wondered how badly Mitch would have reacted if he’d asked “is this what you did to Amanda?”

#

From everything that he’d learned so far, Kyle Rapp was a great kid.  He was on the honor roll, volunteered at the Campus Clinic, and was a true community leader.  So it was a real tragedy when he killed himself.  He left a note in the printer that read:

i’m sorry for any trouble I caused theres no use for me in this world youre all better off without me.

Javen wanted to write a profile on the impact of a suicide on a campus, the usual kind of stuff, for the school paper.  Then he heard a rumor that the police were investigating the death as a homicide.  Javen’s best friend, Bryce Shaman, found the body.

“If the police think it’s a murder, they’re going to talk to all of Kyle’s friends,” Javen said.

“Kyle didn’t have very many friends,” Bryce said.  “No one really knew him, he was just another kid in their class.”

“Had he been different lately?”

“He’d been a little depressed.  I think working at the clinic was getting to him.”

“What kind of work did he do there?”  Javen asked.

“Worked their help line.”

“Listening to people’s problems all day will get you down.”

“He had trouble sleeping.  I think he may have gotten into drugs,” Bryce said.

“Why do you say that?”

“He’d been hanging around with Damon Lyon, a real scumbag of a drug dealer.  I even found him here once.  Said Kyle owed him money.”

“Police know about him?”

“I don’t know.  I doubt it.”

Javen had known Bryce since childhood.  He was so different these days.  He was no longer the fat kid in glasses.  Now he was lean and muscular, but not like a jock.  He wore contacts.  Little changes, but added together, they transformed him.  “Bryce, can I ask you something?”

“That’s what you’ve been doing, ain’t it?”

“Why didn’t you want me as a roommate?”

“They assign roommates randomly.”

“Not that randomly.”  Then Javen remembered that people lied.  “You could have listed me.  I listed you.”

“I know, but…” Bryce’s voice trailed off.  We hung out all the time in high school.  I just wanted to broaden things a bit.”

“But you hung out with Kyle in high school.”

“Not that much.  We were on the chess team together.”  So he was familiar but not …”

“… me,” Javen said.

“Not like that.  I just wanted a bigger circle of friends.  Look, here’s a key card.  Come over anytime.  We can hang out as much as ever.”

“Yeah, okay.”  Javen took the key while looking around at the messy dorm room.  “Take me through it again.  Describe how you found him.”

“I came back to the dorm room.  The lights were off.  I didn’t think Kyle was there.  I flipped on the lights.  Kyle was just sitting there on the floor, leaned against he closet, but slumped off to the side.  Like he was drunk and passed out.  Then I saw the belt around his neck and I freaked out.”

The first clue that things weren’t as they seemed was the bruises on Kyle’s body.

#

It wasn’t too hard to find Damon Lyon.  He always hung around in back of the Student Union Building by the dumpsters.  There was a small alcove between the buildings, full of deep shadows.  You could always see the orange glow of the cigarette he was smoking in the dark.

Javen was nervous as he approached him.  It wasn’t like he hung out with drug dealers all the time.  Damon flipped open his Zippo lighter, let the flame ignite, then flicked it shut.

Click-Psst-Clack.

Click-Psst-Clack.

Click-Psst-Clack.

“You Damon?” Javen asked.

“Who’s asking?”

“Javen.  Javen Harper.”

“You a narc?”

“Close.  A reporter.  Kinda.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say,” Damon said with a malicious grin.  “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll turn around, walk away, and don’t let my name cross your lips again.”

Javen wanted to turn around, walk away, and not let the name Damon Lyon cross his lips again.  In fact, he wanted to forget all about Kyle and his suspicious suicide.  But he remembered that he wanted to be a reporter.  He couldn’t reconcile the state of the body with the facts of the story.  Javen had to search for the truth wherever that truth might take him, even if it meant angering a potentially violent drug dealer.

Click-Psst-Clack.

“I don’t care about you or your business.  What’s a little larceny between friends?  I want to know about Kyle.”

“Kyle who?”

“Kyle the counselor who killed himself a few days ago.  I heard he was a client.”

“Oh, him.  I heard about that.  I haven’t seen him for weeks.”

“Really?  I heard he just copped from you the other day,” Javen made an educated bluff.  “You even broke into his room.  Because he owed you money.”

Damon crossed the distance between them in less than a heartbeat.  He grabbed Javen by his shirt and dragged him deeper into the alcove, away from prying eyes, so that Javen could face his wrath in private.

“Where’d you get these lies?”  Damon slammed him against the wall.  His breath stark of stale cigarettes and beef jerky.

Javen turned to the side, his eyes closed, his body mid-flinch, ready to take a punch.  It just now occurred to him that he was basically ready to accuse a drug dealer of murder.  And if he was bold enough to kill an honor student in his room, he’d have no problem doing it to a nosey reporter in a hidden alleyway.

“I’m not accusing you of anything.  I’m just trying to figure out who might have a reason to hurt him.”

“You mean kill him.” Damon slammed him against the wall again.

“You saying he didn’t owe you money?”

“I’ll say this, if he owed me money, I might lose my temper and be forced to hurt him.”

“You wouldn’t want to make an example of him.”  Javen really hated when his mouth kept moving after his common sense told him to shut up already.

“I can’t get money from a dead client.  Damon got real close to Javen’s face.  “Now, you’re going to want to think long and hard about your next words because they may be your last.”

“Pardon me while I shut up and get out of your business?”

#

Javen was out of options.  Mitch Summers had a good reason to want Kyle out of the way.  And he was perfectly capable of killing him, but Javen wondered if he was bright enough to stage a suicide.  With his pretty boy looks, he’d make a good defendant, Javen thought.  Same thing with Damon.  He was more than willing to kill, especially given his line of work.  But he struck Javen more as a leave-a-bloody-corpse-as-a-message kind of guy.  Mitch mentioned the clinic and Javen hoped that Kyle’s supervisor could shed some light on a few things.

“Kyle was a bright student.  He really cared about the people he talked to,” the supervisor said.

“Like Amanda Pulliam?”

“We don’t talk about who may or may not be clients here. He was keen on helping others through their hurts.  Not letting the shame pile up on them.  I encouraged him to do the same thing.”

“What kind of shame did he have?” Javen asked.

“I can’t say any more.  Doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“Are you even a real doctor?” Javen looked around the clinic.  He didn’t see any diplomas or certificates on the wall.  And Kyle had been a volunteer.

The supervisor sat up, more than a little indignant.  “Are you even a real journalist?”

“Well, does confidentiality survive death?”

“Depends on the doctor.”

“What kind of doctor are you?”

“The kind that won’t say what we talked about.”

“Can I ask you a hypothetical question then?”

“You can try.”

“What might make an exceptional student with a bright future kill themselves?”

“Everyone has their secrets.  Some people will do anything to protect them.”

“Is there any way to uncover such a person’s secrets?”

“Retrace their steps.  Some people obsess over the kind of things they may find on the internet.”

“The internet is a big place.  Care to narrow it down any?”

“And do your job for you?”

#

Javen went back to Kyle and Bryce’s room.  Bryce’s room now.  Kyle’s stuff was still there.  His parents hadn’t boxed up any of his stuff.  The police hadn’t taken the laptop.  Despite their suspicions, they were probably waiting on the medical examiner to make a final ruling before investigating Kyle’s death as a homicide.

Javen sat down at the laptop.  It wasn’t even password protected.  Anyone could have gotten on and printed off the note.  There it was, the document still open.  Javen read the words again, but they made even less sense the more he had learned about Kyle.

Javen went to Kyle’s browser history.  He noticed that an article had been bookmarked.  And it had been visited often.

INDIANAPOLIS – A Pike Township coaching assistant has been fired after he was arrested on charges he sexually abused a 15-year-old boy, police said.

Richard Mouser, 35, worked as a part-time teaching assistant at Pike High School, and now faces multiple counts of child molestation.

Over the weekend, a concerned mother reached out to police, saying her son had been repeatedly abused by Mouser, but that he was “tired of being scared and quiet.”  So he decided to let someone know.

It’s suspected that Mouser became friends with the boy when he worked as a substitute teacher at Lincoln Middle School, and began teaching at Pike High School when the boy moved up.  The police also suspect that Mouser had a history of abusing boys over the last five years.  They are hoping that past victims come forward.

“Everyone has their secrets.  Some people will do anything to protect them,” Javen repeated the supervisor’s words.  A sinking feeling washed over him.  Like there was a huge weight in his stomach.  And that he was being watched.

“What are you doing?” Bryce asked.

“You told me I could come over any time.  I wanted to see what had spooked Kyle so much that his whole attitude changed.”

“You find anything?”

“Not really.  Just an article he kept coming back to.  It talked about a teacher at our old school.  Mr. Mouser.  You remember him?”

“Not really.”

Javen believed one thing:  that people lied.  “That’s funny.  I thought you and Kyle both tried out for the team.  Like all your brothers did.”

“I hated football.”

“No, you tried out.  I remember you suddenly quit and your brothers kept making fun of you for being soft.  But you weren’t soft, were you?”

“No.”  Tears started to well up in his eyes.

“What happened?” Javen asked.

“It was after the second round of tryouts.  I was really good out there on the field.  I was a little chubby and slow, but I knew that if I kept working out, I could make the JV squad.  Kyle, too.  We were the last ones out.  We were in the shower when Mr. Mouser walked in.  he looked at us … it was like …. Then he got into the shower … touched us … we were so freaked out.  He put his mouth …”  Bryce’s tears flowed freely down his face.

“You don’t have to tell me anymore.  It wasn’t your fault.”

“We swore we wouldn’t tell anyone.  We swore.  We tried to forget it ever happened.  Then Kyle stared working at that clinic.  That was bad enough.  He’d come back after sympathizing with them all day.  The victims.  Telling them to be strong.  T tell someone.”

“To not be afraid.”

“Yeah.  it got to him.  Then the article came out.  He wanted to tell.”

“But you weren’t ready to tell.”

“No.”

Javen remembered the kind of boy Bryce used to be.  Before something, or someone, twisted him up inside.  I’m sorry for what happened to you.  And Kyle.

“What do I do now?  I … killed my friend.”

“I know.  To be frank, we can go to the police and tell them the whole story.”  Best friend or not, Javen couldn’t condone what Bryce had done.  He appeared penitent now and he hoped that the court would be lenient on him if they were just at all.  He put his arm around his friend.  “I’ll be with you the whole time.  No more secrets.”

##

Social Media is a Loaded Gun (Use Responsibly)

duty_callsAka, the internet is not your friend

We see it over and over again:  a blog post or Facebook status goes horribly awry as the poster forgets that they are on the internet and anyone can see and jump into a conversation, then drama is up and running.  Having spent the weekend watching friends go at it on FB, I couldn’t help but think that if such an internet kerfluffle rose any higher than the level of minor annoyance for the user, they may need to re-think how they use social media.

I’m saying this as a person who has been on the receiving and giving end of online drama.  I’ve done my share of stupid on the internet.  But I think there are some things to consider moving forward. Let’s call these my social media rules of engagement:

1) If you’re my friend and you say or do something dumb on the internet, I will do my level best to give you a head’s up that you may want to re-think your course of action.  If you choose to not do so, know that I will point and laugh at you.  KNOW THIS.  I will call my friends and point and we will laugh at you.  I’m sorry if you react badly to that.

2) Remember, there is a person behind those words and people have feelings.  An “apology” may be the go to move to diffuse a brewing online brouhaha, but if you go on to justify your actions, make your case, or apologize for how someone may have reacted or felt, those aren’t apologies.   “I’m sorry that you took it that way” is not an apology.  Apologies aren’t apologies if they are qualified.  What I did in point #1, was an example of this.  I am not truly sorry.  I will give the illusion of an apology for my attitude in point number one if that makes you feel better.  That’s all such an apology offers.

When a real friend has been hurt by my words, regardless of my intent or even how they may have mistook them, I apologize and am done.  There have been those rare times when I’ve been an ass. Things got said, things which couldn’t be unsaid. Have I mentioned that I may or may not have been an ass? Regardless, there were hurt feelings and definitely damaged relationships. I do know this: I apologized. Then I demonstrated the sincerity of my apology by living it out. Believe me, it takes time and work to repair the damage of even a few careless words.

twitter fail3) Ostensibly we writer types are professional communicators, so we know how tough it can be to convey our intended meaning.  At the same, we can’t tell people how they should react to or feel about our words.  We can’t account for the tone people may read into our words.  People don’t like to be talked down to and will react poorly to that perceived tone.

4)  The internet is forever.  It’s nice to believe that once stuff has been deleted then the matter is closed.  Know that the entire exchanged was probably screen captured.  Those of us who love to watch crazy break out on the internet want to preserve it in a virtual photo album to re-visit later.

5)  You need to be mindful of how your online persona may impact you career.  This is tough to come to terms with, but we are public figures speaking in public forums/space.  And words mean things.  We have to do things like carefully consider both our words and our online/social media personas.  I sometimes miss the days when I could just pop off at the mouth and say anything I bloody well felt like.  Don’t get me wrong, I still can, I just have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of that if that’s how I want to be online or otherwise.

As you publish more stories and make more friends, there are more eyes on you.  You have to consider that.  You can’t judge by comments or likes or how many direct messages or even hits you receive.  You never know who or how many people are watching what you write/say.  Be aware of your potential audience.  I am much more free with my words and nonsense on my twitter than I am on my Facebook page.  Is it because I have more followers on my Facebook page?  No, it’s because my mom follows me on Facebook (as do a lot of church folks).  I’m only going to cut so much of a fool over there.  On the other hand, my mom has no clue what a tweet is or where to find one.

As a corollary, if you have a professional page and a personal page, lockdown your personal page.  As an example, Brian Keene has a professional page and a personal page.  GUARANTEED, his personal page would have him strung up.  He’s got it locked down to just real world friends and family.  People who know him well enough to, well, forgive him for being him.  And who he trusts to not cut and paste his words.  Which leads into…

6)  Be opinionated, but be sensitive. I’m not saying don’t talk about issues that matter to you or express “controversial” opinions.  I’m saying be mindful about what you’re doing, not flippant.  I have written about race issues, faith issues, and political issues (including being pro life) without the internet landing on my head.  Too much.  I try to remember that people have differing (and equally valid) opinions, triggers, and baggage, so I try to at least be civil when I fail to be sensitive.

For example, you’ll note that sexism is not in that list.  I have opinions, but I don’t consider them informed enough to risk talking about them publically.  They are definitely not informed enough to go round and round with someone who’s informed enough on the conversation to start dropping jargon like “mansplaining” on me.  I know enough to check my privilege and call it a day.  I’m not saying that’s how everyone should roll, I’m simply saying how *I* choose to roll.  But I will stand by “be mindful” when you are discussing topics you know are near and dear to people’s hearts.

7)  People have the right to say what they want, but there are consequences to that speech.  Real world friends have a different measuring stick that “Facebook friends”/acquaintances.  I’m going to hold my real friends to a different standard.  That being said, if I’m in an internet kerfluffle with a real world friend, I’m probably going to withdraw to the real world to break them off a phone call to make sure we’re okay or where we missed each other in the online conversation.  Because sometimes the text of our words can’t carry all that we intend to convey.

8)  Know who you’re arguing with.  Okay, so last Thanksgiving my brother, my sister, her boyfriend, and I were sitting around annoying each other on Twitter.  My brother gets a wild hair up his behind to “go at” my sister.  Me and her boyfriend tried to warn him off, because my sister is a veteran on Twitter and my brother had only just learned how to spell “tweet”.  It took about two tweets from my sister to send my brother screaming for her to “take that off the internet” (which she did … after she screen captured it and sent it to me).  My take home lesson from this:  if you encounter a person who has built their reputation and following from causing a ruckus, unless you’re prepared to cause a ruckus (or have ruckus as your persona), you may want to go play with someone else.

9)  It’s no crime to BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET!  People don’t know how to walk away from a conversation (see “last word-itis”).  If you want to “agree to disagree,” then quit talking and move on.  I know that if I have a bunch of real world issues going on, then I BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET!  I can only think of one time when an online argument continued after I stopped talking.  The woman went on to make 20 posts, essentially responding to herself, then responded for me, then responding “my” responses she made for me.  Allow me to assure you, I did not look like the crazy person at that point.  I know that “last word-itis” is a common internet condition, but I have learned how to bite my tongue until it bleeds if I have to.

10) Lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously.  Pride can get in the way of a lot of relationships of all sorts and keep us from seeing discussions and people as they are.  While I am not exactly Captain Cuddly, I appreciate the voices of those in my life who care enough about me to call me on my crap.  Relationships will need some room and time to repair, but I have no doubt that if the work is put in that will happen.

There, now I’ve had a crazy long blog, watch as I hit post … THEN BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET.

A Few Random Mo*Con VIII Pics

DSCN0138 DSCN0140 Team Apex 1 Seventh Star Boys
Pre-MoCon Lunch MoCon Time Publishers and Editors Panel 1 Jerry and Shelby
Broad Ripple UMC Debbie Tracy Sally Doug Reading Gary Doug and Jason 1
Doug signing DSCN0141 Maurice and Michael Mind and Spirit Panel 5

The AWESOME Pork Chop Express had a few thoughts about their impression of Mo*Con

Janet Harriett posted her Mo*Con Redux.

Mo*Con Guest of Honor Jim C. Hines ruminates on Fandom, Conventions, and Race:  “Mo*Con was an exception to the rule. There were times this past weekend I wish I could have been colorblind, because in the back of my mind, I kept looking around and wondering, Why can’t more conventions be like this?, and that frustration took away from my ability to just relax and enjoy myself.”

Eventually I’ll have the footage from the Poetry Slam and the panels edited and online.  Eventually. In the meantime, here’s a clip of Douglas F. Warrick reading from one of his stories in his new collection, Plow the Bones.

Apropos of Nothing

Every now and then I run across an internet kerfluffle and somewhere in the dialogue there is a comment that I love so hard that I just want to adopt it and give it a nice home.  In this case, a comment by Douglass F. Warrick to wit (and providing no context for this whatsoever):

“I’d rather avoid getting too far into this, since I wasn’t following the initial incident and am therefore not as informed as I like to be when engaging in discussions like this one, but I would like to say this: calling someone a feminist isn’t an insult. I’m a feminist. Part of being a male feminist is recognizing.my privilege. If I say, do, or write something that a woman finds problematic, I see it as my responsibility to seriously consider whether my privilege has gotten the better of me. I understand that if a female friend of mine says, “Dude, that’s sexist,” they don’t always mean, “Dude, YOU are a sexist.” Thankfully, occurrences like this are more the property of my paranoid neurotic imaginings than of reality, but even so, I owe it to them and to myself to seriously consider, in a quiet and private way, whether or not I agree, and whether the words I used might have accidentally caused distress and how. I’m not trying to prescribe behavior or to assign blame. I’m offering the philosophy of my approach in the hopes that it might make conversations like this one more productive.”

 

 

Evolution of a (Second) Story

One of the joys of working with the kids at Snack’s Crossing Elementary (as a teaching artist for Second Story) was watching their stories come together.  One of my favorite stories was written by a young lady named Honesty.  I thought I’d share some pics of the story in progress as well as the final product.

Evolution 1Honesty Bruen

The McDonalds Diet

One day, Sha’nique was online searching for a job.  She looked for a job because she was fat and tired of being alone.  Sha’nique thought that if she got a job she’d move around and lose weight.  She looked up McDonald’s and it turned out they called her back and told her she got the job.  Shan’nique had to start first thing tomorrow at 4:00 a.m.  When Sha’nique got to her job, her mouth dropped.

McDonald’s was filled with trash from Sha’nique’s feet to her ankles.  She could not believe what she had seen.  It was just trifling.  The paint was peeling off the walls.  Used napkins were on the floor and the toilets were overflowing.  Sha’nique now knew why they didn’t have business jumping.  One day Sha’nique had a talk with the staff on what they could do to make them get more business.  A couple of the staff members suggested cleaning up, some of the other staff said repaint McDonald’s a different color like red and yellow instead of the green and orange.  When everyone got done talking, they began cleaning up the trash, and had some people come out and repaint the building.

Evolution 2               While everyone else was still working Sha’nique went to the back where all the food was, and got her two Big Macs, large fries, three of the apple pies, and a Quarter Pounder.  When she got done eating, she thought to herself “Why am I eating so much.  I don’t like eating as much as I used to.”  When she got done eating she went back to work.

As soon as she went back to the front, she noticed it was sparkling clean.  The window’s were shining, you could actually see the floor, and the building was a new bright color.  Everyone took the rest of that day off and went home.  As soon as she got home she ate a salad, instead of pizza.

The next day, everyone came to work with their new uniforms on.  Boom!  They heard a car door Evolution 3shutting.  Everybody ran to the same window and noticed a customer.  They got back to work, took the lady’s order then as time was flying by, more, more, and more people came in to sit and chat while they were eating.  Sha’nique suggested that they were having happy hour.  You could buy something then get a McFlurry for free.

At the end of that day, they sat down and talked about how good they did.  Sha’nique told everyone to keep talking while she had ran to the restroom.  When Sha’nique came back they gave her the exciting news that they were making her the manager.

Sha’nique was really happy.  She no longer felt alone.

Just Like Me

2013-04-15 11.07.25The first time I sat down to be “interviewed” by Mrs. Riley’s fifth grade class I didn’t know what to expect.  So when I sat down to talk about what it was like to be a writer, I was stunned by how many hands shot up eager to ask me questions.*  When I told them that I spent twenty years as a scientist and the last ten as a professional writer, one kid had this quizzical expression on his face like he was studying an insect he hadn’t seen before.  When I asked him what was the matter, he said “but you look just like me.”

I didn’t get here alone.  I’ve been blessed by having a lot of mentors and encouragers in my life.  Starting with my fifth grade Sunday  School teacher who nurtured my love of science fiction and Stephen King, letting me know that it was okay and didn’t make me weird.  Then my high school A.P. English teacher who not only kept after me to keep writing, but gave me a specialized reading list (a lot of Poe, Stoker, and King) to challenge me.  In college, when I was toying with the idea of pursuing writing, I was paired with a professor who did his dissertation on Stephen King and Clive Barker (and who fatefully handed me a copy of Cemetery Dance and told me this was what I was to be aiming for).  Each step along my professional journey, some writer has come alongside me at just the right time:  Wayne Allen Sallee, Gary Braunbeck, Brian Keene.

It wasn’t until I was well into my professional career that I learned of Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Brandon Massey, and Charles Saunders.  Too few people who looked “just like me” doing what I dreamed of doing.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like for that “fifth grade Maurice” to talk to one of them, work with them.  I count my blessings and I try to give back where and when I can, because it’s too easy for dreams and desires to be squelched.  That’s why I work with Second Story.

I won’t lie:  the biggest charge I got from doing the interview and then the workshops was the fact that my son was in my class.  He sat right next to me with a big grin on his face because it was his dad who captivated his class with stories and excited them about the idea of creative writing.  Someone who wrote.  Someone who read comic books.  Someone who liked weird science fiction shows.  Someone who loved cartoons.  Someone who played Magic: the Gathering.  Someone who was just like him.

 

*Apparently there is this wide-eyed innocent belief that all writers are secretly rich.  Which meant the first twenty questions involved how many thousands was I paid per story, how many houses I had, why did I chose to live in the neighborhood I did (instead of on the north side with the other rich families), what did I do with all of my money, and whether or not a million dollars was too much to ask for a novel.

 

Shaking Off the Haters

From February through April, I was the “writer in residence” at Snack’s Crossing Elementary School.  This was sponsored by Second Story, a non-profit organization near and dear to my heart as we go into schools to work alongside students to encourage an excitement and love of creative writing.  I am just now getting a chance to reflect on some of that time.

 

Shake em off“I believe that I can accomplish anything.  But there are times where I was told that I could not do what I wanted to accomplish.  But I pushed that aside and kept going.” –Mackenzie, fourth grade

My brother used to draw.

He wasn’t a big comic book guy, that was me, but he enjoyed art, pictures of all kinds, especially drawing. As a teenager, I could squirrel myself away in my room for hours scribbling in my teenage angst-ridden imitation of Poe. My brother would draw. Not only would he draw, but he decorated his room with this eclectic collection of picture clippings and random pieces of art. It was wonderfully imaginative: you’d walk into his room and be met by this collage of images.

My mother hated it.  She never saw herself as being particularly discouraging.  This was just her typical brand of “negative encouragement” as she tried to steer him back on a course she judged to be more realistic and practical.

It’s easy to squelch the creative impulse in children.  We may not mean to.  Children have many voices speaking into their lives—parents, teachers, friends—many of them well-intended.  Some of them inadvertently negative.  Telling us they can’t do something, that they’re not good enough, that it’s too hard for them, and even through benign neglect, that such things aren’t expected from them.

That’s why one of our early writing exercises is “shaking off the haters.”  We write down the things that people tell us we can’t do or is “too hard” for us to do, then we tear up that list.  It doesn’t matter if it is math, writing, singing, doing fashion design, making music, or drawing, we shake off the haters. (NOTE:  This may or may not have involved a lot of jumping around to shake them off.  And we may or may not have gotten complaints of our “writing” being too loud.)

Or, as another one of my fourth graders, Cheyenne, put it:  “I don’t care what people think when it comes to my dreams.”

Telling Our Stories Exhibit – Floyd Wimbush

Floyd 3One of the projects I did earlier this year (April 4th) was putting on an art exhibit.  I wanted to post some of the stories.  Floyd is the founder and Executive Director of A New Way of Life.  For someone who was the most reluctant about doing the photography class, it turns out he had one of the best eyes for it.  We only exhibited the photos closely tied to his story.  But if you ask him nice, he might show you his beautiful nature shots.  The full Telling Our Stories gallery can be seen here

Floyd Wimbush

Executive Director of A New Way of Life

Pain led me down the path of addiction.  I was an emergency assistance operator in Michigan City.  My older brother died in 1989 and something inside me broke.  I opened up a log one day and it was the day the call was made that he was killed.  I asked the chief for a vacation.  He gave me a week.  I went to Seattle and stayed out there ten years.  My addiction got worse as I got around the wrong people.  I started carrying guns, started throwing up gang signs, started manufacturing and selling crack cocaine.

Floyd 4In 2000, I found myself at Good News Mission.  Life was rough.  I was still in addiction.  I was living with a young lady who got fed up with my addiction and put me out.  Good News Mission was more of a work camp back then.  Two days a week, for four hours, to job search, while the rest of the time you did work around the building.  My objective was to get a job and get back on my feet, but I wasn’t able to do that here because it takes more than four hours a week to find a job.

I left there and ended up staying on the streets of downtown.  All I carried was two pairs of pants, two shirts, and one pair of underwear.  I came down here and hung out.  Downtown seems to be colder than anywhere else in the city.  I was still in my addiction so I was drinking a little bit.  Thirteen years ago, out in the streets, nowhere to go.

Behind City Market, that was the hang out.  You don’t dare hang out there now.  I did my begging outside of the City Market.  I picked up used cigarette butts for smokes.  There also used to be a Burger King.  We used to wait there for them to bring out their waste buckets to go through them to get stuff to eat.  There used to be a dumpster that sat near there.   It was my sleeping spot, drinking spot, bathroom spot.  I hid my clothes there.  After a couple days of surviving behind the dumpster and on the street, I decided to get clean.

Floyd 5This would be October 22, 2000. A friend asked me if I was a veteran.  I did four years in the Army (1980-1984).  So he told me I needed to get out to the VA hospital.  After the VA hospital, they housed us at Harbor Lights.  In 2001 they moved us across the street to Lucille Rains.  I stayed there three years and got married.  In 2006, pain drove me to relapse when I got a divorce.  I started drinking and doing drugs again, but I was in church.

One day I rode up and down Washington Street, staring at the Salvation Army, until I finally went in.  I stayed there a year.  Moved out and got an apartment at Washington Arms.  It’s an abandoned field now.  I stayed up all night, reading my Bible.  I was in Romans.  After I read chapter 12, I laid down with verses 1-2 stuck in my mind.  The Holy Spirit spoke to me in a dream.

From where I came from, I broke through a veil and there was a door.  A light was shining, like the sun.  There was new life and the Spirit said “Feed my sheep.  Take care of your brothers.  Renew their minds.”  A New Way of Life.  I just started writing, putting the plan down on paper right then and there.

There was a for sale sign on this building.  I got the number.  The real estate agent, a married couple, came out and we walked through it.  I shared my vision with them and they said “we ought to introduce you to the owner.”

We met on a Sunday, after church, and I met Mary Howard.  I presented my plan to them in the community room.  She jumped up and said “we’re going to need beds.”  That was the birth of A New Way of Life.

“This has helped me a lot.  I really didn’t like taking pictures or having people take pictures of me.  Now I’m just going with the flow.”
***

The Telling Our Stories Exhibit was presented at Fletcher Place Arts and Books in April 2013.  The full gallery can be seen here.  The stories presented include:

Maurice Broaddus

Laditra Lee

Popcorn

Floyd Wimbush, Founder and Executive Director of A New Way of Life