Monday, October 26, 2009

Passing the Baton, er, Pen

I guess you could say my youngest is a charter member of Young Women Writing for (a) Change. She has been to every class or sampler yet offered. She loves the program, she reveres it, she truly “gets” what is being explored at a deeper level below the surface. She even gets the upper and lower case, and parentheses, right in the acronym for the organization….

After her very first sampler class, she came home, and wanted to host her own “sampler” class. (At that point, I think she thought “sampler” meant something like “writing,” an adjective modifying “class.”) She wanted to find a perfect vessel to hold soul cards and another to shelter a candle. She gathered a few friends together, and they wrote and talked and laughed (she has since learned not to invite the gigglier among her friends, having an innate sense of which friends are capable of sharing her reverence for this process, and which are not).

Last week, she wrote this for her weekly class school newsletter:

Young Women Writing for (a) Change
By Anna
I love to write. The words just flow out of my pencil onto the paper. And now, I have discovered a place where I can write with other people who like to do it. We do crafts and write and talk and eat snack! It’s really fun and that place is called Young Women Writing for (a) Change in the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse. It is run by supporting women from the women’s class called Women Writing for (a) Change. It’s great to be there with people who enjoy the same things as you and support you and your writing. I love to go there and just let the creative juices flow. Pick up your pen and choose a prompt or write whatever you want. Is there a mysterious door hollowed out in a tree yet to be discovered? Where do you come from? And let your inner self lie down in a creek and be covered by the cool and refreshing water that is writing. Bathe in it, bask in it. Be it.

I am so grateful to Beth, and now Kim and Greta, for creating this space (space in so many varied senses) for me to seek my voice, and now, for my daughter to do the same. Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wearing a Friend's Shoes

Last week I led my friend’s life. I stepped into her shoes, a different size than mine, and tried not to stumble. I remember organizing help, living communally, keeping people safe, sleeping little, balancing needs, opening to sorrow and joy, breathing in suspension, holding tight, and letting go. I cared for her special-needs child. She regularly does all these things, with grace. I did it for one week, clumsily, while she lived through other crises of life and death.

No longer did normal things matter, like whether I’d eaten, put on deodorant, or brushed my hair. I was happy to brush my teeth. To be honest, I had moments of self consciousness (“What did I smell like?!”), but mostly not. I was too tired and too focused to care. It was a gift, this sense of freedom. Freedom from my ego and my insecurities (well, mostly). I was also challenged. The line between things that didn’t matter and true needs blurred. I neglected to eat and then crashed. I didn’t take a break when I really needed one.

This experience was like a bubble: fragile, beautiful, sticky, and short-lived. After the crises passed, I slowly laced up my own sneakers. I began to process what I felt. I walked back to my life. My friend returned to her daily, daunting routine.

I write now, frantically, in my journal. I rage at an unfair world. I express thanks for my life’s blessings. I sit, numb. I try to write something else, something more coherent. The writing helps me decide what to keep from this experience and what to release. I know my friend keeps a journal. I hope that she finds the time to write.

--Stephanie W., for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stillness... Subtleness... Patients
The woods of Southern Indiana moved deeper into their autumn turning this past week. It was a good time to run away for 36 hours with two friends of mine who, like me, and in spite of every reason to the contrary, decided it would be possible and necessary to step out of our lives together to get closer to our respective centers, get quiet, settle back and look up through the trees to some blue sky beyond, if only for a few hours. The intention was to retreat. We’d have two overnights and one long day in the forest, a cabin with the basic necessities, trails to walk and a large body of water near-enough by.

Our hurried, un- parallel lives moved us in disparate directions literally up to the moment I pulled up at C’s door and flung open the back of my van and said, “what can I load in for you”? L screeched up minutes later, we pushed in the last bag, and didn’t let out a collective sigh, until we passed the city limits heading south.

Our one-room rustic cabin, with an unprouncable Welsh name, is owned by the gentleman, B, an exuberant host whose wide-flung arms exclaimed the grandeur of the world he’d carved out of the Orange County wilderness and filled that space with gusto. His voice boomed a husky tenor with an accent indicating time spent for at least SOME part of his life in the big city…Chicago? New York? Boston? When we met him in his driveway, he’d just been hiking “St. Benedict’s Journey”, a ½ mile trail he’d hacked down to his little piece of big lake water which, we found out shortly, we’d need to DRIVE about 10 minutes to in order to walk .

Within the first moments of meeting him, we gathered that Mr. B is a Contemplative Businessman, who resonates especially with Celtic Spirituality. The spirit of St Benedict's Rule, summed up in the motto: pax ("peace") and the traditional ora et labora ("pray and work"), was evident everywhere we turned. Like one of the several historical Saint Benedicts, our Mr. B had labored over his vision. He’d built bridges and pathways, benches and ballfields and posted signs everywhere to point the way. Between the signs to “Brigadoon”, Ty’tWen (?), the footpath and all the orange or pink plastic tape marking the short distances between trees from here to there, we were certain not to become lost in the yellow woods. Someone, we think we know who, had worked hard to point the way and invoke for us the spirit and names for “the all that is” in nature.

Turns out, we were never lost or never really alone so the idea of the retreat morphed gently for us in to a communal experience of stepping away together, and occasionally bumping into Mr. B. We three friends managed to magically show up with offerings for the group…food, drink, and open ears, yoga, music, major Girl Scout competencies all around. And for one day, we allowed time to pass without paying a bit of attention to time, easily following our inclinations for solitude, rest, talk, music. We each derived our own meanings and nourishment from our experience in retreat.

But the best was this:
As we walked St. Benedict’s Journey together we passed an abundance of Mr. B’s orange ribbon-marked trees, and every 300 yards or so, a sign posting a different word for contemplation: Stillness…Subtlety…Harmony…Peace…as we passed one of the last signs, we stopped to laugh and HAD to think : Patients, it read.

Beth Lodge-Rigal, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Books and Workshops and Poetry oh my!

For starters, we are excited to announce the publication of our anthology Women with Wings. The editors of this book have compiled writing by over 50 WWf(a)C Bloomington writers and are excited to present their poems, essays and short fictions in this amazing volume. There are over 75 short pieces which include writings from all five years of classes and retreats in Bloomington, as well as some writings of the participants in the women's circles we hold at the Monroe County Jail. WWf(a)C writers Kim Evans designed the beautiful cover and Yvonne Wittmann painted the bird image. This book reflects a multitude of creative talents found in our diverse and multifaceted community. We hope you will join us in celebrating 5 years of Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington.

(We plan to release the book officially on December 5, 2009 and are taking pre-orders now. If you would like to order a copy of this book before it goes to print, we can sell it for only $12. The the book release party it will be $15. Contact
us at: if you would like to order an advanced copy.)

Also, Women Writing for (a) Change is pleased to offer a day long memoir writing workshop called: Memory, Imagination and Writing: Telling our True Stories

At the Poplar Grove School house on Saturday, October 24th from 10-3 we will explore memories and turning them into our own unique stories. Email us at to reserve a space. We have about 4 spaces left.

Please join the Poetry detectives on the second Saturday of every month for a unique exploration of poetry. The next discussion is Saturday, November 14, 2009 from 10-12 at the Poplar Grove School House.

Watch our website for announcements of more classes and workshops and events. Also become a fan on facebook!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sky on Friday Morning

As I was driving into work on Friday morning, I enjoyed watching the sky. It had rained all night so the ground and trees were shiny with water. I drive to work facing west so the sun was shining on everything at which I was looking. Because there were a few clouds left in western sky, the sun created a kind of gold glow on black clouds. Everything: trees, flowers, houses, cars, all had a sparkly haze upon it. Everything was shiny and since fall is dawning, the barest hints of orange and red and brown were cueing up to take the stage.

I poked my son who was preoccupied with his game device. "Look up at the sky, isn't it amazing? Look at the way the sun shines off those black clouds. Look how everything is shiny and glistening. Isn't it like magic?"

He looks up at the sky away from his game and miraculously gives me his attention, and although I think he going to shrug and say so what, he humors me and says, "Yeah mom, it is really nice."

I say, "It is so beautiful, I would like to hug it or lick it. I want you to notice things like the sky. The sky is pretty important." I must sound desperate.

He says, "You know, mom, you can't touch the sky. It isn't really there."

"I know," I say. "When I was a kid and found out that you couldn't ever touch the sky, I was pretty bummed."

"Yeah, me too. How old were you when you found out?" he asked.

"Oh, I suppose I was 5 or 6."

"Too bad," he says.

"Too bad," I say.

We pause for a moment imagining a world where you can touch the sky and what it would feel like and taste like and would it return a hug? The sky is still beautiful and for these several moments in the car, my son and I understand each other.

How old were you when you realized you couldn't touch the sky?

--Amy Cornell for the Poplar Grove Muse

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What I Saw at the Stoplight

October 2nd, 2009
Rebekah Spivey

It is the end of a seemingly two week long week. I had worked a little late and then after running a mundane errand was headed south on College Avenue with nothing more on my mind than the salad I was having for dinner and the Netflix movie, Longford, I planned to watch, which as it turns out was an ironic choice.

It is 6:30 on a Friday night and I am in the middle lane headed south, second in line at the stop light where 7th Street crosses College. As I’m waiting for the light to change I look to my left and see a woman who appears to be in her late thirties. She is looking up and across the street at the Justice Building. She touches the left side of her chest where her heart is housed, then she cups her hand and extends her arm up to whoever is looking out a window and mouths the word love. She is trying to smile, but it is a pained smile, the kind that hides tears. She keeps making that gesture over and over, and then mouths I can’t hear you, and expands her arms as if wanting to embrace the person behind the window. I look up to try to see what the woman is seeing, but the windows with their glare stare back blankly at me. The light changes and as I drive on, I wonder if the person in the window is someone from our circle or is it a male, her lover or husband whom she misses and is willing to stand on a street downtown for just a glimpse of, is willing to profess her love on a downtown street, totally oblivious to her surroundings and those of us who noticed her.

I continue to think of her as I go about my evening, making my dinner, doing my laundry, and thinking of the people I love. The people I have unrestricted access to. People I can be alone with, touch and tell them I love them in private, sometimes intimate settings.

After dinner I watch Longford which is the story of Lord Francis Longford who spent fifty years of his life as a prison visitor in England and was a controversial advocate for prisoner’s rights. The part of his life the movie deals with is the period when he visited Myra Hindley, who along with Ian Brady was convicted of the mid-nineteen sixties Moor Murders. The pair killed and sexually assaulted five children and was universally hated in the United Kingdom. Although Longford’s advocacy on Myra Hindley’s behalf caused him public and personal pain, he stayed true to his mission of prisoner’s rights and fair treatment of them as human beings.

All of this brought me back to the woman on the sidewalk looking up to the third or fourth floor of a hard-lined stone building trying to send a message of love, which, in turn, brought me back to our mission as Women Writing For (a) Change facilitating circles in the MCJ for female prisoners. Will helping these women find their voices make them somehow stronger so that they will understand themselves and their choices better and perhaps, pull themselves out of the vortex that sucks them back to the jail time after time? The answer to that question may not be knowable, but if we keep going back month after month without any expectations as to outcome it’s possible that the Change in Women Writing For (a) Change might be happening in all of us.