We’re switching gears for this one. This segment will focus on the art of communication – and what better method of communicating than through the lost art of storytelling? Eric James Wolf is a MASTER storyteller. He received the Oracle Award for Distinguished Service to the National Storytelling Community in 2010 – the highest award given to any member of the storytelling community. Learn how this master teller of tales battled dyslexia and today is Livin’ the Dream!
Category Archives: inspiration
Originally written in Nov 2009.
As I open various social networks, I come across a plethora of “Happy Thanksgiving!” messages. I understand that many people celebrate this day as something special (most just want a really heavy meal, but I’m not here to judge).
But then I wonder, “What will everyone do tomorrow?”
To be truly thankful, we must give thanks daily, continuously.
I woke up this morning and greeted my son (who’s visiting from Pittsburgh). He was already up and at his PSP.
“Did you thank God this morning?” I asked him.
“No, not this morning. But I said my prayer before I went to sleep last night,” which I guess was his own way of patting himself on the back.
“So you didn’t thank Him for allowing you to wake up this morning?”
“Uh…” he muttered.
I replied, “When you said your prayer last night it should have been to thank Him for getting you through the day. This morning is another matter. You woke up.
“How would you feel if you gave someone something special all day long and they only said ‘thanks’ once?”
His response: “Okay, I see your point.”
I don’t know if he followed that statement with an actual ‘thanks to God,’ but it makes me think about all the Thanksgiving salutations.
Certainly, giving thanks is always a good idea. But whether you’re thankful for life in general, grandchildren, family, adequate transportation, food or the air we breathe – the true meaning of “thanksgiving” should not be limited to one day a year that’s posted on a calendar.
Every day should be a day of thanksgiving.
I was talking to someone the other day about people who are admired and those who are actually worthy of being admired (they’re NOT the same thing, believe me).
We determined that there really aren’t many people we admire for the right reasons. There are too-many-worth-mentioning so-so performers, musical acts, (un-)reality ‘stars’, and just plain ol’ losers that – for whatever reason – people look up to.
I’m not referring to the teachers who taught us how to read; the crossing guard who watched over us daily; the ministers who teach us about the Good Book – all great examples and those whom we should admire. I’m referring to those on the big screen, little screen, or even who might appear on your iPod.
I told my friend that, off-hand, I could find just one person in the industry who is note-worthy of my admiration. In fact, I said, “If I ever met her, I’d blubber like an idiot!”
Hence, I pay homage to the great Ruby Dee.
“Ruby Dee? Really?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” I responded. “She represents all that there is [and still can be] of my performing years. Her life made my life possible,” I proudly proclaimed.
Indeed. I cherish Ruby Dee. This isn’t to say that I don’t admire Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, the late Ossie Davis (Ruby’s husband) and all the rest of those who came before me. It’s just that, point-for-point, for me at least Mrs. Davis personifies the struggles, pain, endurance and excelling virtue of many African Americans in the industry. In those early years it was nearly impossible for any one of us to be portrayed as someone other than ‘the help.’ We were slaves, maidservants, menservants and any other occupation associated with servitude. And that was just on the screen.
Off the screen, most Americans didn’t see us for anything other than that. That’s the reality. Just watch any film or TV series prior to the 1970’s. (NOTE: I-Spy and Julia do not count!)
But I digress. To get back to my point: at a time when we were actually living those days, there were the heroes, the dignified icons (like Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Sydney Poitier and so many others) who waded in it, breathed it in deeply (and daily), had it thrown on them with a shovel – so that those after them (like me) could accomplish my goals, my dreams, my desires of standing before an audience – not merely entertaining (as in minstrel shows) – but to stand proudly for one’s craft; the gifts we were given.
So this is a hearty shout out to Mrs. Ruby Dee Davis, my hero and mentor. While I never met you, I certainly have admired you…and you are worthy of (at least) that much.
With sincerest regards,
Judith Blair Brown, Harrisburg, PA
The following is a revised version of an original story written by me in January 2008. It’s well worth retelling.
You never know where you’ll get your inspiration, your motivation, your drive to move forward in this world.
To illustrate, I have a twin sister named June. She’s actually the better of me. I often think of us as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzeneggar in Twins. Like the part in the movie where the evil scientist is explaining how this fascinating plan went awry. He says they took all the best components and mixed them up in some sort of test tube.
As he looks at Schwarzeneggar, he says (I’m paraphrasing here): ‘All the good stuff went into what stands before you.’ Then he turns to DeVito and says, ‘All the crap left over is what you see in the mirror every day.’
Between June and me, I’m the crap. But don’t feel sorry for me. Quite frankly, I’m okay with it. I’ve made peace with crap, and crap and I get along just swell.
My twin sister’s beautiful, highly intelligent—just like Arnold, she has all the good qualities of the ‘stuff’ that made us. So her response to one of my stories was met with great delight. It was truly what I needed to move forward in my writing career.
To set the stage, I was sitting at my desk at the ad agency NOT writing, but rather, answering phones and setting meeting schedules—my usual routine even after five years. How did it come to this? I’d even taken two copywriting courses to prove to myself and anyone else who cared that I had a real passion and devotion to the art of writing.
I’d get frustrated in my endless pursuit to do more, be more, and then vent to June. She always responded in kind. “You should really start writing seriously. You’re good at it.” Or, “Juice (her nickname for me), your writing’s da’ bomb. You need to do more.”
That’s just June. Always kind and encouraging. Always the rock. I’d listen to her suggestion…and then go back to work and answer calls.
Of course, all the self-improving techniques, all the writing courses I’d taken made no difference whatsoever to my very intelligent but equally stubborn boss, who believed my only purpose in this world was to answer phones and to care for his schedule. (But we’ll save that for a future, Can You Believe My Life? article.)
Anyway, I’d been struggling with how to make a smooth transition from working full-time at the agency to writing from home full-time. This particular morning was no different.
I just had my article, Outside My Window, published on another Web site. I sent it out to several friends and family members to view, but hadn’t really expected to hear from anyone. Several hours later my phone rings at the front desk. I answer it and hear a stern and familiar voice:
“Get up right now! Get up, get your things and walk out that door and never look back! He [my boss] does NOT appreciate your talent! You are wasting your time at that place! You should NOT be sitting at that front desk …”
I was taken aback. In fact, it took me quite some time to recognize the caller and what she was referring to. I knew that voice, but the ranting and raving was unfamiliar territory.
It was June.
She’d just finished reading my article and felt the need to call me with a “Come to Reality” good talking-to! It worked. After remarkably putting things into perspective for me, on that day and in that very hour I knew it was time for me to take my writing much more seriously, because when June—one of the most intelligent, analytical and reasonable persons I’d ever known—tells you to jump ship, your only response should be, “On which side of the boat?”
I worked vigorously for months to get something suitable to, at least, keep me in the lap of luxury in my extremely small efficiency apartment where I reside (heat included). As it turns out, I now have a national client in the health care industry who actually matched my salary from the agency. On the 28th of December, 2007, I resigned from my full-time position and am now writing full-time from my home office. At the time my “home office” was a four by five extension of the bedroom/kitchen area. Small steps indeed.
Point is, today I have a hopeful outlook for my professional career, and I have June. That’s my girl. She doesn’t say much, but when she does she packs a wallop.
If not for June, I’d likely still be sitting at that same desk, answering that same phone, making those same reservations for that same man. No doubt I’d still be depressed and wondering ‘How my life came to this.’
It wasn’t some grandiose speech from a soapbox, just a simple, “if-you-don’t-get-off-your-butt-and-do-something-with-your-talent” call that pointed me in the right direction. A simple phone call made all the difference.
Indeed, sometimes it’s the little things.
If you’ve followed my journey for any length of time, you probably noticed that I’m always trying new things: freelance writing, which led me to writing for the healthcare industry, real estate, travel, and many other industries; marketing, which led me to become “partner of sorts” to a local entrepreneur with three businesses of his own; public relations, leading me to become publicist for the region’s oldest jazz organization, as well as contributing writer for the area’s only professional indoor football team; online radio talk show host; and now author of the soon-to-be-released eBook, “YOU Can Become a Freelance Writer in 59 Days!”
Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking of this stuff……but my point is this: sometimes you just have to “try anything.” Opportunities are few and far between, and exceptional opportunities are a definite rarity.
So take whatever you have and make something out of that. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or even a lofty goal; it just has to be ‘something.’
In other words: try anything.
I’m not going to pretend to know all there is to know about writer’s block. It’s a subject like most others: there’s always more to it than meets the eye and it generally varies from person to person. That said, I can only tell you what’s worked for me and others in ‘my circle’ to alleviate writer’s block – or at the very least minimize the often frustrating tendency.
Writer’s block happens for various reasons. For instance, when my Father died I didn’t want to write anything for several weeks. I wasn’t exactly experiencing writer’s block so much so as it just seemed wrong to “dive back into the pool” as if a great man hadn’t just met his demise.
Then there’s the writer’s block that comes with ambient disturbances. I have neighbors that live above me. Directly above me. Loudly! I like them as human beings, but as neighbors go they are lousy people. (I’m so conflicted.) Anyway, to minimize my writer’s block in this instance I changed my whole office setting around. Now I can close my French doors and have a little less noise and actually get some work done.
But I (and I think most people) have writer’s block simply because of being unprepared. Truth is there’s always something to write. You may have to tweak it here or there, or “borrow” from someone else, but there’s always something to put down on paper.
I’m not even so sure writer’s block is a bad thing, it’s just so inconvenient. Because writer’s block always seems to come at a bad time – usually when that client is waiting by the phone for that last-minute revision, or on that new project that I fought so hard to get and yet just can’t seem to grasp hold of.
So I jotted down a few methods that have helped me overcome the dilemma. Why not give them a try the next time you’re faced with writer’s block? You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole batch of writing assignments to gain.
1) Always be prepared: Keep a pen and paper handy, or even a recorder. On several occasions I actually sabotaged my own career by not having something to write with, something to write on, etc. I mistakenly thought I could depend on my overworked, overwrought, overused brain cells to keep that perfect thought in my head until I drove two miles home – by way of shopping for groceries – through torrential storms, settled into my pajamas, and sat down at my laptop to pound out that perfect phrase. Who was I kidding?
2) Jot (or record) anything you hear that might pique your interest. Now. Whether you’re walking through the supermarket, or standing in line at the bank, you’re going to hear something: a statement, a poem, a single word, an expression – be prepared to jot it down to build upon later. Keep in mind that it doesn’t even have to make sense; it’s only going to be used as a starting point.
3) Check out your surroundings. Really notice them – and make your words “pop.” What color is the bug on your patio, and what kind of insect is it? Is the flower red, or is it crimson? Was the old tire worn or was the newness obvious because of the ½ inch tread? Was her hair dyed blonde, or strawberry blonde? Was the blazer pink or was it fuschia? Did you hear a loud thud or an alarming crash? Did the wooded chest smell of aged oak or was the aroma similar to a fresh pine? Did he walk along the beach, or did he limp as he casually strolled next to the calm, still waters of the ocean? If you truly pay attention to smaller details, and put those details in writing, you’re bound to build on your story and make the entire piece more interesting to read. That alone will help to beat the writer’s block blues.
4) Just write. Sounds simple, but sometimes simple works. Sometimes I start typing out any ol’ thing that pops in my head. It could be something like, “and he said to her, ‘Don’t just stand over the body! Cover it over with a paper towel!'” – or even, “The baby ran down the street carrying a halibut, wearing only a checkerboard, while the tadpole flapped in the breeze and the carburetor sang Joy to the World,” – which of course makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it works. The point is to get the words – any words – on paper and build on something.
I heard a discourse once, and was so mesmerized by it that I started writing a poem with the same four words that was the title of the talk. It took several hours of tweaking, changing the entire meaning of the story, altering characters, etc., but in the end it was just so right. I loved it and so did others who read it. Of course, what I ended up writing I would have never come up with on my own. Had it not been for the title of the discourse I wouldn’t have created that piece of poetry in the first place. It was merely “borrowed” to give me a starting point.
Another time I made an inspirational piece out of something that happened in a dream. The dream wasn’t a big deal at all, but what I was able to recall gave me the inspiration to create one of my favorite pieces.
So here’s the thing: writer’s block will happen, but it doesn’t have to defeat you. Fight back with a few simple methods by (1) being prepared with a pen or recorder; (2) jotting down anything that you can build upon later; (3) noticing your surroundings; and above all (4) putting it all down in writing.
And be sure to let me know how it all turns out.
JBlairBrown is a nationally published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. She’s written for the healthcare, profit/non-profit and travel industries. Ms. Brown develops and conducts writing workshops, and provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to diversity and workplace culture, and serves as a PR/marketing consultant for small business industries.
She always wore a smile. A big one. She was a delightful, late twenty-something bubbly spirit, and she was my fourth grade teacher.
Mrs. Pigeon was an average-looking, White woman who always had something funny to say … that is, something funny to a ten-year old. And she made us feel like we mattered. In fact, she’s one of the reasons I’m earning a living as a writer today.
Let me set the stage …
I didn’t really know anything about “being” a writer. I knew I enjoyed writing, but in my urban jungle there were government workers and housekeepers and bartenders and school crossing guards. You know, “normal” working people. (I don’t mean to slight anyone, but if you’re a writer, you understand the “normal” comment … Remember the responses you got from family and friends when you told them you wanted to become a writer? “Well, THAT’S different.” “When are you going to get a real job?” But that’s a whole ‘nother article.)
Anyway, I wrote my very first poem in Mrs. Pigeon’s fourth grade class. We were learning how to write poetry and our assignment was to complete the first two lines from the textbook. It read:
“Woodpecker sent a telegram.
I heard that tapping sound.”
I thought real hard about my response. (I was so serious!) I wanted the poem to be both informative and amusing. Naturally, it had to rhyme, because in fourth grade the concept of a poem that doesn’t rhyme is just plain dumb. (I’d like to think I’ve grown since then.)
The poem also had to make sense. It had to rise above the everyday ten-year-old jargon and strike a chord with its reader. (Yeah, I was that deep.) After pondering for the longest time (up to, like, fifteen minutes), EUREKA! I struck gold!
…I remember approaching my teacher’s desk.
“What if she thinks it’s stupid?” I asked myself. “No, she wouldn’t think that. She’s Mrs. Pigeon!”
Yet with a bit of trepidation, I held my head up and continued the long, methodical walk to what was bound to be my new life. With ever step I grew more and more confident! I’d found my calling. After so many struggles: the knee scrapes from hitting the concrete in all those double-dutch jump rope attempts, the repeated paddle ball start-ups…
…losing (again!) at that stupid game of jacks—all these were things at which I absolutely sucked! But this … ahhh, this one moment unleashed my true passion, the person I was destined to become.
I stood alongside Mrs. Pigeon as she read the poem to herself. I could see her lips moving.
“Come on, get to it, woman! You’re gonna love it!” I remember thinking to myself.
“…I heard that tapping sound.”
At long last. “Here it comes,” I thought. Surely SHE’S going to get it!
“When he stopped, he slipped,
And fell upon the ground.”
(Okay, so it wasn’t Nikki Giovanni, but keep in mind I was only ten.)
Mrs. Pigeon’s response was classic! I still remember her tossing her head back, giving a very audible, enthusiastic wail of a laugh—and I believe there was an angelic chorus in the background.
“I love it, Judith! I love it!” she exclaimed, her hearty laughter causing strife and envy throughout the sea of ten-year-olds.
Yes, finally, I did it! I found my calling! A star was born…and…it…was… ME!
This might sound a bit over the top, but that very brief moment remains with me even today, nearly 40 years later. Mrs. Pigeon has no idea how her response completely changed my introverted world into one of endless possibilities.
She doesn’t know how I often think of her when I’ve reached a professional milestone in my writing career, how she set the tone for my future. She doesn’t know that I’m working from home as a full-time writer, and that I credit her and that one moment in time—however fleeting—with laying a blueprint for who I was to become.
I’ve held all types of jobs: actor, singer, construction worker, corrections officer, executive assistant, etc. But the point I have to make is that I’ve come back home to my roots. To the place I found at ten years old in an unassuming elementary classroom with a teacher named Mrs. Pigeon.
So, Mrs. Pigeon, thank you.
Judith Brown is a nationally-published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. With nearly 30 years in the work force, her varied background represents county and state governments, non-profit organizations and the advertising industry, among others. A writer and editor for a health care publisher, Ms. Brown also conducts writing workshops, provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to workplace culture, and serves as a PR/marketing consultant for small business industries. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.