The Passing of a Storyteller

trevorpicture

Yesterday I learned that the celebrated Irish author William Trevor passed away at the noble age of 88.  The world will undoubtedly mourn the passage of a veritable literary lion—the recipient of nearly every major literary prize except, regrettably, the Nobel—but it is a true personal loss for me. Not just as a writer, and his influence on my writing has been immeasurable but even having never met the man I owe him a tremendous debt as a person.

How many times have I retreated to his world of extraordinary “ordinary” characters? I still do. In fact, it was inside the pages of his hundreds of short stories that I began to truly accept my own flaws and embrace my quirkiness. In doing so, I found that my compassion for my fellow misfits in the world deepened. His words have made me cry and laugh  – the belly-aching kind – the best therapy of all. It is no exaggeration to say that this man saved me thousands of dollars in psychotherapy, I’m sure.

Although he wrote 14 novels, as masterful as they are, he is most revered for his short stories. “Raymond Bamber and Mrs. Fitch” and “A Complicated Nature” are two of my favorites, or at least they come to mind right now, for their Trevoresque blend of humor and pathos. “Access to the Children,” “Her Mother’s Daughter, and “A Wedding in the Garden” are three more poignant stories. And thanks to his inimitable variety, Trevor crafted unforgettable stories of quiet horror that resonate deeply, such as “Miss Smith,” “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” and “The Teddy-bears’ Picnic.” More recent collections yielded other small masterpieces such as “A Bit on the Side,” “Marrying Damian,” and “Sacred Statutes.” This last story earned him one of his four O’Henry Prizes, a nice little connection to North Carolina, since this award is named after a native son also famous for his short stories! The list goes on and on.

While I will mourn this man, as is his due, I will not descend into tearful blubbery. I will not. I cannot. His works have brought me such joy, consolation, and communion with my fellow humans that my overriding emotion is one of gratitude.

“My fiction may, now and again, illuminate aspects of the human condition, but I do not consciously set out to do so,” Trevor told one interviewer in a story posted by the Associated Press yesterday. “I am a storyteller.”

From one storyteller to another, I thank you, Mr. William Trevor, pardon me, Sir William Trevor, for all that you mean to me.

Happy Holidays from Janet at Lifeline!

On Friday night, Johnpaul and I participated in the annual Fall Open Mic sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College. The event was kindly hosted by the Joyful Jewel, a vibrant arts and craft gallery in the heart of downtown Pittsboro.

The optional theme this year, fittingly enough, was holiday angst, and we heard a variety of creative works featuring the joy and occasional madness that marks the holidays. We heard the travails of a real working Santa (featuring local Santa Al Capehart), fiction by Robin Whitten, Kim Overcash and Linda Johnson, and poetry by Judith Stanton, Bonnie Korta, Ruth Moose and our emcee Mary Barnard, among many other delightful voices. We also had the honor of hearing Michele Berger read a poignant essay on her mother that was published in “Letters to My Mother,” a book which featured the voices of other celebrity and national personalities. Yes, Michele is our own celebrity!

ashleyjp

Johnpaul and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read a “re-mix” of “The Suicide You Prevent Might Be Your Own.” In this version of our darkly humorous 3-minute play, innocent sports fan Russell Huggins is unlucky enough to accidentally call Janet, a stressed-out suicide prevention counselor, while trying to order a pizza for the Peach Bowl party he’s hosting on New Year’s Eve.

As with all of the open mic events sponsored by the Creative Writing Program, the roster invariably features a wide variety of talent and the full spectrum of human emotion–from laughter to tears to joy.

santa

We hope to see you at one of our events soon, but in the meantime, stay tuned for the spring catalog of creative writing courses offered by the College. These classes will not only sharpen your writing skills, but they will also introduce you to terrific people who, like those I’ve been privileged to get to know, may become lifelong buddies.

Got an Extra Hour? Write a Villanelle!

With the end of Daylight Savings Time,  Johnny and I decided to spend a little time on one of our favorite activities–writing poetry. And with an extra hour on our hands, it was time to tackle the famed villanelle!

Made famous by Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath, the villanelle is enjoying new popularity among contemporary poets. For examples and to see the rhyme-scheme, click here. I love them all, but I will never tire of Plath and her Mad Girl’s Love Song.

From a poet’s perspective, the villanelle can be rather “villanous” to compose, given its head-scratching structure. It’s not the best form for narrative poetry; it’s best for lyrical and more philosophic topics. Some poets use the villanelle to express ideas or thoughts that trouble them. My advice is to choose a topic that fascinates or moves you. You’re more likely to finish it!

Johnny and I composed our villanelles separately (promise!) but not surprisingly, we addressed in our way, the notion of time. For fun, we’ll share them below.

Don’t Seize the Day
Ashley Memory

Everyone says you should seize the day
Bustle and hustle until the sun drops down.
But who has to listen to what they say?

A life worth having is not lived that way
Muse at the sun, weave a clover crown.
Don’t listen to those who seize their days.

Revel in the roses, snuggle in the hay
Smile, just smile, while the others frown.
Never, never listen to what others say.

Do what you like; only yourself obey
Sip at the fountain, be the talk of the town.
Don’t let anyone else seize your day!

At night let the stars guide your sleigh
And the moon wrap you in his gauzy gown.
He never listens to what others say!

Hours or dollars? What will you pay?
Time worth spent is far better found.
Everyone says you should seize the day
But who has to listen to what they say?

Save My Luck for Another Day
Johnpaul Harris

There seems to be no other way
Feel your love under the crescent moon
Save my luck for another day.

Play is work and work is play
On the bed we two will spoon
There seems no other way.

Kissing on your feet of clay
We celebrate new lemon bloom
Save my luck for another day.

We always know just what to say
And words to chase away the gloom
There seems to be no other way.

We seem to sift the time away
In endless space or tiny room
Save my luck for another day.

And the way we live from June to May
A century would end too soon
There seems to be no other way
Save my luck for another day.

Ready for more drama? Join us for an encore presentation in Raleigh!

We just learned that The Suicide You Prevent May Be Your Own, one of the 3-minute plays we wrote for the Cary PlaySlam back in April, was selected to be one of four plays performed at the London Bridge Pub in Raleigh  on Saturday!

The play is a comedy-farce that opens when man wanting to order a pizza mistakenly calls a suicide prevention hotline. Saturday’s event will showcase a sample of the work sponsored by the Cary Playwrights Forum as part of the Sparkcon Straight Plays Showcase celebration in Raleigh. We’re delighted that accomplished local actor Sean Wellington (pictured below on the left) will again play the part of Russ, the frustrated sports fan.

suicide1If you love community theater and live theatrical productions, please join us on Saturday, September 17, at 1:35 p.m. at the London Bridge Pub on 110 E. Hargett Street in Raleigh. Hope to see you there!

Buster Gets a Bath, Take 2

THE OLFACTORY VARIATIONS OF BUSTER KEATON FOKKER HOUDINI

Big-hearted-woman-who-
smells-of-mulberries
hides hose behind back
chants Buster-Wuster-Wuster,
That’s a good boy.

Quick, run behind the fish pond,
escape into vinca minor.

Good boy, wilier than Brother-dog,
ensnared by a liver snap,
now trembles in the sun, sweet-sour
moldy melon skink cedar scent
ebbs in lemon foam.

In the shadow of the hemlock
Good boy tilts Fokker-tail-plane ears.
Big heart waters tomato pots, hums
La dee dah, la dee dah dah dah
La dee dah…

Paws over nose luxuriate
in good-boy elixir: dandelions
braided rug mildew
Thursday night ozone
Sunday’s stroganoff
Monday’s muskrat.

Gate slams on good-boy dreams
when Big heart springs from vinca,
tugs collar with gentle firm hands
crabwalks to the sun
no space to bolt; no
Houdini today.

It’ll be okay, she la dee dahs,
pouring lemon on my head
sudsing away my deliciousness
rakes fingers across my ribs
Now doesn’t that feel good?

Bear it, bear it, stone-faced
as my first namesake, quiet too
as lemon stings my eyes, remember
scratch on leg from blackberry vine
before I’m swaddled in lavender
held against Big heart’s chest.

I forgive you, now let me go, go, go
back to the vinca, back to the fishpond
one hundred days of lollygagging
one hundred tussles with Brother-dog
one hundred headbutts with Sister-cat
one hundred nights of fenceless dreams
before I’m good boy again.

~ Ashley Memory
June 17, 2016

buster3

Although Buster is fairly Zen about most things (unlike Brother-dog), judging from his broad smile, I think he’s much happier with Take 2.

So what do you think? Let’s take a poll. Which version do you prefer? Take 1 or Take 2? Comment on this post and we’ll tally the votes.

Buster Gets a Bath: Take 1

One of the things I’m striving for this summer is to write poetry more frequently and to  revel in simple joys. And in this case, bathing a dog. If you’ve ever done it, you know firsthand that the experience certainly evokes all the senses, which means it’s crying out for poetry. Take 1 below.

How to Give Buster a Bath

Don’t bathe Finn first; he’ll see the hose
run behind the fish pond and cower
All nonchalance later, lifts a dry leg
here and there. Maybe you forgot.

No baby talk, no Buster-Wuster-Wuster
He knows it’s his turn, his own scent just right
sour-sweet musk of moldy orange, Sunday’s stroganoff
compost to you, truffles to a dog.

Even in surrender, you’ll crabwalk him by the collar
into the sun where the water won’t sting
rake your knuckles across trembling ribs,
coo, hope, now doesn’t that feel good?

Forget the 15-minute soak to kill the fleas
They’ll be back anyway, so make it quick, squirt
yourself so he’ll see that you can take it too but when it’s over
Swaddle him in lavender, cow-licked heart against yours

Don’t let him go until you feel the square-eyed nutmeg
gaze of forgiveness and watch him run, run, run
freed from a lengthy and undeserved jail term
snout in the air, cry-barking to his own god, Hallelujah.

~ Ashley Memory / June 14, 2016

What do you think? Here’s what the ultimate authority thinks.

Buster1

“First, you give me a bath. And then this! Substandard poetry. Jeez…”

Need I say more? He is NOT happy. So I sent it to my tough-as-nails-got-to-be-cruel-to-be-kind muse Mary, who concurred, echoing Buster’s own thoughts.

“I think this needs to be a Buster-persona poem.  You are translating too many thoughts, emotions, statements that belong to him.  :-)”
M
If anyone can channel a dog, Mary can. It helps that she knows her stuff, too, when it comes to poetry. And this author is inclined to agree. So stay tuned for Take 2. And don’t worry, Buster won’t have to endure another bath.

 

Ashley

Let Paris Surprise You!

Bonjour! Last month I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris for a two-week sojourn (my longest-ever visit) of literary and artistic landmarks. Because my sculptor sweetheart had never been to France, it was a special delight to witness his first viewings of works by artists that inspired him (Praxiteles, Michelangelo, and Rodin, to name a few).

Paris is a lovely city with countless stops of inspiration, from the watering holes of Hemingway and St. Exupery to the cemetery where the reputed heroine of the La Dame Aux Camelias (and the author, Alexandre Dumas, Jr.) now sleeps. It is also legendary for the beauty of its monuments and the vibrancy of its people.

ashley_wilde

The apartment-turned-hotel in Montmartre where the wit and playwright Oscar Wilde lived and died, quipping: “I am dying beyond my means.”

You can indeed die (and live) in style in Paris for there is art and literature everywhere. Yes, there is the Louvre (7 hours is not enough!) and the Comédie-Française, but there is Shakespeare on the subway, artistry in the patisseries (yummy, to boot!), and champagne on the Eiffel Tower.

eiffel_tower

jp_vang-gogh

Gogh Johnny Gogh! Van Gogh, that is. Here he poses in front of the apartment where Van Gogh once lived. 

What surprised us:

  • How seriously the French take their food. Yes. Do not eat in any of the restaurants around here, poo-pooed our host, instead giving us a book with an inscrutable rating system that recommended only 2 restaurants in our neighborhood. It’s okay. The local supermarket was an epicurean delight in itself.
  • How crazy it really is to drive in Paris. Don’t even try it, countless Parisians told us. They were right. We are lucky to be alive. The merging traffic has the right of way. Need I say more?
  • There ARE bathrooms to be found. Just ask! Les toilettes, s’il vous plait?
  • The flea market was worth the trek and the riffraff. First edition of Victor Hugo poems (1830) for just five Euros.
  • Call us picky (in a nation of unlimited bread and cheese) but the French lack true crackers and peanut butter! So if you need a quick snack, don’t expect to find this. They do carry “Skippy” in some stores but it was exorbitantly expensive.
  • The apartment where we stayed had the most curious washing machine. It was actually a combination washer AND dryer. By the time we figured out how to use it, it was time to leave.
  • Friday the 13th is actually considered good luck in France!
  • The recent terrorism attacks were not enough to dampen the enduring joie de vivre of the French people. Maybe it’s the art. Maybe it’s the wine. And maybe it’s just c’est la vie.
abbaye mortemer

As a side trip, we did venture into the countryside of Normandy for a couple of days. We drove by countless charming little towns full of blooming wisteria and stone walls. A highlight was the ruins of Abbaye de Mortemer, which is reputedly the most haunted abbey in France. We didn’t see any ghosts but as we walked among the decaying stone walls on this drizzly day, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if we had!

Fun at the Cary PlaySlam!

On Saturday night, April 2, Johnpaul and I had the pleasure of watching our two original 3-minute plays performed in front of a packed house at the Playslam sponsored by the Cary Playwrights’ Forum and the Cary Theater. With only 15 minutes of practice allowed per play, Johnpaul did a superb job directing the actors—in a dressing room not much bigger than my closet, no less!

While our first play, “Old Habits Die Hard” didn’t score the votes needed to advance to the second round, both actors did a great job with a rather complex script—the story of an accountant running into his former lover (a pickpocket turned mime) in a Philadelphia park. See the picture below featuring actors Sean Wellington and Emily Rose White.

mime1

The good news is that all the plays of the runners-up were still performed, and interestingly, to our delight, our second round play, the dark comedy “The Suicide You Prevent May Be Your Own” appeared to garner a more positive reaction from the crowd. In this play, a probationary suicide prevention hotline operator receives a call from a man who thinks he’s calling a local pizza parlor. See the picture below of Sean and Michelle Corbitt, who portrayed the increasing hysteria of the hotline operator with panache.

suicide1

We met some terrific new people, particularly Thom Haynes, impresario and producer of the night’s event and Sean Wellington, the male lead featured in both of our plays and who magically performed in two more himself. A veteran of this increasingly popular format, Sean’s insights and instincts were invaluable. In addition, two very dear and long-term friends of mine (Sherri Creech Johnson and Peggy Levine) came to support us, and it was wonderful to see them there!

closing1

The experience was golden in terms of lessons learned, which are too countless to list here. (See Johnpaul pictured above, second from the right). The bottom line is that with a dramatic format limited to just  3 minutes, you have to grab your audience quickly and comedy appears to be the shortest route. And in the end, the most memorable plays seem to have a mixture of both pathos and comedy.

Have we given up? Of course not. In fact, we’re more obsessed than ever. What better way to build community than live performances of the human experience? We’re already plotting ahead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is for Writers

crocus1

Writers can find inspiration in any season, but isn’t there something special about spring? Just like the little purple crocus we found yesterday at Whaletail, which was pushing its way out of a nest of dead leaves, I am feeling a new burst of energy in my writing.

I’m also inspired by the words of others. Dan Gerber, a poet I discovered on Rattle, recently said: “I write poems because it’s my way of paying attention to the life of the worlds in and around me.”

And what better time to pay attention to the world around you than in spring? Particularly the natural world, which provides an endless source of inspiration for poets. And on this note, I just learned that my poem, “A Widow on Chester Street,” earned first place in the Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award Contest sponsored by the N.C. Poetry Society and that recognizes poems of any form, any style, on the theme of American heritage, brotherhood/sisterhood, or nature. The contest this year was judged by the poet Lola Haskins. My poem will be published in the May 2016 edition of Pinesong.

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my friend, muse, and fellow poet, Mary Barnard, who painstakingly advised me throughout the writing and pushed me gently every step of the way. I’m also grateful to my writing group, which continues to provide continuous support, be it encouragement to submit…submit…submit (thank you Michele!),  the occasional writerly field trip, and a sounding board for the good, the bad, and the ugly phases of my own work.

This little network would not have been possible without the foundation provided by the Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program. Through this unique program, I’ve taken many classes and made countless new friends.And our program is doing some exciting things these days. This spring I’m indulging myself with two treats—a six-week short story class titled “Where Stories Come From” taught by the celebrated writing teacher and author Ruth Moose, and this Saturday I’ll be taking a one-day workshop (with my beloved) on haiku and Japanese water color taught by master poet Tom Dow. Art and poetry—what could be better?

Join Us for the PlaySlam! on 4/2!

cary theater

It’s been an exciting writing year so far, with two poems accepted for publication and a first foray into play writing.

First, my longer narrative poem, “The Murder House at Sweetwater Ridge” was a finalist for the 7th Annual Narrative Poetry Contest sponsored by the Naugatuck River Review and just recently I learned that a second poem “Why I Love Used Books” earned Honorable Mention in the Ron Rash Poetry Competition sponsored by the Broad River Review. Both will be published this spring.

Is it a coincidence that love entered my life at about this same time? I think not. My boyfriend, Johnpaul Harris, who in addition to being an accomplished sculptor, is also a wonderful writer and avid theater aficionado, having acted in Hamlet and other plays while in college and high school. Just for fun, we collaborated on two, three-minute plays for the PlaySlam! sponsored by Cary Playwrights’ Forum.

Our plays were selected from 12 among 38 total entries, and to our delight and great honor, will be performed on April 2 at the Cary Theater. Johnpaul is listed as the primary author and will be directing them because he knows what he’s doing. Audience members will vote on which of the first plays will advance to the second round (and be considered for the grand prize) but all plays will be performed live by local actors.

 

If you love community theater and want to see Johnpaul give his directorial debut, join us on Saturday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are just $12 per person and will go on sale soon. For more information, please see the Facebook page for PlaySlam!

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