A Most Excellent Adventure

The last few days have been a whirlwind of excitement for me with regards to writing. I have dreamt of growing my career as a writer and teacher for the last ten years. Children and illness paused that growth, but I never let go of the dream.

My family recently took a seven state, seven day vacation. My husband prefers to do the driving, which left me free to absorb the visual wonder of this country as we passed through. It is probably good that I drove little. We travelled south. Car rides alone have a meditative effect on me. I lose my sense of time as my place shifts, moving back and forth between the now and the before.  I craft stories in my head. This ride prompted the sifting of many unturned memories, welcome after the less-favorable memories to which I have recently devoted my writing energy.

The day before we embarked on our journey, I received two pieces of excellent news. The first is that one of my short stories was accepted for publication by Art Saves Lives International. The second was a request for an interview which I accepted and gave the same day. I will share more about that when I have more to tell. For now, know that the topic was “passing.” Also, it was my first radio experience, and only my second time in an interview. Suffice it to say, it was nerve-wracking.

So, there came good news and a journey. My return was greeted with more wonderful news. My new series of classes was confirmed by Unity of Bloomington. They have a wonderful space for writing and teaching. My last session was a beautiful success. It was difficult to end with such an incredible group of trauma writers, but that closing is eased by the opening of a new session.

In addition, I am enjoying the publication of one of my poems on the website of Shareen Mansfield. I coach Shareen and edit her site, On the Verge. It has been immensely rewarding to see her regrow her writing wings, and an honor to be part of her process. She is a tried journalist who is stretching her voice. Reading through her work, you will find she can be funny, ribald, tender and intelligent in any combination. Because I am privy to her not-yet-published pieces, I can confidently tell you Shareen has immense depth as a writer. She is worth following, as her journey is that of a developing artist. And it is a pleasure to share my work through her venue. Here is a link to “Fruit,” a poem further exploring my 2002 visit to Lebanon. I love that Shareen shares my connection to both place and family. It feels right that her site is hosting this piece.

Thank you for your part in my growth. The reader/writer community I engage with through this site is my creative backbone. Whether I have connected with you through my webserial, Twitter, FaceBook or one of my various publication venues, I am thrilled to have met you. Thank you for sharing the journey. Please link to something you are proud of in the comments. I feel the need to celebrate. I would love to celebrate you.

Indiana’s New Anti-Gay Law is THE WORST, but Don’t Boycott the State

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Shawna Ayoub Ainslie:

When I was designing my writing classes, I spent time in reflection on how to ensure all people could feel welcome. As a person who has been repeatedly turned away through discriminatory actions, I find the recent law passed by Mike Pence abhorrent.

This piece from WTFMommying.com intelligently discusses reactions to this law, and points to an alternative choice in choosing where to give your business. Please know that I am an ally. My business serves everyone.

Originally posted on WTF Mommying:

As jackass Indiana Governor Mike Pence eagerly signed the state’s discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law today in Indianapolis, calls to #BoycottIndiana gained momentum across social media, including from well-known LGBT activists like George Takei, who took to his Facebook page to write the following:

I am outraged that Gov. Pence would sign such a divisive measure into law. He has made it clear that LGBT couples, like Brad and me, are now unwelcome in his state. The notion that this bill was not driven by animus against our community is belied by the record and frankly insulting. I will join many in demanding that socially responsible companies withdraw their business, conferences and support from his state and that LGBTs and our friends and supporters refuse to visit or do business with Indiana….

Indiana Gov Mike Pence Signs RFRA in IndySeriously. Look at this smug jerk with his merry cohort of religious leaders who appear as if they…

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April/May Classes Offered by Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

I’m excited to share my finalized course schedule for April and May. I will be offering a session of Writing through Trauma for women only, as well as two new classes, designed based on interest and request. Please contact me with any questions. And please share!

Writing through Trauma for WOMEN ONLY

Dates: 6 Mondays from April 13-May 18, 2015
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM
Location: Unity of Bloomington
Cost: $80
Instructor: Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

This class will be a supportive space for adult writers who identify as women and are negotiating difficult topics, regardless of genre or experience. We will discuss writing our trauma from a safe space, self-care, critical reading, how to give and receive constructive criticism, what writing style works best for us and why, finding our voices, and point of view among other topics. At least 30 minutes of every session will be devoted to in-class writing. Writers are encouraged to share their work, but not required. Regular out-of-class writing and reading will be assigned for in-class discussion. Maximum 8 participants. For more information, contact Shawna at shawna.ainslie@gmail.com or visit her website, honeyquill.com.

Beginning Storytelling: Fiction and Creative Nonfiction

Dates: 8 Tuesdays from April 14-May19, 2015
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM
Location: Unity of Bloomington
Cost: $125 (includes materials)
Instructor: Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

This class will provide an six week introduction to various aspects of storytelling in the closely-related genres of fiction and creative nonfiction. Topics will include point of view, voice, setting, characterization, plot and other standard storytelling devices. We will engage these topics through writing prompts during each session and discussion of weekly reading assignments. This will be a small group setting for adults. The class fee includes reading and practice materials provided by the instructor. Maximum 15 participants. For more information, contact Shawna at shawna.ainslie@gmail.com or visit her website, honeyquill.com.

Story Development (for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction)

Saturdays April 11, May 2 and 23 plus 3 scheduled exchanges
3:00-5:00 PM
$150
Instructor: Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

This class is designed for development of fiction and nonfiction writing projects and ideas for adults. This will included three group writing and generative workshop sessions as well as three written constructive critiques (by the instructor) of your produced work. Participants can expect to receive individually-tailored writing prompts and social networking and publication direction where possible. Most likely running three Saturday afternoons, bi-weekly, with a one-on-one followup one month after the course ends. The first two critiques will take place after group sessions one and two. The third will be received during the one-on-one meeting. Students need to be able to type their work, have access to email, and be willing to share in class. Maximum 6 participants. For more information, contact Shawna at shawna.ainslie@gmail.com or visit her website, honeyquill.com.

I also offer limited private writing coaching. You can design your experience.

The Successful Writer (Writing Prompt)

“… you need the room. You need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well. The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse. … Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon or seven ‘til three.”  ~Stephen King, On Writing

Tell me a story about being a writer that you define as successful.

What does that look like?

What does it feel like?

What is your purpose in writing? Is it for yourself or others?

What is your dream?

Give yourself permission to live that dream on the page, just for the next 20 minutes. Allow yourself to express your highest good (whether serving yourself or the world, whether writing fiction, nonfiction or poetry). Know your dream intimately. Breathe it. Open yourself to the possibility of living that dream.

Now, come back to this moment. Reflect on how to get where you want to be. Identify the first, smallest step. That step could be writing two sentences a day, reading, having a regular breakfast, submitting edited work to journals, applying for scholarships or simply stopping for a single moment each day to revisit your writing dream. Whatever that step is, make it your goal for this week.

You choose your writing experience.

The Docks: Episode 13

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In the desert, the sky spread out to blanket the earth. Each star was a dart on the quilt of night. Bria had snuck out here alone. Jana, in the excitement over Elric’s awakening, had a blind spot to Bria. Bria expanded it with a weave she had stumbled over when trying to shield herself from Elric’s overjoyed prying. He now returned Bria’s bond, too. While it was beautiful to feel so close to him, to understand him in a way she never could before, it was overwhelming. She was already sharing her mind with so many, except Helene, and she wanted Helene open to her. Helene needed to know someone cared for her, even though her knotted was a statue in a basement. A statue shuffled from room to room.

Perhaps it was foolish to be out here alone. No, it was absolutely foolish to be in the Dunes at night, alone. Utterly insane. Especially after the visit she’d had two weeks back. But here she was, seeking comfort and certainty. And solitude.

She lay back in the sand. It slipped down the neck of her shirt. She didn’t care. “Love,” she said, and she didn’t know why. “Alone,” she whispered to herself. Then she sat up and thought of when the Docks had led to water, and whether there was a beast of the elements that dozed in the sand.

“Are you there?” She surprised herself by shouting. She lowered her voice.“If you are, you don’t need me to yell.” She walked along, dragging trails in the dirt. There was no breeze tonight. All was still. Suddenly, she was sure she was missed. “Better get back,” she mumbled to the air. To the beast if it was listening. At her Jeep, she mumbled over her shoulder, “I’d love to see you again.” She felt stupid for saying it, and shrugged.  “If there’s a way, let me know and I’ll be back.”

The sand shifted behind her. She turned slowly, unsure what to expect. Nothing. An empty desert. A twinkling night sky. She asked the air, “Are you there? Is there . . .  anything you need?”

A breeze played with the sand. Little dunes formed and blew away. Larger dunes lifted and shifted toward her, serpent-like. She was afraid. She was not afraid.

Afterward, she realized she’d been holding her breath. “Water,” she whispered as she blew it out. And where better to find water than a flooded fishbowl? She climbed into her Jeep laughing because the thought was so ridiculous.

Knowing Your Voice (and a Writing Prompt)

I was recently asked if we (writers) can change our voice by writing in a different style.

I answered by saying, “Your voice is different from your companions’ voices. If you can hear the difference, you can write the difference.”

Certainly, you would use a different approach when writing a medical document than a prose poem. It follows that a writer might change voices frequently. I am told my voice is very strong and identifiable across genres, but that I have a “soft” voice, a “teacher”voice, a “mommy” voice and an “angry” voice, all of which I use to different ends. The way I employ those voices in and across genres is what determines my writing style, which is also subject to change. After all, I am a work in progress.

Further, ask around and you will discover that the best editors are the ones who merge their edits seamlessly within the work of their client. In other words, an editor should be invisible because s/he assumes a voice to match the writer’s.

I believe voice, in a first person narrative, is carried outside of the “out loud” words. Here is an exercise to aid you in “hearing” your own voice. To fully stretch this exercise, write it without dialogue.

Hearing Voices

1.

You are at a table with at least two other people. Describe those people. Let them be fully embodied in your mind. If you know them, hear their voices. If you created them, give them voices. Know their interests, their desires, their hopes and hurts. Know them as you know yourself.

2.

You and your companions have all witnessed the same event. You were at a cafe. A woman came in and shouted at the barista. See the situation. See the story.

Now, write the event from your point of view (in first person/I, me). Tell it naturally, as it occurred. As if you were saying it out loud. Hear your voice in your head as you write it. Allow yourself to be fully present on the page.

3.

Allow each of your companions to tell the story from their point of view (also in first person). Hear their voices as you write their stories. Allow them to be fully present on the page.

To consider:

What we take from our experiences is a reflection of the person we are when we have the experiences. This means each character will see and remember an event differently, maybe even in a different order than expected.

*If you complete this exercise, blog it with a link back so I can promote your post on Twitter and Facebook. I will also link your post at the bottom of this exercise as an example. 

Bent

“You’re the last person in the world anyone would talk to about a problem. You know that. I know that.” Susie pushed her upper body away from the floor by leaning on her elbows. She picked various pieces of dirt and lint off the floor.

“I know.” Susie’s mother harrumphed and slumped down, preparing herself for the inevitable depression that would result from an adult chat with her daughter. Susie’s mother strongly resented the way Susie tried to coach her in parenting. Susie didn’t even have any children!

Susie steeled herself. She continued collecting dirt and lint in the palm of one hand. Her body stiffened unconsciously. Susie tried to retain her composure by relaxing one muscle at a time, starting with her neck. She suppressed the rising anger and panic boiling away in her stomach and took a deep breath.

“Look,” her mother’s tone turned nasty, “you don’t have to tell me what to do. I’ve raised four of you girls and you were all obnoxious brats.”

Susie sighed as her mother continued. She’d heard this so many times before that she easily tuned her mother out, looking in the other direction. Her eyes squinted slightly as she stared at the white wall. Her hand closed over the lint she had collected and she forced a piece of it under her fingernail, wincing as she felt it dig sharply into her skin. She carefully pulled a piece of gray carpet with hardened glue at the end out from under her fingernail. Susie examined it slowly before she tuned back into the conversation.

“…your father never does anything around here. I am always the one to take the blame.” Her mother took in a deep breath, her face contorting to its ugliest expression yet. She pressed her lips together so they were flat and thin. From the side, Susie’s mother looked like she might explode. That deep breath was still bottled inside her. Susie could see her mother’s movements in slow motion: a layer of her hair rose up from the top of her head and fell back down in a soft wave that matched the jerk of her mother’s head. The excess skin on her mother’s face shifted backward giving Susie a shocking glimpse of what her mother had looked like before she had stopped caring about her body, supposedly due to the sexual advances of Susie’s father. Every muscle in her mother’s body tightened in preparation for the most important statement she would make during this tirade.

“Your father,” her mother said the word father with such vehemence that Susie shrank away, desperately trying to tear her eyes away from the mocking face of her mother, “never does anything around here. His highness just sits on his ass after he gets home and says ‘Woman, get me some food’ and then I am left with all the chores. I wash the dishes, I clean the bathrooms, I vacuum even though I have allergies and that jerk doesn’t. I do everything! And do I get any thanks for it? No! And I never ask for thanks either. What I do get is stuck with you kids. You kids are always telling me how to do everything like I’m not capable of doing it without your help. You’re away at college so you don’t see the stuff I do around here, how I’m made to slave away.” Her mother’s breath was still not completely expelled and her face was turning red and was taut with anger so that her excess skin hung like bread dough from her muscles and shook as she punctuated many of her words with widened or narrowed eyes and a sudden shift of her body — which strongly resembled the way in which a rebellious teenager would react to being corrected. “Meanwhile, I am forced to look after your spoiled brat of a little sister who thinks she is queen of my house. She is always using my computer and going out with her friends. Susie, she treats me so badly.” With this, Susie’s mother would hang her head and drop her shoulders as though she were to start crying. Susie would count to three-Mississippi and then her mother would raise her head, her eyes once again flushed with anger, and make her crowning statement: “I just don’t know what to do. She is such a bitch!” She would spit the last word out along with any strength she had left in her, then she would work her chin and bottom lip and start crying about how she didn’t know what to do and how no one appreciated her.

Susie sat there staring at the bent profile of her mother and thinking of all the cruel things she’d like to say. Not knowing how to handle the situation without ending up as an apologist or taking all the blame, she stared at her mother for a few moments more and then left the room, trailing her disgust. As she stepped outside of the doorway, guilt got the best of her so she stepped back inside the tiny room now filled with her mother’s hate and other emotions, kissed the top of her mother’s head, laid one hand on her shoulder and said, “You know I love you, Mom. Things’ll get better.” Then she went to get her mother a cup of water and some tissues.