How I Found SCN
We all have a story about how we found Story Circle Network—and we'd love to hear it! To share your story (up to 450 words) on our website, please email it to truewords at storycircle.org.
Abby November, Austin TX
My sister had died July 4 of ALS. I was experiencing a roller coaster of emotions with no highs in sight. I felt as if the roller coaster was in a free fall with no hills at all. When my friend Sandi told be about OWL (the Older Women's Legacy writing group) and SCN, I was intrigued.
"Sandi, I don't write," I told her. "I can't put sentences together. I'll make a fool of myself. Plus my story is too sad. I should just 'snap out of it.'"
Sandi is a persistent and loving friend, though. "Just try it," she said to me. "We'll go together."
In the end, I agreed. I waited in the parking lot ten minutes before the OWL workshop was scheduled to start. I wouldn't get out of the car until I saw Sandi's car, because I couldn't go in alone.
So we went in together. Judith Helburn is a non-judgmental, gentle, and marvelous facilitator. She has encouraged both me and my writing. I am so glad that I joined. It's as if a lightness has entered my heart, slowly opening up the empty dark places. I feel warmth and freedom to be.
Thank you SCN, OWL, Judith, and Sandi. What a gift to give a friend: the ability to express oneself and capture the feelings and dreams that flow from your mind onto paper. I hope to write a legacy for my children so that they will know their mother, from whence I came, and how place has helped shape who I have become.
Cameo Victor, Elkhart IN
How I Met Susan Albert
Susan Wittig Albert was the keynote speaker for the 2001 UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) WomanSpirit Conference held at Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN. Attendees were treated to three days of exciting workshops, ceremonies, discussions, and a Café-Open Mike Night. Dr. Albert also led the Sunday morning Worship Service. She spoke of a woman's spiritual journey as a flowing river, full of richly creative life, following a pattern of growth through our inner lives.
The workshop that I presented at the conference was "A Self-Guided Tour to the State of Happiness", about my study of the Tarot as an iconic symbol system. As an artist and mystical seeker, the Tarot had been my passion for over 30 years. It has been my mission to demonstrate that the Tarot is not a mindless fortune-telling scheme. It is a brilliant, organized pattern of ideas that can be explored and used to guide us to our innate inner wisdom. My work with the Tarot envisions an inner journey of growth to health and happiness. Isn't that what we are all seeking?
Susan was an inspiration to me. She visited my display at the Conference and we had a great conversation about the Tarot. In addition to her keynote address, she held an informal discussion group for those of us who wanted to hear more about her work. To my delight, I found that she also has been interested in the Tarot and has included it in her writings. We are seekers of like mind. Susan understood my concept of the tarot as a map of personal growth. She invited me to join the Story Circle Network and publicized my book online. Also, she encouraged me to publish a deck to go along with the book.
It was in 1999 that I completed my designs for the entire series of 78 tarot cards and self published the book (same title as the workshop, above) about my understanding of the tarot. It was illustrated with my 78 tarot images. The deck was completed and printed in 2002 from my 22"x28" full color collages. The book is now out of print. My website has some of my recent articles about the Tarot. If you are interested in my work, you can go to the website and download the text of the book for free. It is time to pass my work along to the next wave of seekers.
I thank Susan for her kind encouragement.
Tricia Stephens, Carrollton TX
The first time I met Susan Albert was in the summer of 1997 when I saw her standing near her herb beds with her dog, Zach. She didn't see me because I was over 200 miles away in Fort Worth, Texas reading about her in the Dallas Morning News.
I started reading the article because the teaser "murder, mystery and marjoram from a Hill Country writer" was about things I cared about—mysteries, herbs, and Texas. Reading the article I found that other ways I related to Susan were: an interest in tarot, astrology, meditation, and history; also, the fact she had a lab, her unhappiness with climbing the corporate ladder, that she and her husband were looking for a life they could both enjoy, and that she wanted to promote the voice of women. I signed up for China's Garden, her herb journal right away.
In China's Garden I read recipes, reviews of books on herbs, updates of the new SCN. I met China Bayles, Ruby Wilcox, and other Pecan Springs' residents from Susan's mystery series. Soon I was buying the mystery books, reading about Texas, and loving a heroine I could cheer for. A few months later I joined Story Circle to reclaim my own writer's voice while balancing my life as a mom, a business professional, and a newly married 45 year old woman.
A year later I left a career that had defined and trapped me for 20 years to be at home with a pre-teen daughter and to adopt another child. Story Circle was a voice of reassurance that I could do something totally against the rules I'd always followed, that I could follow my dreams, that I could find life outside of work. During those first months while feeling out of place at home I'd read stories by women telling me about their struggles, heartaches, and joys. Their voices were soothing and I felt I'd found the sisters I'd wished for growing up as an only child.
I've been a part of a writing circle since 2001. Here I get encouragement, feedback, and a strong community of writing sisters. Reading the stories of others I hear the things that are true for me and I see things that without the promptings I would miss.
I don't believe there are accidents in life, but rather there is a big plan; and though often I do not see where the plan is going I know if I let myself go, my inner wisdom will keep me on the path. Story Circle has been a light and companion on my path to finding the value of my voice.
Danelle Sasser, Austin TX
Danelle Sasser is one of SCN's most extraordinary members. She first joined Story Circle Network in 2000 as a member of an Austin writing circle because she "struggled with writing" and needed the structure of a face-to-face circle to encourage and inspire her, which she received. But she didn't just sit back and receive all the benefits of membership—she soon joined the SCN Board, making her mark through her generous contributions of time, organizational skills, and leadership. She finished her last term on the Board in December, but, no doubt, will remain active as a volunteer.
Under her leadership, her committee was responsible for developing, planning, coordinating, and evaluating SCN's publications, including the electronic newsletters (such as this one), the website, and printed publications such as the quarterly publication of Story Circle Journal.
"But nothing can compare to being the co-chair of the National Conference, twice, in 2006 and 2008," says Danelle. "For each conference I spent months working closely with my co-chair, Peggy Moody, as well as many members of SCN who volunteered to help put the conference together. I really enjoyed working with and getting to know such capable and interesting women."
She adds: "And the conferences themselves were such fun to attend. Our keynote speakers and presenters were all fantastic. The best part for me was to meet so many wonderful women."
Danelle is married with twin boys who are seniors in high school. She knows that next year will be a defining transition for her, and she is optimistic. "I am hoping to find a new direction after spending the last 18 years as a stay-at-home mom."
Of course, she will continue to participate in her writing circle. "The writing circle and all of the workshops I have attended have given me many tools to help jump start my writing."
Interestingly, Danelle has found inspiration in her music as well. "Since I have spent so much of my life playing music, whenever I hear a piece or play something, I will recall other times in my life that I have heard or played that same piece. It's like a prompt that helps me retrieve memories of my past."
After six years of steady and significant service, Danelle admits she will miss being on the Board. "It has been exciting and fun."
She has sage advice for members who want to give back to this organization that inspires women to find their authentic voices and tell their personal stories. "I recommend to all members that they investigate opportunities to help SCN, either as a conference volunteer or as part of one of the Board committees."
Sharon Blumberg, Munster IN
SCN Board member Sharon Blumberg joined the organization in 2000 after reading an ad about it in Personal Journaling Magazine. She joined because she wanted "to discover new ways of connecting to my world through writing. By writing about my life experiences, I discovered myself in new ways. It was almost like a feeling of rebirth."
An 18-year veteran Spanish teacher, Sharon works at Parker Junior High in Flossmoor, Illinois. In her spare time she savors being able to develop her freelance writing career.
"I started writing from life as a way to reflect and write about my experiences in my early struggles to become a teacher," she says. "My writing served as a means of making sense of my world. This in turn created a sense of catharsis for me. I am always just as much a student as I am a teacher. Challenges never cease to abound, but that is what makes my job so exciting!"
Her writing process, she says, "involves a number of revisions. Before I see a writing piece finally come to fruition, I either write it out on paper with pen in hand, or I revise as I type away on my computer. It all depends on my mood, energy level and time frame."
Sharon joined the organization's Board of Directors following "a new-found sense of self." For many years she had enjoyed working with Mary Jo Doig by submitting personal expression pieces to her "True Words" column and working with former Journal editor Jane Ross on article submissions.
"I wanted to become that same kind of beacon of light (as Mary Jo and Jane) to prospective life writers," she says. "I joined the board primarily to try and help others get involved in the organization and achieve this same goal."
Sharon telecommutes to board meetings via conference calls. She chairs the organization's public relations committee and has been recruited to chair the circles committee after Lisa Shirah-Hiers leaves the post to become vice president next month. Last summer Sharon served as chairman of the Lifewriting contest. What was it like?
"It was quite a learning experience," she says, giving accolades to Susan Albert and Peggy Moody for their guidance and support. "I could not have accomplished that feat without Susan and Peggy's help. Peggy was always by my side online, continuously giving me guidance as she patiently answered my endless questions. She is indeed the one and only technological guru of all time. She also helped me greatly by organizing the two rounds of judges."
She explains that the process included narrowing the entries to the top twelve contestants for a second round of judging, both based on numerical rankings. The top four winners were selected from the top twelve. "I was one of the judges in Round One. It was a pleasure reading so many fascinating life writing pieces from our dedicated members."
She grew up near the amber sand dunes of Miller Beach's coastline in Gary, Indiana. The youngest in her family, Sharon has one older sister and one older brother. "My parents are now, sadly, deceased."
Sharon is married and has two grown children. She enjoys reading, writing, going for walks in the park with my husband Reuben and dog Milkshake, as well as spending time with family and friends. She resides in Munster, Indiana.
She encourages others to join Sorry Circle Network and become actively involved. "The benefits are many," she says. "I enjoy getting to know other members of this great writing organization through our mutual interests as writing sisters."
She adds; "Our common love for telling our stories through the written word transcends distance and time."
Marsha Brandsdorfer, Mountain View CA
I was a subscriber of the Writer's Digest magazine and saw an ad about the Story Circle Network in the publication, so I sent away for a sample journal and also reviewed their web site. I was initially curious about this writers' organization because they stated that they were a writing group just for women and they emphasized women's memoir writing. They stated that their mission was to encourage women to tell their stories and write about their lives.
I related immediately as my memoir, The Accidental Secretary, was about to go to press. The main theme of my book was about working for attorneys for over two decades. I wrote my book to share my experiences and to allow other women who have gone through difficulties in their working relationships to know that they were not alone in some of their ordeals.
Some interesting problems I encountered while working were ways I was treated since I was, and still am, single. For example, when I asked one attorney for a raise after working for him for over a year, he told me that I did not need any more money. His excuse was that I was going to get married and have someone else take care of me. It was irrelevant to him to reward me for the good work I did for him.
When firms were cutting back, I was the first to go. Since I didn't have any children to support, employers felt I didn't need any money. Try telling that to my landlord.
By joining the Story Circle Network, one of the perks was that I could get my book reviewed. Member Susan Ideus reviewed my book a few months later after I had sent a copy to the Story Circle Network. Her positive review can be found on Story Circle's book review website.
As a member, I receive the quarterly Story Circle Journal. In the "True Words from Real Women" section, a theme is given to write about for each issue, and then contributions from members are considered for publication. When one of my friends committed suicide in December, I wrote a short article about him, creatively using one of the themes. My story, "My Friend Jim," was published in the March issue of the Journal. It is fulfilling to have another outlet for my writing and share my stories with other women writers and readers.
Janet Riehl, St. Louis MO
For Janet Riehl recognition as a writer came early.
"My work was first published when I was a teenager. Four pieces of mine were published in my junior high school (middle school) magazine. My father recently came across them and seemed rather impressed. Actually, I think I just had a crush on my English teacher. The person who most strongly modeled the life of a writer as I grew up, though, was my father, who wrote in the midst of fixing things, working with his hands and being a family man."
After earning a degree in English from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, she served in the Peace Corps in Africa where she taught English as a Second Language and literature in secondary schools for three years. She says teaching English as a Second Language is good training for a writer because teaching ESL teaches one to give preference for the simple word before the fancy one.
Janet has professional experience on four continents directing cross-cultural development projects, conducting workshops, teaching, and training. Her private consulting company in New Mexico counted clients ranging from high-tech business leaders to Native American pueblos.
"I've traveled to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe" she says. "My work has taken me all over the United States. I've worked with Native Americans, villagers in Botswana and Ghana, inner city Blacks in Illinois, Latinos in New Mexico. Writing has been the core of it all: writing for education (curriculum development/training and development); marketing communications (best job I ever had was editor of an in-house newsletter for ComputerLand Corporation); business writing; technical writing...every conceivable type of writing and training folks how to write more clearly in my consulting business."
Among her publications is Sightlines: A Poet's Diary. Although sudden death of her sister in 2004 was the impetus for the book, Janet says, "It's more than a dead sister book; its encompassing theme is a meditation on impermanence and chance...the mutability of memory...the passage of time."
She goes on to say: "Each section could easily have been released as a separate chapbook and has its own distinctive theme and flavor, but taken as a whole, the sections and poems speak to one another. There are three sections for three people I love, three close family members, each sections titled with their nicknames: SKEETER (for my sister Julia who was killed in a car wreck); SLIM (my father); SWEET LITTLE DOVE (taken from the song "Evelyna" and meant ironically....for my mother). The last two sections are for places I love: HOMEPLACE&mdahs;our ancestor place in Southwestern Illinois on the bluffs above the Mississippi founded by my great grandfather E. A. Riehl in the 1860s; and LAKESIDE—Lake County/Clear Lake in Northern California where I lived at the time."
How does Janet keep up such a rich writing life? Janet views writing as a craft that demands the discipline of work. "Our muse comes out when we're at work," she says. "Art is good, but craft will see you through."
One way to practice one's craft is through the activities and opportunities offered by Story Circle Network. Janet believes that at its best, SCN fosters "connection—within ourselves; with our writing world; and with our writing sisters."
Visit Janet's blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" for connections through the arts, across cultures and generations.
A Synchronicity Pointed the Way
Maria Weber, Buena Vista CO
I am 80% done with a book about a segment of my life: a spiritual journey, which includes a workbook. I participate in and lead a weekly writing group that sounds like SCN's story circles. I am devouring the info on your website, and feel as though I've found a new home!
How did I find you? I had handed over my manuscript to a friend, Susan Tweit in Salida, Colorado, to review on May 14, 2008. I had been searching the Internet for books that were in the same vein as mine so that I could connect with the authors for support.
My book is a metaphysical journey about healing a mother-daughter relationship after death. The morning of my meeting with Susan, I had just discovered Jane Hughes Gignoux's website: Life, Death, and Beyond. Gignoux has brought together stories from various cultures explaining the mystery of death to children of all ages. A light bulb went off in my head. Maybe, instead of trying to find others who were writing about healing relationships after death, I should seek out those who are writing memoir and life stories. When I told Susan about my new idea, she promptly produced a copy of Story Circle Journal. I believe that synchronicities such as this point the way to the next step. Within twenty-four hours, I'd received the answer to my need—a ready-made group of people who revel in telling their stories and listening to others' stories.
The book I am writing, I'll Be There to Write the Story: A Mother-Daughter Journey Beyond Death is about healing the relationship with my mother after her death so that I could go on with my life without carrying the baggage. It's not only the story of how I did it and an example for others, it's also the surprising message my mother needed to convey to the world through me. It includes a workbook to help readers embark on their own healing journeys.
Writing this book has been a journey in itself and I couldn't have done it without the support of my local writing friends. I am part of a writing group called The Writer's Bloc, which began in 1998, shortly after I moved to Buena Vista from Denver, Colorado. This group was inspired by Natalie Goldberg's workshops in Taos. I am one of the original members, who attended a Goldberg workshop and learned the technique of writing practice. For ten years we have been writing every Monday morning from 9:30 till 11:30. Each member of our group takes a turn leading, so that no one person is overburdened. Our only rule is "no comment." We don't critique. The writing is for fun and to keep our writing muscles tuned up. Some of us have books in progress and others are already published.
I am thrilled beyond words to have found SCN.
Dani Greer, Flagler CO
When Dani Greer and her husband moved to a small town on the High Plains, she decided to take the opportunity to write and explore the possibility of a career shift from the fine arts. "I'd read a book about growing up as a military brat, and decided to explore some of the memories and feelings associated with that."
At the same time that she joined Story Circle Network, Dani also joined a Yahoo! Group of women writers where she enjoyed an online camaraderie that fed her writer's soul.
"Late last year, when Susan and I tossed around the idea of a similar connection for SCN members, I knew this would be the draw to my greater involvement with SCN and life writing," says Dani. "Group energy is so powerful and motivating, and a good balance to writing, which is very isolated."
The online SCN Life Writers Group is open to members of Story Circle Network. If you're not a member, then join the organization first (go here to join) and then go to the SCN Life Writers yahoo group and follow the directions. Within a short time, Peggy Moody, SCN executive director, will confirm membership and approve entry into the Yahoo! Group.
The group is new but very active. And the benefits are great.
As Dani says, "In just a few months of group activity, I've learned so much about this genre of writing and how fascinating it is, not to mention its ever-increasing popularity. Everyone has a story to tell, and I don't think I realized how precious those stories are until chatting with other members online."
One of the discussions in the group has been around blogging. Why have a blog? How do you get a blog? When you get one, what do you do with it, especially if you see yourself at technologically challenged?
Dani has responded to the discussion in the most helpful way! She has set up a blog dedicated to helping wannabe bloggers enter into the fray for an online presence. Visit her for her easy-to-understand start-up hints.
"I think a blog is one of the fastest, easiest, and certainly least expensive ways to have an online presence," she says. "If you're marketing anything, especially a book, a blog is essential. It's also a fabulous way to demonstrate your writing ability, so it's not a waste of time as many writers believe. It's just another form of writing that just happens to have a higher online profile than a website. It's an essential tool and really easy peasy when using Blogger."
Dani thinks the other benefits of SCN are boundless. "I like the monthly e-Letters, the weekly writing prompts sent by Lee Ambrose in the Internet Chapter, the podcasts, the new Yahoo! Group, the Journal, and the SCN Book Review site. Not necessarily in that order, but they all contribute to an ongoing presence from day-to-day."
She adds: "I also like that the group is very organized and well-run."
Jeanne Ware Guy, Austin TX
Jeanne Guy likes writing stories from life for "gaining insights, diffusing and releasing past wounds, learning self-compassion, reflecting on courage, finding humor, realizing potential and wisdom, finding path after path to my center, my ground; learning through the stories and vulnerability of other women."
This terrific woman is one of the facilitators for the Writing from Life workshop "Discovering Ourselves through the Power of Practice of Story," which will be held in Austin, June 14-15.
Jeanne's session, "Discovering Your Vision through Collage," is a combination of Julia Cameron and Christina Baldwin's work. The goal is to discover our possibilities and create a sense of self-love and the energy to take action.
Participants will start with a couple of quick "clarity" writing exercises and then each woman will make a list of choices that focus on her vision and moving in the direction of that vision.
"We'll be creating collages based on our choices," Jeanne explains. "They will be '...a pictorial lifeline from where you are now (current reality) to your vision, to where you want to go.'"
In Jeanne's personal journals, she has experimented with unlined pages, leaving plenty of open space and freedom to think big or small, add pictures, mementos, etc. She believes daily journaling and lifewriting can use collaging as a way "to help clarify what we really want, discovering how powerful the practice of seeing our visions can be."
Jeanne is quite happy to give back to SCN by offering workshops where she has expertise. Giving back is only natural for what she has gotten. The most recent help has come from the SCN Lifewriters' Group.
"It's just so incredibly informational and really damn (can I say that?) supportive. It's like connective tissue for a writer."
She adds: "I'm working on my first book, a creative non-fiction about the kidnapping of my older two children back in 1977 and reworking a 400-page manuscript means I spend a lot of time alone in front of my computer. To know that other women writers are out there, so willing to share their hearts, knowledge and wisdom is life giving and life affirming. Amen to (Story Circle Network founder and author) Susan Albert."
Jeanne has formed deep friendships through the organization. "The joy of meeting, chauffeuring, learning from and ultimately becoming good friends with Christina Baldwin through the 2003 Lifelines Weekend Retreat in Hunt, Texas, was a life changing experience for me. To feel so connected to a circle of 50 women was extraordinary. Christina is now my writing mentor and forever friend."
Jeanne attended the Stories From the Heart Conference in 2004 and again in 2008, facilitating workshops for both and finding them "abuzz with energy and goodness." She gives kudos to Peggy Moody and Danelle Sasser for their tireless work as co-chairs for both conferences.
"The June 2007 Writers' Conference in San Marcos highlighted the publication of What Wildness is This, which acknowledged me as the sister of a real author!" she says. "I was so proud that the work of my sis (Joanne Smith) was one of the selected essays (Seasons of a Hermit, pg 11). The event gave us a wonderful weekend together, attending some of the best workshops I've ever been to."
The Writing from Life (WFL) workshop next month will be Jeanne's first retreat workshop under the Story Circle Network banner, but she is no newcomer to facilitating. In 1995 she became a workshop facilitator of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. She began the popular 14-week "Your Life is Your Art! You Are the Artist" based on The Artist's Way at Seton Cove, an interfaith spirituality center in Austin, TX, and says it is going to be "resurrected" this fall.
Jeanne Guy is known for her encouraging and experiential facilitation style, creating a safe place for participants to shape their lives through "daily practice" tools. Come, if you can, to the WFL weekend retreat and experience her energy and encouragement.
Helen Lowery, Weatherford TX
Helen Lowery, secretary/treasurer of Story Circle Network, says that after her granddaughter was born and after 9/11, she picked up Susan Albert's Writing from Life and started doing some of the exercises. As life started getting in the way and more grant writing opportunities came her way, she put the book away and started working again in technical writing.
Then she came to a turning point.
"In October 2004 my Dad died. After two months of insulated deep grieving, I started wishing I had written down or tape recorded every word my Dad had ever spoken. So I pulled out Susan's book," she says, "and I noticed somewhere it mentioned the Story Circle Network, and I looked up the web site and joined the internet groups from there."
Helen strongly believes in the mission of SCN because "it is so important for women to tell their stories."
She adds: "In reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves, I realized, along with all of my counseling studies, how healing it is to tell one's story and to have it validated. As a therapist, many times clients would tell me of psychological abuse they had been taking for years, and they did not know how it had impacted their life until I would gasp at the horror of what they had been through. Telling one's story is a direct pathway to the healing of the soul and the sharing of the story with a focused empathic listener can lead one to spiritual enlightenment."
When asked what have been the greatest benefits for her personally, she responded, "I think belonging to SCN has awakened me to my own story and my creative process by listening to other women. One of the most wonderful things that happened was at the Red River Retreat when I realized how much I love being a Texan as I listened to the stories of my peers about their lives in Texas. I have learned to embrace being a Texas Native."
What Helen enjoys most about all her SCN activities is "when women work together, to solve problems, to share life, to see one another, to be genuine and to support and strengthen all women through listening to their stories with compassion and empathy."
Like many of the women in SCN, this executive board member has a very diverse and interesting background. For many years in the 60's and 70's she was a stay-at-home Mom married to a preacher. After her second child was born, she was "bored to tears, literally." So one summer day she packed up her 7 year old and 2 year old children and went over to the community college and signed up for a psychology class.
"I had never been to college and honestly was not sure I was smart enough to go to school. That was in 1977. It took me until 1982 to get my bachelor's and a few years later I received my master's in rehabilitation counseling and administration. This degree has taken me far," she says.
Helen has had a private counseling practice—in some form or the other—for the last 20 years. Plus, she has started at least three other businesses, taught at University of North Texas, been a Fellow for the Corporation for Community and National Service, published a national training on disability for TANF case workers, worked as an advocate for UCP, an Executive Director of a local ARC and a free lance grant writer.
Currently she's working with her son to build his new business, and she is seeing some clients, and performing wedding ceremonies, and grand parenting three wonderful people, 17, 12, and 3, and actively participating in Story Circle Network.
Yes, Helen Lowery is one very busy woman...which quickly brings to mind the old adage, "One always finds time for what she loves to do."
Victoria F. Jessop, El Cajon CA
I first discovered the Story Circle through Gammer Girton's Needle. Puzzling, perhaps? But I think that Susan Wittig Albert may recognize it. As an avid reader of detective stories, I came across the title of this 16th century play by Nicholas Udall in one of Susan's books. We even exchanged e-mails, and I signed up for Susan and Bill Albert's Newsletter. In turn, this led to my joining the Story Circle. But I found it daunting. The contributions were almost all Americana: the Thirties, the Forties, the Depression. Would my stories interest those who didn't know or understand my own purely British past?
I had plenty to write about. My father was a storyteller in the old oral tradition. I remember best our sitting around him, fascinated while he talked and played his guitar, my mother joining in too. Sadly, my sister's children and mine barely knew our parents, but stories of these wonderful people are a legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren. Yet we must get those stories on paper. Luckily, we both have excellent memories of much of our family life, living in England through WWII and afterwards.
Although I was too hesitant to write, I did take an e-mail course from Susan Wittig Albert, using true characters, changing and writing a fictional story about them—not at all easy—but this technique forced my mind open and I loved what I was doing. Then, during the very last lesson, our family received a blow that sent all writing out of mind. My youngest daughter was diagnosed with a very rare cancer—a story in itself—a non-Hodgkin's variety. She received radiation and has now been cancer-free for seven years. We live our lives with hope for the future.
Meanwhile, a visit to England in 2003 encouraged me to write an article on my experiences as a child in the terrible 1942 Exeter firebombing. The Exeter paper accepted it and another article I wrote on Exeter, bringing back that yearning to write. Last year, I thought about Story Circle once more and rejoined. I hope this time to overcome my writing block. I've led quite a colorful life as well, and wonder if other readers would be interested in what a British-American has to say about life here and in other countries.
I have a book on the Great Exeter firebombing in which there is a photo of our actual street, one hundred houses, all turned into rubble. The Exeter paper published that also, together with pictures of my family. I just showed it to my eight year old grandson this Christmas, and he was so excited he wanted to take it to Show and Tell.
Now that is fame!
Tiffany Benton, Honolulu HI
When I was fifty I sought the visionary counsel of an astrologer. She showed amazing insight into numerous aspects of my life and I felt as though I was talking with an old friend. At some point she asked me if I liked to write. "Yes, I've been a journaler since the seventies," I replied.
"Well, you need to write," she said. Our conversation continued. She stopped four or five times to remind me, "You need to write."
I kept replying, "I journal." Finally, I asked her why she kept saying this. She said I should write down my life stories. That my family would love to hear them and that this writing process would be healthy for me. At that moment, I realized that I was always telling my stories, to friends and family and at work, and it might be fun to write them down.
As I was speaking to the astrologer, my sister was calling me to let me know that my mother had fallen and fractured her hip and was in the hospital, and my father was so confused my siblings had to stay with him. The next few years were filled with the crisis of my parents' decline in health. I continued to write. Words poured onto the page. Writing my stories consumed my mind and provided a much needed break from the pain and worry about my parents. During this time I often stayed with my youngest sister and her family. I got to know them and my other siblings and their families after years of estrangement. That was the joy amongst the pain.
Within three years both of my parents had passed on, and my memoir, A Tree With A View, was a draft. A good friend suggested I attend the Maui Writer's Conference. Terrified and unsure about what I was doing at a convention of writers, I registered. That first year, (I attended three years in a row), I learned about book proposals in addition to valuable other writing skills. I decided to try to get my manuscript published. First on the list was a book proposal that included a summary of similar books on the market.
I began looking for book reviews. Perusing the internet, I came across a site called OWL for women writers. (I have an owl tattoo on my left shoulder.) Further research of the OWL Network led me right to the Story Circle Network and all of the wonderful services available. I became a member. I continue to work on my book as well as enjoy sharing writings with my SCN e-circle sisters.
Renee Cassese, Hicksville NY
They say that the journey is the thing, not the destination. Well, for me SCN is both a destination and a journey. I've been a writer since I could pick up a pencil and attach the right end of it to the paper. I wrote poems up until high school when I took a creative writing course and began to write short stories too. As with any endeavor we seek out instruction where we can find it. For me it was reading numerous books and magazines on writing. An ad in Writers' Digest introduced me to SCN many, many years after that creative writing class.
A place for women with stories to tell—well that was me. I thought I had a million of them. I checked out the website and immediately ran out to buy Susan's book. I read it cover to cover and then went back and did all the writing exercises. I thought: so that's what SCN is all about.
That was when I hit my SCN destination (a place where I could get guidance in writing and meet other women who were writing about their lives.) I became a member and purchased all the back issues of the Journal that I had missed. I read them in my bubble bath, over a cup of tea, and out on the deck. Through the Journal I met many women and was introduced to ideas, instruction, memoirs, and books on writing as well as to the wonderfully happy, tearful, exciting, and struggling stories and lives of SCN members.
The next leg of the journey was to begin sending in stories to the Story Circle Journal. I've had the honor of having several of them published and seeing them amid the other stories that make up the tapestry of SCN. I was pleased with writing stories about my life and took the next step which was sending some out to other publications and getting to see more of my personal tales published. The SCN market list was a great resource for finding places to submit to.
Along my SCN journey I managed to write my memoir, join some e-circles, and write an article for SCJ that was in the last issue.
At 58 years old my journey is not nearly complete. I still have many destinations to reach. I know along the way SCN and SCJ will be wonderful supports and companions. And I thank everyone in this circle of writing women for traveling with me.
Susan Ideus, Magnolia TX
I am passionate about writing. I write whenever I can, and sometimes when I shouldn't. Thoughts at work are jotted down on a scrap of paper. Dining with friends, notes end up on napkins. At church, that week's bulletin becomes my tablet. I even read about writing in "how to" books and magazines. It was in one of those magazines that an ad about SCN caught my eye. I found the website and came upon a familiar name—Susan Wittig Albert. Whoa! She was the author of one of my books, Writing from Life. Plus this was a group just for women and it was accessible on the Internet. It seemed to be too good to be true. I joined in March of 2005, and I have never regretted it. I was assigned to a most wonderful e-writing circle and the e-reading circle.
Previously, my passion had always been tempered by fear. For a long time, I called it by other names: too busy to write when my girls were babies, too distracted when I'd get home from a difficult day at work, with an empty nest, "too selfish" to go off and write, leaving my husband to fend for himself. If there was a reason for me not to write, then I wouldn't ever fail at writing. However, I find not trying just as bitter a pill to swallow.
SCN has given me a sweeter glimpse of a writing life. I've stopped making excuses and started making time. The first time I sent a story to my writing circle, it was scary but also exciting. Exciting won and I've never looked back! I've done more writing more consistently: for my writing groups, for SCN sponsored classes and retreats, along with my regular journaling. I now give myself permission to spend time with my thoughts and ideas. I write because I need to, because I want to, and because I have something to say.
The biggest plus is being in contact with other women who share the same wants and needs and passions—and the same demon excuses. As the struggle is shared, I gain strength and confidence. I learn and I am challenged to learn even more. I write and I am encouraged to write more. I put away excuses as I meet gentle deadlines for submitting articles and for writing each month in my e-circles. My sisters in writing accept my offerings as they accept me. Here I am free to be me, to share my thoughts, to open my heart. Here I am safe. Here I am a writer.
Edith O'Nuallain, County Wicklow, IRELAND
About the middle of last summer, while in the midst of surfing the net seeking information about the possible connection between Zen Buddhism and writing as a form of meditative practice, I happened upon the Story Circle Network site. Browsing through the amazing riches on offer there, I couldn't help but wonder if there was a place amongst a predominantly American membership for a lone female voice speaking across the waters all the way from Ireland. After all everyone seemed to be so talented, and what had someone like me to offer when the only life experiences I had to share were simple mundane ones like getting married, having babies, rearing children, and little else of interest?
Each month I wondered all over again whenever the e-mail newsletter arrived in my mailbox. Normally I dumped such newsletters, but not these. Unusually for me, I read every word, and for days afterwards pondered again on whether there might be a place there for me too. Then life would take over again and I would forget until the next month's newsletter arrived.
Last July, after reading the latest offering from SCN, all of a sudden I made a decision, amazing myself with my sense of purpose. I signed up on the spot. It is a long, long time since I have experienced such a thrilling sense of excitement, wonder, and anticipation as I awaited a response. And then the welcoming message arrived and I was a brand new member of the Internet Chapter. Quite, quite suddenly a host of possibilities opened out in front of me, wonderful opportunities to join in alongside other women who wrote about the books they were reading, the poems they were writing, and the memories they were sharing. And what a host of inspiration and encouragement awaited my perusal on the website—articles to read, back issues of the Story Circle Journal to buy and read, and books published by the SCN to order and devour. Since joining SCN life hasn't been quite the same. There was life Before, and now life After! Life After marks the beginning of my commitment to the practice of daily writing.
Since joining I am happy to consider myself a writer insofar as I write regularly and daily. Writing has become both a passion and an obsession. It seems that the more I write, the more I need to write. Some days the words just keep tumbling out, head over heels, faster than I can keep up with them. It is like finding the hidden inner child and letting her out to play in a way she never did when she was little and young and, oh, not so carefree. We have a saying in Ireland, Toicfaidh ár lá which means: our day will come. Well with SCN my new day is dawning bright and clear and filled with sunshine!
Peggy Moody, Austin TX
My sisters, mother, and I loan books to each other. One time my sister loaned me one of Susan Albert's China Bayles books. I saw Susan's website mentioned in the book, went to look at it, and read somewhere on it that she was starting a reading group here in Austin in early 1998. My youngest child was in daycare part-time and the reading group's meeting time just happened to be at a time that he was in daycare, so I went. That group was the first story circle group in Austin—and we are still meeting, more than nine years later.
I got to know Susan and she asked me to join the Board. The organization was looking for someone to manage their web site, and since that was the work I was doing for IBM, I was asked to do this for SCN. I worked very closely with Susan to develop the website, including the creation of the Internet Chapter and its website. I must say that working closely with Susan was absolutely wonderful—the best work environment I've ever been involved in!
I was excited to find a group of women who loved to read and discuss books—and books that weren't just the current best-sellers but were "important" books—women's memoirs. I felt connected in a way I hadn't before, when I was taking care of a baby, a toddler, and a middle-schooler.
Thank YOU, Story Circle Network, for being such a special, nurturing place for women everywhere!
Pattie C. S. Burke, Austin TX
"You ought to join a Story Circle e-group," a friend from Arizona told me, in reply to my grumbling about how hungry I was for the stimulation of bonding and sharing with other women writers since my move to Austin, Texas. "I.m in an e-circle," she said, "and I love it."
"No way would I love it," I told her. "I'm a hopeless touchy-feely creature with no desire to hug a computer."
Maybe my hesitation was a result of my unusual, even spiritual, initiation into the "writers' life" in 1995, the year of my 65th birthday. I had already retired from teaching several years earlier and had decided to give up my commercial interior design business, which—to my discomfort—was becoming more business than design. The large canvases that I had loved painting were also physically less comfortable to work with. I longed to pour all of my creativity into writing—to paint with the words that had been hanging around in my heart for way too many years.
At that time there was a YWCA (do those "Ws" still exist?) in downtown Phoenix. I decided to learn something about the craft of writing as a jump start into this new endeavor, so I registered for a Saturday workshop. Fortunately, our instructor never mentioned the craft part. She brought us right into the depths where the real stuff was dwelling.
After the workshop, four of us decided to meet regularly to share and critique our stories and poetry, always bringing the spirit of our first meeting with us. We became sisters, sharing our lives as we wrote. When one of us, Becky, had a recurrence of terminal cancer, she asked us to meet at her house and read to her. She wasn't always coherent, but the four of us had a communication bond that transcended coherence.
I thought that I could never have that kind of bond again; therefore, I didn't seek it. In Austin, as a last desperate resort, I took my friend's advice and joined a SCN electronic circle, resigning myself to cold computer hugs. What an epiphany I had! Warmth, love, compassion and understanding flowed through the computers of my sisters of e-circle 7 in abundance! I can't express my gratitude sufficiently; they have shown me that when we write our hearts out with our group we are blessed with that illusive bond. I feel acceptance for anything and everything that I write. Maybe that's why I'm so comfortable revealing whatever comes forth, embracing my vulnerability in order to become a "real" writer.
Now dear sisters, when I press the "Send" button, it will be with the warmest of computer hugs!
Olga Wise, Austin TX
Joining SCN has been one of my best decisions ever. At this point I can't even remember how I how I heard about SCN or the national conference here in Austin in 2006. That January I had just learned that I had breast cancer. I think I was looking for distraction. During the first hour or so of the conference I was asking myself, "What am I doing here? I don't do this kind of stuff." Yet by the time I went to my last workshop and wrote a rap song I never would have thought I was capable of writing, I knew that SCN would give me new life-affirming energy as well as an unfettered approach to know myself better.
I think the non-judgmental atmosphere of trust and openness in our writing group is one of the most positive of my ongoing experiences. Previously I'd always been afraid of writing, worrying that I was ungrammatical, unoriginal, and certainly not capable of writing anything that would interest anyone else. I, of course, was wrong—and our monthly SCN writing group sessions and our other SCN activities are a highlight of my life.
How I Found SCN & How it has Changed My Life
Joyce Boatright, Houston TX
Who would have ever guessed that I would grow up into a woman who would tease stories from other women, encouraging them, pleading with them to craft their memoirs, driven not by ego but with a heart's desire to hear and bear witness to the lives women have lived?
I am teacher and a writer—a writing teacher—and I am always looking for new topics, new strategies, new lesson ideas. During one of those searches—this time on the internet—I discovered Story Circle Network website. I was caught in the silky threads of its website that linked me to True Words from Real Women, Life Story Briefs, Life-Writer's Notebook, and an invitation to come to Austin for something called Writing from Life weekend.
Hmmm. This looked like something for me! I applied for support from my college's Faculty Senate professional development fund and got the money to attend the weekend's workshop. The experience changed my life. I met women like me who love to write about the everyday experiences of our lives. Not only did we write, we shared what we wrote and we listened, with our full attention, to each other's words and the emotions behind those words.
What can I say? Listening to other women's stories feeds my spirit in a sacred way that can only be understood by other women who do the same. In some legends, the spider's web is how the alphabet came to humankind, making it possible for humanity to record its history. It is my belief that the e-circles are a technological evolution of that hallowed web through which every woman in the circle records herstory. Just as Grandmother Spider spun her web to connect her children, we weave our stories through our web and connect with each other all over the world.
A Wondrous Journey
Mary Jo Doig, Raphine VA
I have been a passionate life-long reader of mystery novels. A decade ago I realized this was linked, in part, to solving the greatest mystery of all: knowing myself.
While uncovering some of my personal mysteries, the woman who supervised me—a passionate gardener and book lover—asked, "Have you read Susan Wittig Albert yet?" She held out Thyme of Death. Thus I met a new protagonist, China Bayles, an interesting character who was carving out her inwardly driven life, as I was also.
On Albert's web page, I found a reference to The Story Circle Network. I'd always liked to write and, most recently, used writing as one of the most important tools in my six-year journey of intensive personal work, uncovering and processing deeply repressed childhood memories. I was growing into stronger self-understanding and, while I'd ached to write for years, I simply didn't know where to start. I took two writing courses from The Children's Writing Institute and had been strongly supported in my skill but couldn't get motivated to write for children.
In time I made two major life-changes: becoming single and changing my career. With my three children grown, I found myself in the daunting position of being able to move anywhere I wanted. I chose Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, rented a tiny cabin on a mountain and, following my heart's deepest longing, began what became two years of living in solitude.
My cabin had huge windows on three sides that gave me exquisite views of pines, red buds, and other trees. Grassy pathways led to varied spots on the mountain and I walked them daily. Indoors I began writing my stories and, to soothe the deep ache that needed to speak them, yet deeply shy from a lifetime of repressed feelings, I joined SCN in 2001. It was one of the finest gifts I've ever given myself. Lee Ambrose placed me in writing circle 2, led by Marie Buckley, a warm, nurturing facilitator.
As I began telling my stories, my confidence slowly grew. Then I read A Work of Her Own, Albert's memoir of leaving a successful career and the journeying into her life's true work. Her story enabled me to more clearly understand the underpinnings of my own transition.
These past six years have both wondrously and deeply changed my life. I've enjoyed all the China Bayles mysteries, I've connected with gifted women life-writers all over the world, and I can now easily speak the truths of my life. I've also learned that when we tell our stories, the common threads we share are so inter-twined that the layers of circles that link us together are seemingly endless.
The Transplanted Yellow Rose
Valerie Lima, Fayetteville AR
I fell off the table and experienced short-term amnesia while listening to the radio playing "The Yellow Rose of Texas," which was unusual for a thirteen-year old girl. Not the falling off the table or getting amnesia part, but for a girl living in New York to be listening to "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Texas was as far away as the moon in the mid-1950's. I don't think there were any country music stations in New York at that time, but perhaps the song made the popular radio stations.
It was a Saturday in the summer. My two friends and I played cards on the wooden picnic table in my backyard. I was sitting on the table so we could all see the cards. The warm sun on my back, the soft radio music, the chatter of us girls playing cards were all very soothing.
"Could you please move back a little?" Georgie said. "I need more room for my cards."
"Sure." I scooted back... Slam!
I was later told that I had flipped right off the table, hit my head on the concrete patio, and was out cold. My friends' screams brought my father out of the house. He carried me inside to my parent's bedroom, and the doctor came (these were the days when doctors still made house calls).
The next morning I woke, feeling a bit foolish, but I had "The Yellow Rose of Texas" inscribed in my memory, never dreaming that, many years later, not only would my oldest son live in Texas but I would also join a Texas-based writing group.
Several months previous to joining, I had taken memoir-writing classes online and at our local library, and was just attempting baby steps into the writing/publishing process. Needing more support, I perused the web and came across Story Circle Network, which sounded promising. Subscribing to an Internet Circle made sense since I live in Arkansas, not Texas where most of the live groups are. Now I am pleased with the monthly and weekly prompts and the confidence coming from the group's support. I've completed a Legacy genealogy/Ethical Will comprised of both ancestral and recent stories and pictures for my children, grandchildren, siblings and their families which I distributed to them all last Christmas. And I have published in a variety of venues, including Story Circle Journal.
All the facets of SCN provide the necessary soil to allow my New York yellow rose to not only survive being transplanted, but also to blossom and grow in a Texas-based writing group.
Patricia Hoglund, Seattle WA
Eight or nine years ago I was on a week-end trip with my sister to Port Townsend, Washington. We went downtown one morning to shop. I wanted her to experience the fabulous bakery that I had discovered on one of my previous trips. Much to my regret when we entered the bakery we found that it had been turned into a deli and all the mouth-watering delights I was expecting were gone. I recall we ordered a cup of coffee and then started to wander around the shop. Against one of the walls we found a same rack of magazines and as we were glancing among them, my sister found a magazine that I think was called Crone. She seemed interested in it so we picked up, paid for it, and continued our shopping.
Later that day when we returned to our apartment we started to look through the magazine. I happened to notice that there was an advertisement for a Woman's Story Circle and they were having a conference in Austin, Texas. My interest was piqued since I found the idea of a woman's autobiographical writing group resonating with where I was with my journal process. I also have a sister-in-law who lives in Austin, where the conference was being held. So I signed up for the conference; when I returned, I started a story circle in my home town and now have a story circle continuing in Seattle. I have since been to every one of the national conferences held in Austin and have been so enriched by the work of the organization and by my own story circles. I never imaged that day I didn't get to eat those delicious pastries that I would be fed by something so much richer.
Lee Ambrose, Kingsport TN
The final exam for my Creative Writing class at the local college was an assignment that was a whole semester in the making. We were informed that at the end of the term we could sit and take a traditional test OR we could turn in the first chapter of a creative work that we hoped would one day become a larger piece. I opted for the first chapter of a book... a book that I had dreamed of writing for many years... A bit of historical fiction based on real life events that happened to me.
Several weeks before the end of the term I was diagnosed (for the first time) with malignant melanoma. Two weeks before the end of the term I had major surgery that prevented me from attending any more classes that semester. Fortunately my Creative Writing instructor allowed me to complete the course via e-mail. Including the first chapter of the book or the final exam, depending on how you wanted to view it.
Putting the finishing touches on the chapter were difficult because I was experiencing alot of physical and emotional pain from the surgery, diagnosis and prognosis. But I was determined to complete the task at hand. And I did. I got a A+ as a final exam grade and comments that were meant to encourage me to continue with the story. But, the drive to do so was gone. The cancer and surgery had zapped me of that desire. And so, I placed the first chapter of my book in a drawer and never thought about it again for a couple of years.
But, in 2000 my first grandchild, Caleb, was born very prematurely. Eventually I brought him home with me to raise him as my own. It was during the nighttime feedings when he and I would sit in the darkness and rock that I found myself dreaming of writing again. Holding him brought out all of those desires that had been stuffed deep within me for more than two years.
About that same time, I found an ad for SCN in a writing publication. I had never done anything on-line except e-mail my friends and family - and take the final exam in my Creative Writing class. I was a bit shy about the whole thing but after visiting the SCN website, I wanted to join. I told myself that if I didn't like it I could always drop out. I gave myself the "nothing ventured, nothing gained" pep talk. Little did I know that SCN would become my lifeline over the next several years.
Six years and a myriad of stories and poems later, I am so glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined an on-line writing group - and that that group was Story Circle Network! I have found a whole new family here at SCN - a family of sisters in writing.
Mary Sullivan, Ronkonkoma NY
Ever since I can remember words nourished me. Once I began to write I felt like someone who discovers it is more fun to cook than eat. The world of imagination, testing out new words, growing in self-expression filled me with boundless energy.
In 1996 and 1997 I lived in the Philippines—a wonderful, yet difficult experience. I was the only "Western" Sister living with "Eastern" Sisters. Our cultures were vastly different. I was much more straightforward in expressing myself than they and found I desperately needed someone to bounce off my feelings, questions, and judgments. There was no one.
I had sporadically kept diaries, relishing each with pages pristine in their nakedness. After a few days I was too busy, too tired, or just plain forgetful, so I never kept it up. What to do?
The all-pervasive poverty so viscerally affected me that I had to find a way to process. Feeling alone and powerless, I turned to writing poetry, which helped allay my fears and assuage my discomfort. It became my prayer, my diary, my listener, my energy source, and my therapist.
I began what I call spiritual essays. My Sullivan family roots, my Cenacle Congregation's mission, my ministry of retreats and spiritual direction, my bewilderment about how to be with poverty, and how to live in another culture coalesced into one yearning for God. My spiritual essays became the way to express all of this.
When I returned to the United States I wanted to continue writing, but had no outlet. I found a periodical, Personal Essay, sold only intermittently at newsstands. Inside, I cut out an intriguing ad for Story Circle Network and held onto it for years. In the beginning of 2002 I filled out the ad and sent in the check.
It took me eight months to fully realize all the SCN opportunities. I could belong to an e-circle of other women writers and soon became a member of e-circle 7. I learned how to copy and paste, how to send an attachment when submitting a journal story, how to keep up with voluminous correspondence spawned by so many women writers who became friends and ultimately my sisters.
I gave away several gift subscriptions but never enticed anyone to become a permanent part of SCN. I look with envy at the conferences, retreats, and courses given in Texas knowing I will never attend them. I wish somehow, since we come from so many states, there could be a way for these to reach us on a personal basis. I do not regret one minute of being with this organization. I only regret not answering the ad sooner and not joining a writing circle sooner.