Sunday, April 16, 2017

Reading Lesson


© Linda Goodman, April 2017

                In 2012, my friend Les and I, under the auspices of the Virginia Storytelling Alliance (VASA), started a story club for kids at a downtown branch of the Richmond Public Library.

We had about eight storytellers in the group, ages two through fourteen.  Les was truly gifted when it came to keeping the attention of this diverse group. The toddlers enjoyed him as much as the teens did. Surprisingly, they all wanted to tell stories.

Of course, it took a few warm up exercises to get the kids loose enough to share with abandon each week. Les had a multitude of such exercises in his belt.

One afternoon, Les told me that he had a reading exercise for them. Each child would be given a piece of paper with a sentence or two written on it.  Each sentence was another step into the main event, a story. 

“Wait a minute, Les,” I warned him. “Joey (not his real name) doesn’t know how to read.”

“I will take that into consideration,” he replied. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The strips of paper were distributed. The exercise began. Students were eager to see how their sentences connected with others. One by one the sentences were eagerly read, until, finally, it was Joey’s turn.

Joey glanced quickly from side to side, and then focused on Les, who was not being sympathetic as he stood waiting for Joey’s contribution to the story. “Well, Joey?” he inquired as he patiently waited. “Go on.”

The look of shame on Joey’s face was heartbreaking. “I don’t read,” he said.

“Joey, you can do it. I know you can. Now read the sentence.”  Les gently insisted

Joey held the paper closer to his eyes and read, “Out ….in….the…barn….” It took him two minutes to read a sentence that should have taken no more than 30 seconds. Les did nothing to hurry him along, just continued to patiently wait until the entire sentence had been read.  Watching this ordeal was agonizing. Joey’s shame and discomfort were palpable. After finally getting the job done, he crumpled up his slip of paper and tossed it into the garbage can.

“Oh, Les,” I thought to myself. “How could you? This was a child who worked hard each and every day just to keep his head above water. Why would you subject him to this humiliation?”

Les stood up from his chair, walked over to Joey, and shook his hand.

“Joey, you are my hero,” he said. “This was an easy exercise for most of the class, but it was hard for you. But you stuck it out in front of everyone until you got the job done. You are the bravest boy I know.”

How beautiful to see the various emotions parade across Joey’s face: confusion, anxiety, relief, happiness, and pride.

I learned three things from Les that day: (1) do not excuse a child from a difficult task. The world is a hard taskmaster that does not cut breaks. A child must be taught to accept challenges. (2) The child who makes the attempt to succeed in spite of possible humiliation deserves to be acknowledged for his courage in trying. (3) Children don’t want to be treated like babies. They want to be taught how to gain confidence.

I left Richmond at the end of 2012. Les and the story club, now called the Story Warriors, continue to work on stories and have been included in numerous conferences and festivals. I hear they are looking for some new members. If you live in the Richmond area, you might want to check them out.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Do Something

March's blog was written by my daughter, Melanie, and addresses the needs of  "functioning" sick people. Melanie has chronic neurological Lyme disease and knows where of she speaks. Melanie presented this as a speech for Toastmasters and won 3rd place in their International Speaking Contest.



Related image
(c)March 2017 Melanie Goodman Deal

I can change the world, with my own two hands

Make a better place, with my own two hands
Make a kinder place, oh with my, oh with my own two hands
With my own, with my own two hands

~~ from “With My Own Two Hands”, by Ben Harper

Let me ask you something.What does it take before you will do something for someone else? If you knew it didn’t have to be something big, like money, or even a huge amount of your time, would it change your answer in any way? How many of you are thinking, “Well…it depends.”?

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a storytelling podcast called “The Moth” and heard the story “Luminaria” by Denise Scheurmann. This story centers around the time when she was 15 years old. Her dad was terminally ill and in the hospital during the holiday season. As you can probably imagine, she, her mother, and her brother were consumed with everything they were having to deal with. They felt alone, and the holidays were not on their minds AT ALL. As they were coming home from the hospital on Christmas Eve, they noticed as they entered their neighborhood that the luminarias were lit. It was a tradition in their neighborhood to light them each year and place them along their driveways and sidewalks to welcome in Christmas. They thought, “Our house will be the only one not lit up”, and that just got them even more down. But as they drove up to their house, they saw that their luminarias were lit. An anonymous neighbor (or neighbors…they never did find out) had decided to do something for this family to make sure they felt included in the neighborhood tradition.

That may seem like a small thing, but to this family, it meant the world. Denise said it made them realize they were not alone, and that people cared. In fact, she said that years later, when she was going through a divorce, remembering what her neighbors had done all those years ago helped her get through many dark moments.

Denise’s story resonated with me, because it made me think of my own story a bit. For those of you who may not know, I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease in late 2012. That diagnosis came after more than a year of knowing that SOMETHING was wrong with me, but not knowing exactly what.I spent thousands of dollars on tests that showed nothing definitive. I thought I was crazy because many doctors told me it was all in my head or was just due to “stress”. I lost many important people in my life because they couldn’t deal with me talking about it so much and thought I was just looking for attention. During that time, and many times since, I’ve often felt alone. Lyme Disease has taken over my life.

However, God has amazing timing. He has placed several people in my path who have done for me what Denise’s neighbors did for her on that long ago Christmas Eve. They’ve made my world a better place, and they probably don’t even realize they’ve done anything at all.

I’m what you call a “functioning” sick person. You might be asking, “What does that mean?” Well, I go to my job, and I take care of myself and my family most days. I even exercise pretty regularly.Most people don’t even realize I’m sick. I don’t LOOK sick.Many people think, “If she’s REALLY sick, then shouldn’t she be in a wheelchair or something?” People don’t have a clue how to deal with someone like me. They don’t understand how many things I love that I’ve had to give up in order to “function” and make it through each day without being a burden. It can be pretty lonely.

In hopes of finding anything that could help me make sense of what I was dealing with both physically and emotionally, I stumbled across a blog called My Color is Lyme, written by a woman named Jennifer. Her post, Confessions of a “Functioning Lymie”, brought me to tears. It was like I wrote that post! The whole time I was reading, I was nodding my head in agreement, exclaiming, “Yes…YES! That’s it, exactly!” Like me, Jennifer struggled with various health issues for a long time before finally getting a diagnosis. Like me, she “functions” by being able to continue going to work each day and taking care of herself and her pets. And, like me, many people in her life walked away because they assume she is fine and should stop complaining.

People suffering, but “functioning”, like Jennifer and I, don’t usually feel comfortable putting their stories out there for the world to see, because they’re afraid of backlash and more abandonment. But Jennifer decided to do something, and by sharing her story, she has given me (and I’m sure many others) a bit of hope. She had the courage to put into words what I was unable (or, if I’m being honest, unwilling) to.

You never know who might be going through a tough time.There have been others who, like Jennifer, have made me feel less alone. Sometimes simply asking, “Is there anything I can do?” is enough.

Think back to Denise’s story.It probably took all of 5 minutes to light those luminarias. No big deal. But what WAS a big deal was those neighbors decided to do something; a something that meant the world to this family, giving them a bit of happiness not just for that evening, but for a lifetime. To this day, that small gift is still giving Denise some comfort.

At the end of her story, Denise challenged her audience to write their names and numbers down and give it to someone right then and there, as a reminder that they are never alone. How powerful is THAT? Another example of something that seems like a small thing to do. But imagine how it would feel to someone who is going through a tough time, someone who feels like they’re all alone in the world…imagine how seeing that little note from you might be what is needed to lift them up and remind them that someone cared enough to do something.


Author Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” I ask you to think about that for a minute. What is the something that YOU can do to make the world a better, kinder place…with your own two hands?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lost Love

(c)Linda Goodman 1981

I thought he was my savior, but his feet were made of clay.
I sacrificed my soul to him, but still he would not stay.
I cried for days unending
(Could it be to drown my loss?)
For my youth had vanished with him.
And my grief had dulled life's gloss.

I healed with time's slow passage. I began to undertake
Life's burdens by myself alone; my own decisions make.
Through lonely days and tear-filled nights
I came to realize
That happiness is not a gift.
It must come from inside.

I see my love at parties now. I can't believe the change,
For though I'm wise and worldly now, he has remained the same.
We say hello. We say goodbye.
We walk our separate paths.
He never was my savior.
My mended heart holds fast.


Note from Linda Goodman: I wrote this poem in 1981, and I have never liked the last line. Can anyone suggest a better one?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Resolutions

©Linda Goodman 1/8/17

                On January 1, 2000 I decided to make a New Year’s resolution. For the past several years, I had been having a problem with gossip.  I listened to it, I spread it – it was like living in my own personal soap opera. I was addicted to gossip. Once I realized the depravity of my addiction, I decided I needed to take serious action right away or I would be lost in moral turpitude forever.

                Hence the resolution.  I knew, however, that making the resolution, no matter how deep my resolve, would not be enough by itself for me to make this change. I needed reinforcement, and so I decided to pray, “Dear Lord, I don’t want my tongue to continue on its destructive path. I cannot control it alone. Please help me to conquer this problem.”

                It worked. Whenever I started to listen to gossip, something would happen (a call from a potential gig, for instance), and I would have to leave before the gist of the gossip was clear. Whenever I started to spread gossip, the intervention was on a greater scale. I would turn around and the person I was gossiping about would be standing right behind me.  Or I would have a coughing fit before I got to the good stuff.  Once, a fly flew into my mouth.  Sometimes I would forget what I was saying, in the middle of a sentence.

                But the granddaddy of all gossip squashers was an email that I sent to a friend who planned to visit Virginia. She had contacted me to ask if I might be able to help her find some storytelling work in the Richmond area, where I lived at the time.

                I replied that Richmond was not the hotbed of storytelling that New England (my friend lived in Massachusetts) was. “I hear that Richmond storytellers tend to recite more that tell,” I told her. “That is what the local public thinks when it hears the word storytelling. Nobody wants to pay to hear a recitation.”

                How I wish that there had been an intervention to stop me from sending that email!  I think God must have decided that I needed to be put in my place.  Several days after I replied to my friend, I received an email from Pete Houston, president of the Virginia Storytelling Alliance (VASA), saying, “Well, that was some epistle you sent out.  I imagine that you’ve gotten quite a few angry responses to that.”

                I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that he was talking about my response to my friend from New England.

                “How did you get that,” I asked.

                “Everybody in the storytelling alliance got it,” he answered. “You must have sent it using the reply all key.”  I knew I had not done that. My friend’s email address was the only one to which my reply went. I checked. The email Pete had received, however, showed the email addresses of all the storytellers in VASA in the copy space. Even though I hit reply (not reply all), instead of going to just my friend, it somehow went to every storyteller in central Virginia.

                I did indeed get numerous responses from the recipients of that email. I was so ashamed that I did not open them for several weeks. When I finally did open them, I was dumbstruck. I had sent an email based on something I had heard about, not witnessed.  Not even one of those wonderful storytellers, however, took me to task for my mean sentiments and my carelessness. Instead, they said that I just needed to get to know the Virginia storytelling community better. They invited me to their guild meetings. They called just to chat so that we could get to know one another better. A storytelling theater in Richmond even invited me to become one of its members. I got involved with VASA and heard stories that sent chills up and down my spine, that made me laugh, and that touched my heart. Virginia storytellers are indeed as good as any I have ever heard. What impressed more than that, though, was how they were so willing and quick to forgive me.

                Just before I moved away from Virginia in 2013, I ran across another storyteller who was relocating to the Richmond area. “I am not real happy about this move,” she said.” I hear these Virginia storytellers are not that good.”

                “That is simply not true,” I told her. “You just have not seen enough of them to realize how wonderful they are. They are talented and skilled and delightful. More than that, they are generous, kind, and they cut you some slack when you make a mistake.


                I did not break that resolution again (well, maybe once or twice) for the remainder of that year. In fact, I am making that same resolution again – now.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shattered Silence

 ©Linda Goodman 12/31/2016
I am the child of two parents who were abused as children.  When I say abused, I do not mean that they were spanked.  My mother literally went to bed at night not knowing if she would live to see another day. 
When my maternal grandfather, my mother’s abuser, passed away, my mother refused to attend his funeral.  On the day he was buried, I went to my parents’ apartment after work.  I found my mother sitting in her bedroom rocking in the dark. 
I sat down on the bed beside her, and by the light of the moon, I could see that her face was streaked with tears.  I took her hands in mine and said softly, “Mama, he was a sick, sick man.  But in his own way, he did love you.
She looked at me like I was insane! She quickly leaned forward and raised her hand in a fist.  I fully expected her to strike me.  But then she let out her breath, leaned back against the rocker, and sighed, “I reckon he did.  I reckon he almost loved me to death.”
Thus began my journey to try to understand the violent heritage from which I had been spared.  Several women who had lived through similar circumstances, and who shall remain nameless, answered my call and took me on journeys that changed my life forever.  They had walked through the fire and had come out victorious.  Their amazing strength and courage moved me to write and perform stories that honor their walk. The result was Shattered Silence.
Shattered Silence consists of four stories. Parts of these stories may be offensive.  I make no apologies for that.  While not graphic, these stories are not pretty.  They are not fairy tales. They are real life, and real life can be ugly. 
If you take this journey with me, know that no matter how narrow or how long the tunnel, there is a light at the other side.  Regardless of how it begins, life can be so sweet!
Shattered Silence is a love letter to my mother, and to all innocents who were robbed of their childhoods by monsters. 
I have not performed Shattered Silence in a few years, but just this week someone who saw me perform this show at a MAST Conference in the latter 1990’s called to tell me that she still carries those stories in her heart. Maybe it is time for me to take this show off the shelf and start performing it again.

If you would like to book Shattered Silence or talk to me about this show, email me at happytales89@gmail.com, or call me at 804-687-6341.

The photo in the upper right hand corner pictures my father and mother in 1972.  





Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Them That Go

I stopped doing book reviews in 2013, but this book, set in the area of the Southern Appalachians where I grew up, really brought back memories of the traditions and values of my childhood. I just had to spread the good news about this wonderful book.


Book Review

By Becky Mushko

Available from Becky Mushko at HTTP://WWW.BECKYMUSHKO.COM


Reviewed By Linda Goodman

           
            I stopped doing CD and book reviews at the end of 2013, but reading Becky Mushko’s latest book Them That Go, set in the 1970’s in the same Virginia mountains where I was born and raised, has inspired me to put on my reviewer’s cap one last time.

            This book is a coming of age story about Annie Caldwell, a teenager who truly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Her family is poor, and they live in a run-down home that has no electricity and no indoor plumbing. Even though a year has passed since his death, the family is still in mourning for Annie’s brother, who was killed in Viet Nam.

            Throughout the trials and tribulations of adolescence, Annie’s best friend and confidant is her Aint Lulie, who dispenses advice like good medicine: “There’s always been them that stay and them that go in ever’ generation;” “Don’t waste words on them that will not listen nor understand.”

            Aint Lulie, whose second sight allows her to have visions of the dead, also helps Annie use and understand her own gift of the second sight, which allows her to communicate with animals. This gift will serve her well in a variety of circumstances, including the search for a missing beauty queen and her football player boyfriend.

            I particularly enjoyed becoming re-acquainted with the customs and superstitions that I left behind so many years ago. “If a bird makes a nest of your hair, you’ll go crazy.” (My brother’s head was attacked by a bird once. It took away a big chunk of his hair.) “We rubbed our faces and arms with mashed peppermint leaves and stems to keep away the skeeters.” (It works.)  My favorite: upon leaving someone’s home, the guest says,”I’d ought to go. Y’all ought to come with me.” The host replies, “I cain’t. You ought to spend the night.” I remember my own aunt almost falling out of her chair when one guest took her offer seriously and agreed to stay the night.

            Will Annie be one of them that stay or one of them that go?  You will have to read the book to find out.
           
            As for me, this book made me homesick. I think it’s time for a visit.


            

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Big Bang -Continued

Part 2

(c) copyright October 2016

The next morning, Monday, after my father had left for work, I told Mama that I was sick and needed to stay home. She put her hand on my forehead and pronounced that I was cool as a cucumber and should leave for school immediately. “You better not get no tardy notice,” she warned.

“But what if I throw up in school? That would be embarrassing!” I countered.

“If you throw up in school, it won’t be the first time somebody has done that. Just ask to go to the school nurse,” Mama said.

I walked to school as slowly as I could. I walked the back roads so that nobody would see me. That worked fine, until I got to the school yard.

The school yard was filled with students milling around on the grounds, waiting for the school’s door to open. As I approached, Cecil Boudreaux hollered, “There she is!”

My fellow students parted like the Red Sea. I walked the path of shame that they had created, my eyes stinging because I was trying so hard not to cry. The school yard was as quiet as a graveyard. When finally I reached the school door, a boy called out, “Hey, did three men really get shot right in front of where you live?”

“Yes!” I shouted defiantly. “What of it?” I was trying to sound like I did not care what they thought of me.

Just then, another boy yelled, “Wow! Nobody ever gets shot in my neighborhood. I wish I could see something exciting like that.”

Suddenly they were all crowding around me, asking questions: Were you scared? Did the police arrest anybody? What were you doing when it happened? Did you have to talk to the police? Do you think anybody else will get shot in your neighborhood?

What a shock! I had resigned myself to being the school pariah, but somehow I had become a celebrity. People were hanging on my every word. People wanted to talk to me.

In the classroom, my teacher, Mrs. Harrison, asked me if I was okay. She had been worried about me ever since she had seen my picture in the paper. She was glad to see me in school so soon after such a scary incident in my own home. She thought I was brave and was proud to have me in her class.

 At recess I was mobbed. I liked being one of the cool people. I started making up stories to keep up the momentum. “Oh, it’s nothing to get shot in my neighborhood. It happens at least three times a week. I’m not afraid, though, because my daddy is a sharp-shooter and shoots three or four people every month or so. He is so scary that nobody’s brave enough to bother me.”

By the end of the week, I had been elected class president, and I was not even running for the office. A majority of students had written my name on the ballot, rather than vote for the other candidates.

By Saturday, I was so full of myself that my brothers and my sister got fed up with my bragging and would not have anything to do with me. After all, they were there, too, and they were not getting any special attention. I told them that was because they did not get their pictures in the paper.
That afternoon, Reverend Kelly came to visit with me. My mother greeted him and then retreated to another room. She was afraid that if she stayed in the room with the preacher and me, he might try to talk her into going to church. Neither she nor my father cared for city churches.

Reverend Kelly sat down beside me on the sofa and patted my hand. He had just come from visiting with Miss Agnes, and he had seen where a bullet had made a hole in the ceiling of her apartment.  “I knew you lived right above her, and I wanted to make sure that the bullet didn’t hurt anyone in your family.”

I told him that everyone was fine; that my daddy, the sharp-shooter, protected us just like Marshall Matt Dillon protected Dodge City. Reverend Kelly tilted his head and looked at me as though he were seeing me for the first time. The he stood up and prayed, “Lord, please bless Linda and her family and keep them safe. Help Linda to realize how blessed she is to be under your holy protection. In Jesus name, Amen.”   

“Are you going to be at church tomorrow morning?” he asked.

“Sure!” I told him, “Unless somebody else gets shot.

Asbury United Methodist Church had two Sunday worship services, one in the morning and one in the evening. I went to both of them. That Sunday morning’s service followed the usual order of worship, but at the end of that service, Reverend Kelly announced that the evening service was going to be a call to the mission field. I had no idea what a mission field was, but I was excited anyway. It sounded like an adventure, and I loved adventures.

The evening church service started at 6:30 pm and I arrived promptly at 6:00.  If you got there early, you got a piece of cake and a cup of Kool-Aid ®. I was always early, because it was about the only time I ever got cake. The Kool-Aid ® I could take or leave.

As I was eating my cake, Reverend Kelly asked me if I would please sit on the front row on the right hand side of the church during the service.  I agreed and sat there as soon as I finished my cake.

At first, the service followed the normal order of worship: greetings, prayers, hymns; but when it came time for the sermon, Reverend Kelly came out from behind the pulpit and stood among the congregation, up close and personal. I had never seen him do that before. 

“My dear church family,” he began, “we in this church have been so blessed that we have often taken our blessings for granted. Most of you do not worry about how you will get food, water, safe housing, or any of life’s other necessities for your families, because you have those things in abundance.  Our lives are so comfortable that we don’t think about the trials and tribulations that must be endured by the less fortunate.  We rarely ever leave our comfort zones.

“If you picked up your copy of last Sunday’s newspaper, you saw a front page headline that read, ‘Triple Homicide in Local Housing Project.’ If you read that article, you may have realized that the housing project alluded to is Williams Court, which is right across the street from this church’s front door.  Dozens of children from Williams Court attend this church every Sunday. Very few of their parents come with them.

“These children have witnessed things that most of us cannot even imagine. Most of them have been abandoned by a parent. These children eat spaghetti and rice all throughout the week because their families live on welfare and cannot afford a healthy diet. Many of them witness violence on a daily basis. Some of them get taken away from their families and put into foster homes.

“If you read the article, you may have noticed the face of little girl staring out of a second floor window, watching as the dead bodies were carried away on stretchers.”

He looked toward me and motioned for me to join him.  I cautiously walked up to him and stood there with my head down. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me to face the congregation.  “You all know Linda,” he continued.  “She lives in Williams Court and comes to this church every time our doors are open. Linda is the little girl who was looking out of that second floor window. We all love her as if she were our own child.”

Amens could be heard throughout the congregation.

Reverend Kelly said, “Today I visited the woman whose family lives in the apartment where this shooting took place. I held her as she sobbed in misery; not knowing what will be the fate of her husband; not knowing how she is going to support her children.

“I happened to look up and saw that there was a bullet in her apartment’s ceiling. I knew that Linda lived above her, and I rushed to see that Linda and her family were okay. Our very own Linda, a little girl that we love, could have lost a parent or a sibling or even her own life to that stray bullet.

“We have a mission field right across the street from this very church. When will we leave our comfort zones and follow Christ’s command to feed the hungry and care for the sick and the poor? When will we, the body of Jesus, become His arms, legs, and mouth? When will we overcome our fear and reach out to those who, though they may have a different standard of living, are also God’s beloved children? We, the people of this church, must make the world feel safe for the little children in our closest mission field. This church must become their refuge.”

Reverend Kelly stood in silence long enough for me to think the sermon was finally over. He told me that I could sit down. Then he walked back to the podium and pounded it hard over and over with his fist, all the while hollering at the top of his lungs, “THIS CHURCH MUST SPEAK.”

At the end of the service, Reverend Kelly asked me to walk with him to the back of the church and stand at his side as the congregation left the building.  There was a basket on a table in front of me, and I noticed that folks were dropping money into the basket.  I was being swarmed by members of my church family who hugged me and prayed blessings over me.

I was horrified.  The people of this church had treated me like family since the day I first walked through their front door. Now I felt like an object of pity. Being cool was the last thing on my mind.

Tears spilled out of my eyes, as I crumpled against the wall behind me. Reverend Kelly put his arm around me. A woman picked the basket up from the table and handed it to me. I looked into the basket, filled to overflowing with bills and change. Then I handed the basket to Reverend Kelly, wiped my eyes, and said, “Wrights do not accept charity.”

When I got home, my parents could tell that I had been crying. They wanted to know why. I told them that Reverend Kelly preached a sad sermon. They seemed satisfied with that answer.

When I got to school the next morning, I was immediately surrounded by my daily entourage, who wanted to know how many people got shot in my neighborhood over the weekend. I told them that nobody had gotten shot.

Several kids remarked that they were sorry that I had a boring weekend. I objected to that. “Two weeks ago, I could have lost my parents or my siblings or even my own life because someone traded a new shirt for an old one.  Boring is a good thing.”

  I never wanted to hear gunshots again in my neighborhood, my mission field.


Note: Mr. Guy stood trial, claiming that he had acted in self-defense. The jury found him not guilty.