April 2009

I am Renee Dargie.  I am a mother of three wonderful children and I am a military spouse.  I currently reside in Soignies, Belgium where I am trying to carve out a home in the Belgian countryside, this being my 20th move in 43 years.  I have lived and traveled around the world and so the concept of “home” is one that remains central to my writing, my life and my passions.  I love learning languages, sewing, writing, teaching, tutoring in our highschool and being with my family.


trying-to-sewTrying to Sew

I have been trying to sew all day.  It shouldn’t be a difficult task for me, yet I cannot focus on this task or any other task today.  The paper and a black mechanical pencil find their way in front of me.  It is almost as if a magnet that lies in my chest has drawn these two articles to me and will not let them leave.  They remain here because the small voice inside me knows that I need to write.  Yet, I ignore this still and wise voice more often than I care to admit.  Today I will let the voice lead me onto the page.  Sophie, a character from a book that I have been working on for almost two years still stands in a garden of the Fujiya Hotel in post war Japan and remains there – with the wind blowing her brown curls and her eyes fixed on a man raking.  Before long, his eyes are fixed on her and he has something to tell her.

The story does not rage in me, it is quiet and friendly, but I can feel its intensity building.   I can feel the call to write, not only about Sophie, but about life, children, marriage, heroes, teenage girls, mending and time that slips away from us.

Scraps of ribbon, thread and pieces of calico and designer fabric sit in piles in front of my notebook.  These pieces wait patiently also.  They wait for hands to choose them, cut them, and sew them into something that is beautiful, artful and useful.  This is what women do.  It is what we have done for years and for generations.  We have been asked to shape and mold beautiful objects, hearts, souls and lives from whatever we are given.  We are asked to carve out homes in strange lands, help with Algebra and turn scraps into mouth watering meals and bits of by-gone fabric into glorious quilts that warm us through long winters.

And what about the times in our life when we are blessed with great abundance?  We continue to work, and create and mold and shape.  Even amidst great abundance and stocked cupboards and modern amenities our most fundamental and basic tasks will not change.  There will still be mending to attend to; we will still be called to pour out our love, our energy and our breath into that which comes before us in need.  And we will drain ourselves and we will need to replenish our own stores.  Daily, we need to find a way to fill ourselves again with the energy that allows us to mother, to serve, to work, to live, to cry, and to remain steadfast for those who depend on us.  We cannot ever let the well run dry.  We must find sustenance.  I believe that my own sustenance is going to come to me through the laying down of words onto the page, each day.  I can start with thirty minutes of daily pages and move into some other writing.  I have to do this because the dream is still alive inside my soul and it needs daily watering.

And it should not be such a great feat for me to sprinkle the page with life sustaining water – with words to build my dream.  Why do I resist this so much?  It is time to stop resisting and attend to my dreams.  Music is medicine for many, running is medicine for some, and the matching up of words in a row is mine.

The light is on over my sewing machine, the heater is bringing warmth into my retreat, into my sewing room.  I can be tiny right now.  Small steps, small blocks, paying attention to the words, paying attention to the fabric, the thread, the emerging shapes, the emerging quilt and the emerging stories that are inside me.  Now, just sew a few squares and press them.

story by Renee Dargie, all rights reserved

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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leathercrafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

Read chapter 1 of Deeper Warrior


ready-to-fightDeeper Warrior Chapter 2: Ready to Fight

Damned if I was going to suck the life out of Chris as I had Carol. So I kept a distance, only talking to her once in a while. She was carrying more than a full load of classes anyway, in the junior year of her agronomy degree.

Mostly I focused on the martial arts. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I punched and kicked with my green belt on at taekwondo practice. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I practiced throws, foot sweeps, and choke holds with my brown belt on at judo.

I had practiced judo for a while in junior high, so it was familiar to put on the heavy uniform, tie the belt around my waist properly.

Washed by the hot, strangely pleasant gym smell, I bow at the doorway to the wrestling room. Drop my duffel and shoes by the door, watch a brown belt mop up puddles of sweat left by the wrestling team, feel the cush of the bright red and yellow mats under my bare feet. To one side, a rubber coated stick man bolted to the wall, forever frozen in a crouch, his feet, or more properly, stubby leg ends, levitated about six inches from the floor. Wrestler’s dummy, for practicing throws when a judo partner wasn’t available. Watch out though—his spring loaded grip on the wall was unbreakable, and if enthusiasm got the best of you, he could pull back and dump your butt on the mat.

Line up for practice, by rank: brown belts in front, then green, then orange, then white. Stretching, fall practice, then jumping over people. That is, line up two or three students bent over at the waist, then line up the rest of the team to run full tilt towards them and leap head first over the people to land in a forward roll on the other side.

Then, technique practice. Throws, foot sweeps, arm locks, choke holds. Finally, covered in sweat, sparring practice. And after an hour and a half altogether, the peace of a well-fatigued and strong body.

I competed in tournaments, and earned my brown belt. Next, black belt. And there was some noise about going to the Olympic Training Camp. Not that I didn’t have setbacks. I dislocated the acromio-clavicular joints in my shoulders, first the right side in my freshman year (which interfered annoyingly with the fencing class I was taking that quarter), then the left one my sophomore year. Badges of honor.

Sophomore year I added taekwondo to the mix, wanting to be well rounded in my self defense capabilities. I didn’t compete in taekwondo tournaments; after all, it was just a supplement to judo. But I did earn my green belt.

Gina, Cindy, and I worked out with the “lower belts” the first hour. The group was too big to practice all at the same time, so white through blue belts worked out the first hour, and brown and black belts worked out the second hour. Alex (Alexandra) was a black belt who came early to help instruct the lower belts.

Gina, fair, petite, a talented graphic artist with a flair for decorating cakes as well. I remember her mostly laughing, even in the middle of demanding graphics projects. Cindy, taller, blond, fine boned, able to produce with acrylics the realism of a photograph.

Alex, dark, petite and fast. I remember working out with her on Saturday, taking fighting stance and saying, “I’m ready.” Before I could move she had completed a spinning wheel kick, brushing the side of my face with her foot. I adjusted my stance as though nothing had happened and said, “I’m ready.” She laughed.

I was the tallest, my sturdy frame suitable more for judo than taekwondo, outweighing all three of them by about forty pounds. Stolid and reserved when sober, laughing and looser when drunk.

All four of us lived in the “West Street Slum” area. I would often take my physics book and class notes to the Design Center to hang out, ostensibly studying, while Gina and Cindy worked on art projects. Or all of us would do something fun together, like  meeting at Dugan’s for pitchers (and pitchers) of gin and tonic, or going to see Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Or, say, going to watch the male strippers.

“Come on! Let’s go sit up front!”

“Oh, God,” I muttered to myself, following reluctantly.

Alex led the way forward. Her idea, enthusiastically endorsed by Gina and Cindy. I mean, come on—male stripper night at the only strip joint in town? And wasn’t that blue belt one of the male strippers here?

I went. God forbid anyone should think I’m a coward.

We ordered drinks and settled in while other tables filled with women. College women in their twenties, laughing, smoking, clinking the ice in their glasses. Older women with heavy eye makeup, tall glasses of beer in their hands, looking around eagerly for the young men to undress in front of them. I didn’t have time to get sufficiently drunk to enjoy this–but I tried.
Fog descended on me as the sensuous music blared through the room, and lithe young men became increasingly unclothed, while writhing suggestively about various pieces of furniture, and on various women’s laps. Panic was held down in my chest only by the iron bands of pride.

Then one of the strippers danced on my lap. Sitting stiff and rigid, I asked politely, coldly, for him to remove himself, to go dance on someone else. Languidly he leaned toward my face and whispered in my ear.

Next thing I knew I was standing, my fist cocked back ready to punch, and the stripper was dancing lightly away. My face burned, my head thumped with adrenaline. Without a word or glance to my companions, I fled.

Back to where the bar served drinks to the few men in the room, then outside to pace furiously and get my breathing under control in the fresh night air. I considered walking home; a mere 5 or 6 miles. No, I’d better not abandon my friends.

I went back in, but I couldn’t bring myself to go amongst the tables or back to that empty chair. I prowled restlessly beside the bar, ordered a Mountain Dew. No more alcohol.

At the end of the show my friends came back to me, laughing at some joke, and very curious. What horrible and disgusting thing had the stripper said to me, that caused me to threaten violence then flee? I flatly refused to divulge the content of his statement.

My face burned again at the thought of what they would say, and how they would laugh, knowing that his words were only, “Why are you here, then?”

story by Bobbie Jo Morrell, all rights reserved

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reunion-004_2 Phyllis Mathis is a writer, a psychotherapist, and a life coach, living and working in Littleton, CO. Check out her website: Resonance: your life, in tune. The Secret Invention of the Skateboard is a true story, with a few embellishments for the sake of a good tale. That’s why we call it creative nonfiction, right?


24_roller-skatesThe Secret Invention of the Skateboard

The invention of the skateboard occurred on a perfect summer morning in the early 1960’s.  It was probably late June, because it was new enough summer to be cool in the mornings, and late enough summer for my brother Mark to be bored and looking for a good project.

My brother was a great one for neighborhood projects, and I was grateful to be included, or at least tolerated. One summer he scrounged up some digging utensils consisting of my mother’s serving spoons and some miscellaneous yard tools, and proceeded to excavate Red Dirt Hill, a vacant lot across the street from our house. In two weeks time the gang of us had carved a neighborhood of houses out of the side of the hill, complete with transplanted wild rose and yucca bushes, carports for our wagons, and some pretty inventive furniture. My poor mother could never get our clothes clean. Red dirt clogged the pores of our skin, jammed the underside of our fingernails, and gave our hair a coppery tint. She finally put a stop to the project, but not before we staged our very own Neighborhood Parade of Homes.

Mark probably invented the skateboard when he was about thirteen, just the right age for a summer of adventure. He was old enough to be inventive, creative enough to turn work into play, but yet child enough to include the hangers-on. He was not yet too cool to share the planet with inferior schlubs like us, so whatever Mark found to do, we were game to do as well.

So it was, on a perfect June day, and with an adventurous gleam in his eye, that he decided to fool around with our roller skates. He was already too cool to clamp them on his shoes like the rest of us. There had to be a way to improve their function, some other way to make roller skates more interesting. If only one could sit down and ride, like a little cart…

With his skate key in one hand, and Volume A of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the other, he made history. This sturdy hardbound book was the perfect platform, the ideal size on which to rest his pre-pubescent backside. He used the key to lengthen the skate all the way before tightening it down, whereupon he lodged the tome snugly on top, the long way, and voila! Instant skateboard. One trip down the hill beside our house, and the rest of us were chasing down skate keys and volumes of encyclopedia like a pack of cheap lawyers chasing ambulances. In no time we were careening down the sidewalk and clapping each other on the back for our cleverness.

What was my mother thinking, letting us profane the precious Britannica? I think she regretted buying the things, wishing she had known to buy the easier to read and infinitely more interesting World Book instead. Perhaps she figured the books would get more use on top of our skates than in our science reports. Or maybe she just didn’t have the will to stop us. Whatever her reasoning, she lodged a noisy protest into the air, and then left us do what we wanted, provided we agreed not to tell Dad. No problem we said, as she shook her head and waved us away.

A few hours later the novelty of riding skateboards down the sidewalk had worn off, and Mark was hatching another brilliant idea. This time his idea involved the neighbors’ driveway – their newly poured, doublewide, sparkling clean concrete driveway – and the burning need to build a make-believe city, populated by a modern, skateboard-riding citizenry.

Chalk. We needed chalk. No problem. Red Dirt Hill was a veritable gypsum mine. All we had to do was break off a hunk, wipe off the red dirt, and draw on the concrete. This method proved very unsatisfying. Our new city needed a stronger, bolder line. Mere chalk lines wouldn’t do, and Mark knew just the thing.

In the corner of our basement was a meager stack of shingles leftover from a roofing project the year before. Breaking off a manageable piece of shingle, one could notice that the tar in the middle of the shingle made a dandy marker, especially on concrete. Our city was born.

On the canvas of our neighbors’ concrete driveway we drew our town. Using bits of tar shingle, we outlined our houses, curbs, carports and streets. We drew parks and shops, stop signs and police stations. We drew neighborhoods, grocery stores, movie theaters and gas stations. We were brilliant. And when our city was finished, we scooted our skateboards along newly drawn streets, shopping and visiting and going to movies, and then parking our little cars in their carports and lying down on our newly drawn beds. It was a blissful afternoon of glorious make-believe, courtesy of our neighbors’ largesse.

The beauty of being seven instead of thirteen, and being one of the hangers-on instead of the one who should know better, is that no one expected me to know better. I do remember wondering what the word vandalism meant, however, and what the fuss was all about when our neighbors returned from vacation.

The aftermath of our magnum opus took place in a context outside my realm of concern – let’s put it that way. I have no knowledge, nor memory of how my brother was persecuted for his art, but I do remember participating in a futile attempt at scrubbing concrete on my hands and knees with soapy water and a brush, wondering why some people just don’t seem to get it.

And the invention of the skateboard? Evidently someone without a criminal past got the credit for that one, but we knew better.

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