JoCoWrites

The JoCoWrites blog is a place for you to share responses to monthly prompts. No judges, no waiting. Put your pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, submit. Easy!

By Charles

Be the Change

In life we all face challenges that put us to the test. We try to overcome them, and at each do our best. While none of us is perfect, I think it’s plain to see, It’s the effort that we put in that shapes who we will be.

We can be the change that shapes the world we know. Whether highest on the payroll or lowest of the low, You can make a difference in how mankind comes through. Be the change you want to see, it all begins with you.

You know the mighty redwood was once a humble seed, And so it is with people when they do one good deed.
An act of kindness blossoms, takes root down deep inside And before long a canopy of caring’s spreading wide.

We can be the change that shapes the world we know. Whether highest on the payroll or lowest of the low, You can make a difference in how mankind comes through. Be the change you want to see, it all begins with you.

It’s easy to lose hope these days when you scroll your feed; The news just seems to focus on the things that make us bleed. But hope can be rekindled if we all just take a chance And do the things within our grasp to help us to advance.

We can be the change that shapes the world we know. Whether highest on the payroll or lowest of the low, You can make a difference in how mankind comes through. Be the change you want to see, it all begins with you.

We can be the change that shapes the world we know. Whether highest on the payroll or lowest of the low, You can make a difference in how mankind comes through. Be the change you want to see, it all begins with you.

By Anna

Rice. One-third of a cup of rice can be a meal. A twenty pound bag of rice contains 80 cups of rice. In the U.S., long grain rice is the cheapest and easiest to buy in bulk – 20 pounds for $15. Once when my Aunt Helen visited, she saw I only had one sauce jar in my fridge and proceeded to laugh and post an image on social media. Granted, she also took me out for lunch and let me keep the leftovers. In my undergraduate years, I would skim the line between hoarding free food from all the campus events and trying to eat it for so long I got food poisoning. I used to ask people with meal plans if I could have their leftover Chick-Fil-A sauce to put on my rice. In a good month, I could spend $15 on food. Long-grain rice takes longer to digest than short-grain rice because it is high in amylose, a starch molecule. Rinsing rice removes some of the starch, preventing grains from clinging to one another, so the rice isn’t as sticky. Soaking rice can decrease the cooking time required. Then, the rice water can be used as a plant fertilizer. Leftover rice can be used in fried rice or left to ferment. When I was sixteen and a waitress at Winstead’s – a local diner – the manager joked with me that during the War the owner was clever and put the horse meat signs on the bottom face of the door so that, though the signs were posted, no one would see them. None of my coworkers believed me when I told them all the foods that can be bulked up with sawdust: bread, meatballs, and even rice crispy treats. Isn’t it common knowledge that undercooked potatoes fill your stomach and take longer to digest, or is the potato famine remembered in name only? It used to be that during bad harvest years, there were prohibitions against wasting grains to make alcohol. Every gallon of beer could use two pounds of wheat. The idea of prohibition may seem preposterous in this great country of full of microbreweries. In such a country there is no need to know about blight, blotch, and ergot. My father made note when he traveled to India and saw the people savor the rice rather than chicken on the plate. When I first tried my bamboo steamer, the rice was hot and sticky but I ate it all straight off of the mat. Do you think of rice as a side dish, when it comes for free next to your entrée? Or do you eat every grain and kiss the bowl? If there is not enough rice to feed us all, may the rest of us at least know how to cook it properly.

By JoCoWrites

How Would You Change the World?

The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets in the hope of raising awareness about the health benefits of the grain. Is it possible to change the fortunes of poor Indian farmers, while also combating climate change, food scarcity, and increasing our foods nutritional value?

Tell us about your ideas for changing the world. From world-wide synchronized chanting to composting toilets, we want to help put your ambitions into the universe and see if they take hold.

Submit.as/jocowrites

By Beth Gulley

#7 Fundamentals What fundamentals matter most to how you express yourself? Think about projects or work you have produced of which you are particularly proud. What are some fundamental principles of skills present in these projects that you have mastered? How could you use this mastery in other spaces and places?

I started to answer these questions, and they turned into a poem.

Fundamentals

Listening —to myself, to others, to the physical/metaphysical space around me

Rhythm —of words, of silence, of the structure of a day, of the circular nature of the process

Cutting —filler words, convoluted ideas, fear of what others thing of me

Structure —for aesthetics, for logic, for comfort in patterns

Sharing —ideas, stories, hope, myself

Words —nouns, verbs, articles, conjunctions

By Lisa Allen

Learning How You Learn (page 74)

Identify five learning moments in your life when you gained a deep understanding or insight. Write down five attributes of the experience, like where you were, who you were with, and what was happening.

  1. Watching my grandmother make strawberry shortcake when I was 3, 9, 13, 37. Every age, really, until she got too tired, then too old, to cook. I only cared about the strawberries. She sliced them thick and dumped sugar in the bowl. She lifted the bowl and flipped the berries up and over by moving it forward and back while flicking her wrists—we do it this way because a spoon will bruise them. Bruised berries are never as sweet as they could have been, she said. Then she'd set the bowl of berries in the fridge and make me wait.

I know that if I do that now, if I can just wait until the sugar has done its work, they’ll have released their juices and be softer, happier, sweet as sweet can be.

I think of bruised berries when I think of her, a single mother before we knew what a single mother was, butchering chickens and ironing clothes to feed her five kids.

I thought of bruised berries when I was angry at one of my children. I think of bruised berries now when I want to yell at my father or an employer or a neighbor or myself. Bruised berries, I sometimes mutter. Crushed before they can sweeten.

  1. In court, testifying to be emancipated from my mother. I was 16. In my memory the courtroom looks like a big box store without merchandise, two card tables set at opposite sides of the room. I remember her lawyer asking me why I don't love her. I remember her winking at me as I left the witness box, the way she smiled. She smiled, didn't she? What were we wearing? What did the big-box room smell like that day? Can't tell you. I must have missed a day of school but I don't remember that either. I know my dad was there but he's nowhere to found in this memory. I remember the lawyer's shoes: brown wingtips. Shiny.

The lesson: memory is forgetful, a liar. It spins stories, fills in its own blanks.

  1. Dad didn’t believe in tornado warnings, conflated sirens with invitation, unfolded lawn chairs at the edge of our garage door so raindrops beat my bare feet. Together we assigned shapes to the cumulonimbus clouds & laughed at their anvil heads, their crazy hair.

In elementary school we practiced—single file, heads over knees & knees flush with cinder block every Wednesday. Clockwork.

Dad practiced when he was in school, too, his copper haired head over knees & tucked under his desk—but his threat was nuclear, not the Kansas wind. A bogeyman with a button.

When my kids went to school, practicing was called active shooter drill. They were taught to run zig-zag through the halls. Strategy.

Will I ever get the answer to this question: how many things can we practice?

  1. My teachers—all women—taught me to look for clues. Sky the color of bile means the tornado is coming & silence is not comfort. It’s just the tempest taking form.

I knew that night before the sirens blew. The darkness covered everything but the sound: a rocket launch in my backyard, a whale’s call.

1:21 a.m. I am barefoot, sweater thrown over a too-big nightgown. How is it they haven’t heard the sirens? I pound on their bedroom doors. Let’s go I bark. OK, OK. Give me a minute, they say, their voices quiet and sweet, like I’d just snuggled them to sleep.

All their lives they've seen me stand on my postage-stamp porch, tilt my chin to the storm.

They mosey. One needs his phone; the other doesn’t open their door. Now! Can’t they hear the wailing, the vortex in my voice?

Rain riots the windowpanes. Two of us run down the first flight of stairs, wait. I yell. My son runs up to get his sibling & I stand in the in-between.

Sirens, still. Trunk crack.

It’s like they’re getting ready for a date, I think, slicking their lips. Maybe hoping for a kiss.

It’s all my fault. I prepared them for the wrong disaster.

  1. Baking apple pie with my stepmother. I was home for the holidays, dating a man they hadn't yet met. As she rolled pie dough she said, If you ever tell your father this, I'll deny it, but don't get married. Find someone you really like and get your own place close to his. Visit each other. Have fun. But leave it at that.

She wove my grandmother's blue rosary into my wedding bouquet, sewed my veil from yards of tulle. Welcomed my husband into her family with genuine warmth and home cooked meals and a place to stay for family vacation when we couldn't afford to go anywhere else.

When he and I divorced, I took the kids to spend a week with her and my dad every summer. And every summer she'd book a massage for me, send me off with the edict to not come home until the street lamps came on.

It's been 14 years and she still hasn't said I told you so.

By Anne-Marie Oomen

Practicing Metaphors, pg 83.

I enjoy thinking about metaphors as units of resolution and I like responding to images—I’m here to teach ekphrasis after all. So this exercise in metaphor and image seemed a natural draw. I like metaphors for their insights, but also as comfort for resolving unrest about accomplishing a particular goal—in this case, launching a book. When a book arrives in the world, a writer must leave the security of the desk, home, and page to enter a world of public interaction where “events” happen. And that may be why I found the first image, a birds eye airport photo so apt right now—all those many comings and goings in airports parallel my current calendar—and state of mind, and these airport flights must be as intensely monitored as the events that must be planned to support the publication of a book. I imagined the photo as a drone image that might be assisting the controller in the tower. From above, she knows which flights are offboarding, onboarding, waiting “in the wings,” and preparing to take off, fully loaded. Each flight has a destination, timeline, and a crew of supporters, similar to running the various tour events for launching a book into the world.

A book tour is a privilege and an honor—as is the process of flying if you think about it deeply—to replicate the gifts of birds, but it’s also a multi-faceted and demanding process with lots of crowding, small time/space ratio, a lot to carry (how many copies of your book fit into your trunk or your overhead compartment?), and often surprising logistics—where in space is that plane—where am I supposed to be in an hour? It takes daily concentration, and it does not (yet) leave room for much literary creativity.

This is not a complaint. I know there is a rough order to the airport and to my life, but the initial feeling is often one of chaos. And that is the challenge, that feeling (real or not) of unease and pressure. I would like to dilute it. Even as I know things are going pretty much as they should, I don’t know when the unexpected may happen, when one might be delayed. I contracted covid and had to cancel some events, and now I need events (flights) to make up that momentum. So the challenge is the sense of complexity that is not always pleasant when I should be feeling gratitude for the book and for connections with readers.

In contrast, I studied the second image on that page, of the tool drawer with everything in its place. This seemed momentarily like a goal—one thing at a time and everything in its place, but that is a flawed metaphor because it implies a stillness—that didn't match my feelings about this phase of intense complexity. So I asked myself what attitude I would like to bring to the work—and realized I need to think of this phase in my life as a system evolving in an ever shifting landscape of calendar. So I studied the top image, again a bird’s eye view, but this image was of a meandering river that looked lush and steady. This of course is the opposite goal of all this rush and hustle of the airport image. So the river metaphor suggested a new thing: I can’t change this bustle, but maybe I can change attitude to one more gracefully interwoven. Yes, the process is the process. But what if I strove to view all the tour events as a river instead of an airport, yes ever changing, full of currents and cross-currents, but in flow, thus responding to and connected with the flux of weathers—as one is when one connects to an audience, when one moves from one event to the next with confidence and consistent energy. Psychologically, I want to shift my attitude of this stage of a literary life from the perception of the airport to the perception of the river. If I mentally held the river image more often, would the tension of the airport ease toward a more organic response. Would it come to Flow? Either way, the exercise clarified my feelings and gave me a sense of direction.

By Jim Cosgrove

This example uses prompt #52 “Tell Your Grandad.”

The goal is to take abstract concepts (in this case, plant-based meat, lactose intolerance, and Uber Eats) and attempt to explain the ideas to Grandad “in as many concrete ways as possible using metaphors, analogies, and similes.”

I have chosen to leave my granddad a voicemail message.

“Please leave a message at the beep.”

Beep

Hi, Grandpa. It’s Jim. I hope you’ll be able to join us for dinner on Sunday evening. There’s no need to bring anything. We’ve got it all planned. We’ll be serving Beyond burgers, which are not real meat, but plant-based burgers. If you haven’t tried one, you’ll love it. It’s sort of like using margarine rather than real butter or driving a Prius downhill with a tailwind instead of navigating a 1982 Bluebird school bus loaded with a belch of inebriated tourists while towing a rack of canoes through the mountains – it’s better for the environment and still gets you where you’re going.

And do you remember the time grandma was trying to save money and ground up a bunch of peanuts and made “peanut loaf” and tried to pass it off as meatloaf, but nobody was buying it because it tasted like salty cardboard smothered in ketchup? It’s similar to that, but don’t worry, a Beyond Burger tastes exactly like a real hamburger, but without the guilt of actually killing and disemboweling a cow. Biting into the juicy goodness of a Beyond Burger is a vacation for your conscious and a virtual spa for your colon which will thank you for not having to process all the red meat.

Seriously, you won’t notice the difference. Like when they replaced Darren on Bewitched with a new actor. Everybody knew it wasn’t the same guy, but nobody fussed about it because the show was still funny. Eating plant-based meat is kind of like that.

You might be wondering why we don’t just eat real hamburgers. Well, Starlet and I are vegetarians. And, FYI, we won't be serving cheese on the burgers, as our daughter Indigo Dawn is lactose intolerant. You do not want to be anywhere near her when she consumes dairy. She’s like Old Faithful meets the insoles of Mr. Stinky Feet’s sneakers on a humid Kansas day in August.

And don’t worry, if you’re not into trying fake meat, we can always order you something from Uber Eats, which is like meals on wheels without the mushy peas and powdered mashed potatoes, but you do have to pay for it and tip the tattooed stranger who delivers it.

See you on Sunday!

By Virginia Brackett

November 9, 2022

Virginia Brackett

18 Learning How You Learn

As I analyze my learning style, I realize that some of my best teaching experiences involve what I may at first see as failures. Yes, we all love the big wins, but I’ve found over time that I learn much more from activities in which I don't at first succeed.

For example, when I began research for my memoir about my father, KIA in Korea, I realized that, never having been part of the military, I would have to learn new terms and concepts. I began by writing down information about his military experience that I did not at first fully understand, such as that he was part of the 17th Infantry. But I didn't exert the necessary effort to really educate myself. Excited to discover military groups online to whom I could write for information, I fired off various emails. As I recount in my book’s first chapter, I received a response from a helpful individual who gently explained that I had “contacted the site, 17th ARTILLERY which is not the same as 17th INFANTRY.” He signed his reply, “Good luck. Doug.” I was embarrassed by the mistake, but also grateful that a kind stranger made the effort to correct me. Had I invested the time accuracy demands, I wouldn’t have wasted Doug’s.

My mistake reminded me to learn and apply the rules before diving straight into the pool. That awkward metaphor is a reference to the time I embarrassed my ten-year-old self at our local public pool by leaping directly into the water, only to be called out – loudly – by a lifeguard. He reminded me, and not gently, of the rule that I had to shower first. It was the first rule on a list of ten or so on the whiteboard hanging beside the entry gate into the pool area.

I slowly pulled my mortified ego out of the pool, hoping no one would notice. Fat chance. Activity around the pool came to a halt, as everyone watched me will myself to melt into a puddle on the hot concrete. Everyone included the handsome high schooler running the snack bar, who leaned out over the bar edge to not miss any detail. (He may or may not have called me “Stinky” throughout that summer.) “Can’t you read?” the lifeguard demanded, pointing to the list of clearly posted rules. Well, sure, I could, but I didn’t choose to put rules before my personal pleasure.

Decades later I didn’t have to publicly share my Infantry v. Artillery mistake. However, I did because mistakes are part of any research process, and I learn from them. In addition, I hoped sharing mine might ease anxieties for others who want to write their family stories. And finally, I thought Doug deserved kudos for his gesture.

As for my learning style? Apparently, I require repetitive reminders. At least these days I respond with more grace, pick up my unimportant ego, and move along toward my more important goal.

By Helen

Identify five learning moments in your life when you gained a deep understanding or insight. Write down five attributes of the experience, like where you were, who you were with, and what was happening.

Swim Meet I’m the third of four siblings. When we were young, we belonged to “The Club” which consisted of a golf course, tennis courts, and a rectangle swimming pool. Every day during the summer I rode my bike to the pool, spent the whole day there, ate a giant .25 pickle for lunch and rode home when the pool closed. I have no idea where my brothers and sister spent their time.

One summer, my father made us choose between joining The Club, or being on the swim team. I was outvoted and had no idea there was third choice. Neither being on the swim team nor belonging to The Club. Thus, every morning before dawn, I was in a pool trying to swim laps, without really understanding the point.

During high school, my older brother and sister were simultaneously captains of the boys and girls swim team. I was still too stupid to realize I didn’t have to be on the team just because my siblings were. And thus, every morning before dawn, I was in the slow lane trying to swim laps without really understanding the point. One practice, we were supposed to swim “the fly”. It’s a gravity defying stroke where you suck water, choke, flail, and pray you make it to the end of the lane before drowning. During this practice, I refused to even try and swam freestyle, while everyone else defied gravity. The next meet, Coach Whatsisname had entered me in the 50 meter Butterfly. In a competition. Where everyone would be watching.

And I did it. I was disqualified and I cried. But I did it. I went on to qualify for and go to State, eventually lettering in the thing I didn’t know I could do.

Riding Lesson My mean Daddy would never buy me a horse. I had read “Summer Pony” by Jean Slaughter, where a family rented a horse for the summer and kept it in their garage. We had a garage. So . . .

When I was in my early 30’s, I started taking horseback riding lessons. Riding a horse is actually terrifying. When you’re on a horse, you’re about 5 feet off the hard ground, atop a being with free will. Until you learn to communicate in horse language, you’re kinda relying on the grace of God to keep you on top.

After some time, I learned the basics, but always on lesson horses that kind of ride themselves, doing the work for you. One morning my regular was still out in the pasture and they put me on Frankie. (I would later affectionately call him Frankenshit.) The first time I rode him, he left the arena and charged into the row of stalls where a very accomplished (and handsome) horseman was saddling his steed. They both looked on in alarm as I struggled to get Frankie back where the instructor could instruct.

Next lap, I anticipated Frankie’s move, and each lap got smoother and smoother, with Frankenshit eyeing the exit and me guiding him in yet another circle. Poor guy.

Frankie taught me, not only that, with a lot of work, I can learn to communicate effectively. But also, that I can do hard things.

Max and Bella I signed up with a local rescue to foster a small, old dog that kinda matched the small, old dog I already had. I ended up with two young, giant dogs. They’d never been inside a house. Never been in a car. It took them a week to learn how to get upstairs. They were never bad, they just didn’t have any experience.

I loved them instantaneously.

They were ruining my life and scaring the neighbors.

I was never a good student. But I was smart enough to get by, so developed neither study skills, nor habits. I was able to just cruise by. I started taking Max and Bella to a dog trainer, and when he said I couldn’t come back until I had mastered some very basic skills, I took offense. We quickly grew bored. So, I took to the library. I read every dog training book. I watched every dog training video. I immersed myself in getting these two dogs as adoptable as possible.

And it worked! I would read the section on a command, watch the video, read the section again, and then go practice. It worked! I transformed these two giant goofballs from dogs people would angrily cross the street to get away from (because they were dragging me everywhere and sometimes getting away from me), to dogs that had people apologizing to me for their dogs behavior, because mine were so good.

When necessary, I can learn hard things.

AWP After years of advocating for the library to send me to a writing-related conference instead of a library-related conference, they sent me to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. I went alone which, as an introvert, wasn’t a problem. Until it was.

I’m not a writer myself, so I’d been learning about writers and writing from the very people I was trying to serve. It was slow. It was clunky. And I was super-excited to be immersed in this strange world.

Did you know . . . there are 600 million tiny literary journals all produced by extremely passionate people who care about writers and writing? Also, did you know . . . there are about 500 million MFA programs, all run by extremely passionate people who care about writers and writing? Me neither! And I talked to all of them.

Then, I took crowded public transportation to Powell’s Books because I was told I had to go there. (Frankly, the library’s better.) Then I was on my way to an after event I’d been invited to. I really wanted to go and socialize and make connections and be a good steward of county resources. They’d paid for me, after all, to go make connections and by golly, I was gonna give them their monies worth! Except I wasn’t. My phone died and I had trouble finding my way back. When I finally reached my hotel room, I ended up under the bed sobbing in the fetal position. OK, not really, but I did cry and not leave my room til morning.

I can do hard things, but ya gotta respect the introvert.

In summary, I’m bad at math (I'm way over 500 words), so I’m only sharing four learning moments. Besides, sharing a fifth just feels too hard.

By Virginia Brackett

Chapter 50 emphasizes the importance of feedback to the development of any project. Our authors tell us, “By regularly seeking feedback, you’ll be able to tackle harder challenges and put forth bolder ideas.” I relate this idea to the importance to writers of critique. I’ve presented entire sessions focusing on the importance of the critique group, and I’ll land on a few of the high points here.

Let’s begin by considering who you will ask for feedback. You should choose carefully. In general, a family member may not provide the best critique, as they may be too close to you and your project. On the other hand, if you want input on how your young character might word a sentence, your adolescent or teen may be just the sounding board you need.

I highly recommend that your critique buddy be a writer themself. While a voracious reader’s feedback can also be helpful, the writer better understands the barriers you face. They will also understand and be able to use vocabulary referring to elements important to writing, such as “figurative language” and “symbolism.”

You can locate critique groups fairly easily these days, due to the Internet, and even find those who write your specific genre. Many will allow you to observe for a couple of sessions, so that you can better understand the rules for submission and commentary. Yes, I did say rules, because any group that hopes to remain organized must have them. Those rules may direct the number of words you can submit, a date by which submissions must be received, the order in which feedback takes place, even how long the feedback can be.

Most critique groups do not focus on mechanics, such as the use of grammar and proper punctuation. Those are more the concerns of an editor. Your group should comment on matters such as organization, characterization, verisimilitude, and the use of elements of prose and poetry. You can focus on editing later. Now with the presence of software such as Grammerly, many basic problems will be noted for you as you write.

The chapter’s title is “The Test of Silence.” While silence may not seem to relate to critique group work, it does! The reason for that title is that in order to benefit from feedback, we must listen to it carefully. We all have to squelch that very human tendency to think of our own rejoinder while others are still talking. We may feel challenged to not respond to each comment about our work as it is spoken, but our own comments should follow those of the group. By waiting to respond, we have time to absorb what is being said, to make notes about the feedback, and to think of questions we may have to turn back to the group.

Finally, a true working group should offer you not only compliments, but also explain precisely why they believe a sentence works well or why it doesn’t seem to belong. As I always say, a happy face drawn next to your paragraph is pleasing feedback but does nothing to help you improve.