Archive for October, 2016

Getting Naked in Public

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This weekend I went to a release party held at the Hoffman Center for the Arts for the North Coast Squid, a literary magazine. I was honored that Sacred, one of my short stories, had been accepted for publication, and I was excited to read it to an audience. I was a little nervous too, if I’m honest. I don’t have much fear about speaking in public, but reading from my own work is different. It’s more intimate.

It’s like I told my writing class: sharing your writing with another human being is like getting naked in public. Not that I’m in the habit of actually exposing myself—trust me, nobody wants to see that—but when you write, you bare your soul. When you show your work to another person, you leave yourself vulnerable—not just to criticism, but to being seen. You can hide behind a nom de plume, but you are still the force behind the words, giving them life.

Even if your work isn’t autobiographical, there is some part of you that goes into it. We write what we know, how we think, how we see the world. It takes courage to put yourself out there, to share something that intimate. “It takes guts,” I told my class.

“Guts with a Z,” one of my students replied.

“Guts with a Z,” I agreed. It takes gutz, and I applaud anyone who shares their creative work, even if it’s only with one other person. Not just the writers, but the artists, singers, musicians, dancers, designers. Anyone who creates, taking what’s in their heads and sharing it with others, making the world a better place.

It takes courage to give and receive feedback too, and that’s what we’re doing in class. Helping each other strengthen our work, so when we send it out into the world, it’s practically bulletproof. We’re helping each other become better writers by encouraging each other and learning from each other.

20161008_192451My reading of my short story went well. People laughed in the right places, my voice held out, and I didn’t trip over my feet when I left the stage. I got lots of compliments on my work afterwards. The best one was from a man who said he appreciated how my characters changed from the start of the story to the end. “Thanks,” I said, pleased that he understood the point I’d been trying to convey about the conflict in the story. “I wanted to show that even though people can be unpleasant, there’s always a reason, something in their history that has led up to that point.”

It made me feel good that there was so much warmth and support at this event for fellow writers and artists. I loved listening to the other pieces, fiction and non-fiction, as well as poetry. It’s good to get out of my writing space and hear what other people are doing, to see their courage as they share their work. It takes gutz to do what we do, and that inspires me.

 

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Majority Rules

In high school, I took a class in civics. There I learned a number of life lessons—some intended, some not so much. For one of our class projects, our teacher told us we were forming a new country on an island. As a class, we would have to decide which laws would govern us.

He split us into small groups, instructing us to brainstorm rules for our new society. Then we’d share our ideas with the entire class and vote on which ones would become law. My group came up with some basics—sensible ground rules common to most civilizations: don’t kill, don’t steal, respect other people’s property. When we were asked to report back to the class, most of the rules discussed were meant to protect the island’s citizens and mirrored the types of laws we have in the United States.

One group of boys came up with a different rule, however. They decided that whenever a girl was on her period, she would be banished to a hut on the far side of the island so no one would have to deal with her being “on the rag.” (I am not making this up.)

As you might imagine, the girls in the class had a problem with this. Not only was the notion crass, it was blatantly sexist and demeaning, which we quickly pointed out. Although we were vocal about our objection to this proposed law, the other boys in class laughed and joined in, agreeing that the rule was a good idea. (Apparently it never occurred to them that offending every girl in the room might mean they’d never get a date for prom. I can’t speak for my female classmates, but it occurred to me, and I vowed I’d never date any of those guys. Life lesson number one: life is too short to date jerks.)

There was only one boy in class who treated us with respect and was brave enough to stand up for us. He said the rule was unfair and tried to get the other guys to stop being sexist. I can only imagine the grief he got later for his troubles, but I felt gratitude for his courage and disgust that no other guy in the room stood with him.

I thought our instructor would come to our defense, turning a negative situation into a teachable moment by speaking about equality. He didn’t. Instead, he put the matter to a vote. “Majority rules,” he said.

This only exacerbated the situation because there were more boys than girls in the class. Even with our one male ally, the motion passed easily and became law.

While I understand that the teacher was trying to provide a lesson on democracy, I learned something different. I learned that a majority vote can create both good laws and unjust laws. A majority vote doesn’t mean all citizens are treated equally. Laws can be used to discriminate against vulnerable populations. I also learned that you can’t always count on adults to do the right thing. Sometimes you have to advocate for yourself. Sometimes you have to gain allies to support your cause and then fight to make better laws.

 

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Ghosts of My Ghost

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gideon-in-tolovana-2Today I’m pleased to feature fellow Oregon coast author, Gideon For-mukwai. Gideon considers himself a Story Warrior because he is tireless and restless in the pursuit of helping emerging authors, presenters, and coaches to tell captivating personal stories for profit or for entertainment.

His book, The Science of Story Selling: How to Win Hearts & Minds for Profit and Purpose, provides easy to use tools, techniques, and strategies for using storytelling to captivate, connect, and persuade. It is only for those who want to use their stories to sell more and persuade more by coming across as likable, relatable, credible, and memorable.

Want a copy of his book? You can get it here. If you buy it, he’ll throw in a free audible version, worth $17.

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You can also download a copy of How to Connect and Persuade with the Power of Storytelling.

I usually ask guest authors to share a scary story. Gideon has one, but it’s not about the supernatural–which makes it even more frightening. Here’s his story:

 

You never know when a disaster would strike! You never know when you’d stand face to face with a moment of terror that could destroy your life.

A few times in my life, I’ve faced life-threatening moments.  As a child growing up in the dusty fields of Africa, I survived two lightning strikes in two years; each of which killed nearby animals and destroyed the buildings in which we were taking refuge.  Later on in life, as an adult in Singapore, my kayak capsized in the volatile waters of the South China Sea. What was I doing on the South China Sea? Ask me, why were you there?

Of all that has happened, nothing compares to the terror I felt one night in Orlando, Florida. It was drizzling in Orlando late that evening around 10.35 pm, when I got into my car to drive across town to my friend Watson’s apartment. Watson lived barely four blocks away from Universal Studios Orlando. At the back of my car, I had my luggage, my powerpoint slides, the script of my speech in Toronto, my sleek laptop, grey suit, and yes, my gold-plated nail clip.

As I drove across town, I rehearsed my speech out loud in my car with my hands on the wheel.  I could see myself on stage in Toronto, Canada in two days with a  fine smile. I had lofty dreams of of getting multiple requests to fly in again to conduct more presentations.  As those beautiful thoughts swirled through my mind,  I pulled into into the parking lot.

Unbeknownst to me, as I stepped out of my beat-up 2003 Nissan Sentra, I saw two young black teenagers wearing basketball hoods rushing toward me. As they got closer, I heard one of them saying in a low pitch, “Get down! Get down!”

“OMG, OMG! Why are you doing that?” I asked. Without saying a word, the other skinny teenager pointed a pistol directly to my head, at very close range with his fingers the trigger. I was petrified, horrified, and terrified with unspeakable fear. In my desperation, I offered a plea, “Guys, take my wallet, take my wallet!” As I handed my wallet to one of them, I pleaded, “Take all the money, but please return my driver’s license.”

One of them grabbed the wallet, the other shoved me to the side. In a split second, they both jumped into the car, backed out, and sped off into the drizzling darkness. I stood there speechless, hopeless, and clueless!

My car was gone, and all that mattered to me and my professional success was gone in a less than seconds. I was so broken. It all happened too fast. I did not know what to say or do. I was clueless. How was I going to travel to Toronto the next morning, why is life so unfair? This is disgusting!

As the young thugs backed out they crushed my laptop bag with my white Acer 13-inch laptop.  It crushed my heart more than anything else. All my data, all my files were gone. In less 60 seconds, they had dispossessed me of all that I had worked to acquire.

In a trembling voice, I called 911 to report the incident. For the first time in my life, when a police officer arrived at the scene and asked my name,  I said, “They were black kids wearing basketball hoodies.” He said, “No, I mean what is your name?” I was blank for over four seconds before remembering both of my names. I was still hyperventilating.

Three months after that incident, one evening at sunset,  I went into a  Haitian bakery to buy some bread. While standing at the counter, I turned around saw two black men with basketball hoodies standing by the door.  I felt a sudden thunder bolt of fear striking through my heart. Even though I had paid for my bread, I turned around and jumped out and started galloping on my way to my apartment like a stallion. I ran all the way back to my apartment without ever looking back.  With every single step I took, I felt like the hoodie men were chasing and closing in on me. That night, even the fastest Nascar drivers could not catch me!

After I bolted my door, I was sat at my table breathless for several minutes.  That night, I slept hungry.  Throughout the night, I kept thinking those men were standing by my door. It has been over eight years, since that incident happened. Each time I get out of my car in a drizzle, I still get sweaty palms and flashbacks of terror.  Each time I see someone on TV with a basketball hoodie, my blood pressure skyrockets. That incident taught me that what scares you most, is often not a ghost. In my case, what scares me the most is not my ghost. Very often, it is the ghosts of my ghost.

 

Thanks for joining me today, Gideon!

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016