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The Story Within a Story

vangcup.jpgI'd be a terrible court reporter because I like to cover stories that are inspiring, ones that show kindness, open-mindness, people contributing something positive or standing up for what's right. Whether it's freelanced or an assignment, I like to find the silver lining in a story, something I can get excited enough about to want to share with others.

Since I wrote my first "Letter to the Editor" at the age of nineteen, activism has been an aspect of my writing. In the past, much of my writing dealt directly with issues I care about, but I'm learning that shining a light on these issues doesn't have to be direct and that the opportunity to shine an indirect light can turn up in unexpected places. Sometimes activism comes in the form of reporting other people's activism.

The condemnation of mountain top removal recently showed up in a story about a poetry reading at the Floyd Country Store when poet Jim Webb read an emotional poem denouncing it. When he said, "until they stop mountain removal, I'm going to read this poem at every reading," I felt inspired and wrote down his words for a blog entry that would later become a Floyd Press newspaper story.

I've written well over a dozen commentaries about the Iraq War that have been published at Commondreams.org, The New River Free Press, and the Roanoke Times. I've pointed out in various ways that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, that the Bush Administration misled us into the war, that preemptive invasion is illegal, and that the outcome has been predictable and disastrous. Darker and more tiring than I imagine court reporting to be, after a while I felt at a loss for what to say about Iraq.

I knew the Poetry Symposium at Virginia Military Institute last month would be fertile ground for my writing, especially knowing that Vietnam Vet Bruce Weigl reading his poetry at the military academy would likely be an eye opening line-up. I went to the event to blog about my poet friend Mara - a reoccurring character on my blog who was presenting poetry and a paper - but when Weigl stopped in the middle of his reading to say about Iraq, "I Hate this War," I was glad I was there to record it.

This spring, I was asked to write a story about landscape designer Pam Cadmus for the April issue of All About Her, a regional newspaper insert. Early on in our interview, when Pam (who uses natural fertilizers and no pesticides) said, 'We don't love our habitat enough,' I knew it was a privilege to be writing about her. When the first line of the story came to me, 'Appreciating nature in our own backyard can be a first step to being a good steward of the earth,' it felt like my small way of promoting and celebrating Earth Day.

Sometimes the inspiring thread of a story isn't that obvious. Last year I did a story on a Mary Kay beauty consultant for All About Her. For me, the important part of the story wasn't about beauty and make-up; it was about a self-employed young mother making her own hours so she could be at home with her two young children. The story led me to research some of the unhealthy ingredients used in the make-up industry, not part of the story I was writing but something I hope to write about in the future.

One of my favorite stories was the one about placed-based education and a prototype class my husband helped to start in which students collect and record stories of their elders, in this case WWII vets. It was a thrill to see the students engaged in such a constructive and self-empowering activity, and doubly so to have had the pleasure to meet the vets, most of them humble and fun-loving men who didn't want to go to war but made the best of it when they did.

Many years ago, I penned a monthly column on home schooling for the Museletter, our local alternative community newsletter. More recently I wrote one about a creative young teenager who has released two CDs of electronica music and who happens to be home schooled.

In the same newsletter, I sometimes wrote about women's issues, ritual, and rites of passage. Last year I wrote a story for the newspaper about a Wise Woman Priestess who marries couples, and more recently one about another wise woman who midwives "end of life." Even the story I did about knitting, I viewed as one about wise women. The story depicted local women of all ages helping each other and sharing a valuable hands-on life skill.

More and more ideas and lifestyles that were once thought of as fringe are finding their way into the mainstream. I'm glad to be in a position to write about them, and to hopefully tell the good stories of some everyday good people.



Your work has been prolific. Without realizing it, I've been reading and enjoying your work about some very poignant and timely topics! Sometimes, your ideas feel like you picked them right out of my skull, so it's wonderful to take a step back and look at all the many ways you have contributed to the world around you!!

Thank you for sharing your talent with me (and us)!!

Thank you, Poe. Your encouraging words mean a lot to me.

This is a very difficult and ever darkening time. I'm delighted to know someone who is willing to shine her light. Thank you for doing it. The world needs it - I need it - You are awesome.

‘Appreciating nature in our own backyard can be a first step to being a good steward of the earth,’

Pardon me while I quote you...Thanks for the inspiring words.

You are a gem and a gem of a writer. I knew this from the first poem you read to me, in our bedroom, a million years ago.
I love you. xoxo

Pamela just did a landscaping job for us up at Blackberry Ridge. It's been a terrific experience in every way!

Colleen. Great read. As usual. Thank you.

Ooops- Michele sent me awhile ago- I got involved in reading the SWVA Today info about our shared county & forgot I was supposed to be commenting!
Fascinating post as always.

I forgot to say - my Mother has those same Van Gogh mugs as you're displaying in your picture- she's got him linked in her mind with my brother (because someone quoted a line of "Starry Starry Night" by Don McClean in a sympathy card to her after he died) & collects all things Van Gogh- & especially that painting.

The educational aspect of writing is most appealing. I find it helpful to think of articles as a way to enlighten or at least provoke a little thought. Sounds like it is much the same for you.

It's wonderful that you get to give voice to so many people by telling their story. Thanks. Here from Michele's this evening.

There are many inspiring people going about the business of caring for what is right there in front of all of us...I am so glad you write about many of hese women! You too are an inspiration, Colleen!

this is always one of my first stops...the stories you tell, the information you share are always so very interesting. and you have put floyd county on the map, girl. you have bloggers ready to take a road trip just to see it in person! the county should hire you to do all its PR! we'll give you a fabulous recommendation!

Yes, everyday stories of real successes and day to days we all need to hear more about to counterbalance the melodramas.

I'd be a terrible court reporter 'cause I can't understand those little keys or how you could possible learn that! I agree with Sky that you should be the PR person for Floyd. You always make it sound so interesting in your stories.

There's hope yet for the world, Colleen, when writers use their gift to shine the light on issues that matter to us - even if we don't recognize that at the time. I became a journalist for precisely the same reason, leveraging the thrill I got from writing and publishing letters to the editor - OMG, I can TOUCH people! - into a career that's continued to drive me to this day.

Words can change the world. You're proving it in everything you do.

more on freedom from pesticides I'm almost convinced that this is behind major illnesses.

you definitely have a gift for the uplifting and positive.... and always bring awareness in a gentle and humble manner. i've enjoyed reading about all these stories that you mentioned.....

Operation Iraqi Freedom was in response to the Iraqi government not complying with UN resolutions to disclose their weapons programs. Bush and Congress did what was required with honorable intentions. There's nothing illegal about it.

There was nothing to disclose or disarm.

We had to find out just like we need to do with Iran. And I guess there wasn't much to disclose just maybe some Shia and Kurd mass executions and torture, chemical weapons, and the like.

Yeah, stuff that happened when we were arming him. Now we should know how it feels. Because of the invasion and keeping those waring fractions from civil war, we have probably killed more.

This isn't a forum for Bush and his supporters. This subject on this post is closed.

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