The Story Within a Story
I'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.