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Sharon Canfield Dorsey – Six Feet Apart

My personal shopper daughter
leaves two bags of groceries by my
side door, then texts me, “I’m here.”

We chat for a minute across the slab
of concrete. She says, “I wish I could
hug you.” I reply, “I’m just glad to see
your beautiful face.” She waves and leaves.

I spray the paper bags with Lysol, carry
them inside, and put the cans and boxes
in the pantry on a dedicated shelf.
I won’t handle them for several days.

I scrub my hands with soap, while singing
“Happy Birthday” twice. I use my small
stash of Clorox wipes to clean the doorknobs.

This is my new Coronavirus normal as a
chronologically-disadvantaged human.

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Cindy L. Freeman, Using Imagery, 03/08/2020

I’ve discovered that conducting a choir is a lot like writing a novel. Maybe that’s why I love doing both. Making music and writing a book are creative activities that fully engage the brain. Notice I didn’t say “listening to music and reading a book,” which, while valuable pastimes, are not the same as writing and making music. Whereas listening to music tends to be passive—The Mozart Effect was a flawed study—singing, playing an instrument and conducting are active, engaging the whole brain. Likewise, creative writing causes brain cylinders (neurons and dendrites) to fire, especially in the frontal cortex.

As an early childhood educator for many years, I studied the effects of music on the brain. Again and again, scientific studies confirmed that music making stimulates all areas of the brain, causing neurons and dendrites to activate. That’s why early childhood music is so beneficial for young children whose brains are still developing. 

Recently, I found a 2014 study by German researchers published in the journal Neurolmage. These neuroscientists observed the brain activity of people as they wrote stories. According to the study, the brain activity of creative writers, especially long-time writers of fiction, is “similar to the brains of other people skilled in complex action like musicians.”   

Scientific research notwithstanding, my experience in both fields has taught me that the most pronounced similarity between music making and creative writing is in the use of imagery. As a choral conductor, when I ask my singers to visualize the tone or mood of a musical piece, they respond more accurately than when I simply use musical terms like smooth (legato) or detached (staccato), strong (marcato) or light (leggiero), loud (forte) or quiet (piano). While they are familiar with these terms, both English and Italian, their response is far more immediate when I use imagery. Instead of asking them to sing smoothly, I might suggest the image of hot fudge dripping down the sides of vanilla ice cream. “Sing like a diva, not a wood nymph” shows them clearly that I want them to use a fuller, richer tone. “Think of a tennis ball bouncing on pavement or a stone skipping across the water” gives them an image of light, detached singing more effectively than saying, “Sing that phrase staccato.” 

In a similar way, creative writers continually work to “show, not tell” their stories. Experienced writers know what this challenging process entails. We understand that, when our narrative engages all the senses, our readers’ brains are activated to produce images.

“Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition. It fosters a style of writing that’s more immersive for the reader, allowing them to ‘be in the room’ with the characters” (blog.reedsy.com, Jul 11, 2019).

An excellent example of showing rather than telling is this passage from Ken Follett’s bestselling novel  The Pillars of the Earth. It sets the stage in the first chapter where townspeople are waking and starting their day in anticipation of a public hanging:

“Candlelight flickered behind the shutters of the substantial wood and stone houses around the square, the homes of prosperous craftsmen and traders, as scullery maids and apprentice boys lit fires and heated water and made porridge. The color of the sky turned from black to gray. The townspeople came ducking out of their low doorways, swathed in heavy cloaks of course wool, and went shivering down to the river to fetch water.”

Follett could have stated succinctly: It was a cold, winter morning and the townspeople were waking up. But by showing us the candlelit windows and shivering people “swathed in heavy cloaks” he engages all of our senses with powerful imagery that causes our brains to form pictures. We feel like we are right there in the town square with them, experiencing what they are experiencing. In one brief, expressive paragraph we discover the book’s historical setting, the time of day and the time of year. We know that the people are wealthy with servants. We see their sturdy houses. We know how they dress and what they eat for breakfast.

It has taken many years for me to realize how much music has helped my writing and writing has helped my musical expression. In both fields, words must be used in such a way as to activate the brains of our readers/singers, forming vivid images that leave no doubt about what we want to convey. Cindy L. Freeman is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed,The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

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Cindy L. Freeman, People of Faith – 03/19/2020

“It’s a small world.” This is something we say when in an unexpected place we meet or hear about someone we know. I remember voicing that very statement in London several years ago when my husband and I spotted a display of peanuts from the Williamsburg Peanut Shop in Harrods Department Store. Then there was the time I ran into a family from my music school in Williamsburg during a trip to the Bahamas. It was unexpected, and it felt like the earth was much smaller than its 25,000-mile circumference. Today, with the technology to access people and news across the globe, the world seems small, indeed.

I will never forget the moment during junior high school when I heard about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was a chilly November day in 1963 when my principal, his voice shaking, announced it over the intercom. At the age of thirteen, I felt like life as I knew it was ending. Kennedy’s presidency had brought hope and optimism to our country, and now he was gone. The future was uncertain and all US citizens, regardless of party affiliation, joined in mourning tinged with fear. We didn’t have the internet then, but we stayed glued to our TV sets for days.

I remember clearly the live television broadcast of Good Morning America that I was watching September 11, 2001 as I dressed for work. The image of one plane, then another, crashing into New York’s Twin Towers was surreal and paralyzing. Even the anchor, Charles Gibson, was too stunned to speak for a moment. The earth stopped and seemed to shrink in size as countries around the world weighed in on this unspeakable tragedy.

We are in the midst of another such world-shrinking event, one we will remember for the rest of our lives. My high school students, who already have so much on their plates with schoolwork, exams, college prep, athletics, and social issues must add concern about whether they or a loved one will contract the virus. They are feeling like I did in 1963: worried, fearful, and wondering if life will ever return to normal. Their school administration and teachers are doing everything possible to ease their minds and accommodate their learning until they can return to campus, but it’s a challenging time of uncertainty, especially with wide access to media coverage.

So, how do we cope amid a pandemic? Last Friday, our principal called an assembly to announce that the school would be closed for at least two weeks. The students sat very still and quiet. As I glanced about the auditorium, I observed that their body language and faces exhibited tension. It was like they were afraid to look at each other, afraid or unable to react. That Friday was supposed to be opening night for their musical, 42nd Street. The students had worked tirelessly every day after school since January, and now their performance was postponed until further notice. Other students learned that all athletic activities were suspended, including a tournament, and my All-State Chorus delegates soon heard that their event would not take place. Some of the students began to weep silently in disappointment.

Amid their dismay, the most important statement by our principal may not have sunk in, but it stood out to me. She said, “Remember, we are people of faith.”

Ours is a Catholic school founded by The Sisters of Mercy. We start every day with prayer; we hold monthly Masses; at each level, the students are required to take theology; and every student must accumulate service hours. Mercy Core Values underscore our curricula. 

At the Upper School where I teach, our students are typical high school students with all the typical high school behaviors. There are cliques; there is boundary testing; there are negative attitudes and inappropriate comments. Some get into trouble and receive demerits or attend Saturday detention; some earn poor grades and must be put on academic support, which might include dropping extracurricular activities. They are normal American teenagers. The difference is not in the students we serve, but in the learning environment we provide.

As a Mercy School, our faith education and service to the community, both local and global, are at the forefront of everything we teach. This faith-based education is evident in the way we handle issues and relate to each other. That’s what the principal meant by “We are people of faith.” She was saying that people of faith in God don’t need to panic or live in fear, not because we are exempt from disease or suffering, not because we’re better than people without faith, but because we have assurance that God walks with us through all of life’s ups and downs, even a pandemic, and sustains us with His unconditional love. We recognize that God is sovereign.

Our students may not yet be mature enough in their faith to believe that they can cast all their cares on God, but we, the faculty and administrators, are committed to modeling mature, merciful faith and unconditional love for them. With God’s help, we will get through even this together. 

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com             

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Going Home Again

Can we…really go home again? Maybe not. But we can go back to the place where home once was. I did that last week. My brother, Carl, has been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his tonsils. He is scheduled for surgery on March 9. We are all very scared.

            Carl is my baby brother. I was a very grown-up (I thought!) eight-year-old when he was born. I always felt a responsibility to take care of him. I still do, especially now that our mom and dad and middle brother, Homer, are gone. We share February birthdays – his on the 17th and mine on the 20th. Our grandfather was a February 28th birthday guy and a sister-in-law was a Feb. 23rd celebrant, so for years we all participated in the “Mass February Birthday Party.” It seemed appropriate that Carl and I should celebrate our birthdays together this year.

            Carl’s health has been bad for years but he “keeps on keepin’ on.” He was in mega pain the whole time I was visiting but he insisted on cooking my favorite down-home foods — pinto beans and cornbread for dinner and cheese-stuffed omelets for breakfast — buzzing around the kitchen in his Jazzy chair. My sister-in-law, Debi, had hip surgery recently so was still using a walker. Despite all that, she made a wonderful key-lime birthday cake for us. We all managed to stuff ourselves into the car to drive to a nearby town for a delicious Chinese dinner and then laughed at ourselves as we dragged our dis-functional bodies up the front steps afterwards.

            The drive to dinner took us past our childhood home, which is now a rental house; Homer’s house, which now belongs to a new family; and the homes of aunts and uncles whose kids we used to play with. The aunts and uncles are all gone now and the cousins scattered. There was lots of reminiscing about neighbors who used to live near us, along old route 60…the lady with the piercing voice who “sang” in the church choir, always off key…the wino who kept snakes and charged fifty cents to see them…my best friend who lived four doors up…the drive-in where we used to get hot dogs with chile and slaw and pineapple milk shakes…and what happened to the grocery that used to be on that corner? A massive flood a few years ago wiped out a lot of landmarks and left others still standing, but now damaged shells, silent ghosts of another time.

            So, yes, we can go home again and visit those who still live there. But we can also go home anytime we close our eyes and remember those faces of our past, their laughter, and the love that surrounded us.

SHARON CANFIELD DORSEY is the author of four children’s books, a memoir, Daughter of the Mountains; a book of poetry, Tapestry; and a travel memoir, Road Trip. WATCH FOR A NEW POETRY BOOK, OUT THIS SUMMER.

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The Journey Continues… One Day At A Time… Feb. 10-20, 2020

FEB. 10, 2020: After watching several debates, I think I should receive an award for keeping my mouth shut when there’s so much more that needs to be said.

FEB. 11, 2020: The coronavirus is spreading. Guess it’s time to give up handshakes, hugs, and breathing in the same space as other people.

FEB. 12, 2020: Common sense seems to be so rare these days, its kind of like a superpower.

FEB. 13, 2020:  A friend and I went out to lunch today to celebrate our February birthdays together. The staff saw the gifts and came over to sing to us AND give us a free piece of pie. Yah, Chickahominy House!

FEB. 14, 2020:  Ran in the drug store to get a prescription this evening. Line at check-out was full of anxious men with cards and candy. At least they remembered, last minute.

FEB. 15, 2020:  My brother, Carl, finally got a date for his cancer surgery, March 9. It’s a really long time to wait when you’re in so much pain but was the earliest the surgeon could do it.

FEB. 16, 2020:  My cousin, Ginger, offered to drive me to WV today, to visit with Carl on his birthday tomorrow. Very appreciative. My back issues make it hard to do the five-hour drive. Weather good and we are on our way!

FEB. 17, 2020:  Good visit yesterday and my favorite down-home food for dinner — pinto beans and cornbread. Carl insisted on cooking, buzzing around in his Jazzy chair.

FEB. 18, 2020: Birthday dinner last night at a great Chinese restaurant with Carl and cousins. Was not easy for him or for wife, Debi, who is recuperating from hip surgery but we had fun.

FEB. 19, 2020: Home again. Tired but so glad I was able to go up for a visit. It’s hard to see someone you love in pain and at risk. I treasure the time we had together, even though my baby brother beat me at Scrabble. Badly!!

FEB. 20, 2020: Thank you for going on this year-long, day at a time, journey with me that began on my birthday, last February 20. I’ve loved all your comments and responses. Keep reading my blog – much more to come.

SHARON CANFIELD DORSEY is the author of four children’s books, a memoir, Daughter of the Mountains; a book of poetry, Tapestry; and a travel memoir, Road Trip. WATCH FOR A NEW POETRY BOOK, OUT THIS SUMMER.