Story Submitted by Deb Kelley

Having the creative arts in my life has been a gift. Writing plays, stories, poems, and lyrics, directing, producing plays, acting on stage, drawing, singing, and photography – these are as much a part of me as breathing. When I first started writing in elementary and middle school, it was an outlet. My dad is a writer and inspired in me the love of the written word. In high school, it was an escape. Being the editor-in-chief of the school paper and a member of the school magazine, being in drama class, and being asked to write a play for production in the class got me through a lousy high school experience and gave me my first taste of playwriting. Being the youngest reporter correspondent for the Tampa Tribune at 17 gave me the confidence to follow my writing dreams to college and beyond.

It is 31 years later, and I still am passionate about theatre and writing. I have drama masks, a plume, and “I bleed ink” tattooed on my right arm. I always say, “if cut, I’d bleed ink” because I can’t imagine my life without theatre and creative writing, especially playwriting. I can’t fathom young people today, particularly during the pandemic, having the threat of removing the creative arts from their curriculum looming over their heads. For many kids, chorus, band, art, and theatre class are the only safe spaces they have to be truly themselves. The creative arts provide a nonjudgmental, lovingly dysfunctional second family, especially in theatre. As the many darkened theatres during the pandemic have proved, people don’t have that fun, exhilarating release without the creative arts. They lack that escape into make-believe that makes the stresses we deal with every day bearable. Like the meme says, earth without art is just eh.

Story Submitted by Derek Baxter

Over the past few years I had lost a major part of my identity, my voice. Working in a job where I was performing as an actor and using major vocal manipulation five days a week, working around many animals I was allergic to, and working in a building with dust, mildew, and mold so bad we were constantly sick had destroyed my voice. A few weeks ago I was asked to take part in a fundraiser for a local community theatre and I had to SING!! I was terrified but I wanted to do it to help my friends and this awesome company so I agreed. I am so glad I did. I hadn’t sang for a very long time, it hurt me both physically and emotionally to attempt it. I was extremely nervous leading up to our first rehearsal. The first time through one of my songs went ok. As the rehearsal went on I had some issues here and there and was extremely hoarse afterwards but I got through it. I prayed for light and healing energy on my drive home. As we got closer to the gala I was so nervous about placement and fatigue (especially since there was a double show day on Saturday). I kept praying for light and healing energy and the most benevolent outcome. I got through Friday night and it went well. Saturday went even better and sure there were many issues and flaws but I could sing again, and the healthy habits started to come back a little bit. I would find my placement and remember little tips and tricks to help with breath and support. I still need some major work but the foundations are still there. You don’t know what this means to me, I had been feeling pretty empty thinking and experiencing a part of my identity was forever lost. Not much good has come from the pandemic and quarantine and the shut down but thanks to all of it – I found something I thought was gone forever. After deciding I was done performing (especially singing) and giving my career over to directing and helping others to find their moment in the spotlight this weekend was a spark of positivity I needed. If you aren’t a singer maybe this post doesn’t make since but there is something deep within a singers soul that makes their identity tied to their voice, and I had lost mine. I thank God that I have found it once again, and gave me such an amazing and positive experience.

Story Submitted by Thomas Bostock

Is There a Monster in your Closet?

Writing stories is like breathing to me. Some say it is an art. I say it is a passion. It is part and parcel of who I am. Unlike many writers who create outlines and detailed character charts, I only do one thing, I write. I sit at my computer–my typewriter before-stare at the lighted screen and enter the world of my imagination, populated with everything and everyone I will ever need.

During this COVID-19 community reset, I have written two complete novels and am twenty-five chapters into the third of the trilogy. It gives me purpose each morning when a switch flips in my mind and I am transported from mundane reality to that larger world of imagination, where anything can happen at the touch of a keystroke. My only limits are self-imposed, and I try to keep those to a minimum.

The hundreds of short stories I have written over the last seventy some odd years are the product of growing up with two brothers, one younger, one older. While we waited for my mother to come home after work, I was the designated storyteller. Did you want a tale about a scary monster? How about a trip in a rocket ship? Perhaps your fancy takes you to talking animals? I took them there too. We traveled the high seas with pirates and crossed burning deserts on camels. You could almost feel the burning sands.

Hiding under two overstuffed chairs, turned over and covered with a blanket, with barely a light visible, we had no limitations. If I read a comic book during the week, I added the characters to my repertoire. I outgrew the chairs over the years, but never my irrepressible imagination. Prior to retiring, I worked as a safety engineer for several large corporations. My safety articles, sometimes written tongue in cheek, were an important part of the company safety process. Slowed a little by a heart attack and several bouts with cancer, the impetus to write remained as strong as ever. When asked what advice I would offer a new writer, my advice is always the same, just write! Find the monster in your closet. Do you have one? I certainly hope so.

Story Submitted by Vicki Bills

I was born to be a teacher. As a young child, I would put my stuffed animals in a row and teach them with a pencil in my hand. When my younger brother was able to sit, I put him in the class too. My older brother went to school. He had homework. He could read. He had books. I wanted that so much. One of my first teachers was at Sunday School and I loved her. She kept our attention while speaking so calmly. She also made a noise with her hands that calmed me and made me feel like she was great. I tried to make the sound myself, but nothing happened. Accidentally, I discovered the secret years later when I wore a ring. This noise was the sound of her pencil passing over her rings, an aha moment for me.

We would often pass by the local elementary school and I would get so excited about the mysteries that awaited me there. Finally, it was my turn to start school. Because this was way before backpacks were in style, we bought a little pink book bag with a pink umbrella attached. I put a few sheets of paper and a pencil inside and I was ready to go. I had looked forward to school for so long.

So, on the first day, Mom was surprised when I came home crying. While I don’t really remember the incident, Mom told it so often that it has become my memory too. Through the tears, I managed to say, “I didn’t learn to read today!” That’s how thirsty I was for school and education.

But reading came quickly from that first day. I learned to read from the Dick and Jane books, but that wasn’t my only reading. Every Saturday, we went to the public library where I would get the maximum of 10 books to read during the week. Sometimes I would read them all before we got home, but I still reread them. When Mom told the librarian how fast I read them, she moved me up a grade level each time until I was reading grade three books while in the first grade.

Mom was committed to educating her kids because she had stopped her education after eighth grade to go to work during the war. She used to tell me that they were saving for us to go to college. My dad, who completed high school at a prep school, was of the view that a girl didn’t need a college education because she would just get married and have babies.

My brothers and I did go to college. I graduated from UF in three years by going to school year-round. As fate would have it, I did get married and had a child, then a divorce. As a single mother, I was glad to have my own income from teaching. Later I remarried and had another child. Then I decided to get more education, a law degree, which I accomplished in two and a half years. Because of my teaching experience, I led a street law course at a local high school while I went to law school.  Shortly after I graduated, my husband died of cancer and I was again a single parent, glad to have my income.

Education played a part of my job while I represented domestic violence victims at Bay Area Legal Services. I led group counseling for women contemplating leaving an abusive situation and another group for those in the divorce process. At community outreach events, I organized activities for children and teens.

When my parents moved to a facility for dementia, I volunteered to have programs for the residents, to enhance brain activity and keep them positive. They enjoyed the activities and were in better moods because of them.

Education began with my learning to read, then my teaching others about important life issues, then my broadening experiences for dementia patients. It has proven to be a gift I have used to improve my world.

Story Submitted by Donna Jordan

What makes me happy is to be able to see the smile on someone’s face when I give them one of my pieces of rock art OR a blanket I created OR when I have helped them! I retired from the Bureau of Land Management – Department of the Interior where I was an Administrative Assistant and the Federal Woman’s Coordinator. I represented women in government and was tasked with alerting the executives of situations and problems occurring with women working in government service. During my time I was able to help nursing mother get a room with a locking door, comfortable chair and a small refrigerator to aid them in pumping and storing breast milk. I also worked at Area 51 and was the liaison for the F117 pilots and their families while they were deployed during Desert Storm. As a Historian I am a commissioner for the Grand County Historical Preservation Commission and an Author of several historical books as well-as-a children’s series of books based on historical figures of this area ~ taking place in areas that the children already know about or have been too. The kids learn about the history of Moab and how to treat and use public lands. I am an artist ~ I do paintings on rock (a lot of Delicate Arch) ~ some of the small rocks I leave while we are out hiking, for someone to find as a small surprise and most of the larger rock art pieces I donate to organizations for them to generate funds!

Story Submitted by Denise Bryant

My mother is my true inspiration. I call her Little Momma because she’s under 5″, but her personality, heart, soul, and compassion are humongous! My dad died when I was 16. My mom had never worked a day in her life, but she put on her big girl panties and found a job. A job that supported us…kept the roof over our heads, food on the table, maintained her car, kept the utilities on, and still found the money for me to have a wonderful high school experience (you know all the costs with that!). She still lives in the same house my parents bought back in the mid 70s! She was forced to retire at 79 due to health issues, but had been at the same job for 30 years. A job that required her to be there at 3:30 in the morning and no idea when her shift would end, other than when the day’s production of food items had been met. She took pride in the sandwiches she made! As a mom, I thank God every day for her. She has been my rock and her guiding light has helped me throughout my 49 years. She has always been a phone call away and now, she’s two minutes away since we just moved back to the neighborhood. Her love and devotion to my dad gave me a fabulous example of marriage and I’m proud to say my husband and I will celebrate 27 years in December. Some lessons are shown and not spoken! My Little Momma first voted in 2008, for Obama. She voted for him twice. She is voting for Biden/Harris this time because we have to get the current “pissle-prick” (her words!) out of there. I will proudly drive her to the election place in November!

Story Submitted by Katie Eastman

When I was in college a dear friend’s mother suddenly died. I had no idea how to support him so I researched all the death and dying literature I could find and discovered the work by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross “On Death and Dying.” That book and Elisabeth herself who became my mentor, had a profound influence on my life. I learned from reading about death how to live a more meaningful life. She believed that death forces us to recognize what is truly most important in all our lives- unconditional love. To know that one is loved and love able is the essence of being human. Her dying patients taught her this and she passed on this wisdom to myself and many many other of her followers. Elisabeth’s work with dying patients inspired me to found a palliative care/hospice program for children in memory of a dying teen who espoused many of her same ideas. Over ten years Running this program I supported many many families experiencing the most unimaginable pain. Witnessing their grief gave me the skills to now support people facing all levels of loss to learn and grow and transform their lives. As a licensed psychotherapist and Transition focused Life Coach with a Doctorate in Psychology, a Masters in Social Work and extensive training in Pastoral Psychology, I use Elisabeth’s wisdom from dying patients every day to help people live!

Story Submitted by Alyssa Cabrera

Imagine leaving your country, entering a new one, and feeling like you’re in a completely new world without understanding the language. That is what my grandmother, Maria, went through.

On Sunday, May 12, 1968 my grandmother left Cuba with her husband Johnny and her seven-year-old daughter, Ana. At the time, Ana weighed 26 pounds which is extremely underweight for a girl that age. She was malnourished and became very sick because she was allergic to any food that my grandparents could buy since they were extremely poor and could barely afford to put food on the table.

On that very Sunday, they flew on a plane from Havana, Cuba all the way to Miami, Florida. In Miami, they stayed at the Freedom Tower where many Cuban refugees stayed until they were claimed by their family members that lived in the United States. My grandmother said when she visited that tower many years later, that all the memories came flooding back to her. She recalled the cold nights when she was shoved and crowded against strangers, had one suitcase for her entire family, and living with the fear of entering a new country. She, her husband, and her child stayed there for a total of three days. They were claimed by her uncle that lived Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. So off they went to yet a new town, with more strangers, fear, and hopefulness for the opportunities that lied ahead.

Though in Cuba my grandmother was a doctor in philosophy, she wasn’t able to transfer her college credits over to America when she came, so she had to start a completely new life. In Pennsylvania, she got a job in a factory sewing army coats. The only English she understood at the time was, “Mary is a girl and John is a boy”.
She worked in the factory for six months, and one day, she had an interview at a bank, which was a better job opportunity for her. She ended up getting the job and her starting position was a filing clerk. On the last day of her first week there, still only knowing a little bit of English, she was told to operate a ditto machine, except all the instructions were in English. Because of language barrier, when she put the purple ink into the machine, it had spilled on her only white shirt that she had. Her boss told her to go home and come back on Monday. Her head was filled with much uncertainty.

The Monday that she came back to work, she found a gift box on her desk. She then questioned the gift and went to her boss to ask who had left it there. Her boss said that she had placed the gift on her desk for her. My grandmother opened the box and found a new white shirt. Her boss then said that she really appreciated everything that my grandmother was doing and if anyone laughed at her English, she could tell them that she knew two languages because she tried her hardest to learn English.

Times were hard for her and she went through ten different positions at the same bank in one year and her last position at the bank after seven years was a human resource supervisor. Her resilience spoke volumes and paved the way for her new life in America. After her seven years in Philadelphia, she moved to Tampa, Florida with my mother, who at the time was only six days old.

My grandmother then got a job working as an insurance rater and soon became an underwriter and retired after 32 years. She has been the rock for her entire family and has passed down so much knowledge and love throughout the years. She has never forgotten where she came from and her journey to get to where she is today. She is the strongest woman I have ever met, and I am eternally grateful to have someone like her by my side each and every day.

Story Submitted by Rick Rhodes

Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones

Mary Harris Jones was born into a poor family of tenant farmers in Ireland. Her father and grandfather rebelled against injustices imposed by their British overlords. Her grandfather was hanged; her father was about to be hanged, before he made his escape to America.

In school, Mary an exceptional student, and had hoped to become a school teacher. But she was disillusioned by the low pay and terrible teaching conditions. Instead, Mary took up dressmaking and settled in Memphis, Tennessee. She met her husband, George, and started a family.

George, like his father and grandfather in-law, before him, spoke-out against the social injustices of the day. Within seven years after arriving in Memphis, all four of Mary’s young children had died of yellow fever, and George had died a tragic industrial accident. At 37 years old, a devastated Mary Jones was all alone. Her salvation was her ability to look outside of herself, and see the needs of others around her. Before long, Mary Harris Jones was taking care of yellow fever victims around Memphis.

Mary Jones moved to Chicago and used her sewing and dressmaking skills. She fumed when she saw that her well-to-do dressing-making clients, living on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, couldn’t care in the least about those living and dying, in hovels right beneath their noses. In 1871, tragedy struck Mary Jones again. Four years after moving to Chicago, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed her home, her shop, and all of her worldly possessions. Once again, amidst her great personal pain, Mary Jones was able to look outside of herself. She organized soup kitchens and found shelters for the so many left homeless.

One day, in the basement of the homeless shelter, where she herself was living, some garment workers were holding a meeting. Mary Jones attended. Their message on the plight of the workers resonated, to such an extent that Mary spent the next 50 years travelling across America speaking-out for abused laborers. In doing so, she never had a permanent home. Her heart was too busy promoting the needs of the dispossessed and the many mistreated working poor, especially the children.

In her time, it was estimated two million children were working in mines, mills, and factories. Destitute children as young as six years old were working 16-hour days, and in miserable conditions. Besides exploited children, Mother Jones spoke out on behalf of miners, textile and railroad workers, as well as many others. Mother Jones also was a strong advocate of a woman’s right to vote in America.

Conservatively-dressed Mother Jones, often wearing a bonnet, was no pushover. She spoke the language of the streets. And she could swear with the best of them.

During her lifetime, Mother Jones was labeled ‘the most dangerous woman in America.’ As a result of her tireless efforts, federal and state laws were passed. And laws already on the books were finally enforced.

When Mother Jones died in 1930, she wished to be buried in a miner’s cemetery next to those coal miners who died in a mine riot 32 years earlier.

To learn more, read Rick’s tenth nonfiction book: “THEY Made America Great–31 Endearing Legacies Worth Heeding Today.” Visit www.rickrhodes.com.

Story Submitted by Leigh M. Clark

In the Fall of 2008, Leigh Clark lost her high profile job as a Director of Marketing for a New York-based Software Company. Suddenly she found herself with a lot of time to self reflect and a deep realization that she was lacking purpose outside her profession. In the years that followed she would return to work, but she now was acutely aware that she needed to find something that gave her fulfillment aside from her job alone.

One Holiday Season, in 2012, everything would change for her. She was overweight and underwhelmed and decided to embark on a personal mission of finding balance for her mind, body, and soul. She challenged herself to doing Yoga, Juicing and one act of kindness each day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Her life was transformed and her purpose was discovered.

The euphoria she discovered from carrying out Random Acts of Kindness sparked an idea. She decided she would work to form a nonprofit to impact people across the country, and later across the world, through these kind acts. With very little funding, Clark began to sell artwork she had painted through local farmers markets, and social media. With every piece she sold, she would use the profits to fund a variety of good deeds for strangers.

Her acts of kindness ranged from paying off layaways at the holidays for strangers to gathering school supplies for foster children in need. She appointed fellow Kindness Ambassadors to help carry out programs across the country as well. Through that program, her organization would give out crucial supplies to those facing homelessness, help women and children who were victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, and even paint and donate murals to fellow nonprofits.

In the years that followed, her work would be featured on The Today Show and The Rachael Ray Show. Additionally, she formed an online community on Facebook called The Kindness Community which now has over 15,000 members worldwide. Additionally, the organization has recently launched The Kindness Mall which is a place to shop online where a portion of all proceeds go toward Random Acts of Kindness.
Leigh Clark has reminded all of us, that you can start a fire with a spark, and she is using her spark to illuminate the world with kindness. Check out www.kindleigh.org for more info or join the cause on social media.

She is currently doing a Spread Kindness mask fundraiser for charity at kindleigh.org/mask.