“Whose belly did I come out of?”

dsc00095[1]July, 2013. My cell phone rang. I stepped out of the dining hall at Tomahawk Scout Reservation, in Northwestern Wisconsin, wove through dozens of 10-year old Cub Scouts to reach the flagpole. “Hold on, hold on,” I said to the caller. I looked up to the sky hoping that a satellite would keep us connected. Jerod Santek from the Loft Literary Center was on the other end saying that I had won the 2013-2014 Loft Mentor Series for Nonfiction. “Can you hear me?” he said. I could. But after submitting to the competition for over ten years and being a finalist four times, I didn’t know what to say.

Friday, April 18th, at 7 p.m. I will read an excerpt from my memoir, HEALING FIRES.

“Whose belly did I come out of?” five-year old Crystel asks. “Yours or Mama Joey’s?” Milk spills from her spoon into her cereal bowl.

Thirty years of breaking free from the cycle of violence and discovering my true self prepare me to start my adoptive family. The challenge of creating a home of love, safety, and joy is tested by dysfunctional ghosts and dark memories from the Wisconsin farm where I was raised.

It’s the culmination of my work with mentors Mark Anthony Rolo as well as my work with Loft Literary Center instructor Mary Carroll Moore.

Also reading is Jerald Walker and my fellow mentee Pamela Schmid.imagesGECE7253

Mark Anthony is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. His memoir MY MOTHER IS NOW EARTH won the 2012 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and was nominated for a 2012 Minnesota Book Award.

When I opened Mark Anthony’s book and read his first lines, “My mother wants to be buried in fire. She races into a burning farmhouse, letting serpent flames twist around her legs,”my mouth fell open. I had submitted a writing sample that started with these words, “I’m on fire. I scream. I run. Flames chase me. I fall to the grass, slapping at my shoulders, my back, my side. Digging my shoulders into the ground, I pitch back and forth, back and forth. The fire follows.”

Under Mark Anthony’s tutelage, I have restructured my memoir to merge my past and present story just as spring water runoff flows to creeks and further downstream joins the river and finally the ocean that embodies us all.

Jerald Walker’s STREET SHADOWS: A MEMOIR OF RACE, REBELLION, AND REDEMPTION was also very influential. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Jerald is a recipient of the 2011 PEN New England/L.L.Winship Award for Nonfiction and his book was named a Best Memoir of the Year by Kirkus Reviews.

When I read Jerald Walker’s memoir, I finally understood how I could meld past and present together in my memoir. I studied his structure, counting the number of pages he used for his present story and then his past. I attempted to locate where he brought them both together. All the while, I resonated with his efforts to rise above the circumstances that he was born into.

7ac30fe0b702dd387b1f0ab4fcd06c36[1]Pamela is the creative nonfiction editor for Sleet magazine. Before receiving her M.F.A. degree from Hamline University, she spent more than a decade reporting and editing for the Star Tribune and the Associated Press.

Pamela says this about her memoir, “In MY BIG BOOK OF YEARNING, I chronicle my son’s arduous journey to speech and reflect on the way words empower and ensnare. I also try to untangle the threads of silence that took root in my family generations earlier, before giving rise to this little boy who desperately wanted to speak but could not.

”Pamela will be reading an excerpt that explores Eli’s fascination with music, and the way music can bridge the gap to speech. “When I sang, I became somebody else, someone more certain and sure. When it was just Eli and I and the songs, I felt the scales of a dragon on my back.”

Please mark your calendars for April 18th at 7 p.m.

Join Jerald, Pamela, and me as we read to you from our memoirs.

Loft Literary Center

1011 Washington Ave. S

Minneapolis, MN 55415









Cub Scouts with Antonio

Cub Scouts ready to leave for Camp Tomahawk

Cub Scouts ready to leave for Camp Tomahawk

This is Antonio’s 5th year in Cub Scouts. That means that this is my 5th year in Cub Scouts. It started off when we were Tigers together when he was 6-years-old. I got the hint real quick that he would never allow me just to drop him off.  I also saw that our den leader needed help with this group of first graders so I became an assistant. That started my career in Scouts and Antonio tagged along.

That was our deal. He would go, if I would go.

It was important to Jody and I that Antonio learn to navigate his way in the ‘male’ world. The easiest place to find a bunch of boys is at Scouts.

Merry-Go-Round of Death!

Merry-Go-Round of Death!

I’ve watched him over the years become friendlier and more social with his den. Especially, after the  Scout meeting when a pick-up game of tag erupts.

I’m really not sure if Antonio has learned any life lessons in his last four years of Scouts. And there has been many times that he has told me that he loves his home with his two moms and his sister and that he doesn’t need the experience of Cub Scouts. I believe him. Still, I make him go. It just seems like the right thing to do. Throw him in a pond of testosterone and let him find his way to shore.

Antonio knows that he can decide for himself whether or not to join Boy Scouts after fifth grade.

We just came home from a 3-night camping trip at Camp Tomahawk for 2nd year Webelos (10 and 11-year-olds).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had a good time because Antonio was having a good time. He was the one shooting the BB guns, practicing archery, racing to the top of the climbing wall, riding the merry-go-round of death, and playing king of the hill on the raft.

I was the one watching his smile.

Yes, I still got the occasional, “When are we going home?” question. And also his own honest opinion of himself , “I miss home when I’m only a block away”, he said. I told him that I understood and that both things could be true. He could miss home and he could have a good time.

I even heard him mention a time or two that he might join Boy Scouts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAntonio doesn’t appear to be aware of the controversy surrounding Scouts. It wasn’t present at Camp Tomahawk. What was present was an awesome staff of young men who were intent on making a memorable experience for 10 and 11-year-old boys. And to that end, they succeeded.