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Back on The Writer’s Life

Monday, August 8th, 2011

(Originally published Aug. 3, 2011, on Her Circle Ezine’s The Writer’s Life blog.)

There’s no better editor than a live audience.

Of course, I realized this while on stage, waiting for a laugh that wasn’t going to come. I hadn’t earned it. That line that looked so good on paper just didn’t translate to the group of people fanning themselves, waiting for me to get on with it.

Storytelling piqued my interest early this year, when I saw my friend Diane perform with her storytelling group. Her tales of awkward adolescence rang true for me, and I liked the idea of sharing the ridiculous stories I’ve foisted upon friends with a captive and attentive audience. It was like This American Life, but happening right in front of you. I wanted in.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Writing about myself has never been my strong suit, and storytelling, when it’s done well, isn’t getting in front of a mic and rambling. You have to write. You have to plan. And it has to sound like you’re speaking off the cuff. It’s a different kind of writing—more conversational, a little more real.

My first few auditions weren’t great. The stories I shared were pretty funny, I thought, and I had shared them with my friends a thousand times. Telling a story at a bar or a friend’s house, though, is completely different from telling a story onstage. Those people don’t know you, so they don’t have the benefit of understanding your weirdo personality or the context of “oh yes, I remember the stories about that dude you dated who we called The Drive Bi Trucker; his nickname makes perfect sense.” Moreover, not every damn thing is a story, and other storytellers might be nice enough to gently break it to you that some things are best left to your LiveJournal (now defunct after a pretty decent nine-year run).

But I finally got into a show, and with that came some story workshopping. Like a group edit, other storytellers gather, swap their tales and give each other tips on what they liked and what might need some work. It’s where I got the best advice, at least for humorous stories. “Listen to the audience as you tell your story in a workshop. Then cut everything that didn’t get a laugh.” Done. I can do that!

Getting over stage fright is another hurdle. The “OH NO” moment that reminds you that you’re telling, at least in my experience, an embarrassing story to strangers isn’t great, and it’s coupled with everything else that comes with a live performance or reading. For me, that included a panic of “What if nobody laughs?” and also “Why did I wear a tank top; my arms look fat!” Never really have to worry about that with a story in a magazine or newspaper.

There’s something both brave and incredibly vulnerable about sharing a story live. It’s not like looking at a bylined piece in print or online, and it’s not like being on the radio. It’s scarier. After all, if a reader doesn’t like a story you wrote about a city council meeting, she’s probably ticked off about the council’s decision to close a park or raise water rates. If an audience doesn’t like your storytelling piece, it feels like maybe they don’t like YOU. And they might not. But it’s over faster, and for the few minutes you’re up on stage, you and the audience have a back-and-forth that might not be verbal, but it’s the best feedback you’ll ever receive, and it’ll make you want to try it again—immediately.

Latest online-only piece for Diabetes Forecast.

Monday, July 11th, 2011

My latest online-only piece for Diabetes Forecast is now up! You can find it here. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe is a basketball legend, but in his retirement he’s been working as a spokesman for both diabetes and heart disease-related causes. We talked about Diabetes Restaurant Month.

(Story originally published July 7, 2011, at http://forecast.diabetes.org.)

I’ll tumbl for ya

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Because who hasn’t used that headline before!

I’ve started sharing the embarrassing tales of my youth at Oh, I Am So Embarrassed! Named in honor of Grover, the greatest Muppet.

Diabetes Forecast: NBA Star Dwight Howard Dribbles to Stop Diabetes

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

My first story for Diabetes Forecast (the American Diabetes Association’s monthly magazine) is up! Check it out at http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/only-online/nba-star-dwight-howard-dribbles-stop-diabetes.

Flashback

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Doing a little self-Googling this weekend, I found a Catholic blog, The Ginger Jar, had picked up a story I wrote at my internship at the Huron Daily Tribune. I wrote this story in 2006, but the subjects really stuck with me through the years. What a nice little surprise to find online.

Family has 3 serving in religious orders

(Originally published in August 2006 in the Huron Daily Tribune, www.michigansthumb.com)

 

By Lindsey Wahowiak

Huron Daily Tribune

 

BAD AXE — A little more than 25 years ago, a 19-year-old woman was working at the Franklin Inn. Every once in a while, men would come in and try to flirt with her. “What are you looking for in a husband?” they would ask. One day, she got fed up and started listing off her necessary qualities. By the time she finished, the man who was flirting with her had given up.

“Only Jesus Christ could live up to that,” he said.

It turns out, 25 years later, he was right. Sister Mary Stella, the daughter of Meinard and Georgeana Guza, is home in Bad Axe celebrating her 25th anniversary as a Sister of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary of Fatima. Her visit coincides with visits from two of her 11 siblings — both of whom are also serving different religious orders.

Sister Mary Stella comes home from Castel Fiorentino, near Florence, in Italy once every two years to visit with her family, which grows every time she returns. Her siblings Sister Cynthia and Brother David come home once a year. Sister Cynthia has served for 34 years with the Daughters of St. Paul and is currently working in Philadelphia. Brother David is part of the Oblate of the Virgin Mary and works in Alton, Ill.

Though it was more common a generation ago, today it may sound strange that three children from the same family would all grow up to serve in religious orders. For the three siblings, it seemed only natural. The Guza home always has been a place for prayer, the siblings said.”(Even now) Mom and Dad are the first ones on their knees in the morning and at night,” Brother David said.

This religious background paved the way for the siblings to be called to their vocations. All 12 of the Guzas’ children went to a rural school in Verona and attended catechism classes in the summer. They attended church every Sunday.

Sister Cynthia, the second oldest of the 12, said she was inspired by the stories of saints, especially Saint Therese, the Little Flower. She was also extremely shy. At 16, she entered the convent, only to find out that her order works through the media to spread the word of God. Today, she often works with the public on a daily basis in one of her order’s bookstores

“Sometimes the Lord tricks us,” Sister Cynthia said. “There are always some ulterior motives, but God purifies those.”

When Sister Cynthia would come home to visit her family, she would tell her younger brothers and sisters stories about the saints. Sister Mary Stella and Brother David said her stories helped them realize their callings.

“I went to Italy to visit, to see something of it, before I had to make a life choice,” Sister Mary Stella said. “I felt very strongly that it was something I needed to do.”

When Sister Mary Stella met the Oblate sisters, she said she knew immediately, she had found the order for her. She was able to develop and use her creative skills in a variety of ways there, from arranging flowers at church to teaching summer campers arts and crafts. She creates statues of animals and people by painting and gluing small rocks together. She makes tapestries with cloth and realistic-looking flowers from melted pop bottles.

“I was attracted to it because you could be a sister and you wouldn’t lose yourself,” she said.

Likewise, Brother David visited Italy and found he could do lots of hands-on ministry through his order. He has served as a maintenance person at a retreat area, a youth minister and is currently an assistant chaplain at a hospital in Illinois. He also makes rosaries and rosary bracelets.

“I went in with the intention of serving with the gifts God had given me,” he said. “I’m very happy and very pleased with my vocation.”

When the siblings do visit with the rest of their family, it’s a constant learning experience. They have 36 nieces and nephews with another on the way in a few weeks. The three said they still feel connection to their brothers and sisters, even when they are apart. They write letters and call each other on the phone occasionally, but prayer and their upbringing keep them together.

“They say family life is a vocation known to all,” Sister Mary Stella said. “Faith is the foundation of all the families, but there’s different ways of carrying that out. It’s a difference we’ve all come to appreciate. Each one has a special quality that distinguishes but it’s not that you can put it on a scale.”

The siblings enjoy their vocations, and though it keeps them far from their home in the Thumb, they say they wouldn’t have it any other way. However, it hasn’t always been easy. All three said the road to their vocation has been a difficult journey.

“But how do you learn things? You have to go through that turbulence,” Sister Mary Stella said. But for this week together, there’s no turbulence to speak of. The siblings are happy to be together with their family once again.

 

 

Back to prove it

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

(Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Fusion magazine, www.bigrapidsnews.com)

New coaches, young team are springing past expectations

By Lindsey Wahowiak

Fusion Editor

REMUS — When the returning state champion Chippewa Hills High School cheerleading team hits the floor, it’s easy to miss the team’s coaches. Krystle Downs and Jessica Simon blend right in with their charges — they’re barely out of high school themselves.

Downs, 22, took over as head coach this year after longtime coach Jenna Ruddell left the district. A former Chippewa Hills cheerleader herself, Downs flipped at the opportunity to work with the team again, to continue with the state-champion program that’s taken the title in 2006 and 2008.

She has her detractors. Cheerleading is one of the most successful athletic programs at Chippewa Hills, but some people still don’t see it as a “real” sport, despite the 5 a.m. practices, the gravity-defying flips and tosses, the constant possibility of injury and the fierce competitive nature of cheer tournaments. And after Ruddell built the program from the ground up, Downs said the state’s cheerleading community wondered if anyone would be able to continue Ruddell’s momentum.

That’s why the team’s motto this year is “Back to prove it, baby.”

“We’re a Cinderella story,” Downs admits. “I don’t think people expect us to win. But we were ranked second in the state after our first competition (this season). That’s huge.”

Downs and Simon both cheered under Ruddell, so they’ve built their coaching strategy around the things she taught them. It helps them relate with their team, Downs said — but it’s hard not to, since they’re all around the same age. They spend every day together, practicing, coaching middle-school cheerleaders and team building.

That doesn’t mean the coaches don’t push their team to the limit every day. Downs said they practice at a 12, so they can get that perfect 10 in competition. There aren’t any slackers because there can’t be — the team only has 11 girls, with no bench to pull from. Every one has to pull her own weight.

“We’re awesome, and we fought our butts off to get it that way,” Downs said. “It’s hard, really hard … but if you want that state title you have to work for it. We don’t sit on our butts and do each other’s hair at practice. We run, workout and do everything (other athletes) do.”

So far, it’s paying off.

The Warriors have done well in their competitions as they move toward the state tournament on March 7 at the Delta Plex in Comstock Park.

Simon said she feels some pressure as the state meet grows closer, but she and Downs, as well as the team, find inspiration in their former coach and in each other.

“It’s scary because you have a high expectation,” she said. “Krystle and I both were coached by Jenna (like most of the team) so all we know is what Jenna taught us too. Krystle knew coming in she didn’t know everything, but she is one of those people ready to learn everything.”

The Warriors appreciate that in Downs. She and Simon can be “in your face” during routines — just like any coach — but know that’s the only way to get to their ultimate goal: Gold. After all, they’re building off the foundation Ruddell laid.

“She is like a soul sister for me,” Downs said. “We coach the same way Jenna would and it’s going great.

“We’re not ready to give up our title to anyone yet.”

Krista Voss, a senior on this year’s team, knows what it’s like to have thousands of fans cheering for her squad of cheerleaders. She also knows what it feels like to come in second, like the team did in 2007. Her goals are to meet her coaches’ expectations: Be back to prove it.

Last year’s victory is still fresh in senior Alaina Dague’s memory, as well. She said this season, the state championship is even more important to the team.

“There is just a lot of heart and  soul on this team,” she said. “The coaching staff are pushing us and we’re constantly striving to do our best.

“There may be people doubting us — we believe in ourselves.”


Congresswomen stand up for women, abortion providers

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

(Originally published on Feb. 19, 2011 at www.dcabortionfund.org.)

“In these tough economic times,” as many budget stories begin, lawmakers are looking for ways to slash federal and local spending. Promises are made – and broken. People look to their representatives in government to do the right thing, in order to benefit their communities. After all, it takes money to run a country, and to help the people who live there. The budget has to be balanced somehow.

Rep. Mike Pence thinks that can be done by cutting all federal funding of Planned Parenthood. On the House floor Thursday, he announced that while “abortion is ‘unfortunately’ still legal in the U.S.,” his amendment would prevent taxpayer money from “funding abortion procedures.” On Friday, the House voted to cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Make no mistake, this is NOT an amendment designed to save taxpayers’ money. Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from spending federal money on abortion services. It must use private money to pay for abortions – that’s why groups like DCAF exist to help make up the difference when women can’t foot the bill themselves. The Pence Amendment is really an attempt to deny contraception and other family planning services, sex education, PAP smears, HIV screening, prenatal care and all the other non-abortion related services it provides to millions of women each year by cutting off all federal money to Planned Parenthood – unless it stops performing abortions. In essence, it’s an indirect attempt to deny abortion services by making federal money an incentive for Planned Parenthood to get out of the “abortion business,” but it is a direct attack on all the other services the government currently funds – services that no one else is equipped to provide on the same scale should Planned Parenthood be denied the money.

The whole crux of the Pence Amendment’s existence is to limit women’s access to abortion, or deny it all together. This isn’t fiscal responsibility; it’s another slap in the face of women’s reproductive health.

Thankfully, some leaders in Congress saw the amendment for what it is. The Washington Post has reported that Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Barbara Lee and Louise Slaughter argued that the Pence amendment is a “war against women.” And on the House floor Thursday night, Rep. Jackie Speier spoke about her own abortion – and called the amendment’s supporters out for having nothing to do with building the economy, and everything to do with denying women the health care they need.

“There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight,” Speier said. “I would suggest to you that it would serve us all very well if we moved on with this process and started focusing on creating jobs for Americans who desperately want them.”

You can watch her whole statement here:

Rep. Jackie Speier In Opposition to the Pence Amendment

And when Rep. Paul Broun suggested that “more black babies” are targeted by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, Rep. Gwen Moore shot right back, pleading with them “to not de-fund the ability of women to plan parenthood.”

“I am really touched by the passion of the opposite to want to save black babies. I can tell you, I know a lot about having black babies: I’ve had three of them,” she said, going on to describe her experience as a poor mother who had an unplanned pregnancy. “The public policy has treated poor children and women who have not had the benefit of planned parenthood with utter contempt.”

Her words are poignant, and no blog post could summarize them. Listen for yourself here:

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) In Opposition to the Pence Amendment

If you want to help, you can make a donation to DCAF to make sure women who need abortions can get them.

Read my work in Conscience magazine.

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The most recent issue of Conscience magazine is available to read online.

You can read the whole thing by clicking on http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/f1f99f2e#/f1f99f2e/1. Take an extra-close look at In Catholic Circles (starting on page 6) – my major focus for the issue.

The writer herself

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

(Originally published on Jan. 13, 2011, on Her Circle Ezine’s “The Writer’s Life” blog at http://www.hercircleezine.com/2011/01/13/the-writer-herself/)

As I’m writing this, I have completely blown my deadline.

It’s not because I’m waiting for a source to call me back, or because I got some new information right before my piece was set to publish. Nope. It’s because I find THIS—writing about myself, for myself and others—so much harder than what I normally do.

I’m a journalist. I’ve known it since I was 15 years old, when my friend Ed convinced me to come out for the school newspaper. I’ve always been a bit of a gossip: I like to know stuff before other people, and then I like to tell them about it. Journalism gives me a constructive way to do that.

Oh sure, I’ve dabbled in a little fiction writing, but for me, real, live people have always been more interesting. Their quotes are WAY better than anything I could come up with on my own. Remember that season of The Wire when Gus is concerned because one reporter ALWAYS gets the perfect quote? I never even thought about plagiarism. The stuff people feed me for stories is consistently more interesting than anything I could pretend they said.

That’s the beauty of journalism for me: It’s people telling their own stories. Sure, it’s my byline on the story, but the mom who has toddler twins and infant triplets? The survivor of a shooting or robbery? The World War II veteran? These are their lives, and they share them with me, so I can share them with the community, whether that’s a newspaper’s readers or the whole Internet. The trust that takes has never been lost on me.

I suppose this is my bias, but I’ll always hold reporters, especially the really good ones, in a certain reverence, because news is really a communal experience. It’s a mirror held up to the community, and journalists have a tremendous responsibility to make sure it’s accurate. But then, why wouldn’t we want it to be? Real life is more exciting than anything I could think up, so I’m glad it’s my source, and my editor—you haven’t heard angry until you get a little old lady on the phone, mad that the Amish Cook’s column has gone missing this week.

What inspires you? What makes your work worth writing—and reading? Who keeps you honest? When I think about my job like that, it’s easy to get excited about writing. But when it comes to sharing about myself, it’s a little scarier.

Why I DCAF

Friday, December 31st, 2010

(Originally published on Dec. 22, 2010, at www.dcabortionfund.org.)

You probably know that DCAF is staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers, dozens of people who spend their free time, often hours and hours every week, assisting women and girls who need abortions in getting the emotional and financial support they need. You know DCAF raises thousands of dollars every year to help women in the District, Maryland and Virginia afford abortions they need. What you may not know is why these volunteers work tirelessly for the organization and the women it serves.

I can tell you what brought me to DCAF. I could go into the years I’ve spent volunteering with other women’s organizations, or the weeklong series about domestic violence that I coordinated as a Michigan newspaper editor. I could tell you about how I’ve supported friends who have chosen abortion, and those who have considered it but opted against it. But what I think it boils down to is this: I believe in women, and I believe we don’t have enough support, resources and/or advocates in our corner, especially when it comes to our health and bodies.

I know women who are so grateful they were able to have an abortion when they needed one, and I’ve met women who wish they could have gotten an abortion, but didn’t. Women deserve options and resources, and I want to help provide that.

Now, I am no medical professional. I couldn’t be trusted with a stethoscope. My networking and fundraising skills are pitiful at best. My phone voice is hopelessly nasal, Midwest and filled with “ums” and “likes.” But get me behind a keyboard or a pen, and I’m completely comfortable. This is where I can fill in—maybe even shine.

There’s an episode of Sports Night in which Sam describes the birth of television. Philo Farnsworth, the guy who invented the TV, was explaining his invention to his brother-in-law, a glassblower. Philo’s brother-in-law told him, “I don’t have your head for science, but it sounds like you’ll need glass tubes for this. I can make those for you.” That’s what I have to offer—I can make glass tubes.

Expect to read more about the lives DCAF touches—from caseworkers to fundraisers, board members to community members—in the future. From the collective voice of DCAF volunteers and benefactors, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories that explain, again and again, why we’re here.

The work DCAF does is so important, so crucial for the women of DMV. Hundreds of women who otherwise could not have afforded abortions were able to get them because of the work we do. These women are mothers, daughters, students, workers, young and “of a certain age.” They are women you know. For me, it’s not a question of “should we get involved,” but “how can we not?”