Learning 101 with Ananda and Ben: Role Reversal

My Pilates instructor is a spring chicken, and my writing coach is young too, just thirty-nine years old, younger than either of our children. Still, They are teaching me.

Since childhood, we have been conditioned to think of our teachers as older than we are. Such a perspective probably was formed in elementary school when our teachers were the age of our mothers or fathers. And then in high school, if we’re honest, some of those 45-year-old faculty looked absolutely ancient to us. I imagine I was viewed as an older sister when at Lancaster Mennonite School I was a mere four years older than my senior students. As I aged in my teaching profession, in my students’ eyes I may have passed for a mother or aunt, and later, in my sixties, students at the college must have viewed me as a grandmother or great-aunt.

Now after more than forty years in education, I am well into an encore career as a writer. To support such a sedentary life-style, I need to get off my duff and twist and turn, bob and weave, flexing muscles that get very little use otherwise as I finger the back-lighted black keys of my laptop, warming a pillowed chair. Ananda at Bailey’s Gym helps me do that. On her Pilates mat in front of a class of middle-aged women, she is as flexible as a rubber band, inviting us into poses of bold bends that I can at best only approximate. Gentle and petite in nature, this native of Colombia helps me correct my efforts.


“Ma-ri-ann, eez this way . . . extend your left leg a lee-tle further.” And so, I adjust my appendages to comply with her instructions, but not without cringing a little. Yes, though Ananda is ever so easy-going and gracious, I do chafe at being singled out for wrong moves. After all, she called out my name. Everyone else heard that I messed up! Still, I know I will bring out my exercise mat next week and sit for another session with her gentle but precise guidance.

Then, there’s Benjamin, my writing coach. A poet, gardener, and memoir-writer, Ben Vogt is my writing teacher in an online course entitled All in the Family: Research and Write Your Family’s  History. He too is gentle, introspective, always affirming. But he is also incisive, biting into the scripts I send him with loud barks in return, always in caps: HOW BIG IS MEDIUM? YOU’VE GOT TO BE FAR MORE DETAILED AND DESCRIPTIVE FOR US . . .


And on the next page, I see more yelling in loud crescendo as I notice I have missed the mark trying to describe what my Mennonite pastor was wearing: LET’S SEE THE WARDROBE WITH MORE DETAILS – NAME THE CLOTHING PARTS MORE, SHOW SHOW SHOW! To be fair, every once in a while I see that I have succeeded: “GREAT PARAGRAPH!” he shouts in all caps. He is thrilled when I use sensory detail (All five senses now!) to properly develop a scene instead of resorting to flabby adjectives. Then I’m both surprised – and pleased.

What is the point here? I am submitting to tutelage because I want to. I believe there is way more for me to learn. I’m not a finished product, and probably will never be, so I need more priming and polishing from folks expert in their fields. Why? Because I don’t have the insight to see how or where my efforts have gone awry. And, yes, these tutors can be younger, way younger, than I am.

Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?

Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Of course, neither Ananda nor Ben have ever rejected me or treated me with the slightest bit of contempt, but each has sought to “dispute the passage with [me],” and though it is uncomfortable, even painful at times, I have benefited from these lessons. Indeed, I am learning lessons from them and others. Learning. Still.

Still learning.

Are you are lifelong learner? How or when have you learned from “teachers” of any age? Inquiring minds want to know . . .


Coming next: Faraway Friends: Kitsa & Lydia


Signs and Wonders: Chincoteague Island

Once upon a time, there were five memoirists who met online through their writing websites. One of them, Janet Givens, who had a rustic log house on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, invited four blogging friends to join her for a writers’ retreat: Kathy Pooler, Joan Rough, Shirley Showalter and me.

According to Janet, “It was grand.” At the end of the week, we all agreed. Now, you ask, what made the week so special?

First of all, the spacious log house was charming: LogHouseChico.VA

And there is an enclosed porch where we ate breakfast overlooking a canal and the shimmering Oyster Bay facing east.


All around the house were clever or catty sayings on wooden plaques: GrumpySignSmokingFireSmokingMan

No one was voted off the Island. We all stayed!
No one was voted off the Island. We all stayed.

That’s right:  Everyone behaved!

As we began, we did have a plan to include the clichéd 3 F’s and a W: food, fun, fellowship – and writing, of course. In a joint effort, Shirley recorded on paper how our days might unfold.


Every day, we enjoyed breakfast together, one day with French toast oven-baked by our host Janet with Joan beaming her blessing:  FrenchBread

Then we had writing time and do-it-yourself lunches with afternoons for more writing or walks.

Some days it was cold!   MarianKathyJoan

One fairly warm day, we all took a hike into the Assateague Preserve to see the world-renowned ponies, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s Misty Books. According to one friend’s pedometer, we logged about 3 miles walking the beach and side trails.

And we enjoyed the exhibit at the Visitors’ Center:PonySignExhibit

Other Days, we wandered along the main road in Chincoteague. As we explored, we found some interesting sights.PianoWrapped

And a mailbox replicating the house of the owner in the distance:

Mailbox replica of house behind
Mailbox replica of house behind

Every evening, we had healthy meals: Chicken chili, frittata, stuffed sweet potatoes, pasta fagioli. This night, Joan is helping Shirley serve broccoli soup with Waldorf salad.     KitchenCooks

After dinner from Tuesday – Saturday, we gathered on the comfy sofa and chairs close to the wood stove. From 7 – 9:30 one of us had the spotlight with an opportunity to get feedback on our writing or blogging. As a beginning memoirist, on Tuesday night, I got clarity about the focus for my story. Distributing a preliminary outline, I asked, “Where in all this muddle is my true story?” Happily, I got wise words from three women who’ve already published memoirs (Kathy, Janet, and Shirley) and one (Joan) with a book poised for publication.


After struggling through revisions, my room-mate Kathy, gestures her approval of my story blurb and synopsis:


On Sunday, our last full day together, we joined Janet at the Sundial Book store for her author talk/book signing.



Afterwards we bought books and other gifts for our loved ones. Leaving the store, we spotted the theatre marquee across the street . . .


. . . and behind the store, outsized LOVE chairs by the bridge. (Think Lily Tomlin dwarfed in a big chair here.)


Finally, we gathered again to celebrate the productive week and our deepened friendships as we watched back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey. As the week ended, we all wrote off into the sunset.

*  *  *

Our story, like Downton Abbey, proceeded in chronological time but with some flashbacks, like many good stories.

My version of The Week at Chincoteague is based on a variation of the story model by PIXAR, the moviemaker who tells perfect stories like Toy Story I and II. Since 1995, their storytelling wisdom has spawned many a tall/true tale. Yes, Shirley shared this link with me last week, which I pass on as a template for your own story. Here is the PIXAR prompt page.


My husband Cliff designed the cover for our photo albums of the week:

Alternate Title:  Cinco Chinco Chiques
Alternate Title: Cinco Chinco Chiques


In today’s post title, I promised you a Wonder, and here it is: 

Standing:  Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman    Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough
Standing: Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman
Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough

 Five writers, none of whom had met all the others, retreat to a magical island for a WONDERful time, honing their writing skills and deepening friendships.

Click HERE for more information on how to reserve Janet’s log house for a writers’ retreat or your own family vacation!



We love words! Share some of your thoughts here . . .  


Coming next: Purple Passages and a Weather Forecast

Secrets in My Hatbox

Just behind my desk, a wicker table holds three hat-boxes: One is floral, another has a repeating Tuscan scene and the third is transparent, the contents held taut by pale blue gossamer fabric. All are chock full of memorabilia from days gone by. All three, a type of journal-in-the-making.


Depending on your style, your journal may be traditional with words and lists. Maybe you even paint or use colored pencils to amuse yourself or record an image. If you are tech savvy, you may have a photo journal, an audio or video journal. Maybe you are even into scrap-booking.

A hat-box is a type of scrapbook, really, a place to keep ticket stubs, magazine and newspaper clippings, programs, and fliers. You don’t actually have to write anything, unless you are into marginal notes, underlining and highlighting like me.

A few weeks ago, I opened one of my hat-boxes and found an article on the sexuality of corn that I may use on a blog post next spring. A page of a man’s outfit I thought natty also surfaced along with an article about videotaping I must have liked back in the May 7, 2007 issue of Newsweek.

Camcorder article

Suit magazine page

I like the irony of a Mennonite girl keeping clippings in a hat-box, hats forbidden in my teen years when fancy hats were then popular. But just like my youth, hat-boxes don’t contain the end of my story but seed kernels of what is yet to be.


Do you have a container, odd or simply utilitarian, for memorable “stuff”?

What does it look like? What do you keep inside?  Inquiring minds want to know . . . .

Just for Fun: Signs Around Town

Signs . . . they’re everywhere . . . billboards in the city, stickers on cars, comments on Facebook. I found some wise ones in a novelty shop, on a car, on a piece of paper, on a writer’s sweat shirt. Some you’ve seen before. Others, I hope, are new. Silly video at the end!

SignHappy Childhood

Quotation now thoroughly engrained in pop culture from the Tom Robbins’ novel Still Life with Woodpecker, an un-fairy tale with princess Leigh-Cheri and outlaw Bernard.

WAIT_Do Not Throw Away_sign_5x3_150

“Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” a popular NPR broadcast on Saturday mornings . . . what we do at traffic signals, the post office, a doctor’s office. . . counsel from the Lord we resist hearing:

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Psalm 27:14


“I won’t fix my car until YOU learn your lesson,” this driver insists.


Easy to say — until it actually happens to you!


Favorite come-back of my colleague, Dr. Laura, when students plead for a better grade.

Yes, pigs actually DO fly at the Ole Country Buffet in Valdosta, Georgia (Cliff on the road)


Her sweat shirt warning vengeance, I watch my step around Jennifer, a writer friend.



Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

What quotes on plaques or signage have you seen around your town? Somewhere else?

Inquiring minds have to know!




Moments of Extreme Emotion: 100th Post Mark

Today I have reached a milestone, 100 blog posts and counting. Thank you, thank you for all your clicks, views, and commentary so far. I am commemorating this event in pictures.

Sunshine and Rain by Ian Christopher Beaman
“Sunshine and Rain” by Ian Christopher Beaman

Blogging is like life, up and down, sad and happy, rain and shine, day in and day out. Here is how Ian sees his Grandma/NaNa, picturing me with a split image, one eye blue, the other rosy pink. Does he see me as both a realist and an optimist? I can only surmise because I don’t know what is going on in his six-year-old mind. The bluest eye sees cold, hard facts; the other eye views life with rose-tinted glasses. A balanced view, if you ask me! Also, if you notice, he pictures me as being fruitful too: bushels of apples in the tree.

Did I say blogging is like life? Here’s the inside scoop on what writing blog posts is really like:

Blog_Extreme Emotions_Cry_7x5_300

But I love every minute. Really, I do!

RevBlog_Extreme_100 Posts_5x5_150

Most importantly, I get to send stories out into the ether and then “talk” to you after the writing is posted. We make a connection.

Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and then love will be seen at its height.

E. M. Forster  Howard’s End

My heart leaps up when you join the conversation.

Now it’s your turn:

What blog post is most memorable to you?  What would like to see more of?  Less of?

Voting is still open for My Gutsy Story.

To read the story:  http://soniamarsh.com/2013/12/rising-above-the-pettiness-to-focus-on-the-positive-by-marian-beaman.html


To vote for my story:  http://soniamarsh.com/2014/01/vote-for-your-favorite-december-2013-my-gutsy-story.html         Thank you!

Purple Passages

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Debut of purple passages! A collection of lines from books I have read since 1989 when I began jotting them down in my journals, my 9 books of wishes, dreams, laments, and bursts of praise.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a purple passage as one conspicuous for its brilliance in otherwise dull writing. For this blog, I’m concentrating on only the “brilliant” part of the definition.

Although they are random in topic, I chose these quotes for at least 3 reasons: 1) they have plucked my heart-strings, 2) ignited a spark in my brain, or 3) resonated in my ear. Sometimes these ideas have even traveled to my fingers, where they become reborn as I write.

A Preview:  PurplePatch

6.16.90  I don’t call it gossip. I call it emotional speculation. Laurie Colwin Happy All the Time

7.25.90  Auntie Ying is not hard of hearing. She is hard of listening. Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

5.28.92  Mr. Brook was a somewhat pastel person. (I wonder how that differs from a vanilla one?)  Carson McCullers  Collected Stories

6.28.93  I was sneezing through a traffic light.  Son Joel on why he got a violation ticket.

12.21.95  The outline of what even well-educated people should know has been blurred past recognition by the many things we can know.   Flannery O’Connor Images of Grace, Introduction

Ah, there is also a 4th reason. I forget stuff unless I write it down. Even books I read. I had this sensation recently when I started to read (actually, re-read) neuropsychiatric Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Now who could forget reading that book and with THAT title!

In “The Curse of Reading and Forgetting,” Ian Crouch recalls having read and then unknowingly re-read parts of several books, amazed at his book-forgetting abilities. He recalls ordering a book from Amazon only to realize after encountering an episode about a cat trying to eat a snake that he’s already read THIS book. Then, he asks:

Should we reread when there is a nearly endless shelf of books out there to read and a certainly not-endless amount of time in which to do it? Should I pull out my copy of Eudora Welty’s “The Optimist’s Daughter” to relearn its charms—or more truthfully, learn them for the first time—or should I accept the loss, and move on?


I say, accept the loss and move on. “At my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”


Quotes are selected not always because I agree with them, but because they have given me cause for pause. You will be notified when new quotes are posted. Click to link to the Purple Passages menu on my blog.

1. Have you experienced the author’s sensation of having read a book before as you began to re-read it? How about movies?

2. What other “purple” quotes come to mind as you read this post?