Storytelling: The Great Equalizer

By Allison Langer

         When I started teaching memoir at the Dade Correctional Institution, I had no idea I’d get so close to the inmates –physically and emotionally. I teach in a classroom with 10 inmates and no guard. A memoir is true and personal, so I know specific details of why each man is in prison. My students are in for selling drugs, steeling money to buy drugs, armed robbery while on drugs. A few are in for a sex offense, maybe falsely convicted, maybe not. Some of the men are in for murder. A murder they committed, maybe or were an accomplice to, maybe. I say maybe because it’s hard to know the truth about them or anyone. But I can tell you one thing for sure, none of that matters to me now. Now that I know their stories.

         Storytelling is the best way to get to know someone. It transcends religion, race, class, income, location, education, and beauty. Storytelling connects us to people we would otherwise not have the chance to know.

         Every Tuesday when I walk into prison, I am greeted warmly. I never feel scared or judged. The men smile, offer me a handshake and thank me for coming back. The Department of Corrections does not allow me to hug or kiss them. They are prisoners and there are rules, but they are also human. Humans I have come to like very much. So, it’s difficult not to greet them like I greet any other friend.

         This week, I asked the men to write about LOSS. I wrote too and then we all shared our stories. A 53-year-old man wrote about his loss of freedom, liberty and relationships. His mom died driving home after visiting him in prison. “I didn’t realize how different the world would be without her.” Another man, also in his 50s, wrote about losing his son. When he went to prison his wife divorced him, changed the last name of their 9-year-old son and vanished. Another man, this one 47, wrote about losing himself to self-destruction. Gone, his chance to be somebody important one day. All three men have been in prison for more than 20 years and are in for life.

         When it was my turn to read, I was hesitant. I’ve been warned—by friends and almost anyone who knows I teach writing in prison—to keep my private life private. “They could come after you one day. You have kids. Be careful.” But how could I? This is a memoir class. I understand this is prison and the men could be dangerous. I suppose anything’s possible. I’m not naïve. I read the news. But, I am their teacher. I ask them to get personal. I need to get personal too.

         In previous classes, I wrote about my kids and the constant bickering. I wrote about my dad when he fell and broke his hip. I’d kept it surface, general. But, how could I write about some bullshit loss like an earring or a favorite coffee mug when these men lost everything? I wrote about losing my daughter. “She was 16 months old when she chocked on a French fry. She turned blue, was down for 30 minutes. We spent five days in the NICU, but 30 minutes without oxygen killed her brain…I lost my baby girl.”

         The men were compassionate. They complimented my story even though it was a scrappy first draft. I asked for real feedback and one man said he didn’t understand what “down for 30 minutes” meant. Another said he wished I had gone to scene so he could see the hospital and what was happening. They gave me great feedback.

         Today, I’m sitting in my office, watching the sprinklers water my garden through the giant sliding glass doors. The kids are in school and it’s quiet. I think about the men in their cells and I wonder what their lives would be like on the outside, now. Throw on a suit and a nice watch, and I bet they could be someone special. They may have done some bad shit, but they are good men. Before I started teaching in prison, I would have said they deserved to pay, in some cases, with their life. Now that I know their stories, it’s impossible to feel the same way.

 

 

 

Surprising Good Feelings About Social Media

I know that sharing stories is the way to feel connected. I learned this almost 20 years ago in my very first memoir writing class taught by Terri Silverman. If you live in LA, TAKE HER WRITING CLASS! I told an embarrassing story and instead of feeling weird or isolated, I felt totally supported and understood. That's why I keep telling my stories. That's why I work so hard to get other people to tell their stories. Because sharing stories really helps in this crazy life.  

Yesterday, Allison and I started blasting free videos on social media, which are meant to get people writing. We have a 12-step free program, which we hope will leave people hungry for more. And if that happens, we have a comprehensive, 3-part video class for SALE here on our website. The class is $20 per 20 minute video or $50 for all three. So many people have told me they want to take my writing class. We offer classes open to the public three times a year. Class meets three Saturdays for $175. This video class gives you all you'd learn in our writing class for a fraction of the cost and time from the safety of your own home. So here is your chance.

Social media is annoying for the most part, BUT the coolest thing is happening. People that I haven't seen in a million years and who live far away and who I love are sharing and buying our videos. I'm sure plenty of you are rolling your eyes or will be by day 12. But for now, thank you for being so cool and open to sharing stories and sharing our videos about how to write them better.

--Andrea

Graduation In Prison

            Yesterday, I attended my second Exchange for Change graduation, which was more like a performance given by the guys who’ve completed one of a number of writing classes, mine included. This experience was different than my first one. Getting through security at Dade Correctional Institution was not scary, like before. I guided my friends through the process—hand over ID, take off shoes, walk through metal detector, wait behind locked door, wait again behind another locked door. They were nervous about visiting a prison for the first time.

            This time, when I entered the visiting area, I knew the inmates would be wearing their prison blues and roaming freely around the room. I knew they would be kind, and welcoming and polite, because they are my friends now. I know their names and their stories. Twenty-five of these 200 or so men have taken my memoir classes. We write with vulnerability and honesty. Me included.

            “Be careful,” friends said when I first started volunteering in prison. They told me scary stories of people they’d read about who tried to help prisoners and were murdered later.  I understood my friends’ fear, but after my first visit to DCI, I knew my friends needed to meet these men in order to change their perception of the people we incarcerate.

            Mike Gonzalez, Allen Dorsey “One Draft Rev” and Eduardo Martinez “E” were the first to greet us. I introduced my Writing Class Radio co-producers, Andrea Askowitz, Virginia Lora and Misha Mehrel to the men I have come to value and route for. “Misha just told a story on our last episode,” I told Mike. “Misha, Mike’s story was the one we aired two episodes ago.” It was so nice to connect the men—my outside friends to my inside friends.

            I spend every Tuesday from 11-1pm inside DCI teaching memoir writing as a facilitator for Exchange for Change. I encourage the men to write their true, personal stories. Mike says he now hears my writing tips even when he writes letters to his family. Like what? What is this story about? Ground the reader…who, what, when, where? Mike told me that his sister listens to our podcast and that because of it, she feels closer to him. Barnett said that telling his story has made him feel more open and free. Willie said that he finally understands how to get his thoughts on paper. Willie’s thoughts tell of a past filled with discrimination, neglect, violence and regret. Some of Willie’s stories tell of childhood love. It’s obvious to me that Willie could have gone in a different direction if another path was available to him. It wasn’t.

            E was the MC. He is talented and was as humble and as funny as ever. E spoke without notes and performed his piece without flubbing a cue. Genius was the word tossed around by the audience post performance. Genius doesn’t do him justice. His words, his voice made me cry. Not just because his words about mistakes and youth and life in prison touched me, but because his talent is real and valuable and is wasted in here, for life, without parole for something that happened when he was 19 years old. Remember when you were 19 and malleable and stupid and thoughtless?

            Andrea met Luis Aracena and Juan Esquivel, two of my inside students whose stories I’ve shared with her. Stories we intend to share on the podcast. Luis stood strong while he performed Second Chances. I know from his stories in class that Luis served this country then lost his mind and his fight with cocaine. This country put him in prison when he needed some rehab and some love and a second chance. Juan’s poem spoke of a freedom only available in his dreams. ‘You see, I have not held my sons Juan Jr. and Roger for 19 years…I wake up, and all that I see is the cold, concrete coffin that envelops me. My life was like a sinking ship headed to the bottom of the sea, where no one would find me. Buried under the waves that shattered my dreams until Exchange for Change rescued me. Since then, I fly away on the wings of my pen, flying free through my writings and my songs.’ Juan ended his story with a song:

            Dear Butterfly, fly away.

            You don’t have to live inside the prison gate.

            Dear Butterfly, fly away.

            Share your beauty with a free heart today.

            On the way out Juan handed me a note that read, “Allison, thank you for caring the way that you do! May your beauty continue to fly into the hearts of those whom society has cast away!” I shake Juan’s hand, smile and sneak a hug. Hugging is a no no in prison. But I sneak a hug with Barnett and Willie and E because they are my friends and I need a hug as much as they do.

            I rode home with Andrea, my friend and vice chairman of Exchange for Change, Sonesh Chainani and his mom, Sheila. “How can we get these guys out of here?” Sheila asked. Sonesh has a law degree from Columbia but doesn’t actively practice law. Sonesh shook his head at his mom. Andrea was disgusted as Sonesh explained the three strikes rule, minimum mandatories, the appeals process. I was frustrated. I just kept saying, What a waste. What a waste. Andrea and I agreed that we need to get their stories out. The world has to know these men, understand them, so we can convince lawmakers to end these long prison terms.  We need to motivate our friends to give to organizations that are making a difference in the lives of underprivileged children who need education and love and the option for a successful path in life. Groups like The Seed School and Educate Tomorrow help inner city and foster care children. Groups like Leap and Exchange for Change help prisoners move through life in a positive way as better human beings. Podcasts like Planted in Miami highlight powerful work the South Florida community is doing.

            Before I met the men at DCI, fear and ignorance said, “Lock them up for life.” Now that I know more, I refuse to let fear win. If you want to make a difference, please go to  http://www.exchange-for-change.org/donate/and make a donation. Any amount will help.

Show Notes for Episode 39: Get Out of Your Way and Write

 

On today’s episode we’re talking about getting out of our own way when writing a story. The writing process starts with getting the truth on paper. We write about situations or problems we’re dealing with or have dealt with, things we’re still trying to understand or resolve. The goal is getting to the reason we’re writing the story and what the story is really about.

Andrea is a huge believer in writing and rewriting. That’s her process. A first draft is usually shit. Then the second draft all the way to the 222 draft, is usually still shit, but those drafts are critical for telling the story well. But with all this writing and rewriting, we can get in our own way.

In this episode, you'll hear student Misha Mehrel’s story Bad Breath. Misha brought this piece to class a couple of weeks ago and it needed very little editing. You will also hear an interview with Misha about his writing process. Misha was wary of writing about his father’s cancer diagnosis. What he did instead was start by writing about physical problems that had been bothering him. He wrote graphically and intimately about his breath and bowel movements, which served to free him up to write about his dad.

Two prompt ideas to help you, the listener, loosen up. Body Odor or Menstrual Blood. See where that takes you.

Listen to other stories by Misha in Episode 36 about Hurricane Irma (https://soundcloud.com/writing-class-radio/episode-36-hurricanes-and-stories-define-us-since-the-beginning-of-time) and another in Episode 16: Comfort Zone where he told a story about his hairy ass.

 

(https://soundcloud.com/writing-class-radio/episode-16-step-out-of-your-comfort-zone-where-the-magic-happens).

 Writing Class Radio is a podcast that brings you true, personal stories written in an actual memoir writing class and a little instruction on how to write your own stories.

Writing Class Radio is co-hosted by student Allison Langer (www.allisonlanger.com)  and teacher Andrea Askowitz (www.andreaaskowitz.com). This podcast is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean getting to the truth and by art, we mean the craft of writing.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Virginia Lora, Andrea Askowitz and Allison Langer. We are sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication.

Our fall writing contest is officially on! The prompt is Secret Pleasure. Deadline is Feb. 14, 2017. Details at writingclassradio.com.

Theme music by Ari Herstand. Additional music by Kevin Myles WIlson

Taryn Southern and Podington Bear. You can find all our music on our website.

Please support our 20+2 campaign. Give $20 and get two people to subscribe. Our goal is 2,000 new listeners and $20,000 by the end of the year. Please help us reach our goal. Please go to writingclassradio.com and hit the 20+2 button.

There’s more writing class on our website (www.writingclassradio.com), twitter (@wrtgclassradio) and Facebook.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

 

Show Notes for Episode 38: Write Better by Mimicking the Masters

On Episode 38 we’re talking about mimicking the masters the way you’d imagine a painting class in Paris goes to the Louvre and practices painting like Leonardo de Vinci. We think it’s worth copying a method that works because we know it worked in the past. Learn the rules before breaking the rules.

In this episode, you'll hear stories that mimic the style of Boys, a story by Rick Moody. Andrea took a class at the Miami Writers Institute with Brian Turner, author of the memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country. In an excerpt of the book, Turner mimicked Rick Moody. Our students mimicked Turner mimicking Moody.

Nilsa Rivera, Leah Messing and Andrea Askowitz nailed it. This style enabled them to take the listener into their worlds. The stories were written in the third person, but were still extremely intimate and specific.

Writing Class Radio is a podcast that brings you true, personal stories written in an actual memoir writing class and a little instruction on how to write your own stories.

Writing Class Radio is co-hosted by student Allison Langer (www.allisonlanger.com)  and teacher Andrea Askowitz (www.andreaaskowitz.com). This podcast is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean getting to the truth and by art, we mean the craft of writing.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Virginia LoraAndrea Askowitz and Allison Langer. We are sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. This episode is sponsored by Melanie Merriman, (melaniemerriman.com) Andrea’s past student and author of the important memoir, Holding the Net, Caring for My Mother on the Tightrope of Aging.

Our fall writing contest is officially on! The prompt is Secret Pleasure. Deadline is Feb. 14, 2017. Details at writingclassradio.com.

Theme music by Ari Herstand. Additional music by Emia and Podington Bear. You can find all our music on our website.

Please support our 20+2 campaign. Give $20 and get two people to subscribe. Our goal is 2,000 new listeners and $20,000 by the end of the year. Please help us reach our goal. Please go to writingclassradio.com and hit the 20+2 button.

There’s more writing class on our website (www.writingclassradio.com), twitter (@wrtgclassradio) and Facebook.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

Meet Prisoner and 1st class human being, Mike Gonzalez

Mike Gonzalez is an inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution. He is also one of the best writers in the Exchange for Change program, a group of mostly volunteers who believe that education is the key to success...especially in prison.  

I spend two hours every Tuesday with 17 incarcerated men. I have gotten to know Mike well. He is a kind, intelligent man who made a mistake when he was 18 years old. Mike is paying for that mistake... for life. Read Mike's story below or listen to Episode 37 on our website, Soundcloud or Apple Podcasts

 

What do your clothes say about you?

By Mike Gonzalez

           As a homeless 12 year old, my clothes never betrayed that fact.  My little brother and I would go through great lengths to not look like homeless kids who on any given night, slept on the sands of Miami Beach, on roof tops, in the stairwells of buildings, or in trees we could climb.

            Occasionally we’d break into empty hotel rooms and sleep in them. A soft bed, however, wasn’t the main reason for risking arrest for breaking and entering. Our main objective was to shower and hand-wash the clothes we carried around with us in our backpacks. Clothes we’d steal from anywhere. From high-end stores on South Beach and Aventura Mall. From mom-and-pop stores in Little Havana. We even stole clothes from those small self-serve laundromats available to guests at mid-priced hotels. And if you decided to leave your Nike Air Force Ones unattended as you swam deeper into the ocean or fell asleep sunbathing – those Air Force Ones became mine.

            Clean and fresh-looking clothes couldn’t fill our perpetually growling bellies. They couldn’t provide a steady, warm place to sleep. But because our clothes didn’t advertise our homelessness, we weren’t immediately turned away when we would walk in, unaccompanied, to various hotel lobbies, running from the relentless summer heat. It seemed to us that our clothes helped the employees assume that we were guests. Our clothes never betrayed our hopelessness, so we weren’t shooed away, like flies hovering over a juicy steak, by the parents of rich kids on vacation whom we’d befriend on the beach. Our clothes told these folks that my little brother and me were worthy of being invited to lunch at Wolfie’s or dinner at Kenny Roger’s. Because our clothes didn’t carry the stench of our wildness, the public bus drivers almost always believed our story of why we didn’t have our fare and let us on the bus. Or maybe we were just fooling ourselves. Maybe these people really just felt sympathy for two kids who were always alone, but played along in order to avoid embarrassing us.

            Our clothes helped protect my little brother and me from the prejudice that homeless people experience the world over. Today, the prison Blues that I am forced to wear are far from a shield against prejudice, but instead come with 100 years worth of negative stereotypes woven into the fabric and which I fight against daily. To the majority of society, my clothes say that I’m dangerous, that I’m uneducated; even subhuman. I want you to know that these clothes are lying. As a homeless kid, my clothes said what I needed them to say for my survival; now getting people to not believe what these prison clothes say is equally important to my survival as a man. I am in prison but prison is not me. I am not the sum total of my worst mistake. These three natural death sentences don’t fit me and no amount of tailoring can ever make this feel comfortable. I will continue pulling at the hem, continue unraveling the fabric with my pen, for I have outgrown these Blue grave-clothes. And I am ready to walk out of this tomb.

 

Thank you to Matt Cundill of Matt Cundill Voiceovers for reading Mike's story.

To find out more about Exchange for Change, visit their website.  Exchange for Change believes in the power of written partnerships to promote dialogue and impact social change. We facilitate anonymous writing exchanges between classrooms in correctional and court-mandated facilities, and classrooms in high schools and universities.

1 Comment /Source

allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Episode 37: Ready to Write that Memoir or Novel? Nov. is National Novel Writing Month

Episode 37: Ready to Write that Memoir or Novel? Nov. is National Novel Writing Month.

November is #NaNoWriMo and we have executive director, Grant Faulkner, on our show. Today we’re talking about novels because we go both ways. And also because storytelling principles are the same when writing fiction or nonfiction. Get inspired and join millions of people around the world who are racing to finish a book this month. Allison’s in the race.

Writing Class Radio is a podcast that brings you true, personal stories written in an actual memoir writing class and a little instruction on how to write your own stories.

Writing Class Radio is co-hosted by student Allison Langer and teacher Andrea Askowitz. This podcast is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean getting to the truth and by art, we mean the craft of writing.

Grant is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month and the author of “Pep Talks For Writers. 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.” Among other things, Faulkner talks about the importance of what you wear when you write, making time to write, and knowing thyself. You’ll hear from students Aaron Curtis and Liz Marquardt and producer, Virginia Lora. They responded to one of Grant’s writing tips, You are what you wear. You will also hear from Mike Gonzalez, a student in the class Allison teaches at the Dade Correctional Institution as a facilitator for Exchange for Change.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Virginia Lora, Andrea Askowitz and Allison Langer. We are sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. This episode is sponsored by the Gold Valley Consulting. Hire Cristina Baldor to do all the administrative stuff that bogs you down.

Our fall writing contest is officially on! The prompt is Secret Pleasure. Details on our website. You can make writing a daily practice. We have a growing community of  listeners who respond to our daily prompts and give feedback to each other. Join the party. Click on Daily Prompts on our website.

Theme music by Ari Herstand. Additional music by Emia, Bluejay, Jason Sager, and Podington Bear. You can find all our music on our website.

Thanks to Matt Cundill from Matt Cundill Voiceovers for reading Mike’s story. If you need a voice (male or female) for your radio project or podcast contact Matt. Besides for his beautiful voice, Matt also has a beautiful face and heart.

On this episode of Writing Class Radio we ask you to support our 20+2 campaign. Give $20 and get two people to subscribe. Our goal is 2,000 new listeners and $20,000 by the end of the year. Please help us reach our goal. Please go to writingclassradio.com and hit the 20+2 button.

There’s more writing class on our website (www.writingclassradio.com), twitter (@wrtgclassradio) and Facebook.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories.

 

So I exaggerate a little – am I wrong to jazz up my stories? By Andrea Askowitz

This story by our teacher was just published in Aeon.co

Before 8 November 2016, I thought it was okay to stretch the truth in storytelling, especially if you were trying to be funny. Now, I’m not sure.

TrueStory was my Match.com handle. I don’t remember Victoria’s handle; what I remember is her picture. She’s wearing drag-queen quantities of makeup: gold swathes across her eyelids, blush from cheekbone to temple, and fuck-me red lipstick. She’s leaning forward, her white, fitted shirt is unbuttoned way down, and she’s squeezing her boobs together with her arms to exaggerate her cleavage. She looks like a hoochie mama.

When I tell people about the pictures, and I love to tell people, Victoria says the pictures aren’t like that. She says I’m exaggerating. But that’s the way I saw them.

click here to read more in Aeon.co..

 

 

For more on this theme, listen to Episode 27: When Is It Okay to Bullshit?

 

 

Andrea Askowitz is an author, storyteller and performer. She is the creator of Lip Service, a literary event in Miami, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon and on NPR, among others. She is co-producer of the podcast, Writing Class Radio, and is the author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy (2008). She lives in Miami, Florida.

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

How Did It End?

By Viccy Simon

Viccy Simon is a student in Writing Class Radio. She wrote this story in response to a prompt in class. 

It ended in the ICU.

It ended after I’d told my mom all the ways she’d left the world in better shape than she found it.

It ended after I’d thanked her for Halloween costumes, and birthday cakes, and for peeling the hard-boiled eggs she packed in my lunchbox.

It ended after I’d filled up my sister’s voicemail with messages begging her to come soon.

It ended after I’d thanked my mom for teaching me to drive a stick.

It ended after I’d sung all the songs Mom used to sing to me when I was little.

It ended when I was hoarse with the talking and singing.

It ended when I’d texted my sister for the umpteenth time.

It ended when I was sure my mom was sick of my voice because I was sick of my voice. It ended after I pleaded with the doctor to keep her breathing just until morning in case my sister had managed to catch that overnight flight from Arizona.

It ended after the doctor told me that he could give her more morphine but she would die sooner and I opted for later and then regretted it when the doctor had left the floor and my mom started thrashing.

It ended after my sister called from the airport and said, “I told you I’d get here and I did.” 

It ended after my sister rushed in and held my mother’s hand.

It ended before my sister said one word.

For more stories like this one and a lesson or two or three on writing, listen to Writing Class Radio, a podcast that brings you stories from our real writing class and will inspire you to get started on writing your own stories. Check our resource page for writing teachers we love,  contestsplaces to submit and more.

Bye-Bye Facebook, Goodbye

By Ariel C.

Ariel is a student in our Saturday writing workshop series at the Lowe Art Museum. He wrote this story in response to the prompt, Something You Don't Understand.

I really don’t understand how people can be posting crap on social media all day. Seriously, my Facebook feed has become littered with selfies, stupid videos of people doing dumb things, political rhetoric, trips to “exotic places”, food porn and now there is a friend of mine who thinks he is a fucking theater critic and writes these long and boring recounts of the shows he goes to see. The last one was about Hamilton. I haven’t seen it, but after reading just a little bit of his review, I’m definitely NOT interested.

I have to log into Facebook and social media for work, after all, how can you be an “influencer” if you don’t “influence” anybody. I just try to keep it simple and post only about the cool things that are happening in the tech world. I must do this so the people working in the worst profession in the world, Public Relations that is, keep us in their sights when there are client projects coming.

Sometimes when I’m posting the coolest stuff like why artificial intelligence is going to replace all our jobs with giant robots…, fucking crickets… not many people seem to care but, there are always the ardent supporters who will hit like and retweet whatever you post, even if you are sharing a picture of a gigantic horse turd. One of these days I’m going to send everyone to fuck themselves and close all my social media accounts without even a sweet tweet goodbye. I doubt they’ll miss me, after all, there is so much crap on social media already.

For more stories like this one and a lesson or two or three on writing, listen to Writing Class Radio, a podcast that brings you stories from our real writing class and will inspire you to get started on writing your own stories. Check our resource page for writing teachers we love,  contests, places to submit and more.

CLASS SCOOP

Lis Mesa, Writing Class Radio podcast student, on the write path...

Through my early 20s, I was terrified to "give in" and write. I knew the life of an artist was challenging--for many reasons--so I did sensible things like get a Master's in Management and work 60 hours a week in an upper management position in the healthcare industry. At 28, I had become so physically and mentally burned out that I had to set on hold the life I worked so hard to build.

I couldn't continue to repress my desire to write. The words burned my insides and seeped from my pores. On the morning of my 29th birthday--exactly one year ago--I signed up for a writing workshop. Since then, I've taken classes and workshops and worked with other writers. The results have been an evolving body of work that I'm extremely proud off. 

I just turned 30, and this is where I need to be. This place as a writer. Just writing. It took me so long to give myself permission to write. And now I got accepted to The University of Edinburgh to study creative writing. I'm hoping this program will offer space to write, communion with other writers and the time to improve my craft.

This summer, Lis was invited to study with Emily Witt at the 2017 Tin House Summer Workshop.

In the Fall, Lis is going to The University of Edinburgh's one-year, full-time program, which offers students the opportunity to focus in depth on their own practice of poetry or fiction and develop both creative and critical skills through a combination of weekly workshops and seminars.

 

P.S....

Andrea Askowitz of gets published in The Manifest-Station....

Click here to read andrea's full essay, Born To Run

 

Allison Langer is teaching writing this summer in one of Florida's prisons with Exchange for Change.

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Shared Bathroom

By Kristin Connor

Kristin Connor is a new student in Writing Class Radio. She wrote this story in response to a prompt in class.

My parents still live in the house that my sister, two brothers and I grew up in. I get to go there on a weekly basis and, while my Mom has changed around many of the rooms, it’s home.

Only my older brother and I can remember the time when there were six of us sharing one and a half bathrooms. We would call out “first shower” on the way home, all of us riding from our various destinations in my mom’s navy station wagon with wood paneling. We would then race each other out of the car, into the house, and up the stairs. I was usually pretty quick and would climb into the shower, pull the curtain closed and yell “I took my clothes off!” knowing that my brother would be too horrified to dare check if it was true.

That bathroom looks totally different now, and my parents did a significant addition to the house when adding one more bathroom and enough bedrooms for each of us to call our own. But when I walk into the “new” bathroom, it still feels like the “old” bathroom. The sage green subway tiles, with a black border, and black and white checkered floor tiles always felt so cold after a hot shower. It was the place where we learned to use the bathroom and brush our teeth, but also to negotiate and to compromise with each other.

My siblings and I are all very close today, and I believe that that bathroom is a huge part of it. These days, people’s homes have huge closets with sprawling bathrooms, many not shared with another person in the house. Had we not lived in a place where we had no choice but to face each other, scratch each other’s chicken pox, wait for the head lice shampoo to take effect, and then smile in the mirror while we brushed our teeth, I don’t know that we would be so close. I am grateful for that shared bathroom, as many fights as it caused, it also brought us together. 

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

I Went to Prison

By Allison Langer

Yesterday, I drove to the Dade Correctional Institution with my friend, Sonesh. He sits on the board of Exchange for Change, a non-profit started by Kathie Klarreich. Kathie started teaching writing workshops in prison in 2009 and began the writing exchanges in 2013. Kathie invited me to the performance so I could meet some of the students I'd be teaching come summertime.  I met volunteers and supporters from UM, FIU, FAU, and Ransom Everglades. All had families and careers, and yet still made time for this program. I found out about Exchange for Change this past spring when Ransom English teacher, Josh Stone did a Tedx talk at Ransom Everglades. He inspired me to volunteer. 

I've never been to prison before, so I had no idea what to expect. I wore loose jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers, no jewelry and only mascara. My long, blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. There are no phones or electronics allowed inside the prison. I was told to bring only my driver’s license and a few bucks.  We cleared security, which was like TSA on steroids: shoes off, belts off, walk-through the metal detector and a thorough pat down. Then, we were guided into a large room with a giant mural of Frozen on the brick wall, rows of chairs and men in light blue scrubs. Only they weren’t doctors, they were prisoners. David Jeffers, AKA Carolina Blue greeted me. He was a lean, well-groomed 6 ft tall light-skinned black man with a sweet smile and warm eyes. I was confused. He did not look like a thug. His energy was warm, not angry. Could he work here? I looked around. All the men were in the same blue uniform. Holy shit, these are the prisoners.

Carolina Blue handed me a brochure with stories written by the inmates. He pointed out his piece. "Let me know what you think," he said.  I didn't have my reading glasses, so I said I would read it when I got home.  I told him I would be teaching there in the summer and asked him to sign up for my class. I asked him how he'd gotten here and waited for his answer. It was hard to imagine this gentle man ever broke the law. Clearly avoiding my question, he told me that he'd transferred from another institution. Then I asked again, "What did you do to get incarcerated?" He smiled...said he would have to tell me another time. The next man I spoke with, Eduardo Martinez is 37 years old. He's been institutionalized for 17 years and has a life term. He told me that at 20 years old he made some really dumb decisions. He was in a scuffle and a gun went off and someone was killed. He left behind a pregnant girlfriend. His son visits, but not often. Eduardo was attractive, very fit, had such a kind presence. Yet his arms and hands were painted in tattoos...colorful art that blended together. His eyelids had a tiny design that I could not make out.  His words were smart and he was happy to tell me his story, so respectfully, he spoke of the wife he'd met and married in prison. "Will you take my class and write that story?" I asked, and he nodded with a smile. 

After socializing from 9:30-10:30am, one by one, the men got up and told their stories. How their young 20 year-old-selves made huge mistakes. How they have matured and learned from their time. How they wished they could get a second chance to contribute to society. Make it up to their mothers.

At 11:30 am, an alarm went off, the prisoners walked outside for lineup and each was accounted for. I thought of my own children, specifically my 7 year old son who is defiant and strong-willed and hyper and easily bored. When he was 3 years old, I took him to Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT). During our first session, the doctor told me that if I didn't get his temper under control he would end up like the kids she visited in Juvenile Detention. Is it just about self control? The PCIT didn't work for us. We have a different therapist now. My son requires love and patience and I require the time and the information to give him what he needs. He cannot end up here. 

By 11:45, the men were back in their seats and the program resumed. The inmates told stories that revealed their chaotic childhoods devoid of a father and infused with an often-addicted or unavailable mother. Not every one of the men came from this type of background, I suspect, but it seemed like 99% grew up in a tough neighborhood with a mom only half there. I live in Coral Gables, with good public schools, nice neighbors and a very low crime rate. I know what it takes to parent one difficult child and two other children. I have two jobs, bills, responsibilities and stress. But I am there when the kids come home from school. I can drive them to enrichment activities and sports. I can help with homework, talk about their day, cook their favorite dinner, make them feel special. I wonder what these men would have become if they'd had attention and love and a peaceful home? If their choices would have been better? It's not too late. And I believe that.

We left the prison at 2:30pm. I was drained and inspired and grateful to meet those men and to hear their stories. I have new heroes and they live at the Dade CI.

I never thought I'd say this, but I cannot wait to go back to prison!

Born To Run. By Andrea Askowitz

 Bonnie Askowitz and Hillary Clinton

Bonnie Askowitz and Hillary Clinton

This story by our teacher was just published in Manifest-Station.

MY MOM has spent her entire adult life volunteering for the Democratic Party. She’s also an artist and was also very active in the women’s movement. She was the president of the local chapter of National Organization for Women and the head of the Miami Women’s History Coalition. 

 

 

 

She campaigned for equal pay for equal work and worked so hard for the Equal Rights Amendment that I can still recite the language: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The amendment died in 1982. I was 14.

My brother and I grew up under women’s lib, which meant there were no distinctions between chores. There was setting the table and taking out the garbage. There were no boy colors or girl colors. I had a purple bicycle, my brother had yellow. There wasn’t even a distinction in clothes. My mom tells me that at three years old, I only wanted to wear my brother’s clothes, so in every picture from that era there I am in beige corduroys and a brown T-shirt that said, “Keep on Truckin’.”

 

Click here to read the full essay in The Manifest-Station

 

ANDREA ASKOWITZ is the author of the memoir My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy and the editor of Badass True Stories. She is also the co-host, teacher and co-producer of the podcast Writing Class Radio. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon.com, xoJane, Brain, Child, and other places.

Episode 29: Can You Hear Me If I Can’t Hear You?

Writing Class Radio brings you real stories from an actual memoir writing class and ideas about how to write your own stories.

Student Allison Langer loves the process of working out her shit and reading it out loud. In class, she can’t hide behind a facade. Teacher Andrea Askowitz loves thinking about writing and ways to make stories stronger. She breaks down every sentence and takes out needless words. Andrea loves the craft.

Cheryl Strayed, Author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, says writing is equal parts heart and art. Andrea loves the art. Allison loves the heart. That’s what you get on this podcast. Equal parts heart and art.

This episode is about connecting through writing. It’s also about the job of storytellers to bring us into their world.

New student, Nilsa Rivera, tells a story about her fear of isolation, which stems from a very unique set of circumstances--she’s hard of hearing. She uses writing to fight that fear.

Andrea relates to Nilsa in a very small way and emails her after class, which she immediately regrets doing. In class, students (and teacher) are only allowed to give feedback on the writing, not someone’s life because whether or not a reader or listener has had the exact same experience is irrelevant. What readers relate to is the emotion. When a story is well-told anyone can relate to it.  

You will hear how Nilsa felt about Andrea’s email and more about what it sounds like to be hard of hearing.

If you love this podcast, tell your friends.

This episode is sponsored by the Sanibel Island Writers Conference (fgcu.edu/siwc/). Andrea spoke to director Tom DeMarchi. Twelve years ago he started this conference sort of like a first draft of a story. He just went for it. Twelve years and twelve drafts later, Tom has a kick-ass conference.

The Sanibel Island Writers Conference is November 2 - 5, 2017. Be there!

If you’d like your company mentioned on our podcast, please contact us. If we love your company, other people will too.

We’d like to know more about your world? If you have time, send us your thoughts on twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us at info@writingclassradio.com

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For example, I don’t understand why nobody understands this world I live in. For contest details visit writingclassradio.com. Deadline is May 31, 2017.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Virginia lora (virginialora.com), Allison Langer (allisonlanger.com) and Andrea Askowitz (andreaaskowitz.com) . Theme music by Daniel Correa (danielcorrea.com) Additional music by Ari Herstand (ariherstand.com).

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication (com.miami.edu). There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft talks. If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter (@wrtgclassradio) where we post prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

 

Click here to listen. Episode 29: Can You Hear Me If I Can't Hear You?

 

 


 

Episode 28: Who Has Time?

Get ready folks, Allison and Andrea are hosting this episode together: an episode about time. Student Allison Langer is obsessed with the lack of time she has lately. So, in class teacher, Andrea Askowitz, gave this prompt: I wish I had more time to_______.

Andrea reads her story from class about wanting more time to work.  Allison reads a story she brought into class about wanting more time PERIOD. You will also hear responses to the prompt, I wish I had more time to _______ from students Diego Saldana-Rojas, Lis Mesa and Viccy Simon.

Allison and Andrea discuss the stories and try to figure out why people without children have no time. Ok, so maybe they have a full time job, but still.

We’d love to know how your life is affected by time? If you have time, send us your thoughts on twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us at info@writingclassradio.com

If you love this podcast, tell your friends.

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For example, I don’t understand where my time goes. For contest details visit writingclassradio.com.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Diego Saldana Rojas,  Virginia lora, Allison Langer and Andrea Askowitz. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Adriel Borshansky, Bluejay and Ari Herstand


Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks. If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter where we post prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

 

Episode 27: When Is it Okay to Bullshit?

Lies seem to be the new norm in our world. There’s probably a bumper sticker that says Lies Are the New Truth. Great bumper sticker, but it has Andrea Askowitz totally freaked out. Andrea is the teacher of the class and the host for this episode, which is about lies in stories and lies in the world. It starts with a story by a new student, Claudia Franklin, that got us thinking about truth and lies in memoir and when, if ever, is lying fair game.

Claudia’s story takes a surprising turn as she imagines what life would have been like if her father wasn’t the hen-pecked man he really was. Her story left Andrea wondering when, if ever, is trust broken between narrator and listener/reader.

Fifteen years ago, Andrea took her first memoir writing class from Terrie Silverman and has lived by and preached the tenet she learned. Terrie said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth.”  Andrea took that to mean that it was okay to exaggerate or change little facts for the sake of a bigger emotional truth.

There’s an unspoken pact between a memoir writer and reader or listener that says, what’s being shared is the truth. But what is the truth?

In 2003, James Frey wrote a book called A Million Little Pieces. The book  was distributed as memoir. But Frey stretched the truth in a few places. In one example, he wrote that he spent 87 days in jail. According to police records, he served 5 hours. A lot of people thought he lied, including Oprah.

Andrea wrote a story once about taking her wife, Vicky, to a tantric sex retreat. The story’s about how she couldn’t handle the intimacy and acted like a clown the whole time. They had to do intimacy exercises including Tai Chi, where, in the privacy of their hotel room, they were instructed to stand facing each other, perform pelvic thrusts back and forth, then arm motions with elbows in, and hands out to the sides. Andrea added jazz hands.

Except she didn’t actually add jazz hands in their hotel room. She wished she had. Instead, in the story she wrote, she added jazz hands because she thought jazz hands perfectly expressed her feelings in that moment.

Allison Langer, co-producer and student in the class, challenged her. When Andrea says she tells the truth, Allison says, “What about jazz hands?”

Before this current presidential election, Andrea would have defended jazz hands as an expression of her truth. Now she’s not sure. Because now something has shifted in our culture. Now, we don’t know what we’re getting from America’s highest office. And now with the normalization of lies no one knows what to believe.

The truth stretching in storytelling that used to be okay for Andrea, doesn’t feel as okay anymore. Now, she’s afraid no one’s going to believe her stories.

What Terrie said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth,” is happening more than ever. Especially outside of the boundaries of storytelling. No one’s letting the facts get in the way of their truth, and that feels dangerous. So, in a panic, Andrea called Terrie Silverman, to ask her if storytellers can be trusted anymore.

Terrie alleviates Andrea’s fears. She says that the rules are different in storytelling and politics. Politics are about manipulation and propaganda. Stories are about getting to a deep truth. Intentions are different. And the number one intention of the memoir writer is to get to his or her truth.

Now Andrea understands why it felt like James Frey broke the pact.  Because we question his intention; He didn’t seem to be going after a bigger truth.

Now Andrea thinks that if anything has changed for storytellers because of the lying culture we’ve been thrust into lately, it’s that now, more than ever, we need jazz hands.

When do you think it’s okay to bullshit? We want to hear from you. Send us your thoughts on Twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us info@writingclassradio.com

If you live in Los Angeles, take class with Terrie Silverman. Find her online at creativerites.com.

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For more details visit writingclassradio.com.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Diego Saldana Rojas,  Virginia lora, Allison Langer and me, Andrea Askowitz. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Josh Woodward and Kevin McLeud.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks.   If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter where we post prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

Episode 26: Writing Is Therapy

Allison Langer is as student in the class and the host on Episode 26 of Writing Class Radio, a podcast for people who love and get inspired by true, personal stories and want to learn a little about how to write their own stories. 

This episode looks at writing as therapy. We look at writing as a way to understand these things we carry: secrets, pain, and shame.

Three new students share their stories. Michelle Massanet tells about a rape that she hid for 22 years and how much lighter she feels since writing about it. Lis Mesa explores getting to the real story she’s been trying to tell all semester and Jennifer Dertouzos finally talks about her brother’s suicide on the last night of class.

Allison came to class to learn the rules of writing and to get better at it but never imagine that writing down all her hidden shit and then sharing it would feel so therapeutic. Listeners will hear questions Allison has been forced to look at in her life. Things like why did she marry a man with addiction problems? Was she trying to save him? Fix him? What does that say about her? She’s also written about the difficult relationship she has with her mom, her ex-boyfriend’s suicide, her pathetic dating life, her children, her wrinkles, and her tits.

Like Allison, many new students eventually write about a trauma they have hidden and carried for way too long. There is an emotional release, and then their writing changes. The shame is lifted. They  seem free and their stories roll out.

Brene Brown is someone who has dedicated her life to researching shame and vulnerability. Her TED talks are something we suggest our first time students to listen to or watch because we want them to open up, have the courage to be vulnerable, to be seen, to be honest. Brown says, “We have to talk about shame. Life is about daring greatly.” We think writing the truth is daring greatly and we know from experience that once you’re vulnerable on the page, you feel better in life.

One of our listeners, Loree Schrager is a therapist who told us she refers our podcast to her clients. Allison spent an hour with Loree, milking her for free therapy and talking about why she recommends our podcast to her patients. She said, “When you write things down it helps you make sense of them, and get some perspective. Think about change. See a little bit clearer.”

Class can feel like therapy although we comment on the writing, not the trauma, which diffuses the emotion.

If you love our show, please tell your friends. The next contest has just begun. Here’s the prompt: Write About Something You Don’t Understand. Deadline is April 30, 2017. More details on our website.

If you’d like to participate in one of our workshops, visit our website. If you don’t want to enter our contest, but want a prompt to get you writing, we post them on our website or follow us on Twitter @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. Writing Class Radio is produced by Andrea Askowitz, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Virginia Lora and Allison Langer. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Ari Herstand, Montplaisier, and Misha Mehrel.

There’s more writing class on our website writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and enjoy our craft talks.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

 

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Episode 25: A Time I Fucked Up Part 2

We picked two winners of our first annual writing contest. Listeners responded to the prompt: A Time I Fucked Up. We got tons of submissions revealing your major fuck ups and tons revealing your little mess ups. One woman’s vacation slideshow accidentally included a naked selfie. Another woman almost killed a sheep. One did kill a chicken. And here’s what gringa Hope Torrents said to her Spanish mother-in-law on Thanksgiving. “Hoy es el dia del polvo,” which means, “Today is the the day of the fuck.”  

What we know about good storytelling is that it doesn’t matter if the mistake was big or small. The story is not as much about what happened to a person, as what the storyteller makes of that experience.

Susan Buttenweiser is the winner featured on this episode. She teaches writing in New York City public schools, in a women’s prison and in a juvenile facility. In her story about getting into a bar fight, she discovers a persistent character trait--a need to be needed. Sometimes that need puts her in danger. But she re-channels that urge into motherhood.

Diego Saldana-Rojas, our audio producer and student in the class, responded to the prompt with a story about the time he fucked up the audio at Writing Class Radio’s live show. Diego is extremely hard on himself and takes the listener into a dark fantasy about torturing himself for repeated failures. Like Susan, Diego is looking to discover what it is about him, what is that persistent trait, that sets him up for failure.

Thank you for listening to Writing Class Radio. We hope you enjoyed hearing from our listeners. We had so much fun with this contest that we’re holding another one. Deadline is April 30, 2017. More details on our website. Here’s the prompt: Write About Something You Don’t Understand.

If you’d like to participate in one of our workshops, visit our website. If you don’t want to enter our contest, but want a prompt to get you writing, we post them on our website or follow us on Twitter @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. Writing Class Radio is produced by Andrea Askowitz, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Virginia Lora and Allison Langer. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Andy G. Cohen, Julie Maxwell, and Rest You Sleeping Giant. 

 

This episode is sponsored by Puzzle Israel. If you’re looking for a customized tour of Israel with the coolest, smartest, nicest people, go with Puzzle Israel. Find them at PuzzleIsrael.com.

There’s more writing class on our website writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and enjoy our craft talks.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?