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.

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!

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 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?