Picture that – the perfect writing prompt

It’s been said plenty of times that a picture is worth a thousand words. That is most likely true. A picture can also be a great prompt to write a thousand words. On April 19 and 20, Write It Out workshops will be held at the Coworking Station in Holly Springs and we’ll get our inspiration from pictures. My cat Mimi is pictured here with some of the first strawberries of the season. When I look at this picture, Mimi’s story is what shows up in my mind. She found us 10 years ago and never left. When I look at this picture, I think of all the years we have enjoyed each other’s company. When you look at this picture, you might think about your grandma’s cat that used to scratch you or the terrible rash you got from eating strawberries. Maybe it reminds you of that cabin you stayed at in the mountains where stray cats showed up every morning for breakfast. Everyone has their own stories and are inspired by the same things in different ways.

Come out and write with us. We meet from 10 to noon on April 19 and from 6:30 to 8:30 on April 20. The class is hosted by the Holly Springs Arts Council. Find the event posted on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/345271785869051/

The Write It Out web site is getting a facelift soon. Check back and look for the changes. I think you’ll like it.


You Don’t Have to Be a Writer to Write

notebooksI look forward to the third Monday of every month because my book club meets. Even when I’m not crazy about the book we chose, I love getting together with my friends who love reading and books as much as I do. This month we read, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” by Joan Didion. It is a book that describes her life during the first year after her husband’s death. Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne, both writers, spent all their days together. They worked at home together. They traveled together. They had a daughter. They were married for 40 years. And then he died.

This was a hard book for me to read. Her loss became a reminder of so much loss in my own life. My friends at book club agreed. We all said it was hard to read, but so important to talk about. We could all relate to her. I think Joan Didion was brave to show us her process in mourning and grief so powerfully in words. Most of us can’t get the words together to really express what we are feeling. Sometimes we know exactly what we want to say, but it makes others uncomfortable to hear our pain. After listening to the others in the group talk about how they were touched by Didion’s description of her own journey through grief and mourning, I realized that this is exactly why I felt called to create Soothing Your Soul writing classes. All of us experience the same things in this life. We all have joys and sorrows, births and deaths. What we don’t do very well sometimes, is to give each other room to talk about these important junctures. We all have the same feelings but we express them in such different ways. Sometimes it is like we are speaking different languages. It’s easy to feel alone in the crowd.

Just like I found friends who like to read, I am looking for other writers. Writing has always been where I put my thoughts. It’s a way to release them. It’s a way to have fun with words. I have heard so many people say that they are interested in the writing classes but they don’t feel like they are writers. They worry that they will be the odd one out in the class – alone in a crowd. The classes are designed to encourage people to use personal writing as a way to expand their creativity. It’s a class to give people a place to write what’s in their hearts. This class is intended to be fun and creative, and is open to all skill levels. We aren’t looking for writers, we’re looking for people who might enjoy writing as a way to express what is inside.

The Holly Springs Arts Council is partnering with me to offer two sessions of Soothing the Soul: Writing Through Life’s Hurdles. Part of the mission of the arts council is supporting the healing arts. I have hesitated calling these “writing to heal” classes because it might sound too much like therapy. I’m not a therapist, but I know that writing soothes my soul. I’m looking for other people want to get to know that part of themselves that wants to write.

Sign up today for Soothing the Soul: Writing Through Life’s Hurdles:

Wednesday, September 14, 21, 28 and October 5, 10-12pm


Thursday, September 15, 22, 29 and October 6, 6:30-8:30pm

Held at Holly Springs Coworking Station, 104 West Ballentine Street (former Police Station)

Class size is limited to 8 and will meet for 4 weeks. Cost $40

More information and registration for class: http://bit.ly/2afdUMR

Sponsored by the Holly Springs Arts Council and the Hope James Foundation

Hot! Hot! Hot!


Elaine sunsetLet’s keep going with the summer writing challenge. Set aside 10 minutes and just write.  Today’s topic is “How hot was it?”  Write about the hottest summer you can remember. What did it feel like? What did you do to cool off? Here’s a memory of mine:

I can hear my dad’s voice now, “Lay still and you’ll cool off.” I grew up in western Pennsylvania in the ‘60s and 70s when air conditioning wasn’t everywhere like it is now. We lived in a ranch style house that had an attic fan in the hallway. It pulled the warm air out of the house at night, encouraging the cool air to come in through the windows.

Sometimes on those few August nights when we couldn’t get relief from the heat, it felt like we were baking in our beds. But Dad was right. If we just relaxed into the night, the air would cool down and we could drift off. With all the windows open, I could listen to the frogs and the cicadas sing us to sleep. By the morning it was cool enough that the sheet felt good around my shoulders. It was so delicious to feel cool, especially when we knew it wouldn’t last long. That heat would find us before noon and follow us into the evening.

(sunset photo by Elaine Estes)

Where do I begin?

yellow flowerI felt inspired last week to try something new. I have never thought of myself as an artist. I don’t sketch or draw pictures. The only thing I ever draw is maybe a funny face in a birthday card. But I took a leap and I bought a kit that had five little bottles of paint and some paint brushes. The directions told me how to mix colors and which brushes made the shapes I might want.

The kit also came with a few pieces of paper, about 5×7 inches. Somehow, that reassured me. I didn’t have to start big. I could just give it a try. It turns out that I love mixing colors. When I created green from yellow and blue, it felt like magic. I know for many, this would not be such an amazing discovery. I loved it.

What does this have to do with our writing challenge? I realized that there are plenty of people who feel the same way about writing. It can be overwhelming to begin. That’s why I wanted to challenge myself and all of you to write a little something every day. Start with just a few sentences. We’re not writing term papers or the great American novel. Write about a memory, an observation. Write a grocery list. Let the words out.

I might really go crazy for my next painting and use an 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper. Or, maybe I’ll paint just one little thing in the corner. Our creativity is lurking inside of us. We just need to let it out.

It Takes Me Back

roses in vaseWe make new memories every day, but with just a scent of honeysuckle or a taste of watermelon, we can flash right back to a summer day in our childhood. The senses do a great job of reminding us of times gone by.

The picture of the roses in a vase was made here in Willow Spring, NC, at my kitchen window. We have one of those knockout rose bushes in front of our house. It grows so fast that, before you know it, it’s six feet tall and filled with roses. When it blooms and the bees start humming around it, it takes me right back to my Great Aunt Frances’ house in the 1960s.

She and my Uncle Ed lived just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, in a sweet little four-room house.  They lived in town (which is what we said because we lived in a rural area) and they had a little yard that my Uncle Ed kept immaculate. Behind their house was a huge rose bush. I think it wasn’t as big as I remember it, but it was so beautiful. As a little girl, I loved to just sit in the grass next to it. When the summer air was warm and there was a breeze, the roses smelled like love. My Aunt Frances was so proud of her roses. I remember her smile like it was yesterday.

Aunt Frances and Uncle Ed and the rose bush have all been gone for more than 30 years, but the little vase of roses on my kitchen windowsill takes me straight back to them.

What memory do your sense conjure up? Take today’s challenge and write a few sentences. I know I enjoyed writing about my summer memory today. See you tomorrow.


Don’t Stop Now

writing down the bonesI got reacquainted with Natalie Goldberg last week. I’ve never actually met her, but I’ve read most of her books and feel like we know each there where it counts. She has written many books about writing and also memoir. We are from the same tribe. I don’t know how she would feel about that, but I say that because it seems like she has been looking over my shoulder as I write, encouraging me and cheering me on for years. I know when I hear that she has a new book out that I love it already.

Her book, “Writing Down the Bones,” was released this year in its 30th anniversary edition. What I hadn’t realized until I went back and read it again after all these years is – first, wow, I’m old – and second, I have built a life of writing on her foundation. She approaches writing as a practice. It’s not just a way for her to tell a story, but it’s a way for her to express the layers, the nuance, the feelings that all of us have but don’t always get to acknowledge. She lets herself roll around in the words and not get stuck on what’s perfect. Her advice is what I took to heart to Write It Out. Don’t stop yourself. Give the editor who lives in your head ten bucks and send her to lunch. Don’t stop, don’t cross out, don’t second guess what you are writing. Just let it happen. You will get to know yourself in a way that will surprise you.

Write something every day. That is the challenge that I’m giving myself and I would like to bring you along. I’m going to post something every day for two weeks. There isn’t going to be a theme, but please write about something that matters to you, that you enjoy or that speaks to your heart. It doesn’t need to be deep or personal. Just start writing and see what happens. Keep it short. Don’t feel pressured. This is going to be fun! I’ll see you back here tomorrow.


Take a bite of summer

The first ripe tomato off the vine, warm in the sun and juicy in that sweet bite, brings back all the summers of my childhood. We always had a garden. My dad grew up on a farm. He showed us how to plant tomatoes, green beans, squash and peppers.

tomatoThe zucchini and the tomatoes seemed to grow the fastest. When the first ones were big enough to eat, it felt like we were rich. Our creativity was put to the test by the end of the season. I’m sure that’s where the recipes for zucchini chocolate cake and fried green tomatoes came from. We needed to find new ways to enjoy the bounty after we had given away bags of summer vegetables to everyone we knew.

By the time steamy August rolled around, we started preparing for the winter. When my sister and my mother and I worked together to can tomatoes, it felt like we stepped into a sauna and someone handed us a sharp knife, some glass jars and a pot of boiling water so we could spend the day together. The tomato juice ran down our arms as we sliced the red deliciousness and stuffed the jars. It was worth it when we finished. We really felt rich when we saw all of those jars filled with tomatoes lining the shelves in the root cellar. We knew that winter would be full of hearty stews, rich chili and homemade lasagna.

All of those memories rushed out to greet me with that first bite under the hot summer sun. What do you remember about your childhood summers? Take time to write it out. They might surprise you. Keep making those memories.





Find what soothes your soul

I took a little break from writing and figured out something important. Writing soothes my soul. For most of my life I have taken writing for granted. It’s somethiart-1284384_1280 (2)ng that I have done since before I even knew how to form letters. It was so much a part of me, I didn’t realize that it was a gift.

When people would tell me that writing was hard for them, I thought they meant that they just hadn’t given it a chance. I know that there are good writers and not so good writers. I’m not talking about talent or winning awards. I’m talking about writing until you feel better. I love writing other people’s stories. I love writing letters. My husband said I am the last person since the 1940s who still writes post cards. I just hadn’t realized how much writing has been responsible for keeping me from falling off the planet.

Four years ago we had several deaths in our family. I called it the Winter Everyone Died. It wasn’t quite everyone, but it felt like it. I signed up for a “Writing to Heal” class. I didn’t know where to go with the grief I felt. The class reminded me of an old fairytale where a man had a terrible secret that he couldn’t share with anyone. Because he couldn’t say it aloud, he dug a hole in the ground and shouted the secret into the hole. His secret was safe in the earth and he no longer had the burden of carrying it around by himself. That’s how I felt about grief. The page became my hole and I wrote my feelings onto it.

It was a good thing that I did, because there was more grief on the way. My dad died next. And I lost my job. Everybody has the same kind of loss in their lives. What I have found is that everyone needs a place to put their feelings. Our family and friends want to help us (sometimes), but our culture does not encourage us to talk about hard things.

When we say, “How are you?” most of us want to hear “I’m fine, thanks.” We also need the answer to be 15 seconds or less. We love a good sound bite.

To soothe my soul and to help you soothe yours, I developed a writing class. It is called Soothing Your Soul – Writing through Life’s Hurdles.  This is a class that gives people a place to write what’s in their hearts. It is intended to be fun and creative. Each class will begin with topic guides and a theme. Write that letter to someone who is long gone. Write a poem that expresses how you really feel about a success or a loss. Just write because it feels good. You can choose to share your writing with the class or keep it for your eyes only. Saying what is in your heart on paper helps you to feel heard. Writing is a way to gather up all those feelings and put them in one place.

I plan to offer the class in September through the Holly Springs Arts Council. I’ll post more details in plenty of time for you to register.

Contact Janet Kangas at janetkangas@hotmail.com. (Instructor Janet Kangas is a lifelong writer and editor. She is experienced at teaching Writing to Heal and Guided Autobiography.)

Coconut Pie: More than dessert

Plenty of people will agree with me when I say that for many of us food is love. Let me tell you my own special love story. Every time friends visit from out of town we end up at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. classic-baking

You can eat lunch and walk around. There are plenty of places to get North Carolina trinkets and beautiful, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Vegetables were the last thing I wanted when we passed the bakery. I found pie. It was coconut cream pie, the kind my mother used to make 40 years ago. It was my own personal search for the Holy Grail. For years, I have tried making healthier versions of this pie – crustless, low fat – all wrong. The pie I found at the Farmers Market looked like someone who knew what they were doing baked it. It looked like my mother’s pie, the kind you could have a personal moment with on that first bite.

I know what some of you are thinking. “Who gets this excited about pie?”

I do. I thought about it on the off chance that I am too excited about the combining of sugar, milk, eggs and coconut. Then, I realized that the attraction isn’t the pie itself. It is the memory it evokes. During that first bite, I am transported 40 years in the past to my childhood kitchen table on a warm summer evening. The supper dishes are done and put away. There is no place I need to be, nothing that concerns me. Voices of the people I love can be heard throughout the house. It feels like one big relaxing sigh at the end of the day. What takes you back to that place of comfort, love or just a big dollop of pleasure?

Love is the answer

I have been a writer all of my life. I have loved writing about other people and the amazing stories that every one of them has to tell. Someone asked me why I wanted to write a blog and I had to think about it. I have written everyone else’s story but never my own. I can’t write my own story without mentioning other stories along with it, because all of my life I have been a people watcher. I am always looking for the happy ending. If you have lived at all, you know the happy eriver-tubingnding isn’t always easy to find – but I have learned that it’s always there. If you choose love no matter what happens, it’s always there. I like to think love and joy go together, but sometimes love and grief are holding hands for a long time. Love is there if you look for it. This blog is about how I learned that love is always the answer.