The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 10:03 am Thursday, November 1, 2018

“Where did you teach?”

By Linda Barnette

Often when I meet people for the first time, someone introducing me will say that I was a teacher.  That happened last week when I was having lunch with a friend and met 2 other friends of hers.  The lady immediately asked the question, “Where did you teach?”  After a brief explanation to her, it occurred to me as it has before that my experience was different from a lot of other people who often teach at the same school in the same county for their entire career.

My story is not like that at all.  When I finished my MA degree in English at UT in 1965, my first job was teaching freshmen and sophomores at Winthrop College in Rock Hill, South Carolina. We had a great group of teachers, and Dr. Robert Lane, the department chair, was the Renaissance gentleman and scholar. Although the drive from Charlotte was easy in those days before interstates in that area, the drive became tiresome, leading me to pursue and get a position at Queens College in Charlotte, which was just a few miles from home. I loved English literature so much that teaching it was a pleasure.  I also enjoyed the infamous freshman term paper with footnotes and so on.  The academic life was interesting in that people were highly professional, supportive, and helpful.  All of us in the English department loved our subjects and often discussed academic matters. The girls who were in my classes were the same ages as the students I had taught at UT.  I was only a few years older than they were, a fact that did not bother us at all.  Although many of those colleagues have graduated to Heaven, I still have one dear friend from my days at Queens, whom I meet for lunch regularly.

Employment eventually took us to Fayetteville, NC and my first public school assignment.  I taught junior and senior English at Pine Forest Senior High School and loved it there.  However, I gave that job up when my son was born.  It was during that time that my horizons were expanded, and I taught both girls and boys and people from all over the world.  Some students were rich, and some were poor; most were pretty typical.  I learned a valuable lesson at Pine Forest, which is that people are much more important than the subject.  When my uncle Charles Wrenn passed away a few years ago, I ran into my principal from Pine Forest at the funeral.  Mr. Warren was such a gentleman, and it was wonderful to see him again.  I still have a note book of poems that my 4th period Junior English class wrote when I left in order to be a full-time mother.  My son typed them all and put them into a notebook as a Christmas gift one year, and this book rests in a place of honor in the foyer.

My heart had always longed for home, so we moved back to Mocksville in 1977.  When my son was young, I substituted and did maternity and sick leaves but did not go back to fulltime work until he started to school.  Because there was not a vacancy in the English department at Davie High, I took instead a job as a teacher of academically gifted students in grades 4 and 5.  That was an itinerant position which took me to most of the schools in the county. At that point I had to go back to Catawba in order to take the courses necessary to be certified in that area. The job was challenging and fun, and I found that I very much enjoyed teaching the 10-12 age range more than I had imagined.  In fact, I loved it so much that I did it for 20 years!! Students that age are like the proverbial sponge and soak up knowledge as such.  I miss them very much and enjoy it when I happen to run into former students in my meanderings around town.

Even though teaching was not always wonderful and the pay was never enough for the lifestyle I had imagined in my youth, I received my best gift on Friday as I was leaving the library.  A young woman came over to me, and I said, “Kristin,” and got a sweet hug from her and met her little girl. She had been a student of mine at Mocksville Middle School back in the day, and that we recognized each other was no small miracle.  That reward as well as many others similar to it amount to more than money could ever buy.  The real question for me is not where I taught but rather what students I hopefully influenced.  They all certainly enriched my life.

“A Life of Their Own”

By Stephanie Williams Dean

My sister, Suzanne, was visiting from Alabama, and the conversation went like this.

“Why are you taking a picture of my bookcase?” I inquired.

“I’m sending a photo of your messy bookcases to Pat.”

My sister’s friend, Pat, is an interior designer. She’s talented in many area and has really good taste. I imagine her home to be in perfect order and well designed.

“I like the way your books are all messed up.”

I glanced at all the used and worn books on my shelves. Only a few were lined up neatly.  Many of the books were stacked, but most were just pushed in on top of others, giving them a messy look. Heck, they were messed up, but they appeared in perfect order to me.

My books were prepared for with great expectation. I had custom designed bookcases installed in anticipation of their arrival. My bookcases are not wallflowers standing alongside a wall, ignored, and never noticed. They are fascinating and come alive with thousands of memories, stories, and histories – all demanding my attention.

The books have a life of their own, each one born with character, personality, and purpose – uniquely created. And independent. They don’t like to be controlled. Not like little soldiers lined up, standing perfectly erect, my books are undisciplined, unruly and often rebellious.

I have a personal, love relationship with my books. They love to be picked up, held, and cradled warmly next to my chest, where their words lovingly touch my heart. They feed my soul. Often, they challenge me with their words and demand more interaction as I sometimes must read aloud to them. And, I have to interact with them often to meet many of my own needs. The soft glow of wood burning in my fireplace while I’m wrapped in a blanket and rocking rhythmically in an old chair and cuddling with a book, soothes, comforts, and pacifies me.

There are homes where books are never held or fully appreciated. The books sit forlorn on a shelf claiming space, perfectly staged in place, for the sake of appearance. Some spines are never touched, stand upright and rigid, and are neglected for years – left to live as dust catchers only to wither away – their characters often forgotten over time.

Lovingly collected, my books are shelved according to my life’s interests: cooking, travel, literature, writing, and art.  They are my reading material on a rainy day, my reference guides for road trips, my sources for writing stories, or a menu choice for a delicious dinner with my family. And the messiness – why it’s just authentic proof of a life well lived.   The best of what I have, I live with daily. There is no large, beautifully decorated living room that stands empty and unattended with books perfectly staged on a bookcase to give an appearance that someone in my home is well read.

My home, formally undecorated, supports my lifestyle and the things I enjoy.  I work to that end result, continuously revamping and refining.  There’s a difference in living authentically messy and projecting a false, orderly appearance. Now, don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with orderly except when it’s contrived purposefully with the intent of projecting a happy image, when in reality – when it’s anything but. What a burden it must be to support an image of the life one desires.

It’s a blessing to be comfortable in my own skin and accepting of my imperfections with no need to feel perfect. I’m satisfied with baby steps and small achievements. I enjoy the process of daily living. And like my bookcases, no matter how much control I try to exert over life – it has a mind of its own and it’s messy.

There’s a cliche being thrown around that refers to someone as “a hot mess.” I’ll claim the messy bit. My messy bookcases, the messy lines of my oil paintings, a messy, cheesy casserole running over the dish, my messy, over-grown pasture, or my messy hair when I awaken – it’s all a mess – but it’s beautiful.  And I’ll take it any day. I’m a perfectly beautiful mess. I’m real.


By N. R. Tucker

What I wouldn’t give for a normal day. Scratch that. Today was normal for me. I want a typical day like an average person. For example, in gym class, Martha pulled a prank on Shelly, the queen of mean. It was a great prank, but I’m the one Coach Moore blamed. It cost me 5 laps. Clarence and Martha talked in history, correcting the book and the teacher. Their commentary made me laugh. I got detention. I was glad when I could finally leave school.

Walking home, the others turn down various streets, taking different paths to reach our destination. As always, Clarence and Martha are the last to leave me. They beg me to go a different route, but I smile and keep walking. I enter the east gate and breathe deep, allowing the solitude to wrap around me.

I slow my steps and enjoy the silence, taking the longest path possible. The older headstones and family mausoleums start on the hill and weave their way to my destination, the west gate. When I see my home through the fence, I know my solitude is at an end. The others smile and wave, pleased that I’ve returned to them. Clarence and Martha are the first to drop in step beside me. They always are.

My companions have always been with me. Clarence and Martha say they were at my birth. I believe them. Why would they lie? The total number of my entourage rises with each new arrival. Though they occasionally leave for short periods, none of them ever leave for good. I’ve asked where they go when they travel, but they don’t answer. Their eyes darken, and their lips press together.  I suspect they don’t know where they go or even that they go. One day, I will find the answers to my questions. Someone must know and can explain why they won’t follow me past the gates and into the cemetery.

Sometimes, after Mom and Dad are asleep, I sneak out of my room and sleep in the silence the cemetery affords me. No one else can hear the others. Well, just me and Grimm, our dog. The others wail and beg me not to go, but if I stay, they talk all night long. As far as I can tell, they never sleep. The wailing when I leave sends Grimm under the bed to hide. He’ll never be the poster dog for Doberman as man’s protector.

The others hate when I’m not near them. That’s something else I don’t understand. What makes me the sun they rotate around? I asked Mrs. Johnson, the history teacher, about the others, but she thought I was playing a Halloween prank and threatened me with detention. I asked Father Allen during confession. I won’t ask either of them again.

Three months ago, Dad accepted a promotion. The result? We moved here. At first, I thought the graveyard next to our house was creepy. Not anymore. It was the second week of school when I learned of the cemetery’s power. I overslept and cut through the graveyard in a desperate attempt to be at school before first bell. The others complained and tried to stop me, but they have no power over my actions. That was the day I discovered their weakness. Not one of them will enter the cemetery. They say it’s scary.

Who knew ghosts were afraid of anything?

“Invisible Victims”

By Julie Terry Cartner

Crouching, she huddles under the kitchen table,

Trying to make herself small, invisible,

As angry bullet-like words ricochet through the house,

Once again.

A slap, a groan, a cry, echo through the wall

As she silently slips backwards, bare feet skittering

Until there’s nowhere else to go,

Once again.

Unbearable fear boomerangs through her heart,

Thin pale arms hug her knees to her chest,

A ball of terror, trembling, aching with dread,

Once again.

Storming, staccato footsteps, then a slamming door,

Followed by sounds of sobbing, heartbreak,

And she longs to comfort her mom,

Once again.

She, the child, should be loved and cherished,

Should have a life full of joy, daydreams, adventure,

But in her life, her reality, daydreams turn to nightmares,

Once again.

She peeks cautiously into the other room,

Sees her mom curled up on the floor.

She mechanically gets ice and bandages, and tends her wounds,

Once again.

You say domestic abuse only affects the adult?

Even if the children don’t receive the blows

Their lives, torn apart by hate, must be restored to them

Their innocence returned, so they can be children

Once again.