The “S” in Sci-Fi is for Surprise

The summer as a high school student I spent on an exchange program in Northern Sweden, I developed Tonsillitus and couldn’t sleep. The eighteen hours of daylight didn’t help.  Fortunately, the bookcase in my room was filled with paperback science fiction novels. “They are a great way to learn  English,” my hosts explained. The stories about advanced civilizations who traveled at triple light speed through wormholes made me forget my painful throat. They entertained. They surprised.

 While I tend to read more “literary” novels than anything else these days, I still judge books the same way. I do not want to be able to predict what will happen next. I want to be surprised. Reading, for me, is about exposing your mind to new ideas, new situations, and people you may in “real life” never have the opportunity to intimately know. Stories give us an important way to connect with each other.  They entertain. They teach.

A good science fiction novel, alternatively also called speculative fiction, easily transports you to another world. If you crave or need to escape your present day reality, the Sci-fi genre has many titles to choose from. Recently, during a long cross-country plane trip I listened to Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Sixteen plus hours, if you listen, and 486 pages long, it did the trick in blocking out my discomfort of being confined to a cramped airline seat. Appropriately, the narrator was also in a confined space, a spaceship. As the novel opens, he is suffering from amnesia and trying to piece together where he is and why.  Skillfully, all is gradually revealed as the narrator deals with his present circumstances. It’s a long adventure, a bit redundant at times, but a joyful ride. I recommend the novel.

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

As with any genre, science fiction or speculative fiction, which can include altered history and uncanny reality, comes in all shapes and sizes. Quality novels are sold in bookstores alongside the boilerplate variety. Innovative plots are considered more important than characterization, but in the marketplace there’s evidently room for all. I’m specifically attracted to work that contemplates philosophical and spiritual questions, so one of my current favorite contemporary authors is Tom Chiang. His novella, The Story of Your Life, adapted into a screen play for the 2016 movie Arrival, explores the question, How do we deal with the inevitable?  Along the way we meet another civilization that experiences time differently from humans.  Learning their language, transforms the protagonist and provides a bridge to dealing with an inevitable personal tragedy.

                                     Writing Prompt

In Stephen King’s, A memoir of the craft—On Writing, he shares with the reader how many of his inspirations come from imagining how people might act and react when placed in certain extraordinary situations. “I want to put a group of characters,” he writes, “(perhaps a pair, perhaps just one) in some sort of predicament and watch them try to work themselves free.”

Speculative Fiction/Science Fiction, provide the writer with unlimited possibilities. By following King’s approach to start, try something like this as a writing prompt.

What would you do if you woke up one morning and the sky was bright green?

What would your character do if they stepped outside their house and heard all the plants talking to one another?

Surprise yourself, by creating uncanny settings and situations and seeing how your characters react. Maybe you’ll like what you’ve penned or maybe you’ll move on to something else, but the important thing is to keep writing and keep revising.

Thank you for your feedback. Visit my author page to check out stories I’ve published and follow me on twitter at SN Maril.

Writing Tools to QuickStart Your Memoir

I was straightening out a bookshelf and I noticed a gift I’d forgotten about, a large  hardback  with a floral cover I’d catalogued with the cookbooks. The title, “A Mother’s Journal.” 

Divided into sections, it has questions such as “Where I lived” and “What I remember about my family home” and  “How Your Father and I Met.”  All good writing prompts, but I’d left everything blank.  It also asks for favorite recipes, which is why I put it with the cookbooks. Already, I’d put together a few personal cookbooks, so the hardback book remained unused. Generally, I scribble in a notebook where I can cross things out or work on a computer where I can move around sentences and paragraphs .

I kept the book, because my daughter gave it to me as a gift. But it at the time she gave it to me, it seemed an insult because snobby editor/writer that I was, surely I wasn’t going to hand write simple responses to what I considered to be generic questions. Then I remembered she’d given another book, similar idea, to her dad/my husband entitled “The Book of Me, A Do-It-Yourself Memoir” He’d never written in it, but I’d liked the size of it, and I liked some of the questions, ”Describe the first time you fell in love”  and “When you were tempted to do something wrong just to fit in, what did you decide to do?”

Maybe these “journals” were useful after all.

The first step to writing a memoir are to ask yourself questions and here were questions readily available. This particular do-it-yourself memoir had so many questions, I could just pick and choose the ones that inspired me. I decided to try it out and see what happened.

I started writing a few sentences and in some instances those sentences grew into a scene, what became a piece of flash Creative Non Fiction. If I wrote something I really liked, I kept revising it and began submitting it to publications. Then I typed up my little piece and glued it into the book.  Thus I had a “permanent record” I could eventually hand over to my children. Several of these memory pieces have been published.

For under twenty dollars, there’s a number of these style books with titles that include the words “My Life,” “Life Story,”  and “Life’s Journey.”

Have I written a memoir yet? Well, no…. but I’ve got a few bits and pieces of one, and that’s a start. Plus I’ve got dozens more “writing prompts” to explore.

Yesterday, one of the literary newsletters I subscribe to, offered to provide a month of weekly writing prompts and a virtual “pat on the back” each time one was completed, for a fee. No editor was planning to read whatever you wrote, the idea is to get you in the “writing habit.”

I  also regularly receive emails in my inbox telling me about fabulous courses on memoir writing. For hundreds or thousands of dollars, my successfully published writing colleagues promise to reveal how I can tap into my memories and pen captivating stories that will eventually yield a book deal.

Sounds good, but in reality the market is limited. How many memoirs are commercial publishers able to publish that will yield a profit?

The most important goal is to write and at different times in your life it can be productive to take a class or to use an online structure ( my favorite is National Novel Writing Month) where you chart how many words you write each day. But if you haven’t tried simple life story prompts, they are another tool to try.

And why are you writing anyway? Is it for fame and fortune or is it for family and friends?   For me, it is more about self- knowledge and understanding. Revisiting a memory can often provide fresh insights that can enrich the way I experience the present.  If I can share a little bit of what I learn with others, so much the better. A small audience is still an audience. My latest published piece, “Why I Wish I Knew More Yiddish” in ZIN Daily, draws heavily on my memories and you can read a few of my published CNF flash pieces by visiting https://nadjamaril.com/online/.

Thank you for reading and for your feedback. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril.

Why Ebenezer Scrooge is Misunderstood

One Christmas song keeps playing over and over again inside my head and I want it to stop. Yes, I like some holiday tunes, but this song reeks of expectation that may or may not be fulfilled, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” an over sweet voice exclaims.

Is it? I ask myself, the most wonderful time of the year? Whether the song is sung by Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Amy Grant, or Kylie Minogue, the lyrics annoy me.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

My favorite holiday is Halloween. The expectations are lower. Pumpkins and mums are optional. Spooky ghosts hanging from trees, witches, and tombstones liven up front porches and yards. On Halloween night I enjoy watching the neighborhood kids parading down the street in their costumes and exchanging smiles when I proffer a large bowl of candy. “Take two of three,” I say and they deliberate on whether they’d prefer two miniature Babe Ruth bars or a packet of Reese’s pieces and a packet of M & M’s.

Photo by Gary Spears on Pexels.com

Christmas, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, by contrast, are all about creating an ideal family tableau where you’re surrounded by a large multi-generational family and everyone has managed to find the perfect gifts and the perfect foods. Magically everyone is on vacation, no work or household responsibilities exist and you’re expected to create a forever memory to share with the world. But what if that just is not happening for you?

Photo by Nicole Michalou on Pexels.com

I question the illusion. Certainly, I’m done with over stressing about buying gifts. Yes, there was a time when I bought a Hanukkah gift for every night, filled stocking, and bought several items for each member of my extended family –sweaters, mugs, books, tools, cookware etc. But after all those presents were opened, how much was needed or used?  Now I try to keep it simple. My husband and I select what we want for ourselves in advance of the holidays and purchase it at our leisure. Maybe we surprise each other with an activity promise rather than an item. As for my children and grandchildren—one, two or three items is best.  In some situations, (international residents) gift certificates work better. I know some large families, draw names and just buy one gift for a sibling or cousin, and that’s another good idea. As for big family gatherings— holiday travel is expensive and crowds are large. And then there can also be competition between in-law’s as to who is visiting when. Why not wait until January or February or March for extended family visits, when things die down. Do what works for your schedule.

The winter holidays are supposed to be about hope and promise. The wreath on the door, a circle, is a symbol of the interconnectedness of humanity and nature. I’m not a Christian, but my favorite Christmas song is “Silent Night” because I love the imagery of the infant cradled in his mother’s arms and the expectant gathering of shepherds and wise men following a shining star in the heavens.. The menorah in Hanukkah also emphasizes the concept of light and faith to persevere, even under siege, when times get tough.

Every New Year I make at least one resolution, maybe more, a goal I set out for myself to accomplish. I’ve got a long list of unfinished projects, and like everyone else, I sometimes feel sad when reflecting on the goals I’ve been unable to reach—yet. But a New Year means new opportunities and a fresh slate.

Seasons Greetings and thank you for reading. Stay calm and all will be bright if we approach 2023 with positivity, patience, and compassion.

Please follow me on twitter at SN Maril and visit my landing page at Nadjamaril.com  to read published essays and creative work

Random Acts of Kindness

Do one small good deed a day, is a resolution I made to myself many years ago. Just a moment or two of unselfish kindness, maybe help a stranger lift a heavy package, give an unexpected compliment, or take the time to personally direct someone to the place they’re seeking when lost.  Tiny good deeds.  Small acts yes, but if we all did a few small things for each other, the world would feel kinder.

My husband, on the other hand, is more sporadic. He doesn’t think small, he thinks big.  Every now and then he gets the urge to do a random act of kindness and he’s impulsive about it.  The kind deed might be something straight forward such as plant a group of trees. It might also be something, a little more labor intensive that requires my time and skills as well as his that honors someone’s legacy or helps someone find a new position.   And that’s okay because he’s trying to help someone out and it is generally a short term commitment.

This is the season, right?  That time of year when you hear about someone putting a $100 in the Salvation Army red donation kettle or the stranger who pays the entire bill of the person ahead of her in the grocery line.

How about—take care of someone’s dog? My husband overheard a member of his Rotary Club lament that she had no one to take care of her dog during the time she was going to be away for eight days on a mission to Honduras to help provide clean water and sanitation to a needy community.  Immediately, my husband volunteered to take care of her dog.

“It’s a trained Golden Retriever,” he told me. “A good dog. You know how we like Goldens. He shouldn’t be a problem.” I had plenty of advance notice, plenty of time to back out but I already felt he’d made a commitment.  The time of year was not optimal. The first week of December is a busy time of the year: end of the year accounting, shopping, decorations, parties etc..; but that was when help was needed.  A small good deed or a bigger one, it was time to step up to the plate.

We do love Golden Retrievers. We like large dogs. The question I was asking myself, however, was would our eleven-year-old Labradoodle Chloe want a housemate? Sociable with other dogs, she is accustomed to being the “Queen Bee.”

Our house guest Tucker is only two-years-old. He needs more exercise than an eleven-year-old dog. Our first full day with Tucker and it was a rainy mucky day—not a good day for outdoor play.

Curious. Hungry. Ready to investigate. My response was to vigilantly keep the doors to all rooms and cabinets closed. In deference to Chloe’s seniority, she gets fed first and receives first dibs on any suitable plates to lick. Her guest, two-year-old Tucker, goes to me to try and curry favor, knowing I’m the one to make decisions in the household when Peter isn’t present.

He did wake us up in the middle of the night, when he heard a neighbor’s dog barking. But he was in a new place and I guess trying to be a watchdog.

Having Tucker around reminds me of another Golden, Augie, the father of our previous dog Grace’s pups. Grace a lovely Golden Retriever, was my daughter Alex’s dog and the mother of nine pups. When Alex was at school, Grace was my responsibility. Leading up to the impregnation, Augie spent some time at our house. Looking for attention, he’d follow me around and try to put his chin on my lap. Maybe male dogs are needier than female dogs.   When I am on the move doing tasks Tucker follows my every move. Currently as I write this, Tucker is asleep. He sleeps at my feet while I’m eating lunch or working on the computer.

Yesterday when the sun was shining, I decided it was time he learned how to properly retrieve. His owner told us he liked to chase and play with balls, but didn’t retrieve. He is a golden retriever and food motivated, so I sensed he wouldn’t be that difficult to teach.

Chloe is a well accomplished retriever.  Initially, she may be reluctant to drop the ball from her mouth, but hold out a treat and she will drop the ball in a flash. She lives to chase the ball and while she can be too tired to walk, she is never too tired to run if a ball is rolling away from her. Tucker observed as I repeatedly praised Chloe and gave her treats, which he attempted to steal. I used several balls at one time, to give both dogs equal opportunity. Eventually he got the idea!

Today, unfortunately rain is falling again so no prolonged play outside. Gradually Tucker is getting familiar with our routines. And before we know it, the week will be over.

Who knows what the next Random Act of Kindness will be. This one has long golden fur and big brown eyes.  Happy December to all and don’t get too tangled up in the holiday madness.

Writing Prompt: What if…. you were asked to do a small favor? Write a scene where you or your character is asked to do something unplanned or expected. How do they react? What happens next? What Random Act of Kindness might take someone out of their comfort zone?

In Praise of Pasta and a Recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini

Saturday night we went with some friends to a fancy Italian restaurant and I sampled five different types of pasta. Five pastas! At a time so close to Thanksgiving, when everyone is worrying about turkey, their favorite mashed potato recipe and stuffing, I thought it would be fun to write about pasta. It’s always been my favorite comfort food. I have no Italian ancestry, but then the Italians were not the originators of the noodle. According to family history, my Polish Ashkenazi Great-Grandmother made delicious homemade egg noodles. She served them with roasted chicken and sauerkraut.

 Pasta dishes have been enjoyed by many cultures around the globe for thousands of years. According to food historians, noodles made of rice and wheat flour have Chinese origins dating back to the Chang dynasty – 1700-1100 B.C.  As early a 4th century B.C. there is archeological evidence of pasta being consumed in geographic parts of Italy, then occupied by the Etruscans. The 13th century merchant Marco Polo may have brought back a sampling of unusual noodles and spices back to Italy, but the idea of eating cooked dough was not entirely new.

Homemade pasta, made in your kitchen, is the best; but it is a slow and laborious process unless you have a pasta machine. I used to have one, but the problem was all the work that went into cleaning all those little holes and seeing the machine was thoroughly washed each time I used it, so I gave it away. If I have a craving for fresh pasta, the fresh version can be purchased in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. I’ve also found that many of the dried pastas, are pretty good. The most important thing is not to overcook them. Al dente is my preference. Mushy pasta is not good.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The most important component of a pasta dish is the sauce. This is probably why I spend so much time making fresh tomato sauces from the tomatoes in our garden. A Cream sauce flavored with mushrooms, onions, or other vegetables can be delightful too, My favorite pasta served last night was the shell shaped pasta filled with bits of acorn squash in a cream sauce, called Orecchiette con Zucca di Stagione.

Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, and includes lasagna, where the noodles are layered between cheeses, meat and tomato sauce, and possibly layers of vegetables. I like to add a layer of spinach in one of my versions. And then there is Manicotti or Cannelloni which can be stuffed with ground meat, ricotta cheese or a combination of both.

Photo by Anna Guerrero on Pexels.com

Circling back to Thanksgiving, if you are hosting, what are you planning to do with your leftovers? I always make my own version of Turkey Tetrazzini. The dish is named after a famous Italian Opera star. Food historians differ as to whether the recipe came from her kitchen, but the idea of turkey in a creamy sauce loaded with cheese and served over pasta is a good one. The traditional version calls for baking it in the oven and adding cream cheese or sour cream and peas. My version is not as rich.

In a large deep frying pan I sauté some minced garlic in olive oil along with a generous amount of mushrooms, chopped green pepper, and chopped celery. Add leftover turkey that has been cut into small bite size pieces and saturate with enough chicken broth to moisten everything in the frying pan. (About ½ to 1 cup depending on how much turkey). Turn it down to a low simmer.  

In a medium size heavy saucepan melt one tablespoon of butter and mix in one heaping tablespoon of flour to create a roux. Gradually add a half a cup of milk (or dairy substitute) and  cook on low stirring frequently until nice and thick. Mix in approximately a ½ cup of grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. This creamy sauce will then be added to the frying pan with turkey and vegetables.  Add basil and oregano to taste. If you want more creamy sauce, double the amounts.

Serve over cooked pasta. I prefer penne for this dish, but rigatoni or fettucine are also good choices.  A green tossed salad is a great accompaniment along with hearty bread. Want to refer to my recipe for tomato sauce made from cherry tomatoes, click here.

Opening Our Minds to Time Travel

Time Travel. Is it possible? Are there time travelers amongst us?

Have you ever had the peculiar sensation,  what many call déjà vu, that maybe you’re re-doing something you’ve already done in the past? It could be you’ve already experienced time travel, but don’t remember. What if your brain just can’t handle alternate version of the same event? That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  In many time travel stories, the characters often do not recall having gone on a time travel trip, having had their memories erased by a higher power.

What is time anyway and how do we measure it? We  measure in increments the shift from lightness to darkness as our planet turns on its axis. We chart the physical movement of the earth around the sun. We talk of minutes, hours, days and we notice how we change, physically age as we grow from babies into adults and our bodies gradually decline.  Everything—the milk you buy in the supermarket to your driver’s license—has an expiration date. Time marches forward, we think, or does it?

 We’ve trained ourselves to track our “use of time” by checking our clocks and phones. What happens when you stop and focus, entirely into an experience, and forget everything else.  I don’t think I’m exactly time traveling, but I do think that I’m pushing against the edges of  confinement, when I fully engage solely in the moment. This is what pulls me again and again to write. I lose myself in the story and my perceptions expand. I feel a rush of energy and a connection to the universe and the sensation becomes addictive. And its not always writing. It could be assembling the ingredients to create a new recipe, composing a piece of music, or  constructing a collage birthday card.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

The word sabbatical, a break from teaching to travel, write, and reflect, comes from the word Sabbath. The biblical idea of a Sabbath, a day of rest , enables one to reflect on the world and our place in it. A vacation, provides us with an interlude, away from our daily lives.  If we’re having fun, we say time passed too quickly. If we are bored, time is slow. Our perceptions change how time is experienced. In our modern society, keeping track of time keeps us organized and “productive” but it also confines us.

                                    The Time Machine

In order for time travel to take place, the past and the future need to be accessible to a time machine.  The human consciousness perhaps can only experience the present, a slice, of the entire continuum of existence but in order to time travel the past and future needs to be accessible. The easiest way to think of this is in terms of dimensions. We live in a three dimensional world. Time is the fourth dimension.

Packed with possibilities, the ability to travel back and forth in time would give us the ability to right the wrongs we’ve committed in the past as well as give us the foreknowledge to know, in advance, what actions would cause grave harm.

In sci-fi stories, the protagonist travels in time to kill off a mad scientist who will unleash a deadly virus or a maniac dictator who will launch a war that will destroy the planet. But what happens in the timeline when we “re-program” ourselves to change directions?

Photo by Damir. on Pexels.com

                                    Our Own Personal Timelines

We don’t (to my knowledge) have a physical time machine to step into, but perhaps within our own minds we can make a journey. Some of us have momentarily glimpsed our future and we choose our present actions accordingly. Dreams can provide a gateway, but because this is an undeveloped ability for most people, these glimpses are often ignored.

Others among us frequently ruminate over events from their past. We wish we could go back in time and make different choices.

Probably everyone has noticed when talking with close friends or family members our memories can be very different. Is it because they focused on a different aspect of the event noticing different details ? Or could it be that you have changed the facts within the memory, because you have changed?

The changes you make in your present life do change the significance of past events.  If you decide to become a master gardener at age 40, the small garden you planted at age eight becomes an important foundation to the interest in gardening that you resume as an adult.  If you decide on a hobby of rebuilding bicycles and decide gardening is boring, your gardening forays as a child lose importance on your timeline. Building bicycles might propel you towards a career change; opening your own bicycle shop or working for the department of transportation promoting alternate forms of transportation.

What you do in this moment affects the person you become in the future, but it also affects the impact of past events. Heady thoughts, but worthwhile concepts to consider.  

Photo by Janson K. on Pexels.com

Writing prompt for personal time traveling: Recall a significant event in your past and write down what you remember happened. Create a character based on your present self, send them back to the event, and write them into the scene. Maybe they will offer advice and perhaps intercede in some way or  maybe they will quietly observe. Your choice. Try different versions.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and if you live in Maryland and have an interest in art and images, as well as the work of my father the artist Herman Maril check out the free November 13th lecture announcement on my website Nadjamaril.com.

Too Many Parking Lots in Paradise

Floods. Fires. Famine. Heatstroke. A man attacks the husband of the Speaker of the House with a hammer. And the response from some of the nation’s Republican leaders is to hint at a possible justification. Conspiracy theories. The polarization continues, because instead of looking for common ground, places to find mutual agreement, the emphasis is on I’m right and they’re wrong.

Wars and a pandemic have shattered many economies around the world. In the United States the cost of basic groceries keep increasing. The politicians, those seeking to overturn the current administration, blame it on The President. They claim they can fix it.

I don’t think so.

What I worry about is a loss of democracy. A loss of women’s basic rights to make their own medical decisions. A mixing of the church and state, when the United States was founded on the principles of a separation between church and state.

We’re losing our ability to listen to one another as we shut ourselves off in our own individual little worlds. To counterbalance my sadness, I spend more time outside trying to focus on the beauty of colorful leaves, the autumn harvest and sounds of the birds and the breeze as I walk. One positive affect the Pandemic had on many, was they spent more time hiking, bicycling, and boating because so much of commerce was shut down.

Unfortunately, the earth in its current state is dying. A ray of hope is that Bolsonaro, who was encouraging the destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest, was not re-elected as the President of Brazil. However, he has yet to concede to Lula Da Silva at the time of writing this blog and I can only hope for a peaceful transition of power. Certainly, the United States did not set a good example to follow.

As this is my opportunity to rant a little, I also note my disappointment with the press coverage of the senate race between John Fetterman and Dr. Oz. The inability to access certain words, ie aphasia, is a disability not an indication of diminished intellectual competence. By asking the question of whether Fetterman is still “fit to lead,” the press is perpetuating the myth that difficulty accessing words means the individual doesn’t understand those words. This is completely false. We’ve all forgotten someone’s name at some time in our lives but still remember who they are and their significance in our lives. Of course, this is right in line with the myth that because someone stutters, they are lower in intelligence or going senile. Stuttering is another misunderstood disability, that has been exploited to criticize our current President, Joe Biden.

 In earlier times, the phrase “Deaf and Dumb” was in common use and referred to someone unable to hear or speak. But by association, this derogatory phrase implied the person was defective and stupid. Communication skills are important tools, but we now have the technology and the knowledge to level the playing field.  We should elect politicians with empathy who listen to us and to each other.

 

The author walking the Sand Dunes on a beautiful day in October.

In my head I’m hearing the Joni Mitchell song about the big parking lot in paradise, “Big Yellow Taxi.” The refrain includes that wonderful line, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” That song was written in 1970, fifty-two years ago. What we’ve taken for granted is going away fast, so take the time to vote in the mid-terms on November 8th and remind someone else you know to do the same.  We need more green space, not more parking lots.

Writing prompt for writers: think of a song that best captures the mood you’re feeling today and begin writing a scene where one of your characters hear’s that song. How does the song make them feel? Does it compel them to take some type of action? Is there another character that responds differently to the same song? Have fun writing about what ensues.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and visit my website at Nadjamaril.com to access essays, published stories, and updates.

A GOOD WAY TO HONOR ARTISTS

And the winner is….

Contests and awards usually involve money. But just the idea of being recognized for your accomplishments can be a reward. Enter the idea of the “Annie Award.”  

For artists supporting themselves on marginal incomes—writers, painters, performers— cash awards are great, but Arts Councils, as nonprofits themselves, don’t have a lot of money to give away. Their goal, when they distribute money is to try and reach as many people as possible, so their grants go to organizations rather than individuals.

When an artist receive recognition for their work, however, it helps them get noticed and monetary rewards often follow. Besides, creative expression and support of creative expression is not just about the money. It’s about the glow you get when you share your ideas and visions with others and the ability to inspire. It’s about connecting the community in a positive way.

Twenty-two years ago, a group of us serving on the board of our County Arts Council, The Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, got an idea. Spearheaded by then President Bill Kuethe, we started something called The Annie Awards. The idea was to honor artists in our community who had inspired us by their work and their mentorship to others. We started with six categories: Arts Patron, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Literary Arts, Arts Educator, and Lifetime Achievement. Over the years, the categories have grown to include Arts Leadership, Arts Maverick, and Historic Arts.

Some years, the abundance of nominations made it difficult for each committee to make a selection. Other years, I recall entreating colleagues to take the time to submit nominations because we simply did not have enough in the pipeline to consider.

Taking the time to pull together the information needed to advocate for a nominee to be selected is not high on most peoples’ “to-do” list. All I can say is, it makes you feel good to witness someone else’s joy at being honored for their work. Nominating someone to be honored for their service, work. and/or contributions to the community is one of the nicest things you can do.

The prizes– a small statuette, a label pin and a write-up in the daily newspaper–were the honors initially bestowed upon those given an Annie recipient. In recent years, due to newspaper buy-outs, I do not see the same amount of press coverage, but our Arts Council publishes an extensive biography of each winner in the reception program and makes a video they show at the ceremony. The Annie Award designation is added with pride to many artist’s resumes.

The Arts Council of Anne Arundel County started giving out Annie Awards in 2000 and then another Maryland Arts Council followed suit, Howard County, creating the Howie Awards. The idea is still going strong. Googling, I found similar award programs in Missouri, Vermont, and Southwestern Indiana. A good idea spreads. I remember organizing an art exhibit and display to be shown at the reception for the fifth Annie Awards Ceremony and being pleased that the idea was still going forward, but twenty-two years is amazing. Supporting our arts community have been many generous businesses and individuals who have given both time, talent, and money to ensure that the vibrancy of the arts continues to inspire and sustain us in these challenging times. If you don’t currently have a similar awards program in your community, now might be the time to suggest one. For more information, check out the Anne Arundel Arts Council website at: https://www.acaac.org/our-programs/annie-awards/

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. You can follow me on Medium, WordPress and on twitter at SN Maril. I share with pride that I received an Annie Literary Award in 2009. To read one of my short stories, recently published in the Fall Issue of Rock Salt Journal, click here.

Close Your Eyes and Make a Wish

The quest to achieve your heart’s desire can make you susceptible to the wiles of snake oil salesmen. Over and over again I see blogs with titles that claim to include insider information for writers peppered with phrases that include: how to get published, insider tips, and editors’ preferences. I plead guilty to putting these phrases into my tag list to attract readers sometimes, because even a simple blog post cries out for followers.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some type of magic formula, aspiring writers could ingest, to instantly transform them into literary greats? But dedication to the craft, perseverance and luck are the three ingredients on the top of my list necessary to achieve some degree of publishing success.

It’s fun to dream and the dreams keep us going, but the good fairy is not going to tap you on the shoulder and grant all your wishes. However, I’ve found if I can keep pushing myself to continuously send out pieces, when they are ready, it is possible to see a few of your stories and essays in print (or online) in a vetted publication. So I share my conviction that you can’t be deterred by the odds. The joy is in the writing, but getting published keeps you going.

I’m often asked where I find publications to submit my work to and currently I find myself consulting three platforms: Submittable, Duotrope, and Chill Subs.  Submittable and Chill Subs are free to use.

Duotrope, after a free one month trial, costs approximately $5 a month and sends out newsletters with specific call-outs for themes and news about which publications are currently open and closing for submission. Duotrope also gathers statistics on response times and acceptance rates and publishes them in monthly reports.

Chill Subs is the newest of the three, and does an admirable job of attempting to convey to writers to the general vibe of a publications, ie. “Top tier stuff, not Paris Review, but ok” vs. “We’re Just Chillin here”. (They currently have six categories of vibe ratings.)

Submittable easily keeps you organized between submissions, rejections, withdrawals etc.. They post opportunities in the descending order of deadlines and then you must use their filters to narrow down  genre and whether you wish to pay submission fees, etc.  Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses. The more you use them, the more you learn about how to best utilize what they offer.

Facebook groups, Instagram, Twitter, and various bloggers can also provide leads on new magazines and opportunities. So as a blogger, here I will do my part to share news about some writing opportunities on writing platforms such as Medium. I started subscribing to Medium, about eight years ago, because it was an easy way to gain access to dozens of different articles on various topics that included science, technology, history, and writing.

Medium hosts a number of publications, including Tell Your Story that publishes true stories vetted by editor Chris Sowers who writes on the about page, “Everyone has a story to tell, probably many more than one. Tell Your Story is home for the best creative nonfiction and personal essays on Medium, stories from the heart that help us all understand a little bit more about ourselves and the world around us.” This month, October, Tell Your Story is having a contest with cash prizes. The deadline for entering is October 31st.  The best true stories are simply and honestly told. Shorter is always better than longer. Click on the link to here to get all the details.

“His Exit Line Was I Have a Headache” By Nadja Maril

Just prior to the announcement of the story contest, I submitted a piece to Tell Your Story and it was published within a week, which was a refreshing change from the standard two to ten month wait to hear back from the majority of publications. You can read my true story,“His Exit Line Was I Have a Headache” here.

Thank you for reading. Please follow me, Nadja Maril, on Medium and on Twitter at SN Maril.

The Best Tomatoes for a Fast Yummy Sauce

Cherry tomatoes. I’ve been obsessing over them. Yes, I know I’ve written several blogs about home grown tomatoes, but not one specifically focused on cherry tomatoes. This year’s crop is huge. Usually I’m picking the cherry tomatoes while they are still a red/orange, anxious to pop them in my mouth, but this year we have so many tomatoes, they are staying on the vine till they approach a bright deep red.  Luscious and sweet, their abundance has prompted me to do a little research.

The description “cherry tomatoes” may lead some people to assume these lovely little tomatoes are the result of crossbreeding a tomato with a cherry. Not true. The name is based on the shape and remember that cherries grow on trees and tomatoes are a flowering plant.

Tomatoes, tomatl in Aztec, are thought to have originated in the mountainous regions of South America, primarily in today’s Peru and Ecuador. As the Spanish and Italians were the first European explorers to visit that part of the world, they were probably the first Europeans to recognize the cooking potential of the fleshy round fruit which came in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. The early tomatoes brought back to Europe may have been bright yellow or orange in color, as the Italians referred to the tomato as pomodoro, literal translation“golden apple.”         

Although logically one would think that the tomato reached the colonist via the Native American trade between North and South America, historians write that the tomato was introduced to the colonists via Europe. Thomas Jefferson raised them at Monticello in 1781. More prevalent in Southern cuisine than in New England cuisine, the tomato did not become widely popular in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century.

In 16th and 17th century France and northern Europe, the tomato was initially grown as an ornamental plant and not eaten, probably because botanists recognized its close relationship to poisonous belladonna and deadly nightshade.  It was, however, considered a very nice table decoration. The roots and leaves of the tomato plant do contain solanine, a neurotoxin, and should not under any circumstances be consumed.

The wild tomato was small in size and probably was just slightly larger than today’s cherry tomatoes. But bigger is better, and selectively tomatoes were cross bred with other larger tomatoes. From a commercial standpoint, a substantial tomato  with thick skin not easily bruised is an easier tomato to transport. Tomatoes that are uniform in size are also easier to price and pack. The result, unfortunately is a tomato with less taste, particularly if it is picked prior to full ripening. Ethylene gas (produced naturally as part of the ripening process) piped into trucks will cause tomatoes to turn red.  Thus by mid 20th century, tomatoes traveling long distances were picked green and “ripened” during transport. However, in order to obtain a sweet flavor tomatoes need to ripen on the vine.

But back to those little red tomatoes. The cherry tomato we buy in the food store today did not become popular until the 1970’s. The country that went to great lengths to cultivate, refine and promote the little bright red cherry tomatoes was the nation of Israel.  The story goes something like this: the owner of Marks & Spencer, a British grocery chain, was in pursuit of a miniature tomato that was both sweet and had a longer shelf life. Israeli seed scientists at Hebrew University in Jerusalem introduced slow ripening genetics. By selectively breeding plants that produced smaller compact fruit, they got a sweeter tomato. Marks & Spencer distributed and promoted the “new” cherry tomatoes and consumers loved them. Quickly they became an international success and tomato farmers around the globe started taking an interest in this new crop.

The sweetest tomatoes, whatever the size, are the ones you grow yourself or at the very least, the ones that are not picked until ripe. But because they are small, it is easier to transport a carton of almost ripe cherry tomatoes to market in a small carton and not have them bruise, than a box of almost ripe full size tomatoes. Thus, they continue to be very popular.

I love using cherry tomatoes in salads because they cut down preparation time. No slicing or dicing. In cooking, fresh cherry tomatoes are easier to use  to make sauces because no dousing in hot water to remove skin, and de-seeding is necessary. (Although some chefs insist on doing this even with cherry tomatoes).

Recipe for Basic Cherry Tomato Sauce

Ingredients You Will Need

4 tablespoons of Olive Oil

4 Garlic cloves finely chopped

½ cup of chopped onion

Fresh chopped basil

6 cups of Cherry tomatoes cleaned and washed

The provided amounts above are flexible. You’ll want to cover the bottom of a large cast iron pot with olive oil and start browning the garlic and onion in medium heat. Add the tomatoes. When they start to soften, you can speed them along by pressing them open with a spatula and then turn down the heat to low, add the basil and simmer. Your goal is to lose part of the fluid, so that the sauce becomes thick.

To this recipe you can add sautéed mushrooms, grated cheese, more onion, more herbs and spices—depending on whether you are serving this over pasta or over zucchini or over meatballs. And if you’ve made a lot, like I always do, you can freeze it and use it later.

Writing Prompt: Imagine your favorite tomato dish. Describe the smell, the taste, the texture, the appearance. What memories does it evoke? What do you hear when you are consuming that lovely tomato item– a song, a sound? Your meal is interrupted. How do you react? Try it with different characters. With different food items.

Thank you for reading. Please subscribe to my blog and follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Here is a flash piece I published last year in The Birdseed about regular size tomatoes. Enjoy.  

My Favorite Place To Shop

It doesn’t matter how many times I go to a Farmers’ Market it always feels like the first time.

And maybe it is the first time I see the fresh mustard greens or the bright yellow squash for sale that particular day. I stop at each booth. I ask questions. What is your favorite way to cook your oyster mushrooms? How much longer into the season will you have cucumbers?

I learn that mushrooms can be sprinkled with oil and baked until crispy. I learn that the best part of the rainbow chard are the stems.

I feel good, when I eat fresh beautiful things.

It feels good to meet the people who have grown the food I plan to eat.

I  bring my own bags and try to spread my money around, making purchases at as many different tables as possible. The work of growing things is labor intensive. The time taken to pick and pack. To load and unload. The worries throughout the season about the weather. The cost of transportation.

Thank you for bringing it here.

This is the season of the harvest moon. The season of fresh pressed apple cider and giant orange pumpkins.

Inspired by my purchases I finely chop up garlic to sizzle in the frying pan with onions, red peppers, chard and cherry tomatoes. The vegetables fill our plates.

A Writing Prompt: A old friend you haven’t seen in a while is coming for dinner. Write about what you will serve them and why.

Happy September

Thank you for reading and follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and by subscribing to this blog .

Photo by Mark Stebnicki on Pexels.com

Writers, Tired of Rejections? Try Penning a Hermit Crab Essay

A few months ago I started writing a series of rejection letters to myself. Just for fun, to take the edge off my depression over the extensive number of rejection letters from literary publications that arrive in my inbox, most around the beginning of the month. The common wisdom is that you have to submit to be accepted and I’ve found this to be true.

I’ve been fortunate to have my work published in more than a dozen literary magazines. They haven’t asked to read my work, and yet a reader, an editor, a committee, someone or several someone’s decided I’ve written something worth publishing.

But the rejection letters still hurt.  I got one rejection that thanked me for sending in my work because “It provoked a very lively discussion.” One rejection that really angered me was the time an editor specifically asked for revisions and I personally responded to them with the requested revisions, only to then receive a form rejection letter from an entirely different editor.

Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA on Pexels.com

My response was my little group of funny or not-so-funny rejection letters to myself. Example:

Dear Nadja,

We are sorry to inform you we will not be publishing “The Winner” in our upcoming issue.  Our apologies for our fifteen month delay in responding to you, but we are severely underpaid, understaffed, and unappreciated. Although we initially liked your story and had set it aside for possible inclusion in our upcoming issue, the new editor has a different vision. These things, unfortunately, happen. We hope you are able to find happiness through something other than writing, and wish you better luck finding a home for your story elsewhere.  

Cheers and Sympathy,

Barley Timid

I was writing (although I didn’t know it at the time) a Hermit Crab Essay. While a series of pseudo true letters may not  be what you think of when you hear the word “essay,” essays can take a variety of shapes and forms. Lyric, braided and triptych are three examples.

The Hermit Crab Essay is  a creative nonfiction form that has generated an explosion of unique  configurations.  It uses a borrowed device such as letters, lists, test forms, calendars, dry cleaning tickets, advertising pamphlets, etc.  to communicate stories and ideas. The possibilities are endless.

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

The Hermit Crab essay takes its name from the idea of a borrowed house. The Hermit Crab lives inside the shell of another shellfish, often a snail. When their home is too small, they exchange it for another larger shell.  The heart of the narrative is housed within something else. The house choice, however, imparts its own message.  

One way to start writing a Hermit Crab essay is to arbitrarily choose a form, your house so to speak, start writing and see where it takes you. For example, if I start compiling lists and those lists are grocery lists my essay may have something to do with food, consumerism or eating. As the content evolves I might decide that a recipe book might be better suited to house the heart of my story or I can stick with the grocery list form.

The second way to start a Hermit Crab Essay is to think about what it is you are trying to communicate and then choose a form that would serve best for your project. If I was a competitive athlete and I wanted to convey my physical training journey, I might choose transcripts of physician and PT  charts and reports as my “house.”

Fiction writers, if some of this sounds all too familiar, that’s because fiction writers use these devices frequently. Letters, telegrams, newspaper articles, diary entries, invitation lists and more can present different vantage points in a fiction story. One of my favorite children’s books was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Remember the journal entries. More recently I enjoyed, “The Starlight on Ohio” ( The Largesse of the Sea Maiden 2018), a short story by Denis Johnson, told through a series of letter exchanges and journal entries.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the two writers, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola who coined the term, Hermit Crab Essay. They did so in their 2003 book Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction. Helpful in understanding the form are examples. One fine example is Brenda Miller’s essay “We Regret to Inform You” published in The Sun.  Her essay “Shared Space Between Reader and Writer: A Case Study” published in Brevity explains her process in writing that particular essay. It’s a great read.

Here are two other good examples of Hermit Crab essays published in literary online journals.  “Lunar Chart, Lost Year” by Ann Winn in Tupelo Quarterly takes on the configuration of a lunar chart.  Published in the poetry section, the lines between poetry and CNF  have become blurred as more hybrid forms emerge, so beware of labels.  In Pinch Journal, “A Wrong Turning in American ____” An Essay in Parts by Maya Jewell Zeller  takes the form of a state of mind test with multiple choice selections.

Readers, please let writers know with your comments, when you are moved by their work. Writers write to communicate.

Thank you as always for reading. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and visit my website at www.Nadjamaril.com to read a few of my creative published pieces.

What Sunflowers Can Teach Us About Writing

Earlier this week I posted a photograph on social media of one of our sunflowers that had lost its head, literally.  One of our recent thunderstorms with high winds must have snapped off the bud.  However, this particular sunflower refused to give up. Seeking another opportunity to bloom, it managed to create several tiny sunflower blossoms erupting from the sides of its stem. I’d never seen anything like that before.  It provides a great visual example for how, even when obstacles get in your way, you can still soldier onward.

A big sunflower makes an impressive statement,  but those tiny little sunflowers are unique.  

My husband Peter, loves sunflowers and he has planted them at different times this particular season with varying success. An entire batch of seeds just didn’t germinate. His solution was to try again, this time by planting a few seeds individually in Solo Cups which we positioned near our garage. If rain was in the forecast, we moved the cups under shelter to prevent the cups from becoming flooded. The result was another group of sunflowers to transplant. Then he bought a third batch of seeds and planted again. We now have sunflower seeds to be harvested, as well as adolescent sunflowers just beginning to form their buds and everything in between.

The sunflowers and their varying shapes and sizes remind me of my writing goals. We have some plants as tall as 14 feet and others  as short as 18 inches.  Part of the differences are due to the variety of sunflower and part are due to when the seeds were planted and the growing conditions.

I’ve been working on a novel and that is a giant sunflower. A large sunflower can take patience to cultivate. A number of storms have come through and knocked over some of our tallest sunflowers before they had the chance to fully open.  Sometimes a draft just doesn’t turn out and you have to rip it up and try again, plant a fresh seed and nurture it from the beginning. But as we saw with the sunflower that “lost its head,” smaller blooms can also present themselves, erupting from the stem. Perhaps not as important and grand, they are beautiful in their own way.  These tiny sunflowers are like the compressed pieces I write, less than 500 words. When I get frustrated with the long form, I write the short form. The finish line is shorter and the opportunity for publication is broader.

All those varying sizes of smaller sunflowers in our garden, I compare to  my  essays and short stories. Some varieties are more delicate than others and each has a different attribute to admire. I write every day, but I’ve found through trial and error that I’m a better editor of my work if I give a piece some distance. So, once I’ve finished the first draft I try to not read the story or the essay for at least two days. The optimum time is a week, but I have a tendency to grow impatient. Thus, the solution is to start another piece of writing.

Blogging for me is close to journaling, in that I write down what’s on my mind. I loosely edit, but immediacy is key. Whatever I decide I want to share is posted within 36 hours of conception. Unlike my other writing, which is labored over with hopes of formal publication, the blogs are entirely under my control.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the novel writing project. Writing a  100,000 word book worthy of sharing with the world takes long term commitment. The giant sunflower. I’ve been working on my current novel for four years. It’s gone through numerous iterations. At various times I’ve broken it up by chapter, hoping to treat each chapter like a short story, but the cohesiveness of the narrative arc makes one chapter dependent upon the next unless starting at the very beginning.  But all writing, even pages you decide to discard, is instructive. It is, after all, a creative journey. 

I recommend to anyone embarking on the writing journey, master the short/flash form. Also become comfortable with writing nonfiction. Writing the truth is powerful.  Many of my personal essays have taught me things that have helped improve my novel.

As every committed writer already knows, writing is hard work. There are no shortcuts. You just have to write. And read. Read as much as you can and if you don’t have the time to physically read a book, listen. We all experience the world in different ways. Challenge yourself. Don’t limit yourself to a few favorite authors, discover new voices.  Take time to admire the world around you, including the sunflowers. Thank you for reading or listening to my point of view and if you haven’t read my personal essay, “Voice Lessons” in Litro Magazine, here is a link. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril .

Coping Mechanisms for a Divided World

A gentle breeze caresses my arm as I reach for a cherry tomato. Gathering our summer harvest puts me into an altered state. It’s just me and the smell of the tomato plants and lavender. The chirps of birds and crickets are all I hear until a driver at the corner street intersection honks his horn.  The reverie broken, my eyes rest on a vine winding its way up several stems of lavender. The weeds are creeping into the garden again. I’ll need gloves and a trowel. Tomorrow. Maybe I’ll weed early tomorrow.

The small things, such as discovering a squash plant at the edge of our lot with two golden blooms, is a needed distraction from politics and world news. This squash plant got its start when soil from the composting pit was spread on the nearby bushes. An unexpected bonus, in another few weeks they’ll be more to harvest.

Meanwhile, I read and listen to a half a dozen or more news sources and learn the ice caps are melting at an accelerated rate and the majority of human don’t have room in their hearts and minds to care, because too many people are dying in multiple wars and the price of gasoline and food keeps rising.  In the United States, as many as one third of voters believe that the 2020 Presidential race was actually won by the former president. Although there is absolutely no evidence to support their belief, votes having been checked and counted multiple times and no successful court challenges, their response is that the entire system is rigged and corrupt.  They’ve stopped listening to any media sources except for Fox News, convinced that journalists are intentionally delivering “fake news.”

I  myself had serious doubts as to whether the 2016 election was a legitimate loss for Hilary Clinton. The reports of the Russians seeking to infiltrate social media accounts, individual candidate’s organizations, as well as vote counting software had me deeply concerned. But that’s in the past. Because I believe in the democratic system, when the winner was declared I accepted the results.

One third of Americans are evidently so enamored with the man with the orange hair, they can’t see him for what he is— a sociopath who cares only about himself. We are on the verge of having our democracy replaced by an autocracy if all the “2020  Election Deniers” currently on the November ballot  are voted into office. Their platforms basically promise their supporters,  We plan to work to reinstate the previous administration and if we don’t like the result of an election, the wrong people were allowed to vote.

The recent  hoopla about the FBI search of Mar a Lago, like all things connected to the previous administration, has been reframed as a witch hunt against a beleaguered noble leader. But regardless of whether you are a conservative or a liberal, presidential documents belong to the American People. They are not souvenirs to be kept by former presidents, they are historical papers that tell the story of each administration. Maintained by the National Archives, they are meant to be preserved for All Americans.

A clear record of court documents show that every attempt was made to retrieve missing documents (many classified) prior to going to a judge and requesting a search warrant.

Too intentionally rail against government agencies such as the Justice Department, and the FBI and to endanger the lives of FBI agents and their families is unconscionable.  Is that the kind of individual we want to lead our nation?

The thought that so many people think it’s quite okay to elect a selfish bully to the highest office in our land has me reaching for my gardening gloves. Maybe I won’t put off pulling out those weeds.

Thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Here’s a link to another joyful distraction, written for Random Sample Review, The Simple Joys of Baking Cake.

The Chautauqua Experience

A summer camp for adults is how I described where I was going to anyone who asked, because I wasn’t sure if I said to Chautauqua, there’d be instant recognition.  How do you explain to someone who has never been to Chautauqua what it exactly is?  The word itself originated with the Iroquois Indians who named their lake in upstate New York, close to the Pennsylvania border, Lake Chautauqua. The Europeans who took the land, added the word to their vocabulary. The lake, narrow in the middle and ballooning out on each side, resembles one of the two literal translations— “two bags tied together” or “a pair of moccasins tied together.”

If you look up chautauqua in the Merriam -Webster dictionary, you’ll see it defined as “any of various traveling shows and local assemblies that flourished in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that provided popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays, and that were modeled after activities at the Chautauqua Institution of western New York.”

The site of the original “summer camp” is officially The Chautauqua Institute, but there is also a town Chautauqua, New York located seventeen miles northwest of Jamestown. The Chautauqua Institute is a 501 nonprofit education center and summer resort for adults and youth located on 2,070 acres. Over the nine-week season, over 100,000 people visit the Chautauqua Institute. Each week focuses on a specific topic, and every day there are lectures, classes and concerts. The week I attended with my husband Peter, the general theme was “The Vote and Democracy” and the interfaith lecture series theme was, “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Democracy.” The novel to read and discuss was Outlawed by Anna North. North gave a reading and discussed some of the book’s themes towards the end of the week, sponsored by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle( CLSC). Anyone can become a member of CLSC by purchasing a membership. Interested in starting a book group in your community to discuss the season’s selections then click here.

One side of the week’s schedule!

The lectures are just one component of the experience. On the grounds are schools of music, dance, theater, and art plus the Chautauqua symphony orchestra, Chautauqua theater company and Chautauqua opera company and Chautauqua Writer’s Center.  Recreational pursuits can include swimming, sailing, lawn ball or tennis. It all depends on how you’d like to spend your time, but spirituality and connection to others is at the heart of all Chautauqua communities—as there are others. While the Chautauqua Institute was the first and the largest, the Chautauqua movement swept across the United States during the final decades of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century. At one time there were two hundred Chautauqua’s, settlements of permanent buildings that hosted a seasonal offering of activities. While most closed during the depression due to economic hardship and a shift in entertainment interests to radio and movies, a handful survived.  The Chautauqua Trail is a nonprofit organization https://www.chautauquatrail.com/ that keeps track of the Chautauqua’s in North America, currently numbering approximately twenty.

Although not affiliated with a specific religious denomination, the first Chautauqua begun in 1874, has religious roots. Specifically started to provide education for Sunday School teachers on the site of a former Methodist Camp, founders John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller quickly expanded their concept.  Initially the protestant faith was associated with Chautauqua, but today, nearly every faith group. has a chapel or building on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institute. Spiritual practices of World Religions, Torah study, and Islam 101 were just some of the items on the schedule the week of my visit.   

 While the Chautauqua camp was seasonal, the thirst for knowledge was so great, the Chautauqua Institution expanded their adult education beyond religion into science, history and literature. A correspondence course  known as the  Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle gave working and middle-class people the opportunity to take college level classes. This was the inception of the idea of adult education and continuing education. Known as The Chautauqua movement, it was immensely popular. The Circuit Chautauqua brought speakers and performers to thousands of small communities where they could hear scientific lectures or attend a chamber music performance, perhaps followed by a chance to ask questions and discuss what they’d witnessed or learned.

Times and circumstances change and The Circuit Chautauqua fell out of fashion. The hard times of The Great Depression followed by World War II put people’s focus on basic survival. Post World War II provided opportunities for more people to attend college, including women, and the interest in “adult education” waned. But now with more people living longer, an adult learning renaissance is taking place. People of all ages can enjoy what a Chautauqua has to offer, but for those with a little more leisure, the offerings are substantial.

            Thank you for reading.  Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and read one of my recently published flash pieces, “Cilantro”.