Starting from Scratch

My kids think I can build or fix anything and this past weekend they asked for a pirate ship.  So after carefully surveying the collection of scrap wood and various other bits and pieces of raw materials in the basement, garage and recycle bin. This is what we ended up with:

It won’t win any prizes but they had a lot of fun helping me build it and making decisions about how they wanted the ship to look, and what amenities would be included. We had some things that didn’t work, we experimented, we were creative, and most of all we had fun.

I didn’t start out trying to teach them anything, but when they tell people the story of how they built their pirate ship, they are very proud of their contributions, and glory in the telling of how we problem solved.
Listening to them, I realized that beside being a really fun day, they had also learned a little bit about being resourceful, using what you have, and starting where you are.

I feel the same why every time I start a writing project. I inventory my lists of story ideas, found objects, interesting news bits,  and old story files to create something. Any creative project starts with an idea, a whim, a scrap of thought, a problem to be solved, or a request.

Many people say to me that they want to write but don’t know what to write about. This is my answer: Use what you have, start where you are, and don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Just like our pirate ship, it needs the rough edges smoothed, and a coat of paint. That is what editing is all about, but you can’t edit a blank sheet of paper.

Even if you don’t have little pirates in your life asking for ships, take time to build /create/ write /draw/ photograph something. Quit staring at life waiting for something to happen, and make something happen.

Happy Sailing!




Abandoned Places: The Mansfield Reformatory

Mansfield Reformatory 2014

Abandoned and historic places appeal to me as a story teller. I imagine what the place was like before it was abandoned. I imagine how the people lived. I think about their stories, ordinary and extraordinary.  Sometimes a small object creates a connection for me, and people as abstractions become real.
 I took this picture in the superintendent’s quarters while on a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory. Finding something so intimate in the midst of what has been stripped of the personal, like this rusty hairpin brought home to me the reality of people living inside an operating prison. Who did it belong too? Did it belong to a woman who lived here when it was an operating prison?
Was it lost as she hurried out to some event? Did she stop and look for it? Did it fall from the hair of a visitor, or a tourist?
I am still sorting out my feelings about the tour. I was fascinated, and horrified by what I saw. The prison opened in 1896. One hundred fifty-five thousand men, and boys as young as fifteen, passed through this hell on earth until it closed in 1990.
How many are still alive? How many wished they were dead while here? How many didn’t care? Did they deserve it? Guilty or innocent? So many stories waiting to be told.
Here are few more pictures I took.

This is 8′ x 5′.  It housed two prisoners.

The cells faced the windows.

The showers.

Six tiers of cells

If your are interested in visiting. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society ( manages the tours and is dedicated to preserving the reformatory.