Sympathy Hanky, Oh Darn Hanky, and My New Year's Resolution

New Year's Eve fireworks in Seattle
When I was thirteen years old I attended a New Year’s Eve party at my church. In one of the games each person wrote a resolution on a slip of paper and placed it into a bowl. Everyone drew one, read it aloud, and all tried to guess who wrote it. I wrote, “I want to be a better person.” I was guessed immediately. I didn’t understand it was supposed to be a gag. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions since. You have my permission to unfurl your Sympathy Hanky.

By my estimate—and I could be wrong, as they say—thousands of special days, weeks and months are observed every year. Some are obscure and some are well-known. Among the best-known in the United States are Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas. These often are marked on calendars.

Among obscure observances are Old Rock Day, National Yo-Yo Day, Presidential Joke Day, and Wear Brown Shoes Day. A longer list of these rarely celebrated occurrences is at Bizarre American Holidays. Be warned, though, it’s unlikely you will be successful in getting off work one of these days. Nor are you likely to find an appropriate greeting card (I authorize you to get out your Oh Darn Hanky), although you could pick up a blank card and write something. Your friends will be impressed that you cared enough.

Below is a list of literary and cultural observances in 2012 of which I am aware. (Winston Churchill would have been delighted had I written, "which I am aware of.") Most are in the U.S. where the word national usually means officially recognized by Congressional resolution, but not always. It’s possible I missed a few; what the heck, I may have missed a bunch. My New Year’s resolution is to write a little about each as it comes up. If you are aware of a well-known national observance along the lines of my list, and in any country, please leave your comments.

National Story Telling Week, January 28 – February 4, UK

Black History Month
Library Lovers' Month

National Women’s History Month
Greek-American Heritage Month
Irish-American Heritage Month

National Library Week, April 8 – 14
National Poetry Writing Month
National Card and Letter Writing Month

Asian Pacific-American History Month
Jewish-American Heritage Month

National Storytelling Conference, June 28 – July 1



National Book Festival, September 2
National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 – October 15
Banned Books Week, September 30 – October 6

Diversity Awareness Month
German-American Heritage Month
National Italian-American Heritage Month
Polish-American Heritage Month
National Book Month
National Storytelling Weekend, October 5 – 7
National Family History Month

National American Indian Heritage Month
National Life Writing Month   
National Novel Writing Month
Write Nonfiction in November


More information 
The Ultimate Literary Calendar 2012
Literature Calendars and Wall Calendars 2012
Calendar Club, United Kingdom
Multicultural Calendars 2012, Canada and United Kingdom 

Leave your comments on the literary and cultural activities will you observe in 2012.

Photo: New Year’s Eve fireworks at the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington by Shannon Kringen

Red Buttons' "Never Got a Dinner" Routine and Things I Did Not Write About This Year

My family circa 1948
A clever piece of writing became a signature routine for comedian Red Buttons (1919-2006)). I don’t know whether he wrote it or it was written for him, but the concept provided him with an unending supply of material.

The routine was a send-up of celebrity roasts, with Buttons having fun over those who “never got a dinner.” Buttons was born Aaron Chwatt in New York City to Jewish immigrants and often singled out Jews and Italians in his routine. Example: “First baseman Joe Torre, too chicken to play catcher, who said, ‘Who wants to be known as Chicken Catcha Torre?’ never got a dinner.”

Writers are always alert for things to write about: A tidbit here, a morsel there, a crumb elsewhere; a situation in our personal or professional lives or something we observe in others. Sometimes we latch onto a specific issue and generalize. Sometimes we take a general issue and make specific points, as Buttons did in his routine.

I’m reluctant to write about myself. Perhaps my German heritage keeps me from sharing too much. Maybe my background as a broadcast news reporter conditioned me to ask rather than tell. Also, I’m basically shy. (Can writers truthfully claim that?) I have not written my memoir or life story even though I work with others to write theirs, including my brother Gene on our family history.

In a minimal effort (let's call it beginning therapy) to overcome my reluctance, I made the following non-exhaustive list of ordinary things in my life I did not write about this year. The items are great memory joggers for fleshed-out episodes in a book of my life story—dinner or no dinner.

Flying, shopping, walking, and mulching

My wife and I flew to California and spent Thanksgiving week with our daughter and her family. Our planes left on time and arrived early each leg of the journey. Our bags were not damaged or sent to India.

Learned from our son-in-law’s sister that she finishes her Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. All of it. Every year.

Had to give up walking for exercise in my neighborhood because I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. My foot doctor prescribed an expensive food supplement not covered by insurance. I’m going to a gym three times a week and working out with cable weights, which doesn’t put pressure on my feet and toes. I don’t expect to become Charles Atlas. Uh-oh, that dates me. Change to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still dated? Okay, let’s go with Phil Heath, Mr. Olympia 2011.

Mulched the leaves in my yard twice this fall; should have mulched a third time.

Sam, civility, e-Book, and mobile phones
Arthritis in our fifteen-year-old cat Sam is getting worse. We started him on a six-session laser therapy.

In the adult Sunday school class I teach we are studying P. M. Forni’s The Civility Solution: What to do When People Are Rude. “Adult” is an apt description, as Forni’s topics include dealing with the “F” word and the middle-finger salute.

My co-author and I hired a vendor to turn our paperback book, Dumb Luck or Divine Guidance, into an e-Book. Online how-to instructions were like Chinese to us. We learned the appearance of a hard-copy book page does not transfer to the same appearance in an e-book.

Called a friend’s mobile phone and he answered in a whisper, “I’m at a funeral. Can I call you back?” Others I called answered in a board meeting and real estate closing. Brings to mind a bunch of issues regarding mobile phone etiquette, including phones ringing during workshop presentations and church services.

A guest minister at our church brought his smart phone to the podium and flipped through it for some of his notes. The phone did not ring during his sermon.

Publicity, fundraising, plumber, and old men
I was elected vice president of the Springfield Writers’ Guild for 2012 and will be in charge of publicity.

My wife and I attended a fundraiser for the Christian County Historical Society. It was a one-man show by Reeds Spring, Missouri actor Will St. Clair portraying Mark Twain. Fantastic!

We called a plumber to snake-out out the drain lines beneath our house. Learned the persons who built our house didn’t secure one of the longer lines with a strap. The plumber fixed it at no extra charge.

Attended eleven monthly breakfasts with old men. That’s what we call it, “breakfast with old men.” A handful of church friends gets together once a month at a restaurant and shoots the breeze. We don’t meet in December.

Webinars, Facebook, and library downloads
Participated in free webinars on my desktop computer. Topics included blogging, memoir writing, marketing, and managing Facebook fan pages. While I picked up tips I can use, I also learned “free” means a sales pitch at the end for products and services of the webinar presenters.

Created a Facebook fan page for my writing business. It’s quite basic and I'm on a long learning curve to jazz it up. Please visit and Like, Write something, and Share on your Facebook page or other media.

Learned to check out books from the library by downloading them to my desktop computer. I don’t own an an electronic reader or smart phone. The books are checked out for seven or fourteen days, after which they are automatically returned to the library by disappearing from my computer. Shades of Merlin the Wizard!

What three or four things in your life did you not write about this year?

Photo: My older brother Jack, my mother Dixie, my father Al, my younger brother Gene, and me. Jack and our parents are deceased.
Not shown: Red Buttons, no relation. Photographer unknown, but probably my grandmother, Ada. 

Missouri Warrior Writers Project, Part 3 of 3: Stepping Stones to Recovery

A U.S. Marine and Iraqi soldiers
Guest article by Deborah Marshall

On our first visit to Jefferson Barracks Veterans Hospital to set up the workshops, Geoff Giglierano and I discussed with staff that each veteran should have a pen or pencil for writing in class and for homework.

“That can’t happen,” said Rita Reichert. “Psychiatric inpatients can’t have any instrument they could use to injure themselves.”

“Do they have access to computers?”

“No, we have one computer and it’s not for patients.”

“What about laptops?”

“That would be okay, but we don’t have any.”

“We’ll provide them,” said Geoff. Missouri Humanities Council gave twelve laptops for use in the workshops and for check-out from Occupational Therapy. As it turned out, we had only two inpatients enrolled in the workshops; the remainder were outpatients.

Getting started
A doctor's permission was required for a veteran to participate in the workshops. This was therapy and a member of the hospital's Occupational Therapy team was always in the classroom. We were dealing with sensitive topics so things could become very emotional.

Approximately six to twelve veterans attended each class. None of our volunteer professional writers was a trained writing therapist, but we knew how to lead discussions and coach writing. Our instructions to attendees often started with free-writing, that is, writing the first thing that came into their minds without editing or censoring themselves.

We directed them through lists of exercises involving their senses, writing about places they would like to visit, and writing letters to their spouses and children on difficult things they couldn’t talk with family about face-to-face. We walked them through creating a plot and a pyramid for creating story. They did beautiful work whether fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. It was tough for the workshop leaders because we shared the veterans’ hurts.

A woman who was raped while on duty in Operation Desert Storm wrote gut-wrenching poetry, “but I get to a point where I can’t reveal any more. I start blocking it because I’m one of two women in a class of men.”

One veteran said that for most of his last month overseas all he could think about was coming home. He dreamed about his family and friends greeting him when he arrived at the St. Louis airport. No one met him. He took a cab home alone. He was among many veterans who come home to an unwelcoming family and facing divorce.

"You saved my life."
After one of my sessions, a forty-year old soldier walked me to the door.

“I have to thank you for what you did for me,” he said.

“That’s what we’re here for,” I replied. “Thank you for your service.”

“You don’t understand,” he said. “I suffered from flashbacks when I came back. My psychiatrist put me on medication that made me feel pretty crummy. When you suggested that we do journaling, I started journaling every day and after a while told my psychiatrist I was feeling a little better.

“He asked to see my journal so I gave it to him. I spent two-and-a-half hours writing every morning and hadn't read any of it. After reading my journal, the psychiatrist asked how long had I been thinking of killing myself. It was not something we’d been discussing.”

I listened to his story without interrupting. He wanted me to know.

“I told the doctor I didn’t know what he was talking about, that I was not suicidal. For crying out loud, I’ve got seven children and a lot to live for. He showed in my journal where my handwriting had changed dramatically. The tone of writing did a complete reversal.”

He said the doctor concluded he was having blackouts during which all he was writing about was self-loathing and killing himself. The doctor put him on new medication to take care of the blackouts.

“Today I feel great,” he told me. “I’ve been on this new medication for a week and a half and haven’t felt this good since before I was injured. I think you saved my life.”

Stepping stones
The pilot project at Jefferson Barracks ended November 17, 2011. Evaluations with staff and students were positive and encouraged us to look for ways to expand the program. Jefferson Barracks asked us back for next year; the extent of what we will do has yet to be determined. We are researching ways to incorporate visual arts and theater into our current workshop offerings. We have also been contacted by several community and veteran organizations to possibly host workshops in conjunction with their current programs.

We laid the groundwork, now we have to concentrate on adding workshop leaders and establishing the project with its own 501(c)3 status in 2012.

It's been an exciting journey from one little fishing trip to something that changed people's lives.

Deborah Marshall is founder of Missouri Warrior Writers Project, president of the Missouri Writers' Guild, and a former newspaper reporter and editor who writes historical fiction, creative nonfiction, and short stories. Her work has been published in medical journals, magazines, and anthologies.

Photo: A U.S. Marine and Iraqi Army soldiers watch over streets from a rooftop in Karabilah, Iraq. Department of Defense photo by Corporal Neill A. Sevelius, U.S. Marine Corps.

Share your comments of helping veterans write their stories, or tell about a program with which you are familiar. If you are a veteran, have you been in a writing program and what were the results?

Missouri Warrior Writers Project, Part 2 of 3: In Search of Funding

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
Guest article by 
Deborah Marshall

After seeing the television news interview with U.S. Army Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, M.D., I went back to Fort Leonard Wood to pursue my idea of writing-therapy for wounded soldiers. Unit Commander Major Mark Wilkinson was supportive, but then back surgery put me out of commission. I was going to have a very long recuperation and traveling was out.

Wearing two hats
I had been elected vice president of Missouri Writers’ Guild for 2010 and was chair of our annual conference for spring 2011. It involved a lot of telephone calls and emails, so I could do many things without leaving my house. I sent an email to the director of the Missouri Arts Council looking for conference funding. The director, Geoff Giglierano, was new to the job and I thought I could make an excellent case for his support. We met in his office.

I told him about the wonderful things we planned for the conference. He asked lots of questions and I was excited he was interested. Finally he said, “It sounds like you’re going to have a really good conference, but quite frankly, even though you’re a really nice person and you have this really great conference planned, your organization is basically no different than any other looking for money.” I was disheartened.

“These are hard times,” he continued, “and I have to be really cautious about how we’re spending our dollars. However, I’d like to know a little more about you so we can have a basis for future conversations. That’s what we’re all about. This is humanities.”

We talked about diversities and voices we never hear from; those segments of society that really go unnoticed for the most part. That led me into my experience with the soldiers at River of Life Farm resort. 

Bingo, whammy, eureka
“I really would like to grow this into a project,” I said, “gathering stories from wounded warriors who have life-altering things going on that nobody knows about. You have to hear it from them. Wouldn’t it be great if we put together an anthology, using resources of Missouri writers to lead workshops with the soldiers?”

Geoff sat straight up in his chair and said, “This is the project I’ve been waiting for. Let me know whatever you need.”  

I didn't know I hit his hot button until he told me he was in New York City when 9/11 occurred: he was curator of the museum adjacent to the fire station that lost so many firemen, and he suffered from PTSD. 

With his assurance behind me, I began researching more earnestly how to go about the project.

I learned that Jefferson Barracks Veterans Administration Hospital in Lemay, Missouri was one of the locations for Operation Homecoming, the National Endowment for the Arts program in which prominent writers interviewed soldiers and produced an anthology. I called the NEA’s office in Washington, D.C. and was told the program was not ongoing. Could I possibly use the program’s formatting to do something similar in Missouri? They said I was welcome to anything they had.

Adapt and improvise
I went through the NEA records and the program was pretty high brow and expensive for what I felt we could do. I wanted something more personal. Fort Leonard Wood laid the groundwork for that; soldiers coming to the Fort’s transition unit are from a ten-state area, which gave me opportunity to focus on any needs special to the Midwest.

Geoff and I visited Jefferson Barracks and met with Occupational Therapist Rita Reichert and Public Affairs Administrator Marcena Guenther. They gave us permission to launch a pilot project of four four-week workshops: four weeks of poetry, four weeks of creative nonfiction, another four weeks of poetry, and another four weeks of creative nonfiction. Each workshop would be ninety minutes and consist of volunteer professional writers instructing groups of six to twelve soldiers in how to write their stories.

We recruited Kelli Allen, a board member of Missouri Writers’ Guild, for the first poetry session. She was managing editor for Natural Bridge, a journal of contemporary literature, and is an internationally known poet. I led the first creative non-fiction workshop. Matthew Freeman was in charge of the second poetry session. He is a poet from St. Louis who declares he is a diagnosed schizophrenic. He was very compassionate with the soldiers and they developed an outstanding rapport. Our final creative non-fiction workshop leader was Anene Tressler-Hauschultz, international book award winner in literary fiction for 2011 and adjunct professor at Webster University. 

Next week, Part 3: Stepping Stones to Recovery

Deborah Marshall is founder of Missouri Warrior Writers Project, president of the Missouri Writers' Guild, and a former newspaper reporter and editor who now writes historical fiction, creative nonfiction, and short stories. Her work has been published in medical journals, magazines, and anthologies.  

Photo: Soldiers cross the Arghandab River in Zabul province, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Specialist Tia P. Sokimson.

Share your comments of helping veterans write their stories, or tell about a program with which you are familiar. If you are a veteran, have you been in a writing program and what were the results?