August 2016: Olympic Dreams

august2016

In honor of the 2016 Summer Olympics, this month’s Writer’s Station prompt is Olympic-themed. You will first pick a sport that is played at the Summer Olympics. A list of all the sports currently played can be found at olympic.org/sports. Then, write a 2 to 5 page short story based on one of the following prompts:

  • You are an athlete in your chosen sport, and have just been chosen to represent your country after the #1 ranked athlete was disqualified.
  • You are the parent of an athlete in your chosen sport, and your child is about to win a medal.
  • You are a spectator, watching the final, tie-breaking round of your chosen sport.
  • You are an athlete in your chosen sport who has already been to the Olympics twice without medaling. You know this will be your final Olympics, and it is starting to look like you might not win a medal.
  • You are an athlete in your chosen sport who has suddenly been caught in the middle of a huge scandal.

Completed submissions can be turned in at the Library, or emailed to sara.k@rochesterlibrary.org. You are not required to include your name with your submission. All submissions will be added to the Writer’s Station inside the Library, as well as posted online to our Writer’s Station blog.

July 2015: “American Dreams, Haitian Nightmares” by Steve Knobloch

Every American has a dream about the kind of life that would be happy and fulfilling, usually a life that each one can aspire to.  The dream may include a home, family, and good income.  For immigrants to this country might be freedom and citizenship.  Just as individuals have dreams, America also has dreams as enunciated by our prophets and presidents: Martin Luther King dreamed of equality and freedom for all; Franklin Roosevelt talked about the four freedoms; and President Kennedy dreamed of a corps of young volunteers who would go into other countries to share their skills and promote peace in the world.

I was one who volunteered although instead of going into the Peace Corps I joined the Church of the Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) program.  My dream was to do as Ben Franklin recommended: do well by doing good.  BVS was a way that I could do that.  BVS had been around for about twenty years and had similar goals as the Peace Corps: young people sharing knowledge and skills with the poor and needy.  We were not missionaries but demonstrators of peaceful, caring activities.

My assignment was to assist to health care workers in Haiti.  I had two years in chemistry and an Associate Degree in electronics so I was supposed to be a lab and x-ray technician.  During those two years I had plenty of opportunities help save lives and interact with people who had always been told that blancs (white people) would come back to enslave them as the French colonists had in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  That was one of Haitian nightmares.  Another one was their own government.  The vast majority of the population was peasants living on a few dollars a week while government officials and the elite who lived in the hills around Port-au-Prince stole from the treasury instead of using the money for infrastructure, education and health care.  And then there was the line of presidents from the revolution to the present man.

In the United States, we hold a presidential election every four years.  Anyone can run for president and we have elected men who have come from diverse backgrounds, from the richest to the poorest, from slave owners to slaves.  We hold the belief that any natural-born citizen can be president.  Only three times since George Washington first held office has a bullet ended a presidency while in Haiti, the gun has been the preferred method of getting rid of the president; either though forced exile or assignation.  The ballot runs a distant second choice.

Francois Duvalier was one of the few men to be elected.  He rallied the black majority to overcome the powerful mulatto elite who had held power for years.  After the election, Duvalier, or Papa Doc as he came to be known, replaced the mulatto army generals, civilian administrators and clerics with people from his black supporters.

Duvalier did not trust the army which had often seized power so he formed a militia commonly known as the Tonton Macoute, meaning boogey man in the Haitian Creole language,   In April of 1963, Clemont Barbot, the head of the Tonton Macoute, hatched a plan to overthrow the President but Papa Doc threatened a blood bath and mountain of bodies if anyone supported Barbot.  The United States government recommended all US citizens leave Haiti until the situation was resolved.

I arrived in Haiti in July of that year. Tensions still ran high but Church World Service staff and missionaries of various denominations thought Papa Doc had things under control.  Although Barbot was still at large he had few supporters.  Rumors had it that Barbot had not been caught because he had changed himself into a black dog so the army and militia shot every black dog they saw.  Finally Barbot was caught and his corpse spent a week tied to a chair and sitting in a park near the presidential palace as warning to black dogs and potential rebels.

I worked most of my two years in Haiti in the American Baptist hospital Le Bon Samaritain in Limbe on the north coast.  Rt. 1 (sometimes known as Route Only One) passed in front of the hospital, through the middle of town, and on to the north end of the road at Cap Haitian, fifteen miles east of Limbe.  Port-au-Prince was the south end.  It was the only paved road between the capitol and the north coast so, even though it was full of pot holes and narrow in the mountains, it was heavily traveled.

The hospital compound occupied about three acres with the hospital building running along the highway.  About fifty yards back were a house where the doctor’s family lived, a house for the Haitian caretaker and his family, and a guest house where I lived.  At the back of the compound was a house for temporary and short term workers.  All the one story buildings were constructed of concrete blocks, white washed and had corrugated metal roofs.

Dr. Bill Hodges and his wife Joanna, a trained nurse, staffed the hospital along with 15 – 20 Haitians that the Hodges had trained.  I worked in the laboratory with Celamise Cadet who had been trained by Dr. Hodges.  Mostly we did exams on blood, urine and stool samples.  Pregnant women and malnourished infants comprised the largest number of patients.  In addition the doctor saw a number of new and retuning adult patients.  Bill tried to limit the number of people he saw each day to seventy-five but at night there sometimes was a delivery the midwife couldn’t handle or another crisis so he was called and if he needed lab tests I was called too.  Whenever a mother had problems with her delivery that needed a higher level of care I put her in the jeep and drove her into the hospital in Cap Haitian.  As we bumped over the pot holes I worried that the baby might bounce out but that never happened.

I was in my mid-twenties and a curiosity to the young nurses at the hospital.  As they bustled around in their white dresses, pink smocks and plastic sandals, they often stopped by the lab to ask Celamise about me.  It wasn’t long before I knew enough Creole to have conversations with them.  They wanted to know about my life in the US, if I had a girlfriend there (I did) and things they might expect if they moved there.  They knew they weren’t qualified to be nurses so they asked how much domestics were paid.  They wanted the American Dream of freedom and the good life.

September 2015: Free Writing

September 2015 prompt

This month’s Writer’s Station prompt is Free Writing: a type of writing exercise where, for a set period of time, you write about whatever comes to mind without worrying about spelling, grammar, or topic. This exercise helps writers write freely without self-criticism, and can be used as a brainstorming tool to develop ideas for more formal writing.

This month your task is to sit down for 20 to 30 minutes and free write about whatever comes to mind. It’s okay to write about completely different things and switch between multiple topics during a Free Writing session. Whatever you think about, write down!

Anything you write about during your Free Writing session that you think is interesting or that others might like to see can be submitted for this month’s Writer’s Station. This month’s submissions will be used to create a “Free Writing” collage that will be included in the Community Storybook inside the Library, as well as posted to the Writer’s Station blog. Handwritten submissions are acceptable for this month!

August 2015 Prompt: Happiness Happens

August 2015 prompt

August is Happiness Happens Month, a month to celebrate happiness and all the things that make us happy. This month’s Writer’s Station prompt is “The Happiness Box.” The box at the Writer’s Station inside the Library is filled with different happiness-related writing prompts. Your task is to pull a prompt from the box and write a short submission based on it. Have a happy month!

July 2015: American Dreams

July 2015 Prompt

 

As we celebrate the birth of America in July, this month’s prompt asks you to think about “American Dreams”. Write a personal reflection (3-5 pages) about what the American Dream means to you. Do you think there is a single American Dream shared by many people, or does each person have their own unique “American Dream”? What is your American Dream? How has the American Dream impacted your life?

Submit completed works at the Circulation Desk, or by emailing them to Sara K (sara.k@rochesterlibrary.org). You are not required to include your name with your submission. All completed works will be added to the Community Storybook in the Library, as well as to the Writer’s Station blog on our website.

May 2015: “A Serious Person” by Steve Knobloch

Sometimes, when a big part of your life ends in a disaster and before you can say, “O, woe is me,” something else comes along and starts you in an entirely different direction.  Sort of like the saying about a door hitting you in the backside as it closes while a ray of sunshine comes in the window.  That recently happened to me, Jonathan D. Grant III.

I stared working part time at the Bytes and Pixels electronic store when I was in my first year in college.  My parents agreed they would pay for four years at Wordsworth College, a private school in Northern Indiana, but I would have to work part time to get acquainted with the business world.

My father and grandfather, mechanical engineers, owned a profitable machine company.  When grandfather died, my father sold the company to a larger company for a goodly amount.  Now Mom and Pop survive very well on their investments.  They live in their homes here and there doing this and that and leave me, my brother and sister pretty much to ourselves.

During my sophomore year Dr. Isaac Samuelson shuffled into my life.  I say shuffled because that was his usual gait, head down, thoughts up somewhere.  Dr. Samuelson, as I knew him in those days, taught courses in math and philosophy.  Other students talked fondly of ‘Old Ike’ and since Mathematics was a required course for me.  I decided I might be able to slide though his Basic Math class.

As it turned out, I could not slide through his class and that was a good thing.  He was a formidable teacher.    In appearance he had unruly black hair graying at the temples, sleepy eyes, well dressed (thanks to the good taste of his third wife) but always rumpled by mid-morning.  Coatless in the classroom, tie loose, sleeves turned up, he threw strings of numbers on the board then tuned, his soft brown eyes hunting for someone who was not paying attention.  “Grant, what’s the next step?”

How rude, interrupting my thought of the girl I met at the party last night wondering if I should pursue her, but then I was daydreaming because he lost me at 4X plus 5Y over 10Z minus something equals something else and so on.  Numbers are not my thing.  Without the cash register at B&P to figure totals, taxes and change due, the store would go broke or make a big profit, depending on the direction of my error.

To his credit, Dr. Samuelson did not bully students.  Instead of grilling me about why I was so stupid he said, “If any of you are having trouble keeping up you can come to office for extra help. I did indeed need help — lots of help at that time.  By midterm that semester, I was not only in danger of failing math but, because of mediocre performance in my other classes, I would lose my parent’s support.  Out of desperation, I made an appointment with Dr. Samuelson.

His office was in the administration building at one end of the long hallway that ran the length of the second floor.  The dark woodwork and the smell of the floor wax and the oil used for mopping made that long walk seem like the prisoner’s last before the gas chamber.  His office, small with one window looking toward the brick prison-like gym added to the feeling of doom.  Piles of books and papers covered most surfaces except for a rickety swivel chair behind the desk and an uncomfortable wooden chair in front of it.  He motioned to the chair so I sat down and began by explaining my situation, adding that I very much wanted to do well in math and would do what was required.  Instead of yawning at this oft-told tale, he smiled and looked sympathetic and said, “So you’re here willing to learn and apply yourself.  If you’re serious I’m sure we can improve your grade.”

To tell the truth, I wasn’t all that serious about doing what it would take but I needed the grade so for the next six weeks i went over and over formulas, solved for the elusive Xs, Ys and Zs.  I wrestled numbers around to balance the two sides of equal signs.  I actually began to enjoy the challenge in the work that Ike, as I began to call him, gave me.  By the end of the semester I knew enough to pass the final with a generous B grade given partly for extra credit, Ike said.  With that my grade point average came up enough to keep me afloat in the eyes of my parents and the college.

Ike also became a mentor for me for the rest of my college years and beyond.  He seemed to respect and like me and I was certainly impressed by anyone who could make math interesting and I developed affection for him and his firm but gentle coaching.

He helped me with some of the papers I wrote for my literature classes and suggested I get involved with the school paper that came out bi-weekly.  In my sophomore year I wrote some articles and helped with editing and layout and in the following two years, by default and lack of interest among the other student staff members, I became the editor.

I didn’t have a lot of time for extracurricular activities but I liked to go to dances and student productions of plays and musicals.  Sometimes I went with my apartment mates and sometimes with a date.  The girls were fun but none lasted more than a few dates.  Then one day during my senior year Brenda Livingston came into the store.  Bytes and Pixels was about the size of a large grocery store, filled mostly with computer equipment in the front section and television sets many of which lined the walls and were turned on so customers would see the fantastic pictures and be enticed to buy.  We also carried a wide assortment of audio and video discs arranged in aisles in the middle of the store.  At the back of the store was a small selection of audio equipment.