Marian Calabro offered sessions on May 14.
As a certified Amherst Writers & Artists leader, Marian Calabro leads multi-genre workshops at venues such as New Jersey’s Adult School of Montclair, County College of Morris extension classes, and private groups. She is the author of 22 nonfiction books, including several business histories produced by CorporateHistory.net LLC, the company she founded and led for 18 wonderful years. After selling it in 2022, she continues to write and edit independently. Her work encompasses poetry, plays, essays, the award-winning Perilous Journey of the Donner Party, and a related presentation available by Zoom to schools, museums, and libraries. To share her passion for writing and to pay it forward, she leads creative writing workshops as an affiliate of AWA.
The following pieces were written in response to prompts in the workshop Marian Calabro led for Write Around the World on May 14, 2022, “Marian’s Greatest Hits” (favorites from her writing groups).
The piece by Brenda Jacobsen was written in response to our “break/brake” prompt. Writers were asked to make a list of phrases using “break” (or brake). We each offered a few of our phrases aloud, reading them around to extend our lists. Then we wrote. Madelyn Hoffman’s “The Warrior Queen” and Marian Calabro’s “Slingshots” were in response to this piece of art:
It is hard to break through your silence by Brenda Jacobsen
Silence is our invisible poison. Poison you sip over breakfast while I break eggs over a sizzling skillet. And you sing songs of pity. I don’t love you, anymore but remember the psychiatrist said we are not unbreakable and must speak honestly.
Breaking up? Separating?
You go your way and don’t call me for six months. I am breaking forth and feel more than ready. Once I buy my ticket to Madrid I will be able to breathe. Thinking, drinking in the light and breathing in new stories is my plan. Then I’ll travel throughout Europe and the breakable parts of my spirit will mend themselves. Are you listening? This buddy, is our last breakfast together. Are you sleeping?
I hear your words. You are full of answers but I can’t live without you. Give me a break, will you? I am incomplete without you. We go together like eggs and toast. I won’t touch this egg. Remember you left me once before but you came back.
This time is different.
These eggs smell rotten like a week-old diaper. You never could cook. Now I’m going outside for a 15 minute cigarette break. When I return I expect you to have unpacked your suitcase and come to your senses. You are breaking down, not breaking up.
The Warrior Queen by Madelyn Hoffman
She was a woman warrior – one claimed by more than one group of people. The time was 7 AD. The place was North Africa. Her enemies many, her strength great.
Where she got her strength from, no one knew for sure. Some thought she was Muslim, some thought she was Berber, some thought she was Jewish. But regardless of what her religion was, her mission was simple. To beat back those trying to push her people off the land.
She knew how to fight with swords, but as any wise warrior would, she made sure to cover up her vulnerable parts. Even if she fought well, she was bound to miss a thrust or her opponent’s parry could go astray. Wearing armor was key to protecting herself.
Many myths surrounded her – making the telling of her story difficult. But it didn’t really matter, because she was comfortable with everything anyone said about her, as long as it was respectful.
Some people called her a man. Some people called her a woman. Some called her gender something in between. It didn’t bother her, because she knew she was all of that, and then some.
She felt she could predict the future, but not on command. She needed space. She needed to breathe. She would take her armor off, cross her legs on the ground and breathe deeply. Sometimes she connected to the universe beyond her, sometimes she didn’t. She never knew when that strong, tumultuous connection would be made. In fact, at times, it startled her.
She could look an enemy straight in the eye, raise her sword, and suddenly, she felt she couldn’t fight that person because something stood in her way – and unformed, blob of energy she didn’t recognize, but didn’t want to anger or upset.
Yes, she was a warrior, but probably not because she wanted to be, only because she had to be. She would fight as long as she could for her people – though it wasn’t clear when and where her people began and when and where they ended – but she couldn’t fight just to fight. And she couldn’t, no didn’t fight to kill. Instead she fought to protect her land and the culture around her.
Her legend grew over time, though she may not have known exactly how long was her reach, but her adventures, her successes and her smile touched and inspired many.
Once she took a stand, she became notorious for that stand and many wanted to be like her. Who knows? Perhaps she lives inside of us all.
For this Queen, the break of day was always so important. She would use the first hour of the early morning to wake up and listen to the world around her. She loved to walk around her village, looking toward those still sleeping, and those getting their oversized baking stoves fired up, in preparation for the bread they’d bake and break when the whole family and village awoke.
She often thought about how much she loved mornings, her quiet time before the day got underway.
“I wish they’d leave me alone,” she thought. “No one really wants to fight. Far better to have time to love.”
One morning, she had a breakthrough. She knew that the enemy was close. She could actually see some of their horses and flags on the horizon. She wondered what time they’d strike and how she could be sure that everyone was ready. But, she thought, maybe the community needed to distract themselves (and the opposing forces) by doing something different.
Could she interest them all in a coffee break? In a circle round a fire, in a ceremony honoring the sun or the water or fire. Certainly, everyone she knew revered all those elements of life. Perhaps they could find a way to honor what connected them together instead of what pushed them apart. She wondered about that for a while, wondering if she could even sell her own people on the idea, knowing that if she couldn’t do that, her idea would never work.
She wondered if she even believed in what she was dreaming about. Some kind of activity that would involve all the people in this community, that would engage them all so much that it would be contagious and the other side wouldn’t have the heart to disrupt their activity.
She was fascinated by this idea – but needed to think of more details. She decided to take a break from her own thoughts and call for a group meeting to discuss these ideas together. She might be considered a strong leader, but she knew she couldn’t do this alone. She knew the community would be stronger if they all discussed their options and fed off one another.
“A dance break,” she thought. “That’s just what the community needed to take the next step.”
Feeling 100 pounds lighter now, she went to her hut to prepare for the dance.
Slingshots by Marian Calabro
Bulletproof, begat by cannon proof, begat by musketproof, begat by spearproof. Armor: elaborate outfits, flak jackets of the middle ages. Machines that hurled big rocks. Catapults. Leonardo da Vinci designed one of these. When asked his profession, he wrote Military Engineer. He loved weapons. Yes, the man who painted the Mona Lisa loved weapons.
All begat by the slingshot, I guess.
Slingshots figure in “The Skin of Our Teeth,” written by Thornton Wilder as World War II brewed, in Europe and elsewhere, and staged in 1942. It’s an apocalyptic comedy-drama-mess, set in a time that dinosaurs roamed the earth but also when living rooms had chintz sofa covers and flowered wallpaper. Plot: A glacier is bearing down on New Jersey. (My home state is always good for a laugh.) A suburban family has a teenage son named Cain, a ‘boys will be boys’ archetype who carries a slingshot with which he blithely kills people. We learn in passing that he murdered a brother named Abel. Indulgent chuckles and sighs from both the mother and father.
At the end of Act 2, which is set at a fraternal conference in Atlantic City, a tidal wave approaches. A fortune teller basically says I Told You So. Characters scramble to board an ark. The slingshot boy has no partner. “Get on the boat,” his mother implores, while I hold back wanting to scream at the stage: Leave Him Behind!
But no, he boards. And his mother smiles.
I guess he’ll be drafted soon. Which side will he fight on?
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