Hollow Stare: An Excerpt

Last night Ronny was the worst I’d ever seen. I mean he could be bad, a couple punches here and there but it usually was over in less than a minute. And in the last year he’d only been really rough with Mom three times, four? I’d got a couple black eyes but only after getting in trouble or yelling that he couldn’t tell me what to do.

But he’d never gone after all of us like that.

When the sounds woke me around midnight, I knew right away what they were. I’d heard crashes like that ever since Mom’d married Ronny. I used to cover my ears, waiting for it to be over so I could steal into the hall bathroom to soak a washcloth with cold water. Then when Mom came in and closed the door behind her, I could dab at her face or shoulder.

“A call at my office? Why can’t you do your fucking job?” Ronny’s voice came through the door.

“She’s just confused.”

“No, she’s a drugged-out whore!”

The office school called Ronny about the rally? Shit. Why did I trip at school?

“Shut-up, asshole!

“Don’t tell me what to do, you fucking bitch.”

I heard muffled rumbling and a slam. Mom’s cry. “Fuck you!”

I started to cover my ears but then a thump and another slam jolted me out of bed. I peeked through the door crack at the darkened hallway. At the end something was shaking.

I knew what it was. But still headed toward it. Cocked a futile ear. It didn’t stop.

My insides turned to water. Swallowing hard, I clutched my gut and inched forward.

Kyle was already in the hallway by the time I got to the master bedroom. With his door right across from theirs, it must have been even louder to him. His eyes were Night of the Living Dead dark circles begging me to do something.

“Bitch!” Another crash.

I pushed Kyle behind me and knocked on their door.

Another thud. Followed by a muffled cry. Mom’s voice.

Knocked louder.

The door stayed closed.

I glanced back at my baby brother who was clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked even smaller than he had a moment before. I blinked, wondering if fourteen-year old’s could shrink.

Work brain.

Setting my jaw, I pounded. Still no response. Kicked at the door. Kyle came up by my side and joined me. We hammered so hard I was sure we’d soon splinter wood, a desperate rhythm that no composer would ever use.

Another whimper came from inside.

I jiggled the knob. Locked. Yanked harder. Pushed Kyle out of the way and ran for the door.

And fell into Ronnie’s gut.

He only stared for a moment before grabbing me by the hair. As he swung me in an arc, he screeched, “Go the fuck to bed!”

My back hit the wall and I fell to my knees.

A screaming Kyle leapt at Ronnie and wrapped both arms and legs around his torso like one of those sad monkeys in science experiments. “Leave-them- alone!” he said through clenched teeth.

Ronny backed up smashing Kyle into the wall. My baby brother unclenched his jaw and released his grip.

When he slid down to the floor, I thought Ronnie would stop for sure. He never went after Kyle. It was like Kyle had this special glow to him, heavenly angel or superstar spotlight or something. And he did stop for a sec. Kind of stared confused at his son.

Then his eyes went red. I knew what was next and started to crawl forward.

But was too late.

By the time I reached Kyle, Ronnie had already lifted him over his head and tossed him back toward his room. Kyle bounced off the bed, a weird circus act. He landed on the floor with a sickening crunch.  And did not move.

“Kyle?” I croaked pushing past Ronnie toward the crumpled heap that was my brother.

His arm was twisted in a weird position and his breath came in short gasps. It sounded like his lungs had shriveled and now could barely hold air. I reached out and pet his hair.

“Joy?”

“Yeah.”

“It hurts.”

I swallowed a big lump in my throat. “Sorry.”

“Look at what you did,” Ronnie growled. “Should have left well enough alone.” He kneeled and reached out, but Kyle shrunk from his grasp.

Mom appeared, loose bathrobe belt dragging on the ground. I didn’t dare look at her face. “Baby?”

“Mom.” Kyle stretched his good hand toward her.

She squeezed it then ran her fingers over his forearm. He cried out. “It’s broken,” she said in a distant voice. “But it’ll be okay. We’ll get you to the doctor.”

Only now did I look at her. Disheveled hair. Split lip. Right eye almost swollen shut. She couldn’t go out like that.

“Get your keys, Ronnie. We gotta go to the hospital.” The words didn’t seem to come from my mouth but from some stranger wearing my face as a mask.

While Mom wrapped Kyle’s shoulders in the baby blanket he’d had since he was little, I ran to my room and threw on some jeans and a tee.

Cradling his arm, Mom led my sobbing little brother toward the car and onto the velvet back seat. Then she just stood there, hands extended.

“I’ll take care of him. I got this, okay?” I gently unclenched Mom’s hand from under Kyle’s arm and got in beside him.

Mom’s good eye was a hollow socket as she closed the door.

Ronny said nothing but turned the ignition and pulled out of the garage slower than coagulating blood.

During the silent ride to the hospital, Kyle kept his eyes closed against the pain while I stared at the little trucks and cars on the faded blankie. They dipped and bobbed with each hollow in the road as if trying to drive off the blanket. I watched one and imagined that it escaped the fabric and rolled out the window.

Toward the twinkling lights of some distant and empty street.  

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net 

Finding Gratitude

Thank you. A simple phrase. So easy to utter.  It falls from our lips multiple times each day. Yet, have you ever thought about what it means to be thankful? To embrace the gifts all around?

I know I don’t always show gratitude. Sometimes I live in resentment,  blaming others for my successes and failures. If my step-father hadn’t beaten the women in my family, I’d have been assertive in my romantic relationships.  I would have stood up and demanded that my needs be met. If my husband hadn’t had an affair, I wouldn’t be doubting my lovability today.  Even if we’d still divorced I would have begun dating with confidence in my attractiveness.  It was my boyfriend’s job that kept me from committing fully. If he had just gotten a better paying one, we would have had the perfect relationship.

And it goes on and on.

So often, I’ve argued with what is the truth of my experience.  But I have no control over past events. I cannot change the fact that my ex-husband had a secret seven-year affair. I cannot rewrite an old boyfriend’s resume. I cannot magically erase the black eyes and broken bones my step-father inflicted.

But I can choose where to focus to my thoughts. I can say thank you for every experience. I can choose gratitude. I can thank my ex-husband for believing in me when I was just an insecure kid unsure of my life’s path. I can admire how my step-father sought counseling and tried to overcome his anger showing me that anyone can change.  I  can be grateful for how my boyfriend told me time and again to be kind to myself . How he modeled self-acceptance and making peace with what is.

Instead of fixating on what never manifested, I will remember what has.

I may be single, again, but wondrous relationships abound. My children fill my heart and mind with joy. My silly dad and worry-wort mom say ridiculous things that make me chuckle. I have rocking times with friends dancing, chatting, sharing stories. Kisses and caresses from lovers of the past linger on my skin.  I have an abundance of love for myself and others.

I am blessed.

Thank you all.

ss nude079-M bow

(Photo by David Stroup)

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Sleepless Prayer

I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Keep waking somewhere between two and four. Thinking…too much. Letting the world’s problems fill my psyche. Wondering if I have any power to effect change.

It happened again last night. I glanced at my phone. 2:17. Got up peed, washed, snuggled back down inside the sheets. Rolled over onto my stomach. Thought of all the hate filling the feeds. Wishing I had the words to turn it inside out. Rolled onto my side. Remembered a cruel barb an ex-boyfriend had thrown me. Put on a meditation tape.

The British woman’s soft voice filled my room. “I am love. I am goodness. I am a wondrous being immersed in spirit.”

The back of my head was now on the pillow and feet were splayed out like Vitruvian Man. I waited for sleep to come.

It didn’t.

I am love. I thought. It’s the essence of my spirit. 

So I began to pray. Not for myself but for the rest of them. The angry. The suffering. Those who look in the mirror or through windows to see only ugliness.

“God, help me to be kinder. Help me to be more forgiving. Please watch over my babies and keep them safe and in joy.”

“Help Mom to smile more and Dad to relax into the day.”

“Keep gentle hands on my students” shoulders. Help my colleagues know that, yes, they make a difference.”

“God, help me to help them. To have integrity and act in a way that doesn’t harm. And for he whose presence made my heart soar,  but doesn’t know his wonder, help him bring down the walls  and barriers that block out the world. ”

“God, help me to be love.”

And I finally drifted off.

heart earth

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Hope for Peace: 10 Ways to Effect Change

Just like you, recent events have rocked me to the core. As humanity’s ugly underbelly is exposed with mange and open sores that continue to bleed, I’m seeking hope. For me, it lies with children. I have seen first hand that these innocents desire justice and harmony. I believe children have the power to create profound change in our world. If there is ever to be true peace, it must transcend the generations. But first they must dream of the changes they want. Here are ten creative ideas I’ve used with my students. Let’s all begin the change.

983747_10152286569688030_3959075860435877513_n

1. Make Peace Cards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. Make an anti-bully poster.

images (1)

3. Draw cartoons dealing a bully.

images

4. Paint a peace sign on a paper plate.

peace

5. Create a Love the Earth card.

348d04fd5a196a7a13478bd60b21f7d4

6. Make a dream board.

2

7. Photograph someone doing a kind act.

SAM_0877

8. Create a dance high-fiving and smiling with your buds.

B00ER8HHIO_img2_lg

9. Film a video of yourself singing a peace song.

Colby Jeffers: Change the World

10. Paint a self-portrait.

frostselfportraits

Any more ideas? Share  and we’ll turn 10 to 10,000!

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Hoarfrost Barricade: A Poem

He stands behind a glass wall

Inviting me to look through

Its streaked opaqueness

Gyrating his hips

And flashing a nipple.

 

As if seeing his skin

Will make me believe that

His heart is open.

 

He turns this way and that

Taunting

Teasing

Forcing my breath to come

Ever faster.

 

Then retreats.

One step

Two.

I press my fingers to

The glass

Each exhalation

Fogging his image.

 

He retreats further.

And I search for a

Hammer

To smash through this barricade

 

Pounding

Until

Hoarfrost

Rains

Down

Icy slivers tear through flesh

And open veins

We bleed.

And for a moment

Know

What truly

Beats in our chests.

 

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Children Honoring Dr. King

This Martin Luther King Day I am thinking back to making an anti-bullying video last year. When I first heard about the contest, I thought it’d be a great way to teach my kids about how to deal with bullying. So I wrote a script, had some auditions, and started filming the munchkins in imaginary bullying situations. I was lucky to have such good actors this year who were open to retakes, but still it was pretty tough to try and fit filming into our already busy schedule. Most of it occurred during recesses.

And the due date was fast approaching.

One of the greatest challenges was finding a quiet place at school to film the scenes.  We don’t have any special equipment like muff-covered microphones or special lights. Just an IPad. We’d be in the middle of one with the kids rocking their acting and the bell would ring or a ball would roll our way with a second-grader right behind.

So with a groan I’d delete that take and try again.

On the last day before all entries were due, I tried taking the kids to behind the school, thinking that would be quiet and protected from the blustery winds of Santa Maria. And it worked, sort-of. But then there was another announcement while filming.

With recess over, what choice did I have? We were out of time so I had to use the scene.

And was surprised as heck with how good the video came out.

But would we win?

Weeks passed. No news. The kids kept asking me if I’d heard anything and I had to shake my head no. Then one morning there was an email in my inbox.

“Dear Laurie,

We are delighted to inform you that you are a Winner in the Take A Stand Against Bullying Video Contest sponsored by Oxy Skin Care. The Scholastic and Oxy teams were so impressed with the caliber of work; your students should be very proud!” I read the other morning as my fifth-grade students were getting out their homework.

“Yahoo! We won! We won!” I crowed jumping up and down in front of my astonished class.

“What, Ms. Woodward?”

“The video we made won the national contest!”

There was silence for a moment then a roar of cheers, applause and desk pounding so deafening  I was sure the principal would come in any second and tell us to quiet down. Kids leapt into the air, high-fiving each-other while I did a victory Salsa dance across the room.

I love being a teacher.

 

IMG_2123

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Burning: An Excerpt

Once, when I was a fifteen year old camper at Catalina Island camp, I snuck out to party in the lodge with some of the counselors. They were all all older than me, some almost twenty, and in my eyes way cool. I felt honored to be included with a group that had shared so much hippie wisdom with me,  that I probably grew an inch taller in that hour.

Well,  one minute we were all laughing and chugging down Boone’s Farm sweet wine and the next there was this horrific crash as I watched the party disintegrate into a jealous punching match.

Two of our ski boat drivers, Matt and Steve were on the floor rolling over and over in a vicious brawl. I guess they pined for the same counselor, a tanned California blonde named Gail. And when she turned her attention to Steve, Matt lost it. He attacked Steve with a vengeance even my step-father didn’t have.

They rose to their feet and I watched horrified as Steve’s face swelled under Matt’s bloodying blows.  He hit the door and then bounced back like a racquetball rebounding off a court wall. Even now Matt didn’t let up but hit him again and again as Steve tried like hell to block his blows.

“Stop!” I cried leaping out of the way. I shouted again but they kept at it. Now Steve bent over and head butt Matt in the gut forcing both of them against the pool table.

I retreated to the corner of the lodge and curled up into a ball. Why won’t they listen? I thought sobbing uncontrollably.

“You guys p-please, no more. No more. No more..”

I guess my tears must have finally got through to them because a moment later they were all gathered around me.

“This is horrible. You guys should f-forgive each other,” I begged between gulping sobs, hoping my  innocent eyes  would open their hearts.

They both shook their heads.

“But it’s wrong. There should be peace in the world.” I sniffled.

“Sorry, kid. That’s just a dream. Or a song on the radio. You understand?” Matt asked.

I shook my head. No, I didn’t. And all these years later, I still don’t.

(The above is an excerpt from a new novel I’m working on. I think this scene embodies its theme. )

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Bringing Down the Wall of Indifference

Very recently, my relationship became road rash on asphalt and I was forced to take a long hard look in in the mirror. Damn, I didn’t like what I saw. The woman that looked back wore an empty expression from the walls she’d built around herself. This protective barrier of brick and mortar kept her safe from pain but had grown so high she wasn’t giving a wonderful man the love he deserved.

So I decided it was time to make a change. A huge one. And it was beautiful to finally open my heart and life, experiencing emotions I’d locked away. But it was too late. This man I’d kept at bay for so long was leaving me. He wanted the connection I’d failed to give. I argued and begged but his mind was made up. We might have a chance in the future, if we worked at truly building a partnership. But in the meantime he was moving out.

He is leaving today. The pain is overwhelming.

Three nights ago I awoke at 3:00 AM. Tossing and turning. Trying to navigate the rejection, fear, uncertainty, and hurt. For a tortured half-hour I lived in anger, resentment, and the pain of the past.

And the wall of indifference rose up around me. Again.


I felt myself harden. Then a voice in my head shouted NO! You will not live in that lonely place any more. You have finally let those walls down and it has been beautiful.


So I began a mantra. “I let go of anger, resentment, and the past. I open myself to love. My heart is open.” At the same time I held  a vision of my chest open like an unbuttoned coat letting in a breeze of love.I repeated, “I am open to love. I am open.” again and again.


It was weird; after a while of repeating this mantra to myself there was  a shift in my thinking. The walls of indifference I usually hide behind crumbled and my heart began to soften. The more I repeated it, the softer I became.

I’ve managed to stay open for a few days now. I pray that I can continue so that someday we can build what we should have had all along.

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Tips for a Peaceful School Year

Well, it’s getting closer to that time we teachers both dread and look forward to. The beginning of a new school year. Along with the mad rush to get everything ready, I try to also think of how I’ll promote peace this year. Here are a few things I do that you might find helpful.

1. Create a Peace Zone. Here I have a small table for both peace and discipline cards below inspirational posters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. Plan your reward system. What rewards will you use?  Personally I have two reward systems: cooperative and individual. My students sit in cooperative groups and get points for on-task behavior. That group with the most points receives a prize at the end of the day. For individual behaviors, each student has the opportunity to get two tickets weekly: one for completing all homework and another if they did pull their card. They can use these ticket to purchase toys from the treasure box.

8182147

3. Think about your rules and your assertive discipline plan. I find that a few  general rules are easier to manage than a long list of specific ones. Examples include: Treat others, property, and self with respect. Follow directions. Wait to be called upon to speak.

For discipline, my students make their own cards. On one side, they color their name and a positive scene doing something they like. This affirms their uniqueness and what privileges can be lost when rules are broken.On the opposite side are three columns: Date, Problem, Next Time. These are filled in when students get to the “pulled card” level of misbehavior. I believe writing the problem down and then writing what would have been a good choice helps children reflect on their behavior. I do have this caveat: Next time must be stated as a POSITIVE. If the problem is pushing in line, then he/she should write, “Keep hands to self.”

Copy of card back

4. Write Discipline into your lesson plans for the first weeks of school. Give yourself plenty of time to train students. This is not the time to rush into the standards but to establish procedures.Believe me, it’ll pay off. Whenever I’ve rushed because I’ve felt under the gun, discipline got a heck of a lot tougher. And you don’t want to start the year like that.

keep-calm-and-go-slow-4

5. Plan an art project that will make every child  feel successful. Need ideas? Pinterest has tons.

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Lifeline: A Peace Poem

We are the weavers of children

Whether they are wading, treading, or drowning

Each child is reaching out

For lifelines to pull them from their semi-fluid perceptions,

Yet many find flimsy ribbons braided with Achilles tendons

That split, then disconnect buoys

As they struggle in turbulent effluent.

Sometimes suspension bridges splinter

Bodies flailing and thrashing.

And they hang mid-air over purgatorial precipices.

And so we come,

The weavers,

Bringing strong cordage and twine of seraphic gossamer

To silence their cries and give them hope.

  And when we set to work,

The floundering souls reach out for lifelines.

For we know the secret.

We have only to pluck the hairs from atop our heads,

Begin intertwining them with gentle words of a peaceful future

And thus create:

            Blankets to keep them cool on hot summer days

            Or safety nets for acrophobic trapeze artists

With loving words we

Spin arks to race arid currents,

Or create buoyant suits that deflect each incoming wave,

But we must remember

To continue weaving at our numinous looms,

And make our fingers deft

To find places where weft meets warp

And make fibers of

Ethereal clouds to moisten parched radices.

When our eyes grow weary of patterns too subtle for children to see,

Or when aching backs and cramping forearms make for troublesome twining 

Even when our hands become bloodied by sharp sutures from the unknowing

or the insane,

            We must endure

            We are the weavers,

Intertwining and intersecting,

Spinning fibrous cable that children cling to

That they will wrap round their waists

Before plunging into cavernous incarnations

To discover,

In the depths,

A reflection of the future

A reflection of themselves

A reflection

Of the peace weaver they can become.

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net