2016 Fall and Winter Writing Marathons

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Writers shared their work from this year’s fall and winter writing marathons on Adobe Spark.

Up High

by Rex Sykes

Up high, soaring free,

Where birds fly, where souls be with God

Where nature is unleashed,

Where beauty flies

And where we stand,

Wind blows and river of love flows

When you look below you see what you have done — But it is hard to get up.

You think you are going to die.

You could trip or slip and fall right through.

Interpersonal Communication in the Classroom -Kittie Grace – Hastings College

By Jeff Grinvalds

10:00 a.m. Ruby 7

Attendance: 20

Professor Grace’s session started off at a fast pace, and it was easy to tell that she had quite a bit to say about group forming in the classroom.

She spoke about how group dynamics work, and the two levels of group tension.

Primary Tension: This is the initial social tension that a group feels based on interpersonal relationships and involves building trust.

Secondary Tension: This is the tension a group feels when they are expected to complete a task together.

Understanding how these two tensions work and how to manage them while working with groups in the classroom will help to improve all group tasks.

She shared several activities including an Agency Activity designed to force students to work together to complete a task, and then fill out a questionnaire discussing their group dynamic. This meta analysis of group tasks forces student to understand group roles.

She slowed down a bit as she got into the activities allowing participants to ask questions and discuss how to modify and utilize these lessons in a high school setting.

The most engaging activity she shared was the “Using Survivor to Teach Small Group Communication” handout. This activity pits groups against groups to complete tasks. After each task, a winner is chosen, and then losing groups vote out one member of the team. This forces the groups to work together and to identify roles. An outcast group is formed with the members that have been voted out, and the contests continue until there are only three people left in the winning group. Then they vote to see who the final Survivor is.

She shared a Mindful Listening activity which forces one person to speak on a prompt for three minutes while the partner listens without interrupting. We discussed how important listening is for students, but how we don’t actively teach it anywhere in the curriculum.

Finally, she wrapped it up with her “Family Relationship Project Assignment/Evaluation” packet which is the finale of the course she teaches. Students interview family members to create a presentation and 10-12 page paper based on what they learn. The idea is to learn how group dynamics work in one of the most important and complex systems that we have in our society, the family.

Notes Toward an Essay on Public Rhetoric in a Time of Lack of Civility

By Robert Brooke

Walking back from the Women’s March on Centennial Mall, I talked with Phip and Diana about this current moment, and the sense that our culture’s voices are becoming more shrill and contentious and less civil. This conversation has got me started on an essay I ought to write.

The premise:

While we are living through a particularly challenging time for public side-taking and divisive shouting, I want to argue that

• There never has been a “golden age” for real civil dialogue, and instead most of our nation’s historical ages have been likewise characterized by a preponderance of shouting and side taking;

• And further: in every age, the particular voices we choose to value (in the culture’s later times) have been those that find what Phip was calling persuasive rhetoric – not the bigoted or racist voices that roughly shout past The Other, but voices which invite the listener into a reasoned contemplation of the era’s issues. (I’m thinking here of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in the civil rights era and Lewis Thomas’s essays on nuclear devastation in the Cold War.)

I think to make the case of this essay, I’d need to establish two things:

1. That in past historic moments of conflict, the predominant public rhetoric was side-taking; and

2. That the voices we retain for historical study from those eras are unusual in that age.

I am thinking both points are possible to establish.

Say 1916 Nebraska, when our state put into practice the nation’s first “English only in education” law, restricting German out of vehement public side-taking in anti-German nationalist fervor;

Or say 1972, the Vietnam era, when the main slogans I remember were all divisive: “Hell No, I Won’t Go” & “My Country, Right or Wrong” & “Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out”:

I think it would be fair to say that most public rhetoric in those eras took sides and held no quarter.

By contrast, the voices we value and study from those times – the War Poets Winifred Owen and Rupert Brooke, Benjamin Britten’s stunning War Requiem from the first world war; Vietnam essayists like Tim O’Brien’s The Things We Carried and Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain—are valued because their strategies enact different kinds of argument, and strive from understanding and compassion across positions, even while they clearly promote a certain agenda.

The closing move of the essay I’m imagining would have to return to the present. Yes, I want to say, we are living in a charged time, full of dissenting and uncivil voices. But this isn’t new. It’s just overwhelming. What will endure from this time, if history is any guide, are the persuasive voices just now coming into being, in the corners of division. It might be our job, as English teachers who in part are cultural brokers for the future, to be on the lookout for these emerging voices, and to hold them dear when and where they appear.

Author’s note: This is very rough and may become a piece of flash fiction. There is a little shout out to Robert and his Aztec Mocha at Indigo Bridge. I’m having fun exploring ideas through my fictional characters voices!


By Kate Barr


Gal – noun, informal: sometimes offensive

A term used to refer to a girl or woman

Ugh. I turned away from my laptop screen in our studio toward Aveline, “I can’t believe I said ‘gal’. Where did that come from? I’m such an idiot. I never use that term.”

“Oh, you’re just beating yourself up again, Remi. Quit it. It’s not like some of the highly offensive words people use for women. Besides, remember, you’re not going to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend, right? You’re not an idiot.” she raised an eyebrow at me in, what we call, ‘the look’. “Just think of this as one of those opportunities to DO better.”

We left our Gallery 9 studio just in time to run down to the Lincoln Mall and catch the march for equality the day after the inauguration. Never have I been so proud of my community. People of all genders, races, and ages flooded the Lincoln Mall chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” There were groups, singles, kids in strollers out on this relatively warm, sunny January day. Signs ranging from ‘I’m with Her’ with arrows pointing in all directions, to ‘Stand for Equality’, ‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’, ‘Go Peace’, ‘My vagina is not your moral compass’, ‘Hail to the Thief’, ‘You can’t take my rights I’m still using them!’, and ‘I am strong female, Latina, I am the future’. There were also pussycat cut outs, t-shirts proclaiming Nasty Woman and I love Public Schools, a flag with the Earth on it, Rhonda the Riveter tshirts, a rainbow heart exclaiming ‘Love trumps Hate’, and more… I am struck by the solidarity! My text charm goes off in my pocket “It’s so great!! So proud of this city.” from someone near and dear to my heart.

After the march, kicking back with a hot Aztec mocha at Indigo Bridge Bookstore, someone playing ‘City of Stars’ on the piano, I started to think about the fact that I’ve been trying to break the habit of saying ‘you guys’ that had been ingrained in my speech patterns to mean ‘you all’. Every time I let that slip recently at work I can see my brittle colleague cringe. I feel conflicting emotions when she does because she does not validate my intelligence – simply because I’m young. My own goal of trying to eradicate negative gender verbiage from my vocabulary fights with the perverse pleasure of getting under her tightly stretched skin.

“Do you think it matters?” I question Aveline. “You know, the words we use?”

“Remi, I don’t know. Why are you so bogged down in details like this?” I know she has other things on her mind.

But this is on my mind now. My voice quivered with emotion as I said,

“I think it does matter, and I think the time is NOW to do something about…I don’t know…EVERYTHING! One way is through the words we use, the words we choose. I’m not just talking about women, I’m talking about anyone who has felt or feels marginalized. Abolishing from our vocabulary any words that make someone uncomfortable is an immediate way to start, whether terms have to do with gender, sexual orientation, age, race, culture, ableness, or socio economic status. When words carry a loaded connotation that is offensive to anyone, then they are offensive to us all.” As I paused for a breath I saw the glimmer in her eye that let me know she’s on board.

When we got back to our studio we began a flurry of poster making to be ready for future rallies. She rummaged in a pile of scraps while I cut down some dowels that had been tucked behind my stacks of handmade paper. “Remi, is this how we become activists?” she asked as she emerged from her search.

I tossed her the rubber cement and said, “I think so!”

Then came the tough part. I was trying to figure out what I want to put on my sign. We had heard rumblings of future rallies to support immigrants and women’s reproductive rights. What saying could encapsulate my thoughts in a few words that would suit the myriad issues facing us? I set to work on a big heart…waiting for the words to come.

Then next Sunday evening Aveline popped by my apartment and said, “Grab your sign and your phone – let’s go!” She was bundled up and breathless. “There’s a candlelight vigil at the capitol to support immigrants.”

This time we got to the capitol early and I wondered if there was going to be much of a crowd at all. We had parked on the south side and as we walked by the Nebraska State Education Association, I looked up as red caught my eye. The red letters in their top floor windows spelled out ‘Say NO 2 Charter Schemes’. It occurred to me then that we are finding all kinds of ways to get messages across. As the sun started to set, people started to congregate. Wrapped in hats, gloves, whatever it took to stay warm on this Sunday evening – people were showing up in a fairly sizeable crowd. Aveline turned to me, eyes shining and said, “Remi, this is a Sunday night, and it’s cold – look at all the people that are out here! Plus this wasn’t even that widely publicized. I just heard about it this afternoon.”

A number of people spoke including a Nebraska State Senator and a minister, along with community members, some that had come to the U.S. as refugees themselves. Speeches were inspired and inspiring, and as the crowd huddled together for warmth they chanted along. Cars driving by honked in unity. There were some shouts of dissent, but that’s ok with me as long as it’s peaceful. Freedom of thought is part of what I want to protect.

Afterward as we walked towards The Mill with the promise of a hot Moto Mocha, Aveline asked me, “Remi, did you feel afraid at all?”

“No, I didn’t. Maybe we should have been. Who knows what’s going to happen? But no, I didn’t.”

As we found a table and wrapped our chilled hands around warm mugs Aveline told me the young female immigrants that spoke made her think about a Somali-American woman named Ilhan Omar that is a State Representative in Minnesota. “Remi, the “Twin Cities Daily Planet” had a quote about her. Hang on…” she searched her phone for the quote. “Here it is, ‘Omar has to maneuver the systemic sexism that hounds women who enter the political arena.’ Imagine what she has overcome!”

She asked me what had stuck with me from the vigil. “The young woman who had been a refugee from Sudan made a big impact on me. Remember when she said that she has been feeling insecure and afraid since the inauguration? Then she said that just seeing the crowd tonight healed her heart.” I stirred my coffee and looked back up at her. “I think that’s what we can do. Show up.”

Show up.

All the way from here

By Phip Ross

From the second floor alley window of Gallery 9,

I can see the Red 9 bar.

I must be on 9th Street

Where today I can see

To “Chimney Rock in Summer” by Bryon Line

Unlike I’ve ever known it. Textured

Gloops of white and blue

Oil paint and dabs of red. I want to taste

Its soft serve vanilla-bubble-gum cone

But avoid the scrub and purple doggies in the foreground.

I’d tuck a couple cowpie chocolate chips in the tallgrasses

Into my pocket for a later campfire kick-start.


On the Rock’s southern edge

A scrim of bushes holds tight

That the wearying wind will not

Devour the Chimney, only melt it one day

To a soft mound, a well-savored icon

under a hungry mouth of blue.

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