Turning to Anne Lamott

Once upon a time,  when I was giving my talk, THEN AND NOW – about what women artists had achieved for their equality in the art world from 1972-1992  – at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA the Gorilla Girls ran in on a special appearance to give me a hug.  That was a high spot for me. I thought about them and wondered where they were when I needed them earlier today.
Getting started this morning I needed some encouragement so I re-read @Anne Lamott’s FaceBook post of last week. Maybe you too look to her for a different way of thinking or an unexpected perspective about life.I stopped at these lines and started laughing out loud.
From her March 4, 2015 long post -” Or, as my pastor said when I was fearfully headed on a plane 10,000 miles away, “When you step onto a plane, it’s a little late for beggy prayers. It’s time for trust and surrender.”Yep!! Right on Anne – “a little late for beggy prayers” in more situations than taking your seat on a plane.
“Beggy prayers.” That’s it isn’t it – – – in my case begging instead of thinking of the blessings and thanking God for them. Instead of looking a situation straight on and working out a solution – I was lamenting one of those situations last night – and hurt and insulted when my daughter charged me with begging about something — instead of deciding about it. Fortunately I got over my mad in time to see that she was right.Do you you hate that like I do — seeing when people are right and having to admit you are about to head out on the wrong plane — well anyway – no beggy prayers right now – – thanks to my daughter and now thanks to Anne Lamott I have a name for it.
I think I should make a needlepoint pillow or have a tatoo – “no beggy prayers – trust and surrender”- oh, darn…trust and surrender…now that’s another challenge.
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Why Remember?

Johns Hopkins Hospital, circa 1954.

Jim took this picture when he was a 1st year medical student at Hopkins. A California guy raised in the shadow of the Sierras he loved the snow in the mountains but never had to slog through it to work until he landed at Hopkins.  A camera buff he enjoyed seeing the world transformed into black and white.

This morning snow is pelting down outside my window and I am thinking a lot of Jim, even more than usual.

Tomorrow is the 3rd Anniversary of Jim’s death. Its been rough lately  – – because you see he is not really dead for me. He is very much alive to me – and I intend to keep it that way through my stories.

Some days I forget to write checks to pay bills but I have vivid memories of most of the 57 years of days Jim and I shared starting with the first time I set eyes on him at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on N. Washington Street in Baltimore.

Maybe its my storyteller mind-side that keeps me remembering like I do.  And, you know something- -I am grateful for it. I have worked hard to hone the ability to retrieve times, places and people. Since I tell family stories memories are the “stuff” I work with.

Twenty years ago I attended my first five- day-out-of-town storytelling workshop which was led my favorite teacher, the incomparable Donald Davis. He started the first session with the instruction “take us somewhere we can’t go if YOU don’t take us.”  Donald’s direction was electrifying for me as I walked into my grandmother’s long-gone house.  Every step brought it more clearly into view. 2301 East Seventh Street, Charlotte, NC wasn’t gone after all.

On a trip to Fresno our daughter Robin and I sat in the car with Jim outside his favorite childhood home. Talking it through he brought the interior of that house to life for us without stirring from the car. He also pointed out the spot on the block where he ran his bike into an oncoming car when he was 11 years old. He laughed, “I was showing off for a girl coming down the street”. He was tossed in the air, hit the hood of the car and landed in the street. His brother Tom told me, ” I saw it. We thought he was dead.” Lucky and  foolish yes, fortunately not dead.

An African folk tale, The Cow Tail Switch is a golden nugget for me. In the story five sons find their father’s bones in the jungle where he was killed by a wild animal when he was hunting. They conjure him back to life. The story ends with the wisdom, “no one is truly dead as long as people tell his story.” 

I came to storytelling through Genealogy and that “raising of the dead”, at least on a chart, has always been the heart of my mission. When my kids were not interested in my charts I turned to storytelling to breathe  life into those names and dates I had worked so hard to find.

And what about this?

At this time in my life I want to take my children and their children back through time to know Jim and me over the years. Seems to me that is a good thing for me to be doing. I have been known to say, “Your Story is Your Legacy.” Now is the time to do more than talk about it —

Wearing My White Hair Proudly – 1

Lately I have begun to really appreciate my white hair.
For instance, last week I attended a large professional gathering where folks had come to meet and greet, to see and be seen, and hopefully to make some contacts. This is not the first one of these cattle calls I have attended but I have not been to one in a few years. It hasn’t changed but I have.
I do remember a time when people wanted to talk to me but certainly on this day, a white haired woman, a storyteller at that, was not someone today’s eager beavers, up and coming 40-50 year olds thought had anything of value to impart, so I was free to watch them and to learn.
These days government buildings in the Washington, DC area are set up like airports with long lines for baggage screening, ID checks and waiting. Finally when the checking in was done, it was a long walk to the building where the meeting was being held. Since I am no longer a daily sprinter I was gasping for breath by the time I got inside, out of the cold, and took my place in another long, slowing snaking line to approach the registration table. Finally I was next. What a relief! But just as I was about to give my name a
tall, well-suited man, chatting with his companion, stepped in front of me and gave HIS name. The woman behind the registration desk scurried away to retrieve a red packet and name tag for him. He noticed me, smiled a charming smile, and said, sheepishly, “I guess I broke the line.”
” Yes. You did”
” Well, we are co-sponsors.”
“Oh – then you knew you could get away with it.” I replied, smiling sweetly.
He blushed, took his packet from the woman and dashed off.
I picked up my registration tags and my red packet and stepped to a near-by table to re-assemble my belongings.
It was a surprise when the very same man approached me. “I want to apologize for cutting in front of you.”
I smiled and nodded graciously like a benevolent grand-mother and asked, “Well, who are you?”
He was indeed from an Agency that co-sponsored the meeting.
I was glad to meet him and we had a few minutes of polite and interesting conversation.
He was surprised to learn that I was familiar with his Agency and with the subject of the day.
I could see in his face that he was also surprised there was a person under my white hair.
We exchanged cards.
That would never have happened if I had not laughed at him and spoken up.
Something to think about.
Definitely a lesson learned! A day well-spent.

A Valentine Delivery

A bit of story for Valentines Day.

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The other day as I fiddled with my roses for Jim I was surprised when the Arlington tour bus made an unusual stop at the edge of our Section. Two men stepped down – the older man stepped down and the younger man jumped to the road. The older was carrying a large coloful bouquet wrapped in clear cellophane.  I watched them walk through the tombstones to deliver their Valentine near-by. In the bitter cold of the day we were all about the business of Love.


Weaving Women’s Stories

Weaving Stories of Women’s History

February 15 was Susan B. Anthony’s birthday. She is a legendary women’s rights advocate from the early 19th Century who led the struggle for Suffrage so that today we women have the right to vote.

When I was reading through some past blog posts and I came across this one from October 2007.  It seems right to re-post it on Susan B’s birthday as an homage, a connection, and a bit of reminder for the gift she and the women following her won and passed on.

October 30, 2007 The Veteran Feminists of America held a reception at the Sewall Belmont House on Capitol Hill, DC. which was once Alice Paul’s home and the seat of the National Women’s Party, particularly during the fight for gaining women’s right to vote.  This evening was an induction ceremony and I was one of the inductees. So many familiar faces. For any one who had been actively involved in the many parts of the struggles of the 1970s it was a flashback of those days.

I came to be a part of this group on that evening because of my activism in several roles for national organizations during the struggles to gain equal rights for women artists and for work as ERA Campaign Director for the League of Women Voters the last three years of the campaign to ratify the Equal Right Amendment.  It was a proud evening!!!

I reported on it for my blog that night.

Well, a lot has changed since that evening.

For one thing, I stopped dying my hair shortly after that and my budget is grateful.

Since well before 2007 I turned the skills learned in my lobbying days toward becoming a professional storyteller.  I still keep women, their history,  and their lives at the center of my work. www.ellouiseschoettler.net

Last year I introduced a new story that is more personal to me than anyone would guess unless they knew my history as a feminist activist or know women’s history of being told to wait for years for the right to vote or for the Equal Rights Amendment – which, by the way, women do not have yet.

Months ago I discovered the story of THE HELLO GIRLS – switchboard operators who volunteered to the Army Signal Corps and served in France during WWI – and when they returned home after the war were denied their veterans benefits. Sound familiar? But they were determined to fight against this unfairness. They lobbied for 60 years – finally gaining their veterans benefits in 1977. Audiences gasp when they hear – “of 233 who served in France there were only 18 were still living.”

The “plucky” women of THE HELLO GIRLS have been left out of history books and remain in the shadows of history.

You can see, I am sure, why I am devoted to this story.

I consider my telling this story as lobbying for women’s rights but using a different megaphone.
THE HELLO GIRLS will return to the 2015 DC Capital Fringe in July. Perhaps they will show up in your area. Their story is our story.

Let’s celebrate Susan B. Anthony – she never gave up – – and neither can we, or our daughters, or all the women after us.


They Left Me Laughing

Textile Collage

Today I braved the cold to keep my doctor’s check-up appointment. First time I have been out for a few days so I was enjoying the window-shopping,  people watching and just noticing things hoping for something that might be particularly interesting  or maybe spark a story.

I sat in a straight chair in the small reception room, thumbing a magazine and “noticing.”

Then I really looked at the two women who were sitting across from me. They were dressed for being “on business” and chatting about several pieces of paper they shared. Then my eyes fell on the over-sized, bulging black sample case on the floor near the feet of one of the women. I have seen drug detail sales men and women many times in doctor’s offices  but I had never seen representatives from a company that billed itself for providing, “innovative hospice care” and had that slogan embroidered in white on the side a large black canvas sample bag.

It took me back. Then I was curious. And, since I was the only other person in the doctor’s waiting room I spoke up when it was polite to ask, ” I see your sample kit. May I ask – just curious – how do you market hospice care?”

They were surprised by the question but since I was friendly and just sounded interested  – one of the women confidently responded about the quality of their service and that they like to come in to educate the doctors on what they offer. “We sometimes have to explain the Medicare benefit too.”

Now here was something I knew about, ” Oh, that should be pretty simple – they take it all – at least that was the requirement when my husband signed the forms to enter Hospice Care.”  “Well, yes.” they replied.

There was a lull in the conversation and since  I felt we were at ease with each other – so I lobbed another gambit. “Would you mind a suggestions?”

“No” They both nodded me on.

“I suggest you put something over that sign on your case.” They did not say it but I heard the “why” they were thinking so I laughed – “it struck me as being a bit out of place in a doctor’s office where patients are here hoping to get well.”

” You know you have put your finger on something. As it happens – they have changed the name of our company – to XXX Healthcare.” “Really?” I gasped.

At that moment the doctor who was seeing them arrived on the scene. They gathered their sample cases and went in for their meeting.

I just sat there and laughed.

At least I was laughing,




First Snow Day – 2015

Last night I worked out the list and plan for my work today. Good. Good. Went to sleep feeling on top of things. I was on track. Ask any solopreneur – that’s the goal.
Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.57.36 PM But instead –

I woke to a snow white world this morning although I went to sleep thinking the snow was going to fall in PA not around us. One of nature’s changes of mind and surprises.
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Listening to the weather alerts  Karen went to the PA house last night to make sure all was well up there. Neither of us expected that I would wake up on my own to handle the snow pile up. I am challenged when it comes to shoveling. Thank heavens there are two strapping boys living next door who wield a fine shovel.

Last night it occurred to me that I should move my car from the street in front of the house to the driveway. Even though I knew that’s what Jim would have done I shrugged off the  warning thought and went to bed.

So this morning after the boys cleared the walkway and the driveway I decided to make that car-move even though the streets were not completely cleared. The snow was lightweight and dry. Surely I could manage this. For years I had watched Jim manage these moves. I felt confident. And it was going well until I started slipping down the steep street entrance to my driveway and ended up turned across the middle of the street.
This was not what I intended!

Fortunately Chris, my very capable neighbor was home. He did not make it into the driveway either but he drifted the car down the street further and parked it out of the way. “I will move it for you after the snow plow comes through.”

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Fine. I am not planning on going anywhere. Cat, dog and I are sitting tight.

And  – I am listening to the news and wondering about the real possibility of losing power – so rather than just thinking about it – or leaving it to chance – I am getting out the lanterns and replacing batteries.


Where Do Stories Begin?

For me the beginning days of a New Year bring on spurts of cleaning out, letting go, reflecting and musing on the past. I have a long-time habit of making lists, sorting out, neat-en-ing-up, and day-dreaming as I prepare for an early year week-end workshop with storyteller Donald Davis.  Donald is a brilliant guide  to work with as you tip-toe into a new story.

Often I open long-closed boxes because there is no telling what you will find – – especially when there might be photos among the papers. Sometimes it takes more time than the initial finding for the possibilities to emerge. It reminds me of gathering scraps when I am thinking of a working on collage. In this instance its collecting  a bit of this and a bit of that until you can feel and form a story.

For instance: last year I found a few black and white photos of cars in the snow on North Broadway, Baltimore, MD circa probably January 1954.
Snow at JHH  March 1954

My husband Jim took the photos from the roof of his fraternity house which was across the street from Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was a few doors down from Hampton House, the Nurses Home where the student nurses lived.

Jim came to Baltimore in 1953 from Madera, CA which is located in the heart of the fertile and sunny San Joaquin Valley and in sight of the majestic snow-capped Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Snow was not  unfamiliar to him – when he went to the mountains – but not piled up on city streets.

As I looked at this picture I realized it was taken before I arrived in Baltimore in September 1954.  It is a moment before we met – – before our first date – – before our  courtship and wedding –  that led to the 57 years of our life together.  Before death “did us part”.

We don’t exist together in this moment.

Jim was 22 years old and a first year Medical Student at Johns Hopkins. I was 17 years old and a Senior in High School in Charlotte, NC with no “fixed ideas” of where I would be after Graduation.

We were poised on the edge of a story that was not known or even imagined.

Maybe this is the moment for taking  a “long-view.”


The Friendly Skies – Come Through

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This is my new pink iPod touch – which is exactly like the pink iPod touch I lost on my United Airlines Flight to San Francisco December 18. When I discovered  the loss I was very upset. First I could not believe I had actually lost it – so I did the suitcase and carry-on search over and over until I was SURE it was missing. In fact, I was pretty sure where it was – tucked into the wall-mounted pocket in front of the bulk-head seat I had claimed as mine when I boarded the plane at Dulles Airport.

Why upset? Well, first off the iPod is not a frivolous recreational toy for me – it is an important asset for my storytelling work.  I record everything as a “voice memo.” — then convert through Garage Band to mp3 files.  I set up practice lists and work in the car, on a plane or just walking around. It was loaded with all my playlists and a few albums of favorite songs for those times I cannot bear the sound of my own voice any longer.

Second, I had heard that Apple was discontinuing this model and in the future the iPod would not have the Voice Memo capability.  I would be out-of-luck.  Being a creature of habit who likes to keep comfort levels in place – I would be stuck working out a new system. So I jumped and ordered a replacement. Pink – exactly like the one I had just lost. I had little to no hope that I would ever see the lost one again.

My daughter Robin was more hopeful. “Mom, put in a Lost and Found form to United.” Robin was forcefully optimistic. “Mom, have you put in the Lost and Found form, yet?” she kept asking.  “Why? Its probably gone for sure.” “Just do it.” So I did.

I lost my iPod December 18. On December 30 I was back in Maryland where I picked up the new PINK one – only one difference from the lost one –  my name is engraved FREE on the back.  With the help of an Apple genius we loaded all my stories from the iTunes back-up, set passwords and it was ready to go to work. I was relieved and feeling comfortable.

January 1 my iPhone rang. “Mrs. Schoettler, this is Sharon from United Air Lines in San Francisco.” For a moment I was confused then, “you found it!”  “Yes – I think this may be your’s. please describe your item and give me the password.” I did.

It WAS my original PINK ipod. The cleaners found it tucked into the wall-mounted pocket in front of 7C bulkhead seat. With the ear phones still plugged in. She had received my Lost and Found Form. The item had been buried by other things on her desk for a week. “We have been so behind.” Laughing, I told her about my replacement. “Maybe you can return it.”  “I would. Except – Apple offers a Free engraving  option- and I had them put my name on the outside back – to protect it against loss..”

She laughed. I laughed. Sharon will Fed Ex it to me. It should be home in a few days.

Starting the New Year with a piece of good luck. Happy New Year.

P.S: I will be flying the Friendly Skies again in February  when I take The Hello Girls to CA – – believe me, I will not be tucking either one of my iPods in a seat back pocket!!!



New Years Eve – December 31, 2014


My beautiful orchid is fully open. Looking at it makes me happy. The blooms seem fuller and more vibrant than when they bloomed for Jim’s funeral Mass. The blooms began to open before Thanksgiving and now at New Years they are full and radiant.Maybe they needed the two year nap they have just wake-ed-up from.

I am a person who looks for signs and serendipities to give me hints and directions. This orchid shouts and sings its message of Jim to me. And its song is opening me up to accept new life just as the flower has accepted its reviving.

Maybe that is the reason I am not writing lists or making plans for 2015 today. I have some ideas of what I hope will happen in the New Year but I am not going to close any doors by making plans. I want to open my arms and my heart and hope I have sense enough to recognize the signs and songs the universe will sing for me.

Before he died Jim said, “I wonder where you will be a year from now.” That was almost three years ago. I responded, “I will be right here – loving you.” and I am… with no time limit.

But – – finally I do feel my spirits lifting. There is more light around me and I deeply appreciate the love Jim and I shared  instead of being engulfed in a suffocating fog.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 1.46.56 PMJim offered a sweet and loving toast to me and our years together for our 50th anniversary. I send one back to him – with love and gratitude.

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year – filled with blessings  – and hoping that you too will recognize the messages coming to you.