October 2021 Story Sparks

October offers a variety of special “days” to celebrate. A favorite of mine is National Poetry Day (7th) along with World Teachers Day (Oct. 5th).  World Ballet Day is the 19th and World Singing Day is the 21st. Those latter two carry special meaning related to The Healing of Natalie Curtis, my latest release. Part of the storyline of this musical prodigy who lost her voice, is her meeting with an Indigenous woman who sings for her and changes Natalie’s life. She also asks her three questions, the answers tell a healer how far from health someone has fallen. I often share those three questions when I speak to groups as they are a wonderful entry into inquiring about our own stories and our mental health. Here they are:

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • And when was the last time you told your story?

Those celebratory days in October are perfect times to ramp up our answers.

The last time I sang was along with Cris Williamson on her CD The Changer and the Changed. The song was “Song of the Soul” playing while Jerry and I traveled for a memorial for his oldest friend who passed away in July. The song was actually a sing-along that begins with the poetic words “Open mine eyes/ that I may see/Glimpses of truth/Thou hast for me/Open my eyes/illumine me/ Spirit divine.” His friend – our friend’s – son will take Jerry deer hunting this month. He was in the plane crash with us, father of the baby that survived in utero. She’s nearly 35 now!

That dancing question? Several months after a tragic plane accident that my husband and I survived, Jerry watched me dust furniture to a Linda Ronstadt song “I Don’t Know Much but I Know I Love You.”

“When you finish, I might like to dance to this song,” he said. We hadn’t been able to dance after the accident that I chronicle in all the gory detail in Homestead. Our limbs didn’t like the movements. “If I finish dusting, the song will be over,” I told him.

“I thought you might say that,” he said.

So in his blue coveralls, he stood, lifted the lemon-scented dust rag from my hands and we began to dance. We had to make a few adjustments but that’s what life is, isn’t it? And so we danced while the dogs watched our strange behavior. I looked out at our newly planted vineyard and told my husband “I could not be happier in my life. And I almost passed it up, almost let fears keep me from taking a risk that changed my life. Linda Ronstadt sang a celebratory song as much as a love song. When I hear it, it reminds me not only of healed bones but of a life fully lived. This picture is a photo of a dance we had together at a celebration of life of my cousin Dale Rutschow two years ago. It might have been the last time we danced together – but I’m not averse to dancing alone and I did that just yesterday in our living room.

Then there is telling one’s story and how powerful that is. I find myself re-entering into social life slowly during this time of Covid. But what eases me is knowing I’ll be listening to stories of how people endured, how they managed. For instance, part of our story is that we have a new great-grandchild — Ayvra Isabella —  born on her great-great-grandfather’s birthday, testing negative for Covid though her momma tested positive. But her mama had gotten the vaccine a week before symptoms. PTL! Prayers abounding and the vaccine kept momma from being terribly ill (which baby’s father was!) It’s a birth story that will travel with that child but also with momma Mariah who kept it together and “almost gave birth in the parking lot, grandma!” The people who held that family in their hearts are a part of my Covid story. Telling our stories is a healing act.

I encourage you to write an essay, a poem and eavesdrop at a restaurant or soccer game and you’ll hear poetry inside story too. Maybe you’ll even find someone willing to sing, dance and tell their story with you! It’s how healing happens.

A Book By Its Cover

The Healing of Natalie CurtisMy latest has gotten great press for the cover. The publisher’s graphic artists designed it though as an author I got to make comments about and even suggest an image or two. Here’s a short video about the history of cover design and the importance of a good cover. Enjoy.

Fact and Fiction: Would Abigail Scott Duniway Approve?

For those of you who loved Something Worth Doing, I hope you’ll find a chapter “The Fabric of an Oregon Life” equally engaging though much shorter. Three authors — Steven Forrester, R. Greg Nokes and me — have contributed to the book Eminent Oregonians. Writing my chapter had its challenges as I worked on the non-fiction piece while also writing a novel about her, Something Worth Doing. My fiction editor thought my first draft read like a documentary (I had to rewrite it!) and my non-fiction editor thought the chapter read like a novel (I had to rewrite it!).  In the end, editors always make my work better. I think the chapter works well and both the non-fiction book and the novel have garnered starred reviews. I hope you’ll look for Eminent Oregonians: Three Who Matter at some of the upcoming events both virtual and in person noted below.

October 2021 Events

All events are noted in Pacific time.

October 5 from 7:00-8:00 pm. – Oregon Historical Society Museum, 1200 SW Park Ave., Portland, OR 97205. Discussion and presentation of Eminent Oregonians, with editor/author Steve Forrester and Greg Nokes. Register here.

October 6 from 6-8:00 pm. –  Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane Street, Astoria, OR. Join Jane and fellow authors Steve Forrester and Greg Nokes in person for a discussion and signing of Eminent Oregonians. 

as of 10-4-2021: Rescheduled – Stay Tuned! – Chaparral Books, 5210 S Corbett, Portland, OR 97239.

October 20 from 2:00-4:00 pm – An Online Writing Class, Weaving Story Threads – Sponsored by the Tigard Library. More information to come or visit https://tigard-or.gov/library.php

October 20 – Deschutes Historical Museum – Eminent Oregonians Stay tuned on this website for updates about time and links.

Letitia Carson Elementary School – it’s Approved!

Many news reports have talked about tense school board meetings dealing with Covid protocol. Here’s an upbeat story about a local school board in Corvallis, OR that voted last week to change the name of Wilson Elementary to the Letitia Carson Elementary School. Hurrah!  The ribbon cutting will be in the spring and there are plans to not only talk about Letitia’s history as one of the first African-American women to cross the Oregon trail and settle in Oregon, but also help children discover the plants and native foliage that Letitia would have known in her time.

To refresh your memories about Letitia, Oregon Public Broadcasting in conjunction with Oregon Black Pioneers has a documentary that includes Letitia’s story. You can watch at OPB. My novel from Revell, A Light in the Wilderness is available even in Dutch and German. A YouTube book trailer we produced when the book came out can be watched at my You Tube channel. It celebrates her extraordinary life. I’ll keep you posted about plans for the ribbon cutting.  And you can visit Friends of Letitia Carson on Facebook for updates too.

Word Whisperings

My Grandfather’s Blessings Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD.
Riverhead Books (Penguin – 2000)

A poet friend, Shirley Stevens, sent me this book and I’ve found it the perfect read to both start and end my day. The stories are short and moving about moments of grace, discoveries of hope, healing and purpose. The author is a cancer physician growing up in a family of physicians and with a grandfather who was a Rabbi. She tells this story he shared from the Kabbalah, “that at some point the Holy was broken up into countless sparks, which were scattered throughout the universe. There is a god spark in everyone and everything, a sort of diaspora of goodness. God’s immanent presence among us is encountered daily in the most simple, humble and ordinary ways…the world may whisper in your ear, or the spark of God in you may whisper in your heart. My grandfather showed he how to listen.” Her words are poetry. I seek to hear those whispers. Today at the mailbox, I think I did. “We had a soccer game this morning,” my 8 year-old neighbor told me. “How did it go?” I asked. “Good,” he said. “We didn’t win but we did good.” I love that. We don’t always have to win: we can enjoy just doing good.


The smoke has kept me and Ceasar (and my neighbor who sometimes joins us) from daily walks this summer and I’ve gotten out of my mindfulness practice of finding 5 things I see; 4 things I hear; 3 things I smell; 2 things I taste; 1 thing to touch as I walk our red cinder-covered road. I rotate the numbers. But yesterday on a walk refreshed by a needed rainfall that brushed the smoke away, one of my five things to see was this sculpture. The wand moves in the breeze. It may have been there a long time but I just now noticed. Very calming. And that exercise is a part of my story. Please tell me yours as you sing and dance.

To close, here’s one of my favorite short poems by Emily Dickinson: Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God; And only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Here’s to seeing heaven on your daily walk. Thanks for reading Story Sparks!