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EP312: The WWII Tragedy America Chose to Forget, "Run Amuck" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions and The Reluctant Memoirist: Leslie Leyland Fields

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 18, 2022 3:05 am

EP312: The WWII Tragedy America Chose to Forget, "Run Amuck" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions and The Reluctant Memoirist: Leslie Leyland Fields

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 18, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Paul Kengor tells us how the U.S. government chose to keep the details of this WWII attack hushed. Author, Andrew Thompson, shares another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these baffling mini mysteries of the English language. Leslie Leyland Fields tells the story of how she came to write her memoir.

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Time Codes: 

00:00 - The WWII Tragedy America Chose to Forget

12:30 - "Run Amuck" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions

25:00 - The Reluctant Memoirist: Leslie Leyland Fields

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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They're some of our favorites. And this next story, well it's the story of Frank Briar and the tragedy of the British transport ship Rona in 1943. Despite being the largest loss of U.S. troops at sea due to enemy action in a single incident, the full details of the attack weren't released until 1967.

Here's professor of political science at Grove City College, Paul Kangor, to tell the rest of the story. Any veteran of World War II can tell you stories. But for Frank Briar, his story, one he could never forget, was a terrible one. It began the moment his ship, called the Rona, was sunk. When that ship went down on November 26, 1943, Frank's life changed forever.

And very few people beyond the men tossed into the sea ever knew what happened. The HMT Rona was an 8,600 ton British troop ship carrying mostly an American crew to the Far East theater. It went down the day after Thanksgiving in the Mediterranean off the coast of North Africa, the victim of a German missile. But it was not just any German missile. This was, it seems, the first known successful hit of a vessel by a German rocket-boosted radio remote-controlled glider bomb, one of the first true missiles used in combat. It was, in effect, a guided missile, and the Nazis had achieved it first.

And the results were immediately destructive. According to the website that today serves as the official online gathering spot for the Rona Survivors Association, more lives were lost on the Rona than on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Over 1,000 boys, to be exact, lost their lives, and their government kept the entire episode a secret out of fear of information being leaked about the power of the German guided missile. The government feared the effect on the morale of the U.S. military and the wider population. The hit was so devastating, states the Rona Survivors Association, that the U.S. government placed a veil of secrecy upon it. The government, it said, still does not acknowledge this tragedy, and thus most families of the casualties still do not know the fate of their loved ones.

It's very sad that only now, long after the few survivors were even fewer, the Rona Survivors are attempting to hold reunions, over 70 years after the event. The secrecy was so tight that Frank Breyer's daughter, Mary Jo, spent painstaking years with her dad trying to tug out details and piece together what occurred. Dad was haunted frequently by this, Mary Jo told me, but it was not so much the sinking of the ship, but his personal inability to save many men. Those awful moments of fire remained seared in Frank's brain. As the ship burst into a giant fireball, Frank manned the ropes of a lifeboat packed with injured soldiers. He was ordered to hold the ropes tight and lower the boat with the soldiers into the water below.

This was no simple task, especially in a chaotic panic situation. A lifeboat filled with men isn't light. That was proven quickly as the ropes broke and Frank watched the men below him in his care fall to their death in the sea. The image of those men slipping from his hands into the abyss horrified him.

But the nightmares, they would come later. In the meantime, Frank too was forced to abandon ship, which submerged within nearly an hour. For his own crowded lifeboat, he and five other men seized a floating wooden bench. As the darkness slowly enveloped them with night setting in and with the fear of still more German missiles, Frank led the group in reciting the Lord's Prayer.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there were none on that wooden bench in the water that night either. Frank and his group with their floating wooden bench took turns.

Four of them would float on the bench and two would hang on the ropes. They feared not only Germans but sharks and for good reason. Anyone familiar with the horror story that was the USS Indianapolis knows how the sharks slowly but steadily devoured the boys floating in the water over a course of several long days. The crew of six tried to get some sleep while floating in the cold water but couldn't. They needed to stay focused on holding on to their floating device, the bench. To their great fortune, they were in the water only for about six hours. Just as the sun started to rise, they spied a rescue boat on the horizon.

It was a minesweep that picked them up. They were taken to a facility in Algeria to recover. But for Frank, there was little emotional comfort. All they could think about was the wounded soldiers that he couldn't save. But worst of all, Frank could not share what he was going through. They were ordered not to write or talk about the Rona with their family or even among themselves.

The military censorship was so strict that they were threatened with court martial if they ever disobeyed. And so, Frank kept it secret all the way to the grave, tormenting him yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, night after night throughout the rest of his life. Frank Breyer died on January 4th, 2016 at age 92, seven decades after the sinking of the Rona.

He now at long last rests in peace. Let us at long last remember him and the entire crew of the Rona. And thanks again to Paul Kengor and that was his story and his contribution.

And Paul is a professor of political science at Grove City College. And there are so many untold stories of World War II and so many of our nation's battles. We tell them here on Our American Stories. And if you have one yourself, family members, something from your family history, and I don't care if it goes as far back as the Civil War. We had one great lady from Memphis who had sent some Civil War letters to us. And we recorded one and it was just extraordinary.

And she'd kept it as a namesake, as a keepsake for her family heritage and her family lineage. So send them to us. We'll have them recorded by you. Again, that was Paul Kengor and that is Frank Breyer's story and the story of the Rona. And all those forgotten men and unknown men who died and perished on that tragic day. Their stories all here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College. A place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. Hey you guys, this is Tori and Jennie with the 90210MG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NerdTech ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NerdTech ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams, can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango? It's true! I had one that night and I took my NerdTech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time.

Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NerdTech ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully NerdTech ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams, is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare.

Helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. And we continue with Our American Stories. Coming up next, our recurring series about the curious origins of everyday sayings.

Here to join us again is Andrew Thompson as he continues to share another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these many stories, these many mysteries of the English language. To run amok means to engage in wild or erratic behavior. And it dates from the 16th century in Malaysia. The Amuko were a band of Malay warriors, and they believed that warriors who died in victorious battles became favorites with the gods, while warriors that failed were dishonored and killed. This led the men to fight with extreme frenzy, and this frenzied fighting fascinated the European explorers of the 18th century. Captain James Cook, in fact, wrote about them and said to run amok is to get drunk with opium, to sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the amok, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage.

Amok then officially became a psychiatric medical condition in 1849 and is still considered one today. Run of the mill means average or ordinary, and that expression originated in the early milling towns of England. These great mill towns mass produced wool and cotton, which was exported all over the world. It was an extremely large industry, and a mill's reputation and profitability was primarily based on the quality of the material it produced.

Quality control checks were essential before the material could be sold, but anything coming directly from the mill without having been inspected and graded was known as a run of the mill and was considered inferior. Saved by the bell means at the last minute, and this is an expression that has a number of conflicting explanations. One relates to boxing, and the bell rang at the end of a round before a knockdown boxer has been counted out to ten.

That allows the boxer to continue and start at the next round. Another theory is that it stems from a guard at Windsor Castle in the 19th century in England falling asleep while on duty. He denied the charge and in his defence said that he had heard Big Ben chime 13 times at midnight.

The mechanism in the clock was checked and a cog had in fact slipped and he was correct. He had been saved by the bell. But the likely origin actually predates both of these and has the same explanation as the expression for dead ringer. And that is that in the middle ages, before the medical profession had fully understood comas, people who displayed signs of no life were presumed dead and would be often buried. Sometimes it was later discovered that they had been buried alive with seeing scratches on the top of the coffin roof if they happened to have been exhumed. People started attaching a string to their loved one's wrist that led to a bell above the ground. If the person woke up underground they were able to ring the bell and be saved.

And there were in fact a number of safety coffins that were registered as patents during the 19th century which lends weight to this theory. See how it pans out means to see what happens. And it's another expression that relates to the mining industry and the California gold rush of the mid 1800s. The early prospectors used a simple technique of panning to look for gold in the rivers and streams. A deposit of sand and gravel from the creek was scooped into a small metal pan and then it was gently agitated with water so that the lighter sand washed over the side while the heavier gold remained at the bottom of the pan.

A prospector would wait and see how each attempt panned out. To set off on the wrong foot means to make a bad start to a relationship or a project and it dates back to ancient Rome and is one of a number of expressions that relates to the ancient Romans superstitious belief about anything on the left. They believed the left was evil and in fact the Latin word for left is sinister. In the first century under emperor Nero an order was made that no Roman should enter or leave a building by the left foot.

They even had guards placed at entrances to public buildings to ensure that the order was adhered to but not much enforcement was actually needed as most Romans agreed that to go against the ruling was to flirt with disaster and they rarely set off on the wrong foot. Shake a leg means to hurry up especially in getting out of bed and it owes its origins to the British navy in the 19th century. It was at that time that civilian women were first allowed on board Royal Navy ships to boost morale and the sailors would be roused at first light with a cry of shake a leg. This was used to distinguish between the men and the women. If a smooth and shapely female leg was presented as opposed to a hairy sailor's leg the lady was permitted to stay in her bunk until all the men were dressed and gone.

To this day shake a leg means to hurry up and get out of bed. To give something short shrift means to give it little consideration and it's often mistakenly said a short shift but it's short shrift. It's hard to say that more than a few times and it dates from the criminal world of the 17th century. A shrift is a confession given to a priest in order to obtain absolution.

It comes from the verb Shrive the past tense of which is Shrove for Shrove Tuesday when people go to confession. In the 17th century as soon as criminals were convicted and sentenced they were sent to the gallows to be hanged. There was usually a priest waiting with the executioner and the prisoners were allowed a very short time to confess their sins in the last minutes of their life.

They were given a short shrift before they were killed. To show your true colours means to reveal your true intentions or personality and it's yet another nautical expression that dates from the early 18th century in naval warfare where the flag of a ship's home country was called its colours. Under the articles of war that were published in 1757 ship's captains were obliged to run up their country's flag when going into battle in order to identify the nationality of the ship. But as a method of deceiving the enemy unscrupulous captains would run up a different flag to fool the opposing captain into believing they were an ally.

By doing this the ship was able to get within firing range and with the element of surprise on his side the captain would only then hoist his actual flag and show his true colours before firing on the enemy. When someone says that's the $64 question they mean it's a crucial question or issue and it began in America in the 1940s with a radio quiz show Take It or Leave It. It ran from 1940 to 1947 and involved contestants answering increasingly difficult questions. After answering a question correctly the contestant had the choice to either take the money being offered or leave it and have a go at the higher next valued question.

The first question was $1 and it went progressively upwards doubling up to the 7th and final question which was the $64 question. The expression then ended popular use in 1955 when the radio show moved to the more lucrative television program and became the $64,000 question. To have a skeleton in the closet means to have a shameful secret and it has its origins in English medical law. Until the introduction of the Anatomy Act in 1832 it was illegal to dissect a human body for medical research. But in contravention of the law some doctors still did use corpses for both research and teaching so as to avoid detection they were known to store the leftover skeletons in locked closets.

So many in the medical profession had a secret skeleton in the closet. To sleep tight means to sleep well and that phrase stems from a time in England before spring mattresses were invented. In the early mass produced beds the straw mattresses were held together by ropes that were stretched across the bed frame in a crisscross pattern. After a while the ropes would sag and it was necessary to tighten them. This was done with a forked iron or wooden tool which was turned to wind the ropes tight.

A mattress that had just been tightened was far more comfortable and allowed people to sleep tight. A soap opera is a television serial drama or a real life situation resembling one and that expression began in 1920 in America. Amos and Andy was a popular weekly radio show at the time and one of the earliest comedy series. He was broadcast during prime time and Procter and Gamble, a prominent soap manufacturer, saw the opportunity to obtain widespread exposure and began advertising their products during the breaks in the show. They then went on to sponsor the program and a trend soon developed and other soap manufacturers began sponsoring similar shows.

As a result these serial shows were being called soap operas by the late 1930s. And a great job on the production by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Andrew Thompson and he is the author of Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red. The curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases and you can go to Amazon.com for all of the usual suspects. The story of our everyday expressions here on Our American Stories. Hey you guys, this is Tori and Jennie with the 90210MG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NerdTech ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th poll event, Wingo Tango. Did you know that NerdTech ODT Remedipant 75mg can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wingo Tango? It's true! I had one that night and I took my NerdTech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time.

Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NerdTech ODT Remedipant 75mg. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully NerdTech ODT Remedipant 75mg is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wingo Tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare Annual Enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare.

Helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in York Corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. This is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show. And today we have a story from Leslie Leland Fields. She's an author, a speaker, and a teacher, and she lives in Kodiak, Alaska. This is the story of how she came to write her first memoir, something she thought she'd never do.

Here's Leslie. This is the story of a book. Really, it's the story of writing a book I never wanted to write. It's the story of surviving the writing of a book I never wanted to write. But it changed my life in every way.

Let me back up. I've always believed in the power of story. I was a voracious reader from a young age, and as soon as I could write, I began creating poems and stories. I grew up in a time in culture when quiet children were the best children. And thinking you were special in any way was the pinnacle of pride. And pride was the worst sin of them all. So when I grew up and became a writer, my main interest was other people's stories.

Who would care about me or my life? Yes, my life was not a typical American life. I lived in Alaska mostly. In the summers, I commercial fished with my new husband and his family on a tiny island in the wilderness with no roads or cars. It was an island with eight people on it.

Just us. We lived through days and nights of such drama and stories. But even then, other people's stories were much better than mine. So I wrote about other people. By age 40, I had published two collections of stories about fishermen and women. And then I began a third book.

This one was different. It was about my own experiences living in the wilderness with my husband. Digging a well by hand, hauling water in buckets, building our own house with very few tools. Doing the laundry outside in the winter in an old ringer washing machine.

Prying frozen laundry off the line and stacking the towels stiff in my arms into the house like a stack of wood. Stories like that. I sent it to my agent. Yes, I had an agent. Somehow earlier that year, I had landed a hot New York literary agent. But she didn't like it.

Here's how our first phone call went. Lastly, I really like these essays, but there's one problem. You're not in them.

I know, I replied, that's the point. This is about topics much bigger than me. About water, the ethical dilemmas of killing animals, about our wasteful culture. So many important things. It's about universals.

Yes, but we don't care about universals unless we care about you. You're completely absent. And nobody wants essay collections now. This has to be your story. You're going to have to turn this into a memoir. A memoir, I gulped. Memoir was a dirty word to me. I equated it with first person tell all stories by strippers and smoky bars.

And with supermarket tabloids of disgraced politicians and ravaged movie stars. Memoir felt indulgent and just a little scandalous. I couldn't do it.

Besides, no one would be interested in my life. No, Kate, I can't do that. And I hung up. But the next week, while teaching a creative writing class, I heard myself say to my students, if you want to grow as a person, as a writer, you have to take on new challenges. And then I stopped for a moment to listen to myself. I decided to try. It took a month to get another phone appointment with Kate.

The next call went like this. Remember, Kate, you asked me to turn those essays into a memoir and to make it about my life? Yes, of course.

Okay, I'll do it. Good. I knew you would. Then I got brave. So how do you write a memoir? She laughed or something equally unhelpful.

You'll figure it out. It wasn't easy to invite that I into my house. I so wanted to stay invisible. But I started with scenes, the cornerstone of good memoir, scenes that take the reader straight into the action, scenes that show a life rather than tell about a life. I wrote about the first day when I officially became a fisherwoman. I remember the process of getting dressed with layer upon layer of sweatshirts, hip boots, rain pants finally layered so thick and heavy I could hardly walk. I wrote about my first snack and bathroom break on the water in the boat.

Talk about basic. We worked in 18-foot open boats with no cabin and of course no toilet. This day I was out with my new husband Duncan and my father-in-law DeWitt.

That scene went like this. It's almost noon now. We've been fishing for four hours. I sit wearily on the wooden seat looking at the fish on the floor of the skiff. There must be 500 of them, all fat and shiny. The waves slap and slosh our skiff from side to side.

I'm hungry and I need a bathroom break. But how does this happen in an 18-foot boat? There's no cabin on our little wooden pea pod.

It's just a glorified rowboat afloat on a great Alaska sea. DeWitt sits heavily in the bow, his black-green raincoat mirroring the dark water below. Well, I guess I got to shake the dew off my lily. DeWitt intones in a gravelly voice. I can hear his Oklahoma accent that we left 40 years before during the Dust Bowl. He grew up poor, picking cotton and working the land.

Now he works the seas, but he moves awkwardly in the boats and never seems at home on moving water. Except now. I smile at Duncan and DeWitt and turn around. When they're done, it's my turn. Let me off on that rock over there, Duncan. I point to a cove with a shelf of rock jutting out. In a moment we are there, the skiff rising and plunging in the waters swirling around the rocks. I'm nervously perched in the bow, ready to spring overboard at just the right second. My hands twitch as they grip the rail. I'm motionless, but breathing hard. Jump! Duncan yells as the nose of the skiff rises in the foaming surge. You're not close enough, I shoot behind me.

I see DeWitt sitting calmly beside Duncan as if we've done this a hundred times. I can't get any closer. Jump!

he shouts as the boat gurgles and sinks now in the trough. I can't leap that distance in all this fishing gear. And if I miss, how did a simple bathroom break become a life and death endeavor? I wrote scenes from my life all summer long. But first, we created a writing studio on our island. My husband and I cleaned out a tiny shed on a dock over the ocean. It was filled to the rafters with decades of junk and old tools. We dragged in two sawhorses, dropped a four by eight sheet of plywood on top, and there it was.

My desk, my office. The shed wasn't insulated or heated, so even in the summer, with the temperature in the forties, I sat in a winter coat, hunched over my legal pad or old computer, writing, remembering. As I wrote, the fishing boats rumbled as they passed.

The crows and bald eagles screeched overhead. I wrote and I wrote. Then I sent the chapters to Kate. And you're listening to Leslie Leland Fields and the story of writing a book that she said she never wanted to write.

In fact, as she put it, it's the story of surviving writing a book that she never wanted to write. When we come back, more of the story of Leslie Leland Fields, a regular contributor here on this show, her story about writing her memoir here on Our American Story. Hey, you guys, this is Tori and Jenny with the 90210MG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NERTEC ODT. We recorded it at I Heart Radio's 10th Poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NERTEC ODT Remigipant 75 milligrams can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango?

It's true. I had one that night and I took my NERTEC ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NERTEC ODT Remigipant 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully, NERTEC ODT Remigipant 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare.

Helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. And we continue with our American stories. And we've been listening to author, speaker, and teacher, Leslie Leland Fields.

She lives in Alaska and has been brilliantly telling the story of how she came to write her first memoir. Let's return to Leslie. I'm on the phone again now with Kate. Leslie, good scenes here, graphic, compelling.

Her voice is clipped, hurried as usual. The book feels closer, but there's something crucial missing. What is it? I ask with dread, wondering if she's going to tell me to scrap the whole thing and start over. Why did you stay? I understand why you went into the Alaska wilderness, all that, but what kept you after all that happened?

And how were you changed at the end? Without that arc, there's no story. Yeah, okay, I say, heart sinking. I know Kate is talking about the inner story. Haven't I taught this to my students? Every story has at least those two layers, the outer story, what happens in the out there world, and the inner story, the deeper story, the psychic, emotional, spiritual story. I knew this before I began the memoir. This was what scared me most about life stories and memoir.

But how could I say no to this now? I signed the book contract, and I knew that if I was going to grow as a writer and as a human being, I needed to take this next step. There were hard questions I needed to ask.

Who was that 20-year-old girl, just married, standing in a skiff, trying to keep her balance in the new waters of marriage, living with her in-laws on a remote island in Alaska? Was there something there we all might see about finding and making home in a strange land? I started writing inside each of the significant events of those first years. Whenever I had the chance, I scribbled, digging down layer by layer. I wrote myself back to those days in the skiff, the long hours, the storms, getting sick and still needing to work, to the icy silences between my husband and me. I wrote about the day I jammed clothes and food into a backpack and escaped the island the only way possible, by waiting until low tide and marching off down to an empty shack four miles down the beach, gun over my shoulder for bears.

I wrote myself back to that near disastrous day when I almost didn't make it home. I insisted on taking the skiff out on an important errand. It was going to be a four-hour trip.

I insisted on going alone. It was a long way to go, on the ocean, in the winter. A snowstorm came up. I got lost in the total whiteout, and then the engine broke down. I wrote about it, describing how scared I was when it started snowing, when the engine died, when I knew I had drifted out onto the open ocean, when I thought I might die. But the inner story, I didn't know it yet. I was learning again what I thought I already knew, our stories about so much more than what happened.

It's just as important to know why those things happened, to know what moves and motivates us, and how those moments, large and small, change us, and how they might change our readers, too. I began to write more deeply into those two stories, and it slowly came clear, word by word, what I was doing. In both of those events, I was escaping a place that wasn't mine, an ocean, an island, a life that belonged to my new husband and his family, but it didn't belong to me, yet. It wasn't mine, except by marriage, by proxy. My life was borrowed, shoehorned into whatever cracks I could fit in. Even where we lived those first three summers, we lived in a tiny loft atop a rickety ladder in an old building, a loft just big enough to hold a bed and a wood stove.

We could only stand up in the middle. As I wrote, I realized so much about my life I hadn't seen before. I felt compassion for the young woman I was, and for my husband, for the two of us trying to make a marriage work on a wilderness island with endless nets, ocean, and fish we couldn't control. I realized that both those escapes helped make that island and that place mine, too, in some way.

My fingers on the keyboard showed me yet more. There were so many rescues and second chances. I began to see that these chapters from my life were indeed about survival, but it was also a story of grace, not easy grace, hard grace, the kind you pray you'll survive.

And there it was, the title and the paradox that came to shape the final story, Surviving the Island of Grace. Six months later, I finished the book. My stomach quivered.

My index finger hovered over a attached file. No one would publish it, I was sure, but I had learned so much in writing it page by page. I punched send and it was done. What would Kate think? I soon found out Kate sent it out into the world immediately after receiving it.

And then it began a steady stream of rejections from the major New York publishers over the next two months. But then there was a yes from one of the New York Big Ten publishers. It was a hearty yes.

Suddenly Kate was great and she said I was too. My first memoir, and surely my last, would soon be in bookstores around the country. But that's not the true happy ending to this story. When I began writing the memoir, reluctantly, I did not even know what I was looking for. The writing showed me. In the midst of roaring seas, the claustrophobia of an island with no escape, doubts of my own ability as a writer. Words saved my life. Words carved out a space between land and sea where maybe I could hold fast. Writing, surviving the island of grace, brought me here to this moment. One morning, I sat on a distant beach on our island. I was alone except for the two ravens on a cliff above me, spatting. Was I sorry I had chosen Duncan and this place and this very particular life that came with it?

No. How could anything be other than it was? But when I chose all of this back in 1977, I did not know what I was choosing.

I came here with Duncan at 20, running from a difficult childhood. I was certain I would find wholeness and freedom in him and in this island world. I looked around. It was still as wild and clean and vast a place as when I first came, but I hadn't known what to measure then. I know now that what I was looking for is not something that can be found, not in a place or in a person. Freedom and wholeness must be made, and it is made out of whatever is around you.

It is made out of whatever is given to you. Like the barnacles on the rocks around me. I looked at them closely. They were anchored to a massive rock, but they were moving.

In each of them, the beak, like a tiny telescope, was rounding the perimeter of its own shell. There, halfway between land and water, was a creature that literally grows its own cliffed walls. His own form entraps him. It is his prison, his island.

He cannot escape. But then I saw it is also his mountain fortress, the very grace that sustains his life. When I finished writing Surviving the Island of Grace, I was hooked. Once I started writing the truest words from my life that I could find, such clarity, discovery and consolations have come to me. I don't ever want to stop when we steward the beautiful burdens and difficult passages we've been given in our lives.

We have another chance to reclaim and heal those burdens. I've seen it thousands of times in my own life and others. This is my work now teaching others to do the same. And in all our stories, we who are stranded on islands and in strange places have found the words and the grace to write ourselves home. And a special thanks to Leslie Leland Fields to find out more about her work and also her teaching.

Go to Leslie Leland Fields dot com. I didn't know what I was looking for. The writing showed me. Words saved my life.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 02:47:48 / 2023-02-16 03:04:23 / 17

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