Waking Up in Mexico #2

I’ve made some changes (and revised part one to reflect those changes) because I want to use a mature voice looking back instead of writing as if it’s in the now. It’s sort of a tricky process and I’m still working out the best way to use it, basically using both I and you for myself, and I’d appreciate any feedback you may have.  (Part I, at least here on the blog, remains as if was before revisions.) Thanks faithful readers!!

PS: Brian, I count on you to point out any fractured Spanish. Thanks.


            I look back on those few hours with some amazement. I didn’t know I’d had a defining moment, didn’t know my life would turn in an entirely new direction. The next morning, I woke early as usual, showered and dressed as usual, and went to breakfast as usual. A chorus of “Buenas dias, Juanita,” greeted me from the crew table. I smiled and waved, but this wasn’t a morning for casual talk. We had a long day ahead catching up with yesterday’s schedule and completing today’s. Picking up fruit, a warm roll, and coffee, I returned to my room to eat as I gathered up my script, sunglasses, journal and pen, familiar pieces to cushion the day.

Driving out to the set in the back seat of the crew-mobile, a luxurious limousine complete with limousine-garbed driver, felt somehow surreal after my solo drive the day before. I didn’t have to anxiously watch for the turn-off or decide between the bridge and the creek bed. The driver forded the creek bed, the water now down to a trickle between rocks. I stared out a side window at the familiar vista, watched the goats prance on the pueblo wall, waved at the children as usual, gazed at the far mountains as usual, but last night’s experience made the sunlight shimmering over the wide plain seem more vivid. At the cabin location, I went to the costume trailer and to makeup. We shot a short scene inside the cabin with Hannah, my character’s name, and her son Joey. And then we were released while the crew set up a scene outside by Hannah’s garden.

I made a bee-line to the cabin’s porch and sat in the rocking chair. It was nearing mid-morning, and sunlight carved the mountains. The Mexico sky can be so blue, it hurts your eyes to look at it; instead, you watched the mountains. Occasionally, a solitary cloud blocked the sun and sent rippling shadows across the land, filling valleys. You had fallen into the daydream of riding a horse across the slopes and racing the cloud shadows into valleys. Someone moved behind me and I turned my head sharply to see who it was. No one there. The steps leading down to the yard empty. The hair on my arms went on end and I shivered. The name Anna surfaced in my mind. Along with the name came a sadness, weighted, rooting me in the chair. The fantasy of riding a horse to freedom dissolved and my mind struggled between half-formed questions and a knowing I didn’t understand. Did an Anna once live here? That seemed far-fetched. I knew the cabin had been used for other movie sets. Who was Anna?

Gabriela dashed around the corner of the cabin.  Gabriela almost always dashed, leaning into her task with the wind at her back.

“There you are…they’re ready…”

“Gab! Stop!”

“What?” Gabriela skidded to a stop, one hand raised, her eyes registering surprise.  “What?” she repeated.

“I…I don’t…I mean, you were going so fast…” I said.

Gabriela stood frozen, hand uplifted, staring at me. Abruptly the spell was broken and she started talking and moving at the same time. They were almost ready; could she come now?  Carmen and Lupe were waiting.

You made a show of bustling about, shaking out my long skirts, picking up your script from where you’d tossed it on the floorboards, and walked around the cabin with Gabriela, but inside I felt wooden and stiff. Those hadn’t been my words even if they had come from my mouth. Pain had settled into my chest like an angry, wounded animal.

Carmen checked my dress, twitched the long apron back into place and sent me to makeup. In the makeup table mirror I stared into my eyes, wanting to see behind them as if I could peel away a layer to see clearly. My hand lifted then fell to my lap.

“Si?” Gloria asked. Her hands tucked away stray hairs and secured hairpins. You hadn’t talked to her about the previous night and had no way to explain what had happened on the porch.

“Oh…nada…pero…” I stumbled over words. We only knew a little of each other’s language but we’d been able to communicate.

“Wait,” I said, touching her hand. You can see her reflection in your memory, sunlight framing her head, as she watched your face in the mirror.

“I’m working…trabajando en el jardin.” A miracle. I’d remembered the words for working and garden. In the same sentence. Gloria understood immediately and began loosening wisps of hair around my face.

On the set, aluminum reflector panels were set up at one corner of the garden plot. Two crew members lugged sandbags over to stabilize the legs against the slope of the ground. The director and cinematographer conferred quietly beside the camera. Along with the rest of the crew, they were Mexicans, although the director’s name was Sergio Olhovich. I’d thought that an odd name for a Mexican but somewhere in conversations, I’d learned his father was from Russia. I hadn’t learned why his father had come to Mexico but that explained his name.

When we actors had arrived in Mexico City for rehearsals, the press parties had made a big deal of this Mexican/American co-production, but out here in Durango, our American “co-” part was decidedly flimsy. The star of the shoot was Salvador Sánchez, a well-known Mexican actor. Most of the Americans complained about something or another, mainly the isolation, but for some reason I felt at home. Possibly because the expanse of sky reminded me of the farm where I’d grown up in Kansas.

Miguel, the assistant director, walked over.  He’d worked with Americans.  Today he wore a black T-shirt with Dune printed across the front. Another made in Mexico movie.

“You ready?” I nodded. As ready as I was going to be.


The afternoon sun threw long shadows across the set, forcing the cameraman to shift angles. I trudged back to the garden. The scene wasn’t working, a long shot, and I kept missing my mark. I felt stupid and hot.

Gloria waited at the edge of a row of plastic vegetable tops. I bent my head and felt a tissue blot off sweat. What was wrong here? Why couldn’t I just run up the hill, hit the damn sandbag, and be done with it? We had another scene to do and I was holding things up.

“Juanita,” Gloria said. “Calmete.”

Calm myself? Calm wasn’t going to propel me up that hill. Defiance jerked my head up. Eyes like deep black pools met my defiance—pools spreading in ripple-less black until I felt myself sliding into silence. A far away point of light rushed toward me and a wash of heat traveled over my forehead and down my back. I blinked. Gloria’s face swam into focus, a smile rustling at the corners of her mouth. Nodding once, I turned and knelt beside the plastic vegetable tops.

I closed my eyes and rehearsed the run, measured the slope of the hill, felt the touch of sandbag at my toe.


I didn’t think, allowed my body to move automatically, my hands lifting my skirts from around my legs. I skidded to a stop. My toe touched the sandbag.

“Cut!” Sergio said.

Pats on my shoulder. A scurry of movement for the next shot, a short take of the vegetable garden and a close up of me kneeling at the row of vegetable tops. The crew began moving lights, and I headed for the cabin porch to wait. I glanced down the slope towards Gloria before a reflector blocked my view. Our eyes locked and I felt the wave of heat again.

Buen trabajo, Juanita,” a crew member said in passing. I lifted my head, forced a smile.


I felt…odd…as I climbed the porch steps and sank into the rocking chair. Now there was something else to wonder about. It felt like something I’d already wondered about. Gloria knew something, had some kind of power. Not power over, just power. I traced one finger over my forehead, exploring the space where Gloria had traced a cross.

“Hey, Janet.” Holly was on the porch. She sat on the floor, curling her legs under her. “That was interesting.”

“What was?” I reached over and absently stroked her hair. Only she wasn’t a girl anymore. While she played my daughter, we didn’t have any scenes together, but I’d seen a maturity growing in her.

Holly laughed and ducked away from my hand. “You, silly. What do you think I’m talking about? Really. I watched you. You were surprised and happy and scared and disappointed all at once. I saw it on your face.”

Holly wanted information, not attention. I dropped my hand into my lap and studied my fingers as if they were foreign objects with a life of their own, reaching out to comfort without even knowing the reason.

“Do you mean how did I do it?”

“Yeah. How do you get all those things going on at the same time? I try but it never works for me.”

“I think what I did was let go of trying.” How to explain Gloria or the wash of light? Even now you can’t explain it. Did Gloria do anything or was her gaze a shortcut to clarity? Something I could do for myself if I would simply remember.

“I was frustrated and my head was cranking at all my mistakes…but when I knelt down in the garden, I became still. I kept my eyes closed and rehearsed the run over and over in my mind. I think what that did was give my body the information it needed and left the rest of me free to be Hannah. It’s like I had to let go and trust.”

Holly frowned. “But what do you trust?”

“It’s not a what…it’s more like…” What was that trust? From the corner of my eye, I saw Gabriela round the cabin corner.

“There you are…they’re ready…”

Time shifted. In slow motion, I turned my head in time to see Gabriela disappear. A crash and a scream washed across the porch. Holly leapt up and ran down the steps; crew members swarmed across the yard. I felt frozen as the memory from earlier in the day replayed itself in brutal reality. I heard the echo of Gab’s voice, saw her stop, surprised at my “Gab..Stop!” Where had the words come from that had come from my mouth?

Two men helped Gabriela stand on one leg. She cradled one arm, her face was pinched and white. A car pulled up and hands guided Gabriela into the back seat; another woman got in with her and the car sped away. No one noticed I remained frozen on the porch.

No sé, no sé—there was so much I didn’t know. Or understand. The yard became deserted. A dry wind shifted dust. I rubbed my hands over my face, pressing my fingertips against eyelids. I had nowhere to run, nothing to grab hold of and make it real. My head came up slowly and I stared at the mountains. I’d probably smeared my makeup. The black dot of a hunting bird soared on wind currents, heading my way. The air was unmoving, as if someone had made a motion that nobody breathe. My own breath was ragged, labored, squeezed out of my chest.

Soaring. What would it take to learn to soar?

That evening, the crew set up for a faux love scene. Peter and I played husband and wife but we didn’t much like each other. Each of us had made some effort to reach out to the other but Peter moved slow and I moved fast and our timing slid us past any possible interface or connection. Peter also had a habit of long, drawn out discussions with Sergio and Robert about his character’s motivations as the crew waited patiently. Sergio was always patient. I, less so.

Tonight, we were both wary, watching each other from opposite sides of the set. Unexpectedly, the generators conked out. Carmen and Lupe lighted the prop lanterns and in that soft halo of light the cabin became a home. You softened into Hannah and Peter became Dan. It had been easy to stay connected once the generator was fixed and humming again. Dan kissed Hannah gently. For that one night, light had shifted our perceptions and healing was possible.


Madrugada.” The word rolled on my tongue—more a butterfly taste than a dawn taste, but maybe that’s what dawn was—a multi-colored butterfly pulling light into day. I grinned. Waxing poetic at first light. Well, at least I knew what day it was: Monday, my last day of work. You remembered Saturday night when a group of us went dancing, and Sunday when we’d played volleyball in the pool. Muscles all over my body were sore. Saturday night, the oo’s and ah’s had been affirming when you’d gone down looking more like New York Janet, eye shadow, short skirt, and all.

A chorus of “Buenas dias, Juanita!” wound through the dining room as I walked in. I loved the sound of it. Peter sat alone at a far table, bent over the script. After filling my plate from the buffet, I joined the crew table. They were patient with my Spanish and in a good mood this morning.

“Juanita, do you want huitlicoche on your eggs? I’ll order some for you.” A roar of laughter went up from the table. She’d become a story.

“No, no, gracias. Ahorita, no.” I flipped one hand in the Mexican gesture I’d practiced. More laughter.

At dinner the night before, you’d ordered something off the menu you vaguely knew was fish. It was fish all right, covered in some kind of very black sauce. I’d poked it with my fork, lifting one corner.

“What’s this?” That’s when the laughter started.

Huitlicoche,” rang from a chorus of voices.

“Si….but what’s that?”

“A black hongo,” Mano said. “It grows on corn.”

Hongo translated to mushroom, probably harmless enough. I took a small bite as they’d watched. “Que Bueno!” I said, surprised. And it was good, a musky, smoky taste with kernels of corn scattered through it. They laughed but it sounded like approval laughter. I pressed for more information: what did it look like, how did they make it? It was black, Mano told me. It grew on corn in the rainy season.

A sudden image popped into my memory. Smut. I was eating corn smut. I joined in the laughter, but I didn’t have the language to tell them why I laughed, or to explain a story of Kansas corn. The farm was on high land, and while corn did best on rich bottom land along creek and river beds, Dad grew some. You couldn’t remember how many times you’d heard him say, “Corn’s not going to make it if we don’t get some rain.” Some years we got rain, other years we didn’t. In the years when there was too much rain, the corn sprouted black fungus. We cut off the black stuff before cooking. Badly infected corn was thrown to the pigs. Kansas pigs had dined on huitlicoche for decades! The image made me laugh.

The men left the table for their trip out to the set. My last day of work. Where had the time gone? Joey and his mom came in and sat at another table. She prodded him to eat. Must be nice to have your mom with you on location, someone to look after you and make sure you were all right. I started to sigh, feeling lonely again, but caught myself.

“Lift your head, girl,” I muttered to myself as I got up. “Keep your head up and just keep laughing.”

Now there was a motto. I should paste it to my forehead…well, that might interfere with makeup. Maybe in my palm.


My last day turned into a long day, several pick-up shots, and one long scene in late afternoon, a continuation of the run up the hill from the garden of the day before as husband rides into the yard, daughter who’d been kidnapped by the Salvador Sanchez character, riding behind him. This time I had to run to the well in the middle of the set but along level ground. We did take after take of running and hugging and crying and daughter sliding from horse, etcetera. And then we’d do the same from another direction. And then close-ups. In between takes, I’d sit in the rocking chair and rest as Gloria blotted my face and reapplied smeared makeup. I remember wondering why people thought movie-making so glamorous.

When I heard, “That’s a wrap,” feelings of relief and sadness flooded my body. I wasn’t ready to finish but oh, so grateful to stop. You did a lot of hugging and thanking and received more of the same. And then gratefully sank into the soft limousine back seat for the drive back to the hotel.


I walked down the hall in a bathrobe, my head wrapped in a towel, and carrying a tequila bottle. Peter was afraid no one would want to come to the wrap party he’d organized for me. I was simply afraid. Of what, you wasn’t sure. Leave-taking? Returning to New York? That sent a bit of a shiver up my spine.

I knocked on his open door.

“Hey, you’re early,” Peter said.

“Yeah, I know. I only came down for a minute.” I held out the bottle of tequila and some limes. “There wasn’t time to go shopping, but I had this.”

You wonder if you might have looked like a little girl, scrubbed clean, except for the dark circles under my eyes. Peter rocked forward as if to enfold me. But he didn’t. “Come on in.”

I walked in and set the bottle on a table crowded with bowls of chips and nuts and a tray of fruit and cheese. A bouquet of flowers was propped in a water glass.

“It looks nice in here,” I said, touching one petal on a bright yellow flower.

“They’re for you,” he said.

I smiled for what felt like the first time all day. “Thanks. I’d better go get dressed.”

Peter fidgeted. “Have a drink. We’ll inaugurate the party.” He poured two shots and handed one to me. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” he Bogarted gruffly, and lifted his glass in a toast.

Another knock on the door and a stream of men entered, crew members, making the room seem too small. All were holding bottles or bags. And singing. A serenade by the sound of it. I stood beside the table, holding my glass, eyes wide, mouth open. I started crying and laughing at the same time. The song ended. The men began unpacking bags and pouring drinks. I caught Peter’s eye and lifted my cup. We finished the toast, tossing back the tequila.

More people arrived. Peter busied himself pouring drinks and offering food. I slipped out the door and returned a few minutes later, dressed but with hair still damp and minus makeup. Peter sat on the bed, picking out the notes to a Mexican song on his guitar. Laughter and songs dispelled the heaviness of Gabriela’s accident—word had gone around she’d broken her arm in two places and cracked a bone in one leg—not erased the memory, but made it something livable. Something a part of rather than apart.

Within a round of applause, Peter handed off the guitar and went to the table. A roll of chords behind him announced another song. I saw Sergio come in the door and went to say hello. Peter was at the table, pouring three shots. I saw him pluck a flower from the bouquet and with uncharacteristic abandon, stick the flower between his teeth. Balancing the three drinks in his hands, he wove his way across the room.

“Uummmm” he said, the flower stem blocking his words. He thrust a dink at me and another at Sergio. With a free hand, he took the flower from his mouth.

“This needed an ear,” he said, tucking it behind my ear.

“I don’t know. It looked pretty stunning between your teeth!” I said. My sense of humor was back. Sergio and Peter laughed. A half-lift of cups became a toast and we tossed back the tequila.

“Think it’s going to rain again?” Peter asked.

“I think not. That was a late storm—a last hurrah as you say,” Sergio said.

“That’s why Gabriella fell,” he said. “Someone piled a bunch of planks under the porch from of the rain and 2x4s were sticking out. She tripped.”

“How’s she doing?” Peter said.

“I will call now.” Sergio looked for someplace to put his cup. Peter stuck out his hand.

“Thank you. It was a good party.” Sergio nodded abruptly and left.

“I didn’t mean to drive him off.” Peter’s voice held a plaintive note.

“You didn’t,” I said. “He was talking about calling the hospital when you came over. It’s a great party; you did a fine job.”

Peter towered a good six inches above me but he wouldn’t look me in the eyes. “It’s not me,” he said, finally looking up. “You did this. The good feelings in the room are because of you.”

Now it was my turn to look down. I was always better at giving compliments than receiving them. A little clumsily, Peter draped one arm around my shoulders, the cup in his hand jutting out at an angle.

“It’s okay,” he said.

Why was it so hard to be people? People with no roles to play.


A Quest

The simple task of finding my college transcripts became an overwhelming quest. One of the gifts of my life is that I have an entire writing room for myself. It is also my curse. Seven very full bookcases line the walls; a portable file stand sits beside my desk; it, too, is full; two folding tables sit in front of the portable file stand, and creep across the edge of one bookcase; both are stacked with books and papers, mostly the research I’ll need to do if I ever get around to writing the Kansas Chronicles and the notebooks and files for the Mexico book if I can ever get around to writing it; a glass-topped table sits beside my matching metal and glass-topped desk, where I have the laptop and a lamp and a microphone for the times when I teach online classes, and is covered in Post-it notes, a dish with paper clips, a flashlight (and you ask why I need a flashlight if I have a lamp on my desk? good question); other piles of papers relating to who knows what, miscellaneous mostly, sit under and in front of the desk lamp.

I have too many saved words.

I found one of my college transcripts, but not the other. Why couldn’t I have stored them together? One wonders.

One of the books on the folding tables of Kansas research is named It Happened Here. Does it ever. Nominally, the very thick book is a history of Marshall County, with photos, by a woman who was, no doubt, as obsessed as I am. Marshall County is where the farm lives.

Speaking of which, the farm that is, I still need to find someone with a bobcat and a tree cutter in the front to go over the tallgrass and cut out volunteer trees so we can burn the prairie in the spring or I’ll lose the contract for conservation the farm has been in for the past forty years. Oh, yes, and do farm taxes before my sister, who lives on Maui, writes and says she is ready to take their taxes to an accountant and needs her copy of the farm taxes. Now.

I have at least six professions, if you count farm manager, which I count because it requires attention and all our widespread family is somewhere else. Along with the portable files here in the writing room, there are four file drawers in two cabinets in the “office” our name for what would be in a normal family, the baby’s room. We do not have a baby, we have file cabinets, which hold up a plywood desk top which I first sanded and varnished and set upon said file cabinets when first I moved to Santa Fe in 1992. And bookcases. There’s two in there, too.

Is it any wonder I write memoir?

I still don’t know where my graduate school transcripts are; I’ve thrown out some papers, thankfully, and tomorrow I will call St. John’s and ask them to send me a copy. You see, I miss teaching, and for some degenerate reason, I’ve decided to apply to UMKC as an adjunct in the Arts and Science department, a job whose requirement is that the applicants have some background in international peoples and countries, which I do. One of the things I do is teach pronunciation, and have, since I lived in Mexico, but if I get off on that story, well….that would require the story of Pepe Lobo (American name Joe Wolf), manager of the travel office where I worked, and who went to Mexico after the revolution when pesos were pure silver as big as…and he’d demonstrate with middle finger and thumb a circle about 2 inches in diameter, and stayed, and who said, one day, “I didn’t hire you for your typing skills; I hired you for your looks.”

But as I said, that’s an entirely other story, the Mexico book, which God willing and the creeks don’t rise, as my farm grandpa used to say, and I don’t die, I will, eventually, write.

And then maybe I can throw away some papers.

The end.


The Peter Principle–Reached

The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter and published in 1969. It states that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence”. Text and illustration from Wikimedia.

An email arrived in my inbox yesterday, advising me of updates to WordPress that MUST be made and if said receiver of email hadn’t done so yet, click on this link.

That was the first step on the above stairway to chaos. I successfully deleted said email because I don’t click on ANY links in email and especially from people I don’t know.

But then, I went to WordPress and had a long chat, meaning a chat via text not voice, with an accommodating tech who said, “Hmmmm. That’s curious…” and proceeded to put me on hold while he checked it out. Didn’t come from WordPress, he came back to write. Just delete it as spam. But your email address is visible to anyone and perhaps I should buy Privacy. But my email address isn’t on my site, I said, and he went on to explain how some site or another has all these addresses listed, but I could buy Privacy from, oh, I don’t remember the name, something like BOTARMY (probably not but all in caps, but whoever processes my payment to Bluehost for hosting my site name) and said I could buy Privacy for my account there.

Now. Mind you, I’ve been on some kind of computerized communication since the late 1980s, let’s say more or less 1987, when I bought my beloved Smith Corona Portable Word Processor on some rare trip to the states and lugged it back through suspicious Mexican customs to sit on a desk, in front of a window, in my apartment in the Zona Rosa in Mexico City, only to lug it back to Washington D.C. in 1989, to lug it to Hawaii in 1992, to lug it to Georgia in 1993, to take it to Santa Fe in 1994, where I bought my first HP computer in 1995 and signed up for email. The Smith Corona and its disks went into an overhead storage shelf in my little 600 square foot adobe in Santa Fe. I have become fairly adept at electronic communication in the meantime.

That’s probably more than you want to know and this is likely to become a really long post.

So anyway, I’ve been on a real computer with Windows and email and all that stuff since 1995 and I advanced up the stairway rather successfully. I do, in fact, have stored files from those first disks and even a machine to plug into current PC and read said disks. Maybe I had floppies, but I can’t remember and I don’t have any saved so maybe I didn’t. I do, however, have saved disks from the Smith Corona, and if anyone knows how to read said small disks, and I’ve looked, mercy, I’ve looked, let me know.

Anyway, back to yesterday. So. WordPress guy said contact my site name provider, in short. And I did, and had a realllllly long chat with said provider who used to host my website but now doesn’t but has to host my name because WordPress doesn’t have that ability yet…although I wish they would get it as it would simplify my life. At least it would have yesterday.

So at any rate, I advanced to the next step after very long chat, and since I rarely go to Bluehost except to re-sign up again to host my name (isn’t my name MINE???), I’d forgotten how to get there and what to do once I did. The chat person was patient. It was a long chat of me going back and forth trying to make sense of what I couldn’t do. Fortunately (although it didn’t feel fortunate at the time), I lost the connection to chat person and couldn’t retrieve it. But it went something like this:

Okay. Here’s the problem. church06 with new password doesn’t work. The old domain cotincarnation.org doesn’t exist anymore so I still can’t log in.

5:03:55 PM Anujna P can you login using : cotincarnation.org or janetsunderland.com

5:04:33 PM Janet Sunderland I don’t know. let me see.

5:04:51 PM Anujna P sure

5:08:35 PM Janet Sunderland I can get in and I can update information, but I can’t get to anything. It says the account was ended in 2012.

Anyway, this went on for a very long time before the chat dropped (and possibly, Anujina was really tired of answering my inane questions and stopped). However, I had managed to go in, change the password and log in name, signed up with Privacy (it’s a one click deal wouldn’t you know) and, oh, yes, updated the credit card info.

But I called anyway and spoke to a very kind and patient tech who walked me through what I’d done, set me up for automatic renewal, and reminded me how to get around on the BlueHost site.

And then I got off the phone, noted all information the the passcode book, and took a nap.

I have risen to the level of incompetence with computers, that much is obvious.

But I shall persevere. I mean, what am I going to do if I don’t? My history, if not in the stacks of journals I lug from place to place, is in computer files.

Whine. I guess I can whine. Not particularly charming or effective, but you have now, if you’ve reached this point, read the whine and possibly even absolved me. Maybe you’ve even laughed.

The end.


A Memoir Class to Remember

Memoir and Personal Essay: Four Weeks: June 5 to June 26, 2017; Monday evenings, 6:30 P.M. Central Time

Have you thought about writing your memoir? Is there something bubbling inside that you really want to write about? Do you have an idea for a personal essay to submit for publication?

If you’re not sure, think about this question: What’s the most important thing that’s ever happened to you? Now. There’s a story!

You’ll learn to think about writing a personal essay or a book-length memoir like building a house, focusing on structure, situation, and story. Structure (the foundation and studs) – defines the beginning, middle, end, and time-line; Situation (the walls of each room) – describes what happens, along with characteristics of people, place, and sensory details, to build a picture in the reader’s mind and lift the words from the paper into another’s experience; Story (the color scheme, furniture, and decorations) – presents the writer’s experience and journey of self-discovery to create a reliable narrator for the reader. All of this comes together to bring the You alive so readers will live through you. Suitable for both experienced and emerging writers.

Participants will complete a manuscript of about 1,500 words to use as a stand-alone piece or the start of a longer manuscript. We’ll use a private Facebook page as a communication tool, and I’ll offer ideas or suggestions for your work in progress and do a comprehensive revision on your final piece. I’ll also give you suggestions on where you could publish a personal essay if you choose to and/or how to publish a manuscript on Amazon.

I’ll be teaching online live through Zoon and will send out a link each week for you to log in. It’s easy. All you need to do is download Zoon from the above link, create a log in and password, and when I send out the email reminder, just click on the link in the email at the designated time. It’s very easy to use. (https://zoom.us/feature). I suggest using Chrome for your platform, both for Zoon and for our Facebook work, as it allows greater mobility online. For example, you can upload a manuscript on Facebook using Chrome.

To register go to the Shati Arts webpage. And stop saving those great ideas on a spare envelope!

A former memoir workshop participant wrote: “As an instructor, Janet is engaging and direct, providing structured guidance and feedback while also encouraging my unique writing to emerge.” | “Most inspiring for me was how she emphasized the power of our personal stories: valuing, articulating, and writing our truths to share with others.

I’ll also be teaching Spiritual Writing in October so stay tuned for information on that later. You can check out the spiritual writing blurb on the Shanti Arts website below the memoir blurb.

Best wishes in your writing,


…with a little help from my friends….

I’m a memorist who explores how personal history shapes our choices and how learning to accept and forgive failed choices leads to a more fulfilling life.


I’m a memorist who’s spent her life learning how to love and how to forgive herself and to keep a sense of humor as I mentor others in those skills.


For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with a book, Be The Gateway, by Dan Blank. A great book on marketing…(oh the dreaded word marketing).

His writing is easy to read and his challenges to look at the way we present out work are, well, challenging. For example, in writing a bio, which I’ve done and revised and done and revised over the years, beginning, of course, with my name and Janet Sunderland is a….and all that, Dan says not to. An eye-opening sentence: “Nine months after someone reads your book, what do you want them to think quietly in their heads about the world you have opened for them?”

I finally arrived at self-forgiveness.

That was in the Craft a Mission Statement chapter on page 39. That ten page chapter has taken me ten days to complete. After writing my bio, which took a long time, the above statements are what I crafted as my mission statement.

The thing is, it’s not just my life I write about. I write about my mother, family, land, and other people, so it seems the first is perhaps more effective overall. Maybe I need to add keeping a sense of humor to the first one?

Here’s where a little help from my friends comes in. What do you think of them? What ideas would either give you? And after reading the below bio, which I will insert into a query letter to agents, what do you think of it? I could really use some feedback and those of you who know my writing after all these years of reading it (thank you all so much), probably have a better handle than anyone.

So here ’tis…the bio. Please comment, give feedback, say whatever you think might help me, including “this confused me…” (I’ve heard that a lot with my various and varied pieces, so feel free.) One of the things Dan Blank wrote for an opening statement: “something that your ideal reader would read and say “YES! This!”


Most of us struggle, at some level, in outgrowing childhood. We were too tall or too short, too loud or too quiet, too fat or too skinny, too argumentative or too passive, and sometimes abused physically, emotionally, or sexually. Sometimes parents divorced, or a parent or grandparent died, leaving us stunned and fearful. We call it trauma, but it’s a wound that’s won’t heal.

Written on the Reverse is a memoir to explore how childhood trauma led me on a journey of transformation to heal and learn who I am is enough. The journey taught me forgiveness for myself, my father, and my grandfather. I also learned how difficult it is to trust love and how rewarding.

My journey from Mexico to Washington D.C., to a healing community in Hawaii, to Georgia for family tasks, and finally to Santa Fe recounts how my destination was always written on the reverse of a crossroad sign in ink destined to remain invisible for an unspecified span of years. All I had was trust in the journey to connect my dreams to reality. Throughout my journey, beginning in Washington D.C., I dreamed of this man as I named him, who, in dreams, came to me when I was struggling, or just to check in, and whom I met in Santa Fe.

In short, the memoir offers hope. For over twenty years, I’ve helped others learn to trust their journey, practice forgiveness, see themselves as valuable, and heal leftover wounds. While I’ve changed the world one person at a time with one-on-one mentoring and in college public speaking and writing classes, this memoir will guide a wider audience.

I’ve earned a BFA and two graduate degrees, but I’ve written all my life, or rather from age eight in my first diary. My mother was a writer and my grandmother a poet. My childhood in Kansas filled itself with words and books. My first published poem was in a college literary magazine. Since then, I’ve published essays and poetry in many journals, and a collection of poetry, Written on the Reverse, by Finishing Line Press. As a memoirist, the most life-changing books were Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (I began keeping a journal), Natalie Goldberg (most of hers), and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I no longer teach in college but I do lead writing workshops. My husband and I live in Kansas City in a 1924 built house. A Romare Bearden quote is taped to the window in front of my writing desk: Artists are like mice. They need old houses where they can roam around and nobody bothers them. I tend to wander around.


Thanking you all, again, in advance. In many ways, you have been my gateway for years.