What’s So Special About Chautauqua?

The Chautauqua Institution is a small town in Chautauqua, New York. It’s located in the western part of the state and only really comes alive in summer. People first start arriving in late May and leave in September. Some stay for the whole season in lovely old, restored houses. Others come for a week or two and rent a room, an apartment or stay at the old Athenaeum Hotel.

Yes, there are a few year-round residents, about 400. But that is nothing compared to the approximately 7,500 daily visitors at the height of the season. Some buy season passes but most buy weekly or daily ones. The passes include many excellent lectures and classes from 9:00 a.m. to the evening performances in the Amphitheater that start at 8:15 p.m.


Why? What makes Chautauqua so special? It’s the people who come and what is offered. During the nine-week season, each week has a theme. All the classes, lectures and performances for that week revolve around that theme. And all of them are excellent.


Some of the themes from this year are: Life of the Written Word, American Identity and The Arts and Global Understanding. We went for Week 6, July 28 to August 4. The theme was “The Changing Nature of Work”. We had an absolutely marvelous time.


We stayed at the Athenaeum Hotel and after breakfast each morning went to a lecture on the efficiencies and inefficiencies that are built into our economy. At 10:30 we headed to the Amphitheater so we’d be sure to have a seat for that days’ talk. At noon we went to lunch and around 1:15 p.m. walked over to the Hall of Philosophy so we had good seats for the 2:00 p.m. presentation. On Monday Sister Joan Chittister spoke.


We usually stayed for the 3:30 lecture as well. That’s how we had the opportunity to hear Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. Then it was back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.


Afterwards there was always a performance in the Amphitheater from 8:15 to 10:00. One night it was a symphony. Another it was a ballet. On our last night it was “The Piano Guys”. They were the perfect end to a magical week!

Writer’s Confessional Part Six

This past month has been a writing bonanza. I’ve written my own obituary, started my About Me biography for WjK ARTiSAN DESiGNS, and have also focused on the anthology project for the Deadwood Writers Group. It’s been an interesting thirty-one days.

I’ve been concentrating primarily on my top five strengths through the class I am taking with Jo Self at Jo Self Consulting. It’s a strengths-branding course (she differentiates for each person’s needs). For my individualized consultation we’ve concentrated on my solopreneurship to dig through my top five strengths—Responsibility, Harmony, Discipline, Consistency, Maximizer–and beyond, which are the result of a specifically designed questionnaire at CliftonStrengths 34 online. It’s been enlightening.

Writing my obituary was a fascinating exercise. What would you want someone to say about you at your funeral? Or, if not an obituary, how about a speech at your 90th birthday celebration? It is a lesson everyone should try. It forced me to look at the accomplishments in my life. What should my life look like as I move forward? Did I reach for things I wanted? Did I set on a path to success? It was an emotional read. When I got to the end, reading it aloud to the participants on the conference call, I had to stop to control my tears because of the hope I have that I will have helped my girls turn into great women. The exercise also allowed me to see what needs to be done to reach the goals I’ve set for myself in my professional life.

During the second section of the course Kirsten Back, The Word Distiller, helps with branding our businesses. She wants us to emotionally connect with our customers. That, in turn, will help customers justify their return or pass on the word about our businesses. There’s some more work to be done with Kirsten, but I’ve got a good start to my About Me page. Now, I need to add the nuances of my top five strengths into what I’ve already written.

And to wrap things up, I’ve asked a lot of what if questions regarding where I want my characters to go in the Anthology for the Deadwood Writer’s Group. The ‘What if’s’ stem from a book I discovered by K. M. Weiland, called Outlining your Novel, Map Your Way to Success. The idea is to take your story in a direction that the reader doesn’t expect, so I asked myself the ‘What If’ questions to understand the premise goals.  This exercise led me to some interesting ideas about the characters and how they’ll interact with the main prop, the coin of Caligula. It must be a part of everyone’s story for those participating in the anthology. It was a fun bit of writing and hopefully, I have a solid foundation to move the arc in the direction I want the story to conclude, with a happily ever after.

First Impressions of Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Warning: There are spoilers in this article.

In spite of the fact that Life is Strange: Before the Storm was released in August of 2017, it took me almost a year to get through the game in its entirety. I played a bit of it in November, then essentially let it sit on a shelf before getting back to and finishing it in June. I can’t say why I procrastinated so much, but the game was quite the experience when I finally got around to it.

I was delighted to dive back into the world of Arcadia Bay and see younger versions of the characters I’d fallen in love with in the first Life is Strange game. And it was nice to finally get introduced to Rachel Amber, the murder victim I was disappointed didn’t get any screen time in a game that included a character with time travel powers.

The central figure of Life is Strange: Before the Storm is Chloe, the angry-at-the-world punk with a heart of gold I found so endearing in the first game. Chloe is at a point in her life where she is still coping with the loss of her father, the childhood friend, Max, she was so close with has stopped writing, and she sees her mom’s new boyfriend as an intruder in both their lives.

Rachel comes into Chloe’s life at a point when the latter really needs a friend to carry her through a dark period. What makes their budding friendship so intriguing is that Chloe and Rachel are polar opposites – or at least that’s how it seems to be at the start of the game. Right off the bat, Rachel is perceived as a straight-laced honor student whose life must be perfect since she comes from a loving household and her father is the D.A. But her association with Chloe as the game progresses reveals that Rachel has a dark side.

Though I was glad to delve into a story revolving around Chloe and Rachel, it was also tragic to see them dream of a future they’d both ultimately be denied. While it’s nice to see them find some degree of happiness by the end of Life of Strange: Before the Storm, such a thing is marred by the knowledge that their lives are cut short with the next chronological game in the series.

The story is also a bit soured by the knowledge that Rachel will have broken all of her promises to Chloe by the time of her demise. I would have liked to see a bit more of their story to get a sense of what led to this betrayal.

On the contrary, one of the things I like best about Before the Storm is that it looks to have multiple endings. It is a game that I can see myself playing through at least half a dozen times to see the various conclusions.

The game also has a side story revolving around Max after she and her family have moved away from Arcadia Bay. I have yet to delve into this part of Before the Storm. But it is a storyline I will explore in the coming days.

I know there is a Life is Strange 2 in production that will feature a completely new story, location, and set of characters. It was nice that the characters of the original game were given a bit of a send-off, and I hope that those introduced in the sequel will be equally as likable and endearing.

This is Us

Watching the previews of coming television series helps me decide which shows might hold my interest. I dislike wasting my time on stories with predictable plots, comedies that aren’t funny, and unreal reality shows. The previews of one show, “This Is Us,” caught my attention because the story promised a multi-generational, multi-cultural drama. I decided to view the first episode, and I was an instant fan.


NBC’s popular drama, “This Is Us,” which premiered in September 2016, recently filmed episodes for their final season. The series depicts the lives of a Caucasian couple and their three children, one adopted African American male, all born on the same day as the father’s 30th birthday. The family experiences emotional struggles, personal challenges, and immense losses as well as delightful moments.


Rarely do writers successfully tell stories intermingling the past, present, and future of the characters’ lives during the same episode. I watched each installment of the series twice and discovered something new each time. Insignificant moments in one episode revealed defining moments in another.


Often fans of the series would meet the next day to discuss the story and the impact on their lives. If you enjoy excellent storytelling, “This Is Us,” is a must see. It will be sad to see this exceptional show end.


What television series have made an impact on you?


Writer’s Confessional Part Five

It’s said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’re gifted with eloquence. Or, if I tell it like most people have heard it, the gift of gab. Well, I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. Too many lips on the same surface for my taste. But, what I won’t bullshit you about is as soon as I saw the green of Ireland I fell in love. I already felt a pull toward the land of Skellig Island off Portmagee, which is southwest of Dublin, also the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren’s. Setting foot on the earth where God granted a little more green than other places, the magic of the island was captivating. Larger modern cities like Dublin, Cork, or Killarney, they have their own mystique, their own magic in music, the people, the pastel-painted architecture, the history, the beer. Take away those larger cities and I’m left with nature so beautiful it’s overwhelming. So much history, blood, and struggle poured out into the land I can’t possibly fathom what life was like a thousand years ago or beyond. It was inspiring, as an artist, a writer, as a person with Irish blood.

I took my sketchbook with me but didn’t pull it out, surprising myself, since everything there is a sketch study. I took as many photos as I could though, a lot of the flavor of Ireland waiting to be written or drawn.
One thing that caught my writer’s mind was the concept of the fairy myth and folklore. I didn’t see it marketed anywhere. As an American you can go to any craft store and find ceramic garden fairy’s, fairy doors, mushrooms to go with the fairy’s, etc. I found it odd, but satisfying that they didn’t market the fairy myths or the idea of leprechauns for the touristy crowd throughout most of the country. There was a particular store, but it was done in a commercial way rather than done by craftsmen or artisans.
But what are your thoughts on Irish myths and folklore? Conjure your concept of a leprechaun in your mind. Some might consider a character from a movie wearing green pants and coat with scary bright orange hair, a sinister angry face, or maybe something from a children’s book a little softer, more inviting with a rainbow and a pot of gold. In my mind, it’s a bit of both. I did see something that caused me to think of just those kind of stories, though.

We landed on Irish soil during the sunniest week Ireland will ever see this year (I actually got a sunburn). As we enjoyed the shade in Cork’s shopping district I noticed a man that looked a little separate from everyone else, like he was floating through the brick and mortar landscape of shops and the modern world. He was about my height, five feet nine inches tall, squarer in the shoulders, dramatically so. The man’s hair was not the stark orange-red that most people think of when they think Irish heritage, but it was a deep rusty red, a windswept mess. His clothes were bland in color, plaid shirt, and twill pants, hanging off him like they didn’t belong. As we passed him a shiver danced across my skin because his stare in his craggily and pitted face was blank almost as if he was looking off somewhere that no one could see. I asked myself if he was seeing something other than the fast-bustling pedestrians needing to get their tourist trap purchases back to their hotel rooms before they went off to the next pub to have a pint or if he was so displaced in time lost to all the people around him. It scared me a bit, his blank stare, his ghostly demeanor. But I brushed it off and continued to wander through Cork with my hubby. But I couldn’t get the man out of mind so when I saw another person that was so similar in features, a smaller frame, feminine this time, I started to pay more attention and this new set of characters came to life in my head. It was exciting.

There were other instances where this happened too. A dilapidated house in the middle of a flourishing neighborhood outside of Dublin, the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, with its jewelry made by Vikings, or the sheep and cows littering the landscape disappearing into the rocky green hills, or the castles that would pop up just around the bend on the narrow road. It was a compelling and fantastical place.
So, as a writer what am I trying to tell myself? What did I learn while I was on the green island? I would say that I need to go outside more, wander a bit, even if it’s to a city or park I’ve been to several times. Pay attention to what surrounds me and stop being so apathetic to my city, towns and parks nearby. Do a little digging into the history of the places and I might just find a story somewhere left in the cracks of time.