When I first saw The Little Water Girl statue, she was tucked in a corner of a gated entry to the library, most often littered with leaves and bits of trash that spun around her on windy days.
She's now located inside, in a prominent position, fully restored to be the water fountain she was designed to be.
But what does she stand for?
I was curious.
This is one of a handful of statues I researched in Portland ... because I was curious. It became a hobby and with each statue, I created a poster and wrote a short essay.
This is what I found:
Barefoot with outstretched arms, The Little Water Girl is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Lillian Stevens, a dedicated advocate for women and children and third president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Founded in 1874, to “combat the destructive powers of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society,” the WCTU banded together in prayer, protest, and pledge—a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol.
Battling saloon owners and eager to curb temptation facing their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, the organization encouraged members to install public drinking fountains in their communities.
Drinking fountains where “men could get a drink of water without entering saloons and staying for stronger drinks.”
A committed and independent Stevens traveled by carriage (along with her horse Madge) some 50,000 miles lobbying for the WCTU and Prohibition.
Ratified five years after Stevens’s death Prohibition was not to last.
But still, 100 years after Prohibition was enacted, the WCTU continues to advocate for total abstinence of alcohol, illegal drugs, pornography, and gambling.
The Little Water Girl by British sculptor George E. Wade was commissioned by the WCTU for display at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.
More than 70 fountains inspired by the WCTU initiative remain standing across the United States, Canada, England, and Australia.
Copies of The Little Water Girl can be found in Chicago, Detroit, and London.
People want to know.
Like The Little Water Girl, people are interested in your story.
But if you don't tell them, how will they know how you did it, why it matters, or how it happened?
Not sure where to start? I can help.
Write today or call (207-252-9757) and let's talk about your story.
After all, people love stories and you've got a good one.
Start writing your story with the Short Story Inventory.
Curiosity and the Hobby Memoir
How many times have you used a local statue as a meeting place or as a reference point when giving directions?
Statues are identifying landmarks and part of the fabric of our cities, towns, and villages. But what do they stand for?
I was curious.
Though I was familiar with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a poet, and knew there was a USPS stamp issued in his honor, I admit to not knowing much beyond that.
My curiosity rendered a new hobby researching and recording what I found ... and with each statue, I created a poster and wrote a short essay.
The Longfellow statue sits at the intersection of State and Congress Streets and is positioned facing Longfellow’s boyhood home, mere blocks away.
Here's what I discovered:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a linguist, professor, and poet. He corresponded with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stow, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens.
Born February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine, and a graduate of Bowdoin College, Longfellow yearned for a life in literature. Forging an agreement with his alma mater, he set out across the Atlantic to study European language and literature. And though he would return to teach at Bowdoin and then at Harvard College, writing would prove to be his vocation.
Longfellow’s well-known works include Evangeline, "The Wreck of the Hesperus," and "Paul Revere's Ride." He was a best-selling author and enjoyed considerable success with is work.
But he suffered tremendous loss in his personal life.
His first wife and childhood friend, Mary Storer Potter, died following a miscarriage. And his second wife, Fanny Appleton, with whom he had six children, died after setting her dressing gown afire with candle wax. Forever saddened, Longfellow did little writing after Fanny's death.
Sculptor Franklin Simmons's bearded Longfellow sits at the intersection of State and Congress. Like Longfellow, Simmons was born in Maine and became a well-known artist in his day. A second sculpture by Simmons, Our Lady of Victories, stands just a blocks in Monument Square.
Monday is World Tourism Day. If you're curious, or looking for a new adventure, why not start close to home and see what you discover.
A Memoir in Letters
It started with a simple request by mail. Helene Hanff of New York City writes to Marks & Co. in London requesting a book and Frank Doel writes back. It was the beginning of a correspondence that would last 20 years.
Though the letters were never written to be used as memoir, it's a fine example of how letter writing can, and often does, serve as memoir.
Through a shared love of books, the letters reveal quirky personalities, the hardship of war, and the transformative power of friendship. Hanff's humorous, brusque style and bookseller Frank Doel's polite manner combine to make this a thoroughly charming book ... and quick read.
If you're interested in writing letters but need some encouragement and guidance, check out A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice. I wrote the book after hearing so many people shy away from writing because they were worried about their handwriting, didn't know what to write about, and often, not even sure who to write to.
What if I told you to think about letter writing as a conversation. Imagine you're sitting across the kitchen table from the person you're writing to. What would you say? Write that.
That may sound too simple, but really, that's it.
Inside the book you'll find ideas for who to write to and what to write about, along with a primer on learning or improving your cursive handwriting. Because be it loopy and large or compact and not so large, your handwriting is what people so enjoy seeing. Really.
And if you 're still not convinced, request a real postcard welcome. I'll write to you and you'll see, getting mail feels good.
A road map to better writing
Fran Lebowitz is an acclaimed author and speaker. In the Netflix documentary, Pretend It's a City, by Martin Scorsese, Scorsese talks to Lebowitz about her life.
When Scorsese asks, "What's the worst thing you could say about a book?" Lebowitz says, "I forgot I was reading it."
Let's not let that happen.
A lot of people talk about how writing is hard. And it is. But writing is also an orderly business:
- Start with an opening that catches your reader's attention.
- Watch your timeline ... when, where, and how things happened.
- And pay attention to detail.
Map it out
Think of your writing as a road trip. Start with the action, experience, or lesson you want to tell your reader about, then back up and tell them how it came to be. Write about where you started, why you took that left instead of a right, highlight a few attractions along the way, and talk about the traffic jam that caused a delay.
If it starts well, follows a logical thread, and offers insight, they'll be with you to the end. If not, they'll disembark before you turn the next corner.
What story are you writing?
If you need help getting started or help with editing your work, let's talk.
Some still hang
bright and red
Others make like
polka dots, red on
The ones that
fill the gutter
line up like bowling
balls in the automated
Is it the imperfections,
or is it because they're not
already picked, in a bag,
or in a store?
I wish it was my apple tree.
Poetry in memoir is a great way to tell a short story in as few words as possible.
There's no need to rhyme, or overthink the structure of verse of your poem. True some poems are set with strict rules and form, but there's also free verse and narrative poetry.
Writing in a different style or form may be liberating. Why not try it?
Do you make your bed? I know my mother encouraged it when I was growing up, but it was my grandmother who found a way to make it happen ... and I still think of her when I change the sheets.
There was no pestering or pleading, she simply set the scene ... with new bedding. It was the best after-school treat I never imagined.
It was mid-afternoon when I arrived home from school and found the mismatched jumble of pillows, sheets, and blankets I'd left on the bed earlier in the day replaced with perfectly plump pillows and coordinated sheets tucked under a matching comforter.
I was spellbound.
Nothing but the bedding had changed, but there was new order to my small room, and I was all in.
The 11th of the month is Make Your Bed Day (get your calendar of days writing prompts here). Some do, some don't ... some only when company's coming. But there's evidence that suggests it might be a good idea. It was also a key point in Admiral William H. McRaven's popular commencement address delivered to the 2014 graduating class at the University of Texas.
"If you make your bed every morning," McRaven says, "you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another and another."
He goes on to say that even if you have a miserable day, when it's time for bed, you will be reminded that you did in fact accomplish something that day ... you made your bed.
I made mine. Did you?
Tucked or untucked?
p.s. The same could be said for your writing. I like to write first thing in the morning. That way it's done before there are so many other distractions. If you do, that will be at least two things you will have accomplished for the day. Try it and let me know how it goes.
Because I didn't know what to write about, I stalled as long as I could and focused instead on gathering my thoughts, finding some scratch paper, stationery, a pen, getting a sip of water, and figuring out where to sit.
It wasn't the first time I'd been stumped trying to figure out what to write. That day it was a letter.
It was the day I heard the neighbor's chickens squawking. And it was the day that changed everything.
The squawking was so loud I couldn't ignore it.
I stopped procrastinating (well, not so much) to look out the window to be sure they weren't under attack.
And that's when I knew what to write about ... the chickens.
I wrote about how the neighbor's chicken coop sits at the low end of the backyard. How we like to sit on the back porch and watch them ... as if we're watching a documentary ... chicken TV, I scribbled.
How when one chicken goes in the coop, they all go in. When one comes out, they all come out. And how they peck, peck peck. All day long ... peck, peck, pecking.
No more ruffled feathers
Those chickens changed everything for me. That day I figured out not only what to write about, but what makes better writing.
Stories. Your stories and my stories. One at a time.
It's impossible to cover everything in one story, so you have to choose one thing to write about.
And then make it relevant.
What's the story behind:
- How you learned ________.
- When you figured out _______.
- What happens when you _______.
Can I help you write, edit, or develop a story? Let's talk.
And in the meantime, download your free copy of the Story Inventory and start writing.
The Story Line blog is where we share short story memoirs, writing tips, and more.