THE PILES: An Excerpt from 'The Experience of a Young Woman in Hitler's Europe'

The following is a poetic excerpt from a play I wrote entitled ‘The Experience of a Young Woman in Hitler’s Europe.’ The play revolves around three women’s stories from growing up in the midst of the Holocaust. This excerpt is spoken by the narrator, when she introduces the physical piles that are on stage. The piles serve as a kind of character of their own throughout the play; they are set pieces, props, and also represent the people who perished during the genocide.

Piles of shoes

Piles of hair

Piles of pots, pans -

I couldn’t help but to stare

At the piles.

Piles of memories

Of lives lived

Of unrealized dreams

The piling of questions

That have not-good-enough answers

How could this happen?

Have we learned? 

Will we remember?

A lack of piles of response.

An abundance of recovered notes,

Letters from the otherwise forgotten

Uncovered underneath the rotten piles of memory.


'HAMILTON' STAR CALLS CSO 'ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING ORCHESTRAS IN THE WORLD': An Article in the Cincinnati Enquirer

This week’s piece is an article that I wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer in anticipation of ‘Hamilton’ star Renée Elise Goldsberry coming to town. And, for context, I’d like to share with you all just how much my conversation with Renée meant to me, and why I feel so blessed to be a professional storyteller.

The day that Renée called, I was not in a good place - mentally, emotionally. I deal with a lot of sad, vulgar, heartbreaking stories every day as a breaking news reporter. I am reminded on a daily basis just how cruel we can be towards one another. It’s not always enough to break me down, but that particular day had been rough.

Renée called me at around 8 p.m. as I was in the middle of writing up an article on a man who is accused of child rape. I picked up my phone, stepped away from my desk and went into a quiet room. I greeted Renée and was immediately met by her warm, kind voice. I could physically feel myself begin to heal from a long day as she talked to me about her love of music and performance, two of my own passions that have sat on the back burner as of late.

Towards the end of the interview, I asked Renée what she thinks will be next in her already accomplished career.

This was her response:

“As long as somebody will invite me, I will come to do this. Because it really is a platform to remind us about how good we are. We really are a wonderful species. We’ve created so many things, and one of the most amazing things is music. And it can really save the world and so I’m doing my very, very, very small part.”

I’m not sure if she could hear me over the phone - if she did, she didn’t mention it - but I let out a soft sob at this statement. The dichotomy of her words with the day I’d had overwhelmed my emotions completely. We soon ended the interview and I sat alone for a few more moments, trying to digest what had happened and why I was crying.

I’m still processing it all, actually. I think I will be for a while.

The one thing I do know is that I am beyond lucky to do this work. Telling these stories - all of them - keeps me humble, curious, empathetic and always wanting more. Even on the hardest days, I’m reminded of the good. So thank you, Renée.

Link to the story: 'Hamilton' star calls CSO 'one of the most amazing orchestras in the world'

FINGERS ON METAL: A Poem

the artist strokes
the rough what...
quick lines are possible
criss-cross, cross-hatch
crisp lines cut clear across the sheet
you, a future observer, run your finger along diagonally
take pleasure in the smooth
cut corners with the rough
what the rough is...
the rough criss-cross, cross-hatch
and when your finger passes her eyes, pause.
the woman in the etches
her eyes reach out
is there a way to end this less... sudden?
transcending the metal confines
scratched lines send her eyes
longing, easy, peaceful
she watches you
with her imbalanced, unproportioned eyes
and you are frozen
as the quick strokes
dug diligently by the distant designer
dance down and etch her nose
creating the rough
rough criss cross
rough cross-hatch


NOT QUITE A CASTLE: An Original Song

I’ve been living on my own in Cincy for almost a month now, and I find myself smiling more than ever. I came up with this song this week and thought I’d share. It’s a raw recording, and not perfect by any means - but it’s fun to play, fun to sing, and put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. Hope it makes you smile, too. Happy Friday!

Lyrics:

I don’t have much, but the much I have is mine

It feels so good to sit in an empty room drinking an 8 dollar bottle of wine

I’m sitting on the floor

Not asking for anything more than this

Cuz all I have is this, and this is all mine

I go to work and I love what I do, which more than most could say

I got dreams and I got the means and the spirit to be on my way

I’ve got nothing to lose, I got no complaints, Really, I’m doing just fine

I’m walking around like I’m wearing a crown, because all of this is mine

I got love

I got smiles for days

I got a toaster oven

And my mom bought me duvet

It might not look like much

But it’s home to me

No, it’s not quite a castle

But around here, baby, I’m the queen

I don’t have much, but the much I have is mine

Open my fridge, I got margarita mix, don’t ask me for a lime

Turn this empty room into a dance floor

No, I don’t need anything more than this

Cuz all I have is this, and this is all mine

I got laughs

I got friends just down the street

I got ice cube trays

And ordered a vacuum cleaner last week

It might not look like much

But it’s home to me

No, it’s not quite a castle

But around here, baby, I’m the queen

HURT: A Poem/Spoken Word

Did I Hurt you

When I said no more?

Because it Hurt me, too

That you didn’t tell me 

Before

How nice it could feel

For me to be yours


You showed up

With no warning

Barely a morning’s

Breath 

After I left

And you tell me

That I’m what you want


And those words 

Made me feel so good

Made me feel worth

Something

When for so long

I was worth 

Nothing

To you

Or so I thought

Because there you were

Wanting me to 

Leap with you


Am I worth

The Hurt

That will come from that Leap?

I have to tell myself

No

I am worth

More

I shouldn’t have to bleed

To feel loved

Loving should not

Hurt


Your green eyes

Stare at me hard

Honest

I haven’t seen them

Ever like this

It’s almost as if

I can trust

That stare

And those words

And I run my hands through your hair

And I believe you


And for the first time

You are genuine

And true

And in love


And for the first time

It doesn’t matter

Because for the first time

I can’t be blind

To the Hurt


There is someone else

And he is soft

And he is kind

And he is enamored with my mind

Not my breasts

And the rest 

Doesn’t matter

Because even if you had my heart

He can love me better


Did that Hurt?

It hurts me too

Because for now

Even though I want him

And I choose him

Every now and then

I’m still thinking about you


MY WINTRE POIME: A Throwback to 1st Grade

This blog is not necessarily about creating something new each week, but about sharing pieces of my work that I’m proud of, no matter when I wrote it.

So, I present to you: a poem I wrote in the first grade. My aunt kept it all these years and framed it for me at the end of my Miami University career. She said that she always knew I’d be a writer after I came home as a six-year-old with this in my backpack. Feel free to laugh. This one always makes me smile.

IMG_8960.JPG

Translation:

Winter oh winter you

sparkle and glow in the

deep light snow. You are

so cold it makes me

cry. you shimmer and sparkle

in my deep dark eyes.

SAVE OUR SOULS: An Original Song

I had to take some time to process my thoughts after last week’s shootings, starting a new job and the overall madness that is the 21st century so far. Since I was about 7 years old, writing music has been one of my favorite ways to get my feelings out. I never claim to be a star vocalist, and this video is extremely raw, but I feel good about the lyrics and thought I’d post for a (late, sorry) Write-A-Week. This is not the kind of content that I usually share, so please let me know your honest thoughts. Next week’s will be posted on Friday as usual.

Sending love to every soul in our crazy world.

SONG LYRICS:

Someday they’ll look back and they’ll know where we went wrong

That day they’ll hold each other and know that they belong

But today it’s unplanned anger, horror strikes again

And no one wins

But what happened to caring and kindness and open hearts

Now all of my daydreams turn nightmare and I’m breaking apart

I’m breaking down

Hoping someone comes around to save our souls

Look around at this rare sight of looking eye to eye

Then it’s gone in an instant, no time for goodbye

And in the pain it’s easy to blame but loving is easy, too

If we only try

But what happened to caring and kindness and open hearts

Now all of my daydreams turn nightmare and I’m breaking apart

I’m breaking down

Hoping someone comes around to save our souls

I remember, 8 years old, being told everything would be okay

Well, I guess things change

No one’s safe

Save our souls

No one’s safe

Save our souls

No one’s safe

Someday they’ll look back and they’ll know where we went wrong

FEELS LIKE HOME: A Poem, Inspired by an Image

Alien streets

Turned familiar

In just a few weeks

The same steps

Each day, morning and night

Through weather of all kinds

Under a multitude of skies

Green, gray, black, blue

Tracing the same paths

Until they become our own

Until they are ours 

And we can walk them

With our eyes closed

Know them

Like the backs of our hands

The expression goes

But each evening

As the sun sets

I always seem to forget

The way the world changes

And how the ground opens up

To receive the sun

And the way the sky stretches big and broad

To catch the night

And before my eyes

This street that has become normalized,

Mundane and familiar

Puts on a show

For me only

And that is how I know

That this time is mine to hold

That this street is mine to own

That this is home

Outside the Château

Outside the Château

ALL OF MY HAPPY: A Poem/Spoken Word

I was born with all of my happy

Radiating out of my cheeks

In rosy roundness

Aunts and uncles, grandparents

Would kiss them

And I would beam

And I would glow

And I would relish in all of my happy


When I got older

And I would scrape a knee

Or lose a battle

My happy would rattle

And roll off of me

But I was always so sure to go back

To collect all of my happy

Back up into my fingertips

And taste it

Like ice cream

My happy is so delicious


And older still I grew

Losing and picking up

My happy all the time

Until I met you

And I don’t know why

But you became my happy


I poured all of my happy 

Into your cupped hands

And then

When I wasn’t looking

You spread your fingers

And watched all of my happy 

Spill onto the floor

Every. Single. Bit.


And I had been warned

Not to trust someone else’s hands

With all of my happy

My happy is too fragile

Too important

To be tainted

And yet I painted the inside walls of my eyes

With your laugh

And for that

I traded you for

All of my happy


I pumped all of my happy

Into colorful balloons

And gifted them to you

With the naivety

Of pure, innocent love

And I saw you laugh

With that laugh I admire

As you let go

And watched all of my happy

Float up into the clouds, streaming across the big blue

Like they were nothing more than ordinary Party City balloons


My happy does not belong to you

Anymore


It’s taken me

So. Long.

To pick up

All of my happy

From the floor

To pluck all of my happy

From the sky

To paint over your laugh

That has marked the inside of my mind

And I have realized

Now that I have gathered back up

All of my happy

That it is worth more

Than a lifetime

Of your laughs


Write-A-Week

Hi, and welcome to my blog! This isn’t a personal blog, or one where I tell stories about my day-to-day life. Instead, I’m using this page to share a weekly piece of my creative writing with you! Plays, poems, songs, free-write, you name it. Check in every Friday for a new post. And feel free to comment/share - I would love to hear your feedback :)

TWENTY PENCE FOR A PISS: A Ten-Minute Play

Twenty Pence for a Piss

A Ten-Minute Play by Madeline Elizabeth Mitchell


Characters

Maya: Female, late 20s. American. Kind, adventurous, but has a bit of a temper. She’s in London for the first time, on vacation.

Will: Male, early 30s. British. Handsome but not necessarily confident in his looks.  Matter-of-fact, businesslike, shy. He is not usually a confrontational person.

The Play

The underground tube in London, Blackfriars station going towards Ealing. Late afternoon. Fall. MAYA is wearing a simple dress with tights, white tennis shoes and a fashionable scarf. She has a crossbody purse and is holding a newspaper that she’s pretending to read, but really she just really needs to go to the bathroom. We watch her struggle to appear calm as she taps her feet and shuffles about the station, in desperate need to relieve herself.

MAYA suddenly gives up on the newspaper, exasperated, and opens her purse. She frantically scrummages through it, and then, realizing - again - that there is no change, closes it in annoyance. 

WILL enters, gets into position to wait for the train, and then pulls out his phone, scrolling.

MAYA

Excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you, but do you happen to have a spare twenty pence I could use?

WILL

(without looking up) No.

MAYA

Could you at least… look?

There is no response. 

MAYA

Um? Sir?

WILL looks tired, but unphased by her persistence. 

MAYA

(sticking out her hand) I’m Maya. As a visitor in your lovely country, I would appreciate some help, here.

WILL

(finally putting his phone down and really looking at her) No, I do not have twenty pence I can spare for you. I’m sorry.

He takes out his phone again and goes back to whatever he was reading on the screen. MAYA, getting more and more desperate, stamps around, jittery. She moves in closer to him.

MAYA

It’s just for me to go to the bathroom. It’s twenty pence to use the bathroom here.

WILL

Ma’am, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter what the twenty pence is for. Even if it was a life-or-death situation, and only my twenty pence could save you, I simply don’t have twenty pence to give. I don’t have any change on me right now.

MAYA

How?

WILL

How? What do you mean how? I just don’t have any!

MAYA

But, you live here?

WILL

Yes.

MAYA

In London.

WILL

Yes. 

MAYA

Well then how come you don’t have any change on you?! I mean what if you’re in public and you need to go to the bathroom? Everywhere I’ve been the past few days - unless it’s a restaurant where I’ve already paid to eat - it’s twenty pence for a piss. I just don’t understand how you can live here and not be ready for this kind of situation.

WILL

(matter-of-fact) I piss at home. Before I leave for work. And then I piss at work. Before I leave to go home. I haven’t found much need to prepare for… this… situation.

MAYA

Oh.

WILL

Mmm. 

WILL now seems confident that he has gotten rid of her. He walks away a couple of steps and takes out a cigarette to light. He visibly shakes a bit, startled, when MAYA begins speaking again. He puts the cigarette and lighter away.

MAYA

Well, just so you know, in America this “situation” doesn’t even exist. If I needed to go to the bathroom at a subway station in America, I could just go. The toilets would be pretty gross, sure, and there may or may not be any toilet paper or hand soap, but I could go to the fucking bathroom. For FREE. (truly exasperated now) I mean, it’s a basic human right. To be able to relieve yourself. 

WILL

This isn’t a subway. This is the Tube. It runs on time.

MAYA

Subway, Tube, same diff-- 

WILL

And I know that using the bathroom in America is free. I’ve been to America. And then I came back. I don’t need a lesson in culture shock.

MAYA

Oh?

WILL

Yep. I have a sister who moved to Ohio. She met some tourist here - Anthony - and they fell in love and he convinced her to move home with him. To Ohio. So she did. And I visited her. In Ohio. 

MAYA

And then you came back. Here.

WILL

Yes. I was very glad to come back here.

MAYA

Well, I wouldn’t say that Ohio is really the vacation destination of America.

WILL

No, I suppose it’s not.

MAYA

I mean, if you were to come back with me to New York, where I’m from, then maybe you’d think differently.

WILL

I am not coming back to New York City with you.

MAYA

(laughing at her accidental flirtation) No, I didn’t mean that.

WILL

Well, that’s what you said.

MAYA

No, no, I just meant that in comparison to Ohio, New York is just so much more--

WILL

Oh, will you just piss off!!

MAYA

THAT’S WHAT I NEED THE TWENTY PENCE FOR.

WILL

For the love of Christ. (taking out his wallet and retrieving a coin) Take it. 

MAYA

You had this the whole time? Are you kidding me?

WILL

Will you - please - just take the bloody coin? 

MAYA

Now that you’re trying to get rid of me? Hah. No way. I won’t take your passive aggressive, pity pence. 

WILL

Fuck’s sake, where’s the train?!

MAYA

I thought you said this one always ran on time. 

There is an audio announcement in the station: ‘WE ARE SORRY TO ANNOUNCE THAT THE 16:44 SERVICE TO EALING IS BEING DELAYED BY APPROXIMATELY SEVEN MINUTES DUE TO A MINOR COLLISION. WE ARE VERY SORRY FOR THE DELAY THIS MAY CAUSE TO YOUR JOURNEY.’

MAYA

(looking at him snarkily) Interesting.

They stand together in silence for several moments. 

WILL

(Finally) I quit my job today.

MAYA

Oh. I’m… (trying to gage his attitude) sorry? Congratulations?

WILL

I haven’t told anyone yet. When I get home I’ll have to tell Kendra.

MAYA

Kendra?

WILL

My wife.

MAYA

Yikes.

WILL

Yep.

MAYA doesn’t know what to say. She watches him.

WILL

I hated it. My job. I’m not a salesperson, I’ve never been a salesperson. That’s been ten years of my life now, and the company’s probably going under when Brexit hits, anyways. 

MAYA

Hmm.

WILL

It wasn’t impulsive. I’ve been thinking of leaving for a long time. (he pauses) I just didn’t tell anyone, because… I don’t know. 

MAYA

Hey man, you don’t have to prove anything to me.

WILL

But it wasn’t like the movies. It was actually pretty lame. (laughs to himself, then reenacts his conversation with his boss) ‘Hey Neil, uh, it’s been a great ten years, but I’m putting in my two weeks.’ (anxious laughing now) ‘No, I don’t have another offer. No, I haven’t been interviewing anywhere else. Yeah, this maybe a bad idea! Who knows!’

MAYA

You sound nervous.

WILL

I’m terrified. I just quit my job. Kendra’s going to be furious.

MAYA

But, are you relieved?

WILL

(without thinking) Yes. (he dwells on this for a moment) Yes, I really am. I feel… light.

MAYA

Yeah. (she looks at him, and then away) I broke up with my boyfriend a couple weeks ago. There wasn’t really anything wrong, I guess I was bored, and he was annoying me. I felt like that afterwards. Light. Relieved. We were supposed to go on this trip together, but after everything, he didn’t want to. Which, obviously, I understand.

WILL

(sincerely) Sorry.

MAYA

I thought it would be fun, going by myself. Give me some time to think. But then I got here and I remembered I don’t really like to think, I don’t like to reflect and process things. Now I’m just lonely.

An announcement rings out: ‘WE’RE SORRY TO ANNOUNCE THAT THE 16:44 SERVICE TO EALING HAS BEEN DELAYED ANOTHER SIX MINUTES. IT IS NOW SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE AT 16:57.’

MAYA starts jumping around in pain/panic, taking deep breaths and closing her eyes.

MAYA

Oh. My. GOD!! Ow! Owwww! DOES ANYONE HAVE CHANGE FOR THE BATHROOM, PLEASE?!?

WILL

(coming over to her, trying to calm her down, handing out his coin) Maya, here, please, just take this!

MAYA

(panicked, guilty) No! What about Brexit? And your job?

WILL

Maya. (laughing) Twenty pence is not going to break me. It’s fine, I was being a prick before.

MAYA looks at him. This is the first genuine laugh she has seen from him. He looks happy.

WILL

And besides, it’s like you said: it’s a basic human right, to relieve yourself.

MAYA

(looking at him) Thank you… ?

WILL

Will. 

MAYA

Thanks, Will. 

She takes the coin and lingers for a moment.

MAYA

Congrats on your… unemployment. (They laugh.) And good luck with your wife.

MAYA begins to leave.

WILL

By the way, it will still be the same as a subway bathroom. There likely won’t be any soap or toilet paper in there, either.

MAYA

Even though I’m paying?

WILL

Yep.

MAYA

Fantastic.

WILL

Welcome to London, Maya.

MAYA

Thanks, Will.

MAYA exits. WILL stands waiting for the train, visibly more at ease than when we first saw him. He is more confident, and relaxed. After a few moments, his phone rings. He looks at the number and breathes in deeply before answering. He is smiling as he speaks to his wife.

WILL

Hi, Love… Yes, I’m about to get on the tube now, there were some delays… Kendra, I have some… (he pauses) news.

End of play