Not One but Two Prairie Lands Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2014 Marathons


Our Prairie Lands Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute kicked off in June 2014 with a writing marathon, but it also ended with one.  The teacher-writers who gathered at Missouri Western State University with us for four weeks of their precious summer truly embraced their identities as writers, and they boldly went wherever their writer whims took them. 20140630_102209 I was fortunate to be in a group on June 24 with my Institute Co-Facilitators who wrote at Cafe Pony Espresso, the downtown branch of the Saint Joseph Public Library, and then a Neapolitan pizza shop called Il Lazzarone.   On the last marathon, July 24, I crashed another group who was heading to the local DMV– a marathon stop I’d never tried before, and who also sought out the writerly haven of Pony Espresso as well as some stops along the downtown sculpture walk.  Here are two pieces of writing from those two marathons.  You can read more marathons stories from other PLWP Invitational Summer Institute Participants here


Il Lazzarone 12:30 p.m.

Pizza Superhero Eric
stands proudly beside his imported Italian pizza oven,
invites me back into the prep area to get a picture, and–
I’m sure I’m violating some kind of health code—but I can’t help it.
He’s humble and proud all at once, basking in the lunchtime rush love and
in the heat of flames licking dough into Neapolitan magic.
According to the News-Press, it cost $30,000 just to get the oven from Italy to St. Joseph
Totally worth it from a foodie standpoint, but my writing group worries for him;
restaurants struggle in this scrappy little town.
We resolve to keep bringing Eric and his oven our money and our love,
Hometown pizza superhero,
Eric the Good,
Eric the Brave


Saint Joseph “License Office” (a.k.a. DMV) 10:05 a.m.

We pull up to the scene of the first marathon’s crime, and I can feel some healthy anxiety in the car. I’m a guest in this group, lured by their stories from the first writing marathon and by the faint hint of danger. I turn to Terrance and say, “This is going to be ok, right?”

He smiles and says, “Well, the worst thing that will happen is that we will be arrested. Or maced.”

20140724_123254With this reassurance, we enter. We sit in the long rows of backless brown chairs and get out our notebooks. The place is mostly empty. A woman that Terrance will eventually name She-Ra calls to us in a practiced voice. “Are you here for driver’s license or motor vehicle?”

Deb says, “Neither.”

Terrance says, “We’re writers.”

20140630_110535I explain that we’re teachers who are also writers, working together this summer, and that we’re looking for inspiration.

She-Ra says, “I used to write.” She looks away, a little sad. “I used to write poems. It always took me to another place, you know?”

I tell her yes. I do know.

She-Ra slowly realizes that Deb was her science teacher back in middle school, and they start reconnecting.

About that time, another woman walks by behind the counter and notices us writers. Terrance and Deb recognize her as The Other Deb who questions them during their first marathon visit. She says, “You’re back!”

We all smile. Terrance explains about the quest for inspiration and the reason for our return to the License Office. “We like the feeling,” he says.

She-Ra stares.  “In the DMV?!”

We all laugh. The Other Deb says, “Good to see you again.”

We return to our notebooks, scraping away under the watchful but benevolent eyes of the DMV ladies, their patient, daily chant washing over our pens.

“Ninety-four? Ninety-five? Ninety-six?”



  1. And we were glad to have you! I always find your insights refreshing. It’s great to get a different perspective from the same location at the same time. I know it’s bad to say but it reminds me of witnesses at a crime scene and how they can all have different stories and be telling the truth as they saw it. I find that so intriguing how a different angle or a different background creates an entirely different story.
    It would be really cool if there was a virtual St. Joe Writing Marathon site and everyone could contribute stories from any location in the area. Granted, there would probably have to be an active moderator to make sure the site was used appropriately but wouldn’t that be a neat reference for other writers looking for good locations for a writing marathon – kind of like a Field Guide for Marathon Writing in the St. Joseph Area. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  2. I really enjoyed our mini-marathon the three of us had, I can only imagine what it would be like with many more bodies walking around, looking around, and then sitting down to write. The pizza oven looks great! When I worked at Bravo, our pizza oven was imported from Italy and, originally a wood burning oven, was converted to a gas oven to perfect the temperature and the cooking of the pizza and other delicious bites. Thank you for sharing all the work you have done and the creative writing skills that you have.

  3. I’ve been reflecting on why writing marathons are so effective at producing good writing. Is it because of the difference in place? Is it because of the shared goal and the somewhat intrinsic attitude of competition? Or is it merely because of the block of dedicated time without distractions? In today’s world, I am beginning to think it is more the latter. Everyone bustles from here to there and has so much that must get accomplished in so little time. No one really takes the time to go into depth on anything or gives themselves the luxury to be able to spend a block of time doing something so rewarding as writing.
    Writing marathons are amazing. You can feel yourself looking outward and experiencing the world from a totally different perspective. You appreciate your surroundings for what they are – not dissecting them to see what you can get from them. You appreciate the NOW and don’t plan for the future. The writing freezes you in time and place.
    As your pen moves on the paper, it seems like the essence of the place overtakes you and the thoughts come effortlessly. The constraints placed on you by everyday life are gone and in their place is what is real – down to earth – substantive – real. The intricacies, the connections, the soul of the place and the people come alive and then are frozen.
    Writing marathons produce some amazing writing. The documenting of those writings allows us the luxury to glimpse back into this marathon world at a later time. Normally, we don’t have the opportunity to snatch more than a minute of “real” life. Instead, we are stuck in the day to day details of everyday “pretend life” that work to imprison us from the marathon world. Thank heaven that we take the time every now and then to let writing marathons release those bars and let us appreciate the world as it is. Thank heaven….

    • I know what you mean. “Experiencing the world from a totally different perspective.” I like to think that is from a writer’s perspective, which is so very special. Thanks for your thoughts!

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