Archive for Cami Ostman

Love Army–One Soldier at a Time

She comes into my office. Slight build, long brown hair, brown eyes. Sanja (not her real name) is about forty years old. A second generation Indian (as in from India). She married a man she met in college and has two children, six and nine. This is our intake session and all I know before she comes in is that she’s feeling depressed and doesn’t know why.

As we talk, I find out that she has a job working fifty hours a week at a tech company and that she volunteers for her daughter’s Girl Scout troupe. At lunch, she dashes to the gym for thirty minutes on the treadmill, and on the weekends she works on a project for #LoveArmy and their Green for All initiative.

I listen for the better part of a half hour with part admiration for how completely Sanja lives into her personal value system and part guilt that only this year did I realize that single-use plastics like straws and picnic cutlery were a major hazard to our environment. Sanja’s household is almost at zero waste. She plays a game with her children to keep plastic out of the house. “Plastic out of the house is money out of the hands of polluters,” she says. “Then she says, “I’ve been working on this stuff for two years, but since the election I feel completely defeated.” And she starts to cry.

I sit across from her in my small therapy room. The sun is coming in the window at an angle so it hits me right in the eyes, but I resist getting up to fix the blinds. I want to hold space for her pain. Which is also my pain.

She goes on to describe her fears and how she feels like giving up on saving the planet, but how when she looks at her children she knows she has to keep moving forward even when she doesn’t feel hopeful, I start to well up too. A tear escapes, and I blot it away with the knuckle of my forefinger.

Sanja isn’t the first terrified client crying in my office over the election. Since my job is to hold space for clients, to let them sort through the triggers and pain in their lives by offering them supportive reflections and questions, I try to never let my own political cat out of the bag. But I find it so hard nowadays. I find it hard sitting with Sanja, someone who has lived her life for years in a state of conscious intention, believing she could make a difference.

“It’s no small thing to feel hope slip away, is it?” I reflect. “I’m sure that’s contributing to your depression.”

“No, this whole thing isn’t small at all. I know you can’t do anything about the big picture,” she stares out the window for a moment. “I guess I’m hoping someone can help me hang on to my faith.”

I nod. I don’t have any confidence at all that I can help her with that. My work since the election has been difficult. Not since 9-11 have I had so many clients in my office talking about world events as their major stressors. “I’ll try,” I say. “At least I can help you learn a new relationship with fear and frustration. Maybe if they don’t feel as unmanageable and overwhelming, you can see your faith through the fog.” Even as I say it, I can only hope it’s true.

We make another appointment, and I walk her back to the waiting room to say goodbye. “I feel a little lighter,” she says as she walks out the door. “Thank you.”

“It’s my privilege,” I say. And I mean it.

I go back into my office and adjust the blinds I resisted adjusting before. I think about how I should recycle more. I should march more. I should call my elected officials more.

I have a half hour before my next client. I heat up my lunch and pull out my new bamboo utensils to eat it with. I pop open my computer and Google Love Army.

“We need all hands on deck fighting for the future.” –Van Jones, founder of #LoveArmy


Cami Ostman is co-founder of the Red Wheelbarrow Writers and Director of Memory into Memoir, a program that gives writers everything they need to get their books done. She is author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents and Co-editor of Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. You can find her at

Attention All RWB NaNoWriMo Writers!

Dear Fellow Writer,

Congratulations on your contribution to this year’s NaNoWriMo Red Wheelbarrow round robin novel Special Collections! Now it’s time to celebrate with a reading at Village Books next Friday, December 9, at 7 pm!  

Please respond AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, but no later than Tuesday, December 6, and let us know whether or not you would like to participate in this reading. We expect many readers, so the time for reading will be around 3 minutes for each chapter, enough to give the flavor of each writer’s craft.

Just respond to and let us know your plans. We’ll then send you the instructions for the evening.

We’ve enjoyed playing with you this year and hope to hear from you soon!!

Laura, Susan, Linda, and Victoria

In Praise of Writer Buddies

Posted on   November 9, 2014 by Alice Robb

I’m a hermit scribbler, alone in my cluttered office, pecking out my sentences, paragraphs, blogs, letters, stories, novels, memories. Scrawling, sometimes almost illegibly, in my diaries, making outlines, lists, charts. I maintain this essential myth because I need solitude to engage in those satisfying activities. To write requires nothing but the tools (computers and software, pens and paper), an alert mind, my comfy chair, and my dog and mother to force the occasional breaks that keep my body from bonding permanently to the furniture.

Yet, as far back as the Seventies, while I wrote my still-born novel, I craved the company of other writers. I was so nervous and excited the first time I attended a writer’s group. I was out of my league. The focus in that group was on finding publishers; what to write that would sell was their big topic. Mid-novel, I needed to write, not to learn marketing. Not the group for me.

Later, at college, I took workshop style writing classes, and learned the etiquette of issuing and receiving polite critical feedback. Other small writing groups, often with a poetry focus, emphasized appreciation, favoring oohs and ahs over questions and critiques. Working at a community center, I facilitated writing groups. Again, there was lots of praise, often for memoir topics that sometimes put me to sleep. By this time, I’d finished my comedian novel and was starting my third novel. I recognized my need for a writing community, but hadn’t found the right one yet.

A few years ago, I began venturing out of my hermit shell. I talked to friends and acquaintances whom I knew to be writers. Over coffee, we discussed our word-loving lives in general, at great length. What a relief to know other people were experiencing the same joys and frustrations. Needing writing pals, I tried a little critique group that wasn’t the right fit for about a year; when it folded, I was relieved. Taking writing classes at the community college, I discovered a large active local group of writers and publishers. I began attending their monthly dinners. Anti-social as I am, I wrestled myself into going, month after month. You need this, I told my hermit self. I talked to strangers, some annoying but most pleasant and helpful. I made friends.

Then, magic! A tiny new group began to meet; gradually, we’ve coalesced into a trusting enthusiastic foursome of skilled writers. We meet every two weeks. Praising, questioning, and suggesting changes, we work through one another’s novels in progress. We are more than readers; we’re happily involved in one another’s stories.

More magic! I’m doing caregiving work now for an elderly writer friend; we bonded long ago over our craft. And, then! a dear long-lost friend moved back to town; turns out, we’ve both been writing all these years. We have a pair of well-matched writing projects, both in need of some meta-editing. Totally thrilling! I have writer friends, a critique group, and writer partners! I’m in writer-buddy heaven!

Author Bio:

alice robb

Alice Turtle Robb has been writing since early childhood, and has two novels almost ready for publication. One of her novels is about a woman comedian. The other is about a lady with Alzheimer’s who gets lost in Seattle for three days.  She has a BA entitled The Art of Communication; Writing, Talking, and Laughing from Washington University, Fairhaven College. She has also worked for twenty years as a professional caregiver. 

RWB Anthology

“So much depends…..on community”

We altered this sweet, succinct line from the William Carlos Williams poem when we first started Red Wheelbarrow Writers. Six years ago Cami Ostman, Susan Tive, and I began with some classes, but the concept of Red Wheelbarrow quickly evolved into something much less structured, much looser, more fun. When I am asked to describe Red Wheelbarrow, I always say it is a loose affiliation of lively writers.

The loose and the lively are equally important. We don’t have members. We don’t pay dues. We don’t take roll or assign committees. We have no Board, though we have a lively Bored who will now be meeting once a month. At least for a while. That’s also loose.

But the lively connection is all of you: people who have been ongoingly supportive of one another, who have formed writing groups, who have gone on numerous Write Outs together, who have shown up at your amigos’ readings and launches at Village Books, shown up to connect with authors who have come through town, who have, some of you, offered your homes for the annual August garden party. And for those of you who have brought your work to read to your compatriots at the monthly Happy Hour, perhaps Red Wheelbarrow’s finest contribution is the assurance that your voice is not echoing in a void. That though the writer’s is a lonely life, you need not be alone. There are listeners. There are readers. There are people who are just like you, who believe in the white chickens and the red wheelbarrow and the power of language to touch and move, to inform and enliven. People who love the smell of print, the heft of books, the lure of stories. People who have stories to tell, and poems to write.

With this anthology Memory into Memoir, which grew out of our first WhaMemWriMo in September 2015, Red Wheelbarrow takes a big step forward. We are still a loose affiliation of lively writers, but we are coming together to create our own book with our own voices.   And, of necessity, our own funds. Our own skills and talents.

Whether you submitted for the anthology or not, your writerly skills, your time and attention can be part of this important endeavor.   Red Wheelbarrow is calling upon all its lively writers to contribute to the process. Yes, we need money, but we also need readers and proofers, and copyeditors and a designer. We need people who are good with technology and publicity. We already have a sterling core of writers eagerly engaged in this process, but we need more. We need you.

Memory into Memoir I will be a signal achievement for the writers in this community. Be part of it. Contact us through the website or Facebook, or by email to let us know how you want to be involved. So much depends….


Hello RWB NaNoWriMo authors. We’re super excited to hear you read your magic this coming Thursday!

To make sure we’re all on the same page, we are re-posting the guidelines you received earlier.

Here you go:

We are delighted you are joining us for the Fourth Annual Reading of the novel at Village Books. JUICY FRUIT DON’T GROW ON TREES may be our best novel yet, perhaps because it took place in a bookstore and all writers love to read.

On Thursday December 3rd we will have a reading in our very own bookstore, Village Books We will start on time at six o’clock. Please arrive 15 minutes early, by 5:45, and sit as close to the front as possible with the other readers to allow for easy, fast access to the podium when it’s your turn.

Amigos, the alloted time is short because we have a lot of readers, and also because as you all well know, no one can sit in those folding metal chairs for two hours without serious lumbago setting in. This means that each of you will have a 4.5-minute read, including a brief introduction, if you choose. No matter how brilliant your prose, your take on the novel, your backgrounds to the characters, 4.5 minutes is all the time you will have. If you go over that, a loud drum will sound with a dirge-beat, or perhaps a shrieking whistle will rend the air, and a couple of rodeo clowns will come and escort you off. Don’t find out. Please observe the time limit. Also, please rehearse your reading and make sure that it’s four and a half mintues and no more. Choose about 400 words of your chapter to read. No more.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions for keeping it fast-paced and lively:

Firstly, don’t try to make sense. The novel doesn’t make sense. It isn’t supposed to, and that’s the fun of it. Anyone who wants the larger picture can go online and read it for free.

Don’t recap what came before. (When we last saw our heroine, she was……..) No. Keep it in the present that you created.

Your intro might read something simple like:

“Hi, I’m ____________ [your name] and I took these characters [name the characters you dealt with; if they are new characters you created for your chapter then briefly identify: “I made up a new character, XXX who sells hats.” Keep it simple. If you made up new characters, and they don’t show up in your reading, don’t refer to them.

For the read itself select no more than 400 words (depending on the length of your intro) that best exemplifies your narrative voice. Your audience wants to hear your voice, both speaking and on the page. If you’ve got witty dialogue, use the dialogue. If you’ve created a great spooky scene, then use 400 words of that. If you have written something uproariously funny, use that. Decide what really sounds like you, the author. Feel free to skip about and edit from your chapter. Trust us, no one will know the difference.

Remember to read clearly and with expression so that your audience stays awake. And, lastly, do your edits and time yourself for the whole read. Don’t guess at it. Rehearse with a timer. Make your adjustments accordingly.

We have requested a lot of chairs because of course all writers have their entourages, and you should all bring yours. We will also ask to have a table with some water glasses there as well.

We look forward to Thursday the 3rd to seeing you, your entourages, and all the Red Wheelbarrow Writers, to hearing your inimitable voices read successive portions of deathless prose. November is a great month for writers!

If you have questions, please feel free to zap a note us.

See you on the 3rd!

Laura, Susan and Victoria