That's My Story...

We might imagine writing as an entirely solitary act, requiring copious alone time. But maybe it can be a communal experience as well. Individual creativity, spurred on by the support of others. Self-expression blending into a sort of cathartic collective.

It would explain why dozens of people joined The Public’s Radio and the Newport Art Museum for a virtual night of writing and storytelling this January.

With our writing coach for the evening, Eve Kerrigan, we worked through prompts inspired by art on display in the museum.

You’ll find some of those pieces below, along with the art we saw and some of Eve’s encouraging words. Click on an author's name to read their poem, letter, or prose.

Or you can sit back and listen to the half-hour radio special we created, by clicking the play button below. We hope you enjoy.


What do the things we surround ourselves say about who we are, and what we care about?

Below are two quilts from the Newport Art Museum collection: one created in the 1800s, the other, a modern response. The Palmer quilt was likely a family project, made with scraps of material from a variety of places.

Eve encouraged participants to jot down some of the objects that tell their stories, and the stories of loved ones, then write about one of those objects.

“I think of these things as artifacts of a life,” - Eve Kerrigan

Click on a name to read their piece.

Palmer Family, Crazy Quilt #4, c. 1880
Satin, lace, and ribbon
Gift of Cynthia McCaw Palmer in honor of the Palmer women

Anna McNeary,
Scorch Quilt, 2020
Burned silk
Courtesy of the artist


What brings people together? It has been some time since we’ve been able to gather in what appears to be a casual, non-socially distanced manner, as in the piece by the artist Bob Dilworth.

It raises so many questions. As does the colorful, abstract response piece by Cecily Carew. The writers imagined the scenes, conversations, or ideas behind these pieces.

“It has such vitality and also emotion to it, that I found it instantly fascinating. I want to know the story of those people.” - Eve Kerrigan

Click on a name to read the imagined scene.

Cicely Carew
...the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell…
2020, Mixed media
Courtesy of the artist

Bob Dilworth,
Backyard, 2014,
Acrylic, oil, acrylic base spray paint, paint markers and paper on canvas
Gift of Dr. Joseph A. Chazan and Museum Purchase


So much has happened over the last year. What would we say to ourselves a year ago? That was the the genesis for this prompt:

“We are in the midst of a changing season, aren't we?

I want you to reflect for a moment and I want you to write a letter to yourself on New Year's Day, last year.

You probably had a lot of thoughts and a lot of ambitions and maybe some resolutions and maybe some ideas about how this year was gonna go for you. And then things changed."

- Eve Kerrigan.

Click on a name to read their letter.

A big thanks to Eve Kerrigan, Cristin Searles Bilodeau, Sally Eisele, Norah Diedrich, and all the folks at the Newport Art Museum.

Music used in the program was recorded by the Newport String Project and the Blue Dot Sessions.

The Public’s Radio is made possible by people just like you. Thank you for your support.

Eve Kerrigan

Take bits of fabric you've been collecting forever. Take the now threadbare sheets you slept on when you spent the night at your grandmother's house as a child. It is the one that is so faded you can barely make out the little pink flowers on it anymore. Cut it into small, soft pieces. Hold them to your nose to see if you can make out the faint scent of that room, that time.

Take the water stained cafe curtains that hung on your windowless wall in the Chelsea Hotel. They made you feel like you lived in a train car. They shouted loud red and green shapes from the 1940s at you. They hung above the old fashioned circus trunk you kept for years and years. Even when you had no other furniture. Even when it began to smell musty and made your few belongings musty too. Those curtains went so well with the lamp you kept by the bed then.

Also from the 1940s it was shaped like a live woman dancing before a full moon. Take those curtains and cut them into squares.

Think about how you broke someone's heart when you moved there. He cried through platinum lashes the exact color of the satin shirt you are now making into stars. You hid his pictures in a small suitcase in the back of a small closet in your small room.

You lived in a bizarre and hilarious arrangement with a brilliant funny girl. You shared a bed and we're matching polyester nightgowns and cracked up laughing day and night. You left cryptic messages for each other on the door when there was a gentleman caller in the room.

“Lawrence has taken me to the zoo, or you left your umbrella in paradise.”

Dig through the bag of fabrics and find the Lapis blue flannel kimono your husband gave you before he was your husband. Before he was anything more than a friend with beautiful crow's feet and a mischievous smile. Before his smile strained and he became yet another vestige of the past. Another torn seam, another broken stitch.

Well, the color is perfect still.

Happen upon the lace shift, the color of fresh cream your Aunt wore on her wedding night. The red satin gown your best friend wore or senior prom. The green checkered cotton dinner napkins your mother made when you were a child.

Consider that you who never stays anywhere who moves around like a snail with only her house on her back has all of this and more.

The old blankets, tablecloths, remnants of dresses, run your hands over the unframed velvet paintings, the odd spangled homemade cape, the boxing robe you couldn't part with.

Wonder to yourself if women made petroglyphs did they choose their colors with care in between nursing the infant and pleasing the man? Did the designs have a deeper message? “I want to do things.” “Want to know things.” “I left my umbrella in paradise.”

They say home is where you hang your hat. Home is where the heart is. Home is a little piece of each place you've been, the places you chose to stay, the people you kept close through all the moves and separations and changes.

Here in front of you unfurled on your lap and the floor, are the souvenirs of a life lived for experiences.

You have appeared to outsiders to always be purging yourself of old belongings, things that weigh you down, people who weigh you down. You've always been seen to be leaving things behind. But here in front of you are the memories you have accumulated and cotton, silk and wool.

Here you can feel the rough texture of sadness, the cool smoothness of satisfaction and the plush sensuality of excitement. It's all right here. You're buried under it. So now piece it together, and see what you've made.

Kim Fuller

I have a bag of teeth behind my jewelry box. The teeth are from my birth children who left each tooth under their pillow. I would creep in their rooms after they've gone to sleep and replace their tooth with a dollar bill. It was softer than a coin. And you know inflation at all, no coins for these kids.

Over a period of years, the bag got pretty full; two mouths full. I have never really taken the bag out and looked at the teeth again. I wonder if I did, if I could actually create two full mouths of teeth, from two children under the age of 10 or so. I think we've lost most of our baby teeth by then.

When those two miles were full of adult teeth, my family adopted a boy who was eight years old. His mouth started to look like that of a shark because his baby teeth wouldn't fall out. But his big, and I mean really big teeth, were coming in behind the baby teeth.

He had a layered set of teeth that were all over the place. Needless to say, he needed some orthodonture work. The funny thing is, he had to have 14 teeth pulled to make it all work. Since his adult teeth were so big.

His poor head and mouth were not big enough to hold all those giant teeth, and have a mouth that functioned well. I never asked the orthodontist to save those big teeth. But some of the baby teeth came out before that, and I think the tooth fairy visited our son and left a bill or two.

I have a few of those baby teeth mixed in with my birth children's bag of teeth now.

I guess it does not matter how a body, a human comes to you. Our adopted son feels like he's always been with us even though we arrived in our lives when he was older.

That bag of mixed teeth are all the same color. All of my children are not the same color. Our adopted son is brown. My birth son is pinkish white, and my daughter's tannish white. All have white teeth, however, and two ears, eyes, arms and legs. They are all smart, kind and loved.

So as the teeth sit behind my jewelry box all blended together. And I now have no idea whose teeth are whose My children are grown, living on their own making, their own money. When they talk to us or one another they have beautiful smiles, full of beautiful teeth.

They speak with kindness, support for one another and only see each other as one. One family of three children, Mom and Dad, all with the same white teeth.

Pamela Cardillo

What possesses a 17-year old young man to leave the familiarity of Frosinone, Italy, the security of a family, a household, to board a ship and sail to the United States, sponsored by a relative who wasn't even all that familiar to him, but who promised to house and feed him and oriented him to the ways of the people in Rhode Island?

“They say it's near New York.”

What possesses an 18-year old woman to follow her brother, and sail to a small area of the United States near Boston? Her brother assured her there would be young men, perhaps originally from a neighboring town in Italy. They would be eager to marry and start families, and work to earn what could only be dreamed about from Italy.

“Are the streets of America really paved with gold, like they say?”

Imagine relocating your life to a town where you only know one person, your brother. The young man and the young woman did imagine all of those things, and each set sail separately, a few years apart, on different ships, that both landed in New York, at a place called Ellis Island.

Each lived with his or her sponsor of the immigration, for months, and even years until they would meet through arrangement. And all it took for them to approve the idea of marrying and starting a life together, was for her to agree not to cook with garlic.

Allison Thomspon

The house can be overwhelming and we've been trying to clean it out for some time now. Usually, it begins with my frustration.

I cannot find something or perhaps something that has been broken for a very long time, with no intention of being replaced remains in the same spot.

This time, I made it my mission to tackle the kitchen's Tupperware cabinet. The cabinet is full of misfits: tops that once had partners, circular rectangular, large and small containers that once had near and dear friends, recycled and thrice cleaned yogurt containers. The cabinet boasted at all.

I neatly stacked the matching pieces I could find, feeling a wave of accomplishment and understanding washing over me as the perfect matches click together blissful and organized. This is what Marie Kondo was always talking about, the joy.

The Tupperware was so old, it didn't even provide a number to inform me of its recycling ability. One, two, three, five? Judging from its seemingly indestructible nature, I deemed it a six or even an eight, if that existed, light pink in color, missing its top or perhaps missing its bottom. I didn't know for sure.

I piled it into my car alongside the other containers that didn't make the cut.

But when you asked me where your Tupperware went, I expected some shock, perhaps a little anger. Indeed, there was both. But right there under the anger, under the surface, and under the annoyance you stated, “my friend gave me that when I first came to America."

And just like that, it didn't matter which preoccupations I had with tidiness, order or cleanliness. It was no longer about organization but instead this recognition that my removal of the seemingly unwanted item had stepped into a sacred place, a secret place.

What did the Tupperware hold then? A meal that my mother hadn't eaten since landing on American soil, or perhaps leftovers from a meal spent together.

Imagine, at a time when everything must have felt so deeply and wickedly unfamiliar. This is what reminded you of home. And who am I to say that the Tupperware no longer carries the same weight? As if time has anything and nothing to do with this idea of metamorphosis.

Gerri Bain

My grandmother clock chimes irrepressibly from the next floor, almost always on time. Well, almost. It's missed a few minutes from time to time, like most of us, but it really does one thing.

It reminds me of the day it was given to me as a gift, around Christmas Day 1975, by my husband. Our first child was born that September, and we were so happy.
He's a delightful child with blond hair. Now growing out slightly, with China blue eyes and the sweetest smile.

It was our baby's first Christmas, and I remember sitting on the light blue oriental carpet, in our living room, in front of our Christmas tree. What could be better?

Tom's father agreed to visit with us this particular Christmas Day, the only time he agreed to leave the house. He had inoperable lung cancer and was dying.
We have a photo of him, the only one you would allow us to take in his current ravaged-body state. Dressed up in a sports coat, pants, tie and dress shirt, the balding man in the photo - this from chemotherapy and the ravages of the treatment.

He nevertheless graced our living room, with the warmth and the web of the oriental rug’s design. The grandmother's clock was gifted to me as a new mother, and the last Christmas together with Grandpa Bob.

We knew this would be his last Christmas with him. And I asked him if he wanted to hold his new little grandson. He held him in his knobby, great hands, as Tommy stared at him. Bob's eyes listened, but his mouth smiled, the smile of a proud grandfather.

It was a Christmas paradox. a life lived a new life, a new mother, and many more years to become the grandmother of my grandmother's clock.

Dana Stevenson

My mom was a perfectionist, but she was at her best when she wasn't trying to be perfect.

She was a lifelong artist, and she loved having me critique her paintings. One time when I was still in my teens, I looked at one she was working on and said ‘it's perfect right now.’

She didn't want to believe me. But I finally convinced her, and I got to have it in my bedroom. She put my name on the back.

And many years later, when she said I had a proper home, and not just a place I was living, she let me have it back again to hang. I would hang it where I could enjoy it, sometimes over my bed, sometimes in the living room.

Many years later, there was another painting that I made her stop working on. It was even better.

After our mom died, and we were dividing things up. I knew my sister really liked it. Although I wanted it - it really was amazing - I knew the right thing was for her to have it. It was so hard to do the right thing.

Rarely is my sister unhappy. So I was caught off guard when she was a little sad that mom had put my name on the back of a painting, but that there wasn't a painting with her name on the back. I'm so glad I did the right thing.

Valerie Larkin

As I write this, behind me, on top of the bookcase, a turtle appears at the back of my head.
Not a real turtle. It's a green ceramic turtle with bug eyes, a squished body, and a carapace made of perfectly formed rectangles. Not like any turtle found in nature.

This turtle has a place of prominence in my living room. When I'm sipping a cocktail and watching a movie, sitting on my sofa playing my guitar, or attempting to do middle-aged lady yoga poses, the turtle watches me.

The turtle is part of a collection of sculptures, drawings, and photographs made by my daughters at various ages. Now that my daughters have grown and I don't see them as often as I would like, I am comforted by objects made with their small hands, and conceived by their young and vibrant minds.

I especially love the turtle.

Dana was, I'm guessing about six when she made it. I'm sure inspired by a love of turtles, because who doesn't love turtles? Perhaps it was the turtle that lived in a large aquarium at the Norman bird sanctuary, when my daughters went to summer camp there, one year.

The turtle would come over to greet you if you approached the tank. Turtles have personality.

This one does. I don't know if this turtle has a name, I should ask Dana. Or perhaps I should give it a name.

The turtle has an amazingly expressive face. It seems to know a lot about me. It's as if all of my lived experience that happened in the field of vision of this turtle are remembered. And will one day be told.

Jean Quinn

My beautiful ceramic pot, gleaming black with shiny gold kernels precisely scattered all over it. When I see it, I admire the skill it took to throw the clay and make the perfect shape, with its charming little lid.

Inside, I put my dearest wishes and secrets.

I bought it years ago at a famous crafts fair. When I first met the artisan and saw his glazed pots, I fell in love, but couldn't afford a pot. I resolved to save an amount every year until I could buy a favorite. Five years later, I showed up at his tent and picked the one I wanted, money finally in hand.

I'd been going to this annual fair every year with my eyes on the prize, even working the fair as a volunteer. I finally got to see the pot and to buy it

And I think every time I look at it, of the satisfaction I got from finally buying it with the money I had been so determined to save, those five years.

Carole Marshall

How could I have known when you handed me that first shiny red apple from the school cafeteria that this was the beginning of a love story that would change my life?

Soon I would get to read your first attempts at poetry, watch your Desdemona, and then read your college applications and drive you to your college interviews.

When you broke the news to your family that you were headed for college, not matrimony, I was the one who took you shopping for the sheets and pillowcases, the blanket and towels for your dorm room. I could not solve the problems of poverty and dislocation, but I could push you into that big, beautiful world you hungered for, and then be there to embrace the excitement as well as the tears.

Soon anything I’d done was answered ten-fold, as brightly colored cards filled with microscopic writing flew in from Africa, Europe, China, the Middle East. The sixteen year old I’d first encountered in the multi-colored garden of an urban schoolroom was drinking the magical waters of the world and bursting into a fabulous blossom of extraordinary beauty and powers.

This story is now a quarter of a century in the making. I have no idea where it will go from here. As I write, we are separated by thousands of miles and a pandemic which has held us apart an entire year, with no end in sight. The newborn boy I held is now three and I’ve never held your daughter in my arms. You are working too hard, sleeping too little, your little family raft pushed and pulled by the roiling ocean of life’s surprises. All I can send is my love across the ocean, and I pray that somehow it will find you.

How have you changed my life? When you handed me that apple, I was a brand-new teacher with no way to know the power a teacher has to change lives. I put one foot in front of another and did what I was called to, and love like I’d never known came pouring into my life.

I am reminded of it a dozen times a day, as I spread a hand printed tablecloth from Cameroon, or put the very efficient German kettle on, or browse photos of the most beautiful children in the world. You have given me the absolute certainty that people need people who love them, and each of us can be that person who loves and there is nothing more important in this world than that love. Thank you.

Jay Primiano

“Your father never wore a mustache.”

“I haven't worn a mustache in years,” Talbot responds.

“I know, but your father never wore a moustache.”

“Get off that, will you Bernie. Enjoy the time,” she says, her arms fall between her knees, palms facing up, like she's praying.

“You always want to be right, you always have to finish the argument,” Talbot says while clutching his beer, squeezing the can till it cracks and liquid slips down the side.

“See what you made me do?” he says while flicking wet, wasted beer from his hands.

“It's getting on me, stop. Can't you enjoy anything without pissing off someone,” she calls to him.

The wind rustles in the flowering foreigner as colors change places like birds on the telephone lines. Bernie leans further forward and holds his beer up to toast.

“A toast to right now,” Bernie says. “Right now, to right now?” Talbot cackles. His voice grimaces with gravel, like he's lost in New York City and can't find a cab.

Nancy Caswell

So much to sadly think about this day that ties the four of us in quietude.

Remembrances of our departed soul.
We need so much more than just a wood scene, crude.

Conjoined in grief, with reminiscences. Surprised by sudden passing of our friend.

We need to make some sense of what is now and beg the backyard bird for joy to attend.

Paula Guarino

Cecelia awoke. A flash of bright light, purple, greens, blues, and oranges exploded in front of her.

“Is this heaven?” she asked herself.
She became lost in the swirls of shade and light, pulsing vibrantly, in her direct vision. Her lens opened up in her view, and four strangers appeared before her.
“Ah,” she thought with relief, “I'm not alone in this world.”

“I must be familiar with these people since they're sitting here with me. Maybe I can get their attention. Maybe they can just help me get out of here.”

She started panicking. “Help. Help. Hey, I'm here. Help. Can you get me out of here? Hello, hello?”

But then someone plucked her skin. It was a familiar pluck. One she'd had before, and darkness. And that was it.

“I don't know why her body keeps convulsing like that,” the nurse said. “She's been in a coma for six months. There's still little evidence that she ever will come out of it. I don't know why. Occasionally, her body does that. I think it's just her nerves reacting or something like that.”

“Well,” the other nurse looked at her, “at least we can give her a sedative and keep her comfortable for a while.”

And as the two nurses left the room, one of them looked at the pictures and noticed they were crooked, and re-arranged them, and shut the lights.

Tacia Bryant

Miss Tacia, it's a brand new year.

You're going to gain a sense of your self-worth, and how truly valuable and unique you are. You will face many trials, and come out even stronger. Amongst change, heartbreak and immense growth, you'll remain positive.

Not to say that there will not be moments, days, or even weeks of turmoil, but you will get through it all. There will be laughter, screaming, lots of crying, joy, unity, separation, and more.

You asked for 2020 vision. So this year, there'll be a lot thrown at you to aid you in your perfect vision.

What matters to you: growing closer to your most authentic self, and your true identity.

Keep looking forward. Keep looking up. When you fall, fall, and get right back up again. Encourage and inspire others to do the same.

Be the vibe you wish to attract. Keep creating. Keep asking questions, continue learning from your mistakes.

Adelene Ellenberg

Gaia was turning 88, an auspicious number, I thought.

A good luck number. But I had forgotten about an affinity for bad luck, misery, and despair.

In the turning of numbers of the Kabbalah, charm, karma of life lived on the cusp of Gaia-hood. So what did I do? COVID hit.

89 was an even better number. I decided she should visit me at my home for five weeks. Spin the wheel once more. Airplanes fly hither and yon. Quarantines can be met.

Personal libraries mined for artifacts of literary discovery. Birthday candles glittered. My tears shown. My heart burned. Still does. I love you.

Frances Booth

This year, you will go into the season of winter for a whole year. You will discover a dark well in the basement. Enter it. You will go quiet. You will slow down. Finish projects, start projects. You will like it.

There will be no big entertaining. No company for weekends. You will miss the hugs. But you will love the slower pace.

The hard part will be missing out on holding sleeping infants. But you will write. You will exercise more. You will still not have enough time for reading.

You will close your office of thirty years. You will run out of things to write. Your mind will wander, and then you will remember you will swim in that big beautiful ocean many, many days in a row.

You will discover walking Cliff Walk. Why did it take five years to find it? You will love zooming with friends and family.

You will reconnect with family you have lost connection with. You will love that. You will thrive. you are blessed. Maybe it doesn't have to be a secret.