My path to publication isn’t typical. I’ve always had a passion for literature, arts and the sciences, but didn’t know where it would take me. In college, I remember volunteering at St. Luke’s Emergency Room and helping a patient with AIDS hobble to the bathroom. It was a single moment, but it solidified a decision to pursue a career in medicine.
My interest in wordplay began in childhood. Growing up in North Omaha I found myself attracted to the wonder of certain words, usually multi-syllabic tongue twisters I heard television talking-heads wittily brandish. I also fell under the near fatal spell of alliteration.
As a farm boy, I was a spectacular failure. I wandered off from my chores, lost in imagination, mumbling to myself as I walked in circles. Today such a child would be drugged and counseled. My parents, however, let me roam; one of the paths I trod through a patch of weeds is still weedless to this day – nothing ever grew to cover my steps. Today, I pace as I write fiction, with my laptop propped on a fat dictionary atop the kitchen counter. I mutter aloud, considering the rhythms of words, performing lines of dialogue. I do have a writing desk in a writing room but I do no writing there. I need to be up and about fussing with things, my stories coming together on the sly. For me, I guess, writing must always involve wandering away from chores, and it must never become the chore itself.
I sometimes have trouble throwing things away. I still have this ratty (but exceedingly comfortable) t-shirt that I picked up in high school. The lettering on the front reads, “If you love me, tell me a story.” I like the simplicity of it. It sounds like the truth.
“Livelihood” is an alteration of the Middle English word, livelode, “course of life,” first recorded in the 15th century. And in that sense, painting is my “livelihood,” my course of life. “When all else fails, I always say, paint a flower,” I like to say. I’ve always loved art, artists, and their contributions to culture but only began working at it in 2004 at the age of fifty-three. I’d always wanted to be an artist –so after ending a long time career as a union organizer, I started painting day after day and night after night. Ten years and thirteen hundred plus paintings later, I’m still discovering creativity in myself that I thought I had, but needed to dig down to, reveal, and express. I am now semi-retired and paint whenever I can. I teach writing part time at Metropolitan Community College, maintain a social/political commentary blog, play my saxophone in an oldies rock and roll band and in a jazz quartet at my church, and sell the occasional painting.
I have no theater background. I have no writing background. What I do enjoy is telling stories. As a lawyer, I do this professionally. The practice of law often boils down to effective storytelling with—if you are lucky—a little law to support the happy ending you hope to convey.
Sara Lihz’s Story
I went to my first poetry reading the year I learned to drive. The host, an enthusiastic if a bit awkward man, was the most energetic thing behind the mic. I was determined to outdo him, so I read my poem about how much I hated my parents (I was 16) with gusto. After the reading, the host came over, introducing himself as Matt Mason, and asking if I wanted to do a feature reading at the Bookworm with William Kleofkorn, a real, honest-to-god poet.
I’ve loved history and traveling the Great Plains for as long as I can remember. My mom and dad loaded my brothers and me into the camper every summer to take off for points in Nebraska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas, so I grew up knowing what a broad, diverse, and beautiful land it was.
I was in 6th grade at Morley Elementary in Lincoln when my teacher announced that Ivy Ruckman would visit our school. She had just published Night of the Twisters, a book that amazed me because it wasn’t remote and it wasn’t entirely imaginary. It was about an event that I remembered in a city not too far away.
This was groundbreaking for me. Since 2nd grade, I’d been writing about haunted houses and mysteries and dragons in places far from Nebraska. Night of the Twisters encouraged me to imagine new stories closer to home.
Seven Doctors Project, which I formed in spring 2008 at the Nebraska Medical Center, was an experiment—of the non-scientific variety. I wanted to see what would happen if mid-career physicians who were encountering job dissatisfaction or burnout joined a writing workshop led by area writers. I also wanted to see what would happen if the physicians were placed, maybe for the first time in quite a while, in the apprentice position.