Do you ever ask yourself why you do what you do? For me I ask that question about storytelling -
Here is an answer:


NEW VIDEO: An Overdue Thank You to John Sanders

Is there anyone you want to thank for something they did for you?

All my life I knew that John Sanders, the young man who worked for my grandmother, had done me a big favor. People told me "John Sanders saved your life Ellouise when you were a baby."

In this story I have included a long-over-due thank you to this young man from me.



A Surprise Ripple of Memory

Would you believe - this week my face broke out like I was a teen-ager. Since I have a performance of the Hello Girls next week I asked my doctor to send a prescription for the usual antibiotic I take when this happens.

The quick fix concern reminded me of a conversation I had with actress Polly Bergen in the early 1980s when we were working together for the ERA. During our three years together on a Project - The National Business Council for ERA we got to know each other pretty well and had some good times.

Polly was a smart and savvy woman who was also charming, warm and very funny with a down home Southern sense of humor. She was also a very strong feminist. Polly gave three years and her own money to the effort to pass the ERA as the public face for the National Business Council for ERA - a project I organized for the League of Women Voters. Once she came on board she was an "in the trenches" player not just a paper figure-head.

One afternoon she and I were working on some plans at her apartment in New York. When we took a break from the paper work and telephone calls we were gabbing about girlie things when she noticed that she had a possible break-out on her face. "Ellouise, would you look at this - you could get one of these and go on with your life - -  depending on what I am doing I might have to hide in the hospital for a week while they fix it."

We laughed and giggled about the hard life of a public performer.  It never crossed my mind that there would come a day when I would be picking up an antibiotic to take care of something on my face pretty much like she showed me. I am sure she would laugh and give me a hard time about it.

Polly Bergen died last year. I was surprised and sad that she was not mentioned in the Memorial Rembrance list at the Academy Awards Sunday night.  

Surely they remembered her films like Cape Fear (1962) with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. Polly was very effective as the frightened wife who was kidnapped by Mitchum and I remember being quite scared by this movie of revenge and danger.

and in the 1980s TV mini-series Winds of War, again with Mitchum at the top of the cast, to name a few. She was a member of the movie community for years and active as a fundraiser for many causes. I was working with her when she was filming "Winds of War" so her role in that film was a favorite for me because I knew some of the back-story.

One of the personal benefits for me of working for ERA ratification was the opportunity to work with and have a lovely friendship with Polly during that time. Our paths rarely crossed over the campaign was over outside of occasional phone calls.

I cheered her from the side-lines as she continued her performing career on television and in the movies.  As always a gutsy lady, she successfully appeared in a character role in Cabaret on Broadway which opened new avenues. She was singing again after she worked to recover her voice which was damaged by smoking.

Anyway - my prescription started a ripple of memories of a very interesting time and a lovely brief friendship with Polly Bergen.

R.I. P. Polly


A Little TLC is More Than Medicinal

There have been times since Jim died when I felt like this poor unfortunate and sad woman in my sketch - - alone and unprotected.
My new doctor called  me today with some test results from my recent first physical with her. Nothing spectacular going on - "nothing for you to worry about sweetie. You just need some B-12 shots and some vitamins. I will send in a prescription and you come to the office on Friday. Start the B-12 shots and we will talk about everything."

Did you hear that? "Nothing for you to worry about, sweetie."
I don't know what you would like but I liked that casually kind admonition." It is a kind of reassurance I have not felt since Jim died. She had thoroughly read my charts, and called me with the reports of the tests and instructions to make things well.

When I told my sister I had found a new doctor she said, "that's the smartest thing you have done since Jim died. I wish you had done this three years ago." Instead I stayed with a doctor who showed little interest in me as a patient or as aperson, wrote lots of notes but often was too rushed to take my vital signs, and did not inspire confidence. But gradually as I woke up from the initial stupors of grief and paid more attention in the world I recognized that this was not good medical care. I decided to stop complaining about it and to do something. Voila - my new doctor!

My sister is right. Now, I feel that someone is on the job who cares about my well-being.  When the doctor called today I felt like she knew who I was and furthermore that she had my back.

I admit it. Being married to a doctor, especially one who was trained before tests had all the information and one who listened, spoiled me.  He spoiled the members of our family too. He paid attention to each one of us and sent us off to get the appropriate care when it was needed. We are deeply grateful for this loving spoiling and we miss him awfully.

He also modelled being medically responsible for yourself. He paid attention to himself and his awareness of his body saved his life half a dozen times. Jim talked the talk and walked the walk for paying attention to what your body is telling you - - and he acted on his own behalf. He taught us to watch ourselves, to pay attention, and not to smile and ignore a warning. For example: "if you notice a little blood - watch it - if it doesn't go away go to the doctor. Blood is not normal.....and it is not nothing."

I don't expect to have that level of care ever again in my life - - but I know a patient does have a right to be attended by someone who listens well and who is an interested and active part of your care.

Patients do not have to be passive and take less.


Kindnesses of Friends

More snow today. I have been sitting at my desk working all day.
One good thing about "snow days" is being house bound so that I get a lot of paperwork, old and new, done.

And - - it is so quiet. Its the kind of soft quiet that helps me think.
Think. Think. Think.

In the quiet ideas have space to flourish and that is always good.

Most of the day I toyed with several new ideas for stories. In the quiet there was mental space to remember  - - - to walk back in time without feeling rushed to get it down on paper - just to wander through a place that does not exist anymore except in my mind.

Out of that wandering I re-encountered two women who were important in my life -

But the truth is, the remembering of these women really began a few weeks ago over a grilled cheese sandwich at the Tea Room in Kensington, MD.  Solveig Eggerz and I had just finished a taping of my show Stories in Time: In Focus at Channel 16's near-by television station. Solveig is a novelist, storyteller and teacher of memoir. She teaches a fine class on that subject and in her current series she is focusing on "telling the story" orally before you rush to the page. I took a six week class with her at the Writer's Center a couple of summers ago that was marvelous and we had just had a coversation about memoir for the show. You can watch the program HERE.

It probably is no surprise that we continued talking about it over our sandwiches.

I don't remember our conversation at the Tea Room exactly until I was describing how I decided to be a painter in 1965 when I was taking classes with Jessalee Sickman, a Washington Artist. Solveig drew back. I knew something had connected with her. She asked me to say Jessalee's name again.
"Did you know her?"
"No - but I recognize the name. When we lived in Washington in the 1950s my mother studied painting with her at the Corcoran Gallery. She often talked about her."

I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I had not expected to ever meet someone who would know Jessalee Sickman and the connection, although slight, brought her picture back to me.

So that conversation has been sitting with me since then. Yesterday on a quiet snow day I had time and space to think about that time and how I came to Jessalee's studio.

The first one that came to mind was a neighbor when we first came to Maryland for Jim's assignment at Andrews Air Force Base.  Pat lived down the block. She had two older boys. She was a painter. Her husband was a Major in the Air Force. They had lived in a world far wider than mine.  When we met she found me a floundering young woman deeply sad after the death of our youngest child. And struggling to take care of three youngsters.

The only picture I have of Pat is a blurry mental image. I remember her as an attractive dark-haired woman who spoke directly and suffered fools lightly. She could be blunt, something new to my more in-direct southern approach to opinions. She was kind to children and animals. And, she had a deep and contagious laugh.

When she recognized that I really needed an older woman as a friend and mentor she reached out to me. From the depths of her own experience she understood that I needed a positive distraction and something to grab on to so she took me to her painting class.

And at some level I understood that I needed something to help me move beyond the overwhelming darkness of grief. 
I had no inclination for painting and as far as I knew no ability for it - or talent as some say. But I was willing.

What a gift! What a wonderful understanding on her part.
by Jessalee Sickman

Her teacher, artist Jessalee Sickman, was an amazing woman - more than I even understood or appreciated at the time.

In 1965 Jessalee had a studio on Eye Street across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station. She rented a three room apartment on the top floor of a three story red brick row house. This was my introduction to the formidable big-city - downtown Washington, DC.

Going to this class was also a wondrous adventure. Pat was confident as she navigated the freeway and bridges across the rivers and she knew her way through the heavily trafficed streets of Washington which were lined with imposing monuments, Federal buildings and department stores. She was an excellent tour guide and she liked telling me about the city. Twice a week we made the trek downtown to the art class. As I watched and listened to her I gradually began to think I too could tackle this world on my own.

Recently retired as a member of the painting faculty at the Corcoran Gallery Jessalee opened her own studio for teaching classes. The large front room was flooded with sunlight from windows on both sides. There was a model stand off to one side and when one was available she would hire a nude model or invite someone to sit for a portrait. As the resident newbie I did not work from a model for over a year and then only because Jessalee insisted I try it. I worked in the smaller separate front room which had two large windows facing the bus station and over-looking the busy street.

Everyday, regardless of the weather, she climbed onto a city bus on a corner of Connecticutt Avenue near her row house home on Jocelyn Street to come to work in her studio. Jessalee was a serious working artist and I am sure her example influenced me from the first. She also was a warm and welcoming person and a marvelous teacher. She opened my eyes to the magic of color, especially when mixed with oil paints and thinned with heady fragrant turpentine.

Artist: Jessalee Sickman
I had never painted anything in my life except walls and my kitchen cabinets and froze at the thought of drawing anything. She started me out by showing me how to spread dabs of different colors of oil paint on a palette and then she demonstrated how to make incredible colors by blending bits of different colors together. I was amazed that black and yellow ochre will make an absolutely gorgeous off-green - it was magic. I spent hours making charts and dabbing colors on large sheets on heavy rag paper.

It did not take long for me to become somewhat obsessed with painting - stretching canvas, preparing the surface and then striking out with images - first still life compositions until she invited me into the main room to try my first large female nude. I still have my "Geneva" rolled up downstairs in my studio. It is a terrible painting but it is a reminding talisman for me - I was going to be a painter.

Jessalee inspired her students to love painting as much as she did. Many of the people who came every week were mature and skilled painters, many from her classes at the Corcoran. For the first time I heard people talking "art" and had an inside view into some of the local art-gossip and critiques of art shows they had been to see. It was a glimpse into a different mysterious world - before I stuck my toe in that water.

There was a back room that was her painting room. While we worked she often retired into her studio and worked on a canvas of her own. A few favored students were sometimes invited in to see her latest work - but the hours we spent there were not about her- she was focused on us and out work. She spoke to everyone, including me, as a fellow artist who was serious about their work.

I was her student for three years. Looking back now I see even more clearly how much I learned from her and how healing it was for me to be there several times a week.

When my children were old enough for me to take on a larger time commitment away from home I decided to enter a local college  - - as an art major.  Jessalee blessed my ambition but I think she thought I was a bit nutty - "you don't have to go to college to be an artist Ellouise."  Maybe she was right - but at that time I was determined to go back to college and get letters after my name.

Today I know it was the right decision for me, particularly at that time. Being in college in 1968 was the catalyst for so much more to come but... those are other stories.

These two women opened the doors for me that led to everything that came after.

Deepest thanks dear friends.


Weaving Stories of Women's History

Today is Susan B. Anthony's birthday. She is a legendary women's rights advocate from the early 19th Century who led the struggle for Suffrage so that today we women have the right to vote.

Today I was reading through some past blog posts and I came across this one from October 2007.  It seems right to re-post it on Susan B's birthday as an homage, a connection, and a bit of reminder for the gift she and the women following her won and passed on.
October 30, 2007 The Veteran Feminists of America held a reception at the Sewall Belmont House on Capitol Hill, DC. which was once Alice Paul's home and the seat of the National Women's Party, particularly during the fight for gaining women's right to vote.  This evening was an induction ceremony and I was one of the inductees. So many familiar faces. For any one who had been actively involved in the many parts of the struggles of the 1970s it was a flashback of those days.

I came to be a part of this group on that evening because of my activism in several roles for national organizations during the struggles to gain equal rights for women artists and for work as ERA Campaign Director for the League of Women Voters the last three years of the campaign to ratify the Equal Right Amendment.  It was a proud evening!!!

I reported on it for my blog that night.

Well, a lot has changed since that evening.

For one thing, I stopped dying my hair shortly after that and my budget is grateful.

Since well before 2007 I turned the skills learned in  my lobbying days toward becoming a professional storyteller.  I still keep women, their history,  and their lives at the center of my work. www.ellouiseschoettler.net

Last year I introduced a new story that is more personal to me than anyone would guess unless they knew my history as a feminist activist or know women's history of being told to wait for the right to vote or for the Equal Rights Amendment - which, by the way, women do not have yet.

Months ago I discovered THE HELLO GIRLS - switchboard operators who volunteered to the Army Signal Corps and served in France during WWI - and when they returned home after the war were denied their veterans benefits. Sound familiar? But they were determined to fight against this unfairness. They lobbied for 60 years - finally gaining their veterans benefits in 1977. Audiences gasp when they hear - "of 233 who served in France there were only 18 were still living."

The "plucky" women of THE HELLO GIRLS have been left out of history books and remain in the shadows of history.

You can see, I am sure, why I am devoted to this story.

I consider my telling this story as lobbying for women's rights but using a different megaphone. 
THE HELLO GIRLS will return to the 2015 DC Capital Fringe in July. Perhaps they will show up in your area. Their story is our story.

Let's celebrate Susan B. Anthony - she never gave up - - and neither can we, or our daughters, or all the women after us.