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Irma and the Shantyboat

by Darlyn Finch Kuhn on September 20, 2017

Shantyboat and Lynn Skapyak Harlin

Those of you who know your Scribbler, or who’ve read my novel, Sewing Holes, know that it’s based loosely on my childhood in Jacksonville during the Vietnam War.  On May 1st I returned “home” to Jacksonville to help care for my dying mother in our little house on Trout River (called Bass River in the book.) Mama died in mid-June, and just as I started to stick my head out the door in September to try to connect with my writing “tribe” in North Florida, hurricane Irma came along and gob-smacked one of its most-beloved institutions – Lynn Skapyak Harlin and her Shantyboat.

That’s Lynn in the photo with the magical houseboat that was tied up at Seafarer’s Marina on Trout River by the Main Street Bridge, until Irma’s fury left nothing behind but its splintered deck. What makes this more than another sad tale of someone’s leisure “toy” getting smashed by Mother Nature’s fury is that Shantyboat was a place where writers gathered to learn, write, share, and improve their work. The workshops held there were Lynn’s livelihood and her passion.

I know we’re all shell-shocked and weary of hearing about natural disaster-induced troubles and pleas for financial help for the victims. But yes, I’m going to ask you to consider helping Lynn and Jim Harlin rebuild or replace Shantyboat so that future writers can experience the kind of help that turns first drafts into polished work for our reading pleasure.

Watch the First Coast News video about Shantyboat, and read their report below. Then help if you can, by donating at this GoFundMe page.

Thank you!

Darlyn Finch Kuhn

Here is the text from First Coast News:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —  An old shantyboat sat at the end of the dock at Seafarers Marina on Trout River Drive for 16 years. It had weathered strong waves, winds and dismayed looks from visitors over the years. Described as down right ugly by its owners, Shantyboat was admired by the hundreds of writers who dared to hop aboard and learn from a teacher with a sharp tongue and quick wit.

“I smoke cigarettes, I swear, I’m obnoxious,” said Lynn Skapyak Harlin. “There I could be whoever I am. And if they didn’t like it they could leave.”

Shantyboat was a place to teach lessons learned in her lifetime, more than seven decades. It’s where she held classes for aspiring writers. Harlin and her husband Jim, purchased the boat in Georgia in 1995. But with Hurricane Irma came pounding waves that ripped apart docks and sunk boats that were in some cases people homes, for Harlin it was her dream.

“That’s all that’s left,” said Jim Harlin. He shook his head while pointing to pieces of wood barely intact. “That’s the front deck. So we were afraid that it had sunk right there but several people saw it going away.”

There’s a large makeshift sign on display at the beginning of the broken down dock that reads: “Boat owners only. No visitors, no guests, no sightseers.” The sights that remain following Irma are not appealing. There’s caution tape tied from one loose post to another and beyond the warnings are battered boats, some ripped in half.

“People have lost everything and we’re whining over this ratty little floating shack,” said Jim Harlin. “But we love it. This boat over here that sank that was a man’s home and it’s gone. A lot of them have no other place to go. They have no other home than these boats that they live on and no means to really get another home.”

Management at Seafarers Marina estimate the damage will total at least $250,000.

“That’s mother nature, that’s the whole package,” said Lynn while looking out on the Trout River’s calming waves. “Any boat owner will tell you it’s the best and worst thing that could happen to you and your boat. So you have to take those chances.”
Harlin says losing the Shantyboat was like losing a part of her body. It appears the old boat and Lynn’s stern ways have touched a lot of people. One of her writers started a gofundme page for the couple just a few days ago and it has already raised more than 3,000 dollars.

In her own words, Lynn Skapyak Harlin: “It is 2:30a.m. and I can’t sleep. Yesterday Keitha Nelson, ch12 news reporter & her cameraman Todd came to Seafarers Marina to talk about the loss of the Shantyboat. She asked me a lot of questions and as usual I was my flippant self. But now after replaying what she asked and what I said I really want to tell what the loss of the boat is to me. The Shantyboat Writers Workshop was a refuge where writers black, white, young, old, rich and not so rich all were equal. It was a melting pot of creative, imaginative and dedicated folks who came for one purpose to make their writing better. All I did was share craft techniques and show them how to pick out what worked and what didn’t work in a piece. This was exciting. I got to watch & listen to writers become better at sharing their stories. The magic of the Shantyboat was the people who dared to trek down the dock and step into a place were they were with writers who all cared about words. All the writers’ styles, stories and characters were their own and none of them sounded nor wrote alike. They all learned the tools of the trade, the craft techniques that all writers need to make readers care about their characters and turn pages to find out what happened. I loved what I did but more than that I loved where I did it. Our Shantyboat was where I was happiest being surrounded by folks who wanted to make their stories the best they could be. The boat is gone but hopefully the lessons the writers learned will live on in the stories they create.”

 

Shantyboat - wrecked

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United Arts of Central Florida

 

Here is a press release from Flora Maria Garcia, President & CEO of United Arts of Central Florida:

As Central Florida students buzz with excitement over the start of a new school year, teachers also have a number of reasons to be encouraged for the year ahead. United Arts is pleased to announce that despite state legislative cuts to funding from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs to arts and cultural groups across the state, United Arts has received substantial funding from both the Harvey and Carol Massey Foundation and Wells Fargo. Their generous contributions to United Arts teacher grants has not only tripled the amount of funding available from $12,000 to $40,000 for this upcoming year but has also protected the teacher grant programming. Teachers grants are in such high demand that available funds are usually depleted within 48 hours of posting their availability so the increase in new dollars will be greatly appreciated by the teachers.

 

Massey Services Chairman and CEO Harvey Massey explained, “At Massey Services, we believe in being contributing members of our community, with a focus on arts and education. The United Arts’ Arts & Culture Access for School Kids program brings both of those together by allowing schoolchildren to experience arts and culture through a variety of workshops, hands on experiences, and special performances.  We are extremely proud to support this program and provide students the opportunity to learn more about the arts in our community.”

 

“We understand the importance of United Arts of Central Florida’s efforts to enrich our local communities by investing in cultural and educational initiatives,” said Wells Fargo Florida Community Affairs Manager and United Arts Board Chair Kate Wilson. “Wells Fargo is proud to support the Arts & Culture Access for School Kids program, which enables children to attend performances and workshops focused on performing and visual arts, science, and history.”

 

Public schools in Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties are eligible for the grant. The funding only covers the program cost, excluding transportation to field trip venues. A maximum of $500 can be awarded to any one school. Eligible programs are listed on United Arts’ online directory of arts education programs for schools, UAArtsEd.com, including more than 75 program options from 25 providers in history, science, music, dance, theater and visual art. Standards-based lesson plans are provided to the teachers to provide easy connections to the students’ learning.

 

These programs are an important part of the school curriculum, especially for children whose families cannot afford to provide these experiences. “It is becoming increasingly rare for children to be exposed to live arts performances like ballets, orchestra concerts, and plays,” said a teacher from Wolf Lake Elementary in Orange County last year. “It is really great for the students to have the opportunity through school where they wouldn’t have had it otherwise. I also believe that the experience makes what we do in the classroom real to the students. It helps solidify connections and reinforce teaching.”

 

Teachers can apply for the grant by searching the directory at UAArtsEd.com for a field trip, assembly performance, or workshop they would like to bring to their school. Then they must click “Book this Organization” to submit a request for booking, including potential dates. Using these requests as applications, United Arts will disburse awards in a lottery process starting the morning of September 15, until funds are depleted.

 

The programs average under $5 per student, or $100 per class; $500 can provide a whole grade-level trip or a school assembly performance. Donors who would like to help support students in their county can go to UAArtsEd.com/page/donate.

 

United Arts also works with Orange County Public Schools, The School District of Osceola County and other funding partners to provide additional arts experiences for students. In total, over 140,000 student experiences were provided in the 2016-2017 school year across Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.

 

About United Arts of Central Florida

United Arts is a collaboration of individuals, businesses, governments and school districts, foundations, arts and cultural organizations, and artists. Its mission is to enrich communities by investing in arts, science and history. United Arts serves residents and visitors in Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties through more than 70 local arts, science and history organizations. It raises and distributes funds for these cultural groups and provides management, administrative and advisory services. Since 1989, United Arts has invested more than $145 million in Central Florida’s arts and culture.

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Busting our Buttons with PRIDE

by Darlyn Finch Kuhn on June 27, 2017

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Warm congratulations to Pat Spears and Twisted Road Publications as It’s Not Like I Knew Her wins a Foreward INDIES Prize.

Much deserved and well done!

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Shy smile

 

About a week before she died, Mama looked at my husband, Brad, a Masters rower, who was wearing baby-blue short pants, and said, “He sure has pretty legs.” Then she shrugged her shoulders and said, with a smile, “When you’re my age, you get to say what’s on your mind.” It had never occurred to me until that moment that she had ever once, in almost 80 years, NOT said exactly what was on her mind.

Verbal restraint was not her gift, nor is it mine, nor is it her grand-daughter Rachel’s. (These nuts fall very close to the tree.) Mama’s gift was a generosity of spirit way too large for her tiny frame. If she had something, and you needed it, it was yours. That applied to her possessions (as long as you didn’t mind that she got most of them from the thrift store), but more importantly, it applied to her time and her home. Countless children found a bed, a warm meal, and a firm guiding hand over the years in that little house on the Trout River. And when her namesake, Aunt Elnita, was given three months to live, Mama threw open her arms and took Nene home with her to spend her last days in comfort, waited on hand and foot. In fact, Nene got so comfortable that she lived on for 15 years after that, but it didn’t faze Mama at all.

Her example of cherishing family is what led me to propose moving to Jacksonville to be closer to Mama in her last months. You know you’ve married a good man when he gulps hard, thinks about it for two seconds, and then puts the Orlando house he’s lived in for over thirty years on the market for rent, to go take care of his mother-in-law.

What an interesting mother-in-law (and mother) she was! Besides finding fashions at the afore-mentioned thrift stores that made her look like a million bucks, she loved to find old broken clocks and tinker with them until she had them ticking away again. And chiming. And cuckooing. If you ever spent any length of time in her house, you’d notice that she never worried too much about setting them all to the proper time. Consequently, her dozens of clocks buzzed, chirped, sang and chimed the hour just about every five minutes or so. What did she care? If she ever got annoyed with noise of any kind, she’d just take her hearing aids out and laugh at the rest of us, who had to cope with ears that worked well.

After Mama was widowed for the second time, and the house got a bit too quiet, she developed another hobby that I found fascinating. Suddenly, she spent her days cruising the side streets of Jacksonville in her little Honda station wagon, completely unable to pass a trash pile that had a piece of furniture on it, without stopping to execute a rescue. Three-legged tables, chairs with sprung seats, and dressers with warped drawers were all lovingly restored with parts from Walmart or Lowe’s, and then – Heaven only knows why – she painted everything blue and put them out at her own curb with little hand-painted signs that read, “FREE.” My phone would ring in the middle of a workday, and it would be Mama. “I covered that rocking chair seat with a piece of blue velour with little white kittens on it, and it wasn’t out there twenty minutes before somebody snatched it up!” she’d crow. She’d actually watch out the front window and time it, trying to beat her own record.

Velour kittens. Ceramic kittens. Real, live, hungry and thirsty kittens. According to Mama, there was nothing, nobody, and nowhere that couldn’t be improved with an infusion of kittens. There was a sign on her door that read, “This house is run for the comfort and convenience of the cats.” And she wasn’t joking! At her peak, our crazy cat lady owned 22 of them. When I, and other people who loved her, would gently try to suggest that 22 cats might be a bit excessive, her claws would come out. One day, she finally told me why. You see, my mother’s mother, to whom she was very close, was struck by a car and killed when Mama was only 14. Suddenly, as the eldest daughter, Mama was responsible for caring for two brothers, a sister, and a father who turned very mean when he drank. And he drank most of the time. Home became a sad, scary place, except for one bright spot – the corner basket where their mother cat slept with her litter of kittens. Comfort and joy were found in that corner, and Mama could never again resist a cat who wanted to cuddle.

Last Saturday, I took her one remaining indoor cat, Baby, for a cuddle at the inpatient hospice facility where Mama spent her final six days. She’d had a steady stream of visitors, both at home and at the hospice, from among her family and friends – many of you are right here in this room, saying goodbye today, and she loved you all dearly and appreciated your kindness. But it was only after that final cuddle with Baby that she was ready to say goodbye to all of us, and join her mother, father, brother, son, aunts, cousins, two husbands, and her Savior in that place where there is no more dementia, no more leukemia, no more hearing aids, and no more weakness or pain.

I love you, Mama, and I hope they allow cats and clocks in Heaven. And if they don’t, I hope they checked your pockets.

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