Sarah Voss has authored several books and a chapbook of poem-prayers.
- Voice to Voice, Heart to Heart: The Story of an Interim Ministry
- What Number Is God?
- Zero: Reflections About Nothing
- Out of Our Prayers, Hope
- Self-Making:Autopoiesis of Woman
As a pioneer in both Matheology (a conjunction of “mathematics” and “theology”) and Moral Math (ideas drawn from mathematics which can positively impact human interaction), Sarah has been writing about the relationship between mathematics/science, religion, and social behavior since the early 1990s. For a list of her essays on math and religion click on Articles by Sarah Voss on Math & Religion.
Sarah started writing serious nonfiction in the five-year period from 1979-1984 when she was a “stringer,” first for The Columbia Flier, one of several weekly tabloids serving the larger Baltimore area, and then, following a major move, for the Omaha World Herald’s Sunday Magazine of the Midlands.
“Found” History from the cover of an over-sized three-ring binder found in Sarah’s office. The notebook is labeled “Stringer Products” and filled with yellowed news articles:
When I became a stringer (a part-time free-lance news correspondent), I was recouping from a bad teaching experience and I had no idea whether or not I could do this sort of thing. An editor at The Columbia Flier decided to try me for a personality profile. It turned out she really liked the way I “captured” people in print. At first, I didn’t realize that she was telling me that I had a special talent and that not everyone could “do” people as easily as I could. Her comment turned out to be one of those nice moments that last.
After my first few free-lanced articles for the Magazine of the Midlands, the editor started giving me assignments. Most of my articles turned into cover stories. I thoroughly enjoyed these assignments, spent too many hours writing the articles, and earned about $100 for each, which was much more than I’d ever received for my articles back in Maryland. All told, my earnings as a stringer would probably have kept a loaf of bread on our table and milk in the refrigerator, but no chocolate.
Sarah quit stringing for newspapers in the early 1980s but continued to produce the occasional piece of creative nonfiction, such as “Straw Men” (which appeared in The Healing Muse in October, 2005, and essays such as those found in Sarah’s Notebook.
Sarah started writing fiction at about the same time that she was stringing. Early on, one of her stories placed somewhere around 59th in a Writer’s Digest contest, a “success” for which she won a handful of paperback books about writing, including a Thesaurus which she uses to this day. The rest of her stories simply “showed potential.” ☺
After many years during which she intermittently tried fiction, Sarah received the 2001 Dorothy Daniels Honorary Writing Award for Fiction, sponsored by the National League of American Pen Women, Simi Valley Branch. In presenting the $100 prize, contest chairperson Carol Doering said
“Your writing was a ray of sunshine that should be shared with others.”
The winning story, “Hearts in the Window,” is part of God Feeds the Sparrows: Soul Stories about Living With Alzheimer’s. Portions of “Questions for Mother,” another story in this collection, appeared in the Cleveland area Alzheimer’s Association Chapter Newsletter, September 2001, 8. The entire manuscript — God Feeds the Sparrows – is still awaiting the right publisher.
Oxygen, a manuscript of Sarah’s microfiction was a finalist in the Spring, 2008, Black Lawrence Press chapbook contest. Several of the 36 pieces in this work, all of which are 250 words or less, can be read below in Selected Micro Fiction
She has also been writing and publishing poetry since the mid-1980s. Her poetry has been included in collections such as Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (2007), Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace: Writing by Women of the Great Plains/High Plains (2002), and Celebrate IX: A Collection of Women’s Writings, University of Nebraska at Omaha (2005), and in literary journals such as Earth’s Daughters, Thema, Ellipsis, Mid-America Poetry Review, Fellowship in Prayer (online journal,January, 2009), and the Writer’s Journal (January/February 2009). For a sample of her poetry, read “Woman Scrubbing,” (p24-5), a winning entry in Nebraska Poets on Sheldon Painters: A Selection of Poems from the Contest, 2008.
Part of a manuscript which was a finalist in the Black River Spring 2008 Chapbook Competition.
Always the Good One
“I understand about copyrights,” Addie told the youngster clerking Quik Photos. “But Aunt Brady’s eighty-year-old pictures are the only ones I’ve ever seen of my parents’ wedding.” Addie leaned closer, explaining. “Aunt Brady’s ninety-five. She’ll be apoplectic if she doesn’t get her pictures back tonight. My plane leaves at ten, so, basically, this’s my sole chance to get copies.”
Addie waved the bundle at the girl. “Look, I’ve already copied them!”
The clerk nodded politely. “I’d like to help, but I really do need to check.”
Addie sat on the nearby bench. She waited fifteen minutes. Where was that manager? She rose, determined.
“I don’t have an hour to wait,” Addie grumbled at the girl. “I don’t have five minutes.”
She could have waited another ten if she’d really believed the manager was coming. “Just let me pay for the copies,” she pleaded.
The clerk shook her head sorrowfully, disappeared behind a screen. Addie sat back down.
Five-twenty-five. Dinner at six. Twenty minutes to get there. Addie drummed her fingers on the plastic seat.
Five-twenty-seven. True, Addie had a friend who routinely exited a store with an unpaid lipstick or greeting card. But this? She could get arrested!
Five-twenty-eight. She studied the bulging envelop on her lap, glanced over at the office where the manager was ”almost free.” No one. Deciding, Addie stuck the envelop into her bag, hustled to the store’s automatic doors. It was the longest walk she ever made.
The “Real” Girl’s Cousin
“I should be like you,” Addie told Madeline-the-Mannequin as she outlined Maddie’s painted lips with her nail polish brush. Desert Mirage. Built-in topcoat. Couche de finition integree. Translation: mauve. Addie found the bottle forgotten in the bathroom cupboard, figured it’d work with her red gloves and the red ribbon-necklace holding Tom’s teaching medallion.
Poor Madeline’s face was battered. She needed care, clean clothes. She’d worn that same dress, same vintage shawl for three years, never complaining.
“You never open your mouth,” Addie approved. “Saves embarrassment.”
Addie was still ashamed from last night’s meeting. She’d spoken up and landed a hefty volunteer job. Thought it paid, but…. On top of which her so-called colleague verbally squashed her in front of everyone. How much success does someone need to do that to another person?
Addie had to reach up to do Madeline’s lips, and now her hand was numb. Carpal tunnel.
A symbol? If you do the same things over and over, why keep expecting anything to change?
“At least you’re safe to talk to, Madeline. I tell you, it never pays to advance your own cause. No pun intended.”
Addie finished Maddie’s lips, studied the cracks on her nose and cheek. She’d tried to fix them when Tom first brought Maddie home. “A big doll,” he’d said, looking pleased. First, Addie stuck her in jeans and a waitress’ apron, told everyone she was their maid. Everyone laughed. Now, she’ll simply display Tom’s award, a task she’ll handle fine.
The Neon-Orange Hat
The man wearing the neon-orange hat warms his hands around his coffee. The room is so smoky his coat will stink when, later, he hangs it in the hall closet, as his wife wants. His dilemma: if he hangs it in the closet the other coats will smell, but if he drapes it over the kitchen chair, Addie will fume. Sometimes all she sees is the outer color.
Tonight’s subject is open. He knows the rhythm by heart. Hi, I’m Tom, I’m an alcoholic. Pause (for group antiphon). Then the confession, the homilies, all some variation on a common theme: I carry evil inside me. Alcohol lets it out.
He raises a hand, touches the cloth warming the bald spot.
“My wife hates this hat,” he admits.
“I wear it everywhere. The other day I forgot it in the bookstore. When I went back it was still there. No one wants a cap reminds them of a jail sentence.” He laughs, a tiny joke.
“I wore it to church last Sunday,” he adds.
Deviously, “I took it off in the lobby, though.”
Grinning broadly, “But I wear it everywhere.”
Then, after a long pause, “If I drink, I’ll do lots worse.”
For a moment, the room is quiet. Then everyone speaks together as though following the cue of an unseen choir director. “Thanks, Tom.”
At the end, they stand, join hands, recite the Lord’s Prayer. “Keep coming back,” they chant. “It works. I’ll kiss your ass if it don’t.”
Metaphors Like Raisins
The memorial was a celebration of life. Friends, relatives, Tom and Addie rose, told stories, testified to the worth of Mr. Champion’s long existence. His offspring Ñ the son overweight, graying, friendly blue eyes, and the daughter slim with too-black hair Ñ explicitly requested that the service omit all God-language; Mr. Champion had been bold in his atheism, always parading it like fancy hats worn on Sundays in the small town where he grew up nearly nine decades ago, his mother generous and his father resting in peace. Or not.
Voids dangled in the silence his children inherited. He who loved women touched his second-born’s breasts by accident again and again, abused the first wife, who grew too old too fast. Or not. It’s a guess why one life blooms while another dries up small as a raisin, why some recall the glisten of morning dew sparkling in sun and others can’t get past the haze.
The second wife sent a flowery note, which the black-haired daughter read aloud. The third wife, also an “ex,” arrived late, flounced down the aisle to a seat in the front, sobbed loudly throughout the elegy.
The minister, a woman, read poetry. What she didn’t read was written in black ink on the pages of an old book authored by an excommunicated Mormon turned mystic: “Man, you are that Book of Life, and you will have to open it for yourself… Open it, for it is yours!”*
*Ye Are Gods by Annalee Skarin, p272-73
Wearing Mother’s Clothes
Not a nursing home the staff insists, welcoming Mother to Plantation South. Mother manages a smile, allows herself to be led (so slowly) through the rose hall, past the elegant dining area, into the elevator (in spite of her claustrophobia) to room 206.
Is this my new home? she wails, disintegrating. How will I ever live in such a small space? Take me back to… to, you know, that place with my kitty. Where is Ginger? Why didn’t you tell me I was moving? Oh, just leave me here, don’t bother with me anymore.
The first-born grandchild, two husbands of separate generations, and we three share this event. We three have little in common now except Mother. Sometimes she still keeps us straight.
When Mother said her final goodbyes to the people at that other place, I wept. One resident — still clear — hugged me, then warned me not to let Mother see my tears. She worried about Mother, she said. Afraid she’d leave something on the burner. Or something. We were doing the right thing. She said.
Before I fly two thousand miles home, I try on three bags of clothing Mother will never wear again. Her clothes smell from hanging forgotten so long; I need a shower. Still, I put each item on, check the mirror to see if it’s salvageable, but all I see is a foggy image in an old crystal ball bearing the past into a future shouting for change.