Former educator-turned-writer’s work debuting Sunday in The Denver Post
Craig woman 1 of 16 people chosen from 230 Colorado candidates to write column for newspaper
In praise of Craig's seasons
(Editor's note: Below is an unpublished work by local writer Janet Sheridan. Her first column in The Denver Post's Colorado Voices series will be published Sunday.)
By Janet Sheridan
I couldn't live without seasons. To do so would be like eating Cheerios every morning - never enjoying a blueberry muffin, a couple of scrambled eggs, a Bloody Mary garnished with veggies.
Where is the joy in that? What do folks talk about who live with unchanging weather? Does anyone watch as people with perfect teeth report the weather on TV?
How boring to wake up every morning without the sound of snowplows struggling to clear the roads you need to travel, to never feel guilty relief when the first frost sends your fading flowers to their little green deaths.
Nope. I choose to live with the four seasons - the way Craig does them.
Slowly, a sense of spring seeps into our consciousness as we encounter intersections flooded with run-off; blustery winds unable to determine a direction; groups of high school runners gliding around melting mounds of dirty snow.
Spring advances, then retreats, struggling to establish itself.
Just when we give up and accept a new ice age, bark turns orange; green shoots insist; birds bustle.
Optimistic, we abandon our coats, then scuttle home as clear skies give way to clouds and sprinkles change to snowflakes. We sometimes put plants in the ground too soon, even though we know better. But our brief glimpses of spring reassure us; summer will happen.
Summer descends overnight. After a long winter and erratic spring, we creep into the brilliance of a blue sky like moles from their burrows. We blink, stretch and move.
Bicycles circulate; foot traffic flows; yard puttering escalates.
We wear shorts whether or not we have the legs for them; our bunions breathe freely in ample sandals. We float boats, hit balls, hike trails, sleep in tents.
During endless evenings, we visit over backyard fences, sit on decks among pots of petunias and walk dogs until they rebel. We pretend summer will last forever. But it doesn't.
Fall approaches in a long, slow slide, in an August instant, when an eddy of cool air brushes by us.
Soon school buses bounce past orange signs that welcome hunters. Shorter, fresher days permit our favored attire of shorts and sweatshirts layered over T's.
Crisp air, turning leaves and the demise of green mark our days. We gaze at low-flying geese silhouetted against mountains of color and catch the distant clamor of a high school football game.
We awaken in the night to pull blankets around our shoulders. We predict the first snowfall.
But, winter is unpredictable.
Like a basketball player, it starts in stutters and fakes. Then it dribbles wind, shoots snow and defends with ice until it gains overtime against spring.
We listen to the city's long winter song: the deep rumble of snowplows accompanied by the rhythmic scrape of shovels on concrete, the whine of snow blowers pluming the air, the celery crunch of frozen snow beneath our feet, the hushed silence of midnight after a heavy snowfall.
We wear boots, hoods, gloves, scarves and red noses. We propel our bodies on skis, skates, snowshoes and snow machines. For a break, we travel to Grand Junction, Arizona, southern Utah and marvel at the sight of clean cars on swept pavement.
I've lived in the Southwest, where you have the variety of microwave heat powered at high, medium or low.
I've traveled in tropical areas where it seems to me that balminess could turn to blandness could turn to boredom. I've never been a polar bear living in a consistently cold climate, but there must be a reason they can turn so snappish.
I prefer the seasons with their irregular rhythms. Seasons that prepare us for the changeable rhythms of life, the stages we will live and the joys we will find in each. I like living in Craig.
The house at 701 Taylor St., with its walls built of stones from throughout the Yampa Valley, resembles a cottage and looks as if it were plucked from the pages of a fairy tale.
Its appearance perhaps is fitting, given that an emerging storyteller lives inside.
On this day, a Friday morning, Janet Sheridan is sitting inside the home, on the sunroom couch, typing away on her white Mac Book computer.
It’s how Sheridan, a retired educator-turned-writer, works best.
Comfortable seat. Quiet atmosphere. Laptop computer.
“My goal is to write two or three hours, five days a week, and I do it when my schedule allows,” Sheridan said. “I fit it in when I can. : Once you start doing it, you just enjoy it.”
It seems others are enjoying Sheridan’s work, too.
Earlier this year, a team of judges from The Denver Post chose Sheridan as a Colorado Voice.
She was one of 16 people from across the state – 230 entered the contest – selected to write guest columns for The Post.
Her first piece, submitted under the title, “Good Ears,” publishes this Sunday.
It can be found on page 4 of the Perspective section.
“The reason I (entered the contest) is, you work with the editors, and they work with you to improve your writing,” said Sheridan, a former English teacher, principal and director of curriculum and staff development for the Moffat County School District.
If it was critique Sheridan sought, she found it through The Post.
Fortunately for her, the newspaper’s judges were highly complimentary of her work.
“She was an across the board winner,” said Barbara Ellis, The Post’s guest commentaries editor and Colorado Voices coordinator. “Every one of our judges chose her. We had six judges total, and all of them picked her, which is unusual. We don’t usually get that much of a consensus.
“She epitomizes everything we’re looking for in a Colorado Voice.”
Becoming a writer didn’t happen overnight for Sheridan.
Raised in Lake Shore, Utah, she was one of seven children of a miner and a homemaker. Money was short in such a large family, and times weren’t always easy.
But, there was one activity she couldn’t let go of.
“I read anything I could get my hands on,” she said, “including cereal boxes.”
Throughout the years, some of her favorite authors have been Ken Kesey, Joyce Carol Oates and Sherman Alexie. A famous work by Louisa May Alcott has a fond place in her heart, too.
“Little Women,” Sheridan said, “hooked me.”
After graduating from Utah State in 1965, Sheridan began a long career in education, most of it in Carson City, Nev. She came to Craig in 1996.
She retired from the school district in 2001, and then she ran her own educational consulting business for the next five years, working with Northwest Colorado school districts on issues such as staff development and curriculum adoptions.
In 2006, she officially retired from working life. And that’s when the printed word beckoned.
“I was fascinated with the teaching of writing,” she said. “So, I studied writing a lot. I thought maybe I should see if I can do what I’ve been talking about.
“I always thought I could do it. But, I never attempted to organize myself and sit down and complete something.”
That changed last summer.
Sheridan turned to her childhood as inspiration for her essays.
“I wanted to write stories on my childhood,” she said, “because I’m full of them.”
“Family Economics,” one of two pieces she submitted to The Post for the Colorado Voices contest, uses her family’s financial struggles as a backdrop for the difficulties many are having in today’s dampened economy.
“Good Ears” uses her education experience as the framework for a larger argument.
It relays a time when Sheridan, then a teacher, caught herself breaking her own rule: always listen.
A student politely reminded his teacher of her oversight one day in class, and, years later, it became the basis for Sheridan’s work that will be unveiled Sunday.
Sheridan, a memoirist with a clean and simple voice to her writing, used “Good Ears” as a bridge to politics, as well.
Her piece covers how she has been impressed with President Barack Obama and the eye contact he holds with people he’s speaking to.
“I think he epitomizes all of that (good listening),” she said.
A college student during the 1960s, Sheridan has an appreciation for politics. She describes the 1960s as an “amazing time” in American history.
“The change that happened in our country and the upheaval,” she said. “It seemed like one bit of bad news after another. JFK, MLK, Bobby, cities burning. It was a turbulent time. I didn’t realize how much things were changing that decade.”
Watching Obama during his campaign reminded her of listening to JFK decades before.
“I felt that same sense of optimism with Obama that I felt with Kennedy,” she said. “He just made you think, ‘You know what? We can do this.’ Obama inspired me that same way.”
But, don’t confuse Sheridan with a political writer.
Her pieces occasionally touch on the national landscape, but it’s her family past that provides most of her material.
Her next column in The Post is about her mother, and someday she hopes to finish a book about growing up with her brothers and sisters.
Her work has impressed Ellis, who places Sheridan as one of the best writers the Colorado Voices contest has had in its 11 years. That covers about 180 writers total.
“It’s so lovely,” Ellis said. “The woman : her writing gives me goose bumps. I’ve got to say, I’ve been in journalism for 32 years and been doing this program for 11 and she is : she’s among the best.
“She’s got insight and warmth, and her writing skill is top notch.”
This weekend is shaping up as a big one for Sheridan.
On Sunday, she’s also slated to be recognized by the Denver Woman’s Press Club, which honored her with a third-place award in the nonfiction category of a contest for unpublished writers.
The work she submitted to the Press Club was a memoir titled “Snapshots of My Father.”
She’ll read her piece to an audience at a reception Sunday night.
There are other publications that have noticed Sheridan – NPR Colorado published a column of hers on its Web site, as did the AARP bulletin and AAA Colorado. She’s also had a column appear in the pages of this newspaper.
With some accolades behind her and more coming this weekend, it might be easy for Sheridan to stop producing.
However, she said that won’t happen.
“I’ll just keep my eyes open and keep writing,” she said. “That’s my interest.”
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