Category Archives: Flash Fiction

Memoir: Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall Header

I stood in the late afternoon sun surrounded by blooms in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. It is the home to astonishing exhibits. Including Reagan’s Air Force One airliner and a massive piece of the Berlin Wall that stands as a sentinel in the center of the rose garden. Covered in graffiti and moss, it is a symbol of the fall of the old Soviet Union.

I had fought against this barrier between the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war. But, instead of bringing down the Berlin Wall, as President Reagan did, I had found a way to leap across it. Placing my hand on the warm stone of the monolith, I felt a sense of completion.

I had been a serious young woman, recently graduated from college, enjoying her first media industry position. I landed a job as the Unit Production Manager of a nationally syndicated radio news program on NPR. My main duties were being an assistant and liaison to the news editors and other departments of the parent production company.

One morning, I had finished writing the promo for our business news radio program, when the head of accounting walked up. She placed a file on my desk and gave me a stern look. I sensed her frustration, but felt that it was not directed at me, but more at the problem she was bringing to my doorstep.

“We’ve been trying to pay this reporter in Poland for over six months, but every time we reach the Berlin Wall, the money stops. He is your reporter and your responsibility. You will have to figure out a way to pay him.” She went back to her office without looking back.

I stared at that file without opening it for a good five minutes. What did I know about accounting and payroll? Nothing. I knew that we had dozens of freelance reporters scattered all around the globe, but they spoke directly to the editors, not to me. Accounting had always handled the processing of their checks in the past. It was not part of my regular duties.

My next task of the morning was to check the paper supply of the UPI and Reuter’s news feeds. There was no internet to search for information, back then as there is today. The news came to our newsroom via these wire services. The large printers connected to the world via phone line. It was where our editors obtained the news of the day. As I put new rolls of paper into the machines, resetting them to start printing out fresh batches of stories, I asked one of the nearby editors if he knew about this Polish reporter and his situation.

He did. The situation had been common knowledge among the program’s four editors for quite some time. It was a matter of the government officials opening the reporter’s mail when it reached the Communist Block. No letter from our company to this reporter could pass through the Berlin Wall. That was always where the paper trail ended. The editor worried about losing this reporter if we could not pay him.

I walked back to my desk, thinking about this man in Poland. He had been a stranger to me before, a name on the top of a file, but after this conversation, he was now a real person in need. I could not fault the man for considering leaving due to lack of payment, and that he had chosen not to do so spoke of his dedication. I admired this and I wanted to help him.

I sat at my desk and stared at the wall. Both the physical drywall before my eyes, and at the same time, the Berlin Wall that had become a barrier. I needed to bring down this wall, to find a means of connection between our American company and Communist Poland in a legal manner. I dismissed idle visions of cold war spies and mail drops over transoms.

I had not opened the file on my desk, but in this case, I did not feel that anything in it would be of help to me. If the information in the file had stymied an entire accounting department for half a year, what use could it be to me now? What I needed to know was a means to get money through the gatekeepers of the Berlin Wall and into Poland. It was a matter of connections across international lines, not accounting.

As I sat there, an idea popped into my mind. Why not call the United Nations? Were they not people who worked to solve international situations? At the very least, they could direct me to someone to whom I could ask questions.

I called information and got the number for the United Nations building in New York City. Once connected, I told the operator that I was the Unit Production Manager of a national radio program and needed to pay a reporter in Poland. Was there anyone who could help me?

“Of course, Madam,” the operator said, “I will connect you with the Polish Ambassador. One moment, please.”

My jaw must have dropped when I heard those words. I was a kid right out of college who had not even left her hometown for her first industry job. Now, I was about to speak with the Polish Ambassador in New York City. I gripped the phone and reminded myself that I was calling with legitimate business. I thought again about that reporter and steadied my nerves.

The Ambassador picked up the line and gave me a cheerful greeting. He sounded like one of my old world uncles, speaking with impeccable English, but with a slight accent. “And how might I help you?” He finished after we exchanged a few simple pleasantries.

I gave a brief description of how our accounting department had been trying to pay our reporter in Poland for six months. How the money always stopped at the Berlin Wall. The Ambassador immediately knew what the problem was. He explained that even he did not send money to Poland in this manner.

“Then how do you send money to Poland across the Iron Curtain?” I asked.

The Ambassador explained if we deposited the money to an account in a Polish bank that had a branch in New York City, from there it could transfer the funds to a sister bank in Warsaw. Since both were branches of the same Polish bank, this removed the international mail element. An account could be set up in the reporter’s name and he could withdraw the money in Warsaw. The Ambassador said that he would personally speak to both branches and make sure that the transfer would happen. It was the least he could do to help one of his countrymen.

The Ambassador also apologized that he could not get the money closer to the reporter. Warsaw was one hundred miles away from the reporter’s address, but legally that was the best he could do. I thanked the Ambassador for his time. I told him that I would confer with our accounting department and the reporter to make sure that his solution would be acceptable to everyone. If they were, our people would talk to his people and get the job done.

Next, I called the reporter in Poland and explained about the long distance that he would have to drive to get his paycheck. The reporter was grateful that he would finally be receiving his money and would have a method of getting his checks on a regular basis in the future. He assured me that this method of payment was acceptable to him. His sincere thank you and the sound of relief in his voice touched me.

I leaned back in my chair. According to the clock overhead, two hours had passed since the head of the accounting department had come and left that file on my desk. I picked up the unopened, thick file, and walked through the building to the accounting department.

I knocked on the door frame of the head accountant’s office and asked, “Might I come in?”

She glanced at the file in my hands and said, “Look, I told you that paying that reporter is your responsibility…”

I interrupted her and explained the method of how the Polish Ambassador would set up the connection between the two banks, setting up a pipeline that she could use to pay the polish reporter, now and in the future.

“You called the United Nations?” She seemed flabbergasted by the idea. The annoyance that my appearance had generated vanished from her expression as she said, more to herself than to me, “Why didn’t we think of that?” She called for her assistant as I set the file and the contact information onto her desk.  She smiled at me.

That afternoon, as word of my success spread throughout the company, I received informal congratulations from reporters in our Boston NPR office and from an associate editor who called in from South America. I seldom had contact with people outside our branch of the operation. It was the first time I realized how far our radio program went in the world. I was part of something larger than myself, yet I realized how small the journalistic community was too.

As the sun beat down on my shoulders, in present-day Southern California, I gave the monolith one last pat. Having that piece of stone under my fingers made the events of that long ago day seem more real to me. It was not bits of information I had been dealing with, mere pieces of papers I shuffled. It was real places and people that I had made a difference with. The solid stone of the Berlin Wall under my hand proved that.


Berlin Wall first published in a small literary magazine called Shadows Express Magazine in 2013.  It was the second short story I had ever published.  The story is based on true events of my life.   This version has been cleaned up a little for typos and grammar but is otherwise very close to the original tale that appeared in the literary magazine.

If you enjoyed reading Berlin Wall, please consider viewing it on Medium in the publication “The Junction” where it enjoys a reprint. Clapping for it there to shows your support for the story and the magazine.  This helps boost the story in the algorithms.

Memoir: The Poet In Spite of Herself

The Poet In Spite of Herself

I stood before the audience, my notebook open as I prepared to read an excerpt from my novel The Curate’s Brother. It is a historical romance based off of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion. It was one of many readings that I would do to promote my new book that year. The moderator of our panel gestured to me and said, “I present to you our next reader, author and poet, Wendy Van Camp.”

I remember blinking and tilting my head to one side, like a puppy that is not quite sure of a knock at the door. I do write poetry, but until that moment I never considered myself to be “a poet”. In those few seconds, before I began my reading, I had an epiphany. The moderator was correct, I am a poet! The irony was not lost on me.

When I was in grade school, I remember saving money from my allowance in order to buy a notebook that had caught my fancy. It had a green cover with gold foil embellishments and the pages were smooth white paper without lines. I put the notebook in a place of honor among my growing book collection, but could not decide what to do with it. Then it hit me. I would fill the notebook with poetry. I had never written a poem before, but how hard could it be? I was already writing novels, stories filled with Tolkien style dwarves and elves or mermaids who did battle with titans. Not that anyone read the stories but my own young eyes.  Poetry would be compatible with my childhood dream of becoming an author when I grew up.

I cradled my green notebook late at night and sprinkled the pages with little ideas that came to me in my dreams. After I had written a dozen poems, my younger brother swiped the book from my room, read my words and then proceeded to mock everything that I had written. I wilted in embarrassment. My parents mentioned that I shouldn’t be wasting my time writing in the first place. I put the recovered green notebook deep into my stacks and forgot about poetry. I continued writing my novels, but since poetry didn’t make money and was not respected, it would not be part of my life.

The years went by and after graduating college, I found myself working in government and corporate television.  My idea of becoming an author shifted into a dream of becoming the next big director in Hollywood. By this time, I had spent the past five years producing and directing a half hour band showcase series called Musician Discoveries in addition to working full-time at the local cable station. Bands traveled from other states for the chance to perform on my studio stage and be featured in my low budget, labor of love.

After going through a few different hosts for the program and the threat of our studio losing its funding and thus losing access to its equipment, I decided that it was time for a change. I ended my musician series and took my programming out of the doomed studio. Instead, I purchased an expensive prosumer camera and software to edit video on my home computer.

The equipment needed to produce television was thousands of dollars in those days and there was no such thing as YouTube or even the Internet to distribute the work. I would have to leapfrog the program on public channels, hand delivering the broadcast quality tapes to the cable outlets. Yet, I felt it was time to go rogue and create television on my own terms.

I needed a new art form to showcase for the new TV series. Music had been kind to me, but I was tired of it. I thought about paintings. The cliché of being “as boring as watching paint dry” nixed that idea. Then I considered poetry. While I had not written a poem since perfunctory assignments in high school, as a director, I didn’t need to create the content. That would be the talent’s job. Readings were dynamic, the performances would be easy to capture and the thought of shooting on location in the various coffeehouses in the city was appealing in its own right. I put the production together and marched forth, a young intrepid television director with a dream to share poetry on my new program Coffeehouse Poetry.

Realty hit hard and fast. The coffeehouses would cancel my shoot time without informing me. One went out of business and I didn’t learn about it until I arrived a few hours before production. Editing on home equipment was more difficult than the broadcast quality machines I was used to.  I was used to editing on analog equipment and my new home studio was in the then-new digital style.  I was never happy with the production values I could afford on my small budget.

And then, there were the poets.

Never had I worked with such unruly creatives in my life. They were demanding, rude, and unreliable. As the months went by, I sunk lower into depression as each setback destroyed my program.  Every time I received a rude letter or phone call from one of the poets, I felt myself give up a little more. The musicians I used to work with for Musician Discoveries understood the value of exposure that television offered.  The poets did not.  In the end, I produced around a dozen programs before I closed my doors. I bitterly swore to myself that I would never work with poets or have anything to do with poetry again.

Fifteen years later, I found myself shifting away from the long hours and stress of professional television production.  Many of the corporations I worked for were sending their work overseas to Japan or Thailand where labor and studio space was less expensive than Los Angeles.  The major studios remained, but I was facing burnout and the thought of the long commute into the city was daunting.

I remembered my original dream of becoming a novelist. My hiatus from writing was twenty years in length, but thanks to intensive training via Nanowrimo, I learned the techniques of writing books and how to market them.  Science fiction is my main genre, but as a side project, I started an Austen inspired romance series.  Since the romances were easier to complete, I published this series first and became known as an Austen inspired romance author.

During my early years of returning to writing, an author friend suggested that I give poetry a try in addition to the short stories.  Due to its brief form, I could write plenty of them, submitting to more paying markets or use the poems as easy blog posts.  I thought about the idea but cringed inside.  The scar that Coffeehouse Poetry left inside me was a large one.  I put the idea aside.

One Friday afternoon, after I had finished placing my wares into a science fiction convention art show, rain threatened overhead. The heat was oppressive in the atrium next to the art show where all the workshop/panel rooms were located. I had planned to stay for the ice cream social that evening, but it was several hours in the future. A writing panel would help to pass the time until the social event started.

I looked at the placards in front of the workshop doorways, but it was early in the day and most of the programming had not started at the convention. However, there was a scratched-in workshop available and its room was close to where the ice cream social was located. I ducked inside.

There were six or seven people in the room, I assumed that they were fellow attendees who would join me in the workshop. The placard said that this was a Scifaiku workshop. I had no idea what that was, but as long as the air conditioning worked and there was ice water available, I was game to give the workshop a try.

The instructor introduced herself and then informed me that all those people in the room were friends that had come to support her class. They were publishers of poetry magazines. I was the only student and she was going to teach me how to write scifaiku poetry.

I immediately wondered if I could get out of the workshop gracefully, but being the only student, I didn’t want to be rude. So I sat back and watched methods of brainstorming poems, ideas of how haiku and science fiction could be merged, and the structure to follow when writing a scifaiku poem.

The instructor said, “Now you will write a poem for the class.”

Me? Write a poem? I hadn’t done this since high school and that was a long time ago. I could hear my brother laughing deep in my memory.  I remembered the poor grades I got in high school during poetry assignments. Yet, I had the format and the brainstorming techniques before me on the blackboard.  I was a writer of science fiction short stories and had the background research of sci-fi concepts ingrained within me.  How hard could this be? I wrote my first scifaiku, the first poem I had created in more than twenty years.

When I was done, the instructor said. “Now, I would like you to read your poem to the class.” I looked around. What class? I was the only student! All the other people in the room were publishers of poetry magazines, some of them with large followings.

I stood up. I read my poem. I sat down.

The instructor said a few words about my attempt. Then, one of the publishers leaned over and told me that she liked my poem and wanted to publish it in her magazine. She would pay me. I took her card with shock.

That would be the first scifaiku I wrote, but not the last. I sold that poem and many more after that. Later, I would illustrate the poems with simple line art and that published too. Then someone suggested that I sell the illustrated poems as art prints and suddenly, I was “an artist”.

Now here I stand, with my notebook before me, ready to read my prose to the audience and introduce my novel.  The ironic laughter within disappears in the face of reality.  I am now the author that I dreamed of being as a child through hard work and dedication. And yes, I am a poet too. As strange as it seems to be after all the ridicule this art form has caused me through the years.  I am the poet in spite of herself.


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