Archives

Guest Posts, Starting Over

A Rose by Any Other Name

August 10, 2018
rose

By Dana McKenna

I remember when I decided to do it.

I was going to change my name.

I had just filed for divorce.  It was liberating, knowing I’d done something proactive for my emotional and psychological well-being.  After I gave my (now) ex the ultimatum of ‘me, or everyone else in a skirt’ (guess which he chose?), I hired a lawyer, filed the paperwork, and was on my way (little did I know he would stretch it out over two+ years, quickly making it the Big Bad Awful, but that’s another story).

So, changing my last name.  Not back to my maiden name; no, I hadn’t been that person for nearly 20 years.  And I didn’t want to wait until after the divorce was final, I wanted to do it now.  It was a further step to heal, another step in the direction to reclaim my own life. And it was the right decision.

Now, what name did I want to reflect me?  What name did I want to represent “me” to the outside world?

To be, or not to be, Smith or Jones. That was the question.

I wrote down or typed into my cell phone every name I came across that I liked.  From looking through books on my coffee table, watching TV and movies; perusing magazines, bookshelves at the library, FaceBook, and bookshelves at Barnes & Noble; mulling names over-heard in conversations standing in line; to (more) perusing of used-books store shelves, place names on maps, family trees, cemeteries (really, headstones are a bounty of monikers!), other people’s bookshelves…you get the idea.

My long list devised, now needed some serious weeding.  I would practice introducing myself out loud using the names I’d found.

That lopped off at least 1/3 of the list. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

August 5, 2018
miles

By Matt Jones

The night before the Half Ironman, I can’t sleep. I am nervous about the 70.3-mile race. I am exhausted from traveling from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Austin, Texas, from months of training and weeks of waiting for something to end that has scarcely even begun.

On the morning of the triathlon, I feel less alive than animated by raw anxiety. My parents, who have driven three hours up from Houston to watch the race, help me change into my wetsuit. It’s a little past 6:00 AM and the sun isn’t up just yet. The first leg of the race, the swimming portion, starts at Decker Lake. The gun sounds, and we enter the water by the dozen, so in the beginning, we are all over each other, kicking and colliding, fighting for space. Every few strokes, I lift my head to make sure I’m still going the right way and not careening off into the horizon—though would that be so bad? In many ways, I am already far off course. Despite the buoys and the red flags bobbing at the lake’s surface, I have entered uncharted territory. Even though I theoretically know what lies ahead, I am struck by a feeling of uncertainty. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

What Reminds Us of Our Mothers

July 30, 2018
mothers

By Amie Newman

What reminds us of our mothers? What do we see, smell, think, hear that tilts us towards knowing? As adults we barely recall – or want to recall. For me, it’s Patti Smith. Her beautiful plain-ness strikes me like the dark murky mix of my mother’s turmoiled young adulthood. Young parenthood between two worlds. Poetic in its sadness. In its realness. Poetic in its young destructiveness.

Yet not without a maternal expression of love. Not without the desire to love, to be present. To be a poet. For my mother, as a young woman, through song. For Patti through song. To express the unexpressed yet deeply felt.

My mother searched for release in a man. In many men. The only place she thought she could find it. The only place her world allowed her to search.

Patti pushed through. Patti found herself and immersed herself afraid and real. Dipped full-bodied into the beauty of truth and pain and brilliance. Patti Smith is strong and smart and deep like my mother.

My mother is not her true self. Or maybe she is more of herself. But she doesn’t know who she is as she did not know decades ago as she did not know years ago as she’s never known. She’s lost herself to a society that told her she was not good enough, human enough, really, man enough — to be worthy.

What reminds me of my mother? The smell of cigarettes in bed, long fingernails and wet cheeks. Depression and laughter. Books and a tamped passion never fulfilled. What reminds me of my mother? Me, in my untamed emotion. Me, in my battles with my body. Me, in my love of people. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, No Bullshit Motherhood

Things Unseen

July 25, 2018
exhausted

By Amanda E. Snyder

I’ve never done things in my life the way you’re supposed to. Or when you’re supposed to.

As an undergrad, I majored in fiction writing. (Seriously.) Then, after acing my first Big-Time Job Interview post graduation, which was as a copywriter for a restaurant food supplier in Chicago, I turned down the job because I knew that I’d be unhappy. I was 21 and financial stability wasn’t something I cared about.

Having a family wasn’t on the radar, either. In my 20s, it was always so distant; the idea of a family was nice, but I knew I wasn’t even close to ready. Dating in my 30s I had thought would be easier (aren’t we all supposed to be getting more mature by now?) but it proved just as difficult as ever. As for that far-away image of kids, that only diminished in my 30s. I loved being an aunt and I loved my freedom. I did want a partner, sure. But kids were not something I needed.

But then…oh, but then. At 39, I met a tall, dark, and handsome 27-year-old Brazilian man named Davi who remarkably had gone to college near my ultra-rural western Illinois hometown. We felt terrifically familiar to one another and less than three months after meeting, moved in together. One day when discussing our future, we broached the subject of children. We were at an Irish bar in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. We hadn’t moved in together yet. It was the 4th of July and we were creating our own pub crawl. It was early afternoon and we were two or three beers in. Continue Reading…

Current Events, Guest Posts

Stewarding Liberty

July 22, 2018

By Gayle Brandeis

On the 4th of July, I watched in awe and admiration as Therese Patricia Okoumou scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty. I love how she was taking such visible, breathtaking action to protest the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies, how she was using her body to take a literal stand—not just a stand, but a climb, elevating herself the way Lady Liberty elevates her torch, turning herself into a beacon. The fact that she is an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo makes the action all the more moving, all the more meaningful.

I have a special connection to Lady Liberty, myself, albeit a less spectacular one. In 1986, when I was 18, my essay on the meaning of liberty was installed in the Centennial time capsule of the Statue. I was one of six teenagers—three American, three French—to receive this honor via an essay contest sponsored by the United States Information Agency, the propaganda arm of the US government. The six of us were flown to Washington, DC, where we met famous journalists and a former Supreme Court Justice, and got to tour the White House. Ronald Reagan wasn’t there, but we did get to meet his press secretary and have our pictures taken at the podium in the White House Press Room. I was pretty naive at 18—I remember asking the secretary “Do you ever keep anything from the American people?” and he laughed and said “Of course”; I remember the chills that traveled through me when I realized, for the first time in my life, that our government is not as transparent as I had assumed. Continue Reading…

beauty, cancer, Guest Posts

Accessorizing

July 11, 2018
chemo

By Annarose F. Steinke

At first the jewelry takes me by surprise: chandelier earrings, layered necklaces, sequined infinity scarves that have no business in a room where store-brand cans of pineapple and orange juice are the only drinks served. A big show is made of giving these things ample space on tiny end tables alongside Dixie cups of Tylenol. Companions are ordered to remember these silver hooks and spirals once the session ends, and in the meantime, to keep an eye on the table should the items’ owners need to use the toilet. Simply standing up while making sure to lift the arm so that the wrist retains the IV and the IV stays attached to the machine that must be wheeled into the bathroom while managing the door lock with the free hand, all while the first dizzy spell begins (no, thank you, I can manage) is such an all-consuming task that asking after your Alex and Ani bangles set in that moment is out of the question.

I used to wonder why they won’t leave these things at home, but now I know why all of it must be worn, even if only in the lobby. I recognize the sigh from the woman two seats down as she uncoils ropes of translucent orange beads from her neck: it matches my tone when telling the scheduling coordinator to hold as I shake out receipts and crumbs and broken pens from three different purses when I could just as easily store the Medical Record Number card in my wallet with my driver’s license and the other items anchoring my everyday. Now I understand that “fighting cancer” does not mean doing certain tasks with gusto but refusing to grant others the time and care they’re supposed to deserve.

As for me, I wear my great-grandmother’s rose gold chain, its sharp rectangles falling just below my collarbone and exactly where a chest port would be if I needed one. My grandmother’s accompanying note reads “I want you to wear her things. NOW!” and I honor her demand. Wearing this chain, I grasp the concept of a “statement” necklace: this piece states that I’m not here long enough for a chest port, this searing jab to my wrist is truly a perk of this good-kind lymphoma, and the nurse is visibly annoyed at the extra work so my demeanor had better be accomodating since my small veins are not. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

This is not the end

July 8, 2018

By Tina Porter

In the Fall of 2014, when I knew the job I had held in a place I’d been working for 10 years was ending (though not yet officially), I did what anyone would do: I went on a trip with my mother and sister to Northern New Mexico.

Actually, this story starts much earlier. Does it start in April of that year when I am offered a demotion or no job at all and I take the demotion because we are in the process of closing on a condo for our daughters to live in while they attend Indiana University in Bloomington? Or a year earlier, when it is obvious I am struggling while juggling different roles and different requirements from different stakeholders?

Or does it start in 2009, when I take the promotion I think I want and that I am kind of good at, as it is defined in 2009 and three weeks later I am diagnosed with Lupus? Or does it start in 2008 when my father dies? Or in 1986 when I am a young woman at odds with her understanding of herself, or in 1976, when I am a teenager who doesn’t fit in and finds the options available unsatisfactory but I don’t know how to ask my mother or anyone for help? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality

Celebrating Pride: An Open Letter to my High School Biology Teacher

June 29, 2018
gay

By Chris Shorne

Dearest Paul:

Well. This is all very strange. For starters, me addressing you—Mr. Witt—as Paul. A first name implies life outside of being my high school teacher, which you were for four years, in ninth grade Biology, eleventh grade Health, and senior year Advanced Biology (Honors). I graduated twenty-one years ago and I’ve seen you half a dozen times since then, but in my imagination, you mostly stayed static, a known quantity. I’m not sure why it feels different now, after seeing you last week for brunch. Maybe because I haven’t been back in the country long or because I’m sorting through my files, reading poems and school reports I wrote as a teenager.

I remember the first article I read for extra credit. From your biology classroom, I followed you through a door to the science office that I hadn’t realized was there. You opened a storage closet: metal racks floor to ceiling, file boxes wall-to-wall, each box full of photocopied articles and newspaper clippings. You flipped, quickly, to the one for me: “Disabled Doesn’t Mean No Sex.” In the article, a guy talks about people not seeing him as sexual because he uses a wheelchair; on top of that, he explains, he’s bisexual and people think bisexuality isn’t even a real thing. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Leaning Into The Pain

June 27, 2018
nest

By Claudia Hinz

“Ooh, look at the babies!” my daughter exclaimed at dinner. I hurried around to her side of the table from which she had a clear view of the park outside. Over the years, we have all held to our assigned spots at the dinner table, although my husband has moved into my 19 year-old daughter’s chair since she left for college. The other seat, my son’s seat, has been vacant for a while, but I leave a fresh cloth napkin and a placemat for him.

The baby goslings tottered around after their mother who nosed them in the right direction of the water. The sun was low in the sky and my eyes are not what they once were, so the goslings appeared as electrified yellow balls. Cute, as my daughter pronounced, but also dangerous in their vulnerability. I knew that in mere days they would be transformed into gawky, unsteady juveniles, the cute baby stage left behind.

This morning, there is the smell of perfume in the kitchen. She has left but I still smell my daughter in here with me. It is her voice on our answering machine. A message recorded when she was probably in middle school, the voice of a young girl, my baby. She is now 18. She just voted in her first election and will be headed off to college in less than four months. Still, I can’t change the message. We never use the home phone, but I am reluctant to cancel the service because I cannot bear to lose my daughter’s voice on the machine. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories

Good TImes

June 21, 2018

By Sara Lippmann

It was the night Paul Pfeiffer came into the bar in Hancock. We’d been going to Good Times all summer, a corner dive in a ramshackle clapboard, baby blue, pulp exposed instead of siding, where the dirt met the road, where the railroad ran alongside the lumber mill whose raw planks stood out like Lincoln Logs in all weather desperate to be put to use, emitting that downed forest smell. Segments of the sign’s neon coil had blown so above the Genesee logo in the window it read GOD TIES, which felt right. Apparently you could rent a room upstairs, but the steps were barreled off with galvanized kegs, we were summer people, we poked tongues through pink sheaths of bubble gum, we weren’t about to cross.

Someone had a car, had legality, the rest of us had youth, a partial paycheck, and thirst. We had to be quick, quick about everything, the potholed parking lot, puddled dark roads, careening around the bends swerving for deer, over the rusted one lane bridge across state lines to the sour rot of mahogany worn soft and sticky from other people’s nights, then sling back for curfew, which meant we were in the car for as long as we were inside polishing off pints and embarrassing ourselves at pool. We were terrible. It didn’t matter. We were camp counselors. Let strangers stare.

Paul Pfeiffer wore a slicker on account of the rain, the yellow hood cinched like a periscope. It wasn’t raining that hard but he taught drama at a nearby camp, he told us, and what do you expect from the dramatic. I forgot his real name. It was Italian not Jewish. Same diff, he said, unzipping, twitching his damp nose. I played one on TV! and proceeded to recount Paul’s bar mitzvah in a halting nasal pitch, real generic like Baruch Ata Adonai. We were not impressed.

No way, we said. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Fear, Guest Posts

All Fathers Want to Hurt Their Sons

June 17, 2018
hurt

By Brian Zimbler

“I feel like you’re doing everything in your power, verbally and non-verbally, to tell me not to say anything negative,” I say to Randy, my therapist.

We’re doing a phone session.  I’m propped up on Nora’s side of the bed against an ornamental IKEA pillow.  Nora and Myla are downstairs, watching Elliot.  It’s his 12th day.  It’s a snow day.  I have my jeans on, which is a total Nora no-no (no outdoor clothes can touch the duvet) but I am being passive aggressive because I want her to love me more than the baby.

“I’m not forcing you to be positive,” Randy parries, “If anything, I’m asking you to stay in — “

“I know, I know, stay in the good feelings.  I am.  I’m trying.  You gotta admit, I could’ve spun into the real dark telling you the parents-at-the-bris story just now, but I stayed good.”

Elliot’s bris was last week.  My parents came down.  The mohel, in the prep documents she sent us, let us know she would need an assistant to stay by her side throughout the process.  Nora and I decided this would either be my father the doctor or my mother the therapist, we would decide day of; however, day of, I decided – though I can’t really call it a decision, more a clear loud message from inside – that I would never ever let either of my parents be with my son at his most vulnerable, ever, and that I would be the one to usher him through.

“It’s never the dad,” said the mohel.

“This time it’s the dad,” I said.

And I did it.  I stayed with my beautiful new son even through the part upstairs where she pulled my beautiful new son’s foreskin back and clamped it, to prepare him to be cut.  Even through the part where he was brought downstairs covered in a tallis on a sick infant’s gurney.  Even through the part where all the sugar water in the world could not put my strong son to sleep. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Health, Young Voices

Choices

June 15, 2018

By Kelsey Brey

My life has been abuzz with talk of “choices.”

So and so either made or did not make a choice to end his life depending on whom to talk to, or what train of thought you best find yourself hopping aboard. A good friend of mine wrote about how he was told as a child that he could be anything. I imagine most of us were, even if not by our parents-we were indoctrinated with this message from the educational institutions we attended. “Choose to shoot for the stars and if you fail, you land among the moon” said the poster in my elementary school.

Choose to attend college, choose to have that fourth, fifth, sixth drink.

I wanted to write some well worded prose on what it means to be lied to by a society where the choices are already made for us, and choosing to not choose only alienates. Choosing to go against the grain isolates. But, now I’ve gotten to this point and that idea is losing its appeal for me. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, memories

Mother Knits Me A Sweater

June 13, 2018
sweater

By Sara Chansarkar

I miss Father as my sister lights the candles on my birthday cake which is sitting in a stainless steel plate on the scratched glass-top coffee table at my parents’ house in India. My birthday is the 24th of December and I visit around this time every year because it is also my son’s winter break from school.

After I blow the candles and cut the cake, Ammi lays a gift − neatly wrapped by my sister − in my lap. I carefully open the gift, plucking the tape off gently, so that the wrapping paper can be reused. It is a finch-pink sweater, soft and warm, with shiny buttons adorning the front.

My lips and hands start trembling, unable to cope with the happiness. Ammi hugs me, runs her hand over my head, and dabs her eyes with her dupatta.

As I sniffle, my sister narrates the tale of the sweater: Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

The Howling Wounded Thing

June 11, 2018
howling

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Beth Cartino

“I just want to get really high and then go to sleep forever.” They sits across from me in a dreary, unadorned office, knees tucked under their chin, arms hugging their legs tight to their chest, eyes peering out at me from behind a veil of midnight blue hair. This is the pose they adopt when they’re feeling exposed and vulnerable. They are in middle school, but they have the experience of someone twice their age, and right now, at this moment, they look painfully young.

“Have you been thinking about suicide?” My voice is even, my eyes unflinching. I notice a physical urge, like the one you get when you want to scratch your nose, to mirror their posture. I don’t. I ask myself a question I frequently ask when working with a kid who is thinking about suicide. What could somebody have said to me when I was twelve that would have stopped me from trying to kill myself?  I never can come up with an answer but this is the message I try to convey, not only with my words, but with every cell in my body: “You are loved. I see you. I will not judge you. I am here with you.  I am not going anywhere. You are not broken. You are not a problem that needs fixing.”

*** Continue Reading…