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Chronic Illness, Guest Posts, parenting

Little Elephant

December 12, 2018
elephant

By Amy D. Lerner

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant? They’re trying to figure out what this creature is in front of them. Each of the men feels a different part of the elephant, the trunk, the foot, the tail, and describes the elephant based on only that one part. They each come up with wildly different ideas about what an elephant is, and not one of them sees the big picture, the whole elephant.

My elephant is only 3 feet tall and 35 pounds, yet this story is still true.

Like many people, I make up stories and make metaphorical leaps, from an elephant to my four-year-old daughter, without even thinking about it. My mind is a runaway steam engine—I can’t help thinking of that image—and metaphors are the coal.

“The way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor,” write George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, the seminal book on thinking in metaphors that was published in 1980. We tend to speak and think in metaphors without being aware of it and without stopping to think about how our metaphors are guiding us, but they are, Lakoff and Johnson insist.

Studies have shown that by thinking about the story of the blind men touching the elephant, it’s as if I’m actually touching the wrinkled and rough skin of an elephant. In other words, metaphors are stored in the same part of the brain as the things they represent: the idea of kicking the habit stimulates the same motor area of the brain as kicking a ball does. Metaphors are deeply embedded in our minds, and they’re linked to the most basic human functions. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Colors of Her Life

December 10, 2018
musicals

By Mackenzie Kiera

Lights.

You share two things with your dead grandmother: death and musicals. That’s all you have in common. Had. Since becoming pregnant, you’ve been thinking about her more and more. The weight of her disease falls on you, coils around your heart, tightens and reminds you of your own mortality.

You remember her easiest when you sit with Papa’s cologne bottle in the corner of your bathroom and inhale the dark pine scent—him, you miss. He was the grandparent you visited and called and loved. You were the granddaughter he doted on, bought ice cream for, took to UCLA to see Shakespeare, picked you up from school if you were sick and Mom couldn’t get you.

Her? She was in the background with rules. Things you couldn’t play with. Cabinets you weren’t allowed to open, soft drinks that were hers and hers alone. She always had dark chocolate ice-cream bars, salted potatoes chips, baby carrots and ripe, cherry tomatoes. String cheese. Tiny sandwiches. You’d watch as she spread the mayo on her sourdough bread thinly, gave it some lettuce, turkey and a slice of white precut cheese. Things she could just grab and never binge on, but sometimes she would just need something. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Holidays

The Christmas Tree That Saved My Parents’ Marriage

November 30, 2018
tree

By Julienne Grey

Right before my mother died, she wanted to give me a gift. “I want to give you something,” she’d said. “Anything you want. Something special. What would you like?”

Surrounded by family photos and irises and loving cards from the years, in the room she’d chosen to die in, I wasn’t thinking of gifts. That week she’d been dipping in and out of consciousness. She’d glimpse a photo from her Mykonos honeymoon and say, under the influence of morphine, “It’s beautiful being here on this island.” I’d smile back and say, “Yes, it is.”

What did I want? I wanted my mom alive, alert, awake. But that wasn’t something she could give for much longer. And I didn’t want to make her sad. So instead I said, “Can I have a puppy?” Imagining a sweet little bichon or a shih tzu was the only thrill I could imagine in that room. But when I looked up, my mom had already fallen asleep. Continue Reading…

Current Events, Guest Posts

Ending a Culture: Kavanaugh, #MeToo, and the Guatemala Genocide Trial

November 13, 2018
guatamala

Photo: Outside the courthouse in Guatemala City, survivors await the verdict in the Ixil genocide case. September 26, 2018. Credit: NISGUA, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.

By Chris Shorne

I watched the hearings live. Not for Supreme Court Justice Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but for José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, the man accused of genocide in Guatemala. In a split decision, the court acquitted Sánchez, ruling that as head of military intelligence under dictator Ríos Montt, he did not give the orders. The next morning, my face sticky from crying the night before, I get a text from a friend: “The news is a mindf*ck.” For a split-second (before I realize the text refers to the Kavanaugh hearings only and not also to the genocide verdict), I feel that small relief that comes when someone you love recognizes with you the awfulness of something awful.

In 2000, survivors of Guatemala’s Internal Armed Conflict (1960-1996), formed the Association for Justice and Reconciliation and filed charges of genocide against Rodriguez Sánchez and Ríos Montt (Montt died during the trial). Over eighteen years, more than one hundred survivors of the Maya Ixil genocide testified. It is with these survivors that I spent last year as an international human rights accompanier in Guatemala.

While waiting for the judges to arrive to give the genocide verdict, I looked online at every picture I could find of the hundreds of survivors gathered outside the courthouse in Guatemala City. I smiled each time I found a familiar face: a woman who made me coffee or sent her kid to the nearest tiendita to buy two eggs and a tomato to cook me lunch or gave me extra blankets at night because she knew I wasn’t expecting the mountains’ cold. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

When Depression Gets Too Heavy

November 5, 2018
depression

CW: This essay discusses ideation and/or 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 Kari O’Driscoll

There’s a reason darkness is used as a metaphor for depression. In my worst moments, I felt as though there was a black spot in my head spreading like an oil spill, creeping outward, sinking in to the valleys and crevices of my brain and obliterating any possibility of light permeating. Perhaps the most shocking thing about it was how tired it made me. Never had I known that depression was so exhausting.

There is a television advertisement for an antidepressant medication whose tagline is “Depression Hurts.” The first time I saw it I felt right, like the ad writers had seen me in my natural habitat and sussed out something nobody else had noticed. I remember curling myself into a fetal position, rocking back and forth, feeling a weight and a soreness in my ribs – between them, an accordioning of my chest around my heart and lungs. My limbs ached as though I’d just climbed 4000 steps, my head hung low with fatigue. A fog settled over the top half of my brain that made focusing a chore. Depression was heavy. It was effort. It was draining, physically, mentally and spiritually. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

The Hardest Choice

October 27, 2018
mothers

By Moira Sennett

Tethys, they say, is the mother of multitudes: rivers, lakes, streams, all the fresh waters. But look closely, and she tells a different story. As she passes by you, her arms are empty. The only child she was ever given to hold was not her own. She protects her dear ones with a fierce mother love. She will lie and rage and move entire seas to protect them. But when you really look at her, you will see that the goddess of childbirth trails her like a shadow, a whispering voice: “Mother of none.”

***

The ultrasound pictures set side by side are proof of a dream realized. In the first, he is tiny. His head and body seem squished together, bearing a striking resemblance to a gummy bear. In the second, his baby shape is more clearly identifiable. In the third, his perfectly defined little features—nose, mouth, and reaching hands—belie the fact that anything is wrong.

My fear for him is a tangible pain in my chest, as real as the joy I felt from the first moment I knew of his existence. I would lie and rage and move entire seas to protect him. I love him with a love that is fierce and true and bittersweet. Bittersweet because he is not mine. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

F*ck Self-Help

October 21, 2018
By Zoe Brigley

Because I work and teach on domestic violence, people sometimes write to me unexpectedly with their own stories. They are usually women (though abuse does happen to men and non-binary folks too), and often they have questions about whether a partner’s behavior is abusive. Very often it is.

Sometimes these can be liberating stories. A woman once wrote to say that finally, after ten years of an abusive relationship, she had left, and her life had changed irrevocably. Food was more flavorsome, smells were more vivid, colors luminous, as if she had been imprisoned in grey world.

Other stories are less comforting. I spent a month writing back and forth with a friend on Facebook living in another country. Her abusive boyfriend had dumped her, except she wasn’t really dumped: it was more a test to see how much she would put up with before he took her back. We talked many times about working to forget him, and to create a new life. Then one day on Facebook, she posted a photograph of the two of them on vacation, relaxing at a beachfront hotel. She stopped writing to me then, and while I hope that she is happy, I can’t help thinking about what I could or should have done to help her. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Relationships

Someday, Baby

September 26, 2018
fire

By Alayna Becker

It’s wildfire season in Spokane, so I’m stuck inside Crosswalk, the teen homeless shelter where I work. I’m the summer employment specialist, hired to help the homeless kids in my group learn to get a job and hopefully keep it. 12 kids are supposed to show up, but only two, Jessica and Reya are here and a third, Makayla is on her way.  Usually we go outside to do the job the city gave us a grant to do – measure the slopes and accessibility of streets all over the downtown area, but today the whole city is obscured by the haze from fires on the edge of town. Walking feels like wading through a swamp.

My title, employment specialist seems ironic because for the past couple of years I’ve been pretty much unemployed. Mainly I participated in medical studies while co-conspirator roommate sold her plasma. I had a job working for a place that did digital investigations on people that were accused of looking at child porn, but when I accidentally saw a picture of a little girl in her pink underwear over the shoulder of one of the other employees, I left and never went back. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Love Is A Hell Of A Drug

September 20, 2018
love

By Jasmine Sims

You fell in love with the word long ago. You watched the movies and figured out that was something you wanted. You didn’t realize that you had, early on, fallen into an addiction that you’d spend your life looking for.

You looked for it in the eyes of your father. Prided yourself in being daddy’s little girl. You lived for his laugh and nod of approval like an addict. The mere acknowledgment of your presence and masquerade of acceptance was enough of a hit to keep you pushing until the next time. You didn’t know you were the daughter of a drug addict, because he hid it so well that you didn’t realize when you visited his friends and left you in the car you were at a crack house. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Hole

September 17, 2018
hole

By Rhea Wolf

Forgotten already. Absorbed in the mystery.
Into the egg, I come. A mother,
Another one for the
turning, another one for the
wheel, under the ground,
burning waiting resurrecting
falling, singing the long high note and
descending Oh Phoenix oh fire walkers
now I am red and hot inside with
a fractured other,
many wishes,

and a fantastic losing mind.
Thinking those men
think it means enlightenment
but they are still free.
Making big scribbles and smoking sacred cigarettes
losing their minds to art and science,
while they are still free.
And my petals don’t fold out anymore. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Surviving

When The Music Stopped

September 5, 2018
flute

By Elana Rabinowitz

I pushed my thick wooden chair inside my desk and looked up.

The substitute was nothing like Ms. Rudnick, her long Farrah Fawcett hair, her thin frame made me wonder if she ever taught children before.  But here she was for almost a full week now and I was getting restless.

“Okay class, we’re going to do some warm ups.”  She said. “On my count.”

Really I thought?  This is what an IGC (Intellectually Gifted Children) class is going to do?  Shouldn’t we be writing essays or studying history.  I didn’t want to exercise inside the confines of my classroom, but I was a compliment third grader and did as she asked.

I looked over at my friend Virna who winked at me.  I used to sit next to Virna and we laughed ourselves silly in class. Always finding amusement in Templeton from Charlotte’s Web.  Double T, Double E, Double R… I guess we laughed too loudly and now I was in the corner by the window about to stretch my body all the way from Brooklyn to Queens. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Dots And Holes

August 21, 2018
dots

By Avery Guess

  1. Morse Code

Morse Code is made up of dots and dashes, or more accurately, dits and dahs, but I don’t know anyone who uses the latter. I never could listen to Morse Code and understand anything beyond the standard S.O.S., and even then, I’d worry that I hadn’t heard the message correctly. My first name, Avery, is made up of a total of 8 dots and 6 dashes. My last name, Guess, 10 dots and 3 dashes. Anxiety has 8 dots and 8 dashes. Depression contains a whopping 17 dots and only 8 dashes. Bipolar disorder, 27 dots and 16 dashes. Except in the case of anxiety, the dots prevail. There is no escaping them.

  1. “Repetitive Vision”

I saw Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Room” titled “Repetitive Vision” in Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory in August 2014 while visiting Katie, a friend I’d met on Facebook a few years before. If I had heard of Yayoi Kusama prior to seeing her work that day, it was only in passing. Kusama is a Japanese artist who has been active since the 1950s. When she is not working in her studio in Japan or overseeing her popular installations, she lives in a mental hospital a couple of blocks away. She has experienced hallucinations from an early age that appear as “flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots.” When Katie and I walked into the room, and the door we entered through closed behind us, I experienced the exact opposite of claustrophobia. The walls and ceiling are made up of mirrors. The floor is white and scattered large neon coquelicot polka dots. These reddish-orangish dots also cover the three white mannequins with grey wigs who stand in various poses within the room. The effect the mirrors creates is that of infinite repetition. Katie and I stood amongst the mannequins and began imitating their poses, walked around the box we were inside trying to find an end, and took photos of ourselves within this magical environment. I could have stayed for hours.  Continue Reading…

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…