Browsing Tag

Women writing

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Porcelain

July 18, 2021
letter

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

by Cammie Clark

“Yours is the light by which my spirit’s born;
you are my sun, my moon and all my stars.”
~ e.e. cummings

This is a letter to the tile floor in my bathroom––hexagonal and white, grouted a dingy grey. I sit on the toilet, connecting imaginary shapes in the inch-sized pieces beneath my feet. Maybe the tiles are porcelain––they’re always cold––but they’re original, laid into the home about 100 years ago. I live here with my husband and daughter; we don’t own it, but we dream about it. I’m careful of the tiles in here and also of the hardwood floors throughout the rest of the house. I wipe things up immediately––splashes of water, spilled coffee, bodily fluids.

Or maybe this is a letter to the sky blue painted walls of our bedroom, a dreamy color I did not pick but love to get lost in. 375 weeks ago I posted my first post on Instagram––it was a view of these walls from where I lay in bed. I simply captioned it, “Blue”. Because it was and I was, and I laid there for a long time, but this isn’t a letter to the color blue.

I don’t like to turn onto my left side while I sleep––mostly it’s uncomfortable, but I’d also have to contend with my husband’s snoring much too close for my liking as he sleeps on the left side of the bed. Sometimes in the morning, after he is in the shower and the sun has come up and brightened the blue walls of our bedroom, I’ll roll over to my left side and reach my hand out to touch the spot where he was laying––warm still. Just a glance past his pillow hangs a framed graphic print of the stars in the sky, as they appeared on the night of December 5, 2013. This is definitely a letter to that framed print. At the bottom, a quote from e.e. cummings.

This is a letter to my anxiety, and to the morning of Dec. 6, 2013, when I think that something is not quite right. It was still early––too early, except what I mean is there was no sun up yet, no blue walls, no shower or warm spot. I propped myself up––it was too early for me too, at 17 weeks pregnant, to feel not quite right. What was moving? No, what was the movement that was happening inside me? I walked halfway down our short hall and quickly returned, each step agonizing. This is a letter to the edge of the doorway, to the edge of our bed, to the edge of my sanity.

My husband, annoyed by the hall light and by my indecision to go to the bathroom or not, “What’s up? It’s 5:30 in the morning?” he had groaned. “I don’t know––I don’t know, something doesn’t feel right. Just let me go pee.” For a moment, I felt fine and I stood fine, but each step brought a familiar radiating pain that reached around my back and clamped down––hard––into my pelvis. The pain was coming in waves and I was like a wave, ebbing back and forth in the hallway, attempting to drift into my bathroom, unsure if this was all just nothing. I sat on the toilet taking deep breaths–––I counted tiles, then traced shapes like geometric hearts and geometric flowers with their outlines.

This is a letter to my entire bathroom, to its walls and pedestal sink––a place that held me. When something warm and small slid out of me I breathed a sigh of relief when it wasn’t red and for the briefest of moments, everything paused––there was no pain, no early morning nature sounds outside the window, just a magnitude of nothing pressing deep into my ears––I didn’t even move or exhale. I didn’t exhale because I couldn’t, not with the sudden terror and racing heart beat when I realized that the small, yellowish sack that slid out of me was the mucus plug from my uterus.

This is a letter of inevitability.

But I think this letter is also to my body, how it did what a woman’s body does, and with my uterus clamped down into contraction after contraction, I steadied myself over the toilet. I glanced with a fury toward the door, beautiful and ornate as it was but pissed off by the antique door knobs with locks that no longer functioned. I tried not to alarm my husband in that moment because this is also a letter to his childhood trauma and to his sobriety and how if he opened that fucking door I knew all of this would break him, my sweet husband.

I write this letter on behalf of myself, as the woman in the moment, trying not to scream in agony too loud, trying to control the level of terror and disconnect that was taking place in my mind, so much so that I placed both my hands over my mouth, one atop the other, only to release them to say through clenched teeth and sobs: “Don’t you open that door, Timothy! Don’t you open it!”

And him pleading from the other side, “Just tell me what to do––I don’t know––please.“

There was no such thing as time in that moment. So this is a letter to lost time––how my body got it wrong, or maybe got it right, and what I believe about it now is wrong. The physical agony suddenly stopped, but still, I didn’t exhale––because I couldn’t, that racing heartbeat came back as I peered down and saw our baby, still connected to me, swinging upside down from between my legs as I half stood, half propped myself up on the edge of our sink. So much time––lost.

Where do you send a letter like this? To god? Do I write it and then burn into the sky? Or should I consume it––like the way it keeps consuming me?

This is a letter to trauma, to my disjointed self. There is a version of me that only exists in this moment––and she never comes forward with me in time, she’s stuck back there in that bathroom with the beautiful tile. This house, in my mind, comes to me like a diorama, the roof removed and I peer in over the edge. Inside, I am a carefully felted doll––fibers poked and compressed together by pins––save for one long stray thread that’s dangling away from me, unravelling.

“Timothy, get me a plastic bag, hand it to me through the door please.”

“Should I call 911?”

“No, there’s no time. We need to drive ourselves––now.” This is a letter to my curious mind that read book after book about pregnancy risks and knew that an undetached placenta––a placenta accreta––could become a life or death situation very quickly. This is a letter to my grade school daughter, who would be driving by our house with her dad that morning, on her way to school, and did not need to see an ambulance parked out front. This is a letter to my hands and the careful way they cradled our baby like a broken bird, first in the plastic and then a bath towel, still attached to me between my legs. I tucked the baby bird infant against my pelvis and pulled my elastic pajama pants way over the top and waddled out to the car.

“Drive.”

This is a letter to the gurney that was rushed to me in a panic as I stumbled in through the emergency room doors, doubled over and mumbling, and to the nurse’s horrified face when I said “My baby fell out of me” in wretched sobs, my body folding around itself. And that diorama of my home exploding into the deepest recesses of my mind as I imagined splintered pieces of tile and wood and plaster piercing memories of birthdays and holidays past, every precious moment torn asunder.

I thought this letter might also be for the skeptical nurse who questioned the plastic bag, demanding to know what happened–––as if I had done something to our baby–––but there is no letter that comes to mind, only broken pieces of a diorama that no longer resembles a home, and I think maybe if the nurse had just taken my hand, she would have felt the little bits of plaster and tile and wood and understood why I could not fathom my husband wandering out to his car while I lay in a hospital bed and having to wipe the contents of my womb off the passenger seat of our car. Surely even she would see that this is a letter to an almost father.

Perhaps more than anything, this is a letter for my first home: my mother–––I really need my mother; all children do.

But now, this is only a letter to memory. Every now and then, I’ll lay down on that cold, porcelain tile, all of its geometry leaving mathematical indentations on my skin––my body attaching to home like we are being felted together. It’s me looking back up at me, from the bottom of the diorama––like our baby became this place, and this place forever holds me. It is a kindness I’ve imagined for myself.

This is a letter to 375 weeks, to constellations and going home.

Cammie Clark is a Creative Nonfiction student at UCLA, currently workshopping her memoir about being raised by disabled parents while living off the grid in Yosemite National Park. Clark’s work has been published online at The Rumpus, Salon, The Woolfer and Medium, as well as in print for several Bay Area newspapers. She is a professional member of PEN America and is a part of their Prison Writing Mentor Program. She lives with her husband in Half Moon Bay. To see a sampling of her published work, go to to cammieclark.contently.com.

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Although each of Jenny Offill’s books is great, this is the one we come back to, both to reread and to gift. Funny and thoughtful and true, this little gem moves through the feelings of a betrayed woman in a series of observations. The writing is beautiful, and the structure is intelligent and moving, and well worth a read.

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Fiction Fridays, Guest Posts

The Women Are Waiting

May 28, 2021
women

by Arya Samuelson

It always starts with a woman. Plunging into a clawfoot tub, burning her skin in waves. Or poised at the edge of her bed, head turned as if to pose for a portrait – only nobody else is there. What about the woman gazing at the rice fields, straw brim hat shielding her eyes from the feverish sun? She is not of this place and that’s why she has come. Because she feels freest in places where she has no history. (No history except colonialism, whispers a voice inside, which she swats away like the mosquitoes that form a curtain along the river.) A woman living inside a girl, furious and desperate because she can’t tie her shoes; the knot is slipping and she’s screaming inside, surrounded by a hovering crowd of her brother’s friends.

These women are waiting. Their story awaits. Hearts beat wildly, skin pulsing with the desire to be carried away on the boat of narrative that will give their lives, their pain, a purpose. The boats with engraved names like Plot or Character Development or Foil. Many will wait for a yacht to dock and hope for a big pay-off, others prefer a fishing boat (an ensemble drama,) while some settle for a sailboat: a self-published journey. It’s only the bravest and most foolish who dream of Transformation, the solitary ship that travails the rockiest, most violent waters. Capsizing is the deal you must strike. Body buckled beneath the current, black seaweed twisting your ankles. Heartbursting, striving for surface and a life beyond it. Survival is not a guarantee. Better to board the cruise boat that sails alongside and raise a cocktail glass to those morons. Sure, you only exist in glimpses – everyone’s attention fixed on Transformation, betting on the odds as if this were a horse race – but at least you’ll get to have some fun.

How to obtain passage on such a ship? Theories abound. Some say you need to cause a scene, shriek in the captain’s ear, and if it comes to this, grip your hands around his neck. Others whisper about underground bidding wars, where tickets are auctioned in exchange for unspeakable deeds. But another way is to climb inside an image – a woman plucking flowers, or lighting a house on fire, or climbing inside a bathtub and sing the words that resound at the core of your pelvis. Just stay there, resting inside the frame or moving your limbs when the impulse strikes, entirely and completely yourself, until someone walks by with a thousand questions. A passer-by so moved with wonder they’ll invite you onto their ship. Though you must wait for the right person, someone who won’t treat you like a circus monkey or glaze over your words. Wait for the person who will instead feed you fresh bread and crisp apples, who leaves a bowl of silence after each question, waiting to be filled with your voice.

Arya Samuelson is a writer currently based in Northampton, MA. She was awarded CutBank’s 2019 Montana Prize in Non-Fiction, which was judged by Cheryl Strayed. Her work has also been published in New Delta Review, Entropy, and The Millions. Arya is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program at Mills College and is currently working on her first novel. She is proud to be part of Lidia Yuknavitch’s Corporeal coven of writers.

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Megan Galbraith is a writer we keep our eye on, in part because she does amazing work with found objects, and in part because she is fearless in her writing. Her debut memoir-in-essays, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book , is everything we hoped from this creative artist. Born in a charity hospital in Hell’s Kitchen four years before Governor Rockefeller legalized abortion in New York. Galbraith’s birth mother was sent away to The Guild of the Infant Saviour––a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Manhattan––to give birth in secret. On the eve of becoming a mother herself, Galbraith began a search for the truth about her past, which led to a realization of her two identities and three mothers.

This is a remarkable book. The writing is steller, the visual art is effective, and the story itself is important.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon and let us know what you think!

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, writing

Becoming A Brave Artist

September 29, 2020
book

By Chelsey Drysdale

I read his memoir in two sittings, watched his prerecorded online class, took a cozy afternoon workshop he led, and savored a rainy-day lunch across from him, surrounded by mutual writer buddies. To close friends, he was my “literary crush.” Single for eight years, loneliness my unflinching shadow, at 43 I believed the swift jolt of infatuation was resigned to memories. I basked in this fresh fascination because it reminded me someone new could still light me up.

When I handed him his book to inscribe for my mom on his book tour, he buried his face in the title page with a sharpie.

What the hell is he writing to my mom? I thought.

“When are we going to do this again?” he asked.

Any time you want.

He said he and his wife had a guest room in their house if my friend and I ever wanted to visit.

That’s a wonderful and terrible idea, I thought.

At home, I opened the book and saw these words: “Donna: I have a secret literary crush on your daughter. Don’t tell her!

***

I’d experienced chromosome-altering heartbreak, a sham six-month marriage, a gut-wrenching broken engagement, ill-timed encounters, and problematic flings. Scared of more loss, my subconscious demographic of choice is a man like him: a smart, creative father with a stellar sense of humor, tall, with dark hair, muscular but lean—and taken. Inaccessible men are the tantalizing cheese wedge poised on a trap. I wanted to know him, even if I couldn’t have him.

***

When I read the author’s inscription, my inner, dormant teenager emerged, ready to flourish on false potential. I danced around my studio, swinging my hips, snapping my fingers, singing a wordless, made-up tune.

I still got it, I thought.

I broke the words into meaningful segments, scavenging for crumbs on a trail to nowhere, nibbling tiny bites, wishing they’d provide nourishment. The word “secret” gave me chills; the word “literary” suggested he was a fan of my work; the word “crush” implied he felt a stirring in his belly when he saw me too; “don’t tell her” was wily because the message was for me.

I showed the dedication to a handful of girlfriends.

“Oh no he didn’t! Oh boy! Buckle up!” a fellow career single woman texted back.

“Oh, that’s adorable,” another friend said, having been a mistress.

“Dangerous,” my sister said, having been a wife.

His note propelled bawdy, unfulfilled fantasies for weeks—the perfect sidetrack to block any real chance for intimacy elsewhere.

***

While his memoir was a mesmerizing concerto, the author’s latest novel was wildly inventive. I read it inside three days, then devoured his other four with the same intensity. I starred words about the inevitability of isolation and relinquishing expectations about what life should be. I sat slumped on the hardwood floor sobbing for a boy ignored by his mother. I underlined phrases about truth and love at all costs. I shared my desolate bed with his tomes in an intimate act with no adverse consequences.

This is the kind of writer I want to be, I thought.

In recent years I’d been plowing through unending trepidation in a flurry, writing like a madwoman, angst cresting on publication days alongside rare pleasure. Before, I’d been consumed with an innate lack of conviction and debilitating fear of failure—the same lifelong anxiety that had led to unsolicited singledom and childlessness too.

After whittling an essay collection for three years, I was mystified by the ending. How was I supposed to finish a book about romantic love when I’d never retained it?

***

Motivated in part by increasing amorous reveries, the tug of creative kismet propelled me to email him.

“I’d be stoked to help you finish your essay collection,” he wrote. “Plus, I really dig that piece you published in WaPo. Double-plus, you have cool hair.”

“You had me at ‘you have cool hair,’” I replied.

We moved a racy tale from page 76 to page one, and we were off on a fruitful journey. Bonus: His editorial notes were delivered via video chat. On days we connected online, I awoke with childhood Christmas morning enthusiasm, ready to unwrap hidden treasures. I took extra time fixing my hair and makeup and made sure I didn’t wear the same shirt twice. I treated our cyber encounters like scholarly dates in an otherwise solitary existence.

During our meetings, I gazed at him on my laptop screen, admiring his handsome face and calming voice, relishing in his golden counsel. He read his favorite words of mine back to me in a measured tone that suggested they mean something. He said I wasn’t afraid to be “brazen.” He told me to “play up moral ambiguities” and be “fucking serrated.” My jaw dropped with recognition when he called three important men in my life a “triptych of superimposed happiness.” When I turned in a revision of chapter six, he said, “This is what Chelsey’s capable of. Every scene is dialed in.”

I floated two inches off the ground.

In eight weeks, we covered eight chapters. In the process, he became privy to private details and facilitated my emotional voyage on the page. All the while, my feelings for him grew stronger.

Is this like falling for your therapist? I wondered.

I addressed emails to the Book Whisperer, Fairy Godmentor, and Unicorn. Despite my fawning, he remained a professional, nonjudgmental friend. His book inscription proved to be an innocuous gesture. As a result, I adored him more.

Before our time was up, we mapped the rest of my manuscript, now a memoir.

I got choked up during our last online exchange.

“You don’t know how much this means to me,” I said.

“Are you going to make me cry on a Monday morning?”

“You’re a really special person.”

“We’re kindred spirits,” he said.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” I replied.

The absurdity is not lost on me the unattainable editor I chose to guide the unpacking of my love life is someone I wished, in an imaginary world of impeccable timing, played a starring role in it.

***

In the coming months, our contact was relegated to Instagram likes, retweets, and the occasional email. I felt special when he wrote, “Wanna hear a secret?” and told me about a book deal he wouldn’t announce for another four months.

When I was in San Francisco, he commented on an Instagram photo, “Maybe we can see each other this weekend!”

When we realized I was flying out as he was flying in, he emailed, “We’re like ships in the night.”

Months later, I finally hit him up for the coffee get-together he’d promised more than once. He suggested walking around the lake by his house. We hadn’t seen each other in person since the Festival of Books before our video chats. There we’d walked side-by-side to his signing booth, our arms draped across each other’s lower backs. I felt unanticipated electricity shoot through my hands.

Even so, I sensed a demarcation that protected the commitment he had for his precious family unit. I respected it. Yet, driven by curiosity and what I considered an extraordinary connection, I tested it anyway.

At the lake, alone for the first time, he gave me a stiff side-hug. Then we strolled the circular three miles slowly, discussing his recent career feats and the material I added to my manuscript post-mentorship. I told him an acquaintance’s recent seedy encounter I thought might work in his fiction. We laughed and locked eyes when he cracked a dirty joke.

At an opportune moment, I broached the topic I’d been stewing about for months: this essay. He hadn’t read it yet, but knew it existed. He’d emailed, “I utterly trust your talent and conscience. We are pals, and don’t worry…”

I didn’t think it was possible to feel this way about someone again, I told him at the lake.

“Then I met you,” I said.

He was quiet, staring at the ground as we walked.

“Meeting you gave me hope it’s still possible to meet someone else,” I said. “I realized I’m not dead inside after all.”

He laughed. “I’m glad I make you feel not dead inside!”

He asked if he could read the essay.

“Of course!” I said. “I want your approval. I’m terrified.”

He stopped to use a nearby restroom. Then I changed the subject.

After we finished circumnavigating the lake, I asked, “Do you have time for lunch?”

A knot formed in my throat, a familiar feeling of short-lived excitement giving way to unrelenting seclusion.

He declined and hugged me goodbye. When he pulled away, my hands slid down the arms of his black leather jacket, a natural motion meant to lead to the intertwining of fingers. He tensed. I froze and awkwardly gripped his forearms instead. Then he left.

When I think about men from my past, I envision a man-shaped cartoon-cutout in a brick wall where they’ve each leapt to a hasty escape, as if my gift is making men disappear, when really my brand of magic is orchestrating ludicrous, unworkable scenarios to set myself up to be snubbed as a way to reinforce the false notion I’ve long suspected: I’m not lovable.

This felt like that.

Back at my computer, I sent the author an earlier version of this piece. He’d made me feel safe. After I hit send, I no longer did. Now I risked feeling rejected as a person and a writer. I lost sleep.

***

After our last video chat, I stared at a blinking cursor, with six more chapters to rewrite. I panicked.

I can’t finish this book without him, I thought.

But I forced myself to trudge forward. I wrote as if he would still read what came out of me, his closing remarks echoing in my head: “I’ll be in the front row when you publish this book. Keep going keep going keep going…”

I began to trust my instincts as I tried to make sense of my past. Glimpsing my empty studio apartment, absent of all the men I’ve worshipped, I finally understood what it meant to be my own advocate. Succinct sentences were tiny miracles. Exploring secret scenes was freeing. The author no longer needed to commend my creation for me to see it was working. For the next two months, I wrote with an uncharacteristic determination and finished my manuscript.

But intrepid writers stumble eventually. A year later, when all publishing progress had stalled, and the author had read this essay without comment, whatever creative energy I’d tapped into ceased. I couldn’t write, and I began to question whether publishing my memoir was worth the agony of upsetting its unsuspecting participants.

I’ve dedicated much of my adult life to seeking validation through the sultry eyes of lovers gazing back at me. When I write, I substantiate myself instead. While the soft glow from my computer screen is no substitute for eye-to-eye moments shared with another human being, a self-directed liaison with words incites a confidence I’d only expected to have as a result of being one half of a duo. Conversely, when I don’t write, my self-esteem plummets, and my monkey brain goes into overdrive: You’re not good enough. You’re alone because no one loves you. Give up.

After months of immobility, I heeded the author’s earlier advice to finish this essay: “Get out of your own way. There’s no reason not to write more.”

***

I rebroke my heart to have an unforeseen love affair, not with a man, but with my manuscript. Publishing my memoir has to be worth it. Self-sabotage is a death knell, and writing is the road to contentment over which I have control. I can’t send a shout-out to my nonexistent husband for his undying support. I am unable to thank my unborn children for showing me the true nature of devotion. I can, however, render self-awareness my superhero trait. I will never be a mother, and I may never be a wife again, but I have become a brave artist.

If I ever fall in love again with an unattached man, I’m sure it will be a direct result of living an authentic authorial life, building my self-worth without another person’s adoration. Even on the bleakest days, as I work toward publication, I return to the same thought: Someday I will create the life I’ve always wanted, and I will deserve it.

Chelsey Drysdale’s essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Manifest-Station, Bustle, Brevity, Ravishly, Green Briar Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Reservoir Journal, Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers, and other international publications. She is a Best of the Net Anthology nominee and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option.

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Upcoming events with Jen

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THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Guest Posts

Woman Reading Newspapear

December 22, 2019
gallery

By Judyth Sinclair

A middle-aged woman stood just inside the entrance door, tired and seemingly waiting for someone. I often looked over at her and wondered why she kept patiently standing there and why she was watching me each time I looked at her. She wore wrinkled khaki slacks and a colorful tee-shirt, had a burlap tote bag on the floor by her feet, and one hand rested on a bright beach type of umbrella. It makes me uncomfortable to say that it took me most of a day, passing her several times, to realize that she was a sculpture.

I discovered Duane Hanson that day at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut. It turns out he was a Minnesota-born artist who became a sculptor. He invented some materials and combined others so that his full-size “people” would look as real as possible. His technique used fiberglass and paint to show veins, freckles, wrinkles, sallow skin and all the other visible things that make real people less doll-smooth than we might like ourselves to be.

Hanson’s proprietary materials and skill succeed in avoiding the waxysmooth look that celebrity museum inhabitants often display, perhaps helped in part by his subjects. Unlike wax museums displaying actors and royalty, Hanson’s are slightly plain and “ordinary” people we see paused in their days. For example, he has a court reporter waiting on a bench, a lying-down couch potato, a head-phonelistening teenager, a cheerleader in full regalia, a surfer, a repairmen in a one-piece uniform, an exhausted political protester, and an old man relaxing and maybe napping, among others. And you expect them to start talking with you.

In the late 1990s, I took a group to see a Whitney Museum exhibition of Hanson’s work and they were delighted. The teenagers loved that the table and food in front of “Woman Eating at a Diner Table” looked like their own favorites. And they liked “The Sunbather” reclining in a black almost-too-small bikini on a white plastic chair with a huge colorful beach towel under her seemingly sweaty back.

Their enjoyment was overshadowed, however, by my mother’s. She murmured something along the lines of how well she’d fit into Hanson’s crowd. Indeed, true to her often dowdy appearance, that day she wore a baggy long wool black coat over polyester pull-on lime green slacks and she’d shoved a newspaper into her brown fake leather handbag along with her reading glasses and a small loose-leaf notebook. Her too-large shoes flopped as she walked. Her hair was mousy brown and straight, unstyled. Her red fingernail polish was chipped on several fingers. She did fit right in, the main difference being that she was covered in epidermis instead of fiberglass.

I had been wandering through other gallery rooms and went to join my mother only to see that she had claimed a spot on the floor near a corner. She’d seated herself, let her coat fall off her shoulders, plopped her handbag on the floor beside her, and arranged the newspaper in front of her as if she were reading. Within minutes, people walking by exclaimed things like, “this one is quite realistic, too!!”

The rest of our group came to find us, saw my mother on the floor, and started to squeal but I gestured to them to be quiet and join me on the gallery bench. We sat for nearly an hour, enjoying passers-by appreciating our very own performance artist. The gallery guard was apparently in on the illusion, directing people toward that corner and smiling at their reactions.

I wasn’t sure how long I would wait or what I was waiting for until a woman stopped in front of “Woman Reading Newspaper” and paced back and forth in front of her, frowning. Her friend asked what she was thinking. She said, “I’m not sure what it is but so many of the pieces are amazing. This one just doesn’t seem as realistically well done.”

My mother raised her head. People in the room gasped and one or two put their hands to their mouths. My mother stood up, gathered her handbag and newspaper, shrugged on her coat, nodded to the guard, and glanced at the spectator who thought her unrealistic. She walked over and greeted me and the kids on the bench.  “I fit right in,” she said.  “What are they all yammering about?”

 

Judyth Sinclair wrote her first book when she was a preteen at camp in New Hampshire. It was about a girl who loves horseback riding (at least partly to spend time with the handsome riding teacher), sleeping outdoors and watching the moon and stars, playing croquet, and swimming, while dealing with being both African-American and an orphan. Had to have a zinger and a twist, y’know? In the years since, she’s studied and written poetry and fiction, presented a paper at a Danforth Foundation seminar, had a story published about a girl and a giraffe, and tried to hold onto imagination and insanity while (sometimes) keeping one foot in practical life.

Judyth grew up in Greenwich Village, that hotbed of creativity and eccentricity, majored in philosophy t college, got married, moved to the exurbs, set up a library in a small grammar school, worked for a non-profit, and now at a great law firm. She loves to write, knit, sew, read (especially while eating out), go to the theater, watch movies, and – most of all – have long long long conversations. And, as they say in Playbill bios, she is very thankful for her family and friends.

 

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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, writing

Butterfly of the Moment

March 22, 2017
writer

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

After graduate school I drifted into a glamour job as a publicist for a well-known book publisher, where they paid me a pittance to write press releases and book jacket copy. It was fun for a while, until I went to my high school reunion and someone said, “I thought by now I’d be reading about you in the New York Times Book Review.”

“No,” I said, cringing. “I’m the publicist who makes sure other writers books get reviewed there.” I’d been editor in chief of our school yearbook; my poetry had been published in the school literary journal. My classmates remembered me as a writer; I was the one who’d forgotten.

So I signed up for a fiction writing class at the New School in Manhattan with an instructor who’d once written for the New Yorker. I’d never written short stories before. I turned one in; the next week, he returned it with a note: “I have several strong feelings concerning the story’s marketability. Rather than go into them here I ask that you telephone me so that we may discuss those possibilities.”

He wanted my permission to give the story to his agent, Candida Donadio, a name I knew from my work in book publishing. She was legendary, a hard drinking, potty-mouthed, tough old broad who’d been the agent of her generation, representing Thomas Pynchon, Mario Puzo and Phillip Roth. I felt like a fraud. I’d written exactly one short story. But I told the instructor yes.

A week later Candida sold the story to Cosmopolitan magazine for the dazzling sum of $1500. She invited me to a celebratory lunch at the Russian Tea Room. I’d pictured her as a cultured, elegantly dressed older woman; the maitre d’ showed me to a table where a short, heavy-set woman with hair coiled in an unfashionable bun atop her head sat chain smoking.

“Why you’re just a baby,” she rasped. We shook hands. I could barely breathe, let alone eat. I was kneeling at the altar of literature. All through lunch she fed me publishing tidbits. The first book she’d ever sold, she said, had been a novel by Joseph Heller called Catch-18. They changed it because Leon Uris was already publishing a book called Mila-18. “He switched it to ‘Catch-22 because Oct. 22nd is my birthday,” Candida said.

What was I doing there? I was an imposter. This was a fluke. Should I come clean? “You know,” I ventured, “I don’t have a body of work to show you yet. This is my first story.”

She cackled. “You’re full of shit,” she said. A month later she sold my second story to Cosmopolitan.

It’s not supposed to be this easy, I thought. And of course it wasn’t. Over the next few years I wrote several more stories, amassing a collection of encouraging rejection letters from the New Yorker and the Atlantic. Each Christmas I sent a gift box of fruit and cookies to Candida’s office. “You’re a honey for thinking of me, and I send you in return good wishes for the New Year in which I hope to see a novel by L.C.,” she wrote.

I produced that novel. Candida hated it. She returned the manuscript to me with a note so crushingly painful it still makes me shudder. It ended, “I regret so much. And after all the years of pears and cookies. Lordy!!”

Eventually I scraped myself off the floor.

Even if I wasn’t a novelist, even if the most high-powered literary agent on the planet told me I was full of shit, I was still a writer. Isn’t a painter still an artist even when no one buys his canvases?

“It is necessary to write,” Vita Sackville-West said, “if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.”

I still fill the days with words, because I cannot imagine doing anything else. Writing calls me home — to myself.
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Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of the memoir, Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers.) Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Brain, Child, Brevity, Literary Mama, and The Manifest-Station. For more information, visit her website at https://www.lianekupferbergcarter.com/, follow her on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/LianeKupferbergCarter/ and Twitter at @Lianecarter.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Guest Posts, The Body, Women

My Body, My Country

December 16, 2016
country

By Deborah Kampmeier

1.
My body is in a rage, a fury, a storm of hate. So fucking sick of all this talk about uniting our country, about having compassion for Trump supporters. I don’t want to find common ground. I don’t want to build fucking bridges.  That’s like saying I have to marry my rapist and carry his fucking child to term.  I don’t care to live with my rapist.  I don’t care to ever see him again.  I do not want to open my door and invite my rapist to sit at my table or shove his cock back in my mouth or cunt or ass. No, I am not building fucking bridges.  Yes, build a fucking wall, but not between Mexico and me.  Between me and you mother fucking racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynistic rapists, and the rest of you who condone them.  Stay out of my home.  I have no interest in sharing a country with you. Continue Reading…

courage, Fear, Guest Posts

If No One Would See

November 15, 2016
fat

By Christine Brown

The idea of writing about what I would write about if I knew no one would see it is interesting to me. I always think about things that I might like to write about but am too afraid to because of who might see or read it.

If I knew that no one would read it, I would write about depression and what it feels like to live in a constant state of depression when nearly all of your family is telling you that you can’t be depressed. Because God. That you just have to look at things differently and stop being sad. That it’s a choice and all you have to do is choose to be happy and that will make everything better. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Women, writing

The Bits That Matter

September 12, 2016
funny

By Pauline Campos

I used to watch comedians like John Leguizamo and George Lopez in complete awe. While everyone else was laughing at the punchline, I was sitting there wondering what kind of hell had to be paid for penance back home for that last laugh in public. Either their families were just really understanding, lived under giant rocks, or somehow, these performers had learned how to honestly not give a fuck when it came to familial judgement. Forget Supermann. To me, the people who could write the words that needed to be written to share their truths in such a way that could draw in an audience of strangers and bring everyone together with laughter? These were the people I wanted to be.

Then I grew up and started writing seriously. I was self-editing myself too often, at first, and hating it. I wasn’t trying to make anyone look bad, mind you…just share my own truth and experiences. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it isn’t. And it drove me crazy to keep taking out the good bits that I knew needed to stay in. These were the parts that brought it all together; the bits of my own story that my readers would be able to relate to. On the blog, it eventually became easy to just say FUCK IT and hit publish…no one reads I’m related to reads here, usually. Most times, if I have written something in which someone can identify themselves, named or not, I clear it with them first. Then I had to learn to pretend I had temporary amnesia every time I wrote a new advice column for Latina Magazine because relating with your reader about that time we were both The Other Woman tends to make for some awkward Sunday dinners with the Tias. Continue Reading…

Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Book Review: Asana of Malevolence

September 6, 2016
asana

By Kelly J. Riibe

The dark back-stories for the players in Kate Abbott’s thriller, Asana of Malevolence, could all have their own novellas. Each character has a crippling past that continues to haunt them as they try to move forward in life in order to find forgiveness for themselves and the others who have hurt them.

This is Abbott’s second novel, and as an instructor of yoga she introduces and writes about the discipline in a way that makes it almost a character in itself. Through yoga, Sharon, Amy, Evan, and Sean were able to find peace from different traumas and begin a road to recovery. For them the retreat to “The Garden” was meant to be a celebratory excursion in which they could grow in their yoga spirit and find a calming reassurance to life’s dark side. However, upon arrival they soon realize the retreat is being led by a manic leader with cult-like intentions.

Phoebe and Moses are hikers on a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail when they encounter Sharon, Amy, Evan, and Sean trying to escape. Phoebe and Moses understand the feeling of loss, and immediately want to help these damaged souls who are fighting their past guilt, while simultaneously trying to come to terms with the hijacking of what was supposed to be a peaceful yoga retreat. It is heartbreaking to read that yoga aided each of these characters in processing their past grief and sadness, but then ultimately led them to a destination that offered only torture and fear.

The retreat leader, Larry, is a power obsessed man with an evil past. He will stop at nothing to control others. He feeds on weakness and vulnerability, which makes all those within Abbott’s story targets for his wicked plans. Larry’s relentless pursuit to make others serve him casts a long dark shadow over “The Garden” and the spirit of yoga.

“The Garden” is a rich backdrop to the story’s plot and Abbott describes it beautifully. The solitude of the area and the long distance of trails and wooded paths, cause the main characters to participate in an involuntary game of hide and seek with deadly consequences for being found. The characters must make tough decisions in their attempts to escape the reach of evil that is extending from what was once a calm and serene place. Very few locals live near the “The Garden”, but those who do prove to be worthy allies.

Unbreakable bonds of friendship are formed quickly in Asana of Malevolence, especially as the characters face acts of violence. The need to escape is urgent from the very start of the book. However, the ability to trust others is tough for many in this story due to their history of struggles and heartache. The characters grapple with seeking help that could ultimately put innocents in danger’s way. Throughout every chapter, a person is being tested, while having very few options in terms of survival.

Inner strength, and a little help from the paranormal, guide all of the characters in this page-turning read. Their quest to flee Larry’s control and also escape their own demons will keep readers engaged until the end.

****

Excerpt from Asana of Malevolence:

Sean had a rumbling in his left ear.  He could feel the ground beneath him and the sun beating down on him.  He tried to open his eyes but the light was blinding.  He wasn’t in any pain.  The last thing he could recall was someone injecting something into his foot.  But he didn’t feel high, or like he was coming down from something.  Maybe he was actually dead and the blinding light was heaven.   But he didn’t believe in God.  Something soft brushed against the left side of his face.  He reached up and something bit his hand ever so gently.

He forced himself to open his left eye.  It wasn’t quite as bright now because something was blocking his vision.   He heard an unmistakable meow and closed his eyes as tightly as he could.  Definitely dead.  That corny Rainbow Bridge poem had turned out to be true.  How else could Titus be there?   Reluctantly he opened both eyes this time.  Titus was still there, staring him in the face and purring.  Sean pulled himself up into a seated position and the cat hopped onto his lap.  He petted him and examined him closely.  White-tip on the tail, one paw missing a toe and that terrible Titus breath.

Sean looked around him.  Somehow, heaven was a dirt road in front of a double wide trailer.  Funny version of Saint Peter’s gate, but who knew?  The double wide appeared abandoned but suddenly the door popped open and an enormous woman with waist length grey hair stepped out, the little porch sagging under her weight.

“Are you God?” Sean asked.

For some reason, God found this extremely amusing.  She threw her head back and laughed uproariously, exposing remarkably white teeth.

“Oh, no, Sugah,” she gasped as she tried to stop laughing.  “Farthest thing from God is old me here.”   Another peal of laughter.

She stepped down onto the ground and waddled over to Sean.

She peered at him closely.  Sean wondered if she needed glasses.

“Mah name is Prudence.  Whatcha got there?  A cat?  Cute looking thang but they makes me sneeze.”  Prudence immediately sneezed twice as if to make a point.

“This is Titus.”  He pointed at the cat.  The entire conversation seemed absurd to him but he kept going.  “And I’m Sean.”

“Nice ta meetcha,” Prudence said, extending her hand and hauling Sean to his feet with surprising strength.

Prudence looked him up and down.

“What happened to your other shoe?  You only wearin one.”

He could only shrug.  He was dead, after all.  Why would he need shoes?  Titus jumped off his lap and darted up the road and into the bushes.  The cat emerged shortly with Sean’s other Nike.

“Well don’t that jest beat all?”  Prudence chortled.  “He a smart one.”

Her face turned serious as she asked him what he had done to piss off that no account who dumped him in front of her house.   Prudence had heard the car but hadn’t ventured outside because she thought it might have been the owner of the double wide, come back to kick her out again.   When she finally peered out the window, Sean was on the ground and a silver car was disappearing in a cloud of dust.

“I though you was dead,” Prudence concluded.  “You wasn’t movin, hardly even breathin.”

“You mean I am not dead?”

“No, Sugah, you right here wit me.  Live as can be.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be dead.  That guy, he shot me up with something that should have killed me.  I’m an addict.”

“Maybe that jest give you more tolerance.  You bring dat cat wit you?”

“No.”  He opened his mouth to explain that the cat had been his some years ago and was probably dead but he realized that information would only add to the confusion.  Instead, he asked how far they were from Charlotte.

“Oh, fity, hunnerd miles or so, I expect.”

“Is there a bus, or a train station around here?  I need to get back there.”   He patted his pockets.  For some reason, Chad had not taken his wallet or ID.  Maybe he wanted Sean identified.  He felt a sudden stab of worry for Mary Alice.  He hoped Betty had gone to find Mary Alice when Sean hadn’t shown up at the agent’s office.

“My nephew, he live up the road aways, past where the blacktop start.  He might could give you a ride.”

“That would be great.”   Sean reached down to put his shoe on and felt a wave of lightheadedness so strong that he had to sit down quickly.

“You ok?   Maybe you needs something to drink or your sugar low.  Dat happen to me a lot.”

Prudence lumbered up the steps of the trailer and came back with a carton of orange juice and a box of powdered donuts.  Sean gulped and chewed and he did feel better, although he was sure he would be crashing in thirty minutes.

“So, how far up to your nephew’s place?” he asked at last.

“Oh it fur nuff.  I ride you up dere.”

She disappeared around the side of the trailer and then he heard the sputter of an engine.   She reappeared around the side of the trailer riding an ancient motorcycle with a side car.

“Now make sure you brings dat cat wid you.  I don’t need anyone else beggin me for food at my door.”

Sean eyed his chauffer.  She appeared remarkably comfortable.  Sean got into the sidecar and Titus hopped up beside him.    Prudence tore down the dirt road, rattling Sean’s teeth.  The engine belched exhaust but it ran fine.   About fifteen minutes later, the dirt turned to blacktop and there were houses visible.    Prudence turned into the driveway of a small white ranch.  The door to the house opened and two kids ran out.

***

Asana of Malevolence is available now through the publisher at: https://mascotbooks.com/mascot-marketplace/buy-books/fiction/asana-of-malevolence/ and on Amazon here.

Kelly J. Riibe is a freelance writer, blogger, and full-time mother to three kids. She has been published in Nebraska Magazine, Heels on a Farm, MockMom, and is the co-writer for the blog:www.familyfootnote.com.

Kate Abbott is a mother, runner, yoga instructor and recovering attorney who delights in writing from the dark and bright sides of the heart. Her first novel is Running Through the Wormhole. Asana of Malevolence is her second novel. Her writing has appeared in Mamalode and Sammiches and Psych Meds.
Email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book this online experience.

Email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book this online experience.

 

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Guest Posts, storytelling, Women are Enough

Women Are Enough: Sami Jankins Interviews Emily Rapp Black

May 9, 2016
writing

By Sami Jankins with Emily Rapp Black

In life I’ve been fortunate to have extraordinary mentors. Mentors who have encouraged me to see my dreams as things that can be realized if I work hard enough. They have all been fantastic role models, however, they have always been men. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on my part, but all of the fields I have delved into have always had a strong male presence. What I have always wanted was to be a part of some glorious lady squad, and not to sometimes be the only woman in the room. In graduate school this would all change.

Once I received acceptance into the University of California-Riverside at Palm Desert’s low residency MFA program, I may have mentally willed Emily Rapp Black to be my professor. We happen to have strange life similarities. Besides both being gingers, we also both have a disability and have been posterchildren because of our disabilities. I knew that she would understand the kind of essays I wanted to write because she had probably been in similar life scenarios, ones that many others wouldn’t possibly understand. I immediately read through both of her memoirs – Poster Child and The Still Point of the Turning World. Even when I was in the emergency room with a severe migraine, I switched the book to audiobook as I had to keep listening about how fiercely she worked towards providing Ronan, her son who passed away from Tay-Sachs, with a beautiful life. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Five Things I Remember About Being Raped

March 6, 2016
rape

Trigger warning: This essay discusses rape.

By Marianne M. Porter

Memory #1: The Sound

At 1:15 in the morning, on a bitter cold February night, the sound of clunky boots pounding on the wooden steps that led to my door woke me from a peaceful sleep. Then I heard frantic knocking. Prior to the banging, I thought it may have been the guy I was dating, a casual relationship over the past month. I opened the door, but it was someone else, someone I had knows for about half a year, but I trusted him. He must have needed help.

I didn’t think about the possibility that soon I would need help. This guy and I hung out with mutual friends. He helped me find my studio apartment above his friend’s garage six months earlier. He was married, soon to be divorced. I could see he was drunk when he stepped into my room. He sat next to me on my makeshift couch, lowered his head and cried. He wanted to talk, said he felt lonely, said he missed his wife.

We talked for a few minutes about his impending divorce and as I consoled him with positive talk about his future, I wondered simultaneously how I would get him out of my place. My apartment was isolated from the house it was attached to, a lone room above a garage. In fact the downstairs homeowners were both alcoholics and one of them was on oxygen, a few months away from death. He was the kind of man who cheated on his wife with young girls while she was at work. I caught him once when I made a surprise visit to my place in the middle of the day. A girl with long blonde hair hurried out his front door to her car in the driveway, laughing and giggling at the man in the window. My landlord waved at me, oxygen prongs stuck in his nostrils, finger raised to his lips to indicate this was a secret between him and me. Continue Reading…