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Family, Guest Posts

My Disapproving Mother Unwittingly Fuels My Creative Expression

September 8, 2020
expression

 By Lisa Mae DeMasi

The room began to close in. The air got thick…dense. Tension seeped into my pores. I grew smaller in stature—shrunk right there in my chair before her, as if I was Alice and had just choked down a little red pill.

The topic is forthcoming, typical of family gatherings, a line of discussion of an inquisitive nature. It is terribly humiliating this line, disintegrating the little validation I feel about myself, and certainly paving the way to pulverizing any validation I someday hope to feel.

She is triumphantly sitting across from me in my brother’s parlor, her hands folded over her swollen belly on this Christmas Day.

My hands are not folded over my own swollen belly, but my ever-shrinking Alice fingers are fumbling about, trying to maintain a grip on my ever-growing glass of sherry. I wallow in thought.

It’s a terrible thing to be shrinking, I muse.

I try to convey to her, with an expression of pity, that I’d like her to cut this sort of thing out: Hand me the blue pill! Return my body back to its normal inadequacy!

She picks up on my expression, but it doesn’t stop her. Her eyes, piercingly blue, bore into my forehead, mining my mind for the reasoning that prolongs the ongoing predicament. It is the matter that seemingly sears her brain daily, upon waking.

Words penetrate the thickness.

They loom before me, big and fat and dripping with turkey gravy. She says, “Are you ready to get back into the circle of life yet?”

Here we go.

I resist rolling my eyes, suck in my breath, and feel the pressure against my insides. Time slows to a crawl.

My lungs deflate, a slow leak like a bum tire. I maintain my front, an uneasy smile, thinking I have never departed from the circle of life!

I am here, albeit dwindling to mere molecules in my chair—she, mother; me, daughter—amid a festive family holiday. In my book, that constitutes part of the arc in said circle.

A voice in my mind, sounding as if it’s just taken a hit from a helium-filled balloon, squeals at me: That’s not what she means.

I laugh to myself, entertained: “Girl interrupted.” Say something else…

She’s not referring to procreating or dying or even “eat or be eaten.” She means circulation as in, “Are you ready to get back into circulation yet?”

Oh yeah. “Girl reactivated.”

The topic is the one that translates to me getting a paying job, rather than continuing to “run away from reality,” with my so-called “writing interests.”

I suppose, from her perspective, four years is a long time for her daughter “to run away from reality.” It is a novel pursuit, which thus far has yielded fruit the size of a water meal. However, in these four years she has failed to realize that I’ve poured my heart, soul and angst into this self-proposed commitment. Accordingly, I’ve also sought out Reiki to induce some self-love, since I am—especially when engaged in writing—constantly and colorfully harassed and torn to shreds by my inner critic.

Needless to say, my mother is my outer critic.

In the peace of the lovely colonial room, Dennis sits in a chair to my left, and my father sits beside my mother. My brother is off in the kitchen, cutting cheese.

The question, relating to the humiliating, fruitless topic that my mother could not resist in asking one moment longer, (particularly in light of the New Year—making resolutions, picking up the pieces and starting anew, and so forth) remains there, unaddressed. It lingers, splattering the coffee table with fowl juice, tainting the sherry and the nibbles, while extinguishing the flickering light of the assorted votive candles. This “circle of life” subject deflates the holiday mood; all falls flat.

I gaze back at her, with a hint of incredulousness in my expression saying: Why can’t you support my endeavor? Why can’t you just be a nice mother?

She, of course, does not pick up on this. She has never picked up on it, despite the countless amounts of times I’ve attempted to impress my feelings upon her.

Why should I expect anything different this Christmas Day?

Although he’s sitting beside me, I don’t defer to Dennis for his unwavering sympathy, support or opinion. I keep this subject between my mother and I, leaving open the possibility and space for us to “hash it out,” so-to-speak.

The “hashing it out” (a confrontation of sorts) does not happen. As usual, any real invitation to speak candidly, openly… ends up shunned upon.

There’s no avoiding her intention. She moves the subject right along and puts the question in a more specific form, saying: “What kind of job will you look for?”

My expression sours.

The refrain in which Elton John sings “in the cir-cle, the cir-cle of life” begins to repeat in my head.

The core of me within begs to rise up and show itself—my insides, out. The scorched and glistening spongy tissue springs from my throat and slops to the floor next to the coffee table. I stare at the battered evidence, my guts, and choose to defend myself (something I haven’t dared to do since I was a teenager).

My face is deadpan, void of the four-year compounded emotion relating to my writing efforts (best described as trying to squeeze blood from a stone intermittently). I assert into the space, some distance over my scorched and glistening core—my guts—and say, “I’d like to become a successful writer.”

My mother’s expression remains unmoved, quite serious and probing.

I refrain from glancing at Dennis and keep the perimeter open and clear for fire. I hope for confrontation—for a once-in-a-lifetime candid discussion.

Dad shakes himself out of dozing at the subject matter and pushes his glasses further up on his nose. He interjects, “There are lots of teaching jobs out there. You could be a teacher. All my retired engineer friends teach—you could teach middle school or high school.”

But Dad, I don’t want to be a teacher.

Not quite to my advantage, my mother’s ears fall deaf on the suggestion, and the conversation flatlines.

I focus on the flame of a burning candle, situated in the middle of a marble-topped mahogany end table, between my father and mother. I cross my eyes silly—my forehead cramps. The funky play of light brings me into a world of my own, prompting ironic clarity.

The helium inner voice comes on the wind again—she is from a different time and a different playing field. She knows not what it means, what drives and feeds one’s magnetism for risk, leaving the known for the unknown…

The voice becomes stronger and sloughs off the high pitch. She is the catalyst to our creative expression, you see, the thing that sates us—our subversive writing.

Anew: I am rebel with a cause, confident, triumphant even, in my own right.

My scorched and glistening guts slither up the couch and climb back down my throat to their rightful place. In a trance-like state I say, “Wait till my manuscript hits the big screen.”

My parents are stunned and wide-eyed. I can just make out their expressions in my periphery.

Nothing more is said on the matter.

*This essay was published in Elephant Journal with the title She, Mother. Me, Daughter.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her @lisamaedemasiLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

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

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Converse-Station, Guest Posts

The Converse-Station: Alma Luz Villaneuva Interviews Gayle Brandeis

February 3, 2020
gayle

A note from Angela: Gayle Brandeis is a person I cherish, not only because she is an amazing and brilliant and generous human, but also because she and I share a bond I would not wish on anyone. I had the opportunity to talk with Gayle about The Art of Misdiagnosis, surviving my mother’s suicide at the Coachella Review and that important book remains on my list of books I would read again. Gayle has just released a book of poetry and Manifest-Station alum Alma Luz Villaneuva took time to speak to her about it. This is their conversation. Enjoy.

Introduction:

Alma Luz Villanueva and Gayle Brandeis first met in 1999 when Gayle entered the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Alma became her mentor, and later, when Gayle returned to Antioch as faculty, they became colleagues; through all of it, they have formed a deep, nourishing, forever friendship. When Alma’s novel  Song of The Golden Scorpion, came out in 2014, the two of them discussed it here; now they have come together here again to discuss Gayle’s new novel-in-poems, Many Restless Concerns: The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in Chorus (A Testimony), in which Gayle gives voice to the hundreds of girls and women killed by Countess Erzsébet Báthory of Hungary between 1585 and 1609. The ghosts of these girls and women speak in chorus, compelling us to bear witness to the violence enacted against them, and to share their quest for justice—not only for themselves, but for all girls and women to come. A lyrical, polyphonic protest against silence, Many Restless Concerns speaks to today’s upswell of voices claiming their own worth.

Alma Luz Villaneuva: I was very moved by your testimonies, these so alive voices, these murdered/tortured girls women, centuries later, within your book, Gayle. First of all, what inspired you to hear these voices? How did they come to you? I often receive a dream from a character, announcing their arrival. And these voices arrive four centuries later, so alive, each one. Also, how did Countess Bathory come to your attention?

Gayle Brandeis: Thank you so much! When I was pregnant with my youngest son, my daughter, who was almost 16 at the time, was fascinated by notorious women of history, and asked me to buy several books about women pirates and other outlaws. I was idly thumbing through one of these when I found a chapter about Countess Bathory, who I somehow had never heard of before. I was chilled by the fact that she had killed hundreds of girls and women–stories say up to 650–and I found myself haunted by this. Who were all these silenced girls and women? I started to dig deeper, and found there was much written about Bathory, herself, but I couldn’t find anything that put her victims at the center of the narrative. Eventually I started to be haunted by their voices, a ghostly chorus of them–they visited me in a sort of waking dream–and knew I’d have to try to capture them on the page, maybe even bring them some much belated justice in the process.

What voices have you been dreaming lately?

ALV: My current novel in progress which has become a ‘magical realism’ journey, which includes Quetzalcoatl, a Mexican deity that’s both God/Goddess, female/male- I love that. I love her/his voice, I’m listening. In our email exchange you mentioned that writing these voices, these women and girls, came to you when you were pregnant, but the violence you would have to undertake and enter was too much while pregnant. I understand completely, as a once pregnant poet/writer. Our body, mind, spirit, is tuned to creation, not torture and murder. And so, when you finally were able to write these voices what was your experience of being inside their bodies, listening to their voices. As my Yaqui Mamacita used to say to me, “Tienes coraje, niña…You have courage, child.” Tienes coraje, Gayle- these voices coming through you, their spirit bodies.

GB: I am so excited to read your book in progress! *You* have so much courage, dear Alma–you inspire me unendingly.  Thank you for all of your kind words.

And yes, I realized this was definitely not a healthy book for me to be writing while pregnant–I didn’t want the baby to absorb the agony of all the torture and murder I was reading and writing about, although sometimes I do wonder if my early foray into this book helped prepare me emotionally for my mom’s suicide one week after I gave birth. My creative energies shifted after her death–I needed to write about her, about our relationship; I needed to try to make sense of our past together and the brutal way she ended her life. The memoir that came out of this, The Art of Misdiagnosis, was the most necessary and difficult book I’d ever written, and when I was done with it, I felt so lost as a writer. I didn’t think it was possible to write anything that could ever feel as meaningful as the memoir had. Then these ghosts started to whisper to me again, so I decided to look at the early pages I had written, and got sucked right back into the project. It ultimately felt like the right book to throw myself into after my memoir–I was ready to step out of my own story into a grief bigger than my own (for somehow it felt right to continue to write about grief. And to continue to break silences. I had broken so many within me for my memoir, and this project was a chance to break historical silences).

Entering the experience of these girls and women was excruciating–it broke my heart and took my breath away again and again to not only learn what they endured, but to try to enter into their pain on the page (knowing what they endured is beyond anything I can comprehend with my own body, something I acknowledge within the book, when the ghosts tell the reader they won’t be able to comprehend the pain these girls and women experienced). These ghosts no longer have bodies, of course, but I imagined them still being able to access echoes of their physical trauma, as I write here:

“Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body
(some tender part of you still flinches)
(some immaterial nerves still flare)”

I should mention that Bathory’s story has been written about in a titillating way, and I didn’t want to do that, not in the least; I wanted to show the true human cost of the suffering she inflicted. I wanted to force us to confront the horror these girls and women faced, because I believe it’s important to look at inhumanity head on; If we don’t face it, it’s harder to stop it, to prevent it. And I want to use the book as a way to raise awareness of current horror–the devastating number of missing and murdered indigenous women–and to raise funds for organizations working to stop this present-day genocide.

ALV: I love the above quote, “Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body”…I think of the science based fact that our DNA memory/trauma is passed onto the family line, future human beings. These voices had that kind of alive echo for me; that their memories, traumas were being passed onto me, the reader, via their channel, you. Silenced no more; their spirits can now rest, move on to current lives, as in reincarnation, with joy (I hope). Writing these voices, their horrific experiences in the body, must have been a passing through the fire ritual for you as the channel, the writer. And after your mother’s suicide, the birth of your baby, the ritual of fire, that cleansing, so wise, and so hard. Yes, The Art of Misdiagnosis, your memoir, the relationship with your mother, an immense fire ritual, that cleansing.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, there’s a yearly fire ritual, Zozobra, where a huge man figure is burned, wailing all the while. People bring divorce papers, painful letters, their own letters to pain and grief, and who knows what, to add to this fire. I imagined this man figure as The Patriarchy burning to dark ashes, all the pain from that centuries old false power structure. And in the Southwest the pain of native genocide is still felt strongly, and as you write the ongoing missing, murders, rapes of indigenous women. Those thousands of silent voices, their in the body experiences. The genocidal Femicide that continues globally; the millions of girls, women, boys trafficked globally. For those who are receptive, they come to us in dreams. I just included some in my novel in progress, and have a feeling they’re not done with me. As I also believe they aren’t done with you, amiga, gracias a la Diosa…the Goddess in all her guises.

And so, with the ritual of fire, that cleansing, in mind- what gifts did you receive in return as channel, writer and woman? *Again, I love your coraje, courage…

GB: Oh, thank you so much for sharing all of this–I loved hearing about the Zozobra ritual; your imagining of burning the Patriarchy to ash really hits home. May it be so! I’ve used fire to burn things that no longer serve me (and water to do the same, the Tashlich ritual of casting bread during the Jewish High Holy Days) and it’s always such a freeing ritual. This book definitely felt like a trial by fire, and did have a cleansing effect. It showed me I am stronger than I know, that I can face the world’s pain, give voice to the world’s pain, and still find joy on this beautiful, broken Earth. It helped me expand my creative envelope, which makes me want to keep stretching it, to keep finding new ways to approach my work. I agree–these silenced voices aren’t done with me yet, and I’m eager to see where they’ll take me. I envision this book being adapted into a theater piece–I love the idea of a real chorus giving voice to these ghosts–and have a few irons in the fire toward that end. We’ll see what happens! I would love to know more about the silenced voices entering your novel (and to reading them some day!)

ALV: A theatre piece of a chorus giving voice to these Spirits, wonderful. This makes me imagine them all in red (fire) costumes, speaking, witnessing their very brief lives- mostly girls from ten to fourteen, from what I’ve read. Which makes me wonder what Countess Bathory’s voice would sound like, say. Supposedly she had epilepsy as a young girl, with blood swiped on her lips, a cure. And she witnessed cruel punishments as a girl, the royal household. It makes me wonder what her girl voice would sound like, say. However, given the acutely alive voices of her victims, their horrific experiences flesh out the Countess vividly. And so, even briefly, to see/hear her voice as a girl here, for a moment. Briefly. I love that these voices expanded your creative envelope, to find new ways to approach your writing- exciting!

As I journey with my characters, this novel in progress, we keep listening to the silenced voices, as well as to the joyful, singing voices. That balance keeps me going- this is my first all out ‘magical realism’ journey, novel, so I’m constantly surprised.

GB: Surprise is one of my very favorite parts of the writing journey–I love that your novel in progress is offering up so much surprise for you!

Your question about Countess Bathory’s girl voice is such a profound one, and one I’m not sure how to answer. I knew I had to include her in this narrative to some extent, since her actions led to the current state of these ghosts, but of course I wanted to center the narrative on the lives she impacted, the lives she ended, not her (just as some journalists are trying to do in this era of mass shootings, focusing on stories of the victims of gun violence instead of their killers, to avoid giving notoriety to perpetrators of these horrific acts.) That said, she is certainly a compelling and complicated figure, and her childhood does fascinate me. I’m not sure I can access her voice at this point, though. It reminds me of when I started writing my memoir–I was so angry at my mom, it was hard to see her with compassion (and a large part of the journey of my memoir was coming to that place of compassion.) I think I’m still too angry at Countess Bathory to be able to see her clearly, and I think that comes through when the ghosts say “The Lady knew what it was like to leave home at a young age, sent to live with the Nádasdys at twelve so she could learn the ways of the estate before her wedding two years hence.//Does that give you sympathy for her? Have it if you must, have sympathy for poor, poor, Erzsébet Báthory (who had sympathy for none but herself).” I do have some glimmerings of compassion for her, though, and when I think of her girl voice, I really only hear two words: “Help me.” No one did.

ALV: “Help me.” Bathory’s girl voice. “No one did.” Your response says it all, Gayle- punched me in the gut, where truth often lands. And I can hear her small girl voice whisper, “Help me.” As so many girls whisper, shout if they have the chance- the millions of trafficked girls, and boys- who hears them. The voice, your answer, chillingly true. The hundreds of girls she passed her pain onto- the chorus of voices in your book. At last they are heard, and of course I love the idea of a real chorus of voices speaking for them. I imagine their spirits joining those throats, voices. What that space will feel like as they speak their truths. Powerful stuff.

You speak of being angry with your mother; her suicide, your loss, your sorrow. As you felt anger with Countess Bathory; I felt waves of anger, and sorrow, reading the spirit’s alive voices. I’m wondering- do you imagine your mother taking part in the chorus of voices if she was still with us, now. I loved that photo of her in that stand in opera dress/costume, so magnificent. I can almost hear her- her body, her stance. I sense her intelligence, courage, strength in that stance. I also sense how proud of you she is, perhaps cheering you on page by page. I feel my Mamacita’s presence as I write- my joy, sorrow, rage, how it all transforms on the page. My body, every cell. Transformation. Your book, the voices, leads to this, transformation. Healing.

GB: So deeply grateful for your insight, your vision, dear Alma. I’ve had to sit with this question for a while, as you know. After my sister in law mentioned that the book cover reminded her of one of my mom’s opera photos, and I found the photo in question, I was blindsided by how similar the two are, how the red (a skirt in the cover, a cape in the photo of my mom) drapes in the exact same way to the lower right corner of each image. My breath stopped for a moment. I am still puzzling out the connection–both are powerful women who caused harm, although my mom did so on a much, much smaller scale; it’s likely I’ve made other subconscious connections between them, our stories, that I’ll need some time to excavate. But even so, yes, I do feel my mom’s pride in me–she was always so proud of me, even though I could feel her frustration with the fact that I was never as “successful” as she had wanted me to be–and I’m realizing in some ways, I’m carrying on the work she started. She wanted to give women voice, too. She started her organization, The National Organization for Financially Abused Women, to create a chorus of women’s voices to change divorce legislation (and even though the founding of it was based on the delusional belief that my father was hiding millions of dollars from her, the organization did real and important work in the world.) I think she would love to be part of the chorus of this book. I can hear and see her, too, dressed in red, lifting her voice with all her heart.

ALV: I simply love the final sentence of your response, “…lifting her voice with all her heart.” If you’ve made subconscious choices between your mother and Countess Bathory- the pain in your relationship, the pain of the voices you heard, brought to life on the page, what a strange gift of healing. And it seems all healing comes to us as a strange gift- nothing planned, nothing tidy. Healing comes to us with its own life force if/when we’re ready for transformation, to be healed, again. I imagine your mother’s presence in your imagination, body, memories, will always bring you strange gifts; as Mamacita’s presence has for me for sixty-three years.

I am so honored to have this exchange with you, amiga- our first exchange as student-teacher twenty years ago. I immediately saw your brilliance as I read your first novel, The Book of Dead Birds, which has since, of course, been published with so many deserved awards. Then we became friends, and then colleagues as you began teaching in the same MFA in creative writing program. How I loved seeing your shining face of light at our opening faculty meeting- how I loved our deep talks at our traditional Thursday night dinners, with piña coladas. And our humor together- graduation day, so many amazing writers, poets graduating. As we stood in line in our faculty graduation robes, we began to feel a bit wacky, threatening to do The Worm. Right there in our robes. I was crying with laughter, as you were. I love the ecstatic energy you carry and share, from your own being, to your writing. And so, to say it publicly, how grateful I am to know you, and always to read your work, all genres.

Okay, one more question- a brief answer will do. In Bali I walked into a courtyard with an immense eagle perched on steel, tethered by its leg/talon. A woman shaman, healer, walked out to greet me- I asked why the eagle wasn’t free. She asked me, “What is freedom, madam?” Over the years I’ve answered this question in many ways; there’s so many answers, of course. I would love to hear yours, even a sentence.

Mucho amor, amiga, milagros y piña coladas. And The Worm, always.

GB: I’m so honored and grateful to know you, too, my dear Alma, to have this conversation with you. What a gift. Whenever I see an eagle, I think of this question that was posed to you in Bali–in fact, it pops into my head quite often. And yes, there are so many answers, but what speaks to me right now is the very first poem I ever wrote when I was four years old, a poem called “Little Wind” that went “Blow, little wind/blow the trees, little wind/blow the seas, little wind/blow me until I am free, little wind.” I think I somehow knew even then that creativity can be like a wind that blows through us, that makes us free, and to this day, I never feel more free than when I allow that wind to blow through me, when I get out of my own way and allow the poem or story or essay or dance to barrel through, not worrying about how it will be received in the world, just giving it the space to roar.

Thank you again, amazing Alma. You have helped me be more free through your mentorship, your example, and I’m forever grateful for your presence in my life, your presence in the world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Order Alma Luz Villaneuva’s work here.

Order Gayle Brandeis’ work here, including her latest Many Restless Concerns, The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in Chorus.

 

 

 

Upcoming events with Jen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Guest Posts, motherhood

Sequestering the Mother

May 12, 2019
mother motherhood

By PJ Holliday

“The mother is glass through which
You see, in excruciating detail, yourself.”
“The Mother” – Maggie Smith

Becoming a mother has divided my body in portions, passing out small pieces at a time to my child, husband and self.  I’ve been stretched to a capacity I formerly did not think possible and from there, have to learn to surrender my control of the unknown. I don’t recognize myself, and when I catch a glimpse of what was familiar, it vanishes like pools of water on hot asphalt. When I try to write, I am torn between comforting my child whose eyes are fixated on whatever I am doing. I try to catch some work between naps, but who wants to work when there is a moment for quiet reflection made available for the first time in the morning. I feel the pull of many children, my creative explorations and my boy, who undoubtedly should take precedent. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

Her Own Beast

December 19, 2018
animal

By Natalie Singer

Once there was a girl who had a wild animal. She had never touched the animal but she knew deep inside her body and her soul that it was hers. She didn’t remember when she first understood she had an animal, maybe she was 12 and it was her first summer away at sleeping camp and she stayed in a canvas tent on a metal cot made up with a sleeping bag and old threadbare floral sheets that felt soft when she rubbed them between her fingers with three other girls including one named Frankie who peed her bed. Frankie peed her bed but she also showed the girl how to peg her jeans tight around her mosquito bitten ankles and hide her candy in a lockbox under the cot so the counselors wouldn’t find it and how to whisper late into the night without getting caught while the July rain drip drip dripped on the dirty canvas roof of the wooden platformed tent. Maybe she met the animal then, that summer, at the summer camp in the mountains with the tents among the pines. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing

On Authenticity, Life, Writing, and Those Hairy, Tooth-filled Teratomas

February 11, 2018
teratomas

By Heather Candela

Was it the bible or the bard who said there’s nothing new under the sun? Either way, it’s gospel truth. Beautifully original is impossible. Especially living in today’s world. The world of social media, where I realize every day that even if I think I’ve gone and done something worthwhile — baked something bodacious and beautiful; written something poetically profound; experienced some sort of mommy enlightenment – I’m knocked back down to my rickety reality with a single swipe of my Instagram. I’m barely hanging on, and I definitely can’t compete.

Take, for example, Joanna Gaines’ perfectly appointed farm house sink, tiny bean sprouts perched prettily all in a row on the ledge behind it. Planted by her daughter. My girls, they planted seedlings once. They mildewed and drowned in their own Dixie cups. The seedlings. Not my daughters. I did manage to keep them alive. So there’s that. And they are currently beautiful and independent and flourishing, even if their little bean sprouts never made it. So, yeah — there’s that. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Writing & The Body

The Arctic Front

June 26, 2017
arctic

By Tiffany Lee Brown

We were reshaping language. Making it fit better. Breaking it into chunks, discrete pieces. That’s what acid does: it lets you see all the infinitesimal pieces of everything, the air’s live molecules, the shivering motion of protons, electrons, neutrons as they fly through their individual atoms. At the same time, it lets you see the big things: the stars, the way the molecules connect all living creatures together, the breathing of trees against darkness.

We were reshaping language not just because it made us laugh, but because it brought new meaning to things, new clarity. And so the fire was no longer the fire. It was the Bright Flickering Orange Thing, as in: I’m freezing, but I can’t move right now. Would one of you feed the Bright Flickering Orange Thing? And someone would put a log—the Severed Guts of a Tall Being With Bark For Skin—into the big wood-burning stove with its open front, our only source of heat in this borrowed house.

All around us, Cold White Stuff muffled the forest and Cold Hard Stuff confounded the roads. It was twelve degrees Fahrenheit outside, in a region accustomed to mild winter days of low clouds and eternal drizzle. Every so often cold air—Arctic air—would come down from Alaska and get socketed in somehow. That’s what we were experiencing: an Arctic front.

Lee observed the Small Furry Clawed Mammals of the house and pointed out their qualities to me and Will. This grey one here, he decided, this grey one is named Steve. Check Steve out. He rules the world! Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Writing & The Body, Young Voices

Yesterday I Bled Brown Blood: Writing The Future

May 17, 2017
venus

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Demetra Szatkowski

I hand you my pain one piece at a time
sometimes all at once
messy unsure convolutedness
And you make sense of it

and hand myself back to me

healed

***

Venus in my first house. Venus in my house of self. Venus saying, who are you, how do you relate to yourself, how do you see yourself, how do you let others see you.

Today I woke up and bled brown blood. Continue Reading…

Activism, Guest Posts

Interdependence Day: A Letter on the Occasion of my 37th Birthday

April 12, 2017
independent

By Chris Shorne

I have been loved from the time I was small. Before my sight was unblurred I was seen and touched. Someone picked me up. Then another. Lips kissed my forehead. Before I knew what was forehead what was mouth. Before I knew there was a body and its inextricable parts and that this part was mine, I felt the sensation. Something new, something already. All the organic wires of a body were firing and firing together when eating came with touching, with the warmth of another human body spreading through this that I would come to know as my own, separate, human body.

It is not my mother who is the writer, but me. Still, she writes some abstract things in the form of dark lines on a white page and it aches me. That center spot of my chest—what is that?—grips. And so, compelled, I write. And I’m not sure it is me who is the author here. I’m not sure there has ever been a singular author. It hurts a little, to be loved like this. I don’t know why. Everything I’ve ever learned has led me up to this: I don’t know why it is I who have been so blessed. But I’ll take it.

Here I go. Yes, this is the biggest thing I’ve done. Being an international human rights accompanier in Guatemala. Standing alongside people walking into harassment and threats and jails, walking anyway, to maintain their land, to claim their culture. It is my big and it is so much less than the work the Guatemalans are doing. But I get to stand with them, walk alongside them for a little while. And, for me, it is big. “This is huge, Chris,” my ex-girlfriend used to say. I loved that. Even when it wasn’t huge, I loved it, because it meant what was happening with me was important. It meant she saw me as important. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Young Voices

Three Attempts at Being Coherent

April 5, 2017
relic

By Sun Rey

referendum.

Was there ever a space where my body was nothing but a placeholder?
That when I wrapped my lips around your tongue, the depth of my flesh was nothing but a barometer: certain pigment, certain
pressure.

Should she do the same, would there be a difference? Is there a difference between two brown queer girls? Or is the space we occupy tied up so tightly by Tiny Minority status that we are fossilized as we are breathing— you can’t tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim— I keep hearing you say “oh wow i’ve never met anyone like you!”— you can’t help touching my hair— you spread the baby oil across my bumpy skin with gloves on— i mean—
you saw who i was didn’t you?
you saw who i was you didn’t
just line up the faces i’ve been collecting into neat cornrows:
tall, gay.
brown skin, hairy arms.
arab name, black hair.

Let me pray to my many-fingered God
that you didn’t just mean to choose me as a relic. 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.
ketchup+is+my+favorite+vegetable-Front+Cover+090915+reduced
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 http://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.

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, Young Voices

It’s (Not) All The Same To Me: On Gender, Language, and Death

March 8, 2017
gender

By Beatriz  L.  Seelaender

Death  is  a  woman  in  Portuguese.  She  is  still  a  skull  under  a  charcoal  cloak,  holding  a  list  and  a  scythe,  but  she  is  a  woman.  It  is  strange,  isn’t  it,  what  one  can  take  for  granted  as  fact  just  by  plain  language.  That  Death  is  a  He  in  English,  and  wiser  and  less  cruel  and  sharper,  still  somewhat  unsettles  me.  There  is  some  sort  of  slight  wrongness  in  it.  No,  Death  is  not  a  He.  My  Death  is  not  yours.  There  must  have  been  some  kind  of  mix-up.  My  Death  is  a  straight-up  gal.  When  my  time  comes,  she  will  tell  me  I  did  good  in  life,  all  things  considered,  and  hug  me  like  a  grandmother.  Then,  she  will  kindly  strangle  me  into  oblivion-  because  kindness  is  necessary  in  death,  and  it  is  women  that  are  forgiving  and  kind,  and  that  is  why  death  should  be  a  woman.

There  used  to  be  a  comic  book-  there  probably  still  is,  since  it  wasn’t  so  long  ago  that  I  was  a  kid-  featuring  the  adventures  of  Mrs.  Death.  Despite  her  not  being  the  main  character  in  the  comic-  that  honour  had  been  given  to  the  character  who  in  English  translations  is  renamed  Bug-a-boo-,  Mrs.  Death  did  get  a  lot  of  solo  stories.  While  I  am  not  quite  sure  why  a  children’s  comic  would  invest  in  dark  humour,  the  stories  were  personal  favourites  of  mine.  One  of  them  features  Mrs.  Death  losing  her  list  of  errands  (aka  people  she  should  kill  today)  and  killing  completely  random  people  to  make  up  for  it.  There  was  another  where  she  accidentally  offed  the  homonym  of  the  actual  man  she  was  supposed  to  take.  On  top  of  it,  she  had  to  deal  with  a  staggering  amount  of  typos  (we  are  led  to  believe  that  the  big  guys  up  there  do  not  really  care  about  Mrs.  Death,  who  has  to  perform  all  of  their  grunt  work  and  isn’t  payed  enough  for  it).  All  in  all,  they  did  a  good  job  of  having  kids  learn  about  death  as  an  inoffensive  old  lady  waiting  for  retirement.  In  a  lot  of  ways  having  this  image  of  death  is  more  comforting  than  that  of  an  arrogant  shadow  of  a  man  as  it  is  typically  conveyed  in  English  stories.  On  the  other  hand,  perhaps  it  undermines  the  seriousness  of  the  subject.  Oh,  well,  parents  should  not  let  their  kids  learn  about  death  from  comics,  anyhow.

I  can  only  conceive  of  Death  the  man  as  patronizing:  he  takes  pleasure  in  toying  with  people.  His  blood  is  icy  blue  and  he probably  hates  Death  the  woman  for  doing  better  than  him  at  the  slaying  business.  But  neither  one  of  them  can  die,  really;  it  is  their  greatest  tragedy.

It  wasn’t  until  my  teens  that  I  came  across  Death  as  a  He.  Because  articles  are  neutral  in  English  I  had  never  really  thought  about  applying  gender  to  things  in  English.  Although  perhaps  that  is  a  lie-  I  am  not  entirely  sure.  It  is  possible  I  just  kept  on  looking  at  things  gendered  according  to  how  I  knew  them  in  my  native  language.    There  was  reluctance  to  admitting  that  perhaps  things  in  their  fundamental  nature  weren’t  as  blue  and  pink  as  the  world-  but,  then  again,  neither  was  the  world,  and  we  still  see  it  that  way  nonetheless.

While we do have an “it” in Portuguese, it is hardly ever used as subject in sentences. We use he or she for everything, dead or alive; or never alive. If we really have to say “it”, we simply use the verb; the subject is assumed as it. We don’t say that it rained; we simply say “rained”. We don’t say it’s weird; we simply say “is weird”.

The rest of the time we refer to things the way Aesop referred to animals- he, the stapler and she, the copy-maker. We also refer to animals that way, as you probably must have guessed by now. And all those its, then, come alive.

See,  up  until my meeting with Him, Death,  it  had  been  very  simple to me-  a  table  and  a  chair  and  a  bed  and  a  house  were  female-bound.  And  there  were  things  like  school,  History  and  art  that  were  referred  to  as  female,  too.  At  least  death  is  not  alone,  then,  and  they  are  not  alone  in  death;  these  other  words.  Word  is  also  preceded by the feminine article,  in  Portuguese.  Forks  and  mattresses  and  napkins  and  hats  and  the  radio  and  peaches  and  candy  were  all  male-bound  things.

Some  of  us  even  got  confused  at  times;  I  remember  once  at  school  when  a  peak  number  of  students  using  the  wrong  article  for  “lettuce”  inspired  a  gender-bound-articles test,  but  it  didn’t  change  anything.  People  were  surprised,  surely,  that  lettuce  was  a  She-  a  couple  of  weeks  later,  though,  everyone  was  still  using  the  wrong  article  for  lettuce.

(I  don’t  know  why,  though;  lettuce  is  so  clearly  feminine,  being  a  leaf  and  all;  and  leaves  being  feminine,  too)    (Leaves  and  flowers  and  most  fruit)    (Except  for  peaches,  but  we’ve  been  over  this  already)    (Now,  I  wonder  why  in  Brazil  all  seasons  are  male  but  spring)    (It  cannot  be  just  because  of  the  flowers)    (It  would  be  sort  of  misogynistic,  if  it  were)  (In  Germany  all  seasons  are  male-bound,  even  spring)  (But  in  German  nothing  is  at  it  should  be)

I  want  to  try  out  an  experiment:  I  will  give  you  four  words  and  you  tell  me  what  your  immediate  thought  as  to  what  their  ultimate  gender  is;  ready?  Knife,  Life,  Book,  Fox. 

It  has  just  occurred  to  me  that  I  picked  “knife”  as  the  first  word  because  of  a  poem  by  João  Cabral  de  Melo  Neto  titled  “The  School  of  Knives”.  In  Portuguese,  this  word  is  preceded  by  the feminine.  Most  sharp  things  are-  blades  and  daggers  and  scythes,  too.  In  the  poem  de  Melo  Neto  takes  this  a  step  further  and  compares  women  and  knives,  in  a  sort  of  sensual,  femme-fatale  way.  God,  I  hate  this  word;  femme-fatale-  there  is  a  song  by  The  Velvet  Underground  under  this  title,  and  it  is  pretty  catchy;  and  I  hate  myself  for  enjoying  it.  Anyway,  knives  are  not  necessarily  female  until  some  sort  of  personality  and  explanation  as  to  why  it  is  female  is  imposed  to  it.

In  Spanish  knives  are  male-bound.  The  argument  for  knives  as  male  could  be  just  as  compelling  as  that  for  a  femme-fatale  definition;  knives  having  the  potential  to  be  used  for  gratuitous  violence  (traditionally  male)  as  easily  as  they  are  able  to  deliver  beautiful  and  entangling  performances  of  precision  in  clean,  lustful  cuts:  this  last  one  is  epitome  of  the  femme-  fatale  ideal;  to  destroy  and  look  good  doing  it.  There  is  also  something  about  gluttony  and  lust  merging  together  here  in  the  Portuguese  embodiment  of  the  knife,  especially  in  de  Melo  Neto’s  poem.

I  propose  we  look  at  this  not  as  an  instance  of  misogyny,  or  perhaps  as  more  than  an  instance  of  misogyny.  I  know  it  is  very  easy  to  go  the  way  of  saying  we  need  to  stop  gendering  everything-  but  there  are  many  variables  going  into  this  discussion.  For  one,  the  qualifier  of  gender  in  articles  is  not  promoting  gender  stereotypes  directly  or  even  indirectly-  all  of  them  are  entirely  arbitrary.  I  don’t  think  anyone  ever  thought  to  themselves-  knives  are  definitely  ladies,  so  let’s  use  this  article  when  referring  to  them.  The  problem  came  after-  it  came  in  the  form  of  explanations  as  to  why  things  were  the  gender  they  were.  See,  the  way  gender  roles  are  distributed;  one  could  arguably  make  a  point  for  something  as  dull  as  a  desk  either  as  masculine  or  feminine  simply  by  selecting  a  specific  set  of  characteristics  that  matches  the  stereotypical  definition  one  wishes  to  defend.  That  is  obviously  because  like  people,  things  also  have  characteristics  deemed  feminine  and  masculine  inside  them.  All  you  have  to  do  is  choose.

Let’s  talk  about  the  Life  with  a  capital  L.  I  think  most  languages  in  use  of  gendered  articles  (that  I  know  of,  obviously)  see  life  as  female;  the  exception  being  German,  in  which  das  Leben  marks  a  neutral  noun.  Surely  you  would  think  this  is  a  sign  of  female  emancipation-  the  plural  in  German  taking  for  once  the  shape  of  the  female  pronoun  being  a  step  in  the  right  direction  as  well-  but  I  wonder  how  much  of  it  is  actually  a  sign  of  social  progress  and  how  much  is  just,  you  know,  just  something  random  about  the  German  language.

When  you  take  a  closer  look  at  it,  in  fact,  it  is  hard  to  find  direct  correlations  between  the  use  of  gendered  articles  and  intolerance  rates  in  a  society.  Were  that  the  case,  one  would  expect  a  country  such  as  Poland,  speaking  a  language  which  allows  one  to  drop  pronouns  and  exempt  of  articles,  to  be  the  beacon  of  freedom  by  now.  Moreover,  the  Norwegian,  known  for  their  inclusive  social  measures  and  individual  liberties,  speak a language  featuring  article  qualifiers.  I  do  not  intend  to  make  a  study  out  of  this,  and  I  am  sure  there  are  many  more  variables  involved,  but  this  goes  to  show  problems  like  this  can  hardly  ever  be  traced  back  to  one  simple,  obvious  cause.

But  this  is  getting  too  derivative  (you  can  tell  by  the  excessive  use  of  parenthesis)  (not  aesthetically  pleasing)  (are  there  things  unaesthetically  pleasing?)  (Well,  there  are  pleasant  things  that  aren’t  aesthetic  and  there  are  aesthetic  things  that  aren’t  pleasing)  (And  then  there  is  the  anaesthetic,  which  makes  you  numb  to  painful  and  beautiful  things)  (I  hope  not  all  beautiful  things  are  painful)  (But  I  don’t  have  any  answers  now)  (Come  back  later)  (We  are  experiencing  connection  problems)  (Try  turning  your  brain  off  and  on  again).

Oh,  there  you  go.  I  feel  fine,  don’t  you?  Would  you  like  to  return  to  where  we  were  before  the  whole  thing  became  a  mess?

Now,  as  I  was  saying,  the  best  we  can  do  with  gendered  articles  is  look  for  clues  that  could  help  us  fight  the  feminist  crusade,  or  whatever  you  want  to  call  it.  Instead  of  ignoring  or  denying  their  existence,  we  should  take  a  look  at  what  sort  of  symbols  they  promote,  intentionally  or  not.  We  think  about  what  cultural  differences  stand  out  in  a  place  where  death  is  a  woman  and  a  place  where  death  is  a  man-  and  the  different  interpretations  of  death  that  may  come  from  it.  We  ask  people  who  speak  in  neutral  languages  to  gender  things  for  twenty-four  hours,  so  we  can  see  what  role  is  predominant  and,  most  importantly,  what  kind  of  justification  is  used  for  the  answer.  We  get  Intel  on  the  rationalizations  made  in  the  back  of  our  minds,  and  discover  potential  new  ways  to  break  down  gender  roles.

In  self-indulgent  speculation,  I  am  thinking  the  reason  why  Life  is  “female”  in  so  many  languages  is  because  life  is  brought  to  us  by  our  mothers.  Thus  life  we  associate  with  women  and  water  and  fountains  of  water,  because  all  these  things  symbolize  fertility  and  birth,  and  rebirth  as  well.  Goddesses  of  fertility-  Hera  and  Freya  and  Isis  and  Parvati  and  even  the  Virgin  Mary  if  you  look  at  Christianism  as  a  religion  with  multiple  focuses  of  adoration-  are  generally  also  associated  with  symbols  such  as  dawn,  death,  and  abundance,  because  fertility  could  also  mean  a  good  harvest.

While  I  do  get  why  some  goddesses  of  life  are  also  patrons  of  death,  it  is  still  strange  to  look  at  these  concepts  together,  as  dichotomies.  Everyone  likes  the  idea  of  going  full  circle,  but  I’ve  yet  to  see  someone  capable  of  making  one  with  their  hands.  Still,  it’s  a  nice  idea.  Idea;  yet  another  she.  I  guess  it  has  something  to  do  with  the  muses.  The  muses  are  also  inevitably  female,  because  the  artists  are  usually  male.  As  for  you,  female  artists,  there  isn’t  as  high  a  demand  for  male  muses  that  we  feel  compelled  to  change  the  rules.  But  I  guess  men  would  feel  undermined  in  the  role  of  muses,  don’t  you  think?  Well,  you’re  right,  not  all  men.  All  men  who  keep  saying  not  all  men,  though;  those  are  precisely  the  men  I’m  talking  about.

You  see,  there  is  a  deeply  rooted  notion  somewhere  in  there  that  an  artist  must  tame  his  muses.  Even  if  an  idea,  then,  is  a  she,  the  framing  of  ideas  will  definitely  be  male.  The  word  book  is  preceded  by  the  male  article  in  Portuguese;  in  German  it  is  neutral;  it  never  is  a  woman.  These  are  only  far-fetched  conjectures,  half  joke,  half  real;  but  inside  every  false  sentence  there  must  be  a  little  bit  of  truth.  That  of  men  taking  credit  for  women’s  ideas,  after  all;  is  hardly  a  new  trend.

The  discussion  gets  even  more  complicated  once  we  introduce  animals  into  it.  They  are  the  closest  thing  to  non-human  gendering  experienced  by  the  English  language;  just  take  a  look  at  the  Perry  Index  of  Aesop’s  Fables.  Snakes  and  foxes  are  male,  storks  are  female.  What  is  interesting,  however,  is  not  the  gender  imposed-  though  this  time  one  could  question  its  arbitrariness-  but  how  this  translates  into  people’s  mind  sets:

All  of  those  animals  are  female  in  Portuguese.  It  is  even  difficult  for  me  to  conceive  of  an  animal  as  peculiar  as  a  male  fox.  We  don’t  even  have  a  male  alternative  for  it.  Once  we  get  to  snakes,  it’s  even  worse.  I  recently  saw  the  animated  version  of  The  Jungle  Book  with  my  little  cousin,  and  I  was  convinced  they  had  redubbed  the  old  voices,  because  in  my  mind  that  python  was  a  lady  python.  I  can  only  assume  that  as  a  child  I  found  the  idea  of  there  being  a  male  snake  so  outlandish  that  I  blocked  it  completely.

It’s  not  like  I  didn’t  know  there  was  a  male  snake-  I  just  thought  them  unimportant.  They  were  not  allowed  to  talk  for  the  species.  They  were  not  allowed  to  represent  it.  Think  about  what  kids  think  sometimes;  the  thoughts  kids  have  are  a  rare,  clear  perspective  of  a  place  you  have  been  in  for  too  long;  life.

(They  will  take  some  funny  things  for  granted)  (And  question  what  you  have  taken  for  granted  without  noticing)  (When  you  play  with  language  you  feel  like  being  a  child  again)  (Your  brain  is  a  clean  slate  again)  (You  are  innocent  again).

There  are  other  places,  you  know;  outside  of  the  sky;  there  is  even  a  sky  over  the  living  room  ceiling.

If  someone  were  to  paint  clouds  on  my  ceiling  on  a  blue  background;  if  I  were  to  fall  into  a  state  of  hypnosis,  well,  I  wonder  what  I’d  be.  Maybe  I  shouldn’t  wonder.  There’s  way  too  much  randomness  in  this  world  for  us  not  to  aimlessly  wonder,  though.  It’s  what’s  keeping  us  from  crashing  onto  our  false  skies.

Author of the novel “De Volta ao Vazio” (in a rough translation, “Emptiness, Revisited”), Seelaender is a student of Literature at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Guest Posts, writing

Writing About Us

March 6, 2017
writing

By Kathleen Harris

In my freshman year of high school, I’d written something that my English teacher deemed “exceptional.” I was called to her desk after class, and praised for my creativity. A kind and encouraging letter was sent home to my parents as well, highlighting my potential.

I’d been writing since I sensed the pull of words — somewhere around age 4. Not short stories, of course, but angular, awkward attempts at words — and their accompanying stick-figure illustrations — to highlight my frustrating attempts at communication. In our Queens apartment, my mother would find torn envelope flaps, seventies singer-songwriter album sleeves, and my parents’ own high school yearbooks, all adorned with my pencil-scratch efforts at language.

As a child, I knew that words could be soft and loud. Words hurt, and they healed. They allowed me to escape into books containing bright, colorful pictures, and enabled me to get lost in the mystical lyrics printed on double-fold album covers. I’d take stacks of books to my Raggedy Ann-covered twin bed, hugging them to my small chest and leaping over the sharks I thrilled myself into believing were swarming in the churn of parquet bedroom floor below. I was on a life raft, safe in my room, happily adrift with words. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Kindness, The Hard Stuff

When You See Her, Be Kind

February 17, 2017
real

By Kimberly Valzania

I know what makes her tick. I know how she is, and better yet, who she is. And I know all her secrets and what she did to keep them. How she locked them away in a box for years, and kept the key just beyond her own reach.

We’ve always been close. Pushing her out the door each day takes all the strength I have. But resisting her familiar charms helps me gather and sort out my true self instead, the only self I was meant to be.

In letting her go, I let go of her burdensome habits. No more quiet tip-toe up the stairs, shutting the bathroom door, knees to the floor.

Still, when I feel her panic creeping, a few smaller habits return. Sometimes, her leg shakes and she twirls her hair, pulling a long piece around her cheek and into her mouth, turning it on her tongue, creating a wet and pointy tip. Her fingers get in there too. Her nails, stubby nubs. Always something in her mouth. Her mouth remains the vessel that bears her rolling waves of worry and cope.

Before…before now, I always knew when she was empty, void. And when she was full, stuffed. Empty, hungry. Full, packed. And, as it was, I always knew the very moment the fullness was just too much. When she wanted, more than anything else, the blessed emptiness back. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing

Learning to Mother Myself

November 22, 2016
snake

By Megan Galbraith

I sat on the stonewall outside my studio, reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, and thinking about how excited I’d been to get far away from my family. I’d been awarded a glorious month-long writers residency in Ithaca, NY from The Saltonstall Foundation. It was my first residency and I had no idea what to expect. What to bring? How to handle the silence? What if I couldn’t produce anything?

It had never occurred to me that I’d miss my family. I thought I’d craved solitude, but a month inside my own head was taking its toll. I was swept up in self-doubt and jumping out of my skin. I missed my husband, my boys, and my stepdaughter. I missed the dogs that I’d cursed daily for their endless silent pleading, “let me in, let me out, let me in, let me out.” I didn’t know how to be still with myself because it seemed there was so little stillness at home.

I looked up from the book and noticed a delicate snakeskin pinned beneath dead daylily leaves in the dirt to my left. The snakeskin was preserved in its entirety, from head to tail, not a rip or a tear. Its mouth was open as if it was mid-strike, and I could see the dark jeweled ovals where the snake’s eyes had been. It was nearly two feet long, a garter snake most likely, and the perfect embodiment of the reptile itself rendered like a tissue-thin sepia-toned X-ray. Continue Reading…