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Grief, Guest Posts, storytelling

The Widow Next Door

February 20, 2017
neighbor

By Shawna Kenney

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.
-Herman Melville

Where I grew up in Southern Maryland, our nearest neighbors were sometimes miles away. Still, I rode my bike through the woods and drove my first car around town confident in the fact that if there were ever an emergency, help wasn’t so far away. Neighbors kept an eye on us kids when my mom went back to work and my dad was away on duty with the Navy. They towed my prom date’s car out of the ditch while he and I stood by, helpless in our 80s couture. They also snitched on my sister and I when we were in high school and threw a big party while my parents were out of town. Since my dad’s death a few years ago, neighbors still plow my mother’s driveway after every snowstorm, unasked. When I later moved to Queens, NY in my twenties, the grey-haired woman next door welcomed me with kugel. In grad school in North Carolina, we shared blueberries with our neighbors’ granddaughter and he would periodically cut back our weeds when he was out chopping his own.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’ve left apartments due to bad neighbors—3 a.m. high-heeled stompers, incessant complainers, violent rage-aholics… but even in a city as vast as this, where things get downright Darwinian when it comes to parking spaces or freeway merging, I have mostly lived next to nice people. It’s good to know the mailman and it makes me happy to find familiar faces in a county of 10 million. Deep in my psyche, Sesame Street always looms as the ideal. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, storytelling

The Day My Mother Left

September 26, 2016
mother

By Kerry Cohen

The day my mother left, I was eleven years old. It was July, 1982. In just a few months I’d be twelve. And then thirteen. And so on. Life would move forward, even though my mother had left me. I could not fathom such a thing then. I would grow up. I would become a teenager, an adult, a wife, a mother, a divorcee. I would become all of these things, even though my mother had left me.

A year earlier, my parents had divorced. Their split was ugly and destructive. My father ran first, an expert escapist, and my mother was forced to stay. She spent much of her time crying, sometimes even wailing. Her emotions were like a haze in our large suburban New Jersey house. They were everywhere. I couldn’t duck them. I couldn’t squeeze myself around them. So, instead I held my breath. I made myself invisible. I stayed on the edges, watching my mother’s every move while she did things like lay four tons of bluestone into a cement patio. She played racquetball and took up sailing. She drove us to school, her eyes wild with plans, cut off other drivers, yelled, “Fuck you, too!” when they flipped her off. I was terrified of what she would do next.

She took pre-med courses at Fairleigh Dickinson. Locals called it Fairly Ridiculous, but my mother didn’t find that funny. This was serious business. She was changing her life, no matter the cost. The things she did find funny made her laugh too loudly, too shrieky, too off-time. Continue Reading…

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…

Family, Guest Posts, Siblings, storytelling

The Memory Keepers

January 15, 2016

By Kelly Garriott Waite

My parents broke the news to my sisters and me one evening after dinner: My mother was having another child. My older sister, understanding our mother to be the Virgin Mary, refused to believe it. But it was true and with four children, we would need more space.

One town north and east, my parents bought forty acres of land we came to call the property. I didn’t consider whose property it had been, nor what memories of the place the previous owners held dear. It was ours now. That was all that mattered.

Weekends, we cleared the woods where our home was to be built, hauling brush and tree limbs to the burn pile, cutting and splitting logs for winter. When we took a break from our work, we wandered, discovering the secrets held by the land. The south field was stubbled with browned corn stalks gripping the soil. In the west field grew, besides corn, a window- and doorless cement building inside of which forgotten coils of thick wire, yellow and red and blue, were hidden by weeds. Where the corn yielded to woods, wild raspberries grew, big as my father’s thumb. A creek trickled through the woods, across which one day we came upon the junk pile, the stuff of life discarded from a long-ago, unknown family who had likely lived on the orchard behind the property. From the junk pile, I found a clear milk bottle from Rand’s Dairy and what my father identified as an ammunition box, from which I tried – and failed – to remove the patina that obscured the copper beneath.

We worked nearly every weekend. We built a barn. We built a house. We built a farm. We learned how to grow our food and preserve the harvest. We cleaned stalls and gathered eggs and nailed up board fencing to wooden posts. On a red wagon whose sides swayed dangerously whenever a tire caught a rut in what used to be the corn field, we learned to bale hay. As we shaped the land to fit our needs, gradually taking it from the property to the farm and, eventually just home, the land shaped us in return; defining our beliefs and becoming the foundation upon which we would build our lives.

As my siblings and I left for college, the barn emptied. My father sold the horses. The butcher loaded the last of the cows and the pigs into his truck. No new chickens appeared to replace those too old to lay eggs. The hayloft would never again house seasonal litters of blind, mewing kittens. My father rented the fields to a local farmer who replanted them in corn. I discarded the ammunition box: Its history held no value for me. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, storytelling, writing

Finding My Voice

November 7, 2015

By Kathy Bernier

All those years when I was trying to find my voice, and come to find out it has been inside me all along.  It was the thing I was trying to get away from and it would never let me go.

It’s the deep gritty mud that clings to my rural roots.  It’s hair on my legs, and the sound of coyotes calling from way down back on a hot summer night with all the windows open, and the taste of the first spring radish.

It’s breathing in the warm sweet barn smell first thing in the morning, and looking out the bathroom window at the dark silhouette of the fir trees when I get up to pee at one in the morning, and wishing there were enough money in the checkbook to just pay somebody to do stuff and take a day off from worry once in a while.

It’s squeezing my eyes tight and pretending it’s the glare of the sun when I help load the yearling goat that I delivered on a stormy night last summer into a crate headed for the slaughterhouse, repeating the tired old “you can’t keep them all” mantra and knowing it was the only way and refusing to let myself hear the panic in his bleating while I try to swallow the panic in my soul.

It’s giving myself the okay to say words like shit and even the eff word out loud even though I love God.  I know he’s listening, but he hears them whether they’re in my heart or in the air, so what the hell.  I guess that’s what the voice is, really.  It’s the words that God put inside me.

It’s not words I chose, I can tell you that.  I wanted my words to be all smooth and polished and chic and sophisticated.   Every one just right, every one pithy and impeccable with the swoop of a cartoon princess veil and a rock star chef and an Olympic giant slalom skier oozing from their pores.  Edgy in a cool hipster round-framed glasses kind of way. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, storytelling, Women, writing

Keeping the Faith through NaNoWriMo and Beyond

November 4, 2015

By Suzy Vitello

This is the month that many writers take the plunge and re-prioritize their lives to take part in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in other words. Probably if you’re reading this article, you’re on a break from the marathon. Or you’re simply not doing it. It’s a huge commitment, this pledge to write 50k words in a month.

Huge.

Five years ago, I embarked on a failed NaNoWriMo adventure – and I say failed, because I didn’t come up with the whole 50, but, November, 2010 was the year I crystallized my obsession with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the effort eventually produced two books. The first one was published by Diversion Books in September of last year.

The level of joy when your book find its way to the hands of readers is only matched by validation  you get when a New York publisher says, “Yes. We will invest in you. We believe in this book.”

But it was short-lived.

Over last winter, I continued the story (the book was always meant to be a series), and wrote the second Empress Chronicles book. I had it professionally edited, rewrote it, and sent it along to my agent in late spring. We both felt pretty confident that Diversion would put the sequel out, too.

But they passed.

Though claiming The Keepsake was “a delight from start to finish,” they felt they needed to focus on books with more robust sales numbers.

This is a polite way of saying: your first book tanked, and we’re moving on.

The level of self-doubt when your book gets rejected is only matched by frustration when a New York publisher says, “Show me the value.”

Because, value is subjective. Value is an abstraction. Value, my friends, should be tied to something intrinsic, but at the end of the day, value is tied to numbers. And consumers. And a system as random as a Las Vegas slot machine.

The hardest thing, for an artist, is to maintain belief in creation in the face of rejection.  It’s not just about tenacity. It’s not just about revision. It’s more than that.

It’s finding that audacious place inside you and pulling her out. Talking to her with tough love. Asking her the hard question: “What is standing in the way of success?” And then, “What do you really want?”

When I answered those questions, here’s what I came up with:

My tendency to value myself only if fancier people value me.

And:

Connection. All I have to give is my love of language, story and the dream that plays out on the page. 

And here’s where the miracle comes in. When you live inside a decision to find connection, you do.

I decided to put The Keepsake out myself, and I found an extremely talented and passionate street team to help me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, LBGQ, storytelling

The Fight

January 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Devi Lockwood.

She delivers the punch, smooth and crisp, to the flesh below his jaw. Her knuckles collide with his cheekbone and the crowd gathered under the university pavilion looks on, silent.

He comes at her with both fists flailing, windmills of rage. With one duck and swerve, she comes out unscathed.

Before either party can deliver a return punch, their friends intervene, pulling them back. Each struggles at their friend’s grip, squinting in wrath.

“Stop! Enough! Not like this!”

The girl they are fighting over sits on a bench with her head between her hands, covering her ears.

~

I wasn’t expecting to see lesbian drama in my first week in Fiji (or at all, for that matter), but there it was, like the ocean, waiting––unconcerned with my existence and yet completely immersive. A pull.

I made friends at the university by accident. Walking down Grantham Rd, I was tugged into a several-block long conversation with a group of two guys walking to class.

“Do you want to see campus?” one asked, readjusting the weight of his backpack on his shoulder. I shrugged. Why not? I had nowhere else better to be. The only thing driving me through the day was my desire to collect stories.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, storytelling

People You May Know.

October 12, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black By Teri Carter.

I carry a myth. In the myth, I am 36 years old, and I meet my father at my mother’s funeral. Or, rather, at her wake. It is the designated family hour from three until four p.m., the one quiet span when only close family gathers to see the dead. The viewing, they call it. My mother in her casket, the casket she chose. And there is my father, a bearded stranger, pacing between rows of metal folding chairs, viewing her.

I actually met my father around my 18th birthday. His mother lived in my town, and though I’d had little to no contact with her over the years, she’d sent me a card with money in it for my high school graduation and, in lieu of writing her a thank you note, I called. She was thrilled, she said, to hear from me, and I remember feeling her warmth through the phone, the idea of her grandmotherly embrace, and somewhere during that call she asked if I’d like to come for a visit to look at some family photos and I asked where my father was and I said it rather boldly like, “Do you know where Lee Roy is these days?” feeling all grown up at age 18 and out of high school, and she said he was living right there in town, “right up the road!” and would I like to meet him, maybe next Sunday, at her house?

But what happened then? What of the details? Did he arrive first or did I? Did we shake hands, hug, stand back, study? Did we share a meal, a laugh, a Coca Cola? How can I not recall? How does a girl not remember meeting her father, not remember hearing his voice, for the very first time? And yet, the edges, they are so watery.

I met my father at my mother’s funeral. We shook hands. He pulled a business card from his wallet and wrote his number on the back in blue, ballpoint ink. He said, “Call us next time you’re in town,” and as he walked away I wondered, who is us?

Continue Reading…