Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Full Moon Haiku

By Richard Kirsch

Full moon in the sky
Surging through my dream with light
Day still or still night

Richard Kirsch lives in Austerlitz, New York.

Monday, December 24, 2007

This Christmas Present

By Judy Staber

That's what it's all about, isn't it?
Christmas, I mean.
Nativity...birth...new life?
Epiphanies of wonder and simplicity.
Those moments when words aren't enough,
When tears rush together with laughter,
Bubbling up through your own wellspring
At the bringing of new life.
New joy.
This wonderful baby boy.

We'll soon forget the hours she labored;
The hours she pushed to deliver him;
The dreary,
yet brightly-lit waiting room,
Where her sister and I sat,
With a pay phone that took only nickels,
A soda machine like a monolith,
And no place to hang your coat.

And that hot, stuffy labor room,
where my baby
Tried for so long to have her baby,
hanging on to her Ed
Under the watchful eyes of a stream of kindly,
but ever shift-changing nurses.
And the doctor, too long on his feet, saying, exhausted,
"I'm going to have to perform a Caesarean."

I saw him just ten minutes later,
Full of unaccustomed grand-maternal-ness,
My eyes clear, my heart full,
marveling at
This Christmas present.
Such a perfect little person sprung
From his mother's womb so complete:
With ten expressive fingers and ten tiny toes
Curling with anticipation of life.

He came out of his womb-room, tranquil and serene,
Almost smiling.
Eyes watchful,
penis erect,
ears shell-like against his downy head.

Under clinical scrutiny, they squeezed his scrotum,
Scratched his soles,
looked up his nose and down his throat.
But he didn't yell, not my grandson,
no, he just
shit.
Twice they had to clean him up.
And when they had done, they said,
that on the test scale,
Out of a possible ten,
he was a nine point nine.

Well, of course he is,
and they probably missed
that other tenth.
Because they're not perfect
like he is.
Welcome to the world, Daniel!

Judy Staber, retired after 28 years in arts administration, now spends her time writing. She also runs the gallery at The Old Chatham Country Store with changing local artists every month. Judy is awaiting her final eye surgery in the new year. Happy New Year to all you writers and keep writing, there are readers out there still. Daniel, now 17, is just as perfect as he was the day he was born in 1990!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Jessie and Lee"

By Cecele Kraus

Grandmother Jessie brushes her hair
late at night in her rocking chair as
the woodstove crackles out its warmth.
Grandpapa Lee looks up from his book
and with twinkling eyes returns her smile.
They’ve been married for 55 years.

Jessie’s hair was nut brown in early years
while Lee was blessed with wild Irish hair.
Though eyes are dim, he lights her smile,
no need to even move his chair.
The Holy Bible is Lee’s only book,
the red hot stove their source of warmth.

Eight children settled into their warmth.
Young Anna died, the rest are up in years.
The Holy Bible is not their only book.
Faded auburn is now Lee’s hair.
His chair is straight, hers a rocking chair.
Neighbors drop in and bring a smile.

A letter came and brought a smile.
Their son returns, hearts fill with warmth.
For prodigal Tom, we’ll pull up a chair,
he’s traveled far for so many years.
Joyful, Jessie forgets to knot her hair
and Lee forgets the Holy Book.

Jessie pulls out a ragged photo book
of all their children; it makes them smile.
Forgetting the brushing of her hair,
she’s lost in reveries of children’s warmth.
Gone the pain of Tom’s wandering years,
she sees the past from her rocking chair.

Children’s songs heard from her rocking chair,
each face captured in her photo book.
Gone the pain of the longing years,
returned to her each child’s gapped smile.
By the fire, she glows in warmth
and now with a smile loops up her hair.

Cecele Kraus, a psychotherapist, lives in Copake, New York. She is working on a collection of poems and short fiction.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

MyStoryLives Supports the Writers' Strike!


MyStoryLives
is not given to watching television.

We're usually asleep before Letterman or Leno lights the screen.

But we know
how many
gazillion Americans are drawn to
the late night shows.

So. Reading in this morning's New York Times, this troubling little tidbit caught our eye:

"David Letterman is pursuing a deal with the Writers Guild of America that would allow his late-night show on CBS to return to the air in early January with the usual complement of material from his writers, even if the strike is still continuing."

We were, if you will, interested. And concerned.

The Times report goes on:

"Executives from Mr. Letterman’s production company said Saturday that they were hopeful they would have an interim agreement in place with the guild as early as this week. That could potentially put Mr. Letterman at an enormous advantage over most of his late-night colleagues."

Check it out for yourself.

http:www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/business/media/16strike.html
So. Does this sound anything like strike-breaking to you?

Hmmmm.

How about this from a blog called The Silicon Insider, published mid-November:

"Producers for late night hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien are in secret talks to bring the shows back... Network execs say there's talk of resuming production on the shows without the writers, in part to keep the hundreds of idled non-writing employees working -- and in part because all three shows are huge money-makers for their networks. Note that Letterman did the same thing during the 1988 writers' strike.

"The return of the late-night shows would be a huge coup for the networks; right now the absence of those shows (along with Viacom's Daily Show and Colbert Report) are the only visible sign that a writers' strike is underway. If the writers lose that bargaining chip, most viewers won't feel the impact of a strike until January or later, when the networks run out of new dramas and sitcoms to air.

"The backchannel talks between latenight producers are delicate; no one wants to be the first to go back on the air, nor do they want to return if a resolution to the strike is imminent. Any return to work before the strike ends would likely mean big WGA-led protests at NBC studios in Burbank and at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. But if it appears the strike is going to drag on, Letterman and Leno would agree to resume their shows on the same day."

What Letterman's folks are up to, is,

NO JOKING MATTER.

We at MyStoryLives are writers. It seems only write, sorry, right, that we stand in solidarity with those striking writers who are holding out against the likes of the media giants — General Electric, News Corporation, Sony, Time Warner, The Walt Disney Company, Viacm and CBS — whose entertainment units dominate the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the industry bargaining group.

We support the Writers Guild of America. If you support this cause, and you have a blog, we encourage you to copy and paste the Writers Guild of America's logo up top into your blog. Pass the word.


Friday, December 07, 2007

A Prayer for Health Care

By Dan Beauchamp

It seems to me, as we plunge deeper and deeper into our presidential election season, we never talk about issues with the seriousness they deserve. Instead we talk about haircuts, adultery in the Hamptons, or favorite Bible verses.


Then, after everything is over, we quail in the presence of the most recent winner.

Even when we do talk about important problems, the policy wonks drown us with technical details.

Nothing important ever gets discussed in terms of the deep, invisible questions that need airing.

Take health care reform, for example.

I believe that one of the reasons we constantly drop the ball on health care reform is because we don't see how profoundly this issue challenges our ideas of membership in a democratic community and the meaning of our life together, and, indeed, the meaning of life itself.

Yes, I am saying that I believe that at bottom health care reform is about how we view life---how we view life itself underneath it all and what this means for membership in the body politic.

Ultimately, this is a spiritual question, where 'spiritual' means our views on what we mean by life, life itself, to whom and what we belong, and what it is that we possess and own to dispose of as we choose.

Spiritual writers like the Franciscan Richard Rohr, in his book Adam's Return, boil down the answers to these fundamental questions with the insight that, "Your life is not about you; you are about life."

Rohr is actually giving a spiritual twist to a deeply ecological idea of life and our membership in a biotic realm, an understanding that is at once utterly realistic and spiritual, reflecting the mutuality and interdependence of all of life, human and all else.

To say that we belong to life is to say that "life" is something that we find ourselves in the midst of, in our birth and in our lives together, and in our deaths. Life itself is something that we do not possess or control; life itself possess us.

This is our original blessing.

To say that we belong to life is to reflect a deep ecological reverence for our place in the large and intricately interconnected processes of life. We are mutually connected and mutually dependent on air, water, the earth, and the sun, as well as on the prudence and judgment of those billions of fellow inhabitants of our planet called human beings.


Life itself then, is a gift, an enormous gift. Whether this is a gift from God or the universe I will leave to others to proclaim. The ecological point is the same; we are part of an ecological totality where the greatest sin is that of hubris, the arrogance of self-sufficiency and pride.

Despite our horrific destruction of the processes of life on this planet, I think we are gradually coming to embrace an ecological ethic.

As someone who has written a good deal about community and the idea of advancing our health together I am constantly reminded of how little I have said compared to what could be said, and it strikes me that "Our lives are not about us; we are about life" is utterly the point of our health together, of healthier together, of epidemiology, of sound health policy, and much else.

At the personal level, to remind ourselves that we are about life is to bestow on ourselves a huge gift, and of course that is a funny and upside down way of putting it, because the gift is already ours if only we are willing to receive it.

This is the point made by Wendell Berry in "Health is Membership," in his book of essays, Another Turn of the Crank. Berry argues that health is a communal and ecological concept, referring to our membership and participation in communities, both civic and ecological.

The ecological confession that that we first belong to life only increases individual responsibility.

The discovery decades ago that smoking is a dire threat to our health has led to increased individual responsibility for quitting smoking and for the health of those around us at the same time that it has led to higher tobacco taxes, health warning labels, proscriptions on smoking at work or other public places, and bans on tobacco advertising.

Seeking the common good of highway traffic safety or cleaner air and water only increases our individual responsibility for health and safety in these areas.

We can run, but we can't hide from the task of health care reform. As the Nobel Laureate, Joshua Lederberg says, (of the threat of resurgent epidemics), “there is nowhere in the world from which we are remote and no one from whom we are disconnected.”

But this is true of health care reform also. The confession that our health is about our health together, is about the interdependence of health in all its dimensions, teaches us that we cannot pursue more insurance, or controlling costs, or defending quality as separate goals, because what we do here affects what we do there.

In ecology, in global health, and in health care, everything is connected to everything else.

Who is talking about health care reform in this way?

Not many. Still, plans that contain the elements of the ecological confession of the interdependence of all of life together are plans that make health insurance uniform, that forbid refusing coverage to the sick, that promote health care costs control and that evaluate new health care technology, and that also build upon the success of our existing universal health care program, Medicare, all at the same time.

These are the plans that admit that everything is connected to everything else and our life together must reflect this interdependence.

Most of the Democratic proposals point in the direction of the ecological confession. Whether the Democrats stick to their guns, we shall see.

The Republican candidates promote plans that do little more than stand for their Johnny-One-Note theme of individual responsibility for health, embrace the hubris of "We're on our own" in this world.

Parker Palmer, in To Know as We are Known, says about prayer:

One one side, prayer is our capacity to enter into that vast community of life in which self and other, human and nonhuman, visible and invisible, are intricately intertwined. While my senses discriminate and my mind dissects, my prayer acknowledges and recreates the unity of life. In prayer, I no longer set myself apart from others and the world, manipulating them to suit my needs.

It is this kind of prayer that we need for health care reform, a prayer that our leaders and we ourselves, as citizens, will acknowledge the unity and interconnectedness of life itself.

Dan Beauchamp is a former Washington representative, university professor, health official, and small-town mayor. He is working on a memoir about meeting yourself again, for the first time, again and again. His blog, on politics, spirituality and other matters, can be found at http://talesofcoppercity.com.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"No Way Out"

By Bob Willner



Run from him, Run from him,
Night and day I run from him.
Minutes pass; hours flee,
Yet,
I cannot escape from him.
He seeks me out,
He knows where I hide.
He makes the law,
Oh God!
Must I abide?
The answer always comes,
The answer always comes.
Not if I escape.
Not if I escape!

I hurry through plains
And crouch behind hills,
Clawing at snow and ice,
I reach frozen peaks,
Alas – he’s on the other side.

Dodge the moon, never in the sun,
Curse the light and live in the black.
Not seeing him, I still
Tremble from the breath on my back

I’ve traveled far; I’ve glanced at beauty.
Never to admire, never to stay.
And now,
I’ve lost my way.

I’m tired weary and sick --
I know that I will die,
But if by death I can escape
There is no need to cry.

They think that I am dead,
So they put me in a box.
My eyes are shut,
I hold my breath

Bob Willner, a lawyer and writer in Chatham, New York, will read from his memoir on Saturday, December 15, 2008 at 5:30 p.m. at Stageworks in Hudson, New York. For reservations, please call (518) 822-9667

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"A Miracle in My House


By Amira Abdul-Wahhab

It was November 25, 2006, Thanksgiving Day, one of the coldest winter days I have ever faced in my 19 years on the earth. Man it was so bitter cold that those tiny hairs on my arms and back were sticking straight up toward the heavens. All the houses on my block had little ice sticks hanging from the gutter and the roof and snow flakes were falling so gently on the icy side walks.

Sounds like a little fairytale story right?

Well it was nothing like that at all. A few months before, my mother had lost her job. She felt let down and so ashamed. She knew that Thanksgiving was not going to be as delightful as in years past.

Just the year before we had celebrated the most magnificent Thanksgiving dinner that I had ever seen. We had macaroni and cheese, candied yams, turkey, and stuffing. You know, the works, anything you can think of, we had it, and lots of it.

But now it was 2006. A year of relative famine. We didn't even have heat, let alone a plump turkey to fill our stomachs. It was so cold in my house that you were able to see your breath in the air, you know the way those little fluffy white clouds come steaming up?

Many times I asked my mother "Why do we have to live like this? It’s not fair, none of my other friends have to go through this." I would stomp out of the house crying with nothing but rage in my eyes and fear in my heart. We had no idea where our next meal or rent payment was going to come from, and I tell you, that is one of the scariest things to think about, for my mother had three children including myself to care for.

I spent a lot of time in my room crying and hating my life.

That Thanksgiving Day I lay there on the bed sobbing when something rather miraculous happened.

I actually heard a strange voice coming out of my closet. It was the voice of an unfamiliar old woman. A voice like you might hear from a grandmother. Crazy? Oh yeah. The voice asked, “Why are you crying, dear?”

Scared to my toes, but trying to be brave, I asked, "Who…who's there?" and out of the closet came the funny reply: “What do you mean who, you know darn well who this is. It is your closet, girl, you see me, don’t you? Every single day I am here for you. You throw your shoes at me, don’t you? And don’t you remember all those days you would climb into my arms and cry almost every night. I never asked why, did I? Well not until now.”

Shaking, I nodded my head and said “I don’t know what in the world is going on, am I dying or something?”

The closet didn’t answer. Not at first.

Finally, she said, “Tell me, honey, what is wrong?” And she said it in such a nice peaceful voice that, as scared and confused as I was, I found myself answering her.

“I'm sad because of my mother. She lost her job and we don’t have a cent to our names. So we fight all the time. It’s gotten to the point where, when she hits me, I can feel and taste the warm salty blood in my mouth.” I paused.

“Go on, honey.”

“She hits me sometimes as if I am some strange man off a lonely street, a man trying to steal from her. It feels like she hates me and now it’s Thanksgiving and we haven’t got any food. What did I do to deserve this?”

I started bawling. “HELP ME, please, what can I do to stop her?"

With the sound of sorrow in her voice, the voice began to speak. “Here here dear, first, why don’t you wipe your eyes.”

I reached for a tissue and blew my nose.

“OK, so there you go. Now close your eyes.”

I did. She continued in that wonderful grandmotherly voice. “All you have to do is let all of your pain go. And breathe. Can you do that?”

I took in a long breath. I breathed out. I did feel a tiny bit better.

“Whenever you need to, come to me. Sit here in my arms, and close your eyes and breathe. And I will sing to you.” And she did. She began to hum.

Imagine, some kind of a closet that holds you close AND sings to you?

“And one more thing, honey.”

“Yes?” I whispered. Her words of wisdom came singing out:

“Next year, you will go away to college. You will find friends there. You will find yourself growing in ways you never imagined. You will be happy. You will no longer have to cry out for help. Make school your sanctuary. Learn everything you can. You will be free of all this. And you will have your dignity with you at all times.”

And here, a year later, I am in Albany. I am a student. I am doing well.

Sometimes I think about that closet. And how what she said to me was, so true.

Amira Abdul-Wahhab, who grew up in Binghamton, New York, is a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York. This is her first published piece of writing. It appears this month in LATINO NEW YORK.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"My First Love Was a Wicked Twisted Road"

By BSM



My memories don’t exist for you. When I look out of my head through my eyes, I see the now. All that ever happens in front of my eyes is the now. I figured that out a few minutes ago.

If there is such a thing as a collective memory in this country, it must include trains. No matter how often I ride on a train, when I get on the train my now that’s in front of my eyes starts to mix with my memories behind my field of vision.

I’m riding the Now and Then Line from New York City to points north. Fascists, like Rudy Giuliani, generally rail against the Now and Then Line in their stump speeches and campaign ads. They attack this venerable, historical railway as, "not on time," "neither here nor there," and perhaps most damning, "Now and Then but Never on Time." True, when the Now Local arrives, it most often was scheduled to arrive then, and is therefore late. And in an odd synchronicity that proves Amtrak does have a sense of humor, the Then Express generally arrives now.

On the Now local, the woman sitting in front of me is always a fat blond woman eating potato chips. I can see her playing a game on her cell phone reflected in the window.

The guy sitting behind me always likes to call people at regular intervals during the ride to ask annoying questions. He says, “Hello!” in a way that completely captures the essence of Now. His singsong repetition of that most basic of words is an eerie simulacrum. He means it to be a imitation of a cartoon character, but there is no cartoon character that sounds like that.

By now, the fat blond lady is crinkling the empty bag of Frito-Lays and has taken her Blackberry out of her purse. Double fisting her phones, a flip-style one in the left and a PDA in the right, she clears her throat as if to say, "this train is just so now right now."

Sometimes this train is more then than now. Those are the rides I like the best. The people stay off of their – excuse my French – motherfucking cell phones, unless they are speaking in hushed tones. On the then train, the golden glow of reading lights falls on clean, wide seats. The train speeds along the Hudson River. During the day, the Then Express passes sailboats, and at night, the opposite bank of the river offers a never-ending string of twinkling lights. On the Then Express, my steel cocoon rumbles through deserted stations where white lamps splash pools of light down onto solitary train platforms. In the summer, there are moths gathered around the lights.

Every now and then, I catch a whiff of the Jim Beam sour mash whiskey that someone in my general vicinity is furtively sipping. Although, I have never had the good fortune of sitting across the isle from this whiskey sipper, I know his name. He’s the Gambler from the old Kenny Rogers song. He knows when to hold ‘em, he knows when to fold ‘em, he knows when to lay down, he knows when to run.

I’m not sure if it would even be possible for the Gambler to ride on the Now train. I mean, he’s been riding the Then train since it was the Now train. I’m like the Gambler in that way.

My memories don’t exist for you. They exist for me, though – all of the time. My life is looking out of my head via my eyes and seeing about 150 degrees of now. The other 210 degrees are on the Then Express, 24/7. In front of me are the bright fluorescent lights and high-speed data connections of Now. The Now Local stops in grimy subway stations and navigates 6th Avenue in the rain. The pavement is slippery, the wind is cold, but that’s only now. Behind my eyes, wrapped around my shoulders, and trailing behind me, just my memories.

Memories of the caress of an ex-girlfriend co-mingle with memories of the wind on my face in the evening as I was getting home to my seaside apartment in Cancun. Memories of the gently swaying palms of Cancun brush shoulders with memories of walking down the tree-lined streets of Vedado in the springtime.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I do not believe that most people live as surrounded by their memories as I do. Maybe old people do. My two living grandparents are probably on this Then Train Express somewhere also. I guess I’ll go find them now then.

BSM lives in Brooklyn. He writes at night and reads on the subway.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"On Deck"

By John Grey





A splendid serenity suffuses the planet
and stars, buoyed by the pale calm of their glow,
gift the world their pledge of unending sobriety.

The new moon glimmers in the sky's low trough,
a golden curve like a wheelman's smile
and the ocean flattens glossy like a silk sheet,
stretches windless to the arc of the dim horizon.
Propeller spins. The dark fleck of speeding hull
creases the invisible.

On bow, starboard, a deep crease of water,
endless through the shimmer,
traps, within its crests, its valleys,
white curls of foam that fracture, fizzle,
wavelets that, left to themselves,
would ripple all the way to shore.

Poet John Grey, a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives, is from Providence, Rhode Island. His book, “What Else Is There,” is published by Main Street Rag. He has been published in Agni, Hubbub, South Carolina Review and The Journal Of The American Medical Association.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Family Tale"

By Camincha

The 50s


She arrived virgin. Was baptized by the foam of new waves. Swallowed by 5 & 10 cent stores, radio, the tube, night school, boyfriend, car, dancing. Swallowed by wars, turmoils, universal and personal.


Her wedding gown compounded the problems. Covered her like a shroud. The first of four chubby babies made them proud, a boy! In ignorance they celebrated. In ignorance they lived. Their ignorance like a boil grew. In them it grew. Then came two little sparrows. One straight hair, one curly top.


And all were swallowed by the American Dream: OWN YOUR OWN HOME, their little house. House swallowed by termites. Not a home that house but a menace hanging over their flimsy heads. They, not the owners. It was owned by FHA and BofA. In the garage, cars, owned by dealers who demanded payments. Also demanded: payments on a couch, chairs, washing machine, dryer. Worst of all the freezer, AMANA, BIGGEST IN THE MARKET. WILL SAVE YOU MONEY AT THE TABLE. Sharks sold it to them. Sharks devoured them.


The 60s


Another little sparrow came. Also curly topped. Came with the New Year, almost. Which found them, bleeding hearts, desperately trying to save their love affair from unnamed horrors. Unknown dangers in face of impotence against discrimination, lay offs, frustration, despair. Divorce. He did what he had long been practicing for, his GREAT EXIT. Left her juggling mounting bills like a circus veteran: merchants, banks. Doctors, for diarrheas, colds, flu, viruses. Dentist bills, for teeth retainers. Orthopedics, for feet retainers. Felt she could use some for her head. Maybe could keep it from falling off.


She switched to powdered milk to save for socks and shoes. Meantime she carved pumpkins for Halloween and stuffed turkeys for Thanksgiving. This took on meaning, when seen through her children's eyes. And on and on. Good moments few and far between. There were lovers, hers. One, she married. A mistake. Divorce didn’t make it good. Brought shock, destruction. Learned to lie: All is fine. Yes, all is fine! To so called friends in disguise. To so called neighbors who denied them the Christian virtue of looking the other way. But rather, pointed and stared.

The 70s

Materialistic well-being. Big disappointments. Strange comforts. Spiritual discomfort. Adjustments. Adjustments. Counseling. The long-haired boy looked like a middle aged lady: marijuana. Wine. Beatles. The Doors. Janis Joplin. Protests and sit-ins. Hippies, beads and flowers. The girls wore long hair and no bras. More protests and war. War of un-sung soldiers. Graduations, birthday cakes, good-byes. Trips to far-away, long-longed-for relatives. Earning power. And with it they knew envy and discrimination at its best. Despair. Disappointment. Unemployment. She searched. Searched spiritual growth.

The 80s

New passions, alliances, new life, new joys. Awesome expansion in learning power. As a reentry she first earned an AA, then a BA, then an MA: She, a Master. Oh, with great effort and perseverance, a new language for her.

The 90s


The one of the GREAT EXIT, performed his last. And left her to tell the story, which she did, in a prose poem. And here it ends. Not the story but the prose poem. For she knows now that writing will never end for her. Rather. She thinks this is but. The beginning. . . *

END


Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Saving Blue"








By Juanita Reyes

A long bright street
A big, blue house
The white, blue and red
Dominican flag
waves in the cold wind
in the garage.
I smile, but
a black, dirty bag hits me
in the back.
I turn and the bag
swirls towards the
big, blue house.
I run, I try to catch up, but
there is a rock on the ground and
I trip and
I roll down the long, bright street.


Juanita Reyes and her family moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic three years ago. She is a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Floor Speaks


By Carrie Holmes

Her face became blurry as salty tears filled my eyes. I should have known better than to think that I could find a home in a stranger’s house.

“I never wanted you anyway. You ain’t anything but another check.”

It wasn't the first time that I had heard something like that. Foster home after foster home, they are all the same. It’s like the government pays these people to kick my butt. It all becomes second nature to me.

“You hear me? You ain”t nothing! You ain't never gonna be nothing!”

I thought to myself that if I ain't never gonna be nothing, then I was gonna be something because that’s a double negative. But I dared not say that to her face. Correct her? Please, I'd be picking up my teeth.

I struggled off the cold hard floor, trying to regain my composure, when I felt another kick in my back. Face first I fell straight into the smear of dried blood that had accumulated there from a previous beating. The door slammed. I felt as if even my heart was not enough life support.

I tried again to get up. This time I managed to make it to my feet. I quickly glanced around the room. I was looking for my foster mother, trying to avoid another blow, when suddenly the thick grey clouds, and foggy air, drew my attention to the window. It was the middle of the summer. Weather like this was very uncommon.

Instantly, the phone began to ring. It wouldn’t stop. The pictures on the wall rocked from side to side. Everything in the room began to shake. I struggled to stand. I turned around looking for something to hold onto. I fell.

“The floor is really popular today,” I thought to myself. The floor began shaking harder and harder. The sound of dropping items and shattered glass filled the room. This was no earthquake. This was something beyond geography.

Suddenly a loud screech pierced the air as a crack formed in the floor. It was the sound of war. There was nowhere to move without falling through the huge space that had opened.

I heard a loud, demanding voice.

“Get up!”

I looked around, but no one was there.

“Get up,” the voice commanded again.

The voice became louder and louder. Soon I realized the voice was coming from the crack in the floor. I couldn’t believe it. I got as close to the crack as I could without falling in. I leaned over the floor to see who owned the voice. I saw someone, someone strange yet very familiar too.

I saw me.

“Let me out,” The voice said.

“What?”

“Let me out. I have been trapped inside you for so many years. The abuse you got, I got. The tears you cried, I cried. The pain you felt, I felt. It’s time to put a stop to this. Let me out!”

How was this possible? I was asking myself to let me out. It made no sense. But then, life doesn't make any sense.

“How? How do you want me to do it?” I whispered.

“Trust yourself. All your life you have let others take advantage of us. Now it’s time for us to be happy. Trust yourself! Love yourself! Defend yourself!”

“Trust myself? Defend myself?" You must be crazy, I thought to myself.

“Go!”

So I did.

I picked myself up off the floor.

Carrie Holmes, a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York, grew up in New York City.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Regina's Closet, Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal"


By Diana M. Raab

The following is an excerpt from Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal, published by Beaufort Books, September 2007.

I was ten years old the morning I found my grandmother dead. Our neighborhood in Queens was serene while many residents were out of town celebrating the last three-day weekend of the summer. My mother and father weren’t at home, and my grandfather was visiting his sister Rusza in Paris.

I knocked on Grandma’s bedroom door. She didn’t answer. I cracked the door open and got a whiff of her perfume (Evening in Paris). Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the sheer white curtains swaying in front of the open window overlooking the street. The air in her room was crisp, and the night’s dampness clung to the wooden floor. Grandma’s bed, one of two single beds pushed close together, was beside the window.

Grandma lay beneath her soft checkered Scandinavian wool blanket with fringed edges. She called it the warmest blanket in the world. On her headboard rested Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair, a hairbrush, a box of Kleenex, and an open bottle of prescription pills.

“Grandma,” I called softly from the doorway, “can I go to Cindy’s?”
She didn’t answer. I glanced at my new watch. It was already ten o’clock in the morning. On most days Grandma was the first one into the maroon and pink-tiled bathroom that all five of us shared. I walked inside to see if her toothbrush was wet. It was still dry from the night before, but her towel, slung sideways on the towel rack, was still a little damp. The toilet cover was down, just the way she taught me to leave it. I didn’t remember hearing the sound of running water that morning, a sound often heard within the walls of our older house.

In my fluffy blue slippers, I returned to Grandma’s room and tiptoed around Grandpa’s bed toward my Grandma’s side. I gently tapped her shoulder.

“Grandma,” I repeated, “can I please go swimming at Cindy’s? I’ll be back by lunchtime. Promise.” Still no answer. Grandma’s face looked pale and her eyes were loosely shut, as if she were almost ready to get up.
I sensed something was seriously wrong. I tiptoed out of the room, glancing over my shoulder in the hope that she’d wake up and answer me. Under the weight of my footsteps, the wooden floor made cracking sounds. Her closet door was closed and her makeup was spread out on her vanity. I trembled while scurrying to my parents’ room at the end of the hallway. They also had two single beds pushed together with one headboard and two pale pink electric blankets sprawled out on each bed.

The beds were unmade, and on my father’s bedside table was an empty plate with crumbs left from a sandwich he had eaten the night before. The oblong wooden bedside table had a glass covering it and a display of family photographs beneath. One photo caught my eye. My grandmother was leaning against a tree in our backyard. She had a broad smile and seemed playful, the way I will always remember her.

Diana M. Raab is a memoirist, essayist and poet who teaches writing at The University of California, Santa Barbara Extension. She is a columnist for InkByte.com, an online magazine for writers. She frequently writes and lectures on journaling. Her award-winning writing has appeared in numerous national publications. For more information about Diana Raab, her book and other writings, please visit her website, http://www.dianaraab.com.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

"She Gave It a New Life"


By Camincha

1. She gave it a new life. Donated the computer that sat in the spare bedroom. Bill, her computer guru-guardian-angel, had given it to her. "An extra one," he had said, "in case yours breaks down." But later he said, "You know if it does break down, it’ll be easier and cheaper to buy parts from the dealer."

So she got on the phone to find someone who would take the little orphan. Many calls later a very energetic, short gentleman, the principal of the local granmar school, said: “Oh! I know a very computer-literate teacher who would love to have it to print out our newsletter.”

2. She gave it a new life. Placed the projector in the hands of her film aficionado friend. She had owned the beautiful piece for many years but seldom used it. It's now in very good hands. So is the little movie camera she obtained years ago by trading the old movie camera and a little cash, and all 30 odd rolls of 8 and Super 8 home movies.
Her friend said, "I’ll place the film in a special safe-deposit box. It won't deteriorate. Won't dry out."

3. She gave it a new life. A purpose, to the sturdy, elegant case of French records and text books her friend Erik had given her. Linda suggested donating it to The Historical Society. But they said only took items if related to San Mateo County. She didn’t press it. And called a French teacher at Oceana High SchooL who said, I’Il be glad to take it.

She’s heard it’s greatly admired——this relic from other times——by the students who are in awe of the leather case trimmed in gold.

4. She gave it a new life. Donated her collection of clippings of the Kennedy family. She mailed them to the Kennedy Historical Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts with a letter that said: I have lovingly collected these. It’s time to pass them on, to be used, perhaps by a member of the Kennedy family who needs more information for their memory album, or to a school, or a student writing a thesis.

The letter with the seal of the Kennedy Historical Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts said: Thank you.
She’s giving them all a new life. No one had to sit by her side. No one had to hold her hand and say, you are doing well, you are doing the right thing.

Now, she has room for new tidings, new colors, new dreams.

Camincha is a pen name for a writer based in Pacifica, California.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Shiny Things"

By Val Haynes

First of all, I didn’t start out being a shoplifter. It’s not something I was consciously aware of doing, at least not that first time anyway. The other times, I admit I was guilty, even planned on stealing, but not that first time.

The first time it just kind of happened and after the first time, it became easier and easier. In my career as a shoplifter and thief, I have taken: a man’s Piaget watch, $2500 from a pot-dealer, two pairs of jeans (brick red and blue), and $100 from a hard-luck alcoholic who happened to be my boyfriend at the time—oh yeah—and a skirt full of candy from the corner deli down the street from where we lived.

The hundred dollars was for the shaking I needed to stop and the candy was for all the times I had to go to the Saturday matinees empty-handed. I feel remorse about the $100 (my friend needed to pay his rent and his twisted face revealed the anguish my stealing had caused), for everything else I don’t care. My stealing didn’t make a bit of difference to me or anyone else. But the first time—the very first time I stole—it was for my mom. That first shiny thing I stole was a heart-shaped pendent in gold-toned quilted metal. It was my Rubicon—my maiden voyage into a career from which there was no turning back.

You see, I loved shiny things. I still do.

It all started with my Pa. See, when I was little, my Pa called me “Princess.” He called me that name so much I started to believe it, I guess. In third grade I wore a metal and rhinestone tiara to school seven days straight till finally Sister Mary Catherine made me stand in the corner saying it was a vanity.

The tiara didn’t go with the plaid blue uniform worn at St. Peter’s Academy anyway, so it didn’t bother me much, having to give up wearing it to school. Still, I loved shiny things and their clean brightness. Diamonds and bracelets, those kinds of things. You could put a ring on your finger and change your world. People did it all the time, like when they got engaged. Of course, I was too young to think about getting engaged or anything like that. I just thought diamonds and rings and necklaces, stuff like that was, well life-changing. Maybe those things only changed the way you thought about your life. Maybe wearing jewelry and seeing it day-to-day reinforced a kind of possibility—that things—good things were possible. Even for me. Not just people in shiny magazines. Maybe I’d grow up to be a princess after all.

Back then, my favorite place was Adel’s, the small jewelry shop I passed each day on my way to school. Adel’s was an island of shining prospects despite its location wedged between two abandoned store fronts on a side street littered with other shiny things like beer cans, broken glass and foil wrappers. I didn’t mind the street so much; it’s that Adel’s stood diagonally across from the El Dorado, a smelly old man’s bar, where my Pa spent most afternoons seated on a barstool.

He became a “regular” when one of our town’s chief employers, a paper-mill, went bankrupt. I didn’t understand why he drank instead of getting another job. I suppose he resigned himself to being out of work in the same way I resigned myself to being called names other than “Princess.” You just get tired and give up the ghost.

Both to and from school I walked this street never once passing in front of the El Dorado for fear I’d see my pa’s scowl or worse, his grin. If he grinned he was happy and I would have to go in and suffer the embarrassment of one of his drunken exhortations about how I was such a good girl and such a smart girl, all that kind of crap. I was hyper vigilant about avoiding him especially those days.

It was Christmastime and he was drinking more and more—getting stranger and stranger. There were mornings when I found him passed out on the john, mornings when I woke to find my mom with a black eye, mornings when the car we once owned mysteriously vanished. The winter I turned thirteen I passed Adel’s so often, on my way to do some errand for my mom, that old man Adel practically invited me in as I paused for a quick peek at the window.

One December afternoon the shop’s window glittered with the traditional colored lights and garland of the season forcing me to a full-stop while I stared mesmerized by the shiny display of rings and bracelets and watches. I had yet to buy my mom a Christmas gift and knew I wouldn’t be able to afford anything from the shop. Still, I planted myself in front of the window my gaze focused on the polished array of silver and gold.

Since my Pa lost his job I no longer received an allowance and the only extra money I had saved was from baby-sitting. I wouldn’t have much to spend on gifts this year. Still, I went in. There might be some cheaper items in the back of the store. I remembered that old man Adel kept a saucer of mints on the display counter. I went in for a mint and a closer look at the sparkly selection of jewelry.

Inside on the countertop suspended from a velveteen display rack was a row of chains and necklaces. That’s where I saw it. The watch. I’d never seen any thing like it before. It was a pendant, really. Heart-shaped. In the center of the heart was a watch. The pendant hung from a gold chain dangling near the edge of the rack. I fingered the pendant with care fascinated that there was a small watch inside the heart. I wanted it for my mom. For Christmas.

I closed my eyes and pictured her mouth forming a small oh of surprise as she cooed over the pendant’s beauty. It was seventy-five dollars more than I had. Despite saving all the money I earned baby sitting, I knew I’d never be able to save enough to buy the pendant by Christmas Eve.

Later that day around suppertime, while I helped my younger brother assemble a model airplane, my mom called to me from the kitchen.

“Could you pick up your father, Connie? I know you just got home but I don’t think he should walk home alone tonight.”

“It’s okay, Ma... I don’t mind.”

As I walked down the El Dorado’s street through the dusky twilight, I looked up at the streetlamps. They groaned and flickered on one by one in the wake of my footsteps crunching against the crisp, clean snow. It was funny how the flakes disappeared as soon as they fell into the lamplight. I noticed a small crowd of people on the normally desolate street.

It’s the holidays, I thought.

I saw myself in my second-hand winter coat reflected in the empty storefronts and paused. I thought about my ma and my brothers and sisters, how they seemed so innocent. I thought about how my ma, especially, was always going on about miracles and Jesus and heaven. Sometimes I wished I could make her see it was all a lie meant to keep people from doing things. From being who they really were. I wanted to believe but I thought only suckers believed in miracles and Jesus and heaven.

I passed Adel’s stopping briefly and raised my hand to wave at the old man who for once didn’t seem to notice me outside in the cold. Maybe he’s ignoring me, after all, it’s not like I’m a paying customer, I thought. Without thinking, I saw myself make the sign of the cross before I entered the shop.

The old man hunched behind the counter, busy with a woman wearing too much lipstick and a brown, old lady, fur coat. He held out a charm bracelet and she practically snatched it from his hands.

“It’s for my niece, her first year at Cornell. She’ll be home for the holidays and I want to give her something really special,” the woman chirped.

I tapped on the counter to get the old man’s attention and noticed the exaggerated arch of the woman’s penciled in eyebrow as she turned her head to look at me. The woman stared straight through me while she went on and on about her niece.

“Got any more of those mints, Mr. Adel?” I asked.

Sure enough the old man while in the middle of helping the woman turned his back to fill the empty saucer from a supply of candy he kept in the back of the shop.
It happened in an instant. I grabbed the pendant and shoved it into my coat pocket, the one without the hole in it. The woman was too busy toying with the bracelet to spot me and I figured that before Adel noticed the pendant missing I would be long gone. I felt like I'd unzipped my skin as I flew onto the sidewalk. It took me all of five seconds before I realized I was under the El Dorado’s faded awning.

As I skipped across the El Dorado’s threshold I saw my pa slumped across the bar. I wasn’t sad or scared; I wasn’t even ashamed of him. I tapped his shoulder and he lifted his head and grinned at me in that sad way drunks have.

"Hi ya, Princess."

I smiled and hummed along to the tune playing in my head. It was a song I heard while listening to Dr. Laura’s radio talk show.

I was just thinking.

I needed a little white gift-box.

Val Haynes. a writer, actress and singer, is earning her Master of Arts in English at the University of Albany, SUNY.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Some Things I Learned From My Dentist"


By Ellen Zunon


Ever since childhood I have had a visceral fear of dentistry. At every six-month check-up, I always had new cavities; my older sister rarely did. My mother thought it was because my bones and teeth had been cheated of calcium because she became pregnant again so soon after my sister was born.

So I was always the one who had to listen to the dentist’s song and dance – literally! - while he pierced my tender gum with the novocaine needle, drilled until my skull vibrated, and then filled the crevasses in my teeth with that shiny metal. The trinket I got to choose afterward was small compensation for my ordeal.

In contrast, with Dr. Koiné, my dentist in Abidjan, there was no song and dance, no trinket, no nonsense, only cool, clean-edged professionalism.

Walking up the stairs and along the corridor to her office for the first time, I felt a sense of trepidation. My first experience with an Ivorian dentist, after I had broken a tooth, was not very encouraging. This was a professor who taught at the dental school in Abidjan. He had tried to grind down the tooth stump without using an anaesthetic. I vowed to myself at the time, if I ever get out of this dentist’s chair alive, I’m never coming back here again.

I think Dr. Koiné had been trained in France, but I’m not sure. In any case, she had learned her craft at the very same dental school from which my tooth stump still throbbed.

I preferred to think that she was trained in France.

She was extremely particular, meticulous even, about the sterilization of her equipment, and wanted me, as the patient, to know this. She wanted all her European and American patients to know this, as you could catch any number of noxious tropical diseases from unsanitary dental equipment.

Her assistant Kouadio was in awe of her. He was a dark black man with patches of pink here and there on his skin due to tinea, and it was his job to sterilize the equipment and to hand her the instruments. I had root canal before the crown went on, and many instruments were handed back and forth during this delicate process. Dr. Koiné admonished me in no uncertain terms to sit very still because the tools were extremely sharp, and missing the mark by even a millimeter could be disastrous.

Dr. Koiné definitely did not fit the Western stereotype of the submissive African woman. In contrast, she was very self-assured and in charge. She exhibited the resilience and self-reliance that I encountered again and again among the women I worked with in my community development projects.

Although she had a traditional Muslim last name, she was a devout Catholic. At first I thought that must be her married name, but I eventually learned otherwise. Incidentally, Koiné is not her real name. I’ve changed it to protect her privacy. But what you need to know about her name is that in the Ivory Coast a person’s tribal identity and religious affiliation are usually evident from their name. And it is quite unusual to have a mixture, as Christiane Koiné did.

As I sat gaping, slack-jawed, I learned how her family had disowned her when she had converted to Christianity. I wondered under what circumstances she had converted, but never learned any more details. I am guessing that her Christian first name had been given to her when she was baptized. She was very close to her priest and spoke highly of him on several occasions.

Dr. Koiné’s grandfather was known as El Hadj Koiné. He had earned the title El Hadj by accomplishing the hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, from Guinea to Saudi Arabia on foot during the early part of the 20th century. As Christiane spoke of her grandfather, I pictured him in sandals and flowing robe, trudging through the sandy Sahara from oasis to oasis in the wake of a caravan of camels. The family’s name is really that of one of the famous clans of the Ghana Empire, going back to the Middle Ages. It is a name which is still prominent throughout the Sahel.

I learned something about the degree of Muslim-Christian tolerance in Côte d’Ivoire from Dr. Koiné’s situation. During my years in the Ivory Coast, the country put forth an official face of tolerance and neutrality, but there were always private prejudices under the official façade. These became more evident later, after my family and I left Côte d’Ivoire, and it was torn in half for a time by ethno-religious tension. Some say that the conflict was purely political. Or was it? It is impossible to separate the religious from the political in a country of 60 diverse ethnic groups.

I also learned something about myself from Dr. Koiné. While drilling, and while her assistant was sucking up my copious saliva with that little plastic straw, she told me that my excessive salivation was a sign of someone who keeps everything in. I wondered if this was something she had learned in dental school or an observation drawn from her own practice of dentistry. It is true that I am an introvert and tend to hold things in, but not nearly as much as I used to. But who would have thought that this tendency would be reflected in my degree of salivation under dental stress? Is it because we introverts tend to swallow literally and figuratively things we should spit out?

I thought of Dr. Koiné last week when I learned that the rebels from the north of the country had finally burned their weapons in a public ceremony of reconciliation, putting an end to seven years of turmoil in Côte d’Ivoire. I hope this symbolic act will lead to a real and lasting peace, and that people like Dr. Koiné can go forward and lead their lives free of the anguish caused by ethnic conflict.

Ellen Zunon, a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives, is a writer living in the Capital Region of New York State.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"And Their Echo Will Never Cease"


By Jennifer M. Wilson

My son and daughter, twins, are now two and a half years old, and I am going through their things, sorting what can be sold or donated and what I want to keep for sentimental reasons.

I am not planning on having any more children (I am almost 37), and it seems like I just had these two. It seems to me as though I am still recovering from new parenthood, and yet I am researching pre-schools and giving away baby gear and noticing that the photo in my wallet is already a year and a half old and needs to be updated.

How did I go so long without updating that photo?

The first four months all I did was take care of them and take photos of them.

Photos that displayed round scrunched-up faces whose beauty I now see was so exhalted in my eyes that looking at these pictures now, I have to wonder if anyone really meant it when they cooed, "Oh how beautiful!"

Not that I care what anyone thought, it just strikes me as funny now, that time has given me perspective on what was once the most beautiful thing I had ever layed eyes on in my life.

Now I have trouble remembering, I have trouble recognizing my own babies as I have grown so used to their wide-eyed little people gazes. Their funny faces and their angry gestures fill my days with things I cannot believe I will ever forget. But I already know how much the mind pushes aside as it moves forward.

Ten years ago I felt as though I had lived so much life, in my pursuit of endless experience, that there was hardly room for any more. I felt ready to settle down, and yet I had a few more paths to travel before it came to that. And now I can see just how far we still have to go.

And I am beginning to get a hint of just how quickly it will pass. And I am hearing the voice inside of me yearning for my own time, my own space again, wishing I could spend a morning writing and reading Proust instead of cleaning up Cheerios and refilling sippy cups.

And yet I fight it. I fight it as best I can and try to turn my attention back to them when I notice my journal sitting on a shelf gathering dust. Because I can see in the tiny outfits I barely remember them wearing, in the shoes so small I have to stare at them and rub my fingers over them to believe my own children wore them once, I can see that before I know it, I will have all the time in the world again, as much time as I will allow.

Jennifer Wilson lives and writes in Pennsylvania. Visit her wonderful website, and check out her novel, "Witch," at http://www.jennifermwilson.com.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Open Letter to All Imperfect Parents:




By Camincha

Father, you are the trunk of an enormous tree. Your children, blades of grass frolicking about you.

To Favorite Daughter you gave hand-knitted-robes made to order. Tiny jewels on which to sharpen her baby teeth. The trip to Magic Land. Her every wish your command. But one day you fell. Became less than godly than wise or enormous. Favorite Daughter spoke up: You are callous towards her, my mother, you are uncaring. Miserly. How righteous Daughter felt.

Time passed. And now knowing how imperfect she is, the one who knew it all. She realizes what a disservice she’s done you both, you and her, how she considered you perfect for so long. For all those first 13 years of her life. And you grow more perfect, human in her memory as she grows older.

Mother, petite, brown-soft-skin, brown-velvet-eyes, sensual lips that pulled Favorite Daughter into worlds of sensual images. Mother opened her horizons with unprejudiced teachings. Carried daughter by the hand against her childish desire to retreat into the familiar. Gave her a world where strangers jumped out of the books that populated the house, taking her to other worlds, where planets circled 'round her, and stars beckoned.

But when Mother began acting like just another woman, Favorite Daughter was confounded. Who is this Mother who celebrates her sensuality? Daughter is curious about the ways Mother displays it. What is romance? Who is this woman who lets herself be carried away by passion? Who is this woman whose cheeks flash and eyes shine like jewels? Who is this woman who is not just MOTHER? How can she be anything but MOTHER?

Too soon it was all over, you were both gone. Now, after all these years of missing you, I know you were just being human. I know now that being imperfect means, just that, you were just totally human: Loving. Selfish. Disgusting. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Ugly. So imperfect! So human!!!

Favorite Daughter has this to say: I LOVE YOU! not in spite of, but because of your imperfections.

With Love From Your Daughter

Camincha is a pen name for a Pacifica, California-based writer.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Finding the Center," Part Two


By Mel Waldman


VIII

In the sprawling mansion of my mind, my old friends exist. Mother is there too. She died 42 years ago. And when she passed away, my soul was broken, lost in a black hole of despair and unbearable grief. Neither I nor Father could tolerate her absence. After her death, we could not heal each other. Indeed, we could not live or even, be together. Our grief was cutting, fiery, and chilling, compelling us to separate and sever all ties for a while. Later, when we finally got together, we were separated by a vast, soulless wasteland, watching each other from a distance in mutual unreality. Without mother, we were strangers in a barren universe.

Mother died in 1965, two years before I began working at the Coney Island senior center. Looking back, I realize that a significant part of my healing process occurred at that mysterious center ensconced in Coney Island. There, I rediscovered how to love and learned how to mourn for the departed and be one with the divine universe. According to Kabbalistic practice, I had discovered the principle of tikkun --or repair-- the process of restoration and redemption.

At this mystical center, I found Mother again. And by repairing myself, I was able to find Father too. Now, Mother and I continue to have loving dialogues. During our shared existence, she empowered me. Even now, she fills me with faith. But sometimes, she is silly. She makes funny faces and I laugh uproariously. She rolls her eyes back and forth, her cross eyes launching me into a fit of laughter. Such joy! Such power! With each new dawn, the crepuscular insects rise and Mom, who is eternally resurrected in my soul, empowers me once more.



IX



Father sits next to her and holds her hand. At last, they are reunited. They look like two teenagers madly in love.
Father died 19 years ago in a nursing home in Florida. He had Alzheimer’s disease. But he died of a heart attack.
A year before he died, he stayed with me for almost two months. He had problems with his third wife. (Eventually, he returned to her. Such was his choice.)



I took him in. At that point in time, we empowered each other. How? How did this happen, for almost two months, at the end of one lifetime, between a father and son who never saw each other?


X




At my father’s funeral, I stayed with him in the synagogue for a few eternal minutes. We were alone, the coffin open.





None of the others looked inside the box. I had to look! He was buried Israeli style. Like Mr. Murphy, he looked majestic.


I looked closely. He was really dead. And so very much alive! His gold-filled teeth glittered.


Inside the silence, we spoke. In those unmoving moments of death, Dad was more real and alive than in all the deadened, soulless years of life we shared.


“It’s a miracle, Dad!”


“Yes.”


“How did this happen?”


“I don’t know.” (Dad gives me a big, childlike smile, his gold-filled teeth illuminating the darkness.)




"It doesn’t matter, Dad. We love!”


But now I truly believe that the miracle began at the Coney Island senior center where I discovered the mystical principle of tikkun. According to Kabbalistic teachings, before the beginning of our universe, the Divine light contracted.




And the vessels that contained this Divine energy shattered. Holy sparks were scattered and hidden within every thing. With tikkun, the repair of the self, the shattered universe is mended. And the holy sparks are reunited with the vessels of Divine light.


XI





At this mysterious time in my life, I am enchanted by the power of being, the source of my creative energy and healing power.



I remember the late 1980s and 1990s when I worked in Brooklyn nursing homes in Bensonhurst and Canarsie as a therapist/consultant. I believe I rediscovered the divinely-inspired power of being, originally found in the Coney Island senior center, in those lonely Islands of Oblivion.



Yes, I remember…the power to be! My presence is powerful. My presence heals. On the third floor of a Brooklyn nursing home near Coney Island, I sit with old ladies and men who drift in and out of reality. I reach out to them. I talk to them-my abandoned children! I tell them what day it is, and the date and time and place and what is happening in the world.


Slowly, my old children come out of their cocoons. They emerge and reveal themselves. One precious lady, who hasn’t spoken in hours, recites a poem about a flower which hides from the world.




“And you too are a beautiful flower,” I announce. “Don’t hide my lovely flower! Reveal yourself!”


My youngest child is 78 years old. My oldest, 100. I sit with them and feel their presence. I feel beautiful. They make me feel like the most powerful man in the universe. And I empower them too. What is the source of such power?




XII





I discovered the power of being many years ago in the center. I was a young man then and open to new experiences. I allowed the old folks to enter my soul and they filled it up with beauty, faith, and old-fashioned enthusiasm. They knew the secrets of life and fed me an endless supply of creative energy and love.
Even now, when I sit with my patients ages five to 70 plus in the South Bronx in an underground office within a community health center, where we disappear into the mysterious Labyrinth of the Human Mind and travel across a barren Waste Land of rage, hopelessness, and despair, the eternal center empowers me. It is a place where the dying breathe life into the living, a place where a young man is blessed by a rabbi and destined to find his bride, a place that some men call home.




Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies. He is also a poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter. Part One of "Finding the Center" appeared on Friday, August 17, 2007.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Finding the Center"

By Mel Waldman

I never hung out in poolrooms until 1967. In ’67 I landed a job in a senior citizen center in Coney Island working as a Housing Assistant for the Housing Authority. I was sent into the geriatric center to be a recreation worker.

Strange things began to happen in this Coney Island hideaway. And although I had looked forward to a rest and an easy going lifestyle, there was more action there than in Peyton Place or any of the soaps on TV.

The center stands a block from the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean, but after my first day of work, I wondered if I had landed on Mars. Months later, I realized I was the Christopher Columbus of Coney Island. I hadn’t discovered America. Still, I had found my new home for the next two years. Welcome home, Kotter!

II

I hid in the poolroom where the old men taught me how to shoot pool and protected me from spirited old ladies in search of a dancing partner. The slick old men taught me how to hold a cue, to chalk up, and to play a smooth game of eight ball. And when lascivious old ladies found my secret hiding place, the wise old men formed an impenetrable fortress: “You can’t have him now! We’re in the midst of a serious game of eight ball. Come back later.”
“I’ll be back!” said one old lady who smiled sardonically at me. “We’ve got a serious fox trot to do!” And she scurried off.

III
Looking back, I realize there was more life in the center than in most places for younger folks. A few times over the years, I returned. I walked past the familiar oasis, but did not walk in. I suppose I wanted to keep the sacred memories intact. Re-entering the center would have severed my poignant ties and holy images.
In the castle of my mind, I see the little building whose structure is long and low and labyrinthine, flanked by tall buildings. Magically, it empowers me.
But can I walk through Yesterday’s door and share a nostalgic journey with my old buddies? Almost 40 years ago, I said goodbye to the gang. It was my time-a special time for a young man. A time of new beginnings: love, marriage, family, and career.
Yes, four decades and invisible boundaries separate us now. Where are they?


IV

Mr. Murphy, Jimmy, and Mr. Polanski were my mentors in pool. And of course, there was the tall cripple with the twisted torso. I can’t recall his name. The skeletal man frightened me but warmed my heart too. Nameless possessed a demonic laugh, played a wicked game of pool with his trembling hands and a mean game of checkers.



The three wise men and cripple empowered me. How? What was the source and nature of their power? And what did they pass on to me? The gift of the Magi?


V


“Hello there,” says Mr. Murphy in a lilting voice, as he pirouettes across the room like a young James Cagney.
“Hi, kid,” says little Jimmy, about five feet tall, with the voice of Humphrey Bogart and the lonely eyes of James Dean.
“Get your cue stick! We ain’t got all day!” roars Mr. Polanski, a gentle lion of a man who might be John Garfield in disguise.
In the corner, Nameless grins sardonically. He’s really the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.



Mysteriously, they empower me. And the old ladies bewitch and enchant me. They are the white witches of Coney Island. Their power is beautiful and magical.
“It’s time to do the Peabody, young man. Are you ready?”
“Well…”
“Of course, you are!”
“Of course, I am!”


In those antediluvian days, I was endowed with the power of the universe! I miss those early days. Yet they exist even now within the private theater of my mind. And sometimes, when I breathe in the ocean at Coney Island or smell the scents of the passing seasons, gentle memories of that lost era emerge.

VI

I miss the magic. One day, an old sorceress said: “You must get married! I’ll ask the rabbi to bless you.”
I suppose the rabbi blessed me (cursed me?), for I got married a few months later to a woman I hardly knew but loved. Such magic! Such power! (I never found out who the rabbi was.) Such joy! (And such sadness!)


VII

I miss my old friends. Murphy died a few months before I left. I went to his funeral. I’d never been to an Irish wake before. I looked at him in the open coffin. He didn’t look bad. Indeed, he looked majestic.
Now, he’s back in the poolroom. “Hello there,” he says to me.
“Good to see you,” I answer.
“I’m always happy here.”
“I know.”
“Of course, you can’t feel other wise. Not here.”
Stay tuned for Part two of Mel Waldman's piece next week!

Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies. He is also a poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Grandma Stumph, Bent"

By Al Stumph

Grandma Stumph was bent. The more proper term would be stooped but I always saw her as bent. Most of her life she bent over rows of vegetables in the fields or over a washboard or engaged in other activities that caused her to stand bent. When I was born in 1940 she had nearly reached her 59th birthday. She died at 77, still bending over crops in the field and doing laundry on a washboard.

For more than 40 years she and Grandpa worked the farm together. But she and Grandpa had this one sacrosanct rule: except for meeting the needs of the animals, they did no physical labor on Sunday. That rule remained in effect even when Uncle Freddie took over the farm after Grandpa died in 1948.

The only winter coat I remember Grandma wearing had this great fur collar. How much, as a toddler, I enjoyed scrunching into it during church services or in the unheated back seat of the Model A!

Tom and I joined Grandma in the fields from the summer of 1951 to her death in 1958. Until her last year, I was unable to equal her working pace. In spite of failing eyesight she could always follow Tom and me when we picked beans and find those we had missed. She never criticized us; she simply tidied up after our sloppiness.

Grandma always returned to the house around 11:30 a.m. to prepare dinner, a large mid-day meal, for herself and Uncle Freddie. The radio was tuned to her soap operas before, during, and after the meal. When we came together on Sunday afternoons I could hear her, Mom, and Aunt Chris in the kitchen exchanging perspectives on the latest twists in the lives of Ma Perkins and Helen Trent.

Although she had been long dead, I saw Grandma one day in 1980. I was watching Dad walk between his house and the patio. Obviously I had seen him take this walk hundreds of times before but this time I was struck by how bent he was when he walked. Now Kathy tells me that when I take out the compost each evening I too walk bent. Bent is good.

Writer Al Stumph lives in Chatham, New York with his wife, Kathy. A former priest, he worked for years in social services agencies.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Road to Motherhood (Part Two)


(PART ONE of "The Road to Motherhood" APPEARED ON JULY 26, 2007)

By Rose Ross

A few days later, my husband had gotten a photo assignment to travel around the U.S. His schedule would take him all over the country for a month with weekends home. His being away would give me the time I so desperately needed. I spent most days at the movies. Sometimes I watched two or three movies a day. I spoke to no one other than my husband, except for my mother who checked in on me every day to make sure I was still alive. My friends respected my wishes for privacy and left me alone. One night after watching T.V. for hours with the sound turned off, I started to cry and I could not stop. Two years' worth of tears came pouring out. I was soaked with sorrow and self-pity.

The next morning I sat outside on the marble steps to my doctor’s office waiting for them to open. By the time they opened up I had a complete mental melt down. Although, I was unsteady on my feet, I managed to walk into the office where I immediately crumbled to the floor. A nurse lifted me up gently and held onto me until I stopped crying. When I was back in control and stable, my doctor, suggested I see a female therapist that was treating women who were having emotional difficulties dealing with infertility.

I was scheduled to meet the therapist on Friday at 5:00 p.m. I had four days to think about what I wanted to say or not say. I was hopeful and set about making some changes. I opened the fridge and dumped out all the Ben & Jerry ice cream and threw out the bottle of Vodka.I cleaned the apartment, took clothes to the laundry and started making lists of the things I needed to do. I decided that I was going to stop smoking...but not just yet. I would hold off on that one until Friday. I called my husband and told him of my plans.

"I am so proud of you. I love you," he said.

Friday came and I was already beginning to feel like my old self again. I spent the day at the Elizabeth Arden Spa and treated myself to a full day of beauty. I got a new hair cut, bought new makeup, had a manicure and pedicure and polished my finger nails and toes in a sexy shadecalled "Plum Passion". I walked out of the Spa at 4:30 and magically a cab appeared before me. The driver made it to 90th and second in no time with ten minutes to spare before my session. I asked him to drop me off at the corner, where I decided to light up one more time. When finished smoking my cigarette, I proudly threw the pack on top of the ash can on the street. It was a new beginning.

As soon as she walked into the waiting room, I knew I was in trouble. My therapist was the spitting image of my husbands ex wife. When she spoke I almost broke out laughing.She had the same voice and Jersey accent. "You’re not related to the Licht family are you?" I asked her. "No," she said, "Do I remind you of someone?"

I decided not to say anything. The session was going well until she asked me the question I was dreading. " Have you and your husband thought about adoption?"

I told her yes we had, but it was not a priority right now. She asked me about my relationships with my husband and my parents. I rattled on and she listened. Then she looked at her watch and said "we are almost out of time, but I want you to think about something and we can talk about it next week."

We both leaned forward in our chairs. We were practically nose to nose. "Yes?" I said.

"Well, based on Freud’s theory, it seems to me that you really have always had the desire to have a child by your father and therefore, that is why you have been so reluctant to explore adoption." She sat back, glanced at her watch again and with a smile, she said, "Same time next week?"

I was astounded. This was the most absurd theory I had ever heard. If she had said that I wanted to have a child with my mother, I might have listened. But my father? No way! I started to laugh uncontrollably. She looked at me strangely.

"Thank you," I said. "But I don’t think I will be coming back."

Outside the building, I ran straight to the ash can on the corner where my pack of cigarettes was still on top, just where I had left it. Without shame, I put them in my bag and walked all the way back to my apartment on 55th Street and Beekman. By the time I entered my apartment I had made the decision to adopt a child. I called my husband right away and told him. He was thrilled. "Wow!" She must have been a hell of a therapist", he said.

A year and a half later my husband and I went to Seoul, South Korea to pick up my daughter. One year later, our son, also from Korea, came to us. When I look at my children today I realize that if I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate a second. It was a miserably hard and long ordeal but it was all worth it.


Rose Ross is a resident of Old Chatham, and is working on her first stage play.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Road to Motherhood Can Rock Your Soul (PART ONE)


By Rose Ross

All I have to do is glance at my children today -- the way my daughter's straight dark hair falls to her shoulders, the way my son laughs, a real deep belly laugh -- and I realize it was all worth it. As tortuous as the road to children was for me and my husband, if I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate a millisecond.

It was the summer of 1980 when we decided to start a family. In the beginning it was all so romantic: weeks and weeks of love making accompanied by candles and wine. But when weeks turned into months and I still wasn't pregnant, we began to wonder. We had several discussions assuring ourselves that everything was all right but decided --just in case-- that I should visit my gynecologist. I took all the tests offered and was given an all clear.

Next was my husbands turn. He willingly had his sperm count tested and was found that he was a giant among men. "Oh, yes, Mr. Stern, you will be able to have many children", the doctor said. Luckily my husband knew better than to boast and insured me that we were going to have our baby. We just needed to be patient. However, patience was never my strong point.

Each night unable to sleep, I retraced the steps of my past, trying to remember if there was anything I had done that could have been responsible for my not being able to conceive. And then it hit me! It had to have been the glorious years of the sixties and seventies when, Hendrix, Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Dylan, Woodstock, free love, LSD, came on to the scene and changed my life as it did many others. I had been right in the thick of it and loved every second of it. It had been an amazing ride. And now, I was paying for it. I became convinced that it was all my fault!

The experience of infertility is pure agony. The sudden envy and dislike that I experienced every time I saw a baby, child, or a pregnant mother, poisoned my mind and body for almost a year. Something as simple as looking at a magazine ad showing a perfect smiling, baby would make me reach for a bottle of Valium, a pack of cigarettes, or a fifth of vodka, and sometimes all three. And pity the person that out of pure kindness or concern asked me how I felt.

I went through months of finding the right specialist . . . and then when I did, I walked into a office where twenty other women sat, looking as miserable as me. The only hope I had during my visits with " The Miracle Worker," that’s what the gossip columnists called him, was, that every once in a while, a woman would walk out of the examining room with a euphoric smile on her face and you knew that she had hit the jackpot. She was pregnant! I and the others in the waiting room would look at her in awe hoping that we would be next. Before any of us could congratulate her, the new expectant mother would run out of the office for fear if we wished her good luck it might be a bad omen. So we sat there, each in our own thoughts feeling hopeful but also jealous.

The worst part of that year was the process of having to calculate the moment of ovulation. After the first few weeks I gave up on any lengthy foreplay. The hot and heavy passion my husband and I had always enjoyed, was now equivalent to a warm glass of milk. On the days that I was ready to ovulate, we would warm up as if we were going to the gym. Once we were relaxed, we would position our selves in various gymnastic poses which normally would have been thought of as erotic, but this was pure business.

After the deed was done, I would do my headstand, get a headache, pray that sperm would meet egg and wham, I would be pregnant. I also prayed forgiveness for all my sins and promised that I would be the best mother in the entire world and if I were to win the lottery, I would give it all away to all the starving children in the world. But, after a few minutes, my legs would start to get wobbly and with the help of my husband , I would slowly ease my self down. Exhausted, I would just lie down and fall asleep, while my husband went into the other room and watched TV. Most nights I would wonder why he was still with me.

Then there were the jars of semen that we had to bring in during ovulation. One time, I carelessly threw out my Gerber baby jar the night before. The next morning I handed my husband a 16-ounce Hellman Mayonnaise jar. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind. " I can’t fill that jar" he said, "I am not an elephant!" I tried to explain to him that no one expected him to. I just needed him to give me his best shot. After all, remember what the first doctor said, " A giant among men".

Not convinced, he sat on the edge of our bed and sulked. "This is not a big deal, it’s just a jar." I said. My husband looked at me with exasperation and walked into the bathroom, muttering to himself. After that day I bought a case of Baby Gerber jars.

After one more year of failing to conceive, I decided that I could no longer go on this way. I had become a total self involved, depressed bitch. I was afraid of ruining my marriage and losing my friends. My husbands constant support and patient behavior only annoyed me. I was miserable.In the past my husband and I talked about adoption, but I was no longer interested. What I wanted was time to figure out how I was going to define my role in life. If, I wasn’t going to be a mother, what was I going to become? How would I fill my life? How would I make a difference? I had assumed that I could have it all, husband, career and motherhood. Maybe it was not meant to be. I called my doctor's office and told them that I would not be back.

Writer Rose Ross lives in Old Chatham, New York and is writing her first stage play. Stay tuned for PART TWO OF her essay on infertility.