Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Martha's Hand"

By Val Haynes

She was meeting someone tonight. Twenty grand—her way.

She waved a mink glove at the first taxi heading south. Martha charmed the cabby all the way downtown; inquiring about his kids, who had decorated his dashboard in Polaroids. As they pulled up in front of Pete’s Tavern, she stuck a $50 dollar bill through the partition and chirped “Merry Christmas, keep the change.” She was generous that way.

Oh—the flamboyant ease with which she lived back then—she was a player, a high roller, and not just some wise guy’s arm candy. She referred to herself as a man’s woman—a woman in a man’s world. She loved the game—the action—the grinding competitiveness of it all. After all, she was the first female bookie in NYC, at least to her knowledge and with Martha, did anyone else count?

That was then, before it all came crashing down around her. There were surveillance tapes, strange hang-ups—fishy phone calls from fake customers.

Someone had fingered her—she was part of a city-wide sting—the cops even used a battering ram to get through the door. It was wild. They burst in with six-shooters pointed.

“Up against the wall.”

Tough from Brighten Beach turned white and threw up in the bathroom. Boris and Natasha squirmed.

Martha? Martha was pleasant, gracious even. She told the officers there were fresh donuts in the breadbox; they could make themselves coffee if they wanted.

It was all coming back to her—the decadence, the excess, the excitement—while the counselor boomed like a drill sergeant.

“Leaving your groups without permission will result in consequences. You may not go anywhere-not even to the bathroom without permission. Got it?”

Martha twisted her hair and scrunched her face into a metallic frown. Was this place for real? Where were her friends? Boris, Natasha, Tough? Where were they all now?

Were they still taking action—writing bets—enjoying the “fruits of the poison tree,” as the DA said. Where were they?

Never mind about them, didn’t anyone in this joint realize she didn’t belong here?

She wasn’t like the rest of them. It’s not like she was really a criminal. No one forced the players to call her and bet.

In a sweet deal that cost a bundle, Martha lucked out. Instead of convictions for felony book-making, money laundering, and racketeering, she got off on a technicality and pleaded guilty for possession of a tiny amount of weed, a lesser offense.

She never smoked the stuff. Her sentence: nine months in a therapeutic community upstate. The gambling charges were dropped. She got treatment for a drug habit—what a joke—Sweet.

Treatment was a place called Phoenix House.

It sucked.

Martha spent her first night on a plastic mattress with nothing but a scratchy utility blanket, no sheets, no pillow, just a stiff covering that conformed to her body like cardboard.

She slept in her clothes that night and remained in them her second day.

It’s not like she was concerned about how she looked or what she wore anyway. By the time she coffee-ed up and smoked, the Pavlovian bell signaled breakfast—and yes it was a triangular piece of iron—similar to the kind that signal farm-hands to meal time. Like cows to the feeding trough.

She couldn’t be late for breakfast.

At Phoenix House, you couldn’t be late without enduring a “consequence.” Martha wondered what these “consequences” might entail in between dreams of maxing out her credit cards and blowing her brains out in some Eastern European bullet-marked hotel. However, she got to find out right quick, what a “consequence” was.
She was pretty contrary those first, few weeks.

Her days bled into one long series of consequences, punctuated by chores and group therapy. There was extended bathroom detail, lights out at nine, personal statements—affirmations really; for instance, “I don’t need to know all the answers I can ask for help.” These statements were recited in front of all the residents during evening meditation—kind of like vespers laced with profanity.

It was months before she surrendered to her situation.

She was on her mattress, facing the wall, picking at the peeling paint. It looked like stalactites hanging from the insides of a cave—the peeling paint. She wondered if it was full of lead. She watched her hand as it began to pick at the paint—methodically—deliberately. It relaxed her. She thought about a story she had read in college, about a woman and yellow wallpaper—only she—the woman in the story, was crazy.

Martha wasn’t crazy.

One unremarkable day, while Martha was in group, she noticed her hand. She marveled at it. Smooth. Fresh. Un-mottled. She had a hand.

She had never been so completely aware of her hand. It was hers.

“I have a hand,” she thought to herself as she held it in front of her—scrutinizing it—fascinated by it, while pigeons cooed within the walls of the old building.

“I have a hand.”

She felt weird—like she was outside herself—separate from her body.

Separate but peaceful.

Phoenix House. Who’d a thunk it, she muttered.

It was a private joke, this moment of grace.

It was happening to her—not someone else in a book or a movie. She had a hand. It was her hand.

She would play her hand—and be grateful to still be in the game.

Writer Val Haynes has worked as an actress and singer. She is now a full-time student stuyding writing and journalism at the University of Albany. She has a CD called "Lonesome Val."

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Letter: Thank You For Saving My Life!

By Karen Jahn

The air is still, the light is gold suffused with rose, the lawn and garden lush, and the dark red barn mysterious in the shade. I’m lying on the couch, feet propped up, finishing a novel which has been entertaining me for hours. Half way through a deep sigh I cough, gasp for breath, and realize that I can’t seem to take it in. Suddenly the view before me is like a shore glimpsed by a swimmer going under for the last time. Tearing myself away from that idyllic moment, I stumble to the kitchen, pick up the phone and start to dial a friend. This is no moment for friends, my lungs urge, I need 911.

Now I’m an absurdly stoic person who would like to think I can take care of myself and seldom ask for help. But the body’s powerful. As it’s going under, it demands all one’s attention. So, brushing aside the fear that I might be crying wolf, I dial the magical numbers. As so many people before and since have found, the calm voice of the dispatcher whose low-keyed questions get all the data needed, stills the panic. Having gotten my 911 number, directions, he asks, you’re having a lot of trouble breathing, aren’t you? A bit taken aback that it's so clear, I admit yes; well, he continues, the rescue team is coming up your road right now. They should be there in a minute. Are you alone? Just make sure they can get in and wait for them.

As he hangs up, I lie down, trying to get some air from my cpap machine, but to no avail. There is a knock and four men from the Spencertown, New York Fire Department are standing there. They introduce themselves as they unzip their bags, get out the oxygen, tube, and mask, and the ecg machine. Clearly they know just what to do and they are going to take care of my emergency. Even though I was still having trouble breathing, I begin to relax, the terror has passed and I know I will be alright. Soon I am in an ambulance headed for the hospital.

The doctors find my lungs completely full of fluid, a condition called congestive heart failure. I needed a powerful dose of oxygen to get air in. I am treated and I survive, thanks to that emergency team that appeared at my door.

I want to publicly thank these six men and many folks like them all over the U.S. These people volunteer their time to become highly trained technicians who serve our emergency needs. Although I wouldn't wish a crisis on anyone, I would urge everyone to support their volunteer fire department and rescue personnel--with both contributions and respect. Their competence and generosity are astounding. I owe my life to their common sense, skill, and dedication. Many thanks to them and their companies for being there for me, so powerfully and so kindly.


Karen Jahn
Spencertown, New York

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"About the Mouse"

By Claudia Ricci

He has a live mouse, sitting on the floor between his grey alligator boots, secure in a Havaheart trap. That’s the first thing he says after he picks her up.

“I’ve got a rat here,” he lies. He jerks his thumb toward the truck’s floor. Would you like to see it?”

"A rat?”

He laughs. Guns the gas pedal. He sounds wheezy, the air sounds like it is whistling through tiny reeds. Later, in the D.A.’s office, she will say his skin was the color of vanilla pudding. His truck was the color of a faded tomato.


“Why what?”

“Why do you have a rat?”


“In there. In the cage.”

“Oh, you mean Minnie? She’s no rat. She’s a mouse.” He picks up the trap and laughing gleefully, he shoves it her way. The cage rattles. The mouse retreats.

She has a fleeting glimpse of the beady eyes. She recoils. “Why do you have a mouse?”

“Why the hell not?” He replaces it on the floor. The cage jangles.

"I mean everybody needs a mouse now and then. Or would you rather a snake?” He laughs harder. Whistling. Coughing.

Black glasses wrap his fat face. The sun is low. The sun floods through the windshield. It hits his lenses. It glances. Bright points of light dance her way. He steers with three pudgy fingers.

She starts singing. But low. With none of the throaty bellow she loves. “I saw the light in your window tonight. I sawww two shadows, hol-ding each other tight…” In her mind, she could be Linda Ronstadt. Wynona Judd.

He turns. “Holy shit,” he says. “Where’d you get it?”

She stops singing. “Where’d I get what?”

“That sweet voice.”

She looks away. “If you say so.”

“No, I mean it. I’m sittin’ here thinking, I got myself a singing star in my wagon.” He leans. Leers. His front teeth are yellow. With gaps between them. “I picked up some kinda celebrity. Are you some kinda star?”

“Right. A right big star.” She is looking out the window. Inside, though, she knows his words are exactly what she wants to hear.

“Sing some more. Sing louder.”

“No way.”

“Why not?”

“Because I got no reason to.”

“Sure you do. You can sing for me.”

“Exactly. That’s exactly why I’m not.”

They remain in silence.

“So where you goin’? I mean, besides Nashville that is.”

“Massachusetts. Near there.”

“Near where?”

“You can let me off at the border. Like at a gas station. I’ll call from there.”

He has a flask. In a brown paper bag twisted at the neck. He tips it. Swigs. Offers her one.

“No thanks.”


She’s indignant. “No!” Shakes her head. That makes him laugh. Wheeze. Cough. Spit. He gathers a mouthful and lets it go out the window.

“You got a name?”


“Penny? Like a quarter, penny?” He slaps his thigh. Wild laughter fills the truck.

She bites her lip, tips her head against the window. Later she will tell the D.A. that the black glasses were skinny. Really skinny. And his face. His face was fat. Cream and pudding fat. Cherry-colored pimples too. He had a face as wide as his backside.

And blue jeans. He wore blue jeans. Stiff. Blue. Jeans. Cuffs.

She should have known. She should have known. Anybody with cuffs.

And his red plaid shirt. The top button. Buttoned. That too. She should have known. Anybody with the top button. Buttoned.

His hair? What color was his hair?

Greyish. Sort of. Or…brown. Maybe some black too. I don’t know. It was short.

So you’re not sure.

Uh uh. No. I’m not. But it was cut. Flat. You know. Crewed.

She is sure of that. Flat.

He stops at a crossroad. Pauses, as if trying to decide. Then he turns. Points the truck down a dirt road.

She turns to face him. “Where you think you’re goin?”

He slaps his knee. The truck flies. A cloud of dirt plumes up above the windows. He leers at her, and the truck veers left, onto another road. Soon, he pulls over. Leaves the engine running.

Claudia Ricci is on the faculty at the University at Albany, SUNY, where she teaches literature, creative writing and journalism. Her first novel, Dreaming Maples, was published in 2002. This excerpt is taken from a novel called Pearly Everlasting.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Words With Pointy Little Backs"

By Robert Combs

Musty solitude has found me
here inside my secret place.
I wish someone would steal the sun
and wash the glitter from my face.
I can't think anymore,
my mind is narcotic mud and
all my precious words have turned their pointy little backs on me.
Those once compatriotic felons
who danced within the decades of my decadence have become my enemies
my trenchant limitations.

Fourth street pepper cup,
the label's in the black collar
standing in the street beside the taxi
spending my last dollar
for a warm pretzel of twisted logic
at the scene of the crime
Police tape and you are gone while

death came for me last night
like a great rumbling white bear
searching through the village
its mind set to enduring my soul's slaughter
but the bear born by a hungry clap of thunder
erupted into a painted cotton gunmetal cloud and
the rain began to speak to me,
each drop a separate severed word
its intercourse that of a pallid
discourse to the diatribe of fate
my fate hanging from the knotted
giant live oak limb it too covered
in gray-green moss

and death still came alone
in the bite of a lightning-colored snake
that split in the birth of two smaller red vipers
with tiny heads and tinier teeth
that stung but killed no more
for I was already dead about
to be reborn immortal

as you again
were there with the surprise and sadness
of one's own face served up
in the reflection of a store front window
on a cold damp night when lightning
struck the power pole across the street
and sparks fly and the night crackles with shivering electricity
sizzling in a sheet of clever air that entombs me.

Robert Combs is a single father living in Natchez, Mississippi. He has four daughters and four grandchildren. This poem emerged directly out of a dream.

Monday, July 24, 2006

"What Thoughts Lurk in the Minds of Writers?"

By P.M. “Peggy” Woods

For the past few weeks I have been nothing but a lurker. I have been logging onto this blog, and reading what everyone has posted without contributing anything myself.

I am amazed by the range of writing that has accumulated over a few weeks-poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, etc. I am amazed by what can be conveyed--the emotions, the images--in such a short space. I am also amazed by the range of writers contributing-from people who write for a living to people who have devoted a large part of their lives to a completely different profession.

What is amazing to me is that all of these writers, writers who are writing all kinds of things, are all collected together into one space.

So what does this mean? What does this mean about writing?

These questions may seem odd. Does posting on a blog have to mean anything? But my lurking on this blog has begun to raise questions for me about writing and about writers. (Okay, I must confess, not only am I a lurker, but I'm also fascinated by the writing process, and the whole subject of writing.)

As I read through all these postings I wonder what compels people to write? What compels someone to take the time to put into words something they have seen? Something they have felt? Something they have experienced? What compels someone to re-live an experience in words?

There could be many answers to these questions. There also could be many different ways to answer these questions. But what makes us writers? What makes us want to write down in words what we see, what we feel?Any thoughts?? We would love to hear from you. Just click on COMMENTS below!

Peggy Woods lives in Shutesbury, MA. She is the Assistant Director of the Writing Program at UMass Amherst. Her first novel, Spinning Will is forthcoming in March, 2007, from Swank Books.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


By Rose Ross

A few weeks after my 55th birthday, I came upon the discovery that somewhere, somehow, I had lost my waistline. I had just finished my daily workout at the gym. I was feeling a glow and enjoying the sensation of beads of sweat trickling down my face. I had a rush of adrenalin pumping.

After working out for three months, six days a week, I was feeling, well, fit and fabulous.

To celebrate, I decided to stop off at J. Crew and buy a new pair of jeans. As soon as I walked in the store, a perky young salesgirl with a great big smile who couldn't have been any bigger than a size "0" approached me offering her help. With the utmost confidence, I asked her for a size 10 jeans, low waisted.

She looked at me with what seemed to be an expression of doubt.
"Let me see what I have, one moment please."

Within a few seconds she came back and handed me a pair of jeans and led me into the dressing room. I closed the door behind me and stared into the three-way mirror, giving myself a thumbs up. The jeans went on easily enough, over the thighs, onto the hips and then . . . the unthinkable happened: I could not pull the zipper up.

Something was wrong! I stood on my toes, sucked in my stomach, and tried several more times, exerting a bit more pressure with each pull to get the zipper to move upwards. Frustrated, I turned my head around as far as it would go and squinted my eyes to read the tag size on the back of the jeans. Perhaps the dubious salesgirl had given me a smaller size. Unfortunately, the tag did read size 10. Determined more than ever to get into the jeans, I tugged and pulled until, finally, I had to accept defeat. Feeling irritated and out of


breath, I looked into the three-way mirror one more time and thought to myself, enough is enough. The veil had been lifted. A size 10, I'm not!

When I walked out of the dressing room, there she was, waiting for me.

" Hi, how did it go?" she said with wide eyes and a sarcastic smile. With an even bigger smile on my face, I said, "Oh, they were just wee bit . . . a wee bit too big, but I do have to run, next time I'll try the eight, Ciao!"

By the time I arrived home I was physically and emotionally exhausted. All I wanted to do was get into my old faithful jeans and sweatshirt, make a cup of tea, (and forgo the cookies) and collapse in front of the television to watch Oprah. I dragged myself into the bedroom, got undressed, pulled my jeans out from the closet, put them on and to my horror discovered that I could no longer zipper those up either. All right, I thought, this was it! The time had come for a reality check.

Standing in front of my bedroom mirror, I looked long and hard and was astonished at the woman before me. During the last five years, my body had gone through a metamorphosis that I had obviously, failed to notice. I was realistic enough to know that the girl of 20 and the woman of 30 were images I could only recapture in old photos. I had grown into 40 comfortably and by age 50, even though there were a few extra pounds, I was happy with the rounded but firm body that had emerged. Up until now I had always felt a feeling of satisfaction and contentment, yes even pride, as I viewed the evolution of my female form. After all, after


giving birth and raising two children, the ups and downs of a 30-year marriage, three operations, the emotional toll of both my parents' illnesses and subsequent deaths... there had to be some wear and tear. I just did not realize how much.

So instead of spending any more time becoming depressed or frustrated, I decided to embark on a new path of self-awareness. It was time for me to become familiar with my new silhouette and learn to embrace it. To make sure that I was successful in this new endeavor, I created a ritual for myself.

On Sunday evenings, before retiring to bed, I pour myself a glass of Cognac and walk upstairs into my bathroom. Closing the door behind me, I turn the lock, and take a deep breath and slowly exhale. My arms reach over my head and stretch as far as they can go and then come floating down to my sides. All the tensions of the week withdraw from my body and fly out the open window into the night air. That first moment of solitude is always exquisitely tranquil. A sip of the smooth rich brandy slides down my throat and warms my body and soul. Feeling a little flushed but quite satisfied, I am ready to proceed.

My bathroom is designed to please. Lush and inviting, the pale blush marble floors and tiled walls, accented by cabinets of rich dark mahogany, exude richness and elegance. The lighting is controlled with dimmers, moving from bright and efficient to a warm, gentle and flattering glow. The mirror over the sink takes up the entire wall.

Stepping into the center of the room, I turn the lights on moderately low and gaze into the mirror. Slowly, I peel my clothes off one by one, letting them drop to the floor where they rest at my feet. Standing naked, my hands begin their journey and gently roam over my body, starting


from my shoulders down to my hips. Where there were once sharp curves there are now soft
but revealing folds. My hands then move toward my full breasts. Cradling them tenderly, lifting them slightly, I am always pleased that they are still somewhat upright. Slowly my hands find their way to my stomach, with palms down, my fingertips rest on the six-inch scar just below my belly, revealing an inch for each life altering cyst, and a pound for each year.

With my clothes nestled around my feet, I perform a pirouette and face my mirrored bathroom door (yes another mirror). I am now able to view my body from the back, and I then think to myself, as I do every week at this time, how silly this bathroom is, realizing that full-length mirrors are only meant for the young. Laughing to myself, I gracefully and respectfully bow to my image. My Sunday evening ritual has come to an end.

Finishing off the last of the cognac, I pick up my clothes and throw them into the hamper. Time to brush, floss and gargle. I remove my flannel nightgown from a drawer and feel its warmth and comfort as it slides down over my body.

Stepping lightly into the darkened bedroom, the sound of my husband snoring is reassuring to me. I slide into bed and back into him, feeling the hardness of his stomach. His still strong arms wrap around me, and his head rests on my shoulder. After a moment or two, my husband lifts my nightgown over my hips. With fingertips that feel like fine Chinese paintbrushes, he explores me as if it is the first time. His hands finally come to rest on my belly. "I love you" he says.

For that moment, every night, whatever frustrations or doubts I might have about who I am, how I look, disappear. Just as I close my eyes, ready to drift off into sleep I whisper to him,


"I love you too." Then our bodies become one.

Rosa Ross, a writer living in upstate New York, has completed a screenplay, "Tar Beach Memories," which was read at last year's Columbia Film Festival. She is now working on a full-length stage play about her mother's experiences in the Holocaust and the author's search to know more about her mother as a young girl in Europe.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Escape," a community poem

Thanks to all of you who contributed your wonderful words to this poem!

At the point of escape
colors are explosive
blue as hot as red
sharp shapes shout.

My hair's on fire
And the ocean is too.
I hope for rain but
carry water and
cosmic energy rays.

Rage rises, freeing up space.
Emotions merge.
Manna rains down, nourishing souls
Minds grow.

Hello GOD! I am one of your Meek.
When do we get our inheritance?
"sands in the hourglass" cliché???
and genuine statements: "drops in the desert"???
16 milimeter glory that
our flatline color explosion,
a depth of earth.
An unpredictable but beautiful future
human between sky and earth
a man, a column

Expect a mix of sun and clouds today,
with skies clearing, and later, a
percent chance
of inutterable exultation.

Ah, Atlas is finally free
oh happy oh happy oh happy day.
It has been a very good day
can't you see it in the sky?

I embrace the sky and the hills
in this the valley where we live.
Remember those not so fortunate.
Where have all the lovers of peace gone?
We have art. We have war.
We need music.

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Embracing Buddhism"

By Dilys Sun

Thirteen years ago, Mama told me,
"You will be a faithful Buddhist.
You will kneel before every sacred statue,
Bury your head in your hands and pray.
You will seek the mountain temples, built
By our ancestors, on cliffs and on peaks.
You will hear the ancient bells
Telling you the forgotten stories."

Eight years ago, Mama said,
"You will respect your grandpa
For every single day of your life.
Also respect your grandma as
You would want your children to respect
Me, whom you love dearly."

Six years ago, Mama taught me,
"You will always remember the deceased:
Both of your grandfathers.
You will remember how they held you
With their tender arms and kissed you
On your forehead. Remember the deceased,
Then never forget to treat the living with extra
Care and love. Love is what everyone needs.
You will demand it, too."

Three years ago, Mama told me,
"Be strong my child, do not let
The foreign land intimidate you.
In front of you, there is future and possibilities.
Behind you, there is always me,
Your mother and your friend.
Here's my gift for you,
By no means is it the last gift,
I offer you the soil of our land.
Forget not its scent,
Nor the people who live on it."

And now, I solemnly reply,
"Dear mother,
You have given me the gift of
Life and love.
Never can I repay such heavenly gifts.
Therefore I will pass them on,
To my children, and others.
Buddhism has taught me and so have you:
Every stranger I meet
Is a special gift from heaven.
And I, your daughter, will treat
Every sacred guest with the heavenly gifts
You have granted me."

Dilys Sun, who grew up in western China, moved to San Francisco four years ago at the age of 15. She studied at the San Francisco Waldorf High School and this fall, she joins the class of 2010 at Stanford University. We are honored to welcome her as the first California writer to appear on MyStoryLives!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"A Picture is Worth How Many Words?"

MyStoryLives wants to try something a little different today. We want to create a community poem, a kind of word collage. To do that we need your help. We are asking you to send us a few words in response to this beautiful painting, called "Lyric Escape," by painter and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is perhaps the most influential Beat movement poet. Ferlinghetti also started the very famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, a mecca for writers and artists.

So. All we need you to do is click on the COMMENT button below, and send us some words. Impressions. We will then assemble them into a poem. How many words do we want? No less than three. No more than 20 (today is July 20th after all.)

Please write today. We would LOVE to hear from you. All of you! We want this to be a community writing space, a place to share writing, a place for dialogue and exchange. So let this be our first community poem.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Anima Espanol"

By Noah Kirsch

either way its okay,
you’ll wake up with yourself

your soul will surround you,
the crutch of your existence

it is your soul that delays the thirst,
when in the heat of Spain,
flamenco guitars strumming to the sound of maracas,
Spanish women waving paper made fans,
heels clicking the floor,
you’ve never seen such a thing before

one hundred and thirty degrees,
your eyes scorch when you read the thermometer,
your mind gets lost converting Celsius to Fahrenheit,
your forehead drenched in sweat,
your nose engulfed in the scent of beer and sweat,
your mouth parched,
your legs numb,
your soul lost in the moment,
you feel no pain

your soul is as alive as a waterfall,
as damp as dew on a summer morning,
curious what will come next,
your emotions are flowing

you don’t wake up,
there is no reason to,
when you wake up you’ll be in your bed,
once again trapped inside your head

your conscious mind will question it the next morning,
your mind will tell,
that the soul of Sevilla,
was just a dream

your conscious mind will tell you,
you’ve never been to the place,
where you disappear in the moment

but your soul,
your soul will tell you the truth

you were there,
it was real

but your body, where was that?

Noah Kirsch is a student in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He made his first trip to Sevilla, in southern Spain, last August.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Summer Days"

By Renee Geel

The school bus at the beginning of a long line of traffic holds everyone up for a good three minutes while we wait, anxious to be somewhere else. A young girl with a tennis racket, nine or ten years old, is greeted by her young mother, dressed in sensible khaki shorts and sandals. The girl looks tired, sleepy, moving dreamily down the sidewalk behind her mother and younger sibling in a carriage. Summer tennis lessons, I gather. I empathize with her sleepiness, remembering my own early morning swimming lessons when I was her age.

As I sit in the train of traffic behind the bus, wanting only a cup of coffee to jolt me into my workday, I try to imagine what it would be like to be that young mother of two. Painfully aware that the possibility of realizing that dream is nearly over for me, I focus instead on the little girl, remembering the feeling of coming home from early morning swimming lessons – lingering dread over my shyness relieved only by the familiar scent of chlorinated pool water.

On hot July days like this one, I would have marched straight into the house for my book – maybe The Diary of Anne Frank or My Side of the Mountain – and my own diary on my way to my not-too-high tree house in the back yard. It was draining, I remember, getting up so early to stand and shiver outside the pool and trying to make friends. I longed for the safe sanctuary that was my tree house.

That young girl with a blond braid swinging across her back like a pendulum, marking time until her long sprawled hours of play are no longer hers, summons an ache in my throat full of lost but still palpable freedom that I haven’t felt in three decades. Those summer days between elementary school and sixth grade were a dizzying spin of fear and confusion new to my protected world. I’m not sure my mother realized just how charged that time was for me, inexperienced as she was with a typical young girl’s transitions, and therefore ill-equipped to help me through mine.

Her own mother passed away when she was nine years old. My mother was passed back and forth between older, married siblings so that exhaustion and emotional roller coasters were something she took for granted. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe that is why she – a born and raised Brooklyn girl – whole-heartedly embraced life as the wife of an upstate New York farmer. It was quiet, safe – hardworking, yes – but predictable.

So she couldn’t possibly understand why I felt so fearful of making new friends and being accepted by the right crowd. All she knew is that her own mother had been taken from her unaccountably, so that pressure to make it through a morning of summer swimming lessons with new faces and anticipating junior high was outside her world of floating back and forth between her father and her older, married brothers and sisters. I may as well have been whining to her that my life was thrown off kilter because my knee socks wouldn’t stay up, for all she could grasp.

I know that now. I felt abandoned by it then.

Finally, I ease into a parking spot in front of The Perfect Blend on Delaware Avenue, the main road through town. I know that I can go in and get a hot or iced cup of dark roast and be back to my office overlooking my back yard in ten minutes. Or, I can sit in the sanctity of the coffee shop at a table or in an armchair next to others searching for their perfect blend of communion and privacy, memory and present and future. The nine-o’clock sky is grey, the air, warm and heavy with humidity; but I love it. Summer days, traffic, ambling children: They all slow us down enough to remember or wonder or search for what was or could have been or will be. And to savor what is.

A freelance editor and writer, Renee Geel has a B. A. and M. A. from the University at Albany. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and is currently at work -- for tooooo many years now -- on a novel.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Magic Healer"

By Howard Halligan

Sara Strongheart Historian came into my life seemingly by chance. But in retrospect, I think her emergence was all part of some grand plan that I had created for my salvation.

As her name suggests, she possesses great strength, a strong heart and an amazing sense of history. In particular she knew exactly where my energy and creativity were blocked.

Sara told me she had a magical glove encrusted with jewels, each of which radiated an energy vibration that could awaken the chakras, the vital energy centers along my spine. After putting us both into a hypnotic trance, she placed the glove, which was now glowing with radiant colors, on her right hand which she slowly moved along my spine. As she did this, my mind saw a kaleidoscope of colors, ever changing with an intensity and beauty I had never seen before.

Ever since, I have felt a gradual realignment of forces within me. Some of these sensations felt like a release of captive energy; others the infusion of energy and vitality and yet others have felt like a calming of a turbulent sea. The flow of colors in my mind seemed to represent all of these states and several others that I can’t find words to describe. At least, not yet.

Afterwards, for several days I continued to experience colors and images and ideas and memories, some pleasant and some seemingly scary although they did not evoke fear within me.

I knew I was experiencing a process that had been excited by Sara’s magical glove. Her belief in its power and in her ability to share that power with me stimulated the healing process within me.

In the weeks that followed, Sara continued to treat me using her wondrous glove and the wisdom of her knowledge which she told me she had gleaned from various historical spiritual writings from antiquity that had strengthened her heart and inspired her to commit to healing herself by healing others.

Howard Halligan is a writer in Delmar, New York. He has worked for many years in the field of substance abuse. This piece emerged in a workshop called "Write Your Heart Out," intended to help participants use writing as a healing tool. Sarah Strongheart Historian was the muse created by the workshop participants to guide the healing. For more information on the workshops, contact

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Call to Arms"

By Val Haynes

An argument hardens
between the hush. And one

taunt from a dried-up throat waits
the fossil sets, the sticks-and-stones

already thrown, already air born
an unspoken damage

A promise can begin
with fluted crystal. And be smashed.

A marriage has other dictates
drains one party of its

singularity. Cannot be smashed
up. Bones are picked. Regurgitated.

Insults with its remembered master key
the skeletons revealed.

The ransacked closet drawers
rummaged through day after day

The scrutiny of and scrutiny of
And again the scrutiny of her every word and action

The bones splintering
Hairline fractures over and over

The beaten down batterer
born to be the joke of the boardroom

Atones with flowers to bed the mistress
Beneath some glacial rock

Val Haynes is a writer, actress and singer who is now a full-time student studying writing and journalism at the University of Albany. She has a CD called "Lonesome Val."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Crocked in the Cockpit" -- A Pilot Story!

By Joshua Powell

The pilot, I am sure, was bombed. Most likely he'd downed a few of those tiny bottles of hooch in the first class men’s room and then popped an Altoid. The son of a bitch most likely had to close one eye to see things.

That’s the reason why the plane went down. I am not sure about this but I’ve got a good hunch that’s the reason – he looked pretty damn sketchy when I got on the plane.

Right away I popped an Ativan and chased it down with a glass of crappy Chablis and then passed out in my window seat. In retrospect I should have taken two Ativans. This would have kept me calm when the jet screeched into the water and then bellied its way onto the beach. Oh did I mention the screaming people?

Newsflash, folks: screaming does nothing to counteract the acceleration of gravity. Doesn’t anyone take physics anymore? This trout of a woman sitting next to me mumbled some appeal to Jesus to save her: “Oh dear Jesus please don’t let me go this way.” I meanwhile was toying in my mind with the rate of acceleration. Is it 3.8 meters per second squared?

Once the plane came to a slump in the sand and everyone was pretty sure that a fire ball was not going to make its way down the fuselage and burn us all up – everybody started to clap! What the hell is that all about? There we were stranded on this island with no plan for getting off. Nope. People are simply banking on our being found via the “little black box,” which to the best of my knowledge is only used to help determine why people die in plane crashes.

Nobody here is pragmatic in the least. As in, we’ve got not one iota of food.We are going to have to eat each other I guess. The problem is that no one died in the crash – not even an old person with a bad ticker. Maybe there’s a diabetic here – one can only hope. There is a weak-looking Chinese man – I wonder if he will taste like Chinese food.

The stewardess looks like hell. Myself, I would have preferred that she was a bit more composed and you know, put together. After all, just before liftoff she'd given us that calm little song and dance about what do to in the event of a water landing – apparently she is all talk. I suppose I should offer her an Ativan, because she looks like she might have a stroke – which on second thought I don’t really want to prevent in the event that the Chinese man does not have diabetes.

The woman who sat next to me on the plane just walked over to me and asked how I am doing. “We are going to get through this,” she said. I looked at her and gave her a curt knowing nod – I know what she is all about – her pleas to Jesus were all about her – me me me. That’s what she kept saying anyway. I looked at her and wanted to say something like “there’s no I in team, bitch,” but instead I gave her the look. I hope she does not die first because I am sure she will taste bad.

Hey… what's that noise? Is it? Could it be? It is! A miracle, a chopper – buzzing overhead. Are we…yes, we are saved! I look around and what do I see? That damn pilot. He is a piece of work that guy. He’s slumped there, over there under a tree. Snoring and cradled in one arm, half a bottle of Chablis.

Joshua Powell is a writer in Albany, New York. He has sworn off flying, at least for the time being. We are grateful that he risked his life on the Chablis Express. And that he took advantage of the pilot prompt provided by MyStoryLives on Friday, July 7, 2006! We hope others of you will let your creativity take wing too!

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Bishop We'ed Love To See You Go!"

By Judy Staber

For the past two weeks I have been weeding our front flower bed. It is a long and fairly narrow bed and over our fifteen-year marriage we have introduced various perennials, flowering shrubs, and one handsome blue spruce which was once a Christmas tree.

Many of the plants in this bed were wedding presents, so it is by way of being a friendship garden, in fact we refer to the plants by the giver’s name as in “Bea Snyder is looking very well and spreading out nicely” (Bea is a Creeping Juniper) or “Do you think Polly is dead?” “No, she always leafs out late” (dear Polly’s a Sweet Pepper Bush).

Last summer this garden, which was our pride and joy, was not looking so good. It was over stuffed and some plants looked sickly. The culprit we discovered was Aegopodium podagraria, more commonly known as Goutweed, or Bishop’s-weed. (Podagraria is Latin for Gout in the Feet - most fitting)

Now, you can buy Aegopodium podagraria as a ground cover from reputable nurseries. The variegated variety is actually quite pretty -- but not in my garden! If you look amongst the wild phlox, chicory and poison ivy, you can see it along our roadsides. In early summer, its trifoliate leaves are topped by tiny white flowers. My gardening book says it can be controlled by mowing, and to “take root cuttings in the fall.” Never do this, never!

This is an insidious plant. Oh, it may be all right along the roadside, or even on the edge of the lawn, but keep it well away from your flower beds for it has long, white, creeping rootstock that will snake its way around your perennials and throttle them. It is to be found to my cost and my aching back, at great dirt-depths and everywhere you don’t want it to be. You cannot kill it with RoundUp because then you run the risk of killing any adjacent plant, and believe me, Aegopodium makes very sure that it is adjacent to everything in the garden.

We had it everywhere. We had not been diligent over the years, and what had started as a pretty leaf or two like a rumor had spread like wild-fire. The only way to be rid of it and to save our well-established perennials from being choked to death was to just dig up the whole damn garden bed -- except the trees, of course.

And so we began. One by one we carefully dug up and divided the peonies, the phlox, the lilies, the daffodils, the crocuses, the primroses, the hosta, the iris, the astilbe, the echinacea, the Maltese Cross and more. Each plant had to be carefully inspected to make sure no sign of that particular radicle root or trifoliate leaf was intertwined in its roots. Then we planted them temporarily either in other “clean” garden beds or in holding troughs, to be reset once the scourge was gone.

When that was done, John being away, I was left to take down the low rock wall and pull out those damn roots, to carefully dig around the trees and, trying not to disturb their roots, remove as much as I could of this noxious weed.

Plants that were too invaded with this scourge I heaved into the wheelbarrow and planted along our roadside: hostas, iris and day lilies all with close-knit tubers and hardy enough to ignore that snaking root in their midst. They are doing well and promise blossoms in their new habitat.

Now I am deep forking over the empty bed finding rocks and ever more of the weed. I often resort to lying down in the dirt with a hand hoe and carefully yanking it out, trying to leave no piece behind. Impossible! Then I gather the bits of root into a bucket. How many buckets of Aegopodium podagraria have been dumped deep into our woods? I have lost count. I could have made a fortune selling it -- but I wouldn’t wish it on any unsuspecting gardener.

As I lie in the now empty bed, I’ve been thinking about the insidiousness of this root. To me it is like the manifestation of unpleasant memories. No matter how hard I try to not dwell on things that have happened to depress me, that remind me of sad times, or make me think uncharitable thoughts; like this root, I’ll never get rid of them completely. There will always be a little bit of root, buried somewhere, and unless I keep an eye out for it, it will take over again.

After 28 years in arts management, Judy Staber retired last year to write and tend her garden. Born into a theatrical family, she grew up at The Actors' Orphanage in England. She has written a memoir about her childhood and is currently working on a biography of her mother and father and their lives in the theater in England and America.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

How many lives does it take? KNOW WAR!!!

My Story takes a day to acknowledge a not-for-profit organization called Know War, an important project aimed at helping all of us understand the reality and the impact of war. The first part of this project is seen above, a photograph of what the American death toll in Iraq looks like. This photograph was taken by New York photographer Zach Gold, who arranged the event himself, using as a backdrop the desert of California.

In addition to the photographic memorial, Know War's mission is to generate an archive of personal testimony and reaction to war. Many of us feel fundamentally disconnected from the reality of combat. Most of us are growing numb to the pain and brutality and deep suffering that accompanies battle.

Know War aims to bring the war home. To make the pain and suffering real and alive. The project offers a forum through which all those affected by war, any war, can share their experiences. Know War is seeking firsthand accounts, essays, combat journals, letters home, interviews, photographs, and any of your thoughts regarding war. You are asked to submit emails or Word documents, PDFs, JPEGs or Quicktime attachments to, and specify whether you request anonymity. All submissions will be posted on

To make a donation to Know War, Please send checks to: Know War 74 South 1st St. Ground Floor Brooklyn, NY 11211 718 384 6986 phone 646.452.3390 fax

Thanks to Zach Gold for making this project come alive!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Two Girls by the Side of the Road"

By Meisha Rosenberg

Miriam Rathskeller held a creased piece of paper up to the weak sun. It bore the name “Rivka Zladistoya,” the girl she was supposed to walk home. Miriam turned the name over and over in her mind, the way her fifth grade teacher had pronounced it earlier, with rolling sibilants, and a pause between first name and patronymic: Rivka, Zladistoya.

It was like thick honey. Rivka had come into the classroom towards the end of final period that day escorted by the gaunt, tired principal who said that Rivka was an example of glastnost, or peace.

"Tell us some words in Russian, Rivka," the principal had said. "What's 'yes' and 'no'?"

"Da—yes. Nyet—no," Rivka had said, proudly, standing like a little soldier, a missionary for peace. Miriam had thought, finally, someone to end the petty infighting, the cliques.

Miriam used to have friends--in first and second grades. But it seemed everyone had turned on her. Her mother liked to say it was hormones, preadolescence. But Miriam didn't know. Just last week, Miriam had to go to the bathroom and Sheila purposely made her wait, not flushing so that finally, when Miriam got inside the stall, she was forced to flush Sheila's poop and pee herself. And Brian, with his stringy body and snot; he was always trying to hand Miriam dirty kleenex or to tell her nasty things. Things like this made her burn inside, because she knew she wasn't meant for such mistreatment, but she didn't know what to do about it.

Miriam rocked up and back on her feet, her heavy body a comfort around her while she waited. She sometimes stuck her hand inside her shirt or her pants and squeezed a roll of flesh, enjoying the supple way it sprung back into place. It was late winter and the gritty wind caused her eyes to tear, so she allowed her dirty-blond hair to blow over her face and protect her. She was a solid, stubbornly built girl whose fierce gaze was beginning to crystallize into that of a young woman used to looking through things as though they were air. If she looked hard enough, maybe some better truth would appear on the other side.

Finally Rivka appeared, a small, neat grey mouse with short brown hair in a blunt bob. Miriam marveled at how different Rivka's book bag—navy, with leather straps—looked, like something out of an old movie. Even the stitching, thick and brown, looked foreign. Miriam fantasized that she and Rivka would become best friends and then Miriam would be an honorary Russian, she’d be given a Russian book bag, and people wouldn’t tease her for being different because she’d have the excuse that she was from another country.

"Hi," Rivka chirped. "Hi," said Miriam, and they silently started their walk.

Meisha Rosenberg is a writer and teacher living in Troy, New York. She holds an MFA from New York University. "Two Girls by the Side of the Road" is part of a short story.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The "How Am I Doing?" Index

By David Seth Michaels

Today, I'm wondering if there should be something like the dow jones average to let me know how I'm doing in life. You know: today the david index is 704.58, up .5%, on fleeting prospects of fame and wealth. Or, today the david index is at 698.30, down 1% on having an itchy rash and receipt of many bills. This, I suppose, would be of some assistance in knowing what I think about myself, unlike dow jones, where when I hear the results I think, "Well, how exactly do I feel about an increase of 65 points. Am I happy to be avoiding a fictitious margin call? Am I happy because the rich are getting richer and I want to share their delight?" In a world where alienation of individuals from their feelings is commonplace, but economists persist in measuring things like "consumer confidence" as if that were actually something, having a personal index might help. When asked how I was I wouldn't have to check myself out. Instead I could respond by saying, "716.54, slightly up on moderate humidity and the chance of cold chardonnay late in the day."

David Seth Michaels lives in upstate New York. Today he is at 710.35, unchanged, pending the World Cup final.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

And flowers, too,
are a kind of
Those petals,
like words,
get the heart
beating faster.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"Road Worthy"

By Clai Lasher-Sommers

I rise up to you.
I lower my voice.
I get the tire measurements.

Your truck is not road-worthy.
I will make the arrangements for tires.
You will hand over the enormous amount of money
needed to make you safe.

Next you will hand over all the money
you work for day and night
to an escrow account that is then turned over
to a probation officer who is watching for the cash
and gleefully thinks you have learned your lesson.

Your lesson was learned only within
this house,
with tears that came from watching the police take
your fingers and put them in black ink.
They took your picture, too.

I think of your father and all he was.
You would not have done this
with him here.
You punish me again and again for his death.
You test me, you push me, you dishonor who I might be.

I step back from you.
I dishonor your abilities.
I dishonor your growing.
I want you to stay away
with your anger and your staunch maleness.

But, somehow
you did things:
mowed the lawn
toned down your voice
called your lawyer

Today I today I
Release my will
Long enough to
Buy tires
And set up a counseling appointment.

Today I love you once again.

Clai Lasher-Sommers is a writer in Columbia County, New York. She works as a librarian and writes frequently for MyStoryLives.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Here's a Prompt, You Be the Pilot?

MyStoryLives aims to create a community of writers, writing together, and reacting to each other's work, offering support and encouragement. Toward that end, we offer a prompt today, a piece of text to be used in any way you see fit. Take it --or any piece of it-- and take it in any direction you want to. Use your voice, your unique style of writing.

We ask that you try to keep the piece to 1,000 words or less. Send it to us at:


We are grateful to David Seth Michaels for the excerpt,taken from his novel, Dream Antilles.

“The pilot has failed to show up for meals for two days. He hovers even more remotely on the fringe, standing far apart from everyone else, enveloped in smoke. His clothing is now noticeably dirty, and his beard and hair are even more unkempt.” Page 107, Dream Antilles

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Six Toes Plus Five Equals Eleven"

By Melissa Churchill

My mother has six toes on her left foot. It makes me squeamish. I guess you could say her left foot reminds me why God only gave us five toes instead of six. In the summer when she wears sandals some people stop and stare. Although it is strange to look at her foot she is my mom, so I always say, “What are you looking at? Don’t you have six toes too?”

Mom and I laugh and joke about her toe because she doesn’t really care. I think she feels unique. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else with six toes before. I mean I know it happens. I’ve just never seen it before. I wonder what my dad thought when he was dating her. I bet he said, “I hope she doesn’t ask me to massage her feet.” Then he probably mumbled “at least not that left one.”

My mom has a huge shoe fetish. Except that her left foot is bigger than the right because of that darn extra toe, so when she tries on shoes she asks for a size 6 and also a 6 ½. Then she takes the size 6 for her right foot and the 6 ½ for her foot with the extra toe. She tries to be sneaky when she switches. One time we were at Macy’s and she was trying on a pair of sneakers. I was looking at a pair of shoes for myself and I saw her switching and I said, “Mom, what are you doing?!!” She eyed me calmly and replied, “My left foot is bigger than the other, so I need a bigger size for my extra toe.”

One time we were on a beach in Florida, and I was in a really bad mood. My mom and I were arguing. I don’t even remember about what. Some people walked by and stared at her extra toe, and my mom looked at me because I always make some silly comment when that happens so that they will get embarrassed and look away. Except this time I was really mad at her, so I said, “Mom, why don’t you just get that stupid toe removed?!” Usually the people walk away, but this time their eyes got really big, like the eyes on fish in one of those glass bowls. They gasped and just kept staring at her left foot. I felt bad afterwards. Later I told my mom that she should never get rid of her extra toe because I like it. Then in her sweet little voice she said, “You wish you had my extra toe don’t you?” I just smiled back at her. I didn’t say it then, but I was thinking “No mom, I really don’t think I could handle having an extra toe.”

Actually, though, I think it makes my Mom stronger having six toes on one foot.

Oh by the way, I forgot to mention that her extra toe is a big toe, so she has the two big toes, one baby toe and those three medium-sized toes in the middle. Sometimes I hear her scream in the shower. It’s usually after I hear some clunking sound. I’m guessing she drops the soap on her extra toe every so often. When you have two big toes there is a lot more surface area on which to drop something. There is also more chance you will smash it into the coffee table leg. That’s another reason why I would never want to have an extra toe.

My mom loves that extra toe though. It’s funny when my grandma comes to visit. She is old and fragile and in her sweet old lady voice she always says to my mom, “Did you get that big toe removed yet? I always wanted to get that done when you were a baby. It wouldn’t have hurt that much. I guess now that you’re grown you’re just afraid.” Mom looks at grandma with a kind of “Oh mom I’m so sick of hearing this story” kind of tone. I understand how Mom feels. My grandma loves to tell stories, but she just rambles on and on about my mom’s toe and how she always wanted to get it cut off, but never found the time.

Melissa Churchill lives in Albany with her dog Molly. She is studying communications and business at the University at Albany, SUNY.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"I'll Be Fine If It Doesn't Kill Me"

By Karen Jahn

Now of course atrial fibrillation is not fatal; some people don’t even feel it.

But for those of us who suffer from a metaphoric two boots on the chest, black spots before the eyes, and shrieking joints—all caused by insufficient oxygen in the blood, every day is another downer. Of course, as friends and acquaintances counsel, it won’t go on forever, but it seems forever as I lie here, the months and meds continue and the fib keeps returning.

A scary thing, this condition, for which twelve prescribed pills a day are required. And that is only the beginning. Calling doctors until there is no busy signal, being shunted around various extensions, each with a recording saying there’s no one to take your call right now, forced to listen to Strauss’s waltzes as I try to schedule still another lab appointment. That has become my lot as a victim of atrial fib. And if a reading of coumadin level (the blood thinner which prevents strokes) comes up too low, under 2, the four-week wait starts again, the next attempt to control the atrial fib recedes still another month, and stupor sets in.

A heart-beat is something I’d like to take as a metaphor, not an experienced event. Yet as the recurrences of atrial fib add up, I can’t help but feel that my body is prisoner to this short-circuiting organ. No matter what I do, what meds or procedures, my heart keeps breaking free and running as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. If that meant I could run, too, well then, I wouldn’t have a problem. But just staying upright is often a real challenge. No it’s not fatal in the sense that I’ll keep breathing. But in terms of being able to focus on anything else, well, that is coming to an end.

And so, using my Ph.D. and writing training, I’ve searched the web. On official cardiology websites of major medical centers it’s clear that because many people are asymptomatic and/or physically inactive, most patients with atrial fib are taken for granted. Unlike ventricular fib, etc., atrial fib is not fatal. No sudden cardiac arrest, in fact, the heart can’t stop running. X percentage of folk achieve some stability from cardioversions, Y percentage from cardioversion and antirhythmic meds, but many of us find that within two weeks of this treatment, the heart leaps up, not to behold a skylark, but to embrace tachycardia and atrial fibrillation.

There’s another fix, called ablation, but some doctors, including my electrophysiologist, believe it is still in the experimental stage. He advises me to keep trying these meds until we find one that works and postpone ablation until the technology makes the procedure safer. But the stories of ablations working, posted on medical websites, are well, heartening. One story, of a man who had just climbed Kilimanjaro, having had a successful ablation which freed him from decade-long invalid status, made my day. So I tell my doctor, and my insurance company, that I’m more than willing to take the risk. I want to try to land in the 80% of patients whose ablations are successful. I am someone who, until this condition began, used to work out seven days a week. I want to be that person once more; it would be good for my heart!

Do I sound like I’m obsessing? Oh yes, I believe that’s one of the greatest costs of any illness that is not fatal and not easy to correct. No one else really listens to your symptoms, or tries to find a cure. Instead it’s protocol as usual even if it doesn’t fit. If I know the difference between supraventricular tachycardia and (left-side) atrial fibrillation, I get better answers for my questions.

A friend and fellow writer has begun to revise her life: to change she sees it as a small patch of sand with a blanket and an oasis nearby.

She then imagines that one day she will awaken to discover other places, maybe some of them vernal, to set her blanket and begin a new life. Given the frustrations I’ve had so far with my atrial fib condition, I’m beginning to reconsider my patch of sand. So I couldn’t go to the sports friendly cook-out suggested for the Fourth of July. I’m not being a martyr--not being able to stand for more than two minutes means I would be beside myself at such a party.

Instead, I busy myself here at home with writing, reading, listening to music, talking, and singing--all things I love. My glass is not half empty, I rehearse to myself; I still have the life of the mind. I just try to imagine waking each morning able to leap out of bed, and walk with no dizziness. Each time I wake from being cardioverted—those electric paddles on the chest that shock one’s heart back into sinus rhythm—I have that euphoric experience: I have my normal heartbeat back! I turn, I see the monitors: 55 beats a minute, a steady horizontal and vertical line on the ekg, and plenty of oxygen everywhere.

Karen Jahn is a retired English professor, amateur tennis player, novice singer, and writer living in Columbia County, New York. Her memoir, “Transitions”, is in process.