Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"FLAMENCO," an award-winning poem by Jan Marin Tramantano

By Jan Marin Tramantano

the dancer is poised to begin.

her back rigid, arms in position,
hands, wrists ready for muñecas, feet
anchored, she waits to begin
her footwork slowly

each tap, tap, tap, tap
gentle, distinct, one
speaking to the next,
building cadence, compás
growing insistent, growing
louder, a quickening heartbeat
finding its pace

I am deep within you,
I dare you to find me,
I dare you to feel my rhythm
she whispers

her kindling smolders,
rising up within her
almost ready
to set her ablaze

her arms dance, castanets
clap, hands and feet click
punta to heel, in a
synchronized fury

ella sabe quién es,
she knows who she is
an enigmatic smile
crosses her radiant face

she is no longer tame.

Jan Marin Tramontano is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Floating Islands and Woman Sitting in a Cafe and Other Poems of Paris. A third, Paternal Nocturne, (Finishing Line Press) will be released in late January. She also wrote a memoir about her father, I Am a Fortunate Man. Her debut novel, Standing on the Corner of Lost and Found, was published in September 2011. Her poetry, stories, book reviews, and interviews appear in numerous literary journals, magazines and newspapers. She belongs to the International Women's Writers Guild, served on the board and as program chair of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and is a member of Poets House and the American Academy of Poets. The poem "Flamenco" won third place in San Francisco's annual Dancing Poetry contest a few years ago.

NOTE: Virtuoso guitarist Maria Zemantauski will be giving a free performance from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 11th at the Hudson-Chatham Winery. Check it out!!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Journey We Take Together -- Part Eleven

NOTE TO READERS: Those who have been following Sandy Prisant's on-going series, "The Journey We Take Alone," and his wife Susan's series, "The Journey We Take Together," know that Sandy has been struggling for many months with a life-threatening kidney ailment. He is now awaiting a heart and kidney transplant. Words really can't capture the enormity of the pain and suffering he has endured in the last few months. But his wife, Susan, who is an extraordinarily strong support to him in this struggle, offers a glimpse into what he's facing in the transplant in the following post. I know I speak for many readers when I say that we are with you in this struggle, Sandy and Susan; we wish you strength and courage in this ordeal, and our thoughts and prayers are with you! If only we could all magically be in Florida to lend a hand when you need us there! CR

By Susan Prisant

Yesterday it became real. I was choking just listening to an hour of horrifying instructions over the phone. You want to scream out: “Stop. No. I’ve changed my mind.”

But how can I? My husband will die.

The heart transplant coordinator is telling us every unpleasant detail to come, now that he has been formally added to the National Register for a double transplant. Things that you really did not want to know about.

There will be a comatose donor, nearly brain dead, and a family in agony. No goodbyes. No more life to share with them.

How will we face stealing a life that is no more, so my husband may live? Maybe.

While our minds can’t help but wander to these ethical, life-and-death issues for a split second, the heart coordinator continues on through her list. And what she tells us:

The phone will likely ring in the middle of the night, waking us from a deep sleep as we begin the final phase of this latest medical odyssey. Frightened for our lives together, there’s not time to think. We absolutely must get to the hospital within four hours.

We’ve never been big believers in telephones. We’re notorious for just letting calls go to voicemail. Our argument was unassailable—we never ever missed an offer of a million dollars, an authentic call from Elvis or a Presidential appointment because we didn’t pick up the phone.

But not anymore. If we miss that one precious call for a donor that matches, that could be the ballgame. The difference between life and…

So we’ve now got to be packed and ready. And we must jump to answer every call.

Now she’s saying “so the first surgery will last ten to fourteen hours.” (10 to 14 hours??) And I’m immediately thinking: Oh my God…what will I do, waiting to hear?

But she’s still talking. When the surgery is over, she says, Mrs. Prisant you will see your husband connected to ventilators, monitors and more.

I’ve seen all this before with Sandy—twice now, but this time I will have to wait all alone. There are no more lifelong doctor friends around and no family. So there’ll be no one putting their arms around me; no one offering kisses and hugs.

And then, within 36 hours, the next agony will begin—the second surgery. The kidney transplant. That should take about nine hours more.

The coordinator is still reading all the rules and instructions. Not cold, but very business-like. Is she slightly detached? After all there are dozens of candidates who get this far and need to know these rules even though some will never get that transplant.

And every few minutes I can’t listen anymore. We’ve lived with this illness for over four decades, but none of it felt as daunting as this—after eight months of evaluation, we’re now facing hospital testing and blood draws almost every other day for weeks or maybe months after surgery.

This phone call is now becoming suffocating. Our throats are dry as we listen and grunt acknowledgment of each instruction.

And then, “Mrs. Prisant you have to get your own accommodations for the two weeks or more while Mr. Prisant will be in hospital. And then three days a week he will have to come back for checkups. You will be responsible for room, board, meals parking, etc. (She forgot about the cost of kenneling the dogs and other incidentals.) You stop listening to her for a second as your internal calculator starts throwing up big numbers. Very big numbers.

Having been through these near-death experiences before, you might think I wouldn’t find this overwhelming. But it’s almost a year now since Sandy has been so sick. And all those months since we started the grueling transplant evaluation.

It tells you all you need to know about the saga we are enduing to learn that on the very night, December 28, 2011, that we got the very good news -- my husband formally went on the National Transplant Register – we also had very bad news: he was ordered back into the hospital for kidney failure problems.

Hope and heartache. Hand in hand.

And that left me in a hotel room nearby. The next morning this very charming lady in the hotel café asked if she could share my table. Her husband was also in the hospital. It’s easier to talk with a stranger when they’re sharing similar pain. But Karen’s situation was different. Her husband had already been on life support and just died. Our pain was one. We held each other, no longer strangers. Two women sharing a moment of peace.

And then Karen stopped her story in mid-stream and made an astonishing offer. She learned slightly forward and said to me:

“Can I offer you my husband’s kidney?”

Writer Susan Prisant lives with her husband Sandy, and their two dogs, Dolce and Vita, in Florida. To read more of their writing projects, simply type their names into the Search function on MyStoryLives.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Movie Screen in Your Mind

NOTE: The following was the second meditation exercise I led in the Happiness class this semester. (The first exercise was "Warm Up: Writing in a Sunny Waterfall." For many students, this was their first exposure to meditation. After the class, the teaching assistant for the course -- a college senior who has had considerable experience meditating -- sent me the email that follows the exercise.

Try this: close your eyes and slowly take in a long slow breath.

Release the breath from your nose, letting the air make a little puffing noise, quietly so only you can hear it.

Do it again. Slowly.

And when you release the air, let go of all the stress you're holding in your body.

Let your neck and shoulders go limp.

Let your head hang forward.

Let your jaw go slack.

Let your back soften.

Let the muscles soften in both arms.

Both legs.

Your feet.

Breathe in again. And again, let the air out with a quiet little puff. Think about your entire body going limp.

All the stress draining onto the floor and disappearing.

Keeping your eyes closed, now imagine a screen, a white screen, in the space right above your nose.

It's a screen like those you see in a movie theatre, or the one right here in the classroom.

This is your own private little movie screen. See it there in your mind right above your eyes, stretching to fill your forehead?

Stare at it for a moment. Let it stay white. Steady your inner gaze right on that screen.

Now shift your attention back to your breath.

Breathe in, normally. And then let the breath out, with a tiny puff. Feel the air coming out of your nose.

Maybe it feels warm. Maybe it feels cool. Maybe it wants to be a color.

Golden like the sun. Light blue like the sky. Pink and orange like a sunset.

Or white like the fluffy clouds and your movie screen.

Just let your breath be whatever it wants to be.

Try this for a few minutes.

Soon, something will pop up onto your movie screen.

A thought. A story of something you did. Something that's bothering you. A person you're angry at. Something you have to do. Somewhere you have to go. Somebody you miss dearly.

See it there on the movie screen.

And very slowly, breathe in. And when you release your breath with that little puff, imagine your breath magically wipes the movie screen clean.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Puff. The screen is clean.

The screen is clean.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Maybe you want to count your breaths.

Breathe in. Puff out. One.

Breathe in. Puff out. Two.

Breathe in. Puff out. Three,

Breathe in. Puff out. Four.

Keep going.

Maybe there is another movie there.

There will be.

More and more and more movies.

And every time one more movie appears. One more thought. One more person. One more story. One more troubling idea.

See it there on the screen.

And then, puff it away with your breath.

Feel the breath.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

And now, continue. As long as you can.

See the movie.

Let the breath puff the movie screen



Email from Lori Walker, TA for the Happiness class:

"Hello Professor!

I just wanted to send you an e-mail and let you know that I really liked the "white screen" meditation that we did in class today :-). I could understand what some of the people in class were saying about how it was difficult to keep a "clear" mind after a while, but personally I enjoyed that. I found it easier to bring to my attention things that were on my mind and project them onto the screen and then dismiss them. It actually reminded me of that book by Deepak Chopra ("The Shadow Effect"), where he talks about bringing your emotions to your awareness and sitting with them as if they were a child and then letting them go. The visualization of the blank screen made it easier to bring those feelings into my awareness and then let them go. Perhaps towards the later part of the class, we should try that exercise again and see if any of the students like it any more?"

Thursday, January 26, 2012


By Dominique De Vito

OK, so it hasn’t been a particularly frigid or snowy winter (hooray!), but it’s still cold and gloomy outside. If you're in the mood to shake off the winter blues and feel some heat, then you’ll want to join us at the Hudson-Chatham Winery on Saturday, February 11th for a Heat in the Cold Super Celebration!

The winery is thrilled to be hosting internationally-renowned flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski for the afternoon. Many of you have heard Maria play at our legendary Sangria Festival in August. Maria’s back for this special event, joining Huffington Post blogger and local author Claudia Ricci for a book signing of Seeing Red.

Claudia’s book (she borrowed the title "Seeing Red" from a CD by Zemantauski, who's been her guitar teacher for many years) is a page-turner about a woman who travels half-way around the world in search of true love, only to find it in the magic of her own flamenco dancing. You’ll be transported by the words and the music – and a tasting of the winery’s award-winning wines! – inside our cozy tasting room.

For additional heat, we’ll have some yummy nibbles featuring Larry's Southwestern Sauces, R&G’s amazing Maple Chipotle chevre cheese, and a special wine cocktail. Bring some friends and make an afternoon of it at the Hudson-Chatham Winery. You may come in cold, but you'll go home hot and smiling too!

Winery hours are 12 noon to 5 pm.

Maria will be playing between 12:30 and 3:30, and Claudia will be signing books from 12:30 on. There is no admission fee. The winery
is located at 1900 State Rte. 66 in Ghent, NY. For more information, visit www.hudson-chathamwinery.com, or call 518-392-WINE. Hope to see you at the winery really soon!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

TULUM -- A new novel by David Seth Michaels

By David Seth Michaels

Sunday. October 14. 4 pm. In this country, a day off for everyone. For me, it’s like any other day. First, a small tequilita from the freezer. And then, my book, my plastic chair under the flowering tree, and a cold bottle of beer with a piece of lime in it. A perfect day for the yard. A perfect day to read. A perfect day to be a lizard.

To no one’s particular surprise, when the bottle is empty, I find that I cannot keep my eyes open, the book becomes heavy in my arms and it sinks through the warm humidity into my lap. My eyes close slowly. The beautiful siesta I invited gently sneaks up on me. Initially I can still hear the birds, the soft clacking sound from the cocos, the hum of the town. These fade gently, and then a dream.

An elephant has escaped from its handlers and has run down the beach to escape the intense heat and to frolic in the ocean. It floats in the surf, blowing sea water through its trunk onto its back, enjoying the surf. On the shore, its handlers grow impatient for it to return. They yell at it, “Come bank, Sweetness, come back!” Sweetness, if that is truly her name, ignores them. She wallows in the cool water, she swims around in circles, she sprays sea water with her trunk.

“Sweetness,” they shout. “Come back.”

Evidently, she’ s not yet ready to return to land, to heat, to servitude, and to them. She ignores their shouts and continues her bath. The handlers become more impatient. And angry. One of them shouts at her and in frustration throws a coconut toward her. Sweetness apparently doesn’t care for this. At all. She trumpets loudly and swims slowly down the beach, farther away. The handlers run down the beach after her, kicking up sand.

Some of the sand hits me. It wakes me up. I expect to see the wide beach and the handlers and the escaped elephant basking defiantly in the turquoise water, but when I carefully prop open my right eye, there’s no ocean and no elephant. I’m in my yard.

And there are two sweaty people, people I don’t know, standing there, standing in my yard, near my chair. I reluctantly get both eyes open. I look at them. I know very well why they’re standing there.

“Excuse me,” the bearded one says in English. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I wonder if you could help us.”

I consider saying that I don’t speak English. This would have its benefits, but it will probably prolong their unwanted visit. They will pantomime to me. We will play charades. I consider telling them directly, please leave my yard. Instead, knowing this directness will seem unnecessarily unkind in a country where seeming politesse is so important, I say, “Yes?”

“We’re looking for someone,” he begins. “We’re looking for the curandero. And we wonder if you know where we could find him? If you’d tell us where we can find him.”

I knew it. Same as always. How many times, I wonder, am I going to have this conversation? How many people are going to show up with this very same question?

The question, I think, deserves a consistent answer. So I tell them my usual lie. “I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are looking for.

Perhaps some of my neighbors could be of assistance to you, but I don’t know who that is.”

“Oh,” they both sigh. Crestfallen, they mumble gracias and wander off into the heat and humidity to continue their search for the curandero.

I return to the elephant. There are only Dream Elephants in this part of Quintana Roo. I have no idea what they are doing here. Or where they come from. Or why.

Writer David Seth Michaels, an attorney in Columbia County, New York, is the author of two novels, "Dream Antilles," and his new book, "Tulum," from which this excerpt is taken. "Tulum" is for sale at local bookstores by order, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, iUniverse. ebooks at BN and Amazn. He keeps a terrific blog at www. DreamAntilles.blogspot.com.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Will the Health Care Act Survive?

By Richard Kirsch

I woke up New Year’s morning with a nervous stomach. It was finally 2012, the year that I’d been talking about casually since people started asking me, “will the Affordable Care Act survive?” As I wrote in the epilogue to my new book, Fighting for Our Health: The Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States, health reform has to jump two big hurdles in 2012 to survive. The first is the Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality, with three days of oral arguments in March now just a few weeks away. The second, of course, is the election for President.

On the campaign trail in Iowa, Rick Santorum baldly revealed why the right is so intent on killing the promise of good health care for all: Santorum said it would make people “dependent” on the government. As I write in my book: “The right understands that if the Affordable Care Act is implemented, it will create a bond between the American people and government, just as Social Security and Medicare have done. The last thing that the corporate and ideological right want is for a new health care pillar to be added to the foundations of government social insurance.”

The battle over the Affordable Care Act needs to be understood in its historic context. While the legislation that passed was certainly compromised from an ideal law, it will for the first time – when its key measures are implemented in 2014 –establish a government responsibility to make decent health care affordable to almost everyone. Following a century of failure, during which the United States emerged as the only developed nation to guarantee health care, the passage of the ACA needs to be understood as a remarkable accomplishment.

That history weighed over the battle that began in 2008, when I helped found Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition that as health care historian Paul Starr told me, was the first time that there was a major grassroots, field campaign to pass reform. Fighting for Our Health is the story of that campaign, starting from its early roots in 2003, when Yale professor Jacob Hacker and I separately developed a new policy approach, the public option. We each envisioned the public option as a way to bridge the gap between those who championed single-payer government health insurance and reforms based on expanding private health coverage. As I write: “It is impossible to overstate how important the idea of the public option was to creating the powerful unified coalition that became HCAN.”

In 2008, many of the largest multi-issue progressive organizations came together under a common set of principles to form HCAN. During the next two years, HCAN ran a $48 million coalition, grassroots and media campaign, with field partners organizing pressure on members of Congress and actions aimed at the health insurance industry in 44 states. Our strategy included turning Congressional supporters into champions, like Washington State’s Patty Murray, who met 11-year old Marcelas Owens at a rally of 5,000 in Seattle in May, 2009. That meeting with Owens, whose mother had died because she didn’t have health insurance, led Marcelas to the U.S. Senate, to become a target of Glenn Beck and finally to stand next to President Obama, wearing matching powder-blue ties, when he signed the ACA.

The story of how Marcelas Owens ended up at the White House is one of many that I tell in Fighting for Our Health, each aimed at capturing the drama and illuminating the strategy that drove us to victory. I describe:

How we organized small businesses in the districts of conservative Democrats, taking them on Main Street tours.

The biggest story missed by the press, how we beat the tea party attacks by turning out more people than they did at

Democratic town halls and rallies from mid-August through Labor Day in 2009.

How we thanked House Democrats who voted for the bill and spanked Democrats who voted against it in 2009, a key strategy in getting a majority of House members to vote for the final legislation in 2010.

The campaign we ran on TV and in the streets to get the message out, “If the insurance companies win, you lose.”

The tension with the White House, which tried to stop HCAN from defending a strong bill.

At the end of the day though, we were all on the same side, celebrating passage of legislation that – if it survives 2012 – will make affordable health care a right in the United States. To see that promise fulfilled, we’ll need the President, Congressional Democrats and activists to make it clear why the Affordable Care Act will be a huge step forward in creating a country that works for the 99%. We’ll need to remind the public that once the ACA is implemented in 2014, it will mean that losing your job, retiring early, or starting a small business won’t result in losing access to affordable health coverage. It won’t mean you could go medically bankrupt.

The ACA became law because of the passion of activists and Democratic elected officials for creating a more just America. We defeated the Republican part, the tea party, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the health insurance industry. In 2012, we need to do it again.

Activist Richard Kirsch led the progressive campaign Health Care for America Now, which helped to get the nation's Affordable Care Act passed. His new book, Fighting for Our Health, tells a fascinating tale about how the progressive coalition worked with groups all across the nation to pass the bill.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

WARM UP: Writing in a Sunny Waterfall

NOTE TO READERS: Something quite amazing happened in my happiness class yesterday. I decided to try something new; like so many of my best ideas, the exercise came to me while I was meditating in the morning before class. When the students arrived, I asked them to freewrite for a few minutes, as I usually do, so that they could vent their thoughts and clear their minds before class started. Then I asked them to close their eyes, and I led them in this exercise I called "Writing in a Sunny Waterfall."

Before I started reading the words out loud, I was worried that it wouldn't work. I was afraid that when I finished, the students would say, "why did you make us do this boring thing?"

Something quite different happened.

When I finished reading, and looked up, each and every student in the class was sitting there in perfect stillness. There wasn't a sound in the room. Not a single student opened his or her eyes for almost 25 minutes. I was shocked. I kept looking at my watch thinking, should I just let them sit there? I did. I was astonished at the power of these simple words to relax a group of young people.

Finally I decided it was time to bring them back to the classroom. When I did, several of the students said they felt refreshed. One young woman said that she had never been able to meditate before, but that this exercise had helped her sink into a deep meditative state. I asked the students to write about what they felt. After a discussion, we decided as a class that we would try this exercise again. My husband thinks I should record the words and include them on the Happiness class blogsite. Maybe I will, so that other people can try it if they want to relax in a sunny waterfall.

Suddenly, we are all sitting in the sun, below a gigantic waterfall.

The water showers each of us in the most blissfully perfect temperature,





You look up and see the tiny little prisms of color in the water droplets as the sun passes through them.

You just close your eyes and sit there, letting the gloriously warm water fall on your head....

feeling it slip down your forehead...

over your eyelids...

onto your eyelashes...

your nose...

your lips...

your chin...

the back of your neck...

your shoulders....

down your arms and legs...

your hands and fingers and toes.

You just sit there, letting the water flow down, carrying away all of your stress.

You don't have to go anywhere.

You don't have to do anything.

You just sit there and

go limp.

The water pools at your feet and disappears.

You feel so relaxed that you smile.

If you were to look up, you would see the water sparkling in the sun.

You can feel the water,

the warmth of it, the sun's rays gently hitting the top of your head,

You just let the water drain every bit of stress away.

You just sit there in your own perfect waterfall, and all around you are the most beautiful flowers and trees.

You stare at the most beautiful flowers and trees. You

would swear that you were

in some sort of Paradise.

When you're ready,

write about what it looks and feels like

to sit there.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Note to Readers: Health care advocate Richard Kirsch's book, FIGHTING FOR OUR HEALTH is not out officially until February 1st, but the blogs are already abuzz with some of what he's written. It turns out that one of President Obama's key aides, Jim Messina (Former Deputy Chief of Staff, he's now running the Prez' re-election campaign) tried to get Kirsch fired in 2009, because he feared that Kirsch was pushing too hard from the left for health care reform. It's a fascinating tale, and it's just one chapter in the book. TALKING POINTS MEMO RAN THIS AS A BANNER HEADLINE YESTERDAY:

Key Reform Ally Dishes On ‘Weak-Kneed’ White House Health Care Push

"In an encyclopedic new book that sheds fresh light on the defining fight of President Obama’s first term, one of the administration’s key health care reform allies recalls a thin-skinned, “weak-kneed” White House, strategically unwilling and temperamentally unable to face criticism from progressive reformers, whose toughest tactics were reserved for its natural allies.

Many of the revelations will be unsurprising to those who followed the year-long fight over health care reform closely. But they serve as a thorough reminder of the administration’s uneven strategy during the debate, including its horsetrading with private industry, and private dealing with supporters on the left — particularly those, like the author, who fought a bruising fight for a public health insurance option and lost.

The book is Fighting For Our Health, by Richard Kirsch, who directed the advocacy group Health Care for America Now during the push for reform. HCAN is a well financed umbrella group backed by scores of liberal groups, unions, and other reformers — making Kirsch a close witness to the entire saga. He confirms that the White House treated the public option like a bargaining chip with powerful industry players, and believes that when his group became most critical of the bill mid-way through the fight, that top White House aides sought to have him canned.

“The White House had negotiated a number of deals with the health industry, designed to win their support for reform, including agreeing to oppose a robust public option, which would have the greatest clout to control how much providers got paid,” writes Kirsch, largely confirming what has become an open secret in Washington.

Kirsch’s book is replete with similar stories."

TO READ THE REST OF TALKING POINTS MEMO'S POST, GO TO THE TPM SITE. Other blogs quickly followed suit, among them The Hill and FireDogLake. Kirsch's book is available for pre-order in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com at FIGHTING FOR OUR HEALTH.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Note to readers: In September, 2002, I was deeply immersed in chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's Disease. I endured the agony of this treatment by doing paper collages which made use of concrete objects. The poem "ONE TWO" emerged toward the end of the grueling treatment, when my body was completely ravaged. Until recently, I have not been able to look at the portfolio of artwork or the poems that accompany some of them.




September 21, 2002

Sunday, January 15, 2012


By Jan Marin Tramantano

I am a shiny purple ribbon
wound loosely around your legs,
I let you know I’m there,
dressed in silk, my touch so light
you mistake me for an excuse.

I live within you competing
with blinding yellow of fear
blood red of desire
thorny brown of loss.

I am a slip of purple
with little traction
easily lost to hard ambition
camouflaged by noise.

You hungrily search for me
when rife with loneliness.
I guide you to look up
at a sliver of moon, the flicker
of Capricorn in the night sky,
ascend my invisible bridge.

When you become still,
alone with your essence,
you will shift,
feel me graze you
become mine.

Jan Marin Tramontano is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Floating Islands and Woman Sitting in a Cafe and Other Poems of Paris. A third, Paternal Nocturne, (Finishing Line Press) will be released in late January. She also wrote a memoir about her father, I Am a Fortunate Man. Her debut novel, Standing on the Corner of Lost and Found, was published in September 2011. Her poetry, stories, book reviews, and interviews appear in numerous literary journals, magazines and newspapers. She belongs to the International Women's Writers Guild, served on the board and as program chair of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and is a member of Poets House and the American Academy of Poets.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Our Stories are Such a Mystery and a Blessing!

By Claudia Ricci

Why do writers write novels? Because they love to write, because they have a story that's begging to be told, because they hold words to their hearts like glittering diamonds, because they have an itch that can only be scratched out in long silver sentences, because they want to celebrate life and love, because they have a question that nags and begs and pleads and refuses to go away, because they are immersed in a mystery that demands to be solved, because they need writing as much as they need breathing, because laying down words is like a powerful dream and an amazing drug, one that occasionally delivers aha AHA AHAHAHAHAHA moments that make you laugh and sing and chant and dance and jump up and down and hug yourself. Sometimes the discoveries are so absolutely jubilant and joy-filled that they go over the top and won't stop, like

today for example, when you finally finally finally finally after 17 long and torturous writing years finally finally see how the last chapters of the novel you have hated and loved and thrown away and dug out of the garbage and cursed and adored, when you finally see how the last part of the novel plays out.

At that moment, you feel like writing is a truly mystical and sacred thing, one that gives you a peek into the transcendent, one that explains how the word, how the very vibration of the words, are sacred things, and you understand why every religion has its BIBLE or KORAN, words spoken into sacred truth, how the Torah for example, is the very Tree of Life, and how writing is really and truly a great blessing and a privilege that we should never ever take for granted or deplore even on those horrible days when you can't write a flipping thing.

My own mystery is this thing I call


a book which you cannot pick up or put down, a 17 long year, gargantuan undertaking that felt so often like it would put me under, a marathon like no other I've ever had, an epic journey that I am still taking, a coming-to-consciousness about the very nature of reality, a binary back-and-forth which has finally become some kind of Unity of VOICE, a deep deep mystery that keeps unfolding, a story that gave birth to a nun
in front of a mirror, a nun who in the words of her cousin slipped effortlessly into flaming flamenco garb, a nun who like me spent years in prison being punished, and then, just last month, she slipped out the door just LIKE

THAT, in one chapter, in plain old words, she went free taking me with her.

Today at my meditation table the mystery of it all and the last few chapters just exploded into my head like wild fireworks an explosion of light, light that is still burning in the candle that won't stop this morning, wax pouring out, light pouring too, just like that other morning in November 2010, when a candle burned mysteriously for hours and hours while I sat here and there in wonder and deep gratitude that this mystery -- of writing, of discovery, of love -- has been bestowed on me.

If I sound like I'm starting to come unglued, let me say that this is how it feels to be a writer at the end of a long long writing project, one that holds you in its clutches until you are released. The first time I wrote a novel this happened, one day I produced about a dozen journal pages when I figured out the ending, the ending came to me in a wild frenzy of brain activity, what feels and felt like a boundless discovery of ideas, your brain sizzles and pops and the words, like the wax of this candle burning, just won't stop.

One curious thing about this ending, it's all tied up with my ear ringing.

Very peculiar how it happened: a few weeks ago, just about the time that Sister Renata went out the door freeeeeeeeeeee, I woke up with my left ear ringing.

I kept hoping it would go away but it only kept getting worse. I opened Louise Hay's book, You Can Heal Your Life, and it said that ear ringing
(otherwise known as tinnitus) is in effect caused by a person's unwillingness to listen to an inner voice.

When I read that, I went, oh come on, please, I am constantly listening to my inner voice, I meditate every day, I do yoga, and I write and write and I am constantly listening to my inner voice.

But no.

I had to listen more closely. MUCH more closely.

Two weeks ago, my dear friend Peg and I sat down in my den to write, it was a Thursday, December 29th, we decided to write nothing but questions and at first it felt like I was picking at the hard icy surface of the pond outside the window.

I wrote a few questions down, and so did she, and then we read them aloud. Peg is my all-time best writing buddy who's read virtually every word of this million-word novel SISTER MYSTERIES (which she at one point renamed SISTER MISERIES). She has lived through the misery with me, always telling me to write the "true" story, always encouraging, never doubting.

That day in the den two weeks ago, Peg saw straight to the core of it what I was writing and said two things, "Claud I finally get it, this book has been a penance for you," and I realized that she was absolutely right, the book has been a kind of punishment for all these long years, one that so many times I wished would go away. The other thing she said was, "Claud, why is it that when you start writing about core connections between this story of the nun and the true story of your own life, and your illness, and the connection between your mom's illness and your own, why do you always always just stop?"

I had nothing to say in reply. I sat in the den and felt like I wanted to cry because I felt so frozen up inside and my ear was ringing and it was miserable.

The next day, I sat down, was not planning to write, I just opened the file of questions that I had written with Peg, and the next thing I knew I had written this Celebration of Freedom, I wrote for three hours, poured out 3,000 words, my head started exploding with connections between the book and my life, I wrote about my memories of being in a tiny prison -- a hospital crib -- and my mother coming to visit me and her catching cold and getting very sick and developing asthma and me feeling responsible, me feeling this huge guilt just like the nun, just like Sister Renata,

I have for all these years of writing, felt like I was being punished for a crime I didn't commit, like the story had to come out of my ribcage, like it was imprisoned there, and I didn't know this until the other day, but Denise, my energy person in Vermont, says that "our childhood memories are stored in our ribs."

Why do writers write novels? To do deep psychic work through words, to solve binaries, to resolve conflicts.

A writer writes to transcend the daily humdrum lives we lead. To peer deep into the pools of mystery that underlie the illusion that we share, called reality.

Writers write stories so that they can discover their deepest truths, truths that help propel them into a new consciousness, one that transcends. Readers read so that they too can peer into a higher spiritual realm, if only for a few minutes, a few hours.

For both reader and writer, our stories are a gift and such a blessing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Love, Love, Love

By Kellie Meisl

I chose the word LOVE as my theme this year. I am very encouraged by this. I feel clever for choosing this word, how can I have a bad year if LOVE is my word?

I chose my first "theme word" for the new year two years ago after reading The Call, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. In it she suggested we focus on a single word. She writes, “So ask yourself this: If I could say one word to the world, if I knew the world was listening attentively and would to the best of its ability follow the directive this word sent out, what would that word be?”

That year I chose the word "open". I was beginning the year by hosting a monthly dream circle and teaching classes on art and dreams at my municipal art gallery. I wanted to be open to receiving those who were meant to come my way, and be open to exploring ideas around building this practice.

The second year I chose the word "close", to remind myself I can have boundaries when necessary. I found while trying to remain open the year prior, I shared deeply and personally and sometimes felt tread upon by insensitive people when I did not expect it.

This year I chose the word love for my theme because I thought that by handling every encounter, every issue, every person that comes my way, from the point of view of love, I will just be in win-win situations all year long. But most of all I realized that I needed to give a particular person my love, a person I had been unkind to more often than I would like to recall, a person who I had trouble forgiving, a person who seemed worthy in theory, yet always turned up last on the list, hardly ever gotten to: me.

I read recently, that if you love yourself---that is take the time to reallylove yourself, no conditions, just love, always, you will end up giving love to others automatically. This sounds like a no-brainer, just love me, and the rest will follow. I'm in.

Here is how I envision this year of self love to go, I see myself visiting places, doing activities, being with people, wearing clothes, eating foods that make me feel good. I will be honest with myself about what I am feeling in each moment, as much as I can, and from these feelings I will derive the people, places and things that truly make me feel happy, energized, creative, joyful, content...this equates to self love to me. And I will not judge when I do or do not feel these positive feelings, just notice then proceed, or, if need be, stop. My "open" and "close" themes have helped me with my understanding of this as well.

Since having this love theme in place, magical and spontaneous things have started to happen already, to support my decision to love myself. The world has been listening attentively.

I went to the bookstore looking for a desk calendar, something I love to do in January when they are half-off. And what did I find buried, but a calendar of hearts? Fifty-two different hearts made from 'stuff'. For instance, the first one of the year was fashioned of party blowers, and mini champagne bottles and confetti, then photographed. Upon finding this I felt so sure my inner radar of love was working spot on. I quickly made my purchase then zipped to the car and opened it to find this little story: Page, the artist, makes a new heart each Monday, in honor and memory of the love of her life, Madalene. When she first met Madalene she would make Madalene a heart each Monday and leave it on her doorstep. Sadly, Madalene passed away of ovarian cancer the year they met, but Page still goes on making the hearts for Madalene.
In honor of this loving tradition, created by Page, and my love theme, I am going to make a heart every Monday this year too. I will feature each right here.

Today is Monday, and this is my first heart, and the best thing is that my first heart is on my birthday. :)

When we give our self permission to love our self, the world wraps us in a big ole hug and breathes a sigh of, "Thank you."

"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." Buddha

Writer and artist Kellie Meisl, of Pittsfield, MA, keeps a blog called WALK, where this piece appeared first. A visual artist, she works out of waking and night dreams to produce her marvelous paintings, one of which appears on the cover of the novel, Seeing Red. Kellie's piece on why failure can be a good thing appeared last week in MyStoryLives.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Ice is SO Nice

How nice it is
to watch
the way
the icy surface
of the pond
after day
in winter.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


By Camincha

I come down to the coast that has the seducing curves of my
negrita, who sings, "Tamales calientiiiiiitos!!!!!!!!" through
the streets of my city on saturday nights. And the voice
of my Inca with his eagle–beak nose, skin the color of mud.
My color. My Inca whistles at my door. Sharpens my knives and
scissors big and small.

I come down to the Coast. To blue, green eyes. Full bearded
Europeans. The café latte skin of my criollas and criollos. To
flat streets that roll to the ocean. To its white foam. To the heat
of its shade. The tears of its garüa. The corner of La Picaronera.
The callejon next door. The European chalet. The Gardens of
La Diagonal Ice cream from D'onofrio. The church across
Parque Central. The benches of Alameda Pardo. Sunday's
promenades. The British-Peruvian school, blue uniform, hat,
white shirt, red tie. Ferocious exams. Matinees at the Excelsior:
The cowboy and the girl.

I come down to the Coast. I take El Expresso to go to Lima, El Urbanito
to El Mercado Central, to La Tiendecita Blanca where our mothers
bought Crema Chantilly to decorate birthday cakes and still serves
butifarras, paltas rellenas, tamales, empanadas, humitas. Memories jump
through the intersection of Larco and Pardo, f'ive blocks in diameter,
with a rainbow of flowers in its center. I walk to Schell where my school,
San Jorge, used to be, then to Porta that saw my growing up years.
El Terrazas still a block away, looking forward to its next Baile de
Carnavales. Would you like to dance? sounds in my head. Dance? His
eyes full of adoration. EI Malecón gives me his cliffs that roll to the
Pacific while the scent of jasmine, dahlias, sweet peas, honeysuckle,
sweet narcissus, stalk my steps . . . .

Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer. The San Francisco Bay Guardian praises her work saying: “Camincha frames the ordinary in a way that makes it extraordinary, and that is real talent.” Visit Camincha's website to read more of her writing!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why It's Good to Fail

By Kellie Meisl

I have been thinking a lot about the subject of failing.

Last year brought some failures with it. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact some of the failures have turned out to be good.

I have come to realize that sometimes by just going with the flow, letting things run their course instead of trying to be in control, a greater plan unfolds. When I can allow things to just happen without judgment or panic I can focus more on being on course as opposed to steering furiously down a path that probaby isn't going to make things a whole lot better anyway.

Sometimes what makes things better is being the best me, right where I am planted, as opposed to seeking loftier ground when I am uncertain. I liken this to building a house; if you don't have a strong foundation, then the building you put upon it will be unstable.

It is futile to fight failure. Failure teaches us some of the truest lessons. It knocks down our defenses, causes us to reflect and take inventory of what is important.

We can't really know ourselves until we decide just to be with our true selves -- failures and all -- no covering up. Covers are masks. Failures bring us to the truest places; the vulnerability of failing awakens us from a state of being on auto pilot.

Sometimes things that we think are failures turn out to be our greatest gifts.

Case in point: me dealing with my son's middle school years. From a parenting point of view these middle school years have been a huge challenge. In fact, on any given day, I can honestly say they have sucked.
I have drained my battery many times trying to navigate a course that definitely has an undercurrent that swamps me. Many days I would think I was preventing my son's failure as I read the daily computer-generated reports of his missed assignments. I would then write the proper follow- up emails to teachers, then schedule meetings, trying to share my point of view as an educator turned parent, desperate to come up with some sort of plan to keep my son on track, despite his major organizational issues.

But I was one person in a system that was already operating according to a finely-tuned plan. Deadlines were deadlines, test scores were test scores, and there were no exceptions made.

Performing these tasks took so much energy, brought so much stress that it has literally made me sick. I short-cirucited. I was placed on proton pump inhibitors (acid reflux medication) for three months to heal a bout of gastritis.

I blamed coffee, my doctor blamed 'middle school.' She listened to me spontaneously unload school stories as if they were just unimportant side notes, while at my visit to address weeks of nausea. She told me that this stress was the direct cause of the acid increase in the gut.

I took the reflux medicine home, read the slew of disturbing side effects, took them anyway, and set about to heal. After three days of worse gastric disturbances, and with a holiday party to attend, I decided not to take one the next day, vowing to return to them the following. But I did something different that day too; I listened to my gut, quite literally. I ate what made me feel good, drank what felt right and by the next morning I was feeling better. This happened again the following day so I didn't medicate that day either. Now almost a week later I am feeling better than ever, without the medicine.

You know what else my gut told me? It told me to give in to the failure, failure to control my son's destiny. Let him fail if he needs to, because it may be a necessary lesson for him. He needs to find his own way, I heard my gut say.

But that's when my failure became my success. Because now I am no longer drinking acidic coffee the first thing in the morning, I have returned to the gluten-free diet that keeps me healthy and as I walk daily I listen. I listen to myself. And I hear myself say, "Let go, you are on the right course, just stay with it and love yourself along the way. The rest will fall into place."

You know what? Releasing the pressure of fighting the inevitable, the necessary, has freed me up to be a far better mother. Who can live under the stress of going against the grain day in day out? And as if to prove my point, my dear friend, who has been following my every twist and turn, with the support of a saint and the insights of a sage, called me a few mornings ago to tell me about this dream she had of me:

She awakens within her dream, startled, looking out the window of her bedroom onto the (actual) river that runs along her home, she sees me on the water. I am at the edge of the rushing waterfall in a tan mini-van, getting ready to go over. We make eye contact and she stares at me in disbelief as I fly down the massively flowing fall. When I get to the bottom, I look up at her and smile, pumping my fist as if to say, "I made it, and I meant to do that."

Writer and artist Kellie Meisl, of Pittsfield, MA, keeps a blog called WALK; this piece appeared first there. A visual artist, she works out of waking and night dreams to produce her marvelous paintings, one of which appears on the cover of the novel, Seeing Red.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


February 24th -26th, TUITION ADJUSTMENT!!

Spend a weekend by a cozy fire in a gorgeous Berkshire County inn, learning about writing from two well-seasoned fiction writers who are also very experienced college-writing teachers!! Please join us for a host of writing exercises to help recharge -- or launch -- your fiction writing. We are teaching a fabulous workshop that we are calling Writer's Bloc at the very quaint Richmond Inn in Richmond, MA.


$450 includes all sessions and meals

$650 includes weekend retreat and two night's lodging at the elegant Richmond Inn in Richmond, Massachusetts

Application deadline extended to January 16, 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Stars Fall From the Sky

By Kyle Easton

If you stand before me when

Time stops and the stars fall from the sky

And darkness begins to overtake the earth

And glittering stardust paints the blackness above

I will look at you and drink you deep

And you will make me brave

I will hold you close and stroke your hair

I will shut my eyes and will not care

If creation fades and God does not appear

I’ll hold you close, even as we melt away

And I’ll make you brave, so do not fear

As we stand upon the darkening earth

Under the thick black blanket of the sky

Displaying powdered remnants of golden stars

Everything we know will fade away

All that we have ever seen or touched

Evaporating, disappearing around us into the blackness

Leaving only the ephemeral dust of memories

Quickly, silently, permanently vanishing

Into the blackness waiting at the end of time.

Still, we don’t allow our souls to be darkened by fear

We keep our eyes shut now, there is nothing more to see

We do not think forwards or backwards

We have been dreaming, though we hardly knew it

And now we begin to awaken

Something within us burned so bright

That as everything else fell way, it remained

As the stars fell, and the earth crumbled, and the dream faded

Only love remains, burning fresh and bright

Piercing the darkness of endless night

And we look directly into one another

And in so doing, we can not help but become one

And so I become you, and in so becoming

Become more fully myself

And in the black nothingness of space

One small star will remain burning bright

And it will not mind the barren surroundings

Because it will have no cause to look outward

But will only exist within itself, and for itself

Where all is love, and all is bright

Where the past is neither past nor forgotten

And the future is neither here nor ignored

Where every moment burns so fresh and bright

That it burns past the end of time

So stand with me, my love, as time and creation stop

And I will love you


Writer Kyle Easton was born and raised in upstate New York, where he still lives. He attended Bates College.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy 2012!!

By Callen T. Dalton

All of a moment is

The Universe

is all of a moment

Callen T. Dalton is a student at the University at Albany, State University of New York. The photo here is by Markku Verkasalo, a photographer in Helsinki, Finland. More of his work can be seen at Blipfoto.com/Akkuv