Typical Tuesday with Erica Goss

My day starts at 2:00 a.m., when I wake up from my first four hours of sleep. If I’m lucky, I’ll go back to sleep until 5:30 a.m. If not, I might drift in and out of what I call “snapshots” – snippets of sleep characterized by strong, visual dreams.

At 5:30, the radio turns on. I hear National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” faintly through my earplugs. After a half hour, my husband gets out of bed, where Rosie, our extremely spoiled Lancashire Heeler, greets him. A few minutes later, Rosie and our 17-year-old cat JJ are fed, and my husband starts the coffee.

I remove my earplugs, visit the bathroom, and pull on yesterday’s outfit, which I left on the floor beside the bed last night. This morning, I’m happy to re-wear my favorite corduroys and red cotton T-shirt. I greet my husband and prepare my breakfast: one soft-boiled egg and a slice of sourdough bread with butter and Marion berry jam. We sit down to read the New York Times, and interrupt each other by reading parts of the stories out loud. My husband gets the front page, while I scan the arts section and then start the crossword puzzle. My brain wakes up as I ponder clues; hmm, fifteen across: “Ancient land in Asia Minor” and eleven down: “Ljubljana resident.” My husband finishes his muesli with bananas and blueberries, kisses me goodbye, and drives to his office.

My goal is to be at the computer by 8:30. I’m a morning person, and I need to catch my ideas early. I’ll check my journal, where I jot down things as they occur to me.

These could be fragments of conversation, dreams, random thoughts, or a few sentences. Quite often, something I read in the newspaper will trigger some writing. Then I attempt to craft these bits into something cohesive, a poem or an essay or an article.

I’ve been writing short personal essays about subjects that range from grief to gardening. Recently I wrote an article for a pet magazine about color vision in dogs, and three poems about rooms. I don’t stick to a word count (i.e., 1000 words a day) but I do try to make significant progress on my writing every day.

My energy starts to flag around noon, so I shut down the computer and eat lunch. If there are no leftovers from last night’s dinner, I’ll eat my standard lunch: Tillamook cheddar melted on rice cakes. I also read the front page of the newspaper, scan social media, and check my email.

My two grown sons live at home, so they might be in the room while I’m eating lunch. The dog barks to be let in or out, depending on which side of the door she’s on. If it’s a good day, I’ll be back at my computer by 12:30. This is when I look at yesterday’s work. I’ve found that, at least for me, it’s a bad idea to start editing a draft too soon. Often my work looks weird or even alien to me right after I write the first draft. I need a day’s distance so I don’t inadvertently spoil a poem or an essay with too much editing. I always keep the first draft in a Word file or handwritten, so I can trace back to my original thoughts.

In the afternoon, I often struggle mightily against the urge to nap. I get drowsy after lunch, and it takes all of my strength to stay off of the couch. Sometimes I give in, but naps don’t often refresh me – I usually feel weird for the rest of the day after a nap. For me, sleep is never easy.

I switch from writing to video editing or to creating curricula for classes I teach. I’m developing a new class called “Five-Minute Memoirs,” where students will create short videos based on an important event in their lives. I also teach on-line poetry classes, which include phone support with my students, and I’m always looking for new writing prompts.

In between writing and thinking, I’ll stop and read from a book of poems I have at my desk. Right now I’m reading a collection of World War I Austrian poet Georg Trakl’s poems, which have exquisite and enigmatic titles: “In the Red Foliage Filled With Guitars” and “Three Glimpses Into an Opal” are tiny poems as well as titles.

I also use the afternoons to work on marketing. This is when I research places to submit my work. My poetry collection, Night Court, just came out, so I look for venues to read, write blog posts, and communicate with reviewers about the book. I’ve also created two videos from the book.

By 4:00 p.m. I’m usually done. If I don’t quit by 4:00 or 5:00, I might get a second wind and then stay up all night, which would not be a good thing. I need time to relax, read, and socialize with my family. My husband comes home from his office by 5:30 or 6:00 and makes dinner. We have a glass of wine and tell each other what happened that day. After dinner, my sons and I clean up while my husband plays the guitar or does some additional work.

I usually read until the news comes on at 9:00 p.m. I’m reading Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third of Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan Quartet novels. Reading helps quiet my mind, letting me transition to the restful place I need. I have trained my brain to understand that reading several chapters of high quality fiction is part of the ritual. I have my journal nearby to jot down any thoughts that occur to me as I read.

By 10:00 p.m., I’m usually curled up on my 100% organic cotton mattress, where I sink into my first phase of sleep. See you at 2:00 a.m.

About the Author: Erica Goss

Erica Goss is a poet and freelance writer. She served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA from 2013-2016. She is the author of Night Court, winner of the 2016 Lyrebird Award, Wild Place and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets. Recent work appears in Lake Effect, Atticus Review, Contrary, Eclectica, The Red Wheelbarrow, Main Street Rag, Pearl, Rattle, Wild Violet, and Comstock Review, among others. She is co-founder of Media Poetry Studio, a poetry-and-film camp for teen girls. Please visit her at www.ericagoss.com and connect with her on Facebook, Linked In, and Vimeo.

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High Heels by Selena Taylor

Shoes in Shop Window by Connel Design via 123RF.com

For a few years I had been keeping an eye out for a new pair of shoes. High heels, in fact.

I told my soon-to-be husband that I was on an endless hunt for the perfect pair: the color that would look best against my skin, the heel that was neither too high nor too low, the toe that was either open enough to give the precise amount of ‘toe cleavage,’ or closed, but not too round or too pointy.

He asked, “How will you know?”

It was a fair question.

It was early afternoon, but I paused and looked toward a sunset only I could see, searching for an answer that would make sense. Finally, sighing, I said, “I will just know.”

He followed my gaze. “What are you doing?” he asked, confused. (It did look like I was staring at nothing.)

“Giving a dramatic answer, accompanied by the view of a fake sunset,  with a fake  slight breeze to move a couple strands of hair.”

He was skeptical, mouthing, Okay. But then he smiled at me and pointed out, “The sunset, um, fake sunset, would be behind you. A soft chuckle escaped his throat.

I moved to the correct position. “Thank you.”

It went on like that for a couple years. Every shopping trip would find me staring into shoe-store windows, and touring the shoe sections in each department store.

Then, one day at the mall, something caught my eye: a shimmer – no, a sparkle.

I shifted my gaze to look directly at that heaven-sent sparkle. Above it, there’s a beautiful gold and black animal print – perfect. The heel was skinny, but not pencil-thin.

I could not hear anything, and my vision had become impaired – blurry. Could these be my shoes?

I moved closer to the shoe display, and stood right in front of that pair of heels, gasping for air.  to the heels. I stood before them gasping for air. My hands shook with anticipation. My left pointer finger gently, no – teasingly –  stroked the satin fabric. Ohhhh! My vision became even more blurry. I felt wetness on my cheeks, and, reaching up, I realized I was crying.

As if at a distance, I heard my fiancé ask the store clerk if the shoes were available in my size. I didn’t hear the whole conversation, but the clerk disappeared, and I was left with the agony of waiting for his return.

Finally, he was standing in front of me, and offering a box.

I was guided to a chair. Seated, I slipped my foot out of the shoe I was already wearing, and removed my sock, replacing it with a clean stocking. I feel dazzled. I want these shoes!

The clerk knelt before me with one high-heeled shoe in his hand. Gently, he placed it on my foot, and I pressed down, adjusting until it was firmly in place. We repeat the process with the other shoe, my other foot.  Oh, the thrill and ecstasy!

I stand and then I take the first steps, trying them on, trying them out. Glancing to my side I walk with new-found confidence to the mirror. I wiped my tears away, and saw myself in all my high-heeled glory.

Oh! Was that my butt? Is it just a bit more perky? Why, yes, it is! And oh! Look at my calves. It was as if those shoes were magic. (I tell you, I just about died.)

I don’t know how long I stared in the mirror, but eventually my fiancé reminded me that we had to leave, that the shoes had to go back in the box. A tearful goodbye started to happen; I wanted to wear them forever.

With a small groan, I sat back down and took them off, closing them into the darkness of the box.

I expect the clerk to reclaim them, but instead, my fiancé said we were taking them. He bought them for me, and presented me with the bag, looking at me expectantly.

I crushed the bag to my chest, holding those shoes to my heart. “I told you I would know.”

That was seven years ago. My then-fiancé  is my now-husband.

And the shoes? They’re still the greatest pair of high heels ever. I haven’t replaced them. I couldn’t if I tried.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

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Dear Heart by Æverett

Dear Heart,

I’ve come to the conclusion that you’ll never forget. Well, forget isn’t the right word, but this feeling you have for him… her… will never Photo Credit: Gaelle Marcel via Unsplashchange.

It will never​ be easier.

It will never feel okay to talk to her… him… again. Not like it was.

Because you will always remember those happy moments that made it so right.

Heart, you love him… her… It’s as simple as that. You always will. It’ll never change.

It means continuing to be friends isn’t easy. Maybe it’s not even really feasible…

You want those moments back, even though things ended for all the right reasons.

You’re jealous, that’s okay, even though the reason you let her… him… go was so he… she… could be happy with someone else.

“Love them enough to let them go.”

And you do.

It’s okay.

She… he… will keep popping into your dreams when you least expect it. It’ll keep being a quiet comfort.

You’ll keep thinking of him… her… when you’re​ trying on someone new.

She’ll… he’ll… hang on as long as you keep beating, as long as we keep breathing. He’ll… she’ll… be there at the back of your mind, lingering, with all those memories.

Because love stays with you.

You never forget.

It never fades.

And it’s going to drive you crazy.

Just keep hanging in there and take each memory in stride. Each day it gets easier. Each day it doesn’t feel easier.

Your devoted confidant,

Brain

About the Author: Æverett Æverett

Æverett lives in the northern hemisphere and enjoys Rammstein and Star Trek. He writes both poetry and fiction and dabbles in gardening and soap making. She has two wonderfully old cats, and a dearly beloved dog. He also plays in linguistics, studying German, Norwegian, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Elvish, and developing Cardassian. Language is fascinating, enlightening, and inspirational. She’s happily married to her work with which she shares delusions of demon hunters, detectives, starships, androids, and a home on the outskirts of a small northern town. He’s enjoyed writing since childhood and the process can be downright therapeutic when it’s not making him pull his hair out. It’s really about the work and words and seeing without preconceptions.

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A Small Matter Gone Swimming by John Grey

I tried to drown my anger in the Pacific Ocean,
in the shadow of my favorite sweeping dunes.
I figured that, waist deep in water, my irritation would feel misplaced.
Or replaced. Like my footprints, now foaming white.

My anger was knocked down by waves.
Its nose flooded with salt.
A jellyfish, proponent of that most alien of stings.
stole its virulent thunder.

Digging in sand, I startled a tiny crab.
Fuming as I was, I didn’t crush it.
It zigzagged away from me and anger doesn’t do that.
Rage is so linear. It spreads wider but it doesn’t turn corners.

Finally, the sun took aim and blow-torched whatever remained.
At dusk, I strolled the beach, a movement anathema to anger.
Ocean and horizon, long shoreline, pale sky:
It’s the job of abundance to make a man’s fury small.

About the Author: John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.

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Restoring Myself with Self-Portraiture by Julie M. Terrill

Self-portraiture has proven to be a useful tool in my growth, not only as a photographer, but in my personal life as well. I am not talking about selfies, though I do have some selfies that I love. These images are portraits using my DSLR, a tripod, a remote shutter release, light meter and purposeful composition. I conceptualize a shot, set it up, run into the frame and using the remote shutter release, give myself the same directives I would give to other subjects. After several shots I go back to the camera to see what needs to change technically and aesthetically and repeat the process. As a result I learned how to better communicate my directives to my subjects by becoming more specific and more easily understood.

My first experience with this process was in workshop on self-portraiture by Kate Inglis. I signed up as a way to gain a greater understanding of the people I photograph. Our assignment was to capture ourselves where we are in this moment our personal journey. Where was I? Newly widowed, grief stricken, lost… The image I had conceptualized was the stripping away – the stripping of my walls, of grief, of fake strength and finally surrendering to tears.


At first it was uncomfortable and awkward. I did not enjoy the process. Sadly, I hated my images and didn’t want to share them with the other participants. I was so critical of my body that I couldn’t see the artistic beauty of the shot. The self-deprecating internal dialogue spewed forth. My perception of my body quickly expanded while my confidence withered until it occurred to me that I would never view that same image of another woman and compare her to the Michelin Man or the Staypuft Marshmallow Man. For the first time I afforded myself the same gentleness and grace that I gave others. I chose an image that I could see as beautiful and I decided to share it at the end of the workshop.

Using monthly self-portraits I documented my emotions, thoughts, feelings and growth. These images reflect periods of grief, depression, anger, acceptance and strength. While I still take self-portraits, the changes are now more subtle. I didn’t think I wanted to document this process but am glad that I did.

The images are powerful reminders of the restoration process of becoming ME again. Though I was initially resistant, the process was everything I didn’t know I needed. I am eager to see what insight future sessions will hold.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

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I Play Hooky from Work on Wednesday and Take a Road Trip by Pat West

Sixty-five miles west of Chicago,
I turn south on Route 23.
Here the landscape’s
dotted with white two-story farmhouses,
red barns, and gravel roads that crisscross.
Rows and rows of corn whispering
all the way to Iowa.

So this is rural Illinois on an August
afternoon. Hollyhocks hunch over
from the weight of purple and bright pink
blossoms, wide front porches with swings
and rocking chairs welcome farm folk
after chores.

Out here it’s all so flat,
as if the summer sky’s come down
and pressed this land level with the horizon.
Riding alone, I take in the mix
of freshly turned soil, pollen-thick air
and the long upward-winding curve
of a train whistle.

A lanky man walks down the driveway
to check the mailbox,
all the time keeping an eye on the road,
like he’s watching for someone to wave to.

I feel like stopping the car
right in the middle of the road.
Instead, I raise my hand palm up
and leave it out
gliding over rooftops and fields.

About the Author: Pat West

PatWestBio

Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, WA. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher, San Pedro River Review, Slipstream, Gold Man Review and elsewhere.

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Sunday Sensations: On Chickens

Forgive me, chickens, for I have sinned. It’s been about two minutes since I last fed you and now you follow me like some kind of modern-day Moses. Please, don’t believe in me, I will only let you down. I have no more of life-giving substance. You’ll probably starve.

In my defense, I didn’t want you in my life. You see your adopted father, my dearest husband, is the country-farm-wanting one. I live in a world that’s entirely gray and cement. I pine for skyscrapers while he just pines for the sky. City girl isn’t just a cute nickname, it’s my way of living.

Despite all this, you peep peep’d into my heart. While you were boxed in our bathroom for three months I learned that your tiny chick bodies so fragile. I nursed and cradled each of you as tenderly as if you were my own. I wept for the ones who didn’t make it. Chickens-by-Tabitha-Grace-Challis

You went through an awkward stage after the fuzzy little chicks. Your body and feathers didn’t quite match. Yet, still I loved you. We’d bonded. Well, I bonded. You mostly just still wanted me for food.

Now, fully grown, we’re counting down the days for you to lay eggs. Meanwhile, you still follow me about the yard as if I, and I alone, am here to save you. Yet, I know you do it for anyone. You hop over the fence at the sound of a human voice. I lie to myself and say it’s unique to me.

Truth is, my dear chickens, you’re not the smartest animals I’ve owned. I know BBC Earth says chickens are smart, even empathetic, but I have yet to see this displayed in you. Your first spot for looking for food was a three large plastic fertilizer bags. While I gave you the benefit of the doubt, thinking there must be a plethora of bugs on said fertilizer, I walked over to find none.

There was also the time where, instead of going into your coop, you fluttered up to roost on the roof. This may have been permissible if one of your number hadn’t been brutally murdered the day before. You really need to learn about protecting yourselves.

My favorite is, upon escaping your run, one of your number just ran around and around the outside of it, begging for the food inside. The fact being, the door to the run was wide open. You just chose not to go inside.

There are over 19 billion of you on the planet – a fact that staggers me. How you flew into my heart staggers me even more. I look forward to seeing you every day. Much like a happy mother, I stare down at you in your coop every night. Watching you in your run is as soothing as a fish tank. You peck, hunt, peck again on the search for your one true love — food. There’s little more to your life than that and a lot less to worry about.

I like the little noises you make. I had no idea that they could be so different from each other. There’s a near-growling sound you make when our dogs run up to you. A happy little trill that our blue ameraucana makes (though, with the puffy face she has, she looks more like a stereotypical British Col. Mustard). There’s the happy calls you make to each other as you roam the yard every afternoon. Chicken-02-by-Tabitha-Grace-Challis

It’s weird to think that I’m so close to something that usually winds up on my dinner plate. I know it’s odd to label some animals “friend” and others “food,” but it’s the way of the world, especially for a city girl. Yet, you’re so hilarious and fun to watch. Plus, I bonded. Much like you did with food.

So, forgive me chickens, for not providing for you in the way you’d like to be accustomed, but I’ll try better tomorrow. Backyard farming may not have been my thing, but I’m a little more convinced now about this pining for the open sky thing. As long as there’s a Starbucks within driving distance.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

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Finding a Fertile Niche by Mary Ellen Gambutti

I am reminded that life is unpredictable and impermanent, and like change in a humble garden, our hearts and souls benefit from growth, restoration, tending, and nourishment. I have finally found my fertile niche, and hope this tale helps you in some way, as it has helped me in the telling.

Just as my parents retired to California from New Jersey in 1976, my marriage of six years fell apart. I was twenty-six, had a six-year old daughter, and felt devastated.

Fast forward to 1983 when I married my life partner, Phil. We moved to the Philadelphia area, and I returned to college for horticulture. Always a gardener, my new knowledge of perennial garden design prompted me to start a small business, restoring and designing estate gardens. The physical freedom and challenges suited me, and I was happier than ever.

On a rural acre with Victorian farmhouse, we embraced the challenges of home restoration. We tended flower and vegetable gardens, grew plants in the greenhouse. We embraced animal husbandry with a small herd of dwarf goats and a flock of fancy chickens.

From a young age, I wrote poetry, letters, and little stories. I was now writing creative proposals, and a garden newsletter.

My desire to know my origins peaked when I was 40, and I resolved to find my birth mother, against the odds. Yes, I am adopted.

Unless you’re adopted, you may not know much about adoption laws and regulations. Each state has different rules, and in South Carolina, adult adoptees still have no right to our Original Birth Certificates. My adoptive parents had saved my South Carolina “Certificate of Adoption and Birth,” all my adoption papers, and related correspondence, and I began my research.

Each day I made phone calls and typed letters to get the process started. Weeks would go by waiting for responses, often with no new information, and time often felt wasted following false leads. A genealogist located in South Carolina assisted me long distance in my sleuthing, using directories, cemetery registries, and obituaries.

My obsessive search ended when I made the first calls to my mother, maternal half-sister, and cousins, over a year later. No feeling could match this excitement of discovery, reunion, and bonding with the family of my origin. Mama could tell me nothing about my father, and it became clear, that had I stayed with her or her parents, I would have suffered neglect, as my sister had.

Still, I’m grateful for our one year together before her death, and I continue to stay connected with my maternal half-sisters.

As everyone’s story must, life goes on and is full of both joys and sorrows.

I suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke at fifty-eight. Right-sided hemiplegia, speech and cognitive deficits, meant several months of difficult therapy before I could walk or care for myself. My husband took a leave of absence to be with me. I owe my remarkable recovery to his assistance alongside the excellent work and attention afforded me in two stroke and rehab hospitals.

I am, indeed, a survivor.

My cognitive function improved in about six months, and I made the choice to take a variety of on-line writing courses, and continue to do so eight years later. Although I have little use of my affected right hand, I write and read on laptop and other devices. In 2016, I self-published “Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back.” My stories appear in literary magazines and anthologies.

Writing has been key to my recovery. It keeps my brain active and creative, gives me hope, and helps me fight depression.

Determined to learn my paternity, I pursued my interest in genealogy. My maternal half-sisters and I tested our DNA for ancestral matches. This allowed me to eliminate maternal matches and begin identifying paternal DNA matches. A joyful connection with my deceased father’s family: – three half-sisters, a half-brother, and a multitude of cousins—has been my reward for a long arduous process. We reunited this spring in South Carolina.

Stacks of photos from the loving people who raised me, tell the story of my life. Photos and stories of my natural family complete me. Through long-sought family resemblance, mannerisms and expressions, I see myself more clearly.

Phil and I retired to Gulf Coast Florida last year. Our new home offers us a second chance at a peaceful life. My on-going recovery is complemented by refresher rounds of physical therapy, our home exercise pool, my writing, warm climate, and warmer friends. It’s likely I’ll never tend an in-earth garden again, but pot culture of Orchids, Succulents and Bromeliads gives me great pleasure.

With my days shaped by the natural beauty of our location, my aim is to recover the health of my mind and body. The self-sustaining richness of family has come full circle with life and kin restored to me.

About the Author: Mary Ellen Gambutti

Mary Ellen writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, her reunion with birth family, gardening career, and survival of brain hemorrhage at mid-life. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gravel MagazineWildflower MuseThe Remembered Arts JournalThe Vignette Review and Halcyon Days. She resides in Sarasota, FL with Phil, her husband, and their rescued Schnoodle, Finnegan.

 

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Fire in my Spirit by Bella Cirovic

It took a lot of courage for me to get on that plane. I knew on a soul level that once I boarded that flight, there would be no backing out. I had made a commitment months ago and there was nothing to keep me from going on this trip. That is one small detail I am down on my knees grateful for because a few months prior to me leaving for this restorative getaway, I was in a hospital waiting room praying for my husband’s life.

I now stood so far removed from that time. Months before I was to go on this trip, my husband had major open heart surgery. There is no preparation for what that will be like. Thankfully his surgery went well and was a success. His recovery was also smooth. I watched him gain his strength back daily and marveled at how with time, our bodies can heal. In a few short months, he was back at work and given the all clear by his doctors to resume living his life just as he had been prior to his surgery. He did so, fairly easily.

For me it was more difficult to jump right back into living.

I was constantly thinking and questioning everything that might have contributed to his need for the surgery in the first place. I also lived in a lot of fear that something would go wrong and change or undo the good works of his medical team.  I shared everything that was on my mind with good friends and a trusted doctor who assured me this were normal thoughts to be having after a major life changing event.

I would spend the months after the surgery in deep thought and contemplation.

I also thought a lot about an upcoming trip I had scheduled at a women’s retreat, one I had been to in the past that had felt like a week long healing adventure. How could I allow myself to fly across the country, for fun? I’d be much more at use here at home just in case anything should happen. I had become overly cautious. It would be awhile before I realized that I was living my life around the question of ‘what if’.

Once I realized how much fear I had been living in and how small that fear was making me, I could not un-see the ripple effect it was having in my life. I knew for certain that this was not how I wanted to be. It took many deep breaths and baby steps to get to a place where the fear of something unknown happening no longer kept me from living the outgoing, free spirited life I enjoyed before my husband’s surgery.

It is my goal to try to live by what I teach my daughter. For years I have told her to never let fear hold her back from doing the things she loves. And now I was contemplating not going on a trip to a place I loved to gather in community with women I adored. With nothing to hold me back and with the full support of my husband, I decided it would serve me well to go and get some rest from my day to day life. This trip was an essential piece to my healing.

There are moments in our lives that we get to put into action the change we want to see in ourselves. This was one such moment for me. As the plane began to rush down the runway and lift up into take off, I could feel some of my old baggage wash off of me. I let it go.  I was on my way to tend to the fire in my spirit, and I no longer felt afraid.

About the Author: Bella Cirovic

Bella Cirovic BioBella Cirovic is a photographer and writer who lives with her husband and daughter in the suburbs outside of NYC. She writes on the subjects of self care, body love and nourishment, crystals, essential oils, and family life. Catch up with Bella at her blog: She Told Stories

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Summer Sabbaticals and Starlight: An Invitation by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

Mornings were always my best writing time. I woke early, predawn when my children were young, putting the kettle on for tea and sitting down to write before they were up, in that blueblack space between sleep and wakefulness. By the time our day began, I had already covered miles of inner terrain and created whole worlds as they dreamed.

Now, those children are teenagers and I find myself with my phone in my hand often before I even get out of bed, checking weather, then email. From there, I usually click over to Facebook to see if anything big is going on or if I have any messages, likes, or comments, and finally over to Instagram for the same, before going downstairs and scrolling while the coffee brews and the cats brush against my legs, waiting for breakfast.

Now, I try to write, get bored, and look something up. I try to write, feel stuck, and go watch an inspiring TED talk to get me motivated. I try to write and someone invites me to an event on Facebook and I reply and check to see who else is going, clicking on old friends’ and acquaintances’ profiles to see what everyone has been up to, and I am lost down the rabbit hole again.

Bingeing on social media and Internet use is very much like issues with food. There is a hunger without a name gnawing at the hollow of the belly. It isn’t a physical hunger, though. It comes from a need for pleasure, comfort, and distraction from our boredom and our often difficult modern lives. It is escapism. It seems positive or essential–I need food–I need connection to others. But, the food is largely junk, full of sugar and chemicals we can’t pronounce. Much of social media is largely junk, too, full of memes, quizzes, and links to funny cat videos.

I want to say, as clearly as I can, that I am not bashing any of these things because I laugh at the memes, take the quizzes, and watch those videos on a loop, too. I do it every single day and I enjoy some aspects of it. But, when I find myself avoiding my writing or my feelings of boredom or loneliness by clicking back and forth between the carefully curated and sponsored Instagram people’s perfect lives–or, taking a quiz to see what kind of tree I would be, yet again–I think it is something worth pausing to think about.

What, exactly, am I getting out of this but a very temporary fix that relieves the boredom, but also simultaneously hooks me into ever-increasing consumption?

Last September, my partner and I spent a long weekend in a tipi in upstate New York, in a location where there was no Internet and no cell phone service at all. After a few hours of strange technological deprivation anxiety, it slowly ebbed away. My phone went into a backpack, turned off, useless. We wandered long gravel roads, talking without pausing to so much glance at a text or even to break the moment to take a picture of the foxglove blooming wild alongside the road or the streams cutting across the jagged hills. We lit campfires, a slow meditative process of making fire. We lounged in a hammock, our feet tangled together along with our words. He napped and I wandered into a sun-drenched meadow ringed with wildflowers.

There, I spread a blanket on the ground, opened a book, and let my body sink into the earth, light spilling over me. I dozed and read until the sun set, then he joined me there and we watched the stars emerge, one by one, excitedly pointing each out as it revealed itself in the gathering darkness. He sat behind me, arms wrapped around me, and I felt like we were the only two people in the whole world, watching the celestial performance the sky put on just for us.

Would we have had the same experience if we were together in that field illuminated by the glow of our respective cell phone screens instead of starlight? Would our excitement and presence in the moment have been as powerful if we were streaming our favorite shows and checking work emails or quickly popping in to see what our friends were up to on social media? I already know that the answer to this, for me, would be no.

More recently, I attended a writer’s workshop and residency at the Millay Colony, again in upstate New York, and again minus cell phone reception. Though less isolated than the tipi weekend (some wifi was available here and there), I opted not to go online for more than twenty minutes per day. That was it. All email, social media, and news had to get done in that time frame or it didn’t happen.

I was ruthless in enforcing this. I didn’t waver or make exceptions.

What I did was take long walks and stare out my studio window. I read books. I napped. But, mostly, I wrote…and wrote…and wrote. I wrote in the workshop intensive with two different instructors. I wrote in bed. I wrote outside on a rock wall in the sun. I wrote sitting on a bench in the middle of the woods at the grave of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. I filled an entire notebook of over 120 pages in just five days and I did so because I disconnected from the Internet and connected to my fellow writers there and my own creativity.

While I was at Millay, I was already thinking about the ways my unplugging was an antidote, a remedy, a heady dose of good medicine for me. I also was feeling shame that I was unable to better manage my online consumption and addiction to these distractions. Then, other writers there confessed that they’d disabled their wifi, too, hoping to escape it. One workshop facilitator, a brilliant, award-winning writer I admire deeply, talked about her internet addiction and how she had to write her latest book in her car parked down by a river in her hometown because it was the only spot where she couldn’t get Internet on her phone or laptop. This same writer told us how she just built herself a studio at her home, one positioned where it is because she trekked around the property until she found another Internet dead-spot and said to the builder, “Here–I want it built right here.”

Listening to her talk about this, I felt a clear truth rising through me, a voice, “See, you aren’t the only one!” echoing through my consciousness.

Maybe you have a stronger will than I do. Maybe you only use social media sparingly and it doesn’t impact your time with others or your creativity or your emotions. If so, these words aren’t for you. I have deep admiration for your discipline and clarity and aspire to the same myself. But if, like many of us are, you’re more consumed by your online life than you feel is good for you, I invite you to consider a summer experiment of restoration and renewal by pulling back from the Internet and sinking more fully into your world offline.

You may not be a writer, but you might be an artist, a baker, a long-distance runner, an animal rescuer, a gardener, an activist, a volunteer, a reader, a parent, a naturalist, a lover, a friend. Or, you might be nothing more than quiet, letting the empty space of what was Internet overuse become filled, instead, with contemplation, meditation, and healing.

As for me, I am going completely off the Internet grid every third day for the rest of the summer. No social media, no email, no online activity at all. I’ll answer calls or texts, but I likely won’t keep my phone right with me, so my responses will be slower and more intentional. On the other days, I will block off four hour chunks of Internet-free time, cut with brief 20-30 minute intervals of connection.

For some of you, my goal of unplugging and seeking renewal already looks like what you do, and it may seem trivial. For others, you feel an immediate rejection of what I am doing, an insistence that you absolutely must check email daily or social media hourly or the news twice a day–and perhaps that’s even true. We all lead very different lives and I have nothing to offer but my own experiences and inquiry.

But, as a sweet summer experiment, consider what would happen if you pulled back in any way you could from online life and got reacquainted with the life you’re actually living. Maybe you simply establish phone and Internet free zones or meals or times of day. Go out and fill some notebooks with the words only you can write. Spread a blanket in the grass with a lover and watch for stars. Let this summer be a time of renewal and return, connecting the scattered parts of yourself you’d lost in the Internet glow–finally, fully complete–radiating light, your own private constellation.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at http://cdeliamulrooney.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofcupstarot/

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