Step Garden by John Grey

Photo by Ernest Porzi on UnsplashThe slope is steep but cultivated:
olive and racemose carob trees,
primrose cyclamen nodding at their feet;
at the bottom, lemon trees
sipping tartness from the sea;
farther up, Spanish chestnuts,
fruit rattling in the breeze,
limbs swishing like horse tails.
A narrow trail snakes its way
through thick shadow
to low cut brush
where light bursts large.
My breath scores lemon
and salt and oil and legume.
I walk the length and back again
with you beside me,
like we’re hiking a scented
soft moment in ourselves.
With nervous lips,
I place a hungry garden
on your mouth’s sweet slopes,
for you to prune,
to fertilize.

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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Welcome to Issue #10: Cultivate

Among the many definitions of “cultivate” offered by Webster’s Dictionary are, “to develop or improve by education or training; train; refine,” “to promote the growth or development of (an art, science, etc.),” “to devote oneself to (an art, science, etc.),” and “to seek to promote or foster (friendship, love, etc.).”

Clearly, cultivation is a versatile concept, one that goes far beyond getting our hands dirty by planting seeds in soil and caring for the resultant sprouts, watching as they grow into flowers, trees, fruit, or vegetables.

And yet, that first, most basic association is no less valid than the abstract uses of the word. We cultivate our arts and sciences in much the same way that we cultivate soil. We foster the growth of our friendships (or, we should) with every bit as much care as we give to plants. We constantly reach, grow, hone, refine, perfect, and protect every aspect of our lives and ourselves.

Welcome to Issue #10 of Modern Creative Life: “Cultivate”

“Solitude is the soil in which genius is planted, creativity grows, and legends bloom; faith in oneself is the rain that cultivates a hero to endure the storm, and bare the genesis of a new world, a new forest.” ― Mike Norton, White Mountain

When we were discussing this year’s themes, we all got excited about the choice of “cultivate” for our spring quarter. After all, most of us do some gardening, and all of us try to keep our artistic selves in a state of growth and tender care.

What could be more perfect, we thought, then to celebrate the many ways we cultivate the various aspects of our lives?

“By looking for the unexpected and discerning the surreptitious features in the scenery within us, we apprehend our personality, find out our identity and learn how to cultivate it. Taking care of our fingerprints will be an enduring endeavor. ( “Looking for the unexpected” )”  ― Erik Pevernagie

What does “cultivate” mean to each of us? What does it mean to you? Can we apply the work we do in backyard gardens or front porch flower pots to art, writing, and music? Can we foster spiritual growth and nurture our bodies the same way we cultivate friendships and enhance our romantic relationships?

Is it possible that a life which is too carefully cultivated can end up being as soggy as an over-watered garden or as parched as desert sands?

Don’t we need to find balance in our cultivation, as we do in all things?

These are the concepts we are exploring in this issue, and we invite you to join us in the experience.

In this issue, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and essays, as well as all kind of enlightenment, help each of us find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which you create.

As always, our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we look to other creatives for ways in which they nurture and tend their own creative life so that they regularly find their process – and lives – feeling nourished instead of parched.

As we share the stories of other makers, use their experiences to illuminate your path into your own Modern Creative Life.

“Cultivate your craft. Water it daily, pour some tender loving care into it, and watch it grow. Remember that a plant doesn’t sprout immediately. Be patient, and know that in life you will reap what you sow.” ― J.B. McGee

What stories might you have to share with the world? Share the results of your cultivation with us! Don’t be afraid to dig deeply into the fertile soil of experience, memory, and imagination as way, not only to tell your story, but to help others learn from your mental, spiritual, and physical adventures.

We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

—Melissa A. Bartell, Editor at Large

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The Great Escape by Jeanette McGurk

In our house we live with a certain level of spontaneity.  This is partially because of my personality type. “What?  Leave now to see a band 3 hours from us?  Hell yes!” And partially because of my husband’s job.   We joke that he is the cleaner; the guy they bring in when everything else fails.  Right now we are in Germany for 5 weeks because of a project that has gone off the rails.  Riding off the rails was easier to manage when the kids were little.

As they get older, roots and responsibilities stretch themselves around our lives so that we can’t put home on pause anymore.  If we leave, arrangements must be made for Moxie, our fat little tootsie roll of a dog and Mr Farkus, the king of grumpy geriatric cats.

I am a Girl Scout leader.  A few Girl Scout meetings must be managed so 6th graders who are already losing some interest do not lose all interest. And then there is the bit about school.  It is totally frowned upon for 4th and 6th graders to go gallivanting about Germany focused on schnitzel and sledding rather than the common core standard.  In fact, it is easy to justify all the reasons why the girls and I should not be here.

It is expensive, impractical, disruptive, and a bit decadent to put every day life on hold to spend a month hanging out in one of my favorite cities.  On the other side of the argument, my husband is here.  He has been for weeks and weeks.

Not only is it important to rescue him before he goes completely feral, it is better for us as a family to be together.

When John is gone the kids sleep in my bed.  He fusses that I have no boundaries but at 10 and 12, I figure at any moment they will be be over me.  So, I forgo binge watching Black Mirror for Liv and Maddie.  I start off with strict orders of no cookies in bed, only to succumb to cookies in bed which means crumbs in bed.  Next it’s Moxie.  She looks at us with her big brown eyes, and another rule flies out the window, it is now me, the kids, and a 25lb dog with a stink and snore problem.

All that is left to fill the ark is one very old, mean cat who hates the dog, but calls a truce.  Farkus would never allow the dog to one up him.  To be honest, when John travels I suspect he becomes more civilized and we are the ones who go feral.

 

So after some finagling with school and schedules, the kids and I wrap things up and head for Munich.  One would think that 10 and 12 would be a great age to travel with children.  They are older, wiser and can manage their stuff.  All of this is true.

They have also fine tuned their skills on how to annoy one another, and more importantly, me.  Before we even make it through security they are being surly and have started flinging insults.  I am extra crabby because I have discovered the billions of miles and status my husband has on American does not apply to us.   We only get to check 1 bag each.  So, we are each carrying our normal bag plus 3 large duffels, two of which I have been kicking through the security line for 15 minutes.  What I thought had been a lot of time has somehow dwindled down to less than an hour.

The security guy is adamant that my 12 year old remove her hat and clear her hair out of her face so he can compare her passport photo to real her.  She shoots daggers at him from her narrowed eyes.  “Yes,” I want to say, “that cute, sweet, looking girl in that photo is the same child a year ago. Welcome to the tween years.”

We finally make it through security.  Next on the agenda; food.  This is not our first rodeo.  With  11 hours of flying ahead of us, we are going to get hungry.  In fact, we are already hungry.  We had left the fridge as empty as possible before leaving home for 5 weeks and had eaten some stale crackers, cheese and a lone apple before loading into the cab.

As much as we want to like the plane meal three hours from now, it will make our snack look gourmet.  My first inclination is towards the Cantina Laredo 10 steps from our gate.  The girls grimace.  I have been burning them out on Mexican food for the last two weeks.  It is the only thing I miss when we are in Europe, well, that and my mammoth washing machine and dryer.  I try to go into Cantina Laredo when the Hostess stops me.  “Sorry, we are not seating anyone, our computers are down.”  I blink at her stunned.  “Super” I say.  The kids cheer.

I know what this means, pizza.  Parenthood has given me an appreciation for wine and a loathing for pizza.  Every class party, birthday party, Friday night, Saturday afternoon, seems to involve pizza.  I don’t know how my kids can burn out on Mexican food and yet never tire of pizza.

It is one of life’s great mysteries.

We eat our pizza and despite my lack of enthusiasm, it actually hits the spot.  With the hangrys dealt with, we are all much more pleasant.

Boarding starts almost immediately after arriving at the gate.  Whatever I have forgotten to do, we are now committed.  The door closes, the safety info starts and all the over-commitments, under commitments, concerns and stresses fade away.  There is something about being on a plane, the lack of control that I find comforting.

I am fully aware how weird this is.  Perhaps it is because I am so naturally disorganized.

I spend the two days before travel like a chicken with my head chopped off.  Running around, accomplishing nothing.  So when I sit down on the plane, I have at least managed myself and the kids to this point.  The passports obviously weren’t left.  Apparently no one tried to board with a multi-tool.  The large threatening toothpaste had to hit the trash but the crackers Lauren apparently packed herself in my best tupperware were allowed through.

Yes the flight will be cramped and uncomfortable but someone else has to drive.  I can sit, read, watch movies, all while being served tea, cokes or wine if I am so inclined.  Whatever happens, I am not in charge and therefor, I can relax.  It is the time where I transition my brain.  This trip is both escape and homecoming.  It isn’t that I don’t love being at home, I do.  But the chance to explore other places is so delicious.

And to explore as a family is even better.

We skip from Heathrow to Munich.  We snake through the lines to where the customs agent stands.  “How long will you be in Munich?”  “About a month.”  “What brings you here?”  “My husband is here working.”  “Is he in the military?” “No.” He asks where he works. I give more answers.  He looks at the kids, their bears.  “Have a good trip.”  “We will, we love Munich.”

He stamps our passports.  Thunk thunk.  Thunk thunk.  Thunk thunk.  There is the last formality of getting our luggage, which the girls manage all of.  I smile, happy they are showing solid travel legs.

We round the corner and see the tall pale guy we are looking for.  The one smiling at us through the sea of all the other tall pale guys.  There are hugs and cheers and jumping.  My kids are jumpers.  We pile into the tiny European version of an SUV.  Somehow all of us and all our stuff just manages to fit.  We look out at the end of the day and the start of our visit.

Halloo Munchen, we are glad to be here.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

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The Basket by Emma Gazley

Today while the ground was damp
The sky dry
A woman with a red face
Hair in gold strands
Wearing a heavy down coat
Approached me at the store

Asking, Do you have a basket?
She said It is for my flowers
I brought her one and said
If this works for you

Without prelude
Her words unfolded like chairs on a beach

My mother
she said
I consider her a true Christian
She is a different religion than I am now
But she taught me
You must never steal,
Yet it is not stealing
to take a flower
What do we do to make the flowers grow?
We have a seed, but do we grow the root?

No.

My mother said
You must thank the flower and take it
It’s the same with the ocean, you know
Her eyes widened.
You have to thank it before you
She put her hand out, as if to pluck a
Tender pink shell from the sand
Take it

So
She put her bundle of flowers together
I made this bouquet this morning
This is my gift to you.

To me? I said, a hand to my heart
Why me?

Because

You look like a flower.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life.

Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.

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Meeting My Old Self in the Photo Album by Jeanie Croope

Selfie. The theme of this issue can conjure up many thoughts about the self — inner and outer, good and bad. It was a terrific theme and I confess, a bit of a scary one on which to write. To really look at one’s own self honestly requires a healthy dose of courage and more than a little bit of Kleenex. At least it does for me.

Here on what should be a beautiful April day (but is, in fact, another day where snow and cold is predicted to again hit our Michigan city), the Easter Bunny has come and gone, leaving in its wake leftover jelly beans and chocolate eggs and probably more than a few pounds on my hips. It will require far more work to bid farewell to them than one would like!

A gloomy day like this is perhaps not the best to look deep within oneself, opening that Pandora’s box of faults and foibles. Deadlines don’t care.

My first diet was self-imposed. I was eight and it was post-Halloween. With self control unique for an eight-year-old, I rationed my Halloween candy, piece by piece, limiting myself to three pieces a day. Somewhere between age five and age eight, I had gone from cute, curly-headed girl to a little porkette. To put on my little green tutu with the antler ears for my ballet recital was a memory I’d like to forget. The combination of bad wardrobe, big tummy and an awkwardness that made ballet not my greatest artistic achievement did not lead to a performance I anticipated with great joy.

Throughout the following years, I struggled, as many do, with weight and I do to this day. I wanted to be pretty, like the other girls. My wildly curly hair didn’t allow for the long, straight hairstyle of the day, parted on the side with a strand of hair pulled across the forehead to the opposite side, then tucked neatly behind the ear and hanging below the shoulders. Nor did it work with the shorter chin-length bob with a bit of poof — but not too much poof. Instead, my hair was cut short, the same way it had been since I was — well, eight.

 

On the night of my junior prom, we went to dinner with a group of friends. I was on Weight Watchers so I ate only lettuce from the salad bar. (Weight Watchers was tougher in the late 1960s than it is now.) My boyfriend in senior high, knowing my struggle, gave me a most thoughtful and wonderful gift on Valentine’s Day (and it remains one of my favorites of all time!) — a huge candy box filled with sliced red, yellow and green peppers, carrots and celery sticks. Some would take offense. I was relieved.

The summer before I went to college, my mom made my 18th birthday cake. It was styrofoam, frosted beautifully. But when college came along, with its dorm food, I met the “freshman fifteen.” Then there was the year of apartment living during college — inexpensive pasta and pizza were the two main food groups!

This led to the brewer’s yeast diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet (that was a very bad idea), liquid protein (another bad idea), Dr. Atkins, bingeing and purging (this didn’t last long, fortunately), calorie counting, points counting. You name it.

And the self image continued on its topsy turvy rollercoaster. Round face, big hips, overbite. I thought I looked bad all the time. Every single minute of every single day for decades. And it didn’t matter what anyone else said.

Not all that long ago I was looking at photos taken during my 30s with a friend.  There are three of us, dressed in gowns for an Oscar party, with our friend who was “the producer.”  And we look great. Really terrific. My friend said, “And we thought we were so fat. Wouldn’t we kill to look like that now?”

I had thought that many times.

We do such an number on ourselves, don’t we? Long before the media discovered Photoshop, conveniently removing blemishes and double chins, we were looking at others, trying to see ourselves in them — and failing. Because we were ourselves.

And when I think of me, there was nothing really wrong with that self except some extra pounds, and not even that many. That self had certain talents, some well recognized, the others less obvious but still good. That self I knew had far more kindness to others than to herself. That self could listen to others for hours, could be there when needed but didn’t know how to be there for herself or listen to the positive parts of her inner voice instead of the negative ones.

That self had (and has) grit. She overcame paralyzing shyness, could sing and act on stage, appear on television or speak in front of groups and shake hands with strangers at a public gathering when necessary. That self studied theatre in college and has acted every single day of her life in one way or another, while still doing her best to be her own genuine self — a contradiction, yes, but a truth.

It was no surprise when I took the Myers-Briggs test again, some 20 years after the first time, to find I was still in INFP-T, an introvert who was intuitive, feeling (versus thinking), “prospecting” (or seeking) versus judging and turbulent (emotion-driven) versus judging. That’s the person who could do a meet and greet or work a public event and then return home, mentally exhausted for having been “on” with strangers and the one who hated being a supervisor because making decisions or disciplining others was simply too hurtful.

But there are good things that come of this introspection, some self-realization that is positive. Or, to put it in the words of Oscar Hammerstein in a song from “The King and I,” — “When I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”

That porky introvert did learn to mix and mingle; to get up there and tell her story (granted, far easier on a keyboard than at a TEDtalk); to do a multitude of things well (some, very well) and never lost that north star of believing that the feelings and needs of human beings and living things are perhaps more important than anything else in the world. Those crazy, irascible, unpredictable, loving, annoying, cuddly, frustrating, irritating, beautiful, wonderful  creatures.

And sometimes, one of those creatures is one’s own self.

And so, I look at yesterday’s pictures and see something different. Something better than I saw before. And I look at today’s pictures, too.

The hair is still curly and unruly — but most of the time it looks kind of cute (and it’s really easy to take care of). Every five weeks the gray hair at the roots begins to show and I make my faithful visit to the stylist who does her magic. Yes, it’s vain, but I can work with that.

The hips are still too big — and always will be. The thighs don’t always stop moving when I do and I could throttle Michelle Obama for launching the sleeveless craze. The orthotics in my shoes for the heel spurs mean you are less likely to see me in a dress but I still find pretty things I like and I can work with that, too. And thanks to the extra chin (or is it lack of jaw line?) and my overbite, I have learned the best way to look at a camera — and it isn’t profile!

But I still smile. I smile big, I smile happy and I smile because I’m alive in this world and there’s less time that there was a few decades before. There’s less time for all of us, really, because in truth, we never know when our last moment will be. And wouldn’t it be a shame to have it come and realize all those we wasted thinking we weren’t pretty or smart or talented enough when maybe, just maybe, we were?

I will still try to lose some of those extra pounds. And I will succeed — and fail — and succeed again. Because I want to be healthy, not pretty. Someone very wise (sometimes annoyingly so) reminded me — health is the goal.

But life is too short not to travel the world, even if you have bad feet. It’s too short not to take a chance and learn something new, do something unexpected, find light in the dark, conquer your own demons.

And life is too short not to enjoy chocolate eggs or jelly beans every now and then. Because after all, it’s a long way till Halloween.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

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At this hour by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

The remembering bones
collect pieces of tales
snippets of song
flashes of color
Gather them deep in the marrow
mix and blend
swirl them through the blood

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

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Sunday Sanctuary: Nature VS Nurture

When our father passed away, my sister discovered three little dresses in our mother’s cedar chest. Fashion wise, she determined they had been mine, worn sometime between 1968 and 1970. I happily brought them home, and when I took them to the dry cleaners to prepare them for storage, I noticed the one that was my first little Easter Dress came from Neiman Marcus.

A couple of notes here: no, we didn’t buy all of our clothes at Neiman Marcus, however, it was a place my mother loved shopping for special occasions. My first memory of a dress from Neiman’s was a pink and white gingham dress to wear for my cousin Judy’s wedding when I was four.

Also, can you imagine how labor intensive bringing in new merchandise was for Neiman Marcus back then? To sew tiny Neiman Marcus labels in every item of clothing it sold?

But I digress. Sort of.

See, my mother’s love language was gifts. She love getting gifts, but moreover she loved to buy gifts. Though I never recall her loving grocery shopping the way I do, one of her favorite excursions was to go to go shopping for clothes. It didn’t matter if the clothes were for her, my sister, my father, or I. And some of my fondest memories are of going to one of the big malls in Dallas and making a day of it. Not just shopping but having lunch out at a fancy tea room or creperie.

To this day, I cannot eat a popover with Strawberry butter, sip a cup of chicken broth, or dine on chicken salad served atop a salad without thinking of good times with my mother.

Though these forays to Dallas didn’t happen more than once a year or so….and though my play clothes came from Sears or JC Penny’s…my mother ensured that I was always well clothed. We shopped for clothes three or four times a year: for back to school, for Christmas, for Easter, and for Summer.

We also ate well. Though I never really liked some of the basics when money was tight like red beans or wieners and sauerkraut, I don’t recall ever going to bed hungry or worrying where my next meal came from. When times were good, we ate out at least once a week. I vaguely  recall a year when we ate out almost every meal, my mother having tired of cooking.

I owe my love of shopping, love of food, and love of reading to my mother. All things that carry me through this life with a sense of joy and love. All areas that fuel my creative life. These are imprinted on me, a part of the very make up of who I am.

On the question of Nature VS Nurture, I can tell you that Nurture matters.

A popover with Strawberry Butter at Neiman Marcus

Back in December, I shared with you the story of finding my birth mother. I wrote that piece mere days before I got on a plane and spent four days in Southern California. After several months of regular emails, I knew it was time for us to sit down across the table from each other.

To look into each other’s eyes and be willing to bear witness to the lives that began together with flesh and bone and traveled different paths for the last forty-nine plus years.

We had agreed to meet in the lobby of my hotel. I had risen that morning at 3 AM Eastern and it was 5 PM pacific when I walked downstairs. I was tired and wired.

And I knew her immediately.

It was like looking into a mirror in the future in so many ways.

We had a glass of wine thanks to my hotel’s Wine Hour and chatted as we people watched. She wanted to know all about the girls, the extension of this connection of blood and bone.

Though we had emailed for months and shared DNA, we were still strangers. Well, familiar acquaintances. The way in which you may feel about me: someone familiar, someone whose story you know a piece of, someone who feels like a friend. Yet, if we were to sit down over a glass of wine or cup of coffee, we would discover that neither of us had tapped the surface into each other’s real stories.

She’d told me in a phone conversation that when she came home from the maternity home, no one talked about her experience. The theory those days was that a young woman that “made a mistake” should simply go back home, get on with their life, and pretend that nothing had happened.

Yes. Pretend as if the previous nine months of your life hadn’t existed. That you hadn’t given birth to a baby.

After sitting out a year of high school, most folks, including her mother and father, were surprised that she wanted to go back and get her diploma. She did. She graduated high school and went to work. When she learned to read in elementary school, she realized her mother didn’t k now how to read well. Of course she couldn’t understand her desire to learn.

When she moved out to California, she wanted more for her life, so she began going to college in her thirties, getting a degree in accounting.

Life had never been one of ease or privilege for her, so she learned to figure things out. Once she faced any kind of crisis, she figured out how to not repeat the same mistake.

My love of learning, my need to research until I find answers, my understanding of how scientific research can be translated into actions I could take in my every day life.

On the question of Nature VS Nurture, I can tell you that Nature matters, too.

As humans, I believe one of the most important responsibilities we have is to bear witness to the lives of others. Unfortunately, there are so many people out there who have not had anyone, or at least many folks, willing to witness her life.

Not speaking about me for almost fifty years meant that the stories of her life came tumbling forward. My responsibility: to be the witness to these untold stories.

My life was never perfect, and often challenging. However, it retained an essence of sweetness and naivete.

It was nothing like hers. At least for her first forty years.

It’s something most of the people I know share, threads of connection with the lives of their parents that repeat generation after generation. A love of cooking or reading or a flair for design. Yet, despite the connection of nature, our lives had been vastly different.

My love of food was due to pleasurable memories of Christmas dinners and the results of good old southern cooking. Her first memory of food is meeting her stepfather when she and her brother were dumpster diving behind his bakery because they were hungry. He fed the kids and gave their mother a job.

She moved ten times before she was ten. She thought that throwing whatever you could in a trash bag and gong to a new place was how everyone did it. Too many homes she can remember had wheels. She didn’t live in a house with a real foundation until her late thirties or early forties. She’s lived in more than five states.

I have lived at only five addresses my entire life. I never left Texas for the first forty-two years. Hell, I never left Tarrant County Texas those first forty-two years. Every home I’ve known has had a solid foundation, sturdy walls, reliable heating and cooling, and more of what that stood for: stability.

Home, oh my love of creating a sanctuary within my home, is something deeper within me. A love for making home, something I think all humans crave, is more easily translated when you’ve experienced stability.

She got new clothes when school started, but the idea of updating her wardrobe to account for changing weather or various seasons was foreign. When she went to court on the day her stepfather adopted her and became her father, she wore a dress that was so short it showed her underwear. No one had noticed she’d had a growth spurt.

Not only were their no special occasion dresses bought at Neiman Marcus, the idea of shopping as a delightful day out was never a part of her fond childhood memories. Childhood memories of clothes are more akin to reminders of shame, neglect, and poverty.

Nature VS Nurture? Nurture wins hands down when it comes to the experiences.

Over my four days in California, we shared a meal to accompany her stories. I visited her home twice. An opportunity to witness how far her life is now compared to the life of her childhood. She has a sturdy home now. She also has reliable transportation, a bike she enjoys riding, and cats. Her husband is loving and not abusive, though he does have some Vietnam War related illnesses that are challenging.

Her life is solid. Not without challenge, but everyone has challenges.

We are back in our rhythm of regular emails and the occasional card via snail mail. I know that the decision she made fifty years ago to allow me to share her body and then release me into a different life was one of the best decisions a young woman of seventeen could have made. Most of us women are wired, by nature, to want our children to have a better existence than we’ve known. Her life was hard, and would have been harder trying to care for a child.

My life was far different from the kind of life I could have known. My life was rich with beautiful things, books, and love. I carry with me the privilege of being tended, nurtured in the ways in which all children should be, with all of my needs met.

Going to California was one of the most important things I’ve done the last few years. I left awash in both gratitude and guilt. For nature and nurture.

“Perhaps we are born knowing the tales of our grandmothers and all their ancestral kin continually run in our blood repeating them endlessly, and the shock they give us when we first bear them is not of surprise but of recognition.”
― P.L. Travers

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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One-Way Trip by Melissa A. Bartell

0199 - Mil Gracias via Facebook Flash-PromptHe’s waiting there, at the edge of the parking lot, in the spaces where flitters and aircars are parked nose-to-nose with family-sized SUV’s, the end of a cigarette between his teeth. His skin is weathered, his hat is likely as old as he his, but his eyes, faded blue – like old denim – are gentle. It shows his age, but he’s got a bolo-tie strung round the collar of his shirt.

Señor, are you the one we are meant to meet? The Helper?”

The woman holding the envelope of cash in both trembling hands can’t be more than sixteen. Maybe seventeen. But she has two little ones clinging to her cotton skirt and her eyes are ages old, and hold too much knowledge for ten lifetimes, let alone one.

He knows her type: Single mother by circumstance rather than choice. Probably from one of the remaining ranches in southwest Texas. Not that the One Earth government acknowledges ‘Texas’ as anything but a geographic reference, these days.

,” he answers, keeping his craggy voice soft and gentle. “You need to get Across, I’ll get you there, you and the wee ones, too.” He pauses, takes in her gaunt face and the way the kids’ lips are pale and cracked. “When’s the last time any of you ate?”

“We had bread with us, but the train driver took it away. The water… we could not pay.”

Of course, they couldn’t pay for water. Mag-train fountains require a credit chit. This woman has only cash money. It’s a miracle she could even get boarding passes.

“Come with me.”

He leads them through the parking lot and into an all-night diner. It isn’t anything special, but the food is hot and cheap, and most important – real. No texturized this or reconstituted that.

“Four for breakfast,” he tells the hostess. “Is Sam working today?”

“I’ll put you in her section.”

They are hustled to a booth in the back, and Sam – her glossy black hair woven into countless braids – appears within seconds. “Coffee?” It was her customary greeting.

He glances at the woman across from him. Sees her hesitant nod. “Two, with cream. And chocolate for the kids.”

“Gotcha.” She fills coffee mugs, pours hot chocolate from her other pot, leaves menus, and disappears again, though not before she admonishes him: “You know you can’t smoke in here.”

He sighs and pinches out his cigarette between a calloused finger and thumb. Then he sips from his mug of coffee.  “Protein,” he says after a beat. “The hot cakes here are amazing, but you’ll want protein to cushion your systems. I’m guessing you’ve never Flown before?” He says it with a capital-F, so they know he means a ship and not a plane.

“No señor. We have been earthbound. We never planned to leave, but the government took more and more of our ranch. Took the cows, took the children’s dog. Took my Julio, too.”

He reassesses the young woman’s age. Maybe she’s older than he thought. Yeah. More like twenty. Still, too young. Too damned young.

They order eggs and bacon and fried potatoes, and all of them eat with quiet urgency. Sam comes back once to refill mugs, and a second time with the check and four water bottles. “Kids eat free on Tuesdays,” she says, giving him a knowing look.

They all know it’s Friday, but they accept her gift.

Gracias,” the young woman whispers. “Mil gracias.”

Sam grips her shoulder briefly, a sign of encouragement. “Don’t be afraid,” the waitress says. “This one will take care of you.”

They head out the back way, climb into his truck, and take the old road out to the municipal launch pad. It’s a long trip. The kids are asleep before they’ve hit the half-way point. Their mother finally closes her eyes when they’re two hours out.

He lights another cigarette as soon as she does.

His ship is waiting, older than dirt but sound, even so – waiting in the light of false dawn. He hates to wake the sleeping family, but there’s no time for dallying. “Okay, everyone,” he puts as much energy as he can muster into his voice.  “We’re here. As soon as the ramp is down, you’ll cross the tarmac. Make sure you have everything with you.”

In the early-morning sun, the pavement is not yet hot, and you can’t tell that there are places on the ship’s hull that have been patched and re-patched over the years. The hatch opens with the press of his remote. The ramp unfolds with aching slowness, stretching toward the ground like an old man flexing his limbs first thing in the morning.

“Go on in,” he tells his sleepy passengers. “Get comfortable. I won’t be long.”

He watches the three figures scurry across the tarmac and into the ship. His ship. It’s been his life these last several years. The second pick-up truck shows up a few minutes later, parking next to him, so the driver-side windows are adjacent. The other driver is young, bright-eyed, optimistic.

“You sure about this?” The younger man’s voice is full of concern. “Never thought you’d be making a one-way trip.”

“It’s time,” the old man answers. “Long since. I got a grandkid waiting for me. Promised to take me fishing at the Underground Sea.” A faint smile flits across his leathery face. He clears his throat. “Nothing left for me here, since Hildy’s gone.”

“You’ll be missed.”

“Doubtful.”

The younger man sighs. “Alright. Whatever. You got the money?”

“IDs first.”

A Manila envelope is handed from window to window, and the old man takes his time, untwisting the strings on the clasp, pulling out the documents and examining them. Three chits, each with the photo he’d provided. His own ID was legal; his departure approved months before.

“All good,” he says. He passes over the envelope of cash. “I’ll wait while you count it.”

“No need.” The younger man takes a beat. “You will be missed,” he repeats.

The old man merely inclines his head. It isn’t the time or place to argue. He cuts the engine on his truck, offers the keys across. “Take these. Give the truck to someone who needs it. Doesn’t look it, but she’s got another decade in her, easy.”

The younger man hesitates, but eventually does as he’s asked. “I promise.”

He waits for the other man, the young one, to leave before he stubs out the cigarette he’s been smoking, leaves his own vehicle, and boards the ship. His passengers are already buckled in. Their bags are stowed. Good.

“Launch prep will take twenty minutes,” he says. “Trip will take six and a half days. Once we’ve cleared Earth’s atmosphere and are cruising, you can move around. There’s food replicators. A decent head. Sonic shower. I’ve got some games and vids in the back to keep you occupied.”

He brings up the ramp while he’s talking, punches in the prep sequence for launch. The computer’s warm tones ran under his speech.

 – Oxygen mix completed. Outer hatches sealed. Inner bulkhead doors secured. –  

“Okay, any questions?”

“Just one, Señor. You know that I am Claudia, and the children are Miguel and Rosa. If we are to be with you for all this time, por favor, what is your name?”

He is startled by the question. Thirty years of running refugees across the space from Earth to Mars, and not one has ever asked for his name. Maybe she’s the one passenger who can sense the truth. This trip is different. This trip is one-way.

He’s quiet for a moment. Giving her his name is… is permanent. Real. He’ll stop being ‘The Helper’ and become a person once more. His voice cracks as he answers, “Thomas. I’m Thomas Maxwell. You can call me Tom.”

The woman – Claudia – smiles at him, and it’s like a benediction.

Mil gracias… Tom. Mil gracias.”

He looks away from the view-screen, meets her brown eyes with his own faded blue ones. “You’re very welcome, Claudia.”

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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Instrumental: What is Your Inner Dialogue? by Kolleen Harrison

“It is ridiculous that you cannot figure this out, you are so stupid.”
“You have too many rolls AAAAAAND a muffin top!”
“Why canʼt you just follow through on SOMETHING?”

Does any of this sound familiar? I am guessing that it does.

Did you know that when we talk to ourselves in this way – in a demeaning, negative fashion, that we are actually committing an act of violence upon our souls?

I did not.

Yet, as I began to further my yogic studies, it quickly became clear to me the violence I was inflicting upon myself, through my thoughts and my degrading internal dialogue I was having on nearly a daily basis.

In order to prep for a class I would be teaching on Ahimsa, I had to consciously and mindfully place the magnifying glass upon myself and take a personal inventory of whether or not I practice this at all! (Ahimsa, in Sanskrit, means non-violence or harm, towards yourself, others, all living beings – through our thoughts, words and actions)

I had to start carefully paying attention to the conversations I held internally. I had to start to dissect the “why” behind my destructive thoughts and words. As I intentionally practiced this for over a week, I found it truly astonishing all the harsh judgments I would place upon myself in a fairly consistent manner.

And then, I had to ask myself a very important question.  Would I say any of this to my best friend?  To someone I love and care for? Of course NOT. So why? Why would I continually say harmful things to myself? The one person I am “stuck” with. The one person I should be cultivating and building a strong, stable, loving relationship with – MYSELF!

It is incredible what comes to light when we actually start to pay attention. It is incredible how quickly we can turn that self-talk around to kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love – once we gain the awareness that it is even happening at all.

So, I want to propose something to you … whomever may be reading this. I invite you to find a picture of yourself when you were a child and place it somewhere you will see it. The next time you begin to berate yourself or have nasty, ugly thoughts – I want you to go stand in front of that picture, look into the eyes of that little one and see what happens.

My guess is, you wonʼt be able to say those things at all!

About the Author: Kolleen Harrison

kolleenHarrisonbioKolleen Harrison is a creative living in the beautiful Central Coast of California. She is the Founder of LOVEwild and Founder/Maker of Mahabba Beads. Her passions lie in nurturing her relationship with God, loving on her happily dysfunctional family, flinging paint in her studio, dancing barefoot, making jewelry (that is so much more than “just jewelry”), and spreading love and kindness wherever and whenever she can. You can find her popping in and out at LOVEwild.org or MahabbaBeads.com

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Listening to Jimmy Santiago Baca by Pat West

She drives home on a dead-straight
two-lane highway, listens to the CD
of the author reading,
I Am Offering this Poem.

His lines break off
in her mind, making space
for another and another.
His rich throaty voice

layers offering upon offering.
She feels like those times, in dreams,
or while drinking, when she thinks
she can finally see inside things.

She noses the car into the garage,
picks up his book on the passenger
seat, stares at his picture on the back cover,
eyes the color of slick-river rocks staring right at her.

When the world outside no longer cares
if you live or die; remember.

The last line a slow whisper,
I love you. His breath strokes

her skin. She sighs. Maybe next time
she’ll meet someone who knocks her flat-out
crazy in lust with one poem.
Instead of some old, hairless guy

who wears white socks
with black dress shoes, says huh
one hundred times
in two hours, yet swears he doesn’t have

a hearing problem. She shuffles into the house,
drops a kiss on her husband’s bald head
as she passes his Barcalounger,
takes the book of poetry to bed.

About the Author: Pat West

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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