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

4

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/

2

Still Life with Sid Vicious by Robert Beveridge

for Jeanne Volpe

“I mean, once started, I
can’t not be with you.”–Chris Stroffolino, “Kiss and Run”

Could I be sure
is what I’m askingl
what I want to know
could I be sure
that you wouldn’t run off
with the neighbor’s cat

or eat all the cajun sunflower seeds
before you come up to bed?

The garlic
at dinner last night
was delicious
spinach and cheese

but the cat didn’t like it
so I had you for another night
without too much fear
of losing you to your ex
at least temporarily

it always seems
like that cat, Sid Vicious
with the stubby tail
noses around where you grow
those Mexican sunflowers
where you like to take me
and taunt me with your body
show flashes of breast in public
as if on the beach where you can
just drop the top of your bikini

I could take you to Nassau
and just forget to buy
the tickets home (this
would get you away
from your ex)

but you insist
we take Sid Vicious
and they don’t allow cats
on that kind of white-sand beach
and where else would we live anyway?

We sat on your back porch last night
and drank whiskey from your roommate
Roxanne’s most expensive green glasses
you cuddled the cat and kept
your nipples hidden

the flowers weren’t up yet
so I just sat and stared
at the view of I-95
you like so much

if this were a drug
it would have to be methaqualone
’cause things
move just too damn slow
around here

you look sexy in advice
it tends to shower you
in white like Nassau sand
but I can still reach through it
and touch your skin

so please
get that cat off your lap
and that mind off your ex
come sit down with me
and let me tell you
all about the garlic plants
I grow with my spinach
and sunflowers in Nassau

and how nice the weather
is down there
this time of year

About the Author: Robert Beveridge

Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Borrowed Solace, Dodging the Rain, and Twyckenham Notes, among others.

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Sunday Sanctuary: Time in My First Sanctuary

It’s been a heavy travel year with suitcases packed more than 40% of the year and I’ve been longing to just be home so that we can return to our normal routines. Yet, when John was assigned a last-minute trip to Washington DC, I couldn’t help but tag along.

Long before I learned to create a sanctuary within my own home, the city of Washington DC was my sanctuary. My house was in Texas, but between 2005 and 2010, my heart found a home and my soul found sustenance for one week a month when I traveled to DC for work.

I cherished those weeks and sometimes, during the time between trips, I felt as if I were hanging onto my sense of self by only a tiny thread.

As my plane flew over the Potomac River and I saw my first glimpse of the Washington Monument, all the tightness in my body dissipated and I could finally take those deep, cleansing breaths that are the breath of life. My anxieties would begin to melt away.

What I didn’t quite get at the time, though, was that it wasn’t just that my anxieties that were melting away, but that the walls I had built around my tender soul were dissolving. For the first time in my life, I was traveling alone, and though I spent time with folks at work, I wasn’t living the way others believed I should be. More than one person – from my mother to my gynecologist – expressed the belief that my vagabond lifestyle was insane.

Yet, the vibrant, creative person I was deep inside, but had encased, was reemerging.

Like a butterfly out of a cocoon.

When I signed a long-term contract requiring me to spend Monday through Friday in the city managing a big document, I felt like it was a gift from God. Being in the city I loved combined with working with words every day felt like a match made in heaven. It was challenging work, and hard to be away from Texas for such long spells, but it was transformational to me as a person and as a creative.

I explored every museum, discovered favorite places to dine, and stumbled upon a half-dozen tiny spots within the city that held me.

The President’s Gallery in the National Portrait Gallery. The Rotunda and the founding documents at the Archives. King Street in Alexandria. The Lone Soldier at the Navy Memorial. Sipping a glass of iced tea and eating a chocolate salted oat cookie at Teaism nourished my body, while a walk into the tea shop just to smell the Earl Grey nourished my mind. Mount Vernon. The Hotel Monaco. Margaritas at Oyamel. Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Those years and the time learning to thrive in DC were a critical part of my journey in becoming me. As I explored beautiful and historical places, I slowly began restoring my soul back to myself.

It was a short trip, three days total. When we go into DC these days, I usually fill my schedule with lunch and coffee dates. But this time, I was in need of the deeper soul nourishment you can only get through solitude. So, when John went to work on our second day, I headed out to explore.

The Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. I waited for the gates to open and was one of the first visitors inside. I walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and skirted around the amphitheater to Section 35. There, I visited a friend’s grave for a bit and found then found the nearby grave of Astronaut John Glenn, where I left a coin to add to his many tokens. The day was warming, so it was time to head out. As I made my way to the exit, I stopped to leave another coin on the grave of Maureen Blair, known to most of the world as Maureen O’Hara; she’s there with her husband, Brigadier General Charles F. Blair.

Back to the Metro, grateful for the time to sit and think without needing to navigate myself. An exit at Federal Triangle and a short walk down Constitution Avenue led me to the National Archives. I queued through security, took the stairs to the rotunda, and waited my turn to view The Declaration, The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, and more. It seems darker each time I visit, the archivists attempt at protecting the fragile documents.

I lingered in the gift shop before I left.

I skirted my way across Pennsylvania Avenue, meandered through the Navy Memorial, and made a pit stop in Teaism. I have always loved their bathroom, almost as much as I love their cookies. I had a glass of iced tea and a cookie, and then took myself to the National Portrait Gallery, a beautiful granite building shared with the American Art Gallery.

The Presidential Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery is under renovation, but some of the portraits have been relocated. I found them, pausing to spend time with Lincoln. I strolled through an exhibit on Marlena Dietrich and then lingered in the courtyard before walking past the Hotel Monaco, The True Crime Museum, and the new Clara Barton Museum.

I had a reservation for lunch. It was just for me; you never can tell in DC how busy the restaurants are going to be.Though I hadn’t been in for three months, the very stylish head host (so much more chic than most!) stepped from behind the podium, hugged me and called me sweetheart, and told me he was happy to see me. He seated me at a table on the sidewalk, and under the shade of a big orange umbrella, I ate chips and tacos, and sipped a margarita as I watched the lunchtime crowds.

 

I indulged in two completely girly and totally me things: I visited a salon I’ve frequented often and got a blowout, and I went to Macy’s. Yes, I was in need of the sacred, but someone washing and drying your hair is a purely luxurious experience. And how could I resist a visit to the big, downtown Macy’s, which carries a plethora of things I can’t find in the smaller store I frequent in the Dayton mall? I bought a blouse and headed back to the hotel.

We had a date-night planned, dinner at The Palm, and I wanted time to refresh. I showered, re-applied my make-up, and after we shared a pre-meal cocktail at the hotel, we went dinner.

DC will always be a part of my soul, but it’s no longer the place I desperately need to get to so that I can be “home” and become myself. The city was a critical part of my journey in becoming. Now, it’s simply a reminder of where I’ve been and how important it is for us to have symbols of hope and places where we can reconnect to the sacred. Now, no matter where I roam, I am me, and home is the sacred space in which I can continue to remove layers of hiding from my own brilliant self. Because growth and becoming never halt.

I am grateful that our pre-July 4th trip, likely the last of the summer, took me to a place where I could refresh the essence of my creative being.

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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The Poetry Scene – Twenty Years Later by Serena M. Agusto-Cox

 

My hands don’t sweat my nerves; they shake them out through my fingers.  I sat in the front row with five other poets, ones I consider more accomplished than myself.  Only last year was my poem, “Dignified Opposition,” nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Dime Show Review.  I’m still working on a poetry manuscript, one I’ve put together, torn apart, and started over with completely different poems and themes.

Have you ever had that moment when you’re struck dumb? That happened to me when an email from Lucinda Marshall landed in my inbox.  She was organizing a poetry reading with local poets and wanted to know if I was interested.  Was I interested?  Of course!  But I was equally terrified that I would be a blubbering mess.  I was reminded by my lovely first reader that I needed to send her samples of my work first, which I presumed would be rejected.

I haven’t read my own work in public for about 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve shown anyone else my work, except my trusted first reader.  The pressure not to disappoint seemed insurmountable.

I remember that eagerness, picking out poems I loved and wanted to share in our small literary community at Suffolk University.  I rarely had a second thought about reading my poems.  The dark basement lounge with its small furniture in bright rainbow colors, musty but inviting in a bohemian way.  It was a delight to share the shadowed space with so many young, vibrant poets.  We were all searching for our own voices, and we were doing it together.

Life changed after graduation, and the reality of student loans and needing a job to live off of soon crept into my worldview.  College seemed like a carefree place where I could spend my afternoons writing and creating — learning — but the workforce is much more rigid.  For 20 years, I’ve been writing off and on when I found the time between work, getting married, and having a daughter.  Writing came in spurts or not at all for many years.  Publications in journals trickled in, and with each fleeting moment of delight came the dreary feeling of failure.

Literary work is hard, even harder than working in a rigid job.  It’s full of rejection and very few moments of praise and encouragement.  Not reading for those years allowed my anxieties to loom larger, and I allowed those rejections to feed that anxiety.  It’s crazy how things can accumulate over time without you realizing it.

After speaking with my first reader about what poems to send Lucinda, my heart began racing once they went to her inbox from mine.  I worried that they weren’t good enough, even though many had been published previously.  I realized through all my worrying that I didn’t want to inadvertently blow a chance to share my work again.  Yes, work I had been holding onto, but proud of, even as my editorial brain told me they were not polished.

When Lucinda told me that I was added to the lineup with Katherine E. Young, Gregory Luce, Leeya Mehta, and Donald Illich at The Gallery at Chesapeake Framing in North Potomac, Md., in June, my brain froze.  I flailed for a while after her email, despite my answers to her queries for a headshot and bio. It was coming down to the wire, and while the fear whirred, I struggled to pin down what poems I’d read.

I admit I was beginning to allow anxiety to take over.  I didn’t select or practice my poems beforehand.  In fact, I did just two dry runs the day of the reading.  Even as I listened to the poets before me in the lineup, my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  I still struggled with the poems I had in the folder; I wanted it to be perfect, knowing that it wouldn’t be.  In the end, I pushed the fears aside, reordered my poems, and stepped to the podium.

Click Image to Listen to Serena’s Poetry Reading

 

As I read each poem, I traveled back in time to when I wrote them and why, and it was trip I will remember for a long time because I felt closer to my daughter when I wrote how she would save the world in “A Poem to Save Us,” to my nana who filled my life with music in “Piano,” and to both my grandmothers and my own mother in “Just Mom” and “Dear Vovó.”  I feel freer for having shared these poems that are so close to my heart, and I wouldn’t hesitate to struggle with my anxieties to do it again.

About the Author: Serena M. Agusto-Cox

Serena M. Agusto-Cox, a Suffolk University graduate, writes more vigorously than she did in her college poetry seminars. Her day job continues to feed the starving artist, and her poems can be read in Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals.  An essay also appears in H.L. Hix’s Made Priceless, as does a Q&A on book marketing through blogs in Midge Raymond’s Everyday Book Marketing.  She also runs the book review blog, Savvy Verse & Wit , and is the founder of Poetic Book Tours.

 

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