Sunday Salon: The Shadow Side

My cousin called me the other day, checking in as she is often so thoughtful to do. “How are you doing?” she asked. Normally I answer those kinds of inquiries with a “fine,” or “good,” no matter what the real truth of the matter might be.

But that day, I decided to tell the truth.

“I’m just sitting here having a little cry about my dog,” I said. (Our beloved Shih Tzu, Magic, died in July.)

My cousin has a multitude of struggles in her life right now, struggles which were increased by the loss of one of her pair of sheepdogs a couple of months ago. “Aw, I know,” she said. “I still cry about my dog.”

We discussed the trauma associated with that loss, how horrible it seemed in so many ways. “And if one more person says something to me about that stupid Rainbow Bridge I’m gonna slap their face!” she said laughing.

“I agree,” I said, chuckling in spite of myself. “Sometimes I just don’t want to hear those happy little stories.”

A few minutes later we ended our conversation feeling immensely better for having admitted that sometimes we’re not filled with sunshine and light, even though we might pretend to be. We’ve become conditioned to hide our darker emotions – grief, fear, loneliness, anger – because society seems to frown upon them. We’re encouraged to “look on the bright side,” or “find the silver lining.” Our spiritual friends will advise us to “give it all to a higher power” because “it’s in their control.”

And what if we can’t? What if we live in the shadow of our grief, our loneliness, our fear for longer than society deems acceptable? The task of trying to “get over” those feelings becomes overwhelming of itself as we begin to feel inadequate in our life and perhaps our faith.

Later in the day I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. “Are you okay?” she asked at one point in the conversation. “Sometimes when I read things you write, it seems as if you’re sad.”

My first impulse was to deny it, to reply quickly, “Sad? No, I’m not sad.” Instead, I answered her truthfully like I had answered my cousin earlier in the day.

“Sometimes I AM sad,” I told her. “I think there is always an undercurrent of sadness within me. It’s been deeper lately because I’ve had some pretty significant losses, but there is always a shadow side to me, one that’s extremely sensitive to pain and injustice and loss and loneliness and fear. Maybe we all have that and some people are more in touch with it than others.”

In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow. Some of them even knew how to bear it as an ordinary feature of being human instead of some avoidable curse.”

As artists perhaps we are more often aware of this ambiguity, this tendency to live in more than one emotion, to feel joy and sorrow, irritation and satisfaction, hope and despair, all at the same time. A character in Grace Paley’s short story “A Woman Young and Old,” says: “I’m artistic, and sometimes I hold two views at once.”

There is no profit to denying the shadow side – it exists in our spirit just as it does in the celestial sphere. Sadness and joy dwell simultaneously in us at all times, just as the moon remains in the sky during the 24-hour cycle even as the sun shines brilliantly above it. Honesty about my feelings of sadness yesterday provided a bridge between myself and my cousin – it gave us both an opportunity share feelings with someone else whose own shadow side was predominant, and freed us to move forward into the day feeling connected with another human being who understood. “Sadness does not sink a person,” Brown continues. “It is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”

Last month the moon totally eclipsed the sun, in one of those rare celestial events that draws a great deal of scientific and popular attention. Nature has much to teach us about the inner workings of our emotional life. There are forces of darkness at work within each of us. We’d likely all be better served if we took time to become aware of them, and learn to live comfortably with them.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their dog, Molly. Her new book, Life Goes On, a book of personal and inspirational essays about women’s experiences with family life, aging, and loss, is available at Amazon in print and on Kindle, as well as on her website. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.


Instrumental: You Are Here by Melissa Cynova

I got a call from a friend who’d had a truly unbearable year. There appeared to be no end in sight, and instead of calling for a tarot reading for her future, she just wanted to know where she was – right now.

Tarot readings don’t always go the way we expect. You can do a reading to see if you should get a divorce, and find that your partner isn’t the only person who created space between the two of you. That allowing the only sex that enters the relationship to happen when you flip each other off while passing in the hall. You could go to the cards asking why you can’t move up in your company, and the cards will tell you that you are in the wrong career.

The question you ask doesn’t always point to the answer, and the answer is often found in fear. Fear of that hard conversation that might put your relationship back on track. Fear that you’ve invested time, money and training in a career that doesn’t work for you.

Instead of looking into the future, it can be more helpful to find out what tools you have in hand, which things are holding you down, and which can lift you up. What is here, right now, to help you deal with getting through the day. Sometimes, you can’t believe the Instagram shininess that encourages you that everything will be ok in the end – but the end isn’t here yet.

Sometimes you just need to know that right now, here and now, you are ok.

You Are Here Spread:

(Cards in a cross – one on top, one left, one right, and one at the bottom)

Card 1 – What can you reach for – right now – that will help lift you up?

Card 2 – What can you release that is making your day more difficult?

Card 3 – What tool is within reach that will help you have a position of strength?

Card 4 – What will hold you up until the light at the end of the tunnel gets closer? What if your main support?

This reading can be repeated as often as you need it. When you want to move forward, you can tuck it in your back pocket for the next time. Remember that often, when you don’t know where to go, the best thing to do is sit down. Gain your strength, and breathe.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa Cynova is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, was recently published by Llewellyn Publishing. Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

You can reach Melissa at She is on Twitter and Instagram under Little Fox Tarot. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

Editor’s Note:  Tarot Cards are from the “Pagan Otherworlds Tarot” Deck.


The Final Test of Canonisation by Robert Beveridge

“When did I become such an undesirable blanket?” –Mary Biddinger, “Beatitudes”

Warnings, even the outdated ones,
are forever spoken in hushed tones.
You walk up the ramp and the man
with the sparse combover and the appropriate
relaxed-bowel sportcoat: “to the right,
please,” he murmurs, just above silent.
“The casket shall remain closed for the duration
of the viewing.” I bite back the obvious.

The room is full, and yet I can see nothing
(what flowers for saints and stuff?) but that
closed box, a refrigerator door meant to preserve—
what?—the nutrients that should return
to the soil, allow us to give back something
so small for all we have taken?

The viewing is what it is, what they all are. Family
members catch up on gossip from pruned branches.
Dinner plans are made, forgotten in trips
to the restroom. The children, unaware
of the purpose of this family reunion, play
in the basement until mischievous, touched
Uncle Michael takes them on a tour
of the morgue. The sandwiches in the back
room have less appeal now then the Hanobska
Chateau Marionette ’95 in the coffee dispenser.

One to four, then six to nine, and the two-
hour interim in which the family flee,
some to a light dinner, some to the local
paid-by-the-hour motel, most to the Linen Lounge,
where the lingerie dancers dress in funeral weeds
and the most popular drink is the zombie.
The director, sportcoat over his shoulder,
steps out for a two-hour chainsmoke and finally,
finally our time is here. We slip the catches
on the drawers, roll ourselves out. This is
our viewing, our private time, and we approach

the casket with reverence, trepidation.
Lift the lid on three, and what we could
not bear to believe lies before us—your body
pristine, untouched by disease, by accident,
by trochar. We slipped our arms beneath you,
where blood would pool, decay begin, and found
what we expected, yet not dared to hope—
the only mark an outrageous hickey, just above
(what is that called?), I put there three
days ago, when you were still alive,
still capable of touching pen to paper.
We had heard Mother Church requires
first photographic evidence, then physical

We did the only thing we could,
the one most right thing: six pallbearers
lined up, lifted the casket from among
its forest, marched in languorous step
toward the open door of the crematorium.
The fire rumbled, a gut promised
a singular, delectable meal.

About the Author: Robert Beveridge

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


Delilah by Molly Totoro

I am a good girl. I always try to do the right thing. I like to follow the rules rather than treat them as guidelines.

I suppose this legalistic view stems from my elementary parochial school years. Earning gold stars was the primary source of motivation. In kindergarten, we would earn gold stars for counting to 100 or reciting the ABCs. In first grade, we earned them for recognizing sight words and reading a book-a-month.

Second grade was a bit more challenging. We started memorizing scripture verses and liturgical creeds. At this young age, I discovered the mandate to Fear the Lord.

I found this confusing. The Bible urges us to “Fear Not” (365 times in fact… one for each day of the year)… and yet we must Fear the Lord. I am a rule follower and I am literal. So I feared.

This philosophy worked well for me when I was younger. It began to unravel when I entered high school.

Adolescence was a difficult time for all. Hormones wreaked havoc with our emotions and complexion. Cliques determined our social fate, and our ranking changed on a daily basis.

I lost two sets of friends in high school. In tenth grade, I was no longer cool enough to hang out with the popular crowd. In twelfth grade, I refused to drink even though I was of legal age. I was lonely and hurt most of the time.

This marks the time I first took notice of Delilah, and she has become my constant companion ever since. Delilah is the name I gave to my inner critic.

Delilah was born out of necessity. I needed an understanding soul. I needed someone to watch out for me and help me avoid rejection. And Delilah willingly accepted that role.

In the beginning, Delilah’s voice was calm and caring. When I met a new friend, her soothing tone would remind me of past broken relationships. “Now WHY do you think they want to be friends with you?” Delilah wanted me to be aware of any hidden motives. She wanted to protect me from getting hurt.

Over the years her voice became more critical: “Now why do you think they want to be friends with YOU?” And eventually, her question became a declaration: “They don’t want to be friends with you. Run away so you don’t get hurt.”

Even at that time, I accepted Delilah as the voice of truth. She was my true friend. She cared about me. So I followed her advice and retreated into a shell to avoid rejection.

But Delilah now had too much power in my life. Since she no longer needed to protect me from friendships, she decided to protect from the world.

Humility is a character trait I strive to achieve. After all, I learned in elementary school that Pride Goeth before the Fall and Blessed are the Humble. Humility is the ability to accept who we are without boasting or arrogance.

But Delilah took that one step further. To prevent me from becoming prideful or arrogant, she would let me know how I needed to improve.

At first, her guidance was kind and encouraging. She used self-help books to point out my weaknesses. You are too shy – you need to learn to speak in public. You are too rigid, you need to learn to let go. You are too insulated, you need to get out of your comfort zone.

But over time, her voice grew louder and more frequent. I was never good enough. Qualified enough. Friendly enough.

If school administration would compliment one of my lessons, I would respond with, “It wasn’t my idea. I copied from someone else.”

Or if someone would encourage me to write I would wrinkle my nose and say, “I’m not a real writer.”

One evening someone tried to pay me a compliment and I, of course, dismissed it. At which point my daughter said, “Mom, no one likes a self-deprecating character.”

I froze. Self-deprecating? Me? I thought I was being humble.

Turns out there is a fine line between the two, and I had crossed that line.

I set out to prove my daughter wrong by returning to familiar scripture verses. Instead, I realized I had twisted the words.

Instead of reading Love your neighbor as yourself – I read it as Love your neighbor instead of yourself.

When I read Judge not lest ye be judged – I internalized Don’t judge others, but you are fair game.

This realization helped me become more aware of Delilah’s voice, and I couldn’t believe my ears.

The words she said. The tone in which she said them. The venom she spat in my head all day long overpowered me. I would never dream of speaking to any other human being that way.

And yet, I accepted it from her.

She belittled me so much, beating me to such a pulp that I lost my own voice. Almost.

Then I discovered journaling.

While I did not have the confidence to verbally confront her, I could write. And I did. Journals upon journals.

I also began a new method of Bible study: one that focuses on the LOVE of God. I’m learning about God’s love for me, God’s love for others, and God’s desire that we also love ourselves.

I am still on this journey with Delilah. She will be my constant life companion. But I am learning to discern when to listen to her guidance, and when to tell her to take a hike.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest


Conversations Over Coffee: Pre-Orders, Reviews, & More by Daryl Wood Gerber

I asked a few of my author friends to answer a couple of questions about publishing. Hopefully their answers will enlighten those of you who are, or aspire to be, authors. I think you’ll see a trend.

The authors who participated include (Editor’s Note: Links go to each author’s website) :

Why are pre-orders important? 

Jenn: Probably, there is a very specific answer that I’m unaware of, but I think they’re important because publishers track your sales and all pre-orders get counted up the week that the book goes on sale. Big numbers mean your publisher will pay attention and your books will get better placement, bigger print runs, more publicity – basically you’ll stay employed!

Kaye: Because they are sales, and sales mean income. If you’re with a large publisher, they can help to push your visibility for them.

Lucy aka Roberta: Pre-orders demonstrate to the publisher that the book will have an audience, and that is a good thing, as they are more likely to get behind it with their own publicity.

Hannah: I like to say that pre-ordering your book is akin to the importance of sales taken at the box office for the opening weekend of a Hollywood movie. Pre-ordering a book creates buzz and hopefully shows the publisher that readers are eager to buy your book i.e. is the print run big enough for the demand? The other thing, too, is that if the publisher believes your new book is going to be popular, they will want more in the series.

Krista: Most authors dream of making bestseller lists, and pre-orders can give you the boost you need. Pre-orders count as sales during the release week when a book usually has the most sales. Add pre-sales and first week sales together, and that week is your best chance of selling enough books to make a bestseller list. In addition, pre-orders tell bookstores how a book might sell. If there are a lot of pre-orders, it signals an interest in the book to bookstores and book chains. They may even increase the number of books they order to accommodate the interest in the book. And when bookstores increase their orders, it can even kick your book into a second printing, which will make the author and the publisher very happy. It doesn’t stop there. If you have a lot of pre-orders and a second printing is necessary, your publisher will take note and it can have an impact on how your publisher treats your next book.

Some retailers will use a book to draw customers by lowering the price. I see this a lot with Walmart. Retailers have bots that search online prices so they can match or beat them. I’m only guessing, but if your book is getting a lot of pre-orders, it will be a more attractive book to discount, which means more sales.

Daryl: I can’t state it better than what my pals have stated. I believe pre-orders help bookstores know what is hot and what is not. They are all “sales” in the long-run, so they help those first week’s numbers, but the buzz in the industry comes from pre-sales.

Why are reviews important? 

Kaye: Because many readers rely on reviews. This is more important if your books are not in bookstores since browsers can’t pick up the novel and leaf through it.

Lucy aka Roberta: Reviews help potential readers and librarians and bookstores decide to give the book a try!

Hannah: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about reviews.  Five star reviews (especially on Amazon) do something exciting with the algorithms meaning that your book pops up as a must-read. Starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal are highly coveted. But others … well … so much depends on the source.

Jenn: This I have to answer as a librarian. Bottom line: reviews tell readers whether they’ll like the book or not. Even a bad review will get me to buy. For example, if the reviewer hates something – quirky characters or a small town setting – that I love, their review will likely make me buy the book. Also, the more reviews a book gets, the more attention people will pay to it. Win-win.

Krista: I do a lot of shopping online (don’t we all?). And I put a lot of weight on reviews. This isn’t rocket science. If I’m interested in a dress and everyone has given it one star, I’m going to think there’s something wrong with the fit or the fabric. When I order cat food, I look for five-star reviews. Everyone knows how finicky cats are. If everyone’s cats like it, maybe my picky puss will, too. Of course, everything is subjective. I may love a book that someone else dislikes. I think it’s trickier to rely on reviews of books because tastes in books vary widely. Having said the obvious, I’ll now go into the rocket science part of the importance of reviews. Amazon sells more books than anyone. Their algorithms are not a mystery. There are plenty of articles about them and most mention that the number of reviews impact ranking. I’m told (and my experience seems to be consistent with this), that the more reviews a book has, the more advertising the book gets from Amazon. I assume the number of stars plays a role here.

Daryl: I think reviews help readers know what is good and what isn’t. I think some reviewers can be petty, but savvy readers can discern that. My big belief regarding reviews is that the publisher is excited to see what readers are saying about a book – it helps them get excited about a book, especially a new series. In addition, I agree with Krista, that the algorithm that works on many of the online sites, due to reviews, really drives up how that site will promote the book. You know those little suggestions that, for example, Amazon comes up with when you buy a book and you see “people who ordered this book might like this book”  (and then you see a string of mini book covers)? I believe reviews drive those types of marketing tools.

What’s your next project?

Kaye: The Vintage Sweets cozy series set in Fredericksburg TX, from Lyrical Press, 2018

Jenn:  Currently, I’m working on the 9th Library Lover’s Mystery, A FINE DAY FOR MURDER, coming Nov 2018!  DEATH IN THE STACKS comes out this November. And my romance, BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, is just out.

Krista: I have three projects in progress. For dog and cat lovers, NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING will be released in November. COLOR ME MURDER, the first book in my new Pen & Ink Mystery series comes out in February. And you can color the cover! Finally, the Domestic Divas will be back in June with THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM.

Lucy aka Roberta: Next project is the eighth book in the Key West Food Critic mystery series featuring Hayley Snow, 2018.

Hannah: I’m excited about a new series that is set in the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish mainland (Poldark fans will know where this is). I’m also thrilled that the Vicky Hill Mysteries (four books) will be re-released in the USA  by Hatchette in 2018.

Daryl: Next up for me is the first in the French Bistro Mysteries, A Deadly Éclair, which debuts November 7.  In 2018, I will have two new books coming out. The second in the French Bistro Mysteries, Soufflé of Suspicion (July) and the sixth in the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, Pressing the Issue (May).

Wishing you all good writing and great reviews!

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber writes the brand new French Bistro Mysteries as well as the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she pens the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries.

A Deadly Êclair, the first French Bistro Mystery, comes out November 2017.

Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: Day of Secrets and Girl on the Run. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl (and her alter ego Avery): Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Daryl on Twitter | Avery on Twitter


Sunday Sensations: An Ode to Fall

I adore the fall season.

I’m not the biggest fan of summer – other than the ability to wear flip flops every day and swim in a pool outside. Winters fill me with intense dread and spring I can take or leave, but fall absolutely excites me. Fall is when the world comes alive with sensations. Enjoyable sensations. Crisper weather, crunching leaves, and caramel flavors.

There’s just the right amount of cold. It’s not enough to seep into your bones until you feel as all the color has drained from your world. It’s not warm enough to make you wish your home has central AC. Jack Frost barely lifts a finger, but your cheeks can feel his kiss.

In fall, you can snuggle into a soft sweater. You’re hugged by your clothing instead of restrained by it. No longer are you longing to join a nudist colony. Summer is so hot that even your thin strapped tank top is sticking to your skin. No more. Now you can layer with abandon and for fashion. Hats that aren’t ball caps are once again welcomed. Boots are worn for the sheer pleasure rather than necessity. All of your closet is now optional. T-shirt and leggings? Yes. Sweater and jeans? Also, yes. It’s truly a magical time of year for your wardrobe.

Never a huge fan of nature myself, I love the fall colors outside. The world outside may be settling in for a long winter’s nap, but it’s going out with a bang! It throws a final hurrah of colors, sights and smells. Red, a personal favorite, appears as Cinderella at the ball. She dips herself into leaves and wild grasses. Wrapping herself up in smoke and frost, she is the brash opening to a symphony that will echo until the first snow. Orange runs and laughs from treetop to treetop. Snaking his way through the landscape and bursting out in giant plumbs in every pumpkin patch. Yellow, who has been around all summer, throws one final party as it bends through every corn and wheat field.

And the food.

America’s food landscape alters dramatically in fall. Pumpkins, apples, caramel, and cinnamon dominate the landscape. Suddenly, it’s a time for warm pies, hot soups, and spiced drinks. The #PSL coffee craze aside, pumpkins come into their own in the fall. Soups, cakes, cookies, pies, pasta and so much more can all be made with this impressive gourd. Apples are being picked so fresh you can still taste a bit of the summer sun that nurtured them in every bite.

Food is the reason for the season. Factories work around the calendar year just to feed our need for candy and sugar when Halloween hits. This holiday may have begun with some pagan roots, but in reality we all know it’s the candy that’s won out in the end. The haul of tipped over buckets and bags is carefully picked through by the time the clock strikes midnight on October 31.

Food warms and comforts you in the fall. So much so, we have entire holiday centered around it. Thanksgiving is about warmth. Warm food, warm hugs and time with family and friends, and the warm glow of thankfulness.

Really what isn’t there to love about fall?

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some hot apple cider.

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.


Overnight by Emma Gazley

When I was a little girl, I believed in good and evil.

I watched movies about wide-eyed heroes overcoming villains with pronounced mustaches. Just like all of us, I believed I was one of the “good guys” and played with my friends that there was an unnamed, faceless enemy out there who would do anything in his power to destroy us. Like young children do, I believed unquestioningly that I would always triumph over that evil.

That good was stronger than bad.

Pondering how my life experiences began to forge cracks in that dogma, I recall a friend from Sunday School (let’s call her Heather). She had invited me over to her house for a sleepover. I say friend, but we were really more acquaintances. We’d been in the same group for a couple of years and in hindsight I almost wonder if the sleepover was her idea or her mom’s.

She spent the first part of the evening showing me around her room and some of her dolls, which were beautiful and dressed in what seemed to me at the time to be lush and extravagant outfits. She had her own dog, a lot of toys, and her own computer, which impressed me.

“Wow, your parents let you have a computer in your room?”

“Yeah.” She said it in a way that implied the word, “obviously” would follow.

“That’s cool,” I said, thinking that my parents would have laughed in my face if I asked for a computer in my room at that age.

Heather laughed. “You don’t have your own computer? I’ve had one for a while.” She was sitting on an exercise ball, wiggling around and watching me watch her. “I use it for school and other stuff. I play games on it. We can play a game if you want.” She turned to the monitor and turned it on, and while we waited (remember those days? When you had to wait forever for the computer to turn on, and then for the browser and then dial up?) she stared at me and said, “How old are you again?”

“Ten,” I said. “My birthday’s in April.”

Heather smirked. “I’m older than you.” She turned around again and we waited in silence for a few seconds.

“I’m bored. And hungry. Do you want some ice cream?” She turned back to me.

I smiled, “Sure. I’m kind of not supposed to have it because I’m lactose intolerant but-“

“You’re what?” she made a face.

This was during the era where I still got weird looks and a lot of questions every time I mentioned having dietary restrictions. And became used to explaining to hosts what soy and rice milk are. Or the looks of incredulity when I shared that I went to school at home due to how much my family traveled from work. I grew accustomed to having people stop my brother and I at the grocery store and ask us why we weren’t at school.

“It’s not a big deal, I just usually don’t eat dairy.”

“That’s weird,” Heather stated happily and led me towards the hallway and to the stairs. “Come on, let’s get some ice cream. What’s your favorite flavor? Mine’s chocolate chip cookie dough.”

“Whoa, they put cookie dough in ice cream?” I followed her down the stairs, eyes wide.

“You’ve never tried it? It’s the best!”

We reached the den, where her parents were watching TV. Although they were reluctant to leave the house, she convinced them with some persuasion to take us to Baskin Robbins, and I had the best ice cream of my young life. I told Heather that it was my new favorite flavor and in their car on the way back she gave me one of the many friendship bracelets on her wrists and said, “Here. Now if anyone asks you can tell them we’re friends.”

The next day when I went home I was playing with the beads on the bracelet and my mom asked me how the sleepover went and I told her all about the ice cream and the bracelet and Heather’s computer.

But I felt something in my gut that I didn’t know how to explain.

When I saw Heather at Sunday school next, she didn’t come up to me or say hi. A few weeks later a bunch of us were playing and waiting for our parents to stop talking so we could go home and have lunch, and she came over with her notorious best friend and they played a little joke on me that I wouldn’t recognize as an innuendo for years. The other kids laughed and Heather never made eye contact with me.

She didn’t invite me for another sleepover, and somehow, I knew she would have as much fun at my house, where there were no computers, pets, or ice cream.

Over time, I had forgotten about that sleepover. But it came to mind recently, maybe because  Heather was the first person in my life who made me feel like I was less important than her, and like I wasn’t really worth much. I don’t think she meant to do that, and I wouldn’t want her to think that I hold that against her.

Looking back, I understand the myriad of differences between us, especially in the ways in which our families were structured. And, as sorry as I feel for her, she wasn’t really the kind of kid I needed for a close friend.

Over the years, I made many other friends, from walks of life and experiences more varied than I could recount. We taught each other respect, dignity, forgiveness and love through the accidents as well as the gifts of our friendship.

I learned how easy it is to make mistakes, or to come at life with a point of view that puts you in the position of the protagonist or antagonist.

But I don’t have a curled mustache, and my eyes are a little less wide.

As I write this now, I’m in the passenger seat of our car making the drive from Chicago to Los Angeles. My husband and I are moving back home, and our time in Chicago has been (to avoid using a more colorful expletive) a crapfest in more ways than one.

I look out my window and see the desert; such a cracked, almost flaky terrain. The sparse brush, the miles and miles of uninhabited land, the sheer space. I think of the last year and feel like we’ve been in a desert.

This is one of my favorite journeys to make. My father was a speaker, educator, and social justice advocate and we used to spend months on the road as a family traveling all over the states.

When we were driving out of the Lower West Side, I looked over at Shane and said, “You know, the longer I live in the USA the more I dislike it as a nation and love it as a country.”

It’s true.

Whenever the political climate has been dismal, the arguments on social media vicious, and my own heart is broken over the hatred, rage and brokenness I see in us as a people, I have thought about the Grand Canyon. The Rockies. Yellowstone.

I’m grateful for that evening at Heather’s house, because it was the beginning of a greater understanding of the world for me.

I still believe in good and evil, but I needed experiences in my life to acquaint me with the shadowy unknown areas, the mysteries that so often go unnamed or unrecognized for what they are. People are more complicated and have more sides to them than just “good” or “evil”, and those phrases themselves are so convex and show only a portion of what is present in our motives. Real human beings don’t fall neatly into categories of “us and them”.

If I’ve learned anything from the last year and from revisiting that story from my childhood as I drive through this desert hoping to reach the ocean, it’s this: life, though far more complicated than our limited understanding can comprehend, is to be lived to the utmost.

I think of every hellish experience I had in Chicago, about every person over the years who would inadvertently or intentionally make me feel small or worthless, and I weigh that against those who loved me, and every sweet bowl of cookie dough ice cream.

With years, and perspective, you come to see evil as weakness.

I look at our world and see war, terror, hatred, bigotry. Those things cry out loudly, but more quietly, more calmly, and with ever increasing voice, we continue to make choices to love one another and care. Every evil thing that happened in my life, including violence, terror, grief- has been washed clean by the love that followed it.

I think as creative people we long to heal the harms we see done in our world, or to feel a relief from the pain every individual encounter on earth.

In some ways, I still want to wear the cape, flex my muscles and be the “good guy”. I see the complications and disparages, the way we attack each other with differences like weapons armed, and I just want to say that we’re all important. That none of us are worthless.

That the light always ends up outshining everything else.

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.


Light and The End by Bella Cirovic


We have arrived at a time of the year when I truly appreciate the light of summer.

I spent so much time in my garden digging, planting, and tending. Mama Earth gave back in a beautiful way with an abundance of tomatoes, corn, peppers, beans, herbs, and potatoes. My hands are calloused with permanent dirt under my nails, a reminder that it was a good season. We visited miles of lavender and sunflower fields that thrived under the blanket of the sun.

So imagine my surprise that morning when I saw the first red leaf fall from the trees in back of my house.

The air is now crisp and the seasons will soon change.

I dried up some lavender from the farm, some rosemary from my garden, and I jarred some of my beans from the garden.

I will carry the promise summer with me through the darker months to remind me that light lies ahead of the dark.

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


Typical Tuesday with Luanne Castle

On Tuesday morning, I wake up between 5:30 and 7 AM, depending on the slant of the sun. There is a gap between my blind and the window sill where the brilliant Arizona morning light blazes through.

I open my bedroom door, and my tortico cat Sloopy Anne is lying there waiting for me. I shoo her down the stairs so that my calico cat Tiger can make her way downstairs undisturbed. They get along fine in the kitchen and living room, but not upstairs.

Downstairs, coffee that my husband made awaits me, but I ignore it. Instead, I pour myself a Mountain Dew (you thought I was going to say tea? that comes later in the morning) over a full glass of ice and plunk in a red-striped paper straw. As I do this, the cats greet me, and I talk to each one individually.

We have six cats now. My husband and I have been volunteering at a local no-kill animal shelter for a few years, and we keep bringing home difficult to place kitties. They might not show themselves to advantage in the shelter environment, but they make loving additions to our household.

By 8 AM I’ve fed the cats and cleaned up after them: food bowls, water bowls, any random barf.

I sit at the computer and skim my new emails, my blogs, and other social media.  I respond to some. A genealogist from the Netherlands has written to me, giving me information on an ancestor I blogged about last week. I’ve learned so much more family history since I completed Kin Types that I now wonder if there is a Kin Types II in the future.

I keep two to-do lists. One is a preprinted form with exercise and other constants. The other is ever-changing, and it gets re-written every day. I check these over. I also check my datebook in case I have appointments. Mondays are always very busy, and sometimes it feels that the week as I want it begins on Tuesday.

After a breakfast of two Dr. Praeger’s green veggie patties squirted with sriracha mayo, I start to do the chores on the lists, respond to more emails and blogs, and answer the telephone. The business my husband and I own is operated out of our home, and in addition to many other job titles, I am the receptionist. I gaze longingly at the item on the permanent to-do list: WRITE. But I have more work to do first.

Late morning, I let my newest cat, Perry, out of his bedroom and follow him around as he interacts with the other cats. Luckily, Kana, the dominant one, is in a basket in the laundry room today and ignores Perry. Pear, Felix, and Tiger watch Perry make the rounds of the room.

But Sloopy Anne has decided he’s a thorn in her paw and tries to hiss him back into his bedroom. Today he holds his ground and lies down, facing her. They stare at each other while the minutes tick away. I think about that word on my list: WRITE.

Forty minutes later, Perry is back in his room, coaxed with treats and a kiss. Back in the kitchen, I pour a glass of iced tea that I brewed yesterday in my Mr. Coffee iced tea maker. With the glass in front of me on the kitchen table, I set to work on a blurb for a friend’s new book.

Kana asks for lunch with a warning nip on my arm. She has IBS and can’t eat very much at one time, so she needs many small meals throughout the day. Just ask her.

I put the blurb draft away to finish tomorrow because my daughter calls. All these distractions have made me unable to focus on the review needed for the back of my friend’s beautiful book.

My daughter needs me to fix a problem on her website. Although I am not a computer expert, ironically, I am better at these things than she is, probably because I’ve been blogging for five years.

My husband walks into the house and asks, “What’s there to eat for lunch?” What he really means is, “What will you give me for lunch?” Since he spent four hours in the yard gardening and supervising the roofing guys, it’s the least I can do, so I give him a half corned beef sandwich on gluten free toast. He has celiac and maybe IBS like Kana, and there are only so many things he can eat.

He leaves to go to a business meeting, and I know this is the best time to write, but first I have to move the laundry along. Oh, yes, I threw a load of laundry in at one point, as I was scooping litter boxes while talking to my mother on the phone about her latest medical appointment.

Eventually, I get to WRITE, as it says on the to-do list. I don’t have to worry about writer’s block or finding the zone because I am so eager after putting it off for hours and hours that I just jump in.  At first I scribble nonsense, but then the water clears and I see what lies underneath.

I am working on a poem draft I began six weeks ago. I’m addressing the diamond in my dad’s ring, a diamond that first showed up (in our family, at least) in my grandmother’s ring, then in a necklace for my mother, and only later in my dad’s ring. My dad gave it to me a few weeks before he died in 2015. It’s not easy writing to a diamond, but I’m trying to make the best of it.


For years I struggled with teaching (which included prep, grading, writing academically, and attending conferences), working at our business, raising my kids (and pets). I’ve had to fit in time for creative writing as I could.  Now that my kids are grown and our dogs have passed away,  I’ve added more cats, my father passed away, and my mother is elderly and needs my help. I’m still working at our business. Because I work from home now, everything is always happening at once: I might be revising a poem while answering the business phone and breaking up a minor cat scuffle. It’s hard to get a clear mind. But what I always try to do for myself is write a little each day. Sometimes something happens on the page, in spite of the chaos.

When my husband gets back, I’ve been writing for 30 minutes, and now the business phone calls heat up, and I have to handle business emails and write a letter.

Finally, I say to my husband, that’s it, I need to work out. He doesn’t give me a look like I’m sliding out of work because he likes it when I workout. I ride the stationery bike. I don’t have a lot of options for aerobic exercise because of my rebuilt foot. As a reward, I read on my Kindle (which I always said I would never get, but it’s so lightweight and convenient on the reading shelf of the bike!). Then I do some exercises for flexibility and strength in my hip and upper leg areas.

The day starts to close in on me. I’m tired and sweaty. I’ve gotten a lot done, but there are still 14 items left on my to-do lists. I don’t know what we’re going to eat for dinner, and I can’t get a pizza because of my husband’s celiac. Eventually, I have a meal planned and, with a glass of Chardonnay in hand, I cook chicken teriyaki in the wok with some vegetables I hope won’t make my husband sick (so many foods do). The rice puffs up in my Hamilton Beach rice maker. I feed the cats.

After the kitchen is cleaned up, I go into Perry’s room and cuddle on the bed with him and watch TV for an hour or more. We watch part of an LMN movie. You know, those crazy Lifetime-movies-meet-serial-killers ones. I never watched one of these movies in my life, until Perry moved in this spring. (He moved in because my husband found him hungry and homeless in our backyard). The movies are two hours, but if I only see an hour, I don’t feel I’ve missed anything. Besides, they seem to be contemporary gothic novels, and I pretend I’m going to write an academic article comparing the two.

Then I head back out to the living room where my husband watches TV and open my iPad or Kindle or a book. And fall asleep within a half hour. Eventually, I wind up upstairs in bed with my husband and Tiger who snuggles happily between us.

About the Author: Luanne Castle

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.


The Finale of December Fourteenth, Twenty-Sixteen by Æverett

Photo Credit: Caleb George via Unsplash

after a time had passed, he lay there breathing.

the stillness around him echoed, the night air cool on his skin.

the touches still lingered, tingling vibrations – whispers on hips, on thighs, on wrists.

it ached.

he ached, everywhere.

the violence was immense – torrid air in ragged lungs. the echoes of screams. the echoes of whispers.

finally, he lifted his aching arms, pushed the hair from his sticking face – drying sweat and sorrow.

from the next room, a gun shot from the tv, sirens, “Freeze! Get on the ground!” Lenny Brisco shouts. he wonders, “are there sirens coming for me?”

after a time had passed, he felt the bruises, the truth came flooding in. the cuts drove deeper. and he couldn’t breathe.

it ate at him, raw.

his skin caught fire in a rage and ran out the door into the falling snow.

his body remained caught in the rotation of the humming ceiling fan. in the silk of the cotton cocoon. in the dark of the deserted room.

the scraped bruises on his knees no longer bled.

the voice no longer made cruel demands of him.

but here he lay, trapped. his own skin a prison of pain. his whole body ablaze.

in the stink of drying sweat and sorrow.

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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