Archive | Stories – Nonfiction

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

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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.

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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

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How I Save My Own Life: The Healing Power of Words by Diana Raab

When I was ten years old, my mother gave me a journal to help me cope with my grandmother’s suicide. That seemingly benign gesture changed my life forever, and served as the groundwork for my life as a writer.

While I continued to journal over the years, I became much more regular after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2001. At the time, my husband, Simon, my three kids, and I were living in Orlando, Florida. My doctor suggested that I obtain a second opinion from a Los Angeles specialist in this type of breast cancer. Within a couple of weeks, my husband and I had boarded a plane to LA, and after enduring all the necessary tests, the doctor presented me with my options—either have radiation and chemotherapy, or undergo a mastectomy with reconstruction. After years as a practicing nurse, I knew that the best way to make a decision when given a choice by your physician was to ask what he’d suggest for his own wife. Because of how he answered, I opted for a mastectomy and reconstruction.

While in California, and a few days after my surgery, I sat in my hospital bed surrounded by orchids sent by loved ones from around the country. Tear-saturated tissues lay piled high on my bedside table, and the early-morning sun peeked through the large window in my room. The emotional pain of losing a breast had hit me hard. When my surgeon said he would soon remove the tight, corset-like bandage wrapped around my chest, I feared seeing what lay underneath—that is, what one of the breasts that had nursed my three now-teenage children would look like.

Just days after my surgery, my husband reached out across the sterile, white bed sheets to take my hand. Simon, an engineer and a “fixer,” had a difficult time watching me navigate the intense physical and emotional pain. He nestled up close to me and looked deep into my eyes, as he had years earlier on the day of my father’s passing.

“Right now,” he asked, “if you could do one thing that would make you happy, what would that be?”

Aside from transporting my children across the country to be with me, I confessed that I wanted to return to school for my master’s in writing. For years, this had been a dream of mine, and the recent surgery had forced me to confront my own mortality and my apparent race against time. I wanted to make this dream come true. “Well, then, we’ll make it happen,” Simon said.

It’s not that his offer healed the deep psychological wounds involved in having lost a breast, but the idea of returning to school gave me something to look forward to. After a fair amount of research, I applied to some out-of-state, low-residency programs. I was ecstatic to be accepted into Spalding University’s charter class, led by Sena Jeter Naslund. It was to commence on September 25, 2001, in Louisville, Kentucky, about a month after my surgery.

Ever since that day in my childhood when my mother had given me my first journal, I had always found solace in the written word. Journaling became a passion that I turned to during other turbulent times—whether my own adolescence, difficult pregnancies, or cancer. So, to meet the requirements of my graduate work, I decided to gather the journal entries, reflections, and poems I’d written about my breast cancer journey.

It took a full two years for me to compile all the information and journal entries into a book my mentor suggested I publish. The surprising part is that it took eight years for me to find the courage to actually write about my cancer journey.

I simply wasn’t sure whether its personal nature was something I wanted to share with the world. For me, revealing the intimate details of my story was akin to hanging my underwear on a clothesline outside my window. As someone who has always been a relatively private person, exposing myself seemed neither intuitive nor a good fit for my personality. In the end, though, after speaking with my mentor and some colleagues, we decided that the process would be cathartic and, most important, beneficial for others—particularly my two daughters, who would one day have to face the torment of possibly being affected by cancer.

In 2010, my second memoir, Healing With Words: A Cancer Survivor’s Story was published. It was a huge accomplishment for me and I was happy to be able to share my journey to inspire others to also write their story. The book is a narrative of my experience woven with my raw emotions. It also includes my journal entries, writing prompts, and poetry I wrote during my journey.

Here’s a sample:

To My Daughters

You were the first I thought of
when diagnosed with what
strikes one in eight women.

It was too soon to leave you,
but I thought it a good sign
that none of us were born

under its pestilent zodiac.
I stared at the stars and wished
upon each one that you’d never

wake up as I did this morning
to one real breast and one fake one;
but that the memories you carry

will be only sweet ones, and then
I remembered you had your early traumas
of being born too soon, and losing

a beloved grandpa too young. I have
this urge to show you the scars
on the same breasts you both cuddled

as babies, but then I wonder why
you’d want to see my imperfections
and perhaps your destiny. I cave in

and show you anyway, hoping you learn
to eat well and visit your doctors, but then
I wonder if it really matters, as I remember

what your grandpa Umpie used to say,
“When your time’s up, it’s up.”
May he always watch over you.

I’m so glad my husband inspired (and encouraged) me to get my master’s in writing. Since then, I’ve published two more books, Lust: Poetry and Writing for Bliss: Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life which is a culmination of my life as a writer. It was inspired by my doctorate research on writing for healing and transformation. I tell others to follow their bliss because that’s what life is all about.

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winner writer, speaker, and educator. She’s an advocate of writing for healing and facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self.

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Global Thrive, and PsychAlive. She lives in Southern California. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Dear Shadow by Denise Braun

Little hands nestled over a fuzzy blanket. Pinky, finger, finger, finger…thumb. Every nook and fuzzy groove in that coverlet was security. And in my six-year-old heart, feeling safe was concrete. Night light? Check. Clicker flashlight? Check. Bobo the stuffed elephant? Check.

“Goodnight sweetie. Kisses…”

Mom blew 3 kisses from the bedroom door to the top of my bunk tucked underneath the window.

“Muah.” A kiss back to mom.

Peeking out the blinds of my room window, the stars were sprinkled across the Prussian Blue sky and eased my discomfort. It was always at night I felt the most vulnerable.

Alone. Scared. So the moon, coming out of hiding from behind a gray blob of cloud cover, made me smile.

“Oh Mr. Moon….you are so beautiful.”

I sang a spontaneous song about a little girl who ran across the surface of the happy planet, wearing ballet shoes. Moon beams dashing through her hair. A constellation of stars shining down on top of her head. Releve, grand jete! Smile.

Deep sigh.

A shadow on the wall. Another.

Shadow.

Shadow.

Moon Beam.

My head flopped on the flattened feather pillow.

With my active imagination fully engaged, every shadow on the wall opposite my stuffed unicorn became a story. As a way to avoid fear of the dark, and with focused vision, I would watch the grey spots move and dance. The moon, a lighted back-drop for the show, accompanied the performers.

Expansion. Constriction. Expansion. Constriction. My pupils looked for light.

“I see a doll, a cat, a bat…”

Turning over under the safety blanket.

“And a rhino, a teacup, a spoon.”

Thoughts and images made a soup of wide-awake fascination in my tired mind.

Shhhhhhh. Go to sleep little girl.

Shhhhhhh. Dream.

Shhhhhhh. Imagine sunbeams and water puddles.

Wide yawwwwwn.

Fluttering eyelids.

“Dear shadow….” I said aloud. My legs could feel the little grains of dirt under the sheets at the foot of my bed. Leftover residue from a day of play and spontaneous beach-castle-joy.

“I was wondering…could you show me some magic? My mom read me a story about a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole. And suddenly everything had changed. I think her name was….Uhm….”

Big yawn.

“But it was full of magic. I believe in magic. I just saw some today, shadows. Because I was standing outside under the Mimosa tree. You know which one I mean? With all the red bottle brush blooms? That’s what my sister calls em. And all the red sprigs started falling down on top of my head. They smelled flowery and grassy.” Giggles. Smile.

Eyes fluttering.

“I’m not afraid shadows. I can only see Mr. Moon beams when you’re here.”

Shhhhhhh. So hard to stay awake.

Shhhhhhh. You are divine light and shadows beautiful child.

Shhhhhhh. Quiet watching. Moon beams.

Now my head facing towards the night sky in that window. A star shoots across the framed glass.

“Ohhhhh wowwwwwww. So bright!”

And if by magic, I counted as many twinkles as the brightest star could muster. Before every muscle gave in.
Pinky, finger, finger, finger, thumb. Released. Breath.

Shadow.

Shadow.

Shadow.

Moon Beam.

Sleep.

Love.

About the Author: Denise Braun

Denise lives on the Central Coast of California with her husband, three daughters, 11 chickens, 4 cats and one dog. Her passions include writing, creating artwork, and supporting others in a soulful therapeutic modality she created called Artful Hypnosis.

When Denise isn’t enjoying life in the spaces in between, she organizes retreats for women, teaches paint classes around the U.S., and organizes her ever-growing shoe collection.

Her favorite things include freshly outta-the-oven banana bread, dragonfly-fly by’s in her backyard, and pumpkin-scented sache’s in her sock drawer. True story.

Hello Dear Friend by Fabrice Poussin

Entry

Going back West had been a strong desire for quite some time. Many others make that part of the United States their summer destination as well. People from a great number of countries from around the world. Some of the National Parks are their aim, fewer are the National Monuments, and fewer yet those whose access is limited by unpaved roads. It is an experience I had in the last century, and now I can see why I may repeat it next year.

As I show in a photograph entitled “Entry,” one has to find his way in, but more than that has to find a way to let it all in, to give it the recognition it is due, to be ready to commune with some of the origins of all things earthly.

Those locales are rugged places to say the least, dangerous in some instances, and certainly risky when one is not careful as to where he walks, runs, or drives. But as “Charm” reminds us, this is not about the small details which may arise a sense of fear in us, it is about the overall image we can get and that is one which is overwhelmingly endearing.

Settling in of course would be a challenge, a great one at that, for those who first decided to live in those unforgiving territories. One may feel a sense of isolation as we see in “Alone,” yet in our day and age there is a great sense of comfort to be felt in the safety that nature offers.

But those are not just tourist attractions, not just backgrounds against which one may snap a few selfies, they are home to the many who, by choice, and sometimes not, have found that there is no other place for them. In “Hoping,” we are reminded that the rains do come in those desert lands, and that life does sprout from the most unlikely soils.

Traveling through the harshest lands in America, and ultimately reaching the higher elevations, one has to be surprised at the “Fertility,” which prevails. Lush plains and meadows where the bears may mingle with the deer and occasionally cattle, make it clear that if life struggles at times, it is in fact always victorious in close proximity to the most difficult climates.

The Earth is a “Monument” in itself, but what I find most amazing is those drastically different scenes coexisting within just a few miles from each other. One may pan the horizon with a gaze and find a completely opposite panorama, either a mountain range, or a perfectly flat plain, and let’s not forget the deepest canyons. The American West is the place for those earthly symbols, monuments to the making of a world.

Finally, as a visitor and lover of the scenery, the experience would not be complete without feeling the moment when night comes, or when daylight returns. These are the themes of “To The Night,” and “Warmth.” The darkness brings many mysteries with it, as unseen lives take over the land, but it also covers the sites in a welcome freshness so all things may rest, and find a new energy for the next day.

‘Warmth” is carried over the mountain tops, into the valleys, accompanied by the sweet dew of morning, and the life of the viewer is too renewed.

To have walked on the paths depicted in these images is to have become part of the scenery, to have one’s memories inscribed in them forever, and to be able to remember them for the emotions they brought about when I was there. No other humans were present in any of the photographs; it was a perfect time of solitude, and it was the ideal moment to commune with the place that sustains us, to look up to the stars, and be humbled by this limitless universe. We owe it our existence, and we must, from time to time, make a pilgrimage to at least say hello to this dearest friend.

About the Author & Photographer: Fabrice Poussin

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines.

His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review and more than 250 other publications.

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.

 

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

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/

Copper by Lisa Zaran

Two years ago I started collecting pennies. Not just any pennies: found pennies.  It began when the agency I worked for took a devastating turn.

My co-workers and I would huddle in private discourse trying to make sense of the changes happening around us. We wondered privately: what would happen and where would we go? During this upheaval, I began finding pennies in the most random places, unexpected but obvious.

So I’d pick them up.

I didn’t give it any thought at first until it manifested: I became convinced each penny held meaning.

Once when I walked through the parking lot toward my car engrossed in thought, hopeful for a positive outcome suddenly I noticed a bright penny on the ground next to the drivers side door. Instances continued to occur. Another time a penny sat Lincoln side up directly outside my closed office door perfectly centered on the floor.

It happened so often that I’d began looking for pennies. But, as soon as I became aware of looking, I never found a penny. It’s only occured when I wasn’t thinking about seeking pennies, but when I was wholly focused on something else. A worry, seeking closure, or looking for answers. Rushing towards or away from these concerns, a penny would be in my line of sight.

Like the time, at the end of a long and tumultuous day, I discovered a penny on the seat of my office chair. I had been in and out, up and down all day long,

I began saving the special pennies.

I had this sugar skull shaped piggy bank, bright yellow with flowers and hearts for eyes. It sat on a shelf simply because I liked it. I began dropping these found pennies into it. Finding change continued to happen to me.

I’d experience numerous occasions where I was talking in my head to whomever would listen: God, self, the universe of thought and ideas. About a concern of mine, seeking guidance, affirmation when a piece of change would appear in my path, sometimes a nickel or a dime but most often a penny.

The skull became fuller. A quarter. A half. Three-quarters full..

I began getting hopeful for the day it would be totally full. I thought, maybe with the money I’ll purchase a piece of local, outsider art to serve as a reminder. Maybe I’ll create a piece of outsider art! Maybe I’ll hand it all to a homeless person. I had time to decide as I still had a forehead to fill.

Not everyone in my life was aware of this penny-endeavor but some were, my children knew, a few co-workers and friends.

I came home from work on a typical Wednesday and remembered I had some found change in my purse. It’d been sitting in there for a couple months so I gathered it up (17 pennies and 1 dime). When I dropped the first piece of change in I noticed the sound first.

It took a second for it to register in my brain, the hair-breadth of added time for the first coin to stop it’s falling at the bridge of a nose and land instead where a throat might end.

The skull was empty.

Addiction acts in a person. The person then is forced to react or take the blow. It’s like standing perfectly still with a wall coming at you eighty, ninety miles an hour. It’s falling from a great height at high speed, hearing the splat of organs on impact before feeling it.

Addiction has needs. It can not be satisfied with acts of containment, measures of control. My son is an addict; he is always hungry.  There are bad days and then there are worse days.

The missing pennies could not have amounted to much in a dealers hand, one hit maybe, powder residue from a suboxone tab. My son is an expert at reacting to addiction.

I’m sure, with the pennies he found redemption, enough to take the razor-sharp edge off for an hour, maybe two.

My mind told me to be furious, to rage, to scream injustice until my throat bled. My body refused; it collapsed onto a sofa and wept, deserted by the ability to feel anger.

The coins, I thought, are better off. No longer piled and compacted in a glass head. They’re free to roam, to offer, to serve those much needier than I. I envisioned the tending each penny would do, like a silk thread stitching a wound.

Every penny that slipped from dealers palm to dealers palm, fell by the wayside, came to a stop in a gutter outside a convenience store held more value than its monetary equivalent.

I knew these pennies would be found again. Picked up by hands that had no idea this coin is suffused in hope, this one has strength. This coin freedom, that one grace.

This wasn’t me being tender or forgiving. This wasn’t letting go. This was me not reacting as a wall came at me eighty miles an hour, as I fell from a great height.

About the Author: Lisa Zaran

LisaZaranBioLisa Zaran is the author of eight collections of poetry including Dear Bob Dylan, If It We, The Blondes Lay Content and the sometimes girl. She is the founder and editor of Contemporary American Voices. When not writing, Zaran spends her days in Maricopa county jails assisting women with remembering their lost selves.

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