Archive | What’s Next? (Issue #1)

Don’t Assume the ‘Good Death’ by Sue Ann Gleason

Screen shot 2016-05-16 at 12.50.37 PM

I am awakened from a dream. In it I can’t stop scratching. I look at my arms, my legs, my hands. They’re fine. There’s nothing there. I have these dreams occasionally. I call them death residue, unfinished business. I know this one is about the time I found him scratching, scratching, scratching and when I pulled up his pajama leg to see what was wrong I found that he had scratched his skin until it bled. There were scabs up and down his legs and no one from the nursing home had noticed. Or, if they had noticed, they hadn’t done anything about it. Until I took photos of those legs and sent them to the nursing home doctor. After that, “lubricate” became a doctor’s order.

Mostly my dad shows up in my dreams as his younger, more vibrant self and we’re sharing a meal or he’s cutting slices of an apple and handing them to us. He loved to feed us. In another dream I’m looking around the table at my family trying to communicate to them with nods, no words, that they should be taking this in. We’re a family again. Like somehow I know this dream is really a ‘visitation’ but they don’t know that. And I want them to know what a gift this is: Dad, alive and luminous and laughing, if even for a moment. If even in another dimension entirely.

My dad died. Twice.

One day he was larger than life, a laughing, loving, effusive man who talked so much you could hardly get a word in. And the next? Flat. No affect. Silent. A stent surgery opened his valves and shut down parts of his brain. The doctors thought it was depression. They tried all kinds of antidepressants to shake him out of the abyss. One drug did just that for a short period of time but it made him manic. On one occasion he purchased a camera, a carpet and a new car. All in one night.

During the manic episode he called me every night for two weeks while my mother escaped to the patio to commune with her Red Hat Ladies. He would talk and talk and talk. Nonstop. I stayed on the phone with him night after night caught in a tangle of grief and gratitude because even though I knew his behavior was extreme, I was grateful to hear the lift in his voice again. I wanted to believe he was back.

It didn’t last.

Pretty soon my dad fell back into the abyss. He lost more and more weight. The spring in his step became a shuffle. Never a very nurturing woman to begin with my mother grew more and more agitated with him, “Pick up your feet when you walk.” “Sit up.” “Drink some water.” “Eat. For God’s sake, eat.”

The Homestead, an adult day care center, provided her with daily support and the most competent, loving group of caregivers one could hope for. But after six years she could no longer bear the burden of his care. I’ll never forget the day she decided to place my dad in an assisted living facility. My sister called me on Skype. Her eyes were swollen; I could see that she had been crying. My father’s words were still ringing in her ears, “She’s kicking me out.” Even in his current state of cognitive decline, with limited capacity to feel and express emotion, my dad still understood abandonment.

I flash back to my very first job. I’m a waitress in a lovely retirement home called Beechwood. The residents there enjoy spacious rooms overlooking gardens. They eat beautiful meals served in an elegant dining room with rosewood tables and candlesticks. I have my own row of tables and I know everyone in my charge by name and by diet.

Ma and Pa Smith are my favorites. 

They walk into the dining room every night like lovers on their first date. I imagine I will one day have a relationship just like that. My sixteen-year-old self has no idea how rare that kind of longstanding love truly is.

At Beechwood, birthdays are celebrated once a month at a big long table placed grandly in front of the dining room, much like the bridal table at a wedding. Steak and cake. Pa Smith waves to Ma from his place at the head table throughout the meal and Ma waves back, a huge smile crossing her lips. Then, Pa carefully wraps his cake in a paper napkin to share with her later in the quiet of their suite. We call their room the honeymoon suite.

Beechwood has two separate units, the retirement home and E-wing. E-wing is where the residents move when they can no longer care for themselves independently. They don’t dine on rosewood tables with candlesticks in E-wing. Mostly, they have trays delivered to their rooms, and on occasion, they are wheeled to the communal dining room where they eat with fellow residents. Meals on wheels.

My dad took up residence in an assisted living facility called The Peaks. It was nothing like Beechwood. Not even E-wing.

I walk into the front lobby and I feel comforted by the giant birdcage and the pleasant arrangement of magazines that adorn the contemporary stone table between two cozy chairs. I fail to notice that the magazines are outdated copies of Runner’s World. It’s been a very long time since any of the residents here needed to know how to prepare for the next big race.

The marketing director ushers me into her office, heels clicking. She assures me that my dad will be well cared for here. “The staff is warm and dedicated.” She doesn’t tell me they are overworked, underpaid, and for the most part, completely ignorant of the specialized needs of the aged.

Next comes the tour.

I see a great big white board, the activity schedule. “We like to keep our residents stimulated!” she chirps. Supposedly there are activities throughout the day. Some are in the assisted living wing. Others are in long-term care. 

We spend almost two hours crafting my father’s care plan. “How many showers would you like him to have each week? Three? No problem. We can’t guarantee the days you request, but we’ll do our best to fit him into the schedule.”

“What were his interests? Did he have any hobbies? Oh, he was a watercolor painter? We’ll be sure to make time each day for Sam to draw in his sketchpad. What are his favorite foods? He likes pork tenderloin? Spaghetti? Chicken? Great, we’ll make a note of that.”

I leave the office feeling hopeful, clutching the care plan, a promise that my dad will be nurtured in his new home. The room is ready. It’s time to get him settled in. I imagine this is what it feels like to send your child off to his first day of school. Only this isn’t kindergarten. This isn’t a room full of frolicking children dancing around a loving teacher, cheery music playing in the background. This is a lonely little room with a tired armchair, a threadbare carpet, and a hospital-like bed with a mattress that is a foot too short for its frame. The heat is blasting from the radiator. There is no thermostat in the room. It’s April.

I leave the room to get some air.

The silence in the corridors is deafening—no sign of life anywhere—certainly no sign of the activities that are plastered all over the bulletin board.

As I walk through the long-term care wing I find myself praying my father doesn’t live long enough to enter these rooms. The long-term care wing looks like a war torn hospital. Curtains between beds provide the only privacy for the residents there. White spindly legs peek out from under the covers. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon but it may as well be midnight.

My dad spent thirteen grueling months at the Peaks before I could get him moved to a more appropriate setting.

Ten years is an awfully long time to linger in this in between place. Death before death. Yet linger he did. 

It’s a sunny afternoon. I’m sitting with my husband in an outdoor café. We have just come from his father’s hospital room where we are making plans to move yet another beloved dad into an assisted living center, albeit this one much lovelier than The Peaks. The hospital is releasing my husband’s father to hospice the very next day. The vibration of my cell phone jars me. In the deluge of details we are sorting through to be sure his dad’s transition is smooth if not seamless, I forget that I have a phone conference scheduled with my own dad’s hospice team this very afternoon.

The setting isn’t ideal but at least there is cell reception. And wine. This is supposed to be a ‘routine’ care conference. The hospice nurse tells me later that they had been prepared to release my dad from their care because he had, once again, reached a plateau. But this afternoon they are seeing a serious decline. This time it appears to be his last downward spiral.


My suitcase was still packed. It had made its way from California to Annapolis and now, Colorado. I remember ordering dinner at that cafe and not tasting a thing on my plate. I just wanted to be on that plane which wasn’t leaving until early the next morning. “Eat,” my husband urged, but food was the last thing on my mind. I called the night nurse in my father’s skilled nursing home three times that night. I needed to know he was tending my dad with a wide-open heart and loving hands. I felt pretty helpless actually, but somehow just hearing a voice at the other end of the line and remembering this nurse from my last visit gave me peace enough to sleep, though fitfully, until we could make our way to the airport.

He waited.

As much as I thought I’d be ready for my dad’s passing, I wasn’t fully prepared to say goodbye. He was my anchor, the one I could count on to show me the brighter side of anything and everything. He didn’t die the way I hoped he’d die—the way I hope I’ll cross that threshold—in the comfort of my own home, in my own bed, warm and cozy and cognizant. The reality was that as much as I cared for my dad and fought for his dignity, it was never enough. Even with well-meaning caretakers, so many things fall through the cracks. Those are the dreams that still haunt me.

I had never before had the privilege of holding someone close as they passed.

Dying is, indeed, a sacred act.

My little family gathered together in this liminal space sharing slices of my dad’s life as he took his last breath. Somehow I know he was listening.

About the Author: Sue Ann Gleason

Sue Ann GleasonNourishment guide, SoulCollage® Facilitator, and ‘wise business’ strategist, Sue Ann Gleason is a lover of words, a strong believer in the power of imagination, and a champion for women who want to live a more delicious, fully expressed life. She has been featured in Oprah and Runner’s World magazines and numerous online publications.

When not working with private clients or delivering online programs, Sue Ann can be found sampling exotic chocolates or building broccoli forests in her mashed potatoes.

You can connect with her in a few different places. Delicious freebies await you!
nourished living | wise business | instagram

Everything I Never Knew I Always Wanted by Julie M Terrill

Sonora Dawn, Prickley Pear on Velum

Most of us tend to want our blessings to be wrapped in pretty packaging, leaving little doubt that what has been received is, indeed, a gift. I have found that many of my blessings come in the guise of old crumpled up newspaper wrapped around a stinky fish. My initial reaction might be, “Ugh! I don’t want that!”, but somewhere, buried deep Leonardoinside, there is a blessing waiting to be discovered.

I recently developed a visual impairment due to the side effects of a medication. Surgeries have restored my vision, but for several months I was unable to drive, read, and, most disappointingly, work on my photography.

Photography is part of my “ness”, a term my kids use to describe the essence of one’s soul. Photography is part of my Mommyness, my Julieness; without it I wasn’t quite me.

I decided still attend an upcoming class in alcohol inks,

discovering a beautiful and vibrant way to express my creativity that did not require visual acuity. Ink paintings are supposed to be abstract or impressionistic. Perfect! Not only was it therapeutic to acquire a new set of creative skills, I’m incorporating alcohol inks into my photographic work, rendering hand-embellished images with a unique dreamscape quality.

Even though I resisted this particular newspaper-wrapped, stinky, dead fish—my temporary visual impairment—it brought gifts I never even knew I always wanted.

Thank goodness I didn’t throw it away.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

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

In addition to her professional experience behind the camera, Julie is the parent of seven young adult children, four of whom have special needs. With collaborative projects and thematic field trips, she has used her love of photography to help gain an understanding of their view of the world.

Julie is currently planning for a trip to Ireland, where she is looking forward to capturing the details of Ireland’s thin places and applying for Artist-in-Residence programs with the National Park Service.

Connect with her at:

The Bookcase by Debra Smouse

Colleen caught her breath as she lay sprawled on the floor, her head resting against the iron leg of a futon. Why was she on the floor of her daughter’s room at 4:48 AM? ImNotReallyAWaitressToesShe had managed to catch her big toe on the belt loop of a pair of jeans.

She shook her head. Only she could be such a klutz. Well, if she was lucky, the I’m Not Really a Waitress-red polish on her toenails had survived the tumble without even a slight chip.

She should have turned on the light, but she’d gotten in the habit of wandering through the dark house alone when she couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t only that she was restless, either. After four weekends of being without the kids, she had stopped seeing her house as empty and lonesome, and was finding a sense of peace.

She laughed to herself, appreciating the irony: Alone, she was finally settling into the kind of feeling she’d always longed for from this house, the kind she’d never had when they’d all been pretending to be a happy family. The sweet sense of calm and peace that hadn’t seemed to exist when her soon-to-be ex-husband was living there, was surrounding her, now that he had gone.

Their separation and divorce had been anything but typical. Though they had filed the paperwork with the court before the shininess of the New Year had faded, they had continued living together until he found a place shortly before Easter. She kept the house; he moved into a high-rise condo closer to work.

The divorce would be final in just a few weeks, on May Day.

Since his official departure from the house – from her house – she’d been spending all her free time decluttering the sixteen years’ worth of crap that had accumulated. She’d recognized his insistence that the kids would be better “if their ‘primary living environment’ remain unchanged in any way” for the clever ploy that it was. He didn’t really care that every stick of furniture stay intact; rather, he wanted all new furniture for his sleek condo overlooking downtown.

The kid-and-dog-worn crap hadn’t matched his new décor.

She sighed from her position on the floor. “I’m not getting anything done just lying here.” But before she could gather the will to pick herself up, she felt the breath of her dog, Ingrid, on the back of her neck.

Suddenly, she wanted to cry, the first time in months that she’d felt the pinpricks of tears behind her eyes. She hadn’t cried when she’d discovered her husband’s affair, and she hadn’t cried when they’d agreed that divorce was their only ingrid_downoption. But with the dog nuzzling her neck, breathing in her owner’s scent in much the same way a lover would, holding back the tears was so hard.

Besides, she thought, facts are facts: she’d never get laid again. What man would want to date an almost-forty-year-old single mother with two kids and a hundred-pound dog?

She tangled her fingers into the giant dog’s curly fur, assuring the animal that she was fine.

Then she shoved Ingrid aside, rolled over, and pushed herself to her feet.

Switching on her daughter’s desk lamp, she saw the note taped to the computer monitor:

“MOM, if you insist on cleaning, can we PLEASE ditch that old bookcase?”

The bookcase. One of the few pieces of furniture from her childhood.

The bookcase. The last factor in Colleen’s decision to divorce him.

She had gotten used to the way her husband spoke to her, making her feel as if nothing she ever did was good enough. She had gotten used to his stonewalling, refusing to talk to her for days and weeks on end because of some imagined infraction. She had gotten used to his unending criticism of what she wore and how messy the house was. She’d even gotten used to the not-so-subtle implication that the disarray meant she was a crappy mother.

Colleen had gotten used to the constant barrage of things she didn’t do/shouldn’t do/wasn’t doing right, but she’d hated it, and when he turned his critical eye toward their children, she’d taken steps to protect them. She had become an adept liar, covering for the girls if there were infractions at school or a less-than-perfect conduct grade on any given day. She’d scurried around, picking up after them, making sure he’d never found a stray shoe or misplaced book in view.

But kids will be kids, and as good as she was at covering for them most of the time, there were always things that slipped through the cracks: a messy room, a late homework assignment, a found note from a teacher bemoaning a child’s inability to sit still and be quiet. And she couldn’t get her oldest daughter to keep her mouth shut when things began to escalate.

Oh, did that girl have smart mouth on her, especially for a thirteen-year old! She was intelligent and more well-read than the average college student, and had strong opinions. The unfairness was that the same words uttered a decade later (or to a stranger) would be considered “standing up for herself.  As a child, the expectation was to accept the verbal assaults her father volleyed across the bow as just more rules to follow.

And then, there was the day that he pushed her. Shoved their child so hard she fell against the open door to the stackofbooksbookcase and it pulled the hinges out of the wood.

He had insisted that he hadn’t touched her, that the girl was just backing away from him and tripped.

But Colleen knew that that deep anger of his, and believed her daughter’s version of the story.

That sticks and stones nursery rhyme was a lie. Words did hurt. But the shift from mere words to actual physicality crossed a line, and while he’d never struck her or the kids before, and she hoped it would never happen again, she wasn’t going to count on it.

That was the day that Colleen decided: no more. There would be no more walking on eggshells and no more dealing with the regular verbal assaults. She wasn’t going to allow her children to live like this every day. Always wondering if today, he would get physical.

She waited a few weeks, quietly getting her ducks in a row. She began documenting his affair with the aerobics instructor at their gym. Despite his denial when confronted months earlier, she’d stumbled across their text messages. She also combed through their finances to get a better picture of how things stood.

And three weeks later, the next time he began bitching about her inability to keep a tidy house, and then moved on to her total lack of culinary skills, he drove his own nail into the coffin of their relationship. “If I want a nice home, I’ll have to get divorced first,” he’d said. He always had been a master of the passive-aggressive statement.

Colleen had smiled a sad little smile at him and uttered the words she wouldn’t take back. “Then why don’t we just get a divorce so you can finally live in the kind of home you want?”

Yes, she had waited until things died down a bit because she never wanted her daughter to think she was at all responsible for the divorce. But she’d made her decision on the day of the bookcase.

Colleen brought herself back to the present and took a good look at the bookcase. It was a shame to part with something she’d had since she was a child. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be that difficult to repair it, but she totally understood why her daughter wanted the bookcase gone.

It was the constant reminder that sometimes the people who were supposed to love you and protect you were the ones you needed protection from.

As Ingrid settled in next to her daughter’s bed, Colleen decided: today, right now, she would deal with the bookcase. Looking around the room, she noticed the stacks of books on the floor – Dante, Terry Pratchett, Charles Darwin, Michael Moorcock, J.K. Rowling – and realized her daughter had already emptied the shelves.

A woman with a mission, Colleen ripped the top sheet off her daughter’s bed, laid it on the floor next to the case, and pulled and pushed until the bookcase rested on the sheet so it would be easier to slide across the floor.

More pushing, more pulling, and with Ingrid as a sort of honor guard, she dragged the bookcase down the hall, out the front door, and TheDoor(though she cringed at the skittering, scraping sounds) across the concrete of the driveway. Making sure the dog was clear, she gave a final heave letting the piece of furniture come to rest on its side, on the curb.

Sweating, she wiped her forward and told the big black dog “Thank goodness trash day is tomorrow!”

Colleen turned back towards the house, only to stop short. The edge of the rising sun was bathing the sky, and her home, in a pale pink glow. She stood watch as the pink shifted to orange shot with gold.

She made one last glance, over her shoulder, at that bookcase, its vacant shelves turned into depthless shadows in the light of morning.

Then she took a deep breath, called Ingrid to heel, walked back into the house – her house – and shut the door.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

An Invitation for You: Save the Date

Dear Friend,

desk-calendar-kaboompicsHere’s what I’m dreaming about: A month or a week or even one day completely devoted to myself, a time for reflecting, creating, simply BEING.

Do you dream of that too?

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we make ourselves a priority for a change? Why not put ourselves on the calendar?

I can imagine what you’re thinking. “I can’t take the time off work.” “Who would take the kids to school and soccer and dance and gymnastics?” “I’m right in the middle of a major project at work.” “My partner wouldn’t support that.”

I completely understand. I can come up with a hundred compelling reasons why I shouldn’t do it either. Still, that nagging whisper persists. I find myself dreaming about it when I’m cooking dinner, sitting in a meeting, or weeding the garden. I fantasize about getting away from the noise of everyday living and finding a way to be quiet for a while, free from all the distractions that become convenient ways ignore the call of my own heart.

Have you ever read the book called A Year By the Sea?  In it, author Joan Anderson writes about taking an entire year for herself and moving to a remote cottage on Cape Cod. She was longing to be alone, to listen to the “myriad unheard longings, ideas, and plans” she had been ignoring. I feel those same longings stirring in my heart these days, but most often they get set aside for other things I make a priority.

But a entire year? That really is impossible for me. Even a week or a weekend could be a stretch.

But maybe, just maybe, I could manage ONE DAY.

What if I were to grab that calendar I’m so attached to, find one day within the next 30 days and write ME in big, bold letters right in the middle of that square? What if circled it, draw a heart and flowers around it, made it pretty and eye-catching, because that’s what this day is all about?

My goal for this special day will revolve around this question: What do I need more of in my daily living? Do I want to wander in the woods and soak up the sights and sounds of nature? Maybe my heart’s desire is as a block of quiet hours to plan a big writing project? It could be that I simply need uninterrupted time to think and relax, sit in a rocking chair and read a good book or listen to my favorite music.

Maybe I want all of the above.

Whatever I decide, I’ll need to gather my materials: good paper and pens, essential oils and candles, books, books, and more books, favorite foods and beverages, a playlist of inspiring music, my walking shoes, my camera. I want to turn off my phone (including the internet!) and limit every distraction.

When that day arrives, I’ll enter into it with a spirit of dedication and love. I’ll treat myself with all the tender loving care I bestow on others. I’ll take note of every thought and feeling during this day, of the things I accomplish and decide.

I’ll make plenty of space for my dreams to surface and shine.

Joseph Campbell wrote: “When one leaves certain social situations, moves into temporary loneliness, and then finds a few jewels, everything changes.” As much as I love my family and friends, as much as I value my daily life and routine, I feel a real need to carve out some space around them and move into some “temporary loneliness”. I know there are jewels to be found.

They just might transform my existence.

How about you, friend? Are you with me? Should we make some space for ourselves?

I can’t wait to hear what you think….




If you’ve taken some time to make space for your creative self, consider sharing your experience with Modern Creative Life in an essay or poem. We’re accepting submissions for Issue 2: Nourishment.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. 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 with the dogs 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 FacebookTwitter, or Goodreads.

Some Days Alone, Some Days Together: The Writer’s Journey by Andi Cumbo-Floyd


I got this message via Twitter today:

I listened to ur podcast w @JamesPrescott77 – I just adore you and could listen to you lots. You make me feel peaceful. – Cindy W. Brandt

Today, I am feeling weak and drained, word-worn and wan.  But Cindy’s message, it’s like a spark that find tinder I didn’t know I had.  “If Cindy appreciates what I have to say, maybe I can keep going.”


Yesterday, a friend wrote to three of us, a little coterie of other writers that has formed via the glorious binary of the internet, to tell us how something was being “worked out in him” about publication and about aging and about how this writing thing is wrapped up with our identities in ways we cannot extract and don’t always love.

Within a few hours, we had each replied with words of sympathy and encouragement, sharing our own struggles and fears. Each email felt like someone was pouring a little cool water on the tips of my fingers that had been burned by the writing life.


A few weeks ago, I spent three days running into people whose faces had been only thumbnails until we met over the free coffee at a conference.  I greeted, I chatted, I even hugged.  (I’m not a hugger.)  I spent time with people I’ve known for decades and with others I hope to know for the rest of my life.

I came home totally full, absolutely exhausted, and with the first cold I’ve had in 9 months. All of those things came as gifts, tissue-laden and rich, from moments when I could feel the heat radiate from another person’s skin.


It is so very easy, in this writing life, to hunker down and “do the work,” to tuck myself away into my office with two heaters, a hot beverage, and five open computer tabs.  I can go weeks where the only people I see are the ones who come to me: my husband, my father, my soon-to-be step-mom, my in-laws.

Sometimes, I must shut myself away, refuel in the solitude and silence of my work.  Sometimes, I need the focus that I can only achieve when I’m spending most of my days saturated in words already written.


But other times, these notes from friends, these missives of the digital, these conversations over coffee with too much cream and sugar are just as necessary.  A big hunk of fresh-based, coarse bread, a perfectly-spiced slice of meat, and a pear – sustenance for the writer’s journey.

And that’s how I see community – both face-to-face and digital – in my writer’s life.  The times I interact with other people in real, rich, not mediated ways, they are like my traveler’s rations that I wrap in a clean piece of cloth torn from my grandfather’s work shirt.  I carry them with me for the next set of days alone here in this room with my computer.

I wouldn’t survive the journey without them.

About the Author: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

andibio1Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives on 15 blissful acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 22 chickens. Her books include Steele Secrets, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out. You can connect with Andi at her website,, or via Facebook and Twitter.

Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for a little face-to-face community to carry you on your journey, Andi is hosting a Writer’s Retreat at her  farm in Virginia.  You can get more details here –   Relax, learn, share stories, and help each other find footing for the next days’ walk.

Time to Declare My Word for the Year by Christine Mason Miller


“The first step shall be to lose the way.” -Galway Kinnell

When 2016 arrived, I didn’t ring it in with champagne and party hats. I wanted to sleep more than anything, so I celebrated by going to bed about 9:00pm. 2015 wasn’t a bad year, but it was an intense year, and even though I got a decent night’s sleep as the world said farewell to 2015, I was ready for a nap within an hour of waking up. I’d been CMM_HappyNewYearfeeling that way for weeks, and the first day of 2016 was no exception.

I got sick within a few days, and it was a bug that made itself comfortable in my sinus passages for a solid three weeks. It wasn’t until the end of the month, when I got in my car for the four-hour drive north to Big Sur for a long weekend with seven soul sisters that the exhaustion finally began to lift. I made sure of that by turning the volume up on my sappiest playlist and letting myself cry as hard as I could for the first hour of the drive. (Thanks, Adele!) I was tired of being sick. I was tired of feeling so tired. I was tired of feeling like I was in a constant race against time.

During those weeks of feeling like I was moving underwater, I felt like I was missing out on all the fun everyone was having sharing their word for the year. All that excitement! All that energy! Everyone fired up and eager to make 2016 the best year ever! I was still recovering from 2015 and wasn’t ready to decide what I most wanted to manifest in the wide open space of the new year. What’s my word of the year? I’d ask myself. Nothing. The cursor in my brain just kept blinking idly, a reminder that in this particular endeavor—making a declaration for my life—I was a failure.

Now that we’re almost five months in, I’ve got my word—not because I decided on it once I started to get my mojo back, but because it keeps showing up on days like today, when I wrap up a big project and I automatically ask myself OK, what’s next?

I used to thrive in situations when someone would ask that question, or any variation of it—When is your next show? CMM_PursuitofMagicWhere is your next retreat? What will you write about next? I prided myself on always having an answer. I’d have my next show lined up. My next retreat would already be on the calendar. A book proposal would be waiting in the wings. Being able to confidently, immediately answer the question “What’s next?” meant I was a mover, a shaker, a woman who made things happen. But over time, it also meant I was a woman who was tired, and frequently left wondering why I felt like my time to rest was always just beyond whatever my answer to the question happened to be that day. Right after regaling my listener with all the impressive feats I was about to accomplish, I would—without fail—follow it up with, “And after I finish that I’ll finally have some down time!”

The word that keeps hovering in my periphery is discernment. Defined as the ability to judge well, I see this word drift through my awareness every time the question of what’s next pops up. If “What’s next?” is in neon, “discernment” is like a fog, trying to reduce its harsh glare. It is a reminder to choose carefully, and that the best answer might actually be “Nothing.”

I’ve been having a conversation with someone this week about recognizing that although we are artistic, creative beings we are not, at our core, defined solely by this. We actually do ourselves a disservice by trying to make our sense of well-being and contentment contingent upon this. I can make artwork, organize retreats, and write books and connect to my core or I can do none of those things and still honor my soul and spirit. If my answer to the CMM_bytheshorequestion, “What’s next?” is “Nothing”, I am still me. I am still whole and worthy and enough.

This is where discernment comes in, as a quiet whisper that doesn’t just tell me it’s OK to loosen the reins on my Very Important Things To Do list. It is also letting me in on a secret I am only beginning to understand, which is that by spending so much time and effort keeping my bag of answers to the question of what’s next full, I might actually be missing out on the most potent opportunities to tap into my core, my soul, my deepest sense of creativity, presence, and joy.

I talked about writing the book I just finished for many years before finally sitting down to write it. What was it that compelled me to finally do it? The sound of my own voice saying, “I just have to write this book!” too many times. I decided it was time to either write the book or stop talking about it. That was more than two years ago, and yesterday I sent my book to the printer.

I feel the same way about the proclamation that always punctuates my answer to the question of what’s next, the part about having some quiet time once this is wrapped up or that is finished. I’ve heard myself say it enough times to know it is time for a change. It isn’t about literally doing nothing, but about creating time for myself to explore and see where the wind takes me. If I’m always deciding ahead of time exactly what I want to work on, I’m missing out on all the discoveries that await me on the detours. I’m eager for some aimless wandering. I’m ready to let myself get lost.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author, artist and guide who lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Buy her book on Amazon. Go on Retreat . Hire her as your Mentor.

You can follow her adventures at

Odyssey Adventure by Jeanette McGurk

As I was on the cusp of entering early adulthood, the minivan was becoming the family car of choice. I distinctly remember my twenty-something self saying, “Oh my God, I will never have a minivan. I will never be that vanilla.”

But, it’s twenty-years later, and oh my God! Yes, I am that vanilla. I’ve had three consecutive minivans, and I confess silve_honda_minivanthe bland doesn’t stop there: All three were Honda Odysseys, and all of them were silver.

My lease was up about seven days ago and I was finally ready to step outside my mini-van box. This is not a decision I took lightly. I am married to someone whose career has focused for decades on IT disaster recovery. Remember Y2K? He was one of those guys.

My husband is a master at finding the disaster lurking behind ordinary things. Couches with loose back pillows? Complete domestic disaster, they will look rumpled years before a tight back couch will. It took us four years of research to find the right replacement for our old couch and nine years to find the right house.

Two years into my three-year car lease, John says, “We need to start researching a new car.” For normal people this would be plenty of time and possibly even overkill, but as you can see from previous purchases, we are not normal people.

In fact, I have friends whose car died an untimely death and they had to buy something in two days. Color me astounded to discover they walked into a dealership and drove out with a car, perfectly happy. They did this without watching hours and hours of YouTube comparisons nor did they spend weeks test driving every vehicle in its class multiple times. They even did this without spreadsheets.

I became hopeful. Surely, John and I, with a year, could muddle through and figure something out.

My requirements were fairly simple. I wanted third row seating. I did not want a giant SUV (I have a problem with hitting curbs, the house, my Mother in law’s car). And in no uncertain terms did I want another Odyssey.

The contenders competing for the new family shuttlecraft looked so sporty and fit on the starting line. But, like the American Gladiators, they would get halfway through the course and into the pit they would fall.

The Toyota Highlander? Great price, good gas millage, and comfortable. But wait: not comfortable at all in the third row. In fact, there is not enough legroom for a four year old. SPLATT!

The Volvo XC90? Not only safe and comfortable, but also beautiful with super cool smart technology. Sure, a little pricy. But wait! It was loud on the road and underpowered. Do we really want to spend that much for a noisy four-cylinder in Dallas, home of the never-let-a-person-in-your-lane driver? SPLATT!

On and on it went, contenders falling left and right. In the meantime, so was our year buffer. Time was slipping. We were at four months, then three, and then two. At two we started getting panicky and being snippy with each other.

John and I have been married for sixteen years. I realized, not too long ago, that if we went to a wedding reception with one of those marriage dances, we could actually be on the floor a while. People would look at us, completely engaged, thinking how sweet. In reality we would be staring into each other’s eyes, intently hoping for the answer to our car dilemma.

A week before the official turn-in date, we had narrowed it down to three potential vehicles. At the top of the list, the Ford Explorer.

Let me be honest: I have only owned one other American car in my life and it was my dream car, a Jeep Sahara. My parents were mortified when I bought it. They couldn’t believe anyone would give me a loan. In their defense, I looked pretty shaky on paper. I’d only been in my new job for four months and my apartment for four weeks. Yet, despite a horrifying interest rate, I got that beautiful Sahara.

Once, the engine fell out when I drove over railroad tracks, but both the car and I survived.

I had a corporate job at the time, and actually had to wear business skirts and pantyhose to the office. Let me just say that neither pantyhose nor actual business attire are the proper apparel for a jeep. It is sacrilege. I stopped counting the number of times I would be standing in a parking lot wearing sensible heels, skirt and a suit jacket fighting with the canvas and plastic jeep cover as raindrops were starting to fall. I think it was being a jeep-owner trying to get the tiny cover back on the frame that helped me fine-tune my cursing skills.

Still, it was a glorious time in my life, being a twenty-six-year-old with a jeep. I felt like an REI commercial even though most of my drive time was spent in Dallas traffic. That was a mere technicality. In my mind, I was really off-roading in the high desert.


Perhaps the Explorer would be the road away from my alter-ego Minivan Mom.

John and I went to drive it one more time. At the last minute John says, “Let’s test out the third row.” Great I think, remembering how roomy it was. I start to move the seat. It will not budge.

The sales guy steps in to show us the ease of moving the seat and getting in and out. There is no ease. It is ridiculously hard. I can barely manage it. There is no way a couple of kids are getting in or out of there in less than twenty minutes. I delay looking at John as I know his disaster meter is going off. One glance confirms it: our big Gladiator hopeful has fallen on the last obstacle.

This leaves the Honda Pilot and by some miracle, the Volvo is back on the list thanks to the Internet. Seems the Volvo dealer’s web page has a stellar deal: the monthly payment is less than the Honda! Yeah, the Volvo is a bit noisy and underpowered. But have I mentioned the TOTALLY cool stay in your own lane technology? Considering my driving skills, the little arrow on the mirror that indicates when someone is in my blind spot would be more than a little helpful. And there’s also magic involved: when under thirty-one miles per hour, the Volvo can drive itself in a straight-away. So. Freakin’. Cool.

John calls the dealership, but first, he figures, just to be safe, he will see if our credit union will get a buyout going on our current minivan. We are now three days to drop-off and time is ticking, but we are really thinking the Volvo is going to be it.

If we get the Volvo, it will be the nicest car I have ever owned.

John reminds me that I’ll have to change my evil ways: No more driving around inside a trash can. I will have to ancient VW Buswash the exterior. (Rain doesn’t count.) If I do not keep this car from getting the normal Jeanette-car-smell, he will divorce me, sell the car and buy me a 1968 Volkswagen Bus that already smells bad.

His concerns are not without warrant. I typically drive a pigpen car. A little swirl of dust, several papers, toys – even the odd biscuit – will often fly out during when I’m dropping the kids at school. I always cringe when the Vice- Principal opens our car door.

Before I have too much time to contemplate whether the Volvo is really worth risking my marriage, I hear John in the other room, “Shysters! Total misrepresentative shysters! The price is $400 more a month than on the web page. We will not buy from these people.”

And another car bites the dust.

We are down to the Honda Pilot. John makes it unappealing when he smugly informs me that the Pilot is really an Odyssey. He reminds me that we can only get a white or silver car. Dark colors are too hot in Texas; other colors show too much dirt. Considering I only get the car washed when the dealership does the free oil change, I kind of get where he’s coming from.

John hates the pearly white color currently offered by Honda so that leaves silver. Again. But, it is different enough, and it has blind spot recognition. It is going to be great!

Then it happens: John gets the call from the credit union saying we cannot buy out the Odyssey, if we choose to do so. Evidently, we cannot get a $17k car loan. The repercussions of this are that we cannot get a car loan from anyone anywhere.

You see, John has been at war with Honda Finance for three years over $109 Honda says we owed after the return of one of the previous Odysseys.  John insisted we didn’t.

Three years of nasty notes from Honda Finance are seeming more ominous than I imagined now that the current car must be returned in less than forty-eight hours. John now hates Honda with every fiber of his six-foot, three-inch being.  “There will never be another Honda in our home after this one!”

After a year of looking for cars, I am actually beginning to question whether I will ever again have a car at all! I try to biccycle2picture life in Dallas on a bicycle. It is not pretty. On the up-side, I have wanted to lose weight. If I don’t have a car, I can’t go out to lunch or the grocery store.

For some reason I have about 10 cans of pumpkin in my pantry. I am sure the family can live off that until the stalemate with Honda Finance is over.

John concedes and pays the $109 to Honda Finance the next day. Only after making it clear that we will never buy another Honda. Our children will never buy a Honda. Our children’s children will never by a Honda.

He also informs them that if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, we are certain Honda will cause it.

Turn-in day arrives for the Odyssey.

Our credit union calls to say that we are now considered upstanding citizens. The $109 blemish that has prevented us from getting a loan is now gone.  We can buy out the lease on the three-year-old Honda Odyssey sitting in my garage.

John asks me what I want to do. I think about the ten cans of pumpkin in the pantry. I think about the year we have spent test driving. The hours we have spent watching YouTube comparisons instead of Downton Abbey. I realize there are worse things than being vanilla.

“Let’s buy the damned Odyssey,” I say.

“Okay,” John says, “now that we have that settled, can I go buy a convertible BMW?”

“Of course,” I say, “but only if there is a zombie apocalypse.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

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

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

just start something, by Æverett

Vintage Nature


just start something and let it go. let it grow and become, like a disturbed child. spill onto the page every word or phrase or image that occurs – and don’t allow anything to be censored or hidden. allow it to be raw and so full of emotion that it threatens to rend you limb from limb and leave you strewn asunder over valleys and mountains. allow the tears to smear the ink on the page. let yourself bleed out onto the paper. because when this thing has grown into a roaring beast – a horrid dragon of toothy maw and flame – all sex and pain and the deepest love imaginable, then have you created something perfect, so flawed and beautiful beyond imagining.


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.

Image Copyright: issaystudio / 123RF Stock Photo

Sunday Brunch: Miss Cleo vs. The Squirrels

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

It’s Mother’s Day in the United States today, and it’s Mother’s Day on Tuesday in Mexico. I don’t have any human children, but my husband often refers to me as The Mother of Dogs, just as I often refer to my home as the House of Bark.

So, in honor of the day, and in celebration of all mothers, whether they are raising human children, fur-kids, or some combination of the two, I want to share a true story from my life.

It happened in 2009.

It was a cold and sleety January day in the DFW Metroplex, with many of us indulging our inner ten-year-olds and watching the weather reports with one compound question on our minds: Will we get snow, and if so, will it actually stick?

In my back yard, however, there was another question to be answered: in the matter of possession of the patio furniture, who would win: Miss Cleo or the Squirrels?

I should explain a few things before I begin my story:

Miss Cleo StalkingMiss Cleo was a twenty-pound spayed female dog. At nearly nine years old, she still thought she was a puppy. She also had an aggressive streak that generally only manifested itself with veterinary personnel, smokers, and strange men with clipboards who dared to ring my doorbell and provide repair services or present packages.

Second, a week before this incident, when we were at jury duty, we came home to discover that some animal had carved a bowl-shape the size of a Cool Whip container (the big ones) out of the seat of one of the patio chairs. (Lest you believe we aren’t taking good care of said chairs, please understand, we’d planned to replace all the cushions in the summer, anyway.)

And now for the fun part:

Round One:

It had become necessary to walk out into the back yard (at least to the edge of the deck) with the dogs when they were sent to complete their morning “rounds,” because my older dog (Zorro, 14YO neutered male Chihuahua) had, in his old age, become cranky and neurotic. He’d never liked to get his feet wet, and if he was not supervised, would go to the end of the deck, come back inside, and leave puddles in the middle of the living room floor.

That morning, as I escorted the dogs to The Place Beyond the Door (we could not use the word ‘out’ with Zorro or Cleo because they recognized it. This is a tradition that continues with the current members of the House of Bark), Miss Cleo and I noticed a small furry animal perched on the back of one of the patio chairs. It was large enough that at first I thought it was a stray cat, but it was, in fact, a red squirrel, with a mouthful of cushion foam and a cheesy grin. It gave us a wave, flicked its tail, and was scooting along the top of the back fence before Miss Cleo could even stop pawing anxiously at the ground.

Score: Miss Cleo – 0, Squirrels – 1

Round Two:

Not fifteen minutes later, we were all sprawled on the bed (well, the dogs were sprawled, and I was sitting, writing an article about the future of Saab for work), when Miss Cleo’s hackles rose, and she began producing that really low guttural growl thSquirrel on Fenceat small dogs generally emit only when there is a rodent to be attacked. Or, you know, a sock. Or a leaf blowing in the breeze. Or someone walking down the street three miles away. You get the idea.

I glanced out the window, and sure enough, another squirrel – or perhaps the same one – was on the patio chair harvesting foam.

Miss Cleo and I went out to the yard to investigate.

I wanted to try and snap a picture; she wanted to play ‘eat the squirrel.’ Sadly, my camera batteries were dead (note to self: charge camera), but Miss Cleo went outside into the sleet, and approached her prey.

When she was two feet away, the squirrel glanced at her.

When she was one foot away, it stared balefully over the foam it was holding.

She hopped onto the seat of the chair, tail curled so tightly I feared it might never unfurl again, and then – and I swear I am not making this up – the squirrel threw a wad of foam at Miss Cleo. It bounced off my poor dog’s nose, and while she was shaking her head trying to figure out what the whitestuff was, the squirrel gave a shake of its tail and scampered out of sight.

Score: Miss Cleo – 0, Squirrels – 2

Round Three

Several hours later, I had just finished giving Zorro his evening drugs (Lasix and vetmedin), and giving Miss Cleo treats to help disguise the fact that Zorro was getting drugs (I’m sure he knew, but he was willing to play the game in order to get extra treats).

I escorted them into the back yard, which had become decidedly icy once the sun had set, and guess who was back? Yes! The squirrel! I didn’t think they were nocturnal, but apparently they really dug (no pun intended) the innards of my patio furniture.

Miss Cleo took off across the yard and the squirrel took off into the trees.

Miss Cleo jumped up onto the brick ledge that forms the back wall of the pool (and is about two and half feet above the water’s surface).

Miss Cleo learned that icy brick and dog feet are ‘unmixy things’ (to use a Buffy-ism), and went splash! into the freezing water, while the squirrel sat on the opposite fence, laughing.

It is a well-known fact that squirrel laughter sounds uncannily like Bart Simpson.

Final Score: Miss Cleo – 0, Squirrels -3
Squirrels FTW!Miss Cleo on her Pillow

Neither Zorro nor Miss Cleo are still with me. Zorro went to the Rainbow Bridge less than a month later, a week after I brought home my first big dog, Maximus. Miss Cleo joined him in 2013.

The current members of the House of Bark, Max, Perry, Teddy, Piper, and foster-dog Madison never met Zorro (well, Max did, but the others didn’t), but all of them except Piper lived with Miss Cleo. She was always a prickly sort of dog, but she was my dog, and I loved her.

The squirrels remain, but ever since that winter, they’ve left the patio furniture unmolested, and none of the other dogs have managed to land in the pool.


About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

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

New Moon Creative: Moon in Taurus

The New Moon is traditionally the time for new beginnings…. so what would happen if you were to commit to nourishing your creativity when the new moon arrives? How would it feel to commit to channeling the new moon energy into your creative life?

And what, my dear, would it be like, if you allowed yourself – and your art – to be witnessed?

While all of us at Modern Creative Life hope that each of our readers is indulging their creativity (even if it’s in small ways) daily, we are also dedicated to the idea that we get to choose our own paths to creative living each and every day of the year, by writing, painting, cooking, or even making and artful arrangement of the books on our shelves.

As well, we believe it’s important to honor the cycles of life that form currents through all our lives. As part of our ongoing celebration of those cycles and currents, we will be releasing a collection of prompts to inspire you on your creative journey.

Here are the prompts in celebration of the May New Moon (in Taurus):

New Moon Creative Prompts (Moon in Taurus)

Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay.

Post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you. Leave a comment here (with a link) so we can read your words and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

On the Full Moon (May 21st), we’ll post a collection of the work that was inspired by these prompts and post them here, with links back to the full work (and you).

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes