Looking Into The New

Okay, so I find it really hard to look into the face of positive at the end of the year. There is always so much left unaccomplished and unrealized and then there is always the missing of those that are no longer in my life. The remembering is always a recurring rock I just cannot crawl out from under. The better to have loved idea seems like a hard stretch at times like these. Memory is sometimes such a bitter friend.

I watch all the celebrity memorials and can't help but feel sad. I know that so many that have passed have had incredible lives. I know that the fact that someone even makes it to a celebrity news special is the very definition of a life well lived, or at least publicly lived, but it still tends to make me feel sad at the loss. I look at so many things in this way. Feeling the loss instead of remembering the good. I guess I'm not very zen. I guess I haven't reached that stage of enlightenment yet.

I find the older I get the more I think I understand how I could have fixed things. Made them better. Made them happier. But so many people have passed on and the chance to fix or repair things has passed with them. Somewhere inside I must know that if it were at all possible to change, it would have happened long before their passing. I guess I have reverse eternal optimism: that is, I hold onto the idea that maybe I could have changed the things that made me sad. Could have changed them enough to see through the loss and into the more precious side of it all. And that, well, makes me kind of sad.

This year I am having a bit of a battle with myself. The darkness wants me to see only the melancholy but the truth is, I have accomplished things in the past few years that only five years ago appeared so insurmountable that I wouldn't even think about attempting them. But none-the-less I seem to have done exactly that. So I have to look, that is, force myself to look, at what I have accomplished and even I can't help but be proud and even a bit excited about the future when I see all the fears I faced down. All of the negative voices I battled. All of my own insecurities that I quashed.

So I have only one new year's resolution this year: to be my own best friend. To talk to myself only in positives as I would talk to a friend.  To cheer myself on in everything I try to do, especially when life gets rough. To be my own little cheerful angel on my own shoulder that whispers: you can do it, keep going, you can do it. And when all that fails, to take myself out for ice cream and a bit of shoe shopping because, well, that's what best friends do. 

So This is Christmas (JL)

I think I am not alone in feeling a little melancholy around the holidays. Oh, hell, let's face it, if you read my blog you already know that I can pretty much find any reason to get melancholy. But the holidays seem to bring on another kind of reminiscence that is somehow deeper or at least more insistent. As I begin to pull out decorations and ornaments they feel more like fragments left behind from another time, not necessarily a better time, but one that has, none-the-less, passed. I begin to feel a little bit lonely; as if I want gather everyone together just one last time for a big holiday feast.  Or, at least, a heavily rum-gladdened eggnog.

I can't seem to find a strong enough ritual to offset these sad-glad-tidings of the season. And even when I am excited about Christmas, which I usually am, these memories choke me like a sneak attack. So this year I tried to outmaneuver my own brain, tricky thing that it is, by facing my own memories head-on by playing every Christmas song known to man. I baked my mother's pizzelles. I sang along. I danced around.  I welled up. I turned off Amy Grant's Grown Up Christmas Wish. Forced myself through Frank Sinatra's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. But I still wasn't strong enough to listen to, and will probably never, never, ever listen to Christmas Shoes. I dare anyone to listen without crying or at least getting choked-up. Go ahead. Try it. I dare you.

But I still could not shake the wash of random memories which are so powerful a sense memory I just can't force them to stay asleep in my subconscious. No visits from ghosts of Christmases past, present or future needed. I am my own Jacob Marley. Eventually I will transport myself into my own seasonal view finder that clicks through scenes from my life like a categorized collection held in freeze frame.

The time I woke up at three in the morning declaring "Santa Came!!!" not realizing that my mother and brothers had just finished setting everything up.

The creepy Christmas elves hanging on My grandmother's tree.

The Christmas trees that always tumbled over just as we finished decorating them, crushing all of the glass ornaments and lights.

My father's trains; which was all I really knew of him.

Pulling slivers of glass out of my fingers from playing with the the angel's hair made of fiberglass on my grandmother's tree.

The deep fried Christmas cookies my grandmother made filled with chocolate, fruit and nuts.

Tinsel. Lots and lots of tinsel.

The year the doorbell rang and my 12-year-old brother stood there with The Disney Christmas album, ornaments he stole from my mother and a tree he pulled out of the woods because I couldn't afford one that year.

Still singing five onion rings like Goofy on The Disney Christmas Album every time I hear the 12 Days of Christmas.

Still feeling sad when Pyewacket leaves Gillian in Bell, Book and Candle.

Laughing when "the jig is up" in Christmas in Connecticut.

Crying every time Clarence gets his wings. Do I really need to say: It's a Wonderful Life?

The Christmas my daughter opened every present under the tree while we all slept, saying later "I was wondering why I got so many clothes."

The Christmas my mother-in-law was killed when we didn't want to open any of the presents she left for us.

My mother's lopsided nativity set and my grandmother's nativity music box; which was all I kept of her when she passed.

The year John Lennon was shot and I tied tiny red bows all over my tree while listening to Happy Christmas (War is Over) over and over and over.

The soup terrine and red table cloth I now use that covered my mother's table for so many years and her Lenox 12 Days of Christmas ornaments that I still cannot put on my tree.

Our grand-kids laughing at us for putting the yule log screen saver on our TV even though we had a fire going in our fireplace.

The pickles we hide in our Christmas tree for our grand-kids even though they are getting to old for the surprise.

The Christmas ornaments we have to commemorate each year we have been married beginning with Once Upon a Time.

The thing about memories is that they lie heavy and filled with all the emotion of the past. They never seem to lose their emotional weight. Even good memories seem sad when those we remember are gone. But as I said, I can find the melancholy in anything. And by now, I'm sure I've pulled you into the dark side too.

But having said all that, I have to say, I still love the promise of Christmas.  It is my favorite time of year. The twinkle of colored lights that transform ordinary houses into enchanted cottages. The sound of reverent voices singing. The glint of compassion. The awe of rebirth. The hope of peace. The promise of a new year.

Occupying Our Lives

You can't help but see stories about Occupy Wall Street and the inevitable spread into other major cities including Philadelphia. I got to wondering about the word "occupy" or, more to the point, what it means to "to occupy."

Dictionary.com lists the meanings of occupy as:

1. to take or fill up
2. to engage or employ the mind, energy, or attention of
3. to be resident or tenant of; dwell in
4. to take possession and control of
5. to hold

It became an interesting proposition; this idea of occupying. I began to think about whether we really occupied our own personal lives with our "mind, energy or attention." If we did actually "take possession or control of." Or, if those lives were, in fact, occupying us.

When I speak to people who have raised families, retired from jobs or decided on a later-in-life career change I am always amazed at how many times they refer to being at a place of lessened responsibility which enables them to "do what they have always wanted to do."  So I was thinking the other day as I watched protesters take to parks and streets in various cities and refusing to go until they are satisfied: why we don't have the same tenacity to hold out for the creative or out of the ordinary thing we always wanted to do in our personal lives?

There are so many women who, after menopause, begin taking classes in drawing, writing, pottery and various other creative activities and say they have discovered a joy within themselves they never knew existed. Women like Belva Plain who published her first book at 59 years old.   Randy Susan Meyers writes a lovely tribute to Plain on her blog Word Love: A Mentor Never Met: When Writers Provide Comfort.

Reading Randy's blog reminded me of my own "Mentor Never Met" Ellen Gilchrist who published her first novel at 46. I was given her book The Anna Papers as a Christmas present one year because someone saw me huddled somewhere in between the lines. These were not easy, safe books with happy endings. These books flew off the page for me because the women where three and sometimes four and five dimensional characters that seemed more like the people in my life than the women in the books of Jane Austin or The Bronte' sisters.

So, I got to thinking about why women sometimes seem to bloom later in life and if the road we climb to get to the creative center of our lives is necessary; especially as a writer. I know when I was a single parent finishing school was last on the list of importance, or so it seemed. Overburdened with bills and raising a child without any child support, it was easy to think the logical step was to quit school, get a job and pay the bills. But the piece of the puzzle I was missing was the fact that finishing my degree would have increased my viability in a job market and would have lead to better paying jobs instead of working at jobs where, if I was lucky, there was a two or three percent cost-of-living raise which never matched my increased cost of living as my daughter grew. I did qualify for student loans and some Pell Grants but they weren't enough for rent, food and the cost of raising a child. Mostly it seemed that school just increased my debt and exhausted my already frayed emotions.

The responsibility of raising a child on my own and being solely financially responsible for everything, not to mention: cleaning, laundry, cooking, homework patrol, best friend, nurse, psychologist and complete mom extraordinaire (which I failed at miserably) being a full time student on top of it all was more than I could juggle. And although I knew some amazing women who could manage all of that well; I was not one of them.  So I did what seemed like the logical thing and quit school to get a night job with a shift differential of an extra $.50 an hour because sometimes the differential meant the difference between paying bills and buying food rather than choosing between the two.

At one point I worked seven days a week at three different jobs and had finally dug myself out of a deep financial hole and had sufficient money to pay bills, buy food, make car payments and go to an occasional movie or restaurant as a treat. But I was working simply to work; that is, working to meet financial obligations and keep a roof over our heads. I was not in any way occupying my own life. During that whole portion of my life I was trying to find a way back to school; trying to find a way to do what I knew would make me happy. I was depressed, angry, tired of taking crap from abusive bosses that knew I had no choice but to stay and take anything they threw at me because I risked eviction if I lost my job. The only thing I occupied was a spot at a job in which I was easily replaceable with the threat of homelessness hanging over my head and a mantra ringing in my head that I would never be happy in this kind of life.

To put it another way: all the external things in my life occupied me.

Some of these jobs were in poor conditions; some of them were in really nice office buildings and through the years I did move up the chain and  into an executive assistant position where the money as well as the benefits where good and I had job security because I was good at what I did. Very good in fact. But I was still at the mercy of the people I worked for and stuck in a cubicle for eight or so hours a day and still looking for the opportunity to return to school.

When I think of the old adage "Do what you love; love what you do" to me, it's more than a silly placating cliche' that is hung around corporate offices like dystopian suggestions that if read often enough lull you into feeling okay about what you do for them. But, if you don't love what you do, no matter what the benefits might be, you will be unhappy or, at the very least, unfulfilled.

So, to me, the first part of the adage is what we should cling to: it's the "do what you love" that should always precede the idea of loving what you do. They go hand in hand; the former leading to the latter. It is imperative to do the thing you love first. Otherwise you will not occupy your life. Your life will occupy you.

Post MFA Depression: Or How I Wasted The Last Four Weeks Of Summer

I thought I was prepared for the inevitable crash that would hit me when I graduated from my MFA program at Ashland University. I know that first semester out of school can feel a little lonely and isolating. I had even prepared for the time off with piles of fiction books I hadn’t had time to read, folders neatly organized with new writing projects I had been chomping to work on and, finally, just time to relax. I no longer had to write detailed analysis of contemporary poetry collections or deal with intricate rewrites of poems I had already twisted, wrung dry and slaughtered about ninety times to get them to be concise, concentrated flashes of brilliance sure to have my Thesis Committee swooning. Or, at least impressed enough to sign off on the damn thing.

Since my return to school in January 2008, my life was a cacophonous whirl of classes, stacked summer sessions and internships. Grad school was writing and reading and more writing and more reading. I also realized I needed a stronger social media footprint so I began writing book reviews for various sites and started a personal blog where I could post readings and published articles. I sent out every poem or story I thought was ready, did several readings and posted links to it all on my blog. I felt like I was running at 350 MPH in all directions. All this, coupled with the stress of completing, rewriting, revising, and reorganizing a 50-60-page poetry thesis that shifted focus with each pass onto a new instructor.

The week after I got home from my Post-Thesis Summer Session I was more than ready for the next step. Unfortunately, everything thing seemed to come to a complete stop. I had achieved a lot of what I had set out to do. My blog was growing in followers and page views. My reviews were getting lots of positive responses, especially from the authors. And, finally, after taking my first college course in 1983, I had both my BA and my MFA.

Then, this little cloud started to follow me around. This little nudge of negativity that rose up from scrawled notes that I knew instinctively were off the mark and would beat the strength out of my manuscript and mince it into milquetoast. But that didn’t stop this obscure haze of doubt that translated into: “This isn’t good enough”; and “What are you going to do with a degree in Creative Writing anyway?” And for a brief second I doubted the whole process. Doubted walking away from a more or less stable job to dive into my own handmade quagmire of higher education. Doubted the idea of talent and finally having a solid base to step off of to getting published. Doubted that anyone would hire me as a creative writing teacher or even a copywriter. In short, I just began to doubt everything.

Impacting that little cloud was a growing collection of poetry submission rejections and job application “thanks but no thanks” responses. Next, enter the ill-timed MFA program bashing articles that seem to be everywhere lately. I was told it wasn’t a “real” degree; wasn’t “worth” anything in getting a teaching job; didn’t mean “much” in getting a writing job either. Okay, so what was I missing here? How can MFA’s be so admired in other disciplines but be so trounced on in this one? How had my supportive group of talented fellow poets and I succumbed to this false sense of creative confidence only to be told it still wasn’t good enough? It seemed so simple in its initial concept: go to school for the thing that you love and everything else will fall into place.

Well, I found an immediate answer to this growing depression: ice cream. And 15 days of missed DVR’d shows followed swiftly by heavy doses of movies like “Dear John”; “Eat Love Pray” and “Sex in the City” movies 1 and 2, through which I alternated sobbing into tissues with eating microwave buttered popcorn and “Skinny Cow” ice cream in tiny cups that made it seem like I wasn’t really binging at all. Meanwhile, those treacherously scribbled notes on several copies of my thesis reinforced the idea that I wasted a lot of time and money on something that was, at best, mediocre.

I didn’t want to write. Didn’t want to read. Didn’t want to do anything. Well, anything but eat more popcorn and ice cream. Which turned into a craving for nachos, burgers, chocolate, twizzlers and the looming decline into Lays Sour Cream and Onion potato chips. All I needed now was a stack of Joni Mitchell albums and a carton of cigarettes and I’d be back into one of my full-blown mid-thirties depressions.

Then it was suddenly Labor Day Weekend. August had been decimated in the trail of junk food. I had accomplished little more than gain back the 8 lbs I lost and fertilized a blossoming self-deprecating loathing for my thesis with all those well-meaning notes echoing that it wasn’t a book—yet. How could I shift so quickly from a sense of accomplishment to this? And, I hadn’t even gotten my diploma in the mail yet.

It’s funny sometimes how we can get so caught up in such awful negativity. How those seemingly well-meaning voices can get into our heads and nudge us out of what we know and change, even for a brief moment, how we see our own creativity. I would love to tell you I snapped myself right out of it, got my hair done, had a mani-pedi, bought some new shoes, went on an interview and found the job of my dreams and rose above it all. But I have to tell you; I’m not quite there yet.

But this one thing I do know. When I look at that wall with my BA and the space waiting for my MFA, I am so filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment that it all starts to fall into perspective. This is my road: laden with poetry, classic novels and lots of other things, seemingly useless to other people, which warm my heart and hush my panicked soul.

So, adieu, my MFA summer of 2011. I’ve reached the crossroads my academic path has fashioned. I’m clearing away the snack wrappers and climbing back onto the treadmill. However, I am contemplating a one last sugary snack of marshmallows roasted on a large, warm fire kindled with copies of scribbled thesis notes. Maybe I’ll write a poem about how it glows and crinkles in the flames; how the ashes rise up like tiny black birds carrying away the negativity of someone else’s voice in their determined little beaks.

The View From Here

As I get ready to defend my poetry thesis "Phoenix" in a few weeks, I find myself thinking back over the road that has brought me here. For me, this road to even get to my MFA program was more of a series of missteps and wrong turns than it was a menopausal rebirth in which I discovered a new-found desire to pick up something from my youth.

This road of life is a hard road for everyone. No one I have ever met has had an easy way of it. But for me, the most significant factor, as far back as I can remember, is the reinforcement of the lie that I was not worth the time, the money or the education; that it should go to someone who would use it for something more "important" than studying literature or creative writing.

I know I am not the only writer out there with this kind of tape running in their head. I'm also not the only person to ever try to beat the odds, or even not have a supportive family as a young child. What I am talking about is the insane and ridiculous reality that, even as I was marching for women's rights, signing petitions for passage of the ERA, burning my bra and rebelling against everything, this is the one thing they said that I believed.

I knew my family did not see the world as I did; they could never understand why I wanted to write and teach and study literature and creative writing; never understood that for me, sitting curled up in a chair reading some fantastic story was more real to me than the world they gave me. As a result, I questioned everything they ever said to me.

Everything, that is, except for my worth.

That one thing I absorbed like a parasite digging into my skin. And what is worse, is that I nurtured its negativity and allowed the echo of it to stop me from doing what I knew I wanted to do since the first time I picked up a book and felt my world open up into new realities and new possibilities.

It's a terrible thing to fight yourself as you attempt to accomplish what you want. To hear your own brain question your timing for attempting to start a new career. To worry that school, now, in the middle of one of the biggest housing, financial and jobs recessions, is just crazy.

I hear that little voice asking: is my writing good enough to have risked it all for a giant pile of school loans and a stack of rejection slips. Or, more importantly, is it that same little voice from the past asking if I am worth all this?

And, I have to wonder if, after all this time, that questioning voice will ever go away?

I have no answers to these questions. And I imagine I will still continue to do battle with myself about these and many other things.

But I do know one thing: when I stand at that podium during my thesis defense, reading from my collection of poems, that little girl that thought how wonderful it would be to grow up, live at the beach and write poetry will be right there beside me, grinning from ear to ear, because we both will realize that we are more than halfway there.

Poster Women

I find it interesting that when there is either a domestic violence case or a cheating husband involving a public figure, we require them to become poster women. If you think back to the ill-timed release of the very private and embarrassing events between Sandra Bullock and Jesse James it's as if we are in an 18th century novel in which the heroin is punished for achieving a personal goal. The media, immediately on the heels of her receipt of the Oscar, trounced this woman's life and accomplishment by sensationalizing a cheating husband. Then, demanded she come out to the "press" about what this did to her. Everyone expected her to become a poster woman willing to stand up for all the cheated upon. Bullock privatized this period in her life and thankfully just picked up and kept going. I think it's time to understand that when someone cheats, privately or publicly we should not demand that the victim take up the torch and become a voice for a cause. Doesn't this create a scenario in which the victimization defines the woman?

I am also amazed at the flurry that surrounds Rhianna every time she releases a new video in the wake of the brutal beating by Chris Brown. The fact that we expect her to become someone other than who she has always been because somebody beat her up one night is amazing to me. Her latest video "Man Down" premiered on BET and received an immediate outcry from the PTC (Parental Television Council). The scenario is a woman who kills a man after he sexually assaults her. Evidently this wasn't acceptable material for children, as if Rhianna's videos, lyrics or costumes were ever intended for children. Despite the fact that BET refused to pull the video, the link was disabled when I clicked on it.

I finally found a link that hadn't been disabled on Perezhilton.com and except for the opening image of the man being shot in a public place, I found it to be a more subdued video than I expected after all the hype and indignant chirping of female talk show chatter.  Even the assault is a lot tamer than some of her other videos. But I suggest you see it and decide for yourself because I think we need to be open to other people's interpretations of violent acts. I think we have to understand that there are artists, writers, painters, photographers, sculptors who have a different way of expressing their point of view. And there are times when a violent act and it's repercussions are portrayed violently because that is how the artist chooses to have their say.

This is not a new story plot: I think of 1984's "The Burning Bed" (based on a true story of a woman driven to killing her husband after years of abuse); 1986's "Extremities" (where a woman holds a rapist captive) and 2002's "Enough" (where a woman fakes her death and learns self defense in the wake of an abusive husband who eventually tracks her down). Now I'm not, by any means, condoning violence in any form, especially retaliation.  I am more fascinated with what the public expects from women who have been victimized. It seems that people are more offended and enraged when a woman responds violently instead of forming a hotline and writing a NYT best seller self-help book.

But the women in these stories do not become heroes compared to their male counterparts. Clint Eastwood is cheered when he seeks revenge for the murder of his family in "The Outlaw Josie Wales" with the tag line: "He lives by the gun. He lives by his word. And he lives for revenge. He's an army of one." Or when Charles Bronson seeks revenge for his wife's murder in "Death Wish" with the tag line: "A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks." The men in these movies were cheered when they got the bad guy.

But the women were not responded to in the same way. Could this be because the retaliation was by the women the violence was perpetrated upon? Is a woman seeking revenge unsavory and unpalatable? Did these women need to wait for Clint or Charles or some other male figure to defend and avenge them? Is it really as simple as society still not able to handle a strong woman who can get up, get out and get on with it?

And what seems to happen, at least in my point of view, is that we create a scenario where these women cannot move beyond the incident because we have already decided how they should react, respond and publicize their own victimization. They become, for us, a manifestation of that incident and we suddenly expect everything they do to revolve around what happened to them.

In other words, we now see these strong, accomplished women defined by the victimization.

I also wonder if the surge in so-called reality programming has blurred our idea of privacy and dignity.  As if the publicly displayed photos and leaked intimately private details aren't enough.  We can't just sympathize or empathize with these women, we want to see the manifestation of their pain. We want to watch them crumble and become defined and ruined by the victimization. We want them to splay open all their emotional hurt and bleed out right in front of us for no other reason than our own fascination. We have become a society of spectators that can't easily separate the real news from The Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of New Jersey, New York, Atlanta and wherever else this franchise pops up and our emotional connection to violence and assault becomes clipped, shut off, suspended.

I think about strong, capable, accomplished women like Maria Schriver and worry about the message it sends when she becomes defined in the public eye by the things their husband did.

What does it tell our daughters and granddaughters about what we expect of them when we seem to define, or even worse, redefine women by the deeds of men.

My Mother, My Self: My Nerves

I know I can't be the only woman out there that dreads all the gushing and foaming of Mother's day ads and commercials. These ads always make me feel as though I was in the incorrect line when mother/daughter relationships were given out.  I feel like I got the Charlie Brown rock relationship instead of the creamy chocolate and caramel with peanuts relationship.

If you follow my blog, you know that I had, at best, a contentious relationship with my mother.  Our interaction always felt like I was trying to tear free; like I was trying to get out of her shadow long enough to find my own light.

After my mother's death, it was an equally exhausting battle not to sink under the stockpile of lost moments and regrets about things that would never happen.  I admit I do envy those daughters that are still able to go shopping or talk with their mothers. But soon I remember that these were not easy things to do with my mother. Well, not consistently anyway. I never knew which mom I was going to get on any given day. Preparing to visit my mother was more like girding my loins for emotional battle. I  prepared for every conceivable angle of disapproval or constructive criticism about everything from my hairstyle, to the clothes I was wearing and how I was living my life.

And although it's a surprise to me, I still miss my mother, especially this time of year; even though everything always seemed so messy and confused with ill defined boundaries set on both sides that neither one of us found particularly satisfying. I think I disappointed her as much as she disappointed me in so many ways.  And I still wonder if there was a path, however narrow, that I could have forged through all that mess.

And even through the always present frustration of wanting to break away and wanting to be closer, I have to confess that I miss her being a phone call away. I miss seeing her through the big bay kitchen window when I pulled up into the driveway when she would make strong coffee and peppers and eggs piled between thick sliced Italian bread. I miss her African violets all lined up against that window showing off their purple and pink flowers while the television blared in the corner and the cat jumped onto the table no matter how many times we shushed him away. I miss raiding the pantry closet for fresh baked pizzelle and Stella D'oro sesame biscuits to dip into steaming, strong coffee.

I miss sitting in that kitchen when my own depression and anxiety had no more words. Or, when I didn't want to think anymore or try to explain or figure out the complications of my life. How odd to realize now that it was the place I could go when I just wanted to sit and drink coffee and stare out that big window and into the woods around her house because I didn't need words or advice or sermons, just a hot cup of coffee, a home made pizzelle and her sitting there with me.

And for all the things I thought we didn't have, I realized too late, that we did have these moments when all contentions faded into the background. These moments when we could simply share a cup of coffee, a homemade pizzelle and I really did have her all to myself.

Denim Day 2011

denim day logo
Denim Day 2011 is a campaign to prevent sexual violence in our community through education and public awareness.  April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and The State of New Jersey has officially adopted April 28th as Denim Day and a call to action for all people to come together for the health and safety of everyone in our community.  
Take part in this effort by wearing denim as a visible symbol of support for ending sexual violence in our community.  Coordinate a Denim Day Campaign at your workplace, school, or university. Register to participate at denimdaysnj@centerffs.org.  We will provide you with giveaway items, including Denim Day pins.
  • Wear denim on Fridays in April and on April 28th and make a suggested donation of $5.00 to the Denim Dollars Campaign.  Donate online  or Text EMPOWER to 20222 to donate $5.00
  • Purchase a Stand.Speak.Empower tshirt for $15.  Shirts can be purchased online.
Proceeds will allow Center For Family Services to expand prevention programs and support survivors of sexual violence.
Join us for Denim Day Awareness Events which are being planned throughout the months of March & April including:
  • Vagina Monologues Performance at Scottish Rite Theatre, Collingswood, NJ - Thursday 3/24 at 8pm - purchase tickets through ticketmaster
  • Denim Day Kick-off at Grand Court, Cherry Hill Mall, Cherry Hill, NJ  - Friday, 4/8 at 4pm
  • Reception and Art Auction at the Promenade at Sagemore, Marlton, NJ - Thursday, 4/14 at 7pm
  • 3rd Friday in Millville - Friday, 4/15 at 6pm
  • Rowan University Take Back the Night - Wednesday, 4/27 at 7pm
For more infomation, email denimday@centerffs.org
Denim Day Sponsors:
promenade logo        cherryhill

Center For Family Services is the NJ State Designated Sexual Violence Program in Camden, Gloucester, and Cumberland Counties.   We operate a 24 hour sexual assault and domestic violence hotline, provide advocacy and accompaniments to hospital emergency rooms, police stations, and court, offer individual and group counseling, provide safe shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children, and implement a prevention program so that violence is no longer a public health epidemic. 

We are dedicated to ensuring all victims of sexual violence are treated with compassion, dignity, and respect and empowering victims to become survivors.  Through education and awareness we are working toward ending sexual violence in our communities.

*A one-time donation of $5.00 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance.  Messaging & Data Rates May Apply. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. All donations must be authorized by the account holder.  Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of denimdaycfs by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; Text HELP to 20222 for help.
Give by Cell   mobile giving

The Wheat And The Chaff Of Memory

On Saturday night I did a reading at The Moonstone Arts Center in Philly for  The Women's Writing and Spoken Word Series hosted, originated and organized by  Cassendre Xavier. You should check out her site and order some of her lovely music.  If you need a jolt of positivity you're sure to find it there.

It's always hard for me to decide what to read but since this was focused on multi-genre writing, I decided to read "Breathing" and some poetry about how women deal with domestic abuse. I am always happy to share my stories and many times wish other people had shared their stories with me during that dark time.  I picked poems to go along with "Breathing" because I realize, for me, being in a violent relationship didn't necessarily begin as an adult. I learned this behavior from when I was very young.  

I got to thinking about this the day after the reading. And, unfortunately, as usually happens when I tell my story, I started to get depressed; no, angry. Not angry because of what I have lived through but because I can be toppled from where I am in the present and plunged into a state of mind in the past by otherwise everyday events that seem to have nothing to do with my childhood. A seemingly simple nudge begins to burrow into me and the memory flush overwhelms me. I begin to feel as though no time has passed and the line between then and now narrows uncomfortably. These are the seeds of my writing. I know this. But I also know that these are the experiences that have shaded and colored my reactions and sometimes over reactions to the world around me.

I may not have ever become a writer were it not for these experiences; which many people see as a good thing. But I have to admit that sometimes I feel as though I am basing my whole life, especially my writing,  on reactions that manifest as odd phobias. For instance: if you ever come to my house, you will find four mirrors in my entire house, all of which are in bathrooms except for the full length one in my home office that is usually tucked behind a door. I will never have a mirror in a room where I sleep. I will always sleep with a light and usually a television on all night. I will NEVER sleep in a room with a doll in it and if there is a doll in it, I will have my husband take said doll out of the room. Oh, and don't even try to put it in my closet; I'll think about it being there all night. I sleep with  bedroom, closet and bathroom doors shut.

These day to day habits sound silly when I put them here in black and white. I know none of these change anything. I know my mind has created these rituals for me from childhood to make me feel safe. I know that mirrors are reflective glass and not a portal to another dimension. I know that it's silly that I am afraid of dolls. Knew it every night when I took my daughter's walking doll, put it in a box, taped it, locked it in a metal cabinet and then locked the closet door. These are funny stories to tell at gatherings when everyone has had a few drinks. And, I have to admit, I do laugh at myself and the silliness of these phobias.  I have lived with them since I was so young I can't remember when they started. And if you have a long night and a good bottle of wine we can talk about bridges, tunnels and the sheer terror a certain kind of city dwelling bug can stir up in me. 

So my question becomes this: if this is the wheat and chaff of my writing is there a way to get the rich, golden wheat without being bruised, scratched and bloodied by all this chaff? Can we really have well rounded and honest essays and memoirs (and for me, poetry) if we only look at the sun gilded tips of the wheat and not the bugs and dirt at the root?

I do find it easier to write about my experiences. I have been mentored by some amazing teachers in the craft of creating something else from the memory; choosing the distance you want to stand from your material; and choosing to see the poem or story as a little child that takes on a life of its own after inception. But when I talk to someone after I read and see that look in their eyes, we are the same. Distance, healing, understanding fly right out the window.  We become two women connected by the same bruise.

I stood in front of that group on Saturday night and said "I want you to see a survivor standing here. I want you to know you can get from there to here." But when she came up to me at the end of the night, we just looked at each other. I had nothing I could say. But I understood so much more; felt so much more than what I had already shared. It was then that I began to understand that this laceration will always rip open when it sees itself in another women's eyes. 

The Women's Writing & Spoken Word Series

The Women’s Writing & Spoken Word Series at Moonstone Arts Center presents:

Joan Hanna & Angel Hogan

Hosted with live music by Cassendre Xavier
Always Includes a Mixed-Gender Open Mic!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

7pm – 8:30pm
$5 Admission
Moonstone Arts Center
110A S. 13th Street (at Sansom St)
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Streaming LIVE at http://www.MoonstoneLIVE.com !


Joan Hanna was born and raised in Philadelphia. She is the new Nonfiction Editor for r.kv.r.y.com. Joan will also be the new Managing Editor for Poets’ Quarterly, summer 2011. Joan's poems have appeared in:  Common Threads and Moldicum,  the premier issue of Glassworks and her nonfiction story “Breathing” appeared in the October issue of r.kv.r.y. Joan has a BA in Writing Arts and is completing her MFA in Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at Ashland University.  Joan is also celebrating her birthday this week!)

Transplanted from a rural horse farm to downtown Philadelphia in her teens, much of Angel Hogan's writing is fueled by her non-traditional upbringing, which she describes as “a heap of multicultural embarrassments.” After studying Literary Theory at Bucknell University, Angel traveled cross-country with a Chow-pit puppy in a diaper, and spent time at her Mom’s home in the Yucatan. As a toddler, her favorite foods were coffee and pan-fried liver. Angel currently works at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in West Philly with her cat Mamacita, and Sauce! the dog. She is a storytelling champ with First Person Arts. See more at: www.angelhogan.com


Self-described “renaissance negresse” Cassendre Xavier is an award-winning Philadelphia-based musician, mult-genre writer and community cultural arts organizer. Her 6 independently-released albums are described as “a cross between Tracy Chapman, Sade and Enya” (Borders Music Expert, Steven M. Wilson). She also creates spoken word guided meditation and affirmation recordings under the name Amethyste Rah and erotic writing under the name Amrita Waterfalls. The founder and director of the Women’s Writing & Spoken Word Series as well as Philadelphia’s Annual Black Women’s Arts Festival (Est. 2003, www.BWAFphilly.org), Cassendre is a recipient of the Leeway Transformation Award for her work in art and change. For more information, please visit http://cassEndrExavier.com.


The Women's Writing & Spoken Word Series (Est. 2002) is a nurturing environment that celebrates women in the craft of mult-genre writing. All are welcome to attend and participate in the Series' Mixed-Gender Open Mic. For submissions and schedule information, please visit http://WomensWritingSeries.com. Submissions only: http://WomensWritingSeries.eventbrite.com), email WomensWritingSeries(at)yahoo.com, call 215-436-9702 or send a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to: Women's Writing Series, POB 30204, Philadelphia, PA 19103-8204.

The Birthday Jabberwocky Descends

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Lewis Caroll 
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

I don't know why it surprises me every year. As if once I got over the big 50 my birthdays would suddenly disappear and I could just eternally say, "Oh, Me? I'm 50" and I could freeze everything from head to toe right there. It's amazing to me how quickly this body that I thought I took such care with turned on me so quickly. Where did all those dance lessons and exercises go? I now wonder about all the money I spent on face masks, eye creams and special wrinkle reducing face washers I used from my twenties and how sadly they have failed me now. I think I want all my money back. Why can't they just stick some estrogen in a jar so I can put it straight into my pores and preserve myself?

When my mom passed in 2004 someone at the funeral said to me, "you're going to be just like your mom, look at you, you don't have a wrinkle on your face." I should have spit on the ground like my grandmother and her lady friends used to when complimented to ward off the curse. I should have said, "Hey, take that back" and spit on myself, or her shoes, or my shoes or however the old superstition goes.

Where have all my skin softening and tightening hormones gone? When did they decide to just shut down and go away. Shouldn't they have sent some sort of notice? Shouldn't they have set off an alarm saying "change skin care products, big changes coming!" But then again, I guess they did. Hot flashes, mood swings, changes in cycles all signs that somehow get lost in everyday life. And even though we all know it's coming it does feel as though it just kind of sneaks up on you.

My symptoms peaked one evening when I was feeling kind of down and my husband said, "Lets get out and go to a movie." He had seen the original City of Angels and was interested in the new version, so we went to what we thought would be an interesting American adaptation. Halfway through the movie I began to sob. I can't even tell you why. Can't remember the scene that got to me. Don't know why it touched me the way it did, but by the end of the movie I was sobbing so bad I couldn't catch my breath. I cried all the way home, cried myself to sleep, and woke up the next morning thinking. "OK that was just some weird, cathartic response." But on the way to work, I burst into tears again. After three weeks of crying at everything from random references, to movies of the week, to commercials about something or other that was "baby-soft" I finally went to see my doctor and sat in the waiting room crying. He calmly suggested I was beginning my peri-menopausal stage. He said I was moving onto the next stage of my life. I could expect mood swings and hot flashes but it was really nothing to worry about. It was all perfectly normal. 

And although I thought it had happened overnight my doctor walked me through other things that had been happening that pointed to this new stage. Bluntly, this stage sucks. The only thing that sucks even worse is that it can last 5 years, 10 years, 15 years. No one has any idea. Great. And, just when I thought all the crying was over, the next phase kicked in: the hot flashes, night sweats and every emotional scar from my childhood rose up like that overgrown, scaled jabberwocky that calls to us all in adaptations of "Alice." I soon realized that all those fears, losses and things left undone were what made up my own personal jabberwocky and what I had to face was my own self and the path I had taken in my own life and not some fictional metaphorical symbol about what I feared.

Anyone that has known me a long time, knows how much I hate crying, being dependent on others, or anything that is "girly" in that way. Oh, sure, I'll spend hours doing my hair, make up, nails and picking the exact outfit, that girly stuff is okay. But all this crying and messy, uncontrollable emotion was like hell for me. A friend once said that in all the years he had known me, and all the things he had seen me go through, he had never seen me cry; not once.  His friendship had helped me through a nasty divorce and my early single parent years of no alimony, no child support, no jobs, and at times, no place to live. And no one ever saw me cry. I couldn't. If one tear escaped I would collapse and not be able to go on; it was all too overwhelming. So, I never cried. At least, not where anyone could see.

So, you stuff things. You say, "I don't have time to deal with this now because I have a million things to do and if I start crying I will never stop." You keep going and stuffing and putting so many things into little cubbies so they can stay asleep when you are exhausted and when you know that you are so close to the edge of cracking that even one sad song, one sappy Hallmark show or one show of emotion will bring you down. I hung on like that for years.

But my reactions to that movie opened the door,  my cubbies flushed, my fears and emotions blasted to the surface forming a scaly, writhing jabberwocky I couldn't ignore any longer. I had to turn and face her. So, I did.  You know when you have a stomach virus and it's so much worse coming out than it was going in? This is how slaying your jabberwocky feels. And just when you think you've tackled it all, you find more scales and more folds that you thought were hidden away so well. And the battle continues.

So, is it gone now?  Have I finally slain my jabberwocky? Nah, not by a long shot.  But she's getting smaller and less scary everyday. Although she does grow a bit when I'm distracted; crafty little thing that I have created. I know she's always back there somewhere, waiting to whisper something negative in my ear. She can't hide anymore. I have looked into her eyes and can find her curled up in all those cubbies.

So Feb 3rd, I think I am ready for you this year. I'm not saying I'm not going to be a little depressed. Not admitting that I am by any means going to stop kicking and screaming as age tries to take over. And, I know that I am still going to have to resist the urge to push twenty-something, bikini wearing beach girls into the ocean this summer.  Even if just to mess up their perfect hair. I'm just saying that I can finally see it for what it is and also what it is not. My life has created many ghosts that held me back and I can only get beyond them by looking them in the eye and realizing that they are pretty much of my own design.

So here's to everyone's birthday this year. May they bring your truest, deepest heart's desire. But be careful, sometimes finding your way to your heart's desire means taking a path straight through the line on the map of your life that cautions: Beyond Here Be Dragons.