November 15: Taye Moody
From our Columbus, OH Affiliate
Is it round, is it square, is it an object of any size?
A round container, a womb of an embrace.
A square crucible with sharp edges that prod and nudge.
No resting place in the corners, only places to hide.
A container with holes leaks but its leakiness
reveals only treasures left from the refining.
And leaking water will water the seeds
of another’s dry fields producing fruits for all to enjoy.
What difference is the size of a container?
Small ones seem more intimate.
The large ones offer more gifts
making a wholeness of “us”.
A treasure chest of jewels
that sparkle, glows with vibrance
and seems to be translucent
in one glorious color of completeness.
A womb of birthing for women
where new ideas dawn, drawers are opened,
purses are dumped upside down,
emptied of traditional ways of thinking.
A manger where birthing happens
Birthing of wholeness, fullness,
of who we were before even born.
Perfect women designed for just who we are.
A powder horn of explosions,
friendships, connecting, sharing, bonding, accepting.
A flower pot of spouting seeds
that bloom and feed others.
A dumpster in which to trash,
the wounds of the past that seem to haunt.
We throw out addictive thinking
uncovering peace, a swan’s tranquility of what is.
A trophy case of medals that state
We are FREE woman, free to be me.
Huge medals adorn their chests,
a shining ovation to who they have become.
A pepper pot that can get spicy
where true knowledge can be daunting,
as true fears are uncovered,
tamed and adopted.
A receptacle where women open, receive
love, holy listening, caring, peace.
A repository of sacred sharing.
A safe of heard heart songs.
A pond of living water of
nourished fish-women that swim with sharks
in waters unknown, strengthened and
drenched in life-giving realized courage.
A simmering pan, a basket, a capsule holding the future.
A workbox where soul work is done.
A showcase of dreams revealed, then lived.
A spoon stirring ancient longings.
Aged women like a bottle of fine wine,
work-worn hands, lines with their journey’s map
recount sacred stories
gently speaking their wisdom.
A cocoon formed hanging in a tree with others
that wait for the one moment
when time stops still
and the freed butterflies emerge.
October 27: Tracy Laub
From our Columbus, Oh Affiliate
C rambled with objects
E verything needed
N ecessary for us
T o use our skills
E qually and openly
R ather than
C ramped and cornered
I gniting a
R oaring spark
C lear and bright
L ingering with
E nergy and
I ntensity with
N on judgment
N or time limits
E xcept it is
R elaxed and flowing
C almly from my
I nner being
R eady and willing to
C reate a
September 21: Jacqueline Tirey
From our WWf(a)C Dayton Affiliate
The Axis of Symmetry
You may not believe me, but I understand.
As your high-backed chairs with the royal purple cushions and intricate carvings are unceremoniously scooted off the illuminated stage, fear begins to set in.
As we lovingly level your platform, take away your pedestals, and adjust the white-hot spotlight, your breath begins to quicken. Rage builds.
We call for circles of understanding. We walk confidently to the back of the room, and stretch out our hands to those who have been forced to crouch in the shadows. We stride, hand in hand, to the front and take our place.
We bring sins of omission and marginalization to light in the circle so that seeing and healing and forgiveness can begin.
You shake with indignation as we suggest to your admirers that front seats to your horror show have no value. Here in our circle, we are not compelled to conform, or nod mindlessly. We are invited to listen, to speak, to understand – but we are not coerced into consent or consensus.
As the sharp corners of your boxed-in world soften, bend into 360 degrees of ancient conference, you want to fight. You want to strain against the curvature of the new shape of the world. You search for tangents and angles. You go back to your formulas, anxious to bend the natural order to your will.
You are frightened that in this circle, there is no place for you in the center.
And you are right.
But by all means, take your place in the circle, and open your soul to the stories and songs that murmur and build along the perimeter.
And by all means, join in.
May 18: Arethia Hornsby Rinfrow
From our Spring Co-Ed Sampler Class
This poem is a tribute to her beloved niece
Crab Cakes for Cupcake
In the kitchen, the both of us
Laughing, smiling, loving, and laughing so hard.
I thought the day was perfect
From beginning to end, in its start. But the end came too soon.
I thought we could linger until noon, or at least thru the night.
The crab cakes turned out perfect, not so with your life.
It was strange, the two of us in cooking in the kitchen that day
You didn’t make it thru the night , You laid down to stay.
My sweet baby God took you in the night.
The feeling of closeness was lost when you crossed the ocean of life.
It left in its storm leaving me to fend on.
I miss the food we prepared, but
Your love, your light, the bright sunshine
You sent to guide me thru my night…
The path you went on first, you showed me what is right.
I love you sweet Mary, Good Night.
Rest from your duties, you did so well. Bless you my niece,
You flew from your shell.
April 25: Tammy McPherson
From our Thursday morning Core Class
This poem was originally published in the 2007 Licton Springs Review at North Seattle Community College. It won the Marcia Barton Award and Best in the District for the Seattle Community College District
A poem is a slap in the face. It’s that tight
Knot around your gut, loosening. It’s that next heart-
Beat. It’s the prayer you DON’T want
Answered, the doorbell you hope won’t
Ring. It’s that 2 a.m. wrong number you’ve thought about for months.
A poem walks down the highway wearing
A sign, “Will work for…”
The food you throw away, the dented
Can, the leftovers you neglected to put away last
Night. It’s the diamond ring you get, when you crave an emerald.
A poem is a fireball: it burns like ice,
Freezes like lava. So use your
Obsidian. Carve your name on that surface.
Express your train so all will
Stand on line to ride it.
Take your train to Chicago. Go in by way of
Locked doors, gun-guarded, drug-
Infested, entrenched in gang-
Warfare. Piece together quilts in that neighborhood, for those
Women. Make them work hard for it. Charge them love.
Poetry is religion: English teachers are Pharisees,
Money-changers twist your words, but Jesus throws them out.
Distill your words. When the Last Supper comes, let flow. Make
Judas eat the bloody bread. Give him your thirty pieces.
Don’t let him take the easy way out.
Poetry is a prison cell. You wait for years, for prison breaks. There are no
Keys, no visitors, no priests. You bunkmate has lice, your bed is hard, you have
One book to read. Pick carefully. Hide it beneath your
Prison clothes. Read by dim cell light (there is no sun).
Make every word count. Show me your book.
Poetry is a warm, soft dog, with wagging
Tail, who bites, not out of malice, but
Because he wants everyone in the same
Room. We took a dog like that to the
Pound once. It isn’t popular.
Poetry is that cup of living water we were
Promised, though we had communion and returned
Home thirsty. Poetry is not the water; it’s the
Cup. Like Mary Poppins’ spoon, it tastes like
Strawberries to some and milk to others. Take your medicine.
What is living water? That awful wine
They serve? But no.
It’s the blood that flows through your
Arm, fills your fingers, spills out through
Your pen, when your veins are open,
Tumbles over your keyboard as you type.
Use that blue, black blood.
Write me a letter. Put it in words I cannot understand, in a
Package I can’t open. Send it book rate, to the wrong
Address. Send it again. When I get it, I’ll write you back in
Kind. And when we understand each other, after trying 30 times,
We’ll meet again and kiss. That’s poetry.
April 11: Karol Dyer
From our Dayton Affiliate
Girl Scout Cookies
I am away from home, caring for a granddaughter. Everywhere I look, I see cookies. Specifically I see Girl Scout cookies. I have been remarkably faithful to a personal trainer. I am doing my exercise and counting my Fitbit steps. I am recording what I eat. I am meditating. I go shopping for healthful foods to eat while I am here.
When I go to the grocery, who is waiting in front of the store? Girl Scouts, Brownies, and their smiling parents. It is like running a gauntlet of temptation, but you cannot be angry because everyone is smiling and offering you baked goodness.
I am surrounded by cookies. Girl Scout cookies. I sit down to write, and as I lift my eyes, there is an open box of Thin Mints on the kitchen counter. As my eyes travel around the room my gaze rests on the top of the refrigerator. Four boxes of Thin Mints, one box of Samoas and two of Savannah Smiles. I am pretty sure I saw the opened Thin Mints wink at me.
Thin Mints. Thin mints. How many do I have to eat to be thin? I have been buying and eating these for years and still no results. I have given up on them this year. Maybe that is why they are winking at me. Wait! That top box just waved at me. I am sure of it. That does it! I am changing my seat at the kitchen table.
They say if you are hungry you might really just be thirsty. I think I’ll get a glass of water. Ouch! I think Savannah pushed a Thin Mint off the fridge! It hit me on the head. Why oh why am I being tortured? Why can’t the tasty orange Cuties chase me around, rolling tantalizingly behind me? Why do rice cakes beg for frosting? Chicken broth scream for noodles? Bread crave butter?
I see you, you brilliant, shiny, kelly green rectangular box, with such lovely young girls happily cavorting in the picture. I see how easy to operate your opening on the top is. It doesn't even upset me that your box is increasingly smaller in size every year….you are sold for such a good cause! The Girl Scouts offer educational activities, daily living skills and camping expertise. How wonderful…how feminist. Am I not a feminist?
I have tried relegating those offensive and addicting circles of lusciousness to the freezer. Have you ever tasted them frozen? Even better than at room temperature. I pace, I do some laundry, I peel potatoes and carrots. AH—there is nothing as good as a good, fresh, orange carrot—except maybe a frozen Thin Mint.
I will use what I have learned from my trainer: I will lift myself from this chair and walk, run, lunge, stride and prance my way to another room. Anything to be saved from the stunning sight of these cookies. Rescue me, oh exercise, from the devilish devils food delight of those disks.
March 10: Jacqueline Tirey
From our WWf(a)C Dayton Affiliate
Chant of the Perpetually Disorganized
(With apologies to Mary Lee Hahn who wrote the poem
"Chant of the Computer-Weary," which inspired this poem.)
One sock with purple dots,
but not two.
Keys, ID, and glasses?
Out of view.
Check my cash flow —
Bolt upright in bed:
"When's that due?!"
One of these days, I'll
get a clue.
'Til then, Post-It® Notes
will have to do.
November 9: Susan Brasier
From our WWf(a)C Dayton Affiliate
Halloween. For an older single woman, it was a quiet holiday. A quickly carved pumpkin punctuated my overgrown fall flowerbox – now quite devoid of any colorful summer blossoms. After years of delighting my children, I can quickly gut a pumpkin of its seeds and find the face lurking just under its orange skin with my scalpel-sharp knife. With the help of a tiny tea light, my creation beamed happy greetings to the small trick-or-treaters seeking goodies at my door.
A few candles lit my entryway and the refrain of Night on Bald Mountain resonated from the radio. To pass the time between the waves of young visitors, I selected a book that had perched on my bookshelf for over a month: “Witchcraze: a new European History of Witch Hunts” by Anne Llewellyn Barstow. It seemed so appropriate for the holiday.
According to Barstow, over the course of three centuries, approximately one hundred thousand women were tried, tortured, convicted, and murdered – all accused of being witches.
One hundred thousand…
Although no absolutes, the women accused of witchcraft were mainly older women, widowed or single, frequently healers and midwives – problem solvers. After their spectacular executions involving hot pokers, dismemberment, and finished off with a firey roasting at the stake, their worldly wealth became property of the local bishops.
The author quotes Reginald Scot, “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue that she is a witch or she is a wise woman.”
A witch or a wise woman;
A problem solver;
A wise woman;
These women, so wise and powerful, they invoked such massive fear that over one hundred thousand would die violent deaths at the hands of the neighbors they served.
I am an older woman;
I am a wise woman;
I am a single woman;
I am a problem solver…
I take comfort in the company of women;
Of older women;
Of wise women;
Of problem solving women;
The candle is lit and the bell chimes and I am invited into the circle – the circle of wise women;
The candle is passed and I am invited to say my name into the circle of wise women;
And in the comfortable confidential space we encounter magical muses who encourage written words of wise women; powerful words, words full of imagery and longing; words full of truth – the truth of what it is to be an older wise woman.
In ages past, we all would have burned at the stake for the pleasures of this room…
October 26: Dana Johnson
From a member of our Board
Halloweens for the family I’ve made mean something altogether different than Halloweens for the family I was born into. Growing up, costumes were rarely creative—the old standby princess, hobo, gypsy, or masked cartoon character of the day were the norm when it came time to choosing a costume. And sometimes the only say in the matter we had was on Halloween eve when we chose from whatever sad little costume was left on the rack at the nearest department or drugstore. Of course, there were always the parties, games, candy, and trails of children and parents parading through the night. But it seemed that I was almost always hoping that whatever fun we were having would distract people, especially my friends, from noticing just how lame my Witchiepoo mask and smock were.
Today, Halloween is another story. My three girls start thinking about how they will transform themselves well before the night of ghosts and goblins. And I sometimes start out somewhat begrudgingly helping to execute the seemingly impossible getups only to get caught up in the thrill of creating something from nothing. A half mother-taught and half self-taught seamstress, I’ve found myself a sorceress of sorts, able to change one child into a carpetbag-carrying Mary Poppins, another into a shiny, bolt-ridden robot, and another into the cutest pointy-eared Spock ever portrayed.
Through the years, there’s been Dora and Boots, Blue from Blue’s Clues, Stephanie from Lazytown, a cheetah, a cave girl and her guinea pig-turned-dinosaur, a practicing physician in a fastidious white coat, a medieval vampiress, a zombie punker, an Egyptian maiden, and Ella Fitzgerald. And, yes, we’ve done the classic witch and pirate, but they’ve been done up with style and panache with the help of imagination, ingenuity, and the ever fruitful Goodwill store.
Each costume has stories stitched into their fabrics and painted on their surfaces, attached magically forever. They are the before stories and the after stories, some of frustration, some of hilarity. The before story is the struggle of making that all-important decision, knowing that you only really get one chance until the next year, so it better be good. Before stories also include giggling over possibilities; bringing visions to life, step by step; and failing miserably, trying again, and then succeeding at making things come together, somehow. The after stories are the girls’ precious faces when they’re finally able to don the costumes that have become so much more than costumes, the reactions from friends and family and strangers too, and the fun that ensues whenever they take on another identity.
I’ve found that what each girl chooses tells much about who she is at that time. When I think back over the years, playing back a reel of images in my mind of Halloweens past, snapshots of who each child was is clear beneath the disguises. The pictures show what or who occupies their mind, what kind of thinkers they are, or what kind of person they aspire to be.
My favorite year, 2013, was a year most telling. The funny thing was that I didn’t notice what was taking shape among the tissue-paper patterns, rolls of tulle, and second-hand finds. I didn’t notice until everything had been sewn, hot glued, and fluffed. I didn’t notice until I staged the three finished costumes on the couch so that I could take a photo of the results of our hard work and attempt to capture a representation of the time spent and memories made together. I smiled and looked and touched and arranged and admired until I noticed that there sitting on our couch in a display of colors and textures were three heroes. Three characters so fitting for each that I fell into to wonder at my own young heroines.
Draped over, laid out, and propped up in my living room were Jaye’s interpretation of Princess Tiana, Maia’s take on her ideal hero, Captain America, and an original superheroine not yet seen by the rest of the world, Lilly’s Superfly. Each represented ideals, bent slightly perhaps, to suit.
Tiana is a strong girl, not born a princess, who clutches a deep dream and never lets it go, in spite of falling in love along the way. She is a woman—brown, beautiful, and bold. In creating her, Jaye had bought yards and yards of seafoam green tulle and wrapped it into layers upon layers. Using the sewing machine, she stitched a waistband at the top to secure it all together. She persevered through the pricks and sticks even though I would have gladly taken over. She chose a lacy green tank of a similar shade, embellished a tiara and long, white gloves with gems and sequins so that she glittered as the light struck and reflected off. I remember that she opted to stay home and give out candy instead of trick-or-treating. That was not a year for her to rake in the oohs and aahs, or to hang out with her crowd of friends. This was a year for her to simply relish being in the skin of someone she looked up to and to celebrate that this princess had finally come into being for little girls and big girls everywhere.
Captain America, even gender-bent and wearing white tights, long red gloves, and a short jumper of red, white, and blue, is noble, smart, and a champion for the underdog. She will stop at nothing to help justice find its way, always has. Inside her are yearnings for a world where things end happily ever after, but not without heart-stopping excitement and intense drama. And always with someone like Captain America in the middle of it all yet ducking from the limelight back into the shadows.
And Superfly, a girl Lilly had drawn up in the panels of a sketch-pad cartoon months before, became real, increasing in both size and dimension. Out of nowhere, Lilly declared that she would be this superhero of speed and flight and the good fight, even though no one else had ever heard of her. From her drawing pad, she and I together wrote down a list of things we would need to create Superfly. Lilly was very particular about it, from the orange-with-red-polka-dotted dress to the green leggings to the red cape. But I had so much fun making the character in her mind jump from the paper that I didn’t mind at all; I was proud of her stubbornness in being true to her vision. She was bothered a tad, I think, when her classmates asked if she was some kind of super clown, but she would proudly state that she was a superhero that she had invented herself. Lilly just happened to be the mild-mannered, but feisty, alter ego.
Princess Tiana, Captain America, and Superfly. Yes, that was a year for heroes. For me, that was a year of heroes.
October 12: B.J. Stahl
From our Thursday morning Core Class
I came to this circle with an agenda...to write about Her. She permeates my being and I thought it was a nudge to honor her with a memoir of her life. There is a welling inside that feels like love that has no words. No words because.....words are so meager and shallow....when it comes to Her. I used them anyway....those words that I grappled with....that I struggle with still....words that expound but still fall short. I began to realize I may have misread the urge and decided to allow myself to be led, into what was a mystery. I heard the word "muse" again and so I searched its meaning and began to listen with intention. At first it was like trying on a new outfit that didn't fit....in a room with 3 way mirrors looking back at me with questions. Muse?....does that mean I give up control to the unknown, frocked with frills and leather tanned by another? I continued to try new ways of listening and recognizing when the prompts appeared....and I tried them on. The more I listened the more serendipitous the time and days became. I had made plans and decisions about my path and what would be on it, but became enlightened each time they changed by......a fortunate accident....or maybe two! More and more I was guided and shown how one thing can effect another with outcomes not even on the drawing board.
I said I had had enough, would not do it again and that was that. It seems everything I want to do requires my full devotion of my hands. Whether it be painting, writing, planting, tending chores, rocking babies, embracing someone in pain, playing my guitar or using needle and thread......to sew, if you will. I was not going to sew, no , not me. I avoided it and held strong to the thought......until another ...fortunate accident led me straight back to it.....with great fervor! So, now I've got to totally revamp my home because I've got to build a shop.....a creation shop.....a shop that uses my hands.....and all Her machines and supplies left behind when she went home. She had every gadget, every supply, every tool to create with and it was mine for the taking. Soon, I was faced with having to make choices about what to let go of and what to keep. Since I had also inherited Her new twin beds she used in her Grandma's Room, I decided to let go of the two old ones I had. I had used them for years , as I put them side by side and made them appear to be a King sized bed.....which all my company that slept there enjoyed! Then I thought, what do I do with these beds? I turn to my social media of choice the next morning to find a plea for twin beds. A young single mother had made it through some struggles and was trying to set up home for her and her two young boys. I couldn't believe it! Right there, in front of me was a solution for me and a problem solved for her! My offer was accepted and it was game on to find a way to get them to the family. I shared this with my husband and though he usually stays aloof with my dealings, he came back to me and said he found a truck and why don't we take them to the family ourselves. The meeting was arranged by the social worker and the plan was in effect. The next morning, my husband, his brother with the truck and I loaded the beds. We pushed up a steep hill, made a few turns and at the end of the road found their home.......their home at the very end of " Muse Street"! "Muse Street"....really....really? I enjoyed the chills and helped her set up the beds with the sheets we offered her and her gratitude reminded me of Her..! Gratitude......are you the precursor to Serendipity which proves the power of "The Muse"?
October 5: Janie Baer
I walked off the elevator this morning, coffee mug in hand, and as I turned the corner to my cubical, I saw a pile of veggies casually scattered atop a brown grocery bag next to the office color printer. Gnarly, curled cucumbers; yellow squash, with dried blossoms on the end; long green zucchini; tiny green peppers and tomatoes – oh lord the tomatoes – fragrant, with stems and dried garden dirt on their rosy bottoms. As I move past the cabinet, I notice it is 10 am, so I hurry to my desk to start a conference call. During the call I breathe in the tomato fragrance – I’m sure I can smell the hot earth baked into the skin.
After my call is over, I scurry to the cabinet and make my selections: three tomatoes which I can clearly imagine sliced and plump sitting between toast and bacon. I make a mental note to stop at the grocery for a head of iceberg lettuce; at the same time, in my mind I glance over the refrigerator shelves looking for the Hellman’s. It’s there, ok. Casually I pick up the cucumber curled into the letter C. My memory is alive again: cucumbers, sliced thin and salted in a single layer on my mother’s shallow white bowl, sitting over a bowl of ice cubes for one hour. Crisp! Cold! Crunchy.
I walk back to my desk and display my treasures where they entertain me throughout the day. I make a quick call home to be sure there are no other dinner plans or chores to get in the way. I receive full agreement to my tomato plan.
At lunch I find our department farmer, and we chat about gardens. I offer my thanks, and in return he thanks me – apparently at his house it truly is the season. They are drowning and up to their eyeballs in various veggies. It is a bumper crop year, they should have waited a week in between plantings and perhaps, they overplanted. His wife is actually the gardener, he’s just happy to share. He encourages me to help myself; he almost pleads.
I’m in and out of meetings and pass by the veggies several times. The veggies, with the exception of the peppers, remain untouched. Late in the afternoon, as I’m leaving, I see our farmer standing by the remaining veggies – a trash container in one hand. He watches me walk toward the elevator.
“I can’t take these home, my wife will be crushed”, he says. Are you SURE you can’t take any of this? Otherwise, I’m putting it in the trash, I mean, don’t feel pressured, but…”
“Sure, I’m happy to have them”
“Really?”.... He piles the veggies into the brown bag, creases the top and hands it to me.
“No, thank you”
I wander out the door of my building. I am of a different generation, I think as I walk to the car. I’m so excited with the bounty. It lifts my spirits; I begin to make plans for the next few days. I add grilled zucchini, a batch of chocolate zucchini bread. I’ll add mozzarella to the grocery list and serve fat slices of tomato topped with mozzarella and balsamic. I’ll make curried chicken salad to pack into tomatoes.
I realize this attitude is directly handed to me from my mom. In the summer, our meals revolved around the garden. During the green bean peak we had gb’s at every meal and gloried in them. We delighted in plates of sliced tomatoes. All the cousins joined mom in weekly visits to the farmers market for items we didn’t grow – like melons and peaches. On early summer mornings, Mom handed us buckets and told us to walk the fences for berries – black berries, red berries, elderberries – she always knew what would be ripe. And it was with enthusiasm and pride she created homegrown summer meals. I clearly remember the first plate of tomatoes, sliced pepper thin on a blue plate, the fresh ears of corn, the new potatoes, the first peas. Summer can be defined by the time spent shelling peas or snapping beans, packing tomatoes onto jars. Summer is meals on the breezeway, on the picnic table in the side yard, or on a blanket under the maple trees.
It all rushes back with this one brown bag. I grasp it tight in my hand and finish the walk to my car. The next day, the BLT’s are a perfect memory, and I have firm plans for all the rest. I write a short note to the gardener, thank her for sharing the bounty. I provide a few details on the fate of the veggies. I slide the thank you into the mail and head home.
In a day or so, there is a big white bag on my desk chair. I peak inside, already knowing what is in the bag: small and large tomatoes, peppers of every color, summer squash and more zucchini. I close the bag, smiling and contented - I’ve made an important link – every gardener needs a cook; every cook needs a gardener.
September 28: Marty Cottrill
From our Dayton Circles
Women Writing: A Pantoum
Writing in community keeps me grounded.
The passing of the candle calms me.
The presumption of goodwill frees me.
Prompts offer possibilities that invite me in.
The passing of the candle calms me.
New poems open my mind and heart.
Prompts offer possibilities that invite me in.
I’m invited to follow where my muse leads.
New poems open my mind and heart.
The courage of other voices inspires me.
I’m invited to follow where my muse leads.
My words and my presence are honored.
The courage of other voices inspires me.
Small groups are havens of trust.
My words and my presence are honored.
The circle holds our hopes and fears.
Small groups are havens of trust.
The presumption of goodwill frees me.
The circle holds our hopes and fears.
Writing in community keeps me grounded.
Marty Cottrill, 2015
September 7: Storey Mecoli
From our Monday evening class
Inspired by the poem "Because I Need It" by Malka Heifetz
I’m not much for scrapbooks.
Not much for photo albums.
Not much for logging my thoughts, for keeping careful journals full of fleeting moments
Those tiny moments which, taken together, constitute a life.
But in my quiet times
I aspire to these things.
So I want to write a poem
that holds the details of this summer.
The summer itself, so impermanent in its muggy splendor,
The whole world bottleneck green
Summer – long days, short nights
But changing so soon, gone as the greens yellow and fade.
Over in a warm breath.
And so, too, the babyhoods of my children.
Impossibly small, sharp-nailed fingers probing and exploring my nose, my ears,
Toothless little grin, tongue poking through moist, rosy lips
Unruly mop of brown hair nestled under my chin.
Baby babbles of protest and mirth and indignation.
Seedlings of communication -
Moods and meanings conveyed by tone alone.
By next summer, I won’t imagine that our intentions so perfectly align.
She will more expertly carry out her will.
She will no longer be so completely mine.
And her brother.
All movement and motion and stubborn, intractable opinions
Squelching around in rubber firemen boots that are
Filled to the brim with the cool creek water they were meant to keep out.
Easy unguarded grin; easier, obstinate frown
Hair shockingly blonde from ceaseless summer sun.
How will next summer find you?
Will you sing for your supper?
Will you follow your daddy around the yard with puppy devotion?
Will you still kiss your mother, no matter the watchers?
I want to write a poem
that holds the details of the summer.
Our own backyard.
We waited eight years to be able to say that.
Flames crackle in the fire pit
Dense, metal chairs scrape on brick as we gather round the glow.
Condensation beads on smooth brown bottles
And we take slow pulls from their open mouths
And let out our own sleepy summer breaths.
We allow our limbs to grow heavy.
We are tired. Early mornings. Full days.
But our bodies are still young and healthy.
Our conversations still flow.
In this moment, we are connected -
To this home, this family, this life.
I want to write a poem
that holds the details of this summer
So some day when these small moments are long passed -
I can pull it out,
And, perhaps, for a moment
Allow the poem to hold me.
July 13: Tricia Kennedy
From our Thursday Morning Core Class
Its been awhile since
You and I
found ourselves in this position
( Maybe 10 years ago when you and I were younger )
And I admit, that last glass of Malbec
felt good on my sore mind
and sore muscles
as I stretched out on the living room floor
( With the toss pillow under my back)
The fire was so warm on my achy feet
And the stereo softly caroling the tunes of the season
Then I heard the familiar clinky dog tags
Jangling against your chest
As you laid down next to me
And you stretched out , too
( You didn’t mind the music as I recall)
And that is the last I remember
Until morning came
And I awoke to your hot breath
On my neck
Wet tongue and whiskers on my cheek
Tail wagging on the floor
Begging me to get up and let you out.
July 6: Marty Cottrill
From a long-time WWf(a)C class participant
When my mom passed beyond this life,
I was flung out of my comfort zone
Into my own next chapter.
First there was the loss itself—staggering.
Then there were estate details—boggling.
She tried to keep it simple, but still . . .
One life connects to so many others;
One memory can lead to a lovely web.
But friends and companies must be called;
Accounts need to be closed;
Decisions must be made.
Grace came to accompany grief
As we sorted Mom’s belongings,
A process that made us more aware
Of the need to sort our own.
Time seemed to be rushing by.
But we couldn’t let it push us.
What was the next step for us?
We knew our call was to community:
We visited Bethany Village, three miles away.
All signs pointed to a good time
To consider our next big move.
But clearly we needed to divest ourselves
Of both basement and attic stashes,
As well as sorting our lifetime collection
Of books and other media.
We estimated a two-year prep time,
With a genealogy trip to Wales
And lots of family fullness sandwiched in.
It was a good estimate; we did it,
By the grace of God, family, and friends.
And now, three years after the change
Brought by my mother’s death,
We are easing our way forward.
In our lovely new space,
We are surrounded by family,
In the presence of my mom’s rocker,
Her stately grandfather clock,
Her 1940s vanity and bench,
Her mother’s piano desk and china,
And various chairs and tables
From generations further back.
An eclectic grouping in every room,
With family photos embracing it all.
I love the familiar furniture
That helps us know we’re home.
I could be at peace without it;
But I’m glad I don’t have to.
June 29: Marcy Bain
From our Dayton, OH Affiliate
Hunting for Tiger Lilies
"Mom, mom" said my sweet William as he pulled on the pocket of my robe
"Do you know what onomatopoeia means?"
He asked this as bacon cracked and sizzled in the pan
"Honey, I don't know. I haven't had my coffee yet, " I said.
As I said this the coffee pot whizzed and whirred and called to me
Like a siren song singing sweet repose
From my throbbing caffeine headache
"Mom, mom, why do you drink so much coffee?”
“Is it because you're tired, because I'm never tired," said William.
I sighed, “I know sweet William, my little Prince.
Why don't you sit down over there,
And when I'm finished cooking, I'll sit down
And together we'll read a story.”
"Mom, mom I've already opened the book
But, it's in a strange language that I can't read. What does this mean,
"On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux?"
“Honey that's French, and it says,
‘One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.’
Do you understand?"
William paused, "Mom, mom, can we go hunting for mushrooms or maybe tiger lilies?"
“Honey, why tiger lilies? That seems an odd request for a young boy," I said.
William grinned, “because I know a secret garden where they live!”
I raised an eyebrow, "and where is this mythical land?"
William casually informed me, "at the neighbor's house two doors down,"
I looked out the back window to see a decimated row of tiger lilies
with five lone lilies standing tall and proud.
"Honey what happened to the rest of Mrs. Jone's flowers" I said?
William leapt off my lap and paraded around the living room in a
series lurches and roars as though he were channeling the spirit of Max from, "Where the Wild
"I killed them," William said as he puffed up his chest with pride,
"Tigers are not to be trusted."
"Even Tiger lily flowers?" I countered.
"Especially not tiger flowers, "William said.
"They're pretty when they're small, but what if they blossom into real
tigers and eat our dog, Mr. Wiggles."
"I am William the Lionhearted, William the brave," he said.
"You've got me there," I nodded convincingly, "That you are."
"Honey, put on your coat," I said.
"Mom, mom, where are we going? Are we going on a grand adventure?"
William cried out with heartfelt glee.
I sighed, "Yes, William. We're going on an adventure. We're going to
market and then to the store to buy the fixings for an apology cake-also known as your mom's
famous coffee cake, and some tea, and maybe we'll procure some fresh
lilac bulbs for the Jones family next door.”
I checked in, "William, in your opinion, are lilacs known for their
propensity to eat small dogs?"
William sighed, "No. Mom, they're purple flowers, don't be
ridiculous. They wouldn't hurt a fly."
"Very well,” I said, “these will have to do.”
“William, my sweet prince
If you only knew the depth of a mother's love
And the things that I do for you..
‘On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux?’
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
May 11: Marty Cottrill
From our winter retreat
Aging with Intention
Aging with intention means
Accepting my rightful place
In the generational pattern,
No longer that fulcrum of motherhood
But standing in the wings, as it were,
Using whatever wisdom I’ve gained
To re-assess my gifts and energies,
To focus on needs beyond my family.
I miss being at the center of it all,
Trying to orchestrate attitudes
And mediate between personalities
As our own children grew.
It was an illusion of control
That I was loathe to abandon.
It gave me an identity,
A place to be, a job to do.
I was the mom, seen and known;
I couldn’t be invisible then,
Even when I wanted to be.
But it’s our daughter’s turn to be at the center,
To be the one worrying and wondering;
Her turn to ride the roller coaster,
Working to maintain her balance
As it rounds those sharp turns.
She’s adjusting, as I did at that stage,
To spending days in an office,
To letting go of things at home
That still seem significant.
Here in the wings, I can forget
The unpleasantries of those years,
The challenges I wasn’t up to,
The times I wasn’t fully there.
I need to remember the lows,
The uncertainties of parenting,
As well as the highs,
So I don’t covet her place
When she draws them close,
Comforting and cajoling,
Taking pleasure in their presence.
I do have friends and interests,
Just none quite so compelling
As that mixed bag of motherhood
That named me for so long.
So what’s next, I wonder.
Re-ordering my planner was today’s work:
Its pages offer plentiful possibilities
For using my time, talent, and treasure,
And even my “Mommy resume,”
To bring a compassionate presence
Into this new life, this present.
May 4: Kim Bill
from the Wednesday Night class
A Chance for Compassion
A few years ago in writing class, one of the women was mourning the loss of a dear friend who had died of cancer. She was wearing this small scrap of black fabric pinned to her shirt and said that it was a version of the Jewish tradition of tearing your garments in grief. And then she said this really interesting thing, which was that wearing the scrap of fabric was a courtesy to other people, so they would know you were in mourning and that they should treat you gently and with compassion. And I remember being really struck by what a beautiful thing that was. It wasn’t about pay attention to me, feel bad for me. It was about generosity, about giving another person the chance to be compassionate.
And it made me think about how all of us all the time are carrying these things around inside of us that affect how we interact with the world. And how sometimes the things we are carrying make us behave in ugly or irresponsible or inconsiderate ways. We are all so, so vulnerable when we go out into the world, so much at the mercy of those around us. And wouldn’t it be nice if we could all wear little scraps of cloth to remind others of what we are carrying, so they know to treat us gently? One color would be, “Husband is deployed,” and another would be “Parent is dying.” One might be, “Awaiting test results,” or “First time out in public with new baby.” There would be a color for, “Struggling with sobriety” and “Introvert making an effort.” Some kind of silent acknowledgement that when we encounter each other as strangers, all of us are coming from something. If we had that, would we look at each other with less judgment? Would we “see” each other more clearly? Could we be more forgiving?
April 27: Linda Overholt
From the Tuesday morning class
What I Miss About Working
It’s been six months –half a year—since my last official day as a social worker at the dialysis clinic. My colleague, Dr. G, predicted I would be ready to return to work within six months. He found my work ethic admirable and seemed to think I would be unfulfilled without my professional life. I was sure he was wrong about that. I was more than ready to be done with the daily stresses of unending paperwork and never knowing what crisis was awaiting my intervention each morning when I walked in the door-- or each time I answered the phone.
There are some things I miss about working:
Last night as I was carrying my recycling to the curb for Monday pick-up, I realized that I miss the endless supply of large paper shopping bags I had at the dialysis clinic. These came to the clinic filled with lunches for the staff-- from Bob Evans, Olive Garden or restaurant du jour. The lunches themselves were a gastronomic treat, a diversion from yogurt and almonds eaten at my desk; even if it generally required sitting through an educational program or quality assurance meeting. I can now get even better lunches elsewhere and generally enjoy them more, but those big paper bags with sturdy handles are harder to find; and they were great for keeping in the garage to fill with newspapers and magazines to be recycled.
I miss being able to pick up an empty cardboard box for home storage whenever I need one. I especially miss easy access to the ones that reams of paper come in, with handle holes on the ends for easy lifting and a lid that fits right on top. Those are especially handy for storing stuff that should probably be thrown out –or for filling with donations for Good Will or the Am Vets. The latter is the object of some procrastination for me. One day when I thought about packing up some stuff to donate, I was stalled by the concern that I didn’t have enough boxes.
I miss having ready access to a fax machine or copier—at no cost. (Oops, maybe I shouldn’t admit that I occasionally used company equipment for personal use. I think that is a form of corporate theft.) It sure was handy! Now I am forced to wait while my home printer churns slowly or to make a special trip to the Post Office, Kinkos or my church and pay for these once-free (to me) services.
I miss having a secondary address where items ordered online could be sent, usually in an attempt to ensure surprises for my husband. I have learned, however, that his level of curiosity is a fraction of my own. A package can sit near the front door for a week without him noticing, making this one of the easier adjustments of retirement. I still do have concerns about packages sitting on my front step, announcing to passers-by that something valuable might be available for snatching.
I miss the comfort of knowing that I will go to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow. I was so sleep deprived during my working days that I had little empathy for those with insomnia. Heck, I could fall asleep within five minutes of sitting down to watch a TV show. Going out to a movie was an expensive nap. While the majority of my” reading” was done listening to CD’s while driving the car, I could sometimes read an entire page of a book or a magazine article while sitting--before my eyes closed. It was better for me to stand and read than to sit. On occasion, however, I even fell asleep standing at the kitchen counter, while sorting junk mail.
I dearly miss my housekeeper, Gayla! I vowed I would give up the luxury of her services in exchange for retirement, but my house has not been thoroughly cleaned ---for the past six months. How did she manage to do in five or six hours what I seem unable to get done in a month? One bathroom sink gets dirty before I even get around to cleaning the other one.
Feeling guilt-free about suggesting that we go out for dinner or get take-out is something I really miss. When I was making money and working long hours, I could justify this as a reward I deserved. Before retirement I looked forward to cooking on a more regular basis, but now my creative culinary urges are dwindling. It’s just another chore. Fortunately, my husband’s choir and orchestra rehearsals keep me from having to prepare a meal EVERY night, and he does not object to left-overs.
Work was a good excuse for my maladroitness in preparing multi-course holiday meals while being a relaxed and gracious hostess. I kind of miss that alibi. I had surgery just before Thanksgiving and was still recovering at Christmastime. That gave me a pass in late 2014. Now it’s Easter. My health is good; I am not employed. This leaves me with no ready excuse for feeling anxious and unprepared. Help!!
I miss my paycheck, although Social Security provides me with over 60% of my former salary—if I don’t take benefits into account. I obviously did not enter the field of social work to get rich or retire well. Fortunately, for now, my husband continues to work as an engineer. I am adjusting to the income disparity.
Despite the aforementioned voids in my life, I think I will continue to manage quite well without returning to work.
Now, on to more writing. . .
April 20: Elizabeth Mannion
From the Thursday morning Core class
Struggling with words
A thought passes through, teases me and flits away before I can grasp it
Cobwebs in my brain ensnare words but refuse to release them when I
search them out
Lines swirling in orbit just within reach and then not
I swear that thought was good, maybe even excellent
it just would not stay
I could be a great writer if only I could capture my sentences
April 13: Phebe Beiser
YEAR OF THE HEART
I’ve been teaching the Thursday Core Class for a few years now and love it. But halfway through the previous Winter Session, I had to stop. Why? Because of my heart.
You may have heard it’s the Year of the Sheep but for me, it’s the Year of the Heart. I came dangerously close to having a massive heart attack. Yet I’m still here to warn others: Do trust any unusual pains or pressure in your chest area! Women’s symptoms are known to be more subtle than those dramatic movie moments. For me, the symptoms were cold and intense pressure in my chest area (no neck or arm signals as you sometimes read). I only wish I had listened the first time.
I was doing my workout on a treadmill at a neighborhood fitness center. It caught my attention. Two days later, the same thing. But it was not until the third cold pressure, walking my dogs that I called for help. I asked my doctor for a referral. He got me in touch with a cardiologist who quickly and skillfully realized I needed testing asap.
On February 9th I had the angioplasty; the next day I underwent triple bypass surgery. My story is more than a warning to please pay attention. It’s a thank you to so many of you at Women Writing for (a) Change. Yes, we’re a writing school but we are also a place where our words touch others and sometimes—often—friendships and bonding occur. And from there, a community arises. I personally felt that community especially during the month of February.
I am not going to name names in the fear I would leave someone out. To the entire cast and team of “The Vagina Monologues” performed here on February 13th: I felt your caring as cards were made available to send me get well wishes. To all who signed up on Meal Train or Facebook or messaged me and delivered meals, vacuumed, took out my garbage, fed my dogs, kept me company—thank you. I have a huge stack of cards reminding me I am loved.
It is now my sixth week of recovery. I begin cardio rehab in April. But more importantly, I have the luxury of writing and sharing and giving feedback to seventeen other women in the Thursday morning class. This, too, is recovery—deep, heartfelt, writerly healing.
April 6: Emilie Kerlin
From Maintain Your Writer's Shape
Nine players on a field of green,
More perfect symmetry, I’ve never seen.
I sit in the stands, ready to cheer,
I’ve waited all winter for a chance to be here.
Some say baseball is only a game,
Not to me, I just don’t feel the same.
Timing, skill, precise location,
Home runs, double plays bring jubilant elation.
A day at the park is good old summer fun,
Grass trimmed, lines drawn, all awash in sun.
Defense in position, the pitcher stands tall,
C’mon ump, we’re ready. Let’s play ball!!
March 30: Marisa Head
Scene from Hearsay & Heresy - "Prisoner."
Moonlight etched a crosshaired diamond on the chamber’s slate floor. It disappeared briefly as a body passed in front of the window.
Under her breath, Dex counted her steps. Twenty paces from the back wall to the door. Twelve from the wardrobe to the window. Nineteen around the perimeter of her bed.
Harch, two, three, four. Two, two, three, four. Three, two, right face, halt. Another ten from the foot of the bed to the hearth of the fireplace, which in summer only held winter’s soot. The pokers and shovels had been removed from her room – her cell – lest it occur to her to use them as weapons. For reasons unexplained, they’d left the heavily embossed metal shield that graced the wall above the mantle.
At first, she’d been relieved they allowed her to stay in her room pending the tribunal, believing it would be a comfort. But it was anything but. Sleep evaded her in the bed, and the familiarity of the setting – her personal affects (save those that had been seized), the furniture arranged how she liked it, the view from her window – almost seemed to taunt her.
She performed an about-face from the fireplace and pointed herself towards the balcony doors. Her lips barely moved as she issued herself the command to march, but her drill sergeant’s voice rang painfully clearly in her head.
She crossed the diamond of light on her path to the doors. It cast mountainous shadows over the knuckles of her toes, caught the weft and weave of her linen pajamas and the cupid’s bow of her collarbone, then spilled its silver-blue light across her face. And across the identical face captured by the beveled glass of the balcony doors.
Her next step stalled. She met her reflection’s eyes , sunken and shadowed by unevenly cut hair that hung over half her face. She clenched her teeth and tried to will herself forward – harch!
But the effort was wasted. It wasn’t just the look on her face that rattled her – when she broke her own eye contact, she noticed her hands were in fists at her sides, and suddenly felt the pain she’d been suppressing of her fingernails digging into the bed of her palm.
The girl in the glass was unmistakably Dex – she’d recognize her anywhere, moonlight or sun. But the longer she fixated on the apparition, the more distinct grew the feeling that she was looking at a complete stranger.
A stranger accused of disloyalty, conspiracy, abandonment of faith, and inciting heresy. A stranger who would answer those accusations under the watchful eyes of her saints in the chapel-turned-courtroom shortly after sunrise.
A stranger who had some accusations of her own to make.
Dex’s trembling chin threatened her bearing. She bit the inside of her own mouth to create a distraction that would interrupt the wave of self-pity, just as she’d always done in drill practice when a sudden joke or memory would materialize in her psyche, uninvited, at the most inopportune moments.
She advanced towards the double-wide doors that stood between her and the balcony, moving safely out of the moonlight again with some relief. Her fingertips found the doorknob – locked, but that had hardly ever stopped her from opening doors in the past.
It would hardly be an escape worth making, some voice of caution chirped in her mind, but that had hardly ever stopped her, either.
It’s the kind of thing Miranda would have said.
Dex’s grip tightened around the doorknob. Her lips tightened across her teeth as she gave the knob a firm shake. The internal mechanisms clanged in response, and she winced – it sounded as loud as silverware spilling off a tray onto a stone floor.
She braced her other hand against the seam between the two doors, slightly above eye level, held her breath and gave the knob another fierce shake. She felt her face flushing red even as she bit her lip to resist it, and convinced herself she could feel the apparatus starting to give.
Unaware of noise now, she leveraged her body weight, spare though it may have been, against the door. The lock’s carriage rattled and the door itself complained against the onslaught. Dex’s frustration surged even as part of her knew the futility of escaping anyway. The balcony wouldn’t get her anywhere but in more trouble for the appearance of escaping.
At the other end of the room, there was a thud against the heavy wooden door that kept her bound to her cell. “What are you doing in there,” a male voice shouted on the other side.
She strained against the door only to be met with its solid resistance.
“Hey!” The guard shouted again, and even as she heard him unlocking the door to her room, she tapped into that surge of desperation and aimed a punch directly at the center of one of the beveled glass panes.
She cried out in shock as her knuckles met the thick glass, enough to crack but not break through it. The bones in her fingers, palm, wrist and forearm vibrated with pain. A whimpering sob broke through her lips as the guard broke into her room.
“Halt, right there,” he barked at her. Amber lamplight danced unevenly across the walls from the lamp that swung from his outstretched hand.
Dex stiffened, her back to the guard. Then she pivoted and slumped against the locked balcony door, clutching her throbbing arm to her chest with the arm that could still feel, and tried with all her breath to stop the tears that had already started.
“Get away from the door,” the guard said in a lower voice to coax her away.
For a moment, she didn’t move. She couldn’t. Because if this were all a dream, as she thought it well could be, she could make herself wake up instead of having to make any more moves. She didn’t have to watch this nightmare play out.
But the pain in her arm shook her out of the dream hypothesis. She blinked away a few tears and willed herself forward, toward her bed.
The guard watched her warily. “Good, sit down over there,” he said, crossing the room to inspect the door she’d been trying to break through.
He ran a finger along the cracked glass pane. “This won’t do you any favors tomorrow,” he muttered. He grabbed each of the doorknobs and confirmed that they remained locked. He then turned towards her with a sigh. “I don’t know how far you think you would have made it – to the gardens, maybe, if you’d figured out a way down that wall.”
Dex sat numbly on the edge of the bed. Her tears had subsided with her shock, though she could feel the dry salty trails on her cheeks. As soon as the guard was facing her, she caught his gaze and instinctively read him – dutiful but not malicious, nonviolent, sympathetic even. Maybe not enough to let her escape, even if he didn’t know he was doing so, but maybe enough for something else.
She cocked her head and averted her eyes shyly to the floor. “I couldn’t know unless I tried,” she said – then looked back up at him with a half grin.
“We’ll just put that question to rest and say you can’t.” His intent was solid, but she heard the fatherly note of forgiveness she was banking on.
“Is that what you’re going to tell the Sisters? I mean, the window –“ She moved to point towards the door she’d tried to break down, and winced as her injured hand resisted the gesture.
The guard looked between the glass and the girl. “That depends. Will I need to restrain you to prevent any more escape attempts tonight?”
Dex bit her lip and eagerly shook her head No.
“Good. I don’t think your fist could take another blow anyway.” The guard strode back towards the door. “They might ask you about your bruises in the morning. If you can think of another explanation, I won’t tell them you tried to break out.”
“Thank you,” she said breathily.
The guard waved off her gratitude as he fought a massive yawn and moved to exit. “Not long now until dawn,” he said as he closed the door behind him.
Dex’s eyes readjusted to the unlit room. The diamond of moonlight had traveled across the floor, closer to her bed. Gazing through its beam, she again saw her reflection in the balcony doors.
The mask she’d worn for the guard dissolved as quickly as it had formed. This time, she could reach for nothing to replace it. Even with a crack running through it, the face she looked at was Dex, and it was that face that the tribunal would see, in a matter of hours.
Her body suddenly felt heavy. She let out a sigh as she lay back on the mattress, protecting her tender arm, and said any prayer she could think of to invite sleep.
March 16: Nancy Watrous
From our Wednesday evening class
I love movement and music, but am too self-conscious to dance
Especially the uncomposed free form of the rock and roll of my youth
I would try to tap my foot, but the rest of my body was still.
I would watch the swirling couples my parent’s age, dancing to big band music.
I stood still in an envious wonder, leaning towards them.
I was awash in the beauty of the ballet dancers, as they moved their fine-tuned bodies in a dance, as though the music was a wind that moved them.
In Carmen, they flounce their hips, or strike a seductive pose.
I do not do seductive very well.
I must have, at times, expressed a feminine mood, sleek, and catlike, with soft curves,
holding a wine glass with slender articulated fingers.
The one time I danced was with my newborn daughter.
I would hear a compelling symphony and twirl around the room, holding her in the palms of my hands in front of me, up and down and around.
When I hike, I feel like a Greek goddess.
I am strong, playful, as I climb up the trails of rock that wind to the mountain summit.
It is an intricate dance of hand and foot holds, balance, and constant motion.
I feel graceful and steady.
When I reach the top, I pause at the overlook, and I see the whole world at my feet
Around me I notice the daintiest of birds, a ruby crowned kinglet,
Restless and acrobatic in the scented balsam firs.
March 9: Linda Trebbi
From our Tuesday morning class
Imagine a Woman
Imagine a woman who can take control of her future
A woman who believes in herself and honors her truth
A woman who comes to know her truth but is not afraid to speak it
A woman who can honor her truth regardless of consequences
This woman wants to exist in my body
So that my body will not be worn by the inability
to recognize what is before her and be in denial
Denial is a dangerous weapon to my body
It causes depression and stress that are both physical and mental
It creates great sadness where there should be joy
Anxiety over indecisiveness causes churning in the soul
Until the body becomes so tired that it cannot repair itself
I don’t want to be the weak link to my own happiness
I don't want to be the one responsible for my own illness
I want to be the woman who rejoices in love and finds peace in aloneness
I crave to be the woman who feeds her body with spiritual nourishment
Imagine a woman strong enough to be selfish, to put her needs first
Imagine a woman who is introspective enough to
know that no one but her walks in her shoes and feels her pain
A woman who will forget the past and be honest about her future
I know I can be this woman but I am not there yet
I also know that even as I write this time is passing
This woman of truth and strength must step forward
And as I enter my seventh decade the time has arrived.
Feb. 5, 2015
February 23: Lisabeth Kaeser
From our Monday evening Core Class
Relapse, Recovery and Redemption by Faith
“No Temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV)
My back is against the wall. I feel cornered by the demands of my parents to take care of them, all because of poor choices they made throughout their lives. Yet they feel free to tell me that I am worse than an infidel if I do not pay for their mistakes.
It is with my back, literally, against the wall in the corner of my bathroom that I watch the sandwich I just ate swirl in the vortex of the toilet and slip away. As I watch, I realize that I am part of the “sandwich generation,” taking care of my aging parents as well as my children.
How ironic that I am now a member of the sandwich generation yet I could hardly eat a sandwich most days, and if I did, I couldn’t keep it in. Fifty years old and I am dealing with an adolescent illness, once again.
The problem began when I forgot his promise. I turned from the father and his faithfulness and took my life into my own hands. I traveled back into the eating disorder he rescued me from more than 20 years ago.
I know, it’s as crazy as the Israelites choosing to wander back into the desert instead of entering the Promised Land, but that is just what I did. I did wander into the desert, but it wasn’t entirely intentional. Just like the Israelites didn’t plan on 40 years in the desert, I didn’t plan on a three-year relapse—just a temporary detour.
Anorexia was something that, at times in my life, I managed; at other times, it managed me. It began this time as an innocent flirtation. I was older and wiser. I was in control, I thought. It is something belonging just to me. It is like a secret I keep to myself, yet at the same time, it’s breaking a confidence to myself.
Honoring myself by keeping this secret becomes the ultimate betrayal of my body and soul. I feel clever and deceitful at the same time. It is a dark abyss plagued with contradictions. I won’t let it go too far this time, just far enough, far enough to keep my family at bay.
The problem is, I didn’t pay attention to that warning in my soul telling me to step away from the edge. My, how absurd of me not to realize that the eating disorder has a strength of its own. It sits like a predator in the shadows, waiting to pounce on me just as the very thing I thought I was turning to for power ends up weakening my strength.
I gave it the opportunity, and it took on a life of its own. It made me sick. It made me tired. It left me void and vacant. Yet I can’t let it take my life. I must take back my life. Can I tend to the dwelling place in time for my soul to return home?
Vacant: Without occupant or incumbent. That definition sums it up for me. Somewhere along the way, my mind, my soul, my being, checked out, leaving a feeling of vacancy in my body. I left a little bit at a time, allowing a hollow space where I had dwelled and existed.
Because I left, why tend to the body where the soul had dwelled? Why should I throw wood on a fire that has already burned itself out? I look in the mirror and I see me, but I look through me. I am like a special effect in a movie. I am no longer solid. I am a vapor that can be seen, but not touched or held.
I am a wilting flower that has been left to water itself from the dust under a scorching desert sky. A sky that is unable or unwilling to yield the rain that I so desperately crave, the rain that I desperately need.
Model Kate Moss was once quoted as saying, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” I lived by this mantra as I fell back into anorexia. Each time I would reach for something, anything, to fill my empty body, I would repeat this to myself. I would repeat it over and over again until the shame of eating became stronger than the hunger rising up in my gut.
And it worked! More often than not, I would walk away feeling strong in my resolve to restrict my food or to work off what I did eat, but I was physically weakened by the hunger radiating through my body, mirroring my soul that was already weakened, starving to be loved and heard.
I work in an industry where thin and fit is admired. My self-denial and self-discipline are applauded and even envied. This feeds my eating disorder while I can’t feed myself. I am left feeling like a fraud.
If only they knew the truth?
I am not strong. I am weak and have been subdued by the standards of my field. The distorted idea that “thin” equates “health” and “fitness” is a quite dysfunctional and dishonest place.
One day during my relapse, I felt myself drifting back as my body ran out of steam and I hit “THE WALL.” I was so tired physically. I had exercised hard every day for the past 33 days. And I wondered why my weight was back down? I was encroaching once again on my own muscles for fuel, my eye twitched, and the tension that once settled just into my shoulders had worked its way through my neck and into my head?
I promised myself that I would just take an easy yoga class that day, and then I would rest. “Oh yeah, I can do this,” I think. “But can I do this and eat?” I mean eat according to my meal plan from the nutritionist? Eat normally in front of my mother-in-law at lunch? She’s a tough one for me to eat around, as she never acknowledged that my body had drastically changed back into the anorexic woman she saw enter in-patient treatment more than 20 years ago. Such typical anorexic thinking, that somehow me not eating lunch would cause her to take notice of my suffering and of me.
Yet I found myself hungry that day, even without the strenuous exercise. Frankly, I was a little irritated that my hunger poked at me, not like a child trying to get her mother’s attention, but like a battering ram powered by hydraulics.
I tried the mantra that carried me through the past year: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, nothing tastes...nothing.” I allow it to flow through my thoughts like the tea pouring through the porcelain spout in front of me. The word “nothing” hangs in the air like the steam rising from my teacup, then slips away into the mist.
It hits me. By tasting nothing, I had allowed myself to become nothing. And then, by the grace of Jesus Christ, I remembered what “skinny” really feels like. Initially, skinny feels comforting, soothing, powerful and almost euphoric. I was in control. Without warning, skinny twisted and turned on me, forming a knot that hung like a noose waiting to strangle the life out of me.
That is what skinny feels like. It feels like a death sentence. It sucks the life out of your body and your soul. I am not sure which it comes for first, but it comes; devouring you when you should be devouring sustenance and gorging yourself on life, the abundant life God desires for you.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (NASB 1995, John 10:10)
Skinny doesn’t feel good. It is the thief! For some distorted reason, it may feel safe, but it is not good. It doesn’t feel good to go to sleep each night wondering if you will wake in the morning, so consequently you hardly sleep at all. It doesn’t feel any better wondering if your body will give out during the day as you workout to burn the little you have taken in.
It doesn’t feel good to shake and see blackness as you stand because your blood pressure is so low it can’t keep up with your movements, to feel acid burning in your stomach because there is nothing there to digest, to wretch and purge the smallest of meals as your eyes water and small specks of blood leak from their capillaries. It is agonizing to sit with your boney ass in any chair for any length of time without shifting and moving to keep the pressure from forming bruises. It is terrifying to be sent to a cardiologist for testing because your heart beats irregularly and at a slow pace.
You remember how your bones and veins protrude, and how being hugged sometimes hurts. You remember your son pulling out of a hug, remarking how your back feels like skin and bones. Then you wonder how you will explain your slow death march to your children?
It doesn’t feel good to be treated as a child following someone else’s guidelines designed to keep you alive. You feel even smaller than your physical presence. Weighing in, checking off meal plans, baring the ugliest parts of your truth to doctors, a therapist, a nutritionist, your pastor and the other practitioners you see in search of wellness.
Somehow there was less shame in this the first time around. You were young and lacked any cognizant awareness of what you were doing. This time you know, on a base level, what you are doing. And there is a sense of shame and humiliation that now you are turning not to older, wiser people for treatment but to your peers. Now you are older. You should be wiser but…
I allow the memory of what being skinny really felt like to speak. I allow it to speak louder than the anorexia. I allow myself the permission to take the break my body needs today and to eat. Like a good little girl (insert sarcasm), I do just as I am told.
I am not just tired, but tired of the fight. As I pray for the strength to let go of my anorexia, God does answer: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV, Galatians 6:9)
Being that I am beyond weary, I can only assume he is my strength!
He answers my question, “What does taste as good as skinny feels?” in Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh the joys of those who seek refuge in him!” (NLT)
I feel the soul, my soul, beginning to stir. It desires to return home. I see just a flicker of her in my eyes. I need to tend to that home. I need to make it welcoming, strong and secure, a place of warmth and refuge. It should be beautifully prepared as my house would be for guests.
Can I tend to that dwelling place in time for my soul to return home? I know that Jesus has gone ahead and prepared a place for me, but I am not quite ready to go home to that place yet.
And I remind myself that He can “make beautiful things out of the dust.” (Gungor)
January 26: Laurel D. Chambers
From our Thursday morning class
Our Words, Our Lives
We carry our poems within our hearts
for days, for months, for years.
We wrap them in flannel scarves and wool blankets
and load them onto our sturdy sleds.
We trudge through the dark, lonely, winter nights
and haul them across the frozen pond
until our feet are heavy and numb.
We hear our voices inside our souls.
We ring them softly, gently like crystal chimes.
They sing in whispers and sound like hymns.
Then they grow stronger, louder, bold.
They weep and wail, they shout and scream.
They hoot and holler, they laugh and tease.
We leap up high to the mountain top, they roar.
We feel our words within our bodies
where they sleep silently like bulbs beneath the ground.
Then jump up suddenly to surprise and dazzle us
like the first orange tulip of the golden spring
bursting through the tired, dry ground.
Then our souls take flight to the warm, blue sky
and dance from cloud to cloud.
Laurel D. Chambers 12/2014
January 19: Suzanne Horton
From our Thursday morning class
when the words start hitting
I want the world to stop
so I can collect them
lines and curves
round vowels and looping consonants
catch them all with my pen
when the verbs fly through
opening a door or window
blowing in my head
I want to throw my plans
and the clock on the wall
to arrest time and offer space
pausing...a crossing guard for my compulsion
the saddest ending of a poem
is the losing of inspiration
having to hurry
to hunt for keys
to answer to someone else's needs
and forever abandon
the beautiful moth of a thought
who desperately tried to fly
occasionally it works out
the stars and planets align
and I get to strike the paper
while my mind is still hot
that is where all my hope resides
that is why I stay attuned and listen
to those looping words spilling
turning and churning
on my inside
January 12: Robin Lippelman
From our Wednesday class
Neil Armstrong died on Saturday, August 25, 2012. I was 19 years old in 1969 when he stepped out of the Eagle lunar landing craft and became the first man to walk on the moon. I was never interested in science fiction and wasn’t good at math or science. But, like almost everyone on earth, I was fascinated by the space program.
July 1969 found me preparing for fall entrance into college at the University of Cincinnati. I never imagined that the man who was soon to walk on the moon and I would not only cross paths, but meet and spend an hour in conversation.
In the summer of 1969, Neil Armstrong—one of the Gemini Astronauts—was a clean cut, 39-year-old man. He was quiet, modest and unassuming—quite different from some of the rowdy test pilots of the Mercury Seven group. He was known to be an outstanding engineer, a fearless, talented test pilot and he was cool under pressure. On July 20, history was made as the Eagle took two astronauts to the moon’s surface. Everyone cheered.
That fall, as my freshman year commenced, I quickly settled into a routine and began enjoying my new life. I joined the international students’ club to meet people from other cultures. Someone who became a good friend was a young African from Ghana—Clifford Klotty.Clifford was a graduate student in the College of Engineering. When fabled astronaut Neil Armstrong joined the faculty in 1971, it became Clifford’s goal to meet his larger than life hero.
I was skeptical. But, Clifford was certain that as a visitor to this country, Professor Armstrong would want to meet with him. I told him to prepare for disappointment! Clifford the optimist went to Armstrong’s office and asked his secretary for an appointment. As far as I remember, she didn’t even ask what it was about; though he did tell her he was an engineering student. She made the appointment for 10 AM in two weeks time. Clifford was ecstatic! I was happy for him, but thought no more about it.
On the day of the appointment Clifford sought me out. He was so excited, he could barely talk. He insisted I go with him. He couldn’t do it alone. I tried to talk him out of it (I must have been crazy!) because I thought, “Neil Armstrong is expecting an African engineering student, not someone like me.”
Clifford gave me no choice. He literally grabbed my books and my arm and practically dragged me across campus to the office of one of the most famous men in the world! As it sank in, I was actually going to meet Neil Armstrong, I began to get nervous, but at the same time I was thrilled.
We arrived and the secretary announced us. She showed us into his office. He smiled warmly as he rose to greet us. I was awestruck. Clifford was actually quite calm and introduced me as his friend. For the next hour, Clifford asked questions about Armstrong’s astronaut days and what had brought him to the University of Cincinnati. Armstrong spoke fondly of his boyhood in Ohio and his desire to remain out of the limelight. He said he was embarrassed by the adulation. He had not been the primary force behind the moon landing—thousands were responsible for its success. But, Clifford and I were happy to bask in his greatness anyway.
The hour went by so quickly. I asked a few stammer-filled questions, but mostly sat and listened as he talked about his journey from Ohio to the moon. He was modest, warm, witty, kind and seemed genuinely interested in both what brought Clifford to America and me to my studies in history.
I will never forget that hour. I believe all the stories about him—his grace, his modesty, his talent—they were all in evidence that morning as he welcomed us to his office. When I heard Neil Armstrong died on that Saturday, I wept. I felt as if I had experienced a personal loss. Men like Neil Armstrong are rare. Meeting him was a high point in my life.
January 5: Kaya Kotzen
From our Tuesday morning class
Guide to a Happy Life
Have no regrets
Be always in the present moment
Forgive always and forget or at least put it behind you if you can
Be real, always come from love
Be honest and trustworthy
Trust your heart
Be kind to others and treat them as you wish to be treated
Have no expectations, but have lots of dreams
Always speak up and give yourself a voice.
Love loudly and openly
and never hesitate to say I love you.
Write letters and send cards, not just texts or email attachments
Get a pet or always love your dog
They will take all your grief and heartache and turn it around.
Love them unconditionally without restraints.
Learn to love your friends and family like that too.
Find a partner, lover or spouse to cuddle with
You are never too old to do that.
Allow more laugher in your life and remember to laugh at yourself.
Listen to spirit and watch for its tell tale signs
Begin each day like it’s a first one
Treasure it, and show gratitude
Honor your emotions and gut instincts
They will never lead you astray
Gift yourself the things and adventures you need in your life
You can only enjoy making others happy after you have taken care of yourself.
Go out in your yard at nite
Howl at the moon and find the stars
Pay attention to sunsets too
There is beauty all around us
watch it explode.
The more you support it to just be,
the more beauty will come back to haunt you.
Allow yourself to shine
Put a flower in your hair
and a tablecloth upon your table
Buy your favorite foods when you can
and fix a romantic evening for one by candlelight
Fix yourself a bubble bath along with a scented candle
and a good book to read
and a big fluffy towel to wrap yourself in when your done
Look in the mirror and smile
You have earned you scars and age lines that all suit you.
Feel how pretty or handsome you are inside.
Know that today is a treasure and tomorrow is a gift
and that each and every day can always be a pleasure
It is your attitude that counts
May it always be uplifting
December 29: Elaine Olund
From our Wednesday night class
Tell me a story
You say, and I begin again.
The beginning, always my favorite part
sweet on my tongue, fleeting.
But I am ever hopeful
digging now for middles and ends
that are deeper and darker
and boiling with life, like the depths
of a sea where lampreys
sway like seaweed, and dance
in the current and swallow
a silvery trout who swims too deep—
you might say the trout dies
or you might say they become one?
There is no ending, is there?
It’s all a loop, this story—
as endless as the sea evaporating
graying blue skies, falling again, rain, rain
pocking the choppy waves.
Feel the spray on your face, wet as
the spit in your mouth, the blood in your veins
salty as the tears brimming
below the surface, unshed, underneath.
Tell me please, what really separates above from below?
If I dive in, will you swallow me whole?