Edgar Allan Poe in his time…

Have you ever wondered what it was like – the 1830’s/1840’s – when Poe was alive and walking around the streets of Boston or Richmond?

I’ve imagined the dark nights with gas street lights to guide the people at night. I’ve thought about his mother rushing him home after her show at the theater in the billowing cold of a frosty October, as she burned with fever, desperately fighting for breath.

Or Edgar, as an adult, leaving the pub on a similar cold winter night.

in the 1830’s, there were 12 million people in all of the United States. Now, there are 10 million in LA County alone!

In the 1840’s, the latest medical invention was a mechanical leech – let that sink in for a moment.

Boston grew phenomenally – from 1830 to 1840, the population grew from 60,000 to over 90,000. Today, Boston has nearly 700,000 people.

Poe lived in a town (Richmond) with 16,000 people. It was a growing metropolis with plans for paved streets (paved with wood, by the way). Richmond now boasts over 200,000 living souls.

These thoughts inspired the first lines of Eddy:

He stumbles from the pub, slips and falls on the iced over bricks of Boston’s November streets. Save for the muddled voices beyond the closed door, the street is quiet as his body thuds to the ground. His breath billows in front of him as he gasps and grumbles and struggles to his knees, then to his feet to regain his drunken balance…

I wanted to tell an imaginary tale of Edgar Poe the night he nearly took his own life… what saved him? what changed him? But the details needed to support the time, to place the reader in the 1800’s with a sick mother, a dying wife, a bottle of poison. When I read this at the Poe Museum in Virginia a few years ago, the employees complimented the personal grasp on Edgar’s life.

It serves still as a source of pride. And I come back to it – I want to write more about Poe, his life, not the dry biographies, but a more personal investment in a man who is still very much admired for his literary accomplishments in the face of his personal challenges.

Grief Memoirs

I handle grief by writing. I handle stress by writing. I handle many things by laying a line on paper and allowing the dark moments to flow out. Image and rhyme and memory and magic blooms and appears sometimes in chaos, other times in patterns however rarely symmetrical.

People all handle grief differently and all the ways are valid. Many people don’t understand those who don’t bawl and post and praise. Other people don’t understand the public display.

After my brother passed last year, my mother followed him in a matter of days. It took me a bit, but I wrote. While I’m working on a longer piece about my mother, I’m proud to say Memory House Magazine out of Chicago accepted the piece about my brother.

“Days of Remembrance” is a mystical memoir of my brother’s passing, more specifically the days following his death. The print version will be out soon. They’ve invited us to read their digital version at https://chicagomemoryhouse.wordpress.com/

I like words…

I like sentences. Big, beautiful sentences so long and thick you can wrap them around yourself and keep yourself warm in the winter. Yeah, those. But I like words too. They go together, you know, words and sentences. I like to make them move with rhythm, sing and dance in a way that you fall into them as if you’re hypnotized by them and you never want to leave them, you just want to sway back and forth and keep reading until you slip off of your seat.

It takes time to create those. They start small, like these. Then you have to let them sit, like yeasty bread, and let them rise. You leave, come back, lift the towel, pinch and poke at them, and leave them again thinking, “I know it can be better than that.”

Then you have to sit down with them, you have to get to know them, talk to them, talk through them, try them on, and break them then mend them, try this and try that. It’s frustrating too, I know. You fight with them, want to give up on them, want to trash the whole thing and sometimes you might leave in tears with hopelessness tearing at your soul, but then you come back on another day, maybe an overcast day that holds the threat of rain, and you sit down and talk it all out once again. Maybe this time, this time, it works. Someday it will.

Then you’ll move on to the next sentence.

This is writing. It hurts. It cuts giant gashes filled with jagged edges through you. It scars. It gives you nightmares and makes you curl up in a ball and rock not so gently back and forth.

But it’s also the only thing that pushes you forward, fills the empty spaces, gives you purpose. It keeps the dark shadows at bay and protects you from the harsh world.

You probably think this is about you….

Naming characters, for some writers, is a complicated process. They want an original name for their original character. Perhaps they want something that describes strength and power, or maybe they want something that will tell a reader this person is a nerd. Maybe an old name, from their grandmother’s era, to say something about the character or their family.

For other writers, they log on to baby names and search through for the perfect one. The perfect one might be based on sound, consonants and vowels, rhyming, colors, meanings.

For me, sometimes, characters name themselves. The character develops and the name comes. For Our Gentle Sins, Jack’s name came to me like that. But some of the other characters were actually named for the students in the class that I mention in my acknowledgements. I was inspired by that class.

it was January 2017. The world was changing and people, some of my students, were afraid, others were angry. That semester, I was asked to teach the History of African American Literature. The students were expecting another teacher. When I walked in – they weren’t certain what to make of me or what this class might become.

I said – I love literature and we are here to learn together. If I say something or do something you don’t like – you tell me. Later, I was evaluated by our expert in African American Literature. He said, “never have I seen a class so open to talking about gender, race, culture – and being respectful about it!”

That was my rule – we don’t have to agree, but we should learn how to respectfully disagree.

It was a wonderful class.

Our Gentle Sins began just before the semester, I was so inspired that I would write before class as the students walked in and after class as they walked out. They asked me what I was working on – I told them. At one point, they asked me to read them a section. I agreed.

What I told them is that I’d been so inspired by the class that I’d named some of my characters after some of the names in class. Not after the students themselves because I didn’t match up characteristics between real person and student, just their names. They loved the idea.

Many, many times, I’ve had people think the story was about them or that the character was somehow inspired by them. I had, at least, one person (maybe more) stop talking to me because of a character name. I didn’t realize it right away. It was only when I looked back on our messages that I saw the dates and the topic – the story they were about to read. The name had NOTHING to do with them or the friend they believed the character to be named after. It was just a name and it felt right in that place.

The truth is – if I really disliked a person, I would never use their name, not for good guys or bad guys, not for the character who might die or a stray dog gracing the pages. Why would I want to be reminded of someone I disliked? The name might be similar – but it was never about them. It was a character.

Although my students appreciated I used some of their names, none of them felt I’d used them personally as the inspiration for the character.

Our Gentle Sins is about people finding their way in life – recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

Secrets can be Deadly

Secrets, at first, seem so harmless. Yet, when you find the person you love is keeping something from you – something that could damage your relationship – secrets can be deadly.

Secrets can be the lies of omission. When someone doesn’t tell another something or includes it after it’s been found out or questioned. Lies of omission are the gaslighter’s favorite game. This way they allow their victim to fall into a trap – the gaslighter will question their trust. “I was going to tell you. I thought you trusted me.” There’s no easy way to get out of the advanced manipulation tactics.

“I do trust you.”

“Then why are you questioning me?” or “Then you should know I intended to tell you” insert “at the right time” or other. The manipulator will then pout or become angry – or start with one and end in the other. Whatever it takes to throw their partner/victim off balance, leaving them uncertain of how to respond or rushing to correct the situation, which is what they want. Power. Control. Over the other person’s emotions, ideas, opinions.

Another hint for my upcoming release:

BUT THERE’S MORE –

More secrets….

and more to come.

Cover reveal – coming soon!

Wellness Writing Prompt

When I first came to yoga, our instructor made fish pose a regular part of our sequence. And for so long, I disliked it. It was uncomfortable – and I thought possibly unsafe.

matsyasana or fish pose

Fish pose, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a pose in which the person lays flat on their back, but then lifts their upper back and head to place the crown of their head on the floor.

This pose, or rather the dislike of this pose, inspired a story titled Matsyasana. It is the very things which make us uncomfortable, which may (or may not) be connected to other, deeper things, that we must explore.

When I started looking at Fish Pose from a different point of view – thanks to the story – I understood what the pose could be. For me, it became about looking at life from a different point of view. Sometimes we get stuck in our discomfort. If we don’t or can’t move past it, we will never find what is on the other side. And nothing is as bad as being stuck – anywhere or in any way.

The first writing prompt for the group Writing to Wellness is to approach this topic in some way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a yoga pose, but consider a position which makes you uncomfortable and write about it. If you’re perplexed, begin by attempting to describe the pose or position, then delve into the part of it that makes you uncomfortable – either in a fictional or non-fictional way. The point is just to start thinking about it and writing about it. This group is a safe place. We will support one another in our individual journeys. Feel free to share or ask for feedback.

Self Care and Writing

This year is a year of self care. The people I’ve met and those I’ve chatted with are seeking self fulfillment, searching for growth; it is a year of healing.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. We are a well. Empty wells can not serve or help others. We need to refill our wells, take care of ourselves in order to be any good to our children, our spouses, family, or community.

We can heal through writing. We can find ourselves and our purpose through exercises meant to expose our deepest desires and inspire our motivation.

Many years ago, I met a woman who was in so much physical pain, she could barely walk and used a cane to get around. Through our semester together, writing exercises, guest speakers, and the process of opening up, she found what was eating away at her. Once exposed, her physical pain began to resolve. She walked with much more ease and moved with more freedom than she’d felt in years.

We can heal through writing. We can resolve our deeper issues. We can discover our purpose. I’d like to invite you to a group Writing to Wellness . The group is on facebook for the moment as that seems the platform where we can not only post and respond to writing prompts, challenges, and answer each others’ questions, but we can also do live writing groups, which I’d like to do at some point. We can also welcome speakers and post videos there.

Please feel free to join. I invite you to respond to prompts, receive writing feedback, and take part in a community dedicated to healing and wellness. Negative comments, trolling, and other uncivil behavior will not be tolerated.

Covid-pression

Covid has changed so much of our lives and, sadly, not much for the better. I have to be honest and say some polly-anna part of me thought we would come out of this better people; it appears many have not.

I thought we’d value friendships more, find beauty in the small things, experience next level gratitude. Some have, I suppose; but not without their own trials.

Covid tested all of us. At some level or another we have experienced depression, compression, oppression and it’s all erupted into violence, sadness, selfishness, thoughtlessness. When the going gets tough – I thought the tough went shopping; however, it appears the tough are few and the whiny little bitches of the world have amplified their shitty little messages.

But let us not wallow in the negative. As I tell my students, we can only fix our own little corner of the world. And that is what we must do. If we were all working on making our own little corners better (instead of joining the jackasses), then we are making a difference and that difference will be amplified. Remember that commercial, you tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two…. That is what we have to do – but spread good, positive, loving messages.

I’m shaking off my covid-pression (whatever one I’m experiencing this week – cuz it’s always different) and taking back life.

I was looking for a place to volunteer on Thanksgiving. The best thanksgivings I’ve spent have been serving at shelters. At one place I volunteered, families got all dressed up and came together. They sat and chatted with strangers like they were old friends. It beat the hell out of stuffing our faces and sitting back with a belly ache watching the tube.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been painting, baking, hiking, planning trips – and it feels great! It just takes breaking the ice in some way. And the rest will follow. I think it was the idea of volunteering and the memories of our previous years spent serving others which lifted my sense of covidpression.

We have so much to be thankful for – still! We have so much power within ourselves to change our own story and to be part of changing others’ stories.

Wishing you love and contentedness during this season.

Squid Game and other Social Issues

Given the hype of Squid Game, I couldn’t be behind the curve, so I gave in to the propaganda and clicked play.

(SPOILER ALERT)

I sat to watch the first episodes and became mortified as Red Light/Green Light turned into mass murder. I suspected something of the sort. I am savvy enough to know no one offers strangers money for easy, peasy games.

Shocked by the horror, not only of that episode but the following episodes, I fast forwarded through the majority of those scenes. I did slow for the other scenes, what I would call the important ones – the relationship building, the psychology behind playing the games, but that was slow to come, hard to understand with the dubbing, and lack of real emotion in the actors or the voice-overs.

Besides being horrified that Netflix would buy such a series, I’m sad for our society. We, in literature, know this to be a fact: Literature affects society and society affects literature. Literature, in this case, includes media. It’s the consumption of entertainment.

When Julia Roberts appeared in Pretty Woman and was driven away by her prince charming in a white limo, thousands of girls across the country ran away from home thinking their hero would come in the form of a john.

When Gatsby was re-released, a flood of inspired fashions, jewelry, and Roaring 20’s parties came to the market and was still going strong before the pandemic.

Our society, right now, is in trouble. The shootings, road rage, assaults, and airline passenger incidents have increased dramatically. The mental stress of the threats to home and family from the pandemic, the lockdown, as well as the continued confusing and changing informational messages create anxiety for people already stretched to their limits.

Our society does not need a series about murder games. Our society needs healing.

After 9/11, the media sold the red, white, and blue. Products, shows, and news stations – American Pride elevated. In addition, shows and movies about angels and healing were released. Our country slowly healed.

We have choices in what to watch, but I see more negative than positive available across the streaming channels. While we have some comedies, some sci-fi, the vast majority of available shows and movies seem to involve guns and violence.

Hulu canceled Dash and Lily, a sweet show. Netflix did away with Love – a show about relationships. Shows which might offer a reprieve from the violence and horror are done away with while companies use our dollars to buy content they then convince us to watch. I would have never watched Squid Games – it’s not that good! – had it not been for the hype.

Perhaps, right now, media is reflecting society. But media also has the power to offer and influence our society with more wholesome, more loving, and productive content.

I’ve sworn off my crime and mystery shows for the time being. I’ve sworn off any show with guns and violence. If I want that, I’ll watch the news.

Our society needs healing and media has the power, and perhaps the responsibility, to give us more of those choices.

What Pain Teaches Us

While cleaning up my yard, I twisted my ankle on my half finished garden pathway. I paused, my arms still full, ankle still smarting, wondering if I could still walk on it. For the moment, it was okay and I finished my chore. I’d been meaning to get to that pathway for awhile now.

I had a lot planned that day. I had errands to run, the yard to finish, things around the house to take care of and to finish a big project planned for that evening- but my ankle swelled and canceled my plans.

I did what one is supposed to do in these situations. I whined about it. No, not really. I elevated my foot and iced on my ankle.

*The philosophy in yoga – listen to your body.

*An idea from the military – push yourself to stretch your limits.

*Some believe – train your mind to not feel the pain.

*Others feel – the Universe is sending you a message

So, I’m sitting in my bed, my foot up on a pillow, notebook in hand, wondering which I advice I should follow.

Then I consider my own take on pain: The learning curve. Pain is meant to teach us something.

Physical and emotional pain, without a learning curve, is a waste. People continue to commit the same errors over in their lives and continue to be hurt in the same ways because they have not learned what they needed to the first time.

Healing, real healing, must come with a lesson for us to not re-injure in the exact same way. I spent much of my young life experiencing those lessons over and over without the understanding of what I was to learn. Once I began to learn from my pain – I didn’t allow the injury to happen again.

Emotional pain can last longer and hurt more than physical pain. Emotional pain can take up residence in our bodies and even cause physical pain. We must work out emotional pain in some way – therapy, talking to friend, or just writing it down to free up that pressure.

Physical pain can affect us emotionally. Some experts believe that to be free of physical pain, we must deal with what is really bothering us.

Some years ago I injured my back in kickboxing. I engaged in physical therapy which didn’t completely alleviate the issues. I still caught myself wincing in bed, carefully moving throughout my day, unable to wear my favorite shoes and sometimes unable to bend to even put my socks on. I thought I might end up like so many whose movement is limited due to their physical pain. I mourned my previous active, kickboxing, yoga, hiking self.

I sat myself down and really asked myself – what is going on, Miss Yogi-pants? Yogies heal. Your mind over matter works. Your stretch beyond your limits has never caused this much pain – so what is happening?

In meditation, I realized that I so feared the pain, my body would tense up with any little movement which MIGHT cause the pain. It wasn’t that I couldn’t bend over – I was afraid of that pain and my body would tense up to save me from the hurt and then I wouldn’t be able to bend over.

Little by little I worked to release that tension, release that fear of the pain. In almost no time at all – the pain was gone. I still took some things slow. And I have to admit, my body (or mind?) decided my back did not like the repetitive jerking and twisting of gym kickboxing, so I limit that – but I’ve been able to do everything else.

Emotional pain works the same way – don’t you think? We are so afraid of the pain that we actually work backward and hold on to the pain by holding on to the fear.

We’re afraid of the unknown, so we make the same mistakes over and over. We fear being hurt, so we don’t try to move beyond it – we stay stuck because that’s safer than whatever is beyond this moment or this position.

What did my ankle teach me? I’m not sure. Not to procrastinate and finish the walkway in the garden? To take it easy before a big project? Or to push through to finish that big project – which is what I ended up doing. I wrapped my ankle, neglected my chores, and focused on the big project that I’d procrastinated on.

Maybe my ankle pain and momentary limitation was a wake up call to stop procrastinating PERIOD!