Monday, November 10, 2014


On the way to the writing session this morning, I listened to a double mix CD I made recently.  It’s a compilation of songs that had deep emotional resonance for me throughout the years.  Hearing them play one after the other was like listening to the soundtrack of my life, while zigzagging up the Thruway soaked in rain and autumn colors.

Certain lyrics evoked flashes of what once was – the twelve-year-old kid arranging pillows and ashtrays on the couch, a makeshift drum kit, banging drumsticks along to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” repeatedly before her mom got home from work.  The twenty-something finding her way surfaced from a line from Michelle Shocked’s “Memories of East Texas” about those left behind not being able to make a place for a girl who’d seen the ocean.  And a song from my 30s by Incubus that I listened to on my endless commutes into the city in the 1990s where the song’s character calls out a warning to never let life pass her by.

What’s striking is the first CD is filled with images of chains and silencing and what it feels like to be stuffed in a pre-defined box so others can feel safe and orderly, so you make sense to them.  Everything that was stifled while staying in those sterile boxes just burned.  I’m thanksful the ember wasn’t extinguished.

That’s due to the theme of the second CD, all about the searching, the journey, the knowledge that despite how everyone I knew lived their lives, there just might be another way.  I read something recently that is the full-grown tree that pulls itself from the seed, birthing itself.  Somewhere I was encouraging and nurturing those tender shoots into existence.

Years ago when I moved into my home, I set up a music studio in the basement.  As I daydreamed my corporate hours away during the workweek, I would imagine myself lying on my back on the floor of that little studio, late at night, in the dark except for a sole candle and the LED lights on the recording equipment.  I would envision myself holding a microphone to my mouth, creating reel after feel of spoken word prose – eloquent, prolific, effortless.  Endless stories and images captured on tape.  But when I did go downstairs, I couldn’t even flip that machine on.  And I never knew why.  Something always stopped me from actually trying.

But it occurred to me today that what I really needed at that time was the dream itself.  I needed the hope that someday I’d find a way to rip the self-affixed duct tape off my own mouth.

So when did everything change?  When I picked up a pen and began writing the truth.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I snapped. There is nothing else to call it. Thirty minutes into running Mom on some errands. A record for me as one of our longest visits before we broke into an argument. I was tired of her snipes about her mother being "taken from her" and how Brianna and I have no idea what she is going through since we both still have our mothers with us. Nana had only been gone about 10 months at this point give or take a few days and I had done my best to be understanding and calm with Mom, but on that day... I simply purely and completely snapped. As I started talking it was like everything slowed.

"Mom, I would seriously advise you to cut the bullshit. Just come out and tell me that you hate me for siding with your little sister that she is better capable of taking care of Nana that I am since I have Dad, Brianna, and you and a new marriage to deal with for starters. Next, you have no clue about my sense of loss over Nana. Nana took us in and helped raise me. Actually, she primarily raised me after your divorce from Dad. Had she and Papa not done that who knows where you and I would have ended up. So, yes. I have you here still, but yes, I lost a mother too in this. Lastly, it would be in your best interest not to assume how, when, why or if Brianna should feel loss over Nana moving to Florida. And by the way you ever tell Brianna that if we don't get to Florida she will never get to see Nana alive again and you will never see any of us again. I am done with this topic with you, period!"

I had lost all patience, calm and sanity in that moment and luckily we were at a red light so that I could try to take a cleansing breath till I saw my Mom's face and her mouth opening to keep the fight going. Before she could get the words out I stared at her.

"Think carefully, very carefully, before you respond, Mom. Got it?"

She fell silent for a moment before choosing to keep it going.

"Well, I am not talking about ancient history or the divorce. Dr. Rick said no one understands me and that just proves it. Take me home now."

And yet she never did say that she did not hate me.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A MOTHER'S VOICE by Jessica Rosenthal

As the cold scissors slide up my blouse to cut it open I can hear my mother’s voice, “Always wear clean underwear, just in case.”  My clean panties were in the trunk of my now mangled Honda Civic because I had picked up my laundry from the wash & fold the night before and didn’t bring it in the house.  Today, it was a cold California morning in October and I was too comfortable to go outside in my pajamas to get the bag of clean laundry.  So here I was, in the back of the ambulance, the EMTs trying to keep me conscious – and I was NOT wearing clean underwear.  My mother would be so disappointed.

My mom Lois, or Lotus Blossom as my father affectionately calls her, has a very definite idea of right & wrong and structure.  This discipline contributed to her and my dad’s thriving even though they had very little money.  They first lived in a small one bedroom on Colby Court in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  I don’t remember the first few years of my life there, although I can see certain images from the home movies we watched on holidays.  I could imagine our time there from the narration that went along with the silent films.  Nowadays, we rarely break out the projector but when we do, my parents play “dead – not dead” and my dad always winds up crying.

I spent a lot of time with my dad in the early years of my life.  By 1976, my parents had been married 4 years (though they began dating each other 9 years earlier) and they had moved to a two bedroom apartment in the Warbasse neighborhood of Brooklyn.  They lived in the same building as my mom’s parents, and one of my grandmother’s brothers and his family.  My dad, an electrician, was furloughed from work at this time, so my mother went to work at Coney Island hospital in the billing department while my dad stayed home and cared for me.  I loved those times.  For breakfast, he would add uBet® syrup to my Rice Krispies® so I would be sure to drink the milk at the bottom of the bowl.  Our days were filled with fun excursions, like going to the park, or walking over to his mother’s house on Brighton 7th Street, where her sisters all had houses too.  I would sit on the red stoop and listen to the grownups talk, or roller skate on the uneven payment, or perform for my great aunts and grandmother.  I was the first of all the grandchildren, #1, and I garnered a lot of attention.

Occasionally, my dad and I would spend the afternoon in the apartment. I would stand on the wood galley table and dance to Bob Dylan as my dad held my hands and sung along to the record, “Everybody must get stoned…”  Some afternoons, his friends would come over and they would smoke cigarettes that they rolled themselves from a wooden cigar box.  In high school, before I knew what getting stoned meant, I pictured people throwing rocks at other people like they did in the Salem witch trials.  I didn’t understand why my Dad liked that song so much.  In my twenties I told my dad that I remembered these times, and he assured me that he NEVER rolled his own tobacco.

Music has been an extremely powerful influence in my life.  At first, after my accident I couldn’t listen to music at all.  Knowing my love of music, my dad would suggest turning on the radio from the remote control attached to the bed, but I was too afraid.  What if something played that made me sad?  I didn’t want to cry anymore.  After many little surgeries, it was time for the big one.  Using shards of bone, pieces of my shattered pelvis, titanium plates and bolts, the doctor planned to put my hip back together.  I was sedated to the point of being out of my mind and body, but I was scared.  While my dad stayed with me until they rolled me into surgery, my mom had gone back to the hotel to shower and get some rest after several days of sleeping in hospital chairs next to my bed.  He kept me conscious by reciting the lyrics of as many Dylan songs as he could remember.  And there were a lot.  I sang along, “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet…We sit stranded but we’re doing our best to deny it.”  It kept me from thinking about the possibility that I wouldn’t make it out of surgery alive, or never be able to walk again.  One after the other, we sang together until the attendant came to wheel me away.  My dad followed close behind to make sure the orderly took great care in transporting me.  Any abrupt movement was painful as my leg hung from a gurney and a pin temporarily kept it in place.  As the nurses greeted me, my dad wished me luck and told me, “I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

And he was.  The surgery was a success and I was relieved to move to the next phase of recovery.  I was still afraid to watch TV for fear of the Allstate commercial where they show a collision and you can hear and see it happening. I still didn’t want to listen to music.  Slowly though, as the days turned into weeks, I was less and less afraid.  I began with the doo wop station, upbeat and light hearted.  A couple of songs here and there were enough to remind me of the healing power of music.

I learned to lift myself out of the bed, onto a plank and into the wheelchair. Then from the wheelchair to the walker; Standing, shuffling a few feet while my dad pushed the wheelchair behind me in case I had to sit down midway down the hall.  When I was able to get to the end of the hallway and back to my room using only the walker, I was ready for the music.  I found myself singing the Grateful Dead, “…gotta get back to where you belong, little bit harder, just a little bit more, little bit further than you’ve gone before.”  I emailed my friend Dave and asked him to send me some CDs.  When they arrived, I listened to that song, The Wheel, over and over again. 

Eventually two months from the fated day, I was able to climb a flight of stairs, albeit slowly and sometimes by using the rump bump tactic.  I was released from the hospital rehab and allowed to go home.  My mom had already flown back to New Jersey two weeks earlier, barely arriving in time for my sister to give birth to my twin nieces.  I can’t believe I missed that special morning when my nieces were born.  Regretful, but out of my hands, I was in California.  My dad stayed with me for several weeks, until I could live again independently. On our way home, we went to Home Depot so my dad could buy materials to build a sturdy bannister that would help me up the 12 steps to the front porch.  I wasn’t used to wheeling myself around.  My arms were so sore the entire next day that all I did was sit and watch old concert footage, barely moving from my favorite armchair.  By the third day, I was feeling better and the bannister was complete, wooden stain and all.

It was an eye opening experience using a wheelchair.  I knew I was lucky that this was only temporary.  After months of physical therapy, I would be able to walk again and not be wheelchair bound.  But I noticed things that had been unimportant before.  The cuts in the curb on the sidewalk were often too bumpy for me to wheel over alone.  Without my dad, I had to ask a stranger for a push.  So many places in my small little town didn’t have a ramp or a handicap bathroom.  It was a simple injustice, but it felt like a personal “You are not welcome here.”  The most enlightening and sad thing I noticed was that people wouldn’t make eye contact with me.  They would talk right over my head to my dad, as if I wasn’t there; Or that somehow the wheelchair left me unable to think or speak for myself.  I think people were afraid to look, in fear of what they might see – what they imagined could be wrong with me.  I wanted to tell them that I was okay, and that in a few months they wouldn’t even know that I had not been able to walk.  But before I had a chance there eyes would dart away and they’d be gone.  Now, I always make it a point to make eye contact with and smile at people in wheelchairs.  Immobility does not define a person.  Nobody likes or deserves to feel ignored.  Everyone wants to be asked to dance.

Monday, June 2, 2014

FOG by Sonja Leobold

When Jacques and I were together, so many years ago, we hitched from Paris across Europe, ending up one night in Bavaria. We had no idea where we had been dropped off, only that we found ourselves in a dense fog.

We walked blindly, not even knowing if we were still on a road. No cars passed us, and every once in a while, we could see through the mist, fields, and, once, at a distance, a barn, which gave us hope that we might be able to sleep somewhere for a while. Jacques crossed the field to see if we could get into it, but a dog began to bark ferociously and Jacques backed off.

We walked most of the night, hardly able to see a foot in front of us. The fog enveloped us, but sometimes retreated, trees appearing from nowhere, sometimes a house or two, then disappearing. We kept losing sight of each other, too, only to rediscover one another just a few steps away. But we never saw another human being. It was as if we were between worlds—unknown places. Nothing seemed real.

As the fog lifted and light drifted down from the sky, things around us began to stir. A farmer left his house and headed across a field towards his barn, a dog at his side. Once in a while, we saw a cow or two standing as if in a trance, slowly blinking. Morning was breaking.

At some point, we heard a truck coming our way. It was a milk truck and the driver was kind enough to pick us up. He said he would take us into town. We had started out to try to find an old friend of mine who lived in Oberbayen, a small town in Bavaria, south of Munich. Amazingly, the driver told us we were practically there. Once he dropped us off in town, we were able to find the small inn where Robert, my friend, was staying.

It was good to see Robert. Robert. Solid, kind, wise. He was 65 and I was 21. He had lived a complicated life. He was German and as a young man, had served in World War I, only to emerge from it, shell-shocked and with a horror of war. During World War II, he had worked in the underground, helping Jews escape. After the war, he had come to America, living there for many years, and doing many things, some of them simultaneously. He started an old-time one-room schoolhouse, worked as a therapist, treating people who were “lost causes,” was a water-color painter, and was in the midst of translating the verses of the I Ching. 

The quality in Robert I found most impressive was his ability to focus. When you were with him, he was totally attentive and fully present, so that even five minutes with him was completely satisfying and felt like five hours. And, perhaps because of that focus, he was acutely perceptive and sensitive. He learned so much about you without you having said a word. I think that’s why I had wanted to come to see him with Jacques. I felt so conflicted in my feelings for Jacques, and thought that perhaps things would clarify in Robert’s wise presence.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW by Daniel Marshall

I felt comfortable sitting on a padded stool, the counter hard underneath my forearms when I leaned on it.  With my eyes, I followed the marbled pattern on the stone, veins of white running through black, this way and that, webbed.  The seat revolved, though not the yoke-shaped steel footrest.  I twisted to left and right, stopping my swings with my feet, waiting for service.

“What will you have?”

“A vanilla malted.”

My eyes swept over the store—the mirror facing me that I turned from, not wanting to see myself, the shiny painted and chromed paraphernalia on the sideboard, the wooden telephone booth with the glass windows at the end of the walkway, and a few empty booths.  The store was empty, except for me.

It was a choice of either a malted, a milkshake, or an egg cream, but I was hungry and wanted something thick and soothing, not runny with seltzer and lumpy with ice cream scoops.  A memory flickered across my mind of an apple-cheeked young man and woman, she in a checked dress, sharing an ice cream soda with two straws in the Norman Rockwell painting.  But I had no young woman soft on me to share a soda with, though I could have asked one if I’d had time.

I thought of Beverly, how pretty and demure she was, with long blond hair, and of the day that I passed her house and heard her screaming at her younger brother.  An image of Joanne Lanzarone came to me, but I hadn’t seen her since eighth grade and didn’t know where she lived.  I thought that I’d intercepted some glances from her, and there was an engaging sweetness about her but Carol del Casino was more sultry and got higher marks, though not quite as high as mine.  Why was I thinking of them; they were moving in a different direction from me, and I never saw them anymore, except once or twice a year when I went to the same Mass as Carol, and she was wearing attention-getting fashionable grown-up clothes now.

The truth was that Regis kept me away from the neighborhood.  I hardly even saw the pretty Wotman girls next door, though I still saw Marge in the kitchen when she visited my mom and they sat talking around the table.  My mom liked to give advice and listen to people’s problems or just chat.  I wondered what my classmates were doing.  Tommy Keller liked to visit my mom, so once in a while I heard something about him.  I liked to visit Ethel McDonald, Brigid’s mom, but Brigid still looked a lot like a girl and wasn’t sultry like Carol.  Besides, the girls whom I went to school with seemed ordinary, and I wondered what sort of people were beyond Brooklyn.

I thought of Joanne in a one-piece elastic bathing suit, like the one that Joanne Galuski used to wear when I met her in Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario, behind the university buildings where my dad did research for a summer job, and the summer before that Mary Morrow at Lake Champlain, where Harry Holmes lent us a big summer house on an acre of land by the only main road.  I couldn’t remember when I’d seen Joanne in such a bathing suit, but I could easily imagine her looking attractive in one.  I must have seen her somewhere.

Beverly was taller, and she could have had such a suit, too, but I couldn’t imagine her in one.  Or Ginny Holst.  I thought of Bev in crinoline and satin like the dress that she wore when I took her to the junior prom.  My mom wanted me to date Mary Flaherty, but she was plain and chatty.  My mom knew her mom.  I thought of Ginny as very modest, in a plain flowered dress.  She got the next highest marks after me and didn’t start school with us.

Making a malted was liturgy and performance.  I couldn’t often afford one, but I wanted one to cheer me up.  I remembered being disappointed when Carol showed a liking for Dennis Card.  The counter guy dropped a measured spoonful of a white powder with an expert toss and, pulling a handle or two downward toward the metal canister that served as mixer, he dispensed a couple of fluids into it, thick and white.  He locked the canister into the mixer and flicked a switch.  The machine turned with a soft, business-like little roar.  It was pea-soup green and enameled; they always were.  Maybe it was in my imagination that I imagined seeing the liquid swirling.  Then with a flourish he set a tall glass in front of me, poured the contents of the canister into it, and plopped a straw and spoon in.  It was thick enough that a little indentation formed around the straw.  I sipped, thinking of Joanne Lanzarone, Mary Morrow, and Joanne Galuski in bathing suits and wishing that I had a girlfriend like one of them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

IT'S NOT OVER by DeAnn Louise Daigle

My art history class transported
me to Rome, the Netherlands,
Greece, France, Holland, Germany – 

But more than cities and countries
with boundaries and languages
were the paintings and sculptures themselves.
Like music, they transcended all borders and
destinations except what led to the human heart. 
Art and the human heart.

These few hours every week were precious and
inexplicably freeing for me. 
When I was there in the evenings at the
university, I left behind W. T. Grant Company. 
I was nineteen years old and totally in love with
the study of art and the worlds it opened for me. 
I soared, I wept, I stayed awake nights writing
and reading about my experience of art
and the world of impeccable beauty and how it
nourished and sustained me
by feeding my imagination with an opening to
endless possibilities.

It was this experience that gave me the wings of
courage to go outside, to work, to speak, to have
conversation, to try to live my life as if there were
someone I could speak with about all I felt
and dreamed and hoped for.

I wrote about the whistler of the night
who walked in foggy footsteps I could hear
outside my window
in the middle of a summer’s quiet evening.
And I wrote, after seeing Edward Hopper’s
Nighthawks, about the same sky,
the same sun, the same moon, the same stars
from above my room to other rooms on the
other side of the globe, and how we shared these
together – human beings unknowing, quiet,
apart and yet together.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


This past winter has been a bitch. I have vegetated in my house....scared of icy roads and sidewalks...terrified of falling...broken arm...leg...back. I carry the hiking stick which I can barely manage when walking the dog. Yes...Yes what I have experienced is  fear...real fear..and I hate it. Long ago I swore that as I aged I’d be bold, take the risks, not let the years strap me in an unmovable chair, be who I was.

I was in my twenties. I was in New York City taking an acting class that met on a Sunday night at twelve midnight on Sixth Avenue and 24th Street. You climbed up three flights of rickety stairs to the studio. The class met at this witching hour because everyone in the class, except me, was in a Broadway show and they could make it down after their performances.

The class ran from midnight to 2:30 or 3:00 am. After class we’d trudge down the rickety stairs...some turned north on Sixth Ave....four of us turned south headed toward The Village. We didn’t wait for a bus but walked the blocks south to 8th Street, talking about the scenes that had been presented in class; the working actors gossiping about the evening performance. At 8th Street, two turned west and two of us turned east. At Cooper Union, I lost my companion. I continued on, alone, to St. Marks Place, past the darkened Jazz club, on to First Ave., south one block to 7th Street and home at last. Unlocked the apartment door and my dog, Hambone, greeted me. I’d put on his leash, back down the stairs to the street with Hambone desperately searching for the nearest pole to lift his leg. Then a quick run around the block, back up the stairs to the apartment, feed Hambone and the cat, General Beauregard, then into the shower and getting ready to make the trip uptown to get to work on time.
What I remember of that time?  The silence of the streets, hearing my shoe heel strike the pavement, the wild conversations as the four of us walked south, the lack of fear... Being alive in the moment. Being young. I want it back. I reach out.