Shadows and Light

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Four years ago, I wrote this poem. Four years ago, I let go of the misguided belief that to write about painful family relationships is to be disloyal. Four years ago, I began the process of becoming an artist. Make no mistake-you cannot be an artist if you censor yourself; if you hid your past; if you sacrifice your truth to protect others.

Shadows & Light

Life with you was shadows and light.

On days when there was only light,

there was never only light.

A small step

in either direction

and you would cast your shadow.

Some days it would remain small

yet present.

It would lurk

and wait

and then grow.

It would grow

until it reigned over us.

And tears would rain

from eyes

that searched,

longing for light’s return.

If only it was always shadow,

the light would not be missed.

But such was not our fate.

.

Now that you are gone, it is only shadow-

that haunts my memories

that burdens my conscience

that chases the light.

Shadows

Light

You

I

Life

Death

An end

that never ends

Light Like a Sunday

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I am experimenting with line breaks and punctuation in poetry.  Which do you prefer, A or B? This morning, looking at both with fresh eyes, I prefer the rhythm of the first, despite B being my revision. Funny how a good night’s rest changes things.

A.

Light Like a Sunday

Light like a Sunday

afternoon-late

but not close enough to nightfall

just the dead, glaring light

of the interrogation room

declaring your guilt

in a game poorly played

in a life poorly played.

 

B.

Light, Like a Sunday

Light, like a Sunday

afternoon-late, but not close enough

to nightfall

just the dead

glaring light of the interrogation room

declaring your guilt

in a game poorly played

in a life poorly played.

 

Writing from Dark Places

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Most of my writing is dark-themes of loneliness, isolation, mental illness and uncertainty weave their way throughout. At times I wonder if it is irresponsible, this putting more darkness into the world. But my writing is born from places shielded from the light-the space under the stairwell where I hide, the corner of the basement where the single sunbeam cannot reach. If I wrote from places other than where I sit, anything I produced would be dishonest.

Before I became a writer, I was a dancer. Dancing was my life from the moment I began my  formal training at three-years-old. I was good-technically-but didn’t possess any real artistry until I felt true and profound sufferance. I could hear the music, move to the music, but could not feel it. Only when I learned fear, loneliness and longing for things that no longer existed did I acquire an understanding that connected me to music and movement. It was that understanding that allowed me to merge the two through dance.

Not until I knew darkness could I understand the haunting ache of Arvo Part’s Tabula Rosa or the torment of his Fratres. Not until I understood fear could I  connect to the foreboding of Marin Marais Bells of St. Genevieve, or the terror of Mozart’s Requiem in D.

But, locked away in a studio listening to these pieces, working through them, I found an almost ecstatic beauty and pleasure in the movement born from them, a beauty that never could have been experienced without the painful feelings and memories the music evoked.

This is the paradox of darkness-with its sadness, comes a heightened joy.

As with dance, so too with writing. Darkness is the foundation upon which beauty and joy is built, at least for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced enough pain to fully embrace the light that emerges from the shadows.

As an artist, a writer, a lover of this wretchedly beautiful world, you must be honest; you must not ignore what exists- the darkness, the sorrow, the joy, the sublime. As Mary Oliver states in “Wild Geese,”

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Read and listen to full poem here.

So tell me writers, dancers, artists; tell me your despair, your fear, your pain; share with me your darkness so that I can tell you mine, and we can learn the truth and beauty of the world that goes on and on….

 

 

 

The Chair at the Bottom of the Stairs

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The original version of this story was published under the title “The Chair Downstairs” in November 2017.

The chair was out of place. The design was early American, so it did not fit in with the rest of the room’s Ikea aesthetic. We used to keep it upstairs in our bedroom where we paid it little attention-probably because it was a catchall for our laundry and usually buried under mounds of clothing. But one evening, when we needed extra seating to accommodate guests, we brought it down to the living room and placed it near the bottom of the stairway. It remained there-a dignified outlier, small and stiff, like something an 18th century scholar would sit at as he pored over musty books by dim candlelight-amongst all our other cheap, assemble-yourself furnishings that young people purchase when they first move in together.

Rarely did anyone choose to sit in the chair. I assumed because it looked so uncomfortable. But there was something else about it-a quality of being already occupied. At night, when I’d turn off the lights, I’d dash upstairs, not wanting to be left alone in the dark room with whatever sat in that chair. I could feel it though, watching me take my leave, and when I’d wake during the witching hour, I’d think about the living space below and wonder.

Eventually we moved, but we did not bring the chair along with us. Whatever company it kept, I was finished entertaining.

Loneliness and Literature

 

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Some say they read literature to build empathy and develop a deeper understanding of lives different from their own. It sounds so selfless, so noble. But, if I am to be honest, I am neither as selfless nor as noble as that. Sure, one of the benefits of reading is that it invites us to reach beyond ourselves and our limited knowledge of the worlds outside ours, but, for me, what I like most about literature is that within it I can find myself and in doing so feel less alone in my own small world, for my world, as all worlds are, is a lonely place. We are solitary creatures-no matter how many people surround us, no matter how many friends and relationships we forge, we are alone with our thoughts, our memories, our secrets.

Sometimes readers and writers remain strangers, walking side by side, appreciating the company, but, in the end, they develop no greater understanding of the other than in the beginning. But there are other times, when somewhere in the forest of thought and words, there is a flicker of light, and under that light the writer fully sees the reader and reveals to her what before was unspoken, hidden, buried.

Sometimes a writer looks at you and tells you who you are. Or tells you that you are not alone, for she is the same as you, at least in that moment, in that thought, in that action. This, for me, is the greatest gift the writer bestows upon the reader.

I do not possess the ability to retain and perfectly recall hundreds of lines I have read in books from years past. There are only a handful which I carry with me, but these have been my companions, assuring me that someone else, some writer at some moment in time, felt the same way I did, and we met once when I wandered into her world of mystery and words, and in a flicker of light she saw me, and I understood that I was not alone.

Here are a few of those lines:

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!” Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

“I’m inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to secret griefs of wild, unknown men.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

” ‘You will have only one story,’ she had said. ‘You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.’ ” Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton

“What if my whole life has been wrong?” Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

What lines do you carry with you? When has an author echoed or articulated your thoughts, secrets, fears? What has an author said to reassure you that you are not alone?

 

 

The Black Box

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There is a black box on my basement floor.

It is full of pretty things.

As a girl, I kept it in my room

atop my bureau

and filled it with all the lovely tokens I collected

from a lovely life.

*

As I grew older

the box grew too,

and I carried it with me from place to place,

and within it I placed

my heart,

and my love and my children

and all their lovely things

until it swelled.

*

One day, when I was no longer young

and no longer lovely,

I carried it into my basement

and placed it in a corner

on the floor.

And my black box sprouted roots,

cracking the foundation

and reaching down into the earth

and through the earth

to a black and bitter place.

*

When the flood waters came and destroyed all else,

my black box remained anchored.

And, now that the waters have receded, I see

that all but it have been swept away.

*

I regard my box in the corner,

but I shall not open it,

for within is a hole that reaches into an eternity of lovely things

that no longer are

and the torment of memories

of lovely places

that no longer exist.

 

The Cat in the Wall

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Hello friends. Over the past year I have been busy working on my book, “The Cat in the Wall and Other Dark & Twisted Tales of Women in Strange Situations,” which I recently published on Amazon. In this small collection of six short stories, I explore the spaces between sanity and madness & reality and fantasy.  Each story includes a different female protagonist at a different life stage-from an eleven-year-old girl grappling with a sinister family secret, to a mother struggling with how to best cope with a child afflicted by a mysterious malady, to a woman whose grasp of reality becomes increasingly tenuous with age. All six characters must navigate a world where the line between what is real and what is fantastic is blurred.

Now that my book is in the world, I hope to be more present here, this lovely place where I have learned so much about the craft of writing.

If you would like to read “The Cat in the Wall,” you can go to Amazon here or click on the link on the right of this page.  You can purchase it in either ebook and paperback format, and the first story is available to read for free.

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There is something incredibly exciting about holding your book for the first time!