Surmising with aplomb and nary remorse
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THE WOMAN IN ME
by Debolina Coomar
When I was a daughter, I had dreams,
I learnt that life is not easy, and nothing is what it seems.
When I became a student, I had aspirations,
I learnt that achievements are important, and learnings are an inspiration.
When I became a professional, I had goals,
I learnt that life is full of challenges, and we have to take up different roles.
When I was a wife, I had a duty,
I learnt caring, sharing and trust in a relationship is the real beauty.
When I became a mother, I had responsibilities,
I learnt to take up challenges and fulfil them with my abilities.
When I wear so many different masks everyday,
Each one is different and unique in its own way.
But, when I see myself in the mirror,
I see so many faces, but I cannot find HER.
The woman in me keeps calling me everyday,
I just avoided her as I almost have nothing to say.
But, one day, she saw me back into my eyes,
And wanted to know why I ignored all her cries.
I forgot HER as I was busy being everything else,
But, now I want to be ME and let myself out,
I want to open my heart and let it shout.
I want to start living as MYSELF and let the world see,
The WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE, because that is the best I have in me
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MARY OF THE SUN
by jonna ellis holston
From Lowell , Massachusetts
My Aunt Mary wrote for The Lowell Sun for seventy-six years. She started while still a high school girl… under pen names… looong before women commonly reported for newspapers. She and my Uncle Charles G Sampas, a mild mannered executive news editor from a great historic city’s newspaper, were my God Parents. Often glued to Mary’s side, I recall The Sun as a chaotic place full of screaming, sweaty reporters desperate to read the ribbons spewed forth from the wire services. I still smell the ink and burnt coffee, and hear the deafening noise of the printing machines. “It’s a lot of work to bring news to the people,” she told me.
And remember those phones that had wires attached to walls? Mary Sampas was attached to one of those… always tucked under an ear, scribbling notes and trading in gossip and fact as she covered the glamorous stars of old Hollywood, Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant, David Niven, many others. Mary and Charlie even accompanied the Kennedys on their Paris trip with Charles de Gaulle and then off to Vienna for the Khrushchev talks. Even Jackie called on Mary for the inside scoop.
She slept late… till the calls began… then the typing would start. Evenings were usually spent socializing with those who were known to be in the know. Hers was a world of endless working parties with artists, writers or prominent Democrats. With non-stop, indefatigable charm and the brain of a word processor she would pursue secrets, discover, verify. What was show and what remained hidden in the backroom smoke?
She brought me to my first ballet when I’d just turned eleven. After the captivating magic and beauty on stage I decided, right there, that I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. She asked me if I’d like to see the ballerinas up close. I thought I was the luckiest girl alive as we sauntered behind the curtains with press pass in hand. But I was struck by the naked authenticity of costumes tossed, the smell of sweat, cold cream and wilting rose. This was typical Mary, don’t get lost in this dream, this takes a lifetime of hard work and practice. Search for the story behind the story, find what’s real.
It wasn’t that she set out to expose the chaotic core trapped in the center of every bright star; she just sought truth and didn’t treat children like babies. I don’t think she could have read a fairytale without somehow exposing the dust between pages. Even during the Camelot sparkle of the Kennedy years I knew about the telling fingernails, bitten down to the quick and smartly hidden under Jackie’s gloves.
She loved the famous, the talented, and the informed, filled her life and home with them yet she intellectually cartwheeled over most. The glamorous and entertaining Mary possessed the most astute mind in the room and damn if she didn’t know that it was true. I went to some of those parties full of important people but I, too young to know that this wasn’t normalcy, usually fell asleep in her bed.
Aunt Mary’s last party was her grand finale. Kidney failure and she’d refused treatment. Saints Medical Center gave Her Majesty the largest possible room where she was surrounded by friends, loved ones and family, where fans came to pay their respects to a most beloved woman, toasted the One who had provided a lifetime of the beautiful usage of language. From her hospital bed she wrote her last piece for the paper.
She called to say good bye. I could hear Frank Sinatra music playing faintly behind her. I, unwilling to let go, asked her if she thought dialysis would really be so terribly bad.
“Yes it would,” she said, yet another truth. “They say it won’t hurt but it always does.”
She told me how much she loved me and I, with tears welling, tried to convey to her what she meant to me and what an honor it was to have her in my life. I wanted to be there with her but there was a Nor-eastern blizzard in the forcast. I had a sprained ankle and my car needed breaks.
It was Classic Mary and the last truth she told me before she died. “You know,” she said, “you were always an awful lot of work.” I was, indeed, and smiles still linger on the tears of my memory. On January 12th, 2011, just over 5 years ago and at age 93, the Great Woman passed onward.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old, familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always did.
January 8th, 2016
Dear Auntie Mary,
You know… you could be a lot of work too,
But I would change nothing… because I had you.
PS: You always loved my bad poetry.
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THE AMERICAN FAMILY IS BROKEN
by Erin Byerly
“It was your choice to have a baby, so why should my tax dollars pay for them?”
Americans pride themselves on rugged individuality and a tireless work ethic. After spending such long hours in the office with so little vacation time, why should we be expected to subsidize the kids we may not even be having? And why should employers bear the brunt of pregnant employees and the inconvenience of maternity leave?
We may be one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but we’ve forgotten who we are. People talk about children as though they were vintage cars, expensive and unnecessary luxuries that shouldn’t inconvenience anyone but their owners.
We pay a lot of lip service to how much we love children, but when it comes down to it, we resent every last dime we collectively spend on them. We don’t want them in our restaurants or in our airplanes, and certainly don’t want the workplace to accommodate their parents.
Not everyone wants, needs, or is able to have children, but putting the entire burden of our species on the backs of individual families has become unreasonable.
Women’s roles have drastically changed since fifty years ago, and for good cause. Women should neither be kept from employment nor forced into economic dependence on men who could abandon them, die, or even become abusive.
Problem is, relative wages have dropped and most families require two incomes, yet Americans seem blind to our changing circumstances. We vilify families living on public assistance while simultaneously viewing workplace pregnancy accommodations, universal healthcare, parental leave, and subsidized daycare as selfish “entitlements.”
And we don’t want to pay for them, unlike every other developed nation on Earth.
No other first-world country fires pregnant women for medical complications or rips new mothers from the arms of their newborn babies within days of delivery. We barely acknowledge the idea that fathers need bonding time too.
No one else in our fighting class expects parents to shoulder low-quality daycare costs that exceed college tuition rates or applauds making children go hungry when their parents can’t afford lunch money.
Nothing in life is free. We’re turning our backs on the most vulnerable members of our species and our nation is paying a heavy price. Our maternal and infant mortality rates are criminal. Poverty and mental illness are reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression.
And with those costs come interest. Our child abuse, violent crime, and incarceration rates dwarf those of our European counterparts. These issues don’t arise from a handful of irresponsible parents, but a skyrocketing number of families who can barely cope with the strain.
You may not want a child and should never feel obligated to have one, but someone needs to.
Once upon a time, you were a child yourself. Not just you, but your coworkers, your boss, your friends, your family members, and anyone else you ever cared about. You grew up, as will most of the children in America today.
So, why should your tax dollars be spent on someone else’s children?
Because they are you.
They are us.
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THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES
by Manivillie Kanagasabapathy
** TRIGGER WARNING: Abuse **
Deep Brown eyes stare back at me,
Fleeting whispers floating between us,
Shadows creep silently,
Across broad brown shoulders,
The darkness melding within the chocolate hues,
Lengthening to point accusingly,
At the faded bruise
That still held faint outlines of his hand.
“Are you okay? Should I call someone?”
I hear the teacher’s voice whisper
My eyes jump back up,
Shamed to be caught,
Starting at the dark eyes,
That hid darker shadows.
“I’m fine, I fell”
I watched her rouge tipped lips open in reply,
Tasting the words,
Rolling them around her tongue
Until they fit,
Like words spoken
“Should I call a doctor?”
The persistent voice asked again,
Concern and patronization moving together
To create a melody of the question,
“No really I am fine, I fell.”
Stronger, this time
The eyes lit with the flame of memory,
Recreated to a story to be told over and over,
Each time more real than the last.
Hands lift reaching across
Touch the fading bruise,
Face flinching from where my fingers lay,
Turning to look away.
With a breath, I slowly withdraw my hand
Shaking as it moves from the mirror.
Square the shoulders,
A deep inhalation and whisper…
“I am fine, I fell.”
DESPITE IT ALL, BECAUSE OF IT ALL
I grew up in a large family, the youngest girl and second youngest of six children, with two sisters and three brothers. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, I have always wanted to have a large family myself. My husband on the other hand, grew up with just one sister, so he was more skeptical of the prospect of a large family. Of course a large family today is probably only equivalent to half the size of a large family back then.
My ultimate goal was to have my children before the age of 30, so I could be a young mother and grandmother. After three-and-a-half years of marriage, I stopped using birth control so we could start a family. It didn’t take long for me to get pregnant, but it took determination and perseverance throughout nine pregnancies within the next ten years to successfully create our family.
I decided to write a book about my efforts to have children for many reasons; the most important one being that it was very therapeutic for me to jot down details of each of my pregnancies, successful or not, to keep them all sorted in my mind. Reading about them now, each one borne complete through words becoming sentences, and sentences becoming paragraphs and pages, is the most therapeutic of all. Of course it is easier to move on when things have ended on a positive note, and my family is complete.
My advice to others is simple:
Talk about your fears, disappointments and struggles to anyone who will listen. This can be a professional councilor or a friend or family member. On the flip side, listen to anyone that is trying to lean on you for support throughout their struggles. I remember a co-worker thanking me for “breaking the ice” as she called it, upon my return to work after a stillbirth. My co-workers were all very concerning and caring, but no one knew what to say or how to act, so when I started the conversation they were very grateful. It is always better to acknowledge someone’s pain rather than ignore or avoid it.
Do not wait too long to start your family. As my story shows you, things do not always go as planned. If you are in a healthy, financially stable relationship, and both of you want to have children, don’t procrastinate. That’s why humans have a nine-month gestation; it gives you time to get used to the idea of a baby in the family.
Work hard for what you believe in and want out of life. Do not let others tell you that you cannot do something that you believe you can. Do not believe that you cannot do something until you have tried your best to do it.
Do not take anything you have for granted, especially your health, but also your intelligence, athletic abilities, and anything else that makes you different from others.
Last, but not least, when you are feeling down, take a moment to realize that there is always someone worse off than you in any given situation. Think of the good and positive things in your life, (I do not mean materialistic things) and be sure to surround yourself with positive people that really care about you. Delete the negative things and people from your life. Make a written list of these things, referring to it often and adding to the list as you work through your struggles.
I can write this story now with humor, candor, wisdom and hindsight, all things I did not have much of when I was first starting out on my path to motherhood. Hopefully, this will provide inspiration and comfort to others that have or are going through the frustration and heartbreak of losing a child during pregnancy.
HEROES FOR A MODERN GIRL
by Pamela Schloesser Canepa
The poet Maya Angelou
shared wise words that moved me so.
Songbird Nina Simone
Did not fear walking alone.
Laid the truth on me.
Mom bravely raised me alone,
in the warmest, loving home.
Simone deBouvaire taught me
women are not property.
Toni Morrison’s Pilate
was free like a wild lilac.
And I thank them all
for helping me stand tall.
Men’s rules, commandments, and laws
once confined us, we felt lost.
But there was no stopping
rebels like Janis Joplin.
I benefit from their stand,
and I’m fed by my own hand.
I thank them all
For helping me stand tall.
by elizabeth stokkebye
Seventeen and in Paris on my own.
It was my first encounter with the city of love and I was fortunate to stay with an aunt and uncle, who both being workaholics, left me with oceans of time to explore. I hurried out the door to experience the vast world of Paris with its majestic architecture, its towering cathedrals, its world-renowned art collections, its peaceful parks, and its crowds of people.
The air was spring like, mild and sunny, although I was spending my Christmas holiday away from my home in Denmark. Traveling by myself in a foreign world filled me with a sensation of pure freedom. I remember how my breathing felt different: effortless and silent but steady and consistent. It was breathing devoid of depression and anxiety. I breathed without past or future and let the air be present.
Walking along grand boulevards beneath a blue sky sporting white clouds I felt my loving heart circulate blood through my veins.
On my way past one of the many cafés lining the wide sidewalk, my sway caught the attention of a street performer playing his violin. As I danced by him he let go of his instrument and started to sing Ne me quitte pas. I stopped, turned around, and listened to his chanson. Was he performing especially for me?
My youthful disposition was romantic and I was attracted to him. At the same time, I could hear my mother’s voice: “I’m so proud to have brought up a good girl!” I didn’t move. When he was done with the song, he waved me over. I blushed but followed his hand. He grabbed mine and kissed it. I felt the touch of his soft lips. My skin everywhere reacted by turning prickly and my breathing intensified.
“Ma Cherie,” he whispered.
All of a sudden my body felt heavy and I pulled away. Caught between wanting to leave and wanting to stay, I sat down on a bistro chair.
“Please, I need a minute,” I uttered.
“Bien sûr!” he smiled.
He put his violin to his neck once again and with closed eyes, he played the sweetest melody riding through the air and penetrating the toughest disposition.
Paralyzed, I tried to think. Should I leave or should I stay? My sense of freedom had slowly vanished which made the decision so much harder. The guy was cute, romantic and talented.
A waiter came over and I asked for a café au lait. As more people gathered around to listen to the soft music, I started to relax. He didn’t sing again which made me feel special.
Immersed in the music, I let go of time. Slowly, the morning faded, noon hour came around, and with his violin case full of money, he sang out:
“La dernière chanson!”
From his slender body came Que je t’aime and I didn’t know where to look. My gaze fell on a young woman advancing hurriedly towards us and embodying a sense of pure joy. She stepped right up to my singer and kissed him on the mouth.
YOUR DREAMS ARE DEAD
These four words flew into the forefront of my brain along with what felt like gallons of blood as I was bent over the floor around my son’s desk retrieving his crumpled up artistic attempts. He is nearly 7 years old and a truly gifted artist. I do not say this because he is my son. A sharp pencil or pen and paper is his chosen medium and from the depths of his soul he creates beautiful and intricate abstracts and hilariously haunting caricatures. We are a homeschooling family therefore he is privileged to practice and delve deeper into his art everyday for hours on end. I encourage it, I love it. This is what I want for my children, why I homeschool, so passion can arise organically and be nurtured.
As I am in his room tidying up and think “your dreams are dead,” I shout out to my husband “is this it for me, is my life over?” “Yes,” he says. He always answers my nihilistic questions nihilistically. To a large extent, he is right. In a permanent way that you cannot change your mind about like you can the dream of wanting to be a successful blogger or to own a Louis Vuitton bag, bringing children into the world is a dream all to itself. The dream of children trumps all other dreams. I remind myself of that anytime I despair about not having an aspiration to call my own or even an uninterrupted shower to call my own. I wanted this. These children were and are my dream realized. It is exciting to watch the unfolding of these beautiful human beings. And I am their mother. I am honored to be their safe-space, the place-holder as they venture in and out of their artistic worlds through play and meaningful work.
However. As I near my mid-30’s, I find myself being less and less content with this idea. I still have something to offer, I have ideas that flood my head nightly once everyone else is asleep and the silence settles in. There have been times when I felt disgruntled about life and have thought about this character that I have seen portrayed in television and movies of the overbearing mother who regrets that she never did anything with her life so she nags, meddles, cuts-down and eventually alienates her children. It could have been different if only she had made a life for herself outside of her role as wife and mother. This persona would top the list as the worst version of myself. I don’t want to envy my children and begrudge them of their dreams.
There is another way. And I already know where to start. I have been cultivating hopes and desires for people in my family for years. For a passion to bloom, a person needs tools, space and opportunity to create. My children deserve that. I deserve that. You deserve that. As adults, we have to make that happen for ourselves. There is no mother or father around to do it for us now, or maybe, ever. We are creative-space incarnate. No. More. Excuses.
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