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"A SINGULAR WAY"
by Kerrie Keane

Where does it come from? His gait.  He still has that gait.  It arrests me every time. Meeting him somewhere, awaiting his arrival, I notice the way he approaches, a rare vitality and youth in his step; the drummer hearing the rhythm of the day and walking  it out.

 

Music man, he can’t stop tapping the steering wheel, the arm of a chair, the kitchen counter. I imagine that’s how he’s stayed so thin, he’s in constant motion. Now with pain insisting a restless counterpoint, sudden jerks and quivers accompany the drummer. There’s an orchestra of jazz musicians inside, colliding and clashing and jamming the moments of the day’s composition.

 

I take his hand in mine, roughened and cracked by age and weather. It wants escape. Uncomfortable with confinement, it squeezes and lets go. I nestle my nose in the hair at the back of his neck, warm and soft and damp, smelling that smell of him I’ve never been able to get enough of. I take deep breaths hoping to capture that smell and bottle it in my memory for eternity.

 

I know his body by heart. I’ve watched over it, healed it, made love to it, bathed and fed it, and yet I don’t feel it’s ever really trusted my touch. It’s not a relaxed body. It’s coiled, awaiting the onslaught, holding the fortress of his own truth.

 

I slide my hand inside his shirt, which is not hard because buttons are more of a suggestion to him.  I run my finger through the fur, down the scar of his middle, a hard ridge of closure hiding an incident that I can’t stop resurrecting. Here and there, other scars of battle and lost parts map out a life of physical invasions.

 

I lay my ear to his chest listening to the heartbeat, almost twice as fast as mine. How can a heart keep that up?

 

I bury my lips in his belly button and blow a raspberry, summoning his particular chuckle, the sound of that playful kid I’ve romped with for hours and miles and lifetimes.  His eyes catch mine, and for a moment they risk the sharing, but soon withdraw, holding me a little suspect.  “Whadyawant?  I haven’t withstood you all these years only to be taken in now,” they convey with a  twinkle. His eyebrows make me crazy. I attempt to coax a wily one back in line. He brushes my hand away. They’re all over the place, rogue hairs climbing his forehead, curtaining his sight. He likes the look, resists my trimmings.

 

Just a bit of skin to skin, a connection that is cherished and feared and sometimes avoided, that’s what I want. Fleeting moments before the pain sets in. But I retreat, caressing his beard, ever soft and mostly silver, defining that strong stubborn jaw.

 

So what’s with the gait, so bold and willing?  It’s the young man coming to meet his girl, walking out the rhythm of those days  of infinite possibility and hope.

 

Editor’s note:

 

Kerrie Keane has performed in film, television, and on stage for 35 years. In addition to her on-going acting career, she is Artistic Director of White Buffalo Theatre Company in Los Angeles, which she founded in 2004. Fulfilling a mandate of developing new acting and writing talent, she has directed and produced eleven original plays so far. She has written two produced plays, Fool Am I and The Red and White Store, which were well received, and enjoyed full runs at Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles


 

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"EMPIRE OF LIGHT"
by Patty Paul

I’m suspended in a teardrop.

 

Getting damp, don’t know if it’s weeping or my soul seeping out the edges of my eyes.  Like the darkness and comfort of the womb - I hear sound and sense movement with sight blurred/dim.   Morning is here, sun sparkling, fluffy white clouds, trees and flowers reach to heaven.  Thud! a newspaper tossed onto the driveway.  Car alarm goes off in the street.  Birds call mates. Wind chimes sing out their songs.  Outside the window life goes on.  People wake up, eat, go to school, to work, kiss, pet the dog, do lunch, make plans, dinner, mow the lawn, sleep.  What you see is the surface, no depth.  I watch, I observe in silence.  You are nothing as long as you are quiet.

 

Inside frozen in time. A stark contrast.  Inside a haze, dark.  Funeral over, a life eulogized, poignant memories, messages of sympathy, visits.  Alone living a life interrupted.  54 a widow.  30 years of BLISS.  So blessed – we were living the dream.  Most people never have what we shared.  We each had what the other needed.  He challenged me, he gave me clarity and truth, he opened my heart/mind to a bigger, fuller life.

 

Inside a slide show running on my eyelids narrated by his voice.  Our first date, our first kiss and then we fell in love.  The warmth in his hazel eyes, now closed forever.  His joy for others, his empathy, his depth, his wisdom forever lost in the ether.  His smile, his sardonic use of comedy, his pain, his passion forever locked in my heart.   A million pictures of him – thin, stocky, stockier, a cuddly teddy bear – hiking in Yosemite Valley, a jeep ride over the red hills in Sedona, walking in the mall, dancing and singing on stage, walking behind a funeral in County Cork, Ireland, playing with the dogs, cooking breakfast in the kitchen.

 

Inside his stuff, his favorite things still lying around the house.. as if waiting for his return....  You want to clear some of it off, put it away, but you don’t.

 

Inside my life a volcano erupted,  a blip on the screen for the world outside.  Recent conversation with friends, no mention of his name.  Do they think of him ever, was he just passing through their lives?  Do they think speaking of him will make me sad?  Go ahead, make me sad.  I love hearing stories of him, knowing that he lives in the hearts of others.

 

I’m not ready to hear more of “He’s in A Better Place.”  Really, no, it’s better here with me.  He wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.  Near the end he told me he was glad he was going first.  He believed I would be better able to survive him.

 

Christmas morning about 6 am he was breathing, warm, not responsive, but listening.  There were huge purplish ‘bruises’ on his lower back.  I knew it was his organs shutting down, the liquids pooling at the lowest point.  He was holding on for me, exhausted from the 20 month battle with cancer.  I gave him permission to let go.  I used the same words I had seen him use twice before with his grandmother and later his mother.   He was gone in 30 seconds.  And I remain suspended in a teardrop.

 

Editor’s Note:

 

Born in Southern California, Ms. Paul worked for 27 years as an administrator in LA County Health Services/Hospitals. She has a BA in Sociology/Psychology and a Masters Degree in Health/Hospital Administration(MHA) from the University of La Verne.

 

She began writing following the death of her husband. Many of her articles/poems about loss and love have been published in Canceronline.org, an informational website for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. She was the organization's Chairman of the Board. She is a contributing writer for GlendaleArts.org.

 

She is a theatre devotee and has served on the Boards of two musical theatre  companies.  She has produced six staged concert readings of musicals.


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"OBJECT LESSON"
by Linda Meyer

I can’t see it now, it was here three days ago, but I remember it exactly. I was standing in the shower, warm water surrounding me and I saw it; a milky white tether approximately four inches long hanging innocently from the beams in the ceiling. I don’t have spider webs in my home, no tolerance for them, I want to abolish them from my kingdom, wipe them out of existence. Why, I ask myself, all this passion? Four inches in hundreds of feet of real estate, why the absolute, unequivocal need to remove a tiny creature’s home? Is it my desire or my mother’s imprint? What do spider webs mean to me -- an unkempt house, sign of deterioration, a lack of cleanliness, a lazy housekeeper, interference with the illusion of perfection?

 

I leave myself no time to admire their beauty, the silk is spun so carefully it catches the light between its threads, a net above the madness, allowing travel and exploration of the heights, a vantage point from which to observe life.

 

And what about the trust that must exist with each step, the unshakable belief that life is safe and that one will be held by one’s own creation. This is the real beauty that is at the heart of the natural order of things.  It is not someone who can’t live and let live, can’t share her space with all the inhabitants of the world. I did not think about the being, just the signs of its existence and what it said about me.

 

What if it said nothing about me? What if I am not important except in my own mind? What if my house is not mine, just a place I am lucky to spend time in? What if my inability to think of another being mirrors my obliviousness to the fragile parts of myself that have not been able to live?  If I can thoughtlessly eliminate something that does not fit the picture of how I think my house should look, what have I done with the parts of myself I have judged not fit for public consumption? What life in me has not yet lived, has been relegated to the garbage can of things I would rather not see or get to know?  Integration of the self requires inclusion, it is the first step towards oneness and belonging --- the journey to discover that every living thing and every part of us is entitled to thrive without judgment and be surrounded by love.

 

 

Editor’s note:

 

 Linda Meyer is a student of the self, looking to understand the truth of who we are and how we connect to the world at large. A painter, potter,jewelry maker, poet and mediator, she uses her work to explore what is hidden beneath the surface, to uncover the longings of the heart.


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"Open your heart to the Bully Man"
by Marilyn Fuss

 How about the one in the wrapped pillbox, just now gone himself?

 

Not simply that pale proxy Reaper, but the original. When did you first face him? Was it a childhood encounter: the crushed snail, the hamster impaled on a broken running wheel, a pet in the street?  With luck, you warded off the loss of another human until you were a little older, and the most fortunate among us do not encounter peers dying until adulthood. I do remember crying when I thought of my parents dying, especially my mother, who naively and foolishly cultivated this fear in me by regularly warning that my bad behavior would spike her blood pressure, the only wild card in her constitution.

 

Rarely, there emerged soul-gnarling stories of mom's two siblings who died as children; one during the flu epidemic of 1918, and the other from a bad diphtheria vaccine, expiring with her hand resting on a tangerine. Though I did not encounter another kid's death myself, I certainly knew it could and did happen, and know it tinged my mother's, and thus my life, with more caution than is wise.

 

There were those freshman suicides from the tall dorm buildings. Not much later, there was the loss of former schoolmates in Viet Nam, that constant televised reminder of the consequences of U.S. hubris. The world saw how Charles Manson with his Rasputin eyes inveigled young girls to randomly massacre, scouting some very visible victims for them, but finding others, with even higher profiles.

 

Manson passed through Berkeley when I was there during spring of that killing year, 1969. Over tea of all things, in his van, he tried to seduce my roommate, fervidly but gently: "You're a virgin, I can tell." he affirmed as he placed his hand on her collarbone. Unscathed, unimpressed, when she would not talk to him the next day, she asked me to intercede volubly through the closed door, telling that circuitous bully that she was not home, and unlikely to ever be. He had a hard time taking no for an answer....I had a sighting to peruse, later on.

 

When I worked in a college town as a young adult, I was deeply astounded when some students I knew "gorged out". They chose plunging into a breathtaking natural formation over completing their lives, let alone finishing their undergraduate education. I read a book called THE SAVAGE GOD about the phenomenon of suicide, perhaps with murder, the most emotionally loaded form of death. The most persistent memory I have of that book by A. Alvarez is that those who lose people early in life are among the most likely to actively efface themselves. Around that same time, I read Norman Mailer's cocktail table documentary about Marilyn Monroe and her puzzling end, and viewed Ingmar Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL. In my callowness, I was more taken with the director's extended metaphor of the chess game with Death than I was with the torture Bergman was clearly trying to channel off with his artistry. I'd also been headed off, by his great admirer Woody Allen, into stepping away from it and satirizing it some. Bergman's work felt too forlorn to merely endure and consider. Watching the same milestone film last week had a much heavier cache, which I was able to access and make portable, from an age much closer to the director's at the time.

 

My first actual funerals viewing the dead were in my thirties, and the peacefully resting were 96 and 84, and not close to me, which clearly buffered the impact. Around that time, my high-school boyfriend died on a motorbike. This was an apocalyptic horse of another color. Though I never saw him dead, his crash was the most resonant up to then.  His brother's friend, also at his memorial, was the daughter of an undertaker. She'd lived on the mortuary grounds, and told us that her father had let her and a sibling gaze at a two-year-old who had died from a snakebite in the chaparral above Tujunga, though he sheltered them from all the other denizens of his silent workshop. The woman's lively frankness and humanity was still colored by the weirdness of her proximity to that damned Bully.

 

I mused more on murder reading TRUE CONFESSIONS, by John Gregory Dunne around then. It was based on the Black Dahlia killing in L.A. in 1947, the year I was born. Twenty-five years after that book came out, I read Steve Hodel's solution of that murder and others of young women: the perpetrator was likely Hodel's own father, a doctor who was formerly a music prodigy and crime reporter. Hodel so logically assembled his case that his readers, certainly yours truly, were convinced of its veracity. I had read the documentary coming out of an accident which involved replacing the top of my thigh bone with a titanium ball and spike. That surgery had me so far below the surface with its anaesthetic, and with enough blood loss, that I'd awakened in the intensive care room blinking at the epiphany of the Lakers knowing that, even if subliminally, I'd glimpsed the Bully for a nanosecond. And I who rarely read mysteries fictional or real, was more willing to spend time exploring empirical mortality than I had been. This fascination, like my pubescent phase of squinting in terror through scary movies and roller coasters, passed.

 

 

My brother, estranged by my early motherhood, then re-found for a time, had died in the first wave of AIDS, and taught me some of the Bully's methods: a new darkness to the drunk dial, eggplant skin splotches, the desiccated cough through the night, my tears with no sound, just a doorway away. Later, my mother, sharing till the end: making her last few years her most evolved, demanding little, refusing artificial maintenance, buying her only grandchild's graduation frock, dying within two weeks of her sentence, sending advice about the loss of a child to my friend whose son had submitted to Alvarez's savage god. Leaving a beautiful corpse at 82. After my father's death almost six years later: this lesson taken away was that when a bad-tempered person dies at 94, it is a good thing.

 

In between my parents' passings came 9/11, the paradigm for the unexpected. Behind it, that pale alter-bully, the one in the wrapped pillbox. Did all this observation help me open my heart to the The Bully a year ago exactly? Did Father Sanchez, habitue of the Cardiac Care Unit, help where a slow artery leak was heading to nowhere until 5 units of blood, my daughter Sarah, some vitamin K, and Thich Nhat Hanh intervened?  Anything helping before those four vital factors is still hard to ponder. For a few hours, I think it was all there, all possible. Speaking karmically, my friend said,

 

"I know wherever YOU end up, you'll be fine."

 

I felt I could go where all the lost people had gone and met him, though I still knew I'd rather not. The climax came in the form of an angiogram with a dream team of darling young Asian men and women who eased me through a 21st-century hour-long matrix of black, blue, and red, with action originating from my thigh, like Zeus. When I emerged, back in my room, my best friends were chatting nonstop, and Sarah was telling someone close that,

 

I "wasn't taking any calls."

 

was around then that I started to turn my back on that ultimate meeting, though it has remained in the periphery.

 

Editors Note:

 

Marilyn Fuss, a former teacher, is a supporter of just causes and a lover of ephemera.


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"SAVORING BUBBLES"
by Sylvia Martin

I rushed out of the car like a bolt of lightning, electrified. I dumped the Trader Joe bags on my kitchen table and threw my packages on the floor.  No time for me to check telephone messages, emails, or regular mail.  An inner urgency had possessed me. I had to write NOW. 

 

It was as if some mischievous spirit had taken over and was playing with my psyche at the most inconvenient time. In fact, for the past few nights I had been waking up in the middle of the night, or around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. when I needed my sleep, with ideas exploding in my brain, like people trapped in an elevator.

 

When driving, instead of concentrating on the road, my mind was wandering, in la la land. Not a good idea, downright dangerous. Now it was happening again. I had responsibilities and commitments, but I just wanted to write...  The feeling reminded me of wanting to pee really badly and not being able to hold it in any more.

 

Today was my day off. I had left my house at 8:00 a.m. and hadn’t stopped. It was close to 7:00 p.m. Yoga, library, errands, lunch to celebrate my pregnant niece’s birthday, who is expecting any minute, writing class, gym and finally groceries. My house was a disaster! I had to prepare for the upcoming Passover dinner.  I had book club in four days, and hadn’t even opened the book, and tomorrow I was teaching all day and I hadn’t prepared, but none of that mattered. I didn’t care that the milk and eggs were left on the kitchen counter and the sign on the salad dressing stated “keep refrigerated at all times”, I was completely irrational and irresponsible...  I just wanted to let my fingers loose on the computer keys and write.

 

Why?  What was so important?  I had no idea, but I was compelled.  It was just a feeling, a priority and purpose that logically didn’t make sense but I listened to it...  I wanted to freeze the feeling of exhilaration.  Capture the essence of who I was at that moment, before the spontaneous free, joyful child disappeared and the inner devil, judgment and criticism began.   I felt like a small child enchanted as she watched soap mixture turn into magically colored bubbles and fly into the sky.  I wanted to freeze the moment before those bubbles popped and disappeared and the voices in my head started,

 

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times clean up.”... “Be responsible” “A woman’s work is never done” “Work, work, no time for play”, “Sloppy”, “Not good enough”, “You’ve got nothing to say”...

 

My mother’s dead, but the tape is still in my head.  Yes, I know those are old messages and consciously I’ve rewritten them into positive affirmations, but like a wound that’s healed, the scar is still there and, although intellectually I understand the process, emotionally whenever I stretch myself and take on new endeavors, when my confidence is somewhat shaky, that devil comes to the surface, but this time I consciously chose to ignore it..

 

Deciding to leave all the things that I “should” have done and instead allowing me to go with the process was amazing and I know it was a turning point for my creative self. When I am responsible, and do what I need to do, and schedule my writing, it doesn’t flow in the same way. I sit there, often staring at a blank page on the computer screen, one hand on the mouse, the other poised on the key board, motionless. The ideas, which seemed brilliant just moments ago, seem like sandcastles after an ocean storm.

 

At this moment, it was immaterial that I had nothing concrete to write about, the words just flew out, as if someone else was channeling them. Yes, my ego relishes the thought of being published, having a best seller, touching people’s lives, but that was secondary to what was happening to me at that moment.  I felt aliveness, a passion, a freedom, almost an urgency to surrender to the forces within my soul and record the process on paper. It’s hard for me to capture the sensation I experienced but it was quite remarkable and I want to bottle it. I want more of it.  Ironically, the stuff got put away. I haven’t read my book for book club yet, but I probably will, and if not, it’s not the end of the world.

 

 

Editor’s note:

Sylvia Martin is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She teaches general psychology and psychology of intimacy and relationships at two colleges. She co-wrote "What a Woman" a financial planning guide for the newly independent woman. Her focus being the empowerment of women. Twice a year she counsels cancer survivors and their families at a retreat in New Mexico.  She specializes in guided imagery and family systems theory.

 

 

 

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS

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