Nu: Love, with a Side of Religion

nu2Just shy of two years ago I met a boy in my hometown of Perth. He was witty, smart, and could keep up with me in conversations. Although on the surface this boy, let’s call him Bob, seemed like any other boy I might have met at a party, I would later come to find out that he was anything but.

Bob was Jewish and I am Persian. While I had spent my entire childhood and adult life moving from country to country (on a count of my parents and my own inner gypsy) Bob was born and raised deep in the Jewish belly of Melbourne. He had only ever attended Jewish school (with the exception of university); had only ever ‘seriously’ dated Jewish girls; and most of his friends and his friend’s friends/girlfriends were Jewish (and those who weren’t had either converted or were in the process of converting). 

I didn’t know all of this when we first met, but just like every other girl in the world, I had watched Sex and the City and knew that Harry couldn’t marry Charlotte until she converted because Charlotte wasn’t Jewish. She wasn’t Jewish and neither was I, but unlike Charlotte, I had no intention of ever converting. So when Bob asked me out on our very first date, I gave him the spill about Harry and Charlotte and told him that I wasn’t interested in starting something with him if in the end all he was going to do was tell me that he had to (or wanted to) marry someone Jewish. 

Bob laughed at me as though I was crazy and assured me that his family were very open minded and that in fact his brother had married a non-Jewish girl. Perfect! What could be better proof than that, I thought. 

The first 12 months of our relationship were beautiful and being so far away meant that we had very little to do with Melbourne, the Jewish community, his family, and an entirely different world of which I knew nothing about. How different could it be, I thought. Bob wasn’t a religious person at all. In fact he drank, partied, didn’t keep kosher and ate pork like it was going out of fashion. During this time the topic of Judaism, conversion and having Jewish children rarely came up. Bob did make some things very clear though. For example, he wanted to continue to live close to the Jewish community when we eventually moved to Melbourne. He also spoke about how important it was for him to observe traditional Jewish holidays and the Sabbath, all of which I assured him I was entirely supportive of. On my end, I confirmed that I did not have any plans to convert but that if we ever had children that I would do everything I could to make sure they were connected to their Jewish heritage, just as they were to their Persian heritage. So far so good- we were both on the same page. 

Eight months into our relationship, Bob and I went to visit my family. I remember before we got there he kept asking me, “Have you told them?” “Told them what?” I asked. “About the Jewish thing! That I’m Jewish!” I remember thinking, what an odd question to ask. “Umm… I think I told them, but only because they asked where you were from. No one cares. Why would they even care?” I guess I should have taken that as a serious alarm bell that if he was convinced my family would freak out that he was Jewish it could only be because his family were freaking out that I wasn’t. Again, I pushed it to the very back of my mind. No one cares, I kept telling myself. This isn’t the 1800s! When he finally met my family and realised that actually no one did care, he eased up. My family adored Bob and welcomed him with open arms.  I was sure his would do the same.

Four months later, we moved to Melbourne. The change in our relationship was almost instantaneous. To start with, we lived in the apartment down the road from his parents. We spent every Friday night with them, which was fine, expect that I noticed more and more that no one in his family, except for his dad, really ever spoke with me at these dinners. I was scared of his mum, as Bob had let it spill that she wasn’t particularly fond of the fact that he had brought home a girl who wasn’t Jewish, so in all honesty I avoided her. I was new to Melbourne and didn’t know a single soul in the city. I was sure his family, or at least some of his friends would reach out. It never happened. Almost 3 months of going to Bob’s family home for dinner every Friday night, and at least another night during the week (there was always something on- a birthday, a Jewish high-holiday or just a get-together) I noticed that his siblings could barely bring themselves to speak a sentence with me. I blamed myself. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. I tried harder. No luck. The most I got out of them was a hello, how are you, and goodbye. Sometimes not even that. 

On top of that, Bob had started to speak with me about converting to Judaism almost on a daily basis. He started to talk about this as a major set-back for us moving forward with our relationship. I kept my ground. I would not convert. Not for him, not for anyone. I resented him for asking me, especially since he had promised from day one that this would never happen. I told him that we should end our relationship if this is how he felt. However, as soon as I ever said anything about ending the relationship, he would reverted and promise me that my not being Jewish wold never come up as an issue again. But, increasingly I could see that he was starting to crack. I had given up everything to move to Melbourne with him. I loved him with all my heart and more importantly, I saw myself as an amazing person with so many beautiful qualities- so what if I wasn’t Jewish! He was Jewish and he didn’t even practice any of the teachings of his religion! I had so many qualities people typically looked for in a life partner and now all of a sudden I was being doubted as the right choice for a wife or a mother purely on the basis of a social and man-made construct? Because I wasn’t a certain ethnicity? Was this actually happening in 2016? 

In an attempt to get it all in the open, I called his mother. It was a long conversation, but in a nutshell, she was honest about her disappointed that Bob was with someone who was not Jewish. In fact I will use her own words, as they will forever be burnt in my heart: “Do you know that when Bob told me that he had chosen someone who was not Jewish that it was like a bullet to my head!” I froze. “A bullet to the head.” THAT was what I had just been reduced to. A bullet. To the head. I’m not sure why she felt the need to deliver her disappointment in such a venomous manner, but any rationale would not have stopped it from hurting any less.  How do you look someone in the eye after they equate you to a bullet to the head? How do you sit across the dinner table from them every week?  How do you smile and hug them hello? I don’t know, but somehow I did. She assured me that she was “supportive” of our relationship because she was supportive of her son. But she didn’t fail to inform me that even some of her friends had taunted her about Bob and I, asking her- “how could you ever allow this to happen?” Friends who had never even met me. Disgusted by me, simply because of my race. Because I wasn’t Jewish. Disgusted. By me. By the idea that he could ever be with me. 

I felt subhuman. Like a dirty and uninvited roach that had crawled its way into their home and into their lives.  I felt small, invisible and despised. I felt there was something wrong with me by virtue of my blood. Simply put, I had come out of the wrong vagina (Judaism is said to be carried through the mother’s blood-line). I imagined how my life would have been so different had I just come out of a different vagina. This ideology seemed incomprehensible, but that didn’t stop it from cutting me any less. Every time I recalled these words, which was pretty much every day, I felt a little more of my heart die. A little more of my identity lost. I could have been all sorts of wonderful, but non of that mattered. I wasn’t Jewish.  

Our relationship became a nightmare. I told Bob what his mother had said and his response was that she was “only being a mother”. He once expressed his disappointment in the family and his community to his mother, comparing them to an “exclusive club” as opposed to a religion. This criticism was not taken lightly by her and she shut it down in a way that only she could. He was never to challenge her again. Her response:  “Why should I roll out the red carpet when the only reason you selected her was because of the circumstances you put yourself in.” I can only assume that the “circumstances” to which she referred was the fact that he had dared move away from his community for 12 months to work interstate, where we met. It was obvious she couldn’t fathom that he could love me for all the reasons he did. She couldn’t fathom he was able to love anyone who wasn’t Jewish. 

But it wasn’t just his mother. It was also the broader community. Most of his friends were warm and welcoming, but some were not and some were simply just ignorant. One of the very first friends to which he had introduced me said, “Oh you are Persian- are you anti-Semitic?” I was horrified, but Bob just laughed and blamed it on his mate having one too many drinks. The funny thing is that if things like these were isolated incidents, I would have been more than happy to just laugh it off. But how many things was I expected to laugh off? When even you start to hate yourself and doubt your worth, simply because of your race, you feel the prejudice and distain permeate, even through your own skin. 

The Ironic thing was that if my father had ever equated Bob to a bullet to his head, on a count of his Judaism (which he never did), there is no doubt that he would have been labelled a racist. Or if upon meeting Bob for the first time, my drunk friend had asked Bob if he was tight with money because he was Jewish, I don’t think we would have all laughed and blamed that last bottle of beer. What was it about this community that granted them the get out of jail free card every time something racist was hurled my way? 

Throughout this nightmare, there were many occasions upon which I told Bob I no longer wanted to be with him. I was tired. I was tired of being excluded, of being told I wasn’t enough because my blood was the “wrong” kind. But mostly, I was tired of him never standing up for me or protecting me from something I had no control over. I was born the way I was born and my parents had worked hard to raise me to be the woman i had become. Someone I had once been so proud of being- but now every time I looked in the mirror, all I felt was shame and and a sense of loss in my identity.  

I felt like an animal. Unworthy of basic respect and love. I wanted to leave because I knew I was worthy of being celebrated. If for nothing other than the fact that I was brave enough to leave everything behind for love; for finding my feet so independently in a city where I knew no one; for never once ceasing to be loving, kind and giving to him and his family, despite the hell I had experienced. I wanted to be celebrated and I wanted to be loved with open arms, for ALL that I was. Not for something that I wasn’t. 

Despite this, I never left. Because every time I went to leave, Bob would tell me all the ways he understood me, all the ways he loved me, all the ways he was committed to me, and all the ways it wasn’t important to him that I wasn’t Jewish. 

He promised me forever and I believed him. Soon after, Bob proposed. Of course, I said yes. When I saw myself as an old lady, there was no one else I could have ever imagine by beside me. It was him and only him. I loved him with every cell in my body. When we got engaged, things with his family seemed to improve. Maybe now they knew I was really not going anywhere. Even his mom seemed on-board. His parents hosted a beautiful engagement party for us, but I guess it wasn’t everything that Bob had hoped it would be. The day after our party he looked devastated. When I asked him what was wrong he responded that he didn’t feel as though his friends were truly happy for him. Not like they were for other couples. Jewish couples. All of Bob’s friends were either married or dating someone from the community. I was the very definition of an outsider. And while I am certain that they would tell you until they were blue in the face that my not being Jewish had nothing to do with the fact that I was never exactly “in” with them, my experience (the most valid evidence of all) would say otherwise. I once tried to explain this to one of his friends by comparing it to white privilege. Because just like white privilege, “Jewish privilege” was hard to see for those who were born into it. It was also not something that people did on purpose. It was almost innate and it navigated the way in which they related (or failed to related) to those who were not from their world. The only world that most of them had ever known. How could something so normal be so wrong when it was the norm and all they had ever known? 

Besides that, prejudice and privilege were incredibly difficult subjects to address and admit because (for the most part) the Jewish community still see themselves as a minority group that is more often than not discriminated against. As such, how can the discriminated ever discriminate? His friend’s response summed this up perfectly: “What the fuck does white privilege have anything to do with any of this.” Case. In. Point. He just didn’t get it. How could he? But sometimes we don’t get things not because we don’t see, but because it is too painful to see. It is too heartbreaking to admit that something you hold so dear might actually be so flawed. 

I imagined my life and how every time we hit a milestone that I was happy about, Bob would feel only sadness, because his friends couldn’t be happy for him; because his rabbi wouldn’t come to our wedding to officiate; because his faith and his synagogue would never accept his children as Jews; because he was being left behind by his friends who got to have Jewish weddings and Jewish kids; because his mother would always be just that little bit disappointed; and so on and on and on.

Three days after I sent out our wedding invitations to my friends and family, Bob looked me in the eyes and said, “When I told you that it didn’t matter to me that you weren’t Jewish, I lied to you. I lied to you and I lied to myself.” He left. 

Four weeks before that he had told that he felt like he was “losing his identity” because of me. I was crushed. Again, I felt like an untouchable. He told me that his parent’s home remained his Jewish home and that that’s what he wanted. A “Jewish home” that I could apparently never give him. He told me that he had gone to speak with a rabbi and that the rabbi had told him that “interfaith relationships never worked.” What else did he expect to hear from the rabbi? A blessing? Again, I told him I wanted out. Again, he begged me to stay and told me how much he loved me. But in the end, no amount of love was enough. 

While this has been the most painful and devastating experience of my life, the one thing that remains even more devastating is the fact that the overt racist abuse I endured would never be admitted or spoken of by neither him, his family or anyone in his community. That is the most hurtful part of this entire experience. I imagine it’s similar to when a perpetrator of abuse denies ever having inflicted his victim any pain at all. 

nuNu is a Persian Australian global citizen, writer and human rights activist. She will forever remain committed to a life that is not tainted by social constructs. Her only religion is love.

Marsha Recknagel: The Red, Red Robe


Two threads run through my life. I can close my eyes and see the 3D strands of DNA twisting into a braid. It’s difficult to imagine where one begins and one ends, where one ends and the other begins.

I am seven. My heart races as I step into the center of the circle of family. We are gathered in the sunroom early on Christmas morning, a chilly one for Louisiana. I wear a red robe I’d picked out myself two years before, and I’m passing around drawings to family members, my gift to them—each one drawn particularly for the recipient, drawings that I now know had the faintest echo of Miro’s. With colored pencils and a ruler, I’d drawn straight lines, rectangles, triangles, pressing tiny dots across the pages filled with the child’s  primary colors, reds, yellows and blues. The drawings are abstract, and my mother turns hers upside down, looking puzzled.

The red robe is a flash of brilliance in the brown and beiges of the room. Two years earlier and one day before I’d been scheduled for surgery to correct my crossed eyes, my mother took me to a fancy dress shop, one we’d rarely gone in except for special occasion shopping. She told me I could pick out any pjs I wanted. There was a glass case where folded inside was a bright red of nylon gauzy flounce, a robe and nightgown. My mother wasn’t pleased with my choice. There was some laughter later about how I’d chosen the most expensive thing in the shop. Yet I remember knowing exactly what bothered her—it was the “loud” color. My mother didn’t like to stand out; she was elegant, understated. But she had promised. So the bordello-worthy nightwear was wrapped in tissue and tucked into a box.  

I woke from surgery the next afternoon with a thick bandage wrapped around my head, over my eyes. I panicked. I thought I was blind. To awake to the darkness behind the bandage sent me reeling back inside myself. This was when I discovered black could have a richness, could pulsate with deep, dark reds, with flecks of silver stars, swaths of purples.  I could bring forth this inner palette by pressing the meaty part of my palms into the bandage over my eyes. This, I learned, was under my control, this kaleidoscope was mine.

For the rest of my life, I’ve continued to press the lids of my closed eyes to see my own art show. Perhaps to pass the time in a doctor’s waiting room. Or simply resting, thinking.  In my twenties, I discovered Rothko’s work and was surprised to see inner darkness on a grand scale. The Rothko Chapel, where Mark Rothko’s last works hang, was two blocks from where I lived in Houston for twenty years. The one room, with its wooden benches, whitewashed concrete walls, light filtering in through strategic skylights is a sanctuary where I’d go to look at the ever changing landscape of the works. Some days the paintings glowed, sometimes there was a flatness to the veneer. Was it me, my state of mind? Or the way the light of day changed the conversation on the canvas?  I understood my own darkness through contemplating his.  

Last year I attended an art workshop where the instructor explained to the class the complexity of black. It is taboo, she said, to use black from the tube. Mix your blacks, she told us. I discovered that if you add red, some green, raw sienna, a bit of gold then you will have the shining eggplant black or the black like the fur of my cat, so black he is purple in the sun.

Let me explain. I am sixty-five. From the time I was in the fourth grade until five years ago, I wrote. I was a writer. I always was a writer. I became a writer, I published in journals, I wrote poems, later I wrote scholarly papers, then a dissertation, then a manuscript for my MFA, then a memoir. This was who I WAS. My strand, my breath, my being, my voice was the written word. For me the way to touch you was by parsing perfect sentences into paragraphs, choosing the precise metaphors, deciding on the electric verb. Page after page, written over the years to bring you closer to me. Here come closer and let me whisper my story in your ear.

Yet today I am startled to remember my Christmas gifts drawn on construction paper; the memory of the high stakes, my hands shaking and my heart racing as I handed them around: to my father, my mother, to Jan, to Gail, to Jimmy, and to my grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw. I want to hold this moment, rewind. So what happened that made me turn away from this medium and turn toward writing as my go-to mode of relating and of being?

For many years I only excavated the memories that supported my life choice, my writing career. I’d explain this story of my life to this therapist, that colleague, to my friends—the memories fortified by the stories from my family—I was always the writer. Jan was the dancer. Gail was the cook. Wait, wasn’t there another story? I hear my own advice to my nine-year-old self: Scooter is the artist. You will be the writer.

Wait! Why? Because Scooter drew the Cocker Spaniel from Lady and the Tramp and his drawing of the dog looks just exactly like Lady. His beds drawn on your get well cards—I was a sickly child who missed many weeks of school—the ones with bed posts and with me tucked beneath a quilt are perfect. They look like real beds. The cat curled at the end of the bed looks like a real cat. Scooter has something called “perspective.”  I cannot make this magic.  

Scooter was my best friend from the time I met him when I was only four; he was a boy’s boy, rough and tumble Scooter who later arm wrestled with me, raced me on our stripped down bikes over obstacle courses we’d cobbled together in the hardware parking lot; later who kissed me as we huddled under the wool coats (which we rarely if ever needed in the Louisiana winters). My sister’s old dance costumes, white ballerina tulle hung like a bride’s veil over my head.

I gave him the art. I gave up the art.

Now, I’m seven years in to retirement from a university position as Writer-in-Residence, retiring forced upon me by a diagnosis of MS.  At the same time I left the job I also left the writing. There is a story about how I took up painting that is as narratively linear as the one about why I was always a writer. That story is a long story and perhaps as suspect as the other. Yet to unclasp, to let go of one life, and reach out to another, to begin again, is what I’ve done,though initially forced on me by a frightening disease, there’s been a return to who I might have been, and now I am!

All I know for sure is that I paint with joy and abandon. (I did not know until I was twenty-three that the eye surgery, although a cosmetic success, had left me with little to no depth perception.) My art teacher tells me that my art is eccentric, quirky, individual, and filled with emotion. Yes, pent up emotion—a filament in the braid of my DNA, once abandoned to the point of withering, now brought back, breathed new light new breath into some part of me long neglected; here, my mind’s eye, my first canvas, the organic conjuring of the images within her, within me. I am that painter. I will show you.


marsha-recknagelMarsha Recknagel has a Ph.D. from Rice University and an MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars.  Her memoir, If Nights Could Talk, was published in 2001. It was selected as the common book for Houston Community College, one of the largest community colleges in the nation, and as a Los Angeles Times Most Notable book for 2001. She taught literature and creative writing at Rice University for over twenty years before retiring to Williamstown, MA.

Lauren Breyer: To the Women

Lithograph 1917
Lithograph 1917

To my mother
and her mother
and her mother.

To my sister
and her sister
and her sister.

To my daughter
and her daughter
and her daughter.

To all the maidens,
mothers, queens
and crones.

To all the witches, medicine women,
midwives, and storytellers.

To the women
who went to wars,
waged by men
who offered comfort and healing.

To the women
who were left behind,
who worked the factories,
cared for the babies
and made due without nylon.

To the women
who got us the vote,
legal abortions,
and the permission
to wear pants at work.

To those brave souls,
who didn’t fall in line
but who
held the line,
broke the rules,
challenged the norms.

To those who stepped outside
the confines of domesticity,
opening the way for possibly.

To the women who embraced
their sexual selves,
and that of their lovers,
discovered the g-spot
and made the female orgasm
part of the national conversation.

For those women,
humble, brave, angry, passionate,
joyful, resilient, strong;
made to feel small,
unsafe, too big, too loud,
too smart, too much.

To those women,
I honor you.
I stand on your shoulders,
in your shadow,
inspired by
your countless acts of rebellion,
at home and out in the world.

With this breath,
this pen,
these words,
I swear,
to do right by you.

I vow to carry your torches
in every way that my hands are able,
in the time I have left.


lauren-beurskensLauren Breyer lives and writes poems in Illinois. Her work randomly appears in texts to friends. She aspires to be present to all that is in this life.

Cristina Spencer: I’m Not Really a Waitress


Before leaving for New York City I decided to go to the nail salon on a whim.  The salon staff moved in short dashes from here to there, bustling through space in their black uniforms.  I turned toward the wall of polishes and for the first time in the sixteen years I’ve been married, I was struck by the urge for red.  I considered the rows of tiny bottles, colorful and perfectly uniform like a kick line of Rockettes from Radio City, and picked up a bottle of shimmering garnet.  The name of the color was “I’m Not Really a Waitress,” which seemed to suggest a ruse or a mystery—the woman associated with this color was more than she appeared.  I brushed a small swatch of it on my thumb, admired how it contrasted with my pale skin, and made my decision.

A few days later, a photograph of these nails appeared on the internet.  It was late at night and they were giving Trump Tower the finger.  The caption read: Trump’s Tower, Cristina’s finger.  Within an hour or so, the image had generated as many likes and comments as anything I ever posted on Facebook, but still a backwash of nerves and shame at having posted an image so lacking in decorum convinced me to pull it.

This is the story of the woman who pulled that image, told by the woman who put it back up online.


Late in the afternoon on my second day in New York City I needed to meet my husband downtown.  It was rush hour and the traffic was bad, so I decided to take the subway.  Sunlight slanted across the green scalloped lampposts as I headed to the station at 57th Street and 6th Avenue, a familiar stop from the years I lived in Manhattan.  Trucks and buses belched their way down 6th Avenue, pedestrians scuffed along the sidewalk, and I felt a little heady with the memory of my life as a bonafide New Yorker.  “I’m not really a mother taking her three daughters on a long weekend trip to The Big Apple,” I thought to myself, “I’m a woman who has lived and earned in this city.”

I noticed a man in front of me who also seemed also to be headed to the station.  He had a gray clumpy beard and khaki pants that sagged.  He moved with unpredictable jerks that made him seem off-kilter—mentally ill or drugged maybe.  Every few steps he turned around toward me and snapped photographs with a blue digital camera.  My momentary elation in recalling my past in Manhattan was eclipsed by the sudden vigilance that snaps to attention when one is unwillingly pulled into someone else’s narrative.  I hoped he was not headed to the subway.

When I saw him peel off to the left, I felt relieved and in the movement of clench and then relax, a door of memory popped open.  As I descended the stairs into the subway station I walked into a silhouette of myself.

My young legs. The black leather tote bag I bought with my own money at Barneys, expensive but a good price for such a bag.  I am unto myself, people and sound retreat.  My young legs.  Feet meeting the ground, legs bearing up below me.  And then an upward cringe shoulders to jaw, belly to throat, queasy retreat from a hard punch between my legs.  Did I just run into something, a bollard? A pole? I turn to look over my right shoulder.  A man’s eyes on me, his mustached lips hissing,  “I bet you liked that.”  Far away words, underwater words.  Did that man just grab my crotch? I sail along in a current of heads and shoulders away from the man with the mustache onto the train that will take me to work.

It had happened so long ago, but at the bottom of the stairs of the subway station, I was struck by the quality of this memory, its potency and timelessness, the way it hovered latently and then under the circumstances of sunlight, sound, and brief threat, came alive in the present.  Recovering from this its trance, I looked around for the familiar architecture of a subway station to orient me, the turnstiles, the ticket booth, the next set of stairs to the rails below, but was surprised to see that all that had changed.  Turnstiles had been replaced by a cage of bars that I suppose ended the scam of turnstile-jumping; no more stealing a ride off the city.  And the booth had been replaced by a vending machine, which struck me with a particular sadness, for without a booth, there would be no woman behind the plexi-glass who would sell me my metro card.  There would be no opportunity for our hands to touch in the silver bowl when she passed me my metro card and my two dollars of change.

Instead, I found a red vending machine pushed up against the wall.  I turned my back to the station and released my American Express card into its mouth, unable to see who else had lined up behind me.


The fifteen-minute ride to Lafayette and Houston was quiet, quieter than I remembered the subway being.  There were no rustling newspapers, no small conversations.  The light was not syrupy and yellow, as I remembered it from my city days.  Instead it was bright and clear, illuminated by rows of incandescent smartphone screens which transformed the subway car into a tube of blue light.

As the subway barreled south I continued to collect myself.  Just two months prior I had read a New Yorker article by Mary Karr.  In it, she described her own experience with this kind of assault, and until reading her piece I had never imagined that the “crotch grab,” as she called it, was a thing, a category of assault unto itself that other women had experienced.  Lacking common language and dismissed by my own need to believe that things like this didn’t happen to educated women who made their own way in New York City, the experience persisted in my body as a lone internal satellite.  For twenty years it had orbited along a dark, wordless path, a shameful personal oddity made unimportant by both my own need to carry on and a lack of cultural reflection.

What I did recall in language lived on in me like a mantra—black clogs, black tights, black Marmot rain slicker—black clogs, black tights, Black marmot rain slicker—the repeating loop of items a baffled answer to the internal question had posed myself over and over again.  What had I done wrong?  What had I worn that had invited this mustached man’s attention?  As a young woman in New York City, I wanted desperately to know, as if the knowing would have given me a way to regain control of my boundaries, to declare myself sovereign and at the helm of my life in some basic way.  But no answer ever came (because, of course there was none), and the mantra attached itself to the orbiting experience like a comet’s tail, a spray of recognizable words trailing behind the main thing for which I had no language.

It was only after reading of Mary Karr’s piece that I caught a glimpse of this wordless vacuum and began to wonder at the fact that I had never felt angry about having been grabbed by a man on my way to work one morning when I was in my twenties.  After she called it a “crotch grab,” ran down Ninth Avenue in pursuit of her grabber, and declared, “Not today, not this bitch.  You’ve fucked with the wrong woman today!”  I noticed both the mysterious lack of my own anger and, at the same time, its quickening.


My third day in New York City was Friday, October 7.  The morning air crackled with fall sunlight.  Outside our 59th Street hotel buses heaved and hissed, yellow taxis honked, clusters of pigeons swooped to land around a hot dog stand on the corner.  My three daughters, all California natives, burrowed in their down jackets and leaned into the 58-degree wind as we hauled ourselves down Fifth Avenue to MOMA.  It must have been past ten, and though I hadn’t been much on my phone all morning the sound waves were alive with the latest from the Trump campaign.  The sound bytes about his lewd behavior were inescapable, the phrase “pussy grab” gurgled around us.

As we passed 57th Street our middle daughter looked up to the eastern sky, “Eeew Trump Tower!”  Her sisters looked left as she pointed.  The massive gold letters that spell Trump Tower hulked overhead.  I looked left myself and though I’d passed the building so many times in my life, it was the first time that I noticed Trump announced himself twice on his 68 story tower—on the second floor his name appeared in gold block letters that stood half a story high, and then again in block letters along a gold band at the top of the first floor.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the building directory:  Trump Grill, Trump Cafe, Trump Bar, and Trump Ice Cream.

I have no memory of Manhattan without Trump Tower.  I never knew the old Bonwit Teller building or its art deco panels which Trump destroyed to build his skyscraper.  Instead, I have a collection of girlhood memories that recall accompanying my mother to have her hair done in the city.  Her hairdresser, Ron, worked in an upscale salon located on a mid-level floor in Trump Tower.  He commandeered over a corner station where women wearing gold watches and diamond earrings would sit three or four across in black smocks with their hair teased up into carefully folded foils.  They laughed while Ron in his bow tie gossiped and criticized their hair in advance of receiving his magic.  It was the eighties and Ron had fashioned himself into the reigning king of blonde.  He appeared in Vogue and had famous clients.  My mother and I were both impressed.  At eleven or twelve I remember the feeling of being admitted to the backstage of womanhood, the sense that I was bearing witness to secrets having to do with power and desire.

These were happy memories.  In those days I did not think about Donald Trump, the man.  But walking down the street with my three daughters the day the pussy grab tape was released, I saw that I was raised to become a woman in the product of Donald Trump’s imagination.  The influence of his ambition, his vision, his pussy-grabbing misogyny were inextricably braided into what I believed it meant to be a woman.  And it wasn’t even a metaphor.

Walking down Fifth Avenue that morning, I huddled my girls close me and hurried us along.  I wanted to put distance between us and the tower, as if the dark slot of its height against the blue New York sky might somehow infect them.


That night Graham and I went out for a drink at a hotel bar down the street from where we were staying.  We huddled together beside a walnut table in a dark corner of the bar.  We ordered Manhattans.  A group of twenty-somethings clustered at the table next to us colorful and chattery like a small flock of parrots.  They debated which hotel ballrooms were best for a wedding reception.  We looked on from our table, content to bob along on the froth of their conversation as we sipped down the sweet burn of our cocktails.  When we got around to talking to each other, we talked about Trump and tic tack and the pussy grab.

Perhaps it was the loosening of a drink, the friendly but spirited debate at the table next door, or, though it bothers me to say it, my own husband’s upset at Trumps vulgarity, I felt a sizzle of rage.

“You know that happened to me.”

“What happened to you,” he asked.

“A pussy grab.  A guy at the subway station, when I worked in the city.  He grabbed me.”

“Are you serious?”

“Totally.  It just seemed gross and weird.  I didn’t forget about it, but I just kind of let it pass.  Like it was one of those weird things.”

“Oh my god.”

“I know.  But to hear that Trump did that, like just did that to women.  It suddenly doesn’t seem weird anymore.  Like this has been happening to people.  It wasn’t just a bizarre thing on the train one morning.  It’s crazy.”

“That is crazy.  Honey, I’m sorry.  That’s really fucked up.”


When we left the St. Regis, I felt spicy.  The drink made me warm and the conversation about Trump and pussy grabbing had revved me up.   I walked down the street buzzed on rye and self-righteous anger.  I was forty-four.  I was married to a decent man.  And while it bothers me that being married mattered in that moment, it did.  It meant a few things.  It meant I was no longer young.  It meant I had made commitments and was answerable to responsibility.  And more than both of those, it meant I was no longer alone.  Because more than anything, an angry woman is at risk—at risk of being considered crazy or shrill or unreasonable, at risk of being outcast and dismissed—and I had a man with all of his privilege backing me up, validating the sexist fucked-up-ness of things.  I would be lying if I said that did not matter.

We walked up Fifth Avenue on our way back to our hotel and passed in front of Trump Tower for the fourth time that day.  Black suburbans with dark tinted windows lined up on 56th Street.  Armed police officers stood in front of white blockades that protected the entrance of Trump Tower from the traffic on Fifth Avenue.  Graham and I stopped in front of the entrance and stared at the double row of gold Trump signs.

My pulse throbbed in the crease of my elbows and my heart hammered against my ribs.  I thought about how normal it is for the female body to be insulted, assaulted, groped, raped or harmed and how often this reality was minimized by phrases like “locker room banter” and insufficient follow through or lack of belief.  How American women were raised to believe that they had sovereignty over their bodies, or were supposed to have sovereignty at least in theory, but lived in a reality that offered one rebuttal after another.  Worse, I, myself, had been willing, even eager, to believe that my own experience was an isolated incident, something odd and meaningless.   And it had been that very day, because of the very man who had built the obnoxious tower in front of me, that I had no choice but to come to the conclusion that my experience was part of a larger pattern of widespread misogyny that informed my own gender.

It was in that moment that I stood in front of Trump Tower and gave Mr. Trump (who was, in fact, home that night) the finger.  It was an iconic image.  My middle finger stood tall in front of Trump’s gold entrance.  They red edge of my thumb nail wrapped in front, my wedding band rising off my fourth knuckle.  My heart pounded so hard I thought I might choke on myself and I was short of breath.  For a second I felt like I might float away, that some part of me would dislocate and peel off, but instead I felt my feet plant on the ground next to my husband’s.  I was not alone.  There was no reason to flee.  I heard Mary’s Karr’s words in my head, “You picked the wrong woman to fuck with today.”

For a minute I felt elated.


Graham posted the picture on Facebook with the caption, “Trump’s Tower, Cristina’s finger,” and tagged me.  It was near midnight in New York, but 9PM in California, and people started liking the picture right away.  By the next morning over eighty people had liked the picture.  It had been shared.  My friend Julie had written, “That’s a terrific finger.  Truly the best.  Everyone says so.”  Graham’s friend had commented, “Of all the collective words wasted on that man on the Internet, this set of four is among the most clear…and the image is another 250x them.”

In the wake of all this attention, I did not feel victorious.  Instead I felt nauseous.  No longer strong, angry or fed up, my heart rattled and sweat formed in my arm pit.  My breath shallowed.  It was an anxious fear, not of Trump, not of the armed police, not even of the notion of that I might have another run in with a grabber on the subway.  No, I was afraid of the people I know, my Facebook friends and my real friends who would not like the photo, who would cringe at the visual of me giving Trump the F-you.

I thought of my very good friend who is a Republican.  This kind of raw expression would certainly make her uncomfortable and probably embarrassed.  Thought I know she loves me, I could feel the question rise in me about whether she really still would, and with that I wondered who else might stop liking me for this picture.  I thought of my Zen teacher and how giving the finger is a gesture of violence.  Wasn’t the instruction not to bite, not to grasp, not to cling?  And wasn’t my finger waving in front of Trump Tower clinging to my own anger.  Giving the finger was not a way to end wars, but to start them, a clear way of taking a side.  Mine.  And I thought of my youngest daughter’s Kindergarten teacher.  What was she going to think?  What did it mean that this week’s volunteer reader was wagging her middle finger around on the streets of New York City?

As one face after another passed through my mind I became aware that the way I expressed my anger and my need to be liked could not be contained in my body at once.  I was suddenly ashamed of the finger and ashamed at being ashamed of my finger.  I tried to figure the right calculation to put the two to rights with each other, but I couldn’t do it.

I asked Graham to untag me.


By the time I returned to Palo Alto my I’m-not-really-a-waitress-nails were chipped.  They looked tattered and worn out, as if the secret identity of the waitress got leaked, and it turned out she was just a regular woman with a lot of dishes to do.  Outside it was hot.  When I sat down at my desk I felt trapped in summertime and thought hopefully of winter rains.

I reconsidered the unsolvable calculations I’d churned through before asking Graham to untag me.  My thirteen-year-old German Shepherd was curled up at my feet and the linen curtains in my office were spread out filtering the morning light.  The piece of art I had chosen for myself, a photograph of the word “fearless” written in neon light stared down at me both an admonition and reminder of why I had hung it there in the first place.  In the privacy of my own space, outrage at crotch grabbing—by a presidential candidate, by the man who had grabbed me, by all the individuals who take and take with impunity—struck me as a totally sane and correct response.  Maybe giving the finger wasn’t the most strategic, effective or socially acceptable way to express it, but surely outrage was warranted, deserved—my right.

And with that thought, a new depth of rage rose up in me.  For the first time I understood how riots explode, how all of that frustration in a neighborhood could mount up like a wave and suddenly crash as sane people pushed to the brink punched out windows and set cars on fire.  And while a rational part of me understood this kind of violence to be wrong and unproductive, another primitive part of me slipped through the crack.  Heat rose behind my nose as I tilted my head and looked left, toward a spot of nothing I often stare at while I wait for thought to form.

I was hit by a fantasy so shocking, it felt more like channeling a curse than forming a thought.  On recalling it, I see myself possessed momentarily by the furies, those greek goddesses with their snakes for hair, their insistence on retribution resounding through the ages.  There, emblazoned in my mind’s eye was a vision of Trump, naked and skewered through every orifice, his mouth stuffed with bags of sand.


If giving Trump’s Tower the finger seemed to cross a line of decorum or likability, this rage fantasy was downright troubling.  It exposed me and at the same time challenged me.  The woman I knew myself to be had practiced as a Christian and a Buddhist.  I was a believer in non-violence.  But now there was this.   I was back into the corner again, trying to fit my impulses to the shape of who I thought I was.

Not knowing what to do, I looked to my bookshelf for assistance.  I had a recollection of reading something by Chögyam Trungpa, a Buddhist teacher, about anger.  After flipping through a few books, I found the passage I had in mind:

“You don’t stop the anger, you just are the anger.  Anger just hangs out as it is.  That is relating with the anger.  Then anger becomes vivid and directionless and it diffuses into energy.  The idea of relating with it has nothing to do with expressing yourself to the other person.  The Tibetan expression for that is rang sar shak which means, “leave it in its own place.”  Let anger be in its own place.”


It had been a slow stuck day of writing so I left my office.  I walked back to the edge of my postage stamp yard, where I took a seat on a step that rises to a small round patio.  I looked back at my house, my one-story garage-office, and the old oak tree that grew between the two.  The tree stood two stories higher than the house.  I’d been told that this California Coastal Oak, a species of tree protected by our town was nearing two hundred years old.

The day had stretched into afternoon.  Gold light painted the treetop and small sparrows darted in and out of its highest branches.  Brown thorny leaves fell onto the roof of the house and my office both.  From this distance I saw that the gutters of my office were clogged with the oak’s leaves, and made a mental not to get them cleaned before the rains started.  I took a few minutes of sunshine on my face and let the warmth drench my tired forehead.  There had been too much thinking today.  The dog sidled up.  I tossed her red frisbee and she hobbled after it.  We repeated our fetch a time or two, which is as much as she can handle these days.  Then it was time to shift sets.  My daughters would be home soon.  There was dinner to prepare, homework to do, baths to run.

I walked back to the house and crossed under the oak, noticing, not for the first time, that the limestone patio near its trunk was cracking.  Nothing had come loose yet, but the pressure of the oak’s roots was slowly breaking the tiles we’d put down just ten years ago.  The rhythm of clean cut rectangles was coming apart into odd-shaped triangles and trapezoids.  Cracks that first appeared as thin as hairs were widening and growing longer, more visible.  New cracks were forming.  As I stepped back into the house, I wondered how long this stone patio would last.


cristina-spencerCristina Spencer is a writer who lives in Palo Alto.  Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications.  She is currently enrolled as an MFA student at the Bennington Writing Seminars.   You can read more of her writing at

Rachelle Mee-Chapman: Becoming Religish


They told me I was a sinner from the time I took my first breath.
They told me God knit me together in my mother’s womb — made me in his image.

They told me my body was dangerous and could tempt my “brothers” to sin.
They told me I was fearfully and wonderful made.

They told me I should strive to be like Jesus – divine, perfect in every way.
They told me this was impossible.

They told me God loved me unconditionally.
They told me I might end up in hell.

They told me this. They passed it down to me as heritage.

They gave me other things, it’s true. Lovely things.

A circle of friends who cared for each other in times of trial.
The beauty of rhythm and ritual.
Ceremonies that christened me with belonging, confirmed me as part of community, blessed me to go forth.

But in the midst of that beauty, these conflicting messages wounded me. They shamed me into a corner where I held myself small and tight, so I wouldn’t be wounded further still. They silenced my roar.

The most tragic part of this tale, is that I told people these things too. My peers passed them between us, trying to convince ourselves of their merit. I spoke them from the pulpit. My one comforting thought is that I did so with less conviction and with soft caveats. Because already, I was trying to find my way out, creating an exit strategy –to where, I did not know.

Then my children were born. Two girls.
Glowing with divinity.
Fearfully and wonderfully made.
Beautiful in every way.
Loved unconditionally.

I can still recall the ferocity that rose up in me when they started saying unworthy things to my children. I refused to pass on that part of my heritage. Every time the dark sentence came up, I raised the counter argument. Every time the judgement came down like a blow, I parried. I debated and argued. Explained and informed. I roared.

Eventually, after a lifetime in the church and fifteen years of service at one particularly beloved church — the place that witnessed my marriage, christened my children, ordained me to ministry—I had to say goodbye.

I remember the day so clearly. The men were saying once again that they didn’t know if women should be leaders. I, a pastor and a leader, was once again trying to speak in measured turns, explaining why – explaining equity. My voice was shaking –not with fear but with anger. My roar was leaking out between the constants, growling around the vowels.

After the session, my mentor took me aside. “Rachelle,” she said, “This is not going to change as much as you want it to in your lifetime. You have to decide. Are you called to stay in and reform. Or to leave and heal the women who have already had to flee.”

Like a coin dropping into a jukebox. Like the last tumbler sliding to unlock a safe. I knew the answer.

Roar so the others can find you.
So we can form our own pride.

And so I did. Not all at once. But over the next three years, I left – the faith of my fathers, my community, my livelihood, the work of teaching and caring and shaping that I loved. I went to the very edge of the map, where I found other survivors and we reformed.

We spoke our truths.
We claimed our voice.
We stood in our own power.

I discovered another branch of my heritage – the one where women deny their parents, and find healing power in the earth, and get called witches. I discovered a new community, full of like-minded souls, also seeking, also reconstructing from curated parts of the old and self-formed bits of the new. I built (am building) a new livelihood as a caregiver to creative souls.

Now my roar isn’t one born out of pain or fear. It is not rooted in frustration or desperation.

Now my roar is a song.

“You can create right-fit spiritual practices for yourself and your family,” I chant. “You can have a soulful path that is rooted in your past, authentic to who you are today, and creative – beautifully creative – enough to grow with you.” I harmonize along many paths with the words, “You can become religish.”

I don’t know what held you tight and silent in your youth. It may not have been religion. But this culture, this world we live in—it has a lot of silencers.

So my blessing for you today, friend, is this

May your vocal chords be untangled
May they become aligned with the truths
that were born in you,

May you strum them with hands
that know the way
of making,
and healing.

May you knit together the tenor
and the hum,
the pitch and the
of the things you value most

And may you pass them like Appalachian hymns
like fireside rounds
like traveling songs

to your peers, and
your offspring,
and your sisters.

May yourroar.
May you roar.
May you roar.

Amen? (Amen.)


rachelle-mee-chapmanRachelle Mee-Chapman is a former evangelical minister who left religion to help women find right-fit selfcare and soulcare practices for themselves and their families. She is the author of Religish: Soulful living in a spiritual but not religious world, and is the host of Flock, a free online soulcare community for women. You can find her at


Ashley Collins: Fairytale Lost

ashley-collins2When I told my friend I was finally getting a divorce she said, “You’ll be fine.” I didn’t feel fine. I was gutted. She acted like I’d just scraped my knee instead of about to end a twenty-five year marriage. She started listing my assets, “You’re smart. You’re fun. You look young for your age. You’re a great catch!” But I didn’t want to be caught at this stage of my life. I’d rather go fishing.

The thought of starting over with someone new seemed incomprehensible to me, never mind exhausting. I had spent half my life living for other people, building a family, and I wanted the happily ever after with my husband. I couldn’t just wave a magic wand and write a new fairy tale just because my husband decided to write himself out of ours.

Part of the problem was that I grew up being fed the fairy tale love story of my parents. They fell in love at first sight, had a romantic courtship and whirlwind wedding, like something out of a movie. My father was a good storyteller, and described the winning of my mother in heroic scenes. I absorbed the details of their romance the same way I did in the stories of Cinderella and Snow White. I would have been better off reading the sequels, if the Brothers Grimm had written any.

By the time I realized that my parents’ fairy tale had missing pages, I was an adolescent. I was in love (with the boy who would become my future husband), and determined to be more realistic, to overcome my need to mimic the storybook plot of my parents’ marriage, of my culture even. But when college graduation and the wide-open road loomed ahead of me, fear of the unknown weakened my resolve. I was torn between wanting the freedom to pursue my own path, and afraid to lose my version of the fairy tale, but the emotional blueprint stamped inside of me proved stronger than my independence.

The love I felt was real, and powerful enough to dismiss any doubts I might have had about my attachment. My lofty goals in high school and college of becoming a writer, journalist, or anthropologist, were diluted by the idea of the fairy tale. I allowed my relationship to become my passion and my path. I married my high school sweetheart when we were twenty-five and followed his career without even asking myself how I felt about following, when my nature had always been to lead. The reality was that his career was more established, he was making more money, and we wanted to start a family. Logic overrode the niggling feeling that I was giving up my freedom, that I was being a coward. Putting my own career aside conveniently avoided the risk of failure, and from the outside I was already living the dream. Friends and family saw us as an attractive young couple that had ventured away from home, acquiring New York City sheen, some London sophistication. It was easier to look at myself through their eyes, to quiet the voice inside of me crying out for more.

Although my husband and I had trouble from the beginning, I attributed that to our passionate natures. We met at sixteen and didn’t have the emotional maturity to handle such an extreme attachment. Over the years our relationship settled into a pattern of volatility. At times I loved him truly, madly, deeply. At others I hated him with the fury of a woman not so much scorned, as neglected. We squabbled like siblings, able to eviscerate each other with a sidelong glance. But just as easily we could make each other laugh, finish each other’s sentences in a language all our own. Passion could ignite between us with a flare of the nostrils, the graze of fingertips on a sleeve.

For decades we fought and made up. Our love rose and fell, largely dependent on our circumstances and stress levels. We lived in other countries, traveled widely, and raised three children. Their adolescence strained our marriage even more, triggering our own unresolved issues. Therapy helped, but I could feel my husband slipping away from me. My heart, pieces of which had been breaking off from unrealized dreams of my own, began to crack at a structural level. Fear pulled at my insides. I had thrown everything I had into our relationship, betted the whole pot. To lose it seemed unimaginable. I couldn’t separate us from our story, and stubbornly held onto the sleeves of our marriage, while my husband was shrugging free of the coat. I tried to convince him that we were worth saving, that there was more good than bad. I reminded him that we had a history, a family, that we still loved each other. The hardest part was behind us with our children grown, all but one out of the house. He remained unconvinced, although he didn’t have the strength to leave me. I lived in limbo, and told myself it was enough. I kept hoping our relationship would get better with time, with improved circumstances. Even then I was more focused on him than me. I didn’t ask what I wanted out of the marriage, beyond keeping our family together.

The future I had imagined was one where we would have time for each other again, like when our relationship began, when our hearts were bare and we bathed in emotional and intellectual connections, when romance kindled passion. I believed we wanted the same things, to travel and have more adventures together, to share family time when our children came home, to marvel at the lives we had created. I thought I could endure the present pain in anticipation of future happiness.

It took me years to realize that I couldn’t live on the crumbs of love my husband scattered behind him. My heart shriveled from the rejection and withdrawal he sprinkled on it like salt. He made me feel as if my desire for emotional security was somehow dysfunctional, that my neediness was due to leftover cravings from my childhood. He knew enough of my past for that to ring partially true, but I had talked myself into accepting a relationship without the kind of love I wanted, still hoping for the happy ending to our story. I wanted my marriage to last and I believed that if I worked hard enough, and learned to manage my own needs, that I could save it. I didn’t want to admit to myself that it wasn’t just up to me.

When I finally acknowledged the truth, that my husband couldn’t stay with me in the story, I was devastated, then bitterly disappointed. I felt like a sore loser, furious that the fairy tale was being pulled from my grasp. I blamed him for letting me down, for stealing my happy ending. But if I’m honest, I was also angry with myself. For years I had felt the cold chill of unrequited love seeping into my body, like the dull ache of mountain river water when it penetrates fishing waders. You don’t know how cold you are until you’re half-frozen. I rationalized that numbness as part of life that must be endured, those challenges of marriage and parenting, and the need to compromise. I spun the truth like I was spinning a slot machine, trying different combinations over and over hoping I would eventually land on the pattern I wanted. Needing to feel hope was a survival mechanism, not a comprehensive assessment of my marriage. Instead of analyzing my own feelings, I had been clutching that fairy tale to my breast in desperation, still hoping that love would conquer all.

After countless therapy sessions where my husband remained paralyzed in ambivalence, reality forced me to re-evaluate. He was unable to leave me, but paradoxically unwilling to commit. “I don’t love you like that anymore,” he said to me, in our last session. That sentence was like a final blow to the head, strong enough to crack my skull and leave my mind exposed to those epic words. He didn’t value me, and the pain of that thought became our death knell. It seared a path into the core of me where I remembered that I was worth loving, and that I was working much too hard to hang onto a one sided relationship. I asked him to move out.

We had been a “we” so long that separating into an “I” felt as painful as a death in the family. I cried a river. I didn’t think I could produce so many tears. But once I accepted the loss I felt lighter in spirit, calmer, and more at peace. I realized that I felt better without my husband than with him, the ache of longing removed with the remover. I recognized that hanging onto the fairy tale had steamrolled my emotional wellbeing. When hope finally died, I could identify the pain I felt as grief, and knew that I would eventually recover.

I still feel pain sometimes, like a phantom limb. I have lost the person who was closest to me for most of my life. In some ways it is irrelevant whether he made me happy or not, the years themselves made us symbiotic. And the fairy tale still echoes inside of me on certain days, when I long for the pretty picture of my family together. But the death of that dream was like cutting back a wisteria vine to encourage new growth. I wouldn’t have chosen to start over at fifty, but I am grateful to have had the pruning. I can feel the healthy part of me reaching for the sun, ready to bloom fat, intoxicating flowers. The fear to fail that held me back in my twenties is gone, along with my marriage. Maybe my happy ending is to be caught after all, but not by a man. I’m going to catch myself.


ashley-collinsAshley Collins has three grown children and lives in Connecticut with the pets they left behind. Her work has appeared online at Grown and Flown, Horse Network, and in several anthologies. She is currently working on a memoir. Find her online at or

Alana Shereen: Unmasked

alana-shereen-unmaskedI have silenced my own roar. I have made my voice palatable, quiet, kind, admired even. I have done this to myself out of shame, out of too muchness, out of a desire to be liked.

I’ve learned valuable skills in the silencing: how to listen, to reflect, to see what is good and holy in everyone. I have learned to rock the boat gently and kick ass with a soft slipper.

I have learned to hold boundaries firmly and without raising my voice.

I have become someone I am proud of and I have forgotten the sound of my roar.

Roaring feels dangerous to me. It feels angry, wild, loose, creative. We roar when we give birth, when we fight, when we orgasm, when we shatter into pieces.

We roar when there is nothing else we can do.

I haven’t felt like roaring in a long time but I feel it now. It sits in my belly and begins to squirm as I read tweet after tweet after tweet where women share their sexual assault stories. Its fire rises like bile when I hear justifications like “boys will be boys”. It sucks the air out of my lungs in preparation for a battle-worthy inhale as I watch fingers point, accusations fly, voices chant, raised in fear and hatred.

I am frightened by the intensity of the roar that is coming. It feels like it could burn down buildings, relationships, my world.

And then the roar sticks in my throat. Tears come instead. Beneath the anger there is so much pain. There is a little girl who didn’t know how to say no because she didn’t know what silence was saying yes to. There is a tall, curvy teenager who downplayed her brains and abilities for fear of being disliked. There is a young woman who said yes over and over and over again to feeling violated when all she wanted was to be adored.

And now there is me, tear stained, unmasked. The fire is still there, the roar wants to be heard but it’s not scary anymore. It feels grounded, powerful, wise – like a mother lion teaching her cubs to behave. Her paw is huge but her nails aren’t extended. The danger is gone.

My roar is a fire in my belly, urging me to take action. My roar is the love I have for my child, my husband, my friends, for humanity (even when I despair). My roar is the change I want to make tangible in the world.

It needs room to breathe, to settle, to erupt.  It’s ready to create, to get messy and a little uncomfortable.

My roar is ready to be heard.


alana_shereenAlana Sheeren is a writer, intuitive life coach and energy wrangler. She combines her training as a therapist and her intuitive abilities with powerful energy clearing techniques to help her clients create profound and lasting change in their lives. She also hosts the popular Create Your Magical Life podcast.

When she’s not working you can find her taking pictures of beach sunsets, practicing Kundalini yoga or dancing in the kitchen with her husband and daughter. Find Alana online at

Kathleen Gemmell: Who Am I?

fountain-pen[Years ago.] “Mom, I’ve really gotta leave now,” pleaded my college-bound son. My only child, Jay, and my ex-husband stood at the side of Jay’s Jeep. Realizing that his seven-hour trip to the university meant he would be much too far away, I felt a pang of angst like no other.

I had read about the ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ and I thought I was prepared to see Jay’s room striped and his parking spot vacant. After all, there were phones and emails and the outdated snail mail letters. I could jump on a train and visit from time to time. Yes, this would not be difficult in the least.

Still coming to terms with my divorce, I knew that I was no longer a “wife.” I had not planned or expected this life-changing event. Thinking that all was well in a marriage where I adored my spouse, found me devastated when he announced that union was over. Was he experiencing a midlife crisis, had he found another or were my idiosyncrasies/dysfunctions just too much to bear? (Decades later, I feel that I haven’t closure and I still miss the man that I so loved.)

“I am totally alone,” I whispered to myself as Jay and his full truck left the yard. Ignorantly, I had put all my eggs in one basket. Jay and my ex were my life, I had no true friends and few acquaintances. My parents had passed away, and my one sibling and I had little in common. As I shut the front door, I sobbed. I cried for my losses and I wept for my many oversights. “Hindsight” is truly twenty, twenty.

Jay is an awesome young man and I consistently reminded myself that he was journeying on a healthy pathway. As much as my lonely mind craved for him to be a “momma’s boy,” I tried to give myself a few kudos in the child rearing department.

No longer a wife or a child, and feeling as if I was no longer a mother, well… who am I? My life had engaged these roles. I hadn’t a career, nor a passion to follow. As my weeping continued and I felt a migraine coming on, I knew that this self-pity party could only last so long. I popped an aspirin, made a pot of fresh coffee and grabbed a blank notebook and a pen.

“Dear self,” I began, “What in the world are you going to do now? How can you right all these traumas you have created? Where will you go from here?”

And I wrote…for hours. I purged my pain on those pages and I vomited out my regrets and my foibles. My heartache and my tears began to dissipate and I surprised myself. This journaling was therapeutic I learned. Aspirin on board, I eventually slept and was blessed to awaken with my headache at bay.

I journaled daily. I took long walks. I decided to focus on my conflicts by using my intellect and not my emotions. By the end of that month, I had filled a large notebook and I had met a neighbor while out on my walks.

We talked…for hours. She also was going through major changes in her life and I felt less alone, less pathological. Granted our struggles were different, yet we agreed that we were finding solace in our budding friendship.

[Currently.] Jay is now married and has just completed his Master’s degree. I am a writer and a dear friend to several ladies. I have my Phoebe cat to keep me company. I relish my new lifestyle and awake with a smile on my face most days.

“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.” –Maya Angelou

I love my dance.

kathleen-gemmellKathleen Gemmell loves playing with written words. Currently penning for 6 online sites and magazines, Kathy is also a story teller, an animal welfare proponent and a psychology buff.

Lisa Gray: 15 Minutes of Fame for the Bullshit in My Head (OR, What My Writing Life SHOULD Look Like)

lisa-gray1I wake up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to strongly brewed coffee warming in the pot I pre-programmed last night. Not a thing is out of place on the gleaming counter with my favorite mug, waiting, expectant, just for me.

I walk into the living room where a fully charged computer waits for me. The Freedom App is enacted and I can’t get on the internet, which is totally fine. Just a precaution, really because  I don’t want the internet. It’s so distracting.  I just want to write.

The dog stays asleep not having to pee. The cats go elsewhere rather than seek my lap or the power cord. Absolutely they do not purr,  mewl, or slink between my legs because they know:  she is writing.

I bang out hundreds, thousands of words. Heartfelt. They line up neatly on the page. I don’t stop. I am fast and furious and


For two and half solid hours I write. It is glorious. My family begins to stir at 7:00 a.m. and my work is done.

Sort of.

I will come back to it after breakfast and the detritus is managed. I will come back to it after a load of laundry is tossed in the washer, after the dog is walked, after the dinner is prepped, after the bills are paid, after the emails responded to.

I nap because I was up at 4:30 a.m..

I wake up refreshed. I have these pages to ponder. Some of it….maybe three paragraph or even a half page are great!  I have something to build upon. There is more to say. There is always more to say.

The cats continue to ignore the computer cord and my lap in the early afternoon. I write some more and I am amazed by my life.

No one calls, texts, or tries to disrupt this writing life. No one pesters me about lagging committee work, school forms overdue or lost because they are not lost. No one asks, “Exactly, what do you DO all day?”

No one wonders when I will finally finish that book.

The kids show great interest in my latest essay. They are proud, enamored, even, that their mother is a writer.

And time?  It is open, expansive, tender….just for me. Time is all mine. I seem to have so much more than others and look! Look how well I use it!

The manic button on my brain doesn’t exist. I don’t even really know what the word “manic” means. I don’t get people at all when they bring up mindfuck or anxiety. I am calm because I have 4:30 a.m. and the pounding of my keys every single day.

I roll easily with the punches of life mainly because I am dedicated to my craft. 4:30 a.m. is perfect  because no one wants me at 4:30 a.m..

5:00 a.m. is for babies.

I don’t mind because my work is all that matters.

And I nap.

People cannot wait to read what I have to say. I matter so much. I do. It’s what keeps me going. Getting these words out for others. They can’t wait and I am here to serve. I have built my whole routine around serving others and this?  This is love….pure love.


I did it.

Just for you.


lisa-grayLisa Gray is a writer, mother, wife, pet corraler, activist, languid blogger who hopes to ease her way back into it again (see other roles), and voracious reader. At home in gorgeous Winona, MN, she finds herself in her coffee cup, her books, her pets, and her family life. Though It’s always a surprise but hardly surprising, her truest self emerges on the page. You can read more about her at which includes links to other publications.