The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard by Erin Binney

The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard

Posted Posted in Blog

By Erin Binney

The proverbial blank page. I’ve been caught in a staring contest with it more times than I can shake a Paper Mate pen at. Except these days, rather than a page, it’s usually a blank screen. For me, the blank screen is worse.

From the get-go, it feels adversarial, what with the screen literally shooting radiation at my eyes and me defending myself with anti-fatigue glasses.

The tradeoff, I guess, is that working on screen is more efficient: It eliminates that extra step of typing up what I’ve already written on the page, it makes it easier to Ctrl+X sentences around, and it allows me to delete without a trace any words that I regret having put together. 

When I’m done, I might end up with a single paragraph—maybe more, maybe less—but also the feeling that I should have so much more to show for myself. This is all I’ve got? Maybe I’m not meant to write this piece at all.

Starting with the blank page, on the other hand, has an immediate tactile reward, like the thrill of holding a print book in my hands. It also takes me back to a time before there were blank screens, when I was just a girl who liked to write rather than a woman trying to make a living from writing.

I’ll cross out entire paragraphs with a decisive single line or a disgusted horizontal spiral. I’ll add replacement sentences sideways up the left margin in what is the handwritten equivalent of 5-point type. I can bracket off phrases and then snake arrows through the white space, schematic-diagram-style, to show where they truly connect. In the end, I might end up with the same single paragraph—maybe more, maybe less—as I did working on screen. But I also have visual proof that I’m invested in this project. I can’t stop now. There’s more to say and plenty of ink left in my pen.


About the Writer:
Erin Binney is a former business reporter, a current copyeditor, and an Olympic hopeful in home organization. She has a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from James Madison University and expects to earn her MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University in 2021. Her piece “Love Takes a Recess” recently won first place in its category in the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors “Excellence in Writing” Competition.

Things I Don't Want to Do Today (A Comprehensive List) by Amy Stonestrom

Things I Don’t Want to Do Today (A Comprehensive List)

Posted Posted in Blog

By Amy Stonestrom

  • Get dressed
  • Make the bed
  • Do another load of laundry
  • Disinfect the knobs
  • Walk the dog
  • Ask if the sun will finally shine today
  • Plan dinner (or breakfast or lunch)
  • Think about the time Dad slumped over his plate at the Sunday dinner table
  • Make dinner (or breakfast or lunch)
  • Imagine what John Prine’s wife and kids are feeling right now
  • Worry about the seed packets that still haven’t arrived in the mail
  • Wonder if Mother Nature has finally had enough of us
  • Watch the president turn his 4 p.m. briefing into a televised bully pulpit
  • Pick up dog poop in the yard
  • Call Wisconsin state legislators to voice outrage over risking our lives to vote on April 7
  • Scour the counters
  • Remember how Mom told the same story twice within five minutes at the Sunday dinner table
  • Paint the trim in the downstairs bathroom
  • Recall how Dad barely spoke at said Sunday dinner
  • Read this article: “Michigan woman loses husband and son to coronavirus within 3 days”
  • Wash/dry mask
  • Find gloves
  • Go to the grocery store
  • Tell my teenager to cool it with the gaming and just finish The Great Gatsby already
  • Forbid my mother to enter a grocery store
  • Wish there weren’t 175 miles separating my parents’ front door from mine
  • See thousands of cars waiting in line at food banks
  • Watch video showing milk tanks dumped and harvests plowed under
  • Stop drinking coffee
  • Address the pit in my stomach
  • Replay how my siblings and I signed Mom and Dad’s healthcare directive after that now- infamous-in-my-mind Sunday dinner
  • Remember how Mom cried as Dad shuffled into the living room
  • Get mad about this headline: “Evangelical pastor mocks ‘pansies,’ won’t close church for coronavirus”
  • Send my husband to the pharmacy
  • Fold the laundry
  • Stop thinking about how Dad hugged me close, not once but twice, when I said, ‘bye, love you’ next to the Sunday dinner table—two months, three weeks, eight hours and twenty-one minutes ago.

About the Writer:
Amy Stonestrom’s essays have appeared in Brevity, Superstition Review, Defunkt, Storm Cellar Quarterly, Parhelion and others. Her work has won awards from the National League of American Pen Women and Street Light Magazine’s memoir/essay contest. Currently an MFA candidate in Bay Path University’s creative nonfiction program, Amy lives with her husband and son on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. You can find her at amystonestrom.com.

The Inside & Out by Christine Brooks

The Inside & Out

Posted Posted in Blog

By Christine Brooks

Inside a drop of
   rain,
 in this place of
drowned granite & smooth
cobble

looking out,

from melancholy tears
blown in
from the
Irish Sea
golden Kings walk among
us
as freely as those pale
shadows
that have most unwillingly
gone
ahead if only, to walk us
home

not a mindful breath
away,
like the coos from unseen
birds
in the mossy roots of the
grand twisted trees on the
green

but, instead they
    amble
freely, breaking bread,
proud,

knowing
— finally

we have found a
place,
where prisms of
drink and
foreign silence
let them be seen &
heard
inside &
    out


About the Writer:
Christine A. Brooks graduated from Western New England University with a BA in Literature and from Bay Path University with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her poetry has appeared in Door Is A Jar Magazine, The Cabinet of Heed Literary Magazine, and The Mystic Blue Review. Her vignette, “Finding God,” appeared in Riggwelter Press, and her series of vignettes, “Small Packages,” was a semifinalist at Gazing Grain Press in August 2018. Her essay, “What I Learned from Being Accidentally Celibate for Five Years” featured in HuffPost, MSN, Yahoo and Daily Mail UK. Her book of poems, The Cigar Box Poems, was published in February 2020.

Bending Time by Melina Rudman

Bending Time

Posted Posted in Blog

By Melina Rudman

I settled self-consciously into the wide, silky blue band and waited for class to begin. It had been months since I had participated in a yoga class, and aerial yoga would be taking it to a whole new level.  I closed my eyes and focused on my breath.

“Allow yourself to be supported as you take your postures deeper.”  Jayne had a voice that was gentle and resonant; it filled the space and led us from one position to another.

“Wrap the band behind your hips and allow your upper body to fall backward.”  I followed instructions, my shoulders fell below the level of my hips, and terror flooded my system.  I jolted upright and stood frozen, my heart pounding, my breath coming fast and short.

“What is wrong with me?” I wondered.  “What is this all about?”  My body was in full fight-or-flight mode, and my mind provided no logical answer.  I tried to sit in the cradle of the band, but could not convince myself to lift my feet from the floor.

I looked up to see Jayne in front of me; her voice low, “What is happening Melina? What is happening?”

“I don’t know.  I am terrified.”

My words opened my tear ducts, and I began weeping quietly.  “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“It’s okay.  You are fine. You are safe.  Breathe with me.”  Jayne led my breath with her compassion, and when my heart slowed, my mind realized what my body had registered in an instant: The 50-year-old yoga student had turned 14 again, trembling in the aftermath of assault. Where the accomplished woman had been, a girl now stood outside the town fairgrounds, shaking and shocked, waiting for her mother to pick her up and bring her home.

The grown woman was surprised; she had done her work to heal from the assault, but that moment, when hips were higher than shoulders, had sounded an unconscious alarm that woke the terrified child she had been, propelling her through time and space, leaving her where she would, once again, relive an event that shaded everything to come. 

 Linear time unspools inside us through memory, turning us into living time machines. A scent, a sound, a position, is all it takes to bring us back to another moment where the ghosts of events past comfort or haunt. But trauma does the opposite. Trauma pulls the past into the present, dangerously weaving time together so that the body experiences now what happened once.

On that day 2009 fused with 1973.  On that day the terrified girl burst into her own aging body.  On that day her shaken, older self drove them both home.


About the Writer:
Melina Rudman is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader and avid gardener. She holds a BA in Psychology, and an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from Bay Path University. Her first book, Sacred Ground, will be published by Anam Chara Books in the Spring of 2020.

Codependency

Codependency

Posted Posted in Blog

By Lisa Werhan

Dear Writing,

Babe, I’m breaking up with you. I mean it this time. For real. This is goodbye. We’re through. Over. Done.

It’s not you. It’s me.

You, my dear Writing, are fascinating, noble, enigmatic, witty, and endlessly intriguing in your myriad forms and genres. Yes, Babe, you’re clearly not the problem here. I am. I’m the one who can’t keep our dates, who avoids spending time together, the one who can’t commit to meeting you on the page.

We tried. I know you had high hopes for those blush-inducing, vibrating pens—guaranteed to add pizzazz to your piece!—that were disappointing duds. Even the seductive clickety-click keyboard of the laptop didn’t spice things up enough for me to reach breath-taking, full-blown transparency.

I know you’ll suggest that I try to write something, anything, to get us back on track. But I just don’t have it in me. My blog can languish only so long before I must admit artistic defeat and hit delete. And please, please, don’t suggest inviting Muse over to brainstorm with us. Remember the last time that floozy came by? She’s such a sloppy drunk. I’m still fuming over the red wine stain in my traumatized beige carpet. It’s best not to encourage that drama queen.

I’m so sorry, Babe. I’ll be lost without you and your page-turning passion in my life. I’ve dragged you down far too long now. You’re free to court another. I hope you hook up with a real writer, a prolific writer. You know I’ve loved you since third grade, and you’re my first love, my true love. Perhaps we’ll meet again when I have an irresistible story idea to share with you, something original and clever that will sweep you off your feet.

Until then, I’ll be ghosting you. Don’t lose any sleep over my ineptness or my failure to fully embrace your creative potential. Really, this is best for both of us.

Goodbye, dear Writing. 

Love,

Your Inky Boo

P.S. Hey, Babe, let’s put a pin in all that stuff I just said. I have a feature article deadline on Monday. Muse says she can come over after lunch. Be in touch as soon as you can, okay? We can break up on Tuesday. For real.


About the Writer:
Lisa Marie Werhan is a 2016 graduate of Bay Path University’s Creative Nonfiction MFA program. Her writing has appeared in print in Meat For Tea: The Valley Review and in Rock & Sling’s publication Vox II: American Identities. Her work has been published online at The Manifest-Station, Santa Fe Writers Project, and Ragazine. Lisa lives and writes in central Connecticut; her website is lisamariewerhan.com

A Person of Place

A Person of Place

Posted Posted in Blog

By Vana Nespor

When I first arrived in New England, I believed that human beings fell into two totally incompatible categories: People of Place and Interlopers. People of Place fit neatly, or haphazardly, or wickedly into the interdependent tapestry of their communities. They paused in the aisles at the Big Ys or Piggly Wigglys and warmly kissed a cheek while mentally reciting the lineage, tragedies, and untrustworthiness of that person’s entire family line back seven generations.

Although financial need marched many of them off to distant universities or to toil in other states, their hearts refused to leave their Place. Inevitably, that constant tug pulled them back to marry, to raise children, to retire.

Interlopers, like me, create Place as we go. We cuddle up, warming ourselves by numerous hearths elsewhere, while deeply connecting nowhere. We know we are a different, unwelcome breed.  I relished moving every three to six years. I told myself I loved knitting together a few friends and diverse cultures across continents and time. Yet, I hesitated to share such restlessness with employers or the next batch of new friends.

People of Place often treat Interlopers as “intruders, encroachers, trespassers, invaders, infiltrators,” and my favorite, “buttinskies.”   Some pity us as just lonely, alienated folk, incapable of setting down roots or deeply caring about others. Yet, Interlopers leave splinters of their hearts in places that People of Place never know exist.  

I am hardly the most footloose or well-traveled among the breed. Life handed me losses, a father whose death shattered his five young children and tossed them around the country like marbles dropped on a granite floor. Yet, along with the losses, moving around offered adventures.

I started my existence breathing dry red dust on an isolated Oklahoma pecan farm. My high school opened me to the funky cowboy “arty-ness” of oil rich Tulsa. A summer job had me hosting a radio show among the light-deprived crazies in Sitka, Alaska. I laughed as owners hawked flyswatters they called “meat tenderizers” in the middle of the Strip District in rustbelt Pittsburgh. I even gagged down lung and cartilage soup so as not to offend my neighbors, the twelve million Islamic citizens of Jakarta.

No matter how exciting the place, I was always on to the next. In memory, friends and places never aged, died, suffered, or changed. If I moved quickly enough, I never disappointed them, my mask of energy and adventure protected by brevity of exposure. 

Then, I stumbled onto an unlikely job offer in Western Massachusetts. I knew that in New England deeply interconnected communities traced their bloodlines back for centuries.  That history lectured from every stone, road, and building. I arrived fully expecting the sign at the border to read: “Interlopers Go Home.”  

At first, I just hugged the big blousy maples scraping the sky and rejoiced as they danced, limbs upraised, across the mountains. I stared for hours at the Currier and Ives villages perched along the narrow roads. I knew that, behind the facades and under those trees, lives were wrestling with the same pain, despair, and damnation as every place I’d lived. Yet, here the cold and snow colluded to crystallize beauty as well as sorrow.

I puzzled them, and they me. But, slowly, a few remembered my name and the inconsequential facts of my life. They clutched my hand as they stood at gravesides, invited me to weddings and birthday parties, and rescued me when I fell sick. Slowly, fearfully at first, I felt them scrunching over to make a place for me.

One day, while digging in my garden under brilliant fall leaves listening to my neighbors argue over the final Red Sox game, I knew. I knew. I, too, had become a Person of this Place.


About the Writer:
Dr. Vana Nespor is a lifelong educator who was instrumental in launching Bay Path University’s innovative One Day A Week College program for adult women and in establishing their The American Women’s College, a revolutionary learning model serving adult women online. She loves learning and taking on new ventures herself, and in 2020 she plans to earn her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path, begin supporting Bellastoria Press as a new partner, and complete her memoir, A Woman’s Education. She hopes these efforts will bring “more women’s stories out into the world.”

When Memory Fails the Memoirist

When Memory Fails the Memoirist

Posted Posted in Blog

By Wren Bellavance-Grace

I remember coming out to my family. Mostly because it didn’t go well.

In hindsight, Christmas night may not have been the best timing. When I was done speaking, my mother stood and left the room in silence. My sister, who was about 18 at the time, followed. I found my mother sitting on the blue recliner in the dark of her bedroom with my sister curled up on her lap. I left the next day. We remained estranged until my mother’s early death less than 10 years later.

Today, my sister and I have tentatively begun piecing together a relationship.

Recently I broached the question of what she remembered about that Christmas night. “Honestly?” she said, “I have no memory of you coming out at all.”

She has no memory of that Christmas. She insists she was not there when I came out to our mother, just that I left the next morning and that our mother cried inexplicably for three days. She tells me that she did not learn about my coming out until she was in her mid-twenties, working at a bank, when someone sent an anonymous fax of a newspaper article featuring me and my then bride-to-be.

Did that Christmas debacle even happen? How could my memory be so clear, and my sister have no memory of it at all? It’s hard to reconcile such radically disparate stories.

What is my obligation as a memoirist, writing this story when my memory fails, or is at least, well, complicated?

There are fervent conversations about the boundaries of creative nonfiction and opinions on when it crosses the line into fiction, a story based on a true story. I don’t think it is a single solid border so much as a transitional space, a Deliteralized Zone of sorts. To me memoir—and creative nonfiction more broadly—is not about narrow devotion to verifiably accurate details (the keyword here being narrow). If I remember a yellow sweater but later discover a photo that shows it was blue, I don’t feel the need to issue either retraction or apology unless the sweater color is in some way significant to the story. My devotion—my obligation—is to the story first and secondarily to the facts. Memoir is about making meaning and connecting my small story to a human narrative much larger than my own.

Memoirist Rigoberto González wrote in his essay, Memory Lessons, “It is how I turn anecdote into meaning and story into significance.”

Anecdote into meaning; story into significance. This is the high calling of our narrative tradition. I will write more about my coming out, whether or not it happened the way I remember it. My sister and I have divergent memories. They are how we made meaning for ourselves.

Writing about our truths in all their messiness is what imbues good memoirs with greater significance, the kind that turns mere anecdote into meaning.


About the Writer:
Wren (Karen) Bellavance-Grace is a writer based in western Massachusetts who daydreams about turning her house into a home for foster kids about to age out of care. She serves as Congregational Consultant for the New England Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association, providing support for small congregations and congregational collaborations. Karen received her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University. Her nonfiction essay, If, was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.

The Tao of Why

The Tao of Why

Posted Posted in Blog

By Kim MacQueen

When I first began my Buddhist study, the zendo was like a foreign country.

Everything was either sage or beige. We weren’t supposed to look anybody in the eye. Someone beat a drum steadily as we walked around in circles, clad head-to-toe in brown robes, our hands folded in front of us (left on top, always). We women had to wear our hair back in ponytails and we weren’t supposed to wear nail polish or lipstick. No lipstick! I had a hard time with the no-lipstick thing.

At the zendo, they have tea but there’s no caffeine in it (what is the point of that?). Bells rang at strange intervals as we bowed in front of figurines of Buddha and Kannon, the goddess of compassion, who appeared to have a pineapple-shaped head growing out of her real head. I think it has something to do with all that compassion needing extra space in her body.

But all that was nothing next to the chanting.

The chanting was just damned weird. We knelt on the floor of the zendo, hands in prayer position, looking up at the Kannon figurine, when somebody handed me a little booklet with chants in it. Oh no, I thought, here is the part where I have to chant.

It was dirge-like and monotone, like the spookiest-sounding of Gregorian chants, totally anti-Western. I kept imagining Rose, my 15 year-old, who already thinks I’m ridiculous, happening by and seeing me and being mortified, even though she didn’t know where I was and doesn’t drive and doesn’t know where the zendo is.

The thing is, I wanted all of that weirdness. I wanted to be in the zendo because I wanted badly to know why the Kannon figurine is so important to the practice, why I couldn’t look anybody in the eye, why somebody kept beating the drum around the corner where I couldn’t see them. I eventually learned the answers to all those things, but it was a crazy time there for awhile.  

I couldn’t articulate it at the time, why I felt drawn to the zendo three times a week. I just knew that I was jonesing for knowledge, the more arcane the better. I loved being a secret student of something most people I know aren’t even interested in. All the better if the topic is one in which new students get almost zero answers in the beginning about what the hell is going on. Only once you jump in the pool is anybody going to tell you how to swim. I jumped in, because I don’t want to be that person standing on the edge, afraid to jump, while my teachers say things like come on, the water’s fine. Just make sure to disrobe completely before you jump in. Here, put on this brown thing. Also why are you wearing lipstick?

Two years later, I enrolled in a month-long Wine 101 course at my local wine shop, where I sat with other newbies and lowered my whole face into a Zalto industry-standard wineglass that probably costs more than I make in a week. We swirled the wine and inhaled the aromas and tasted and then, after a minute, spit most of it out. It took me weeks to really understand why we swirled the glass before smelling it and why we smelled the wine before drinking it, though I caught on pretty fast about why we spit. Then I studied for and passed the Introductory Course offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers this past January. Why? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

Maybe because there’s so much why to wine that it has some of the same barriers of entry as Zen. My wine teachers show me how to pour just a splash of wine into a glass, swirl the glass on the table, then sniff at least twice before actually drinking anything. I’m supposed to then announce, so that everybody around me can hear, what I’m smelling. Sometimes it’s apple or butter or raspberry. Occasionally it’s something weird like wasabi. One time the wine smelled like mouse pee. We threw that one away.

This is all not half as weird as chanting, by the way, but I’m just speaking for myself here. When we’re all swirling and nobody’s drinking yet because we all want to save that first taste of the wine for the first taste of the cheese, when we’re just talking and nerding out together, that’s when I’m happy. That’s when the jones is satisfied. One night after Wine 101, I was at home on the couch watching Somm TV and Rose walked into the room, rolled her eyes and wordlessly stomped back out. That’s when I knew I was really onto something.


About the Writer:
Kim MacQueen is the Managing Editor & Faculty Advisor at the Champlain College Center for Publishing. She writes, teaches, and makes magazines and books in Burlington, VT. Kim is the author of the novels Out, Out: A Novel of Women and Apes and People Who Hate America.