Friday, December 12, 2014

Whispers in the Galleries~ A Special Book Giveaway

In keeping with the theme of the upcoming winter/spring Art & Soul issue, we are excited to present an interactive book giveaway for this collection of mainly ekphrastic poetry by Lee Marc Stein. "The goal was to offer readers new ways of looking at some of the world's greatest paintings, works whose artists include Rembrandt, Velazquez, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Renoir, Gauguin, Matisse, Goya, Dali and Wyeth. The poems often provide historical and/or psychological insight into their creation."

The poetry of Whispers in the Galleries gives active voice, thought, movement and sound to many of the still images that have captured our imaginations over the centuries. Art speaks to us in a myriad of individual ways and Stein shares what he's heard and discovered, attempting to discern the subjects' truth.

For this giveaway, which kicks off our Art & Soul season, we want you to think of a piece of visual art that has profoundly spoken to you. Comment below and tells us what piece of art you've seen that sticks out in your mind and include why. We will randomly select our giveaway winner from amongst the early comments by Jan. 4th. Be sure to give detail about how the work of art you mention affected you—what feelings/thoughts it triggered, what inspiration it gave. We encourage discussion; we want to know about the voice you discovered in the frame...

Whispers in the Galleries is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites:
Barnes & Noble

Thursday, October 30, 2014

To Revel, To Dream

"Supermoon" by C. Michelle Olson;

Our autumn/winter issue opens with the following paragraph:

"Amidst fundamental change, evolutionary transformation, emotional inheritances across generations, loss, decline and gain, we harvest by flame hues of the season what the preceding months have forged. Shifts in light, time and nature call for an introspective accounting of the shifts in our own lives. From the initial autumnal awakening wrought with realizations and all that we've accumulated, to the winter withdrawal for rest, repair, planning and dreaming, this issue compels us to embark on physical and emotional journeys of self-discovery. It's time to venture out into the dark heart of the unknown, embrace the mystery and revere the moment as we carve a way through."

Interestingly, in the ancient Celtic tradition, Halloween was regarded as the New Year. If we think of the harvest as having gathered the abundance of the year, all that we yielded, learned and received, if we think of winter as the quiet after, a gestation before the rebirth of spring when we start again, this time of year would seem an ending before a beginning. In-between cycles of seasons and life, should there not come a time after laboring, preceeding rest, to acknowledge and celebrate? The autumn opens the holiday season for many of us. Is it then not fitting that one and all should take time to recharge and reward themselves with love, light and laughter during this time? For all that we've lost, all that we've gained, for all that's changed, let us remember, take stock of who and what's most important and then lift a glass to the present. As the featured poem below rightly states, "All is done that can be done." Being done, let us revel and dream.   

Last Harvest

by Nancy Morgan-Boucher

Under the burnished bales of hay
under the prickled straw fields
covenantal crones bruise the leaves
of apple mint, crush the breathy wilding grapes
snatched from woody nightshade’s clasp;
decoct chokecherries to blackened flame.

Bid to sip, Demeter, to visions,
infusion of vervain for drowsiness.
Lord of the Underworld desires
Persephone again.  Lady of the Harvest, dream.
All is done that can be done.
Pull down the Full Corn Moon.

Bio- Nancy Morgan-Boucher lives in Rehoboth, MA where she founded Poetry in the Village in 2009 at the local library.  Morgan-Boucher has been a featured poet at Main Street Cafe, Easton, MA, Coffee Milano, Middleboro, MA, Blue State Coffee, Providence, RI, Mike Amado Memorial Poetry Series, Plymouth, MA, Dream-Speak, Plymouth, MA and Stone Soup, Cambridge, MA. Her work also appears in Finding Water: Poems and Stories by the Nomad Writers, 2011. She has recently read poetry from her chapbook, Climbing the Family Tree, on the sidewalk of the venerable pub, The Drunken Poet, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  Morgan-Boucher's poems have appeared in Siren: A Contemporary Literary Journal, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, The Unitarian Universalist Poets: A Contemporary American Survey, Pudding House Publications, Jamestown, Ohio, and The Wilderness House Literary Review, an on-line literary magazine. Her work has recently been published by The Write Place At the Write Time, an online literary journal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It Takes a Village: A Storytelling Experiment Utilizing Social Media

Beginning on June 23rd, eleven participants ranging from established novelists and instructors to newly published writers, started taking turns telling one story through Twitter posts.  The activity, coined ‘Twitter Tales’, is a storytelling experiment that means to further define the role of social media in the writer’s life; addressing opposing beliefs, questions and myths. What we’ve discovered thus far dispels some commonly held views and forges new ones while raising questions about further possibilities. We will be sharing more about our revelations on this wild ride of creativity, but this post will introduce the players, the story and the start of our pioneering adventure.

So how did we end up in a 1920s LA noir? None of us rightly know. It happened along the way. That’s what is so fascinating about this whole endeavor. Yet perhaps it would be right to say that the story and the idea of the activity, all began with the original trouble-maker that had to go asking questions, researching and gathering recruits to investigate the idea of social media for writers. Not content with the conflicting information, the lack of available statistics and unexplored territories, she felt compelled to go on a crusade for answers to bring back for her readers. That fiery dame and her brazen ideas.  I’m sure it’s no mystery who that troublesome broad is. (I just wish you’d pretended to wait a few moments longer to pin it on me.) Once I had my accomplices, I came up with 4 posts for the others to vote on as a beginning. There were no dictates or restraints on genre or premise. This was the winner:  "A key, a ring, a license plate; all metal, all evidence of life, all that was left in the end. The element deemed 'the decline of matter.'"

We would each be moving this story forward one post, one turn at a time. It seemed that we could ‘play God’ in 140 characters or less. What we started to discover, however, is that this story had its own momentum and was teaching us as we went. The story formed a particular voice early on, despite 11 varied writers driving it. Though the story is now a 20s noir and has clear elements of that genre, it still transcends it with a contemplative literary tone. While checking that the story is historically accurate, what was interesting, is that the research for location, transportation and communication (telephone direct dial service) coincided with what we’d already written.

One writer was given a book on the 1920s as a gift right before the story landed in that time period. Another who hadn’t yet taken their first turn, said that they had family in the LA area at that time. When making an example art set to accompany the story on a digital collage site (more on the art component in posts to come), I chose a French song to play in the background for its sound. What I realized when I translated the lyrics was that it fit the characters’ feelings perfectly at that point in the story and I hadn’t known that ahead of time. Beyond the serendipity at work, a theme behind our magazine itself, we learned about ourselves and our roles.

As the complexity in the story arc rose, minute details of dates, objects, actions and emotional ties carried added weight. The dynamic challenge increases to cohesively construct the story 140 characters at a time, building upon one another’s words. The story’s life depends on how well we can all work together and as a result, it’s no longer about personal motivation deciding our course, but rather the needs of the story. We’re developing each other’s leads, solving each other’s mysteries and supporting each other’s paths. Writing is deemed an isolating profession—said to be even more so in the digital age. We create alone, we wrestle our own inner egos and censors. We are accountable to ourselves and make all the decisions. The work’s victories and struggles are individual.

Yet here, it’s all about coming together to do what we can and must to make our story survive and thrive. Like the game of Trust, we step in when it’s our turn, then let go and trust that the person following behind will securely catch what we’ve placed in their arms. There can be inherent challenges in this (both fun challenges that inspire and challenges that push us, adapting on our feet mid-sprint). With our great team, we are working collectively to craft a great story and share all that we’ve discovered. Isolated by writing? Nope. Isolated by technology? No—brought together. We’re putting the ‘social’ in social media.

The Story

Beginning: “A key, a ring, a license plate; all metal, all evidence of life, all that was left in the end. The element deemed ‘the decline of matter.’"

Charles Salzberg: That's all I had to work with. I've had less which turned out to be more than enough. 1st step: Find the lock the key fit. #TwitterTales

Diane McDonough: I had to get a grip & mourn later, forging those metals-ring, key, license plate-into armor that would shield me from all this. #TwitterTales

Jackie Dawn: Still, old memories were like old habits. I rolled the ring across my palm & remembered his words as he slipped it on my finger. #TwitterTales

Joseph Barro: My mind raced. My ears bled in a deafening ring. My vision returning more clearly. The plate read: CA. The date...could it be? #TwitterTales

Linda Emma: Impossible. Unrelated,yet totally relevant? How could its expiration be the same as his: April 18, 1923 #twittertales

Martin Crosbie: I grabbed the key. It was time to go back to the beginning, time to remember what he'd told me, time to finally seek the truth #TwitterTales

Pat Greene: Right then it hit me - how many truths or even lies like this had he kept from me? Had I known Mark at all? The phone rang #TwitterTales

Rochelle Shapiro: “Hello?” “Is Mark there?” a woman said. “Who is this?” I said. “Mark’s wife,” she said. I was silent as Theda Bara on screen. #TwitterTales

Stephanie Haddad: I had so many questions, but could only manage an “Oh?” I wanted to scream. But this woman was the only avenue toward answers. #TwitterTales

Terin Tashi Miller: "Mark's not here. He's gone." I said. It was true. "How did you get this number?" I had to keep her on the line. I had to. #TwitterTales

NMB: Don’t be coy. I know who you are. I don’t really concern myself with my husband’s dalliances or whereabouts. I want the key. #TwitterTales

Charles Salzberg: What makes you think I have the key? Even if I did, why would I give it to you? Perhaps we should meet and maybe work this out.#TwitterTales

Diane McDonough: Alright. But know that I hired a private eye and I have pictures that I’ll take to the FBI unless I get the key. Understand? #TwitterTales

Jackie Dawn: “Fine,” I said, though belief was shallow. “Meet me at the sign.” “Sign?” She asked. “Don't feign ignorance. You know which one.” #TwitterTales

Joseph Barro: The line disconnected. Headlights appeared through the canyon mist. A yellow cab? I froze. Run? I walked casually to the road. #TwitterTales

Linda Emma: Time to confront this hired PI. Even if those photos could topple an empire. It was just a house of cards – flimsy as the sign #TwitterTales

Martin Crosbie: He was from the old neighborhood, I knew him. With his rumpled coat + eleven-o’clock leer he was calling himself a PI now. #TwitterTales

Pat Greene: "When I saw the cab, I guessed that her PI had followed me here to Hollywoodland, but I never thought he would be you, John. #TwitterTales"

Rochelle Shapiro: "Marion, I know what happened to Mark. Get in." #Twittertales

Stephanie Haddad: My breath caught. Await an angry woman or trust a man I couldn’t trust. Old flames will be my downfall. I ducked into the cab. #twittertales

Terin Tashi Miller: I slid in the cab next to John. His hand rested on top of mine. Slowly, he turned my hand over. "Did you bring the key?" #TwitterTales

NMB: “Marion, I’m taking you to the bank right now.You’re going to open that safety deposit box.You’ll never have him or the money.”#TwitterTales

To be continued…  Find out what happens to contemplative, sophisticated Marion, discover what Mark was up to and whether he’s dead or alive! (It seems a number of readers, etc. want his character to have been killed off, but you’ll just have to see.)

See new posts as we continue through the story arc and all of the posts thus far on Twitter @WriteplcWritetm. You can also read the story on Facebook through our page and the Twitter event page (updates are posted every three turns):

Read about the thrilling visual arts component involving the digital collage site Polyvore in an upcoming post.  A contest between two art groups was held for two weeks during which time artistically inclined users were encouraged to create art sets inspired by the first eleven individual Twitter posts from the story. The results from this synergistic combination of talented writers and amazing artists have been nothing short of awe-inspiring and the reaction from entrants around the world was profound. Well over 100 Polyvore art sets were entered with enthusiasm, creative passion, emotion and dedication.

The Players

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, New York Magazine, the New York Times and other periodicals. He is the author or co-author of more than 25 non-fiction books. His novel, Swann's Last Song, was nominated for a Shamus Award. He has also written a sequel, Swann Dives In, and the third in the series, Swann's Lake of Despair will be published in October. His latest novel, Devil in the Hole, was named one of the set crime novels of the year by Suspense magazine. He has been a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing at the Writer's Voice and the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member.

Diane McDonough is a poet and writer who has been published in numerous journals. She won first prize in the PrimeTime Cape Cod 2013 Poetry Contest and has exhibited her poetry in responsive art exhibits, including the current 2014 Poetry and Art Show, Wickford Art Association. Diane, who worked as a high school educator for over 25 years, has a B.A. in English and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology. She lives in the village of Marstons Mills on Cape Cod with her husband and their two dogs.

Jackie Dawn received a bachelor's degree in creative writing and literature from Hofstra University in 2007, where she was also the recipient of the Eugene Schneider Award for Prose. Her work has appeared in several literary journals, including Susquehanna University's The Apprentice Writer. She lives in New York, where she works as a senior editor in marketing and as a freelance writer. In addition, she is a co-moderator of and contributor to a weekly fiction blog. She is a dedicated shoe and book addict, and is currently working on her first novel.

Joseph Barro resides in Southern California with his wife and family.  He is a high school teacher, as well as a lifelong musician, songwriter, recording, and performing artist. Joseph has written hundreds of songs, a variety of recorded albums, and has just begun writing short stories for publication. He just recently celebrated his first publication with his short story “Bodies” featured in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of the literary magazine  Joseph is now participating in a social media storytelling project entitled #TwitterTales with a variety of other writers. Follow Joseph on Twitter or contact at the following address:
Twitter: @MrJBarro

Linda Emma is an author, educator and educational marketing writer. She creates client content and supervises a small team of freelance writers, helping them to hone their individual skills and styles while always maintaining the client voice. Linda also works at a small New England college where she has served as instructor, writing tutor and learning consultant. In the spare moment or two she can eke out of any week, she pens posts to a tongue-in-cheek titled blog and tries to still maintain a relationship with the fictional characters of her forthcoming second novel. She is married with two children who always inspire.

In a press release, Amazon called Martin Crosbie one of their success stories of 2012. His self-publishing journey has been chronicled in Publisher's Weekly, Forbes Online, and Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper. His non-fiction work How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon's Kindle: An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook, 2014 Edition has been called “A must-have go-to reference book for self-published writers.” He's also the author of My Temporary Life – Book One of the My Temporary Life Trilogy, My Name Is Hardly - Book Two of the My Temporary Life Trilogy, Lies I Never Told: A Collection of Short Stories, and Believing Again: A Tale Of Two Christmases. You can learn more about Martin at:
Connect with him at:

Pat Greene is originally from Ireland but has been calling New York home for the past twenty five years. He earns his daily crust working in the very unique and demanding, yet very exciting NYC construction industry. In his spare time, he likes to write and you can read some of his short fiction

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s first novel, Miriam The Medium (Simon & Schuster), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Her novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook), is an Indie Finalist. Her latest short story collection, What I Wish You'd Told Me, has just been published by Shebooks. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives), and Newsweek and in many anthologies. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in The Coe Review, Compass Rose, The Griffin, Inkwell Magazine, The Iowa Review, Los Angeles Review, The MacGuffin, Memoir And Moment, Negative Capability, Pennsylvania English, The Carolina Review, and more. She won the Brandon Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Shapiro is a professional psychic who currently teaches writing at UCLA Extension.

Stephanie Haddad is a wife and mother of two by day, a freelance writer and author by bedtime. She is the author of four romance novels, including the Amazon top-ten hit A Previous Engagement. Stephanie also enjoys writing short stories, some of which appear in the virtual archives of The Write Place At the Write Time. Now that her youngest is nearing age 2, she's hoping to dedicate more time to her fiction writing, including a paranormal romance series in the works.

Terin Tashi Miller spent many of his formative years in India, the child of anthropologist parents. Since then, he has lived and worked in a variety of countries in Europe and Asia. His writing has appeared in guide books, international magazines including Time and Geografica Revista, and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News and The Los Angeles Times.  Born in St. Louis, Mo., and raised in Madison, Wis. and several provinces in India, he currently lives in New Jersey.

Nicole M. Bouchard is Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Write Place At the Write Time literary journal. This is a role she has enjoyed for six years, connecting with incredible creative individuals. She is a member of the National League of American Pen Women. She began her writing career in journalism at a regional entertainment publication with pieces including interviews with Broadway actress Marie Danvers and singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher. Combining magazine journalism editing experience with her fiction writing and passion for literature, she turned her interest toward the literary world. Her portfolio includes best-selling authors such as Janet Fitch, Dennis Lehane, Arthur Golden, Alice Hoffman Joanne Harris, Mona Simpson, Melanie Benjamin and a number of creative professionals. She served as one of the editors on the small press panel at The Fourth Annual Mass. Poetry Festival in 2012.  Ms. Bouchard has recently enjoyed branching out into freelance substantive and developmental manuscript editing. She still writes as time allows, assembling a short fiction collection and working on a novel. 





Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review of Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

Review by Denise Bouchard

In her new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir, Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany to name a few, has returned to her Southern roots. Below, she describes her current idea of home:

          Bees swarm inside a giant boxwood near the kitchen door. Hundreds of them. The whole bush hums, as I pass, four golden furry ones zoom out and dive around my face. As soon as the weather warmed, a six foot black snake adopted the front porch for its shady naps. Proprietarily, it coils on a chair, and sometimes slinks behind the cushion, which can be startling if you happen to take a break in late afternoon with a glass of tea and a book.

I have read glimpses of Mayes’s South in her other books and I was especially charmed by the long outdoor table to which her father would invite his office workers on hot Friday afternoons. It was always laden with fried chicken, biscuits, peach pickles and assorted mouth-watering cakes.

In Under Magnolia, I was prepared to sit back and savor many more of these Southern idylls. I was in for quite a surprise! Mayes draws back the curtains and exposes everything it took to create the idyllic scene above. Come taste the heat of a Georgian summer like a shot of Jack Daniels trickling down your insides to warm your belly. This may be her most revealing work yet.

We are brought back in time with the familiar prose so beautiful and clear that one can feel the heat, see the thickly running muddy-brown rivers, fear the water moccasins with large black fangs below its depths and try to ignore the crocodiles crawling up the embankments. I want to tuck my feet up on the chair.

From the caustic patriarchs to the survival of the fittest family politics, the book is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the film The Long, Hot Summer and the deliciously eccentric gun-wielding personas of John Berendt’s Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There is everything here you’d expect in a Southern drama except the murder...but then again...

Indeed, her neighbor’s father used to tease her and her best friend by lifting a gun to his temple; alone one day, he actually pulled the trigger. Another friend came home from school to discover his mother in the kitchen, bullet through her mouth, ginger bread on the counter and teeth stuck in the ceiling. In her own family there was the ranting and raging ‘Big Daddy’, her grandfather, and also her own father’s intense swings of mood. “At his worst my father ripped open his shirt, buttons popping off, and carried his loaded rifle through the house aiming at lamps or windows. ‘Not a one of you appreciates me,’ he shouted.” This was Mayes’s South. If the water moccasins in the rivers where she swam and the bees outside the door don’t get you, the people just might.

It was interesting to me that Mayes, who has traveled extensively throughout the world, has come home to the soil of her tumultuous roots. This book explains why she has returned to the flames that forged her.

Though it was at times a wild and chaotic environment in which to grow up, it was endemic to that which also nourished her and without which, she might not have become the amazing writer that she is today. It forced her to find solace in books and she became a voracious reader. She had such constant stimulation raging around her with all those colorful, idiosyncratic characters, that she sometimes hid in a laundry bag. This sensory overload only contributed to her singular education and predisposition toward looking at life in a poetic way. She became contemplative and learned to study, listen to and examine life. In this way, she became a sensualist who could celebrate a shade of green in a synesthetic way so that the reader can almost hear it or taste the color purple and feel its warmth.

Her early love of poetry, fiction and non-fiction is what brought us her beloved non-fiction tomes to date. As when Marco Polo opened his chest and spices spilled out to flavor bland foods, Mayes’s words add spice to our lives. I am always transported with her descriptions of her favorite places, projects and stories of how the great writers lived and the indigenous foods. “Taste is also a memory,” she reminds us. She has brought us little-known facts such as stories of the ancient Pliny the Elder and his gardens. She has told us of his fanciful creatures cut from boxwood and “during suppers in Pliny’s garden, light courses were floated in artificial birds with miniature ships on the surface of a stone pool. His concept of gardens blended sweetly into his version of happiness, a philosophy of otium, life spent in elegant, intellectual freedom.”

She travels and explores just as an anthropologist would, renting out houses, living among the people, going to family-owned restaurants which are mere holes-in-the-wall where the owners proudly bring her all manner of bounty. She has taken us to Granada, Spain and we raised a glass to Federico Garcia Lorca. We were there as he put on plays, strummed flamenco guitar under the moon, or recited poetry. “What synesthetic images grew inside of him?” she asked.

In this new memoir, we learn of the synesthetic images that grew inside of Frances. If she sacrificed it has been for our gain as the colorful personas that shaped her are what has given us such a deep knowledge of the world.

Mayes fortunately had an ally in the house where she grew up. Willie Bell was the maid, having worked for the family before Frances was born. “It was not a cozy member of the family Aunt Jemima, Gone With the Wind Mammy thing. She and I simply knew we were in it together.” Willie Bell would grace the day with her wonderful cooking or soothe Frances when she got the switch or prevented her from that fate altogether. “'Just run and play, try not to pay them any mind, they all crazy,' she’d say, not looking up from the stove.” “She offered me not sympathy but a steady point of view.” She also speaks of her parents with love and tells us of the things her late mother left her with and I am reminded of my own mother. “Often in Tuscany when I’m rolling out pizza dough, setting the table for twenty, poking an armful of hydrangeas in a pitcher, I think, she would have loved this.”

Mayes enjoyed her college years at RandolphMacon College immensely though they were filled with rules and more rules. This may have knocked the independence out of some but she just found more and more ways to expand. She was creative in her pursuit of freedom, sometimes taking the train alone to Princeton. She cultivated friendships there that lasted a lifetime. “We forgot about pleasing men, there weren’t any.” On weekends though, she and her friends had full dance cards, so to speak, as they were in close proximity to the boys’ colleges. Mayes never walked alone and she was a passionate person sampling all of life until she found what nourished her. She searched for the kind of love she would need in life while enjoying the whole of the journey along the way.

It was interesting to read of Frank Mayes, Frances’s first husband, who makes a strong appearance in this book as opposed to Frances’s other books in which his absence makes him prominent in the reader's mind, leaving us to wonder about this figure and the marriage she thought would last forever. Of course then, she wouldn’t have met Ed, who is so right for her in so many ways. I love how Ed is up for anything Frances wants to do in life. He literally and metaphorically helps clear a path for her in all of her pursuits.

There are always hints of Mayes’s love for the South that run through her books on the good life in Tuscany. In this book, the reasons for comparison come out more distinctly. “One reason I felt immediately at home in Tuscany was that certain strong currents of life reminded me of the South. The warmth of the people and their generosity felt so familiar, and I knew well that identical y’all come hospitality.” She also speaks of “the shared bond of people who’ve come out of a place of unpredictable weather and terrain, a sun strong enough to melt your bones, a place where the second coming is still expected, where the night creatures sing the most soulful music that can be imagined. Back in the South, the tribal pulse of the place beats, the primitive gift that I sensed as a child, riding to sea on the back of a turtle.”

She leaves us with the idea of place and belonging which she has found once again in a North Carolina town, an artists’ colony where “[p]eople talk to you everywhere. Waiting at the dentist, filling the tank, checking out at the grocery store. Each gesture may mean little but cumulatively, there’s a message: You are not alone.”

What the book most importantly leaves you with are pieces of yourself. My own memory was stirred with a bite of this, the warmth of that. A spray of her mother’s French perfume from the house of Guerlain and I was back in the grand department store with the marble staircase where I managed the highly elegant cosmetics department in the once busy city where I grew up. Under Magnolia was a sensory experience that lingered. What a precious gift. I hope that I can meet Mayes someday and say thank you for her words—but probably not on her Southern front porch, where I think back to the six foot snake who occasionally likes to put in an appearance. Will Mayes stay in the South? “I won’t say it’s permanent. My philosophy is stare attento, stay attentive, beware... The most pitiable spirits in Dante’s hell, are those unable to move out of their assigned circle. Stare attento. Always look for the next circle to jump to.” This is a good philosophy in this modern day and age when the only thing that is certain is change.  

Author Link:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentine's Reminiscence

"Rose Red" by C. Michelle Olson;

Valentine's Non-fiction Feature:
The King of Hearts
by Anita Solick Oswald
February was the time of year when we all had almost recovered from the hangover of Christmas and New Year's. We needed another holiday. The Presidents’ Birthdays were not festive enough, and I hated cherries. Thankfully, Valentine’s Day was on its way. Daddy never failed to bring Mom her favorite Fannie May Pixies, flowers, and jewelry. And, there were always small satin hearts filled with Fannie May and a card for each of his daughters.
Fifth grader Matthew Rossi was a lover, too. The pale-skinned, freckle-faced, red-haired, overweight boy believed he was Casanova reincarnated. Unfortunately, the neighborhood girls thought he looked more like a great speckled egg. Nothing could stop Matthew, who made it his quest to kiss every girl in the class whether they liked it or not—he would not be deterred. He always had large amounts of cash on him; maybe this gave him unwarranted confidence with the ladies. 
It didn’t take long for his reputation as a serial smoocher to spread among the fourth grade girls. 
“Watch out for Rossi—he’ll try to grab you and kiss you.”
I made sure to keep my distance.
I should have thrown away his birthday party invitation when the young Lothario handed it to me, but I was never a devious kid. I showed the brightly colored “You’re Invited” to Mom, and explained I had a previous engagement. 
“Mom, please, I can’t go—I promised Barb I’d take her to see Rodan at the Marbro.”   
Mom, whose sense of fairness only seemed to extend to other kids, dismissed my entreaty.
“You will hurt his feelings—you’re going.”
I knew I’d lost the argument before it started.
So, feet dragging, I reported for the birthday party at the Rossi flat on West End. 
Mrs. Rossi presided over the festivities. A tall, heavy-set woman, she followed the European fashion in grooming habits; in other words, she didn’t shave her legs or armpits. There was no furniture in the apartment living room or dining room; rolls of linoleum bordered the room. As guests arrived, she directed them to drop their gifts in the pile in the corner.
“Sit on the linoleum. We’re redecorating.”
Now when my Mom threw a party, she went all out, with party favors, cake, ice cream and treats for the guests. But these niceties were lost on Mrs. Rossi. The kids played a few games and then she brought out the cake. We quickly sang a few bars of “Happy Birthday to you," Matthew blew out the candles, and the cake was whisked back to the kitchen to be cut and served.
Matthew’s little brother, Zachary, skulked in the corner, occasionally trying to grab a girl and pull her hair. We despised Zachary. He was two years younger and in the same class as my sister, Barbara. We thought he was nasty, a budding sex maniac. While Matthew was a masher, Zachary was more interested in the seamier side of love—he wrote obscenities on the blackboard when the nun could not see, her habit blocking her peripheral vision. 
Outraged, Barb snitched on him, and Zachary had to serve detention, while Matthew, the young romantic, remained free to roam.
During the hysteria that preceded the cake and ice cream, Matthew approached me as I perched, trying to keep my balance, on the linoleum roll. True to his reputation, he whispered, “I want to show you something in the back. It’s really amazing.”
But I was wise to Rossi and rebuffed him.
“Oh no, Matthew, I’ve heard all about you.”
Matthew protested that I had him all wrong, and he was really trying to show me a toy, then a game, then kittens; nothing worked. He quickly lost interest when Mrs. Rossi returned with the plates of cake and ice cream.
“Birthday boy, get over here. You’re first.”
I silently prayed that Mom would show up soon to pick me up, and she finally did, but we could not escape yet. Mrs. Rossi, who towered over my mother, cornered Mom in the doorway, to tell her about her redecorating plans. Trapped under Mrs. R's armpit, Mom tried to squirm her way out but she was trapped. Her face grew redder and redder.
I chuckled when we finally walked out on the stoop and Mom exhaled.
Finally, I got my point across. “Ha, serves you right, Mom. You made me go. And Matthew tried to kiss ME!”
“Kiss you? What? Oh no—you’re never going there again.”

But love was all around us. In the 1950s and early 1960s, St. Mel Holy-Ghost School sponsored an endless onslaught of charitable giving campaigns from September when we walked through the doors of the venerable institution until June when we ran frantically from the hallowed halls to our summer months of freedom. 
There was never a dull moment at St. Mel-Holy Ghost School. Every date in the liturgical calendar was a golden opportunity to raise money for the “poor starving children in other countries.” I had to hand it to the nuns—they were pretty clever. Every holy day and holiday, they had a gimmick to appeal to our consciences, our concern for our fellow man, and our charity. And, despite all evidence to the contrary, those nuns were successful in making us believe there was someone less fortunate than ourselves. Quite a feat, considering we were living in a slum, a neighborhood to which urban renewal would never come.
Valentine’s Day was yet another occasion for this magic act. St. Mel Church itself was monumental, built by the community in 1910 and designed after the Romanesque style of architecture; it boasted the best Carrera marble of Italy and the finest acoustical design. It accommodated 1250 people and they always packed the house.
Every year, on the Sunday before St. Valentine’s Day, just after the Gospel was read, the parish priest would cede his time in the pulpit, time usually devoted to very important exhortations to repent or be cast into hellfire, to the Maryknoll missionary priest. 
I liked this part of the Mass—we got to get off the kneelers and sit down, so I’d listen to anything just to get a break. The missionary courted us with tales of exotic places, of deepest Africa, of lions, rhinos, giraffes, elephants and the Serengeti—and the little children who had no shoes, no food, no schools, no medical care, and who would never know God and be stuck in Limbo unless we helped. He told us we could change the lives of these poor little children. 
So wooed by a pitch delivered at the 9 a.m. Sunday Children’s Mass by the missionary priest, we were suddenly transformed from the urchins who hung out every day at the Off the Street Club to benefactors of children in foreign lands—donors whose largesse and beneficence would bring the little children to God. 
And so it was this St. Valentine’s Day.  Another contest was announced, another chance for Catholic school kids to mitigate their guilt for having it so good. Sister Veronica Ann made the announcement over the P.A. This year, the school would crown a King and Queen of Hearts. Children would be permitted to purchase hearts made of construction paper for 10 cents a pop and make crowns with the hearts and materials provided in the classroom. The girl and boy who donated the most money and had the largest crowns would be anointed the King and Queen of Hearts. 
I had to admit—this contest seemed like a stretch to me.  I wished them luck but I was skeptical of its success, especially when our Principal emphasized that the hearts should be purchased with money that we earned all by ourselves. How was I going to do that—I was just ten!  I only had $1 that I got from Gramps every week and there was no way I was skipping my customary Saturday at the movies to buy some crummy hearts. I decided to hit Mom up for the extra cash, but Mom was not buying it either.
“You want money for what?  Hearts made out of construction paper? What are they going to come up with next? Last week, it was a greasy donut drive. I’ve still got seven boxes of those donuts sitting here—no one will touch them. You know I only buy Burny Brothers baked goods. And the week before that it was the subscription drive for the New World.”
Now Mom was feeling the pinch after the Christmas bills rolled in and was not feeling the love. But I pressed her to dig deep.
“Mom, I will be humiliated if I don’t buy some. I will be the only kid in class without a crown. Come on, please.”
Just then, Daddy walked in on this exchange. 
“Does Sister Mary Holy Water want more money from us?” Dad called all the nuns "Sister Mary Holy Water."
I patiently explained the latest promotion to Daddy, whose expression grew more and more skeptical with each word I spoke.
“That sounds stupid.”
“Dad, please, we’ll be EMBARRASSED.”
That clinched it. Dad would not let us be shamed in front of the class. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his money clip, peeling off two dollars.
“All right, here, a buck a piece—but that’s it! What a racket.”
The next day Barb and I returned to school, weighed down, at Mom’s insistence, with Valentines for every kid in the class. Clutching the dollars Dad gave us, we were feeling secure. We could buy some hearts and no teacher would bug us about it. When we walked through the door, a frenzy of kids in hat crowns, hopped up on sugar hearts, ran and skipped down the hall.
Then a wondrous sight greeted me. Parading the halls with a crown that looked like a Native American war bonnet was Cupid himself, the Chairman of Love, Matthew Rossi. The crown he wore trailed several feet behind his round little body and kids laughed and followed him like he was the Pied Piper, trying their best to step on the ends.
I poked Barb.
“He must have spent 20 bucks on that thing.”
Ever the style maven, Barb dismissed Matthew with a sniff. 
“It’s gross.”
Matthew did not care what we thought. He was in his glory that Valentine’s Day when he was crowned the King of Hearts of St. Mel’s School in recognition of his generous contribution to the missions. 
Unfortunately, the title did not change his luck with the girls—they still ran away, squealing, when he tried to grab them and kiss them. 
Ever the Romeo, Matthew continued to seek love in vain. That is, until one day when I saw him walking Theresa, our blind classmate, home from school, carrying the large binders that held her Braille books. 
The next day the girls pulled her aside to fill her in.
“Theresa, we saw you walking with Matthew yesterday. He is icky. He tries to kiss all the girls.”
“Oh, I know, he is just trying to be nice.”
“But Theresa, he is fat and he has red hair and freckles.”
Theresa stopped us dead.
“I’m blind. I don’t care what he looks like. He is nice to me.”
She had us there. Matthew would no longer go looking for love in all the wrong places. I realized that Theresa had the ability to discover something deeper in him than we had been willing or able to. Cupid had struck true with someone who saw straight into the heart of the King of Hearts.

Bio- Anita Solick Oswald is a Chicago native. She’s written a collection of essays, West Side Girl (working title), that are written from the point of view of her younger self and chronicle the colorful, diverse and oftentimes unpredictably eccentric characters and events that populated Chicago’s West Side neighborhood during the 50s & 60s.
Her essays have appeared in The Write Place At the Write Time, The Faircloth Literary Review, Fullosia Press, The Fat City Review and Avalon Literary Review.
She studied journalism at Marquette University, earned her B.A. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles and her M.S. in Management and Organization from the University of Colorado.
She is a founding member of Boulder Writing Studio, where she has been generating and editing essays over the past 2 years.