Coronavirus Chronicles






At the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 the British army marched out of New York City to the ships that would carry them home accompanied by their bands playing “The World Turned Upside Down!”

Today, almost 250 years later, the Coronavirus pandemic once again has turned the world upside down. It’s been almost fifty years since the end of the Vietnam War, the last real crisis in America that severely impacted life in towns and cities across our country. (The recent recession between 2008 and 2012 was difficult, but except for the real estate industry, life continued on as usual for most people.)

Today, those over 65 years of age were the last to be drafted and the last to march off to war. They will likely tell you that a recession isn’t quite the same as a war. They were also the children of the so-called “Greatest Generation”. Their parents suffered through the depression as children and then flooded recruitment centers the day after Pearl Harbor as teenagers. They were the last generation that had to learn how to make-do with limited resources and appreciate the little things they still had. It’s not surprising that the “over-65” crowd are not the ones hoarding. It’s the “un-tested” millennials and Generations X, Y and Z that have panicked, loading their vans with enough toilet paper to serve their entire neighborhood let alone their own families.

Some good always comes out of a crisis: The United Nations and eventual de-segregation emerged from the lessons we learned in World War II. What will be the “Coronawards”? Here are some possibilities:

  • Homeschooling: perhaps a better appreciation of teachers and their exhausting task of molding young minds while keeping 25-30 kids (not just two or three) engaged and interested all day.
  • Education: will on-line learning and digital education become more relevant and the old models change as a result of parent involvement in their kids’ learning?
  • Family time: hopefully more time together will strengthen bonds and our appreciation for each other in the family.
  • Working from home: Is it all it’s cracked up to be now that non-essential workers are required to do it? What are the pros and cons? What industries will change and how will it impact childcare?
  • Cleaning up the house: All those chores we never seem to have time to get to-cleaning up basements, closets, attics. What treasures will be uncovered?
  • Shopping habits: Will we change our ideas of what we have to have and when we have to have it? Will we shop as often?
  • Realizing the importance of socialization: with friends and family members that we can no longer see, hold and hug.
  • Finding new books and TV shows and movies: and the time to enjoy them.
  • Getting outside to walk and garden.
  • Getting off the merry-go-round of our hectic schedules: for both adults and kids. Do we really need to be that busy? Can we prioritize our activities and do more with less?
  • Finding ways to help our less fortunate neighbors and giving back to the community
  • Appreciation for our medical professionals and the amazing mobilization of our industries to fight the pandemic.
  • The ways our state and federal government agencies worked together and helped one another.


Hopefully some of these “Coronawards” will morph into positive changes and in future years we’ll look back on the pandemic as a wake-up call in our lives. We will certainly all have stories to pass down to future generations!

Sue Swanson



Early Voice


[Is this voice God’s whispering

this is what I need of you,

what I need you to be?]



You can choose not to hear,

not to be,

there are plenty of things to do

while denying—

work, serve, run, hide—

and many will be good for the world,

bring you credit, do no harm.


But there comes a time to answer,

when the voice will be stilled no longer

when in the darkness of your own soul

you must stop—

turn, sit, face this call—

say yes I will,

or no, I cannot, will not.


God will love you

no matter your choice,

will hold you in compassion,

understand your fear—

neither shame nor deplore—

will even comfort you

if terror has you in a vice.


God will also stand with you

if you say yes,

go forth with you as you live this voice

which may be God’s spirit—

knit into you from the beginning—

wishing you will bring your self

wholely to the world.

Mary Ann Woodruff



What is Happening?


I was watching an (old) episode of Perry Mason yesterday and there was a brief shot of people surfing. My first thought was: Yay, there’s a woman surfer in the forefront of this scene, a serious surfer with muscles and not a bikini! My second thought was: They’re surfing too close together!

So many of my friends are terrified. They are cancer survivors, they have autoimmune disorders, their families are the same. My friends have been spending their lives keeping their families as whole and healthy as possible, given all their health issues. Their lives were already like Sisyphus’s life; now with Coronavirus, a mild phrasing is that it’s just adding insult to injury. My chosen phrasing is not very mild.

I am not terrified, or scared, or even concerned. Am I a bad person because I’m not worried? Am I lacking some necessary component of humanity? Have I spent this home-time watching too many YouTube documentaries on psychopaths?

But seriously, am I morally objectionable because I’m not afraid? I do the things I’m supposed to do: I stay home as much as possible, I only go to the grocery store during off-hours, I practice social distancing, I work out, I eat my veggies, I stay hydrated. I do not want to get sick; I don’t want to endanger anyone.

Did my early childhood as the spoiled youngest child, where so many of my wishes were instantly gratified, give me a permanent belief that my life will always turn out well? I wouldn’t mind if I have not yet developed some crucial aspect of being a person. I don’t want to be deplorable, but I can’t feel terrified.


Jules Dickinson

Copyright 2020







This time of year we tend to daydream about travel, and for many of us, that also means inspiration. Of course, travel can also be in one’s own mind’s eye, like a dream, catapulting us far away without once changing our geography. What does this theme make YOU think of?

photo of two women standing on cliff

Photo by julie aagaard on


Accidental Perseids

That day I went on a little mind trip

That day, remember that?

Well, it was many days.

But that day, I brought along Back,

J.S., not C.P.E. and Wright. And I thought that should do it,

but they couldn’t quite hold me.


They couldn’t quite hold me.


But then the sun set.

And as if that weren’t enough,

the wind came into play.

Yes, the wind, and not just the wind

but the stars. There were some stars,



I mean, what are you going to do?

You start thinking being alive is really something, you know?

The wind, and the sky, and your own breath.

Emily Dietrich



Travel and Inspiration—and Books

Books inspire me when I travel. I usually take along a novel set in the place to which I am traveling. While in Rome this past February, I read Maria Doria Russell’s A Thread of Grace, about Italy during WWII when peasants to the north sheltered Jews running before the German invaders. Standing on the rooftop of a building called Maria Bambino, across from St. Peter’s square while Mary and two other survivors were interviewed by CBS after the Pope’s address at the end of his summit on clergy sexual abuse, I looked northeast to the snow-capped mountains and imagined those terrified Jewish refugees, protected in one small village after another in coordination with and often at the request of Roman Catholic parish priests. On the same trip I read Beneath the Scarlett Sky, by Mark T. Sullivan, the true story of a man who became a spy for the Allies during WWII. As a teenager he spent time in a monastery in the north of Italy, sent there by parents who wanted to protect him. A Catholic brother sheltered Jewish asylum seekers in the monastery, and that teenager often ventured out in blinding snowstorms to ski them through the Alps to freedom in Switzerland.

What I’ve been pondering, since returning from Rome, is the gulf between the compassion of Catholic priests and brothers when faced with a grand enemy, Hitler, and everything for which he stood and the indifference of perhaps those very same priests and brothers when It comes to owning up to their own participation in the church’s systemic abuse and cover-up of abuse of the most vulnerable within their flocks. That it’s been seventy years since the particulars of these written stories and the one I witnessed this February in Rome is immaterial; clergy sexual abuse of kids was going on even in the 40s, and it continues to this day.

Yes, books inspire me when I travel. Travel inspires me too—in this case, to wonder at both the heroism and also the villainy of the institutional Roman Catholic Church.


Mary Ann Woodruff



The Inspiration and Joy of Travel 

Traveling had never even crossed my mind! As a college sophomore I was focused on classes and studying during the week and weekends partying off campus. But my college roommate, Carolyn, had other ideas, and an inspiration!

“Let’s apply for our Junior Year Abroad at St. Andrews University in Scotland,” she declared in December of that year. They take two Mt. Holyoke students every year. We could both go and, besides, they speak English in Scotland!” And, so, my original inspiration to travel came not from within, but from my best friend. Once we were aboard the student ship, “Arosa Kulm”, the following September, however, I was all in. The travel bug had bitten.

What a time we had! On our way north through England to Scotland we visited Pembroke, Wales, my mother’s birthplace; bicycled around Lake Windermere in the lake District and gorged on blackberries in Wordsworth’s hometown. On our month-long holidays at Christmas and Easter we borrowed backpacks, maps and other essential gear from our British friends and hitchhiked through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Our drivers bought us meals and took us home to meet their families. We saw Rome clinging to handsome Italian university students on the backs of their Vespas, shivered in the catacombs and drank cheap wine and sang along with the comrades at a communist bar.

Later in life my husband, Caddy, and I spent summer vacations camping with our girls. After they married and left home we toured the West Coast in a 24-foot trailer. Every time we pulled our camper out of the driveway and onto the highway, we looked at each other and grinned. Our dog, Buster, sat in the back-seat grinning too, from one floppy ear to the other.

The inspiration to travel and the joy received from our traveling adventures has never gotten old. As the years have gone by our camping is resigned to memory and our traveling reduced to day trips. But we still grin when we leave the driveway and merge onto the interstate.

Sue Swanson

Can writing be healing?

healing image

Today we write about whether or not the act of writing is healing, and if it is, how that has worked in each writer’s life. Is it the act itself is healing, or the result of the writing?  Here are some of our writers’ responses:


I do automatic writing in many of my journals. I take something that’s on my mind and I just start writing. I often discover what the REAL issue by writing something out, just slamming it into the computer as fast as my fingers can go, without thinking. When I was a consultant and had a sticky situation I was working with, I’d take my thoughts for a walk then come home and write about them and always, writing resulting in clarity. But in terms of healing, nothing beats this story.


When I was trying to work through the angst of why I couldn’t say YES to Mary, after five years in which Bob and I had divorced and she and I had fallen in love, she told me she needed to let me go. She told me that if I didn’t find myself, I could never find her. I knew she was right. We had come to a place where we weren’t going anywhere, and I couldn’t make myself move. I was stuck in a whirlwind of conflict.

One morning, after a sleepless night, I set up a table on my screen, with two columns, one short, one wider. I wrote “Mary Ann” on the first box, then tabbed to the next box and wrote down all my agonizing questions. “Why, God? How could I?  What do you think?” Then I sat silent in front of my computer holding the questions until another voice, certainly not my own, came through.  I tabbed to the next row. “God” I typed into the first space. Then I tabbed to the wider space and typed what fell out of my fingers. I went on like this for pages, throwing my agony, my grief, my love, onto the pages and waiting for “answers” to flow through my fingers into “God’s” dialog boxes. I wrote and wrote, Days or maybe weeks later, in a new space of calm, I bought a bouquet of yellow roses, took them to Mary’s house and left them on the doorstep with a note that read, “Yes, Mary. Yes, with all my heart.”

Mary Ann Woodruff



Proof of a Poem

Sometimes a piece I’ve written answers a scared question I ask inside: “Do I exist?” I really didn’t know if I did at certain times of my life. I didn’t. It has been healing for me as a mother/wife/daughter to make that mark of existence that writing can be. When I saw a poem I had written, I knew that I existed. I knew that *I* had written it, proving to me that *I* must still exist. The poem reassured me by its existence. The poem became evidence, concrete evidence, that I still had thoughts. Of my own. About myself.


Writing has been like a Bechdel test for my selfhood. In that test, a movie must have two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man. When I write in my journal, I become my own friend. I enter into a dialog with an inner friend, and I talk about things other than the needs of my family. My own needs for example.

When the needs of my family have overwhelmed my body and soul, I have written myself back into existence as a being with her own perspective, volition, awareness.



what is the




the meaning



is that


Emily Dietrich



The Time Connection


I inherited a mess! Eight huge boxes filled with memorabilia, photographs, scrapbooks and journals that my grandfather had collected. I come from a family that seems compelled to collect and save the flotsam and jetsam of their lives. Some were worse than others, saving every theatre ticket and travel postcard. Others just stashed away souvenirs of joyous occasions: wedding invitations and menus from special anniversary dinners. No one told me I should, but when I got my first brownie camera for my ninth birthday I started filling scrapbooks with photos, blurry at first but then steadily improving as I learned how to look through a lens and hold the camera steady. My first set of photos were of Orton Plantation near Wilmington, North Carolina. We were spending the summer there while my father researched a book on blockade runners of the Civil War. Wilmington had been a port for Southerners desperate for goods denied them by the Yankee blockade just off the shore. The photos aren’t much, but looking at the Spanish moss on the huge oaks which served as the backdrop for my carefully staged photo of my sisters and mother still brings back the scent of the jasmine in the hot humid North Carolina summer air and an ache for my big sister and mother now gone.

My grandfather’s collection was much more sophisticated than mine. When he retired as a Presbyterian minister in the early nineteen thirties he began collecting family history and continued doing so until he died in 1961. He passed the eight boxes down to my father who was an historical novelist. When my father died in 1981, as the only historian in the family, I was the lucky winner of the boxes. No one else cared.

But the people who saved those things cared a lot. They weren’t just saving “things” they were saving memories that brought back emotions. These scrapbooks could create whole evenings of fun when shared with family members in the days before people isolated themselves behind the screens of social media. But what was I going to do with eight boxes of stuff from five different families in a condo with limited storage space?

I decided to take all the memorabilia and write up the stories of the people who had saved their memories. As I painstakingly went through the material these long gone family memories became mine and people began to emerge as personalities. In fact they were quite a cast of characters. I began to see connections with them and my own immediate family. The creative writing streak had probably come down from my maternal great-grandmother who was a poet and earned a living writing for Sunday School publications in the l840s and l850s. My father’s avocation as an historical writer linked back to his fifth great-grandfather who wrote a history of Ireland in 1689. What had begun as a chore suddenly became interesting and fun.

The amazing thing was that as I delved into the dusty archives and perused fading photos my mind slipped back to the times I was reading about. In a strange way I seemed to almost travel back in time and the words poured out of my mind and into my computer as I described long lost family members. For long hours as I wrote the outside world disappeared and I lost myself in their nineteenth and twentieth century lives.

And, as I wrote, as I came to understand them, I understood myself better. I realized that what talents and faults I have aren’t new and mine alone. They have trickled down the branches of a long family tree. That was healing and made me smile.

Sue Swanson


Healing Through Writing

I have written three poems about my suicide attempt in May 2011.

The first poem was written in the middle of my attempt. I had made many razor cuts along my right forearm, and I noticed the blood was forming interesting patterns on the arm of the chair where I was sitting. The title of a poem came to me, and I had to put the razor blade down and go into my office to write that poem. It was about my feelings at that moment and why I wanted to die. Only after I was fully satisfied with the poem did I return to my task of killing myself, moving from a razor blade to my shotgun.

I started the second poem while I was living in a skilled nursing facility. After I called the paramedics, I lived in the Orthopaedic Trauma Unit at Harborview for almost two months, then in the skilled nursing facility for seven more months. I had mentioned to my therapist in the facility that I wrote poetry but had written very little in the past several  months; she suggested I try writing again.

I didn’t think anything would happen, but the instant I got out my pad of paper and a pen, a poem started zipping out of my brain to my fingers. It tells the story of my life at Harborview and subsequently at the nursing facility. It is a story of hope, of a positive point of view, of gratitude for a chance at recovery. It’s not finished yet. It might never be finished because I will live with the physical effects of my actions for the rest of my life. Some people might think the physical effects are a negative part of my life – sometimes I think that, too – but I discovered many silver linings to the black cloud under which I had lived.

A few years later I was at a science-fiction convention and a friend of mine riffed the words “walk with a cane” to the Four Seasons’ “Walk Like a Man”. I was intrigued and asked my friend if I could his idea for a poem; he graciously consented.

It took a few more years before I started that poem. I wasn’t sure what kind of poem I’d write, what the poem would say, but even so I was surprised and astonished by the  result. It is a story of losing and regaining my power of self, a positive shout that I’m alive, and a celebration of that living.

Truthfully, I think I started healing when I called 911. But my three poems, one written at my darkest time, one at my hopeful time, and one when I yell “I am alive!”, may have helped.

I did not succeed at suicide, and I am joyous that I failed.

Jules Dickinson

 Empty Journal

          When I was 13, well, I was 13. To try to soothe my inner psychosis and innate hostility towards anyone related to me, my mother suggested I start to journal. Mind you, this was nothing new. I had journaled for school, and kept a diary which made proclamations such as, “The fire within me to be a zoological curator at a top metropolitan museum will never be extinguished.” I believe, however, at this tumultuous age, my mother was suggesting that I perhaps turn some of that angst onto a blank page and self-reflect rather than create metaphorical skewers aimed at my parents and brother. And here’s why it didn’t work: with such focus, I immediately understood the power of words in a way I hadn’t before. Words were no longer simply a tool for communication; each word, each combination, created a labyrinth of soulful insight that had incendiary potential. Most importantly, these words could cause or heal pain.

I would be enraged, and, muted by the discipline in my home, I would go to my room and would rage at my journal about the injustice and servitude of my life. This was all such a bunch of bullshit that someday everyone would be sorry that I was this angry. In fact, they should all be begging me to forgive them RIGHT NOW. Predictably, this was pretty much all my mother’s fault.

Each time I did this, the next day I would review what I had written and became intensely ashamed. I would rip out any page that held a criticism of my mother. Within months, I had a very loosely-bound collection of pages that barely held together because of the gaps created by my unleashed anger. I’m glad that’s what happened, because if you can learn by age 13 that words have power, that means that your words can also heal as certainly as they can injure.

Liz Burr-Brandstadt








This picture (courtesy of Wikipedia) is a painting by Francis Barraud of the dog Nipper entitled “His Master’s Voice,” which later became the logo for RCA.


A writer’s VOICE is not always easy to define, yet it is one of the most important aspects of our work. “Voice” can mean a few different things, but is not the same thing as “point of view.” Think of a book…any book that has a story-line. Who is the narrator? Is the narrator the author, or a different character? Does the story have different points of view throughout? Characters have their own voices; we learn their values, attributes, and peculiarities. Even if, however, the author is not a direct participant in the narrative, by reading the story we also learn about the writer’s voice. The voice of the writer conveys characteristic speech, an approach or mindset, the values and charisma personal to that writer.

Think of it another way: As a writing group, we know each other’s writing well enough, that I bet more often than not we could listen to a piece and make a pretty good guess as to which of us wrote it. Why is that? It’s because we can recognize each other’s voices. Or think of a time when you read something and thought, “Wow, that sounds like Dickens,” or, “This piece is like Stephen King meets Moliere” (I have no idea what that last one would look like). The point is, whatever point of view we write from, our own writer’s voice will come through.

So for this entry, let’s play with “Voice,” whether it be a reflection or an experiment.


“You Do it Too, Writer! Don’t Be Shy!”


Who are you, my reader? I’ve been pouring my soul out to you through my words. I know how I felt when I wrote my innermost thoughts but do you know how I feel? How do any of us truly know another, truly know how they feel? My heart ached so hard when I wrote about my lost love that it felt as if someone had sucked the breath from my body and left a gaping cavern where my heart used to be. Did you feel my pain as deeply as I?  Perhaps! But you read and you feel based on your own experience, the emotions developed and mixed and roiled together over the years of your own life. If you have loved and lost as I have then you will feel my pain as your pain as you read my story. My story will mean more to you than to someone who has never loved and lost.

I write to ease my pain. I write to express my joy. I write to remember and to tell my story and those of my loved ones so that we won’t be forgotten. I write to reach out to you and all readers, to all common humanity.

I write to search for truths, my personal truths and to see if what I perceive as truths rings a bell with others. Are they universal truths? Is there such a thing as a universal truth?

There must be something to universal human feelings since touching on them, writing about them is what created a classic. We read the classics to learn about the common human experience and how to fit it into our own lives. We read the classics to learn how to behave or how we are supposed to behave, how we should respond to the world around us: to learn the universal truths.

Ah, but life has changed all around us and changes faster with every year. The classical Greek myths rang true to the Greeks, less so down the years. Now only a few classical scholars even read them, let alone in the original Greek. Pastors preach sermons from the pulpit interpreting truths from the Bible to congregants who can’t even imagine first century life in Palestine as they sit in their pews 2000 years later. We read Shakespeare and struggle with the language while loving the rhythm and poetry of the words.       My own grandsons cannot understand the language in Kidnapped and Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classics that fascinated and thrilled their grandfather.

And yet, and yet, all of these classics down the years expressed human emotions that still touch us, still ring true. So, dear writer in 2018, you do it too! You write! Don’t be shy! Tell me, grandson, why you love your X-Box games so. What truths do you discover as you play your games with your friends? Although you rarely have face-to-face contact with them, your eyes cast down to your phone, you still have something to say. Don’t be shy because your voice is the voice of the future. Don’t be shy! Write!

Sue Swanson


Addressing the Reader in Fiction:

“–Hypocrite lecteur, –mon semblable, —mon frère!”


In my story, “The Sorry Camp”, written in the second person, You are the readers and every other white person who has lived in the United States of America since the birth of the nation. This You shares the baggage of history with the writer. As in Baudelaire’s lines, this You is a hypocrite, the mirror image of the writer, and her sister.


The reader is not shy, The reader is ignorant. The reader thinks that she understands but she does not. The reader is dangerous; she can hurt by doing and by not doing.


In my story, the protagonist, a naïve young white girl (we assume she may share some background with the reader) endures a summer in hell as a counselor for poor black girls. The children are innocent. The camp itself is hellish; its history includes the displacement of freed slaves from lush land they cared for. This– by now utterly barren camp– purports to bring fresh air into the lives of the children. Within this setting and this particular moment and place (Virginia,1964) terrifying events unfold that the reader, the You, of our particular moment and our particular time , may or may not understand with hindsight. The story asks a question about the possibility of forgiveness for the cruelty of ignorance and complicity.

Mary Dicker




Love. Art. Repeat.


Welcome Summer!

We have a new process for the web page that we’re very excited about. We will have a rotating schedule of writers whose prompts will be more focused on the writing process, although don’t be surprised if you see a creative prompt now and then. We welcome your comments, and hope to inspire and/or prod the writer in you.

This my mantra: Love. Art. Repeat

Love and art can take many forms, including taking care of yourself and standing up for what is right over what is comfortable or convenient. It includes seeking and speaking truth: external truth, your truth, even existential Truth. It includes accountability for the consequences of our decisions, for we have a greater impact on each other than we recognize.

It is painting a landscape, sculpting movement in stone, scoring a concerto, yes. But it is also knitting socks, capturing the light, drawing a monster, plaiting ribbons, stringing words like beads or fish, carving a whistle, building a chair, making a puzzle, shaping pottery, sketching the profile of a beloved, cooking an omelet, stitching flowers onto cloth.

It includes every voice, from the barest whisper to the loudest roar. It includes every sense, from what can be seen and touched to what can be felt only with the heart. It includes every defiant act of creativity—and every act of creativity is, indeed, defiant. Perhaps wildly so, perhaps gently, but yes, defiant. Defying even death, with the heartbeat of I am, I am, I am.

Wherever the drive to create comes from, it carries our voices somewhere else: creating within the industrious din of a city or on the mountaintop of intellectuality; creating far out on the ink-black sea of contemplation or from the verdant fields of community; creating within the crushing void of overthinking or from the wide vistas of a spirit at peace. Every creation a lantern lifted high to carry its flame into the darkening sky.

It includes love for our country that calls for deep thought and considered action. It includes love for our fellow human beings who need our protection and support–including future generations whose world we shape with our decisions. It includes love for our remarkable, irreplaceable planet. It includes love for love’s sake and for all of ours. It includes hope and compassion and backbone and fortitude and a fire in our veins.

This we must do—over and over and over—or all else is meaningless.

Love. Art. Repeat. 

Darla Kennerud


In pairs, groups, circles,


Sew, sculpt,  bake, build, paint, weave,




Chalice, membrane, fountain, firework,

Our artifact


Over, through, within, under, beyond





In pairs, groups, circles,


Sew, sculpt,  bake, build, paint, weave,




Chalice, membrane, fountain, firework,

Our artifact


Over, through, within, under, beyond




Emily Dietrich

Love. Art. Repeat.

I write poetry. I don’t write novels, short stories, essays, or memoirs because (to me) these genres all require plots and plotting. I don’t have a talent for plotting.

For me, a poem is an emotion and writing about emotion. No plotting required! I can write about emotions. And yet this is funny, because for many years, I did not experience emotions.

My mother was… let us just say that my mother should never have had children—or in fact never have been allowed around children. My youngest years were not conducive to being a happy, beloved child nor to producing an adult who could create and maintain normal, healthy relationships with other people.

My father was my source of loving and being loved, of feeling worthy of love. When my parents announced their divorce when I was seven, I was devastated. The one and only person who loved me was going away and I would not see him very often. Starting that evening and for at least the next twenty years, I was the epitome of Star Trek’s emotionless Mr. Spock, even before Star Trek existed.

As I passed through high school and college and went out into the big, wide world, however, I saw other people experience emotions as though those emotions were ordinary, everyday things. Eventually, with much work on my own and with the help of therapy, I decided that feeling emotions (beyond a general irritability for everyone and everything) might be something both safe and worthwhile that I could do.

Today I’m grateful to feel emotions: happy and unhappy, pleasant and unpleasant, mild to very intense. Having lived both with and without emotions, I am definitely in favor of living with them and fully feeling them. I find the intense emotions—whether joy or rage—are very scary, but I would still rather feel scary, intense emotions than feel nothing at all.

I love my emotions. I write poetry. Repeat!

Jules Dickinson ’77

The Mythopoesis of Love

For the past few days, hour after hour, I have been immersed in note-taking on Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. Now what on God’s green earth would motivate me to do such a thing? Have I developed some kind of program of atonement based on utter boredom? Do I believe that the intricacies of Hobbes’s distinction between contracts and covenants is important to know? (By the way, you can’t have a covenant with a beast. Nope.) None of the above; I am painstakingly doing this because I am taking an online class called Revolutionary Ideas: Utility, Justice, Equality, Freedom.

But why am I doing that? I’m taking the class because I’m giving a presentation in a couple of weeks about the Mythopoesis of Alternative Justice at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual conference. Why? Because I’ve read a bunch of books in this past year about different areas of North America (that includes Mexico and Canada, folks!), and the roots of their immigrants, their belief systems, and the stories we all tell (books, movies, TV) that illustrate our anxieties and profound hopes about justice. That doesn’t explain it, really, though, does it?

Why did I pick that topic right now? Because I need to understand, like many, many of my fellow Americans, what is happening in this country. I’m scared, and hurting, so fundamentally confused, and can find no unity nor answers by talking. Even conversations I have with people with whom I agree feel tense and angry. But I don’t think yelling at each other or retreating to preconceived notions about what is important in “your” America is going to work at all. So, I did what I can do very well. I decided to love and write. (And apparently exhaust my brain to the point that reading an article in Popular Science seems frivolous.)

This is at the core of all my creative efforts: I want the fruit of my labors to be reflective of who I am as a person, and not what I believe. To me, if my writing, and my cooking, and all my other quests to create nice things isn’t rooted in this desire to understand and love, then it’s not worth making. I wrote a paper, and made a Power Point presentation, and got some awesome movie and TV clips, and thought of some funny ways to tell people about my paper. I’m not trying to change what anyone thinks, or make some self-important statement about right, wrong, and what people should be thinking about. I am trying to create out of love.

Liz Burr-Brandstadt ’91



Zinaida Serebriakova 1884-1967

Sometimes the simplest things in life can bring us the most inspiration. What better to contemplate those integuments for our feet. What if we didn’t have them? What do they symbolize? Have a good story about shoes?


Ah, shoes! My secret passion! (My other passion is hats but they are out of fashion so don’t count.) But I LOVE SHOES. I have no idea why. But I can tell you that the first thing I notice about a person is their footwear. I’ve startled strangers and friends alike by sidling up to them and saying in an emotional, conspiratorial whisper, “I love your shoes!”

Besides a thank you” I usually also receive a wink and a nod and a “Me too! They’re my favorite.” And we smile the smile of a passion shared. Another shoe lover!



Looming large in our living room in the home where I grew up were two oil portraits from the early 20th century, framed by thick, ornate, and gilded frames. Each pictured a formidable character, and I knew them as “Grossmama” and “Grosspapa.” They were my great, great grandparents who immigrated from Germany. Grosspapa had a handlebar mustache and kind of looked like Edgar Allan Poe, but I was fascinated by Grossmama. I always wanted to hear her story.

“Look at her earrings and her pin,” my mother would tell me, pointing to the very Victorian-looking bunches of grapes dangling from her ears and the high neck of her dress. “That jewelry was made from her baby Florentine’s hair.”

Even though I already knew, I would ask, “And who was Florentine?”

“Florentine was the youngest of Grossmama and Grosspapa’s fourteen children.”

“But only seven of them grew up, right Mommy?”

“Yes, that’s right. And one year, Grossmama lost her three youngest children to tuberculosis: first her six-year-old, then her four-year-old, and then her two-year-old, Florentine.”

“So Grossmama had the jewelry made from her long dark curls, right Mommy?”

“Yes, her long dark curls.”

Then my mother would produce a small pair of tiny black leather boots with buttons up the side. They looked almost new. “These were Florentine’s shoes,” she would continue. “Grossmama would hold them and cry and say, ‘If only I could bear looking at the shoes!'”

How thrillingly morbid! I loved this story. Couldn’t get enough of it. Unsuspecting guests who had never been to our house before would enter our living room for presumed hospitality, only to have me push ahead of them where I shouted out a “highlights-only” version of this story. I had to get there before my brother tried to steal the show and tell the story first. Mind you, my brother couldn’t care less about the story and was probably playing Atari in the other room, but I beat him, nonetheless. I’m sure our guests were very grateful.

Why the shoes? Why couldn’t Elizabeta Von Sturmer Hugo bear to see Florentine’s shoes?

I think it’s because they didn’t have the worn sole and scuffs of a child who played outside, or followed her brothers and sisters on adventures, or walked to market and church. They seemed too small not to be worn. They represented the steps not taken.

About ten years ago, my mother asked me what she should specifically leave me in her will. I couldn’t really think of anything. (For the record, my mother has approximately 438 pairs of shoes. Also for the record, my brother, when posed the same question, immediately asked which of my mother’s belongings cost the most.)

“I think I want the bible Grossmama and Grosspapa brought from Germany,” I said. I love old books, and I remembered the careful list kept on the first page of the bible detailing the births and deaths of their children, and the family to follow.

“And Florentine’s shoes,” I added.

Because every footprint we leave is important to someone.




And my breasts—it’s better not to mention them at all except to say that

they seemed to be in a race to see which could be first to reach my knees.

Maya Angelou, Rainbow in the Cloud


Gravity has had its way on me, as on Sister Maya. And beyond the obvious effect of gravity, age has also affected my shoe size. I always had big feet. As a teen, I had to buy shoes at a tiny Rochester, NY emporium euphemistically called the “Tall Girl Shop.” Now, feet that used to be comfortable in size 11s need 11-1/2 or 12s. I’m lucky to live in Nordstrom land, where through the gift of mostly Munros my feet are comfortably clad.


And at the same time—when I think of my expanding feet, I think of the greater understanding they represent. That too, is a gift of aging.

Mary Ann



For this month, instead of forcing a political discussion, instead of “ELECT’ we’re writing on “SELECT.’ We all make choices every day, and often we’re completely unaware of the far-reaching (or even immediate) consequences.




When I asked Simone why she had acted to save the children at such great risk to herself, she shrugged in her European manner, and said, “Someone had to do it.”  She appeared fatigued with the question although kind in allowing me an opportunity to ask it. Earlier in the week at dinner, in the elegant dining room of her care facility, she had been chattily introduced to me as a French heroine. Again, kindly, she said to her Christian interlocutors, “These are not matters to discuss over dinner.”

Women of advanced age do not all look the same. Simone herself was quite beautiful. Her skin was pale white, her hair white, her eyes blue. The overall visual impression was of a woman of good health and intellect.

Too polite or too hesitant to delve beneath the answer she had given me and unable to find a ready answer in my cursory research on the Jewish Resistance, I began to ask these questions of my hypothetical 19 year old self.  Am I responsible for the children in my care when I am only a few years older than they? If I am not responsible for them than who is? If the parents of these children cannot bear to be separated from their own flesh and blood but I know the children will surely die, how can I summon the strength to wrench these children from loving parents who cling to them?

Of course I could not answer these questions.

(These children were hidden in the homes of French families, their birth names and parents’ names carefully concealed in the lining of Simone’s coat, so that at the end of the war, hopefully, families could be reunited.)

The concept of choice may not be a suitable framework for understanding why someone brave acts bravely. Most of us would wish we could. In times of peace we assume that we can select our course of action. Perhaps choice is a mystery.

I will never know more than I do now about how a young French girl was able to save so many children.  I am honored to have met Simone. I think of her at times when my hope is shaken.


A Select Number

Will reap the benefits of this country,

Will represent the interests of all,

Will be disparaged and banished,

Will embrace rampant intolerance,

Or inclusion, and

Will hope.



Select? Choose? How do we make choices? Why do we select what we do? What goes into the selection? What is behind it? My guess is that the answers to those questions change over time as we ourselves move from our teenage years through our time as mature adults and finally into our time as seniors.

The problem is we often have to live with choice we made in our twenties that don’t fit us comfortably in our forties. Selections have consequences.

And so we select or choose again as life’s circumstances shift. Those of us who are able to change our minds as circumstances shift, who are flexible, seem to float more smoothly through life’s challenges. Perhaps these lucky ones have found the secret to happiness.




When I was at a serious, life-changing choice point in my life, whenever I selected a Tarot

card, I often picked the Two of Swords. In the deck I used, a “blindfolded woman is seated

at the water’s edge, holding two swords in perfect balance. The blindfold indicates that she

cannot see her way through her present situation, so she steadfastly ignores the sea of her

emotions and the jagged rocks of hard facts behind her.”* That was surely the way I felt, so

terrified of whatever decision I might make, I could do nothing at all.

Once I made my choice, I never selected the Two of Swords again for a Tarot spread.

Just sayin’.

* The Complete Book of Tarot, Julie Sharman-Burke

Mary Ann