• Susan Shultz Tales from the Graveyard

    Reading My First Horror Story – The Blacksmith by Susan Shultz

    What makes the good scary story? I always thought that ghost tales told around a fire or in a dark room pretty much covered the genre. That it would be the suspense and mind-boggling monsters that gave people nightmares.

    ‘The Blacksmith’ by Susan Shultz is about love, heartbreak, blood, and murder in graveyards. Spoiler: It was a great read, even for a grown up, scaredy-cat like me.

    Tales from the Graveyard

    tales from the graveyard susan shultz

     

    It wasn’t until I read “The Blacksmith“, that I thought about a different type of scary story. This one is more of a Dark or Gothic Romance. It relies on legitimate fears of loss and the flaws in human nature to make you feel uncomfortable. But don’t misunderstand, if you like blood, ghosts and sociopaths, “The Blacksmith” has plenty of that for you.

    Honestly, I have never read a “horror” story willingly. I initially read this book because Susan is my friend and I know her to be an excellent writer from her other work. If you’re willing to read something different (and quite good), I promise you’ll survive!

    Suspense and Heartbreak in Suburbia

    The main character, Ainsley is a librarian in a “sleepy New England town” by day and a friend to the dead in her backyard at night. Her favorite companion is the Blacksmith, despite his attempts to pull her away from her one real friend: Sam. Ainsley tells us that Blacksmith is a strong presence and reminds her that she belongs in the graveyard with him.

    She acknowledges who she appears to be early on: a monster. Susan Shultz has a way of making something terrible sound so eloquent through a lonely woman’s eyes.

    “My heart is dead. It does not beat. It died some time ago. It is dead, but it feels hunger, like a zombie. It lurches on, seeking heat, blood. Sometimes, it feels pain. The pain in my heart is the spot where a healed-over broken bone aches when it rains.”

    In about 50 e-pages, the story reveals a character who feels love and heartache the way a person might describe feeling a ghost limb. She ignores it and tries to suppresses it with a deranged hobby — murdering men and eating their hearts.

    What makes Ainsley such a great character are her flaws, but the question is whether it’s the blood on her hands or her loneliness that destroys her. With a character so extreme and seemingly disturbed, I could almost understand the reasons for her actions, over another character who is more introspective or talkative. What Ainsley does is almost an animal instinct due to her pain and a visceral reaction to something she is missing in life.

    Susan is also able to write in other stories within Ainsley’s — those of the people in her graveyard. We learn about those who once inhabited her isolated house and who are now a part of her life.

    (The story is actually a three part series – The Blacksmith, Dirt, and Sam – which adds to the stories of various characters around Ainsley.)

    Susan Shultz Tales from the Graveyard

    In an interview with a local newspaper, Susan explains that the duality we see in Ainsley (between her terrifying deeds and her loving nature) are inspired from her own life. The article is no longer available, but here’s what she says about her inspiration:

    “Obviously I’m not a murderer, but there’s the one version of myself during the day that fits in, then there’s the one who is me that doesn’t really fit in.”

    “It’s between what we struggle with and what we share with the outside world and who we really are,” [Susan] said.

    You can follow Susan Shultz‘s author page on Facebook for updates about her work. The e-book is available here and won’t take you more than an hour or so to read. The whole story is written well, but the ending will leave you wondering about Ainsley’s true nature, if not the motivations of all people. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.
    If you’re looking for something classic and  that will only disturb you slightly try “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, or pick up Susan’s inspiration — “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson.

     

  • city through glass ball by thom bradle

    The news is drowning me

    When I say “the news”, you must know what I mean? It’s everywhere, seeping into every conversation and every post I see online. I’m not here to complain, but to tell you that we might share the same feeling of emotional exhaustion after every event and gratitude when our loved ones make it home at the end of the day.

    I’m so tired.

    Not just from walking out of a store with my family when something just doesn’t feel right. Or from looking around corners and checking for fire exits. Even though I know it’s anxiety most of the time, I feel better temporarily. For a few years, I convinced myself that staying extra vigilant was a good solution.

    I’m tired.

    From reading articles from all types of media that leave me feeling sad and empty. What good is an article that likely had editors and tons of resources behind it, without a call to action. Why doesn’t each article tell me what to do with my anger? Or how to help victims directly? Or whose door to knock on to get answers?

    two people holding hands to show affection

    If you’re like me, you leap head first into the world. You feel the joy and pain of people you’ve never met. Devours article after article every day and at the end of it, you’re left with nothing to show for it except for a creeping fear and anxiety about the world.

    I’ve noticed that Instagram is a good first step, if you can find the right accounts. It’s easier for them to shout out organizations or share contact information without having to worry about seeming “neutral”. Although I’m a big supporter of journalism and factual reporting, I think we’re past neutral in 2019.

    Some days I stop myself from crying thinking about the world my two year old steps out into every day. Sometimes I can’t.

    What I’ve found recently is that taking concrete steps helps calm me down. I look for the helpers. I want to support organizations and people who are already looking out for us. That helps me breathe freely and finally close my eyes at night.

    And while they’re working, I’ll probably still be watching the door.

    When I say that the news is drowning me, I don’t really mean the articles and stories. I mean what’s going on in the world. Maybe from digesting so much reporting, we’ve come to believe that it’s inevitable. I’m here to tell you, I don’t believe it is. It’s not “news” that’s outside our bubble, it’s here, it’s our world. Me and you are going to take it one step at a time to make one small thing better.

  • Thanksgiving as an Immigrant Family

    Every year amidst the warm chaos of Thanksgiving, I look around at my family and think, “How the heck did we get here?”

    There are many answers to that. How did we get here physically? By train, then plane, then subway, and most recently: a long car ride to Florida. My family, as well as my husband’s family, are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. My family was sponsored by HIAS to come to New York in the 90’s. What the means is that they vouched for us to come into the country, promising that they would help get us on our feet in the U.S.A.

    Russian family in America

    I remember many Thanksgiving that featured, instead of turkey, roasted chicken, rice pilaf (we call it plov), and tomato and onion salads. Even after 24 years in this country, this cuisine is still pretty much standard in our homes. Maybe we had turkey early on, but I can’t for the life of me remember when we actually started putting it on the table.

    There was no mac and cheese here. Inside our home no one looked twice at a salad compromised of diced potatoes, eggs, peas, pickles and a healthy coating of mayonnaise. Obviously we learned about “American” foods from our friends over time, but it didn’t change how we envisioned our holiday.

    What did food matter when this was always a holiday to be grateful? Who could understand that more than a family of immigrants (and technically refugees)? We were always thankful, especially during this holiday.

    So now we eat turkey in addition to everything else, and the contrast of our traditions and “American” culture is basically the theme of my life. How much I feel that depends on where I’m living and who I’m surrounded by. It’s a feeling that immigrants understand because it’s impossible to escape.

    Whether you’re native born or an immigrant to the United States, Happy Thanksgiving! It’s more important than ever to share and embrace all the cultural variations that our country creates and encourages.

    Let’s remind ourselves and our friends to be thankful for where we are and to always leave a seat for someone at our table who might want to be thankful too.

  • Notes from a Walk Around the Mall

    My day to day life involves chasing after a little girl who requires me to have a lot of energy to match hers. Being a parent is hard in a million ways that I never anticipated. Even with tons of help, the scariest part of the day can be just having a pair of eyes on me while I’m trying to do a regular activity like shopping or eating.

    Sometimes going places with my two year old is scary. Being in public feels like a performance. Is she wearing something nice? Do we have food in our hair? Do my socks match? Did I wear this shirt yesterday?

    A carefree walk around the neighborhood.

    One day I spent a couple of hours at the mall with my daughter. We had lunch, rode up and down escalators, and chased each other in circles. It was mostly a fun time until she stopped listening and started misbehaving in all the ways that toddler do. It was such a stark contrast to how she behaved earlier. Besides trying to keep her from running away, I felt like we were bothering everyone in the building just by being there. I was so worried over something I knew I already did my best to control.

    Later I thought about how embarrassed I felt, and I hated it. I’ve battled with this feeling my whole life, always wondering if I was being too loud or taking up too much space. That feeling made me smaller and quieter as a child. Did I want my daughter to feel that way too?

    As she gets older, I have more days where I’m kind to myself and ignore any outside judgement — but those days are far from over. The same way I’m growing as an almost 30 year old adult, I’m now growing with her.

    I’ll teach her to never be embarrassed by what’s outside of her control. That’s the only way forward.

  • Start Here

    writing laptop
    Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

    How often do you wish that there were two of you? Two people with the same goals in mind, knocking tasks off your to-do list. One of you to do normal things like cooking, going to work and spending time with your family. The other, for working on your hobby or obsessing over things that get relegated to extracurricular time — after your family is asleep or while you commute to work.

    I started writing this blog in 2008 as a way to share what I was writing down somewhere else anyway — in a notebook, an app on my phone, post-it notes here and there. It hasn’t stopped since then but there are a million reasons why I haven’t posted anything new.

    Since that the last time I published a new post, it feels like my life has changed 100 times over. My drafts have piled up (128 pending in WordPress, to be specific). I planned to write about my family (+1 baby), turning 25 (+3 years), politics, technology, and of course, some of what I’ve been reading, for old times sake.

    As I try to get back into this groove, take a look at my favorite posts from the past years:

    Seeing Orion’s Belt

    Together for 68 years

    Reading my First Horror Story

    History Destroyed in Palmyra

    Paen to Place by Lorine Niedecker

    A Russian New Year’s Eve

    Tear it Down by Jack Gilbert

  • We’re all too busy

    busy life

    Have you noticed that when you ask someone how they’re doing, one of the common responses is “busy”. I’m guilty of that. It’s not always a complaint. Sometimes it’s not that we’re too busy for our friends, but we unintentionally make ourselves appear off limits to people who are trying to connect.

    Maybe it’s just me and my friends, but it seems that everyone is always busy. Actually busy. Between work, activities, family or partner commitments, it’s a game in itself to schedule a date. Let me tell you something, it’s possible. Friends like attention. That’s how they stay your friends, I’ve learned. Granted, I might be spoiled because my best friend/husband is also my live-in coworker. Yes, we work in the same home office, we have almost every meal together, we go to the movies together.

    Anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve written something new for this site. So long in fact that I hesitated before remembering what to type into the browser. The slight lapse in memory might simply be from how tired I am today. Everyone says they’re busy, and I don’t know if I’m more or less busy that you, but I am tired. And I’m tired of being too tired to write anything for myself. There aren’t many people reading, but I’m going to tell you anyway that I’m working on a few new posts. Hopefully you will see those soon. Maybe even one that’s interesting.

    Are you one of those people who always says they’re busy when friends ask? Stop that. Go outside. Have coffee with your neglected friends and tell them about what you’re working on. It might be another committement, but you’ll likely both appreciate it. It seems that life only gets busier, and one day you might your friend to make space in their schedule for you too.

  • Let’s talk about memories

    When I wrote this in 2014, there was a viral momentum that pushed memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease into the national spotlight. Then, and even now, the United States had a problem that basically needed money to have a chance to be solved. In a time when people are surviving and living through other major diseases, our friends and family members with Alzheimer’s disease — without cures or real treatments — are dying at an increasing rate.

    Grandma before Alzheimer's

    “Americans whisper the word Alzheimer’s because their government whispers the word Alzheimer’s. And although a whisper is better than the silence…it’s still not enough.”

    I was surprised to hear Seth Rogen give a speech about his mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her 50’s. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. (and is emotionally and financially devastating to so many families) – yet it’s treated like another inevitable disease. I hung on to every word because I understood his pain.

    Grandma, standing with family, in April 1949.

    I remembered sitting outside with my grandma one summer and listening to stories about her life. I think I was 17. I definitely didn’t know then what was to come. I wasn’t aware of what could happen to a person, even if you love them. Even if they’re the most important person in the world to you.

    The comedian’s story in front of the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services was predictably funny, but still powerful. That committee is the one that was supposed to look at the economic effect of Alzheimer’s disease as well as how much money is going into research. 

    I was immediately grateful that he lent his celebrity to this cause and shared such a personal story. I was grateful that the C-SPAN video blew up online less than 24 hours after it was recorded. Honestly, if he wasn’t trying to make us laugh, I would have been crying all over my keyboard.

    All I could think about afterward was that sharing stories is so important to help others understand what’s important to you.

    My Grandma

    My grandmother lived with dementia for several years. Before she passed away at 93 years old, she couldn’t recognize her closest family members.

    Having dementia means cells are dying in your brain, causing what you would expect: a person to forget. First, small things, and then lots of things all at once, including people they’ve known for decades. Their brain loses the blueprints for activities that you and I find simple, like how to get dressed or eat or which people to trust. Most cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease (though there are several others).

    An important thing to remember is that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging, just like cancer is not a normal part of life.

    My grandmother had a difficult life. She survived World War II, years of starvation, Stalin and all of the things associated with the Soviet Union. She was forced out of her country and her home as a teenager. At almost 70 years old, she moved to the United States with her children and grandchildren

    One of my favorite photos of my grandmother is her as a young girl. I love this photo but it’s difficult to imagine her this way. What were her hopes, her goals or her dreams? That’s something I can’t ask anymore.

    As one of the youngest grandchildren I feel that I could never have had as much time as everyone else to know her. I’m sure no amount of time would have been long enough anyway. All I know is that she loved us, and doted on my brother and me in all of the ways she knew how —  by telling us about her plants, making fresh bread, forcing us to eat her meals, and then making something new when we protested.

    This was not a grandmother who’d let you eat pizza or hamburgers. I remember her laughing at all of the “American” habits we picked up at school. I’m sure we did some strange things in her eyes.

    I remember when she learned to read English but couldn’t understand a word. She would read my brother’s t-shirts and ask us what the phrases meant.

    She taught me to do crosswords in Russian and I still love them. The little squares remind me of her. Vines on plants and fresh bread remind me of her.

    Tell Your Story

    Sharing stories gets people out of the shadows, and encourages them to ask for help. But the resources they need have to be there or else it’s just talk. There is no way to prevent, cure or to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Unlike other major diseases, diagnoses have actually increased 68% over the past decade. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people are currently living with the disease. That doesn’t include non-Alzheimer’s induced dementia, nor does it count the number of family members, caretakers, social workers and other invaluable people who spend decades of their lives dealing with the disease.

    Seth Rogen mentioned that not so long ago, people who had cancer were ashamed to tell anyone. Though unfortunately cancer is still a leading cause of death, the research for its cure has visibility and financial support.

    It’s not easy to share something private, but I’ll gladly do it if it will tell someone that they’re not alone, or it will remind others that we’re still fighting for our loved ones.

    Politics, committees and budget meetings like the one Rogen attended happen all the time, but I’m hoping that there will be some breakthroughs given this momentum.

    So I ask our Congress, the President and everyone else: What are your memories worth to you? 

  • new york city skyline

    Seeing Orion’s belt

    Before we started as freshman in high school, my class was sent on a weekend trip outside of New York City. It was then that I got to know my best friend and several other people that would leave an impression on me. One of the things I remember well from the trip was laying in the grass at night and looking up at the dark sky. I had hardly known the location of the stars after spending most of my life in the brightness of the city, but our future science teacher made us look carefully and use our imaginations. Like many other times before, I strained my eyes to find some pattern in a dark sky awash with glowing dots. The stars were beautiful to me, but in contrast to the architecture of New York — the bright windows of office buildings and skyscrapers — dispersed without any pattern.

    Many years later, I moved about 30 miles outside of the city to Connecticut. My neighborhood was far from a dark, wooded place, but any place is after New York City. I was able to see a lot more stars than I ever had before. My husband would point out constellations that he learned as a kid.

    Did I see Orion? With three stars for the belt, legs and outstretched arms. The big and little dipper. I couldn’t see them after staring up from fields and looking out the window on long drives, using constellation plotting apps, or compasses on my phone pointing north and south.

    Recently, we were walking at night together and I looked up at the apparently rare Christmas full moon. It might have washed out the stars around it, but all of a sudden I noticed a line of three stars. Orion’s Belt!

    I had that wonderful feeling of learning something new. Someone else pointed out the stars to me a few weeks later, and I nodded. I know what’s up there. I can see the three stars that make the belt, the head and the arms outstretched. I know exactly where they are after staring up so many times.

  • fireworks on a dark sky sabrina wishak photo

    ‘To The New Year’

    New Year’s Eve holds a lot of promises. Whether you’re hoping to complete your resolutions and hoping for big changes, or just going about business as usual, January 1st marks the beginning of something. The start of a new calendar year, new bills, new paychecks, another school year, birthdays to celebrate.

    We are hopeful on December 31, but there is no magic in the clock striking 12. We wake up in the morning the same as we were the day before—with our own bodies, our experiences and our thoughts. There’s no harm in seeing January 1 with fresh eyes, but we must be the agents of change in our lives.

    The holidays are a busy for me, between family events and eating leftover food, it’s difficult to find a time to write. But writers learn sooner or later that we can improve by simply reading more. If you’ve seen my “Tranquil Tuesday” posts in the past, you won’t be surprised that I found a poem to bring in the new year. “To the new year” by W.S. Merwin embodies that beautiful feeling of hope that reminds us what is possible, despite what happened the day or year before.

    w.s. merwin to the new year quote on space background

     

     

    To the New Year

    by W.S. Merwin

    With what stillness at last
    you appear in the valley
    your first sunlight reaching down
    to touch the tips of a few
    high leaves that do not stir
    as though they had not noticed
    and did not know you at all
    then the voice of a dove calls
    from far away in itself
    to the hush of the morning

    so this is the sound of you
    here and now whether or not
    anyone hears it this is
    where we have come with our age
    our knowledge such as it is
    and our hopes such as they are
    invisible before us
    untouched and still possible

  • poem about nature

    On defining yourself: ‘Throw Things to the Flood’

    What makes you, you?

    poem about nature

    People tend to compare themselves to others at different stages of their lives. Sometimes these comparisons can help us set goals and find confidence in our identity. You might have seen yourself in a parental figure or a celebrity. But have you ever felt like lion at heart or a graceful fish in the water? Has your soul felt as one with a leaf falling slowly from its tree in autumn or have you found yourself ingrained in the cobblestones of a city?

    That’s the spirit of Paean to Place by Lorine Niedecker: We see ourselves in others, like family, and also in our surroundings. I read Niedecker’s work for the first time as a college freshman, and sometime during that class I copied some of my favorite lines into a notebook. Unfortunately after almost a decade after “discovering” this writer, I’ve never seen anyone share her work. You can read the entire poem here.

    —————

    Fish
          fowl
                flood
          Water lily mud
    My life
    in the leaves and on water
    My mother and I
                          born
    in swale and swamp and sworn
    to water
    My father
    thru marsh fog
          sculled down
                from high ground
    saw her face

    —————

    Looking back to the past for help

    “Paean to Place” centers around a woman who we learn several things about almost immediately. She was from an area constantly flooded by water. She grew up poor. Her parents are dead.

    It is written in the past tense so I always read it as the narrator looking back at her life. She is not only remembering things, but recounting her story in order to accept who she is. I’m pretty sure of this as I get to the last stanza. Read it on your own and let me know if you agree.

    poem about birds

    So she’s a product of her surroundings? Yes, but more than that. She finds that herself and her parents can be described in reference to the water or the creatures living around it. Things that help her construct an identity and figure out what’s important.

    Up in the sky and in the water, she was surrounded by birds that she knew by their official names: Plovers, sora rails, canvasbacks, woodcocks. She remembered all of their sounds (even wishing in one line, that her mother could hear them). At one point the girl considers herself a “solitary plover”. Like the marsh birds, she had a unique song and one outfit. She wore it as long as the birds kept their feathers. (Apparently seven years). But as much as the girl wants to be like them, ultimately it’s the wings that really set them apart. Her feathered neighbors had more freedom to leave the marsh in which they resided. This is pretty sad, given that within the first few stanzas she reveals her parents dreams: “that their daughter/ might go high/ on land/ to learn.

    Niedecker’s narrator does not have feathers but “a pencil/for a wing-bone.” Words are what carry her out of her difficult world. This is the line that really resonated with me. (Please leave your sarcastic gasps for the end of the show. I’m sure that other writers and lovers of words will feel the same.)

    —————

    You with sea water running
    in your veins sit down in water
          Expect the long-stemmed blue
                speedwell to renew
    itself

    ————— Jamaica Bay Wildlife Reserve

    It seems that the girl, now a woman, left her home in an effort to escape the water and the flooding. She’s different now. But when she returns to visit her parents’ graves, the narrator finds herself a part of it all again.
    Though she tried to be a bird and fly away, it’s not the wings that were missing. Her identity was shaped like the water lillies, irises and speedwells that spread around her. Ordinary flowers grew toward light and pleasant conditions, but these survived flooding and grow on top of graves. She had just grown roots in one place for so long, but that was okay.
    The water haunted her but it also renewed her, and gave her life.
    ————–
    O my floating life
    Do not save love
          for things
                Throw things
    to the flood
    ————–
    It’s not easy to figure out what defines us. For me, like in Niedecker’s poem, there’s always been a small battle going on to accept things that have shaped me for better or worse. Those things can feed us and help us grow instead of keeping us down.

    So what would you say has shaped you? Is it something that holds you back or helps you forward?