In the Trenches By Cynthia B. Ainsworthe

 

WW I

WWI

The night is quiet from the day’s deafening bombardment of bombs and screeching sounds of dying men, some not more than a foot away. I sit in this piss-laden trench wondering when my time will come. Will it be tomorrow or the next? Numb from all this death and suffering, I don’t care anymore. If I’m meant to end on a French battlefield, then it’s better than being shipped home with a missing limb.

Charlie was sent home last week due to trench foot. Most of his toes were gone from gangrene. He’ll be glad to see his family, even if it means hobbling for the rest of his life. John was looking forward to going home next week. A sniper’s bullet pierced his helmet while we were talking about those lively cancan girls we wanted to see on leave.

Why are we here? Because an arrogant bastard, the Keiser, wanted to rule all of Europe and maybe the world, too. Sinking the Lusitania was the turning point. I was full of patriotic fervor when I signed up. I joined to protect the United States from tyranny and a malicious underbelly. The cause was right and just—freedom for all. My starry eyes blinded the realization of what war really meant. War is killing—killing the sons, brothers, and fathers of others who just believe in taking the enemies’ lives. Here we are. Two sides praying to the same God for a victory.

Armentières was a hell storm, or so I’ve been told by a British soldier when he came to our camp searching for his fellow platoon mates. I have no idea why a song was composed about that city in France. You know the one I’m talking about—“Mademoiselle From Armentières, Parlez-Vous.” Funny how silly things come to mind, like a song, when I don’t know if I’ll see tomorrow, or much of it.

We went by foot to this place. Ruin and devastation nearly everywhere we looked, and then a pretty wildflower took me back to home. My mind saw Mama at the stove making the best beef stew anyone ever tasted, my young sister helping her by gathering the ingredients and placing them on the counter. I went to take a taste from the worn wooden spoon. “Stop that! It’s not ready yet.” Her words rang in my ears. She’d then kiss my cheek and I’d feel her loving hand stroke the hair on my head, just as she did when I stood no higher than her apron sash.

Poppa is a mechanic and owns his own business. He’s got plans for me to join him when I return from this war. Even has a sign at the back of the shop with “and Son” on the end of the name. He told me he had that sign made when I was born. I learned a lot from him—what’s right and wrong, fear of God, respect women, and a man is only as good as his word. Seems to me there are too many in this world who haven’t learned those lessons, or else don’t care about them.

This is supposed to be the Great War, and the War to End All Wars. Somehow, I don’t believe it. There’s just too much hate in men’s hearts and the thrill of power and rule make them seek ways to strike down those who disagree with them. I fear this is only the beginning of what’s to come for a hundred or more years from now. I’m just a common foot soldier and know nothing about war plans and strategies, but I know this—as long as men refuse to accept differences in others, this war is the reflection of intolerance, and conflict will be the normal way of things to come for generations.

WW I.2
WWII

 

© 2015 Cynthia B. Ainsworthe

http://www.thewriteroomblog.com/?p=2217
and
http://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-B.-Ainsworthe/e/B00KYRE1Q8
also
http://www.cynthiabainsworthe.com/

 

Bio

Life’s circumstances put Cynthia’s dream to be a write on hold for most of her life. In 2006 she ventured to write her first novel. Front Row Center, is being adapted to screen. A script is in development by her and known Hollywood screenwriter, producer, director, Scott C Brown. She has vast interests in art and history. Cynthia shares, with other authors, the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, When Midnight Comes, and Characters, which she contributed to the horror anthology The Speed of Dark, compiled by Clayton C Bye, published by Chase Enterprises Publishing. She garnered the Excellence in Writing Award from It Matters Radio for her short story It Ain’t Fittin.

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Into the Woods by Monica Brinkman

 

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“Wait for me Sissy”!

Sissy Jones looked back to see her little brother stumbling through the tall rock laden grass. She ceased her walk and hollered back, “Hurry up Timothy or we’ll miss finding them.” The young boy smiled and huffed his way to his sister.

The sight of his blonde locks, now wet from the humid heat of the summer softened her reserve. “It’s okay Timmy, you catch your breath. We still have time. Here drink this.”

Without hesitation Timmy gulped down the entire contents of the thermos and wiped the cool water from his mouth with his right hand. “Thanks Sissy, I sure needed that.”

“I guess you did cause now we don’t have any water left for later. I don’t want to hear any complaining about how hot and thirsty you are. Geez. You didn’t have to hog it all.”

Sissy felt bad as soon as the words left her mouth. She kept forgetting how young Timmy was and that he hadn’t learned yet to think about the next person in line. She patted him on the head. “Come on, we better get going if we want to find any arrow heads.”

She took Timmy’s hand and led him into the woods, noticing the temperature dropped considerably from the shade of the multitude of trees surrounding them. It was a natural gift from nature; one she appreciated on such hot humid days. Soon, the sound of water traveling over rock covered ground could be heard; she knew they were near and her excitement rose.

“We’re almost there.”

Hearing his sisters’ words, Timmy let go of her hand and raced ahead to the river’s bed. He waited, knowing better than to enter the water until Sissy joined him. It only took a moment and there she was, at his side.

“Look at the little frogs. Aren’t they cute? Sissy squealed and circled the water with her fingertips, watching as the frogs swam for perceived safety.

Sissy adored frogs and was delighted to see the tadpoles swishing their tiny forms and swimming among the small frogs. Surely many would not make it, but there would be enough to keep the species populated. She noticed Timmy was bent over the edge scooping up mud and grassy soil, seeking those arrowheads and artifacts from the Neshaminy Indians who had lived in this woods for decades before them.

The woods was always magical. Silent yet boasting the rustle of birds, reptiles and insects for those who hesitate long enough to listen. Ah, it was the time of her life and Sissy revealed in it, taking in the richness of life, the simplicity of moment, never anticipating what would come next; experiencing what was happening now.

 

***

His white lab coat rustled as he approached the silver-haired woman and spoke to his assistant. “You know, Fleckner, it never ceases to amaze me how peaceful and happy she appears. Don’t know that I’ve seen her without a smile on that wrinkled face. Whatever could it be that holds her in such a state?”

Adam Fleckner nodded. “Alzheimer’s is sadly still quite a mystery to us. I suppose it is merely her reflexes and nothing more. Sissy cannot speak or hear us, or if she can do so, she surely has not given us a sign. It is sad, this disease.”

The two doctors walked pass Sissy Jones who continued to laugh, smile and find joy as she experienced the past, or perhaps to her, it was the present.

 

Monica Brinkman writes stories of life, the paranormal, horror and suspense. Visit her web-site @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

And radio web-site:  www.itmattersradio.com

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Some poems for your consideration

Poetry is a large part of my life. I enjoy reading and performing it, but my secret joy is writing the stuff. I’m one of these fellows who dashes off the first line or two in a frenzy of inspiration, then settles down, finds the metre and, sometimes, the rhyme and just lets it flow. I have no idea how I do it.

Poetry was difficult for me in school. Robert Frost, one of my favourite poets, was beyond me. Shakespeare was hell. It wasn’t until I fell in love for the second time in my life that poetry opened up for me and shared her secrets. I was never the same.

Yes, I write love poems. I’ll admit it. My one published book of poems, What I Found in the Dark, is a thematic visitation with my great lost love upon her re-entry to my life as a friend only. Some good stuff, there. Many of the included poems have been picked up by magazines like Dead Snakes, The Write Room, Publishing Renaissance and the blog hub, The Deepening World of Fiction.

Today, I would like to share some of the poems from What I Found in the Dark that have been included in other publications. The reason? Someone other than myself found them worthy. And that’s a rare thing in my life, as I’m a self-publisher. Have been for more than 20 years.

So, without anything further, here are some poems for you to ponder upon …

 

Headpins

Headpins
at contiguous depths
send blue lightning
across clouded voids
and are caught
by red-laced fingers
to recreate
the perfect sound
of a drop of water
splashing on skin.

 

The Town of Me

My days have been
The passing of dreams,
Not quite real clouds
Built of smoke and dust,
Marking each pained
But gritty footstep
With rasping laughter
To steal away
The life-blood of
This aging ghost town,
While colourless
thoughts raised without form
walk through my halls,
echos of silence.

 

The Taste of You

In another life I would have tasted deep,
Passion mounting as I would you,
Soft cries a love song to me
Until I kiss the softness
That brings to you a silent bliss,
Enjoined as the one which never now shall be.


Mind Fuck

Chemicals in my brain
Are toxic today,
Hurling spikes
Of preformed anger
Into unwary flesh.

Go away dear people.
Do not venture close:
I draw blood;
A storm of slicing,
Razor-edged, words of bale.

Sadness underneath is
Tearing me apart
As I rend
In my helpless rage,
Destruction unfettered.

I call music to me,
And the Gods, so that
Possession,
The devil mind fuck,
Is ripped from its warm hole.

Bruised from this psychic rape,
I lay on cool sheets:
Silence heals.
Don’t ever tell me
Evil is just a myth.

 

Grace

Happenstance is but a way of words,
The stumbling path of fools;
Yet a trail met in the wooded night
Cares not for weathered rules.

Deaf and dumb goes the traveller
Toward the outward shape;
Glancing not beneath the rock and leaf,
A sketch of the human ape.

But in vapid searching one still learns
To scratch the inner vein.
Eyes roll and bangles burn in that light—
The answers seem insane…

For piercing the learning dark we see
New visions clear and clean,
Struggling with our ever-cluttered minds
To grasp what they might mean:

A white-winged horse and a graceful moon
Seek form in mountain fire,
While I, the fool, not too simple yet
Of ornaments do tire.

 

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 10 books and as many ghostwrites, he has also published a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and reviews. Turning publisher Bye has released four books under the imprint Chase Enterprises Publishing. These books include three award winning anthologies and a stunning memoir about what it’s like to live with and die from anorexia. Visit his e-store at http://shop.claytonbye.com.

Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.

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Avoid Love at First Draft by Sal Buttaci

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Part 1: The Pre-writing Step
Franklin P. Jones, an American businessman during the Roaring Twenties, once wrote that “Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” How true, especially for writers who tend to fall in love with their first drafts. But the hardest criticism regarding their work must come from writers themselves.

 

They need to keep in mind that the craft of writing is a process. The first draft is almost never the final draft. In fact, the first draft is not even the first step in the writing process. If you consider your own published pieces, you would admit they enjoyed an editor’s acceptance because you took the time to ready them for publication. Too often writers tend to attribute first drafts to the inspiration of the literary Muse. In their indebtedness to the Muse, they decide not to revise at all. Big mistake!

 

Let’s back up a bit. Let’s begin the writing process at its logical beginning: the planning stage. Nothing is more frustrating than to invest writing time in a short story or article without knowing how it will develop and where it will finally end. Writing is a trip that requires a road map; without one, writers get sidetracked, stories are weakened, and readers are never fooled by any of it.

 

The enthusiasm which motivated writers in the first place tends to dissipate as roadblocks are encountered. What should have been a straightforward, easy-flowing piece, in the absence of a plan, becomes a wheel-spinning exercise in futility.

 

Short stories fare better when writers spend adequate time at the planning stage. A sequence of the story’s major events will keep writers on track. While these steps can be changed, deleted, or expanded, this sequence affords writers a clearer plot path to follow.

 

Another helpful planning device is the observation chart, which invites authors to gather descriptions of characters and settings. Across the top of the chart are the column headings: Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell, and Taste. Down the left side of the chart are the names of characters and places. One of the secrets of good short story writing is providing readers with crystal-clear imagery. If readers can visualize scenes, the written piece is successful.

 

Serious writers wouldn’t be caught dead without a pocket notepad where they constantly jot down ideas, bits of dialogue, phrases, descriptions –– anything that can be helpful. When writers feel confident about the information they’ve gathered, they can study their pre-writing notes, then cull from them some degree of organizational sense to propel them into the next logical step: The First Draft.

 

Part 2:  Revising That First Draft
If you took a survey of writers and asked them which writing step did they find most pleasurable, I would bet most, if not all, would agree it is the first draft. Pre-writing is slow. Sometimes it take weeks, even months, for everything to come together. A jotting of a word here, a question mark there–the brain is working things out. It is assigning organization to what will become compositional piece.

 

Writers have all experienced that surge of creativity as they begin the first draft, which I call “the bridge of sighs” because I know without that first draft I am going nowhere. All those ideas swimming in my head somehow are drawn into a unity that begs recording.

 

While pre-writing is slow, first drafting is frantic. Writers need to get it all down on paper or onto the monitor. As they write, they keep themselves focused on that one objective: to complete the first draft. Nothing else matters except taking the composition from start to finish. In longer works like novels and plays, the focus is the same but on a chapter or a scene of the eventually completed draft. Short stories and poems, on the other hand, can be –– and I believe should be –– written in one sitting!

 

After completing first drafts, writers should put them away for a day or two so that they can return to them with a different eye. I did say writing first drafts is a pleasurable experience. In the act of getting our writing down, we tend to fall in love with what we’ve written. We re-read it and we love it. We might even kid ourselves into believing the first draft can stand on its own without the interference of revision and proofreading.

 

So putting the draft away is akin to putting aside temptation. It doesn’t pay to try and move from creator to critic in one leap. Take a rest. Go read the newspaper. Play “Go Fetch” with your dog. Come back tomorrow or the next day or even next week.

 

When writers do finally come back, they find themselves less attached to the first draft than they were before. Now they can detect a weak beginning, insufficient detail, poorly constructed sentences, empty dialogue, unnecessary or amateurish descriptions, poor choice of words, and a host of other errors that need fixing.

 

Though some writers will insist the pleasure of writing the first draft continues well into the revising stage, I myself do not agree. Admittedly, it is challenging but done properly, it is also hard work. And it takes time and patience to transform the first draft into as perfect a draft as one can make it.

 

During the first drafting, writers create a new reality. They are independent creators who answer only to themselves. Nobody tells the first drafter what to write. There is a delectable sense of freedom at this writing stage. But revising is a different matter.

 

Writers need to add, delete, change and move words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, and all the while do so with the reader at their shoulders.

 

Often this reader is the editor of the magazine to whom they intend to submit their work. Ask yourself while you are revising that story, “Does this make sense to the reader? Does the opening sentence hook his interest? Is the reader asking too many questions because I am not clearly telling him what he needs to know at this point? Am I telling what would be hilarious only to me? Have I remembered to add foreshadowing early on in my story so the reader doesn’t reject my resolution? Do I have enough transitional words for my reader to follow my story as it flows smoothly from word to word? Does my story stay on track, hold together, keep the reader’s interest?”

 

Considering those whom you hope will get to read your story, you will improve your chances of getting that story published and widely read.

 

But don’t stop at the revising stage or stop too soon. After you are comfortable with however many revised drafts are necessary, move to the next step in the writing process: proofreading.

 

Nothing annoys an editor more than to receive a well-written manuscript laden with spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, lack of proper capitalization, and even misused verb forms. Does the editor have time to waste proofreading beyond an error or two? I don’t think so. What we send an editor should be neat and without errors.  Our submissions need to make a good impression. Proper format rules need to be adhered to or the editor will suspect we are not professional enough for his or her magazine.

 

When you are finally done writing, compare your final draft–that neat piece of work you are sending out–to your first draft. A world of difference, right? Had you made the mistake of stopping with your first draft, you would have added one more “not-ready-to-be-published piece” to your cardboard-box collection.

 

We may fall in love with first drafts, but it’s rarely a love that endures. Like any good relationship, the one which writers enter into with their writings requires time and hard work. Writers will agree it’s worth it all.

 

    #

 

 Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor,and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.

 

Sal Buttaci’s recent flash-fiction collection, 200 Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, is  available at  http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts

 

 

 

He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.
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The Joys of Being That Mom by Dellani Oakes

 

 Mothers Day Flowers

I am the mom that every teacher dreams about. I come to class and help set up for parties. I volunteer in small groups, and I can always be counted on to go on field trips. I’m the mother that the teacher calls for the outside group activities and gives THE WORST GROUP to because I used to be a teacher and “I know you can handle it.”

I’m the mom who also gets handed the most rambunctious group on a field trip, for the reason stated above. I once went to Kennedy Space Center on a field trip with a child who didn’t want to obey me. He thought he should be able to run around like a crazy person and not stay with our group. He kept disappearing and I’d have to track him down again. I caught him sliding on the wet pavement like a Slip ‘n Slide. I had visions of having to explain a broken arm to his mother. He wasn’t my biggest field trip nightmare.

Kennedy Space Center 1990 Dellani Oakes

That trip took place when my eldest son was in the fourth grade. It was a wild class, mostly boys, and all of them—lively. We had plenty of chaperones to go around, but half of them dropped out the day of the trip, leaving me and one other mom. The teacher took the worst kids with her and the three of us merrily trooped onto the bus.

Somewhere along the way to St. Augustine, one of the girls got sick. She’d had a kidney infection that apparently hadn’t been fully resolved. She wanted to go on the trip, so her mother let her make the two hour ride to St. Augustine on a hot, noisy, bumpy bus. After we stopped along the way for the poor kid to throw up, the teacher decided she needed to go home.

Did I mention that we were nearly two hours away?

The bus parked at the visitor’s center not far from the historical downtown and the teacher called the parents. She was stuck with the child until they arrived. That left me and the other mom to watch the boys. None of the other chaperones would take them. They were happy to take the girls, but this motley bunch was our problem. There were twenty of them. Her twins and my son were the only three who knew how to behave.

castillo courtyard

It was hot, muggy, raining. No one should take an outdoor field trip the third week of March. But here we were, shlepping through puddles, from one end of the historic Spanish Quarter to the next, with twenty boys in tow. It was rather like a cattle drive, only cows would have been easier to contain.

The other mom inherited the two most annoying boys. They had an attitude problem and didn’t want to do what she told them. More than once, they defiantly did the opposite. It was getting ugly. When she couldn’t stand them anymore, she traded with me for three boys. I think at that point, she would gladly have taken my entire group so she didn’t have them anymore. Reluctantly, I agreed.

What was I to do? She was ready to kill them and the more she fussed, the more obnoxious they became. One of the boys was a thug-in-waiting. His family had moved from a big city in an effort to keep him out of trouble. From what I could see, it wasn’t working. However, my son liked him well enough and seemed to have a calming effect on him.  After a short time in my group, they quieted down, behaving like angels (relatively speaking) the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, the teacher was still at the information center. The parents came to pick up the girl about 30 minutes before we were due to leave. Four hours of fourth grade boys, I was done, but we still had to get home. Fortunately, I don’t remember much of the ride back.

My favorite field trip was a day at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach. It’s a wonderful theater over on the beachside. They have plays, operas, orchestras and the occasional comedian who performs there. It’s a big, solidly built brick building that has been nicely remodeled. It’s not the fanciest environment, but it’s still an impressive edifice.

My youngest son’s fifth grade class had the opportunity to see the Moscow Symphony Orchestra perform. I was the first to volunteer. I love orchestras and theirs is among the best. I was there with my friend Jackie. We had gotten close because our boys were, and still are, good friends.

Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach

We were in the balcony. Looking back at all my trips to the Peabody, I can’t remember ever being on the first floor. We’re always seated upstairs. At least it has a good view. The acoustics in the Peabody are excellent. That’s great for hearing every note of the violin, but it makes it a pretty noisy place until the lights go down.

Jackie and I get silly. We have a similar sense of humor and the “You Shouldn’t Do That” Filter kinda goes away when we’re together. We were sitting there, rather far removed from our sons, watching the orchestra and enjoying the show. From time to time, we’d whisper and giggle. Our sons’ teacher kept shooting us dirty looks. Jackie would wave and we’d giggle. (Yes, we acted like fifth graders – don’t judge us.)

Sometime during the performance, one of the girls a few rows down, across the aisle, saw a bug on the steps. She started gasping and pointing as it crept closer to her. She climbed on her seat, ready to scream. Jackie and couldn’t see what had her so freaked, but we were ready to hop up and go look when one of the bus drivers got up.

Whatever the girl had seen, the woman spotted it. She took off her shoe, heavy leather with nearly a three inch heel and inch thick sole. THUMP she smacked that sucker into oblivion. That would have been all right, except it was one of those lulls in the music that classical music is known for. That thump echoed from every wall, distorting the sound so it was hard to know where it came from.

Everyone in the balcony looked over. The conductor heard it on stage, but didn’t have time to stop and find the source of the sound. The teacher glared at us like it was our fault. We, of course, burst out laughing.

Finally, we stopped giggling and there was another lull in the music. Jackie clapped her hands very softly and said, “Thump”. You can imagine how I reacted. Every time there was a lull after that, she’d do it again. I was in tears.

“Stop!” I hissed. “You’re gonna get us thrown out. The teacher’s giving us that Mean Teacher Look.”

We managed to settle down near the end of the performance. The finale was The 1812 Overture. Fortunately, not too many quiet moments in that piece. We stood with the rest for a standing ovation and waited for the students to clear out.

Our sons’ teacher came over to us, frowning. “What on earth were you doing? You kept laughing.”

We tried to explain, but somehow it was lost in translation. Try as we might, the giggling invaded our narration. She rolled her eyes, looking away from us.

“That settles it,” she said. “You have more fun than I do. Next time, I’m sitting by you.”

Amazingly, even after that incident, she allowed us both to go on later field trips. I don’t know if it was because we were the always the first to volunteer, or simply because she liked us.

Family Photo December 2013

Even with the problems I’ve encountered, I wouldn’t give up my field trip experiences for anything. It was a great way to be involved with my children. I’ve been to plays, symphonies, historical section of St. Augustine, museums, The Gator Farm, Kennedy Space Center, the beach, a honey packaging plant, operational farms, a citrus grove, a petting farm and a wide variety of other places I would never have gone otherwise. Not all the trips were with Jackie, but she was by far my favorite traveling buddy.

Jackie and I don’t go on anymore field trips. Our sons graduated from high school, but I remember our field trips fondly. She works at a local coffee shop now. One of these days, I’m going to walk in, order a coffee and right as she’s about to hand it to me, I’m gonna clap my hands and say, “Thump”.

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Me, a Servant Leader? by Yvesn Johnson

servant-leadership1

I often get the proverbial “Deer in the headlights” look when I ask people if they are leaders. We all are leaders in one manner or another. Are you a mother? Are you a father? Do you volunteer for any events? Guess what? Yep, you’re a leader. For the purposes of this short article, we will use a simple definition of leadership. Leadership is helping people to do what needs to be done.

There are a myriad of leadership styles and theories. I thought it would be beneficial to talk about Servant Leadership. Admittedly, I thought Servant Leadership was a Christian leadership style. Actually it is not. In 1970, Robert Greenleaf developed this leadership model. A servant leader simply serves the people he leads. In other words, he seeks their best interest over the company’s interest.

You’re probably thinking, “How does this apply to me?” In simple terms, we all can be servant leaders. How can you help your children be better and more responsible citizens? How can you serve your job better than you are currently doing? Is there anything you see that needs to be taken care of in your community? Hmm? Are you waiting for someone to take care of these issues? You might be the person who needs to “do something.” I challenge you by saying, “If not you, then who?”

Admittedly, servant leadership is more a leadership model than it is a lifestyle. But can we not all help one another out? I am amazed at how some exclaim, “This is terrible?” “This is awful!” “We must save the whales!” “We must love everyone.” While those exclamations are wonderful in themselves. They are meaningless unless you put actions behind those words. It is far easier to look like one who cares than it is being one who acts on those feelings.

Obviously, this is not the forum to get into a long dialogue about the virtues of “doing something.” However, I can leave you with a few items as food for thought. They center on a variation of an old saying, “Many hands lighten the load.” As such, I encourage you to see what you can do to help out your community. You can “serve” your fellow man by volunteering a few hours at a Soup Kitchen. You can donate your time reading to children at your local library. Instead of thinking about how the poor single-parent has poor parenting skills … help him out. Show him how to be a better parent. There are countless things we can do to help make this world better. Your mind is the only limitation you have. I have pledged to donate all proceeds from my book, There is No Gray in Moral Failure: A Practical Guide in Preventing Sexual and Financial Misconduct, to charity. It is highly probable that I will not be donating $1 million dollars to charity, but it is a start. Come join me and lets make a positive contribution to our community. “Me, a servant leader?” Yes, you can be a servant leader.

Yves Johnson is an author, consultant and speaker. You can find his books at http://ow.ly/B4aGp. You can obtain signed copies from http://ow.ly/B4aKo. You can follow him on Twitter @YvesJohnson1. Follow him on Facebook at http://ow.ly/B4aWO. Join him on Goodreads at http://ow.ly/B4aPP. Lets do some business together! Yves also welcomes visitors at his blog: http://ow.ly/B4b3l

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CONFESSIONS OF A FAT COSMO GIRL Hazel Dixon-Cooper

a

 

Wake up calls are warnings to wise up. One scare like the threat of losing the car or the house or the job usually snaps most people back on track.
 
A fat woman’s life is a series of wake up calls she fails to answer. From the jangle of shooting pains from her permanently twisted ankles, to the sound of her money being sucked down the drain of an endless weight-loss racket, she ignores the signals—sometimes until it’s too late.
 
My most important call came as an invitation to write for Cosmopolitan magazine, which both thrilled and terrified me. At fifty pounds overweight, I was a poster child for the anti-Cosmo girl.
 
For years, no matter what I tried, I failed. I joined and left Weight Watchers three times. I chugged Slim-Fast shakes, ate pounds of bacon on Atkins, and shuddered through the don’t-leave-home cabbage soup plan. Of course I lost weight, hundreds of pounds. I gained every ounce and more back. A doctor friend suggested MediFast. He swore by it, even as his belly pushed through his white lab coat.
 
I ate nothing but protein, everything but protein, and swallowed eat-anything-and-still-lose diet pills. My only nutritional expertise was the talent to turn a healthy 500-calorie meal into a 3,000-calorie binge.
 
Every fatty has a secret stash of junk food. I had several. Although I took the candy dish off my desk at my day job, I simply transferred the candy to the back of the bottom drawer. At home, I had a cache of Hershey Miniatures pushed under a stack of papers on the floor of my office. My purse always held an assortment of munchies. Under the maps and assorted change in the car’s console, I’d buried a bag of peanuts or a box of Junior Mints.
 
If no one sees you eat, it doesn’t count as much. It’s easier to lie to yourself when there are no witnesses. I justified hiding the food because I didn’t want to have to listen to another lecture, well-meant or not. What I really didn’t want was to have to be accountable for what I was doing to my body and my health.
 
So I became a stealth eater, and nearly the size of a stealth bomber. When the stash under my desk at home was empty, I would sneak into the kitchen and raid the pantry. I gnawed six-month-stale Halloween candy that had fallen out of the bag and lay forgotten on the back of a shelf.
 
I began to notice other fatties stuffing French fries in their faces while sitting on a bus bench. Or squeezed into one side of a booth for two, thighs oozing off the edge, as they shoveled down a hot-fudge-covered brownie with ice cream. Sometimes they had a porky partner along. More often, they were alone. We were kindred fools sliding down the buttered slope to self-destruction.
 
There were days when I’d panic because, for a moment, I would wake up and see the damage I was doing. Then I’d swear off food just like I’d done a thousand times before, and for a couple of days or a week, I’d lay off the junk. It never lasted long enough to make a real difference.
 
By the time I received the invitation from Cosmo, I’d settled into that steady five-to-ten-pounds-a-year climb to triple-X tent dresses. You might ask who cares if you’re fat. At that instant, I cared so much that would have given anything to be thin—for about five seconds. Then the fat fog kicked in. I flicked off the message and headed for the cafeteria at my day job.
 
“The regular, Hazel?” the overweight server behind the counter asked.
 
“Yes,” I replied. I was glad she was there because every fat person knows that you get bigger portions if another fattie’s dishing them. She placed a huge apple fritter on a plate and handed it to me. Then I got a cup of coffee with cream and sugar.
 
Under any kind of stress, I reached for food like a drunk reaches for booze. Anything that was sugary or greasy was the temporary fix I used to dull the emotions I couldn’t face. There’s a good reason it’s called comfort food. For about thirty seconds, the mouthful of the dessert or the mashed potatoes or the cheese-laden casserole warmed me, both physically and emotionally. As soon as I swallowed the bite, the glow faded and I had to shove another forkful in my face, and then another and another until I was so stuffed with food that I couldn’t feel anything but food. The guilt set in as soon as I’d hogged down that fried fritter mess.
 
I’ll start dieting tomorrow.
 
Swearing off food was easy when I was stuffed, and tomorrow is always the day.
 
Staring me right in the face was a chance to write the most well-known astrology column for the most successful women’s magazine on the planet. What did I do? Rush for the worst thing I could eat.
 
When the editor at Cosmo called, she was easy to talk to and sounded young. As we chatted, I imagined her sitting at her desk, designer jacket hanging on the back of her chair, designer coffee steaming in a designer cup. I sat at my desk shaking like a druggie needing a fix.
 
She offered the job. I accepted. Although my personal food fight was far from over, this time I’d snapped awake, and somewhere in the middle of my brain a switch flipped. That was the beginning.
 

 

With the mouth of a Gemini, the soul of a Pisces, and an intuitive Aquarius Moon, Hazel can nail anyone’s personality the moment she knows their birthday. She’s been teaching and practicing astrology for more than twenty-five years, and is the author of the internationally best-selling Rotten Day humorous astrology book series. Her just-released book, Harness Astrology’s Bad Boy, is about Pluto, the planet of transformation. She can be reached through her website, www.hazeldixoncooper.com and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/hazel.dixoncooper. Hazel loves to hear from her fans around the world and personally answers each message.

 

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THE MIRROR THAT REFLECTS IT By Bonnie Hearn Hill

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 I am climbing a steep staircase leading to the attic studio where a famed ballerina teaches dance. The light has drained away, making it difficult for me to find the right room. But I must if I am to study with this woman.

Finally, I reach the top of the stairs, and I see her. More than that, I become her. And I realize simultaneously that I am the teacher, and that I cannot walk. My crutches, scarred, wooden ones, lean against the wall, and I am sitting on the floor, my useless legs hidden beneath my skirt. I crane my neck, put my eye to the keyhole, and watch the class that I am supposed to be teaching.

It is a dream, of course, one of those morning dreams that lingers after I wake. I don’t need to analyze it or the ballerina on crutches. I have agreed to teach a class in writing for publication, and I feel like a fraud.

 

“It won’t be permanent,” Craig, the friendly school administrator had said when he asked me to take over a Tuesday-night adult school writing class because the real teacher had dropped out. Although I had published freelance articles in magazines, I had not realized my dream of selling a novel, and I had the rejection slips to prove it. Furthermore, I could not speak in public, and the few times I tried, I was silenced by chest-splitting panic attacks.

Yet something in me wanted to accept Craig’s offer, and I tried to talk myself into it. Only eight weeks. “It won’t be permanent.”

“I’ll do it,” I told him.

Tuesday had always been an optimistic day for me, an anything-can-happen day with blue Monday behind and enough of the week ahead for undreamed-of possibilities to occur. But who the hell did I think I was? How did I, a failed novelist, have the audacity to teach this class?

Before the first night arrived, I happened upon this Edith Wharton quote. “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Just the mirror. I could do that.

As I drove the thirty minutes to the school that evening, a thought came to me. Focus. Like the lens of a camera. Not wonderful writing, not hopeless writing. Just in or out of focus. Sure, that might work. At least it was a starting place.

When I reached the campus about six-thirty, the downpour had stopped. I parked as close as I could to the classroom and carried my packet of registration materials inside.

I got about halfway across the parking lot, telling myself that it would be okay, when a panic attack hit me. I broke out in a sweat, and my legs turned to water. The anxiety that had plagued me since my early teens had left me alone as long as I avoided airports and shiny, waxed floors. This new undertaking must be as stressful as climbing into a jet. Why had I agreed to do it? And what was I going to do now? For starters, ditch the shoes.

I took off my high-heeled pumps and walked in my stocking feet toward the classroom. It was March. The parking lot was wet from the rain that had left its scent in the air. I didn’t care. My breathing began to return to normal.

“Something wrong with your shoes?” An African American man with short, neatly trimmed hair, immaculate slacks, and leather jacket the color of butter joined me. He held a briefcase, and the way he carried himself telegraphed authority figure loud and clear. All I needed: an administrator to check me out.

Panic attacks teach one to improvise around the truth in any situation. I once faked car trouble on the freeway when anxiety gripped me so hard that I couldn’t drive another mile.

“I always teach in my bare feet,” I told him. “Keeps me grounded.”

“Really?” The lie was so ridiculous that he believed it. “Are you the teacher for the writing class?”

“Yes.” I bit back the impulse to spit out my feeble credentials. “I’m Bonnie.”

“Walter.” He reached out and shook my hand. “My wife suggested it. I’m retired, and I guess she wanted me out of the house one night a week.”

I didn’t know yet that most people lie about why they’re taking a writing class or pursuing any heartfelt goal, for that matter. They’re not going to say, “Oh, yes. I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, but I’ve been too terrified to attempt it, and now whatever happens in this classroom—and with you, who are probably going to tell me that I’m no damned good—is going to make or break my dream.” I wouldn’t have said it, and neither did Walter.

He surveyed the empty room with its elementary-sized desks and box of yellow pencils on the podium.

“Want me to help you sharpen these?”

“I can do it,” I said. “We won’t need more than ten, maybe only five or six.”

He gazed steadily into my eyes. “What if no one else shows up? It happens a lot in these classes.”

“Then we can get some coffee and talk about writing.” I was almost hoping the scenario would play out that way.

Just then, another man came through the door. Then two women. And another.

“Is this the writing class?” asked a redhead about my age in a soft blue denim shirt. She had a San Joaquin Valley accent, one that echoed Southern roots.

“Sure is,” Walter said, and took the registration slip she handed him.

She looked at the pile of slips on my desk. “You need some help with these?”

I nodded. “Do you know what to do with them?”

“I can figure it out.”

Soon close to twenty students sat in those small desks and looked up at me.

Some moments are so clear and defining, that although we don’t know it at the time, they remain with us like visceral photographs. I can see those faces as clearly today as I did then. I can feel the red Macy’s dress I wore with its shawl collar and ridiculous shoulder pads, the black linen summer shoes I placed behind the podium. Most of all, I can feel the fear tightening my throat as I tried to swallow.

It wasn’t about me. It was about them. They were there for the same reasons I had ventured into similar classes, only to be disappointed by someone who didn’t know, didn’t care, or both.

The room began to blur. My hands grew cold and moist. For a moment, I was all hands, all breathing. Count the breaths, I thought, two, three four. Don’t let the panic take over, two, three, four.

Walter took the registration slips from my desk and handed them to the redhead with the drawl.

These people had come out in the rain to be here, two, three, four. You don’t have to be the light, two, three, four. Just the mirror, two, three, four. Just the mirror.

“This class is about writing for profit.” The words escaped my lips, and the students looked up from their desks. “Actually, most writers probably earn minimum wage, if you consider the hours of thought and torment they put into their work.”

The room was silent. What next? The reflection, not the light.

“First, I want to know about you,” I told them. “Tell me what you write or want to write and what you expect to get from this class.”

In the front row, between the redhead and the babe with the hot pink toes, Walter raised his hand. “Walter Smith, retired educator, high school counselor, and army major. I have a series of vignettes, and I’m looking for ways to improve them.”

He turned to the redhead, who was sifting through registration slips and money.

“Ella.” She ran her fingers through her short curly hair. “As you can probably tell, I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve been writing most of my life. Don’t know if I’m any good, though.”

“I’m Gladys, and I feel the same way,” replied a heavyset woman. “I can’t seem to stop though.”

“And you?” I asked a terrified-looking woman in the back of the room. Anxiety buzzed around her like static.

She looked down. “Gloria. I want to write bilingual books for children. Inspirational stories.”

“Do you read children’s books?”

“Oh, yes, but my English is not so good. I hope I am not too stupid to be a writer.”

She had spoken what everyone else, myself included, was feeling.

“I don’t think any of you would want to write if you had no ability.” Once the words were out, I realized that they made sense. “I mean, I don’t feel called to mathematics or brain surgery.”

Even Gloria laughed at that, and I wondered if I was right. Could their desire to do this be strong enough to propel them toward their goals? Could mine?

“Well, I don’t think I’m stupid, and I’ll bet you aren’t either.” The woman with the hot pink toes and jeweled gladiator sandals had what my mother used to call a whiskey tenor. She tapped the notebooks on her desk. “I’m Mary, and I have three finished novels right here. All I want from this class is for you to read them and tell me how to get published.”

Finally some confidence, but I had a feeling that might not be a good thing.

As the rest of the class members began to talk, I was able to respond to their concerns. I had knowledge within me, answers, that I didn’t know I possessed.

I’d never seen a writing class from this perspective. Instead, I had looked at it through the tunnel of my own need. Now, all of these tunnels were directed at me. I tried out my focus idea on them. I liked the lack of judgment in that word. An unfocused manuscript could be brought back into focus. It wasn’t a failure.

By the time the hour expired, more than twenty students had spoken and registered.

They clustered around me. “I want you to read my novels.” Nancy shoved her notebooks onto the podium.

“I brought a little poem,” Gladys said.

Over the sea of heads, I saw Gloria head for the door. Her long dark hair hid her face but not her fear. She glanced over her shoulder at me. “My husband called. I left the oven on at home.”

Before I tried to figure out why Gloria’s husband couldn’t just turn off the oven, Ella nudged closer. Dollar bills and checks fanned out in her hand. “Looks like this class is a go,” she said.

END

 

California author Bonnie Hearn Hill taught writing for twenty years, and this selection is from a memoir-in-progress. Her fourteenth novel, IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN, will publish in the UK in July, 2015 and in the United States four months later. She writes suspense dealing with social justice and women’s issues, and a film based on one of her books is currently in pre-production. Last month, twenty-five years after that first class, her student Gloria’s book was brought out by a large inspirational publisher.

 

 

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Balance by Kenneth Weene

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Like most young children, I liked playground equipment – that is most playground equipment. I didn’t like seesaws. My brother, who is older and was therefore bigger, would always con me into joining him on the seesaw only sit on his end and keep me trapped, legs dangling uselessly and hands gripping in terror, high in the air. Then, when I had been suitably intimidated, he would jump off and allow me to fall to the earth, invariably crying as a result.

It wasn’t fair. I knew that we were supposed to balance that long beam so it was even, but we never did. Over time I came to think of maintaining balance in life as very important, but I also had learned that life is not fair. Accepting its unfairness was an important lesson. Being prepared to pick myself up after disappointment or after my brother jumped off the seesaw was an essential life principal.

Fast forward about fourteen or fifteen years. I was a freshman in college. Like all colleges, Princeton had a physical education requirement. I ended up in a boxing class. Our coach, Joe Brown, was a delight of a man. He had been a professional boxer, and he saw boxing as less about fighting and more about dance, rhythm, and balance – especially balance. I wasn’t very good at the sport. I hated hitting others almost as much as I hated getting hit. But the idea of balancing myself struck home. We would take our stance, and Joe would push against us. If somebody wasn’t properly balanced, if his weight wasn’t properly distributed and set low, down he would go in an embarrassing heap.

Quickly I appreciated the lesson of balancing myself, of tucking in, of setting my feet and getting low. I thought of that balance as self-organization. If we aren’t prepared and organized, we are not ready to deal with life.

Joe taught me other lessons about balance as well. In addition to boxing, he taught sculpting. While I didn’t sculpt, I liked him well enough to occasionally hang out in his studio. He always had music playing – usually classical Spanish guitar. It wasn’t simply a love of music but also a keen awareness of the need for aesthetic sensory input. There was also decent wine to drink, the earthy smell of the material, and the sensuous tactile experience of working the clay. And there were wonderful discussions an unending flow of topics.

The balance of sensations, including intellect and emotion, helps us to live fully. I call that the balance of life.

Besides sculpting, Joe designed playground equipment – not the static equipment of my youth but interactive climbing apparatuses. When one child moved, it would change the equipment for all the other children who were on it. This meant that the child had to be aware of the social matrix in which he or she was playing.

Social balance is important if one is to find fulfillment. If we are not balanced in terms of the significant others in our lives, we will find ourselves very lonely.

These four balancing lessons are integral to my artistic endeavors. My creative milieu is words; I’m a writer – mostly novels but poetry and short stories as well. Every day I sit down at my computer and type away. It would be easy to lose perspective and focus, to become wrapped up in my work, unable to accept the inevitable rejection letter, digging my way deeper and deeper into a maze of my own mind. It is so very easy to lose balance. That is why I like to review these four lessons, to think about their application to my life.

Periodically I ask myself four questions:

1) Am a ready to deal with disappointment? If the story doesn’t work or the rejection letter comes, can I get on with my work?

2) Have I got my life organized so I won’t be caught off guard? Have I taken care of what has to be done?

3) Am I getting good quality input to keep my mind and body in tune? Have I planned ways to fill my personal space with the quality sensations, information, and nurturance that will allow me to be productive?

4) Have I thought about the social world in which I am pursuing my art? Have I taken proper steps to meet the needs of those who are important to me and have I made my needs clear to them?

I no longer play on seesaws or climb on jungle gyms. I’m long since out of college and well past the age when I could box even if I wanted. However, the life lessons about balance still hold true.

 

Brief bio:

Life itches and torments Kenneth Weene like pesky flies. Annoyed, he picks up a pile of paper to slap at the buzzing and often whacks himself on the head. Each whack is another story. At least having half-blinded himself, he has learned to not wave the pencil

Ken’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. He is the proud papa of five novels and two short print books. His most recent books are “Broody New Englander” and “Times to Try the Soul of Man.”

To find Ken’s books visit http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU

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Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen

2014 GISHWHES Story, Charline Ratcliff

Last August (2014), one of my Facebook friends contacted me because she was once again participating in the annual GISHWHES event. (GISHWHES stands for the: Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen).

This event’s existence began in 2011 – created by actor Misha Collins. His reason for creating this competition was that he “loved the idea of thousands of people from all over the world connecting to create incredible things.” Collins hoped that participating in GISHWHES would encourage the participants “to do good in the world.”

One of the scavenger hunt tasks was to locate a published author and get them to pen a tale that combined Misha Collins, Queen Elizabeth and a make-believe creature known as a Helopus.

Did I mention that the authors were only allowed to use, at max, 140 words to create said story? I almost said no – but I do love a writing challenge. (Additionally, the author would also need to provide a photo of his/her book along with the story – submitting a photo of the book, the story AND the author might even get the contestant/team additional points).

So, while today is Earth Day, a day on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection – I also felt that (based upon what GISHWHES represents) this story would be a fun inclusion to help celebrate the day.

 

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Misha Collins awoke from a partially completed night of slumber. Stumbling to the window, he turned away almost immediately; hurriedly dressing; mumbling wildly.

“…Queen Elizabeth,”

“…dead!”

“…Monster!”

Waiting at the elevator, he heard cables rumbling, yet time crawled. Panic overtook him and he bolted for the stairs.

Reaching his destination, he hoped his imagination had played a vile trick. However, Queen Elizabeth still lay unmoving. And a monstrosity lurked nearby…

“Elizabeth!”

Where were her guards?

He sensed the creature behind him; felt iciness as a tendril reached past him. Her eyes finally opened; her look almost sinister.

“Misha, he is an Elopus: half elephant, half octopus. This is his new home.”

“But, the … Elopus … will never be accepted!” Misha croaked.

“Why not,” she asked. “I am…”

At this, his sight shifted. There stood Elizabeth… Human face… Octopus body…

 

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Charline Ratcliff is a writer, reviewer, and interviewer. Some of her interests include: travel, learning about other cultures (past and present), and enjoying the beauty of nature. She also strives to help others by sharing her personal experiences; seeking to raise awareness, and to provide hope to those who feel there is none.

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