Sculpture Armless Venus Front by Alex Nodopaka

Alex Nodopaka originated in 1940, Kiyv, Ukraine. He speaks, reads and writes in San Franciscan, Parisian, Kievan & Muscovite. Mumbles in English & sings in tongues after Vodka! He propounds having studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Casablanca, Morocco. Presently full time author, visual artist in the USA but considers his past irrelevant as he seeks new reincarnations.

Gourde Portrait by Alex Nodopaka

Alex Nodopaka originated in 1940, Kiyv, Ukraine. He speaks, reads and writes in San Franciscan, Parisian, Kievan & Muscovite. Mumbles in English & sings in tongues after Vodka! He propounds having studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Casablanca, Morocco. Presently full time author, visual artist in the USA but considers his past irrelevant as he seeks new reincarnations.

My Grief Is Balanced On Analog Hands by Mina Foutch

My brother had an illness that flooded his adolescent body. His blood had morphed into bad blood– too young to know the problem, only that his bruises were amplifying in shades of chartreuse and hues of blue. He was the kind of sick that made my mom start praying to a God she didn’t believe in, the kind of sick that gripped my dad (of muscle and liquor and a proud poker face) by the throat– to make a loud man start crying. I do not remember these years I lived through.

I live in a haunted house. It is full of pictures of us in different hospital rooms and him, our baby boy blowing out birthday candles– the ghosts in this room making wishes on an exhale of breath over mushy icing. The bones of this house are molded by the nights I’ve spent staring at corners. Time is the blood that runs through these walls; it is the heartbeat that thumps as if to say remember, remember, remember.

And sometimes it comes to me in dreams. This trauma is the spoon that slowly digs itself into my core. A slow death, a gravitational pull. I get these memories in butterfly flutters. Our parents out, and I, the easy babysitter. The way as soon as they left he filled an entire cup with his own blood. This haunting nosebleed. The way my mind reluctantly owns this moment as if it’s asking me to relive the terror of being alone in a house with walls that seem to close in on us, with a brother who is sick and a mind that is not yet ready to process the feeling of grief. An ambiguous loss of our childhood. He, who is seen as the kid with cancer and I, the older sister. This supposed growing young woman who is so strong to have endured such tragedy.

But I, the imposter. The girl who puts on a facade in order to comfort her brother who is bleeding fast and without end. Who is praying to someone somewhere for her mom to get home soon– to fix the uncomfortable, neverending drip of cancer. Forever calling for her parents, as if they have the power to stop this sickness from infecting our laughter.

Time does not stop for our sadness.

I have forgotten how to exhale without making wishes and I know nothing of running from tragedy. I live inside of loss and make myself a bed for grief as if to say welcome home, please, take some time to be.

The American Dream Is a Lie by Jessica Silder

My mother is schizophrenic and bipolar, and I grew up rather poor. I know what it is like to live with an unperfect childhood. The illnesses lead to delusions, hallucinations, and impulsivity. My life was a blur with pain with a sprinkling of happiness whenever my mother got in control of her illnesses. My ears bled with the screaming and fighting with her accusing me of things I never did. She overshared her struggles, so I became the parent instead of her. She stole the money I could get myself whenever I was a teenager because she could not take care of herself. It took me a while to recognize the abuse and that this was not fair to me. I recently moved out at eighteen to live with my boyfriend and cut off my mother for good.

Not everyone can get up and leave when they are in an agonizing circumstance. I realized if the people around me didn’t believe me about the abuse, I would have been homeless or stuck in my abusive situation. When someone does not have a home, they don’t look presentable for a job. They don’t have the clothes that a job may require. They also do not have transportation as a homeless person does not have an address to get a driving license. How can someone find a job if they cannot commute for the job? So many things systemically oppress those that are poor or are mentally ill.

At the same time, I could not imagine having the money to go to college if I had not have left. I could use only my taxes instead of going off my parent’s income. There are so many instances where I could not have had my dream job of becoming a therapist, but I slipped by with only luck to my name.

It reminds me how luck is more involved in the American system than skill. So many are in these sorts of situations or in a job that abuses them and does not allow them to climb the ladder of the economy. The propaganda blasts in the news that people do not want to work when they ignore how successful businesses are when they pay a living wage. Those who have lived a decent life do not realize that some people do not have the circumstances to be able to work to better their lives and are in a position where luck was a determinator between success and failure; It is hard to hear daily.

People want to work, just not for a system that makes it so that luck and privilege are valued more than skill. With the way I grew up, I know the reality of America. Luck matters more than hard work.

Does Life Ever End? by Eileen Stein

Last year, we received that dreaded phone call to come to the hospital. My son had been hit by a vehicle while he was riding a bicycle. Calls such as these aren’t made to parents of adult children for minor injuries. I knew this was much, much worse.
It was 5:30PM. He had texted his brother at 4:45PM; he was heading out on a bike ride. He rode a few miles until he was hit by a vehicle, thrown into the car windshield and beyond.
Upon arrival at the hospital, we were ushered into a private room, confirmation of my suspicion that this accident was severe. A chaplain soon joined us. We were silent. We were terrified. We were in disbelief. A neurosurgeon came in, surgery performed and after several hours, we were rejoined with the surgeon who was painfully honest and offered no hope.
Any conscientiousness parent understands the comfort in knowing where your child is. Losing my son moved me into a trajectory of needing to know where he had gone. So fit and completely alive and then, gone. Yes, of course I knew where his earthly body was, but to where had his life gone? It didn’t seem possible to me that this full life was now fully gone. I needed to find my connection with him. And so, I began to reflect deeply on the connection between our physical life and our “brain” life.
Our brain carries us through life as we experience, chronicle, and process the minutes we live. Life is in the brain; our physical presence in essence is carrying our life. Greater than any computer, we generate brain files.
No one would argue that with our miraculous brains we are separate from other life. But why is this so?
Could it be perhaps that this mental, emotional component of life continues when our physical body expires? If my son was in another realm, all I needed to figure out was how to reach him.
For thousands of years, after-life has been discussed. Formal religion aside, in Biblical context Jesus Himself said to the robber crucified aside of Him, that they would be in Paradise together. How could being in Paradise together happen without something living on, as each of them was facing death? Could it be that our brain continues in a non-physical realm? Could it be that when our physical body is pushed to the complete destruction known as death, our brain life, a mere mental life, continues? I desperately wanted my son to be alive in some context.
If we live on in a mental realm, could this realm be an interface for those individuals who claim to have experienced others who have passed? Can we be touched or gently brushed by this realm? If there is an interface, an opportunity to connect, then I have done so. If life is in fact in our brains, if we continue to live, then my son is fully alive.

I Believe There Is Light In The Darkness by Hayden Beatty

I believe that there is light in the darkness and through perseverance it can be found. For many of us we end up in this bottomless pit of life where we know longer know what our purpose is which leads us into a dark world of torment. We often forget about the things that we have all around us everyday that make life worth living. Many will eventually find that light but for some the torment lasts to long.

            My life was an undeniable hell. Life was colorless, relationships were meaningless, and life felt miserable. I woke up exhausted every day, I constantly found that life’s joys were not for me anymore, and I constantly started asking myself what my purpose in this world was. I soon found myself being pumped full of an SSRI called Zoloft and was soon maxed out on my dosage.

 I became a zombie, wandering through life as the beauty and exponential experience’s life had to offer passed me by.

 I wanted to scream but my mouth wouldn’t let me. My family and friends would all say about how much better I appeared to be doing but the medication put a mask over me so that no one could see the true pain and emptiness I was feeling. I felt like the soul from within me left in a haste and left me an empty shamble of a shell.  I was a burden to my family, society, and felt as though I had no purpose or direction. To me, life was merely existing until you die, life was unfair, cruel, and seemed like a punishment.

I made the decision to end my life.

 Did I want to die? No, but I did not want to live either.

             The night before my suicide, I had a dream; in this dream I met my creator. I may not remember what was said but I was granted internal peace and was shown that the light is all around us. The colors we see every day, the people we interact with and the love that we give and share with others. I awoke out of breath having no sense of time and feeling as if I had just experienced death.

Six years of repressed emotion began to pour out of me uncontrollably for about two days.

            For the first time I felt new but most importantly I felt alive.

 I felt emotion that I could not explain and saw the beauty that the world had to offer. I finally felt the love of those around me.

            I do not know what I experienced that night, but I know I was given a second chance and an opportunity to reach out to those struggling with maintaining the will to live. I believe there is light in the darkness.

A Family’s Foundation by Maggie Possinger

I am often told I am just like my mom. We work at the same business, and frequently our fellow employees compare us.

            “When something goes wrong, you both say, ‘shoot it’.”

            “You’re both so patient and kind to customers.”

            “You’re just so much alike.”

            I never mind being told I am like my mother. She has a generous spirit, a solid work ethic, and most of all, she has hard-earned wisdom. Yet, while we act the same, we do not seem to look alike. She has those green-blue-hued eyes that change with what color she wears. Her hair is curly, blonde, and coarse. She has slight dimples that frame her naturally straight teeth.

            I am often told I am just like my dad. Our church congregation continually makes these comparisons.

            “You have the same humor as your dad.”

            “You’re good with technology just like your dad.”

            “You’re just like your dad.”

            I never mind being told I am like my father. He is passionate, driven, and most of all, he values his time and uses it wisely. Yet, while we act the same, we do not seem to look alike. He has hazel eyes, a balance of green and brown. His salt and pepper hair carries a few strands of red in the middle of his even hairline. He has a longer nose, and his chin is more defined than mine.

            Despite the fact I am so much like my parents, I am not their biological child. I was adopted from China when I was eleven months old. I share no blood with them and no DNA, yet I am so much like my parents. For as long as I can remember, I knew I was adopted; it was never hidden from me. How could it be when I clearly have white parents? I have one brother. He shares their blood. He has their eyes, their chin, their smile. Yet, he is not loved more than me. He is not treated better than me. He does not act as if he’s better than me.

            I believe in unconditional love. I am different than my family. I have silky black hair, brown almond-shaped eyes, and a pudgy nose. I share no DNA with the people I have lived with for the past 18 years. But blood has never mattered, and it never will matter. I have always felt love and acceptance from my family; there was never a time I doubted my place in our home. A family must be built upon unconditional love. How can we be expected to live with people if we cannot look past their flaws or outer appearance? Unconditional love has the power to unite even the most opposite of people.

            Most of the time, people forget I am adopted because all they see is the love shared between our family. It does not matter how one comes into a family; a family is made through love.

My Own Safe Place by Michelle Bupp

Thursday October twenty third 1980 was the last day we saw my dad.  I vividly remember waving with my sister from the back seat of our opal watching my parents hug for the last time.  My dad boarded the S.S. Poet.  To this day the ship and its crew of thirty-four merchant mariners remain a mystery.  I have less than a dozen memories of him.  The ones I do have are filled with love, joy and the eyes of a three almost four-year-old little girl. 

A child of that age can not have memories of her dad that disappeared at sea.  A psychologist once told me.  These may be “stories,” that you were told about your dad.  It’s impossible to remember because the personality is still in the early developmental stages.  Rest assured the memories I have are mine.  In 1980 counseling services were scarce and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was finally added to the diagnostic and statistical manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Six years ago, after a meeting I was crying to a friend saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me?”  She said, “honey, nothing is wrong with you, you have PTSD.”  A light bulb went off in my head.  At my next medication check visit with my psychiatrist, I informed him what happened.  He pulled out his DSM-V and said in a matter-of-fact way, “yes, it is.”  I remember sitting there thinking all this time that is what I was dealing with and no one ever pointed that out? 

I was a volunteer fire fighter and ambulance attendant for almost one year before dropping out of community college and joining the Army.  Being diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder in the Army after not sleeping for three days can throw anyone into a manic phase.  I was devasted that my Army days were over.  My honorable discharge ended my military career and started me on a journey to self-discovery when I turned twenty-five years old.  Only starting to scratch the surface with understanding how PTSD controls one’s life can be overwhelming at times.  Due to my understanding and appreciation for this life I can sometimes control the anxious thoughts.

On a women’s retreat in January of this year I was lying in bed during a sleepless night.  Thank God they don’t happen as often as they use to.  I started to pray and remembered what my last therapist asked me about my “safe place.”  I had informed her my safe place was my home.  This particular night while praying over my body, I realized I am my own safe place.  I didn’t have my husband to comfort me or cry to.  I didn’t have my husky/border collie mix to sooth my tears.  I didn’t have my couch to curl up on and I didn’t have my computer to write.  I was all alone in the dark saying thank you God, I am my own safe place.  

Not Everyone Loves Democracy by Eric Schwartz

At 3 a.m., the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere so the cramped passengers could stretch their legs, use the lavatory, smoke a cigarette. I was standing by the bus, when a guy – let’s call him Timur – asked me what I was doing there. It was a fair question. I was clearly not a native of this small former republic of the Soviet Union.

“I’m a journalist,” I replied. “I’ve been teaching journalism in Ganje,” referring to the provincial capital about six hours away.

“Oh. A journalist. You probably support democracy too.”

“Yes. Actually, I do.”

“Democracy. I hate democracy.”

Timur spit out the words like something noxious and vile.

I don’t think we had much more a conversation. I didn’t present a philosophical defense of democracy. I didn’t really know how to respond. Like many Americans, I never seriously considered that an alternative to democracy might be superior. But Timur did – and when I stepped back from the conversation, I understood his position. After all, ten years earlier any bus there was vulnerable to hijacking by bandits. For many in that country, democracy meant violence and corruption. It meant that the steady job you held for decades was suddenly irrelevant. It meant that comfortable truths were toppled. The well-connected became suddenly very wealthy, while the mass of the population struggled amid a web of graft and cynicism. That’s how Timur understood democracy. No wonder he hated the word.

Fifteen years have now passed. I talk about democracy to students as part of my job – but I avoid referring to any country as a democracy. I think of democracy as an abstract noun. A landscape or a flower is not “beauty.” Those things are more or less beautiful – just as a country is more or less democratic. When I talk about democratic institutions, I mean laws and practices that make government accountable to the governed. Because of accountability, the government must respond to the people. The more democratic a country, the more all people are fully and equally represented. Maybe this sounds fine – but the reality is that maintaining democratic institutions requires vigilance, compromise and patience. It’s hard. Frequently people become impatient, dissatisfied with a process that is complicated and slow.

The country where Timur and I spoke 15 years ago is still ruled by the man who held power then. In Europe, an authoritarian state now is invading a country that was governed democratically. And in my country last year, for the first time in its history, insurgents attempted to thwart a peaceful democratic transfer of power. Millions of Americans increasingly sound more like Timur, scornful of this thing we call democracy.

I’m not as naïve as I was 15 years ago. I don’t assume people yearn for democracy. I recognize that many who profess to revere democracy don’t like democratic institutions. But I believe principles of democracy like honesty, fairness, and accountability are more important than ever. And these principles always must be defended.

Academic teaching is a second career for Eric Schwartz, who worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for a couple of decades in the United States and abroad. He returned from Russia in the late 1990s to earn an master’s in international relations from Syracuse University and a master’s and Ph.D in political science from Binghamton University. After finishing his course-work for his doctorate, he trained journalists in Azerbaijan and Russia for a couple of years. Eric started teaching political science at Hagerstown Community College in 2012. He teaches American government, media and politics, international relations, comparative politics, constitutional law and environmental policy. He lives near the Potomac River with his wife Margaret Yaukey and three cats in Williamsport, MD.

My Earliest Motivation by Mike Harsh

MOTIVATION:  the experience I recall from my days as a “Mackerel-snapping, booger-picking, bead-counting” Catholic school kid –

      The legacy of my Catholic education was probably what led me to teaching as a profession in the first place. I have always been the kind of person who is determined to show people who make judgments about my abilities just how wrong they are, so my desire to become a teacher grew from my earliest experiences in first grade. It was there that I was a victim of the most notorious member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame ever to strap on a rosary: Sister Mary Iguana-breath. I doubt that was really her “professed” name, but it certainly describes for my memories one of her outstanding personal characteristics.

      Her physical dimensions were better suited to professional wrestling than to teaching first graders, as she must have topped the scales at 350 pounds of righteous flesh wrapped in 10 yards of heavy black cotton fabric and sealed with reams of starched white sail-cloth.

      Sister Iguana-breath decided from the first day we met that I was not the ideal student. Of course, the fact that I yanked one of my classmate’s pig-tails so hard from behind that she cried and wet her pants had nothing to do with that impression! Clearly, she concluded, I was a trouble-maker from Williamsport and needed severe correction. Repeated correction.

      Our class was arranged into “ability groups” for subjects, especially Reading and Math. The front of the room was where the seats of distinction were: these were for the “Eagles” and “Cardinals,” the top brown-nosers. Next, in the middle of the room, were the “average-ability” students: “Bluebirds” and Robins,” not her favorites, but still, in her mind, trainable.

Then came my group. There were two of us: Cletus and me. We were the “Starlings,” but the rest of the class called us the “Birdshit” group. Classy students, we little Catholics. Sister had determined that we were not teachable, and that all she could do was discipline us in preparation for our future careers in reform school and the state prison. That’s all the motivation Clete and I needed. We were determined to prove her wrong.

      It’s now 65 years later. Clete owns an entire city block of Philadelphia and runs the leading toxic-waste disposal business in Pennsylvania. He also has donated a scholarship in the name of Sister Mary Zoo-breath to Loyola College.

      Me? After having finished a Bachelors degree, a Masters degree, and almost all of a Doctorate, I will soon celebrate my 45th year in teaching other “Eagles,” “Robins,” and more than a few “Birdshitters” how to achieve academic success. It is a profession I would likely never have entered if Sister had not developed so strong a negative opinion of my lack of academic prowess.

      Bless your pungent vapor, Sister. I would have never made it without you!