natural cold remedy

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Since September, I’ve been *almost* sick three times. Each time, I used this natural cold remedy at the very onset of symptoms. Within a day or two, my cold symptoms were completely gone. After the third time, I told a friend, “I feel like I need to share this recipe with the world!” Then I realized, I can share this recipe on my website!

I don’t usually share recipes here. However, I plan on sharing more of them in the future. The truth is, I’m a total foodie. I love cooking and baking. I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for about 25 years, and I also enjoy vegan cooking and baking. I use all sorts of natural remedies for different things, from health to beauty.

This cold remedy is very simple and uses all natural ingredients that you can find at any local grocery store: lemon, ginger, honey, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.

I created this recipe in a similar way to how oxymels are created; however, instead of herbs, I decided to use ingredients that would combine to form a super-concoction against colds.

 

Natural Cold Remedy

In a pint sized jar (you can reuse a clean, sterile bottle of jam or jelly), combine 1 lemon, roughly chopped (including the rind, pulp, juice, everything) and about 2 inches of ginger root, roughly chopped (include the outer skin as well). Put both the chopped lemon and the chopped ginger into the jar.

Add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of Turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon of Black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper.

Pour honey over the ginger and lemon mixture, until the jar is about 3/4 full.

Top off the remaining 1/4 of the jar with Apple Cider Vinegar.

Shake to allow the contents to settle. Add more Apple Cider Vinegar to fill the jar completely.

Place the jar in the refrigerator. Ideally, you should wait at least a few weeks to use, but it can be used within a couple of days if needed. This remedy can sit for months. As it is used, you should top off with honey and vinegar to replenish.

 

Directions for Use

Shake the jar to make sure the contents are well combined. Place 3-4 tablespoons in a small mug. Pour hot water (at least 1/2 cup) over the mixture and stir. Upon tasting, you can adjust as needed. If you put more water in, use a little more of the remedy to balance the flavor. If the taste seems too acidic, add a little more honey. If it is too sweet for you, add a little more ACV. You can also add additional lemon and ginger to taste. Drink 1 – 2 cups daily until cold symptoms are relieved. You should feel better soon! x

 

Why This Cold Remedy Works

Lemons are high in Vitamin C and Potassium, which boosts the immune system. They also contain flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. Lemons are also alkaline, and helps balance pH levels in our bodies. They also flush out our systems, aid in digestion, and lower the body temperature.

Ginger has numerous properties including antioxidant effects. Ginger aids in digestion, reduces inflammation, and relieves nausea, upset stomach, and pain. It also stimulates circulation, and helps promote healthy sweating, which is often helpful during colds. Ginger inhibits rhinovirus and bacteria. It has long been used in treating the common cold, as well as fighting cancer.

Honey contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. Honey is a natural antibiotic. It is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and helps ease coughs and other throat problems, as well as upper respiratory infections. It can be used also give a boost of energy to one’s system. (Note: Do not give honey to children under 1 years old)

Apple Cider Vinegar is high in acetic acid. I like to use Raw, Unfiltered ACV because it contains “the mother” which contains strands of proteins and enzymes. ACV is antiseptic, inflammatory, inhibits bacteria, and is thought to contain some cancer fighting properties. It is acidic, and it helps balance the body’s pH levels. ACV also helps give the body energy.

Turmeric is a spice (dried, powdered root) that has long been used in Eastern Medicine to prevent and fight disease. It contains powerful antiflammatory properties. It’s main component, Curcumin, is a powerful antioxidant which has been used to treat and prevent cancer, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, liver damage, depression, high cholesterol, pain, and many other things. Curcumin is able to neutralize free radicals, which damage healthy cells. (Note: Black pepper helps the body absorb turmeric)

Black pepper, when used in conjunction with Turmeric, can boost Turmeric’s health properties dramatically. Black pepper also improves digestion and promotes intestinal health. Black pepper has diaphoretic (promotes sweating), and diuretic (promotes urination) properties, and has  impressive antioxidant and antibacterial effects.

Cayenne pepper is used to help digestion, upset stomach, intestinal gas, stomach pain, cure diarrhea and cramps. It is also used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels, including to improve poor circulation, to lower high cholesterol and to prevent blood clots and heart disease. It is also used to help lower fevers. Cayenne pepper also contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, manganese and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties.

 

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happy new year

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Happy New Year!

My annual new year’s post is a little late this year. Last year, I was a little early. My concept of time is generally elusive, but I do love celebrating the new year.

For me, celebrating the new year begins with the Winter Solstice. It is during that time that I begin to take stock of all the things that have happened during the past year, and honor both the dark and the light that I’ve encountered. Looking forward to January 1st, I start making a list of resolutions. I take down the list I wrote the previous year (which I keep up all year as a reminder), noting which resolutions I have succeeded in meeting, and those I still have yet to reach. I am a list-maker year round, but my list of new year’s resolutions is a very special list. It provides me with an outline for the next year, and it also gives me a definite checkpoint to see my progress from the previous year.

At the very beginning of last year, I re-connected with an amazing man who I had met only once before, several years prior. We decided to get together for dinner. Neither one of us had any expectations for romance, but sometimes life hands you an unexpected gift. By the end of our first time hanging out, we could not deny the connection between us; it was electric. Since then, we’ve experienced the kind of love relationship I had begun to think simply didn’t exist. We connect on every level – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. We treat each other with respect and treasure our time together. This is truly the kind of love that lights one from within, that lifts one higher, encouraging one to do more, to be more. He is kind and loving, stable and reliable, generous and giving. He is also very intelligent, passionate, and artistic. I feel tremendously lucky to have found him, here. There is a boundless freedom within our relationship, a kind of romantic-mystical encounter with the beloved. Needless to say, we will be celebrating our one year anniversary at the end of this month – a relationship milestone that seems too short a time for the depth of relationship we share. Experiencing this relationship has been the most unexpected and wonderful part of the past year.

I also had some other positive things happen in 2015.

I published my illustrated poetry chapbook, “Persephone’s Affliction.” This work is very close to my heart, and I simply love it. I think it is a very solid collection of poems and art, and I feel very proud of it. I’ve received some very generous feedback from people about the book, and the whole experience from creation to publication has been extremely positive. Since then, I have been working on new stories in relative seclusion which makes me very happy. I am trying to push myself a little further, to venture into new territory, and to delve deeper and expand my skill-set. I have also been thinking about putting together a new collection of stories, but right now I am simply creating. Publication is far from my mind at this stage, but it is nice to have a general shape in mind for a new collection in 2016.

About six months ago, I decided to leave social media in favor of spending more time working on my craft and decided to limit my internet activity to email, research, and my website. I confess that I have since had a fling with tsu, but my activity there is very minimal. Leaving facebook was a definite positive for me. First of all, I was not very active on the site, but I did feel a certain amount of pressure to be present, and to post things every once in a while. I strongly feel that being somewhat introverted put me at odds with something like facebook from the very beginning. I also feel that facebook really exploits their users in terms of privacy, information, and illusion, and encourages people’s tendencies towards egocentric and narcissistic behavior. My innate introversion, combined with a high sensitivity and empathy, would sometimes make facebook a harrowing experience. Just scrolling through the newsfeed could sometimes be too much, a barrage of information, a megaphonic void, a distorted window into other people’s lives, experiences, thoughts, opinions, pictures, etc, etc. It is not that I am insensitive, it is that I feel too much. It was difficult for me to shut out all of the pain, sadness, desperation, selfishness, bravado, hypocrisy, and egoism I’d encounter on a typical day. Finally, I didn’t really understand why I was using facebook in the first place, or really why anyone was. It began to feel like a well orchestrated distraction. I began to see social media as the new opiate for the masses. And though I know that millions of people are happy with facebook, leaving was the right thing for me to do.

Another positive thing that happened this past year was my return to yoga and meditation. This has been an ongoing process, and I am grateful that I have always found my way back to the mat. I feel like this return has also helped bring me back to my spiritual center. Recently, I’ve decided to reconnect even more strongly with my spirituality, and I have begun to attend meetings at a local Unitarian Universalist  church. This religion is very different from my Roman Catholic upbringing, which I feel ultimately caused a disconnect between my feelings about church and god/spirituality. The Unitarian Universalist religion makes sense to me, and it seems like there is a higher level of thinking about things as present in the sermons and overall philosophy. I also like the sense of connection and shared feeling of community I’ve found there. I am looking forward to continuing my practice in 2016.

2015 has also been a year of devastation in some ways, especially as it extends to the world.

At the close of this year, I can only hope that where there is pain, there will soon be joy; where there is darkness, there will soon be light; where there is hate, there will soon be love; where there is sickness, there will soon be health; where there is hurt, there will soon be healing; and where there is war, there will soon be peace. Blessed be, to all beings everywhere.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!

Namaste.

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reading series 12.1

Persephone by Mia Araujo

 

The gorgeous image above is a painting of Persephone by Mia Araujo. I love finding contemporary artists who are also interested in mythology, and who find inspiration in some of the same myths and tales that have also inspired me. For more of Mia’s beautiful work, visit her website at art-by-mia.com

For this reading series, I wanted to share another early story of mine. I decided to share an unpublished story I wrote quite some time ago called “Between the Earth and the River Lethe.” This is a story that initially came directly from a personal experience, and was one of my earliest forays into writing fiction. It was also my first exploration into the Persephone myth, which has obsessed me for many years. Since it’s initial draft, I had revised and expanded the story, but there never seemed to be a place for it. Still, I like this story a lot, and I thought it would be a nice addition to this series.

Interestingly, the Persephone myth has found its way into some of my other work, beginning with a poem I had written which I called “Persephone’s Affliction.” From there, I began writing other poems that explored some of the themes in the myth. Later, I decided to compile the poems into a collection. The first form of the collection was a full length poetry book which included not only the relationship between Persephone and Hades, but also sought to express Demeter’s part in the myth and the mother-daughter connection therein. However, I felt that the collection was not working as a whole. After several other attempts, I decided to narrow down the collection quite severely, resulting in a chapbook length work which focused solely on the relationship between Persephone and Hades. I also decided to illustrate the chapbook, which became a whole other endeavor. Thus, my illustrated chapbook, “Persephone’s Affliction,” was born, nearly 20 years after my first encounter with the myth.

“Between the Earth and the River Lethe” had its first seeds of creation the day one of my classmates from my Greek Mythology class stopped me on the stairs, pulled a pomegranate from his pocket and offered it to me in exchange for a kiss. Little did I know then that the young man’s bold gesture would be stored in my poetic memory, and that the myth of Persephone would haunt me for so many years afterwards. From my perspective now, I can trace the paths that have lead me to Persephone in my work, and I think it is amazing how mysteriously the universe works.

You can read “Between the Earth and the River Lethe” here.

 

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between the earth and the river lethe

Down by the River Lethe

 

There was nothing unusual about that day, except, in retrospect; I was more aware of his body moving closer to mine in the ascendant staircase. By the fifth floor, his stride quickened and as I passed the sixth, he edged around me as if he were in a great hurry. He swept in front of me at the seventh floor and his coat turned in a circular motion akin to the dramatic flourish of a cape. He reached into his pocket and extracted a medium-sized dark red fruit. He held it out to me and said, in a gravely articulated manner,

“A pomegranate, in exchange for a kiss.”

“What?” I stammered.

For several weeks, the heavy sound of his boots had followed me up the stairs. He always paced himself so that at least one half-turn of the staircase was between us. When I reached the seventh floor, I never held the door for him; he was always too far behind me.

The sound of his footsteps would reverberate in the hall before he entered the classroom, his shoulders bent in an awkward stoop as he walked through the doorway. He never corrected his posture after passing through the aperture; he continued a few steps, hunched as if awaiting a blow, and sat in the first available seat nearest the door.

A quick glance revealed nothing of his features. I could see that the desk was ill-fitting to his frame. His long black coat tailed on the floor, the edge dirty and stained. His clothing was a blur of blackness. He kept his face downcast, obscured by lank dark brown hair. When the class began, I averted my attention, and I didn’t give him another thought until the next week, when his presence assaulted me in the flight of stairs.

“A pomegranate, in exchange for a kiss.” He repeated his previous request, though his voice seemed a little more strained.

If the ground had opened up before me, revealing a winged chariot, I would not have been as surprised.

I looked directly into his face and searched for a hint of a smile, to let me know he was joking, but found nothing. His skin was without colour and the iris of his eye was so brown it was hard to locate the circumference of his pupil; as a result, his eyes appeared so dark I questioned the depth of his soul.

He stood patiently, his palm outstretched, unwavering.

The usual before-class noise dimmed and within moments, there was a certain stillness that could only mean that classes had begun. I hadn’t answered him and he still stood before me. Neither one of us moved or seemed to breathe.

“We’re late for class,” I finally said, “I hate walking in late.”

“Will you accept my offer?” He asked quietly, as his eyes fell to the floor. He picked at the hem of his pocket with his right hand, the left still outstretched but wilting.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I’m no Persephone.”

He smiled, and his face shone with a rare light.

“Would you like to go for a walk or something? I hate walking in late to class too.”

I nodded in agreement and we began the descent down the stairs. He put the pomegranate back into his pocket, but it weighed between us, an unanswered question.

We walked out of the building and were thrust into the city street. The sidewalk was crowded with people and I started to get anxious. My therapist had suggested that I take a class, once a week, as I was making progress with my social phobias. I started to walk left and he started to walk right, but then he stopped and reached for my hand and led me in his direction.

For all his awkwardness, he appeared to negotiate himself on the sidewalk with ease. Whereas I could not walk a block without stuttering in my step and nearly slamming into the people hurrying towards me from the other direction, he moved effortlessly through the chaotic rhythm of the street.

“Have you lived in New York long?” I asked.

“All my life. I grew up over by Central Park. My parents still live there, but I don’t see them anymore,” he said, his voice edging discomfort.

“Oh.” I answered, not knowing how to respond. I thought that I could tell him about my own parents, since he mentioned his. However, I didn’t have parents, well, not exactly.

I found out that I was adopted in my early twenties, when my mother and father died in a freak car accident. But that wasn’t exactly the type of thing you would talk about to a stranger who cornered you in the hallway, was it? I wasn’t even sure why I agreed to take the walk with him. I wondered what my therapist would say. She would probably think that it was an important step for me. I hadn’t gone out on a date or had sex or even kissed someone in over two years.

After we were quiet for a while, he asked me where I was from.

“Not Manhattan.” I answered.

“I figured,” he said, “you kind of have an accent.”

Of course I had been told that before. I didn’t want to tell him where I was from or that I didn’t know who my birth parents were or that sometimes I still looked into the mirror, trying to piece together a picture of my birth mother, thinking perhaps she had the same shape lips, or the same nose, or the same pale fringe of eyelashes that didn’t seem quite capable of protecting the eye.

We entered the park at the north entrance and walked the path, past the undergrowth and grass, to the benches. I was immediately comforted by surrounding nature. The sky was darkening and there was a chill in the air. We sat down and he put his hands into his pockets. It was a little colder than I had first realized and I rubbed my hands together, careful to pull the sleeves of my sweater over my wrists.

“Are you cold?” He asked.

I shook my head in an ambivalent way, meaning yes, but no. He looked at me for a moment, as if turning a question over in his mind.

“We could get some coffee, if you want.”

“No, that’s okay. I can’t really stay that long.” I said. I knew I wasn’t contributing to the conversation, but I simply didn’t trust myself to say anything.

I had been practicing my conversation skills with my therapist, but the same rules didn’t seem to apply with him. I tried to remember his name, but couldn’t. I thought about asking him, but figured we had already spent some time together and asking now would be somewhat awkward.

We fell into an uncomfortable silence. I absently kicked at the twigs and dried leaves that had gathered around the legs of the bench while he sat with his legs straight out onto the path. He stirred, crossed his leg over the other, and then, moving again, he settled into a more upright position, but remained slightly hunched over.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” he suddenly said, his voice so soft that I had to strain to hear him.

“What?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean to offend you by my offer,” he said again, a little more loudly.

I began to wonder if he had social anxiety as well, because he didn’t seem much better at conversing than I. In fact, I couldn’t recall him ever speaking out in class, or answering a question, or talking to someone nearby.

“I wouldn’t say that you offended me.”

“Because that really wasn’t my intent.”

“What wasn’t your intent?” I asked.

“To offend you,” he said.

I paused for a minute, and a slight smile crossed my lips. “Oh, I thought you meant … to kiss me.”

“No, I intended that.”

He laughed nervously, which made me laugh a little nervously as well. I stole a glance at his face and wondered what it would be like to kiss him, thinking how strange it was that between two bodies, the most insurmountable wall was something as simple as touch.

He took his hands out of his pockets.

“Look,” he said, “at the moon. You can see it just behind those trees.”

He pointed in the direction of the moon, and I could see it rising low on the horizon. The branches of the trees, reaching desperately for the sky, were outlined crisply against the fading light. Looking at the trees in the park, I felt suddenly sad.

“Where I’m from,” I said, “Nature is something you live in, not something you have to find, tucked away like an ill-forgotten secret, battling for space against buildings, bricks, and concrete.”

“Everything is confined in one way or another, isn’t it?”

We had been sitting for almost an hour, our silent conversation growing more comfortable, when he suddenly said, “I want to show you something,”

He hesitated, then brushed the hair out of his eyes. Holding his arms out in front of him, he pushed up the left sleeve of his coat with his right hand, and then the right sleeve with his left.

He held out his arms to me, and I instantly recognized the disfiguration of his skin. Each of his arms were scarred badly with several deep lines, starting at various points at the wrist and continuing upwards.

“I’ve been dead for a long time,” he said, “Each time, I put a coin in my mouth, and prayed that Charon would accept his fare … but I can’t seem to leave this world.”

He pulled down his sleeves and put his hands back into his pockets. He exhaled and shifted his position on the bench.

“All my life, I’ve searched for the river Lethe,” I said.

He nodded and whispered absently, “The river of forgetfulness. The stream of death, the tributary of rebirth. I would surely wait one thousand years to be called to the river Lethe and cleansed of my memory.”

“There’s something I should…” I said, fingering the sleeve of my sweater.

“You don’t have to show me.”

He took his hands from his pockets and reached for my hand. Then he placed his other hand on top of our joined hands, so that my left hand was enclosed in both of his.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I recognized you from the moment I saw you.”

We sat on the bench, turned towards each other, as the evening fell later into night, and the moon rose high and bright in the sky.

“Can I hold the pomegranate?” I asked.

He nodded solemnly and untangled his hands from mine to reach into his pocket and extract the fruit. He held it out to me reverently, as he had earlier, when he made his offering.

I took the pomegranate and held it with both hands. It was slightly warm from being in his pocket. I held it as if I were holding a very small globe. If I accepted his offer, could I survive the months of darkness, the black rivers and bare earth reflected in his eyes? Would my mother, then, try to find me?

I brought the pomegranate to my mouth and brushed my lips against the hard rind, tasting the scent of the ancient fruit. I imagined the labyrinth of seeds and the dark red pulp hidden inside, waiting to be revealed. Then, cradling the world between my fragile hands, I turned to answer him.

 

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selah

mother and child by Kathe KollwitzMother and Child by Käthe Kollwitz

 

Selah.

I whisper her name, a prayer, a mantra. Selah doesn’t stir. She is sleeping now, her beautiful eyes closed, framed by long black lashes. When she opens them, her eyes will be a kaleidoscope of colour, blue and green and gold. There was a time I was afraid I would never see her open her eyes again. I am still afraid. All I can do is continue to be there for her, to shine a light in her darkness, to hope that she will find her way, to hope that, this time, she will be okay.

Selah.

Even though she is in the room across the hall, sleeping, I can’t sleep. She has been home for only a day. For over half a year, she has been in and out of mental hospitals. Now the tally is five times in seven months. I don’t know why she wants to die. I don’t know why nothing helps. She sees a therapist twice a week, attends a support group once a week, and I am with her every day, offering her advice and comfort and companionship. She takes “medication.” I run through the list of prescription drugs they’ve given her: abilify, zoloft, wellbutrin, risperdal, seroquel, throazine, depacote, lutuda. Then the diagnoses: depression, psychosis, depression with psychotic episodes, psychosis with depressive episodes, bi-polar depression with acute psychosis. My mind spins. I can only imagine what her mind is doing. I don’t know what all of this is doing to her. I don’t know what happened to my little girl.

Selah.

The last time, she tied her shoelaces together and hung herself from the ceiling fan in her room. I was with her only twenty minutes prior, and we talked about her goals for the day, positive affirmations, things she was grateful for. She showed me her journal; she said that she was grateful for mom, the cats, and art. She smiled at me. She said she loved me. Twenty minutes later, I heard a storm of glass crash to the floor. I rushed from my room to hers, across the hallway; she was two feet away. The light from the ceiling fan fell when she kicked the chair away. She was hanging, straining, her eyes wide with fear. First I tried to undo the knot, then I ran to my room to get a pair of scissors that I kept hidden in my drawer. There were seconds I had to leave her there, hanging, in a precarious balance between life and death. I ran back and cut the thin, taut rope with the child sized scissor, pushing her to fall onto her bed. She gasped for breath. She looked terrified, lost, shocked. She said, “I’m sorry.” I burst into tears.

Selah.

At first I blamed myself. I wondered what I did wrong. There was always too little money; I couldn’t afford her “the soil of easy growth.” Her father left when she was only a baby. I raised her alone, stayed home in the day as a full-time mother and worked nights and weekends. My mother watched her when I was gone. She was always cared for, always loved. There was never too little love; I gave her my time, my affection, my attention, all the things that money could never buy. I love being a mother. I never imagined that something like this would happen, could happen. I read countless parenting books. I read to her. I cooked healthy food. I baked cookies. I spent the little money I had on books and art supplies, musical instruments, science kits, educational toys. I encouraged her. I supported her. I love her so much. I don’t know what went wrong. What did I do wrong?

Selah.

I know I’m not alone. I see it in the faces of other parents when I have visited her in the hospital. We are searching the places we missed, the signs we didn’t know, the twisted path that has lead us here. I know she’s not alone. During all this time, I’ve seen so many teenagers go through this cycle, this revolving door. They are so young, they are so lost, their arms and wrists are scarred, they don’t know how they got to this place either. There were visits she rejected me, when she didn’t want to see me, when there was more anger than fear in her eyes. There were visits we played cards or colored mandalas, or simply talked, even laughed. There were visits when she just laid her head on my shoulder and cried. Each time I left without her, I felt a piece of me missing; my heart needed to stay with her.

Selah.

After the first time, I couldn’t look at children or babies. I’d see them crying in the store, begging for their parents attention, coddled with technological gadgets to pacify them. I’d remember Selah when she was a child; she was so happy. I looked forward to her teenage years; I thought they would be a breeze. Then everything fell apart. The relationship with her boyfriend began to appear unhealthy. Later, I would learn about the emotional abuse and the drugs, the cheating and the gaslighting, her increased anxiety, paranoia, and depression. Her self-esteem shattered, she was too fragile to pick up the pieces. She saw suicide as the only way out of the relationship, the only way to end the pain. Since then, she has ricocheted like a pinball in a sick machine, a mental health care system focused on drug therapy. At first, I wouldn’t let them medicate her. After her second attempt, I had no choice. I don’t really trust the doctors, I don’t really trust the drugs. I don’t know if they are helping or hurting. All I know is that she is in pain, and no matter what I try, I can’t seem to help her find her way out of this nightmare.

Selah.

I would do anything to help her. I have tried everything I can think of. If I could, I would take her pain and hide it deep within myself so that she would never feel it again. How many times can my heart be broken, over and over again. How many tears can I cry, useless tears, only wanting my daughter to be okay. I’ve learned just how exacting everything can fall apart at a moment’s notice, another suicide attempt, another hospitalization. I am a mirror of her suffering, her shadow as she walks a tightrope down this dark, dangerous path. “I’ll always be here to catch you,” I say. She smiles. Her face is pure beauty. But she doesn’t know that, she doesn’t know how beautiful and talented and wonderful she really is. What do you do when a person you love wants to fall? I am not a religious person, but I’ve touched my own spirituality. I pray. I meditate. I ask the universe, I plead: please let my daughter live, please let her live with health and happiness and peace, please let her feel love within herself, towards herself and towards the world. Please, let my daughter live.

Selah.

I whisper her name, a prayer, a mantra. Selah doesn’t stir. She is sleeping now, her beautiful eyes closed, framed by long black lashes. When she opens them, her eyes will be a kaleidoscope of colour, blue and green and gold. There was a time I was afraid I would never see her open her eyes again. I am still afraid. All I can do is continue to be there for her, to shine a light in her darkness, to hope that she will find her way, to hope that, this time, she will be okay.

Selah.

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the handless maiden

The Handless Maiden by Ericka Lugo

Once upon a time, a miller lived with his wife and daughter at the edge of the forest on the outskirts of a beautiful kingdom, miles away from the village. Generations earlier, a special path had been cleared for the Queen’s horses through the wood, and for many years it was the exclusive mill of the entire kingdom. However, a new mill had been erected in the village with the latest technology, employing not one but several millers, and within only a few years, the new mill had grown so large it overshadowed the little mill by the forest. The miller even lost his account with the Queen.

Hard times fell upon the miller. He had once been prosperous, even wealthy, but now he was very poor. He had once pampered his wife and daughter, and they had an esteemed position in the village. He had hoped that his daughter would marry one of the king’s court by the time she was of marrying age. Now, even the lowliest villager would not take her. His wife and daughter foraged for food in the forest and picked apples from the trees behind the mill to sell at market. The miller’s wife begged him to take a position at the new mill and put his skills to use. But his pride was too great, and he refused.

When the miller’s wife grew hot and bright with fever, there was no money to bring her to the doctor. The sickness spread throughout her body and within a week, she was dead. The miller’s daughter had tried in vain to nurse her mother back to health. At her bedside, she had solemnly promised her mother that she would take care of her father. Through her grief, she took over all of her mother’s duties, and she still foraged, cleaned, bought and made household goods, and sold apples at the market. She cared for her father the best she could, but he was inconsolable.

The miller took to drinking sour mash, and spent his days in a drunken stupor. He cried and prayed for his fortune to change. One day when his daughter was at the market, a strange visitor knocked on the door.

“Whaddya want?” The miller slurred.

“I want to help you,” the stranger answered.

“You want to help me? You can’t help me. Can’ya bring my wife back? Can you bring my mill back? Can you restore what has been taken from me?”

“Yes.”

The miller roared with bitter laughter. “How?”

“Give me what is behind the mill.”

“And then what?” The miller asked, thinking of the rows of apple trees behind the mill, their only source of income.

“Then you will have a new wife, a new life, and all the riches you desire.”

“Sounds like you want me to make a deal with the devil.”

“Only if that is what you want.”

The miller and the stranger looked each other in the eye for a good few minutes, as if trying to read the others thoughts.

“Give me what is behind the mill, and you will have your heart’s desire.”

The miller thought about his daughter, and the back-breaking work of picking and selling the apples. He imagined her good, sweet face, so much like her mother’s.

“Okay,” he said.

“It’s a deal,” the stranger said, extending his hand.

The miller took his hand, and for a second, he felt a hot jolt course through his arm. Their handshake was hard and firm, binding.

The stranger bowed, “thank you, Sir. I will go collect her now.”

“Her?” The miller asked quickly, but too late. The stranger turned on his heel and was already out the door.

The miller ran after him. His daughter was under one of the trees with the bushel next to her. His heart dropped. He watched as the devil approached her.

“No,” he shouted, running towards them.

The miller’s daughter turned around in alarm. She saw the stranger approaching her. She saw the pain and anguish on her father’s face as he rushed toward her.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“My dear, your father has just given you to me,” the stranger said, smiling.

“No I didn’t!” The miller shouted.

“We just sealed the deal with a handshake,” the stranger reminded him, and the miller’s hand flashed as if on fire.

“No …” the miller said weakly, clutching his burning hand to his chest.

The stranger reached for the miller’s daughter, but when he tried to take her hand, he realized that he could not touch her. She was too pure; she was protected. He growled with anger, then turned and walked away.

“Cut off her hands!” he instructed the miller as he rushed past him. “I will be back.”

The miller sunk to the ground.

“Father, what is going on?” his daughter asked him.

“He asked for what was behind the mill … the apple trees … in exchange for … in exchange for …” The miller couldn’t continue. He broke down crying.

“What?”

“I won’t let him take you. I won’t.”

“Who is he, Father?”

“The devil.”

The miller’s daughter shuddered. She knew that her father was in a bad sort these days, but now he thought he was making deals with the devil? She was very worried about him. She brought him into the house and made a pot of tea. She consoled him in the ways that she had watched her mother console him, with food and drink and nonsense words, then she put him to bed like a child. She found his stash of sour mash and threw it away. Her father’s drinking was out of control.

She replayed what had happened over and over again in her head. None of it made sense. She decided to stay home and watch over her father instead of going back to the market. She had returned early because she sold all of the apples she had brought and wanted to get more. There was much to do at home anyway, and she began her household chores. She checked on her father regularly; he was sleeping like a baby.

Hours later, another visitor knocked at the door. The miller’s daughter started, afraid that it was the same stranger from earlier that day, but it was not. It was a local man from the village, come to talk with her father about business. He explained that the mill in town had an overage and he wondered if her father would be interested in contracting some of the work.

“Yes,” the miller’s daughter answered for him. “He will be ready to begin tomorrow.”

The little mill on the edge of the forest prospered, and the miller and his daughter fell into a comfortable routine, the visit from the stranger long forgotten. The miller’s daughter had grown to enjoy selling apples at the market, so she continued, even though it was no longer necessary. Day after day, the miller’s daughter grew more beautiful, rosy and healthy. Sometimes the miller watched her and was reminded so strongly of his wife, he felt his heart swell. Sometimes, as he hugged her good-night, his body responded before his mind, and his erection was swift and hard, pressing.

Months passed, and the miller became obsessed with the idea that his daughter was his wife’s replacement in nearly every way, except one. She looked so much like her, she could have been her twin. She loved him, she cared for him, she cooked and cleaned for him. He loved his daughter, but he desired a wife.

The miller’s daughter began to feel a little uncomfortable under her father’s hungry gaze, though she did not know the reason behind it. She was a young woman, no longer a little girl, but she was still innocent. There was a man she had met at the market who said he loved her. Once, he kissed her on the mouth, and she felt her soul sing. He wanted to ask her father for her hand in marriage, but the miller’s daughter wanted to wait. She wanted to make sure her father would be okay without her.

“Father, when do you think I should get married?” she asked one sunny morning after her father had awoken in a particularly good mood.

“Do you think you are ready?” the miller asked, his brow starting to furrow.

“Yes,” his daughter answered.

“Are you telling me that you met someone?”

The miller’s daughter’s face flushed.

“Where?” he asked sharply, his mood quickly turning.

“At the market, father.”

The miller’s face grew dark. He left, returning to his bedroom. After a few moments, his daughter knocked softly on the door. He opened the door angrily, his face contorted with rage. He grabbed his daughter by the arm roughly and pulled her into the room. She stood, shaking with confusion, as he held her by the shoulders and kissed her hard on the lips. The miller’s daughter shook her head, trying to get away from the terrible kiss.

“Did he kiss you like that?” the miller said angrily.

“Stop, father. Please …” she said, caught in his tight embrace.

He pushed her onto the bed and his full weight fell on top of her. He removed his belt with one hand while holding her down with the other, then he used the belt to bind her hands above her head. She rolled from side to side, trying to get away, but he was too strong, he overpowered her. He pushed her skirt up with one hand while unbuttoning his pants with the other.

“No …” she cried, moving her body violently, bringing up her knees to kick him. He staggered from the blow, and she rolled off the bed, hitting the floor with a thud. With her hands still bound, she used them as leverage to stand, and then she ran, out of the room, out of the house, and into the woods, as far and as fast as her feet would carry her.

But she was off balance, and she tripped and fell on the path. Her father caught up with her, and found her lying helpless on the forest floor. He bent over her, and grabbed her arm. He held her steady, her hands still bound. With his other hand, he pulled the belt around her wrists higher, immobilizing her outstretched arms. In one swift motion, he drew a long sword from the sheath on his back, the sharp edge glittering briefly in the light before it fell upon her wrists, slicing through skin, blood, bone.

“Let the devil take you,” he said.

She was stunned by the blow, in shock from the loss of blood. She did not scream. She did not make a sound. A murder of birds in the surrounding trees flew up suddenly, releasing a cacophony of shrieks and caws, leaving a throbbing silence in their wake. Her hands gone, the belt loosened and fell to the ground with a dull thud. Her father released his grip on her arm, letting her fall among the dirt and dried leaves.

She cried and cried, her tears cleansing the wound. And when there were no tears left, she cried more; she was wounded, her soul blindsided, her heart broken. The devil hovered around her, but still he could not touch her; her tears had washed away even the sin inflicted upon her, and she was still pure. At one point she gathered enough strength to stand, but she could barely walk; she staggered piteously until she got caught in the thorny bramble that had overrun the path, and she tripped again, and fell unconscious.

Perhaps it was the scent of the blood, or the hand of fate interceding, but the prince’s dogs led the hunting party astray. They had been down the ragged, unused path for over an hour, and it seemed that the dogs had taken over the expedition. A sense of urgency had replaced the hunting party’s earlier joviality, and one of them wondered aloud if they should turn back.

“No,” the prince said.

“But, there’s no game in this part of the woods. We’ve been out here for hours … soon the light will be gone …”

“Keep going,” the prince said, his sense of desperation growing. His dogs had never acted like that before, and it was making him anxious.

Far ahead on the path, the dogs started barking.

“Finally!” someone shouted, and the hunting party ran to see what the dogs had found.

None of them were prepared to find a human body among the tangled bush. None of them were prepared for all the blood.

“Is she dead?”

The prince stepped forward, carefully clearing a path through the thorns and bramble as he advanced. He knelt next to her, trying to find a pulse before realizing that the young woman’s hands had been brutally chopped off. Blood had soaked through the front of her dress, but there seemed to be no other wounds. Her heartbeat was weak, but she was still alive.

“We need to go back. We need to get help,” someone said.

“I won’t leave her …” the prince said, tearing off pieces of his shirt to make a tourniquet for her wounds.

Another member of the party came up with a quick plan, and they dispersed. Two would search for the village doctor, another would alert the Queen to prepare for their return, and the last would herd the dogs while the prince carried the young woman back to the castle.

Each day, the young woman grew stronger. Each day, the prince loved her more. She was so sweet and beautiful; she was a child sent to him downriver in a bulrush basket, and he promised heaven and earth that he would love and care for her for the rest of his life, if only she would love him in return. He needn’t have worried; she had been cast from her home and into the dark forest, left for dead, then rescued by a prince. She loved him so much she thought her heart might burst.

Within a few months, the prince and the handless maiden were married. As a wedding gift, the prince commissioned a pair of silver hands to be created for her. Though her silver hands were not functional, they were amazingly beautiful, as delicate and light as a piece of lace. She imagined that they were like a piece of jewelry, an adornment, and she loved her husband’s heart for thinking of the gift. With time, she was able to manipulate the appendages like a simple machine, and she could pick up and move some items using her silver hands, albeit clumsily.

In marriage, the handless maiden and the prince loved each other fiercely. Each night, she fell asleep in his loving arms, safe and protected, thinking this must be what happily ever after feels like.

The Queen was overjoyed with the union, and the entire kingdom rejoiced when only a couple of months after the wedding, they announced a pregnancy. In the far away, fairy tale kingdom, true love ruled the minds and the hearts of the people. Outside the kingdom, however, war loomed. Though the prince wanted to stay for the baby’s birth, it soon became a necessity for the prince to oversee negotiations with a hostile neighboring kingdom. The Queen promised that she would care for the handless maiden, and write him immediately after the baby’s birth. The prince left, promising the entire kingdom that he would stay until a peaceful resolution had been reached, no matter how long it took.

After the baby’s birth, the Queen did as promised, and sent a message to her son, telling him that the baby was a beautiful girl, and that both mother and child were fine. A messenger was sent directly, but it was a long trip to the neighboring kingdom, and the messenger stopped mid-way at the crossroads, seeing a shady tree that would be perfect for a short rest. Unbeknownst to the messenger, the devil was waiting there, and while he slept, the devil changed the message to say that the baby was hideously deformed.

Upon receiving the message, the prince was surprised; however, he sent another message back immediately, saying that he loved his wife and child, no matter what. Again, the messenger took a brief respite under that same shady tree, and again, the devil was waiting to switch the message. After the note had been delivered to the Queen, she sent for her most trusted advisor. When he entered her rooms, he found the Queen in a debilitated state. She shakily handed the note to him. He read it quickly.

“This is not from the prince,” he said.

“It has his seal.”

“He never would have written those words.”

“It is his hand.”

“Something is very wrong.”

“I know,” the Queen sobbed.

Early the next morning, the Queen told the handless maiden that it would be best for her to leave the castle until she figured out what was going on. Right now, both her and the baby’s life were in danger. The Queen packed a bag of provisions, and placed it carefully on the handless maiden’s back. Then, she swaddled the baby and strapped her to young woman’s chest. They would be safer in the woods.

“A week, my sweet child,” the Queen said with tears in her eyes. “Hide well.”

“What if he can’t find me?”

“He will find you. His love for you is true. I would swear my life on it.”

“I’m afraid,” the handless maiden said.

“You are stronger than you know,” the Queen said. “I would swear my life on that, too.”

And with that, the handless maiden was cast into the woods once more. The baby was breast feeding, so she did not have to worry about her nourishment, but the handless maiden grew weaker as the days passed, and she began to run out of provisions. After two weeks, she stopped counting the days. She walked and walked, stopping only to find shelter for the night. She rarely stayed in the same place for more than one night. She was lost in the dark forest with a baby strapped to her, not knowing where she was going or what she would find when she got there.

Days, she felt brave and free, and she sang with a chorus of birds to the baby, enjoying simple, quiet moments with her child under the sun dappled canopy. Nights, she burrowed with her child close to the ground, their shelter camouflaged under bushes. Though it offered no real protection, she tried to feel safe, and she pressed her baby to her breast, her heartbeat strong and loud. Never had she seen such a quiet, happy baby; it was as if she understood that it was best to be quiet in the dark forest, to hide until it was light again.

One day, the handless maiden was feeling especially weary. She had been moving through a dry area of the woods, and had not had anything to eat or drink for days. She did not know that the devil was watching her relentlessly. He had only three chances to take her, after the deal he had made with her father, but he could not take someone so pure. Because of that, he had already lost two chances; he was biding his time, waiting for the final opportunity to present itself.

When the handless maiden came across a small pond, she nearly cried, she was so thirsty, and she bent over the fluid surface to drink. The baby, swaddled and attached to her chest, saw something shiny in the water, and lunged forward to reach it, falling head-first into the pond. A pain she had never known seized the handless maiden as she plunged her useless silver hands into the water, to save her child. When she pulled the baby out from the depths, the handless maiden nearly fainted from shock; her hands were no longer silver, but flesh and bone.

She knew that no matter what happened next, she would survive.

When peace had been restored between the kingdoms, the prince returned home to find his wife and child missing. He searched the woods day and night, but he could not find them. The weather began to turn, and dry leaves fell from the trees. He found one of his wife’s silver hands washed up by the edge of a pond, and he began to fear the worst, but he would not leave the dark forest without them.

He had found her once before, unconscious, wounded and broken. He would find her again. But when he saw the apparition before him on the path, a beautiful young woman singing to a baby, alive and whole and happy, he thought he must be dreaming. He approached cautiously, but the woman sensed his presence and looked directly at him. She was no longer the handless maiden, or the miller’s daughter, or even the prince’s wife. She did not need to be saved. Everything had changed. Still, he reached for her hands, and brought them to his lips, kissing her palms and the tips of her fingers. Nothing had changed; her heart was the same heart, and he loved her.

He picked up the baby, took his love by the hand, and together, they left the dark forest and returned to the castle, where they all lived happily ever after.

*

the handless maiden by doncella mancaThe Handless Maiden by Doncella Manca


reading series 10.2

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One of the interesting parts I find about being a writer is the pieces I do not publish. On my computer, I have many stories and poems that I’ve collected throughout the years that are in varying states of completion, sketched out in drafts, or finished but not likely to be published. There are even novels and plays that I have never (not yet!) completed. I believe that this is true for most artists.

The reasons why these pieces linger are as varied as the states I’ve left them in. I have many ideas for stories and poems, and there is a certain necessity to putting them down in written form, but that does not necessarily mean that they are ever intended for the public eye. There are stories that didn’t make it into my dark and erotic collection (Into the Woods) for different reasons; one I thought was way too subversive, another way too romantic. Will I publish them elsewhere? I have no idea. When you write to write, and not with an eye towards a specific market or specific publication, many times these pieces of writing linger in a purgatorial state. When looking towards publication, there is always a question of fit, and many pieces I have do not appear to fit anywhere. So, they linger. I’ve found places for some of these stories years after their writing, which is always interesting. I’ve revised stories years after their initial drafts. Even work that is accepted for publication can take up to a year to be actually published. “New” work is rarely “new.”

One of the reasons I started this reading series was to share some of these lingering stories and poems in a direct way with readers. These are the stories and poems that I am not looking to publish as part of a collection or an anthology. Many times, I’m sharing work that doesn’t seem to “fit” anywhere else, but I still like them for whatever reason, and don’t want them to stay trapped in a doc file. Sometimes I share things that have been published, and wish to impart a sort of contextual lens to the work. Other times, I share stories from my life, written specifically for this purpose, as in my “stories of failure” series.

Awhile ago, I came across this idea: “You are not reading what I wrote.” I think this is always true, even as it applies to myself with work that I have written. This is the idea that readers bring something very important to the process of writing. I believe that good writers leave a lot to the reader’s imagination, making them an active part in the process of creating the story. “What I wrote” is only the beginning of the process. Readers are essential in bringing a story to life, by bringing their own sense of meaning and connections to the words they read. In this sense, “what I wrote” will be a different story to every person who reads it. Furthermore, it will be different to each person at different points in his or her life. This is one of the major reasons why I love re-reading and revisiting not only books that I love, but my own work as well.

In thinking of what to share today, I kept coming back to a story that I wrote a very long time ago. This story is called “Kill your television!” I wrote this story even before I attended my MFA program, which is now quite some time ago too. For many years, I considered myself a poet and fiction writing was elusive to me. One of the reasons I wanted to receive a MFA was to study fiction, although I wound up studying playwriting, which is another story altogether …

Nevertheless, I brought this story into one of the workshops, and everyone liked it a lot, but even then, no one could offer suggestions in which to change it. It was a slice of life, a little piece about college life, a time capsule. People in the workshop felt that it was a throwback to the 70s, which was something that I had not even anticipated (the title itself was a partial reference to a song that was relatively popular in the early 90s, when I began my college years. I also felt that the television was a substitute for the self); however, I see the threads my fellow students saw to 1970s subculture more clearly now.

For me, I was writing about some of my college experiences a few years after the fact. Like so many writers, I drew heavily upon my personal experiences in creating my earliest attempts at “fiction.” This is a fictionalized account, but it is also surprising at how much of what I wrote was thinly veiled truth. I just wrote it. I never intended on publishing it. I wasn’t even sure it was a proper story. Yet, this is a story that still makes me smile when I re-read it. I remember how I was trying to wrap my mind around telling a story, working on dialogue and character. I think that it is interesting that my voice is pretty much the same. I also love some of the lines, such as:

“Yaron threw the television out the kitchen window as dawn gave way to day on Wednesday morning, before Diane had the abortion, before Thom od’d, before I told James I was leaving and he painted all the red doors in his apartment black.”

“My room was my refuge, my safe haven. I had painted the walls forest green, and because I was inept with a roller, ragged green edges that looked like grass surrounded the parameter of the still-white ceiling. I had plans for the ceiling, and I used to lie on the floor, looking up, imagining what I would paint. When I moved out, the ceiling remained white, only slightly imprinted by the will of my imagination”

“He was offering me a path that would only lead further and further into darkness. I had spent nearly three days in seclusion, trying to figure out a way in which to live. I had already figured out all the ways in which to die.”

“Before I had time to answer him, he kissed me. I had been numb for so long I didn’t recognize the space between us expand and contract, or that my body moved according to his. I didn’t know how it was that my breath caught under his touch, against my more logical inclinations. All this, and I kissed him back, breaking my heart so he wouldn’t have to.”

There is also a bittersweet element to reading this story, because it does contain some elements of truth. That was my room when I lived off-campus, painted dark green with ragged edges that looked like grass extending around the perimeter. I did used to lie on the floor, imagining blue sky and clouds instead of the chalky white above me. Reading this story brings me back to that time, a time of great uncertainty in my life. It is amazing to think of how far I have come in the past twenty or so years.

Reading this also brings to mind the idea of publication, which is another thing that I think most writers struggle with. Publication is an important part of the writing process, but it is not the only part, and I think it is far from the most essential part. In our contemporary time, the idea of publication has also expanded greatly. Since I am writing this on my website, one could say that I am inherently “publishing” my work. Some would say that it is only through 3rd party publication that one is truly “published.” Is not publication the opportunity for others to read what you have wrote? Is that not the reward for any writer … to be read?

Relatively recently, I came across a post from a writer who was lamenting the lack of opportunities to be published in the erotica field, due to some major publication houses closing and the lack of monetary compensation awarded for stories. This writer has also posted an extensive collection of stories on her website, which is available for free to all. The irony is that she was lamenting not the opportunity to be published exactly – she has been publishing her stories on her own site for many years. What she was upset about was the opportunity to be paid for her work. Only a few short years ago, it was common to be compensated about $100 per story in the erotica field. In today’s market, $25 is considered to be in the high range for payment. There are many reasons for the depreciation in value, but I have to divorce the monetary compensation from the freedom many writers have (including her) to publish their own work across the internet, without the somewhat limiting hand of external publishers.

I’ve also recently come across a post from a writer complaining about the nepotism in a well known and respected sci-fi/fantasy/horror website. Apparently, there is a tie between a certain writing program and the publisher, and a disproportionate number of graduates have been published there, many within a year or so after graduating said program. Are they being groomed for publishing? Perhaps … sometimes people go into specific MFA programs because they are well connected. That is a reality. However, I truly feel that this a short-term success. Writing is life-work, and no matter how well you are connected through a MFA program, long-term success rests solely on the writer. Writers are meant to grow and evolve. While MFA programs can be transformational spaces, their function is to help emerging writers learn the craft of writing. Two years with a specific set of teachers can only teach so much.

As I said, writing is life-work. Our true teachers are those who have written in the past, those who have left their legacy through their work. Teachers of creative writing know this. There is always more to learn. There is always room to grow. As in any craft, one learns most by doing, by living and breathing through their work. Anyone can follow a formulaic plot line or keep regurgitating the same material. The writers we celebrate are often the ones who have unlearned what they learned, who have created new ways of expression, measuring their success by their own measure, and not what society has defined that as. Is Tom Clancy a success? Of course he is a best selling author. There is a big publishing house behind him. He also doesn’t write his own books. He has become a name, a brand, a pre-formulated, calculated machine meant to churn out books to the general public. That is not my idea of success.

Ah, I am getting tangential again. Where was I? I am posting in this reading series, taking about a story that I wrote a long time ago that I never intended on publishing, something I wrote when I was young and searching for meaning, standing at a precipice between life and death, choosing life.

To read “Kill your Television!”, click here.

 

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