Living in Frames, by meshing the lyrical moments of life with the captured images of experience. This is a reverie, a journey, the fork in the road, and the never-ending story....

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What does having a full range of emotions feel like?

Last night, before all the ballots were counted and the numbers were in, I went to bed with a sinking pit in my stomach. Anxious about what the next day would bring, I tried to rest my tired head, but even in my dreams I was dreading what was to come.

I woke this morning, still sick to my stomach, and reached for the first device that I could find, hoping beyond hope that it had all been just a nightmare. But there it was, all in bright red, glaring back at me in my dark kitchen.

It was an immediate response for me—the tears came first, as I crawled back in bed beside my husband, and gently woke him,
“Trump,” is all I said, still processing the news myself. He reached out to comfort me, but I was already jumping away and onto my device, to read as much as I could about how others were taking the news.

Then came the anger, all at once. And again, my husband tried to comfort me. But it was no use. I could only blame. “I hate the system” and “All of THEM!”  I became unhinged, as a sinking sense of terror and fear settled within me.

“We can’t stay here,” was the last thing I said, as I left our house a complete mess. Which at that moment, I was hoping my husband would agree and say, “Yes, you’re right. This is no longer the place for us. The future is bleak, and it will be no place to raise children (should we decide to have them).”

Shaking and crying, I drove to work. My husband had begged me to stay a little later than usual and settle down before I got on the road, but I couldn’t hear him in my blind anger. I had to get to work. I had to get to a place where I could think about something other than how awful I was feeling.

When I got to work, my colleagues and I tried to go about our regularly scheduled morning meeting, but from the look on most everyone’s face, I wasn’t the only one who felt defeated. And when we started talking about the challenges that some of our students have been facing, I completely lost it. I bee-lined for the bathroom, to try and catch my breath.

Not only did it feel like the wind had been knocked out of me like a giant kick to the stomach, my hope was knocked out of me too. All I could think about was the students. Especially, the ones who had told me, just a day before, that if they were old enough to vote that they would never vote for Trump, “Because Trump doesn’t like people with special needs.” And that got me thinking about all the others too… All my friends and family, and even those I don’t even know, who will be affected even more than I am by this decision.  My breaking heart went out to all of them.

At the sink, as I splashed my face, I prayed for the strength to go on. I prayed that somehow I will learn to accept what I have no control over, and that I won’t let my anger taint my own morality, compassion, or judgement. I prayed that I could just get through the day, so I could go home and give my husband that much deserved hug.

When the kids arrived, I tried to be as present as I could be. Both for them, and for me. I tried to be more patient, and a better listener. And for a good part of the day, it was easy to let those kids teach me a little more about the simple joys that will continue to exist, despite politics and perceived chaos.

Sure, for a moment I thought, “I could quit all this and run away. I could join a revolution. I could wave my fist in solidarity with all those already out there on the front lines fighting.”

But I didn’t. I stayed where I needed to be, and quietly admired my colleagues and the good work they do every day. I even felt a pang of guilt, when the afternoon bus driver who was driving our students, admitted to me that she had voted for Trump; and that she, like me, also wanted to have hope that change was good.  

When I got home, at the end of this very long day, the first thing I did was hug my husband. And after some comfort food and some conversation, he finally shared with me his secret of how he is so accepting: “What you have to remember, is that you don’t have to do something memorable and fix the world. You just have to be decent.”

Of course, I cried, again. Because, what would a full range of emotions be without a few happy tears at the end caused by a full heart?

I feel grateful for knowing how today felt, and for knowing that I’m not alone in this. We'll get through this together. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

appreciate the fact you feel things at all.

How freeing it's been; this latest epiphany. I'm still here in the background writing and living, if you weren't sure if I evaporated into thin air with all the other bits of internet dialogue. I'm here to tell you, yes, you can do both simultaneously: live a rich and inspiring life, and find the time to write about it. Go ahead, feel that sense of fulfillment! Appreciate the fact that you feel things at all.

As a writer who eventually wants their writing to be read, maybe I should feel more of an obligation to stay connected. However, I'm pretty darn adamant in my belief when I say, it just isn't natural to have every minute of your day broadcasted, shared, and commented on. Since when did every-day Joe and Mary wake and say, "I need more public relations in my life." I won't bore you with my own theories of detachment and lack of empathy, the detriments occurring in real relationships and interactions, or what is really happening to the wiring of our brains... **Just read Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows

What I really want to know is: Does getting a daily ego-boost from an "audience" really give anyone the affirmations they seek? Does having a social media platform actually motivate, encourage, or enhance one's work, creative energy, or intellect? And what does it really do to one's confidence?

Today, I reached a small goal in my personal and creative life. (Yes, I can still say there is no division between the two, and I hope to maintain my autonomy from that corrosive mindset that an artist must love their art first and foremost, and of course sacrifice everything else and sell their souls.) I say this is a small goal, not to minimize it, but because I recognize it as another step in the direction I envisioned for myself, years ago. I also wouldn't call this goal monumental, by any stretch, for it is something I have accomplished many times over. What I can tell you is different about this goal is that it comes with its own sense of accomplishment.

I don't typically share what I do to make money day in and day out, over the internet. As some of you have already put together, I don't pay my bills by being a blogger, or a published short story writer. The truth is, like so many other dedicated writers, I have yet to actually get paid for any of my fiction. Sure, I've written little bits here and there for local papers that were happy to cut me a few bucks per inch, but that's not where I'm going with this, when we have more interesting things to cover.

So, here's the thing, what I do every day is work with kids who have really been dealt some of life's toughest cards. Needless to say, this isn't just some job for me where I punch the clock. These are kids that have seen horrors and hardships that most of us could never imagine enduring, let alone surviving. They are also some of the most beautiful human beings I have ever met. They trust without question, love without judgment, and are capable of the purest kind of joy. (If we could ever be so lucky, right?)

While there are definitely moments of great introspection and wonderful successes I get to be part of, there are more days when the work I do feels thankless and overwhelming with its challenges. And those are the days when I get home and all I want to do is turn off. Those are the days I can't even clear my tired head enough to put together a meal, or have a coherent conversation with my partner. Those are the days I can't even imagine sitting down at a computer and trying to make sense of this crazy world we live in, let alone be creative in my vision.

But I do. I make that meal, I talk to my partner, I sit down at the computer, I write. I'm not saying it is easy, or that there aren't days where I just want to give something up to catch a break. And I certainly get frustrated and angry, and sometimes start crying when I feel like I have nothing left to give. But after that good cry, I come around, and with the support of my partner I am able to redirect my focus to what I do have and what I can say about the world we live in, and get away from that sinking hole of what I don't have, right now. I am then able to see that just because I might not be exactly where I thought I would be at this point in my life, it doesn't mean I will never get there.

It takes steps. It's a process. Whatever you want to call it. So, I work toward finding that balance. I set small goals that are reachable. I celebrate every day successes. I thank people who help me along the way. I stay open to the possibility of change.

It seems simple, but I can tell you it is not. There was even a time in my life where I actually thought I had to live selfishly to take myself seriously as an artist. This, I assure you, is an absurd fallacy. A self-absorbed lifestyle is one of emptiness and loneliness, and lacks the true grit of life that ultimately inspires.

Now you're probably wondering what was this goal that got me on this long-winded backstory and lament. Well, if its okay with you, I'm going to now go quietly and celebrate the way I do. In real time.

But first, I will leave you this note:

"Recognizing the poetic possibilities of this temporary affliction, I attempted to rein something in, treading my internal haze in search of elemental creatures, or the hare of a wild religion." 
                                                                       Love, Patti Smith

Monday, July 18, 2016

I wake to the sound of chaos: a flock of birds in conflict over the bitter taste of wild grapes. Yesterday, I was ecstatic to discover the fruit growing rampant along the riverbank behind our house. Today, I realize my partner was right—it will take a lot of dirty, back-bending work to tame this undomesticated vine and turn it into something palatable. And yet, this doesn’t seem to discourage either of us from the prospect of trying.

I’ve stopped apologizing for who I am not, and it feels good. I no longer wish for things to be any different than they are. Even when there are challenges, the burden doesn’t feel so heavy, knowing I have the support to tackle most any undertaking I choose.

My desire to be a writer hasn’t waned, either. If anything, it has been magnified. I work, and try to live out my dreams every day, while attempting to be a decent human being. And that should be enough…. But what I can’t do anymore, is partake in that comparative, over-analysis of what others are doing with their livelihoods. I applaud anyone who has made a go at the artistic life. I know it isn’t a walk in the park and yet you forge ahead, each day, knowing that it isn’t some easy, formulaic thing—but a gut-wrenching, ego-smashing pursuit that tests your patience and your soul.  That is, in itself, a beautiful thing.

I just want something more out of life than to be labeled. And I think feeling loved and loving myself for who I am, is a start in the right direction. I am learning to embrace all that I can do and all that I strive to do, allowing this worthwhile life to present itself in all its forms. A grandiose idea, sure, but it is one of the few things I actually have control over—welcoming life to the table, and enjoying the company while it lasts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

surrealism as free-association.

Much of my writing, particularly my short stories, tend to be surrealist in nature. While some writers gravitate toward more realistic or fantastical themes and concepts, I ended up somewhere in the middle stylistically. This was a natural progression in the creative process for me, and I have some thoughts about how and why this happened that I would like to share. But first: what is Surrealism, really?

Early-surrealists wanted to start a movement and revolution. In France, in the 1920’s, artists and literate luminaries adopted a philosophical manifesto that opened up a world of possibility when it came to creative expression. Surrealism transformed the way people thought about art. Art was no longer just about aesthetics and making something beautiful, but it was seen as something that could be powerful, filled with emotion, meaning, and many layers of belief.. 

Surrealists understood that there was a liminal space between reality and fantasy, where they could fully speak their minds and remain untouchable to persecution. They wanted to break away from conventional ideologies and normal-thinking, by drawing inspiration from within this space—a place of no specific perimeters, expectations, or exactitude. In turn, artists discovered a new kind of creative freedom, which gave them license to explore the many realms of the psyche, without needing hard proof, or relying heavily on imaginary constructions.

Unlike the early-surrealists, however, my writing didn’t evolve the way it did, because I wanted to make any progressive waves or grand statements. If anything, my writing developed the way it did, because I felt limited in my ability to write in a strictly confessional or realistic way. I also found it rather difficult to inject my ideas with elements of fantasy, because of the artificial mood and feeling it produced. 

I have always been insecure about being perceived as strange or unusual, especially when it comes to expressing certain beliefs and perspectives. Yet, I have this need inside me to capture and share my thoughts, in order to make sense of the world. I don’t know how other writers/artists connect their perspective of the world to their work, but for me it is a constant relationship—a matter of seeing.          

Every moment I catch myself in awe or conflict throughout the day, I know that this growing awareness will find its way into my art in various forms. In turn, every time I focus in on an aspect or detail, I can be sure that this is shaping and sharpening my overall vision. And for every feeling and belief that rises spontaneously and uncontrollably within me, I have no doubts they lie at the root of all my inspiration.

 My world is not made up of simple black and white reasoning, and edges that divide. My world is like the nature of the trees, becoming one silhouette in the fleeting light. It is continuous like time and energy, while I know I am here, only temporarily. And it is looking at the ethereal outline of distant mountains, and knowing they will manifest the closer I get—like God, pulling at every part of my soul.
I know this about myself, and I know this about my writing. And I guess I’m finally learning to accept that what works for others, doesn’t necessarily work for me. That it is okay to see things differently, and to connect to the world in your own way, whether that is critically, romantically, or freely. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

what she says...

I write in Vermont, and live with enhanced and sometimes, distorted perceptions. I’ve earned a degree and been published, but mostly I just care about connecting with other human beings through various forms of expression. Breathing is essential, and curiosity is my second-nature. And you’re probably better off looking elsewhere for answers.

I spent many years and lots of money on education, now I’m a writer who moonlights as a lower-middle class employee. Sometimes, I do other things like laundry, watercolor painting, photography and walking outdoors. People mostly fascinate me, but I don’t always like them.

I am a writer who occasionally impersonates someone who writes mediocre poetry. I believe in God, most of the time. I would like to think I’m a better person than I am an artist, because I would prefer it that way.

I don’t have this writing thing quite figured out, yet. And I’m really terrible about writing about myself in the third-person.

I dream in two-parts, and usually in the second part I’m stuck in a place I can’t get out of.

What would you like to believe about me?

Its way past noon and I’m still wearing my bathrobe, trying to sound like a progressive and productive artist……

So, these were my attempts at writing a bio today. Every so often, I entertain the thought of updating the profile I send out with my literary submissions, thinking it is a good idea. Though, realistically, half the time good ideas occur to me, I end up with a half a page of nonsense.

I’ve always found it awkward writing my own bio. Sometimes, there are days where I just don’t have it in me and I’ll send submissions along “bio-less” with only my contact information included, as though it was one of the guidelines I overlooked. Maybe I am shooting myself in the foot writing this, but asking anyone to describe themselves in the third-person is terribly uncomfortable for people who don’t have giant egos.

Trying to make yourself sound unique or avant-garde or intelligent (or should I say, intelligible?), in a way that doesn’t seem like you’ve worked too hard at it or that you care what people think, is plainly, absurd behavior. It’s like some weird kind of self-preservation for those anticipating criticism. And how much effort do you think novice writers put into those quippy or irreverent lines, hoping to catch someone’s eye? Example, Joe Schmo was a fellow of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he also likes cheese.

How about the writer’s profile that’s much more intriguing than their writing is? Which doesn’t surprise me all that much, because it affirms my belief that we are a society that encourages and rewards people for selling themselves to get ahead. Talent or skill? Who needs any of that if you can talk the talk...or, shall I say, write a damn, good profile. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

saying 'goodbye' to 2015

In just a few short days, it will be 2016 and this makes me a little sad.

For 32 years, I was one to look forward. There were parties and intimate moments to ring in the New Year, there were reasons to say ‘goodbye” and times where it was nice to hold someone’s hand. And it was never really about the passing of time on a calendar, but it was about having an optimistic outlook, starting another year on a fresh foot, and setting goals that would bring out the best, possible version of yourself. It was as though by honoring the New Year’s tradition a “free pass” was granted for all the shortcomings, mistakes, and things given up on too easily. “Look forward and try to not make the same mistakes again,” was the message. All in good faith and tidings, I’m sure.

Charleston, SC 2014
However, over the last couple years I have noticed something very different about my attitude in regards to celebrations. As time has gone on, life has becomes richer and fuller to me, and it no longer feels that I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes (a series of starts and stops, turning around and going the other way), but that the narrative is in fact, seamless and interconnected and filled with purpose. My experiences are not separate incidences from my mistakes, my beliefs are not separate from my fears, and what I can offer others is not separate from any other part of me. This lesson has had such a profound impact on me, I can’t remember any other time in my life where I’ve felt so immersed in the present. 

Too many years I wanted something else for myself and in turn felt a lot of pressure in not being quite good enough. Even the years that by all accounts were successful, to me it always felt as though I could’ve done better. Not that we shouldn’t always be striving to be better people all around, what I think people do forget sometimes is to take the time to slow down and appreciate what we do have.

When I look around me, I see a home filled with love. I see a place brought to life by people who wanted to create something special. Where I am now, is a place I couldn’t have dreamed or imagined, even just a year ago. And every day, I say to myself, how could this possibly get better? If anything, I worry that someday I might lose this, and should that happen I don’t want to ever think that it was never enough—that there was a time I couldn’t wait for these years to pass… No, I will savor this year, like I hope to each and every following year. I will resume cherishing these days, until my cup runneth over.

our first garden, 2015
Reid State Park, ME christmas day stroll
photo credit: Dave Cleaveland

Tuesday, December 29, 2015



Recently, while working with a student, I rediscovered the cathartic pleasure of collage. As a kid, I used to love cutting up old magazines and arranging people, places, and things into a narrative of my own making. Unfortunately, somewhere in adolescence I grew out of this medium, because it seemed childish and a waste of time. But sitting in on a student's art workshop just last week, brought back so many fond memories--of many quiet hours being in my own head, breathing life into some of my dreams and the complexities of the imagination. It was inspiring enough to want to make time for forgotten pastimes. So, I dug out some vintage postcards I've collected over the years and finally found a use for them. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

If you Google the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The first query entry that comes up is an Albert Camus quote: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” 

Thanks, Google! I get it. 

Initially, I googled this question for a laugh in spite of my growing cynicism about what is happening in the world these days. Maybe, I was just looking for a dose of fortune cookie wisdom to elevate my spirits, which have been steadily deflating over the last month or so. Trying to stay focused on the positive, is all well and good, but at what point do you begin to question all ideology and life principles?

Having a “spiritual crisis” some call it, but I would say it’s more like relearning the map you were given as a child. In times like these, I can only wish to return to that unadulterated place, where my heart and gut were my best guides.

You see, a healthy child comes into the world trusting with a pure heart and curiosity, learns through experience and exposure, how to navigate and cope with life. Neurologically they develop a built-in system to respond with their natural instincts. The child, if fortunate enough not to experience any trauma during their early development years, possesses an untainted sense of themselves in the world and hopefully the confidence that they have nothing to worry about—that they are safe and all their needs will be met.

As that child grows older, they learn what we as adults refer to as, “reality”, which is really a matter of perspective, as no one’s reality is the same. Some people can relate to one another for having similar experiences, but what they choose to take away and believe in is unique to the individual. Reality is the meaning one assigns to experiences as a maturing individual and the rationalizations they use to justify the decisions they make.

Life is riddled with dilemmas and challenges. But where there are quandaries, there are also lessons. And if you aren’t asking questions every time you reach an impasse, then have you really been learning anything at all?

I’m not one to assume I have it figured out. Though, in recent weeks, my beliefs have certainly been tested, and I’ve felt a whole series of mixed emotions. What I thought might be true, has since been replaced with a giant question mark. And I wonder, where do I look for answers, now? With medical professionals? (But what if I don’t trust they have my best interest in mind?) With God? (But what if I’m unsure if I believe?) With family and friends? (But what if this is a burden I do not wish upon anyone?)

There will also, always be things beyond my understanding and a simple explanation. No matter how much I educate myself, record my findings, share my feelings, and throw myself into life, there will still be unanswered questions I must learn to live with. 

I want to have the faith and fortitude that these converging life experiences will eventually come into a clearer focus and reveal their purpose, in due time. Because when I really dig into it,  it’s just too damn, scary and sad to think there is nothing more to life than biology. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

being thankful

A couple weeks ago, I experienced a series of health scares that had me spending more time than I would’ve liked at the hospital and in doctors’ offices. Not only were these experiences alone, very troubling, I for years have had a phobia of seeking medical attention. Quite frankly, I have a difficult time trusting medical professionals (for a laundry list of reasons).

Anyway, the long and short of this little anecdote is that after a bunch of neurological tests, I was simply told that they don’t know why my body has been acting the way it has and they would like to continue to monitor my brain’s behavior in the future. Basically, they told me, “Who the hell knows what’s going on in there.”   

On lighter occasions, I probably would’ve agreed with them, but in this particular situation I wanted answers. I also wanted solutions. Instead, I left the hospital after an emergency MRI disheartened, annoyed, and feeling a little sorry for myself. That was until I came home and saw the news.

See, at the time, when I was stuck in that claustrophobic, little tube listening to Chopin blasting intermittently between the awful, knocking sounds of the machine (it sounds like you are in a coffin and someone is forcefully hammering each nail in), there were people dying in Paris (and yes, other parts of the world). Of course, I wasn’t aware of this in the moment, but when I got home and heard the news, I immediately felt this terrible sadness come over me and my focus shifted—it was no longer about me, my pain was redirected, not just toward the victims of these heinous acts, but for humanity as a whole, my heart was breaking.

In the past, I’ve been hesitant to jump on any propaganda regarding what is happening in the world, since just thinking about the situations of others, is enough to make my head spin. It’s overwhelming to think about all the tragedy and pain others are suffering (even in our back yards) and to feel utter hopelessness. And that by having association to the “Western World”, as a middle-class, Caucasian, I am ashamed to be grouped in as an entitled American who turns “causes” into hashtags and Facebook feeds, while sitting safely and comfortably in my home, saying how terrible it is that there are people who have it worse off than we do, and that something really needs to change.

 I’ve had these questions: How do you become the change you want to see? What do you really have control over? (If personal choices, to an extent.) How can you promote peace in your community? How can you make loving your “brothers” and “sisters” from all backgrounds and walks of life, a contagious mentality? How do you foster healthy and communal relationships with your friends and family, your neighbors and acquaintances? How do you learn to trust, instead of live in fear? How do you learn to help, instead of fight? How do you learn to share and inspire, instead of take and consume?

The holiday called Thanksgiving has its own troubling history. Early-European settlers came to America and slaughtered an estimated 80-90% of the indigenous population who lived here. But when the seasons turned brutal and the settlers were having trouble getting by, it was an indigenous population who lent hands as teachers and guides, supposedly sharing survival secrets and a table with the settlers. And what did those colonizers share with the natives? Guns and disease.

When I learned the sanitized version of this story in grade school, I wanted to believe that “pilgrims” broke bread with “Indians” in the name of peace. Later, when I learned about my own native heritage, and the reality of the massacres and genocide that occurred (and still occur all over the world, today) in the name of religion, I felt this despondency toward humankind. And sadly, my view of the world became increasingly more cynical as I got older and learned more about the ways of the world.

So, why all this long-winded rant? I know, a lot of build-up to the bottom line.

I’ve decided this year, I’m going to make another small change in what I choose to believe and what I choose to practice.  Usually, I see Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on what I am thankful for, which is typically a self-serving meditation. However, this year I would like to instead thank the people in my life who have taught me something about being a better person. I would like to acknowledge those people, because they have influenced me in some shape or form, by doing something that mattered. And because I want to believe if we as a culture, a society, a world, spent more time acknowledging others and telling them they matter, and less time acquiring what we  think we “deserve”, more of the “for the better good” attitude would be inspired all around.

So, here’s a challenge for you, my reader. Take the time this week to acknowledge others. Whether it is by sending out a bunch of ‘thank you’ cards and emails, or by simply telling someone ‘thank you’. Tell them specifically why you want to thank them, or just say, “Thank you, for being you.” Show these people they matter to you. And if you are really feeling good, tell a perfect stranger they matter. 

Let’s see what happens!
by jef aerosol,