Category Archives: Essays

Thank You Very Much, But I’ve Had Enough Fear

I have recently been thinking a good bit about fear. When teaching Public Speaking to college students, my goal is to help them overcome their fear of speaking in front of people, their fear of judgment, of making mistakes. And over the last few weeks and months, we have all been facing and processing pandemic fear—infection fear, election fear, fear of losing our freedoms, fear of returning to school, fear of those who don’t wear masks, fear, fear, fear.

I have to say, I’ve had about enough of fear.

In 2017, Mary D. Moller, (Ph.D., DNP, ARNP, PMHCNS-BC, CPRP, FAAN), spoke at a session during the Neuroscience Education Institute (NEI) Congress. She discussed the physiology of fear and its long-term effects on human well-being. I recently read a summary of her presentation, and I learned what extended periods of fear can do to us.

There are three predictable stages the body uses to respond to stressors, called the general adaption syndrome. The first is, obviously, alarm. The first reaction to stress recognizes there’s a danger and prepares to deal with the threat. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system and autonomic nervous system are activated. Primary stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and nonadrenaline are released. This is the “fight or flight” response. I felt that in March when Governor Jim Justice shut the state down. I remember where I was, who I was with when I watched his quarantine press conference. Do you?

The second body reaction to fear is resistance. Homeostasis begins restoring balance in the body, and a period of recovery for repair and renewal takes place. Stress hormones (that fight or flight response) may return to normal–but there may be reduced defenses and adaptive energy left. We feel tired, less inspired, and our immune system is weak. I went through that too. All that quarantine project energy I had in March and April? The manic energy of May? Yeah, well, all that petered out about halfway through June. In July, I became a slug, sloughing through my days, binge-watching Netflix, and avoiding the heat. And now here we are in August.

The third stage of processing continual fear is exhaustion. At this phase, the stress has continued for some time. The body’s ability to resist is lost because its adaption energy supply is gone. This is often referred to as overload, burnout, adrenal fatigue, maladaptation, or dysfunction. I don’t think I’m in the third stage yet. Yes, I’m tired. Tired of masks, hand sanitizer, my due diligence to others’ recklessness. I’m tired of politics, tired of press conferences, tired of video meetings, tired of talking about it. I think of Madeline Kahn in the movie Blazing Saddles singing, “Tired, tired of playing the game, Ain’t it a crying shame, I’m so tired.” I’m tired of it all, but I’m not yet exhausted.

So, Dr. Moller, with her numerous degrees, also tells of the physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms of long-term fear. And you know, it isn’t good. The potential effects of chronic fear on overall health include immune system dysfunction, endocrine system dysfunction, autonomic nervous system alterations, sleep/wake cycle disruption, and eating disorders. I am sleeping well, but I’ve gotten quite tired of cooking. I had a boil (infected hair follicle) during July’s dog days, the first I have had since childhood. It was as unpleasant as I remember.

The potential effects of chronic fear on emotional health include dissociation from the self, inability to have loving feelings, learned helplessness, phobic anxiety, mood swings, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts, continued fear of leaving home because of paranoia. The potential consequences of chronic fear on spiritual health include bitterness or fear toward God or others, confusion or disgust with your higher power or religion, loss of trust in your higher power and/or clergy, inactivity or lack of responsibility while waiting for a higher power to fix the issues, despair related to a perceived loss of spirituality. Without making this into a sermon, I must say that I still have faith. I have always believed in some higher plan, though I may not understand it or like it. Plus, I’m more likely to place blame for most messes in this world to human error, narcissism, or greed.

I have a t-shirt in my closet that is now too small for me to wear, but I cannot part with it. On the front, it says, “fear less, hope more.” I’m trying to make that my mantra. I want to get past my defeatist prayers of “thy will be done,” and get to the point where I’m making plans and decisions – not based on fear but based on hope. I hope this virus ends. I hope for economic stability. I hope for a smooth election, a safe school year, more tomatoes, Christmas travel. I hope I don’t have to take the vaccine, I hope our country survives the election. I hope all of this passes. I hope.

I know that sounds cheesy, even as I write it. I’m a cynic at heart, with an inherent distrust of authority, traditional medicine, and government. I have faith in some people, but little faith in mankind. I see no reason to believe a higher power would favor us over the animals of the land and sea, or the flora and fauna we trample on. Even so, I cling to hope. I have had enough of fear this year.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not an anarchist or radical. I have every intention to remain vigilant and cautious. I have masks of all kinds and colors, and several face shields. I’ve got multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in my car, purse, home, and workplace and I use them. I will work, I will vote, I will live. Caution and diligence are not fear, and if there’s anything I am tired of–truly tired of–is fear.

Hope with me. Don’t lose your faith. I know you are scared of the classrooms, the virus, and the decisions our leaders are making. I know you fear being infected, quarantined, hungry, homeless. I don’t mean to dismiss any of that. But I try to remind myself, “this, too, shall pass away.”* Nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. The current situation will not last forever. “Fear not,” is in the Bible 365 times, and now that I know that long-term fear can do, I can understand why. The Renaissance followed the Black Plaque, and the Roaring Twenties followed WWII and the Spanish Flu. So we can hope that brighter times are coming.

*   *   *

       *From a speech by Abraham Lincoln: “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.”

If you would like information on Normantown Historical Community Center, visit nhccwv.com or facebook.com/groups/Blair58. If you have any submissions for 25267 news, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com. You can subscribe to my email newsletter at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

Dog Days 2020

Oh, this heat. The Dog Days are upon us, the most oppressive period of summer, between July 3rd and August 11th. Why are these days called “Dog Days?” The Farmer’s Almanac tells us it is because, during this time, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, and this is why Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star. (It is also the likely reason why Sirius Black of the Harry Potter books can turn into a dog named Padfoot.)

Canis Major as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set
of constellation cards published in London c.1825.
The bright star, Siris, marks the dog’s nose.

I discovered during this heat how much ducks need water—and of course, after one being bitten by a turtle, my ducks just flat refused to enter the lake out back. After refilling a kiddie pool twice a day for a week or more, I decided to find the ducks a new home. Of course, I still have my four young hens, who are nowhere near as messy or demanding. This heat is also hard on the garden. We have taken to watering at night with soaker hoses to keep the tomato plants from dying. I forgot about a lovely hanging basket on my front porch, and by the time I remembered to water the basket, it was far too late.

I worked from home for ten years. Maintaining ducks, flowers, chickens, and the garden was much easier when I could address their needs as they arose. But animals and plants do not care if you have to go to work all day. When plants need water, they need water. When fences need mending, delay can cost you the whole garden. And when animals have a crisis or problem, a lack of immediate attention can cause injury or lost lives.

I think about the farms and gardens when West Virginia’s “outmigration” began in the 1950s when fathers, brothers, sons, families began leaving the state to find work elsewhere. “Outmigration” means leaving a region or community, to move or settle into a different place than one’s home territory. Outmigration is a significant problem in West Virginia. What started in the 1950s has continued since.

A statistical brief from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center said more than half the Mountain State’s overall loss from outmigration during a 50-year period (1950-2000), occurred from 1950-1960. When the major 1950s outmigration started, over 40% of the nation’s produce was grown and harvested from family gardens and farms, and I imagine the percentage was higher in West Virginia. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat at the store was almost always sourced from a location less than 50 miles away.

Imagine the West Virginia farms and homestead in 1950 — especially after President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged every American to fight food shortages of World War II with a home garden. In 1943, twenty million “Victory Gardens” existed in the United States. But then the war ended, the demand for coal bottomed out, and the outmigration of people essentially drained a whole generation from West Virginia. Victory Gardens were neglected or abandoned, and workers here were forced out of the state to make a living. Gardens, hayfields, and meadows and hills were left in the care of those who stayed behind – or were simply left untended.

Singer Steve Earle wrote a song titled “Hillbilly Highway,” recorded on his 1986 album Guitar Town. The Hillbilly Highway refers to the emigration of Appalachians to industrial cities, primarily in the years following World War II. While most often used in this metaphoric sense, the term is sometimes used to refer to specific stretches of roadway.

Why? Because, during long weekends, holidays, and lay-offs, workers who left along the Hillbilly Highways returned home. More than any other migrant industrial workers in America, Appalachians traveled home. During layoffs in Flint, Michigan, as many as 35% of the Appalachians left for the hills. I often think they came to help put up hay, harvest the garden, and mend fences — literally and metaphorically. They returned to the homestead, but many came home to unkempt and unchecked environments.

Since then, family gardens in Appalachia have declined, at first in tandem with the levels of outmigration, and then (as land and knowledge were passed less often to the next generation) nearly disappeared. While industrialization and commercialism made our lives busier and “easier,” Americans handed nearly all our food production concerns to a few massive corporations. Who has time to grow and weed a garden? Who has time to water ducks when the ducks are less than 50 feet from a lake?

This heat reminds me: we don’t control nature. Nature controls us. If you have a garden, you must constantly respond to the garden’s demands. If you have livestock or pets, you must diligently provide for their health and safety. I know what a neglected garden can look like after being abandoned for three weeks. Imagine the Appalachian migrants who left these hills for months or years and what they found when they returned home. How much changed in their absence? How much was lost?

Happy Dog Days. While you are staying safer at home for COVID, remember to stay safe in this heat. Avoid strenuous activities and take frequent breaks. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing, and avoid direct sun. Drink plenty of hydrating fluids–alcohol, coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks can hurt more than help. And of course, NEVER leave people or pets in a closed car. Come mid-August, it is likely we will experience fewer days at peak heat and humidity and Dog Days will be behind us. We can only hope it’s the same for the virus.

Normantown News: Why Did it Have to Be Germs?

Just as I was getting used to quarantine, the push to end it comes barreling along. At my age, I’m a proponent of the “better safe than sorry” perspective, but I also know we can’t stay home forever. Our economy cannot bear it. I watch the numbers of those infected, of those who have died, but I also watch the state’s revenue numbers, the numbers of people applying for unemployment, “forgivable loans,” and other assistance.

When a human being experiences a traumatic event, that person is permanently changed. We may wish to return to normal, to the being we once were, but we have been altered by the event and there is no reclaiming our former self, no un-doing of the changes made to us. Just as it is so with human beings, I believe it is so for human cultures.

During quarantine, I have heard and myself have expressed, a desire to “return to normal.” But in a world contaminated by a virus that is 1000x more contagious than others we have dealt with, zero percent human immunity to it, at least 15% error in the testing data, and no sign of a vaccine in sight, I believe our society has been permanently changed. There is no “back to normal” after this socially traumatic event. Even when the vaccine comes (and it will, though predicted to take up to two years), telecommuting, telehealth, remote work, video conferencing, and an entire generation of children who have been trained to social distance will continue to exist and propagate. I have read articles that note that the ingrained social handshake of greeting will become as frowned upon as smoking.

My father was a Navy Medic who served with the Marines in the Korean War. As a result, personal hygiene and cleanliness (and thus sterility) were important to him all his life. He showered twice a day, every day, and washed his hands more than any man I have known. He had hand cleansers, degreasers, and soaps, and little scrubby brushes that cleaned in the creases and beneath his fingernails. My father was not above getting his hands dirty, but they certainly never stayed so for long. I was raised knowing the proper way to wash my hands–twenty seconds at least and including the thumbs, which are most often overlooked.

During 9-11, I often wondered what Daddy (who left us the year before) would have thought of the events. I longed for his advice, input, commentary for comfort. During COVID, I know how freaked out my father would be. I think of Indiana Jones when he realized the floor of the tomb was covered in snakes. I can hear Daddy saying, “Germs, why did it have to be germs?” (“Germs” being a catch-all term that covers bacteria, viruses, etc.) I imagine he would have had us all on lock-down, with military attention to all methods of sterilization and safety. I know what Daddy would say. Wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance, clean everything constantly, stay home. I have no doubt Daddy would be wearing masks and gloves. I can even imagine him in a homemade protective bodysuit of some sort just for a run to the grocery store.

As a library director, it falls to me to develop a plan to re-open the library with the virus still out in the world. Along with my board, I am suddenly responsible for ensuring that our employees and patrons are protected from an invisible enemy of which none of us are immune. I can honestly say, this is the heaviest burden ever placed on me when serving in a leadership position. I cannot insist that our employees wear masks to return to work, but they have all expressed willingness to do so, and the library has purchased n95 masks for all of them, and a cloth mask to wear when washing the other. We have also purchased disposable gloves and masks and will be asking patrons to wear them while interacting inside the library. This is my father manifesting in me. This is me, following my father’s advice.

This morning, I almost cried when I read that two governors re-opening with “mandatory masks” in their guidelines were withdrawing their mandates for masks due to rioting and the concept of violating personal rights. As a librarian and a child of a war veteran, I carry a respect for personal rights that ranks even higher than my personal respect for safety. Like everyone else, I have “thrown caution to the wind” a time or two (likely too many) in my life. But I have been suddenly saddled with the burden of protection. Protection for myself, my employees, their families, our patrons, their families. To my count, that includes about 2,000 people—many of whom will not want to wear a mask to execute their right to library access.

This is not a time to throw caution to the wind. Trust me. I’m a librarian. I’ve done the research. We will not be “returning to normal” any time soon, and masks quadruple protection if BOTH parties interacting (not just one) wear one. If you are not wearing a mask, bandana, or scarf in public, you should be. As West Virginia re-opens, please respect those who ask you to wear protective gear in their establishment. Of course, you have a right to go without one, but don’t the rest of us have the right to feel safe?

From Normantown Historical Community Foundation president Blair Wright:

NHCC will be giving EMERGENCY FOOD BOXES on May 8th, 2020. All workers will be selected volunteers and volunteer firemen. Don’t come before the scheduled time, and if you are not from West Virginia, do not come at all. All special health regulations apply–no loitering, visiting, etc.. You must remain in your vehicle; do not get out of your car until you are told to do so.

ALL VEHICLES MUST LINE UP ON THE WEST (STUMPTOWN) SIDE OF RT. 119. If you are traveling West towards Stumptown, after you pass NHCC, turn around in a safe and legal location, and join the client line from that side. Traffic flow must be maintained as much as possible.  Have your vehicle’s trunk clear or your truck bed reasonably empty. Food dispensing will begin at noon or as near as possible to that time. Questions? Call 304-884-6962.

A special thanks to Calhoun Banks and to Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for contributions to purchase food and to fund operations of the NHCC Food Pantry. The pantry averages nearly 100 families each month. NHCC was recently awarded a $2000 grant to assist with the operation of its pantry by Kroger Company. These donations are greatly appreciated.

Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation or mailed to NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for October 17th, 2020.

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share or any personal messages you want to be posted in local media, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

Normantown/Stumptown News: December Week 3

When I first moved to this area twenty-plus years ago, I did not give the Little Kanawha River the respect it deserves. I grew up in Marietta, Ohio where the Muskingum River flows into the Ohio River—where barges, paddle-wheels, houseboats, speed boats, canoes, and blow-up rafts can all share the waters. I looked at the Little Kanawha when I moved here in August and saw that I could walk across it without getting my knees wet.

“Pfft,” I said. “That’s not a river.”

“Big” rivers, like the Muskingum and Ohio are impressive in many ways, but they are predictable. They rise and fall slowly, and by calculating rain amounts and river levels upstream, one can easily determine how high the water will get and when. The Ohio River will never “sneak up” on you. My father had a business on the main street near the Muskingum, and I remember having an entire day to lift and move valuables, “just in case,” only to watch the slowly rising water crest just below the top stair at the front door. I was almost disappointed. We spent the evening putting everything back where it belonged.

When I heard the tales of the flood of ‘85 (and again in ‘86 here in Stumptown), I imagined those floods were flukes, freak occurrences that happen once in a blue moon. I have since learned that like blue moons, floods are more common than I thought.

When Frank and I moved to the farm and he told me how high the floodwaters could get on the property, I was still skeptical. I simply could not imagine the creek below the road ever reaching my house. And then the floodwaters came, and I found myself wading up the driveway, watching a hay bale float by.

The Little Kanawha River and area creeks and streams can easily be underestimated. They are sneaky creatures that can rise overnight, become powerful, and spread with a speed that quickly catches you off guard. And run-off water? You never think about how water flows across fairly flat land, how it can create new stream paths and puddles that grow into ponds.

My memories of flooding along the Ohio are timed in the spring. Those were the days when feet of snow fell in winter, and spring melt with spring rain spelled bad news. But my memories of flooding here all seem to be when it’s cold and gray and not the best time to be wet. I often wonder if it’s because winter brings more rain now it seems, and is more a season of mud than snow. My insulated mud boots are now some of my most valued possessions.

This time of year, especially when precipitation seems to last for days, I find myself tuned in to the fork of Steer Creek that flows along Rosedale Road. Even in the dark of night, I can tell by the moon’s reflection on the water’s surface if the creek is flowing high or low. I can estimate, by evaluating the water’s depth, the amount of rain that has fallen, and the amount of rain yet to come–if I need to get out the mud boots. I also know, when a large amount of rain falls in a short period of time if run-off waters might seep through our basement.

The 169-mile Little Kanawha River drains approximately 2,160 square miles of northern and central West Virginia. It is the largest watershed in the state, and in the mid-1800s, was also known as the “River of Evil Spirits” because of the number of people who died when canoes capsized in the river whirlpools. I think of that sometimes when the water’s up.

While it may seem odd to think of flooding during the winter season, a significant number of the record flood levels for the Little Kanawha were recorded November through January. The famed flood of 1985 occurred on November 5, and record-high waters were recorded in Decembers of 1944, ‘45, ‘48, ‘49, ‘56, ‘70, ‘71, ‘72, ‘73, ‘78, ‘79, ‘90, and ‘91. In fact, more historic floods have happened here between October and March than in the spring.

No matter what time of year, we have our lives prepared for high water. I no longer want carpet in the basement, and I work with area rugs that can be rolled up easily if (when) necessary. We have 4’x4’ planks of wood the width of certain appliances, and keep them handy in the basement closet for when rains pour more than an inch in a few hours and we need to lift things off the floor. If the rains keep coming, then we venture out to check on the creek below.

When rising, this fork of Steer Creek first crosses Rosedale Road at the end of our driveway, and we take note of the time and location of the water’s edge. We contemplate the factors and try to determine if the mailbox will disappear and we kick into high gear, or if the waters will crest before we reach that emergency mode. We watch the waters rise, and wait for the rains to cease. There’s a balance point in those moments that valley-dwellers recognize as the difference between another round of high waters and a serious situation.

Not much of a holiday message is it? Happy holidays and high water, ho ho ho? But wet weather like we’ve been having of late brings my watershed concerns to mind. Even so, colorful lights, Christmas carols, and smiling faces are enough to lift my spirits and I’m looking forward to visiting my family this season.

Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.

Normantown Historical Community Center served 92 families representing 216 people at the monthly food pantry in December.  Thanks to Mountaineer Food Bank for their contributions, and to the local volunteers who make it happen. Dues to join and support the organization are still $10.00, due in January. Donations can be made online at https://nhccwv.com.

Kudos to the folks helped their neighbor out of his burning home on Rosedale Road. You’re heroes in my book, and that just shows what kind of folks live here in our community.

If you have any 25267 news you would like me to share, send email to hayesminney@gmail.com, message me through facebook, or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132.

Making Up with my Muse

I wrote an essay this week! My first free-flowing, inspired, creative writing moment since I received my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing – two years, nine months, and three days ago. You have no idea what a relief it is to know that my muse has not permanently left me after all.

I do not blame my MFA experience on this extended dry spell, (a spell that lasted longer than my time in the program). The graduate environment I experienced was encouraging, empowering, enlightening. I read, heard, and met amazing writers who were doing fantastic work. The lessons I learned and tools I was given are invaluable to me.

But muses are finicky, you know. My muse is more organic than academic, and in my graduate goal to become a better writer, I think she somehow got the impression that she was no longer good enough. I thought my MFA would make me a “real” writer. My muse, after all, isn’t “real,” but she is a true part of my writing process.

My muse and I have been writing together all my life. She’s whimsical. She likes to do her own thing, without expectations. She likes to figure it out herself without structure or strings. She doesn’t think about writing rules or prescriptions or possibilities of getting published. She doesn’t care what others think. She just needs a fine-point pen and a college-ruled page.

But even these will not persuade her when she’s pouting.

I tried to appease her. New pens, new notebooks, new books on the craft of writing. Writing prompts. Writer’s Group. I read Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way (again), and when that didn’t work, I read Cameron’s The Right to Write.

I tried to write without my muse. Real writers write as a discipline you know, inspired or not. The results were clunky, forced, and without flow. Chunks of purposeless rambling without direction. Clearly, though I now have my Master’s, I am nothing without my muse.

I did all I could to conjure her. I tried to bribe her, entice her, force her to appear and produce, to maintain the production level I imposed on her during graduate school. All to no avail. I could not find her nor force her, so I let her be.

In her absence, I colored adult coloring books. I redecorated the spare bedroom, began scrapbooking. I started reading for enjoyment again, re-organizing my house, playing word puzzles on my phone. I got promoted at work and adjusted my life to spend more weekends with my aging mother.

I waited, with dwindling faith that my muse would return.

And then, on my long drive home from my mother’s last weekend, I heard her. My muse was sitting quietly in the back of my mind, drafting an essay about what my visits to Mother’s have become.

A disciplined writer might have pulled over to scratch down the words. The thought occurred to me, from fear I might miss the chance to catch them. But instead, I listened to her. I listened to her routine of tasks she tackles on her regular visits to Mother’s. I listened to her strain for honor and gratitude beneath the burdens of the increasing caregiving responsibilities.

When the muse fell silent, she left an unfinished essay in my head. But I knew, as I pulled into our driveway, that she would be back for it.

Four days later, I caught my muse running through the introduction of the essay again, and I sat down with a fine-point pen and a college-ruled pad. Within a few minutes, together we filled a full page.

I believe my muse has finally forgiven me. Forgiven me for comparing her to others, telling her she had to improve, for whispering shoulds and coulds in her ear. She and I are working together again, and she even used some of the new tools from the MFA toolbox. For her they are new toys, not tools. (And of course, there’s always revision.)

I don’t believe though, that all is completely well between us yet. That new essay we started on visits to Mother’s still isn’t finished. When we sat down to finish it, we wrote this essay instead.

I’m hoping she and I can move forward from here.

.

Mountains Piled Upon Mountains

I am so proud to have my work included in Mountains Piled Upon Mountains:  Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene.

Image from the corresponding article at 100daysinappalachia.com.

Available from West Virginia University PressMountains Piled upon Mountains features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Moving beyond the tradition of transcendental nature writing, much of the work collected here engages current issues facing the region and the planet (such as hydraulic fracturing, water contamination, mountaintop removal, and deforestation), and provides readers with insights on the human-nature relationship in an era of rapid environmental change.

This book includes a mix of new and recent creative work by established and emerging authors. The contributors write about experiences from northern Georgia to upstate New York, invite parallels between a watershed in West Virginia and one in North Carolina, and often emphasize connections between Appalachia and more distant locations. In the pages of Mountains Piled upon Mountains are celebration, mourning, confusion, loneliness, admiration, and other emotions and experiences rooted in place but transcending Appalachia’s boundaries.

The collection includes my essay, “Shaken Foundations.” An excerpt from this essay was included in the fall issue of “Mountain State Sierran,” the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Shaken Foundations” has also been used in college composition classes as an example of a fact-driven narrative.

You can read and hear more about Mountains Upon Mountains from WV Public Broadcasting, or from 100 Days in Appalachia.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here:

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility

I am so proud and pleased to have my work included in the recently released anthology: Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, from Cynren Press.

My essay, “Mental Pause,” discusses many of the issues that are included with the onset of menopause, and how this right of passage can affect a woman’s life.

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility brings together international poets and essayists, both award-winning and emergent, to answer these questions with raw, honest meditations that speak to women of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations. It is an anthology of unforgettable stories both humorous and frightening, inspirational and sensual, employing traditional poetry and prose alongside exciting experimental forms. Feminine Rising celebrates women’s differences while embracing the source of their sameness–the unique experience of womanhood.

Edited by Andrea Fekete & Lara Lillibridge, with a foreword by Amy Hudock, PhD, this collection includes voices of women from all over the world.

You can read Lara’s introduction here, Andrea’s here, and listen to contributor Rashida Murphyread her poem from the anthology here.

Get your copy below:

We Are Nature: July 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This appears in the July 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

I love the way thunder rolls across the sky, how it rumbles in our bones at the first boom, then ripples, grumbling past the eastern hillside and on across the horizon. When I was young, we would watch for the flashes of lightening, like watching for fireworks, and count as we were taught to determine the distance to the strike. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. But now, I am happy to listen to the rain and the thunder as the sky chastises the earth.

Today, a storm crossed overhead, with consistent rumbling for nearly half an hour. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon was erased. Rain fell steady, but not pounding, and ground drank it in. I spent as much time as I could on the back porch in the glider, as porches are made for storm-watching. You can experience the storm and be exposed to it, but remain dry and relatively safe.

After the storm passed, wisps of fog swirled up from the valley, moisture drawn up into the system, just to be dropped back down somewhere else. From the valley to the hilltop perhaps, to keep the cycle turning. Once the storm moved on, its grumble fading as it wandered across the atmosphere, the setting sun raised temperatures again, and new wisps rose and swirled. The orange light shone more than usual, heightened by the moist reflections of everything just washed clean.

There are no evenings to match a summer evening after an afternoon thunderstorm in the hills of Appalachia. I feel as though I am inside a terrarium, the moisture dripping down from a giant glass dome above. Sometimes, life here feels sealed inside a bubble, secluded from the rest of the world. Sometimes stifling hot and sweaty, sometimes baking, parched and dry, sometimes fresh and clean and sparkling.

As the skies cleared, and the water temperatures on the lake out back balanced, I watched the green duckweed expand again across the face of the water, no longer compressed by rippling waves, and a mother deer appeared on the bank of the island, and a fawn that had to be out for its very first walk it was so wobbly. With the rumbling over, bird song started again, and the chickens and the robins pecked in the saturated yard for earthworms and bugs. And in that moment, the fields around me and time itself seemed to expand, and the concerns of the world shrank to a pittance.

I felt relief. Relief from the heat of the day, relief from the stress of the week, relief in knowing there are still magical moments in this world–the way nature can make us feel small and immense at the same time, connected when we are or feel alone. Humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are hardwired to benefit from exposure to it. We get Vitamin D from the sun (statistically, the average American is Vitamin D deficient), and multiple studies show that 20 minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, depression and anxiety. We are not technical, mechanical creatures. We are (or were?) natural creatures. Writer Laurence G. Boldt says, “a society at odds with nature is a society at odds with itself.”

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I recently attended the WV Writer’s Inc. annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, a weekend of seminars, readings, and networking. One seminar I took was how to remain focused on your life as a creative existence. Deep down, I hoped there might be a magical pen or technical device that would keep me in creative mode, impervious to the restrictive mentalities we all encounter in our culture and societies today. Perhaps a creativity pill I could pop every morning. Of course, these things don’t exist.

During the seminar though, I was reminded of many things I already know, but do not regularly practice. Stretch upon waking. Meditate. Be grateful for the little things. Be positive. Be open. Don’t get on the computer first thing in the morning. Limit exposure to social media and digital devices. Turn off the TV. Take a walk. Breathe. Immerse yourself in nature.

After the recent summer storm passed, I contemplated why that moment was reassuring, comforting. How that moment “outside” of society, disconnected from man but connected to nature, could soothe my spirit so. And again I was reminded of something Boldt says in his book, Zen and the Art of Making a Living. He said, “Society can be interested in a man or woman only as a political or economic entity; a culture is interested in more… Cultures care for their peoples as natural, spiritual beings and not simply as workers or consumers.” In other words, humans are not just political, economic beings. We were meant for more than work and consumption. We are nature, spiritual, but we live in a society that neither acknowledges, values, nor endorses us as such.

Boldt says, “Our whole effort is to gain and hold, acquire and defend.” The American approach to life and living is a mindset typically used for warfare. We are focused on getting–striving, consuming, keeping, maintaining–status, power, reputation, cars, houses, etc.–no matter the cost to our own well-being or the natural world around us. Americans live with a mentality to conquer and defend. No wonder we’re so stressed.

I believe this is why time in nature is so soothing to the soul. Nature is the ultimate level playing field. Nature doesn’t care about status, reputation, shoes, or the latest cell phone app. Social media, television series, all our little rat race games and power struggles are irrelevant. Our narcissism, prejudices, irrational judgments, daytime dramas, are insignificant. And if anything, that’s a relief.

Boldt says, “We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, fully human–and remain indifferent to the world in which we live.” The costs of denial and suppression are devastating to human happiness and creativity. Boldt notes, until our society changes its consideration humans as nothing more than workers and consumers, “it will continue to take uncommon courage, strength, and perseverance for individuals to realize meaning in their every day experiences.”

When we stop and take a time out with nature around us, Boldt says, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing… the contemplation of beauty eliminates selfish desire.” In turn, “Ugliness depresses and diminishes life–sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.” Did you get that? Ugliness saps creativity and weakens our character. No wonder the beauty of the hills after a storm provided me with such relief. How lucky we are to live where the natural beauty around us can soothe our souls.

Are you grateful? Do you take time to just sit and experience the natural world around you? What things do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? Send me an email with your thoughts and suggestions at info@twolanelivin.com.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.