I have always dreamed of living a life similar to my favorite authors and artists. Like that of Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury Group, an intimate society of intellectuals, writers, artists who lived their lives together, forming deep friendships and above all, creating. Creating ideas, art, books, conversations.
I have always craved a life like Gertrude Stein’s, having a big house where artists from around the world gather to talk creations, to create, paint, love, write, laugh. Being a writer, an artist, it’s lonely work. Immersed within your own soul, facing the turmoils of your past, breathing in the moment and wondering about the future.
I no longer have to crave or dream. Moving out of California to Pennsylvania, building an artist sanctuary became possible. You would be surprised what can happen when you meet like-minded people, ones who are motivated, genuinely compassionate and true to who they are. Now I spend multiple days a week creating with intellectuals and creatives who I call my friends. I no longer need to try to be like Virginia or Gertrude, I just need to be me. It takes some vulnerability, some risk. It takes courage.
As Virginia Woolf said, “Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.”
Said in another way, masterpieces manifest from the sum of experiences, perspectives and feelings invoked by those you surround yourself with. So surround yourself wisely and a masterpiece might just arise.
My artist sanctuary with my artist friends
I frequent the local Goodwill store. The journey of the thrift hunt brings joy. And sometimes, another person’s junk becomes a small treasure. One of those small treasures landed in my hands, a book titled A Year of Positive Thinking. There is an excerpt for every day of the year.
Today’s reads: Nurture Relationships of Integrity
“You do not need to have the same interests or personalities as those you surround yourself with. What matters is that you connect from your heart and that you value the integrity of your connection equally. Sustain relationships that take you outside your comfort zone; they will support your growth. Foster these friendships and they will bring you more joy, love, and connection than you ever knew possible. Relationships built of integrity will carry you through both the best and the worst of times. Always create space for them.”
It wasn’t until I moved across the country, born and raised in the west coast and then packing up and moving to the east coast in 2020, that this concept of nurturing relationships of integrity really began to matter. I guess loneliness will do that. I am grateful for the new friendships that have been planted in my life and continue to grow. The people I choose to surround myself with on a weekly basis all inspire me to be the best version of myself. The people I choose to surround myself with, continue to teach me other perspectives, motivate me to be the artist that I am, and look to the future of what we are to become.
As you reflect on today’s positive thinking excerpt above, written by Cyndie Spiegel, ask yourself, who do you choose to surround yourself with? Why are you grateful for those relationships and what do they continue to teach you?
On a last note, never discount the joy of thrifting.
Have you ever imagined leaving your home? What is home? Is it a physical location? I always thought my home was in the Bay Area. Home is where we are born and raised, right?
It’s where I had my first kiss, in the driveway across the street from my house, behind our neighbor’s truck with a boy named Jesse. He had a bowl cut. It’s where I slammed pogs onto the concrete sidewalk while kids rode by on their BMX bikes hauling friends on their pegs. Home was mom and dad. Until it wasn’t.
Home was the place I ran away from as a teenager, trying to discover who I was but only to find myself more lost than before. It was where I broke hearts and where I endured the most heartache. It’s where my family and I made ourselves, only to become the place where it all fell apart. Home was mom and dad, and then it wasn’t. Then it became just me. Just mom. Just dad.
Home was where I started using. It’s where I battled me and only me over and over, and when I thought the battle was done…
It’s where I was rushed to emergency. Twice. It’s where I had to save myself because no one else was going to do it for me. Home was where I met the person who would be my forever. It’s where I learned it’s not always all about me. It’s where I learned compassion and forgiveness. It’s where I learned to receive it back. Home was where my daughter was born.
Home was where I began to think, where is home?
In 2020, my family and I moved from the west coast to the east coast. We moved away from family and friends. We left to build a comfortable life for ourselves. We left “home” for a new home. I have come to realize that home resides deep within and I’m reminded by Ernest Hemingway, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
Home is where you cannot and will not escape yourself. It’s deep within and therefore can be anywhere and nowhere. It’s where we choose to love, to make peace. So the next time you miss home, look within yourself because you’ve been there all along.
Thanks for tuning in dear reader,
I slept well last night and I don’t know why. I trace back what my day looked like so I can replicate it again just to get some good sleep. The one thing that stood out was writing. I finally started writing again. I guess when I don’t write, memories and untrue narratives crowd my mind until there’s no more space in there. Then I can’t sleep. Knock knock. Who’s there? I don’t know, but get them out.
I started writing my third book yesterday, what I’m calling an autobiographical horror. I’d like to think of it as Stephen King meets Hunter S. Thompson with Sylvia Plath overtones, minus the latter two’s terrible demise.
I slept well last night and I don’t know why but I hope it’s from writing. Painting helps me but not in the same way that writing does. There is no other way to expose thoughts, to slap them around a little and put them in their place. There’s no other way to remove cancerous memories and untrue narratives from your brain except to trap them onto paper for all to read. They almost lose enough of their power.
I fell asleep with ease last night and at 5:30 this morning my eyes opened in a flash. I was wide awake with no questions asked so I got up and started my day with writing. Since I met the day with writing, I hope I sleep well tonight too.
Until we meet again dear reader,
I have secrets like each of you. But do you share your secrets?
I have been getting quite depressed lately. Yes, the “D” word, the one we are not supposed to talk about. The one that our world shuns even though many of our loved ones are lying in its puddle day after day. Not quite drowning, just lying there in angst.
I wrote a short story today about it all and submitted it to a publication, probably only to get rejected but that’s another story for another day.
This morning I sat out on my porch and read a book I got from the library, Secret Window: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing by Stephen King. It’s inspiring to say the least. I want to go to his home in Maine and stare between the bars of his steel black fence. I want to haunt him the way his stories haunt me. Is that creepy?
The really great news is I have been creating more than all the years added together. Whatever that means. I also received my first portrait commission ever. An achievement in the art world similar to getting an interview for a job. It makes me happy and that’s really all I could ask for.
Let’s see, what else? I am writing again after burn out. I often feel burn out. I don’t know if it’s an artist thing, a creator thing, but I get into fits of creativity and it just pours out of him uncontrollably then it’s like I’ve been hit by a truck and I am laid out for days, sometimes weeks, and even months. It’s as if everything was sucked out of me and the only way to recharge is to sleep.
I cycle. I write, paint, read, all obsessively until I break. I repair and continue. I do this all while working a day job, being a mom, a wife and trying to live healthily. Everyone and no one is doing the same thing. Or doing nothing.
Sometimes I get headaches that last days.
Sometimes I feel on top of the world.
I want to keep these short for you, in the midst of your busy life. I need to go work on this commission piece. I will share progress photos along the way. Happy Sunday (to you and your Sunday secrets...)
By the way, tell me one secret.
I edited my second book the other night for seven hours straight. In the end, I was nauseous and at that point only sleep would help.
No one said writing books would be easy.
I guess this is part of it. The writer takes on the suffering, hardships, and victories of their characters. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting, but for a writer, it’s an absolute necessity to live. Like breathing.
The irony here: for many of us, writing can be therapeutic, but as we shed our skin of our own experiences we take on the new ones of our characters, all imagined by us from the beginning.
It’s like being cleansed but using the exact thing we want to be cleansed of to cleanse ourselves.
I felt nauseous the other night. I wrote about death, dark corners that exist in evil minds, sorrow and yet I never felt more proud and motivated after those seven hours. I feel my craft pumping through my veins and getting stronger every minute, every hour that I spend with it.
Like any art, like any craft, it stretches at your heart. It can drive you insane.
But who wants to live any other way?
So there I lay ready to sleep, queasy, with a smile on my face.
Below is an excerpt from my second book in the Sophia Rey series: The Coven of Retribution. Book 2 is not out yet but will be in 2020. This is just a sneak peek. I hope you enjoy.
In 1692, Lenore, Odette, and Rose witnessed the hangings of their mothers at Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts. In carriages with their heads down, tied up at their waists, their ruffled mob caps with blue ribbon covered their silent cries that yearned for help. But they knew; everyone knew their fate.
It was the Amur Cork Tree that took their mothers’ last breaths. The rope that constrained them at the waist on one end was tied into a noose at the other and thrown over the thick tendril branches of the Amur Cork. They didn’t have a chance. Lenore was thirteen years old. A wicker basket full of bread hung on her arm in the crevice of her elbow as she watched and tried to see her mother’s face hiding under that white mob cap.
“Mama, mama. Let her go,” Lenore said.
No one acknowledged her adolescent pleas. The only acknowledgment was that of the arms of men holding her back. The bread spilled out of the basket and onto the ground and Lenore fell with it. Gripping it in her fists, the bread broke into crumbs and mixed into the dirt. Sprawled on the ground, Lenore tucked her head down into her arm, hoping this madness of terror could be blindfolded. If she couldn’t see it maybe it wouldn’t happen but as she lay on the ground, the sounds of her mother fighting for her life pierced her ears. The wooden carriage wheels creaked as they slipped away and the heavy weight of her mother’s body dropped down; a small thud and the rope twisting from her jerking body. Lenore heard the gasps from all directions.
Next was Odette’s mother then Rose’s. Odette was ten years old and Rose was seven. Standing side by side, all three girls stared at the Amur Cork at the tangled branches that were weighed down by the women who brought them into the world. A world that separated them within seconds. Rose clenched a brown, ragged teddy bear and brought it to her face.
Looking at her mother hanging from the Amur Cork, Lenore said, “They can’t get away with this.”
“But they did, they did get away with it. They’re gone and we’re never getting them back,” said Odette.
Odette ran to her mother, now just a limp body and shoulders hanging like a weeping willow. Wrapping her arms around her mother’s legs, Odette’s tears soaked her mother’s long cotton skirt and lifeless fingers brushed against her shoulders. Death tickling and mocking her.
“I want my mama, I want my mama,” Rose said.
Odette hugged her mother’s hanging legs, turning them left and right, left and right.
“I want mama, I want mama,” Rose said.
Watching the rhythm of Odette’s movement and listening to Rose’s repeating plea against the breeze of the wind, Lenore stood with her hands at her side as everything around her spun into a dance of death.
“I want mama.”
The hanging bodies turned left and right.
“I want mama.”
Limp heads pulled tight by the ropes watched over the young girls with shocked, lifeless eyes. Lenore looked at her mother’s bloated face and bruised neck. Her almond eyes bulged with broken, popped blood vessels. Then, for a quick moment, everything around her fell silent like an empty house without a living soul. Odette was still there, rocking her mother’s legs. Rose was still saying she wanted mama but there was no sound.
Hanging from the rope, Lenore’s mother lifted her head and with a red stained sorrowful stare, she said, “Lenore, you must get retribution.”
“But how?” Lenore said.
“You know how Lenore. You’ve always known how.”
Thanks for reading,
Check out the first book in the Sophia Rey series The Cult Called Freedom House here.
It was a red, white, and blue day and the leaves waved in the wind, mimicking those stripes and stars, mimicking anything and everything that would set it free. Blasts of light and sounds that boomed, it was all for red, white, and blue.
I looked to the sky and the stars were no longer there. They left without a word, without a single goodbye but that was okay because it wasn’t the first time I was abandoned by stardust. Dust that settles, builds up, hits your nose and makes you sneeze, then spreads away to never return. It was once love until it was lost. Lost to the wind and blown away into a red, white, and blue day.
But it never mattered. Because when that day came, the air knew. It breathed it in and exhaled without forgiveness. It only brought celebration, it only brought pride. If it one day died, it would return from the dead to shoot off red, white, and blue stars of zombie pat, trying, on, this, mess. Or it could be patriotic, ness with a mess of brain and blood.
Red blood, white eyes, blue dreams that are so close you can touch them, live in them, but so false that real dreams cannot break through the surface. An atmosphere of fabrication so strong, so long followed, so long nurtured. Are there thanks to be given? Always. Are there tragedies to be forgotten? To be buried? Never. If we always give thanks and always remember the tragedies, then we always revisit our blessings with grace and our shortcomings with the pretense to shine brighter the next time. If we do not do this, then we fail.
Extinction will come. It always does. And when it does, what will you be remembered for? What will I be remembered for? And what will humanity be remembered for? There are far more important things than just the things we claim as our own. There are far away places that stretch off this planet with red, yellow, white, blue, and other spectrums that we cannot calculate upon simple vision. Simple. Vision. Yet, we make things complex, we complicate matters until nothing matters and we celebrate.
Red,dy. Why,te. Blew, away all that we fight for or win for or die for or pray for or stay for or leave for or wish for or cry for or love for. It was that kind of day. And, I was happy and sad and hopeful and mad and at bliss and at war. This was the day of our Independence.
Written by Sterp
It finally happened. I have been taking the light rail to work for the last few months and its been life changing. No traffic, no silly drivers, I get lots of reading done, and have been very productive with work. Then one day it just happened. My phone was on the seat under my leg a bit and when it was my stop, I got up and walked off. While the light rail doors closed, I paused to get my phone out and then realized I had left it...when I turned around to face the light rail it was off to the next stop.
I stayed calm, realizing there was not much I could do in that current moment. I walked down the street to the office and when arriving immediately went to my colleague in Operations (the guy who everyone goes to when they have something to fix or figure out.)
I walked right up to him, "I left my phone on the light rail and I don't know what to do." (BTW, before I even finished this statement, Anthony had the VTA light rail website pulled up and was already dialing their customer service number.)
And this began our 2 hour journey to find my phone...
What happened next I will never forget.
We are now on hold with customer service. I then go to another colleague and use her phone to call my phone in the hopes that someone will answer my phone. No answer. It rang and went to my voicemail but no answer. I continued to call it but no luck. Anthony got VTA customer service on the line. I explain to them all details of what happened and they assure me that they will contact the light rail driver to try to locate the device. I give them my contact info and they said they would call me back either way.
Another colleague steps in (a technical guy) and tells me to log into Find my iPhone. I do this and now we can see my phone making its way through San Jose on the light rail, riding along beating the Silicon Valley commute.
I continue to call my phone from my colleague's phone...and low and behold someone finally answers! The conversation went like this:
"Hello, I left my phone on the light rail. I am a good person, a mom of a 3 year old. Please meet up with me so I can pick up my phone. I will go where ever you are."
"Why hello, I do have your phone. Don't you worry, your phone is safe with me. I will be at the Homeless Clinic in about 20 minutes next to the Lexington Brothers hospital. I have a blue bike. You'll see my blue bike out front. Don't you worry."
"So you will be at the homeless clinic. I will meet you there. What's your name?"
"I will have a blue bike. My name is Michael Brennie. B-R-E-N-N-I-E. I'll be at the homeless clinic. I have your phone."
"Alright I will see you soon. Thank you so much."
And we were off! My colleague Anthony and I were on our way to the homeless clinic to meet up with Michael Brennie, B-R-E-N-N-I-E. On the way, I stopped at the bank and took out $40 to give him for being such a grand citizen.
As we drove to the homeless clinic, I was praying that this man was telling the truth about everything. We parked the car. As we walked toward the homeless clinic, I spotted something that reassured me, a blue bike right out front. We walked into the homeless clinic, passed folks who were definitely struggling with just living. We asked the reception where we might find Michael Brennie and she pointed us toward the waiting room.
We popped into the wait room where 4 characters sat, dazed, exhausted from sleepless strung out nights, and in need of something.
My colleague shouts "Is there a Michael Brennie here? Michael Brennie?"
We turn to our right and there sitting, slouched down with a green worn t-shirt, baggy pants, and white shoes that have seen better days, is Mr. Michael Brennie. He says "I'm Michael."
"Are you Michael Brennie?"
"Michael Brennie. B-R-E-N-N-I-E."
"Hi Michael, oh my goodness, you have my phone, thank you so much!"
"Well, actually, I don't have your phone."
"What?! What happened?"
"The VTA light rail security guard confiscated it from me."
"Oh, well that's okay. I really appreciate you helping me out. I got this for you." I hand him the $40.
Brennie says, "Oh wow, I really need this. Thank you so much." He looks over at the spaced out woman to his right. "See what happens when you do right and do good things."
My colleague then steps into the hallway and gives me a whisper. We huddle in the hall and he has me log into Find my iPhone so we can corroborate Mr. Brennie's story. I crossed my fingers and the app GPS'd to my phone...and what do you know - my phone was traveling again along the San Jose light rail line. God Bless Michael Brennie.
I walked back to thank Michael and he then asks, "Can I get a hug?"
"Of course you can!"
Brennie asks, "What's your name?"
"My name is Stephanie."
"Oh, I used to date a girl named Stephanie." (He breaks into song.) "Myyyy babyyy Stephanie, darrrrlin Stephy. Oh you smell like roses."
"Thanks again Michael, God Bless."
And that was it. I met Michael Brennie. We were now off again and this time chasing the light rail. My colleague stops at an intersection and we see a light rail stopped. He puts his car in park, hops out of the driver's seat before I notice, and shouts to me to drive his car. I quickly hop into the driver's seat and can't reach the pedals. Of course the light turns green and I have to quickly adjust the seat while driving and wearing heels.
I park his car and run over to where he is. Now he's on hold again with customer service and is talking to the VTA security guards. They inform us that my phone is now headed to Milpitas - really getting the most out of its trip.
We rush back to the car and get a VTA person on the phone. They know exactly where my phone is and we schedule a time to meet the VTA driver who has my phone in downtown San Jose.
We then head downtown to catch the 10:53 light rail driver on his route.
When the light rail comes to the downtown stop, I knock on the driver's window.
I immediately say, "You have my phone, I'm Stephanie."
The light rail driver, "Well, good morning to you," with a big friendly smile.
And that was it, my phone was returned to me and I got to encounter good ol' Michael Brennie.
Tune in next time for my wild shenanigans,
It finally happened...I fell from the top of the stairs in my house. It's actually a hilarious story, especially since I didn't get badly hurt, my right pointer finger just swelled up and is bruised (reference photo above.)
So what actually happened?
It was 7:33 am and I was on a conference call with my boss and my boss's boss. Thank God for the mute button otherwise it would've been even more disastrous. I was holding my iPhone in my left hand, muted and on speaker phone. Had my computer bag over my right shoulder, was wearing 3 inch heels and wasn't holding onto the railing. I went racing down as usual, forgetting about the 3 inchers, and BAM!
I didn't slip down. I fell to my side and rolled over and over. Definitely tried to catch myself and failed horribly...apparently.
The loud thud of my epic 7:33am roll woke my husband. He ran down the stairs and immediately helped me out of concern. I was a bit in shock and almost on the verge of tears. My right pointer finger was the only place on my body that instantly hurt, pretty bad might I add.
Of course my phone which made a landing on my kitchen floor, unharmed, was still running the conference call, myself muted. After sitting for a few minutes, I just started laughing my ass off. While commuting to work, I couldn't stop laughing by myself, full on tears laughing. The laughter got so bad, I had to stop at the local Safeway to pick up emergency eyeliner.
This is how I started my 2018! Killing it and rollin in style. Below are some other awesome ways I have started the New Year:
1. Still eating anything that gets in my way
2. Sleeping in whenever possible
3. Staying up way too late on week days
On a more serious note, here are some real ways I have started off my year:
1. Meditating more
2. Playing electric guitar again after stopping for 3 years
3. Continuing to give most of my free time to my children and husband
4. Working out, when I feel like it
5. Every day, taking time to focus on the present moment by breathing
I should probably try to not do too much, especially when stairs are nearby.
Hope your New Year is starting off great! Beware of stairs, slow down, and remember to breathe.
I am Sterp. I write dark fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. I am the author of The Cult Called Freedom House: Sophia Rey Book One. My short story The Lost Tea Cup is in Issue 26 of The Literary Hatchet. I am also a painter.
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