Guest Blog: Orlando: one Canadian’s perspective, Melanie Marttila

When I shared an article about the Orlando mass shooting and expressed my regrets that, as a Canadian, I really couldn’t do much more than send my thoughts and prayers, such as they are, Mel (and yes, I’m another Mel—try not to get confused) challenged me to write a reflection on the tragedy from the Canadian perspective.

My response: Eek!

Why? Because I’m probably one of the least qualified people to speak for my fellow Canadians.

I mean, I don’t live on what Chuck Wendig calls “hetero-normative white dude mountain,” but I married a hetero-normative white dude, I am white myself, and hetero, and cis-gendered. I live in a northern mining town that, while it was founded by immigrants from fourteen different countries, those fourteen countries were all white European. For example, my heritage is Finnish and Irish. Yes. I am neon-pale, fish-belly white.

I’m probably snugly ensconced in the foothills, maybe an alpine valley—oh! is there a tarn? But I digress.

So I’m not going to speak for all Canadians. I’m going to speak for this Canadian and I’ll ask you, kind readers, to refrain from generalizing my very specific opinions to other Canadians generally. We are many voices.

I remember very clearly sitting with my husband, over breakfast, on Sunday morning, seeing the news, and being completely stunned. The most devastating mass shooting in US history. It was surreal. We couldn’t relate.

Part of that is because, well, just pop open Google maps and take a look at how far away Sudbury, Ontario is from Orlando, Florida.

The rest of it comes down to the essential differences between Canada and the US.

Maybe it has to do with how we became nations. You fought to bring your country into being through the War of Independence. We . . . well, we asked the mother country to take a good look at what had just happened with their former colonies (ahem, all y’all), and negotiated succession through a long and sometimes fraught but always respectful political process (the probable origin of our infamous Canadian politesse). Yes, the Queen Elizabeth II’s image still graces our currency and, strictly speaking, she’s still our monarch, but it’s not like she sets our public policy or anything.

It could be the philosophical difference between the mosaic (Canada) and the melting pot (US). In practice, however, there is no difference in how we both apply these ideals. We were both founded by people who were seeking religious or political freedom and we both support the right of any immigrant to the same, essential freedoms.

Our relative size, vis a vis population probably has a big impact. Canada has had its mass shootings (though I notice the lone gunman who attacked Parliament Hill is absent—maybe he didn’t actually kill enough people to be considered a true mass shooter), but you’ll notice, they’re far fewer than similar incidents in the US. I think about Jim C. Hines’ post in which he offers some facts and statistics about terror and tragic events, in and beyond US borders. On Sunday, Facebook’s memories prompted me with a post on another mass shooting in the US a year ago.

The US is just so much more populous than Canada. If we had as many people, we’d probably have just as many incidents of violence, but we would probably still not have as many incidents of gun-related violence.

Here we come to the critical difference between our countries: our respective gun laws and policies.

In Canada, we don’t have the Constitutional right to bear arms. And I’m not knocking the Second Amendment. At the time, every US citizen bore the responsibility to defend their new country from foreign threats. It was necessary.

Canada, not so much. The military and police? Yes, they bear the collective responsibility for defending us and keeping public order. Other than that, hunters buy rifles, sometimes shot guns, so that they can, with the proper hunting permits, bag their quota of pheasant, duck, goose, deer, moose, or even bear. Our indigenous peoples depend on hunting if they live in their respective traditions. There are still a good number of bow hunters around, too.

No hunter will buy a handgun or a sub-machine gun, however. It’s just not practical.

We have our share of gun collectors and sport rifle-persons who may purchase either, or both. I understand in the latter case that there are custom sport rifles that are made for those who complete either on an amateur level, or professionally.

In order to purchase a firearm in Canada, one has to take a gun safety course, obtain the proper permits, and there is no such thing as cash and carry. You have to be patient if you want to own a gun in Canada. Further, it is not unheard of outside military and police forces, but it is extremely rare that a Canadian could obtain a permit for a handgun or a military weapon. It requires a further, specialized permit. And a permit to conceal said handgun? Nah-uh. Not for the average citizen.

This thing happened a few years ago, though. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Canada’s so-called long gun registry. If you don’t care to read, back in the 90’s, the government resurrected the Canadian Firearm Registry, which had been active during the World Wars. After years of largely unregulated firearm ownership, Canadians took exception to having to register every firearm they owned, and few took kindly to the government keeping track of who owned how many firearms of what kind.

Some, like my husband (he was just a recreational shooter, target shooting and the gun range), voluntarily surrendered their weapons rather than having them registered, not having used them in a number of years and not seeing the value in keeping them if they had to be registered. Most, however, resisted, and, after years—years—of non-compliance, the government gave over. And then, many of those who had surrendered their guns took exception, and understandably so. It was considered all around to be a poor decision on the part of the government.

So in Canada, Mateen would not have been able to purchase an AR-15, not without due process. It would have been a lot more difficult for him to act in the heat of the moment. If a mass shooter survives to face justice in Canada, the time and patience it takes to get a gun goes to prove pre-meditation. It should be noted that most mass shooters don’t survive, though.

Mateen’s actions, while not unheard of in Canada, are not part of our conflict resolution gestalt. We prefer that long, protracted process of discussion and/or mediation and/or therapy. If conflicts blow up, it’s more likely to be physical assault, perhaps with a hand-held weapon, like a knife, or a bat. While a lot of people may be injured, fewer are likely to die. Of course, there are gangs and organized crime syndicates that will espouse the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. They’re criminals, though.

So when I see a mass shooting occur in the US, I can’t relate. It is literally foreign. It doesn’t make sense. The reactions to such events of the pro-gun lobby, or the bigots trying to pin this on Mateen’s religion or race, don’t make sense. My horror and sadness take on a subtly different tenor to that of a US citizen, because to me, a person who has always lived in a moderate country, the solutions seem so simple.

But as the reaction of many of my fellow moderate Canadians to the attempted long gun registry shows, what seem to be simple solutions may be extremely complicated to implement.

What can a Canadian do? I have no right to tell you how to run your country, how to vote, or how to deal with people who perpetrate violence, whether they are true criminals, or people so overwhelmed by fear and hatred that they feel violence is their only option.

So I send my thoughts and prayers, such as they are. I can tell you that I stand with you in your pain and grief. I can’t tell you that I will help, however I can, even if it’s only a post like this that is so woefully inadequate I hesitate to call it help at all.

We all do what we can to make the world a better place. I encourage you all to do what you can to make your country a better place. Make your voices heard with your votes, speak to your representatives, keep the faith, and keep at it. This is not going to be an easy solution. It will take time. Stay the course. As long as it takes. Future generations will thank you.

And by all that you hold dear, be present. Try not to turn away. Extend a helping hand to someone in pain. Yours may be the hand that holds them back from taking that next, fatal step.

Mel(anie) maintains a blog, Writerly Goodness at Go read.


Who Are We? A Response

I first sat down to write this response a couple of days after the massacre of 49 of my community at the Pulse in Orlando, Fl.  I couldn’t. I couldn’t process my thoughts in an orderly fashion.  Its been a struggle trying to sort through all the words, images, and voices, trying to make sense of the senselessness. The raw emotions have smoothed out a bit-less than would be the “normal” amount of smoothness for me in general. There is nothing normal right now.  

Who are we?” you ask.  

We are a swiftly responding community spilling out-filling up the Universe with a groundswell of energies, a nation unto our own: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersexual, Queer, Questioning, 2-spirited and Allies. Hashtag- We Are Orlando.


School’s out for the summer


And Pride! 


Dancing; bodies moving to a beat    cut down





News assaults – rapid punches to the gut 

49 Stories plus hundreds more 



Vigils – thousands upon thousands of candles shining

Was he mad? 




A monster – the boogie man in the closet? 


He was a terrorist

He was loveless 

And he is gone

For now

Bodies moving to the beats of millions of hearts

Dancing our way to center

Cargo filled caravans circling round

One full of gun reform

One full of mental health reform

One full of money

One full of healing

One full of peace

None full of fear

Tons full of love

Jae Casella, 6-19-2016

Guest Blog: Ed Cook, Breakfast in Vermont

Last week I drove 126 miles to Vermont for…breakfast.  Yes, just for breakfast.  My wife and kids thought I was a quite daft for driving all that way for only 2 ½ hours.  Well there was another motive.  More on that later.

The drive was beautiful as it was at or near peak foliage color in middle New England that week.  It really was a beautiful red, yellow, and orange splashed trip.  I left home at about 5:30 so about the first hour was in the dark.  After that it was just what the picture post cards of New England in October are supposed to look like.  I passed through the North-Central part of Massachusetts, part of the Mohawk Trail.  Through this area the hillsides and small valleys were draped in their Fall Finery and was very bright when the sun hit it.

Later there were some clouds and sprinkles as I entered southwestern New Hampshire.  The scenery was colorful but not as bright.  Through this very rural part of NH and into southern Vermont I was able to see roadside items I never see near my home in the Metrowest area of Boston.  There were many barns, cows, horses, other farm animals along with farm houses and farm equipment.  My dad grew up on a farm in Southern NH for the first part of his boyhood so these things reminded me of him.  To offset the country character of the area I listened to my iPod for the entire trip.  Around this time the Beatles Long and Winding Road appropriately played.

Some of the fun (odd?) things I saw along this Long and Winding Road were a billboard for an attorney who claimed to have “Knuckles of Brass, Heart of Gold”.  Another landmark was a sign in front of a Diner that read “Famous since 1988, before that, not open”.  A store called Sam’s that claimed to be the “Biggest little store in the world”. And finally an Inn that advertised on the sign out front “PLAN YOUR SPECTACULAR EVENT HERE”.  Too bad the place was boarded up with a Closed sign on the door.

So, why did I go to Vermont in the first place? Lyn Gaas and I first met when we were 12 or so.  (Her name was Lyn Beard then.)  She was the grand-daughter of my Aunt Lillian from Lillian’s first marriage.  Lillian had married my Uncle Max and they moved to Nashua, NH.  Lyn’s family was up visiting her grandmother and we had a big family party.  The next time I saw Lyn was just after Max died in 1974, when Lyn and I were 16.  Now by this time I was past the “girls have cooties” stage and in the two days we spent together I developed a crush on Lyn.  While my mother and Lillian packed for Lil to go back home to Texas, Lyn and I just hung out.  We walked to Dairy Queen, watched TV, just hung out.  It stunk that she lived 2,000 miles away and I figured when she left, that would be it.  Lillian had other ideas.

Lillian and I continued to communicate, mostly by letter, (you remember those, with an envelope and a stamp) and a couple of letters went to Lyn too.  Lillian thought it would be great for me to come down to Texas to go to college at Rice University.  She also thought it would be great if Lyn and I got together as a couple and told me so many times.  That would not have hurt my feelings either.  In a 17 or 18 year-old’s head that sounded damn good.  Aunt Lil was sure Lyn was going to go to Rice too, so she convinced me to apply, and visit the campus.  So I applied and made arrangements to go down, but a few days before I was to leave she broke her wrist and we postponed the trip.  I ended up going to Northeastern Univ. in Boston.  If I had gone to Rice, it would have been some joke, since Lyn went to school in Missouri. That was 1976.

Fast forward 34 years…2010.  Lyn finds me on Facebook.  We converse on FB and then on the phone.  We have both married and had 3 kids.  When we talked it was very comfortable.  She remembered an amazing amount about my family which she met only twice.  I found that Lillian had passed away a year or two before my mother.  We kept in touch a number of times after this and saw and wrote to each other on FB.  She called 10/2 to say she was coming to New England the next day and for 4 days, was there any way we could meet up.  She had some stuff of my uncle’s she wanted to give me too.  She and her husband were staying Friday night in southern Vermont and that was the closest point she would be standing still for any time at all.  And that is why I drove to Vermont for breakfast.

So, the reason I went to Vermont, was to meet up with someone I had not seen in 39 years.  I got to my destination in Vermont about 8:10 and she was on the porch of this quaint little New England Inn with her husband.  She came out to the parking lot to greet me and told me she recognized me right away as I drove by.  We went in for breakfast. Lyn and I talked for 2 ½ hours and could have talked for 2 ½ more.  It was great.  Rich, who seems like a good guy, joined us for much of the time and went to do stuff at other times.  It was a thoroughly great time with thoroughly great people.  I am so glad I drove up.  Lyn promised the next time they come up they will come closer to my home area.  No need Lyn.  It was a beautiful drive and time.  Next time though let’s plan to have more time to chat.

Here are the Texans in New England.  She wanted it to be colder…just wait a while Lyn, just wait a while.



Guest Blog:Telaina Eriksen: Upright

At 3:30 a.m. on February 15, 2013, my friend and mentor Emily Rapp lost her only son Ronan to Tay Sachs Disease. From the time I heard the news to this moment as I sit and write this, as I go about my range of daily activities (the care of my children, grading, email, cooking, etc.), the weight of Emily’s loss will ricochet from New Mexico and hit me here in Michigan and then it will be gone again, back with Emily and her family. The vastness, the emptiness, the heartbreak. I imagine many of those who love Emily, Rick and their families are feeling this exact same thing.

I remember Emily writing once about how hard it was for her when people said, “I can’t imagine” about the terminal illness of her only child. Of course they could imagine. Especially other parents. They just didn’t want to. “Good” parents, “bad” parents, angry parents, indifferent parents, helicopter parents… all parents can imagine the horror of holding their beloved in their arms and knowing that each time may literally be the last.

My sister Tina is a public defender and at times works on capital punishment defenses. In dark moments, I imagined Emily parenting through Ronan’s death sentence—his date with the electric chair. Or lethal injection by God.

But neither Ronan nor Emily had committed even a benign crime.


Emily was my graduate school instructor in 2009, at a difficult time in my life. My sister Tonya died from complications from her suicide attempt. She overdosed on 70 to 80 Ambien, but there was almost a month in there where we thought things were going to be okay, that she might survive. We got to talk to her and she told us she would never try to kill herself again and she was committed to living. Then the full physical effects of what she had done– brain damage from anoxia followed by a refusal to eat and drink–manifested and she died on May 8, 2009.

By any measure of mental health, now, here in 2013, I am functional (just as Emily has been functional caring for Ronan, teaching, exercising, writing). I make plans. I participate in life. I go to work and fulfill my job duties. I volunteer at my kids’ schools and their sporting and music events. I read. I pack my children’s lunches every day. I load the dishwasher, feed the dog, show up mostly on time to where I am supposed to go. But I do these things surrounded by exhaustion. I wade through sludge and fog to execute my daily tasks. Sometimes the mere thought of chopping chicken or vegetables for dinner will seem like an insurmountable effort and instead I pick up the phone and call for pizza. The thought of going through the clothes in my closet to find my cold-weather socks is like a journey to Tibet. Helping my son clean his room feels Herculean. Cleaning the entire house… the mere thought of it feels like a Greek tragedy in scope and effort and I must marshal all my reserves to accomplish it.


Here is a secret about grief that perhaps you don’t know if you haven’t experienced a cataclysmic loss—a dying child, the suicide of the sister who helped raise you, the death of a spouse, the death of a parent too early in your life—grief is a glacier. And it doesn’t shrink as our real glaciers do, melting with the increasing temperature of our planet. The glacier of grief grows. Ice is added on all the time. Grief has chasms and valleys. A large chunk of its terrain is still unknown to me.  Grief doesn’t stay inside you, it works its way out, leaving you frozen and immobile, connecting you to a vast ice continent which you have no desire to explore.


For me, my emotional anguish seems to have taken up residence in my back. I have been plagued with back problems since Tonya died; wrenched muscles, a herniated disc, a re-herniation, followed by sciatica. Every morning I wake up with a numb right leg. I used to walk and jog for miles. Now I am lucky to walk my dog around the block. At about 5:00 p.m. every night my back is done, weak and tight; I need to sit and rest. I dig my thumbs into the muscle above the herniation. The counter-pressure provides some relief. I take Motrin by the handful. My muscle relaxants and Vicodin ran out months ago. I didn’t bother going back to the doctor to get more. People speak to me of cortisone shots, epidural drips, acupuncture, chiropractics. Of discectomy. I look at them like they are aliens. Can’t they see something is wrong at my very core?  I can’t hold myself upright.


Mourning is deeply personal. This is why no one knows what to say. You are alone and silent. Grief is sometimes too painful for tears. Too cold. I know my living siblings share my grief but we each mourn on our own islands. We focus on moving forward. We mention Tonya’s name in the context of funny stories. Or say we wish she was here. If we focus too much on the mourning, it feels stiff and grotesque. The grief we feel in private is elastic and porous. Not victimization or martyrdom or a stereotype, but the feeling of being the subject of an ancient and profound curse.

This is why I feel that ricochet. I know that Emily has been cursed. Until she draws her last breath. She has been marked.


My sister Terese thinks she hears Tonya’s footsteps in her old apartment. I think Tonya’s dog Sprite (who is now my dog), might be able to see Tonya’s spirit. Sometimes when I am alone in the house, I pull Sprite up onto my lap and I whisper to her, “How is she, Sprite? Can you see her? Tell her I’m taking good care of you. Just like I promised.”


My father died in 2006 and I still believed in God then. The mourning is worse now that I have become an agnostic. An aesthetic Catholic. A fledgling Buddhist. Tonya (and Ronan) are here and not here. There is no there. My interest in quantum physics makes me pause briefly and consider other dimensions. Where matter came from. Where matter goes. When I was younger I thought I would see all my beloved ones again in heaven. Now I know they are gone. Now I know I will go. There is that grief there, too. The grief for myself. I will cease to exist. My brain neurons will expire and I will flat line and I will go into the dark and quiet without even knowing I no longer exist, which seems harsh to me. My soul, what is left of it, will live on in my children and then in their children’s children. And then I will be forgotten.

I wish I could cry. I wish I could “let it all out.” The bottleneck. The choking.

Sometimes when I am driving in my minivan by myself—dropping one teen off, picking another teen up, I ask the God I don’t believe in anymore how much more I can stand. Emily cared and watched and waited for Ronan to die. She wrote. She will continue on with grace and momentum. She is stronger than me. She will live. Write. Have another love. Perhaps another child. There is a thread in her that wants to weave, be part of something greater. My thread that holds me to this world is gray and mangled and frayed.

I didn’t think I could withstand the loss of Tonya. Without my children to live for (and Emily does not have that…my source of continuance is her wound), without some level of personal ambition (if I’m here I might as well write and teach), I doubt I would have withstood life without her thus far. The sun rises. The sun sets. Two people gone among seven billion. My grief is no greater or less than anyone else’s. And Emily and Rick join too many parents who have watched their own flesh and blood die.

This is just life.

But oh dear God, it feels so personal.


You would think grief would harm because the pain of the loss is too much, but mine harms me because of its numbness. It harms me in its inertia and deadness. I don’t go to the doctor. I gain 70 pounds. I have another drink. Then another. I eat another chip and then another, followed by a brownie. I, who watched no TV for about seven years of my life, tie myself to Netflix streaming for hours on end. Movies, TV shows, consumed in large hunks. I don’t think while I am watching. I want to blot out the vast blackness blossoming outside my body. I want to ignore the slow implacable violence I inflict on myself.


There’s an episode of Scooby-Doo when Scooby and Shaggy are being chased by a dress that has no one in it. They think it’s a ghost and do their patented Scooby and Shaggy “runaway runaway.” I see grief that way, too—a black dress animated by our pain, chasing us, following our every footstep. But the empty ghost-dress isn’t really empty. There are things causing her movements which we can’t identify. Dark things.


What about Tonya, you might ask? (What about Ronan?) What was she like? Why do you mourn her so? I could tell you. I think I will. But I hope you know if you’ve been reading this far that it isn’t about Tonya. Or about Emily. Or about Ronan.  It’s about me.


Tonya was in the precise middle of our family—three siblings on either side of her. Of the few parental resources (time, money, love) that existed, she didn’t get very many of them. She gave a lot of herself to me. I was the baby. Her favorite. Her job. “Take care of the little ones,” my mother would say to her—at age ten she watched an eight year old, a six year old and a two year old.

Tonya was sure. She knew what was right. She believed so firmly in justice that she became an attorney and then a college instructor. She always knew what was fair. And the world never cooperated with her vision. She carried the disappointment of our world around with her every day. How does someone like her live? The answer is—she doesn’t.

I could list her good deeds here. The students she helped. The women whose child support she helped collect. I could tell you about her love of dogs. How she was a good writer and her favorite show was Queer as Folk even though she was straight because she thought Gale Harold was so hot. I could tell you how introverted and private she was. How few the number of people she actually shared herself with.

I wish I could tell you these things and more, but I am getting so cold.


Sometimes I hit the snooze button. I wake up at 6:00 every school-day morning. My schedule as a college professor allows for a bit more flexibility but my children’s schedule does not. Usually my husband is in the shower and I lie on my back in bed, unable to feel my right leg. I feel the scope and weight of my stomach, the heft I have gathered since 2009. I know something needs to change. If I continue on this path it will lead to hypertension, diabetes, serious complications with my spine and perhaps even movement impairment. I close my eyes and I think, “Today could be the day. Today could be the day that I change my life. Today could be the day I go back to the person I once was. The day I become the person I want to be. I can write. No Netflix. No Facebook. I can grade my papers before the last minute. Do tai chi and meditate. Eat nutritiously.”

By 10:00 a.m. in the morning I am scooped out. Hollowed. I reach for caffeine and sugar. At night I empty the second bottle of wine this week and feel the husk of dark arms embrace my aching hips.


Someone will suggest to Emily at some point in the next two days to five years that she should go to therapy.

Let me tell you something about therapy. I tried it three times. All three times I was the smartest person in the room. Twice I was the most well-adjusted person in the room. I recognize behavioral techniques, cognitive techniques, attachment techniques, traditional psychoanalytic techniques. I recognize that at the center of us all, we want to be totally understood and supported by another individual. Therapy helped me all three times but at such a cost. So much heavy lifting on my part. Michigan doesn’t seem to attract brilliant psychoanalytic minds who could engage me in a debate about darkness, death, and caring. Nor does today’s drug-and-insurance focused mental health care leave me room to ask a harried MSW where hydrogen comes from if there is no Creator.

Each time I was in therapy, I asked questions for my therapists and then I answered those questions. It was hard work bench-pressing their mortality as well as my own.


My children are ages 16 and 13. As of today, no terminal illness stalks them. Their faces are smooth and lineless. Their backs supple and strong. They cling to the water, swimming and playing water polo year round. The smell of chlorine lingers in my home.

Tonya was my daughter’s godmother. She left half of her tiny savings to my daughter, where it waits in escrow until her 18th birthday.

My children need things. Thank God they need things. I structure everything around what they need. There are days when their needs are the only light that gets through.


I have friends. Many friends. And a devoted husband. I am blessed with people who care and people I know I can depend on. But how do I talk about this? If clichés surround love, even more surround grief. “My heart is broken.” “I’m having trouble moving on.” “I miss her.” “She’s with the angels.” And perhaps part of me doesn’t want to share this private experience. How do you tell your friends that you monitor your dog’s health constantly, worried that something might happen to this strangely precious canine? And that you somehow equate your dead sister’s dog with your relationship with your sister? How do you tell your friends you are okay and are not okay? That you see and participate in the world but that part of you is always trapped in sadness, each day of loss is notched and counted in the column of your spine?

It’s like I have 400 channels available to choose from but at least 200 of them involve programs with titles like Grief, Loss and Sorrow.

Emily was handed a remote control less than a year after her son was born. Welcome to your new life.


Americans aren’t very patient with grief, with sadness of any kind as Cheryl Strayed (Dear Sugar) has written on The Rumpus. Take a pill. Move on. We swallow metric tons of anti-depressants each year and still we are not happy. Swallow your pills, do your work and go out and buy things. This is what we ask of people in our culture.

To “treat” Tonya’s depression and its other symptoms through the years, she tried Wellbutrin, Celexa, Zoloft, Lamictal, Xanax, Ambien, Tegretol, Prozac, and Cymbalta. She had just started Pristiq when she overdosed.

I don’t believe that my ingestion of psychotropic medication will help me feel better about the failure of that same medication to save my sister’s life.


Every few weeks on Facebook a list goes around—12 Things that Happy People Do Differently. Wonderful things like expressing gratitude, practicing kindness, learning to forgive; many of these things I try to do daily. But I sat by a hospice bed and watched my brain-damaged formerly summa cum laude sister convulse and seize, her teeth clicking, and her eyes rolling.

I watched my sister die as a result of her own actions.

Please tell me what happy people do with this irrefutable, inconvertible fact. Please tell me what to do with that memory.

Please tell me how to bear up under the weight of grief.



Telaina Eriksen holds an MFA from Antioch University-Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in The Feminist Press’ Under the MicroscopeHospital Drive, Marco Polo Arts Mag, The Truth About the Fact, poemmemoirstory, Recovering the Self, and in many other online and print publications. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010 and 2011. She attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2011 and is an assistant professor in creative writing for the Department of English at Michigan State University. You can contact her at

Guest Blog: Chris O’Neill: How about we just try being NICE?

How about we just try being NICE?

In light of the tragic Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 26 individuals lost their lives, 20 of them first grade students, and in light of the subsequent vitriolic national debate, we need to consider all the ideas – anything that might save any child is worth considering calmly and with a sense of cooperation.  We can’t have a “my rights are more important than your rights” attitude. We must all give many inches.  As a nation we need to sit down with great minds, and common minds, on every “side”, with our elderly who can remember a world where this rarely happened, and our college kids who have grown up with this, yet still have hope and passion and are our future.  We need to say “What can we all do working together? What are we willing to give up? What would we pay to see better enforced? What would make us all not just feel, but be safer?”

People are angry, and that’s a natural reaction.  But nobody is taking our rights away, and nobody is turning into a military state, we have a constitution (an amendable constitution, hence our lovely little number two) to prevent that from happening.  We need to use that.  We all despise our politicians, yet we voted most of them back in last time, so it’s our own collective fault.  A democracy gets the government it elects, we picked ‘em folks, we need to use them.

We also need to breathe in, breath out, think.  Mental health care is definitely a huge part of this, personal responsibility, and a willingness to follow regulations and common sense safety is part of this.  Being willing to give up or alter a hobby if you have a situation in your home is part of this.

As a nation we have turned mean and selfish, we need to think about bullying.  Survivor is a top show.  Vote the loser kids off the island?  How 7th grade mean girl is that?  It’s one of our favorite forms of family entertainment. We need to develop a culture of kindness.  People talk about God being missing from schools.  I personally believe in the human spirit, in the power of kindness, in the strength that love for others brings.  I don’t participate in any official “god” thing, I just believe in being nice.  You don’t need to give nice a name, or a format, just teach nice.  Nobody needs to get worked up because you teach his religion and not her religion, just teach nice. Have a class pet; take field trips to food banks. Maybe we try to force nice, you can’t, but some of it might rub off.  What if we made every middle school child spend one hour a week working for the local charity, or shelter or organization of their choice, and made it mandatory all the way through high school?  Maybe some inadvertent compassion would rub off.  It couldn’t hurt, and maybe in ten years we have a generally kinder population.

My daughter made a suggestion last night, and my initial reaction was “No, you’re wrong!” But I forced myself to shut up and let her finish, and it was not a bad idea at all.  It wouldn’t fix everything, but as part of a whole, it would be helpful.  All I needed to do was chill out and consider it.  We need to take all the ideas, and instead of saying “That would never work” say, “I can see this part or that part working, let’s work from there.”

I don’t know what needs to be done, but I do know it is not just one thing.  We need to put all the ideas, no matter how flawed on a list, and then work through them, without rancor.  This was not just guns, or just mental health, or just that parenting is hard and there is no operator’s manual, or that God is pissed.  It was everything, so we need to work on everything, and we need to do it together.

This is the time for passionate intelligent people to cooperate.

Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Losing a Friend

We have all had it happen, or will. I know I am not the first or only one, but a week ago one of my best friends died suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack, at age 57.  I found out by his daughter texting me the night it happened.  She had found his body.  I spoke to her later that evening to express my disbelief and deep sympathy.  Her mother, My friend’s wife was in shock and did not want to talk to anyone.

Richie and I had known each other since 1978.  He became one of my best friends over the years and was an usher in my wedding in 1990.  We got to know each other when we worked together at a bank in Boston in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He said he wanted to learn how to play golf, so we, and another friend, went out a bunch of times in the 1980’s.  Rich enjoyed it quite a bit.  I sold him my old set of clubs when I got new ones and they helped him.  Through golf I got to know him more on a personal level than from work.

In the early 1980’s I was able to hold his first daughter Lauren when she was only a few months old.  I was scared.  In the mid 1980’s he and his wife Betty had another little girl named Katie.  While not as scared this time, I held Katie as a baby when she was home from the hospital only a couple of weeks.  In 1986 Rich set me up with his sister for a date.  I don’t remember why it never worked out, it just didn’t.  But all through this time Rich and I got to know each other better.  And he was a really good guy.  Loved his wife, LOVED his girls.  I had left the bank in 1982 and he left the next year.

In 1989 when I was planning my wedding Rich was a lock to be an usher.  He had a real good time with all the wedding festivities.  My wife got to meet Rich and enjoyed him best of all my friends.

In the fall of 1992 Rich and I were invited to the Eagle Scout ceremony for the son of Don, our other golf buddy.  Toward the end of the reception the son came over to Don Richie and I and said why don’t we all go golfing next weekend.  It was Labor Day weekend so that would be perfect.  It never happened.  The night before the golf date I got a call from Betty, who is one of the quietest people I have ever known, and she said Rich had had a heart attack that morning.  At age 37!  He was at Boston Medical Center.  I went to see him a couple of days later and he looked like nothing happened.  Turned out it was a very bad heart attack.  He had been clinically dead and the EMT’s had revived him on the way to the hospital.  Lucky.  OK, so Rich needs to stop smoking, and eat healthy.  He had never been a drinker so that was not a vice he needed to cut out.  He smoked, a lot, and never saw a piece of fried food he did not want.

I spoke to him or saw him pretty regularly over the next year or so and he cut way down on unhealthy food and cut back to about 2 cigarettes a day then quit altogether a year or so later.  He said later that my quitting a few years earlier had been something he thought of when he was quitting.

Don stopped playing golf over the next few years as his marriage went south during the mid/late 1990s.  Rich and I played golf a few times a year.  One time we went with one of my neighbors and were behind a really slow group.  It took us something like 5 ½ hours.  We all got in trouble with our wives for taking so long.  Well that’s the way it goes sometimes.

By 2000, Rich had been at a bank for a few years and had been supervisor of Mortgage Service and originator.  A little of everything you might say, but he was working a lot but not getting paid a lot.  He had never gone to college so he was in some ways stuck with his career. He regretted that and hoped his girls would go when they had a chance.  He encouraged both to continue school and both girls got their Associate Degrees.

A few times in the 2000’s we got to play golf with Don but not as often as before.  In 2006 I called about golf and Rich was all cocky.  His oldest daughter was now married and Rich and his son-in-law had been playing golf every weekend for the first couple of months of the year.  He said he had brought is score down about 10 shots to the low 90’s.  We could not arrive at a date for several weeks but we talked a few times in the meantime.  He was really “talking trash”, something he had never done before.  I had told him I had not been golfing or even to the driving range that year so I was not expecting much from my game.  He was saying how he was playing every week, and that he was going to finally beat me. (In 25 or so years of playing he had never come close to beating me. We just played for fun and winner buys the drinks.)

So the day arrived, and he and his son-in-law arrived while I was hitting my first few shots on the practice range.  Some small talk and an early call to the tee meant I only hit about a dozen practice shots.  I was expecting that he would either beat me or it would be close as his new average score was about where mine had been the previous year.  Result, I shot an 80 to beat him by 12.  It was his best round of golf against me ever, I was just in a zone shot a real good round.  When we finished he shook my hand, gave me a hug which was not characteristic of Rich, congratulated me and we headed for the clubhouse so I could buy the drinks – Cokes.  He also told me he would never talk trash to me again.  I am sad to say that was the last time we played golf.  The following year he was laid off in a bank merger and was unemployed for a year or so, then underemployed for another couple.  By the time he got a good job again I was unemployed and we never made it to play in 2012.

We spoke often over the last year, once a month or more.  We talked about getting together for lunch since I was off many Fridays.  Something always came up.  Rich got 20 extra years of life after his first heart attack.  He got to see his grandchildren, whom he adored, and love his family.  He really loved his wife and girls.

For 30+ years he had the same greeting on the phone when he called me.  “Hey Ed, this is Richie.” It is painful to me that I will never hear that again.


Guest Blog: Sabra Bowers: Full Moon Circle

On the banks of a creek
under a canopy of trees
the mother-tree stood
wrapped in a labyrinth.
Ancient land –
still home to the Spirit
of the people of
the great Cherokee Nation.
We circled a crackling fire,
sang songs, drummed,
told our stories,
read our poems,
and shared our sacred objects.
Women…chosen sisters
bonding again
under the light of a full moon.

Sabra is a wonderful poet, she keeps a blog, Later, Miss Slater, go read! Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.