Category Archives: Memoir

Writing is Good for the Soul



From an early age books swept me away to better places where magical things happened to innocent children. Where mean giants were slain, frogs turned into princes, and even a poisonous apple was not enough to keep love from prevailing over evil. 

I learned to read books about “Green Eggs and Ham” and as a four-year-old pondered the question “Are You My Mother?” Later in my pre-adolescence Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Little Women, and Watership Down became my goto books for validation of a better life outside my mini-Universe.

These books stirred something deep inside my soul that felt like a perfect fit. I secretly longed to be a writer that would make a difference in someone’s life. For years I wrote in the confines of my private space, rarely sharing my words with others. These words were an integral part of me and who I am. I was terrified at the thought of releasing them for others to read. The idea left me feeling vulnerable. In ways it was as if I was offering up my soul on a platter to sacrifice for anyone who dared.

Jump forward to three years ago when I was handed an opportunity to contribute a piece to an anthology that was going to be published by Seal Press. I was asked by one of the Editors, Hollye Dexter, who had become aware of my writing through my blog, through the writing community of She Writes, and a few other places where I had become brave enough to post. I was humbled and blown away to be asked. The topic of the anthology was shame. God knows I have had plenty of that in my life. Haven’t we all?



The book “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small” was published by Seal Press in 2012. My piece shares the pages with some extraordinary women. 0Being a part of that book has lead to some amazing opportunities for me like becoming a member of the faculty and speaking on the “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2013. But the best thing to occur was my newfound sense of confidence in my ability to write.



** From left to right: Samantha Dunn, Brooke Axtell, Sarah Stonich, Laura Davis, Amy Ferris, Hollye Dexter, Suzanne Braun Levine, Tracy J Thomas, Brooke Warner. “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel, San Miguel International Writers Conference, 2013. Photo by Jon Ware. **

I definitely don’t strive to be the next literary genius nor to make it onto the New York Times Bestsellers list with anything I write. Those amazing writers are few and far between. My only hope is to entertain and help others through my words. That alone is my greatest reward. Although of course I would be happy with any royalties that roll in so I can continue to pay my bills :).

I was thrilled this morning to find my little motivational Kindle ebook, “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” had moved up into the top 100 in the Kindle paid store for three categories on Amazon. It was perched at #32 in “Spiritual Healing,” #68 in Short Reads “self-Help,” and #78 in overall “Self-Help.” I am fully aware these rankings are precarious and go up and down on an hourly basis but am still giddy with excitement every time I see these numbers.



Whoever said “writing is good for the soul” was correct. Whenever I write I am immediately transported to my happy place and my soul feels renewed and quite often vindicated when I give it a platform on which to speak. My photography is on an even plane with my writing in regards to the cleansing of soul. Whenever I have the opportunity to combine the two I reach that elusive state of Nirvana. 

If you would like to download “Zen in the Garden” you can do so here: Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.

I welcome any reviews and would also love it if you would gift it forward if you feel so moved.


Back From My Sabbatical With a Bang

It has been quite awhile since I last posted a blog entry here.  Following my illness I spent a lot of time playing catch up on all the work projects that help to put the bread and butter on the table.  Therefore I have not spent much time on either my photography or my writing.  I viewed my absence as a sabbatical of sorts.  An attempt to regroup my creative juices.

Estrogenius

However, wonders never cease in regards to the creative energy I have put out into the world over the past year.  This month two amazing things have come to fruition from those past creative moments.  The first was news that my essay from the Seal Press book “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small” was chosen as one of 8 pieces to be adapted for a stage production at the 14th Annual Estrogenius Festival in New York City.  The piece is being directed by Ashley Marinaccio, Founder and Artistic Director of the amazing group “Girl Be Heard.”  The performance will be on October 21st at 7:30PM at Stage Left Studio, NYC.

Creatives Rising

The second bit of news occurs tonight in New York City.  One of my photographs is being projected onto the side of the 42 story Linc LIC building at 43-10 Crescent Street, NYC for the “Creatives Rising” event. My work will also be shown in the See.Me Gallery, 26-19 Jackson on Screen 8. The event runs from 6pm-12am tonight and beyond.

I’m hoping to move back into creative mode now that my work projects and busy life have equalized and hope to post more regularly again from this point forward.


Repeat Offender

“Rhodanthe” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

There are days when I feel like a repeat offender.

These are the days where nothing seems to go right. For every two steps I have jumped forward, I allow myself to be slammed backwards another four.

Those are the times when I feel most vulnerable, chained helplessly to my past. Those are the days when I allow doubt to creep in and I open the door for others to pounce and use and abuse that moment of weakness for their own personal gain.

I suddenly become that little girl again, where I always felt nothing more, but less than.

And all I want to do is run away and hide…

I don’t want to face the ugly man lurking in the dark shadows around the corner. I don’t want to feel the pain of change and reflection for the sake of growth.

In those moments I am simply done. Out of juice. Void of any semblance of chutzpah that previously drove me onward through all the grime.

That is the constant uphill battle survivors of abuse face. It is a frustrating, difficult, painful, and at times exasperating journey away from all the shameful feelings one developed during years of relentless attacks.

It takes courage, it takes honesty, it takes constant self-reflection, and it takes a Hell of a lot of energy to move on.

It also requires one to step out from behind the protective barricade in order to reach out for the people in life who are good, and kind, and gentle, and loving.

It’s the act of surrounding yourself with a giant roll of bubble wrap. It is transparent, but it feels warm, cozy, safe, and you know you will be fiercely protected from harm by a supportive village who lifts you up for who you have become and understands from where you have traveled.

But then there is that annoying little creature called “trust.”

Historically, I have not always made the wisest choices in terms of village members. Understandably, since trust was obliterated by the one person who should have been there in my life to encourage and reinforce that trust.

So, I approach people slowly on my tiptoes, and with great caution. From a distance I observe and take note. They seem safe. They seem genuine. They seem kind and gentle and like they would hug me in that warm, all-encompassing way like they meant it.

And then there are those moments when I feel alone. When I feel vulnerable. When I feel used. When I feel unable to sort through all the negative self-messages that kept me tied down for far too long to that nasty, misleading untruth that is shame.

No matter how hard I have worked and how far I have come, how much I truly know now that it was never my fault, I still find myself on occasion a repeat offender.

Of doubt. Of fear. Of confusion. Of shame.

As you read this, I am most likely riding on a train on my way to Los Angeles. I will arrive at Union Station this afternoon and make my way to The Last Bookstore to do a reading of my piece from the Seal Press anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom.”

This act alone takes a ton of courage. I can stand before a group of strangers and give workshops and lectures without hesitation and with a measure of bravado. But this time I will be talking about my own personal journey.

It will force me to become vulnerable.

As I stand in front of that room and speak my truth, every cell inside me will know that the horrors of my life began a mere 10 miles from the site of this reading. The house that held the dark secrets has since been boarded up and destroyed due to freeway expansion. Yet as visual as I am, that house still lives on inside my mind.

I remember every room, every closet, every nook, every cranny, every single nasty deed.

But today I am safe. I will surround myself with the protective bubble wrap of my fellow Shame Prom sisters and celebrate. Celebrate life. Celebrate friendship. Celebrate truth.

I will mark this day in my mind as a victory. One more step forward towards peace and freedom for my soul. An official emancipation day from the chains that bound me to my past.

And I will dance. Boy will I dance.


Bubble Heaven

On a brisk Fall day back when my son was a toddling three-year-old, I sat on our back patio with him and listened to my favorite piece of classical music, Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.

Justin was a hyperactive child and classical music calmed him and helped him to focus. There were moments when a rise or fall in the music would stop him dead in his tracks. He would become instantly transformed into a ballet star, arms stretched over his head as he twirled slowly on his tiptoes to the music.

On this morning however, Justin was hyper-focused on bubbles. I blew a steady stream of the soapy spheres to the point my lips ached. He jumped and he stomped and he giggled and tried his best to catch or pop every bubble I blew.

After an hour of his tireless squeals of “More Mommy! More!” I told him it was time to rest. He plopped his tiny butt down next to mine on the concrete step and took the wand in his little hand to blow a few himself. His full lips puckered up tight and he let out a great big puff only to watch a stream of soapy liquid and spittle fall straight to the ground.

He was a determined child and never gave up easily on any quest. Finally, success. A line of small bubbles left the wand and began to float slowly towards the concrete. A slight breeze gave them rise and they climbed in a circular pattern above the fence line. Before long, they disappeared like translucent rainbows high into the clouded sky.

Justin watched them float away with wide eyes and a hand over his brow, as he strained to see where they had gone.

After a few minutes he sighed and looked at the ground. That is when he asked me one of the most important questions of my life.

“Mommy, where do bubbles go when they die?”

I smiled and searched my mind for a logical answer. This was my opportunity to put on my science cap and teach him a lesson on the changing states of Matter. But something deep inside caused me to hesitate. The next words that left my lips surprised me.

“They go to Bubble Heaven of course. They float far, far away over oceans and mountains and when they land they are all together in a beautiful meadow with a stream lined by flowers and bunny rabbits.”

His eyes opened wide, he grabbed the wand again and began to blow and blow until a few more bubbles would form and float away. He watched them rise with delight and waved and squealed “Bye, bye bubbles. Have fun in Bubble Heaven!”

Although twenty-two years have now passed, every time I think about that morning I smile. It has become a reflection of just how magical life can be when we use a little bit of imagination.

My son, now a man, has continued through life with that same sense of excitement and wonder he had as a three-year-old. That beautiful part of him will never die. He is one of the lucky few who refuses to be cemented down in the serious side of life. He still finds wonder in the smallest things and will pause to dance a pirouette when the music calls to his soul.

Now close your eyes and just imagine how beautiful that world would be…


Shaking My Booty All Up in the Face of Shame

When I was a freshman in high school I wrote a fictional story for my English class. This story was about two sisters and a bad news boyfriend who enticed the older sister into taking drugs. This was a story about a disjointed family and a helpless young girl who longed to save her sibling from the gates of Hell where she was surely headed.

As with all my papers back then, I handed it shyly to my teacher and bit my fingernails for days until she handed it back with a grade.

I remember the day my teacher handed my story back to me as if it was yesterday. I was shocked to see an “A” at the top of the page with a long hand-written comment underneath. My teacher told me she thought the story was very well written and wanted to submit the story to “Scholastic Magazine” after I made a few suggested changes.

She felt this piece was worthy of publication.

My heart began to pound as I read those words. Wow! But then my heart dropped as I read the line about her suggested changes.

This was a woman who believed in my potential. This was a woman who encouraged me and saw right through my shy external persona and recognized my abilities. This was a woman who wanted me to succeed.

Although a part of me was doing back flips with great joy, the other, darker and much stronger side of me was saying things like: “yes, but it wasn’t perfect,” “yes, but she told you to make changes,” “yes, but they will never publish it.”

So, as I had done for the past 13 years of my life, I gave into doubt. I did not make the suggested changes. I did not resubmit my piece for her to send to Scholastic Magazine and I buried that paper away in a box underneath a stack of other things I wanted to forget.

Once again I had fallen into the story I had been told my whole life. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t deserve good things in life.

I continued to struggle with these same doubts well into adulthood. Though I moved forward in life and earned college degrees, moved swiftly up the ladder in corporations and eventually began to have some of my writing published; in the back of my mind I had to continually fight the feeling that I simply did not deserve these things.

All the self-defeating messages that circled my mind in an endless symphony of pain. Thoughts that were conjured by childhood experiences and held tightly, based on the false belief that if released, there would be nothing there to fill the void. I knew little else outside of that ugly masquerade of shame. My identity was tethered completely to that smothering leach that is doubt.

For the longest time in my life I would push people away. I had built a pretty impenetrable wall of self-protection. I trusted few, based on a lifetime of people who had chosen to abuse my trust.

About two years ago I came across that story I had written in my freshman English class buried under a stack of old papers. I read it and I cried.

For three years prior I had been immersed in my thesis project for the Academy of Art University. Photography had become my soul’s outlet of expression. I had struggled with the same doubts in this program even though I had been encouraged and constantly told by some very caring people I possessed a lot of talent. This program and the focus of my thesis project was emotionally excruciating for me but at the same time it proved to liberate my soul.

Near the end of my studies at the Academy, I had been experiencing success with my writing and photography and was being published in magazines, newspapers and books. New doors had begun to open for me and I had learned to believe in myself and my abilities in new ways. My protective walls were finally crumbling.

About this time, Hollye Dexter and Amy Ferris walked into my life after I had joined a women’s writing site called “She Writes.” Eventually our lives became tangled in a variety of ways and soon they became two giant cheerleaders of my soul. I was humbled and honored the day they asked me to write an essay for their upcoming anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom.”

My life had come full circle.

I bit my nails for days after I handed them my essay. Here were two amazing women who recognized my talent. Two women who saw the beauty inside my soul and wanted nothing less for me than to succeed. But doubt still echoed somewhere in the distance.

The day they emailed their response to my essay was like the day so many years ago when my teacher handed my story back to me.

My heart pounded…

My head hurt…

I had handed them a piece of myself, a raw piece of my soul. I had written about things that few others in my life had ever been told.

I felt naked. I felt scared. I felt alone.

When I opened up their email I was amazed by what I read. They loved what I had written and thanked me for my honesty. Yet as with most editors, they made suggestions for change. They wanted me to go deeper than I already had.

There were those words again. “Suggestions for change.”

It could have all ended right there just like it did 40 years ago. All that negative self-talk could have come rushing back in. I could have tucked my tail and ran, buried my essay in another dark box under a ton of worthless crap.

But I didn’t.

This time I stuck with it. This time I believed in myself. This time I realized I was not alone and there are a multitude of loving people who truly believe in me and want nothing less than for me to succeed.

Tomorrow, September 18th, is the official release date for “Dancing at the Shame Prom” by Seal Press. The book is filled with incredible, redemptive stories about shame by 27 amazing, successful women, including me.

Tomorrow and forever more, you will find me doing pirouettes in my living room; throwing out a couple of jazz hands in the aisle of the grocery store; doing a break-dance on the sidewalk for all to see and shaking my booty all up in the face of shame.

I have finally learned to dance at the shame prom with complete abandon and it feels absolutely incredible.


Dead On Arrival

"Blue" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. Apps used: vintage cam, filter mania, picture show, snapseed

Death is not a stranger to me. I have been aware of its presence since the age of seven when I witnessed the aftermath of a murder.

There were two women. They were stuffed into the back seat of a dark-colored Cadillac parked illegally on the curb along a busy boulevard. One was crumpled on the floor face down. The other was lying on the back seat in a fetal position with one arm stretched over the top of her head. There were pools of dark blood on the seat. Pools of dark blood on the floorboard.

Blood.

Everywhere.

Dark crimson strings of coagulated blood stretched from deep gash wounds on the neck down to the floor, as if suspended in time.

So much blood.

And the smell. I remember the smell quite well. It was a musky-sweet, putrid smell that caused me to gag. The kind of smell that made me cover my nose the minute the police officers opened the car doors.

The night prior, these two women were animated, full of life, as they shopped together in the mall. They were surprised by some unknown knife-wielding assailant when they carried their packages back to the Cadillac.

He made them drive to an unknown location, then used his knife to inflict multiple stab wounds. While their husband’s reported them missing, he drove the car around as they were dying in the back seat.

Maybe he had some deep inkling of virtue or Catholic guilt or possibly unbridled bravado. Whatever it was, it caused him to drive the car back to the mall where it all began.

It’s as if he left the car parked illegally at the curb for someone to find. And then he fled. Or at least they thought he did.

Maybe, just maybe, he was now standing with the rest of us. Watching. Waiting. Taunting. Relishing in the reaction of the crowd to his crime.

The scene was akin to a horror film. We stumbled across it when my best friend’s older sister Donna drove us to the mall for ice cream. She was curious about a small crowd gathered near the sidewalk. Donna lead us to the low brick wall, a few feet from the busy street and the dark Cadillac parked there.

The car doors were still closed. The police had just arrived. The first officer looked through the tinted back window, turned to his partner and shook his head.

More police cars arrived, then the Coroner. The news crews were everywhere. They interviewed Donna who crimped her 60’s bouffant and asked us if she looked okay.

My stomach had butterflies. My mouth felt dry. My eyes were fixed in a wide stare as the detectives began to methodically poke and prod the lifeless bodies and search the car.

I already knew bad men could inflict pain on women. I already knew bad men could inflict pain on little girls. But on this day which is burned like an indelible tattoo in my memory, I suddenly knew bad men could do more than inflict pain. Much more.

The bodies, now stiff and drained of blood, were a mixture of pale white tinged with blue. They placed them one-by-one on a stretcher, then zipped the body bags to transfer them to the morgue. There they would be identified by grieving husbands, these mothers and wives. Never again to kiss, to hug, to love.

There are some things to which a seven-year-old should never bear witness.


Cuttin’ a Rug at The Shame Prom

Ever since I was a wee little lassie I have loved to boogie. My favorite television shows were Soul Train and American Bandstand. I still remember the day Chubby Checker performed “The Twist” and my 3-year-old booty was a twistin’ and a shakin’ along with the rest of the dancers on the floor.

I still love to dance, so when I was asked to contribute an essay to the upcoming Seal Press anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small,” I had my dancin’ shoes on my feet in a heart beat.

The book is edited by two amazing women, Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter, who I have the honor of calling not only colleagues but dear friends. It is available for pre-order here on Amazon.com and is set to be released on October 2, 2012.

Amy Ferris is author, editor, screenwriter and playwright. Her successful memoir, Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From a Midlife Crisis recently had a run as an off-Broadway play at CAP21 Theatre in NYC. She also co-wrote the movies Funny Valentines and Mr. Wonderful. Amy is on the Advisory Board of The Women’s Media Center, is on faculty at The San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference and is a visiting teacher at the UCLA Writers Workshop (extension), among other things.

Hollye Dexter (aka Hollye Holmes), first touched my heart in the television series “The Adventures of the Wilderness Family.” Hollye played the role of “Jenny,” the sickly daughter of a family that fled the city for a life in the wilderness away from all the mundane stresses. The grown up version of Hollye is an accomplished author, editor, teacher and singer/songwriter with four albums under her belt. Hollye was also on faculty at The San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference and is a visiting teacher at the UCLA Writers Workshop (extension).

“Dancing at the Shame Prom,” the book, is filled with brilliant essays by a group of amazing, accomplished women who share their shame and how they rose above it.

I am deeply humbled and honored beyond words to be included with this group of outstanding human beings.

These writers include (links go out to extended bios):

Brooke Axtell: Singer, songwriter, poet, Brooke is the author of Kore of the Incantation and Daughter of the Burning, she is the winner of the Phyllis Smart Young Prize for Poetry. She won “Best Traditional Ballad of the Year” from KOOP Radio, Austin (91.7 FM) and first place for her short story “Maya’s Mirror” in the Young Texas Writer’s Awards.

Nina Burleigh: Author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty, a New York Times bestseller. She’s written for numerous publications including Businessweek, The New Yorker, Time, New York, The New Statesman, New York Times and is a contributing editor at Elle. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, The Today Show, 48 Hours, MSNBC, CNN and C-Span, on NPR and numerous radio programs.

Rachel Kramer Bussel: a New York-based author, editor, blogger and event organizer. Rachel has contributed to 100+ anthologies, edited 40+ anthologies and is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations. She has written for numerous publications, including Alternative Press, CNN.com, The Daily Beast, The Frisky, Gothamist, The Hairpin, Huffington Post, Jezebel, Lemondrop, Mediabistro, The Nervous Breakdown, New York Post, New York Press, Playgirl, Salon, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, xoJane and Zink.

Sharon Doubiago: Author of South America Mi Hija, nominated twice for National Book Award and was named the Best Book of the Year by the LA Weekly; The Book of Seeing which was named one of The Ten Best Books of 1988 by The Bloomsbury Review, received Gloria Steinem’s Woman Writer Award, and The Woman Writer Genius Award from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, plus more.

Samantha Dunn: Author of Failing Paris (Toby Press), a finalist for the PEN Center Fiction Award and Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life (Henry Holt & Co.), a BookSense 76 pick & Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation (Henry Holt & Co.). Dunn’s essays have appeared in numerous national publications including the Los Angeles Times, O (Oprah) Magazine, Ms., and Shape.

Amy Friedman: Writer of internationally syndicated children’s column, Tell Me a Story, which is published in 150 newspapers; her audiobook, Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder, won the 2010 Audie Award for Original Work; and a recently completed memoir Desperado’s Wife.

Elizabeth Geitz: An Episcopal Priest and award-winning author of numerous books including Soul Satisfaction: Reclaiming the Divine Feminine and Gender and the Nicene Creed and her most recent book I Am That Child: Changing Hearts and Changing the World. Elizabeth’s books have been hailed by Desmond Tutu, John Berendt, and Helen Prejean.

Colleen Haggerty: A writer of creative nonfiction and memoir, Colleen has an essay in the anthology The Spirit of a Woman (Santa Monica Press) and another in He Said What? (Seal Press). She is an ambassador for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation and created a walking campaign – to walk 100 miles in 100 days – to raise money for prosthetics limbs for people in developing countries.

Robyn Hatcher: Best Actress in a Short Film for her work in “Asbury Park,” Robin is a contributing writer to American Express Open Forum and has a book on presentation skills in development with Motivational Press. She is a TV and film writer, has done radio commercials and has appeared on TV in commercials and dramas.

Monica Holloway: Is the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Driving With Dead People, described by Newsweek as “unforgettable,” and deemed “irresistible” by the Washington Post. Her bestselling memoir Cowboy & Wills was called “sweet and heartbreaking…” by PEOPLE, and is a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Recipient. Monica recently received the Women of Distinction Award from Special Needs Network in recognition for her work and contributions to the underserved special needs communities in Los Angeles.

Liza Lentini: An award-winning playwright, journalist and author. Liza’s plays have been performed around the world, including Off-Broadway’s McGinn/Cazale Theatre, The Women’s Project, Chicago Dramatists, and The Cherry Lane Theatre. In 2009 Manhattan Repertory Theatre performed a festival of Liza’s early plays aptly titled LIZAFEST. Liza founded Elephant Ensemble Theater (www.elephanttheater.com) a charitable organization which brings educational, interactive productions to children in hospitals.

Meredith Resnick: Her work has been published in Newsweek, JAMA, Los Angeles Times, Santa Monica Review, Culinate, The Complete Book of Aunts (Twelve) and many others, and writes the Adoption Stories and More Than Caregiving blogs at Psychology Today. She is the creator of The Writer’s [Inner] Journey, a 2012 Bloggies Award finalist.

Jenny Rough: A lawyer-turned-writer whose articles and essays have appeared in a range of publications, including AARP The Magazine, More, The Washington Post, Whole Living, and Yoga Journal.

Laurenne Sala: A storyteller, comedian, and regular contributor to the Huffington Post, KCET, and her own blog, Humans are Funny. With a Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology, Laurenne teaches writing therapy workshops that encourage the sharing of human truths. She produces and hosts Taboo Tales, a storytelling show with the same mantra.

Marianne Schnall: Founder and Executive Director of Feminist.com, Marianne is a widely published writer and interviewer. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style, CNN.com, EW.com, the Women’s Media Center, and many others. Marianne is a regular blogger at The Huffington Post and a contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51% The Women’s Perspective.

Julie Silver: Julie is one of the most celebrated and beloved performers in the world of contemporary Jewish music today. With over 100,000 CDs sold, her songs have become “standards” in worship, camp, and academic settings. It’s Chanukah Time, recorded in 2007, was the first Jewish holiday CD produced exclusively for the Barnes and Noble bookstore chain, and the only Jewish album to ever be recognized on Billboard, peaking at #5 in 2009. Julie speaks nationally at high schools and universities, and has become the “go-to role model” for people struggling to come out as gay or lesbian in the Jewish world and beyond.

Teresa Stack: For the past 15 years, Teresa has worked as president of political news magazine The Nation. She previously served as circulation department manager for Fairchild Publications’ 14 magazines.

Lyena Strelkoff: Lyena’s critically-acclaimed, autobiographical one-woman play, Caterpillar Soup, has been touring throughout the U.S. since 2007. She regularly speaks to university students, health care professionals and civic groups about her disability experience and the transformative power of loss.

Kristine Van Raden: Co-author of Letters to Our Daughters (Hyperion,1999). Kristine is a partner in Matters That Matter (LLC), offering workshops around the country. Their mission is “to inspire all to live according to their own deeply held values and priorities by bringing courage, contentment and grace to life.”

Kate Van Raden: Kate is a self-taught photographer who pens a fashion and photography blog. Kate is also a twenty-seven year old woman who has struggled with the trials and tribulations of anorexia for the better part of five years.

Kedren Werner: is a published writer of personal essays. This is her first inclusion in an anthology.

Amy Wise: Author of Believe in Yourself ~ Inspire Others ~ Spread Joy (2012); Divorce, Dance or Dare (forthcoming); and is a contributing author in the anthology, Oil and Water and Other Things That Don’t Mix (2010). Amy is a contributing writer for EmbraceUS Multicultural Magazine, TheNextFamily.com and the Oil and Water blog. Amy recently edited The Eat From Home Diet: How to Get a Slim Body and Fat Wallet, (2012), she is currently writing a memoir, and working on a screenplay.

Marcia G. Yerman: A contributing writer for EmpowHER and Women News Network. She has been published at Huffington Post, AlterNet, The Women’s Media Center, Daily Kos and The Raw Story — among others.

Victoria Zackheim: Author of The Bone Weaver and wrote the documentary, Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps (On the Road Productions), and Maidstone, a screenplay in development. She has also edited 5 anthologies and is a 2010 San Francisco Library Laureate.

And then of course there is little ole me, Tracy J. Thomas. If you have been following this blog for a while then most likely you know quite a bit about me. If not, you can always read my bio on the About page here or journey out to my “big girl camera” photography website or to my iPhoneography obsession website to learn and read more.

So steady yourselves for some powerful, gut-wrenching, humorous, harrowing, nail-biting, “oh-my-god!,” “I can totally relate!” stories come October.

But for now, break out those dancing shoes because we are going to celebrate each little victory over our own shame and just do “The Twist!”…


Defender of the Underdog

Wonder Woman

When I was a young girl I wanted to be Wonder Woman.

I made a cape out of an old sheet, donned a pair of boots four times my size and would run as fast as I could from the living room, down the hallway and back again just to make my cape flutter. I hopped from chairs with my arms extended as far as they could reach, in the hope a little magic would happen and I would suddenly begin to fly.

No one would keep me from saving those who became victim to some two-bit low-life piece of hooey. I was the ultimate crime fighter inside my little mind.

“Kapow!”

“Kabam!”

“Take that!”

Even though I could not save myself, I would most certainly save others.

As I grew, my superpowers began to develop. My auditory abilities became so acute, I could hear my father’s GMC pickup as it approached from a half-mile away. The first squeak of his brakes was like Kryptonite to Superman and I knew I had to get away.

With the strength of The Hulk, I would throw my dresser in front of my bedroom door, push the screen from my window and bolt across the backyard. I learned how to leap a tall fence in a single bound and run down the street at warp speed. Up to my neighbors rooftop I would clamber with the agility of Spider-Man in my quest to hide from my arch nemesis who would then search for me in one of his drunken stupor’s.

I could perch on that rooftop for hours just like Cat Woman and hold my breath to avoid detection far longer than Aquaman.

Around my friends, I learned to become the Invisible Woman. The “real” me, the terrified one who lived a highly dysfunctional childhood, hid brilliantly behind an invisibility cloak quite like Harry Potter’s. I would peer out unseen through the eyes of Wonder Woman, the model for all that was female and strong.

I took my share of bullets in my quest to defend the helpless. When I caught my brother shooting at blackbirds in the yard with a friend, I ran out to scold him and was in turn chased down the hallway by this duo of male bravado, followed closely by a barrage of BB’s directed at my butt. Against my plate of armor they did bounce and I was able to outrun them when I summoned The Flash.

My Senior year of high school I worked in a small grocery store. Alone at the register one day, a drunk man from the local Reservation, came to the counter with a bunch of change and a bottle of rot-gut wine. I helped him count it out and told him he was a dollar short. He stumbled around the counter, reached into his pants and drew out a pocket knife. As he set the tip of the knife against my belly, he looked at the cash register and asked me if I wanted to buy it for him. At that moment I summoned the telepathic powers of Saturn Girl and caught the eye of the young butcher behind the meat counter. He jumped over the glass counter with a single bound and tackled the man from behind like a replay of the scene when Robin summoned Batman after he was hog tied by that evil Joker.

That was the day I learned the exponential power of super duo’s in the quest to stamp out crime.

While away at college, my roommate and I would often walk a few blocks to the 7-Eleven on hot summer nights. One evening we were followed by two men in a pickup truck. Like any good superhero, my senses went into overdrive. I tapped into all the superpowers I could muster and poised myself with the stance of Superman in between my friend Shelly and the pickup as it blocked our path into the adjacent driveway. The men asked for directions. Sensing trouble, I told them to go ask someone inside the store.

Like a scene straight out of a Marvel comic, a car suddenly blared its horn at the pickup blocking the driveway. The driver of the truck revved the engine, the passenger opened his door, pulled a .38 caliber and pointed it back at the horn blower. I told Shelly to run and she went screaming towards the 7-Eleven and passed right in front of the aimed pistol. The driver of the pickup became nervous, shouted at the passenger with the gun and there I stood with hands on hips and a stern look on my face as he swung the gun around and pointed it at my chest.

I learned as a child to numb my emotions and escape my outer shell whenever faced with danger. As I stood there with a look that dared, my inner-child was comforted by scenes of bullets bouncing off of Superman’s chest. No matter what happened in that moment I would be okay. I had come to the defense of those who were in danger and would stand my ground regardless of the circumstance.

Fortunately for me, the two men became unnerved by the ruckus of car horns that began to blare in unison and they sped away with a long screech and acrid smell of rubber on asphalt.

The moment I removed my cape, I cried.

As an adult I look back on all those harrowing moments as chapters in my training and an integral part of the building of my character. The circumstances of life have embedded within me a strong sense of justice. I feel bound to defend the weak from being brutalized by those who are stronger, nastier, and driven by self-absorbed, evil intention.

I have become the ultimate superhero, Defender of the Underdog.


Lovin’ a Cup o’ Joe

Our Lady of Abundant Caffeine

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2011

Photo: “Our Lady of Abundant Caffeine”

There’s just something about coffee. The strong, pungent aroma of a dark roasted espresso tantalizes my nostrils with the promise of impending oral satisfaction. The smooth roll of that first sip across the tongue makes the taste buds snap to attention. Halfway through the demitasse cup my brain cells begin their rapid fire. New, creative thoughts travel swiftly across the neural pathways and push forward an occasional “aha!” moment into the conscience.

Memories of my childhood contain a lot of dark moments, but the lighter memories, the one’s I love to journey back to, always include coffee.

My favorite grandmother had a pot going in the kitchen from morning’s first light, until well after dinner. There was not a day I walked into her house when I was not met by the familiar waft of coffee made straight from an open can of MJB. It was customary to gather at her vinyl topped kitchen table and drink cup after cup while chatting about family and life. For me my grandmother was all about coffee and love.

My aunt Marie, my grandmother’s oldest daughter, struggled with life in numerous ways. She was an alcoholic, a prescription drug addict, had a husband who died of a drug overdose, had two young children (soon there would be four), and struggled to feed her family and keep a roof over their heads. But she was the funniest human being I have ever known. I adored her from the day I was born. She had Lucille Ball dyed red hair and the laugh and sense of humor to match. And for a myriad of reasons, she loved coffee too.

One morning when I was three, my mother took me to visit my aunt Marie. A smoldering cigarette had started a fire in her apartment the night before. My five-year old cousin Tommy woke up to the smell of the smoke and roused my aunt before the fire could spread to their rooms. She was able to get the children out in time. The fire department saved the building but now Marie and my cousins had temporary housing in another unit.

I sat at the small kitchen table as the aroma of burnt wood and coffee grounds pierced my nostrils. There were four chairs with plastic cushions that had cracks running right where the last pair of buttocks had sat. I picked at the pieces of foam stuffing that poked their way out of the cracks and left a little pile on the top of the table. I felt left out of the adult conversation and squirmed and wiggled in the chair until I got my aunt’s attention.

Marie decided it was time for me to try a little coffee. She reached for an extra demitasse cup and filled it halfway with the thick, black, steaming liquid. She followed it with two heaping teaspoons of sugar and a squirt of cream to cool it down then stirred it with a spoon. I will always remember that first sip as it crossed my lips. It was warm and sweet and creamy and it made me feel a little older and all the more important.

That moment felt like my induction into a secret sorority of sorts. It was a temporary glimpse into a future where I would be poised over thousands of cups of the treasured dark liquid. Cups I would drink while thinking, dreaming, writing, making business deals, during all-night study sessions, laughing with friends, curing hangovers, catching up with family and after burying the dead.

Coffee has become my fondest addiction. It is the one thing I will never go to rehab for nor give up during Lent. It ties me to the best moments in my life and has helped me to cope with the moments that I didn’t really like.

It is my quintessential liquid lover. The soul mate who will be there to lift me up during my darkest moments and celebrate with me in all the successes of my life.

I am lovin’ me a cup o’ Joe…