Tag Archives: hollye dexter

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.

Sipping Coffee With Maria Shriver

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA. 2009 - ©Tracy J. Thomas. All rights reserved.

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA. 2009 – ©Tracy J. Thomas. All rights reserved.

I have always been a huge admirer of Maria Shriver.  She has been a staunch supporter of many things that are near and dear to my heart such as Special Olympics, programs that support low-income and at risk youth, and she has provided major support for women through the annual California Women’s Conference.  To top it all off, she is also an extraordinary journalist.

In 2009 I spent a lot of time wandering Capitol Park at the California State Capitol while interviewing and shooting photos and video of homeless individuals for my M.F.A. thesis project.  On one sunny Spring afternoon I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Maria Shriver, then California’s First Lady, who was touring the grounds around the Capitol for the launch of her “WE Build and WE Garden,” a playground and community garden-building initiative for school-aged children.

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA.  2009 – ©Tracy J. Thomas. All rights reserved.

I stood there in jaw-dropping awe as I watched her interact with the media and a group of children who were planting in a garden plot set aside for the purpose at hand.  This iconic woman was so genuine, intelligent and warm to everyone that surrounded her.  It was an honor just to be in her presence and a privilege to capture several photos during those moments.

She was the type of woman I could envision grabbing a cup of coffee with just to chit-chat about the state of the world and what we can do to change it.  A big fantasy, I know…

But then it happened.  This year Maria Shriver read the book “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the stories that kept us small” (Seal Press) and her staff said she loved it!  Myself and 26 other amazing women just happen to have stories in this book.

So now I can more realistically envision Maria Shriver curled up in her big comfy chair next to her fireplace (if she has one), sipping on her cup of coffee (not sure she even drinks it), while “listening” to me “tell” her my personal story.  Wow!

"Dancing at the Shame Prom" on Maria Shrivers blog.

“Dancing at the Shame Prom” on Maria Shriver’s blog.

And now, our spectacular co-editors, Hollye Dexter and Amy Ferris have a piece about the book on Maria Shriver’s official blog! (You can read it here)

So, coffee with Maria Shriver, check! One more thing knocked off the old bucket list…

The Magic of San Miguel de Allende

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The cobblestone streets of San Miguel… ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

I know. I have been unusually quiet since arriving home from the International Writers’ Conference in San Miguel. Forgive me. It is hard for me to believe that it has been one month to the day that I was on a plane headed back to the U.S. Where did those four weeks go?

The interesting thing about social media and building relationships in cyberspace is when you finally meet in person, something truly amazing happens. In ways, my cyber connections have been afforded the chance to know quite a bit about me even before our first face-to-face foray. This allows for all those shallower “Glad to meet you, this is what I have done in the past, etcetera, etcetera” niceties to be cast aside so we can get right to the deeper, more meaningful conversations about life.

Although I had met several of my writing friends in the “real” world at previous physical gatherings, the conference in San Miguel provided me with the opportunity to be introduced to some of my life-long idols and to add new contacts to my growing list of wonderful human beings I am happy to know.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

La Parroquia in the Jardin.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

There are so many claims about San Miguel de Allende being “magical.” Some swear it is because the city is built on some mysterious bed of crystals. Some blame the 6,000 foot elevation that limits the amount of oxygen to the brain. Some attribute the magic to the number of Huichol Shamans known as “mara’akame” that reside in the area. Whatever the reason, it is beyond any doubt an astounding city. My personal experiences while in San Miguel were full of “OMG! This is truly a magical place” moments. And it has taken me four weeks to digest those experiences…

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The first bit of magic occurred the moment my shuttle dropped me off at the front door to my host’s beautiful home. As faculty members we were each offered the opportunity to be hosted by one of the many wonderful residents who are lucky enough to live in this mecca. When Barbara opened the door, I was immediately taken by her warm personality and the beauty of the courtyard that greeted me. I had my own room on the upper floor of her casita and felt so welcomed the entire time I spent there.

The faculty luncheon was held the day after I arrived and was hosted by the Mayor and city of San Miguel.  There was glorious food, margaritas and fabulous company.  I had the pleasure of eating lunch with Cheryl Strayed, author of the New York Times bestseller “Wild”; Amy Ferris, author of “Marrying George Clooney” and one of my co-editors on “Dancing at the Shame Prom”; Hollye Dexter the other glorious co-editor of “Dancing at the Shame Prom”; Sarah Stonich, author of “Shelter,” “These Granite Islands,” “The Ice Chorus,” and the recently released “Vacationland”; Samantha Dunn, co-contributor to “Dancing at the Shame Prom” and author of “Failing Paris,” “Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation,” and “Not by Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life;” and Jody Kobak Feagan, original co-founder of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and all-around wonderful human being.

From left to right: Hollye Dexter, Cheryl Strayed, Jody Kobak Feagan, Amy Ferris, Sarah Stonich.

From left to right: Hollye Dexter, Cheryl Strayed, Jody Kobak Feagan, Amy Ferris, Sarah Stonich. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

And did I mention Cheryl Strayed???! ;-).  What a down to earth, fabulous and funny person!  I, who adored her book along with countless millions, never in my “wild”est dreams thought I would end up breaking bread with this remarkable icon of memoir.  Right off the bat I began to believe in the magic of this place.

Jody's table

Jody’s table. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

And then there was Jody’s table…  Jody Kobak Feagan’s table in her beautiful home, served as a meeting place for an endless stream of amazingly creative human beings.  A throw back to the days of artist colonies and enclaves where conversations waxed poetic, philosophical, and occasionally surreal.  And oh yes, there was always an abundance of margaritas.  Perhaps that’s why some conversations felt so surreal…

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The grounds of the Hotel Real de Minas where the conference was held provided a wonderful gathering area during the afternoons.  Blankets and pillows were strewn around the shade covered lawn for reading and relaxing.  Those same blankets seemed conductors of magical experiences like a picnic lunch with none other Suzanne Braun Levine, first Editor of Ms. Magazine.  Now that is something I never imagined would happen in my own humble lifetime.  But it did!


Suzanne Braun Levine (middle), first Editor of Ms. Magazine. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

One of the most memorable moments happened when I joined six other amazing women on the stage for the “Women Write Their Lives” panel that was moderated by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter.  The room filled up with 400 people who laughed and cried with us as we shared our lives and stories with the audience.

Photo © John Ware, 2013.

From left to right: Samantha Dunn, Brooke Axtell, Laura Davis, Amy Ferris, Hollye Dexter, Suzanne Braun Levine, Tracy J. Thomas, Brooke Warner. Photo © Jon Ware, 2013. All rights reserved.

Lucky me between Suzanne Braun Levine, first Editor of Ms. Magazine and Brooke Warner, former Executive Director of Seal Press and founder and Editor of She Writes Press. Photo © John Ware, 2013.

Lucky me between two of my idols: Suzanne Braun Levine, first Editor of Ms. Magazine and Brooke Warner, former Executive Director of Seal Press and founder and Editor of She Writes Press. Photo © Jon Ware, 2013. All rights reserved.

For those of you who know the story of my sordid childhood, this trip was akin to traveling full circle when I was introduced to a woman whose book literally saved my life back in my 20’s.  Laura Davis, co-author of the iconic book “The Courage to Heal” was not only a presenter at the conference, but was also on the “Women Write Their Lives” panel.  Laura’s book was the first I read that honestly propelled me into my own journey of healing from my ghastly past.  I got to spend many amazing moments with this wonderful human being and feel blessed to be able to now call her my friend.

Photo ©Erin Doyle, 2013.

Me and Laura Davis.  Photo ©Erin Doyle, 2013. All right reserved.

On Sunday I taught my “Dominating Social Media: How to market your writing to the masses” workshop that brought in a full house of eager and inquisitive writers which culminated in several private consultations.

Photo ©John Ware, 2013.

Me having a lot of fun teaching my workshop.  Photo ©Jon Ware, 2013. All rights reserved.

Luckily I had a few hours during each day to wander, take photographs and get to know this wonderful city on a more intimate level.  Those hours were by far the most magical.  I would spend time outside the small cafes that surrounded the Jardin, where I would sip Cappuccinos, breathe the people into me, and watch the activities of the day unfold before me.

One afternoon while wandering the streets in search of my next photo op I ran into “The Three Amigos.”  Jon Ware, John Drake and Ken Ferris twisted my arm and I joined them for a few cervezas and photography talk.  Jon Ware is a fellow photographer from Minnesota who is married to the wonderful Sarah Stonich, while John Drake and Ken Ferris are cinematographers who both have quite an extensive list of Hollywood accomplishments (just peruse the links from their names).  These three great, supportive men mesmerized me with their knowledge of photography and made me feel like one of the gang.

"The Three Amigos" - Jon Ware, John Drake and Ken Ferris.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“The Three Amigos” – Jon Ware, John Drake and Ken Ferris. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The morning I had to pack my suitcase and catch the shuttle back to the Leon airport was a sad day indeed.  But there was to be yet one more moment of magic when I stepped into the van and found Amy and Ken Ferris being shuttled to the airport in the same vehicle!  It was like the icing on the cake for me.  A way to slowly and gracefully peel myself away from all the magic by spending several more hours in a peaceful transition back to reality with these two wonderful human beings.

I felt mesmerized with San Miguel.  I was smitten in a deep way.  Even now when I think back on my time in that beautiful city, I struggle to convey in words the impact this place and the people I shared it with have had on my soul.  It’s a quiet, deeply internal, life-changing, eerily mysterious, effect.  I get the feeling the true magic of that place will continue to be revealed until I find myself strolling along the cobblestone streets once again.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

Until we meet again… ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

**Back to iPinion Syndicate**

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!”…