Tag 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.


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.

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**

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…

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.



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!”…

A Stranger at the Gate

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "A Stranger at the Gate" - Apps used: hipstamatic, juxtaposer, iquikdof, pictureshow

My whole life I have struggled with the presence of a stranger. A shadowy figure who lingers at the periphery of my existence. I have seen him in my dreams, this man without a face. Lurking… Watching… Waiting…

I never knew what he wanted exactly, but if it was fear he meant to instill, I felt it.

Hyper-vigilance as an adult is a reality for most who were victims of childhood abuse. Since trust becomes a big issue, every human encounter comes into question. I would wonder why that man on the street corner glanced at me a certain way. I was positive he meant to do me harm so I would cross the street in order to avoid him.

For many years I would double-check my blinds, pull the curtains tighter, glance into the back seat of my car before climbing in. A constant vigil of fear, bordering on paranoia, in order to protect myself from the lingering sense of danger.

It took many years for me to make the connection between that lurking stranger at the gate to the memories of my father. Eventually I realized I was still giving him power over my life by dwelling in the fear of what “might” happen.

I learned with the help of many wonderful, caring humans how to face my past and throw the ugly parts away. When the dirty memories would begin to creep in again, I would metaphorically throw them into the washing machine and cleanse them from my life.

Tomorrow is my birthday. Every year around this time that stranger has a way of creeping back into the shadows to pay me a visit. An ugly reminder that he played a role in the creation of my being. His unwanted DNA is intertwined with my own. But today I hold the power. He is no longer allowed to creep back into my life and cause me fear, not even on the day I was born. He did not earn that privilege, instead he lost it through his endless brutality and attempt to destroy my soul.

Today I am doing a little laundry. I will toss the dirty dregs into the machine, turn the scalding hot water on high and walk away with a smile.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "Drowning in a Speed Queen" - Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, pictureshow, filter mania

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.



“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.

Of Demons and Angels

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo: An old church outside of Potlatch, Idaho.

[The following is an excerpt from my memoir in progress…]

The preacher stood at the pulpit with his sweat stained armpits cocked towards the heavens.  His hands snatched at the air in a pleading gesture.  He shouted of fire and brimstone, Hell and damnation, Sodom and Gomorrah.  His striped tie was slung over his left shoulder like a noose and the veins in his neck surged fat with blood.  With his deep red face on the verge of explosion, he spewed his verbal tirade without taking a breath.  Hours had passed since the Revival began.  I felt spellbound and at the same time afraid.  My eyes were fixated on this strange, plump, gray-haired man with the southern accent as he hopped around the stage and made claim to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ himself.  All around me echoed “Hallelujah’s!” and “Amen’s!”

One by one they formed a line to the stage; the young, the old, the rich, the derelict.  All seemed to carry some secret internal pain that required cleansing.  The preacher’s wife began to sing “Amazing Grace” in a sweet falsetto voice that could only be matched by that of an angel.  My twelve-year-old mind struggled to make sense of the scene before me.  As each one of the lonely, the sad and the weary reached the preacher he would place his hand on their forehead and ask them to repent.  The congregation shouted “Thank you Jesus!” and he pushed them back into the arms of two burly men in dark jackets who laid them to rest on the cold tile floor.

The church smelled of cheap aftershave, poor oral hygiene and sweat.  Before long, there were bodies everywhere.  Some lay motionless as if sleeping.  Some prayed out loud.  Some muttered a strange language that sounded of Pig Latin and Greek.  Then there were the few who cursed and spat and writhed in anger.  They were the ones surrounded by hands bearing Bibles and crosses outstretched.   Unbearably annoyed at this holy intrusion, they tried desperately to raise to their feet but the two burly men would hold their shoulders as crosses pressed dents in their foreheads.  The preacher had them straddled, nose to nose, his forehead dripping sweat.  With increased fervor he yelled into their faces and declared they harbored Demons.  Chaos erupted inside the Four Square Gospel Indian Mission Church and I was frozen in my seat.

I had come to this revival at the invitation of my eighth grade science teacher who was also leading a youth Bible study.  My friend and her mom picked me up and drove me to the church.  The service began like any other with singing and prayer and a few verses read from the Bible.  Before long I could hear the low, steady drone of gibberish all around me.  My friend explained these people were speaking in “tongues”.  As I looked around the sanctuary people of all ages had their eyes closed and their hands raised up towards the ceiling in a tearful conversation with something or someone I could not see.

The shouts and music became louder and I was soon swept up in the emotion.  I joined the line and moved along towards the preacher feeling strangely sinful and unclean.  My knees shook and my stomach rumbled as we shuffled our way towards the stage.  When I finally reached the front, the preacher’s eyes pierced my own as he laid his sweaty palm on my forehead.  He pushed me back hard and I stumbled into the strong hands of the men in black suits who carried me to the floor.  I couldn’t move.  Every fear filled moment in my life seemed to swell up inside of me and break to the surface of my brain.  My heart raced and my mouth went dry as a group of strange faces peered down at me.  I had no idea why I was laying here on the floor and wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next.  Everything inside of me wanted to run but I felt paralyzed from fear.  The same fear I experienced on a nightly basis in my own home as my father would leer down at me from above my bed.  This church was supposed to be a safe place for me to escape, yet in that moment while God bore silent witness, I felt as if I was once again being violated against my will.  I had walked to the front on my own two feet, but I felt drawn there somehow not by choice, but by obedience to this frenetic, angry man.

I remember the circle of angry red faces above me and the sweat that gleamed on their foreheads as they screamed for the devil to vacate my paralyzed body.  They shouted names like “Beelzebub” and “Baal” and ordered them to leave in the name of Jesus.  The hot, putrid breath of a heavyset woman spilled in and out onto my face as she locked her eyes within inches of my own.  Several men pinned my arms down and someone was sitting on my legs as I writhed and tried to get this woman away from me.  She shouted, “I see the devil in her eyes!  You venomous viper!  Release her now!  In the name of God Almighty we rebuke you Satan!”  It was at that moment that I felt my stomach begin to lurch.  If she did not move away from me soon, I knew I would vomit in her face.  All it took was one more exhale of her wretched breath into my nostrils and my evening supper spewed across her torso and onto the man in the black suit who pinned my left arm.

“Hallelujah!  Praise Jesus!” my circle of captors exclaimed.  Wiping her floral dress with a hankie, the woman once again came close to my face and demanded that I repeat her words.  “I rebuke you Satan and all of your demons!” she shouted, “Now say it!”  I stared up at her with large terrified eyes as my stomach began to lurch again.  “Say it!” she commanded.  All I could get out was “I…” and the remainder of my dinner mixed with stomach bile spewed forth and hit her again.  By that point there were five more faces above me and the room was getting louder and hotter by the second.  I felt my mind spin and was on the verge of fainting.  I tried to shout for the group to let me go but my voice was hoarse and all that came out was a desperate, exhausted croak.  My deep-voiced attempt to speak somehow fueled their fanatical fire and they began to claim it was the voice of Satan himself.

The next hour or so was a blur of faces, crosses, bibles, shouts and guttural noises from my own terrified soul.  Then there was a knock at the church doors.  The knock became louder, more persistent, then pounding and a rattling of the handles which were locked tight.  Exhausted, I could make out the shout of my drunken father as he questioned a man who went outside to calm him.  “Where is my daughter?!” he yelled, “I’m here to take her home!”  There was a series of shouts, shuffles and mumbled dialogue until I heard my father’s old blue Chevy truck wheels screech onto the road as he sped away.  At that moment I felt a small bit of relief that I was being held captive in this confusing arena of frenzied belief instead of being released to my own father who I feared with the very depths of my being.

It was at that moment that I stopped fighting and relaxed.  I watched the crowd of faces as if in a trance, far away from the physical body that bore my pain.  I floated away in the same fashion that I had done a thousand times before when my father chose to shatter my innocence through the evil in his soul.  As I resigned myself and my body became limp to their grip, my captors began to soften their tone and several raised their hands to the ceiling and began that mumbled chorus of Pig Latin and Greek mixed with “Praise you Jesus” and “God is Great”.  They helped me to my feet and as my legs shook and tears streamed down my pale cheeks, I looked desperately around the room for my friend and her mother.  They sat in the third row and prayed with the sweat covered preacher.  I received a cavalcade of hugs and my own personal red leather-bound King James Bible and we were escorted quickly out the door.

Heavy silence filled the car as we drove away from the Four Square Gospel Indian Mission Church late that sultry summer night.  Not a single word was spoken about my most unfortunate event.  My friend told me I was to sleep at her house that night since it was so late and they would drive me home the next morning.  I felt defeated, exhausted, confused.  I felt numb to my core.  Yet I also felt an odd sense of comfort with the respite from my own bed and the thought of my father and I slept peacefully that night for the first time in many years.