Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ephemera - For You


Come daughter. Let me tell you the story of Ephemera.

This is a story of a woman who gave birth to herself. No one has ever really seen her, except they say, for one tiny little girl they call Ephemera, who some think may even be the daughter of this woman.

The story goes:
Once three was a girl named Ephemera. Ephemera used to live in a small house on the edge of the forest – in between a place of in-between – a land neither forest nor town, field nor hill top – in a home that was always there for as long as anyone could remember but no one has actually seen . This house in the in-between stands alone but it’s not foreboding. It may even be welcoming, if visitors would ever find it.

None do.

There is a special glow about this place and the sun always shines on it, even in the darkest weather and at night it’s as if there’s a cut out space in any clouds that might be overhead that lets the stars flicker on through. On most nights, you can even see the Milky Way.

One day the mother and daughter who may be the same person and who do not live too far from here not too far from there, set out upon their daily walk together. Holding hands, they sing their favorite little rhyme.

Un, deux, trios. Nous aurons au bois.
Quatre, cinq, six, caiez des cerises
Sept, huit, neuf, dans my panier neuve
Dix, once douce, ils serant toute rouge.

They laugh and sing their song and they are having such a giggling good time that they do not notice that they have strayed from their usual path.

Yes, they pass the tree that looks like a scarecrow and the rock where they sometimes stop to play castles together. They pass the place where they once saw a dozen hummingbirds hover in the air then swoop skyward as they they’d been teleported through space. And they pass the soft spot where the cat had brought them the gift of a furry and oh so dead little mouse.

In their joy, singing their rhyme, they do not notice that the landscape has changed and that there are new sounds replacing the squeaks and yacks of the birds and razzling of the insects.
Here in this new place, they hear tones, sounds, notes they’ve never heard before. WHOOOO. WAHH LLOOO SOOO SIIII SAAAAA LOOOOOR…

It is the song of the girl who lives in the magical house, the girl who is also named Ephemera her mother tells her.

And as she listens to the story, the girl who may be the daughter of herself begins to make theses sounds: WHOOOO. WAHH LLOOO SOOO SIIII SAAAAA LOOOOOR and the sounds rise from their throats coming from deep inside and then lilting over their heads as it they are reaching for the sky with every breath.

Together, mother and daughter sing Ephemera’s song – a lullaby -- until the daughter falls fast asleep.

Again on another night, turn it sideways and the pieces fall in a different pattern.

This is a story of a girl named Ephemera who lives in a place in the in between.
A mother.
A daughter.

No one knows this girl except for the mother and the daughter who live together in a place in the town who take a walk everyday through the small forest on the edge of town. They hold hands and sing about gathering cherries.

Un deux trios.

This day, unlike the others, they wander too far. They have been lost in their giggly song, lost in each other’s hearts and do not notice that they have long passed all of the familiar places along the way - the scarecrow tree, the castle rock.

They look up and see that they are lost. The familiar squawks and hoots of the birds have grown silent. The crickets’ crescendo rattles to a halt.

They begin to hear sounds--- Whoo Ca To La Go ---- beautiful sounds. This time holding each other’s hand, they edge closer to the source of the sounds and there it is, like magic -- a glowing house hidden behind enchanted trees, and inside, still as could be, a girl.

She’s lovely in her stillness. She sings these sounds of the world to come and they are flowing through her. Her daughter begins to sing. And the mother joins her, a note or two behind until her voice trails off.

Sing my daughter, she coos in her ear. Sing yourself to sleep.



All photographs copyright Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Camera of Her Own

"You do know, Marsha, that camera means room in Italian." ( I didn’t)

Photoshop is a 21st century form of active imagination.”

I found this idea on JungQuotes posted beneath a picture of Carl Jung’s face affixed atop the body of a yogi. And I sat back in my chair, in front of my computer and I said. “Yes.” “Yes” “Yes.”

It all began ( as so many of these things like this do) with a shadow. It was spring, 2010 and I was in Greece, standing in the entrance to the remains of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, and before me were the words, “Know thyself.” I was pointing my camera at the Greek letters carved in stone when I felt it move downward. I clicked and when I looked at the image on the camera’s screen, there it was. The very first photograph of my shadow.

This trip to Greece was the first time I would be travelling abroad by myself, about to attend a writing and hiking retreat for women in Athens and on the island of Naxos. Because I was anxious about travelling alone, my husband joined me the week before the retreat and the two of us spent time together exploring Athens, Delphi and taking a cruise of the Greek Islands. And because he was going to leave and I would eventually be by myself, I bought something I hadn’t possessed since 1962 when I was given a Brownie Hawkeye for my tenth birthday – A camera of my own.

Throughout our married life, my husband was always the one to take the pictures on all of our trips and vacations ( along with making the travel plans, paying the bills and making the decisions etc.) So when I finally had my own camera, a simple-to-use point and shoot, Nikon Coolpix, I took the same kinds of pictures that my husband would – landscapes, buildings, historical sites, portraits of him posed in front of the landscapes, buildings and historical sites - until that moment when standing at the site of the oracle of Delphi, the camera pointed down.

On this same journey, I’d packed a book, bought at the last minute and stuffed into my suitcase as an afterthought. I had been attracted by the title, Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey and France and the little I had read about the book on its jacket. I knew that Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees had traveled to Europe with her daughter and they had co-written a book in alternating chapters about their experiences there. I was also attracted to the title; an allusion to the myth of Demeter and Persephone, a favorite of mine.

I began reading the book once I arrived in Athens, which is where Kidd and her daughter’s journey began. As I continued reading, I saw that I was following the same exact path of their journey—Athens to Delphi to Mykanos to Santorini to Kusadasi. And even more wondrously, I was encountering the same kinds of existential questions, spiritual crises and mystical experiences as Kidd, a woman struggling to redefine herself post mid-life. Kidd had come to Greece in the midst of spiritual upheaval, feeling a deep urge to write a novel yet not able to give up her past work as a non-fiction writer and suffering from self doubt about her ability to write fiction. Everywhere she went in Greece, she found images of bees and the Black Madonna, mysterious manifestations of her inner vision that would later appear in her novel.

She had come to the land where Western myth began and found connections to her own.

I, too, had come to Greece to write, and I, too, was a woman of a certain age, whose inner life was in turmoil.

Virginia Woolf meeting Carl Jung, at the entrance to my unconscious.

Which brings me to Jung and synchronicity. And the appearance of the darkness through the lens of a camera of my own. And my journey which was not unlike Persephone’s, travelling to the underworld of the unconscious, entering through the cave of my own shadow.

After Delphi, I began taking pictures of my shadow everywhere. On buildings and grass and ancient cobble stones. The shadow pictures gave way to other images in nature – anthropomorphic trees, angels in gardens, stones that spoke in secret tongues.

One day, last spring after uploading some of my images onto my computer, I began playing around with one of them on photoshop, when I accidently hit a filter that refracted the image in two, then reconstructed a new one by reflecting half of the old image back upon itself.

When the reconstructed tree appeared, I lost my breath.

The tree had been split open. Its hard trunk had cracked and a soft inner body, much like that of a woman appeared. Down the center of that body, images of gods, gnomes and other living creatures had become visible.

It was as if the tree were showing me its soul.

Its soul and our own. This deep deep place of inner and outer connection – this kind of revelatory oneness that animates us all.

And I, a woman nearing sixty, set free by a camera of her own, have entered that dark place through the shadow. I'm going to stay here for a while-- imagining the real and playing, yes, playing with the possible.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Maybe tomorrow, I will try
to read the language of stones;
to find the meaning
in the placement
of slabs of granite
cut and stitched
beneath my feet.

I will learn to translate
cracks and spaces
and gather clues
from sprigs of maroon clover
pushing through the mortar
which has failed to
hold these stories

all images by Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Retire With Joy: For Carolyn and all of my friends who have walked away from the classrooms they loved.

First, have no plan.

I know how hard that will be for you, given that for almost forty years of your life, you not only had a plan but were the one who created and implemented the plan for everyone else- wrote the daily, weekly and monthly lesson plans complete with the behavioral objectives and specific learning outcomes ( this during the decades that Bloom’s taxonomy and behaviorism held sway) or posed essential questions and developed student-centered collaborative projects ( back in those hopeful years when constructivism provided the epistemological framework for thinking about how humans learn and policy makers actually believed that urban children should be treated as human beings.)

There is one caveat to the "have no plan" plan. You must plan to be elsewhere the week immediately following Labor Day- some place where this particular week means nothing to the people where you are, preferably a place with no children. It will ease the emptiness you will surely feel as school begins anew – the way a school smells on a crisp clear autumn day, or how the floors gleam with varnish before scraped and scuffed by children’s sneakers and teachers’ high heels. ( Did I ever tell you about the time there was this huge roach varnished into the floor of my classroom at Harding Junior High School? Ah- the memories.)

Instead, think about the crushing heat and the sickening humidity, the odor of unwashed socks and sweaty adolescent bodies, redolent and dripping after a lunch period of running ball on the rooftop yard. Or remember the broken elevators and the lack of supplies, the irritable secretary who will scold you for misplacing a memo, or the misogynistic roster chair who will take out all of the frustration and anger he has felt for every woman who has disrespected him from his mother to his daughter not to mention his three ex-wives – on you - who for some reason reminds him of all of them. So, because he could, he scheduled you into ten different classrooms on five different floors. None with air-conditioning.

If you are still feeling even a twinge of regret, picture the same said roster guy,( did you notice they are almost always men even when the faculties are primarily comprised of women?) standing outside of his classroom ( note he NEVER floats) snickering as you drop your book bag because your shoulder gave ( the one with the unrepaired torn rotator cuff) because it hurt so much opening the door to the stairwell ( remember, the elevator wasn’t working!) that you practically collapsed and dropped everything while no one came to help you re-gather your belongings, your books, your self.

It will feel a like a death, but know this. So will staying. Remember our colleague who once joked with a false bravado, “I’m going to die with a piece of chalk in my hand.” It was after hearing that that I knew. I was not going to die that way. And neither are you.

That’s not dedication or commitment.

That’s lack of imagination – a failure to believe in the power of re-invention – a cynical disrespect for possibilities – those same possibilities that you have always believed in so fervently for your students.

Let life surprise you. Lower your defenses. Wear clothes you’ve walked past for decades in stores because a teacher would never wear THAT!

Get the keratin treatment for your hair.

Go to the Omega Institute and take that course in Yoga and Writing as Spiritual Practice that you’ve circled in the catalogue every year for the past five years but could never take because it was only offered in October and we all know that you were never the kind of teacher who would miss a day of school. Even when you were deathly ill, wheezing and sneezing you dragged yourself through 8 successive classes with one prep and a fifteen minute lunch.

When you retire, you will be paid back for those days with a small percentage of your highest per diem rate. Here’s how crazy I am. At my retirement, that amounted to nearly fifty thousand dollars!

You will get a pension for the rest of your life and in time your social security will kick in. What a delicious twist that you’ll get your dead ex-husband’s because you were married to him longer than the floozie he left you for.

Enjoy that too.

It’s a passage, this thing you’re about to do.

We all stop what we have been doing, one day and one way or another. We all leave behind the work we once did in the world, our hearts filled with memories. You will leave holding onto the stories of the lives you touched, the children you believed in supported and nurtured and the ones who frightened you, when they held up that mirror and showed you the best and the worst parts of yourself.

There’s never a “right time” to go. There will always be that one homeroom class that you want to stay to see graduate or that one boy who needs you and only you to guide him or he will never go to college.

He will.
Or, he won’t.
With or without you.

So, here’s what to do. Give your old books away ( you only think you’re going to read them again – there are so many new books to read!!!! ) Pack up your memories the good and the bad, and leave the chalk that has been in your hand this whole time on the ledge at the bottom of the chalkboard.

Say good bye to the kids, farewell to the school and hello to yourself.

With love,
Your colleague and friend,

( me, saying good-bye, June 23, 2008)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Teaching on 9-11-2001: Remember

Septmeber 11, 2001 began in Philadelphia as a beautiful late summer day. I remember thinking how beautiful the Center City skyline looked against the clear blue sky as I was driving to school along the river drive. I was feeling particularly blessed, loving my job as an English and Drama teacher at Masterman High School, and looking forward to an intellectually challenging year with my 11th and 12th grade students.

First period began and we had a stimulating discussion about the purpose of education and Salinger's critique of school and "phonies" and what it meant to fall and who was the metaphorical catcher in the rye. When the bell rang, I stepped out into the hallway to greet my second period class when a colleague, Bill Synder told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

When my class entered, I was faced with a choice. Do I teach the same lesson about phonies, unreliable narrators and metaphors, or do I turn on the television and find out what had happened in New York. I chose the latter. Later, the students told me that they were grateful that I had done that. They spoke with disdain about the teachers who had continued teaching through the morning as if nothing were going on. Together we sat there, gazing up in shock at the old tv mounted to the wall and watched in real time as the second plane slammed into the other tower.

Of course I was terrified, confused, and uncertain of what to do or say. I knew even as I was standing there that these young people would remember how I reacted, what I did, what I said to them in these moments, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

I don't know where it came from but I found the words. Perhaps it came from Mr. Rose, my 6th grade teacher who on November 22, 1963, another crystal clear beautiful day, told his class of disbelieving 11 year olds that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. The word assassinated had yet to enter our vocabulary. He also told us that when we got home, we might see our parents crying. He told us that they would be upset but that we shouldn't be frightened -- that our lives were still intact and that our parents were still there to protect us. Those words helped me that afternoon when just as Mr. Rose had said, I got off of the school bus and saw my mother and all of the other mothers, waiting for us on the corner, their eyes still wet with tears.

As the announcement came over the loud speaker, telling the students that they would be dismissed early and to go right home, I felt all of their eyes on me. I took a deep breath and I said, "When you go home this afternoon, I want you to watch television. And you're going to see something you've never seen before. You're going to see people reaching out and helping each other. You're going to see acts of bravery and kindness that will inspire you. These terrible disasters bring out the best in people. You'll see."

I'm not sure if I even believed these words myself as I uttered them. But they seemed to help my students as they gathered their books, ready to leave school at noon to return home in a world that was totally different from the way it was when they entered school that morning.

In the days and weeks that followed, I worked with my Drama and Inquiry Class to create the theater piece that is excerpted here. Each of the students interviewed a person about their experiences on September 11th. Some interviewed their parents. Others interviewed neighbors, friends, teachers. From the interviews, they created monologues then performed the monologues as the person they had interviewed. The most moving stories came from the students who had interviewed their siblings who were eyewitnesses to the attacks in New York and Washington. And as they performed their words in class, I could see the bonding that had taken place between them as sister listened to brother, brother became witness for sister then took their words deep inside themselves and made their siblings words breathe with life and witness.

For years, while I was still teaching, if September 11th happened to fall on a school day, I would begin each class by playing Bruce Springsteen's Into the Fire.
And as the song was playing and the words were resonating in the silence, I would hand the class copies of "Dust to Dust," the script of the theater piece their predecessors had created. They would read the words while the song played and as the music stopped, they would spontaneously take turns reading the words.

I imagine that during that time, each student was recalling where he or she was the moment they learned of the plane crash, the images of the buildings crumpling to the ground, and the people of New York City, lining the streets to offer water, food and shoes to the hundreds of thousands making the long and frightening trip back home.

So it's ten years later. I am not teaching today, but I am remembering...

Dust to Dust – Living Through September 11, 2001
By the Masterman Drama and Inquiry Class

Part I – Mundane

Eyewitness AISLING September 11th - I wake up and go to my 8 o’clock class.

Eyewitness BEN - Well, I remember, I was sleeping on, in my bed, on the futon uh in the living room and uuuhh, I felt the building shake…

Young Man MARQUES - I’ll be honest though. I was sorta excited. Like it’s something out of the ordinary. I mean that’s not to disrespect anyone you know, the situation in any way, but you know, sometimes daily life gets kinda mundane.

Eyewitness BEN - .. and I kinda thought at first it was a sonic boom, but then I kinda figured what would they be testing jets over Lower Manhattan at ya know, 8:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. Uuuhm and I wasn’t quite awake yet either to really give it too much thought so I sorta fell back to sleep and whatever the e3xact time interval, I don’t remember from the news, but the second plane hit and the impact actually threw me off of my bed.

Little Boy NIRVANA -- Cause, when I first heard about it, I didn’t really know much about it. Soooo, I really wasn’t that scared..

Woman JULIA - A workman stopped me and said, “Did you hear about it? A plane crashed into the World Trade towers.” I sort of blocked it out of my mind and went about my business.

Eyewitness AISLING - Twenty minutes after seeing the broadcasts, I had to leave for my next class. The entire time I was wondering if terrorists would hit something next. Living in Washington, three blacks away from the White House I was nervous. I have never been more scared than I was right after Washington was attacked. Seeing people running in every direction from federal buildings was crazy. If the government is telling all federal workers to leave Washington and I’m stuck in the middle of Washington in my dorm room, of course I am going to be scared. I felt as though I was sitting in the bull’s eye of a giant dartboard.

Little Boy NIRVANA - First we heard when I was in the bathroom, people from the other class saying “Yeah, we have a half day cause of a plane cra… a plane crashing. I was actually in Science. We had been hearing fibs like “a plane crashed into the Statue of Liberty, it’s about to fall.” That kind of stuff. My teacher finally stopped us talking about it and she started talking about it and I just thought it was awful. Cause who would do something like that? It’s just… unthinkable.

Part II – Chaos

Eyewitness JILL - Everything was totally chaos on Tuesday. Everyone was running around not knowing what to do. When the second building fell down, cries came out, that like, it would break your heart if you had to hear. Everyone was screaming and running, It sounded like New York herself was crying. I don’t think anyone knew where they were running. They just were. Seemed like they were trying to race back into time, you know, before this ever happened.

Eyewitness BEN - But I kinda got a sense from them that they didn’t even have a clear idea of what was going on and they were more concerned with ushering the ..the fire department and rescue squads that were already being deployed into the zone. Umm and at that point, ya know, no body was figuring that they were gonna collapse uhhh,,, so it was quite ya know ( beat) upsetting ( beat) afterwards to realize that ( beat) during those few moments, we were literally watching guys, ya know, sort of run towards their graves.

Young Woman - (JULIA) And they kept showing the same scene over and over and over and over. It got really annoying. It’s okay for them to have it on regular tv, because it’s free, but if I’m paying for cable then I should be able to get what I’m paying for.

Woman ( CATHLEEN.) - I would love to deport all of the Arab nationals who are over here on illegal visas or have illegal immigration papers and even those who have legal papers. I would put a waiver on a lot of civil rights that people carrying green cards have in this country. I don’t know what else to do.

Man ANTHONY - Thank God I’m not in a position to have to come up with the solution. We have to stand by our government. We have to make sure we are all in line with what the President says and does.

Young Man MARQUES - WHAT??? So like we don’t have to follow along the rules of decency and like it just doesn’t I dunno, we just do what we please with no regard to any other nation? I don’t mean to say we have it coming. I think it’s a tragedy a grand tragedy for all the people that died. But I think that’s where the tragedy stops. I mean we have the right to attack people, but they don’t have the right to attack us?

Part III – Too Philosophical

Eyewitness JILL - That night, everything got so weird. It was like silent. It was like New York was asleep, for the first time ever. I was walking around taking pictures today. You know you’re used to seeing missing dog posters on every corner or so, but now it’s missing people signs every couple of feet. Pictures of these smiling faces - faces that are lost.

Man DAVE. - At Rosh Hashanah services the tragedy was on everyone’s mind. I think it set the background for all of the prayers that we were saying that day. It’s like all the prayers had a tinge to them now that they never had before.. and when I was ummmm leading the part of the service and when I came to the prayer for peace, I just felt very very emotional and at the end of the uhhhh section of prayers the last prayer is a prayer for peace. Every word just seemed so vitally important to me.

Young Man LAMAR – What they don’t realize is that this is a holy war. In my opinion, God is on the side of the believers, the Muslims. These cats think they just gonna wipe out the Afghans. Nah, man, nah. Not if it’s the will of God. We gonna be the ones wiped out. People gonna see how corrupt they are, ya know. I hope they uhhh turn to God, ya know. If they don’t, they gotta pay.

Young Man ANTHONY - You know, I think what we are facing here is a war against a belief system. That means we are facing an intellectual enemy, not one of brick or mortar. The “enemy” theoretically could be your neighbor, best friend or the person standing behind you in the store. We are “fighting” something that is not tangible. Thought has no body. No headquarters to bomb. Thought is liquid. ( 2 beats) Was that too philosophical?

Part IV – Dust to Dust

Eyewitness JILL - On Wednesday, the air changed and the wind blew towards us. It was like a really dense fog, the dust and asbestos were everywhere. I just walked around a lot, but I had to wear a wet paper towel on my face. Everything I wore was covered with dust.

Young Woman JULIA - I think that all those people are dead now, so they need to stop looking for people. What they need to do is just dump all the debris in the ocean and have one big mass funeral and memorial service. That would be a lot easier. Because they’re not going to find any more people alive so it’s a waste of time to keep looking for people. And they want you to send clothes and money and stuff up there, but for what? What they need to do is just dump all the debris in the ocean.

Eyewitness BRONWEN - There were people lined up cheering for the workers as we passed by. People were crowded along the street to thank the rescue workers. They had water and food and all this stuff to give to the rescue workers on the bus. There were people of all ages and all races out cheering.

Man ANTHONY - The main thing right now, people have to get on with their lives which is hard to say and hard to do considering what happened. But I guess that’s why we’re the United States of America. Heal we will.

Eyewitness JILL - It’s weird. I am a passive person who doesn’t believe in war and never did I think I would be for murder, but sometimes I catch myself wanting those sons of bitches to die. You know what I keep wishin? I mean I keep thinking about when my friend first told me, I mean man, I wish, I just wish, wish I could go back to that one second when I just, I just didn’t believe him.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


In writing group tonight, the prompt was to reflect on the questions you currently have about your writing. Here's what I wrote.

How do you write about the drama that is occurring in the inner world - the rich and complex landscape of dreams, active imagination and synchroncities? How do you tell the unfolding story of the evolving psyche in crisis, the breaking down and reassembling of the persona into a new and more unified Self? How do you do this without seeming ridiculous, absurd, self-indulgent or just plain nuts?

In 2008 when I retired from teaching, I thought that I would finally be able to devote myself to writing. After 34 years of nurturing thousands of young writers, of being the mid-wife to the emergence of my students' stories, it was finally going to time for me.

The retirement coincided with the my children's graduations from college, then law school and graduate school, their growing independence and their marriages. Even MORE space and time for me to write, free from the constraints of motherhood, needing to spend less and less of my intellectual, emotional and psychic energy on the well-being of my children.

If only.

Instead of plunging into the writing life, I entered a quagmire of confusion, which lead to what, looking back, I now know was a breakdown. Well, maybe not a breakdown, but a dis-location and dis-integration of what had once been my oh so tightly held together identity.

With teaching no longer part of my life, I lost my public role. With my children no longer requiring my daily attention, I lost my private purpose and when I would sit down at my computer in my comfortable and lovely book-lined office, with all of the time in the world at my disposal to write, nothing worthwhile would come.

In his work, Carl Jung describes the process of individuation and the cataclysmic changes that can occur in the psyche in mid-life. I was able to postpone this eruption through my immersion in my family life and work until later - post mid-life and post menopause.

"What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate," he writes.

The holes created by the dropped stitches in the garment of our lives become too enormous to ignore as they threaten to engulf us -- if we do not allow ourselves to confront all of the aspects of ourselves we discarded in the construction of our personae.

And so it was that I found myself in the darkness of my life, wrestling with ghosts and shadows.

Emergence happened slowly for me, with no plan. First a mosaics course at Main Line Arts Center, where I relished breaking glass and reassembling the shards to create new images.

Next came photography where I started snapping my shadow everywhere - on the pavement, in the sand, in the ocean.

Then one day, while playing with a picture of tree on photoshop, I accidentally discovered a way to split the image and refract pieces of each picture back on itself, revealing a strange and new dimension with spirits, goddesses, mythical creatures appearing in the the spaces between.

A map of my inner journey.

I followed these images with ones of my face, splitting then recombining two left halves ( pretty, full-faced, inviting) and two right ( thin-faced, hard, unapproachable).

I began ordering materials from art supply companies, tiles, paints, adhesives, ephemeria and wood. They'd arrive on my doorstep in huge cardboard boxes which I would eagerly unpack, placing the new items on the window ledges and the worktable I'd purchased and planted opposite my writing desk.

I turned my photography into note cards and ceramic tiles, lined my shelves with mosaic boxes, mirrors, trays, vases, all made too quickly to give away to family and friends. My office of its own volition had been transformed into an art studio.

Last month, I took a collage class. It was here that I finally found the language I needed - a language of image, size, shape, color, context, juxtaposition - material that can convey and carry the complexities of my dreams and inner drama.

The pieces of my deconstructed face became part of totems set inside the refracted tree photos.

Colored glass fragments formed flowing tree-women whose arm/branches swayed in the pale blue sky - each glued piece grouted together with a paryer for healing and wholeness.

And the one I just envisioned today --- a round,fecund earth mother goddess, all breasts and womb, inside of which a beautiful tree is growing. The roots of the tree extend down through her feet and toes to the earth below as her branches reach towards the sky.

And on each bough? Thousands and thousands of buds, each one containing a brand new folded image just on the brink of blooming.

I am going to begin making this one tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Pact: An 8th Grade Memory

The paper which fell from my notebook and landed on the floor of Room 220 at George Washington Junior-Senior High School and was then picked up ( and read --- OH NO!!!!!) by Miss Ortino, aka The Jolly Green Giant (the tallest and most humorless teacher we 13 year olds had ever known) said the following:

I, Marsha Rosenzweig, solemnly swear that I will never tell another living soul that Sherry Altman ( name changed to protect the innocent-- though you know who you are and if you're reading this in 2011, feel free to identify yourself!!) was screwed by Kenny Greenberg ( also pseudonymous ) last Friday night, October 22, 1963 in Harriet Doroshow's basement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

And I, Sherry Altman, solemnly swear that I will never tell another living soul that Marsha Rosenzweig was screwed by Pierre Robinson last Friday night, October 22, 1963 in Harriet Doroshow's basement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

After I wrote these words in my 8th grade English composition book, I tore the page carefully at the seam, very quietly so the Jolly Green Giant would not hear the sound as she droned on about third person singular and plural pronouns and folded it in a tiny square so I could pass it behind me discreetly to Sherry who read it, signed it, then poked her left forefinger with the point of a compass to embellish her signature with the mark of blood which always accompanied documents of this import. When she passed it back to me, I did the same.

Perhaps I was startled by the bell, or distracted by the sight of Pierre getting up from his desk and putting his arm around Shelly Fritzheimer, the new girl with the red hair, great body and tight clothes, who, rumor had it, had been kicked out of Catholic school and banished to our public school for being "too fast."

Regardless, it only took a second for the pact to fall to the floor beneath my desk and another ten or fifteen seconds for me to reach the doorway before remembering what I'd left behind, only to see Miss Ortino's flat backside staring me in the face as she bent down to pick up the "trash" on the floor.

I was still standing in the doorway, unable to move when she turned towards me, lowering her glasses as her thin brows rose slowly and steadily above the horn rimmed frames perched on her nose. Her nostrils flared and her frog eyes grew larger and larger and she aimed her gaze right at me.

"Young lady," she croaked. "I will be calling your mother this evening," at which point my fight or flight instinct finally kicked in and I ran from Room 220 nearly knocking over several students in my wake.

I don't remember anything more about that day except that I bolted into the house as soon as I got
off the bus and took the basement phone off the hook thereby effectively blocking any incoming calls for the rest of the night.

Miss Ortino never did reach my mother and it wasn't until a few weeks ago that my mother even heard this story.

I was out to lunch with my sister, daughter and mother and we were catching up with each other about things happening in our lives. My sister is writing a book for parents in part teaching them how to talk to their children about sex to keep them safe from sexual predators. She said that she was including my story as a somewhat humorous example of the misconceptions young adolescents can have about sex.

I don't know how or when I finally learned the truth. Maybe it hit me spontaneously one night when I was a bit older and knew a whole lot more.

Maybe I heard a grown up use the word "screw" meaning THAT and not what I had theretofore known it to mean --- when a boy puts his tongue in a girl's mouth and turns it in a circular motion. Like a screw.

Years later, when I taught junior high school, when I was alternately known as Miss Rose and Miss Frozenfrogs, I thought of Miss Ortino finding that piece of torn, blood-splatted paper on the floor of her classroom and I was overcome with compassion for her and for all the confused girls who have sat in wooden seats in both of our classrooms.

I'm glad my sister's writing her book and that she's included my story.

It still makes me chuckle. But I also must admit that the memory gives me a delicious little thrill. After all, how many girls can say that their first French kiss was with a boy named Pierre.

Photo Credits
Signed in Blood:
Old Phone:

My Midsummer Night's Dream

“A wink is not a blink,” he says coyly, closing one eye so quickly I would have hardly noticed it happened at all except for the twinkle that lingers in the corner of his opened blue eyes and the hint of a suppressed smile trembling on the left side of his otherwise still lips.

His lips part showing perfectly even teeth as he continues, his eyes still playfully challenging me.

“A wink is a discursive act, and it assumes an audience,” he says, touching me lightly above my raised left brow. “A blink is like masturbation," he whispers, slowly withdrawing his touch.

I try to do neither, my eyes pried open and staring blankly into his, until… well…. I blink and we both burst into laughter.

Life requires life.

What an odd dream to have on this warm midsummer’s night.

It is my husband who is driving and we are in his old neighborhood, and because it is summer and because it is hot, he’s stopped his car in front of the water ice stand across from his old high school. The man behind the counter is expecting us, it seems, though I had no idea where we were going. He invites us inside to a cool dark apartment behind the store.

Inside, he introduces us to a man and a woman who have been sitting on wooden chairs as if waiting for our arrival. They are short and copper-skinned, their black hair gleaming in the streaks of sunlight entering through the small unwashed windows above them.

The water ice man gestures towards chairs facing the ones where the man and woman site and we obediently take our seats.

The man leans forward in his chair, and locks his gaze with mine. I too lean closer to listen as he begins to recount the details of his life in El Salvador where he was imprisoned on false charges of terrorism for speaking out against social injustice, and how once released, he escaped the country with his family and came to the US with the help of church groups.

His story has become a monologue and I am riveted. When he is finished, his wife performs her story of giving birth in hiding, of fear and courage it is here that we learn that they are traveling the country, telling their personal stories as live theater.

If an actor pours out the depth of his soul on the stage, but no one hears it, did he make a sound?

Finally, the mother draws my attention to her baby who she places him on the stage, changes from infant to toddler before my eyes. I am mesmerized by this child as he begins to sing in a full-throated tenor. The words of his story grow into a show-stopping Broadway ballad.

In my dream, I hang on every note and I swear to myself in my sleep that I will remember every word of his story when I awaken.

The song builds to an emotional crescendo and the toddler, now though only still under three feet tall looks in every other way like a beautiful thirty year old man.

When his song is complete, he takes a bow.

“Thank you Manolo,” the water-ice man says, and with that, I drift off into another dream I cannot remember.

If a dreamer dreams a dream but cannot recall, did she dream at all?

Later in the day, awake and walking barefoot along the beach, my toes tickling the tips of the waves as they come ashore, my eyes peeled on the horizon, I think I see a little man, three feet tall, winking at me with a twinkle in his eye and a curl on his lip.

And he sings:
Because I love you,
I’m no baby.
I’m no baby,
Cause you’re mine.

Manolo’s* chorus from my midsummer night’s dream.

(Manolo - Spanish origin. Form of Emmanuel. Meaning: God is with us.)

Photo credits:
winking baby ---
puck ---
empty stage with chair --

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Of Moon Walks and Broken Dreams: Rendering a Distant Memory

a repost --- in honor of the 42 anniversary of the moon walk...

I have been trying to write about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 since last week. I wanted to write a piece that talked about where I was on that historic evening during the summer of 1969. The summer was tumultuous for all sorts of reasons - political, historical and personal. It was one of those touchstone moments in my life where everything was changing and falling apart around me, and I wouldn’t understand the significance of the confluence of events until much much later. This is one of the reasons I was having such a hard time writing about it from my adult perspective – I couldn’t find the narrative voice of a younger self who could tell the story with immediacy and honestly.

Last night in writers’ group, for our writing prompt, Alison Hicks placed dozens of visual images on the floor and asked us to find one that called to us. I found a surrealistic landscape with a haunting moon hanging low in the sky. I wrote July 20 1969 on the top of a clean page, then made a decision that helped me get inside of the narrator’s mind.
I created a third person limited narrator that was telling the story from the perspective of a 17 year old girl. Here’s what I wrote:

July 20, 1969

It is early evening and she doesn’t remember how she got here or which one of her girlfriends gave her a ride in their father’s Chevvy. She knows one of them did, Randy or Andie, maybe because she doesn’t drive. She’s been here for hours, and the tweed fabric of the orange sofa chafes against the skin behind her knees as she leans forward, still staring at the large black and white TV – an RCA floor model in a maple cabinet, console type with shiny metallic woven cloth covering the speakers on either side of the flickering screen.

She’s not alone, but she sure feels like she is. She hasn’t spoken to anyone since Randy, or was it Andie, left after seeing what was going on here. There is nothing more boring than a bunch of scagged out boys in front of a television set in the unairconditioned living room of a semi-detached brick box in Northeast Philadelphia. She felt the same way, about the boredom that is, but what kept her here was Dock – the boy whose house it was, the boy whose parents left him alone for two weeks while they drank mai tais and attended luaus in Honolulu, and the boy she had been madly in love with since she was fourteen.

It was the summer of 69, the summer before 12th grade, and less than a month before Woodstock and her planned getaway with Dock, though she hadn’t quite figured out what to tell her mother, or even how she was going to convince Dock to take her along with him and the boys when they went to the rock festival.

She let her eyes stray from the television set and wander around the room. The shades were drawn and the volume on the TV had been turned off and the stereo turned up – Walter Cronkite replaced by Jim Morrison. A quick furtive glance at Dock, and she saw that he hadn’t moved from where he’d been for the past hour – lying back, leaning against the wall, face towards the TV, but with his eyes closed.

She shivered slightly though the room was warm and still. She spotted the spoons with their burned bottoms, tiny pieces of cotton still in the center. She looked back at Dock and her eyes drifted up to see a splatter of blood on the wall and the pole lamp. For a moment, she had the urge to go into the kitchen and find some cleanser or bleach and scrub the evidence from the wall, but was stopped by the sight of a girl she had never seen before leaning languidly against the archway between the living room and kitchen, a needle still dangling from her veins. She had never seen a girl shoot up and this girl’s eyes were closed and she was shifting her weight and her hips were moving slowly back and forth. A soft noise like a purr was coming from deep inside her.

Dock had gotten up, and was standing beside the moaning girl as she leaned into his body.

“Damn!” Dock said slowly, as he matter of factly removed the needle from her bruised arm. “Can you fuckin’ believe it? One day we can tell our kids that we watched the men on the fuckin’ moon scagged outta our brains!”

With that, he returned to his spot against the wall, closed his eyes and turned back towards the TV.

Of course there’s more to the story. Of course I never got to Woodstock. It was all in my head anyway. Besides, one week before Woodstock, Dock’s best friend Steve died of an overdose and all of our lives were changed forever. Dock lived to be 50, I understand. Heard he moved to Florida, got married, had children even. I wonder what he told his children about where he was when the men walked on the moon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


My back hurts a lot.

All the time.

My friend Elizabeth who knows about chakras and energy medicine and reiki and tarot and goddess wisdom and more tells me: People with back pain live in the past. It is your past pushing up behind and against you. Let it go.

So I have been reading about quantum touch and energy meridians and natural healing.

“Your memory is not in your mind,” Bert Jacobson says.

He is my gentle and brilliant chiropractor and he is working on my back as he speaks. “It’s in your body," he continues. “Your cells remember everything and they pass that information on to the new generation of cells.”

I have brought my eighty-three year old mother to see Dr. Bert. Two years after her knee replacement, doctors are now recommending that she replace her hip. I am hoping that chiropractic can spare her this misery.

He examines her carefully and thoroughly, speaking to her softly as he tries to help her get in sync with her own body. As he touches her, he begins to “read” her history.

“Something’s happened to you that’s thrown everything off," he says. “Tell me the history of your foot.”

So she tells him the story, how at age 37, at the peak of her life, the top of her physical strength, she fell on the ice on a snowy day in 1967 and broke her ankle. It was a very complicated break, one that took several pins and three operations to get "right."

Only the doctors never got it right. After that fateful day, I never again saw my youthful mother bound up the stairs to the second floor or walk briskly through our neighborhood. She has spent the rest of her life out of alignment, off balance and walking with a crooked gait which finally wore away the cartilage around her knee and now was doing its damage to her hip.

“I can unlock your ankle,” Dr. Bert says taking her left foot in his hands and showing us how it is completely frozen and splayed. 'This will help to equalize your gait and take some of that pressure off of your hip."

Wanting desperately for her to give chiropractic a try before submitting to more rounds of cortisone shots, torturous physical therapy and additional surgery, I tell her all that I have been reading about mind-body connection, cellular memory and quantum healing.

Later that night, when the phone rings, I hear that quiet tentative voice she always uses when she’s remembered something or had a new insight.

“You know," she practically whispers. "You got me thinking about something.”

I inhale and wait.

“When I was a girl, your Bubbe, my mother,” she begins hesitantly, “used to curse me sometimes in Yiddish. “

I continue to hold my breath.

"When I was bad, she’d say, 'Tsebrekhn dayn fus.'"

“She didn’t mean it,” she quickly adds. "It was just something she’d say out of frustration, then she’d apologize. But it stayed with me, I guess.”

“What does it mean?” I ask, wishing for the thousandth time that she had taught me this flexible and enduring language instead of using it as a form of secret communication with the elders to keep secrets from us children.

“It means, ‘Break your foot.”

The past hangs silently in the air between us.

We both exhale, and I let myself wonder if she is thinking about what things she might have said to me when I was small, what curses may have passed her lips in anger that still live in my cells today.

And as I hang up, I rub my back, trying [not] to remember all I may have said to my daughter in the past.

photo credit: sankofa

Friday, June 24, 2011

Silent Treatment

You told me once
when you were still talking to me
how you love voices.
No two are alike, you said.
Like people or snowflakes.

Both a noun and a verb,
the organ of the soul,
voice rouses memories
and quickens the pulse.

Voice is alive.
There is no sound
without breath.

My favorite sound -
a sigh of exhalation
the ~~ahhhhhhh~~~
of surrender.

I love that voice is born in vibration.
Intention, the bow which glides
across the strings in our throat.

Or perhaps I've forgotten
that the voice has a mind of its own.
A sympathetic stirring
of heart strings and vocal cords
that bypasses the will.

The heart sings - the voice celebrates.
The heart cries - the voice despairs.

Today, in my "Theater of the Oppressed" class,
the teacher says:
“Oppression occurs when there is only monologue, no dialogue.”

I think of you and shudder.

I am Medusa, slayed by the sound
of her solo voice-
the echo in the mirror
turning her into silent stone.


My voice is drawn into your silence.

Like island people with multiple words for the sea
or desert nomads pondering the infinite changeable sky,
those forced to dwell in this banishment know
but do not reveal to others
(except for me, telling you, here)
there are many states of silence.


We are but water and energy
two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen
vibrating through flesh and bone.

And every compound living or inert
has its base of absolute zero.
where all is still.

The big quiet.

The range and depth of silence
is not an abstraction.

It lives in the spaces between.

Like me.

John Henry Fuselli - Silence

Friday, June 10, 2011

Two Poems about Teaching: For my Teacher Friends as Another Year Closes


Follow the steps in the complex dance.
Listen closely to what they are not saying
Then lead them gently
Back to themselves.


Teaching is wonder
Miracles unfold.
Teaching is alchemy
Lead changes to gold

Teaching is soaring
To heights oh so high.
Teaching is romance
Fall in love.....
Say Good-bye.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Polaris Rising

I’ve lost touch with the stars. Like titles that have broken away from their stories, their names are familiar, but I can no longer connect them to their place in the sky.

Which way is north? he would say to me in the backyard at night.

And I’d feel so smart sneaking a peak before triumphantly pointing in the direction of the North Star.

Funny now, thinking back, I wonder why I had to look. It never changed. This was ritual, occurring always at the same time of night, ( right before bedtime) the same time of year ( summer) and always from the same place ( the swing set in our backyard.)

I am as constant as the Northern Star, Joni Mitchell sings a few years later and I nod in cynical agreement as she responds to herself, Constantly in the darkness, where’s that at, if you want me I’ll be in the bar.”

I was in the dark about so much during those years after he left, when the stars were swallowed by the night and I stopped believing in providence.

From then on, my eyes stopped drifting heavenward.

Last summer at Ghost Ranch, on the New Mexican mesa during a meteor shower, the wild women of AROHO shed their shirts and danced like goddesses. With their bodies swaying they leaned their heads back and stretched their necks like swans and kept their eyes peeled to the sky.

Here’s one on the right!

There’s another on the left.

And their eyes would snap west to east, east to west.

With the other women whirling around me, I stood perfectly still, bound to the earth, my eyes fixed only on the Big Dipper watching, waiting and hoping for that flash of light to tear through the darkness and illuminate the long forgotten Northern Sky.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning Geometry: Looking Again

Take a picture of someone you know
Or even of yourself and
Fold the picture in half
And hold a mirror along the
Line of the center crease.

Divide the face in half
Then multiply each half by itself.

I once saw this done
With an image of Richard Nixon -
1972, on the cover of Newsweek
A country as split
As the psyche of the man
Who led us.

Two right sides of his face
Comprise a cheerful, pleasant man-
Full faced, with upturned lips
Almost smiling with a confident
Warm gleam in his eyes.

Ah but the left,
Put those sides together and
There he is
Tricky Dick with a sinister face
A wary line of a mouth
And small uneasy eyes.

I want to see your face
In pieces.

I want to measure
The slope of your chin
The angle of your cheekbones
The square root of your mouth.

We are all made up of numbers
Dots to be connected and formed
Into lines on a graph;
Calculus and geometry.

The hypotenuse of your profile
Equals the sum of the distance
Between the bottom of your lips and
The length of your nose.

A squared plus B squared
Equals your face

Divided by two

Multiplied by itself.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Where I'm From: Homage to George Ella Lyon

When I was teaching, I always made sure that I completed every writing assignment I ever gave my students. I would also share each piece with them when the time was right. This entry is my version of a very generative poem, written by George Ella Lyon, and used by thousands of English teachers around the country, to help students value what they know, what they bring with them and where they're from. The lesson was popularized in Reading, Writing and Risin' Up published by Rethinking Schools...

Where I'm From
Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus

I’m from secret recipes and bubbe meinses
Shared in ancient kitchens
While Fegele and Rivkah, Razel and Malka
Knead flour and eggs into
Kreplach and kanadalach
And watch them boil over in the iron pot
And rise up in wafts of steam
Like their girlhood dreams.

I’m from knit one purl two and
Metal needles ticking out a rhythm
Like a heartbeat as the women weave
Baby weight, four ply worsted or bulky novelty yarn
Into the fabric of their lives.
Somewhere I see my mother frantically
trying to stitch together
The pieces of her broken heart while
My grandmother holds her sanity taut
With the string she keeps knitting and unraveling,
knitting and unraveling
And knitting again like the stories of her life
She tells to anyone who will stop to listen

I’m from failed marriages and single parent households,
Divorce settlements and child custody agreements challenged and
Child support promises broken.
I’m from fists thrust through plastered walls
Voices raised till they bleed
And mirrors cracked to reflect the
wicked witches and ominous orgres
who populate childhood nightmares and
the fractured fairy tales of step children.

I’m from Mt Airy and Pine Valley
Fayette Street and Grace Lane
Moving from concrete common driveways
And houses so close together you
Feel your neighbors breathe
To wide open lawns like spacious edens
Where children run free in shrouded innocence
Until fences, sowed by feuds
And watered by misunderstanding
Sub-divide our youth.

I’m from now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the lord to keep my parents together
Doomed from the start,
An only child married to the oldest of ten
Her silent upbringing offended by
His boisterous bounty of brothers
Dinnertime as survival of the fittest.
Family as an embarrassment of children.

When my father left us to lead his own life
He uprooted the family tree and transplanted it
In a faraway land I was barred from entering
Leaving me only the misremembered stories of
Lost legions of people who look like me, and share my name
But live somewhere only in my imagination.