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 --