The Moment: A Review

The Moment is a collection of short essays from 125 writers and artists that focuses on a particular moment in time that significantly changed each author’s life. The collection comes to us from the creators of the Six-Word Memoir series and Not Quite What I Was PlanningSmith Magazine. There is such a wide variety of essays in this collection that it will appeal to almost everyone. I actually brought the book to my writing residency and shared several of the essays I thought were relevant to some of my peers and their struggles with writing and life. It includes essays from Dave Eggers, Diane Ackerman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Bill Ayers, Jennifer Egan, A. J. Jacobs, Judy Collins and many more. This is a book you will want to come back to again and again especially when you need inspiration on those days when you believe everything is going wrong in your life. Below is a brief description of just a few of my favorites.

John B. Carnett, in his brief essay “Birth,” discusses the moment he realized he was using his camera as a buffer between himself and the life unfolding in front of him. It brings forth the question: What do we use as a buffer to distance ourselves from what is happening around us? This might seem odd, but sometimes I feel like my glasses provide a buffer between me and others.

Diane Ackerman has a beautiful essay entitled “Love in a Time of Illness” about her husband’s stroke and his slow recovery and the skills he developed to compensate for what he’d lost. It is heartbreaking and at the same time so hopeful and inspiring.

In “Momento Mori,” Adam Theron-Lee Rensch takes us on a haunting journey into how he believes he accidentally killed his father by rearranging the furniture in his father’s apartment in an attempt to keep his father from getting hurt should he wake up drunk and fall.

Another haunting essay is “Forgiven” by Jennifer Thompson. In the essay, Thompson takes us through her experience watching a man be convicted of her rape, finding out eleven years later that he is innocent, and the beautiful aftermath of what should have been an unthinkably horrific experience.

These are only a few brief descriptions of what you will encounter in The Moment. It is a book that will have you reflecting on your own life and the moments you’ve experienced that changed everything and will serve as a reminder that even the worst of experiences can turn out better than you ever expected.

The Productive Writer: A Review

Sage Cohen has perfect timing. When I was new to creative writing and was just beginning to learn about the mechanics of poetry, she published Writing the Life Poetic. It was exactly the guidance I needed. She provided the kind, gentle voice that calmed my fears about writing poetry so much so I ended up winning a poetry contest and recently had a poem published.  As I progressed in my nonfiction writing, though, I developed new fears: Am I good enough? Who will want to read my work? AND fears about publishing: Why don’t I “get” what a platform is? How do I get started submitting my work and to whom? Then Cohen published The Productive Writer just as I was about to give up on writing altogether. I like to think that she is writing just for me, that she is my personal writing coach because of her impeccable timing when it comes to the stages of my writing life.

In all her writing, Cohen has a way of first allaying our fears so we can open our minds to the unlimited possibilities before us. But, she doesn’t stop there! She follows up with great, detailed advice; clear steps for us to take towards success; along with examples from her own writing life. In The Productive Writer, she adds a new dimension with printable worksheets and checklists she’s made available on the web to serve as companions to The Productive Writer. One such worksheet is “Your Platform at a Glance.” After reading through her example, I finally understood what a platform entails. I’ve read so much about platform and how important it is to my writing success, but never have I seen it broken down into the simple steps Cohen presents in this book. I was able to follow the worksheet and develop my platform which gave me a whole new outlook on my writing.

What made the biggest impact on me was Cohen sharing her perfectionist tendencies and how it was hindering her success as a writer. Her solution: Do the best that you can and then send out your work. Let others decide if your writing is worthy of publication. Don’t sabotage yourself by requiring that everything you write be absolutely perfect before you release it to the world. Like what has happened to me, your writing will go nowhere. It will collect dust among the computer archives. Cohen doesn’t just say “Do the best that you can,” she tells you how. She provides editing advice, organizational tips, and suggestions on how to find time to write. She has an entire chapter devoted to “Publishing and Landing Gigs!”

Through her writing, Cohen encourages us to find our own writing rhythm. She tells us that it isn’t absolutely necessary to write first thing in the morning as is often suggested. It is important for us to find our own writing rhythm. Through debunking some of the common myths about writing, she gives us the freedom to become our own unique writer selves. Even as she offers suggestions, tips, and personal experiences, she tells us: “Find what works for you!”

The Productive Writer is structured in short chapters, usually about ten pages in length. The structure helps you find what you’re looking for easily and also makes it a great book to bring with you while waiting at the doctors, or at your kids’ soccer games, or wherever you have a little free time. This is another aspect of the book I love. It shows Cohen’s attention to detail and consideration for today’s busy writer.

Cohen provides information for writers of all levels. The Productive Writer will become your permanent writing companion. If you’re a beginner, Cohen provides the inspiration and knowledge you need to begin your journey as a writer. It is a book that will grow with you and you will return to again and again as you progress. If you are experienced, Cohen provides excellent suggestions on topics such as organization, social media, and the collection and storage of your random thoughts as well as the edited out portions of your writing so you can easily find and use them later. The information and inspiration she provides will be the fresh perspective you need to take your writing to the next level.

As I continue with my writing, I am looking forward to what Cohen will write for me next…oh, and for you too!

*My reviews of Writing the Life Poetic and Like the Heart, the World, Sage Cohen’s book of poetry.

You can find Sage Cohen on Facebook at The Path of Possibility and Twitter @sagecohen and I highly recommend subscribing to her website The Path of Possibilty as she regularly posts fantastic articles about writing, poetry, and most importantly how they intersect with our everyday lives.

The Ink Poisoning of a Cancerous Silence

It is darkness that brings the memories back. I try to shy away from them, drinking coffee to avoid sleep or listening to meditation music when I lie down so that I might alter the content of my dreams, but somehow the memories always thread their way back into my sleeping mind and I have to relive them again and again.

This dream always starts out the same, flickering in and out of focus, like the old reel movies I used to watch in elementary school. Tick. Tick. Tick. Then it smoothes out and everything becomes clear.

I can see her standing in the living room next to the brick fireplace with her arms crisscrossing her chest, hands tightly gripping her sides. She is dressed in her favorite outfit: mini-skirt, half shirt, lace-up boots, and large hoop earrings; all stonewashed, all the same shade. Her hair is deep chocolate snaking towards the center line of her back and her eyes are green and brown, speckled like leaves turning in the fall.  She is so thin – having stopped eating in hopes of forcing her body to conform to what she sees in the magazines. This, she believes, will make a boy finally love her.

She doesn’t know anyone here and the boy she came with has left her in this room, alone.

“You have a beautiful smile,” someone says and she turns her head slightly towards the man on the couch and then quickly lowers it trying to hide the stinging blood creeping up her neck, her cheeks.

“What’s your name?” he asks and she slowly raises her head to look at him hoping the prickly feeling won’t come back revealing her shyness.

“Sarah.” She starts to lower her head again in automatic response but catches herself. “What’s yours?”


The air is thick with cigarette smoke and alcohol is free flowing. There is a familiar pungent smell making its way around the room coinciding with the relaxation of those it passes.

Her mind wanders to thoughts of Alex, the boy she came with. This new guy could be a definite asset to her plan of luring Alex from his long-time girlfriend.

“How old are you?” Mike asks jolting her back from the imaginary kiss she and Alex are sharing. Mike is lounging back on the nubby couch, arms winged across the back, lids weighing heavily over dark brown eyes.

“Fourteen,” she tells him and his grin widens showing perfectly placed ivory squares.

She lights a cigarette hands shaking. “How old are you?”


This gets her attention. She notices he is a gorgeous man, with a muscular build that boys her age don’t have. She flashes another smile his way.

“Mmmm, what a beautiful smile.” His words linger in the thick air. His hair is cut so short that if it were not for its dark color he would appear bald. His face is tan and smooth, nearly flawless.

She thinks he is beautiful, but is caught between feeling alarmed by his penetrating eyes and excited about his interest in her.

She sits down on the well-worn chair across the room and takes a sip of the smooth amber liquor Alex hands to her. She thanks him and smiles as he walks away. He is eighteen, but she likes to think she can make him love her despite the age difference. He is a drummer in a popular local band and she is his groupie. They work together, sort of. Her sister, with special permission from her parents, got her a job at Boardwalk Fries in the Florida Mall. She is only allowed to stand in front of the bright blue counter and hand out French fry samples to passersby. She is okay with this, though, because it gives her a chance to talk to him every time she works because he is a janitor in the mall.

She thinks how lucky she is that they came here together. She had already told her parents that she was staying with friends overnight before her friends changed their minds about the party choosing to go out with their boyfriends instead. It was too late to go home and she didn’t know where else to go. There is no excuse she can use to explain showing up at home so late at night without her parents knowing she was lying. They are overly religious and abusive, always looking for ways she has sinned and reasons to punish her. She would do anything to avoid sleeping within the confines of their tiny roach-infested house and the inevitable beating her father would give her. She had sat down on the curb near the back entrance to the Florida Mall as she tried to figure out what to do and that’s when she’d seen Alex come out from work.

“What are you still doing here?” he’d asked her, knowing she had gotten out of work nearly an hour before.

“Brenda and Jennifer decided not to go to the party,” she had answered. “I’m not sure how I’m going to get there now.”

“I can take you,” he’d said, “If you’re okay catching a ride with me.” He was the reason that she’d wanted to go to the party in the first place and without thinking, she’d said yes.

Nervous about Mike’s eyes still on her, she looks around for Alex. He is standing in the hallway talking to someone she cannot see. Her eyes longingly gaze over his silky brown hair that covers the length of his back. He looks like the guys she worships on MTV. He is just one in a long line of unsuspecting boys she has targeted to be her savior. She is trying to play catch up. All her friends have boyfriends and sex. She has had neither. Boys her age are oblivious to her existence, but she has started to notice, especially at work, that older men have an interest in her.

Alex moves and she can see he is talking to David and his girlfriend. David is the lead singer of the band and is the one who invited her and her friends to the party. He works with Alex. They are the only two people she knows at this party. As she continues to look at the faces of the people around her a quick twinge of panic overcomes her as she realizes that she shouldn’t have agreed to come to an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people. Everyone is visibly older than she is and fear starts to permeate the veil of alcohol. She downs the rest of the liquor in the glass she’s holding and pops open a can of beer that’s sitting on the table next to her.

“Sarah, are you ready to go?” Alex says.

“Wha wha what?”

“It’s time to go.”

It takes her a minute to comprehend that he is leaving.

She wants to go with him more than anything.

Mike is still on the couch, sitting close to his girlfriend now, but still staring at her.

She can’t leave with Alex, though, because she can’t go home and she has nowhere else to go.

“I don’t want to go home yet.” Her words stretch out unnaturally. “We just got here like an hour ago.”

“You can’t stay here. How are you going to get home?” he asks.

She knows there is more for her to be afraid of at home than there is here. She is drunk and it’s even later. Her parents’ punishment will be too severe. Even more, she is ashamed of where she lives, ashamed to let Alex in on this hidden part of her life. What if her parents were to go after him because he dropped her off? Boys are explicitly forbidden. What would he think of her then?

They argue back and forth, he giving reasons why she should leave, her giving reasons for why she should stay, neither of them making progress. Then David steps in.

“Hey, man, she can stay here with me and my girlfriend. I’ll give her a ride to work in the morning.”

This seems to relieve Alex of all concern and he walks toward the front door to leave.

“Leave, please just leave with him,” I scream banging on the imaginary wall that separates us. I need to alter the dream here. I need to get her to leave with him. Everything slows down and I will her to stand up and walk out that door with him. Things will turn out so differently if she will just walk out that door. But she doesn’t hear me and just sits there unaware of my pleadings. My words are tangled, imprisoned in this barrier that separates me from her. She will never be able to hear them.

She watches her savior walk out the door, his image remaining even after he’s gone. The sound of the screen door slamming jars her. She starts to regret her decision. “What other option do I have?” she thinks standing up to get another drink. Mike’s eyes follow her as she walks into the dining room.

Another hour passes and the party thins considerably. Those who are left migrate towards the large, oblong table that fills the small dining room. The table is loaded with liquor bottles and extra cases of beer. They move them into the kitchen making room to play a game. She sits down at the table and Mike sits next to her. Mike’s girlfriend sits across the table. She thinks this is odd. Dave, Dave’s girlfriend, and two other guys she doesn’t know sit down in the remaining seats and the game begins.

Because she doesn’t know how to play, she is drinking shot after shot of liquor and chasing them down with beer while the other players cheer her on. A joint is making its way around the table, but she doesn’t take a hit. She hates the way it makes her feel.

“We’ve missed you man,” one of the guys says to Mike.

“What was it like?” the other asks.

“Shit, it was nothing,” he says, “They can’t keep me down.” Everyone starts to laugh except her.

“He just got released from a mental institution,” his girlfriend, Mandi, says, emphasizing the last two words while looking directly at her. Mandi is trying to scare her and it works.

She realizes this party is in celebration of Mike’s release. He begins to howl loudly and starts banging his head on the table, hard. She jumps up. Everyone laughs at her and she is instantly sober. It happens to her a lot – this instant sobriety – and it infuriates her. She sits back down and starts drinking as much as she can.

It’s not long before someone decides the party is over and everyone gets up. The two men she doesn’t know leave. David and his girlfriend walk into the bedroom nearest the dining room and close the door. Mike and Mandi head towards the bedroom nearest the front door and close the door. There is a bathroom in the center that separates the two bedrooms. She goes in and sits on the toilet and looks at her reflection in the mirror to her left. Her face is pale, bloated, with black smudged eyes. She turns away quickly disgusted by what she sees.

She comes out of the bathroom and curls up on the couch in the living room with the soft yellow glow of the lamp on the table next to the front door. She is relieved that Mike’s girlfriend is staying and she relaxes. She lights a cigarette and looks around the room. The fireplace is a silent, dark pit hibernating till cooler temperatures arrive and for the first time she notices that there is no television in the room. She stares at the orange glow of her cigarette as she takes a drag and is startled by the sound of a door opening.

Mandi walks out of the bedroom. “Be a good boy,” she says to Mike, but looks directly at her as she says it, her eyes issuing a warning. She walks out the front door flipping the light switch and the blackness of inside and outside merge. Nothing is visible but the tiny orange ring at the end of the cigarette.

As the door snaps shut she is instantly sober again fear gripping her, blood pulsing loudly in her ears. She puts the cigarette out in the ashtray extinguishing the last bit of light in the room. As her eyes adjust, the room takes on a slightly blue hue from the moonlight coming through the sheers hanging from the large picture window. She lies down trying to stay calm convincing herself that everything is okay; that it’s stupid to be so afraid.

It is a matter of minutes before his dark ghoulish silhouette is on top of her suffocating her. She hadn’t heard him walking across the living room and all the cells in her body freeze for a moment. He is trying to kiss her, pressing down on her and she pushes her hands hard against his chest trying to get him off.

She is wearing a short, loose skirt.

Easy access.

A mistake.

She struggles against him, trying to pull her legs together, trying to free her hands to pull her skirt down as he tries to pull it up. His legs are heavy on hers. She cannot get loose.

“No, no, no,” the air, now thin as a razor blade, slices at her words making them barely audible.

She tries to speak again, “Please,” her voice airless and cracking from his weight, “Stop.”

His mouth closes on top of hers. Screams release into its hollowness. She feels a searing pain between her legs and she twists and turns, trying desperately to squeeze her legs together and make it more difficult for him. He is getting frustrated. He is so big and she is so small. This should have been easier.

I want to reach in and pull him off of her, scream for her, do something to save her. I want to run into David’s room and wake him up, tell him to save her, but there is nothing I can do. I want to turn away so I cannot see what is happening to her. I don’t want to have to watch this play out. Again.

He doesn’t give up. He is used to getting what he wants. She is broken wide open. She stops trying to scream or get away. She disappears into a safe place inside her mind, separating from her body, creating a permanent divide.

Snapshots flash.



The couch.

His bed.

The smell of Vaseline lotion.

The slimy feel of it between her legs.




She wakes to darkness and the faint sound of snoring. He is back in his room and she is on the couch in the living room, safe for now. She tiptoes to the bathroom and tries to scrub him off of her avoiding looking in the mirror. She thinks about knocking on the door to David’s room, but she doesn’t know what to say or how he will react. She doesn’t know him well enough and her fear of his reaction stops her.

She sits back on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette watching a clock tick minute by minute waiting for sunlight, waiting for the sound of David’s door opening to signal her escape out of this place. She is nauseated, her body bruised and in pain, her head pulsing – the only sound to penetrate the silence.

They are speeding up the hill on Sand Lake Road on their way to the Florida Mall, Sweet Child O’ Mine blaring from the cassette player in David’s Camaro. He is drowning her out. She told him what happened when they stopped by his house so he could shower before work. There were a lot of shits and fucks and then silence. Later, he would talk to Mike, who would deny anything happened, and David would believe him, making her a liar.

She walks into work like nothing happened. Everyone thinks she is hung over, teases her about her wild night of drinking. She starts to give a faint smile and then remembers his words “You have the most beautiful smile,” and she runs to the back of Boardwalk Fries and vomits in the mop sink again and again trying to purge him out of her. She doesn’t think she will ever smile again.


It is twenty-two years later and I come to this coffee shop each morning to write, for the first time, about being raped at 14. I know it is time to extract this nightmare from my body or it will kill me. Writing here, in this coffee shop, surrounded by the comforting smells of coffee and freshly baked cookies and the unfamiliarity of the strangers consuming them, I know I am less likely to let these memories overwhelm me and break down into uncontrollable sobs of rage. I am ashamed of what has happened to me, what has happened to my body, and my silence which allowed it all to happen with no consequences to the man involved. This shame has grown like a cancerous tumor in my body and putting my truth on the page serves as a daily dose of chemotherapy. Slowly, as I write, the mass surrounding my core is shrinking as it is eaten away by the poison that has been stored so long within its unyielding edges. I am letting it pump freely through my blood, allowing it to spread through my body so that I can gain peace from its healing power. It is flowing through my hands, through the ink on this page, making a permanent record of all I have let him forget by being silent.

*This essay was originally published in the fall 2010 issue of Sanctuary Literary Arts Journal.

Return to Me

I woke up this morning to a wonderful post from my friend Pauline Campos (Aspiring Mama). Here is what she said: “It takes an indescribable talent to take horrific childhood memories and turn them into beautiful testaments of strength and character. That’s what Sarah does with her breath-taking essays. Sarah is an amazingly gifted writer who also dabbles in poetry and fiction. I’m honored to know her.”

Wow! What Pauline doesn’t know is that I have struggled with my writing for some time now. I started writing as a way to release the stories that have weighed me down, the stories that run through my veins and leave me paralyzed, the stories that play out again and again as nightmares when I’m brave enough to close my eyes. I found a way to make the ugly look pretty on the page. As I began to find relief through writing, I wanted to share what I had been through with others. I wanted to connect with those who have been through what I have and open the eyes of those who have not.

It all began that way, but somehow I lost my way. I got caught up in the idea of being published and trying to get people to like me. I was physically ill for days before my essays were critiqued in my MFA classes. I began to write my essays in a way I thought the other students or my professor would want them. I pulled all the essays I had posted on my blog, because if they were on my blog they could no longer be published in literary journals. Things I desperately wanted to share with the world sit untouched, unseen, in easily forgotten computer files. I finally did get an essay published and the excitement didn’t last very long. My essay, something I wanted to share with everyone, was published in a literary journal that most people will never read AND they spelled my name wrong. Then, I just quit writing altogether.

I had an AHA moment when I read Pauline’s post. She has read many of my essays, but I thought: how will anyone else read them? She has given me the highest of praise, something I can read and be so grateful for and inspired by, but how will anyone else know what she is talking about if my essays are tied up for months at a time waiting for an editor to finally say “yes, they are worthy?” I realized I don’t want to keep my writing hidden or in limbo anymore. I don’t care if it cannot be published in a literary journal if it’s posted on my blog. I want you to actually get to read what I write. I don’t want to talk about the writing process; I want you to be able to read the final product. I want my work to be easily accessible. I want to return back to where I started: sharing my nightmare with others so they know they are not alone; bringing awareness to those who have no idea what it’s like for someone like me to walk in this world so damaged and broken. I want to return to the place where the blank page was my friend, a canvas for me to create a new life and heal the past. I don’t want to be afraid of the page anymore. I want to love it again.

So, I’ve made the decision to start posting my essays on my blog again. I envision it as weekly postings, but categorized under memoir so that you can come back and read through them when you like. I don’t need to be a famous author. I only need to share my work in hopes that it will change someone’s life; that someone will read it and not feel so alone; that someone will read it and say AHA! I am returning to the me who loves to make art on the page; the me that doesn’t give a damn if my writing is perfect or publishable. The me that actually writes.

Thank you, Pauline, for the wake up call, for the push in the right direction, for your belief in me as a writer…

Starting a Journal Revolution

I wrote a proposal for funding and other support to start a writing group last month, but my proposal was rejected for reasons that are complicated but completely understandable. However, that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. I had taken a lot of time to put my ideas on paper and to select the items that I wanted to purchase for each participant so that I could create a budget. It felt so good to complete the proposal and I was excited by the possibilities. It was a major letdown to not be able to move forward with my plans.

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine who had read some of my memoir pieces and she mentioned that she had always wanted to write down her life experiences but didn’t really know where to start or how to do it. Her son was leaving for college and I wanted to get her a gift that would help fill the gap that her son moving away would leave. Then something clicked in my mind. A journal! Now that would be the perfect gift. She would have the time to write and I could provide her with the tools necessary to do so. I ordered The Spirit of Flight journal and a Pentel Arts Slicci metallic pen with violet ink. She loved it!

After she received her new journal I noticed something extraordinary. I would be having a conversation with someone and a little voice would say, “She needs a journal!” And so I began sending these journals as special gifts to women who are important in my life. As I sit here, I imagine us all filling blank journal pages with our life experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, and adventures and our collective empowerment being sent out into the universe. At the beginning of Leslea Newman’s book Write from the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write there is a quote by Muriel Rukeyser: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” I want to help make that happen! I want to begin a journal revolution. Won’t you help me? Listen to those you talk with. Listen to the small voice when it tells you: “This woman needs a journal, a gift, a safe place to split her world wide open.”

If you decide to join the revolution and send a journal to a woman you know (or one you don’t) come back here and leave a comment. I would love to hear about it!

Inventing the Truth – William Zinsser (ed.)

Inventing the Truth is comprised of a collection of essays that address the art and craft of memoir by authors such as Annie Dillard, Frank McCourt, and Toni Morrison. I found many of the essays to be helpful in their offering of advice on writing memoir. Many discuss the author’s evolutionary writing process; their research techniques; the length of time to complete their memoirs; and how they dealt with writing about people close to them that were still living (some asked permission and offered to take out anything disagreeable, others avoided writing about the living altogether). In the back of the book is a bibliography of important books to Zinsser and to each of the authors in their writing journey. This is an invaluable resource for any writer. I was inspired by the wide variety of approaches to writing memoir included in this collection of essays. It gave me a greater understanding of how important it is to do the research and then develop my own approach. I also learned a great deal about organizing my research and writing which I have already begun to put into practice.