What’s in a Name?

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I am setting up a square space website because I want to be well-represented in the ether. It makes me feel like an adult. That’s not the point of this. Anyway, I’m clicking Yes I’ll try a free trial – which we all know isn’t actually free because who actually remembers to call and cancel, I mean, really – and it asks me to create an account. I sat staring at the first two fields, my thumbs poised and ready to fire: First and Last name. And I hover. Frozen. 

The cursor blinks at me. Tapping its foot. It warps and wiggles as it transforms into a cursor-sized girl. Let’s say 10 years old. Mary Janes and ruffle socks. A pink corduroy jumper and a headband holding heroism pigtails back. She leans against the field bar. Crosses her arms. 

-Hello!!! 

-First and Last name? Easy. Sam Callahan. 

-Whoa whoa whoa!! Sam Callahan??? This page is serious. This is It. You decided long ago that your SAG name would be Sam Callahan and your nom de plume would be Samantha Devon. 

-But what if this is It, also? The other It…?

-What other “it?”

-What if this is all I do. What if this is all I’m good at. Wouldn’t I want it to be my real name? My superstar name? This was all thought up when I was convinced I’d reach Golden Celebrity status before ever thinking of writing a book. Who wants to waste their Best Name on their secondary fame, that may not even come!

-You know that being a famous actor is way sexier than famous writer. And you know Sam Callahan is a sexier name. Samantha Devon is an intellectual and a poet. Sam Callahan is a–is a —

-Entertainer. 

-Entertainer! 

-But you are so proud of your family name, just like me. 

-I am…

-Wouldn’t you want to see that name – Your Name – on the lists of the New York Times? On the bestsellers’ section at  McNally Jackson’s?(~support local book stores!~)

-Yes…

-What’s the point of a pseudonym anyway?

-Lots of reasons… Protection, is one. 

-From whom?

beat. She scowls, takes a breath. She paces along the field box– Inner demons, I guess. Publishing anonymously tricks us into thinking no one will read it. If no one knows it’s you, it’s not as embarrassing.  

-It is terrifying, isn’t it?

-Mortifying.  –beat– Your name is your identity. For most of us. Our name = us. Our sense of self. You see your name written, you recognize it. Not in your mind. But in your fingertips. In your belly button and your ears. Little tugs and glows that remind us who we are. I am Sam Callahan. I’ve read it, heard it, said it, and embedded it for years and years and years… –takes a breath– …There’s a level of freedom that comes when you write under a Not-Your-Name name. You allow yourself to act rashly. To pursue vehemently. Explore reckl— –stops– you allow yourself… to be completely honest in the moment. Raw on the page. When you remove yourself – your Self; your Name – you remove the shame, guilt, and visceral fear. Perhaps most importantly, you remove The Pride. With The Pride out, you are more open to what makes for a well-rounded character and an interesting story: flaws, fuck ups, and failures. 

  So…should I use a nom de plume? Should I stick with what identifies me? Or don the mask?  

Nightmare.

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I have this image in my mind. 

I don’t know if it was developed from my imagination, or if this was something I’ve read or seen or heard.  

The image is of a man – a boy, really – a boy of 20years, or older, but looking younger. He sits, crouched in a cave, weeping over a body. He knows I am there. He can feel my presence, whether in capital-R-reality or his reality, I am not sure.  

He is tall and thin, gangly and hovering over the body of a young woman, maybe 13, 14 years old? He is weeping, distressed.  Much like I’d expect Lenny from Of Mice and Men, standing over the puppies he’d killed.  This man-boy killed his fair share of puppies, too, including this girl. 

He is wrought with dismay, crying, sobbing, weeping, constantly looking back at me, imploring. I don’t know what he wants from me.  Forgiveness? Aid? Empathy? I stand there, 15 years old, myself, but wise beyond my soul’s years, and I look at him. I look at him hard, and I look at him long. My eyes soften and my nose purses, which is my version of a pout.  

Then I open my mouth and take a deep breath in and I say, “Stuart? I forgive you.” and I cry.  And he cries. 

I put my arm around him and stand there, stoically, like a statue, or a figure in a painting. And we weep.

April Autumn

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The spring days

between The Thaw and The Bloom

where the city keeps a secret,

drenched and gloomy in

shades of brown.

An April Autumn.

She was wearing overalls

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I was on one of those cool double decker trains in Switzerland from Berne to Bienne one morning. Sitting across from a kind-faced older man, probably a professor. I was looking out the window when a shape caught my eye a few cars ahead of me, next to the tracks. The closer we got, I realized it was a limp human body being pulled down the hill by EMTs. I followed it with a flick of my neck as we barreled past and my head whipped back to a forward position and I locked eyes with Professor Peach. I must have had a look of utter shock on my face because he nodded slowly and pitied me with his smile. “Yes,” he said without provocation. “Are you ok?” I’ nodded. Looked at my lap. I was not ok. She was wearing overalls. It never occurred to me that someone in overalls would be lying dead on the side of the tracks on my way to school that morning.

Holiday Game Night: perfect recipe

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Okay. it’s that time of year. Holiday parties galore, and you’re stuck in the in-between. That age between college parties, where all you need is beer pong and an inordinate amount of PBR and Natty Ice and you know everyone will have a great time they won’t remember the next day, and elegant upper-mid-20s parties where you need to dress up your house, your living room, and yourself to invite over intellectuals looking for some stimulating conversation and hearty laughs. You’re not quite married, not quite single, and floating in between here and There – capital T. Well, I’m here to help. As the perpetually single mid-20s gal with more class than her name and less eloquence than a married She, Follow these steps and invite your friends and almost-friends, and we’ll throw the best Holiday party they WILL remember and chat about for weeks to come. With equal parts class, fun, and pretension. Plus … everyone will be ENVIOUS of your new digs, let’s be real.

The recipe:
1. Holiday Jello Shot Cupcakes – to remind everyone of the good ole days, but also hint at the more classy evenings to come.

2. Board game of your choosing – to start the evening off slowly, and allow for the late-comers (those who haven’t figured out how sexy punctuality actually is.)
I, for example, love the game Cranium. It’s perfectly infantile that you won’t alienate your intellectually-less-inclined right off the bat, and it’s diverse and fun enough that it should both include and embarrass enough of your guests that everyone will be laughing. It’s a team game, meaning that late-comers can jump in on the tail end of a team as they enter. (not to mention that you can put late-comers on kitchen duty. “oh yeah! that goes in the fridge. here, why don’t you take out the chips and salsa? it’s already plated. just bring it over. then you can join John’s team.”) and automatically, they feel more involved.

3. Cards Against Humanity – the Apples to Apple for our generation. Immediate fun, enough vulgarity to satiate our inner-child, immaturity for our waning college partier, and camaraderie for our inner self desperate for a new friend.

Once everybody has arrived, you split up into whatever you need to for Cards Against Humanity. I’m not going to give you the instructions for CAH. If you don’t know the game, look it up. Seriously. it’s fantastic. Do you know Apples to Apples? It’s like Apples to Apples, but for the more risque’ among us. Do you see how I used that word? makes me seem more sophisticated than saying “vulgar” or “disgusting”. I’m going to be honest – you have to have some sort of awareness of the world around you to play the game well. I’m not saying complete awareness – you don’t need to be subscribed to The Daily Show on Hulu, but you should, at least, know how to pronounce “Joe Biden”. (Not even exaggerating. Have tried to play to game with some people who couldn’t pronounce “Biden”. Cue: eye roll.)

For optimal playing, I suggest talking it up early on in the evening, and casually explaining the rules then. Then watch as your friends attempt to explain the rules to other friends who may have come late. Then, of course, re-explain the rules right before playing. Make sure you understand all the rules before you explain because the optimal way to play is to have everyone at least a little warm and tingly, on the verge of drunk – but not white girl drunk.

4. Shenanigans – If you don’t know what it is, then you’re in for a treat. No, it’s not the word you’ll find in the dictionary or the restaurant from Super Troopers. It’s a game. and if you don’t know the game, you will know the game, and the game is fantastic.

This is the game to play when everyone is drunk. I mean Drunk. Capital D. Not dancing naked drunk or puking in the bathroom drunk. I mean adult-style drunk. When people start confessing deep secrets, or vocalizing the stream-of-consciousness within, that’s when you play shenanigans. All it takes is one person says “Let’s Play Shenanigans” and all you need is two other people to say “OH MY GOD YES,” because – and this is paramount – most of your party will say “wtf is that?”. and the response is “YOU DON’T KNOW?! OH MY GOD YES YES YES YES YES YES YES —-” and so on. And you will play Shenanigans. I will not betray the game of Shenanigans. I know a handful of you will know – or think you know – what this game is. I suppose you may be able to google it. But the truth is, as a huge fan of Shenanigans, I cannot – and will not – betray the rules of Shenanigans by telling you what Shenanigans is. If you know it, you know you know it. If you don’t, all you need to do is ask your host or hostess if they happen to know the game, and then you get to play it. And, trust me, from experience — a myriad of experience — Shenanigans is the best game to end the evening.

5. 5-7+ friends of your very choosing

Be sure to include a few friends from college, some close friends from work, and, of course, any friends from Life that you happen to have hanging around the place. You’ll need your loyals, who will laugh at whatever you say, your oldies, who will make fun of you at appropriate moments, and your newbies – people from work or wherever – the people you want to impress – so you can mix it up a bit because everyone knows a game night isn’t complete without at least one or two complete strangers. (and everybody know every party is better with at least two gays, if you aren’t already populated…)

6. Snacks and Alcohol

You’d think this would be obvious, but I must include it. Make sure you tell your friends it is BYOB – both to satisfy the child within who misses college, but also to make sure they have an alcohol they can sip on all night and enjoy. It is important to provide backups: a few bottles of red and white wine, a few bottles of beer of different flavors and, very importantly, hard cider. Most gals like to end with hard cider. I don’t know why. Possibly, they want to impress their dates and show they can drink until the early hours, but whatever. The more important tis that you have something to offer when people are reaching their limit, but the night isn’t over.

Also, snacks. People are drinking. Be smart. This isn’t college; no one need be puking in your bathroom. Provide carbs; fuck your friends’ diets. We need bread, and we need it pronto.

Lastly, always provide the option for a guest stay and never promote drunk driving. and use the jello shots however you’d like.

please comment with any opinions or requests, and please please let me know how it goes for you!

and i’ll teach you Shenanigans if you’re the only one of your friends who would know the game. Just Comment me with a way to contact you personally. My contact information is on my about page.

samcallahan@mac.com and i’ll answer your question.

xoxo
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A Letter To You

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Today I went to my great aunt’s viewing in New Jersey. My father’s side. Her name was Loretta Hujber, formerly Schwing. She was 88.

My Memom passed away last year between Christmas and New Year’s. She was one of nine, three of whom she survived, and four of whom passed away within this last year.

Take a moment with that: one year ago, there were six sisters living, and now there are only two. Within eleven months. In a way, it’s poetic. Nine siblings, all octo- and nonagenarians, all finding the end of this chapter of their journey together, going through together, and, most beautifully, allowing us, the family, to grieve and celebrate their lives together.

My dad told me about Aunt Loretta’s passing on Monday and immediately requested that I attend her viewing and funeral on his behalf, which was a no-brainer for me. Absolutely. Of course I would. But the request broke my heart a little bit. I don’t really think about how isolating it must be for my parents to be on the west coast. Most of both of their families are accessible only by plane, and all I could think about was that all of the Schwing-extended family (my grandmother’s family) were in New Jersey and able to reach out to each other in moments of grief and despair, able to hold each other, cry with each other, laugh and celebrate life with each other, and I didn’t know who, if anybody, was available for my Da. I felt his request as a plea, really, a soft, but perfectly clear plea from somewhere deep within him – somebody reaching out, asking for a hug, and if he could only get that hug that he needed through me somehow, of course I would do it.

It was especially when my both my mom and Da e-mailed me separately to tell me that they changed their minds and don’t think this was a reasonable request, given the distance to travel (hour and a half drive from Manhattan to Trenton), and that it was smack in the middle of the week, and I had work, and responsibilities at home, weather wasn’t terrific, etc. etc – that I knew I had to go even more. It was in those e-mails that they realized what they were asking was selfish in a way. Something for them that didn’t benefit me in the slightest. Something my Da needed, but, after closer inspection, realized I may be putting other things in my on hold to do. I realized upon their realization that I really did need to do this. And to be completely honest, it wasn’t completely selfless, do don’t go thinking I’m some unsung Family Hero of any sort. I did need to do this. I wanted to remind everybody that I am here. I’m close. I’m accessible and available, and though I was ripped from New Jersey (willingly, for the record) at the age of 12, I’m back and I’m a part of this family, dammit!

The second reason I really felt like I needed to go was the reason I gave my mom in my e-mail response — I didn’t properly mourn Memom. My grief creeps up on me pretty often, surprising me at work, in the middle of a movie, or when I’m out with friends. I’ll feel the prickly heat behind my eyes suddenly, and I’ll have to hastily excuse myself to the bathroom before embarrassing tears stream down my face. A song will come on and I’ll burst into sobs, or a moment during my day will pull the corners of my mouth down ever so slightly.

I like to think those are the moments when she visits me – in whichever ethereal way your belief system allows you to imagine – and since I didn’t give myself the time to work through the grief, I’m just taken by surprise by the feelings.

Anyway, I thought the long drive to Trenton and the time with her sister might give me a proper setting to begin the process.

The drive was easy. It was raining, which added some great ambiance, but it was rather straight-forward and not a lot of traffic. I got to the funeral home about 15 minutes before the prayer service started. I walked in and spotted my uncle right off the bat, and said hello, and found myself trapped in the polite-family-banter with him, so I wanted to break away from that because that is not my safe place. To experience this with Aunt Loretta the way I felt I needed to, I had to get away from polite smiles and talks about my career. I had to break free, get alone, and have a conversation with her.

After saying hello to her three daughters, I was able to sit down and begin our conversation.

“Hello,” I started. “I’m Sam – Samantha. I’m Pat’s daughter. He was Doris’ son. I don’t know why I’m telling you that – of course you know that. Or you don’t, but it really is irrelevant either way, isn’t it?”
She didn’t respond.

“Well, what should I say to start?” I looked at her face, relaxed, made-up, pretty. Her red cardigan, her delicate hands (well, as delicate as a Schwing’s hands could be, in any degree…) folded over her ribcage. “You look quite beautiful,” I continued. “I’m sorry you’ve died. Although, I’m glad you were able to follow your sisters so closely, and that your daughters are all able to be here with you, and their family with them. I’m here for me, for Memom – you know her as Doris – and for my dad, Pat. I said that. Sitting here with you now, I’m actually not quite sure what I expected, or what I want to say. I guess I’ll start with the truth, because that always seems to work well in the books: I miss my grandmother. I missed her before she died, really. I missed her when I lived across the country from her. I missed her when I lived just across the river from her. I felt guilty for not renting a car and going to spend time with her on the weekends. I was envious of the relationship my cousins had with her, wished that I had that relationship and knew that she would have loved to have that relationship, if only I had spent the time to go and see her. I thought about her all the time, and I still think about her all the time. I see her in everything. And, frankly, I know she would have thought I was an absolute hoot, because, let’s be honest, I’m fantastic.

“I wish I gave her the opportunity to get to know me as the Lady-Woman I am now, and I wish I had to the opportunity to spend more time getting to know her first hand, and not just through the many stories everybody told. I know she was a firecracker, sarcastic, and witty, fiercely intelligent and opinionated. Strong-willed and not one to mess with. Sounds like everything I aspire to be. Anyway, Aunt Loretta, I hear that about most of the Schwing women. I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know you better, either. I’m sorry that I moved away when I was 12 years old and wasn’t able to really be a part of this family, and all I want is to be a part of this family again. I want to be invited and involved, even if it’s for these sad occasions. I want to be here, be accessible, be available. I want to stop being so isolated and independent and learn how to work within a family unit again.

“Because, the truth is, I miss my mom and dad. I miss them now, but I also miss them in the future. I know that, in a few decades, it will be Andrew, Patrick, Erin, and me standing up there in a line, accepting hugs and kisses on the cheeks, listening to stories, and, well, that scares the shit out of me – Sorry, Aunt Loretta. Language – and I saw my dad at his mother’s funeral. I felt what he was feeling. I knew how hard it was for him, knowing he had spent the last 13 years in a state across the country from her, only able to see her, maybe, once a year. I saw what that did to him. I saw how it affected him, and I don’t want that for me. I don’t want to be so far away from my parents. I want to be there, available, accessible. I want to be able to see them all the time, spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas together, because I know better. I know that the thing people regret the most if not spending enough time with the people they love, and I don’t know anything that’s more important than that. They tell me my dreams and my career is more important, but I think all of that will come. Basically, I’m scared, and I can’t figure out what I’m exactly scared of, and until I figure that out, Aunt Loretta, I don’t know how to proceed.

“All I know, really, is that I’m lucky enough to have two parents whom I love more than anything in the world, and who both love me equally – though they’d argue more – and I don’t want to waste that on anything. I’m lucky, and I’m one of few, in that regard — especially since I know it. So, what do you say? Well, nothing, do you, because .. well, you know. … Say hi to Memom for me, will ya? And Pop Pop, because they’ll probably be together, bike riding and catching dragonflies. Have a good trip, Aunt Loretta. We’re all here together.”

I went to sit down a few rows back, with cousin Kathy a couple chairs from me to the right, reciting prayer responses with the rest of the congregation, and I sat there, staring at the microphone fastened to the ceiling – probably normally used to amp the choir, but, in this case, it was pointing directly at Aunt Loretta’s casket, and I almost expected her to stand up and give a speech – contemplating everything I was hearing, trying to get in touch with all the different energies in the room, making eye contact wherever I could, and enjoying the room filled with family because, well, even a Family of strangers is still Family, is it not? And there’s a bond, like a golden thread tying us all together, and when you’re with Family, you’re home.

Goodbye, Aunt Loretta.
Goodbye, Memom.

I love you.

December 2, 2014
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Wanting to be heard.

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I had the story brewing in my netherspheres (it’s what I call the back burners of my brain), and it was coming to me like laser tag blasts — BAM BAM ZAP ZIP (ok, pew! pew! pew!), and, naturally, i was in my car on a long drive from Ashland to the bay area on one of my breaks from school. This is the perfect time for the creative juices to flow because then they just spill all over my car and there is no way for me to really write them down. Every once in a while, I would pull over to try to type something up, but as fast as they came, so fast would they go. I tried different approaches — type faster, tell Siri (which was always a disaster, because, well, have you ever tried dictating to Siri? She’s useless. hilarious and entertaining, but completely useless.) Then I tried a voice recorder, only to find out I really had no idea how those worked. Again – the same result, every time: the second I started recording these amazing (so I thought) ideas, they would all go straight out the window. Apparently, my characters only want to be travelling at 80+ miles an hour on a freeway.

But this story is one that I’ve come back to a few times. I’ve written little bits of it – moments, really – conversations, or thoughts, fleeting, like a dream or a memory. The main girl, Emily, has had bits of her story already written down, but they’re so scattered around at this point, that I don’t even know where they are. I don’t know if they’re all the same story, but it’s something I’m willing to investigate. Something I want to discover. So here is this journey — through Meditative Writing, I will find out more about Emily and her former lover/ex-boyfriend/childhood crush (?), Adam – see? i don’t even remember if that’s his name – and we’ll unlock their secrets ….. together.

I’ve actually already shared a bit of their story on here. When she slips and almost falls off a cliff and he shows up to warn her that shit is going down. At that point, I didn’t know what that shit was, but I think I do now, finally.

It’s a beautiful process, finding out your characters’ stories as they do. For it’s my belief that their stories already exist. They’re happening – always happening – living within me, and all they need is for somebody to tell it. Their stories are aching to be told, aching to be heard. Screaming at me – following me around, trapped in my subconscious – trying to break through in dreams and fleeting thoughts.

They’re there. They’re ready. and so am I.