• juliadestefano

    In the moments leading up to the lunar eclipse, S. and I were on the phone. She had been trying to calm her dog from incessantly-loud fireworks. I felt truly present in our conversation, calmer internally than I had been in recent history, and she picked up on this immediately. We hung up the phone moments before the big event, she knowing and respecting my penchant for prayer during eclipses. I suppose it's not unlike making a wish or saying a prayer on a shooting star. These days, I find myself praying more than ever, especially when I cannot tune into myself enough to write. Sometimes, I find it is much too loud in my soul to get anything down on paper that satisfies me. I think of the Paul McCartney video for "Dance Tonight" with the spirits jostling around, having a grand party, and I equate it to what happens within me. The only difference is - my "spirits" take the form of thoughts and emotions clanging up against one another.

   So I set myself on my knees to pray, and I focused intently on all the pain that has materialized in these pandemic months - both within my life and the lives of others in my immediate sphere. A long time ago, during a severe bout of depression, someone told me to envision my hand as a dry eraser and my mind as the dry erase board. Each time a negative thought occurred within me - and there were many - the idea was to "erase" it. Though not foolproof, I found that it did force me to restructure my thinking and to pay attention to the ratio of negative to positive thoughts. I decided to apply this method to my prayer, envisioning my hand wiping the slate clean and therefore, removing all of the pain that has befallen so many of us. Had such pain always existed, but we were all too busy going about the daily rat race to pay any real mind to it? Perhaps such pains were smaller in magnitude, with the past months only serving to exacerbate them at a rapid pace. There is a theory that eclipses speed up time. I have begun to believe that pandemics do this also. They certainly get us thinking about the paths we have been on. 

   My thoughts drifted to love, as they always do, and for good reason. I am, after all, a woman driven by love and connection. Often, when I meditate or pray, I think about what love means to me. I try to paint a picture in my mind of what that ideal connection would look like. Each time, I come up with two scenes - the first, waking up next to someone, one of life's greatest joys. The second is to sit together drinking coffee, tea, or what have you. I imagine I am like Johnny Cash, who described his definition of Paradise as: "This morning, with her, having coffee." I suppose this is what I mean when I refer to love as a quiet partnership, even a companionship. You can't have a true relationship without the foundation of friendship. I often make my students laugh by telling them we are building the "media literacy tower." To do that, we need to have a strong foundation. Otherwise, nothing built will last. The skills that I teach them will simply come crashing down. The same goes for our interpersonal relationships. When built upon a strong foundation, a partnership can be reached. Partnership is, in my eyes, the proof that true love really does exist. To have a partner is to have won at life. After all, a relationship is about the "right now." A partnership is about what is right for you. Our hearts know these answers. 

  I meditate on this thought, and my mind drifts to the pablum that the media pushes on us these days - this idea that "if you like it, you should have put a ring on it." While I understand the sentiment behind the lyric and the fact that it had to be "jazzed up" to appeal to an audience - have we fallen so far as a society that we only equate love with a ring? It would seem so. I see many rushing into marriage, especially during these pandemic months. I wonder: are they in the "right now" or the "right for me" frame of mind? So many people, myself included, don't want to be alone. But life has taught me that, in the wrong relationship, we feel just as alone. I think of my longest relationship that went on way past its expiration date, and all of the mutual ties that were involved. I held on just for the sake of holding on. The expectation was that I would be there. I did not want to disappoint. But people have an incredible way of adapting to change, perhaps because life is change and challenge. Those mutual connections that wanted to remain close to me, did, and were genuinely happy for me for taking control of my life. Others showed me their true colors, proof that they hadn't added any real value to my life at all, and therefore, did not deserve to remain a part of my journey. Funnily enough, it took me leaving for my ex to admit that he also hadn't been happy. He went on in pursuit of what whet his appetite. That is a story for another day. To date, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. But it was the most liberating. It was the moment I got myself back. How true it is that we can't love anyone, or be any good for anyone, until we ourselves are happy.  

   In January 2020, SpillWords published a poem of mine called "The Center of Feeling" (see below for the poem). In the last lines, I write: "Be the one who loves me. I'll be the one who loves you." Lately, I have been thinking a lot on this. Love is about the "right for me." Love is the person who just fits. Perhaps there is no rhyme or reason to why this person just fits, only that they do. To be with this person is to believe in magic again. I'm not talking superficial showings of magic and fairy tale extravagances but rather, the quiet magic that you feel in your soul when they look at you, brush against you, or smile. They understand and love you for you. They share in your sorrows when you are sad, and are your solace when needed. They celebrate with you in your joys, and everything in-between. This person is your person and you, theirs. There is a level of understanding between the two of you unlike anything either of you has ever experienced. Because, when it comes down to it, those are the things we all should be striving for in our moments on this earth. Those are the things we deserve.

The swing is calling, and I must heed its call. Magically,

The Red Queen

  • juliadestefano

Updated: 3 days ago

I didn't read the article. These days, I can't seem to stomach anything published by certain magazines. But the caption did intrigue me. A woman began classifying her moods with the word "pandemic" in front of them. On any given day, she could be feeling "pandemic good" or "pandemic bad." I'm going to take a wild guess, and say that "pandemic hopelessness" was somewhere in there also.

Recently, I happened upon a friend's new wedding photos. The girl, much younger than he, is pretty - beautiful, even. Their story began years ago. She lived on the other side of the country when he fell in love with her. He realized he didn't want to live without her, began flying out to be with her more frequently, got the divorce, and moved her out there to begin a new life with him. It's a story that I hear so often these days and one that is so close to my heart, minus the "living across the country" aspect. It is a story that makes me feel equally blessed and cursed to be a writer - one that reminds me nothing gained will ever happen if risks aren't taken.

    To write is to seek to understand. I can turn it off if I want to. But I am driven by my curiosity of this life. In this case, the answer is always the same. In some roundabout way, they reply: "We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. I can no longer live with the not-trying or the not-knowing." I paraphrase, of course, but you get the idea. I think of an old country song that had the words "live like you are dying" in the chorus. Many people in my life have adopted this phrase as their own personal mantra, even going so far as to say: "I need to see you because we don't know what will happen." I can't help but be reminded of this phenomenon of people going to the ends of the earth for what they want. I know it exists out there. I have seen it in action. I wish someone would go to the ends of the earth for me or rather, take the drive for no reason other than they miss me.

   So, one photograph led to two, then three, then four, and I started to feel "pandemic hopelessness" set in - not because I desire marriage per-se but because I can't help but put a microscopic lens to the institution as a whole. I have, over the past months, learned of more friends' engagements, received more birth announcements and a wedding invitation, bonded in a socially-distant way with my neighbor's three young kids, and have tried to be my best listening ear to my friend undergoing divorce. I'm on the outside looking-in on all of these situations, each of which love is the primary factor. In some ways, I have transitioned from writing about music to writing about life - from interviewing musicians to "interviewing" the people around me or at least, getting some interesting inspiration for my poetry.

    I ask myself: "Is it marriage? Is it children? Are these things that I desire? What is it that drives this overwhelming feeling of pandemic hopelessness?" But I've only ever dreamed of a quiet partnership - the "being able to rest easy because someone loves you" sort of thing - never of the big wedding or the bustling house full of children. I wouldn't refuse either of those things if they happened, but a relationship built on the foundation of companionship has always been my main desire. I suppose I feel this way because I rarely sleep easy, but I sleep so soundly when I feel loved. Still, as I go on month four of minimal human contact, my desire to have a warm body next to me is more pressing than ever. But it can't just be any warm body and there-in, as Shakespeare would say, lies "the rub." If I had to put a finger to it, I desire the "beginning" of something - some motion, even if that motion involves a roast beef sandwich on a sea wall. It's the company, not the location, and it's the connection that makes life worth living. It's two people saying to each other: "I value you enough to hold space for you" and "You matter to me; here, take some of my time." It's the collective decision, the head and the heart working in-tandem to arrive at the conclusion: "This person is good for me. Now, how can I ensure they remain in my life?"


   I think, or know rather, that people settle. I understand why. But what I can't understand, and what those around me can't understand, is why those of us who are given that "second chance" at happiness do not take it. I guess I am a little bitter, thinking of another friend's second marriage - his third -  to someone she considers her best friend. Who knows if it will even last. But the whole thing centers around the act of trying. My late friend Neal wrote the lines, "I will always try for you" in a song. His words tore me up inside. Someone who says they love us should try for us, especially if the payoff is so close you can taste it. After all, so many people try without the guarantee of any payoff whatsoever. But they still try because they know this one life is their only go-around. I want to be tried-for - not wooed or stroked or spent-money-on - but tried-for because of who I am and what I bring to the table. Tried-for because someone's life feels cold and empty without me in it. I don't want to hear how "amazing" I am. I want to hear: "You're amazing and because of this, I need you in my universe."

   It is a beautiful thing when two people find each other to be "amazing," Perhaps they have even crossed paths for a reason, and that in of itself is worth taking a look at. Sometimes, two people can serve as a catalyst, exposing each other to the reality of present situations.  Perhaps these are dreams that had been deviated. Perhaps they appear in our lives to help us confront ourselves - have we been using life's challenges as a crutch for why we aren't living the life we want?

  Some days, like today, I blame myself. For all of my flowery, poetic expression, there is a woman who finds it very hard to express how she is feeling. Having been in relationships where I was told that what I had to say did not matter, I must have adopted the belief that I wasn't worth hearing. When ridiculed for speaking my mind, I began to believe that my thoughts and emotions did, indeed, not matter. I guess I still have some of that residual fear left over that if I say what I want, those that I love will use my words against me, use silence as a weapon, or become like apparitions in the night and vanish. I can hear that word "payoff" echoing in my mind, alongside the word "hope." Words, words, words. I love my words, though I am craving some happy ones. I can write them. But can I live them?

I would love nothing more than someone I love to live some happy words with me. Musicians say: "Play some happy music." Writers say: "Write [and live] some happy words."

God Bless America,

The Red Queen

  • juliadestefano

Updated: 6 days ago

Lately, I've been reminiscing. My late friend Neal put out a record back in 2006 called No Wish to Reminisce. I always loved the title. I could relate to it. It can be painful to reminisce.

But an early morning check on Facebook this past week led me to some life events I didn't mind reliving. Eight years ago this past Friday, I wrote one of the last record reviews for The Boston Phoenix. The band? The Beachwood Sparks. Neal had turned me onto their music a while back, and when I learned they were releasing a new record steeped in that '60s/'70s California vibe, not only did I have to hear it - I had to review it (see below for the review). Back then, it was truly precious to have one's thoughts immortalized in writing. Not that it isn't precious now, but social media had not yet become the dominating force that it is today; print magazines were still devoted to music. I remember my time spent as Copy Editor of the now-defunct Noise and the careful editing that had to go into every story and review. I think back to my stint as Associate Editor of Rockabilly Deluxe and the challenges of finding just the right content for the magazine's pages.  

Facebook went on to tell me that, three years to the day of my Beachwood Sparks review, I began self-publishing my own poetry. I have another late friend to thank for all that pushing me to publish. This person was the first story of my journalism career. Back then, with so much hesitation, I began a blog similar to this one and filled it with fledgling writings and photographs I had taken. Then I began making prints of my photographs available for sale. Eventually, I self-published my first poetry collection and called it Leave Everything. Funnily enough, my friend did not want to self-publish - save for his social media writings - every one of which was met with rave reviews. When he'd finally warmed to the idea, it was too late. I suppose he's just another "ghost" around me. I wonder if my ghosts can read me from Heaven and, if so, do they like what they read? 

Over time, I became a confessional poet of relationships - primarily writing on connection and truth - truth of what we feel, truth of who we love, and the truth of what we believe in. Last month, I was contacted by SpillWords - one of my favorite literary magazines and a huge supporter of my writing - for their Spotlight series. Follow the image below to read my words and, if they move you, I would truly love your vote for Publication of the Month. Voting ends on 6/29.

Until then - with hope and some wishes to reminisce,

The Red Queen

© 2020  Julia R. DeStefano

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