Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Beauty in Loss


May 9, 2018

Nine years ago today, my mother was dying. It was sad, and painful, and beautiful.

Let me explain.

The day before Thanksgiving in 2008, my mom was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She was given six months to live. One week later, I pulled my kids—then seven and five—out of school and the three of us drove from Minnesota to California so we could spend some time with my mom. We stayed nearly a month.

I’d like to say that this time was pleasant, full of fond memories and loving connections, but that would be a lie. My kids enjoyed getting to see their grandmother, but I was already grieving. My mom’s diagnosis meant that all the hopes I had of ever having anything like a normal relationship with her, one in which she wasn’t constantly tearing me down, were also dying. This was confirmed a couple months later when chemo failed and my mom chose to go on hospice.

In April 2009, I got the call that it was time, and a day later, I was on a flight back to California. I was very clear that I was doing this for me. My mom had said to me that she didn’t really care if I was there or not when she died. I’m not sure if that was true, but I was sure that to be in integrity with myself and my own belief that family means something, I had to be there.

For two weeks, my brother, myself, two personal aides, and the occasional hospice nurse cared for her, talked to her, sang to her, and tried to keep her as comfortable as possible. One time, she told me that we should let bygones be bygones and leave the past behind. My hopes of making peace with her perked up. Then she said she could never forgive me for how much I’d hurt her. Those last weeks were an emotional minefield and every night, I’d collapse in my hotel bed in tears, echoes of countless nights as a kid when I cried myself to sleep.

I have a gift, though, that saved my sanity during this time. I’ve been able to see and talk with my spirit guides since I was about three. They offered me comfort and love, and over the years, they also gave me a broader perspective of life and death, of what family truly means, of how unconditional love feels, of Home. And so, after a long day of caring for my mom, trying not to take her hurtful words personally, I’d share what I was going through with my guides. My fears, my pain, my grief, my anger. One of my guides told me I was here for a reason, and it wasn’t for my integrity.

“What, then?” I’d asked.

“Pay attention. You’ll know.”

Despite not eating or drinking for nearly two weeks, my mom held on. She’d wake (or regain consciousness) and demand to know why she was still here. Why she hadn’t died yet. She said she was ready to go.

One week into May, I half-joked that maybe she was holding out for another Mother’s Day. My mom said she thought that idea was stupid. I paid attention, watching the comings and goings of the hospice people and a handful of relatives. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

Until one day I did. I was sitting in the chair I’d appropriated next to my mom’s bed, sitting near her head, when I started to hear what sounded like a radio being tuned. Voices, sometimes overlapping, slightly echoing, clearly having a conversation. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes I could barely hear it. I thought maybe a radio or computer had been turned on, and I did an inspection of the house to make sure. Nothing turned on. Nothing coming out of any speakers. The sole TV was off. The voices continued, and as I caught snatches of the conversation, I made out that they were planning something. Who was going to be where. There was talk of a meeting, and who would have the honor of meeting “her.”

As the day wore on, I became more and more aware of movement in the room where my mom’s hospital bed was. I could make out figures, though not much more. Some were standing, others sitting, seemingly half in this world and half not. Gradually, the room filled with these beings. Some acknowledged that I saw them and nodded in greeting. All were giving off a palpable feeling of love and acceptance.

I knew that whoever all these beings (people?) were, they were here for my mom, and I realized that they saw her differently than I did. I’d like to think that they saw her soul, saw its inherent beauty and love. I saw more movement near my mom’s head and then could clearly see sparks of light dancing just above her forehead. I was entranced with this sight, feeling pure joy. I wondered if that was her.

Later, the low hum of voices from the various beings in the room was getting louder. I suddenly felt hands on my shoulders from someone standing behind me. The presence was familiar and reassuring, and then the hand on my right shoulder squeezed briefly. When I turned around, hoping to see (or verify) who it was, the space was empty. And no bodied person could fit behind my chair.

My mom unexpectedly cried out my deceased dad’s name, half- conscious. She woke, looking around. “Where is he?”

“Did you see him?” I asked.

“No.” My mom seemed agitated at this. “He’s waiting for me. I need to get to the harbor. I don’t want to miss the boat.”

I asked her more about this harbor, about the boat she was going to take, about how she knew where to go. She seemed to know exactly where to go until she tried to describe it, and then it wasn’t so clear. Mostly she was anxious that she wouldn’t make it in time. I asked her if this boat was waiting just for her or if it was picking up other people too. She thought about it and concluded that it was just for her. I suggested that they wouldn’t leave without her, and she relaxed, agreeing.

Nine years ago tomorrow, my mother died. It was Mother’s Day. It was sad, and painful, and beautiful.

Mom's hospice bed and the flower left by the mortuary.
May 11, 2009.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

If I Belonged

> When did it start to feel like… Like you fit? Like you…belonged here?
> Well, I'm still not sure I do.


If I belonged
Really belonged
I wouldn’t feel the need
To prove myself
To show my worth
To defend every action
Every desire for connection
Every longing for love

If I belonged
I wouldn’t feel like I was trespassing
On someone else’s territory
Fearful of triggering
Someone’s anger
That I had overstepped
My bounds
Taken what was
Not mine
Expected more than
I was owed
As if friendships are transactions
And love can be meted out
In weights and measures

I don’t know how to belong
Without being invited
How do I differentiate
An invitation
From my own longing?

Carving out a place for myself
Evokes images of sharp edges
Blades cutting and slashing
Creating a space
In the absence of a welcome

I’d rather nestle in
Where space is made
With the intent
That I should fill it
A me-shaped space
A perfect fit

But this requires
The involvement of others
One in which
Belonging can never be
A one-sided decision

I see now
This is belonging
Among people

What if this is too narrow a focus?

Can I belong in the world
Without people being involved?

Why should other people
Have the power to decide
If I belong?
Am I beholden to them
For my existence
Simply because I’ve never felt
What it means to belong?

What if belonging
Is a state of being
And not a status
A rank granted
Only if one meets
Subjective standards
And pays one’s dues?

If I belonged
As a state of being
I could stop apologizing
For being who I am
If I belonged
As a state of being
I would have just as much right
To happiness and joy
To love and fulfillment
As anyone else

If I belonged
As a state of being
My needs would be important
Should the cabin lose air pressure
One of those oxygen masks
Would be for me
And I could secure it on myself
With gratitude

If I belonged
As a state of being
Then should others
Overlook me
Forget me
Ignore me
Try to erase me
I have a right
Even an obligation
To speak up for myself
To fight for myself

Because I belong
And I will not be erased
I belong
And I have a right to be happy

I belong
I do not need to carve out a space
Or nestle in to one existing

I will make my own space
In the world
And invite others
To stand with me
To sit next to me
To share with me

And if I sometimes feel
Like a fish out of water
Because belonging
Has been foreign all my life
Then I will be that fish
Who learns to live on land
Big plans for that fish
Don’t step on me

I belong.

Literary Orgasms

I've long said that the act of writing, whether a short story, a novel, or a poem, is like giving birth. The only difference between the three is the length of gestation.

There is the initial orgasmic ecstasy of a new idea, of plot twists and characters imbued with meaning and perhaps layers of symbolism. There is the period of morning sickness, of wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into and isn't there a more qualified writer to manifest this idea into reality?

There are those first kicks, proof that the idea is developing a life of its own, that ultimately the story will leave the womb and make its way into the world. At times, the story leaves me fatigued and heavy, a beached whale that can barely string two words together while having to pee every thirty minutes.

And finally, after what seems like a lifetime of feeding off me like a literary parasite, and at the same time not nearly enough time together, it's ready to be born, accompanied by sweat and copious tears and possibly some blood.

Nursed through marketing efforts, it soon can stand on its own, garnering the strength to stand up to bullying critics, to make new friends, to find its place in the world.

Until a new idea hits with white-hot passion and my toes curl with the sheer joy of telling another story that can touch someone else's heart.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Should You Trademark Your Indie Publishing Company Name?

One of the things I've been doing here and there is talking with people about whether big New York publishing, small press publishing, or indie publishing is best for their book and audience. And for those who do decide to start their own companies, the question of trademarks comes up. Should they trademark it?

Here's my experience.

When I first looked into it back in 2003 and saw how expensive a federal trademark was, I thought, “The name of my publishing company is a Hebrew word, and would never be associated with books. So why pay the hundreds of dollars it would cost?” My company name was at the top of the first page on Google. (I know—I checked page rankings frequently.) Why worry?

Fast forward two years. A young Jewish teen in another state decided to start a magazine. She played around with names and designs. If she Googled (or used any other search engine) the name she wanted, she would have seen that there was already a publishing company with that name. Her magazine name was the same name as my company, except I had “publishing” at the end.

As soon as I found out about this magazine, I emailed her. I told her who I was and that I had a book publishing company by the same name. I thought she would react with an “Oops, the name I chose is taken!” But she didn’t. And she had far deeper pockets that could defend her than I did.

When I investigated further, I was told that book publishing and magazine publishing were considered different businesses and not easily confused in the marketplace. I could hire an attorney (with money I didn’t have) and try to intimidate her into changing her name, or I could coexist.

I chose the latter, and we coexisted for a while. But imagine my horror when I found out (through Google Alerts) that her magazine company had created an umbrella “media corporation” by the same name and was now going to publish books.

This time, I sucked it up and called an attorney. Even though I hadn’t registered my company name as a trademark, I had clearly used it first in commerce, which gave me some legal protection. My attorney talked to their attorney and they changed the name of their book publishing arm. But in all their marketing materials, and on the copyright page, they added “an imprint of ——— Media, Inc.” Legally, they were allowed, because the media corporation was not, itself, a publishing company.

Publishing Jewish books is a niche, and it didn’t take long before there was mass confusion about which company was which, and who did what book. With the advice of a couple of attorneys, who thankfully talked to me at some length without charge, I learned that at this point, I had three choices: change my company name, take the other company to court, or agree to coexist.

The first choice would require new everything: website, business cards, logo, print runs with the new name and logo, tax ID number, bank account, and so on. The second choice could easily run me $75,000 and I had a 50% chance of winning, in part because we had coexisted initially (appearing that I was okay with their use of the name). The third choice was not an option. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

So I did a ton of research. I sought input from others on the new name. I spent countless hours on the Internet, searching trademarks and each state’s and international business records to make sure I didn’t take someone else’s name. When I discovered that the domain name was available, I registered all the extensions. I built a new website, created a new logo, and set about building a new identity.

And one of my first steps was to register the new name as a trademark. It was expensive because I registered first as an “intent to use,” then had to wait for approval, an opportunity for opposition, and then had to file a “statement of use.” I registered in three different classes, which includes not only book publishing, but magazines, gift books, cook books, audio books, ebooks, and some weird stuff like printing presses, typewriters, paint brushes, and vending machines.


As of the end of April 2012, the trademark was approved and registration was final. Total fees to the United States Patent and Trademark Office: $1,550. Total cost for domain registration, business cards, corporation creation, custom website, and other new identity aspects: $766.60. Knowing my business identity is safe: priceless.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Getting Pregnant for the Tenth Time

I promised to participate in #gishwhes and apparently Misha promised someone else a SFW 2000-word essay on getting pregnant for the tenth time, and seeing as I’ve had a lot of practice (minds out of the gutter now), I figured I’d give it a whirl. A shot in the dark, if you will.

I’m assuming that you’re familiar with the basics, since this essay is about getting pregnant for the tenth time, not the first time, so the previous nine times ought to have given you some life lessons. Also, you’re going to need to make sure you have all the right equipment. Like any science project—and any science teacher will tell you that human physiology is in fact science—it’s good to start with proper preparation. To that end, you will need a uterus. Preferably inside a living human. It doesn’t need to be you, but it does need to be someone willing, who has completely consented with full mental capacity and education up through and including high school, maybe even college, and at least two units of sex ed taught awkwardly by instructors who blush when they say body part names.

Along with the uterus, which will function as a mobile baby home for the next ten months, give or take, you will need an egg. A human egg, not a chicken egg, because first, eww, and second, I’m unaware of any successful human sperm-chicken egg pairings although the idea of 3D-printing machines in everyone’s home is not in the too-far-off future and we can scan our feet with some nifty new app and 3D-print shoes to exactly and precisely fit our own feet, which would be, to coin a phrase, both a load off and an amazing feet (feat?), but I digress.

The egg must be viable, meaning that it is capable of being fertilized, and sadly, one cannot test this the way one can test whether chicken eggs have gone bad or not. So we will have to assume it is until proven otherwise, though if the attempted pregnancy is unsuccessful, there is no way of knowing which of the many steps and processes were to blame. If I did know how to do this, I’d be writing a book, which I could sell for $29.99 plus tax and make enough money to retire early and set up a quaint B&B in Vermont, but I don’t, so I can’t, and I’m here instead, trying with all of my tact and diplomacy to help you through this on Twitter.

It's okay to have more than one egg, because if one turns out not to be viable, then another might be. Although, if you have two and both are viable then you could wind up with fraternal twins, which is cool in itself, but doesn’t lend itself to easy shopping for matching outfits. If you have three eggs, and they’re all viable, well then, my friend, you have an organization and you’d better name them all Alice.

The whole viable egg thing is really kind of like one of those carnival balloon-and-dart games, where you throw the darts and try to pop the balloons and it’s really hard when you aim, but if you just throw a whole handful of darts in the general vicinity of the wall of balloons, one just might hit and you’ve got yourself a prize. Except the carnival prize doesn’t have to be fed and changed and educated for the next eighteen-to-twenty-two years. Unless the carnival prize is a goldfish, but even then, you’re looking at a few years, not two decades. Are you sure about this baby thing? Sure you don’t just want to get a goldfish? Okay, well… On we go then.

You will also need sperm. Lots of sperm, because they are like cats in a way, and never go exactly where you want them to go, and sometimes don’t go anywhere, but instead hang out, lazily flicking their tails like a Maine Coon sunning itself in that warm patch of light on the window seat in a cozy north-facing bungalow in an older neighborhood east of the Mississippi.

Really, you want active, excited sperm, who are all ready to go, pumped up after that pep talk by that one charismatic coach who would give both King Henry V and William Wallace a run for their money, and who loves the kids too much to leave for a better paying job even though he’s barely making ends meet and he’s going to be six days late with his rent next month.

You’re also going to need some way to get the egg into the uterus, as eggs don’t grow in uteri any more than money grows on trees, and do not give me that argument about money being a combination of cotton and linen, both of which grow on plants, which are similar in some ways to trees, but not enough for this argument, which is really about the availability of money and the frequency in which it is needed, which brings to mind the fact that the US one-dollar bill only lasts 22 months on average, making it necessary to print new dollar bills fairly frequently.

But back to the egg. You need to get it in the uterus, and with the egg being microscopic and all, it’s both easy and not. If you have (or are) a cis-woman who has consented willingly (with education, etc.) then she (or you) comes with the necessary parts to make this transfer happen without you needing to do anything other than ply her (and yourself) with plenty of chocolate at prescribed times of the month. If not, then there are other options, but they involve scary-looking scientists with gloved hands and masks over their faces, and if you need to go this route, you should really talk to your obstetrician rather than reading satirical essays on Twitter.

I neglected to mention earlier, this egg you need must be at full maturity, as immature eggs do not respond well to sperm knocking on their doors at two in the morning, and are more likely to egg the sperm’s cars and TP their yards and send them anonymous cyber-bullying messages via Sarahah. Mature eggs are welcoming and will invite sperm in for tea and cookies with a reasonable expectation that neither are poisoned and the egg isn’t a psychotic serial killer in an egg disguise.

So, now you have a mature egg, finding its way to the uterus through either some mystical Chutes & Ladders framework built into the female physiology (presuming, of course, that said physiology is all in good working order) or via the scary-scientists-with-masks-over-their-faces. And you have active, pumped-up, ready-to-rumble sperm, some of whom may or may not be cat-impersonators.

Thus comes the hard part, which is also difficult. You must introduce the sperm to the egg, and it’s important to do this with delicacy and grace. Mature eggs do not care for speed dating, and are finicky, also much like cats, but less like the lazy Maine Coon and more like the very loud and vocal Siamese who turns its nose up at every affordable type of cat food you can buy and will only eat British Banquet brand cat food, containing caviar, line-caught salmon, lobster, and crab at $16.27 per serving, based on the conversion rates of British pounds to American dollars at the time of this writing.

There are lots of ways to do this correctly, and several wrong ways as well. Since this is the tenth pregnancy, one assumes that you have found at least one way to do this correctly, and possibly nine different ways, not counting all the ways in which one may have tried but was unsuccessful in getting pregnant, which can be fun too. I will not spend too long on this step, as instinct helps here as well, and even when the brain isn’t sure what to do, the body usually does. Except when it doesn’t, which does happen from time to time, but they make pills for that now, and then one’s good to go for up to four hours.

It's kind of magical—or can be, at any rate—at this point in the process. The sperm get to party, the egg gets to check out all the merchandise and make a selection (or pass altogether), and some humans, though not all, say they enjoy this part. Everybody sings a round or two of “put the lime in the coconut” and maybe does a conga line, and while nobody gets to watch this selection process with the naked eye, it will ideally result in a tiny human that will make you question all your life choices up until that moment when it makes googly eyes at you and then you will be back here on Twitter looking for advice for an eleventh because they are just too cute and cuddly even when one has to feed and water and change them and educate them in the ways of humanity.

I know I said I would not spend too long on this step, and I must not too soon make it overly simple to say that humans, and really all reproducing species, have been doing this for a great many years, even long before Twitter was invented, or instructional data stored on floppy disks, or even mass-produced, printed and bound books with pictures and diagrams and all manner of useful information, shelved in the Parenting & Family section at Barnes & Noble.

Because this is an eighteen-to-life sentence…er…commitment, on the one hand it behooves one, even though we’re still talking about human pregnancies, and none that I know of involve hooves, to have other things ready too, such as appropriate prenatal care and a trustworthy doctor and a safe place to put the baby when it finally, at four in the morning, decides that it wants to sleep, and diapers and soothers and toys… Well, let’s just say that you may find that such a tiny human often requires more supplies and accessories than it will move into a dorm room just eighteen years hence.

Many say that they want to wait until a good time or until they have saved enough money, and this is wise and appropriate forethought, except that it is also impossible. There is no such thing as a good time or enough money, especially where tiny humans are concerned, as they require more hours than there are in a day and further require that you spend money as if it grew on trees, which we’ve already covered, and thus you remember it does not.

But we are not there yet, as this is only the preparation and creation stage, not yet to the what-the-heck-did-I-sign-up-for stage. So, once the lime and the coconut have done their conga dance, it can take a little while for the egg to go through the various choices that the sperm have offered, similar to a college admissions officer or corporate hiring manager going through applications for one coveted spot, except that both the admissions officer and hiring manager ought to have pretty good ideas of what the job will require of the applicant, and the egg has — we suspect, based on interviews with eggs who did not immediately tell us to shove off — no real idea what will happen once it joins forces with the sperm. In this way, it’s very much a science experiment, mixing solutions and not knowing if one will wind up with the very useful and necessary H2O or the less friendly H2SO4. It’s exciting, I know, but all for the best to give the egg time to make a careful and measured decision, as if the life of the yet unborn human depends on it.

Lean back and relax. The hard part is over, and the difficult part has just begun. Stay tuned for the next essay: Olympic Hurling — Morning Sickness as a Professional Sport.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

PTSD: a poem

⁣​you hide
in shadows and behind 
darkened memories
looking for a weakness
a way in
a break in my flawed façade
just a crack
a whisper
the chance to turn
dream into nightmare
laughter to tears
hope into ruin 
love to loss 
you wait patiently
for me to fail
to forget to be
protective of this new life
the one I built
created with my own hands
a metamorphosis of self
reinvented 
a family to call my own
a home
a place to belong 
to be
you hide and wait
to destroy me
with nearly-forgotten pain
but I will not
will not let you
because this time
I have something
to live for



Copyright ©2017 
by Sheyna Galyan
sheynagalyan.com

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Touchstones

I recently returned from my first trip to Israel as part of a tour group from my synagogue. I'm still processing it, but was able to capture some of what it meant to me in the following poem.



Touchstones

From the concrete and glass of the airport
To the plastic and fiberglass of the plane
Crowds and hushed whispers and sleep that would not come
It was night and then it was morning—twice over
The first days

Venturing out into the heat
I am awestruck by this city of stone
Modern yet historic
Creating new technologies
While honoring those who fought for this space
From start-up to start again
Failure is but a step
Along the path to tikkun olam
Inspired by an idea
Brought to life with a speech
As we rise and sing.

Tunes familiar and different
Yet the same genuine smiles
We welcome Shabbat
Though we speak different languages
To say the same words
We want to learn and understand and know
What do you make from your life?
Are you ever separate
from the bedrock of this place?
And it was evening and it was morning. The third day.

Words of Torah
Written in sand, in stone
Who are we if we act based on what we fear
Instead of who we know ourselves to be?
On the shores of the Mediterranean
We look into the past
And see ourselves.

Driven by a vision
A thirst for both water and freedom
Hiding in plain sight
Fighting to make an idea manifest
A homeland
A makom kavua for am Yisrael
One volunteer at a time
One bullet at a time
While the giraffes look on

I stood in this place
Where they sang about peace
Only to be silenced by a gun
I touched the stone
And was moved
Then it was evening and morning
The fourth day.

A morning talk about happiness
About haves and have-nots
One thing is clear: when we have ice kafé
We are happy

From the serenity of biblical gardens
We share our gratitude by planting trees
Hope for the next generation
While honoring the walls
That keep us safe
As we travel deeper into the mystery
The visions of the merkavah
As we place ourselves in the sefirot
And ourselves become the Tree
Planted long before
And it was evening and it was morning
The fifth day.

An oasis of beauty
Leads to more stone
Solid walls of justice
Through the gate that bears
The language of our ancestors
And our new friends
A stone that proves we were here
In ages past.

I want to touch it
To connect here to there
Now to then
But there is no need
I am here
In this place
It is enough.

Loud booms shatter the stillness
Smoke etches the sky
As hate wreaks more destruction
We watch, safe on our mountaintop
As the air shudders around us
And we remember
Peace is a choice
In every moment.

Then with wine and chocolate and water
We celebrate with our Muslim cousins
There can be laughter
As we navigate the rapids
Of our lives.

And a shared meal
With friends we hadn’t yet met
Brings us back to our center
The why of it all
It is the connections we make
That bind us together
And it was evening and then morning
The sixth day.

From the youth of today
To the leaders of tomorrow
From the graves of those who came before
Who left us to be the caretakers
Of their children, their legacies
To the stages that once teemed with Jewish blood
And now resonate with music
We travel the last leg home
Ready to embrace the stone at the center
The heart and soul
Yerushalayim
And it was an evening of lights and a morning of light
The seventh day.

We slip into a tunnel
Beneath the heart
Surrounded by stone
Silent with the weight of history
Layers upon layers
It serves as a reminder
That connection with the holy
Requires we go deep.

As we approach the Kotel
The energy is thick
With prayer and emotion
All of life’s struggles
That are too heavy to bear
Are brought here to this wall
Seeping into the cracks
Our hopes and dreams and longing
Becoming the mortar
Touching stones worn smooth
With tears and caresses
And words uttered in pain and joy
Never meant for human ears.

There are claims upon these stones
Sacred places, sacred lands
And the lines are neither simple nor clear
Truth can be a mirage
Not found on any map
As the sun sets and rises again
The eighth day.

A song of descents.
Even as we rise
In the blistering heat
From the top of a camel
To the top of a mountain
Our tether to this place
Tenuous as a cord
We ponder martyrdom
And the price of freedom
And what it means
To truly fall.

Mountain to sea
Dry stone to sticky mud
We descend until there is no more to go
And for this moment
As we rest and lean back
Peace floats around us
And it was evening and then morning
The ninth day.

Every gain has required loss
Every hope comes on the heels of despair
And this Hope
This place
These stones
Mark both ending and beginning
Their memory haunts us still
We honor them
With a place and a name
And will never forget.

As Shabbat comes to us again
It sinks into every sense
Everything we have experienced
Every food tasted
Every song sung
Every stone touched
We will carry with us always
And it was evening and morning
The tenth day.

It is art that speaks of who we are
Who we were
The lives we led
So it is fitting that we end our journey
With art that gives purpose and brings joy
The art of architecture and the art of love
Knowing that the shreds of who we were
Can be molded into new strength
And become the touchstones of our lives.

As we begin the long flight to the west
Home now has two meanings
And I can live in both
No matter where I reside
And it was evening and it was morning.


Copyright ©2017 by Sheyna Galyan