Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.
Many thanks to editor Mark Leichliter for publishing my personal essay “Letter to a Phantom” in the latest issue of bioStories. Mark has been kind enough to accept several of my essays and he is indispensable in suggesting edits that make them stronger. It is always a privilege to be featured in such a fine journal. If you enjoy this piece, I encourage you to “like” and “share” it on the links provided and follow the magazine.
From the bioStories website: bioStories offers word portraits of the people surrounding us in our daily lives, of the strangers we pass on the street unnoticed and of those who have been the most influential and most familiar to us but who remain strangers to others. We feature essays from an eclectic variety of viewpoints and seek out writers of literary excellence. We particularly look for work that offers slices of a life that help the reader imagine the whole of that life, work that demonstrates that ordinary people’s experiences often contain extraordinary moments, visionary ideas, inspirational acts, and examples of success and failure that prove instructive. In short, we believe every life displays moments of grace. bioStories wishes to share pieces of these lives and celebrate them.
View the pieces of the lives presented here as portraits, sketches, tributes, memories, remembrances … pieces of lives that enrich our experience for having shared them. We ask writers to, as Toni Morrison has said,”Imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar.” Share a life. Introduce us to someone we don’t yet know.
It’s been awhile since I posted any artwork, so here are a few photos of some recent work, most of it in collaboration with my woodworker/scroll saw maestro wife. I am doing more and more commissioned pet portraits–canines are much in demand.
Many thanks to editor Alisa Golden for publishing “A Christmas Poem” in the new issue of Star 82 Review.
“Star 82 Review is an independent art and literature, online and print magazine that highlights words and images in gemlike forms. Each issue features flash fiction, creative nonfiction, erasure texts, narrative art, postcard lit and poetic storytelling featuring subtle humor, humility and humanity, the strange and the familiar, and hope.”
Write a letter to your younger self, they urge: It’s cathartic. Be kind, be supportive, guide her gently toward better choices. Fat chance she’d listen. Pearls of wisdom, cautionary tales–she heard them all. And what, precisely, to offer? Don’t settle? Don’t worry? Stay out of the sun? I wouldn’t listen to me either. If I took another tack, told her she was strong and worthy, capable of anything, she’d only shrug and look away. Not for a minute would she have imagined a soft landing in her sixties, four-bed/two bath, a steadfast spouse. In any case, who am I to interfere– she got me this far, didn’t she? Better to leave her hurtling into plight and fervor and folly so that she can show up here and astonish me. “See?” she would have said.
Many thanks to editor Corey Cook for publishing my poem “Terminal Lucidity” in today’s issue of Red Eft Review. Red Eft Review is an online journal dedicated to featuring accessible poetry for a universal audience.
“Hot flashes?” my friend said. “They don’t bother me. They’re mostly gone now anyway. And the other stuff—dry skin, weight gain. What can you do? No one stays pretty forever.” She paused, frowned at the drink in her hand. “But the thing that does bother me? Loss of libido. I gotta say, I have a grudge against that one.” She looked at me. “It’s excessive, don’t you think?”
I blinked at her. I knew what she meant. Of all the subtractions that come with menopause, loss of desire has to be the saddest. “Makes you realize what biological beings we really are.”
She nodded. “It does, doesn’t it?” She was a silent a moment. “You know, I don’t think I miss the sex so much as I miss the need for it, the appetite. Why should that get taken away, too?”
“Maybe it’s a kindness,” I offered. “Maybe we lose our desire because we’re no longer desirable.”
“Well, that’s brutal,” she said. “But you’re probably right. Nature thinks of everything.” She looked up into the tree that shaded our table. “Damn men. All they lose is their hair. Bill still wants sex—not as often, but it’s there. It’s retrievable. For women it’s like a door slamming shut.”
No, I thought, not slamming. More like closing, quietly, so quietly you don’t notice. One day it occurs to you that sex has not occurred to you.
You might chide yourself, resolve to put mundane matters aside and focus on love. The problem, you think, is fixable, laughable, temporary. There is the destination, clear as day—all you need to do is show up. Only you can’t. You’ve lost the map. Occasionally you forge ahead, determined to prevail, and occasionally you do, arriving at a finish line barely worth the effort.
I do know of one woman, 84 years old, who claims she is still interested in sex, who would jump in the sack “in a hot minute” if she found an appropriate suitor. When she told me this, I laughed. “I’m not kidding,” she said flatly.
“Lucky you,” I replied, wondering if having a sex drive in your eighties is a lucky thing. Finding a willing and able partner would certainly be lucky.
This woman is exceptional—most of my female peers have shed their amatory lives and moved on. Yoked to the plow of destiny, we have found other ways to entertain ourselves: birding, gardening, charity work.
“The Change,” people used to call it, ominously. It was an event discussed in whispers, a bane that befell our mothers and aunts. I wasn’t sure what it meant, only that I didn’t want it to happen to me. Odd that the transformation still came as a surprise.
Focusing on the compensations can be helpful, like my newly-sprung ability to notice the ways I’ve been blessed or spared. I can tell you that most everything I see now has significance, that I ache for this beleaguered planet every day, that I can no longer regard a caterpillar on my cabbage without considering its right to be there. Each day I can feel the thrilling edge of something I have yet to learn.
Still, I mourn my libido. The loss of it, after all, is a sort of death, an ash-filled urn in the top of my closet, alongside those size 6 jeans I will never wear again. I am, as nature would have it, changed. What is there to do but shove on my sunhat and go out to the garden, tend to other lives as assailable as my own.
Bonded to a boulder, living on air and random rain, a forty-year-old lichen claims a thumbprint of space. Centuries from now it will be the size of a dinner plate, will still be young when the millennium turns– not that age applies to a thing designed to override death.
Maybe this doesn’t sound like much of a life: stuck on stone, nothing to do but make more crust. Or maybe it’s a thrill a minute, living up to all that potential.
I would like to find out, to lie on a sun-warmed rock and give myself up, to become with steady assurance all I was ever meant to be.
Have you ever wished there were a way to find the best books on a particular subject? Welcome to Ben Fox’s Best Books series, a website for finding and discovering stand-out works on a delightful variety of interests. Many thanks to Mr. Fox for including my book, Survival Skills, in this amazing project, along with five other outstanding works sure to please animals lovers everywhere.
I wish to thank the wonderful writer and editor Mark McNease for featuring four essays from my collection “Strange Company” on his podcast. Mark has published three of my books and his support and encouragement have been invaluable. Please visit his website to read his blog posts, enjoy his podcasts, and find information on his many mystery novels.
To listen to four selections from my book “Strange Company” please follow this link to Mark’s podcast site. After a brief introduction, you will hear the beautiful voice of Nikiya Palombi as she perfectly captures the mood of the pieces. Enjoy!
News of animals, their misfortunes. Hopefully she has not seen these stories. I wouldn’t know.
Broken egg yolks. I give her the perfect yellow rounds, the slightly bigger shrimp, the cookie with more chocolate chips. I am nothing if not vigilant.
Worry about her health, especially her asthma. My anxiety will not help her breathe.
Worry about my own health. The little things. My body is my job, not hers.
Silly, daily mistakes I make. Which might, at this age, cause her concern.
My soiled childhood. This is what therapists are for, to hear the words that must be said to those will not be gutted.
Behavior I regret, the pages of our book I want to rip out. Admission is not absolution. Instead of infecting her with these images, I offer myself now, the improved version, the best I can muster. So far.