Guest post by author Michelle Tweed
What's Your Story?
Pop! Sparks leap off the log. A blue flame winds and flickers. Searching, twisting, whistling into the night.
Rhythmic voices echo as shadows dance past lines and symbols. Painted hands, big and small, tell of generations.
It all started with a word.
Stories have been told since the beginning of time. Passed down they form a collective memory of truth, folklore and legend. Oral traditions gave way to shapes and pictures, and eventually to written words.
From then, till now, the custom of storytelling has prevailed. We speak them around camp fires, in academic circles, in daily interactions, and we read them to ourselves and our children. They shape us, teach lessons, add entertainment, and spread our religious beliefs.
There were the great storytellers who have remained through the ages.
Homer, a Greek who lived sometime around the 8th century BC, was an author and epic poet. He wrote “The Iliad”, and “The Odyssey”. Little, if anything, is known about Homer, other than his name was attached by the ancient Greeks to these culture-shaping epic stories.
Aesop, born in 620 BC, told the famous fables like, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, and “The Tortoise and the Hare”. He was said to have been a slave who won his freedom through cleverness. It is unclear if Aesop wrote the stories down, or if they were written down by others centuries later.
More recently were the Brothers Grimm. Born in the late 1700’s, the two brothers were linguistic scholars, and are most famously known for searching cultures far and wide and compiling folklore and fairytales. Sharing such works as “Snow White”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Rumpelstiltskin”. Many of these tales they gathered through oral origins, with a few having come from written sources.
What's in a Story?
We treasure these and other famous works, collect them, display them on bookshelves, and coffee tables.
But have we ever taken notice of the stories our kids tell? Not only the ones they tell us, but the ones they tell themselves? Children are constantly making up stories while they play. Giving us a glimpse into who they are and what they think. A front row seat into their world.
Reimagining bedtime stories for generations.
My daughter started making her own little books when she was four. They started with sparsely spaced stickers on paper, progressing to stapled paper with long strings of letters. Now, at age seven, they are still stapled papers, but with elaborate drawings and fun stories.
One day I noticed the bookshelves in our home. As much as we adore these old and new writings, how much more do we cherish the writings of our ancestors and loved ones?
Old letters, notes, signatures, even words on documents offer a window into their personality, life, and world. The days of hand written words are disappearing from our culture. And so, we value these things all the more.
I realized I wanted to give my daughter a place on the bookshelf. A place with all the greats. Because she is the greatest of them all to me. And someone so special deserved to have something more than staples. I wanted her to have some special books that were professionally bound to show her that I value her works of art.
And so Little Arrow Author Box was born.
There was only one rule I gave her. And that is that there are no rules. I simply want her to write and draw and tell her stories out of inspiration and joy. Not out of duty and academics. There will be time for that later. For now, I want it to be authentically her.
What a treasure these books will be.
Little Arrow Author Box is a new subscription book box for kids, centered around children making their own books. Our mission is to encourage children through literacy and art to tell their story, develop their natural talents, and shine their light by embracing who they are. You can see more of what Little Arrow Author Box has to offer on their website at, www.littlearrowauthorbox.com
Guest post by Dawn Milstrey
Seeing Through the Eyes of a Child
When illustrating a picture book, we need to look at the world through the eyes of a child. There is so much to learn about life if we just open our minds to a simpler way of seeing things, much as we did when we were young. Imagination blooms in the mind of a child!
One must consider all of the unwritten possibilities when illustrating for children. Taking the written words of a story and transferring them literally into drawings just isn’t enough. Ask yourself, “How would I have imagined those words when I was a child?” Children have a wonderful gift that allows them to see “more”. As illustrators, we need to dig deep and find that special gift of sight buried deep inside each of us.
Illustrations that are rich in detail are the direct result of a good imagination. Let’s say our task is to interpret the words “Van Gogh, a large yellow pond snail, slowly made his way across the warm rock to the edge of the water.” There are definitely enough details in the sentence to draw a nice picture such as the example below, but just drawing an accurate picture isn’t illustration.
Try imagining those words as a child might see them. Magnify what your imagination sees and zoom in on the details. Inject emotion into your characters. Breathe life into the scene by adding the suggestion of movement. Exaggerate the ordinary and illuminate the words; break convention!
Since the word count in a picture book is limited, we need to make the most of each sentence. It is our job as illustrators to show details that aren’t mentioned in the text. We must push the story BEYOND the words.
The example tells us that Van Gogh is large, yellow and a snail. First, how can we show that he is large? By making his surroundings seem a bit smaller by comparison, we can give the illusion of size in a fun way that also allows us to set the scene. Be sure that Van Gogh is surrounded by easily recognizable plants, etc. so the reader can easily judge size. Adding another living character that children can identify as being a consistent certain size will help them to compare the two. For example, adding a ladybug to the scene will help them to gauge the size of the snail. Also, choosing to crop the scene tightly around Van Gogh will make him dominate the page and appear even larger.
We know that Van Gogh is yellow, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a solid color. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to give Van Gogh’s yellow shell some polka dots or stripes and maybe add a touch of another color? Keep the art true to the words, but imagine them to be even more…
The sentence also indicates that Van Gogh is slowly moving across a warm rock. We can use body language to show motion, but how? Van Gogh can be lurching forward with his head and his back half can be stretched behind him as if slowly being dragged along. Since he is a snail, we could go one step further with a slime trail left on the rock to show he has indeed moved forward recently.
Now, we know from the text that the rock is warm, but how do we show warmth of an inanimate object within an illustration? Since the scene is outside, the obvious source of heat is the sun. We can simply have the sun beating down on the rock and casting shadows. By creating reflections on the slime trail, we can add another level of detail within the illustration as the sun hits the wetness, creating bright white spots. Kids love details!
Lastly, we are told that Van Gogh is headed to the water which seems simple enough to show. We can use this information to get a bit creative. What if Van Gogh, at that very moment in the story, arrives at the water’s edge and sees himself in the water’s reflection? By positioning him in such a way that we can see some of the back of his head from above along with his face in the water, we can have two views of Van Gogh at once. This ¾ view makes for a much more creative image for the page. Show Van Gogh’s facial features in his reflection because expression equals emotion.
With all of these fresh ideas enhancing the text, we now have a book illustration such as the example below that will catch the attention of adults as well as children. Don’t forget who is actually reading the story to the child. Be sure to make it interesting for them, too!
If we aren’t afraid to imagine more, one well written sentence can spark the imagination and result in a creative and original illustration. Before you pick up your drawing pencil sit back, close your eyes and set your imagination free.
Think as a child might think…see as a child might see.
Illustrate the words so that they come to life, dance across the page and welcome the child into their magical little world…
Guest post by Terry Matthews-Lombardo, CMP
Developing and Nurturing Your Second Act
If we’ve learned only one thing from the Pandemic Pandemonium of the past several years, it is to always have a backup plan. No matter your age or how secure your job was before the world turned upside down, the mere term “job security” may now have a new meaning in your life. And whether you are comfortable with that new definition is going to determine a lot as you-we all-continue to slog our way out of the COVID-19 career blues and into, well, whatever lies ahead.
So, just a quick starter question here: In that super interesting book called “My Life in Paperback” (or, if you have loftier expectations, the hardcover version), do you know the whole plot? Because if you’re like the rest of us, we haven’t even got a clue about the next scene and the inevitable plot twists that will get us through that section. But, after surviving 2020 (the year in which many might have wrongfully been focused on that final chapter, aka The Big Finish), now might be an excellent time to rethink the rest of your story.
Working On Your Second Act
I like to refer to this as working on your second act. You know, the one in which you actually take some time to plot out your story and perhaps plan ahead. Yes, that one! And good news here, it might not be as hard as you think. Here are some simple steps to get you started:
Give some serious thought to your past before you attempt to enter the future
Cut yourself some slack and do some dreaming
Be intentional about how you want to grow your story from here
Take the Leap!
Do the swivel, or the pivot. Heck, call it whatever you want. Whether you are forced into this life change or have the luxury of making this decision on your own terms, just make sure you take a step back before you try to leap too far forward all at one time, especially if your safety net is narrow. When considering any kind of a second act or side hustle, it’s important to prepare for whatever changes lie ahead and manage those expectations.
Guest post by Eileen Hector
You Can't Be a Writer Without Words
What is the most crucial point in a writing journey? For me, it’s always been about getting the words out on the page. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Experiment. Handwrite, type, or keyboard, just put the thoughts in your mind on the page.
Don’t be concerned at first about how they look, which order seems most logical, whether there are typos, incorrect punctuation, misspellings, or even correct grammar usage. Those kinds of things will slow you down or block your creative capacity. Just get the words on the page.
The story will develop, I assure you. The majority of my writing is memoir, short stories and non-fiction. There are times that ideas strike me, and I have to put them on the page and banish the thought of losing them forever.
Once all of those words are in front of you, they become complete thoughts and ideas. Look at those words and build the sentences for your story around them. Then it’s time to look at them critically and put them in the order that makes the most sense for your story. On more than one occasion random ideas offer up more than one story. Set the second one aside and concentrate on one at a time, otherwise you might have trouble moving on to completion.
Spellcheck on Paragraph Seven
When you think your story is complete, read your story aloud. How does it sound to you? I have taken to recording myself reading my own stories and then playing them back. These devices we call cell phones are really so much more than that. Most smart phones have a record and playback audio feature. Where did I stumble on an awkward sentence? Was the wording complicated? Was the sentence so long I had to take a breath in between the beginning and the end? Did it say clearly what I wanted it to say? Now is the time to check over everything in your story and fine-tune it.
Who Will Read This Story?
To be certain there are various levels of readers. We do want everyone to read our writing, right? Most analytics say that sentences for the average reader should be no longer than fourteen words. I have been using a free tool that gauges the ease of reading for my manuscripts. It has been helpful. It calculates seven different readability formulas to determine how difficult my text is to read. With this tool you can also see word statistics breakdown, showing the total number of words per sentence, word syllables, repeat words and sentence length.
I ran this blog through the Readability Tool. Here are the results.
Words, Words, Words.
There is no doubt about it. You have to start by putting the words on the page. I am ever in awe of how the same twenty-six letters of our alphabet can spring forth so many heartfelt stories, in such a variety of genre. This is a share in my development for continuing my writing journey. I hope you find it helpful. There is still so much to learn. As writers, we all have so much to learn from each other.
Guest post by Matthew Berg
When You Have Kids
When you have kids life changes; you change. You look about the days with different eyes where your perspective is refined. You see new things in each day given that only parenthood could have revealed to you. What used to hold great importance suddenly doesn't, and what didn't before now does. New life changes life and parents are refined by their kids. Yet this is only part of it all.
When you have kids the child awakens in you again. The adult is always there, yet wonder and whimsy rise from some distant slumber inside you. The days change through parenthood and you begin to truly live.
When you have kids you will have hard moments, you'll face what you likely didn't think you would, and you'll do it all for the love of a child, 'cause they're your child. You'll have irregular sleep patterns, irregular eating patterns, and you'll put yourself aside for their well-being. Love will be the why and the reason when you're a parent.
When you have kids you will become a little braver, a little smarter, a little more selfless. You suddenly stop believing you can't and simply do what is good because you must; and your must eventually becomes a want. You stop settling for just enough and start striving for what's better in life, you seek to be better in life.
When you have kids your time isn't your own, yet you find less and less this bothers you. There will be times for "alone time" (or self-care), moments where you will need to internally recharge to be your best you, yet this will not be your first priority. You will share sickness, sacrifice your dignity, even put yourself in harm's way for your kids all because you are different...because you are a parent.
Life will not be easy, but the journey will be worth it. You will not have all the answers, but you will learn them as necessary. You will have to be stronger than you know, and do what you will think you couldn't, but you will learn who you are when you have kids.
When you have kids, you don't have them, they have you. Traits will follow through their lives, habits will develop in them that they will see from you; you will look to make good habits when you realize this. You will never be perfect, and that's ok. It is in those moments of failure that the most growth will happen when responded to well, in both you and your kids.
When you have kids, you will look for a new way to live, for a healthier amount of margin. You will learn new skills and stretch yourself to better lead by example. You will refuse to stay the same if it means investing better in them, better in your family. You will navigate the roads of life with what you have while learning to hone each resource and skill to create a better way of living.
When you have kids in your later years (such as my wife and I did), you will write to
make a better life for your family (as I am now), to be there with them more than simply giving leftovers of yourself.
When you have kids life changes without question. We as parents (however we entered into that journey) will choose how it changes....whether for better or worse.
Guest post by Elisabeth Ball
To get older is to be a stranger in a strange land of the utterly familiar.
Creases from sleep fail to iron out and start to settle into permanence, an understandable metamorphosis which still surprises. Your thin hair thins further, turning to wisps, from cobwebs to a baby’s fuzz. The eye circles that look like shiners never dim. No amount of concealer can paint them away. Blame it on pollen, lack of sleep, stress. But it’s just the usual evolution--a transfiguration ticked off in years.
Consider, the neck wattle, aging’s jack in the box. The first crepe of the neck slips up on you. Maybe it’s a trick of the light? One mirror’s cast is kind, another’s cruel. The flaplet was just there—where is it now? In pictures, you soon learn to take no chances with the wattle and stick your chin out every time for a camera, pulling it taut.
Between the shiners and the jaw jut, your driver’s license shows a pugilist.
So, you turn to stronger anti-aging products. What starts out as mild experimentation proceeds to near obsession: you can’t help purchasing one pricy cream after another. You expect a miracle while knowing there are none in age reversal, not even in plastic surgery which, except in the best cases, seems to alter each person into their own stiff cousin from LA. You know the gels, the serums, the scrubs don’t work, but you can’t help trying one after another.
There was that one time you thought a certain “neck tightener” had beaten back the wattle. Then you cleaned your glasses, and saw it clearly, fully creped and starting to furrow.
This preoccupation creeps toward obsession, touches the perimeter of sin. After all, you’ve been taught not to think about yourself, instead to pour your resources into other people and purposes. You know time is better spent in giving, growing, gratitude, so you try, but still you’re drawn back to the change in your face and body. Self-consciousness of the worst sort, about the natural and normal, about years survived and the body itself.
In due time, though, this fervid exfoliation reveals forgotten logic. The truth dawns right there on your hyper-pored face:
How could you, or any human being for that matter, erase the wear and tear of time?
So you start to accept. You adjust first by ceasing to wear shirts that show jelly arms or skirts that reveal varicose veins. You embrace the crisp collared button-down and good gold earrings and supportive shoes. You inhabit an unobjectionable uniform, slap on mascara and drugstore concealer and let that be the extent of it.
You realize it is freeing to give up on anti-aging, to settle into the background of the late middle years. Let others come to the fore. You’d rather not be noticed anyway.
This shift in objective shifts your perspective. The more you gaze at age in the world, the less it bothers you. In fact, you see something previously unrecognized—loveliness. The elderly white-haired lady’s slumped shoulders transform into curved wings. Her weakness becomes that of a newborn, a helpless beauty so reverse of the ego that it shines as bright as the metal of her cane. The shuffling walk of your ninety two-year old father is a thoughtful exercise in balance and restraint, a parabola of purpose. The crow’s feet marking friends’ faces are delicate grosgrain, making merry like ribbons on a package.
You’ve heard that gratitude is a way of seeing, and it’s coming true for you. The ABCs of gratitude a la Sue Grafton lead you deeper into understanding—thank you for aging, for blemishes, for collagen loss, for dark circles under eyes. They are part of what it means to have lived past a mid-century of years.
Thankfulness leads you deeper into beauty. You see it in the wackiness of life; laughter, yours and others about something ridiculous, is gorgeous. Silliness, not seriousness, beckons. You find yourself looking for it, seeking the renewing power of the ridiculous. The joy in the guffaw, the understanding that this is where you were meant to go, where everyone who is lucky enough to live into their sixth decade needs to be. To negate expressive wrinkles and furrows now is to delete part of this beauty.
Even your ticklish forgetfulness and scattershot thoughts take on loveliness, because they amuse more than frighten. Your friends share the same stories of tip-of-the-tongue word loss and foggy to-do lists. You laugh at the foibles of memory and don’t fight the faultiness. Instead, you lean into another narrative, keeping curious (reading anything and everything, playing games, observing ibises), because curiosity leads to practice which can turn into devotion.
And devotion brings you closer to what matters at the end.
This is the transformation of aging; you’ve been in it your whole life, but now might be its most important moment. Baby to toddler to child to tween happened to you unawares. Puberty kidnapped a distracted adolescent. Adulthood, early and middle phases, were only a warm-up for the big reveal. Now you understand so much more:
Aging brings a loveliness that anti-aging cannot.
So place no faith in pricy “youth-renewing” products or procedures; save your money for books, cupcakes, or a good wine. Be thankful for wattles and wrinkles, creaky backs and hips, occasional forgetfulness. The body blooms late with these signs of insight: you know enough of life now to laugh with others, to plumb your collective stories for humor, for that joy which bonds human to human. And you have existed until the perfect time in history, this era of anti-aging, to be a beautiful example of its opposite.
by Orange Blossom Publishing
Will you marry me?
We all want forever love with that one special person who lights up our lives with joy. Many people picture the perfect moment, but sometimes reality can surprise us. In this collection of true stories, authors share their one-of-a-kind engagement stories, filled with humor, surprises, and most of all, happiness.
Inside are stories of unexpected beginnings, second chances at love, tales of just-right timing, and experiencing the magic in every day. Join us in a celebration of forever love!
Click here to see the book on Amazon.
Meet the Editor
Arielle Haughee (Hoy) is a six-time RPLA-winning author, editor, speaker, and publisher. She writes a mix of children's picture books and adult nonfiction. After launching Orange Blossom Publishing in 2017, she discovered her love for being
"behind the scenes" with books and expanded into a small press. She lives in Central Florida and loves dogs, babies, purple, and bacon.
Guest post by Elizabeth A. Boyd
Reflections of Pulse: Before and After
It was an ordinary summer Sunday morning. I had woken excited to try a new sausage and egg casserole recipe for my husband. Recently, I transitioned into an outpatient role as a medical social worker and was excited to have my weekends back after working weekends and holidays in the hospital for the majority of my career.
Though we now lived about 30 minutes from downtown, I was not new to Orlando. In fact, I was born at Orlando Regional Medical Center (now known as Orlando Health) and raised about 15 minutes away.
Pulse was a place that was very familiar to me as it was a daily part of my commute to high school just across town. It was also very close to where my mother worked and my own first job in college.
It wasn’t always a nightclub either. It had been an Italian restaurant that later expanded and even hosted some high school bands. One band was classmates of mine who performed mostly Oasis cover songs (at least as I recall it). Eventually, the restaurant closed and Pulse was born as a nightclub, but not just any nightclub. Pulse, while welcoming to all, was a nightclub for the LGBTQ community. It would later be described as a haven for those looking to live authentically while having a fun night out.
Within my own family, some generations apart, are beloved family members who are part of the LGBTQ community. Those in my parents’ generation have shared what it was like to grow up in a less accepting version of Orlando in the 1970s into the 2000s trying to find where they fit in (an early precursor to Pulse was the Parliament House) while also navigating the HIV/AIDS crisis and stigmas that resulted.
Still others from my own generation have been less fearful about living openly though they too have had to fight for policy changes including equal rights and the seemingly simple act to marry who they love. All of these family members have had to be brave in living authentically and I am so grateful our collective family has been accepting of who they have always been and are so proud of the families that have been created in love. While I couldn’t imagine it being any other way, I also know that not everyone is met with love and respect by their own families and this is profoundly hurtful.
While I hadn’t yet been to Pulse as an LGBTQ club before, one of my cousins had invited me and another cousin to an LGBTQ club in Tampa for a drag show and night of dancing and as usual, we had the best time. We danced until we couldn’t anymore and proceeded to have an amazing evening filled with laughter and unadulterated joy. The same laughter and joy we experienced as children whether we were spending time with our extended family at the holidays or our cherished time at the beach over the summer. Just about anything would start us laughing that would go on until we were sternly warned to go to sleep.
When that same cousin later invited me to join him at Pulse one night while he was in Orlando, I gladly came along. Pulse felt different than the other clubs downtown. You could come as you were and be as dressed up or down as you wanted and the other patrons seemed to be more respectful of physical boundaries versus other clubs I visited. I’m not sure how long we stayed that night at Pulse but I recall my cousin met up with friends he was working with at Disney at the time while I had to leave earlier than I wanted as I was in college and those early morning classes were indeed early.
That night, like the night in Tampa, stuck in my mind when my cousin moved away. I knew my life wouldn’t be the same because he was and still is one of a handful of people that can make me laugh out loud uncontrollably over the silliest things. He was in our wedding as a groomsman and was the only person allowed between my husband’s room and our bridal suite. He kept the party going at our wedding literally dancing out of his shirt. His joy is contagious. Just this past fall, he asked if I would help him write out what he wanted to say when proposing to his boyfriend. He planned a beautiful proposal and I cried during the proposal because it was just so special and I was so honored to have played a very small role in it.
Going back to 2016 and to the most ordinary of Sundays, I began to work on my casserole. I turned on the radio as I love to sing and sway to the music while cooking, but instead of music, it was news reports that were still very fresh, but indicated something serious had occurred at Pulse in the very early morning hours. I got the casserole in the oven and turned on the television to hopefully gather more information.
What I witnessed were scenes of absolute horror. Scenes that I didn’t think were possible in my hometown. It did not look to be a small incident and it didn’t look to be controlled. The videos were from the early morning hours where it was still dark, showing scenes of people carrying badly injured people out of the parking lot and either loading them into the back of police trucks or carrying them to Orlando Health just down the road. People were bleeding and appeared to be in shock or in excruciating pain. Other people were making makeshift tourniquets with their own shirts in an effort to help. Some people were helping their friends while others helped whoever needed it. Still others were seen across the street hiding behind a bagel shop.
The hospitals were overwhelmed with trauma patients, and it seemed every local police agency was responding. Parents and family members were standing in the middle of Orange Avenue, a main thoroughfare to and from downtown Orlando, asking the media to help find their loved one. Others were checking local hospitals in hopes their loved ones were alive.
Eventually, local officials held a news conference detailing what they believed happened and how they would be involving state and federal officials. We had been hearing that there were casualties, maybe up to 20. I was sitting glued to my couch when Mayor Dyer announced that 49 people were deceased and at least as many were either seriously injured or wounded. At that moment, my heart broke wide open and I sobbed for my neighbors who simply went to enjoy a night out at Pulse specifically for Latin night no less as I would later learn. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
"When the call came for an urgent need for blood, the community answered"
I finally contacted my cousin’s sister to inform her of what happened as I was desperately afraid my cousin had friends there that night and I didn’t want him learning about it from the media. I later learned he knew people there though not close and at least one person was deceased.
Additional information trickled out that day explaining that this was no accident, but rather a well-coordinated terrorist attack, the worst since 9/11 and directed with hatred towards the Latin LGBTQ community. Details continued on that the attack lasted for hours upon hours. Some people were trapped in a bathroom while trying to escape and began calling their loved ones begging for help and then later to say goodbye. Some survived by appearing dead while under or behind those already deceased as the killer had no mercy.
It was later revealed what a daunting task the investigators had before them as the scene was beyond what most had ever seen and most chillingly, the bodies of the victims that remained on the dance floor had cell phones that rang and rang and rang from desperate family members. This would haunt many of our first responders forever. The ringing from the phones and the enormous amount of blood; it sounded like a nightmare.
Meanwhile the trauma unit at Orlando Health was as busy as ever and some patients were being transferred to Florida Hospital (now Advent Health) where I worked as an outpatient social worker. Doctors and nurses at both facilities who weren’t scheduled came into work. Mental health professionals and chaplains also volunteered their time without being asked. A command center at a local hotel was being set up for the families.
One of the most moving things from that day is when the call came for an urgent need for blood, the community answered willing to stand in line for hours in the hot June heat while others delivered water to ensure they didn’t get dehydrated doing so. We too learned that a friend of a friend from college had been killed in the attack and we knew his loss was enormous as he had been such a light not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but for the world.
In the days to come, organizations stepped up to ensure access to counseling and provide other resources. Greenwood Cemetery, one of Orlando’s oldest, would donate burial plots at no charge for grieving families. There were remembrance ceremonies held in Downtown's Lake Eola park and an iconic scene in the plaza in front of the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts where thousands attended to show their respect. President Obama visited and laid a wreath at that site shortly thereafter. My own organization prepared for people needing follow-up care though we never saw any victims in our own clinic.
These acts of kindness spoke volumes compared to the terror that was so cruelly inflicted. One memorable moment from me came from CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He was wrapping up reporting live from Orange Avenue near Pulse and instead of discussing anything more about suspected terrorist, he instead wanted to honor every name of every person lost early that Sunday morning. As he read the names aloud, his voice cracked, his shoulders shuddered, and he simply couldn’t hold back tears. I cried along with him for I knew that while Pulse was and remains a special place (now a memorial) to those who visited, our community lost 49 beautiful souls and while their family and friends will forever bear the pain of that loss, our community lost so much that day too. The day the unimaginable happened.
In the following years, the investigations have wrapped up. Pulse (the building) still stands though boarded up and surrounded by an updated fence that doubles as a wall to write condolences and reflections on. It has become the memorial for now.
Initially, it was shocking to drive by once the road was re-opened and to see the chain link fence full of mementos, flowers and seeing people gather. Today when I pass the building and updated wall, I pray for the people we lost, their families and friends and our first responders.
6 Years Later
Should you visit Orlando or live here, you’ll see lots of rainbows. Some painted on the road, the band shell at Lake Eola or on banners hanging from light poles. The person who committed such violent acts of hatred may have believed he did something and while it certainly caused pain and trauma and especially so for those who lost loved ones and for our first responders, he would be surprised. Surprised at how Orlando came together, grew stronger, prouder and more accepting. The Pulse of this community remains strong, and we will never forget that day nor the months and years that followed.
I suppose one day I might try to make that casserole again. The people at Pulse that night were simply living their lives and I think their message would be for us to continue living, loving, accepting and fully embracing one another knowing that living our most authentic lives is life giving and brave. I promise I still have radio dance parties in the kitchen and even more so, I promise to not forget those we lost, those who were injured, those who love them, and all those who came together 6 years ago and continue to do so today.
*As the content of the article can bring about difficult emotions, please know there are resources available in the event you feel you need support. You are needed. You are wanted. You are loved. Included are just a few resources (some national and some local to Orlando) below:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
Heart of Florida United Way Hotline: Dial 2-1-1
The Center Orlando (LGBTQ+ Services including healthcare, counseling, food pantry): 407-228-8272
Zebra Coalition (LGBTQ+ Housing and Support Services ages 13-24): 407-228-1446
*I have no affiliation with the above listed organizations and please note this list is not comprehensive. For psychiatric emergencies, please visit your nearest Emergency Department or contact your local law enforcement agencies for assistance.*
Guest post by Josh Newhouse
I walk amongst the corpses shrouded in black sheets. I gingerly lift the corner to have a peek at the face like a waxen mask on an unreal body.
I continue my trek through the valley of death to the next body. I take a peek.
I continue through the room pausing at each mound of flesh to check. My brother is not there under any shroud.
I keep on walking, checking every face, holding my breath as I see none I recognize.
“He’s not here.”
I sigh. I walk out of the morgue, and I collapse against the wall. I want to laugh, and I want to smile. I hold it in as I stumble to my feet.
I make it out of the building before I throw up. My vomit slides down the side of the wall like blood and entrails, chunky yet smooth.
I want to dance. I want to sing. I give myself permission to smile. I call my wife.
“Good news” I crow! I can hear her sobbing with relief on the other end.
Then I see them looking at me. They look pale like ghosts as they leave the building. I see their faces like the walking dead. I feel them judging me.
My smile disappears. I feel sick again. I cast my phone into my pocket. It sits like a tombstone against my side, cold and hard.
I wonder when it became okay to celebrate on a day when so many lost love, lost life. When had I become so jaded that “another mass murder” became acceptable? When did I lose empathy for my fellow person?
The gun in my baggy coat pocket feels heavy. I want to take it out and discard it. But it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel powerful. If my brother had been there, then what...
Would I have waged war like the Punisher on the ignorant and unwell? Would I have turned it on myself? I think about my brother. Would he want that?
My brother, he who disappeared from my life 10 years ago. My brother, whose gayness had sent me running. My fear for his loss is echoed by the feeling I have lost him.
Is hate easier when it’s against your own family? Does it take losing your family to lose your hate? I feel them staring at me. All of them. Those disembodied souls and the ones they left behind.
If I had his number would I call him? It’s a moot point. I don’t even know if he still went to that dance club. If he’d been here, would he even have spoken to me?
I turn to walk to my car. I turn to walk back to my life. Then I see him.
For a moment I think I am hallucinating. His face is gaunt, and he looks so tired. Is he a ghost? Did I miss a body as I checked the corpses lying on their table pyres?
The spectre is walking closer. He is staring at me, and it feels like I am melting.
It’s barely a syllable but it slips down like a rock from my mouth pulling me down to my knees.
I hear a voice I never thought I would hear again. It sounds like an icicle trickling into my brain. The apparition stops in front of me.
For a long moment he just looks at me. Then as if satisfied, he pivots and walks away.
I stand there staring. I can’t speak. I can’t move. My brother is alive, and it should be great news, but it feels like he is dead. He disappears into the shadows like a shadow himself. The shadow of my brother. Living but dead.
This is where I should run after him. This is where I should have the courage to tell him I made a mistake. I have another chance. He’s alive. This is the part of the story where I redeem myself.
I just stand there.
It’s been a day of good news.
Guest post by Paula Pivko
2020 was the cruelest year breeding
ice cold storms from pain
and hatred long kept hidden
away from the sun’s light.
Something caged finally came out.
The monster came
to our doorstep.
It was born on a day in 1999
At a school in Chicago.
When we said “they’ve
committed suicide. Surely,
this can’t happen again.
What do you know?
What do you remember?
I know only this.
I will give up the second
they take it from my cold
my cold dead fingers.
The monster isn’t dead.
We learned this at
a school in 2012
It grew arms.
At a nightclub it grew feet.
Fed by our words.
“Of course we condemn
“the actions of the shooter.
“And pray for the families of
“the forty-nine dead.”
As we whisper or maybe shout.
But they are not our kind. They
shouldn’t have gone there.
Lead the good life and the Lord
Will protect you.
And of course we could
do nothing, just talk.
Restricting guns does no good.
Only criminals will have them.
In fact we need to
arm the teachers and
form the militia.
I’ll give up the second
When they pry it
from my cold, cold
Let’s pray to our god and condemn the
young who cry at our doorstep.
Entitled children should go back to
where they belong.
Let us pray to our god ask for justice
for him to punish the sinners among us.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.
We’ll root out the enemy
and chase him away.
Once we met the enemy
Who was he?
We met the enemy and
who was he again?
I do not know. I do not remember.
Now we hold drills
hide in closets.
We need that second
and the militia.
But do not let the trans
Serve in the military.
Don’t ask don’t tell.
It’s all an illness
if not a sin.
Don’t question a soldier
who likes to kill.
So long as he’s straight.
Don’t question the
cop who kneels
On another’s neck.
It’s not ours, after all.
Don’t do the crime then.
In 2021 it came back.
It broke the doors to our palace.
This monster that had gone to
a club for the wicked
Now brought us righteous
to our knees.
We cried out Oh Lord, Oh Lord
Why have you forsaken us?
We did not see for we could not.
We put cotton in our ears and blinded
ourselves like Oedipus.
So as to not hear the monster
call us his savior.
So we would not see our likenesses
In the monster’s blood red eyes.
Dies irae, dies illa
Quando Judex est venturus
The monster sleeps.
We stayed our hand again.
we found too late when
the Judge came
It was not for those in some
den of a nightclub nor
for those we call sinners.
He came for us.
Dies irae, dies illa