Exploring Our World, One Letter at a Time
The journey toward fulfillment is as unique and individual as the person who embarks on the voyage. Some seek peace, some justice, others happiness and satisfaction. Whatever the end goal, this process includes a healthy dose of self-awareness.
Here at One Year of Letters, we ask the big questions, both of our inner selves and of the much wider world. We strive to dismantle perceptions, question beliefs, and let go of the things that inhibit our progress. Our desire is to strike a chord within you, our readers, to offer a place of contemplation, and to help you along your individual journeys.
Best Wishes to You All-
Elaina, Colleen, Sigurd, Kerry, Mary, Amanda, and Tatyana
Two members of the OYOL team have published novels!
By: Elaina Portugal 12/14/19
Last week, my eighty-one year old mother-in-law hung her very first Christmas ornament ever. Being Jewish, she’d never had an opportunity, and perhaps never a desire, to hang an ornament before. She sat in her chair watching me unpack my memories from boxes and offered to help. She oohed and aahed over all of the Christmas decorations and ornaments I’ve collected over the years. Presents from students, co-workers, and even her, brought exclamations of delight as the tissue paper fell away to reveal each trinket inside.
I told a few stories about some of the items and pushed buttons on ornaments that sang songs or made noise. We talked briefly about my childhood and decorating for the holidays back then. As I continued to unpack, the dreidel and the menorah made their way to their yearly spot on the top of the grand piano, and the Hanukkah tree ornaments looked perfectly at home and right in their usual spaces. To read the rest…
I scurried through Dollar General looking for ant bait, scratching at every imagined itch. The pesky little buggers had formed a conga line from the base of my window sill to the dog’s dish and I, in my manic endeavor to wipe them from the face of my floor, had stretched out under the table to interrupt their dance. Of course, the little fuckers found their way onto my top and no matter how many times I took it off and shook it out on the deck, I could still imagine them crawling on me.
Finding what I needed in the seasonal aisle, I tried not to run to the front of the store to pay. I imagined the ants swarming over my kitchen floor, turning it an undulation of black, looking for some scrap of food to pounce upon. I scratched behind my ear, flicked something imagined off my top, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nemesis of my childhood. The ant bait I clutched went forgotten as the quicksand of memories sucked me in. Read more…
My kitchen counters are covered in flour and the temperature in the kitchen must be ten degrees warmer than the rest of the house. Poluski, polish potato dumplings, are rolled on the counter and water boils on the stove awaiting the next batch. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” croons from my speakers; a favorite song until my son had me read the lyrics without music. Now I call it the Harvey Weinstein Christmas song. Still, it makes me think of my grandmother’s huge kitchen radiator and Christmas Day at her house. She always had fried poluski and sour cream, a family favorite. Read more…
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
June 4th, 2017
My daughter, Bear, has a service dog through Canine Companions for Independence. We waited three years while the organization vetted us as a qualified family and while the appropriate dog was trained. When the time came and a dog with the right potential personality and skills became available, we moved to Dublin, Ohio for intense training. To graduate as a service team, we needed to master the commands and show our ability to adapt them in ways to help when we reached home. My daughter, her dog Latte, and I form a three-point companion team. Although Bear and Latte are usually pretty good about remembering, I reinforce the commands and ensure they pay attention to the rules in public. Read more…
Although it will sound like an oxymoron, I discovered a will is a living document. My latest health scare spurred me to create a will. I have children to protect somehow, after all, and although I’ve little to provide for them monetarily, I at least need to offer some small guidance for once I’ve shed this mortal coil and left them to their own devices.
As I wrote, I realized how little of monetary value I would leave behind. I am a woeful provider. I’ve worked most of my life, yet I have little to show for the efforts. I own a flooding house where the once-beautiful yard is now reduced to a swamp. The cars are not in my name. I own little jewelry, and what I have is not worth much money. Certainly, nobody should fight over …. Read more
1 December 2016
You may have noticed the long period of silence from One Year of Letters. In addition to the individual pressures keeping us from our beloved keyboards, we’ve all been reeling from the results of the American election. I can’t speak for the rest of my team, but I’ve spent much of the past two months absorbed in anxious hand-wringing and reading. Lots and lots of reading.
And lots of unpleasant social media confrontations.
I dislike confrontation, which may seem ironic to you, considering how frequently I use One Year of Letters to call out hate and injustice. You see, for writers it’s much, much easier to orate than to argue. Read more …
November 29, 2016
I didn’t get invited to Thanksgiving Dinner. To be fair, since I moved to North Carolina four and a half years ago, Thanksgiving is typically not a holiday my family of origin spends together. Most years, I stay in North Carolina, my sister goes to her in-laws in Ohio, and my mom and other sister either go to my brother’s or they go out to dinner.
This year, I went back to Chicago to visit my daughter, who’s been in the hospital for the past eight weeks. She is pregnant with twins, and it is a high risk pregnancy. The doctors were pretty sure they were going to deliver on the 22nd, which is why I came up for the week, but alas, on the 21st they decided to wait until December 2nd. My husband and sons were supposed to come up and join me, but without the appearance of babies, driving 12 hours for Thanksgiving dinner seemed a bit silly, especially since my brother, who knew we were coming, never extended an invitation. Read more …
November 14, 2016
Today, our nation votes for a new president. Here, a senate seat, several local officers, and a poorly veiled referendum will be decided as well. I took my sixteen-year-old to witness the voting process, as I have since she was small. She will be eligible to vote soon, just like her idealistic college-age sister.
Then there’s my nineteen-year-old. My Bear. She is biologically eligible to vote, yet because of her mental impairments, I hesitated when it came to registration. She and I talked long and hard about the state of the country and the candidates. We discussed the duties and importance of the offices. She twirled her hair, overwhelmed. Read more …
November 9th, 2016
Dear Mr. Trump
Congratulations on winning the most coveted job in the world. Today I had to go to work and face my students, students who were not in your camp. I thought I’d give a pep speech about how as Americans, we needed to come together and work through our differences. More importantly, I thought I would tell them we need to educate ourselves so we understand the process better. This way, when they’re old enough, they’ll have the knowledge to vote with confidence. Like most days in teaching, that’s what I “thought” I’d do.
Instead, I walked into a shit show. Read more…
October 17, 2016
I don’t think “exposing” is the right word. The misogyny has been laid bare for a long time, a monolithic principle to be rejoiced in and depended on. Most have embraced it, and not just in the GOP and not only men. Blaming the GOP, or any one group, for the bedrock misogyny in our country is disingenuous.
American society, women included, has always lauded the patriarchy and women’s place in it. We’ve always been little more than children, indulged with the occasional treat or pat on the head, but ultimately an ornament to be seen but not heard. Or perhaps there’s a better analogy: we’ve been prisoners, incarcerated for the gender we were born with, taken at birth to a tiny cell, given the illusion of freedom through work-release, yet never gaining parole, never considered rehabilitated, never a capable member of society with the same rights or privileges as men. That status isn’t some new revelation. It was never hidden. The walls and ceilings were sometimes diaphanous, but let’s not kid ourselves that no one knew they were there. Read more …
19 September 2016
With all the talk about universities, political correctness, and trigger warnings, I’ve been chafing to write something/anything on this subject, but knew I’d only get myself into trouble with my pro-Northwestern University, “suck it up, buttercup” stance. Then my alma mater Rice University played football against Baylor University last Friday, and I found a way in.
First, some background details.
As a freshman in 1983, with no band experience, I joined the Rice University Marching Owl Band (aka The MOB). Rice’s band went rogue a decade before my arrival and, in one infamous 1973 incident, ended up cornered in a tunnel by Texas A&M cadets. Notorious for making social and political statements, the MOB performs halftimes scatter-style, with skewering voice-overs, formations, and songs designed to drive home a message. Read more …
September 5, 2016
Imagine a road-weary traveler mere miles from home whose car breaks. When she shimmies underneath, she sees something broken, dangling, and dripping fluid. She pushes from beneath the car, feeling as though its weight crushes her chest. Her children – there are three with her, and their dog – whine about the heat even as she wipes sweat from her pre-menopausal brow.
No signal for her cell phone, since the road upon which they are stranded is rural and deserted. No houses nearby and the nearest sparks of civilization wait about a mile and a half from where the car rests, engine ticking as though in apology. She collects her elder daughter’s crutches, grabs the service dog’s leash, takes the six year old’s hand, and beckons to the recalcitrant teenager who manages to roll her eyes in a perfect imitation of Disgust from Disney’s movie “Inside Out.” Read more …
August 24, 2016
Do you believe black lives matter?
Do you believe white lives matter?
Do you believe all lives matter?
Well, I’m here to tell you that your answers, be they affirmative or not, don’t matter. Why? Because those questions don’t matter. And since this is the case, no answer you give matters either. But why am I saying this?
I am a young black woman. Growing up in America, I have lived through thousands of mass shootings and hate crimes. Many I’ve never even heard about. Recently, however, I’ve become hyper-aware of them. It seems like every single day when I open my laptop and check my email, there’s another one in the news. Black man, armed or unarmed, shot and killed. A young black boy, shot and killed. While some focus on guns, others focus on race. Read more …
12 August 2016
Look at this photo of my classmates and me from 1969. I’m four years old, and it’s a preschool at Brandeis University in Boston. I’m the one with dark pigtails and a soul-piercing stare. Notice anything else? If you’re thirty or younger, it’s likely the scene looks normal to you, so let me repeat:
Check out this photo from 1969.
Not too many white people from my generation can say their education began during the Civil Rights Movement in an integrated classroom with an African American teacher. Read more …
May 26, 2016
I took up tango dancing almost twenty years ago. Around the time I began, Sally Potter released The Tango Lesson, an autobiographical film about the tension between artists and their art. In the film, Sally plays a filmmaker with writer’s block whose procrastinations include tearing up a floor in her house and traveling to Paris, where she discovers Argentine tango. She begins taking lessons from Pablo Veron, and in exchange gives him a role in a film. Thus begins an artistic tug of war.
Argentine tango is both intricate and intimate. The basic step is itself complex, requiring two steps and a cross that can tangle the feet of the unwary or inexperienced. From there, the leader can take the pair through a multitude of pivots, turns, and kicks executed in slow and rapid motion, all at his whim—improvisation is a central tenet of the dance. The tango originated among dockworkers in Buenos Aires at a time when most available women were prostitutes. Read more …
February 24, 2016
Recently I read an article where an Ohio boy was suspended from school for staring at a girl. They both consented to it, because the girl giggled, the boy said. Who put that idea in her head that she was intimidated, I wonder? It had to have been her parents, who hated the fact that she had a staring contest, thinking something other than friendship might come out of that staring contest. Were the girl’s parents worried about romance between the boy and girl? It was just an eyeballing contest between the two kids. No harm, no foul.
Ugh, parents need to let kids be kids.
When I was in elementary school in Indiana, the kids were mean to me because I was hard of hearing. I remember the name calling and the middle finger pointing at me from several of the class members (girls and boys alike) while the teacher was out of the room. It was an everyday thing that occurred to me while attending that school. I never told my parents. I guess it was the way I was raised; I dealt with it. If I had been asked to have a staring contest by a black boy, let alone any boy, I’d have been thrilled to say the least. Read more …
Tuesday 13 October 2015
I intended to write about the shit-storm occurring here in the good ol’ USofA this past week about gods, guns and bullets, but upon further thought realized enough words have been dedicated to that purpose. Instead, I decided to write about a friend and victim of another shit-storm we call The Vietnam War.
Gabitis, everybody’s Sea-Daddy, a first class petty officer who really did not give a tinker’s damn about making Chief, worked as an ordnance man in one of the attack squadrons aboard USS Enterprise and earned his living loading and arming bombs, missiles, and other touchy-feely pyrotechnic stuff. A zesty job, to be sure. I shared much beer and many cigarettes with him in some of the snazzier gin joints that amble their way along the muddy edges of Magsaysay Boulevard in beautiful downtown Olongapo. I do not know why my thoughts drifted back to rest upon him. It all seems so long ago. They ambushed me this morning from the dark, dank corner of a closet I rarely explore.
Read more …