It is February, lingering snow is on the ground, so I thought I’d tell you about a warm, safe space I found to curl up with an open mind and open heart.

Funny, I mentioned “heart.” If you follow our page, you might already know about my collaboration with my wondrous writing partner, Elaine Paliatsas-Haughey: Scars and Tattoos: Our Stories on Our Skin. The initiative is inspired from Elaine’s own scar that runs down the center of her chest, from her heart transplant, years ago. 

A few years back, Elaine messaged me on Facebook and asked me if I “had any scars.” I had no idea why this FB friend, who commented on the same group pages as I, from time to time, approached me about this particular subject. I can tell you this, dear readers, answering, “yes,” has somehow been the best thing that has come from my childhood cancer, the long scar on my right arm, from years ago.

Not everyone can write from thatplace of that unspeakable word of his or her own, right away, not even a bit later. Some…never do. Getting over life-changing events such as what Elaine went through, what I went though, or what many go through from their own past, might take decades… as you will see when you walk into our gallery showing at Atlantic Cape Community College Gallery. I don’t want to spoil the show for you, but let’s say, decades of pain are literally and physically written on the body, as soon as you walk into the room. 

Going through a traumatic event is much like going through the stages of death at times, and don’t we come out a new person, good, bad, indifferent, or unsure from it all? Sometimes we change more than once, sometimes who we become through the small deaths are not someone we are proud of just yet, sometimes we thought we were okay, only to find we still have PTSD. Sometimes those who we’ve lost through the process have changed us forever, and so on and so on. The most I’ve learned from starting this colorful walk with Elaine is that “everyone is entitled to his or her pain.” It is not a tit-for-tat-type thing. Often we don’t say we are hurting because someone in our mind is always hurting worse, or we are private people, it is still fresh, or for too many reasons to even name here on this blog. I think this is why the group I was a part of in Elaine’s living room, all those years ago, moved me to think about “safe spaces.” Safe spaces such as our collaboration with Katherine Aikens, at ACCC gallery, where we can all embrace each other quietly for a little while and say, “It is okay, I acknowledge you, I know your story now, and here’s mine.”

I watched magic occur last Saturday…

it was Healing Arts: Through Creative Expression, with all the people that this once “idea in a living room” brought together. Even as I write those words, “living room” I think of its connection of what the world of the collaborative becomes once we are all inside of it. 

I’m learning there are no coincidences.

Next up, we sprinkle in the PWC portion of the collaborative. If you missed our last Scars and Tattoos panel at the Haddon Heights Library, you will be getting more than a second chance. You will be immersed inside the collaborative, physically inside the gallery, listening to a panel of writers that have scars both inner and outer, and they will share their stories, and their beauty from the ashes. 

Come visit us on Saturday, March 16th, 12-3, ACCC Art Gallery, Mays Landing, NJ.

Our March panel will consist of alumnae from our August panel, including Elaine Paliatsas-Haughey, Ayesha Hamid, K.J. Wells, (and me, also your host); plus some new additions: Sa’Mantha SayTen and my dear friend from Rutgers University, Josie Deane.

Our panel members are artists and have inspired artists, so hearing them read, inside the art that they have created, that other’s created from their inspiration, will make you part of the collaborative yourself, so brace yourself and be embraced by their work.

When you are inside the collaborative event, don’t be surprised by coincidences, like I previously mentioned. The project has a way of making connections, with dates, times, common sorrows, yet everyone has their own story, their own pain. For example, I watched Elaine read someone else’s story that was happening on the anniversary of her surgery, and I had someone who is a part of the collaboration tell me that they had a family event happen on the anniversary of Elaine’s surgery. I read some stories and felt magical connections too, my jaw dropped a few times. The place really is magical, and I can’t wait to see you there experiencing it!