Monthly Archives: March 2015

Do You Have Any Magic? By Julene Bair

By Julene Bair


In my dream, a little girl stands in a dim room beside a row of women. The women, dressed demurely in cardigans over dark shifts, sit erect in straight-backed chairs, their hands folded in their laps. The girl moves from woman to woman, asking, “Do you have any magic?” Each in turn smiles indulgently at the girl. “Oh my! Why no, dear.”

The little girl, of course, was me. And the women were the distilled, reticent essence of every woman I’d known growing up. Take for example the members of the Sunny Circle Home Demonstration Unit, the farm-based ladies club my mother once belonged to. True, most of those women lived up to the club’s name. They were sunny, not dour, and wore bright dresses, not dark shifts. They laughed often and seemed relaxed, even as they held fancy saucers shaped like lily pads—with raised rings on them that keep their delicate cups from skidding or splashing coffee onto the hostess’s homemade cookies.

But they never confided a personal concern or expressed an opinion that might differ from anyone else’s. This left them little to talk about other than the weather and what they’d cooked for supper the night before and how their gardens were growing. Lord forbid they complain about a thoughtless husband or probe a religious question or share a political insight. They had to live among these same few neighbor women for the rest of their lives and were therefore careful not to say anything they couldn’t live down.

When I went to college, I was at first aghast at the topics that some of my new friends considered suitable for conversation. Nothing, not even their sex lives or their parents’ marital problems, seemed off limits. When sad, they shed open tears. Witnessing such “blabbing and blubbering,” as I thought of it then, embarrassed me. But over time I grew less inhibited and came to cherish my intimate friendships with women.

I had no interest whatsoever in moving back to remote western Kansas, where I was raised—until, that is, three decades after my escape, when I met someone who caused me to consider doing exactly that. My father had died a few years before, and on a routine visit home to see my mother, I decided to take a drive into the surrounding countryside in search of water. My father had been a dry-land wheat farmer in my childhood, but, like many others in the region, had since converted the farm to irrigation. Each year, farmers were pumping billions of gallons out of the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast groundwater reserves underlying the High Plains all the way from South Dakota to Texas. This concerned me, as I’d read that the aquifer was being depleted and many of the spring-fed creeks and rivers had dried up.

I did find water that day. Reassured that irrigation had not—at least not yet—robbed the surface of every last drop, I was sitting in the shade of a cottonwood tree beside the creek when a pickup came into the pasture pulling a stock trailer. At first I was afraid the driver would accuse me of trespassing, but far from it. His name was Ward. After we’d chatted for a while, he said, “I know who you are!” It turned out Ward had read my first book and liked it so much he’d considered writing to me through my publisher. This astounded me. As far as I knew, the only people back home who’d read that book were my mother and my high school English teacher.

The story that unfolded between this man and me—together with a crisis that wasogallalaroadcover unfolding in my family around the future of our farm and the crisis facing the aquifer—became the subject of my second book, The Ogallala Road.

Now, years later, on the verge of publishing that book, I was terrified. The publisher planned to send me on tour. Soon, I would be standing before audiences in Kansas and other plains states, arguing that to use water the way we were doing was a collective crime against nature and future generations. The claim seemed beyond denial to me. In many places, the aquifer was already drained of the water that had made plains life possible for the last ten thousand years. In most other places, it would be used up before the end of this century. But irrigation played a huge role in the economy of the region. Those whose livelihood depended on the Ogallala were not likely to take the criticism well. Knowing I’d written the best, most passionate story I could didn’t change my impending fate.

Not only that. I’d centered much of the story on meeting and falling in love with Ward. Loving a man so thoroughly Kansan—in his bearing, assumptions, and way of life—had shown me that, however liberated or worldly I thought I’d become, my ties, like his—to the prairie, sky, air, water, soil, plants, animals, and people of home—ran deeper than my ties to anything, anyone, or anywhere else. “We don’t talk about private matters in public,” my parents had always warned me—for good reason it seemed to me now. Shortly, I would be embarrassing myself in public and inciting ire everywhere I traveled. Instead of tapping keys on my computer, “telling tales out of school”—another of my parents’ favorite sayings—I wished I’d just kept my hands folded and my lips sealed, like those women in my dream. Who was I to challenge the status quo back home? It would have been easier to look the other way and say nothing.

Except it wouldn’t have been easier. Not really. In inheriting part of the farm, I’d also inherited a share in the profits that came from irrigating. As a writer, it came naturally to me to explore the problems that troubled me most, and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t spoken up. But now that “speaking up” was going to entail not just typing, but actual blabbing back home, yet another Kansas-ism took on new meaning. You could take the girl off the farm, but apparently you couldn’t take the farm culture out of the girl. I’d learned much the same thing loving Ward. To be from a place is to be of it.

Those women, in their dark dresses and denial, couldn’t have shown up in my dreams at a more critical moment. I knew I didn’t want to be like them. They had been so uptight and contained, unable and unwilling to share all that life had taught them, when even the little-girl me knew that life had taught them a lot. Take their hands, which they kept folded in their laps. Those hands had planted thousands of seeds and nursed them to fruition. They had diapered babies and bottle-fed piglets, calves, and lambs. The women had been witness, midwife, and nurse to life’s miracle ever since they were little girls. They had even borne life forth from their own wombs. They might as well have been magicians, yet they denied any knowledge of the magic they wielded.

Behind every magic trick is a secret, and behind life there is a not-so-secret yet very magical substance. Loren Eiseley, one of my favorite writers, put it this way in The Immense Journey: “If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water.” Substitute the word “life” for “magic” in that sentence. There could be no life without water. It is what makes the earth habitable. Like me, Eiseley grew up on the plains, where water could not be taken for granted and where every man, woman, and child knew this. Every woman of my childhood certainly knew it, yet I never heard one of them express concern for the water that was being drained from under her land.

Like the dream women, I’ve been witness, midwife, and nurse to life for as long as I can remember. My father used to raise sheep, and when lambing season rolled around in January, it fell to my brothers and me to fill quart-sized Coke bottles with warm formula, affix big nipples onto them, and hold them, one in each hand, for the orphans. I will never forget the way their dangly tails danced as they suckled or how eagerly they butted the bottles, sometimes knocking them right out of my hands. I remember everything about those lambs—their pungent smell; their many voices, each one distinct and insistent; their tiny hooves against my thighs as they tried to climb me to get at the bottle sooner; their bony foreheads and warm but still nearly naked backs under my palm as I pushed them back down.

I felt their need in my own body, where I knew what a hunger pang was and what thirst felt like and where I’d registered the lambs’ heat and life on my own skin. The body is where all feeling resides. When I first heard the phrase, “feel your feelings,” it struck me as ridiculous. Isn’t that what a feeling is—something you feel? But being aware of a feeling depends on there being an open pathway between your body and your mind.

In repressing their fears and concerns and keeping mum, in having no outlet for their tears and their voices, the women of my childhood, like so many women of that generation, were prevented from feeling their feelings. When doctors and magazines told them that formula was better for babies than their own breast milk, they must have known, in flesh, blood, and bone, this was not true. But to breastfeed was to risk social stigma, so they denied their own bodily wisdom.

I’m sure I would have obeyed the cultural messages too. If I had been a woman of my mother’s generation, I would have walled my body off from my head, and paid, as my mother did, with chronic stomachaches, which she chalked up to “just nerves”—or resorted to calming drugs. But I was luckier than my mother. I had the benefit of friendships with women who created, among themselves, their own culture.

Thanks to the many friends who listened to me with open minds when I spoke and who offered me uniquely feminine nurturance and support when I cried, I don’t need the dream women to explain magic to me anymore. There is an open channel between my body, where I feel the thirst of life to come, and my mind, where I can shape the words to argue on behalf of that life. I know what magic is here on this earth and can speak for it myself.

Previously published by Wellesley Centers for Women.

Bair Jacket Photo-edited-by-drpAbout Our Guest Writer, Julene Bair

Julene Bair is the author of two books, most recently The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning.




Small Writing for Peace logo

Writing for Peace News

Recommended Reading From Adviser Dr. Margaret Flowers:

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Writing for Peace AdviserPraise For The Radicals

In his recent article, “The Dance of Liberals and Radicals”, the liberal Robert Kuttner writes, “No great social change in America has occurred without radicals, beginning with the struggle to end slavery. Causes that now seem mainstream began with radical, impolite and sometimes civil disobedient protest.”

We at Popular Resistance share the view that there need to be people and groups who see the bigger picture, who fight for what is not on the table and who are willing to put their bodies on the line to make change. Those are the people we try to lift up in our daily coverage of the movement because they are rarely recognized and are usually lacking in resources.



Copyright © 2015 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.



Games of Greece, By Cara Lopez Lee

AthensThe Games of Greece

By Cara Lopez Lee


In 1999, during my solo trek around the world, I was startled by the daily roar of fighter jets passing overhead in Athens. Like many backpackers at the time, I often lived in a news blackout. I had no idea what was up, until a man shouted at me on my way to Syntagma Square, “What does your president think he is doing bombing innocent people?!”

That was the year NATO forces, with the support of President Bill Clinton, spent 78 days bombing Serbia, to halt President Slobodan Milosevic’s massacre of ethnic Albanians. Greeks and Serbs have a long-standing friendship, so I was immersed in a world where Americans were the bad guys. I got used to the occasional Greek telling me off during my month there. I didn’t know enough information to respond then, and I know better than to try now. So why mention it? Writing for Peace has generously offered to post an excerpt from my memoir, and as I think about “peace,” I can’t help recalling that trip to Greece, and the caring people who took the sting out of all the shouting:


Basic RGB

Excerpt from

They Only Eat Their Husbands:

Love, Travel, and the Power of Running Away


When I arrived at a travel agency in Patras, a man informed me, rather rudely I thought, that I was two hours late for the last ferry to Italy. My eyes filled with tears. This might seem an overreaction, but my delay at the Olympic Ruins had already pushed my thirteen days with Sean down to twelve. Missing the ferry would knock that down to eleven.

“But I called ahead and they told me the ferry to Brindisi leaves at ten,” I said.

“That’s every second day,” the travel agent said with a pompous show of indifference. “Tomorrow there is a ferry at ten.”

“Is there no other ferry to Brindisi tonight?”

“No. There is one, but it’s leaving now.”

“Maybe I could still make it.”

“No. There are procedures. There is paperwork. You will never make it. That ferry leaves now, and it is never late.”

Dejected, I sank into the nearest chair. “Are there any other options?”

He shrugged in that now-familiar Greek way: shoulders near the ears, elbows akimbo, hands palms up, lips pressed into a grimace. The Greek shrug has dozens of meanings based on the shape of the grimace and how emphatic the gesture. It can be used to show indifference, acceptance, confusion, anger, disdain . . . This guy was giving me the disdainful one.

“Thank you,” I said stonily, and walked out.

After nine months of traveling, I’ve learned never to trust anyone who says, “It’s not possible.” I walked a few doors down to the next travel agency and straight toward the first person who smiled at me. A woman. I wiped all traces of desperation from my face, figuring the key was to calmly declare what I wanted as if it were the simplest of requests.

“May I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to take the next ferry to Brindisi,” I said, smiling serenely.

“Tonight?” she asked.

“Tonight,” I echoed.

She made a quick phone call, hung up, and explained, rapid-fire, that I might be able to catch the last ferry if I hurried. “But you must buy your ticket quickly!”

“How much?”

“Ten thousand drachma.”

I slapped ten thousand drachma on the counter. She slapped down a form to fill out. I slapped down my passport. Then, with the speed of a stock show auctioneer, she gave me complicated directions to the ferry, which I rattled back verbatim: “Left out the front door, to the train station, through the gate to the dock, turn left, go just past the duty free shop to the port police, give them this ticket with the passport, then ask which way to the ferry?”

“Yes. And you must run!”

I flung on my hefty pack, rushed out the door, and started to run—possibly faster than I’ve ever run in my life—with a thirty-five-pound load bouncing up and down on my back. People gaped as I ran past. Sweat poured down my back and chest, my calves and lungs burned. I grew dizzy and spots jumped across my vision. This was no short sprint, and I was no Olympic athlete. I was surprised at the immensity of the ferry terminal. More than half a dozen mega-ferries and a number of other boats lined the long docks. Don’t slow down! I know it hurts, but don’t slow down! I thought. You’ll suffer even more if you miss the ferry. Sean’s waiting for you.

I flew through the port gate, darted left, wove in and out of people and port vehicles, shot past the “Duty Free” sign to the port police desk, where I waved my ticket and passport at . . . no one. The police weren’t there. I rushed across the building to a small bar and shouted hysterically at the two or three bewildered people standing there, “Port police? Where are the port police? I will miss my ferry!” My eyes were wide with panic and oxygen deprivation. The middle-aged bartender said, “Port police, six hundred meters, that way!” He pointed in the direction from which I’d run. I would have to backtrack. “Drop your pack here. You’ll kill yourself.”

Afraid to lose the time it would take to remove the pack, I simply turned tail and kept running. My ferry sat a tantalizing fifty meters away. Workers were loading trucks into the gaping aft-end, and the line of waiting trucks was rapidly shrinking. I pumped my legs harder.

Suddenly I realized I hadn’t asked the bartender what kind of sign to look for. I tried to run into the grocery store next door to ask directions again, but the glass doors wouldn’t open. It must have been the exit, but I couldn’t see any other doors, so I banged on the glass, startling a lineup of cashiers and customers. The closest cashier rushed toward me and opened the door.

“Port police?” I frantically waved my passport at her and pointed at the nearby ship. “I will miss my ferry!” She pointed at the building I’d just left, the building with the empty police desk and the bartender who’d told me to head the other way. “There’s no one there!” I moaned.

She shook her head insistently, took me by the elbow, and guided me back to the building, where the bartender heaved a sigh and said, “The police are not here. I told her to leave her pack! It’s six hundred meters that way.”

He then rushed past me, through the front door, and urged me to follow. He jumped on a motorbike parked just outside and started the engine. I unbuckled my pack and, without pausing, let it fall from my shoulders to the ground as I leapt onto the back of the scooter. I grabbed the bartender’s waist and we took off, speeding down the docks, dodging passengers and vehicles from another boat. “I’m afraid I’ll miss my ferry!” I shouted merrily and giggled, picturing how we must look.

We stopped at the little window of a small building, where a policeman started from his seat in surprise. The bartender shouted something in Greek as I handed the policeman my documents. He scribbled on them and handed them back. Then I jumped back on the bike, and we were off again at high speed. It was like a James Bond chase scene—no bad guys, but plenty of near misses, fleeing pedestrians, and brake-squealing trucks.

“What’s your name?” I shouted over the bartender’s shoulder.

The unfamiliar Greek syllables he shouted back got lost in the din of the motorbike’s engine.

“I’ll tell this story to my grandchildren!” I said.

“It is a good story,” he agreed.

“I guess I’ll either make my ferry or I won’t.”

“Don’t worry. You will make it for sure.”

Efharisto (Thank you),” I told him as we approached a small group of people gathered around my backpack.

Parakalo (You’re welcome),” he replied as I leapt off the bike.

I hauled on my pack with help from a couple of bystanders. I bowed deeply but quickly to the entire group, said another “Efharisto!” and started to run.

Siga! Siga!” they shouted after me. “Slowly! Slowly!”

The cashier from the grocery store rushed forward and yelled, “I ran to the ferry to tell them you are coming. They will wait for you!”

I halted and turned an incredulous face on the small clutch of half a dozen Greek strangers on the dock. I smiled, pressed my hands together in a prayerful clasp, and shook my joined hands toward them, a supplicant thanking the saints who’ve interceded on her behalf: the bartender, the grocery clerk, the cop, and the dock workers. “Brava! Thank you.” I turned and walked away.

When the purser took my ticket, he said, “So you are the one they told me about.”

“Yes, that’s me!” I said, with a self-effacing grin.

It was 8:30 when I boarded the eight o’clock ferry, which the first agent had told me was “never late.” It left five minutes later.

Still dizzy, I made my unsteady way to the Pullman deck: this ship’s version of steerage, minus the partying and dancing promised by James Cameron’s Titanic. I was one of five backpackers flopped amid dozens of uncomfortable seats…exhausted from my much more than 200-yard dash through the obstacle course of the ferry terminal.

During the Ancient Olympic Games, the city-states of Ancient Greece—Athens, Sparta, Mycenae, and the rest—would declare a truce, setting aside war for peaceful competition. In the modern Olympics, that’s what people call “the spirit of the Games.” Some American travelers have told me they think Greeks are rude. Judging by the angry graffiti and shouts I’ve endured, many Greeks don’t think much of Americans, either. Not to mention the perverts, pick-up artists, and psychos who’ve had a go at me. Yet my last thought before drifting off to sleep last night was of the small group of Greeks who, although they had nothing to gain, pulled out all the stops to help a complete stranger, a foreigner, an American, make her boat on time.


Cara Lopez Lee - Headshot (2)About Writing for Peace Adviser Cara Lopez Lee

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands(Conundrum Press, October 2014). Her stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Rivet Journal, and Connotation Press. She’s a book editor and writing coach, and she teaches for the youth program at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She has traveled throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. Cara and her husband live in Denver.



Small Writing for Peace logo

Writing for Peace News

Recommended Reading From Adviser Dr. Margaret Flowers:

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Writing for Peace AdviserManaged Democracy, Expendable People

“As the elections draw near, the plutocracy and crisis of democracy become more visible. There are reports of ‘dark money’ in record amounts influencing races. ”


DoveTales “Nature” Edition Release May 1st, 2015

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceThe 2015  “Nature” edition of DoveTales will be released and available for purchase through our website on May 1st. Watch our blog for more information as we get closer to the release date.

In the meantime, check out our previous publications and support Writing for Peace! Both books are also available for download as pdfs.

DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts, "Occupied" 2013Purchase DoveTales “Occupied”

A full color journal, featuring poetry, essays, and fiction, as well as art and photography. Writers and artists explored the many definitions of the “Occupied” theme in brilliant and unexpected ways.

Contributors include: Andrea W. Doray, Kim Goldberg, Veronica Golos, Nancy Aidé González, Sam Hamill, Denny Hoffman, Michael Lee Johnson, Adam Jones, Ron Koppelberger, Paula Dawn Lietz, Paul Lindholt, Cory Lockhart, Shannon K. Lockhart, Ellen Meeropol, Mark A. Murphy, Tricia Orr, Kenneth Pobo, Linda Quennec, Nausheen Rajan, Shirani Rajapakse, April Salzano, Nizar Sartawi, Laura Solomon, John Stocks, Julie Stuckey, Samantha Peters Terrell, Richard Vargas

2014 DoveTales, "Contrast" EditionPurchase DoveTales “Contrast”

Poetry, essays, short stories by international writers, and strikingly beautiful black and white photography from our Artist-in-Residence, Paula Dawn Lietz.

Contributors: Jordi Alonso, Cassandra Arnold, Maggie Bàra,
Henry Braun, Lorraine Caputo, William Cass, Lorraine Currelley, Colin Dodds, John Garmon, Diane Giardi, Mark Goad, Veronica Golos, Sam Hamill, Dawnell Harrison, D. Iasevoli, Ed.D, Allan M. Jalon, Shelley Kahn, Richard Krawiec, Paula Dawn Lietz, Cory Lockhart, Shannon K. Lockhart, Veronica Marshall, Sandra McGarry, Iwona Partyka, Sy Roth, Andrew Sacks, Carol Smallwood, Julia Stein, Samantha Peters Terrell
Bänoo Zan



Copyright © 2015 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.