Guest Post. A Smile in one Eye: A Tear in the Other. Ralph Webster. 

Ralph Webster, Author, A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other

A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other is particularly relevant in light of the “travel ban” controversy in the U.S.  This book chronicles one family’s Holocaust journey.  Refugees from a different era, it is a compelling story of their search for safety and security.  Should you wish to arrange for Ralph to participate in your book club, either in person or via Skype, feel free to write him directly at ralphwebsterobx@gmail.com.  He likes to connect with readers throughout the world.

Why did you write A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other?



During the fall of 2015 my wife and I spent a number of weeks travelling throughout Europe.  This was a pleasure trip – lots of hiking and biking.  It so happened that this was same time the international news was flooded with images of the refugee crisis.  
Thousands of refugees were fleeing their homes – primarily from  Syria.  They were searching for safety, security, employment and opportunity.  The EU countries were struggling with border issues.   We viewed this firsthand.  We saw police remove people from trains.  The interactions were civil.  We saw no disturbance.  We never felt danger. What we watched was a procession of people trying to find a new life. We saw mothers, fathers, children, and groups of young men – all right before our eyes.

 

My father was a refugee – a refugee from a different era.  His family was prosperous one day.  They were paupers the next.  He fled Germany at the beginning of World War II.  Baptized as Lutherans their ancestry was Jewish.  And, in Nazi Germany, they had the wrong blood. This was about race – not only religion.  It was ethnic cleansing.  Not everyone could leave.  Family members left behind perished during the Holocaust.  These were unimaginable times.  

“I thought those were others.  Soon, I was to learn that they were us.”




I have great compassion for those forced to leave their homelands.  I wonder why this terrible history keeps repeating.  
History also repeats the age old dilemma of where the survivors should go?  Which nations are willing to open their doors?  Where will they be welcomed and safe?  Then or now, this remains a complicated question with no simple answers.  Most of us would agree that a nation’s first responsibility is to their own.  Nations must care and protect their own populations.  There are hard choices.  And, sometimes, first reactions are not the best responses.
Yes, it was another time.  But, for those affected, I imagine the feelings of helplessness and loss are much the same.  Just imagine.  During World War II and the Holocaust more than fifty million people lost their lives.  Six million Jews were murdered.  Lives everywhere were shattered and disrupted.  Those left alive were forced to cope and persevere.

“I can tell you that events were incremental, that the unbelievable became the believable and, ultimately, the normal.”




Using my father’s voice to narrate the story, I have tried to convey that sense of helplessness – what it is like to be hated – what it is like to have to run for your life – what it is like to leave the country where your family has always lived – what it is like to leave family behind – what it is like to be totally disconnected and not know who has survived and who has not – what it is like to try to survive in a place with a different language and culture.  I wanted to convey that sense of determination, of going forward with one’s life, and of keeping one’s perspective and outlook.
And, I have also tried to present the struggle that countries face as they consider accepting refugees.  Are there enough jobs?  Could some be the enemy?  Sometimes difficult times result in difficult answers.  The world is not always a perfect place.
I have no desire to compare the suffering of one tragic period with another.  Whether then or now, the entire world suffers when any group suffers.  Tragedy for one is tragedy for all.  Regardless of when, brutal acts of hatred and violence against others never make any moral sense.  They can never be tolerated.  We must always be aware. 

“Nothing about these times makes any sense.  Nothing.  Putting it to words only makes it sound too simple.”




I believe that somehow, in today’s era of terror, we too often forget that the refugees of the world are not the enemy.  They are the victims.  They are the innocent.  They are the survivors and many have endured unimaginable loss.  They are the bystanders.  They are people like you and me – and too many are leaving with only the clothes on their backs – and often, with their loved ones left behind. 
Although my father’s journey took place 75 years ago, the parallels with today’s world are clear.  I wrote this book so I could shine a light on my father’s journey – to show the reader the world through my father’s eyes.   His was a journey of survival and grim determination, and a reminder that we must always remain vigilant to the realities of our world – a lesson that we must endure.  
I hope that despite the atrocities of the Holocaust, A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other is really about survival, expectation, acceptance, and perseverance.  It is the timeless story about going forward, one step at a time.  It is about compassion for one another.  Sometimes, no matter what, the reality is that fate will take you to where you are going.

  
“Life does find a way to create a balance somewhere between smiles and tears.”



  

Excerpt 

I can’t recite the chronology or elaborate on the facts. I can’t explain the reasons or defend how we lived our lives. What I can tell you is how the events of 1933 sowed the seeds that fundamentally changed our future, that there was little hand-wringing or emotion, that circumstances were beyond control, that there was no recourse or appeal. I can tell you that events were incremental, that the unbelievable became the believable and, ultimately, the normal.” 
Ralph Webster

A Smile in One Eye : A Tear in the Other can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com 

You can find Ralph Webster at his website Facebook or Twitter  

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Book Review. Journey to the Poetic Light – Illuminations.  Nolan Holloway.  

Genre : Poetry 

Rating ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com 

Free on Kindle unlimited 

A collection of introspective poems on love, being equals, nature and religion, among other subjects. There is some intriguing takes on life with ‘Clock with no hands’

‘What I owned relegated to a grocery cart

Love frozen to the metal frame’

And ‘We have become strangers 

Bland with no seasoning’

Flashback, Inside, Renewed Encounter and the sensual Summer is Fine were some of my favourite poems that I read. I like that the author writes not only of the enticement of a woman, but of new beginnings and life. 

As the book reached the middle the poems became more experimental, therefore expressive, with dashes and phrases in capital letters. I felt as if I could hear the writer speaking to me. I would advise the author to explore this more.

Overall I didn’t feel as if the theme really came through, and the overall message I got from this book is accepting yourself, before giving yourself to others. I didn’t quite connect with the poems in Journey to the Poetic Light but opinions on poetry are, of course, subjective and I think there is plenty to enjoy in this collection and is by no means a terrible book of poetry. 

Book Review. Take me to the Start. J. R. Kavit.  

Genre: Contemporary Fiction 

Rating ☆☆☆☆

Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk 

Sophia was a sheep, now she feels like a sardine: holding a yellow pole on a  packed train in London. Overwhelmed and on the wrong train, Sophia tries to distract herself. Her thoughts vary from her family and roommate to her sexuality. This gets any backstory out of the way quickly. 

Sophia, a photographer, falls for a renowned scientist, Benjamin. They meet by chance. Benjamin helps Sophia get a job with a well known photographer. The one stipulation to her getting the job is that she must get a photograph of Benjamin, who hasn’t been photographed since he was thirteen. I was irked by this because Sophia had met Benjamin just once and immediately had a full blown crush on him. Their initial conversation was well written, with the right amount of description on the spark that flew between them and the story line is interesting.

I like that Take me to the Start is set in London, and commented on all of its beautiful landmarks. That Sophia has to work through her trauma and learn to trust Benjamin is something that feels new for this genre, although running concurrent to this is the feeling a huge plot twist is due, which is delivered. 

There are minor criticisms, such as too many sentences preluded by anyway and the fact is. Benjamin as well doesn’t feel like anything other than a pair of dimples, because that’s what Sophia has nicknamed him. 

I can’t put a finger on the exact reason why Take me to the Start is so appealing. I almost feel as if I have read it somewhere before. A must read for contemporary fiction and romance fans. 

Author Interview. Ben Jackson. 

1)

Where did the idea for Timmy and Little Fart first originate?

It just happened one night when my wife and I were playing around trying to think of a new book idea. It seemed like something which kids could get a giggle out of, without being crude. We also try to incorporate a message into our children’s books. Playing with others, respecting one another, being a team player etc.

2)

You collaborate with your partner, Sam Lawrence, how does this work out?

I imagine writing with your partner must be quite a fun activity to do together. 

Yes! When we are together it is really fun. When we are apart it is fun, but with a lot more back and forth via email and phone calls.

3)

You have also written solely under your own name. What have been your experiences of publishing these?

Self-publishing is hard work. You would think that writing would be the hardest part, but it isn’t. marketing and getting your name out there is probably the most time-consuming part of the entire process. 

4)

Which method do you find most helpful for promoting your books? (workshops, festivals, social media etc.)

Social media. Networking with other authors and working with blogs to get our names and our books in front of audiences.

5)

What was your primary motivation for publishing your work?

We just thought that it would be a fun activity which we could do together. One day it would be nice to be able to retire together and just work on our books in a sunny tropical location.

6)

Who are your favourite writers?

Wilbur Smith, Leon Uris and George R. R Martin. Bernard Cornwall is probably my number one pick. 

7)

Other than writing, what else are you passionate about?

I enjoy fishing, but between travelling, working a regular job, writing and freelancing I don’t have a lot of time left to get the fishing rod out.

8)

Do you have any words of advice (or caution) for other writers?

Just take your time and don’t rush your books out onto the shelf. Take people’s reviews with a grain of salt and try to understand what they are saying, negative or positive and then utilize it. 

9)

What are your future ambitions for your writing?

To live off my writing full-time! Just laying on a tropical beach and getting a sun tan! 

Find Ben Jackson at 

Facebook Goodreads and Amazon

Where you can also find


 and more in the Timmy and Little Fart series 

Book Review. He Counts their Tears. Mary Ann D’Alto.

​The character, Aaron, in this novel is two people. One being a kind family man and the other cruel, using The Method to manipulate and destroy women. He is an utterly despicable and unlikable character. There are actually no likeable characters in this, apart from poor Sarah.

This does repeat itself by simply rewording sentences. When the story does, finally, begin it is a relief. This is a story mainly told through flashbacks and can be quite episodic.

This is a well written, psychological novel. The ending is not satisfying. There will be a second book, which I won’t be reading because this book is disturbing. It’s grim. Definitely not a book for the faint hearted but for those that like something out of the ordinary.

Available at Amazon.co.uk 

Flash Fiction Friday. Elastic.  Katie Lewington. 

She wasn’t the least bit sporty, but she wore sports bras, tracksuit bottoms and a jacket favoured by football managers. 

It was an effort to be girly. 

She had previously dressed in baggy men’s shirts and t’s, with loose flowing skirts if she had to leave the flat. 

Sports clothes stretched, and they dried easily too when she had to sponge off food spills. 

​Shadows on the Wall: Binge Eating Disorder & Early Childhood Trauma. By Hilda Dulin Lee, BA, DMD, MLA, and author of  In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating

I gripped the neck of the green Coca-Cola bottle hidden beneath the folds of my ragged skirt. Not much protection, but all I had. The five of us Dulin Kids sat like statues on the worn brown sofa and stared at the butcher knife Dad held at Mom’s throat…

Emotional and physical trauma, such as depicted in the above scene from my childhood, is one of many factors that can contribute to the development of binge eating disorder (BED). Childhood trauma, especially when it occurs before the age of nine or ten, is an especially strong force that often drives us toward binge eating. How this plays out is fascinating. 

Learning to Self-soothe in a Safe Home

Self-soothing is one of the earliest and most important coping skills we learn as children. 
In a safe home, young children learn to soothe themselves by being comforted and soothed by their parents. For example, if a small child is frightened by the “boogie man” in her room at bedtime, she runs screaming to her father (or mother) who immediately takes her in his arms. Kissing her forehead, he speaks to her in a calm soothing voice and sings a favorite lullaby. Returning with her to the bedroom, the child is shown that what frightened her was only a shadow on the wall. This scenario may happen more than once, but the child eventually convinces herself it is indeed only a shadow. She learns to soothe herself, and learns that her home is a safe place in which to grow up.

When the Shadows on the Wall are Real

Compare this nurtured child to the child who grows up in a dangerous and unhappy home such as mine. What does this child see and experience? Even as an infant, anger, sadness, and fear are telegraphed to the child through her parents’ eyes, touch, voice, and even smell. Mother and father yell, and siblings cry. As she grows up, this young child may be physically, even sexually, abused. In her home, the shadows on the wall are real.

As this young girl grows, she may take on any number of destructive coping skills. She may “act out” or become depressed and withdrawn. As she enters adolescence, she may become promiscuous in order to get the attention and comfort she needs. She may turn to alcohol or drugs or gambling or shoplifting. Or binge eating.
Children, like myself, who grow up in unsafe homes become keenly vigilant to the dangers around them. We scan our world—through sights, sounds, and smells—for signs of danger and take on hypervigilance as a way of life. 
In my youth, I wasn’t conscious of how vigilant I stayed, but even as a young child, I knew the difference in the sound of Dad’s pick-up truck on the gravel driveway when he was drinking and when he wasn’t. Straightened sample books in my parents’ upholstery shop made my heart quicken; they meant Dad was drinking and Mom had kept busy in the front room, straightening fabric samples, in order to stay out of his way. This pattern of hypervigilance became deeply engrained. 

How Hypervigilance Effects Our Brains

There is a primitive part of our brain, called the amygdala, which is responsible for our physiological reactions to danger. As the first in line for data coming from our various senses, it is a sort of triage station where information is quickly assessed. If the information requires normal thought, the amygdala sends it on to the more advanced thinking part of the brain, where deliberate and measured decisions are made. But if the amygdala senses an emergency that demands immediate action, it doesn’t take the time to send a transmission to the thinking brain. It simply reacts. This is the well-known fight-or-flight response.
Most of us have faced an emergency situation where we just reacted without thinking. We saw a semi-truck and slammed on the brakes or swerved before we even processed the fact that we saw the truck in the first place. At that moment, we were functioning in our amygdala where thought isn’t possible.
The amygdala is very sensitive to continued use. The more our brains route information through it, the more easily triggered these neural pathways become and the more cues we interpret as signals of danger. The younger we are, the more quickly the pathways form, and the stronger and deeper the grooves. Children, like me, who must remain constantly vigilant in their homes develop virtual ruts and become programmed to function in crisis mode, to act from the amygdala. Our fight-or-flight response becomes hair-trigger. It readies us for action, leaving us in a state of anxiety much of the time. This constant anxiety persists long after the unsafe childhood is a thing of the past. 

What Does This Have to Do with Bingeing?

When anxiety hits, we are desperate to find immediate relief, to escape the distress we feel. The fight-or-flight response is in high gear and off we go. Since we didn’t learn to self-soothe as young children, we can’t hush even little moments of stress from within, so our brain often drives us to an easily accessible escape: food. In a binge, we are “fleeing” from reality with food as our transportation. Eating is one of the earliest and most consistent comforts we experience, and one that stays with us forever. It is not that the neglected or abused person has no means of comfort other than food, or that every abused child will turn to food for comfort. Most of us will find at least some comfort in other areas of our life, but for children growing up in an unsafe environment the range of choices is far more limited and the key ability to self-soothe is greatly dampened. 
If we could trace the source of those cravings that hit us in a flash, we would probably find some cue in the environment to which our amygdala reacted. Food (especially sweet, fatty food) works to isolate us from the intense distress we feel in that moment. It calms us and we feel better, but the residue of shame only leads to more stress and more eating. And on and on, until we become a chronic binger with ever-widening psychological and physical issues.

The Impact 

I don’t know when I first began to binge, but I do have an early memory of hiding under the kitchen table with Mom’s pink-and-white-flowered sugar bowl and a loaf of Merita bread. I was about four. Dad was yelling and hitting my mom and she was crying. I poured sugar on the soft white bread, folded it, and pinched the edges to seal in the sugar, and secretly ate sugar sandwiches one after the other. In our family, where guns and knives were used to threaten, and broken bones were not unusual, my amygdala got a work-out! 
I grew up and my life changed to a safe one. I knew that I used food to get through major stresses but, until I was diagnosed with binge eating disorder and began my journey to healing, I didn’t realized that I used food, sometimes on an hourly basis, just to get through the smallest of upsets. Food became my primary means of comfort, which severely limited my emotional growth and well-being, and threatened my physical health.

Through all the years that I suffered the shame and guilt of binge eating, I had no way of knowing that trauma in my childhood had had such an impact. I didn’t know that it had caused not only psychological problems, but actual physical changes in my body that predisposed me to cravings and bingeing. Armed with this new information, I could finally begin to see a way out. The journey has not been an easy one, but understanding some of the mechanisms that drove me to my destructive behavior set me on a path to recovery.

*Note: This article draws from the chapter “Shadows on the Wall: The Unsafe Child” found in Hilda Dulin Lee’s 2016 book, In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating. 

More about Hilda Dulin Lee

Dr. Hilda Dulin Lee, dentist and writer, received her BA degree in literature, then did a year of post-graduate work in the sciences before attending dental school where she earned her DMD degree. In 1998, after practicing dentistry for many years, she was diagnosed with BED and made a decision that would alter the course of her life. She sold her dental practice and returned to graduate school where she studied the research on BED and engaged in creative writing workshops. Her first book, In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating, was released in April 2016. The book not only chronicles her personal struggle with BED, but also offers hope and practical guidance to others who suffer as she did.

Book Review. The Absence of the Loved.  Wade Stevenson. 

For a small volume, The Absence of the Loved packs in many poems.

At first, reading Absence of the Loved I felt the poems had too many metaphors. They were tripping themselves up.

The second poem I read, titled Self-Portrait, had such enthusiasm that it made it difficult to put this book down.

As the title of the book suggests, without a loved one their absence can suddenly be a stark reminder of the realities of life.

These poems are taking us through a relationship:  the end, the quarrels, the beauty of a woman, regrets and loss. They speak of the absent person as if trying to reach them but are unable to.

The poems blaze on and off, with exclamation marks punctuated through the pages. It did make me wonder if the author has attended an open mic night. The poems are very suited for this purpose. Poem Mistress of the Mattress is a gem, with a metaphor that works at the close of the poem.

In poem Must I? Must you?

I felt for the narrator in lines in battle against each other or me

Latched too much in you because I

Rebel poet! sought to quench

Myself in your velvet V

And If I wired some funds to Western Union?

You slipped away as easily as money

A glorious and plaintive poem.

I do think there is too much in this book. Some of the better poems can be let down by the lesser poems.

The poems also become racier and it feels as if the narrator has begun to let up on his grief and reflect more on his mistakes.

I do like this book. By the final pages I was remembering my own experiences of love and found the whole of Absence of the Loved nostalgic.

I think anybody going through heartbreak will find solace in this book.

Grab a copy at 

Amazon.com or direct from BlazeVOX publishers