Love, Loss, Kindness, and Peace

hands-63743_640Dear Readers,

Today I would like to share with you a story from my past that I hope speaks to many of you. It’s about loss, love, and kindness. They are memories that will stay with me forever.

For seven years of my life I lived in Bronx, NY until I left at the age of 10. In my last year of being in the City, I was in the 5th grade at an elementary school that was literally one block from my home. That was where I met Philippe Gaton. Philippe was a Puerto Rican boy with the kindest heart of anyone that I had known. Never had I met someone so pure and so mature. I was a bit of a troublemaker in that I loved wrestling on the playground and playing jokes on my classmates. And when someone took a joke too seriously or if I got myself into trouble with my classmates, Philippe would stand up for me and at times would actually stand between me and the aggressor. There was a time when I had bumped into this grown man causing him to become verbally hostile. Being a terrified 10 year-old, all I could do was apologize over and over, but it was to no avail. Philippe came out of nowhere and stood between me and this adult man and proceeded to deescalate the situation by talking to the man as if he were an adult himself. He then gently took my arm and steered me out of danger.

Naturally, of course, I developed strong feelings for Philippe. And naturally, I picked on him the most and made fun of him more than anyone. I often chuckle when I think back to our dreams at that point in our lives. I wanted to be a scientist and Philippe wanted to be a professional wrestler (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was big at the time). Being the person that I am and was, I never gathered the courage to tell Philippe how I really felt, but there was an unspoken understanding that we both felt the same way about each other. The word that I can best use to describe him was “good.” His soul, his character, his looks, and his heart were all good.

I passed the 5th grade with the expectation and assurance that Philippe and I would be together the next school year. As classmates and perhaps, even as a couple. That summer my brother and I went away for camp for two weeks. On the day of our return, my mother left her job to pick us up and drop us off to our father who was home as he always was. The cab was late and in a rush, my mother dropped us off at the door and hurriedly got in the cab and back off to work. To this this day, I do not understand the rage and fury that my father had when I told him that my mother was not with us because she had to hurry back to work. He destroyed the apartment and nearly broke everything in sight. He was so anxious for my mother to get home that he waited on the corner block before hauling her off. That night they had the worst fight I ever remember them having. I think it was then that my heart severed ties with the man that was my father. And when he exhausted himself and left to the streets, I went up to mother and declared “I don’t want to live here anymore.”

A week later, my mother sent my brother and I to stay with my aunt in South Carolina for the summer. In that time, my mother took what she could and left the Bronx. My brother and I returned to New York but it was to Binghamton where I would be for seven years. And my father knew nothing of it. Moving to Binghamton was a relief because of what I was leaving behind and because of the promise of the better life I was looking forward to. Though we looked over our shoulders often, I didn’t care about what my father thought and how he felt. I only cared that we were free and safe. At the same time, I was sad because I was not able to say goodbye to Philippe. I knew that he would understand what I was going through, and it broke my heart that I disappeared without warning.

Two whole years passed before I saw him again. Although we had left the Bronx, we would visit on a regular basis to see my other Aunt and go school shopping. On this one particular summer day in the city, my mother was craving beef patties. We decided to go to a Caribbean bakery that I had visited all too often when we lived there. For some reason, I decided to wait for my mother in the car. And as I sat listening to my Aunt and cousin talk, I saw Philippe. With a small plastic bag in his hand, he looked like he had just stopped at the corner store and was heading home. Like a dream, I saw him walking slowly towards the car, asking myself if it really was him. And when he came close enough, I threw the car door open and shouted his name.

Philippe stopped abruptly and looked at me. He then said something that astounds me to this day. He had simply said my name. After all those years of wanting to see him, after all the praying and wishing that he would not forget me, that I still meant something to him, he said my name.

Philippe approached the car slowly, respectfully acknowledging my cousin and aunt and turning his attention back to me. The look of shock on his face reflected my own. I don’t remember who reached out first, but I remember grasping his hand. Despite everything I felt and was feeling, all I could say was “I moved.” He asked me where. I told him. He asked me when. I told him. He confirmed that I just finished the 7th grade. And then we didn’t know what to say because all that was needed and wanted to be said couldn’t have possibly been done in the short amount of time we had. So we said goodbye. I slowly closed the car door and out of the back window I watched Philippe sulk slowly through the crowd and up the hill that I had walked up and down so many times. Just like a dream once again, the world seemed to have been fast-forwarded as he alone moved in slow motion. I watched him walk away from me until I could see him no longer, and still I looked.

“Who was that?” my cousin asked.

All I could choke out was “someone I knew” before I turned around cried with all the strength that was in me. It had seemed that all the pain I had been through, the love, the loss, the unspoken words, and the unrecognizable feelings I had since knowing Philippe came out at that very moment. I had never cried that hard before then.

One night I had a dream. Philippe and I were in the 5th grade again and we were on the swings at our school talking while the stars above us shone brightly. We laughed about the old times we had on the playground and in the classroom, and I told him why I moved away. I told him I was sorry that he never knew. I told him that I liked him a whole lot. And then I told him goodbye.

These days, I dream about Philippe once in a blue moon, but we have not reconnected. Like the young 7th grader, I don’t believe he will remember me. But perhaps, as it was before, I may be surprised at hearing him say my name once more. Philippe is not a professional wrestler, but from I gather, he is an aspiring actor. He goes by Philip Gaston now. He has and will always have a special place in my heart.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

Lifetime Resolutions

Hello My Dear Readers,

I’m not really one for New Years Resolutions, but recently, God has been reminding me of my goals and dreams in this life. When I seem to be down or discouraged, something happens or someone says something that reminds me that His plans for me are still unfolding…perfectly. With that being said, I have created a list of goals and hopes that I want to aspire to not this year, but for the rest of my life. These are my prayers and dreams that I want to never stop striving for, no matter where I am in life.

Dear Lord,

For this year and for ever more:

  • Keep me humble
  • Help me to continue laughing at myself
  • Please don’t let me lose my dorkiness and nerdiness, and may I continue to never be ashamed of it
  • Don’t ever let me lose my compassion and empathy for others
  • Help me to grow in patience and forgiveness
  • Strengthen my love and respect of others
  • Help to me to be better a wife and best friend to my one and only
  • Don’t ever let me stop dreaming
  • Strengthen my hope and trust in myself and most of all, in You
  • Until You say it’s time for me to have children, help me to devote myself and my life entirely to my husband and those around me for You
  • Help me, Lord, to always see You in those who are suffering and in pain, especially those who show otherwise
  • And please, may Your Light continue to shine through me

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

directory-466938_640Dear Readers,

Many of us believe that everything happens for reason; good or bad, there is a purpose for every event that God allows to happen or not happen. This is definitely something I strongly believe in as well. But I also believe in the fact that just because everything happens for a reason, doesn’t mean we are meant to know what that reason is. It is impossible to get into the mind of God and many of us (including myself) have stressed ourselves out trying to figure out the “why” and “how” and “when.” As Joyce Meyer said, if we were able to get into the mind of God and understand why He does the things He does, he wouldn’t be as great and mysterious. Yes, everything does happen for a reason, but with that belief comes acceptance and trust that everything will be okay and the possession of courage to keep moving forward in the direction we are being led.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Unheard Voices and the Unseen Struggle

My Dearest Readers,

One year ago today my first book, Kingdom of the Sun, was published. I am so blessed to have been through an experience that was both a struggle and a joy. The goal and dream that I had in this endeavor was to give a voice to words and ideas that have been unsaid and to illuminate the struggles that are hidden and unseen.

I published Kingdom of the Sun on Columbus Day of last year simply because of what the “holiday” represents. In response to the falsification and propagandic use of history, I published my novella on Columbus Day as a way to represent its purpose of being a light for truth, inspiration, and hope for change. I wanted the book to illuminate the impact of a history that was edited, to represent the effect of colonialism, and to signify a nation and race of people that were silenced. I wanted my work to display how no matter where we are in time or history, there will always be an obstacle in the world and in our own lives that must be overcome. And yet, no matter how hard or unfair the battle may be, there is always hope for victory.

A year later, I still harbor the hope, faith, and drive that the words written in Kingdom of the Sun and on this blog will touch you and push you to make a change that you may have always wanted or say the words that have been bottled up inside you. I am no stranger to invisibility and forced silence. Even now, it still hurts me to think back to it. But even now, I am still reminded of the strength it gave me to become who I am and want to be. And the only thing I want for someone in the same situation is to break free. Become unhidden and become unsilenced.

We must not become like those in the past whose voices have been silenced and whose history have been distorted and edited. We must let our voices rise above the ones that try to mute it and our actions be braver and more holy than those who are not. We must be and make the change that is so needed in this world— changes so powerful that they will light the future for other generations and bring illumination and freedom to the voices and history of the past.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Light and Happiness Inside

glass-384951_640Dear Readers,

My husband and I are kids at heart, and last weekend we went to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My favorite scene (no spoilers) is during the climax of the film where the brothers are on their way to take down the enemy. They decided to take a detour via an elevator, and as you can imagine there’s heightened tension and stress as they wait to arrive at their destination. But during this ride, Michelangelo decides to beat box, inspiring the other brothers to jump in for a good 10 seconds until the elevator comes to a stop and the seriousness then resumes. I love this scene because not only was it hilarious considering its timing but mostly because it was a reminder of how God would want us to act in times of trials and difficulties.

I’d like to think that we all have something that makes us smile or laugh. I know I do. In fact, I often get asked “what are you smiling at?” because when I’m feeling stressed or sad, I retreat inside myself and dig out these memories.

Many of us are going through tough situations, and there is so much negativity in the world that sometimes it’s so hard to escape it. I don’t watch the news for the simple fact that it focuses so much on negativity— whether it’s potential war, creating a scapegoat, the environment, or whatever or whomever they choose to talk about or demonize. Though I try to avoid negativity, there are many who choose to carry it with them, allowing it to deeply affect themselves and those around them. Joyce Meyer describes these people as “dead,” and although we sometimes wonder if they’re trying to bring us down with them, we must never let negativity affect us (and this most certainly does not mean that we shouldn’t be compassionate and caring). Instead of letting negativity in, we must unleash the light and happiness within us because ultimately, that is what this world needs and what people who are hurting need.

Picture all those wonderful and happy memories that you have as being placed in a bottle inside you. Open it in troubling times. Open it to share its contents with someone else. Let the contents build up so much that the bottle bursts and that light and happiness shines through your eyes and radiates in your smile and on your face, showering on all whom you meet.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

 TMNT Elevator Scene

The Small Things

Dear Readers,

We all have a lot going on in our lives that tend to occupy our minds and worry us more than we should allow. There are times when I am so focused on a project that I find it very hard to sit still or focus on something else without feeling guilt or anxiety. The little or big things that go on in our worlds tend to make us oblivious to the larger world that we live in. Your neighbor, a store clerk, a customer, a teacher, a co-worker, or whomever may not know what you’re going through, but even so, they are still in this world with you and may be going through the same problems that are probably even greater than yours. I believe that everyone could use a blessing, a good cheer, or something to make their day and perhaps, lives, a little brighter.

When I was senior in high school, my dance teacher took some of my classmates and me to a very expensive restaurant to celebrate our graduation. Little did we know that the gentleman who was dining alone across from us overheard our conversations and generously decided to pay for all six or seven of our meals. This was of course a wonderful surprise, but I’m talking about making a difference in someone’s day by doing the seemingly small and insignificant things that really matter:

  • Looking someone in the eye and giving them a genuine greeting and genuinely wishing them a good day.
  • Putting back unwanted store merchandise in the correct location.
  • Stopping your car to allow a waiting driver to pull in front of you.
  • Greeting people who you normally don’t notice or speak to.

I know these may seem meaningless or senseless to some, but from being on both sides of each scenario, I can tell you they make a difference. From the sudden gleam in a janitor’s eyes to the feeling of relief that someone cares, I can tell you that it’s worth it. So please, stop and see someone today and try to do so everyday.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

 

Interview with Author J.B. Chicoine

 Hi Everyone,

As you can imagine, I’ve read countless of books in my life and there have only been three times (recently four) where I’ve felt a compelling need to contact the author. I recently read the books Portrait of a Girl Running and Portrait of a Protégé, and both novels were so amazing that there was no way I could move on to another without letting their author J.B. (Bridget) Chicoine know. To my great pleasure and joy she responded to my message. Not only did I receive the honor of exchanging emails with her, but I was also able to present Bridget with some questions about herself, her writing process, and her novels, including the most recently published Blind Stitches which is now available on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading this interview from this amazing author.

Self-portraitPlease tell us about yourself!

First of all, Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Ariffa!

To start with, I’m happily married, have two children and two grandchildren. I’m also a watercolor artist. I was born and raised in Amityville, on Long Island, NY. I’ve lived in New Hampshire, Kansas City, and now Michigan—but all that is in my author biography for anyone to read. In all honestly, I like to keep the finer details of my life private. I feel very uncomfortable under the distorted magnifying glass of the internet and social media, but as an author—well, that discomfort comes with the territory these days. And the fact is, I do enjoy interacting with my readers and other authors I have met via the internet.

Looking back, did you ever think you’d become an author?

Perhaps in my adolescence when it felt like anything was possible, but I never pursued it. I married young and had children, which consumed most of my time, and I enjoyed a lot of creative outlets like sewing and painting. Nevertheless, I still had a rich imaginary life, full of interesting characters. I finally wrote my first novel when I was around twenty-eight years old, struggling with depression in a bad marriage. The novel was really awful, but I loved writing as an escape, and it rekindled the fantasy that someday I might be a published author. Not until about fifteen years later (and happily remarried) did I begin my next novel—a viable candidate for publication.

How much has being an author changed your life?

Being an author hasn’t really changed my life—I still carry on much as I always have, but because I’ve had problems with depression and anxiety, writing and publishing has provided me with a healthy creative outlet (a positive obsession, so to speak), so I would say that it has contributed to my overall wellbeing and self-esteem. It has also given me a more balanced view of myself and my creative product—that is, I’ve developed a thicker skin when it comes to criticism, and I have learned that no one can validate my writing—and by extension, me. I still struggle with that, but I feel like I’m getting closer to coming to terms with my objectives as far as my creative endeavors are concerned. Ultimately, I don’t want to be rich or famous, I just want to share and live simply.

Blind Stitches front thumbnailPlease tell us about your new book, Blind Stitches.

Here’s the description from the back cover:

Nikolai Solvay has been dreading his sister’s wedding, but when his father dies unexpectedly two weeks beforehand, his return to New Hampshire promises to rake up his worst nightmares.

Meanwhile, talented young seamstress Juliet Glitch has been putting the finishing touches on the wedding dress. Mother of the bride—former prima ballerina and Russian expatriate—asks Juliet if she ‘would hem her blind son Nikolai’s trousers for the funeral’ … and the wedding.

When Juliet meets Nikolai, he draws her into the whirlwind of his unraveling family that makes her own quirky domestic situation seem normal. Confronted with the Solvay’s delusions and narcissism, Juliet must decide if her developing relationship with Nikolai is worth the turmoil as she deals with her own unreconciled past.

Either way, Nikolai cannot stave off the repressed memories surrounding his mother’s defection from the Soviet Union twenty years earlier. Against the backdrop of autumn 1989, during the Glasnost era, Nikolai’s family secrets crash alongside the crumbling Berlin Wall.

How did you come up with the idea to write it?

Because I am interested in mental health issues, I tend to incorporate them in my stories. In Blind Stitches, I pushed the envelop into absurdity and pinned it on the delusion of a woman who believes her son is blind (I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler). It’s a psychological drama with an overlapping love story.

What kind of readers will Blind Stitches appeal to?

Since this story is cross-genre (as are all of my stories), it will likely appeal to a wide range of readers. My publicist is marketing it as Romance, but I feel that it falls more into General Fiction, with a healthy dose of suspense.

Portrait of a Girl Running thumbnailI have read both Portrait of a Girl Running and Portrait of a Protégé. I thought both were fantastic! [To my readers: please check out my reviews here and here]. Please tell us what your experience was like writing those novels and what inspired you to do so.

I’m so happy you enjoyed them! I originally wrote Girl Running for my husband, just something fun to do and to keep me actively involved in a positive way while he was working out of state for about six weeks. I had no idea about the “rules” of writing novels, I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and loved every minute of the creative process. It was like I could feel my brain chemistry shifting, like the serotonin was plentiful and flowing! What a high! Because he loved the story, and the characters wouldn’t leave me alone, I wrote the sequel. I later rewrote it and it is now Portrait of a Protégé.

I also want to say that Protégé was a more uncomfortable story to write. I knew it would push a lot of boundaries regarding what sorts of relationships people consider appropriate –I think even more so than the relationships in Girl Running. I wanted to see if I could make my reader sympathetic, if not hope for the unconventional. The feedback has varied between repulsion to loving the evolution of the “unconventional” relationship.

What is your writing process?

I usually start with a premise or basic idea based on the simple question, what if? Then it’s a matter of molding a couple of main characters to carry it out—for instance, in Girl Running, I asked ‘what if a teacher and student fell in love?’ Under what circumstances might that work without it feeling really icky? What sort of teenager would attract an adult with principles? How can I bring them together in a relationship with substance without making it a tawdry love affair? With those basic questions answered and a strong feel for the characters, I put them together and see how they would interact. I usually also have a couple of plot points in mind and write toward that general story arc. From there, other characters often pop up and even take over, as did the character Clarence Myles (my favorite character of all my novels).

Do you wait for an idea to come to you or do you search for it?

In my earlier writing (Uncharted and Girl Running), I had been ruminating over the stories for a few years as a happy mental diversion without ever intending to write them down. One night I couldn’t sleep and decided to start writing, and so it was simply a matter of sitting down and typing it out—even so, much of those stories took shape as I went along. In my subsequent work, I sought out and then expounded on a simple idea.

Portrait of a Protege thumbnailWould you ever want any of your novels to be adapted to a film?

In theory, sure! Who wouldn’t love to see their story and the characters of one’s imagination come to life on the big screen! The problem is, a film could never match my imagination. I think the whole process would be exhausting and disappointing and would complicate my simple life. And because my stories are clean (no explicit violence, sex, profanity), I worry that film makers would want to appeal to the general public, which seems to crave the licentious.

Do any of your characters possess characteristics of yourself?

Oh yeah. I especially relate to Leila in Girl Running—she shares my feelings about painting and privacy. And in Blind Stitches, there is a lot of me in Juliet—in fact, I was a seamstress in a small New Hampshire town and based a lot of her observations on my own.

Tell us five interesting facts about yourself.

I don’t know how interesting these are, but I’ll go out on a limb here:

  1. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology as a teen and commuted to Manhattan. I loved designing but hated the city and quit.
  2. I really like the Talking Heads—one of my favorite songs is Slippery People!
  3. I used to run a bridal shop, in addition to designing and sewing wedding gowns.
  4. I enjoy teaching people about the Bible.
  5. I have no sense of rhythm—I can’t even walk a flight of stairs without tripping.

Where can we go to receive updates on you and your works?

Go to my writing blog (http://www.jbchicoineliteraryworkinprogress.blogspot.com/) or my Facebook author page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/J-B-Chicoine/201323803286390). I also have an Author Page on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/J-B-Chicoine/e/B009SQAR0A). Oh, and I also have a Website (http://www.jbchicoine.com)

When will Blind Stitches be released and where can we buy it?

I just released it a little ahead of schedule, on July 11. It’s currently available in paperback and for Kindle, also through iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/blind-stitches/id897545783?mt=11), and all other e-readers via Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/455795). It will soon be available for Nook, too.

Thank you so much for this interview, Bridget! I look forward to reading Blind Stitches! And to my readers: Please leave your comments or questions for Bridget below or feel free to contact her directly. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to check out some of her works!

Peace and Love,

Ariffa