Imagine being desperately ill but so poor you have to wait for hours, penned up with others like cattle, while you await medical attention. When it is finally your turn, you are treated by a harried physician whose first choice likely would not be employment in such a clinic. It is hard to hold on to hope and dignity under such circumstances. Alas, the poor and the victimized often find themselves in such a predicament.
Dr. Joan Barice found this situation intolerable, though not because she was a patient or one of those harried doctors. She simply felt strongly that treating patients with dignity and respect is conducive to health. She took seriously her motto of “Love Never Fails” and decided to transform one such clinic into one in which patients had specific appointments and also enjoyed treatment by the area's best doctors. This achievement would be remarkable all on its own, but it is only one of many such accomplishments from one of the most amazing women I have ever met.
Service to others through healing and love has been the unifying principle of Dr. Barice's life. As a graduate of Stanford Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, she could have chosen a life of ease. Instead, she has dedicated herself to caring for the poor, the elderly, and those afflicted by addiction and HIV.
Faced with her enthusiastic demeanor, one would not guess that she suffers from chronic, sometimes disabling, pain. Graced by her gentle spirit, one would not know that this intrepid woman has made 250 skydives and survived a plane crash in the arctic wilderness. Always motivated to keep learning, she lived in China for a year, studying qigong and acupuncture.
Just as she has tested the boundaries of her personal life, she has also been on the forefront of advancing the integration of safe and effective alternative healing therapies with those of conventional medicine. She has done this in clinical settings, in the academic and research arenas, as well as with her professional associations. For her accomplishments, she received the Certificate of Merit, the highest honor given by the Florida Medical Association for contributions to the health of the community and physicians.
The list of Dr. Barice’s achievements is indeed extensive. In this post, I highlight only a few. At the clinic mentioned above, Dr. Barice was instrumental not only in recruiting the highest quality doctors but also in offering education for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes management et al.
Another instance where she made a difference in people’s lives, this time across the economic spectrum, was through her role in getting addiction recognized as a disease to be treated in parity with other illnesses. Her successful activism at the state level eventually led to a similar shift at the national level. This has meant, among other things, that people seeking treatment for addiction could be covered by health insurance.
Dr. Barice's own experience with disabling pain and the helplessness it engendered brought home for her the connection between the mind and the body. In Dr. Barice’s words, “A lot of things we don’t know about, but the importance of the mind/body connection is profound. Thinking can make you sick, and thinking can make you well.”
Her personal involvement with chronic pain has led her to test the limits and the possibilities both of mainstream medicine and of the so-called alternative healing therapies. She believes in accessing the best of both approaches to health care. For treatment of her pain, for example, she has undergone surgery but has also used alternative therapies such as acupuncture, essential oils, and nutritional supplements. Today, she lectures to medical students about the integration of mainstream and alternative therapies.
A discussion of Dr. Barice would be incomplete without also touching on another factor she considers significant for health—the spiritual component. Her strong faith is critical in helping her navigate the challenge of chronic pain. In her treatment of others, Dr. Barice, a devout Catholic, takes very seriously Jesus’ assertion, “What you do for the least among you, you do for me.” Nor would the discussion be complete without her insistence on giving credit to the many who helped and mentored her along the way.
I celebrate Dr. Joan Barice for her unflagging dedication to improving the wellbeing of so many in need. I honor her commitment to integrating the best of conventional and alternative therapies. I am pleased that someone of her caliber champions recognition of the role that mind and spirit play in health. For all this, as well as for her unstinting bravery and strength of character, she meets the definition of a hero. For her willingness to journey down paths less traveled in her search for greater truths, she is deserving of mention in a blog which celebrates pilgrim souls.
Every now and then, someone writes with a heart so open, it is both painful and life affirming. Judy Croome, South Africanauthor, has written a post so powerful it deserves wide-spread recognition. Writing poignantly about her post-apartheid nation, Croome bared her soul with candor, regret, and hope. Her post’s power and raw honesty left me speechless. We are honored by Croome’s willingness to open her heart to us. I don’t know if one can assert that South Africa’s particular cauldron of issues is more complex than most. After all, life is in its essence complex. Just its very mystery introduces complexity. Yet, South Africa seems to be a crucible, in the present era, for the challenges humanity faces in defining what is good and what is evil. Here is the link to her post.
I’ve been on blogging hiatus for a month, not foreseen. It just sort of happened. I continue to check, though not as frequently, the blogs I follow. Despite that, I feel as if I’m letting down the side. I notice, however, that, although some dedicated souls maintain a regular pace of posting, they seem to be the exception. So maybe my slower pace is not unusual. I keep meaning to give my blog the attention it used to receive, but alas one week follows another and – no new post! So this is simply a hello to my blogging friends. I hope life is good, personally and professionally.
I have always maintained that my writing is hard to force-fit into a literary genre. Multicultural and literary come about as close as any labels can. My reading tastes are also wide-ranging. Here is what I have been reading in the last month.
• Invisible Manby Ralph Ellison, winner of the 1952 National Book Award and a classic ever since. You might find it interesting that President Obama in college read and reread this novel until it was dog-eared. See The Washington Postexcerptfrom the upcoming David Marannis biography of the President.
• Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, a book of poems about the individuals buried in fictional Spoon River.
• Hope of Israel, a fabulous historical novel by Patricia O’Sullivan, “based on the true experience of Jews in Lisbon, Amsterdam and London during the politically and spiritually tumultuous 17th century." [Publishers Weekly]
• Preparing so that I can eventually view my own short stories, poetry, et al. published as Kindle Singles.
• Rereading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man to prepare for leading a class discussion. This remarkable, award-winning novel, now 60 years old, still offers up beautiful prose, brilliant insight into human behavior, and mastery of writing craft.
• Rereading Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, also in preparation for the Invisible Man discussion. Ralph Ellison acknowledged the influence of this novella, among others, in writing his own National Book Award novel.
Two authors from different cultures ask, “What is in a name?” The Irish poet Eavan Boland and the Puerto Rican playwright/poet Nancy Mercado conclude that the answer is of fundamental importance in defining one’s existence.
In her essay, “Lava Cameo,” Eavan Boland asks, “Was there really no name for my life [as an ordinary woman] in poetry?” Her search for her late grandmother helps Boland validate her “femaleness” in an otherwise largely male Irish literary tradition.
In her concluding essay to the collection What’s in a Nombre?Nancy Mercado states, “Naming is the spiritual act of living beyond the moment, of signifying something beyond the instant ….”
In both instances, each author reclaims the right to name herself and her work apart from the prevailing hegemony of gender and/or culture. In Nancy Mercado’s words, “The act of naming is rebellious; it is the expression of power over a thing or over someone ….”
It is also an affirming act. As Eavan Boland says, “I had written poems. Now I would have to enter them.”
In a perhaps less consequential way, I have renamed this blog. My literary name Judith Mercado now takes precedence over the previous title of Pilgrim Soul. This is a defining act signifying renewed focus on my literary life. I will always be a pilgrim soul, seeking and learning. This blog, however, will now focus primarily on Judith Mercado as a short story author, novelist, poet, and essayist.
“Orphans and Hoodlums” is included in phati'tude Literary Magazine’s current issue: WHAT'S IN A NOMBRE? This issue features Pulitzer-prize winners as well as lesser-known writers who explore Latino identity in America.
Their press release states, “WHAT’S IN A NOMBRE? sets out to investigate the diverse cultural identities of writers of Spanish descent by bringing together an amazing range of voices that we felt had been unfairly lumped into the category of “Hispanic” and “Latino.” ¿Qué hay en un nombre? What’s in a name?
¿WHAT’S IN A NOMBRE? celebrates and introduces readers to Latino writers from a U.S. perspective. Featuring a cavalcade of over 117 Latino poets, writers and artists, highlights include Interviews of Esmeralda Santiago, Oscar Hijuelos, Nelly Rosario, Gary Soto, and Junot Diaz; and tributes to Piri Thomas and Louis Reyes Rivera. Short stories by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Angie Cruz, Judith Mercado, Thelma T. Reyna and John Rodriguez. Artwork and photographs by Wanda Benvenutti, George Malave, Kukuli Velarde and more. Includes bilingual works in English and Spanish. The editors are particularly proud of a body of work that explores social protest and exploitation; the migratory experience; self-exploration or self-definition, including the exploration of myths and legends.
By no means is this issue complete, nor is it meant to be, but we have created a collection that includes some of the older, established writers alongside the newer and lesser-known voices that represent the different cultures thriving beneath the umbrella term of “Latino.” The authors here have courageously shared their stories with us through interviews, essays and poetry, where language, culture, history, religion, and gender issues are explored against the cultural backdrop of American culture. This groundbreaking issue is not only a great teaching tool, but it’s also an excellent addition in anyone’s library collection.”
I am proud to have “Orphans and Hoodlums” included in the most recent issue of phati’tude Literary Magazine. Established in 1997, it is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed quarterly magazine published by the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS), an organization which promotes multicultural literature and literacy. It focuses on, but is not exclusively devoted to, the work of writers of African, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Arab and Asian descent in an aim to provide a forum for quality works of diverse voices from around the globe.
The Literary Lab's Variations on a Theme Anthology includes my short story "The Barcelona Chairs." The anthology is now available on Amazon.com. Here is an excerpt from The Literary Lab’s fullannouncement:
Get it while it's hot! Literally hot! Variations on a Theme has gone live on Amazon.
Sorry, but the anthology is not available for Kindle or any other ebook format. We've decided to take the Kindle version down for Notes From Underground as well. Why? Mainly because the Kindle versions never really sold and it's a lot of work to format those manuscripts just for a few sales. So print only! Makes them more special if you ask me!
And trust me, if you're a fan of The Literary Lab, you want this anthology, and probably all three of them. I won't say why yet, but you do!
Go purchase your copies now. It's a beautiful, exciting, and entertaining anthology. I can't wait to get my final copy!
Also, it should be noted that Notes From Underground has been reformatted. We fixed a name spelling and made the text a bit bigger (it was just a bit small before). It's still the same price as it was before. All three anthologies are $8.56 each. We feel this is a pretty reasonable price for a nice print book.
THANK YOU, EVERYONE, FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF THE LITERARY LAB. None of these anthologies would have been possible without you!
Variations on a Theme is our third anthology. This year, we asked writers to create work inspired by one of two stories: "The Tinderbox," a classic fairy tale, or "The Huntsman," by Anton Chekhov. The result is a wonderful, tight collection of magical stories.
Purchase Variations on a Theme PAPERBACK COPIES through Amazon
What is it that happens when characters become like real people to a writer? Is it a worrisome sign of psychological disorder?
I don’t know. All I know is that I generally don’t feel that I’m writing effectively until a character starts “talking” to me. I’ll be about to fall asleep, and I’ll “hear” a voice that says, “You forgot to mention how I felt when Agnes died.” “Or Juana eloped.” Or some other character detail which had never occurred to me but which turns out to be critical for understanding my character’s emotional and psychological makeup; if not, his timeline.
Now I could go all spooky on you and talk about how my grandmother was a medium and maybe all I’m doing is channeling dead spirits. Okay, guffaw, all you want. The point is that this is a mysterious process. We are all readers, as well as writers. As readers, some of us develop strong bonds with fictional characters which defy rational explanation. I wonder if that could happen if the author herself had not developed a lifelike bond with her character.
Today I purged nearly twenty years of background notes, drafts, and other miscellanea for my unpublished writing. At first, I tried to be highly selective, but faced with leaning piles of files, I became merciless.
It occurred to me as I was shredding that I was releasing early dreams of publishing glory. Of course, my manuscripts in final draft still exist, both in electronic and in paper form. But the fancies I had woven as I wrote my fictional “masterpieces” lay collapsed under mounds of shredded paper.
Ironically, with the advent of electronic media, publishing has never been more accessible. After a modest amount of polishing, I could simply upload all my manuscripts and they would be instantly available to all. And I may still do that. I just do not seem to be moved to do that right now.
Today may, in the end, prove to be inconsequential. Years hence, I may scarcely be moved by the memory of releasing so much of me, as expressed through my writing. I don’t know. I just know that today I purged and while I feel lightened I also feel saddened.
The Literary Lab just announced the winnersto be included in their anticipated anthology, “Variations on a Theme.” My short story “The Barcelona Chairs” is among those chosen for publication.
Participants had been asked to use as inspiration one of two short stories, Chekhov’s “The Huntsman” or Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Tinderbox.” I used Chekhov’s tale of an abandoned wife to inspire me to create a contemporary version of a marriage cleft by abandonment.
I salute the two prize winners, Yat-Yee Chongand Judy Croome. I also congratulate the other authorswhose stories will be included in the anthology, currently slated for publication in mid-March. I eagerly anticipate reading their short stories. I am sure my story will be in great company.
The Literary Labtrio of Michelle Davidson Argyle, Davin Malasarn, and Scott G. F. Bailey deserve high praise for sponsoring this anthology. I can only imagine the hard work involved in reading and then selecting winners from among all the worthy entries. As I told them, “Thank you for making me soar.” I thank them for choosing my story and for promoting the art of literary writing. May they reap ample rewards from their efforts.
As soon as publication details emerge, I will share them with you.
Last I checked, I am not an actor. But I feel like one auditioning for a role whenever I submit a short story to a review or a query letter to an agent. There must be common ground here—the hope at submission, the exhilaration of acceptance, the plummet at rejection. That’s not even mentioning how stacked the odds are against admission to the club. Honestly, I have to acknowledge the courage of actors who do this in person. If I had to do that, I might never submit my work.
But submit I do. You should see the size of my Excel worksheet which tracks the history of my submissions over the years. It ain’t small, let’s just say. It might never have reached that size, though, if along the way I had not received acknowledgement that my writing has merit. Twelve of my stories have been published. Two of my novels, though not published, received recognition. Cruel carrot or not, this whets my willingness to keep going.
It may sound cheesy, but I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on something imbued with possibility. It makes other more intractable issues in my life appear less overwhelming. So, in the last two months, I have sent out thirteen stories to roughly sixty literary reviews. I started crafting my query letter and synopsis for my latest completed novel. To date, three of my stories have been accepted for publication. Hope reigns strong that the other stories and my novel will find homes, too.
Here is what I also know about this writing thing. I can’t not write. Writing feels as essential to me as breathing. As for getting my work out into the public arena, I follow the intention of a poem I once wrote.
One thing I do know. Giving up beforehand means guaranteed defeat.
So the stories, novels, and poems will continue to emerge from my production line. Their fate in the vast distribution channel of publishing is another thing altogether.
So the new year began. I had some time between real life projects, was waiting to hear from my readers about my novel, and could focus on my short stories. I opened up my short story folder, identified which short stories to send out, researched potential literary markets, and started submitting stories. At last count, I have about twenty queries sent. More will be submitted as time etc. permit.
The targeted literary reviews range from brand new to long established. Obviously, the probabilities of acceptance will differ. But, regardless of the publication’s pedigree, it is always uplifting to hear that someone likes what you have written. We'll see what the new year brings. I look forward to finding out.
My writing frequently explores multicultural themes. Born in Puerto Rico, I moved at a young age to the U.S., where my parents became Pentecostal ministers. Early immersion in Latino and religious cultures preceded later experiences as a businesswoman, a White House Fellow, and life aboard a trawler cruising from Martha’s Vineyard to South America. These sometimes incompatible worlds have given me a respectful outlook toward differing points of view. My short stories, poems, and essays reflect my own inclusive, yet sharply defined, journey across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. I recently published Peace on the Journey, a poetry collection which explores the theme of renewal in the face of adversity.
The defining image of this blog is a waterfall. Its inspiration comes from a scene in one of my novels in which the infant protagonist escapes her mother’s attention and wanders off to a nearby waterfall. While there, she experiences a mysterious sense of wellbeing, which she yearns to replicate for the rest of her life.
"I have made love to my writing and am now in the afterglow."
"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession... Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
About his fictional town Macondo, widely acknowledged to be inspired by his real home town of Aracataca, Colombia. “Macondo is not so much a place as it is a state of mind.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear."
"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
"There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and, because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly... to keep the channel open."