Crossing the River: write! at Manhattanville College

For about a year now, River River Writers’ Circle has been earning its double-riparian moniker, crossing from the west to the east bank of the Hudson to Barat House at Manhattanville College. The MFA program at the College partners with us to offer our writing circles at this welcoming, intimate cottage, formerly the residence of the program’s founder, Sister Ruth Dowd.

MFA-style workshops are not known for focusing on generative work. Students may receive a warm-up prompt at the opening of a workshop to get the juices flowing and to create a trusting dynamic, but most of the time are expected to take their peers’ comment and discussion with quiet dignity and “really write” in solitude. Circles like write! acknowledge the creative ballast provided by a solid group dynamic, but provide it for the raw creative process. The energy that traditionally goes into discussion is spent on the page. Write! was therefore a bit of a novelty—and a challenging one—to bring to an MFA setting, where writers are more accustomed to a solitary, at times highly protective, creative process.

But novelty, challenges, and approaching the creative act from a place slightly outside our comfort zones all define a writer’s life. Here are some of the fruits of our afternoons. Many thanks to Alice Green, Maureen Amaturo, and Talia Woolfe for sharing their work. Enjoy!

The Face within Me

Alice B. Green

In the hairline of a moment,
in the reflection of a mirror,
I sometimes see her sallow cheeks
And the large, soul-saddened eyes
of a heart stained by lies.

The face is not my own,
but my mother’s.

It hides beneath the surface of my skin
and erupts, unexpected, from within.
Not a presence to console,
She was an unsettled soul.
Shadowed by taunts and curious stares
 whispering, “you belong nowhere”.

Born in Berlin of Aryan and Semite origin,
in a land destined for destruction,
Her mixed race was deemed an abomination,
Her right to life and respect an aberration.
Her mother the victim of ideological oration.

I was born steeped in her shame,
A sequel to the lies she could not disclaim?
But lies only survive in the bed where they’re made,
and truth can make the most foul lies fade.
It sliced through the lies she was told,
Freeing me from her mold.

I cannot change this face within
It now reminds me to honor who I am
and the memory of my mother.

The First Day

Maureen Mancini Amaturo

Day one of married life shed no light at all on married life. Reality check: we were not going to wake each morning and pack for Italy. Damn.  

The first day after our wedding, I still felt single, as if exhausted from a big-night bar crawl instead of my own wedding reception. That morning, my biggest concern was what to wear on the plane. I had planned to wear a black, denim, maxi dress, but my Creative Director’s last words to me before I left the office two days before my wedding threw a wrench in my line-up. She said, “Don’t wear black on your honeymoon.”

I was in a hurry to catch my bus, so I didn’t ask why. Don’t wear black? But I’m Italian. I’m New York City. I’m in the fashion industry. Even my dental floss is black. I wondered if it were bad luck, a taunt to fate if I wore the black maxi. Did it have anything to do with widow? I couldn’t even go there. I fretted over my affinity for wearing black all the way from Port Atrocity, commonly known as Port Authority, to New Jersey. Once I got home, I intended to tear open my suitcase and pull out the fuchsia floral on white and ball up the black denim. I really meant to switch dresses. Really. But our DJ lost my playlist. Two guests cancelled. I still had to make my veil and headpiece, and when I looked in the mirror that night to wash my face, my nose looked particularly big. I forgot to switch dresses.

All I know is that when I was getting dressed the first married morning of my now married life, I put on a black maxi dress. To hell with omens.

Apparently, if wearing black on your honeymoon was a thing, it passed me by that day. I am now married twenty-seven years, and I still wear black. Daily. When it comes to both my husband and black clothes, it’s ‘til death do us part. And since I haven’t been shopping in Heaven yet, who knows? I might still be buying black in my next life. Death, like marriage, can take the girl out of Manhattan but can’t take the  Manhattan out of the girl.

First and Last

Talia Woolfe

It would be her first entryway into the religious life. She would be choosing to leave the materialistic world behind. Her spiritual purpose was to serve God and humankind. Mary Catherine was her new name, her Confirmation name. All of her future life was unknown, like a flag beng unfurled one moment at a time.

Her new faith had much appeal. She truly did feel that she was meant to be a nun. Her family couldn’t or wouldn’t understand how by following this spiritual life-path, she could have the most fun. She began researching convents three months after her conversion.

After a while, her family’s aversion to her becoming a religious sister made her doubt her vocation. While once it had brought her much elation, her confusion only caused her frustration. Mary Catherine knew deep in her heart that her loved ones would miss her if she chose to become a sister. She felt unsure about what her next step should be on her path to enhanced spirituality.

Would she simply be fleeing from her present life? Her past, after all, had been filled with its share of woes and strife. She carried a heavy weight. She wondered if by becoming free of her current life, she would be fleeing from every opportunity to be a regular bride—part of a couple—maybe to start a family of her own. Having possibly flown from mainstream life, she would miss out on having the chance to become a wife, mother, and someday, a grandmother. After choosing one path, she wish to be pursuing the other.

Plus, by becoming a nun, she would devastate her mother and her father. They wouldn’t even hear of it anymore. As much as Mary Catherine sought acceptance from her family, she longed to be free to be her own unique “me.”

While it seemed unpleasant to face these twists and turns, for Mary Catherine, the process seemed to help her earn more blessings and faith galore. She was receiving miraculous epiphanies, more than ever before. Who knew what would be in store for her future? Indeed, no one was keeping score.

For sure, Mary Catherine believed she would always foremost adore her Lord—whether or not she joined a religious community.

Whatever her choice, she would feel free to explore her authentic “me.”

Always and ever, she was glad to be free.