Jan 03

Looking Back

By Allison Stein

As we anticipate a new year and a fresh start, we find ourselves looking forward to the goals we will tackle in the 12 months ahead of us—but even more powerfully, we look with newfound perspective at the 12 months we have just left behind. Time has a way of deepening the impact of moments and coloring the stain of memories.

Likewise, after years of entries, my journal has illuminated the relationship between my past and present—where my story belongs, where the past ends and the present begins, and where these two plot-lines intersect.

I would like to share with you the words of my past self, words that penetrate my heart to this day. It is my hope that you, too, will be inspired.

1. I learned.

  • December 14, 2013: “What if I look back years from now and wish…?”
  • December 21, 2013: “[K]nowing that I struggled will satisfy me all the more if my dreams come true.”
  • June 9, 2014: “I want to remember the times I was strong but also the times I was weak.”

2. I changed.

  • April 17, 2014: “…I have found what I’ve spent years looking for: my voice.”
  • April 18, 2014: “I have gone through some kind of stage, I feel, and entered another.”
  • June 18, 2014: “I’ve changed…and that took courage.”

3. I loved.

  • March 4, 2014: “I hope that someday I can help someone like you helped me.”
  • March 15, 2014: “[R]eading my book is like reading my heart.”
  • March 18, 2014: “It was…one of those now-or-never moments.”

4. I dreamed.

  • December 8, 2013: “I dream…anyway…”
  • March 27, 2014: “I wonder what will have happened one year from now.”
  • March 31, 2014: “Dreams always seem both impossible and inevitable.”

5. I discovered.

  • January 16, 2014: “I want to be myself and my own…”
  • February 15, 2014: “We really are all connected…”
  • March 18, 2014: “[J]ust knowing that I could…do my best was encouraging, just for me.”

6. I believed.

  • February 1, 2014: “I like to think that…maybe I’ll someday positively affect the world.”
  • March 10, 2014: “The world seems full of hope…”
  • July 1, 2014: “It isn’t that I’m not afraid. I am.”

7. I smiled.

  • January 7, 2014: “It’s the cold days when I’m most thankful for home.”
  • April 10, 2014: “[E]very day is…joy…”
  • September 9, 2014: “I’m lucky.”

8. I cried.

  • January 15, 2014: “I was counting on someone who let me down.”
  • June 9, 2014: “[T]hose weak moments seem like things I’ve overcome, not things that have overcome me.”
  • June 18, 2014: “…I’ve learned that…God will help you through anything.”

9. I struggled.

  • January 5, 2014: “I’m afraid of growing up.”
  • April 17, 2014: “I regret my silence.”
  • September 8, 2014: “Well, I had done my best…that was consolation, at least.”

10. I prayed.

  • May 24, 2014: “You stayed with me…through every defeat and every victory.”
  • June 30, 2014: “I think I have faith in myself, too—at least deep down.”
  • July 10, 2014: “God…thank you for giving me the courage…”

I hope that you enjoyed this post—and that we all spend 2017 living out our dreams with no regrets. Happy New Year!

 

Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment
Dec 20

Poem: Star by Star

By Allison Stein

I hope this poem reminds you to rejoice in the miracles of life and love. Enjoy!

Star by Star

One by one,
You count miracles.
Beat by beat,
Our hearts meld.

Beam by beam,
Moonlight flickers on icicles.
Dream by dream,
We dance under frozen chandeliers.

Breath by breath,
You spell your love.
Footstep by footstep,
I learn to trust.

Wish by wish,
We search the sky.
Star by star,
God inscribes our lives.
Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
Aug 13

To Etch a Life in Words

By Allison Stein

A journal is more than a record of the writer’s life—it is a notebook that, page by page, teaches the writer how to live. To etch a life in words is to lend it new meaning in the process. Here are the top 10 reasons to saturate paper with the songs inscribed in your soul:

1. To Capture Change…in Real Time

  • February 15, 2016: “Everyone else…seems to be looking forward to a sparkling gem of the future, but I’m holding on to all I can.”
  • March 24, 2016: “…I’ve changed so much between now and then that it seems a near eternity has elapsed.”
  • April 18, 2016: “[T]ime goes too fast as it is, so I’ll simply savor this moment.”

2. To Crystallize a Moment in Memory

  • January 19, 2016: “I know the odds are against me, but I can’t help but hope.”
  • January 25, 2016: “I have to trust my instincts: They’ve never let me down before.”
  • May 24, 2016: “I have to at least try.”

3. To See Through the Scope of Retrospect

  • March 2, 2016: “I suppose I…have to take comfort in the fact that I did the best I could do.”
  • May 12, 2016: “I’m just proud I never gave up.”
  • June 13, 2016: “…I’d fallen hard, so hard I thought I might crack, but I wouldn’t break.”

4. To Solidify Ideals

  • March 14, 2016: “[D]reams come true…if you chase, you will catch. You will lose your breath and trip over your own feet and fall down, but you will catch…”
  • May 16, 2016: “Let faith be your compass.”
  • May 17, 2016: “Take joy in the successes, and take heart in the failures, but remember that, ultimately, the only worthwhile validation emanates from within.”

5. To Wrestle with Insecurities

  • March 28, 2016: “Sometimes I feel like a horrible person. I’m so flawed, so far from where I want to be.”
  • March 28, 2016: “I try hard…but I still fall short…”
  • March 29, 2016: “I’m scared I’m not good enough.”

6. To Accept and Embrace Flaws

  • February 23, 2016: “[C]onformity is too often a prerequisite of acceptance—but it is the soul under the labels I have to live with.”
  • July 4, 2016: “I want to be accepted for the person I am, not molded into the person they wish I were.”
  • July 4, 2016: “I hope the world knows I try to be a good person: I have good intentions, a good heart.”

7. To Find a Purpose

  • January 19, 2016: “Maybe I’ll make a difference to somebody, somewhere. That’s the dream.”
  • February 21, 2016: “…I owe it to the world to be the answer to someone else’s prayer.”
  • March 9, 2016: “…I didn’t want to take a passive role in my own life.”

8. To Gain Perspective

  • April 4, 2016: “God always aligns the constellations just right.”
  • May 22, 2016: “[I]n the toughest moments…I was listening hardest for the voice of God…”
  • June 23, 2016: “I learned that…people are good…”

9. To Seek Answers

  • March 2, 2016: “God will stay with me, and I’ll be okay.”
  • March 20, 2016: “I have to remember that God has a plan, and He will take care of me…He gave me a heart to reach out to others. I can do this.”
  • May 6, 2016: “[I] kept praying that God would make it happen the way it was supposed to happen.”

10. To Be Grateful

  • January 11, 2016: “I thank God for memories every night—and for the people I made them with.”
  • April 2, 2016: “It is so wonderful to have someone to call a best friend, someone to open my heart to.”
  • April 17, 2016: “I am…blessed to be around people who love me.”

While I hope you enjoyed reading the reality I strived to etch on paper, I also invite you to write your own story—and, word by word, build a life you are proud to live.

Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment
Jul 19

Poem: As Long As I Have a Heartbeat

By Allison Stein

To write is to etch on paper the song of my heart. I would like to share a poem that reminds me to sing the lyrics without fear:

As Long As I Have a Heartbeat

Your words wash over me
The way rivers erode lonely stones
Till they're broken.

Frozen waves of your blindness
Suppress my languid spirit,
Paralyze the music of my pulse.

Your shortsightedness is the current
Pulling me away from my dreams,
Forcing me under an icy ocean of fear.

The salty sting of your insults
Breaks down my tenacity,
Extinguishes dying flames of courage.

Have you forgotten that I am a fighter?

Jaw clenched, I refuse to drown:
As long as I have a heartbeat,
My soul has a song.

 

Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
May 09

Only One Heart

By Allison Stein

I scarcely believed the reverberating sound, the cascade of words crashing against each other, belonged to me. That voice—unfiltered, uninhibited—emanated straight from my heart. I had escaped my own smothering silhouette and embodied a courage too long intangible: Finally, finally, I was free. I dreamt of crystallizing time, freezing that liberating moment, forever encapsulating the adrenaline.

As the cadence of my poem fell from my tongue, I savored the buoyancy of my spirit, the sensation of swimming: For a single second, I was unhindered by weight and untouched by fear. My lithe body—my lithe soul—had molded to the undulating waves of ecstasy, and I was flying.

Letting the audience see the stark vulnerability of burning dreams concealed under my skin, I felt a veil lifted from my face, felt as if I were taking my first breath. The final line floated from my throat before I remembered to be afraid. Only then did I realize what was at stake, the chance I had taken. Only then did I shift uncomfortably into the silhouette of my old self—the way children force their feet inside the favorite shoes they outgrew last year. Again small and powerless, I lowered my head. How could anyone have grasped any meaning or faith or truth from the rudimentary work of an emerging poet? How could I have penetrated the walls of so many spirits? I was losing the battle I had invested my life in—a whole world of judgment against only one heart.

An unfamiliar voice broke through my doubt. Two words: “Don’t quit.”

This stranger etched in my mind a dream, a drive. With only the compass of my conscience for direction, I depend on those who remind me that the needle is pointing me to the right path. Opening imagination and soul, I pray for the tenacity to embrace the trail guiding me to a greater purpose, the strength to believe I am here for a reason.

Like that empathetic man, we need to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. We need to be strong for people—even if we never know their names. Over a year later, I hold his message in retrospect as a moment wrapped in the package of memory. The voice of one person has inspired me to amplify the whisper of love in this world.

“Don’t quit.” Of all the strangers we pass in a day, how many have needed to hear those words? Yes, we each have only one heart to reach into, but we can reach out to so many more.

Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment
Mar 10

Poem: Unravel

By Allison Stein

Too often, I filter my soul. In my quest for acceptance—my fight for exterior approval—I forget that conformity is not synonymous with happiness.

Poetry is a chance to step outside of this material world, to let go of superficial labels. Writing is an escape, an oasis. Words are my liberation.

My greatest dream is to write—to etch my heart on someone else’s. I want to create work that encapsulates the white-hot elixir of adrenaline, that reminds people to feel. I want readers to listen, but even more, I want them to be heard.

Writing means reaching out for a hand I can’t see, taking a trust fall. It means opening up the crevices of my spirit and letting strangers inside. It means being vulnerable, being honest. I have to feel: I have to unravel.

Unravel

My soul is a tenuous branch braving wintertime,
Snapping under the weight of expectations.

I'm old enough now, they tell me,
To fight my own fight,

Yet I'm too young to know the chorus
Of my own heartbeat.

Each second splits into a new crossroads:
Surrender or fight,

Conceal or reveal,
Defy or believe.

I'm supposed to unearth answers—
Tie my world together—

When all I want
Is to unfold this tapestry of good intentions,

To let my heartstrings
Unravel.
Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
Jan 11

The Whisper in My Heart

By Allison Stein

We spend years searching for the answers encoded in our own consciences. In the whirlwind and whiplash of busy lives—in the scream of preoccupied minds and hollow heartbeats—we forget to listen to the whispers.

I used to imagine the future as a black hole swallowing shooting stars, suppressing their iridescent beauty. I used to succumb to the poignant doubt that suffocates every dreamer: Success is never a promise. What if our work doesn’t resonate with others? What if the hope we’ve tied our spirits to disintegrates as we strive to make a difference? In such a precarious world, how can we be expected to develop polished plans?

Here’s what I’ve learned: We can’t.

Our responsibility is not to invent possibilities but to trust the potential our lives already hold—to embrace the futures already engraved on our souls.

This liberating faith first washed over me years ago at a cousin’s eighth-grade graduation Mass. I can still hear the priest’s voice reverberating over the congregation: “Be what God meant for you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” His message sounded so raw, so genuine. I asked myself a question I never knew I had: Why shouldn’t I be fearless when God was on my side?

A cascade of revelations poured through my veins. Why had I wasted so much time fantasizing about earning the faraway title “writer”? Didn’t I seek to bring dimension to the silhouettes of human lives, to illuminate the darkness of fear, to rekindle the fire of love? Didn’t that quest alone make me a writer?

It certainly did. It certainly does.

I am a writer because the joy of connecting words—and lives—makes me whole. Amplifying the whispers we overlook in the blurred mosaics of our superficial selves, I extend my outreach to strangers. The compassion at the core of every dream is a gift from God—and I, therefore, owe it to the world to capture each moment through the kaleidoscope of poetry.

No, I don’t need to devise a blueprint of my future; I just need to excavate the truths buried under my own skin. The only compass I depend on is the whisper in my heart.

 

Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment
Dec 27

Short Story: What Do I Have Left?

By Allison Stein

I hope this short story inspires you to find faith in yourself. Enjoy!

 

What Do I Have Left?

 

Moonlight flickers between cornstalks like the wispy dress of a ghost. I clench my jaw and refuse to be afraid.

Aunt Ashley always tells me I have an overactive imagination. She says so spitefully, as if she is jealous that I can see galaxies she is blind to. I hate the way she brushes off my fear and recites her personal mantra, “Live for the moment.” That’s easy for her to say. She isn’t haunted by the past; she can’t hear the reverberations that torture my memory.

I cringe as suppressed grudges resurface. I imagine the lucid waters of my father’s eyes, the way they sparkled back when he used to smile. How could he give up on me? During the most vulnerable moments of my life, only days after my mother slipped out of this world and into another, he hugged me one last time. “I can’t hold on anymore,” he whispered. Whenever his words wash over me, I have to fight not to drown.

Blinking away tears, I force myself to revel in the music of rustling corn husks. The rhythm reminds me of footsteps. “Maybe that customer’s around here,” I mutter to the numbing wind. “Maybe I’ll find that lost man Aunt Ashley sent me to find, and I can stop working at the corn maze for the day, and she can stop worrying about that muffled voicemail on the company phone.”

Before I dare listen for the wind’s response, a shooting star ignites the iridescence of nightfall. I scarcely notice: The days of turning wishes to reality are gone. In fact, I don’t so much as look up at the radiant constellations until my flashlight dims—the batteries dying at last—and I discover myself buried under suffocating darkness.

Suddenly, all that matters is the cadence of my breathing: All that matters is getting out. Propelled by legs moving faster than my mind, I round the corner and pray for an escape.

Dead end.

His arm brushes mine, and I am paralyzed with fear. A burgundy scarf shields his eyes and mouth. His face looks as hard as my heart.

“Y-You’re lost.” The words are stuck in my throat. “You’re the one who sent the voicemail asking for help.”

He manages a wry smile. “I’m no more lost than you are.”

Slowly, my heartbeat steadies. I scrutinize the cowering man in front of me. His wrinkled hands are stained with loneliness. He’s human, too.

As soon as he sees the terror drain from my face, the man steps closer. Together, we watch portals of moonbeams melt into the amber ground. No longer am I afraid. This stranger’s raspy tone gives a voice to my silenced soul.

All at once, I feel his stare bore into my mind. “How have your parents been?” he asks guiltily.

I swallow hard. “I like to think they’re happier than I am.”

He puts his hand on my shoulder. His jacket smells like the lemon-scented detergent Mom always used. As I struggle to keep my eyes from welling up, the customer’s gaze once again penetrates the boundaries of my memory. “How long’s your mom been gone now?”

I choke on my own response. How can this stranger know the secret I have so closely guarded? Instinct tells me to run, but under my angry disbelief, I am relieved that someone understands, that someone tastes the melancholy entangled in my heartstrings. Reluctantly, I let him know that it’s been 3 years—but it feels like 30.

The man nods in empathy. “And your dad? Where is he these days?”

I shrug. “He wanted to get out. He’s in Europe for all I know.”

“So far away?”

“He told me he needed to find a purpose,” I reply briskly. “I guess I wasn’t enough.”

The man looks down. “He couldn’t hold on anymore, huh?”

Goosebumps blemish my skin. I fumble with words. Fighting to grasp my old composure, I have no time to brace myself for the stranger’s confession.

His voice is crisp and callous. “I shouldn’t have asked you those questions,” he tells me. “I already knew the answers. You see, I’ve been keeping in touch with your father.”

Helplessness is replaced with hope. “Where is he?” I can’t help asking. “Does he miss me?”

“He would have to be a cold man not to miss you,” the stranger replies. The way he speaks under his breath, I wonder whether he is answering me or communicating with some invisible ghost of another world. I watch as a strange calmness spreads over his face. “Come on,” he says. “We need to get out now.”

Following his conscience like a compass, he maneuvers through the maze—left, right, right, left, right—in the effortless rhythm only a seasoned navigator could champion.

“A-Aren’t you supposed to be lost?” I barely manage to spit the fearful words out.

Ignoring me, the stranger walks with his head down and his steps measured—as if he is under a spell.

“Tell me what’s happening,” I plead. “Tell me what’s going to happen.”

The stranger shakes his head. “You don’t need to know. You just need to believe.”

He is mocking me, I decide; he must be mocking me. Never have I been so indignant. The bitter question comes crashing out: “What do I have left to believe in?”

“Yourself.” His faith echoes over the shadows of midnight. “Believe in yourself.” With that, the man turns away, looks up to the blanket of nightfall sheltering us. The minute he winks at the skyline, a second shooting star steals my breath. “What are you waiting for?” he asks. “Aren’t you going to make a wish?”

Still wrestling for words, I can only watch as the stranger unties the scarf hiding his face and reveals the crystal constellations glistening in his periwinkle eyes. I never knew how much I missed my father’s smile, the way his dimples crease, the way his breath freezes in the autumn air as he tells me he loves me.

Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment
Oct 10

What It Takes

By Allison Stein

When a thought captivates my mind, it dominates the very cadence of my heartbeat.

Take the summer of 2012. In those pivotal moments, I promised myself that I had the stamina to publish a book. Although I ultimately championed impregnable faith, reverberations of fear reminded me that my dream was a mere delusion: I had no idea what it took to be a writer. All I knew was that nobody could hear the suppressed emotions incessantly screaming inside me—the muffled words pounding through my chest—and writing made people listen. If I was a prisoner to self-doubt, words were my liberation. Poetry gave me a voice.

But what if destiny silenced my voice? The minute I sat down with my unpolished manuscript, I realized how awkward I felt holding a red pen and telling myself that my amateur work was worth revision. Still, I persisted. Flipping through The Chicago Manual of Style in pursuit of a grammatical epiphany felt so right. I could not help believing that my life had just begun.

As I scrutinized the draft, however, insecurities became entangled in the intricate tapestry of my heartstrings. Was my poetry resonant enough to reach an audience? Suddenly, my soul felt cold. How could someone like me even imagine possessing the magical touch of an author? All I had were a borrowed three-ring binder, enough trust to take the road less traveled, and my stubborn drive to make a difference.

***

Three years later, I treasure a binder of my own. With two poetry collections and an editing position for an online magazine, I have become familiar with the road less traveled. I cherish the blessings of friends and mentors who have changed my life, and I pray that I, too, have rekindled others’ dormant hope.

This journey has been challenging but enriching: I have learned to take chances I would never trade for the security of my comfort zone. Because these risks have led to unexplored—and enriching—avenues, I have relished unforgettable memories, iridescent dreams, and newfound discoveries of what it takes to be a writer:

  • Writing takes courage. Before the release of my first book, publication petrified me. Consumed by the vulnerability inevitable in revealing secrets to strangers, I almost forgot that dreams are worth the fear; paralyzed by the prospect of turning wishes to reality, I was scared that I was going to get hurt. Luckily, my shortsighted mindset faded as I submerged myself in the immersive endeavor of sharing my work with the world. Even though I did get hurt sometimes, those experiences are gems: They have taught me how strong I am.
  • Writing takes faith. Doubt pulsed through my veins. What if my all-encompassing goal was only a silhouette of my overactive imagination? What if this breathing, palpitating dream—this vision that loomed beyond the scope of tangibility—was as fickle as a mirage? Although the battle of convincing my community that I had the passion and perseverance to become a writer was daunting, the harder-won victory was the moment I convinced myself.
  • Writing takes love. What if readers cannot connect with the poetry I know as well as my heartbeat? What if no one listens? The worries were relentless; worse, I struggled to offer myself any consolation, for I recognized the merit of my fears. After excavating the insights of two chapbooks, however, I wish I had the opportunity to empower my past self with truth. This is the promise I would make to her: “Words set souls free. Even if you never get to revel in the privilege of publication, the ecstasy of creating each draft—of watching each silhouette of your manuscript emerge in more lucid intensity—will be beautiful and breathtaking in itself. Be brave.”
Posted in Allison Stein's Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment