Tag Archives: Living Chapters

Now is the time… to accept

The one way to move forward is to look at how we have moved backward and stop making the same decisions.

It is now the time to really decide if we want to retrace our steps, or take a chance and evolve if we no longer desire to digress.

Now is the time to stop looking around and blaming the world for what goes around.     Now is the time to just look deep inside and find your answers and cleanse your own mind.

It is not time to look at how others are reenacting. It is time to take a step forward, not backward and check your own reacting. Let us not make a mistake and look to the other to try to make things better for ourselves not each other.

It is not the time to give and it is not the time to take. It is the time to merge into each other – a tight-knit fabric we will create. It will endure if we are willing to let go of what is “right or wrong”.  It will give and protect each one of us, if we accept harmony (the highs and lows) in this song.

We are not here to make judgments, we are not here to set others’ rules. We are here to hold our own boundaries and create synergetic tools that are used to work with each other and not to fight against.

We are here to live freely in acceptance not to denounce or to repent.

It is not the time to give anger and it is not the time to give hate.  It is not the time to bring ourselves to a place of hierarchy and not the time to debate.

It is time to release history and let the same old story go. It is time to bring a new kind of light into this never-ending dramatic show.

It is time to really give one’s own energy and put the effort in.  Let us make and create a story that would bring out love, not the need to win.

It is not that complicated and it is not that difficult. Just take a quiet step back and listen to your own mouth as it can do most of the work.

Our mouths are the tools that are leading us here and often taking us there.  Our words are the vehicles that navigate us wisely or into danger without care.

We have the ability and opportunity, each day to begin and to start fresh. Yet we continuously return to what we’ve been told and what our egos tell us that is best.

We go back to the place where we are hurting on the inside when we lash out at the other. There is no filter that we keep when even when it comes to our own friends and lovers.

We tell ourselves that we are not the ones, who are guilty and don’t look back. When we finally are forced to, it is often ourselves that we do find the lack.

It is time now to begin and it is time now that we remain.  It is time for the end of the fighting, the release of judgment and acceptance to begin to reign.


Being me – my greatest accomplishment

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Did you ever feel as if you were about to explode with an extreme amount of energy held inside? Are you waiting to burst forth to begin the day or to start a new project? Maybe you feel you are going to break apart at the seams wanting to do something or be something that you feel strongly about yet… you hold back.  Do you feel tied to what you are currently doing or the identity you currently project? Well in the past few years this has been my M.O.  It seems a slow progression but I am and have been moving with consistent change and great fortitude – away from a former definition of who I was and toward a new rendition of me or as I call it an upgrade.

In 2011 I left my home of Baltimore City. With that move, I left behind a community I was deeply engaged with, a series of jobs and many relationships that I had been identifying myself with. All of which was wonderful at the time but became more a box to live within rather than a space to grow from. Since then, I’ve spent much time untangling from this former life, deciphering what is important to hold on to and what to let go of. Free from any fixed community, job, or home I’ve moved fluidly and freely, stripping away pieces of the past life I created. Much like participating in a detox, focusing on taking in the healthiest aspects only I have systematically worked to release patterns and ideas that were no longer serving me. Could I recognize details and facets of my inner self while balancing external obligations and expectations? This essentially was and still is the core goal of the Living Chapters experiment that I am still exploring and attempting to understand.

What I do understand though, is that it seems each year we try to out do ourselves. We compare our conquests and achievements as if they are the measurement of life’s success. “Did we make enough money? Did we make the right friends? Go to new places? Have enough fun?” What did we accomplish? And is there a way to prove it or show it off?

There are many things that we can all be proud of in our lives. We can all point to things we have done, have said or relationships that we maintain and develop. We can own many things and go to many places. Some people call this a list of goals or a bucket list. Others claim that these things are what make them unique individuals. Like the rest of us, I have done this too, comparing one year to the last looking back and keeping track. Not a bad thing to do really. We should recognize and share our core talents and skills. It’s called a resume! Heck I made a whole website that acted as my master accomplishment list. Yet I realize now, only two years after creating it, that this list no longer defines me as a person. It is simply a list of my external accomplishments and I need to stop identifying myself by pointing to it alone.

In this past year, I stepped away from building on this list and started developing lines on my internal resume. I am looking beyond my work, belongings or relationships as an indicator of my self-worth. I am looking outside of the accomplished tasks or my productivity of what “got done” as a way to measure my success. The first year of Living Chapters focused my ‘to do’ list internally but still operated on the “checking off the list” mentality. It did however provide a great tool to monitor external actions while developing internal ideas. My question and desired exploration now is how to learn to accomplish external ideas through internal change and action.  How can one balance and value both internal and external accomplishments?



Still Navigating


“You can not change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight” Jim Rohn

It has been a full year since I lived my every day by the words of a chapter writer. I put my trust and faith in the ones I loved most, I asked my friends and family to offer support and suggestions on how I could become a better person. Living Chapters in its first year was an experiment testing out living in a fluid and flexible way. It challenged me to let go of controlling each step of the journey and asked me to risk stepping outside of my known comfort zone.

In the early days of the experiment, the idea of letting someone else choose my path or make decisions for me seemed foreign or unheard of. The self-created structure of the project was a chosen as a way to pry myself out of my box and try something new. Now, free of the experiment’s rules, I look back and know that following instructions or chapters was not foreign at all. I have followed instructions and guidelines from the time I was born. I’ve been taught to follow rules, stick to the guidebooks and make specific efforts to not push my boundaries too much. This is what we are trained to do our entire lives. “Color inside the lines please and get your gold star!” Without the structure I find myself cravign and creating it in new ways. At first, I almost felt lost without it. What do we do without the recipe, road map or reference manual? We are told that if we follow closely and precisely, we will arrive safely and successfully. And we start to believe that arriving is the best (or only) thing we are destined to do.

I must admit that by the end of my first year of living through intentionally planned chapters, I certainly did not feel as though I arrived anywhere in particular… yet nor did I feel lost or disatisfied. After the experiment, I found myself wandering wide-eyed somewhere in the state of witnessing who I am and recognizing who I was about to become. After spending a year pinpointing my own patterns and following other people’s guidelines, I found where I was aligned and also out of alignment. I kept some of the guidelines that had been given to me and threw away many of the external suggestions. I created my own navigation system not out of any manual but from my own experience. This is what the first year of experimentation gave to me.

During the last twelve months, the real letting go has actually begun. Without the chapters to follow and without my old plan to abide by, I have started living my days allowing the current of life itself to push me along. It’s been a perfect opportunity to test out the navigation tools I acquired. Living independently, I have released my old controlling habits as well as any chapter guidelines.  It’s been a year in which I could have never predicted planned or dreamed up. Most people would call it a transition – the time between stories, the time between chapters – when I was doing this and before I started doing that. I see it not aa a sabbatical but a departure from (what I am calling) my ‘former life’. I am not sure what else you could call it, but for me I am beginning to look at it as less of a transition and more of an adaption to a different way of existing.

It has been a time of many emotions: complete freedom, utter fear, confusion, gratitude and great pleasure. Shifting 180 degrees from living in one kind of pattern – the one of controlling, expecting and planning to a new pattern the one of free fall has been a valuable experience. I don’t find either pattern to be quite balanced but have learned important lessons from both.   I am returning here to the blog to share with you some of the journey from the past year and some ideas of where I might go next.




protagonist(s) parting words


Throughout the duration Living Chapters, I’ve had countless conversations with my extremely patient and nurturing network of friends. Ironically, without this external support, I don’t believe I could have accomplished the amount of inner reflection and personal internal work achieved during this year. Oddly enough out of all the living chapters players and participating friends, it was actually someone I did not know who was able to fully understand and support me through this grueling year of digging in the dirt.  That someone is Shannon Twenter, the only other protagonist that I know living out chapters.

Shannon lives in Boise Idaho and contacted me the second month into Living Chapters requesting to start her own blog based on the “Living Chapters” model. This woman wanted to be a protagonist in her own story of self-development. I could not have been more excited to share the life experiment and compare notes. Read here for Shannon’s description of her Open Book Project . And read below for Shannon’s opinion on what the Living Chapters experience has done for me and for her.

Final Thoughts of Living Chapters AND Open Book Project’s Protagonists: 

Evidence, Beth: I see it in our phone conversations. As we compared our goals of journey at the beginning, we found synchronicity in letting go of control. But there was near scoffing at my larger goals of faith and love being your major outcome goals. It wasn’t in your trajectory at that time. Walking this journey with you, I am not at all surprised to see you explore love and faith as tools of trust. A perceivable change.
Deliberate. That is the power of Living Chapters. And for me, the power of Open Book Project.
In the deliberate focus on logic, environment, personal relationships, existentialism, purpose, and the body/kinesthetic, Beth made change. Change that was already within her and true to her core, but change that asked her to shift largely to explore the unexpected. And though her conclusion is fluid, I observe a result that is palpable and real. A re-alignment and steadfast reminder of her core while a movement, adoption, and commitment to further explanation of the sought shifts.
All in her amazing way of an artist. Who she is.
I, too, have been deliberate in being present with faith, love, purpose, creativity, all thrive not survive themes. And I felt the needed BEAUTIFUL shifts. So grateful for it, it urges me to keep at it in a consistent, lifelong way. As even I feel the value of the shifts and prioritizing my core, my tendency can be to revisit old habits, particularly in times of challenge. I want to instead choose my core and Open Book Project’s beautiful shifts.
Open Book Project’s goal was trust. And it was right. Trust is the key. Open Book Project, and it seems Living Chapters, has urged me to terrifyingly continue to choose and live through trust.
Evidence, Shannon: I love people. I love to understand them. My actions can veer to the opposite. I fear opening to others. The vulnerabilities of rejection or hurt have seemed larger than the benefit. I’ve opened enough to learn that the benefit is vastly worth more than the pain. A simple said or signed ‘I love you’ with sincerity makes the heart float.

– Shannon Twenter

Thank you Shannon! ‘I love you’ for sticking through this with me!

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Pages to learn about the Living Chapter monthly challenges.

one LOVE


“Who is the true, deep down you? The you who you can feel when you are centered and grounded?” This may be a question that you answer through a feeling rather than through words.”

Chapter 11 wild card, Myra Margolin, poses this question in response to the Living Chapters experiment. I agree with Myra, this question may only be answered through feelings rather than words. Could it be possible to describe the deep down essence of who I am without leaning on the surface statements of what I do, what I own, who I am with, or what I consume? Try it. I have been working on this for the past 12 months and have failed to find  words or reason that surpass feeling.

During this year, I have noticed consistent occurrences in which I am completely centered and grounded. In these moments I lose track of time, I’m called to create, engaged in conversation, engulfed by nature, dizzy by dance, and am fully being myself without filter. I lock in – connect and WHOOSH everything else disappears. All worry, fretting, questioning and doubting fall aside. I feel aligned, focused, validated and supported in this place. Here I know that every choice and action I’ve taken allowed this to happen and every effort to stay open and giving has allowed me to recognize it. What is this “it” I am talking about? LOVE of course.

I reflected upon the topic  in Chapter 6 “Interpersonal Relationships”. Reading the French philosopher Luce Irigaray, I got lost in her abstract metaphors and lengthy emotional prose. Maybe I wasn’t fully understanding because I was not yet ready or open to?  Somehow though, by the end of this 12 month story, I have not only come to clear understanding and definition of what Love means for me, but I have also met someone who I believe has helped me redefine my whole concept of Love. Its true, just weeks before reaching my final chapter, I encountered love!

To me love is not a mere romantic attraction or the feeling of being complimented or acknowledged. It is about living honestly, fully being yourself – and sharing it openly. Not only giving, but also receiving what is given. Love lives in the moment of the exchange, letting go of all but trust and faith. It is the dissolving of separation, struggle, fears and doubts. Love is the place I am, when I realize I am one with my environment, I am the melody of the music I dance to, and I am the self created pieces of the puzzle I put together. The feeling of love is the friction and the energy created when reaching the mutual understanding of this exchange. Simultaneously giving while receiving unconditionally and involuntarily.

So how did I come to my defined meaning of this fleeting feeling? It may have something to do with consciously spending the last 12 months of my time focusing and reflecting upon my inner self this year. Who am I? What do I believe? What makes me happy? Through the Living Chapters structure, I gave myself the time, trust and faith that I could only lead to positive change. I gave myself the love and care needed that leads to growth.

My past patterns of giving to and for others before myself are changing. Living Chapters was an effort to become accountable to my friends in preparation of becoming accountable to myself. I created the rules and guidelines in the hopes of forming better habits and having new experiences. I never knew it could also lead to stronger intuition, confidence in my decisions, clarity in my mind, and allowing both open love and romantic love into my life.

And even now, as I find myself in uncertain times, about to make new choices that will re-direct the course of my life. I am feeling centered and grounded. By placing deep trust in myself and all writers participating in the process, I have been led to this place that Myra speaks of. I am ready for anything that will come and will welcome it when it arrives.


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Pages to learn about the Living Chapter monthly challenges.

journey into summer


Walking through Walden’s web…

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

In response to my request for feedback on the Living Chapters year long project, chapter one writer Joe Gallo forwarded this quote to me from Thoreau’s “Walden”. Joe said, “I do think that this is the essence of your adventure – To live deliberately.” He also noted, that the last sentence of this quote is normally cut off when the quote shared. Joe included the last sentence commenting, “I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant except that one has a responsibility to resist resignation as much as possible. But if circumstances make resignation a necessity, let it be a conscious choice – an act –  rather a shoulder-drooping reaction to a sucky situation.”

Joe’s reflection and Thoreau’s quote struck a chord in me. Both describe what I believe to be the two of most profound gifts I received through living out the experiences of the past year. The first, being the strong desire to live a more mindful, intentional and deliberate life. The other gift being my new awareness and ability to meet, address, and accept resistance as an opportunity when necessary.

The Living Chapters structure planned the focus of my path monthly. It relieved me of the question of “what” I was going to do and presented me with the question of “how” was I was going to do it. Taking this time to specifically explore “how to live” has placed me not following Thoreau’s path of desired deliberate living but creating my own path.

Letting go of what I could not control this year, I followed guidelines and accepted suggestions while at the same time conjured my own personal energy and beliefs to breathe life into the written chapters given. This process revealed an alternate and interesting way to live. Day by day, I brought my focus back to the present challenge at hand and felt a shift occur.

Slowly over the months, I noticed the change from directing my life previously through vague instinct, external expectation and available opportunities to directing my choices through a set structure, stronger instinct, internal trust, external loyalty and the exchange of love. It has been a delicate balance between “letting go” of my old patterns while at the same time developing new intentional ones that work for my present life.

“I did not wish to live what was not life,” says Thoreau. It seems a simple desire, but in fact is not an easy thing to do. To live life deliberately cannot be accomplished in 12 months time; it must be put into a daily practice and nourished over a lifetime.

In the defined space and time Living Chapters allowed, I merely began the exploration of self and the understanding of others and our environment. As if I were left out in the woods, I slowly discovered what worked or didn’t work for me in every chapter. With each challenge I took a closer look at what I believed, how I felt and what I was capable of. Setting the themes for chapters, before starting set the intentions for my year. Showing me where and how I wanted to grow and develop.

Each player in Living Chapters pushed and supported me by dictating tasks that illuminated my strengths and addressed my weaknesses. They stretched boundaries and sparked fears challenging me to make and break new habits and banish old patterns. The chapters that fueled my resistance were most beneficial. Through the resistance I began to understand and accept that discomfort and confusion can be the first step to clarity and contentment. Understanding what was holding me back was, for me, the key that is allowing me to move forward.

I will leave you with a couple more quotes from Walden that resonated with me.  Thanks to Joe for bringing me back into the woods this summer.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to learn more about what happens when you live your life through chapters.

chapter eight


Dear Beth,

Alright, so February is about the interpersonal.  I feel like this is your forte – you KNOW how to connect with people.

But let’s try this anyway.  I thought of this, that and the other, but have arrived I think at a very simple month for you  (my favorite discarded idea, by the way, was to ask you to meet a bunch of strangers and throw a party for them!)

Ok, so, a month in two phases:

1.  Listen.  Interact.  Be with the person you’re interacting with – and explore your moment of interaction by knowing that you ARE them.

What??…  so let me be simpler, or try to be.  I would like you, whenever you remember and it comes to mind, when in an interaction with another person, to take an attitude that this person is yourself.  That simple – just think something like “I am listening to myself”, or “This is myself”.

It’s a creative visualization, i guess.  Just thinking that you are who you are with.

You don’t need to go out and look for people to do this with.  Just live your day-to-day, and when it comes to mind, and you’re interacting with someone, just think and hold the attitude – this is myself.

(There might be a reaction against doing this, from within, say if you are in a conflict with the person or something.  See if you can override your personal needs for a time, and allow the identification with someone else to be stronger.)

Do that, and observe it, and let us know how it feels.

2.  Do something about it.  Once you get to mid-month or so, though you can start thinking about this as soon as you want,  take some time to think about what this experience has felt like, and the people who you’ve conducted the ‘experiment’ with.  I mean the people you’ve related to as yourself.

And do something for them!  Go into the experience of ‘being them’ and them being you – and see what you feel there, in terms of something to do for them.  Maybe it isn’t anything at all – maybe you feel they don’t need anything – and that is fine.  Or maybe it’s that they need something specific that you can do.  Do it.  And let us know.

I’ll try to do some of this too.

That’s all Beth!  I hope you have fun with this!  And no pressure to get your head around trying to have a deep or crazy experience that is interpersonal.  Just simply let go and see if it can actually feel like you’re swimming around in yourself…


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

january: writer reflection

IMG_3685photo (1)

By: Ashley Duffalo

I was standing in the golf course opposite my apartment building looking at the traces left behind in the snow. I imagined a scene where all the skiers, sledders and hikers who made these marks were inhabiting the slope together at once, like the foreboding chaos of a  Bruegel painting. This was my first Field Guide excursion into an unknown corner of my new universe—a private country club turned public park over the winter months.

As my mid-month reflection for Living Chapters I thought I’d share some observations I wrote down after my walk taken on Saturday, January 5th. I hope they’ll give you some sense of my new found place and transport you temporarily to St. Paul, Minnesota.


I felt like Alice in Wonderland passing through the gate and climbing up a steep hill into unfamiliar territory. The sun was bright and it was one of those radiant winter days that helps make this season bearable in Minnesota. Needless to say it was cold, even colder than normal with the Polar Vortex on its way. There was not a cloud in the sky, it’s blue was warm and gem like, and the white desert of snow reflected so much light it took a few moments to adjust my eyes.

The first thing I noticed: there were tracks everywhere—bootprints, ski paths, and sled grooves—with the densest overlay on the large hill, the prime sledding spot. Although no one was out playing today I decided to walk away from where the action would normally be found and descended down a series of undulating hills. I came across a partially frozen stream filled with brown autumn leaves that held a perfectly preserved dead frog, floating belly up to expose its pearlescent white skin. Time seemed to stand still here, if it weren’t for the run of water that cascaded from pool to pool to remind me that time and earth are always moving.

The landscape was full of bumps and valleys unlike most of the flattened prairie land around here. WIth the snow cover it was easy to forget that this topography was artificially created to give way to long fairways and challenging par fives. The white underfoot was uneven, sometimes hard enough to  support my weight other times I crunched through the top crust into the powdery stuff below.

The other blue that caught my attention was a cooler, more purplish one, found in the shadows cast by the trees. The silhouettes barely captured the intricacy of the branches. One tree’s veiny bramble brought to mind the delicate outline of flora found in Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de Benci that I had been looking at earlier after reading a passage by Rebecca Solnit, who referenced it in her Field Guide to Getting Lost.

If I were to account for the sounds I heard, a sensory experience that admittedly is less developed for me than the visual experience, I took note of the distant and constant drone of traffic, my own breath and footsteps in the snow, and the wind blowing into my faux fur-lined hood whirling around my ear canal.

If I turned south, the wind was at my back and it was warmer, thus I set off in that direction to climb another hill. My reward at the top was a small igloo, the exterior of which was made hard and glassy-looking from the elements. So much so that it almost appeared to be a permanent structure made of some futuristic material. I sat inside this cozy cave, protected, staring out towards my living room window before heading home.


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

Living Chapters: part two

This January I am turning the page to part two of this year long challenge.  Join me in a new location and in new adventures.

Meet and welcome the new Living Chapters players!


Ashley and me

The Writer
Ashley Duffalo
St. Paul, MN

Theme: The Environment

I’ve been a fan and a friend of Beth’s ever since elementary school when a very special mutual friend by the name of Leah McClimans first introduced us. Although Beth and I were in different school districts and didn’t often see each other throughout the ensuing years, we kept connected and still do during various holidays and over long phone calls (remember long phone calls?!). It was in Glasgow, during our junior year of college when I realized two things about Beth: she is hands-down the best traveling companion I’ve ever known and she’s always game for an adventure. I suppose Living Chapters is proof of that!

In many ways our friendship has always felt like one long, engaging conversation that we keep returning to, despite separations of time and space. No matter how long the gap since we last spoke, we can always pick up where we left off, which I find very reassuring. This photo was taken during our last trip together to Montreal while standing under one of Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes.

About me: I unexpectedly stumbled into my adult life in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a place I’m finally comfortable calling home after 11 years. A big part of my commitment to this sometimes frozen tundra is due to the Walker Art Center, where I’ve been mining the pleasures and pain that come with working with artists and the public at a non-profit contemporary art museum. (Where else could I help produce an opera for dogs or host a butter-making aerobics class?!) When not working, I find great happiness in cooking and hanging out at home with Yoshimi, Bindi and John, my two cats and boyfriend.

I’m super excited to kick off 2014 with Beth via Living Chapters, as she’ll be starting the year setting up shop in St. Croix. I’ve also recently relocated, albeit a shorter less exotic move, from Minneapolis to St. Paul. So it seems like the perfect time for us to reconsider our relationship to place and environment.

Dave Schott

The Wild Card 
Dave Schott
currently in the US often in France and always wandering
Theme: The Environment

Forest firefighter, traveler, farmer, and lover of nature and free open spaces. My free time is filled with outdoor pursuits and hiking, reading, watching documentaries, cooking (while listening to Democracy Now, democracynow.org) and enjoying the company of friends. I have never been one to stay long in one place, enjoying the freedom of new experiences, new people and new places. With this has come a depth of wonderful experiences, realizations, and friends. My dreams are now calling on me to root down so that I can start a more grounded project working with the earth, plants, and perma-culture. This proves to be a serious challenge for one who is used to being on the move……

I grew up in the Baltimore suburbs and left after high school, studying in Appalachia, serving with Americorps in St Louis, chasing wildfires in Washington state, while traveling and WWOOFing in between. Yet always returning every so often to Baltimore to visit family and friends eventually coming upon the budding community of Remington where I encountered many wonderful people starting diverse projects. When I met Beth, she was immersed in her community explorations and I was impressed by her creative inquisitive nature and drive to realize her projects. We would catch up over a bottle of wine and she would tell me about current and future undertakings. When she told me about the idea for living chapters, I knew she was onto something good. I have been asked to be a wild card and am happy to be part of the project. Lately I have been busy scheming up ways to make January 2014 more difficult for her (haha – Just kidding Beth). On the contrary, I hope to be a spark to help kick of 2014 to be one of positive growth, change, and reflection in the next chapter of her life!


539422_10151174038286665_664532003_nThe Writer
Max von Duerckheim
Barnesville, MD

Theme: Interpersonal Relationships

I’m delighted to come on-board for this project as February’s writer!  I’ve known Beth since a few years back when we became acquainted through her work at the Maryland Humanities Council.  Since then, I’ve doggedly shown up in her life wherever the adventures of the last few years have taken her (read: the awesomest untold corners of Maryland; though I have yet to get to all the cool ones she makes it to).  I’m a failed theatre maker and actor and love that I’m able to say that!  Since giving up the good life of making ends almost meet through arts work, I have been living in a shared home in the country of Maryland with my mother and three cats, and taking what delightful work comes my way.  I’m also very good at sitting on porches and keeping in touch with those I love.


The Wild Cards 
Aliza Ess and Lee Widger
Theme: Interpersonal Relationships

We three met in Remington, Baltimore! Beth and Lee were neighborhood friends involved in projects like the creation of GRIA, the Greater Remington Improvement Association. One fateful May, Aliza happened by a party on Huntingdon Ave and overheard Lee talking about his chickens. It was love. They raised chickens, ducks, mini goats, and a garden in Remington over the course of several years. Aliza met Ms. B through Lee and has spent many happy times enjoying Beth’s company, eating muskrat on the Eastern Shore together and seeing her many beautiful homes over the past several years. Lee and Aliza will soon be heading on to new adventures in Kentucky. We look forward to keeping in touch with Beth and seeing her creative energy shine.


Seth 2

The Writer
Seth Fertenbaugh
Dillsburg, PA

Theme: Existential

I am a musician/historian/social worker from Harrisburg, PA.  I spend most of my time attempting to concurrently read a book, watch a movie, and drink coffee while trying to remember something I’ve forgotten.  When I’m not doing these things, I’m writing and recording music with my brother under the name Slobulus.  Songs about Moby Dick, Werner Herzog, and sloths with laser eyes.  None of these ventures are financially rewarding so I do have a day job where my graduate work in history has never once hampered my ability to return an email or fax a report.  Never once.  I’ve also written a treatise on Emma Goldman, which I’m sure is of interest to no one outside of academia except the guy at the NSA who monitors library records.

I’ve known Beth since the early 1990s when we were in chemistry class together.  She gave me a tape of the Violent Femmes, I gave her some poems I wrote and a mix tape.  Since then we have spent most of our friendship exchanging music, making art, watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hanging out in graveyards, photographing in diners, and getting reprimanded by authority.

The Wild Cards 
Alexis Vasilos and Brian Buta
Baltimore, MD

Theme: Existential

Alexis says: My interests in travel and the arts have led me to various places around the globe, perhaps most memorably was Florence, Italy where I spent my time studying the Italian language, painting and sculpting.  I also spent five years in New York City where I attended the New York Academy of Art’s graduate program. When New York eventually lost its shine for me I relocated to Baltimore where I embarked on my teaching career. I have taught art to people of all ages. I have taught 5 year olds how to paint like Jackson Pollock and I have taught 80 year olds how to make crepe paper flowers. Most of the time though, I instruct college students in drawing, painting and design.  In 2011 I pursued another passion of mine, and am now a Certified Yoga Instructor, focusing mainly on restorative and meditative style practices.

I met Beth Barbush after I moved to the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore. From my vantage point in an apartment across the street I would see her out on her porch entertaining a constant cast of characters and I thought to myself, I’d like to know that girl. And lucky for me I not only know her now, but I consider her one of my dearest friends. Once we met we became fast friends and confidants. I am still in awe of her, just as I was from afar and now I know she is even cooler up close. I am very honored to be a part of her Living Chapters project along with my husband Brian Buta. If it wasn’t for Beth and her love for people, Brian and I may never have met and we would not have this wonderful new little person in our lives. We welcomed Lucas James Buta into the world this past June, on Father’s Day.

Brian says: Echoing all that Alexis said above, I’m a huge Beth fan and I’m excited and thankful to play a part in her Living Chapters project.  Shortly after moving to Remington, I met Beth and was quickly recruited, along with the fantastic Jason Reed, to help with Remington Youth Community Radio.  RYCR was a fun, challenging and rewarding experience, and a great way to learn about the neighborhood.  And the immersion into the community eventually led me to meet my wife, Alexis, for which I am most grateful.  I am a music-lover, as a listener, guitar-player and songwriter.  I work at Johns Hopkins as a research manager where I oversee grant programs focused on improving the aging process for older adults and their loved ones.  My most recent role is the best yet: Dad to Lucas, our bright-eyed six-month old son.



The Writer
Dawn Bennett
Alfred, NY
Theme: Body/Kinesthetic

Dawn Bennett is an artist, exhibit designer, and most recently organic grocery store owner.  She and her son Patrick live in a small town in New York. Dawn met Beth while designing a photography exhibit in Baltimore, MD and then later learned they were neighbors when walking by her front porch in Remington, Baltimore. Dawn is inspired by Beth’s ambition and fearless desire for adventure. Dawn knew instantly that they would be
long lasting friends.


The Wild Card 
Howard Shure
Annapolis, MD
Theme: Body/Kinesthetic



-2The Writer
Dena (Barbush) Wentz
Richmond, VA

Theme: Purpose

I have been able to watch Beth grow through a unique lens, one with a familial focus and one of a friend.   When I reflect on some of our memories together, I think of times from our childhood playing, pretending, crafting and celebrating holidays in our Grandparents’s basement passing out Christmas presents and watching our uncles open gag gifts. I also remember the cherished times during holiday dinners chasing after traditions listening to our mothers talk about politics, plans for the future, and careers.  Now, we can remise and talk about our own careers.

I followed my passion into the world of social services and I am now in an arena where I feel that I can develop my talents and interests.  I have to say that I am thankful to be doing what I love.  While that being said, I have not arrived as I am constantly changing, growing, and developing my skills to improve.

I think about how Beth has grown her career and has helped other people grow in the process, including teaching me many lessons along the way.  She helped me to abandon my fears about starting something new.  Had I not listened to her, I would not be where I am today!  She has used her talents to reach the underserved and to change communities one person at a time.  She has sought more than just a job title but to actually find opportunities to do what she loves, enjoys, and is passionate about and she has encouraged me to do the same!   While not always easy, growth and change are welcomed.  So, for all she was, is, and grows to be, I hope that as part of her purpose, in whatever life experience she takes on or job she works in, she will continue to inspire those in her family, friends, and strangers alike.  Lastly, I must say that I am proud to call her cousin and friend.


The Wild Card 
Myra Margolin
Washington, DC
Theme: Purpose

Myra is a community psychologist with a background in filmmaking and community-based media production.  She met Beth a few years ago in Baltimore and they quickly became friends.  She is from Chicago and has lived on both coasts of the country.



The Writer and Confidant
Elizabeth Brady
Savage, MD

Theme: Conclusions

Artist, designer, dog-lover and wanderer with a passion for social experiments, community projects and personal upheaval and change.  Might be described as someone who helps others identify and face the challenges in their lives, while perpetually creating new ones in my own. (Blame it on the Scorpio in my chart)  I am both extrovert and introvert, I like to learn new things, hate snakes, and hope to always have music, creativity, laughter, boxed wine and interesting people in my life.  Beth Barbush has been one of the most interesting to date, constantly challenging perceptions of life, people and permanence.  I think I’ll learn as much about myself in my role as confidant as I will about my friend.

Redefining “having it all”

“You must give up the life you had planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”  – Joseph Campbell

Tomorrow is my 37th birthday, a few days before 2014. I find myself technically homeless sleeping on my mother’s couch. I don’t own a home, I’m not renting an apartment or even  a boat to dwell on at the moment.  I am taking a hiatus from my job and have been working on whittling down my belongings so that they can fit in the back of a pick up truck.  I am unmarried without children and currently not dating. I don’t have a pet or even any plants anymore (I gave them all away including the cactus that was living in my car for a while). My situation may sound bleak to some.  One might ask, “is this what you thought your life would look like at 37?”

I guess I never really thought too much about it. 37? Is there a “should” that life should look like? I had a long-lost friend, now a Living Chapters follower, call me a few weeks ago to ask if my “Living Chapters” project was product of a mid-life crisis. Mid-life already? Really? Well if a quest for self-improvement is the outcome of my mid-life crisis, it seems as though I am handling it pretty well. It may not be unique but creating a blog about life seems a bit better solution than purchasing an overpriced car, starting a fanatic workout routine/diet or getting a really bad oh-so-permanent tattoo. If you’re faced with crisis, of any sort I am always in favor of looking at the root of the problem rather than fixing the surface.

But honestly, no, I can’t say I really thought that I would be in this particular situation at this point in my life.  I guess I was convinced that I would own a home, be married, have 1.5 kids or have a stable substantial full-time job with health benefits. I thought I’d have at least one of these “rites of passage”. I must admit, I had NO IDEA that I would be making decisive choices to not obtain these things and still somehow feel fortunate, content and happy about it.  I was lucky to have an open-minded mother and supportive friends in my life who encouraged and helped me become confidant in my  decision-making.  So yes I have had good fortune on my side but luck has nothing to do with the task of creating your own path. Improvising your life may be rewarding but also takes a lot of work and ingenuity.

Our culture and society (although more progressive than some) has still to this day, left very little room for women to write their own stories from scratch.  From the time I was a little girl, it seems I have been trying to rewrite a pre-written fairy tale that was handed to me at birth telling me how I should look, act or live.  Who knew that improvising these past 37 years would have led me to such a fortunate (and free) place in almost mid-life.  In many ways it’s a pleasant surprise.  I had no idea that at this point, I would be nervous and excited, packing to move to a tropical island, allotting myself time to explore new talents, business ventures and personal growth.  I didn’t think I would be debt free, without regret, with a chance to reinvent my career and daily patterns.  I had no preview of how dynamic and fluid my life could become. Through my twenties and thirties, I have traveled the world, worked voraciously at creative endeavors and gained the most amazing and incredible people in my life. I have never strived toward having “it all” but have worked toward having an authentic and fulfilling existence.  In this past year especially, I have been letting the external ambitions, of what I had thought my life should be, go.  (the thoughts of “I need this job, this person, this trajectory)  These ideas have been difficult to shed but letting go of the expectations has created a new space and place for the potential that I am and will become.

The process of creating and implementing Living Chapters (writing the guidelines for my own script) along with my friends and fellow protagonist, Shannon Twenter, has taught me that letting go and trusting myself and those that I care about brings me closer to the only ambition I hold right now – a calm, more capable, caring and confidant me to take on the upcoming challenges and opportunities.


Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.