Real valentines: Writing from the heart


Berkshire Eagle

LENOX -- Ask Grace Rossman to think about love, this time of year, and she thinks about Tai Chi.

She has studied movement, dance and yoga in many ways over the years. She has found it healing to move naturally to music. In fact, she hopes to teach her fellow students at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington. But at Simon's Rock she has had the chance to learn movement in a new way.

She took a course on Taoism that led her to read sacred texts and to practice Tai Chi regularly, through the semester. She could practice the movement and the philosophy. Stretching her mind and body together gave her a deep appreciation for the rhythm and the exercise.

When she thinks of love, she thinks of that kind of understanding.

She will talk about her experiences tonight at 6, at the Mount, with five women at different times of life, in "Writing from the Heart" -- an evening of storytelling with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.

They have come together at the invitation of Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, professor of comparative literature and media studies at Bard College at Simon's Rock, and a prime mover in the festival.

She has gone looking for a range of writers from a rnage of ages and backgrounds: a novelist, an interfaith minister, a former law assistant, a teacher, a woman caring for her elderly mother, a college student making contact with people from other parts of the world.

She invited Betsy McTiernan, a retired professor and current tutor for Simon's Rock international students, to join the evening after running into her one day. In response to a casual greeting, McTiernan began to talk about her mother, now in her 90s and in a nursing home, and about what she saw there, and the conversation moved them both near tears.

"I'm interested in heart-felt writing," Browdy said. "No gimmicks. No trends. What people hold in their hearts and don't share. It can be a little dangerous. I spent a lot of time in my youth not writing about what was important to me, because I was afraid to express it."

She felt that too often, women were not writing about what they wanted to write about, said Kelsey Mullen, education and public programs coordinator at the Mount.

That they felt no one would be interested in their stories of family, birth, death, love. They didn't want to be considered trivial.

So Browdy has assembled a group of six women to share their own stories on the theme of love.

This evening will be Browdy's second event in this form, and she hopes to make it an annual ritual around Valentine's Day.

At the first gathering, in September, women talked about losing their parents, sending their children off to college, and falling in love after the death of a partner.

"It was an emotionally shattering evening," Mullen said.

These women she didn't know opened a window into their lives, and she recalled her own memories of closeness.

Tonight, six new women will gather to talk about love -- in whatever way they want to think about and define it.

She has given "people something as wide as the sky and allowed them to narrow it down," Mullen said

They want to counter frustration with the cheapness of Valentine's Day and give some depth to a flimsy holiday, Mullen said. Whether you're single or coupled, it can be powerful to take time to talk about the most meaningful times.

They want to talk about love, a connection between people, beyond chocolate wrappers and advertisements: a love that comes from knowing.

"It's easy to idolize something you don't fully understand," Rossman said, "but that isn't real love. It's not real, period. It's difficult to realize that it's not real, because the feelings are strong. It's like infatuation -- it doesn't have much substance. Until you take the time to get to know the full person, you're not really connecting and having a full experience.

"If you're ‘in love' with another person in that fan-girlish kind of way, they want that attention from you -- it's induced, drawn out of you. What feels like honest emotion is called up. One's always giving, and one's always taking."

Instead, for an evening, six storytellers will give together -- and find love in a prayer, in sitting by someone's bed to hold her hand, in cleaning someone when she's ill, in a practice, or in a dance.

If you go ...

What: Writing from the Heart with the Berkshire Festival
of Women Writers

Where: The Mount,
2 Plunkett St., Lenox

When: 6 postponed to tonight, Feb. 20

Admission: Free

Information: (413) 551-5100 or


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