Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reflection: Jheri Curls, Jello Shots, and Blue Eye Shadow: From Personal Journal (Random Writings Part 2)

From Personal Journal
June 3, 2005

I am a creative being
A Being that You created
You have unselfishly given me talent
And I am here to showcase it
All in praise of You
You are the spirit within me
You are the driving force
I, Thank You
O, God
I, Thank You

                                                                                  -Sandra Proto

This past Sunday was a glorious day.

Yes, I skipped church but You were right there with me on stage as I read my poetry over the eclectic sounds of the band.  I felt so free. I felt like I was finally home.  It was pure Heaven.  When I finished, I stepped off the stage and walked to my seat.  I noticed a CD next to my bag.  It must have come out when I grabbed my poetry binder.  I forgot what was on the CD because I didn’t label it. I placed it in my CD-Man and skipped through the tracks.  It was a CD of songs for when I rehearsed for the Dance Ministry. Is this a Sign?  I skipped around the CD until I found the track that I needed to hear.  The title track, Thank You,sang in my ears and filled up my heart.  Yes, this was a Sign.  I haven’t Thanked You that day.  I listened and envisioned the movements that had lived in my body but lay dormant now.  My heart fluttering as I paced the dirt land.  I canvassed my surroundings: the band was playing hard and smiling down at the occupied dirt dance floor come alive.  The band and audience seem to be in sync with the music playing in my ears.  Everyone was praising You this Sunday. 

I lifted up my arms and Thanked You.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflection: Excerpt from Promise Me You Won't Go To Beirut Part 3 by George J. Thomas

Available at

Nine years ago, I decided it would be interesting and challenging to paint pictures of some of my bonsais, however, in Chinese style using Xuan (rice) paper, Chinese inks and watercolors. On a visit to London’s China town, I purchased all the materials and instructional books I needed, from a Chinese art supplies shop. Back in Spain, I was dispirited to find it impossible to master the skill of painting in this medium without a teacher.

Nevertheless continuing my interest in oriental arts, I joined a class in Spain, to learn the techniques of ikebana - the stylized minimalist flower arranging art of Japan. Originally designed for Japanese Bushi (warlords) and Samurai (warriors), it is now practiced and appreciated by people the world over. During several visits to London, I had further tuition in the art of ikebana from Tomoko a Japanese woman, a sensei or teacher of the art.

George J.Thomas
To my surprise, I discovered that the ikebana teacher in Spain Kit Nicol was also an expert tutor in Chinese brush painting with more than 30 years’ experience. I then had some professional tuition from her over a period of months and grasped the essentials of the art. My teacher, who only visited Spain for a few months at a time, then returned to England and left me once again to my own devices.

On the internet, I came across the website of the UK based Chinese Brush Painters Society (CBPS). I became a member and was delighted to find that there were online tuition programs offered by several of the most experienced members of the society.

George J.Thomas
Over the course of four years, I had the most brilliant tuition from a very patient teacher - Marion. For example, she would send me by post, a bamboo painting project, with detailed technical instructions and ten copies of famous Chinese paintings of the topic. Then I would produce my attempts at the paintings, take photographs and email them to my tutor. She would do a detailed critique of my work, pointing out the mistakes and where I needed to improve; this sometimes meant producing second attempts.

George J.Thomas
Over the years, I worked through various projects such as, pine trees, landscapes, water, animals, figures, flowers, progressively improving until I eventually had the occasional painting published in the society’s quarterly magazine. Every year there is a competition for paintings to appear in the CBPS calendar, and to date I have had paintings in three years’ calendars. I have sold a few paintings, and participated in several local art exhibitions, but my prime interest is the pleasure of painting rather than having any serious commercial aspirations.

George J.Thomas

By chance one day, I was given a beautiful orchid plant to look after by a friend of my wife. As a keen gardener and bonsai addict, this was a new challenge as I knew nothing about orchids. Many years later I have more or less mastered the art of growing orchids and have quite a respectable collection.

Now the scene is set, all that remains is to stress my memory and try and dredge up long forgotten incidents and people before they disappear forever.


George  J. Thomas is an author/artist
For more information go to:
Originally, from Glasgow, Scotland, my business career enabled me to travel extensively internationally over many years, especially in Europe, Russia, the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Have lived in Saudi Arabia, the British Virgin Islands, Spain and the Czech Republic. Now I live in Xàbia, Spain.

                                                      -George J. Thomas

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflection: Excerpt from Promise Me You Won't Go To Beirut Part 2 by George J. Thomas

Available at

After having had a small stroke whilst working in Prague, and during my recovery period, my secretary and friend Zdenka persuaded me to go along to a major bonsai exhibition, being held in the gardens of one of the many palaces in Prague. I was completely enthralled by the bonsais, some of which were over 150 years old. This started me on my voyage of discovery.  I bought around ten bonsais and the tools, pots and materials which I needed.

 jasmine orange bonsai
(murraya paniculata)

According to the neurologist treating me, my small stroke was incompatible with the stressful business life I was leading, and I ended up retiring at the age of 58. Already having a house in Xàbia, we moved from Prague to Spain in February 1999. However, my bonsai collection did not take kindly to the move from the cold winter of Prague to the heat of an exceptionally warm and dry Spanish winter that year. During the course of the year, progressively all but one of my bonsais died, probably because most of them were species more suited to northern European climes. My only survivor was a jasmine orange (murraya paniculata),which 14 years later is still growing healthily.

Undeterred, I started creating bonsais from scratch, mostly by buying small trees from garden centers, cutting them down drastically and developing them as bonsais. I improved my techniques by joining a local Spanish bonsai club, and today I have around fifty bonsais and am a member of the Asociación Española de Bonsais. But I digress. 

Next Week:   Excerpt from Promise Me You Won’t Go To Beirut! Part 3

Last Week:   Excerpt from Promise Me You Won’t Go To Beirut! Part 1

George  J. Thomas is an author/artist
For more information go to:

Originally, from Glasgow, Scotland, my business career enabled me to travel extensively internationally over many years, especially in Europe, Russia, the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Have lived in Saudi Arabia, the British Virgin Islands, Spain and the Czech Republic. Now I live in Xàbia, Spain.

                                                      -George J. Thomas

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reflection: Excerpt from Promise Me You Won’t Go To Beirut! Part 1 by George J. Thomas

Available at
 As I begin the winter ritual of pruning, wiring, and the general tidying up of my bonsais after their summer growth, I reflect on the size which many of them have reached as they have grown and matured during the many years I have cared for them. Along the way, some of my bonsais have died, afflicted by old age or disease or inclement weather. Some trees have withered, branches covered in lichen mingling with living limbs, aging much like their human counterparts. The deciduous trees have lost their leaves, just as I have lost my hair. This work, and this particular winter have induced in me a certain degree of melancholia, having recently suffered a potentially life threatening illness. At the age of 72, I decided that I should commit to paper my life experiences, for my three children, and to give my eleven grandchildren a record of their grandfather.

This will be an intriguing journey for me, delving into my mind, trying to resuscitate memories of the many and curious incidents in my life, particularly in some of the remoter parts of the world. Out of interest I took the trouble to count the number of countries I have visited during my many years of travelling across the globe and it totalled 67. Apart from Britain, this includes the countries, where I lived for some years, Saudi Arabia, British Virgin Islands, Spain and the Czech Republic.

George J. Thomas running in
the desert in Saudi Arabia (1982)
Due to the nature of my career, and the constant travelling, there was little time to pursue hobbies or other leisure activities, apart from long distance running which I took up in my 30’s after quitting smoking. I became quite addicted to running and clocked up my first marathon (3 hours 22 minutes) at the age of forty. During the period when I was spending a lot of time in Russia, the company sent me on two intensive Russian courses at Birmingham University, then again for an introductory Czech course prior to moving to Prague. However since I retired, these fifteen years have been a period of self-discovery and to my surprise a flourishing of hidden talents. 

George  J. Thomas is an author/artist
For more information go to:

Originally, from Glasgow, Scotland, my business career enabled me to travel extensively internationally over many years, especially in Europe, Russia, the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Have lived in Saudi Arabia, the British Virgin Islands, Spain and the Czech Republic. Now I live in Xàbia, Spain.

                                                      -George J. Thomas

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reflection: My Memories with the Rockaway Artists Alliance by Sandra Proto

This year is the 20th Anniversary of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, an arts organization, which has helped me establish myself as an ‘Artist.’  I joined the organization when it was six years old.  I was not a visual artist—although I studied under artist and Rockaway Artists Alliance member Esther Grillo.  Ms. Grillo was an Art teacher in my high school and one of the art projects I remember her teaching my class was how to draw a clown.  Even though, I think I did a good job at my art projects under Ms. Grillo—I was not that kind of artist.  I was a Literary Artist.  I dabbled in words not paint.  I had learned the term, Literary Artist, when Susan Hartenstein—a board member as well as a writer and artist—spearheaded the movement of incorporating the literary community into the organization.  The Literary Artists would conduct readings of their work (poetry, short stories, and essays) at the opening of the art exhibits as well as host events at Jan’s Restaurant (on Beach 113th St.) and Pier 92 Restaurant. This newly established ‘Literary’ scene enhanced the organization with the aspect of live entertainment.


In 2002, I was asked to be Performance Arts curator for the upcoming summer event, Artfrenzy.  Artfrenzy was a huge borough event sponsored by Queens Council on the Arts and the then Borough President Helen Marshall. Artfrenzy was spread out all over Fort Tilden with different events (including art galleries courtesy of the Rockaway Artists Alliance).  Fort Tilden was chosen because of the growing arts community that was housed there (the Rockaway Theatre Company located next to the Rockaway Artists Alliance had been running for five years).  This was the second time an event with this magnitude was held (the first one I believe was held in Astoria or Jackson Heights).

When I was asked to curate, I was very happy to do so.  I had years of Stage Management experience in professional and community theatre. I was used to coordinating a multitude of people to fit a specific time frame and space.  For Artfrenzy, I scheduled performances of dance, music, theatre, and Open Mics in the T-6 and T-7 art galleries as well as on the Moonstage, an outdoor stage that Jan Nebozenko, board member and Broadway sound engineer, helped to acquire and install.


In the fall of the same year, the Rockaway Artists Alliance had decided to have their own event similar to Artfrenzy but on a smaller scale.  The events would only be in their art galleries and the Moonstage. Once again, I was asked to be the Performance Arts curator.  This time, I scheduled not only music and dance performances, but also went a step further with a video presentation.  ArtSplash had established itself as a ‘Multimedia’ event.
(Top Left) performing with Hudson's Hope(Bottom Left)
 reading of A Harlem Story at ArtSplash 2005 (Right) poem 
Land of Play featured in the Salute to Rockaway art exhibit

Spoken Word, Artist, and Artwork

Going back to what I said about the Rockaway Artists Alliance helping me establish myself as an ‘Artist.’ During the integration of the Literary Artist into the organization, I participated at the art exhibits and other events (including Artfrenzy and ArtSplash 2005) by reading my poetry and short stories.  I kicked it up a notch and had ‘Rock Star’ moments with reciting my poetry while T-7(House band) and Hudson’s Hope played their funky rhythms. I even had my poetry displayed at different exhibits such as Palindrome, Remembering, and Salute to Rockaway.  

I had some memorable moments with the Rockaway Artists Alliance in the past and I know I will continue to.

But right now, I want to wish them a Happy 20th Anniversary and more years to come!

To Learn More about the Rockaway Artists Alliance: 

I will be participating in WordWaves; an evening of inspiration, poetry, comedy, storytelling and song, curated by Victoria Barber this Friday, August 7th The event runs 7pm-10pm.  I will be joined by other artists: Chris Cipollini, making his maiden voyage to the Rockaways. Riding in on theA train, songwriter, NYC Subway Girl aka Cathy Grier will charm us with her folked up blues. Special guest artist and poet Puma Perl brings the East Village home. Comedian Sarah Fearon from Irish American Writers and Artists and a few friends weave unique tales. Lineup includes poets and writers Micheal Kusen, Stephan Barry,Mary Lannon, George C Pizzo, Kathleen Donohoe, Patricia Hannon, Dan Guarino and songwriters John Simonelli, Frank Robbins, Johnny KnoWhere, Jon Kiebon, Brandon Dawson and Jon Rosado.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reflection: Interview with Jacqueline Pitts author of The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang Bangers

For more information about Jacqueline Pitts:
Visit her website at

and Follow her on Twitter: @pitts_wasafa

I met Jacqueline Pitts at a play performance that a mutual friend had directed and produced.  I sat in front of Ms. Pitts and eavesdropped on her conversation (LOL).  She was talking about a book that she had written.  My ears are always perked for anything related to writing or the arts.  Her name struck a bell. I remember seeing her name along with the title of her book on another mutual friend’s Facebook newsfeed.  I turned around after her conversation and asked her was she the author of The Children of Wasafa.  She said that she in fact was.  We shared our relationship with both mutual friends because all of us were connected through Rockaway, Queens.  I was a former resident—and she— a life-long resident of Rockaway.  The friend who play that we attended was a former Deacon at one of the Baptist churches in Rockaway, the friend on Facebook, is a long time friend  Ms. Pitts has known since they were both teenagers and is a Community Activist that I also worked with.

That night, we exchanged contact information and became instant friends who shared our research about the African-Americans in Rockaway. 

Below is my long awaited interview with Ms. Pitts:

What resonates the loudest is the emotional life of the person behind the gun and their apparent disconnect toward the next person.
                                                         From The Children of Wasafa: A Message to Gang Bangers

What sparked your interest in writing The Children of Wasafa?
I was concerned about gang violence in communities of African descent; that is perpetrated by young people who are of African descent, on others who are of African descent.  I am also disturbed about mass incarceration which is fed in some measure by gang violence and the trades attached to it.

In The Children of Wasafa, there are a lot of historical elements woven into the story. How long was your research process?

Most of the historical information used in the story was gathered from life-long study and research done for personal interest and to satisfy academic coursework.  The additional history included in, The Children of Wasafa, I would say was researched and collected over approximately 2 years.

I had mention in my review that you are a “folklorist” and your writing style is one of “storytelling”. Why did you pick this type of writing style as oppose to academia criticism?

In my opinion, one of the best ways to deliver information you want remembered is through storytelling.  Especially when dealing with difficult or serious topics.  Storytelling is like a salve for the brain.  It eases the information through and helps the brain to make synaptic connections…that is, helps to make it all stick.

One of the main themes of The Children of Wasafa is the fact that all three gang members were connected by Wasafa.  And in fact, you are saying that they are family.  What ways as a people we can instill that in our daily lives?

That is a great question!  All humans alive today are Homo sapiens.  We are all cousins because all Homo sapiens are the descendents of one woman and one man:  Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam.  So, it is not if we are all related, but how far back we share a common ancestor (s). 

People who are descendents of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade share common ancestry from the not too distant past because of the capture and recapture of families from the continent and the sustained separation of families and the re-creation of new families after being separated.  The dynamic occurred repeatedly over centuries and made groups of relatives unaware of the other.

A way we can instill family in our daily lives is by using the word cousin in our greetings when appropriate.  Naturally, one would not call an elder cousin, but someone who is within your generation whether you know them or not could be addressed with:  Hello cousin, Good morning cousin, Hi cousin, etc.  May sound simple, but it packs a powerful punch and creates a positive feeling and it reinforces that the person is in fact your cousin!

Since you have worked at Rikers Island and have come across a lot of young men in your life. What are your feelings of the tragedy of Kalief Browder? And how can we help other young men in similar situations?

The young man’s suicide was a tragedy.  I have not verified the media’s account concerning his case, but if it is true his bail was $10,000 for allegedly stealing a backpack and he served 3 years for the allegation prior to the case being dismissed speaks to a host of problems; more than what can be addressed in this interview.  One point I can make is bail is suppose to fit the charge, person’s income, flight risk and ties to the community.  Too many times bail is not set fairly.  Had the bail been such that his family could have paid it…it may have made a difference. 
Note:  Ms. Pitts sent me her response prior to the announcement of NYC to eliminate bail for non-violent suspects.

In The Children of Wasafa, the story is based on gang members in Rockaway, NY, how do you feel about the recent crackdown and also the Rockaway Youth Court that has been established? Do you think having a peer related program will help?

Excluding persons with a biological or physiological challenge, this is my theory: There are criminals and there are those who commit crimes. Although the end result may appear the same, both groups may rob, murder, etc., but the reasons for the acts are different. The criminal has full capacity...this is just what they do. They are thoughtful and plan; and try to get away with what they have done.

The person who commits crimes does them to satisfy emotional needs. In the recent crackdown I would venture to say some gang members fall in the category of he who commits crimes. And subconsciously, some gang members may have wanted to be stopped. It's common knowledge the police patrol social media, why incriminate yourself on it?

Our young people must realize that they are cousins; and cousins hurting cousins, destroys families, communities and feeds the prison system.

I think there is no one strategy that will solve violent or deviant behavior because they happen as a result of multiple factors. But I think youth court is a strategy that may make a difference because young people are greatly influenced by their peers; and any program that assists with looking at negative behavior and processing the reasons behind it may help to change it.

In your eyes, what is the fate of people of color?

The majority of the world’s population is people of color.  If you mean African descent people of the slave trade, I will say I am hopeful.  Our ancestors did not endure for us to fail in the end.

My last question, what are you working on next?

The target audience I most want to reach do not routinely read for pleasure, they are the digital-visual generation.  I am thinking of ways to make a short movie out of The Children of Wasafa.  I have also begun researching the sequel to Wasafa.


In the world right now, we are experiencing relationships with an inkling of peace regressed back to turbulence; we have lost our identity of who we are and adapted to what others think we are (mainly, the media). As a people, we have forgotten our connection to one another. Whether it is in the United States, Dominican Republic, Haiti, or Europe, we have a connection to one another. Ms. Pitts is trying to re-establish our thought process of why and how we are connected.  In my review, I stated, The Children of Wasafa:  A Message to Gang Bangers is story that should not only benefit gang members but the whole African-American community. But, I was mistaken.  It can benefit everyone because we all have one time or another falling asleep and it is time to wake up—Cousins!
Purchase at

You can participate in a Live Facebook Chat with Ms. Pitts and other authors on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 from 8pm-9pm on the Harlem Book Fair's Facebook Page.

Also, Ms. Pitts will be at the Harlem Book Fair on Saturday, July 18, 2015 from 11am-6pm.  Stop by her table.

About Me

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Sandra Proto debut poem at the age of twelve was entitled, The Late Great April, giving homage to the first time it snowed in April. She wrote Late Great April as an English class assignment and her teacher was so impressed by the poem that he tried to get it published. After this experience, Sandra became a "Bedroom Poet" who composed Blackberry Beauty,Light, Compositions, and many others. Blackberry Beauty (her signature poem) was featured in SaSi's Production of Identity @ Space at 24 in 2000. Sandra has performed with the funky, folky, reggae rock band Hudson’s Hope. Her poetry is featured on VAMPIRE LESBIANS and ALL I CAN SEE IS HER EYES tracks of their demo CD. Sandra is also, a fiction writer, playwright, and an essayist.

To learn more go to: