by Amy Oestreicher

Amy Oestreicher B&W 2006

My grandmother passed away while I was in a coma and it pained me deeply that I would never see her again.  My mother and I often searched for her spirit in the many seagulls that flew around our tiny house by the water.  We would pray to any seagull we saw, feeling my grandmother’s presence in their glorious flight.  The seagulls helped us believe in miracles, that things would get better, and that my grandmother was still with us, watching over us all in loving protection.  It made us feel less afraid of what the uncertain future would bring us at a time when it was hard to keep believing in anything.

Years later in November 2012, I had to have another surgery.  What was supposed to be minimally invasive turned into three emergency surgeries within a week, and a few more months stuck in the hospital unable to eat or drink.  When finally discharged, I was discouraged and depressed.  I felt lonely, like I had lost all connection to the outside world once again.  With a gaping wound that has not healed to this day, all my physical strength depleted, and no road map for recovery, I was too tired to be the feisty and fearless warrior that had enabled me to not only to survive, but to thrive.

One day, a girl named Sara called my mother.  She very assertively stated, “I just moved here from the city and I don’t know anyone.  I grew up with Amy and I’d love to get together.”  Still wearing hospital pajamas and barely able to get out of bed, I was in no mood for company.  But I reluctantly agreed.  Sara popped right over and casually mentioned that she had met her boyfriend online.  I thought nothing of it.

A month later, when I could no longer stand my loneliness or my medical situation, I decided to tell myself “I’m healthy enough” and make my first online dating profile ever – in fact, I had never had even a casual boyfriend my entire life!  I used the same mentality that had helped me endure everything else:  If you act healthy, you’ll feel healthy.

That day, a man named Brandon sent me a message.  By the end of that day we were writing novels back and forth to each other – I couldn’t believe how scarily alike we were.  We had all the same likes and dislikes, we had visited all of the same places, had the same exact values and family memories, and the same quirky sense of humor!  He made me feel like a person again and to realize who I was before the medical ordeal – who I still am.  I was so ashamed of the terrible shape I was in after these surgeries that I tried to put off meeting in person – but we did meet…a week later.

Since meeting in March 2013, we were inseparable.  I had not felt joy and life within me like this since before I got sick.  After so many surgeries, invasions and setbacks, it was hard to feel normal, human, or even real.  It was actually hard to know what feeling felt like anymore from all the numb years of being forced to deny my starving body food or water, while nutritional IVs mechanically streamed through my veins.  Now, love flowed through me instead – for the first time.

Brandon put me back in touch with me, my vitality, my spunk, my hunger for life.  Fast forward through countless hours of stream of consciousness discussions on any topic under the sun, hikes, grocery store strolls (our favorite date night!) dinners, escapades, and everything else, Brandon proposed to me that July ’13  during our visit to his family back in Arizona.  And now I’m planning my wedding for June 2015, while in college and doing my one-woman autobiographical show!

My grandmother always told me she would dance at my wedding.  And I feel her spirit guiding me more than anything – I don’t need a seagull to know that!  She was there as I twirled around in the first wedding dress I tried on, and she’ll be there as I declare my vows under the chuppah made of her own lace.  The miracle is learning that she has been with me all along, watching over me and ensuring that not only did I keep my body alive, but my spirit, my will, and my heart.  She is the music as we dance, the food that will warm my newly fashioned digestive system, and my guidance into the unknown world of married life.  And every now and then as I walk out of the new house that Brandon and I own together and will spend the rest of our married lives in, I sometimes see a seagull soaring over my head.


Amy Oestreicher is a 27 year old actress, musician, teacher, composer, dancer, writer, artist, yogi, foodie, and general lover of life.  In 2012, she wrote and starred in “Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast” – a one-woman musical about her unique journey. After being nominated for a Broadway World Award for “Best Cabaret Debut”, she reprised her show the following year at Stage 72 (NYC), The Bijou Theatre (CT) and Barrington Stage Company (MA) as part of William Finn’s Cabaret Series.  A mixed media and acrylic artist with work currently displayed and for sale in various venues, Amy is currently studying performance, visual arts and playwriting at Hampshire College.  She prides herself of ending every night with a list of what she’s grateful for.  Watch a clip of Amy’s work here.

Perspective and Truth


Acrylic on wood board.  Seema Reza 2014

Acrylic on wood board. Seema Reza 2014

by Seema Reza

In her essay, “When We Dead Awaken” Adrienne Rich writes, “Our struggles can have meaning and our privileges–however precarious under patriarchy–can be justified only if they can help to change the lives of women whose gifts–and whose very being–continue to be thwarted by silence.”

I’ve been reading Rich’s collection of essays, “Arts of the Possible” for the past week.  I believe it is important for me, as a TLA Facilitator, to not only read great writing but to read great writing about writing.  Some of it can be pretty dense and exhausting, but understanding and weighing various theories about art making and the role of art in society is integral to continue to renew and deepen my passion for my work.  It is how I keep alive the sense of purpose as I stand in room after room to encourage (sometimes unwilling) people to write, to give their experiences voice.  Rich acknowledges the privilege of having her voice heard–one that we sometimes take for granted.  Even if we work for it, hustle for it, sacrifice for the time to hone our craft–it is a privilege to sit with the page.  We have access to literacy and language, a computer and the Internet so that we can put our words out there, submit them to journals, publish them on our blogs.  As TLA facilitators, we try to pass this privilege on, because we know what being heard can do for an individual.  We like to see people grow.  But sometimes, even with the luck I’ve had in finding platforms for my words, I experience something that reminds me of the early thrill of voice–the terror and the courage and the validation, the deep exhale that leaves the body alongside a secret.

Yesterday a very personal essay of mine was published on Full Grown People.  I was so honored to have it published, but terrified also, to be so vulnerable on the Internet (the WORLD WIDE web, if you will).  But with privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility to go to the places that are scariest for us and confront them.  Next week we’ll have a post about love and overcoming illness and hospitalization through story.  Check back.



SEEMA REZA is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, D.C., where she coordinates and facilitates a unique hospital arts program that encourages the use of the  arts as a tool for narration, self-care, and socialization among a military population  struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her work has appeared The Beltway Quarterly, HerKind, Duende, Pithead Chapel, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. When the World Breaks Open, her first collection of essays, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press.  She is a TLA Network Council-Member-at-Large & Curator of the TLA Blog.