Author Archives: Elizabethhellstern

Ekphrastic Flash Fiction 2


"The Blind Leading the Blind" by Rebecca Slater

“The Blind Leading the Blind” by Rebecca Slater


Pure Science

He says it’s science at its most beautiful, with definitive results every time. It’s beautiful science he says, while wearing his white lab coat. His glasses hold eyes that turn surprised quite easily, and porcupine hair sticks out his head.

But is it comfortable in that…balloon?

The surprised eyes flash at my gaucheness. Wedo not use that word, he says. He says, we prefer the term elium-encased latex womb. The embryo will develop externally, floating above you, and connected to you by this fiberglass cable.

My husband says Darling Dear, look how easy you’ll have it. He licks his wolf-like teeth. You’ve always wanted this! His piercing eyes stab through my reluctance.

Lab Coat and Husband Dear and I tour the breeding grounds. It looks like a county fair
celebration with all the baby balloons floating in the sky. In the cafeteria, there are bloody steak specials, and gleaming knives to cut them. For the celebrants.

In the garden, the pink latex-encased beings bob like bubble-gum balls, or cotton-candy clouds beneath branches that have broken in a recent storm. I worry about the branches. Where is their gardener? Who is weeding and trimming and coaxing new growth?

Nine months go by. I have vicarious food cravings for hard sugar treats. I pull on my candy cane until it’s a Christmas dagger. At night, I dream about wolf-like teeth, biting my foot down to a keen little cuspate. All while my fragile dirigible navigates blowfish fruits, cat’s claws, and
freshly sharpened pencils.

I cradle even my words in pillows.

In the morning, Husband Dear tears his grapefruit from its membrane with the teeth of his spoon.

It is time, he says.

We rap sharply on Porcupine Hair’s door. He blinks in surprise. Oh, you’ve made it this far! He points his finger at my fragile little blimp.

Now what? My Husband Dear asks pointedly.

It’s pure science, he says, with consistent results. Unfortunately, there’s a 100% mortality rate every time we pierce the latex womb. But it’s that purity, that consistency, that makes it
beautiful. Pure Science, he says.

Ekphrastic Flash Fiction 1

Blotterature cover


Life Systems

published in Blotterature Ekphrastic Issue

I was hungry like a battery for his love. He charged me up, like an unbroken orange and teal
horse, painted without restraint by a touched brush-master. I had that painting back home,
hanging on the hearth.

We had plugged in this morning. And again for tea-time, instead of scones and oolong, looking
out at The Blue Marble. The wormhole of time had brought us to 3 p.m. “This is becoming a
self-contained unit,” he thrust into our silent conversation, our bodies’ electricity.

We were running out of calories, oxygen, all the human keys of sustenance.

We saw the apogee of an asteroid like the flow of information from god. Time became
paradoxical, my finger pad touching itself. I was downloading nuance, drinking in the Nommo.

Below us, the 90-year-old yogi kicked into a headstand lotus. The lotus-eaters on earth turned on
their televisions. The radio waves of Ground Control’s last doomed words had subsided to only
gentle swells, and the last of the land’s wild mustangs shook their manes and ran.

During training, when I thought of my man-mate, I always thought of his chest. The warmth of
it, to begin with. And what was inside, I thought of that too. Hints of gravitas.

In space, we save precious matter in a box in his man-chest. To access, I lace golden chest hair
through my fingers, trace three scars with my time-sensitive pads, key in my print codes on the
Golden Triangle of his moles. Then we place gently harvested stray hairs, balling them up into
coils. Nail clippings, dried nose snots, and all other flesh detritus follow into the primordial
slime. I bury them in the strongbox, piling up the flesh of earth like I were burying a sweet little

My man-mate and I have evolved. His heart pumps forth green after green, sprouts of my
freshness from his treasury. We are a living system, self-contained, producing produce in the
dead space of the spaceship, overriding failed mechanical functions with our love battery, god-
flow, and carnal matter. We plug in and the cycle pulses.

We are like the wild horse. We need no one.


Deserving a chance to be understood

This essay I wrote, “Overcoming an Unusual Communication Difficulty” won the William Verville scholarship at Northern Arizona University. I’m sharing it here with my son’s permission, because, as he says “everyone deserves a chance at being understood.”

Overcoming Unusually Challenging Communication Difficulties

The most challenging communication difficulty I have had in my entire life has been daily communication with my 18-year-old son.

Isaac has autism, with speech and language impairment. He did not speak his first words until he was two, and did not speak in complete sentences consistently until he was in elementary school. He takes things very literally and has difficulty with abstract thought. For instance, just two years I accidentally slipped up and said “Please put the milk on the fridge,” instead of “in the fridge.” He took me at my literal word and I found the carton next to the dust bunnies on top.

When Isaac was younger, he couldn’t seem to comprehend my words, or keep track of the sequence of things. I took to drawing visual to-do lists. This included a shopping cart for the grocery store, a book for the library, and a car for the mechanics. I had to do this for every event in the day. Just saying the sounds didn’t make it into his processing system. It was similar to working with a deaf person; he would rarely look up when you called his name. He barely knew what words were, and he would have a hard time transitioning from activities without the visual aides.

We used visual images for many lessons, including “social stories” when Isaac was 7-10 years old. As you can imagine, his social skills were poor. He could barely speak in sentences, and definitely could not communicate his emotions, much less identify them. I would draw cartoons of tough social situations, including situations that required more empathy.

Isaac’s biggest social problem was his inability to tell anything but the truth.

“How do these pants look?” I would ask.

“They kind of make your butt-cheeks look huge,” he responded.

Without protest, I returned those pants immediately. Telling the truth might make you socially awkward, but at least everyone always know where you stand.

Isaac’s psychological diagnosis claims that he is well below average in the working memory category. “Working memory is different than short-and long-term memory because it requires more than simple rote recall, and necessitates that an individual maintain mental flexibility while encoding information into short-term memory,” says his psychological report. This means that Isaac can’t process difficult abstract thought. He can’t remain flexible while problem-solving, or regroup for Plan B at a moment’s notice. To help with this, I try to refer to the past, to something he already knows. We use many strategies of apperception and preparation.

For instance, before we went to parties when he was younger, I would try to explain how I knew these people, and how he was supposed to act. I said, ​“Now this is a Christmas party with lots of adults I work with at the library. Ann is the hostess, and my boss. Make sure you greet her, shake her hand and look her in the eye. She’ll probably want to know where you go to school, what you like to study, and other stuff like that. After you answer questions, you can take your dinosaur books into a quiet spot and read them.”

After the party, I would say “Isaac, it’s not okay to touch someone’s belly, even when it’s very large… And no. She’s not pregnant.”

It also means that our conversations and resolutions aren’t immediate. Isaac’s memory does not fire at the same speed. Sometimes it fires slow, sometimes he jumps way ahead, and sometimes it’s just stuck in a loop, much like a moebius strip. It’s like communication in space; some transmissions get through, some get lost, some take a really long time to arrive. Somedays it’s like a black hole–I don’t think anything will ever surface again.

But with patience and a lot of humor, I’ve raised Isaac to adulthood. I think he’s a reasonably good representation of a responsible young adult. He has his driver’s license, a job at Safeway, and will be studying film through the Coconino Community College to NAU program, living on the NAU campus. He has found a communication medium that resonates with his self-expression. His self-confidence, patience, and good attitude will help him get the extra help he needs.

And most importantly, he has a good heart, and you can’t really teach that from books anyway.


Covering the arts for Flagstaff television: NAU TV’s “Route 66”

I’m a guest host for NAU TV’s “Route 66”, a show about art, culture and community in Northern Arizona. I’ve been covering the art and cultural scene in Flagstaff, AZ for almost 10 years for multi-media outlets such as video, print, and radio. Here’s the latest:

Season 1: Episode 4, Segment 1

Season 1: Episode 4, Segment 2

Season 1: Episode 4, Segment 3

Strange Efficiency Program for Creativity


Post Beam Cube by Ronald Wendell Davis

Post Beam Cube by Ronald Wendell Davis

These are personal rules (as I have downloaded them through time and praxis) of my Strange Efficiency Program for Creativity.
1. My “sullenness” is actually creativity building. I need to make space for it to bloom forth.
2. My writing/creativity/curation comes best when I don’t judge its path or direct it too much and just let it flow.
3. Physical activities (such as 10 burpees or one minute hand-stands) help me transition from passive creative thought to active creative making.

Other guidelines that save me “time and money”:
a. I must write down the lines that come to me as I lie in my warm bed in the cold dark.
b. I am allowed to use my most-recent favorite words and images in my writing. There’s a reason I was attracted to them. Collect them in my book.
c. All those YouTube videos by Alan Watts, the literary research on Maya Angelou, the overheard phrases and quotes from Facebook can guide me too. Anything meaningful has a prioritized place amongst all the other junk that never penetrated.
d. Insomnia is just found writing time.

And finally, I find that these are some of my Rules of Adulthood that use creativity and curiosity to help me live my favorite life.

1. Look up all words that you don’t know. Otherwise you will never learn that “apophatic” is close to “mysticism”, and “mysticism” is the explanatory word you’ve been looking for all your life to describe your spirituality. (Mysticism–system of belief which focuses on a spontaneous or cultivated individual experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception, an experience often unmediated by the structures of traditional organized religion or the conditioned role-playing and learned defensive behavior of the outer man.) To name is to know it.

2. Don’t ever give up, but especially don’t give up when you are at the point of “close but no cigar”. I’ve found that finding things at the thrift store that are close to your perfect find only mean that the ultimate score is just around the corner. If you are looking for the perfect word, or phrase, don’t disregard the ancillary thoughts that come to you. Persistence pays off.

4. Silence is my fertile earth that all good thoughts spring from.

Analog: It Carries the Story


Pinhole Photography by Nancy Spencer at New Mexico Museum of History in Santa Fe

Recently, due to events too complicated to go into here, my son has been relegated to a sans internet, sans texting, and sans phone call lifestyle. At 18 years old, he is at a complete loss.
“How will I look up words in the thesaurus?” “Use the book.” “I don’t know how.”

This is the same son who explained passing notes in class like this: “It’s like texting Mom, except you write on paper.”

Getting him off screens has been a blessing for our connection. He is somehow more accessible, more available to meet my eyes. The energy flow is much different.

I’m the kind of girl that prefers stoves to microwaves, books to kindles, letters to emails, pencils to keyboards, and even (theoretically) typewriters to computers. I prefer mechanical clocks to binary clocks. I keep a journal. I have records and I think that hand-made gifts are the best.

I think the thing I love the most about artwork is when I can sense and see that it was hand-crafted. I remember standing in front of a Frida Kahlo painting at a special exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum in the late 90s. They have some of her pieces in their permanent collection, and I saw them this weekend. I could very clearly imagine and see Frida painting it, her body placed exactly where mine was. I followed her tiny brush strokes and had a kind of psychic thrill and celebrity connection with her. In general, I always know when someone else’s hands touched the piece before my eyes witnessed it, or my curator-hands touched it. I know that someone with soul interpreted their vision into an art piece. And it’s imperfect. It has room and space for hidden meanings, for interpretation, pockets for dreams to hide in. The best pieces of artwork, in my opinion, are like humans walking through a field. The seeds, pods, and brambles get caught on the piece as if it were a cotton pant leg, inviting them to journey along. The artwork becomes a carrier for grains of experience and emotion to fall in new places.


A tree made out of newspapers at SITE Santa Fe.

I’m sure we have all heard this kind of art or experience referred to as “analog”. But when looking up the word, it is mostly defined as “something having analogy (or features, similarities of two things, on which a comparison may be based) with something else.” I think this means that “analogue” artwork is closest to the human experience; it is flawed, mysterious and imperfectly perfect just like humans. The process isn’t controllable and sometimes wonderful, unexpected things are carried through the human process of creation.

Pinhole photography seems to be the most analog of photography. You work with a simple box and a mechanical shutter–you have to develop the film. Focusing, adjusting, manipulating are not parts of the process. There is much room for error, for imperfections. Nancy Spencer understands this. She writes, in the Pinhole Photography exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of History in Santa Fe, “Pinhole photography is the closest medium I know to record both “things seen” and “things unseen.” Sometimes the “things unseen” are intuitively known. The knowledge that “things seen” and “things unseen” might be recorded on film maintains my interest in this type of image making.” (1985)


Donald Judd’s piece at Phoenix Art Museum.

Analog leaves room for the “unseen.” It is not Pure Science with a direct hypothesis; it is not black and white. There is room for interpretation, for the holistic zeitgeist of the experience, for touch and intuition to shine forth. I like this world. It makes my feel like I am surrounded by things that are analogous to me and my imperfect human experience. It seems that the effort of a handwritten poem will carry the reader past the ambiguity of words or turns of phrase. In the case of my son, I feel like I know him a little bit better, as he communicates with his eyes, gestures and words. All of this simple technology leaves more room for the human touch.

Because we understand the analogy of each others human creation process, we can go deeper. Analog picks up these magic pebbles and seedpods and carries our stories further.


Scottsdale, AZ.

Nature of seeing


Santa Fe rosary tree

“After nearly five decades of picture-making, of gazing into the world with no camera at all, I still wonder what I have been looking for. What is the practice of seeing? How is it done and why? These are very large questions, wrapped in mystery and, I suspect, wrapped specially for each of us to find afresh from within our own solitude.” Michael Mideke, photographer, 2004

In a recent lecture, my friend, artist Bruce Aiken sat next to his peers Ed Mell and Shonto Begay and said (to paraphrase) “I don’t know why I can see things that other people can’t see. I don’t know if they could see them if they just tried.”

It’s a question I’ve been grappling with, in various forms, ever since college. I have longed for most passionately to be in the present moment, to really see things. Many people agree that being in the moment involves being ultra aware of our senses and our surroundings. I love being in the moment at the beautiful art exhibits and museums that I visit. But sometimes I’m disappointed with my attention span, and realize that I didn’t concentrate on something and couldn’t recall the picture at all.


Weaving, and getting lost in ribbons of color

“How is seeing done and why?” asks Mideke. Some people focus on the lights, the shapes and textures, or even the figures to be able to “see.” They have extensive color theory knowledge and can differentiate the hues and identify the saturation. I love color fields, and can get lost in them. But ultimately, for me seeing is really and truly activated when my other body systems are contributing to the process.

A great example of this happened over Christmas vacation when I saw “Our Lady of Sorrows” at the New Mexico History Museum. I had walked into the room of the exhibit “Painting the Divine”, and hadn’t noticed her, until I turned around and suddenly she was there. I gasped. My pupils dilated, blood rushed to my face.  She caught me by surprise. Her wig was made from

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows, 18th Century Mexico, unidentified artist. Polychromed wood, wig with human hair.

real human hair, her face had real sorrow etched into the circles under her eyes. She made my head pound. I was so struck by her that I was a little intimidated and had to force myself to breathe slowly. I also had the urge, as I do sometimes, to touch the museum piece (which I would never do, what a faux pas!) and I could feel the textures in my imagination, as I rubbed her various components between my finger pads.

Perhaps you can see why I was so activated from the picture here on the left.

When I’m really looking, actually seeing something in a museum, as I did with Our Lady of Sorrows, I start to notice my heart-beat. I feel my body, notice how I’m inhabiting it. I gesture in a similar way as the figure, or as the movement of the art piece. Sometimes, if the piece is also emotionally moving, I feel a shiver down my back, or as if someone is gently pulling individual hair strands.

Whereas externally looking at art or beauty in the natural world inspires me to go inward, reading (an internal activity) inspires me to look outward. I’ll stop between fantastic sentences and I’ll look around at my scenery. When Jane Eyre said “I had heard it–where or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being–a known, loved, well-remember voice–that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spIMG_7035oke in pain and woe wildly, eerily, urgently,” I had to physically look around my present surroundings for the voice. I remember Colorado mountains and plains that accented these words and their strange metaphysical meanings. Jane Eyre’s words needed my landscape to be heard by me. The inner needed the outer to be seen.

When we see something, by reading words on a page, or by witnessing beauty in paintings, nature, or through humans, we want to integrate our images. We don’t want to look without registering. We want their meanings to sink in. We need comparison, a contrast of the body’s reactions, or the outer world to become the analogy to the stories we have just read. We need a connection to something tangible. The known, whether it is corporal or contextual, helps us to recognize the unknown. My physical world helps bring meaning to what I see. When I am paying attention to myself or my surroundings, I am able to listen to words and see meaning in pictures.

As for why I want to see, it’s only because I want to be as alive as possible.

To look up…


Matthew Brannon’s Last to Know at the Denver Art Museum

Sometimes I forget to look up. I’m a crow of sorts, looking at my footing, letting shiny objects catch my eye at the ground-level. Finding pennies, paper-clips, trash, and always, always snatching them to see up close, to rub their texture. When I find coins, I remember, and give thanks for, my abundance.

I like seeing microscopic through the lens of touch, expanding the experience into a macro view.

But it’s really beautiful up there too, in the sky. Up there, where we don’t go, where we can’t get to, where we can’t touch, only see. It’s soft and squishy in the clouds. Or it’s light that’s closer to the source of light. It’s the way to the sun, our pre-eminent shadow maker.

Sometimes I get stuck in the details, my daily schedule, my immediate needs, what I’ll make for dinner, what my fingers are sensing. I only see what is within reach. I only think experientially.  I forget to look past the perimeter of my body, to see the horizon, the future, the path that I’m traveling on but haven’t navigated yet. I forget to get beyond my  body and use the abstract thought that makes us see new perspectives. I need to get up on my desk, like Cider House boarding school students and shout out “My Captain!” I need to lie down like school-kids at the MASS MoCA art museum, and absorb color arranged in symmetrical patterns in the space (by Teresita Fernandez in the show “As Above, So Below.”)

If I look up, I might see things in a lighter way. I might see where to go next. I could possibly begin to imagine things and places that I’ve never been and aspire to. There’s a parallel for this thought in meditation. It’s called “ascension”. I suppose the reason is because we rise above our mundane lives and enter into a new perspective. By climbing above it all, we see the openings, the portals, the ways out of the trash and litter on the ground. The ways through our myopic vision.

Looking up is kind of like looking forward. And looking forward, I see that I will be growing, changing, and also aging. I want to look into those clouds of the future, knowing that I haven’t touched them yet, but I will soon. I want, every moment, to grow old auspiciously, with a prescience that comes from studying what I can only see from afar. I can, perhaps, see the way to age gracefully, the happiness I could have, in both this moment and the coming future…

And if I just look up.



Curator Hands


Hand-picked, fragile, warm eggs

Hand-picked, fragile, warm eggs

My son is reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse in Literature class. I remember reading it at 18, his age as well. It added a dimension of self-reflection and spirituality to my life that had never been there before. I lovingly handled the pages of that book and didn’t want to set it down.

To add to the class’s understanding of the story, they were assigned to watched a PBS movie called The Buddha. In it, the Buddha explains that everything we love and cherish is already gone from us. That is the nature of life: it is ephemeral and fleeting. Despite all promises to “be together forever,” we can’t control our own mortality. My beloved’s mother just passed away this week, reminding us thoroughly of that fact.

Situations change, relationships end, new ones begin. And of course, we can’t control the lifespan of our possessions. My son is learning this with his car that is on its last legs. Is it okay to let go of our material goods without being shallow? Are we betraying them, or being materialistic?

The Buddha also points out that to understand and come to peace with the inevitable nature of loss and suffering is to let go of our attachment to that person, that thing, that moment.

I’m not a Buddhist, but for me, letting go of attachment means cherishing everything as a gift while we have it. I don’t want to completely detach-I want my love and honor to go through the suffering and come out the other side. I hope that awareness can help me with this. By knowing that I won’t have something forever, I am striving to fully be in the moment with it.

If I look at curating a gallery with a Buddhist eye, I would see the inevitable end of all material. My future self sees that the objets d’art would eventually break, tear, rip, and crack. I see the mortality of matter. Of course, this is nothing I want to hasten. By being aware of its fragility, I am more respectful, more aware, more loving in every moment I am holding work. By knowing that destruction is coming, I bask and glory in the beauty of each object’s fullness and vitality in its present manifestation.

I’m attempting to hold my loved ones in the same way. I want to hold my relationships, my situations, and my possessions with loving respect. I want to hold the beautiful and virtuous entities with curator’s hands, lightly and safely. I know that some will be in my palm for a good long while. Others I will set down gently.

But the point is to be prescient in the holding.

Curator of Syllables, Emotions, and all Beauteous Matter

Words fascinate me. I love to handle them, play with them, place them advantageously and leave enough space for the viewer or reader to see them.

Art work amazes me. In the gallery, I tell myself I’m a priestess of beauty, and I’m handling sacred objects, much like I handle words. It is my duty to arrange each object with respect and honor, and place it in a way that the patron can engage with it.

It’s a wonderful world. I get to curate both words and art pieces.

I am currently attending Northern Arizona University to attain my MFA in Creative Writing. I also am an artist manager and independent curator.

Please contact me for all matters relating to art, beauty, writing, and communication. Or just to talk about them over coffee.