Writer, photographer and lover of the overlooked and forgotten

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Photo compliments of author

What would you like to know? I’m guessing you would like to know my slant, my background, what I bring to the party, what makes me tick. Not too much information, just enough. So here goes –

First, my last name is Greek. My grandfather immigrated from Greece in the early 1900s. A fellow immigrant helpfully translated our last name into (sort of) English. “Helentjaris” looks more complicated than it is: the “t” is silent, and, like most Greek names, the accent is on the next to last syllable. Helen — JAR — Us. As a result of the unique translation, only my grandfather’s progeny claim the name. Being the sole Diane, no one else in the world has my name. …


Inspired by teenager Maria Lewis’s Civil War escape from enslavement

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Photo compliments of author

The white stallion’s muscles moved rhythmically under her. His rumbling hooves stirred up the only breeze blowing across the harvested ground. As the fieldstone wall loomed up, sweat dripped down and burned Lydia’s eyes. She knew the danger of jumping the stone wall but trusted the horse. There was freedom in being airborne, no matter how short lived. Pegasus, neglected since the Colonel’s death two days earlier, hankered for the jump as much as she did. Neither the other enslaved people, busy at work, nor the master’s family crying over the Colonel’s open grave would know. She and Pegasus craved this. …


Theatrical costuming wizardry tells us a story

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Photo by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

The Times Square ticket agent shared bad news that April in 1968. Your Own Thing was sold out. I can still see him — a hefty old man with a New York accent. Most everyone was old to me those days. And I’m sure my heavy southern “Ohiah” accent sounded as peculiar to him as his did to me.

I was one of a hundred or so Ohio high schoolers bussed to study Eastern European current affairs in DC and New York City. For most, this trip was the first ever to a metropolis, a city lots bigger than Dayton. For many, it was also the first time to venture beyond Buckeye State borders. Our adult chaperons were equally green. Left on our own in the evenings and between presentations on Yugoslavian politics and the like, we explored. We wandered in Greenwich Village. We saw stenciled ads for Rosemary’s Baby on the crosswalks. Written directions in hand, we went unaccompanied to find our meeting at Columbia. My girlfriend and I snickered as six other students insisted on taking the wrong subway. We found our way by following a young man in a Columbia jacket. The six ended up lost in Harlem. One boy, at the end of his inaugural taxi ride, tipped the cabbie with subway tokens. Policemen patrolled the halls of our hotel, the Edison. For a quarter in a slot, the beds would shake. Boys, not much older than us, operated the elevators. They liked to halt the elevator a few inches below the next floor and laugh when we tripped. Now, my girlfriends and I wanted to see a show. …


What are the advantages and disadvantages of swearing?

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Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

Profane, obscene, crude, or vulgar words have power. For writers, they can add accuracy and vividness to your dialogue. Used indiscriminately, excessively, or sloppily, bad language hampers your writing success.

Words often or usually classified as profane, obscene, or vulgar easily reach our eyes and ears. Bad language is ubiquitous nowadays. These bons mots have crept into songs, television and movie dialogue, news reports, and fallen readily from the lips of the mighty. TV ads hint at them with snarky word play. Terms for excrement, sexual acts, and abbreviations for them pepper written posts with the casualness of a walk to your own mailbox. …


A nineteenth century girl flees by train

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Photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash

Scurrying across the train platform, Lydia glanced over her shoulder. Dark grey clouds stretched from the horizon, barreling her way. An icy prickle of anxiety snaked up the back of her neck. She paused on the platform. What was she forgetting…She’d been so worried they’d catch her as she left.

A burly shoulder knocked her aside.

“Move long, Miss!” barked the conductor from his perch atop the steps. He jabbed a thumb skyward. “Cain’t you see a storm’s a’comin’?”

Tightening her grip on her valise, Lydia stumbled and nearly fell into the second-class coach. Ten pairs of male eyes slowly and appreciatively looked her over. A roley poley woman in a plum-colored coat patted the seat beside her. Relieved, Lydia plopped down and adjusted her bonnet. Across from them a tow-headed boy, with dimples matching his mother’s, guarded a splint-wood hamper. …


A tale of Montreal in the 1970s and a cheese that screamed, “Steal me.”

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Photo by Elisa Michelet on Unsplash

June 1973, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

As a fit twenty-two-year-old, carrying her groceries up three flights of stairs to her apartment posed no problem. As a shoplifter, making it home undetected was the challenge.

Today, standing at the grocery cheese bin, a wedge of imported French grappe cheese, a favorite quarry, screamed, “Steal me.” So Gilly Smith did.

The Grappe, cured in the remains of winemaking, wore a pebbly coat of black grape seeds. Gilly loved the fruity echo of the cheese’s soft white interior. Though one of the most expensive cheeses sold in Montreal, Gilly didn’t steal it out of poverty. No, Gilly, had money. Money was not the issue. …


You need to get married, girl

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Photo by Viva Luna Studios on Unsplash

“You need to get married, girl. I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You’re nineteen years old, gettin’ long in the tooth for many a man,” grumbled Lily’s mother, Zelda, shuffling her Italian tarot cards. “Want me to run the cards and see what they say?”

The air hung hot and sticky in the rundown parlor room. Zelda’s clapboard cottage squatted on the floodplains of Wheeling, just two blocks from the Ohio River. Homes up on the surrounding hills might snag a breeze or two, but no wind made it down to the flats.

Lilly glanced up from her latest Buffalo Bill dime novel Buffalo Bill at Graveyard Gap. …


Eating is a necessity, but overspending is not

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Photo compliments of author

My friend’s face scrunched up in anticipation, his eyes crinkled shut. The fingers of my left hand splayed over his deltoid, pulling the skin taut to stabilize my target. With the newly learned choreography of a spiraling motion, I cleansed his arm with an alcohol wipe. Then sucked in a breath.

“One, two, three,” I intoned and shoved the needle into him. After brief practice with navel oranges, my medical school classmates and I were giving our first injections — to each other. We had a lot to learn in our second year. …


Save time and money and be a better writer

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Photo courtesy of author

Who needs to know if women wore panties in Colonial America? You might if you’re a writer. Facts. Facts lend credibility. Facts answer reader’s questions. Facts might be the only reason your article is read from beginning to end. And if you parrot information every fifteen-year-old student knows, your writing will be superfluous. Before you heave a sigh and wonder how you’re going to pay for a trip to Williamsburg to study early American clothing, relax. …


Tapping the full potential of your ideas

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Photo courtesy of author

Halloween was coming and I knew a ghost story. Bringing the tale of the priest, the farmer, and the traveler to the readers might seem simple — after all, the exorcism occurred over two hundred years ago. But, writing a compelling article required more than skill with words. There were historians to find and entice into an interview, a sunny village and a caretaker to photograph, a museum director to get on the phone, and old records to mine for information. As usually happens, once all the information became available, the story wasn’t as simple as I had thought. Unimaginable conflicts brewed even in the present day. …

About

Diane Helentjaris

Virginia writer and photographer with a love of the overlooked. www.DianeHelentjaris.com Photos at www.dianehelentjaris.zenfolio.com.

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