Thursday, March 25, 2021

Missing Gather

In an era when the internet spawned networking communities like geysers in a desert, was one of the first to appear. When it was launched on the web in 2005, was touted as a Myspace of Friendster for a literate audience, with the emphasis on content.  

I first learned about Gather, when Minnesota Public Radio announced it was helping launch an online community focused on the older demographic (users over thirty). I had just signed a contract with Counterpoint NY for my first book, The Scent of God: A Memoir. The publisher suggested I join an online community to help build a platform. I knew nothing about social networking save that it was geared toward younger people. Learning that Gather’s emphasis was on the “older generation” with a focus on content of substance, I viewed it as a Godsend.

The first step to joining was coining a username. But what was a username? I muddled around a bit before hitting the “Contact Gather” link. I heard back that same day from David Cooperstein, Gather’s VP, Editor-in-Chief who gently suggested “Beryl” as my username. And voila! I entered a newly burgeoning network of users, my first “Friend” being David himself.

As my contacts multiplied, I spent an inordinate amount of time linking with Gather. We had no satellite or high-speed cable where we lived and connecting by phone was desperately slow. But I loved Gather from the start. Connecting with thoughtful, creative, and generous “friends” was like finding a family and mentor at the same time. I often worked into the wee hours of the morning, loving every minute spent with Gather members though frustrated with the time it took to load photos.

Beryl at Harvard Bookstore
By the time my book came out in April 2006, I had developed a wonderful community of Gather friends. My very first reading/signing event took place at the Harvard Bookstore in Boston. It seemed such an intellectual place to do a reading and I couldn’t imagine how I would draw an audience for my memoir. Gather, whose headquarters were in Boston invited me to visit and introduced me to staff. That evening Gather staff joined Gather friends who lived in an around Boston and filled the space. Seeing them there, was such a relief I was no longer nervous. We celebrated afterwards with beer and fries at a local Pub.

Later that summer, Cooperstein left a message on my phone, inviting me to Gather’s first anniversary bash: a "Book It To Bermuda Cruise,” as one of their featured speakers. My husband Bill and I spent five days eating in luxury, attending shows, lounging in deck chairs with fancy drinks, and meeting people. 

beryl speaking on cruise

The return leg of the trip featured the author readings. That day, the ship was tossed likea cork on an angry sea, water sloshing from the pools, walkers clinging to the banisters along the halls. As the first speaker, I began to speak behind a podium that rolled from one side of the room to the other until a staff member led me to a comfortable stable chair. Despite the rough seas, no one evacuated their seats during my talk, hands clapped over mouths as I expected. They even waited in line to buy books until there were no more to sell or sign.

As Gather’s membership swelled, we never dreamed that Gather would not be our forever community. In 2014 Kitara Media bought it and though it intended to keep the structure alive, it soon fell apart and took most of our work with it. While some were able to rescue their work before it disappeared into the stratosphere, most of us lost our postings, comments, and lists of our friends.

Facebook offered a possible alternative, but I didn't care for its structure and kept my distance until recently, when I noticed Thomas Spainhour working to link Gatherers with their Facebook identity if they had one.  The sole purpose of this group, Refugees from Gather, is to be a “resource for Facebook users who are former members of Gather to reconnect with others from those years BF (Before Facebook).” This group is growing rapidly as he tracks down and matches possible links.

Inspired by his efforts and warmed to see names appearing that I once knew so well, I needed to refresh those early Gather memories. What were your first experiences in online networking? I imagine you have stories you want share as well. I hope you will. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Waiting for Snow in Havana


While put off at first by the violent dangerous games this boy and his friends indulged in, I became quite fond of him. He had sparkling humor that lightened the dark theme of Fidel Castro's takeover from dictator Baptista and the exodus of thousands of children who were sent from Cuba to Miami in the early 1960s, as part of a U.S. government program called Operation Pedro Pan. I was captured by the brilliant meanderings of his mind as the book progressed, taking him from the insecurity of transition to adulthood and was fascinated with his preoccupation with religion and search for a God he could believe in.

Monday, December 28, 2020


The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc

This is a beautifully told story of love, war, political upheaval that takes shape in the trenches of world war one, expands into the idyllic Tuscan landscape of vineyards and olive orchards. The lives of loves of three families dominate the story as they wrestle to better their lives and improve their fortunes against the forces of fascism and domination that take root in their midst.

I was drawn into this story by the power of joy and love manifested by Isabella, an orphan raised in a convent who gives herself without limit to healing those around her. At times, I wondered if I was reading about a medieval saint rather than the feisty and frank your woman she was. As I read, I realized that this story must have a sequel to resolve all the questions it raises and situations that the reader knows lie ahead.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Shortest Day by Colm Toibin

 Too soon, and too intriguing to stop.

Little did I realize when I began reading this book, that it would be so short. No, I groaned. I want to know how and why Professor O’Kelly’s life would change after witnessing the elusive but certain shaft of sunlight that pierces the ancient tomb during the winter solstice. How it might or might not affect the lives of the dead entombed there. Who were not afraid of the unknown but honored and lived with uncertainty? Who were these dead who whispered through the long dark of each year? A tomb older than Stonehenge and the pyramids yet built with exquisite designs, spirals, and other geometric shapes.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Scent of God Now Available in a New Edition

Originally published by Counterpoint NY in 2006 (hard cover) and in 2007(paper), Beryl Singleton Bissell’s memoir The Scent of God has just returned to print in a newly designed and revised edition.

Bissell was a teenager, when a powerful religious experience led her into a cloister in pursuit of divine, unconditional love.

Fifteen years later, her abbess sends her home to Puerto Rico to care for her ailing parents.  While there, she meets and falls in love with Padre Vittorio, a handsome Italian priest/professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

Moving from cloister to tropical island to romantic Italy, the story traverses a landscape of laughter, rage, and tears as Bissell learns that human longing is a but a prelude to life’s most perplexing questions. 
Purchase the Scent of God

In 2006, the Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl a Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors for her first book: The Scent of God: A Memoir (Counterpoint 2006, 2007), and a "Notable" Book Sense selection for April 2006. Her second book, A View of the Lake, (Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. 2011) was named a Best Regional Book for 2011 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Meanwhile Beryl is working on her third book, "The Glass Calyx: A Mother's Story" which picks up where The Scent of God leaves off and limns the years leading to her daughter's unresolved violent death at the age of 24 and its aftermath.

978-1-7345539-0-1 (print)
Story Oak Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota
Biography& Autobiography, Personal Memoirs

Saturday, September 7, 2019

From The Heart Fall 2019

Dear Reader

For much of this past year my world was saturated with words too heavy to write or speak. During that year, loved ones have died and my husband Bill still bears the scars of his encounters with respiratory failure, diabetic crisis and double pneumonia. Though it was spring, I felt muffled in a winter world. I moved through each day in a strange inner silence, capable only of coping with visits to the ICU and weeks of entire days spent in three different hospitals. Bill returned home in such a frail and weakened condition I moved in a vaporous world of uncertainty. Would today be my last with him? Would I be alone tomorrow? Thanks, however, to the effort of a blessed crew of doctors, nurses, and therapists and courageous efforts of his own, he is growing stronger. Buoyed by hope and filled with gratitude, I can now reach for words with which to reconnect with you, to let you know that though I was silent, you were never far from my mind.

Conscious of the rapid passage of time and my approaching 80th birthday, I wake each morning with a renewed sense of wonder at the gift of life. Bill is still with me and gratitude floods the entire day. I feel an added sense of responsibility to use this time well.

“We must trust in the small light we are given and to value the light we can shed into the lives of those around us . . . We live in a world alive with holy moments. We need only take the time to bring these moments into the light,” writes Kent Wilburn in his lovely little book Small Graces. I first encountered his writings in 1998 when we moved to Lake Superior’s North Shore. In an environment live with miracles, his quiet reflective words mirrored my desire to live a spiritual life and that is how I’ve tried to live most of my life. To remain open to the light present in every moment. To welcome each day as the miracle it is.
Assisi Heights MN

Our small book club is thriving. Together we delight in discovering the creative world within us. It has renewed my love of writing. While I have still not finished with The Glass Chrysalis, I’ve been working on bringing The Scent of God, which had gone out of print, back to life. I’d hoped to announce the publication of the new edition in this newsletter but life intervened and its rebirth has been delayed. It includes a wonderful new cover, beautiful interior design, the addition of an Introduction and an updated afterword. It should be ready early this fall. I shall keep you informed.
Meanwhile, may you be strong, may you be happy, may you be healthy. May you live your life with gladness. (Prayer of Loving Kindness)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A new presence

I wanted to create a presence of some sort on this very popular blogspot site.

I am a columnist for the Cook County News Herald and a frequent contributor to various regional magazines. My memoir, The Scent of God, was published in hardcover by Counterpoint NY in 2006 and in paperback this April of 2007. The book is basically a love story--love for God and love for a man of God -- and how by opening myself to both I became the woman I am today. It tells of the search for God that led me into a cloistered monastery at the age of 18 and the unraveling of that vocation 15 years later in Puerto Rico when I fell in love with a priest. The book takes the reader from a New Jersey cloister to Puerto Rico to Italy as faith and love collide in a story of love, death, guilt and redemption.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named me a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors," and The Scent of God was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006 and has been nominated by Booksellers for a Midwest Booksellers Book Award.

My Journey to Publication and Life Thereafter blog is just that -- how an older woman found an agent who loved her manuscript so much that she sold it to a New York publisher in less than a week.

I hope you will come visit me at one or the other--or even better, both of the above blogs.

Missing Gather

In an era when the internet spawned networking communities like geysers in a desert, was one of the first to appear. When it was ...