Biography – Carmen Stenholm, PhD

Crack Between The Worlds - by Carmen Stenholm

  My life began in Europe, behind the iron curtain just four years after the end of World War II. When I was nine years old, everything changed when my mother risked our lives to escape and bring me to America. The losses of country, family and self-identity were balanced by kindness from people in every one of the many places my life has taken me.
  I attended ten different schools from the age of nine to seventeen. At eighteen, when I became a student at UCLA, I was ready to dive under the blanket of academia and spend the rest of my life doing lone research in protective archives. But life would not allow me to hide because I am, first and foremost, interested in and in love with people.
  My training is in psychology, counseling, teaching, art and history. This knowledge, combined with a lifetime of extraordinary experiences, make me a passionate believer in human beings’ instinctive drive to discover our inner magnificence and use our abilities to build on strengths – to grow and evolve into the highest visions we hold of ourselves. They have also given me a deep appreciation and affection for those who came before us, who survived the impossible to ensure that life continues.

  After years as a practicing psychologist and instructor at UCLA, Carmen Stenholm returns to the story that has intrigued her all her life—the story of the family, especially the women, who came before her.
  Although the project began as a simple remembrance to pass on to her grandchildren, the stories of Carmen’s great-grandmother, grandmother and mother soon began to take on a life of their own. In breaks between clients or on quiet Sunday afternoons, the characters took up residence in her imagination and compelled her to expand their story. From these cracks in the fabric of her memory and imagination came a book that, in first draft, was well over 600 pages long.
  It begins with the birth of Johanna, the cherished only child of a thriving peasant farmer and his doting wife and ends, seventy-five years later, as Johanna bids farewell to her granddaughter and great-granddaughter when they make their escape, in the middle of the night, from Communist East Germany.
  The power of this story comes from an unflinching look at the character’s lives. In it, heroism is balanced with selfishness and petty concerns; perseverance is sometimes rewarded and sometimes dreadfully crushed. It’s a story of horrific tragedies and unquestioning resolution to keep living despite the cost. It’s a story of big mistakes and small kindnesses, of roads taken at great cost and roads untaken, perhaps at greater cost.
  It’s the story best summed up by the words of Johanna, the family matriarch, who, on the day the Nazi soldiers ravaged her town said to her granddaughter in response to the child’s desire to simply give up, “You have to care, Ella. That’s what this is all about, you know—to care even when it hurts. To have the strength and courage, my little one, to care even when your mind and body want nothing more than to run away.”
  Crack Between the Worlds is a story of universal appeal because, through this family, we have a mirror that also reflects our own families—and the courage, unyielding tenacity, and occasional bouts of luck that must have occurred in a somewhat similar fashion, to bring each of us into the world.