Nonfiction Picks from Joy Neal Kidney and Gwen Wilson

I’ve been reading instead of writing lately. Today I want to share two of the nonfiction books I’ve enjoyed.

Book #1 is biographical and historical nonfiction based on the author’s family history.

A year and a half ago I reviewed Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. That book opened my eyes to the “home front” during WWII—what the war was like for some American families. Joy’s family, in particular, suffered great loss as three of her grandparents’ sons died in battle.

Joy has a new book out called Leora’s Dexter Stories. The subtitle, “The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression,” gives an idea of what story lies inside. It’s also an understatement. This book uses a variety of sources, such as journals and family stories to piece together a heart-breaking account of the poverty experienced by the Wilson family during the Depression.

Too bad this book can’t be required reading of every American and every student in American schools so that we learn not only what hardships people went through during that time but also how hardworking, clever, and resilient they could be. Our ideas of recycling and repurposing today are a joke compared with what Leora, Clabe, and their children did to survive. For awhile the only thing that kept them from being homeless was when the two oldest sons joined the Navy and sent money home to the family. The family endured criticism and gossip from others because of the need to sometimes be on a form of relief, although they worked very hard as tenant farmers or in other jobs. I managed to hold off crying until daughter Doris, Joy’s mother, an amazing basketball star, had to leave her full-scholarship business college because she couldn’t afford rent. This book is a powerful tribute to the Wilson family.

 You can find Joy here: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM

Book #2 is a coming-of-age and family dysfunction memoir, set in Australia.

Australian Gwen Wilson, writer of the blog Garrulous Gwendoline, has published a memoir called I Belong to No One. On the cover it also reads: “One woman’s true story of family violence, forced adoption and ultimate triumphant survival.” I wasn’t sure what I would find when I started to read, but I was immediately hooked by Gwen’s storytelling voice. As you might expect from a woman who bills herself on WordPress as “garrulous” and says in the memoir that one of her favorite words is loquacious, Gwen’s voice expertly tells her story and imparts her personality. Her voice is strong, confident, and positive because so is the woman telling the story of her childhood and youth. She also comes across as humble and sincere. This is the successful, mature adult looking back at her upbringing. And while she was clearly always very emotionally strong and generally positive, she was not always confident because the life experiences she went through from a young age tried to grind her down. But Gwen didn’t let them keep her down. Whenever she could catch a lucky break, she would run with it. Finally, she caught one in the form of a job in the shipping world and was able to move forward with her adult life.

Nevertheless, with Gwen’s muscular and straightforward prose, the majority of the story details what she had to overcome. Legally, she was raised by a single, mentally ill mother who was not capable of parenting her. But in reality, Gwen was raised by her older brother Steve and a series of surrogate moms in the form of neighbors, aunts, and friends’ mothers. This patched-together group of “moms” are where Gwen learned how to be a woman. The topics covered from Gwen’s first person perspective include domestic abuse, illegitimacy (in a time when that really mattered), forced adoption, child neglect, poverty, and rape. The rape scene and how it was handled afterward should be mandatory reading for anyone who is unsure of the #metoo movement. It reminds me of how things were when I was young (so we need to remember that we have made some improvements in society and law regarding rape). Gwen truly had nobody to turn to—and no rape crisis centers as they hadn’t been invented yet.

Gwen’s descriptions of her homes and the people in her life are carefully and wonderfully drawn. I find it difficult to move from under the spell of her story and back into my own life. Gwen was born the same year as memoirist Mary Karr. There are similarities in topics, but Australia in the 60s and 70s was much different than the United States. And Gwen had less advantages than Mary Karr had. But anybody who found The Liar’s Club or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle fascinating will find Gwen’s book just as hard to put down.

I hope to have reviews of a couple more books next week!

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Felix update: First we went through the exact same disappointment at a different ultrasound facility on Tuesday–it was another screw-up and they sent us home. However, the next day he had his ultrasound. It showed a liver tumor, enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen, and other smaller issues. I haven’t been able to talk to his regular vet after she got a copy of the report but we did speak briefly and hypothetically. It’s unlikely that we will put him through more testing as it would be traumatic to him and probably to no avail. But a decision has not yet been made. If we don’t do more testing, we will provide hospice for him at home. I have started giving him subq fluids (under the skin with a needle) once a day, as well as several meds. The internist who performed the ultrasound was so impressed with Felix’s chill personality. He really is the epitome of a “good boy.”

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On a Wing and a Prayer

Last week, in the middle of the sudden illness and passing of my daughter’s sweet cat Izzie, my Felix (cat #3–he’s 15) was developing symptoms. He tested positive for anemia. He is on medications to keep him eating, plus I started giving him daily subq fluids (i.e., under the skin) on Saturday. By yesterday I was feeding him by hand. However, he acts pretty spunky, so it’s pretty weird.

He was scheduled for an abdominal ultrasound today. Yesterday afternoon, on a Sunday, that office called and said the appointment was made by mistake. That they don’t do outpatient ultrasounds. When I made the appointment Friday morning, I was clearly told to avoid that issue he would be scheduled as an emergency patient and would get an ultrasound at 11AM. Today the woman who called kept repeating “no outpatient ultrasounds.” Because I made the appointment there, I missed out on scheduling elsewhere. She just kept repeating her script and obviously could care less about whether Felix survives or not. This is ANIMAL MEDICAL AND SURGICAL CENTER IN SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA. I could not believe they did that to Felix. I will be contacting the veterinary board of Arizona. And I have to start from scratch again for Felix.

Prayers and/or strong healthy vibes for him would be much appreciated.

Between work and cat care I haven’t had much time for art journaling, but I try to spend at least 5-10 minutes almost every day. Over the last couple of weeks, I completed these two that I like (except for their amateurish quality and the flaws I see heh). The first I posted on an art journaling Facebook group because I wasn’t sure whether to leave it as-is or not. I created an abstract background, and then I saw a partial wing in it, so I enhanced the wing with black acrylic paint. Only when I got done, because of the background, it looks as much like a bird (raven?) as a wing. So I asked the group if I should finish it into a bird, get rid of the top part that makes it look like a bird, or leave it alone. Forty people have responded, telling me to leave it as-is. Not one person said to make it wing or bird. That was cool because I like the ambiguity, you know? But I needed people with more experience to weigh in.

The photograph is one I purchased in a lot from ebay, by the way. I might have had wings on the brain because my new poetry book that will be coming out in a bleeping year is called Rooted and Winged. By the way, the poet who wrote the nesting/chickens/golden goose poem on the right page is named Miriam Flock. Flock! Isn’t that the best?

This next one began with the magazine image of Marilyn that I liked. My ideas progressed slowly, but when the #FreeBritney movement heated up, I knew what I wanted to do. I have a soft spot for her as my daughter grew up as a big Britney fan. She choreographed dances for the high school dance team using Britney music. Anyway, this whole situation that Britney is in reminds me of the classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in 1892. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. The frightening story shows a woman under the control of her husband and doctor. Unfortunately, the woman’s plight mirrored that of many women then and apparently now. I will never forget a story published in my college newspaper when I was a student. The woman who wrote it said that her husband had her committed to a mental institution to get rid of her.

But Britney and Marilyn are celebrities with fame. Britney has lots of money. Both of them have been objectified and treated as something not human. The protagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper” was treated as subhuman.  Britney (and Marilyn before her) is a real woman.

This post’s title “On a wing and a Prayer” refers to a bombing mission in WWII. As the plane limps home short an engine, it travels on a wing (wings of the plane) and with a prayer for its safe arrival. Isn’t everything we attempt on a metaphorical wing and a prayer? (Reminder: please pray for my dear Felix or send healing vibes!!!)

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[Untitled]

Yesterday was a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day. Today feels much the same. My daughter’s kitty Isabella Rose had to be “put to sleep.”  She got sick a short time ago and was hospitalized. She continued to get worse with no diagnosis. Her suffering was too much, and the vet wanted to euthanize her. My daughter asked me to come with them. So so sad. Izzie was only eleven. She was my daughter’s first pet that she rescued from a shelter right after graduating college. They have been through a lot together and were extremely close.

The vet called them and said she was failing and they should come right away to be with her before she died. My daughter asked for me to come, too, so I rushed over there. It was excruciating to see Izzie that way. In fact, it was harder for me than when my cat Mac died because Izzie is only eleven (her birthday was July 4), and it all came suddenly and shockingly.

Izzie was a beautiful furry granddaughter who I loved to babysit. She got along great with my cats whenever she came over. She would climb up to my long counter of cat beds and choose a bed to lounge in, right next to the other cats. I’m going to miss her terribly.

Note about the photo: it was taken many years ago, before the consciousness-raising about plastic straws.

 

 

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Giving Back to Poetry

I’ve been reading more than usual lately. For one thing, all my Ann Cleeves (Vera, Shetland, 2 Rivers) books on the wait list at the library have been coming available. Then I’ve got a few fiction and nonfiction books I’m rarin’ to read. Additionally, I’m reading a couple of brand new poetry books that I plan to review for journals or this blog. The best way to  understand a poetry collection, for me, is to prepare for writing a review. So reviewing is actually a benefit to me, not just to the poet who wrote the collection.

Something new that I am starting to do is to read the new issues of journals that are emailed to me. It’s not that I didn’t read any of them before, but sometimes I would hit delete if I felt like I had too much going on and plenty to read. But I’ve decided that that is not good because without all these wonderful lit journals a lot of writers, including myself, would be screwed. Then I am choosing one of my favorite pieces from the journal and sharing it on social media.

I have a belief that underlies these endeavors. Too many poets (I can’t speak for creative nonfiction and fiction writers because I know a lot more poets) are so involved with their own writing or maybe the writing of their “big star” inspirations that they do not put enough back into the poetry community. Of course, I include myself in this number.  There are certainly plenty of exceptions to this phenomenon, including the work that lit mag editors and small press editors and owners do, especially those that continue long past the “it will help my career” period. Two special names that immediately spring to mind when I think of helping the poetry community are Trish Hopkinson  whose website is a treasure for poets and Neil Silberblatt who runs the Facebook group Voices of Poetry. I’ve talked about Diane Lockward’s craft books on here several times. Her books, monthly newsletter, and press (Terrapin) are all important to the poetry community. In fact, she has a new craft book coming out soon. It’s called The Strategic Poet. I’m super blessed to have a poem in the tome (that rhyme is how you can tell I’m a poet hahahaha). The poem is called “After the Call from the Animal Welfare Office: A Triple Triolet,” and it’s a response to a horrific cat hoarding situation in Phoenix last year.

There are many more poetry helpers, too. The work that I am doing for the community is miniscule compared to that of others, but I am trying to keep #poetrycommunity at the forefront of my decisions as much as possible.

Let’s make it a great week ahead!

 

 

 

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Cats and Art Journals Help with Anxiety

All the babies in the yard are grown up, and every so often a hummingbird or dove swoops past me that looks a little familiar ;).

I am winding up the physical therapy now. I had two problems: rotator cuff calcification tendinitis and frozen shoulder. The PT has cured the frozen shoulder at least to 85% usage. The other will take much longer as I need to keep exercising. Eventually, the calcification is supposed to be absorbed by the body.

My brain is a little zapped right now. I’m concerned about health problems my daughter is having, and I am feeling stunned over the condo collapse in Florida. When I’m feeling like I am right now I am convinced that the greed and arrogance of humanity is going to take us down.

Also, I have claustrophobia so I spent days worrying about the people in the collapse.

Trying to cheer myself up, I made this page in my smallest journal. Fabrics from my childhood, and the button belonged to Grandma.

Notice that I’m making a little fun of myself, too, as 19-year-old me thought that big-a** hat looked stylish.

Putting the finishing touches on the first draft of the newly “remodelled” Scrap. 

I’m focused on being a good nursing home nurse for Pear Blossom. She’s doing well getting up and down from the couch with that one seat cushion removed. But sometimes she chooses to lie on the cool floor near her water bowl. Pee pads and water bowl are very near the couch for her convenience. She is still such a pleasure all the time. She’s my little nurse, too. She’s the one who got me through my one-year-plus foot surgery recovery and the Valley Fever. She used to take care of our last dog when he didn’t feel well. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the room and found her in Perry’s blue cube.

Pear wants you to have a wonderful week!

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Poetic Book Tours: Review of Sherry Quan Lee’s Septuagenarian by Luanne Castle

Today I am participating in Serena Agusto-Cox’s Poetic Book Tours hoopla for Sherry Quan Lee’s new poetry collection Septuagenarian. The title is not a word I am familiar with, but I looked it up and it means a person who is from 70-79 years old. How many times have you heard a collection “boast” that the poet is an older person, especially a woman? Not very darn often.

The summary provided by the poet gives a good idea of her focus in the book: “Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die is a memoir in poetic form. It is the author’s journey from being a mixed-race girl who passed for white to being a woman in her seventies who understands and accepts her complex intersectional identity; and no longer has to imagine love. It is a follow-up to the author’s previous memoir (prose), Love Imagined: a mixed-race memoir, A Minnesota Book Award finalist.”

In the case of Sherry Quan lee, the term “mixed-race” means that her father was Chinese and her mother was African-American or, more accurately, 3/4 AA and 1/4 white. Quan Lee’s mother preferred to pass as white, and she tried to get her children to do so as well. This wasn’t always easy because it created secrets and lies “Mama said, / cover yourself with lies“), such as seen in the poem “Silence”:

one of us had thick curly hair like Mother’s, one of us

had silky straight hair like Father’s; and, yes, one was

beauty and one shame/hotcombs and gas flames and

it was complicated pretending

Quan Lee’s father also wanted to be white, she asserts. Sadly, her father abandoned the family when Quan Lee was five years old.

One of the most poignant poems is “Mother’s and Mine,” which writes about bruising from 28 different perspectives. Tellingly, she writes in #19, “When I stopped wanting what I couldn’t have, I bruised less often.”

This book appears to have been written during the pandemic. It contains some pieces from previous work published by the poet, as well as new work responding to a “woke” perspective. (In fact, she uses that expression to describe how she has learned from living to be 72 in the poem “I Woke to This Place”). It’s sort of a cobbling together of her past with her now-experienced outlook.  I love that she included photographs, especially her adorable cover photos, as well as her birth certificate. It really adds to the authenticity by helping document what Sherry Quan Lee’s life has been like. Reading the experiences of a woman who has gone through life differently than myself was fascinating. Because the poetic style is more literal and less figurative than I usually choose to read, I read this book more as an engaging and inspirational memoir than a poetry collection. Sherry Quan Lee’s story needed to be documented and shared, and I am so blessed that I was asked to read her book.

 

Imprint:  Modern History Press
Author:  Sherry Quan Lee
ISBN-13:  PB 978-1-61599-568-4 / HC 978-1-61599-569-1 / eBook 978-1-61599-570-7
List Price:  PB $ 17.95 / HC $ 25.95 / eBook $ 4.95
Trim:  6 x 9 (100 pp)
Audience:  General Adult
Pub Date:  03/01/2021
BISAC:  Poetry/Women Authors
Poetry/American/Asian American
Social Science/Ethnic Studies/Asian American Studies

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Mama and Baby

Earlier last week, one of the hummingbird babies left the nest. That left her “brother” behind. For two, almost three, days, Mama continued to feed him. Then one day, he flew a bit falteringly and landed on an oleander branch near the nest. There he stayed for hours. Mama fed him where he was. She flew in place to show him how it’s done. She flew away and came back. But she was always right there in the vicinity, helping him transition to an adult hummer. In this video you can see them in action.

Pretty cool video, I think!

My DIL told me that one of their hummingbird babies flew before the other, and that before the “runt” could leave the nest, Mama disappeared. Seeing how devoted these birds are to their babies, I can only surmise that something tragic happened to the mother. But, guess what? The more advanced sibling began to feed the one left in the nest, and eventually that one joined his brother or sister flying across the sky.

For those of you who don’t have hummingbirds by you, remember that their nest is barely larger than a golf ball, so these birds are very small.

A Route of Evanescence

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –
***
Make it a week to cherish! XO

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The Babies and the Stories

Hummingbirds make such wonderful mothers. Six years ago, the hummingbird who raised two nests right outside my door was a good example. When one of her babies turned out to find it more difficult to learn to fly, she spent hours one afternoon patiently teaching the little one. The green hummingbird raising her babies in our oleander right now is another good example. First, before she ever laid her eggs, she completely moved her nest from the windchime/mobile to the oleander tree when she realized the first place was not safe. Now we’ve noticed that because the sun beats relentlessly on the babies in the mornings, she sits on them for protection even though they are now big kids. We expect them to fly away any day now. Here she is shielding them from the sun.

Last week I told you that Kana was enjoying a manuscript box, but Tiger would lie down in it when Kana wasn’t there.

I think I forgot to mention that my daughter gave me Storyworth for Mother’s Day. I had never heard of it before. Every week for a year I get a story prompt mailed to me. The idea is these stories are all about my life. As soon as I email one back, my kids get the story dumped in their inboxes. I am allowed to include photos if I like. And if I hit send and regret something I can easily edit it. At the end of the year, the kids will get books of “the story of my life.” Why is this different from creative nonfiction and memoir writing? These stories are geared for my kids and (hopefully someday) their kids. Some of the stories are already part of family legend, but now they will be written down in a permanent form. If I don’t like a particular prompt, I can change it out, but so far each one (I’ve done four) have been fruitful lines of enquiry ;). I’ve written about my first memory, most memorable birthday, favorite trip, and a time when I was brave. I’m not saying I wouldn’t share any of these on this blog, but not today, folks.

It’s a genius idea that I wish I had thought of before these people did hah. The reason it’s genius is that it’s got to be a money maker as it’s pricey. But I kind of think it’s worth it because who does this anyway? And keeps it up for a year? You could do this completely on your own. But will your loved ones keep writing those stories every week? They will if they know you paid for the subscription!

Make it a fine week!!!!

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My Past Week Minus Work and Physical Therapy

Let me say this up front: have a thoughtful Memorial Day. You might want to read posts from blogger Joy Neal Kidney who writes about her grandparents who lost three  beloved sons during WWII. As Joy reminded on Instagram the other day, Memorial Day is to honor and remember those who died serving the United States. Veteran’s Day is for those who served and came home.  We do tend to blur this distinction. Since so many who die in battle are young, they often leave no children behind. In part for this reason, more of us have veterans in our families or are veterans ourselves, and it is left to nieces and nephews to mourn the fallen family member. In my own family, only one person died during war for the United States (my ancestors arrived in the 1800s, so it’s possible that some siblings of my ancestors perished in war for their countries. This young man was the younger and newly arrived from the Netherlands brother of my great-grandmother’s brother-in-law. That doesn’t sound like a close relation, but our family was small and close and I knew Aunt Jen very well until she passed away when I was twelve. After being in the United States for less than a year, Gerrit Leeuwenhoek volunteered for this country in the Spanish-American war and was shipped to Cuba where he died of malaria. This letter was sent to Uncle Lou and Aunt Jen.

Later, Uncle Lou had Gerrit’s remains moved to the cemetery in Kalamazoo.

***

The dove kids are thriving. We see them hanging out on the railing near the plant that held their nest.

The hummingbird mama is doing well taking care of her twins. She feeds them regularly. Here she is sitting on them.

May is when the saguaros blossom. This year has been a little bit different, though, because they are blossoming more generously. Usually they bloom off the “top of their heads.” But this year the flowers trail down the sides as if there are so many they are spilling over. Nobody seems to know why, though they have made guesses. The gardener says it’s because we didn’t have much rain this year. Click on the image and you can see the flowers growing out of the sides of the tree.

I’ve been reading a novel manuscript, and Kana has been spending her time in the manuscript box, even as it gets filled up with the just-read pages.

My sweet Pear (the 21-year-old) seemed to be unwell, but now I think that she was having trouble getting up and down from the couch–and that in the early morning hours Perry was traumatizing her with his attention. I tried putting things in front of the couch so that she would have a “stairs” of sorts, but she is too fragile to learn something like that at this point. Finally, I had an epiphany. I needed to subtract from the couch instead of adding to it. I took out one of the seat cushions. Now she can step down to the couch without the cushion and then on to the floor. And Perry is now locked in our bedroom at night. What is surprising is that he’s being so good although he can’t roam the house.

Sorry for annoying you with some of my journal pages, but I am enjoying it so much and you can always skip :).

This one is in a very small book. The quote is from a poem called “Sisters” by James Lineberger.

And this one is all about the memories. 

I’m moving forward on the memoir, and I would definitely call it a hybrid at this point. I hope a few people like it when I’m done because I feel better writing this version than any of the previous 18 versions. (No, not kidding). I really hope it works this time. Needless to say.

I’m not sending too much out right now, but just thought I’d let you know I have a new poetry book in the works!!! (Shhh) Yeah, but publication date will be in 2022. That sounds so far away! More info to come.

Make a happy week!

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My Zoo

My daughter shot new headshots for me the other day. Perry loves his attention so he climbed into my arms and posed. This was complete serendipity, but I might use it for my blog and social media image.  Do you like it?

After maneuvering his way into this photo, he wanted his own headshot.

 

A couple of days ago a new bobcat walked through my neighborhood. This one was skinny with a curly tail. I fear there are too many bobcats in one territory now. One day a friend on Instagram referred to all the wildlife here as my “zoo.” Haha, it feels that way sometimes.

The hummingbird eggs have hatched, and Mama is busy feeding them. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo, but I didn’t want to spook the little mother.

On Saturday we had dove baby drama here.  We had some advice from a volunteer at Liberty Wildlife, the rescue that handled the red-tailed hawk rescue last year. I also learned some additional mourning dove info on Google. For instance, did you know that very often the mother and father both take turns sitting on mourning dove nests? Or if the mother does a lot of it, the father will step in, too? This is what happened. The gardener found a dead mourning dove by our glass door in the morning. Then he realized there was a nest in the hanging pot, and it had two big babies inside. We had a wedding to go to so we were getting stressed by trying to figure out if they were still being fed or not. If the mother was killed, would the father feed them? A few hours later we noticed a small adult or nearly adult bird sitting on the edge of the pot, next to the babies. She was there a couple of times when we looked, but not always. Was this their mother? Were they too big for her to fit on the nest? Was it their father who was killed? We planned to bring the babies to Liberty Wildlife next morning if it looked like they weren’t being fed.

Next morning the nest was empty. The gardener saw one of the babies down in the wash, fine so far. Mourning dove babies are still watched over and fed by parents for a week or two after the babies leave the nest. We have to hope they are being fed as I don’t want to rip them away from a parent that is still around.

This art journal page was fun to make. My art journal pages, like those of a lot of people, are not planned out. I just start putting stuff on the paper and see where it will take me. This time it took me to Dick and Jane and their “lunar understanding.”

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