A Wonderful Meeting

My vacation started off with a very brief visit to the Big Apple to see my daughter perform in a new musical at a big musical theatre festival in the city. After a series of travel misfortunes, it didn’t look like the gardener and I were going to make it in time for the show, but a kind Southwest Airlines employee found us the last seats on an American flight. Our luggage went Southwest, and we went American. That was not the last of our travel woes, but we did make it to see daughter perform in a very unique and gorgeous show. Yes, she was amazing; thank you for askingšŸ˜‰.

At the performance, I met two very special audience members–two writers I greatly admire. Almost 2 1/2 years ago, I read Carolyn Quinn’s biography of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Mama Rose’s Turn.Ā 

Mama Rose's Turn

My review of her book can be found here:Ā Memoir’s Cousin. Fascinating story of a fascinating woman. Carolyn blogs about an array of fun topics atĀ Splendiferous Everything

Carolyn has written a new book for middle-grade students about the friendship between two girls – one American, one Japanese – during World War II. I can’t wait to read it. With my interest in children’s literature, my Newbery book collection (mostly books for middle-grade to middle school students), and my interest in WWII memoirs, it ought to be something I will really love.

About a month before my review of Carolyn’s book, I had written a review of a book that has been very special to me for many years. I posted my review inĀ Teaching the Holocaust to Children and Teens. The book isĀ The Upstairs RoomĀ by Johanna Reiss. Johanna, a Dutch Jewish child, lived for 2 1/2 years in the home of a non-Jewish Dutch family, hiding in a room upstairs. Johanna’s book was a Newbery Honor book, so it rests on my collection shelf.

Johanna wrote a sequel calledĀ The Journey Back,Ā which I have also read. It really works best as a true sequel: readĀ The Upstairs Room first.

It turned out that Carolyn and Johanna are besties, and when she found out I was coming to NYC, Carolyn arranged for the two of them to see my daughter’s show and for us to meet in person. They turned out to be so much as I had imagined them to be by their books. Carolyn is a warm and gracious woman, and Johanna is exactly the sensitive, sweet soul I had envisioned in all my readings ofĀ The Upstairs Room.Ā How very special to meet them both and to share in such a special show experience with them.

The lighting was lousy in the tiny lobby of the 42nd street theatre where we met, so I had to really lighten the photo. Sorry it’s not better quality!

Carolyn Quinn, Johanna Reiss, and me

Just before I left for New York, I discovered that Johanna had also written an adult memoir,Ā A Hidden Life,Ā so I ordered it to read when I came home. Now that I’ve finished it, I can tell you that you will want to give yourself some space after readingĀ The Upstairs Room before openingĀ A Hidden Life.Ā I’m not yet prepared to write about this memoir because of its emotional impact, but I will mention that the book is written in a stream of consciousness style that is very difficult to write. Virginia Woolf is the writer who most comes to mind when one thinks of SOC. The style works very well forĀ A Hidden Life because it forces the reader down into the emotional turmoil Johanna experiences after the death of her husband. Read the Amazon blurb to see the heart-breaking situation the story reveals.

For years, Johanna Reissā€™ American husband, Jim, encouraged her to return to Holland to chronicle the two years, seven months, and one day she had spent hiding from the Nazis in rural Usselo, Holland. In 1969, she finally made the trip.

Accompanied by Jim and their two young children, Reiss intended to spend seven weeks researching the book that would eventually become The Upstairs Room, her Newbery Honorā€“winning account of her time hiding in the attic of a farmhouse in which for a time a contingent of Nazi soldiers was billeted.

But unknown to the millions of people who went on to read her beloved classic, behind the dark and painful story of the book was a still darker tale: Reissā€™ husband returned to America early and committed suicide at age thirty-seven, leaving no note.

For Reiss, an ongoing reckoning with universal tragedy becomes particular: she is forced to reckon, too, with Jimā€™s deathā€”and explain it to her children. Subtle and disturbing, the book is a powerful consideration of memory, violence, and loss, told in a stunning and sparse narrative style.

Johanna Reiss is the author of the classic young adult title The Upstairs Room, which Elie Wiesel praised in The New York Times Book Review as an ā€œadmirable account . . . as important in every respect as the one bequeathed to us by Anne Frank.ā€ She is the winner of the Newbery Honor, the Jewish Book Council Childrenā€™s Book Award, and the Buxtehuder Bulle. She lives in New York City.

Read more about Johanna on her website.

What a wonderful meeting. How blessed I was to meet these two women.

 

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Filed under Art and Music, Blogging, Book Review, Books, Children's Literature, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Nonfiction Published in In Parentheses

A lovely magazine calledĀ In Parentheses published my piece “The Weight of Smoke” in their Summer 2016 issue. This piece falls somewhere between prose and poetry as it alternates between direct quotes from a 1902 article from theĀ Kalamazoo Gazette and my creative interpretation after researching the story.

In “The Weight of Smoke,” my great-great-grandmother Alice Paak’sĀ only brother’s house is on fire. His wife had passed away two years before. He and his children each have their own reactions to the loss of their home (which is not insured).

You can purchase a print copy of the magazine at the following link for $9.80. You get a free digital issue with that. Or you can purchase a digital issue for $2.00.

Volume 4 In Parentheses

Photo from thefamilykalamazoo.com

George Paake

“The Weight of Smoke”: The story of George and his children and the house fire of 1902

I’ve been gone for quite awhile and am now back. Woohoo! So glad to be home. I’ll tell you more about my travels later, but I can tell you that the five kitties are thrilled we are home. Kana was kept in her own room so she wouldn’t bother Tiger, and this morning she and Pear kissed. That was so nice to see because Pear used to be a little hissy to her. But not any more :)!

Can’t wait to get back to blog reading once I plow through a couple (10, 20) piles of paper that were deposited in my mailbox in my absence. UGH.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, Literary Journals, Nonfiction, Poetry, Publishing, Writing, Writing Talk

It’s Only Summer Once a Year

Go enjoy summer. Get. off. the. computer.

You could say that those words are meant for ME. Because I need them more than anybody does. My Vitamin D level is too low–presumably because I don’t get enough sun. That’s why I am still on blogging break!

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Filed under Arizona, Blogging

The Many-Dimensioned Cat World

Unlike other creatures of planet Earth, cats live in a world of more than three dimensions. This means that they are suddenly appearing and disappearing from our limited viewpoints.

Here’s a recent example. The other day, Pear Blossom was missing. She didn’t come to breakfast. I looked everywhere in the house for her. She had not been let outside, so if she was accessible within three dimensions, I would have found her. But she was not under a bed, in a corner, not even behind the toilet.

Eventually I decided to scoop the upstairs litter box since I was up there looking for a little tuxedo cat between my hanging clothes and in the shower. While I was bent over, Pear materialized behind me. Science fiction, but fact.

I don’t have a good education in math and science, so I can’t figure out exactly how many dimensions exist for cats. If their world is four dimensions, then Pear must have slipped into a different time point than I was in. But maybe she lives in five dimensions. All I have for an understanding of that world is a 60s singing group with an amazing lead singer called Marilyn McCoo.

I’m glad Pear decided to show herself to me. She’s my oldest cat, and I do worry about her health.

She and the other cats seemed happy to welcome the foster cat Slupe to our family for good over a week ago. We revised her name to Sloopy Anne Castle, and when I call for her, that’s what I call her–Sloopy Anne.

Arizona is so hot that Felix doesn’t want to leave the water bowl. Just in case he wants to drink some, he sleeps with his chin on the rim.

I’m no longer even pretending I’m going to write this summer. Maybe in a few weeks!

Lots of new cats at the shelter–and a few that have been there too long. Check out Home Fur Good’s cat roaming room if you’re in the Phoenix area.

Gigi came as a little kitten to Home Fur Good with her sister Dora. Dora was adopted months ago, but Gigi is growing up in the shelter. She’s a spunky little sweetie pie.

We have lots of kittens right now at the shelter. This little cutie is just one of many cuties of all colors and patterns.

Hope the rest of your summer is beautiful and restful. Or furry like mine haha. Gonna go on blogging break to recharge the brain batteries.

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Filed under Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Writing

Two Poems in Tin Lunchbox Review

Two of the poems I started during theĀ Tupelo PressĀ 30/30 challenge were published in the first issue of a new magazine calledĀ Tin Lunchbox Review.Ā I love that name. It reminds me of the old tin lunchboxes kids used to take to school.

“Tennessee Valley” is on page 15, and “Uncrossing the Strait of Georgia” is on page 31. The first poem was sponsored by a blogger for her friend who lost her young daughter. The second poem was in celebration of our trip to Vancouver Island last summer.

Tin Lunchbox Review 1.1

Yup, I’m still resting on my laurels, as I think Marie put it. #amnotwriting

Hope your week is a wonderful one. I expect mine to be busy and sweaty because for some reason even in the air conditioning I feel the heat of the weather outdoors. Disclaimer: we do have a pool. But the water is hotter than a warm bath.

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Filed under Literary Journals, Poetry, Publishing, Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing Talk

Headless in the Liminal Zone

This is how I feel this summer.

No, not like the model haha. The headless dolls.

I’m not the only person who thinks dolls are representations of humans. Why else do many people believe a child should have a doll that looks like her? Why do they give anatomically correct dolls to children who might have been sexually abused? This belief underpins some of the poems in Doll God.

I can’t seem to feel my head this summer. There are lots of body lumps curvesĀ and big limbs when I glance down. The heat makes me swell, and this makes my already swollen legs and feet take over my self-image until all I am is a big Goodyear blimp with two more blimps hanging down to the floor. I have a condition called Primary Lymphedema, and it causes swelling of the “extremities.” It can be really extreme. If you’ve ever seen someone with grotesquely swollen and misshapenĀ legs, that is probably what she (sometimes he) has. (Just so you know, no, I don’t have the grotesque version–just the super annoying version). If you have ever heard of Elephantiasis, this is really the same illness–only that one is caused by the bite of a mosquito.I’ll throw in a photo from Wikipedia, so you can get the idea.

Elephantiasis

Elephantiasis

I have to wear compression stockings except when I am lying down, even when it’s 118 degrees out. Sometimes I feel like that Goldfinger girl who died when the gold paint covered her entire body. The stockings are almost claustrophobic. My SIL used to say my legs look like ragdoll legs.

A machine pumps my legs occasionally. There is a leg-sized sleeve that fits over my leg and it alternatively fills with air and deflates, pushing against the leg to move the excess fluid out of there and toward my bladder. It makes my legs feel better, but it isn’t that powerful at pushing the fluid around. A massage called manual lymph drainage can be useful, but only if it’s done by a superhero. These superheroes are very rare. I had one for years, but that was in California. I don’t have one in Arizona.

That was a tangent, although I think you needed to know that to understand why my body becomes so central in the summer (at least in my mind haha, which is a bit of a paradox). So my legs look a bit more like the chubby doll legs above than like the elephantiasis sufferer, but much lumpier.

I might have lost my male readers by now because I have discovered that men generally can’t bear to look at the swelling. They seem to find it upsetting. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m generalizing too much. I’m just reporting on my experiences over the last few decades.

By now you might wonder why there are two dolls. I can’t answer that question because I found them this way at the hair salon. But since everything has a reason and a pattern, I have to assume that I am not the only one of me out there. Somebody else has the same problem.

On another note, I’m not just headless because the body has taken over my mind. It’s also because it’s hot and summer is such a LIMINAL period. Yes, it is. It always feels liminal to me–a passage between one year and another. Maybe it’s because I was very focused on school and summer vacation as a kid and then I was a teacher and the universe always seemed to operate on the school year.

All of the above is just to say that between the inflating body and the liminal season I #amnotwriting. Gosh, I have my memoir manuscript back from a reader and have some ideas on how to proceed. And I have the play we are supposed to be working on. I had another chapbook piece–this one flash nonfiction–taken by a lovely literary magazine calledĀ In Parentheses.Ā It was all I could do to look it over for revision possibilities. At this point, most of the short prose pieces have been taken. So I really need to . . . WRITE SOMETHING.

Or not. I might not push myself until September. It will still be hot then, but the liminal period will be over.

In the meantime, we are going to sign the papers for Sloopy–and yes, that will be her new name!

###

Writing tip: when cooking Chinese food always use sesame oil. You can never have a bad meal if you follow that advice. On a full stomach, you will be happier and think you are a writer even if you are not writing.

 

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Filed under Arizona, Doll God, Dolls, Flash Nonfiction, Food & Drink, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

Book reminiscing: Doll God by Luanne Castle

To celebrate this charming and personal review of Doll God by Robin at her blog, I am offering for one last time a donation event to receive a free copy.
For one lil ole donation of a minimum of $10 to Home Fur Good no-kill animal shelter in Phoenix, you will receive a signed copy of my book and a cat or elephant charm with free shipping (and tax write-off from the shelter).
My book is valued at $14 and the charm at $5, plus I am picking up the shipping myself. All I am asking is that you donate a minimum of $10 (for shipping to US address!!! (For international, please email me to discuss shipping costs). Feel free to donate more if you can, but only one package deal per person, please.
CLICK HERE TO DONATE: Home Fur Good donations

Go hereĀ for full details including how to email me the information.

witlessdatingafterfifty

image

I read my friend from Michiganā€™s book,

ā€œDoll God,ā€ over a period of days.

Luanne Castle heads off on some

interesting, curious, twisted paths

in numerous directions taken.

Natural, mystical and physical

worlds inexplicably melded,

in her 2015 prize-winning

book awarded by the ~

ā€œNew Mexico ā€“ Arizona

Book Awards.ā€

All found within a collection of

54 deeply moving, tense and

alternatively relaxing, poems.

I had wished to write with parts

of each poem originally to intrigue

and entice you with snippets

but we had to cut back

featuring several instead.

Partnering up with my mother,

past 30 year teacher of high school

English, World Literature and Spanish,

we tackled thought-provoking poems.

Floundering a bit in our lack of abstract-

thinking abilities, both more practiced

in concrete-level of comprehension.

Quick summaries may also

provide clues to what hidden

gems may lie underneath the

piles of pages, like leaves, which

holdā€¦

View original post 796 more words

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Filed under Book Review, Doll God, Dolls, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Writing

Pliers Lined Up by Size

My son has a cat stroller he uses to take his cats for walks. It was quite pricey, so although he encouraged me to get one I didn’t for over a year. But then I saw one at 1/3 the price online, so I ordered it. It arrived in great need of “putting together.”

I left it lying on the living room floor and every time the gardener asked me why I hadn’t put it together yet, I explained how busy I am. (I am busy; that’s not a lie).

Finally, he started putting it together himself. Ā [Big winky face]

But the instructions were not correct and the gardener is not a patient person. I could hear him complaining to beat the band, so I offered to help. He asked me to get a long skinny screwdriver and a pliers with a regular style jaw in a medium size. When he started to explain a little more, I had to remind him: “I’m my father’s daughter, remember? I was raised alongside Dad’s workbench.”

My father had a workshop in our basement, and when I was younger than six I could often be found at his feet as he toiled at his building, fixing, creating. I loved the vise, the lathe, and all the different tools lined up by order of size on the pegboard over the workbench.

When I was six, my father built a bomb shelter out of his workshop–and moved all his stuff out to the garage. This “poem start” (not a completed poem, but a first draft) documents that first workshop and its disappearance.

Winter

 

A small, square space at the bottom of the steps.

One casement window ajar

just below

the ceiling hinting

at the black and unknown winter.

 

The man working, a little girl,

face like a cup,

watching his arms crank

the vise handle,

tighten the grip

like Superman.

 

False walls invoke a room from

the open basement.Ā  The workbench

so like that of the elves,

its thick wooden surface scarred

slick by hammer blows.

 

He presides over the saw

with precision, aiming

for the pencil line, sawdust

falling away on each side

like the snow from a plow.

 

A rack of baby food jars

containing nails and screws

revolves overhead, and at the back

of the planked surface families

of pliers and screwdrivers line up

by size like Goldilocksā€™ bears.

 

The girl sits behind him

the chilled concrete twanging

her backside through her thin

pajamas.Ā  She pounds the

wooden posts in her little workbench

all the way through and then

flips it and pounds them back again.

 

Everything in its place.

His sleeping bag and snowshoes

from the war

hang from the rafters.Ā  The caricature

of the man pinning diapers on her,

her head bald except for

two hairs sprouting heroically

as Tweety Bird.

 

He carries the contents she thinks

are the room

up the stairs and out to the garage.

The claw and the ball hammers, all

the members of the pliers and screwdriver

families, the cardboard box

of sandpaper.Ā  Sleeping bag and painting.

 

After much labor slabbing mortar,

constructing dual-layer cinder block

walls, the man rests

his chin on the ladder rung, surveys

 

a small, square space at the bottom of the steps,

dark and cold.

 

On the way out, he slaps

a fallout shelter decal

on the door he has just hung.

 

The man toils over his bench in the garage now.

Sheā€™s not allowed.

The space heater is too dangerous.

For a couple of years I couldn’t follow my father into the workshop the same way. The coziness and security were gone. But then we moved when I was eight and he created another wonderful workshop in the basement. Ā He did so everywhere he ever lived.

Designing theĀ Butterflies are FreeĀ set in Dad’s workshop–11th grade

When my father was dying he gave me a beautiful set of wrenches to take home. As I tried to get through security at the airport, TSA took the wrench set from me. I never saw it again.

After Dad’s funeral, family members and friends began plundering his workshop of its tools and gadgets.

What place reminds you of your father or mother? My grandmother’s kitchen reminds me of her, and my other grandmother’s sewing room expresses her spirit. My grandfather’s place was his vegetable garden.

###

For the rest of the summer, I plan to blog once a week instead of twice. I’m behind in my conversations with y’all and want to catch up! I’ve got some new eye problems, so I’m trying not to spend as much time on the computer, writing and reading, and then, after all, it is really really hot here.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

Song or Surname? What Shall It Be?

The gardener doesn’t like how Slupe’s name is spelled. Not that she’s our cat (yet). She’s still a foster, but as time moves along, things are looking more and more hopeful that we can keep her. She roams the house outside her bedroom for about 5 hours a day and then sometimes an hour later on. But she doesn’t want to stay out longer yet, as she gets a little stressed and hasn’t found her own safe spots yet.

I don’t know where the name Slupe comes from, but since some jerkĀ  her previous owner turned her into County (where they usually kill cats so they don’t have to find a cage and food for them) I will assume that they turned in her name along with her body.

Now the sound of Slupe–which is pronounced just like Sloopy or Slupey–is kind of cute, but if you didn’t see it spelled out you might think it was spelled Sloopy, which can’t help but remind me of these old song lyrics:

Hang on, Sloopy
Sloopy, hang on
Hang on, Sloopy
Sloopy, hang on

Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)
And everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)
Sloopy, I don’t care what your daddy do (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)
‘Cause you know, Sloopy, girl, I’m in love with you (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

And so I sing out
Hang on, Sloopy
Sloopy, hang on
Hang on, Sloopy
Sloopy, hang on

Kind of chilling lyrics (“tries to put my Sloopy down”), considering the circumstances of Slupe’s life. Ā Here is the whole song:

Slupe has been hanging on at the no-kill shelter for two years now, so she definitely followed the song’s advice.

What’s your opinion? Slupe or Sloopy? Will she care? Is it better to make the gardener happy by changing the spelling? What IS a Slupe/Sloopy anyway?

According to the internet, there are all kinds of negatives associated with the word sloopy–and usually likened to sloppy. Some people say the inspiration for the song was a 51-year-old Columbus, Ohio, singer named Dorothy Sloop, but this is really stretching things.

There is a Project Sloopy that helps people around the world get medical supplies. People use Sloopy as a nickname or term of endearment.

The song itself has become unofficially tied to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Here is info about that phenomenon.

Then I looked up Slupe. I found this link! Thasssssss my girl!

Apparently Slupe is a surname. It could be related to Sloop, which definitely comes from the Dutch Sloep. A sloep/sloop is a type of sailboat. I’m glad that Slupe found this Dutch girl’s house!

I took her to the vet the other day for a checkup, and I warned them how at the shelter they found her to be so difficult to handle. Hahaha, she was angelic. She even let them cut all her nails. I think the carrier I used was very helpful. While we waited, she could feel my hand and leg against her body through the mesh.

Another thought . . .

Sometimes I get random thoughts about a subject and spend some time wondering or even researching said subject. Today it was privacy. It is an important topic today since we are increasingly losing our privacy because of technology like cell phones, the internet, and now drones.

But I have actually been contemplating cat privacy. Since Slupe was two years in the shelter, she hadn’t had a moment of privacy in all that time. You know how cats like to find little private places every once in a while? How does it feel to a cat who can’t find any place private for years? No, I don’t believe cats really need privacy in the litter box–just safety. Or even mating. But I do think they like “alone time” every so often.

Bottom line:

Song (Sloopy) or Surname (Slupe): what shall it be? Whichever it is, you know that she will never let us know her secret name.

And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.ā€
ā€• T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

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Filed under Art and Music, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

A Study in Patriotism

Happy Independence Day,

United States of America!!!

 

For a little 4th fun, here is my favorite patriotic song. Written by two Swedes and an English man about an imaginary Soviet defector . . . .

Sung here in English by Swedish singer Tommy Korberg:

 

I think the liminal photo is connected with the words to the song.

Now if I could just figure out why this song makes me cry.

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Filed under Art and Music, Lifestyle, Liminality, Writing