It was three days ago that I promised to “get cracking.” Is that expression only found in certain parts of the country?
Anyway, I promised to respond to blog comments, to read other blogs, and I guess implicitly I promised to keep posting. Yikes. I’m 30 pages away from the end of the memoir I’m reading (so I have no memoir review yet). And I have read some blogs, but have by no means caught up. I’ve responded to very few comments on this blog.
After getting back from Michigan, I had a lot of business work to handle. In addition, I had to revise my poetry book manuscript, Doll God. Then I am putting together a package of pages and book summary to finish my certificate in nonfiction through Stanford University. I have a poem being published online tomorrow and had to record an audio version. The list goes on and on.
I will keep working at catching up, but in the meantime I feel like such a slacker. And yet I’m really busy! I swear I am!
So that you didn’t read this for nothing, I can offer you some photos of the covered bridge outside Centreville, Michigan. My grandmother loved covered bridges. She collected paintings of them. I think they reminded her of growing up at the beginning of the 20th century in rural Michigan. This particular covered bridge is special to me. My husband and I drove through it on our first date, which was a drive in the country. We were high school juniors.
I’m closing comments on this post to give me more time to catch up. Thanks for stopping by! xo
After my visits to Sedona and southern California, I traveled to my hometown in Michigan and just got back yesterday. I’m sorry I’ve been slow to respond to blog comments and am behind in my reading. I didn’t want to post online that I was going away, so I couldn’t warn you that I would be taking longer to reply. What an exhausting trip. My parents have moved into a retirement community and are putting their house up for sale. Lots of stuff going on, and it’s been difficult for them.
But what a beautiful time of the year to visit Michigan.
In the city
Hard to believe such a lovely spot on private land is visible to the public.
The blocks below are from the old synagogue that no longer exists. They have been erected at the site of the current synagogue.
The “cathedral” still towers over the highway, I was relieved to see. I never attended services there, but we did hang out on the grounds after football games.
It was fun and a little stressful visiting the old haunts and houses. Meeting my new great-niece for the first time was best of all! She’s as cute as a bug’s ear. I don’t want to post her photo because she’s not my child, so I don’t think I should make that decision. But trust me: you can’t find a cuter 6-month-old anywhere!
As we drove to the airport out of town, we passed by Amish and Mennonite farms.
This week, I plan to catch up on my blog comments and, especially, reading your blogs!!!
I’m trying to figure out which are the best days to post on WordPress. I’ve been posting Mondays and Thursdays, at exactly 5:20AM Pacific time for ages. Don’t ask me about the 5:20. I have no idea how that started, but I have clung to it out of some weird feeling akin to superstition. I like the way 5:20 looks on the page, too.
But Mondays and Thursdays? How do I know those are the best? When would you prefer I post? Sorry, never is not an option ;).
I like to post 2x a week because that is what I can handle. (Sometimes I consider switching to once a week because two can be overwhelming, but for now I am sticking to two per week). I also post once a week on my family history blog, and I’ve been doing that on Wednesdays. That puts my blog posts all crammed in together between 4 days. I would prefer to do Monday, Wednesday, Friday–or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday–with one of the 3 days being for The Family Kalamazoo.
The reason I like to plan this out and not hit publish when I’m done with a post is because I have to schedule time to enter the discussions–or all those pesky critters like work, maintenance, cleaning, and certain family members will take up all my time.
With a little click of your computer keys, please let me know what days you prefer my Writer Site posts.
A long time ago, a blogger (I think it was The Poet’s Wife, but it looks like her blog doesn’t exist any longer) recommended a memoir to me, and I bought the book, intending to read it right away. Instead, I misplaced the book. The other day I discovered the book had slipped behind some others on the shelf, so I finally read it: Pang-Mei Natasha Chang’s Bound Feet and Western Dress.
If you remember my review of Helen Fremont’s After Long Silence, you know that Fremont’s book was billed as a memoir, but focused more on a recreation of the lives of her parents during the Holocaust. Of course, there was some memoir story about Fremont’s own life, including how she and her sister put the pieces of the secret story together. Chang’s book goes a step further. While the book cover calls this a dual memoir–that of the author and her Great Aunt Yu-i–to me this is more the memoir of Yu-i as verbally told and recreated on the page by her younger relative. It is mainly Yu-i’s story. And what a story it is.
She was born at the very beginning of the 20th century in China. Times were changing rapidly. During the course of Yu-i’s life, she must learn how to become a more “Western” woman and still show respect for her elders and her heritage by adhering to the traditions that were most important. Yu-i was the first woman in her family not to have her feet bound, and yet when she was married by her family to a man she didn’t know, she acted very traditional, as if she had bound feet.
When he divorces her, she must learn to take care of herself and her responsibilities. She describes the change in herself this way:
I always think of my life as “before Germany” and “after Germany.” Before Germany, I was afraid of everything. After Germany, I was afraid of nothing.
Yu-i’s story is a triumph of admirable traits, resilience, and a loving family.
And who is this man who divorced her? Hsu Chih-mo, arguably the most famous Chinese poet of his time period. Check out this Wikipedia link about him. Why did he divorce her? What happened to her after the divorce? Read. the. book.
Last week I went to Long Beach, California, for work. I didn’t have a camera with me, but I had my iPhone. Unfortunately, every great potential shot I saw I couldn’t photograph. I found it so frustrating. Either I was in the car and couldn’t get a clear view or I couldn’t get to the camera of the phone fast enough. On top of that, my husband kept complaining, saying I was spending too much time photographing and that it was distracting him from driving and thinking. (I thought to myself, if you’re that easily distractible, you have worse problems than a wife with an iPhone). But I didn’t want to overly annoy him since he was the one driving.
We drove all over Long Beach and Signal Hill. The beauty of Signal Hill is that they have the best city views. But could I get a photo? No.
I saw an oil refinery; it was big. And the largest USPS distribution center I had ever seen. Then a huge warehouse for Office Depot.
So I’m apologizing that I don’t have any of the good pix, but here are a few of what I did take. Southern Cali, last week:
Some of the buildings could be vacant–or not.
And there are oil derricks everywhere, as if it’s Oklahoma. Now the truth is that I don’t know if this equipment is the derrick or the pump, but isn’t the derrick what houses the pump?
A lot of oil was discovered at Signal Hill. But don’t take my word for it. Here is a photograph from 1923. Look at those oil derricks. I happen to know those tall scaffolding-looking towers are derricks. Click on the photo and slide to the side to see the whole view.
We did make it to the antique store where I like to look at vintage photos of anonymous people.
I was surprised to see this antique photograph of a cast of a woman’s face. Someone wrote her name, the names of her children, and the name of the artist on the back.
What is her name? Can you read it? I suspect that she died and left no photographs, so the family had a cast made of her face and this photograph was taken to memorialize the woman. What is your theory?
My husband collects soda pop signs and memorabilia. This is a dispenser for the syrup of a drink called Lemon Crush.
In southern California, we also saw limes.
Lots of limes. I even picked some.
Now I have to keep reminding hubby to make limeade. He’s the limeade maker in our house.
On the way home, Border Patrol had a large, makeshift border stop set up with dozens of agents. A dog sniffed every single car. We weren’t sure if it was for drugs, bombs, or a kidnapping. I looked online and at their website, but I couldn’t find anything about the stop. My vote is for bomb materials. Since I value my freedom, I didn’t even pull out the iPhone at the border stop.
I was tempted to save this memoir for a Halloween blog post, but that might give you the wrong idea about this book written by a “gravedigger’s daughter.” Rachael Hanel, who blogs here, tells the story of growing up in a small town in Minnesota. Her father was a caretaker at the cemeteries, as well as a digger of graves.
The emphasis on cemeteries and graves in the book make their way onto the page of her blog, as well. Very educational and even entertaining to look directly at headstones and death, without flinching. While Hanel’s family story and history is very middle America (and I don’t mean that dismissively–it’s interesting for its specificity), the style she wrote the memoir in deviates from the norm. It is overwhemingly memoir-ish throughout, but also threads through journalistic techniques and in the last portion of the book even becomes more like a lyric essay–lyrical and reflective.
I was stunned to see how many photographs were “allowed” in Hanel’s book. They add a lot, and they made me a little (oddly enough) jealous because I know how difficult it is to get a publisher to agree to using photographs (presumably because of the cost).
As a child, Hanel was interested in violent deaths, even reading Helter Skelter, the story of the Manson murders, at age eleven. This fascination is not surprising given the emphasis in the family on death. Adult reflection tells us she has learned this:
Reading became a protection; the words were a blanket I wrapped tightly around me. The stories helped me prepare for the inevitable. I surrounded myself with these words, reminders that bad things happen to good people. I read somewhere that we are drawn to stories of death and disease to convince ourselves that we would act differently. That somehow, by learning of someone else’s story we can protect ourselves.
I not only agree with these words, but I think they are a main reason I love to read memoirs.
I experimented with something new in my writing. I wrote a poem and a story in second person. Everywhere I wanted to say “I did” this, I wrote “you did.” It’s not a point of view that would work for every piece–and it has to be used sparingly–but it really got me out of my writing ruts (craters, according to the mean editor in my head).
EWE WITH WRITING OR WRITING WITH YOU
In the story, writing about “you” instead of “I” gave me that needed distance between the me of today and the me of 1979. The two women are barely the same person.
Here’s a sample from the story:
Not that long ago, you’d partied in your college town with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got you alone in the kitchen, he’d blown rum breath in your face and fingered your long brown hair, the hair you straightened with giant rollers . . . .
Here it would be in 1st person:
Not that long ago, I’d partied back home with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got me alone in the kitchen, he’s blown rum breath in my face and fingered my hair, the hair I straightened with giant rollers . . . .
There’s nothing wrong (in my estimation haha) with the second one, but writing in the “I,” I need to show more introspection and accountability for myself. In the “you,” I don’t need to do so and that forces the reader to read more sharply and pay attention more closely. For a short piece like this (500 words total), that’s the reading effect I wanted. Notice that I also felt funny about saying “long brown” about my hair. Too many adjectives about the self. But in 2nd person I can get away with it.
In the poem, experimenting with 2nd person added a mysterious layer that lends depth and texture.
In both pieces, the reader is approached more intimately and encouraged to participate in the birth of the piece (writing + reading = birth).
If you feel that you’re in a rut with your writing, why don’t you give it a try? Either write a story or poem from scratch in the 2nd person point of view (POV) or take an existing draft and change it. But when you revise into the new POV, be sure to keep yourself loose enough to make other changes as you go. Once you change POV you are changing the story in more ways than you can imagine.
Write a story or poem in 2nd person point of view. Or revise a 1st person story or poem into 2nd person.
I’ve been behind in responding to comments on Monday’s post–and on reading your blogs–because I was away, visiting Sedona for a couple of days.
I had a lovely time rebalancing my energies, although I never caught a glimpse of my aura (which I’m sure is coral in color) and didn’t even see any crystals for sale.
On to my memoir review.
I’ve read a lot of stories about the Shoah (the Holocaust), but never one quite like the story of Helen Fremont’s family. Her book, After Long Silence: A Memoir, is truly a blend of genres, regardless of the title.
Fremont is of my generation, but her parents were European refugees who came to the United States after WWII. To everyone outside the family they were a nice Polish-American Catholic family. Inside the nuclear family, they also appeared to be Catholics of Polish ancestry.
The book is about the story Helen discovers when she is an adult. Her parents were actually Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust. They won’t admit it, though–at least not until Helen hounds them for the truth.
From the opening, the main question Helen seeks to answer in the book is “What really happened to my parents during the war years?” Eventually that question turns into “Why do they still want to keep the secret?”
Fremont alternates her story with that of both her parents before and during and right after the war. Once the story of her parents’ paths to survival begins in earnest, Fremont has me completely hooked. Those chapters/sections are to me the essence of the book–and they truly would not be memoir if they were not framed within a memoir. They read like a Holocaust biography or novel–gripping and disturbing. What her parents did to survive shows how far the human spirit and personality can stretch and mold.
The sections about Fremont’s parents’ lives are imagined stories based upon Fremont’s research. This is exactly what I am planning to do with my book, although I have not done enough research yet and have left those portions for last. They won’t take over my story the way Fremont’s parents’ stories take over her memoir. It makes sense that the stories of her parents overshadows Fremont’s own story since the huge secret her parents imposed on their family overshadowed Fremont’s life. But at the end of the book she feels independent of them. This is important because it means she can differentiate herself as an individual adult.
I did a little research after finishing the book. The Afterword made me believe that Fremont’s parents were not happy with the publication of the book, but that Fremont and her sister found Jewish (2nd) cousins they didn’t know existed. I’ve read sources that talk about a rift in the family caused by the book. Then I discovered that after Fremont’s father died, still “estranged” from Judaism, she wanted her father remembered in a Jewish ritual. I found this quote in this article (if I were you, I wouldn’t read the article until after you read the book because it gives away too much of the parents’ story):
“Two weeks ago” – my relative told me – “Helen Fremont was in touch with me and informed me that her father had passed away. She asked me to do something in order to commemorate him according to Jewish tradition. After checking that there was no Halakhic obstacle involved and “although he sinned, he remains a Jew”, I promised that I would say Kaddish for him each time I prayed with a Minyan [quorum of ten required for saying the Kaddish]. And this I do.”
In my research, I found this website for the children of Holocaust survivors. Here is also a website about an organization devoted to teaching about the Holocaust USC Shoah Foundation.
Here are a few posts I’ve written related to the Holocaust:
One section of my memoir bookshelf is devoted to books by Holocaust survivors. I read these books years ago, long before I started to think about memoir as a genre. I’ve read Holocaust memoirs written for children and ones written …Continue reading →
Years ago, my friend, Lisa Ercolano, urged me to read a memoir by a friend of hers who had passed away. This is how she describes her friend for this post: Over the quarter of a century that I worked … Continue reading →