Love this review of Kin Types by poet and writer Jen Payne.
In case you’re getting tired of seeing the same book cover (haha), here’s a portrait of my great-grandmother Cora who is in the book more than once.
The Lost in Books blog reviewed KIN TYPES, and I found it to be an interesting take on it.
Whenever we think of family stories, the only forms we can think of are prose, memoir or short stories. That sounds rational and logical. Luanne Castle proves how wrong that typical and schematic thinking is. Why couldn’t you take the genealogical research and put it into the world of poetry? M y adventure […]
I had the privilege of guest blogging about a poem from Kin Types today.
A big thank you to Charles because The Secret Life of Objects inspired me to want to write about objects as memoir. Not in a hit or miss way, but purposefully. To choose an object with meaning and to write about its “secret life.” #memoir #flashmemoir
I might do that here on this blog, peeps. So consider yourselves forewarned. Today, though, I’m just chattering. And trying to do a little writing as I can. Here. At my laptop.
Or sometimes elsewhere.
This week I was in California for business. I wrote notes for a poem at my favorite cafe in La Canada: Magpie’s Grill. They leave me alone to write, and they refill my iced tea.
On the way home, I saw a bus burning on the 10. The whole backend was engulfed in flames, and the riders were standing off to the side of the freeway. I think it was their luggage that was burning. According to the news story that I later looked up, 49 Korean tourists and their driver had made it out of the bus safely. I can’t help but wonder if their passports were so lucky.
The week was made more difficult because I washed my phone with the laundry. Before this happened, I could have proudly proclaimed that I wasn’t one of those people who get their phone wet. No toilet mishaps. No accidental falls into the pool. No slipping off the edge of the tub. Nope. But I stripped the bedsheets without noticing the phone lying there and just threw them into the washer. It was probably a goner after the waterfall cascade poured over the phone. It was sopping wet inside and already corroding.
But the upside is I now have a new phone. It’s a rose gold iPhone 7. I got a clear case and a glass cover that has a rose gold frame on it. PURTY! Best of all, the camera is much better than that on my iPhone 5s.
Perry is a great big kitten. He grabs Felix in a wrestling hold, almost smothering him, and licks his ear inside and out before Felix can get away. He climbs on Kana’s cat tree with her and walks across her, pretending he just wants to get to the other tree. What a goof. He will be seeing another vet for his fast breathing, though, as I am getting more worried about it. Here is his “this new life is sometimes mysterious, but I am doing my best to figure things out and please be patient with me” look. Or is it his “what are we gonna do now, Mom?” look?
While I know very little about country music in general, in the specific I love the music of Tom. T. Hall. Tom T. Who? OK, mebbe before your time. He was born in Kentucky in 1936. You would know he was from Kentucky just from the bluegrass you can hear in many of his songs.
Tom T. Hall is a songwriter, as well as a performer, and it is really through his songwriting that he’s known as “The Storyteller.” I love music that tells stories (probably why I love Broadway musicals), and all his songs sound like flash memoir set to guitar (banjo, etc.). I tend to think of him as “The Poet” because his lyrics are poems.
Factoid: His most well-known song Hall didn’t record himself: “Harper Valley PTA,” which was recorded by Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. The song was a #1 hit and won a Grammy and a CMA award.
The other day I was driving the Gardener’s car. He had an old Tom T. Hall CD of mine in the CD player. (Yes, he uses a CD player and a flip phone). As I listened to the song “Country Is,” I thought some of the sentiments seemed familiar to those I discovered while writing Kin Types.
Watch for the oppositional images, the paradoxes, but the whole thing isn’t framed that way.
Country is sitting on the back porch
Listen to the whippoorwills late in the day
Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way
Country is living in the city
Knowing your people, knowing your kind
Country is what you make it
Country is all in your mind
Country is working for a living
Thinking your own thoughts, loving your town
Country is teaching your children
Find out what’s right and stand your ground
Country is a having the good times
Listen to the music, singing your part
Country is walking in the moonlight
Country is all in your heart
First, he sets us on the back porch in a peaceful scene that feels inviting. You don’t have to be “country” to enjoy hearing the “whippoorwills late in the day.”
Then he sings:
Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way
That is a paradox. You mind your beeswax, which sounds isolationist. But you also help someone in need who crosses your path. Wow, does that ever sound like these lines from the first poem of Kin Types, “Advice from My Forebears.”
If they come to your door, feed them. Then send
them on their way.
That comes from the philosophy of my mother’s Dutch family. You don’t get embroiled in other people’s business, but you do help them when they come to you–then send them back to their own business.
That second stanza tells us what the song is about. Because country is a mental state, it’s what we make of it. It’s up to us. We can be country and live in the city where we meet and interact with diverse people everywhere we go. But we also need to “know” our own kind. That really came home to me as I worked on the poems of Kin Types. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate my family. I saw what I thought was lacking or limited in them, even listened to stereotypes, but didn’t try to imagine what it was like to be my parents or their parents or grandparents. To know myself I had to learn to understand my family. Now I feel I know my kin and kind. I don’t always like them, but I understand and love them. I think it’s important to look at the line this way because otherwise we might jump to the conclusion that knowing our own kind means associating only with your kind. But it doesn’t.
The first half of the third stanza is more paradox, although it doesn’t appear so on the surface. People who are country work for a living. They aren’t independently wealthy (and if they were they would still live off what they make by working). And someone who is country might be employed by a big company or a boss who tries to impose a will on the workers. But if you’re country you keep your opinions! From there on the stanza respects loving one’s own town (which reminded me of my blog The Family Kalamazoo and how Kin Types arose from that setting) and the honor in “finding out what’s right,” which I love. It’s FINDING OUT, not KNOWING what’s right (sorry for shouting–I couldn’t help it). It’s keeping a questioning open mind and having the courage to stick up for what you have learned is right. These are traits I discovered in my own relatives by researching their stories.
The last stanza is sentimentalized and brings the listener to the song of the moment. We better be singing our part. Finally, that last line takes the earlier line, “Country is all in your mind,” and now adds that it is also in your heart. We have become “country” through our minds and our hearts.
I couldn’t help but think of the Vegas victims and survivors while listening to this song and others by Tom T. Hall. My heart is with them.
My son and “new daughter” love country music and attended the concert in Huntington Beach the weekend before the terror in Vegas. I thought to myself, “They so easily could have been there.” Although I don’t go to concerts and couldn’t name most of the current country performers, I feel as if I could have so easily been there. After all, we’re all a little bit country.
And now for the weekly Perry update:
Perry and Kana
Every family has its stories. The ones that cause us to post links and odd comments on the social media of our family members. Nobody else “gets” it because they don’t know the stories we’ve developed over the years.
One of our private stories (no longer private with this post, I guess) may or may not be apocryphal. I’m going to tell it as I know it, but maybe somebody else might have a different take on it.
Years ago, before I had kids even, it was very special to be able to tour Burbank Studios (now part of Warner Brothers). They only allowed a handful of people to tour each week, and you had to have some sort of connection to the industry. They were private tours.
When the gardener and I visited Los Angeles, I decided I just had to go on the tour. So I had to come up with an occupation that had some involvement in the film biz. I told them that I was a writer. That did the trick. Hahaha, this was before I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer, but if wishin’ were horses, I’d have my own stables.
On the day of the tour, the southern California sky turned a very opaque gray and hurled a deluge at us. The lot at the studio had turned to mud and it splashed at my ankles as I ran from the car to the building. I remember what I was wearing. My good blue and green striped cotton Polo sweater and ivory cords. You know what mud does on the back of ivory cords? Brown spatters up to the knees. It’s a good thing those cords were ruined. Nobody dresses like that anymore. I hope.
My hair was medium length by then, no longer to-the-waist. And I’d gotten a perm to try to replicate marcel waves, a look I’d always loved. My hair had turned a golden color from the perm. OK, it was positively brassy, but shiny and twinkly and not too ugly under a strong overhead light. Because I was young I looked pretty good, but if I had been any older I think the hair and the outfit would have DONE ME IN.
We toured some of the facility by golf cart, but most of our time was spent inside the sound stages because of the rain. They were filming T.J. Hooker, and William Shatner was hamming it up for the cameras. The four of us (a screenwriter and his wife, the gardener and moi) and our tour guide sat on the far side of the sound stage to watch the action. Fifteen minutes into this, a “runner” came to our tour guide and whispered into her ear. She whispered back and the runner ran back to the Hooker set. Our guide caught my eyes and raised her eyebrows, then pursed her mouth in a way that said I’m impressed.
When we left the sound stage, she told me that I had caught Shatner’s eye and he’d sent the runner to find out who I was. Maybe he assumed that I really was a writer, maybe even one cooking up a good story for him to star in.
This blog post is the best I could do for him, I’m sorry to say.
The gardener kept the story going for years, assuring the kids that I could have married the TV star before they were even born. Because the kids grew up with that story, my fate as almost-Shatner’s-wife became family lore.
Perry’s bloodwork came back negative, so his heart must be ok. And I #amwriting, no kidding. Maybe not what I intended (the memoir), but still writing.