There’s a great cartoon by Dan Piraro (Bizarro.com) out that I have decided it’s safer not to have on this post for possible copyright reasons. A woman writer is signing books at a book store. The name of her book is called My Miserable Life. haha, an obvious memoir. Her parents are apologizing to her, saying that if they had known that she was going to be a writer they would have been better parents. Too bad she wasn’t born with a warning for her parents.
Beware: a writer is born. Treat her well!
I find it funny because anybody writing a memoir that involves their childhood is likely to find flaws in their upbringing. Heck, most of us do anyway.
My memoir manuscript (such as it is) is out with beta readers right now. Nervous? Me? Hah, yup!
On the subject of memoir, I just finished Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas, a pseudonym. I gave it a 2 out of 5. I’m a generous rater. If you have read it, what did you think? I felt I was being played. Not totally sure in what way. The obvious goal was to persuade readers that sociopaths are special and are a boon to society. Apparently she is real, an ex-law professor named Jamie Rebecca Lund. Apparently the book (and its creepy admissions) caused her to lose a great gig as a law professor at BYU.
But the creepiness of story and author are not why I gave the book a 2. It’s repetitive and quite dry for very long passages. Copy editing was well done though!
Finally, a memoir needs to have a very trustworthy narrator, and that is where this book could never have worked. By the writer’s admission, sociopaths lie and manipulate. So how could I trust her?
I hope everyone who celebrates has a person or persons to be with tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Here’s a photo of another woman in Kin Types, my paternal grandmother–with her son, my father’s twin brother, at our house for Thanksgiving in the early 70s. She is the one who owned the mailbox marker in A Sign to Remember
The big news around our house is that we finally adopted Perry. He’s no longer our foster cat, but our permanent family member.
Perry is full of cuteness. He still fetches and cuddles and licks. He also sits up on his butt like a little meerkat. He looks like he’s praying.
Perry seems to be feeling ok. He’s been out more with the other cats, annoying Felix and Kana in particular. He wants to spoon with Felix, and Felix won’t stand for it, but then Felix wanders the kitchen looking for a safe place and not finding one. He wears a forlorn expression now, except early morning and evening when Perry is in his room. Kana can’t even eat in peace. Perry lies in wait to grab her food as soon as she is done.
Yup, Kana is eating in the pic. And that is Perry on our left, smelling that special hypoallergenic kibble.
I had a nightmare last week about Kana. It went on and on and on. I kept waking up, only to fall back asleep into the same dream. My cats were at the neighbor’s house (but it wasn’t my neighborhood or my neighbor’s house and there were no people in the dream) and when I went to get them, the front door was open about 5″. I grabbed a couple of cats and ran them home, slamming that door shut behind me. Then I went back for more cats. When I looked around my house, I realized Kana was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere. She must have gotten out before I got to my neighbors. This dream was on repeat for SO long.
The day after the dream I realized it was Black Cat Appreciation Day. So I dunno. But one of the triggers for the dream was probably what happened a while back. SLOOPY ANNE GOT OUT OF MY HOUSE IN THE DARK OF NIGHT! If you have indoor/outdoor cats and have had no problems, bully for you. But in my neighborhood, there is a pack of gynormous coyotes and the humongousest bobcat of all. There are no living cats in my neighborhood which was why we had to trap Perry and get him indoors right away.
What must have happened was that the gardener was grilling a burger for himself and, since he’s Sloopy Anne’s favorite person, she must have followed him outside. He spotted her sitting under a patio chair, although it was so dark even with the patio light that at first he thought it was a generic cat, not one of OUR cats. Then he realized it was our sweet pea. We both started trying to get her. Understand that she’s the cat that is the most difficult to catch of all six. I couldn’t even bring her to the vet for a recheck after her teeth cleaning because she was too wily.
If it hadn’t been so serious and scary, our attempts to grab her would have been quite the slapstick. We, and especially me, ran through all the flower beds and bushes as Sloopy Anne climbed the palo verde trees, the outside wall, and even the oleanders (which are toxic to animals). She sat up on a tree branch taunting me. I began to think about the long night ahead. I realized I would have to sit outside, ready to scare off coyotes, if we couldn’t get her to come in. At one point my bad foot came down on a rock half embedded in the dirt, I twisted my ankle, and fell–smack into freshly cut tree branches and bushes with thistles. YAY! The more we ran after her, the more the old Sloopster refined her movements, thereby reducing her exertion, but keeping us moving.
When there is an urgent situation (or an emergency), the gardener is more of the panic-driven-take-charge type. I am more of the calm-and-hyper-focused-fall-apart-later type. And he’s never tried to grab Sloopy Anne in his life, leaving that sport to me. So he was trying to call the shots. Giving me a sheet to throw over her, telling me go run that way and I’ll go this way, that sort of thing. For a half hour. Finally, I yelled at him to go to the other side of the patio and stay away. He was so worn out at that point, he slunk off. walked over to where I told him to wait. Then I ran and opened all three doors to the outside: front, side, garage. Within five minutes Sloopy Anne went near the gardener, he chased her inside, and I scurried on my don’t-ever-run-again foot and the other foot to slam the doors shut. Sweet pea captured. Whew.
I started shaking at that point. Later, when I was able to think clearly, I noticed and thought about a few things.
I was lucky I didn’t get hurt worse. I had abrasions and bruises all over, even on my forehead, but these are all easily healed with no long-term effects.
Whenever I am outside, I avoid shadows and dark areas religiously. One never knows where a rattlesnake waits, ready to strike. But I never gave them a thought when I was worried about Sloopy Anne. I get brave when I’m scared. It’s just afterwards when I think of what could have happened . . . .
Sloopy Anne is mad about Perry. She doesn’t like him, and she’s the only one he’s scared of. Keep in mind, she’s a little thing, but moves back and forth along the bitchy to sweet scale very rapidly.
Sloopy Anne LOVED climbing trees. And she had fun outside. She has no idea of the dangers, figuring she can just come back inside whenever the going gets tough. So now she sits by the glass door waiting for someone to open it so she can squeeze out.
My other cats are not eager to go outside, although Kana and Tiger each have been out once before–but this was the first time one of US let a cat outside.
I can’t trust the gardener any longer around doors.
While I’m on the subject of cats, I wanted to mention elephants (because you know I love elephants, too). If you have been out and about–at least on the internet–in the last week, you know that the United States is set to betray elephants BIG TIME. The Department of the Interior plans to allow imports of elephant and lion trophies from Africa! This gives a big green light to all the creeps in this country who want to kill elephants and cart home their serial killer trophies to remind them of their own evil.
You can watch Ellen DeGeneres talk about elephants in this video. For everyone who reposts or retweets the elephant photo she shows in the video and the hashtag #BeKindtoElephants on social media, Ellen will make a donation to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
This review is very cool in how she interprets so many of the poems. She shows a wonderful sense of what each piece is about.
Then at the end, Jorie inserts what is essentially a caveat, what she calls “Fly in the Ointment: Content Note.” She takes exception to my inclusion of a case of animal cruelty and murder in the poem “Once and Now.”
As you might guess, I really “get” her complaint and her sensitivity to harm to animals. Animals mean the world to me (in a literal sense, as well as figurative).
The poet in me, though, felt a need to not turn away from where the poem simply had to go. It’s a poem about war, in this case WWI. And it’s about zenophobia, a fear of foreigners, which showed itself as cruelty to immigrant Germans. That a dog suffers is typical of how war can work. What happens to the animals, both wild and in homes and zoos, when battles are fought?
But it’s not a poem about the dog. The dog is a very real dog who suffered, and the people are real people who suffered, and the dog is also a metaphor. Ok, that’s my “defense.” But I can truly see her point. It’s kind of like Facebook, who wants to go there and see petition requests with photos and comments about animals being harmed? (guilty)
What is YOUR opinion? Should I have left out the dog?
This is my second response to feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir about the “secret life” of objects.
This object is not something I’ve owned for long, carrying from house to house. In fact, I only spotted it in July when we brought my mother home from the hospital.
My mother’s basement has shelves, boxes, and tables overflowing with photo albums and photo boxes. She has little interest in them. They were my father’s treasures. He was the family photographer and tried to hold every memory close to his heart and mind. With him now gone, my mother feels burdened by belongings that she never cherished to begin with. Every time I visit, she encourages me to take as much as I want of our family memories.
Before we flew back to Arizona, I decided to give the photo albums another go-around, taking home as many of the most important photographs as I could pack. I plan to scan them and then email them to other family members. While downstairs, I noticed a metal sign resting on the floor, shoved between two boxes.
This mailbox marker is from the 1960s. My father had it made for his mother’s mailbox when she moved near us from Chicago.
This is how it was attached to the mailbox and what Grandma’s mailbox looked like. If you click on this image, you will discover that there is a company (perhaps) still making these using a machine from the forties. The writer of the article says the company is so old school they don’t even have a website.
Grandma was born in Germany in 1893 and immigrated with her family to Illinois when she was two or three years old. When she was in her early 70s, she decided to leave Chicago for the small town atmosphere of Portage, Michigan, a suburb of Kalamazoo. Dad bought a duplex around the corner from our house, rented out one side, and moved Grandma into the other side. I was ten and could now ride my bike to Grandma’s house.
Not that I liked to visit her. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. When Mom or Dad made me pedal down her street the houses all seemed to be watching me. The nameplate on the mailbox signaled that soon I would be walking in Grandma’s door. I always had either terrified starlings or lake stones in my stomach.
But why? I am not sure, but am trying to figure it out. Grandma was a bit stern, a bit strict, at least more so than my Kalamazoo grandmother who was warm and fun. (Kalamazoo Grandma was 19 years younger than Chicago Grandma). Was it a cultural reflection of Grandma’s semi-German upbringing? I think her father was stern and difficult to know. He might have been domineering and given to punishments. But this is a guess based on my dad’s and uncle’s stories. In old photos, Grandma’s mother looks like a sweetheart–sort of like my maternal grandmother. Was it that I was afraid of my grandmother’s strictness?
If so, that’s odd because my father could be unrelentingly strict. She was an amateur compared with Dad in that way.
I remember Grandma, a talented seamstress and tailor, poking a straight pin in my stomach and warning me that I was getting fat. I wasn’t overweight, although for a period of time my belly protruded a bit. I deeply resented her saying this to me, but she didn’t do it all the time. Would I have held it against her? Maybe, but I think she did it after I already had developed anxiety at visiting her.
Within a year or two, a doctor confirmed that I had “water weight” in my abdomen. Years later I would be diagnosed with lymphedema. Where did I get it? From Grandma who never did get a proper diagnosis. Doctors told her it was caused by congestive heart failure, a disease she developed with age, but the swelling in her legs was visible before she was forty–I can see it in photographs. (I hope you’re seeing the thread here about photographs: they can be important).
Grandma always had a glass bowl of Dum Dum suckers for me to choose from. I didn’t care for those dull little things. Tootsie Pops–or better yet, Slo Pokes–were my lollipops of choice. Did I resent not being offered what I wanted instead of what she wanted to give me? It’s possible that she couldn’t afford Tootsie Pops. The candy was only for us because she couldn’t eat it; she was diabetic. Was I a brat? She seemed to try to make me happy, but her ways were limited and without imagination.
Some of my memories make me wonder if I pitied Grandma. Her age? Her solitary life? Some unexpressed sadness deep within her?
I remember Grandma’s home being so quiet that the clock ticking spooked me like a sudden noise in a horror movie. And still. Every object in the dusty rose living room seemed preternaturally still, the sort of stillness that comes before unexpected movement, as if the contents were waiting for me to leave.
When I left and pedaled as fast as I could down the street, I deeply drew in the outdoor air, thrilled to be headed toward my own street.
Then, all these years later, I saw the heavy metal sign in Mom’s basement and brought it home in my suitcase. The gardener didn’t say anything until I pulled out hammer and picture hangers to hang it on the wall of my study. “You don’t want that there, do you?” Hahaha, yes, I did, and there it is.
Every day I scan a few of the photos I brought home. The other day I found this one of me kissing Grandma, thanking her for the crocheted afghan she made me for my high school graduation (you can see a bit of the pattern in the photo). Proof that Grandma and I loved each other, even if she made me nervous.
A while ago I warned you that I felt inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and might write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear (or in fear). Here’s the first one that I wanted to explore.
I only now have realized that the four snack bowls, speckled like the linoleum floor in my childhood kitchen, are melamine, not plastic. Maybe that’s why they are at least fifty years old and still have their little handles intact, although cracked.
When my parents moved out of their winter condo south of Tucson a few years ago, they decided to get rid of the majority of their furnishings, rather than cart them back to Kalamazoo. They urged us to take what we could of the wall art, furniture, and Dad’s craft pieces. My mom was amused when I grabbed the stack of dull brown bowls. “What do you want those for?” I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted them.
As long as I could remember, we had eaten Be-Mo potato chips, as well as vanilla ice cream and Hershey’s syrup whipped into milkshake consistency, from those bowls. When Mom kept out our hollowed tree branch bowl of nuts long after Christmas, we filled the snack bowls with smooth pecans and bumpy walnuts that gave way to cracked shell fragments.
The bowls were out at parties, but not for individual snacking. Mom filled them with her homemade Chex Mix and placed them around the living room. Her makeup and bouffant hair were already complete, a frilly half-apron tied around her waist, as she spread out party food, paper plates, and napkins. I placed the spoons and forks in angled lines. Lamplight and low music from the hi-fi set the stage.
As he beamed and told me silly jokes, Dad set up a temporary bar with highball and Old Fashioned glasses, cherries, olives, and a bucket of steaming ice. The anticipation of the party made a team of my parents and me, a protective shield against arguing and my father’s sudden mood changes.
At twelve, I was always hungry; my mother said I had a bottomless pit. When we counted up our daily calories in 7th-grade science class, I averaged 10,000/day. My parents were thin people and not big eaters, so meals were just what we needed for nutrition, no more. To fill up my cranky stomach, I would munch cooking walnuts and chocolate chips from a bowl I’d hidden under my bed.
I wonder today what my mother thought was happening to her baking supplies. And the sugar cubes she kept on hand to serve to company that stayed for coffee. Maybe there were other shortfalls in my life that my mother didn’t notice. In my imagination, as is the way of magical objects, the bowls are always brimming with delicious munchies.
Anybody want to play along and write about the secret life of an object? If so, please post the link in the comments here!
On another note, you all (that’s the same thing as y’all without me co-opting southern talk, or “you guys” as we used to say in Michigan) know I love family history. You probably know I have a blog called thefamilykalamazoo.com about my family history. Now I have a new–a second–blog about family history. It’s called enteringthepale.com and is about the gardener’s family history from eastern Europe.
I think this new blog, which follows our search for his ancestors, is important work on a very small scale. I am talking about finding and recording the history of Jewish family branches that were either lost or decimated during the Holocaust. In the case of the gardener’s family, we just don’t know yet what happened to anybody or who or where his family was 100, 150, 200 years ago. That’s what I will be writing about on this new blog. I’d love for you to follow. Right now we have about one follower unless you count my twitter followers.