Monthly Archives: July 2021

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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Filed under Art and Music, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

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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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