Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction

The Self WHAT?

If you are disturbed by vulgarities and crass language, feel free to skip this post, but please come back next week because I don’t make a habit of subjecting people to it.

I have a nonfiction short story out in a new anthology published by Devil’s Party Press. The theme of this collection is a bad word in the title of each story. Lest you think this is sophomoric hijinks, the writers are all over forty!

Click through the photo if you want to order a copy. My story is called “The Self-Mindf**k.” See, I can’t bring myself to spell it out in public!  As for the title of the anthology, you can read the book cover above.

Seriously, though, my story is childhood memoir, about the way the fear and anxiety of living in my parents’ home over a basement bomber shelter affected my thinking—hence, the self-mindf**k. Here is a little “teaser.”

In the summer I turned six, my father dismantled his cozy basement workshop and built a secret underground bomb shelter out of cement blocks. This intrusion into our home was my first encounter with the Cold War. Television regularly put us through tests of emergency broadcasting via CONELRAD, and at school, duck-and-cover drills were weekly rituals. The goblins in our nightmares were “Commies, Reds, and Pinkos.” The anxiety this threat gave me was palpable and made even more acute because I was supervised by nervous parents. I had to wear a cumbersome lifejacket just to play in the sand at the beach. Overprotective was an adjective created for my mother and father. I don’t know if I would have been a fearful child if I had grown up in a different environment. Maybe part of it was genetic. But a fraidy cat I was–too scared to attempt cartwheels or to ride atop someone’s handlebars. Living across the street from an intimidating dog was one more frightening aspect of life in those days.

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Thanks to Marie K. Bailey  I discovered I could post a deal on my first poetry collection Doll God on this blog. Ten bucks covers a signed copy and postage to a U.S. address I’m so sorry that I can’t offer the same deal to my friends in other countries. However, if you are interested in shipment elsewhere, please email me and let’s try to work something out.

 

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Jury Excuses

Last week, writer and blogger Cinthia Ritchie was called in for jury duty and tweeted about it. I was reminded of what happened to me the last time I was called in for jury duty.

Before I tell you let me say that my favorite grandmother was ALWAYS put on juries. Murders, robberies, everything. She was exactly what they wanted for every case she was ever called in for. Sweet lady who got along everyone. Educated, but not “overly” so. A “housewife” who went back to work when her grandchildren were growing up.

I sort of wanted to be like her because I thought that court cases would be good fodder for writing.

But I was always in a teaching quarter/semester when I was called, so I always had to ask for an extension.

Then one day I was able to go. And you know what we did? Sat in a big group under fluorescents (you know I can’t handle those because they are a trigger for my complicated migraines, right?) and waited

and waited

and waited.

In addition to the complicated migraines, I also have primary lymphedema. Lymphedema is an everyday thing. And it is extremely exacerbated by sitting or standing still for long periods of time. I can practically watch my feet and legs swell up if I am too still (without lying down).

If you want to know more about lymphedema, here is a great blog (The Lymphie Life), written by a good writer who suffers from lymphedema.

Around 2:30 they finally corraled us all before the judge. There were at least 100 people in the room. One by one, we had to go around and tell the judge if there was some reason we could not be on the jury. By that time I could see that I wouldn’t be able to sit still for a trial. What if it went on for a full day? Or two days? Or a week or more? I would need a hospital, and they would need an alternate.

As I waited my turn, I heard all manner of excuses, mainly dealing with work and/or children. I was embarrassed for everyone having to talk about their personal lives in front of all these strangers. When people were done with their excuses, the judge explained that he would keep their difficulties in mind but that they might end up having to serve.

When it was my turn, I stood up and pretended nobody was in the room–or I would have been too scared to say anything. Then I described lymphedema, and why I couldn’t sit still long enough to be on a jury. Keep in mind that I would have loved to be on the jury.

The gray-haired judge looked at me over his glasses and nodded. “OK, you are excused from serving jury duty. You may leave.”

I turned to go, and the entire room erupted in applause. The man next to me slapped my arm and said, “Good one!” A woman raised her voice. “That’s the best excuse I’ve ever heard to avoid jury duty.”

Before the door shut behind me, I heard the judge admonishing everyone to settle down and be quiet.

I’m filing that story in the “life is unplanned” section.

PERRY SAYS HI!!!!

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Favorite Outfits Never Really Leave You

I didn’t get much accomplished this week since I had to go to California for business and got caught in the floods there, delaying my return by one day. On the way to California, I saw an odd blimp out in the middle of the desert, just off the 10.

At the time, I found it confusing. Then I saw an article about Carnival Cruise Line starting a blimp campaign last year.  But the gardener saw a different article. That one said that the DEA is using blimps for border surveillance. Hmm. I guess it could be both. Truth is strange, as you know.

I’ve been working on my own version of Swedish Death Cleaning by trying to go through file drawers a little bit every day that I am home. I’m also finding objects and papery reminders which make me want to write more posts about the life of objects.

I found a couple of old photographs of one of my favorite outfits ever which led to a week-long meditation on “favorite outfits,” and the beginning of a possible poem. How many favorite outfits have you had in your life? I can count mine on both hands–maybe one hand.

I bought this one with my store discount from the fancy store in Kalamazoo where I worked when I first started college. It was called Jacobson’s, and they had an apparel store and a “store for the home,” but the prototype was probably Saks. This 3-piece jersey outfit was comfortable, and I loved the cream/vivid blue combination (although I’m not actually a blue person, probably half my favorite outfits have been blue or had blue in them). In these two photos you can see both the tank top and the jacket, but not the almost-palazzo pants. The beads were from work, too. I don’t know what ever happened to the outfit, but I suspect I literally wore it out. I never would have gotten rid of it otherwise. That’s how much I loved it. Best memory wearing it was in Jamaica, at our months-after-the-wedding honeymoon.

The man on the right is one of my uncles, and the other man was his FIL. I was serving punch at a family party. Isn’t it funny that seeing that outfit in the photos makes me as happy as wearing it used to? And why did I love that outfit so much more than anything else? I have always loved birds, and pheasants run loose on the fabric, but that’s only one aspect.

I can’t imagine feeling this way about what I wear today since I have it down to a uniform involving either yoga pants or Duluth Trading Company stretch pants along with a tunic, athletic shoes, and a ballcap.

Anybody else have those thoughts about favorite outfits of the past? Tell me about your favorites, please!

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Magical Music Box

I forgot about writing posts based on Dawn Raffel’s memoir, The Secret Life of Objects. Joey over at Joeyfully Stated reminded me, so I’m happy to be back at it. I’ve written about the magical bowls of my childhood snacking and the name sign from my grandmother’s mailbox, as well as some jewelry that holds meaning for me.

Maybe the object that I still have that carries my earliest memories is the music box I have had since I was a baby. I know it’s weird, but I am a person with very early memories. I apparently inherited this ability from my grandfather. If you wonder what toddler memories are like, they are exactly like memories from all the other times of your life: vivid and realistic.

When my mother put me down for a nap, she would wind up the music box and set it going. I still remember standing in my crib, looking over the white iron bars, willing the music box to start up again. It didn’t, of course, as it had to be wound by someone.

I think I must have been a hard kid to settle to sleep (undiagnosed ADHD or anxiety?), and I always felt I was missing something. But then again my parents wanted me to nap AND have an extremely early bedtime. As a child I used to play shadow games or read under the covers with my flashlight.

When I became a teen, it was the sixties and incense was very popular, so I used my music box as an incense burner.

Have you ever heard that music is one of the best triggers for memory? Well, my music box–after 60+ years–still works. (Take that you plastic parts in today’s merchandise!)

I did a quick search online for a vintage round metal music box, and there are quite a few that look very similar, even to the color. They are called “powder puff” style. It’s very possible that this music box is from the 1940s and predates me. It could have belonged to my mother or grandmother well before I was born.

Question of the day: what song does the music box play?

Anybody want to play along and write about the secret life of an object? If so, please post the link in the comments here!

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On another note, my uncle has been visiting for two weeks and the kids (daughter and BF) are still living here, so for an HSP like me it’s been Grand Central Station over here.

 

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Six-Week Family History & Poetry Series at BROAD STREET MAGAZINE — The Family Kalamazoo

The different ways that family history and genealogy intersect with other aspects of the culture is growing. But I think this project might be a first for family history. Broad Street Magazine, which publishes nonfiction narratives in a variety of genres, has begun a six-week series of feature articles on six poems from my family history […]

via Six-Week Family History & Poetry Series at BROAD STREET MAGAZINE — The Family Kalamazoo

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by | October 26, 2018 · 2:30 pm

What’s Past and The Promise of What Lies Ahead

Today begins the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year. I’m wishing you a good (and sweet) year, whether you celebrate or not.

 

If you were reading my blog three years ago, you might remember that spring and summer were the seasons of the hummingbird mother and babies, my father’s illness and death, and the passing of my oldest cat Mac.* These events swirled together, as life’s events often do, and I ended up writing a lyrical essay called “Ordering in Four Movements.”

That fall the essay was published in Phoebe (45.1), a beautiful print journal. If I ever put together a collection of prose pieces, maybe this one will find a “book” home. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share it with more readers via an online journal, so I submitted it as a reprint to Ginosko Literary Journal where it was subsequently accepted. This weekend the journal went live. I hope you will enjoy this piece. It means a great deal to me since it covers emotional issues that preoccupied my mind at the time.

Ginosko Literary Journal — “thumb through” to page 33

* The links in the first paragraph are to the original posts I wrote about these events. The one about Mac tells his life story ;).

I’m still working on my gun essay, but I was challenged to try it from a different angle, which has taken me down a muddy and tangled garden path. Oh boy.

May you have a sweet week ahead. And a happy birthday to poet Mary Oliver!

 

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Multicolored ~ nonfiction by Luanne Castle


A big thank you to The Disappointed Housewife for publishing my piece, “Multicolored.”

The Disappointed Housewife

GREEN surrounds me as I enter the butterfly pavilion. The leaves of the trees and flowers create an oasis in the Sonoran desert. All seems still inside, protected from the dry winds, until I notice the undulant motion of butterflies winging above me, swooping down to sip at the nectar of the blossoms. The guide warns visitors to watch where we step, what we touch. Fragile life whirls around us. After all these years, I think I understand how they feel. One has to go through so many changes to get to full flower. Now is not yet the time to die.

BROWN fur nestles under the leaf. I’m here anew, peeling the caterpillar off the green veins and stem which define the underside. I curl up my fingers, cupping the bug in my palm. It tickles me and then plays dead inside the tent of my hand, as I…

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Nothing Says Grandma Like Club Aluminum

My maternal grandmother was a good baker and a good cook of meats (usually beef) and vegetables. Her use of Grandpa’s garden vegetables in stews and ratatouilles came from being raised on a farm by a mother who was a good cook. She loved her Club Aluminum pans, and the one I most remember was the Dutch Oven. Since my grandmother’s father and my grandfather (her husband) were Dutch, as a kid, I thought it was a pot that was original to the Netherlands, not realizing that is its official name. Her pots were “silver,” the color of aluminum. My mom had Club Aluminum, too, and as I got a little older I realized that she had probably gotten the pans from her mother. She also thought they were the best type to cook in, but her pans didn’t seem to work as well as Grandma’s ;). Or, at least, more anxiety made its way into those dishes.

When I became engaged at nineteen, I had never thought about a wedding or wedding gifts. The only thing I ever imagined was a white velvet dress with a red hooded coat like Mary wore for her wedding in Babes in Toyland. Instead, to save my parents money, I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my other grandmother had made, but that’s another story. I know it sounds blasphemous to American wedding tradition, but I didn’t even register for gifts.

My bridal shower was a family affair, to which I wore my favorite outfit, a teal corduroy pantsuit. Everyone had a very similar pantsuit, but mine was special because of the color. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I discovered that the person I most wanted at the shower, Grandma, was home sick. The whole event paled after that news, but I do remember that her gift was the biggest and splashiest–an entire set of Club Aluminum pans in yellow. Instead of a metal handle like my mother and grandmother’s Dutch Ovens had, mine had a plastic knob.

I still have my Dutch Oven and a couple of the other pans with lids.

You can see the yellow exterior is pretty banged up after all these years, but the inside is still pristine. My pot has seen some really yummy dishes, but it also was what I used to make Kraft mac and cheese in (for the kids), too, I’m sorry to admit.

This link has a little history of Club Alumimum. It explains that it is cast, not spun. So it is cast aluminum, kind of like cast iron.

Eventually, a report came out that aluminum is dangerous for cooking. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to cause some sort of brain trouble. I guess that has been mainly proven wrong at this point. But it was asserted so strongly that the gardener bought me a set of Calphalon pans. Gosh, I hate those things. Everything sticks to them. Grandma knew what was a good pot! I’ve since added some All-Clads to the mix, and those are ok. But nothing is as good as Club Aluminum.

Or a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Funny how much less expensive ($14.88 at Walmart) those are than all the fancy frying pan brands sold today!

By my current kitchen standards, Grandma’s kitchen was a little too small, with not enough counter space, a small persnickety stove/oven, and a ridiculously crammed smallish fridge. She didn’t have granite counters, hardwood cabinets, or stainless appliances. But to me it was a wonderland of magic commanded by my gentle, smart, warm, and loving grandmother.

More about Grandma in “Grandma and the Purple People Eaters.”

 

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My Practical Father (Not Always) Repost for Memorial Day Memories

Since my father was a Korean War veteran, I thought I would repost an old blog post I wrote about him five years ago. When you get to the part about him being in the hospital, remember that this first went up in March 2013. He passed away in May 2015.

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My father was born in 1928, and the memory of the Depression is imprinted on his decision-making.

When he has a color choice, he goes with “brindle brown” because it’s practical and doesn’t call attention to itself.  Until I actually looked up this color, I thought it was a term unique to Dad.  And I figured it meant something like “shit brown.”  Now I see that it really means spotted or streaked like an animal’s coat or like the word piebald.  I suspect that my father’s meaning is closer to what I had originally thought, rather than a dog’s sleek brown fur.

I’ll go a step further and assume Dad probably picked up that term in the Army.  Since he was raised by a single mother, Dad’s true “finishing” came from his fellow soldiers in the Korean War.

Dad’s always hated the color black.  It’s impractical–shows dust and lint.  He doesn’t like lavender either.  His mother wore the widow’s weeds of black and lavender, so maybe there is an emotional terrain underneath the practicality.

When I was younger, men owned small leather grooming kits for travel.  They were sometimes called Dopp kits, although Dopp was a name like Kleenex, an actual brand name.  My father’s was brown, and if somebody gave him a black one as a gift, he wouldn’t use it.

His brief case was brown, not black.  So was his squeeze-type coin purse, back in the days when men carried those.

For the past thirty years he’s carried a brown leather magnetic money clip.

images (2)His belts are brown and not black.  And certainly not khaki canvas or burgundy leather and they don’t have a big turquoise-studded buckle.

My father looks practical and shops with a practicality born out of that Depression upbringing.

But don’t be fooled by how he looks.  When a friend or an acquaintance would show up with something to sell, Dad would buy it, no matter how impractical.  He bought things like:

  • An old non-working violin he was told was a Stradivarius (it was not)
  • A silk Oriental rug (beautiful, but impractical)
  • An old motorboat much too heavy for the motor that fit the boat (it never worked right, but I was still light enough that I could water-ski slowly off the back of the boat)
  • An abacus when I started 4th grade (so I could do division on it)

You get the idea.

Do any of your characters (or real life relatives) contain contradictions?

My dad is sick in the hospital right now, and the doctor isn’t quite sure what’s wrong.

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It’s been three years and 14 days now since my father died. I can hardly believe it. He’s buried at a veterans’ cemetery in Michigan, so I can’t be there today. But I’m still thinking about him.

 

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Exciting News about Kin Types

After Monday’s post was published, I learned that Kin Types was a finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award. It’s in stellar company. This recognition validates the work I did on the book and on my family history blog, too. Best of all, the book gets a gold foil sticker for the cover ;).

It will kind of look like this when the sticker is put on the book (only not such a large sticker).

If you click through the link to the Amazon page, the book can be ordered for a real deal right now; check it out. To order through Barnes & Noble, try this link.

If you want a sticker for your copy, send me a selfie of yourself with Kin Types that I can use on this blog or social media (in case I decide to do that) with your address, and I’ll mail you a sticker when they arrive.

My father passed away three years ago this past Monday. My first book, Doll God, had just been published so he was able to read it (and be very proud) before he died. He never got to see Kin Types, although his mother and grandmother are featured in the book.

I’m closing comments because I don’t want you to feel you need to send me congratulations; I just wanted to let you know about the exciting news!

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