Category Archives: Memoir

A Medical-Nightmare Memoir, A Darkish Thriller with a Social Conscience, and A Brightly Lit Romance

I finished another memoir, this time one my mother recommended. Called Brain on Fire, it’s about a young journalist (Susannah Cahalan) who suddenly lost her mind. She suffered from symptoms which appeared to be mental illness, but were accompanied by seizures–her only actual provable “physical” symptom. After being wrongly treated by a neurologist who insisted she suffered from over-drinking (she was not a big drinker), she was admitted to the epilepsy ward at NYU.

Her first stay was a full month and during that time she lost her mental abilities and, although she slowly recovered after her rare condition was corrected diagnosed and treated, she lost her memories of that month.

Because of her job and her position at the New York Post, Cahalan was able to publish an article about her illness that spurred the medical world into diagnosing others with the conditions. She wondered how many people were locked away in psych wards when they, in fact, had anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. How many people had unnecessarily died? In the few short years since her illness in 2009, the condition is diagnosed much more often–and lives have been saved because of her courage and her job and connections.

The book is important because of its spotlight on this particular rare illness, but also for how it shows that there is hope for other sufferers who have not received diagnoses or proper diagnoses. I went through a similar problem with original diagnosis for the tumor in my foot when the first specialist I went to, a “big name” doctor, ignored my concerns and misdiagnosed me in a way that could have led to me losing my ability to walk permanently. I suspect this happens more often than we know.

Another aspect of the book I found very intriguing was Susannah’s life stage. As a 24-year-old who had been living on her own, with an ambitious career job, she had just been moving into a “genuine” adulthood, but her illness made her dependent on her family and others. This is a difficult time of life to have this happen. Kid, adult, now kid again–or at least that was the way she felt.

Finally, she meditates on the loss of her memories at the end of the book, wondering if she will ever retrieve that lost month again. But she says about memory is true of anyone, and if she was a little older, she might realize that, too:

Maybe it’s [the memory of that month] not gone but is somewhere int he recesses of my mind, waiting for the proper cues to be called back up. So far that hasn’t happened, which just makes me wonder: What else have I lost along the way? And is it actually lost or just hidden?”

These are the questions of every memoirist.

###

I finally wrote a review of Carrie Rubin’s unique novel Eating Bull. If I had written it soon after finishing the book, my review could have been longer and more detailed.

I devoured (sorry for the pun) Carrie Rubin’s Eating Bull very quickly, although I savored it as I read. Then I didn’t write this review for many months. Perhaps because this book took me by surprise and just a tiny bit out of my comfort zone, writing about this book proved to be daunting. Eating Bull is a suspenseful thriller which showcases the dark world of the fast food industry and of fat shaming and bullying. It has a cast of characters I found very realistic–which means annoying and endearing at once. The protagonist, Jeremy, is a boy who deserves the sympathetic eye of Rubin’s narrator on his life and dilemmas. His mother frustrated me. She clearly loves him very much, but I wanted to step in and advise her on ways she could help improve her son’s life, but of course, I could not. Perhaps the most vivid character is Sue, the public health nurse, who teams up with Jeremy to fight fast food. Eating Bull is a very important book in the way it shines a spotlight on topics allowed to fester in our culture all the while the reader is obsessed with following the compelling story to a satisfying resolution.

What I realized about this novel, which Carrie says is in the “deep genre” (a genre I am not familiar with), is that the contrast of the real-life everyday problems of unhealthy eating (and an industry devoted to pushing it), fat-shaming, body image issues, and bullying with the excitement of a suspenseful thriller had to be digested carefully. It’s an amazing novel and should be put at the top of your reading list.

###

To offset the seriousness of those two books and to relax into your comfort zone of a romance in a delightful small town, remember to pick up Jill Weatherholt’s Second Chance Romance. This is the same review I linked to a week or two ago.

A charming story of love and light, Jill Weatherholt’s first novel Second Chance Romance is published by the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin. According to the website:

“You believe hearts can heal. Love Inspired stories show that faith, forgiveness and hope have the power to lift spirits and change lives—always.”

I’m not used to reading in the genre of Christian fiction, and I was eager to try something new. If you think that everything is puppy dogs (there is a puppy, happily) and rainbows in Weatherholt’s book, you will be astonished. Melanie, a divorce lawyer from D.C., has lost her faith and hope in the face of horrific tragedy. A resident of Sweet Gum, handsome single dad Jackson has been touched by darkness in his life, too. But he’s been able to hold onto his faith.

Events transpire that first set Melanie and Jackson at odds and, later, try to prevent them from finding love together. The reader is left in suspense until the end as to how the problems will be resolved. And how faith and forgiveness and compassion can change their lives.

The characters are engaging, especially the characterization of Rebecca, Jackson’s little girl. Her personality rises right off the pages, and I feel as if she’s an actual child I know and can’t wait to see again. I’ll always remember her characteristic twirl.

Weatherholt’s book is one I want to pass on to several people because they will love moving to Sweet Gum, a town with a heart, for the duration.

Once you’re done reading Jill’s and Carrie’s books, please leave a review–even a couple of sentences will do–on Amazon (and Goodreads is you’re over there) for them! I know they will appreciate it. Don’t be like I was with Carrie’s review–waiting until I had just the right words to say. It’s more important to put up a review, even if it’s short, than to worry if you are writing it well enough. I wish I had realized that myself and not made Carrie wait all this time. :/

9 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Memoir, Novel, Reading, Writing

A Matter of Taste

When I was in 3rd grade, my father built us a new house across town. At the time we lived in a small bungaranch (or it is ranchalow?) with a bomb shelter in the basement. In 2014 I wrote a post telling a bit about that bomb shelter.

But this post is about our next house, sort of. My parents pored over architectural plans and made changes so that the house would be exactly what they wanted. It was a very well-constructed white aluminum siding and pink brick ranch with a full basement. My bedroom had a built-in desk, vanity, and bookshelves. We had a wood-paneled family room with fire place, and the living room had a wall of glass looking out to the woods behind. The house was 1,787 square feet (thanks, Trulia), which seemed of castle-like dimensions to me, particularly since I had most of that big basement to play in.

My father had some help from subcontractors, but all the framing, the masonry, and extras like concrete walks and patio were done by my father. With me watching and fetching.

When the house was almost completed, my father said my mother could choose the finishing touch. She could select the color of the front door.

This is where I wish I could put a little cardboard swinging door over the answer so that you would have to guess first. Then you’d pull open the door (like on a page of a child’s cardbook book) and look in shock at the color.

I remembered this story because I read Joey’s red door post on Thursday.

But our door wasn’t red (which is always striking on white or gray houses). Our door was turquoise. Yup. Gulp.

Maybe you love blue for decorating (I generally don’t as I prefer warmer colors). Or even turquoise. Or think it’s teal.

But it’s not. Turquoise is turquoise, and I’m sorry but it is not an appropriate color for a door, even if the rest of the house is lovely.

Flash forward. I moved into my house in Phoenix with its gold-tan stucco walls and dark brown trim–both in a sort of mottled faux finish. The colors suit the landscape here. And they are “house colors.”

After we moved in, I noticed that the faux brown around my windows and doors had started to peel. I went up to the door and pulled at a paint shred that was just hanging. As I ripped it up, I saw the color underneath.

It was turquoise. I am NOT kidding. The whole dang house is trimmed in store-bought turquoise trim. It’s not painted, but permanently coated with turquoise. And it defies paint on the top of it, which is why it peels all the time.

###

When the gardener and I visited Michigan just before my father got sick, we went to see our old houses, schools, and haunts. This is a pic of the pretty house that no longer has a turquoise door. The only thing is, the house was more distinctive looking with the turquoise door. So maybe it’s all a matter of taste–not good or bad–but individual. Sadly, we only lived here for a year and a half because, even after all my father’s work on the house, we couldn’t afford to keep it.

house

I’ve been really busy preparing everything the publisher needs for my chapbook, as well as doing a little work on the memoir. Fingers crossed on how all this goes . . . .

I hope your Valentine’s Day is lovely even if you don’t have a special love. Find someone who would be warmed by a valentine–and deliver. Word of warning if you plan on a bouquet: if they have cats, try to stay away from lilies and carnations, which are toxic to cats. Roses and orchids are safe. And the fewer greens the better because nobody ever seems to know which ones are toxic and which ones aren’t.

Muah!!! xo ❤

27 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Family history, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry Collection, Writing

Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

53 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

A January Overview (Happy It’s Almost February)

So far 2017 has been extremely hectic, chaotic, distressing, you get the drift. My aunt passed away without too much suffering (thanks to hospice), and my mother went home. On Mom’s flight home, she was again required to spend the night in the layover city–this time because of weather in Kalamazoo. After that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to fly again–and my son’s wedding is this spring on the beach in California. But now she feels a little better and is going to look for a dress for the wedding this week (so, yay!).

Kitties are better, although today Pear is getting an ultrasound because something is wrong with her bladder–and we need to know what. The ultrasound has been an option for months, but I’ve put it off because of the cost. I spent so much (on my credit card) in January on veterinary care that the ultrasound no longer looks as expensive because it’s a “drop in the bucket.” Ugh. I think those of us who can and will pay for good veterinary care for our animals are subsidizing the salaries of veterinarians (and clinic costs). I just wish that money went to treat more animals, but I know that not all vets are good about pro bono work.

Speaking of cats, did you see this article? They needed a study to prove that cats are as smart as dogs? I thought that the decision was made a long time ago (cats are smarter ;)).

On another note, we’re still using Home Chef. Don’t turn up your nose at that idea. I don’t know a soul who really has the time or inclination to plan and deliver on 21 meals every single week–and to have 2-3 of them taken off the list makes the other meal planning more rewarding and less onerous.

Steelhead Trout Niçoise

Mojito Lime Chicken

The trout was fabulous–and there was enough salad left for lunch the next day. I also made Mojito Lime Chicken.

And I made Chicken with Basil-Pecorino Cream Sauce. I haven’t made a single Home Chef meal that wasn’t delicious. I served the gardener the basil chicken that looked like the recipe card.

I set his chicken on a tiny bit of the cream sauce because of his lactose intolerance. But for myself I didn’t hold back, and so my plate didn’t look as “well-plated” as his did. Or as the recipe card.

Oh man, was it ever good! Tonight we’ll have a non Home Chef meal of mushroom and cheese omelet. I am an expert omelet maker. I learned from watching  The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, on TV decades ago. Anybody remember him? Great personality, good teaching skills, and an unfortunate (and terrifying) end to his public career (look him up!). By the way, I also learned about the “chef’s assistant” from Jeff–only he chose sherry and I choose chardonnay (or sake).

I have been revising the memoir because I want to send it to someone for a thorough read-through now that I have rethought and reorganized the structure.  I think I have reached the point that it’s ready. I don’t want to go too crazy with line-editing if it still needs a lot more “big” work.

Also, I have an offer from a publisher for my poetry/prose chapbook about family history. Stay tuned on that one.

Now that things are finally starting to settle down over here, it’s TAX SEASON for me and the business. Ick ick and ick.

Have a good one this week, friends!

34 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Food & Drink, Memoir, Nonfiction, Publishing, Writing

A Pica Named Tiny

Catharina Lind is a Swedish journalist, a published author, and a fascinating person. We met through Ancestry.com because Catharina’s husband wanted to discover what happened to a relative who immigrated to the United States. It turns out that this relative married my father’s first cousin. My dad’s cousin’s husband (called Swede by everyone) is someone I knew as a child–and I played with his daughters.

Before I even knew Catharina was a writer, she wrote me a charming story about her favorite pica (magpie) in a conversational email (not a formal story). Magpies have always fascinated me, although we don’t have them in Arizona, so I was particularly tickled to read about Tiny. In fact, I wrote about my love of magpies on this blog 3 1/2 years ago. Catharina lived in the United States for awhile because of her husband’s job, but they are back living in Sweden–with a pica named Tiny.

baby Tiny

Teeny Tiny: last summer

We have between 20-23 hours of daylight during the summer–around the solstice it’s never really dark. Another thing that I miss from Dallas: warm, dark evenings with candlelight dinners.

I’m sitting by the kitchen windows, and my “little” Pica Pica almost crashed into the window right now. The snow is picking up and it’s rather windy. He is a magpie, similar to the Black-billed magpie. He is the toughest bird I have ever met.

He was born last year, a tiny, tiny little magpie with a damaged wing. Our house has two additional wings on each side, and there is a yard between the three houses. The fourth side has a very large hedge, so it’s secluded. He was such a little bird, so we named him Tiny. We fed him cat food, or more exactly the leftovers from our spoiled cat. According to a website that’s supposed to work for a Pica as they need protein and veggies.

Stefan had left some branches in a pile and Tiny moved in underneath them. Most of the days he walked around the yard, eating and poking around. When he got scared he either returned to his pile or sprinted into the hedges; he didn’t fly. We don’t know if he fell out from the nest or if it was a birth defect. His wing has a very strange angle and he can’t stretch it.

He wasn’t forgotten though–a few times per day his parents and siblings came by, spent some time with him on the ground, and then flew off. We weren’t sure that Tiny would survive the winter, but he did. He learned to fly a little, 10-15 feet at the most; but he flew. When the snow fell he sat on a lamp, curled up next to the wall.

Tiny is still living in our yard, but I think we gave him the wrong name. Imagine the largest magpie you can think of and add a big white belly. Then add an extra inch around the waist and you have a gigantic magpie with an obesity problem; that’s Tiny.

He’s getting better and better at flying, but he doesn’t fly much. He spends most of his days eating around the yard–hence the big belly. He and our cat have great respect for one another and they help each other by chasing away neighboring cats, especially the big, red nemesis next door.

Then in August something special happened: he got a girlfriend. Magpies mate for life, so I really hope this works out. We call her Tina and she is an adorable, little girl; though shy and scared of us. They are so cute together. They spend their days poking around the yard. Then she flies up into a tree, teasing him to follow her; but she is never out of reach.

His flying skills have improved tremendously since Tina came into the picture. They don’t fly far, nor high. She is a few feet above him, flying as slow as she possibly can. Sometimes she makes a loop so he can catch up. He, on the other hand, flaps his crooked wing as hard as he can and you can see how tough it is for him to keep up, but he doesn’t give up. A few times per day she needs to stretch her wings properly, so she flies high and he sits in his little tree looking at her. That bird has such a strength in him and he never gives up, regardless of the odds.

I really hope they have a nest next year.  It’s going to be interesting to see if their kids will live on the ground or fly like regular magpies.

Now this became much longer then intended, but that’s what happens when one’s favorite Pica almost crashes into a window. With flying difficulties comes bad aiming and a strange landing tecnique.

Upper left:  from last winter, with Tiny on his lamp post next to the house

Upper right: a little earlier this autumn

Lower left: Tina (on the left) with her love Tiny

Lower right: Tiny, taken just the other day

If you loved Tiny’s story, please check out Catharina’s blog! Who knew that this new relative-by-marriage was a blogger?!

44 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Stories Horses Have Told My Cousin

Although I have been working on and off for years on a family history and photograph project, I don’t bring it up too terribly often over here. I have collected antique and vintage family photos from many branches of my family–once I showed an interest to my grandparents years ago, the whole family has been directing heirlooms my way. It’s very time-consuming, and I’ve had to do a lot of genealogical research to put information in order.

Through my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo, and Ancestry.com I’ve met (online mainly) soooo many people who have helped me. It’s astonishing. I now have friends in Europe, as well as the United States who are relatives, distant cousins, or related by “someone-somewhere’s” marriage. These are all such special people. And they all have fabulous stories.

I was introduced to my cousin Jeane by a genealogist friend who I met through The Family Kalamazoo. Her father and my father were first cousins, but they never met, to my knowledge. Her father was older than mine and the families had become more distant as years went on. I hope I can meet Jeane in person. She lives in the east, on a lovely horse farm (a post-retirement project), and loves–get this–animals and writing. She is also involved in animal rescue. 🙂

When Jeane was a girl she dreamed, as so many girls, of having her own horse. She imagined riding the horse and the bond they would have. But after she retired, and after years of dog rescue, she fell in love with a horse named Virgil that had been abused. Jeane had to board him as she had no place to keep him. Eventually, she and her husband got their own farm because of Virgil and other horses. Through him, Jeane began to learn how difficult the lives of horses can be. She also learned to place a high value on communication with horses.

Jeane has written a collection of short stories called Stories My Horses Have Told Me. The background of each horse that Jeane adopted is detailed in these stories. After adopting four rescues, Jeane tells us:

 

After five years of dreaming and searching, we arrived at our farm in the middle of June 2004 with four horses.  As each horse stepped off the trailer they were led to a stall and allowed to rest.  Each had hay and fresh water.  All were anticipating their first turn-out into their new fields.

Although the four horses all came from different families, they bonded immediately.  They were now a family.

What we didn’t realize is that our herd was not complete yet.  Star was waiting for us . . . .

We swore we would never buy a horse.  There are horses needing adoption or rescue and that was our focus – until Star.

Jeane has had a couple of wonderful horse whisperers helping her to communicate with her horses. One of them was able to communicate with Star.

Star talked about being cold.  She said she never wanted to be cold again.  We didn’t understand then that she was talking about her sale in January, being shaved, with no shelter or blanket in her new home.  That information came in a conversation with her previous owner.  I asked what time of year he bought her and under what circumstances.  Then I asked if she had been shaved.  When he said “yes,” I asked had he blanketed her.  “Lord no! She’s a horse.”

To sum up Star’s previous life:

What we know about Star’s previous life is that there had been seven owners in her short five years.  Her owners had not been kind, treating and riding her roughly. Her winter coat had been shaved off in January 2004 so she would present as sleek and shiny for a horse sale.  Her new owner didn’t have shelter and did not offer her a blanket to protect her from the sub-freezing temperatures, and she was cold.  She also endured being stabbed with a pitchfork, a broom handle broken over her head, and her halter used as a weapon to make her obey.  She had little patience, and no trust in humans.

There was more, much more, to Star then met the eye.  She was not a happy horse.  She was a loner, not wanting to interact with any of the herd.  Something about her made you feel so sad.  There was someone special she was searching for.

That someone special was not to be Jeane, but it’s a tribute to Jeane’s love for animals that she recognizes that every horse is different and with different needs. Star was determined to be a highly intelligent horse.

What an extraordinary horse.  But her trust in humans remained unchanged regardless of our efforts.  She would leave the barn as we entered, wanting as little contact as possible, but that didn’t happen the day a friend arrived for a visit.  Their eyes locked, Star walked up to her and life suddenly had purpose.  Michele is a professor at a university in Washington, DC.  Star sensed the intelligence – an equal.  The connection couldn’t be denied and Star soon went to live with Michele.

###

We don’t always have control over the destinies of our horses.  We always hope we are making the right decisions.  Often there are difficult choices, but if we learn to listen to them it will make their lives, and ours, better.  They are always talking – take the time to listen.

Michele is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  From England, she now calls the US home.  An accomplished equestrian, along with many other talents, she continues to ride and train in dressage.  Michele and Star make an incredible team!

Heroes for the animals come in so many styles. Jeane’s has been to make her home a refuge for all manner of needy animals (including cats :)!). Obviously, I’m thrilled to find this cousin of mine and hope we get to meet before too long.

 

59 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Have you visited Paula Kuitenbrouwer’s art blog? She creates delicate drawings; many of the subjects are birds and flowers. Her most recent work is of “still lifes with Killiney Beach stones, succulents, and blue ceramics.” I’ve been a fan for several years now. The other day I picked up my mail only to discover a special gift from Paula, sent from Ireland: a packet of her beautiful note cards. I was so excited I even showed my cats!

 If you visit Paula’s art shop you will see that she has quite a variety of artwork available, including from Buddhist to Pagan to Christian and Jewish holidays.  She even has a lesbian bird couple.

Thanks so much, Paula!

I’m moving forward on the memoir–I’m up to page 130 of 162 (or SO) in streamlining the change in structure. It feels strange to be enmeshed in the story again . . . .

I went to the doctor this week to get my toenails cut (you can stop reading if this “grosses you out”). I had a toe injured a few years ago when my son was dating the wrong person (he’s now engaged to the right person), and I was so discombobulated and clumsy that I banged my toe really really hard and permanently disfigured the toenail.  You should have heard me yell, by the way. Anyway, with my primary lymphedema (which makes me very susceptible to infections), my antibiotic allergies, and my post-tumor foot reconstruction, I figure that I really need the medical help with the old toe nails. Well, they kicked me out of Mayo. I can no longer get my toenails clipped there. And why? They have no room for me. I am considered “moderate risk,” and they only want “high risk.” Notice my tag of #patientabadonment. Well, darn them.

At least they had pretty flowers–a bit on the going out side, but still cheerful. I can probably take them as a metaphor.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

50 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Art and Music, Blogging, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Writing

What Does Your Memory Smell?

I’m slowly putting my memoir in chronological order (from age eleven) and deciding which scenes to leave out and which to put back in (that I had already taken out). The story has to be told differently in the order it happened in, as opposed to a present day telling that dips back and forth. Stories connected in a more thematic way before, but now the reader has to be able to follow threads where they may stray farther afield for a while.

There was a scene I’d first written several years ago where my mother tried to persuade me to go to medical school. It has connections to two major threads, so I was thinking of putting it back in. I couldn’t find it anywhere and now wonder how much of my story I’ve inadvertently deleted or lost. But I did find some old writing exercises that were kind of fun.

Here is one from a class with Faith Adiele:

In trying to work on the muscle memory assignment I became very frustrated by all the memories which are not available to me.  I wanted to smell the dirt in Kalamazoo.  When we dug on the playground at McKinley school, which was next door to the celery fields, we pulled out spoonfuls of rich black muck.  Muck holds a lot of water in it, maybe because of the clay base to the soil.

When we planted petunias in the dirt behind the filling station, Grandpa told me that the muck was like Dutch soil and that we knew how to work with it, that it was in our blood.  When we moved to Portage, which is a suburb of Kalamazoo, the soil was brown.  Mom said it was sandy soil from all the lakes in Portage, but I’m not sure it wasn’t just plain brown dirt and that she thought it was sandy in comparison with what she grew up with on Burdick Street.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time digging in the dirt, building forts and hiding treasures.  I’d like to put my hands into these soils now, squishing the muck between my fingers and spilling the Portage soil from my cupped hand.  I’d like to smell them and see what I can remember.

Instead, I’ve got the Arizona dirt now.  On dry days, it’s tough, light-colored and packed too tightly.  When it rains just a bit, like it did today, and I step outside, it smells like wet sand in the air.   Looking down I see that the dirt has packed even tighter, its matte finish more dense.  It takes me farther from home and my memories.

So I wasn’t able to do my muscle memory exercise, but if I could find a Be-Mo potato chip, I might be able to do it.  Or maybe those little wax pop bottles.

Reading this is like reading my own writing in some ways, but in others, it is like reading something by someone else. After all, I have changed in recent years–and so has my writing and my thoughts about my past. I wasn’t sure what a muscle memory assignment was meant to do, so I had to search for Faith’s assignment. I found it here:

Muscle Memory: Begin to collect sensory souvenirs that you can incorporate into your standard investigations. Avoid the visual, as we tend to over-rely on sight; instead, eat a childhood candy, listen to what was popular on the radio the month your brother left home, lay your cheek against the hammock you brought back from Guatemala. The sense of smell is particularly evocative; spend several minutes with your eyes closed experiencing a jar of your grandmother’s favorite spice or a bottle of your father’s cologne. Now freewrite whatever memories come to mind.

So the idea was to use sense memories as triggers for writing.  I desperately wanted to remember what Kalamazoo muck smells like and was unable to do so. If I recall, I asked someone–probably my father–to mail me some soil.

It’s funny that I was asking for a Be-Mo potato chip or those wax pop bottles of my childhood. I can remember very well what the chips smelled and tasted like and how it felt when the tiny amount of “pop” slid into my mouth from the wax bottle, then the taste and texture of chewing up the wax.

Using your muscle memory, what can you remember?

CAT OF THE WEEK

This is Maverick. I posted earlier about his brother Moe. They need to be adopted together.

Just as I finished this post, I was notified that the shelter is having a lowered fee week for cats and dogs that have been at the shelter longer than 6 months. That includes Moe and Maverick!

29 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Memoir Writing Lesson #12: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: 

Write about something you have found ugly. 10 minutes.

The other day, I saw a woman for the first time. My first impression of her face caused me to physically recoil for a second. I’d never seen a face like hers before–not in person or through the media or even in antique photographs–and it startled me because it didn’t fit the fairly liberal parameters I must have in my mind regarding human faces. Scientists or pseudo-scientists have done studies on what makes people think a particular human face is attractive, but I have never read or even seen a headline about a study on what makes us think someone is ugly. My guess is that we have a range in mind and someone has to fit inside of that range or we think they are ugly. Her face had a shape I’d never seen before–more width at the bottom than at the top, combined with a peculiar flatness that also angled outward at the bottom–angled, not sloped. Her eyes were overly large, as if the skin had been unnaturally pulled away from the socket area, and the cheeks below were not only without any definition, but were part of a large droop of skin on each side of her face. She was probably elderly, if I believed the wrinkles, but her straight and fine reddish hair looked young, almost juvenile.  What happened, though, the longer I looked at her–and I was just an observer, so I wasn’t interacting with her personality–was that I grew more and more fascinated with her looks. Soon I didn’t think she was ugly at all. Instead, I thought her looks were charming and held a strange, unique beauty.

###

And that, my friends, is pretty much what happens to me with anything I first think is ugly. That’s why I am fascinated with scrap art and photos of old structures rotting into the group, gritty city scenes and reading about what people found in the garbage.  It’s all so fascinating. Don’t get me wrong; I love beauty, maybe a little too much. But so much is beautiful. And when you get right down to it, not much is ugly if ugly means something that will permanently make me cringe.
(Except for vile human behavior toward animals or other humans. THAT is ugly).

Go ahead and try it. What have you found ugly?

Not ugly at all is Jackie O! Such a sweet girl, she’s been at the shelter way too long. Maybe it’s her tipped ear? That is supposed to indicate an altered feral cat. Jackie O is the furthest thing from a feral cat. Very friendly and loving, in fact. She can be found at Home Fur Good in Phoenix, Arizona.

18 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Memoir Writing Lesson #11: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

“Tell me about a breakfast you were once privileged to have.”

I wish I had a story about sharing my tiny breakfast with someone in need or a morning when I had not been able to eat after days of illness and the first bite into dry toast sent me into paroxysms (always wanted to use that word) of delight. Alas, I can’t think of anything in that vein. All I’ve got is that one event of pure and utter gluttony.

The gardener and I were young, not married that long, and were friends with another couple with ties to Chicago. They were a fun couple, and both Michelle and I were thin and fit and vain.

After two nights and a day going to museums, restaurants, and clubs, we went to a Jewish deli for Sunday brunch. Chicago friends had told us this place had the best brunch in town. Being from Michigan, we had no idea what awaited us. Michelle and I both wore culottes in the cream-colored wrinkly Indian cotton that was so in style.

When we got into the crowded restaurant, I noticed that one large room was ringed in a U-shape of very long banquet tables literally groaning from the weight of the dishes. More than one type of lox, pickled fish, smoked fish, several flavors of cream cheese, big stainless containers overflowing with real New York style bagels. All the fixings: tomatoes, onions, capers, and more than I could even “process.” There must have been a dozen salads: tuna, whitefish, pasta, cucumber and salads I’d never heard of before. Hot containers held tomato sauce-smothered stuffed cabbage and sweet ‘n sour stuffed peppers. I’d never seen so many latkes (potato pancakes) in my life. Since they are one of my favorite foods (with sour cream, not apple sauce), I seriously considered moving to Chicago, somewhere near the restaurant. They had sliced deli meats (including a pastrami they could barely keep stocked it was so melt-in-your-mouth), cheeses, and hot meats as well. One long table held every flavor of rugelach, cake, coffee cake, kugel, and cookie you could ever imagine encountering in your entire life.

At this point I should probably mention that we had “put away” a lot of alcohol that weekend. Michelle and I were more hungover than the guys–probably because we weren’t used to drinking as much as our husbands although we were all just out of college. So, speaking for myself, I was hungry. Very hungry. I filled up a plate and gulped it all down. So did Michelle. Then I filled another and ate it. So did Michelle. At that point, I realized we were in a competition to see who could eat the most. And we both continued to eat and eat and eat and eat. We unbuttoned and partially unzipped our culottes. But we kept eating. Finally, the guys got worried that we wouldn’t stop eating and tried to pressure us into leaving. By the time the brunch was over and dishes were cleared away, we both lay partially prone as we couldn’t sit upright. My stomach bulged, and my pants were completely unzipped at that point.  Michelle and I waddled out to the car and tried to slide in the backseat in a reclining position.  I began to hate my culottes just from looking at the strain on the fabric from my huge body. The two hour ride back home Michelle and I lay there groaning from the pain of all that food in our stomachs and from the laughter caused by all the jokes we were making at our own expense. I sure didn’t feel thin any more.  Or fit. I felt as if I had a different body just from one meal. To me, Michelle still looked as thin as ever, but I looked like a snake that had swallowed a cow.

Our pants looked like the blue ones in the pattern above, except for the color and the fabric type. That wrinkly cotton was soft and had more give to it than denim.

###

Go ahead and try it. Tell me about a breakfast . . . .

26 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt