Category Archives: Nonfiction

When Did You First Feel Different? Multiple Answer Version

Was it when you ate dinner at a friend’s house and saw their family structure and customs were completely different from your own? Was it when you noticed that all the other kids in your kindergarten class were drawing pictures with light hands and you looked down at your own dark ones? Was it when you realized that was lust you felt for another kid of your own gender? Maybe it was when you realized you couldn’t squeeze into your older sister’s jeans.

I have a theory that a lot of children and teens feel “different” from other kids. I am not talking about something that makes them different—just that they feel different.

I’d already started notes for this blog post when I read a poem called “My Barbie Dated George Harrison” in Karen Paul Holmes’ new collection No Such Thing as Distance. In the poem, the speaker’s Barbie (and it quickly becomes clear that Barbie is really the speaker hiding behind her doll to mask her emotions) has a crush on George of the Beatles, instead of Paul as the other girls do.

I kid you not, but the first note on my list was “George not Paul.” You see, that’s how I first felt different. All, and I mean ALL, my friends loved Paul with his big doe eyes and his cute young-looking face. He wrote love songs. Of course he did!

But I preferred George. Did I have a picture-kissing crush on him? No, but I knew I would prefer his company and that there was more to him than met the eye. And that meant something to me, even at age 12. When the Beatles hung with the Maharishi, I knew George took it seriously. I doubted that the others did.

Just for the record, I never contemplated the truth that if I had really been different I would have selected John or Ringo as my Beatle. But no girl in her right mind would choose one of them.

George was the alternative Beatle. He had a handsome face, but not too handsome. Not a movie star face. He seemed gentle and deep.

Hahaha.

If I had been more perceptive, I might have come to this feeling earlier. For instance, my epiphany could have arrived when I was the only girl who couldn’t do cartwheels, either because I had no upper body muscles or because I was too terrified. But I never had that feeling of “knowing” until everyone turned to stare at me when George flew out of my mouth.

But this train of thought led me to seeing that I remember in strands, like add-a-pearl necklaces where first one memory is added to strand A and then one is added to strand C and another onto A and so forth.These strands accumulate simultaneously.

When a memory comes to mind now, and it is at the beginning of a strand I think, “Oh, this is the first time this happened. There George is at the beginning of this strand so knowing I liked the ‘other Beatle’ was the first time I felt different.”

I have to remember that there are other strands. I found one of them in my memoir draft. Have you ever heard of the old movie The Boy with Green Hair? One day the boy dries off after a bath and discovers that his hair has turned green. In those days, long before the brilliant hair dyes of today, green hair was apt to set someone apart from everyone else.

I wrote in my draft that at age 11 I felt like the boy with green hair because of my father’s strict rules and loud yelling. The kids in my neighborhood would comment to me that they could hear his yelling down the street and sometimes, on summer evenings, even in their own homes.

So where is the truth in all this? When did I first feel different? Was it when George, rather than Paul, called to me? Was it when I learned to be angry and embarrassed about my father’s actions? And when would that have been? When I was three? Six? Nine? Eleven?

Sometimes someone will ask me something, and the answer I give makes sense at the time. For my favorite food I might say pumpkin pie. Later, I might think that it’s not really pumpkin pie. It’s fried squash. Or baklava. I wonder if these foods are part of different strands of memory. Maybe the fried squash goes with my teen summer days living at our lake cottage, and baklava goes with my first experience at the Omar Khayyam restaurant in Pittsburgh that I loved so much that my father drove us all back to Pittsburgh from Kalamazoo so I could eat there a second time. So you see my father wasn’t all yelling and rules, but goodness too, and he hides in various pearls on the strands of my memory.

What about you? Do you remember in strands? Do you remember when you first felt different?

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH AND #NAPOWRIMO UPDATE: So far so good!

Pauline‘s prism rainbow with plant shadow

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Medical Art + Writing + Cats

On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.

I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!

I kid you not.

I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).

What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.

But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.

A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell

Another quintessential Phoenician art form

Flowers floating on the wall

The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!

What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.

Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time.  Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.

I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).

The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.

I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.

Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.

That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.

If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!

Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.

What’s up with you this week?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bachofner on TEST PATTERN

This is the second part of the two part post by Maine poet Carol Bachofner about her new books. In this section, she writes about Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems, a book I was thrilled to provide a blurb for.

by Guest Blogger Carol Bachofner

Although The Boyfriend Project manuscript was the work of over three years, this was not the case with Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems, which will be released in May of 2018. Test Pattern is a book that had a bizarre kind of urgency that saw completion in less than a year. 21 of the poems were written in a single summer, mostly in a single week. The poems began on Monhegan Island, Maine at a writing retreat. Writing getaway is perhaps a more accurate descriptor. Four women poets in a rented house with only one mission: write. The group had been going to Monhegan for several years, spending time relaxing and writing. Each time, I would devise some kind of daily challenge for writing, a “do it or don’t” kind of challenge. Each morning there would be envelopes on the buffet and we chose, then set off to write. This particular time, I chose fantod cards, derived by the late Edward Gorey, a kind of tarot deck of strangeness. I have loved Gorey’s drawings for many years. I find them to be comforting while strange. Not a tarot aficionado, I was attracted solely by the drawings rather than the usual use for tarot decks.

Each fantod card has a drawing of Gorey’s and a title. A small booklet is included in the deck with phrases related (or sometimes seemingly not at all) to the cards. Certainly the phrases were fanotd-ish [my made up word here]. It is useful to define fantod at this point, so the reader will not spend time head-scratching. The Oxford Dictionary defines fantod as a state or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness.

Our challenge was to write to the drawing and to use any or all of the phrases in the booklet. I challenged us all to just let go, to not overthink, to be free to wander wherever the prompt materials wanted to lead. Each day I and the other women built our poems in a fantasy, dystopian world where a mouse might be dancing on a tabletop or a walking stick had a life of its own. The challenge was not to describe, but to suggest, to connect however loosely to our own lives or to make lives that seem to exist off to the side of our own lives. For some reason of the unseen universe, this sparked a huge response in all of us and we just could not stop writing “fantods.”

Seven days ought to have produced seven poems for each of us. For me, there were 21. NOTE: at the initial writing, these were drafts…very rough ones at that. Rougher than usual. I might note that I made a decision to use the prose poem form to make the fantod poems. Another challenge for me. Some of the others used this form too as we had been working on that in our poetry group. The big challenge for me was to be loose, to free-associate, to let the poem drive my writing more. I got into what I can only describe as somewhat of an altered state as I responded to the cards and messages.

In the prologue to the manuscript, I explain in perhaps a fantod-ish way and I set the reader on his/her path through the manuscript.

The poems in this book are the inadequate drainage of the author’s mysterious intellect. They pay homage to Edward Gorey
and his twitching curiosities, his sense of fantod.
The author in no way attempts to create an incident in a tunnel,
an apology in a train station, a transgression in blood ink.
Let the poems live on their own misconduct.

There are many prose poem variations, from the lopsided list poem to the prose sonnet, to a Q & A poem, to song lyric inclusions.
There is no particular order; the author is sick of order.
If there is rhyme, it is entirely the fault of the Princess of Rhyme, who sits atop her mattresses in monkey slippers,
eating peas from under the 5th mattress down, waving a wand stolen from a fairy-tale villain.

If you find yourself enjoying these poems, please make a donation to the Home For Insane Poets.
OK, you might need to build a Home for Insane Poets,
then donate to it.

So ingest, digest, and regress through the maze of pr-oetics.
Double-dog dare you.

What unease or unreasonablenesss do you see? What phrases jump? This is the setup for the rest.

I determined that although the fantods would be prose poems, I could (in my newfound freedom) interpret that loosely. The reader will notice this right away. I am convinced that form, while not an old thing from the attic, can be something refinished or restored by alteration. I had let myself out of my room. I was more than ready to play. I was not living behind the yellow wallpaper, but I might be just a little insane. Just a little.

In writing the poems for the book, I committed myself to the altered state that is fantod. I wanted to be another version of myself, to at least temporarily reinvent not only my writing, but also myself. I have done the same in my watercolor painting, but that is another story. Or is it? Certainly, in both areas, my lines have blurred. Perhaps the blurry state is well-demonstrated in my Q & A poem, What’s going on here? — a Q & A Prose Poem. The poem came later, after the island retreat. Scribbling away in a notebook, trying to regain the looseness of fantod, I came up with a series of random questions, put them away for a few hours, then came up with the same number of random answers. I put these away for a few hours. Then came the looseness of answering the questions, pairing up Q with A, loosely and without a plan. Notice the fantod coming in so clearly as the answers get jiggy with the questions. Even now, as I read them again, I am struck by what happens when the poem is speaking to itself.

What’s Going on Here? — Q & A Prose Poem

Q. What do you hide when someone comes into the room?
A. A rainbow of fish

Q. What loses itself in your hair?
A. lichen, mistletoe, spider webs

Q. What is your disease?
A. A humongous rainstorm

Q. How have you been swindled?
A. It was not with a bow and arrow.

Q. What have you executed?
A. ladybugs, guts smashed between the pages of my journal

Q. What panics you?
A. Papier mâché slug floats.

Q. Anything that claims your blood?
A. Looking under every island for seahorse caves

Q. What is unknowable about you?
A. Everyone’s obsessed with suspicion.

Q. What is written on your mask?
A. This poem looks like a coffin.

Q. What’s underneath your mask?
A. Presto-chango

Q. What do you believe about bad luck?
A. It’s a rock cairn at the entrance to an unholy tunnel.

Q. What lurks under your bed?
A. Condoms made of mermaid scales

Q. How was your first encounter with a kiss?
A. Presto-Chango

Q. How would you describe yourself to an ancestor?
A. My father’s ashes in an hourglass

One of the things about prose poems, and about fantod poems, is that the poem does take its own place. Unfettered somewhat by what the poet wants, the poem demands its own authority. Rhyme becomes subservient to the poem, not driven by it. I always strive to tame rhyme in my writing, to get it inside the lines rather than to end-stop it. Writing prose poems makes that happen on its own. Fantods are so loose, relying on the bizarre or the uneasy. Therefore the tendency to rhyme disappears in favor of the phrase. It’s time to take a look at the prose sonnet, since so many of the poems in Test Pattern are in that format.

Sonnets are not new to me, having been educated in the formal ways of poetry. I struggled with them however, not quite getting the beats right or wanting to eschew the end rhyme schemas that are part and parcel of the form. Finding the prose sonnet has been wonderful for me because I have been able to adapt the traditional form to fit the needs of my poems, breaking out of usual schemas to let the poems do their own thing, so to speak. To put it another way, my traditional sonnets have never won a contest or been published. My prose sonnets have enjoyed a somewhat improved status.

When one makes a traditional sonnet, there are choices of Shakespearean or Italian or Miltonian. Writing a prose sonnet, there are all choices and no choices. For me, I choose (generally) to keep to three aspects of Shakespearean sonnet:

1. 14 bits of writing — I call them chunks as they are most certainly not individual lines as the traditional demands there to be.
2. A change or turn (volta) at or about chunk 9, and
3. Often, though not always, a rhymed final 2 chunks. In other words, chunk 13 and chunk 14 would have an end rhyme word.

Sometimes I number the chunks. Sometimes I do not. The numbers may be read aloud or left to be silent. The poems may be in neat blocks that LOOK like sonnets, or they may not.

Here are two sonnets. Which seems better for reading the numbers aloud?

Stage 4 Case of the Heebie-Jeebies

1. The diagnosis is certain. The women at the Black Duck Emporium knew before anyone else. It’s a fantod, Mary Ann confides. 2. Well, I told Donna just last week something was up. 3. Not wanting to intrude, I drink my latte, study the bird observations notebook: Indigo Bunting, Green Warbler, Brown Creeper. 4. I think of the girl I saw yesterday creeping along by the church in the rain. 5. The Black Duck quackery saw her too. Green sickness, Ginger said. Didn’t Mr Spock have that? Or was it Dr. Spock? 5. The diagnosis: contagious. 6. Wasn’t she in here a few days ago? Did she touch anything? They speculate that you have to kiss someone to get it. 7. But, a fantod. You don’t see that every other week. 8. Spasms. Nightmares. Nudity in church. Bats and bell ropes at all hours. 9. There are spells for casting aside a fantod. I keep this news to myself. 10. I am pretty good at enchantments and spells. I’ve officiated at Viking funerals. I’ve been up a tree to cure birds of panic attacks. 11. Donna’s hair is a spell, scarlet tanager feathers. No Fantod for her. 12. Still the island’s in a dither with worry. 13. Someone spits and says Jinx. 14. Stage 4 case of the heebie-jeebies on the way I think.

Nothing, prose sonnet of repetition

1. I’m nothing compared to a key unstuck from a lock. 2. Compared to a lost shoe flung on the telephone wire. 3. Compared to a sea bird lost in the offing. 4. I’m nothing compared to girls with exotic names, like Chloe or Proserpina. 5. Nothing whatsoever compared to wind in the olive trees, lichen on spruce, inner bark of an ancient birch. 6. I’m nothing compared to secrets released into the wild. 7. Compared to piecemeal light from the sea coming through fog. 8. I’m nothing at all compared to an opera sung by nightingales, 9. as if a flamenco danced on the tables of Andalusia. 10. I’m nothing compared to the sky changing its clothes by the hour, the minute. 11. Nothing, I say, compared to grains of sand or to 12. wavelets on the beach 13. Nothing compared to the place I first encountered my real life humming. 14. I am nothing compared to where I am going.

What can be learned from the prose sonnet? Do these two sonnets contain the freedom
of fantod? How unsettled do they seem? As I read them now, I am inclined to weave elements from both into a third, entirely new poem. Let’s freewheel a minute and see what that might look like:

1. I am nothing compared to a key unstuck from a lock. 2. Well, I told Donna just last week something was up. 3. I am nothing compared to girls with exotic names, like Chloe or Proserpina. 4. I think of the girl I saw yesterday creeping along by the church in the rain. 5. Nothing whatsoever compared to wind in the olive trees, lichen on spruce, inner bark of an ancient birch. 6. I’m nothing compared to secrets released into the wild. 6. Wasn’t she in here a few days ago? Did she touch anything? 7. Compared to piecemeal light from the sea coming through fog. Spasms. Nightmares. Nudity in church. Bats and bell ropes at all hours. 8. I’m nothing at all compared to an opera sung by nightingales, 9. There are spells for casting aside a fantod. I keep this news to myself. 10. I’m nothing compared to the sky changing its clothes by the hour, the minute. 11. Donna’s hair is a spell, scarlet tanager feathers. 11. Nothing, I say, compared to grains of sand or to 12. wavelets on the beach. 13. Someone spits and says Jinx. 14. Stage 4 case of the heebie-jeebies on the way I think.

Interesting. Might just play some more with other pairs of prose sonnets.

As I wrote the poems for this book, I fell back on a technique I’ve enjoyed since beginning to take my writing seriously: intertextuality. This is the referring to another work in the new work. In the poem below, which is clearly a fantod, clearly prose poem, I chose to use a phrase from an easily-recognized work. I open with the phrase. If the reader is familiar with Bartleby the Scrivener, by Melville, he or she may find a bit of eerie connection to that piece in my poem. (Here is where you go read Bartleby by the way). It is helpful to keep a file of phrases you admire or find interesting for just such occasions as this, ready to jump start a poem, or to include in one when appropriate. Remember that if you use more than five words of someone else’s, you must attribute to that writer.

Look at the poem below and see how there are elements of unease, which certainly was true for Melville’s story. Look at the word play which makes the reader’s head spin a little, like the planets.

It’s in the cards

I would prefer not to consider geography, all those latitudes not fixed, as stars & planets are not fixed, rolling, shifting, doubling back with the seasons, chased by the moon or wetted by the tears of gods who claim to have made them. I was not there when the bowl was turned upside down, when the pick-up sticks toppled to the ground, forcing map makers to map. I would prefer not to risk liquidity to trudge along the lines in the seas, risk being crushed by lines that might snap if a new city falls out of the sky. I was not there when the cards were shuffled ,the hand was dealt. I was there at the prime meridian, the United Kingdom running in a line between my feet, waiting for the clock to do something sweeping that means time, [like latitude but with strings attached]. Clock-makers clock every move. Spring forward we’re told, or fall back. Fall upon time that gives and takes some star that fell yesterday or will fall tomorrow. I would prefer to tell time and latitude by the whirl of planets, the suck of the tide. 52 pick-up.

I end this exploration/conversation with a poem that makes use, not of another’s phrases, but of foreign language phrases. This can be disquieting or thrilling, both of which are hallmarks of fantods. This is also a prose sonnet. Look at its shape. It is not the little block of lines that is typical of a sonnet. It does have numbered chunks. It is a fantod in that it uses history and yet draws that history with presages of the modern era. There is a little justice here too. History seems to beg for alteration, for a parallel time. Fantod!

1. Madame Defarge stops knitting. 2. She looks across the circle formed last week to watch heads lop and roll, sees an exact other her, knitting and grinning, her name growing in blood red wool. Ah, mais oui! she thinks, certainment! 3. It was bound to happen. 4. History forged in betrayal. 5. Her favorite color these days is red. She looked beautiful in red once, when she was young, before she met Msr. Defarge. He always said she was a looker. 6. He was a financial broker. Wore silk suits and a cravat, crême de la crême of society. Accusations of usury earned him the blade. 7. Good to be on the side of winners her mother always said. 8. They were coming for her now:

Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse tous en rond.

9. Sometime after July 14th: Long live the Republic! 10. Death to infidels and whistleblowers! 11. Get rid of the evidence. 12. Danse de la liberté had begun. 13. Everything rearranged. 14. Tout le monde ce sont strange.

Thank you, dear Reader, for traveling the journey of these two books with me. I hope you will set upon a course toward your own remarkable changes. I hope you will read there rest of my poems and find satisfaction and even inspiration there. Thank you Luanne for inviting me to chat with your readers and share my journey from love to fantod. I ask, how different are they anyway?

 

 

Carol Willette Bachofner, poet, watercolorist, and photographer, has published five books of poetry, most recently The Boyfriend Project (2017) and Native Moons, Native Days (2012). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including, Dawnland Voices, an Anthology of Writings from Indigenous New England (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). She won the Maine Postmark Contest 2017 for her poem, Passagassawaukeag, which is published in The Maine Review. Her photo, Rigged, received Honorable Mention in the Spirit of Place contest by Maine Media workshop and is printed in the contest anthology. She served as Poet Laureate of Rockland Maine from 2012-2016.  Visit her web site at www.carolbachofner.com to purchase her books.

 

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Florida in Fours

The trip to Florida was another test of our gluten free sleuthing. It’s so exhausting that sometimes I wonder why we bother traveling. But our hotel room was more like a time-share, so we had a kitchen. That helped a lot as we ate breakfast and occasionally lunch (when we ate lunch) in our room. There was one big surprise in Sarasota.

 

Look at the sign on that restaurant: GREAT GLUTEN FREE MENU. What was nice is that Beckham’s on the Trail has a dedicated fryer and makes fish and chips gluten free. Please tell me why a huge city like Phoenix (far bigger than Tampa/St. Petersburg) doesn’t have more dedicated fryers!!! If you’re not familiar with that type of fryer it simply means one which only fries gluten free food. It’s not contaminated by gluten.

Although I didn’t see a lot of art while we were in Florida, we were greeted in the Tampa airport by this beauty. I love this gigantic multi-colored net that hangs on the wall over the escalator. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time or free hands to stop and take a good shot.

When I went through my photos from the trip, I discovered a fascination with four items. Four is challenging. Anybody who “decorates” knows that it’s easier to work with groups of three than with four. But four has its own special meanings. It’s the four seasons and four functions in math (add, subtract, multiply, divide). Once you start to think about it, I bet you can think of more fours than I can.

 

These chairs were so pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Someone had left these shells lying here for others to enjoy. The gardener kept bringing me little shells he found, but the ones left on the wall were larger and nobody had taken them, which was amazing in itself.

These guys fascinated me. One of them had been trying to pull a plastic bag of (presumably) abandoned food out of a trash can, and I shooed him away because I couldn’t bear the thought of him eating the plastic and styrofoam. But he didn’t fly far–just to the ledge of the walkway at our hotel to join his friends. These guys are trying to pull a poem out of me.

I keep wondering why I saw fours in Florida.

Try writing about fours. I’d love to see what you come up with. Fours in a poem, a blog post, a story. What comes in four? How does four make us feel? Is there anything intrinsic or essential about four?

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Bachofner on THE BOYFRIEND PROJECT

I’ve asked Maine poet Carol Bachofner to guest blog on here in the past. Since this is a big year for her, I’ve asked her to write again for this blog. My prediction: you are going to want to order The Boyfriend Project right away.

by Guest Blogger Carol Bachofner

2017 proved to be a year of productivity for me as a poet, with two manuscripts finished and both scheduled for publication. It was a hard year. The process for writing the two books was very different in terms of style, approach, and form. The work of moving back and forth between the two projects was a challenge to say the least, not only in the writing but also in the editing, revising process.

The finished products are very different too. One is somewhat typical, poems largely in free verse with shapes and setups that look like what we think of when we imagine poetry, other than the occasional prose poem. The other, Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems is a breakout in terms of style. The poems do not look act much like typical poetry, more like little bits of fanciful, dystopic prose.

For now, I begin with book #1, The Boyfriend Project (Such a Girl Press, 2017).

 

The Boyfriend Project

In 2007, having moved back to my home state, I heard from high school classmates that a boy I dated in high school was dying of lung cancer. He wanted to see me. I spoke with his wife and she urged me to visit. The visit was wonderful and poignant. We admitted that what we experienced as love when we were teens had prepared us for the love we’d both found as adults. We laughed and joked and shared our memories of kisses, his unauthorized visits to my babysitting job, and how we saw each other then. We shared a kiss on his porch, a goodbye kiss.  As I drove away, I could see him in the rear view mirror and knew at that moment this would be the last time. He died two weeks later.

I began thinking of the other “boyfriends” I had known (including crushes) and wondered what had become of them. This was punctuated by reading an article online about a war memorial in the town where my high school sweetheart had lived. His name was on the memorial.  I was filled with dread that he might be deceased. I wanted to know. I did an internet search and found a business listed under his name. I called and left a message: “hey there, this is me, if this is you, please call.” He called within the hour. He was alive and well in a nearby state, married with two nearly-grown daughters. I called. It was such a relief to hear his voice again, a voice which sounded exactly like it did the last time I spoke with him. We decided to meet for lunch. We enjoyed five hours of wonderful conversation, glad to be connected as friends after 45 years of each wondering about the other.  He apologized to me for breaking up with me on the telephone on Valentine’s Day. I teased him by “breaking up” with him in a phone conversation the year following.

Break, Break, Break

Valentine’s Day 1965,

a break in his voice, a zip

of energy I feel through the phone:

          I love you. I miss you.

          We should date other people.

45 years now, married to those other people,

we break up over and over, just for fun.

 

My meetings with these two former boyfriends gave birth to the book, a look at girlfriends and their boyfriends. I saw the project as a possible chapbook with funny or tender poems about boys I’d known and “loved.” What I did not expect was that the project would end up a full-length manuscript or that it would morph into looking at boyfriend stories of other women who were eager to tell me what those boys meant to them, and that I would end up looking at a timeline of relationships that spanned the innocent crush to the crushing and sometimes cruel. The book project raised its hand and demanded I take it more seriously.

When I began discussing the project with others, hearing stories about them and their boyfriends, I realized that my singular perspective was a little narrow and artificial. After all, it’s not about me. It’s about this universal thing called love, whatever that means. I wanted more. I wanted to give my readers more. Shortly thereafter I also began to realize that sweet glittery hearts and cupids was not all that needed to be covered here. Everyone who talked to me about their boyfriends had one who was cruel or unkind, even dangerous. What about those? Again, the project raised its hand and demanded to be a part of this. The project had a new idea of itself and I had to accept that.

Always in love is how I would describe my life. I love the idea of love, the rush of new love, the comfort of long-lived love. My father called me boy-crazy on more than one occasion. So the poems I set out to write was partially focused on resurrecting the many boys who’d come into my life, however briefly or in a more substation time frame. I had to start with my ride on the Kindergarten Bus. At age five, I was in love with two little boys whose names I cannot recall. What I do recall is the ride home from school. I wind the clock backward and write in the present tense. This is a technique I recommend to make a poem that happened in the long-ago seem more like something in the now. Of course the poem had to anchor the manuscript. I share it here in its entirety since it is a short one:

 

Kindergarten Bus  c. 1952

Boys

 

little men without a clue

want to hold hands with me —

I let them.

One tries to kiss me.

 

Two, who by high school

would not have shared me,

hold my hand in turn.

Their faces shine

with something like love.

 

Last off the kindergarten bus,

I am a kiss stolen by the boy

whose house is 3 blocks away,

who walks by my house on Saturdays,

wishes school was 6 days.

 

This poem is soft and funny and sweet. Sweetness deserved the entre to the book. I knew pretty quickly that the arc of the poems would move from this childlike sweetness to the teen years, fraught with frustration and fumbling attempts at love and relationship. Isn’t that the way the teen years work anyway?  The teen stories I was able to access showcase a range of experiences, not the least of which uncover a look at forbidden love and a bit of risk. The following poem, a story shared by a woman friend, illustrates this.

 

Church Boy, Town Girl

At the edge of town,

behind the Baptist Church,

behind the church bus, they smoke, inhale

unfiltered Camels. Church boy

wearing Jesus Saves tee, town girl

in a yellow sun dress. He presses her hard

for a kiss; she blows smoke circles

with her eyes closed. She knows what’s next,

like her mama told. Watch out for them

churchy boys, they’s the devil. They take

what they wants and lets you go.

Still as a broken clock, she waits.

Inside the church, singing:

and the walls came a-tumbling down.

 

 One of the problems with writing about love, and writing about the less beautiful side of love, is doing it without getting too personally involved (as the writer). Huh? you are probably saying, isn’t “love” a most personal thing after all? How does one write about love from the outside, looking in and still get across the feeling of love in all its facets?

The answer, for me, has always been to write somewhat obliquely. In other words, don’t think everything needs to be told. Find those details which will tell it. Let the truth of the situation emerge on its own, which will happen with some diligence on the part of the writer.

Look at what this poem does and what it does not. We can see the girl and boy from the elements of setting: where are they? at the edge  and behind the Baptist Church.

What are they wearing? He is wearing a Jesus saves tee; she is wearing yellow sun dress. Who is this girl? A Town Girl. She is no church girl. This suggests also that she is out of her normal setting. He, by virtue of what he is wearing is in his normal setting, but maybe not by his own choice. As reader, you get to decide by way of the details. You have become the omniscient observer.

It is easy to discover the set up and the problem from these small aspects of setting. All writers should consider setting when writing and revising, poets included. Setting details place the action of the poem in a space that matters to that action.

Look now at what is happening, the action of the poem. The boy and girl are engaged in doing some things likely forbidden by the church, smoking and making out. The setting (behind the church) suggests this. They are unfiltered  as the cigarettes they smoke,; they are not concerned about what’s right or wrong. She has her eyes closed. He is pressing her. Running through her head, is her mother’s warning about boys, especially them churchy boys. The use of this internal warning provides another layer of the girl’s dilemma. In the final line, we know the outcome from the song they (and we) hear… and the walls came a-tumbling down. Readers know what is probably next.

This is oblique writing. Oblique writing is not at all vague. It is about telling what needs to be told in such a way as to let the reader experience what the people of the poem are doing or feeling. Oblique writing is an embodiment. You are the girl. You’re not simply told about the girl. This attention to detail let’s you be part of the girl’s story without intruding. I am grateful to “Donna” for sharing her story. I hope my poem honors her.

As the manuscript began to take shape, I realized that it would be good to include a few poems about the sadness and rejection that sometimes accompany love. We’ve all been there through bitter breakups, divorces, even illness. What does love ended or altered look like for the dumped, the thumped, the sorrowful who are out of love? Again, women stepped up and shared. I already had my own stories to render into poems. There was no end to the dearth of material. I decided to fill the middle of the manuscript with the sadder side of love. There were so many stories, I wondered if I’d ever be finished telling them.

One thing I learned from talking to women is that love is elastic. We can come back after a fall. More importantly, we are the sum of our loves. It doesn’t subtract from us. We are also part of the equation for one another in coping. We are part of a community of lovers. When one of us is suffering, the rest of us can make a difference.

Thanks to Jean and her story, I was able to show that. In my poem, After Your Divorce, I explore how empathy might work, how there is a support we might offer in time of lost love (for whatever reason; this is about loss via divorce).

There is a you, a she, and an I in the poem, never named. These do not need to be named because the poem is about all of us, and about how we sometimes miss the opportunity for being the help that is needed. In a sense, the poem is an apology. It is also an acknowledgement that love problems know no gender. The you might be a man, might be a woman. We don’t know and we don’t need to know. What we do know is that  the I has missed an opportunity for empathy.

 

After Your Divorce

                   I asked you to read my poems

 

I wrote table and forced you out

into the woods to choose a tree,

maple, oak, or maybe an exotic teak.

You had to decide the shape too,

round or rectangular or oval. I wrote

a cobalt bowl filled with orange day lilies

and a white coffee mug, rim smudged

with Dior’s Infra Rose. I might have

written an apple on an ivory table runner

from Brazil, but I wrote a half-eaten

nectarine set on a white paper towel the way

she did to keep from messing up a plate

for just one item. I knew about your divorce

and yet I wrote table, leaving so much

for you to do. I should have written door.

 

The poem relies upon the details to show the situation of the you as well as the response and final empathetic gesture of the narrator. Notice again the setting and the details within. These amplify the situation as well as show the lost relationship. We see how the lost person was in the relationship. We see her details in the specific lipstick she wore, how she used a paper towel for her snack. We can see her. We can feel her. Not only that, but the you has become a sympathetic person to us.

The speaker of the poem, the I, has gained empathy by poem’s end. We feel satisfied with the character. The sadness is not gone, but we are heartened that empathy has come.

What of the fact that some people would do anything for love? Some maybe want to avoid bad love by extraordinary means. I included a quirky prose poem in the book that tells how that might go. Even in light of the somewhat odd connections made between the speaker of the poem and the fortuneteller, it is details and setting which hold up the ideas of the poem. The speaker desperately wants to know about, be warned about bad lovers. The epigraph by Maggie Smith describes lovers as confetti. The speaker knows already that confetti is unpredictable. Still, she is crazy to find out what can be predicted. If only she could pay what is asked.  I hope the poem leaves readers asking what would I do for love or to avoid a bad lover?

 

Bad Lover Juju

                   Everyone you loved was scattered confetti

                                    — Maggie Smith

 

Some of it (them) green, some yellow, some a garish orange. One was your favorite purple, the kind with blue-red in it. No matter. They weren’t your type of lover. Not that they cared. Not that you knew that back then. Disposable was what they thought when the lights were out and you had gone home. All eventually floated away on the backs of birds of prey, leaving you bitten. Shiny feathers fell on your head, on your shoulders as they went. You visit the woman whose talent is seeing lover juju. You want a new lover, someone not confetti. She asks for beads of glass, blackberry ice cream as payment. You’ve brought vanilla ice cream — all you have. Bad juju she says, licking the bowl and stringing a noose from the beads. You want to hear the name of a lover who could save you. More beads, more ice cream. The woman falls asleep with her hands on the noose she’d made. She begins to look like your mother, your grandmother. Bad juju you think, backing slowly from her chair. Bad juju she dreams, saying aloud the names of every bad lover. You dial the ice cream parlor down the street. They’re completely sold out of blackberry. They tell you there’s been a run on that lately. Bad juju.

 

Still, even in light of the somewhat odd connections made between the speaker of the poem and the fortuneteller, it is all about details and setting holding up the ideas of the poem. The speaker desperately wants to know about, be warned about bad lovers. The epigraph by Maggie Smith describes lovers as confetti. The speaker knows already that confetti is unpredictable. Still, she is crazy to find out what can be predicted. If only she could pay what is asked.

I decided, after the rather tragic or lonely poems in the second part of the book, to end with my own stories of great love, my last love. I want to leave the reader with a sense that sometimes, if we are lucky enough, love can be mature and enduring. One of the poems comes from a time when I needed an unselfish love, needed a supportive love. From a time when love may well have been all there would be for me. This poem is from my grownup story of love.

I chose to write this poem in my own voice. I am the speaker and I am the receiver of the love. Poets are often told to avoid “confessional” poems as they leave out the reader. But facing probable death in a poem willingly breaks that open. As in the discussion previously, we all could use a little empathy. Who would not be drawn to the relationship in this poem, feel a sense of empathy toward both the speaker and her lover? Need and gift. It is because of great love that the need may be expressed and the gift given. Look at the details. See the love at work in those details.

Calling You

I call to you, whimpering in the night

where we once cried out in lovemaking.

I call and you lift me up for my medicine

or a trip to the bathroom.  I am not yours

as I once was yours; I have become your task.

 

Your burden, wrought in love and devoted

service to that love is the meal we have set

before us.  We dine together, you sip wine

as I nudge soda crackers along my dusty palate.

We eat in bed and talk of other times, times lost.

 

I call you the little pet name I made up in jest

when you danced naked with a hat on your penis;

You laugh, call me “pretty lady” despite my gray

flat skin.  Your hands run my slackened frame;

still I am beautiful to you. All angles and bony

points of interest, still I am your passion.

 

Your face shines, avoiding pain and distress

over my possible outcome.  The doctors face me

with treatments which blush up in high fevers,

but you are cool. You collect my favorite things

near the bed to distract me from all suffering.

 

I call out to you in the night when I think “this is it”

and you roll to one side, spooning my weak body

with your strong one. I feel your current seep in

and get enough juice to make it to morning.  I call

and you bring me whatever I need.  I need everything.

 

The final poem is Polaris, a short poem to my husband. A poem that says so much about how love blends us one into the other. The poem encompasses that relationship which has evolved over many years, over many constellations of love have burned themselves into something eternal. I always end my public readings with this poem. It delights both of us when he is present. When I read the poem, I feel my palm pressed together with my husband’s. I can taste the starlight on my tongue.

 

Polaris

       for Bill

 

On our January porch, hands

open to star shine, we are pierced

by Polaris. It’s a stigmata I feel

as my right palm presses

your right palm, fingers laced.

It’s a burning, a covenant. Later

in our bedroom, some shine

on your shoulder where I touch

as you drift into your own night

sky. We have been pierced

by star points, filled with light.

We sail on it, I your compass, true

North, and you my lantern

and flame, tower and beam.

 

Carol Willette Bachofner, poet, watercolorist, and photographer, has published five books of poetry, most recently The Boyfriend Project (2017) and Native Moons, Native Days (2012). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including, Dawnland Voices, an Anthology of Writings from Indigenous New England (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). She won the Maine Postmark Contest 2017 for her poem, Passagassawaukeag, which is published in The Maine Review. Her photo, Rigged, received Honorable Mention in the Spirit of Place contest by Maine Media workshop and is printed in the contest anthology. She served as Poet Laureate of Rockland Maine from 2012-2016.  Visit her web site at www.carolbachofner.com

Watch for Carol’s second post about her new books. She will write about Test Pattern, a book I was thrilled to write a blurb for. To purchase The Boyfriend Project click through the book cover art to Carol’s website and you can order the book.

 

 

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Dashing In

Dashing in here to tell you that Mom is on the way back home to Michigan. We had a good visit, and I am exhausted.

Near the beginning of our visit, the gardener and I took Mom on a cruise on the Desert Belle on Saguaro Lake.

We saw some landscape typical of the area. You can only get a view like this from the lake or by hiking fairly far.

Swimmers are not allowed at this lake, but it would be fun to boat, jetski, etc. The problem is, if you go in the summer, they only allow a certain number of “vehicles” on the water, so if you’re not there by 5 or 6AM you might have to wait for hours for your turn!

We also took Mom to California to see son and ND (new daughter). We thought we’d take them out to dinner because their wild little dog Theo and the two cats are pretty chaotic in their condo. But when we got there, my son said, “Oh, by the way, there’s another dog here.”

“What?!” That was me being astonished.

“Um, yeah, we’re fostering him.” Son was walking ahead of me into the building so I couldn’t see his face.

“Fostering???!!!!” I’m sure I looked disbelieving and he could hear it in my voice because he caved right away.

“OK, Mom, we had to keep him. He’s the one I told you about.”

And then it came back to me that my son had called a couple of months ago and asked if I could take a 16-year-old dog who had nowhere to go. The owner was Taking Him to the Pound! Any 16-year-old dog shows up at the pound, and he won’t last an hour before the shelter does away with him.

Now, I am a pushover with animals, but I do know how to draw the line (kinda) because the parade of animals in need of homes is endless. So I asked the gardener, he said no, and then I “had” to say no. I figured my son would watch over the situation and somebody would work it out if I didn’t hear any begging.

I didn’t hear any begging because son took him home to ND who was not pleased until first son and then ND fell in love with the little guy. His name is Gary, and he’s a Jack Russell terrier. They didn’t tell us for two months because last fall I’d said (with my lack of tact), “Good thing you guys are looking for a house because you can’t have any more animals in here” (they live on the 3rd floor so are looking for a house).

Of course, the gardener and I fell in love with Gary right away. And, yes, my son and I are a LOT alike.

My mother got a kick out of seeing son’s lego collection. It’s pretty amazing. I know what he’s getting for his birthday this summer!

He loves toys and puzzles like his mama ;). We’re going to hunt through the storage space this summer for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle collection. Love those guys!

Back in Arizona Mom and I spent a lot of time scrapbooking together. Luckily, I had enough photos that were of interest to her for scrapbooking–and I have a lot of supplies.

These are pages I was working on for my daughter. I’m really behind, but I’ve made a scrapbook for each year of her four years at the University of Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner).

As you might expect, Perry was a little overactive for my Mom being here, but in general, he was a good boy, even when he had to be put in my office. He held still for a few pix.

I know I promised to write every day in 2018, but it was impossible with Mom here. I start back up TODAY. #amwriting

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

An excerpt from Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published

by Windy Lynn Harris (guest blogger)

 

Writing short stories and personal essays is a marketable skill in publishing. These types of short pieces are submitted and accepted every week. And the great news about this kind of writing: Writers don’t need a literary agent to participate in the process. We can independently market our prose and land bylines that make us proud. It just takes sending our work to the right editor, at the right time, and in the right way.

In 2009, I founded the Market Coaching for Creative Writers program to help writers get their short stories and personal essays published in magazines. In that program, I teach writers how to create targeted cover letters, professionally format their manuscripts, and find hundreds of perfect markets to match their voice. They study magazine guidelines and submission etiquette, learn the difference between copyright and the rights available to sell, and set up a system for keeping their submissions organized. By the end of a Market Coaching session, writers are not only able to submit their work to viable magazine editors with confidence; they’re able to repeat the process for every piece of short writing they produce in the future.

Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays is going to teach you all of those things, too and more. This book is a complete conversation on the topic of publishing short works.

 

THE SHORT STORY

A short story is a short work of fiction. Many of the same craft techniques used to write novels are used to write short stories, but the short story stands apart as a separate form of prose—one delivered with concise language. The use of compression and microscopic storytelling makes short stories unique. A short story isn’t a chapter from a book but a complete experience delivered in a small package.

Besides length, short stories are unique because the action usually revolves around a single dramatic event. It is a glimpse of a character’s life—perhaps one year or even one hour. Every moment in the story is a dance between action and reaction that is related to a single dramatic event. These stories begin as close to the main conflict as possible, giving an unmistakable immediacy to the prose.

Short stories can be enjoyed in one sitting, but that time frame varies from story to story. Short stories can be as simple as six words or run eighty pages long. Most short stories published today fall somewhere between one-thousand and seven-thousand words, but longer stories and shorter stories can still find homes. There is no hard rule to follow with word count.

The terms “flash fiction” and “microfiction” refer to the very shortest of stories. Microfiction is a story that tops out at one hundred words. Flash fiction is anything between one-hundred to one-thousand words. Anything above one-thousand words (and up to twenty-thousand words) is simply called a short story.

Well-written short stories are highly desirable pieces of prose. There are plenty of markets to place this type of work. You’ll find short stories in literary magazines (The Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, etc.), genre magazines (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, etc.) children’s magazines (Cricket, Highlights, Ladybug, etc.), and commercial magazines (The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, etc.). Some are even sold as digital shorts on Amazon or other digital retailers.

I mention the caveat “well-written short stories” because even though there are many outlets for short stories, the competition to earn a space on the pages of a journal is quite stiff. For any writing project, you must create, revise, and polish your work until it meets the standards of the market to which you’re submitting, and in the world of short stories, that standard is skyscraper tall. Short stories are some of the most clever, experimental, urgent, and fresh prose being written today.

Part of the reason is the long-respected history of great storytellers and their iconic short stories, such as Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf,” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I could go on for quite some time before running out of names, but the point I’m making is that short-story writers still aspire to equal the masters. This category’s authors and publishers will always hear the echo of notable writers in the distance. So today, editors search for contemporary yet barrel-aged stories that have been given enough careful crafting to mellow into greatness.

PERSONAL ESSAYS

Personal essays are appealing first-person stories often found in magazines and newspapers. They’re true stories told by people willing to share their intimate thoughts and feelings about life. They are incredibly popular to read, with plenty of submission opportunities for writers.

These stories are nonfiction, but they stand apart from other nonfiction pieces because of their purposeful use of storytelling. We’re not talking about self-help, how-to, or informational articles, which all require the writer to slip into an invisible narrator’s voice. Essays bloom well beyond that informational tone. Well-written essays harness cadence, individuality, a narrative arc, and creativity.

Studying the craft of writing is essential to creating publishable personal essays. Writing the truth is important, but great storytelling holds equal weight. Personal essays have rising tension, compelling characters, and mini-plotlines that push the reader toward a conclusion or a realization. A personal essay isn’t simply an anecdote but an in-depth exploration of a subject.

Essay categories include travel, parenting, grief, humor, satire, nostalgia, divorce, friendship, personal growth, and much more. Essays can cover a trip with your mother-in-law to Las Vegas or a midlife moment in the mirror. They can explore the injustice of racism or the beautiful healing nature of butterflies. They can be filled with hope, anger, or angst. Essays have that delicious inclusion factor that grabs readers by the heart and makes them feel something.

Personal essays whose style  strongly emphasizes literary elements (symbolism, setting, style, tone, theme, characterization, etc.) find homes in literary magazines like Tin House, The Sun, The Paris Review, etc. Reported essays—an essay that contains a personal narrative with some degree of reporting and statistical analysis—are found in news sources and lifestyle magazines like The Washington Post, Aeon, The Guardian, etc. All other essays, including well-written prose with any degree of literary emphasis, are found in nearly every other print and online publication.

Many places that publish personal essays will state clearly that they are looking for creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is an industry term that includes literary essays along with other creative nonfiction, including travel essays, parenting essays, and pieces of inspired reportage, among other things. Outlets looking to acquire creative nonfiction are advertising, essentially, that they publish personal essays on a variety of topics that contain a large amount of scene development.

The key to well-written creative nonfiction is in the use of scenes to convey the story. Creative nonfiction essays use less narrative and more scene-by-scene storytelling—a technique that pushes the sensory experience for readers. When readers feel the action of an essay, they can make inferences, judgments, and emotional connections. They can experience the events with personal investment. Readers can then examine their own experiences in comparison.

Creative nonfiction is the fastest-growing area of nonfiction, with opportunities for writers in magazines and newspapers across the country. The genre allows for experimentation in a way that appeals to readers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Not every magazine is looking specifically for creative nonfiction, but if that’s the direction your work takes you, know that you will have many opportunities for publication.

Author Susan Pohlman has written creative-nonfiction essays for a variety of print and online outlets. She likens these essays to fiction, in terms of technique: “Creative nonfiction is an umbrella term. It is an easily accessible genre encompassing a multitude of forms such as the personal essay, the profile essay, participatory journalism, memoir, features, travel essays, biography, and inspired reportage on almost any subject. In short, creative nonfiction is the art of applying storytelling techniques to nonfiction prose. They are true stories that read like fiction.”

That’s right—they read like fiction. Don’t let that confuse you. They feel like fiction because they employ such a big dose of scene development, but creative-nonfiction essays are all accurate depictions of people’s lives. They are true stories crafted to elicit an emotional response.

Want to learn more? Grab a copy of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays, available in bookstores everywhere.

My bio: Windy Lynn Harris is the author of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published (from Writer’s Digest Books) and the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a mentoring program that teaches writers how to get their short work published in magazines. She’s a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is also a developmental editor-for-hire, specializing in short stories and personal essays. She teaches the craft of writing in person and online. More about Windy at her website: www.windylynnharris.com.

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Note from Luanne: I posted a review of Windy’s book here: Write Short First. Please direct your comments to Windy as I am entertaining Mom this week!

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Memoir and the Construct of Race

My maternal grandfather loved to tell stories to whoever would listen. His stories were all based in fact and never ventured into the realm of fantasy. He never tried to catch our attention with a bold and unsubstantiated claim. He just told about the past, as he knew it or had heard about it.

So when he told me that we had African ancestry, I believed him. I grew up thinking that my white family was, in fact, “part black. I found this information fascinating. Maybe it was one of the seeds that led to me studying history and race in literature.

Imagine my disappointment when I got my DNA results and found zero African ancestry among my genes. Could Grandpa have been wrong? Could he have lied to me? I think he told the truth as he understood it. My theory: one of his cousins was married to an African-American man for a brief time, and that meant that her ex was now part of our family. Grandpa telling me that we were a “biracial” family of sorts was the greatest gift he ever gave me–even better than his stories and the family’s antique photograph collection. Growing up as a white kid in the sixties, yet thinking you have African ancestry, is a helpful antidote to the effects of racism floating around you in society.

Now think of growing up as a white girl in mid-century America, with a father given to racist expressions, and only learning as an adult that your mother was (legally) a black woman passing as white and keeping the secret from everyone! That is the case for Gail Lukasik who wrote a memoir, White Like Her, about her search for the truth about her mother’s roots.

The woman on the cover of the book is Gail’s mother.

Gail’s story was first showcased on Genealogy Roadshow, and afterwards Gail, a mystery writer, began to write this memoir. The book details the genealogical research she and others did to find Gail’s family’s quintessentially American story. I was fascinated in the story because I am so interested in family history, American history, genealogy, and mysteries. What a great text to introduce to those who do not know the one-drop rule and other stupid laws in the history of Jim Crow.

I did wonder a few times if some people might be put off by the who begat whom, but it’s presented in a very cohesive and interesting way. I’m not sure how the book is structured, although her appearance on the show is the glue for a large portion of the book–and then the final section is about meeting her “new” family members and building a relationship with them. What one comes away from the book with, more than anything, is that race is a construct, not a real thing.

This book reminded me of another book I read over ten years ago. Carol Channing’s memoir Just Lucky I Guess might seem to be as far from the story of introverted Gail Lukasik as possible. But it’s not because very early on in the memoir, Carol lets her readers know that she has biracial heritage. The way she found out was kind of shitty. When she was leaving for college (at the impossibly young age of sixteen) her mother told her that she was “part Negro” because her father was black, born in Georgia. Her mothers says she is telling her now “‘because the Darwinian law shows that you could easily have a black baby.'” Then she made some statements about the large size of Carol’s eyes and her dance ability that were racist, at least by today’s standards. This happened in 1937.

Although a few readers rob Carol Channing of a star or two in their reviews of her book because the book is uniquely structured, I think the structure follows Carol’s personality. I found it an enormously fascinating and satisfying read. You can’t help but adore Channing after listening to her voice for any length of time. What a warm, witty, sweet, generous person. I had no idea until I read her memoir that her ancestry was biracial. After all, she made her living as a blonde! I wonder how many others don’t know this part of the Carol Channing story. If you want to be charmed, read Just Lucky I Guess.

I’ve been doing little bits of writing almost every day. I had two travel days, and I couldn’t write, but made up for those omissions on the other days. Woot! #amstillwriting A little poetry, a couple of short creative nonfiction pieces.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

My Only Resolution

Ten months ago, we trapped Perry in our backyard. Since that time, I have written about him in 25 blog posts! It’s almost embarrassing that I’ve written about him so much.

But, in for a penny in for a pound, I guess. Here’s another post about Perry :).

He is still kittenish, although large–larger than the other five cats–and loves to play wrestle and energetically engage with these senior kitties that just want to lie around and sleep. He also still needs his daily cuddles with mom. I am constantly getting him away from the other cats. He wants to lie in Kana’s bed with her, but then he gets restless and starts to annoy.

His main targets to annoy are Kana and Felix, the other “big cats.” The three little ones–Pear, Tiger, and Sloopy Anne–are bitchy enough to him that he doesn’t mess with them much.

 

Tiger and Sloopy Anne waiting to hiss at Perry when he passes by

Perry and Kana are true frenemies.

Although the vet had told me she thought it possible that he was part Siamese, I (who have never had a fancy breed cat) didn’t pay much attention to that. But suddenly one day, as if the president of the Cat Fanciers’ Association had snuck up and slapped me upside the head, I realized that Perry has got to be part Maine Coon. After I looked it up and confirmed my brainstorm, I read an article that said that there are lots of Maine Coon mixes in the general cat population. If you wonder what I’m talking about google “blue and white Maine coon cat” and go to images. There you will see a stunning array of Perry’s possible daddies ;).

This explains why Perry looks different from the other cats. His outline is different, and his face is different. My son calls him “cartoon cat,” and my daughter agrees with him. The gardener calls him Curly (from The Three Stooges). I call him rat face and funny face. For all that, he’s gorgeous. The son of the man who installed our new water RO tank said he was a king of cats. His dad called Perry King Tut.

Perry has taken up all my writing time in 2017. I need to get back on track. Maybe he can go with me into my office and we can shut the door so he can’t bother the other cats. Maybe he will settle down into the cat tree and take a snooze while I work on . . . something. This month I need to get cracking because mom will be with us next month. I’ve been trying to imagine her staying with us with our six cats and all the unrest with Perry.

My only New Year’s resolution: write, no matter what and no matter what it is.

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The Day After Christmas

I usually post on Mondays, but this week’s Monday being Christmas and today being my father’s birthday, I wanted to post today. My father didn’t like having a birthday the day after Christmas. He felt he was shortchanged and overlooked. Maybe being a twin accentuated that feeling since he had to share a birthday not only (almost) with baby Jesus, but with a brother he shared his life with.

My father grew up quite poor with his twin, his older sister, and his single mother. I doubt there was too much hoorah for his birthday, although I’m sure Grandma would have tried to give them a good Christmas on Christmas Eve, in the German tradition. I imagine she made clothes for Christmas for all three children.

When I was a kid, my mother liked to make Dad feel better by celebrating his half-birthday on June 26.  We would go to Sears or Robert Hall and buy him a shirt and tie or something equally unimaginative and wrap it up in birthday paper. Mom usually made a cake, too, from a Duncan Hines box mix. (By the way, I just looked up Duncan Hines for the heck of it, and did you know he was a real man? Very interesting story on Wikipedia).

My father’s birthday always seemed a touch sad and anti-climactic, whether it was on December 26 or on June 26. An emptiness inside him wasn’t filled by whatever we did, and my mother was not one to prepare an exciting celebration. There were many wonderful birthday parties in their lives, but they were always planned by my extroverted father for my introverted mother.

I do think his favorite birthday gift was the year I made him a videotape of his life for his 80th birthday. The quality was appalling as I didn’t have the proper software or equipment. So much easier today to make a video! To make it, I had to watch hours and hours and hours of old videotapes (those hardcover book-sized videos) and digitize what I needed. It was painstaking work that took so many hours I wouldn’t want to try to count them up. This was pre-blogging days, needless to say.

The only thing that I didn’t get on the video that he would have liked was his bungee jump at age sixty as I couldn’t find a photo at the time. I always planned to add it in and edit the video when easier software became available, but I never got around to it before he died. Now it seems pointless.

Of course, when I went to look for the photo to post it here, it’s lost again. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Here’s an idea of how crummy the video was: this is the first 20 seconds. The reason that I chose this music is because my father used to put on a fake opera voice–much deeper than his speaking voice–to sing. He would sing “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Proud Mary.” This version of “Happy Birthday” reminded me of my father’s singing ;). Also, every year on my birthday (that we lived in different states), he would sing me happy birthday over the phone.

Very important: notice the post-it note next to the cake pan in the second photograph. That is my mother’s handwriting.

My father was always the one behind the camera, so it wasn’t easy finding him on video (which is why I had to use a lot of photos as in the sample above. When I watched him seeing the video for the first and second times, I noticed that he seemed happy and quizzical. The latter emotion was shared after the second viewing when he said, “I didn’t know I was so LOUD!”

Yes, he was. Dad was loud. And he loved a party. I’m just glad I made that video so that for once he had a really good birthday.

 

My father in his best role, Grandpa

At his favorite place, the lake (where he had to be quiet)

 

 

 

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