Category Archives: Research and prep for writing

New Info After the Book is Published

When I was visiting my mother for her heart surgery, I found an amazing tintype that changed the way I think about the cover of Kin Types.

You may or may not realize I write a blog called thefamilykalamazoo.com sharing antique and vintage family photos and the results of some of my family history research. I published an account over on that blog, but I’ve pasted the body here so you can feel some of my excitement 😉 over this new discovery.

FROM THE FAMILY KALAMAZOO:

Thank you so much for responding so enthusiastically to Kin Types. My new chapbook is an offshoot of The Family Kalamazoo, in a way.

The cover of the book is from an old tintype belonging to my family. I have posted it twice before on this blog. The woman featured on it seems to have come from the Remine branch of the family and, based on the tintype and the dress she wears, I thought it was possible that she could be my great-great-great grandmother Johanna Remine DeKorn. This was a guess I had fairly early on, but I had no proof.

But I knew she was someone close to us. For one thing, this is an expensive painted tintype and our family owns it. We wouldn’t have possession of such an image if it wasn’t someone from the family. For another, there is too great a similarity. For instance, my daughter thinks that the woman looks remarkably like my mother in the eyes and mouth. Other people say they can see her in my face.

I thought it unlikely I would learn much more about the photo, but never gave up hope because much amazing information has flowed to me, mainly through this blog.

When I visited my mother recently, she gave me a gorgeous antique photo album from my uncle for me to scan and disseminate. Imagine my surprise when I opened the album and found this tiny tintype inside.

 

I had so many questions: Were the photos taken at the same time or is the woman younger in the couple’s photo? Same hairdo, same earrings . . . . We don’t really know about the dress and its neck accessory because the lace collar on the painted tintype is, just that, painted on. But she’s definitely younger. Is the new find a wedding photo? Are they siblings?

So I focused on the man. I want to say boy. They both look so young. If the woman is Johanna Remine DeKorn, the man most likely would have to be Boudewyn (Boudewijn) DeKorn. Here is a photo my grandfather identified as Boudewyn, my 3xgreat grandfather.

Boudewijn de Korne

So, what do you think? Are they two different men? The hair is the same–very wavy dark brown hair–, but the hairline has changed. That’s possible. In the upper photo, the man has very defined cheekbones, and I don’t see this in the boy. The man has a very wide mouth. Would that change over time? I doubt it. It was unlikely then that the woman was Johanna, but who was she?

I did what I had to do. I scheduled an appointment with photogenealogist Maureen Taylor. When I only had the painted tintype, I didn’t feel I had enough to go through the process with Maureen. But now that I had a second tintype, I wanted to give it a try.

When Maureen and I began our conversation, I felt a letdown. Johanna Remine was too old to be in this photo. The tintype of the two people had to be between 1869 and 1875, according to Maureen. Johanna was born in 1817 and DIED in 1864. The woman could not be Johanna.

The woman had to be a generation younger than Johanna.

This was disappointing because I felt that I know the other branches or “lines” of the family, and that if she wasn’t Johanna, she couldn’t be a direct ancestor.

And yet, as I told Maureen, I had a strong feeling that she was closely related. And her looks are too reminiscent of the family features to discount her. Maureen agreed with this and pointed me in a different direction.

The Remine family, where I felt the painted tintype came from, began in the U.S. with a marriage between Richard Remine and Mary Paak. Mary Paak is my great-great-grandmother Alice Paak DeKorn’s sister. I am related to the Remines two ways. One is by blood, Johanna Remine being my 3x great grandmother, married to Boudewyn DeKorn (and the mother of Richard DeKorn). The other is by marriage where Richard married Mary. Mary and Carrie Paak, two of the four Paak sisters, had a similar look. Alice and Annie had a different look altogether.

ALICE PAAK DEKORN

Maureen wanted to see a photo of Alice. I sent her the image above–a very clear headshot of Alice from the 1890s (so 20 years older than the woman in the tintype) and Annie (the sister who looked like Alice but is a body shot and not as clear). Maureen examined the photos and proclaimed Alice a match. She asked for the dates on the sisters: birth, immigration, marriage. She was sure the tintype of the beautiful girl on the cover of Kin Types was Alice who happens to be featured in a poem in my book: “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete.”

I asked Maureen about the man in the photo and said it did not look like Alice’s husband, Richard DeKorn.

And then I learned something that is counterintuitive, but smart.

Ignore him for now.

She thought it could be her brother or even a beau she had in the Netherlands that she never married. In the tintype of both of them, they are very very young, maybe teenagers. And Alice immigrated to the United States when she was 17 years old. Maureen told me to ignore the man for the purposes of identifying the woman. I will try to identify him later, if it is even possible.

The more I thought about Maureen’s assessment, the more I realized how blind I’d been not to notice the resemblance between the women in the tintype and my 2xgreat grandmother Alice. Alice also happens to be the mother of Cora, the woman my grandparents told me that I look like.

Just for fun, I ran the two images through twinsornot.net. This is the result, although they photos are of a very young woman and a woman twenty years older.

Then I pulled out the other photo that Grandpa had identified Alice. In this alternative photo, Alice is younger than in the 1890s photo, but not nearly as young as the tintype. I had never been sure that this photo even was Alice, although Grandpa had been (and she was his grandmother). So I ran both Grandpa-identified Alice photos against each other on the site. 100% match! Grandpa was right.

Next I ran the tinted tintype against this alternative photo of Alice.

100%!

 

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT! THE MYSTERY IS SOLVED. THE WOMAN ON THE COVER OF KIN TYPES IS MOST LIKELY ALICE PAAK DEKORN.

I learned a lot of lessons through this process, but one that really stands out in my mind is that people look different in different photographs–and when you are comparing people of different ages, it really gets dicey. I think about photos of me . . .

If you click the Amazon link , the book can be ordered for $14.99. To order through Barnes & Noble, try this link.

If you like what you read, please leave a little review at one or more of the following sites:

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Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Adrienne at Middlemay Books allowed me the opportunity to guest post about family history, a subject close to my heart and that of Kin Types! Thank you so much, Adrienne.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This weekLuanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and…

View original post 753 more words

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Introducing Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, Author of Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience

Meet Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, the author of Rethinking Possible (She Writes Press, June 2017), a memoir that is Galli’s response to living in the wake of extraordinary losses.

Becky (I need to call her by the name I know her by) and I met a few years ago in writing workshops in the Stanford University online writing certificate program where we were cohorts in the creative nonfiction track. In class and in her column and blog, Becky inspires. Although I have read parts of Becky’s story, I am eager to read Rethinking Possible and to learn more about Becky’s unique life and her strength and determination.

Here is a brief bio from Rethinking Possible‘s press kit that sums up why Becky is perfectly positioned to write a story about extraordinary loss, grief, and resilience.

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli was born into a family
that valued the power of having a plan. Her 1960s
southern upbringing was idyllic—even enviable. But
life does not always go according to plan, and when
her 17-year-old brother died in a waterskiing accident,
the slow unraveling of her perfect family began.
There was her son’s degenerative, undiagnosed
disease and subsequent death; her daughter’s autism
diagnosis; her separation; and then, nine days after
the divorce was final, the onset of the transverse
myelitis that would leave Galli paralyzed from the
waist down. Despite such devastating tragedy, Galli
maintained her belief in family, in faith, in loving
unconditionally, and in learning to not only accept,
but also embrace a life that had veered down a path
far different from the one she had envisioned.

Look at that sunny smile on Becky’s face. And those gold boots! Wowza!

I pre-ordered Becky’s book a couple of months ago, but Friday Amazon wrote and asked me if I still wanted it. UM, YES!!!! So I hope it will be arriving soon! In the meantime, I asked Becky some questions that had been on my mind while she’s been working on the book.

*Writing a memoir means that the writer has to put herself back into the events she is writing about. Many writers find this very challenging emotionally. As you wrote about so many losses that you have experienced, did you consciously protect yourself in some way during the writing process? How did you cope with reliving the losses?

You are so right. The pain was intense, often relived more than once through the edits. Two things helped me:

 Structure: When I wrote about deep loss in the early stages, I would block off two to three days on my calendar and binge write. I prepared healthy meals ahead (tuna salad, grilled chicken, and tons of boiled eggs), stocked up on my favorite not-so-healthy snacks (Lance cheese crackers, Reese’s® peanut butter cups, and peanut M&M’s), and made sure I had plenty of water, coffee, and green tea. I took breaks, often setting alarms to make sure I got out of the house to walk the dog, grab the mail, or sit on the deck for a change of scenery.

Support: My sister was my anchor. She knew my writing schedule and exactly what I was writing about each day. I would check in with her in the morning and then ask her to call me at the end of the day. She would often help me remember details or give me her point of view about the same scene. Counting on her call and hearing her voice helped me time-block the intensity. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know it is for a finite period of time.

***

*You and I met in the writing program at Stanford. We learned that memoir is both the retelling of the experience and the reflection upon that experience: “What does it mean to me? What did I learn from it? How did it shape who I am today?” So how does reflection figure into Rethinking Possible? What form does it take and how much a part of the book is it?

Reflection is key to the book; in fact, it is baked in its message of “rethinking possible.” Through the years, I’d found comfort and inspiration from many sources so I decided to begin each chapter with a quote, inviting reflection relevant to the chapter’s topic.

Then, the reader witnesses the transformation of “character Becky” through her own self-reflection. After each loss, she reacts, revolts, and is unwilling to accept the unwanted realities about herself or the circumstances that she is facing. She was raised to be a winner, a competitor. She did not like to lose. Through each challenge, the reader sees her stubbornness, her self-absorption, even her arrogant self-righteousness. They also see her pain, her bold questioning, and unvarnished self-doubts:

Why me?

Why my brother?

Why my child?

Why my divorce?

Have I become unlovable?

Yet, she does not give up.

Her stubbornness becomes a steadfast determination as she pursues the closely-knit family life she experienced before her brother’s death. Through this honest self-reflection she discovers how to rethink what’s possible, accepting not only the circumstance, but what she has learned about herself.

Without reflection, an assessment of “what is” based on “what was,” we limit our perspective, our capacity to grow, and our ability to fully engage in “rethinking” what is possible.

***

*Did you do any research for writing your book? Since it’s your own story you are telling, did it all come “from your head,” or was it necessary to read and look up information?

I relied heavily on my father’s book, Sit Down, God. . . I’m Angry for the details about my brother’s death. His vivid descriptions time-warped me back to the scene, but my memory had to kick in to recall my twenty-year-old mindset. After Matthew’s seizures, I began keeping a journal. It was the only way I could capture my spinning thoughts and put them to rest. Then in 1997, six months after my paralysis, a friend introduced me to the latest craze—the internet. Shortly after that, I reconnected with a high school friend through email who wanted an update on my life and my adjustments to paralysis. Our exchanges created an email journal that documented nearly twenty years of experiences and reflections and were the basis for my newspaper column career. Still, I googled for details like the make/model of car we loaded up and packed for vacation when I was six years old, song lyrics, and the exact kind of workout gear I sported in 1981.

***

*Through reading your thought-provoking columns and blog, I see you as a woman of strong Christian faith who was very influenced by her pastor father. Do you think your book speaks to others who have experienced losses who are not themselves religious or who come from other religious traditions?

Great question! I do! The philosophy that, “Life can be good, no matter what,” is based on a commitment to find the good in our circumstance. Again, that takes tremendous and sustained effort. For me, my faith is my fuel. My belief system sustains me, grounds me, and gives me a confidence that there will always be something to hope for. However, no matter what your belief system, we must first accept our circumstance before we can “rethink” what is possible in it. Resilient living depends on it.

***

*Do you have hopes or goals for what readers will take away from reading Rethinking Possible? 

I hope Rethinking Possible will offer encouragement and hope to those who have loved deeply and lost dearly. At its core, I think resilience translates into a foundation of hope. Yet hope is a tricky emotion. It can be wonderfully sustaining, but it can also be exhausting.

In my book, I talk about the benefit of pursuing parallel paths after loss, especially when the future is uncertain. Sometimes it’s helpful to pursue hope and reality at the same time. Often what we hope for just isn’t possible. The key to resilience, at least for me, is to temper hope with reality. In essence, resilience is a process of constantly rethinking what is possible after we have accepted a new reality.

I truly believe that life can be good, no matter what. However, “can” is the most important word. After significant losses, it often takes tremendous and sustained effort to find hope within a newly-defined reality. After reading Rethinking Possible, I’d love for the reader to feel like it’s worth the effort.

***

From what I have read of Becky’s writing, the reader will definitely feel that it’s worth the effort to read Rethinking Possible.

You can join Becky for her Thoughtful Thursdays where she shares what’s inspired her to stay positive that week.

She’s on social media as @chairwriter.

Rethinking Possible can be ordered on Kindle right now and the paperback will ship starting on June 9.

 

 

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Cover Reveal of Kin Types

 

Finishing Line Press has revealed the new cover of my chapbook Kin Types. They put it on their website with my headshot, taken by my friend Renee Rivers.

PRE-ORDER HERE

Release date: June 23

A little background on the cover image: this is a tintype from my family collection. It was handpainted, and the jewelry was painted in gold leaf. We don’t know exactly who the photograph is of, but believe it is of the Remine (Remijinse) branch of the family. My great-great-great-grandmother was Johanna Remijinse De Korne, born in Kapelle, Netherlands. I love how the Dutch spelling conjures up the word “reminisce.”

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Get It Now! (Pretty Please with Sugar On Top)

It’s time!!!

It’s time to preorder Kin Types from Finishing Line Press.

Press here to order my book of poetry and flash nonfiction. Why Kin Types?

  • Wide variety of creative poetic styles
  • Insight into the lives of the women who have come before us
  • Flash nonfiction–what is life like for these men after their wives have died?
  • Quick but indepth glimpses from the history of women: infant mortality, vanity and housewife skills, divorce in the 19th century, secret abortion, artist versus mother, mysterious death, wife beating, and my favorite: a brave hero(ine) saving a family’s home
  • Much more, but you get the idea

Why preorder?

  • You won’t miss out when you’re busy
  • You want the book to go to press
  • Only way to ensure getting a copy!
  • You are supporting the arts
  • The press run of Kin Types is completely dependent on the preorders
  • You don’t want to hear me whining every week
  • I will love you forever ❤️

 

ORDER HERE

Unidentified ancestor from Cadzand, Netherlands

WHAT IS SHE REALLY THINKING?

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Coming Soon from Finishing Line Press

Maybe you thought I am only interested in cats and books and writing and wine food, but my love of local history was fueled by the vintage photographs (that are now antiques) and glass negatives my grandfather gave me. Many of them are interesting shots of locations and people in actions, but more of them are portraits and Grandpa assigned names for every person he knew. Another thing that reinforced my history interest was that my father was a “collector” of old buildings, especially downtown. He would buy old unloved commercial properties and rent them out, usually to young people who wanted a start in business. Since my mother’s great-grandfather had built some of the old buildings in our city, I came to believe that I was meant to coordinate the family photos and documents and to see where the family fit into our hometown.  I’ve documented some of the information I’ve uncovered on my other blog.

But you know I’m also a poet and writer of the more lyrical sort. So it wasn’t enough for me to write blog posts about people long dead. Where the more typical family history research left off, I wanted to add the power of imaginative research. That’s when I started writing my Kin Types poems. These poems are meant to uncover and reveal the lives of women in my family who are long gone. But they could be women in anybody’s family. That’s what family history really should be: the history of the world as seen through the lives of “regular” individuals. The women in these poems endure difficulties and tragedies: the death of an infant, waiting to hear about the fate of a soldier brother, a clandestine abortion, emotional illness, inability to pursue art, a mysterious death, a horrific fire, and more.

My chapbook also contains two prose pieces–flash nonfiction–and, strangely since all the poems are about women, the viewpoint of both these stories is from two men in my family. They are men who, in some ways, lived the male American immigrant story of the late 19th century. But they also had their own troubles and tragedies, and they too cried out (in my head, at least) to have their stories told.

So it’s super exciting to announce that Finishing Line Press is publishing my book, and the stories of the people who have come before us will be available in poems and lyrical prose. Kin Types will be available for pre-order soon, so stay tuned!

My great-grandmother with Grandpa

circa 1910

(yes, she’s in the book)

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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!

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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.

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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 . . . .

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Memoir Writing Lesson #10: Check

In today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, Goldberg asks us to write for ten minutes each in response to two questions. Although I didn’t write a lot in response, I realized that it’s always been easier for me to write about fear than about happiness. Seems strange to me.

“When was the first time you were afraid?”

I have already written about some of my terrifying early experiences. The kidnapper who was after me (I thought so).  And the horse ride. Now the horse one I wrote up for this blog four (!?@#%!!!!) years ago, and that is truly the first time I can remember being that afraid. If I keep searching I might find even earlier memories of fear, but this one was so scary and I was so young, that it doesn’t make sense to try to rewrite it. Sometimes after I write out a memory, I don’t want to write it all over again. Do you ever feel that way?  Anyway, you can find this scary story on A Ride with Memory, which is also where I question how memory works.

“When was the last time you were happy, really happy?”

I guess there are two kinds of happiness. The very last time I was really happy was when I looked around at all five cats and felt so blessed and comfortable and content to have them in my life. love for each one of them welled up in me. This emotional event was a simple blessing happiness that I can experience over and over again, as long as I allow the blessings to come into my life. Then there is a happiness that is full of excitement and fulfillment of dreams. The very last time I was really happy in that way was this summer when the gardener and I went on vacation. We visited our daughter in New York City and saw her amazing performance in a new musical and spent some quality time with her. I felt her happiness when she was mentioned in the New York Times and nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor along with other actors who have been in multiple Broadway shows (and one a Tony nominee). After all the years of watching her work so hard on her craft and knowing how passionate she is about performing, I felt great happiness for her. And then spending time hiking with her and going out to eat and drinking wine together–and really talking. All so blissful. The last time before that that I was really happy was when my son asked his girlfriend to marry him and they sent me photos that night of their exciting evening overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Seeing him on bended knee–so full of hope and nervousness–and her beautiful face lit up with happiness was thrilling.

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This exercise was another hard one for me, but for different reasons. Again, the fear one I’ve done several times and couldn’t go there again. The happiness one was hard because so many ways to go.

Go ahead and try it. When was the first time you were afraid? . . .

 A little worse for wear after several brutal summers, but still a bright sight.

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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