Tag Archives: Creative Nonfiction

The Self WHAT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Magical Music Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What’s Past and The Promise of What Lies Ahead

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

 

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

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

Ginosko Literary Journal — “thumb through” to page 33

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

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

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

 

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Multicolored ~ nonfiction by Luanne Castle


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

The Disappointed Housewife

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

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

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Nothing Says Grandma Like Club Aluminum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the idea.

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

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

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

 

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My Past in Costume Jewelry

Remember when I wrote about feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and wanted to write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear? I wrote about “Magical Bowls” and later about my grandmother’s mailbox sign.

This past week I went through a drawer of old jewelry to photograph it. I like to photograph things that I have packed away and haven’t seen in a long time. That way I can decide what to keep, as well as what to get rid of and just keep the photo. Jewelry was always something that appealed to me. When I was in college, I first worked for a department store in the jewelry department. I even briefly considered becoming a “jeweler.”

I use quotation marks because the definition of jeweler versus jeweller is one of the many things that has shown me how fast our world is changing. When I was in my twenties, there was a difference in the United States between these two professions. Today, the first is American and the second British, but in those days there were American jewelers and jewellers. And one was a more sophisticated job than the other. One actually made jewelry and the other sold it in a store. I’ll be darned if I can remember for sure which was which.

The other happy memory I have about jewelry is that the gardener was even more fond of buying me jewelry for gifts than I was at receiving it. This is what he gave me for high school graduation. It is sterling and onyx and was purchased at a shop on the Kalamazoo mall that specialized in gifts and decorative objects from India.

While I worked in the jewelry department, I managed to purchase a couple of pieces of jewelry with my discount. I thought they were a little better than costume jewelry, almost semi-precious. Today, they have no value as the gold is “gold-filled” and the styles are no longer fashionable. They really are costume jewelry.

But I didn’t stop hanging around jewelry after I quit that job. After I graduated from college, the gardener and I opened a store that sold “accessories.” That included handbags (purses, pocketbooks), billfolds (wallets), jewelry, belts, and gloves. I was always more interested in accessories than in actual articles of clothing, so it was a good fit for me. (Actually, I am not very interested in clothes at all). The gardener worked for Dictaphone as a sales rep, while I ran the store.

Over time, I collected a handful of pieces of “semi-precious” costume jewelry for myself. This is my carnelian Les Bernard necklace. Vintage Les Bernard jewelry is available online at about the same price it sold for originally ;).  Carnelian represents passive female energies (whatever that means).  Check out its meanings here.

Although I enjoyed the freedom from a corporate job running my own store, I was a little bored. Luckily, there were a few aspects of the job I enjoyed. One of my favorite parts of running the store was “doing” the window displays. I never had a class, a mentor, a single comment from anyone teaching me how to decorate a window, but maybe the proudest part of running the store is feedback I got from others about my windows. (I wish I had photos–maybe one day I will run across a photo!) There was a professor at Western Michigan University who loved my windows and one of her assignments was to send her students to check them out and do a write up about them. I would say that the most engaging part of my style was my use of color. For instance, my favorite window was all in bright red and natural wicker/bone. I didn’t bring in any other colors, and the contrast of those two colors was unique and really drew the eye.

Today my enjoyment of interior design is probably tied to my window design background, but I would never want to design someone else’s home interior (although friends have asked me to do so). I have confidence when it comes to doing what I like for myself, but I don’t want to have to take someone else’s “likes” into it ;).

What I noticed as I went through pieces of costume jewelry from one grandmother, then my other grandmother, then the gardener’s aunt, and a piece from an elderly relative who was cousin to my grandfather was that each piece, even if it is absolute junk from the viewpoint of the world at large, means something to me. Each piece makes me remember something about my past. The clay cross from La Purisima mission brought home by one of my children from a school trip, the kukui nut necklace from my parents’ trip to Hawaii, the hand-beaded bracelet a high school friend made. They all mean something to me. When I die, nobody else will have any connection to this jewelry. It will look like garbage to anyone who goes through my stuff.

Sometimes when I go to an antique mall I look at the vintage jewelry displays and try to imagine the stories behind the jewelry. But, honestly, it looks like shopworn seen-better-days stuff to me. That is a crushing blow, probably related to feelings of mortality. So of course I didn’t get rid of anything. Now I have the stuff in a drawer AND the photographs.

While I’m not a hoarder because (to the gardener’s everlasting annoyance) I like to throw things away (he is a hoarder!), I sure have managed to accumulate a lot of stuff for a thrower-awayer. I surprise myself at how sentimental I am. But then you’re probably not surprised!

On that note, have a great week! (hah)

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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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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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Memoir Mumblings

There’s a great cartoon by Dan Piraro (Bizarro.com) out that I have decided it’s safer not to have on this post for possible copyright reasons. A woman writer is signing books at a book store. The name of her book is called My Miserable Life. haha, an obvious memoir. Her parents are apologizing to her, saying that if they had known that she was going to be a writer they would have been better parents. Too bad she wasn’t born with a warning for her parents.

Beware: a writer is born. Treat her well!

I find it funny because anybody writing a memoir that involves their childhood is likely to find flaws in their upbringing. Heck, most of us do anyway.

My memoir manuscript (such as it is) is out with beta readers right now. Nervous? Me? Hah, yup!

On the subject of memoir, I just finished Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas, a pseudonym. I gave it a 2 out of 5. I’m a generous rater. If you have read it, what did you think? I felt I was being played. Not totally sure in what way. The obvious goal was to persuade readers that sociopaths are special and are a boon to society. Apparently she is real, an ex-law professor named Jamie Rebecca Lund. Apparently the book (and its creepy admissions) caused her to lose a great gig as a law professor at BYU.

But the creepiness of story and author are not why I gave the book a 2. It’s repetitive and quite dry for very long passages. Copy editing was well done though!

Finally, a memoir needs to have a very trustworthy narrator, and that is where this book could never have worked. By the writer’s admission, sociopaths lie and manipulate. So how could I trust her?

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