Tag Archives: Memoir

Arizona Spring

This has been a three-snake week. All kingsnakes. A baby, an adult of moderate size, and a huge one. Although I’m not a snake lover, I do love that the kingsnakes protect our yard from rattlesnakes. Kingsnakes are not only pretty (black with cream stripes), they are pretty deadly to other snakes–even bigger snakes. What helps is that kingsnakes are immune to rattlesnake venom. Kingsnakes kill their prey by constriction, and they are powerful constrictors. As long as I don’t accidentally get too close to a kingsnake, I enjoy having them here, protecting us from other snakes.

Kingsnakes hibernate in the winter, so I know it’s spring when I see them roaming after months of absence.

I saw Perry watching the biggest snake from the window. He didn’t look very concerned, but I imagine he sees all kinds of animals outside that I don’t even notice. New cuteness about Perry: I am doing exercises at home for my shoulder on the days I don’t go to physical therapy. He copies me by lying on his back on the floor next to me. I hit the floor. He hits the floor. I get up. He walks away.

It’s been difficult to work on my memoir because my vision is so blurry. I’ve been trying to push forward, but it’s getting next to impossible. I have my next eye doctor appointment in a week and half, and I can’t wait.

This week many of our cacti bloomed. Click on the pix and use the side arrows to move from one to the other.

Make it a great week!

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerslife, Cats and Other Animals, Flora, Garden, and Landscape

What I’m Doing for National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! Are you doing anything special to celebrate? Even if you’re not a poet, why not try reading a poem a day? For something new, try this site for Vandal Poem of the Day: https://poetry.lib.uidaho.edu/ I start out the day reading 2-3 poems all year around, but I have four new books of poetry to read this month as well.

Rather than writing a draft a day as I have some Aprils, I am working on Scrap, my hybrid memoir. Each piece is the size of a prose poem, so I am trying to write 5/week. Because it’s more difficult than writing new poem drafts, I can’t challenge myself to 7/week. I need a little off-time. Also, my stupid snakes and birds eye needs a break. That’s what happens now for the most part to my vitreous detachment plagued eye: undulating snakes over the eye’s surface and bird swarms in the sky.

WordPress’ new upgrade has made it even more difficult to use the classic editing feature. It’s a bummer to me because I don’t like the other blogging sites nearly as much, but I don’t want to learn something new that is this complicated. When I first started my blogs in 2012, the process was completely intuitive. This stupid new WP setup is non-intuitive.

Are you learning to sucessfully use the block editing madness? If so, do you have any tips?

The weather is gorgeous right now in Phoenix. It is very summery with that soft morning air that makes me think I’m living in a resort climate (I guess I am). Add all the gardener’s winter flowers to the vision, and it’s just lovely. But April leads to May, which means that we need to change out the flowers next month for summer flowers.

Check out Amy Bess Cohen’s new book based on her family history. I wrote a review and posted it on The Family Kalamazoo: https://wp.me/p2K45r-22h You can find the link for the book over there. The story is very unique as it’s about her great-great grandfather, a young Jewish immigrant from Germany around the time of the Civil War, and how he moves to Santa Fe, becoming one of the pioneers of that city.

I called the Southwest Wildlife place again on the bobcat. The woman who takes the questions is not very helpful. Her attitude is that he belongs in our yard. My thought is that since I DON’T want him trapped and removed, she ought to be more helpful. The way she acts, a lot of callers would just hang up and call a trapper. She said, “We’re a WILDLIFE place.” Yeah, that’s the point. Don’t you want to help people with wildlife so that the wildlife is helped?

Leaving you with some cute pix from my kids.

The baby hummingbirds are from son and daughter(IL) in Orange County, CA. These chubbies who were hatched on the balcony left the nest on Friday.

This next pic is from daughter and her fiance. My fur grandkids who live in Arizona.

Follow me at: https://www.instagram.com/catpoems/

Let’s go make it a great week (and be helpful to others while we’re at it haha). XOXO

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, National Poetry Month, Poetry, Writing

Palimpsest of Scraps

The more time I spend with my art journal(s), the more I am realizing what appeals to me and what I like to work on. I am beginning to see a connection with my writing. 

The word palimpsest carries great meaning for me. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:

palimpsest

noun

pa·​limp·​sest | \ ˈpa-ləm(p)-ˌsest  pə-ˈlim(p)-  \

Definition of palimpsest

1writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased

2something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

The following image is my latest two pages. I call it a palimpsest because it was created with many layers, and bits of each layer show in the finished pages, whether by eyesight or touch. For instance, there are pieces of poems: “It Would Be Easier to Stop Talking to Your Ghost” by Stella Li and “Triptych in Black and Blue” by Tatiana Johnson-Boria, published by Pleiades.

I’m also using my love of the reality and concept of scrap (title of my memoir-in-scrap), as well as a poem I’ve recently shared. I also love scrapbooking and used to love to design and make stained glass. I haven’t worked with quilting at all and not with mosaics since I was a kid, but those are other scrap arts and crafts that I love. 

For the initial layer of these pages, I used scraps from many sources, including graph paper, music, poetry, a story, a piece of an envelope flap that has the Hallmark logo embossed, and ripped up practice runs with art materials. I even included a hunk of the glued bottom of a brown bag. 

I skimmed through my pages in order of when I made them, and I discovered that at first my collaging was on the “top” of the page, so to speak, whereas now I am using collage as a base and then a bit more in one or two other stages. I learned the value of collage underneath because of all the interest it provides. My first pages look very flat in comparison.

Onward to more improvement LOL. I do see a connection (first noticed by Sheila Morris) between these art pages and my poetry. The layering, complexity, and happenstance, for one–er, three–things.  

I’m going to start PT for my shoulder/arm. And now I have vitreous detachment of my only reading eye. One of my eyes is to see distance, and the other is for reading. Seriously. That’s why I can’t wear bifocals and rarely wear glasses just wandering around. I wear glasses to read, another pair for driving, and then I have a computer pair made out of some really old and ugly frames. But my eyes (sort of) don’t work together, so having a really blurry reading eye kind of sucks.

Saturday I walked outside into the blue-blue sky, and I was attacked by swarms of birds from every direction. It was like a remake of the Hitchcock movie. But they weren’t real birds. They were one of the entertainments my eyes are providing me right now :/.

In other news, the puffballs are out! Technically, they are called Sweet Acacia trees, but we call them the dang puffballs. There isn’t a human alive who isn’t allergic to these things. They smell super sweet and, at first, you will think they are roses. But then the scent goes on and on and becomes sickening and you realize it isn’t roses at all. But they do signify home after all these years.

In the close-up you can see that this tree has two little puffballs growing from the trunk itself.

Announcements:

Pear Blossom’s 21st birthday is tomorrow!!! And Tiger Queenie’s 17th is April 1. Happy birthday, sweet girls.

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Filed under #amrevising, #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Arizona, Art and Music, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Poetry, Reading, Writing

Poetic Book Tours: Review of Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy

Today’s post is on Tuesday instead of Monday because I am participating in a pre-publication book tour of poet Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy through Poetic Book Tours.

Here is a synopsis of the book

Who’s Your Daddy is a lyrical genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a young, queer, black Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

After my review, I will share advance praise for the book, as well as information about the author, Arisa White. Then there is a list of blog tour links, including interviews and guest posts so you can learn more about Arisa White.

 

This hybrid is specifically memoir, but Who’s Your Daddy? shapes itself as a prose (and lyric) poem collection. I don’t know why we don’t have more books available to us that are a long narrative told in poetry. They are rare and yet so compelling, perhaps because poem series elicit more complex mixtures of emotions from readers than linear traditional memoirs do.

 

What attracted me to the book before I read it was the feeling of connection (my memoir-in-progress has to do with my father’s estranged relationship with his father) and the ping of curiosity about White’s life as a “young, queer, black Guyanese[-] American woman” since I fit only one of those descriptives.

 

From the first page I was captivated by the story. In the first section, the writing is succinct with a smattering of specifics that bring White’s childhood to life. She imagines or fills in what she can’t remember—the ride to the hospital for her birth, what life was like in the first few years. She grows up without her father, Gerald, a married man. She does experience love from her mother and her uncles, but life is still difficult. The book skips ahead to White at the time of her post-graduate studies. She has difficulties with relationships, but manages to forge one with Mondayway. White feels there is something missing. Halfway through the book, she realizes she has been running from something.

 

Deep breaths open my

tight chest, and I feel how running has taken more than

given. I rub my heart with the heel of my palm, and my

heart stays voicing,

 

Find your father

                   Find what’s missing there

                   Find what is enough

                   Find yourself whole

                   Forgive and be forgiven

 

In the second half of the story, White tries to get to know her father. He has been deported back to Guyana from the U.S. for participation in a crime. White and Mondayway visit Guyana to spend time with Gerald, but also to get to know White’s roots. Her movement toward acceptance and growth is a bit back and forth which feels realistic and painful. Again, powerful words that mark another epiphany are set apart from the prose poem form:

 

I got her back,

who I abandoned

in his going.

And, Yes,

                   she is enough.

 

Arisa is enough. She doesn’t need her fantasy of a father to fulfill her identity.

 

There is so much I could write about this book, but I just want to give you an idea of why you would want to read it. The prose poems are short. The organization is helpful, as are the brief Guyanese proverbs and quotes from thinkers. I found references to even an old standby like the Bible and Shakespeare or Eliot (the pearls that are his eyes from The Tempest or The Waste Land—I wasn’t sure which one she was referencing, maybe both). But much of the book is punctuated with more contemporary thinking, such as the context of toxic masculinity. Gerald is a tragic example of that phenomenon. In fact, near the end of the book I realized that I can’t stand Gerald. I was willing to try to get to know him “while” Arisa did, but when he continued to do harm to her through his selfishness and misogyny, I could no longer try to tolerate him.

 

The book can be read in two sittings, but you will want to mark passages and go back to them. You will be thinking about Arisa White’s story for days afterward.

***

Those of you who know I have been working on my memoir for 1,000 years might be interested to hear that I found White’s format super inspiring. I’m trying out writing my memoir in prose poems instead of traditional prose. In some ways, I feel that I am going back to the beginning of my project a bit, when I was writing in “scraps,” but it’s a world away from what I’ve done before, too.

***

Advance Praise:
“…absence breeds madness, an irreconcilable relationship you know is there but can’t call it by its name…” In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender and unerring.
-Patricia Smith, Incendiary ArtArisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.
-Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future AssassinsSomewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s “a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork fashion…” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and presence, there’s a mother who says you raise your daughters, and love your sons, there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother, brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love. Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core.
-Dara Wier, You Good ThingHow does a lyric memoir—a queered-up autobiographical hybrid of prose and poetry—become a real page-turner? Well, for one thing, its speaker uses her authenticity and open-heartedness to generate a rib-cracking amount of courage to look for, find, and emotionally confront a missing Guyanese father who ends up being the “unhello” of a “nevermind.” What’s so moving about this discovery is the speaker’s lyric response. It’s a shrug that’s a song that’s the speaker telling it experimentally-straight about how it feels to have “arms free of fathers.” It’s a story that’s a song that’s the speaker’s “gangster swagger” that beautifully tells of how to confront one’s relation to “a culture of deadbeats, wannabes, has-beens, what-ifs, [and] can’t-shows” without succumbing to despair. One really wants to quote Plath’s line here about “eat[ing] men like air.” Oh, I love the courage of this book. The whole “black heart” and love-strength of it. And you will too!
-Adrian Blevins, Appalachians Run AmokA lyric anthem for the fatherless, for seekers of the places and people that made us, for the artists ready to unearth and reshape their own stories. I gulped this exquisite manual like precious medicine, a spell that made me more myself.
-Melissa Febos, Abandon MeCollaborative, interactive, this work of poetry and memoir offers life as a recurring question. Who’s Your Daddy is a study of how power and loss work on the intimate scales of daily living and queer loving. Read this with compassion for your own defining questions and the raw texture they have left upon your heart.
-Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub: Finding Ceremony

Who’s Your Daddy is striking and gorgeous. “I’m born into a bracket of boys,” White writes, framing a portrait of fatherhood that shutters and aches; it enthralls. I wanted to lap it up. A reflection on family that permeates via knitted prose with deep verse—my favorite kind. White’s work is sonic, lyric, and important. I can’t wait for y’all to read this book.
-Emerson Whitney, Heaven

ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, Black Pearl, Perfect on Accidentand “Fish Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her latest full-length collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books and nominated for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. Most recently, Arisa co-authored, with Laura Atkins, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a middle-grade biography in verse on the midwife and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason, which is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series. She is currently co-editing, with Miah Jeffra and Monique Mero, the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart, which will be published by Foglifter Press in 2021. And forthcoming in February 2021, from Augury Books, her poetic memoir Who’s Your Daddy.

Blog Tour Schedule:

Oct. 12: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)

Oct. 21: Review Tales by Jeyran Main (Review)

Nov. 20: CelticLady’s Reviews (Interview)

Nov. 23: Unconventional Quirky Bibliophile (Review)

Jan. 19: Allonge and emzi_reads (Review)

Feb. 23: Luanne Castle’s Writer Site (Review)

March 12: Anthony Avina Blog (Guest Post)

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Filed under #writerslife, Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

Too Many Ideas

Last Monday I saw the Wizard (aka the infectious disease doctor). I learned more about Valley Fever, plus I was able to hear his insights about Covid. And he told me about a Margaret Atwood poem in The New Yorker. Does anybody have a copy of it? I’d love to see the poem if you could take a pic and send it over :).

For a VF case like mine, I can expect to have the exhaustion for four months. After six months if I don’t get worse I can be pretty sure I won’t be bothered by it again, except for the node or nodes left in my lung (which is just an annoyance).

As far as Covid goes, he told me no restaurants (not even outdoors) and nobody in my house to fix the sink without a mask on. I have to entertain my family outside. So basically, just what I’ve been doing since mid-March.

Two weeks ago I talked about my new archetype tarot cards and researching The Destroyer archetype. Because I’ve had other stuff I’ve had to do I didn’t get as into it as I would like as of yet. But you know what I did anyway? This is so crazy. Let me preface it by saying that lying on the couch too tired to actually do something gives me a lot of time to think. And you know what I think about? All I should be doing, all I want to be doing, and about new things to do. Insanely, I bought supplies to start an art journal. I am already missing writing, staring at the tarot boxes (Wild Unknown and Original), and not touching my SCRAP scrapbook project (fabric swatches and memories).  I need to face the fact that I am one of those people who always have to have projects going on. My dad was like that, too. I’m pretty sure there is a gene that causes it.

I have watched more TV in the past month and a half than in the last year, I think. I’m not a TV person usually, but the gardener and I recorded all the October horror movies and have been watching them. Plus we love Professor T , a Belgian mystery show, and Baptiste, sequel to The Missing. The latter is filmed in Amsterdam and is more “typical” than the former. Professor T is a bit surprising and very endearing. Then on Netflix, on my laptop, I watched (by myself) The Haunting of Bly Manor. I found it interesting (the blind casting was very thought-provoking and problematic), but a little slow-moving. I’m also left with so many questions. [SPOILER ALERT!!!!! skip to next paragraph] For instance, if the ghosts originated with Viola, why was Dani haunted by her fiance even before she went to Bly? Wait, what about Miles? How did he survive? How did grownup Flora not recognize the names Bly and Owen, especially since Owen was at her wedding? Was Jamie really at Flora’s wedding or not? She seemed ghostlike to me, but she was still alive.

My daughter says the The Haunting of Hill House is not as slow, so I should watch it.

I am so blessed. I am not in much pain, and I have a good prognosis. I have everything I need at home (except people), and I live with the gardener and six pretty kitties so am not lonely. And nobody is waiting for me to finish that art journal ;).

With Covid on the rise, PLEASE STAY SAFE. No unnecessary risks. It’s not fair to yourself, to your loved ones, or to others, including healthcare workers. But then you knew all that.

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Off to See the Wizard

Cutest 11 seconds on video: my sweet Perry.

I’m off to be seen by the infectious disease doctor this morning. Fingers crossed.

Here are a few photos of our wacky garden.

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction

A Little This, A Little That, and a Lot of VF

My life has slowed down to a crawl, but I am still learning things. For instance, this. Sloopy Anne has to eat her meals in the bedroom because she has a sensitive nature and Perry will keep her from eating if he can get to her. She is so skittish that if I set the food  down, turn around, and start to leave the room she will run out of the room ahead of me, unless I walk out backwards. Hahaha. So she watches the direction my feet are pointed. That should not surprise me because cats are all about gestures. That’s how they communicate. A flick of the tail, a tip of the ear.

When you see how innocent he looks when he sleeps or cuddles it’s hard to believe Perry can be so naughty.

I’m learning a lot about this stupid Valley Fever. I still have the same pneumonia I had a month ago and it’s possible that my blood levels have gone up (they will be retested in a couple weeks); this is because the fungus grows very very slowly and then very very slowly is pushed into an onion of a lung nodule (the rings, you know). This will take months. The fungus doesn’t just evaporate. It gets pressed by my immune system like a pearl in the making. In the end there will be a nodule in my lung.

Another thing I learned about VF is that my neck pain–remember my neck pain from a few weeks ago?–was the first symptom I had of the disease. For some people that is the first sign. A man in an online support group told me to hydrate like crazy (my GP had told me that, too) and that the pain would be diminished because it’s displaced pain from the inflammation in the lungs. I was glad to hear of something to use because the neck pain had come back, radiated into my upper back on the left side (my left lung is the affected one), and I had even bought a little brace from Amazon. (Gee, Mom. It cost ten bucks–how much could one have cost in the late 60s?)

I’ve also learned that the brain fog from VF makes me make stupid mistakes, so I need to avoid impersonal social media as much as possible. I hope I don’t make an egregious error on here, but I guess y’all will understand if that happens. That word “egregious” is so much fun. Years ago I bought a book on sale called I Always Look Up the Word Egregious. After that, I never forgot what it meant and it’s a lot of fun to say.

This fall has brought a lot of rejections from lit journals. Some of them even praise the work I sent, but say it doesn’t fit. Um, ok. What does that mean? I think it means it’s weird. But I did have a pleasant acceptance finally this past weekend to The Orchards Poetry Journal. Another problem with publications right now is that there are a few poems that were accepted many months ago, but the issues have not been published yet.

Keep on staying safe, please!!! Grab this week by the horns!

 

 

 

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Learning from the Past (haha)

The gardener and I went to California for a couple of days last week. That was our first time out and about in six months. The only interesting thing I saw on the trip was a fire in the mountains near Palm Springs. A huge red helicopter was sucking up water out of a pond that had been created for the purpose of firefighting. Then it flew up toward the smoke pouring out of the side of the mountain.

This photo was taken through the car window as we zipped along the freeway. Notice the pond under the helicopter.

The day after we got back from California my neck went BONKERS. It was so painful that I couldn’t even lie down as the pressure was excruciating. It reminded me of when I injured my neck in sixth grade.

That incident belongs in the category of what were my parents thinking? 

###

I was eleven, and we had been tumbling in gym class. I’d always been so-so to lousy in PE. My best events were sprinting and square dancing. Definitely not gymnastics.

The kids from both sixth grade classes were in a line, rushing through barrel rolls on a padded-top vaulting “horse.” As I eased myself over the vinyl for the third time, almost folding my over-long neck in two, I felt something crack. By the time I completed the mile-long walk home after school, the pain demanded attention. It gored me anew as if with an awl with every slight movement of my body.

At the emergency room, my parents gathered round the doctor as he pointed to the damaged vertebrae on an X-ray. “This is why she has to brace her neck. It will also help keep down the inflammation.” Mom’s shoulders were hunched. She had pulled into herself. Dad bounced on the balls of his feet.

At home, Dad wrapped my neck with a faded beach towel and pinned it with one of my brother’s diaper pins. The towel still held the out-of-context smell of sand and Coppertone.

After a night spent awake more often than asleep because of the lump under my neck, I finally fell into a deep sleep sometime after the glow-in-the-dark hands on my alarm clock displayed 5:30. But at 6:30, I awoke to find my arms wrapped around my limp ragdoll, my mother gently shaking my arm. “Wake up. You’ve got to get ready for school.”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. “School? I can’t go to school.” I wrapped the covers tightly around my shoulders.

Mom pulled the cover down to the foot of the bed. “Rise and shine, Lulu. Your friends will be here for you pretty soon. I made eggs and sausage.” Every morning, the neighbor kids stopped by my house so I could join the group walking to school.

“What about the towel?” It had gotten twisted while I slept, and I tugged on it, trying to straighten it.

As Mom unpinned the towel, I could smell fried pork patties on her hands. “You have to wear it,” she said, as she re-wrapped the towel around my neck.

I didn’t think I had understood her correctly. “I can’t wear a towel to school!”

“You heard the doctor. It’s not negotiable.” I knew that voice, and I knew Dad’s iron hand lurked somewhere behind Mom’s no-nonsense tone.

Reluctantly, and perhaps in shock, I got dressed, ate a few bites of breakfast, and when the doorbell rang, I was ready to go, beach towel and all. When I opened the door, my friends all spoke at once.

“Gaaah, what’s that around your neck?!”

“What’s the deal?”

“Wha . . . .” Karen collapsed into a sputtering laugh.

That day I suffered. Kids pointed their fingers and mimed explosive laughter attacks as they walked past me in the hall. In class, they whispered behind their hands, staring openly at me.

I stood alone at my locker and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the windows across the hall. A girl with a giant donut around her neck.

A neck brace would have drawn attention to me in a negative, pitiful way. But a beach towel and diaper pin? That launched the pitiful on a swift path to the ridiculous.

Underneath the towel, the swelling increased, the pain intensified, and my voice began to diminish. By lunchtime, I could only rasp. Pain closed off all but the sensory part of my mind.

I sheepishly approached my teacher’s desk and croaked unintelligibly.

“Let’s go to the office.” Her suggestion seemed a relief. The office was far from the laughing eyes of the kids.

To the secretary seated behind the counter who stared with an open mouth at my beach towel, my teacher said, “I don’t think school is the place for her. Can you please call her mother to pick her up?”

In the car on the way home, my mother said, “Why didn’t you tell me it hurt?”

I thought I’d made clear that I was in no condition to go to school and that a towel did not make a neck brace that I could wear in public. But my mother seemed to think it was my fault that I didn’t communicate better.

“I did tell you! And it got worse today at school!” I gulped in some air. “It was horrible!” Sobs burst from my mouth before I could control them and that began a shuddery crying jag. Every time my mother would try to pat my arm with a jerky, awkward movement, I cried louder.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you disliked it so.” My mother frowned as if she were confused.

The doctor must have set my mother straight when she called him about the swelling and pain because she kept me home from school for a month after that.

Now that I’ve been a mother long enough to see my kids reach adulthood, I can see the scene through Mother’s Eyes. The reactions of my parents perplex me more than they ever did. I never doubted that they loved me, but they didn’t listen to me or imagine things from my perspective.

###

Having lived through that experience gave me the idea the other night to wrap a pair of yoga pants around my neck. Perfect! I was able to sleep through the night wearing that “brace” around my neck. My neck got much better because the brace took weight off my neck. So now I am sleeping with the pants around my neck every night!

Do you have a childhood memory where you wondered what in the world your parent or parents were thinking?

 

 

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Filed under #amrevising, #AmWriting, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Animals, a List

This past week the lit mag North of Oxford posted a list of the 10 most read poems from their magazine from January-July 2020. It was exciting to see my poem “Medusa’s #Metoo” make the list!

10 Most Read Poems

After writing about my kitty Toby in No Goodbye: A Cat Story I decided to write about my other childhood pets, as well as other animals I encountered in life. Sort of clearing my head about my upbringing with animals. So this isn’t a story, per se, like the one about Toby. It’s more of a list of animals.

The first memory that comes to mind that involves animals I actually already wrote about on this blog almost eight years ago. You can find it here: A Ride with Memory. It’s about my earliest scary memory, and I wasn’t even three-years-old yet. This story involves a horse.

When I was in kindergarten my grandmother babysat me every day before school and all afternoon until almost dinner time. My aunt and her springer spaniel Sandy lived with my grandparents. I was repeatedly warned not to touch Sandy. I needed to stay away from Sandy because Sandy was a biter. Actually, the only person Sandy had ever bitten was me, when I was a baby. She bit my eyelid off, and at the hospital, a doctor sewed it back on. I didn’t remember that trauma, and I still insisted on making a meat pie to celebrate Sandy’s birthday.

When I was five or six, the neighbor’s Dalmatian bit me in the leg, but it wasn’t too serious.

Before we got Toby the cat, we had a bowl with goldfish a couple of times, but they always died. I think I overfed them, and it polluted the water. I had small turtles, but they invariably walked away out of our yard and never came back. Once my father brought home baby ducks at Easter time. Not chicks, ducks. I don’t know what happened to them, but I was terrified of how fragile they were and that I could hurt them. We had chicks one year, too.

I am starting to see the thread here. My father bringing pets home for the family. I’m sure it irritated my mother. Then he brought home a big cage with two guinea pigs.  My mother made us keep them in the basement. I’ve written a little story about this for my never-finished memoir, but to sum up: the guinea pigs were unfixed male and female. My dad helped me through the crisis that ensued.

A few months later, he brought home a puppy. A man he worked with had found the puppy at a lake where someone had tried to drown the entire litter. I suspect Perky was the only one left alive, and my father brought her home to us. My mother named her Perky after the man who found her: Mr. Perkins.

Here’s a scrapbook page my mom made for me of some childhood pets. The photo in the upper right is an example of how I always loved feeding the animals. But I still remember being bitten by a llama at Deer Forest Park.  Perky is the dog with the collie-type coloring.

Yup, that’s me and the gardener in the center, bathing Perky. She was already getting old there. In the lower left she was playing on the beach at our lake cottage with a “local” puppy. My brother is almost eight years younger than me. At some point, Perky really became his dog because Perky could hang around him while he was playing outside. The gardener and I were out of town when Perky had to be “put to sleep,” and my father and brother went together to the vet and stayed with Perky. That was as it should be.

In 7th grade, the girls and I cut through a vacant lot and someone’s backyard to get home from school. We didn’t notice the white German Shepherd in the dog house. He lunged at us, incensed at our audacity. We ran like crazy, but he was on a chain (poor thing, no wonder he was crabby) and so we were safe. Or so I thought. I slowed down just a moment too soon. He could still reach me, s0 he took a chunk out of my ankle. After that, I was scared of German Shepherds until I became an adult.

When I was fifteen I bought myself a cage with two finches: a brilliant scarlet one and a beautiful green. Of course, the green one managed to get herself egg-bound and although I held her over the steam like the book said to do, she still couldn’t pass the egg and eventually died from the exertion. I kept finches for years, but they were all gone before my kids entered my life. Good thing, or my babies would have been eating birdseed off the floor. Finches are lovely to look at, but very messy because when they eat they hurl the hulls of the seeds across the room.

As an adult I’ve had dogs, cats, the finches, hermit crabs, and a rat. (She was the best pet). I’d like to have donkeys, but it’s looking doubtful that that is going to happen.

Lots of sad times with the animals. And some painful ones when I was bit (three dogs and one llama). But none of it deterred me from being an animal lover–from fish to horses, I love all the species I encountered.

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In this pandemic I am so grateful to have my six cats. But last night Felix had to go to the ER. He had diarrhea, wouldn’t eat, and hadn’t peed in 38 hours. The vet said his bladder was small, so that was a mystery, but I was glad he wasn’t blocked. I hope he gets better fast and that it’s not something bad. Poor baby.

Here’s Kana to say HI and BYE!

Perry hasn’t said HI in awhile, so he wanted to hop in here, too. Cutie pie.

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

No Goodbye: A Cat Story

Five years ago, when the gardener and I adopted Kana, our black cat, I wrote a little bit about my first cat who also happened to be black. I thought I’d tell you the whole story this time. Here is TOBY’S STORY (and I’m sorry, but it’s not a pretty one):

The cat that lived with the Cuban brothers across the street had kittens the year I was seven. My parents had never shown an interest in animals, but because I was an only child and begged so desperately, they gave in and let me choose an all-black kitten.  My mother named him Toby. The only other interest I remember her taking in him was when he had a hairball, and she read up about how to care for cats with hairballs.

Toby spent most of his time hiding under my bed or in the basement.  Mom would tell me to take him outside to go potty, but he would refuse to come out. I had to find him in a dark corner downstairs or slide under my narrow bed and grab him so that he wouldn’t make a mess in the house.  I wonder if Toby and I were afraid of the same things in that house.

I don’t know how I got this pic of Toby in the living room!

One day my mother screamed. “Look what that cat’s done to my drapes!!” I ran into the living room. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The silk drapes had dozens of snags on them. Unfortunately, the drapes were the most elegant furnishing in our bungalow. They were cast-offs from one of my grandmother’s wealthy clients, and she had altered them for my parents.  I realized then that my secretive cat ventured out to the living room when everyone was asleep or not home.

A few months later, we picked up the baby brother I had been waiting for from the adoption agency office. Ted was a 6-week-old infant with a red rash covering his face. My mother hadn’t taken care of a baby for many years, and she became nervous and worried, imagining dangers.

One day that spring, when I got off the school bus, my father met me in front of the house. I was not used to seeing him home during the day. He sat me down and explained that Toby was gone. “Toby had to go away because of your new baby brother.” He told me he took Toby to a house in the country where he could live with more freedom. I don’t remember particularly believing him, but grief welled up in me like bile. Up to that point in my life, the only other serious loss I had encountered was three years before when I accidentally saw my mother cramming my white blankie into the garbage. Later, my mother would tell me, “Cats are dangerous to babies, Luanne. Toby could accidentally smother Ted.” But in those moments after I arrived home, only my father was there for me.

I still feel ashamed about what happened next. To stop my tears, Dad offered to take me to the store right then to pick out any toy I wanted. I had never in my life been able to pick out a toy. A Golden Book, yes, but not a toy. When I did receive something lovely, it was usually a hand-me-down or a gift my grandmother had sewn. We always had enough food to eat, but we were upwardly mobile poor, and my parents never bought me trendy, name-brand toys. While my friends had Barbie dolls, I had a Miss Suzette doll from Grant’s basement.

Although I continued to cry, I followed Dad to the car, and we drove to a fancy children’s store I had only seen from the outside. Once inside, my tears and confusion made it difficult to concentrate. I tried to focus my eyes, and the first item I noticed was a black imitation patent leather Barbie doll case. It epitomized the type of toys I could never dream of owning, so I pointed at it.

On the way home, I clutched the case in my hand, knowing I had betrayed Toby. I had begged to have him, which altered the course of his life. Then I accepted an empty plastic box with a handle in exchange for his silky fur and beating heart.

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I don’t know what ever really happened to Toby. I think it’s probably true that he went to live in the country because my father knew a lot of people and could have easily made that happen. But was he safe in his new home? That I don’t know. I hope he was happier than at our house. My father yelled too much, and that probably scared Toby. Since he would hide under my bed, I have to assume he wanted me to protect him. But I couldn’t protect him while I was at school. My parents would have never intentionally hurt Toby, but they didn’t make his life any easier. While I think it’s a likely story about Toby going to live in the country, I have never actually asked my parents if that is what really happened.

Alternative end to memory: I asked one of my parents, and he/she lied to me because they know I love animals and freak out about any harm to them.

I really can’t remember. What do you think?

 

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Filed under #amrevising, #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing