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Why is it so hard to submit this month? Lists of agents and editors seem daunting, insurmountable. I want to write and read--but submitting is too much work. I can't remember feeling like this; I always, always submit something someplace every month and have for years. Maybe it's my mood--the upcoming surgery terrifying me, my bum knee isolating me. I hate not being able to take walks. But what does Julia Cameron say--Treating myself as a precious object makes me stronger. This is a difficult time--I must be nice to myself. Maybe I'll create work that is more publishable anyway.
Cabin fever--or in my case, basement apartment fever. I do love my apartment--the Art Institute prints and photos of loved ones all around--the 2 calicoes and the Daisy who keep me company--listening to U2 on Pandora and drinking decaf I flavor with sugar-free Irish cream--and all the writing I need to work on! The comfy couch Ty and I bought last spring that the cats enjoy even more than I do. The window that used to hold plants but now, because of feline Daisy, just artificial ones. I love my place--but I yearn to get out and see people! Sigh.
I did it--I took garbage out to the alley trash cans despite icy patches and using a cane. It was rough, especially as my knee has been hurting a lot, but I made it. Success! But the next door neighbor, shoveling, stopped to say "Hi, D," but there was laughter in her voice. What in God's name is funny about slipping and sliding about with a cane to the garbage can? Of course, she was the one who made a snarky comment during the blizzard a couple of years ago because I didn't have a car to shovel out. Sigh.
"The Case of the Horrified Heirs." How times have changed. Characters smoke nonstop, and one woman writes in her will that she's appointing her brother-in-law as executor because her sisters, as fragile females, wouldn't be up to the task--and that unbelievably sexist statement isn't even challenged. Perry calls Della "good girl," and she's fine with that (of course, she's in love with Perry...). I wonder what someone from fifty years in the future will say about words we say now and take for granted--whom are we accidentally hurting, not even realizing that we are doing wrong? Oh, to have wisdom!
Today's "Writer's Almanac" email talks of Lincoln and how he worked with an ax as a young man, but then decided to become "respectable." What's not respectable about working with an ax? True, Lincoln gave much to our country and to people, but some presidents have wrought evil; perhaps an ax-wielder would have done more good and less harm than they. I get annoyed with assumptions that some work is intrinsically better than others, that jobs needed to keep our world going aren't appreciated. Funny, though, I think this and feel it--but with regards for myself, I yearn for status.
I read of people who make great books out of daily diary entries or blogs they write while going through some major life experience, like having a baby and raising a young child, or trauma, such as having cancer. I start to write about my experience preparing for knee surgery and then realize--not sure that's for me. It gives me no time for reflection, and there are some days, sorry, I just don't want to write about it. I am afraid and I deal with my fears by repressing them and reading lightweight Perry Mason mystery after Perry Mason mystery.
At the registration desk at the pre-operative testing office, the young woman asks if I want to do a living will. I gulp, then joke to my son, "Take care of the cats." Yikes--how risky is knee surgery? But every surgery has risks, so I guess it's a standard question. But I have no idea what I'd want in my living will. Do I want to lay years in a coma--um, probably not. Release me and let me grab a harp and say hit to J. and M. But I don't want decisions about my care based on cost, either.
My landlady and the repairman casually refer to me needing "handicapped" faucet handles; because of my chronic tendonitis, probably from writing all the time for work and personal passion, it's been hard to fully turn off regular faucets. I probably look "handicapped," too, with the hand braces I wear when typing, the cane I'm using while awaiting knee replacement surgery. And I probably look old--I'm in my late fifties, and the demarcation line for senior citizenship has been lowered from the sixty-five mark it was years ago. I realize my own hypocrisy, championing disability rights but shuddering at the word.
What if mental illness didn't have a stigma? Would my mother's family have more readily jumped in to support her, and by extension, me? Would my father's second wife have wanted him to erase me from his life--or would I have known my half-siblings when we were all children? Would we have played Monopoly together and forged early bonds--or not? Would school years have been easier if I could have as casually said, "My mom is mentally ill" as another child would say, "My mom uses crutches"? Instead, even today, I am cautious about telling the truth of childhood years.
Jobs I've held:
- Library aide at L.V.H.S.
- Packing uniforms
- Companion to woman in nursing home
- Violinist in high school orchestra
- Library aide at NU.
- Counter person at Woolworth's
- Office temp
- Security guard at FMNH
- summer worker for UFW
- receptionist at halfway house
- teacher, 3-year-old room, day care center
- cafeteria worker at Interlochen Music Camp
- cashier at AIC
- executive director of DARE
- secretary at McG-H
- secretary at WHR
- trainer at CCHC
- resources specialist/advocate at CHS
- advocate at EFE
- director at CL
Perry Mason books are fun to read for pure pleasure and relaxation. Of course, that requires turning off sensors that detect unconscious sexism, racism, classism, and a bunch of other isms. But I like the characters--the oh-so-sharp but kind-hearted Perry Mason, the efficient and steadfast Della Street, the laconic slow-moving brilliant Paul Drake. And of course there are the legal villains--Homicide's Lieutenant Tragg and district attorney, Hamilton Burger, always out to make things difficult for Perry and his clients. I loved the book where one witness was simpering beautiful and getting all the male sympathy--that's until Perry proved her guilt.
T. tells me that I'm really eight years old, but his voice has affection in it, and he notes how I screamed for joy when opening MH's present: Bruce Springsteen earrings! MK appreciated that I'd had a rough life but still could be so happy--but E. always became annoyed when I noticed and enjoyed little inconsequential things. I'm glad I now like myself and that I attract friends who like the person I am and don't want to change me. When I was younger, I felt so insecure about my dysfunctional upbringing and thought that I needed to be changed.
in his presentation at Harold Washington Library, Walter Mosley said, "Ambition is a very petty thing." Finally, the way I'd always felt put into words.
At the end of my freshman year in high school, my algebra teacher wrote in my yearbook that I was "ambitious," so I'd go far. I felt uncomfortable, as though that weren't really a compliment. I loved algebra--homework never felt like work, but like being asked to solve puzzles--and I always tried to do my best. But ambitious? That sounded like I were trying to best others and selfishly push them out of the way.
When I was eleven, we all had to go get measles shots, and my best friend asked if she and her little brother could come with me to my doctor. So after school, M and J and I walked home and Gran took us to Dr. M's, and in the waiting room I was too excited about having my best friend with me to think much of the approaching needle.
Now, years later, going for knee surgery, knowing my brother and sister-in-law and son would be staying in the hospital room with me made me fear the hospital stay less.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
is like visiting a best friend and remembering why she's your best friend. Or, if you had a good, happy childhood, going home and remembering why you value and love what you do. One scene that resonates is when Francie and Neeley go to be vaccinated. On the way they play and get all muddy. The doctor snobbily talks about "these people" being dirty--he dismisses them because they're poor. The nurse nods, although she's from a poor background. The author concludes--two kinds of people--those who forget, and those who vow to never, ever forget.
When I was in my freshman year of college, almost nineteenth, I visited my mother one Saturday afternoon, and my father showed up. Not sure the last time I'd seen him--had he even visited during my high school years?
But today he had tears in his eyes. His wife had died. And he wanted to let me know--I had four half-brothers and a half-sister. He gave me photos, school shots against a pale blue background.
And he invited me to visit sometime over the summer.
Dazed, after he left, I called a friend: "I have four brothers. And a sister."
During my lunch hour, I hobble around the block with my cane, enjoying 80-degree sunshine, hoping soon to walk miles. At one house, people carry an elderly lady in her wheelchair upstairs. They call her Louise, tone of voice similar to that used by adults to small children. I cringe, seeing my future. In my letter to the hospital, listing concerns, I mentioned the doctor who, explaining why I should stay an extra day, said, "If it were my mother…" Condescending. Was it too much of a stretch to say, "If it were me…" Am I that different because I'm older?
Gran was born in Donegal, Ireland, on St. Patrick's Day with the last name of Green. The oldest of eight, she watched the others and minded the shop. She never learned to read and write; years later, drunk on Sangria, she'd curse her mother. Her younger sister became a nurse; she was limited to being a maid.
Her lack of education limited her in other ways. She couldn't fathom the idea of women politicians--politics was men's business, she said. Talking about a non-Irish person, she'd say, "He's nice, even though he's ___." (Fill in the blank with the said person's ethnicity.)
When I try to think of the pattern of my life, or what might make it worth the telling, I think of cheerleaders and miracles.
Cheerleaders: Friends who loved me unconditionally and taught me how to love myself. Miracles: Coincidences that seemed like God saying "Hey, don't worry, you're on the right path."
I wasn't supposed to be here--relatives urged my mother to abort me. My dad disappeared, immersing himself in his second family. My mother's severe mental illness caused her to cling to me as a possession; she never wanted me to grow. So growth was a struggle.
- Money from Illinois Masonic for an overpayment, right when I needed money for food.
- Money from great-aunt from the sale of ancestral land, right when I wasn't sure how to pay for my child's birth.
- T. leaving right after I started to call divorce attorneys.
- Getting an affordable apartment exactly one block from my son's grade school.
- Getting hired for my first job in the disability rights field exactly ten years after the accident that propelled me into the field. (I learned of another job with a disability organization on this anniversary date, too!)
- Helen Keller's childhood friend
- the radical Helen Keller ("Beyond the Water Pump")
- things a kid doesn't like
- things a kid fears (monsters under bed)
- "I don't like going to the doctor, do you?"
- My best friend
- Best friend moving
- starting new schoo
l - parent leaving
- parents fighting
- neighbor dies
- grandparent dies
- feeling teacher doesn't like you
- adventures with books
- pre-story of famous literary character (Scrooge as a kid)
- cats' reunion
- a book of why questions
- a book of mysteries
My knee hurts after buckling on the way to physical therapy; I almost fell. There, I saw a new PT who initially seemed quite nice but was stubborn about wanting to put the stool on my left side, even though I knew it would hurt less to stand down on my right leg. Tears sprang to my eyes--God, I hate when that happens--as I tried to explain how my right leg hurts when I swing it to the side. "But you don't even know what I want you to do." Yes, but you're not listening to what I know.
I love that there's a Subway restaurant a half block down from St. J.'s physical therapy and that they sell Seattle's Best Coffee and I can leisurely sit and write. I've missed writing at coffee shops! I'm getting back to my pre-bad knee self. The list of what I can't do is getting smaller, and I want it to get even smaller--I plan to walk further, try the back steps, try the back steps with a small garbage bag, and then graduate to taking out a regular big bag. Funny how exciting it can be to take out the trash!
I type a list of miracles in my life--receiving the exact amount of money I needed for my son's birth from the land of my ancestors--being hired in the field of disability rights exactly 10 years after the accident that propelled me into this field--but I pause. Of course, those dates are marvels, signs maybe from God or whatever Power rules Life, that I'm on the right path--they're messages, maybe, of hope that all will be well. But they're only guideposts that hint at the real miracles--the existence of my wonderful son--being able to work in a job I love.
I'm not like my brother and sister. They love singing.
I'm not like other kindergarten kids.
I wear glasses.
I'm different from my cousins.
I'm different from kids in my building.
They're bigger. They don't go trick-or-treating.
I'm different from kids on my block.
They live with moms and dads. We live with Mom. And Stripey.
Kelly is a little like me. She visits her dad on weekends.
My sister and brother and I like music.
Everybody in kindergarten likes picture books.
My cousins and I like Grandma's cakes!
And the kids in my building still like Halloween.
The Plain Princess
My mom's a queen and my dad's a king. So you know what that makes me? A princess.
But stop. Stop. I know what you are picturing.
A beautiful girl in a fancy dress. With sparkles.
I must have curly hair
I must be skinny.
Graceful enough to dance ballet.
I never drop stuff, make messes. or get into trouble.
Stop. Look. My mom's a queen and my dad's a king. So I'm a princess.
But I don't like fancy dresses.
I'm a klutz.
I'm not skinny.
So yeah, I'm a plain princess
And a happy princess!
When WItchy stole Midnight from Feline Haven, a cat shelter, she took special note of a sign on the kitten's cage.
Born: April 15.
When spring came and dandelions were in full bloom, Witchy decided to give Midnight a birthday party. But it couldn't just be any feline birthday party. Nothing would be too good for her feline buddy, her soul cat.
She invited all the witches and warlocks in W-land, and she told them to bring their felines, too.
She ordered every delicacy that Midnight and her feline pals might enjoy: sardine stew, fried eel, and creamed tuna.
She decided she had to bake a very special cake: crab cake with green catnip-flavored frosting.
Witchy asked her brother, Warlocky, to help think of games.
"Hm," he said, his green face wrinkling as he frowned in concentration. "Pin the tail on the mouse? Catnip mouse catch? Meow kareoke?"
But then she had a surprise phone call.
"Witchy, dear Witchy, you didn't invite me!" The voice was almost a sob.
It was Witchy's cousin Honey.
Honey was a good witch. Now, since Witchy had adopted Midnight, she'd stopped doing bad tricks. She was grateful to the veterinarian who'd saved Midnight's life.
Still, she shuddered at the thought of being considered a good witch. Good witches rarely ventured into W-Land. And wicked witches rarely ventured into G-Land. When Witchy's parents had brought her to G-Land when she was a little witch, she didn't like it. Everything was too bright. Everything was too sparkly clean. Everything was too orderly. Everyone talked in too-quiet voices. Where were the cackles? Where were the joyous screeching cat fights? Where were the broomsticks racing across the sky? Where was the litter, and the beautiful smell of decaying garbage?
"Mommy Witch, I want to go home," she'd pleaded.
But now Honey was sobbing in her ear.
"You--you're having this big party--and you didn't invite me! Your own cousin."
"Uh--hi Honey," Witchy said. What could she do? She wasn't a totally wicked witch any more. But she wasn't a good witch. She and Midnight were the Mischievous Team. They played nice tricks on people, jokes that made them smile.
"Sure, you can come," Witchy said. But she quickly added, "You probably won't like the food here in W-Land. We like sour cakes, not sweet ones. We like rotten salads, not fresh ones. We like lots and lots of pepper."
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