Uncle Daddy Vester

An excerpt from 2015 NaNoWriMo, posted for someone I thought might like to read it. 1286 words. Paris is six, Charlotte is ten, Ava is eight and a half. Ricky is the dog. Shannon is their mother. Sylvester is their uncle. Their father, his triplet twin, died a few months ago, and he's moved back home to Central Kentucky to help out for awhile.

 

After supper was cleared, Ava and Charlotte dumped the bags of craft supplies onto the dining table. Shannon started to protest the chaos, but they began swiftly organizing the various items she bought, lining it all up neatly and ready to use. “This is how we will begin,” explained Charlotte.

Sylvester said, “Well…I thought of an idea, if you don’t mind my interfering. But it’d require giving up your kitchen table for awhile.”

“Ooh, what is it, Uncle Vester? Are we going to make the table a craft, too?” Paris asked eagerly.

“Oh, not exactly. Only I was thinking about what you said about wishing for snow for Christmas. How about we move the table into the living room, maybe against a wall, and turn it into a winter wonderland? Besides making ornaments for the tree, I mean, of course. It would be blanketed with fluffy snow, and could have little trees and a whole scene spread out over it.”

“Yay! Snow inside! Oh, can we, Mommy? I really want to! I can help move the table and make snow.” Paris started bouncing around, chanting, “snow inside, snow inside, snow on a table snow inside.”

Shannon grinned and nodded, and Sylvester said, “How about you and I work on the snow table, while your mom and sisters make the tree ornaments?”

Ava said, “Good, because hers will be all crooked anyway, and have weird colors on them.”

“Ava!”

“Yes, Mama. I mean, sorry. But I think it’s a good idea, and this way, everyone can be happy doing the parts they want to do.”

The table had leaves that folded down on each side. Sylvester and Shannon lowered one leaf to move it from the kitchen to the living room, while Paris held onto the opened side. They moved the couch in at angle, and set the table behind it. Then Paris carefully draped a dark green tablecloth over it, a rarely used wedding gift from one of Shannon’s aunts. She and Sylvester pulled fiberfill apart and piled it onto the table for snow. Then they set to work making trees. These were pieces of artificial pine branch garland pushed into wine corks Shannon had saved over the past couple of years. Sylvester showed Paris how to shake a little glitter over them without getting too much on herself, or the floor, or Ricky, who was watching as he rested near the fireplace hearth. They did this by dipping a small paintbrush into the glitter container, then carefully tapping the end of the brush to allow some of the glitter to fall just where they wanted it to be. Ricky was not wearing all that much glitter when they finished. And the glitter on the fiberfill made it look as though moonlight was reflected on the surface.

Sylvester said, “When there’s a fire burning, it will look even more pretty.”

“Let’s light one now!” Paris said excitedly.

“Well, you know, we’ve had a very warm day. I think we’d get hot in here if we lit a fire now. So would Ricky.”

Paris looked at Ricky and considered things. “Yes, you’re right. Ricky would not like the fire tonight. We can wait. Let’s do the animals next!”

Sylvester said, “Animals?”

“Sure, it can’t be a snowy forest without animals in it. I’ll go get some!” She hopped up and then looked back and said, “I’ll be right back.”

She returned lugging a large plastic bin. “They’re all in here. I thought you could pick some out that you like.”

“Wow! Some of these are ours; mine and Nicky and Jasper’s!” Sylvester couldn’t believe what he was looking at.

“Yes,” Paris said. “Grandma gave them to me last year for Christmas. And we put other things in, too.”

Inside the bin were little plastic farm animals and wild animals, but also Stormtroopers, tiny girl dolls which looked like puppets (those are Mama’s, Paris told him. They are all called Polly,) cats and dogs with oddly human faces, and a collection of fruits and vegetables with faces on them.

“Lots of these things would be silly in our forest. But we can put in some of them, right?” Paris looked a little worried.

Sylvester said easily, “It’s our forest, so we can put in whatever we like. It can be an animal refuge forest.” So they added chickens, cows, goats, a camel, rabbits, a bear, and a fox. The elephant seemed too big, so it stayed in the bin with the other wild animals.

“They won’t eat each other, because it’s magical, and they all get along. Here is Princess Tianna, who will watch over them and make sure they’re okay. And then Santa Claus can come.

“Do you think,” she added, “Tiny Santa Claus would like if we decorated one of these trees? We can put little presents under it, and a star on top.”

(She tells Sylvester she’s glad it’s just the two of them. She always feels like her sisters watch everything she does, which sometimes makes it harder to do. Then talks with him about Daddy and whether he has a Christmas wherever he is.)

“I don’t know, sweetheart. None of us gets to know such things. People say that the best way to keep someone alive when you love them is not to worry about where they are, but keep the best memories of them with you. You can look at pictures and remember him and the things you did together. They’re all still real, and we’re all here to help you share them.”

Paris snuggled into Sylvester’s lap and said, “Sometimes I get confused. Because you’re my uncle and you look like my daddy. Only you grew this beard. Daddy never had a beard.” She stroked his face and tipped her head in thought. “If you were my daddy, would you still be my uncle, too?”

Sylvester did not know how to answer such an odd question. After a moment’s hesitation he asked, “Do you miss having a daddy? Does it still hurt?”

Paris nodded. “You look like Daddy, but you act like Uncle Vester. Maybe if you were my daddy, you’d be just like him, and it would be like having him back.”

They sat together for a few minutes. Then Sylvester said, “I never was much like Daddy, you know. I was always quiet and he was always laughing. Sometimes yelling.”

“Daddy yelled at you? I don’t think that’s nice. He never yelled at me or Ava or Charlotte. I don’t think he yelled at Mommy.”

“Brothers are different with each other, you know. So are sisters, sometimes. But we were good friends. Anyway, the thing is, if I was a daddy and not an uncle, I’d still just be me, like I am right now. Do you understand?”

Paris said, “I guess I do. But…” her voice dropped to a near-whisper, “do you think maybe you could be my uncle daddy? Like how you’re my uncle, but I could be sort of like your little girl, too?”

“Oh, Paris, I would be honored.” Sylvester whispered, too. “Is it a secret?”

“No, I just don’t want Ava to laugh at me.”

Sylvester said, “Maybe someday she’ll want to be my little girl, too. Do you figure that would be all right?”

Paris pondered this for a moment. “I guess so. We all still wish we had our regular daddy.”

“Okay. Let’s go see how they’re doing with their ornaments.”


The Year I Voted for an R for President

I lived in Johnson County, Kansas, and not only that, for those of you playing the home game, it was Leawood, to boot. Most people in line were voting for the same candidate as me, rightly or wrongly as history may judge and then judge again, and most people there were firmly “fiscal conservative/social liberal.”

Fiscal conservative meant something different just then; it has in every era. Does it even exist currently? I dunno. It wasn’t a “trickle-down” crowd, and it didn’t mean “don’t help anybody at all,” it meant, in part, “stop spending a zillion dollars on a freaking hammer when old people are eating cat food so they can pay for their medicine.” We agreed that a smart government could do more with less. After all, why should people pay more in taxes if the money is going to be mismanaged and spent in ways that seem to benefit no one? I still think that, I just think they won’t do more, with more or less, unless they’re forced to somehow, I don’t know how. But I digress.

I know these things about the people in line with me because we spent more than a couple hours together. The machines broke down. It was getting late, and the line extended to the door. We collected money, ordered pizzas, and had them delivered. Sat down along the wall in line and ate together. And then the lines started moving again, we voted and said goodbye.

Did those people watch in horror as I did two years later when the “Republican Revolution” sent a lot of young evangelicals to Congress to fix America?

What we’re seeing this year is the direct result of that mid-term election 22 years ago. I tried to remain aligned in spirit with some people who thought their religious path could dictate everyone else’s political one, but I didn’t make it to the end of the century, and I think they are a big part of the reason I gave up church altogether, not seeing the Jesus they purported to know in their views on how the country should be run. Nothing stirs my ire like a combination of bad logic and hypocrisy.

But I remember the 1992 election fondly, though our candidate lost. Plenty of people would say it’s a good thing he did, but it’s kind of a mixed bag, really. Hindsight overuses the blur tool, and chain reactions always grow beyond our ability to measure them. We view the cropped image and need to be careful to understand our screen is just too small to view anything in totality, in multiple dimensions, in accurate context. Context is key, but it's also a non-linear concept. I think maybe that frightens people.  

PizzaYou might guess this little resembles the pizza I ate that day in that new sterile carpeted Midwestern building. It's an Italian pizza, that's why. It's how I like to make it at home, too. It's a metaphor, I guess.


Overlapping Seasons

It is November 1. Leaves have finally begun to change color on the trees, and to settle on the still-bright green lawn. And that still-green lawn now has wild strawberries growing in it. 20161101_170551
The tomato plants have sprung back to life, the nasturtiums continue to bloom, the cosmos to replicate themselves.
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Cold will come in time, and with it, a personal mourning for light and life and bright healing air.

Out of time, as it seems we are, the seasons are overlapping, and creating a certain degree of poetic confusion. 20161101_170623

Writing what you actually see when you look through to the bottom of a lake, that requires the sun high overhead, Jupiter and Mars in the nighttime sky, toes in warm mud after a heavy afternoon rain shower, the scent of meat searing over a charcoal fire. In summer, I paint on a living canvas instead of fabric and wood fashioned to my easel.

Writing it all down at the end of the growing year, when darkness rises in late afternoon and the sky feels a little too close for comfort, the project turns artificial, grasping for a reality which can’t exist in the greys and browns of November. The conceit of spending that month creating something new could only have been thought of by a someone in Southern California, where they do not witness first hand the vacuum in nature between the bright harvest colors of October and the sparkling decor of December; it’s something they see conjured on a movie or TV set. But they who say tell us that Nature abhors a vacuum, and making up a wild and fantastic story might be one way to fill it in for anyone who feels the misery of Winter’s emergence.

Summer beautifies reality. Winter fosters fantasy. Understanding this, I adjust my focus for each season in turn, and make what I can of it.

How to adjust focus when the seasons are blurred together like this? That's something for greater philosophers than I.
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A NaNo urge with no WriMo plan

I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, my 12th year? To give myself some more daily focus, which is a thing I've been working really hard at, with the extra vitamins doing their assigned jobs and giving me more energy.

I wrote half a story last year that I really like, and I might write the other half sometime, but for now I'm going back to Jack's donut shop. This is because a) I never finished the story I worked on 2014, and b) I spent October not planning to do anything else. I seem to write half stories each year, which tells me my stories like to be told in 100k words, and that's something I wouldn't do in a 30 day period, unless under duress. So why not write a back half this year instead of a front half?

I've been writing about Lily, Violet and Jack for most years since 2005. Eight years, with an occasional other story mixed in. I now have three groups of people I write about; Lena and her friends in Michigan, and Sylvester, Jasper and their family in Kentucky, as well as the Sea View, NJ crowd.

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And here is the last thing I wrote about Jack, a little less than two years ago. So from here is where I begin a back half; both a new story and the continuation of an old one. It's, yes, Daughter, out of context for you, but pretty much obvious on the surface. I seriously hate the last line, 😝 but I'm leaving it alone and moving on.

#more time at Donuts and Coffee

Jack walked into the donut shop on Sunday afternoon whistling “I’m Not The Marrying Kind.”

There were no customers at present. Melissa was behind the counter on the phone. “No, we’ve never sold square donuts. I don’t know why, we just never have. Yes, I understand those are very popular in New York, but we have no plans to change our current donut shape. Yes, I will pass along the message when I see our owner. Yes, of course. Good day.”

She nodded to Jack as he sat down on a stool, still whistling. Then he said, “How about a cup of good, hot black coffee?”

Melissa reached for a cup to pour him some, but replied, “It sounds to me like you’ve already had plenty today. What’s up? I didn’t even expect you in this afternoon.”

Jack said, “Oh, I’m not here to get any work done. I’ll be in all day tomorrow. I’m just waiting for Violet, we’re heading to the theater to work on some stuff. Who was on the phone?”

“Some nutty customer wanting us to sell square donuts like that shop in Manhattan. I said I’d pass along the message, and now I have. Why aren’t you just meeting Violet at the theatre?”

“Nosy. I don’t know, she’s at her sister’s house, close to here, and we figured we’d drive over there together.”

“I see,” said Melissa, who was pretty sure she did see, but she said nothing more.

Jack saw Violet with a sense of wonder as she came through the door a few minutes later. He felt nervous, and felt silly about being nervous; they’d just spent 18 hours together and were parted for only an hour or so, but he wasn’t sure if it had been forever or no time at all. Both, somehow, he decided, as most of his feelings tended to run in two divergent directions. The urge came over him to ask her to run away with him to that no wifi desert island he was always joking about, just him, Violet, and an always-charged mp3 player for company.

But while he mused over these idiotic thoughts, she came up to the counter, as cool and collected as ever, slipped her arm through his, and asked, “Ready to go?” And that made everything fine again. He leaned over to kiss her cheek and said, “I’m ready.” Melissa smiled as she watched them go, then reached for her phone to make a call.

Jack turned on the heat in the theatre, then he and Violet went through the Narnia door to his studio. He said, “If I’m opening this space to the public, or at least more friends, I’ll have to do something about the fire escape entrance. Vinny told me last week he thought it was a bit rickety for his aging knees to handle.”

“You’re supposed to have two means of exit in every room like this, in case of fire,” Violet answered idly.

Jack realized this conversation was pointless and dull, so he asked, “Would you like a drink? I mean, some tea or water or something, or I have juice…” He trailed off as Violet shook her head at him.

“We’re alone together in the coolest room in town, and talking about doors, Jack.”

He said, “I enjoyed waking up in your bed and making breakfast for you. But after I left, I wondered, somehow, what it all really meant. We had a lot of wine last night.”

Violet frowned, and beckoned to the big leather couch. They sat facing each other, but not touching. “I don’t understand, are you having reservations now? I think we’re good for each other, Jack. And I felt—“ She stopped, uncertain whether to continue.

He said, “No, I don’t have any reservations.” Taking her hands, he said, “Making love with you was a dream come true for me. I’d relive every moment of it again and again even if it never happened again. But I don’t want to burden you with my emotions.”

Sighing, Violet answered, “I see. My reputation suggests I’d push you away if you got too serious about it all.”

Jack looked at her hopefully, waiting for her to continue. When she didn’t speak, he said, “I was instructed to not drive you off by being too serious. But when I woke this morning, all I could think was that I don’t ever want to be apart from you. I can’t do this lightly.”

“So you cooked breakfast for me in my kitchen.” Violet smiled. She squeezed his hands, then let go with one to trail her fingertip along the length of his jaw. Then, cupping the side of his face, she leaned in to kiss him. He was tense at first, but began to relax as they continued. Suddenly he couldn’t bear not having his arms around her, pulling her into his lap, and she willed herself to melt into him, so that he’d know, without asking any more questions, that they were part of each other now, and she wasn’t going to let go or push him away.

He realized she wasn’t going to speak her feelings easily, unlike most women he’d known who seemed to spend a great amount of time examining them all in detail. He’d once read about how people give and receive love in different ways; some with words, some with gifts or actions or touch. Jack was handy with words, but he liked doing things for people to express his affection. And it occurred to him that Violet was always patting someone’s shoulder or hand, or leaning in to kiss a cheek. He’d seen her playing with her sister’s hair while they talked and laughed together.

He sat up and looked at her. Surprised, Violet leaned back and raised her eyes with a question.

Jack laughed and said, “It’s okay now. I just figured it all out. Life and love and everything.”  He bent over her and she reveled in the weight of his embrace.


Quiet Girls Will Bloom

For my first “books from childhood” reminiscent post, I read Bright Island on Tuesday, and Going on Sixteen the day before. These two books feel so essential to my past, though I couldn’t have said why before, other than a vague “I related to the characters and found romance in their situations.”

This is 1513 words and an 8 minute read, according to wordcounttools.com. I read recently that the best length for a blog post is 1500 words, but I figure I'll hold future ones on this topic to 1200 or less, and they won't be as serious and "instructional," for sure.

These two books greatly differ from each other, though both are about teen girls in a past time I know mainly from watching classic films. In fact, realizing that for the first time as I read them again this week gave me pause. Bright Island is set in Maine in the late 1930s and Going On Sixteen, set in Pennsylvania, was written just after World War Two. No hint of world concerns flavor either story, but it’s impossible to read Bright Island now without wondering about it all.

In Going On Sixteen, Julie is a quiet, but well-adjusted high school freshman who lives alone with her widower father on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. She has a few friends and a fairly content life, but as she enters high school, she realizes the other girls are ready to grow up, and seem to have gained miles on her in confidence, interest in dress, and the desire to think of boys as something other than “part of the gang.” Julie’s friend Dick, who helped her father on the farm, is suddenly seen as a desirable date by her friends, and Julie feels confused and left out of their new social whirl.

In the meantime, she and her father are raising pedigreed pups destined to become show dogs, and Julie soothes her days by drawing them at play. She’s inherited her mother’s artistic talent, but it goes unnoticed by her busy hard-working father, and holds no interest for the girls at school, who’ve begun to leave her out of their chatty world, which causes her to become even more withdrawn. You know, that whole story.

We follow Julie through three years of high school and watch her develop into someone who can stand up for herself, take more ease in social situations, and share her talents with others who’ve learned to appreciate them, including her father. There’s a secret trip to the City, which in this case is Philadelphia, a school musical, dances, and several interesting events at home on the farm along the way.  In the end, Julie knows who she is and how she wants to make a start in life, and has learned more about what motivates her friends as they are also maturing to varying degrees. It’s fun to watch them all emerge as people, and it’s fun for me now to imagine how the author envisioned them taking their place in the broader world. I love the casually good-mannered world they inhabit, and details such as the kind of wall paint they’d use and how they behave at the school dance.

Bright Island is another take on the high school story altogether. First, the protagonist Thankful has grown up on an island with her parents, grandfather, and four brothers. She’s never been to school and hasn’t spent much time on the mainland. She also has a longtime male friend, Dave, who helps out on the family farm, but knows almost nothing of the world outside her home except through her mother’s excellent home school instruction. Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 10.43.30 AMThankful learns she is to attend school on the mainland and rebels against it, as it will mean being under the thumb of her supercilious sisters-in-law. And she just doesn’t want to leave the island. She has a sailboat her grandfather made for her, she works hard to prove her value to the family in the hard work she does, and she wants nothing more from her life. But to school she must go; and through a surprising circumstance, it is a school for highly privileged students.

She’s so awkward, at first no one is certain she’s up to the work, but her mother’s teaching proves itself and she earns a place in the upper class with relative ease compared to earning a comfortable place with her peers. She seeks out the sea and finds a companion there. And, inadvertently almost, she begins to make friends. The story takes place over only about ten months of Thankful’s life, but there’s a lot packed into it.

The biggest difference between this book and Going On Sixteen is the prose. Bright Island is filled with rich literary descriptions, while the other relies more on the everyday thoughts of a shy but otherwise fairly typical teenage girl. That’s not to say it’s a lesser effort. It’s a different effort. You leave Going On Sixteen feeling you’ve just walked away for a little while, and the characters’ll still be there when you get back. Bright Island has a vigor and an atmosphere to it which is harder to place in our own context, but as I said, realizing the great changes in store for the world as it stood in 1937 makes for a lot of reflection.

Both books are about isolated girls who learn to find a place for themselves in broader society. Happily, neither is forced to become something unnatural to herself, instead, she’s given the opportunity to learn how to grow in a community, fitting in and reaping the benefits of it without losing her individuality.

In this respect they are very, very of and for their time. The unique 1950s culture we’ve grown up looking back on in TV, music and films has lead many people to believe in an ideal that did not exist before the war. Pre-war culture was progressive and aggressive in attempts to shape society by smoothing the edges of the rugged individual, and giving him or her a place in a forward-thinking culture that would depend on each member doing their bit for the whole. The essential component was community. After the war, though, easy prosperity lead to a different kind of thinking; each man was the product of his own success, standing alone with his loving family crowded around with smiles and gratitude for his efforts. It would be useless to tell him he was not in fact an 1880s cowboy settling the west purely by his own grit and wit, but the product of an economy shaped by wartime innovation and military and defense contracts.

So I think about that now while reading books like Bright Island, wondering how the characters’ lives would have continued if war and sacrifice and so much abrupt change did not intervene. I wonder that too, because these authors were part of what I’m learning was a marvelous new cultural wave; women with educations and the means to do something with them. Women in this culture who wrote books for girls wanted to show their readers the choices open to them. Yes, marriage and family and a steady home when desired, but with eyes open, with an understanding of what else could be gained through education and finding your place in the community at-large. You can be yourself, but your self is so much more than you realize.

Of course, I thought about almost none of this when I was reading these books as a girl. I just loved reading about Girls of Other Eras, what they did and wore and ate and said, and I was also generally envious of their simpler quieter cultures. I still am.

This took a far different direction than I’d originally intended, so here are some notes I took while reading Going On Sixteen, which probably make no sense now. I didn’t save any from Bright Island, because I got to just reading. 20161020_100435
And I realize I wrote the descriptions somewhat obliquely, as though you intend to rush right out to find copies of your own. Well, you might do worse than trying to. Bright Island is a book I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys slice of life fiction set in the not-too-distant past. Going On Sixteen is more of a “girl book,” but it’s not remotely girly, and might be entertaining for someone interested in looking back at high school days. For the kids, ten and up.

PS: here's something I read while looking into the teen books written in this time period. It's another angle on the whole thing. But while I remember reading Seventeenth Summer, I don't remember it making the impression on me that others did. For what it's worth. I do remember reading and enjoying another Betty Cavanna book with more "teen romance," called The Boy Next Door. If I run across it, I'll read it again.
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“In reading we must become creators.”

Madeleine L'Engle said that.

And I'm off on a new project.

The first thing to understand is that my mother bought nothing new. Nearly nothing. At some point in my school career, new books were necessary to my existence, and I was allowed to own many of them, but always there were very old ones as well, from garage sales and what used to be called junk shops.

Mom went “junking,” in the early 70s, and we had a lot of interesting things around our house. 18th century farm implements, old school desks, old baskets, Depression glass, a few very old pieces of furniture, etc. A few years later, junking became known as “antiquing,” and all the prices were raised, plus, people began trying to pass off junk as antique; an absurd irony. It changed the landscape and cut out a lot of the long time participants, including my mom.

But throughout my childhood she brought me lovely little pieces of china from several areas of the world, which I collected in an antique metal trunk. I used an antique metal lunchbox in 6th grade, til other kids made fun of it. I had old dolls and other toys. And I had all those books. Besides a fairly complete collection of the 60s/70s versions of the Bobbsey Twins, I had all the Trixie Beldens, most of the Nancy Drews, Encyclopedia Brown, and lots of books from the 40s onward from the Scholastic Book Service and other low cost paperback lines from the big publishers. These books were about girls learning to navigate school and friendships, and finding out who they were. Most of them were what you’d now call “progressive,” because they showed girls figuring out how to think for themselves while still fitting into the big picture around them.

That was important for me, because I didn’t fit in anywhere. I still don’t, but I’m generally okay with that now. It’s confusing when you’re a kid, though. But these were not exactly girls like me; they were just in circumstances they had to negotiate in order to move along in their lives. And I admired them for how they did it.

The second thing to know is that while I was a highly precocious reader, alternating between Agatha Christie and Caroline Keene, and following Watergate intently all while I was in third grade, I never stopped reading kids’ books at all, just picked up more adult ones. So I can’t say if I was 7 or 11 or 14 or 38 when I read many of my favorites, though for a few, there are concrete memories to go along with them, which indicate the likely year. Also, and this sounds like a humble brag, but it isn’t, I got to reading well over 100 pages in an hour, I don’t know how much more, and so I’d just consume books like potato chips and thus have read far too many to have any idea of the scope of it all. These days, I do not let myself read so fast, though it’s still easy to get going at a ridiculous clip. Savoring is so much better than just consuming.

Today I’ve chosen five of my favorites in this narrow category to reread and share thoughts on here. I still own two of them, in ragged condition having been bought used and read many times over the years, and have ordered two of the others. I’m hoping to find the fifth one at the library, but I might order it, as well.

A Girl Called Chris by Marg Nelson, 1962
Bright Island by Mabel L Robinson, 1937 (Mabel Robinson sounds like some kind of literary hero)
Mary Jane by Dorothy Sterling, 1959 (Here is an obituary for Ms Sterling; she sounds entirely awesome.)
Going on Sixteen by Betty Cavanna, 1946 (Such interesting women these are!)
Just the Beginning by Betty Miles, 1976
Oldbooks
Oh, but there are just so many more! So many favorites. Thus, I’m also going to start talking about other books I read as a child and teenager, and I think it will be a good way to talk about me as a young person, which I believe will be enjoyable or interesting to most of the people who know me online.


A broad variety of pleasuring

1. notes on stuff I've either partially written or still haven't gotten to:

Sharing more reading and music and etc this year. How did mother never read Betsy-Tacy?

"Criminals flourish when no credible system exists to adjudicate the claims of their victims." (I no longer have any idea where I was going with this.)

Code switching v. the dog whistle 20161008_132001
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Toradora!
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions

la goutte qui fait déborder le vase...

Exquisite Timing: Perimenopause and the Bee Gees

mittelschmirtz Livvy ovaries overlapping Medium 1977 letting it happen as it happens  

3 oz gin
1/2 oz maple syrup
3/4 oz lime juice

“Fully functional. I am programmed in multiple techniques. A broad variety of pleasuring.”
Shadow
2. My daughter said my blog has been depressing lately:

For some reason, I apologized. I mean, in my head I was thinking I’m probably going to do a lot of light-hearted little posts soon, and then she followed up saying the posts are also too long…

I like to vary the length. But the online blog thing keeps changing. People like pictures with a bit of text stamped onto them, and they like short pithy essays, and for some reason, they like, or at least like to create, very very long recipe posts with endless repetitive photos of eggs in a bowl, and then eventually a list of ingredients and instructions.
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But it seems that they get scared if you get beneath their skin about really personal stuff they can’t do anything about. Well, sure, I get that. And it’s never been my intention to expose myself all that much online in that manner, anyway. Yet I can’t apologize for it and feel very good about what that means. So I kind of take back the apology. At the same time, if I have any more cruel depths to share; elements which occasionally rise above my shallow, superficial mien, I’ll just go paint or bake a lot of cookies and see if it sinks back down into the belly of the beast in which it usually resides. The world has enough to be going on with this season. DSC_0054

3. I liked writing better when the screens were larger. The keyboard on this 11-inch MacBook Air suits me perfectly, but I'd rather be typing beneath a much larger page. I don't see how that can be really just me. 030
Stay tuned, if you want to. I'm in the mood to fool around.


I think sometimes I write good. ;-)

Oh, the years I spent telling my kids things are good, and done well. Anyway. It's NaNoWriMo review time, and this year's story is dovetailing with 2014, so I'm going over that.


I like this portion an awful lot, so I'm sharing it with you. It's long; will take 10-15 minutes to read. And no, it hasn't been edited, so ignore that.



Vinny's first girlfriend and "White Silver Sands"


Vinny strolled into the studio, kissed Violet on the cheek, went behind Jack’s bar, and poured himself a little bourbon, swirled it with an ice cube, then removed the cube and walked over to the mike stand holding the glass.

“It’s been a long time since I talked about this, Jack. I’m taking a bit of courage first. You’ve got a good selection back there.” Vinny said this so casually, as if he just expected to walk into a room with a fully stocked bar, a wide variety of seating, and a roulette wheel.

“Sure thing, Vinny. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Violet realized she was seeing a different side of Vinny than the old joker who hung out with Tommy, eating donuts all morning. Here, Vinny was confident, sharper, somehow, and she could see the attractive man he’d been in his younger days. “No wonder some of the auxiliary ladies seem to be hanging out for him.”

Vinny’s about the same height as Jack, maybe slightly above medium. Violet thought maybe he used to be a little taller. He has nearly the same hairline of his youth, though his hair is mostly grey and thinner than it once was. Still thick enough for him to wear long and floppy on top; he runs his fingers through it so it hangs toward one side. He has the typically hooded eyes of an  older Italian-American man, and deep laugh lines around his mouth. Violet could remember him from her childhood, always sharing a joke with whoever came by the electronics shop he’d inherited from his uncle, yet he never seemed boisterous or loud, like his friend Tommy.  

Almost as if he could hear what she was thinking, Vinny caught Violet’s eye, and winked at her. She giggled quietly. Jack noticed the look and had an odd expression on his face.

“Okay, I’m ready, Jack. Let’s do this.”

“I was born right after the war, you know, the big one, World War Two, and my parents had just bought a house here, a few blocks from here, actually, on the GI bill. Dad went to school and got a degree in chemistry. Mom worked in a dress shop, and brought me with her until I was old enough to go to school. I started school when I was four, because then she had my sister, and needed me out of her hair. They didn’t really do preschool back then, but Sea View had a kindergarten by that time, so I went to that.

“No, no, I’m not telling you my whole life story here, but I’m telling you about something I know you’ve always wondered about. I was born along with the first seedlings of rock and roll, and grew up right alongside it.

“Mom and Dad liked to boogie, knew all the dances. Jazz and bebop. We had an old piano Dad would bang away on, and Mom would sing, she knew all the songs, too, all the old ones, and everything on the radio. In the evening, we listened to radio shows, too, and had our favorite stories. I liked the adventure serials, but my parents liked things like *Our Miss Brooks* and *Father Knows Best*, real corny stuff. And Jack Benny, of course. Anyway, we spent a lot of time together in those early years. It was good.

“And then my dad got a job with a big drug company, and Mom quit her job, and we moved to a new house with two bathrooms in it, and a big backyard. I still went to the same school, of course, there was just the one then. I rode my bike instead of walking. One year, in music class, a teacher came in and tried us all out on different instruments. And then my parents got a letter saying I should be in the school band, and learn to play the drums. Well, that sounded all right to me, but I had to talk them into buying the starter drum for the house, because you couldn’t lug one around the way you could a trombone. And Mom liked the idea because she said I could play with Dad on the piano, and maybe my sister Gina would learn the clarinet or something.

“But Dad was teaching Gina the piano, and that was good, cause then he had a stroke, and could only play with his left hand. Gina learned melodies and he played the bass line, and they did a good job of it.

“I loved playing the drum, but I didn’t like playing in the school band very much. I kept at it, though, because it made my parents so proud. And then we had rock and roll! Dad wasn’t so into it, because he said it sounded kinda cheap or something, and he was listening to west coast jazz by then, learning how to improvise with his one hand, which was pretty cool, and now I think I shoulda told him so.

“We played marching band type stuff at school, but before and after practice it was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bill Haley. I remember learning the intro to “You Keep a Knocking” and recognizing it in a Led Zeppelin song years later. But they were all like that, taking parts from each other’s compositions and doing new things with them. Nobody said anything most of the time. Can’t get away with that now.

“And the thing was, the early songs were just like the crooners’ standards had been. Somebody’d write a song and then half a dozen different bands and singers would record it. So you’d hear a song in 1957 by a singer, and the next year, a band would do it with a different tempo, or as an instrumental, or practically the same thing, trying to score their own hit off of it. So we had our favorite versions of different songs, and also we’d do different dances to them, depending.  

“In 1960 I was in 9th grade, which was in junior high back then. And you know, we had *American Bandstand* by then. Some of the kids who didn’t have a TV yet would come over to my house to watch it and a couple other shows. Afterwards we’d play records, and when my friend Tommy started playing guitar, we practiced together, cause he did better when I kept a beat for him. Sometimes my sister played the piano for us, we didn’t mind even though she was still a little girl. We needed a piano. So that was kind of my first band, Me, Tommy, and my sister. My dad was only about 40 then, but he wasn’t too active outside of work anymore. He’d watch us play and sometimes make us play the jazz tunes he liked.

“One thing my dad taught us was that we could take the songs we heard on the radio and Bandstand and make them our own. We weren’t very good at it, but we learned a lot more about the music by taking it apart and figuring out new things to do with it, new ways to put it back together. That’s jazz, you know. The early rock and roll guys all did it, the best ones. So we’d hear a song and wonder how it would sound with a different tempo, a different time signature. My sister was the best at it. Learning piano one hand at a time the way she did turned out to be good for her. Because when she started doing the left hand, she was imitating Dad, riffing on chords right from the beginning. Gina was great at that.

“Let’s stop for a minute, I gotta catch my breath.”

Jack said, “This is really interesting, Vinny. You should write a book.”

“Me? No, I’m no good at that. I sound dumb when I write things down.” Vinny went over to refresh his drink.

Violet said, “But you wouldn’t really need to write it down. You’d just talk, like this, and then someone would type it all out. Reading a story of someone telling a story always sounds better, anyway.”

Jack said, “People would buy it, Vinny. They’d buy an audio recording of you telling your story.”

Vinny laughed as he took a drink. “It’s something to think about, I guess.”

He began again. “The point of the story is that I went to the freshman dance and met a girl named Carla. There’d been a hit song by a couple of different people called ‘White Silver Sands.’ But that night, the kid who was spinning the records, a high school student, played a slow-burning version by a combo called Bill Black’s. A lot of us lined up for The Stroll. You know about the stroll, right? They made a song for it. Funny thing, you hardly touch in that dance, but it’s— Wow, it can get electric. It started out sorta goofy and fun, and then goes into this really sexy sax solo.”

Jack and Violet looked at each other, eyes wide, grinning.

“Yeah, well, so Carla really liked that song a lot. And she was a good dancer, too. Of course, everybody could dance back then. Not like it is now. The Stroll was one of the last good ones, though, until they started disco dancing, doing some of the ballroom stuff.

“Now, I was only fourteen years old, but I was hooked on Carla in an instant. She and I started going around together, and she loved that song, so I bought the record, and we’d listen to it. She watched our band practice, and kept saying it was too bad we didn’t have a sax player. I’d walk her home and we’d hold hands, but I never tried to kiss her. I started thinking maybe I could play saxophone, and then she’d want me to kiss her.

“I know this sounds goofy, but I was a goofy kid. I asked my uncle for help, because I was afraid to ask my dad somehow. Uncle Eddie got me a used saxophone and told me I could work in his store in the summer to help pay for it. He sold TVs and radios back then. The band teacher taught me a few things about the reed and the keys, and I got some records that teach you how to play. I practiced and practiced and practiced, boy was I lousy. I had to play in the garage so my parents wouldn’t kick me out.

“I turned 15, and still went to movies with Carla, she still watched us play, but she seemed interested in an older boy called Malcolm. I never liked that name, Malcolm. The thing is, I didn’t tell Carla I was learning the sax at all. Just kept playing my drums, doing all right at it, while Tommy was getting really good on the guitar.   

“After about six months, just as I was entering high school, I played for the band teacher again. He was real surprised. He thought I’d improved so fast I might be better at the sax in another year than I was at the drums. So me and Tommy found a drummer, Ricky, and started our real band, calling ourselves The Expressives, which I think is a very dumb name now. Ricky, Tommy, Vinny, and Gina. We didn’t care she was a little girl because she played better than anybody we knew. But I didn’t let the guys say bad stuff around her.

“Carla started going with Malcolm, and I didn’t like that much, but I was too busy with the band, anyway. I wanted to get good at the saxophone because I loved it, and that seemed like enough. Dad paid for me to have weekly lessons, too.

“Mr. Felder, the band director, chose us to play live music for the winter dance. We had three months to practice and learn a whole set of songs for it. Another band would do a second set. And I knew I had to be able to do ‘White Silver Sands.’ Gina was in 7th grade then, and Mom was chaperoning her, which she didn’t like much, but what could you do?

“We wore matching suits. We had brown pants and brown and red plaid jackets with white shirts and red ties. Gina wore a plaid party dress, she was so cute, you know. But some of the kids were whispering about us having a little kid in the band. We were prepared for that and started our set with ‘Theme From A Summer Place.’ Gina sounded terrific, and the couples all danced. Then we started to rock and roll, with a good Duane Eddy tune. The others all sang, Tommy did most of the lead, because he sounded a little bit like Bobby Darin, and Ricky had a falsetto, they could do kind of an Everly Brothers sound, you know.

“And so, you know, for our final song, I stepped up and said, ‘This one’s for Carla.’ Never was I so cool and so nervous at the same time. Then we played ‘White Silver Sands,’ Bill Black-style, slow and steady. Gina did the intro on the piano, then I did the sax solo. It wasn’t a tough one, and I was ready for it.”

Vinny stopped speaking and grinned.

Jack and Violet both waited a minute, and then Jack asked, “Well? What happened??”

“You want to know what happened after I spent a year learning the saxophone so I could impress a girl I once danced with?

“I got pretty good at the sax, that’s what happened. And the kids did clap and cheer, and asked for an encore, so we played ‘The Twist.’”

Violet sighed. “She didn’t deserve you, Vinny.”

They sat and talked for awhile. Vinny asked, “How long you been keeping this place a secret, Jack?”

Jack sighed. “Well, I’ve been working on it for about five years. I had the bar updated, and the floor refinished first. then I bought some furniture, and then I added the sound system. And then last year I bought the recording equipment. Violet discovered it then, by accident.”

Violet said, happily, “It’s my Narnia! I was in a closet looking for something, opened a door, and here it all was!”

“And Jack here is your Mr. Tumnus, right?”

They stared at Vinny.

“What? I’ve read books. Actually, my daughter had those books.” Vinny nodded in approval. “I really like this a lot, Jack. A person could almost live up here.”

Jack said, “I had that idea, originally. Maybe not all the time, but I imagined I could spend weekends here, like, well, you know.” He smiled, a little sheepishly. “But also, it’s insulated and basically sound-proof, which is why we can do the recordings this way.”

Violet said, “It would be easy to put a cooktop in the bar area, actually. You already have a refrigerator. Think of the parties you could have.”

Vinny added, “Maybe you should throw one. For New Year’s, or something.”

Jack mused over this. “It’s been years since I threw a real party. You know, the thing about getting older is that you really do want it a little quieter. However, not a lot quieter. Interesting people who can still laugh and be silly, but not the kind who hang from chandeliers.”

“Listen,” Vinny said. “I got about twenty years on you two. I see things are different now, but they aren’t so different that I don’t know something about this. What you want to do is make it a kind of drop in all evening kind of thing. If it works out right, the dullest and also oldest people get tired and leave first. Then you got your rabble-rousers. They see only so much excitement happening, and they leave to find more someplace else. And then you’re left with the people in the middle; the ones you wanted to hang around with most, anyway. And so there you go.”

Jack and Violet grinned at each other. Vinny has always had a way of cutting right to the heart of things.  

Violet left then, to meet Lily for dinner, and Vinny stayed for a few minutes longer, while Jack showed him how the sound system worked, and the rotating casino table that had been used in the room during its speakasy days. Both it and the mirrored shelves behind the bar were reversible at the touch of a switch.

Vinny said, “You’re still hanging out after her, aren’t you, Jack?”

Jack nodded.

“Well, it’s easy for the rest of us to see she’s settled down, like you have, so what are you waiting for? The thing is, Jack, you don’t know how much time you have, or how much time anyone else has, and the years are going to start passing faster and faster.”

“I have my mom, you know,” Jack began.

Vinny looked at him like he was crazy. “Your mom thinks you’re nuts spending all your time alone. In fact, it is a little strange, all of you unmarried, practically no kids between you, no new Sea View residents to take over after you’re gone.

“But you and Violet, you should take the leap now, while you still can.”

“That’s a lot to assume, that Violet’s just been waiting for me to crook my finger at her.”

“No, because she has already crooked her finger at *you*, Jack. Everyone else can see it, even if you can’t.” Vinny shook his head in wonder.

“Hmm, well, that might explain how things started the other night, after we saw a play rehearsal together.” Jack stopped to think it over for a few moments. “We went back to Violet’s house and were drinking hot tea, you know how outrageously cold it was last weekend, and we had a fire going, it felt really warm and comfortable.” He paused.

“So, then what happened?”

Jack sighed. “Then Robert Halladay came bursting in to whine about something to do with Lily, and then Lily showed up for the same reason.”

Vinny stopped him. “Robert and Lily are even worse than you and Violet. They’re like a sitcom couple people are starting to find annoying because they won’t just up and get to it already.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “What you’re saying is that everyone is following along like we’re all entertainment for you.”

“Well, you are, Jack, only I gotta say, it’s starting to get a little boring. It’s time you spiced up the show a little bit.” Vinny grinned. “Invite me over to dinner. I want to visit with your mom.”

 


inside my head, outside of yours

One of the web places which tracks my every move reminded me of this long two-part essay I wrote four years ago today. I wrote it after reading an article in The Atlantic entitled: "Consider the Coat Hanger." It's a 2000 word piece on the recent history of abortion, worthy of a few minutes' time and attention.

Some of my online friends read what I wrote four years ago, but I'm reproducing it here because I have a sincere desire to see people think outside their own framework, to look at each person they encounter as a fully autonomous individual, and to summon some outwardly focused understanding and compassion.

inside my head, outside of yours, part one
Friday, August 24, 2012


1657 words. If "mild" description of domestic violence is difficult for you, proceed with caution.

I conceived my first child on my 21st birthday. People thought, as people do, "oh, the poor idiot, she didn't know about birth control." Silly people. Of course I did. I spent the next 12 years watching my body work against a variety of contraceptives. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I had a decent job and good health, people who loved me, and I am, let's not equivocate, a very intelligent person. I thought, "I can handle this. Let's do this." It never occurred to me not to, though. There I was, and so there it was.

All around me, my mom's Vineyard Church friends and even the doctor I went to, they whispered things about me, looked at me with shelves of assumptions built into their brains. I cared about that, but mostly I cared about doing it all right, so that's what I focused on. Some of them were angry I didn't automatically give up my child for adoption; what right did I have to this baby when others couldn't have one of their own? That seemed too rude and silly to argue about.

So I had her and the doctor was surprised at how big and healthy and good-looking she was; how she responded instantly to all the little tests, and how well she instantly adapted to life, to me, to her natural food supply.

He believed, make no mistake about it, that I would have ignored all his directives and came up with some scrawny sickly creature from my womb because she had been put there accidentally, and, let's be honest, by someone of a different ethnicity than me.

Young women who conceive a child by a man of a different ethnicity are sluts who live on donuts, cheeseburgers, and, I don't know, my imagination doesn't really work this way, Bartles & James wine coolers. They don't, as I did, eat small healthful meals throughout the day, exercise regularly, abstain from unhealthy habits, or take their vitamins.

And I breastfed her. Well, what was all the milk for, anyway? But wow, was that a decision for the ages back in 1987.

You can tell, can't you? I lived in a bubble even way back then, just living my natural life, unaware of how unnatural nature really is to most people.
 
Let's skip ahead. When my daughter was two and a half, my mother died. In some weird fit of distress, I married the father of my daughter, although we hadn't spent all that much time together over the past months.

Can you guess? I was immediately pregnant again. But this time, something was different. He moved into our apartment, we both had our jobs, and he bought a Sega game system. I won't blame the Sega for our problems. (That's foreshadowing.) I wouldn't know what to blame, to be honest, and don't really care. One day, something or other went wrong, and he knocked me down. I was afraid to get up, so he helped me up, and then because I cowered, he did it again. I went to sleep later that night curled into a ball, afraid of how it would appear at work the next day.

It should add irony and hilarity to the story to tell you that I worked for an evangelist. But it is the truth, and there I was, driving up the interstate with extra makeup on, worried about what I was going to say in the morning prayer circle, and whether I'd have to make up an excuse for looking unwell. I don't know now if anyone noticed.

The evangelist, should I tell you his name? He runs a big church in Johnson County, Kansas now. Of all people, you'd think he'd understand about the failings of humanity, having experienced quite a few of his own, but it was all separate for him by that point, "us who need to save them," and when I tell you he used to joke to the other senior staff that I looked like a witch or a Satanist, well, you can take his measure for yourself if you like.

Back home, as I grew larger and more excited about a little brother or sister for my daughter, the knocking-downs slowly increased. And each time, afterwards, can you guess this one? He'd apologize, swear he'd never do it again, buy me something, cook me a meal, anything for forgiveness. Well, my indiscriminate ability to forgive people is some kind of demented aspect of my character. I can't not forgive, once I've given love. It's easy to write people off who were never in my heart, but once I put them there, I keep them there.

However, I was making plans to leave by the following spring, figuring I just needed to wait until the baby was born and I could get started.

I had the baby in June, got a call from the secretary at the office I worked in, congratulating me and telling me the staff was being cut in half, so I wouldn't be needed anymore, and developed a post-partum infection. But the signs weren't there until we were driving home from the hospital. I felt suddenly unwell, and when we reached home realized I had a high fever. The hospital would only take me back without the baby, so I had to pump milk for her. The in-laws, well, that's a whole other tale too long for this one. They took her for the week I spent in the hospital recovering from the infection.

For the first time since my mother died, I wanted to call on her and say "help me." But life doesn't always allow for that.

When I got home, nursing the baby was difficult, but I was determined to give her as much of myself as I could, so I worked at it. The husband, he played Sega games. He'd wanted a boy. He had five sisters; who could really blame him? Except, you know, that wasn't very mature. Well, none of us were, then.

One day I was sitting in my favorite chair with the baby when the phone rang. Remember when you had to get up and go to where the phone was plugged in and answer it there? I didn't. It would have disturbed the baby. So it rang and rang until my husband came out, calmly answered it, had a brief conversation, and then began to beat me across my head over and over again for interrupting his game. It was the basketball one, by the way. I was shielding the baby and trying to shield my head, and his cousin came in from the room where they were playing and so he stopped.

That husband was a very quiet person, most people thought of him as gentle and genial. He was smart, quick-witted, talented at a number of things, inventive, and often thoughtful. I don't know. I don't have the answer for you. But I had to get away from him, once I was well. I didn't know how to do it. The in-laws were not even to be considered. I had someone from my job willing to help, but the next steps were uncertain.

You know that a woman is not supposed to have sexual intercouse until several weeks after she's given birth. Six or so. I got to wait nearly three before he decided, one night, to do what he thought would fix things between us and force himself on me. Good thing those antibiotics had done their job! He forced me to submit to him, and I had no choice because I knew he'd hit me if I didn't. He thought that we would both be glad and then everything would be okay again. But by this time, having been beaten while I held our newborn baby, I could hardly bear to look at him, much less have him touch me, and I didn't know, maybe few people do, that I could have had him just thrown out of our apartment, which was in my name alone.

I laid there while he tried to "make love," trying not to be sick, doing math, reciting a poem, trying to nod or look up at him when he demanded it. I don't remember much else. My brain is excellent at repression. He said something about us being together for always and everything being fine and I don't know what else. I made myself go to sleep.

The tale of how I got away a week or so later is a different tale than this one, filled with more violence, horror, deception, fear, and all the usual elements that come along with such events. I've never been able to write it, or much talk about it. I escaped with my life and my babies, and have been making friends mostly online nearly ever since. Very few of you know my real name. It's been 22 years and I'm having trouble maintaining composure as I type this.

This was long and guess what? It was just an introduction to what I really want to say. I had two beautiful daughters by that unbalanced man, and knew while I was pregnant with them something of who they'd be, because I knew him, or at least thought I did. They are like my mom in many ways. They're like their paternal grandmother in a few ways. The oldest one looks just a bit like her father, though much, much more beautiful. She has a couple of his best features, blended with my own. The younger one thinks like every eccentric person in my family, which is to say, all of us. She has some mellowing to do, but is coming along fine.

This is the end of part one. I need to breathe into a paper bag or something, then write part two, which will be shorter.

inside my head, outside of yours, part two
Friday, August 24, 2012


Whoops, this is even longer. Five pages, 1900 words. I didn't edit it; ignore tense confusion, where necessary. This is a frank discussion of sex, and, as mildly as possible, the sometimes violent nature that can accompany it.

When I knew I wasn’t going to have any more children, I felt such a sense of relief. When I saw other women pregnant, it was suddenly this alien thing to view, somehow both pleasant and awful. That was when I was in my late 30s, and I was ready for the next stage in life to reveal itself to me.


Oh, but I loved being pregnant. There was the scary time, the even more scary time, the worried-over-money time, the this-is-perfect-timing time, the no-way-how-could-this happen-again time, and the this-will-be-perfect-even-if-I-have-to-slay-the-rest-of-the-world time.


Incredible, right? I love all six of them so much that my skin feels aglow when I think about them. I remember, with each pregnancy, especially when most of the nausea and heartburn had passed, feeling a sense of burgeoning life; I’m not overstating that, feeling such utter joy and honor and an almost mystical sense of responsibility for all Creation.

I remember feeling the first flutters; by the fourth one I was feeling them very early because I knew what to look for, and scouring the books for just the perfect, perfectly meaningful name. I wrote poems to them, talked and sang to them, thought about what they’d look like, whether any of them would have Italian eyes, and how it would feel the first time I put their tiny little warm heads to my breast.

But here is something possibly shocking for you to know about me. Aware that at least one in three pregnancies miscarry by the third month because of one or more mutations within the cell formation or the womb being developed, I do not regard them as people residing within me until they are fetuses. And I do not regard it as my right to "decide" that for anyone else. Consider this; you sprinkle yeast in a cup of warm water, and in a few minutes it will start to grow. Then you can make bread out of it.

I know not everyone agrees with this, but I felt that what I’m about to write would be less honest if I didn’t admit that. Even if you don’t agree, I hope you will read the rest of what I have to say.

I had the honor and privilege of thinking about the people my little balls of cells would become because I knew their fathers intimately, and was in, at least initially with the first two, a safe and secure environment in which they would first experience life. I knew something of their skin tone, their hair color, that they would probably have a large nose and perhaps awkward teeth, that there might be male-pattern baldness in their futures, that in all likelihood they’d be quick-witted and visually or musically creative.

I also knew that from my side of the family there was a risk of a certain form of cancer later in life, and of alcoholism, and from their fathers, a propensity toward high blood pressure.

I knew where we’d all lived, where our ancestors came from, mostly, and what our childhoods had been like. I knew what kind of parents our parents had been, and the sorts of foods we’d grown up eating.

Imagine if I knew very little of that; only my own portion of it. Suppose it was my husband’s large and leering friend who forced himself on me when no one else was around? Perhaps imagine if I was much younger still, and was grabbed by a stranger as I walked home from work; he’d been watching me, perhaps, and knew when it was safe to push his way into me with no one around to stop him?

Or, imagine it had been a few weeks later when my husband forced himself on me, and the generally contraceptive nature of breastfeeding wasn’t working because my daughter hadn’t been breastfed as thoroughly as her sister? In that case, would you blame me for being pregnant again instead of having already made my unemployed escape?

Maybe you would. But you wouldn’t blame me if I became pregnant in one of those other instances, would you?

What would I feel, as 33 hormones accelerated their way through my body, causing low blood sugar nausea, an increased sensitivity to strong odor, perhaps extra hair growth, and the beginning of extra padding around my midsection in preparation for the eventual emergence of human life?

Let’s back up and talk about how I got that way, in complete detail, because this is something many men don’t fully apprehend. We all know that when a woman’s body is prepared to receive a man, fluid is released to make the act easier and more pleasant for both. Do you think about what that feels like to a woman? It’s strange how natural it feels, because when you’re very young, you simply cannot imagine it even being possible. But your temperature has increased, the surface of your skin seems to have more receptors on it, your breathing has changed, and it feels quite as though if the man does not enter you, life will stop working correctly. When he is there, radiating his own warmth and moisture, what you feel is that your body has hold of everything it could ever need in order to be complete. Your desire to take it all in overrides most anything else in your thoughts, at that moment. The hormones which are released to prepare you for this task also prepare your mind for union with another human being. What could be nicer?

I have no experience with same-sex relations. I can’t put myself in the mind of a woman who desires that experience only or also from another woman, and I think it would be insulting to try. But we are considering the usual biological path set before us, and not specifically the romantic desires which help it along.

Those hormones that make it feel so nice usually make us feel nice toward the man who stirred them up. It’s because we invited him to, subtly or overtly. When we’re young, sometimes the aftermath is confusing and worrisome; did I do the right thing? Will he care about me the way I care about him? You know the drill.

Here’s the other thing. We carry him around inside us, whether or not he ejaculated there, for the next several hours, days, or always. When we wash, we are washing a union we helped create.

So. Imagine we didn’t help create it. We scrubbed and scrubbed, but it’s still there, wait, back up.

We weren’t ready to receive him at all. It hurt. And it kept on hurting, even though our body’s natural inclination is to try to catch up and make it work okay. The correct hormones weren’t stirred up, only the ones that accelerate fear. He rubbed us raw, in and out, for minutes, maybe, I don’t know, two or three or more? He might be angry we aren’t ready for him because we are whorish and should be ready for any man and maybe he hits us in his anger. Then our bodies attempt to reject him further, and he’s more determined than ever to push himself inside and be there, for always.

Do rapists wear condoms? What a notion! What has he given us that we might pass on to a child? Herpes, HPV, gonorrhea, AIDS? He pushed his way in, and a tiny part of him will never leave.

Now consider what it would then feel like to know a cluster of cells is forming that might accelerate into human life? Each time we bend over a toilet, we are puking our guts out because of him. Our entire life has been bent in two, and there are people saying that this is too bad; life’s just like that sometimes.

These are sometimes but not limited to, the people who praise their creator for saving their life when all around them, others are coping with the aftermath of some great destruction.

They do not care that our life has been bent in two, and possibly broken. To them, the formation of potential life supersedes the brokenness of one that already existed. More to the point, they have given themselves the right and the power to decide that for others; the measure of a life, who lives and who dies, and the trajectory on which we are sometimes suddenly sent.

When I was 37 years old and the youngest of my six children was four, my life changed again, forever. I became pregnant, and, just like with the last one, almost violently ill, instantly. I was at home with the kids and bedridden, and at first I didn’t know why. Then the nausea ended but my period didn’t come. I was sick and getting sicker. The kids were running around that ancient house all day until their dad got home each afternoon to put things in order.

It took a few weeks and another missed period to figure it out, but there was a dead pregnancy inside me that was not naturally expelled. I had to, well, have it removed. Do you know, the process for that is identical to abortion? At the same time, I had a tubal ligation through laparoscopy. Yes, it took an operation to convince my body to stop rolling its eyes at contraception, that I wasn’t meant to be the population savior of the United States.

I had a wildly violent reaction to the anesthesia, and felt like I might die. There was a 24 hour period in which I think my husband thought I might die. And then I was okay, except that weeks of lying in bed next to what turned out to be a plumbing disaster brought on an asthmatic condition I have now been coping with for ten years.

Because odd circumstances caused me to think about what it would have been like for my family to watch me go through another pregnancy, to watch me bring them yet another child to make a seat for at the table, I have had occasion to think about what it’s like for young women and not-so-young women to nervously pass through the lines that sometimes form in front of places like Planned Parenthood, seeking medical advice, contraceptive advice, pregnancy advice.

Because I have experienced sexual coercion at the hands of someone I once trusted, I have had occasion to think about what it is like for young women and not-so young women to clean themselves up, dab antiseptic cream on their scratches, walk through the day wondering if other people can see it on them, and wonder, hope, pray to Anyone at all that they don’t have a disease, even more of a lifelong sentence than the one they’ll carry with them always, and that more than anything at all, the sperm of a violent stranger has not caused their body to start preparing for new growth.

What if that did happen? What do they do next? Which path will they be allowed to safely take? If they allow a child to grow, will the stranger demand rights to parent it, as he is currently allowed to do in 31 states?

You can't solve it with an arithmetic problem; 1+1=3. And you can't continue to view it as an abstract situation that can be repaired with the distant stroke of a pen. Life is messy and complicated, and sometimes it isn't safe.

 

Four years later, I want to add only that anyone who still thinks it's all simple; just a matter of Not Doing It, or Going Through With It, Arranging Adoption, and Moving On is absolutely not paying attention to our lives here today, our long, long cultural history, our broken-minded health care system, or to how it has all gotten worse in Texas. Let go of your need to be right, and focus on the need we have to make things better for everyone.


August Reflections

In Summer, 1978, we drove to Montreal to see my brother get married, then spent a week driving back through New England. I was 13. Mainly I’ve talked in the past about going to a disco while there and being asked to dance; I was so shy, it was absurd. Also, wherever we stopped on the road trip home, in my dad’s manic fervor to cover as many states as possible, I managed to see Grease something like a half dozen times, though at least a couple were in silent distance from a drive-in theater. I was mildly obsessed with it. At one of our stops we found a sort of photo book of the movie, with a lot of the dialogue and all the song lyrics in it, so I just followed the movie by memorizing the book.

My other story is about the album I came home with, for which I paid $3.99 Canadian. It was Some Girls, by the Rolling Stones, and it had just been released a few weeks earlier. On the radio they were talking about a controversy with the cover, so I went ahead and got one as soon as I saw it. By the time I got home, I learned that cover had been pulled from record shops, replaced with one which had color blocks over some of the faces. But mine was one of  the originals.

So I was really proud of that album, which I aso enjoyed listening to, until about six years later when my mom gave it and my Introducing…the Beatles* album to the garbage collector. If she were alive, I'd probably still bring that up now and then.

*Yes, the first one that was pulled from the shelves due to a dispute with Capitol Records over two of the songs.  One of my other kids found another copy of that for me a few years ago. Beatles
Supposedly there were only 2000 produced in stereo.  So that and Some Girls were linked in my head, somethings out of the ordinary. That guy in the truck knew what he was getting, I expect.

I’ve been having a difficult summer, is the thing here, for various reasons. And today this album showed up in the mail. Somegirls
My son ordered it to cheer me up. He opened it before giving it to me, in case it didn't have the original cover. It is the original cover, first printing; actually apparently there were six versions of it before the inner sleeve was banned...my cover was brighter, but the inner sleeve was the same. I read that's actually the hardest one to find, however, it's a little confusing, and I don't honestly care if it is. The blue and green of this outer sleeve are a little faded, but it's otherwise perfect, and the vinyl is in very good condition. So tonight we’ll listen to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and I’ll think some more on 1978, see what other memories I can conjur from the deep recesses of my aging mind.