March 7 – On Writing Memoir

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition.  The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing Drop Out. My inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnel by William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:

Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.

. . . The reason for this is that making copies of ourselves and setting them in motion in imaginary space is built in to the way minds work. We do it all the time–when we plan for a future event, when we relive the past, when we daydream. (July 13, 1995)

I like the idea that I’m daydreaming myself into existence, that day and night dreams, which can be in opposition, work together to make a creative entity. I’m actually making a fiction in my memoir, just as we all are fictions, walking around. I can’t possibly capture my whole life in these pages, so in making the choices I do and recording them, I’m altering my experience, describing a fictional “I” and transforming my life and my experiences. They are both mine and not mine.

In fact, the act of writing these things and reflecting back on them alters that period, transforms it, just as the moon’s reflection changes what it touches, causing us to see a landscape differently at night than in the day time under the sun’s glare. The moon softens surfaces, embraces them. The sun brings out an object’s hard edges and distances us from it. It makes an object seem farther away than the moon’s light does.

In a way, I’m creating a character named Lily, just as other writers recreate themselves when writing memoir. By organizing our pasts as we do, we eliminate a good deal, including only what fits the page limitation and what we’re willing to reveal. Of course, this is how we give shape to a self anyway, by uncovering/discovering it, bit by bit. All of our personality doesn’t show at any one time. Maybe over a long period, the different parts of ourselves will come forward and be exposed. But we are always selecting, choosing.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulus clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. Her first creative writing instructors, they scudded across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape–one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding, the next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life.

March 2 – Scarcity and Abundance

by Martha Slavin

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The citrusy smell of Meyer lemons fills the kitchen as I slice one after another of our crop of Meyer lemons. As with any fruit/citrus-bearing trees, our Meyer lemon trees produce all at once. How do I make use of such abundance?

I think once again about having a little of something and too much of something and how quickly I stop prizing an abundance. I savor a small quantity of something to make it last. Once I have a lot of something, it no longer seems precious enough to glean every last drop.

This is the week to do something with them before their skins start to go soft. I’ve already given two bags to our house cleaners. I’ve taken a couple of bags to the Urban Farmers (a local organization who will take excess produce), I’ve sliced them for water at Craft Day, squeezed them for a morning drink of water with lemon juice, and stuffed them into whole chickens. I used to make limoncello with the remainder.

We first tasted limoncello, a lemon-infused liqueur, while we were living in Tokyo and frequented an Italian restaurant around the corner from our apartment. As a parting gift at the end of our dinner, the staff would present us with a shot glass of this mellow liqueur.

Limoncello is easy to make, uses lots of lemons, and is good as a gift. I stopped making it though, after the year when I waited too long and the lemons grew soft and dried out sitting on the counter. The limoncello had no flavor. I knew that it was time to let go of making limoncello because what once had been fun had become a chore.

Here’s my recipe for limoncello. Just be sure to use fresh, juicy lemons:

Peel 20 fresh lemons with a vegetable peeler. Use the peeler or a sharp knife to remove the white pith on the inside. Soak peels in 100-proof vodka for about a week at room temperature. Test the peels. If they crack apart, the batch is ready. If they are still flexible, put them back for more soaking. When ready, add three cups of sugar and three cups of water. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Have ready coffee filters and clean glass jars. Strain the mixture through the filters into the jars. Seal, and chill for about a month. Then sample!

I’ve looked for other recipes for lemons, but most of them require only a little juice or a little zest or they are desserts, not enough to support the bags of lemons I have left. Maybe this year I will try limoncello one more time.

Do you have good uses or good recipes for Meyer lemons?

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. She writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

January 27 – The Pity Party – Burning Mouth Syndrome

by Kali’ P. Rourke

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I have been suffering with Burning Mouth Syndrome for nearly six and a half years now. Interested in learning more about this mystery disease?

I would tell you to Google “Burning Mouth Syndrome,” but I know what mess would appear. Mayo Clinic does a fairly good overview at http://mayocl.in/1mRRGuu.

I suspect my burning was caused by dental work, but I may never know the cause. Every once in a while, what my Neurologist euphemistically refers to as “the persistence of it” overwhelms me and I have a brief, but intense pity party.

Instead of focusing on the optimistic side of the coin:

It isn’t fatal
At least it isn’t cancer
My family is supportive
There are drugs that help
I have developed decent coping strategies

I occasionally dip into the pessimistic side:

It hurts nearly every day
The drug helps but makes me drowsy and aimless
There is no rhyme or reason to the good days or the bad days
Even on good days, my tongue tingles all of the time
I think, deep down, I am angry
I fear–It. Will. Never. End.

Recently, I got a new medicine from my neurologist. It is used at a fairly low dose to control errant nerve activity and at much higher doses for patients who are dealing with seizures. Under his direction, I ramped up my dosage gradually to see if I could tolerate it. Side effects included possible lowering of blood sodium, drowsiness and suicidal thoughts.

You would think those things would scare me, but with exception of the sodium levels (which we monitored with blood tests), anything I take has those side effects, and more. They are “old hat” to me now.

Our goal in adding this medicine was to calm the misfiring nerves that cause the burning and tingling sensations in my mouth. If we could get the nerves to rest, it may help with the healing and have the added benefit of symptom relief. I could only hope.

Hope is a powerful thing, probably even more powerful than medicines.

Unfortunately this hope did not pan out, and I have added one more unsuccessful medication to my ever-growing list. I am fortunate to have one medicine that does control the pain to an endurable level and I will keep looking.

And every so often, I will pause, indulge in a brief pity party and then move on.

Kali’ is an avid volunteer, a Mentor with Seedling Foundation, and an Impact Austin philanthropist. In her spare time, she does social media for nonprofits, blogs and is also a singer/songwriter!

January 21 – Where Are My Gloves

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

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“So, what’s with the basket of gloves?” I asked my neighbor upon seeing them sitting by the front door. She has the same missing glove syndrome I have acquired over the years.

As winter approached this year my husband remind me of this disorder, so finally I bit the bullet and made the decision to purchase a brand new pair. The ones I was using, well I’m not sure they were really a pair and they had been lost and found too many times to remember.

Do any of you know just how many designs, colors, shapes that gloves come in these days? I didn’t either. The choices were overwhelming and I did not want to appear to be preparing for a boxing match.

Two black pair caught my eye. They were tried on and off repeatedly. Not too tight, not too loose. That stitching though just might be a bit garish for this Quaker who espouses simplicity. Yes, it will be the plain black pair. These were my very own gloves, not the ones from a previous wife hanging on the back of the pantry door.

I proudly arrived home and announced: “Guess what?”

And before I could finish the sentence I saw on the where-we-lay-everything-shelf in the kitchen a pair of black leather gloves. You guessed it, the exact same color and with no design.

“Where did you get these?” I asked in utter amazement.

“Oh, I stopped at Target on my way home from tennis today and found these for you,” he said.

“But that is where I just bought the same gloves,” I exclaimed.

We have only been married four years but our history of being in and out of each others lives goes back to the 1950’s. It is uncanny how we think alike and end each others thoughts and sentences. So why was I surprised that on the same day we bought the same pair of gloves from a myriad of choices.

Patricia Roop Hollinger is a Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and an ongoing seeker of the “truth”. She married her high school heart throb in 2010 and calls her marriage “the best yet”. She is a musician, voracious reader, and a hopeful writer. Cats make her life complete.

January 15 – iPad Blunder

by Fran Simone

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.”
– Neil Gaiman

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I’m out-of-town visiting my friend, Ted, at a skilled nursing facility. He sleeps. I read a book on my iPad. Hours pass. Ted’s daughter arrives. I wait for her in the lobby where I place my coat and Baggallini tote on a chair. I love that bag. It’s lightweight with multiple compartments, including an iPad slot. Susan joins me and we head out for dinner.

After dinner, I drive to Comfort Inn and grab my suitcase from the car trunk. My bag isn’t there. I search inside the car. No bag. Not a problem. Probably left it in the lobby. I settle in and call the nursing facility, confident it’s there. No bag. Still not a problem. I call the restaurant. No bag. Maybe it fell in the parking lot.

I call Ted’s sitter. “Please double-check the lobby and if my bag isn’t there, then look in the parking lot.” No bag.

Now a problem.

The next morning, I check housekeeping at the nursing facility. No bag. I call customer service at Apple to report a lost or stolen iPad. I learn that I need my Apple ID and password or serial number.

“Well, what if I don’t have either one?”

“Then call the place where you purchased your device for serial number.”

Who carries around the serial number or memorizes their ID and passwords?

I call Best Buy back home to track the serial number. No dice. I need my credit card number.

My iPad was a gift to myself when I retired in 2011. Since then, Bank of America issued me a new credit card, one with a chip.

I call my daughter.

“Calm down, mom, we’ll figure it out.”

She calls back. “Mom, check your Amazon account which lists old credit card numbers.”

I track it down.

Back to Best Buy. They find the purchase order, but don’t keep track of serial numbers.

My daughter calls again. “Mom, I located the serial number.”

I don’t ask how.

Back to Apple.

“We can now resolve your problem but not over the phone. You have to report the loss in the cloud.”

What’s the cloud?

It’s late and I have a six-hour drive ahead of me. Although exhausted when I return home, I locate iCloud and report the loss. My iPad’s locked and can be located. Triumphant I fall into bed.

Next day while unpacking the car, I push aside a blanket in the trunk and uncover my tote bag. I am elated. My iPad is located at my home address. I am embarrassed.

During that frenzied day, I learned to keep track of serial numbers and passwords. More importantly, I learned that loss of an iPad  is small potatoes compared to Ted languishing in a nursing facility. Mistakes happen. No doubt I will make many more this year.

Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus at Marshall University, South Charleston, WV, campus. She directed the West Virginia Writing Project and taught classes and conducted workshops in personal narrative, memoir and creative non-fiction. Her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published last year.

January 5 – The Move

by Letty Watt

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“Sometimes I prayed with every breath that my children would grow up healthy, and sometimes I prayed that we just had enough food to feed five hungry mouths. When we had more than enough I thought it was a miracle.”

My 91-year-old mother-in-law, Alleen, paused. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t pray for a miracle in those years. Oh, Lord! And most of the time He answered.”

“Alleen, sometimes I prayed so hard for Katy and the boys that I was afraid I’d use up all my angel requests but I didn’t always recognize when God answered my prayers,” I replied, as we avoided the subject of her impending move to assisted living at Arbor House.

“But, oh Lord, I’ve prayed at night and prayed at day that the Lord let me stay at home and not have to move. I’ve lived here 60 years. You can’t make me move. This is all I know. I’m healthy. I can take care of myself. Why can’t I stay?”

This conversation we’ve had nearly every day for six months when we turn the discussion to assisted living. Now we are making the move.

“Alleen, I’ve been praying too. . .”

Alleen cut off my words. “But you are praying that I go and I’m praying that I stay. That can’t be good.”

For a while it was quiet between us as we drove to Arbor House and the new apartment that she’d soon call home. Then I began to think about God and how tormented he must be when people pray opposite prayers.

The street light turned red and I turned to her and said: “My experience is that God answers my prayers with his guidance, meaning I don’t always get what I pray for, but I do receive what I need.”

At that moment I was merely praying for strength and love to help her make this move.

At Arbor House I put the car in park and she mournfully turned her head to me and spoke: “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.”

“Alleen, we (all of your children) only want the best for you. You are lonely and scared in your home and are afraid to cook. Please give this a chance. You might really like your new apartment,” I pleaded.

“I don’t see how I can.”

Then she put out her bottom lip and dropped her head in resignation. My heart sank even lower and I asked myself: Whatever have we done?

Letty is a writer by winter and golfer by summer and last year she become a mover. The first move was her daughter, hers came second, her son came third, and before the year ended she moved her mother-in-law to assisted living. She is looking forward to the adventures of 2015 and more stories to tell.

November 24 – Barbara Jeanne

by Nancilynn Saylor

I am the second child,
the second daughter
my older sister who longed
for me announced
to our mother
after only two weeks
You can take her back now!

My older sister told me
I was adopted, “Look around!
No one looks like you.”
I was sure I’d come from
another planet, dropped into
their Catholic midst by Aliens
(who surely would return for me some day!)

My older sister was my first
friend, sometimes we
tormented as only sisters do.
I remember snuggling under the covers
on cold Alaskan nights watching
the lavender and blue-green
Borealis race across the midnight skies.
I remember her strong arms snatching me
by my flannel shirt
from the icy Russian River
where I’d toppled-likely looking
for the glint of gold in the smooth rocks
of the swift moving shallows.

My older sister taught me
to sing harmony-endless summer
days rewinding the Everly Brothers
until our voices sounded perfect.
My older sister taught me
how to do the splits
when my short legs refused
to open. She stood behind me
pushing on my shoulders
forcing me to the ground, then
laughing when I could not get up.

My older sister explained sex,
filling in the parts the nuns left out
adding more than I needed to know.
She found boyfriends for me:
“she has a great sense of humor.”
She was beautiful, I was funny-
I came from aliens after all

Nancilynn 2014

Nancilynn lives and works and writes from Austin, Texas, where she gardens, spends time with Romeo, her son, 7 grandchildren and her 9 great grands. She works as a full time Patient Advocate at a Level 1 Trauma Center.