The Swap

I lob my heart over to your side of the fence,
play five games of paddle-heart simultaneously,
try to keep busy, wait- wait- wait for you
to toss yours over. You catch the bloody mess
and try to hang on, crimson liquid trickling
down your arm. You observe the irregular
shape, study its pulsing blue veins, wonder,
perhaps, why I pitched it to you in the first place—
was it love? Or was I trying to fool you,
let the form fuse itself to your body, only to
snatch it away because your grip gave me
goose pimples. At one time, I might have said,
Hello-ooo. When the hell do you plan to finish
the swap? But I’ve learned that when I wait,
you surprise me, eventually climb over the fence,
deliver your heart in person, rest it in my hand,
remind me that wonderful things happen when I keep
quiet the beast clawing its way out of my chest.

On Marilyn Monroe and Childhood Sexual Abuse

Fifty four years ago today, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bedroom from an overdose of pills meant to treat her depression. (Her death was ruled a suicide, as you may know.) I remember the first time I saw an image of Marilyn Monroe: it was on the Child of the 50s comedy album by Robert Klein. At the time, I spent many afternoons in the bedroom with my step uncle “Reggie.” We’ll get to that in a minute.

Reggie introduced me to Cheech and Chong, Robert Klein, Aerosmith, and Rush. During one afternoon while listening to Klein, I studied the album cover as he talked about putting a coin in a vending machine and getting a button with the now famous nude image of Marilyn Monroe. (If you look at my featured image, I’m talking about the two identical pictures just off center to the right in the collage.)

After I was made aware of Marilyn Monroe, I started to hear her name all the time and see images of her in cartoons, advertisements, magazines. There was even a pictorial of her in one of my father’s Playboys, which since I’m a child of the free-wheeling 70s, lay right on the coffee table in our living room.

I was struck dumb by the beauty Marilyn possessed. Sure, her hair was bleached and straightened, nose fixed, but even now, looking at the photos of her when she was simply Norma Jean, I found her breathtaking. My favorite film with her, Niagara, is worth a watch.

Fast forward to my early 20s. I had joined the navy after the death of my beloved older brother, left my hometown Binghamton, New York, and was lucky to get stationed at a weather center in Monterey, California. (Not far from Watsonville where Marilyn had once been named Miss Artichoke.) I visited Hollywood, saw Marilyn’s wax figure, and got the chills when I placed both hands in her hand-prints at Mann’s Chinese Theatre. I loved her.

I started reading books about Marilyn, biographies, anthologies, even an autobiography. She’d been abandoned by her birth mother, just like me. I’d never lived in an orphanage, but had a severely abusive stepmother. Marilyn was raped and sexually abused numerous times during her childhood. I’d never been raped, but Reggie started performing oral sex on me when I was four. His sister also molested me. The more I read about Marilyn and her problems with men, I started to wonder about myself–a woman terrified of commitment who eloped at 21 and dumped the guy three months later. In one book, Marilyn is said to have done the same thing in Mexico. (Some folks says it’s not true, but I believe it.)

Marilyn was unfaithful to every husband and lover. I’ve had many struggles with infidelity as well. The current psychology on childhood  sexual abuse tells us this type of behavior is not uncommon–the adult often tries to “work out” or repair what happened to them in the past, and that can lead to repeatedly looking for love in all the wrong places. A very smart writer I met once said, “A kid who’s been sexually abused is the world’s sex object.” The statement is both astute and heartbreaking.

If you’re lucky enough never to have endured sex abuse as a child, it might be difficult to have empathy for people who have. In my life this has been true. I’ve had family members say, “It was experimentation, get over it.” “That’s just an excuse because you were unfaithful.” One callous soul said, “You must have enjoyed it, because you never told your parents.”

Indulge me for a moment if you will. Imagine yourself at four. Or your child at four. (My uncle was 11 when he molested me. Chances are he was molested too, or at the very least exposed to inappropriate behavior.) Reggie bribed me with quarters so I would let him have his way in the bedroom. As I grew older, he gave me record albums or other presents. He said, “Don’t tell your Daddy because he’ll think you’re nasty.” Thank goodness, at age nine, I told him to stop. But the damage had been done.

Over the years, as I learned more about childhood abuse, I grew to feel empathy for Marilyn Monroe. She married for the first time at 16. Although marrying young was not uncommon at the time, I still see it as her getting the hell out of her current situation. In many of the books I’ve read about her, authors describe her as sexually frigid and a woman-child. When I hear “She slept her way to the top,” I prefer to see her not as a soulless woman using sex to get her way, but as a wounded child who believed the promises of men who offered her a better life.

Although I am in my late forties, I am still a hopeful child. Not long ago, I believed the promises of a man, even left my happy marriage. Now, I’m alone and missing my ex-husband and the amazing life we had. I’m grateful for the therapists I’ve had who’ve tried to help me heal from my past. I have a fabulous one now and we’re doing EMDR. It’s not over; and it’s not easy. Today, I wish to say, Rest in peace, Norma Jean. I’ll always be a fan. ❤

 

 

Love is Blind

Love is Blind

When my father met Vickie, a bleach blond
hourglass in a red plaid dress cut across her thighs
and red platform heels, my brother and I
were tucked away like out-of-style clothing.
Vickie was 16, my father 26, and she moved right in,
pranced around in halter-tops, bending to reveal
the quarter-moon of her breast. My father took Vickie
to fancy dinners and movies, while my brother and I
stayed home with babysitters in tie-dyed T-shirts,
who smoked pot, drank Budweiser, touched tongues.
We watched R-rated movies like The Great Texas Dynamite Chase:
heavily made-up women with silky hair, skinny
arms and legs, writhing under the covers on either
side of a spindly man with feathered hair and a mustache.
And Beyond the Door, where the devil impregnates
the woman from Nanny and the Professor. She eats garbage,
throws up green liquid, has a baby with no mouth—
if only that would have happened to Vickie,
whose every other word was “fuck,” insisted we call her Mom,
drove us to her ex-boyfriend’s house, had us wait
in the car while she vanished for an hour doing who
knows what. There was nothing my brother and I could do—
our father, in a leather vest and bell bottoms, zip-up
boots, had his ears turned off, brain shut down,
eyes pecked, sockets cleaned out, leaving two black holes.

Missing My Father

Since You’ve Been Gone

I stand in the kitchen, pour olive oil
into a warm pan on the stove, then garlic,
the aroma rising like yeast, making me
want to call you—as I did during
the decades we lived apart—me
in the navy in California, you at your
hotdog stand in Florida. If you answered
drunk, I’d make an excuse, “Someone’s
at the door,” so I could hang up quick.
But if you were sober, you might tell me
a story: like when you were a kid, riding
beside your buddy in the back of
DiRienzo’s Bakery truck, bringing
bread to the neighborhood folks, your
spaghetti-thin frame, the inhaler
in your jeans pocket, all those loaves
still warm from the oven on the shelves,
you took one and packed it like a snow ball,
and as the driver skidded around
corners, you took bites from the dough.

You’re not there anymore to answer
my call, but I have your recipes, and
your grandchildren, each with your skinny
arms, they sit at my table, pasta filling
their plates, fresh bread in their hands,
they bring the red sauce to their mouths.

Good Grief-What a Month I’m Having!

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t wait to say buh-bye to 2015. It was another year of being single, working my butt off in production more so than writing, and selling the home I had lived in for almost a decade with my former husband and our kids. I spent some time free-lance writing and even submitted work to journals. In April I participated in the poem-a-day movement, and in November, I spent a wonderful weekend with two of my best friends at a writing workshop in Port Townsend. But as Christmas songs played in the dentist office, gas stations and department stores, my optimism fell like a snowflake.

New Year’s Eve was spent with my ten-year-old son Vinny and another best friend, my sister from another mister, Aimee. I’d had a daughter disappointment right before the New Year, which I’d rather not disclose, but believed that 2016 would be a better year! But not long after my holiday vacation ended, I had a personal disappointment. Normally I don’t let life get me down; but when it rains, it pours, and I have lost my umbrella.

Suffice it to say, a blog is a safe space to share. But part of me thinks no one wants to hear my problems. And others tell me that I am the only person who can control my life. I need to make changes. I need to read self-help books. I need to let things go. I need to be honest about my needs. Saying those things and doing them are as different as heat and cold.

And I don’t want to be negative. I want to offer life-affirming tips for dealing with everyday disappointments. But right now, all I have is advice from others. I write to understand my life, so I’ve been working on an “after the divorce” essay and several poems. I’ve been talking to every friend who will listen. I’m sure I’m a real treat.

Last week, after hearing of my so-called disappointments, I turned into a Peanuts character, walking along the street with my head down. While kicking a stone, the toe of my boot stuck to the sidewalk and I fell face-first on the concrete. I cracked the glass on the front of my iPhone and my ego. It was the perfect end to a perfect week.

On a bright note, I finished a book called What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage by Amy Sutherland. What a pleasure it was to read. Sutherland talks about positive reinforcement and rewarding behavior–stuff from psych 101, but with real life examples. She observed aspiring animal trainers that work with predators, ones that can tear arms off or kill people with a bite to the neck.

Basically I learned to ignore bad behavior, a daughter screaming in my face, or a client criticizing my brochure, and reward good behavior: Thank you for picking up your dirty socks, Daughter, and Thank you, Client, for your feedback. I’m writing this in its simplest form, but feel free to check it out yourself. I’m going to reread the book.

My plan moving ahead, and you know I have one, is to dress for success, support, not enable, my daughters, and build character in my son. I will breathe deeply before walking into a difficult situation, smile when I don’t feel like smiling, and write as much as possible. Let’s hope February is a better month.

 

Which Writer Are You?

Recently, I attended the Centrum Writing Workshop in Port Townsend, Washington. Two of my good friends and former graduate school colleagues were also there for the weekend. The three of us shared a cabin, stories, tons of wine, and we laughed so much my stomach hurt Monday morning.

Kami and I were in the same M.A. program at Western Washington University in Bellingham. She writes fiction and poetry, and we are soul sisters. Jordan, who writes poetry, and I were in the same M.F.A. program at University of Idaho, and we know the show Friends line for line and confounded everyone by speaking in quotes from Chandler and Phoebe instead of our own voices.

After spending time reminiscing with my friends, I kept thinking about all the writers we’ve interacted with in our programs and over the years. I threw together this list. It’s all in fun, and I encourage you to add to the list.

The Starstruck Stalker– this writer has met 100 famous writers and can’t wait to tell you when and where. He or she has copious signed books and experiences galore from conferences, dinners, readings and workshops that they will be happy to share regardless of your disinterest. This writer may or may not have one iota of talent.

The Cliche– this writer fulfills the stereotype of a writer as a hot mess. He or she drinks or drugs to excess, is melodramatic, destroys their personal and professional relationships, all the while publishing brilliant works. Everyone puts up with their bullshit because of their genius.

The Trickster– this writer creates obtuse, abstract pieces of work that only he or she understands. And then, when other writers (often in the workshop setting) offer useful feedback, the Trickster says, “Oh. You weren’t supposed to get that. I wanted to trick you.” That’s when this writer says, “Good for you, Trickster. Now go find another workshop.” You suck.

The Enigma– this writer creates interesting and odd pieces that you would never think to write yourself. He or she is flippant, couldn’t care less if their work gets published and so it gets published all the time! You sit at home tearing your hair out wondering why you have a stack of rejection letters lining your bird cage and the Enigma calls and says, “The New Yorker accepted my short story!” You say, “Oh my gosh, congratulations.” And then you turn on the gas stove and stick your head inside.

The Humble Pie Writer– this writer does not call himself or herself a writer. If they teach, they call themselves a teacher. If they work as a postal clerk, they call themselves a clerk. He or she may have a handful or a boatload of publications, even a book or 10, but they don’t buy into the bullshit that comes with being a “Writer.” They love writing, they love words, they love the creative process. They dislike going to high-profile writing events where they might be ignored by self-important writers who look behind them to find someone “more famous” to speak with. These writers are usually talented but down to earth, and love to talk to budding writers.

I know which writer I am. But I will never tell.

If I Had More Time I Might Be a Plumber

What compels the non writer to approach the writer and say things like “I’d write a book, too, if I had more time”? or “I should be a writer, but I don’t have the time.” What a flippant statement. It’s as though all writers work at dream jobs where they make oodles of money for dreaming.

When the plumber visits my home and lies on his back beneath my sink with tools I barely recognize, and twists pipes, pulls out hoses and gets dirty, I don’t say, “I would do that myself, but I’m too busy.”

A good friend of mine was taking a creating writing course as part of his political degree. He’s actually a great writer, especially memoir. He asked me to proofread and edit his personal essay. I was pleasantly envious of his piece called “Redwood Paddle.” He asked, “Why would you ever choose this as your career? It’s so hard.” I laughed, and said, “I didn’t. It chose me.”

Recently, a man I met kept inviting to his house. I said No repeatedly because I’m trying to finish my childhood memoir for a book contest. I told him, Writing is a matter of life and death for me. He said, “I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of life of death for me. I do it for work.” I wanted to say, “No shit.”

Writing is not a matter of life and death for the non writer. I don’t mean to sound snarky or elitist. But whatever your passion, whatever you do to get you through this thing called life–whether it be painting, farming, working with kids, quilting, cooking, social work, nursing, gardening, leather crafting, bead work, etc., Only you understand that love, that drive, that devotion, that calling, and why you desperately need to do it. I’ve been a writer since I was able to put letters on paper. Often I wish I was a plumber. But I just don’t have the time.