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By Teri Blair



Lawrence Welk’s Boyhood Home, Strasburg, North Dakota, July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


The Lawrence Welk Show was a Saturday night staple when I was growing up. My favorite acts were Cissy and Bobby, tap-dancing Arthur Duncan, and the guy on clarinet with big glasses. I didn’t pay much attention to the show’s host, though I wondered about his accent. I had a vague sense he came from the state just west of mine, but he mainly seemed tan and Hollywood and Californian. Not like the people I knew.

I’d seen his birthplace marked on my North Dakota map for years, and then one day, just like that, my mom and I decided to go. We checked out library copies of Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk. Mom read it first and told me she couldn’t put it down. I figured that was because she still watched his reruns on public television. Then I started reading it, and I couldn’t put it down either. That’s when I found out Lawrence Welk wasn’t just a tan and smiling Hollywood face. Far from it.

We took two-lane roads to get to Strasburg, ones where you can tell where you’re heading. Mom reread the first chapter out loud to us, the one about Lawrence’s childhood in North Dakota and his passion to play music and get off the farm. We wanted everything fresh in our minds.

Lawrence was born in North Dakota in 1903, one of eight children of immigrant parents. The ten of them lived in a tiny sod house, milked cows, and spoke German. Lawrence had four years of schooling before he begged his parents to let him quit. Since he knew how to read and write, they let him. A farmer wouldn’t need more than that, they figured. But Lawrence’s father had carried an accordion all the way from Europe, and that one musical box lit a fire under the third Welk son. He had an affinity for music, an insatiable appetite for chords and melodies and rhythm. He tinkered with homemade instruments, and learned everything his father would teach him about music.

Though his family assumed his future as a North Dakota farmer, Lawrence knew he had to live a different life. He didn’t know how he could, only that he must. Then when he was 11 his appendix burst. By the time his parents found someone with a car and he was driven to the hospital in Bismarck, he was almost dead. He lived on the edge of life and death while his poisoned blood was treated. Though only a child, he determined if he survived he would make his living as a musician. No matter what.

He spent the rest of his childhood hiring himself out to play accordion at every event he could find around Strasburg. Every nickel he made went to pay off the $400 accordion he bought through a mail-order catalog. A deep satisfaction stirred in him to watch the joy his playing brought to people, an intrinsic reward that would fuel him for decades.

The View From Lawrence Welk’s Bedroom, Strasburg, North Dakota,
July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When he left the farm on his 21st birthday, his father predicted his ruin as a musician. He told Lawrence he’d be back in six weeks looking for a meal. What followed were years of small gains and huge setbacks—trying to find work as a musician during The Depression wasn’t easy. Lawrence often went hungry. One time his band quit on him, embarrassed by his broken English and the way he tapped his toe to find the beat. He was naïve and trusting, taken advantage of more than once. He had to start over again and again with nothing but his accordion. But his internal compass was undeniable. His wife said years later that he was like a cork. When one plan failed, he’d be momentarily submerged before he’d pop up in a different place with a new strategy. By the time he landed the television program, he had paid his dues and then some. He had already spent 30 years on the road playing ballrooms.

After our tour of the homestead, I slow-walked around Lawrence’s childhood farm. I stood in the places he talked about in the book: the spot by the barn where he asked his dad for the $400 loan, the upstairs loft where his appendix burst, the tiny living room where he listened to polka music. I went to Mass on Sunday at the German Catholic church and sat where he had. I looked at the stained glass windows, the same ones Lawrence had looked at when he was a little German boy. He didn’t know how his story would end, but sitting there, I did.

Lawrence knew who he was, who he wasn’t, and he stuck with himself. And from that, I take great inspiration. By the time of his death in 1992, he had had the longest-running television program in history, and had helped launch the careers of dozens of musicians.

What is possible when we don’t deny our true selves?




_________________________




About Teri: Teri Blair is a writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first piece for red Ravine, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Since then, she has written Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group, Discovering The Big Read, a piece about the largest reading program in American history, and Does Poetry Matter?, an essay about the Great American Think-Off.

Earlier this year, Teri was a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center in the heart of the Green Mountains. She finds inspiration on the road. Her writing pilgrimage to the Amherst, Massachusetts home of poet Emily Dickinson inspired the essay, Emily’s Freedom. At the end of September, Teri will be flying into Atlanta, Georgia to embark on her latest writing adventure — a two-week road trip in a compact Cruise America rolling along the Southern Literary Trail.


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Labyrinth Mandala At The Aquarius Full Moon – 30/52, based on a Yantra from 18th Century India, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 30, July 25th, 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Medium: Drawn by hand with a black Staedtler archival pigment ink Fineliner on Canson Mix Media XL Series 98lb drawing paper. Colored & collaged with Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Water Soluble Wax Crayons, Sharpie Medium Point Oil-Based Opaque Paint Markers, Sharpie Fine Point Marker, archival photo corners. Photograph taken with a Samsung DROID.


I am sitting still with the Full August Moon at my back. She is high in the sky and refuses to yield to darkness for the the annual Perseid meteor shower. I am undaunted. I know the light from these stars, guessed to be fragments of Swift’s Comet from 1862, will shoot across the heavens, even if I can’t see them in the night sky. As above, so below.

Aquarius the Waterbearer seems like a good sign for a Full Moon (progressive and objective with a crystal clear antenna-like reception of universal intelligence). When I opened the Boundary Waters calendar I bought at the LilyPad Picnic this year, it said that the August Moon was called Miinike-Giizis by the Ojibway — the BlueBerry Moon. The August Full Moon is also known as the Drying Up Moon, the Grain Moon, the Green Corn Moon, and the Yellow Flower Moon, depending on what part of the world you may live.

The Sabbats Almanac claims that the seasonal Lammas Full Moon in Aquarius reflects back to us our relationship with the collective. It is a good time to focus on community, groups, and our hopes and wishes for the future. Aquarius is also the sign of the rebel or iconoclast, so themes may arise that focus attention on unusual issues or people. At the individual level, it’s an auspicious time to notice what we have to offer to our communities and what we might release in order to fully participate.


Two good questions to ask at this time:

1) How do we allow our own need for space and independence
to not hold us back from connecting more with the group?

2) What can we do to create more space and independence
for ourselves so we aren't sacrificing too much of our
individuality for the sake of the collective?


The Full Moon shines the light of awareness on the answers and helps us to understand patterns and dynamics that we may need to release during the dark Moon cycle to come. To celebrate the individual within the group, it is a time to show gratitude for the qualities that each member brings to the table. How does each person in your community shine? Maybe they have a generous heart, excellent communication skills, clear boundaries, or a good sense of humor. Tell them in an email. Call them and leave a voice mail. Mail them a card. The three-day window around the Full Aquarian Moon creates space to show gratitude for the intricate pieces that make up the circle’s whole.

Circles within circles. I created this mandala last weekend after a full and busy month of July. Some days were filled with joy; others pushed me to the limit. All are necessary to grow beyond who I am. I have been studying the circle archetypes of the labyrinth and the mandala for years. A few weeks ago, Liz bought me a birthday present, a book of Sacred Symbols edited by Robert Adkinson. I was immediately drawn to the chapter on the Mysteries and a mandala from 18th century India, a Yantra for the cosmic form Vishnu.  The script around the circle is from the Dhammapada and states:




In the light of her vision
she has found her freedom:
her thoughts are peace,
her words are peace,
and her work is peace.




Peace. It’s right there, yet just beyond our reach. On a final note, if you follow skylore, there is a tidbit about Perseus at EarthSky: the Perseid shower commemorates the time when the god Zeus visited the mortal maiden Danae in the form of a shower of gold. Zeus and Danae became the parents of Perseus the Hero – from whose constellation the Perseid meteors radiate. Perseus, you are beyond sky worthy, a flying, not fallen hero — I’m counting on you.



-posted on red Ravine at the Full August Blueberry Moon, Saturday, August 13th, 2011, with gratitude to Lotus for her labyrinthian inspiration

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

Labyrinth Mandala At The Aquarius Full Moon (Detail) -related to posts: Ears Still To The Lonely Wind — Mandala For RabbitFlying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise, ode to a crab (haiku & mandala), Eye Of The Dragon Tattoo

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By Teri Blair



The Poets, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2011, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On June 11, 2011, four people will stand on a stage in rural America to debate one question: Does poetry matter?


19 years ago, a man named John Davis started an amateur philosophy contest called the Great American Think-Off. He wanted to give ordinary people a chance to voice their opinions on serious issues. Each year a question is announced in January. People have three months to submit a 750-word essay speaking in favor or opposition to the topic. Four finalists are selected to debate their views before a live audience, an audience who determines the winner. Each of the four receive a $500 cash prize, travel expenses, a medal, and the winner is declared “America’s Greatest Thinker.” John’s two-decade-old idea has flourished. In 2010 (Do the rich have an obligation to the poor?) there were hundreds of entries representing nearly every state.


I was barely awake on January 1st when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer announced this year’s question. I was listening to my bedside clock radio when I heard her say Does poetry matter? My eyes opened in a shot.

I’ve spent a lot of time since that day thinking about the question. Before I started a poetry group, poems didn’t matter that much to me. I admired poets, was in awe of poetry, but it wasn’t until I started reading poetry in earnest that it began to penetrate my life in any meaningful way.

Emily Dickinson, April 2011, photo © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

Now I see poetry everywhere: imprinted on the sidewalks of St. Paul, recited in films like Invictus, and incorporated into presidential inaugurations. Poetry distills events of our common human experience into a few words. I’m informed, assured I’m not alone, and given direction. I’ve read Bill Holm’s “Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back” dozens of times since my dad died. It gives me permission to set down the pressure to do something about death. I’ve committed May Sarton’s “Now I Become Myself” to memory, saying it over and over as I swim laps at the YWCA, continually calling myself to authenticity.

I knew the day I heard the question that I’d enter the contest. Not to win, but to document what happened in our poetry group. The words fell onto the page, and I felt closure for the group that had been so hard to disband the previous year.

On May 1st I’ll find out if I’m one of the four finalists. I hope I’m chosen, and I really hope I’m not. I want to share what my poetry group discovered, and can’t stand the thought of standing on a stage trying to think on my feet. I wasn’t on the high school debate team for good reason.


I want to hear from you: Does poetry matter? If it doesn’t, were you subjected to obscure passages in high school English class that left you with a bad taste in your mouth? Does poetry seem a lofty and inaccessible pursuit for snobs?

If poetry does matter to you, how come? Do you have a favorite poet?

Whether I’m nervous on the stage (or at ease in the audience), I plan to be at the Think-Off on June 11th. Maybe I’ll see you there.


To read more about the Great American Think-Off: www.think-off.org.



Ted Kooser’s Studio, Dwight, Nebraska (pop. 259), January 2010,
all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


________________________________


About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time . In March 2010, she wrote Discovering The Big Read , a piece about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri spent February 2011 with visiting writers and artists at the Vermont Studio Center, walking, writing, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains. Her last piece for red Ravine, Emily’s Freedom, is a photo essay about what she learned on a writing pilgrimage to Amherst, Massachusetts to visit the home of poet Emily Dickinson.

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Web & Dew: The Space Between, BlackBerry Shots, July 2010, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Over 90 inches of snow have disappeared from our lawn in temperatures that reach the 50’s by day, drop down to freezing at night. Winter is dying a slow death. Seasons change, transitions in temperament and landscape. The snowmelt runs into rivers and streams, the salt leaves potholes. But soon, tiny shoots of emerald will erupt through the dank, dead, chestnut grass. Winter must die to usher in Spring.

There is power in recognizing impending death. I remember the year my mother told me that when her time came, she was ready to die. We were visiting the South, walking down the cemetery hill from my grandmother’s grave in Georgia. I burst out crying; she hugged me and held me close. I thought the tears inside would never stop. “Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Frankenbelly 3's Birthday - 321/365 Last year, my brother nearly died, before receiving a liver transplant at the 11th hour. It’s an experience that pulled our family together, one we share with countless others. If a person who loses their spouse is a widow, what’s the name for a child who loses a parent? Or a parent who loses a child? There should be a formal naming. For children, it should not be the word “orphan.” That implies that you never held the person close, lived with or loved your parent. There should be another word.

I think of what it must be like to be the one left behind. When I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates in Minneapolis at Talk of the Stacks last week, I bought her new memoir, A Widow’s Story. Her husband Raymond died unexpectedly late one winter night in 2008; the next morning Joyce was supposed to have gone to the hospital, picked him up, and brought him home to recover. It’s the story of loss, grief, and pain; of giant gift baskets, grieving cats, and mounds of trash; of how no one really understood. Yet in the end, she realized that everyone understood. Because Death is a universal experience. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore or know how to incorporate it into our lives.

Porkys Since 1953 There is more to Death than the loss of loved ones. Sometimes whole cultures die, like the Anasazi who inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, and then disappeared. Cultural traditions die, too, like Porky’s Drive-In in St. Paul. It was owned by the same family since 1953, and closed its doors last Sunday, April 3rd, 2011. Animals die, and it is certain that we will probably outlive many of our beloved pets (our cat Chaco died a few years ago, June 25th, 2009).

Groups we are in community with have life spans, too. Circles of intimacy change and grow; sometimes we end up leaving people behind. Or they leave us. During one session of a year-long Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, one of the participants was killed in a car crash. The group was stunned. These were people we thought we would sit and write with for an entire year. It was not to be. I remember we chanted the Heart Sutra. I remember finding comfort in the ritual.

Cemetery Fog At Workmens Circle - 70/365 Ah, I feel a heaviness this Spring. But it’s a collective heaviness. Like something is shifting in the Universe. There’s too much going on in the world, too many catastrophes, too many unexpected deaths, too many aging and dying people, too many widows and widowers, for there not to be something going on at the Spiritual level. But that’s just my belief. I know there are people who say this occurred at every period in history. But there are certain paradigm shifts that happen and change the planet as a whole. We can either learn our lessons and get on board the train that moves forward. Or stay stuck in the past, not doing the work that’s required of us.

It’s the New Moon. New beginnings. There is value in what has come before, in the history we have with other people we were close to at one time. It’s good to honor and remember. All of that follows us, and I believe we transform it. All energy is creative energy. Even the energy of Death. It cycles back around into new life. Death can be a release of suffering. It also creates a giant abyss of loss. Maybe we’d be wise to befriend the Grim Reaper. Maybe it is others who are dying or have passed over who teach us the courage and strength to face our own death. Maybe the space between death and dying…is life.


_______________________


Transitions - Catch & Release Though many of our ancestors accepted and honored the process of Death through rituals, sitting, slowing down, it feels like our fast-paced modern world doesn’t know how to stop moving, how to have a conversation about death and dying, or where to put it in the flow of our day-to-day lives. It makes for a good Writing Topic, a good topic for discussion on red Ravine. Why can’t we talk face to face about death? Maybe it’s easier to write about it.

Take out a fast writing pen and notebook, or fire up your computer and write Death & Dying at the top of your page. Then 15 minutes, Go! Or do a Writing Practice on everything you know about any aspect of death and dying. Please feel free to share any insights in the comments below.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. Parts of the piece were taken from several Writing Practices written last weekend, April 2nd & 3rd.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS, Reflection — Through The Looking Glass, Make Positive Effort For The Good, The Uses Of Sorrow — What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, and a great interview with Joyce Carol Oates on MPR Midmorning with Kerri Miller – A Widow’s Story — The Story Of Joyce Carol Oates

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by Teri Blair



Home of Emily Dickinson, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On October 30th, 2010, I stood in a room I had wanted to be in for years. It had a bed, a desk, a dresser, a lantern, a basket, and huge windows. From this second story perch Emily Dickinson composed her wonderful, strange, profound poetry.

IMG_0656 window

Emily was born in the same house where she died. And with the exception of a few trips and a little schooling, she never ventured from her hometown. Ever. She lived for 55 years, becoming increasingly reclusive the older she got. She published seven poems under pseudonyms while she was alive, poetry that went practically unnoticed. It wasn’t until she died that the big discovery was made. Emily’s sister was cleaning out her bedroom dresser and found nearly 1800 poems in the bottom drawer. They were written in handmade booklets and on scraps of paper.

Four years after her death, Emily’s first volume of poetry came out and she was famous. Now, 124 years later, she is considered one of the most influential American poets; her work has never been out of print.


IMG_0658 ANNA

I drove to Amherst, Massachusetts with my niece, Anna. We pulled up to Emily’s house on Main Street, an impressive yellow brick surrounded on two sides by massive gardens. The moment we stepped onto this National Historic Site, I was looking for clues of how Emily did it. Was she simply brilliant, or was there some evidence of influence? Our tour guide told us that as soon as Emily’s first book came out, speculation about her largely private life began, speculation that has never stopped.

They honor Emily by sticking with the facts, only the things that are authenticated. I am compelled to do the same, simply observing some habits that made up part of her writing life.





A Period of Woolgathering


When Emily was 10, her family moved temporarily to a different house in Amherst. Her bedroom faced the town graveyard, and during those next impressionable years, she watched hundreds of horse-drawn funeral processions.

When she was 19, her father gave her a puppy she named Carlo. For the sixteen years of her dog’s life, they explored the woods and fields of Amherst together. Emily made extensive collections from what she found outside on these long hikes.

Contemplating death and observations of nature run heavily through Emily’s poetry.


IMG_0651 porch


Writing Practices


Emily was a voracious reader. Her family received daily newspapers and several magazines, all of which Emily read cover-to-cover. She read poets; Keats and Browning were two of her favorites.

She wrote at night by lamplight. Moonlight walkers consistently saw a light burning in Emily’s window. They didn’t know what she was doing. Though there were virtually no external rewards for her work, she kept writing. An internal force propelled her.


Simplicity


Emily’s life was very simple; there were few distractions.

She had only a handful of family and friends, and kept in touch with most of them through letter writing.

She baked. She read. She wandered through her gardens. She lowered baskets of gingerbread to her nephews and niece from her window. And at night…she wrote in her bedroom by lamplight.


♦     ♦     ♦


After the 90-minute tour, we were allowed to wander through the house alone at our own pace. Anna and I both gravitated back to Emily’s room. We sat on the floor, stood by the windows; we looked at each other across the room.

Can you believe we’re standing here, I asked Anna. She smiled and shook her head no. We kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads because we knew. There was nothing more to say; and we could both feel the pulse of what had happened within those four walls.


IMG_0654 From The Garden Large

View of Emily’s From The Garden, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When Emily died, the funeral was held in the library of her house. At her request, six Irish immigrants carried her casket from the house to her grave. She asked her sister to burn the thousands of letters she had amassed.

But she didn’t say a word about the poems in the bottom drawer.

Emily’s brother and his family lived in the house on the far edge of her garden. One time Emily’s niece, Martha, came into her room with her, and Emily pretended to lock the door so no one could get in.  She looked around the room—at the writing desk, lamp, and paper. “Martha,” she said, “this is freedom.”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.


-Emily Dickinson c. 1861 from The Pocket Emily Dickinson,
Edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Publications, 2009.



IMG_0670 in memoriam



About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

 

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and wrote a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Her last piece for red Ravine, Discovering The Big Read, is about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri will be spending the month of February at the Vermont Studio Center, writing, walking, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains.

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Centipede Dreams, scar from a benign tumor taken out when I was 12 (37 years ago), September 2010, photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Most people no longer ask about the large blemish I have in the center of my throat, down where my larynx meets my chest. It’s a tracheotomy scar that must be getting lighter the longer I have it. When I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for perfect strangers to approach me in public places and ask, “What happened there?”

I had the tracheotomy at age 18 months after a croup turned to pneumonia. It was an emergency operation, part of my childhood mythology, the small Mexican doctor with wild hair who stabbed open a hole in my trachea so I could breathe. She had a frantic look in her eye, her hair loose and Bride-of-Frankenstein-like, and she held the sharp instrument up in the air before bringing it down to pierce my throat.

That’s the image I hold of her anyway, an image formed out of the seemingly hundreds of times I heard my parents tell the story. It was the kind of improbable drama — the dying child whose life is saved by a small doctor who is both Mexican and a woman — with a happy ending that held friends and relatives rapt year after year. I loved the attention, standing near my parents, Mom nudging me to lift my chin so everyone could see the scar. A few gentle strokes of her fingers on the chamois-soft skin, rubbing as if to say, “See, it’s permanent.”

In each telling I embellished the imagery. When my parents described the moment they decided to rush me to the hospital, how my lips had turned blue and I’d stopped breathing, my mind’s eye pictured the veins and blood from my body shimmering purple through translucent skin. Or when Mom and Dad said that my hair went from straight to curly “just like that” as I lay in the oxygen tent in ICU, I saw it happening as if in time lapse photography. Like the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the West curling after Dorothy removes the ruby slippers, so went my hair, forming into tiny ringlets all over my head.

It must be natural, I think, for a young kid to turn her childhood stories into morbid scenes, but what strikes me is how much staying power those scenes have. I don’t replace them with more reasonable pictures — a modest Mexican woman with hair pulled back in a bun, a ride on the gurney into a stark emergency room at the hospital. No, my scenes involve my parents bursting through a set of double doors, my limp blue body draped across Dad’s arms, them watching in horror as the doctor plunges a knife — or better, a pair of sharp scissors — into my throat. Or my parents watching in awe as my hair springs up in a bouquet of curl all around my head, like an angel’s.

I don’t have such vivid imagery when it comes to the scar on my knee, although being that I got it at the impressionable age of 12, I did manage to fabricate a mythology around that one, too. I developed a crush on the orthopedic surgeon who did the procedure — my parents said he looked like a hippie, which made him all the more intriguing. In my mind, his golden hair flows out from under a light blue surgeon’s cap and he dons a small silver hoop in his ear. I clearly recall him coming to visit me after the operation, carrying the kind of Bell jar used for canning fruit. Inside is my white globular tumor floating in a yellowish brine. I’m surprised it isn’t perfectly round, like a golf ball.

The scar from that procedure resembles a centipede on the inside of my right knee, and once after a real centipede crawled across my leg while I played hide-and-seek in the coat closet, I decided to tell any kid who asked me how I got the scar that it was left there by a centipede that seared itself into my skin. “That’s how centipedes bite,” I told them, “they burn themselves right into you.”

Kids looked at me with respect after that, but my story fell apart once they began asking all the questions that come with the idea of centipede-as-branding-iron. “What happened to the centipede?” “Well, it dried up and fell off,” I said one time, and then another time, “It dissolved right into the skin, see?, you can still see parts of it here.” Soon I became tired of the technicality of it all, I couldn’t keep the story straight and over time I left behind the centipede saga and kept only the image of my long-haired doctor.

My latest epic scar involves two puncture wounds on the outer bridge of my nose, close to my eyes, that our rooster Lindo gave me when he tried blinding me with his spurs. Lindo and I shared a mutual animosity, he was a beautiful cocky bird who had such an intense hatred that the moment he spied me coming out the door he would strut my way with the intent to fight. I took to carrying a bundle of dried bamboo stalks, which I used to whack him as I made my way to whatever part of the yard I needed to go. He’d come after me again and again until my stalks splintered into pieces, at which point I took off at a full out run.

Ultimately he got the better of me, one evening when I let down my guard. I had gone armed only with a bowl of compost into the bird pen. I bent down to throw a piece of lettuce to the bunny who lived there with the roosters, turkeys, and ducks, and Lindo saw his opening. He flew up at my face, spurs aimed at my eyes. He almost got them, too, and I’m not embellishing when I say that I traumatized my youngest daughter when I stood up screaming, blood streaming like tears down my cheeks.

The strange thing is that no one notices the scars unless I point them out. One time, at a luncheon in China, I sat next to a German man who had the exact same two puncture wound scars near his eyes. All through lunch, I wanted to ask if he, too, had been attacked by a rooster. But I barely knew the man. I tried to imagine every other possible reason he might have carried scars identical to mine. Maybe he’d suffered terrible acne that resulted in two pimples near his eyes. Or perhaps as a teen he wore black leather and sported a purple Mohawk and a piece of bone pierced through the bridge of his nose.

In the end, I couldn’t think of a way to broach the subject without embarrassing us both or drawing attention from the six other European men at the table. However, in my mind, I am certain that the very thing that happened to me also happened to him. Anything is possible.


________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Postscript: This essay is based on a 15-minute Writing Practice in response to WRITING TOPIC – SCARS. The details that emerged from my Writing Practice were similar to other times when I’ve done timed writing that led to stories about my tracheotomy (specifically here and here) so I figured it was time to polish the narrative. Plus, since it contains important elements of my life story, especially my earliest years, I wanted to go with the energy, hoping it might turn into something I can weave later into memoir.

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Most people no longer recognize the patch I have in the center of my throat, down where my larynx meets my chest. It is a tracheotomy scar that must be getting lighter the longer I have it. When I was a kid, it was not uncommon for a perfect stranger would approach me in some store where I was buying sunflower seeds or Jolly Rancher apple sticks and ask, What happened there?

I had the tracheotomy at age 18 months after a respiratory virus turned to pneumonia. It was an emergency operation, part of my childhood mythology, the small Mexican doctor with wild hair who stabbed open the hole in my trachea so I wouldn’t die. She had a frantic look in her eye, her hair loose and Bride-of-Frankenstein-like, and she held the sharp instrument up in the air before bringing it down to pierce my throat.

That is the image that came out of those many times I heard my parents tell the story, it was the kind of story they would repeat to relatives and friends, even after we’d heard it for years, and in each telling I would embellish the imagery. Just like when they said that in the oxygen tent in the ICU, where I stayed for days afterward, my hair went from straight to curly, just like that and I can see it happening, in time lapse photography. Like the stocking feet of the Wicked Witch of the West curling and shrinking away under the house after Dorothy removes the ruby slippers, so goes my hair, forming into tiny ringlets all over my head.

It must be natural, I think, for a young kid to turn their childhood stories into morbid scenes, but what strikes me is how much those scenes have stuck with me through the years. I don’t replace them with more reasonable pictures, a modest Mexican woman with hair pulled back in a bun, a ride on the gurney into a stark but clean emergency room at the hospital. No, my scenes involve my parents watching on in horror as they see the doctor plunge the knife into my throat, or watching in awe as my hair springs up in a bouquet of curl all around my head, like an angel’s.

The scar on my knee came at an impressionable age, around 12 years old, and I fabricated a mythology around that one, too. I developed a huge crush on the orthopedic surgeon who did the procedure, my folks said he looked like a hippie, which made him all the more intriguing. Even though this seems unlikely, I clearly recall him coming to visit me after the operation, carrying the kind of Bell jar used for canning fruit, and inside was my white globular tumor floating in a yellowish liquid.

The scar from that procedure resembles a centipede crawling on the inside of my right knee, and once after a real centipede zipped across my leg while I was playing hide-and-seek in the coat closet, I decided to tell any kid who asked me how I got the scar on my knee that it was left there by a centipede that burned itself into my skin. That’s how centipedes bite, I told them, they sear themselves right into you.

Kids looked at me with respect after that, but my story fell apart once they began to ask all the questions that came with the idea of centipede-as-branding-iron. What happened to the centipede itself? It dried up and fell off, I said one time, and then another time, It dissolved right into the skin, see, you can still see parts of it here. Soon I became tired of the technicality of it all, I couldn’t keep the story going and over time I left behind the centipede and kept only the image of my long-haired doctor.

I have two puncture wounds on the outer bridge of my nose, close to my eyes, that our rooster Lindo gave me when he tried blinding me with his spurs. One time, at a luncheon in China, I sat next to a German man who had the exact same two puncture wounds near his eyes. All through lunch, I kept wanting to ask him if he, too, had been attacked by a rooster, but I couldn’t think of a way to broach the subject without coming off sounding like a whacked out American.

Now, in my mind, I am certain that the same thing that happened to me happened to him. Anything is possible.




-Related to Topic post WRITING TOPIC – SCARS and Guest practice, PRACTICE – SCARS – 15min by Louis Robertson

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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