The Art of Not Censoring Oneself

I found the following post in the DRAFT department of my wordpress site. I didn’t publish it because I thought it wasn’t interesting enough, exciting enough? But thinking about it now, this experience was important to me. That’s what’s key- not second guessing what someone else may think. As I say later in this essay, it’s about trusting one’s intuitive voice. Enough of this self censoring…

The following is an essay I wrote up from a 25 minute writing prompt from from my class at Fishtrap Writing Conference in E. Oregon last summer. The prompt was something like write about a risk you took that changed you. This experience popped up in my mind so I ran with it…

TOTEM

In the photograph, I am standing by a 4-foot totem of raw clay that is constructed around a young tree.  I am sporting a broad smile with a coworker.  In another photo were several children deep in the process of constructing it.  The totem was the finished project I was assigned as a parent volunteer at my son’s 5th-grade outdoor school camp.  I signed up for the art station since I was a practicing artist.  Not only did I want my students to experience creative magic in this cathedral of Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock, I wanted them to honor the revered creatures of the indigenous people who once occupied this land. 

This project was new to me – but my intuition beckoned me to it like a faerie whispering in my ear. I quieted the fears of all the potential pitfalls and risks and decided to proceed despite them. In preparation, I brought 50 pounds of clay the color of a threatening sky.  For details, I had blue, red, and gold paint in 2 oz. bottles, some small paint brushes, and a handful of large, colorful plastic beads.  The rest of the materials we would gather from what the forest offered.

Each group of 4-5 students had been assigned to a clan for the duration of camp; beaver, porcupine, salmon, crab, raven, squirrel, and eagle.  I had selected a perfect juvenile western hemlock standing straight in a small clearing for our blank canvas.  As each clan of boys and girls arrived at the site for their session we spoke of their totem animal.  What did they know about it?  Why did the Native Americans celebrate it? What was the purpose of totems for coastal native Americans?

To construct their totem animal I explained they were free to use all the clay and tools provided but the rest they would need to gather from the surrounding environment. I spoke about the cooperative process. They were to recognize what each clan member had to offer.  I opened the first rectangular block of clay, cut it into pieces, and let the students begin allowing them to organize themselves as they saw fit.

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The Art of the Obituary

In September of this year, I took up the task of writing my mother’s obituary.  She passed away on June 28 from complications due to advanced Alzheimer’s at the age of 94. Previously I had never written an obituary .

An obituary announces the passing of a person’s death as a public notice in a newspaper, church bulletin, or the like.  Usually, there is a brief biography and a photo, but everything else is up to the writer’s interpretation.  An obituary can be solemn, funny, traditional, or even in poetic form.  Writing Mom’s obituary begged the question ”What should be said about a loved one when they pass?”  What was their essence? What was their legacy?

I didn’t like the idea of writing the 3rd person like a detached narrator so I made it clear this was from the viewpoint of her surviving adult children.  I had to keep in mind that obituaries can be very expensive in major newspapers.  Ultimately, my mother’s average-sized obituary at approximately 1000 words cost over $1000 in the San Fransico Chronicle for one run.  Her local paper for the same obituary cost $300 with 4 courtesy copies thrown in with the deal. (non were included with the Chronicle). So yes, a lot of money but hey, you only die once and everyone deserves memorialization. In most cases, like in my mother’s, the deceased estate covers it.

It was therapeutic for me, the author, to cut through all my mother’s foibles as we had our differences and honor her- her accomplishments and her legacy, I also decided to mention some of her hardships growing up. Hardship is a pivotal force in a person’s life.  I could see how her challenges as a child reflected in her parenting.  In her last years with her memory loss, all that friction washed away like dust in the first rain of fall. It was an honor to summarize her life for all to see.

As for the picture?  Rather than one from her youth, I chose one that was taken on her 80th birthday looking radiant with the celebration. 

Having written my mother’s obituary, I wonder about my own.  What would be written when all is said and done?  I have considered writing my own and leaving it in my will giving me some authorship.  I should include such things as

She liked to start her day with a steaming up of tea in her hand sitting up in bed with her pens & journal with a clear view of the bird feeder.

Felt complete with a dog and or a cat at her side

Liked to take adventures in the wilds, as well as  in art, writing, and music

I’d like the picture of me taken by my friend Deb we were out on the Zumwalt Prairie in 2021. Then I would choose one of my doodles to be included.

Now I may be tasked with writing my step-daughter, Heather who recently passed.  For this, I would solicit the help of her many friends to contribute their thoughts for a young woman who lived very large for her 38 years.  This is a challenge I would be honored to take up.

As I think of the many people that have passed from my life this year, I also think of the other beings, favorite trees, dogs, cats, and the like that have crossed the rainbow bridge that I could memorialize.  They certainly are deserving of an obituary as well, at least in my personal writing.  I’m inspired by this worthy genre.

Two good friends that passed on this last spring- Hilma Kaye and G.D Armstrong whose spirit lives on in my guitar…

Beyond the Golden Gate

I had the privilege of sailing on the San Francisco Bay with dear friends, John and Diane and their friend Bob,  on their 41-foot sailboat, the Giselle, last week.  I grew up in the Bay Area and had never gotten the opportunity before- in fact, I had never been sailing

We departed from the Brisbane Marina on a blistering hot 100-degree day with an audience of pelicans, cormorants, and gulls parked on the break of the marina as we left. The bay with its breezes offered welcome refuge from the heat, especially as we neared the Bay Bridge with its collision of currents and choppy waters. The Giselle tipped side to side from one 40-degree angle to the other as we tacked into the wind.  This requires a lot of coordination and movement from the 3- person crew as the sail needs to be released and winched from side to side.  I was merely ballast and shifted position from port to stern as the situation called.  Oh yes, and I was the wench who held the wrench for the maneuvers.

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Resilience

We returned from four days at Paradise Campground, a favorite camping spot in old growth forest on the McKenzie River here in Oregon last week.  It was our first visit since a devastating wildfire swept the area in the summer of 2020.  This was one of our favorite camping and kayaking spots. We were devastated when it burned.  The fire destroyed thousands of acres of forest taking a multitude of homes and businesses with it.  Thankfully, the upper McKenzie where we would be camping was spared.

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Hold the Cosmic Explanations

( It’s been a rough couple of months…)

Heather out of the ICU

Heather collapsed face first on the gravel.  Her purple-tinged hair spread out like the wind blew it wild, The tattoo of a Volkswagen bus over a lotus on her left arm faced the sky.  Jerald, her husband heard her fall as she hit the side of the Volkswagen bus where they sleep while they build their house on the Big Island of Hawaii.  He rushed her to the local hospital where they drained a quart of fluid from her heart before flying her to the hospital intensive care unit in Honolulu. If he had not heard her fall she would have died on the spot.

After two weeks in the ICU on high flow oxygen, a lung biopsy, and MRIs came the diagnosis, stage 4 cancer of the heart and lungs. They found after a barrage of tests, a tumor in her heart, cancerous polyps throughout her lungs, and cancerous lesions in her brain, and on her spine.  Previously Heather had been complaining of difficulty breathing and was on her second course of antibiotics before collapsing. Her doctor wrongly assumed it was just severe bronchitis.  With aggressive chemotherapy, oxygen support, and gamma knife radiation her outcome is uncertain- a few months or a year or two? There are no answers as this type of cancer is extremely rare, especially in a 38-year-old woman. This is my husband’s daughter- my stepdaughter.  He was sitting 6 hours a day by her bedside in her hospital room.

Heather with her dad
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Yosemite’s Child

A historical photo of Yosemite from Glacier Point

(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)

 In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley.  We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat.  My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War.  When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.

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Sawmill Woman- My Story for Women’s History Month

I came of age in the late 1960s/ early 1970s in the Bay Area of California.  It was the age when women started to wake up from their subjugation in the so-called mans’ world. So began a rebellion of women demanding equal rights and opportunities that continues to this day. 

In 1976 I headed up to Alaska for a summer job that morphed into a 10-year stay.  Alaska was a perfect place for an independent, outdoorsy kind of woman to break down barriers.  Nobody blinked an eye if you built a cabin, commercial fished, mushed dogs, hunted, and the like.  Then in 1978, I met with my biggest obstacle- working in a sawmill as the only woman.  This is my story…

Sawmill Woman

The 6 1/2 mile mill, Wrangell, Alaska

On the first day of my new job, I drove the 6 ½ miles out the road with a lump in my stomach. My ’63 VW bug purred around the last bend and the sawmill came into view, a hulking, half- rusted sheet metal structure belching a billowing plume of steam from a tall stack. Shrieks and clanks of machinery inside clashed with the placid water of the canal and the misty islands beyond. This was not exactly in my life plan to work at a sawmill but there were no other options to be had in the small Southeastern Alaskan island town of Wrangell. It so happened when I needed a job, the 6 ½ mile mill needed an employee and a woman at that.

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Embracing the Darkness- “Skijoring on Hoar Frost” a One Page Memoir

It is winter solstice today. This story came to mind of a much younger me living in Alaska…

photo by Pixabay

In December, the sun dips low in the peach and lavender sky at 1 PM in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Night begins to fall slowly at that latitude. When I lived there I learned to embrace the darkness lest I get claustrophobic in the small confines of our cabin. Dressed in layers of wool with a headlamp, I’d go chop firewood, shovel snow, or better yet, go out for a night ski.  We lived on Yellow Snow Rd., aptly  named for the many dog teams that lived on it so there were plenty of dog trails to ski on in the neighborhood.

Hoar frost was an event.  At subfreezing temperatures, moisture present in the air would freeze in a crystalline structure and collect on the surfaces of branches eventually coating them in a sparking beard of white.  At 10 below zero to 10 degrees above, a hoar frost provided the perfect conditions to ski.

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