Days of the Dead, Days of the Living, Days of Me

mixed-media collage

Days of Me
Stuart Dischell

When people say they miss me,
I think how much I miss me too,
Me, the old me, the great me,
Lover of three women in one day,
Modest me, the best me, friend
To waiters and bartenders, hearty
Laugher and name rememberer,
Proud me, handsome and hirsute
In soccer shoes and shorts
On the ball fields behind MIT,
Strong me in a weightbelt at the gym,
Mutual sweat dripper in and out
Of the sauna, furtive observer
Of the coeducated and scantily clad,
Speedy me, cyclist of rivers,
Goose and peregrine falcon
Counter, all season venturer,
Chatterer-up of corner cops,
Groundskeepers, mothers with strollers,
Outwitter of panhandlers and bill
Collectors, avoider of levies, excises,
Me in a taxi in the rain,
Pressing my luck all the way home.

That's me at the dice table, baby,
Betting come, little Joe, and yo,
Blowing the coals, laying thunder,
My foot on top a fifty dollar chip
Some drunk spilled on the floor,
Dishonest me, evener of scores,
Eager accepter of the extra change,
Hotel towel pilferer, coffee spoon
Lifter, fervent retailer of others'
Humor, blackhearted gossiper,
Poisoner at the well, dweller
In unsavory detail, delighted sayer
Of the vulgar, off course belier
Of the true me, empiric builder
Newly haircutted, stickerer-up
For pals, jam unpriser, medic
To the self-inflicted, attorney
To the self-indicted, petty accountant
And keeper of the double books,
Great divider of the universe
And all its forms of existence
Into its relationship to me,
Fellow trembler to the future,
Thin air gawker, apprehender
Of the frameless door.

For Day of the Dead, the plan is that in addition to toasting my dead, I will celebrate the living, and since I am the center of my universe and all things refer back to me, the intention is to reimagine this poem in my own image.

Howard's Left Foot

Howard Sides Army Hospital 194
Note the direction his left foot has taken

I met my Howard Sides, my father-in-law, in 1995 when I began dating my husband. He died the slow death cancer offers eleven years ago, but he never complained, even at the very last. I hope I can meet my end with as much grace.

Howard landed on Normandy Beach eight days after D-Day as part of a reconnaissance unit to search bombed-out buildings and the terrain for future campains. It was on this tour that he lost his leg.

Howard never talked about the war until the last year of his life, and at one point expressed interest in seeing Saving Private Ryan, but wanted us to see it first and let him know if he'd like it. My husband told Howard a little about it, and he decided he'd rather not see the film.

I asked Howard to tell me how he lost his leg, and he told me that he had just exited a building, saw a German Panzer turn the corner, and he turned to warn his comrades, and the next thing he knew he woke up three days later covered in blood. The shell blew the heel off his left foot,and the big toe off his right foot. Gangrene would claim the rest of left leg up to his knee. Howard said that the cold kept him from freezing to death as he and another man waited in various stages of consciousness, three days for help to arrive. That last year he called the other survivor who had laid there with him, and the man filled in the gaps of what had transpired during that three day wait.

Howard had a michievious sense of humor. While recovering in the hospital, he held wheelchair races.His wife Betty recounted that Howard would purposely attach his leg backwards and then walk into cafes as if it were perfectly normal for his left foot to face the opposite direction. He absolutely loved to dance. That he had one leg never deterred him from "shaking a leg" whenever the opportunity to dance presented itself, sometimes by firelight, like at the family campouts in the Uintahs.

When my daughter was four, Howard asked her to pull his leg, she did, and the leg came off. Instead of the reaction he expected, she laughed.

Mother of Us All

Bathsheba Layton mother of Charles Layton and sister of Christopher Layton

Maggie Nelson

The spirit of Jane
lives on in you,
my mother says

trying to describe
who I am. I feel like the girl
in the late-night movie

who gazes up in horror
at the portrait of
her freaky ancestor

as she realizes
they wear the same
gaudy pendant

round their necks.
For as long as I can
remember, my grandfather

has made the same slip:
he sits in his kitchen,
his gelatinous blue eyes

fixed on me. Well Jane,
he says, I think I’ll have
another cup of coffee.

The spirit of Bathsheba lives on in us. From the little information I've been able to cobble together into what passes as biography, Bathsheba Layton was betrothed to a sailor whose surname was Martin. Before they could marry, Martin was killed or as many men are wont to do when they hear there is a baby on the way, promptly sailed away and was never heard from again. Her brother, Christopher Layton brought the baby boy with him to America, to Utah, adopted him, although the document is something of a mystery, and raised young Charles Layton as his son. Well, probably one of his wives did the actually mother work. From this point, the story gets a little cloudy. I don't know if Christopher already had plans to ship off for America or was this the push that sent him off to the land of Deseret? If you're interested you can read his autobiography. In the meantime, here's a link with pictures and interesting facts.

I'm on the board of the local museum, and at one of the events I became engaged in a lively conversation with one of the respected "old dogs" of the community. The conversation turned to the statue of Christopher Layton and genealogy, and the man made a snarky point that I wasn't truly a Layton, since Christopher adopted his sister's child, and therefore, I was not a direct descendant of Christopher Layton,and on the illegitimate side of the genetic tracks. He may be rude, or a wee bit passive aggressive, but he's on the genteel side and not the kind to say bastard,at least not in public. I'm of the mind that parsing is for mincemeat types, so my retort was equally snarky, but seriously obscure,"bastard side or not, you always know exactly who the mother is." And with all the polygamy of the time period, and usual bed-hopping of humankind,a baby exiting its mother's womb is concrete proof of parentage. As for legitimacy, it's relative to culture and time period. For instance, in ancient matrilineal cultures the female line mattered most. Who really cares, unless you're a purebreed dog that needs a pedigree to win a blue ribbon.

Back before the Depression and well into the war years, the legitimate Laytons had important parties with all the notables, in which they dressed in their Sunday best and sat around feeling really good about themselves drinking punch and eating cookies, and then snuck out back for brandy and cigars. The bastard side of the family were snubbed,and I really have no idea how they felt about this, but I can imagine since nobody likes being snubbed, especially if it's your own family snubbing you. Well, my Uncle Tom was not having it, even if his usual routine was to head to the local moonshiner and drink himself into a coma, so he drove over to the party, started cracking heads, and threatened that "things" had better change, or he'd be back. It appears his headcracking antics had an effect, so much so, that down the decades, the lines of real Laytons blurred, or perhaps the facts were rearranged, and it wasn't until I was well into my thirties, that I had to be informed that my branch was illegitimate. What a surprise.

When I told my father what the man had said, he was enraged. He wanted to call and tell him off, how dare he say such a thing? Obviously, the truth still rankled.

I'd like to know the trajectory of Bathsheba's life, what happened to her, if she found love, if she was happy. I'd like to know who she was before this picture was taken. You have to admit she does not look happy. Never mind her face, just look at her hands. The hands never lie. In any case, Bathsheba is our Mother,and had she been a 'proper' married Englishwoman when she had her child, she'd have never given him over to a life in America with the Mormons, and my branch of the family would probably still live in England, and perhaps Christopher would have stayed in England as well, and then who would Brigham Young have started Zion's Mercantile with? or who would he have sent to tell John D. Lee's sons to tell their father he was about to exed from the Church, and to not make a fuss? What about Christopher's eleven wives and forty-six children? Poof! none of them would exist in the same place and time and then where would the city of Layton, the state of Utah, and ultimately, where would all of humanity be? I mean, it's just possible that certain flora and fauna might not exist as well. You've seen the movies, it could happen!

And if Bathsheba hadn't sent her son to a better life, well, I'd have an entirely different reportoire of expletives, and that would just be sad. Note to self: make a list of contemporary English cuss words.

Seriously, it just goes to show, that one woman's misfortune is another's fortune.

The Spinster Sisters of West Layton

Christmas Postcard 1929
Leonora, Alice, Victoria Jane, Elizabeth; Della on Alice's lap, Maddie on Grandmother Victoria's lap

Remember Me
Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Memory is really all there's left of existence after death. An excellent book that explores this is A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

My memory of the the Aunts is that they were scary old women. They didn't offer candy, or anything, other than a kind of secret-filled silence. Of the three, Alice was the nicest. She gave out nickles as bribes for church attendance. She actually smiled. She also wrote copious journals, which all ended up in the city dump. That a life of words ends up thrown away is criminal and says much for the ticked-off relative who threw them out. Lizzy didn't speak and spent much of the visit with her arms crossed over her sunken stomach pushing herself into the sofa; Noan always seemed annoyed and in a hurry to be somewhere else. She wasn't the type to sit, and was prone to swearing, and meeted out verbal threats for infractions as insignificant as looking in the milk house: You little sonsabitches, I'll cut your gizzards out! She was a hoarder, a shopper, and talented pastel artist. Who knows where her drawings are now. I hope they escaped the city dump. I know of only two that survived.

On our weekly visits, the Aunts sat crumpled in the way old women crumple, bent over and wrinkled on the sofas in thier front parlor, which smelled like that peculiar scent of stuffy rooms and old people. They never married. They could hardly tolerate each other, and prepared and ate separate meals in silence. The Aunts wore their thin hair pulled tight against their skulls, up into tight buns. They wore plain cotton dresses, over which they tied an apron, as if to be always prepared for harvesting apples or crops. They wore practical shoes and rubber galoshes, and their hose always seemed to collect around their thin ankles. They were pencil thin, and drawn, and it was impossible to believe the beauties in the photos that lined the ornate piano and organ, were them.

The Aunts didn't suffer children. It was a requirement that children not fidget, and remain absolutely still and not speak unless spoken to. For me, this was impossible. I wanted to know who the people in the photos were, and kept pressing through the silence until I got an answer. Children weren't allowed upstairs, so it became a reality that there must be dead body, or evidence of a murder hidden upstairs. Perhaps, a great fortune was locked in a trunk. There was fortune: My father remembers jars of gold coins, and the few coins that Noan entrusted to him when she sent him to town to purchase groceries. I've read letters and have seen copies of canceled checks written for thousands, no small sum in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The story goes that it was my Uncle Tom, who broke my great-grandfather bank: Tom had been sent to Chicago to collect on a cattle sale, Tom gambled with the wrong sort, an urgent telegram arrived with the news that Tom would soon depart the earth by unpleasant means unless, so, send money in a hurry. Long story short: G-G sold his land in Canada, and more to save his son's life, said son returns to Utah, continues to gamble, drink, cavort, beat his children, smoke cigars, refuse to use an indoor toilet, drink until piece by piece diabetes does to him what the gangsters were paid off not to.

Lizzie died first, then Noan, yelling that a red Chinaman was in the front yard's Pine tree, then years later, Alice died. The land grab was a done deal before Alice died,and that's another story, and along with the current land grab on the other side of the family, it's the usual King Lear messiness, which I explore in my yet-to-be finished essay, Inheritance.

After their deaths, the majority of their belongings were hauled off to the dump, the gold coins disappeared and one particular relative purchased at least eight home or rentals. Go figure.

I Like to Go Swimming with Bow-Legged Women

James Archie Layton May 5, 1912

Archie and Opal Herzog Layton
Photo taken a few days after they were married in December 1923

Family Portrait December 17, 1938
Front row: Maidie V., Gerald B., Darrel R., Carol Ann, Richard C., Daniel E., Della Mae Second row: Golden A., Victoria Jane Walker Layton,Charles Amos Layton(80th birthday), James Archi & William El, Opal Third row: Ronald L., Julia, Annie B., Elizabeth, Alice R., Leonora W. Layton


Grandfather's Song
Nan Arbuckle

The Osage family moved slowly to the beat,
circling the drum with sons and daughters,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Friends joined behind and beside.
We outside the dance stood quiet,
solemn as the dancers in tribute.
To have a song with Grandfather's name,
a tribute for a whole tribe to know,
respect for those now our memories--
we should learn from this pride.

My grandfather's song will have the rhythm
of train wheels on tracks, slow
regular, climbing long slopes.
It will dip and cry like the whistle
of steam rising over the valley,
sharp as red leaves on a mountainside.
Word sounds will jumble and roll
like the voices of many children calling,
playing homemade games of older days.
And in the end it will settle soft,
with the screaking click of a rocker
on a wood porch and tall hemlocks sighing, quiet
as the slow breath of an old man, remembering.

Let us, too, make songs of honor so our old men
are never quite gone.

My Grandfather lived in the house next door that my father built for him to keep the peace with my mother, since they both went on benders together. He always ate dinner with us. Before he moved next door, he lived with us, in his previous home, but I can't remember which room was his bedroom. He loved poetry and whiskey and when he was drunk, which was always, he recited poetry or naughty verse from popular songs.

One of my earliest memories is from when I was young enough for my father to spell out words, such as l-i-q-u-o-r. I told him I knew what he was spelling and he said prove it. I did. So, he stopped spelling out words. My Grandfather loved to tell scary riddles: one in particular was about wine bottles in which the speaker relished slitting women's throats and drinking thier blood. He also loved singing the refrain from a baudy tune, I like to go swimming with bow-legged women and swim between their legs, swim between their legs.

I don't remember a time when he wasn't an old man who cut our dog's hair with sheep shears or stole my mother's newly-planted flowers and replanted them in his yard because she had "too many" flowers. He cussed his leg when it wouldn't do what he wanted. He was funny, and tender, and terribly lonely. He lost his one love to another man while he was on a Mormon mission to England, married an Indian woman from Montana that his family made him give up, and finally he married my Grandmother, who was fifteen years younger than him. Grandmother Opal finally left him for another man, the Greek neighbor George Cerras, and he never remarried. He was broken-hearted and wandered the house crying that Opal had taken his "baby", referring to his daughter, nine-month-old Nancy. Grandma was awared the girls, Della and Maddie, and Grandpa was awarded the boys in the divorce,the same day Mr. Cerras was granted his divorce, but after a very brief time it became apparent that the drinking took precedence over everything, and Billy and Jerry took off through the fields for their mother's house. What's interesting, is that when I was a child, I felt an incredible urge to take off through the fields for Ogden, for what purpose, I didn't know, until now. The wanderer is part of my history. It's in my bones.

My father toughed it out,literally, and stayed behind, probably out of obligation, and quite possibly because he was old enough, twelve, to know he didn't want a stepfather. In George's defense, my Uncle Jerry told me that Mr. Cerras was good to him and was a good father. My grandmother and he were married for ten years until he died suddenly of a heart attack, and from the pictures I've seen of them together, they were obviously smitten with each other. He was much older, weather worn, and looked like a character from The Grapes of Wrath. In any case, my father barely made it out of his early years alive, a bout with rheumatic fever, no heat or food in the house, a chronically absent father, and no thanks to the strangely distant family that lived right along the same street who turned a blind eye, and in his own words, never had him to dinner. Grandmother Layton did his laundry and snuck food out the back door, lest her girls protest. He survived deprivation, extreme neglect,and even he'll tell you that he had the best of both worlds and that it was up to him to make it. It was so bad that a childless couple in the neighborhood offered to adopt him, but they were turned down. It's obvious his hardknock experience made him the scrapper, the determined to succeed no matter what, man he still is at 81. After days or weeks away from home, my father would head to Ogden to collect his own father from the 25th street bar scene, and he'd have to fight the drunks off to get Grandpa in the car. After he and my mother were married, it was the norm that when my father was away for work, a local bartender would call for her to come and get Arch. She'd drive, but her brother would go in the bar and retrieve him. And then both he and my father, and the rest of the family would have to endure the brutal silent treatment my mother meeted out as punishment. I'm grateful to report that the alcoholic gene and the silent treatment gene skipped me. You'll have to talk to my people to see what my problems are, since I'm certain my foilbles are hidden in plain site.

He died when I was very young, so I hold him in the unencumbered memory of childhood. He told me stories, he always had candy available, his home was an escape, he gave me candy money. The check I've posted was written just before he died and I don't know what it was for. I think it's sweet he always wrote in pencil.

Grace for a Child

Cora Barlow Briggs

Formal Potrait

Great-Grandmother's Jewelry

kindred spirit
Part of Speech: n
Definition: a person who shares beliefs, attitudes, feelings, or features with another; also called kindred soul

Grace For a Child
Robert Herrick

Here, a little child I stand,
Heaving up my either hand:
Cold as paddocks though they be,
Here I lift them up to Thee,
For a benison to fall
On our meat, and on us all. Amen.

Great-Grandmother Cora was both Kindred and Grace for me.

William's Tree

William's Tree 2007

Enlarge the photo to see the wire protruding from the crook of the tree's neck.

All of Your Lies, Give Them to Me

Willam Clyde Layton 1917

William with his horses Layton, Utah 1917

Wiliam at Fort Lewis, Washington 1918

William's Reburial Obituary 1919

William Comes Home 1919
(left) A casket bearing the remains of William Clyde Layton awaited unloading at the Layton train depot; (top) Hearse and mourners are shown waiting for the arrival of William Clyde Layton's remains; (bottom)LDS General Authority B.H. Roberts dedicated a small parcel of land near the Layton train station in 1922 in honor Layton's four World War I casualties. Three of the four trees planted that day are still alive and can be seen in Layton's Veteran's Park on West Gentile Street.
images from First National Bank: A Century of Putting People First

Meldon with Memory Flag 1919;William and Meldon Layton April 13,1918

William's tree in Veteran's Park 2007
After a protracted battle in 2006, to save William's tree: a flurry of emails, intervention from the Veteran's Administration officials in D.C., numerous meetings, and assurances from local politicians, CEO's, etc, William's tree was safe for a year, and then after Veteran's Day, his tree was cut down December 19, 2007 to widen the railroad tracks for Frontrunner. In early 2008 a White Ash sapling was planted as a replacement for William's tree planted in 1922.

In preparation for Day of the Dead I'll be posting images and stories of departed ancestors into next week.

William Clyde Layton was killed July 23, 1918, five days after he arrived in France, and just four months before the Armistice was signed, proclaiming the cessation of hostilities on November, 11, 1918 at 11 a.m.: the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month". He was on a troop train, somewhere in France, en route to the Front, when an German enemy pulled a switch, causing another train to jump the tracks and collide with the oncoming train, sending a metal railing through his throat. I like to believe this killed him instantly. From the letter his commanding officer sent to my great-grandparents, I take comfort knowing the men of his troop stayed with his body through the night until the ambulance arrived to take him.

William died forty-four years before I was born. Obviously, I never knew him. Regardless, he's been a force in my life for almost a decade and from the time he, or the idea of him, his essence, whatever, has been close in my thoughts. As I've explained in earlier posts, every time I start this 1917-1949 novel, something dramatic presents itself as roadblock. I was at a family party this past weekend and my Aunt Nancy said that when something is your life's mission, the Universe will test you to your limits to see if you're serious about pursuing it. Okay. I believe this. After starting and stopping work on the novel, watching the sky for falling iron objects, and so on, every time I began yet again, I finally got paranoid enough to ask a psychic what was the deal. She said I had an ancestor who wanted my attention, that either he/she would assist or cause trouble. Hmmm!

I had absolutely no idea who it might be, and when William's name surfaced in my thoughts, I dismissed it outright. I only had sketchy details about his life. Well, a few weeks later I dreamed of him, and that morning went for my morning summer walk and told my father that I'd dreamed of William. He replied that it was William's birthday, so I knew I had my ancestor. I just wasn't sure what it was that he wanted. Hence, began my obsession with William's tree,and my habit of sitting in the cemetery, usually on the grass next to his grave, sometimes in the car with the heater on if it's cold.

My father said that his father James Archie told him that one night after the news that William had been killed reached the family, he recalled that his brother had stood at the foot of his bed. He saidd that William didn't say anything, just stood there, I suppose until he faded away. When my great-grandfather had his son William's body was from French soil and sent home to Utah, it was my grandfather Archie who was sent to identify the remains. He said that a piece of metal protruded from his brother's neck.

I started writing to William in one of my journals, I suppose to understand my own life, and finally I began work writing his life. My touchstone was his tree. Every day on the way to work, on the way home, anytime I passed Veteran's Park, I checked his tree and silently said hello. In my mind the tree became him. I decided he'd planted himself in the tree, and the tree held his soul, and that indeed, he'd come home. Yes, I know how that sounds, but it works for me. I was shocked and more than a little freaked out when I discovered a wire poking out of the neck, just below the crook of his tree. The wire extended through both sides. Yes, the reality is that the tree was probably planted next to a fence or held in place by thick wire which became part of the tree over the course of eighty-five years, but what are the odds that a tree dedicated to a dead man killed by a train's metal railing driven through his throat would also have a metal wire sticking out of its throat?

After I took a picture of the wire jutting out of William's tree, I twisted it until it broke loose. I have it in my studio, along with a few branches and a piece of bark.

When the local Museum director called to tell me he'd overheard the plans to cut down William's tree to make room for the new commuter train, I knew they had bided their time, waited like spiders until after Veteran's Day, and most importantly, pounced when they discovered a loophole in which the deeded land was no longer under its former jurisdiction, and thus, up to the highest bidder. I knew a sneak attack when I saw one, and also, I knew that without resources and a support group to fight, really fight, there was nothing to do but wait for the end. A tree is just a tree, unless it's not, unless it is something much more. I understand now why people chain themselves to rocks and refuse to budge to save a habitat, why Julia Butterfly lived in a redwood for a year, and faced down hostile loggers, and a political system that valued greenbacks over green earth. Ultimately, she saved the tree and subsequently, an entire ecosystem. I could, and should have done more, but I didn't.

I ranted, cried, and plotted serious revenge. I drove by the park late at night just to see if the tree was still there, took rolls of photos, and numerous digital images, and then, when the tree was no more, just two sections of trunk lined up in the parking lot, I couldn't believe it was really gone. It felt like a death. It was. That first night the tree was down all I could do was drive in and out of the lot, stop, get out, touch the tree, shine my car lights on it, walk around it and examine the tree from every angle. Later, I pulled a remaining branch from the trunk, took it home and put it in water, fed it my secret tree recipe (too gross and probably damning evidence of my mental state to reveal), and for a time the branch thrived, even grew a bud, but by the time I planted it in earth, it was too late. The branch is planted in the west flower bed of my yard. This past summer I told myself I really should get over it, dug it out, and discovered a hair-like root. I immediately replanted the branch. I have hope William will replant himself.

Someday, I do hope I have the opportunity to be a thorn to those particular players who found it expedient to cut down a tree planted in honor of a young soldier killed in a world war. If nothing else, I will have my say and ensure that William, and his tree will not be forgotten.

I didn't attend the ceremony when the new tree was planted in William's name. It took close to a year to stand in front of the little sapling and read the plaque located at its base. It's growing strong, and by the time I am an old woman, it will be a full-grown tree.

I've been working on a novella of flash pieces, All of Your Lies, Give Them to Me, in which I imagine William's life, his unlived life, and the lives of the major players of the period cobbled together with the other 19 million lives cut short by a war fought over a sack full of lies, the same lies we always tell ourselves. The same lies we readily believe. William died for these lies. He never stood and leveled a gun at the enemy, never killed anyone. I'm grateful he only had five days on foreign soil and never made it to the front. It makes me angry that he never got to live his life, have children, disappoint them, fall out of love and then in again, never got to grow old and fade away.

I wish I could know him. In a way, I suppose I know him as much as any of us know anyone: through the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we choose to believe.

On November 2, 2009, I'll pour a beer for William, and later make a toast to all my relatives, the living and the dead.

I Spy with My Little Eye

Something that starts with "O". Obsession, perhaps?

More books. Last night I sat myself down on the living room couch and had a little intervention. With myself. My dogs Harley and Ellie sat at my feet. Rouger,the cat sat in the doorway. My daughter was upstairs texting, iPod and t.v. blaring. My husband snoring away in the bedroom. The purpose of my meeting was to put my foot down on how many books I've been sneaking into the house these last two weeks. I don't need to sneak, no one is going to chatise me, especially since the majority of the books run around seventy-five cents to four dollars, but my book mania is really getting out of hand.

I finally figured out that the reason I've been grabbing books at an alarming rate is that I'm using them as talismans to ward of the evil eye. Winter came this morning and left its scurf. I'm not ready. The sun is heading to its cave to hibernate; it's dark on the commute to and from work, and I'm a little frantic that this year will be a repeat of last year: Danna becomes a hermit.

I've always looked to books for comfort, and also to suggest solutions to any problem, not matter what it is, as in if I can understand it, I can make it better, or get it to go away. Books have always been solace and sanctuary, but, in this case I believe Toni Morrison said it best in Beloved: "this is a loneliness that cannot be rocked." To paraphrase, "this is a brain chemistry that cannot be read away." Instead of books as talisman or remedy, I think it's time for a SAD lamp.

Here's the list of the lastest book purchases, sans sublimation:

Leap - Terry Tempest Williams
TTW examines Hieronymus Bosch's El Jardin de las Delicias, The Garden of Earthly Delights,through the filters of science, Mormonism, and symbolism. In the process she explores her fixation with the painting and it's meaning in her own life. I hate to admit it, but I'm hearing the siren song of books that explore faith, especially of the type I've eschewed all my life. No, I'm not sliding down that slippery slope of joining up, but I think it's time to confront this deamon and finally see if we can be friends.

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Dystopia, violence, redemption. Everything that's old is new again. Read this book in the tub. Keep a cocktail handy.

The Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
I have yet to start her other novel I picked up during last week's bibliophile mania shopping spree, so I'll start right here with this one.

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone - Sasa Staniszc
I opened to the first page and laughed at the three sentence chapter title, so I had to take it home even though I'm really trying not to acquire any more books. It's about a Bosnian refugee who spills memory like sand. Something about the voice reminds me of Jonathan Safran Foer. Be grateful your neighbors just gossip about you,(about how much you drink, that your clothing is far too outlandish for your age, how sad it is that you're so irreligious, that you swear so much, that you aren't insulted by their passive aggressive cluster bombs, and dammit, that you must be botoxing),and that they can't saunter over and exterminate your entire family, or just toy with you,with impunity, for their sadistic amusement. Yes, creepy neighbor, I'm talking about you.

The Year of the Death of Richard Reis - Jose Saramago
I love it when ghosts interject themselves into the lives of ordinary men. Begin this novel on Day of the Dead and invite your favorite ghost to dinner, (just don't touch the food on their plate, or you'll be very sorry).

The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent
Cotton Mather was an ass hat is all I have to say about the idiocy of the Puritans and their hypocritical quest for religious freedom. And for that matter, why does religious fervor always end with a hanging, a burning, or a piling on of rocks, a dunking in a really cold lake, a beheading, and too many blood-letting horrors to mention? Thinking about it gets me all pugilistic. Hmmm. A novel to begin on All Hallow's Eve.

The Boneyard

"For those who visit gravesites of poets they admire, it is not about the grandeur of the spot, but about communing with the individuals."

I've always been fascinated by the dead, not with death, but with the departed. I suppose that's why I spend a great deal of time in cemeteries wandering around admiring headstones, thrilled when I come across a name I just know I will write into a story. Anywhere I travel I have to stop in the local cemetary. I've never made a pilgrimage to a writer's grave, and considering my penchant for visiting boneyards, I really should. A relative/friend laid on top of Faulker's grave. That's more than a little creepy and I understand there's a fence around the grave now to keep crazy fans off. I've never considered rolling on top of a grave, but I considered stabbing one in particular with a blunt butter knife. Ouch!

I really like the discovery of wandering around reading the eptiaphs of people who used to exist, who used to butter their bread, squabble over taxes and who left the outhouse door open. Perhaps that's why I haven't felt the need to search out the famous dead, the unknown are just as fascinating. Moreso, because I can imagine thier lives.

What's surprising is that the dead are usually separated by class, race, status, or taboo in the early 20th century sections of cemeteries. William Kennedy's Ironweed and Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology explore this inequity. Cemeteries are far more egalitarian in the later half of the century and beginning of the 21st, from what I've observed.

I have a deep fondness for old headstones that provide autobigraphical information, that have the imprint, a word or phrase, of the deceased, carved into the stone. Many times I provide stories for the deceased. A few years back, I fixated on one headstone in a Southern Utah cemetery filled with polygamists and their wives. I believe the young woman was either the third or fifth wife. She died soon after, probably in childbirth,and as I traced my finger across the brief years she spent breathing, I wondered about my fate if I'd been born in her time. I couldn't create a story for her other than one included duty and religion, but I did give her a little concealed rebellion.

I'm certain the dead don't mind that I appropriate their lives and create new ones. Well, there is one of the dead that really takes it on the nose, and for good reason. I always make him the bad guy, a goatish figure, or a literal goat, (my apologies to goats and to the entire Capridae goat family). Karma and paybacks are a real bitch. In the very least I get to exact retribution with my words.

Back to interesting cemeteries: My husband spent close to six months off and on in Red Lodge, Montana for work, so I travelled to see him at least once a month. This is a town that is flanked by two non-functioning silver mines, the Sunrise and the Sunset, and during it's heyday, the sun barely made a glimmer through all the sooty air. Hemingway included this town in his novel, The Sun Also Rises, and for good reason: the town sports one road with no stop signs and thirteen bars. I have a fondness for three where one can belly up to the original wooden bars. The small town separted itself into ethnic communities such as Finn Town, Scots Town, etc. During my stay in Red Lodge, I spent equal time in the bakery chatting up locals, art galleries adoring Kevin Red Star's huge and beautiful paintings, in restaurants eating gourmet clam chowder which I still crave, and drinking killer Spanish wine.

Where I spent the majority of my time was wandering and photographing in the local cemetery, home to the infamous union organizer Tom Salmon cum murderer who shot and killed the local sheriff, who was also his former best buddy, and unfortunately the husband of his love interest, Katie O'Connor. I also planted myself in the local museum, and the staff was gracious and very patient with my rapid-fire questions. I had the privelege to hold the actual invitaion to Tom Salmon's hanging. It took close to four trips to Red Lodge, numerous visits to the County building, (I stood close to the spot where he was hanged, just couldn't stand on the exact spot), and finally a conversation with the cemetery grounds keeper helped me to track down Salmon's unmarked grave. I considered purchasing a headstone for him, but had a character in a short story Our Lady of Red Lodge, Montana about an identity thief obsessed with the Russian Virgin Mary, do it for me.

One thing I love about the real story of Salmon is that when the judge asked Salmon if he felt bad for putting a bullet in his former pal's skull and leaving his wife a widow, Salmon replied that, "Katie would be better off". The director of the museum told me that she remembered hearing that as long as Katie lived, on the anniversary of Salmon's death, she left a bouquet of yellow daffodils on his patch of earth.

Okay, so it's possible I'm seriously wierd. I'm good with that. Some people collect porcelain figurines, fixate on sports data, fill their homes with kitschy portraits of saints. Name your interest, some are more "normal" than others. I have a dark bent, what can I say? but it's my bent and I'm keeping it! Even though I adore cemeteries, I absolutely hate funerals, mainly because I'm something of an emotional sponge and funerals are such an emotional seige, strong emotion hitting from all sides, no way to dig a moat or lift the castle door quickly enough. I cry at funerals, and copiously, that ugly cry, regardless of whether I knew the person or not. It's more than a little embarassing. My recently departed Grandmother, Mary Briggs Roberts, told me that I, "had a talent for weeping". I really do.

In preparation for Day of the Dead, and oddly, also the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I'm thinking and dreaming a lot about my ancestors.

Check out this article at about The Graves of Poets

You Are What You Read

Vinyl wall art is the rage, so in my office, I have the broadside of my bookcase emblazoned in red vinyl letters with the addage, You Are What You Think.

Thoughts do create personal reality, not in a healy-feely sense, (I think I'm a millionaire, so therefore I am!), but in how one perceives their environment, circumstances, through thier own filter. Literature is a reflection of the human condition, so regardless of whether you read the sports pages, pulp novel, or an ancient epic, reading broadens and stretches the filter through which you see your world. I like to think I can appropriate the beauty and intelligence from the books I read. Also, that the ideas and images presented become part of the fabric of my thoughts.

When I'm working out a character, figuring out the underbelly, the shadow, the essence of the person, I usually create a library for them so that I can understand who they are by what they've read, aspired to read, or just plain have on their coffee table so they appear wicked smart and hip.

Here are the new books I plan to read, and to misquote Billy Collins: drop another stone into the aquarium:

Say You're One of Them - Uwem Akpan

The Vision of Emma Blau - Ursela Hegi

Little Shifts - Suzanne Beth Stinnett

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow - Faiza Guere

The Sound of Paper - Julia Cameron

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle

The Quest for Peace, Love, and a 24" Waist - Deborah Low

The Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians - Peter Guralnick

The War Comes to Utah - WWII & Serendipity

I love finding books in thrift and used book stores, not only because the books are so inexpensive I can get my book-obsession fix relatively cheaply, but because the former owners leave traces of themselves behind. When I open a book and find it filled with marginalia, a pay stub, receipt, bill, letter, or if someone has written a pithy quote, their name, or a note to a friend in the front of the book, and especially if they've left a news clipping,invitation,photo tucked inside, I feel like I've entered a mysterious world.

I found this notecard in the cookbook Mesa Mexicana by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. It was stuck between pages 34 and 35, which feature recipes for Chipolte Salsa, Chile de Arbol Salsa, and Spicy Cocktail Salsa, (btw, the later goes well with shrimp! I suggest using P instead of Tabasco).

I'm a big believer in serendipity. The notecard fell into my life when I was just beginning to map the logistics of the book. (I should note that the novel came fully formed in a dream, and came bursting out, like Athena out of Zeus's head, demanding I put aside my other novel,and write down the story at something like 3 A.M.) My father served in the Pacific Theater during WWII and the 1917-1949 novel I'm writing, while revisting and revising myth, pretty much follows his family, and mostly him from island to island, back to the states, and so on. (In case anyone is grumbling, as if anyone is reading this, my first novel follows my mother and her family around).

I had no idea that there were concentration camps in Indonesia. From the information provided, I'm assuming the author of the notecard is female,Japanese, and was baptised Mormon in Holland. The woman made it to Utah, or at least the book made it to the local Deseret Industries Thrift Store. A stroke of good fortune for me as I'm certain I'll weave details into the novel.

I wonder who this woman is, if she lives nearby, if she's still alive, and if so, if she'd be willing and/or interested in talking to me about her experience. I feel an urgent need to record the stories of my father and relatives, other older people before they're lost to death and time.

The barely legible words Sipkemia Mahi, Sam, Moosei may serve as clues.

Dreams Do Not Lie

I was seven-years-old when I started recording my complaints, thoughts, and thankfully, my ideas and drawings in journals. My first journal was a small mango-colored diary in which I complained nonstop about my mother: she was mean, she didn't understand me, she liked my sister more, she made me brush my hair, go to church, eat lima beans, and so forth. About halfway through the book, I started writing, really writing, poems and stories, mostly in code, and my handwriting changed dramatically, (no more pleasing curlicues or standard,legible form, bring on the razor pen swipes). My grammar and vocabulary also changed, but not so dramatically, (I started punctuating and using big words like fatigued). My handwriting has remained, well, just terrible, and it's important to note that my worst grade in elementary was always in penmanship.

My father always complains that my handwriting is so bad it could cause terrible trouble for me, as in a bank might not cash a check because they can't decipher what I've written, (no problem ever cashing a check), that if I were a doctor the pharmacist wouldn't be able to read my handwriting and would prescribe the wrong medicine and what would I do about the malpractice lawsuit?nd a litany of other reasons why I should reform and learn to print and cursive properly. He usually ends up shaking his head in disappointment and muttering that I should have been a doctor. Wait, but then I'd be sued for malpractice! Handwriting is supposedly reflective of brainwaves, so I suppose this means I'm in a constant state of seriously ADD, rapid-fire, illegible scribbling.

I blame Leonardo di Vinci. Why? because after reading a children's book when I was in the 4th grade about his discovery of a dead beast in a cave, I latched onto him, and I believe I'm still clinging. I read everything the school library offered, as well as the local library. I didn't know about inter-library loan, and the Internet was a couple decades away, so the information was limited to what my small world offered. It was enough. As Leonardo as my inspiration, I resolved to be an artist, a writer,and a genius. Thinking about how serious I was about this goal just cracks me up. I really thought it was possible to aspire to genius, as if it were a major to declare, a vocation to pursue. In any case, I distinctly remember reading that Leonardo wrote backwards in the mirror to hide his thoughts. Since I grew up in a uber-patriarchal Mormon community and I wasn't particularly interested in anyone, anyone, knowing what I was thinking, I began mirror writing, which led to my own type of typography which looks very much like visual slurring. The problem is, unless I print, I often can't decipher my own handwriting.

The written post above is from a journal in which I began my first novel, the story of how a community secret, that however closely guarded it is, "the mighty weight of a secret can pester a soul into spilling all," to quote my own words from Chapter One: look into thier own dark secrets. Sometimes I still write my novel longhand, but it's less frustrating to just type, rather than spend time deciphering the original intent.

I draw in my journals, sometimes over whatever is written. The image above is a sketch from a painting idea titled, Dreams Do Not Lie, in which I plan to create as a mixed-media piece. As for the title of the piece, I think the dreaming mind uses metaphor and archetype to tell its truth.

Stories Tell Themselves, They Don't Get Told

Rae Armantrout

The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something

Did the palo verde
blush yellow
all at once?

Today's edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.

The way a lost

will come back

You're not interested
in it now,

in knowing
where it's been.

"Stories tell themselves, they don't get told. That much I know after a lifetime of working with stories. Never try to impose yourself. Wait for the story to speak for itself." - J.M. Coetzee

Coetzee's statement that stories tell themselves rather than are told is accurate. I've always felt that the words that flow from my fingers come unbidden, like the dead coming for one last conversation over drinks in my dreams. The stories come from some dark space locked up in the unconscious mind. I do think my ancestors must sit next to me and whisper their stories to me.

Close to fifteen years ago, when I finally got the courage to think I might want to write, I dreamed I entered a cave which lead to the Underworld. I was surrounded by the newly dead, so I had covered myself in a bearskin to hide that my flesh was alive. From a carved rock window in the tunnel, I saw the meeting hall where the dead gathered, (similar, but not as dark, and certainly not as dreary as the one portrayed in Gilgamesh), a stone wall rose to a high ceiling, in which notable dead rested in hollowed caves. While still in the tunnel, a large crow recognized me as its child and tried to feed me three large larvae, but I knew what happened to Persephone, so I didn't eat them. The most important and relevant (to this post) part of the dream was that I instinctively grabbed a skeleton's head between my hands and blew breath into its mouth. I was giving the dead my breath, much like the dead now offer thier stories.

The Ides of October

All the crazies are dooming and glooming about the end of the world, democracy, capitalism, freedom, the seven deadly sins,, basically, life as we know it, and according to the various talking heads, the end will be ushered in at midnight, on...(ominous pause)...the ides of October.


Penn State's Monty Python Society has the right idea for the Ides of October.

Breaking news! A hawk just drifted by my work window. Omen? portent? fowl merely lilting in the October breeze? You decide.

In any case, I'll celebrate the Ides with a few good books, starting with:

Amulets & Talismans - Robert Dancik
A fabulous "how-to" jewelry book using found objects and metals to create contemporary adornments.

Who's Your Dada? Redefining the Doll through Mixed-Media - Linda & Opie O'Brien
A unique and eclectic exploration of the doll as artform.

Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
Although I've meant to read her other books, this will be my first. After reading the epigraph from Poe, I knew I had to grab this from the thriftstore bookshelves.

The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul - Yehuda Berg
Another thriftstore find, and another book I've meant to read.

Your Inner Child of the Past - W. Hugh Missildine, M.D.
Yet another thriftstore find,and the title piqued my curiosity. I'm thinking this is one of those books in which you should prepare yourself to be pissed at your parents all over again.

The Quilts of Gee's Bend - Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
I believe I said "woo-hoo" when I grabbed this tome from the thriftstore shelf. What an auspicious find! And for only $3.00!

The Novel Plan

We Address
by Norma Cole

…a lead pencil held between thumb and forefinger
of each hand forms a bridge upon which
two struggling figures, "blood all around"…

Organizing My Writing Life

Control Your Destiny. Okay, here goes: What I know about my creative process: for me to complete anything, (and I mean anything), and not get distracted with every fascinating thing that presents itself, it's imperative that I make a concrete plan, a list of objectives, and more importantly, a timeline, AND a deadline.

By May 31, 2010 I will have written the rough draft and by November 30, 2010, I will have revised & completed my 1917-1949 novel (yet to be titled); I will have my Medusa novel ready for serious revision; I will be ready to finish writing the first novel I started back in 1998, (published in Prarie Schooner's Special Fiction Issue in 2003).

Have I mentioned my superstitions with this novel,or that I'm a little scared, and seriously overwhelmed knowing what this is gong. I just hope I can write the novel this story and these characters deserve.

So, here's my month-by-month timeline and deadline:

Interviews & Research

Interviews & Research
NaNoWriMo - finish Medusa novel 10-30K

Interviews & Research
Begin (again) 1917-1949 novel draft (Prologue, and 3 sections; 23 chapters):
revisit research, characters, setting, historical details & images music, idioms

Interviews & Research (as needed)
2 pages a day - 62 pages

Interviews & Research (as needed)
2 pages a day = 56 pages

Interviews & Research (as needed)
2 pages a day = 62 pages

Interviews & Research (as needed)
2 pages a day = 60 pages

Interviews & Research (as needed)
2 pages a day = 62 pages
302 page rough draft DONE!

Revise Prologue & Chapter 1
Writers @ Work conference - Novel Workshop
Taos Summer Writers' Conference - Novel Workshop

Deep revision

Deep revision

Deep revision:

Draft to writer friends
Contact author/editor friend & agent

NaNoWriMo -final draft revision DONE
Send to author/editor friend & agent

Make a snowman