Women’s fiction

This is What a Memoir Should Be

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Gray is the New Black, by Dorothy Rice is what a memoir should be. Despite it’s lack-luster cover, the book is a testament to the universal truths of womanhood.

When the tick-tock of time thwacks its boney knuckles on Dorothy’s door, via a beloved, but dying pet, empty-nester syndrome, and a mother with Alzheimers who often wonders who Dorothy is, she is left to ponder that same question; who is Dorothy Rice?

Now in her sixties, Dorothy examines what came before and ponders acceptance for what’s left of her life.

During a demoralizing dinner with her fit and thin sisters whom she habitually compares herself to, a radical gauntlet is laid down;

‘I was forty-pounds overweight and not in the mood for self-reflection’….’I had no right to resent her – she eats like an anorexic bird and works out like an Olympian’… the conversation turns from working out and eating like a bird, two things Dorothy has not mastered, to hair; she may struggle with weight, but she has GREAT hair. Dorothy is grateful for the change in tête-à-tête. ‘Why is it that men become more distinguished with age, while for women, going gray isn’t a natural consequence, but rather a political statement, or an admission that they’ve given up on their appearance?’

At that dinner table where her sisters perfect the ‘art of fake eating’ and Dorothy sits hungry and eyeing the dessert case, an agreement is met; they will go gray together.  In a youth obsessed world, this is radical.

Gray is the New Black is also a sister’s story. A wife’s story. A daughter’s story. A mother’s story. This is every woman’s story. I laughed, cried, related, and often cringed at the rawness of her revelations and how brave she was in her profoundly personal reveals. But mostly, I felt I wasn’t alone in my experiences, my feelings. I felt connected to my journey, not alone on the long road from girlhood to womanhood. That’s what a good memoir should do, connect us in our universal experiences.

Most women, myself included, will relate to the deeply personal exploration into sugar addiction, ups and downs of weight and the consistent fat-shaming of ourselves. Rice explores loss and shame, and the illusory expectations of a Prince Charming who shows up not in shiny armor, but threadbare and incapable of espousing the great love of myth and lore that we all grew up expecting.

This book resonated with me for many reasons. Dorothy grows to accept and truly appreciate her precious relationship with her sisters, writing, ‘The three of us will live together on a family compound, perhaps in three adjacent tiny homes…’ she writes on about what life in their sisterly dotage will be.

That is so like what my sister and I had planned.

When my sister died, with her went our ‘old age’ plan of walking on the beach – divorced and left to ourselves – wearing purple hats, bickering at one another as we did, and laughing till we peed. The loss of that old age insurance plan, that image, shook me to my core, left me seated on the edge of mortality, alone. Dorothy’s sisterly old-age-strategy resonated, and made me smile.

And now with my mom experiencing dementia, possibly Alzheimers, the stories in Dorothy’s book about her mom brought tears. Especially one scene when she’s visiting her mom in her Alzheimers home.

***

She rummages in her handbag and pulls out a ratty Kleenex, “One day,” Mom says, “when I have lots of money, I’m going to buy a whole pile of these little sheets of paper for blowing your nose.”  She wipes her nose, refolds the soiled tissue, and stuffs it back into the stained handbag that never leaves her sight.

“I could fill your Christmas stocking with them.” I say.

“Really.” Mom says. “I had no idea you could do that.”

***

That sweet exchange reminds me of the hundred or so just like that, that I’ve had with my mom the last two years.

Dorothy journeys from self-loathing and self-sabotage to self-acceptance. In that self-acceptance she also recognizes that though her husband is not the Prince Charming of fable, he’s her prince, warts and all. Though she does not permanently lose the weight, she so struggles with, she does come to terms with her inner voice. That voice like a paranoid purveyor of chaos always told her to read between the lines, assume that every side-glance or whatever someone said, was a jab at her weight, or how much she was eating, or how she looked in that dress, or, or, or….always negative self-talk. She gets a peaceful handle on that toxic inner life-coach and begins to relax, accept herself, weight and all. As her hair grows in strength, length and the beautiful rich grayness of womanhood, it becomes metaphor for Dorothy.

She recognizes her own personal power is one of choice – how she chooses to perceive the world – and in that, she finds peace.

Ultimately, that’s really all the power we have isn’t it; our choice in how we see the world colors every experience. Once we get that right everything else begins to fall into place.

I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Ultimately, Gray is the New Black is a story of transformation.

SIX Weeks of The Artist’s Way

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Whether you’re new to The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron, or have a shelf filled with years of Morning Pages, our class will reconnect you to your muse. You may be working on a novel, short stories, journaling, or simply wanting to experience enhanced creativity in your life–whatever your goal is, using the tools in Julia Cameron’s bestselling book will help you explore how to engage and invigorate your writing verve.

During our six weeks you will explore the lessons of The Artist’s Way, harnessing your inner creativity, addressing negative beliefs, forming creative allies, making artistic u-turns, blasting through blocks, making writing dates with a muse, letting your imagination play, and creating a contract that honors the writer’s life. We will have two optional writing dates at local coffee shops outside of campus. Prior knowledge of The Writer’s Way not necessary, but you can purchase Cameron’s best selling book here.

Click here to sign up The Artists Way

NEW!  The Artist’s Way for Writers  
Item: C524 Mindy Halleck
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM Location: Snoqualmie Hall   309
Sessions: 6 W 20000 68th Ave W Lynnwood, WA 98036
4/25/2018 – 5/30/2018 Fee: $149.00
If you’re a writer, you should know The Artist’s Way.

 

Queen of the Desert

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I just had to share this fabulous woman…In researching for the background of a (secondary) character in my WIP I stumbled onto Gertrude Bell and was gob smacked by this woman’s hootspa. She was described as an ‘outsider’, the ‘Queen of the Desert’ and ‘the most powerful woman in the British Empire in her day’. How inspirational! She was just what I was looking for. As always, it’s important to write female heroines and depict women (girls) as capable of

Bell is pictured centre at the Cairo Conference in 1921 with friend and colleague TE Lawrence, second right, and then Secretary of the Colonies Winston Churchill, where the future of the Middle East was discussed in the wake of the First World War (dailymail.com)

doing ANYTHING (and more) than their male counterparts. Thank you Wonder Woman, Senator Kamala Harris and my new favorite hero, Gertrude Bell!                                                                                                                               My protagonist grew up with a mother (1920s-30s) who traveled to Egypt and with her husband explored antiquities, pyramids and cultures of days gone by. My protagonist was a young girl when she traveled with them giving her a fascinating childhood. But then their idyllic lives were cut short when they were thrown into a concentration camp in 1939, as you can imagine. So in writing her brave mother I sought other women of that time period who traveled and explored along with their male colleagues. Why? Because the mother is the primary influence, and ultimate wound to my protagonist.

Bell (a perfect character role model) was born in County Durham in 1868, then went on to study history at Oxford. She met TE Lawrence 1909 at a dig at the ancient city of Carchemish, which would now be on the Syrian-Turkish border. Their first meeting was icy due to Victorian ‘traditions of snootiness, sexism and arrogance’ as well as Lawrence feeling ‘intimidated’ by meeting a woman who was ‘his intellectual equal’ and ‘spoke Arabic better than him’. But they became good friends. A couple years later Bell was recruited by British Intelligence during the First World War to help guide soldiers through the deserts, before being made Oriental Secretary in 1917. Even after the war she stayed on with the British Government as a diplomat helping to draw up Iraq’s borders and establish the state, and served as mediator between the Arab government in Iraq and the British officials supervising it.

Bell was far bigger than life and certainly the material of a great fiction heroin. Grateful for her journey, and grateful to have found her as my inspiration. Just had to share this remarkable woman.

You can read more about this fascinating woman here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4428004/Incredible-life-British-adventurer-Gertrude-Bell.html

In 2015 Nicole Kidman starred in a movie about her life, Queen of The Desert http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1837636/

A 2017 documentary about her life appropriately titled, Letters From Bagdad was released this year. Take a peek here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6086614/videoplayer/vi3633887513?ref_=tt_ov_vi

I haven’t seen either of these films but plan to.

Truth Behind the Story — Pirate’s Treasure

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background rts
Painting of Manzanita Beach with Neahkahnie in the background, by Clark Kohanek.

Neahkahnie’s Black Demon
Portland Oregon was home. Most of the year was spent working at dad’s shoe repair shop, but for a few years –the good years, we call them–summers were spent in Manzanita Oregon. My novel RTS takes place in that Manzanita of the 1950’s.
It’s a cliché understatement to say that things on the Oregon Coast have changed dramatically –but wow have they. Manzanita is now a swanky and expensive beach town with high end homes and mortgages I can’t afford. Long gone are the days when we stayed in shanty shacks, trailers and tents. Gone are the sun-splashed days when my cousins and I stood on the windy beach studying Neahkahnie Mountain, pondering the many myths of ghosts’ hauntings, and the pirate’s gold that had eluded an army of treasure hunters, most of whom traveled to Neahkahnie with a hunch, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. There were a few law-breakers who came with bulldozers and backhoes. They got arrested. My dad and his buddies included.
The thing we feared the most was what the Indians called the ‘black demon’ who guarded that treasure.
“That black demon must be pissed.” My cousin Nene would always say.
“Yeah,’ I’d say, “But he’s just a ghost, what can he do?”
“He could toss us like tooth-picks.”
“I don’t think so. . .” I’d say, “but you go first.”
We’d hide in the bushes at the foot of the mountain and look up through the binoculars we had ‘borrowed’ from

Photo Courtesy of http://www.tcpm.org/
Photo Courtesy of http://www.tcpm.org/

her dad, my uncle Ed, who would also be pissed, if he knew. We were eleven years old. My brothers who followed, younger, and the gang of summer-kids (Manzanita vacationers) that also followed ranged in age from five to ten. If you ever saw the movie Gooneys (also filmed on the Oregon Coast) then, that was us, but with two scared-ie-cat girls as leaders.
Anyway, that black demon as legend told was left behind one summer afternoon, many years ago. Indians near Neahkahnie Mountain were astounded when two sailing ships approaching their coast –the first ships they had ever seen on the Oregon coast and that they said looked like “great birds” –began to ”thunder” and puffs of smoke blustered from their sides. After considerable noise and smoke, one of the ships began to list, and was cast up on the beach near the foot of Neahkahnie. The other set sail over the horizon and was not seen again.

As the ship pitched onto the sand, men toppled over its sides and staggered ashore. All of them were white, except one, who was much larger than the others–a giant, legend says. And he was black.
To the Indians, who, until then never thought there was another race, these men of diverse colors were an alarming sight, and they observed them much as we might regard aliens from another planet coming into our backyard.

At low tide the colorful strangers brought their belongings ashore. Among their items was a huge chest, so heavy and awkward that it took eight men to carry it. With considerable determination, they carried the chest a short way up the mountain, where they then dug a deep hole. They then lowered the chest into the hole. The black giant, whom the Indians supposed was an evil demon, was ordered by a knife wielding white man, to step forward. When he did, he was struck down, and his body flung into the hole with the chest. The men then filled the hole with sand and returned to the beach. The Indians watched all night. The men lifted small boats off the listing shipwreck and rowed away in the moonlight, never to be seen again. The Indians did not disturb the demons resting place, but legend holds that the sand at the end of the mountain turns black in winter. That the black demon pirate is often heard bellowing his anger across the sea, and that when treasure hunters have gotten close, that black pirate has manifested great tragedy in their lives. It was him we wanted to get a glimpse of –from far away, but a glimpse just the same.
So, we’d climb, pulling ourselves up by tugging on the slopped junipers or jagged rocks of the path. Every time someone fell or got hurt we claimed they were pushed by the black demon pirate. Eyes would bulge. Paranoia would set in. Every natural sound had an unnatural effect. We never made it to the top but instead would make it about halfway up the path on the side of the mountain and run yelling and screaming back down.
Summers in manzanita were filled with ghost stories, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at the campfires along the shore, and watching for that black pirate who we believed sat on a rock at the crest and watched us as we imagined we were watching him.
Of course we never got a glimpse of him. Nobody I know ever found the elusive gold treasure, but a couple people I know spent a small fortune trying to and several days in the Tillamook County jail to prove their devotion.
While I don’t know about that black pirate who haunts Neahkahnie Mountain, what I do know is that I and my brothers have all had mystical, often frightening, often spiritual sightings and happenings when hiking there. So did our dad, that’s why he stopped looking for the black pirate’s gold, saying, “Let him have it.” One of my brothers looked for a bit, but the rest of us never did. To just, “Let him have it.” made more sense. The story of that black pirate plays a role in Return To Sender, which in many ways is ultimately how dad felt about that rumored treasure.  🙂

You can find a lot of info on the history of Neahkahnie, Manzanita, Tillamook or Nehalem at the Tillamook museum.