Friday, October 24, 2014

Making Do

Easter, 1957
Tachikawa AFB, Japan
Handmade dress by Mom
Photo by Daddy

I often suffer from illusions of grandeur.  I tend to move in the world as though money is no object.  I volunteer relentlessly, give my knowledge away for free and frequently discount my art down to only the cost of supplies.   I don’t know if that feeling of being rich comes from my mother always making sure we had new shoes at the beginning of each school year,  sewed me beautiful clothes and created magnificent Christmases, or growing up in the military.

Apparently in 1958 my desires got the best of me and the only way my mother could address my wants was to sit me down and remind me how hard my daddy worked for what little we had.

Easter, 1957
The rest of the family
Steve, Raworth, Lamar, Mom and Dad
Photo by me
Making Do

By day
a Tech Sergeant
in the
Daddy drove
a cab
at night
380 a month
25 a week
for groceries
7 kids
1 pair of shoes
10 cents
for cub scout
the whole house
for that

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Johnny's Story

Author, Johnny, 1989

When you're a writer, never pass up an opportunity to perform.  So I would read my new work every every chance I got.  Which often meant at the kitchen table to family.  They were my best audience.  As always, kids are watching you're every move.  A few days after I read the story Innocence Johnny brings this typewritten paper to me.  "Have you read my story?" he asked.  "No I haven't," I replied and asked him to read it to me.  He held it up and read, "No pooping on the toilet!"  End of story.

 Johnny and Nightsnow
Partners in Crime

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Four Minute Horror

Johnny, 1989

 Sometimes, as parents, we make mistakes.  Well, actually, it’s more like frequently.  And when we do, there’s not much we can do about it.  Except listen.

Four Minute Horror

The horror, the four minute horror of the fair last night, the excitement in Johnny’s face, the trusting, “I can handle anything” look, so sweet, considering he didn’t even know there was anything to handle.  This was the trust of a four-year-old, expecting it all to be fun as he walked up the ramp and proudly showed the carnival man the unlimited ride stamp on his hand. 

I watched it all.  I watched as he squeezed in between his older brother and sister, the rock and roll music blaring, his brother, double-checking twice the crossover bar strap.

It had seemed like a simple ride, round in a circle, up and down, wavy.  I hadn’t noticed that it went so fast.  There were other young children.  They seemed to do fine.  But in retrospect, none were quite as young as Johnny.  There wasn’t one of those ‘must be taller than this’ signs so I trusted their judgment.  I hadn’t noticed that the ride goes faster and faster and that it lasted such a long time until I heard the voice of the DJ say, “let’s go a little faster” and I watched my son’s face.

The first time around was fine but the speed picked up and the music grew louder and lights started flashing and then I noticed the wave affect.  The second time around the face of fear set in.  I never really heard his scream.  I only saw him scream.  I saw a scared scream, a real scream, a “I’m not having fun” scream.  I saw his screaming eyes.  I saw his screaming mouth open wide.  The music grew louder and the lights flashed and again the DJ says, “let’s go a little faster!” And everyone was loving it, laughing and swinging their arms, except one little unsupecting, trusting soul.

Stop! Please stop! I wanted to scream. “I made a mistake.  He isn’t old enough.  I didn’t know.”  But I couldn’t stop it.  I could only stand there and watch as it went round and round, picking up speed each time.  His frightened face flashed past, faster and faster, his older brother struggling to comfort him, covering his eyes.

I saw his screaming mouth open wide and then close, his body go stiff, his brother’s arms wrapped around him as they flashed past, again.  “Let’s go a little faster,” the DJ says again.  NO! NO! STOP! STOP! How much longer is this going to last?  Fun faces flashed faster, dotted with the young frightened face of my child and then, the music finally slowed and the lights dimmed as they climbed out and staggered towards me.  I sighed, relieved, picked him up and asked, softly, “how was it?”

“Dead,” he said.  “I got dead.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bound and Determined

What’s your legacy?
 It’s clear, at this point if I don't do something, 
my legacy will be lots of boxes filled with mementos. 

At my daughter, Dana’s suggestion, that I create a blog of all my writing and at my daughter, Danielle’s suggestion that Larry and I put our music and poetry together and create  podcasts, I begin to dig into those old boxes and become overwhelmed.  What am I to do with all this stuff?  Maybe it’s the discovery of an early menopause poem that’s gotten me to thinking.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed and decide to just let the kids dig through it after we’re gone.  Whose responsibility is it to create the story, the legacy of one’s life?  Let everyone pick what they want and create whatever story they want?  And what’s left ends up in a garage sale, or at Calvin Kinnet’s, the local antique/junk dealer.  Frequently I peruse his recent acquisitions and ponder the story no one wanted to tell.   In the nineties when I read Carolyn Heilburn’s book, Writing a Woman’s Life she wrote about the importance of writing one’s life in advance of living it. I took her serious. I was in my forties and I wrote about how I saw myself as a writer, an artist, a mother. This mission is what drove many of my writing practices.  Now, that I am 67 it’s time to revisit that mission.  And what better way than looking back, digging in those boxes, and then looking forward to define my future. At 66, Heilburn said, “Aging's just another word for nothing left to lose.”  In the same way that everyone has a story to tell and it’s important to give it a voice, it’s important that we mine those stories for the legacy we have to pass down and I’m bound and determined to not shove those boxes back under the bed.

Bound and Determined

I was in the throes of missing another cycle.  Is that what the roll around the middle is really about as the tight skirt is more difficult to zip up and I wonder why I wore girdles at the beginning of puberty when menopause is when I need them but have out grown the desire?

The roll creases my jeans, now that I have moved into women’s sizes.  Just last week when I called my mom long distance she told me she found a new brand.  It was information I welcomed but didn’t want to receive.

I was bound and determined I would never have her big hips or her roll around the middle but not bound enough to eat less or exercise.  Bound enough to look in the mirror, though, to change my pose to see if, per chance, it had gone away.

It’s a slow coming that takes me on to the “I don’t care” and eating more greens as I begin to shop for looser fitting clothes and more sweats and practice asking for exactly what I want and make buttermilk coffeecake even when all the nuts sink to the middle.  Do you think I should stir the batter? ©1993

A Bound and Determined Crew
 Danielle, Dana, Me and Donnie

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Craft of Writing

 Mom, Grace Laverne, models her own design, 1958

I model my recycled, shibori dyed tunic and jacket, 2012

I title this poem The Craft of Writing even though it is about my mother making a quilt.  Ultimately it’s all the same when we are being creative.  All our works of art engage the principles of organization and design, and the elements of art.  Even as a hair designer and running a business.  I didn’t know it then, but looking back I can see it.  To be creative is to respond to each moment with lines and color, etc implementing rhythm, variety, etc.  I love that my mother sewed and taught me to sew.  She modeled her creations.  I modeled mine, including the recycled tunic and jacket that I shibori dyed.  She sewed clothing for me and I sewed for my daughters and they too, modeled.

The Craft of Writing

The quilt my mother made me
sent me in the mail
lays on my bed
a legacy
by Grace
the tag in the corner says

The craft of quilting
she learned
all by herself
from Woman’s Day
and Family Circle
and The Ladies Home Journal
quilts seen in designer homes
dreamed in her own
directions cut
from magazines saved
scraps of polyester sewn

mine is cotton cool cotton
red and white
circles and squares
the red, dotted swiss
the white, muslin

slowly stitched together
my hand moves across the page
spreading words on white

Mom sewed my 1964
prom dress
I'm on the right
She sewed my wedding dress in 1965

I sewed for Dana and Danielle
and they modeled for me

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Amber Moon & The Working Class Kitchen

Amber Moon Casino Night Fundraiser
Mid eighties
I discovered my community among women who sang and rocked their babies to sleep.  When we went out looking for jobs in the early seventies there was no line on the application to describe the work that we did.  There was no way to put it on a resume.  It was by attending Amber Moon concerts featuring the strong voices of women performing songs that spoke to women’s lives that began to reveal to me the power of our words and performing them.  And it was by becoming involved with the Amber Moon Collective to produce the concerts and fundraisers that I began to feel the value of women coming together make these events happen.  I learned to never pass up an opportunity to perform and carried my writing with me.  When the performer for one concert was late and I was asked if I wanted to read some of my poems.  I walked on the stage and took the mic.  I knew I had something to say.  And I knew that lots of women had something to say.  I felt the fire of being heard.  There was no turning back. Eventually I created the Working Class Kitchen to create opportunities for emerging writers to come to the microphone.

The Working Class Kitchen Manifesto

They tell us to write, the scholars we find on bookshelves, the outspoken women we hear at lectures and conferences and in our own midst.  They tell the uneducated, the non-academic, the rural women, the poor women, the inner city women, the stay at home mom, they tell us to write.  So we write.  We write at the kitchen table and at the stop-lights and between appointments.

We write and we find our hearts aching to spill it out.  We find our soul wanting to scream it.  We find our life rise up out of the pages.  We find rhythm and music in our words.  We find stories we’ve told and retold and we discover we have desires we never knew we had and we desire to write more.

We desire to be heard and we want to read it and even when we’re afraid to read it, we want to read it and even when we’re too shy to read it, we wish we weren’t and when we’re ready, when we want someone to hear it, no one is listening, ‘cause there’s nowhere to read it.  The academic feminist is too busy making speeches and her publisher wants polished pieces written in penta something meter or in proper English and university classes take time and money we don’t have.

The Working Class Kitchen creates another stage, someone’s home, a local restaurant, a community center.  It brings any combination of writers to create an event.  We invite six writers from different communities and they invite six friends and we have an audience of 36.  The script is left wide open.  Read what you want, how you want, wear what you want.  And what is read is good, without a jury, without an “A,” without publication because the WCK trusts the process.  Only that which one feels good and right creates the desire for it to be heard, creates the determination to ask to be heard, to show up and put it forth.

At the Working Class Kitchen we break down the silencing walls of nowhere to read it and put it back in the kitchen where the world moves to the microphone.  The writer’s fear, when she reads her work, sometimes for the first time, gives power to her words.  Her strength gives form to her voice.  Her anticipation leads you across the page and you listen, intent, and even when you don’t hear, you see.  You see her facing fear.  You see her dancing naked.  You hear the sounds of her voice shaking and the vibrations resonate through you and you be still and you listen because you see the birth of life before your very eyes.  You see a revolution.

You don’t have to be working class to read at The Working Class Kitchen, you just have to wish you were.  Everyone has The Working Class Kitchen in them somewhere.  If you have to race your paycheck to the bank you’re got it in there.  The heritage we came from is buried deep.  The struggle to survive is The Working Class Kitchen.  The desire to not give up, the valuing it—NOW, not waiting for an A, not waiting for publication, not waiting for the check in the mail.

We want to hear it in your words, in your tone, in your voice.  We want to see it written the way you spell it, the way your hear it.  We want to break down the walls of illusion of false education keeping us silent because we don’t write it their way, see it their way, dream it their way, believe it their way.  And everyone has a “their way” in there somewhere.  Everyone has a “their way” that tells them what to do.  Everyone has a “their way” that they want to break through and the only way out is through your own voice.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Baby you’re doing your best


 Just for the record, it isn’t easy, parenting, and kids aren’t always happy.  Nonetheless, I had a knowing.  "I know what I’m doing," I told advice givers.  I listened, but deep down inside I knew what I was doing.  And you do too.  With the advent of so many books, talk shows and advice columns on how to parent many parents forget they have a knowing, they second guess their decisions and fall prey to one expert after another.  It’s really very simple. Just come from love and never send your children off for the day, or to bed angry.  Always make peace.  And remember, no matter what they do, always be their advocate. If you don’t, who will? 

Me and Johnny
 Baby you’re doing your best 

I’m a failure I feel inside
in turmoil and distress
I sweet talk myself
baby, you’re doin’ your best

my dear little child
all of three years
screechin’ and screamin’
sweet as can be
sayin’ please and thank you
with hugs and kisses
cryin’ and yellin’

how can this be?
I sweet talk myself
baby, you never knew
it would turn out like this

the house is quitet
I hear a voice inside
soft singing me
soothing me
as I near cry

I ponder and sigh
that place in my chest
between my breast
for the love of my children

I rant and rave
I be silent and sweet
he kicks he cries
off to his room
throws toys and hollers
stay out!

oh baby, my heart cries
for your wounded soul
as those tears roll down
those contented peaceful
eyes now drenched
look out

I’m a failure I feel in side
in turmoil and distress
I sweet talk myself
baby, you’re doin’ your best
(C) 1991
 Dad, Mom and me

Monday, October 6, 2014

I AM the Mother


Me and Danielle, January 1970
Dryin' Dishes

I am the Grandmother  (Grammy)!  Is my new edict.  And don’t listen to a word I say.  No really.  Just watch my every move.  That’s what ultimately matters.  The examples we set.  The other day, sitting on the back porch, staring at the trees, my friend Mead and I were discussing what our purpose was now that our children are grown.  That was her answer, “be an example.”  Good idea.  And it’s easy to do.  Just be who I am, do what I do.  Don't explain, don't apologize, don't justify, don't defend.

When my grandsons, Chuck and Avery visit I always make stevia sweetened lemonade from fresh lemons and Larry (Pops) makes bean burritos.  Later, back at home Chuck asked his mom, what if you were stranded and could only have two foods what would they be? His answer was “Grammy’s lemonade and burritos.”  When Avery published his first book, Rhiney the Rhino, he wrote in the dedication, “To my family and friends and. . . Laverne.”  And when Chuck starts to play the guitar he takes a cloth and wraps it around his right arm to protect the guitar from sweat.  Just like Pops, does.  These aren’t things we were preachin’ and hollerin’ about.  These were just what we do, fixing good food, making music, making art, sharing stories and now it’s grandkids who are watchin’ our every move. 

I AM the Mother

I want to go back to the old days
before I though I had somethin’ to say
            when I was just happy dryin’ dishes
            and washin' tomato soup mixed with crackers
            outta my little girl’s hair
            after she dumped it there
            the whole bowl
            turned it upside down
            flakes of soup soaked crackers stuck to her face

            there wasn’t nothin’ to do back then
            but get it a rag and wash it off
            snap a photo if the camera was near
            now its gotta mean something’
            it’s gotta be profound
            somethin’ I ponder and sigh about
            write pages about

            I useta thinks there wasn’t nothin’ else to worry about
            ‘cept when the last car payment was
            and would it last ‘til then
            now I worry how I put words down on paper
            I worry that it will make sense and I don’t even remember
            what I was tryin’ to make sense of

DJ and Johnny
screamin’ and fightin’ and carryin’ on
I holler “I’ve had a enough?
your bed time behavior is goin’ to change!
you got it!
it is goin’ to change, NOW!

I crawl on my hands and knees
pickin’ up specks of lint
while they brush their teeth and look for pajamas
toss dirty underwear in the wastebasket by mistake
‘cause I moved the dirty clothes hamper.

 Just goes to show
all the preachin’ and talkin’
don’t do a damn bit of good
they’re watchin’ your every move
you holler at them
they holler and you
and the bedroom stays a mess

I sweep Cheerios off the kitchen floor
throw dish rags in the sink
and the telephone rings
I sink down in my chair
and quietly
softly say
Is your mother there? They ask
I AM the mother.

Aim To Please

I’m not sure where I first saw the saying “We aim to please.”  Clearly it was in some service business, but you can tell in this poem what was on my mind at the time:  how to keep a bathroom clean, smell fresh, raise responsible young men, stay in the moment, address the issue at hand, and write more poetry.  And aim to please.  That’s all any of us can do.  Especially parents.  Bottom line: forgive your parents.  They did the best they could.  Pictured above are six of our blended eleven.  Sky, Rainbow Nightsnow, Sunshine, Johnny and DJ.  Eventually Sunshine and Sky went to Connecticut to live with their mother.  Larry’s adult daughters, Susanna and Gretchen lived in Texas and California. 

After growing up in Texas, my adult children, Donnie, Danielle and Dana moved to Lexington.

Aim To Please

“We aim to please”
that’s the best motto
I’ve ever seen
if only more boys
took it seriously
no pee on the toilet
not pee on the seat

the ultimate challenge
a mother must greet

no smell to chase out
no pee to wipe off
if only more boys
took seriously
lift up the seat
and aim to please.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Important Work


 Capture the Moment
Johnny does the important work of closing the kitchen door.

When did we get so busy?  Nothing is more important than anything else.  Slow down you move too fast. . .
The first artist I ever met and who was an inspiration was Judith Koehne.  She said it takes a lot of time to be an artist.  I wanted to be a writer but I knew I didn’t have a lot of time so I set out to prove Judith wrong.  I decided I was going to write, even if I only had ten minutes, that I was going to capture short moments if that’s all there was time for.

On Johnny doing important work at eighteen months

What there is to do is to do nothing.  So I do nothing.  I walk around doing nothing and while I’m doing nothing I do whatever there is to do at the moment.
What is the need of the hour?
So I wash the kitchen floor.  I’m with Johnny and with Johnny is where I want to be and as I do nothing I want the nothing that I do to be something that Johnny can do with me.  So I wash the kitchen floor and get it clean and Johnny climbs up on a chair he has pushed up to the counter. He gets a dishrag and brings it to me. He wants to help. He has important work to do. He has his rag and he wants to do his important work of washing floors. I concentrate on washing the kitchen floor as he concentrates on washing the kitchen floor. Nothing is more important than anything else, and the floors are clean.
I begin to prepare the dinner. I take out the chicken, wash and dry it and Johnny pushes the chair up to the counter to do important work. He takes the dishes out of the dish drainer and I brown the chicken. He puts the dishes in the sink, and I brown the chicken. Johnny does the important work of putting clean dishes back into the sink.
I walk out the back door to put the dirty rags in the laundry and Johnny closes the dryer door for me. The towels are dry. I take them out of the dryer and Johnny closes the dryer door for me. I open the dryer door, put the wet towels in and Johnny closes the dryer door for me.
Johnny does the important work of closing the dryer door. I add spices to the chicken. Johnny sleeps as I write.


 Nightsnow and Johnny

to gaze at the little boys
playing in the yard
peering through bushes
wandering in and out
finding tunnels
under branches
between fences

oh to be little again
the innocence of self discovery
in the forest of your own back yard
of throwing eggs
yellow oozing out

of simultaneous poops
out behind the shed
with the innocent declaration
“Don’t be mad a me”
as they stroll proudly in.

This picture breaks my heart, that smile on Danny John's face.  The puppy couldn't come with us when I married Larry.  Blending six kids had plenty of challenges.  We found her a good home.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Home at Last

Larry and Laverne's first performance piece at their wedding in1988
Eventually, regarding marriage and relationships, I had a major shift in my thinking.  While there was clearly much good in this second marriage, there was too much struggle.  It was on one of those beautiful summer sunset walks.   In that moment I got that I deserved to be loved by someone who truly appreciated who I was and what I could do.  In hindsight, I must say that getting a clear picture of what I wanted  was working in full force when Larry Vogt came into my life.  This is the piece I read at our wedding.  The third marriage for both of us :))

May 15, 1988

Home at Last

            I have crossed over to the other side.  I feel like the pioneer woman, from the east, come up upon the frontier man, alone with four children, waiting for the feminine energy to emerge.
            “They are attracting you,” he said, “with their smiles and their sweetness.  They want you here, to be part of their life, to be part of your life.”
            The vision gets clearer and clearer.
            “The backyard will be the deciding factor,” he said, as he took me there in the light of the near full moon.  Interesting, that something, seemingly so insignificant would be so decisive.
            “You know me well,” I said as he held me tight in the moonlight.  “You know me well,” I said over and over.
            I saw in the night, the winter, drizzly night the six raised garden beds he had mentioned earlier.  One for each child and I remembered the conversation I had had with my son that we would see who could grow the best tomatoes, and the best pumpkins and he had said,  “and the best flowers.”

Johnny's first pumpkins

            “Yes, yes,” I had answered, the best flowers.  You want to grow flowers?” I questioned him softly and nodded yes moving deep into thought.
            The picket fence around the year. the bushes cascading over the fence, the covered patio next to the garage, the porch swing waiting for lovers to swing.  “Yes, yes, dear Larry, the backyard was the deciding factor.  I can live here forever now.  I can see that I have, as you say, come home.  Come home at last.  Come home to the rich life.  

The Rich Life:  Larry, Laverne, Nightsnow and Johnny cooking and cleaning

 The children smiling, running, playing.  The once chaos of their activity has become symphonic, rising and ebbing, the softening and trickling, then purring.  I have come home to the cleaning and crying and laughing and gardening the sewing and reaping and painting and mellowing, the cooking and tasting, the feeling and touching. 
            I am home.

Johnny, porch swing and flowers

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Anger Art

My first poem was on discovering the other woman.  Looking back I can see that it was also my first performance piece and my first installation.  I didn’t think of myself as a poet or an artist.  I was just writing.  And what happens when you write is you make discoveries.  One of the highlights of my writing, reading and performing was meeting Gloria Steinem at the UK Women’s Writers conference in about 1990.

Anger Art

He said, “She is just storing a few things here.”
Heart beating fast, I threw it all on the floor.
First, from the drawers, came the nightgown, panties and bra.
Next, from the closet, came the pants, shoes and shirts followed by birth control pills and make up from the bathroom.
Still angry!
I went to the kitchen and piled on the dishes she brought to cook for him in. Then emptied the fridge of her leftovers—salad, spaghetti, fruit, hamburger.
Still angry!
Needs more texture. How about pancake flour dusted everywhere. And the bubble bath she “stored” in the bathroom—poured it all over.
Finally, icing for the cake—maple syrup, drizzled every­where.
Even on top of the angry, goodbye note— “have fun you fuckers!”

On Being Silenced

When I was in my thirties I wanted to write the truth about everything, no matter how painful.  And it was important that I did write and share.   Now that I’m in my sixties, that is not so interesting to me.  I want to write more about the sound of the dry leaves falling from the trees on this warm early fall day, about being still and listening.

On Being Silenced

Am I the only one whose husband has had an affair?
or am I the only one talking about it?

my husband did have an affair
and while it was going on
I wrote about it
I wrote the truth
the whole truth

and then I shared it
shared it with everyone
every chance I got

and you know what happened?
I don’t think he liked it very much
that I did that
that I shared my poetry

how interesting, I thought
and I said,
but, darling, have you done something you’re ashamed of?
after all,
you expected me to handle it
certainly you can handle my
writing poetry about it.

The night I was the woman in the red tights and black mini dress

This is the poem I’m reading in this photograph.  It was taken during the 1984 filming of “The Southern Sex, debunking the myth.Unfortunately they only used the last two stanzas in the film.  I wrote it before I had grown sons and a wonderful husband.  And yet, I still do wonder. . .

This poem has to do with missed opportunity
and the labeling of women
who enjoy touch
just pure touch
as a whore and a slut
and I wonder
what do we call such men?

The night I was the woman in the red tights and black mini dress

“Good girls don’t”
so I did
I’m tired of being a “good girl” all the time

It was six years ago
he was the star
and he asked me
me? I had thought
not that I wasn’t trying to be attractive
even a little sexy
so I smiled
and he invited me to dinner

then I started thinking
you know how men are
they only want one “thing”
and “good girls” don’t give “it” to them
even if they wanted to
and boy did I want to
but I said no
can you believe it?
I said no

I couldn’t
I just couldn’t
I mean
after all
what would my mother say
and the priest
or my husband
heaven forbid

they would all call me a whore
or even worse
a prostitute

what’s the difference?
a whore does it for fun
and a prostitute does it for money

you know
sorta as in
being married
and he works hard for the money
and she gives him the “they only want one thing” thing

so anyway
I had to say no
and I’ve regretted it all these years
what would it have been like? I wondered
you know how it is
when there is something you really want
and you imagine it
and fantasize it
and then one day
the opportunity actually presents itself
and you turn it down!

the pits!

so last week-end
there I was
nearing the possibility
that the opportunity might present itself
one more time

I really doubted it
I was six years older now
he would certainly be more interested in the younger women

I wore my red tights and black mini dress, anyway

and then he did
he asked me

this is it
this is the “moment you’ve been waiting for” moment

so say it
say yes
you know you want to

“You asked me that same question six years ago”
I reminded him

“And what was your answer then?” he asked

“I’d like to think you’d have remembered
if my answer had been yes”
I told him and I knew then where I was headed

so say it
say yes
you know you want to

“I don’t have any birth control,” I said instead
and he did

“I didn’t shave my legs”

“No problem”

so say it
just go ahead and say it
say yes
you know you want to

so I did
I said yes
I want to
I want to be a whore

and touch
just pure touch
no dinner
no drinks
just touch.