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Kat's Corner


My Life and Other Fictions

"You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it." Adrienne Rich
          
     When I was thirteen years old, I ran away from home. I didn’t get very far—just as far as the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown where my family routinely attended services each week. I sat on the floor of the semi-dark Sunday school supply room and weighed my options. I considered taking down a large plastic jug, full of lethal looking green paint, from the top shelf and swallowing some. Instead I called my junior high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Hasson, who convinced me my only real option was to go back home.

     Home was a small, white, wooden frame house on two and a half acres. We had a well, a sump pump and a red brick fireplace in the living room where my stepfather would occasionally attempt to start something on a winter weekend afternoon. We had four apple trees, one pear tree, a lilac bush and in the summer peonies, my mother’s favorite flower, bloomed. In the backyard not far from the house and in a beeline from the back porch stood a swing set complete with a teeter totter and slide. Little feet had worn the grass beneath the swings to dirt which turned to mud when it rained. We even had a dog—a black and brown beagle half breed I had gotten in the fourth grade from my then best friend Dianne Barrett and named Pudgy.

     My mother used to complain she felt like a prisoner in her own home. Back then I didn’t see her as another inmate but as the warden it would take a prison break or lethal injection to escape. In the meantime my great escape was reading, and my favorite books were mysteries. I was especially taken by Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. When I grew up, if I grew up, I wanted to be an investigative reporter—a combination journalist and private eye who went around uncovering injustices and exposing them by writing about them in a compelling manner. Until then, I read. I’ve heard it said we read to know we are not alone. I didn’t read about girls who had lives like mine. I read about girls whose lives I wanted to have. Girls who were clever, resourceful and brave. Girls who, despite any danger, were always safe in the end. I was in love with fiction. And my mother forecast it would be my downfall. Among her constant criticisms: “For someone who is as smart as you’re supposed to be, you have no common sense. You don’t live in the real world.”

      She, on the other hand, came of age in the real world of America in the 1950’s. When a woman’s place was in the home. But my mother was not a happy homemaker. Some days she said she felt the four walls closing in on her. The dust piled up along with the dirty dishes and laundry. She frequently declared she felt like a maid. The more children she had, the more work she had to do. Although what she would have done in lieu of all that childcare and housework is unclear to me. I suspect it was unclear to her as well. I don’t think my mother ever knew who she was or what she wanted to do. Such knowledge was a luxury not afforded her until middle age. By then she seemed resigned to her earlier fate. Once all of us had grown up and moved away, once the housework (thanks to modern conveniences and more disposable income) had dwindled down to a few hours of work each day, my mother chose to remain a housewife. The house newer and bigger, her chores less confining, my mother stayed home watching soap operas and waiting for my stepfather to retire. Perhaps she, too, loved fiction and saw in those soap opera characters the woman she wanted to be. This was confirmed to me recently when my sister wrote my mother a long letter in which she expressed her feelings of sadness about her father’s death and her anger about what she felt was unfair treatment over the years. My mother responded by threatening to disinherit her. Actually she said, “I will bequeath Donna one dollar and leave the rest of her share to my grandchildren.” At last here was a real life drama she could revel in. It occurred to me then that my mother had watched one too many episodes of Dynasty and All My Children.
Mar/16/2009, 11:27 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Katlin Profile
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For some time now, years actually, I've felt that I've lost my way as a writer, lost some of my original voice and the original joy I once felt in the writing process. I've decided to use Kat's Corner as a space to try to reconnect with those lost parts of myself. To that end, I'm going back to older pieces with the hope of retracing my earlier footsteps and re-encountering myself along the way. Some may find this to be a narcissistic endeavor on my part, and perhaps it is, which is why I've decided to post these pieces in Ateliers, the worskhop space set up for members to, well, work on whatever strikes their fancy. My hope is that Kat's Corner can be a place for me to work out, work through, creative blocks that will, in turn, lead to new works with greater authenticity, and less pretense. Not that I mind a good pretense once in a while, but I just don't want so much of my writing to fall into, and be limited by, those parameters.
Mar/16/2009, 11:46 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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As I jump into the "Way Back Machine," I keep bumping into my mother. Here is a piece I once posted on the blog of a wonderful writer, in response to a post he had written on moving piece about corporal punishment:

In 5th grade my teacher was a man with a wooden paddle, which he kept hanging on a hook at the front of the room. The paddle had holes drilled into it--some said this design made the whacks hurt more. After Mr. T hit someone--always a boy--he made him sign the paddle, which was like some sort of personal trophy and a monument to corporal punishment.

All these years later, I can still recall the day he took one big, red-haired boy out into the hall to paddle him. Since Mr. T left the classroom door open during these punishments and since I sat in the back of the room near the door, I was in a good position to be an ear witness to the event. I sat frozen in my seat and felt myself go numb inside. When the punishment was complete, Mr. T and the student, whose name I don’t recall, returned immediately to the room. The boy’s face was bright red, but he did not cry. I didn’t cry either, but I wanted to.

My mother kept a small wooden paddle in the top left-hand drawer of the hutch in the dining room. The paddle had once been part of a toy—the kind that has a small ball attached to a paddle by an elastic rubber string. I still wonder what made my mother think to utilize that old and broken toy in such a way. She didn’t always use the paddle on us. Mostly she used her hand. I had three siblings, and as a kid I remember being grateful that I did not sit right next to her at the dinner table because that meant she couldn’t just up and smack me during a meal. She had to get up and walk around the table to reach me, so I had a few seconds to prepare myself.

One day when I was 16 and my mother slapped me across the face, I surprised us both by suddenly raising my arm and slapping her back. I was taller than she was by then, and we both stood there staring at each other for a moment in disbelief. She never hit me again, but I felt guilty about what I had done. Years later I told my younger brother about what had happened and my remorse. He said that something similar had happened to him. He had just gotten his driver’s license and was taking my mother somewhere. She hit him on the side of the face while he was driving, so he pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, turned to her and said, “Don’t you ever, ever, hit me again.” She never did.

I confess I hated her for years, but in time I was able to understand the fear, frustration and pain she must have felt at what she thought was a life not well lived. In some ways I think she thought she was doing the right thing—she wanted us to be good, obedient kids and believed that physical discipline was the best method to achieve that end. She also wanted to receive the respect she thought she deserved but wasn’t getting. I still wonder what made my mother feel that respect won through fear and pain could be a substitute for respect born of love and mutual trust.

Yes, there was harm in me, but eventually I learned to forgive her. I read somewhere that people give what they have to give. By looking at what she gave, I realized what must have been missing in her life, and compassion for her finally came.
Mar/16/2009, 11:52 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
ChrisD1 Profile
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Kat,

It's good to read your writing here, I'm encouraged by your example.

Chris

Last edited by ChrisD1, Mar/17/2009, 8:38 am
Mar/16/2009, 12:16 pm Link to this post Send Email to ChrisD1   Send PM to ChrisD1
 
Terreson Profile
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Well, Katfriend, this sure as hell takes guts. And I get what you mean by your stated purpose, what almost amounts to a manifesto. Only once have I had the kind of courage such writing takes when I wrote a self-story looking to make a clean record of childhood abuse, and gettting raised on lies, and how dark it is for all children when the grown ups of their immediate circle are, what I call, emotional titans against whom small type people have no defense. As I say I wrote the self-story and, but for one reader, it has kept in a cabinet, in a box, in another box, in the dark for well over ten years. Funny, huh? I am an old man by now. Why should I care if the story gets broadcasted or not? I think I lack the courage. Maybe, as the saying goes, I am afraid of Virginia Woolf.

I get your stated purpose. Or I presume to think I do. Avoidance and silence can amount to a lie that, parasitically, eats away at its host until the creative processes, the powers of regeneration, are killed off. Or blocked. And so it makes sense sometimes to go back to the beginning to unstopper the blockage. It also makes sense, at least to me, that without truth, especially the journalistic kind, there never is poetry or any other art. There is more to what Keats said than what our middling-minded, half-bored High School English teachers wanted us to hear and every lonely hunter knows:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

About your prose pieces. There is an instinctive talent shown for character portrayal that strikes me. The mother comes through, the unbearable disappointment(s), and the penchant for taking out her frustrations on the less strong. This particularly strikes me. It is truly an American story, the inverse of the American dream unrealized by most, yes, most Americans, and played out in everything from domestic violence to lynchings. And the young girl comes through too, the narrator, who by age 14 is already an old woman weighing her chances for survival and weighing if the effort is worth it. I am not critting the pieces. I am just commenting on two universals that come through for me. Maybe one other thing. The clipped delivery of your syntax is perfect for the charged atmosphere.

Here is a side-thought for you maybe. An observation your pieces bring to mind. I don't know if it is universal but I am convinced it is international. Or how it is an abused child one day grows enough height and gains enough body mass that stops the physical abuse. I was 15 the day it happened. The day my tall mother was no longer taller than me, and I stopped myself with clinched fists inches from her face. I remember the shock in her eyes and the realization she would have to switch gears, change how she approached me, respect my space. And I have this Iranian friend, a convenience store keeper, who told me the story of the very same day in his teenage life when he took the strap out of his abusive father's hands and told his father the next time he would be on the receiving end.

There are diffferent means of investigative reporting, Katfriend. This reads like investigative reporting to me. Look up a southern journalist by the name of Rick Bragg. An Alabama boy made good. "All Over But for the Shoutin" is one hard story of abuse, darkness, despair, truth reckoning, and finally reconciliation.

Tere
Mar/16/2009, 7:07 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Terreson Profile
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Have reread your pieces, Katfriend, wanting to make sure my gut response to them is right, which it is.

I think I slightly disagree with Adrienne Rich. I think I am more inclined to maintain that you must write when, or only if, your life in fact does depends on it.

Tere
Mar/17/2009, 6:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Chris & Tere,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Any type of response a reader feels moved to make would be welcome. I took the first piece to a real life workshop when I wrote it and had it critiqued there, but that doesn't mean someone else can't critique it now if s/he wants to. I may post something in this thread I don't want critiqued in the standard workshop way, and if that happens, I'll say so.

Tere, set in the context of your post, that Keats quote takes on a whole new meaning for me. Thank you for sharing both your story and your Iranian friend's story. It pleases me that you think the first piece reads like investigative reporting.

I have shared these pieces with a number of people, on- and offline, so it seems I've become more cautious and I don't know why. It's not that I wish to revisit topics from my childhodd at this time. It's not even that I wish to write poems or prose pieces that are strictly autobiographical. I would, however, like to write with more honesty, authenticity and courage when I tackle certain human, all to human, subjects, and this space on Delectable Mnts feels like a good place to test the waters.

Thanks again for stopping by. emoticon

Last edited by Katlin, Mar/19/2009, 2:07 pm
Mar/19/2009, 2:02 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Yes, Katfriend. I never understand why others don't understand that Keats and other Romantics, English, French, German, Italian, and Russian were as much moral philosophers as they were poets and asthetes. There is no possibility of beauty in untruth. And truth is visceral. And truth is in the guts, in the reportage.

Tere
Mar/19/2009, 7:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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