Baja Wordsmiths ~ February 23, 2017

The back patio at La Estancia Restaurant in Rosarito holds birdsong and sunshade umbrellas, a fountain waterfall telling its stories in waterspeak as it finds the narrow pool below, and seven writers gathered at a table to sharpen their verbs and polish nouns.

Robbie presents the exercise we will undertake which includes four categories (People, Places, Things, Themes). The task of listing four items after/under/within/whatever each of those categories is ours individually. Once we’ve given the initial four their four items, the neighboring writer to the left (without knowing what items we’ve listed in the various categories) chooses two of the categories. Our objective: Find new ways to connect old things.

Ready. Set. Write!

We have ten minutes.

My lists run thusly:

PEOPLE: Maya Angelou, Elsie Ivy, Mama, Friend
PLACES: Todi, Italy; Mira Loma; Pub; Casa
THINGS: Weeds; Books; Clothes; Hearts
THEMES: Angst; Loneliness; Confidence; Strength

Jen, the writer on my left,  chooses Places and Themes as the two categories from which I then select Todi, Italy and Strength as the items I will connect. This is what I wrote:

FOR SIX WEEKS after my return from Italy, I cried. Not all the time; not uncontrollably; and, often, not visibly. The thing is, just because mascara doesn’t run, dancing charcoal rivers down cheeks, doesn’t mean the heart isn’t sick.

I was heartsick for the small hill town with its thick Roman walls and crenelated roofs where I (and six other retired women) had spent four weeks. All liberals, all democrats, we were sorely disappointed and angry when — on Italian TV — President Clinton announced he “did not have sex with that woman.”

Not one among the seven of us gathered wanted to hear our President lie. But this is an aside meant to inform of the era when I was there — in Todi, Italy.

After my return to the states, I was homesick and heartsick because of the ease among people in Todi, the Italian hill town. Every evening people met in the piazza, strolled arm in arm, young with old, men with men, women with women, boys with boys, while children raced around and between them, hid in shadowy alcoves and jumped out to tag another among them.

The Italians of Todi had the strength of thick Roman walls surrounding their town, the strength of centuries of knowing skin-touching-skin meant nothing more than human contact.

At home in rural America, skin touching skin happened infrequently and seldom in public. Boys walking arm in arm or leaned into each other on a bench in a public park would be (or could be) attacked, bullied, vilified.

Writing this, coming to terms with the “then” and the “now,” I am crying. No tears on the outside, but oh the ache, the pinch in my heart, the bruise of knowledge … of how we are.

And, how we could be (what to call it?) a little more Todi-an.

~

I’ve made a few edits to the final two paragraphs above 1.) for clarity’s sake; and 2.) because I couldn’t read my handwriting.

The thing is, I can still hear the birdsong surrounding us on the back patio of La Estancia today; I can still hear the water tumbling hard into the pool near us; I can still hear the words other writers shared at our table, and I want to say Thank you to those who made it happen.

Thank you, each and all!

 

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Letters from Al, 1966-67 ~ February 22, 2017

Dear Alsie,

The box of your letters home from ‘Nam sits on the closet floor between storage boxes of yarn on the right and oil painting materials on the left. Remember your tackle box, the mustard gold one with double stacked trays where you kept fishing lures, worm threaders, nail clippers — the essentials of casting and catching? That box holds tubes of oil paint, has done for these 28 years (29 in November) since that damned blood clot dropped you.

I kept that box of letters at the foot of the bed for several months after I stopped writing to you, telling myself I would continue, I would complete the project I’d set for myself, I would answer them all — from the now — from these decades of what was once our future. On some level, I wanted to prove you wrong. I wanted to show you I could go the distance, not leave a work short of what it could be. You were, to my way of thinking, absolutely on the money 90% of the time. And I appreciated your honesty. (So easy to write — but did I?) (Being the ghost that you are, you’ve probably noted the long pause before the words began spilling again.)

Here’s the thing: This letter is not in response to one of yours. This letter is to share the news with you that one of my efforts has been published. This letter is to let you know that a publisher believed I had gone the distance, not left the work short.

I’m full of misgivings. Can’t stop wondering what you would think, what you would say. I did so love your straightforward, pragmatic, left brain way of looking at things — so opposite from me. I miss you, you lovely, lovely man.

Ok. So after another longish pause and getting my eyes dry and refocusing, what do I hear? I hear you doing your Donald Duck impression, spraying my misgivings with saliva, making me smile.

xo,
lynnsie

p.s. The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights is the name of the book, published by Waterstreet Press. I add this just in case the afterlife has a library.

Whales & Bricks Revisited

December 31, 2015. On this last day of the year, I find an email from WordPress with stats on this site (lynn doiron writes) and follow a link to the most popular post, which, if the WP stats are to be believed, was visited 57 times! Fifty-seven is a grand number for this infrequent blogger. I re-read the entry.

Not bad. Not Pulitzer or Nobel Prize worthy, but acceptable. Whales & Bricks captured a mood, a need to trust, and a resolution (of sorts) to do so.  After all, I’d made right choices before–and wrong ones.

I’d been in the midst of doing one or the other again on the date of that most popular post, of disassembling what I had in favor of reassembling elsewhere. Between here and there, emptying cupboards and closets into cardboard boxes, finding the odd lost sock or misplaced earring during this shake-down of my home, I’d been making choices, depositing unwanted yet still usable items at the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) Thrift Store in Rosarito, removing photos of my family–children and grandchildren–from their magnet-held stations on the refrigerator doors, and assiduously  ignoring my garden: the yucca starts Jennifer had brought me from hers, the palm trees Fernando had planted, the hibiscus Jo Ann gifted my first year in Baja–all the lovely beginnings from these friends and others that had thrived and grown tall. To work among them was somehow the worst of the worst during those days of disassembling. Why? They were rooted. I wasn’t.

In the end, the actual moving of all those boxes from one house to another never took place. I was dissuaded. And remain thankful for the intervention of friends.

On this last day of 2015, looking back on the chaos of March, I was, perhaps, a little bit like the baby whale mentioned in the earlier post. The difference, one difference at any rate, is that the baby, held aloft by its mother to view strangers afloat in a boat, knew enough not to want a home where it couldn’t survive … whereas I, blind-sided by something akin to love, was, for a time, willing to make the leap.

I glance up from these words, survey this room where a few cardboard boxes remain packed with non-essentials from then. One of these days I’ll get to them. One of these days all the “bricks” of 2015 will stack themselves into usable order. For the moment, it’s enough having them here in the room where I write, knowing the garden continues beyond the sliding glass door and will know my trowel and feel the snip of my clippers in the coming new year.

*

p.s. It’s taken the length of this write to realize those “57” views were predominantly mine. Is my little bubble of pride burst? Yes, dammit!

 

Beryl Markham nee Clutterbuck, meet Irene Parilee Johns

(Stumbled across this September 2008 blog post with information about the “Irene” who inspired The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights, scheduled for publication July 2015. Seems like an entry worthy of a “reblog” {whatever that means} so I’m giving it a go.)

lynn doiron writes

Beryl Clutterbuck was born in 1902, three years after Irene Lowe.  Both women made perilous choices that could have resulted in Atlantic Ocean related deaths-Beryl by crashing her Vega Gull during her solo flight from England to North America, and Irene by a bad entry into the Atlantic after having been shot from the human cannonball cannon off the Atlantic City Steel Pier in New Jersey.

 Beryl has a book written as if by her but actually by her third husband, writer and journalist Raoul Schumacher.  West With The Night was published in 1942.  This, by Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Max Perkins, is found on the back cover:  “Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night?  I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book.  As…

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March 14, 2014 – Letters from Al, 1966-67

Dear Alsie,

How’s it going, Froggy? I know … I’m  stealing one of your pet names for me but you were Froggy first. You used to make the best ribbet noises—not me.

Yesterday I had this brilliant idea to answer letters you’d written in March during March even though forty-seven years have elapsed since you penned your letters to me from Vietnam. I figured we could at least share the same time of year.

2-28-67 ltr env 3-1 postmarkPostmarked March 1, 1967, the letter inside is dated Feb. 28 and reads:

Dearest Darling Lynnsie:

            Hello sugar, how’ve you been? I love you. I’ll always love you.

            Lynnsie, you know how I’ve been feeling sorta depressed lately? Well, today I reread a certain letter that you sent me a while back, written on Jan. 25. It was the letter assuring me of your love and you kinda bawled me out for worrying about your love for me. You called me dense, which I guess I am. It was such a wonderful letter honey and reading it again made me feel so good inside. I’m going to carry that letter with me and every time I start feeling depressed, I’m going to take it out and read it. Then I’m going to kick myself in the butt and get myself motivated.

2-28-67 ltr p1The second page of your letter follows:

You also wrote in this particular letter about being afraid about not being able to please me and make me happy when I get home. This is something you never have to worry about. I’ll be the happiest person in the world just holding your hand. I please easy darling. So I don’t want to hear anymore about you being afraid I won’t be happy. If anyone should feel doubts, its me. I love you.

            Gotta go darling, they’re turning the lights out. I’m yours forever.

                                    Alsie.

Where do I begin with an answer to the above? You did “please easy”—and that’s the truth. There are other truths I try to write but they come out all wrong today. Let me just say I adored you. You were faultless in my eyes. The best in every way.

I’m glad I wrote a letter you carried, one you could pull out and read and feel better for having read it.

I’m stumped, Alsie, slogging on with old feelings of doubt in my head. I should write about the sun, how brightly it angles in to light the corners of this room. I should mention the sound of the surf beyond the west-facing window, the slushing noise rounded stones make as the tide pushes them up the inclined shoreline, how they tumble down when the waves recede. You know how gravel sounds as it slides from the raised bed of a dump truck? That sluicing jumble of hard against hard? It’s like that, Alsie. One load of gravel song followed by a lull as the waves take time to rebuild and come forward again to release another load of gravel song.

Are there sounds or songs where you are, Al? Is there sun? Is there love? I like to think you carry mine with you.

The words today are stuck. It’s as if there’s a really big truck load of them, all sorts of things I want to say, but for whatever reason the truck bed won’t lift, the words refuse to tumble free. My remedy? Yep, you guessed it—sign off for the moment and step outside for a taste of the sun, close-up and real. Maybe even the feel of ocean’s spray on my face.

Love,

Lynnsie

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February 28, 2014 – Letters from Al, 1966-67

Dear Al,

I want to ask how you are, what you’re doing, where you are, if the wind is blowing (like it is here), if there’s rain or perpetual sun, if there’s even a sky (as we know it). So many questions.

Do you remember these lyrics? What a day for a daydream / What a day for a daydreamin’ boy. They popped into my thinking while picturing you taking it easy, laying on your side in the yard, one hand propping your head, the other spinning a stem with a dandelion sphere of seeds on the top. And I’m lost in a daydream / Dreamin ‘bout my bundle of joy. I guess that’s where I am, Alsie—lost in a daydream, imagining you diddling time away, a perfect world of tiny seeds at your disposal, seeds with tiny beginnings of green and more green.

Perhaps an odd way to start a letter, then again, maybe not. The letter I read from you today dealt with a time when you were, hmm, how to say … ?

I’ll let you say it:  I sure feel like raising hell, but I know if I mess up I’ll really be in big trouble. I don’t think I’ll be able to control myself. I feel like getting drunker, causing more trouble and raising more hell than I’ve ever done before. That’s going to be a mighty big parcel of goofing off. I hope I don’t go to jail.

Postmarked “Camp Pendleton, Nov. 22, 1965”, the envelope held news that you were not a happy camper in ITR training, and that you, Larry and Tom would be attending MP school and not going overseas immediately. Addressed to Miss Lynn Due, 6536 Etiwanda Ave., Mira Loma, Calif., the letter found me still living with Mama and Daddy. Carolyn lived with us, too. We hadn’t moved into the studio apartment overlooking Riverside City College at that point. We would. I’m not sure when—but we would—desirous as we were of becoming “The” social hub of Riverside County.

The back of the envelope looked like this:

Nov 22 1965 howdy mrs. due I guess you know Mama thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. I’m smiling big time as I consider how your little greeting on the back of this envelope made her feel. Maybe not with as much surprised joy as she did when you came with the roses. What a rascal you were, Alsie. Showing up on Easter Sunday with a dozen long-stemmed yellow roses in hand. Answering the door, I thought, Wow! This is a first! Then you said, “They’re not for you. They’re for your mom.”

She was flabbergasted (to use a word I frequently run across in your letters). I don’t think she’d received a dozen roses from anyone—ever. You knew how to win the hearts of women. Well on your way to winning mine, you won hers in that instant.

While it was a first for me, finding a suitor at my door with a huge array of roses, it wasn’t the first bouquet between us. You’d had flowers sent, a dozen red roses, to the office where I worked afternoons. I was still in high school, a senior, working the Riverside County Schools switchboard from one until five. We’d had our first date on a Wednesday night; on Thursday afternoon red roses arrived to occupy a good portion of the switchboard/reception area counter; the card read: Can hardly wait for Friday. See you then! Al.

Yep. You had a way of sweeping a country girl—two country girls, me and Mama—off our feet. On the day of the yellow roses delivery, you softened the blow by saying, “There’s something for you in the car.” I’ll say there was! A plush white rabbit so large he took up half the back seat of your ’57 Chevy. Pink satin inside his huge floppy ears. White fur so thick and deep fingers disappeared when I stroked him. I named him Leon, after you, Mr. Alphonse Leon Doiron. He became my bed partner. He was a lovely friend.

I seem to have gone a little off track with this response to your November 22, 1965 letter. Your fault for writing Howdy Mrs. Due on the back.

I have to agree with you regarding the Corps choice of movies.

Nov 22 1965 elvis movieAnd I can understand why you were about to go crazy. Your frustration shows up again on page four when you write: I’m sending that letter my mom wrote me. It sure made me feel rotten,

Honey, I felt so bad that your mom made you feel rotten with some stupid letter. Then I read her letter. Oh my. She was full of righteous anger. Nov 12 1965 ltr from suzanneI don’t know if you can read what she wrote; the last paragraph says: The man looked me straight in the eye and asked if they should wait till you maim or kill someone before they took action. The “man” was the DMV clerk she had appealed to, on your behalf, for reinstatement of your drivers license. The “man” had shown her your records, the volumes of violations you’d been cited for, the fines you owed (in excess of $300—no small amount in 1965). She was “struck dumb” to hear you’d spent six days in jail; were on probation in Fresno and Bakersfield; and wouldn’t, under any circumstances (according to the “man”), be allowed a drivers license until a year after your enlistment ended.

As it turns out, according to your mom’s letter, you’d been turned down for the draft (unbeknownst to you) due to traffic violations and there was some question as to whether or not the Marine Corps would keep you once your record became known to them.

On page 2 of her five page tirade, she writes: Al you have always been my favorite but you’re sure killing a lot of it fast. One mess after another since you were 14 and it’s got to stop. You cannot enter adulthood with that devil-may-care attitude.

I can’t help it, Alsie. I have to say: “Well said, Mrs. D!” Of course I’m responding to her advice from an age slightly older (nine, ten years?) than she was at the time she sent you this blistering mail. Perspectives change. In 1965 you were a rascally hellion; I was a Mira Loma girl—rural to the max—and determined I’d go to college.

That song I mentioned earlier … I’ve been trying to remember who sang it and I think it was the Lovin’ Spoonful. It was one of those songs made you want to whistle along with the tune. I think it had whistling in it. These days with computers and the internet you can find anything. I googled (another new word for you—one I think you probably like because it sounds a little like goofy, a word you used more than once back in the day) the lines of the song I could remember, and came up with a few more lyrics.

And even if time ain’t really on my side
It’s one of those days for takin’ a walk outside
I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun
And fall on my face on somebody’s new mowed lawn.

Now I’m wondering which came first: the tune playing inside my head or imagining you twiddling that dandelion stem. Either way, you need to know you’re the guy on the grass admiring the complexities of a seed cluster, easy with the world (in my remembrances)—not the hell-on-wheels guy looking for trouble. You’re the guy with the roses for Mama and the rabbit named Leon for me. You’re the guy, Alsie, who made my life full and fun.

Besos y abrazos, as they say here in Baja. Kisses and hugs till the next time,

Love, Lynnsie

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February 25, 2014 – Letters from Al, 1966-67

Hello again,

It’s 8:40. I’ve been up for three hours trying to shake off a bad night’s sleep. When I walked downstairs, I figured out why, and you—my brown-eyed friend—are responsible. At least partially.

box on stairs2-25-14They they were—your letters, the box—near the base of the stairs just where I’d left them after sharing a visual look at the size of my task with a friend. I passed them by, warmed a cold cup of coffee from yesterday’s brew, sipped to test for appropriate heat and

box on stairs [2] 2-25-14there they were again, waiting, as I side-stepped their presence and made my way back up to the room where I write. Mostly to you these days.

In writing to you, I’m writing to me. In reading your letters, I’m finding you all over again. Or you’re finding me.

Usually the box shares the bed where I work with a laptop propped on a pillowed tray and my back propped against numerous pillows to save my lower back from sitting all day in a desk chair. Evenings I place the laptop aside, watch a little TV, move the back-propping pillows to the unoccupied side of the bed, and curl on my side under the blankets until my knees come against the letter box on the bedspread. It’s become my near-constant companion—this cardboard and paper presence. Last night it was not. Ergo, a lousy night’s sleep.

I’m right as rain now. Second cup of reheated coffee at hand and the box within sight as I write, the crankiness dribbled away. Here’s a picture:

boxes and computer

Remember the “fistful” of letters I mentioned in an earlier letter? More than a fistful, they fill the shoebox pictured. Our Aimee returned them. I wish you could see her. Meet her husband. Meet her son and daughter, the middle two of your six incredible grandchildren. I could (and maybe I will) fill a box of equal size (not the shoebox, the big one) with letters describing our children, their children—the families descending out of us. Remember the letters you wrote with visions of our future family? “Mr. & Mrs. Alphonse L. Doiron, Inc.” We were going to manufacture babies, little Doirons. And we did.

Alsie, sorry, I must cut this short. It’s Tuesday here in Baja—bridge game day for me. They won’t want me un-showered.

~

11-14-66 company on alert

And it said that you … these words run off the page and I wonder what my short letter to you said about me. Did I offer an apology for my short letter? Tell you I needed to say goodbye so I could meet friends, take in a movie, or make it to Mama’s and Daddy’s for dinner on time? Maybe my excuse was I needed to catch some shuteye before the alarm went off and another day of work for Pac Bell demanded my presence. I don’t have the letter in hand. The photo above was taken in November of last year. The letter, restored to its envelope, and the envelope filed chronologically with the hundreds of other letters—is out of immediate reach.

What is reachable, palpable, is an echo of guilt. Not the kind of guilt to cause huge amounts of self deprecation, but a gauzy veil of nickel-blue guilt I can see through. Clarity’s missing. I see the girl, the young bride who sent short letters to the boy “on alert” who doesn’t “know what’s up”. She’s a shadow, a cloud, a transparent mist, a flesh-and-blood girl too busy with life to write you a proper letter. She’s me. And I’m me. And you …

Sometimes this task is more than I can handle. I have the words. Acres of words. It’s harvesting them, making sense out of what was shared, is shared even now. This guilt business—is a bad weed. Makes me think of the kudzu blanketing trees along Georgia highways and byways. I can’t seem to untangle myself from its grip. But I will.

I will by signing off for the moment. It’s best, don’t you think?

I listen for a response, that patient/impatient hum. Nada. I smile, deciding you’ve drifted into sleep. That’s ok. I’ll be back, poke you with lines from your past and mine.

Love, love, love, Lynnsie

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