Forbidden Frida

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In 2008, I wasn’t writing the Empire State Vamps. I was selling drawings, mostly of fairies, and nature photography, on Etsy. I was learning new things every night. I followed established artists and indie artists and newbies like myself. I kept seeing the name “Frida Kahlo” and art inspired by this Frida Kahlo, and I did not know who she was.

9 years ago, my immediate impulse was to go to the library. As I was living on Long Island at the time and the library was convenient to my ex-husband as he left work, I asked him to pick up a biography of Frida Kahlo for me. I searched the library catalog from home and found the most appealing bio to me: Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. I printed the page, gave it to my ex-husband, and asked him to check out the book for me.

I really didn’t expect a Major Racist Insecure Male problem, because he regularly checked out books for me. I just wanted to understand Frida, who was so important to so many women artists.

What I got was:

“Why would you want to read about her? She was a lesbian who had an affair with a black woman.”

For my self-protection, I played the shocked female role. “I didn’t know! I would never read a book like that! I was just curious about her because she’s so popular on Etsy.”

I never heard a bigoted word out of that man’s mouth until President Obama announced his candidacy. In fact, he used to mock Southerners for being ignorant and racist. I can’t explain it. I’m just glad I don’t have to listen to it any more.

Please understand that I was in an abusive, controlling relationship, isolated (why I asked him to get books for me) and afraid for my personal safety and that of my cats, and brainwashed. This incident was an element of my packing up (including the cats) and leaving him. This incident may have been the impetus. He was okay with my drawing fairies, but I stepped out of line. After that, I started daring to go to the Riverhead library and Borders. I don’t think that I ever asked him to bring another book to me.

Still, that book lingered in orbit around the moon of unread books. I thought of it from time to time in my new life, but there was always something else. Until the other night.

I remembered the book, the fact that it was paperback, had the movie tie-in cover, was 500 pages long. I searched the library catalog on Long Island. Then I found it on Amazon: Frida, a Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.

Now I have it in my hands.

frida

Of course in the years since 2008 I’ve educated myself about Frida Kahlo. But my desire to read this forbidden book never waned. And now I’m going to read it, and I know that it doesn’t matter to my ex-husband because I’m no longer his property.

But it matters to me that someone told me not to read a library book, and now I own it, and it sits on my bedside table.

(Edited for clarity, and because one sentence just made no damn sense 5/11/2017)

WIP Excerpt

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I had been a witch since I was fifteen. One of my parents worked every weekend, most often, both. My grandfather just said church wasn’t for him. He spent Sundays in his woodshop. My sisters and I got stuck at the old, musty Methodist Church between my grandmother and my aunt. I always ended up beside my grandmother, which I thought was rather stupid because Paige was so young and my aunt always had to carry her downstairs to the nursery. Reading fantasy novels led me to the folklore shelves in the library, and on the other side of those shelves were the books on religion. The Spiral Dance had a red cover and was like a forbidden fruit in a garden of dry and bitter things. I stood reading it until my legs started to ache. I took the book to a quiet room and sat in a cubicle, reading, reading, until a librarian tapped on the glass door. The library was closing. It was almost five on Saturday afternoon. I took the book home and copied much of it by hand into a notebook. I still had the notebook.

I hid my first altars in plain sight by using dollar store figurines as goddesses and other cheap knickknacks, even Christmas decorations, to decorate the altars. My mother thought nothing of my using my grandmother’s old cut-glass salt and pepper shakers as vases for violets and other little wildflowers. My grandmother gave me a little allowance for vacuuming and dusting her house every week. I used it to buy “witchcraft” books that I hid at the bottom of my hamper, the one place my sisters would never look. My mother made us do our own laundry. She laughed long and hard when I fessed up as an adult.

WIP Excerpt

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After my grandfather’s death, I took the stepladder from its place on the garage wall. Up in the rafters, I found old bottles with dead flower bouquets, and a wooden box. I took everything, replaced the ladder, and swept away my footprints in the pea stones. My grandmother was still alive, and my aunt might take anything out of the house or any other building on the property.

It was a rough handmade box, like something my grandfather had carved before he even became an apprentice woodworker. There were newspaper clippings, photos, and a postcard. A woman stood at what seemed to be the edge of a cliff, with little boys surrounding her knees. Someone had written Morton shaky pencil over one dark-haired boy. I touched the name. Most heartbreaking, someone had scratched out the face of my great-grandmother, probably, I thought, my great-grandfather’s second wife, after my great-grandmother died in childbirth. There were no other pictures of my great-grandmother in existence.

“Ain’t Nobody Else Going to Read Them”

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My mother and her older brother started cleaning out my aunt’s house today in preparation for it being put up for sale to satisfy the nursing home bill. I was unable to go and help  them today because I’m drowning in freelance assignments and still fighting bronchitis. My aunt’s house is hot and, after three years, dusty.

I asked for a few things from the house: a rag doll, teddy bear, a stuffed (toy) dog, my aunt’s sewing box, a handmade wooden box containing my grandfather’s paperwork as a railroad employee and then a barber, and my aunt’s memorabilia from President Obama’s first campaign.

My uncle despises President Obama and looks at Trump as a validation. A wealthy white male validation. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut when he saw my mother putting the Obama mailings into her purse.

“What do you want that crap for?”

My mother, wanting always to keep the peace and still afraid of her older brother, said “Robin likes Obama and she doesn’t like Trump.”

(My mother also likes Obama and doesn’t like Trump, but I’m used to being thrown under the conservative family bus.)

My uncle responded: “GOLLLEEE.”

When my mother located the specific book that I wanted (An Introduction to Literature, Fiction-Poetry-Drama, Barnet-Berman-Burto) my uncle told her to take every book in the house because “ain’t nobody else going to read them.”

The book that my mother brought to me is a college literature textbook. I wanted it because it contains A Rose for Emily by Faulkner.

My aunt had wonderful taste in decor. She could have been an interior designer. She worked as a waitress for 30+ years before going back to school to earn her R.N. degree. She worked in the same nursing home where she spent the last three years of her life.

Why do you want that crap?

Ain’t nobody else going to read them.

When I recover from this bronchitis, I’m going to my aunt’s house with my mother, alone, and rescuing the books.

 

 

Let Children Enjoy Childhood

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I had an unpleasant encounter with a male STEM proponent, and it’s been on my mind for days. Not because I’m anti-STEM or science. I’m definitely pro-STEM and science, and I think that boys AND GIRLS who show interest and aptitude for science and math should absolutely be encouraged to pursue those interests.

Please note that I said ENCOURAGED. I also believe that kids who want to read fiction, write stories, write poetry, draw pictures should also be encouraged to pursue their interests. Even if they want a  doll or other traditional toy for their birthday instead of a chemistry set or a microscope or a telescope.

When I was in elementary school, I read some of Rachel Carson’s work, and I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. That lasted a couple of months until I read a book about nursing careers, and I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. Then I started writing stories. And I knew what I wanted to be was a writer.

My father and grandfather gave me a healthy interest in the outdoors: plants, animals, birds. My grandfather used to point out the constellations to me. That and the year we studied astronomy for a semester in elementary school left me with an amateur’s fascination for the skies.

I still played with dolls every day.

Dissecting frogs and giant worms in science class revolted me. I think I failed that semester. I wanted nothing to do with the class any longer. I tuned out.

I have great difficulty with math. This started in the fifth grade when I had a teacher who actively disliked the kids who didn’t “get it” right away. If you needed extra help, she had no time for you. So I often turned in blank math tests well into high school and no one tried to help. I wasn’t getting it, so I wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

What saved me was art, history, civics, and English. When I was 16 I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and couldn’t go to school for a month. A math teacher came to my house and tutored me after school. When I went back to school, I was put into a remedial math class. I learned the basics that I had missed in elementary and middle school. With my high grades in the arts and humanities classes, I graduated in the top third of my class.

By that time I had been interested in folklore for a couple of years, and I read everything on the folklore and religion shelves. And trashy romances. And I still collected dolls.

I attended a four year private university and majored in English: Writing Studies. I had to drop out after three semesters due to financial aid cuts. My grandmother paid for me to go to community college. I graduated with a two-year degree in Paralegal Technology.

Now there aren’t any paralegal jobs here . . . unless you’re willing to work part-time under the table. I’d rather stay at home and write.

I’m a (paid) freelance writer by day and an aspiring novelist by night. In between, I’m a darned good amateur photographer, I’m still interested in astronomy, and I developed an interest in mycology as an adult living in a house in the woods with a stunning variety of mushrooms popping up in my yard in late summer and fall. The mushrooms are what made me go out and buy a good high-end camera and that got me interested in photography.

I still collect dolls. I’ve had a couple of people get very upset with me because I’m a 44-year-old woman who collects dolls. I don’t understand that. Adults play video games, read comic books, collect comic books, collect Funkos, collect action figures. So what’s so wrong with my dolls?

I think that the doll issue is so misunderstood by people outside of the doll community that it deserves its own post, so I guess this will be a two-parter.

I’m going to end this (because I have to go write an article for an addiction recovery center that helps people stay clean after detox) with a brief anecdote about a woman my age that I met in kindergarten. After decades of wondering what happened to her after my father put me in a different school, I reconnected with her last year. She’s brilliant. She has a fascinating career in STEM and a wonderful family, and she’s still dealing with emotional issues caused by an overbearing father–almost a stage father–who decided that since she was very good at math and science, that was her life path. And he gave her no choices. And she can’t even bring herself to come back to this town to visit me because of the bad memories of her early school years. She speaks regularly about giving her children the real childhood she didn’t have.

It’s just as cruel to force a girl who finds dissection fascinating and wants a microscope for her birthday to play with dolls because science isn’t “ladylike” as it is to take the doll out of the hands of the child who loves it and hand them a chemistry set that they do not want.

My father was a bastard, but somehow he managed to strike a healthy balance in types of play and education. He taught me to play chess by the time I was in the third grade. My grandparents added to my fascination with history. I regularly drive past my grandmother’s decaying childhood home and I want to know everything about how they really lived.

I’m as well adjusted as can be expected considering those couple of awful teachers I had at crucial points in my education. But I had a great history teacher in high school and a great English teacher in middle school and I think that they saved me. They, and the high school art teacher who said “draw what you want” and gave us a variety of media, and Mrs. Briggs, the math teacher, who tutored me while understanding that I was never going to be a math teacher. But my art teacher made me believe I could be an artist, and my history teacher gave me a fascination with medieval history (one of my other casual interests is archaeology, particularly from that time period) and my English teacher told me that I could be a published author like her.

I learned about archaeology and skeletal facial reconstruction from a romantic suspense novel that I read in high school.

I want teachers like the ones who encouraged me for all children. I want the teacher who sees the girl carrying the Rachel Carson book to guide her in the direction of environmental science.

But dammit, if that girl–or boy–also loves their Monster High collection, no one should belittle her or try to make her feel ashamed for liking dolls.

I’ll try to get to part two tomorrow, but I have a lot of content to write for the addiction recovery center.

I guess writing little stories in the 2nd and 3rd grade wasn’t a waste of time, huh?

Ann Wilson, Queen, and Writing

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I have been laid up for three days with the worst chest cold. We had two weeks of spring temperatures, everything started pollinating, and now we’re under a winter storm warning. Last night I was so delirious that I had a dream about being at a music festival in Central Park in the 70s and Queen and Heart were playing. Roger kept trying to hook up with Ann, but she had a baby and blew him off to go back to the hotel after the show. I dream about Queen a lot.

ANYWAY.

I have been struggling with my vampire books and struggling to write a story about a witch without any vampires sticking their noses in, and I got stuck in my all of this has been for nothing, you can’t salvage the vampire manuscripts, you can’t write about anything but vampires, you’re screwed.

I woke up at two in the morning, and I was so weak that I couldn’t sit up or cough. Thank goodness my mother was still up, and that she had the strength to pull me into a sitting position. I spent the next three hours coughing, you know, that burning, croupy cough. In between periods of coughing, I kept thinking, I really want to write. I know how to fix all the things.

I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink in 12 hours, but I wanted to write.

Now I’m up, and I’ve figured out my problems. The last third of book one of The Empire State Vamps is weak. I rushed through it. I have to rewrite it.

I have a good beginning for a story about fairies and changelings, set in the present. I think that’s my strongest story in progress. I need to do some plotting and outlining.

I have a good idea for a story about a witch. I have a good beginning. I don’t want to lose my momentum, but I have got to get this vampire book ready. I thought it was ready to query. It’s not. I was right for not just “putting it out there,” as people kept pushing me to do.

I have a lot of work to do and I’m still sick and very tired, and it’s frustrating. But I did start reading a new book last night that hooked me immediately (it’s about books and writing): The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It’s the perfect book for a wintry weekend of getting my strength back. And more resting means more thinking about stories, plotting, and dreaming about Queen.

The Best Place to Be

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I think the best place to be right now is in a creative community of writers, readers, photographers, and artists.

Some creatives avoid talking politics online entirely. Some touch on the subject in a neutral manner. Some are talking more politics than anything else right now, while others are trying to strike a balance between political talk and subjects that don’t induce panic attacks. I’ve tried to cut back on the politics but there are just so many things. So many many terrible things.

Ever since Sarah Palin blundered into our collective conscious in 2007, the “educated people are really the dumb ones” movement has spread like an infection in a bad sci-fi movie. You don’t have to go to college to be educated, especially right now when there’s so much knowledge at your fingertips. Instead of spending 12 hours a day on Twitter ranting, people could actually learn something . . . if they were so inclined. Me, I only have an Associates Degree in Paralegal Technology from the local community college. I attended a private college for a year and a half, but I had to drop out due to cuts to financial aid. Luckily, the library was my second home since I was a small child and I went to work there immediately after I graduated from high school. I read. About everything. I still do. I believe in learning for your entire life. No one reaches a point where there’s nothing left they need to know. No one on the face of the entire planet.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with my life.” Every single thing in the world has something to do with my life and everyone else’s life. Sharing Facebook posts and retweeting and forwarding emails isn’t learning. Want to learn something? Go to the library.

Creatives are lifelong learners. It’s comforting to be surrounded with people who all have that and expressing themselves in common. Every creative speaks the same thing in their own language.

Yes, Twitter has an ugly side, a side that repulses every person of conscience, but there are so many good people there. I’ve met many new people over the last week. As long as the creative community remains vital, I feel safer.