Captured Memories

“I am going to disappoint you. But you knew that already.”

My ears sting as I absorb the meaning of each word, my heart like lead. His words tell me that we are on two different grieving paths that will not intersect anytime soon. I see him wanting to start a new life that doesn’t include his children and he sees me living in the past. He is right. I do want to hold onto the memories of my mother, while trying to shape a life in an uncertain future that will be difficult without her. Mom’s photos from her childhood and family life gave me comfort. And a linear connection to her past that I would have otherwise not known. But Dad threw them away.

Gone are the pictures of an intriguing old-fashioned past. Rotting away in a heap of garbage are the antique-looking pictures where the faces are emotionless, and people hold statue poses. The notion that I can longer see these images causes great panic and fear. Mom seldom shared her childhood, so these images were a gateway into her life before marriage.

They’re gone.

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One saved image of Mom and parents in Texas.

He knows I love photos. Looking at them, studying them was simply staring at a moment captured in time. Imagining friendships with family members I have never met, especially my mom’s parents, was important to me.  I marveled at the palm-size, black and white photos with frayed corners, creating stories in my mind of 1950’s life.

Grandma Beth, a spitting image of my mother, always had a wide smile and gleam in her eye. Grandpa Art, appeared dark and brooding in some, and in others, can hear his emitting laughter.  I want so badly to be a part of this captured memory. Imagining one such event: Grandma Beth is smiling, holding a cigarette delicately in her hand while the others around appear amused. What made her smile? I place myself at the kitchen table, listening to the daily grandparent musings. Life happens here, where Grandpa Art, with his drink of choice, tells stories of his daily grind. Grandma Beth and future mother raptly listen.

Nothing special about these pictures, but to me, they meant everything.

Yet, the photos are gone.

One salvageable photo shows mom at the age of ten as she only comes up just below grandma’s waist, standing before a black car. Both are wearing what looks like their “Sunday’s best;” however, my mom’s feet are shoeless. I can hear the conversation now.

“Put on your shoes, just for the picture, hon!”

“No, it’s too hot!”

“Fine…Art just take the damn picture, please.”

Fast forwarding years, another saved photo of the mother-daughter pair shares a similar theme. It is Easter again. But this time, the pair is standing in front of a newly invented television, which is adorned with a Lily in a vase. Mom and grandma are dressed appropriately for church. My mom is wearing a fancy hat with a net that partially covers her eyes. On her shoulder is a corsage. Why, though, mom is not smiling while grandma is grinning widely? I can only speculate the conversation’s content before the camera flashed.

Traditions continue in an Easter photo taken in 1980’s of mom and her three children who seemed less than enthusiastic in creating memories. Dad surely said a funny line as mom is caught mid laugh. My sister stands opposite at attention, while I am trying to swish my brother’s arm from giving me the dreaded cooties. Interesting that a simple photo can capture complex relationships.

Grieving changes people. Devoted and committed to my mom, Dad did all and more as a traditional man should do for his wife and family. Once a proud and sentimental man, I recall making a production of having a family photo framed and given as a 25th anniversary present. He has transformed into a man who does not appreciate sentiments of the past in any form. I do not know the man that resembles my father.

He wants to let go of the past; I want to hang on. Disappointment in each other will only bring us down a solitary, widening path. We are grieving in the ways only we can understand. I daydream that he can come around the corner, yielding to the past. When that happens, I will be sure to capture the laughter and joy I know he has in his heart.

Semicolons and Bacon Don’t Mix

If Garth Stein can show the humanistic side of dogs in Art of Racing in the Rain, then Dean Koontz can illustrate that dogs have a great sense of humor – and a serious obsession with bacon.

Before reading Stein’s fiction piece, I read Dean Koontz’s memoir of his golden retriever, Trixie, in A Big Little Life. Reading chapter after chapter, Trixie became more and more charismatic. Soon I thought to myself: If only I could be an acquaintance of Dean Koontz just so I could play chase-the-tennis-ball with Trixie. Funny how dogs can bring people together!

One aspect of what made Trixie memorable before her passing was her shared delight and frustration with living a writer’s life. Loathing punctuation rules and desiring publication aspirations, surely humans can relate to Trixie’s story below:

Excerpt from Dean Koontz’s A Big Little Life:

My Summer

By Trixie Koontz, Dog

Dad teaches me to type. Hold pencil in mouth and type. At first is fun. Then is not fun. He saysTrixie to me, “Write, Trixie, write. Write essay for Web site.” Being good dog, I write. Not fun, but I write.
Expect treat for writing. Get no treat. Stop writing. Get treat. Carob biscuit. Good, good, good. Okay, so I write some more.

Dad promises Web site visitors my essay end of July. Must give up important ball chasing, important napping, important sniffing – all to write. Work hard. Writing hard. So many words. Stupid punctuation rules. Hate semicolons. Hate; hate; hate. Chew up many pencils in frustration.

Finish article. Give to Dad. Then I rip guts out of duck. Duck is not real. Is Booda duck, stuffed toy. I am gentle dog. Cannot hurt real duck or even cat. But am hell on stuffed toys. Work off tension. Rip, rip, rip. Feel pretty good. Cough up soggy wad of Booda-duck stuffing. Feel even better.

Dad gives editorial suggestions. Stupid suggestions.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! He is not editor, is writer. Like me, Trixie Koontz, who is dog. I pretend to listen.

Am actually thinking about bacon. Bacon is good. Bacon is very good. People call me “good dog, good, very good.” Bacon is very good. I am very good. But I am not bacon. Why not? Mysterious?

Then I think about cats. What is wrong with them? Who do they think they are? What do they want? Who invented them, anyway? Not God, surely. Maybe Satan? So serious writing about cats, I use too many italics. Then I hit hateful semicolon key; don’t know why; but I do it again; and whimper.

Dogs are not born to write essays. Maybe fiction. Maybe poetry. Not essays. Maybe advertising copy. Here is my advertising copy: BACON IS VERY GOOD. BACON. BUY LOTS OF BACON. GIVE TO ME. THANK YOU.

Dad gives me editorial notes for study. Eight pages. I pee on them. He gets message.

Dad says will give my essay to webmaster as is. Webmaster is nice person, nice. She will know good writing when she sees it.

Days pass. Weeks. Chase ball. Chase rabbits. Chase butterfly. Chase Frisbee. Begin to notice sameness in leisure-time activities. Pull tug-toy snake. Pull, pull, pull. Pull tug-toy bone. Pull, pull, pull tug-toy rope. Lick forepaw, Lick a more private place. Still do not taste like bacon. Get belly rub from Mom. Dad. Mom. Dad. Get belly rub from Linda. Get belly rub from Elaine. From housekeeper Elisa. Belly rub, belly rub. Read Bleak House by Mr. Charles Dickens, study brilliant characterizations, ponder tragedy of human condition. New tennis ball. Chase, chase, chase! Suddenly is September.

Webmaster asks where is Trixie essay? Where? Dad lost. Dad got busy working on new book, got busy, forgot fabulous Trixie essay, and lost it. My human ate my homework. Sort of.

All my hard work, my struggle, so many hateful semicolons. All for what? All for nothing. Essay lost. All for nothing. Feel like character in Bleak House.

      Think about getting attorney. Get literary agent instead. Writing fiction. Novel. Maybe knock Dad off best-seller list. Teach him lesson. Writing novel called My Bacon by Trixie Koontz, Dog. Already have invitation from Larry King, David Letterman, be on shows, do publicity, sell book, get belly rub from Dave. Maybe get limo for media tour. Ride around in limo, chasing cats. Life is good when you’re a dog.

 

Work Cited

Koontz, Dean R. A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog. New York, Harper, 2009.

A Dog’s Tale

I have the most endearing, most lovable, and most loyal daughter. I love her with all my being. She completes me as I am sure I complete her.

Myla is:

Always by my side.

Generous giver of kisses.

Easy to entertain.

My pawfect best friend.

Six years ago, Myla came into my life when I least expected it, but most definitely needed a gift like her. At the time, I was gaining teaching experience while living in South Korea. I had just moved to a new city, Yongin, after having lived in the country for nearly two years. I needed a fresh start as just a few months prior, I had lost my mother. As a way of dealing with my grief, I used my work as a distraction. I also started graduate school via online. Still, with all of what I was filling my life with, I hated coming to an empty apartment. Exploring Yongin, I quickly gleaned there was an abundance of veterinarian clinics and individuals carrying four-legged animals in their arms, in tote bags, or walking small dogs in the park. That is it! I need a dog. Having a dog will help me get out of bed, give me motivation, and have something to look forward to. Upon inception, I got permission from my employer, researched requirements to taking a dog into the United States, and most importantly searched for a dog to have as a companion.

LookingHelpless

Myla, aka, Fozzy Bear as she appeared on the animal rescue website.

Fozzy Bear, as she was formerly known, was the first and only dog I looked at on the animal rescue website. I knew right away that she would be mine. I contacted the person placing the ad, and within in a week, the nine-week-old puppy made the bus ride trip from the middle of South Korea to Yongin.

Since that eventful day on December 9th, 2011, Myla and I have been inseparable. Our bond is so strong that even when I am away from her for just a few hours, I get anxious to get home to be with her.

It goes without saying that once Myla jumped into my life, soon everything I did evolved around anything “dog.” I would watch dog movies, watch YouTube clips of dogs doing funny antics for a good laugh, participate in online chat forums asking questions about training dogs. Everything in my life was Myla and dog centered. It was calming, and I soon learned having Myla gave me a different purpose. I became fascinated with how much a dog can influence humans.

Now, I am back in the States, finished my first masters, and now nearing the end of my second master’s. In one of my writing courses, the instructor informed the class that we could not write from a dog’s perspective. I never questioned it, but now I don’t think writing from a perspective of a dog is such a bad idea.

Art of racing in the rainThe reason for that is because I just finished reading Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. The story of Denny, his wife Eve, their daughter Zoe, and Eve’s parents, known as the “evil twins” is told through the perspective of Enzo, a mix breed dog which Denny plucked from a litter from a farm near Seattle, Washington. What struck me about this fictional story is the idea that a dog can understand more about humans that we can perceive it can comprehend. Enzo was able to understand, have empathy for Denny and his struggles to keep his family together, but, because he cannot communicate with the words and mannerisms that humans do, he can only hint at his level of understanding with a look, a twist of the head, or a bark or two.

In the middle of this, I turned to Myla and I asked her, “If you could talk, what would you say to me?” I sing to Myla and talk to Myla at any given opportunity during our daily routines. Myla has licked my tears away when I have been sad. I would like to think that I can be a comfort to her as she has been a great source of comfort for me so far. If talking to me in some way would bring us closer, I would be game for it.

Some might say that it is not possible for a dog to have such capabilities to take on human characteristics. But for the sake of fiction, and just for a moment, it does not hurt to throw all expectations out. Being open to such possibilities in which dogs can be more than just a pet, will allow any human paw parent to appreciate the time shared with an animal. Human and animal can find their own way to communicate. I believe Myla rescued me, and I rescued her. And for that, I know we are grateful for each other.

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Why I Write.

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“Writer’s Inspiration” from Grant Snider

Hi World!

Have you ever had a situation where you recognize your feelings and rumination are so strong, it won’t let your mind rest?

Sure, everyone thinks about the every-day-of-the-mill pesters such as what to make for dinner, how am I going to get all my to-do’s done, what’s on tap for tomorrow’s to do list.

Let’s see, there is a frozen pizza, I can just pop that in and have sliced peaches on the side. Gotta get my fruit quota for the day in! How many glasses of water did I drink? Three, I think. Not enough. Darn it! Where is my water tracking sheet, anyway? Speaking of tracking, wasn’t today the deadline to submit mid-term grades? That is the very first thing I NEED to do as soon as I walk through the door. Oh, but I will need to take Myla on her evening walk first. She has had to hold her pee in for the last five hours. How can twenty-pound dog hold her bladder for that long? Poor girl, I NEED to start getting up earlier to actually take my little princess on her daily walk. Not fair to her – or me. Okay, almost home. What has a deadline tonight?

 This kind of internal conversation is on point for just about anyone, I am sure. Am I, right? But what happens when you react so strongly after witnessing or experiencing something historic, shocking, amazing that you are just utterly compelled to bring thoughts together with pen and paper or fingers to a keyboard? These feelings are so strong that it is something you want to remember for the good, or the bad. Whatever it is, it’s a voice – yours and mine that needs to be released into the world.

For me, I write:

To express what I am too hesitant to say in person.   Hesitation can be for reasons of wanting to avoid confrontation, not wanting any drama. As a sensitive person, I internalize my feelings and am more comforted in writing words rather than speaking. Writing gives me the courage that my physical voice cannot. Over time, the emotions felt will fade; however, the words I wrote will be reminders of the courage I had to write, and what I could not say in the moment.

How many times have you wished you had said something to someone, but didn’t? I have way too many of those that I have stopped counting. I am a different person in my journal, however. I give myself a different ending.

I write to reflect on how our society is today. Because of my current job as an adjunct English professor, I see, hear, and read things that completely flabbergast me. I am ambivalent towards the millennial generation, for example. I have to instruct students to the ways of the college life and academic writing, but why can’t they just know to take out a notebook and physically write notes? Okay, if they want to use a computer, that is fine, too. But at least be taking notes! All this bafflement goes out the window when I have a thoroughly thought-provoking discussion on the future of the American dream. I know I have their undivided attention when not one student has looked at his or her cell phone the entire seventy-five minutes of class. Success!

Interacting with millennials is just one of the many aspects of today’s society that I am intrigued about. I do have an opinion on life as an adjunct, what is happening to the middle class, (you will see that I am passionate about the American dream debate), the current political mood, and the good and bad effects of social media.

Lastly, I write because years from now, I want to remember. I want to remember my triumphs, my struggles, my little joys with my dog. For that reason, I write everything. I write the small and the big, because to me, it all matters.

What about you? Why do you write?