What I Read in June

Chasing Utopia: a Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni. Published by William Morrow, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Copyright 2013.

 

This is a collection of the author’s poems and essays. Utopia, in this case, is actually a type of beer, and in the title piece, she talks about her search for this rare, expensive beverage. Other topics include black culture, hip hop music, family memories, poetry, and living alone. Although most of her essays were interesting, I was bored by a lot of her poems. They were just what I needed to put me to sleep on a Friday night in a strange motel room while attending a writers’ conference.

 

Where Aspens Quake by Tory Cates. Published 1983 by Simon & Schuster.

After photographer Christin Jonsson receives a negative review of her exhibit at an Albuquerque gallery, she quits her mindless job as a graphic designer, dumps her apathetic boyfriend, and flees to New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains where she is hired as a cross-country ski instructor at High Country Lodge. She falls for the establishment’s owner, Grayson Lowerey, but he turns away. His developmentally disabled daughter and past relationship with his ex-wife have created a barrier that Christin must help him overcome before the story can reach that happily ever after ending.

This book brought back memories of photography and skiing. My younger brother Andy dabbled in photography as a kid. Reading scenes where Christin is developing photos of mountain scenery in a rented dark room in Taos, I was reminded of the times I watched Andy develop pictures in an upstairs bathroom converted to a dark room. I also thought back to my two attempts at downhill and cross-country skiing during which I landed flat on my back and gave up. If I had an instructor like Christin, I might have succeeded. I liked the way she took the time to ensure each student’s success by starting them out on a level plain and then gradually increasing the route’s difficulty. In any case, during hot summer months, this book will refresh you.

 

Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien. Copyright 2013.

 

Author Edna O’Brien talks about her life growing up in the Irish countryside before and during World War II and her life in Dublin where she apprenticed at a pharmacy and became involved in the theater and literary scene. She also describes how she married another writer against her family’s wishes, gave birth to two sons, and moved to London where she did most of her writing. She discusses the objections of Irish people to her novels and her husband’s resentment of her success as a writer and how that eventually led to a messy divorce. She then describes meeting such celebrities as Paul McCartney and Marlin Brando and other aspects of her writing life including how she wrote plays for stage and screen. That was about as far as I got before deciding not to finish the book.

Although I enjoyed Edna O’Brien’s reading of this book on a Hachette Audio recording, after her divorce, her experiences seem to become more and more bazaar. She describes a party during which a man offered to use an electric drill to bore a hole in her forehead and a session with a pseudo psychotherapist during which she and the man took LSD. After that, I decided enough was enough.

 

Wake the Dawn by Lorraine Snelling. Copyright 2013.

 

In the woods near the small town of Pineview, Minnesota, on the Canadian border, Ben, a patrol officer, finds an abandoned baby girl and takes her to a clinic run by Esther, a physician’s assistant. They work together to save the life of the baby and others in the wake of two severe storms that hit the town almost simultaneously, resulting in downed trees and power lines and damaged houses. Ben has turned to alcohol to help him cope with the death of his wife in a car accident. Esther suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a hit and run. Eventually, the two of them help each other divest themselves of their emotional baggage and achieve that happily ever after romantic ending.

Once I started this book, it was hard to put down. I was not in danger of falling asleep while listening to this one, another Hachette Audio recording. Although it wasn’t read by the author, the narrator did an excellent job, even using a Minnesota accent with some of the characters’ voices.

However, this book contains some religious overtones I could have done without. The themes of forgiveness and trusting in God aren’t introduced until the middle of the story by the time you’ve gotten into it and absolutely must know how it ends. Had I know this, I might not have read the book. Otherwise, it’s a good story.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author,

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Purrsday Poetry: REMEMBERING HOWARD

abbiejohnsontaylor:

Another poem of mine appears today on Katzenworld.

Originally posted on Katzenworld:

Hi everyone,

Following on from the poem Wanda please find below the latest entry from author Abbie Johnson Taylor

REMEMBERING HOWARD

What a name for a cat, I thought
when Mother suggested it,
but I was only seven or eight
so what did I know, right?

A gray kitten with tiger stripes,
we thought she was a male.
After the vet told us otherwise,
Mother said it didn’t matter.

With such a sweet disposition,
Howard was my favorite.
When Mother wasn’t around,
or when she was mad,
Howard absorbed my tears,
soothed me with her gentle purr.

Even when I was an adult, she was there,
listening to my troubles,
not judging, not advising.
One of those cats with nine lives,
she lived to be twenty and will be missed.

cat pinterest 2

About the author:
Abbie-1

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a novel and two poetry collections. She is currently working on…

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How Mother Influenced My Writing

The year is 1975. We’re living in Sheridan, Wyoming. At the age of thirteen, I insert a piece of paper into the typewriter and turn it on. Its hum fills the living room and mingles with the whine of the electric mixer in the adjacent kitchen. While Mother prepares cake frosting, I type the assignment for my seventh grade creative writing class. When I’m done, I remove the sheet from the typewriter and carry it into the kitchen where Mother has just finished decorating the cake. With my limited vision, I admire her handywork while she scans my story.

The prompt is to write about someone who walks by a door in a wall that is usually closed but now open. Out of curiosity, my character steps through the open doorway. It is dark, and all of a sudden, a green monster jumps out. That is as far as Mother gets before saying, “Oh, you don’t want a green monster here. Let’s see…”

She strolls back into the living room, sits down at the typewriter, and inserts a clean sheet of paper. She verbalizes what she is typing since I can’t read print that small. When she’s done, my ugly story of a little girl attacked by a green monster and then waking up in  her own bed is transformed into a wondrous tale of a child who discovers a new world after walking through an open door in a wall. Why didn’t I think of that? A day or so later, the teacher hands me back this story with an A+.

***

Fast forward a year later. In the eighth grade, I’m assigned to write an essay about cancer for Science. We’ve moved to a bigger house with a study upstairs where I can work in peace and quiet. This time, I sit and listen while Mother reads me the research material from the public library and types the essay, again verbalizing each word or phrase as it appears on the page.

As the deadline looms, she keeps me home from school one day so “we” can finish it. This is great fun, I think, as I listen to her read and type. Fascinated by the topic, I realize that Mother could get cancer if she doesn’t stop smoking. When I point this out to her, she says, “Oh hush. I’m trying to write this for you.” I receive another A+.

***

Fast forward to high school. As a junior, I’m taking another creative writing class. Too busy teaching English and communications and directing plays at Sheridan College, Mother leaves me to my own devices until one night when I can’t think of anything to write. “Let’s see,” she says, sitting down at the typewriter.00

A while later, she has produced a thought provoking tale about an old man in New York City and how badly others treat him. “This is better than anything you’ve written before,” says my teacher.

***

Two years later, as a freshman at Sheridan College, I’m taking an English class from one of Mother’s colleagues where I’m assigned to write a paper on Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” This time, I’m determined to do it myself. With the help of the college’s work study program, I find a student willing to accompany me to the library and read material on tape. When I get home, I type the paper which mostly consists of a description of the story, some background information on Shirley Jackson, and what reviewers say about her work. When I finish, I show it to Mother. “Well, it’s nice, but I think we can do better,” she says.

She sits down at the typewriter, inserts a blank sheet of paper, and in a matter of hours, my basic English 101 paper is transformed into a scholarly essay. Her colleague loves it. From that moment on, I don’t even try to write papers myself.

***

Fast forward another two years. I’ve gone away to school, to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where Mother doesn’t know any of the faculty. Late one night, I’m sitting in my dorm room, staring at a blank sheet of paper in my own electric typewriter. I’m supposed to write a paper about Duke Ellington for a jazz appreciation class. After listening to material another student recorded and making notes in Braille, I haven’t a clue where to start. Mother’s not here, and the paper must be turned in the next day. What do I do?

Then it comes to me. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I type it in quotation marks and then continue. Duke Ellington’s life, his music, dates of publication and performances, his style, my impressions, all flow out of my fingers. It’s as if Mother was writing this paper, but she’s not. She’s 150 miles away, snug in her bed with Dad. The paper comes back a couple of days later with an A+.

I mail it home to my parents. Dad, a jazz enthusiast, gives it a rave review. Mother says nothing. I don’t care. I can write my own papers and still get good grades.

***

Fast forward again. In 1999, Mother has been diagnosed with cancer. On a hot summer day, I sit at my Mac computer in my air conditioned apartment. For the past ten years, I’ve been living independently and working as an activities assistant in a nursing home. I’ve just been bitten by the writing bug.

I’m crafting a piece that I’ll send to a contest. It’s a personal essay about how one of my sixth grade teachers who threatened me with an eighteen-inch ruler saw the error of his ways and wrote me years later to apologize. I know better than to show this to Mother. Instead, after proofreading it a million times, printing it, then reading it again with my closed-circuit television magnification system to be sure there are no mistakes, I mail it off. Six months later, Mother’s gone. My essay wins second place in the contest and is published a year later in SageScript, Sheridan College’s literary journal, with a note dedicating it in loving memory of my mother, Joan H. Johnson.

***

Looking back, I realize that in her own way, Mother was teaching me how to write. While she wrote my papers, I couldn’t go outside or listen to music in my room. I had to sit quietly and listen so that when I grew up and she was no longer around, I could do my own writing. She also wanted to be a writer, but family and other obligations kept her from pursuing her dream. Now that I’ve published three books and am working on a fourth, she can live that dream vicariously through me.

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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Before and After (Poetry)

In the beginning, you knew all about me,

which buttons to push,

how to hook me up,

install programs, fix problems.

Now, you hesitate,

push the wrong buttons.

When I don’t give you the desired response,

you beat my keyboard, proclaim I don’t work.

I needed new parts because I was slow to start.

You had them installed.

Still, you become frustrated

when I don’t perform the desired function.

I wish I could read your thoughts,

still want to please you.

***

This poem appears in How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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a Guided Walk

Abbie J. Taylor 010

I’m strolling down a well-marked foot path. No one else is around. I feel the sun on my face and shoulders. Occasionally, I pass trees that provide shade. The path gradually becomes marred by rocks and fallen branches. I keep plodding along, feeling a sense of peace despite the undefined trail. Birds sing in nearby trees, making me feel even calmer.

I finally reach the edge of the wood and glimpse a vast meadow with green grass and a few trees dotting the edge. A stream runs through the middle, and I hear its gentle babble and the wind whispering through the trees. I wander farther into the meadow and discover a picnic basket on the ground near the creek. Maybe a family was eating here and wandered off to find an outhouse or sheltered place to do their business. I look around, watch, wait, but no one appears.

The smell of fried chicken wafts from the partly opened lid. I open it the rest of the way and find two drumsticks, a small deli container of macaroni salad, a can of Dr. Pepper, still cold, and a zip lock bag containing a dill pickle, black olives, and cherry tomatoes. I look around to be sure no one else is approaching. All is silent except for the twittering birds, rustling wind, and babbling stream.

I sit on the ground next to the basket and dig in, thinking the food was left there just for me. I savor the flavors and wash everything down with the Dr. Pepper. I then lie back on the grass and bask in the sun’s radiance. After a brief nap, I wake to find the picnic basket with the garbage gone. Whoever brought the basket must have come while I was sleeping and collected the trash.

***

The above was inspired by a guided imagery exercise in which I participated at a retreat I attended recently. Now, it’s your turn. Close your eyes and picture yourself walking down a path in the woods. What do you see, hear, smell? As you walk, the path becomes more treacherous, but you feel calm. Pay attention to the atmosphere around you. At the end of the path is a vast meadow. What does it look like? As you wander into the meadow, you find a picnic basket containing your favorite foods. What’s in the basket? What do you do next? Write about it. Please feel free to share in the comment field below.

***

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of:

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

**

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

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Purrsday Poetry: Wanda Cat

abbiejohnsontaylor:

This poem is about a beloved cat who was in our family when I was growing up. Thanks to Marc Andre for publishing it today on his blog, Katzenworld.

Originally posted on Katzenworld:

Her fur was white with gray spots.
As children,
we called her Wanda the Witch.
The name became part of her character.

She stalked around the house,
nipped at bare ankles,
peed on Dad’s favorite love seat,
pulled dirty socks out of the washer,
circled them, meowing.

cat pinterest 1

When she was born,
We thought she had two brothers.
Howard and James turned out to be girls.
Mother made them trans-gender cats.
James died soon after his birth.
Howard and Wanda lived
To the ripe old age of twenty.

About the author:
Abbie-1

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of a novel and two poetry collections. She is currently working on a memoir about how she met, married, and cared for her late husband who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming. Please visit her Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com or https://abbiescorner.wordpress.com

If…

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What I Read in May

Prairie Tale: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert. Copyright 2009 by Half Pint Enterprises. Published by Simon Spotlight Enterprises, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

 

I first thought this book would be about the author’s experiences starring as Laura on Little House on the Prairie, but it’s not just about that. It’s Melissa Gilbert’s autobiography from her birth until 2009 including photographs.

She describes what it was like to learn as a child that she was unwanted, given up for adoption at birth. She emphasizes the fact that she was taught to hide her feelings and pretend everything was okay during her parents’ divorce, her mother’s re-marrying, her father’s death, and other heartbreaking events during her life. She talks about being involved in Gun Smoke and other movies before she signed on to the cast of Little House on the Prairie.

During her ten years on this television series, she gives detailed descriptions of filming certain episodes, describing how Michael Landon, who wrote and directed the series and starred as Pa, became a surrogate father to her, the irony of how she developed a close friendship with the actress who portrayed Nellie, the nasty little girl who goes to school with Laura, and how she didn’t always get along with Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Laura’s older sister Mary. She also discusses her involvement in The Miracle Worker, The Diary of Ann Frank, and other projects during this time. At the end of those ten years, she explains how Michael Landon wrote the last episode in which the town of Walnut Grove is destroyed to get back at NBC executives for canceling the show.

After Little House, Melissa Gilbert describes the myriad of movies and television programs in which she was involved. She also talks about her relationships with Allan Greenspan and others, her failed marriages to actor Rob Lowe and playwright Bo Brinkman, and her marriage to actor Bruce Boxleitner, and the birth of her two sons, Dakota and Michael. She also talks about saying goodbye to Michael Landon when he was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away. She discusses her law suit against The National Inquirer over a story they printed that was fabricated by Bo Brinkman and how the stress caused her to give birth to Michael prematurely.

Melissa Gilbert also describes how she became the president of the Screen Actors Guild during the earlier part of this century. She discusses her bout with alcoholism and her work with terminally ill children. She ends the book by describing how she played Ma in a musical production of Little House on the Prairie in Minneapolis and visited Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and Desmet, South Dakota, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent part of her life.

Reading this book made me realize that the Little House television series sensationalized Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story. Melissa Gilbert’s fans coveted her idyllic Laura Ingalls Wilder life, but Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life was far from idyllic, and although Melissa Gilbert’s family wasn’t battling blizzards, drought, and grasshoppers, she still had her demons.

 

A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane. Edited by William T. Anderson. Copyright 1988 by the University of Nebraska Press.

 

This is a collection of essays, poems, and short stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane that appeared in various magazines during the earlier part of the 19th century. Presented in chronological order, much of this work, not contained in Laura’s Little House series, covers her life growing up, her journey with her husband Almanzo and Rose from Desmet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri, and her life on Rocky Ridge Farm once they were settled in Missouri. This collection also includes some short fiction by Rose that was inspired by their experiences. The editor introduces each piece, and in an epilog, he provides additional information about this mother and daughter’s careers, and of course there are pictures.

I found some of the pieces boring, especially Laura’s articles about her kitchen and dining room on the farm. Others were fascinating. To my astonishment, I learned that Laura’s sister Mary’s blindness was caused by spinal meningitis, not scarlet fever, as indicated in the Little House books. I was interested to read a conversation between Rose and her father about the price of furniture, horses, and farm implements in 1878. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series as a child.

 

Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern Copyright 2005

 

This is the story of love between two friends in Ireland, a love that withstands many years of separation. The author tells it in an unusual way through notes passed in school, letters, e-mail and text messages, newspaper articles, and other documents. Alex and Rosie go to school together as children in Dublin and become best friends. In their last year of high school, Alex’s family moves to Boston, Massachusetts, but he and Rosie still keep in touch over the years and visit each other occasionally. When they graduate, Alex is accepted to Harvard, and Rosie plans to attend Boston College to study hotel management. However, when Alex is unable to return to Ireland to accompany Rosie to the last dance of the school year, she is compelled to go with Brian, another boy in her class. They have a one night stand, and when she gets pregnant, he leaves town.

Rosie cancels her plans to go to college, has a daughter, Katy, works at a string of dead end jobs to make ends meet, marries Greg, and divorces him several years later when she finds him cheating on her. She eventually gets her degree in hotel management and opens a bed and breakfast near the beach. On the other hand, Alex becomes a successful heart surgeon in Boston, marries and divorces twice, and has two children. After almost fifty years, Alex and Rosie are together for good, their romantic dream a reality.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t want to finish this book. First of all, I found all the note passing and text messaging unrealistic. Yes, children pass notes in school, but at the fast and furious rate these messages seem to be flying, it’s a wonder Rosie and Alex didn’t get caught more often. As an adult, Rosie texts her family and friends constantly while at work. I was afraid that at any minute, her boss would catch her, and she would lose her job. She is fired once, and that could have been the reason. I’ve never known anyone who texts as often as Rosie and other characters do. I would have liked to see more narrative mixed with messages.

Then, there’s Rosie’s attitude. When she becomes pregnant with Brian’s child, she blames Alex for not being able to come to the dance, thus forcing her to go with Brian and then to sleep with him and become pregnant with his child. I kept thinking that she didn’t have to have sex with Brian, or she could have decided not to keep the baby and go on with her life. When she discovers Greg is cheating on her and decides to move to Boston so she can re-kindle her relationship with Alex who is divorced from his first wife, she receives a letter from Brian, living in Spain, who wants to get to know Katy. She decides to stay in Ireland for that reason and blames Alex for that, too. I wanted to tell her that she could have moved to Boston, and Brian could have just gotten to know Katy there. Then, I wanted to delete the book from my device and not give it another thought, but after some serious consideration, I realized that I wanted to know how it ends, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I like the epilog, a narrative told from Rosie’s point of view, in which she and Alex come together, both free, both ready to love each other.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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