Do You Dream in Color?

I don’t think I do, but I just finished reading a memoir with that title by Laurie Rubin, a totally blind mezzo-soprano. To listen to her sing, click here. This site cannot be read with a screen reader, but in a recent interview with Books and Beyond, an Internet radio program showcasing authors, publishers, and other interesting people, she stated that she is working to make the site more blind friendly. In the meantime, you can listen to a live recording of her singing mostly art songs with piano accompaniment. If you like what you hear, her CDs are available through Amazon, and she’s on YouTube. 

In Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight, Laurie Rubin talks about her life from birth to the present. When she was a baby, she was diagnosed with Leber’s Amaurosis, a disorder that keeps the retina from developing and left her with only light perception. She describes her life growing up in Los Angeles during the 1980’s and 90’s. She began her education in a nursery and elementary school, both for blind children, but because her parents were not pleased with her progress, they were eventually instrumental in getting her mainstreamed into a public school when she started fourth grade. For the seventh grade, she applied and was accepted to a private school where she finished her education before continuing to OberlinCollege. She explains how resource room teachers and other professionals helped her during that time.

She started voice lessons at an early age, and although she liked popular songs, she wanted to sing opera. She describes meeting Kenny Loggins who taught her to water ski. She also learned downhill skiing through a program for the blind.

In middle and high school, she had a hard time fitting in because of her blindness, but when she attended summer music programs, she bonded well with other students because once they heard her sing, they realized she was one of them despite her sight loss. Laurie also describes attending a summer camp for the blind where she also bonded with other students with vision loss. She talks about the competitions she entered and her eventual performance at the Dorothy Chandler concert hall in Los Angeles when she was still in high school.

She describes her college experience at Oberlin where she played the lead role in an opera during her senior year. She was then accepted into Yale’s graduate opera program, and she talks about the frustration of not being cast in their operas because of her blindness, although the director and other staff at Oberlin were willing to work around it. At that time, she got her guide dog, Mark, and that gave her more confidence. She also talks about discovering that she’s a Lesbian and details the relationships she had in college.

After graduating from Yale, she moved to New York with her partner, and she describes learning how to cook for the first time because her mother never taught her. She also learned to make jewelry which she still does today. After living in New York for one year and studying in London for another, she moved back to New York and started performing chamber music and eventually was cast in her first New York opera. That was in the earlier part of this century. She now lives in Hawaii where she is director of a fine arts program and is currently working on a novel.

I found myself identifying with Laurie when I read her book. I didn’t want to sing opera, but I did want to be a performer. I took voice lessons in college because it was a requirement of my music major. During my sophomore year at SheridanCollege, my mother insisted I audition for an opera she was directing. I didn’t get the part, but I don’t think it was because of my visual impairment. Other sopranos with better voice quality auditioned for the same role, and the music director chose one of them. I didn’t care because I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Instead of an opera singer, I became a music therapist and worked for fifteen years in a nursing home.

I became indignant when I read about Laurie being told point blank by the director of Yale’s opera program that she wasn’t cast because being on the stage would be too dangerous for her. To me, it was a clear indication that they weren’t willing to work with her disability. It reminded me of a time when the activity director at the nursing home told me she could not work with my visual impairment and wrote me up for every possible minor infraction and drastically decreased my  hours. This was a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I appealed to the State Division of Labor Standards and won. I wonder if Laurie could have made a similar appeal with the same results.

Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight is available from the National Library Service’s Braille and audio download site. You should also be able to purchase it from Amazon. Even if you hate opera or you’re not blind, I recommend reading this book. The story is a good example of how one woman didn’t let her blindness stop her from doing what she wanted. So does Laurie Rubin dream in color? Her answer is it’s not the dreams you have when you’re asleep that count. It’s the dreams you have when you’re awake of what you’ll be that are important.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family  Caregiver

Advertisements

On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties

This is an anthology of stories and poems by people who have lost a loved one. Since it was released before Bill passed away, I’m not in it, but the author of one of the blogs I follow is. Glenda C. Beall writes and teaches in the North Carolina mountains. Most of the material in this book is by widows like her, but some poems and stories are by men who have lost their wives. Some are poignant, dealing with the subject directly; others cover such topics as dating after the fact. I recommend this book to anyone who has lost a loved one, not just a husband or wife. To learn more about it and read one of the poems, visit Glenda’s Writing Life Stories blog.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better  Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Natural Woman

I don’t know if I’m one of those, but I just finished reading a memoir with this title by singer/songwriter  Carole King. In the 1970’s, I had an eight-track tape of her album, Tapestry, and my favorite songs were “I Feel the Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away,” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” When I was in college, our choir sang a rendition of “Jazz Man.” 

I was amazed to learn that Carole King was born the same year as my husband Bill, 1942. In her memoir, she talks about growing up in Brooklyn, New York, where she was born. She learned to play the piano at an early age. When she completed kindergarten, she was sent directly to second grade. After that, she describes how being older than her classmates made it hard to be popular. As a teen-ager, she spent a year at a performing arts high school, but because she missed her friends and longed to be a normal adolescent, she finished her education at a public high school. She got her first recording contract a year or so later.

She describes her career from the 1950-s to the present, a life that took her from New York to Los Angeles, Idaho, Japan, Ireland, London, and back. She explains how she married and divorced three of her four husbands and gave birth to four children: two from her first husband and two from her second. She details the abuse she suffered at the hands of her third husband who died of a drug overdose after she fled to Hawaii with the children. She describes buying a ranch in Idaho with her fourth husband and winning a battle with the county she fought for years because she wanted her ranch road to remain private. After she and her fourth husband were divorced, she had two other relationships that never became serious.

While all this was going on, she wrote, sang, and recorded songs and performed in numerous movies, television programs, and on Broadway. She describes how she started out writing songs for other artists such as the Shirelles and the Everely Brothers. She wrote “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin in the 1960’s but didn’t perform it herself until 1971 when she recorded Tapestry. She describes meeting and performing with other celebrities including James Taylor, John Lenin, Yoko Ono, and Paul and Linda McCartney. She talks about her environmental and political activism and how she participated in concerts to raise money for such causes as Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with cancer.

I downloaded a recording of this book from Audible. Carole King does an excellent job of narrating and even sings the songs she mentions a cappella which I found disappointing. It would have been nice if she had accompanied herself. She does provide piano interludes she wrote, inserted between parts of the book and at the end. The recording comes in two parts, each with its accompanying PDF file containing pictures. It can also be purchased from her Website in CD format. This version includes twelve CDs, the PDF files, and a video conversation with Carole. The book is also available in print.

I was also surprised to realize that I have a few things in common with Carole King. I was born in New York and learned to play at an early age. However, because my parents exposed me to a lot of classical music, my first notes on the piano, according to my mother, were the opening strains of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The first thing Carole tried to play was a popular song she heard on the radio. Like Carole, I wanted to be a singer, but my family left New York a year after I was born and  never returned. I did most of my growing up in Colorado, Arizona, and Wyoming and didn’t have access to record companies like Carol did. I can’t help wondering. If My family had stayed in New York, would things have been different?

After all these years, I think Carole’s best song is “Beautiful.” I heard it on her Tapestry album when I was about eleven, but it’s one of those songs to which children don’t pay much attention. After hearing the song again as an adult, it means a lot more to me. This and other songs realistically reflect on relationships and other topics. I not only recommend her music but also the book, even if you never wanted to be a star.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Is There a Twelve-Step Program for Non-Drinkers?

Hi, I’m Abbie Taylor, and I’m a non-alcoholic. You won’t hear that at an AA meeting, but it’s my story. Like any kid, I wanted to drink and loved being in bars when the opportunity arose. 

In 1971 when I was ten years old, while traveling from our home in Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming, to visit my grandmother, Dad and I did some bar hopping in Durango, Colorado. Although I couldn’t drink anything stronger than Coke, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the saloons we visited and anticipated the day when I could chug-a-lug a beer along with the rest of them. This experience inspired the poem, “A Memorable Stop in Colorado,” which appears in my collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. When we got to Wyoming, I was disappointed to learn that children weren’t allowed in bars, but that didn’t deter me from wanting to drink. A few years later after my family moved to Sheridan, one of my favorite country songs was Tom T Hall’s “I Like Beer.”

On my nineteenth birthday when I finally came of age, my parents took me and my younger brother Andy out to dinner, and for the first time ever, I was allowed glass of wine. To my utter dismay, it tasted awful. “You’re supposed to sip it, not chug-a-lug it,” said Andy. Where he got that knowledge, I’ll never know, but even with just a small portion in my mouth, it still wasn’t very tasty. Dad ordered me a wine cooler with 7-up, but that was worse. During the next few days, I tried beer and other drinks, but they were no better. I couldn’t understand why people loved such foul-tasting beverages. I finally resigned myself to the fact that I’m  a non-alcoholic which is better than being addicted to strong drink.

One summer when I was single and living on my own, I invited Dad to come with me to the park for a concert. I packed a picnic lunch including sandwiches, a can of Dr. Pepper for me, and a bottle of beer for Dad. However, I packed the wrong kind of bottle opener. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that Dad plus a bottle of beer and no way to open it equals disaster. To make things worse, the concert never happened. Dad was a good sport, though. Afterward, he took the bottle home where he had the right opener. For more pleasant memories of spirits consumption, check out the Icing and Ink blog. Happy drinking!

 

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Look at That!

Thanks to Bruce Atchison for inspiring this post. On his blog a couple of weeks ago, he wrote about his favorite novelty songs and included links to videos containing these songs. I thought of my favorite novelty song and the memories associated with it.

The year was 1974. I was twelve years old, and my brother Andy was five. Every morning, we heard on the radio’s police report about men being arrested for running around town naked late at night. We found this intriguing and did some streaking of our own in the house.

Andy ran around nude in the yard, but I didn’t want to go that far. At that time, Ray Stevens “The Streak” was popular. I don’t know if the fad inspired the song or vise versa, but we often yelled, “Don’t look, Ethel!” as we tore through the living room, showing off our physiques.

            At about the same time, Andy developed an interest in law enforcement as a career. One night, a policeman appeared at our door, much to Andy’s delight. Mother was teaching English at the college, and the cop was one of her students. Believe it or not, his name was William Henry Harrison. He missed her class that day because of work and stopped by to find out what the assignment was for the next class. After his first visit, he came by frequently.

            One night when he came, I was in my room, getting ready to take a bath. For some reason, I didn’t have a bathrobe. To get to the bathroom, I had to cross the living room where Officer Harrison sat in uniform with gun and handcuffs ready. In the bathroom, warm water was filling the tub. If it overflowed, so be it. I wasn’t about to be mentioned on the radio as having been arrested for indecent exposure.

            Fortunately, he didn’t stay long. Before he left, he gave Andy a fake badge. The minute the policeman was out the door, I dashed across the living room in the buff. “Freeze!” yelled Andy, eager to make his first arrest now that he had an official badge. Luckily, Mother intervened, and I made it to the bathroom without ending up in the slammer.

            As we grew older, we lost interest in streaking until my senior year in high school. One of Mother’s duties at the college was to call out the names of each graduate, as diplomas were distributed. That year, a group of students dashed across the stage during the ceremony, wearing nothing but sacks over their heads. Although Andy and I weren’t there, our interest in this activity was piqued. I considered organizing a similar activity during my graduation, but when I heard the students were arrested, I thought better of it. Andy and I did the next best thing.

            By that time, we’d moved into a two-story house, and the bathroom was down the hall from my room with no living room in between. One night, Andy cut holes in two sacks so we could see, and we re-enacted the event at the college, much to the delight of our parents who were watching television in the living room. Afterward, Andy ran out the front door, but I hurried back upstairs.

            After that, I refrained from exhibitionism but not Andy. A year later, Mother received an anonymous letter from one of our neighbors, claiming it wasn’t safe to raise little girls with my brother running around in the buff. When he was in high school, during a speech meet, he mooned out of a bus and was suspended.

Now, he has kids of his own. A couple of years ago as a birthday present, he sent me a recording of David Sedaris reading his essay collection, Naked. In the title piece, the author talks about his experience at a nudist colony. That might be a fun place to go. Who knows? Maybe Andy will accompany me sometime.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and how to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Dating Game

No, I’m not in the market for another husband. I wasn’t when Bill came along. It just happened. If another one comes along, so be it, but in the meantime, although I miss Bill, I’m content with my single life. 

I just finished reading Dating Game by Danielle Steel. This book is about another woman who lost her husband but not to death. For twenty-four years, Paris had everything she could ever want: a husband, kids, friends, a nice house, has been content to be a stay at home wife and  mother, and has done nothing else. Then all of a sudden, her husband drops a bomb. He tells her he’s leaving her for another woman about fifteen years younger.

For the next eight or nine months, Paris is devastated. Numb with shock, she manages to get through her son’s high school graduation and the summer months and get him settled at college. A friend recommends a therapist, and the frequent sessions give her the strength to get through the fall. In January, after her husband has married the other woman and another friend invites her to a dinner party in order to set her up with another  man, she decides to make a new start.

With the encouragement of her therapist, she moves from her home in Connecticut to San Francisco to be closer to her son, a student at UCLA Berkeley, and her daughter, a production assistant in L.A. In San Francisco, Paris becomes employed for the first time when she accidentally finds a job with a firm that plans weddings, dinner parties, and other events. Over the course of a year and a half, after three relationships that don’t work out, she surprises everyone by doing something totally unexpected, and the book ends happily.

A book like this helps me put my life in perspective. Bill is gone, but he didn’t leave me for another woman. Unlike Paris, I’ll never see my husband at family gatherings with a second wife. When Bill complained about the way I did something, I said, “Find yourself another woman.”

He always said, “I’m looking.” I doubt he meant it, especially after his strokes left him unable to do much for himself. Even if he could have tried to find another woman, I don’t think he would have, no matter how dissatisfied he was with me at times.

On the other hand, Paris was a perfect wife, she thought. Her husband never had a reason to want another woman because all she did was take care of him, the  house, and the kids. He was never dissatisfied with her, and yet, he found another woman he liked better. Go figure.

Last year, I reviewed Danielle Steel’s book, Rogue, and you can read that here. You’ll also find more information about her and her books on her Website. For those of you who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to read print material, Dating Game is available on the National Library Service’s Braille and audio download site. I’m sure it’s also available in print and eBook formats from your local bookstore or many online retailers. If you like a humorous, heartwarming story of how tragedy leads to blessing and hope for the future, I recommend reading this book, even if you haven’t lost a man.

 

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family  Caregiver

Mothers and Daughters

Last week, I talked about my own  mother. This week, with Mother’s Day coming this Sunday, I would like to share two books I recently read: Carrie and Me by Carol Burnett and Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou. Both are memoirs about mother and daughter relationships. A year ago, I reviewed Carol Burnett’s book This Time Together, and you can read that here.

Carrie and Me is divided into two parts. In the first section, Carol Burnett shares her memories of her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, from her birth in New York City on January 5th, 1963, to her drug addiction and rehabilitation as a teen-ager, to her death in Los Angeles on January 20th, 2002 after a struggle with lung cancer. She describes a road trip Carrie took from California to Memphis to visit Graceland while writing her short story, “Sunrise in Memphis,” about a young woman who finds herself on a similar road trip with a cowboy she doesn’t remember meeting. This part also features e-mail and fax messages plus letters Carol exchanged with Carrie and others during the trip and her daughter’s illness.

I downloaded the book from Audible, but it’s also available at your local bookstore and from online retailers. The audible edition is narrated by Carol herself, and it features a recording of Carrie singing a song she wrote for her mother during her illness. Apparently, the song was never published or produced commercially so if you want to hear it, you’ll have to purchase the Audible edition.

The second part of the book is devoted entirely to Carrie’s short story, “Sunrise in Memphis.” Carrie asked her mother to finish the story after she died, but Carol didn’t think she could do it. She claims it’s half finished, but frankly, I can’t imagine what more could be added to it. Carrie did a lot of screen writing so the story, told from the third person omniscient point of view, reads like a screen play with a lot of vivid descriptions. I’m not going to say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it for anybody.

Maya Angelou’s book, Mom & Me & Mom is about her relationship with her mother. According to a Wikipedia article, Maya Angelou was born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis. She published seven autobiographies, five books of essays, and several books of poetry and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows in the past fifty years. She received dozens of awards and over thirty honorary doctoral degrees. She’s best known for her autobiographies which focus on her childhood and early adulthood experiences. Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, brought her early recognition in the 1960’s.

Besides being a poet, she worked as an actress and writer, director, and producer of movies, plays, and public television programs. Since 1982, she has taught at WakeForestUniversity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she holds the first lifetime Reynolds professorship of American studies. She worked with both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement. Since the 1990’s, she has made about eight appearances as a lecturer. In 1993, she recited her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” during President Clinton’s inauguration. She was the first poet to give such a recitation since Robert Frost during President Kennedy’s inauguration. She is respected as a spokesman for women and black people, and her writing is considered a defense of black culture. 

In Mom and Me and Mom, Maya Angelou talks about how her mother, Vivian Bacster, influenced her throughout her life. When Maya was three, her parents were separated, and she and her older brother were sent to live with her paternal grandparents in Arkansas. Her parents eventually divorced, and when she was thirteen, her mother, living in California, sent for her and her older brother, and they went to live with her. Because Maya felt she and her brother were abandoned when they were sent to live with their grandparents, her relationship with her mother was awkward at first. Eventually, as it blossomed and flourished, she went from calling her “Lady,” to “Mother,” and finally “Mom.”

When Maya first moved to California, Vivian was working at a pool hall, but she eventually became wealthy enough to own several pool halls, hotels, and other businesses in the United States and other parts of the world. As a senior in high school, Maya became pregnant. The boy wanted nothing to do with her and the baby. She managed to graduate and then gave birth to a son with the love and support of her mother.

When her son was a month old, she moved into a room, again with the support of her  mother. She refused to take money from Vivian, I think, because she wanted to prove to herself, to her mother, and to the world that she could make it on her own. Maya worked at a succession of jobs and was married and divorced, and all the while her mother was there for her.

After her marriage broke up, she started singing and dancing in night clubs and was eventually cast in a touring production of Porgie and Bess. She continued acting, writing, and directing. She and her son lived in New York for a while, and she also spent time in Europe and Africa. All the while, she  kept in close contact with her mother who was also doing a lot of traveling. At one point when Maya was having difficulty with a film she was writing in Sweden, her mother dropped everything and flew to Stockholm to be with her.

Maya eventually settled in Winston Salem, North Carolina, where she started teaching at WakeForestUniversity. A few years later, her mother became ill, and Maya moved her to North Carolina so she could care for her. Diagnosed with lung cancer, her mother died a few months later. I also downloaded this book from Audible, and like Carrie and Me, it is narrated by the author, who does an excellent job.

Carol Burnett and Maya Angelou are two different people, but they both understand the importance of a mother’s love, something I no longer have. My mother passed away in 1999, before I was married, before Bill’s strokes and the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver. As I said in last week’s post, my mother was always there for me. I would like to think that she would have supported my decision to marry Bill, even though he was nineteen years older than me. She would have stood by me while Bill recovered from his strokes and done what she could to help me care for him at home. When Bill died, she would have let me cry on her shoulder. Carrie Hamilton and Maya Angelou were also lucky to have such wonderful mothers.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver