Creative Writing, Essays

Paper diapers

One of the essays in the Composition 110 textbook is “What is Poverty?” the text of a speech delivered in 1965 by Jo Goodwin Parker.  The persona who’s speaking says that she is poor, but whether the writer was or not is debatable.  More than likely the speech was written by someone who knew the conditions of poverty but did not live them herself.  I asked the question in the online class, “Do you think an essay is really an essay if it is falsely written, as perhaps this essay is? What should an essay be?  Should there be honesty or could it be written by someone not poor but whose words describe a situation honestly? Why?”

That essay resounded with me, not because, even though we were poor, we were not as poverty-stricken as the woman and her family, but because of one tiny detail: “Poverty is hoping it never rains because diapers won’t dry when it rains and soon you are using newspapers.”  That detail instantaneously brought a memory of me folding newspaper after newspaper into diapers–two to three sheets together, the elongated diamond and then the folding.  Funny though, the first ones folded were Sunday paper cartoons.  They folded nicely and stacked nicely.  Perhaps Pampers should stamp their diapers to look like newsprint.

I know we were poor, but we always had diapers, I thought; but maybe it was one of those times in which rain fell for days and everything in the house was soggy in spite of the wood cooking stove.  I don’t think so.  I think it was because my older brother was sick, and we couldn’t keep up with the washing.  Someone was ill and I was old enough to fold diapers from newspapers, so I had to be at least five or so.

The woman who describes her poverty said that she had no “proper” underwear and that her rotting teeth stunk.  We had underwear, even if we had to wash it out every night in the sink.  I remember that we girls were given days of the week underwear that did not mean that we had to wear Monday’s on Monday, Tuesday’s on Tuesday, but that we had seven pair, which to us was like gold.

We did have rotting teeth, all of us.  Mom and Dad lost theirs when I was in the sixth or seventh grade.  Up until that time, I never saw a dentist; but after the folks’ teeth were pulled–all at once it seems to me–and they gummed their food for a while before being fitted with dentures, in the spring  the folks took us kids for the first time to see Dr. Soe.I don’t remember his face, except that he was tall and thin and that one of his fingers on his right hand had been cut off at the knuckle.  His office was on the top floor of his gray stucco house on the north side of Main Street, a block up from the blacksmith and right east of the band shell. The dentist chair, which leaned back only a little, overlooked the after-school traffic on the street, the kids on their bikes, children taunting one another. The many scenes  of inclusion sprouted little comfort. He often went into a little room to the right, a carved out private space where he mixed concoctions.  He didn’t talk much and I couldn’t, for I was scared to death.  The needles that went in and out of my mouth for a month or more to numb one tooth after another caused more pain the longer the visits went.  But he never had to pull a tooth–filled almost all of them though, but never had to pull a one.   I brushed my teeth diligently after with Gold Bond tooth-powder or baking soda.

Creative Writing, Essays


The other day one hairdresser was dyeing my hair while another and I talked about Facebook and games.  She told me that she dislikes intensely Scrabble but loves to play Words with Friends on Facebook.  Yes, she knows that it’s the same game, but to her it’s different.  She still was astounded when a friend told her that she can’t wait to get the new board game, Words with Friends, played on real-life cardboard or tin, purchased in Wal-Mart or K-Mart or Target.   This hairdresser said, “Don’t they know it’s just Scrabble!?!”

I know the feeling.  I’m in love with Sudoku, not the ones found in a paper magazine bought at the last minute before checkout or the errant ones in daily or weekly newspapers, but the app I’ve downloaded on my IPad and IPhone.  I play it in the middle of the night on my IPad while the blue lPad light further intensifies my sleepless night.  I play it on my IPhone in the car while I’m waiting to pick up someone or going through a drive-in.  I play it before I un-pause a tv show after pouring myself a cuppa of tea–yes, I’m also in love with British mysteries, not the blood and guts stuff, but the ones with intrigue and any murder committed is only incidental. It’s the solving of the murder that’s important, the logic of the chase.

I play Sudoku when I’m also reading a novel on the IPad–Catching Fire, the second in the Hunger Games Trilogy, can’t compete with the logic of Sudoku.  I read for a while, then I play one game, then two, then read, and then back to the IPad to play a game or two.  I also play Chess on my IPad, Spider Solitaire with four decks, and I have a Bridge App.  The Bridge App frightens me, for I find I like playing the bridge app more than going online and playing with real-life virtual people on the other end of their computers in France, Turkey, Holland, Columbia, Saudi–so many I can’t count.  At least the computer is predictable while those bridge fanatics can be so nasty at times, especially when a partner calls me an idiot right before he or she leaves the game; or, if she or he is the table leader, removes me without so much as a by-your-leave.  The only way that I know my bridge is improving is that online I seldom get called names or have to read ????????? or WHAT!! in the chatroom when I make a stupid mistake.  If I’m lucky to be the table leader, I can boot him or her before I read any more.  When I have to decipher if I’m being cussed out in Chinese or French or Arabic,  I quickly cut and paste the words into Google Translator.

I’ve decided that Sudoku is a lot like life, that it would be even more like life if it were three-dimensional.  It’s logical, it has to do with numbers, it might even prevent me from losing my mind and having to buy Luminosity.  Nine numbers in nine little bitty squares and those nine little bitty squares in nine bigger squares.

On my Sudoku app, I’m considered an Expert.  When I click on the Sudoku app and press Play and then Expert, some numbers are already put in the little bitty squares.  Those givens as in geometry are what I’m talking about.  We all have at birth something akin to logic.  The blank slate is not there anymore, long gone in the philosophy of yesteryear. Our brains have the capacity to put things together, well most of the time.  Like language and math skills, some experts consider these skills hardwired into the brain.  According to NPR (2011), Psychologist Véronique Izard studied Amazonian villagers who had no math schooling and determined that even with no formal math training, these villagers solved basic geometry problems as if they were math-trained adults. She also posits after studying children age five and younger here in the United States and older children in the United States and France that geometry skills seem to emerge after five, perhaps as early as age six or seven.  I know that there is a difference between geometry and numbers; but in a way Sudoku is a lot like geometry.  It’s two-dimensional on a plane, a floating square similar to the one in the Superman movies who took up those criminals from another planet and sentenced them to eternity, floating endlessly in space, screaming all the while, if I remember correctly. To be imprisoned in a geometric plane–mercy!

But back to the game. I’ve consented to play and have been given some numbers.  One number is highlighted, suggesting that I begin with that number–let’s say five–finding the other little bitty squares in which the number five should be in is the task.  They can’t be in the same line as another five, and since there are nine bigger squares, every little bitty square affects two lines.  Well the problem is with the app that I so enjoy is that my score depends upon how fast I can fill in all the little bitty squares.  And it also depends upon the complexity of the puzzle and the number of mistakes I make.  The computer puts all those variables together.  On paper Sudoku, you can take as much time as you like, unless a spouse haggles you about going somewhere or getting something done, or the person in the car behind you  lays on the horn.  I never played Sudoku when I was married, although a previous boyfriend introduced me to the game years ago.  I wasn’t hooked at that moment; but, yes, over the years, every once in a while, I bought little mags of Sudoku puzzles, all in various levels of expertise. It’s the app on my IPad that I’m addicted to.

I’ll give you a hypothetical, human situation similar to the frustrating world of computer Sudoku.  Let’s say you’re trying to figure out what is going on around you, say in your job or in your personal life , and no one has thought to tell you straight away because you always have your head in a Sudoku puzzle, so you figure it out.  You put a number in a little bitty square and if the app doesn’t reject the number, you know it fits.  Every reject is an X accompanied by an irritating sound.  The same is true in life.  You test out one part of your theory as to what’s going on, what you should do, what move to make in your job, etc.; and if the number holds, you’re good to go with the next number, the next piece in the puzzle.  So you proceed, and I do.  I work at it, seeing patterns, learning more patterns, trying out those patterns until all my numbers are in the little bitty boxes–or all my ducks are quacking in a row.  And I only have had say the minimum 2 boots, or two mistakes. And let’s say my placing all the pieces together in this life puzzle is done in such a short amount of time that I have time for another Sudoku puzzle before meeting someone for lunch, then life feels good, really good.  I’ve got the world on a string, and I’m the one pulling.

But there’s a catch, always a catch.  Sudoku, like life, is addictive.  The minute one problem is solved or one mystery is figured out, there is always another puzzle and another, some more complex, some simpler.  Sudoku the app has that covered too.  It gives you your score–your personal best.  As a result the app creates this immense desire in you to beat your own personal best, to get a higher and higher score, and thus never to find peace.

Creative Writing, Essays, Packing and Moving


Accumulation, the bane of modern existence. Conspicuous consumption, downright immoral.  I am over 60 and not a hoarder by any means, except for clothes and shoes, and my daughter says dishes.

In August I had a rummage sale.  A great deal of “stuff” sold; but I still kick myself, not for selling the things I sold, but for buying them in the first place.  Vintage Royal Copley planters, two alike,  I purchased for a song at a rummage sale in Omaha many, many years ago. They have never held a plant of mine.  Japanese occupation cups, saucers, salt and pepper shakers I won at an auction. A  metal file folder not ever screwed into the wall as it should have been. A vintage dresser sold for $10 less than I paid some eight years ago; worth over $200 now but not in Dickinson.  More pottery. Knickknacks. Christmas, Halloween decorations still in boxes.  Fabric, Fabric, Fabric  I’ve had for years and years and years, but I haven’t pinned a pattern to cloth since 1994, when writing my dissertation.

Writing a dissertation that deconstructed dialogue in women’s plays should have nothing to do with pattern and fabric purchases I bought at the same time like a demented fiend.  Pins, needles, even a serger, although an inexpensive demonstrator from a Singer store in Harlan, Iowa, where my mother and I sauntered in to pick out a black covered button for my leather coat.  The serger sold at the rummage sale; the coat I donated to Arcade two years ago. That last semester between teaching four classes, writing and polishing 200 pages of my dissertation, and applying for jobs, I made myself an assortment of 19 dresses, skirts, blouses, and even a jacket.  None of them are in my closet; all have been given away or sold a long time ago.  The dresses I mailed to my sister. After the rummage sale, along with my car’s trunk and backseat stuffed with boxes of items not sold, I donated a huge box of patterns to the Arcade–unopened dress, outfit patterns, skirt patterns too small for me, some blouse patterns I truly love.  Sewing calmed me down that spring semester of 1994 and relieved the stress of writing the dissertation while teaching.   I should have lifted weights at gym.

I sewed both my wedding dresses: the first one, white satin; the second, grey–different patterns, different lengths; the first had a veil.  Each tossed after each divorce.  I made friends’ prom dresses, emerald, black, cranberry– luscious–and my own.  I’ve patched and hemmed more jeans than I care to remember, sewed costumes in college, polyester pants for my brother, dresses for my mother, clothes for my kids when they were little–knits all the rage then.  I machine-quilted four bedspreads and a table cover.  My oldest son, now 45, recently discarded the one I quilted for his college dorm.  He had the thread-bear rag of grey and red in back of a work truck. The first dress I ever constructed, other than the one in Home Economics class, I goofed up considerably.  A date with a new high-school boyfriend, him picking me up that night in a ’57 Chevy, and marathon sewing that resulted in an errant slip with a pinking sheers in the front panel of the skirt.  “Too much of a hurry,” my aunt said. She showed me how to fix the tear so I could wear it to the Donna Reed Movie Theater  in Denison.

I’ve shoes I’ve never worn and never will, because of their 3″ plus height, for I totter not like Jennifer Simpson on her high heels–I have to hold onto something in order not to fall.  Most of them I bought on Ebay.  I’ve sold three of the ten pair I don’t wear.  There’s a pair of Chinese Laundry white with a 3″ heel brand new, if you want them.  This morning I listed a pink cable-knit sweater, a cranberry velveteen one, yellow snow boots–all with tags, all purchased from Ebay.  On Ebay is a Korean hot pot that I bought at a rummage sale for $10; now worth over $100, but mine listed hasn’t sold for $75 dollars. I’ve sold a dress I bought for $39 for $39.  Breaking even is my style.

I’ve binged on Chico’s necklaces on Ebay and even bought a couple of rings. One of the necklaces my daughter  says is Ugggly.  I am going to relist it and others.  Over the years, I’ve only returned one item to a buyer, a vintage Chico’s necklace, a choker with a huge reddish pink stone in the center that unwrapped looks like a tongue with crystals in a line to the tip as if pierced. Immediately I sent it back.  I e-mailed  the seller, “I couldn’t wear it,” and she e-mailed back, “Why?”   When I told her, she said, “not a problem, you really made me laugh-never thought of that but now that I look at it, it could be lol-could have been a perfect Halloween piece (haha) who wouldn’t want to wear a tongue around their neck lol.” I would never have worn that thing around my neck on Halloween or any other day, but I should have given it to a friend of mine whose Halloween baubles really rock, as she says.

The older I get, the less I want, the more I discard.  I think of all the dividends my money could have earned instead of buying.  So far since June I’ve sold over $600 worth of items on Ebay–not bad, some for what I paid.  And I have only put a dent into all that I want to sell. I think the purchases of inexpensive rummage sale items and cheap jewelry from Ebay have a lot to do with growing up poor and soaking my toes in poverty while raising three kids on my own. I couldn’t afford big stuff so I bought little stuff.  I should have put that money in mutual funds and stock, but not in Enron, which I had and lost a bunch.  Now my retired friends are traveling to this country and that, from California to the New York Island eating steak and lobster, Indian food in fine places, visiting museums, seeing vistas from mountain tops and seashores, while scenes of Paris and Holland entice me on the Travel Channel.

Cats and Dogs and Other Feathered and Furry Creatures, Essays

Cat’s Meow

I know that a graduate student at Cornell has studied the meows of cats, both domesticated and captive. In that study the researcher determined that it’s solely the sound of the meow and not its content that appeals to humans, that humans’ reactions artificially select cat’s behavior: humans’ responses to cat calls cause cats in turn to recreate those cat calls to get us humans to do something, like feed them.  He also stated that captive cats sound angry all the time to human ears. No kidding.  I would be angry if I were held captive perpetually–maybe that’s why after I’ve been talking for a while at a party I get tired of the sound of my own voice and leave.

Not an academic study I’ve come across but one probably posted by a cat lover on the meaning behind certain tail positions of cats.  That study says that if a cat’s tail is fully erect with a vertical tip, the cat is greeting me in a friendly, cheerful manner.  If one were to watch my cat, Pumpkin, when he does that, one could rightly assume that he thinks he’s the cat’s meow.  He’s confident, sweet, yet really knows how to get what he wants. However, there are times when that tail and his meow mean something entirely different.  Today he meows into the room, tail erect, meows more until I meander after him to the kitchen where he saunters over to the screen door.  I conclude that he wants me to let the dog in, and I do.  But in contemplating that dog and pony show (tail and meow act), I think he really wanted me to let him out, as I sometimes do: Put him in a halter and hook the halter to a chain that really isn’t tied to anything–Don’t tell him that–where he sits outside in the grass and chews.

There has to be more studies on cats’ meows than that one.  When my daughter’s cat, Levi, meows at my cat over the cat dishes, Levi’s not trying to learn what his  cat meows manipulate Pumpkin to do. I believe he is really saying something like, “You’re think you’re king cat, but you’re only holding the scroll.”

My daughter and I recently discovered something odd about cat behavior.  Her cat, Levi, who was in our home long before Pumpkin, sometimes does not poop in the litter box, no matter how fresh the litter, how new it is.   I was complaining about this awful situation to a friend of mine, who informed me that behavior is one showing dominance. In other words, Levi’s pooping outside the box–I wonder if there’s a correlation to male humans?–says to Pumpkin, “I get the big cheese.”

Well, we couldn’t stand it anymore, the pooping outside the box, so after taking into consideration what my friend said about dominance, we decided that Levi needs a new home, one in which he is the one and only.  Besides he seems to adore males, and since neither my daughter nor I is one, he had to go.  So we put him in a cat carrier and off we go to the nearest no-kill shelter over 90 miles away.  We didn’t call first, as we should, denying the fact that there might not be room for one more domestic cat.  And there wasn’t, and we bring him back, over 200 miles of weepy cat meows in various pleading tones.  When he escaped from my daughter’s arms after we came inside–we had let him out of the cat carrier in the car, hoping that the meowing will cease–he zipped downstairs, head down, tail between his legs. The litter box is downstairs.  That little escapade  really fixed him for a time.  For the next month, he went in the litter box every time.  We concluded that metaphorically in Levi’s mind when he returned from that long trip like a prodigal cat, he became the house underdog.

A week ago, he pooped outside the litter box again; and we took him on a little ride again.  Unlike Pumpkin who adores being outside, Levi is a big pussy.  He despises being outside.  If he finds himself on that sea of green grass, it  becomes a bed of hot coals, and he tiptoes off as fast as his banty legs will carry him, screaming and cowering by the screen door, his tail tucked far up under his legs.

If I were someone who studies linguistics, I would definitely study cat meows, for there can’t be much difference between the position of a cat’s tale and what comes out of his mouth.