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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Nekomah Creek: Life Imitating Art

During a recent overnight with our grandson at Wake Robin Farm, I was  lucky enough to experience one of the high points of my life as a writer.  Nolan, 5, asked  for another shot at having me read my novel Nekomah Creek to him.  We'd started in twice before, but both times he'd informed me early on that he just wasn't ready for it.  But this time, he was laughing his head off and kept begging for one more chapter. Yeah, okay, he was mostly squealing in delight at the low-hanging comedy fruit of food being thrown by unruly children, but still, it was my book and my grandson, enjoying a story based on his own father's childhood.  I ate it up.

 

I wrote Nekomah Creek ( Delacorte Press, 1991) in an effort to show my oldest son Miles that I truly was sympathetic to the impact of baby twin siblings on a kid who'd been functioning as an only child for almost seven years.  By the time it came out, though, Miles was in middle school and mainly wanted to distance himself from his writer mother and any book purporting to explore his private thought processes.  "Robby Hummer is you, Mom, not me.  You put your thoughts in his head."

 

Well, he had me on that.  It's true for any writer doing a first person story about anyone other than themselves. Robby Hummer was my best effort depiction of Miles at nine, but I consciously added something of myself to the character, a creative streak that was definitely not Miles.  In the book, Robby Hummer, gets deeply engrossed in making a diorama showing his house and the bridge over the creek.  That was definitely me, and it was spooky almost, to be reading this to my grandson, because he's the one who has my genes along those lines, and seems more like Robby Hummer in this way that his father.  I had told him stories of a Japanese doll garden I'd made as a child, complete with a tin-foil creek, and he in turn had already produced several variations on this theme in our backyard art studio. He just loves to make things and I love indulging him with all the art supplies he requires.

 

"Grampa," he said, between chapters two and three, "Grammie says she hasn't even read this book herself in years and years!" 

 

True, and what an odd, interesting experience this makes for a writer, especially reading the way I depicted the two-year-old twins, based on my own Mary and William, and feeling that yep, those were their personalities.  Thirty years later, they're still working with those same traits, Will interested in learning and playing by the rules, Mary boldly looking to flout them. Both darling as ever!

 

The thing that really jumped out of the book at me though, was my school yard bully, Orin Downard.   He mocks Robby by pretending to shoot the wildlife drawings Robby's painstakingly working on—"Blam! Blam! Run li'l Bambi, run!—and  takes pride in thinking up and calling everybody names: "Hippie! City Boy! Wimp!"

 

Why was he like that? Robby wonders.  Most of the kids didn't much care whose parents did what. They hung around with certain people because they both liked baseball or Nintendo.  But Orin kept wanting to sort people out and divide them up.

 

Wow.  Who does that sound like? When I was working on this in the 1980s, I certainly never dreamed that by the time we were raising a new generation, we'd have for a president an actual schoolyard bully.  I'm proud to say though, that at this time, while I was working on the book, ten-year-old Miles had for some reason pasted a picture of Donald Trump in a scrapbook he was keeping and drawn devil horns on him.  How prescient was that?

 

So  I like to think the Crews have been onto this joker for a long time.  Now I just hope the Republican wimps in Congress (yes, I'm calling names!) will do their duty and help free us from this clearly deranged person we've been forced to suffer as our President. How much more damage are we going to let him do?

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PTSD in the McDonald's Drive-Thru

Yep, that's what I've got: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I'm as surprised as anybody because, like most people, I thought PTSD was strictly about war, or surviving some horrific physical assault.  Apparently not.  Nobody's ever in my life hit me, but the trauma of the isolation I endured for several years while in withdrawal from doctor prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines really did a number on my brain in sensitizing me to stress.  I have trouble with doctors, hospitals, anything medical, really, and of course all this tangles up with my personal relationships.

 

Six long years I've been clean of these drugs, and yet today I once again got blindsided. I'm driving through downtown Corvallis, doing fine.  I've just dropped my darling two-year old grandson with his mom after some time at the farm, and I'm happily planning a wildlife wallpaper banner for the room of his five-year-old brother.  On the radio, I tune in mid-interview  to an OPB story about a guy in his eighties extolling the health and anti-aging effects of playing softball.  He's even put his cancer into remission.  He uses the word joy a lot and I'm just loving this story, because it reaffirms what I've come to believe so strongly lately about the connection between our mental and physical health.

 

I turn into the McDonald's drive-thru for my guilty pleasure. The radio story's  wrapping up at the order window.  I've just paid and inched ahead at the second window when the interviewer says we've been hearing from Dr. Leon Speroff, retired Ob-Gyn at OHSU in Portland.

 

OMG—I know this softball-playing guy!  The infertility specialist my regular ob-gyn sent us to.  My husband and I sat across a desk from him one May day 34 years ago.  Wait.  Maybe it was even 34 years to the very day that we'd walked out of OHSU with a grocery sack full of Pergonal-filled syringes, because I always figured I'd gotten pregnant with the twins on May 25th. I love making connections like this.  One of those twins just had a baby of her own, thanks to the same OHSU fertility center…

And had the baby at OHSU…

.

Bam.  Horrible, with her hard, problematic labor, days of us hanging around waiting, scared…

 

Bam.  In the same hospital where we'd waited out so many surgeries my mother had after a car accident when I was only 26 myself and worried every day for months she was going to die…

.

Bam. And then my daughter's  scary emergency C-section and when I'm finally, belatedly informed that the baby's been born okay and I'm able to see my daughter, she looks like gray death….

 

Bam. Bam. Bam.  In split seconds  my  triggers zap across my synapses, and by the time I'm reaching for my Egg McMuffin—what the hell?—my  hand's shaking.  It happens so fast, I haven't yet figured out why my heart's pounding, how I've gone in a few quick memory flashes from happy and in control to panicky.  I could have insisted none of those old stories of medical peril upset me much anymore, but my brain begs to differ. Am I getting the message? Yep.

 

I drive over and sit in the parking lot at Home Depot, trying to breath deep, phoning my husband up in the woods for the calming value of his voice.  Actually I get better as soon as I go into the store and start ticking off my project supply list, so this is obviously not the toughest panic attack situation going on out there.

 

But after what I've been through, I now  understand like I never did before why all the survivors of school shootings and violence feel scarred for life. All survivors of any kind of trauma. How ridiculous it is to think they should feel grateful as long as they're not dead or visibly wounded.

 

This may seem like a change of subject , but it makes perfect sense to me: My Rx for the prevention and eradication of trauma in this country is the impeachment of Donald Trump. With this sorry excuse for a human being in charge, we have damage at every turn, especially to people who aren't white and male.  He blithely incites hatred and violence. He champions those who take pride in never apologizing for any of their actions, no matter how heinous. The traumatic separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border alone will keep social workers swamped for decades as they struggle to cope with the ongoing ramifications.

 

When Elizabeth Warren stepped up the other day and became the first 2020 Presidential contender to call for his impeachment, I felt an amazing surge of hope.  I think having her for President would improve the mental health of the entire nation.

  

Please join me in supporting her.  Let's start the healing.  Or at least stop the trauma.

 

 

 

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Daughters of the Patriarchy

Every once in awhile I read the book everybody else is apparently reading, and in finally checking out Educated, by Tara Westover, I am clearly late to the party with comments.  With nearly four thousand Amazon reviews and 45 weeks on their  best seller list, the world has already agreed that her story of finally escaping from family dysfunction to join the wider world is gripping.  Like everyone else, I read it in short order  and last night went down the rabbit hole of reading all the  one star reviews—apparently written  by her family and their supporters—and the dozens of comments on these reviews from people who refused to let these pseudo reviews stand.

 

This searing memoir is not so much about religion as it is about patriarchal family dynamics, and it made me think about something that's been bothering me ever since Donald Trump got elected, namely, who are these women who voted for him?  Who thought it was fine for their daughters and granddaughters to have for President a guy who brags about grabbing women's sexual organs?  Who are these women who somehow still support him, the ones who went on TV during the Kavanaugh hearings and said how scared they were for their sons, because, goodness, look how easy it would be for some trashy girl to take them down with a false claim of rape?

 

What?! I have two grown sons and I would never for one minute worry about that!  Number one, they would never do that.  Number two, when women gather the courage to speak up about abuse, I believe them.  My default reaction at such an accusation would be to grab my son and demand to know what was up.

 

But this is how the patriarchy works.  It's almost always men who commit these acts of abuse.  When women are involved, it's usually because some man is bossing them into it.  And then—this is the worst part—when some woman tries to report the abuse, there are always women ready to stick up for the man, turn against the woman, effectively telling  her to sit down and shut up. Don't make waves.  Don't embarrass people.  It's not enough to have the Boys' Club firmly in place, the women must help support it.

 

That's how it worked for Tara Westover.  In spilling the beans about her father's obvious mental illness and her brother's horrific abuse, she broke the big rule: Don't Make the Family Look Bad.  While her mother and her sister (also victims) had at least briefly seemed to side with her, in the end  they did not have the nerve to stand up to the Patriarchy.  It was easier to just say, "I'm with them," and put all emotional energy into justifying casting out a sister. The appearance of the FAMILY to the outside world and the support of its male members took precendence over the daughters.

 

But Tara Westover's bravery in speaking truth to power is exactly what we need  to heal  our nation and the earth itself.  We do not need women like Senator Susan Collins, who entertained abuse survivors in her office for days on end and pretended to listen to their stories, let them pray en masse out in her hall, then got her hair done, put on a spiffy suit, and stood on the Senate floor  for forty-five minutes explaining why she was delivering her vote to Kavanaugh  for the Supreme Court.  Ugh.  Ugh ugh ugh. I hate to think of the further trauma this horrific betrayal delivered to all those women who pleadingly told her their stories.

 

I am cheered by the new female members of the House of Representatives.  They make me hopeful for the future.  We need brave women not afraid to speak  up.

 

Count me as an early supporter of Elizabeth Warren.  I have been wearing my "Nevertheless, she persisted" T-shirt to the gym ever since she thrilled us by refusing to sit down and shut up.  I have no patience for this "But is she electable?" business.  All it takes for her to be electable is for us to vote for her.  I believe she will kick butt and clean house, so please join me in supporting her.  

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Helping Good Things Grow

I like to start my day with a bit of aerobic  exercise on a stationary bike while reading something inspirational and informative on my Kindle.  Just finished up Go Wild by John Ratey and  Richard Manning, about the benefits of eating and exercising like our ancestors.   They point out that we humans love a view.  A wide open vista makes us feel safe because in primitive times, a favorable campsite was one enabling folks to spot the approach of danger in the form of lions or other wild beasts. 

 

This makes sense, and explains why some of the earliest pioneer women, led to the middle of a thick, dark forest of Douglas fir, were instantly prioritizing  a clearing….please, good husband, before I go completely crazy?

 

Well, I'm not afraid of wild beasts or anything else approaching through our surrounding forest, but this craving to see into the distance explains why, this year, I've had so much satisfaction from clearing the blackberries and underbrush from our woods, why I wanted to hack back the thirty-foot diameter  forsythia in the middle of which had grown up a lovely volunteer  black walnut.  I wanted to see farther!  I wanted to watch the rays of sunlight shooting through and lighting up the leaves.

 

The culminating  project  involved waiting for the tree services guys to show up with their chainsaws and  excavators and in one day of  loud work  take out a decades-old tangle of horizontally growing wild cherry trees in the ancient  front orchard.   We had discovered three or four small oaks fighting their way up to the light, and now they'll be freed to be our oak grove of the future.   This is the view from my kitchen sink, and suddenly I don't feel so smothered.   I was almost shocked at how much it thrilled me, the sight of my husband on his  tractor, tilling up that weed patch that had been  turning up a higher percentage of dandelions ever since we got married right on this spot 45 years ago.  I loved this fresh start.

 

I must back track here to say how completely distressed I've been over the news lately.   I was annoyed at myself for spending  one of the most golden Autumn days ever visited upon us, a day when my darling grandson Nolan was running around here, glued to my smart phone with earbuds, watching everyagonizing moment of the Kavanaugh hearings.  And it literally made me sick!  My blood pressure went nuts.   The rank injustice of it.  Anyone with half a brain and an ounce of intuition could see that Brett Kavanaugh had done this horrid thing Christine Blasey Ford described, and had been  conveniently  too drunk to remember it.  The fact that we have people in control of the country who think it's perfectly  fine for such a man to sit on the Supreme Court is intolerable. I have no sexual assault survivor story to tell, but if I didn't live three thousand miles away, I could have gladly joined one of those "mobs" wanting to beat down the doors of the  court. And I guess I'm not the only one across the country who feels this way.  I see articles discussing the anxiety the Kavanaugh hearings have triggered in women everywhere.

 

But now I think, for my own sanity, I'm going to have to stop checking my phone so often to hear whatever  disgusting , appalling new lies Donald Trump is spewing.  I want that despicable, odious man out of my brain, our of our lives, out of the White House.

 

Yesterday, after raking down the old orchard, Herb scattered the special grass seed.  It's supposed to be tough, drought resistant, ready to withstand whatever comes  along.  We'll have to be that way too.   Planting it seems like a positive thing to do, and now, whatever happens on November 6th when the ballots are counted, we will be right here at Wake Robin Farm, watching this new green grass sprout up, and that will be good.

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Watching History Unfold From Wake Robin Farm

Since our married life began right here on this exact piece of land, from the day we said our vows, we have been following the news of the world from this same, but ever-changing  setting, together.

 

We bought our first TV right after our 1974 June wedding specifically in order to follow the Watergate hearings,  and I  clearly remember sitting on the dusty sofa that had belonged to Herb's former girlfriend, taking all this in.  The livingroom was particularly disgusting, because I had started ripping the wallpaper off the ceiling (I know, how does wallpaper get on a ceiling?) without  bothering to move or tarp any of the furniture below.  We were so happy that hot August afternoon when Nixon resigned in order to avoid impeachment.  We had hated him for years as the villain of the Vietnam War.

 

But it's funny now, looking back, the Presidents we've disliked.   Thanks to Trump, even George Bush seems  like something of a teddy bear.  Many of them were men we disagreed with politically, but I now see I could have sat across a dinner table from any of them.  Donald Trump, in contrast, absolutely makes my skin crawl. Until him, we really had no idea what it would be like to have for a President a thoroughly despicable human being.  

 

The summer after Nixon, we sat on the front porch steps (still wooden, not yet brick) and speculated whether they'd ever find Patty Hearst, and had she actually joined with her radical kidnappers.

 

Fall of 1991 found us in the backyard, rolling out and reseeding the lawn while we listened to Anita Hill testifying in Clarence Thomas's hearings for confirmation to the Supreme Court.   It would have gone right over the heads of the five-year-old twins, and  Miles, at 11, was in school.  My memory of that project is entirely of the red hot anger that burned in my chest over this, especially when Thomas was confirmed.

 

Ten years later, on the sunny morning of  9/11, standing on that same, now thick lawn, we noted the eerie calm of the blue skies as all planes had been grounded.  Then, as no one suggested we do otherwise, we drove the twins to high school.

 

Today, we're repainting (for the third time) and re-installing the fancy, funky garden gate, and strengthening  the fences against  the overly  bold deer.  And what are we discussing?  Melania Trump.  As in, where is she?  Not sighted for 22 days.  This is not right, folks.  For the record, I think Herb's theory makes the most sense.  Maybe she's just fed up.  Maybe she's saying, "Hey, you want me to come out and act like a nice First Lady?  Tough!"

 

I sincerely hope for the sake of the entire world that we will be looking back at this day and noting that it was right before Mueller came out with indictments which will prove the beginning of the end for this so-called Presidency.  Donald Trump is bad for my mental health and that of everybody I know, and we want relief!

 

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Fake Time Magazine Covers

I’m sure you all heard about Donald Trump’s fake Time cover, right? I’m not going to reproduce it here. I wouldn’t dream of featuring his narcissistic mug on my own website where I have control. Just looking at his picture gives me the creeps, thinking of all the vile, disgusting, misogynistic, homophobic, violence-provoking words that have come out of that mouth, never knowing but dreading how his next remarks will somehow manage to be even worse.

But may I share my own Time cover mock-up? It’s not hard to do! The main difference here is that when I hit on the idea of putting my son and his Chinese fiancé on a Time cover already bannering China ten years ago, I did it for the sheer creative fun of it, and the joy of celebrating this relationship. I didn’t send it out to the world and try to pretend my own son and his fiancée had somehow caught the attention of the media.

Happy 4th of July. As happy as it can be for our country having this clown in our highest office. Read More 
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Presidential Debate Day Rant

I don’t usually get into politics here, but on this day of the final presidential debate, I feel like speaking up. To maintain some connection with literature, here’s a nursery rhyme that, while reading to my grandson, reminded me of a certain despicable person:

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

I thought I had disliked politicians in the past, but the loathing I bear for Donald Trump makes what I felt for Richard Nixon, for example, seem, in retrospect, more like benign disapproval. (He did go to China, after all.)

This isn’t even about politics anymore. It’s about being a man. About being a decent human being. This crybaby’s not fit to be allowed on the same playground as the rest of us. He’s the very epitome of the kind of guy I would have nothing to do with in college. I would never date a frat rat, but likening Donald Trump to members of a fraternity is not fair to them, just as calling him childish is not fair to children, just as calling the appalling trash that comes out of his mouth “locker room talk” is not fair to athletes.

Seriously, he’s in a horrid little class by himself. And most people I associate with seem to agree on this. Unfortunately, it also seems fashionable to follow the expression of such sentiments with a pouty, “But I don’t like Hillary either.”

As if there’s any comparison!

So I want to state for the record that I like Hillary Clinton. I love that her classmates voted her the first student speaker at their commencement and predicted, in writing, she’d be the first female President of the United States.

And I identify with her. Just a year after she took an argumentative tone with Wellesley’s administration in that standing-ovation speech, I myself got into a verbal spat with John Howard, the President of Lewis & Clark College. A handful of top freshmen had been invited to an honorary dinner where we sat around a big round table with this guy. At some point I made the remark that for me, the high cost of tuition at this spendy private school (My parents could hardly scrape together that one year’s tuition, and were relieved when I elected to transfer to the more budget friendly U of O) would be something of a waste if I didn’t do something other than become a housewife. In this spring of 1970 I had no idea what that would be; I just knew I had a horror of 100% housewifery, thanks to having just read The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. (Oh, good, another literature connection!)

President Howard asked how women expected to get along with their next door neighbors if they didn’t take classes in international relations, and another girl who’d also apparently earned stellar grades sniffed that she just couldn’t see any higher calling in life than marriage and motherhood. I cannot recall the rest of the exchange, but I’ll never forget President Howard’s closing argument:

“Frankly, I just couldn’t ever imagine being married to someone as unfeminine as you.”

Say WHAT? His personal assessment of me as wife material had WHAT to do with this debate?

Storming back to the dorm, I came upon the guy I’d recently been dating, sprawled on the lawn in his usual 501 jeans. In a huff, I dropped down to my side on the grass beside him and propped my cheek on my hand.

“So,” I said. “Do YOU think I’m unfeminine?”

My future husband clearly did not see any problems along these lines. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m pretty sure its memories like this that make Trump’s comments push my outrage buttons. No, I was never groped (and THANK YOU, all of you who were and are now speaking up) but I’ve had to endure this nasty business of men trying to take us down by letting us know how unattractive they consider us smart girls. Like we’d even consider for one minute getting in bed with idiots like you, Donald!

So, yeah, I’ll be rooting for Hillary big time tonight. Trump’s over-the-top vocabulary of outrageous hyperbole is so limited, during the last debate I was thinking what a great drinking game it would be if we all did shots each time he used a certain word or phrase—disaster, tremendous, I’ll be honest about this. (Right—liar, liar, pants on fire.) Trouble is, select any one word and the whole country would be passed out drunk in the first five minutes.

I guess folks at the Wall Street Journal thought better of this idea too, and this morning ran a series of stress-relieving yoga poses we could all do instead.

Well, I already did my yoga first thing as usual, so, instead, I’ll be doing the handstitching on my grandson’s new quilt. The one I made him before he was born with Chinese children flying kites didn’t really do it for him, turns out. He wants John Deere tractors. This kid’s daddy was savvy enough at the age of ten to draw horns on a picture of Donald Trump and paste it in a scrapbook. Not yet three, our grandson has been spared the worst of Trump, obviously, and is simply relieved to be reassured this man lives all the way across the country from us.

He piped up a reference to Hillary Clinton yesterday as “that other grandmother.”

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