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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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