Abuela Report: The Angel of Forgetting by Miriam Sagan

I missed the baby when I was gone the past two weeks. I dreamed she could talk, and was explaining the difference between Donald Trump and Donald Duck. (The first makes us sad, the second happy). What a S-M-A-R-T baby, I spelled, not wanting to overpraise her. “Oh, it’s nothing,” a mean woman said in the dream. “All babies can do that.”
I got a chuckle when I woke up. The baby’s mother, Isabel, is worried the baby thinks her name is “the baby” and we need to use her given name, Grainne, more. When I read her “Good Dog Carl” in the board version she gets very excited to hear the words “dog” and “baby” together. She babbles a lot on English right now, but doesn’t really put syllables to objects.
When Iz and her friend Reuben finally learned to talk I interviewed them.
“Where were you before you were born?” I asked.
“It was dark,” Reuben said.
“I came out and it snowed on my head,” Iz reported.
Accurate enough, but hardly the esoteric info I was hoping for.
Jewish mystics believe the soul knows all of Torah. But in the womb the angel of forgetting puts a finger between the nose and the upper lip. (You can note that runnel on your own face).
And we have to learn again.

Stash

I’m working on a new memoir with some difficult material. I’m puttig bits of it in “stash” boxes and hiding them in plain sight in this funky art town. It’s a bit of guerilla art, but also an editing process to see how I feel.

Here is a bit of the text:

The habit I can’t break—probably don’t even want to—is that I am amazed by everything in my world and afraid of all the adults in it. It’s going to be difficult to work this one out.

Things I Am Not Doing by Miriam Sagan

1. Grading
2. Following the impeachment
3. Trying to improve myself
4. Sending holiday cards
5. Keeping the basil plant alive
6. Believing the human race is improving

Things I am doing
1. Reading War and Peace
2. Allowing myself to miss my parents
3. Not mentioning art history to my baby grand-daughter when she says Dada
4. Waiting for you to serve the lentil soup
5. Cracking myself up
6. Dreaming

3 Years In by Miriam Sagan

By the end of 2019, I’ll have been on the current trajectory of my life’s path for about three years. I retired, and by unplanned coincidence, my mom died. I felt shot out of a cannon–in a good way. I was no longer flying to Boston every three months to caretake. I was no longer going to work. For the first time in my life I felt I wasn’t operating with some kind of deficit. I know this can’t last forever–I’m 65 and well aware of aging. However, I planned to make the most of this new stage, and I think I have. However, I am suffering from a lack of feeling grounded.
I’m not exactly sure why. When I retired, I said I wasn’t going to do
1. Home Improvement
2. A lot more writing
3. Self Improvement of the diet & exercise sort
Well, I did not manage to avoid the first–renovated kitchen, concrete garden pathways, raised garden beds, etc. But it’s been fine–worthwhile.
And I didn’t manage to avoid the second, either. At least this year, I published three books and a chapbook. It’s not quite as prolific as it sounds. Writing takes a while, publishing another while…this was kind of a logjam that came to fruition (mixed metaphor and all).
Mercifully, I’m eating and exercising per usual–a regime of several decades.
I don’t like to live exclusively in the creative world. It feels unbalanced. Maybe I’ve swung too far in that direction. For volunteer work, I did a year of hospice, a year of teaching ESL…when my grand-daughter was born I started taking care of her about two days a week. It’s been tremendous, but maybe too close to the creative world. After all, she and the studio I share with my daughter are in the same house. We started photographing her as part of a project…
I struggled for a long time to live an integrated life. Now I want something…looser? I don’t know. I’m worried about all the things I’m usually worried about–Trump, my chronic pain, my friends’ difficulties, the future.
I keep making a To Do list for getting grounded but it has only two things on it:
1. Learn to bake biscuits.
2. Get an African violet.

And how are you these days?

More Responses To–What beliefs did you have about yourself that have now changed?

Janet Snyder Asher I always felt that I “can’t do it”. I was never encouraged to try, even if I might fail. Now at 65 I try my best and definitely sometimes fail! And it’s more than OK!!!!
Miriam Sagan Can you say more about what “it” might be?

Janet Snyder Asher Anything I was afraid of. I learned early on not to take risks. I believe that after my divorce I started living again. I met a man who I eventually married and he had so much confidence in me! I took a Swiftwater rescue class and became a river guide at 42! That’s just one example of something I never knew I could do.

Karla Linn Merrifield I always thought I wasn’t very musical, especially after 8 years of piano lessons that terrified me. Yes, I could play a modest Chopin and a few hymns, and I learned to read music, but what a fumbler I was. Now 50 years later I’ve picked up the guitar and a month later I’m feeling it happen. I can make music

Laurie Tumer I’m 68. I didn’t believe (as a girl growing up in the 50’s) that it was possible for a girl to be be an architect or doctor or geologist or or fireman or artist or musician or conductor or builder or even college graduate. Only boys were smart enough for that. I believed I was only capable of being a wife and mother as that is what I was told was my fate When I eventually studied music at the University of Arizona I loved my conducting classes and wanted to be a conductor, but the professor said: Do you see any women conductors? So I didn’t believe I it was possible to do that. So I changed majors and became a teacher because that was something girls were encouraged to do back then. I don’t regret being a teacher all these years. And I have gone on to an artist and a builder and a gardener and to fulfill many dreams and live happily ever after without a husband or children. I often hear in my head when I complete a project my father’s refrain when I’d do something that surprised him that he didn’t think I was capable of: “Not bad for a little girl!” A phrase he used up until he died when I was 35. Times have change in the U.S. for girls, though not for girls all over the world… I believe that will change too one day.

Teresa Fields I was raised to be a wife and mother. When I was in 2nd grade the teacher would hit me on top of my head with her wad of keys and call me a dumb Indian. I believed I could not do math. Then in high school my counselor told me I wasn’t College material.
After being married over 31 yrs and suddenly being widowed. I went to College, I got an ‘A,’ in College Algebra. I had a 3.99 gpa for my AA degree and almost the same for my BFA.

Letters To The Dead

Who is your audience? That’s an ordinary writing workshop question. But I think it is more common than we’ll admit–dead people. Ancestors, lost loves, dead friends and family, the unborn. Are they listening?
Of course this caught my interest–

MAIZURU, Kyoto Prefecture–Those who want to post messages to the dead can deposit their letters in a “green mailbox” at a Buddhist temple in this western city facing the Sea of Japan.
Anyone is welcome to leave a letter in the mailbox, which stands in the grounds of Daishoji temple in Maizuru’s Kitasui district.
Temple officials don’t open the letters, but burn them in a ritual in a “gomadan” fire altar.
A parishioner who used to be a postmaster donated the pillar-style mailbox about 30 years ago.
The box was installed beneath a wisteria trellis beside the temple’s main hall and was sometimes used as a collection box for offerings as it is near a sacred waterfall and the fire altar.

To read more, click here.

***

So…I’m thinking about more memoir. “In Bluebeard’s Castle” will be out next month from Red Mountain–it’s about my dad, gangster and intellectual. “A Hundred Cups of Coffee” launches from Tres Chicas Books in the fall. What’s next to write about? As always, whatever I’ve been avoiding, currently, AIDS, sexuality, San Francisco in the 1980’s, and more.
It’s always an assemblage process. I’m thinking of this piece near the start–if I can connect it.

***

This Island Is Not Real

     The summer I was seventeen I took a fiction writing class at the New School. Every day I’d leave the daycare center where I worked mornings to take the number 84 bus into Manhattan and the subway downtown. On Mondays and Wednesdays I’d take a modern dance class, on Tuesdays and Thursdays it was fiction.
     After class, in the late afternoon, I’d walk crosstown a few miles west to where my boyfriend had a summer sublet in a Chelsea brownstone. This was when that neighborhood, at 23rd Street, was unremarkable and cheap, and where a secretary who was somehow related to someone my father knew had a sad dusty narrow studio apartment that was mostly furnished in a bed up against the only window at the far end of the apartment and a kitchen table. This was just fine with us–me and my eighteen year old boyfriend who somehow seemed much older than me because he was already in college. Really all we cared about was the bed.
     Except for food. He’d cook me strange little hot dinners–experimenting–chops and peas, burgers and onions, not right for the small sweltering apartment but tasty and necessary. What else did we do that summer? I can hardly remember. Once we walked around Wall Street and looked at three tiny overgrown cemeteries, scattered along the blocks like a series of weedy pocket parks, the tilting submerged headstones of Sephardic Jewish colonists unreadable. between the Hebrew and the decay. And we had tickets to several of the Mostly Mozart concerts.
     The fiction class was very disappointing. However, I did not complain–my parents had paid, after all. The instructor, in her thirties, with black hair dyed blacker still, was more Beat than hippie, or perhaps proto-punk. She spoke at length during each class about the difficulties, actually impossibilities, of being a writer. She for example, was forced to support herself by writing the captions and dialogue for comic strips. Then, she criticized our work.
    My final story, the one I had been working on all summer, was set on a mythical tropical island, probably Caribbean. At least, palm trees blew. And in a fanciful addition, flocks of black and white butterflies filled the air, pausing only to mate on the shiny hoods of the cars of the rich. There was a pair of lovers in the story, lovers who quarreled (I can no longer remember the reason) and in the final scene she pushed him backwards off the dock, where he allowed himself to drown. Or perhaps he pushed her? This is a long time ago to remember. But looking back, I do not think that in 1971 I would have written a story in which a man drowned a woman.
     When we went to the Mostly Mozart concerts, we left directly from the apartment. I had a blue and white dress of a soft slinky material, and I had to ask my boyfriend to zip up the back. I added a long strand of white beads I’d borrowed from my mother. The beads were tiny, making a shimmering rope. I saw myself in the mirror in the blue dress, with my boyfriend zipping me up, and I wondered if this was the first scene of many like it, stretching out over a lifetime.
     The teacher hated my story. She felt the setting–my favorite part–was unrealistic and unconvincing. Butterflies do not mate in a trade wind. Men born on islands do not just drown. Where was the grit, the poverty, the fried plantains? THIS ISLAND IS NOT REAL she wrote in bold black letters across the first page of my story.
     I went to a different college from my boyfriend and then I broke up with him. I married a man who had once hunted octopus off a dock in Key West simply because he was hungry. We were married for thirteen years and then he died, leaving me a can full of pens and sharpened pencils in which there was also a tiny two-pronged utensil–a lobster fork. Meanwhile my boyfriend had hitchhiked…but who cares, this part of his past is not in this story. Anyway, I married my old boyfriend and am his wife to this day.
     This island is not real.  Manhattan is an island. I’d walk crosstown, past the discount shoe bins and the lively crowds of people of all nations–Haitians, Puerto Ricans, east Indians. The big Greek selling slices of lamb off the steamy rotating grill called me sweetie as he handed me a simple sandwich–meat and pita bread–wrapped in a thick slice of paper. I loved the walk, between the mean fiction teacher and the hot apartment.
     This island is real.