October 31, 2012

{Wacky Wednesday} Picture Prompt!

Give us a one-paragraph description of what this image conjures up for you :)

October 29, 2012

{Memoir Monday} Joshua’s Philosophical Questions

Joshua’s Philosophical Questions and Quotes (Ages 2-13) 
By Sue Peiser

Age 2-4 
• How was I born?
• What is a sperm donor?
• Will you read me, “Curious George Gets a Job” at bedtime?
• Can I always live with you?
• I’m scared of hats.
• (Reading off of graffiti on a garage). Mom, what does F-U-C-K spell?

Age 5-6 
• Does it offend you if I sometimes tell people that I only have one mom instead of two?
• Why did you and Mami B split up?
• Why can’t I know the reasons why you and Mami B split up?
• Why do you answer everything except the reasons for why you and Mami B split up?
• Will we ever have vacations with the three of us again or will I have to sit on the airplane next to one mom and a stranger on the other side?
• Will we ever all have dinner again together?
• Will I have toys in both of my houses?

Age 7-8 
• When I have babies, will you change their diapers?
• Why is my math teacher so mean to me?
• What should I tell my friends who want to know how two women can have a baby?
• Is it OK if I tell my friends they should just look it up?

Age 10-11 
• I’ll never date a woman who would prefer camping to a nice hotel. We just wouldn’t have enough in common.
• Can you please stop standing in my doorway?
• Your outfit looks fine.

Age 13 
• I don’t think letting your hair go grey will be the spiritually enlightening experience you’re hoping for. You’re just going to look…......old.
• Dating a Jewish woman won’t be a good idea. You’ll be too much alike.
• Thanks for making me feel so welcome when I came home from camp.
• They will like your couscous salad at the potluck. You definitely have made it enough times.
• Yes, we stayed too long at the party. It takes you forever to say good-bye.
• Mom, please don’t sing “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes you Stronger” when my friends are in the car. You aren’t exactly Kelly Clarkson.
• Can we go to 7-11 for a Slurpee?

Sue Peiser is exceptionally grateful to be Joshua’s mom. She works at a community mental health agency. She and her son are members of a progressive Jewish synagogue. She was recently appointed as Gay and Lesbian Family Liaison at her son’s school. Weekly Zumba class promotes energy for her daily writing.

October 24, 2012

{Wacky Wednesday} Picture Prompt!

Give us a one-paragraph memoir inspired by this picture :)

October 22, 2012

{Memoir Monday} Bungee Jumping

by Rachel Harris

To say that I’ve bungee jumped might be a stretch. While my body has plummeted through atmosphere with an extremely stretchy cord tied to it, I don’t know if it actually counts since I didn’t jump. I was pushed. By my friend, Chris. Who was dead.

Chris was one of those rare people who seemed to defy all rules. Physical, social, legal - rules didn’t apply to Chris. He didn’t worry about the things that most people worry about. He was only 21 when he died, so perhaps the rules just hadn’t caught up to him yet.

We grew up in a small Idaho town that had a peculiar practice of not plowing roads after a snow storm. And it snows there. A lot. This means that the streets were completely covered in ice most of the winter. On the rare occasions that the plows did make it out they only served to smooth the ice, which is why I call them Zambonis. Idaho winters are long; and the dangerous roads cause all kinds of white knuckles. And accidents. Then there was Chris. The hazards of the icy roads beckoned him for a thrill. One day we were crossing town during “rush hour.” Roads were crowded and covered in ice. Chris accelerated as we approached a red light and said “Watch this!” He crossed the intersection, yanking the wheel to the left and hitting the brake, cycloning his Jeep down the crowded street. It was a custom Jeep and I was strapped to the seat with a racing harness, but I still gripped the seat as tried to remember why I was friends with him. When the spinning stopped his vehicle was magically lined up between the correct lines, pointed the correct direction and Chris continued forward like nothing had happened. My heart hammered at my rib cage and I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or cry.

Adventure abounded with Chris. He and I gazelled over the narrow crags of thousand foot canyons and rode water slides covertly in the middle of the night. Chris planned his days around fun. He always wore -summer or winter, day or night- a pair of swim trunks under his pants. Just in case. His life was all about living and he nearly always donned his signature crooked, mischievous, shit-eating grin.

I had seen Chris avoid the emergency room, law enforcement and death day after day for years until I just accepted the idea that he wasn’t bound by the same laws the rest of us were. I am cautious by nature, but under the influence of Chris, I taught myself to loosen up and take risks. I became aware of my inhibitions and was learning how to eliminate them. The epitaph at his funeral perfectly summed up his existence: You can either count your days or make every day count. There was never a boring day with Chris, and my endocrine system is still recovering from an overdose of cortisol from those years.

When I got the call that he had been injured in a snowboarding accident, my initial response was a nonchalant shoulder shrug. I couldn’t imagine that he could possibly suffer any lasting consequences. That he met death that day was utterly shocking. At 20 years old I was just starting to become aware. Of life. Of love. Of mortality. Chris’ life had inspired me to live more liberally. His death inspired me to love without restraint.

 It was two years later that I stood atop the bungee platform. I’m terrified of heights, but I was up there because, inspired by Chris, I was trying to conquer life and live it unabashedly. Getting up to the platform was the easy part. I froze on my perch, desperately wanting to have the courage to jump, but finding that fear disabled me. Looking at the remote trampoline magnified my terror. I found it easier to look at the distant horizon. When I realized that on that horizon was the mountain range that Chris died on, I was suddenly overcome with the feeling that Chris was there with me. He was laughing at my wimpiness.

“Come on, Eileen!” Eileen is my middle name and Chris never missed the chance to coax me with these lyrics.

 I don’t know how I departed from my perch. I know it had nothing to do with my normal means of movement. You know, my brain communicating with my nervous system, communicating with my muscular system, and so on. My brain had nothing to do with it. Hearing his words and seeing that smile caused my spirit to soar off of that towering platform, aching to have a moment with it’s absent friend. My body simply followed. While my mind was fully engaged in the panic of my body having a ridiculously long gravitational experience, my soul flew.

Rachel Harris is the mother of two, and a graduate of The Writer's Mind. She likes to take long walks on the beach and look for abandoned alien spacecrafts. 

October 17, 2012

{Wacky Wednesday} Picture Prompt!

Give us a one-paragraph description of this interesting scene :)

October 12, 2012

Memoirs Ink Annual Contest Winners

The winners have been announced!

The winners of the 2012 Annual Contest are:

First Place: Genealogy In A Watercolor, by Joan Kresich

Second PlaceThe Wilderness Vow by Suzanne Adams

Third Place: Riley Day Chanel Brenner

Please click the links to read their stories and bios. And feel free to post your congratulations or comments here.

We sincerely thank all who submitted their stories and invite you to submit again in February. Guidelines for the Half-Yearly contest are here.

October 10, 2012

{Wacky Wednesday} Picture Prompt!

As a creative exercise, give us one paragraph that details a fictitious memoir for this 1950s Zenith TV.

October 8, 2012

{Memoir Monday} Improv

by Ella Wilson

  • The third time I took ecstasy.
  • The night I was walking through South London at 3am when I realized I was being followed by a man who was reporting my every move into his cell phone.
  • At hour 27 of my first daughter’s labor.
  • The moment when I realized I had cut my wrist and was about to pass out in front of my 18-month-old daughter.
  • When the surgeon said I had gangrene and they might have to amputate my hand.
  • The first time I smoked pot.
  • The time I went on a school trip to Paris and ended up in the hotel room of a man four times my age too drunk to speak.
  • The night my mother died.

These are the moments that I remember making deals with god. The deal being, in every case, that if he, god, that I had never believed in until I had to, that if he delivered me to the other side of this moment alive then I would promise to never put myself in that situation again. I would never drink, take drugs, get pregnant, go out alone, hurt myself, love someone again. I promise. Please god.

So what comes next makes no sense, though it is what passed so I cannot call it nonsense. Sense is not always there for the judging.

I was 20, which was the new 16, but felt like the new 44. All the responsibility of adulthood. All the stupidity of youth. I had a new boyfriend. He was older than me, cooler than me, better than me and four-thousand miles away. We had met over the summer in New York. I was an intern, he was the opposite. His name was Mikal, with a K. I was in love with him. He would be in love with me in a couple of years. But for now
we spoke on the phone from time to time and I missed him constantly. I wanted him. I loved him with the desperation of someone whose life is crumbling, and mine was crumbling. My father was dying, my mother was clinging, my sister was nowhere and I could already feel the English doom threatening to sink me. I wanted out.

The distance between us was painful in a way that only the negative can be. It is not the bullet that hurts, it’s the hole. My disappearing family tied me to England. In the name of love and resentment I stayed.

4,000 miles to the west, in New York, Mikal did improv comedy. He had always done theater. He was loud and dramatic, strange and funny. He stood up in rooms and didn’t care who knew it. He breathed in and out without a question of his right to do so - we did not see eye to eye on matters such as this. He felt wonderfully entitled to his life, it was one of the things I loved about him. He was here, he was supposed to be, he was exactly who he was. Fine. I had never felt quite so sure of my existence. Whether born or learned I did not take my right to life for granted. Never sure if I was supposed to be wherever I was.

The fact then that I took his advice to sign-up for an improv theater workshop speaks only to the chutzpah of love. I found a class in the newspaper, which was like the internet before computers.

The place where the class was held was not threatening at first glance. The newspaper clipping led me to a room above a pub on a busy London street. This was not in central London though so the streets were wider, there was more sky and a little less world. I took the side stairs. Narrow and high without windows, it seemed I was entering a secret. At the top were double doors that swung both ways making me feel
slightly seasick to touch. Inside was a large room that suggested school or P.E. or religion, the wooden floor was smooth and there was a smell of polish, paint and disinfectant.

The institutional smell bore my first hint of fear, up until then I had bowled towards the drama using momentum over thought. It was the only way I knew to arrive anywhere. Unthinking, under motor.

The windows in the room were high giving the impression that I could not escape even if I wanted to and the feeling was settling in my stomach that I might want to.

To clarify, I am a funny person. At school I was the class clown. I make people laugh, I make myself laugh. This is not a brag. It is what is. Not everyone thinks I’m funny. Sometimes I don’t even think I’m funny. Quite often, I’m not funny. But sometimes I am. I am just the sort of person that should take an improv class. Or so it would seem.

The doors behind me stopped swinging and I found myself in a room of maybe twelve people, young or young seeming. Quirky, odd, friendly, fun. I have rarely felt more threatened.

Something rose in me that day that I did not know was there. Though looking back I must have had an inkling since I had been nervous for approximately 18 and a half of my 20 years. But I did not know panic in the sense of panic attacks. This panic, this modern panic that we wrestle with nowadays since most of us are lucky enough not to have good old-fashioned panic to deal with - the panic of floods, saber-toothed tigers,
famine, war.

The panic of panic attacks is no less real, no less scary or sweaty. But it is less clear to those around you what is happening. The crisis that is occurring is invisible. It is of the mind and memory. It is existential rather than, well, real.

The sweat, however, is real, the sound your heart makes when it is getting ready for you to run away is real, the sharp taste at each side of your tongue as your stomach acid makes itself known is real.

We were standing in a circle, me and the other performers. The hour was almost over and I had escaped with the bare minimum of air time. There had been games: shout out a word, mirror an action, do one thing while saying another. I had sweated through my shirt, but I was still alive. And now, so close to the end of the class came what felt like the end of the world.

There was to be a performance. Pairs in front of the whole group. I desperately tried to make myself floor colored, I blurred my eyes with the hope of a three-year-old that if I couldn’t see them then they couldn’t see me. I moved a few inches back so as to not technically constitute part of the circle and therefore render myself ineligible for choosing.

“She hasn’t done anything yet!” an enthusiastic man whose face I have lost shouted, pointing at me. And this is when it happened, my ears buzzed with fear and I started to pray. God, if you let me out of this alive I promise I will never, ever do anything that involves other people again. I swear, I will never take another improv class, I will not even go to the theater to see a play. I will never stand up again. I will never raise my
hand. I will never make the assumption that I am supposed to exist. Please god, help me. Show yourself, hide me.

That doing a three-minute skit in front of a bunch of people that I never had to see again could induce the same reaction in me as being so high on drugs that I thought I was going to die, so much in pain that I did not think I would survive, so afraid that I was about to expire, or be expired, this fact does not speak well to my confidence levels/mental health/relationship with reality/self-worth.

The man I was paired with for the performance sat on the wooden floor, unafraid to be part of the room. My body somehow found its way next to him. I was not conscious of my legs moving, but assuming I did not glide, I must have walked. I sat next to him, criss-cross-apple-sauce. And I did the only thing I could given my mental state. I pretended to meditate. I placed my hands in a disingenuous pose of surrender and closed my eyes. All I had to do was wait for three-minutes. The man moved around me. I am assuming at some point he spoke, but I do not know what went on outside of my body. I could not go there.

It reminded me of the time that I smoked so much pot that I thought my bedroom was going to eat me. The only way I could see my way through the night was to close my eyes for the count of three and then open them for the count of three. And it was thus that I survived another moment near the edge of sanity.

Sometimes there is nothing for it but to wait. Count. Close your eyes. Open your eyes. And know that whatever it is will end.

October 3, 2012

Graphic Memoirs

Felice and I were discussing a genre of memoirs that is relatively new: graphic memoirs. The elements of this type of storytelling are similar to those of traditional storytelling, with the major exception being that they are rendered in sequential art that is typically associated with comic books.

The powerful thing about this type of storytelling is that the reader mentally fills in the action that occurs between each panel. Much as with the working principle of film, sequential art is taken in one frame at a time. The difference here is that a reader is allowed to remain on a single frame for as long as he or she wishes, and even to quickly return to a previous frame to replay the events that are unfolding. This works in a way that is distinct from reading because drawn images are often much more accessible symbolically than the descriptions and metaphors rendered in words. So this art form is far more unique than it has often been given credit for.

The last couple of decades has changed that, of course. Graphic novels have gained much more respect and cultural relevance since Frank Miller epitomized the superhero in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), and Alan Moore almost made superheroes obsolete by looking beyond their meaning in Watchmen (1987). Superhero comics are still popular, of course. But much of the vital work in recent sequential art has come from storytellers who chose to tell their own stories instead of myths clad in tights.

You have probably heard of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi(above). It was made into a film a few years ago, and the story is a captivating one: a young Iranian girl coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic revolution. Pictured at the top of this post is a frame from another coming of age story from the Midwest; Blankets (2003) by Craig Thompson.

The stories are as varied as holocaust survival, reclaiming a disintegrating family history, and even growing up with an epileptic brother. One recent graphic memoir is Stitches (2009), the story of artist David Small who lost his voice as a child because of a routine throat surgery gone awry, and his subsequent redemption by breaking into the world of art.

The reason why these books are either winners (or in the running to be winners) of an "Eisner award" is because Will Eisner himself was the first to begin telling his own stories in long graphic form back in 1978. This was way before there was much of a market for graphic novels, and much less graphic memoirs. Eisner wrote and drew a slew of these books concerning his life in New York City on the side while toiling on popular pulp comics like The Spirit.

We at Memoirs Ink are wondering what our readers' interest level is in this type of memoir. Do any of you have any favorites that you are familiar with? And even more intriguing; have any of you every attempted one of your own? Also, links to any online examples would be much loved!

October 1, 2012

{Memoir Monday} Gopher Town

Gopher Town

by Felice Austin
“A gopher town can easily spread to take over large sections of prairie or mountain meadow and may have a population in the thousands.” - Wikipedia

Like a black hole at the center of the universe, the gopher holes had their own magnetic pull. As children, we were drawn to them like strange attractors. My mother was waging a personal war against the gophers, and we couldn’t get enough of the excitement. Family folklore tells of entire stalks of corn being dragged underground before our eyes, their silky green tops frantically waving like drowning victims. They were no match for the bucktoothed rodents, who ate the roots first, then had easy work.

No one else we knew had this problem. No on else we knew had a garden. We lived in a medium-sized city, north of Los Angeles and south of Santa Barbara in the oil rich hills of Ventura. In my childhood the hills all along the coast highway were dotted with oil derricks, like bird beaks, rhythmically pecking the earth. A rhythm that hypnotized me on car trips. Most of the city was highly developed, but by some accident or zoning blip, our corner house backed up to a large piece of undeveloped land--a hill that was many acres square. The bulldozers and other earth movers that had once rumbled across it now lay silent and rusting.

My mother had made use of our large corner lot and planted several gardens. Carrots, strawberries and raspberries grew in planter boxes around the side yard. Zucchinis and other squash grew heavy and abundant in the back yard. And in the far garden beyond the avocado tree, bean stalks climbed wooden frames. There were also potatoes and other root vegetables. The root vegetables didn’t stand a chance.

The grating of the hill had displaced many creatures from their homes and like water, they flowed downward--to our house, and to my mother’s garden. The gophers were only one of many pests she battled. There were also the squirrels, mice, and stray cats. Of course, she may have also counted us, her four children, in that group of pests, but our intentions were pure, as was our hunger for her raspberries.

She experimented with many methods of pest elimination over several years, from yelling and banging pots, to a gadget that looked like a spacecraft. The flying saucer was purchased from a gardening catalog and must have been expensive, but my father agreed to buy it for her. The space ship was made of green plastic, about the size of a salad plate and a few inches thick, with a metal stake in the center. When the stake was pounded into the ground, it looked like a UFO hovering a few inches above the vegetables. Once they installed the batteries, the craft sent seismic waves down the post and into the ground around it, causing gopher sized earthquakes ten to fifteen feet outward from the epicenter. This seemed to be a success, and for several weeks my mother went about her gardening with a smile, an exultant twinkle in her green eyes.

I thought about the gophers often. I wondered about their underground route and their nighttime habits. I empathized with them to a degree. I also liked to sneak the fruits of my mother’s labor, but they crossed lines I would never dare. Their lack of regard for my mother’s position awed and baffled me.

Sometimes from the elementary school across the street, I would look up at recess and see my mother standing on the hill top. In my mind she is paused with her back to me, gardening gloves on, in dark blue jeans and reddish hair. At other times she had no hair, and the sun shone off her shaved head, or her light blue turban, because she didn’t like to wear wigs. And she seemed like a giant to me. Her hips looked sturdy and wide under the stretched blue denim. One would never know the extent of her internal ravaging.

Even though she never turned around, I always knew that she saw me looking at her. The gophers didn’t understand this. Her ability to see without looking, her largeness, or her quiet determination to win. So I was glad when the space shuttle arrived.

However, the win didn’t last long. Either the batteries died or the gophers became smarter. I imagined them coming out at night, their yellow front teeth leading, followed by their small eyes and ears, inching closer and closer till the smartest gopher finally rapped it with his curved claw, and said in chipmunk voice, “It’s plastic.” And they all sighed and chuckled and went back to their ravaging.

Nothing was said, but somehow the failure of the space craft was felt among the whole family. Perhaps we absorbed the resonance of her frustration in our meals.

Of all the pests, the gophers were the most mysterious to us, because we never saw them, only the evidence of them. So when my brother shouted that he had seen one of the rodents peek its head up and then retreat into a gopher hole in the back yard, we shrieked at our luck. We were hungry for gopher action.

Mom was inside, probably cooking or sewing or laying down. In an instant we decided that the hose was our best weapon. Forrest jammed it down the hole and I turned it on full blast. I grabbed a stick from the nearby woodpile and ran to the other hole at the end of the yard. The stick was for bonking the gopher when it would surely be flushed out any minute.

Poised like a batter, I listened to the water run. Even as an eight year old, I was conscious about water. We were in a monumental drought and the way my parents made it sound, every drop of water cost a hundred dollars. Yet in that moment, I didn’t care. I had read the story of Noah and the flood and I knew that that much water could do damage. And we wanted to do damage. Ephraim was excited to get in on the gopher clubbing action too, and soon came running with a baseball bat.

We made eye contact occasionally, thrilled by the possibility of fighting a common enemy. The possibility of blood.

It felt like an hour before we finally gave up. An hour of water down the gopher hole. It did not flood out like I imagined, but rather seemed to disappear down an unseen well. Forrest took the hose out and put his eye to the hole, but could see nothing. He jumped up and down on the ground and screamed at them.


That’s when I realized that their underground tunnel system was more extensive than we knew. In my night-time imaginings of them, I began to add intricate gopher highway systems that ran for miles underneath the entire property and the denuded expanse of dirt that was the hill.

How does one make a map of the unknown?

The radiologists had made small blue tattoos on my mother’s body. Just a dot or two here and there to map where they had been or would go again. They too were fighting the unseen.

My father, perhaps because he couldn’t stand the unknown any longer, went after the more visible pests--the squirrels. Perhaps it was after breakfast one Saturday that he leapt from the table, grabbed a BB gun from his closet, and ran outside where he saw one scuttling away from her garden. He lifted the gun to his shoulder, aimed and fired in one swift movement. The squirrel ran and then fell with another round of BBs.

My brothers and I held our breath. We had never seen anything like it. His movements had been focused, intentional, powerful. Yet as the blast sound ricocheted around the yard and dissipated, he seemed to get smaller. He walked over to the dead squirrel and nudged it with his foot. What happened next shocked me to the core.

I had read about crucifixion, and crimes of war—mostly in the Bible. But now my father, who survived Vietnam, who read philosophy books and listened to Joni Mitchell and Elvis, was nailing the dead squirrel to a wooden steak.

We all quivered near the event horizon. My father’s head was bent over the purposeful sound of the hammer. The squirrel’s blood was red like mine, and its guts were spilling out. My mother turned away and went inside.

I didn’t know what my dad was thinking, I only knew that my mother’s garden was being eaten by rodents as her body was being eaten by cancer, and he had shot and crucified a squirrel. He then hammered the stake into the ground at the top of the hill on our property line. He said that it was to be a public example for any other creatures who thought about coming down the hill to eat her garden.

This made sense to me. I imagined one or two gophers coming out at night, seeing the carnage, and running back to tell the rest of the family that the man on the corner had lost it—was showing no mercy; no animal was safe. They would all quake at the tale.

Felice Austin is the president of Memoirs Ink. She is still getting over her discovery that the laws of physics are not what she learned on Tom and Jerry. You can read more of her stuff here.