So much light lifting

Rise Festival, 2014. Photo Credit: Lauren Sepulveda

Rise Festival, 2014.                                                        Photo Credit: Lauren Sepulveda

By Catherine Keefe

Much has been said in the past few days about how 29-year-old Brittany Maynard died. I’d like to tell you a little bit about how she lived.

Brittany, with a passel of other girls, came to my daughter’s 13th birthday party. We invited guests to attend in their most fabulous feathery, sparkly attire, turned our living room into a mock casino, and created an at-home Vegas Night. I hired a 16-year-old boy from down the street as a Blackjack dealer, and it was at the Blackjack table that Brittany spent most of the night. She flirted while most of the girls were so shy they wouldn’t even talk to the only boy in the room. Brittany bet all her chips and won, then fluttered her red paper prize-redemption tickets like confetti across the room because that was more fun than trading them in for a tube of bubblegum lip gloss. Brittany sashayed through the party like a starlet, trailing feathers from her black boa. She sipped Martinellis with her pinky raised, and laughed more loudly than any other girl at the party. She was, as the invitation requested, fabulous.

To know a girl on the cusp of emerging adulthood is to look through a kaleidoscope and slowly turn the lens. Who she might become is a fractal of who she already is.

Brittany was light years ahead of the other 13-year-olds in the most important way possible. She had a way of living without paying any attention to what anyone else thought about it. She was strong at an age when many girls become weak. For that reason Brittany was the kind of girl a mother loved that her daughter would befriend. My daughter and Brittany remained friends until some time in the middle of high school when their interests and activities slowly diverged.

A little over a year ago, I saw Brittany’s mom, Deb, at Trader Joes in Rancho Santa Margarita. Deb was my daughter’s middle school science teacher, my own particular hero for the way she passionately engaged students with basics of geology, biology, and chemistry. It had been years since we’d seen each other so we caught up in the apple aisle about our girls’ college choices and career paths, marriages and our own lives.

“Brittany always does things her own way,” I remember Deb saying.

“And that’s why we love her,” I answered back, knowing that not everyone likes that trait in a young woman.

In the moment when I knew the chance conversation was almost over, I wondered if someone I’d lost touch with would believe how much she’d impacted my life by no more valiant feat than being her one true self and standing by her daughter when she too was being her one true self.

When you say it’s so good to see you and you mean it, and you hug and move on, and next read about Brittany and Deb in People magazine, life takes a surreal twist. When I wrote in April about my daughter’s friend, recently diagnosed with Astrocytoma Glioma, a malignant brain tumor, I had no idea Brittany would become “the public face of the controversial right-to-die movement.”

Oh how I’d like to hug Deb now, to tell her how much strength and love our family is sending to her in Oregon. How I’d like to remind every mother to hug her daughter a little more tightly just now. How I want to insist that everyone who has followed and commented upon Brittany’s story to remember Deb, a mom called to be braver and stronger than she ever wanted to have to learn to be.

A woman whose spouse has died is a widow; the girl who loses both parents is an orphan. There isn’t a designated word for a mother who loses a child. It’s a black hole in the language.

Rise Festival, 2014   Photo Credit: Lauren Sepulveda

Rise Festival, 2014                                                                 Photo Credit: Lauren Sepulveda

Some die like a candle snuff. Others expire as a sonic boom. Brittany died the way she lived, a meteor lighting up the darkest desert night sky. She was an only child, but there was nothing “only” about her.

She was, and will always remain, fabulous.

Cheers Brittany, dah-ling. You impacted our lives for the better and for that we’ll always be grateful. Thank you Deb, for sharing your Brittany with us. We reflect back to you all the light and love your daughter spread.

Peace,
~Catherine

Many thanks to photographer Lauren Sepulveda, another one of the passel of girls, who shared her images of The Rise Festival for this post. You can find more of Lauren’s images at Voz Collective.

Building community post by post

road

Writers work alone, it’s true. But it’s equally accurate that writers work in community once the word by word composition is finished. I’m thrilled for Backyard Sisters to be this week’s stop on The Writing Process Blog Tour by hosting a self-interview with Sara Henning.

sara picSara Henning is the author of the full-length collection of poetry A Sweeter Water (2013), as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2012). Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

Here’s Sara…
The Writing Process Blog Tour
Many thanks to Catherine Keefe for hosting my installment of the vastly circulating Writing Process Blog Tour on her Backyard Sisters Blog!

 What am I working on?
I’ve been spending the past few months promoting and reading from my first volume of poetry, A Sweeter Water, as well as continuing to promote my chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2012). Both of these collections concern suicide, paternal order and the trope of longing. The reoccurring image of the dahlia weaves in and out of the fractured narrative as both a talisman and a taboo.

I have had the joy as of late to have been interviewed about these books by Laura Madeline Wiseman, editor of the groundbreaking Women Write Resistance, an anthology dedicated to resisting gender violence, and Sally Deskins of Les Femmes Folles. A collaborative interview with Laura Madeline Wiseman regarding these collections is also forthcoming on the Sundress Publications blog.

I’m also working on a collection of poetry entitled What Women Won’t Tell You, which I envision engaging with poetry as a means of embodied resistance to hegemonic narratives through both post-confessional protest and lyrical meditation.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As a poet, my work explores issues crucial to the current contemporary moment. Most specifically, it tends to address the quiet war on women waged at home. In the wake of cases such as Ariel Castro and the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard, I brace myself for every time I watch the news. Every few months, another woman is found locked in a basement. Every few seconds, there is a woman suffering in silence. Now, if you will, pit this against the current state of poetry, with its focus on professionalization and bohemianism from within the ivory tower.

By writing work that engages with the current cultural moment, I’m trying to avoid being a McWriter.

Why do I write what I do?
Because I can’t help it.
Also, because I’m sick of reading writers who masturbate on paper.

How does my writing process work?
I begin with an idea, and I obsessively research it. I look for anything I can find out about it through disparate sources (Wikipedia, databases through my university, books, other articles, you name it).

I’ll then try to think about its narrative and lyrical applicability to a concrete moment or action. I then write long-hand in my journal until I feel like I have captured the moment.

I then attempt to weave in different incarnations of what I have researched, so what emerges is a patchwork of intertextuality—my lyric informed by empirical data.

I then type it all into an electronic document and obsessively revise it until I can’t look at it anymore.

I repeat the revision process until I come up with something I can live with.

Then I start sculpting.

~~~~~

Thank you Sara for stopping by the Backyard Sisters.
Next week, on another host blog, The Writing Process Blog Tour will feature words from the amazing Matthew Silverman, Daniel Wallace and Teniesha A. Kessler-Emanuel. I’ll post the links when they’re live.

Teniesha A. Kessler-Emanuel is a Master’s candidate in the University of South Dakota’s English Department and a graduate teaching assistant. A published poet, her work can be found in several journals including the South Dakota Poetry Society’s Pasque Petals, the Vermillion Literary Project magazine, and Scurfpea Publishing’s Siesta anthology. Teniesha is also a visual artist, & upon finishing her degree, she intends on joining her two passions by illustrating her poetry.

Daniel Wallace is studying his PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. His work has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Tampa Review, Fiction Writers Review, and Air Schooner. His first novel is being represented by Inkwell Management.

M. E. Silverman is editor and founder of Blue Lyra Review and Review Editor of Museum of Americana. He is on the board of 32 Poems and is a reader for Spark Wheel Press. His chapbook, The Breath before Birds Fly (ELJ Press, 2013), is available. His poems have appeared in over 75 journals, including:Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, December, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Chicago Review, Hawai’iPacific Review, Tupelo Quarterly, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Tulane Review, Weave Magazine, Many Mountains Moving, Pacific Review, Poetica Magazine and other magazines. He recently completed editing Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry with Deborah Ager and is working on Voices from Salvaged Words: An Anthology of Contemporary Holocaust Poetry. http://www.mesilverman.com

Happy National Poetry Month
~Catherine

 

 

 

 

Let’s have a party

By Catherine Keefe
Faced with a choice, I’d prefer to throw a party than offer almost any other gift.

invite 2

Invitation by Paperless Post

If you want to know how deeply I love to celebrate your new baby granddaughter, jubilate in your high school graduation, rejoice in your 79th birthday, or revel in your nuptials, just come in my open front door, grab a plate, some cheese, a glass of Viogner and we’ll dance late into the evening. Motown. Van Morrison. Maybe a little Michael Franti & Spearhead.

I want to hear about your trip to Crimea, your knee replacement surgery, the tai chi classes you’ve begun and what it’s like teaching English to newly arrived immigrants in Korea Town. When I hug you hello, I want you to feel like you’re home and when I kiss you goodbye, I’m not really ready for you to leave. Don’t even ask; I’ll refuse to let you do the dishes.

J will scrub the big pots and pans, stack the plates into the dishwasher while I hand wash and dry the goblets with a white cotton sack cloth. In my mind, your face is still smiling and I feel your spirit warming my home, sure as the candles flicker low.

Yes, we’ll talk about you. T looked good. D seems so happy right now. It’s too bad about G‘s brother. We’ll compare notes as we wipe the countertops, thank the dog for licking crumbs off the floor, turn off the lights and sink into bed.

For an introvert who can get physically exhausted by conversation, I have an amazing capacity to entertain.

For a joyful person, I write a surprisingly deep well of sad poems.

When I was a new writer and first realized this, I felt sure I was in my “tragic artist” phase, a period I’d outgrow once I left graduate school.

When I’d sufficiently drained my tolerance for this, I tried and tried to write happy poems. And I did. Write them. Over and over and then I edited them to death because they sounded like Hallmark card jingles that deserved to languish unpublished.

Then, like Goldilocks finding the just right chair, I discovered “The Party,” a poem by Jason Shinder. Reading it feels like looking into a mirror.

The Party by Jason Shinder

And that’s how it is; everyone standing up from the big silence

of the table with their glasses of certainty and plates of forgiveness
and walking into the purple kitchen; everyone leaning away from the gas stove

Marie blows on at the very edge of the breaking blue-orange-lunging-

forward flames to warm another pot of coffee, while the dishes pile up in the sink,perfect as a pyramid. Aaah, says Donna, closing her eyes,

and leaning on Nick’s shoulders as he drives the soft blade of the knife

through the glittering dark of the leftover chocolate birthday cake.
That’s it; that’s how it is; everyone standing around as if just out of the pool,

drying off, standing around, that’s it, standing, talking,

shuffling back and forth on the deck of the present
before the boat slowly pulls away into the future. Because it hurts

to say goodbye, to pull your body out of the warm water;

to step out of the pocket of safety, clinging to what you knew,
or what you thought you knew about yourself and others.

That’s how it is, that’s it, throwing your jacket over your shoulders

like a towel and saying goodbye Victoria goodbye Sophie goodbye
Lili goodbye sweetie take care be well hang in there see you soon.

Shinder knows that gathering friends is “warm water,” a “pocket of safety,” how true art captures the bead drop between celebration of life and death. Shinder wrote “The Party” after he was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia. It was published posthumously in Stupid Hope. I didn’t know all this when I first read the poem, but now it makes sense, this abuttal of celebration and loss.

On Monday my daughter tells me one of her 29-year-old friends has been diagnosed with Astrocytoma Glioma, a malignant brain tumor expected to kill her within the year. “It’s so sad I can’t even bear to think about it,” my daughter moans and I hug her close, impressing her sweet scent in my mother heart.

On Saturday, instead of writing or editing or grading or submitting poetry to journals, I’m hosting a baby shower for the daughter-in-law of one of my dearest friends. This isn’t my friend’s first grandchild and this isn’t the daughter-in-law’s first baby, so the event has surprised some. Why have a shower now, they ask.

Why not, I say. Faced with a choice, I’d just as soon compose in strawberries and champagne, a little Lorde music and pink lace. Is there any better gift than gathering young mothers with wise elders to sit and bask in the sun? For one afternoon, let there be nothing but joy.

Cheers,
Catherine

Talk About Going Off!

 By Susan Greene

Not since January of 1983 had the waves been as big as they were in the South Bay of Los Angeles county a couple of weekends ago. big surf redondo beach, CAA major rain storm brought a large swell with it, resulting in huge waves. On Saturday the 1st of March, the waves were so large and walled, or breaking without much chance of riding the face, that there weren’t any surfers in the water when I was there. But Sunday things changed.

surfer watching surf, Redondo Beach,CAThe waves were still large; so large they were crashing over the break wall in the harbor of Redondo Beach.

wave breaking over break wallThe surfer on the crest of the wave gives an idea of just how big those waves were.

big surf Redondo Beach, CAThe shape was better on Sunday.

surfer riding big waveYou could feel the waves’ energy in the air.

surfer riding big wave Redondo Beach, CAWatching the surfers riding the waves with their grace and athleticism is great fun.

surfer riding big wave, Redondo Beach, CAWhen one is in the barrel, it is always thrilling.

surfer riding big wave, Redondo Beach, CAThe beach was crowded with people coming out to see the show.

It’s good to be reminded of the beauty and power of nature every now and then.

~ Susan

Images Out a Window

northern california coast, big surRiding shotgun on a cross-country car trip provides the opportunity for being a witness to  a lot of scenery. I will ride with my camera on my lap gazing out the window when something will strike me. Depending on your time limits and companions’ patience, your chances of pulling over and taking a shot may be limited. I quickly learned, yelling “pull over so I can get a shot of that ____,” too many times will result in a loud groan response. Other times it’s just not feasible to pull over. So, instead of forcing another stop on begrudging backseat passengers or passing up on some of the shots I wanted, I will roll down the window and make them on the fly.

field of sunflowersIt’s not easy and many times they don’t turn out, so if it’s a subject I care strongly about capturing I will insist on pulling over. But, to me it’s worth taking that shot for the memory of a trip and re-visiting the road when at home.

hay rolls in fieldsThe novelty of the open spaces and rolling fields of the interior of the country inspires a sense of wonder in this shore girl.

farm house in fieldThese picturesque fields seem to go on forever.

rolling corn fields AmericaWhen we do stop and explore an area further, a through-a-window shooting opportunity can still be present.

South Dakota Chief Crazy Horse MonumentThe Chief Crazy Horse monument visit was such an opportunity for me. The statue of the Chief inside the museum with the view of the mountain project outside, through a nicely cleaned window, grabbed my imagination.

When shooting out the window of a moving car, a fast shutter speed is required to capture the scene without getting camera blur from the movement of the car. Steadying your camera against either your body or on the edge of the open window helps as well. The key thing is to have your camera in your lap and ready to go.

Always glad to be on the road,

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – Avocado, Cilantro, Cashew Cups

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cupsInspired by the avocado egg rolls at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, I headed to the kitchen to see what I could come up with to achieve similar flavors and textures at home. They are a mixture of crispy outside and creamy inside all dipped in a tangy and sweet sauce – a delicious treat. It takes great restraint to keep me from drinking the dipping sauce on it’s own. Wanting the crunchiness of the outside but not the greasiness and mess of frying, I decided to use wonton wrappers and bake them until crispy.

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cupsDipping the cups in the sauce could make it awkward to eat, so I opted to mix the dipping sauce and filling together and then place them in the cup, creating a two bite finger food, success! One of our seasonal family birthday celebration extravaganzas was the inaugural attempt of this recipe and it was a hit. I think you will find this handy appetizer a welcome guest at your next party too.

Avocado, Cilantro, Cashew Cups

  • 1 pkg of wonton wrappers
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced – it helps to have ripe but firm avocados
  • 2 Tbsp red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Place the wonton wrappers in a mini muffin tin and press them in to the bottom and sides. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 9 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven and leave in pan until cooled. Meanwhile place the avocados, onion, cilantro and salt together in a medium bowl, being careful to keep the avocados in pieces rather than smashing. Set aside and prepare the sauce.

Sauce

  • 4 tsp white vinegar
  • 1tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lime

Mix these together in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds and stir until the honey is dissolved, set aside. In a food processor combine:

  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 2/3 cup cilantro
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • pinch turmeric
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or less depending on your taste

Pulse until the cashews are chopped fine, add the vinegar honey mixture and olive oil and pulse until incorporated. Pour about half of this mixture, more or less depending on your taste, into the avocado onion mixture and stir until just mixed. Fill the cups and serve.

Makes 24 cups

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cups

This weekend finds us celebrating the winter birthdays of the family.

Cheers!

~ Susan

Mardis Gras – Hoorah

By Susan Greene
It’s March and that means a not only a new month but a new literary theme to investigate here at backyard sisters. Imagery is our term of exploration this month. Photography is imagery – thank-you Catherine. Since today is Mardis Gras, I decided to make some images of items associated with this day’s merrymaking.

Mardis Gras masksMardis Gras means fat Tuesday in French and is traditionally the day before Ash Wednesday. Many use it as a day to “live it up” before the somber season of Lent. The city of New Orleans, Louisiana is known for its Mardis Gras festivities – parades, parties and balls are all celebrated and have been since the early 1700′s.

Mardi Gras maskMasks are worn by many to all of these celebrations.

Mardis Gras maskThe wearing of masks as a part of the celebration is believed to be rooted in ritual. In the beginning they allowed the wearers from all classes to mingle and join in the revelry free of societal constraints. This anonymity undoubtedly is a contributing factor in the raucous behavior so often associated with Mardi Gras.

Mardis Gras maskStrings of colorful beads are also identified with the festivities.

Mardi Gras beads in flightThey are tossed from the floats to the cheering crowds lining the parade routes.

tossing Mardi Gras beadsThe spectators jostling to catch as many as possible.

Mardi Gras beads in air The king cake is another of the Mardi Gras traditions.

king cakeTraditionally, it is a ring of braided dough filled with a cinnamon and sugar filling, although now other fillings are used as well. A tiny plastic baby is  baked into the cake.  It is frosted and covered with colorful sugars of the Mardi Gras colors – green, purple and gold. Tradition has it that the person who receives the piece of cake with the baby in it is asked to host the next king cake party – which are held regularly throughout the Mardi Gras season or Carnival, which runs from January 6th,or Epiphany, to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Having never been to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, I can’t speak of these things from experience but would like to one day. I won’t let that stop me from joining in spirit.  If you would like to read further about Mardi Gras and its history, traditions and activities, this site is a treasure trove of information.

In true Mardi Gras fashion, live it up, for tomorrow we fast.

~ Susan