Category Archives: Self-Image

Money Optional

The Prompt: Work? Optional!—If money were out of the equation, would you still work? If yes, why, and how much? If not, what would you do with your free time?

Since I am already retired and spend most of my day making art and writing, I guess my answer is yes. I do it because I feel it is my reason for living and without that work, life seems to lose its importance. I do it because it forces me to look closer and to think more deeply. I do it pretty much every minute I’m not sleeping. Really, I always did what I wanted to do without taking into consideration what would sell and that still seems to be the case since I’m not getting wealthy on what I do, but I swore when I retired that I would stop doing all those parts of making art that I hated: the applying for shows, the promotion, the pictures, the resumes, the mailing lists. Now I just enjoy the creation and if I am sending them out to an unaccepting universe, nonetheless, I’m having the experience of creating, which any serious writer or artist will tell you is  the most important part and why we really do what we do.

Today is my 221st post, and since it is a short one, please scroll back and read an earlier post you haven’t read before and if you have the time, please comment. 

For instance, if you’d like to know why I ended up in Mexico, read this: Foreign Tongues or, if you want a love story with a happy ending, read this: The Ballad of Poor Molly.

Thank you for reading my blog.  Although yes, I do it for myself, I can’t help but feel gratified when others find what I write to be of consequence or enjoyable.  Judy

“Adult”ery

 

JudycurlsJudycurls - Version 2

Unfortunate hairstyles of the past

 

“Adult”ery

I don’t remember, as a child, ever really thinking about what it would be like to be an adult in terms of where I would live or what I would choose as a profession. I do remember, however, two things I worried about.

First of all, I worried about what instrument I would play in the school band. I had two sisters, one eleven years older and the other four years older, who both played saxophone. As a matter of fact, there being 7 years difference in their ages, they both played the same saxophone! When I entered the sixth grade and was old enough to play in the starter band, I knew two things. #1: I had to play in the band because both of them had done so. #2: I had to find a way to be unique in doing exactly what they had done, and so I had to find a different instrument. This resolve was strengthened by the fact that my sister Patti was still using the “family saxophone.” As long as I was being different, I decided to stretch my uniqueness as far as it would go. No one in either the starter or the regular band had ever played a flute. It was exotic and not very heavy to carry. I would play a flute!!! Or rather, I would attempt to play a flute.

I faked it for two years, blowing energetically into the little hole as we sat in the band loft at games or marched along behind the regular band, practicing for parades or football games; but I never really developed much of a tone and my memory of which note was which was limited. It was really easy, though, to carry that little case about as large as a large pencil case the two blocks to the auditorium where our band practice occurred. My band instructor could not afford to be picky as there were only 200 students in the entire school system—grade school and high school combined—so every warm body available was required to flesh out the physical body of the band. If a few were miming, so be it. As long as they could stay in step for the marching band and didn’t play any really loud false notes, who would ever know?

When my sister left for college, she left the sax behind; and when I headed out for my first band practice as a high school freshman, I left that dread flute behind as I took sax in hand to continue the family tradition. I was not a whole lot better at it, but found something held between the lips and teeth was a lot easier than something held sideways and blown across and although the sax was heavier, it was held in a much more sustainable position than the flute, which was an exercise in arm isometrics as I held it aloft!!

The second worry I had about growing up was how I would wear my hair. I would lie awake nights worrying about what hairstyle I would adopt when I could no longer sport the sausage curls my mother formed around her finger each morning. Shirley Temple, who had already grown to adulthood, needed to be replaced! My hair was too long, however, to duplicate Shirley’s bouncy little curls. It hung in fat tubes down beside my cheeks, offsetting my tight little bangs curled up each night in pink rubber curlers. For some reason, both my mom and I thought this made me look real good, and I am not exaggerating when I admit that there were nights when I’d lie in bed, tears streaming down my cheeks, worrying about what I would do when I grew up and could no longer wear curls!!

So now you know why I dropped the saxophone as soon as I graduated high school and why I had to move to Mexico to escape the shame of all those years when I allowed my mother to shape my esthetic sense of hair. I haven’t owned a curler of any type for 20 years. That saxophone was handed on to the next generation of my family and its mouthpiece, at least, met its demise when it snapped in two as my niece tried to grip it with the fourth pair of teeth in three decades. With a new mouthpiece, it survived four more years—hopefully this time with someone with more talent than I. I know not where it ended up. Probably in some second hand store or donated to some child who couldn’t afford an instrument. I hope it wound up with some talented individual who could restore its pride in itself.

Now that I have been an adult for many many years, I have conquered most of its demands. I have found many hairstyles, only a few of them more ridiculous than sausage curls (see my college picture above as an illustration of this fact) and attempted only one additional instrument, the guitar. Having played only solo or in duet with a college friend who tried to mold me into Joan Baez but failed, I did learn about seven chords and learned to adapt a whole succession of seventies songs to fit into those seven chords. I played for sing-alongs with the kids I counseled at summer camp and for groups of little neighbors around the world, who would come to my house on Saturday mornings to sing silly songs. And I have that guitar to this day. But I haven’t played it for years and harbor no illusions about my prowess. It is there for visiting friends who want to play for me and as a big, cumbersome, hard-to-store reminder that I can choose my own failures as surely as my own successes.

I am an adult like other adults—growing more childish year-by-year, but in my regression toward soft food and adult diapers, I will never sink so low as to repeat some mistakes of my youth. Never ever more sausage curls or flutes held aloft like punishment. And never again will I try to be different just to be different. “The Far Side” has shown that this is nothing that really needs to be aimed for. We all grow odd enough just following the path of nature, thereby furnishing the humor for all the generations that follow us.

The Prompt: As a kid, you must have imagined what it was like to be an adult. Now that you’re a grownup (or becoming one), how far off was your idea of adult life?

P.S. Thirty years after high school, when I was doing an art show in Oregon, a man walked by my display and then did an about-face and came back and said, “You’re Judy Dykstra, aren’t you?”  I admitted the fact and asked him how he knew me.  He said he was 5 years behind me in school in the small South Dakota town where I grew up.  He was a country boy and since we’d never been in school together, I didn’t recognize him but did recognize the family name.

“How in the world did you even know what I looked like, let alone recognize me thirty years later?” I asked.

“Well, a bunch of us used to collect in the the school library and look at old annuals,” he said.  “I recognize you from your high school picture.”  Suddenly, it all came clear.

“You used to look at them to laugh at all the funny hairstyles, didn’t you?”   Sheepishly, he laughed and admitted it.  I had hit the nail (or the girl?) right on the head!!!!

No Fear

No Fear

We know within our hearts that personality
often cancels out what we can clearly see.
We all have known the men who, homely to the eye,
still have personalities sweet as cherry pie,
who win the ladies with their charm and humor that is wry,
causing them to line up for chances with this guy.

And the girl who’s plain until she starts to talk—
her face just so enlivened, you have to stand and gawk.
Made lovely by expression, intelligence and wit,
“beautiful” and “lovely” become the words that fit
when trying to describe this attractive little lass
who simply doesn’t bother with a looking glass.

Both have learned to conquer all their crippling fear—
to find the other side of doubt and kick it in the rear.
To face the world on their own terms and face it unafraid.
To take their rightful placement at the front of the parade.
But though we see what they have done, we do not always take
the road that for another seems to be a piece of cake.

You may find this poem to be most adolescent,
yet the feelings of our past most usually are present
throughout our lifetimes, though we seem to hide what we must feel,
leaving it to novelists and poets to reveal
the truths of all our agonies, the facts of all our fears—
all those things we’ve meant to face but yet hold in arrears.

I long ago discovered that writing must be true.
The only worthwhile topics are the things that bother you.
The lacks you find in others and the lacks within yourself
are what divide the poems in hand from poems on the shelf.
And so I must admit that fear’s my greatest hidden vice.
And since we all could do with taking our own sage advice:

I’ll say that with no fear, I would burn candles at both ends—
be as free with lovers as I am with friends.
I would have burned fingers, but an unbound heart.
All those lovely men, disregarded from the start
because I was too zaftig or not smart enough?
I’d face them nose-to-nose, and then I would call their bluff.

Today’s Prompt: Fearless Fantasies—How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?

Dreaming A Path

Dreaming A Path

Dream, Fri. Oct 18, 2013

We were at a booth in a café. It was a huge room with booths on every side and each booth had a clock, or at least I thought they did. I don’t think I ever looked. Our alarm started going off and there was no way to turn it off. It was by me and I tried and tried but couldn’t get it off. I said I was just going to unplug it, but Patti said perhaps it was timed with all the other clocks at tables and then it wouldn’t match. I said couldn’t they just reset it when we left? Someone agreed, but still we didn’t unplug it and it went on and on and on. Very annoying. Our booth came equipped with a little dog. It was tiny and light with long very curly white hair that was in loose corkscrew very long ringlets. It was so adorable and affectionate. I held it most of the time. It had legs like wires that went straight down..very skinny…and it jumped a lot. When the waitress came, we told her about the alarm and she said yes, she’d noticed that it was going off…but she didn’t do anything about it. We told her how cute the little dog was and she said yes…but then it seemed like it was the little dog who had the alarm that was going off. We ordered and afterwards I was wanting a dessert but thought I shouldn’t order one. Patti was to my right and I suddenly realized she was eating a very rich chocolate dessert—a sort of fudge flan or very moist slippery cake that was hot with a hot fudge sauce over it. She offered me a taste. It was a very small rectangle…not very big…but I tasted it and immediately said I’d have one, too. It was incredible. Still, the alarm went off. It was driving me crazy! Then I woke up and realized it was my own bedside alarm. I reached up with my eyes still closed and tried to turn it off, but couldn’t find the control. Finally I picked it up, opened my eyes and found the control. It was 8:10. The alarm had been going off for 10 minutes!!!!

My interpretation:

I found this dream in a folder on my computer. I have no memory at all of having dreamed it, and perhaps that distance makes it easier for me to interpret it. In a few weeks, I turn 67. For the past year, I’ve thought repeatedly about death and the fact that if I’m lucky, I probably have only 30 years left. For some reason, that awareness is very stressful. I feel a need to finish everything I’ve started and never completed. Earlier, that consisted of a lot of sorting, construction of storage spaces and weeding out of the contents of my house. That effort is ongoing. What also happened, however, is that I have an incredible drive to get everything published that has been lying around in file cabinets for many many years as well as a need to write new work and somehow disseminate it. My blog is part of that effort, as are my efforts to get all my books on Amazon and Kindle.

Seeing this dream as if for the first time, I clearly see that theme of time running out coupled by a sense of alarm that I need to do something about it. The little dog shows the attractive quality (adorable and affectionate) of finally dealing with all these loose ends—(note all his corkscrew hairs). Those wiry little legs that kept him always active certainly reflect the urgency I’ve been feeling to write write write.

One aspect of this awareness in my real life for a time consisted of my fear that I will stop breathing. This often gets me up gasping at night to run outside to try to breathe. For some reason I haven’t had any of these panic attacks since I started writing every morning. What I interpreted as a growing fear of death and a dread of ceasing to exist was perhaps a fear of not living and creating while I am alive.

I think the interplay between my sister Patti and me in the dream reflects a number of things. One is a difference in our approaches to life. I think in a way, she is more of a rule-follower and since she was my immediate pattern for most of my earlier life, I think a part of me feels this same need, but this is coupled with an equal and stronger need to create my own path in a direction unique from my two older and very competent sisters and to break a few rules to do so. At a very early age, much as I admired and imitated my sisters, I felt the need to prove myself. To find something to know that they didn’t already know. I found this route when I started venturing out at an early age to find new ground where they had not gone before me. It led me first into the homes of friends and strangers where I saw life being acted out in a manner entirely different from my own home. The road led further—to summer camp where I was a stranger to all and vice versa. I loved being the stranger. In choosing a college, I fell back on the reliability and comfort of attending the same school my sister had attended, but in my Jr. year I took my first big leap—a trip around the world on World Campus Afloat. That early adventure in seeing dozens of new and strange cultures set my life path. I’ve been traveling ever since and have been living in Mexico for the past 13 years.

I believe this dream depicts the sense of urgency I’ve had my entire life to “do” something with experience. My art and writing allow me to turn off the alarm for the hours in which I practice them. That small dessert might symbolize the rewards of doing what I need to do to do so.

P.S. An interesting insight I have had just as I started to post this: (And, interestingly enough, wordpress will not accept my blog entry. Perhaps it is insisting I add this P.S. before it does so.) I just got back to Mexico from a visit to the states wherein I visited my oldest sister Betty who is now in the depths of the world of Alzheimer’s. While I was there, she seemed increasingly distressed by the fact that she can no longer communicate, but one day as we were sitting in the living room portion of her small apartment in a managed care Alzheimer’s wing, she motioned to the middle of the floor and said, “Look a that cute little white thing there—that fluffy little white dog!” This was the first incidence that I know of of her actually hallucinating visually, and for some reason it popped into my mind in relation to the little dog in my dream. All of these images—of our dreams as well as our daily life—remind us to live while we can and to do what is most important to us. In my case as well as my sister’s—to communicate. Too late for her, although she continues to try. Not too late for me.

P.S.S.  By the way, the instant I completed the above P.S., the wordpress page that had continued to not allow me to post this blog entry flashed the message:  What do you want to post?  Text? Picture?  I chose text and and you have just read it.

The prompt: Freudian Flips. Do you remember a recent dream you had? Or an older one that stayed vivid in your mind? Today, you’re your own Freud: Tell us the dream, then interpret it for us! Feel free to be as serious or humorous as you see fit, or to invent a dream if you can’t remember a real one.

Note in response to this prompt: (When I think of dreams, I think of Jung, not Freud, and he continues to influence my thoughts and actions much more than Freud ever did.)

 

Vanity Depressed

Today, I received the below email from a well-known organization that reviews children’s books:

Dear Judy Dykstra-Brown,

Thank you for your interest in XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, we can’t review books from vanity presses like CreateSpace*. For more of our submission guidelines, please see our website here: XXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

XXXXXXXXXX
Editorial Assistant
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

*note from Judy: CreateSpace is a company within Amazon that aids self-publishing authors in formatting,, printing and distributing their books.

My feelings about being labeled a “vanity press” author will be best expressed by displaying here the letter I wrote back to the assistant who had written the letter:

Dear XXXXXXXX,

I thank you for your prompt reply to my inquiry.

Although I certainly understand your reasons for not wanting to consider privately published material, I would like to bring one matter to your attention.

I have been writing for over 50 years. I have written and published three books, published nearly 40 articles in print and online magazines, won a national first prize for my poetry, edited a poetry journal and now coordinate a popular poetry series. I am in the process of having five more children’s books illustrated and working on a novel and two poetry anthologies. In my early career, I taught literature and writing for ten years and edited a teenage poetry anthology.

I mention these facts to explain why I feel it is an insult to have my decision to publish my own work called a “vanity”. Certainly, I am aware of the term, just as I am aware of other racial and physically derogatory terms that were once considered the norm but which in an enlightened age have come to be recognized as insulting and prejudicial.

May I ask your group to consider not using the term “vanity press” as a blanket term for self-published material?

I thank you for your efforts to reward excellent work in the field of children’s literature.

Best Regards,
Judy Dykstra-Brown

I would be most interested in other bloggers’ thoughts about this matter. Is blogging, also, considered just another “vanity” means of expression? I know that a great deal of status is attached to being published by a recognized publishing company, but do all writers who choose another path deserve to have their efforts considered as mere vanity? Is that our main goal?  Is that what we deserve to be labelled as?  Is it too much to ask to be labelled as what in truth we are—self-published?

Frida Kahlo had two gallery exhibitions in her entire lifetime. One of her paintings just sold for 5 million dollars!!! Were her artistic endeavors, in her lifetime, mere vanities? What of Van Gogh? Or Emily Dickinson? Only a few of Franz Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime. Johann Sebastian Bach was widely known as an organist, but his fame as a composer occurred after his death. Henry David Thoreau could not find a publisher for many of his works.

Certainly, I am no Emily Dickinson or Henry David Thoreau, and those who go through the rigors and humiliations of trying to find an agent and publisher certainly deserve plaudits for possessing determination as well as talent. I admit that I have neither the inclination nor the energy to jump through the hoops necessary to find a “legitimate” publisher. I just want to write, and I will not accept the label of “vanity” being attached to my writing.

Yes, I am proud of my efforts in doing all of the work myself that a publisher and editor normally do. Yes, I am proud of the fact that I have continued to write for 50 years with very little monetary recompense. But I don’t think my need to be heard is prompted by vanity any more than the determination of professionally published authors is.  We write because we need to write. It is a drive and what, in my case, gives meaning to my life. If that is vanity, then long live vanity! But please say it behind my back—not as an official representative of your guild or company or association or library or agency or board of merit.

Now I will climb down off my soapbox and get back to work on what I do for love, not vanity. If I’ve struck a chord, please add your voice to my protest by publishing your comments on my blog.

Poetry by Prescription: “Alone”

DSC06650

Alone

Alone is not lonely
And single’s no sin.
Solo is only
a state I am in
because I need time
to do what I do.
To scan and to rhyme,
to create and to stew
both poems and soups
without watching the clock
or jumping through hoops
or having to talk.

I really like cooking
dishes for one.
I’m simply not looking
for “coupley” fun.
I like doing art
far into the night.
This freedom is part
of traveling light.
Going solo is groovy.
Single-handed is fun,
and it might behoove you
to try being “one”

instead of a brace
or a duet or pair.
You’ll have all this space.
You’ll have all this air.
Your closet’s your own
to fill up with shoes.
No sharing a phone
and no bathroom queues.
You won’t have to fiddle
with left or with right.
You’ll sleep in the middle
every night!

You’ll eat what you want to
and dine when you wish.
You’ll get to eat tofu
and never eat fish.
You can stay up till dawn
to finish your quilt.
You’re nobody’s pawn,
so you’ll never feel guilt.
Leave coffee cups sitting
all over the house?
It’s behavior most fitting
when bereft of a spouse.

Pop bonbons and read
all day in your bed.
You can meet every need
when you’re no longer wed.
On the other hand though,
you must walk your own dog
and when water comes slow,
must unclog your own clog.
When you blow out a fuse
and your lawn goes unmown,
there are no “honey do’s”
when you’re all on your own!

 

Today’s “prescription” came from my friend Betty Petersen, a wonderful artist, who asked me to write a poem about the single life. If you have a topic you’d like me to write about, please post it on my blog or send it via Facebook or email.

 

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Looking Glass Menagerie

Looking Glass Menagerie

I am trying to escape the menagerie—
all those selves I hold in front of me
as well as the ones I have let escape.
Those that run ahead—
the ones that are my future selves—
are here, hidden in the portrait that you see.
Domineering, perhaps. But seasoned with
an awareness of what might have produced
all of the parts of myself I try to reign in.
This has produced a certain slowness to connect.
The natural is seasoned with a desire to honor dreams
of what I hope to be. When I look in the mirror,
I see them all: my mother and my grandmother
and my sisters. We demand, are stubborn.
Sometime we are martyrs, stifling tears.
Then suddenly, I pass them by like memories
of nightmares: all the anxiety attacks,
illnesses and heartbreak.
We are all wonderful performers,
using bad luck to fuel good.
The belles of our own ball,
we push back the grim news
of what we fear we really are.
Headstrong, we reach for what we can be.
Utterly addicted to change,
Tony or no Tony,
we are the stars of our own lives.

The prompt today was “to find a news article and to write a poem using (mostly, if not only) words from the article! You can repeat them, splice them, and rearrange them however you like. Although the vocabulary may be “just the facts,” your poem doesn’t have to be — it doesn’t even have to be about the subject of the news article itself.”

With massive tornadoes, politician campaign funding fraud, murder and mayhem being the main stories of the day, I was hard-pressed to find any good news to write about. Finally, I chose a very long theater review in the NY Times which I picked at like a foraging chicken, picking a word here, a word there. Above is the resulting poem.

Here is a link to the NY Times article from which  I drew words : NY Times Article