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HERSTORY

When I was in college, for one of my classes in world history, I was assigned a textbook called “Herstory – the underside of History”.   The premise is that human history has been written by the victors, reinforced by denying literacy to women, and that what we are taught in school – tales of geopolitical conquest, tales of religious wars, that these chapters are actually not that important.  Not to our evolution as a species.  Cultural and scientific breakthroughs, changes in the definition of family, the fall of matriarchies and the rise of patriarchies – these are the truly historical events.  Lines drawn on a map, borders and country names changing as soldiers and warriors bled to crest a hill for the right to rename it – what we celebrate – it is all decidedly one-sided, and perhaps progress towards this goal of complete subjugation of the natural world is actually taking the human race backwards.  The so-called Renaissance was the Dark Ages for woman’s rights – the Napoleonic Code and the blithe assumption that women are chattel was the opposite of a giant step forward for mankind.          

      Conflicted left and right brain working at full capacity in a society willing to accept only one per gender.  Logic reason, intellect, numbers, analytical thinking – not expected from one who pines to take brush to paper and paint EVERY branch of those stark trees silhouetted by the sunset.  Turning a phrase like a lump on the potter’s wheel.  Only I don’t know what shape it is going to take.  How many half-uttered thoughts died aborning because some pitiful pre-programmed inadequacy department determined that no-one wanted to hear them?         

     So I take much of what has been written with a grain of salt.  There was a female Pharaoh named Hatshepsut who ruled one of most peaceful and abundant periods in Egyptian history.  Her name was literally erased from history – the hieroglyphics were chiseled out of the stone monuments and tablets, her name was not included in the lists of rulers.  I always picture that chisel and the chunks of stone where once there was wisdom whenever I read an account of the period I’ve been researching for the book.  Important contributions, I assume, will have been left out if those contributions were made by women.

A secret fear

Today, October 24th, is my big brother Chris’ birthday, he would have been sixty five years old today. I wrote this short memoir in 2017, it was published at Reedsy.com in February of 2020. In celebration of this wonderful man who swirled up to the heavens in July of 2010, here is “A Secret Fear”:

My late brother Chris and I were having a conversation one of those many times at the end of the day when he needed a toke.  I would light up the joint, hold it to his lips, then pull it away after he inhaled.  He would hold onto the smoke for a minute, exhale, then take a second, then a third.  I’d puff on it sometimes, but home was twenty to forty minutes away by car.  He lived up in the Oakland Hills, and I had to get back to San Francisco.  Nowadays, you can count on an hour or more in travel time anytime you have to cross the Bay.

I don’t know how he persevered with such kindness and grace.  He was the best one of us three, a healthy normal boy until the accident that left him a quadriplegic at fourteen.  We passed the time with gallows humor.  

I’d say “Hey you, here’s the good news, at least you’re not a blind quadriplegic – that would be worse.”  And Chris would say “I feel lucky, oh so lucky.” and we’d snort-laugh. 

With the award he won against PG&E in the lawsuit over the fall, he bought a house and moved up the hill with a live-in attendant.  Eventually, my mother and stepfather moved into his big house after selling their bungalow down the hill for a profit.  They built in an artist’s studio, a formal dining room, and separate quarters with the proceeds.  It was a symbiotic arrangement, they relied on each other.  It worked because Chris was so easy to get along with.

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know before:  I was The Normal One.  I stayed in school, did my homework, did my chores, went to college on scholarship, earned a Master’s degree, worked in banking, made a good living, married well.

“Third time’s the charm, man.  Mom finally got it right when I popped out,” I would jokingly brag to my brother.

When we were kids, Chris and I ran away from home together.  The first born, our older sister was an emotional maelstrom of destruction.  She would hit us until we bruised.  The family was always walking oh so carefully on the shattered glass of the broken trusts she never apologized for.  Being only five and seven years old, we managed to trudge the few miles to Grandma Benjamin’s house.  She of course finked us out to Mom, who was frantic.  For a little while, Valerie withheld her blows, but never really stopped. 

When I was twelve, Chris was severely disabled, needing attendant care every day, a tough responsibility to put on a kid, but (there will always be a psychic but in this story) I loved him and we had this mutual disregard for our older sister and super corny jokes we’d tell each other and snicker over as I was rolling him over and changing the linens on his special medical bed.

I distinctly remember this conversation, one of those nights when there was nothing on TV, we chatted about this and that while I fished out the roach clip and we finished that joint getting more and more real as the Zig Zag paper curled brown around the edges.  I had killed a spider in his bathroom earlier and we were parsing the finer points of just where such a mighty huntress should carve her notches, when he asked, all serious, 

“So Catherine, what are you afraid of?” 

“Being average” I declared.

“No, REALLY afraid of?  I know it’s not spiders”, he asked, then he slid into patiently waiting mode while I squirmed.

“Really, really, deep down”?

“Yes.”

“My own anger.”

“Now that is truthful, how come?”

“It’s poisonous Chris, I’ll slice and dice your heart and hand it back to you all fricasseed.  My anger could burn bridges, decimate towns, ground planes, trains and automobiles.  I think it’s why my tummy is so upset all the time, all the anger I’ve swallowed, ‘ya know, it burns.”

He nodded sagely and reassured me that I could never do or say anything that would keep him from loving his little sister.

He’s been gone nearly ten years and what I know now that I didn’t know then is how much insanity is inheritable. 

If two suicides in a three-son family isn’t proof of bat shit crazy, I don’t know what is.  Grandpa Benjamin killed himself at 54 years old, July 5th, 1952.  His brother Lawrence had done the same six years earlier on June 20th 1946.  They both fought in both World Wars.  Imagine fighting in The Great War, the War to End All Wars, it was called back then, only to find yourself re-enlisting for the SECOND World War.  Great Uncle Lawrence was a soldier all his adult life and survived less than a year after his honorable discharge.  Grandpa Benjamin was an undiagnosed manic depressive who inherited the straight razor that Lawrence had used to slit his throat.  He then proceeded to abandon all four of his children and his wife to attend Clemson University.  He had a fresh GED diploma, and with nary a thought for his family, proceeded to lie to the local paper about how he was interested in meeting the “pretty ladies”.  He finished one semester, then went missing.  After seven days of searching, their oldest freshman ever was discovered in the woods, throat slashed, straight razor still in the grip of his right hand.  The same one.  I know that because he bragged about having it to a roommate in the men’s dormitory, and that guy was interviewed.

Of course, I didn’t know all of this back then, neither did Chris because nobody talked about mental illness, the VA did not acknowledge PTSD as a condition and the burden and the blame was laid upon my grandmother an underpaid Registered Nurse, a healer who in the end couldn’t heal her husband.  I am angry and I am afraid of being too angry – how far is homicide from suicide?  And how far is one woman’s angry outburst from her being hauled off to the Looney Bin? 

Us Benjamin women, I suppose, need a calm counterbalance to our too-easily wounded souls.  We cope, we love with reservations, jump in when the whole shimmy shimmy ko ko pop, devil-may-care dances come along, and we spin, sweat and forget.  But the devil does care, and he takes our men to hell after first driving them crazy. 

We were the East and West Wind

June 14th, 1990: Thursday evening in the front room, alone. Where does one begin to tell of the end of a journey? Janet Ryan, my friend Janet Ryan (I still can’t believe it) died early Saturday morning. It’s Thursday now, hardly bother with tissues anymore. Janet was an instigator. So am I. The East and the West Wind, we partied like there was no tomorrow. We scared my future husband whenever we went out together. I loved Janet Ryan – she lived life full out, really FULL OUT. When she died, we were thirty-three years old and still thick as thieves.

We were hanging out in the spring of 1982 when we decided we’d had enough of searching for “company” in dive bars and workplaces. We were scraping by at that time, twenty somethings with average salaries, and I remember she brought an entire clam and garlic pizza into a movie theater under her coat so we would have something awesome to eat. Man, I hope she burned that coat.

During that summer, we pooled our resources and wrote a personals ad. Gosh we were so broke, we didn’t even run two of them in the newspaper. Janet was a green-eyed brunette of petite and athletic build. I was a 5’ 5” blonde with hazel eyes, and a bodacious figure. We rented a P. O. box and planned to pick up the letters, read them together, and split those boys 50/50. I had just finished reading “A Woman of Substance” by Barbara Taylor Bradford, so we played off of that theme. It ran for a week in July 1982 in San Francisco’s local free paper, the Bay Guardian:
ATTENTION
All You Young Men of Substance
I am a young woman of 23 years, average height, nice build, and pleasing to look at. I am presently preparing to descend upon graduate school with self-assuredness and ambition. I am an optimist, affectionate, and have an unrelenting zest for life. I enjoy people, travel, music of all kinds, dancing, passion and especially laughing. I seek a substantive confirmed heterosexual male with similar outlook to enhance my life. Picture appreciated, money and good looks exalted.

Several letters arrived, I dated three guys named Jeff and one named Aaron. One of the three Jeffs hung in there, and in November of 1984, I married him. Janet had the ad done up in calligraphy as our wedding present, and without rancor, pointed out that from this ad, I found a mate, and she got chopped liver. One of her “young men of substance” came for his blind date to Liverpool Lil’s, where Janet worked as a cocktail waitress. After her shift, we all four hung out in his “love van”. Amused by the mirrored ceiling of the van, the carpeted floors, the platform bed – Jeff and I suggested a caption for the mirror: “Caution: objects in this mirror are larger than they appear”. Janet told us to cut it out, but it was too late. Mr. Love Van did not call her back.

Janet Ryan inherited my job as apartment manager and transformed the complimentary studio apartment into a Love Den of her own with Christmas lights that blinked like an airport landing strip around the edges of the waterbed. I think it was after she moved in 1986 that she proclaimed a new sexual orientation, pointing out that bisexuality opened up the other half of humanity for ficking, and I was stuck in Hetero Land. Mathematically unassailable.

Sunday June 15th, 1990, 5 o’clock: The “gathering” at Janet’s apartment where Clan Ryan was staying. Norah Ryan had four sons and a daughter. Michael, Patrick, Robert, John, and Janet. It is a seldom mentioned thing that brushes with mortality make mourners horny. Western civilization is so fucked up with their fear of death, their fear of raw sexuality, and their refusal to acknowledge the dual intensity of both. I remember being puzzled by a strange lust in my heart for one of her brothers, I mean he looked SO much like her. Patrick and I both wished that Janet was here to laugh at us both, got drunk with the family and missed her together. An Irish wake with cremains in a box. We told Janet stories to peals of raucous laughter punctuated with silences. We found out that night that Janet had scaled the tower of the Golden Gate bridge with a climber friend not once, not twice, but three times, all after midnight, so they wouldn’t be seen by the cops, and subsequently arrested. Honestly, I had no idea she had done that, apparently, neither did her mom. Makes you wonder, golly – if she survived that, how could she die in a fall from the fire escape? Steve, the climber, went back up a few weeks later, and scattered her ashes over the Bay.

There was very little left unresolved when Janet died. I’m not so sure that was due to her being “ready to move on” and tying up loose ends. It is just as likely due to Janet’s openness. She didn’t keep things inside, and she always kept in touch. Laura, her girlfriend at the time, and I had found Janet’s stash of one-hit-shit in her apartment and we smoked it in the backyard of this sprawling home in Lafayette where her Celebration of Life was held the following week. I had no idea how strong that dope was, laid down because I could not move my limbs, watched the clouds, and heard, I HEARD Janet laughing – the skies honoring her blithe spirit.

The Never Camper – A memory piece

I was never ashamed to curl up in Mom’s lap.  Even when I reached my full height of 5 feet 5 ½ inches.  She still stroked my hair with my head in her lap.  I could always count on that.  She and her second husband had a TV in their bedroom, and they went to sleep every night with the dulcet tones of Johnny Carson laughing about beaming from beautiful downtown Burbank.     

She wrote in her bedside diary that upon her death, we were instructed to destroy that diary, so we did.  Mom must have known that the anger she was venting in that last bedside journal was not the real essence.  I wish I had the rest of her writings – they wound up in the hands of my stepfather, who has isolated himself from a world he fears.  Though usually I’m not a material girl, I tend to hoard memories and photographs not valuables.  There is this memento that I would be bereft to lose – her graduation pen, black tip, gold barrel.  Engraved on the top piece that clicks into place both fore and aft is my mother’s chosen name:  TERA.  It came in a velveteen-lined case from the Cross Pen company.  It has a twin that twists to open – that ballpoint pen is for the keeping of accounts.  The Writer’s Pen has a felt tip.  It feels right in my hand, as I write about my aversion to camping.  Mom was so shocked when I stated loudly and dramatically that I hated camping.  As a matter of fact, I went down on one knee, shook my fist at the air and proclaimed in my best Scarlett O’Hara that “I will nevah go campin’ agin!”  The tent was a canvas monstrosity that you had to zip all the way up and all the way down every time you entered.  And no matter how thick the sleeping bags were, the ground was still cold and hard in these makeshift beds.  Couldn’t my parents see that these nice people in Yosemite Valley had built hotels and motels and cabins nearby just so we did not have to build them ourselves?  It was a fifteen-minute drive to the Oakland Redwoods from our house if you wanted to commune with nature, they had even gotten married in the Redwood Bowl, with peace pipes and organic bulgur salads, and music under the trees, and hadn’t they gotten over that phase yet?  

Many many years later, I photo safaried in Africa.  There, we dwelt in Canvas Villas with running water, copper bathtubs, verandas, indoor and outdoor showers, stationery to write home with, desks and couches, hot water for bush tea, fresh towels folded in the shapes of elephants.  No phones, no internet, that was ok – our wakeup call was one of the guides standing outside the steps up to our front cloth door – saying “knock knock” – not actually knocking of course, because the door was not made of wood, just saying “knock knock” until we mumbled back.  Every month, at least once, I want to go back to Botswana so much it aches.  I think, though, that my mother would have said that I did love camping after all, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

The Legend of Kapo

May 1, 1850

Dearest Sister Annie,

I am writing to you from Kona Hawaii on my third week as governess to her Highness Emma Rooke, whom most people call Emmalani.

She walks timidly on the land, almost on tip toes hips swaying gently.   I have never seen Emmalani run, at least not on land.  She skims from her beach chair to the ocean water, slides in, and then she is simply grace incarnate.  Clean even strokes, and at last in the waves, without hesitation she covers miles swiftly and surely.  As governess, I remain on the beach, where the thought the idea of me rescuing my ward is laughable at best.  I leave heavy footprints, each toe discernable in the concave shallows, but in spite of walking right behind her, I see no trace of Emmalani’s passing.  To my thinking, the Mermaids are a Western invention akin to Centaurs of Greek myth.  Lost fishermen and missing sailors gave rise to half human creatures and sea goddesses.  Here in Hawaii, each family honors simpatico creatures, their aumakua.  These beings are not half human, half animal, stuck in between species.  They know they can transform.  I myself have witnessed the elders standing in the waves close to shore and CALLING to their aumakua, chanting in their musical way, raising their arms, an outstretched welcome, and Annie, I tell you, the sharks COME.  I do apologize for the capital letters, but pray you understand that I use them only for emphasis.  You have often inquired as to the native peoples here, especially as regards their traditional beliefs.

As I write this, I have not spotted my ward for quite some time, and am starting to worry.  It is hard to convey how at home Emmalani is in the ocean.  Annie, the water is warm here, bathwater warm, that temperature after the kettle has been emptied, and it is the second child’s turn to bathe.  Neither England nor New England have anything like it.

Thanks be to God, Emmalani is appearing in the distance and moving closer.  Her gait belies her reluctance to be back on land, and once again, she tip toes, dripping ocean water to her waiting servant, holding out a dry wrap.

There is a small church here in Kona made entirely of coral.  Emmalani’s family dwells near Waipio Valley which can only be reached on horseback through rivers and mud and sliding rock.  Her retinue are seen joyfully fording the streams loving the challenge of the journey, almost as though the rough passage makes the destination that much more enjoyable.  These Hawaiians are great athletes, though their sports would terrify our polo players.  Years ago, a great slide or Lua was built down the slopes of Mauna Loa (the Long Mountain) all the way to sea.  Daring boys and girls lay down upon heavy boards and rode many kilometers, picking up speed and once in the ocean, they take to riding the waves. 

Honestly, Annie, mermaids are a pale and fragile myth compared to these ocean loving natives.

After a brief delay in writing this letter, I am sitting at a proper writing desk, and intend finishing this letter in time for the next post.  Here it depends entirely upon the seafaring merchant class and the vagaries of tropical weather.  

To continue the adventure, after a blessedly uneventful journey home, we are back at Aina Hau, one of the family residences in Honolulu.  While in Waipio, a few of us gathered around the cooling fire to “talk story” with the elders and they told the most shocking tale!  As I have written before, there are numerous gods and goddesses honored here.  Though many in the royal class have accepted our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, some still practice the old pagan ways.  Once the widowed Ka’a Hu Manu embraced the true God, all the ali’i were put under the tutelage of Protestant clergy.  It is a long and complicated story, but suffice to say, this evening was one of myth and legend, thrilling in its way.

On the island of Hawai’i, there is an active volcano which one can visit and see molten lava up close.  It is like seeing God at his most awe inspiring to witness the creation of new land, Annie, reminiscent of those days when we saw God in the clouds as we laid on the grass in our favorite meadow.  Like when we saw the face of God in the tornado, for is He not gentle and good, and angry and powerful?  But here, the Hawaiians, in their oral traditions and chants credit the goddess Pele with bringing the heat and energy of the Earth’s very core to the surface.  Remember in history class, where we learned of the terrible fate of Pompeii?  How Mount Vesuvius showed no mercy those thousands of years ago?  We have always been able to love the God of the Old Testament, and to accept the love of Jesus as true gospel, while treating some of the stories as parables.

At the Talk Story, I learned that their goddess Pele had sisters, one of whom was called Kapo. This goddess had a most unusual talent.  I am struggling to convey what I heard at that meeting in Waipio for it involves a woman’s’ private parts.  I shall forge ahead and relay that in this story, Kapo’s lady parts were, shall we say, detachable.  There are wild boars in the island, another animal that transforms between human and beast.  They call this the Pig God.  This Pig god is possessed of an insatiable lust, and Kapo, tiring of the constant pursuit, and declaring “is this what you want?”, detaches her lady part, throws it up into a tree, goes about her visits and errands, only to retrieve it later when the Pig God has finished his business.

I know you must be blushing fiercely, and I tell you Annie, it was all I could do to keep from covering my ears.

I believe the story arose from the sight of a lava tube, near the volcano, of the red rusty remains of the molten lava passing through – folding redly outward like, well there is no other word for it – labia – such as a midwife would see while assisting in the miracle of birth.  The medical word.  I mean, a perfect likeness, appearing on the floor of this one tunnel along the volcano coast.

Now I must close and beg you my dear sister to speak no more of this.  I give you permission to burn this letter lest I die of embarrassment upon the revealing of it to any but you.

Affectionately,

Your sister Margaret

Dream Threads

In the morning,

the world came rushing in through my ears,

a taste of something toasting in the kitchen invaded my mouth,

sunlight from the hallway accosted my eyes

and the dream shredded

But I want to hang on,

so I tease out the threads

I was walking in a bubble

Everyone else was walking in a bubble

some in pairs

The shimmering bubble lifting magically

off the sidewalk

with each step

Germ bubbles

or snow globes?

Is that how we cope

or is that how we give up hope?

Hey Hey Hee Hee get offa my cloud

Are they permeable?

Are they peaceable?

Are they permanent?

Without the flakes or glitter

Is it a flight of fancy

or a glimpse of our socially distanced future?

I’d rather sleep

than take a peep

at this dystopian dreamscape

where everyone is allowed to be self-involved,

encouraged even

by their seldom shared shimmering enclosures.

Listening to Amy

Aloha Blog Buddies! You can continue to find rants and musings on my Writer’s Website, CGTripp Enterprises. As part of my ongoing effort to own my material, I think it’s best they all be found there. Soon, this will be gone, so be sure to check out http://www.cgtrippenterprises.com for future blog entries.

Here is an excerpt from my poem that just got accepted to Drunken Monkeys (yes, I know, perefect venue for me lol). Will supply link in a few months when it’s posted – Woot!

…Brandishing belly she pours her frail brute strength down inside your head like Alambic Brandy, and you smack your lips, ah…

Mom

Mom

just a good listener

STRONG

I can drink of my mother’s contentment, sometimes

And cry for her and for her mother that Life rewarded their efforts with a deeper understanding of hardship

Love shouts from her eyes

Finally I’m beginning to see her as much like me

Fiercely protective of her kin

An admirable adversary

With a steel spine

But her love is golden

Refreshing, essential, everlasting

Batting off flies with wings made of words

The bottom line is Scary Smart Chicks (SSC) should not be expected to go through life sober.  I try doing a data dump in the hopes of allaying the inability to sleep.  Maybe if I write down all the random thoughts pinging around in my brain, I shall thus conquer insomnia.  So, here are the rantings of a mad woman. 

Nights like this I need Brain Caulk – vodka, Valium, wine, Xanax – at the end of your tether, you reach for the end of the alphabet.  Gaslighted and ridiculed for being right, I need chemical assistance to tamp down the inner homicidal maniac.  Goddess damned MS Word just capitalized Maniac for me – who the hell do they think they are?  How much did they pay for their poetic license and who was the corrupt issuing agency?  Is fear of normalcy treatable with an ineffectual writing career?  And who, if not me, can resist the call of vicissitude?

Just a couple of puffs of the swirling soothing smoke, a couple of sips of fine Alambic brandy and I won’t have to fight, I could let it win.  Then sleep, satiated for a time.

Damn eyelids keep popping open.  Thoughts rush ahead of pen – at least this old school approach – putting pen to paper – slows the words down.  Honestly, I can feel them, the words, crowding out the occasional cloud of calm as they collide in contradictory arguments.  I feel worn ruts in the grey matter of my brain where “you will never amount to anything” and other echoes from childhood go claptrapping along deeply incised wounds.  I try batting off flies with wings made of words.

         “I am loved”

         “I am strong” Flutter byes oft silently repeated, lessening the harmful old patterns, like sticker weeds they have no permanent solution.

What’s in a name?

Have you ever been asked:  “What’s your married name?  What’s your maiden name?  How can they be the same?”

This question seems so ludicrous.  It stems from a quaint custom, a rite-of-passage which is not, nor has it ever been, expected of men.  For women, however, a public pronouncement of love and commitment to a chosen mate is not enough.  A traditional band of precious metal worn on the left hand at all times is also not enough.  For, I have been told, it is expected that a woman must become an adjunct to her mate, to be put; like property, in his name.

            Let’s examine the common usage.  Take “Mrs. John Smith” for example.  Does anyone LIVE inside that name?  Could be a Rachel, could be an Angela, could be a nobody.  This appellation is Mr. John Smith’s portable label for his current spouse.  It is not truly a name.  Whose house is that?  John Smith’s.  Whose woman is that?  John Smith’s.

            I was born with my father’s name.  All of us children were.  My first name belonged to an Empress, and it is at the top of my resume, stating the necessary gender.  Prior to marriage, I lived twenty-seven years with this name, the one I have always used, the one I am using now.  It has been engraved on name plated, credit cards and business cards.  I can be found under this name in school yearbooks, personnel records, alumni listings and the phone book.  I have fleshed it out and made it ring with memories of a unique person.

            Consider, for a moment, the name:  “Mr. Jane Smith”.  Does it sound ludicrous?  Your first question may be:  “What’s his first name”?  But you won’t have to ask who he’s married to.

            But what last name will the children have?  Why not both?  If one last name must be chosen, why not the mother’s name?  And why is it assumed I will have children?  That leads to another essay altogether.

            I may decide to change my name someday – for convenience, or pure caprice.  But many women have fought long and hard for the right to choose where and when that change may take place.  In the not-too-distant past, it was illegal for a woman to keep her birth name.   Hopefully the change in legislation will lead to a change in attitude.  For the present, however, I will endeavor to gracefully field questions about the impossibility of having the same name after marriage as before.