Thursday, February 26, 2015

A woman named Joan

Crafts by the other Joan
Last year while sorting for a move, I opened a box of memories. Inside were two bulging scrapbooks, its unstuck film pages dropping dried daisies, wallet-sized school smiles, a surprise “Shhh, it’s a secret!” sixteenth-birthday invitation, and handwritten notes such as “evil green eyes” and “missing the beach.”  Under the scrapbooks were pictures of our drill team squad, red and gold event notices, ribbons and pom-pom fray, a smiling stuffed giraffe with eyelashes, a construction paper tasseled boot, encouraging poems from a woman named Joan.


Wheaton High drill team 1978
Many people dislike their own names, but I’ve always loved mine. There were no other Joans in any of my grade school classes as far as I’m aware and I didn’t know any in college. The famous Joans were gutsy or clever or fun or, in some cases, all three. Saintly badass d’Arc comes to mind, as do Plowright, Fontaine, Crawford, Rivers, Collins and Cusack. Joan Jett apparently rocked my high school, but before my time. And of course the brilliant Didion, whose prose I discovered late, which means there’s more for lucky me to read.

The mom of my dearest friend of forty years was gutsy and clever and fun. A transplanted New Yorker, she was coifed and on-the-go to Mahjong or Wednesday bowling with wine-colored lip liner, blue-shaded eyes and appliqu├ęd jackets. During junior high and high school, it was this mom who buoyed me when my own high-strung and detached mother was unapproachable.


Parade day

She kissed me as if I were her own child, locked eyes when asking a question, nodded and smiled as she got the answer. She crafted spirit gifts long before today’s high school football and cheerleading moms were born, wrote poetry that gave us courage to march and shake to a 70’s beat while hundreds of our peers looked on, inspired my stubborn self to perform in 20-degree parades and remembered everything – birthdays, pom-pom routine songs, favorite candies.


She was a vibrant and caring role model for her three children, inspiring smiles and warm hearts, facing medical challenges with steadfast fortitude. She was a supportive wife to a man with whom she shared an infinite optimism and energy and devoted daughter to her mother (called Nana), whom she called every day without fail, and father, who at 77-years-old was among the hundred hostages in the 1977 B'nai B'rith headquarters takeover. When she became a nana, her joy multiplied—by seven.

Joan and Karen, captain and co-captain

Until dementia cruelly stole her memory, her health, her spirit. Last month the Joan with whom I shared a name passed away. I’ve been thinking about her a lot, about her voice, about her twinkling eyes, about her spirit, about what she meant to me and so many others. About the memory she left behind.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sound claustrophobia


The sounds start harmless enough. Coughs, throat-clearing, nose-blowing, the crunching of apples. Later there will be a morning check-in with the wife and kids, and a quartet of blubbery sneezes, followed by harmonized giggles from a bookkeeping duo. In the afternoons, there’s a flurry of not-so-hushed personal calls and a heated talking-down from project leader to a team member who hasn’t delivered a deliverable. 

Japanese Gardens, Portland, Oregon, photo by Rick Mora



When I’m not writing, I hire out as a contract accountant. For the last year I’ve been working with a client on a long-term project, but this is the first time in my $%#*!!&? years that I’ve worked in a cubicle. Yes, I understand the cost savings of a footprint with cubes versus individual offices. But surely productivity has suffered. I’d like to see the numbers on that.

Most days my earphones are looped over my ears, blaring instrumentals such as the themes from Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings or Last of the Mohicans on Pandora, but sometimes even those masterpieces don’t drown it all out. Lately, I’ve alternated between the soundtrack and live scores of Les Miz, but often this leaves me in a weepy mess as each note returns me, thunderstruck and emotional, to a stall in a London theater.
Such a noise fiasco would torture most introvert writers (aside from maybe Jane Austen, who apparently wrote in a noisy room, with siblings, nieces and nephews carrying on around her.) But being crushed by noise from all sides ignites in me a sort of sound claustrophobia. Sometimes I clap my hands over my earphones, nod my head on the desk, take deep breaths and think of Japanese Gardens, my peace on earth. 

But it’s not all gloom and noisy doom – I’m taking notes and culling idiosyncrasies. Sound brings life to the pages of a story and many of these characters will show up in a book one day.