My memoir excerpt “Detention” on Ch’kara Silverwolf’s blog!
Thanks so much, Caroline! I appreciate the kind words :)
This week’s Writer Wednesday is all about Lori Schafer’s memoir, “On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness.”
I couldn’t put it down. I’m usually early to bed around here, and up before dawn, but this one had me seeing midnight. I like to think of that as a real “grown up” hour. I’m not sure there are enough adjectives for me to truly describe this memoir: poignant, touching, heartbreaking, and triumphant.
The author takes us through her journey as the daughter of a mentally ill mother. Although no definitive psychiatric diagnosis was ever given – to either the reader, or the author – the rollercoaster ride of fear and struggle and attempting to be a normal teenager was depicted so clearly, I felt as though I was with the author in the story. The narrative had me invested in the…
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Last week I decided to find a new home for my fake Christmas tree. Formerly it resided in an awkward and difficult-to-navigate corner of the basement, and I’ve finally relocated it to the upstairs closet with the rest of the Christmas stuff. Logically I know I ought to just get rid of the stupid thing. It’s a pain to put up, the branches are all bent way out of shape, a chunk of the topper is missing, and it’s still wearing tinsel from 2006. Yet somehow I’m never able to do it. It always surprises me how attached I am to that tree, even though I know full well the reason why – it’s because it’s exactly like the one my family had when I was growing up. I’m ordinarily not the nostalgic type, but to me that big ol’ fake tree with its pretty, colorful blinking lights is what makes Christmas Christmas. That and my one other indispensable holiday tradition – 1970s Christmas specials!
Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by singing carols, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at eight pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today. How the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.
Yes, because there’s more to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.
1. The authority figures are jerks. There’s the nasty coach, who, after Rudolph’s secret is revealed, informs the other children snidely: “From now on, we won’t let Rudolph play in any more reindeer games, right? Right.” Look at Rudolph’s dad, Donner, who forces him to wear a fake nose, which is not only uncomfortable, but wholly undermines Rudolph’s budding self-esteem. “You’ll like it and wear it!” he commands. “There are more important things than comfort. Self-respect!” Consider Clarice’s father, who reaffirms Rudolph’s worthlessness by rejecting Rudolph on sight: “No doe of mine is going to be seen with a… with a red-nosed reindeer!” And how about the mean elf-boss, who yells at Hermey and then (illegally) refuses to give him his break until he finishes his work?
And then there’s the big man himself, Santa Claus. Not content with merely trashing the new elf song his pint-sized slaves have spent weeks writing and rehearsing, he quickly turns his temper to the subject of Rudolph. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he tells Donner. For what, we wonder? For siring a red-nosed son? “What a pity – he had a nice take-off, too.” In other words, Santa is so closed-minded that he can’t even consider the possibility of putting someone who’s a little different on his team, no matter how good he is or how much potential he has. It’s the attitude of guys like him that gave rise to the idea of Equal Opportunity Employment.
The message is as clear as a bright red bulb on a foggy winter night. Don’t trust anyone over thirty!
2. The one authority figure who isn’t a jerk is King Moonracer, that good-looking lion. Although he speaks smoothly and with conviction, he is unfortunately an idiot. Every evening he circles the entire earth, collecting toys that no little girl or boy loves, and bringing them to his Island of Misfit Toys. Yet practically the first thing he says to Rudolph on meeting him is, “When one day you return to Christmastown, would you tell Santa about our misfit toys? I’m sure he could find children who would be happy with them.”
Okay, Your Highness, you may seem majestic with your wings and your crown and your cool castle and all, but you need better advisers. You’re telling me that you circle the entire earth every night seeking abandoned toys, but you never once thought to stop off at the North Pole and talk to Santa yourself? Heck, I mean, it’s not even that far – no farther than one can travel by ice floe, at any rate. The misfits may be all right, but the ruler of the misfits… Well, he obviously isn’t roaring with a full mane.
I’m not quite certain about the intended lesson here, though. Is it merely a dig at autocratic rule, or are we being taught that monarchy consists largely of pointless exercises in futility? In either case, it’s none too flattering to the man in charge – and in the end, it’s the brash young upstart who actually solves the problem of the misfit toys.
3. There’s a hint of underlying feminism. When Rudolph goes missing, Donner naturally decides to go out looking for him. “Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, too,” narrator Burl Ives assures us. “No! This is man’s work!” Donner blusters in response. But the days of mindless obedience to one’s husband are passing. “No sooner did the man of the house leave than Mrs. Donner and Clarice decided to go out on their own…” It’s also interesting that all of them – male and females alike – wind up in the cave of the Abominable Snow Monster. The buck, it seems, really was no better equipped to take care of himself than the ladies.
Notice, too, that the women aren’t jerks like the men are, perhaps because they have no actual authority. Why, that Clarice is downright sweet. She doesn’t laugh along with the others; rather, she compels Rudolph to keep his promise to walk her home. She sings to the unfortunate misfit to ease his dejection and pain. She even defends his “deformity,” declaring, “I think it’s a handsome nose! Much better than that silly false one you were wearing.” She’s kind of a forward gal, too. The way she whispers “I think you’re cute!” into Rudolph’s ear just before takeoff practice, the way she nuzzles noses with him on their first date – this is not a doe who is suffering from sexual repression.
Strong, independent, free-thinking females – you can practically see women’s lib being born right in front of your eyes.
4. It’s about coming-of-age. Because there’s no need for Rudolph to actually get rid of his red nose. He just needs to learn to control it. Am I right? The young Rudolph’s “blinkin’ beak” goes off at random, shocking nearby observers with both the shining light and the horrible high-pitched whine that accompanies it. Indeed, his secret is discovered during one such unexpected episode – and worse, he and his friends are almost caught by The Abominable during another. But by the end, Rudolph is flicking that thing on and off on command, and that’s the point at which it becomes useful – even desirable – to Santa and the others.
“Control! Control! You must learn control!” Yoda scolds Luke Skywalker, another youngster with unique and special powers. And what about Harry Potter? There’s a story that’s all about learning self-control. Misfit or no, Rudolph, too, must gain mastery over his body and his emotions before he can become a productive member of society.
And that, of course, is the quintessence of growing up.
5. It’s about the growing acceptance of babies born out of wedlock. Surprising, but quite possibly true. Have you ever noticed that Hermey has rounded ears? Strange, isn’t it? Not only is he the only elf who doesn’t like to make toys, he’s also the only one with round ears. Indeed, except for his stature and classy powder-blue attire, he might not be an elf at all. He might even be – gasp – a human!
Of course, among elves, the outcast would naturally be human; the anti-Vulcan, if you will. But why did Rankin and Bass decide not to give Hermey pointy ears? Why did they decide to make him a misfit not just by personality, but also by physical characteristic?
The answer seems obvious. Hermey is – as such children used to be called – illegitimate. Because if Santa and the Missus are the only humans in Christmastown, then where did Hermey get those rounded ears? Hmm, maybe Santa’s a jerk in more ways than we thought; taking advantage of an employee – oh, no, wait. There’s also Yukon Cornelius. Maybe he popped into town one day and decided to pop in on some cute girl-elf’s cottage. Oh, wow. What if Hermey was, in fact, Yukon Cornelius’ son? Think about it – they reunite, escape death, hang out, solve problems together… I may have to compose my very first piece of fan fiction.
There’s no question that the ranks of single mothers grew in the sixties – all that free love was bound to have consequences, after all – and perhaps, in a time in which the term “bastard” still prevailed, Rudolph gently reminded us not to judge the child by the actions of its parents. It’s a lesson that we’ve evidently learned, because look at us today – even our most respected celebrities are having babies without ever getting married, and without having to apologize for it, either. And their children, too, are no longer scorned or held down by society because of their birth; they are quite as likely to succeed in life, perhaps to become celebrities in their own right, or even, if they’re very lucky and study hard, dentists.
Programs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are arguably the reason why children of my generation grew up the way we did. Consider the lessons it teaches. Question authority, especially when authority is wrong. Make your own decisions. Judge people by their actions, not by their appearance or their circumstances. Respect those who are different from you. It’s liberal thinking in its broadest, least political sense, and it was born in an era of idealism, in which people really thought it was possible to change the world; in which they truly believed that one person could make a difference.
Rudolph lights the way.
It was hot; Texas-hot, hot like she’d never known. It relieved her to gush forth from the car, to leave the non-air-conditioned enclosure for the open heat, heat that seemed more natural, less oppressive and confining somehow. She looked ruefully down at her body: tank top soaked with great splashes of sweat, denim cutoffs sticking rudely to her skinny thighs. Embarrassing.
Her windshield stood splattered, smashed with insects, unfamiliar enough in their unwrecked form and unrecognizable at all now, their gooey guts of green and yellow speckled and crushed all over everything, everywhere. Resisting the full force of her forearm and the gas-station window-washer, they clung tight to the tempered glass, insistent stowaways for the remainder of her journey.
“Where you headed?” a voice called out.
She glanced up and saw him, an affable-looking man in his late thirties, perhaps early forties, bearing a bit of an accent but no cowboy hat; maybe a local, and maybe not one. There were only two of them there; he had to be speaking to her. She supposed there was no harm in answering.
“California,” she said, bending her elbow again to the window.
“That’s a long way off,” he replied, whistling softly.
“Yes, it is,” she agreed.
He approached her, thumbs tucked into the pockets of his own full-length dungarees, evidently immune to the heat.
“Say, that’s an expensive trip,” he observed. “You, uh — you got enough money to get there?”
Instantly she was on her guard. She circled casually around to the other side of the car, in the direction of the shop and its sleepy attendant. Was he going to rob her? Find out if she had any cash and then knock her down and take it? Instinctively she felt for it with the muscles of her behind, the wallet tucked tightly into her back pocket, crammed into a space too small for its contents, and plastered there now with sweat and fear.
“I think I’ve got enough,” she equivocated, ears burning with the lie.
“You sure?” he prodded encouragingly, penetrating her with moist periwinkle-blue eyes. “Because I, uh, know where you could make some — you know — some extra money. If you needed it.”
So he wasn’t going to rob her; he was offering her a job. The windshield was nearly clean now but she continued scrubbing, pondering the proposal. She wondered what kind of work it would be. Day labor, no doubt. But didn’t people usually want young men for that kind of thing?
He stood smiling kindly, warmly down at her, almost fatherly in aspect. She really could use the money. It had already been two days since she’d eaten. Was saving the rest of it for fuel.
“Thanks,” she said finally, deciding. “But I’m in a hurry; better get going.”
“You’re sure you won’t change your mind?” he replied, a hint of pleading in his voice.
“No,” she asserted. “But thank you for the offer.”
What a nice fellow, she thought as she headed back towards the highway. People sure were friendly down here in Texas. They sure were friendly.
* * *
“Rest Stop” is the true story of something that happened to me when I was seventeen. I had run away from my home in Massachusetts shortly after graduation, and now found myself baking in the scorching heat of July in rural Texas. I was supposed to start school at U.C. Berkeley that fall, but since I was still underage and therefore subject to recall if caught, I was understandably anxious about conserving the little money I had, as I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for a kid with no parents, no home, and no local references to find a job. Being mathematically minded, I quite naturally spent the long miles driving in calculating a fairly precise budget, which, once I’d paid for necessities like gas and oil, had little room in it for luxuries like food. And then I stopped at this gas station and here was this wonderful man asking me earnestly if I had enough money to get where I was going or whether I wanted to earn a little extra to tide me over until I arrived safely at my intended destination.
I’m embarrassed to admit now that I was just as naive as the girl in the story. I spent a lot of time traveling alone in the years that followed, and was propositioned numerous times by other equally friendly fellows seeking the company of a young woman for an afternoon or an hour. But this was the first such occasion, and I was so utterly confounded by this man’s incomprehensible behavior that I spent many miles pondering it in my head. Why had this stranger been so inexplicably nice? Who offers money to a girl he doesn’t even know, in exchange for services he isn’t sure she’s qualified to perform? I’d probably driven a good half hour before comprehension finally came roaring into my addled teenaged brain and I understood that I’d come unbelievably close to becoming an unwitting body for hire. At length amusement over the incident replaced my horror, and at least the next time it happened, I was prepared with a polite, “No, thank you, sir.”
* * *
“Rest Stop” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past. You can learn more about it by visiting the book’s webpage or by clicking the image below to be taken to the Amazon details page:
My author interview with Ognian Georgiev!
Lori Schafer’s memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is a very deep and brutal book. When I read the answers in the interview it was like something scary passed through my body. The author earned my respect for the bravery to tell such a personal things. Are you ready for some real deal life story?
– Lori, What is your book On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened about?
– On Hearing of My Mother’s Death: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness commemorates my adolescent experience of my mother’s psychosis. I was sixteen when it happened, and I watched helplessly as she became violent and dangerous, to the point where I literally feared for my life. Her fears and delusions grew so powerful that for a time she took me out of our house, and even out of school. After…
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“It touches you, and it moves you. It makes you angry, and hopeful. You do not feel sorry for the main character, you just feel sad.”
I love what Angela had to say about my book – it definitely goes beyond what you normally see in a book review. Thoughtful and eloquent.
One can only wonder what would lead someone to not know of their mother’s passing until such a long time after the fact. And then you read this story.
It touches you, and it moves you. It makes you angry, and hopeful. You do not feel sorry for the main character, you just feel sad. Sad that someone would have to go through such a difficult situation. Sad that someone was robbed of a loving mother due to an illness that affects so many, and is yet so hard for most to talk about.
The author is not looking for sympathy, or anyone to feel sorry for her. She does not have a “woe-is-me” attitude. She made the best out of a very tough situation, and persevered; succeeded; beat the odds when so many others would have given up.
Have you felt true fear? The type of fear that comes…
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And no, it isn’t me. I’m afraid I’d need a truly massive amount of help to make that happen!
But Lilo Abernathy certainly has a shot. Her urban fantasy/paranormal romance/mystery The Light Who Shines (Bluebell Kildare Series Book 1) currently stands at about #6,800 in the Kindle Store – which as those of you who have released books on Amazon know, is pretty dang high. Well, Lilo’s book has performed so well in the ten months since its release that Amazon has selected it as a Kindle Daily Deal and will be offering at the reduced price of $1.99 this Thursday, November 20th, for one day only.
Now Lilo has it on good authority that it is possible for a Kindle Daily Deal to result in up to 3,000 downloads in a day – and that it may take as few as 3,500 copies sold in a day to reach that precious #1 spot. So she’s enlisting the aid of all of her author friends in a cooperative attempt to make that happen.
“Great!” I hear you thinking. “What can I do to help?”
Thanks for asking! The simple answer – share, share, share! Like me, Lilo is very active on Twitter (@Lilo_Abernathy) and also on Facebook (she’s created an events page here), so on Thursday, if you could share her tweets or her posts in the venue of your choice, that would be tremendously helpful. She will also be updating her Blogger blog with a post to share if you prefer to do that instead. And if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can start a couple of days ahead of time and recruit others to help out, too – hence this post! As Lilo is not on WordPress, feel free to re-blog my post if you like – whatever it takes to get the word out.
Not much of a social sharer? No problem! Click the image below to check out her book – for only $1.99, you might just want to buy it! ;)