Author Archives: survivorscribe

About survivorscribe

The daughter of a sculptor and sometimes photographer, I've chosen to express my creativity with words. I've been writing for a while now, and I still have a lot to learn. I've completed an MFA in creative writing at Spalding University in Kentucky and just wanted a forum to share what I learn about my life as a writer.

1976, third grade, a sponge nose and golf

This is a Fourth of July story. Well, it happened a little before the Fourth of July, but it was 1976, the year America celebrated its bicentennial, 200 years as a nation. That theme permeated everything from the start of that year up until Independence Day. As a third grader, it just seemed like one big exciting party with everything colored red, white and blue.

In school, to highlight the history of our nation, my third grade teacher-I’ll call her Mrs. R-came up with the idea of having us do a play where all the kids played some key figure from American history, figures such as George Washington, Betsy Ross, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln and more. There were more than 20 of us and there had to be enough parts for everyone. I, of course, wanted to be Betsy Ross. I dreamed of it, hoped and prayed and thought about it day and night until the parts were handed out.

The catch, and in my life there was always a catch: Mrs. R despised me and I despised her. I’m certain I was a constant source of frustration for her. I rarely completed my work. School was torture. I often disappeared into the worlds in my head as Mrs. R went on and on about the assignments I couldn’t keep up with or cared less about. I couldn’t keep track of what was left and right let alone figure out times tables and phonics. Mrs. R yelled at me frequently. It didn’t help. In fact, it more often than not made things worse. I was less apt to want to finish things. I was more apt to go deeper into the more pleasant imaginative world in my head. Eventually, she became so frustrated she began nitpicking at little things that really weren’t things that I necessarily did wrong. Once when I was in reading group reading aloud and using a bookmark and my index finger at the same time to keep my place as I went along she yelled at me to use only one, either the bookmark or the finger.

Still, I wanted to be Betsy Ross. I knew it was a long shot and it was indeed the last thing Mrs. R was going to do. In fact, nearly all the parts were doled out before I was given a choice. I was left with what everyone in my class saw as the bottom of the barrel. Everyone wanted those juicy historical characters we’d read about and drawn pictures of in class. Bob Hope wasn’t in the history books. He was a guy we saw on TV. Sure, he was funny, but he just wasn’t historical enough at the time to be cool for our class. Plus, I am a girl and I was as girly girl as they come. I wanted to wear period clothing and have a bunch of key lines.

It wasn’t meant to be, and when I went to tell my mom I was Bob Hope for my third grade class play about America’s bicentennial year, she must have sensed my disappointment. She always sensed when teachers weren’t working in the best interest of her kids. Of course that unnerved her to her core. She’s Sicilian and Sicilians are funny about their pride and their children. My mom didn’t fight her children’s battles by arguing or confronting those who wronged them. No, she saw it more fitting to one-up those who saw the worst in her children. My mom dove into making me the most convincing Bob Hope a third grade girl could be. She found some old golf get-up of my dad’s, tailored it to fit me, and carefully cut a likeness of Bob Hope’s distinctive nose from a sponge. The sponge nose was taped over my nose. My hair was pulled back, I was given one of my dad’s old golf clubs and viola! I was Bob Hope.

I did have a line. At some point in the play, maybe it was the end-I’d like to think I had the last word anyway-I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “Golf, anyone? Anyone for golf?”

So, on this holiday, even though I don’t play golf, I say, Golf, anyone? Anyone for golf?

Feeding my writing

I haven’t done a pastry post in a while. I haven’t really experimented with pastries in a while. I’ve just made the standards, really, Grandma Scott’s sugar cookies and my son’s favorite, chocolate chips.

Truth is, for me baking is meditation, baking and walks with my dog, Maynard. Unfortunately, between the first nasty cold I’ve had in years and the “polar vortex” conditions we’ve been experiencing lately, Maynard and I have been mostly unable to walk outside.

Winter is a fantastic time to bake. I can’t describe the smells in my kitchen because I lost that sense a long time ago. Still, there is something visceral about baking. Perhaps, it’s that it brings me back to all that was good about growing up. That is being in the kitchen with family and friends. The kitchen in our house was Grand Central Station. It was where I did homework, where we gathered for holidays, where we sat with friends and discussed the workings of the world over sweet breads and coffee. Sure, we had a dining room and a table in that dining room, but it was rarely ever used except as a work station for my dollhouse crafting. My mother just preferred the kitchen, preferred everyone be in the thick of wafting scents and sizzling sounds of sustenance being prepared. We preferred it too.

 

A large version of the mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin.

A large version of the mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin.

The kitchen was part enigma, part fascination for me. I couldn’t cook my way out of a paper bag. I burned pizza and rice. My lack of sense of smell was a definitely a handicap when it came to seasoning savory food. It just couldn’t get it the way my mom could. Still, I always loved food, loved just about anything my  mother made–and now my husband makes. In fact, she and my chef husband have ruined me for your everyday restaurants. They pale in comparison to anything that came out of our simple, non-commercial, very homey kitchen. While trying to recreate some of that, for me, has been a challenge, the one thing I could do well was bake. I was always good at baking. Perhaps my pasta sauce needs a little work, but give me flour, sugar, butter, and pure vanilla extract and watch me go.

It started in the kitchen in our old house in Canton. It started there with my mother and her helping me bake chocolate chip cookies. It started with me watching and helping her make cannoli shells. It moved from my mother helping me to my best friend and I exploring our baking prowess on our own. Specifically, I remember the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a classic, and numerous batches of drop biscuits and a few pineapple upside down cakes. Later, in college, my roommate and let our final exam stress out by baking Christmas cookies.

Now, I have my own very small kitchen, smaller than perhaps it should be for as much as it gets used. Still, we make our galley work. Also, if  there is one place I’ve ditched books and gone electronic it would be for recipes. My apologies to cookbook writers everywhere. With my iPhone I have so many options available at my fingertips and an endless number of new things I can try. What is particularly nice is that I can take the ingredients I find in my pantry, look them up, and usually find something that fits.

Last week, I took some canned pumpkin I had left over from Thanksgiving and found a cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin recipe. You can find the recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction. I made regular size muffins instead of minis, so I had to cook them a bit longer. They were not overly sweet. That’s fine by me. I hate when I get a muffin and am expecting a muffin, but it turns out sweeter than cake. Anyway, they were a hit with friends and family, and they made for nice morning side to my cup of ginger pear tea.

This week, I made a basic vanilla sheet cake from scratch for my son’s friend who is leaving soon for army basic training. I’d tried the Better

Sheet cake made from scratch.

Sheet cake made from scratch.

Homes and Gardens recipe many times, but the cakes always seemed a bit dry. This time I searched for another simple option. I landed on the best recipe at TheKitchn. The cake came out more moist than I had expected. I think a little tweaking with applesauce might make it just right. I consider myself a butter cream frosting connoisseur, so I can make it in my sleep. I need to beef up the cake decorating supplies and practice a bit with the tips. Still, it has been less than 24 hours and the cake has all but disappeared. And no, Maynard has not gotten hold of any.

In the end, what it does for me, besides making my family happy, is it gives me a little space from writing, directs my creative energy in another way that literally and figuratively feeds my writing and I think it’s important to take that time and do those things or we get burned out. I wasn’t feeling burned out, but it felt good all the same to fill the well in that way. How do you fill the well?

 

A space of her own

My corner

My corner

It’s a small space. It’s a corner of the room, the front room where the foot traffic is most certainly the highest, but there is a window. The window looks out on our street and the little bungalow-style homes that sit on it. In the spring, summer, and most of fall my Japanese maple is thick enough to hide a good part of that. The butterfly bush sends off its purple shoots that lure all kinds of fluttering things. This year I saw, for the first time, a hummingbird moth.

For a while I couldn’t come to my space. It felt cluttered and keeping the rest of the family’s stuff out of that area is a bit of a chore. I’ve dubbed the space my sacred space. I try to instill that notion in my family, but they don’t really get it. Ironically, I heard an interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter on NPR Friday. She spoke of his little writing hut and called it a sacred place. Unlike Roald, though, I can’t be in my own little hut. I don’t think I’d go there. It would feel too secluded. What my corner needed was a sense of peace, even though it is in the middle of everything. I realized in all of this that as much as I read those “the chores can wait until the writing is done” kinds of things, I can’t write until there is a sense of calm around me, calm amid chaos. In essence, I have to get the place spiffed up a bit in order to concentrate. Seclusion, as much I think it would be nice, would probably be less conducive. I go stir crazy very easily. I need a corner, a clean corner, a corner where some attention has been paid to placement of things.

That’s what I have now. I have my corner. I spent an entire day painting the one wall. It’s the same color it was before. I needed to patch holes, to make the wall whole again so I could hang but two simple pieces up there, a piece that features various metal round plates each with a Fleur-de-lis on it and an angel. The Fleur-de-lis is a reminder of my time at Spalding University. I really got the art by chance. I wanted something round to keep with the Feng Shui placement of things and the Fleur-de-lis happened to be the only reasonably priced piece of round out. I took it as a sign. I don’t come by design or decluttering naturally, so having the road map that Feng Shui gives me has been more than helpful. In fact, my house does feel more open and conducive to creativity. The angel is one my mom gave me. She gives me angels. Somewhere along the line she thought I collected them or liked them enough to collect them. I don’t recall that, but I love the angels she’s found and having angels watching over everything isn’t all that bad an idea. To the left is the window with my little tree outside of it. I taped the rejection letter from Calyx Books to the window frame as a reminder to follow my novel through. It was a good rejection, with a nice note about my writing and a reminder that it was one of 25 final manuscripts to be evaluated fully for their contest in 2011. Even if it didn’t win, it was seriously considered and I keep little notes like this in view as incentive to keep at it.

So, here I am in my corner. It does feel nice. I’m working again, making progress on my novel. That progress was tripped up about this time last year, maybe by my cluttered space, maybe by other things. I hit a wall and never felt I could get past it. I am miraculously squeezing through a crack. Re-making my space is a huge part of that, I think. I don’t need a big space or a secluded space, just a space that I feel like I can work in, a space where I can sit and work through the tough spots in my  novel and then get up and get a cup of coffee or throw a load of laundry in. That’s this space.

Now that the space is done, I need to set a regular writing time. That was another nugget I got from that Dahl interview on NPR. He had discipline. He was at his space for two hours at a time, twice a day. He gave himself permission to write or not write in that two hours, but he always sat for that two hours. That is my goal.

I need to establish that kind of work time and make my family aware of that. That’s the hardest part, getting everyone to understand. That’s where the hut would be helpful, but there are no huts here, just a corner, just a corner. Time to sit in my corner.

My open letter to Miley Cyrus

Dear Miley,

I want to tell you that for a long time now every time “The Climb” has come on the radio in my car and my daughter is with me we sing the song together at the top of our lungs, but we will no longer be doing this. This is not because you wiggle waggled your tush on stage. While I have opinions about that, I really don’t care what you do when it comes to your career. I understand many young girls look up to you as a role model, my own daughter included, but I am also her role model and we can use all of that as teaching moments to have long discussions on self-respect and body image. Your fame will come and go. I will be her role model well beyond the time when your light has faded.

This is not about my daughter, though. This is about my son’s life. While watching the news, recently, because I was interested in knowing more about what is going on with the government shutdown than anything you were doing, I did see a most disturbing clip. The news program made brief mention of your Twitter back and forth with Sinead O’Connor and while the government shutdown is way more important than anything you do with your career, nothing is more important than my son’s life. My son has had struggles with mental illness, so I was really saddened to see your Tweet mocking Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Bynes’s struggles with mental illness flash on the screen. I know the actual argument is between you and them, but with all the people you are connected with and with all those young fans who follow you, I find it irresponsible and cruel that you perpetuate this idea that mental illness is something that can be made fun of.

I am here to tell you it is not something to be made fun of. As the mother of a child who has suffered through mental illness and come out the other side, I have to speak out and take a stand. Mental illness is heartbreaking. It is the most devastating thing in the world to see someone you love spiral so deeply into such a void and know there is nothing you can do to help him. What’s even more devastating is that people don’t accept the illness as an illness, and people feel the need to either mock that person or leave him or her out in the cold. Your comments carelessly perpetuate those heinous notions. Instead of judging Amanda Bynes or Sinead O’Connor, with your voice you could be changing the way people think about mental illness for the good. You could be extending a hand to either of these women, showing them compassion rather than spitting at them. After all, I read Sinead’s letter, and she actually complemented your talent and was merely sending you a warning, because she knows the music business and sees it for what it is. Still, that’s neither here no there in this letter.

What has come of this for me is that I will not buy your records. I will not encourage anyone I know to buy them, not because of your creative choices, but because of your irresponsible remarks. You have no obligation to anyone. I understand that. I am just one little old person, a nobody who is probably not much of anything to you. I understand that, but I can’t have this forum, however meager it is, and not make a stand. I can’t, knowing first hand how heartbreaking it is to see people judge someone you love for having an illness he did not “decide” to get, sit by and listen to someone be so crass and so insensitive. So, when I hear “The Climb” on the radio in the car the next time (a song I ironically found to be a very inspiring message for my daughter), or any of your other songs, I will turn the station. I know that won’t make a mark on your record sales or even be anything for you to bat an eye at, but art is about making people think. Art is about inspiring people and moving people. I supposed you moved a lot of people in some way. Now, you have a huge forum. What is that saying? “With great power comes great responsibility.” I may be small, but I have great power. It is my responsibility for both my children to banish you from my listening devices. Consider yourself banished.

Sincerely,

Cristina Trapani-Scott

NOTE: My son gave me permission long ago to speak openly about mental illness, especially if it is to crusade against the ignorant attitudes that continue to diminish the very real struggles that define mental illness.

Here comes Pinktober, the thing about a little cancer

Here comes October, or as a lot of my BC friends call it, Pinktober. That’s not in a revving up for awareness month kind of way. That’s in more of a, oh here it comes again, I want to hide from all things pink, kind of way. Honestly, I used to be okay with it. I used think that all the pink was okay if it meant there was a constant conversation about breast cancer, but I do believe now that it has turned from awareness to a marketing tool. Some of the things I’ve seen going pink in the name of breast cancer have been truly hilarious. A week or so ago, I was at the grocery store and happened to be walking up the liquor aisle when I saw the signature pink ribbon on a bottle of alcohol. I can’t remember what kind, but it made me stop and laugh. On one level I thought, now this has gone way too far. On another level, having been through chemo (think of your worst hangover and multiply it by 100), I found it more fitting than perhaps any other product donning the pink ribbon.

On a personal level, I’ve always loved fall the most of all seasons. It was always the start of anticipating the holidays. Now, October is the start of something different. I don’t despise it. I still love fall, but now pink proliferates with the changing colors of leaves, and I begin to think about the sequence of events that changed my life forever. It all happened leading up to holidays seven years ago. I was starting my second semester of grad school, working

Yeah, that's a bathing suit, or part of one anyway.

Yeah, that’s a bathing suit, or part of one anyway.

full-time and raising two elementary school aged kids. I was invincible…and very busy. Then I found a lump on my right breast the Monday after I returned home from my second semester residency, the same day I cried in the car as I heard Leroy Sievers’ “My Cancer” commentary on NPR, the one about how he was coming up on another Thanksgiving, something he was told almost a year earlier not to expect with his terminal diagnosis. I had no clue as I was listening and driving home to my own discovery how much of an impact that commentary would have on me. A few weeks later, on Dec. 17, I got the confirmation. The doc said, “Well, you have a little cancer,” not “You have cancer” or “It’s definitely cancer,” but “You have a little cancer” as if saying it was little would make it seem smaller than the vast black hole it felt like at the time. Of course, it never felt little. It still feels big. It feels big because each year women I know only because of breast cancer, women who like me were diagnosed at a young age, are losing the battle, the most recent just this week. Each time I see another photo scroll across my news feed with a vibrant smile and the description in past tense of a life lived as our most recent loss was described “legendary” I realize how big it really is, how pink ribbons on products can’t scratch the surface of awareness, how awareness is knowing these women even through a few posts on a Facebook page, how awareness is not races, not ribbons, but hearing the real voices behind the struggle, seeing the faces, knowing that cancer is a bitch at any age, but now a boy has to rely on the memory of his senses, pictures, videos, and the clearer memories of others to keep hold of his mom. Nothing about that is little. Nothing about that easy to still process, though, as Melissa Etheridge puts it, the pain is miles behind me and the fear is a docile beast. It’s a beast nonetheless.

All of this brings me to writing, to poetry in fact. I had a breakthrough. My poetry manuscript has had a metamorphosis. It began as a chapbook with poems that lacked a clear focus. In the last several months I have worked through the “little cancer” in poems, not so much the having it part as the how to live with the persistent understanding of time, or time as a character that can no longer be hidden or tucked away. I have been writing through the “little cancer” for a while in fits and starts, but I think I see a direction in a full manuscript rather than a chapbook and I have a working title now that comes from a poem once titled “Trying on a Bathing Suit” about the first time trying on a bathing suit after surgery. Now, the poem is titled “The Persistence of a Bathing Suit.” The revision of the poem makes reference to Salvador Dali’s painting “The Persistence of Memory.” Here are the last few stanzas of the poem:

I feel the weight of

this suit now as it

sits like a weathered

shroud in my hand,

dangles like the melting

clock draped over a limb

in Dali’s painting

“The Persistence of Memory.”

What really persists

is the memory of that

flash of light, the opalescent

sparkle of blue and pink,

that lingered in that infinite

space between forgetting

and remember we all must die.

I set the suit on the seat

where it might look at its

own sad reflection for a while

until the store clerk

retrieves it at the end

of the day.

The “Persistence of a Bathing Suit” is now the working title of the collection. It will be dedicated to all the Young Survival Coalition women, the ones in our memories and the ones who don’t need a proliferation of pink to understand awareness, because they live awareness every single day. Continue reading

A sense of place

So often I read calls for submissions that say something about looking for work that has a sense of place. Sometimes, when I see this I stop and wonder about place. For most of my adult life I have felt rootless. I have lived in places, but the constant seems to be the need or want to live someplace else. It kind of is an affliction in my family. I can’t blame anyone for it. We are still trying to find our place here after three generations or two or a mix there of. My family is from Sicily. I have family there, but I haven’t seen most of them in almost 20 years. I grew up in various places in metro Detroit, mostly Canton, but when I go back I don’t really know anyone there anymore. My immediate family is scattered, across continents and across oceans. It seems like we are always searching for something, a kind of home, a kind of place.

This weekend I went on a pilgrimage of sorts. It wasn’t a long pilgrimage. We just made a short trip south to St. Marys, Ohio, where my husband, Jay, was born and lived for a part of his childhood. In our nine years of marriage we have never made the trip. We passed St. Marys multiple times and every time Jay would say, “There’s St. Marys.”  Not only is St. Marys where Jay was born, but his parents grew up there. He has roots there. He has family there.

We traveled to St. Marys for a wedding, Jay’s cousin Sherri’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. What made it beautiful more than the flowers or the church or the food was the intense family rooted in place vibe, a vibe I really haven’t felt a part of in a long time–if ever. I met Sherri’s longtime friend, briefly, and I listened as she laughed with another cousin about stories of when they were young. People were there because they love Sherri and her family and still know them and still live near them. In essence it was a small community in all the small community kind of ways I’m sure, but I realized that more than them being rooted in place, place is rooted in them. Perhaps this is sentimentalizing everything a bit, but I envy these scenarios sometimes. I envy the real sense of belonging people have when they are rooted somewhere. I envy Jay’s parents that they can go back home to St. Marys and see people they know and care about, people who still live in their hometown or have a strong connection to it. I envy Jay in that his cousins really are not that far away. They are my family now. I do know that, but I am not from a place like St. Marys. Still, I have searched for that sense of place often. I spent years at a small community newspaper trying to make place and roots kind of happen, but none of that can be made intentionally. It just happens over generations, over time. Perhaps, that’s why I am always stopped by that term “a sense of place.” I am an observer of it more than a participant. Hopefully, my children will have more of it than I have.

This morning, we woke and had breakfast lakeside at Grand Lake, the lake where Jay’s mom grew up. After, we drove around the lake and saw the house that Jay’s mom grew up in and then the house Jay lived in as a little boy and the house that Jay’s dad lived in as a boy. I heard how Jay would steal away from home to go to the pool when his mom wasn’t looking. I heard all kinds of stories and appreciated being immersed, for even a brief time, in this sense of place.

Regardless of all of it I feel that place isn’t just about place. It is about the people that are rooted in that place and deeply connected with it. It is Grand Lake and two towns where everyone knows each other. It is the rocky shore and the old little cottages that haven’t been dozed for bigger lake homes. It is the history of the lake itself. It  It is the winding neighborhood streets that lead to town. It is the fact that Jay’s parents can return to that place year after year and find friends and family welcoming them back. Now that I know that, I will work with that. I will understand that a little better when I see those calls and when I set my characters in place and set place in them.

Unfortunately, I was so captivated by place in this sense, I didn’t take the time to photograph the lake or anything. Oh well.

For Cristina without an H

For my entire life I have been two people. A real Cristina and an imagined Christina. I am Cristina, named after a client my mother had when she worked as a hairstylist that many years ago. TI am Cristina couldn’t eat at the table without a wet dishcloth because I would go into an instant hissy fit if food got on her face or hands and there was nothing to wash it off with. I am Cristina, an introvert who prefers the quiet of her home over public places, but can pass as an extrovert, though it will wear me out immensely at the end of the day. I am Cristina, who can’t hit a basket to save my life (or a net with a puck or…the list goes on). That being said, I did nearly start a one-girl stand-off in a pet store when the clerk told me that a dog that they were giving away free would be killed if it didn’t get a home soon. I am the real Cristina, who studied sports medicine because it was easy, but ached to be an artist, which I knew was going to be the most difficult, gut-wrenching path to follow. I am the real Cristina, who had cancer at 38 and knows now I won’t live forever, but doesn’t really know what to do with that information. TI am Cristina who cries at the littlest things, always has, Cristina who loves her children fiercely and thinks they are worth a million times more than the gross domestic product, Cristina who is generally a hot unorganized mess and readily admits it after arguing that she is trying her best and Cristina who wants to read and write more than she actually does those things and wants literary success but kicks and screams for the paltry little windows of time she has to make that happen.

For Cristina without an "H"

For Cristina without an “H”

For nearly all of my life people have been trying to change my name, trying to give my alter-ego its due. No matter how I often I say I am Cristina without an “H,” the “H” finds its way in. At times it has been nothing short of a migraine-inducing inconvenience. There have been legal documents that have had to be rewritten, applications that have had to be re-entered. Once I didn’t get paid for work because the bank couldn’t be sure that I was the person named on the check because there was an “H” typed in the name, though my last name Trapani-Scott is so unique that in the global community of the World Wide Web there isn’t one single other person with my exact name, H-less or otherwise. In recent years, I have even caught myself by surprise as I slip that H in there as I type my name. Sometimes, I do wonder what it might be like to be Christina with an “H.” Would she be all those things I never could be? Would she be charming and witty? Would she have always known what she wanted and be well on her way to solving issues of world peace while showing off her mad dribbling skills? Would she always know what to say to her children, know how to comfort them and protect them from sadness? Would she know how to bake the perfect cookies (Oh, I already know how to do that when the oven works correctly)? Would she have jumped that fast track to literary success and have that quiet little bungalow writing space set far off in a quiet corner of the yard where she is not bothered until she emerges? Would she, would she, would she?

Ah, but I am not Christina with an “H.” I will never be Christina with an “H.” I am Cristina without an “H.” I am not really two people and really I have Andrei Codrescu to thank for reminding me of that. He gave a reading here near my home. I, of course, had to go. I am a huge fan of his NPR commentaries. His voice, with that thick Romanian accent, draws me in and his words keep me in a space that makes long commutes dissipate into a space where I feel like I am being read to personally. Hearing that voice again with out the distraction of keeping my eyes on the road was that much better. After his reading, I purchased a book for which he signed. I told him to sign it to Cristina without an “H” (habit, of course). He had read a poem that evening that mentioned a Swedish princess named Christina. “Not with an “H” like Princess Christina?” he asked. I said, no. Then he signed the book. I didn’t look at it until I was in the car and on the road back home. In the darkness of the moving car I shined a flashlight that revealed the following inscription, “For Cristina without an ‘H.'” Yes, Andrei, here’s to Cristina without an “H.”