Solace in books and creativity

In her first letter to me that summer, Pearl mentioned a surgery that had been postponed.  Over the next four years, she was to have many surgeries because of her rheumatoid arthritis, such as for hip replacements.  It was always very worrying for the rest of us, yet she had so many of them.

My second brother was back from the military, and living at home.  So I was not alone with my parents as I had been since–I believe–around middle school.  He was 7 years older than I was, had always bullied me terribly, and to this day has not grown out of that.  But I do have a funny story about him:

On June 6, I kept calling my beloved cat, but my brother kept saying “Twinkie” (which our odd little cat was addicted to), so the poor thing was confused about whom to go to.

(She usually got upset with me for leaving for months at a time to go to school, but was normally my little buddy.)

My brother then got a Twinkie, and won.  After little Hazel (named after the old TV show about a cleaning lady) finished stuffing her face, I tried again to get her to follow me upstairs, but my brother kept saying “Twinkie” again.  So I said it, too.

While Hazel stood there confused again, my brother got up, grabbed her, and said, “I solved this.”

My friend Catherine and I exchanged lamentations about being back home with siblings and parents and without the independence we had grown used to.  She wrote things like,

I do like your hair.  Don’t worry about Shawn.  Maybe he is just shy about letting his feelings show.  Maybe he doesn’t want you to know he likes you because he’s afraid you don’t like him.  Do you have his address?  Write to him.

…Of course you know where C– [her hometown in Wisconsin] is.  This big megalopolis of 127 people which I live 5 miles north of in the suburbs of cow haven.

Yes it is real exciting.  Just like Roanoke except that the nearest mall is 45 minutes away instead of 15 minutes.  And there is nothing to do but count the flies on the cows.  Oh well, my warped mind will think of something zany for me to do.

…My pen died by the way, so I had a small burial at the old garbage can.  See, life here is just too exciting with my warped mind….PS, Party on, consume mass quantities and avoid the police!

I was put into the 1991-92 edition of the National Dean’s List.  Despite the distraction of a boyfriend and everything I went through second semester, I still did well in my studies.

It also helped that I no longer had to take classes I wasn’t good at, such as math or chemistry, and could concentrate on such classes as writing, literature, and whatever else I was good at or interested in.

In a letter on 6/17, Pearl–in response to a letter in which I said that I avoided talking about Peter because Sharon had told me it bothered people–wrote that the “tension” when I brought him up was not my fault, that people just wanted me to focus on things that weren’t painful so I could enjoy myself, too.  

But I know from experience that ignoring something doesn’t make it go away; it just lurks in the back of your mind….Also, I don’t know if anybody ever told you, but it’s kind of a consensus that we think you’re too good for Peter.

During the summer, I drew a comic strip called “Life With Zara.”  I got the idea when I found my 7th grade comic strip.  I started “Zara” on June 3 and stopped it on September 4, since with school I would no longer have time for it.

The characters were me, Cleopatra and Zara.  Cleo’s appearance was based on an ancient relief.  Zara was Moroccan because I found a story about the djinn in a children’s anthology called Magic in the Air.  I could just draw the clothes in the pictures.

The story was called “Mischief in Fez,” and had many details about the djinn myths, which I incorporated into “Zara.”  For examples, the djinn make a “whirring and humming,” and jackals love the taste of djinn flesh.

Zara’s features were adapted from a picture of a servant girl in the story, and her name came from another servant.  Somehow, I figured her eyes should be huge; maybe the djinns in the story had huge eyes.  Her clothes came from a picture of a wealthy woman.

Her water jar came from page 249 of the book.  Since I didn’t have a picture of a Moroccan bottle, I used the water jar instead.  I also drew a picture of the inside of Zara’s jar, with its torch, a table, and a bed.

I even incorporated a dream I had my senior year of high school about going back to meet the teenaged Shakespeare.  In the dream, I also met a blonde girl who was a time-traveler.

In “Zara,” there are also several allusions to the works of Jane Austen.

In the 7/29 strip, Zara shapeshifts into a fennec, which was drawn from a “Mischief” picture.

One hairstyle was taken from The Brass Bottle, a 1964 comedy movie I had seen about a genie in modern times.  Burl Ives was the genie Fakrash, and Tony Randall was the master.  Ironically, Barbara Eden was Randall’s human fiancée.  Fakrash’s brunette daughter wore her hair the same way I did in the 8/1 strip.

The very last panel was an obvious take on the I Dream of Jeannie opening credits, with the cartoon of Jeannie and her bottle.  In 1995 or 1996, I drew a picture titled “An Afternoon with Zara and Cleo.”  Zara’s dress came from Eugéne Delacroix’s Women of Algiers

Along with “Zara,” I worked on a continuation of my wacky 7th grade comic strip, mostly focusing on the Solar System characters I speak of here–now going through puberty.

I also wrote a sequel to my desert island story which included a breakup of the hero and heroine, and eventually, getting back together.  It was a way to work out my feelings–and I learned just how well emotions can help your work, as my writing seemed to improve immensely in this story.

On June 5, I had a dream which turned into the first draft of Bedlam Castle.  It included Heidi and the cast of Are You Being Served?  Spooner was the romantic lead (though I don’t recall being particularly attracted to him), so I based Colin’s looks on his.  On July 1, I had a dream which eventually turned into the frame story for The Lighthouse:

I discovered the lighthouse at the top of the hill: all you had to do was hang on while a rope took you up a mountain to it….It became my favorite hangout….My parents objected because the other kids “liked to joke about coarse things.”

…Then I’m ready to go uphill again, so I’m given the rope.  It starts tugging, sometimes stopping and jerking up again.  I have to dodge some worms and possible slugs on the wet pavement.

I go by my front yard, and the rope suddenly turns a corner.  I lose it, and make a lunge for it with both hands (possibly scraping a worm with my fingernails), but miss it; I keep trying to get it so I’m not stuck this far up the mountain, but I lose it for good.

I wait around, and someone finally picks me up and takes me either to a wait station or the lighthouse, where I wash my hands off.

My Utmost for His Highest seemed to have a relevant message for whatever I was going through when I was going through it, even though I read it twice over two years with totally different problems.  I told Pearl about this, and she said others said the same thing about it.

As a child of maybe two years when Queen released “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I had never heard the song before.  In the summer of 1992, the movie Wayne’s World brought it back onto the radio.  It became one of the most popular songs of the year, since it was timeless.

I had always been into rock.  I listened to Christian rock and metal in high school, and in 1990 or 1991, started listening to secular rock as well.

But now, dance music took hold of my imagination, especially the long, techno mixes which B96 (Chicago) played late at night.  They seemed to go on for at least 15 minutes at a time.  Techno took me to a special place in my mind, away from the problems of the world to my very soul.  It was a place of happiness, dancing, outer space, inner space, and no limits.

Music, for me, has never been just about the beat.  That’s why I can listen to both Static-X and Enya.

My weight had gone up a bit senior year (too much junk food) and the beginning of freshman year, somewhere in the 130s, but after the breakup I could barely eat for days.  I had trouble swallowing, even threw up once.

My stomach began to feel a bit better after the first few days, but there were certain foods I avoided, either because I had thrown them up, or because they reminded me of the breakup in some way.

I was depressed for so many weeks or months that my weight dropped quite a bit.  By Spring Break, I must have been below 120 pounds.

In the summer, I was 120.  But it wasn’t just depression that kept the weight off.  My spirits began to rebound sophomore and junior year, but I still lost that “summer weight” (from Mom’s cooking and my sitting around reading/writing) every September.  It was a combination of the food available and walking everywhere around campus.

People complain about the Freshman 15, but I lost 15 pounds rather than gaining at college.  After leaving college, I began to wish I still had this “magic bullet” to lose the pounds I began putting on, since I would exercise but lose very slowly.

This may have been the year that brats suddenly appeared at our family reunion (July 4, Michigan).  Brats?  In Michigan?  Now that I’d been in Wisconsin, Wisconsin culture seemed to be popping up everywhere.

I re-read Jane Austen’s Persuasion in July.  A couple loved each other, then broke up, then met again years later–and could not be civil to each other.  (I won’t give away the ending.)  It was so detailed and emotionally true that it must have been based on real events.

In the late 90s, I read in Jane Austen: A Life (David Nokes) that she had indeed experienced a similar event.  Unfortunately, her boyfriend never came back.  He had been persuaded to stop courting her because of their social stations, just as in the novel.

This was the last novel Austen wrote.  Writing it seems to have put her in mental anguish, since she had never quite gotten over the breakup.

I wrote this in a 7/30/92 letter to Shawn:

I just heard a squealing cat outside.  Catfight!  Catfight!  It got Hazel to sit up and take notice.  She has a new friend now, so I wonder if it was involved.  It’s an orange one that comes up to the master bedroom window while Hazel’s in the house.

A friendly white one lives across the street, but Hazel doesn’t seem to like her.  Maybe she’s related to the orange one.  So I guess we can now talk about ‘Hazel’s little friends.’…

Local news has been so interesting lately.  The usual murders and shootings, of course, which, unlike in S–, happen every once in a while; but what really trips me out is the controversy over train whistles.

Letters have been in the [South Bend Tribune’s] Voice of the People ever since about the time I came home, saying, ‘I live by the tracks and can’t get any sleep at night,’ ‘Why don’t you move away from the tracks,’ ‘The engineers are whistle-happy,’ and ‘The engineers are most certainly not whistle-happy.’

Some people were going to throw water balloons at the trains, but they decided to restrain such behavior, and throw water balloons at the caricature of a train instead.

Seven years later, my later adopted city, Fond du Lac, went through this same debate.

I started the novel Peter Pan on August 3, and finished it in the wee hours of August 6.  Somehow, the new song “MidLife Crisis” by Faith No More seemed to fit.  Both are dark, though Peter Pan is more depressing.

Peter Pan–that beloved children’s story–is depressing, you ask?  Yes, I say.  It’s filled with fighting, death, betrayals, and children growing up to forget that Neverland was real and that they had actually lived in it.  Yet I loved it.

Though when I read the play in 1994 it seemed meant for children (especially when the audience was told to clap to bring a fairy back to life), the novel seemed to be written for adults.

I’d heard that the play was for adults, and that its message was, “You can never be a child again.”  Yet if anything had this message, the novel did.

In August, I did the Scripture reading at church.  I suppose it shows an early predilection to do this, because many years later (2009), I began doing Epistle readings at my Orthodox church.

Pictures of my Genie Zara

Pictures of characters from my Zara strip, which also included Cleopatra:


September 1992
Life at Roanoke: My College Memoirs–September 1991 through May 1995

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: