Bringing in another post from the archives while waiting for the muse to wake up.
A few years back I was trying to train a new hairdresser. One day… Hairdresser says: How about something a little different? Note: This is the 2nd time she has cut my hair. I say: OK whatever. Wash…rinse…snip snip…gel…hairdryer…gook…teasing…hairspray…I look in the mirror. Hairdresser: Do you like it? Me: hmmmmmm HD: Well I’m not letting you out of the chair until you say you like it. Me: Do you think you can tone it down a bit? Note: Is Aquanet back in vogue? A little tugging here and there…actually she pulls on one hair and they all move. She pats the sides of my head but the mass just springs back into form. HD: Better? I look in mirror:
I know what comes next…
I’m twenty years older than my mother would ever be. Soon I’ll be as old as my mother’s mother. Say it isn’t so.
It’s no secret that I have had a raging case of writer’s block since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s not just me according to the rest of my writing group. In our case it’s a matter of all or nothing. Some of us refuse to sit in front of a blank screen so we don’t even bother turning it on. Others are filling up page after page. I must find a way out of this so what could be more inspiring than finding the first (and only) payment I have ever received for my writing expertise. Don’t laugh now. This was over twenty years ago when Themestream paid writers a penny for each time someone read one of their posts. In digging through my archives, I managed to find eighteen of these articles. So here’s the plan. Since I have not been successful in coming up with anything new, I’ll just pull one out of the archives and write a THEN and NOW. Here goes the first one:
“You need lipstick,” Mom used to say. I was only thirteen and I didn’t think I needed it. When the Avon lady showed up and agreed with Mom, she shuffled through her bag. She lined up several little white sample tubes of pale pink lipstick. “Try these,” she said. I assured her I would try them.
I snuck into the bathroom and tried on the first pale pink shade. Ugh I thought as I tried to smear it off with a piece of toilet paper. Six tubes later I emerged from the bathroom, lips bright red not from lipstick but from removing it with scratchy toilet tissue.
Mom insisted I wear the Rose color to church the following Sunday. She always wore rose so therefore I must look good in Rose. I don’t think so. I licked my lips all the way to church hoping every tiny bit of evidence would be gone by the time we got there. I rushed into the bathroom and removed the stubborn traces. Mom came in and offered her tube of lipstick suggesting a fresh coat.
I never could get used to lipstick. I just never felt right. I never know – is it too pink, too red, too purple, too white, too orange, too brown? Is it me? Nothing feels right. I hate to see old ladies with red, or worst yet bright pink, lipstick. It is shocking against their pale white faces. I wonder what others think of mine.
My husband always asks me to wear red lipstick. Bright red lipstick. One time two of my friends joined my husband and I at our favorite Chinese restaurant in SF. I brought a tube of bright red lipstick. One by one we got up from the table and went to the restroom coming out with bright red lips. My husband never even noticed until we all started giggling.
Every time one of those offers comes around where you get free cosmetics, I jump on it. I must have collected hundreds of lipstick samples over the years. Each one I try in front of the bathroom mirror. Each time I feel thirteen again as I wipe it off with scratchy toilet paper.
Twenty years later, I am the old lady I used to think looked horrid with lipstick. You probably guessed by now – I just cannot bring myself to go beyond Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer. Looking past the wrinkles, I definitely don’t feel thirteen again.
Memoirs should never be written under a pen name. At least that is what I have been told. I’ve also been told that we need to “own” our story – therefore, our name must appear as the writer. Otherwise it could be taken as frivolous fiction. But here’s the thing: I plan to publish my memoir Homeless Bound under the pen name M.Z. Bull. Obviously, it’s not for the sake of anonymity. Rather, it comes as a request from the grandson I happen to be raising who was shocked to see my name in large white letters on the proof copy. “You can’t do that,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said.
“What’s embarrassing?” I asked.
He pointed to the author’s name.
I have nothing to hide. If you turn the book over and are surprised to see a familiar face, you may already know I have lived in my northern California home for over fifty years. Marjorie Witt has appeared as herself in Story Circle Journal, Street Spirit (Justice News & Homeless Blues in the Bay Area), talkingsoup.com and here, in this blog. So where does M.Z. Bull come from? I think you might already know.
Sometimes it takes just a little bit of luck and sometimes you just happen on to something that brings with it a whole flood of memories. Thanks to someone I met two years ago at Silver Lake Sandbox when I visited Michigan, I stumbled on her FaceBook post announcing this new book by Ann Chandler. Terri was kind enough not to just get Ann to sign the book for me but also put us in touch with each other. Two days later I held the book in my hands.
Yesterday I dug through a box of old photos from my dad and found a bunch of shots from the early 50s. Then came the memories. Dunes, dune scooters, swimming, sunburns, bonfires, the lost village, rowboats, speedboats and platoons and my little green toy truck lost under all that sand. Strange sometimes what comes to mind.
Meanwhile, there is a short reference to the Silver Lake dunes in my upcoming memoir. It’s a meditation of sorts that gets me through difficult times:
I was six years old when I first climbed the razor back dune behind the cottages where we spent our summer days. I never once gave up in my climb to reach the top of that shifting sand and that struggle later came to represent the struggles in my life, literally two steps forward and one step back, but it was that stubborn step forward that counted.
I sit on top of the tallest sand dune
between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan and feel as though I have reached the top
of the world. To my right is Silver Lake, a mirror shining within a frame of
small cottages. To my left is Lake Michigan, big as an ocean stretching into
I feel the warmth of the midday sun,
burying my bare feet under the hot layer of sand. I lie back and sink into the
fine white sand, cradled in its soft formations, snug and safe. I close my eyes.
I am quiet as my mind clears, letting
go of the daily trials, giving them up to a power greater than myself. I listen
patiently, waiting for some guidance. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t.
It will happen in God’s time, not mine.
My mind is at peace and my body
follows. I am safe, comfortable and everything is good. I know that all will be
Gently I return to life, opening my
eyes ever so slowly. I roll to my side and push off, tumbling down the dunes,
free from my burdens, ready for action.
As I rise to standing, I look up to the top. Then turn and walk away knowing that I can return anytime, anyplace.
Here’s the proof. We have been married for 49 years as of today. Trouble is, the DMV won’t give me a Real ID because they don’t believe I’m really married.
Two weeks ago I arrived at our nearest DMV promptly when the office was supposed to open at 9am. I was eighth in line, standing in pouring rain carefully protecting all my important documents under my raincoat, for ten minutes before the door opened. Two hours later when finally called to window #9, I handed over my original social security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, soon to expire driver’s license, two proofs that I still reside in the same house I moved into 49 years ago, and an expired passport. I waited with great patience while the clerk checked front and back of each document. She handed back the passport. “This is expired. We can’t use it.” She handed back everything but the marriage certificate. “These look good.” And then…
She flipped the yellowed marriage certificate a couple of times and held it up to the light as I watched a crinkled corner drop to her desk. I cringed when she did the unthinkable – she taped the corner back on the document with non-archivable tape. “This won’t work. It has no official stamp.”
“But, that’s the certificate I used when I got my passport,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe they would have taken this but we can’t accept it. You’ll need to get a certified copy of your marriage license. Do you want a driver’s license without a real ID,” she asked. My next attempt to persuade her that the expired passport along with the marriage certificate that the US government had accepted as proof that I did indeed get married 49 years ago was futile. I walked out with a temporary driver’s license and an assurance that I could upgrade to a real ID once I obtained an official marriage license.
After a full day of searching twelve boxes of archived, photos, diplomas, grant deeds, 49 years of tax returns, insurance policies, and receipts for 49 years worth of purchases, I gave up. I contacted the county where we were married. No record. I contacted the county where we have lived for 49 years. No record. Maybe the preacher (Dad) never sent in the license. Since California does not observe common law marriages, what will I tell my illegitimate children?