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.
I knew this would be the day thanks to Amazon’s tracking devices. While meeting with my writer’s group, I kept my phone next to me, in silent mode, glancing at the tiny screen with each vibration, stalking the texts. “Your package has left the facility.” A while later, “Your package is out for delivery.” And then, “Your package is two stops away.” I tried to listen to everyone read but the distractions kept coming. Buzz, buzz, buzz.
I would be a useless critique today, my head following the path of the Amazon delivery truck, but I tried to be a good listener. The phone was silent for a bit. I looked back at the last message. Two stops. They should have delivered it by now. Maybe they got lost. Maybe they lied.
It was my turn to read. “I didn’t bring anything,” I apologized. “You see, I thought I would have my proof copies to share.” I held up my phone. “They’re two stops away.” I used my allotted time to talk about keywords, back of the book blurbs and the benefits of self-publishing.
Buzzzzzz. I looked down at the phone. “Delivered.” Suddenly it was real. I could run home, rip open the box, and hold the proof of my efforts. And so I did.
I ran my fingers across the shiny cover. I flipped to the back side, read the blurb. It needs some editing. I checked the interior. It needs some editing. My job is not done. But even scarier, as I hold this piece of work in my hands, I think, is this something I truly want to release out into the world?
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.
One of my most liked recent posts on social media was the before and after photos of the day I “KonMari’d” my closet. It elicited all sorts of comments like “amazing,” and “I’ve been meaning to do that.” But, the most prevalent comment was “I’m doing that too.” If they didn’t read the book, Netflix got their attention. How could anyone not know about it? Everyone is talking about it, or maybe I should say “wise cracking” about it. Like the this morning at Target. A slightly overweight lady holds up a bikini she might have been able to wear decades ago. Her friend asks, “does it bring you joy?” The wise woman giggles and puts the tiny triangles back on the rack.
Back to my closet. I broke a couple of rules. I didn’t run around the house and gather every article of clothing out of every closet, drawer, hamper, dryer, and floor. Instead I went through my drawers first, tossing the things that don’t bring me joy (mostly workout clothes from 20 years ago when I was still mountain climbing). The keepers were neatly folded the Marie Kondo way, except I folded my T-shirts with the graphics on the outside so I’d be sure not to wear my “I find myself to be exorbitantly superannuated for this feculence” shirt to work again.
The big job was the closet. Well, two closets actually. My full closet and the half of my husband’s closet that stored my off season clothes. And six suitcases of six decades of I-might-need-this-again-someday stuff. You know what I mean, the argyle sweater knitted in high school, running shirts, vacation shirts, Halloween costumes, and the wedding dress (yes, I put it back in the suitcase… you just never know). The three foot mountain covering the entire queen sized bed was daunting to me but a new playground for the felines.
Three hours later I hauled six cardboard boxes down to the curb for the re-use pickup and three garbage bags of unmentionables and threadbare rags for the big dump pickup. For once I’d get my money’s worth out of our garbage service.
My spring-summer wardrobe now hangs in eye-pleasing, color coordinated order, with easy accessibility. My husband is pleased to find he can now claim two thirds of his closet with my fall-winter wardrobe squeezed into the other third. Maybe if those suitcases in his closet stay empty, we can use them for what they’re meant for (just a hint that I’m ready to travel in case he’s reading this).
The stack of hangers left on my bed could support an entirely new wardrobe. What to do with those? Keeping extra hangers in my closet would be a danger I’m not willing to risk. So I get this brilliant idea – if I put them in JJ’s closet, he could hang up all his t-shirts, jeans and jackets that now carpet his bedroom. I leave a neat row of empty colorful plastic hangers on the rod. I don’t say a word when he comes home from school. I wait. Quietly. In my office. He opens his door. Slams it shut. I hear his backpack land on the floor. “WTF” echoes into his barren closet. He rushes into my office. “Grandma, someone stole all my shirts.”
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?