Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Upcoming Poetry Events

Hey, as holidays come upon us, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers and writers a good one. May the new year bring good things, prosperity, and happiness. Life happens. Write poetry about it.
Some updates on recent events and happenings in the New Year.
A few weeks ago I participated in a Local Authors reading event sponsored by Creekside Books Fennell St., Skaneateles NY. I was the only poet. We ahd a good turn-out and an appreciative audience. There were children's illustrators, novelists, Bob Molinari of Oswego and his new non-fiction animal story "Over The Rainbow Bridge"...a good time was had by all.
In April 2009--April being National Poetry Month as many of you may know, I will be coordinating an all poetry event and reading from my own chapboook, "Slide-show in the Woods" also at Creekside Books. Stay tuned for information on time and readers.

At the Canastota Public Library, home of my first ever homie writers' group, April will find me giving a talk on doll art and doll collecting, as well as how I use dolls in my photography. June the library will host a doll display.

April 14, 2009 at 4:30 in the afternoon will find me at Colgate Bookstore, Hamilton NY . The name of my one-woman show is "Word Pictures: Illustrations and Poetry by Rachael Ikins"
I will be reading from published works and works-in-progress. My pen and ink and photographic illustrations will be display as well.
I have re-located to Albany, NY for the winter. I am beginning research in area libraries and cafes to find writers and poetry groups and venues for poetry readings. So any Albanians and folks from the Troy/Schenectady area check out Poetsetc@yahoo.com and post me any news of goings on there or on this blog or email --justaskrache@aol.com.
I will continue to moderate Monday Night Poetry at Sushi Blues on every second and fourth Monday in Hamilton NY. As all CNY natives know winter may disrupt the schedule. So far on our spring schedule, we have Micahel Czarnecki of Foothills Publishing and Phil Memmer with his latest collection.
Don t forget Monday December 15 at 6 p.m. at Sushi Blues is the 2nd Annual Bentley the dog Memorial Auction and Benefit for the Chenango County SPCA. I will be on hand doing pet illustrations so bring your favorite photos for me to work from. Portion of the proceeds go to the shelter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Green Writer, Green Site, Green Life

rachaelikins.com, Life on a Green Site: What Does This Mean?

by Rachael Z. Ikins

In these tough economic and environmentally challenged times, it is really important for an artist to "practice what she preaches" to borrow from a commonly heard adage. Artists by their very connection to detail and condition of rawness that allows art to form, are in a position that no others share. We interpret the world around us in a way that makes our viewers feel something. And hopefully the feeling will inspire action. That is the responsibility of an artist to her or his audience. To live a balanced life that gives thanks to the earth which supports and inspires the artist's life itself.
How can we accomplish this? Well, first of all ,recycle. We don't "need" state of the art technology as long as whatever it is is as energy efficient as possible.. An old printer works just as well. Pass on your extra PC to a younger artist coming along who maybe can afford little. Visit an area on "trash day" and see who has put what gem out for the recycling truck that might be useful in the creation of a work of "found art" or used in one's own house with a cleaning and a new blanket laid over the rough spots.
When not using it, turn your computer equipment off. Even when the switch is off but the power source continues to be plugged in, this uses a constant supply of electricity. Which, in turn, creates waste gases at the production site and releases pollutants in the air. Even keeping your computer unplugged 6 hours a day can reduce YOUR contributions to greenhouse emissions significantly and lower your electric bill. None of us is in such a hurry with a reader dying because of having to wait to read one's newest poem, that we have to leave the computer in "sleep" mode 24-7.

Used recycled paper for your printer. And if you print out something that isn't exactly the way you want it, turn the paper over and use the other side instead of simply tossing it. Odd-ball pieces of odd sized paper from projects sized and stapled together, make a note-pad for groceries and rough drafts of poetry.
Don't be afraid to use a notepad and pen or pencil--remember those? instead of solely working on the computer. Writing giant Stephen King wrote "The Green Mile" on little notepads he kept in a back pocket while he was sitting in Fenway Park waiting to see if the baseball game was going to be rained out.

These are some other things that we do as a household to make our life a "green life". We raise chickens. Chickens are the vacuum cleaners of the bird world. We save kitchen scraps as compost for the garden. Chickens eat a lot of it and move it along yet one step further in the compost process from scrap to manure.
They are good eaters of garden pests and insects as well and by their scratching even contribute to the weeding efforts of the gardener. My chickens all have names, not recommended if your plan is ultimately the stew pot. Ours just give us wonderful eggs. We use the egg whites to freeze as our own "Egg Beaters". Eggs also supplement our dogs' food instead of canned.
If you keep a fish tank, use a vacuum hose or buckets and empty the rich water at changing time directly into your garden area. If you raise pet birds or rodents such as gerbils or hamsters, their cage materials can be added to a compost pile when necessary as well.
We also share our life with two pot bellied pigs. These fellows create wonderful manure in handy to collect pellets which, even fresh, seem to please every variety of plant I have dug it in around. If their enthusiasm is corralled and channeled, they can "help" break ground with their strong snouts and shoulders. They also work mulch in as they root through its fascinating scents and textures This aerates the soil and provides a talkative gardening companion who get some much needed stimulation, too .
We eat primarily a vegetable diet, most of which we raise ourselves and share with our animal friends.. The weeds from the garden go to the chickens to sort through with much commentary and joy. What we do not grow ourselves, we try our best to purchase from local and county farmers. We freeze or can produce each summer . One of our small annual goals is to serve a Thanksgiving dinner comprised only of things we raised ourselves. From potatoes to squash to pumpkin pie and jams.
Hang the laundry to dry. A recent statistic from the paper cited energy use from drying clothes to be higher than any other source in an average household. Sun is a great natural bleach. Rain a great fabric softener. Air costs nothing and wind doesn't make greenhouse gases. And you yourself get a break from typing at the computer. You get some weight lifting exrecise and walking. And if your cats are like ours, we have two who enjoy nothing more than climbing up the laundry posts and being "wild" or snuggling in the basket of clean laundry as it is folded, while we hang clothes up or take them down.
These are just a few examples today of how this writer's household stays "green". Look forward to more and an informative reference of books and sites for further info.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good Times, Moving On--Nestle's Story Part VI to conclusion

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Good Times, Reconstruction, Moving On—Nestle’s Story Part IV.

One of the first small acts I did for myself that first evening, was to lean against the bathroom sink, and with hand tremors and blurred vision, I plucked my eye brows.
I could see that half my face sagged on the right side. I felt the numb tingles and strange awarenesses of each tooth itching in its socket. The roof of my mouth shifted like tectonic plates.

I tried to take a shower but the nerves in my skin “told” me that the warm water was hot dry air full of needles. I could not tolerate it. I smoothed lotion on after, only to erupt in “burning” all over, a few minutes later. Back to the shower to wash it off, wash it off. The lotion went down the drain, but not the bizarre neural activity.
My heart was skipping and going through as many as 32 episodes a day of paroxysmal atrial tachycardia. Each time it could not slow on its own. I had to lie down, chug water to counter-stimulate the nerve supply to both stomach and heart and diaphragm—vagus nerve, in other words. There was also a complicated breathing exercise that I used to trigger the shut-off of the wild beat. And last resort, but most dangerous, I’d have to massage the carotid bodies in my neck. This causes fainting.



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In between, I learned what the combination of being able to feel every single heart beat all day, all night, at rest, during activity, and insomnia does to a person’s mind. I understood Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” in a way I had not when I read it as a child. Wished I did not.
Eventually, I decided to see a cardiologist who explained to me that those drugs had damaged both the nodes in the heart. The nodes are the hub of electrical activity in the heart muscle itself. One node regulates how fast the heart is beating. The other gives us feedback on awareness of the beat. In a normal person the constant beating is not felt because the node and brain work together to over-ride that awareness. Just as the brain and eyes work to censor out our knowledge of the nose visually sticking out between our eyes or else we’d be so distracted looking at our nose, we’d constantly crash into things..

I was unable to sleep. The barrages of drugs had left my brain surging and wildly trying to balance its own chemicals in an erratic chaos. A normal shift such as that in a monthly menstrual cycle or a daily cycle of waking to sleep-- those kinds of internal chemical changes—all were totally disrupted. I suppose it was meltonin surges at night that would trigger the heart arrhythmias. Snapping me to wakefulness.

In the first months, my skin did not sweat nor did my eyes make tears well. My genital area was dry. I was unable to regulate temperature or to perceive it accurately. One winter blizzard, I insisted on walking along the canal during a white-out. I was wearing Birkenstock sandals,



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a light weight summer vest over a tee-shirt no gloves no hat. My husband brought me back to the car because my skin everywhere became blue. I did not feel it.

My bladder and bowel control was confused. I never felt any need to go. I ended up sitting on the toilet every few hours and waiting to hear the sound of urine. In that way only did I know I had gone. My stomach often simply vomited back something I had just swallowed. Without nausea, a simple reflex.
My diaphragm and lungs and vocal chords also all motivated by neural function were very weak. I could no longer talk on the telephone. I could not raise my voice enough to be heard. Nor could I follow a conversation. My mind would struggle and drift away in buzzing silence as I watched others around me speak.

The outlook was bleak. My psychiatrist began researching every resource he had available to see what was wrong and if this was, in fact, drug damage how long before I felt normal again. One of the lowest moments was the telephone call where he told me the longest case history he found was a man who had this withdrawal disorder lasting one and a half years.
In one of the deepest depressions and hopelessnesses I have ever experienced I finally asked my internist for something for sleeping. Psychiatrist would not give it. Two years I lived with only an hour or so sleep a week. The insomnia was torture. The rest was bad

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Enough, but not to be able to get away from my discomfort and my mind at night doubled it. I wanted to die. For six months after I had filled the prescription for sleep medication, I refused to take any. I tried Melatonin, Valerian, chamomile tea, exercise, hot baths..most all had a paradoxical effect of stimulating me rather than calming. Many nights I sat in the dark on the toilet lid holding the bottle of sleep pills in my hand. Finally setting them back with the thought, “as awful as this is tonight I can make it. I won’t end my life tonight.”
It was not love for my husband that underlined this decision for I was having a lot of difficulty processing his not having called an ambulance. It was Nestle. She rode in my shirts more often than before. She came every night . She washed me every night . She purred , dug her claws in my chest. She positioned herself over the flailing heart. She pressed on it. This was the only time it slowed.
She and I were two voyagers alone in a black sea of despair and endless night. I would’ve given up a hundred times over if that little cat had not pricked and licked and shoved me into this life. I talked to her. I made a deal with her. I promised her I would not die. I would not leave her as long as she did not leave me. I understood how fragile the basket was where I laid my life down. She held me tight. This the only basket I had left.

Was it all bad? No, it wasn’t. At heart, I am hopelessly pragmatic. I took my life into my own hands on a daily basis. Whether this involved staggering weakly behind a huge vacuum cleaner for the first time again in 10 years, cleaning my own of house of the

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horrible mess that resulted from hired help and sickness, feebly shoving the mop around, or flailing a long, razor-sharp chef’s knife like a character in a scene from a bad sword-apprentice movie to cut vegetables for recipes, I tried. I was more comfortable in motion, so move I did. Walking, biking, swimming, cross country skiing, moving moving moving. I hoped to wear myself out, and regain strength, to retrain the pathways between nerve, brain, and body parts into healing. It was an act I could do, as opposed to passive sit-and-wait-and-hope.
The area of my brain and body that connected on emotions was out of wack as well. I felt few emotions except anger, grief, or despair..I wondered where had the happy peaceful satisfied joyful group of emotions gone?
I was unable to write poetry. I could not feel the place it came from inside myself. I stood grief stricken before a four -drawer file cabinet of all the poetry I’d written since I was 14 years old. Thinking “it is the past now. That part of me has died.”
I began a program-- I loosely call it that, where I put myself through the motions of any activity that I could remember had given pleasure. My reasoning was this. Go through the motions maybe eventually the emotions would come back.
My brain seemed to assign itself tasks as well. For instance how things fit together fascinated me. I became interested in cooking in a way I had never tried before. Especially Asian cuisines that included many ingredients chopped finely and added at certain intervals. I could not read a book for pleasure, my eyes would not track—however it was possible in glimpses and starts to read a recipe. I developed a fine-tuning for the ways flavors combined. I grew herbs. Experimented with seasonings . Journeyed the



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world of international cooking. Devised comparative experiments such as “the meat pastry as it appears in various different cultures.” Nestle was my traveling companion. She sat either next to the butcher block on a stool watching, or in my shirt ..She sampled many a strange concoction.
I was ravenous, for good nutrition, not junk. At this time I consumed the most enormous salads with every vegetable possible cut into them every day. I ate a lot of fruit. I craved dairy. Meat. Fish. Through the endless sleepless nights, my body purged itself. Often I had to get up to urinate every ten minutes for 6 hours. I would then appear visibly less “swollen” by daylight. I tried my best to listen to this body over the hectic noise of its irritated brain and nerve cells. I tried to support it in the ways it asked for. I trusted if I did so, healing was occurring. I trusted that some day, who knew when, I would feel “normal” again.
I began to rearrange furniture in rooms. I repaired many broken items thrown carelessly into the store room. I laboriously dragged box after box up into daylight and tried to reconstruct the woman I had been. Tried to remember. I’d show Nestle a treasure from the past. She often came and climbed into empty boxes and played “pounce” while I searched. She often rode on my shoulder, peering down into something along with me.

I painted the walls in all the rooms. Replaced such things as curtains that I could. I was not able to use power tools nor to drive as I did not trust my reflexes yet. I assembled my


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life by hand with hand tools, one day at a time. I began to understand how more things went together. How a composition was made into a whole. I constructed a coffee table terrarium. Filled it with small lizards and toads. Nestle and some of the other cats would line up like people in a movie theater and watch the lives enacted inside its safe glass walls.
I freed my canaries into the two solar rooms. They nested among plants hanging there and raised young. Sometimes I took photos though the camera was heavy to me now and I often forgot how to work it. Nestle rode on my back into the canary room . She “ack-acked” lovingly at them “Here! come into my mouth, birdie, birdie”
I ripped bushels of weeds out of my front garden. I unearthed the remnants of what had once been beautiful. I stood in my frigid garden pond sucked on by leeches—a thing that actually made my legs feel better temporarily-- and cut out masses of roots to reveal one water lily still surviving. I planted bulbs and seeds. Pruned and dug and composted.
On sunny still afternoons, against all good judgement, I carried Nestle outside with me. She sat in the sun on the walk. Never strayed far. I never left her alone. It meant the


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world to have her with me. I can still see her sitting on the flag-stone path, as she gazed up at a Queen Anne’s lace flower, to study the bees and ants crawling there. “Ack-ack” she murmured. “here, my little twist’ems.”
One of the biggest memories I regained was of my desire to have a baby. It was, at this time, too late since my husband had undergone radiation therapy for the prostate cancer. So we looked online for a sperm bank and began months of charting my cycle and having sperm shipped. I was 46. This resulted in one pregnancy of very short duration.
Next, we searched out an in vitro specialist and made an appointment. I discussed the drug years in complete frankness with him. I wondered if he had any experience with other women like myself. He had not but he did feel that my use of my own eggs was no longer safe. So we enlisted the help of a donor of eggs. And one for sperm. I tolerated the month long program of injections and pills reasonably well in my post-drugged state. I was full of hope and faith, that after so much loss and pain, this one act would be blessed and work out well. I had four healthy embryos, They put back two at a time. My test was positive. I carried healthy twins and much excitement. A week later out on a canal walk, cramps came and then bright red blood and it was over. Just like that.
I was 47 years old.



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The strange neural activity or brain chemical imbalance continued with no end in sight. We tried reflexology. I found quite randomly that when my husband rubbed the arch of my left foot, it had a dramatic effect of moderating my heart beat. He’d rub my foot every night when we were ready for bed. In the worst of the insomnia, the only time I slept was during the actual rubbing.
The following summer my younger nephew was born on my birthday. We journeyed to the hospital after a bike ride to see him. I held his tightly swaddled little body in my arms against my chest. When he began to whimper, almost without thinking about it, I rubbed his left foot. Like me, he calmed down. My studies for my degree in child development and infancy kicked in in my memory. I had often thought or said aloud that some of the places my body seemed to be, were not unlike the developmental phases a child goes through.
Several doctors and a chiropractor I consulted agreed that most likely the drugs had changed the chemical composition of the fluid surrounding the myelin sheaths of my nerve cells. In essence, it was polluted and could not properly conduct electrical impulses. As my psychiatrist summed it up “Your nerve cells were marinating in chemicals.” My chiropracter put it this way. “They treated your brain like a car. They went under the hood and tinkered with every little thing. You can’t tinker with an organ comprised of over a billion cells. They used you like a guinea pig.”
In addition, the fatty sheath of myelin itself was polluted. In many ways some of my symptoms and behavior presented like autism or multiple sclerosis. So my constant

peeing and swelling then unswelling made some sense. My body was dumping the chemicals and reconstruction went on. Though I’d had the breast reduction surgery in 95, my breasts now 6 years later swelled to their original size again.


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All this time I was unable to wear shoes. I have no idea why but if there was a shoe between my foot and the ground I became totally disoriented and dizzy. The only foot gear tolerable was the faithful Birkenstock. I keep that pair, carefully wrapped, I walked out of Hell on them with Nestle in my tee-shirt. The bottoms are worn
clean through.
I couldn’t wear hats or my glasses or brush my hair for all caused headaches and weird head sensations. I bought a bag of Atomic Fireball candies to suck on while bike riding and was shocked one day to find a large oozing blister inside my cheek. My mouth was so numb I’d never felt the burning. My brother still tells of the dinner when I liberally sprinkled crushed red pepper on my pizza and did not feel it.
I could not wear jewelry or long sleeves. I could barely stand clothes at all. That first horrible winter passed with me sleeping in only a loose undershirt with an old ratty comforter for warmth. Legs stuck almost totally out. Feet off the bed. I often ended up on the floor or a futon because something about the hardness took away many strange feelings of motion.
I could not look at the television, and using the computer to type a short email made my heart rate zoom up to 140 bpm and stay there for hours. I learned to cover my eyes and to listen to TV. To this day certain narrators’ voices make me relax..I felt like a child with a bed time story..
I kept the house lights dim as I could not tolerate too much light. I studied circadian rhythms and how to regulate the body’s internal clock. I read up on making a bedroom sleep-friendly. What colors and textures and sounds to use. I bought one of those Nature Sound machines to listen to the “ocean waves” track. I also tried a massage mat that had electric vibration. A few times I fell asleep lulled by its motion, with Nestle tucked against my hip. Massage therapy, acupuncture.
I began to use a sheet made out of jersey material wrapped tightly around my body when in bed. Something about the constant pressure of it across my forearms and calves relieved a lot of my sense of disorientation. I used a weighted bag of beans over my eyes. There are approximately 40 trigger points in the eye socket area. If I shifted the bag carefully, I could also calm many sensations in that way.

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I found even more memorable former activities to try. Canoeing, kayaking. Hiking. Ballet exercise. Weights. I stimulated as many old motor-nerve pathway memories as I knew how. I prayed so doing would bring back the sensories as well.
I followed as many programs on the Discovery channel and PBS as I could find on the topic of nerve damage, brain function, and research. I also looked online and discovered two seminal authors, both psychiatrists. Peter Breggin MD author of “The Prozac Backlash” and John Glenmullin MD who wrote “Your Drug May Be Your Problem:How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medication”. There were others. I was stunned. Rather than the rare event my psychiatrist was now telling me this was, “It

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wasn’t supposed to happen,” rather than my now truly being “crazy” there were hundreds of online sites which validated my experience. Tons of information flying around.
This same doctor tried to support me by saying “Nobody gets from where you were to here. You did what few do.”
Today I have enduring problems doing math. Adding and subtracting in my checkbook can be a disaster. I don’t measure when I cook. That usually turns out well.

I was devastated by the death of my dream of being a mother. I sank into an even deeper depression. We did not have the money to try again.
Years had passed since my husband’s retirement. All his professional life he focused on being a great healer. I believe he was very gifted in that regard. Unfortunately part of that for him involved eschewing all things monetary as somehow tainted. It did not help that his ex-wife was totally in love with money and the status of physician’s wife.
My husband lent money to anybody who asked or simply gave it away. He accepted payment in a crate of tomatoes from someone’s garden.
As laudable as one aspect of this is, the other side of it was sort of a suicide.
He trusted his financial advisor and investment firm without question. The monthly statements came and even in my altered state I could see the size of the pie on the pie graph becoming smaller and smaller. I would ask him, heart in my mouth, were we going to lose our house? And he always reassured me that no, everything was fine.



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One morning I awoke at 6 a.m. It was January 22. I got up to feed the cats. Nestle was curled against my side and pillows. I brought her dish of canned food into the bed room because she often ate in bed when it was so cold. She had so little hair. I set the dish down in front of her. She turned away and averted her eyes from mine. Instantly as well as I knew my own name, I knew she was dying. Thus began a hideous number of hours of agony—should I call the emergency veterinarian? could we afford it? Should I wait for our own veterinarian to open his office for the day? He knew her history after all. Or was there antibiotic left in the large bottle from the pharmacy up the street? I ran to find it hope high in my mind. Empty. The pharmacy was not yet open for business either. I wanted my husband to write a new prescription. I felt if we gave her the antibiotic we’d fallen back on so many times in her life, she would surely be ok.
In the end, I decided to wait for her own vet. I laid carefully back down in bed cradling her against my right arm. She would not make eye contact. I hardly dared breathe I was so scared. I was afraid to jostle her. Just the night before at bedtime she had played chase with me on the stairway. She’d beaten up my fingers. I could not imagine what was wrong. I tried to pet her . She cried out, jumped out of the bed and ran away from me. I found her in a chair with her friend Monkey. She would not look at me. I decided to respect her space and left them alone.
9 o’clock rolled around. I phoned the vet. They said to bring her right over.


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As we drove up the street my little cat in her carrier with her back turned to the world, and to me, a mist was rising off the hedges. Tears filled my eyes. It was a January thaw. It seemed like a bandit that had come to steal my girl.
We arrived at the vet’s. Still she would not allow us to see anything but her back. They told me to leave her with them. He would check her out and give me a call.
I went home feeling a tiny bit better.
I had decided to paint the bedroom that week. I chose a rich cantaloupe color because Nestle loved cantaloupe so much. I worked on the walls all morning. At noon the doctor phoned. She had a slight ear infection and was a bit dehydrated. I was worrying for nothing. She’d be fine. He suggested I leave her there overnight so he could give her sub-cu fluids. I felt a weight roll off my chest. Of course she was okay! How silly of me….besides I had this long-standing deal with God that I would tolerate all the losses and bad things in the world He heaped on me…except one place was off-limits—sacred. No touch. And that was where Nestle was concerned.
I ate lunch. Took a shower. Painted some and sat down to read a Dean Koontz book. Something with “Dragon” in the title….Around 2:30 p.m. I decided to go back upstairs to paint a little more. My hand was raised above my head applying a stroke of orange paint along the moulding when the phone rang. It was 3:30. I felt like throwing up. In one second ..there was nothing left.
As an afterthought almost, I picked up the receiver and said “yes?” I heard his voice. The doctor began “Nestle was doing well. I had given her some antibiotics for the ear and had

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sub-cu fluids going. She was resting comfortably and talking to me. I was examining a cat in the cage next to her when I heard a yowl. I realized it was Nestle. I yanked open her cage. Her heart had stopped. I tried everything I knew how to do to make her heart start beating again. It did not.” I stood there, amazed at those words uttered exactly as they say them on a TV show…. and simply mumbled “I’ll be right there.”
I hung up the phone, turned to my husband and said calmly “Nestle died.”
Then the pain hit. I did not know how my body could contain such an explosion of pain. We got into the car, sped to the animal hospital. I stumbled into the waiting area. Nobody was there except the receptionist. She got up and brought Nestle’s body to me.
“It is a cold day for burying” was all I said.
On the street I opened the carrier and felt her warm body. I pulled her out and cried, touching my tears to her still face. I painted my own tears on her eyelids praying, begging God that this would wake her up. I opened my shirt and put her little body in next to my skin, my breasts, my heart. I prayed to God, please God, if there is a God, please to let my heart beat for us both. God and Nestle’s heart were silent.
I knew this day was the last day I would ever have Nestle to ride with me in my clothing…The agony of that awareness was almost more than I could bear.
How did the day and night pass...like a nightmare..I had cramps in my arm muscles I held her so tightly. I remember sitting at the dinner table. I don’t know that I ate. There was a candle.


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I clung to her. I pretended it was a normal night. I tried to be insane and believe it. I was wearing old bib overalls and a tee shirt and a fleece jacket.
Later, I carried her upstairs and laid her out on the bed alone. Gently, I stroked her suede skin. I carefully clipped a tiny bit of hair from her tufted ears and her smokey tail. I put it in a tiny ornate box. I clipped her toenails. I washed her where the marks from the fluids stained her fur. I spoke words to her. A long while later, I understood I could no longer keep her body by me. One of the most unbearable things I had to do was carry her to the spare bedroom. I tucked her into a soft cat bed-bag I had given her on her last birthday. I lit the lamp and laid her there for the night with the door closed. I went to bed without her for the first night in 9 years. I was lost. I was crazy. I no longer cared.
Of course, I did not sleep. Of course, I lost my voice from crying and pain. Now finally I was truly crazy.
In the wee hours of morning I decided to call a local animal crematorium. There as absolutely no way I could put her in the cold ground. I made an appointment that morning and we drive over. Nestle rode inside my shirt that last car trip. I sat in the reception area and spoke to the kind woman who took down all the pertinent information. Tears poured down my face without stopping. At the last, I opened my jacket and removed her body. This woman did not even blink. I passed her over as if I were passing the most precious life I had. Indeed so I was.


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And then there was nothing left to do except leave. The ashes were to be ready the end of the next day. She promised me Nestle would go alone. That the ashes I retrieved would be just hers.
How did my life go on after this ultimate betrayal by God?
Well, I walked miles and miles. I could not stay in the house. I sat in the cat room of the local SPCA and offered my lap and soft hands to cats who had lost their human families. Cats as bereft as I. I donated cat food.
I befriended a few cat rescue people. I searched for her. I looked in the eyes of stuffed cats in toy stores and real cats in pet shops and shelters. I looked for her everywhere. I searched for her on the internet with my email address that is/was her name and birth date. I hoped somehow there truly would be some magical portal as I sat before the glowing screen in the deep night, a portal by which she could reach me….I bought a simple silver band, had it engraved with her name and birth date and have never taken it off my finger. I went to a local tattoo artist with photographs of Nestle. The artist applied ink to my shoulder and my breast bone from photos of Nestle in those very spots. Tears rolled slwoly over my cheekbones. The pain was appropriate. She is safe against my heart now.



At some point during this time, I adopted several homeless stray cats. I felt urged, compelled. I kept moving. I felt as if she were telling me “I want you to take your grief and use it. Give shelter to those who have none. Share your space. Don’t just sit there.”


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I created a sacred space on a shelf where her ashes sat in my bedroom. I lit a candle for her every night and every day. I collected all the photographs of her I could find, desperate for the day when I knew I would find the very last shot. I collected her toys and blankets and anything else that she had loved in one space. I tried to make a place of power that there too, might be a way she could re-connect with me.
I stood in Walmart chekcout one day filled with the enormous sadness over her loss that had become as frequent a companion as she herself had been. I was praying I suppose you could say in my head...for her to know me still. I reached my hands deep into the pockets of my shorts to still their shaking. Touched a crumpled paper in one. Pulled it out and unrolled it. Lo and behold, it was an old photo of her beloved face. Steadily her eyes gazed at me from the picture. I felt instantly better. I changed my plan and walked back to the photo developing department to use the Kodak picture maker to copy and enlarge this wonderful find. This is the portrait I still keep today.
I went to a pet store and purchased a copy of Cat Fancy magazine. I sat at the computer and googled all the Devon rex breeders, I could find. Broadcasting my pain, knowing they would understand. Walt and Carol received a note from me. They were no longer able to raise cats due to their own health issues.
One day I happened upon this site. Sandfield cattery. I clicked on the photo album. Scores of gorgeous winged faces looked back at me impossibly huge eyes and beautiful bodies. Tears laked my face. I whispered..”here..might be a soul..who would know my Nestle…”
I had no intention of “replacing her”. I simply had to have tasks to get up for every day or I would’ve gone insane with grief.
I struck up an email correspondence with the breeder at Sandfield. Shared my story. Months later she mentioned that she was expecting a litter to be born on Aril 16. Nestle had been born on April 14. This seemed not accidental.
Sandy told me all the kittens were spoken for and her waiting list was long. I was still eager to see the photographs of the parents and the new babies.


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And so ..and so……impulsively I sent Sandy a deposit on one little female seal-point in April.
And found myself on the highway to the airport another July right before my birthday.
Katie came into my life. She was irresistible . At this very moment as I type this story she sits on my shoulders preening.

I understood the risks of adopting a new cat similar in looks to one lost. Katie and I had a lot of tense moments because in spite of my best intentions I grew angry with her for not being Nestle. She demanded to be loved for herself, on her own terms. I wanted comfort. What a pair we were.
Months passed. We grew to know one another. I worked on my issues. I grieved for Nestle. One early morning before I left the bed, I looked up at the ceiling and cried out from my heart “Please, Nestle give me one small sign…so that I know you are still aware of me…so lost here without you..” and then I got out of bed and wandered in to breakfast.
Everyday for breakfast I ate a banana. When Nestle had been alive she was the only cat I have ever known who would run into the kitchen to hop up and beg for her piece of banana. She would eat it every day. The vet and I often laughed over this peculiar habit. He did not know of any other cats who ate them either.
This morning I was sipping my coffee and had just set my uneaten banana half down on the plate, when in ran Katie. Up she hopped like one possessed onto the butcher block. Leaned down and as fast as she could, bit a chunk of banana, swallowed it while glaring

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at me, then jumped off and ran away. I was instantly covered in a film of sweat. Nestle had heard me. She had answered. I was stunned.
Katie has never since, and she is now 6 years old eaten a banana nor showed any interest in the fruit at all.
More months passed and my worst fear, that we would lose our house came true. Between mismanagement and apathy my husband’s pension was gone. We could not stay. I was devastated. I could not imagine leaving the house I’d been married in, had known Nestle in, had buried others in its garden…
We were being mercilessly hounded by creditors. In a fever we tried to show the house and pretend it was a choice to move. We looked at other houses. I swore not to give up any animal who had joined its life to mine. No matter how poor we were, I would provide for them. It was the moral thing to do. It was an anchor for me as well.
We looked at many nice places and some hideous. We tried to make offers on several but things always fell through.
One long Sunday in April, we were driven by our realtor out to a tiny hamlet of which I had never heard. Erieville. We passed a few farms and entered the woods. Pulled into a driveway in a clearing of a small house with so much trash in the yard from the previous owner, I told my husband I refuse to get out of the car.
While the realtor was opening the lock-box, I opened the car door for air. Peace flowed in. It washed over me. In sort of a trance I got out. The trees murmured. Birds sang. The silence was astonishing.


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We went into the house’s tiny kitchen. A candle burned over the stove. I knew I was home. Several months and many mishaps later found us one summer night at 11:30 with a cat rescue friend who had volunteered both her crates and her van to move the animals. She waited impatiently at the curbside, as I ran into my old house one last time. I raced up the stairs where Nestle and I had played pounce to grab, her shelf, the one with her ashes and photos and keepsakes. I ran back and climbed into the van. I told my friend I could not sleep in the new space without this.
So we moved to Jones Rd.
All this time I was still plagued by post-drug symptoms, insomnia, pain, pounding heart beat….I was still after 6 years unable to write poetry. I felt half dead between the loss of my old life, loss of Nestle and loss of poetry inside me. I was numb. Disconnected.
Fall. Winter. Seasons. Rhythms. I walked in the field every chance I could, even in snow up to my thighs. The cycle of nature soothed my many-times broken heart.
One day, while running the dogs in my enormous rubber boots, halfway down the field to the pond I felt a tickle inside me. A familiar sensation. My head began to…. make words. I stopped walking. It was a…POEM. I shouted! Jumped in the air. I felt so good not to be NUMB! Tripped on the boots in my hurry to reach the house and find a notebook and a pen, any paper at all to write on. So, I wrote “Winter Chorus”.
Late November a stray cat straggled up our driveway. Though Katie now had my full love and attention, I had never stopped looking for Nestle. This cat was thin. She left bloody stools and vomit on the stoop. I was afraid. But I could not just leave her to die. I did not know if she was a she or he and was not able to touch or even get a good look at the cat. Every time I came close, it ran. Yet the spirit of Nestle burned bright within me and so after watching this cat struggle in indecision one frigid winter day from my kitchen window, I left a can of cat food under my car. Thus I met her, face to face, at last. “Girlie.” Sometime around Christmas I wrote a poem about her. I entitled it simply “Girlie.”
In January , I happened to glimpse a snippet of newspaper announcing a big

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local poetry and art contest as I spread newspapers by the back door to use as an instant door mat. I leaned down and read more carefully. There was a blizzard outside that day.
I ripped the clipping out and went to the dining room table where my computer sat. I printed” Winter Chorus” and “Girlie”.
I thought “what the hell..nothing to lose”
I hiked to the mailbox in those same rubber boots snow pouring in over their tops. I was sure postal delivery would not happen this day. But I put the red flag up anyhow. And she did deliver. My poems were entered. I forgot about it. More poetry came into my head and heart in dribs and trickles. I was so careful to breathe softly on this new ember as it warmed to life. I had missed this for so long.


One day my husband hollered to me from where I worked outdoors that there was a phone-call. He explained to me when I came inside that a woman who was part of the National League of American Penwomen had received my entry but that I had not


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included the entry fee. They were wondering if I could send a check so that my entries would be open for consideration. Of course, I could!
A month later, early, early spring found me schlumping my way to the mailbox in those rubber boots. I was not thinking of anything in particular. Smelling the scents of spring listened to the bird song. Reveling in the absence of harsh sounds of city life. I pulled the mail from the tube. Riffled through. There was an envelope addressed to me from NLAPW. My heart sank. I thought “Oh gee, what have I done wrong now?” I opened it none-the-less. Inside was an announcement. It said :
“Dear Rachael,



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we are pleased to announce that your poem “Winter Chorus” has won first prize and that your other poem” Girlie” has won an HM. Congratulations!”
I couldn’t figure out what HM stood for. I actually looked behind myself to see who this letter was truly for. Then it hit me. I jumped inside the boots. I screamed. I whooped and ran. I slammed through the door calling to my husband. He was washing dishes at the kitchen sink. I shook the letter at him. I blurted out “I won, I won!!!!!!!!!!!!!”. We stood in the dusk light with our arms around each other, tears pouring down both our faces.

Among the people I shared this amazing news with was my friend and Katie’s breeder, Sandy. Her daughter wrote poetry too. We corresponded daily. Among the many topics we conversed about was the history of Nestle and of Sandy’s original cat, Angel. One day she sent the pedigree for Katie. There, seven spaces down on both her father’s side and her mother’s was the name of Nestle’s father. Higgins. Incredibly, in my deep dark grief all those years ago with all the cats in the world to choose from, I had found Nestle’s “grand-daughter”. I laughed. I cried. I hugged Katie. Angel and Nestle were half sisters born a week apart in 1993.
Winston Churchill was famous for many things among them his dark depressions and love of animals. Imagine, for a moment, in the context of my medical tragedy, how the course of history might’ve been altered, had Sir Winston been put on Prozac. It is a scary thought. Anyway he said that one of the endearing things about humans is our capacity to

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love animals..living beings which we can be assured most of the time will die before us and leave us bereft. And yet we continue to give our hearts to them unabashedly. When Nestle died, many pop culture sayings came across my desk. One of which is “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I certainly did not think so then. I wondered as well, what was the worth of having been so blessed and lucky, only for the blessing to pass on out of my reach.
Today, I have no doubt that the angel God assigned to watch over this one human life-- a poet’s life in the woods, will keep me company all my days on earth. Why was she sent? I don’t know. I only know to be grateful beyond words.

In the last few years, I have won a total of 8 prizes in achievement in the field of poetry writing. I found a writers group in Canastota Public Library and attended my first gathering of peer poets and writers since I was an 8th grader. I reconnected with my 8th grade English teacher. She was present, looking pretty much the same as ever at 72, red pen poised, to watch me receive my first prize.
I have published my first chapbook, other poems, and founded an open mic night for poets and other writers in nearby Hamilton. I fellowshipped into two writers conferences. I write every day. I rediscovered and breathed back to life a childrens’ novel begun in those dark years when Nestle was young and I was sick.




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My husband and I separated a few years ago. The sum toll and total of negative experiences we shared far out-weighed the small positives we began with as a couple.

A neighbor’s daughter “outed” me and broke my heart, one more time. I accepted my lesbianism at age 52.

I did apply to grad school. It was past deadline and I did not get in, but I did this act for its own sake because action is good, and paralysis frightening.
I could not reconstruct that woman who was lost to the drugs and therapy. None of us can go back. Instead, I invented a new one and grow into her skin every day.
Nestle’s traveling companion Monkey died this year at age 15 of kidney failure. We took him to the veterinarian for the final shot to help him pass. As I held him for one last hug, I realized “Oh! he is going to see Nestle in a minute. Tell her….” So much to tell. I had faith he would.
That evening was beautiful spring in Central New York. I chose a flowerbed near my rhubarb plant for his grave. We dug a huge hole. Somewhere during the dig, I understood that I finally wanted to lay Nestle’s ashes, too, to rest with her friend. And Annie-cat’s bones which I had dug up from my old garden back when I knew I had to leave my house, and my little dogs’, Pooh and Phyllisie.
This was a radical notion to me, that after carrying those ashes of my beloved cat, I was going to let the earth hold her at last, in its warm, brown, hands. I stood forlornly



Alone next to my side of the bed with photos and keepsakes and the small box of ash that still, in its way, felt like the weight of that dear body all jumbled in my arms.


Finally the hole was deep enough. Carefully, I put Nestle and the others inside the cloth cat-bag present for her birthday long ago, with Monkey’s body. I rolled the metal wire bag top tightly shut. Nestle was inside the bag, inside a tiny metal tin which was inside an oak urn box. In the back of my mind some part of me thought “Well, if I have to, I can come get her.”
But this act of releasing her to the earth, as scary as that was, after the responsibility of carrying her for six years through three moves, symbolized for me my own roots-- of place, of my relationship with Erin—for better or worse… Jones Rd. is “forever” , the place we each take our stand as individuals adn as a couple.
I’d gone on Match.com awhile ago at the urging of a writers’ group friend to look for the woman of my dreams. In Erin, I’ve found her.
I decorated the top of the grave with interestingly self-sculpted driftwood. Mulch from the free mulch pile at our landfill. Several rocks from the property. We weeded thoroughly.
The next morning I dug up two sucker lilac bushes that grew at woods’ edge and transplanted them as sentinels, one on either side of the grave. I hung two sets of wind-chimes in the small poplar there and a sun/moon birdhouse. “Ack ack”the wind chime


whispers “ack ack, my girl”…Last of all I stood a decorative ornamental iron rod from which hangs a blue-green ball in the ground. The ball would glow in the dark, I was told, after a day in sunlight.




Erin and I fall asleep each night under the watchful eyes of Nestle’s portrait on the wall over our bed. Katie’s ears silhouette the darkness as she sits on my chest, digs her claws in a tiny bit, washes my face and purrs...her un-tender ministrations continue to help with the enduring pain and strange neural and brain messages, as the broken systems still try to heal, to try to find their way, their own long road home after all these years. Little by little, I have come to accept the awful fact of consequences to actions: that those chemicals changed my body permanently and that I must live around pain and go on..because it is the only life I will be allowed. Not to do so would be the ultimate disrespect for the gift of an angel that God sent me so many years ago to ensure that I would, in fact, live.
Last night I awoke and came downstairs near 3 a.m. as I most often do since the drug crash. I happened to look out the north window of our bedroom as I stepped over a sleeping dog. I love to look out there in the night. Without city, light, noise or people, I hope to see wild animals right below..or who knows what? Mystery, magic…This warm night, the first of July, as I watched, fireflies flickered and spun all over the the lawn, the trees, the fields. As if the texture of darkness were alive with glitter!. And then my eyes drifted sleepily over to Nestle’s resting place. There, over that sweet small body the glow of the ghostly blue-green ball shone at me like the Mother moon itself. A deep sigh climbed the ladder of my ribs and drifted from my lips. She is everywhere.

racahel z ikins 7/08


The End

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nestle's Story

Nestle at 4 months, the day after her long walk down the stairs....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nestle's Story--Story of an Angel--memoir Part III

by Rachael Z. Ikins

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We sometimes traveled short trips, for instance to several doll and teddy bear shows New York City or Pennsylvania. Nestle’s condition relapsed often when the weather became cooler. So I would leave her with the veterinarian to board. I was not willing to trust her to a neighbor.
After one such trip when I went in to pick her up, the techinician, after telling me what a love Nestle was, asked me to wait to speak to the vet. The vet explained to me that because of the human eye-level of cage she had been staying in, one of the girls noticed a shadow in her left eye and brought it to the attention of the doctors.
They led me into the exam room to show me. Sure enough when the penlight was shined into her eye I could see a network of fine blood vessels behind the cornea. Nobody knew
why they were growing there, only that it would take her sight.
Thus began a seemingly endless series of visits, medications and procedures to save her eye. Nothing worked. Eventually, she developed a cataract there as well. Theory had it her eye was susceptible due to the damage from the old URI. We ended up driving her to Cornell to see a reknowned feline opthamologist. One trip down, I could not stand to have her shut up in the carrier. She laid on the dashboard basking in the heat from the defroster. She smiled at me.
He told me that cats’ eyes are very unforgiving to injury. A horse, on the other hand, can get a scratch that heals in just a few days. Cats' eyes develop endless complications.
I had to leave her at teh Veterinary School Clinic for surgery. They


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sewed her eye-lid shut, left it open on each end for inserting ointments from various tubes several times a day. Their thinking was if they used the eye’s own lid as a natural bandage to protect and lubricate it, the cornea would heal better.
Well, I don’t remember how long she had her eye shut this way. I remember her riding on the dashboard of the car down to Cornell basking in the heat like a little princess..I remember the veterinarian at Cornell and his students being absolutely capitivated by her..she played “pounce and chase the twistem” in the darkened radiology lab.
Her eye never recovered fully. In the proper light it was possible to see the film over her bright green left eye the rest of her life. The cataract did not worsen and at least the abraded cornea healed over.
Her sight was compromised but she wasn’t blind.

In summer of 1998 my therapist retired. At that time, I was still being given multiple doses of mind-numbing drugs for everything from bipolar disorder to OCD, psychosis, to anxiety and on and on. A tossed-salad of diagnoses and prescriptions and malpractice.
The psychiatrist who had first begun writing prescriptions at the request of my therapist moved away. He referred me to a new man, just finished with his residency. This was a time period in mental health treatment history when medication was seen as the new frontier. Talk therapy was considered old-fashioned.
This new psychiatrist and I had formed kind of a bond. He was a cat lover, too. He also was a gardener and a lover of poetry. He developed and offered some negative opinions


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about a therapist who would treat a patient as mine had me. As soon as I mentioned her retirement and that once again, whatever the newest drug was “it
was not helping” he suggested maybe I would like to stop taking meds...none them seemed to have made any difference over time. Maybe medication just was not for me.
Immediately, I concurred! I was very excited.
Over Labor Day weekend the week of the big”Labor Day Storm” of ’98, as it was called in our area, when we were without power in a large city for 8 days, I stopped all my meds. except one. I had not asked anyone how to reduce dosages. I did not know that with some of them abrupt withdrawal was extremely dangerous. I was simply ecstatic to be free of the chemicals that had so altered my life.
I descended into deep depression.. I was very irritable and anxious. I’d believed my feelings were a result of the power outage. Now, I know it was drug withdrawal symptoms.
I had also believed that my massive weight gain over that decade was due solely to drug side effects, not behavior. Many of the medications contained appetite stimulants as side/effects and others caused weight gain. In combinations, lots created fluid retention and swelling. I decided that September to go on a weight reduction diet too, to accelerate the weight loss as the drugs were removed. I chose the Slimfast plan..



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I had long since forgotten that I had once enjoyed biking and walking along the Canal. So, for exercise to help speed the weight loss, I walked the halls of the area’s largest Mall.
It seemed the size of two football fields, one on top of the other. I’d stop in Borders Books to have a raspberry mocha latte with skim milk, my one daily a reward for all the discomfort.
Each day, as we drove home and neared our neighborhood, I became very anxious as to where in the house Nestle was. If she was ok. If she was safe. I would end up running
from the car to unlock the door. Through the rooms of the house. As soon as I saw her my fear disappeared as if it had never been..
Meantime the last drug I was taking along with a bunch of varied herbal preparations was Klonopin. It is a relative of Valium. They are both derived from the family of drugs descended from the Valerian root. Way back in ‘91, I had been sure to tell the original prescribing psychiatrist that I wanted no Valium. Nothing addictive. He assured me he would not give it. It was only after months of swallowing the largest dose of Klonopin considered safe, that I looked it up one sleepless night in the PDR and realized I had been lied to.
I asked him next day. He said “Oh, it doesn’t matter really. Don’t worry about it. “
My new psychiatrist was alarmed at the Klonopin level. He decided the only safe plan was to plot a chart on a 12 month calendar of gradual reductions by half a pill at a time. One reduction on one end of a week, then half at the other end of the next week.


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Another negative effect of all the medications had been to put my young body in false menopause. Periods stopped. Sexual desire disappeared or became impossible. Bone density decreased dramatically. Arthritis had set in. I was in constant pain. Nerve damage occurred throughout my body. Plagued by bladder infections, incontinence, and lack of coordination. My memories were erased.
One particularly strange adverse event involved gynechomastia or abnormal breast growth. As a young woman, before medications I had had large breasts. Enough so that I was self-concious about them. But then, everybody has issues about their own body—this too small, that too big, that not enough. Its human.
As the early drugs took hold, I began to “out-grow” my bras. I was so confused. I did not understand. Years went by and no longer was I able to find any bra on the rack that I could squeeze into. I developed severe neck and shoulder pain.
With one tiny thread of rational thought, I decided to seek breast reduction surgery.
My husband suggested we try a colleague of his. That turned out to be a mistake. The man was clearly bigoted toward those with mental health issues. He was also offended by my weight. He promised me he would “contact my therapist” to make sure my desire for the surgery wasn’t a whim. He never called me back. In the mean time, my breasts grew yet larger and while hurt from the humiliation of that experience, I tried another plastic surgeon whose office was near my house.




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He had experienced his own hardships in life. He was a man of faith. He was kind. Five pounds of tissue were removed. In recovery, I almost bled to death. The nursing staff waited to call the doctor until I had been bleeding all day.
When he examined me at 10:30 that night and wheeled me into emergency surgery, I said to him “I don’t want to die.”
He replied “Oh, dying isn’t so awful.”
I understand now how very close to death I was. His gentle words were to prepare me if that was my fate.
I survived the surgery without anesthesia. Only a paralytic and a cover over my face ebcause my hematocrit or oxygen part of the blood was so low, the life-saving blood transfusion and two days later was home. It was the only time during her life that Nestle and I could not sleep together. The incisions on my chest were raw and painful. I went to recuperate in the spare bedroom. Night after night, she sat outside the door, often until dawn, meowing and calling to me. How I missed her!

She was such a funny little girl. She was no longer able to use her sense of smell as a legacy of her illnesses. Apparently this opened her palate to the world of vegetables. Her favorites included asparagus—she’d have her own spear on her own small plate, corn on the corn, and fruits, cantaloupe, and her absolute all-time favorite, bananas.
I ate a banana each morning at breakfast. She sat in my night gown extending a paw to bat at the fruit until I shared a piece with her. The vet and I figured her peculiar tastes might’ve arisen from her body’s need for nutrients in its compromised state.


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Cats tend to find their food and eat it because they can smell it. Nestle had a small pot belly. Unable to smell anything, she ate by sight.. A miracle all by itself.

She and I had both experienced near-death more than once. Our time together was precious to us. For my part, I would recite that children’s rhyme in my head with my own variation on the familiar words “I’m rocking my Nestle and Nestle’s don’t keep.”
I am so grateful to my common sense and awareness, bittersweet though it turned out, that whenever she came to me and asked to be picked up or petted or to climb down my clothing, I stopped what I was doing. I would set down the vacuum, stop typing, put the phone down, come inside when she called from the window, open my shirt…to the best of my recollection I was not once in to much of a hurry or too self-absorbed to respond to her. Looking back, I know I did not realize how few her days with me would turn out to be. I had thought I was simply mature enough to value the precious gift she was and the understanding that such gifts are rare. To savor them to their fullest.
It is good not to have regrets about this aspect of my life.

One of the first things the internist who was watching over my drug-reduction and weight loss suggested was estrogen replacement therapy. It was just when Prem-pro had come on the market. I tried it. Periods returned. Weight fell off me in spite of the remaining meds. Months passed. The other drug level went slowly down.


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In 1998 after 3 heart attacks and two failed stents, my husband had quadruple by-pass surgery. In June of ‘99 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer that did not respond to treatment. I was in a very fragile mental and physical state from the combination of drug reduction process and the fear of his death. I was also recovering a few memories in bits and pieces.

I had not spoken to my mother in three years nor my closest cousin in 9. In August of ‘99, my psychiatrist decided I should take Neurotin for anxiety, and Ambien because I
could not sleep. By end of September, I stopped the Neurontin. Ambien did not work. I was on a very low dose of the Klonopin by this time and very, very uncomfortable-- skin tingling, pulsations, numbnesses, anxiety through the roof, shortness of breath, racing heart; many episodes of paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, a rhythm disorder, headaches, nausea, flu-like symptoms, sleeplessness..its hard to remember them all.
My body had also started to swell again with fluid retention. All the friends from my former life had drifted away. I was isolated. I was constantly angry and confused..stumbled through the days as lost as before. My house was a chaotic mess.
By the end of October, my physical discomfort was unbearable. My psychiatrist felt confident that after week or so when I was off the stuff completely, I would feel quite normal again. And most importantly, be able to sleep.
One Sunday night cold and rainy in November, I flushed the last of the Klonopin down the toilet and took a photograph of it . I assembled a photograph-collage with of a Barbie




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doll, empty champagne bottles, pill containers and string, an anatomical model of a heart.and shot that composition for posterity with my Nikon F4.. Titled it “Nervous Breakdown”.
I began to have seizure-like activity those last days. Vomiting.
We went to bed that Sunday night. Nestle parked down by my left hip. In the wee hours around 2 a.m. I became unconscious. My husband woke up. He took my pulse. My heart beat was weak, irregular and thready. He made a decision not to telephone the ambulance. He said he figured my body would find its own way or not.
I came to at one point, drenched in sweat, covers thrown off. Fevered. I was paralyzed. I could not speak. Unconscious again.
Where I “was” all was black and stormy. I was as if in free-fall. I had no bearings, no self awareness. I was lost and hurtling toward death. And then, then… a warm pink light began to glow. In my altered state I conceptualized it as to my “left”. The ball of light grew bigger, more solid and clear. I ”clung to it”. The storm raged. I focused on that light. The light was all there was. Nothing else but darkness. I turned from the darkness. Hours passed. Nestle was there physically in bed next to my heart as it stuttered toward silence. She was the pink light. She lit that backness with the lamp of her soul, that I had an anchor to stay in this life. And so, because of her, I stayed.

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When watery dawn light entered the bedroom windows at 5 a.m., I finally regained consciousness. I laid there a moment, disoriented. My husband spoke to me. I don’t recall what he said. I decided to go to the bathroom. I swung my legs over the side of the bed. Nestle was sound asleep next to my thigh. She opened one green eye and chirped at me. I touched her fur. My body was trembling. I stood up. I went to take one step and collapsed in a heap on the floor. The nerves to my legs did not work. I could not walk. I could not swallow. I could not urinate . But, I was alive. Most amazing of all, I was in my “right mind” intact for the first time in ten long years.
to be continued....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nestle's Story: Part II

The Story of An Angel
by Rachael Z. Ikins continues....

Life is real. Bad things continue to happen no matter how much positive power is out there. My husband and I decided to adopt a few other new cats.
As any cat rescue shelter-worker or veterinarian or cat breeder knows, cats are very susceptible to upper respiratory illnesses. In large populations, they exchange germs freely. If one cat brings in a URI, soon it will pass through the entire household.


And so it was, eventually I adopted a cat who arrived with stuffy nose and medications for it. The person from whom I bought him, explained to me vaguely that he was not really responding to any of the medications, that it must be a virus-- but he was eating, and so” it didn’t matter.”

Research in recent years has shown cats to be very susceptible to calcii viruses which can affect any body part from the nasal membranes to the esophagus. However, back then I knew nothing and even if I had, was powerless under the influence of my own chemicals to make sound decisions.
Before she was 6 months old, Nestle had contracted the virus. Only, unlike other cats who had a mild runny nose, a few sneezes, and went on their way, she became deathly ill.

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I took her to the vet’s day after day. She lost weight. Her little body became limp and weaker. She could not see through the mucus discharge from her eyes and she could not breathe. Her lungs were affected as well. Why the vet did not tell me to euthanize her, I don’t know. Perhaps he did tell me and I refused. I believe, another Power was already at work in our lives at this time. Protecting both of us—though our existences defied all odds.
We used up all the types of medication available to treat Nestle. We sat with her in the closed bathroom every night and left the shower running for steam to loosen her chest congestion. We used an infant's ear bulb to try to suction the mess out of her tiny nostrils. The vet gave her subcutaneous fluids. We fed her a food slurry mixed in the blender with a small syringe to the mouth. I washed her back end with warm damp cloths because she could not get to the litter box. I washed her body becasue she could not clean herself.
One late fall afternoon we returned to the house with this sick baby. I remember sitting at the dining room table crying..I had settled her upstairs. She was no longer able even to walk. I did not understand why after only 6 short months, she was dying. I could not make the decision to end her life because I could not imagine my life without her in it. I could not think beyond that.
My husband had cooked something for dinner and I was listlessly pushing it around my plate, wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.
Suddenly he shouted “ Look!”
My eyes followed the direction he was pointing. Staggering as if she were drunk, on weak trembling legs, Nestle slowly made her way purposefully toward me across the living room carpet. She walked right over to my leg and began to drag herself up my blue jeans with her tiny claws. I scooped her into my hands. I kissed her. She began to purr under my hair, against my neck. She had climbed down thirteen, foot-high stairs, traveled through the long hall, through the large drafty living room to find me where I sat.



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Nobody knows why she did not die that day.
I believe she fully understood, already, that her job was to protect me. I believe she'd made some bargain with the Power, to be allowed to stay on Earth. Ultimately, I believe that Power gave her three reprieves. But then one day, years down the road, her precious time was up. That is for later in this story.

Soon after this miraculous afternoon, Nestle began a habit which endured her whole life. She insisted I open my blouse or my shirt or lift my bra or nightgown so she could squeeze in against my skin and ride in there with me. If I was wearing a Tee-shirt she burrowed down inside, often with many “ouches” on my part, then turned herself around and popped her head out of the neck, our two faces, one above the other. I'd work at teh computer, Nestle snugged in my top, watching me type.
She slept with me every night. Not on the bed but down under the covers against my waist.
Often she would first sit on my chest, purring, with pupils dilated to wash my face, none too gently. If I struggled, she simply dug her claws in a tiny bit. I understood. Let her have her way, just to take it.
It so happened my facial nerves were damaged from all these medications, my face semi-paralyzed, numb, and stiff. Her mother-cat, vigorous stimulation with rough tongue washing, helped me overcome some of that adverse reaction. Today
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I can smile, using the muscles in my face-- which often still feels numb, 8 years after the last hated pill was swallowed, in great part, I beleive, because of that rough, painful, beloved tongue.

Every night she would stand by my head, poke me with her paw. I lifted the covers. She would assume her washing position on my chest. Once that task was complete to her satisfaction, she burrowed down further, rotated herself a few circles and settled against me. I called this her “parking”. When I tossed and turned in my sleep, she kept pace like a leaf on a wave. We had a real rhythm, as if we were dancers. She always slept in front of me.

At times in her life when she was healthy, she would hunt down and capture twist ties and drag their “steaming carcasses” into my bedroom late at night before sleep. She would call to me in a throaty, deep voice “Look, Ma, what I brought you.” I sometimes thought of her as “the Twistem Fairy”. They must've been reminiscent of insects to her felien mind.

She was a very intelligent cat. I collected dolls. Nestle was able to recognize a bag or boxes which contained a new doll and would dash ahead of me up the stairs. I usually opened doll boxes on the bed. She would pace impatiently, chirping at me, and try to climb into the bag the box whatever it was, to

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seek out the twistems she knew were there, binding a doll to the box's cardboard backing. As soon as I liberated one small wire, I’d say "Ready??" and toss it. Off she would streak to hunt and kill it. She made me laugh. It was our solitary, joyful ritual.

The years I was in therapy and under the influence of drugs totaled ten in the end. A decade of life washed away as if it had never been. Like Rip van Winkle, I fell asleep. Nestle stood guard.

Among the many nights and bad days, I had episodes of semi-clarity which would culminate in desparate anxiety and an overpowering desire to run away. From home, the therapist, my husband, at one point even as far away as Florida. I suppose in my heart I had some dim understanding that if I got away, I’d have space and time to clear my head.
And throughout one evening of mind-numbing TV, I was embroiled in an argument with my husband. I threatened and not for the only time, to pack Nestle in a carrying crate and leave home.
“How will you take care of Nestle?” he asked me. I told him that I would find us places to stay.
“How will you feed her?” he asked. I told him that I would carry as many cans of catfood in a knapsack on my back as my strength would allow.


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“How will you keep her healthy?” I told him that I would get as much of her medication as I could carry now. Just a girl and her cat. Moving, moving.

Usually these arguments went on for hours deep in the night as I jammed on layers of clothes, dragged the cat carrier out of the attic, loaded cans of catfood into a back-pack..and then..the impetus would trail off…I remember one night he said very quietly “You know how fragile she is. If you take Nestle with you out into this winter climate, you know she will not survive.”
And so with great sadness, shoulders slumped hopelessly I succumbed to this real logic. There was never the remotest chance that I would put her in jeopardy. Never. Yet, as I laid in the shimmering insomniac darkness, I visualized myself stumping along the shoulder of the darkened road in cold rain, the carrier banging against my leg, her small face with its secret smile looking forward…it was only a dream of a trapped soul.
I have photographs of Nestle and me from those years. I never would’ve saved them if she wasn’t in the pictures. The woman in them is a swollen,stiff, handicapped mess. Ugly, balding, made into a monster in her own eyes by the professionals who were supposed to be healing her. Yet, and yet, there is that little cat standing on my shoulder, washing my face, or glaring at me
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with all the outrage and self-importance a cat can muster, or cheek to cheek with me smiling more broadly than I was able. When I first found these old photos, after Nestle died and I searched every spot I could think of for one more picture, since I knew there would be no new ones ever again… I was stunned to discover in retrospect and with a clear mind, how sick I was. ..and how ever-present she was. In one shot I was wearing a men’s extra large button down shirt, food-smeared face with a somber angry expression and there is Nestle between my breasts her head peeking out and one “arm”, like a baby kangaroo.

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coming Out in 2004: A Memoir

“Coming Out”

When adolescence hit me in earnest with all its hormones in 1968, I began to have crushes on women. I dated several boys..never felt much for them-- okay guys, but my heart was not in it…I’d watch from the sidelines of a church dance or in someone’s arms-- the couples who were so obviously in love and wonder at how that happened.
I continued to have massive crushes on women teachers through out my high school career.
Unfortunately when I was 16, the Spanish teacher I fell in love with decided to seduce me. I was ill-prepared for the emotional and physical things that went with a “safe” authority figure breaching boundaries she shouldn’t have. This is a whole separate issue.
I recovered and went off to college.
My family had always teased me about my crushes..thinking them just a teenage phase I guess. In college I dated a woman. It didn’t go well. She was in love with someone else..I wondered about being a “Lesbian”. I looked it up in “The Joy of Sex,” but found little material to inform or comfort me.
I came from a small town and a small white bread kind of school. Looking back, I am sure there must’ve been others in my class..but who they would be I have no idea. I am also sure that that teacher probably seduced others. She certainly was no resource or role model on how to become a healthy lesbian adult woman. My mother’s response when I finally told my parents years later, was to” hush it up”.

When” The Joy of Lesbian Sex” was published, I was first in line at the local bookstore. I read it ragged.
Had a breakdown like many kids in college do and came home for awhile. Went into therapy to figure it all out. Of course, in discussion my crushes came up and sadly, the therapist chosen by my parents, believed gay relationships were immature and unhealthy and analyzed and dissected me to banish that part of me.

Eventually while attending classes at a local community college, I began dating another woman.
My mother overheard my conversation with my lover late one night on the telephone and screamed at me. I was “Sick and disgusting.” She was going “to tell my father!”
Don’t know if she ever did. He never changed his behavior toward me, supporting me as he always had.
Then another woman. This time I had the sense to keep my mouth shut in therapy. That relationship flamed out as young “loves” with hot pants often do. My neighbors who became my best friends, totally accepted me that way. I told my therapist only after my heart was broken. Same old-same old.

In my late twenties I had to have lung surgery. I fell in love with my male surgeon who was married and 30 years my senior. My father had died the previous year….I did not think much of the age difference or “Freudian” implications of this choice.. He was a kind man. I immediately asked him “Have you dated men?” since he seemed very desirable to me that way, reminiscent of my cousin’s Uncle Tom and his partner…. I told him about my own lesbian experiences. He treated that as nothing out of the ordinary and shared with me that several a young men in his surgical residency program had come out to him over the years. I married him. The “lesbian issue” took a back burner. Life went on.
I am a person who believes when I am in something, to be in it wholeheartedly. I tried the best I knew how to be a good partner and wife. Many bad things happened to us. Health issues on both sides, financial losses..enough to put a huge burden on our small coupledom.
In the end we drifted farther and farther apart. Through the last years, I avidly read any news in the papers on gay rights. When we’d mall walk I’d linger around women I was sure were dykes in Borders..hoping for..I didn’t know what…
We moved from city to rural countryside after he retired. Surrounded on all sides by woods and fields, this tiny hamlet was the last place I would’ve ever thought to come to terms with my sexuality and to come out.
But the neighbor’s 62 year old dyke daughter developed a huge crush on me. Sometimes I think of this as a Higher Power hitting me over the head so I no longer could escape the fact that I am gay. She was, of course, in a relationship and also lived under the belief that nobody knew she was gay. This created all sorts of weirdness. But I thought “Oh well, maybe that is just how it is.”
In any event, she pursued me so thoroughly I could not ignore it. After a Memorial Day weekend of lugging rocks out of the woods for a garden wall and thinking all the while, I told my husband I was in love with her and was going to follow it through.
He was wonderful. He said “I’ll do everything I can to support you.”

She was interested in just a fling and I thought I was in love. After the hurt died down a good friend said to me “You can’t go back to who you were.” No, I could not. Nor did I wish to. She was a key and a door opened. I finally walked through it.. All sorts of memories from my whole life fell into place and made sense to me. I was 51 years old.

I was so lonely! Since I lived in this small rural area the chances to mingle with other lesbians or to meet folks were nil. There was no community. I was starving for it. My friend finally urged me to sign onto Match.com. That day remains in my memory as a lost day—I sat down at the computer after breakfast and “came to” as the January sun was setting at 4 p.m…In between I read and read and read other women’s stories.

Now, I am in love and married to a wonderful woman. It took a year before I was comfortable coming out to my mother about us...that long ago fight haunted me. This time, since she had seen how much happier I was for awhile, my mom wrote a loving note welcoming Erin into our family. It made us both cry. We still have it hanging on the fridge. My whole family loves her. Happiness shouts louder than anybody can ignore it.

I write much lesbian poetry. Some has won contests. I am expecting the publication of my first collection of poetry soon. My partner designed a wonderful website for me where among other things, we market my lesbian and erotic photography. I moderate a poetry group and appear in art shows and at poetry readings. I am openly gay and open with my partner. I figure if a person is not okay with us being us, then they also are not my friend.
I will be 54 on my birthday next month. Took “the long way home”….as the song says.
Doesn’t matter how long that journey was, only that I finally arrived. If my dad were still alive, I can see him ... he’d pull up our driveway in his white Ford truck, back full of tools to help us repair whatever needed it and to teach Erin more of the woodworking and mechanical know-how she craves. Life is good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nestle Sleeping


The Story of An Angel

Nestle’s Story: A Memoir:

In autumn of 1992 my cat, Annie, had died a tragic death after a too-short life of only a year and a half. She had become ill with a rare disease, feline infectious peritonitis. After the veterinarian euthanized her, I carried her body home, wrapped in an soft old comforter and buried her under the privet hedge in my garden. Put a simple rock over the grave without any words. I was grief-stricken.

Annie was a Devon Rex. Curly coated, what cat breeders call a “black smoke” variation. Black ear and paw tips, a black masked face with gray body color, and gray tipping the hairs on paws and tail.. During the time Annie lived with me, I became a poetry columnist for the Devon Rex Newsletter, a breed fancier journal. I met breeders of cats from all over the world who loved this comical, unusual-looking kind of cat. By the time I had written much poetry about the cats I lived with, I was invited to attend a large cat show in Philadelphia PA and to give a poetry reading at the dinner after the first day.

A few months later, in March the new copy of the journal arrived in the mail. I sat in my kitchen browsing its pages. There was a column entitled “The Litter Bin” where any breeder who had a female delivered of a new litter of kittens could celebrate the good news with readers. Number, colors, sexes etc.
At the very bottom of the page, on this day was an announcement from Walt and Carol Richards of Universal City Texas. Litter of three—two black smokes, one chocolate smoke female. Born 4/19/93.




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“Chocolate smoke female” those words caught my eye as nothing else would’ve, my being an extreme chocolate lover of the edible kind .
With my broken heart over Annie-cat’s loss, I imagined holding a ball of curly fluff in my hand, touching the fur against my face, with lovely chocolate colored ears.
I immediately telephoned Carol. Arrangements were made. As soon as she was old enough this kitten would join a Sphynx kitten I had already adopted from them, and the young cats would fly from far away Texas in a small cat carrier to live with me in New York.
It worked out that the arrival date coincided with my birthday. July 5 of 1993. I had decided before the pick-up-day to name her “Nestle”. Hershey sounded too harsh, Cadbury was out of the question as were Lindt and Tobler. Brownie was silly… I honestly was just so stuck on the whole chocolate idea I came up with nothing more original beyond it.
The weather was quite hot as we drove the 35 minutes to the air-port late in the afternoon that particular day..I had no sense of impending magic or wonder, only anticipation at getting a new kitten.
I was very ill at this time.

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I was in psychotherapy. The therapist was not skilled at the type of therapy for my diagnosis. In frustration, after an unsuccessful attempt at having me hospitalized down state she had me on a mishmash of multiple and high doses of strong, dangerous medications for just about every type of psychiatric issue there was.
Consequently, I was numb, drugged, and ill from side effects and adverse reactions, I became completely disabled. I was constantly confused, clumsy, obese, and lost. I forgot who I had been and what it was I enjoyed doing with my days. I became unable to write poetry or do photography which had been my self-identities. I had been publishing and winning prizes off and on since I was a child. No more.
I became frequently suicidal. My medications had to be locked in the safe. I was no longer able to drive a car or do any type of physical exertion-- for example, I had formerly loved bicycle riding—the bikes rusted on the cellar floor now, mysteries to me as I stepped over them in the chaos and mess. I had no idea what they were for.

My garden disappeared under a mass of weeds. My day consisted of 5 pills at 6 a.m. given to me by my husband. This knocked me out awhile but also gave me terrible heart rhythm problems. Mid-morning we’d go to the therapist. Noon found me swallowing another handful of pills choking down lunch against the nausea, then trying to nap with

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the pounding heart..getting up before dinner time- usually in deep depression..choking back more nausea to try to eat; watching TV from 6 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. then drifting off into a drugged restless sleep. I was only 35 years old. No one in my life challenged the treatment. That was just the way it was. I was too lost to string two coherent thoughts together and make a stand for myself. I was drowning alive in a sea of chemicals.

We made it to the airport on time and the flight was on time as well. I forget which airline. I had never gotten an animal this way. I was full of anxiety as to how two tiny kittens could survive such an adventure in the dark cargo-hold of a jet. We sat in the passenger debarking area and watched all the passengers climb down the steps and move on to the baggage claim area to retrieve their luggage. Last of all, when I had about given up, a smiling woman in airline uniform walked over to us and asked if we were waiting for the cat carrier. She handed it to me. I held my breath. There were papers to sign. I did not even dare look inside it!

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Not until we had paid the parking fee and were heading for the on-ramp for the highway home did I peek. Then, in the cramped truck cab I lifted it awkwardly and whispered “hello” to its inhabitants. I recall I saw one sphynx face and behind him, a gigantic pair of ears in silhouette. I gave up trying to see. I would never have opened it in the car. The chance of a cat being lost under the seats or escaping out the window was simply too much. .
At the house, I scurried inside past the barking dogs, other curious cats and raced upstairs to the bathroom space I had prepared for the new arrivals. It was warm and cozy , away from noises of downstairs. I had a red beanbag chair to sit in and from which to offer a lap.
Litter pan, water, kitten food…I opened the crate and gently pulled out the round soft brown old cat bed Carol had included so they had some place to stay warm and secure during their travels.
It was late. I wanted to get them settled but also to leave them alone to find their bearings and sleep..and try to sleep myself.

The next morning I could hardly wait to go see them after I had eaten my breakfast. The sphynx boy who was named “Monkey” for his love of hanging off the shower curtain like



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Tarzan and shinnying up the Venetian blinds, bounced around the room in a blur of motion. I had never had a bald cat. I was fascinated. I was constantly trying to persuade him to hold still so I could touch his warm suede like skin. He was having none of that…I sat in the beanbag chair and called him over and over “Monkey! Monkey!” and past me he’d zoom. In the meantime, Nestle curled like a snail in the shell of the old cat pillow and seemed to smile as she drifted between sleep and wakefulness. She allowed me to pick her up. She was so soft. She was so small. Three pounds I think. Maybe as little as one. She was only 8 weeks old.
Her body was mostly bald as occurs in infant Devons but her ears and tail were tufted with smokey gray hair. She had bright green eyes. She had been afflicted with a skin fungus that was healing ..so between her ears on her forehead were chocolate colored stains..like a birthmark in a human. I posed her on my lap for a photograph.
When I look at that picture today, I see how terrified she was in a new place knowing nothing of what life with this stranger would bring…

Every day I sat in the bean bag chair, frustrated, calling for Monkey to hold still for just one second and let me touch him. Every day while I was preoccupied doing this activity,

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Nestle determinedly clawed her way up into my lap, and then up my breasts and under my hair. She would curl around the nape of my neck underneath the hair and go to sleep purring. The third day of this, I finally understood—while I was calling to Monkey, Nestle had chosen me.
The whole concept of being chosen—of having any living thing fall in love with me.. as sick and unattractive and lost as I was stunned me. Why ?
But once the idea connected with my confused mind, I clung to this awareness like it was a life jacket. She was so small!
But she seemed to hold my life in her paws. In the end, she did in the truest sense of the words. I understand today, that back then, I was dying a slow death of poison from the drugs. An angel had been sent in feline form, a form that even though I was sick, I would not fail to respond to. Whoever the Creator was, whatever the plan for me, I was not forsaken in the darkness of this time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On The Teaching of Poetry Writing

To teach a student only "your way" of thinking and to parrot your attitudes for a good grade is really limiting. I think with the teaching of poetry it is really important not to squelch the voice of the student-poet. All poets have their own unique style and voice. A student shouldn't be a clone of a teacher because it strokes his or her ego. It is important to listen really hard, to teach a few sharp tools and to stand back when the craftsperson sings out.

Endings

A good poem should have a slap -upside -the -head ending. Labelling it masculine or feminine, soft or hard seems inane. Poetry shouldn't end for you all neat and tidy and nice--this is poetry not a romance novel..the reader should be going along pulled into the story then WHAM! surprise..that 's what makes a poem endure , in my head anyway.. I really appreciate a writer who doesn't condescend to me and respects me as a reader enough to shock me.
Human beings have been walking around the earth telling each other their stories since the first cave paintings and probably before that. A poem tells a story. We want to hear a new story. So if the ending surprises us, perhaps that is what makes the story new. It is a disappointment if a reader gets to the ending before his/her eyes actually READ all the words the writer wrote and loses interest. Doesn't bother to read it all the way through.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Best Friends


“Best Friends” is a photo-poem composition created by me in 2007.

I attended an art gallery opening hosted by friends at their local gallery. At this event where I was taking pictures, I met a young boy who was all dressed up and had a shaved head. His parents explained that he had requested the hair cut because his best friend had been diagnosed with cancer earlier that year. While undergoing chemotherapy the young boy lost his hair and confided his feelings about this to his friend. I asked permission to take his picture. His parents agreed.

When I had the old fashioned 35 mm film developed, the resulting portrait was revealed. Friends urged me to give a copy to the boy and his family. So, as a Christmas gift, I framed the photo as a greeting card and printed the poem the childrens’ story had inspired in me, on the it to thank his family.

Later in the new year, I was told that when the child’s parents opened the card, they were so thrilled that his mom began to cry. She rushed to share the card with the mother of the little boy who was sick. This then resulted in both sets of parents taking the card to the childrens’ school to share with art teacher, principal and other teachers, one of whom was undergoing chemotherapy at that time as well. It so moved the staff that in the June 2007 edition of the yearbook a center page spread was created to honor the sick child using the photo-poem “Best Friends.”

In May 2008, Kinney Drugstores sponsored a benefit for Golisano Children’s Hospital, Syracuse NY . The Cazenovia branch photo department manager is well acquainted with my photography. She asked me to donate a picture for the cause. “Best Friends” was it. I enlarged it to an 11” by 14” and framed it in hardwood.. It stood on the counter in a place of honor during the entire event.

Home Is Where The Barn Is


In August 2007, a friend invited me to come to her fiance’s dairy farm of approximately 1700 Holstein cattle to take pictures of the cattle and workmen going about their daily routine.

I was using my 35 mm Nikon F 4 with film at the time. When I had the rolls of prints developed, I was thrilled that several of the shots were top quality.

I received notice of an upcoming art show to take place in the new Lipe Art Park in Syracuse, NY in October 2007. The theme had to do with how agriculture is relevant to city dwellers..one could choose from such subjects as those related to the land, animal husbandry, compost practices and recycling. I chose the animal category and queried the curators. They indicated that they were unsure of being able to use photography as this was an outdoor multi-season show, but to go ahead and send them my entries.

They were thrilled with the pieces I both of which may be viewed on my website. We coordinated our efforts and the curators created wonderful weather-proof framing for the shots. The show as a big success.


For Christmas 2007, the dairy manager’s fiancĂ©e commissioned me to enlarge one of the same series for her in a unique composition I created with my partner, Erin Carraway, for his gift. Thus was born “Home Is Where The Barn Is.”


It uses both the photographs that appeared in the Lipe show and several others framed in a design replicating an old barn gate with distressed metal work.. I painted over the photographs which were then decoupaged onto the mat board.


January 2008 we asked permission to borrow the piece back and entered it into a state-wide art show sponsored by The Art Association of Oswego, Fort Ontario, Oswego NY. Early March we learned that we had juried into the show. It opened March 22 to a full house.


Sushi Blues & BBQs, Hamilton NY also commissioned a poster-sized framed shot of the cattle at milking time. It hangs in their permanent collection in the restaurant and is entitled “Bret’s Girls.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Poetry Whore Speaks on Becoming Debt Free

Perhaps many of you have read that if you are a poet, it had better not be the only way you earn a living. Like Stephen King did in a laundromat, many of us work cashier jobs, gas station jobs, and anything else to pay the bills. I happen to have at least three friends, through writing, at this time who've declared bankruptcy at least twice. One asked "How could I do this not once but again? How did I not know when I was going down the same path again? " Lack of self-awarness scared him.
How to change the course of one's financial management life?
Well, first of all, if you have done something the same way multiple times, and it doesn't bring success, stop doing it that way. Know that whatever that was, it did not work.
Second, become a brutally honest monitor of your self-talk. Nobody can over-hear you so your privacy is guaranteed. Do you get a weak feeling in the stomach when about to make a purchase? Do you have a persuasive train of mental dialogue trying to convince you that you NEED a new computer a new car, a new calculator, cell phone, the latest and greatest and your mind justifies it by saying "Ok. well ,I have to have this for my business. The business will pay for it." Is it your habit to whip out the credit card that has only $20 credit left? Do you have alot of concern for improving your credit rating?
Let's ask what is important about improving your credit rating. The better your credit rating, the more money this allows you to borrow. Those who stand to benefit aka make money from your borrowing are, of course, financial institutions such as credit card companies and banks. Which puts you back in..DEBT. Understand-- that the weak feeling in the stomach, the speeding heart is your body telling you "hey, man, you're listening to a fine line of BS up in your head."
Set up a budget. On a pad, list your income for one month, your expenses. Allot so much for extras if you have money to do so. Ie. one $20 entry fee for a poetry contest in the month of March. Or one $12.75 photo film and developing, or a book of stamps for postage for the submissions.. If you have a partner, share the plan with her or him.
Eat at home. Plan your meals week by week on Sundays-- so you know exactly what ingredients you will need. List them. In one month, average folks eat breakfast 30 times, lunch thirty times and dinner thirty times. Overall, this will help you plan a monthly grocery expense without nasty surprises. Feeding the writer and family.
Use that old beater computer and printer for the writing. Long as you can type and print you're in business. Nobody needs a cadillac of computers to be a prize winning writer. It is the person not the computer who wins.
Dump the change from your wallet into a piggy bank every week. When that is full, open a savings account.
Pay cash. Cut up the cards.
Borrow books from your local library. Its free. Reading is the ebst way to learn tow rite. And if you are able to stick to some of the financial management ideas suggested here, you wil llessen stress which will free up more energy to create great writing.