Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Archive for 2015|Yearly archive page

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Lori Jakiela’s “Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe”

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2015 at 9:07 pm

Sundress Publications is featuring BELIEF IS ITS OWN KIND OF TRUTH MAYBE as its Best-Dressed book all this week. Excerpts will run in Sundress’s Wardrobe blog each day. So grateful to Sundress and editor Sarah Einstein for this. Here is the first excerpt from chapter 1, reprinted from the Sundress site.

The Sundress Blog

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Excerpt from Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

When my real mother dies, I go looking for another one. The Catholic Charities counselor’s word for this other mother I want after decades to find is biological. Illegitimate is another word for people who end up like me. It’s what I feel now, unlawful, unauthorized, unwarranted here in this office that smells like antiseptic and rubber gloves, hot teeth drilled down to bone.
     The Catholic Charities counselor has questions.
     They’re my questions, too.
     What is the nature of your search? Why has it taken you so long?


This selection comes from Lori Jakiela’s book, Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe available now from Atticus Books. Purchase your copy here!

Lori Jakiela is the author of the memoirs The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious (C&R Press) and Miss New York…

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A Holiday Season in Flour

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2015 at 7:27 pm

 

I’m getting ready to do some holiday baking tomorrow. My kids and I will make pies and cookies and wrestle with a turkey I hope I won’t have to lob in the bathtub to defrost. (It happens.)

In the spirit of the holidays, here’s an oldie. This essay first ran seven years ago in The Washington Post and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s a moment and a memory I revisit every year around this time.

I’ll never stop missing my mother.

My daughter still can’t be trusted with an open bag of flour.

Given the chance, my now-teenage son will fling dough.

My mother, I think, would like that. Payback, she’d call it, for the messes I’ve made in my life.

A small price, she’d say, for something so sweet and so good.

***

The Flour of Our Youth

I’m in the kitchen. Phelan, my 4-year-old daughter, is in the dining room. I’m mixing dough. Phelan has opened a bag of flour the size of a ham. I don’t know this. I should.

I hear her yell, “Snow, snow, snow!”

I hear, “It’s winter!”

I hear, “Snowball!”

I’ve been looking out the kitchen window as the mixer whirs away.

Whenever I bake, I think about my mother. The day is sunny, snowflake-free. There’s a space between the time I hear something and the moment I figure out what it means.

“Slippy,” my daughter, fluent in Pittsburghese, says. “Cold.”

Flour is everywhere — in her hair, in the stereo, in her shoes. Later I’ll find flour in her underwear and flour in her socks. But right now, she smiles up at me, flour stuck like snowflakes in her eyelashes, smudged on her pink cheeks, caught in the blonde pigtails that stick out like antennae.

“Look at me,” she says. “I’m baking.”

Every year around the holidays, my husband, who hates chaos, flees, and the kids and I make a lovely mess. For my daughter, it’s flour. My son, Locklin, 7, has moved on to dough. Dough makes great quicksand for his toy soldiers. Dough makes a good mustache. Dough sticks to his sister’s butt.

The kids have their own rolling pins. They help measure sugar and cinnamon. Phelan gets distracted and gets a bowl, pours herself a nice cinnamon-sugar mix and eats it with a spoon.

When I was growing up, I didn’t get to bake with my mother much. It made her nervous. “I don’t like people in my kitchen,” she’d say as she anchored a childproof gate between the kitchen and dining room. She said the gate was “to keep the dog out.”

The dog — a sensitive poodle named Tina II — and I would sit outside the gate and watch my mother break eggs with one hand and toss the shells into the trash in one fluid motion, like a magic trick. She’d turn on the easy-listening station and hum and glide from refrigerator to counter and back. My sad mother the magician. My lonely mother the dancer. How had this happened? The dog and I sulked and waited until my mother passed a peace offering — batter-covered beaters, one for me, one for the dog — over the gate.

I know now that my mother loved the solitary time baking gave her. It offered an excuse to detach from the `world, from the dog and my father and me, and make something her own. It’s what I do when I write, when I close my office door and leave my children and husband on the other side. “A room of one’s own,” Virginia Woolf called it. Space to make something beautiful.

When I did get to bake with my mother, we made handprint sugar cookies. My job was to put my hands onto the rolled-out dough and hold still. Real baking — the breads, nut rolls, all the family traditions — my mother did alone. It wasn’t until after my son was born, a few years before she died, that my mother finally gave in and decided to teach me.

I’d like to say I was a natural, that all those years of watching paid off, but it’s not true. Our first lesson, bread, was a disaster.

My mother told me to be at her house at 5 a.m. Mornings make me want to weep. I was late, 5:15, and I looked a mess. My mother wasn’t happy. Her gray hair was curled. She had on her favorite track suit, purple velour with gold piping at the cuffs, and was wearing tennis shoes. She looked like she’d been waiting for hours.

“What’s the matter with you?” she said. “You have to start bread early.”

I didn’t know what that meant. I also didn’t know what she meant when she said, “Bread is serious business. Bread is no joke.”

I laughed during my lesson, my forearms buried in a swamp of sticky dough. My mother whacked me on the arm with her wooden spoon.

“Look,” she said. “Do you want to learn or not?”

She picked up her bowl of dough and pulled it to her belly like a child. She dipped one arm in and lifted the dough up and over, whipping more than kneading, the muscles in her arm flexed and solid and nowhere near 70 years old.

“This is how you do it,” she said. “You have to work it. You have to mean it.”

My mother talked about yeast and bread as living things — things to conquer, things you could kill if you weren’t careful. She didn’t use measuring cups and spoons. “You just know,” she said, her hands measuring flour and sugar by weight, by how it moved through her fingers. “You can feel it.”

She’s been dead five years now. I still feel the weight of that.

“You need to learn how to do this,” she’d said. “Because when I die, then what?”

In the dining room, my daughter helps me spread more flour on the table. We laugh and smooth out the mounds until there’s just a dusting.

“Snow,” she says. “Snow snow snow snow snow.”

I separate the dough into bowls, one for each of us. My son rolls his into tiny balls. He launches them like cannonballs with his thumb.

“Pow,” he says. “Bang.”

“Snowball,” my daughter says.

My mother wouldn’t appreciate our approach, but within a few hours the house will fill with smells I remember from childhood, and I’ll lay the golden loaves onto racks to cool. When my husband comes home, we’ll have the flour under control. My daughter’s face will be scrubbed and I’ll have picked the dough out of my son’s hair.

“Look,” Phelan will say as she takes her father by the hand to show him what we’ve made. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

 

BELIEF IS ITS OWN KIND OF TRUTH, MAYBE, by Lori Jakiela

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Thank you to Heavy Feather Review and author Vivian Wagner for this review of Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe.

Heavy Feather Review

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Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, by Lori Jakiela. Madison, New Jersey: Atticus Books, August 2015. 290 pages. $14.95, paper.

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe tells the story, on one level, of Lori Jakiela’s search for her birth mother. She encounters more than she expects in this search, however, and the story ends up being as much a self-exploration as it is a search for someone outside of herself. It’s a complicated, fragmented, and endearing book built on layers of history and discovery.

Jakiela’s style in this memoir is spare and smart, leading us on a journey through family, memory, and identity. Her opening sentences set the book’s simultaneously factual and intimate tone:

When my real mother dies, I go looking for another one. The Catholic Charities counselor’s word for this other mother I want after decades to find is biological. Illegitimate is…

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There is No Dust in My House: On Writing About Myself and Other People

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2015 at 7:24 pm

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

By Lori Jakiela

Lori Jakiela Lori Jakiela

Years ago when I was a young journalist, my editor put me on The Love Story beat.  It’s easier to write about other people than yourself. Other people hold value. You know your own value is not much until you make it so. My job was to interview people about how they fell in love then churn out sentimental stories their friends and relatives could laminate and stick on their refrigerators.

“Happy crap,” my editor, a displaced New Yorker with owl glasses and a bowl cut, called it.

One pair of blind professional bowlers aside, most of the interviews I did were forgettable. Except one – a sweet old couple married over 50 years.

He was a World War II veteran. She stayed home, raised their kids and volunteered at the church bingo. These were Norman Rockwell’s people.

“Ad fodder,” my editor would say. “Schlocky…

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A Review of Lori Jakiela’s Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2015 at 2:13 am

Thank you to Brevity magazine and Ellee Prince for this beautiful essay/review of BELIEF IS ITS OWN KIND OF TRUTH, MAYBE.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

jakielaA guest review from Ellee Prince:

Bear with me. Grief is difficult to explain, difficult to experience.

The first time I saw death was in the porcelain face of a 3-year-old boy, on the day I turned twelve. He lay in his small casket at the head of a stuffy room filled with moanings and whisperings—his own high-pitched laughter so clearly absent. My body couldn’t experience this new sensation all at once; it came in jolts.

His face was less round, his lips unnaturally red, the tender skin of his eyelids a dangerous blue. Who is that boy? my mind asked. He was unrecognizable as my friend, the little boy I loved.

~

With grief comes unspoken rules, we alter the way we communicate. Often, memories are shared in an offbeat staccato. The grieved look off, unfocused on the present with its unprocessable pain, attempting to make sense of these…

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On hearing the sad news about Jimmy Carter’s cancer

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2015 at 12:14 am

You can tell a lot about people from the way they behave on airplanes.

Back when I was a flight attendant, Jimmy Carter was on a flight I was working. It was a shuttle flight, D.C. to New York, maybe. No First Class, no fuss.

**FILE**Former President Jimmy Carter takes a question during a conference at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Tuesday, June 7, 2005. An independent panel Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005 reversed a Pentagon recommendation that the New London submarine base in Connecticut, base be closed. One of the panel members even said a letter from Carter _ the only president to ever serve as a submariner _ pleading the panel to keep the base open was one of the reasons he voted against closure. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

Jimmy Carter boarded with the other passengers. He stored his bag, then made his way through the cabin. He stopped at every row to shake hands. He said “hey there” and “good to see you,” like everyone was a friend. He asked “how are you?” and waited for an answer. He wasn’t going to stop until he’d greeted everyone on that plane.

When it was time for pushback, when we couldn’t wait any more, the Captain came on the PA and said, “We need everyone seated. Even you, Mr. President.”

Jimmy Carter blushed and waved. He apologized — to the people he didn’t get to, to the captain, to the other flight attendants and me. He said he was sorry to hold us up. He said he didn’t want to be any trouble.

You can tell a lot about people from the way they behave on airplanes.

Jimmy Carter is a good man.

Stuff I Write: Intern vs. Scorpion — An Unpaid Life Experience

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2015 at 11:13 pm

In celebration of May Day and workers everywhere, here’s a piece about that sad American tradition — the unpaid internship. It’s also about scorpions, bad-but-paid jobs, and the crazy things some of us do when we’re trying to get by. It originally ran in Pittsburgh City Paper. Thanks, Pittsburgh City Paper!

The scorpion’s name is Cupcake, and Cupcake looks pissed.

scorpion

“Oh come on,” a zoo official with a walkie-talkie strapped at his waist says. “I mean, how scary can it be with a name like that?”

He’s talking to a girl. The girl is on Cupcake’s side of the safety rope. The zoo official is on the other.

It’s the girl’s job to pop Cupcake’s carrying case open. Then she’s supposed to reach in and scoop up Cupcake like a gerbil. From the way the girl is shaking, I’m sure this is her first time.

I want to say, “honey what are you crazy don’t do that,” but I call my 10-year-old son over to watch instead.

How I became this person, I don’t know.

Earlier, I wanted to hang out at the shark tanks. Then on the rickety bridge over Otis the Alligator. We were on our way to check out venomous snakes when I saw the Live Animal Demonstration sign.

How I justify watching: I read somewhere that most scorpion stings are the same as bee stings.

I convince myself that Cupcake is some sort of eunuch, a domesticated nub where a stinger used to be.

I think if someone’s going through the trouble of picking up a scorpion the size of a Pop-Tart, the rest of us should pay attention.

poptart“You’ve got to see this,” I tell my son, who is a more decent person and who would rather not see this at all.

Cupcake’s whole body is a claw. She’s backed into the corner of her carrying case. Inside the reptile house, under ultraviolet light, Cupcake glows like a club kid at a rave.

club kidsBut out here, in the sunshine, she’s so black she’s almost purple, one nasty oil-slick bruise. Her carrying case is pink plastic, the kind usually reserved for hermit crabs, the kind of thing Barbie would store her shoes in.

“Look, sweetie, she’s going to pick up that scorpion,” I say, and point, like I’ve just said something wise, like I’m the muscle-guy back at the aquarium who flexed, pointed and said, in a low voice, “What we have right here are fish” while his pretty girlfriend clung to a bicep and cooed.

My son doesn’t coo. He backs up, because he’s not an adult, because he still feels things.

“Why would she do that?” he says.

The girl is ponytailed, in a powder-blue polo shirt with the zoo logo stitched on the chest. She looks like summer help, an intern, maybe. Maybe she’s getting minimum wage, or maybe this is unpaid life experience and she’s chalking up college credits she’ll have to take out loans to cover.

“Because she’s an expert?” I say, and of course it comes out as a question.

I’ve had a lot of awful jobs, terrible internships, but none of them involved handling a scorpion.

The closest I’ve come was the time I worked as a flight attendant and a pilot made me hold a door shut during take-off. There was a mechanical problem – the door wouldn’t lock completely and the handle would start to open on ascent. But the pilot had a date that night – one hot blonde, one strip-club steakhouse, jumbo margaritas served up in glasses shaped like boobs.

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The pilot didn’t want a delay.

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He said, “Did you bring a parachute?”

He said, “You’ll love the way you’ll fly.”

He said, “Just don’t let go,” and winked.

When people talk about survival, there are different degrees.

I was young. I needed that job. I did what I was told. I pushed my weight against the handle and held on and smiled at passengers who looked at me like I knew what I was doing.

It’s been a dozen years since I had a job like that, though.

“You don’t know what work is,” my steelworker father would say, meaning what I do now, pushing words around a page. Meaning: it’s not work if it can’t kill you.

“I mean, seriously. Cupcake,” the zoo official is saying, a punch-line he’s sharing again and again.

cupcake

He’s probably a nice guy otherwise. The Pittsburgh Zoo is a wonderful place. It teaches people a lot about animals.

Scorpions are sensitive to vibration and touch. Some bats and centipedes hunt scorpions for food. Cupcake is normally kept in the dark fruit-bat part of the reptile house. Her neighbor one cage over is a giant millipede.

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Sometimes the whole world seems cruel.

The girl is shaking so much. When her hand goes for the clasp on Cupcake’s case, it’s like she’s about to stick a fork in a live toaster. Cupcake flexes her tail, her very operational stinger. I look down at my son, who’s squinted his eyes shut.

The girl tries to breathe. She cups her hand and lowers it into the case. She nudges it under Cupcake and brings the creature out, a heavy dark heart in her palm.

“O.k.,” she says to the zoo official, who’s proud, beaming. “Now what?”