Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

A Repository of Dreams
A Repository of Dreams

In 1999, A Repository of Dreams was my “prehistoric cave” painting to ensure a successful hunt for a literary agent and publisher! The vertical red book in the center—Bohemian Poor is as I wanted it to look back then.

This is one of my favorite paintings not only because it was a difficult challenge and achievement for me to draw and paint in a realistic manner, but also because I love reading, I love the feel of books in my hands, I love to see rows and rows of bookshelves filled with books, and since I was an innocent romantic 16 year old, I longed to be a writer. Note “to be a writer”—I didn’t know the difference between being a writer and actually doing the writing and living the writing life! And so I sat in front of the big double patio doors at sunset and day-dreamed about writing.

Growing up with a dad who was an artist I felt pressure to be creative, mostly in making art—drawing and painting—but he would have thought creative writing a valid option, too. In fact, when I was an adult, we had communicated by letter discussing the possibility of writing a book together about his painting. But between the age of 18 and 23, I rebelled—I did not want to do what dear old Dad did,  no way, no how. I did not want to paint.

My feelings changed shortly after I  married. I took up watercolor painting again and it soon dominated my life and grew into purpose. I wanted and needed something I could call my own, something separate from husband’s life. Painting was all mine. It gave me purpose. And unbeknownst to me for most of my married life, my painting, my artist being, was the one thing my husband had been proud of, the only thing he liked about me after a while.

In 1997 I had a dream. I started writing a memoir. I finished, or so I thought, a 360 page tome. Unfortunately, after sending out more than a hundred queries to agents and publishers, it never got picked up. I then sent it to a freelance editor; paid $350 to have her read it and write a response. She did a good job, writing four pages of comments, albeit most were discouraging…well, more like devastating.

She wrote that I was a good writer, but not an exceptional writer. I would need to edit and rewrite and pare down my concept. And that since my father the painter was not famous and my mother the seamstress was not famous and I was not widely known for any writing achievements or artistic merit, in other words, not famous, I would never get published. I was dead in the water. No famous relatives, no inside connections, and no exceptional writing skills. What’s a girl to do?

She wrote that I had enough material for three books in the one manuscript. And if the book was about my relationship with mother, then all the superfluous stuff about my father—I had included letters from my Dad as part of the book to give my miserable relationship with Mom a balance of a loving father—had to be removed. Three books—one about mother, one of Dad’s letters, and one about me?

An intriguing idea, so the thinking, conjuring and writing process began all over again.

I gave the editor’s ideas serious consideration. As much as I didn’t want to exclude the letters from Dad, I did. I needed to find some way to make my book different, to make it stand out among all the other unknowns, especially since the writing was not of literary quality, not poetic and not Pulitzer Prize winning.

I began with creating a few chapter illustrations. Since the chapters wandered all over the place, I knew one illustration could say very little about everything in each chapter. So I moved on to illustrating specific stories within a chapter. I rewrote each story so it fit on one 6×9 page and I created a corresponding illustration to go on the facing page. It was an exciting and fun challenge and, at times, a bit scary, like the time I drove from Port Orchard all the way around to Seattle on I-5 blinded by a torrential downpour. I felt compelled to finish that trip and I felt similarly compelled to finish my book…again. I couldn’t stop working on it.

To do the illustrations, I had to let go of a few expectations and inhibiting thoughts such as the one telling me that I can’t draw! I can’t draw well, but I had to let go of artistic ideas of perfection. I had to let go of fear. After a while, I knew the humor of my bad drawings was invaluable to the book as a whole.

The stories informed the illustrations, and the process of drawing helped me refine and edit the stories. The drawings and writing both triggered new memories, new stories. I had enough incidences in my life, funny and tragic, to make up a small book. Perfect.

Cover for Fragments - My Memoir

Finally in 2008, ten years after I began my first draft, I self-published a spiral bound edition and sold copies to all the people I knew in Florence, Oregon at the time in order to pay the local printer. I self-published the second edition, which did include a few letters from dad, using, an online POD, in 2009. And in 2010 I published the third edition, to include black and white images of several of my father’s paintings and sketches.  I had created a book that combined all the things I had originally started with but were now abbreviated, and I managed to include several of Dad’s letters!

Its cover is not red as in this painting, but black and white, and the title is Fragments: Growing Up Bohemian Poor In Dementia’s House. Still about growing up bohemian poor, but I wanted a title that would reflect the humor in the book as well as the seriousness of a troubled teenager and her mentally ill and demented mother. I felt black and white more appropriate to go with all the black and white illustrations. Plus black and white connotes documentation of reality; a memoir is a documentation of your own idea of your reality.

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