Sunday, May 29, 2011

Local writer on the roots of her postpartum depression

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"When my parents got divorced," writes Melissa White in a harrowing account of abuse and depression, "any semblance of a family fell apart." In her senior year of high school she lived with her dad, a prison guard who physically and emotionally abused her. She made plans to "run away" to her mom, who seemed to care little for her, ninety minutes away in Chico. But her father, whom she refers to as "the Monster," retaliated. It is a heartbreaking story.

Today White lives in Chester with her husband and two daughters. The birth of her first, Hailey, produced a depression in Melissa that wouldn't go away. In her late twenties she began counseling with Lisa Jellison, a Chico-based licensed clinical social worker. The results form the basis of White's first-person account, "It's Not The Baby Crying: A Woman's Struggle With Postpartum Depression" ($11.99 in paperback from Tate Publishing; $9.59 in Barnes & Noble Nook e-book format).

The author, who recently signed books at the Chico Barnes & Noble store, is a courageous chronicler. Violent thoughts would assail her, always about Hailey. "As I transfer dishes from the sink to the dishwasher, I find myself being extremely careful with the steak knives. As I gently place them into the silverware holder in the dishwasher, placing them pointy-end down, I catch myself in the following thought: The sharp end of the steak knife is plunging into my daughter's abdomen."

Melissa began to practice the "stop sign technique," saying no--out loud if need be--to those nightmarish thoughts. From moment to moment she was imagining all the terrible things that might happen to her daughter--and trying to protect her. But this was ultimately about her father and the "fear of my father walking through my front door and shooting us dead in my living room." It was "not a rational thought" yet Melissa succumbed to terrible fear.

Then, hope. "I learned that in order to recover, you must clean up all the broken pieces. If you leave the mess on the floor, you could walk through life continually stepping on those sharp shards of glass." Counseling saves her life; her faith sustains her.

And she must face the question: Can she forgive her father?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Anthropology educator and Ishi researcher to speak Wednesday

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Did Bryan "Pancho" Beavers, born in 1901, hold the key to Ishi's heritage? Before Beavers died in 1971, a researcher recorded his stories of Konkow Maidu culture (Beavers's father was Scots-American and Maidu). According to educator Richard Burrill, who obtained the transcripts, Ishi was not only Yahi/Yana, but Maidu (as many Maidu believe). Beavers said "the Maidu here were always at war with them [the Yana]. They didn't like 'em. They wasn't exactly at war. ... But the Yana didn't have any friends anyplace."

Then, writes Burrill, "it is believed that in about 1830, the Yahi raiders kidnapped Beavers' great aunt from the fishing grounds downstream from Pulga on the Feather River. ... Upon coming of age, she was made the wife of one of the Yahi raiders named Y├Ętati, a Northern Yana man. In about 1854, they produced a baby boy [who] remarkably survived the many massacres dealt the Yana. He became the man we have come to know as Ishi."

The fruits of Burrill's research are compellingly displayed in "Ishi's Untold Story In His First World: A Biography of the Last of His Band of Yahi Indians In North America" ($22.95 in paperback from The Anthro Company; www.ishifacts.com). The large volume contains a dozen maps and hundreds of historical photographs.

The author will talk about his research at 7:00 p.m. this Wednesday, May 25 at Lyon Books in Chico.

"In 1864," Burrill writes , "a general massacre reduced [Ishi's] entire tribe to no more than fifty souls. Compromised, and yet still proud, a small group of about twenty of Ishi's Yahi/Yana tribe retreated deeper into their remote hiding places along Antelope Creek, Mill Creek and Deer Creek. With few exceptions, the outside world was unaware of their existence. ... On August 28, 1911, Ishi was captured at the Charles Ward Slaughterhouse, forty miles south of the tribe's homeland. For observation, the Indian stranger was locked up in the Butte County Jail and placed in the solitary and padded cell for the insane."

The book reconstructs "the secretive years" before Ishi's capture, and details his cultural heritage as well as "his inner strength and ability to assimilate." He died of tuberculosis in 1916, "the passing of the last Stone Age Indian in North America."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gifted San Francisco artist and writer to appear at Chico book signing

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Paul Madonna's stunning pen-and-ink cityscapes appear in the comic section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. His drawings contain short stories, snatches of conversations, philosophical observations, forming strange juxtapositions with his intricate architectural renderings.

The weekly strip is called "All Over Coffee" (I suspect the multiple meanings are not accidental), which gave the title to Madonna's first compilation. Now he's out with a new collection of panels, "Everything Is Its Own Reward" ($27.95 in hardcover from City Lights Books), and it's a mesmerizing journey, as the author puts it, "from an introduction, into autobiography and fiction, to a climax of creative questioning, then to resolution."

Madonna will be signing copies of his books Wednesday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

An Afterword provides context for each of the drawings and a rationale for Madonna's project. "What was it that was its own reward? Everything was, the more I thought about it. And that was the answer to life as much as it was to making art. Anything I did had to be for the sake of doing--from getting out of bed in the morning to pursuing my grandest aspirations."

One picture shows a little trailer against a large hill. The words in the upper left: "There is, for all of us, no matter what we've mastered, something incomprehensible." Madonna points out that the pictures are not meant to illustrate the words, or vice versa. There is something more subtle going on. Humans are never depicted. Yet they are there, on every page. You just have to read them into the houses, imagine the goings-on behind the walls.

There are hints of color in the sepia renderings. One shows a dizzying view of the blue sky looking up from several apartments. And the text: "The guys who sit on my stoop, doing deals out of bass-thumping cars, they don't care if I make something today, how I phrased these lines, or if this drawing turned out the way I wanted. Every doorway in every city, every cafe, church or town hall, every profession, passion or pursuit, is its own microcosm." And so it is with each page, a delight to the eye and provocation for the mind.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

True tales of flight from a Chico pilot

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Mike Paull's interest in flying was piqued in 1978 and he's never looked back. Though a dentist in San Carlos, California, he also managed to log "3500 hours of flying time" as a private pilot and flight instructor.

Who better to get into the hearts and minds of the pilots who frequented the little eatery near the San Carlos Airport? A dozen of their stories are brought to life in "Tales from the Sky Kitchen Cafe" ($14.95 in paperback from Skyhawk Publishing).

Paull, retired and living in Chico with his wife, Bev, will be talking about his work at Lyon Books in Chico, Wednesday, May 11, at 7:00 p.m.

Many of the stories are (need I say it about flying?) uplifting. Paull tells how two pilots, Jeanne and Fran, developed the "Fear of Flying Clinic." Then there's "Crazy Dave," a test pilot and racer. "Dave has competed in more races (216) than anyone in the history Reno Air Racing."

One of the Sky Kitchen denizens was a pilot named Herb. The conversation around the counter would frequently move to flying mistakes, and Herb would say that "there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots ... The difference between a big airplane and a little one, is that the little one will kill you just a little."

The emotional heart of the book, though, is the story of Phil and Hap. On March 10, 1945, "Phil's B29, Sentimental Journey, had just dropped the first bombs that would lead to the largest fire ever known to man. Over 100,000 people would burn to death in the next twenty-four hours. ... As his fellow B29 crews flew overhead just 5000 feet above him, an American B29 navigator huddled in his cell, terrified he would die that night in a Japanese prison camp. The navigator, Hap, survived that night, survived the war and fifty years later wandered into the Sky Kitchen for lunch. He sat at the center counter and coincidentally sat next to a guy named Phil, the Pathfinder of the March 10th raid over Tokyo."

The war left terrible scars, but both men would later return to Japan--a testimony to the courageous fellowship at the Sky Kitchen Cafe.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

New book from award-winning Chico poet

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Troy Jollimore teaches philosophy at Chico State University, and his philosophical sensibility informs his poetry as he explores the intersection of inner and outer experience. "Truth be told," the poet writes in "The Solipsist," "the whole place, / everything that the eye / can take in, to the sky / and beyond into space, // lives inside of your skull." But that "raises a question // that comes up again and again, / as to why / God would make ear and eye / to face outward, not in?"

The poem is included in a masterful collection, "At Lake Scugog" ($16.95 in paperback from Princeton University Press, $9.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book). Jollimore won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his first collection, "Tom Thomson in Purgatory," and the new book, part of the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets, includes fourteen poems that get inside the head of a mellower Tom Thomson.

The book's publication was celebrated last Thursday at the Blue Room Theatre with a literary event sponsored by Lyon Books in Chico.

In the title poem, "who I am / maintains an uneasy truce / with who I fear I am. ..." In "Meme, I, Self, and Eye: Fifteen Self-Portraits," the poet is "An inward facing projector / lighting a screen / that is its own audience."

But there is another out there, "On Location": "Even in the midst of silence the words of my language swarmed around me like flies. // Even in the midst of that swarm I could hear the director shouting Action! / Even in the midst of all that action I managed to take your hand. // Even in the midst of that swarm, that song, that silence, I found the resolve to kiss you. / Even in the midst of that kiss I knew you and I would end up on the cutting room floor."

Yet, in "To His Lover," "If you mistake me for / a solid and persisting thing, we both / will come to tears. Whereas, if you but grasp / the truth of what I am--then we'll still come / to tears; but there may first be time, before / this doom arrives, to get some kissing in."