19 April 2008
Betty Milner, my mother, died on August 31, 2007. Over the years, I have written about her. I have drawn pictures of her. Now is the time to gather these imprints and maybe generate some new ones. Her life is mine to share.
17 April 2008
This originated as a commentary, written and broadcast on KUNI Iowa Public Radio, in 1997.
Piercing the pale upper rim of her navel is a small ring. From the ring dangles a teardrop of black onyx. It jiggles seductively each time she passes an item across the food co-op scanner. The turquoise digital numbers blink and beep with each swipe. Her tight jeans are slung precariously just above where her pubic hair would show. Her cropped tank top reveals an ivory midriff. Her gem-caressing orifice entrances me as she pulls through my 2% milk, one-a-day menopausal vitamins, full-fat mango yogurt, Kalamata olives with pits, and French goat cheese.
Her black shiny fingernails hold up to my riveted gaze a plastic bag bulging with green leaves. “Spinach or lettuce?” she asks in a monotone. Her full lips, painted chocolate brown, part, revealing exquisite teeth.
“No, arugula. Can’t get that where I come from. Have to come down here to Iowa City,” I chortle. Unimpressed, she reaches to look up the key code to punch into the register. An intricate tattoo of chain intertwined with thorns bands her right upper arm. Her eyes, black like her nails, are opaque with mysteries, secrets, a lifetime of illusions to peel away. She is twenty-one—Venus in thick lugged combat boots at the checkout. She is a drink seeking a glass. A body seeking a soul. Thirty-five years ago, I was she. But instead of the bolt and pierce club, it was the braless, anti-lingerie sect, with big hair, lace-up leather boots, and unshaven armpits. It was the same struggle to define oneself before others do. It was the fashion of countering convention.
A gallon tin of extra virgin olive oil and a tube of exfoliating, gardeners’ hand cream are the last through. “Paper or plastic?” She looks past me, as if I were on the other side of a mirror. She sees only herself. I am invisible. At 56, I have the privilege and the pleasure of being the unseen observer.
A dozen years ago, I started writing and broadcasting personal essays for Iowa Public Radio. These commentaries were a wonderful opportunity for me to spotlight my daily interests and concerns. Before this, drawing and painting had been my main creative tools. It's been several years since my gig as a regular commentator ended, but learning my life through writing has continued. Venus at the Checkout, first aired in 1997, will be my introduction.