My (first) Tattoo;

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 by Vince.Puzick

On the drive to the tattoo parlor (do they still call them “parlors”?) I had my usual second- guessing.

  • What if it comes out bad?  Really bad?
  • Are tattoos a “need” or a “want”? (As my mother’s voice echoed in my head in chorus with my own voice when I spoke in the past with my daughter about her budgeting practices.)
  • And ultimately, do I really want to do this?

The answers arrived at each stoplight.

If it comes out bad, really bad, I can wear high socks in the summer and long pants in the winter.  (I was not clear on the line between a “bad” tattoo and a “really bad” tattoo;  I would know it when I see it.) Since I had decided that the placement would be on my right calf, it would not be blatant.  With that placement, it would not be obvious to people when we met.  It wasn’t like I was getting it on my cheek where it would scream “Here I am!  Look at me!”  And since I wouldn’t be able to see it myself without some gymnastic contortions, I could pretend it wasn’t there.  Disaster in the form of embarrassment and humiliation could be avoided if it turns out really bad.

Of course tattoos are “a want” and not “a need.”  It’s a luxury item.  It’s an adornment. It’s a statement, I guess, of some value, belief, some passion or interest that a person has.  We can make statements in other ways.  Write a blog. Post a FB rant or pic.  Buy a t-shirt. Tweet or Snap it.  Those expressions are fleeting, though, and the statement would have to be made repeatedly to “stick.”

“Well,” I said to myself at the stoplight at Forge Road and Garden of the Gods Road.  “No need to worry about if this statement ‘will stick’; it’s what you would call permanent.”

A need or a want? I was in a place where I could financially afford it.  And to answer my mother’s voice rattling around in there, I may have even said out loud in my car:  “I’m 59 years old. And she’s not alive to witness it.”  [I remember when I got my ear pierced and went over to her apartment.  When she noticed the ear ring, she said “Vincent! I told you if you ever got a piercing or a tattoo, you were not welcome in my house!” (She was joking to make a point, sort of, about that.) I looked at her and said “Mom, I’m 35.”]  Today, in this day of less stigma about and much greater acceptance of body art, I think she would say something like “you know, some of them come out very beautiful” and she might pause and then add “but some come out bad.  Really bad.”

My second-guessing about “a want” was answered by the time I reached 30th Street.

The second-guessing question that remained, “do I really want this,” moved back and forth from the back of my mind to the front of my mind for the whole trip.  The other questions were actually easier, so as they pushed their way to the front of my mind, I answered them.  I had about seven minutes until I reached Redemption Tattoo Shop on west Colorado Avenue.

I had debated on whether I “really want to do this” for several years.  My daughter, Jessica, who got her first ink on the day she turned 18, was now in a place where she rolled her eyes whenever I showed her a sketch of a tattoo idea or even mentioned it.  She had heard it for years.  Jannetta was the same way.  If Jessica and Jannetta were in the same room and I mentioned my ideas or even my desire to get a tattoo, they would roll their eyes in perfect synchronization.  They didn’t know why I had any hesitation;  they attributed it to the anticipated pain of the needle.  They attributed my lack of conviction to the whole idea of body art in any form.  I didn’t even know why.  Fears of really bad tattoos.  Fears of not being able to go to my deceased mother’s apartment.

I had cried wolf before.  Told them of my plans.  I posted status updates on Facebook seeking recommendations for artists and parlors (or shops). People responded with names and locations but I never took that step of actually, you know, going to the shop.

For months, ok — years, I sketched out designs.  I had random images that I had roughed out in my mind and on paper.  I had images from the internet that I thought would be cool.  I reached the decision that  I would get a tattoo inspired by my passion for fly fishing.  Yeah, that would be it.  Some of the fly fishing guides that I hung out with had some cool fish and river and nature designs.  I started to sketch out some ideas.  I considered using a line from Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” or the line from Emmylou Harris, “I am standing by the river; I’ll be standing here forever.”

Jessica rolled her eyes. Jannetta gave me a look and asked me to pass the chicken.

To make matters worse, I started to see people’s tattoos of a simple yet sophisticated punctuation mark:  the semicolon.  I always have liked the semicolon.  I didn’t know so many others shared my passion for it!  Then I read about Project ; 

Project Semicolon’s vision is to increase awareness and initiate honest conversation about suicide, mental health, and addiction.  I sought out more information.  And the need for this conversation is not lost on me.  I have been in recovery from my own addictions for a little over 30 years.  When I was 19, and again when I was 26 and only hours before I entered my own period of recovery, I had what they would call suicidal ideation.  The recovery rooms have seats filled with those who have battled similar suicidal thoughts and fought wars with their own self-harm.  If those battles aren’t tough enough, we usually fight them in silence and in isolation.  We feel alone.

I have had very close friends, and friends of family members, and former high school students who have committed suicide.  I have loved ones who, through some periods of their lives, battle the thought everyday.  I won’t share their story here out of respect for the families and friends;  it is their story to tell, in so many ways, and it is for them to decide the time to initiate any public conversations about their experiences.

I have come to hate it when people in recovery rooms say “I was going to suicide but I didn’t have the guts for it. I was too chicken.”  We need to change the language.  “I was going to suicide but for some reason, I still held onto an inkling of hope, a spark, something or some Higher Power kept me moving forward. I had enough courage to go on.”

So I decided on Monday morning, August 15, to get the semicolon tattoo.  Tuesday morning, I messaged my friend (who also came highly recommended), Josh Heney, at Redemption Tattoo Company my idea for the image. He responded a little later, and I tweaked the design.

I had put the fly fishing idea and moved ahead with the semicolon project.  I didn’t tell anybody I was going on Friday afternoon.  I texted Jessica and Jannetta the mock-up of the art work that I designed myself.  They expressed enthusiasm for the image, and I am sure they rolled their eyes that I would ever get it done.

As I turned right from 31st Street on to Colorado Avenue and saw the shop’s sign, I was confident in my decision.  Josh showed me his design and then put the pattern on my right calf.  I studied it in the mirror and we were ready to roll.

For the next 75 minutes or so, I lay face down, motionless, and speechless.  I was not going to move and I did not want to talk to the artist at work.  It’s my first tattoo — do not distract him with some sort of idle chit-chat!  At one point, his fellow artist walked through, stopped and observed.  “That’s cool.  A different approach to the semicolon design.”  I felt inspired.

IMG_7089

When I drew up the design, I started with the semicolon.   That’s the whole point.  And then I thought of my own passion for and interest in writing.  In fact, when I was 19 and battling my own depressive and suicidal thoughts, I would go home at midnight from the factory where I worked and I would write –poems, short stories, one-act plays.  The writing, as far as writing goes, sucked.  But it allowed me to get my story down, to get my story out, to begin to create a voice.

semicolon

As I shifted to lean on my forearms, I thought of my own friends, family, and former students who have been impacted by suicide, mental health issues, and addiction.  I thought of those who have not yet found a solution that they either don’t know exists or don’t believe they deserve.

And to them, I say, you are the writer, your life is your story.

Your story is not over; _________________.

 

 

The Power of Modeling

Posted in Teaching, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on September 28, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve written six 500-word (or so) memoirs this past month and a half.  That’s due, in part, because of my love of the genre, but primarily these memoirs were composed as part of the instructional process as I guided two classes of high school sophomores (their triptych memoir as discussed in the Kirby’s article “Contemporary Memoir:  A 21st Century Genre Ideal for Teens”) and four classes of seniors through the process of composing their own memoirs.

Modeling is a powerful practice in the writing classroom — if not in all classrooms.  I wanted students to hear my thinking processes as I grappled with the same assignment in front of them.  My modeling moved from the initial brainstorming to uncover potential memoir topics (I used a couple of different strategies — “Stones in the River” and “Map My Neighborhood” — to approach the assignment) to drafting and revising the essay, and cleaning it up with some editing strategies.  We did Peter Elbow’s “looping” strategy to get to the heart of the reflection of the memoir — why is this memory even significant?  At each step of the way, using the document camera, my students listened as I thought through my own writing.

As an aside, one of the examples of instructional modeling I have experienced as a student was on the South Platte River with my friend and fishing guide, Steve.  As he taught me the techniques for putting a dry fly on the water so that it floated naturally to entice fish, he modeled the casting motion, watched as I attempted the same, and guided my “revision” process standing there side-by-side.  He didn’t “tell me” how to cast. He showed me.  He didn’t demonstrate and walk away.  He demonstrated then responded to my attempts with guidance, praise, and (because he’s my friend) some good natured kidding.

One discovery I made in this instructional practice is that I need to be careful as I talk through my process.  I want students to maintain ownership over their own papers, so I want them to mimic the thinking and decision-making process.  I model the thinking so they can follow a similar process to make decisions about their own writing.  One of my favorite questions I pose to myself and, later, pose to my students begins “What if…?”

  • “What if I develop this potential topic with some details and see what I discover;  is it meaty enough to pursue?”
  • “What if I craft these two sentences into one?”
  • “What if I break this paragraph into a couple of paragraphs to change the pace and emphasis? (Yes, that would mean that I may have a one-sentence paragraph.)”

So I wrote one in each of my classes.  Why?  Why didn’t I just fudge it and show subsequent classes the brainstormings and drafts that I did in the earlier class periods?  Simple.  The product at the end of the brainstorming session is only as valuable as the process to develop it.  I liken it to downloading a PDF of a powerpoint from the Internet rather than actually being at the presentation where the powerpoint was used.  Sure, I have a product — but I don’t hear the nuance, hear the thinking behind the slides, the inflection of voice, the speaker’s laugh or the asides.

Students benefit from hearing the thinking behind the arrows moving their eyes around the brainstorming; they need the reasons why things are scratched out and written over in the draft;  they need to hear how the ideas originally in the last paragraph end up being presented earlier and throughout the essay instead of lumped together at the end.  They need to hear me grapple with a decision, struggle with a revision, rethink where I was going as I head where the memoir needs to go.

While none of this may seem particularly new or groundbreaking, as I worked through the process with students, it became clear how powerful modeling is to give guidance, to stimulate thinking, and, ultimately, to release responsibility for their own work.

Posted in Teaching on September 6, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

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Posted in Teaching on September 6, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

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The Memoirist at the High School Reunion: Part 1

Posted in People on August 23, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

Mining for gold.  Drinking from a firehose.  Kid in a candy shop.

Whatever idiom used, when you fancy yourself to be a memoirist, going to a high school reunion is not just a trip down memory lane.  It’s not mere reminiscing, this conversation over finger foods;  it’s priming the pump.  It’s kindling for the fire.  It’s prewriting.

I spent about eight hours with folks from my high school’s graduating class, the class of 1975 from William J. Palmer High School, this past weekend.  From teammates on the baseball team, to the academically motivated kids I passed in the hallways but didn’t really share many classes, to the band kids, smoker kids, kids who climbed on rocks — the 100+ or so who made it to the 40th reunion mingled and shared stories of the past and current stories of their present.

In more than a couple of conversations, I started questions with “Do you remember …” which must be some sort of memoirist mantra.  The memoirist is cursed;  remembering isn’t just about the memory filtered by time and distance and shaped by other experiences.  The memory isn’t just about recalling the facts — or something resembling the facts.  As Mary Karr said in her Paris Review interview “More important than remembering the facts, I have to poke at my own innards.” It’s about finding some meaning in the remembered experience, some emotional truth in the facts.

I’d ask “do you remember …” in part to confirm that the experience did, indeed, happen but also to see and hear the emotion behind their recollection.  Did they cringe or grin?  Grimace in disbelief at the “man, we’re lucky to be alive” memory?  I didn’t look at their response to be a mirror of my own recollection (it couldn’t be!) but as a way to access my own response, my own emotion to that memory.

Members of Palmer High's 1975 baseball team. Missing some key guys, though!

Members of Palmer High’s 1975 baseball team. Missing some key guys, though!

So the memoirist at the high school reunion gets to hear different perspectives around shared experiences — which are not shared memories.  A bunch of boys were sitting in the booth in the back of the Bon Pharmacy enjoying cherry cokes (when they actually had to mix the cherry syrup with the Coca-Cola at the fountain) when Dave P (maybe 13 or 14 at the time) snagged that housefly right out of the air and then, for twenty-five cents, swallowed it down.  Taken separately, that event is just evidence of the strangeness of teen boys;  in the bigger context of my life around Bonny Park, it speaks of a time and of relationships that were impactful. Similarly, we were all at Gerry Berry Stadium when Tony S, paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident several months before graduation, received his diploma, pushed across the stage in a wheelchair.  Yes, the scene was emotional.  But it is an event in a larger memory landscape that has meaning, that shapes me, that is part of the arc from the booth at the pharmacy to graduating from high school.

Mary Karr says “With memoir, you have the events and manufacture or hopefully deduce the concept.”  I have the events — and a headful of notes about more.

So if memoirs are beyond the “what” of remembering;  it is the “why” of remembering.  What is worth writing about?  And why is it worthy of that time, energy, and emotion?

I’ll need to get back to you.

About Family, Family History, and Proximity

Posted in Observations, People on March 24, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

My childhood home was at the north end of Colorado Springs. Not the Historic Northend as some of the new street signs read. Further north than that.  Where Cascade Avenue basically came to an end cutting through fields of yucca and prickly pear cactus and few trees.  The north end. Nothing really historic or glamorous about it.  Just the outskirts of town.

I grew up bordered by my father’s family.  Aunt Millie. Aunt Mary.  And when I was still a baby, Grandpa Nick and Grandma Eva.  Aunt Dorothy — who had married my Uncle Steve.  For some reason, a reason I hope to discover or at least hypothesize in this current writing project, all of the Puzick clan stuck together and carved out a little niche of four households barely a half a mile apart.  Not only within walking distance, but, if the wind was blowing right, within shouting distance of each other.

Not so with my mother’s family.  She and her siblings — two brothers — spread out from their South Dakota and Wyoming childhood homes and pursued their independently from one another.  Reunions with them seemed special because the times together were infrequent.  Cousins were born and got so much bigger since the last time we saw each other.  Little kids grew into teens then adults.

So we had this great and immediate proximity to the Puzick side of the family.   Not so much with the Wertenberger side, my mother’s side.  And so with this proximity we knew the Puzick story.  The coal mining side.  The immigrant Serbian side.  The German side was distant.  Less intimate.  Overshadowed.

And the richness of a family tapestry cannot be fully seen in the threads of one texture.  And so this writing project is the other thread.  to be continued …

So you’re a native!  So what …

Posted in Observations, People, Places on February 4, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

I was having breakfast a few weeks ago with a new friend who recently moved to Colorado Springs, and during the conversation I said “I’m a native.”

“You’re the second or third person I’ve talked with in the last few weeks that pretty quickly points out that you’re a native of Colorado Springs.  Why is that?”

It’s an interesting question.  In our very mobile population, it is almost expected that people will move to different parts of the country or, living in a city with five military bases such as Colorado Springs, different parts of the world.  When I ask, I’m usually expecting the answer to “where are you from” to be something other than Colorado Springs.

So from my friend’s response, my blurting out that “I’m a native” must seem, what, a little prideful?  Does it come across as creating difference – “you’re new, I’m a native”?  — and therefore maybe a little arrogant?

I have pondered why it is important to express, blurt out even, that I am a native of Colorado Springs.

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Perhaps it is out of nostalgia.  I remember when … the north end was not even “The Old North End.”  The north end of Colorado Springs was basically north of Uintah Street, or maybe even north of Fillmore.  The north end ended where Nevada Avenue merges onto I-25.  Rockrimmon was simply the site of the old Pikeview coal mine and, more when I was growing up, high school woodsies and keggers.

Penrose Main on Cascade Avenue was simply Penrose.  The 13-story red and white building was the only Penrose Hospital in town.  And Penrose was a visible and meaningful landmark in the town.  Until the Holly Sugar building was built in the early 1960’s, Penrose rose up out of the tree-lined streets of the north end like a beacon.  One could always orient one’s self by finding where he was in relation to Penrose Hospital.  And when it is your place of birth, it grounds one in familiarity, foundation, reassurance.  Coupled with the fact that I was born there, Penrose was also where my mother was trained and as a nurse and then employed for some 40+ years.

The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo breakfast was a small town event.  So was the 4th of July gathering in Memorial Park.  The population throughout the 1960’s was only around 90,000 residents.  Today, the 4th of July event draws more people than that to the Park.

I remember when the Manitou Incline actually had a train car that pulled people the mile up.  Those were saner, simpler times.  And Jones Park was a hiking and backpacking experience where you would not see another hiker (and mountain bikes were not even invented) for the entire weekend.

Does it just come down to nostalgia?  Maybe it is just due to the fact that I am getting older faster and reminiscing more often and more deeply.  The old and familiar of Colorado Springs still serves as my anchor despite the changes.  I love walking down Tejon Street despite the loss of Michelle’s ice cream, Lorig’s cowboy boots and hats, Hibbard’s pneumatic tubes where your payments zoomed out of sight and where the elevator was tended by an elevator man.  I love the presence of the Fine Arts Center even though I do not take advantage of the richness of it as often as I should.  Despite my own liberal leanings, I think NORAD is awesome, the Academy is beautiful, and Fort Carson (where my uncle worked) is pretty cool.

But maybe my blurting out “I’m a native” is also about roots and place, about the rootedness in where you “grew up.”  When I told my friends in California, after living there for all of the 1980’s, that I was moving back to Colorado Springs, they thought I was crazy.  (I’m sure it was, ironically, native Californians who mostly responded with this disbelief.)

But there is something about waking up with the sun-reddened granite of the Pikes Peak summit greeting you on fall mornings that lingers bone deep.  (It is also knowing “Pikes Peak” has no possessive apostrophe and being OK with that despite being an English teacher.)  It’s knowing the effect of the chinook winds, that today’s snow may be gone by sunset tomorrow.  Or even later today.

It’s knowing that despite living in the most conservative of all counties in Colorado, we weathered Proposition 2 twenty years ago. It means we can enjoy a rich arts community even if it feels tiny at times.  It means despite our growth, we can enjoy nature experiences within our city limits and wilderness experiences within an hour’s drive.

So, yeah, I blurt out that I am a Colorado Springs native.  It’s a statement that says welcome to what I have known for many years, and it serves as the segue into the near-apology of “I know, things could be better here.”  Maybe it’s a bit protective of a life that once was and is not the reality today.  Maybe it is an invitation that says let’s continue to create a space together that has all the closeness of a small town but the richness that 400,000 people may bring.

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