Open Book Test: March (23 years ago), 1992

When: March (23 years ago), 1992
Where: Goshen, Indiana
What: college junior
Age:  21

It’s Sunday now. The last two days were filled and frantic, although I did have a good time with my family. Yvonne and Michelle were so cute and funny. I took them to the dance with me on Friday night and it was pretty funny. Mom and dad brought LOTS of food plus money for shoes! I went to Walmart on Friday and got underwear, contact solution, pads…all kinds of important things.

I spent all day yesterday working in the Umble Center. Then when I came back to K’s room, he was sad and started crying. He was crying because he doesn’t want to be here—he wants to go other places. When he gets like that, it makes me scared, because he latches onto me like I’m his life breath. I sometimes wonder if he thinks we’ll be together all of our lives. I guess I wouldn’t mind, except that I’m not done yet. I still want to fall in love a few more times. I’m really looking forward to this summer for that reason. We must not be together this summer. He isn’t any fun when he gets so sad like that. Sometimes I think we’ll always be together, but then I remember how young I am and how many things I want to do yet, and I become skeptical.

The days are much longer, now, and the sun has woken me up before my alarm three times in the past week. That’s more days than we saw the sun all winter. I can come home for supper and get back for rehearsal before it gets dark. And sometimes you can hear birds. It’s weird. I missed this part of last year. I was so alive there in Guaitil (Costa Rica). It’s hard for me to feel joy. I feel sometimes better and sometimes worse, but as far as exploding with joy–I don’t, much. I’m always worried—about grades, about K, about the plays we’re producing, about money, about N (my roommate), about the plays I am trying to write, about my family finding out about me, about getting pregnant, about my bike breaking down, about getting sick, about my caffeine consumption, about my alcohol consumption, about not writing letters… I have so much stress.  And rehearsal is at 6:30 and I still have to prepare a cue script.

Flock / After the Mennonite Writing Conference

I graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School many moons ago, so I must have passed my Mennonite History class. Did they not explain the difference between “ethnic” Mennonites (think Canada and the western portion of the USA) and “religious” Mennonites (of the pious Pennsylvania variety)? Or did I not get the memo? Most likely, even the teacher didn’t get it. I get it now.

I thought I had no flock, but I do have a flock. Imagine my surprise.  And I am not even the strangest bird in it.

The best part of all, was seeing a picture of myself reflected back by those around me, that looks like my own image of me. The other 361 days of the year, I am a WIC certifier with a weird pastime: scribbling in notebooks. But this last weekend, for 4 consecutive days, I got to be a writer with a day-job.  This, of course, is what I’ve secretly believed all along.  I just didn’t know anyone else was convinced.

It’s almost enough to make a girl start humming 606.

Open Book Test: March (9 years ago), 2006

When: March (9 years ago), 2006
Where: Costa Rica
What: This is the Monday after the weekend when my husband (P)’s son (A) moves from Italy, with his dog, to live with us for a few years.   (P)’s young daughter (K) spends the weekend with us.  The kitchen is in the middle of a remodel.
Age:  35

A got here around 4:30 on Friday afternoon. The dog isn’t that big after all. I haven’t been still, or been alone, even to take a shower, since sometime on Friday morning–and it’s Sunday. A is a beautiful boy. When I was 19, boys didn’t look so much like puppies, but now they do.

Friday night we all went out for dinner. K has been acting out a lot. Of course dad and brother think it’s funny and cute. It is cute that she’s so happy, but she shows it by insisting on having all the attention all the time. And on this occasion, I can’t exactly tell her to settle down or calm down.

Yesterday, we went on this big fishing boat for some little kid’s birthday party. It was fun, but I have been eating entirely too much again. I feel heavy. Last night we made dinner at home, and went to bed. The kitchen is usable, but, with the new floor, the kitchen sink is just about the right height to pee in.

Friday night I slept ok with K in our bed, but last night I didn’t. That child is a nightmare to sleep beside, and I am sorry, but, it is NO LONGER NECESSARY that she sleep in our bed. She’s 7, not 3, and she is perfectly secure enough and capable of sleeping in a bed like a normal child. OF COURSE she’s going to throw a fit. But that’s no reason for even the adults to behave unreasonably. I am about ready to take this into my own hands. If I have to go sleep in her room to get any rest, she is going to sleep in there with me, and that’s the end of it. And P and I can have a fight about it if that’s what it takes, because I will win because I am right.

Células

Si es verdad
que en el cuerpo
humano,
cada célula se repone
en el trascurso de
siete años,
eres, entonces
un hombre nuevo–
y yo soy una mujer
diferente de
la que conociste
al atardecer
con el viento que soplaba
al mar.
Nuestros cuerpos,
hasta las células
cerebrales
donde viven las memorias
más secretas,
nunca se han conocido
el uno sin
el otro.

“When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder”–What Third Graders Want To Know

Adults who read my memoir, “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder: Tales from a Mennonite Childhood,” often have questions:

Are you still Mennonite?  (click to read my answer) 
Do you attend church?
Do you consider yourself a Christian?
Are your sisters still Mennonite?
What was your purpose for writing this book?
What do your parents think about it?
Why did you change all the names?

Last week I had the opportunity to answer a different set of questions related to “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder.” A friend of mine teaches 3rd grade at a local elementary school, and, skipping over unmentionables like the day I found out how Baby Michelle got into Mommy’s belly, and how it is that boys get to pee standing up, she has been reading my book to them out loud. On Thursday afternoon, we arranged for me pay a surprise visit to her class. She warned me that I should be prepared for lots of enthusiasm when I walk in the door, but I hadn’t exactly pictured getting mobbed by 23 bouncing, miniature people who are shouting out all of my secrets.

I knocked on the door, nervously, to be honest, and a little boy opened it to let me in. Mrs. Wytko looked up from their math lesson and smiled. “Look!” she said to them. “We have a special visitor today. Guess who this is…”

Somebody gasped, “Diana…??”

I said, “It’s me!”

They jumped out of their chairs and took two running steps toward me, then remembered that I’m actually sort of still a stranger, and stopped.

I sat down on one of the little desks, feeling entirely oversized, held out my arms, and said something like, “So I heard you guys like my book?”

That’s when I got mobbed—group-hugged by an entire 3rd grade class, everybody squealing, and jumping, and saying, “Remember when…?” and, “Why did you…?” then dashing to get their journals to show me the pictures they’ve drawn of my childhood escapades. They showed me their scars, and asked me if chocolate pudding still makes me throw up.

Eventually, Mrs. Wytko herded everyone back to their seats. I read a few pages from “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder” to them, while they wrote in their little journals about what I was reading, or drew pictures of what it made them think of.

After that, we had Question Time. I sat in the front of the room, and each child had a turn to come to me to tell me something, or ask a question. There isn’t a Mennonite gene in one of their little bodies, but they didn’t seem to notice. Here in the Wild West, everyone is a recent decedent of an outlaw, an immigrant, or both. Forget whether or not I go to church, or what my mother thinks about it. This is what 3rd graders want to know:

Did you ever your mom about the money you took?
Why were the geese so mean?
Did you really kill all the ducks?
Why were the eggs rotten?
Why were you drowning the kitties?
How could you run faster than that truck?
Why is your dad scared of thunder?
Did you pet the snake?
Is there still a hole in your floor?
Why do you hate potato soup?
Remember that mean teacher you had?
Why did you want to kill your sister?
Why did you think you could fly?

I left with a pocket full of love notes, knowing that my book succeeded in communicating the innocence of childhood that hasn’t got anything at all to do with adult problems like religion. And I agree that whether or not chocolate pudding still makes me throw up is much more critical than whether or not I’m still Mennonite.

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Open Book Test: February (16 years ago), 1999

When: February (16 years ago), 1999
Where: Costa Rica
What: I’ve been married for 2 years, and every day I drive from my home, in Guaitil, to Tamarindo beach.  There, I  sett up a display table outside of a little restaurant, and sell the pottery that my husband makes.  On the weekends, I teach some English classes at the Universidad Latina.
Age:  28

The sky is so wildly blue and the ocean like a precious gem. No hour is too early or too late to be burned by the unspeakable sun. The moon by night es igual. It shines so close, so completely, that you can feel its pulse in the shadows it paints. Today is also a day of wind, so all of God’s children in the tropics are happy. All except the French people who have no customers in their restaurant. I went to the beach today, early, which was a good idea. Maybe my tan it terrible, but my soul feels good. G said he dreamed I left him for another man. See? That’s how I know he loves me. I dream that about him too.

I got SUN BURNT. Wow. God have mercy on my hide! And the nice boy in the restaurant gave me a huge free cup of boiling hot coffee. His employers always charge me for a lukewarm half-cup. I have been feeling this incredible urge to write, again. I think reading poetry for Lit. class is doing it. Praise God! And now my own adversary is myself and the schedule I have made for me. But I can keep being patient. O yes I can, and I will.

I have realized something that I will confess only because I will be dead by the time anyone else figures it out. If I were disgustingly wealthy, do you know what I would do? I am embarrassed to confess it, but I would go get this belly liposuctioned away. I would. I know, I know. What about children who never get vaccinated because their families and countries are too poor? What about cancer and AIDS? But I would do it anyway, because how can you enjoy gorgeous clothes if you have to pull them over a dumpy body? How can you enjoy good food if you’re already fat and don’t want to be? Huh? You can’t. So now I confess to myself that I am no better than the wretched people I complain about.

I am going on four years of living here, now, and you know what? It didn’t turn out at all like I expected. I never expected to have a real “job.” I expected I’d have a little house with a red floor and a kitchen like Silma’s. I expected to marry J. I expected never to cut my hair. I expected to write volumes, write letters, make beautiful pottery, listen to the frogs and owls at night. I expected to make tortillas and learn to murder my own chickens. I expected to have girlfriends, any friends.

And this is still my dream: to wake warm in the morning, to greet the sun brushing back my long brown hair, eat with the songs of birds at my table, ponder the mountains, moments, days of my life. I still dream of dusk, those few yellow moments when the mountains hum the note that calls night, and all is hushed but the whish of wind and the conversation of birds. I still dream of this and will not cease.