More on the Power of Names, With Mr. Bill Jayne

One of the things that amazes me about writing is how often something one writes generates a round of thought and dialogue.

Yesterday I put up a blog about a friend of Betty’s and mine, Gail Larrick, and how she asked us to speak her name when we went to visit one of her old domiciles.

The response I received to that blog was impressive and wide ranging and contained a lot of thought provoking messages.

One of those messages, which I found profoundly moving, came from one of my Marine Corps comrades who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, at the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t know Bill then, or maybe I did by sight, but he endured the same horrors I did, and maybe more. As the saying goes, “He rode the elephant and looked the tiger in the eye.”

Bill Jayne, photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

After his service in the USMC, Bill went on to a distinguished career with the Department of Veterans Affairs where he spent many years honoring veterans. When I first read Bill’s note to me, it moved me to tears and that is something that I don’t often do and when I do, I hate to admit it.

Semper Fidelis, Bill Jayne.

Here is what Bill wrote:

I didn’t comment on your Facebook post because it didn’t seem germane, but I want to share a story about the power of names.

Somewhere around 1979 when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was just getting off the ground, I was at something like a board meeting (I don’t think we had an actual board at that time except for the three guys who had incorporated the VVMF). We were talking about the design elements the memorial should contain, basically within the context of putting together a communications and fundraising strategy.

One of our leaders was a brilliant (and troubled) West Pointer who had spearheaded the drive to build a Vietnam memorial at the academy and he was adamant that the memorial needed to include the names of all those who died. No one in the room immediately agreed with him. We said things like, “There are too many of them! It will look like a phone book.”

He insisted and talked us into an exercise to illustrate his conviction that the names were essential. He asked us to go around the room and one by one, say the name of someone we knew who died in Vietnam. There were only about 15 of us, or less, but by half way around the tide had shifted. The power of the names to invoke the enormity of the loss was floating in the air like green smoke from a grenade. I spoke the name of Joe Battle, a Marine from my fire team killed on 25 February and was immediately committed to a memorial that offered up the name of each who had died.

Bill Jayne in boot camp at Parris Island, SC.

Any of us who have been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, can attest to the power of 58000 plus names etched in black stone to generate grief and remembrance and redemption. Names. Not grandiose statuary or columns in the classical mode. Just names.

Bill’s bio:

Bill Jayne enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years in September 1966. Originally from the Hudson Valley of New York state he went to boot camp at Parris Island and joined 1/26 on Hill 55 in early 1967. He was a rifleman, 0311, but found himself in H&S Company and then Bravo Company as a clerk. An insubordinate streak landed him in 1st Platoon of Bravo Company in October 1967. Patrol, patrol, patrol; Hill 950, Hill 881S, etc. After college he ended up in Washington, DC, working for a small magazine and then a big lobbying organization involved with heavy construction. A chance phone call in 1979 led to the opportunity to serve as an early volunteer on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and then a career in the US Department of Veterans Affairs. He ran the National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) State Cemetery Grants Program and later the Federal cemetery construction program. In his 20+ years with the NCA he had a role in the establishment of about 50 new cemeteries for veterans and their families, every one of them a “national shrine” to the memory of those who served in the military. He is now retired in Wilmington, NC.

Twitter: The Power of a Question

Guest blogger Galen Rodgers muses on the power of questions, whether in the normal forms of discourse or in newer forms of communication.

Recently, I had an experience on Twitter that changed my perspective of not only the power of asking one simple question through a social media platform, but also how one’s question can lead to an unexpected path of promise.

The Tale of the Tape

Approximately 2 weeks ago, I was in building mode on Twitter. We’re talking deep in the trenches of actively pursuing Tweeps seeking knowledge that I had to offer. For those who aren’t intimately involved with Twitter, generally, one must follow others in order to attract followers. Because my business is online marketing, blogging, start-up strategy, personal branding and the like, it necessitates actively seeking an audience. If I can’t garner an audience on Twitter, FaceBook and other social media platforms, what do I have to offer?

The Question

So there I was, following folks to gain an audience. On this particular day, to shake things up, I decided to try something new. Instead of playful banter between my current followers or spreading the good word of social media from the usual outlets, I started asking questions of my followers.

I specifically remember that actual event of the question. I ran an errand to Safeway and while I was sitting in the parking lot, I decided to use my iPhone to ask a random question. “How do you build your personal brand?” That was the question. Nothing poignant. Not earth shattering. Just a simple question. I’d asked questions in the past with no response so I wasn’t expecting much.

This time I received an immediate response, and only one. The follower replied, “Carefully.” Huh, that was it? Interesting…
I didn’t know the follower as by this time I’d accumulated over 1,000 Tweeps. I replied telling him indeed that was interesting and provided a link to my blog. My blog post for that week was “5 Reasons to Build your Personal Brand” and I truly wanted input.

The Result

This follower then proceeded to visit my blog, comment, and retweeted my post to his 4,000+ followers stating “up and coming blogger”… I was ecstatic! Not only did someone I didn’t know respond to my question, he visited my blog and actually became an advocate for my content. Holy %$#&!! But wait, there’s more…

Not only did he become an advocate for my content, a week later I was invited to join Triberr. Triberr is a blog reach multiplier. Meaning, if you’re invited to join a Tribe on Triberr, everything you blog is then retweeted by all tribe members thus extending your reach beyond what you normally could accomplish with your own efforts. Currently, my tribe has a reach of nearly 27,000 people. Some Tribes have a reach of over 1 million!


What does this mean? Because of one question, I’ve extended my reach to a growing community looking for information regarding my specialty and that is great for my business. What if I hadn’t asked the question? What if I played it safe and decided to continue broadcasting the same content on Twitter I had been? Would I have missed this opportunity?

What did I learn from this? Simply, one can never tell when opportunity will strike. Gird up your loins, ask the questions to gain an audience and reap the benefits.

We love to know your thoughts. Share your successes and your concerns with building your personal brand or about social media. All comments are accepted!

Galen Rodgers is a self described Internet Media Evangelist. He is a father of three, serial entrepreneur, marketing professional, avid cyclist, wine lover and film geek. He believes everyone deserves the chance to brand oneself, work hard at their passion and be successful at living the dream.

The Bridge

Guest blogger Elaine Ambrose muses on an event that occured at the Perrine Memorial Bridge

As kids, we would hold our breath as our mother drove across the Perrine Memorial Bridge north of Twin Falls. I remember looking down at the Snake River, almost 500 feet below, and wondering what it would feel like to fly through the canyon. The bridge was 1,500 feet across, and it linked our simple farming village of Wendell to the “big city” of Twin Falls with its shopping center, museum, restaurants, and motels. Going rim to rim to Twin was an adventure.

The arching image of the Perrine Bridge has graced postcards from the local Chamber of Commerce for more than 80 years. Originally built in 1927, the structure was once the highest bridge in the world. Massive steel beams brace against rugged basalt walls of lava rock pocked with scraggly sagebrush, bitterbrush, and scrub oak. Majestic eagles and falcons, hungry hawks, and ugly buzzards soar on the thermal winds around the bridge searching for rodents and rabbits that scurry over the steep terrain.

Down by the river on the north side, the Blue Lakes Country Club offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the arid canyon. Lush green fairways, natural waterfalls, and dramatic, raw edges make it a popular and private course. One day in the fall of 1970, a group of golfers looked up to see an object fall from the bridge. It could have been a large vulture or a bag of garbage from a passing recreational vehicle. Not worth another thought.

My aunt was 41 when she parked her car on the south side of the bridge and walked to the edge. She stood a moment and allowed the endless wind to tousle her long auburn hair. She had driven away from a husband and four young children at home, but she couldn’t escape the demons. She straddled the railing, clutched the edge one last time, and then let go. Even in death, she was a failure as her body missed the water and slammed into the rocks below, a broken and useless heap that the recovery workers cursed as they maneuvered to salvage the body.

I was a teenager then, and my family members never spoke of the incident. The only words I remember were from my grandmother as she muttered something about “that crazy woman” and she reminded us that we wouldn’t go to heaven if we committed suicide. I often wondered how my aunt felt as she briefly flew through the air. Did she scream? Did she laugh? Did she hold her breath and imagine that heaven would let her in, even though she was a sinner? I hope she felt a bit of euphoric freedom in that breathless space between reality and darkness.

The golfers returned to their game, eventually my uncle remarried and moved away, and the bridge was rebuilt in 1976 with higher railings. Now people come from all over the world to BASE jump over the side. I imagine my aunt strapping on a parachute and jumping over the side with a crowd of people cheering her courage. Perhaps climbing over the railing was the bravest thing she had ever done. It was her leap of faith to reach something on the other side that was better than what she had.

I no longer hold my breath when I drive over the bridge. Instead, I whisper a prayer for my aunt’s soul. The words are lost in the wind as the river continues to flow to the distant ocean and the canyon walls turn toward home.

Elaine Ambrose left the family potato farm near Wendell to travel the world, write and publish books, raise marvelous children, and fall in love. Her life is abundant, and she is grateful. Find more details at her web site:

The Winds of Diyarbikir

Guest blogger Sheila Robertson takes us into a snapshot of the past.

I stand on a windy hill, watching dust whirl over the dun-colored soil. Two women in black chadors work in a field, gathering purple-flowered herbs, and an old man sits in the shade fingering his evil-eye beads. Wildflowers and thistles wave between large faced blocks of stone tumbled and strewn in ruin across a rocky knoll. My map says I am at Suayb City.

I toe through the sand-colored rubble and peer into a network of underground rooms. The cool, dank air draws upward from a few larger chambers that contain livestock cribs. The whisper of ancient languages curls up from the dark and the dust under my feet while sunlight plays over layers of more recent civilizations piled on top. A tumbled church. A crumbling mosque. My guidebook has brought me here. It says cuneiform tablets have been found nearby; that the caves are the site of very early civilization.

Today, this place is a few mud-brick houses on a wind-tracked rise. Around them the ruins and goat paths are filled with the laughter of ten Kurdish children competing for attention and leading me from tumbled lintel to toppled column. They point to exotic inscriptions and carved designs, and then scramble on excited to show me more. Black hair, black eyes and bright laughter. I wonder what blood runs in their veins; what tribes their ancestors belonged to. Mongols, Turks, Hittites. What conquering armies swept over this hill and what civilized histories deposited them at this point. A fluid thing, this dust owned by Tamurlane, Alexander the Great, Darius III, and Nebuchadnezzar.

The children offer me yellow wildflowers and I twist them into the girls’ hair. The boys jostle each other and want their pictures taken. I don’t understand Kurd, but they have learned enough English to wheedle. They are hoping the Americans will leave behind a few kurus, or if they are fortunate today, a lira.

Han el Ba'rur Caravansary

I bend to scoop a handful of the tan earth. My childhood Sunday School lessons inform me that Abraham lived a few hills away, in Harran. The prophet, Jethro, settled here and taught in these caves after The Flood.

In the dust I imagine camel caravans trekking this way trading in silk and spices and new ideas. In the wind I hear the clashes between Byzantines and Turks. The battles among followers of Yahweh, Allah, God and Sin, the ancient moon god who ruled these hills before the rest. Today, Allah owns the hearts in this land and Turkey controls their lives. In the Arab Spring there are rumblings from Diyarbikir and the dream of free Kurdistan rides the wind.

But for the moment, the children are laughing and the dust swirls around us and the wildflowers nod.

(Diyarbikir is the unofficial capital of the Kurds)

Sheila Robertson grew up in the west where she lives and enjoys the out-of-doors. She is a writer and photographer who loves to explore the world. Read more of Sheila’s blogging at and check out her photography at

The State of My Backyard

The regular Friday blog took a week off for meanderings in the Oregon outback. This week we return with Virginia based visual artist and writer Betty Plevney musing on her backyard through prose, sketching and haiku.


I moved to Richmond, Virginia, four years ago. It was an economically wise but sad decision as I uprooted my wife from the only place she had ever called home, the San Francisco Bay area, and we left our close friends behind. Slowly, over time, we made this little spot of land, just south of the James River, into a beautiful outdoor room.

Our Place

A lot of living happens in this backyard that has nothing to do with Lee and me. Squirrels race along the fence tops. Starlings root in the grass for worms. Mosquitoes search for ankles, legs and arms. The oak tree sheds its catkins, littering the lawn and deck. Grass gracefully accepts another load from the Boston Terriers and keeps growing. Each year, these scenes unfold as days lengthen, humidity rises and the sun warms the land. I just need to stop long enough to observe.

The State of My Backyard

Spring cleaning the yard,
wind laughs and spits crepe myrtle
seeds across the sand

Crepe myrtle casts shade,
terriers wait silently,
a baby bird falls

Ants hurry, laying
down a line of red footprints,
spring’s first barbecue

The State of My “Backyard”

Old rusty fish hooks,
tangled monofilament,
new barbs snag my fears

Sweat beads in my eyes,
wet hands pull spinning clay up,
dreams collapse again

Black snake winds down the
middle of my road asking
for new ideas

Betty Plevney is a writer, mixed-media artist and graphic facilitator living in Richmond, Virginia. She explores transparency, layering and the juxtaposition of words, ideas, color and texture in her work. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Masters in Writing. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BettyPlevney.

Words inspire pictures inspire words

Idaho photographer and educator Mike Shipman guest blogs in this week’s regular Friday edition.

When I was in high school, I wanted to be a writer; which was after I had passed up opportunities for lead guitarist in a rock band, pro football player, archaeologist, and architect. Words were escape, and still are; a transportation to another time and place, a transformation from one being to another, one lifestyle to another. And, words were (and are) therapy; sometimes, or often, expressing triumphs and failures through made-up situations and characters. When I write, and when I read, the words inspire pictures in my head (as I’m sure they do for you as well), whether Abbey or Leopold, Nabokov or Asimov, Feynman or Gould, poem or newspaper. The images are recalled part (or all) from past experience, knowledge and familiarity of the subject, or completely made up from my current knowledge, my emotional state at the time, or the flights of fancy driven by my imagination.

For example, this poem written by Bret Harte (1839-1902), published in 1880, evokes a variety of images:

The Two Ships

As I stand by the cross on the lone mountain’s crest,
Looking over the ultimate sea,
In the gloom of the mountain a ship lies at rest,
And one sails away from the lea:
One spreads its white wings on a far-reaching track,
With pennant and sheet flowing free;
One hides in the shadow with sails laid aback,
The ship that is waiting for me!

But lo! in the distance the clouds break away,
The Gate’s glowing portals I see;
And I hear from the outgoing ship in the bay
The song of the sailors in glee.
So I think of the luminous footprints that bore
The comfort o’er dark Galilee,
And wait for the signal to go to the shore,
To the ship that is waiting for me.

These words bring to mind a photograph I made on the Oregon coast:

In turn, pictures inspire words. When I look at pictures – paintings, drawings, photographs, moving images, or shadows – I can describe what I see, feel, how I react, in words. I become aware of various associations and “resonances” awakened by the image that can also inspire new and unrelated words and stories completely out of context to the picture’s original content, intent, subject, or subject matter. It’s important for visual artists, like photographers, to be able to describe their creations in words. It helps the viewer understand what the image is about, how it came about, what it means to the artist, and helps the artist understand for himself what the work is about. And when you write words inspired by pictures those words, coming full circle, need to inspire pictures in the mind of your reader.

It might be easier for some people to find or create pictures from words than to craft words from pictures, and vice versa. But, with practice, illustrating what you read and writing about what you see becomes easier and, being interconnected, help improve both.

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.” John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

Mike Shipman is a freelance commercial, editorial and fine art photographer and educator in Nampa, Idaho, and owner/photographer of Blue Planet Photography ( He is an Idaho Commission on the Arts Teaching Artist and leads workshops and classes in the western U.S. and around the world. His work is found in private and corporate collections across the U.S. and exhibited in the Boise, Idaho area. He believes everyone is creative.

Fun With Genealogy

Guest blogger Chuck Dennis plumbs genealogy in this week’s edition of the regular Friday blog.

This piece is a real departure from the normal Ken Rodgers blog entry. No descriptions of austere American deserts or green forests and mountains, and no birds or endless skies. No cowboys or soldiers or bad but interesting old times drinking and fighting. Nothing resembling Ken Kesey and “On The Road.” But there will be a bushwhacking.

Let’s start with me. I just turned 65 (read: geezer). The leading edge of the Baby Boom. In my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, I had little interest in genealogy. However, back in my teens I met an old, Parkinson’s Disease-riddled uncle, who, probably because he had no children of his own, gave me a lifetime membership in the Mayflower Society. Since you have to prove you’re descended from someone on the Mayflower to get that membership, I was pretty sure that, in the words of the “X Files,” the truth (of that part of my genealogy) is out there. My Aunt Virginia, Ken’s wife Betty’s mother (Betty is my cousin), also gave me some of the research she had done on her line, including the name of John Billington, who was on the Mayflower. As I approached my “golden years,” I also found that I had a little more interest in my ancestry. So off I went in search of ancestors.

Now, 30 or 40 years ago, you really had to be devoted to do genealogical research. You spent years going through musty old files, wandering through old courthouses, and creeping through graveyards reading tombstones. Aunt Virginia did a lot of that in Massachusetts and Maine in the late ‘70’s (ask Betty). Today, however, you jump on the Internet. Using sites such as and building on the work of others, you do in a couple of days what it took an earlier generation years to do. I even crept (online) through graveyards reading tombstones (and lists of tombstone names).

So what did I find? Turns out, the Pilgrims were a varied group, as you might expect, and John Billington was a piece of work. Seems he had an “enemy” by the name of John Newcomen. One day, he bushwhacked Newcomen along the road. So in 1630 he became the first Englishman – perhaps the first European – tried, convicted, and hanged for murder in the New World.

His family as a whole is described on the Mayflower History web site as, “Plymouth Colony’s troublemakers.” His son Francis almost blew up the Mayflower. He shot off his father’s musket in a cabin one day, starting a fire that was put out before it got to the open barrel of gunpowder in the room. Another day, Francis and a friend were wandering around near Plymouth when he climbed a tree and found what he thought was a new ocean. Turns out it was a large pond, named (perhaps facetiously) “Billington Sea”, a name it retains to this day.

Then there was the mother, Eleanor. She was sentenced to be put in stocks and whipped for slander. John Billington himself was sentenced in 1621 to have his neck and heels tied together for “contempt of the Captain’s lawful command with opprobrious speeches” (that would be Captain Myles Standish). He was forgiven for that, and later talked his way out of a charge that he was implicated in a revolt against the Plymouth Church. Finally, there was John, Jr. – not quite so accomplished, but he did wander off one day, got lost, and had to be brought back by the Nauset Indians.

Fortunately for me — and for Betty, who is one of the truly good people in this world — there’s been a lot of refinement of the genetic mix since then. Even on the Mayflower, we are related to at least 8 people in 4 families, including the colony’s doctor, its first elected Assistant Governor, and a carpenter, as well as the Billingtons.

So two “takeaways” to finish up this piece. First, genealogical research is much easier than it once was, and can even be interesting. Second, the attitude of most Americans toward “pedigree” is probably on target. We’re all related to the good, the bad, and the ugly, and even a supposedly good “pedigree” may not stand closer scrutiny. You are what you do, not who your relations are or were.

So now I go on to my father’s side of the family. It turns out that my great grandfather’s first name was Lumpkin. But I think I have a line on lineage going back to Virginia in the 1600’s. So I soldier on.

Chuck Dennis and his wife Donna are retired now and live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Both were born and raised in California. For years, Chuck headed strategic planning at the FAA, and he once served brief stints in the White House and on the United States Senate staff. These days, Chuck and Donna enjoy travel and photography. They’ve been to many interesting places, from Timbuktu to Katmandu, and from Prince Edward Island to Patagonia. Iceland is next up. Chuck, by the way, is Betty Rodgers’ cousin. Ken just puts up with him.


This week essayist and guest blogger Susan Bono muses on handfuls.

The first time I got pregnant, I hoped for a girl. I knew nothing about babies and everyone said girls were easier. Three years later, when a sonogram revealed a second son, I had to grieve the daughter I would never have, but I’d gotten over my fear of boys. Babies were just a lot of work, period.

But when my sons were little, it was always, “Oh, you have two boys. You must have your hands full!” Every mother I knew was exhausted and on the verge of madness, but this comment suggested that because I had boys, my situation was more dire. Did everyone assume I spent my days chasing after grubby little imps, trying to get them to stop bashing other children, teasing dogs, and running into traffic? I knew plenty of little girls who were more willful, more restless than my sons. In the baby play group that constituted my social life in those early years, there were biters and tantrummers, but none of them were boys.

There was no use arguing with people. Whenever I tried to point out how my oldest son in particular was as sweet and cooperative as they come, the looks from my sympathizers changed from conspiratorial geniality to pity and suspicion, as if delinquent behavior was the only sure sign of health in a boy. If my gentle sons weren’t born aberrant, although such a defect was highly likely, bad mothering had perverted their natural tendencies toward savagery and violence.

No one ever warned me that teenaged boys might be capable of self-restraint. Along with the “hands full” comment, I invariably heard, “They must be eating you out of house and home!” The pride with which people listed the quantities of snack foods and dairy products their sons put away made me feel like a failure. In reality, most of the cookies, chips and large second helpings consumed in our household could be traced to me or my husband. I always worried that my kids were eating other mothers out of house and home and revealing their hideous lack of judgment in places they could really be themselves.

Despite everyone’s predictions, the oldest moved judiciously through his so-called partying years with a group of reasonably sensible friends. The youngest preferred hanging out at home. Whatever unlawful or dangerous adventures I worried about them having (thinking all the while of my own misspent youth), I never had to experience one of those terrifying middle of the night phone calls or the defiance all mothers of sons get automatic credit for. I was always braced for disaster, vacillating between relief and the feeling I was missing something, but in the end, my parents were the ones to pay me back by pulling more scary stunts in their final years than my sons ever did as teenagers.

Now that my boys are in their twenties, I’ve come to understand that children will confound you on levels you can’t possibly anticipate. My parents were unprepared for the explosion of sex, drugs and social unrest that drove their children’s choices in the ‘70s. I, in turn, still can’t get over the fact that “hippie” is a dirty word in my kids’ vocabularies. Instead of beseeching my youngest to be more careful during his teen years, I am goading him into taking more risks now that he is an adult. My husband and I are even in counseling to find ways to get our baby bird to fledge. For all I know, he’ll wind up joining the police force or the military and become the kind of son everyone told me to expect. With children, you always have your hands full, but of what is anybody’s guess.

Susan Bono is a writing teacher and freelance editor living in Petaluma, CA. She founded Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative in 1995, and its online counterpart,, shortly thereafter. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Sheila Bender’s Writing & Publishing Personal Essays, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, and Passager Magazine. Lately, she’s been doing more cupboard cleaning than writing, but finds time to write a postcard a day.

Things You Do For A Free Lunch With Chub

One of my favorite types of contemporary fiction is the flash, the short-short, or sudden fiction. I like this type of story for the lyrical way it is composed. I also like that the meaning is generally left for the reader to discern. One of my good friends—California writer Guy Biederman— is an expert practitioner in the genre. He chooses to call the very brief short story, “lowfat fiction.” Here is an example of lowfat composed by Guy.

Things You Do For A Free Lunch With Chub

– skip breakfast

– overlook Chub sending back his pancakes twice for being too dark

– ignore his opinions about where you should look for work

– eat slower than him

-ignore vibrating cell, even though you know it’s Shelley from Pilates and you can’t stop thinking about her

– pretend you don’t read the same newspaper cover to cover as Chub, including the article on Christian Bale that he’s misquoting

– smile tightly to keep from yawning

– laugh at jokes that aren’t funny about the waitress that dude here has no chance with

– summon a dental emergency and excuse yourself, following dessert.

Guy Biederman is a North Bay writer and teacher who lives in Sebastopol, California. His classes include Lowfat Fiction, The Writing Groove, Big Chunk, and Walk & Write, as well as daylong Saturday classes with Ken Rodgers two to three times a year. His most recently published lowfat piece, Gravity Hill, will appear in the next issue of Third Wednesday, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, literary publication.

Feral Kittens

This week Ken’s blog features California teacher and short story composer Jamey Genna, whose writing is quirky, poignant and her irony will knock you off balance.

Well, what I constantly have been thinking about for the past three months are these three feral kittens I trapped, that don’t seem to be all that feral.  They are costing me a mint.  How can that be?  I captured them so I could take them into Fix our Ferals and get them fixed for free, then take them back to nature and set them free—where they could keep the current cat population to a minimum, along with any undeserving population of mice and birds. 

Okay, so I kept them from mid-December to late January in my home studio—a shed I have out back—a sanctuary for writing and painting, for both me and my husband.  The shed stinks of cat litter, spray, and dander now, no matter how many times I clean it and empty out the box.  Cat litter: 4.99 a bag.  Cat food: 4.99 a bag.  I had one mama cat and three two month old kittens.  That’s a large bag of litter and a large bag of cat food a week.  Two teachers from my school donated $25 each.

Okay, so the deadline for the Fix our Ferals—the phone line filled up within the first few minutes, so I got put on the waiting list.  Then Oakland called and said I could bring them in there at 8 a.m. one at a time.  That means one cat per visit.  That’s four sick days.  So I brought Mama cat into Oakland and I was there first.  I took the day off from work b/c I had a doctor’s appointment at 11.  Then eight people showed up to get cats fixed.  Since I had a feral mom who was still feeding her overgrown kittens, I got bumped to the top of the list.  There were four of us with lactating females.  They only take three.  We drew cards.  I never win at these things.  I drew the low card—a four…the number of cats I am currently trying to get fixed.  I had to go home.

On the way home—a thirty minute drive from Oakland to Rodeo, I remembered this place up in El Sobrante that fixes cats for free.  I went up to the Animal Care Clinic off the dam road.  They said, yes, we can take her today and yes, you can probably/maybe get a voucher.  Here was momma cat—hard to trap and then re-trap…stressful.  So, I said, I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you my credit card and if they don’t give me the voucher, I’ll just pay for it.  When people say, “You’re a good Samaritan for doing this for these cats,” I think, that’s not what you’re really thinking.  You’re really thinking what a fool I am, what an idiot.  Let’s get it straight.  First of all, I had no intention of catching the mom,  I only wanted the little gray and white one that was the friendliest, but once I got started  I couldn’t stop.  It became an addiction.  Then a service to the community.  Then I began to fall in love with the three kittens I did catch, and even momma cat—she was special because I could pet her if I cornered her.  She was clean and healthy and beautiful after a month in my studio.  White underbelly, calico back, scared owl eyes, and three kittens who adored her.  She hissed every time I came near.  I’m never sure if she purred or was shivering in fear when I touched her, but her eyes would relax and always, for a few moments she looked happy.

That day after dropping mama cat off in El Sobrante, I went to my doctor’s office where my appointment had been cancelled without my knowledge.  Then the voucher people called me and told me I made too much money to get a voucher—no amount of finagling got the treasured voucher out of the phone lady from the county.  I have three more kittens at home that need to get fixed.  Here we are the middle class, getting screwed again because we make way too much money.  By the way, the Oakland SPCA won’t fix them for free if they are at all handleable.  Too late—I’d already been working with them.  The kittens could be cornered, caught, petted, and kissed with a minimum of hissing.  Never mind that the gold one and the black calico—a tortie, I’m told—run for cover as soon as you come in the room.   One momma cat fixed: $120.  It cost more than my local vet and no shots were included.  Holy cow!  But momma was fixed.  Now, where to let her go?  My backyard or back up at the school where I found her.  If I let her stay, she might fight with my own two cats or my dogs.   She could do some damage, that one, but I like her.  I don’t want her wandering the school grounds scrounging for food.  HOWEVER:

I got home from work the other day and my husband is sitting on the couch in the nearing dark, not saying anything.  “What’s the matter?” I ask. 

“Nothing,” he says. 

I come back in the living room a few minutes later and he’s still sitting there.  I say, come on, something’s wrong.  What is it?  He still claims nothing, but later, he says, “I got the PG&E bill this month.”

How much was it?  I ask.

Almost $800, he says. 

This is in part from the changeover in January, but I’ve also been heating the shed for the kittens. 

I take momma cat up to the school the next day and set her free.  I still have to get those three other kittens fixed.  They are lined up right now for a low cost spay and neuter program in February.  That’ll be another $150.   I’m hoping to keep Silver, but Goldie and Phoebe Bear gotta’ go.  I’m not complaining.  I’m not.  I’m not asking for advice.  I’ve heard it all.  From Midwestern hard-core practicality—throw em’ out in a snow bank.  Why are you heating that shed?    To sympathetic cat-loving sentimentality—here’s some money.  How are your cats?  You’re a saint. 

That’s not why I did it.  I did it because once I started, I couldn’t stop.  And when you’re responsible for something, you’re responsible.  Make any analogies you care to.

Jamey Genna teaches writing in the East Bay area of San Francisco. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with her Masters in Writing. Her short stories and creative nonfiction have been published in many literary magazines such as Crab Orchard Review, The Iowa Review, and Georgetown Review. You can read her most recent work on-line at Oxford Magazine, Eleven Eleven, and Switchback.