Deaf Book Club Skype Call

Rock House LibraryI’m at the Rock House and had a Skype call with a book club in Minnesota comprised of deaf women and mental health professionals working in the Deaf community. The whole thing took place in ASL.

Man, I love technology and so wish this convenience had been around for my parents and grandparents. How wonderful to simply click a button on my laptop and be visually connected with no need for a special service or interpreter.

We had a nice chat about my book, family, the Deaf community, and mental health issues before signing off so I could make a trip to the dump and walk with Griswold around the lake.

While they’re busy reading books to help them in their important (thankless?) careers as therapists and DV counselors, I’m busy reading, too. I read THE BEDWETTER by Sarah Silverman (enjoyed it) and just finished Tina Fey‘s BOSSYPANTS (really enjoyed it). Tonight I’m starting Sara Barron‘s latest book THE HARM IN ASKING then it’s GIRL WALKS INTO A BAR by Rachel Dratch.

I’m highbrow, what can I say?

47 ASL High School

Had a long but rewarding day at 47 ASL High School yesterday. The students were about 20% Deaf, HoH and CODA and the rest hearing but immersed in a school that embraces ASL. How wonderful.

I met 180+ great teens from all parts of NYC some who shared with me privately about their hopes to be involved with producing, dreams of being a writer, and brushes with domestic violence, drugs & alcohol, mental illness and more. I donated a copy of my book to the library and signed it to the kids. I went home and collapsed –exhausted but inspired– and awoke to this nice email from the coordinator today:

“You are the talk of the town! [T]eachers and administrators who made it to your presentation were touched and impressed by the way you shared your experiences with the students. And, of course, the kids are all going to be reading your book now and they are so excited and honored to have it autographed by you!”

I was honored to share with them. I’d take a repeat of yesterday Every. Single. Day.

I Need Botox, Y’all! And Other Lifetime Movie Network Observations

Thank you to everyone who tuned in to see “Family Secrets” last night on Lifetime Movie Network*! If you missed it, it re-airs on Friday, November 8th at 8AM EST.
I need Botox, y'all!

Part way in, my cable box froze & rebooted. Murphy’s Law! From what I saw my dentist will be very angry that I have rebuffed his repeated requests to fix my bottom teeth, I need Botox, my family was upgraded to the suburbs and no one really knows or speaks sign language in the reenactments.

But my cable box came back to life quickly and the rest I saw was really well done. Even if it had been awful, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my story.

Seeing how they edited my interview was very interesting. They condensed it into an average domestic violence case (What? No shed? No trailer? No Deaf Culture commentary? Just a dude who beats and tries to kill women?) and yet still made it compelling.

Of course, personally, my  CODA / Deaf experience and my dad’s childhood and our collective isolation and poverty is what fueled my story for my book, so that’s important for me to still tell and get across should I get another chance. And I learned a lesson to make sure to understand the angle the producers are going for, so I can speak to that and they won’t have to edit so much!

Paquita on LMN

My sweet Paquita made a brief posthumous cameo. She is looking longingly at Christian who is lavishing love and kisses on Griswold. Awww.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it and thank you again for all the kind words and support!

xokambri

*The collective outrage of the women posting on Lifetime Movie Network’s Facebook page about the movie network not showing movies is worthy of being a Lifetime movie.  If I -and all of you lovely people- didn’t have a life with better things to do, I’d suggest we flood the LMN Facebook page with overflowing praise. Hopefully we’ll still get a movie made and we can tell the whole white trashtastic tale and satisfy all those disgruntled LMN subscribers. So much time on their hands these women! Sad.

To Read & Watch

I’ve had the book Far From the Tree on my wish list since it was published late last year. His inclusion of deafness and Deaf culture sparked my interest. In his book, “Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.”

He spent a decade on this project and that intensive research is reflected in the book’s length, a whopping 976 pages. That’s partly why I haven’t read it yet, as I have a full Kindle & bookshelf. But after watching Mr. Solomon’s incredible Ted Talk, Far From the Tree is now next on my reading list. Watch his speech here:

A Wrinkle in Time

I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a sleuth. In the mid-90s, during my days as a big shot banker, I collected on multi-million commercial dollar loans. To hunt down debtors, I searched all sorts of public records. The internet was still fairly new and most documents were not available online. I became somewhat obsessed with how much intimate information I could find out about a person from yearbook and wedding photos, past and current relationships, favorite restaurants and bars, you name it, simply by going to the library or the local courthouse.

I was in a toxic personal relationship at the time and actually “stalked” a couple of people we knew (in the paper sense of the word) to hone my “skills” convinced I could turn my obsession into a money making business like being a P.I. for hire. Always the entrepreneur, I guess, but ultimately detective work is a tremendous time spent alone which is not my thing. Plus, it’s steeped in negativity.

Fast forward to February 2012. My memoir was going on sale in a matter of days, and I needed something to occupy my thoughts besides the looming possibility of failure, criticism, and public shame. So, I joined Ancestry.com. Minutes gave way to hours that spanned into days of my pouring over legal documents and Google-sniffing out my mother’s family history. Finding a long lost document or a tidbit of news was exhilarating and poignant. For example, I found this article in the Emporia Gazette about my uncle Billy who was killed when a train struck the car he and several other deaf people were riding in. With just one click, I was reading an archived article, documenting the tragic accident. His name, his life and death, were summed up neatly in one sentence:

Billy Thornton Fitzgarrald, 29, Tulsa.

I burst into tears upon seeing it so plainly. I sobbed for the life cut short and for the pain his family —my family– suffered at the abrupt, violent and senseless loss. My emotions surprised me –I had never even met Uncle Billy– but seeing his name (misspelled) struck an emotional chord in me on a cellular level.

My comfort was knowing that Billy’s story is still alive, like that of his twin sister, my Deaf grandmother Betty. She lives on through her letters I’ve saved and the stories and the book I’ve written. She will always be more than a simple sentence:

Betty Mae Fitzjarrald Worth, 81, Tulsa.

After a few weeks, I had reached the end of the family line; or, at least, tired of researching the same few people without results. Trips to government buildings will be needed to get any further. Bored, I considered what other things I could investigate. Then I remembered two postcards picturing the town where our cabin is located in the Catskills. Christian & I purchased them at an antique store in Liberty, NY, and I recalled there had been writing on them.

One was in pristine condition and was postmarked November 18, 1910. The almost one hundred and two-year-old note reads:

Miss Ida Martin 
7 Vine Street
Honesdale, PA

Dear Ida I got some cards last night so will send yours did you get my letter?
Hoping you are all well as this leaves me about sick in bed with a cold it is raining hard Harry has gone over home it was a journey. Over if it had of been a nice day. How is ___? Lulu was looking for me last night but I guess she ____ come. Ha Ha. Ira is home. Good by. From Cora.

My clues were rich. A complete address plus names including Ida Martin, Cora, Harry and Ira. I judged by the date of the postmark and it being addressed to “Miss” that Ida was a probably a young girl and, therefore, born after 1890. I easily found an Ida Martin, age 37, living in Pennsylvania with her widowed mother, Nellie Martin, age 57. Ida’s birthdate was approximately 1893 making her 17 at the time she received the postcard. Further searches yielded few details since it seemed Ida may have never married.

I turned my search to Nellie. Combing through her records, I discovered her maiden name was Bishop and had a sister named Cora! A jolt of adrenaline shot through me. I got antsy pants as I put dots together and searched Cora Martin’s records to find out who she married. Her husband’s name? Ira.

Bingo! I had found them! I emailed the few Ancestry users that had Cora, Ida and/or Nellie in their tree and forwarded them the photos of the postcard. They all replied with overwhelming glee at the discovery of what probably seemed humdrum to Cora at the time. Seeing the names of family, the street where they lived, a simple day in their life and, especially, seeing the handwriting fade where Cora needed to dip her pen in a well to freshen the ink transported us all to another place.

My efforts did not go unrewarded. One Ancestry user emailed me back to say that while researching Nellie (Bishop) Martin, she discovered an author named Clara Gillow Clark had written a book. It was a children’s book about her great grandmother named Nellie Bishop. A lump grew in my throat and, again, I was struck with deep emotion. Nellie and her daughter Ida will be more than a simple sentence, too.

The irony of this story is that the internet is at once the thing that allowed this to happen and the thing that is making precious documents like these extinct. Archived newspaper articles and handwritten letters serve as tangible wrinkles in time allowing us to travel across decades. One hundred and two years from now, will your great grandchild cherish your Facebook postings?

~~
Kambri

Cora’s card if she were to write it to Ida today:

 

 

Party Video & Thanks!

Wow, what an amazing night I had celebrating the launch of BURN DOWN THE GROUND: A MEMOIR. It was like a wedding! I did not have nearly enough face time with my friends but think I at least greeted and thanked them all. My mother was on CLOUD NINE with all the well wishes, kind words, support and love everyone selflessly showed her and me. Even the manager Lillie & bartender Doug at Rodeo Bar agreed: I have amazing friends. They had as much fun as we did! You should absolutely have your event there. It was effortless.

The gift bags were all snapped up so everyone got to enjoy Mrs. Renfro’s Salsa donated by my Richland High School guidance counselor Mrs. Angela Renfro, hilarious & cheeky fortune cookies donated by IllFortune.net, really clever & fun bungee bookmarks by Twin Cottage Industries and Admit Two passes to Gotham Comedy Club.

Christian had a custom cake made that has to be seen to be believed. It was Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon” album but my name replaced Ozzy’s, BURN DOWN THE GROUND replaced “Bark at the Moon” and my face was superimposed on the werewolf’s. I gotta submit it to CakeWrecks.com. Weird and fun.

The bags themselves had my book cover on the front and were provided by my dear, dear high school & Tex in the City friend Scott Ramsey. As an added surprise, Shelby Rodriguez, the chef of the now closed Comix, made brownies from scratch with the help of another lovely Comix friend John Meyers. They even showed up early and helped put all the bags together! I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve so much love and wonderful friendship, but I am ever grateful.

Okay, now on to the fun stuff! More pics and video of the night to come, but in the meantime my pal Lisa shared a snippet of my mom and I singing in American Sign Language (ASL). Here it is for your viewing pleasure!

RT @LisaLampanelli: My wonderful friend @Kambri & her mom at her book launch party last nite @RodeoBar. U guys rock! BTW buy her book NOW!

I Read it for the Articles, I Swear!

Y’all. Mom found my Penthouse magazine while searching my office for paper!

I flew Mom up to New York City so she could attend my book launch party. Not just any book…my first book. A memoir, you know, about my whole life. And the publishing process took four years. Having a publication date is a monumental event –much like a wedding or a birth– and I couldn’t NOT have Mom here to celebrate. It’s her life, too. Plus, I had a fun idea for her and I to perform a little something at my party*. It would make the event even more special for her and my guests.

Mom arrived and we had a few days of tromping around New York City and rehearsing our surprise treat. I was also dragging her around Manhattan on not-so-fun errands in rainy weather with her achy knee and my split jeans. In the book, I divulged many things that Mom would probably prefer to keep in the closet with the other dusty skeletons. The time for her to accept that our laundry was about to be aired and for me to unleash my life to anonymous reviewers was drawing near.

Shit was getting real. Mad real.Penthouse

To distract us and work on something that had zilch to do with book stuff, I suggested she and I work on our new Ancestry.com project. Her face said it all: “GREAT IDEA!”

She leapt up and said, “I’ll grab some paper.”

Quicker than a wink, she was at my office printer.

My printer.

PRECISELY WHERE I’D HIDDEN MY PENTHOUSE! I thought that had been the perfect spot for it, but lo how wrong I was.

“Why did I have a Penthouse?” you ask.

For the articles, of course. Duh. Seriously! I swear! Well, one article in particular: a review for my book. It was a good review, too.

So, why hide it then? Well, I know my mom better than most people and I knew –could lay my life on it– that she would take offense to it. Not because of the vaginas, boobs, penises and balls, silly, but because of the very first line:

“Kambri Crews grew up dirt poor…”

Whether you agree or disagree with that sentence, makes no difference. Mom disagrees with it and vehemently so. It’s one of those things that really gets under her skin in a hot second. It’s a pride thing. The same way I fight tooth and nail over small injustices. Justice is my thing. Pride is hers. SO…anyway…

In the mere seconds it took her to fly off the couch into my office heading straight for the offending material, two choices flashed through my mind:

Me & Mom

1) Let Mom think I had a girly magazine hidden in my office and was possibly a closeted lesbian; or

2) Show Mom the review and face the ensuing argument.

I can’t have Mom thinking I like looking at nekkid girls! EEEEEWWW! So, I swallowed my fear and said, “Oh, hey, my Penthouse…did you see the review?”

Instant relief swept across her face. I cringe and laugh out loud thinking of what must’ve gone through her mind in those brief moments.

As predicted, she was offended. We hashed it out: There are finite lines in a girly magazine; ya gotta have a strong lede. We were poor to some people and had it good compared to others…it depends on perspective. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

At the end of the day, I wrote a book. It got reviewed in a major magazine. It was lauded. Let’s celebrate! And, boy, did we ever! We raised our glasses and laughed and hugged and smiled till our faces hurt.

We’re done keeping secrets, she and I. If there’s anything writing a memoir taught me it is this:  While it might hurt to bare the truth, secrets will make you sick. They will corrode your love and trust until all that’s left is a rusty heap of worthless scrap.

So, what did Mom think of the book? Don’t ask me, read her interview in Time Out New York!

*Here’s the fun idea I had for my book party. Enjoy!

Take This Job & Shove It!

I just received a text from my mom that read: I’m RETIRED!

It made me strangely weepy. My mom is the hardest working person I know. She used to build helicopters and was in a Budweiser commercial during the “For all you do, this Bud’s for you!” advertising phase.

My mom helped wire a helicopter for the NYPD and got a hat from it. My dad put it in the rear dash of our junky Thunderbird to try to deter cops from pulling him over. It didn’t work. We got pulled over one day and he grabbed the NYPD hat to try to butter up the officer. I was with him and acted as his interpreter. My dad told the truth to me, and I interpreted a lie to the cop which was better. It worked. We didn’t need the hat.

Years later, when I first moved to NYC, I worked for the attorney that represented the NYPD in their precedent-setting licensing efforts and confiscated unlicensed NYPD hats. Funny how things go full circle.

Throughout my life, Mom never once turned down overtime and sometimes logged as many as 80 hours a week. Congratulations to her for finally being able to take a break and reap the benefits of a lifetime of hard work. Mom, for all you do, this Bud’s for you.*

*Bud sucks. How about I give you a Brooklyn Lager?