“THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE ” by Marilyn Armstrong (Book Review)

Marilyn Armstrong:

Thank you for your kind words!

Originally posted on Traces of the Soul:

The 12-Foot Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong

This is the review I wrote at Amazon.ca for The12-Foot Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong:

I discovered this novel at Ms. Amrstrong`s blog here. I’m so pleased I did! Marilyn Armstrong takes the reader on a journey “with Margaret” as she builds this 12-foot Teepee, we are faced with her decluttering to make room for this refuge…place of tranquility and inner peace. I felt like I was on a two lane highway with her, one leading towards a teepee that will withstand New England winters {which I tried to imagine in my home, Montréal}; the other lane is looking back and painfully processing her abusive and heart wrenching childhood; we travel alongside her as she experiences life, heartbreak, joy, tragedy, grief, God, love and family. Her sense of humour and honesty is so refreshing. I cried on the bus, laughed out loud on the Métro…

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In the early 1990s, Garry did a feature about Alfred Eisenstadt and Lois Maillou Jones, both of whom lived on the Vineyard and had been given Presidential Medals of Honor for their work. We became friends with both artists. Eisenstadt was in his early 90s, Lois Maillou Jones in her mid 80s.

We own a signed print of this portrait of Robert Frost. It hangs downstairs in the den.

We own a signed print of this portrait of Robert Frost. It hangs downstairs in the den.

I had been an admirer of Eisenstadt’s work as long as I’d been taking pictures. I shot my first roll of film on Martha’s Vineyard in 1966. I had stayed at the Menemsha Inn where (serendipity!!) Eisenstadt lived from late spring till Labor Day. Books of Eisie’s work were all over the inn. In bookcases, on tables. Most of the books featured his landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was using my first camera, a Praktica with a great Zeiss 50mm lens. Great lens, but no electronic light meter. No electronic or automatic anything. It had a crank film advance.  A bare bones camera. I had brought half a dozen rolls of black and white film with me and I used them all.

me martha's vineyard stairs

It was ideal for a beginner. I had to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus the lens, set the shutter speed and f-stop. Choose the film speed — though you only had to set film speed once when you loaded the camera.

It wasn’t a lot of settings to learn, but they were and are the essentials of photography. My 50 mm lens was a prime. No zoom. It was a good piece of glass and moderately fast at f2.8. No flash.

If I wanted a close up, I could move in. Wide shot? Run the other way. I learned photography in a way those who’ve only used digital cameras with zoom lenses can’t learn. Most of today’s photographers have never held a camera that doesn’t include auto-focus, much less taken a light reading.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.

The camera was a gift from a friend who had bought a new camera. Armed with the camera and determination, I followed Eisenstadt’s path. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective.

I duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass behind which he’d crouched to create a foreground.

Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

My first roll of film was brilliant — except the photographs were copies of Alfred Eisenstadt’s. He taught me photography by giving me foot prints to follow. By the time I was done with those first rolls of film, I had learned the fundamentals. I’m still learning the rest and I’ll probably never be finished.

When I actually met Alfred Eisenstadt, it was the most exciting moment of my life.

As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me. He didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, picture by picture.

He was in his early 90s and had forgotten many things, but remembered every picture he’d taken, including the film and camera, lens, F-stop, and most important, what he was thinking as he shot. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention.

For example, the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, he said he was walking around Times Square with his Nikon. When he spotted the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress, he knew it was what he wanted and shot. Light, contrast, composition.

We spent time with him every summer for 5 years until he passed. We were honored to be among those invited to the funeral.

Although we were sad Eisie was gone, we found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a chuckle. I don’t think Eisie would have minded.


This is great challenge for me and I want to thank Cee for giving me the opportunity to join it.

I overshoot. Which means I take too many pictures of the same things. I shoot  from many angles, using different lenses (mostly primes, these days), and in changing light. I figure if it’s worth shooting at all, it’s worth shooting a lot.




Sometimes the differences are sufficiently subtle that I doubt anyone else would notice, but I can always tell not only what I was going, but what I was thinking when I took the picture.

Alfred Eisenstadt could still remember every picture he took, which camera and lens he used, the kind of film he had in the camera and what he was thinking when he pressed the shutter. And that was when he was in his 90s. Read about it here.




I have been a-wandering in a strange, alternative universe called Facebook. It’s a place where anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.

At some point yesterday evening I stumbled into a heated interchange that started with the potential candidacy of idiot doctor Ben Carson and roamed far afield.

Flag on the harbor

confederate flag

At some point, someone averred: “In this country majority rules, so if most of the people in a state want to fly the Confederate flag, they can. It’s IN THE CONSTITUTION.”  Along the way, someone else suggested the losers of a war don’t get to fly their flag. The south lost the war (a point often overlooked in such discussions) and they should get over it. 

I asked if the majority in a state favored slavery, would that be okay too? Most of the combatants in this discussion said yes, which proved my fundamental point. That I was interfacing with morons.

No, it isn’t in the Constitution. There’s nothing at all about flags in the Constitution. Not a word. Nothing guaranteeing rights pertaining to flags. As far as the other stuff goes, the Constitution is not designed to protect the rights of the majority. Quite the opposite. Its intent is to protect the rights of minorities because otherwise, you have tyranny.

Sorry. I digressed.

This brought a flurry of rebuttals and name-calling, brought to a head when someone offered a golden nugget.

“The Confederate flag was a battle flag and had nothing to do with slavery. In fact, the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. It was about taxes.”

Although I know arguing with idiots is a waste of perfectly good time I could productively use playing mindless games, I had to say something. There is so much historical evidence proving that the Civil War was about slavery and nothing but slavery.

United States Slave Trade

United States Slave Trade

The Civil War was predestined and the framers of the Constitution knew it. Our founding fathers made a deal with the devil to allow slavery. If they had not, there would never have been a United States. The Constitution would not have passed, might very well never have been written.

Slavery was the burning issue during the constitutional convention in 1788 and it tore the country apart a mere two generations later. They knew it would. The guys who wrote the Constitution may have wimped out, but they knew it wasn’t a real solution, just a band-aid. They also knew the issue would come to war and blood and death. It was that kind of issue.

To declare otherwise is plain ignorant. There are lots of aspects of history that are disputable, but this isn’t one of them. There is too much evidence in the form of diaries and writings — not to mention correspondence between famous guys like Jefferson, Adams, and Washington.

Sometimes, I think Americans must be the happiest people on earth, because we are surely the most ignorant. (And we know ignorance is bliss, right?)


My statement was quickly swallowed by passionate southerners declaring I was an out-of-control left-wing lying Yankee liberal socialist commie. I retreated to a stupid pop-the-bubble game and the battle went on without me.

Why do I bother?


Of all the skills I never acquired, the ability to cut through the dreaded recorded message: “The staff are currently assisting other customers. Please hold on. We appreciate you patience,” is a major failure.

telephone hold

I would have more patience if I weren’t trying to reach my doctor’s office. Because I’m not feeling well. I figure I shouldn’t need an hour plus who-know-how-long to get a live person on the telephone.

waiting for

Then there’s the muzak. I know offices buy special music so they can leave their customers — in this case patients — on hold indefinitely. They count on the music to soothe the savage beast slowly boiling over at the other end of the line.

To me, it’s closer to fingernails on a blackboard. Each unmemorable phrase makes my blood pressure rise.

Customer Service waitingWhy am I calling? Because my doctor is an arrogant prick and I need a different doctor. ANY different doctor. I’m not that picky. I just want a doctor — or nurse practitioner — who won’t blow off my medical issues because he has decided — without reading my medical history — that I’m just an old, hypochondriac looking for drugs and attention.

This is a stunning leap of logic.

What gave him the clue that I’m nothing more than a crank?

Was it the bi-lateral mastectomy? The heart valve replacement or the implanted pacemaker? The emergency bariatric surgery? The spinal redesign and subsequent massive arthritic takeover? Does he think such procedures are performed to satisfy the morbid neuroses of one demented old bat?

Whatever his reasoning, it has to end. My trip to the oncologist a few days ago (he is one of the good ones), revealed I’m now seriously anemic. Been here before, but I’m back and shouldn’t be. Simple monitoring of blood vitamin levels and appropriate vitamins could easily have prevented this.

I haven’t been able to get this guy to even acknowledge there is anything to monitor, so I’ve been trying to figure out what I need to take to fix the problem. From information I found on the Internet.

insane doctor cartoon

Suddenly, in a blaze of clarity last night, I realized I have no way to know how much B-12 I need. I used to get monthly injections and I shouldn’t be self-medicating while my hair falls out and my skin dries up and tries to leave home without me.

It’s 10:29am and I’m still on hold. I have been on hold — off and on because I’ve called back several times — since 9am. I can tell by the clock on the computer.


I wonder which will run out first? The battery in my telephone or my patience?

Garry says I can’t give up, that this asshole is going to kill me.

The good news? It’s pouring outside. Finally, the rain has arrived. It was late, but this morning, when I got up, it was raining and since then, it has gone from raining moderately to a blinding downpour.

I sit here. Listen to soothing music and the recurring “The staff are currently assisting other customers. Please hold on. We appreciate you patience.” I think how all this water will seep into the aquifer. The well will fill with fresh water. I will be able to take a shower without fearing it’s my last.

There must be some magic formula that gets a person through the wall of electronic non-answering. I need to learn this skill. Soon. Today would be a good time. Before I got completely postal and rip out someone’s throat with what are left of my teeth.

I don’t believe for a single moment that they really appreciate my patience. But I’m such a cynic.