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Archive for July 2011

A good life leaves us wanting just a little more

   As a young girl, inclined to daydream, I filled the pages of my diary with all the plans I made. I wrote late into the night under the tent of my blanket, working by flashlight, chewing on the end of my pen between bursts of intense scribbling.

    I spent hours writing down the things I wanted to be when I grew up, places I wanted to see, people I wanted to meet. Or, marry. I named the sons and daughters I would have. I sketched the clothes I would design, the houses I would build.

    The imitation leather book with the flimsy brass-plated lock on the front and a tiny key on a length of string, was was full of contradictions; full of possible and impossible things. At the time it didn’t occur to me that Broadway actress/arctic explorer or pediatric surgeon/French chanteuse might be difficult career combinations to pull off. Or that marrying a nice boy and having a house full of children might make it difficult to live alone in a cottage in the woods where I would write all day long. I was a girl filled with with longing, driven by the wideness of the world and dizzy with possibilities. I didn’t dwell on boundaries. I just wanted to try it all. I wanted a taste of everything.

    Growing up and growing older changes a lot about us. And not just on the outside. Adult life reminds us daily that we are not always free to shift from one reality to another. We eventually learn that work, relationships and day-to-day responsibilities claim us. Bind us.  We focus more on what we have to do and less on what we would do if only we could.

    I used to think I could have it all. Now, I know better. But I hope that until the day finally comes when I’m done, when I can’t go any farther or try any harder or stretch any further, the little girl who wrote all night in a cocoon of blankets and light will step in from time to time and remind me that the world just outside the edge of my little world is still wide open. And that if I work hard enough, and want it badly enough, I can always be just a little bit more.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Made in America, Based in Berlin

    It’s always a bit of a jolt when we see ourselves through another’s lens. Suddenly things we’d never noticed stand out.
    I was in Berlin recently. What has happened there since the wall fell is interesting. At the  time of the reunification West Berlin was the place to be. East Berlin, not so much.
    As one young man I met told me, “I used to walk to the wall and look across to the East and ask. “Who lives in that gray city?”
    Obviously, a great many people lived there. But freedom was on the other side. And when the wall fell they poured out and into West Berlin and across the country. But now, 25 years later, the pendulum has swung the other way. What used to be East Berlin is now hip and edgy. Artists flock there and that movement has changed more than the landscape.
    While exploring the Mitte area of former East Berlin, I stopped to take in a temporary contemporary art exhibition in Monbijoupark.
    “Based in Berlin” filled an abandoned atelier. Inside, in empty rooms, a range of art installations were set up. All were edgy, avant-garde, but one caught my eye immediately

    In the first-floor hallway a wide flat-screen television was mounted on the wall. On the screen was a montage of video clips of well-known performers.  In the official description on the Based in Berlin website, Asaf Koriat’s work “The Brave” is described as “a single channel split-screen video, which simultaneously shows nine TV recordings of celebrities (Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and Cher), each singing the American national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ at the opening of the Super Bowl.”
    It was not what you would expect to see and hear in a German park.
    Individually, the voices were easy to listen to. Some even appealing - depending on which artists you like and which you don’t. But superimposed on one another, the combined voices were discordant. Jarring. Unpleasant.

    While I stood there, a group of young German women stopped in front of the screen.  I stole an occasional glance at them. Finally, one shook her head.
    “Why are they all screaming? “ she asked the others. They all shrugged and shook their heads. The girls moved on but I stayed and watched the videio all the way through again. She had a point.
    Koriat, who studied in New York, describes the installation this way in his official release: “This dissonant national anthem presents both a powerful critique and a celebration of mass culture. The singers embody the democratic system’s complexity. They at the same time propagate the myth of a collective national identity and the ceaseless insistence on the idea of individuality—both pillars of the “American Dream.” The video’s presentation on a large flat-screen TV underscores the function of media events as the form in which a nation exists and perceives itself as a united entity.”

    Like any work of art should, Koriat’s “The Brave” stayed with me even after I flew home. And, at this time of year, when Sousa marches, The Star-Spangled Banner and even Lee Greenwood singing “Proud to be an American” accompany annual fireworks extravaganzas, he left me with something to think about.  As Americans, we’re free to make a little noise when we feel like it. But it never hurts to stop and think about the way we might sound to the rest of the world.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Urban pests and backyard chickens

   The scene in the morning was terrible. What was left of the torn, bloodied carcass of my beloved Anacona hen, the crazy, flighty Italian chicken whose antics never failed to amuse me, was tossed like so much trash in front of the henhouse.

The two traumatized survivors, battered, bloodied, with beaks broken from frantic attempts to escape, crooning forlornly, huddled in a corner of the backyard under a lilac bush still laden with heavy, fragrant blooms. Feathers were everywhere.

We’d been raided by a raccoon.

I know it sounds silly to cry over a chicken. Everyone knows a backyard chicken is a target for skunks and raccoons and coyotes. Chickens vanish out of my friends’ coops all the time. It’s a fact of life. But I spent the rest of the day in tears anyway, consumed with guilt, fretting over whether or not I could have prevented the raid. Stricken by the way the two remaining hens shivered and drooped, by the way they
wouldn’t go near the henhouse even when it was time to roost.

I wasn’t surprised by my tears. I am fond of all our pets and the chickens are pets as much as any of the cats or dogs are. What shocked me was the fury I felt for the raccoon. I hated him. I wanted to see him as dead as my hen. At that moment, if something had ripped him to shreds in front of me, I wouldn’t have cared.

That was a surprise because, you see, well, I’m an animal lover. I will spend days sweeping away ants so I don’t have to put out poison. I’m cartoonishly terrified of mice and once even tried to get rid of a mouse the cat dropped inside the back door. I managed to break his leg before we chased him away and I tossed and turned all night, disgusted by my cruelty. It was only a mouse, after all. What kind of monster breaks a
mouse’s leg?

I think the thing that bothered me the most was that I had failed to take care of a living thing that depended on me. Taking on a pet isn’t a lark. It’s a responsibility. And, somehow, I’d let the worst happen.

In a compact neighborhood like mine, a place that must be, after dark, a smorgasbord of cat food, dog food, garden scraps and tasty trash, it seems counterintuitive that any creature, even a clever raccoon would go to so much trouble to kill a chicken. Why bother? The answer is simple. Because it’s nature. It’s what predators do. It’s what even lazy, overfed, fat urban predators do. It’s why cats kill songbirds and dogs chase squirrels.

With the proliferation of backyard chickens in neighborhoods across the country, scenes like the one I woke up to will probably increase. To a crafty predator, fences and bolts are merely speed bumps. Bait is bait.

I borrowed a trap but I haven’t set it. Even if I caught the raccoon, I’m not sure what I would do with the thing. So, I push the bolts a little further each night when I’m locking away the hens and I occasionally open the back door and shine a flashlight toward that particular corner of the backyard. I hope he doesn’t come back. But, if he does, he’d better watch out.

I once broke a mouse’s leg, you know.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane
Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “ Home
Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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