Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Being A Rat

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Port Yonder Press (January 1, 2012)
***Special thanks to Chila Woychik for sending me a review copy.***


Chila Woychik is a multi-published author and managing editor at Port Yonder Press. She lives with her husband of 30 years in the lovely state of Iowa.

Visit the author's website.


ON BEING A RAT is a strange literary mix that's been called "lyrical, inspiring, gut-wrenchingly honest, special." It's a genre mashup of creative nonfiction with light doses of memoir and poetry sprinkled throughout. A definite crossover book; a definite book of the heart. Rated PG13 for language and adult themes. Illustrated by Glynda Francis.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Port Yonder Press (January 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 193560046X
ISBN-13: 978-1935600466


And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath


I write to pay the doctor

I write to pay the nurse,

I write to pay the funeral gig

and driver of the hearse.

I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to be a crosswalk attendant, herding busy little children and placid old ladies across an intersection while waving an officious octagonal red sign: STOP.

I’d see a driver I knew but didn’t like, or one who forgot to acknowledge me once years ago, then I’d run out into the middle of that car-less lane, spread my legs like a resurrected Colossus, and thrust that command into her curious face. The real or imagined group of children and old ladies would safely pass behind me, I’d continue eyeing the motorist—sternly of course—then finally signal her on. And if I were in an especially benevolent mood, I’d not take down her license number and report her for indecent exposure.

But no, not a crosswalk attendant—I don’t have the patience. A barricade snatcher. A roadblock remover: pulling down the weave-and-bobs—straightening paths.

I write like I feel—gritty sand lining my soles, the smooth hardness of pinewood flooring under each step, the long sharp splinters scraping through skin, flesh and bone to show up on the topside where I can see them stark draped in blood, feel it deep. Writers are the ultimate masochists, after all.

I lay my pen on the tiny porch outside my door and let the sun renew it with words. That’s me in the lawn chair beside it—a browning me. My leathered self will make good shoes one day for all those poor African children still running around barefoot on the hot soil outside their huts. Or maybe I’ll be a laced book cover filled with words from my very own sun-pen. I’d write a science fiction story with beautiful soylent green ink.

Much is metaphorical here—not as it seems. It’s written for writing’s sake, as if I were to say, “Let me tell you I’m dying.” Well of course I am. So are you. But I digress.

I am dying—a slow, utterly methodical death: a tractor beam once latched to my bones and won’t let go. It works from the feet up, and gravity assists.

You cry for me because your mother said it’s the thing to do; your preacher taught you how to bow your head. Don’t turn around—it’s got you too!

A mist rises from a nearby mound. It could be me—that mist—or simply the caretaker’s mower-dust. If the breeze blows just right, I’ll ghost your solid, entwine your hair. Promise me you won’t shampoo—but carry me along: tiny dust-particles of me.

The piece of protruding granite is what you recall best—that’s where you stood under an umbrella while the rain flattened the mound on top of me, there where the cold black dirt pressed on the box around my cold white frame. Take out your hanky; wipe the lawn clippings from my name; tell me you still care.

Tell me you’ll find my photo when you get home and magnet it to your fridge. Tell me you’ll visit my now-defunct Facebook page and click LIKE—my last status: CHOCOLATE—here today, gone tomorrow. Tell me you’ll look into those once blue eyes of mine, all grey and dusted now, and smirk. I saw that!

This isn’t a religious book though I mention God; not a medical advisory though I speak of pain. It’s a circus, a mortuary, a grade school, a limousine ride. Will it be worth the paper it’s printed on or the screen you hold in your hand? I just hope you remember it next week.

I call this a haimoir—a haiga-memoir—a sort of mashup of life writing trauma self-realization and the seas. It’s a drizzled-down me, but it’s you too; it’s us. Take life seriously, but not too seriously. Take this truth for what it’s worth.

The default prose form found within is the lyric essay: creative nonfiction’s choir. Can you say “vignette”?

You’ll also find moderate doses of poetry; I don’t claim to be a poet.

In THE OBSERVATIONS, I’ve laid open a few brief glimpses into my earlier years as well as a section on my bout with Post Traumatic Stress—darker than the rest— but the nice thing about tunnels is their finiteness: you’ll reach the end; watch for rats. Friendship is discussed, as well as the usual “why am I here?” of living.

THE WRITING part is all about, well, writing. This is, after all, a thinly disguised writing tract.

In NATURE I’ve glanced around, up, and surface deep—at the rural, the moon & the tides.

In the ADDENDUM, I’ve included a couple of letters to friends—letters, yes, on writing.

Essays and randomness and poems and hardness and love—a fever in the ice storm of life. Wear your coat. Bring a fan.

I started soft—

a tentative line

an untried word—

slowly grew

to run-on sentences

and strung-together paragraphs.

I’ve been read

straight through

bared and seen

between the lines

into the me.
Pull me down like the book I am—

read for all you’re worth …

but please don’t bend the pages.


Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways.

To leap. To fly. To fail. ~Susan Sontag

My head as a doorstop

I continue to live inside a dichotomy:

what was and what shall be.

It’s not a hammering so much as an extended pinch, inside, over my left eye today, right eye yesterday, right ear the day before that. Some days they join forces, the nerves, and pinch in sync, holding with varying degrees of intensity. If they pinched together with the same amount of pressure, at exactly the same time, my head might roll off my shoulders, cross the floor, pass the door, and plop into the watery ditch down the driveway. Someone would no doubt stop, pick it up, and use it for a doorstop or lawn decoration atop a metal pole near her sidewalk. My head. My beautiful, aching, bodyless head. Gawk at me, passersby; gawk and braid my hair …

I suspect my nerve endings balk at being subjected to the brightness of a computer screen hour after hour, day after day, week after week. I soothe them when I think about it, when the pinching stays too long, with copious amounts of vitamin B and sometimes Tylenol, but my liver rebels at the Tylenol, so I try to limit that.

Today I meet with a friend who likewise is dealing with a headache. We shall compare notes, not on pinched brain nerves, but life—how it’s treating us, how we’re responding to its circus of rides and carnie con-men. We’ll drink flavored coffee and pretend it hasn’t been six months since we last saw each other. We’ll pretend we’re still young and foolish, I in my leather and she in her jeans.

I continue to live inside a dichotomy: what was and what shall be. The pain in my skull is me trying to mesh the two.


It wasn’t me you talked to

when we chatted over latte.
Hollowed out, I listened

and your voice was like an echo.

Somewhere in the midst of me

I lived, but shell-dropped empty

like a mine-field tripped and dripping.

Robots have been made to speak;

metal can be programmed.

How much more the living

can pretend to think and feel.

I can live remotely now,

I’ve done it for so long.

Now we sit with latte

and the sounds and touches sting;

it’s the hurt-exchange of life,

but damn, this hurting’s good.

Trauma’s the thing

Life is flinching in the midst of breathing,

gasping at the thought of dying.

Just visiting, the haunting hung

coiled cobras in the air,

then slithered out in statue-slow …

inch by week and year.

The light worked in between the blind

and air replaced the stale—

forever turned to yesterday

and numbness turned to feel.

I asked the wind to rearrange,

re-man the scattered blood of dust,

repaginate theology

and give me back as much.

Heavy prolonged stress squeezes the flimsy out of a person. Previously tolerated “maladjustments” can no longer be tolerated. Counseling becomes necessary.

Now I wake anew every single morning. Life’s small potatoes get skinned, boiled, and eaten (with a little butter and salt, please).

The number seven is magical, they say. Seven years ’til our cells completely regenerate. Seven years ’til Jacob possesses Rachel; no, Leah, and seven more for Rachel. Seven days in a week. Post traumatic stress often resolves itself in toto only after seven full years have passed; such is the case for some brain trauma patients too. Seven. It’s a number worth remembering.

In this big starred universe, pain rides on; even Pegasus isn’t safe. Who’s to say a falling star’s not weeping? “Life is pain, highness,” says Wesley to Buttercup. And it’s masks. And ships at sea, commandeered by dreaded pirates and rodents of unusual size.

Life is flinching in the midst of breathing, gasping at the thought of dying. It’s climbing ropeless up sheer rock faces, groping for the next finger hole of hope. Steady on! Only a thousand feet to go and after that a jungle, a minefield, a rapids. (Can I stop smiling now?)

Once, not long ago, I was flung off the cliff of the moment, thrust into an illicit relationship with destiny, an affair not of my making. Was I making love or being raped? The lines were fuzzy.

Let’s face it: suffering discredits goodness. I’m agnostic in practice though faith-based in theory. I pray but know he’ll do what he darn well pleases when he darn well pleases. Will he listen? Maybe. We have a book that says so, but how much happens beyond that book, I can’t say. That’s agnosticism in its bleakest and most honest form. Don’t judge me, yet believe me when I tell you that years of abuse tend to wring out every ounce of one’s ability to understand and adhere to faith in standard form.

It’s over.

Hell has sucked me dry

of worry and care

that crippled me cramped

like a fly

caught between

a window and screen.

Indigo flames

singed emoting

(of the female kind),

left me androgynous—

unable to cry

for the most part.

Ever been to hell?

Surely it’s preparation

for heaven,

that tearless realm

and life,

where everything

“Support our troops!” we cry, but I say, “Love our veterans!” And when he neglects church, take him cookies anyway. Sing him a song. Pet his cat.

The unrelenting grip of Soldier’s Syndrome slips finger by slow finger. The marrow’s been affected—emotional leukemia at the deepest level. Transplants of love and friendship aid healing, yet time is still key, and the clock never ticks fast enough. Eternity gains perspective when seconds feel like years. How long have I been gone? Six eternities and counting.

I sipped more than slugged the low-carb beer. “I hate medicine,” I told the doctor. Post Traumatic Stress was the diagnosis. A drunk driver had hit me. Now I sat sipping a beer. It seemed oxymoronic.

The no-booze rule is one of several shams perpetuated by certain religious groups, presumably to keep their flocks in line. After all, what’s a shepherd to do with drunk sheep?

So take your medicine, but leave the booze on the shelf. We have a label to keep, and it’s not Jack Daniels. Don’t mourn for me. Just tell me what to do rather than teach me what to be. Slam another pill, pop that one last sedative…you’ll find me in the kitchen, washing my glass.

Legalized comfort bypasses the need for a physician, yet begs for a strong moral compass. I have the compass.

Ever seen a diabetic cram down three pieces of cake and then have less mental control than someone who’s had a glass or two of wine? Yet we insist on justifying the one while condemning the other. In situations like that, it’s only fair to ask if someone’s passing gas or if that’s judgment we smell.

Regular pleasures bring healing and release. Life is hard and we’re not forbidden comfort. Lately I’ve been awash in raging rivers. I’ve dragged myself to shore more than once, spewed algae-water and finger-combed debris from my hair. Now I watch from the bank while the river does its thing, etching my future. In the lull of the day, I find a shady tree and groan. Sometimes I write.

Life shards feeling flesh

with splintered crossbeams

whittled, thrust


through cavities of me.

They scrape

along my spine

reducing life

to ground

and feeding death.

My heartbeat slows

but courses on …

skipping so, and faster now.

Oh God for a platform

and feet that dangle less.
Without the hard we stay too soft, and heaven is reduced to myths like life. Theology aside, it’s plain to see that God forbids we get too comfortable.

Hopelessness is bred in me; hope’s absent unless I find it, grab it, hang on ’til my knuckles whiten and flesh down to bone. Even then, ghost-like it vanishes with the slightest breeze. Why should I hope? Crying’s easier than groping for light. I’d rather fall off a cliff than assure someone they’ll never fall off a cliff; how can I promise them hope? I’m past the idealism of pure joy on earth; if hope survives me, I may yet find it on the other side.

I am Frustration. I am Memory-Lost. Sometimes I read a line a dozen times before it sticks. My creative force has slipped. I type slower, speak slower, think at a snail’s pace. I’m Life shapeshifted by Post Traumatic Stress, bastardized by Fate.

Stand at the edge with me;

stand where I’ve stood so long,

look where I look, where I’ve looked,

where I’ve wept, weeping still,

and as I turn to walk away, stay.

Stand at the edge with me—

now understand:
Joy if lost is pain

and healing slow.
Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain” as a studied treatise, not a life observation, that is, until his beloved Joy died. Then the “problem” became a “grief.”1 In the midst of doubt, anger, and the profound numbness that followed, he was finally able to write with feeling, to know himself beyond himself. Pain deals in change. Will you understand if I’m never the same?

Share your heart, but not so plain;

give me less to wonder on.

We wrap our babes in swaddling clothes, with blinders on. Soon enough their fingers lift the veil, push away the hidden. It’s the way we do it, and no mistaking the big mistake when they grope to swallow every fresh cookie on the counter, drink in swill.

Grab your nerve and splash their canvas with blood and black and wrong. Hold them breast-bound but guide their face toward the easel of reality. Draw patches of hope and love and gentleness but don’t start over. Paint it true. Push the Dali.

Bloodless tales

wick my wounds,

cart me distant


from Lucy Maud and PEI

to Little House and Laura.
Then Mars exploded

bloodied me

and Laura lost her innocence.
Nowadays I romp and weep

with Sylvia and Ginny Wolfe

and masochistic nihilists;

I’ve learned to lick

my own foul wounds

and prize the taste of ache.

Thick and thin, I’ve known it all, and it’s known me. Before anorexic, I was. Before the dream of perfect lines, I had them. It’s speed and fury, reckless limits, little white pills.

Some days I think I’d rather die than lie too fat; it’s pain and trauma at the base core level.

The thin thought, line, bone—

a part of me too long—

too long and tall and straight

like skinny standing strong.

Though twiggy yesterday—

today’s another face—

a line filled in with thick

and thinness not a trace.
On a recent trip north while on the outskirts of a small town, I hit a bird. It flew in front of me—black wings flapping—crashed into my windshield, then flipped onto the road. I looked back to see it struggling for its very existence.

Five years before, I flew in front of a driver who, unlike me, was in the wrong lane. Though I lived to tell about it, my wings had been clipped. I lay struggling in the road for the next five years, wondering if I’d ever regain what I lost in those ravaging few seconds.

Life does that. In times of random injustice—injustice undreamt of in my childhood and young adult years—I can say with the rest, with the best, it’s a bitch. Through no misdeed of mine, I got owned, ready or not.

Lying there, in dust-like grams—

it sloughed itself as dying goes

at life’s deep crap-holes stumbled on—

the flecks still flickered, shimmering

against a rising sun.
(In an open universe, some gathering

occurs, and God is not contained.)

Bit by dram the damned relives

in small-souled breaths;

I choke at ample oxygen.
My broken faith is broken still

but gains with time

what time misspent
but God the going’s slow ...

God, O God, where art thou? Thou art as distant to me as the lady combing rice in the Yunnan Province of China or a piece of floating space debris circling Pegasi. In this feeling-dead world of post traumatic stress, skepticism is king, queen, and court jester.


Exploring the dark

like a honeymooned virgin

I grope, but slowly,

feign tension, stay sheeted

with a wait-turned-wonder

and feelings familiar

yet not this way …

as still unnamed.
A kiss and lightly, a touch just there

then sting and ache and ever-changed

but good like dying in a Cleopatra-way.

I lie in a bed another will make,

has made, had made,

and softly cry myself to sleep

from the sheer exhilaration.
I’m dead, mortally wounded, yes, dead to you and all but this never-ending anxiety. I’m learning my way around the dark; the stars help: a flash here, a fall there, a streak of lightning, a blinding pain.

Why is it I don’t want to leave? It’s a strange thrill—a clinging to the fog, a dampening on my arms ’til my elbows drip dew and my hair lies in tangles—but still it doesn’t feel like love to me.

(I’ll not call it “love” ’til I see it on your face …)

ON BEING A RAT And Other ObservationsOn Being A Rat, Chila Woychik, Port Yonder Press, Literary Nonfiction, January 1, 2012, 160 pages.

Synopsis: "On Being A Rat" is a mashup of topics and styles, with most falling into the lyric essay and poem formats. Writing, trauma, friendship, memoir excerpts, and a slew of other random subjects are addressed. About the lyric essay (from Wiki answers): The "Lyric Essay" is quite simply a title for an odd range of hybrids. If it's not entirely a poem, fiction, non-fiction, or an essay, but straddles those categories, it is most likely a lyric essay. This is just a very rudimentary description of what a lyric essay entails, however. Aesthetically there is usually some sort of rhythm or logic to the language. The diction is often as carefully chosen as with a poem. Its paragraphs are organized like an essay's, with a topic sentence, and its whole is organized like a piece of fiction or non-fiction -- leaping around is common if not encouraged between paragraphs, and no underlying structure is necessary. Lastly, the lyric essay is different -- it should not conform completely to any standards as it is an individual and fiercely so.

My thoughts: The synopsis of this book is very accurate. It most definitely is "an odd range of hybrids." The beginning really felt dark and cheerless to me, but this feeling only lasted through the first part. The second and third, with themes on writing and nature, gave me a better understanding of the point of the book. It's almost like a memoir, in that it shows how Mrs. Woychik viewed things in her life (thus the Observations theme in the first part). "...leaping around is common if not encouraged between paragraphs, and no underlying structure is necessary." I found this to be the case in On Being A Rat, and honestly it left me a bit confused sometimes. I do have to say, though, that her imagery and metaphor usage was effective (whether repugnant or mystical) never got old. The poetry scattered throughout was close to free verse, which I don't appreciate as much as structured poetry, but the ideas came across well.

So, what is the purpose of this book, you may ask? In her words, it is advice for writing. I can believe that. It is encouragement as well, telling you that you're not alone in your struggle to publish, and showing life through her experienced eyes.

My rating: 4 stars

This book was provided free by the author and FIRST Wild Card Blog Tours. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.

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