“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 76: On Sister Love

On this day, February 21, thirty-five years ago (plus a tad more), long before she was known to the world as Mira Bee, a baby named Myra Jean was born.

She had an older sister who was very cute and very nice and very smart, but also just a wee bit bossy.

The two little girls had a mother, who was a musical genius, and a father who was a talented painter and novelist.

Unfortunately, the father was an alcoholic and the mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

The two sisters banded together to become their own island of girl-mightiness that could withstand the storms ahead.  They wrote stories and poems and plays.  They drew all day until their fingers grew knobby with callouses.  They climbed trees.  They read and read.  They turned snapdragons in the garden into talking creatures, and they sought out verdant places where they would time-travel back to a bucolic imaginary land and life they called Olden Times, where the older sister was always the prairie mother making them big pots of soup, and the little sister was always the dog or the horse.

Little Myra Jean grew up to be talented in too many things to list here: playing the piano, fiddle, ukulele, and harp; writing poetry, memoir, Facebook missives, radio pieces, kids' books, and short stories; speaking foreign languages (especially Italian) and giving commencement speeches, cooking all kinds of cuisine that features olive oil, gardening, keeping orchids alive, growing apple trees (the secret, she reveals, is to ignore them, but the avid orchard keepers in her community get jealous), painting, drawing, and illustration, salsa dancing, throwing a great party, making friends, being an amazing and inspiring stepmother to two lovely girls, and fixing broken stuff, including rare Italian pottery, the girls' mother's glasses, and relationships that seemed irreparable.

As a child she was an animal first--not just a horse and a dog, but the mythical beasts from Russian fairy tales and Icelandic myths, and other creatures her older sister has forgotten.  On the property of their rental in Indiana, where they lived before and during their parents' divorce, little Myra Jean found three dead rabbits and she carried them back to the yard.  Picture a small three-year-old girl like the one pictured here hauling these carcasses back to their house.  They may have been bigger than she was.  Did she want to adopt them as pets?  Or bury them?

Although she was bitten by a dog once, when she and her sister were walking to elementary school in Cleveland, she is a lifelong lover of dogs.  She would grow up to become her sister's dog's aunt.  At first she would resist referring to herself as her dog Sadie's mom, especially when Sadie's identity in the animal kingdom was unclear (some thought she was a reindeer, for example) but once she did, there was no turning back.

Like her immature older sister, she just liked watching her dog snap her head toward her in an eager way when someone said in a really sappy happy excited voice, "Where's Mommy?"

She has survived many things: her parents' divorce, poverty, her mentally ill mother's attacks, the bizarre behavior of her mother's father (hoarding, gun-worship, insults, meanness), the industrial Midwest before the Clean Air Act went into effect, the disco era, the Reagan presidency, really bad medical care that included an unnecessary lung operation and unnecessary surgery for carpel tunnel, a divorce.  She was in an airport trying to get home at the onset of the Gulf War.  She fell on the ice and suffered a concussion, then, before she had healed, she was hit by a giant truck, suffered brain trauma, had to relearn the alphabet, still has nerve pain, gets exhausted and overwhelmed, but wrote and illustrated a beautiful, heartbreaking, life-affirming memoir called The Memory Palace that is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  In the writing of that book, she helped many people face their troubled pasts.  Including her older sister.  She brought attention to the still much neglected and misunderstood plight of the mentally ill and the homeless.  She has raised money to issue journals to all the women who seek refuge in the same shelter our mother did, and her advocacy work has inspired many people to donate money and time to this shelter and probably others.  And through her blog, Mira's List, she helps people from all around the world believe in themselves as artists.
Never once through her many misfortunes did she feel sorry for herself.  Even after the accident, she would visit her older sister and offer to plant her flowers for the balcony on the studio: snapdragons, of course, were always in the mix.  She would focus herself completely on the task at hand, modeling mindfulness, even when her brain was in disrepair.

She has frequently been swarmed by bees.  We're talking a freakish degree here.  Like a biblical plague of locusts.  What do these bees have against our Mira Bee?  Do they object to the way she has used their name?

She has the sense of humor of an eleven-year-old boy.  Because her husband, Douggie Pee, does too, their relationship works.  But sometimes there are too many jokes about biological functions for the other people who have to watch.
If she and her sister had more time to spend together, they would go back to France and relive the vacation they shared there this past May.

They would eat more cake.  If fact, if it were possible to just fly there for the day, this is the place, in Rouen, in Normandy, where they would be sharing Mira Bee's birthday cake.

If Myra Jean/now Mira Bee could have anything in the world, it wouldn't be great fame.  She would like a little more wealth, but only so she can carry on as an artist and thinker and all of the other things listed above.  But beyond that, it would make her very happy to have her own baby echidna, the egg-laying mammal that people affectionately call a spiny anteater.  (The fact that something spiny that eats ants is described as such with affection is the key to Mira Bee's universe.)  Mira thinks she looks like one.  But she also thinks her sister looks like one.  She would also be happy with a puggle, spawn of the echidna.

To have a sister is a rare thing, a lifelong source of learning, a songbook, a source of shtick, of codes and private references and gags and secrets and dreams.  Her older sister is always dreaming that the two girls are going somewhere--last week it was on a rowboat to India--and that she has to protect the younger one from harm. And yet having a younger sister--this particular younger sister--saved the older one's life.

Happy birthday, Mira Bee, and happy sister love to all of you so lucky to have one!


  1. This made me cry. It is the most beautiful tribute anyone has ever paid to me. I don't know what to say. I will call after my walkie with Sadie! Love, love, love!

  2. I met the Bee at Stonecoast in 2002. Wonderful writer and fabulous person. D