Fire took her home but not her spirit
FORT BRAGG, Calif. - Paula Gunn Allen's unflappable humor, long a mark of her resiliency, is being tested these days.
Recent bouts with lung cancer, hernia and a fire last October that took all of her possessions have greatly weakened her body, but her spirit is still going strong.
''So many people have wanted to know how I am doing that I've expressed it in the form of a memoir, the 'Perils of Being Paula,''' the well-known Laguna, Sioux and Lebanese feminist poet, writer and critic said from her temporary quarters in an old Mendocino County bungalow.
In ''Perils,'' she writes about revisiting her burned-out trailer: 'The Funnies room, my boudoir, my bathroom that I had just called Frank about coming to complete ... all gone. Swept downstream like the huge boulders and sometimes rusted out cars would be swept over the falls in the Big Arroyo in Cubero during summer floods. But not exciting, deliciously terrifying: just sad.
''You know, I'm too farking old for this.''
The spontaneous combustion of oil-soaked rags improperly stored in a shed on her property after a deck renovation was blamed for the fire.
Gunn Allen was under-insured and had just completed making payments on her trailer.
''I finally owned something,'' she said.
Her radiation treatment for first-stage lung cancer has so far proved successful and she was recuperating before the fire occurred.
The radiation's side effects, however, along with a lung weakness she has suffered for years, made her dangerously sensitive to the smoke she inhaled the night of the fire.
Two weeks after her release from the emergency room, she lapsed into a coma and was rehospitalized.
She likened this series of setbacks to a job she once had.
''I used to work at Bob's Big Boy,'' she said. ''When someone ordered a takeout while they ate, we called it a 'go-hold.'''
Several fund-raisers are being set up in New Mexico. The benefit schedule can be found at www.seedopenu.org/Paula_Gunn_Allen_of_Laguna_Pueblo-1.htm or Patricia Smith can be contacted at (505) 345-3405.
''She's a real fighter,'' said Smith, who was Gunn Allen's adviser for the dissertation that became ''The Sacred Hoop.''
Gunn Allen has a modest wish list.
She has found a 1985 Toyota, but she still would like bookshelves, replacements for her books and a bed; at the moment, she especially misses a good bed.
Most of her original papers are with the University of Oregon.
Donations can be sent to The Paula Gunn Allen Fund, Account No. 0129540739, Bank of America, 228 N. Main St., Fort Bragg, CA 95437. The donation is not tax-deductible.
''I'm learning from this illness,'' she said. ''I'm surprised how much people have heard the words in the books; they're so obscure. It's about thought, and writing makes the thought more objective, like an object, like a chair, and then it has an effect.''
''The Perils of Paula'' is available at www.greenmac.com/paula.