Sparked by Words

The Color of My Blood

If you bury your head in the ground, you’ll never glimpse the cosmos. The sounds you hear so deep in the earth are muffled and distorted by distance. Snowdrops hammer threats. The words I love you morph to I mug you. No wonder you’re terrified.

It’s natural to drop to the floor at sudden assaults. Earthquakes, landslides, fiery smoke, gunshots. We’re told to stop, drop, and roll, a dance step scarier than the junior high prom. Our heads tuck under our arms, huddling in fear as a safety strategy.

Soil pressing into your palms and the soles of your feet drags you deeper into the chasm. It takes heart muscle and cranial strength to chuck the dross and hoist the body. It resists change.

It’s even more frightening to remain in the dirt, ears stuffed with clods, hands clutching grass by the roots. The nature of fear is that it’s deaf and blind.

Raise yourself, hair by hair, toenail by toenail. Step upon the crust. Open your eyes to look further than a vulture’s flight. Cup your ears to detect vibrations. Turn slowly and stare. Be silent and listen. The universe is addressing you. The drum beat booms. Words screech. Snowfall crackles like breaking glass. Still the stars spiral.

The universe wheels and rolls around you. Be part of it, as you were at its inception. The darker the sky, the more you see. The quieter your voice, the more you hear.

This planet is too tiny to divide into barbed parcels. Hold hands with the stranger and work together. It doesn’t have to be a wall. It could be a bridge. What you build will shelter your grandchildren.

The world is not flat. You have to muster courage and that starts with pulling your head out of the ground.

The cosmos courses through all of us. By genetic heritage we are 99.9 percent alike. The color of my blood is the same as yours.

 

 

Just a Thought 63

 

Tortoise image courtesy Commons Wikimedia

 

 

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I finally found my calling in my senior year of college. Of course I intended to be a writer but before I started signing autographs in copies of my runaway best seller, I needed a job to pay the bills. I’d suffered enough soul scorching gigs to know I didn’t want to wait tables, work the phones on an answering system switchboard, burn plates for a printing company, or even manage a tiny art store on a street no one ever walked so no one ever entered. I’d done all those and a few more, earning enough to pay for plates of fried rice and cups of stale coffee.

So when my university offered a temporary teaching assistant position for students in their last semester of college, I took it. And there I found kids. Lots of sweet but very poor and sometimes very hungry kids. I hated the school system, a plodding curriculum that was certain to deaden any glimmer of affection for learning in any child, but I loved the kids. I’d found it, thank heaven, a goal for a career.

A few more divots snagged my steps along the way to teacherhood. I found myself newly married and working in a Detroit podiatry office (oh my God,) then newly pregnant and working in a Denver computer center (oh my Lord.) As a mom of two young sons, I supplemented our family’s meager income as an art teacher in the city recreation program, teaching little kids to paint pictures of trees and turtles and tide pools (oh yes.) I became an assistant resource teacher in an elementary school (on the right path,) then an artist in a commercial fabric design company (oh no.) Finally my chance came to gather my skills, invent a few others, and serve as the art specialist at a tiny private elementary school.  I’d arrived: I was a teacher.

No one, especially school administrators, knows what an art curriculum should look like so I was trusted to create my own. Fortunately for every school where I ever worked, I was ambitious. I took more college classes, intending to earn a master degree in studio art and a teaching credential. From all these experiences I built an art curriculum that exposed my students to a range of media and techniques and taught them that the journey was everything, the finished artwork merely a byproduct of their explorations.

Despite all the skills I learned and all the classes I taught, every day was a frontier of unexplored territory. One of a small school’s best assets is that a teacher gets to work with the same students year after year, helping them find their strengths and interests, developing their proficiency. As a teacher I got to know the kids as individuals, to encourage their talents and dreams, sometimes to witness their foibles and peccadilloes.

Rhys was a beautiful child, at seven all giant eyes and peachy cheeks. He was also a handful, the center of every fracas. Gia was another little seven-year-old beauty, all long curls and sweet grin. She was the classroom angel, no matter what room she was in. At seven it’s hard to find a child who isn’t a baby-faced beauty, snaggletoothed smiles, matted hair, and all.

One day the commotion in art class centered on Rhys and Gia, a mess of paper, brushes, and pencils strewn on the floor around them. I called both kids to the front of the room and asked Gia what had happened.

She pointed at Rhys, her injured feelings as palpable on her face as the red juice stain on her blouse. “He threw all my stuff on the floor.”

I turned to Rhys and asked if he had dumped Gia’s art supplies on the floor. He nodded. Struggling to keep the irritation out of my voice, I asked why he’d done such a thing.

“Because she threw my things on the floor first.”

I asked Gia if she was the provocateur. Innocence blazing on her face, she nodded. Little Miss Angel had made the first naughty move, and Rhys the Imp had simply responded in kind. I told them to apologize to each other and then clean up the mess.

Rhys and Gia taught me something that day. The best little kid in class misbehaves at times, the little troublemaker gets labeled with an undeserved indelible mark if we’re not careful, and a seven-year-old is an adorable, endearing, mischievous person who benefits from adult moderation. Sometimes they point fingers at each other; sometimes they tell the incriminating truth. We teachers had best be alert.

There’s a lesson in all that: the little surprises we bring to our stories, making them true at heart.

 

Photo of child creating art courtesy Pixabay

 

Who Tells Your Story

Everyone has a story to tell. To traverse across a chasm while balanced on a thin silver string. Gaping crowds below, pearlescent clouds above, the wire shuddering in the wind. Few have touched down safely on the other side.

But you have. With pluck, determination, and courage. That’s your story.

Not everyone knows how to write. It isn’t just paragraph and spelling knowledge. It’s character development, plot construction, writing craftsmanship. Sequence, judgment, vision.

Some may be able to learn. Schools, online courses, writers’ conferences, self-help books all offer opportunities. Computer programs and lined paper pages stay open late. Practice and critical review always meet deadlines.

Probability of failure despite effort.

Possibility of an audience.

Others must learn to be grateful to share their story with those who can write. A minute on a high wire is a moment to contemplate. The one trembling on the wire, those on the ground looking up.

The choice is to insist on writing your story so poorly that few will read and praise it, or to hand the idea to the master who will craft your story so that many will turn the pages.

Or a third choice. Learn to write well, a demanding journey of effort and failure and potential success, its own act on a high wire. The ultimate achievement.

Probability of story well written.

Possibility of glittering stars on Goodreads.

Brilliance evolves when someone reads the story and is transformed. Yes, it began with you, your ballet on the silver string.

Whose life is important? Whose balance on the wire is exciting enough to write it in a story?

Maybe anyone’s. Probably everyone’s. Possibly yours.

 

Says she who has yet to be published.

 

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Painting Seiltanzerin* 1913 by August Macke, courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; *Tightrope Walker

This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

 

How to Make Cupcakes

You can blend cabbage with horseradish till the cows come home, wander out to the pasture again, and finally lumber down among the clover – you will never get cupcakes.

Best to start with the right ingredients. Fresh imagination, sprinkles of fun, a dollop of elbow grease, a cup of sunshine, Bubbie’s secret family recipe generously shared, and a baking partner or two. Especially if they’re of the childhood persuasion.

Mix with giggles, taste the affection and adjust for optimum flavor, bake long enough to read poetry, cool while jitterbugging around the moon, frost using all fingers while telling funny stories. Serve to the whole family. Relish happiness.

Bake a few more. Offer to the world. Everyone deserves sweet.

That’s how you make cupcakes.

 

Just a thought 61

 

Painting of the artist’s son with Gabrielle Renard, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, courtesy Wikipedia

 

 

An Arrow Shot Blind

I miss the mark because I don’t understand what the target should be. How can I land a bull’s eye when I have no idea what to aim for? All I’m doing is shooting an arrow to the place hidden from my sight.

Yet it’s my shadow hiding the mark. If I move, if I change, if I soften my heart, if I open my eyes, maybe I will see. Then I might aim well enough.

It will be in your reflection I will know if I’ve triumphed. Your smile, your glow, your pulse. Your gifting hands, your willowed spine.

My cleansed sinew. My renewed spirit.

What glory then for the medal I no longer need to win.

 

 

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Painting Archers by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. This photographic reproduction is considered to be in the public domain in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Chair

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What to do at the holidays when there’s an empty place at your table.

It was the opening statement in a letter offering coping advice when you’re grieving the absence of someone you love. A list of practical strategies meant to give relief to the ache of facing that empty chair and missing the person who’s supposed to sit in it. Who used to be there at all the holidays.

Thing was, I didn’t need the advice. Not this year at least – I needed it ten years ago when my dad died and left me with the responsibility of caring for my mom. When I found she was not in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but well enmeshed in the illness that was destroying her brain. When I had to have her declared mentally incompetent to make lucid decisions and remove her from her home for her safety. When I had to delve into her finances, her medical needs, her social obligations, and supervise every aspect of her life, all while hiding out in the guise of her little girl because she was – the Mom.

That first year after my dad died was the Year of No Celebrations. I missed every single holiday – federal, religious, personal, greeting-card-nonsense event. I got sick – pneumonia, bouts of cold, flu, bronchitis – as well as being the default contact for crises and emergencies. I slept with two phones next to me, frequently jolted awake by a call from the nurses at the residence where Mom lived. Every holiday was a calamity to endure, leaving not a flick of a second to celebrate. Leaving me tense and exhausted, afraid to see the dawn, fearful of the night. Nine years of dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s, but I am no hero. Millions of other family members live this way, trying to find a safe route through a maze with only one outcome for the ill person they love.

My mom died nine months ago, in an assisted living residence devoted to caring for people with progressive and unrecoverable memory lapses. After my dad’s death, I frequently took her to our home for the usual holidays, and she participated in the family gatherings. She read to her great-grandchildren, laughed at the stories and jokes, ate momentous amounts of food because that’s what we do at family gatherings. But the changes were obvious and painful to watch. She could answer questions, sometimes just to acknowledge that she couldn’t remember a detail, but she could no longer initiate conversation. She could react but not act.

Over those years, Mom’s memory fractured and fizzled as we knew it would. Bringing her to family celebrations at my home became more and more difficult. To discuss why would betray Mom’s privacy, and I’d vowed not to do that. Four or five years ago, the situation declined into impossible. I couldn’t watch her every second as she turned my house into tumultuous residue from her condition. She didn’t act with malice but with mindless energy. This is what Alzheimer’s does.

After dad’s death I felt like a battleship trying to barge through a pinhole. More accurately, a sob soaked wad of tissues attempting to dry up the desert. For the first three years, driving up and down the California freeways to the residence where Mom lived, to her attorney’s or accountant’s offices, to the mall to shop for her clothes, I cried and raged at the injustice of so much to do and no past experience from which I could draw. Every encounter was a new one, every crisis unpredictable, every visit with Mom another failure to communicate.

Friday evenings at our temple I said the Mourner’s Kaddish for my dad, tears streaming. Synagogue was a safe place to cry – the other congregants understood. They surrounded me with their arms and their comfort. Kaddish is an ancient, exquisite prayer in the Jewish tradition. It’s recited while remembering those we’ve lost in the past year, but not one word has anything to do with death or human beings. It’s a prayer that extols God’s virtues and greatness, reminding us that after life, there is the World to Come.

Crying, screaming, driving, reciting Kaddish. This was how I spent my three years of grieving.

I didn’t have time to indulge in a grief support group though I participated erratically in an Alzheimer’s support group. Erratic not because the dissolution of keeping to a schedule is my nature but because it’s the nature of the disease to flummox every situation. Don’t plan ahead except for the advent of chaos, the world shaken like an abused child – and with the same ultimate effect of unimaginable damage.

Our table has been reduced these last ten months and the ten years previous. My parents are missing. But our home is surrounded by photos of those we love. It is saturated with their presence. My sorrow ebbs day by day, but capriciously – a reminder here of how my mom cooked spaghetti that was better than mine, there of how my dad spoke wisely about how to better parent my sons . The lacy blouse I nearly bought Mom a month after her death, the scent of a flower recalling the rose garden Dad lovingly tended. The dream when they stood by my side and we watched the sun set over the Pacific, all of us at peace, seeing future.

I won’t refer to the coping advice generously offered by the grief support group when my family celebrates the seventh night of Chanukah this coming Saturday. As I look at the chairs where my parents used to sit, I will not mourn the vacancy. Their places are filled with my memories of them and always will be.

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are eighteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

Photo courtesy Bonin-Pratt family archives: Sharon at 3 with both of her parents.

Moth

Captivated by moths. The beat of their wings so soft that the breath of elves do not approach their whispered thrum. I’m alive, I’m alive here.

Bodies thick with fur weighing less than a thimble of honey. The flash of exquisite wing art to terrify predators and frighten humans who approach at night. Leave me, leave me be.

Diurnal creatures attracted to light, intuitively brave explorers. They flit toward all the light in the world, basking in its artificial or natural beams, yet steal none of it, leaving plenty of glow for everyone else. We share, we share always.

To lose myself in your shadow and you in mine, yet each remain whole. More ourselves when paired, more complete than if we flew alone. How can I not be enchanted by greed that is not selfish? Love you, love you too.

Strangers may witness but my heartbeat is yours to claim. Do you see me drawn to your candlelight, my wings beating in the dark? Captivated by you, I’ve claimed all but taken nothing. I am, I am yours.

 

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Painting Emperor Moth, Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy Wikimedia Commons