Sparked by Words

A New Eden

Words might inspire but

no value befalls without action, nor

nor do all the hovering words in

all the languages of the world

speak nearly as well as

digging the shovel into the ground

that seeds can be planted,

for inspiration lasts only as long as

one shower, water enhancing

the sensation imagined,

yet imagination lasts only as long as

one stands under the trickling drops,

wondering when to turn off the water,

exit the shower to recall the

thoughts made brilliant by heat,

echoes, and dampness,

then to tease out the single line

worthy of writing to begin

to plant story, that in time

the bounty can be harvested,

a table set for celebration, and

seeds poured left hand to right,

right hand to left, and back again,

water trickling down and down,

prodigal with promise of food, drink,

ideas to discuss, to plot, to invest,

and dreams to nurture,

vowing more words to rise

before the season of bounty ends,

then to consider from where

the seeds first had come,

who the first planter,

who the gardener, and who the one

who labored long to harvest,

and would seeds appear once more

or take flight forever,

or in a moment of serendipity

bequeath the legacy of

a passion for inventing,

a trove of readers,

a yield of love,

that you and I might one day

decide to grow our garden

and plant our seeds and pray

for rainfall, sunshine, fortune,

then welcome all to the feast

of words gathered from Eden,

hoping to leave the miraculous

breath of curiosity that might inspire

you and you and you and you

with words that tell a story

amen yes amen

 

Just a Thought 37

 

Wheat Field by Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy CCO Creative Commons

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This is the story of how a book about World War II sealed the friendship between me and the woman who gave me the courage to write Where Did Mama Go?

It begins with The Caves of Perigord by Martin Walker. I read it because it describes some of the prehistoric cave art discovered in France, a topic this artist and art teacher has always found fascinating. The exquisite shard of ancient art is only a part of the story, as the novel reveals the dangerous work of the French Resistance during World War II. When I finished the book I gave it to my friend, Madeleine Nussen.

I was a novice Hebrew teacher, barely two weeks ahead of the kids in skills. Madeleine was experienced and fluent at the same temple school, and she graciously mentored me when I got stuck, which was about once a class. After she read the book, she told me something I hadn’t known.

The book tells in part how the Nazis forced French citizens to sit on the front and top of reinforcement and supply trains in order to deter the French Resistance from bombing them as the invaders subjugated France. Allowing the trains to pass meant a more likely victory for the Nazis, but sabotaging the trains meant certain death for those who rode the trains as hostages.

Madeleine quietly relayed her personal story when she returned the book. She was a Holocaust survivor, her father a fighter with the Resistance. At least once, teenage Madeleine sat on the actual train, exposed and vulnerable. Her father saw her and did not bomb the train.

I knew of course the historical foundation of the book. But that moment when she described her part as a hostage, the enemy trains stormed around us. The wind roared like a cyclone, the acrid steam burned my face. A story that would have made me screech in fury, she relayed with her trademark composed dignity.

A few years later the temple held a dinner my husband and I attended with my parents. My father had quietly told me a family secret I was forbidden to share. I kept the promise. My mother, always a gregarious showstopper, made instant friends with the four other guests at our table, which included Madeleine. My mom loved the limelight and the event gave her the chance to perform. Mom chattered as deftly as if holding court, the other guests enchanted by her. My father expressed irritation after a while, and mom quieted down.

Months later, I noticed Madeleine looking weary, an emotion she rarely conveyed. When I asked if everything was OK, she told me about her beloved husband, also a Holocaust survivor and a renowned cantor. Now he was living in a facility for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, losing more and more of his identity and sense of presence every day. Madeleine was devastated because his most recent decline meant he no longer knew who she was – nor who he was. The Nazis had not defeated him, but his illness had.

It must have been because of Madeleine’s dignity that I felt comfortable enough to tell her my secret, despite my promise. “My mom has Alzheimer’s.”

“I know,” Madeleine said.

In the hallowed quiet between us, I realized she had spotted my mom’s illness at the dinner party. What my father and I thought was hidden as long as we told no one, was easily detected by Madeleine with her long experience in dealing with her husband’s disease.

Over the next years, Madeleine was a willing listener to my concerns and worries. Sometimes she gave great advice. Sometimes she just listened and let me vent my frustration, confusion, and rage. Always, she was a friend who kept my confidence and my mother’s secret.

My dad died nine years ago, my mom’s disease still so well hidden that some family members didn’t detect it. At his death, it became obvious that mom could not live at home, and I made the heartbreaking decision to place her in a memory care residence.

I regret my action every day of my life because it forced my mother out of her home overlooking the Pacific Ocean into a locked facility. There was no other way to keep her safe, to have her needs met 24-7 by a compassionate, professional staff.

I was already writing novels long before my dad passed, but my stories had nothing to do with Alzheimer’s. It took all my strength to deal with my mom’s mutable and fractured condition. I often drove to the residence in tears, knowing the woman I headed to visit was losing parts of herself as if she were a pillow ripped open, feathers strewn to the heavens. I often drove home sobbing about how the disease attacked my mom and left her tattered. I was too close to the volatile situation to be able to write about it, so I never tried.

Madeleine passed away about three years ago. Her death was painful for her family and friends, her loss palpable as a burn on flesh.

About two years ago I realized I knew more than many other people who needed, sometimes desperately, to find a safe place for mom or dad or husband or wife to live. Their loved ones who suffered with Alzheimer’s. I consoled, gave advice, and listened to the newbies, all of them wondering if they had made the right and the best decision.

Eventually I thought of Madeleine’s courage. A survivor of the Holocaust who had started her life again in a new country, a loving daughter, wife, and mother, a talented musician, a gifted teacher, and a compassionate confidante, she modeled for me that not only could I tell this story, I could show that living with this disease is miserable but possible. That being an involved advocate for the one you love is more important than making the perfect choice because there is no perfect choice.

Madeleine never knew I wrote a story about Alzheimer’s, but without her friendship I might not have done so.

Madeleine Nussen, zt’l. May the memory of this righteous person be a blessing. Thank you for giving me the courage to write Where Did Mama Go? I miss you but I carry you in my heart.

 

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. 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.

 

Prehistoric art, Bison, Altamira Cave in Spain, courtesy CCO Creative Commons

 

Tell Me a Story

Every work of fiction requires of the reader a suspension of disbelief somewhere along the trajectory of the story. Otherwise it would not be fiction.

Like the Golden Gate, fiction bridges one realm to another. In this case, imagination to story, reality to lies.

To be successful at constructing the lies, first know what truths you are wrecking. Research, study, learn, then depart. Daydream a while. Nightdream too.

Stand outside in the dark and look up at the stars. Know they are not there, and not aligned to form shapes and signs. That’s all a part of manmade interpretation, begun eons ago to make sense of the unknown. To imbue mercy over savagery. To offer future from despair.

Even without letters, even without language, the first humans saw story in the heavens and danced it around the fire at night, telling the clan. Animals, danger, flight, love, children, hunger, death. Auweh!

Write. Write some truth. Write some lies.

How well you entice your readers despite your lies marks how talented a writer you are. Readers must forgive your fiction.

Write well, and they will savor your work and you will be asked to return.

To write more lies. To make sense of the unknown. That’s the nature of fiction.

 

Just a thought 36

 

Image prehistoric Native American pictograph, courtesy CCO Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

Measuring Devices

Depending on perspective, I’m a total failure or a remarkable success.

I never completed my master’s program (studio art) but earned a bachelor’s degree (creative writing) and more than 60 units beyond. My marriage was often rocky and miserable (for both of us) but we just celebrated our 46th anniversary. Though I’m not a great artist, I worked three years in a commercial studio (sapped my soul) and was an outstanding art teacher for nearly three decades. We don’t travel often but have spent hours in the company of our four grandchildren who show us worlds we never imagined. Our bank account is small, our house needs repair, our cars are old, but everywhere I go, I meet friends.

Books and blogs that teach writing skills order us to sit our ass in the chair and write. To get the story done. They admonish that for many people the book never gets to The End. I’m not published (yet!) but have written three children’s books, three adult novels, and am working on the fourth. That’s a barge of queries, of failures and rejections, and of one serendipitous acceptance letter looming in my future, but six books completed. Finished. Done. The End.

Each sentence I write is the best I can scrape from my marrow but someone else has written a more lyrical line. Every character I imagine conveys a power the whole world recognizes as universal truth but another author has written a better story. My sons nod at my achievements but a stranger stands at the podium and autographs the front page of her published book.

The Pulitzer committee isn’t waiting for me. Not for me.

I’ve a long way to go but I know I’ll get there because I’ve already trudged up the rugged path called Effort and stood at the top of the wilderness called Merit. Up here the wind blows hard, trying to knock me over, to see the word Fail graffitied on the boulder under my feet.   I don’t look down where the view makes me dizzy. I gaze toward the horizon which has no end and squint to see the command Succeed puffed in clouds.

You measure me in years or miles or finish lines or trophies. I measure myself in chapters and plots and titles and revisions.

You don’t know my name. One day you may. One day you will.

I am Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt. I’ve written a book or two.

 

 

Image courtesy Pixabay

 

 

 

 

Coming Back to You

I’ve been away from this blog far longer than intended and was not sure how to return. Still sitting here in my house working at the computer, but not here on the blog. What do I say to those of you who’ve stayed in touch and sent notes of encouragement while maintaining the respect not to ask what’s taking me so long? How much do I reveal, how much do I keep private, even secret?

A long list of topics and partial articles waits to be written or completed. My anemic advice about writing, my head-over-heels book reviews, the Just a Thought series, and the longer articles that peek into my own history or divulge my current interests and run parallel to the subjects of my books. Same-same as what’s been on this blog in past, just more of.

I had a mom who suffered Alzheimer’s disease but my promise to her was to not write about her, her dignity and pride to remain private. “My Mom” in all my articles was someone else’s mom – or dad, husband, wife – in disguise. You don’t know my mom because she wouldn’t have wanted you to see her like that. So I promised her you wouldn’t, even though she was unaware of the promise.

I really wanted to write more on what I’ve learned about Alzheimer’s disease as an observer, as an anecdotist. My studies are personal and also lies. Personal because I sat by her side, watched, listened, interacted, cried, and pondered. Lies because when I told you stories about Mom, I made them up.

You might have figured out that Mom is deceased. Yes. All I’m going to say. Except…

This was not what I imagined when I first announced my Quiet Time. I thought I’d actually have an extended period to contemplate and reconsider, to rewrite my direction, to refocus Mom’s attention. Death has its own way of reorganizing priorities. Instead of planning new activities geared to Mom’s newest state of presence, I planned a funeral, a shiva, a way to say good-bye, a propensity for getting lost, a need to be forgiven, and a means of going forward.

Today Mom would be 90 years old. A good gift for a 90-year-old might be a coupon book good for snuggles and kisses and walks in the park. A new blouse and a fragrant bouquet of pink peonies. A candlelit cake to defy dietary restrictions. In Mom’s case a perfect gift would be a memory she could hold on to. Something from her childhood, like the day she glowed in the class spotlight for the story she’d written. Her first kiss, tasted years before she met my Dad. A new dress purchased with money she earned at her teenage job at the five and dime store. Any memory would do, even something I exaggerated or made up. Just to give a memory to someone with Alzheimer’s is the most incredible gift one can imagine.

Pay attention to that word incredible. Its weight throws the scale into panic, its force throws the dike wide open. Memory is the first lost cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Victims make up their lives anew and family members learn to play along because arguing in favor of truth never aligns with reality.

The ninetieth birthday party wasn’t necessary. Mom almost but in the end didn’t get that far. There will be no cake or gifts or photos. Mom was buried in the white lace blouse she would have worn to her party. She looked beautiful, and this I’m not making up. She looked ready to get up and blow out those 90 candles.

I’m coming back now. Back to writing on this blog. Back to writing books, querying agents, pleading for mercy, and all the other mishegoss on the potholed path to publication.

Back, to see Mom in a new light. Happy Birthday to you, Mom. I’m celebrating your life today.

 

Love you, Mom.

Miss you.

Shari

 

Photo from Bonin-Pratt family archives: Mom, Dad, me at 4, baby brother, Hawaii 1953

 

Quiet Time

To my followers,

My blog is going to be silent for a while, maybe as long as a month.

Please don’t worry and please don’t think I’m disinterested in you, dear friends.

You are the folks who make me want to maintain a blog, after all.

There are personal issues I must take care of, and they need lots of time.

Stop thinking the worst – not a divorce, severe illness, or criminal acts. I haven’t joined the army, a nunnery, or the circus.

Also, not the excitement of a round the world vacation or an excursion on SpaceX – they begged, but I had to turn them down.

And sadly, not (yet) launching the publication of my book.

In other words, something I can’t discuss here.

I will not be able to regularly follow your blog posts either, though I’ll pop in once in a while.

I’ll return soon as I can, to writing my blog, to following yours.

Till then, be healthy, stay active, and be involved with the things that make you breathe deeply and exhale joyfully. (Yeah, I know, not supposed to use adverbs. Meh.)

Love to all,

Shari

 

 

Painting A Lady Writing by Johannes Vermeer, 1665

 

 

Vista

A lake imparts a majestic vision only by the terrain surrounding it – the mighty trees, the grassy hills, the faceted boulders. Otherwise it’s just a large puddle.

A novel endears readers only by the story execution within it – the flawed characters, the twisted plot, the unexpected resolution. Otherwise it’s just a pompous dictionary.

Life requires inner strength and outer empathy. Otherwise it’s a meaningless existence.

 

Just a thought 35

 

Digital painting courtesy Pixabay.com