Sparked by Words

Archive for November, 2017

Balm

 

Balm is not love nor even understanding. Love is an act in which we choose to engage. Understanding is the obligation of being human. Balm is inclusion. Inclusion is the soothing peace from which we all benefit, one hand extended to another, all hands linked, around the world, around the world and back again.

Around the world into the future.

 

 

Just a thought 18

 

 

 

Painting detail, Hands of God and Adam from Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

 

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Harvest

May you find your life as abundant as the stars in heaven, may you share your wealth with others, may others invite you into their embrace, and may all of us reap the bounty of a plentiful harvest of health, hope, happiness, and hearth.

 

Just a thought 17

 

Image courtesy Pixabay.com

 

Thanksgiving 2017

We live in the eucalyptus woods of Lake Forest in Orange County, California, solidly middle class and a place we could not afford at today’s prices. We locked in to this gracious neighborhood of family focus, great schools, varied public and private services, and healthy businesses more than 30 years ago. This past two months we cleaned the house, packed up anything worth donating, threw out barrels of useless stuff that we wondered why we’d saved. We fixed and painted, scrubbed and polished. Organized in its new beauty, showing off its books, photos, and knickknacks, the house glows. We’re ready for the holidays, for our out of town guests. This will be the first in about 15 years that both our sons and their families will be together for Thanksgiving along with extended family and friends. The bright and shining face of comfort, we’re ready to celebrate our bounty.

Nearly 200 homeless people, many of them family groups, live around the Plaza of the Flags in downtown Santa Ana, our county seat. The area bridges the Orange County Superior Court building and the public law library. Nearby is the main branch of the distinguished Santa Ana Public Library and Santa Ana City Hall. None of the campers really want to live here but they can’t afford the high county rent. The encampment is an embarrassment, a haven for filth and disease, used syringes and empty bottles and cans. For discarded and broken toys, torn sweatshirts and trash. For vermin. For excrement. It’s a dirty, scary place to walk past as I did last year on my way to serve jury duty. It’s a failure of individual responsibility and self control, of inability to delay gratification or accept consequences, of unwillingness to apply oneself to education and work ethic. It’s a total failure of parenting skills. And it’s  not the image of public pride we’d like to project but the face of policy failure we can’t seem to resolve.

Some but not all of the adults work for low paying wages at jobs with inconsistent schedules. And yes, some are drug addicts, alcoholics, lowlifes and criminals – but not the children. The children are innocent and active, yearning for play, hoping for education. Like our four grandchildren. Like yours. Orange County officials are trying to clean up the encampment but if they deal with this problem by forcing these people out with no place else to go, then they simply foist the problem onto some other community. Resolution is not barricading Civic Center. It’s building temporary safe houses and long term opportunity. It’s people remembering their childhood goals and deciding to change themselves.

My family is eating lots of healthy food over this week of Thanksgiving. Everything traditional you can think of (most homemade by our many family cooks and bakers,) also sushi, pizza, and a variety of ethnic foods (most from local restaurants.) We love it all and we pick at the leftovers whenever we want a snack. Every year as part of my temple’s outreach program we collect hundreds of cans and boxes of food items to donate, along with grocery gift certificates, to help 200 low income families. Thanksgiving is one of about a dozen times during the year that we mount a formal collection – school supplies in September, clothing, books, eyeglasses, personal hygiene items, toys. Throughout the year we donate food and more food, because a meal eaten today doesn’t feed a person tomorrow. We write checks to service organizations whose mission is to help those who are ill, hungry, without homes. These low income people don’t live a few counties over. They live here in Orange County. They’re my neighbors. And yours.

We aren’t rich. We do without vacations, expensive hair care, manicures, gardeners, maid service, updates on the house, sometimes even without needed repairs. Remodeling our house is a daydream. Tickets to live theater or sporting events are out of the question. Until two months ago I drove a nineteen-year-old car but when it became dangerous, we purchased a newer used one. I don’t have to get around on a bicycle or on public transportation, and if I walk, it’s to enhance my health, not because there’s no other way. We do without luxuries, things by their definition no one needs. Our personal situation was built of hard work and bonuses of good luck. We have everything necessary for a decent life. We are rich in family, friends, and opportunities.

On Thursday when we sit with our two sons and two daughters-in-law, with our four grandchildren, and our extended family around a table graced with candles and goblets, we will say thanks for this bounty. But I will remember those whose lives are less secure, whose meal was cooked over a camp stove or eaten from greasy paper sheets while they hunkered on a cement slab in Civic Center. The crime is not that I can’t fix the problem. It’s  a crime if I don’t recognize their humanity, if I call them “other,” “other” being a designation of less worth. Yesterday I donated food. Today I wrote a check. Tomorrow I will give clothing. Next month I will donate toys. What we have is not extravagant. What we have is immensely extravagant bounty. I am deeply grateful.

May you always celebrate in joy and health with your family and loved ones. One day may everyone.

 

 

 

 

Image of homeless girl courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

 

Daydream, Writer

I wonder what you remember of being a kid in school. What was the most common remark you heard from your teachers? It might have been anything of the myriad activities that engage young children at the perimeter of studies. Don’t write on the desk. Stop running in the hall. Sit up straight. Throw out your gum. Turn to the right page. Stop talking to Sally (Henry, Willis, Coralee.) Sharpen your pencil before class. That’s not a word we use in school. We heard all those comments directed at kids who needed reminding about the purpose of school: practicing times tables, practicing spelling words, practicing cursive writing, practicing reading, practicing memorizing. School instruction was not interesting so much as required. School instruction was not creative at all. It was practice for something else.

None of those comments were directed at me, however. I heard another order – often – from every teacher through the elementary grades. “Sharon, stop daydreaming.” Because there I’d be, my head turned toward the huge windows along the back wall, staring out at the gray and yellow skies, the bare limbs of the trees, the steeple of the church across the street. Caught daydreaming again about all the possibilities of life outside our classroom, wondering what it would be like if. My teachers thought I was wasting time but I was imagining a different world. I turned back to the current lesson though not for long. I’d be daydreaming again before the end of the day.

I recently read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. The first chapter was about Albert Einstein and the fact that he spent a year doing nothing but daydreaming. Einstein’s daydreams led him to conceptualize some of the most revolutionary ideas about the nature of physics and the role of light, energy, and matter in the origin of the universe. After that daydream year he had a creative explosion that resulted in him writing four important papers that identified the connective nature of just about everything in the cosmos. Eventually he won the Noble Prize.

Everyone should daydream. Children should daydream, inventors should daydream, lovers, the aged, politicians, priests, and travelers should daydream. It isn’t enough to do the ordinary and expected, to take notes and photos, to make lists and plans. We writers should daydream. Inside the daydream is the inception of wonder, the place where everything begins.

Writers need a break from ordinary routine. We put too much emphasis into the strategy we think should result in brilliant writing. It’s like buying the most expensive computer system, adding an outstanding writing program, lining up research files, and then drawing a creative blank. The novel doesn’t emerge.  Great story writing doesn’t come from elaborate equipment. It comes from slow and careful observation about the world, thinking about the human experience until the artist has insight about life.

Once we start to write, we should not try to write well. We should just write. Let the words flow and don’t worry about whether or not it’s good. That’s not for us to judge anyway – that’s for readers to judge. And maybe what we should be doing is not writing at all for a while but continue the daydream until writing organically enters our stage.

Everybody knows Einstein did poorly in school, that he appeared to do nothing for a while. But it isn’t true that he didn’t do anything – he observed, he thought, he let ideas flourish in his brain. He wondered. That year of daydreaming was the catalyst for the extraordinary and continuing bursts of brilliance that allowed him to cultivate his curiosity and resulted in the synthesis of his ideas. That led him to develop one of the pillars of modern physics, the theory of relativity.

Maybe we don’t have everything yet.  Maybe we need time spent looking around the world, observing, thinking, wondering, the way Einstein spent that year looking at the universe. Because if we don’t find the world enchanting – the way the clouds gather around the moon, the way we can talk to a stranger who doesn’t speak our language, the way the horizon stretches to infinity yet never really exists at all – we might as well stick with writing shopping lists.

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 This article was adapted from a letter sent to a friend.

Photograph of Albert Einstein courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

Sand or Honey

 

Even the most momentous creation – a whale or a love affair – begins with a tiny drop of something elemental – sand or honey – and is complete only when the final bit – a fluke or a splinter – slips into the right place.

 

 

Just a Thought 16

 

 

Image of sandcastle courtesy Commons.Wikimedia.org

 

Name, Please

 

Not much weighs less than a name. Still –

Names connote more than letters on a birth certificate. They are the blessings of our parents and the identity for our national placement. They are the curse of our enemies and the honor of those who love us. They may boost our aspirations or cost our freedom. They are our paycheck and our entry check to class reunions, our marriage bond and our legal rights, a memory of our failures and a trophy for our successes.

Think of Dwight David Eisenhower and you think of a brilliant commander. Think of Albert Einstein and you think of a brilliant physicist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a gifted African American writer, his name as unique as he is. And who doesn’t know Madonna? Not the blue-robed statue in church – the barely robed one on the stage. Princess Diana will always be remembered, her name associated with compassion, royalty, and a horrible death. Or Buddha, his calm figure seated in a temple, his singular name easy to recall. Mahatma Gandhi is always thought of as a man of peaceful civil disobedience, and Sun Tzu always as a man of war. Mother Teresa recalls a kindly nun bringing hope to the poor and disenfranchised. Think of Hannibal and you will also think of the Alps, maybe a bit of history. If you like history, you might remember Betsy Ross and the first American flag, or of Florence Nightingale who raised the profession of nursing. And who could ever forget Malala, the face of courage in the face of terror? Or Abraham Lincoln and the brief speech that makes us value the cost of freedom? Or Anne Frank whose teenage diary makes us remember the cost of bigotry?

There are more ordinary folks also, whose names carry weight for them. Renee is called Naynay because her younger sister couldn’t say the letter R. Samantha hates her name and demanded to be Manda until her friends convinced her Sammie was way better. Howard is Howie even as an adult though it’s a bit babyish now, and Leonardo was always better known as Leo, which fit well as a child and an adult. Carol and Leslie are twins, male twins, and though their names are unisex, they chose less androgynous monikers. Call them George and Arnold today, their given middle names, no mistaking them in person or print. Neither Sherry nor Brandy has a taste for alcohol, given their mum and da were drunks, so soon as they could, they chose less addictive names.

Dano’s real name is Rupert Daniel, but God forgive anyone who calls him by that first tag assigned him by his insistent great-grandfather. Since he couldn’t pronounce his own name at two, he became Dano – the way he said it, and better all around. Bertha Agnes Froog was visited at nineteen, a week after she left her parents’ home for good, by a dream spirit who divined her true name: Indigo Wave. Seriously, were I named something as awful as Bertha Agnes Froog, I’d also have run from it. Well, maybe not to Indigo Wave.

Given names (was Hero an honor or a joke played on the baby?) Inherited names (how many James Smith does the world need? OK for James Smith Jr., or the III, even the IV, maybe the V, but the VI – now we’re bored and the exclusivity has worn off.) Family names (no one on earth wants to be known as a Hitler or a Torquemada, even if the first name is Juliet or Aiden.) Baby names (don’t call anyone Pootie Pie if they are older than two.) Pseudonyms (are you hiding or running away?) Nom des plumes (so past acquaintances can’t catch up to you, or because someone else has made your real name famous, Marilyn Monroe?) Nicknames (Stinky, Button, and Ladybug were fine back in the day, but it’s no longer back in the day.)

Authors have much fun making up names. My favorites are those who create unpronounceable letter combinations but get angry when we say them incorrectly. Why shouldn’t I say Jacob if someone writes Jkb? If they want me to say it as Ickbo, it should be spelled that way, no matter that Jkb is a creature from the planet Zxqkn. That’s Zisqueen to me but Ekshozsa to the writer – they intended the final n to be silent. And if anyone chooses #*^^)(@% as a name, I will pronounce it Joe or Sue, depending on gender – if I’m able to determine gender – they may choose.

Favorite book characters include Cordelia, Ebenezer Scrooge, Holden Caulfield, Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, Kunta Kinte, Ayla, Atticus Finch, Jane Eyre, Jay Gatsby, Scarlet O’Hara, Ifemelu and Obinze, Tess, Sherlock Holmes, Sethe, Amir and Hassan, Anna Karenina, Wonder Woman and Superman, Okonkwo, Heathcliff, Hester Prynne, Celie and Shug, Inigo Montoya and Buttercup, and Hamlet – because I must begin and end with Shakespeare. You know these characters if you’ve read the books, though the titles are absent here.

I’ve chosen names for my stories according to the decade and country where a person was born. And to my whim. Elaine is an American character I like, though she is deeply flawed, Harvey is an unlikable jerk. John is strong and protective, and Junko is Japanese and wise. Rivka is a hero in the same story as Janusz, while Egon is a brute, and his name means the edge of a sword. Gittle, meaning good, is a sweet if naïve woman while Mendel’s name is changed several times.  Jocelyn, called Joey, links together generations and continents. In another story, Mama has no other name but her daughter, Kimberly, is called by different names depending upon who is talking to her. Dr. Michael Saginor pays homage to my OB-GYN, though the name is a bit different from the real physician.

So now for my own name: I was born Sharon Lynne Bonin. I found it an awkward  mouthful for a kid who liked pink ruffles and wanted to be a flower girl more than anything in the world. My last name was changed to Pratt when I married, and friends call me Shari though there’s nothing documented to show it as a legal attribute. Look up a number of combinations on Google and you’ll find more than one Sharon Pratt or Shari Pratt. But there is only one Sharon Bonin-Pratt. Me. And this is my chosen nom de plume.

Names lug meaning and history along with the letters. Noble, debased, inventive, ethnic, silly, dependable, criminal, undependable, powerful, romantic. Reputations tip the scale. Not much weighs less than a name. Or more. Choose carefully.

 

 

 

Painting A Young Man Reading at Candlelight by Matthias Stom, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A Writer’s Currency

 

Sixth grade. One (first) plane trip, two states, three schools, four languages if you count Pidgin English. (Also Yiddish and French class.) One border of the country to the other, from the American edge of the Atlantic to the middle of the Pacific, and a cultural shift of unfathomable dimension.

Saddle shoes to bare feet, blizzards to tropical breezes, bobby pins to leis, oak trees to plumeria, chicken stew to saimin soup, social inclusion to misfit. The threat of hurricanes, the threat of tsunamis, the crash of waves in Atlantic City, the gentle surf of Honolulu.

Tears, joy, loss, promises, farewell, aloha. All in a day, all in a very long day and into the dark and fragrant night.

That ought to make you unsteady on your feet. It sure as hell did me.

No paradise for me but currency for a writer.

Remembered about the years 1959 – 1960 of moving from New Jersey to Hawaii.

 

 

Just a Thought 15

 

Painting: Tiger in a Tropical Storm, Henri Rousseau, 1891, courtesy Wikipedia.org