Sparked by Words

Archive for January, 2018

Open Heart

End the argument with a slammed door, the house will crumble

Turn away with a shrug, we will speak again

Face disappointment with clenched fists, the fury will resume

Share thoughts with open palms, we will be friends again

Stitch a broken heart with regret, the wound will fester

Mend it with self-examination, we will love again

Because

Our wedding certificate was sealed with fading ink

But our hearts beat like the first time we saw each other

Our journey canted through unknown territories

Though we planned on traveling together always

We spoke in rage, acted from frustration, stomped with fear

Please meet me for coffee, I want to give it another chance

I know your name as it is also mine

 

Just a thought 29

 

Painting The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

 

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Rage and Reason

Candace asks for another cookie and when denied because it’s so close to dinner time, she wails the annoying cry recognized the world over as brat syndrome. She’s two and a half years old, and her self-centered demands come with the territory of preschoolers.

James also asks for another cookie and when denied because it’s so close to dinner time, he lets off with a string of foul language demands. He’s eighty-seven years old and his unfiltered anger comes with the territory of one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Candace will grow up to become an engineer or a software developer or an astronaut. James* was a Major General in the United States military, and worked at NASA developing critical rocket defense systems. I sobbed at his memorial because I’d never gotten to know the brilliant man in his prime and only met him when the disease that eventually killed him had reduced him to behaving like a toddler.

You may think that Alzheimer’s only affects those with a low IQ, or who eat like sumo wrestlers, or who lie around on the sofa all day clicking the remote and guzzling diet sodas. It doesn’t. It’s an equal opportunity monster that drags victims from every demographic and forces them into the pit of loss of executive function. Loss of every human function. When we discuss the disease, we’re talking about traumatic brain dysfunction moving people backwards. We forget their achievements and focus on the bathroom problems, the odd clothing choice problems, the inability to communicate effectively problems. We focus on the problems because they are always front and center.

Pearl walks out of the dining room, her purse stuffed with essentials like socks, a scarf, comb and brush, and bedroom slippers. She has only taken a bite of her lunch but now stands at the reception desk of the community residence where she lives insisting that her daughter is coming to take her home. The receptionist reminds Pearl, for the fourth time (the seventh, the fourteenth) that her daughter went home after visiting in the morning. Pearl curses the receptionist, declares her daughter doesn’t love her, and wants to phone the police to complain about the service at this awful place. I ask if she’s had dessert yet. When her eyes open wide at that word, I lead her back to her seat and encourage her to take a bite of her meal, promising that she’ll have ice cream soon. She’ll be up in another minute or so, back at the front desk demanding to phone her daughter and insisting she doesn’t live at this place. I know she does – she’s my mom’s roommate.

Gladys’ hair is coiffed in a silver cap of curls, her jacket and slacks are highlighted with a string of glass art beads, her pedicured toes peak out from open front silver flats. She was a model when younger and walks with grace. A few days ago she mumbled unintelligible speech to me and I answered with pleasantries suited for any occasion. I wasn’t prepared when she quickly got up from her chair, cast me a look of fury, grabbed my coffee mug, and tried to throw it at me. I managed to hold on to the mug so only a tiny bit of the hot brew splashed on another resident. Her husband has told me she owned her own business for more than two decades and made decisions that her employees complied with.

Melvin wants to go to the bank. He’s concerned about his taxes and shows me his briefcase. Inside are a blank yellow legal pad and two pens. He asks if I know the bus schedule so he can be on time. I take his arm and lead him to the table where a jigsaw puzzle is half put together. We sit down and find a corner piece and two other pieces that fit together. When I leave five minutes later, he’s peering intently at the puzzle and holding pieces in each hand, trying to figure out where they fit. His briefcase sits on the chair next to him, his taxes forgotten. He used to be a high school math teacher much beloved by his students.

This is the everyday world of Alzheimer’s sufferers. It’s a realm of behavioral inconsistencies – from intelligence to gibberish, from reason to meltdown, from joy to confusion, anger, and rage. Those of us who love them, family members and caregivers, struggle to engage and care for them. We try not to raise hackles, to antagonize, to remind them that they should “know better.” It’s we who must know better. We sons and daughters, husbands and wives, have become their parents and bosses. We hate the job.

I will always remember James, the man who was involved in our space program at NASA. The man who had become a child by the time I met him but who always greeted me with a smile. I remember all of the men and women who once were someone else.

 

*James, like all the residents whose lives I’ve presented here, is based on a real person whose true identity I will not reveal.

 

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s 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 sixteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

 

 

Photo of pier and ocean courtesy CCO Creative Commons, not requiring attribution

 

 

 

The Greater Humanity

 

We know who we are by the silence around us

We know who we aspire to become by the pulse within us

We know the sound of footsteps by the memory of those who came before

Listening immerses us in the universal mass

Keeping quiet allows us to hear everyone else

Remaining still informs us that we are not alone, thank God, we are not alone

 

Common choir makes all languages one word

Dance corpus combines all movement into a single motion

Every tongue longs to taste a sip of water gathered from the ancestral spring

Closed eyes reveal stock dreams of flight and sanctuary

Thoughts of love blend every sense into a solitary embrace

Holding hands reminds us that we are not alone, thank God, we are not alone

 

We remember who we are by the footprints of the billions and billions

The ones who hunkered in the trees, the ones who crouched in the caves

The ones who paddled across the seas, the ones who climbed the peaks

The ones who trudged across the deserts, the ones who tramped the jungles

All of them with the single wish to give all children the future we cannot see

Bowing our heads teaches us that we are not alone, thank God, we are not alone

 

Just a thought 28

 

Drawing of Vitruvian Man courtesy of Leonardo da Vinci, around 1490

I Could Aim Better

Even without a wayward draft to misdirect a bird in flight, a folded slip of paper aimed at a trashcan might yet miss its intended target and land on the floor, a dust collector for those with short brooms.

A baker en route to delivering fresh cookies to lucky children might trip on the upturned edge of the sidewalk, the treats toppling onto the concrete, landing in a crush of sweet crumble for alert mice.

Aiming for the concentric circle of chlorinated water at the community pool, a diver might wobble his torso, miss the mark, and land in a belly flop, water erupting as wildly as back flipping whales.

Stories do not begin in perfect landings but perfectly good stories begin in chaotic tumbles down all kinds of chutes. The struggle of climbing back up makes for great reading.

 

Just a thought 27

 

 

 

Image: The Dance of Cogul, Levantine rock art of the Iberian Peninsula

 

 

 

 

Ah, Reader, I

The most perfect book ends, and we, the readers, are left behind. The conundrum: Begin another immediately? Or bask for a long pause in the wonder of the story just read? Better yet, tell a friend about the book.

Here then, are the best fiction books I read in 2017. Not every book I read, or the non-fiction ones, these  are the fiction books I recommend to you. I’ll review a few titles each month so you can absorb the list in small spurts as you wander through 2018, looking for a good book to read. There may be a few spoilers, so be cautious.

The first two books I’ve selected present stories about cultures that subjugate women to secondary status. Yet both reveal women whose internal strength and firm adherence to personal objectives ensure the future of their communities.

 

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. This novel is based on the life of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, oldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. The focus of the book is how his political career, always shaky, impacted his family, including his slaves, and though it’s historical fiction, the book is a likely stretch of what might have happened. Dray and Kamoie researched thousands of original documents and letters, putting together a complex puzzle. Martha Jefferson, his oldest daughter, was a woman of her time when women had no legal rights but devised clever manipulations to be significant in society. A debutante in Paris, she witnessed the inception of the French Revolution, modeled on the success of American colonists, and served as Jefferson’s First Lady in the White House.

The book opens with Martha burning her father’s papers after his death, the ones she deemed too salacious or common to be preserved as her father’s words. She strove to protect her father’s legacy and in so doing, fabricated some of what we know about him by deleting certain documents that would have cast him in a negative light.

Sally Hemings, the other prominent woman in his life, his famous slave made lover whose descendant legacy is well documented, provides a conflicting view of what might have been preserved. It’s probable that the question of Hemings’ children being fathered by Jefferson is in dispute because of Martha’s actions. The book is a treatise against slavery even though Jefferson did not free all his slaves, a broadsheet for preserving democracy, and an eerie parallel of our current political climate, though a reverse of ideals in the present administration.

Were you to ask today about the woman most important to Thomas Jefferson, most folks would answer that it was Sally Hemings. Yet it was his daughter, Martha Washington, who shaped our image of the third president of the country, every part of what we know about him except his life with Hemings. Subjugating herself to the sideline, Martha gave us a man of dignity and noble purpose. In reality, he was all that, and also a deeply flawed human being like the rest of us. Dray and Kamoie have pulled Martha out of the shadows to stand in her own light.

 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. The story follows the life of a Chinese woman of an isolated mountain tribe destined to be the inheritor of a rare tea. She becomes pregnant by her lover and gives up her newborn daughter, cradling the infant without a name but with a small cake of the priceless tea. See describes the complex art, difficult hands-on labor, and uncertain success of tea growing in China. It’s also about a deep rooted culture that doesn’t recognize the value of girls even as it depends upon them for the family to function, and so allows the American adoption of Chinese girls with little paper trail to follow the children. See’s stories explore how women find ways of surviving China’s oppressive patriarchal society. Also touched upon are the place of ethnic clans in China, the way this century and the last one have impacted the country, the tea export business, the exaggerated value of extremely rare and exotic teas, and China’s quixotic relationship with America.

The robust tea fields of China have often been photographed. Even people like me who are tourists only via the Internet can identify rolling acres of tea plants. This book informed me of the back breaking work of growing a crop given to the whimsy of nature as much as any story is given to a grifter’s imagination. Tea farmers dedicate their lives in the fields and off to the health of the crop with no guarantee of a good harvest. Tea Girl replaced the romantic version promoted by the tourist industry with the grittier, truer one. The writer’s dedication to exhausting research and her passion for her ethnic heritage shines in the book, almost as good as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and much better than some of her other books.

If you’re wandering the book aisles, looking for a good read, these reviews might give you something to consider.

I’d love to know what books you’ve read in the last year or two that you’d most recommend.

 

 

Image of America’s First Daughter, courtesy William Morrow/Harper Collins

Image of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, courtesy Simon & Schuster

 

 

Two Sides at Least

When a child and lunging toward mountains, I discovered flowers and stones before my feet. Mastering complex steps when older, I treasure the grace of careful movement.

When a teen and eager to learn, I studied the arguments shielding controversial subjects. Seeking altruistic backbone as an adult, I find everything is controversial.

When a young adult and passionate about equality, I judged extreme behaviors defensible. Heeding a mature outlook as an adult, I note the value of balance.

When a woman with children to shelter, I protected all young with smothering embrace. Knowing the gain of doing for oneself, I consign experience a better defender.

Now a senior still trying to found my estate, I deplore the minor output I’ve borne. Trying to repair my early errors, I quake at the new ones assembling.

How little I’ve learned, how few the tasks completed, how long a journey yet to trek, how brief the time to travel, but this I finally fathom:

There are two sides at least, though now I can see three.

 

 

Just a thought 26

 

Photo of child with flowers courtesy Pixabay.com

 

2018, Welcome Home

Acceptance is natural. Hate must be taught.

Sharing creates a community. Privacy needs a wall.

It takes about forty muscles to smile, sixty to frown.

Tears of joy flow down our cheeks the same as tears of sorrow.

Giving makes at least two people feel wonderful. Getting pleases one – sometimes.

Closing a door gently allows someone to come back in. Slamming it might shut someone out forever.

 

My door is always open.

I can’t wait to see you open the present.

Goodness, I can’t help but cry to see you so happy.

My grin is making my cheeks sore, so they’ll just have to ache.

I made stew, please come, bring dessert, and we’ll enjoy the evening together.

My mom once said to me, when I asked if she could she take my son for his cello lesson, that I’d told her everything she needed to know about how to get to the teacher’s house, and how long the lesson would last, but I’d left out that the woman was Black. Never dawned on me to mention it. She was simply a great teacher.

 

Just a thought 25.

 

 

2018 image courtesy Pixabay.com