Sparked by Words

Archive for June, 2018

Promise Me Anything, Just Make It Dinner

Don’t you just love those TV cooking shows? Three-minute cooking segments between four-minute commercial breaks, promising dinner ready thirty minutes after you walk in the door, and the best part is: no clean up!

Yeah, right.

Thirty minutes as long as you planned the menu ten days ago, bought the food – all of it – last weekend, had your home concierge wash, chop, measure, and lay out in order needed every ingredient a half hour before you got home. Because if Chef Guido Cucino has a helper on his show, in the background of course, why the hell don’t you? Oh yeah – no producer, director, cameraman, or make up artist either. Sheesh, your feet stink, your back aches, and you must have ground your eyeballs into the Panko bread crumbs. Plus, the business proposal your boss needs you to take a look at tonight – it’ll only take a few minutes, a coupla notes written, after the kids go to bed. (If they go to bed.)

Thirty minutes as long as the older kid brought home the right book for her assignment. As long as the toddler doesn’t need a change of pants and will stop crying long enough for your mind to grasp what crisis requires immediate attention. All of it of course. As long as spouse doesn’t get home the same second as you so you have five minutes thinking time to yourself (but then there are the kids) so you can make a cup of coffee (me) or pour glass of wine (you?) before beginning the supportive repartee necessary to keep your relationship smoothly coasting. (Coasting would be fantastic at this moment.)

Thirty minutes as long as at least one pot is not in the dishwasher and at least four paper plates can be scrounged – that’s one Batman, one Peppa Pig, one hibiscus luau, and one Barbie (sheesh, how old is that one?) Forget the forks, can eat with our fingers, and if the thirty-minute dinner requires spoons, the whole bet is off – none clean in the house, not even plastic. As for glasses and cups – you can use the ones from last night. (Just water or juice, right?)

Thirty minutes as long as the dog is not jumping around your legs making you splash everything wet and fling everything dry, because Poochie Pie is hungry too, for crying out loud. So is the cat, the fish, the bird, and the bunny the neighbor foisted on you when she took off for a week in Maui (when is it YOUR week in Maui?) because Hopalong Rabbity is so easy to care for, you can just dump in dry pellets whenever you think of it, except it must be today because you haven’t even checked on the fuzzy tail for the last two days. (Or was it three?)

Thirty minutes as long as reality kicks in, so while the cooking show is on TV, here are three options, one of which you’ll actually manage:

  1. Call for pizza delivery, thirty minutes to your door guaranteed. Yes, the pizza shop repeats your order as soon as they pick up the phone because they know you well, and the whole family is beginning to look a little doughy, but at least in thirty minutes you will have five – count ‘em, five – minutes of chomping but otherwise silent satisfaction while everyone eats a slice or two.

 

  1. Unpack take out from the Chinese or Mexican fast food at the corner, the ones that know your standing order, and open all the cartons on the TV tables in the family room, letting everyone but the toddler dish up their favorite. Except the toddler will dish his own anyway. Five minutes of chomping while the TV blares some insipid but G-rated movie you’ve found on Hulu. Thirty minutes because it took that much to pop in and out of the joint and get the food home.

 

  1. Dish up leftovers from the chicken casserole your mom made for the family over the weekend because now that you’re out of her house, she misses you more than words can say. Well, she misses the kids and worries they never eat anything but pizza and fast food. Thirty minutes to heat each bowl in the microwave separately and carefully carry to wherever someone is eating – spouse in the lounge chair, daughter in her bedroom, you in the kitchen with the toddler who’s dripping as much as he’s ingesting. Ten minutes of chomping because Grandma made it, but at least everyone’s eating.

 

The one really honest chef in the whole world was Julia Child, bless her squeaky passion for all things French victual. When she explained how to make Boeuf Bourguignon, describing the details of slicing, searing, sautéing, and simmering, you at least had a chance to understand the labor and time commitment to get dinner on the table. So when you finally – finally – dip into this magnificent dish, you’re disappointed to realize it’s just beef stew. (Five hours after you walked in the door.)

Now why was it you didn’t get anything written today on the work-in-progress?

 

Painting Trinkender Koch, (Drinking Cook) 19th century, artist unknown

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

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Power of Words

Spewed in anger, hatred and ignorance stomping by one’s side, words are curses that strafe the listener.

Written thoughtfully with justice guiding one hand, empathy the other, words are sacred and hallow the reader.

Sometimes it’s the same person raising both flags – and both fists. Think Mohandas Gandhi. Think Susan B. Anthony. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hannah Arendt. Nelson Mandela. Mulala Yousafzai. Ai Weiwei. Oprah Winfrey. Abraham Lincoln. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Winston Churchill. Marie Curie. Steve Biko. Aung San Suu Kyi. Edward R. Murrow. Ava DuVernay. Bill Gates. Emma Lazarus. Larry Burrows. Mother Teresa. Jacques Cousteau. Christiane Amanpour. Rudolph Nureyev. Judith Leyster. Wang WeiLin (the Tiananmen Square Tank Man.) Kate Leone and Rosaria Maltese (the youngest girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.)

Artists, politicians, speakers, writers, thinkers, doers, scientists, rebels, observers, victims and heroes all. They remember history, they stand tall, they broadcast wide, they consider the future. They honor those who went before and think of children yet to come. They plant themselves before tanks, pull down statues, write treaties, document injustice, create art, tend the poor, test frontiers, and forge pathways through flames.

The observers howl. They whisper. They incite. They model. They fail. They confess.

They get folks riled up. They calm them down. They make them feel. They demand response.

They shout in their silence and choke on their tears.

Fiction is flexible. It encourages all ends of the spectrum. Writers agitate as much as rabble rousing firebrands and salve as gently as a nurse dressing wounds.

To follow in such footsteps – I hope my words one day lead you someplace worth the vision.

There is always a reason to write.

 

Just a thought 41

 

Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819)

Francisco Goya’s Third of May (1814)

Dark Wine at Sunrise

 

You’d better get comfy because you won’t want to stop once you begin reading Jenna Barwin’s Dark Wine at Sunrise. It’s Book II of A Hill Vampire Novel series, and it begins where the first book left off. (If you haven’t read Dark Wine at Midnight, don’t cheat yourself of story delight – start there.)

Dr. Cerissa Patel has fallen passionately in love with Henry Bautista, and he’s just as besotted with her. All they want is to be able to pursue their sexy romance unbridled.

Cerissa is a research scientist who’s asked permission to build a lab at the Hill. Secretive because her research is being conducted at the behest of a covert business group with murky intentions, and also because The Hill is secure ground for a vampire community. Cerissa is a Lux, a creature of peculiar heritage with paranormal powers she can’t always control.

Henry Bautista is a vampire with a conflicted moral background and as many jealous enemies as admirers. He owns a thriving vineyard and wine making business and a beautiful home which is the envy of the enclave. He’s also beholden to a female vampire who subverts his desires despite living thousands of miles away.

Did I mention they’re also gorgeous? And very sexy? And the things they say to each other will pierce your heart with longing? That too.

However, Henry is brought to trial by the founding council for breaking a Hill rule. The members impose a violent medieval punishment, threatening his physical sanctity and his burgeoning relationship with Cerissa.

If this stress isn’t enough to dampen their ardor, a murderer is loose within the enclave, picking off vampires with no obvious clue about who’s next. Everyone’s safety appears at risk until they can identify the culprit. All that occurs in just the first couple of chapters.

The story continues to unfold in one thrilling episode after another. Can these two not-quite-human creatures find a way to make the permanent connection they seek? Will Henry give Cerissa the bite she desperately wants to accept? Will the council grant them their freedom so they may fulfill their romantic destiny? Will one or both of them be murdered or forbidden to remain on the Hill? Or will one of them give up everything for the well being of the other?

Barwin writes with passion and a masterful hand at physical and visual description. She manages a complex plot, believable characters (of all ilk,) and credible political underpinnings, creating intrigue within the story. Her world-building is exotic, the personalities are larger than life, but the experiences are grounded in the common human endeavors we all recognize. We want to be seen for who we are, we want fair opportunities, we want to be loved.

I can’t wait until Book III is published. You’ll be pacing as well. Write faster, Ms. Barwin, please write faster.

 

Dark Wine at Sunrise by Jenna Barwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selfie Mode

Everyone has the ability to be their own reality show. The pose, the clothes. A smirk, a flirt. Hands on hips, pooched lips. Not attached to the shadows in the corners or the nerves on the floor. Always in the limelight, shiny, sparkling, ready for the camera.

This is the big problem with the selfie generation – a flashy blip on a screen but no touching. A kiss blown in the air but no shoulder to lean on. A false sense of creativity but no genuine imagination.

Put down your phone and make real life contact with another person. That takes time but no need for makeup, effort but no public stance, sharing without showing off, listening as well as talking, and a sense for what is real and therefore really important.

Quick, before you lose yourself to the changeling in the glass and slip in the rue beneath your feet.

 

Just a Thought 40

 

Echo and Narcissus, 1903, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Born in a Treacherous Time

I’ve been looking forward to the publication of  Born in a Treacherous Time by Jacqui Murray. Not just because she’s a good friend but also because I’ve had the privilege of reading part of the book and was captivated by it.

It’s the story of Lucy, a Homo habilis woman who struggles to survive in prehistoric Africa when volcanoes erupted without warning, animals attacked from every region, and waking each morning was not guaranteed. She faces challenges that force her to use her physical prowess as well as her mental skills, sometimes trying to convince the members of her tribe that she has solutions that may protect them.

Murray employs interesting characters living in a challenging time who face obstacles from surviving the daunting environment to grasping moral dilemmas. Her description of this prehistoric era puts the reader into the period when Earth was dangerous and beautiful, the very nebula of human development, and a moment of precipitous change.

I had a chance to talk with Jacqui about her newest book, asking questions she was generous in answering. Following is the interview.

 

Thank you, Jacqui, for agreeing to take the time to discuss your newest book, Born in a Treacherous Time .What one characteristic would you say allowed Lucy to survive in a world populated with saber-toothed cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

 

Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Lucy had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But we did. The biggest reason: Even then, Lucy was a problem solver. She faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Lucy had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.

To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.

 

How do you differentiate Lucy (the book’s main character) from the folks who probably led to her species’ extinction?

 

Homo habilis (Lucy) was a brilliant creature, worthy of our respect and admiration, but probably too kind for the next iteration of man, Homo erectus. Lucy would rather flee than fight, didn’t kill even to eat, and didn’t create offensive weapons. As a result, her first line of defense was flight.

But, in this story, you see evolution at work. Lucy does what she must to survive, even if it ultimately means killing.

 

We know Lucy’s species, Homo habilis, died out about the time of this story (1.8 million years ago). Is this story dystopian—meaning Lucy loses in the end?

 

Homo erectus (Lucy’s arch enemy) was a violent species of man. Their skulls were significantly thicker than Homo habilis–a sign that they got beat about the head often and survived. He routinely kills to survive, thinks nothing about that strategy, but I leave it open whether Lucy’s species ‘evolved’ into this more robust species or was replaced by them. We just don’t know.

 

I have to mention how compelling the book cover is.

 

Thank you. The artist fulfilled my hopes.

 

This excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews:

Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.

 

I hope this article has excited you to read Jacqui Murray’s Born in a Treacherous Time.

 

Book information:

Title: Born in a Treacherous Time

Series: Book 1 in Man vs. Nature collection

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle US, Kindle UK, Kindle Canada

 

 

 

Go You or I

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same. Exactly. We are more kin than stranger. We are more alike than different. We share more than we own. The infinitesimal difference between us is nothing much at all, and is often due more to luck than intent.

No, it isn’t because of all the wonderful things we’ve individually accomplished to make ourselves uniquely special. It isn’t because we’ve worked so diligently that we’ve earned our blessings. It’s just blind luck.

As blind as justice that lets most criminals escape and most victims suffer without relief and many innocent bear the weight of the true criminal. As blind as the man dragging his fingers along the wall that keeps him out before he realizes it’s a barrier to keep him from falling into a chasm. As blind as the baby in the womb who can’t see his mother’s face yet trusts that the salty sea will continue to nourish until he’s pulled into a dry embrace that feels aberrant . Until he is calmed by those arms, those breasts, those noises so unlike the lu-DUB lu-DUB he’d found his first salve, and falls asleep to his new comfort.

We all need and want, dream and aspire. You the limelight, her the career, him the acknowledgement, them the community, me the opportunity. Really, no more a difference than a wooden plaque or bronze statue.

And after the applause or the star on the chart, all we really want is to be loved.

Someone who gets us and gives to us, who wants to be near us in body and thought, to hear our voice the last sound at night, to say our name first thing in the morning , to share our vision and argue about what that might be. To hold our hand when we worry, cool our head when we fever, weep with us over our failures, and admonish us when we step out of line.

It’s because we are loved – because YOU are loved, that I want to say to you: The path has few markers we can see, the cheers never last until dawn, the shelf on which the trophy sits gets dusty faster than we can earn another. None of that matters as much as that you are here in the world. And that someone loves you.

When you fear the ache, when you despise the dark hole, when doubt makes you nauseous, when you believe that one more moment is unbearable, reach out. The despair is temporary. The flesh burn heals. The tumult in your soul calms. Call someone and talk. Call me and I’ll listen. Put out your hand, we’ll grab hold and not let go.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same.

Except one of those people loves you. Do not forget nor forsake the one who loves you. For if that momentary relief by rope or pill or bullet or knife removes the pain from your heart, it empties the pain into the one who loves you. And it stays forever in their marrow, as long as they live. Their tears never dry, they wonder always if they were the reason, they search every frontier trying to find the explanation. Trying to bring you back. Trying to remind you that they miss you and need you.

We are all saddened and shocked by the suicides last week of two remarkably talented and admired superstars. Heroes who brought us the world and brought the world to our door. As much as we, their fans and supporters, miss them and wonder what crucial need we didn’t fill on their behalf, it is the two young daughters left behind who will bear the weight of their absences.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of all the people in the world are exactly the same. But those young girls are unique and different. They were your point one percent. I wish you’d lingered over their pictures one millisecond longer because I bet you would have reconsidered your actions. I bet you would still be here. Please do not let your permanent solution be their permanent grief.

There but for fortune, may go you or I.

 

The title words Go You or I are borrowed from the song There But for Fortune written by Phil Ochs in 1964. He was a brilliant and sensitive man who suffered from mental instability and succumbed to his despair by committing suicide in 1976. Before that, Phil Ochs left a legacy of hundreds of songs about the many social and political issues that brought him to grief. His work has been sung by dozens of famous recording artists and is on the lips of the millions of us who remember him and hope he knows we still praise the man who helped make us aware of the rest of the world.

 

Weeping Nude, 1914, by Edvard Munch

 

 

 

3 Day Quote Challenge #3

 

My dear friend, Sarah, brilliant innovator over at Art Expedition

tagged me to participate in the

3-Day Quote Challenge

Thank you, Sarah, for thinking me worthy of this honor and hoping I have inspiring quotes to share.

At university and afterward at supplemental lectures and classes, and from many writing books, I’ve worked at learning the craft of writing. I’ve participated in writing critique groups, helping other emerging writers as they hone their skills, and heard authors talk about their journeys to getting published. Each has taught me something worth deliberating over and remembering.

I’ve also been fortunate to be a “long distance” student to two women whose books have nurtured me with their passionate writing.

One of these teachers is Natalie Goldberg, who wrote Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft. From this book are these words:

 

Writing practice taught us how to contact ourselves. Now our job, our responsibility, is to contact what’s in front of us – the photo, the story, the place – and to hand that moment of contact, that merging of two presences, over to the reader.

 

Like many people, my love of writing showed up young, by my first years of elementary school. But I wasn’t a writer yet. I was a kid who could write a few sentences well, a couple of stories considered beyond my grade level. None of them made me a writer. Paying attention to the metronomic pulse around me, to the tiny movements of other people, and working at writing them in ways that reveal the concentric waves that eventually circle the Earth – that is what I do to become a writer. I practice and revise, like all of you. One day, one day you will be able to read my words in print, because I practiced and I learned.

Natalie Goldberg was one of my teachers.

 

Is there anyone who has not read the work of Maya Angelou? Is there anyone who has not been transformed? From pain and fear, from violence and ugliness, she found a voice and she gored everyone with her words. She woke us to rage and rocked us to sleep. You cannot do this to me, you cannot hurt me, I am someone who counts, this is my world as well as yours. That’s what I hear when I read her words.

 

Following is part of her poem A Brave and Startling Truth, written for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations and read by Angelou at the ceremony in 1995. I cannot read this poem without hearing her sonorous and confident voice, she who was as a small child cowed into silence by a horrific act of violence. But now she has a voice:

 

It is possible and imperative that we discover

A brave and startling truth…

When we come to it

We must confess that we are the possible

We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world

That is when, and only when

We come to it.

 

In only 46 words she identified the truth we must find. Love is what she means, a love free of hatred, the only thing that can save us from death, the only thing to bring us peace. It is meant for all of us to hear, for all of us to benefit from.

We humans search for love but the object of our desire may be unique to each of us. A career to give us focus, a calling to give us a sense of worth, a lover to give us solace, a child to give our life meaning, a cause to benefit others. It may be our life’s challenge to find such to love or it may be a challenge to recognize it was there all along. Revealing these quests in the stories we write tests our strengths as writers.

Maya Angelou was one of my teachers.

 

A few times in my life I’ve felt a glimmer of success. The ordinary spotlight moments in school:  the lead role in the school play, a relay race in seventh grade, a medal for an art project, a solo in a ballet, an A in math, an honor in English class, an award at a speech competition.  Later the glow stemmed from relationships build with friends and colleagues, advances at work, opportunities take a lead position on a project.

Even more, my heart still pounds when thinking about meeting the man I would marry, the birth of my sons, helping them grow up, applauding them for their momentous life achievements, standing by their sides at their weddings and waiting in the wings at the births of their children. And even the failures that still give me nightmares and make me angry: losing a job  unfairly, the end of a long friendship because we’d both changed too much, weeping over the deaths of too many people I love, rage over the injustice in the world.

You may wonder what all those events have to do with these two quotes. Everything is the answer. I’ve lived, and I’ve learned to convey those moments in my writing. I’m learning to merge two presences – the experiences I’ve lived and the words I write – into a story that reveals a truth.

From a masterful writing teacher and writer to a master writer and poet, these two quotes are bookends to consummate storytelling. One day, one day you will be able to read my words in print, because I practiced and I learned.

You two women have taught me well. I am learning, thank you, I am learning.

 

The Young Student, 1894, by Ozias Leduc, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Maya Angelou courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Natalie Goldberg courtesy Creative Commons