Sparked by Words

Archive for the ‘Everyday Life’ Category

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.

Advertisements

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

 

 

 

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, #1

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 trusting I have inspiring quotes to share.

So I will begin with a quote from my two-year-old granddaughter, Tessa, because nothing convinces me more that it’s worthwhile to get up each morning than the promise of talking with her, her brother, or her two cousins.

A bit of background about Tessa. First of all, Tessa isn’t her real name. Being so young and unable to comprehend privacy, I’ve changed her name and the names of all the children in this article. It’s OK to put myself out there but I don’t have the right to expose these little ones. Everything else, however, is true.

Tessa is learning to talk and she’s both friendly and willing to try out her new communication skills with everyone. Her usual introduction is to look you in the eye and say,

“I Tessa. I two.”

She holds up the index finger of one hand, then the pointer finger. But that dang little pointer finger drags her middle finger along for the ride, and three fingers now declare her age (incorrectly) so she uses her other hand to hold down the rebellious middle finger. Victorious, she shows two fingers to match her age.

Tessa teaches as much as she learns every day. How to welcome the audacity to try new things. How to step up and do what the big kids do, or at least what her big brother does. How to screech with glee over each little effort and every single event because why wait for something out of the ordinary when the whole world blooms extraordinary? Her shadow stretched to challenge giants, her hands poised to paint, her mouth eager to taste, Tessa embraces adventure.

I’ve lost the capacity to be as thunderstruck as Tessa, but I am a rebel through and through. I’m supposed to post a favorite quote once a day for three days in a row, and nominate three fellow bloggers each day. I’m going to post one quote, except today it will be six, once a week for three weeks. If you are so inclined, please join in this 3-Day Quote Challenge and invite yourself to participate. Figuratively I hold up that rebellious middle finger but it means something a bit different from adorable Tessa’s intent. Yeah, you’ve likely figured it out.

My next favorite quote is from her big brother, Callan, who is four. Callan’s vocabulary is enormous and he puts a lot of thought into his presence on Earth. On his third birthday, he reached milestone after milestone, becoming a big kid before everyone’s eyes. He petted a mouse at the pet store, ate all the frosting off his birthday cake but none of the cake, had a snowball fight, planted flowers in the garden, and pooped and peed in the big toilet for the first time. That’s as good as traveling to the moon and back when you’ve just turned three. He got very serious and said,

“I’m Callan right now. When I grow up, will I still be Callan?”

Yes, you will, Callan. Only older, more thoughtful, still bursting with the enthusiasm to take on the world, one adventure after another. Then he exclaimed,

“Marvelous…simply marvelous.”

With you in the world, Callan, the whole world is indeed marvelous. I’m trying to help keep the world safe for you, beautiful for you, healthy for you. Because you and all other children deserve a good and decent world to live in, that you may grow up and be who you choose to be – Lego builder, rocket man, artist, train conductor, scientist, thinker, leader, gardener.

My sparkling and articulate granddaughter Lila, who’s now ten, makes every stranger her friend, inviting them to share her joy at marching in the local Fourth of July parade with pom pom headbands she made for her entire Girl Scout troop, or to a giggle-filled sleep over in the bonus room. When she was four, after I ran out of pennies playing dreidle, she pushed half her pile to me. Winning wasn’t important, playing was, and always with her ingratiating smile.

She exhibited her comprehension skills when she was only six. It was the end of kindergarten and the whole summer lay before her like a horizon on the move. First, though, I wanted to inspect her school packet, a notebook with entries for each unit studied. Kids these days study topics I didn’t encounter until college, so when I saw the Mayflower she’d cut and pasted on blue paper, I felt comfortable asking her to tell me about it. Eagerly Lila said,

“It’s a picture of the Titanic that left China to go across the Pacific and land on bedrock because the king wouldn’t let them go to church.”

This child understands history and its implications on the current political situation. I wish I had her zestful ambassadorial skill. Thankfully, she isn’t allowed to Tweet. Yet.

My first grandchild is Adam, and at twelve he bears his responsibility as The Oldest with sensitivity and dignity.  He patiently mentors the younger children who adore him. For two years he served as his sister’s secret friend, leaving notes so she would still believe in fairies. Grace resides in this child’s soul. Someone you love having by your side, he comes home from the first day of school, from a Boy Scout meeting, or a day at the zoo, from working at a park clean up, from just about everything, and says,

“This was the best day ever.”

At the recent death of his great-grandmother, he was devastated when, after hearing the adults in our family share our memories of her, he realized he had never known her when she was healthy, before Alzheimer’s disease stole her mind. It shook him mightily to grasp that the great-grandmother he’d known was a very different person only ten years before he met her. But he loved her dearly.

Adam, you are appreciative and gracious every day of your life. You have wisdom beyond your years. I wish I had half your ability to wrap yourself in the joy of each occasion yet still be empathetic with the sorrows of the world.

I explained the meaning of a prayer when Adam was about eight and asked if he knew what the word “amen” meant. He answered,

“In political terms, ‘End of message.’”

My grandchildren remind me how wonderful it is to be alive. End of message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos from Pratt Family archives. No permission given to use these photos.

 

 

 

 

 

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

From Art Caves to Alzheimer’s

 

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

 

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