Sparked by Words

Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category

What Beguiles You

I won! I won! I won!

Someone praised my work, mentioned my name, applauded my efforts, handed me a coupon for 40% off. And then the day ended and became the night when I couldn’t sleep, and finally the morning with nothing on my calendar. What happens next?

The feeling of nausea from too much sugar in my system. I know what causes it – the encroachment of the blahs seeping through my veins, taking the place of my life blood and replacing it with a saccharin gel I can’t live on. Run to the bathroom or crawl under the covers?

The blahs chasm after public validation. It opens before me, spiraling right to the center of the Earth, never rising back to the top. How do I avoid depression after the elation of the big win?

Wallowing in inertia hits the target pretty often. I can’t feel the power of victory all the time (hardly at all in fact) and the opposite of victory is defeat, which makes me feel like crap. Thrusts me right into the take-it-to-the-dump box. And there I am, literally down in the dumps, unable to climb out.

Victory is not a guarantee. Others are competing, others with more talent, more success, more intuitive mastery. I may try to replicate my victorious entry – a new painting, book publication, ballet recital, soccer goal (OK, I’ve never managed a soccer goal) – but the trophy already has someone else’s name etched on it. Even without reading the brass plate, I’m sure of that, or I wouldn’t feel so crappy.

When I was a kid we had the most wonderful dog in the world, a mixed breed mutt with long red fur, silky black feathers dangling from his droopy ears, and a puppy face even when full grown. Also, a loyal heart that gave love and gave love and gave love. So when I was a kid, I announced, “I’ve got the blahs,” and Patchy slathered me with kisses till I fell over laughing. And felt better.

Patchy is long gone, I am absolutely certain to the heaven he deserved, and now I have to find another anodyne to the pain of the blahs.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Success is not always public. Sometimes the most radiant success remains private, a tiny raw gem I store in the back of the closet. It’s there, I know. I choose not to share.

Public validation has a lot of calories and little substance. I’d love to autograph my book for you, when it finally gets published, hoping you don’t give it to the library book store next month.

Applause is thunderous, then it fades. I remember its sound but am not sure the audience remembers the reason they clapped.

It’s time for me to recoup. To meditate. To think about what I’m going to do next with my life. To consider what will inspire me to create.

The best strategy to parry great success is an expanse of internal quiet. Going away for a while, leaving the public fray to find solace in my internal spirit. Embracing solitude, gathering only my family and closest friends near in case I need them. Listening to the kernel of truth at the center of my soul. Praying. This pulls me out of the doldrums.

And now I’ve discovered something truly amazing.

The same strategy works just as well when I’m not savoring success but trying to recover from devastation. Which is where I am right now.

No, you may not ask what or why or how.

Please take this away for yourself: being quietly reflective is the antidote to the cacophony that beguiles you with false acclaim. Hush now, sh.

 

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau

 

 

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Like a Broken Vase

I hurried, my hip glanced the table. The vase fell.

I hurried, I spoke too soon. The person to whom I spoke was hurt by my caustic words.

I am an imperfect person. I am deeply flawed.

The only staff that keeps me standing is understanding that so is everyone else.

I take no joy in discovering their flaws, but I know I can improve my conduct.

In their weeping eyes I see the reflection that is me, the disappointment, the criticism, the judgment. Their sorrow.

And the possibility that if I wake in the morning, I can try again. To repair and apologize, to expand my view and extend my palm, to lift them so I may be lifted as well.

Like the broken vase. Even knowing the cracks in the porcelain will still show, and will deflate the value of the vase, and will ever be the flaw that makes the vase vulnerable to breaking again, still I can repair it. Or try.

In the scattered shards lies a promise to fix what is broken.

So, to that person injured by the burn of my careless words, I am truly sorry.

Sometimes it’s the only thought that lets me sleep at night. That, and prayers.

 

 

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The Broken Pitcher, 1891, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Stepping Off the Boat

How do you determine what to withhold in your writing? When you have something to say it may be difficult to exercise restraint, though things unsaid can have as much value as what you choose to expose. How does your work change in revision? Do you find yourself adding more or do you approach your manuscript with a scythe?

It’s said that Torah, the Five Books of Moses, was written in black fire on white fire. The Hebrew words and the spaces that surround them were written (some believe implied) by God. It’s up to the reader to study the black words and white spaces in order to determine what God expects of His children on Earth. Rabbis, scholars, and laymen have pored over those scrolls for thousands of years, arguing interpretation and intent, spirituality and action. Passages are firmly explained, refuted by the next generation, discussed once again. Conclusions are never forgone.

The Bible is written with enormous gaps. We must imagine some passages and conversations because they aren’t in there. When God told Noah to build an ark and collect animals from all over the world, we have no idea what Noah said or thought. That part isn’t in the book, and it’s left to readers to visualize. Did he argue he was too old to build a boat, or try to beg off because of a fear of lions?

Centuries of commentary have drawn many conclusions but each new reader must determine for himself what happened within those empty spaces. Reading Torah promotes a healthy discourse about the gaps between the words. An engaged reader fills in the intentional blanks to glean details, purpose, value, and direction. The Torah reader fully immerses herself, gradually extrapolating meaning and context to apply to one’s own life. As God expects.

Kind of hard to best the Master.

When I completed my first novel, The Inlaid Table, it came in about 180,000 words. That was after culling lengthy descriptive (read boring) passages, entire chapters, and all the meaningless words (very, thing, some, nice, that, really – clutter without clarity.) I slashed the two chapters about the table’s secret journey to America during the Cold War, another about the main character’s vacillation over the trip to Poland, and the five chapters from the lost doll’s point of view. They’d all been reviewed and revised many times, and contained evocative descriptions and suspense. A few early readers loved them, but their contributions to the story were negligible. They added word count and some clever insights but not critical narrative. I cut down the book to 140,000 words by removing redundancies of all ilk (words, action, dialogue, characters) and anything that caused my attention to wane. If it didn’t tantalize the writer, what was it going to do to my poor reader? When it came down to so what, who cares? that’s when I knew I had to cut.

I also cut sections where I feel the reader can fill in with information sufficient to let the story move forward. Even if the reader fills with a scene that isn’t exactly what I envisioned, I’ll remove a section that feels like filler, or that drags the action into a dark closet.

Come read my books with an active mind. I’ll write but you must contribute as well – there are blanks. You have faith in me to craft a compelling story and I trust you to bring your intelligence to the pages. Like a puzzle with missing pieces, you’ll have to fill in the gaps. I’ll take the biggest risk by jumping into space by writing. You’ll connect by stepping off the boat as you read, paddling to stay afloat. Because I can’t do it all.

It’s the wonder of story that a writer’s solitary endeavor gets completed in the public forum. The act of writing is lonely work. I sit with pen and pad of paper or a computer on my lap and I write. Scratch scratch, tap tap.  If God can leave spaces in the labyrinth of Torah through which I must wander to determine meaning, I trust you to do the same with my meager offering.

I write The End, and hope I’ve described enough to compel you to get to those final two words. I hope to soon launch my books into the public forum. It’s noisy out there, lots of people reading and posting reviews, chatting in book clubs, and sharing opinions. Come read with me. Come write with me.

 

Painting of Noah’s Ark, 11th century, artist unknown, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

Fire California

California summer. The season of fire.

 

I live in California where it’s so dry a hot headed remark can start a fire.

 

Tragically, there are sixteen fires raging up and down this beautiful state, taking forests for tinder, buildings for ash, wildlife for collateral, lives for sacrifice.

 

My heart bellows for those who have lost their homes or businesses. My admiration soars for those who fight the infernos. My despair screeches for an end.

 

I drive my car and think about how much I’ve contributed to the environmental crisis plaguing our world. Could I have walked or ridden my bike or  stayed home? Yet I still drive. And the fires still burn. And people still suffer.

 

And California is laid waste by flame provoked by drought and heat. Fire clouds sere the sky. Fire thunder rakes the land.

 

Mercy, please.

 

Not for me. For you, for the future, for the children.

 

May the season of fire return to mere summer, hot and sunny.

 

 

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California 2013 Rim fire image courtesy en.wikipedia.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genesis

All origins from the sea.

All future on the earth.

All eternity in the universe.

All mystery through the cosmos.

All shame in the marrow.

All lamentation with the soul.

All weeping by the grievers.

All salt from the sea.

 

 

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Ocean image courtesy Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Much

There’s nothing much to water. No fat, no carbs, no salt, no sugar, little taste. Frozen, vapor, or liquid, there’s not much to it.

Yet water is the single most essential element for life. It comprises most of our bodies and much of the world. Trekking across the desert, we ration our water assertively. In our exploration of the cosmos, we ardently seek water. Farmers carve into earth to plant seeds only once water has been located. From divining rods to space ships to artesian wells, mankind has always yearned for water.

When our body is parched, it’s water we crave to restore it.

When our thirst is deep, it’s water we demand to slake it.

When our skin is grimy, it’s water we require to clean it.

When our souls ascend, it’s water we choose to honor the journey.

Water is everything.

So tell me – what’s the water of your story?

 

Just a thought 45

 

 

 

Waterfall image courtesy of Pixaby

 

 

Droog Tells a Story

Droog sprints around the campfire before the six members of the gang he hangs out with. He whistles and puffs, pounds his chest and leans over the crowd. He flashes a toothy grimace, gestures wildly. He can’t count how many folks are there but he knows by their faces and smells if one is missing. Droog is the very first human being, a creature different from the monkey hanging by his tail in the tree overhead. He isn’t threatening his gang in a power play or forcing anyone to submit to his demands. Well, not now, anyway.

Droog, you see, is telling a story. The gang he hangs with is mesmerized because they can’t wait to learn what happens next.

The monkey is used to Droog. He’s seen him before and senses when it’s time to high tail it out of there – before Droog grabs him by that long tail and slings him over the fire, making crispy monkey tenders out of him. Monkey acts from instinct and experience. Self preservation is a big deal to him. If monkey is female, she’ll protect her baby with everything she’s got. Hanging overhead of Droog and his gang is fine as long as the ground hoppers leave monkey and her crew alone.

When the big water rushes toward them, they all run – monkey and human. When the big mountain spits fire, they all run. When the giant animal with dagger teeth leaps at them, they all run. Monkey and human run from threats when instinct and experience declare their lives are imperiled. Fire mountain, flooding water, and bounding predator all plan to end their lives.

Monkey and human run and run and run. They climb and hide and cower and watch to make sure they’re safe. When the all clear bells sounds, they go back to doing what they like. Eating and mating and hanging around with each other in a safe place, pulling off ticks and fleas. Monkey and Droog are much the same in these ways. Food, sex, safety. Except this is where it ends with monkey.

Droog stepped over the threshold of humanness, one level further along the evolutionary tree. Maybe we should call it a bramble bush, given how erratically that tree spread its experimental developments. Mab, Hund, Wurf, and all the rest of the human gang do one thing that monkey never does. They tell stories.

Mab scrapes ocher from the river bank and smears it onto rocks, making images that tell stories.

Hund pounds on a dried gourd in a rhythm that quickens and ebbs, making sounds that tell stories.

Wurf hauls a stone out of the earth and carves shapes into it, making forms that tell stories.

After years of watching the very youngest children play, I noticed that all kids tell stories. Putting rocks and leaves in patterns, jabbering to plastic blocks and stuffed animals, toddling outside to hug a roly poly, they tell stories the whole time. The narrative, even if gibberish, infuses their activities with meaning. They tell stories even before they can talk or have the ability to understand the craft of storytelling, Yes, parents read to them, but even the littlest ones are compelled to tell their own stories.

Telling stories is one of the big differences between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. Droog excels at retelling the run from danger. Bellies fed, sexual desire sated, and safety guaranteed for the next few minutes (even though they can’t count and have no concept of time,) the gang raptly listens and watches while Droog scrabbles, tumbles, waves his arms, wiggles his rear, spits and grunts to tell the story of the fire, the flood, the capture they all just evaded.

Monkey strips bark from the tree and chews. He’s aware of the manic nonsense Droog pulls every once in a while – he’s seen it before but can’t make anything out of all that wild gesticulation except to know that he’s safe in his tree, tail looped around a branch, eating bark. Monkey can’t figure out why Droog is cavorting in the firelight, and he can’t improvise a routine either. Monkey not only can’t tell stories – he can’t perceive when they’re being told.

The gift of free time allows monkey the luxury of hanging around the branches fluffing his neighbor’s fur. That same wealth of time grants Droog his moment of theater. The story of the chase, of the hunt, of birth and death, of visions, of the promise that it will all happen again tomorrow because it happened yesterday, and they all lived to tell about it today.

So here I am, a few evolutionary levels advanced from Droog, a few years older than the kids I observe, telling stories. One day my stories will be available in print and you’ll see they aren’t much different from Droog’s or the toddler’s. My characters run from fire, flood, and monsters with big teeth.

Sharon tells a story.

 

Prehistoric cave art image courtesy Pixabay