Sparked by Words

Archive for the ‘writer’s life’ Category

Quiet Time

To my followers,

My blog is going to be silent for a while, maybe as long as a month.

Please don’t worry and please don’t think I’m disinterested in you, dear friends.

You are the folks who make me want to maintain a blog, after all.

There are personal issues I must take care of, and they need lots of time.

Stop thinking the worst – not a divorce, severe illness, or criminal acts. I haven’t joined the army, a nunnery, or the circus.

Also, not the excitement of a round the world vacation or an excursion on SpaceX – they begged, but I had to turn them down.

And sadly, not (yet) launching the publication of my book.

In other words, something I can’t discuss here.

I will not be able to regularly follow your blog posts either, though I’ll pop in once in a while.

I’ll return soon as I can, to writing my blog, to following yours.

Till then, be healthy, stay active, and be involved with the things that make you breathe deeply and exhale joyfully. (Yeah, I know, not supposed to use adverbs. Meh.)

Love to all,




Painting A Lady Writing by Johannes Vermeer, 1665





A lake imparts a majestic vision only by the terrain surrounding it – the mighty trees, the grassy hills, the faceted boulders. Otherwise it’s just a large puddle.

A novel endears readers only by the story execution within it – the flawed characters, the twisted plot, the unexpected resolution. Otherwise it’s just a pompous dictionary.

Life requires inner strength and outer empathy. Otherwise it’s a meaningless existence.


Just a though 35


Digital painting courtesy

Learning a Thing or Two about Language


The first year I taught high school art, I wasn’t a newbie. I’d been a commercial artist for years, and for years before and after that stint, I’d taught art through a city recreation program and in elementary schools.

Late in the last century, I was hired as the middle and high school art teacher in an elite, brand new K through 12 private school. The first year opened with inspiring fanfare but the founders weren’t as ready as they should have been. There weren’t enough classrooms to accommodate all the students, an itchy fact that would take several years to correct. Sharing space meant every classroom was in use full time. Accommodation for the art program became even more inventive. Not ideal but necessary.

That first year my high school students shared an art studio with the elementary art teacher and her students, a very bad marriage as you can imagine. There are the little ones, 6 or 7-year-olds, wiggly kids happily smearing paint all over the place, sometimes on their papers. There am I at the opposite end of the studio, trying to convince my 14 and 15-year-olds that art creation must be preceded by contemplation, inquiry, and attention to process. All they wanted to do was smear paint all over each other, and sometimes they did.

If you listen to children, you know their vernacular is different every week as they turn the meaning of language on its head, always with the provocative intent of making us, their parents and teachers, as miserably uncomfortable as they can. They steal words imaginatively used in songs and videos and apply them to their lives. Fat becomes “phat” and means something entirely different from its homophone. I hate being reminded I’m fat, but tell me I’m phat, and I’m pleased to be excellent.

As soon as we adults catch on, they’re off, leaving us in a language vacuum, using some other word or phrase in another secret code, enjoying the anonymity of their activity until we figure it out. They call me fat again and mean it as the insult. They chortle as we let the door slam on our way out. It always hits us in the butt. The proverbial butt, of course.

The freshman class remained the high school pioneers for four years. They were the freshmen when there were no sophomores, then the sophomores but not yet any juniors, etc. No one to temper them with the pranks that older high school kids play on younger ones, helping to keep them in check – a bit.

Four years in which indulged children demanded glory just for being present and rarely agreed to do anything we wanted them to do. Rarely agreed even to do what was fun and creative. I suffered as much testing in my art class as the beleaguered teachers who taught history and advanced math. Tripping teachers was much fun for them. We finally graduated the inaugural bunch of them and sent them off to college campuses where they discovered the world didn’t spin on the orbits they thought they created.

I have a thing with language. An English major, I speak and write a bit more formally than most.  Friends who read early drafts of my books tell me that no one talks like my characters. I revise to write contractions, choose ordinary words, and make common dialogue mistakes. “She and I went shopping,” becomes “Her and I went shopping.” Ugh, but fair enough if I want my stories to sound like they’re not peopled by English scholars of the 19th century. Even if my hand hurts writing such language indignities.

You would think someone who’d worked with kids for so many years wouldn’t make so many errors with language. You may know that a teen who “throws shade” just insulted someone. That one who says, “I’m weak,” is falling on the floor laughing. I only mention all this to set up what happened in my first high school art class.

The class was top loaded with gangly, energetic boys and flirty, imperious girls. Inquisitive, talented students I loved working with. Rich children who vacationed in Paris and Israel, skied at Aspen, surfed in Hawaii, sailed past icebergs in Alaska, and drove brand new cars at sixteen. (More expensive cars than mine.) After too many long moments where I tried to get them to stop talking and start their projects, I would finally say, “Get busy.” Which brought a round of hoots and promises to do exactly that. Sadly, it took me far too long to realize my mistake.

“Get busy” meant to have sex. And “being busy” meant the act was already in play – thankfully not in my class.

I taught art well. Our graduates came back from their first semester of college to tell me they finally understood why I taught the demanding art curriculum they’d mastered. In college art classes they were the stars. Talented, yes, and prepared to think, inquire, and apply skills.

They also taught me a thing or two. I may have majored in English, but I didn’t know everything about language until I taught my first high school students.



Photo courtesy



Wasp Nest

Story is a loose thread pulled until the whole spool unwinds, all the words tumbling out like wasps from a struck nest. The writer arranges them into pleasing patterns of words that sting, of words that placate, of words that provoke. The writer then is the papery hull of the nest, tattered and empty.

Until the next story comes along. Now buzzing with ideas. Building a new nest.


Just a thought 34


Image courtesy




Thou shalt forgive, because one day you will need to be forgiven – the forgotten Eleventh Commandment.

This one was written for me.

I will stop cursing you if you stop killing innocent people.

I will remember those who died as they fled. The ones chewing bubble gum, the ones in their letterman jackets, the ones wearing braces, the ones studying for a test, the ones who stuttered when answering, the ones practicing dance steps.

The ones who were always late, the ones who were always on time, the ones with new haircuts, the ones learning code, the ones who played soccer, the ones who cheered, the ones learning Spanish, the ones learning English, the ones painting in art class.

The ones who forgot their homework, the ones writing an essay, the ones practicing flute, the ones struggling with algebra, the ones struggling with verb tenses, the ones who aced chemistry, the ones who nearly graduated. Oh my God, the ones who nearly graduated.

The ones who were crying and frightened.

The ones who died as they hid.

The ones who will never be twenty.

Who will never be twenty.

I will remember their names.

I will not remember your name.

I will forgive.

But sometimes you bastards make it pretty damned hard to forgive.

We’ve all had enough.

Enough already.



In memory of the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida


Just a thought 33


Photo courtesy


For Those We Love

We begin by wailing and sobbing, harrowed with grief over our loss.

We pray for the one who is gone, for we who are left behind, for those who will acquaint only in story.

We beg answers to questions never resolved except in metaphor, thoughts that weigh more than the sum of their words.

We make fists, then open palms, hold hands, and grasp shoulders, swaying as a group so that none fall.

We share memories. One is spellbinding. One is provocative. One is a revelation. One is tender. One makes us laugh.

Our tears dry while the sorrow rises with our amens and we step forward. The first step hesitates, the next holds ground, then we lose count.

We will never forget but we move on but we will never forget.

There is an order to paying tribute to those who have passed. The order controls the bedlam that otherwise imprisons us.

It allows a semblance of freedom from unrelenting despair so we can return to order.

Today, though, I am harrowed with grief.


Just a thought 32


Photo of girl courtesy of CC0 Creative Commons



Hawaiian Baby Doll

We lived in Paradise. Tripler Army Hospital base housing for married officers in Honolulu, Hawaii, to be exact. Our home was an apartment in side by side units that had been converted from the original wooden hospital wards before the iconic pink hospital was built. Opposite our row of housing was a mirror image of the same, separated by a strip of lawn bisected by a row of palm trees. That lawn was my playground, mine and all the other kids who lived there with our physician and officer families.

Although Hawaii is famous for its cooling trade winds and daily tropical showers, I don’t remember either. I was four in the early 1950s, my day marked by playing outside. We were safe, we were free to play. After breakfast all the kids zipped around the lawn, back and forth between houses, going home only for lunch, then dinner as the orange orb of sun settled in for the night and cast Moanalua Ridge in balmy darkness.

I learned to ride a tricycle and to fly a kite, to string tiny koa seeds into leis, and to dance hula. I tasted both cotton candy and snow cones for the first time. Each was culinary magic, one a sugary pink cloud brought to earth on a paper cone, the other a paper cone of turquoise and pink sugared ice served on an island where it never snowed. Both are still favorite treats. Most days I wore a yellow or red hibiscus blossom in my hair, plucked from one of the nearby bushes, and carried lantana clusters, each a miniature pinwheel bouquet.

I didn’t have a baby doll. I wanted one desperately but we were poor, a concept I understood as meaning not enough money to buy a doll. A grotesque cloth clown and an ugly sock monkey, both discarded by other kids, substituted for the baby doll I wanted to rock in my arms.

I did have Pudd.

Pudd, pronounced like the first part of the word pudding, was the baby girl born to the couple who lived across the lawn from us. I visited her every day, politely knocking on the door until Pudd’s mother, Mrs. Dalton, welcomed me inside.

Renaissance beautiful with satiny pink skin and enormous blue eyes, Pudd remained smiley and sweet-natured. She rarely cried. She wriggled her hands and feet but never tried to turn over. She kept silent as if concentrating on music in her own heart. She grasped my hand, making it seem like a giant’s, and she grinned and bubbled when I sang “Twinkle Star” and “My Little Grass Shack.” If I got the words wrong, Pudd never complained.

Mrs. Dalton lifted Pudd gently, holding her head carefully. She spoke in dulcet tones to her daughter as loud voices startled Pudd and caused her to jerk in fright. Pudd and her mother were great training for big sisters-to-be, a good thing as my mom would soon present our family with a sibling for me. I was ready for the baby doll coming to our home.

I never stayed long when Pudd needed a nap or it was time for Mrs. Dalton to feed her, acts I wasn’t allowed to witness. Giving Pudd a kiss on her forehead but never on her lips or the top of her head on her fragile fontanel, I said good bye until the next day, and danced down the steps to the lawn.

One afternoon my mom told me I couldn’t visit Pudd, her tearful eyes warning me not to go over to the Dalton’s house. I pestered my mom about why I couldn’t visit until she said, “They’re giving Pudd her last bath.”

My brother was born only a week or so after I’d been forbidden to bother Mrs. Dalton on the afternoon of Pudd’s last bath. I didn’t see Pudd again as I had my own baby doll to watch over and sing to. We left Hawaii a few months after my brother was born, eventually settling in Trenton, New Jersey.

Seven years later we drove to the Midwest to visit the Daltons who now had three kids like us. Only they weren’t at all like us.

The last bath hadn’t been the last one after all. Pudd’s real name was Edwina, a fact my parents revealed on the drive. Her parents had to teach it to her before she started school. The Daltons had been planning to give up Pudd to an institution but changed their mind and moved to a state that had the best school in the country for children like Pudd. Children born with hydrocephalus – water on the brain. It’s a misnomer for a defect that allows excess spinal fluid to collect around the brain and spinal cord, causing the head to swell and a myriad of developmental problems. Though Pudd’s life had been saved shortly after birth with a shunt to drain the fluid, the damage had been done.

My parents tried to prepare me to meet the Pudd who was now almost eight years old. But nothing could have prepared me. She was still incredibly beautiful, with golden ringlets and satiny pink skin. She wore thick glasses and leg braces from ankle to thigh. She could neither sit nor stand without assistance though she had learned to take a few clumsy steps. I talked to her about school, art projects, and TV shows, as I would with any friend. Her speech was nearly impossible to understand and I realized she had limited mental abilities. She wasn’t the perfect baby I’d sung to in Hawaii, but she smiled with radiant warmth as if she remembered me.  I squelched my tears.

At bedtime her parents undertook an elaborate ritual to prop Pudd between half a dozen pillows to hold her body still so she could sleep without convulsions, without breaking one of her fragile legs or arms. They would wake to check on her twice during the night. We didn’t stay longer than that one day’s visit and I never saw nor heard about Pudd again. I don’t know if she is still alive though it’s unlikely.

Pudd suffered an unimaginable, freak injury that can be ameliorated today with advanced medical technology, but her life wasn’t a lesson for all the rest of us to digest. Her fate was unfair. Knowing Pudd helped me develop a sense of compassion for people with disabilities but it wasn’t why she was put on earth. She wasn’t born to be a model for research, though her life was an example to her doctors and teachers. I don’t know why there is a magnitude of injustice in the world. Paradise doesn’t exist if one person hurts. I do know I can make someone feel that they are loved.

I love you, Pudd, wherever you are. You will always be my sweet Hawaiian baby doll.


Photo of Sharon at four, Bonin-Pratt family photo