Tag Archives: story and life

strange

siege_image6What a strange life I lead. I am researching details to write a war scene. I’m reading about demi-lunes and covered ways and bastions and ricochet fire. I’ve already researched it, but I’m going over and over it in my mind before I write it. A character will die in this war scene. If I see the siege in my mind, I’ll be able to make a reader see it. I’m in 1673 internally. In 2014, I’m at my computer looking at old drawings and making notes and diagrams. As the wicked witch told Dorothy, what a world, what a world.

frivolous

The black swallowtail sat so still that I thought perhaps she was dead, but when I approached she fluttered away. Watching her weave through the great-grandfather of a camphor tree that dominates the yard, I fretted. My husband has a bird feeder, and birds were everywhere, and I didn’t want to witness an assault. Once, I opened my front door and saw a bird after a butterfly. It was a grim struggle, the small butterfly moving here and there, the much bigger bird intent and echoing every move. Life and death played out among my front trees. How frivolous butterflies are, such a flash of creativity by the Unseen, the way flowers are. How practical and ugly they might have been manufactured in order to fit into the intricate ladder of nature; instead they’re silk-winged dancers en pointe until the day they die.

Are we a flash of creativity by the Unseen? Why do we forget to unfurl our wings? What do you think?

for my son, whose middle name is Edward……

I wrote this in 2008, and I think it wears well. One more time……

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years during World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He, too, had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was eighteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troup. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

comets

By Thursday of every week, if I don’t know what I’m going to write here on Sundays, I begin to wait on the muse. I go on lookout for the quiet ding that sounds when she throws a topic my way. If the ding doesn’t sound, I rummage through my journal for something. I had decided to put down the little lines of poetry/attempted haiku I’d written in the week, nothing polished, just play paint with words over my finding a perfectly preserved yet perfectly dead bee.

But a local newspaper story about former poet laureate W.S Merwin made me hear the ding. “When the Poet Laureate appointment came along, Merwin used it as a platform to comment on human imagination and life as a whole,” read the story, ‘which does not just include this self-important human species,’ he notes. Merwin says he feels exhilarated to be part of something infinite. His poems circle that feeling, the ongoing mystery, it continues.

‘The comets burn out and black holes disappear,’  he says. ‘There’s nothing good or bad about that. That’s the way it is. I don’t know where I come from and I don’t know where I’m going and it’s wonderful to be here.’

Reading that, I was reminded with both a pang and a ding that gratitude each day for the very fact of being alive has to be part of the triumph on this flintier, shadier part of the path I’ve entered, otherwise bitterness tastes in my mouth and shows on my face and in my eyes. Merwin exhibited an aging with grace, not an easy accomplishment.

Who do you know who is aging with grace? What’s their secret? What’s yours? What is grace?

heart

So it’s morning, and I’m sipping my tea, and I hear music. My dining room windows overlook the street, and I peer out to see two of my grandson’s friends walking to school. One of them has an ipod sound system, and they are walking and singing along to the music. Their insouiance makes me smile, particularly since the larger one is really large, a hulking boy who towers over his friend. He likely towers over everyone, and he is very shy and uneasy in this body that has overtaken him. I have to smile. Both boys are in that awkward, junior-high phase when everyone is in various stages of morphing, and there are pimples and maybe breasts and hair and fat and thin and tall and short all over the place. But the two boys are singing like nobody is watching. I can remember myself at that age, waiting eagerly for a song I liked on the radio and singing along, so happy, maybe even filled with joy.

My face opens to another smile at the memory. What happened? I think. When did I stop focusing on what I liked and become so aware of what I don’t like. Is it age? Well, I–for one–don’t like that, I will say with a shake of my head, proud of my discernment and unsmiling.

Wouldn’t it be more fun if I could find my junior high heart again, where I was always looking for what I liked, and I found it everywhere….when I sang along to the music……

What’s in your junior high heart?

participation

I’m a sucker for Vows, the couple the NY Times features in its wedding announcements. The course of true love runs smooth or it runs into obstacles, but the couple overcomes and joins together in a great and joyful wedding. The happily ever after possibility gets me every time. Which brings me to something in the travel section this Sunday….an article about Japan, about how it’s doing since the tsunami, which was a year ago. Resilience, self possession, and community mindedness are what the writer sees in its comeback after such a blow from nature. You need those for a marriage, too, I’m thinking. And these two ideas, which the writer says the Japanese are able to hold at the same time: Happy moments in life cannot erase losses; nor can losses ever keep one from knowing happiness. I quote: “To see that life means a joyful participation in a world of sorrow, and that suffering is not the same as unhappiness is one of the singular blessings this seasoned country still has to offer.” Maybe that’s why I like to read about vibrant weddings and love overcoming all….

follow me

 Secret place of the most high….words from the poetry that is often the language of the King James Bible….

I found one when I went out walking with my youngest grandson on a recent Houston spring night. Lovely, soft weather, a just past half-full moon visible in the not quite twilight sky. He alert and ready in his stroller. Shall we look for acorns (one of our pasttimes)? I ask him, and he says his soft ok that makes me smile. (He’s a few months over 2 years on the calendar but so much wiser. He’s my guide for accessing the lost child in me.) But there are no acorns.

Now we walk with him out of the stroller. He’s good about holding on to the stroller when we cross the streets. For a while, he holds on even when he doesn’t have to, and this small act of obedience always touches me. I always urge him to let go, tell him he doesn’t have to hold on when we’re not crossing the street. There’s something in me moved by his obedience but wanting him to spread his little wings.

We pass a fire hydrant, and I tell him that’s where the firetrucks get water. His father has purchased a firetruck video, and this grandson, as did my older grandson, will sit riveted to watch it from beginning to end.  He talks to the hydrant and touches small chains attached to it. I realize he is creating a huge story in his mind, that in his mind actual trucks are coming to the hydrant or something like that. After a time, I get impatient, tell him to come on, walk a distance away. He stays by the hydrant, talking, talking and playing with the chains. When I give up and walk back, he says, stay, Nana, and I obey.

I teach a class about the novel, about writing. You can’t teach writing, but you can facilitate it, and you can offer some obvious ingredients needed to make a story. I know that the students want a recipe, fixed and easy for fiction, and there isn’t one. You have to have the imagination of this small boy, who is making up and acting out some amazing story in his mind inspired by a fire hydrant.

I wait at the edge of night, the moon rising higher, for his story to end. When it does, he’s tired, ready to be tucked into the stroller. Where’s the moon? he asks me. There, I answer and show him.  Moon follow me, he says.

May it always, I think, and send grandmother blessings his way and think about how lucky I am as we walk home in the enfolding dark…..I’ve been in the secret place of the most high, and it was beautiful…..

What’s your secret place? What are your treasures?

tender

As I finger through the shards of my week looking for something to write here, I’m dazzled and distracted by the delight of the day, a finest of Houston day, not cold, but not hot, no humidity, everything not already green showing sulfur-hued tips as if the sun were flinging paint which fell first through an absinthe sieve. This is the time of year when three of my favorite plants flower, the redbud with its heart-stinging purple, the tulip tree with its cream-tinged blush, the azaleas shaded pastel to fuchsia. They won’t last, are here but for a moment. They’re too tender. People are tender, too, aren’t they, until life or we toughen them up. Once I made a character say, I’ve know passion and I’ve known love, but tenderness is best. Easily cut or buised, the dictionary says. I prefer the thesaurus: fine, quiet, gentle. light, sensitive, warm, devoted, melting. Old longings can raise their heads on a melting day like this one, but the sun, the tender of the greens soothes them to quiescence. There will be no tantrums. They’re ghosts of themselves anyway. Is that time? Is that wisdom? Is that good? Is that bad?

What tenderness in you has survived? Can you bear it?

folders

Two small things have made me happy recently. WordPress is adding snow flakes to the blog posts for the season again. It’s likely the only snow I will see, and the sight of them on the screen and across my words makes me smile. And I found file folders for the new book. I don’t know if you were a school supply freak like I was, but office supply stores are the way I’ve taken that delight into my adult life. For several years now, one can purchase file folders with really beautiful patterns or designs on them. And I do. And each book has its own set of folders. And I had a simple and lovely blue for this next book, but then I saw a more dramatic navy and teal background with new-grass-with-yellow-still-in-it green slight design of a flower and feather and bird, and that was it. It’s the next book’s folder.

I think I’m calling the next book: Our Bed is Green, from the Song of Solomon…..an Alice and Richard story. I need small things that please me as I grow older. I have this memory of reading about Sir Alec Guinness saying, we must gradually, gracefully grow into a less grand position. He was speaking of aging. When we’re young we’re the center of our drama, but drama doesn’t travel well in the forward motion that is life.

What do you think?

ralph

–To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded–

I saw this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on a friend’s Facebook share and took it here.  I’m looking for small things to get me through the season. I made a fire today (first cold day in Houston); I put red in my front door wreath. Today is the first day of a secret Advent adventure I’m doing with my grandchildren. From where I sit as I type this, I can see a long red ribbon twisting in the wind. It reminds me of that scene in American Beauty when the young hero videos plastic sacks caught by wind; he sees them as dancing. That’s how it feels to view this ribbon that was wound in the tree to attract hummingbirds, but keeps positioning its long arms toward the ground. There are several white blossoms on the paperwhites that are scattered here and there in the yard. Good things. Small things.

What’s small and wonderful in your life? What is success?