Archive / January, 2014

Beating Back The Scourge of Demon Rum

Winter_Wonderland_001_lArkansas. It’s the state in which I’ve lived the last thirty-seven years. We are situated close to the middle of the United States, an area known to many as “flyover country.”

Though Arkansas is a tourism location, people don’t generally know much about the state. I’ll offer additional details specifically about Arkansas at a future date, but for now, I thought it might be more interesting to introduce an Arkansas storyteller who doesn’t get much attention nowadays, but whose ability and talent brought her considerable fame in her time.

She was born Julia Burnelle “Bernie” Smade in April of 1868. She was actually born in Ohio but her family moved to Russellville when she was a youngster. She began writing verse around the age of five or six, and by the time she turned sixteen, she was a regular contributor to several periodicals of the time. When she was eighteen, she married and bore five children before her husband William Babcock died suddenly, leaving her a 29 year old widow with children to feed and clothe. Continue Reading →

What’s Your Mission?

safetyHere’s another quirky film I watched this week. Safety Not Guaranteed from 2012 provides an intriguing premise:  an unusual want-ad sets three magazine employees on the trail of a reclusive (perhaps deranged) fellow who insists he can time-travel … and means to do so with a companion he hopes to hire via his want-ad.

Of the four main characters in this film, not one of them was familiar to me. I note that Aubrey Plaza is a cast member of Parks and Recreation (a television comedy series I’ve never viewed). In this movie, she demonstrated great timing and subtlety. Then there’s Jake Johnson, a comedian whose resumé includes other shows I don’t know. Mark Duplass plays the recluse, again, not someone I recognized. Karan Soni may be the least recognizable of them all.

In some regard, my unfamiliarity with these four actors may have increased my enjoyment of the film. I had no expectations or preconceptions (based on a familiar body of work). This left me free to engage with the film.

The film is strange in places and the actors give uneven performances. Especially with the slightly off-center situation, there were moments when I wasn’t comfortable liking any of the main characters. From the beginning, I wanted to like (sympathize) with them, but at points they didn’t earn my sympathy. I wanted to trust the mysterious recluse, tried to convince myself he wasn’t driven by lunacy. I felt stuck in a kind of limbo, unable to say I liked the film, but equally unable to dislike it.

Perhaps that’s due in part because the premise made me want to like it and see the premise successfully implemented. Continue Reading →

Not Shoes, But Galoshes!

Tackling the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge a bit earlier this week. The concept is to Leave Your Shoes At The Door, and I thought for this challenge, I’d write something about my grandson. Like most boys edging up to a fourth birthday, he has almost boundless energy and the kind of enthusiasm (about everything!) that just makes me smile.

I wrote this sonnet because it represents what this boy is all about. I often reflect on what the world looks like from his point of view. In this case, figuratively walking in his galoshes might prove enlightening!

Galoshes, grandson, puddles, rubber boots, sonnet, poetry, poem

Sonnet: Good Gosh, Galoshes!

 

When the cares of the world start to close in a bit (not that my cares are terribly pressing), I always experience a change of perspective recognizing how fully this youngster embraces and enjoys life. It’s beautiful and I’m a privileged participant!

Lessons In Dying

Alzheimers-300x127My husband and I are in that stage of life when the care of our aging widowed mothers becomes a more pressing concern. Hubby’s mom lives nearby and he tries to visit with her daily. She’s 91 years of age and was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year ago. I mentioned her in a post last fall.

Almost every day when he comes home from visiting with her (he usually drives over to her assisted living facility after his workday ends), he provides a brief report of their conversation. She rarely remembers his name now, though she remembers he’s her son. When he offers hints about his name, sometimes she’s close, but the memory has difficulty filling in all the details.

She also remembers she’s a mother of other sons, but their names don’t come easily either. The other day, she told my husband there were people coming to “do drugs” outside her door and they would also be in her apartment for the same purpose. (I wondered if she might be hallucinating. She has before.) Eventually, she managed to say “carpets” and the story made more sense. The carpets were scheduled to be shampooed.

Then there’s my mom. Anticipating her 88th birthday this year, my mother doesn’t suffer with Alzheimer’s; her challenge is macular degeneration. (I’ve mentioned her in numerous posts on this blog. Remember Bobbie Pringle?)

A couple weeks ago, I had an early morning scare with her. It was before eight a.m. when my phone rang. I saw on the caller id that it was my mom’s number, so I answered saying, “What are you doing up at this hour?” (Truth be told, she’s generally up long before I am.)

telephoneNo answer came from the other end. I kept the line open thinking maybe she’d set the phone down for some reason. After talking loudly into the speaker for several minutes with no response, I hung up and dialed her number only to get a busy signal.

That’s when I started worrying. What if she’d dialed me and before she could speak she’d suffered a heart attack or something? The thought of her lying on the floor unable to speak into her phone while attempting a call for help disturbed me immensely!

Unfortunately, I live six hours away from her! Eventually, I called my sister (who lives within a half hour of Mom). My sister drove over, determined everything was fine and texted me the news. Of course, I felt like an idiot, having bothered my sister, but know I would have felt much worse if something adverse had happened to her and nobody had checked to make sure she was okay.

[I know we’re not the only ones in the world concerned with aging parents. I know there are numerous people handling situations much worse than what my husband and I encounter with our mothers … and I would never minimize those really difficult situations of others.]

When we had a previous scare with my mom, I wrote this sonnet. It speaks (generally) to the bond of parent and child and the reversal of those roles as a parent ages. The nature of Alzheimer’s certainly qualifies it as a juggernaut. Aging is that by itself and the daily possibility of death is like an unwelcome companion lurking in a dark corner of the room.

Macular degeneration is no less a juggernaut, just a different kind of aging challenge. The ever-present risk from a fall … or trusting one’s sense of touch when taking medication (is this the correct pill!) … or setting a flammable object on a hot burner … when a person’s virtually blind, small things suddenly take on complexity.

Touchstone, learning to die, mother, daughter, elderly mother, sonnet, poetry, poem

Sonnet: Touchstone

My mom has aged remarkably well, keeping her inner vision and verve for life bubbling over even as her eyesight has diminished. I think she still has much to teach me in her final years (many more years, God willing) … including how to continue aging well and eventually how to die without regret.

I hope I’ll remain a conscientious and devoted learner.

Home For School

School-Desks-1While writing yesterday’s post, my memory took a backward glance at a time almost thirty years ago when we were educating our children at home.

Stuck In Love‘s main character (writer and dad, Bill) made an agreement with his two children:  if his kids agreed to maintain a daily journal, neither would be required to seek outside employment (i.e. McDonald’s or other typical short-term work) while they were still in school.

If I were home-educating today, I think this is an expectation I would definitely institute for my children!

We began homeschooling in 1986, an era that could be aptly described as the prehistoric age for home educators. Our oldest was entering junior high, the second child going into fourth grade and a third child entering first grade. Our youngest (and most bashful child) had not yet experienced formal education.

green-wood-school-desks-set-and-hand-drawn-chalk-alphabetGiven my husband’s and my own conventional upbringing and experiences in public school settings, we proceeded as many other first-time home educators had done at that time.

We purchased second-hand school desks, a classroom chalkboard (of the green variety) and set aside space in our home as a designated “schoolroom.” We purchased the full complement of textbooks designed for each child’s grade level and purposed (in true OCD style) to replicate a traditional classroom (to which our three older children were already accustomed) in our home. Continue Reading →

Stuck? Or Struck?

My younger daughter recommended a film this week. As a drama major college grad, she knows film and screen-writing and critiquing. With her ever-expanding knowledge of film and a viewing history few can match (unless maybe TCM‘s Robert Osborne), I’m pleased to heed her recommendations.

MV5BMTU1NzI5MDU3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE0NDMzOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_I’m a long-time movie lover (I suspect her husband blames me for his wife’s “addiction”), but I can’t claim any measure of expertise. For the most part with me, it’s like or dislike − two, three, or four stars. I don’t think I’ve ever given any film one star, though I think if I were watching Chariots of Fire or Gone With the Wind or The Lives of Others on Netflix, they’d get five stars from me. (Few others would have that distinction.)

Stuck In Love. The tag line says:  A Story About First Love and Second Chances. Sounds like a winner, but I had doubts it would match my hopeful expectations.

As it turned out, I found the film enjoyably quirky, which means it earned four stars. The characters were all likable, but in unexpected ways. Greg Kinnear plays the head of a floundering family; he’s a best-selling author, a Pen Award recipient, and an occasional dispenser of reflective wisdom. We discover he hasn’t produced new material in the three years since his divorce.

Jennifer Connelly plays Kinnear’s ex-wife, now remarried to a hunk. Connelly is predictably elegant with an endearing touch of melancholy which the film explores nicely. She adores her children and is terribly shattered by her daughter’s estrangement.

Lily Collins and Nat Wolff play the teenaged offspring of Kinnear and Connelly, working in their own ways (sometimes self-destructively) to deal with the hiccups life has thrown at them. All four main characters effectively portray both toughness and vulnerability and the casual style to the film lends credibility:  you believe this is real (but sucky) life.

Given Kinnear’s character is a writer, as the narrative progressed, it became clear to me he’d passed his love of writing onto both children. Daughter Samantha (Collins) comes home from college for Thanksgiving and announces her first novel is about to be released. Son Rusty (Wolff) is still working his way through high school and awkwardly reads his free verse poem aloud in class. (The poem makes an oblique reference to a pretty girl sitting in the third row. Did I say awkward?)

I was amused to learn Kinnear (years prior to the movie timeline) gave his children a permanent writing assignment:  to maintain their own private journals everyday. As we learn more about the offspring, it’s easy to understand that for them the writing habit has bloomed into the potential for something beyond a private journal. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you’re a writer, you won’t be disappointed with this film.

Stuck In Love seems an apt metaphor for the characters in this film. Each feels the pain associated with first love. Each takes comfort in the possibility of second chances. The film doesn’t gloss over how messy relationships can be … and frequently are.Two Movie Tickets In Front Of A Take Clapperboard And A Reel Of Movie Film

[Warning:  this movie is rated R, so if you’re not a fan of unmarried intercourse (implied or depicted), you might decide to give this movie a pass.]

In that regard, I’d like to say one thing about so many of the movies I’ve watched in recent years. There’s a theme that runs through the majority and it goes something like this:  if you’re fifteen years of age or older and you haven’t had sex, get out there and get ‘er done! With the number of times I’ve seen this play out on the screen, it has evolved into a tiresome and annoying cliché!

And please don’t call me a prude. Just once, I’d like to see one of these youngsters stand toe-to-toe with the boorish adult and say something like:  My life, my timetable. MYOB!

A BONUS for writers:  Kinnear’s character Bill throws out an occasional literary reference (one from Flannery O’Connor) and such small nuggets always please me.

Another BONUS for writers:  being careful not to telegraph the ending for you, I think the ending offers another nice touch. (My daughter hinted at something − I won’t say what − and unfortunately, by the last third of the film, I knew what might be coming.)

So I’ll say no more here. Watch it!

The Rhythm of (My) Life

Experimenting, the challenge of trying something new rarely deters me. Reading through my email, I thought, “Why not?” And here I am!

Getting a late start on this Weekly Writing Challenge:  Lunch Posts writing exercise. The initial writing challenge was posted January 20th and proposes taking the approach of Frank O’Hara whose conversational Lunch Poems captured poetic vignettes he composed during lunch breaks.24-hour

Here we go! It’s lunch time, at least for me. Generally, I’m sitting at one of my computers, working, designing, writing, doing bookkeeping for our business, or I’m on the phone chatting with one of my offspring or my mom or a business associate. It’s not glamorous, in fact, but it is my normal routine (unless one of my grandchildren is here, and then routine slips into oblivion).

Noon does not equate to Lunch in my routine. Noon is simply an arbitrary point on the clock. My midday meal usually occurs closer to 2 pm, sometimes later; that’s because my morning meal may not happen until 10 a.m. Weird schedule, I know. Weird me!

confessionalMy surroundings present a hodgepodge of distractions:  incomplete projects, magazines, read and unread books lining the shelves, an altogether too big copy machine, file cabinets and an oak period piece I’ve dubbed the “confessional.”

Work stations? There are three, though at the moment I’ve cobbled a fourth from an open file drawer on which a laptop is precariously perched. (It’s tax time and the business tax software was previously downloaded onto that laptop, so unless a grandkid ventures in, it will sit there temporarily until I plow through the annual agony of taxes!)

Outside, the sun is shining but it’s not yet golfing weather. (Good thing! I’ve got those taxes to finish!)

Across the lane, workers are busily preparing a 55 acre site for … what? We’re dying of curiosity, but a tree line (mostly scrubs) prevents a good view of their activity. Even through an upstairs window, I see only a few pickups scattered, three or four workmen moving from place to place, and a yellow bulldozer moving brush and debris into a heightening burn pile. (The barn disappeared before Christmas.)

The sound is what usually reminds me they’re over there. Periodically, the bulldozer echoes its characteristic “beep, beep, beep,” penetrating my quiet. There it goes again.

I check throughout the day to determine if their puzzle works to the point I can determine exactly what is going on. So far, no. I know I could take a walk down my driveway and across the lane to “supervise,” ask some pertinent questions, but to this point we’ve adopted a wait-and-see approach. Ranch? Estate homes? Time will tell.

Once I’ve consumed my lunch (green salad with ham bits, today), I pour my last cup of coffee and resume whatever necessary business must be accomplished before the day comes to an end.

41zFzP6QGvL._AA160_

Nope, no co-workers cavorting in a lunch room, not even a passerby with whom to chat. iTunes faithfully provides background music:  Tchaikovsky Masterpieces at the moment.

Sometimes, I get lost in the music … and the writing.

Quickly enough, though, my reverie is interrupted by reality. Lunch break over!

Oh, The Humanity!

hindenburgThis is not a post I desire to pen. At this moment, my eyes well with tears and my body trembles from an intense grief beyond anything I am able to describe or comprehend.

Through many years, my grief has grown and over the last week in particular, I’ve read numerous posts and tweets, watched and heard scores of news stories, and processed personal and group narratives filled with both facts and rhetoric on the seemingly endless debate surrounding Roe v. Wade.

For the most part on this blog, I have tried to avoid wading into those waters. Not because of cowardice but I lack the delicate eloquence and I’m a thoroughly inadequate apologist. I am creative, a whimsical writer, a poet who tries to make sense of the world in fourteen lines; where do eloquence and apologia fit into whimsy and sonnets?!

I reiterate, this is not a post I wished to write, though I make no bones about the fact I am staunchly pro-life. My reluctance to be drawn into this debate stems from knowing there are people of good will on both sides of this tense divide and I’m not inclined to cast aspersions on either faction. (However, I readily cede knee-jerk, doctrinaire adherents also populate both factions.)

I suppose dipping my toe into this pond now means I should prepare the deflector shields on my rebel Millenium Falcon to withstand the round of volleys inevitably lobbed against perceived traitors to one or the other cause célèbre.

I’m ready, though still figuratively dragging my feet. Continue Reading →

Heaven’s Hound And Master

FrancisThompsonEnglish poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907) isn’t particularly well known today, though the name of at least one of his poems may be familiar to some. He was the tortured soul who wrote The Hound of Heaven, a 182-line work that is both loved by some and considered by others to be too intimidating to read. I think the intimidation factor is due to its length; many people with short attention spans don’t care to wade through a poem of 182 lines.

I won’t reproduce the poem in this post and I hope my brief comments don’t discourage you from reading it here. It is a beautiful and lyrical poem, and a piece that is both heartbreaking (in its candor) and tender (in its depiction of the devoted Hound coming ever nearer). The poem is of course a metaphor, the Hound being a loving God who pursues the Hare. The Hound’s intention, however, is not to devour the Hare but to express divine grace, to bring the Hare to the fold.

As you read the poem, you feel the Hare fleeing, ever fleeing; hiding, wishing (hoping) not to be discovered. There is urgency in this flight! That Thompson succeeds in sustaining that urgency over the length of the poem is the mark of a great poet. Perhaps more telling, Thompson seems to raise a veil where we can peak into his heart and understand some of the genuine desperation in which his poem was rooted.

But make no mistake. Whether you agree with the underlying concept of Thompson’s poem (i.e. God pursuing his creation), the poem doesn’t demand unanimity of belief. One does not have to concur with Thompson’s worldview in order to simply appreciate his poem. The work remains a masterpiece in and of itself. Thompson was (as Chesterton called him) a “great poet.”

You may enjoy this dramatic reading of the poem performed by actor Richard Burton.

Because I’ve long known and loved Thompson’s work, I decided to borrow his metaphor and take a slightly different approach (with fewer lines) via a sonnet. As one who has experienced the divine grace of the Hound of Heaven, I find he is both the pursuer (as Thompson described it) and the master whose lead I follow.

Gentle-Master, Hound of Heaven, unbridled soul, sonnet, poetry, poem

Sonnet: Gentle Master

 

H(Abby) Birthday Biscuit!

MandyAbbyOne of the most creative people I know, my younger daughter Abby, is having a birthday tomorrow. (She’s quite a bit older now than the picture to the left that was taken on her sixth birthday.)

Along with other nudges back in 2010 (see my initial post of explanation here), Abby urged me to take up blogging. She’d been blogging for a year at that point, and has now returned to the distraction of blogging (at least for now). I say distraction because with three very busy young children, other things beside blogging understandably top her priority list.

Abby’s most recent blog post entitled Manna From Down South is worthy of mention here. The post just prior to Manna is titled I Am A Crap Photographer. In my view, she’s being entirely too modest and self-critical, for when my eyes beheld the photo at the top of the Manna post, my taste buds responded as one would expect when food is set directly in front of you! I yearned for immediate gratification! Look at the picture for yourself and see if you agree. Don’t those biscuits look tempting?!

To borrow and rework a phrase from well-known Peanuts author Charles Schulz, Happiness is a Warm Biscuit!

My daughter is a woman who seeks culinary excellence and has the persistence to stick to a goal until she’s satisfied she’s created a winner. The bonus in her post is you’ll actually be able to enjoy creating this delight yourself, based on the free recipe she’s sharing!

If you read through the Manna post, you’ll notice an oblique reference to me … yep, I’m the one who served her (and her siblings in their growing-up years) “… canned or baking-mix biscuits.” I had no idea the suffering I caused my offspring to endure! (<— sarc) Continue Reading →

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