Monthly Archives: December 2012

If Resolutions were only Wishes….

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Somehow 2012 has rushed by at an accelerated rate ignoring even the prophesied December 21st apocalypse. 2013 approaches, and it’s time to take stock again, to look back and then think forward to the new year. Not to put too much spin on it, the time has come to face writing those dreaded New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions…  such a grave and binding word. Supposing, I think, I could substitute ‘wishes’ for ‘resolutions.’ Would the process then be easier? Perhaps if a genie would appear before me and grant me three wishes …

No sooner said than done. Here before me stands a pretend-genie who has magically popped out of my tea cup. Arms akimbo, a somewhat alarming grin on his face, he intones, “Your three wishes for 2013 are waiting to be granted!”

Even an Imaginary genie is not to be treated lightly. I begin, “I’d like peace…” but he immediately cuts me off.

“No, foolish mortal. Your wishes are not so important that they can change the world. These three wishes are personal. Therefore think before you speak, and do not squander your wishes lightly or waste my time!”

For a figment of my imagination, he takes himself much too seriously. Besides, three wishes for myself take a lot of thinking.

Perhaps I take too long, for the genie is tapping his thumbs on my desk. “All right,” I say, “I want to stretch.” He arches a ferocious eyebrow. “Not my body,” I hasten to add, “but my mind. I need to expand my horizons. You get it?”

He doesn’t. “Recently,” I explain, “I have become much too complacent about my writing and about my art. I need to get out of my comfort zone and start learning. New horizons. New techniques. New ideas.”

“Really,” he says huffily, “this so-called wish could easily be construed into three wishes. Mortals are so wishy-washy! But I’ll let it slide. I agree that your mind needs to stretch. Next wish!”

Ignoring his rude remarks, I confess, “I need to listen more. I need to hear what other people mean with my heart as well as my mind. And I have to listen to the world around me. Gershwin heard all those city sounds and turned them into music– so I should be able to listen to the natural world around me and let it fill my work with color and song.”

For the first time, I see a softening in the Genie’s eyes. “You would listen to the little song birds,” He murmurs, “and the brave wind that makes clouds flow across the sky.” And then, to my amazement, he waxes poetic.

“For those small bird songs

And the mighty wind voices

Fill the world with joy.”

We listen for a while to the cheeping chickadees and the busy woodpecker who is hammering away at the sweet gum tree. Then I say, “For my third wish I want to really see what’s around me. I want to be aware of the way each day begins and how it folds into night. I want to absorb the colors of the barren winter branches and of the little green leaves that come first in the spring. So often I’m in a rush going somewhere, and I don’t see anything except the traffic ahead.”

The Genie sighs. “Now, that is a very difficult wish. Why couldn’t you have wished for riches or a cruise in the Carribbean?  True awareness takes a lot of practice, Mortal, and patience, and hard work. You’d better get cracking!” And with that he disappears.

Really! This figment of my imagination has terrible manners. But of course, he’s right. Practice, patience and hard work—my three wishes for 2013 will have to be earned the hard way!

Many days flow back

Across this long, past year…

Now to look ahead!

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The Gift You Remember the Most…

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If there ever was a season for giving gifts, December is that season. With Hanukah and Christmas at its heart, what other time could be more appropriate? Add to that the never-ending parade of advertisements, the lure of Black  Friday (now unmercifully extended into Thanksgiving Day itself) and Cyber Monday. Gifts —the bigger the better, the more complicated electronically the more exciting— seem to take over our lives.

So, wondering, I asked the question: what is the gift that was most memorable to you? The one that stays in memory while all the wonderful toys and jewels and gadgets became lost in a happy blur?

Sometimes the answer recalls a desperate need fulfilled, as did the warm pair of woolen socks—given in the depths of a frozen, war-torn European winter —that my husband always will remember. Sometimes, as a lovely young woman recounted quietly, the gift spoke to a need of the heart: “It was a  doll,” she told me. “I never had a real toy before, and there she was, so beautiful and my own.”

Gifts could—should— also be festive and fun, like a giant pink plastic turtle called Manfred, or an ermine coat for a doll, or the magical train set given by loving parents to a bright-eyed little boy. Sometimes the memory harked back to a simpler time like the Christmas stocking, filled with fruit, nuts and little toys that made the day especially happy for a friend.  But the Most Remembered gifts did not always come wrapped in ribbons. A gentleman I know recalled a pup that came to him at this time of year.

“I was recovering from scarlet fever,” he mused. “That pup stayed with me night and day while I was sick in bed, and to this day I remember the feel and the scent of him. I lost him after many years, and I miss him still.”

The language of love and loss is often intertwined in stories of the Most Remembered gift, and a friend spoke of a clock-radio received the last Christmas her father was alive.  For others, the message is of love found and cherished, for several other friends mused that their greatest gift was meeting or being together with their life partners.

For myself, the story of the Most Remembered gift began with my mother sewing by the fire. Now, this was an extraordinary event because sewing was what my mother hated most. She had a workbasket which was always in pristine condition because it was only used in the direst emergency. So watching her sew lacy things by the fire—muttering to herself  whenever she pricked her finger— was a puzzlement. Night after night there she would be with her workbasket and some bits of interesting fabric.

I didn’t think too much about it because I was engrossed in the tree that was being decorated and the hope of the one present I had asked for: a doll which opened and closed its eyes. That this was right after the war and a very difficult time for everyone made no impression on me. For five year olds there is still magic in the world.

On Christmas morning I opened my eyes to find a doll sitting by my bedside. It was an old doll, probably second-hand, with bisque arms and legs, and its eyes opened and shut. And next to this doll was a beautifully arranged trousseau… dresses, slips edged with lace, tiny satin jackets and dresses that had been sewn by firelight…

Of all the gifts I have received and all that I have given, this I remember most: the  firelight on my mother’s face as she sewed. And like most beloved and cherished gifts, it is of no importance to anyone but to the heart that gave and to the heart that remembers.

Of the many gifts

We remember most the one

That said, ‘You are loved.’

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Writing the Holiday Newsletter

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It has been written, revised and re-written. Its original wordage has been skinned down to bare bones with each word scrutinized, weighed, and edited. And no, I am not writing the novel of the century. I have been working all day on the 2012 Holiday Newsletter.

Newsletters. Some people love to read them; others roll their eyes, skim the close-typed pages and move quickly on. Some friends demand their inclusion. Others would really rather I didn’t bother.

With so many holidays happening at this time— Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa to name three—many cards and newsletters are even now being written for the edification of distant friends. In this spirit I have been sitting here for hours trying to squeeze the essence of 2012 into a few paragraphs.

“Keep it short,” advises my husband, who stops in to supposedly offer morale support. “One page is all anybody wants to read.”

I tell him that several people enjoy more details than I can cram into one page, but he is adamant about this. Old friends, he says, want to hear about the family—the doings of the kids and grandkids—but briefly. “One page,” he warns. “And keep it light.”

That’s fine for him to say, of course. He isn’t the one writing this. To keep a newsletter humorous, to keep it brief, to keep it newsworthy—this requires as much craft as do a dozen short stories! But humor does seem to be key.  “I like your newsletter,” one kind friend wrote last year. “A lot of others are long-winded; yours are funny.” Humor is essential, then. If I write about how we nearly missed our cruise ship, will that do? Or will it make the newsletter sound long-winded?

All life’s adventures

From this year are being compressed

Into one short page.

I go over what I have written. The sentence: “We danced the rumba on the Cathedral steps in Barcelona,” jumps out at me. It is too long and needs to be pared down. Who would care that we danced a rumba—or the wild fandango— anyway? So the word is tossed. And the Cathedral steps—do they matter? But when I read: “We danced in Barcelona,” this sounds too prosaic and dull. With a heavy sigh I eliminate the entire sentence. Perhaps I can mention dancing later. Somewhere.

But where? There is no such place, for in spite of all my efforts I have run well into Page Two. What and where on earth do I cut? News of the family, of children and grandchildren, must stay as written. So must the really important snippets of news. This leaves all the light touches, the humorous observations, and the carefully chosen bon mots without which this beastly thing reads like a grocery list.

The temptation to forego writing anything at all this year is strong. Unfortunately, a friend phones me at the moment this thought crosses my mind. “What, no newsletter this year?” she exclaims when I have unburdened my soul. “You’re a writer, aren’t you? Getting lazy, are we?”

If tearing my hair would help, I would tear. Controlling the impulse to shriek with frustration, I tell my unsympathetic friend that I will talk to her later— because right now, I am too busy.

I have a hundred and ten words to cut.

 

"Darkness Into Light"

“Darkness Into Light”

Climbing ‘Everest’

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It isn’t really Mt. Everest. This is nothing like the great, iconic mountain that  beckons to the committed climber and yearly takes the lives of the unwary and unprepared. My ‘Everest’ is just a very long, very steep upward rising slope that sits at the very end of my morning walk. It starts innocently enough and then rises and climbs so precipitously that I end up panting and puffing like a walrus. Time was when I could cheerfully scale this obstacle with an airy, “Oh, yeah!” Nowadays, I approach this hill and mumble, “Oh. Yeah…” and wonder whether I will be able to conquer it without stopping to catch my breath. But each morning, I make the attempt, and this morning is no different.

How much longer, now?

The steep slope rises higher

With every footfall.

I remind myself that I have bested other Everests before—I suspect that we all have. Most of these are so commonplace that they slide by without much fanfare, but some are terrible. Facing these horrors are soldiers wounded in war, stroke victims, cancer patients, victims of hurricanes and other disasters, and a million brave souls whose names we will never know. These people work through terrible odds— as did the grandson of a friend who was so badly mangled by a traffic accident that he was not expected to survive. That he lived to walk onto the stage to receive his high school diploma gives proof that courage and tenacity can conquer the most formidable Everest.

Such are monster mountains that we pray never to see, but there are day-by-day hills and slopes that face us routinely. Prepping for that all-important job interview; being rejected by the college of choice; having to pull up stakes and leave behind family, friends and a neighborhood known for years—these are familiar and hard on courage and heart. And, less crucial but just as daunting, there is that first sentence of a story or book, the first cut of a piece of fabric or the initial touch of pen or brush to paper.  And, wait, wait, what about cleaning out that closet? Yes, that one—the one we usually close quickly in order to avoid being hit on the head by some falling object?

Every step on the way to the top of the mountain has its new twists and turns, and everyone’s mountain is different. Today I am near the end of my walk and my personal nemesis awaits me. Solid and formidable and looking so very, very long, and steep, the beastly slope dares me to tackle it once more. If there was another, easier path I would take it, but there is only one way home, and it is Everest.

I grit my teeth, take a deep breath, and commence climbing the mountain. As of course I must. As all of us must.

At the mountain top,

Straighten the back, draw deep breath…

Until tomorrow.

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