Writing Memories 10

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Writing Memories 10
Module 5.1 Generation Next 

We have now arrived at our last module: the happiness brought to us by our children and grandchildren. I refer to this as Generation Next. When we emigrated to Canada, our parents stayed behind in what I am now beginning to call the Untied Kingdom. If we were lucky, we saw each other every two years or so. Life’s realities have not changed all that much, and once every two years or so is when we see our daughter and granddaughter. The big difference, of course, is Skype. The social media breakthrough now allows us to see and talk and share on a regular basis. This is wonderful. So, where do we begin with Generation next? With a poem, of course.

Yellow [Poem 1]:

Sunshine and daffodils: my grand-daughter
paddles in the kitchen sink. Her mother
washes feet and dishes. “Sit,” Finley says,
and “stand,” following the words with actions.

Now she says “Yellow, yellow,” as daffodils
fill the computer screen to shine in that
far-off kitchen five hundred miles away
by road, but immediate by Skype.

“Yellow,” Finley repeats, “yellow.” Soon
in that distant province where spring arrives
so much earlier than here, she will see
daffodils dancing their warm weather dance,

tossing their heads to gold and yellow trumpets,
fresh, alive, and young in the soft spring breeze.

Commentary: Amazing how children grow and develop. When Finley first came to visit us, her vocabulary was limited and she would select one word and preach it like a preacher leaning out from her Sunday pulpit. Yellow was such a word. Yellow bananas, yellow birds, yellow daffodils and, of course, yellow jello. Is there really any other color for jello? I tried to convert this poem into prose, but it didn’ change much.

Yellow [Prose 1]:

Sunshine, floating dust motes, and the ever-present scent of daffodils: Finley, my grand-daughter paddles in the kitchen sink, rainbow bubbles from the washing-up liquid, with its hint of fresh green apples. Her mother washes Finley’s feet first, then the dishes. “Sit,” Finley says, and “stand,” she follows the words with suitable actions. Sink water swirls and bubbles as she stamps her feet with the slurp of a washing machine, drubbing old clothes. “Yellow,” she says, “yellow,” as once again my St. David’s Day daffodils fill my nostrils with their heavy perfumes and the computer screen with their brilliant golds to shine in that far-off kitchen five hundred miles away by road, but immediate by I-Pad.  “Yellow,” Finley repeats, “yellow.” Soon in that distant province where spring arrives so much earlier than here, she will walk into the garden, hear the robin’s song, and see the daffodils dancing their warm weather dance, tossing their heads to wind-sound through green leaves and yellow trumpets, fresh, alive, and young, fanned by the scent-bearing, soft spring breeze.

Commentary: Some padding, yes, and an attempt o expand the scene and include more varied details, but a success? I am not sure. Right now, I don’t know that I have captured what I wanted to capture. Maybe it is time to rethink everything and start yet again. Before we do, let’s return to the theme of yellow.

Her Shadow [Poem 2]:

Grubby marks remain where her nose rubbed up
against the window pane. Excited she

stood there, watching birds perched on the feeder.
“Finch,” I pointed. “American Goldfinch.”

“Yellow,” she cried out with joy, “Yellow.” Her
tiny hands plucked at air, catching nothing.

Her nose, all wet and runny, left damp, snot
stained letters, her signature, on the cold

glass. That’s how I remember her. Still the
window stays unwashed and her shadow
often comes between me and the morning sun.

Commentary: We all witness them, those moments when time seems to stand still and we see eternity in a grain of sand, or in a stain on the window pane. And what pain we suffer when the little culprit leaves and the house returns to the now unaccustomed silence that reigned before the enthusiastic arrival of Generation Next. The next poem concentrates on the sense of emptiness, and no I will not retouch these poems. They are just where I want them to be.

Empty [Poem 3]:

Empty now the house, clean the floors where she
spattered food and scattered her toys, polished

the tables, grubby no more, where small hands
clattered fork and spoon, her breakfast not wanted.

Empty the bathroom, the tub where she bathed.
Dry the towels, full the toothpaste tubes she

emptied in ecstasy. Where now her foot
-prints, her laughter and tears, the secret

language she spoke that we never understood?
Empty too my heart where, a wild bird, she

nested for the briefest time, then flew, yet
I possess her still, within my empty hands.

Commentary: We have all shared such moments and they will vary for each of us. You have had them too. Write bout them, preserve them, catch them and imprison them in the lines on the page that form prison bars for words. Keep them. They are as valid as photographs and just as powerful. In fact, with the proliferation of selfies and the gradual disappearance of the hand-written word, they are probably even more powerful than the ephemera that, like butterflies or one day moths, flutter and flitter through the anonymities of our digitalized world. And now, may the light of the poetic and prosaic muses shine upon you and bring you a wealth of inspiration, for my journey is over and this workshop is done.

Writing Memories 1

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Writing Memories 1
Saint John Free Public Library
10 March 2019

Subtitle: Thoughts and exercises on the role of memory as we grow and age.

Remember: we are not just writers, we are re-writers.

About Words:

Words strain,
crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
will not stay still. (T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton)

About Effort:

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
a periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
with words and meanings. (T. S. Eliot, East Coker)

About Revision:

Every attempt
is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
because one has only learnt to get the better of words
for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
one is no longer disposed to say it. (T. S. Eliot, East Coker)

Introduction:

As promised, I will present here, over the next week, my thoughts and comments on the writing workshop that took place in Saint John on Sunday, 10 March 2019. The workshop began with the above words from T. S. Eliot. They can be used for contemplation about the difficult art and craft of writing. They can also be used as prompts from which writers can develop their own creative and poetic philosophy.  There is more indeed, much more, than the simple splashing of ink upon the page. Yet we all begin with that first splash of ink, that first letter drawn with finger from the computer keyboard, or thumbed on the I-Pad.

Where do writers go next? That is the question. In this workshop, with its series of thematically linked writing models and prompts, I will try and answer some of those questions. More important, perhaps, all participants will have time to think, time to write, and time to read what they have written to a sympathetic audience.

The workshop’s structure is simple: five modules of 30 minutes each. After the third module, there will be a ten minute break. The last two modules will be followed by a question and answer session that can be prolonged for as long as participants wish.

Alas, I am not familiar with the writers in this group and therefore have not prepared individual exercises for each person’s needs. Forgive me for this lapse. What I have done is to draw up some generic hints and some typical models from which participants are free to select what suits them best. But first some notes on the writing you will be asked to do.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

Writing Levels:

Since I am unfamiliar with you as individual writers, here are four generic writing levels. Choose one and write from within that level. By all means work your way through the levels, if you wish to do so, one level per module.

Beginning Writers: Just write, using the prompts to help you get your own words and experiences and memories on the page. Don’t be afraid to ask me, or more experienced writers in the room, for help.

Intermediate Writers 1: Try and concentrate on writing about one or two senses within each exercise.

Intermediate Writers 2: Try and combine two or three senses within each exercise.

Advanced Writers: Use the prompts as you will and concentrate on imagery, metaphors, letting the language doing the work, and combining or mixing the senses. Also, please share your experiences (positive and negative) with other writers in each mini-group.

Reading and discussion:
         NB Change tables and seek new people in mini-groups after each module. Ideal size of mini-groups is 3-4 people.
We need to learn how to share, and how to accept very diverse opinions, some of which may be good and some of which may be bad.
Don’t just talk to old friends: discover and make new ones.
Listen to the comments and accept them or reject them after you have thought about them. Don’t argue. Don’t explain. Don’t defend your writing. Just listen and see how others read and see and understand your work.
As you read and listen, learn from the other writers, how they write, how they read, how they express themselves.
We are all in search of our own very personal and elusive voice: you won’t find your voice unless you use it. Remember: use it or lose it.

Invitation and Reminder:

By all means comment on this workshop and its modules. Module 1, with some polishing and though, will appear tomorrow.

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Triumphs

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Triumphs

Waking to moonlight in the middle of the night, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat,  the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Waking to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between my far-off toes, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, oping the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them with my stick in hand, cautiously, one step at a time … on guard for the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s miniscule triumphs.

Sox

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Sox

My birthday parcel arrived this morning. No, it’s not my birthday. That was last month. Is the glass half full or half empty? Well, if it’s half empty, my birthday parcel arrived two weeks late. BUT, if the glass is half full, then it arrived fifty weeks earlier. It was packed with goodies, like sox that have upon them an elephant bearing a pint of beer in its trunk: irresistible, as the sender said. I also have a green pair with a parallel theme. I wanted to wear one of each pair, in an orange-green mis-match, but a certain someone would not let me have anything to do with that. Ah, the voice of sartorial authority. “Orange and green / should not be seen / without a color / in between.” White, perhaps, as in the Irish flag, except white is apparently not a color.

I used to get lots of sox for my birthday, but suddenly they went out of fashion along with ties and hankies. I got some of my daughter’s banana bread too. She makes a delicious fruity bread loaf and I am always thrilled to get one or two of them. They are wonderful for breakfast with a thin layer of butter and a cup of tea or coffee. I am not meant to drink the coffee but a cup every now and then doesn’t appear to affect me. And I make my own, so it’s always fresh and doesn’t sit around for hours waiting to gobble up the inside of some poor unsuspecting victim.

Vis brevis, ars longa: I have on my wall a painting, given me by a former student of mine who didn’t want to write an essay. She painted a painting instead and explained it to the class in the language she was learning. She left our university and attended an art and architecture program and she went with my blessing. Look around the walls of my house: I have several paintings, at least three by former students. However, not a single essay has been nailed to the walls in memory of academic excellence. Now there’s a meaning in there somewhere. If only I could find it.

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One of my other presents was a painting by the budding artist in our family, Finley, age four. I unwrapped that and put it straight up on the wall so that it could represent the glories of morning sunshine and bright early life. I guess it will outlive me both me and my sox. Here are two photos: one of the wall with two other artifacts and the other of the painting itself. AS Picasso once said (more or less) “I spent most of my life re-learning how to see and paint like a child.”

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Ooh! That’s me in the mirror. That artifact is a souvenir of the Glass Wheat Field that I brought back from Regina the last time I visited there. I forgot it had a little reflecting mirror that multiplied the central image and look, there I am: I’ve accidentally done a selfie. Wow: now I am cool and with it. It must have been a birthday gift from the gods: deus ex machina, the machina in this case being the camera. Here’s the other painting, in all its glory, courtesy of the artist, and my birthday parcel. Oh to be young again, to think, and see, and paint again, like Picasso … or a child.

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Dawn

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Dawn

I turn over in bed. The light on my neighbor’s garage has come on. It is triggered by movement and I get out of bed to see if the deer are back and crossing his yard. But no, it is not the deer, it is the paper-man, up early to deliver the news. He turns in the yard at the bottom of the street and his headlights flood my room with light as he drives up the road.

6:20 am. I go back to bed. The moon is a thin silver arc. It climbs out from its hillside bed and leaves the forest to scale the early morning sky. Today, the sun will rise at 7:49 am. Until then, this silver sky fish will follow Venus and Mars as they march across my window. On clear mornings I watch them as they move from frame to frame. A double window, with 24 panes of glass in four groups of six panes each. I lie in bed and count them in those sleepless hours before I feel the need to rise. I start with groups of 3 going 3-6-9-12-15-18-21-24. Then I go back down again 24-21-18-15-12-9-6-3.

I think of my father counting the dots on the wall as the sun moved slowly across the walls of his house in Rhiwbina. Then I too play games with the window panes, counting them one by one, then two by two, then three by three, then four by four. It is, I suppose, the magic of counting sheep. First, you count their legs, and then you divide by four. Venus and Mars grow brighter as the sky lightens a little bit more. The moon changes from a clouded orange to a shining silver. I play a new game, counting the window panes in Spanish, then French, and finally in my “use it lose it, long-abandoned” Welsh. I am no longer sure of the order of the numbers, so, when I hit a road bump, instead of stopping, I follow the language pattern and invent.

Dawn: what a funny time, what a funny word, so many funny meanings “and suddenly, it dawned upon me”. Here the dawn walks uphill towards me. It slowly fills the sky with light. The planets shine, then moon and planets disappears as, at 8:09, that first ruddy ray splits the darkness and lands rosy-red upon my bedroom wall. The planet’s dance has ended. The flirtatious moon has come and gone. Time now to end all games and to wash and dress and face reality. February 1: it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Venus, Mars and moon dance through my mind, moving to a different tune.

Sleepless in Island View

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Sleepless in Island View

I thought nothing could be worse than my current financial situation, until I saw the government shut down in the States and realized how little some very special people earned per month. It’s hard to believe that a hard-hearted government deprived them of even that basic amount for five weeks. I still can’t understand the callous remarks and harsh words of the billionaires who determined that scenario of horror and scandal. “I can’t see why they are using food banks.” “For those on furlough, it’s just one big vacation with pay at the end of it.” “They don’t have to worry, they’ll get their money back.”

My own financial situation is very different. I am on a fixed retirement income that is much, much less than what I used to earn, but sufficient to keep me alive and well. No, I cannot afford Caribbean Cruises. Nor can I have long term winter stays in sunny climes, Mexico or Arizona, or some sultry-sunny palm-tree graced island set among golden sands in a ring of sapphire sea. Summer vacations are out and I haven’t taken a plane for five years or a summer vacation for four. More, as the stock exchange wobbles, my savings decrease. As my savings grow less, the price of food rises higher and our heating bills soar. As the cost of living rises higher, I have more difficulty making my income stretch to the end of each month. Inflation doesn’t help: prices go up, but my income stays the same or steadily diminishes. There is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can replenish it. And yet still I am blessed, for I have reasonable health, food on the table, and enough (according to my financial adviser) to survive for a little while yet.

Sometimes I wake at night and cannot get back to sleep. Shadows visit me and bad dreams stretch just out of reach of my fingers. So many things might go wrong. So much is out of my control. So many people, friends, relations, colleagues, acquaintances are hurting in so many ways. I work with friends who are suffering with cancer. I stand by friends who are going through the pangs of divorce and separation. I witness the suffering of the survivor in long term marriages when one of the partners fails. These things gnaw away at the central roots of my being. What if …? I say and the shadows gather closer, chattering like sparrows and cawing like rooks and ravens.

Fear: so easy to sow, so hard to put the seeds back into the bag, especially when they have rooted.

I am lucky. I sleep with two Teddy Bears. One, the small one, bears the name of Ted. The other is called Hairy Fred. Ted is an old battered bear. He traveled with me when I used to travel and is a well-bred voyager. Hairy Fred is a more recent acquisition. A lady made him from an old fur coat and yes, he is very hairy. Ted wears a flashlight in his one ear and a clothes peg in the other. Don’t ask: don’t tell. When the night grows dark and a waning gibbous moon sweeps stars from the sky, these two teddies bring warmth and comfort. Beside my bed, Paddington Bear stands on guard. He can stay there. I am not having him in bed with his yellow Wellingtons and his Duffle coat. Besides which he is a rather hard teddy and not a soft one. Blueberry, Rose, and Pierre Bear sit on the cabinet. waiting their turn. When it gets cold and the north wind howls like a wanton wolf, one of them will get the invite and then we’ll have the perfect Three Bear or Four Bear or Five Bear Night. Until then, I may continue sleepless, in Island View.

Wise old bird

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Wise old bird

What do you say when you have nothing to say?

The owl he was a wise old bird,
the more he spoke, the less he heard,
the more he heard, the less he spoke, :
there never was such a wise old bloke.

I look out of the window and watch the snow accumulate. We have set out seed for the chickadees and errant wild birds who fly in and out and and never think about us. So cold, these days, even colder these nights. We have it a fire and keep it burning. We hope it will ward off the frost demons who wait outside our windows, grinding their icy teeth.

Yesterday, in the middle of the storm, the crows descended and danced upon our snow. Snow dance, crow dance, a ‘we don’t really want to know’ dance.

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Do they survive on the crusts we bestow upon them when the crusts grow stale? I really don’t know. Cold weather charity. Christmas charity. A turkey at every table, once a year, and three hundred and sixty days without enough food to eat … my conscience: can it be as clean as the white, crisp snow when I go three hundred and sixty days without thinking about those in need until prompted to do so by a radio show?

I look out at the falling snow. My iceberg garden is a fresh blank page on which I can write whatever I want to write. Right now I have nothing to say. My interior crow has lost his tongue and can neither twitter nor tweet. He is lost within the white wilderness that fills his interior mind. My crow, he is a wise old bird … I think he will think about his next tweet …