Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

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An Adventure

Monday Morning Musings:

“‘I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’”

–Lewis Carroll, “The Lobster Quadrille,” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

I’ve been on an adventure since last Wednesday. Just so you’re clear, it’s a Merril Adventure, so it doesn’t involve car chases, hot air balloons, or ski slopes; no danger involving avalanches or volcanic eruptions. I’ve not been caught in a coup, nor been accused of spying. I’ve not encountered a single lion, tiger, or bear. However, I have seen ponies. (I’ll just pause here for you to say, “awwww.”)

 

It’s an adventure involving women, friendship, and writing. In fact, I’m on a writers’ retreat. It’s not an “official” retreat, that is, it’s not sponsored by a group or organization. That also means there is no pressure. I haven’t spent the last few days hiding away or feeling anxious. Instead, I’ve formed new friendships while learning about writing memoir, fine-tuning passages, and formatting blog posts. We’ve done critiques, but we’ve also eaten great food, drunk wine, shared memories and expertise, laughed, and explored the lovely Chincoteague/Assateague area—apparently the area is a magnetic center that brings people, as well as birds, from all over.

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Janet Givens  instigated this writers’ gathering, offering her lovely vacation home to almost total strangers. Susan Weidener  kindly offered to drive Marian Beaman and me from Pennsylvania. I admit, I was apprehensive about spending a week with women I’ve never met, but it has been a wonderful several days—and I now have new friends!

It’s possible I may have baked and brought my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies”) along—because how could I go a week without chocolate goodies? Susan brought chocolate, too—so one crisis was averted. Sigh of relief. Can you imagine me going a day, much less a week without chocolate?

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Just a few left.

 

Our group expanded during the week at Janet’s. Kathy Pooler 

joined our circle from afar. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?

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We were joined—in person–by Mary Gottschalk and Carol Bodensteiner  on Saturday night. Apparently on our blogs, both Mary and I are taller. Who knew blogs had such power? On Saturday night, the six of us gathered together at Janet’s, enjoyed stinky cheese (brought from Vermont), wine, and dinner—along with talk of writing and life. I’ve been among truly brilliant and interesting women who have fascinating tales to share and knowledge to impart.

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Although I’ve missed my husband and cats, it’s been a fabulous several days.

Please do click on the links to meet these women. Perhaps you may also want to buy their books. (You know you want to.)

In addition to walking and talking, listening, and eating, I did do a bit of writing. Here is an echo poem I wrote during this past week–while the weather was beautiful and warm.

 

Chincoteague Island, March 2016

Four women gathered together.

Weather?

Well, it couldn’t be better.

Sweater

off and writing going

flowing

growing with critique.

Incomplete

forms arrested,

tested

by practice and time.

Sublime

words, write, repeat,

delete–

but now it’s time to eat.

Sweet!

Laughter from we four

offshore

gazing and walking

talking of Peace Corps,

more–

Four women together

weathered

bettered.

 

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Essay XII,” Art

Have you ever been on a writers’ retreat?  Please share your experiences.

 

 

 

 

The Nourishment of Friends

“Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.”

–Anonymous

I used to sing this song when I was a Girl Scout—a million years ago, or so it seems. At that time, the words meant little to me. After all, at age 8 or 10 how old can your friends possibly be? But I understood the intent, that we were supposed to welcome everyone, new and old, to our Girl Scout troop, and I did enjoy singing the song as a round.

         Truthfully, at that time I did not have real friends, other than my younger sister—my first and my always and forever friend. I was the shy, nerdy girl who always had her nose in a book. My family was from Philadelphia, and I did not readily embrace Texas culture. The girls in my 1960s Dallas, Texas classes and troop were not mean to me, and I was not bullied, but we had little in common, and I did not know how to make friends with them.

         I’m still not the most outgoing person around, but I do have friends. One of my friends (see?) and I used to joke that since we don’t like to mingle at parties—we should sit and let people come to us. (This works best if you abscond with the spinach dip–and perhaps the wine and best chocolate dessert, too.)

As most people do, I have different types of friends. My very best friends are my sisters. But others are friends of specific time and place—gym buddies, blog friends, and people I connect with and talk to on Facebook but seldom see. They are all real, and I enjoy the interaction. And sometimes, such casual friends “crossover” to become “real” friends.

I met one of my good friends years ago when she sent me an email asking about submitting an article for a book I was working on. For over a decade, we’ve written long—sometimes very long–email “letters”—about history, our children, husbands, houses, books, and of course, food. “Have you read this?” “What are you making for dinner tonight? I’ve made hummus with mint from our garden.” We’ve had long catch-up phone conversations, and a few chances to get together in person, too–most recently in Philadelphia when her husband attended a conference and she came with him.

Long before telephones or the Internet, Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814),the political playwright, essayist, and pamphleteer, kept up an extensive, transatlantic correspondence network that included both intimate friends and valued political leaders—Abigail Adams, Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, among them. In June 24, 1793, she wrote to her friend Sarah Cary, “No my dear Mrs Cary I have not forgotten you. I am not one of those who ever forget their friends.”

         I think it’s important to have friends who do not forget you.

         I have a group of friends who have been my friends since college or shortly after. We went through what one of my friends calls “the lost years” when our children were young and our lives were wrapped—bubble wrapped–around their school and extra-curricular events, leaving us little time to get together. Yet, while we may have gained a few pounds, wrinkles, and gray hair during the “lost years,” whenever we’re together it’s like no time has passed. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Emerson is correct. I’m certain I’ve been stupid with mine, but they are forgiving. Old friends are tolerant of your flaws. They are also supportive of your successes. They share your joys and your sorrows. We’ve shared life events—the births of children—and grandchildren. We’ve mourned the death of parents. We lived through (literally) serious illnesses together. We’ve seen our children succeed and fail. We’ve laughed and cried together. We’ve eaten fabulous meals and enjoyed fabulous—OK, sometimes totally stupid–conversations. And we’ve laughed and cried—sometimes at the same time—and we’ve ranted.

         I understand equating friends with gold and silver because they are valuable. But the value of gold and silver is artificial. The metals are precious because they are rare and people have decided that they are beautiful—and so we attach value to them. I think friendship is better expressed as bread and chocolate. (Yes, I do relate everything to food, and if you’re my friend, you will go along with that. What’s more, you’ll even expect it.) Food is more valuable than gold or silver, isn’t it? Beautiful jewelry may adorn our bodies, but food—and friendship—sustains our bodies and souls. Like bread dough, when we carefully nurture it and treat it correctly, good friends rise to help us. They supply us with strength and nourishment as bread does, but they should not be neglected. We speak of “breaking bread” together. Bread is fundamental. Friends bring sweetness and pleasure, too, like chocolate—and sometimes it’s bittersweet.

         So here’s to my friends—the old, the new, and the yet to be found. You are my bread and chocolate. And while we’re at it, let’s say you’re my wine and cheese, too! L’chaim!

 

        

 

The Magic of Snow

These 40+ year old sleds are completely origin...

These 40+ year old sleds are completely original and still work great! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Snow-Storm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The steed and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last night it snowed, just a little bit, just enough to cover the grass in a cloak of white. The velvet surface was broken here and there by the prints left by the wild creatures–raccoons, opossum, and maybe even deer that wandered through our yard in the darkness. The air was still. It was magical—until the reality of scraping ice off of cars and clearing steps set in.

Children experience the magic of snow for a far longer period. They feel anticipation and delight in the falling flakes, the crunch of boots through the frosted surface, the glee of making angels and snow creatures, and the joy of having an unexpected vacation from school to stay in pajamas and drink hot chocolate.

In Dallas, snow appears occasionally, but not often, and usually only in trace amounts. As children, my younger sister and I were so excited when it did appear. We took turns trying to pull each other around our yard on the sleds stored in our garage. They were real sleds made of wood with sharp steel runners, relics from our life in Philadelphia. My older brother, away at college, had probably used one of them to slide down hills in Germantown with his friends. Of course, they were not of much use in the minute amount of snow that dusted our Dallas backyard.

During our Christmas breaks from school, my family usually traveled back north to Philadelphia to visit with family and friends.  We often stayed at a downtown Sheraton Hotel. From the wide windows of our hotel room, my sister and I gazed down at the tiny ice skaters gliding across the ice at the Penn Center Ice Skating Rink. We watched them twirl and sometimes fall. There was a wide ledge under the window that sat over the room’s heater and air conditioning unit. On one visit, perhaps bored with watching ice skaters, my younger sister and I marched back and forth across that ledge singing an advertising jingle, “Franco-American where sauce is king.” Seeing how annoying it was to our older sister, we continued to do it over and over and over again, until we finally collapsed in laughter.

One day while staying at that Sheraton, my family boarded the subway to visit my dad’s best friend, a doctor, and his family. It was just beginning to snow as we walked to the subway’s entrance. It was still snowing when we arrived, and it continued to snow through the night. We were snowed-in!  My mother was probably not pleased, and she was concerned that we didn’t have snow boots and other snow gear. None of that mattered to me. Here was real snow that could be played in and formed into snowmen. We were having a real adventure. At some point—I can’t remember if it was that night or the next day—my father and his friend trudged through the snow to a Jewish delicatessen. They returned with enough food to feed us–and several other families, should any happen to wander in through the snow—if need be, for days. The large, dining room table was piled high with bagels, lox, rye bread, corned beef, and other delicatessen staples. (Yes, my love of food is inherited.) I don’t know where my parents slept that night, but my younger sister and I bedded down on the carpeted floor of the bedroom of one the teenage daughters of the household. Warm and cozy under a layer of blankets, we dozed off to the chatter of the older girls and were content.

I don’t particularly love the snow. I don’t go sledding, skiing, or ice skating. If ever forced to do so, I would be the person sitting inside the lodge with a warm cup of coffee in my hand and a good book on my lap.  I’ve been through other snowstorms since that long ago time in Philadelphia, and I’ve experienced “the magic of snow” with my own daughters. Still, I guess it’s true what they say: you never forget your first. . .snowstorm.

Routines and Writing

English: Photo of American Transcendentalist R...

English: Photo of American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, seated in a chair and reading a newspaper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“So much of our time is spent in preparation, so much in routine, and so much in retrospect, that the amount of each person’s genius is confined to a very few hours.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday morning my usual routine was thrown off because my daily paper did not arrive. I realize that in the age of Kindles and iPads reading a print newspaper is almost anachronistic. Nevertheless, perusing the pages–sometimes attempting to read around a cat who has decided to nap on the page I’m reading–as I drink my coffee has been part of my morning routine for far longer than I want to think about.

Reading the morning paper goes back to my childhood. We always had a paper delivered to our house. My parents got the Dallas Morning News, and then later my mom subscribed to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Morning newspapers and coffee—there’s just something relaxing about the combination. Even when I worked away from home or had young children, I made certain to allow enough time in the morning to at least glance at the headlines.

In theory, the absence of the paper should have given me more time to do other things.  In fact, all it did was make me antsy. Most likely, I would have settled down to work if I had not had an appointment to get to–which further disrupted my routine and made me more annoyed. At least I had coffee, or I would have had to give up and go back to bed.

Yes, I am a creature of habit. For example, when I take classes at the gym, I usually set up and stand in one particular area of the room.  I usually go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends.  I know it is good to shake things up, to sometimes be spontaneous, but habits, such as remembering to take daily medication, can also be good things.

I am a morning person.  My mind is always sharpest and my body full of energy first thing in the morning.  I want to accomplish everything then—do all of my writing, go to they gym, and do various errands. With two book contracts right now, plus test writing, and other work, I’ve decided the only solution is to make mornings last for a 10-hour period. Then I can accomplish all my goals, and still have time to relax. Yes, that’s my plan, and I’ll get right to it—as soon as I read the paper.