Flash Your Fiction Workshop Writeup

Day One

worddiceLast night’s Flash Your Fiction class at Howard Community College went great!
 
We talked creativity, freedom to create, and sparking the flame. We put a little science in our fiction and did the Cloud in a Bottle activity and it applied perfectly. (I am just starting to incorporate different aspects of the activity into every presentation I do. It applies to them all.)
 
Then, we wrote flash fiction from a prompt word (they had one minute to write a story). And then prompt pictures (ditto). And they did great. It was hard for them to start but once they did they hated having time called on them. But the urgency of having such limited time bumps you into fight or flight and if you decide to stay and fight, the words become your playthings and then the writing explodes!
 
Interestingly, all but one of the students were willing to read their work out loud. The last one had trepidation and downright fear about it. But then, I found a solution. I used a modification of the excellent Mobius Corpse activity (created by my friends John Cooper or Jacob Davenport or some combination of the two) and had the whole class write a single story collaboratively. Then, they read the entire circular story out loud. Once the student realized she was part of a team, she was able to read the rest of her stuff aloud perfectly well. You never know what will push past the boundaries and break through the fear but when you hit on it, it’s magic!
 
After that, we gambled and threw my Word Dice (object, location, profession) and Word Cards and the students got homework to do writing sprints with their word cards and also to eavesdrop shamelessly everywhere they go. Like my “Overheard” project, they will hear tantalizing snippets that will yield story ideas if not outright novels.
 
Next week, we continue with more exercises using the Word Dice, and we will discuss plotting, compelling dialog, pacing, and characterization and how to access those before you edit.
 
We will finish up with some editing exercises and resources before I send them off to their new writing lives. Exciting!
 
Really, I could have taught an entire eight-week class on this and had material left over, but I’m glad I’m going to leave them wanting more. 🙂

Happy Anniversary To Me

Forty-three years ago today, on February 27, 1974, my family arrived in the USA after a year-long process of immigration. We lived in Israel and Italy during while we waited for paperwork and visas and all the accompanying bits and pieces of immigration.

passport photo in the FSU
Mine and my sister’s passport photo pre-emigration

We landed at JFK airport sometime in the late afternoon, I believe. Here is what I remember. My mom was very pregnant with my sister, Golda, who was born just a little over a month later.   Mom walked off the plane hand-carrying my 1/4 size violin (no case, no bow, just the wee bitty instrument). I played that violin until I got a 3/4 size one for a bit when I was eight and then my full size one (which I still play to this day) when I was nine.   Everything was busy, busy and people scurried to and fro’ but I don’t recall being bothered by the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world.   I spoke only a few words of English so I observed and let it all flow over me. I took it in with a

Here is what I remember. My mom was very pregnant with my sister, Golda, who was born just a little over a month later.   Mom walked off the plane hand-carrying my 1/4 size violin (no case, no bow, just the wee bitty instrument). I played that violin until I got a 3/4 size one for a bit when I was eight and then my full size one (which I still play to this day) when I was nine.
Everything was busy, busy and people scurried to and fro’ but I don’t recall being bothered by the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world.   I spoke only a few words of English so I observed and let it all flow over me. I took it in with a seven-year-old’s delight in the new.
The room at the Holiday Inn (where we stayed that first night) had a square shower stall (I don’t recall ever seeing a shower before much less a square one) and was bright and clean and had glass doors. I remember looking out the window and see color and light all around. We lived up high in Israel (as I recall, we had to climb down many stairs to get down to the bomb shelter), but because it was wartime, there wasn’t much light at night. And I believe our time in Italy was spent on a lower floor so I never saw that much light and motion at night until we came to New York City (the ultimate nighttime light and motion place). So, I come by my love affair with NY honestly. It started first thing.

The next day we flew to Detroit to begin our lives as new Americans.

Happy anniversary my mom and sisters. Our lives would be nothing like we have had in this great nation.

Sitting on a log in the woods by the river
Three-year-old me sitting on a long at a day-long picnic on the Dniester River.

Flash Your Fiction at HoCo College

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the Flash Your Fiction workshop that I’m teaching at Howard Community College on Monday (February 26 and March 6), and it is going to be great!

We’re going to have great writing exercises, creativity-sparking activities, and we’re putting some science in our fiction and doing the cool Cloud in a bottle activity to start things off.

I’m not sure four hours will be enough! 🙂

I’ll let y’all know how it goes, for sure.

http://www.howardcc.edu/programs-courses/continuing-education/courses/personal-enrichment/writing.html

Puerto Rico Travelogue, Day 3 – Ponce to Combate to Rincón in the cars

Day three started with a visit back to the car rental place. I have pretty severe allergies to cigarette smoke. They assured me when I rented that all their cars are smoke-free. Not so much. Since we didn’t drive the day before, I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. I was going to power through the runny eyes, stuffed head, and raw throat but my honey convinced me otherwise. 

The folks at Dollar were great! They not only gave me another car, but when that one still smelled, they gave me a third. And it was a nicer car than the one we had had and they didn’t charge me any more. Sweet and wonderful people.

Before I go further, let me just say that everyone we met and talked to was fantastic. They were friendly and helpful and seemed to enjoy interacting with us. Plus, I got to practice my Spanish a bunch and that felt great. Even a token effort at speaking Spanish brought out the smiles, and I was thrilled that so many people were gracious and kept allowing me to communicate in their tongue when the more efficient thing for them would have been switch to English. 

Once we got the car straightened out, we headed out into wild blue yonder, as it were.

Word to the wise: If you rent a car and plan to navigate via google maps on your phone, please note that the directions can be spotty. Google maps will be telling you that you need to turn left at this next intersection but when you get to it and are in the left lane, suddenly it changes its mind and tells you to turn right. I never did figure out why it did that. 

Also, distances and measurements are in metric but speed limits are in miles. From what I understand it’s because the measurement system was in place before Puerto Rico became a US commonwealth (and also before cars and speed limits). Cars came in after the establishment of the commonwealth and therefore the speed limit markers follow the USA methods. Also, google maps will not show you exit numbers so you have to be super watchful in how you navigate. It’s doable but can get tricky.

Once we got out of the city (San Juan/Carolina), we quickly got into the mountains in the center part of the island. It’s a stunning land.

Mountains and sky in central Puerto Rico
Mountains in central Puerto Rico – on the way to Ponce

We found a terrific place to eat right at kilometer marker 0. It’s called Origens, and it’s all vegan cafeteria-style place. I’m not sure that part of Ponce is the safest because we had to ring a bell to have the door unlocked so we could enter. Once there, the people were gracious and provided us with a fantastic sampler platter of their items for the day. We had sweet plantains, salad, pasta, spinach patties with a fantastic red sauce, and a bean salad that took our breath away (among a few other dishes). I recommend the place highly for anyone and particularly if you have dietary restrictions. They were willing to work with us and gave us a treat of a meal.

Plates with vegan dishes
Fantastic all-vegan meal at Origens in Ponce, Puerto Rico

One of the most amazing sites at KM marker 0 is this statue in honor of the abolition of slavery. I saw it and wept. Stunning and powerful.

Statue honoring the abolition of slavery
Statue in honor of the abolition of slavery – Ponce, Puerto Rico

After we left Ponce, we made our circuitous way down to Bahía Sucia (Dirty Bay). This was one of those times google maps led us astray and while I was able to get us back on track, let’s just say we got a more scenic route than we perhaps needed.

On the other hand, my iPhone knows what’s up because the instant we saw our first glimpse of the Caribbean, one of the songs from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack came on the radio. For those who don’t know, Puerto Rico straddles the Atlantic Ocean on its north side and the Caribbean Sea on its south side. You can see the different colors of the water, the different quality of the sunlight, and the vast difference in the height and intensity of the waves. It’s more tame but no less beautiful. Most of Puerto Rico’s shoreline is beach so you could get a different flavor of beach every single day if you wanted.

The reason we headed to Bahía Sucia was that it was recommended by the excellent José, one of the gents at our hotel. I adored him, and he was super sweet and gracious (and let me keep speaking Spanish with him even though he speaks English perfectly well. I’ve also picked up one of his mannerisms. Whenever I said, grácias [thank you], he replied, “Siempre,” [always]. What a fabulous response!). He recommended the Dirty Bay as a local hang-out and a place where we might see manatees. We arrived, and I found the salt flats and the silt in the water (and the minuscule amount of beach) left me reluctant to stay, so we left and made our way to Combate Beach.

Salt flats
Salt flats at Bahía Sucia

Combate Beach is a bit more firmly on the west coast of the island. We arrived, walked the 300 feet to the water’s edge and set up camp. The water was a stunning turquoise, and we hung out there until sunset. The swimming was glorious. I had been dreaming of swimming in the Caribbean again ever since I had the opportunity to swim off the coast of Grand Cayman a few years ago, and Combate did not disappoint. 

Combate beach, Puerto Rico
Swimming at Combate Beach

Mostly we had the entire beach to ourselves until about 45 minutes before sunset when a few of the locals showed up with chairs, beers, and good conversation (not to mention a very energetic beach dog).

Setting sun and clouds
Sun and clouds

I had wanted to toast the sunset with a piña colada and my honey obliged me. 

Piña colada and sunset
Piña Colada and the sunset at Combate Beach

For the next little while, we all watched the sunset. I had my trusty new Nikon and was able to zoom in and catch the sun’s dramatic exit for the day.

Sun and clouds
Towards sunset

Setting sun and sea
Closer to sunset

And here is the last and most dramatic bit of the sunset.

Sunset closeup
Sunset closeup

 Shortly after that, the almost full moon made an appearance from the east.

Moon
Moonrise

After the moonrise, we made our way towards home. We drove through Rincón but only stopped at the local Subway to get a drive by dinner and then took the main roads back to San Juan. Exhausted and elated, we toasted each other with a couple of sips of Don Q’s coconut rum (It’s delicious. Tastes like coconut candy. Go get some right now if you like that sort of thing), and made our plan for our last day in paradise.

Tomorrow: Travelogue, Day 5.

Travelogue, Puerto Rico, Day 2 (El Yunque and Mofongo)

Travelogue, Puerto Rico, Day 2 (El Yunque and Mofongo)

What a day!
We are staying at a hotel that isn’t on the beaten path so we had to get up extra early to walk to La Concha hotel to be picked up by the excellent Ramón, our guide. We, along with nine other people boarded a van, and we took off for El Yunque Rainforest. 

Ocean and sky in Puerto Rico
On the way to El Yunque, this is the sort of vista that greets you

Situated in the northeast part of the the main island, it is the only tropical rainforest administered by the US National Park Service. It’s a small but gorgeous forest. Hundreds of species of plants thrive here, but the wildlife species aren’t as numerous. Puerto Rico is an oceanic island (part of an archipelago) and so has never been attached to a continent. That means that many of the species you might find in another rainforest (monkeys, big cats,  etc.,) never made it here. So, there are only a few species you might find. The Koki frog and the Puerto Rican parrot (or Iguaca) are two of the more famous species. We heard the Koki Frog (the sound is described in the name pretty well) but we never saw the parrot which is notoriously shy. The visitor’s center at the rainforest has a ton of information on the species of plants and animals that thrive there.


After we left the center, we headed our first stop, the hike. We did a short hike (.7 miles in and .7 out) to a waterfalls. Word to the wise: it’s totally worth it, but make sure you have good knees and good treads on your shoes. The way isn’t too steep, but it is slippery. When they set up the trails, several stretches have rocks in the middle of the concrete. The concrete is fine. The rocks have worn away and are super slippery. I have also gotten to the age where going down paths is harder on my knees than heading up and those who have knee problems might want a cane or a staff to ease the way.

Word to the wise, wear a swimsuit. Your reward for making the hike is to get in the basin and swim in the perfect water. Ramón recommended we head under the water and get a massage. We did, and it was magnificent. I don’t have picture of that, but one of our new friends brought her camera wrapped in a ziplock and at least you can see us in the water.

Waterfalls and Rich and Izolda
In the basin of the waterfalls

After the waterfalls, we headed back to the van to go to the Yokahu observational tower. The Tower is pretty tall and provides an excellent view. On good visibility days, you can see Culebra island and on really good days you can get to as far as St. Thomas. 

Tower in the rainforest
Yokahu Tower, El Yunque Rainforest

I didn’t make the climb up, but sticking around the bottom provided the view below, complete with rainbow. It was super fun for me since I had just said that I hoped we would get to see one since we had been getting rained on periodically the entire time in the forest. Word to the wise, it’s a rainforest, you’ll get rained on. If you don’t want to get wet, bring rain gear. You can buy a poncho in the visitor’s center, but bringing your own works just as well. Regardless, it was an “ask and you shall receive,” because wow, did we get a treat!

Rainforest and rainbow
I am willing to beg for rainbows. I did, and the rainforest provided. (El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico)

After this stop, we headed to one more waterfalls and then lunch!

We headed to Fajardo and had lunch at one of the many small restaurants along a strip of water. The water was behind us and the restaurant (#22, sorry I don’t have a name for you) was fantastic. So far, everyone has been more than happy to accommodate my dietary needs. This place was no exception. We ate mofongo, a traditional food made out of the green plantain. Unlike the ripe version, green plantains are not sweet so they make for wonderful, savory dish additions. A mofongo is made when they cook the plantain, mash it and then fry it. Everyone else got some sort of meat on theirs. Rich and I asked for vegetables, and they came up with an amazing treat. Tons of fresh veggies, including cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, beans, and corn in a garlic sauce that was just delicious.

Mofongo with vegetables
Vegetarian mofongo, (the mofongo is usually made with meat but we asked for the vegan version, and they provided a fantastic one)

A quick suggestion, take every opportunity to wander around if you are out and about and Puerto Rico. Behind the restaurant, I met a new friend (this egret was rummaging for scraps but provided a lovely photo or two).

Egret (white bird)
Egret taking a break from rummaging for scraps
And this is the view in what is essentially the alley behind the restaurants. I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a non-stunning part of this island yet.

Ocean, trees, and sand
The view from the alley behind the restaurants
Rich, in the ocean
Rich, in the ocean by the restaurant

After we left the restaurant, we headed to our last stop for the day, the kayaking trip to the bioluminescent algae bay. I can’t say this was disappointing because, hey, we got to kayak into a super cool bay under a moonlit sky. But with the exception of a tiny bit of sparkling, the luminescence was nowhere to be found. It was still cool, though. We got in two-person kayaks and paddled our way through a mangrove forest and into the bay (one of three places you can see bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, this one is on the northeast side of the island). Word to the wise: have good bug spray. There weren’t any mosquitoes, but there were these little biting bugs called mimes (pronounced meemehs). They are tiny but when they bite you, you know it.

Rich and Izolda in a kayak
Kayaking with my honey

Please don’t get me wrong. The trip was gorgeous. However, we saw pretty much no bioluminescence. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the moon was up and almost full. And second the algae are going through a growing process and will be coming back at some point. Word to the wise: if you are going to go, go at a time when the moon isn’t up. You’ll see more stars, and you’ll see more algae. I know that for next time because there will definitely be a next time. 🙂

All in all, a perfect day. Today brings a trip to the south coast of the island. We are headed down to Cabo Roja and then around to Rincón to perhaps see a sunset.

More later!

Puerto Rico travelogue, day 1

Puerto Rico 2017
Day 1 Travelogue.
So many wonders! I’ll start at the beginning.
The trip down here was fantastic. Southwest has direct non-stop flights from BWI. It is the only way to go. Super easy. The trip is a bit less than four hours and it flew by (no pun intended).
The heat and softly humid air felt more like a caress than a punch on the nose (when we stepped out of the airport terminal), and I have been loving every second of it. The palms are everywhere (especially numerous near the airport). And everything so far has been a delight.
I have been getting a chance to speak a good bit of Spanish. Everyone here has been so kind in looking past my mistakes. To a one, they have asked me where I learned my Spanish. When I answer that I learned in school, I get raised eyebrows and a, “You learned very well,” or a “You speak very well.” I’m rusty and they are gracious.
A few words to the wise. Unless you plan on riding buses or taking taxis, rent a car (and if you happen to )rent with Dollar, don’t bother going to the big Rental Center across the street from airport terminal. Instead, grab one of the ubiquitous shuttles. Yes, it is on the expensive side (the prices you get on Travelocity are “estimates” it turns out). But, the freedom of going where you want to go all over the island is a delight. We’ve been super lucky with parking as well. They say traffic here can be horrible (in downtown San Juan), but so far it hasn’t held a candle to DC traffic so it’s downright relaxing. 🙂
Two other quick notes: The money is in dollars, and the electrical outlets are the same as in the mainland USA.

As soon as we got to the hotel (The Wave on Condado), we met the fab José. He has been super helpful (as has everyone), and has answered all of my pedantic questions. And I’m going to adopt something he says for my own. Whenever I say, “grácias,” for yet another thing has done or question he has answered, he replies, “siempre,” or “always.” What a delightful way to do that interaction. He doesn’t say, “de nada,” (it’s nothing). He says, “Always.” I love that!

The Wave Hotel is a lovely little place in the middle of the downtown area. It’s still super close the ocean (on the North side of the island, you’re on the ocean and on the South, you’re on the Caribbean). It’s about half a kilometer to get to the water you see in the accompanying image.

Waves and sand on Puerto Rico
Atlantic Beach near sunset
San Juan cityscape
View from the top floor of the Wave Hotel
The top floor has a limited view of the ocean and a few hot tubs for lounging. Rich and I brought wine and rum up there tonight and watched the clouds float by while the moon provided the mood lighting. I can recommend this place as an inexpensive alternative if your budget requires that sort of thriftiness. It’s not just inexpensive. The room is quaint and lovely (on the smallish side), the soundproofing is great, and the staff is just fabulous!


After we checked in, we found our way to the Suka Cafe. It’s run by a bunch of Buddhist nouveau hippies. The food took forever and a day but was delicious. The space reminded us both of the New Deal Cafe back in Greenbelt. The wall art was done by someone named GUS who would be perfectly at home featured in the AVAM (American Visionary Art Museum), and there is a big basket with rolled up yoga mats for yoga classes that take place there (presumably not when people are eating their lunches there. ;). )

Ocean hitting rocks at shore
Ocean on the north side of Puerto Rico

Afterward, we headed to the ocean. We missed the sunset (not that you can see it much from the north part of the island), but we still watched the waves and even chased the waves a little. 

The turquoise ocean
The ocean

After the ocean, we headed for more food and then spent the evening wandering Old Town San Juan. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Reykjavik for some reason. The architecture, the combination of styles, the winding, somewhat hilly streets, the incredibly friendly people – it all reminded me of Iceland a year ago. Of course, we were in shorts and t-shirts instead four layers of thermals, but the vibe is really similar. It has all been fab! I so needed this and am glad we came.
Tomorrow, we head to the rainforest and then kayaking in a bioluminescent algae bay. Supposedly, the algae are being shy and the visibility is terrible. We are still going because, who would turn down a moonlit kayak in a bay in Puerto Rico? Answer: No one.

Moon closeup
Moon closeup

What to do. Where to begin. How to move on from here. 

Like many of you, I’m feeling squeezed. I feel like something is choking me. I feel like gasping for air even though I’m breathing. I have been trying to take breathing breaks in part to stay calm and in part to remind myself I am still alive. Still kicking. And if I’m still kicking, I can act. I can do something. I can make some difference. Somewhere. Somehow.

Today, I will work to keep educating kids. Today, I will look to science before it becomes a four-letter word. Today, I will practice other languages so I can maintain my ability to see, hear, and interact with people who come from different places. Today, I will ignore the faux extravaganza that will take place in my nation’s capital. Today, I will make music – some in protest, some to remind myself that beauty and art still exist and will continue to exist. Today, I will take care of myself in preparation for what is to come.
And that brings me to tomorrow.
To those marching, stay safe, stay strong, stay vigilant. Say what you mean but say it to those who will not reuse it to mangle your words, vision, or beliefs. Tomorrow will remind those in power that there is opposition to their methods – that millions of people disagree and will continue to hold these public servants accountable. Take pictures and video tomorrow. Share them widely so we all know how many people raised their voices because frankly, the numbers and the message will be misrepresented in the mainstream media. I have taken part in many marches and protests. Almost never have the numbers reported been the numbers we saw on the ground. Almost never has the message reported been the message expressed. This will be the first major protest where phones and cameras can readily report the actual event. We the people will need to see the multitude gathering in peaceful protest of what is to come. 
There are many reasons this man is being sworn into office today. I could discuss Russia, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and manipulation of the media. But I will not. In addition to the above, so much of this happened because there is a great divide between certain sectors of the populace. On some level, we on the coasts of this great nation, have zero idea of what is going on in the interior of the country. Yes, there are pockets of people in urban areas that think like those on the coast, but for the most part, I have no illusions that I know what someone in rural Nebraska is going through, what their needs and fears are, and what they feel might best address those needs and fears. In order to make a difference in two years or four years, I believe we will need to reach out to the people who think differently, meet them, get to know them and their needs and fears, and work together to come up with a solution that works for more of us simultaneously. I say this because I believe this Presidential election should not have been anywhere near this close. The fact that it was (and even though Clinton won the popular vote) just means that we needed to do a better job of reaching out to those who were undecided and those who chose to stay away from the polls in droves. Next time, we must be better prepared to help pull back the curtain and show truth to power.
As for the incoming President, I could call him a sexist, narcissistic, misoginist, megalomaniacal monster who has no idea what he signed up for, but I won’t do that. I won’t do it because I believe he will be loud and jarring. And to use performance language, I believe he will be there to pull focus. His antics, his bullying tactics, his dramatic and maniacal clamor is a huge performance of misdirection. It is sleight of hand. It is designed to keep us reacting to what he is doing and saying instead of paying attention to what is going on behind the show in front. What concerns me is that if we just pay attention to the sound and fury and shenanigans of the man who sits as President, we will miss the essence of what else is happening. And that will be crucial.
To get through this, we will need to divide our focus in multiple directions. To get through this, we will need to be strong and we will need to be smart. I caution us all to react to focus-pulling in front of us with only as much attention as is warranted. We must not let the shenanigans pull our focus away from what is really going on because let us not kid ourselves, stuff is going on behind closed doors. Decisions are being made and actions are being taken, and if we don’t pay attention to that as well as to the smoke and mirrors going on in front of our faces, it will be to our detriment. 
So, in addition to paying attention to the needs of those who live in different parts of this country from us and to the wheeling and dealing going on behind closed doors, we will also need to pay attention to what takes place in our own backyards. We will need to become stewards and caretakers for those who need help. Yes, we will need to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire, but we will also need to build and sustain awareness of who needs help in our vicinity. Kindness and tolerance are great buzzwords, but they will take on more poignant meaning in these next four years. They, in addition to vigilance, awareness, and action, will need to be the banner under which we march into this uncertain future.
I am not kidding myself into thinking things are going to be fine. I do not believe they will be. This will be a harrowing four years and dare I say it, possibly eight years. I know that, and I have a feeling many who are celebrating today’s inauguration will be singing a different tune in just a couple of years. However, I do believe that with kindness, tolerance, vigilance, awareness, and action we can prevail. We can usher in change.
In thinking of it, I would add one last word to this list. I would add education. We need to educate ourselves and each other about what is happening. We need to foster curiosity about what is really going on so we can make better-informed decisions. This goes for all of us on all sides of this tumultuous landscape.
I will be honest. On November 6th, I had no idea this might occur. “No way,” I thought. “No way will this country elect someone as unqualified and frankly revolting as this man who couldn’t keep a job on a reality tv show.” But, to many, he was a viable choice because he was marketed as representing change, any change. Again, I have a feeling that many will realize this “change” is not the kind they thought they wanted. But, like climate change, those kinds of “Oh, this actually *is* horrible,” realizations don’t come as “ah-HA,” moments, especially if the marketing keeps telling us “Don’t worry. It’s ok.” Those changes come gradually and by the time we realize they have arrived, they have already taken up residence, and it will be a major job to rid ourselves of them.
So, moving forward, we need to watch for the marketing and the spin. We need to call out every dirty trick and every bit of sleight of hand. Each time we see the wool being pulled over the population’s eyes, we will need to shine a spotlight on it and keep educating and keep speaking the truth. That is how we will pull ourselves back from this precipice, because let’s not kid ourselves. We are in unchartered territory here. Never has such an inexperienced man had such power in such a dangerous time. He has access to mind-boggling destructive power and the ego to want to wield it. And never have we had such changes taking place on a planetary scale while the person who sits in the Oval Office shows no desire to address those changes. And in fact, his choices for EPA and Education leads show us that he actively doesn’t care about them. And because he doesn’t care about the health of this planet, we have to care. And because he doesn’t care about the health of the people, we have to care. And because he doesn’t care about anyone but himself and those like him, we have to care.
We have to care, and we have to do something about it every single day until he is gone. T minus 1382 days and counting.

Essay #1 – Ancestors and Family

In some spiritual traditions, at this time of year, people remember and celebrate their ancestors. We acknowledge our honored dead on All Hallows Eve, Day of the Dead, and All Saints Day.

I always see a lot of, “I honor my grandparents,” and “You are here because of the love of thousands” sorts of posts at the end of October. And they always give me pause because I neither honor my grandparents nor believe in their love. I don’t know much about my ancestors before them. They died long before I was born.

For those who don’t know, I was born in the former Soviet Union. When we emigrated in 1973, it was with the knowledge that we would never again see those we left behind. Intercontinental communication was possible but calls into the Soviet Union took a great deal of doing.

I was six years old when we left and understood that I would never see or likely hear from my grandmothers again. And I didn’t mind one bit. That sounds harsh, I know. But that is the way of things.

I recall only missing one person after we left, my great grandmother, Golda (after whom my sister is named). Both my grandfathers died in World War II (my maternal grandfather was apparently a kind man and a fabulous musician. I am sorry I never met him). So, the only ancestors we ever knew were both grandmothers and my maternal great grandmother.

To say my grandmothers (coincidentally both named Rose) were evil, wicked women is both an understatement and a misnomer. Neither was particularly warm, kind, or giving.

Both had the pinched and mean quality of someone who has suffered greatly and never healed. Then again, they lived through the hell that was post World War II Soviet Union. Both lost husbands. Both endured traumas I can’t even imagine. And yet both survived. That must count for something.

And yet, I remember one time in particular when my paternal grandmother showed her colors. My cousin, both boys, my sister, and I were all at her house. My grandmother placed my sister and me in front of the refrigerator. She opened the door to reveal a big bowl of a style of Russian salad.

“This is not for you,” she admonished us. “This is for your cousins.”

“What do we get?” My sister asked.

“Nothing.”

The favoritism inherent in this exchange does not feel like a reaction to trauma. Rather, it feels like something darker and more tragic. Although I understand the general reasons for my grandmothers’ treatment of us, I never heard specifics. I only knew we were not worth feeding when we were hungry. I fear that sometimes, children are just simply not wanted or loved. They have done nothing to deserve this treatment. Heck, they are children. They deserve our care and our nurturing, but sometimes for whatever reason, that does not happen. It is not unlike a bird whose chick falls out of the next. It no longer recognizes its own baby and therefore rejects. The only difference is that humans are recognized and rejected regardless.

Allow me to give another example of their lack of kindness towards me, personally, I became my own babysitter when I was two years old. Allow me to explain. Both women worked at home when I was born. Both lived a few blocks from my family. Neither wanted to watch me when both my parents went to work. I was watched by my sister, Emily until I was two years old (thanks for that, Em). Why the change? She started school at seven. My parents asked both grandmothers to watch me. Neither would. Great grandma Golda would have but she lived with my grandmother and had little power to sway opinion in either direction, from what I understand. I don’t know the details of their reasons. I only know that my parents sat me down, told me what was going to happen, explained what I could and could not do (don’t play with the electrical sockets, do put on your clothes, don’t go outside) and then left me to my own devices all day while my sister was in school.

As a result, I never had any sort of loving feelings towards either grandmother. In fact, I feel a sort of indifference to both. When we left the FSU, I shed no tears for anyone we left behind except my great grandmother.

Grandma Golda was as kind as she could be under the circumstances. But I view her life and kindness through the lens of being in the FSU in the early 1970s. Few had anything. Most had nothing. We made do with what little we had, and children grew up fast.

Grandma Golda taught me how to read cards (regular playing cards not tarot) and stones. She talked to me about the traditions and for lack of a better term superstitions of our people. Some would call what she did folk wisdom or folk magic. She just relayed them as the way we did things. I was a sponge back then and I soaked her wisdom up. I still use a lot of what she told me in my work, and for that I am grateful.

Grandma Golda passed away when we were living in Israel on our year-long journey to immigrate to the USA. I remember the day clearly. It was hot in Dimona, in the middle of the desert. My father held my mother as she keened her grief. We had received a letter that Grandma Golda had passed away within a month of our leaving. It had already been a few months so we didn’t know of her death for a long time. I think that was part of my mother’s grief. She hadn’t been there, and it had already been months.

As adults, my parents had both known the full impact of leaving everything they knew. They had known they would likely never see any family again (untrue in our case but we didn’t know that at the time). But, my great grandmother had been 84 years old when we left. It was certain we would never see her again.

Nowadays, the immigration experience is likely different. People can email, whatsapp, text, and heck skype across continents. Communication is much simpler for many. But back then, it took months to get word. And with the border guards often keeping what they felt like keeping, many letters and packages never arrived. When you left, you often said a permanent goodbye to everyone and everything you had ever known.

I can’t imagine the impact that sort of knowledge has on the psyche. We are generally social, family-oriented creatures. Even the nomadic societies traveled in family-centered groups. But immigration? That’s a whole different ballgame. It requires a separation and chasm that must impact and influence the lives of those who leave and those who remain behind.

I am not a nomad. As someone who loves to travel, I also love having a home base. I want to leave and return with the certainty that I will come home. Immigration requires you to make a home wherever you settle. It amazes me how many people have done it and survived and thrived in the aftermath. My parents (who have their issues but that is for another essay) did the best they could as they embarked on the journey that brought them and their children to a new world.

A few years ago, I took my mother on a trip to New Mexico. We were going to drive around to the cool sites and spend some time together. As part of the journey, I decided to get some insight into our history. I brought a tape recorder and a list of questions. While we drove, I asked her the questions, and she recorded her answers. I still have some of those recordings. They illuminated, for me, the arduous lives my family and everyone led after the Iron Curtain cordoned off a chunk of the world. I listen to them periodically to remind myself of what we are capable of as a species and as people. We can cause each other unspeakable pain. That, I grieve. And we can muster up the will and resolve and strength to survive just about anything. That, I respect.

So, I guess if I am going to honor my ancestors, this last is what I choose to celebrate. I bow my head in remembrance and raise my eyes in hope that I will always have the will and resolve and courage to thrive.

 

Dear Madam Secretary

Dear Madam Secretary Clinton. 

I cannot express how much I wanted to be able to call you Madam President. I thank you for your decades of service to this country and to people around the world. 

It is my fervent hope that you take up the mantle of Elder Stateswoman and work on behalf of oppressed people (especially women and girls) everywhere. Yours has been a life of service, and I believe it will continue to be. 

You had my vote and now you have my gratitude. 

Thank you.

10-26 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt words: horror and ratio)

“Done!” Haley shouted as she hit the Enter key. She collapsed against the back of her chair and removed her headphones.

“Are you serious?” Orson stuck his head in the booth. “We’re finished?”

“Yes, sir, we are outta here, Styled Hunter VII is in the can!” She grinned.

“Mallory DeMarco hunted and trapped The Hatchet Man once and for all, and never faltered on her Dolce and Gabbana strappy sandals. He’ll never attack the fashion industry’s hemlines ever again.”

“So, what’s next for you?” Orson popped open a beer.

“I think Mallory is taking on ‘The Hair Cutter.'”

“What, he scalps people?” He asked.

“Nope. He sneaks into their homes, drugs them, and gives them horrible haircuts.”

“You know, sometimes I think we’ve taken the ratio of horror to fashion too far to one side.”

“Yeah, I miss the good old days when serial killers actually killed their victims.

(Tee hee. There is something fun to me about serial killers who do things like shorten hemlines or give terrible haircuts. The challenging part of today’s story was figuring out the names of the movies and villains. I wanted them to have potential for true horror but be obvious in their fashion consciousness. I hope you enjoyed it.)