Gringo Stories: Introduction

A customer in the farm stand where I worked held a pineapple, bottom up, to his ear and told me, “If it beeps, it’s ripe.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote in Cross Creek Cookery, “Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings packed up her sophisticated northern city life in 1928 and moved down to Florida to write. She drew stories from the people she met there in Cross Creek, a community out in “Big Scrub.” That’s where she wrote The Yearling, published in 1938.

In 1994 I needed a break from living in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, and I wanted to write, so I closed my catering business and drove to Southwest Florida for a winter’s working vacation. My daughter, 27, stood on the curb, waving goodbye. I drove off into the sunrise. “I’ll be back in a few months,” I said.

“You’re not gonna like that humidity,” my L.A. friends told me. I didn’t. Living on the Gulf coast in July felt like locking myself in a bathroom submerged in a tub full of steaming hot water. I stayed with my mother, who had a villa there. I got a job cashiering at a farm stand on 30 acres of strawberries, corn, tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, peppers, eggplant, squashes and melons. I loved the job, so I stayed much longer than I had foreseen – seven years, in fact.

My job had barely sprouted when the older, 60-something, string bean of a woman I cashiered with, a graying former model who’d grown up on a Michigan farm, declared to my boss, a tall, witty 40-something guy with strawberry blond hair who could imitate the geezers and snowbirds with perfect ripeness, “Hey, Brad, we’ve got ourselves a real city slicker here.”

I am called Carolina Gringo in Florida. I am a city slicker, right down to my shiny, black boots. So when I left the city and went to work on the farm, for a boss a good decade younger than I, I knew little about pulling fresh vegetables right out of the field, why the skin of Florida oranges is completely stuck to the pulp while that of California oranges peels right off (the former are juicier, therefore nearly impossible to peel), and I had yet to have a close encounter with a living, breathing watermelon of the Hindenburg variety.

Tree frogs on my toothbrush, snakes slithering among the potato display, hissing lizard fights, large, black mosquitoes that spring back when you slap them, Southerners who never do anything yet get everything done, all of these were new to my variety of cultivation in the cultures of Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, I adapted quickly to the porta john, brushed up on my Spanish so I could converse with my Mexican co-workers—did he really say he ate his horse for lunch?—and learned all about citrus and that if you whack an unshucked ear of corn against a table all the worms fly off.

–Samantha Mozart for Carolina Gringo

 

CXXXIV. Snow Comes Softly II

Sunday, December 10, 2017 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of Christmas shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated Santa Claus’s coming to town.

It began to snow. The purity of the white is centering. Snow falling is quiet, peaceful. I think I will decorate for Christmas this year simply with only a few greens and bows and candlelight. It will be a quiet observance, the halls of my home dressed in a raiment of soft, warm light.

It is Sunday. The bell in the little Episcopal church across the street rang this morning, as it does every Sunday. It is a real bell, in the steeple, that somebody rings. This little historic church recalls all the chapels in all the English villages, meadows and dales that I see in all the British dramas I watch. They don’t ring the bell long in this Episcopal church – eight times for the eight o’clock service and ten for the ten o’clock service.

One Sunday morning, I was walking in front of the Methodist church down the street when suddenly the bell tolled. I rose several feet off the sidewalk and I suspect not lifted on angel wings. In fact, I exclaimed, “Holy [expletive].” This is a real bell, too, and apparently a good sized one; it is loud, and it goes on ringing for eons. It’s a big church and the congregation continues arriving for ages.

Snowflakes alight briefly in flurries or waltz in endless patterns bending, swirling, reaching and touching everything all the dull gray day and into the deep blue night, well beyond three o’clock in the morning.

Prose arabesques from the pens of writers ornament the characteristics and romance of snowflakes. Each snowflake is uniquely shaped. The flakes fall softly, individually, in pairs and in gatherings. Yet they all come from the same source and are composed of the same matter. Snowflakes have a mission: they fall out of the clouds and they land on black slick streets, red-brick sidewalks, brown winter grass, mounds of dried leaves blown into corners of flower beds and on the bare dogwood branches outside my window. Sometimes the snowflakes melt on contact, sometimes they pile up. And then everything turns white. Watching them fall, we become quiet, meditative, nostalgic, always a little awestruck. We watch snow fall with anticipation: snowfall shatters our routines, like a snowball walloped against the surface of a frozen pond, makes us turn to something new, view life with a fresh perspective. Sometimes each snowflake makes a light ticking sound as it touches down. The birds get quiet when it snows. I watch the squirrels and the birds and I can predict the weather. The squirrels bustle gathering nuts in advance of the coming cold. Birds flock and chatter and then get quiet. Birds have different songs for different types of weather and different times of day. They have their cheery morning song, their spring song for temperatures mounting on soft southern breezes; they have their evensong.

Mothers bring their young children outside to witness the first snowfall of the season. I observe one child extend her arm to watch the snow accumulate in her pink mittened palm.

I like driving in a car when it is snowing. I love being in the magic of the snow flying at me, the cypress and cedars and oaks lining the road, their branches laden with snow, the padding of the car tires on the snow, the few other cars on the road all traveling slowly as in a dream, and the tire tracks of an unseen car gone before me.

Snow fulfills its own purpose. Snow comes softly; it piles on tree limbs, bushes, holly berries and cars. Snow comes softly, like a gentle soul, filling in the footprints on our paths. It stays for a while, and then it is gone.

—Samantha Mozart

Everglades City … or, The Idiot Who Wore Shorts

EVERGLADES CITY, FLA., Sept. 11, 2017 — Yesterday, Hurricane Irma, a category four tempest, stormed into Everglades City, devastating and flooding the residents’ homes, roads, lands and adjacent, exposed Chokoloskee Island. To inhabit this place, vulnerable to the capricious winds of change — of nature and government — you must be of a sturdy breed, like the salt marsh mosquitoes that densely populate the area. Nevertheless, once you visit Everglades City, it makes you want to come back. The place lingers in the bowers of my mind like the presence of a ghost of a lover. So, I repost here the account of my impressions during my 1998 visit.

The Everglades Rod and Gun Club on the Barron River, Everglades City. Photo, Bonnie Glover

NAPLES, FLA., June 11, 1998 – Ten miles southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the heart of Naples, Florida, I passed the last strip mall and golf course and crossed through the last busy intersection where the highway narrowed to two lanes and I plunged alone into the Everglades. The fierce June sun seared like the eye of a panther set on the flank of a deer. The rainy season hadn’t begun. I drove my little, unairconditioned Hyundai east across the Tamiami Trail, through the oppressive heat and humidity, palmetto palms and cypress trees, and the zzizzing of a zillion insects. The dense brush and trees thickened, grew taller and closer to the edge of the road, the zzizzing intensified. I wiped the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand and took another tepid swig from my bottle of water.

Thirty miles in, nearly halfway to Miami, I turned south on Highway 29 towards Everglades City. Zzizzing insects made the only sound. The eight miles of mangroves pressing in on both sides of the shoulderless two-lane county road finally surrendered to the river banks offering a sparse catch of houses on stilts, occasional net-casting fishermen, a Circle K and a café; and at the head, a New England-style town circle embracing a small green. Anchoring the circumference, commanding broad, green lawns from beneath the cool shadows of ancient live oaks, palmetto palms and cypress, stood an abandoned jail, the jagged, broken windowpanes gaping hopelessly; a functioning 1880s white, pillared courthouse; and the 1864 Rod & Gun Club, a restaurant–an Old-Florida style building, polished brown wood inside, white shingled outside, a series of broad steps up the front to the deep veranda complementing three sides and screened on the back overlooking the river, where you can dock your boat and come in and eat. This is Everglades City. The town natives, perhaps sixth-generation locals, all 800 of them, like things the way they are. That’s the way things have always been. They’re not fixin’ for Yankees to jump in and rock their boat. Sure, the boat leaks, but they plug it. In 1947 the establishment of Everglades National Park there banned commercial fishing from local waters. The sudden uncongenial climate snapped the anchor chain of their subsistence. Townsfolk tell that after that many of the locals went away to “college” for a few years. It’s where they were sent when they got caught ferrying “square grouper” imported from South America to drop points in the Gulf. Their unprecipitated flurry of fine new homes and fancy cars shot up a flare to the Feds. It’s rumored that some of the locals have money buried somewhere there, and that when the statute of limitations expires, they’ll dig it up and spend it.

This is Everglades City, founded more than a century ago as a fishing village and established as a city in the 1920s when the railroad came, bringing in tourist fishermen and taking out fish to sell on the commercial market. Barron Collier, a New York millionaire, arrived in 1923 and bought up the land. He bought the Rod & Gun Club, too. There he hosted foreign dignitaries and U.S. presidents. The newly arrived traveled a lot between Tampa and Miami and they soon realized they needed more than a couple of sand ruts upon which to drive. So, federal funds in tow, they set up their supply depot at Everglades City and, beating their way through the jungle with machetes, shovels and fly swatters, set to work building a road connecting the two cities. When the federal government ran into a snag, Collier offered to finish the road in return for the new county being named after him. He made Everglades City the Collier County seat. The new road, the Tamiami Trail, opened to great fanfare in 1928.

Everglades City is Ernest Hemingway’s Florida. It is Key West and the Keys fifty years ago. Hurricane Donna struck in 1960, ripping out the torso of Everglades City, older than Naples and too weak financially to rebuild. Everybody conceded that Naples, just up the Gulf, also begun as a fishing village, was the more important trade location at which to build. Coursing the same trail of blood, in 1993 Hurricane Andrew rose from the sea, and brandishing a weapon like some spiteful Spartan warrior rising out of the Gulf of Corinth in the Peloponnesian wars, raged across the southern peninsula of Florida, shredding the land, devouring the crops. Everglades City lay a skeletal carcass lashed to the Gulf of Mexico. Now they don’t grow anything there. Except …

My arrival at Everglades City unfortunately coincided with the hatching of the season’s first clutches of salt marsh mosquito eggs. As I climbed out of my car tens of thousands of mosquitoes attacked me – big sturdy, black mosquitoes, the kind that when you swat them don’t stay flat, they spring back. I swore the conflict in the former Yugoslavia had escalated, spreading to Transylvania and I had entered the midst of an insect warfare unleashed by none other than Count Dracula, found frozen after all these years, moved to the Everglades and thawed out. Blood suckers are why people living in the Everglades wear long pants and long sleeves even when it’s 98 degrees and 98 percent humidity. Clouds of mosquitoes mounted to near thunderhead status and swarmed outside screen doors, waiting to storm in with me as I entered stores and homes. Inside they’d swarm all over my arms and legs and especially my neck, following me all around boring into me with their extra-wide-gauge stingers holes big enough to build tunnels. Everywhere, people had placed mosquito coils and incense sticks in desperate attempts to deter the blood-sucking monsters.

I had driven down there to see about a job as the reporter for the local, weekly newspaper. The newspaper was one among a string of weeklies, put out by a publisher in Naples. I left my car at the Circle K and rode around all day with Jillian, the current reporter, in her air-conditioned Nissan SUV. The mosquitoes swarmed into her car with me. They didn’t bother her. In fact, I was more or less introduced as The-Idiot-Who-Wore-Shorts-on-Her-First-Trip-Ever to Everglades City. “She’s new. The mosquitoes love her.” I was merely on an exploratory mission to see if I’d take to the job, not the first day of my job. I didn’t get paid for this. But the mosquitoes took to me, and they feasted.

Jillian bought me lunch at the Rod & Gun Club. She said, “Let’s eat outside on the porch overlooking the river.” I said “Okay,” but quickly changed my mind when the giant, black marauders ambushed me the instant I stepped onto the screened porch. We chose to eat in the dining room where the mosquitoes weren’t quite so dense.

We entered a deep umber vastness of polished, rich paneling, boards and beams outfitting walls, floor and ceiling. The floor of the huge old room heaved and rolled, like a deck exposed to years of hot sun and floods and hurricanes. Bronzed arms of ceiling fans suspended above us silently slipped through the air, and even though the floor-to-ceiling glass doors forming the back wall overlooking the river were closed, the dining room was remarkably cool and I had drawn my iced tea to a low ebb before I realized there was no air conditioning. The great place sat up high, had high ceilings, as to raise a toast to tropical breezes. The doors to the spacious kitchen were open and no one was in there, nothing was cooking, reminding me of stately homes turned restaurants I had visited in Mexico: we’d hang out for an hour and a half when five waiters wearing wide grins in dark faces would appear at our table bearing a fantastical feast.

After lunch we stood at the huge hotel-type desk in the entrance hall where Jillian paid our bill. The owner took the cash depositing it into what must have been Barron Collier’s original cash register. On one side of the entrance hall a polished wood staircase beckoned as it gracefully arced to a closed door at the top. A draft grazed the back of my neck as it passed along the hall traversing from one screen door to the other at the opposite end. Something got dredged up. Just there at the desk a feeling of déjà vu washed over me. I was trying to remember something, but it slithered darkly out of reach. A scene from the movie Key Largo: I am waiting for the hurricane to blow in, the river to roil and the palm trees to bend and reach straight out, when we hustle to board up the row of glass doors, run up the sensually-curved staircase and down the hall and enter a back room to find Bacall poised on the edge of a bed, and Bogey, a short man casting a long shadow as he stands over her. Jillian said nobody she knew had ever been up there, that she thought the owner’s mother lived up there. I wondered. The feeling gripped me. I couldn’t shake it. I half saw Ernest Hemingway, once a guest there, rise from his fishing boat out of the dark river, saunter across the veranda and right past us to the bar, not knowing he’d been at sea more than a morning, the screen door banging shut as the wind wheeled and shot at his back.

We left the way we came, through the hallway, faded photographs casting sidelong glances at yellowed news clippings hanging about the walls, whispering stories of earlier days. We stepped outside the screen door and across the porch into a sun shower as we descended the broad front steps and crossed the wide lawn to the car.

We distributed newspapers and that evening went to the city council meeting in the old court house, where I nearly dozed off. The mosquitoes kept me awake. The council room was closed and air conditioned, yet was full of the dreaded creatures. “We set ’em free and now we can’t round ’em up and get ’em back,” said a town official, a white-haired man in his 50s who looked easily persuaded to bend an elbow, who looked more like the persuader, and who allegedly yanked out the asbestos from the old jail building, which he bought and was now trying to sell, and threw the asbestos into the river. Jillian was investigating him.

I got home about 10:30, driving through mosquitoes so thick in the Everglades I couldn’t tell whether it was raining or just bugs. I got home in the nick of time, because I could barely see out the windshield. The next morning I found the front of my car completely plastered in black with mosquitoes. I took it to the car wash.

The publisher called me and offered me a weekly wage to render even a mosquito searching empty pockets at the grocery checkout. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or what. His low valuation of my writing talent left me standing on bare sand at a new moon ebb tide. I said I’d think about it. I still am.

Jillian wanted out of the reporter job. She had bigger fish to fry. On my plate stood indefatigable mosquitoes, late nights and long drives, and low pay. On the side steamed a stew of small town politics and a river seasoned with asbestos served up in a smoking cannabis blind of good old boys. I sensed my journalism jaunt could cast a long shadow onto future tables, mainly my own. I liked a white cloth.

I’d sure like to stumble into Ernest at the bar, though. I’d pull up a stool next to him. Was he privy to what the walls whisper, what went on upstairs? A coupla drinks and he might tell.

Everglades City remains lurking in my veins; on my mind and in my senses: the old buildings that smell faintly of mildew and orange blossoms; the cast of the place, those scents mingling with the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, the soft air, the gentle breezes, linger with me, hauntingly, like a sweet refrain shared with a long-ago lover. From over my shoulder its shadow looms before me still.

The End . . .

–Samantha Mozart


 

Jane Austen Readings for Readers Theater

By Carol Child

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” This is probably the most famous of all the lines Jane Austen wrote. It’s from her novel Pride and Prejudice, the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. “Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression,” writes Jane Austen. “She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent.  This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed.”

Jane Austen died on 18 July 1817. To commemorate the bicentennial of the author’s death, I wrote a Jane Austen Readings script and it was performed on the stage of the historic Smyrna Opera House in Smyrna, Delaware, on the afternoon of June 3, 2017. Naturally, I included this scene — disappointingly, minus the appearance of Colin Firth in the role. Nonetheless, the audience, who came to luncheon, warmly received the performance and I have published the script.

My Jane Austen Readings for Readers Theater is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle ebook format. You can click on the links below to look inside. Meanwhile, here is a delightful one-act play written by a young Jane Austen, that I did NOT include in my script, because I didn’t know about it then. It’s titled The Mystery.

Act the First, Scene the 2d

A Parlour in Humbug’s House.

Mrs Humbug and Fanny, discovered at work.

MRS HUM. You understand me, my Love?
FANNY. Perfectly ma’m. Pray continue your narration.
MRS. HUM. Alas! it is nearly concluded, for I have nothing more to say on the Subject.
FANNY. Ah! here’s Daphne.

(Enter Daphne)

DAPHNE. My dear Mrs Humbug how d’ye do? Oh! Fanny ’tis all over.
FANNY: Is it indeed!
MRS. HUM. I’m very sorry to hear it.
FANNY. Then ‘twas to no purpose that I….
DAPHNE. None upon Earth.
MRS. HUM. And what is to become of? …
DAPHNE. Oh! that’s all settled.

(whispers Mrs. Humbug)

FANNY. And how is it determined?
DAPHNE. I’ll tell you.

(whispers Fanny)

MRS HUM. And is he to? …
DAPHNE. I’ll tell you all I know of the matter.

(whispers Mrs Humbug and Fanny)

FANNY. Well! now I know everything about it, I’ll go away.
MRS HUM. AND DAPHNE. And so will I.

(Exeunt)

For more, please visit my Amazon author’s page: http://amazon.com/author/carolchild

In paperback:

 

And in Kindle ebook format:

^^^

A Memory, a short story by Silvia Villalobos

Tonight, I sit for long spells in a wakeful hush while sudden memories encroach upon my world, and lines stretch across the pages of my journal. Sleep abandons me. My eyes are open to a time and place from long ago. I ride my breath in and out as if it were the swells of a sea. Although my body grows calm from sitting still, I rock slightly with the pulse of my heart.

I drift away on a memory.

~~~

A thirteen-year-old girl is sitting cross-legged in a tent no larger than a closet, reading. The tent is on a beach along the Black Sea coast, a place so quiet she could hear the pulse of the earth, the moaning of the sea. Not her ideal getaway, but Mom insisted this was what the family needed. A long vacation to the sea, in a tent. Camping. All summer long, Mom said, so bring lots of books. Sure, the young girl loves reading, but why travel three hours by train and spend a whole summer in a tent on a secluded beach with her books?

Nature is fuel for the soul, Mom said. We’re separated from it by walls of concrete and steel, too busy for family bonding time. This vacation will make up for that.

Now, here they are in Navodari Beach, an untouched plot of coastline off the beaten path. A stretch of Romanian seashore devoid of much human intervention, accessible via a narrow, partially unpaved road. One of the quietest places on earth, no doubt. Navodari is the campers’ beach north of Mamaia — the seaside resort where four-star hotels line the boardwalk.

They don’t leave the campgrounds, and depend on what they brought along and the bare necessities within the camp. There is daily walking on the beach, swimming, fishing. Storytelling by the campfire. When not playing, or helping with chores, the kids read.

Camping all summer takes adjusting, but the sea has ways of calming the mind and working things out. The endless stretch of fine sand that sparkles under the sun adds to a sense of increased vitality. Energy. The very presence of the blue immensity under the sky helps ward off feelings of seclusion and boredom. Nature calms the mind. The sea becomes the story.

At night, with the help of her flashlight, the young girl reads about the sea as intersection of culture, the dramatic role it played in world history, all the way back to the Great Flood. A wonderful creation of nature still in the process of change.

Since the Black Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, and the Mediterranean, she feels connected to the whole of the world. A comforting thought, this human-water bond along the world’s shorelines. Explains our tendency to travel to the water’s edge, our obsession with water — listening to waves lap against the shore, swimming or fishing, writing, and creating memories along its edge.

More kids arrive in Navodari with their parents and tents. Some traveled here from landlocked countries like Poland. They study each other in the manner kids from different countries and backgrounds do; realizing they’re not that different. Soon, the shyness melts away. They strike up tentative friendships. The young girl teaches her new friends Romanian words, and learns how to say sea and wind — among other things — in their language. When all else fails, they alternate between improvised sign language and broken English.

What starts as sensory and stimulation withdrawal turns into a heightened awareness of the elements. They listen to sounds the wind picks up from afar — broken sounds, but easily heard. To the lapping of the waves, the sea whispering its own language or that of creatures inhabiting its depths. Sitting on the beach for hours, they try to decide if the whistling sounds came from dolphins or some other fish. They laugh so much.

Before falling asleep, the young girl tucks away memories in safe corners of her mind. One day in the future, they’ll flash before her eyes like wonderful, old movies.

~~~

Drifting back, I close my journal and lie awake in the still night, holding on to the mental images a little longer. Soon, the day’s toil prevails. My ears fill with the pulse of crickets and cicadas proclaiming their desires. Breath and the clouds ride the same wind. Sleep lulls me away, but not before I see a young girl, in a tent, on a far-away beach, listening to the waves of the sea as she falls asleep.

***

It all started in a sixteenth-century library in Romania, during one frigid winter. In East Europe, libraries are the perfect shelters from the cold and the world.

Silvia Villalobos, a native of Romania who lives immersed in the laid-back vibe of Southern California, is a writer of mystery novels and short fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Riding Light Review and Solstice Publishing, among other publications. Her novel Stranger or Friend (Solstice Publishing) was named best mystery 2015 by P & E Readers’ Poll. When not writing, she can be found blogging at Silvia Writes.

^^^

Jane Austen

Jane Austen died 200 years ago, in 1817, on July 18. She was 41.

Jane Austen lived and wrote during the Regency era; she was not a Victorian, as some suppose. The Regency era was brief. It began in 1811 when the emerging madness of Britain’s King George III deemed him unfit to rule – though American Patriots had declared him unfit years earlier – and his son George IV became Prince Regent. The Regency era ended in 1820 when George III died and George IV acceded to the throne. Some stretch the era to include the reigns of George III, George IV and his brother William IV, extending from 1795 until 1837 when Victoria, granddaughter of George III, became queen.

While all this was going on, Jane Austen was writing. She wrote, most often by a window for the light, on four-by-seven inch paper, on her writing box. Inside the box she kept her paper, inkwell and quills.

She edited her work by sentence first, blotting and crossing out, and then went back and edited the piece as a whole. She did not trouble herself with perfecting grammar or punctuation, these later corrected by her editor, yet she was an experimental and innovative writer, employing a sharp wit in writing dialogue and conversation. She wrote with delightful economy and precise narration. Jane Austen is considered one of the greatest English novelists. Her genius in attention to form has been compared to that of James Joyce. Her form can be related to that of rubato in music whereby the tempo retards and then accelerates and catches up within a defined few measures, without losing the overall pace. By these means, she guided her reader through the story with clarity.

Jane Austen loved music. “Without music,” she wrote in Emma, “life would be a blank to me.” She played piano and practiced daily before breakfast so as not to interrupt her family’s daily routines. Among her extensive sheet music collection, her favorites were songs that told a story. Accordingly, she features pianos and singing in her stories, and many of her characters are musicians.

In her lifetime, 1775-1817, Jane Austen completed six novels, among her other writings, two of which, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously. Initially, she published all of her works anonymously. In the 1817 publication of these last two novels, her brother Henry wrote a eulogy identifying Jane Austen as the author.

Jane Austen lived her life in the shadow of war, from the American Revolution through the War of 1812. The relationship between war and society permeates all her novels but Emma. Here is a bit of gossip about amusing goings on paralleling Jane Austen’s lifetime: In 1812, she was writing Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, she published her first four novels during the War of 1812, and in three of those stories “they could talk of nothing but officers” in their red coats (Pride and Prejudice). Her brothers Francis and Charles were home from sea that year. In 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo, two years before Jane Austen died. Ludwig von Beethoven was composing in his middle period then. Franz Schubert had written many lieder (songs) and published his first, Erlafsee – as a free insert in an art and nature lovers almanac –, and in the summer of 1817 composed his first six piano sonatas, all published after his death in 1828. In the summer of 1816, Mary Godwin and her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley were up on Lake Geneva visiting Lord Byron. Mind you, Lord Byron had by now quit his 1812 affair with the future Queen Victoria’s Lord Melbourne’s wife, Lady Caroline Lamb. The summer proved wet and dreary and Byron proposed they each write a ghost story. It is where Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein. The following May, 1817, Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The novel was published on January 1, 1818. Jane Austen wrote her novel Northanger Abbey as a parody of the Gothic novels popular in her time, three in particular: The Monk: A Romance, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, published in 1796; and two by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, 1791, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794. These books remain in print today. Ann Radcliffe is considered the founder of the Gothic literature genre. A movie, The Monk, was released in 2013, based on Matthew Lewis’s Gothic thriller. During the years 1794-1799, Jane Austen was drafting her novels, Lady Susan; Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility, written in epistolary form; First Impressions, the original version of Pride and Prejudice; and Northanger Abbey. She was at work on Sanditon in 1817 when she died.

While Jane Austen was in the country writing her early works, Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello cooking. He specified, in a recipe surviving in his own hand, an ingredient for his macaroni as “2 wine glasses of milk.” English ladies in Jefferson’s day wouldn’t eat macaroni for lunch. Until the Regency era, English ladies did not eat lunch. They ate a light fare of bread and cheese and maybe a salad. Salads did not contain tomatoes, because back then the English did not eat tomatoes raw. Salads commonly contained cucumbers and nasturtium flowers, lettuces, often fowl, such as pigeon, as well as anchovies and eggs. Luncheon was introduced during the Regency era, but for ladies only, and then usually with friends. At our Jane Austen Readings and Luncheon at the Smyrna Opera House, we chose not to serve pigeon – mainly because the Opera House Guild volunteers declined to go out and shoot them – but certainly we serve croissants, because, well, why not indulge…? The English didn’t eat croissants in those days yet groused upon their return from France about the bland English breads and rolls. The English consumed a lot of butter. It is said that croissants originated in Turkey and Austria and Marie Antoinette brought them to France when she married Louis XVI. It may be, then, that Marie Antoinette was misquoted about the cake, but rather she proclaimed, “Let them eat croissants!” We imagine that given a choice, Jane Austen would have preferred eating a croissant to a bland roll.

Jane Austen Published Novels

  • Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Mansfield Park (1814)
  • Emma (1815)
  • Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)
  • Persuasion (1818, posthumous)

–By Carol Child

 

“Feast on the Beach”

– The Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab/Shorebird Connection

 
(Ed. note: “This phenomenon is worth everyone’s attention”: Here is a video made by my good friend Michael Oates, an Emmy-nominated video documentarian. Mike posted this video on his Facebook page, “302 Stories,” on March 8, 2017.  I found it worth posting on this review. The Delaware Museum of Natural History will screen this film on Saturday, March 11, 2017. The following is from 302 Stories. cc)

We took a short break from “Delaware Dirt” to finish this video about the amazing natural phenomenon that occurs every May on Delaware Bay. Millions of migrating shorebirds arrive on Bay beaches just as millions of horseshoe crabs show up to spawn and lay their eggs in the sand as well. The shorebirds feast on the loose eggs for about two weeks, double their body weight, and then depart for the Arctic. It’s considered one of the world’s top ten natural phenomenon and well worth seeing “in person.” The program was funded by the USFWS, Fair Play Foundation, Delmarva Ornithological Society and Berkana, Center for Media and Education, Inc.

Feast on the Beach–The DE Bay HSC/Shorebird Connection

We're took a short break from "Delaware Dirt" to finish this video about the amazing natural phenomenon that occurs every May on Delaware Bay. Millions of migrating shorebirds arrive on Bay beaches just as millions of horseshoe crabs show up to spawn and lay their eggs in the sand as well. The shorebirds feast on the loose eggs for about two weeks, double their body weight, and then depart for the Arctic. It's considered one of the world's top ten natural phenomenon and well worth seeing "in person." The program was funded by the USFWS, Fair Play Foundation, Delmarva Ornithological Society and Berkana, Center for Media and Education, Inc.

Posted by 302 Stories, Inc. on Wednesday, March 8, 2017

 

 302 Stories, Inc.

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Coming Home to the Self

By
Jean Raffa

(Ed. note: Roll your mouse over these lovely images to see the identification; click on an image to enlarge it.)

 

It’s a gray winter day in the mountains. We arrived for our annual holiday visit the day after Christmas hoping for snow, but the weather’s so mild that the windows are open. Over the roar of the creek, swollen from a solid week of rain, a single crow caws somewhere nearby. Welcome home, she says.

Downstairs the grown-ups are finishing a jigsaw puzzle we’ve been working on since summer. The grandchildren are playing a video game. I’m upstairs writing this, my heart warm with the comforts of home, family, and love.

This place, this now, this beauty. These tears of wonder and overflowing gratitude. My simple awareness of being at one with myself, my family, and my life is the grace and blessing of the Self—my portal to the Sacred—a moment that needs no words. Yet now I am searching for words to fill this page. I don’t fight it. After all, part of the Self—my sacred core and circumference—is a writer and another part is a teacher. And I’m trying to figure out what to write about for my next blog post.

Listen to me, the crow caws insistently. I hear you, I silently answer. You, too are part of me, part of the Self. I look out the window in its direction, past the skeletons of maples and buckeyes, the fluttering rhododendron leaves on the mountainside glistening with droplets of rain. What words could possibly be a clearer statement of the sacredness of life than this?

I haven’t always had this awareness. My soul has expanded very slowly through the years and, to quote Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before I sleep.” At the beginning I had to want to know the truth about the puzzle of myself more than I wanted to protect my ego. Then I had to let down some of my ego’s boundaries. Had to stop saying no and start saying yes. Had to admit I can be wrong. Could be hurt. Could need somebody. Could be showing the world a false self. Could be afraid. Angry. Selfish. All that took a while.

Eventually I liked the insights my self-reflections were bringing so much that I searched for a regular practice to bring more. Discovering dreamwork felt like striking gold. Metaphorically, that’s exactly what it was. That vein of gold led to more veins: the gold of self-validation, finding my passion, revitalization, synchronicity, adventure, joy. Some veins led to my dark shadow, others to my light shadow. Some, to my anima and animus—Jungian terms for my unconscious feminine and masculine sides. A few veins have gone deep enough to encircle my Self.

A soul needs time and reflection to heal and grow. I’ve practiced dreamwork for 28 years with no end in sight. Which is good, because I never want it to end … even though lately I’ve been dreaming of my self-critical bully: a bossy chef, a menacing sniper, a criminal holding people hostage with a gun and a baseball bat, a rude and haughty boy. I consider dreams like this to be necessary wake-up calls along the way. The craziness of the holidays can do that to a person and I’ve learned that I have to recognize what’s going on inside me before I can do something about it!

Last night I lay awake counting the number of people I’ve hurt over the years, sometimes out of self-righteousness, sometimes thoughtlessness. I was appalled at their number. Another necessary wake-up call.

Yet on Christmas night and the next two nights I dreamed about a large Christmas tree ornament, a sparkling diamond and gold ball that was being clarified and perfected and completed. And so were my understanding of it and my words about it. Somehow, I was it and it was me.

Orbs and circles are images of the Self. So are diamonds and gold. Soul-making is humbling, but an occasional dream image like this speaks to the infinite rewards of inner work. Every day I see my self-criticism backing off, my frustrations softening. Trust has pretty much replaced worry, and grace flows through more often, revealing the sacred river of life and love that runs beneath and through it all.

It’s time to finish this and rejoin my family downstairs. Fred’s got a fire going and my favorite new book of poetry, Coming Home,  by Jamie K. Reaser, awaits me on the chair in front of it. Thanks to her I’m learning how to talk to crows. It’s the perfect book to feed the fire growing inside me and keep the river flowing toward home.

Reading and writing also keep me aware and connect me with my spiritual home. So does meditation. I used to set aside certain times of day for these practices, but these days I usually just go with the flow.

Here’s an example. Fast forward to another day. The holidays are over and I’m back home, considering what to write about for my next post. I notice the Goethe quote on my coffee mug: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” I feel the truth of this deeply, but wonder if I really understand it or can express it adequately. I want to try.

So I close my eyes to feel the life in my body and follow my breath. Tiny tinglings all over … chest and belly rising and falling … an airplane humming overhead … the solid floor beneath my feet … the warmth of my clasped hands … the softness of my velvet robe.

I open my eyes and look out the window at the stand of bald cypress trees. I watch the soft sway of their gray Spanish moss beards. I wait … for what I don’t know. I smile. It’s a relief not to need to know. A dragonfly flits by. Cottony clouds with dove gray undersides sink slowly below the cypress canopy.


I remember the brilliant cardinal that kept dropping by one day last week to peck at the window, either flirting with its image or trying to pass through the sky’s reflection. Or was it there to bring me a message?

I googled the symbolism of cardinals and found this: [The cardinal] “reminds us to hold ourselves with pride—not ego pride. Rather, the cardinal asks us to stand a little taller, be a bit more regal, step into our natural confidence as if we were born to lead with grace and nobility.” Good advice. But that was a few days ago and I’m trying to empty my mind, so I return to this moment.

Other random thoughts intrude and I invite them to float on by so I can stay present. I realize I’m hoping to close these musings with some sort of sign or synchronicity I can share in my blog to prove how rewarding just appreciating this day can be! But nothing is showing up and I’m running out of writing space.

As I write these words a cardinal darts by … is it my cardinal? I feel a jolt of recognition, a meaningful connection between the passing bird and what I’m thinking. Another message from the Self?

And then I see it: my ego’s influence over my meditation and writing. My ego wants a sign it can use to be impressive, but my soul just wants to be! And just as I was thinking this the cardinal passed by. I guess I did receive a sign and a message after all: ego pride! Oops.

I smile and let it be. Self-knowledge is healing but self-criticism erodes my confidence and robs me of this moment. Simply being aware of everything, including my baser tendencies, is the true value of this day.

Sometimes just being out in Nature brings on spontaneous contemplative states that connect me to the river. For example, on another day my son brings Izzy, his four year-old golden retriever, to our house. We will dog-sit until his family returns from their winter vacation. She’ll be with us for five days. I love this dog, but she’s not easy. She’s big, rambunctious, needy, slobbery, demanding of attention. Will the time and attention I’m willing to spare be enough for her? I hope so.

We take a little walk. She sniffs around, does her business. Good. We return to the house so I can work and she can rest.

It’s evening. I feed her and leave for my ukulele lesson. When I return home Fred says our daughter has invited us to join them for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. We are delighted. Izzy will be fine alone for a while. She’s been here many times. I give her a treat, tell her we’ll go for a walk when I get home, say goodbye.

Over dinner our granddaughters recount last week’s accomplishments. A perfect score on an important math test.  A thrilling promotion from the junior varsity to varsity softball team. Does anything feel better than the deep love and connectedness we feel for each other?

Back home, Izzy wakes up from her nap on the kitchen floor. She looks up at me, tail thumping, waiting to see what’s next. I wrap her leash around my shoulders, stuff a green doggy-waste-bag in the pocket of my blue jeans, and we step out the front door.  Our little neighborhood is small and secluded so the leash is just a back-up plan in case we run into cars or other late-night dog-and-human-walkers.

 

I love being outdoors at night. The fresh cool breeze off the nearby lake. The quiet. The shadows. The open space. The peace. No people to talk to. No cars to avoid. A few pale street lights … just enough to keep Izzy in sight. The pleasure of giving her this time outdoors, knowing she’s enjoying it, feeling confident and secure because I’m here with her.

She stops in the middle of the road, sniffing road kill. It’s too dark and the creature’s too long gone to tell what it is. Was. Osprey, raccoon, opossum, squirrel? I look at the stars, happy to wait, enjoying her pleasure. She glances back at me. I step forward, so does she. We move on to the next olfactory infusion. She stops, transfixed. I stop, transfixed. Does she remember I’m here, or is this new smell her entire universe right now?

We walk on. She sniffs something else, looks back, reads my body language. It’s okay. You’re okay, my relaxed body says. She understands and moves on. I’m still her lighthouse. I follow her lead knowing we’re connected as surely as if she were on a leash. Gratified that we trust one another so much that she doesn’t have to be tied physically to me. Pleased that she’s free to follow her nose. Humbled that we’re so acutely aware of the significance of each other.

We approach a crossroad. She looks to the left. Looks to the right. Looks back at me. Starts off to the right. No, I think. Left toward the lake is better. No traffic that way. She’ll be safer. I whistle one note. She freezes. Glances back. I point to the left. Just a slight movement of my arm and index finger. She turns around and goes left.

I feel a surge of joy. This moment. This connection with Nature, this utterly delicious intuitive knowing. This trust between two animals who have such different languages and ways of processing life.

So different, and yet … we see each other. We know each other. In some invisible way we are touching each other, our minds sharing the same time and space. It feels magical. Miraculous. We’re part of a mystery so vast my mind can’t encompass it.

But, oh! I can enjoy it. This night under a starry sky. This dog who trusts me, who I trust. This connection to the unknown. I’m filled to bursting with wonder, gratitude and love.

Slowing down our monkey minds to notice what’s happening in and around us reminds us that we have bodies through which we can appreciate and connect with the magic and mystery of being alive in this exquisite world. Seeing the silhouette of a towering cypress tree against the pale moonlit sky. Feeling the soft caress of a cool breeze. The warmth and weight of an animal or person who loves us.

Nothing we do can make a greater difference to ourselves, our relationships, and the world than simply being conscious of, and grateful for the miracle of life. Because the love, joy, peace, trust, gratitude, and wonder we feel are prayers, messages to and from the Self: the healing river of life that runs beneath everything and connects everything. And when we come home to that, we can’t help but choose love more often, no matter what’s happening.


Jean Raffa is a former teacher, television producer and college professor who, with the help of Jungian psychology, began following her passions for self-discovery and writing during mid-life. Her books The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul and her newest Wilbur Award-Winning book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link. Her blog, Matrignosis, is at http://www.jeanraffa.wordpress.com.  Her facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/jeanraffa,  and her website is  http://www.jeanraffa.com.

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3 Ways of Being Creative Like van Gogh

By
Susanne van Doorn

(Ed. note: Run you mouse over the photos to see IDs and credits.)

Mindfunda was invited by Cultura to give a presentation about dreams and art. Cultura is the municipal art gallery and theatre in the Dutch town of Ede.

To remember the death of one of the most famous artists in the Netherlands, Vincent van Gogh, who died July 29th, 125 years ago, all over Europe, art galleries are organizing expositions around this memorial so Mindfunda was honoured to be given an opportunity to shine a light on how dreams are a gateway into creativity.

Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo: “The sight of the stars makes me dream”. It is commonly accepted that dreams are creative so the fact that van Gogh got his inspiration by looking at the pictures of his dreams makes common sense. But in 2009 there was scientific proof (Mednick et al) that dreaming induces creativity.  In a research people had to do a creative test: they had to couple three words with a fourth that matched. For instance: the words heart, sixteen and cookie had to be matched with the word sweet. In the research only the group that had enjoyed REM sleep improved their scores on the creativity test.

Pianist, writer and painter David Dubal talks about how he uses his dreams as inspiration. He uses dreams to solve problems and to get inspiration. He even had an exhibition from paintings that had been inspired by dreams. In this film you can hear him talk about the importance of dreams for creativity.

There is one very important thing David Dubal says in the YouTube film. One thing that defines creativity. “Sitting in the subway, I break the unwritten rules by looking at people”. Breaking the rules. Looking at things from a whole different perspective. Let’s explore the life of Vincent van Gogh to see how many times he broke the rules….

  • He started working for the art company of his uncle. His uncle washed his hands of Vincent after seven years. Van Gogh did get the chance to visit London and Paris (this is why his brother Theo was able to live in Paris: he kept on working for this uncle).
  • Van Gogh worked in a bookstore to earn money for the government examination for a study in Theology. Like his father he wanted to become a preacher. He stopped because he was not able to pass for Latin.
  • He went to Missionary school were he was sent to Borinage. This is one of the poorest areas in Belgium. He got his inspiration for his famous painting “The Potato Eaters”. He used to cry himself to sleep each night because he could not bear the suffering he was surrounded with.
  • Van Gogh went to art school in Antwerp, convinced that he was meant to be a painter. Unfortunately he was ridiculed by his professors. Humiliated, he dropped out of school.
  • He started painting on the streets of Antwerp, selling his sketches to the tourists. Living a life of poverty, bad health and debts he fled to Paris.
  • The “famous” ear incident happened when Gauguin and van Gogh lived together. Van Gogh cut off a part of his own ear. A very interesting vision is given by researchers Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans. They wrote a book: Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence. After analysing the letters of van Gogh they assume that Gauguin got a sword and injured van Gogh. Van Gogh agreed to keep this a secret so Gauguin was kept out of jail.
  • Vincent van Gogh had himself admitted to the mental hospital Saint-Paul Asylum, in Saint-Rémy.

Well, we can all agree that Vincent van Gogh broke a lot of rules. His creativity was key in finding new ways to explore when things fell apart.

In one of his letters to his brother Theo he wrote: “I dream my paintings, and then I paint my dreams”. Given that research has indicated that REM sleep enhances creativity, let’s interpret van Gogh’s “Starry Night” as a dream; also read my Mindfunda about “Starry Night”.

Since the seventies of last century we are used to seeing a dream as a representation of one’s own mind. It is perfectly reasonable how that assumption came into being. A new generation wanted to get rid of the bearded professors telling people what their dreams meant. They successfully seized power: a dream is about you and only you. I disagree with that because I think human beings are social people who are custom-made to live in tribes. So dreaming about another tribe member is natural (also see my experiment in mutual dreaming described in my e-book). But if this painting is a dream of van Gogh, what does it tell us about van Gogh?

What is the first thing that stands out in this picture? The nebula that seems to divide the painting in two. If you look at your dream, first look at its day residue so you are able to explore pure symbolic things more in depth. Things you do during the day get into your dreams.

Looking at this painting, the brilliant piece of Albert Boime gives a hand at distinguishing the real facts from the symbolism in the painting. Albert Boime carefully researched the sky and found out it was an almost accurate representation of the night sky in Saint-Rémy. Except for two things. Two things we can interpret symbolically. One is the spiral nebula that divides the painting in two parts. Vincent had not seen this in 1889. In 1880 this picture, taken by Henry Draper of the Orion Nebula was published and caused quite a sensation. Astronomers at that time assumed that a star was born in the middle of the nebula.

 

Henry Draper’s 1880 photograph of the Orion Nebula, the first ever taken.

(Wikipedia)

 

A star being born…. It is not a surprise that Vincent van Gogh got his first exposition nine months after this painting. The time it takes for the star being born to mature. And one month later he got his second exposition in Antwerp. That is where he sold the only painting he ever was going to sell while he was alive.

But there has got to be a better way to use the creativity in your dreams. We don’t want to break the rules the way van Gogh did. And we don’t need to. Salvador Dali was very successful while alive using his dreams in a completely different way.  Let me tell you how he did it.

Dali’s method involved a chair that was not too hard, but not too comfortable either. (It had to be a Spanish chair, of course). A plate, a key, and olive oil. Dali rubbed his wrists with olive oil. He held a large key in his left hand, between his thumb and his forefinger. He relaxed, closed his eyes and when the key hit the plate he was awake. Using this method he made the most extraordinary paintings.

Once a month he took out a whole afternoon to get inspired by dreams and he had a special menu. He ate 3 dozen sea urchins that had to be selected two days before the moon was full. He drank a glass of young white wine, and did not leave his room until he had an inspiring dream.

You can see the chair he used for his daily dream routine in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. In this film he got the opportunity to demonstrate how important dreams can be as a tool for creative problem solution.

There is yet a third way to use dreams to enhance creativity. Where van Gogh used ways to explore other options and Salvador Dali used dreams as a way to guide him through his career path, artist Brenda Ferrimani uses dreams in a third way. She dives into the confrontation van Gogh walked away from. She used dreams to dive right into the conflict (Read a Mindfunda blog by Brenda Ferrimani here).


I compiled all the above information in a vivid Prezi to show the audience the coherence of it all in an attractive way. The organisation had a nice touch to their thank-you-bouquet:  Sunflowers of course, like van Gogh!

Susanne van Doorn, PhD (The Netherlands) is a Dutch therapist, author and dream expert working for Therapeut van Binnenuit and blogging for Mindfunda. On Mindfunda she reviews new books about dreaming, spirituality and mythology and interviews authors and is a teacher in several online courses.

Author of A Dreamers’ Guide through the land of the deceased; Mutual Dreaming: A Psiber Experiment with co-author Maria Cernuto published in Dreamtime spring 2014; translator of A Theory of Dreams by Vasily Kasatkin (2014).

Educated in Psychology at the University of Tilburg in 1994, Education in Dreamwork at the Jungian Institute in Nijmegen 2009, Education in Medicine in 2010, Graduated with honors at the education of Orthomoluculair Therapy in 2010.

Click on the book image through to Amazon to learn more and buy the book.

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Run the Symphony Backwards

By
Deborah Gregory

When I am ninety-two
they take me from my bed.
Dressed in my floral nightie,
I am more than ready to return.
Somewhere in the distance
I hear a blast of music,
as the song gathers itself.
It’s been on repeat this past week.

All silver and shining,
I wake to put pen to paper.
Still writing down dreams,
loving these croning years.
At 70 years of age
I give up work on my birthday,
to hold my partners hand
and dance around supermarkets.

At fifty I write a poem,
then another and another,
until a book lands on my lap.
Before I know it another!
Fourteen inches of blonde hair
fall to my hairdresser’s floor.
Eye prescription doubles,
my jeans rise another size.

Oh how my heart feasts
at forty on Planet Blue,
mind, body and soul.
Happiness is my melody
as I marry the Goddess,
taking the mountain path before me.
Singing of a love so true,
here under the honey-full moon.

In my twenties I embrace
each daughter in my arms.
O blessed Mother, O blessed Life,
I will love them forever.
Divorce is such a dirty word,
how will I find the courage
to be me,
to escape living this lie?

The light, the light!
Finally I am free,
free to be everyone but me.
My husband waits outside
where the dark night of the soul
blackens Plato’s cave.
I wake here every day,
I would leave tomorrow if I could.

I don’t want to go to school,
don’t leave me here mother,
on heartless ground.
I am a flower of Aphrodite.
I remember in dreams
all watching me.
On my fifth birthday I cry
“No don’t hurt me, I love you.”

I can see nothing,
nothing is all around me.
I listen to the music,
the symphony of the soul of love.
I wonder what will happen?
The sky falls and falls,
I must not forget,
I am the music.

Deborah works in the field of Psychology and has been writing poetry since her mid-teens. Deeply interested in Archetypal Dreamwork, Jung and journeying towards Soul Evolution, she loves to write poems about ancient mythology from cultures around the world. A nature lover who enjoys rambling all over the beautiful English countryside.

A Liberated Sheep in a Post Shepherd World is Deborah’s first poetry collection. She is currently working on her debut novel “The Bad Shepherd” alongside, “The Poetry of the Tarot” a collection of Major Arcana poems. “The Liberated Sheep” is her website.

 

Only Kindness Makes Sense

 

Only Kindness Makes Sense

By
Elaine Mansfield

A few days before our fortieth wedding anniversary, I drive my husband Vic to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY where he’s being treated for incurable lymphoma. The long drive is familiar after two years. Spring-green hillsides shout May vitality and hope, while Vic chokes and gasps in the passenger seat next to me. He’s exhausted from years of cancer treatment and months of coughing. He lives on prednisone by day and a few hours of fitful Ambien-induced sleep at night. My heart breaks for him and for myself. I’m exhausted, too, and I know my husband is dying.

After Vic is admitted to the hospital, his oncologist arranges for the pulmonary department to drain the fluid surrounding Vic’s lungs. I can’t imagine another invasive procedure, but Vic’s will to live remains unbroken. Although he hasn’t eaten or slept for days, he longs to take a deep breath.

That evening, an impatient white-coated pulmonologist and his students surround Vic’s bed.

“You sit on the side of the bed and lean forward on that tray table so we can work on your back,” the pulmonologist orders Vic.

“You stand in front of him. Push your body against the table and let him lean into you from the opposite side so nothing moves,” he orders me. Unlike most of the doctors we’ve met, he offers no gentle smiles of encouragement, no reassurance. I do what he says.

Someone added this procedure to the end of this man’s long day. He doesn’t hide his unhappiness about it. His students are tense and cautious as they follow his brusque directions, sterilize Vic’s back, and insert a needle into the fluid-filled space around Vic’s lungs. Unable to speed the suctioning process, the doctor paces around Vic’s bed, his resentment simmering under the surface. Vic looks up at me with exhausted sad eyes. I want to vaporize this doctor.

“Will you read the poem about kindness?” Vic asks in a whisper.

“Now?” I ask.

“Yes, now. Please.” I think he’s lost his mind but ask one of the students to hold Vic steady for a moment. I get Vic’s recently published book Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics from his briefcase and resume my position across the tray table. Despite the strange sucking sounds, a smell of fetid salt water, a horrifying amount of cloudy fluid dripping into plastic containers, and my embarrassment, I read the poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that ends Vic’s book:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.[i]

My voice chokes with tears. The pulmonologist’s jaw loosens and his hard voice softens. The students sigh and reach out toward Vic’s back with tenderness. My belly relaxes and Vic takes a deep breath. Twilight dissolves the hard stainless edges of the equipment and a humming grace descends over the room.


[i] Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness,” Words under the Words (Portland, Oregon: Eight Mountain Press, 1995), 42-43. (With permission from author)

This piece is an edited version of a section from my book Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (Larson Publications, Oct. 7, 2014). This piece was published in The Healing Muse, May 8, 2014.


Elaine Mansfield’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (Larson Publications) won the 2015 Gold Medal IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award) for Aging, Death, and Dying. Her TEDx talk is Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss. Elaine writes about bereavement, family, ritual, mythology, dreams, and the environment. She facilitates bereavement workshops, gives presentations, and volunteers at Hospice in Ithaca, NY. Elaine has been a student of nature, philosophy, Jungian psychology, mythology, and meditation for forty years and writes a weekly blog about life and loss. You can read more about Elaine and her work at her website.

Select the book image to go through to Amazon, learn more and buy the book.

 

 

 

Just a Few Poems by T.J. Banks

 

BENISON

“It seems to me lord that we search much too desperately for answers, when a good question holds as much grace as an answer.”

                                                            — Marcia Wiederkehr

I have been searching

            sifting through the wreckage

                        for some clue over-looked

                        for the black box

                                    that Will Tell All,

only to find that there was

            None.

I’ve plunged

            deep into my own darkness,

only to have my hands

come up empty,

            still grasping

                        after the foxfire of

                        whys and might-have-beens

still reaching

                        for an iota of grace

                        a talisman to keep me safe

                                    from night-winds&-demons.

But grace was

nearer than I knew

a silent partner

            in my questing

revealing itself

in commonplace things:

in a Ruddy Aby cat, kitten-slim, watching me

            amber-eyed and blinking blessing

                        at me from her sunny perch;

in the fusing of womanwithhorse

            as we went

                        cantering galloping through

                        the kaleidoscope of fall russets&golds;

in roses defiantly unfurling in November;

in my child’s touch & laughter shared;

in the taste of your conversation

            waking my soul….

Grace, like life,

had been happening

            all around me

                        growing in the darkness

                        till, like the roses,

                                    it unfurled, shaking

                                    its benison all around

                        filling all the spaces

                                    I’d thought empty

                        with its burnished

                                    beauty & scent.

***

THE QUALITY OF LIGHT

               A light –

                           first white-gold, then rose-gold —

            spills upon the page,

            illuminating each word

            like the afternoon sun

                        piercing sifting through

                        the birch leaves

                        & pine needles trembling

                                    in the June air.

That same light

strains through

the commonplace

cheesecloth-thin days,

flows through me,

flashes out of your eyes,

            bursts out of our keeping —

                        the unexpected benediction

of soul meeting soul,

warm & gentle as candle-glow

limning our very being,

            revealing hidden verse & beauty,

                        erasing all else.

***

WEREWOLF EYES

Werewolf eyes

        animal in from the cold

a vividness of purpose

in your stalking,

you wander

into the room into my mind.

We face off

         in the half-shadows

         of maybes & might-bes.

Under no illusions,

our voices all smoky quartz raw silk & honey,

we toss words at each other,

         and where they land

         nobody knows….

weaving their careless spell

leaving a cross-hatching

         of moonbeams lust & wondering

         splayed across

                  the floor.

T. J. Banks is the author of Sketch People:  Stories Along the Way, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Derv & Co.:  A Life Among Felines, Souleiado, and Houdini, a cat novel which the late writer and activist Cleveland Amory enthusiastically branded “a winner.”  Catsong, a collection of her best cat stories, was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. A Contributing Editor to laJoie, she is a columnist for petful.com and has received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), ByLine, and The Writing Self.    Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Guideposts’ Soul Menders, Their Mysterious Ways, Miracles of Healing, and Comfort From Beyond series.  She has also worked as a stringer for the Associated Press and as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School.

 

The Scheherazade Chronicles Is Now Accepting Submissions

The Scheherazade Chronicles, a literary review, is now accepting submissions. We hope you will consider submitting your work to us. Besides writing, we may accept artwork, photography and photojournalism. You are among many great writers and artists seeking a place to publish and we realize there aren’t enough publications to go around. We hope, therefore, that your work will be a good match for our Chronicle. It would be nice if we could publish all the fine work submitted to us; yet, as you no doubt understand, our time and space are limited. So, if we decline to publish your work, please know that it is not a reflection on the quality but rather that what you sent us is not the best fit for The Scheherazade Chronicles. You may submit again. We do read and review every submission, though, and we will let you know as soon as possible whether or not we accept your work. For now, we regret we cannot pay you for work published. Currently, we operate out of a very small purse, more like a sieve, really. We like eating, too, and therefore must ask a $5.00 administrative, unsolicited manuscript fee per item, no more than the cost of submitting through the United States Postal Service with an enclosed SASE. We publish on a rolling schedule rather than a fixed schedule such as do monthly or quarterly publications.

We seek fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, poetry — stories of the imagination, of memory, of music and the arts, of history, of thought, not only those that compel us to keep reading, but also those that make us think, that uplift and enlighten us. We cherish good work that is thoroughly researched and thought through, as in The New Yorker and revel in highly original pieces of wit as in The Paris Review. Please no gore or explicit sex. We tend to lean more toward the analytical, the warm romantic, and humor rather than the socio-psychological, the angst-ridden and the icy sci-fi. Simply, we love good storytelling from you dream weavers and thought spinners to us spellbound readers. We like the type of person whom, when approached with “Hey! How are you?” says, “Oh, well, let me tell you a story about that.” Same with artwork or photos — send us something that tells a story, that makes us ponder the image, something that would look good in Scheherazade’s tent.

Please limit each submission to 2,500 words. Nothing is too short. You may submit groups of five short poems (under 200 words each) for the $5.00 submission fee, but only one long poem. We accept simultaneous submissions on the condition that you notify us when another publisher prints your piece. We may accept previously published work, provided you tell us that is so and where and when it was published, preferably with a clip attached. You may submit multiple pieces at $5.00 per piece. And do include a brief bio, under 150 words, so we know who you are and what you’ve done. If you have a longer work that you think compels the reader to return to read the next installment, and the next, we request you query us before sending the work. We will welcome interviews and personal profiles, too, but query first.

Please select the “Submit” button in the top menu bar, scroll down the page and follow the directions for sending your submission.

We look forward to hearing from you and seeing your work.

^^^

 

Bernard-Henri Lévy: “Jews, Be Wary of Trump”

For the heirs of a people whose endurance over millenniums was because of the miracle of a tradition of thought nourished, rekindled and resown with each generation and through a constantly refined body of commentary, the challenge is clear: Any sacrifice of the calling to intellectual, moral and human excellence; any renunciation of the duty of exceptionalism that — from Rabbi Yehuda to Kafka and from Rashi to Proust and Levinas — has provided the ferment for its almost incomprehensible resistance; any concession, in a word, to Trumpian nihilism would be the most atrocious of capitulations, one tantamount to suicide.  –Bernard-Henri Lévy

From “The Stone,” The New York Times, January 19, 2017. Wise thought for us all to consider. Read the full essay.

Darcy Proposes

“While settling this point, she was suddenly roused by the sound of the door bell, and her spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of its being Colonel Fitzwilliam himself, who had once before called late in the evening, and might now come to enquire particularly after her. But this idea was soon banished, and her spirits were very differently affected, when, to her utter amazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the room. In an hurried manner he immediately began an inquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began-
‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’
“Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, colored, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority–of its being a degradation–of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection, and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience, when he should have done. He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavors, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favorable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther, and, when he ceased, the color rose into her cheeks, and she said-
‘In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot–I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.’
Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantel-piece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips till he believed himself to have attained it. The pause was to Elizabeth’s feelings dreadful. At length, in a voice of forced calmness, he said-
‘And this is all the reply which I am to have the honor of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.’
‘I might as well inquire,’ replied she, ‘why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings decided against you–had they been indifferent, or had they even been favorable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?’
As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed color; but the emotion was short, and he listened without attempting to interrupt her while she continued–
‘I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other–of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.’
She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse. He even looked at her with a smile of affected incredulity.
‘Can you deny that you have done it?’ she repeated. With assumed tranquillity he then replied, ‘I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself.’
Elizabeth disdained the appearance of noticing this civil reflection, but its meaning did not escape, nor was it likely to conciliate her.
‘But it is not merely this affair,’ she continued, ‘on which my dislike is founded. Long before it had taken place my opinion of you was decided. Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham. On this subject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? or under what misrepresentation can you here impose upon others?’
‘You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concerns,’ said Darcy, in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened color.
‘Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?’
‘His misfortunes!’ repeated Darcy contemptuously; ‘yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed.’
‘And of your infliction,’ cried Elizabeth with energy. ‘You have reduced him to his present state of poverty–comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of his misfortunes with contempt and ridicule.’
‘And this,’ cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, ‘is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps,’ added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, ‘these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?–to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?’
Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said–
‘You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’
She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued–
‘You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.’
Again his astonishment was obvious; and he looked at her with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. She went on–
‘From the very beginning- from the first moment, I may almost say–of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.’
‘You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.’
And with these words he hastily left the room, and Elizabeth heard him the next moment open the front door and quit the house.”

–From Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 34, Jane Austen