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.

^^^

 

 

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.

^^^

 

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.

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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.

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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

 

The Gift of the Magi

By
O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

O. Henry, 1905
pen name for William Sidney Porter
(1862-1910)

The rights to this story are in the public domain in the United States. For other countries, check the relevant copyright laws.

 

CXXXIII. Zinfandel

I have come to my blog this afternoon. I haven’t been here in a while. Maybe you noticed. The place is incredibly dusty. Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, does not dust. He sweeps up after parties, hangs new headers, and cooks borscht, but he does not dust.

I walk over to the round table. Even the orange candle in the bottle we keep in the center of the table is dusty. Someone has scrawled “Dusty Destry rides again” in the dust on the table surface, and, “Meet us at Bottleneck.” “Oh, so funny,” I think, dryly. “Moriarty.”

I open the windows and let in the light and air. I go into the kitchen. Fingerprints pepper the dust all over the black stovetop, and a stippling of dots, like someone has sneezed. There are a couple of corks on the stove, but no companion bottles. A pot of leftover chili sits on a burner, still warm, the handle of the big spoon sticking out at the rim of the lid. Moriarty must be here. I go into the back kitchen. Fingerprints are in the dust all over the old black stove here, too, and paw prints on the top front edge. And bird claw prints. Odd. I find a couple of rags in a drawer, dampen them and begin dusting. I climb to the catwalk. While dusting the apparatus, ropes and wires along the open spaces, I hear music – Moriarty’s banjo – and then peals of macabre laughter reverberate through the beams and railings. I stop. No … that’s not Moriarty. He doesn’t laugh that way. Silence ensues. A chill runs up my spine. Goosebumps rise on my forearms. This is my blog. I welcome visitors. But this – who else is creeping around in here…? A stranger listening for me? I’ll never get done dusting if I stop and wonder. I certainly do not want to be in here till midnight. I continue dusting. Once or twice I hear a dog bark – Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, Dickens?

Now I am hungry and the chili back there on the stove smelled good. I come down to the kitchen, rinse out the rags and take a break. I reheat the chili, sit at the round table and eat what is left. In the gathering gloom I think I hear again the evil laughter. I listen; then, stillness unbroken. I look around. I see no one. I get up, go into the kitchen and wash the dishes, chili pot, and the stoves in both rooms. I stay at my blog until well after dark, dusting. Finally I am done. I close the windows. I am ready to go home.

I think I hear Dickens barking. They must be in the cupola. I am tired and want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and good conversation. In the kitchen I find a wine glass but no wine, just bottle corks, and no cheese and crackers. The cupboard is bare. Unusual. I should visit my blog more often.

I climb the creaking, winding staircase, carrying my empty glass, and, brushing peeling yellowing paint off my sleeve, remember that I must get Moriarty to put a fresh coat of paint on these walls.

At the top, the cupola door is shut. Beyond the door I hear muffled voices. The door sticks a little, but I push it open wide. Dickens rushes to me, all wiggly, nuzzling me. He sniffs my hands, to see if I am bringing food, and my clothes. I probably smell like moldering rags. He sneezes.

Moriarty lolls in one chair and across the space, in the half-light, I see a dark-haired scrawny man sprawled in another. The man’s face is sallow, bony and crumpled, uneven, like whoever planned this face hadn’t laid out the parts on a grid first. He has a small mustache and random curls drop over his high forehead. His eyes are sunken, yet bright and beady, like small black grapes. He is dressed all in black, a black turtle neck sweater, with a scarf wound tight and tied about his neck, and jeans. He wears black loafers but no socks, the mark of a Southern man, or one who has lived for some time in the South.

“Samantha, this is my friend, Poe,” says Moriarty.

“Poe? As in Edgar Allan?” I ask, still standing just inside the door, staring at the pair. Poe fixes his eyes on me. They shine with dark intent – mysterious glinting blades. I reach to the doorframe for support.

“Poe is my first name,” he answers. “Edgar Allan Poe is my ancestor. My mother named me after him. He is my ancestor on my sister’s side.”

“…What? Your sister…?” I ask.

“Yeah. Paula,” he says.

I don’t pursue the conundrum. He seems a bit wacky to me. And he is creepy looking. I hear a whirring. Suddenly, a large bird swoops down, close in front of my face, and perches on Poe’s shoulder. I start. It is a raven, having apparently been perched on the frame over the doorway, right above my head: the explanation for the bird claw prints on the stove.

“Come in. Sit,” says Moriarty, waving his arm toward the remaining empty chair. “I see you found my message.”

“The one in the dust about meeting you at Bottleneck?” I say.

“That one,” says Moriarty. His banjo stands against his chair.

“Where’s the wine?” I ask. “I’ve been dusting all afternoon and I’m ready to near-drown in a glass of Zinfandel armed with cheese and crackers serving as floaties. Where’s the wine?”

The two gaze at me blankly. No, sheepishly. Then I spot over in the corner, and lining one wall, even in the gauzy light of the few candles Moriarty has brought up to the cupola with him, a contingent of Zinfandel bottles. They are empty. All of them.

My eyes widen. “You drank all the wine?!”

“We’re having a frightfully good time,” says Poe.

“We’re telling each other spooky stories,” adds Moriarty, “and then singing them.” He sniggers.

I don’t find these two boys particularly amusing. I’ve been scrubbing prickly cactus on a dusty desert all afternoon, reaching precariously over the edge of the catwalk, filling my lungs with dust and my ears with reverberating peals of macabre laughter seemingly out of the ethers, I am moldering and thirsty, and I want at least one glass of wine, a large one. Filled to the rim.

“There’s no more wine anywhere?” I say.

“It was a faulty case,” says Moriarty.

“Now, wait a minute,” says Poe, indignant. “I didn’t think the case in my detective story I just told you was faulty.”

“No, the case of wine,” says Moriarty. “The bottles all had leaks.”

“We should have brought a cask,” says Poe.

“I’m sure,” I say, flatly. “And, no cheese and crackers?”

“Nothing more,” says Poe.

Dickens walks over and sniffs the empty plate on the floor next to the bottles. There isn’t even a crumb for him to lick up.

The raven burps. Dickens trots over to the bird and begins barking up at it, still perched on Poe’s shoulder, Dickens commanding, as if to say, “You ate ‘em all. Cough ‘em up, buddy.”

But, I suspect it was Moriarty and Poe who ate the greater balance of them.

The candle flames flicker in the bare draft whispering through the open window. The curtain rustles lightly. We sit in silence. Poe stares down at the shapeshifting shadow specters dancing a fantastic fandango across the candlelit floor. The raven blinks. Moriarty watches Dickens settle onto the worn red Oriental rug, against my chair. A distant bell tolls.

Poe sits bolt upright. He peals,

“‘And the people–ah, the people–
 They that dwell up in the steeple,
    All alone,
  And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
    In that muffled monotone,
  Feel a glory in so rolling
    On the human heart a stone—,’

“I think I’ll write a poem about that,” he muses, “something about bells. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? It just rolls – rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls – rolls lightly off the tongue. A tintinnabulation.”

“You’re making me hungry,” says Moriarty. “Rolls and butter.”

“It’s already been written. By your ancestor on your sister Paula’s side,” I point out. “It’s called ‘The Bells.’”

“Ah, iron bells.” The rusty tone of his voice rises from a deep well within him. There is a peculiar, dark nervousness about this man. He twitches and fidgets and then suddenly he is calm, strangely calm, glassy. Then, I notice his eyes are not black, but light, yet acute, and sad, yes, sad. And, every time he twitches and fidgets, Dickens watches, amused, as the raven puffs its wings, roughs its feathers and shifts its position.

“Has Dickens been fed?” I ask.

“Well, smooth, sweet nepenthe. Of that I must have more,” says Poe. “I must get my hat and depart thee. I must get to the store. Then, I am headed to my chamber. I feel an urge, a pressing urge to write ever more.”

He rises, turns and then stops. He stoops and reaches into one of the bottles, the raven hopping, turning, adjusting its wings and claws on Poe’s shoulder for balance. “Look at this. It’s a message.” He sticks a finger into the bottle neck and coaxes out the paper. “A message in a bottle. Cool.”

He unrolls it. “Uh-oh,” he says upon examining it. “I wrote this.” He hands it to Moriarty. I read it over his shoulder. It is faded and hard to read in the feeble candlelight, but I can make out the title, in large print: “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“You just gave yourself away,” I say. “You’re the real Edgar Allan Poe, not some descendant on your sister Paula’s side.

“I won a literary award for this,” says Poe, “my only one. In 1833. I entered it in a fiction contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter [sic] newspaper. Fifty dollars, I got for my short story.” He reaches and pulls his black cape off the back of his chair, sweeps it around his shoulders, turns and heads down the winding staircase, the raven teetering as they descend as one. He waves a hand over his shoulder, “Ciao,” he says, and he and his raven vanish into the murkiness of the hour.

I turn to Moriarty. “You, my dear Phantom, have an intriguing menagerie of friends.”

Moriarty smiles.

The scent of fresh, wet earth rises as a soft rain begins to fall. Moriarty pulls the window closed and extinguishes the candles save one. He carries it to light our way as we descend the winding stairs, Dickens leading. Our shadows in the lost light glide alongside us like leviathan grotesques navigating inside a diaphanous wall.

“Remember, I asked you to paint these walls,” I say. “Would you do it soon? Please?”

“They have to be scraped first,” he says, “sanded down, to reveal the bones beneath.”

–Samantha Mozart
October 20, 2016

 

Liebster Award 2016

Version 2

I am pleased to announce that I have been given the Liebster Award for 2016. This marks the second year I have received the award; the first was for 2014. The Liebster Award is peer nominated, normally given by bloggers to other bloggers, and offers the opportunity to develop relationships with fellow bloggers and new readers. I accept this award and am honored to be part of this tradition. Thank you, Pat Garcia, for nominating me.

Pat Garcia is an inspirational writer of nonfiction essays and of fiction. She is an American writer, blogger, book reviewer, singer and musician living in Europe. Pat says her “heart lies in telling stories with a romantic twist that inspires.” You can find her uplifting stories on the Internet at: http://www.patgarciaandeverythingmustchange.com. This is just one of her blogs, and it will lead you to her others.

The Rules

  1. Write a post about yourself, displaying an image of the Liebster Award.
  2. Link back and thank the blogger who nominated you in your post.
  3. Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
  4. Pick 5 – 10 new bloggers (must have less than 300 followers) to nominate and ask them 11 new questions. Do not re-nominate the blogger that nominated you.
  5. Go to each new blogger’s site and inform them of their nomination.

I must tell you that I hesitated to complete the acceptance of this award. To write all this about myself seemed rather self-indulgent, and I and other authors have said much of this before. Ultimately, I decided to go ahead with it. I might attract some new reader, and my present following might dig up something of interest. In my wilder dreams, an agent might come along and say, “I must find a book publisher for you and avidly promote your work.” I should advise you, though – this is really long, so you may want to read it episodically or just go ahead and binge read.

Questions Asked by Pat Garcia

1. What does writing mean to you?

Digging up the clams at low tide …

Truth:

  • The importance of the fourth estate – journalism: the function of the press in a democracy is checks and balances; also, incisive investigation and communication of global affairs and humanitarian conditions.
  • Truth – whether by nonfiction or fiction, for consensus observes there is more truth in fiction than in nonfiction.
  • Human Interest profiles about individuals who have accomplished something extraordinary and beneficial for society.
  • Exchange of information and ideas – learning how and what others think; reaching truth, acceptance and compromise.
  • The messenger.

Providing the magic carpet to fly readers to the lands of their imagination.

2. Where do you get your inspiration?

I love storytelling and I am driven to write. Ask me how I’m doing and I’ll say, “Let me tell you a story about that.” My father and my uncle were always telling us stories, so I got that gene. Plus, I am interested in everything: I read, research and ask a lot of questions about a lot of things.

People fascinate me: Before I was old enough to wield pencil and paper I was an observer: I was 2 or 3 years old when my mother would tell me to stop staring at the passengers seated across from me in the trolley car. I studied them, wondering who they were, what their lives were like. Thus arose the genesis of transporting characters from the real world into my imaginative stories. By the time I was 8 or 9, you could hand me a pencil and a yellow legal pad and I would sit content, writing a story. When I began reading, I derived inspiration from fairy tales, The Arabian Nights, the logical illogic of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry (A Child’s Garden of Verses), children’s mystery (Nancy Drew) and biography books, and finally, F. Scott Fitzgerald. A great deal of my inspiration and influence develops from the set of 12 graded My Book House books my mother bought me when I was quite young.

3. Do you write fiction or non-fiction or both?

I write both fiction and nonfiction. I have been a journalist for years, writing features and human interest stories, and evolving to being an essayist, memoirist, short story writer and currently working on three linked novels. I especially enjoy the storytelling genre of writing creative nonfiction, intermixing fact and fiction.

4. Do you blog and if so, how often?

I blog. This is it. You are visiting and viewing my blog presently. I began writing my blog in May 2011, posting about twice a week; then, I was writing about caregiving for my mother who suffered from dementia. She died in April 2012. Since then, I have been posting on my blog as I feel necessary. I’ve taken the A-Z Blogging Challenge two years running, posting every day but Sundays throughout April 2015 and 2016. Lately I post intermittently. So, my blog has gotten dusty; and Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, although he does much work around here, such as hanging new headers, cleaning up after parties, and sometimes cooking meals which we share with his black, fluffy dog, Dickens, does not dust. So, I have to get busy dusting and I need to do that before I write another blog post so I won’t sneeze all over my pages, because then, Moriarty points out, the pages will stick together and my masterpiece won’t be much of a page turner.

5. Where is your favorite place or room to write?

I write in my studio at my iMac, listening to music, usually classical, looking out my window at the ever-changing dogwood and the activities of the birds, squirrels and my neighbor’s grandsons within its branches. Sometimes, too, I write by hand, using a favorite ballpoint pen, in my notebook, sitting in the chaise lounge between the perpendicular windows in my library. I believe it is necessary to write by hand. The process is slower, therefore allowing you time to think between the words and lines you are putting on the page; consequently, you go deeper into thought and detail and your writing flows like a soft stream over cobbles.

6. Do you have a regular routine, like writing in the morning or evenings? Or do you write whenever it hits you?

I like to write in the mornings, two or three hours; but sometimes I write best in late afternoon, for an hour or so, before dinner. I keep pen and paper all around the house and carry a pen and little notebook with me when I’m out, so I can capture that elusive gem the moment it rises above the ripples of thought.

7. Who is your favourite author? What kind of influence have they had upon your writing or upon you personally?

My favorite author is F. Scott Fitzgerald. He has taught me most of what I know about writing well. In pre-computer days, I read everything Fitzgerald wrote and everything written about him. I hand copied pages and pages of his essays on good writing and kept them in a file. Sadly, he died just before I was born. I chased after him to find the houses he had lived in nearby where I live – Wilmington and Baltimore – but found they had been torn down only a few years earlier. He is my kindred spirit and great inspiration, along with Thomas Wolfe and his marble angel. Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home still stands, in Asheville, and I have visited it twice. These two authors inspired me to believe in and discipline myself to write. They are my angels.

Additionally, the greatest short story writer, I believe, is Anton Chekhov, second only in talent to William Shakespeare. His nonjudgmental, incisive knowledge of humans and the human condition combined with his simple yet compelling storytelling approach the mystical. Too, there are Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen. My living favorites are Julian Fellowes, Adam Gopnik, Stephen King, William Least Heat-Moon, Orhan Pamuk, Gay Talese, Elif Batuman and T.J. Banks. I could go on.

Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy were friends. Chekhov wrote, “When literature possesses a Tolstoy, it is easy and pleasant to be a writer; even when you know you have achieved nothing yourself and are still achieving nothing, this is not as terrible as it might otherwise be, because Tolstoy achieves for everyone. What he does serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature.”

8. Do current events in the world have an effect upon what you write?

Of course current events influence what I write: they saturate us. You’d have to be solitarily confined not to extract some effect from your surroundings, and even then you might find something. Every writer must be attuned to his or her environment, whether it be war, misogyny and genocide in a foreign land; the sound of a piano through an open window; the way a squirrel grips with its hind paws a dogwood branch swaying in the autumn wind while turning the red berry in its front paws as it nibbles it; or the aroma of authors in a library, of the bindings and pages of their books. A writer, by nature, is an observer.

William Least Heat-Moon wrote in Blue Highways, “It was the Texas some people see as barren waste when they cross it, the part they later describe at the motel bar as ‘nothing.’ They say, ‘There’s nothing out there.’” Heat-Moon proceeds, then, while “driving through the miles of nothing,” to test the hypothesis. He stopped. “No plant grew higher than my head,’ he writes. “For a while, I heard only miles of wind against the Ghost; but after the ringing in my ears stopped, I heard myself breathing, then a bird note, an answering call … I heard the high zizz of flies the color of gray flannel and the deep buzz of a blue bumblebee. I made a list of nothing in particular.” He lists 30 things, and then says, “That was all the nothing I could identify then, but had I waited until dark when the desert really comes to life, I could have done better.” http://www.csun.edu/~hceng028/English/Sp15/moon.pdf.

9. How often do you read? Do you read books in different genres?

I read daily – everything from the backs of cereal boxes to The New Yorker to the great classic novels. I read different genres; however, I am a classicist in general, and I prefer and most often read the great 19th and 20th century classics – American, British, Russian, French and German. Too, I like how Middle Eastern storytelling starts from the middle and scrolls outwards to the beginning and the end. In my childhood I read the great classics from around the world, so those set my foundation. I think you’ll find that great writers have read insatiably as children. In my early childhood no one had TV, so I had to read. Most of the books I read had no pictures, so I had to imagine the scenes in my own mind, a phenomenon which modern screen time little supports.

10. Please share a paragraph or two of what you are currently working on.

Shortly, Lisa entered the lobby. She looked about 16, a perky blonde with a good tan. She wore a short skirt and pumps, no socks. The first thing I noticed as she led me down the hall to her corner office, which turned out to be about the size of my apartment, was her distinctly pronounced sock marks. Her ankles were snow white. It’s like she had highlighted them. The white sock marks looked so neatly painted in nice clean lines. That set the tone for our interview. “Did you use a stencil?” I wanted to ask as I followed her down that long, narrow, dark hall, her ankles practically lighting the way. I think the least I would have done was apply a tanning preparation — better orange ankles than Casper ghastlies. –From “White Sock Marks,” an essay included in my to-be-published collection, Leftover Bridges.

Were I to live forever, I would know him anywhere: Connell. His head was turned to his left, his dark eyes fixed on something across the street, and he was about to run into me.

It had happened once before: We worked together at Shoreline Catering. I cut a diagonal across the catering warehouse floor to his office to tell him something. Just as I arrived at his open office door, he jumped up from his desk and walked squarely into me in the doorway.

“Did he plan that?” I wondered. I wondered for seventeen years, the whole time I was away, living in Princeton, New Jersey. I had arrived back in Southern California two months ago, in October, just before the rains began and the snow-mantled mountains embraced the L.A. basin. I loved this time of year.

“Connell!” I said. He was four feet from me and coming fast, as always.

He turned his gaze on me, his intense, dark eyes sparked from somewhere deep and scorched my soul. Time telescoped. –A short story, “These Eyes,” from Leftover Bridges.

11. Where and what do you see yourself as within the next ten years? Will you have relocated? Will you have become the writer person that you have dreamed of being?

In 10 years I will be 85. By then, if I’m still living, I might have relocated from Delaware to Southern California where I lived most of my adult life. As for my writing, I am on the retirement side of my 50-year professional writing career. I began with analyzing and summarizing legislation for constituents of a United States Congressman, and worked through marketing and sales copywriting to magazine and newspaper writing and editing, to ultimately blogging and book authoring and publishing. I have some things I’d like to clean up, though – finish and publish books I have been working on – novels and essays, and continue writing my blog as I see fit, while my books become bestsellers.

My Liebster Nominations

http://tjbanks927.blogspot.com
http://gardenofedenblog.com
http://gwynnsgritandgrin.com
https://silviatomasvillalobos.wordpress.com
http://doesntspeakklingon.blogspot.com
http://saracsnider.com
https://celinejeanjean.wordpress.com

My Questions to Nominees

  1. When did you begin writing and what or who inspired you to dedicate yourself to writing professionally?
  2. Do you have a writing routine? Please tell us about it.
  3. Do you write at a computer, a typewriter or in longhand, or a combination of these?
  4. Do you have a designated space for writing? Where?
  5. Do you write to music? If so, what kind?
  6. What types of works do you read?
  7. Who is your favorite author and how has this author influenced you?
  8. What is your writing process from inception to completion and publication?
  9. Are you published? Through a publisher or indie? E-books or print or both?
  10. Please share a paragraph or two of a work in progress.
  11. Do you have an agent? If so, how did you get your agent? Otherwise, how do you market and promote your work?

–Samantha Mozart
October 8, 2016

 

 

 

CXXXII. “Under the Trees It Was Green and Cool”: F. Scott Fitzgerald

The singer is gone, but the song lingers on. September 24 is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. This year he would be 120.

September 24, 2016 — F. Scott Fitzgerald came to live in Wilmington, Delaware, in March 1927. With him he brought his wife, Zelda, and his little daughter, Scottie. They stayed two years.

The feudal atmosphere in Wilmington under the du Ponts, thought Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s editor at Scribner’s, would provide the creator of The Great Gatsby with the tranquility he needed to finish his new novel, “The World’s Fair,” and give him material for future work.

For $150 a month, they leased Ellerslie, the white three-story 1842 Greek Revival cupolaed mansion on the Delaware River in Edgemoor. Wilmington attorney John Biggs, Fitzgerald’s former Princeton roommate, found the house for them.

For the first few months, life at Ellerslie floated along on the wings of a dream. Fitzgerald wrote to Ernest Hemingway: “Address for a year – Ellerslie Mansion, Edgemoor, Delaware. Huge old house on the Delaware River. Pillars, etc. I am called ‘Colonel,’ Zelda ‘de old Missus.’”

Scott and Zelda devised a system of calls and echoes so they could find each other among the 14 of the 27 rooms they kept open. Scottie romped the broad green lawn with the Wanamaker and du Pont children. And from the second-story bay window room where Fitzgerald wrote, he could see the lights far across the river.

Ellerslie

Ellerslie, image from the Hagley Museum and Library

At Ellerslie, in the deep night, amid the whispering old oaks, beeches and horse chestnuts, you might glimpse the suggestion of a figure, perhaps Gatsby himself, standing on the pillared portico of the magnificent house, lifting his arms outstretched toward the dark water.

The invitations went out and the crazy weekends began. Fridays the French chauffeur drove to the Wilmington train station to meet the guests who included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Thornton Wilder, Edmund Wilson and Charles MacArthur. The chauffeur drove them back on Sunday. In between were dinner dances, polo matches staged with plow horses and croquet mallets, and late-night bedside visits by the resident ghost. If things got dull, they caroused the town: John Biggs received the middle of the night phone calls to get them out of jail.

At Ellerslie, Fitzgerald had turned 30. Indeed, a weekend guest recalled one of the parties as being a virtual funeral wake for the passing of his 30th year. His sense of loss plagued him.

“There was a demon within him to be the greatest writer of his generation. He didn’t feel he was accomplishing this,” remembered Biggs.

He got distracted when he started writing. “I get afraid I’m doing it instead of living…. Get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or in Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.”

Zelda wanted to build a surprise dollhouse for Scottie. Fitzgerald and his little girl waited in their car on a quiet red-brick street corner while she disappeared with some papers through a door lettered “Cabinet Maker.”

It was a fine November day. The last golden leaves clung to the trees, sprinkling little shadows here and there on the sidewalk. The daddy yawned. A very little boy walked up the street, taking very long strides. He went up to a door, took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and proceeded to write something under the doorbell.

“He’s making magic signs,” the daddy told the little girl. The daddy then wove a tale of fairy intrigue. ‘The little boy was the ogre and he was holding a princess captive behind the closed curtains of the flat on the corner. The king and queen were imprisoned 10,000 miles under the earth.

“And what, Daddy? What?” demanded the little girl, caught up in the magic. The man continued the story. He wanted to be in his little girl’s fairy world with her. A shutter banged closed, then slowly opened. Suddenly the room turned blue. That meant the prince had found the first of the three stones that would free the princess.

The man could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself. “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” was published in The Century Magazine, December 1928.

The Fitzgeralds interrupted their two years at Ellerslie voyaging to Paris in the summer of 1928. There, at a dinner party hosted by Sylvia Beach, a Baltimore native and founder of Shakespeare and Company, Fitzgerald met James Joyce, where he was so overawed by the genius of the Irish author that he sank onto bended knee, kissed his hand and later referred to the evening as “The Festival of St. James.”

Leaving Ellerslie for good in March 1929 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Genoa. In April they were somewhere in France. By June they were in Cannes.

After they sailed, Ellerslie was acquired by the Krebs Co.

In Europe Zelda suffered her first major breakdown, most likely bipolar, and spent 15 months in a Swiss clinic. Upon her release the Fitzgeralds returned to the United States to live in Baltimore in 1931, but Zelda broke down again and was treated at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Tender Is the Night, begun in 1925 as “The World’s Fair,” winged its way into the literary world in 1934. One year later, the big square rooms of the sweeping white mansion on the Delaware housed the offices of the DuPont Co. pigments plant.

Fitzgerald published “Afternoon of an Author,” a short story, in Esquire magazine in August 1936. In the story he wrote:

“He went into the kitchen and said good-by to the maid as if he were going to Little America. Once in the war he had commandeered an engine on sheer bluff and had it driven from New York to Washington to keep from being A.W.O.L. Now he stood carefully on the street corner waiting for the light to change, while young people hurried past him with a fine disregard for traffic. On the bus corner under the trees it was green and cool and he thought of Stonewall Jackson’s last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” Those Civil War leaders seemed to have realized very suddenly how tired they were—Lee shriveling into another man, Grant with his desperate memoir-writing at the end.”

Fitzgerald took rooms at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, for the summers of 1935 and 1936. He thought the respite at the inn would help him stop drinking and write more.  Tender Is the Night was not selling well: during the Depression people weren’t inclined to read about the highlife of the rich. He was supporting Zelda’s institutional stay and daughter Scottie’s Vassar education. At the Grove Park Inn, Fitzgerald turned 40.

The Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N. C.

The Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N. C.

Some years earlier, Scott Fitzgerald had met Asheville native son, Thomas Wolfe, author of the autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel, through Maxwell Perkins, their mutual editor. Perkins and Wolfe marked birthdays around Fitzgerald’s, September 20 (1884) and October 3 (1900) respectively. So, you might regard this story as a triple birthday commemoration. Wolfe and Fitzgerald maintained a correspondence on the philosophy of writing.

In 1937 Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to write for the movies. Gone With the Wind was one of them. He was also working on a new novel, The Last Tycoon. He stayed at the Garden of Allah residential hotel in Hollywood.

Garden of Allah

Garden of Allah

On December 21, 1940, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, lyrical prose writer, author of novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays, died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, of a heart attack. He was 44.

Thomas Wolfe died on September 15, 1938, in Johns Hopkins Hospital, his brain riddled with tuberculosis.

Maxwell Perkins, a kind father to both these men, died on June 17, 1947 of pneumonia.

Zelda perished in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 10, 1948, when flames ripped through a wooden building where she and eight other patients were housed.

In 1972, the gracious summer home on the Delaware, riddled with termites, was demolished.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, great grandnephew of Francis Scott Key, the author of the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the United States national anthem, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on this day, September 24, 1896. Happy Birthday, Scott.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards
Already with thee! tender is the night

—from Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

This Ode to Fitzgerald is in part excerpted from a piece I published in the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, “Only the Memories Remain,” under my byline Carol Child,
April 24, 1986.

Samantha Mozart