Day 15 of Writing 101: Your Voice Will Find You

And So It Ends

It was a fun event last year–the annual Tea.  My first, but undoubtedly not my last, I thought at the time.  But I didn’t expect The Break.  Didn’t see it coming, never would have predicted it would come–not while I lived here on this island Paradise.

Even Paradise has its problems.  Some are major, some are small; some are ignorable, others are blatant and hard to block from view.  Some come from my own worldview; others are imposed on me.  Some are taken personally, though not too much so; others are just general nuisances.  But it happens to each of us at one time or another.  Either an established institution that we thought would last forever falls to time or circumstance, or we find a chink in the foundation that makes us wonder why we are part of it, even though the damage we see is minute.  Somehow, to us it becomes a major stress fracture that overcomes all the beauty and goodness of the structure and  focuses our minds on that single flaw.  It’s not even that the flaw is the only one, or even the worst of the bunch.  It simply is something that feels like coarse sandpaper heavily applied to a bare wrist; or an amplified screech of sharpened  fingernails applied across an old slate blackboard that hurts the ears.

Recently, I talked about an error I had made–one that apparently percussed on several members of a group, not just on me.  I tried to rectify the problem, but was clearly too late.  My fault.  I should have been more careful; I should have taken the time to do what I have told countless students and adult workshop participants to do: read carefully, and don’t take action on something assumed because a piece of writing was carelessly read and therefore misunderstood.  But the response of the institution was as unexpected as it was unequivocal and, to me, horrifying.  Horrifying because, in my perception, it was exclusionary and therefore discriminatory.

Above all else, exclusion and discrimination are abhorrent to me.  OK.  Maybe lying to me is worse, but the whole idea of judgement comes into play here.  Just as I question, “Who am I to judge?” so I also question “Who are They to judge?”  Especially since the They is only a small part of the whole of this particular unit.  If the decision was put to a membership (a lower-case they) vote, and observation of similar decision-making is used to extrapolate, then they were barely listening as they practiced breaking up for the evening.  It’s a time when no one is paying any attention to the speaker–they are saying their good-byes, or chatting with someone who came in late, or helping to clean up, or just busy organizing their own belongings.  The mind of the they is no longer open for further discussion.  Even those who hear are only half listening, and are not necessarily sure of the topic.

Thus it came to be that, although the institution remains, I no longer live there.  A shame, really.  I love this tiny institution.  I love the charitable work of this institution. I am very fond of many of the they as well as most of the They.  I created The Break.  I will miss the best purely social gathering of the group, the annual Tea.

Yet, I think, I am not like them–neither the They nor the they.  I am independent, and, although I am pretty much in tune with most of the cultural differences that are transcended to make up the group membership, I can’t say that I was ever one of them.  I was an observer for a time.  The time for observation is done.  I no longer belong.  My decision.  My personal break.  No time for tea…

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Day 14 Writing 101: To Whom It May Concern (or, Dear Visual and Psychological Perceptions)

Dear Visual and Psychological Perceptions,

It has been a long time since I’ve addressed either of you. Visual Perception, I’d like to comment that I do not appreciate the distortions to my visual field during a migraine incident.  It is really difficult to drive during an attack, and you should have gone away years ago–or at least abated.  Additionally, perspective changes due to astigmatism in both eyes is really getting on my nerves.  It really is hard to draw when I have to question every single stroke of my pencil because you keep changing the focal point of my subject.

Psychological Perception, it would be really nice if you stopped making me question every word that is spoken to me in the wrong tone of voice, or if the words used by another cause me to question what was meant by those words.

Thank you very much for your cooperation in this matter.

Most sincerely,


Dear Me,

I can do nothing about your migraine perceptions; you have what’s called an aura.  Just be grateful that you rarely get the accompanying brain-splitting headaches any more.

As for the astigmatism, start wearing those special contact lenses more often. Use more eye drops during the day. Get over losing your reading glasses every five minutes by buying or making one of those eyeglass holder chains people wear around their neck–the ones that attach to the arms of your glasses.

Suggestingly submitted,

Visual Perception

Dear Me,

Get over yourself. Unless you said something that was offensive to another person, stop worrying about what others say or think about you.  Chances are pretty good they just said what they mean the wrong way, which is how you took it. You know what it’s like to have the wrong words come out of your mouth; try assuming that’s what is happening to others. What do you care what other people think about you anyway? At age 65, you are who you are, and lots of people love you anyway.


Psychological P.

Dear Visual Perception,

OK. You are right on about the contact lenses.  I’ll start putting them in more regularly tomorrow–especially if I’m concentrating on drawing with any hope of approximating accuracy.

But I really do think I’m too old to still have the migraine aura.  Is there nothing you can do?



Dear Me,

Glad you like the suggestion about the contact lenses. Don’t forget the reading glasses holder, though.

About the aura, most women stop seeing one–and stop having the headaches–after menopause. But some women continue with migraine symptoms for many years beyond. You’re probably one of the latter.  You react to almost all your drugs with paradoxical effects, so maybe your auras are also due to some paradoxical problem. If it’s really bothering you that much, talk to a neurosurgeon. Your husband is a mere neuroscientist. Although he probably knows the brain better than many neurosurgeons, he could still be wrong  about non-lesion or non-tumor brain malady. A nice MRI or CT scan of your head is probably long overdue anyway. You haven’t had one for at least 10 years–maybe longer.  Talk it over with your eye doctor. Be proactive, not reactive. You know the score.

Best wishes for a great eye exam and brain scan,


Dear Psych P.,

You’re right, of course–on all counts.  But do you think that my visual distortions are part of the same neuromechanisms that cause my visual perception problems? Were you copied on Visual’s emails to me? I’m not 25 any more. Might I benefit from a brain scan for you, too?



Dear Me,

Visual is probably right that a brain scan wouldn’t hurt. Talk to your internist about both problems as well as your eye doctor and–if possible–a neurologist. See if they can come to a consensus.

Yours in thoughts,


Dear Visual and Psychological Perceptions,

Thanks for the advice. I almost feel as though you are reading my own thoughts. I’ll start setting up appointments with doctors before the end of the week. If necessary, I’ll take a trip back to the Mayo Clinic.

Besides the problems I asked you about, I’ve missed my kidney tumor scan two years in a row, and I’ve hit the five-year cancer follow-up mark. On top of all that, I think my upper discs and arthritic spurs are pinching a nerve or two, as I’m experiencing frequent numbing of my right arm and hand. The only reasons  why I know it’s not heart-related is because the numbness is on the wrong side, and my recent cardio exams were surprisingly good for an anemic old lady.  A trip to the mainland seems necessary after all. I’ll talk to my local internist about a referral, and have records from former surgeons sent to Mayo, too.

Both of you made some excellent suggestions and helped me think of other things that need checking so I can get them all out of the way in one trip. Once again, thanks for your advice. It would have taken me quite a while to come up with a plan on my own.

Love you both,



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Day Thirteen Writing 101: Serially Found

Losing a furry or feathered family member can be difficult, as mentioned in the Day Four assignment.  When a pet dies, we can feel a hole in our heart or soul that needs filling or closing.  While extremely sad about our loss, we each have our unique manner of replacement behavior.  Some of us never want to adopt another pet; ever.  Others want to have a period of mourning, but wish to begin thinking about a new adoption.  Still others have a need to fill the hole in our hearts immediately, because although our lost loved one can never be replaced, it is about filling that hole.  Many of us have tried all three ways of coping with the loss of a furry friend, especially as we age and our children have left the nest.  

Personally, I have never felt that I never want another pet again.  But my husband had sworn that we would never adopt another dog when our last one died of cancer at the age of seventeen.  And so. For the first time in many, many years, our home had no dog.  Izzy, a mini schnauzer mix, died about six years ago, and my husband would not even discuss adopting another dog.  We had a cat, Velvet, who was about four years younger than Izzy, and she would have to do.  For a year, Velvet reigned the household for the first time in her life.  She was becoming cranky.  Whether from aging or loneliness, we couldn’t tell.  We finally opted for loneliness and decided to adopt a kitten, as there was a “no dog” policy in effect.  But Joe was adamant that we look for a Russian Blue mix, and began an Internet search of local cat adoption groups.  We found Stanly, pictured in such a laid-back pose that he immediately caught Joe’s eye.  When we emailed about adopting him, we were told that he had just found a new home earlier in the day.  Joe was heartbroken, especially since this was the only young Russian Blue recently listed for adoption.  

All of our pets are shelter or rescue animals.  Our viewpoint for years has been that there are far too many lovely cats and dogs waiting for a forever home.  To us, spending a great deal of money on a pet from a private breeder was too much of a headache, as they seemed constantly to be kidnapped for ransom or simply stolen.  Certainly there are many good reasons to buy, especially if allergies or temperament is a key quality.  But joe and I also liked the element of surprise that comes with a pet whose ancestry is unknown.  It was one of the reasons that Joe was so disappointed that we were too late to adopt the Russian Blue mix.  

We decided to keep checking the Internet for another one that became available.  Two weeks of searching and calling or emailing made it clear that it would be a difficult search.  

During our weekly Saturday “long walk,” we passed the park near our home and noticed that there was a kitten adoption fair going on.  At the same time, we noticed a black kitten (we both love black cats; Velvet was a black cat) climbing the side of a large crate that displayed five or six kittens of various hues.  This one was clearly trying to get at a bird that was sitting on a tree branch about six inches from the crate.  No slouch, this one.  It wanted to play with that bird.  Instantly, we fell in love and decided to adopt this obviously un-Russian Blue kitten.  

About six weeks later, I received an email saying that Stanly, the kitten whose Internet photo Joe had loved, was not working out in his new home.  We’re we interested in meeting him?  We drove from our apartment in Beverly Hills to a veterinary office in Pasadena, and met a super friendly beautiful young male cat.  He had already been spayed, and we could take him home the same day, if we liked.  Joe was extatic, and, although I really didn’t want a third cat in the house, I couldn’t overrule him.  We changed the spelling to Stan Lee ( yes, Joe loves his comics), and brought him home.  Velvet was already disgusted that Shadow was in the house.  She was even more disgruntled when Stan Lee joined our family.  Shadow, after a few hours of hesitation, decided she really liked having a new playmate in the house–Velvet was far too standoffish and above the idea of idle play–and for almost a year the two younger cats were almost inseparable.  They didn’t grow apart until Stan reached full adulthood, and tried to assert himself against a very independent-minded Shadow.  But they remained besties despite their dominance issues.  

At about that time, I reasserted my need for a dog in the house.  I had recuperated from my third back surgery and needed more motivation to get out and walk.  To me, a dog was the perfect answer.  Joe fought me about this. He was too emotionally affected by Izzy’s loss, which was somehow linked to his childhood and his dog being taken away from him.  In his mind, Izzy had died only a few months earlier.  He hadn’t realized that he had been mourning for over two years.  So he relented, on the condition that I would be solely responsible for any dog that came into the household; he could not deal with the loss of yet another dog.  

And so, I began visiting the local animal shelter and checking out the possibilities.  I visited at least once a week for almost a month.  One puppy caught my eye and would be available for adoption in one week.  The deal was, you couldn’t reserve a puppy in advance of his availability.  And the pup would go to the first person to claim him.  I was first in line on the day he became available.  But he was clearly more interested in a competitor and I backed off, despite my first-come status.  Disappointed, I cruised the cages of puppies with little expectation of finding a new pet that day.  So it surprised me when this one pup, in a cage with much older and bigger dogs, kept yapping at me.  I asked to meet him.  Yes, this pup was trying to adopt me.  I asked about having him “tested” for getting along with cats, something this shelter did regularly for people who already had a different species at home.  He proved to be quite happy to play with cats, and didn’t try immediately to eat them; and he took no offense over an occasional set of claws gripping his snout (although I was a bit concerned about seeing this reaction from an older cat).  OK.  Clearly, this pup could live among cats, was sweet, wanted me as his person.  What could I do? I had to adopt him.  

Rincewind came into our home with a  one around his head the following day. The shelter policy is that no pet gets adopted until after he has been spayed or neutered.  Poor little thing.  A wretched collar, a new home, and three cats who wanted nothing more than to torment him, when they bothered to pay any attention to him at all.  Stan was the first of the cats to actually befriend Rincey, and even that took more than a week.  Thus, we “found” two kitties one year and found a dog the next.  

All was well until Joe “found” a new job on an island in the middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of the Caribbean.  By then, we knew that Velvet–seventeen years old–was suffering from tumors that were riddling her internal organs.  We knew we would have to put her down because she was in a great deal of pain, but mostly because we were certain she could not survive the long trip to a new home.  

Sometimes, finding and losing come too close together.  Tearfully, we held Velvet at the veterinary clinic as she silently found a new path… 

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Writing 101 Day Twelve: Dark Clouds…

Wow.  She waves to me while I check out. I am at a regular register toward the rear of the store; she is at the “special help” one, much nearer the exit.  My cart is right behind her at the door where the regular guard checks the receipt against the visible merchandise.  She seems to deliberately keep her back turned to me, either embarrassed by the amount of beer she has in her cart (and nothing else), or because she is afraid I will hold her up with  weather chat, or maybe some other reason…

Although she checked out at the closer register, her car is parked much further along the building than mine.  I don’t know her terribly well, but we belong to the same charitable organization on the island, and I either never paid much attention before, or I just assumed she would be the type of person who kept her eyes open and her senses aware when she walked.  I was certain I was being deliberately shunned, despite her enthusiastic waving inside the store.

My car unlocks at the click of the Unlock button on the key, and I work my cart to the hatch of my old island X-Trail to put away my purchases.  Normally, I don’t go to the CostULess by myself any more because I can’t handle heavier objects on my own. Unlike at the local grocery stores, there are no bag boys packing up my stuff  here and steering the cart toward my car, where they pack my purchases into the back.  The grocery is where I go when I’m shopping for heavy objects by myself; the CostULess is where I go for bulk light-weight items like paper towels and tissues.  Today, the only reasons I am here is that I need some quick heat-and-take appetizers for a birthday party we’re attending later in the day, and because I was expecting to see a friend who would be displaying wares from 11 a.m.  I succeed in my purchases mission, but fail to hook up with said friend.  (Later I find out she arrived right around the time I was pulling out of the parking lot. )

The oven is full of finger foods that cook at about the same temperature, and I am in the bedroom changing for the party.  For whatever reason, my thoughts keep returning to what I really think was deliberate ignoring.  Several things come to mind: I have trouble driving unfamiliar roads during the night. My night vision is getting better as I get stronger after months of illness weakened me so much that I almost completely stopped driving, even during the day, unless absolutely necessary.  I opted out of taking any part in the charity group’s only fundraiser because it is really a lot of work, and all I was doing was sleeping when the illness was in full swing.  During some of the worst days of my illness, I also lost my two 5-year-old cats that we’ve had since kittenhood.  The combination threw me into a depression I couldn’t get out of.

Another member of the organization inadvertently started pulling me out of this funk by asking me to edit an annual report for her.  I had done the same the year before, and took on the responsibility, fighting with myself (and an interim flu I caught during a meeting with the stakeholders) each day to tackle a bit more of the report.  By the time I was over the flu more than a week later, I was only half-way done, but I managed to finish it in just two days, including a few re-writes of passages that I lacked information to complete properly.  My fee was two tickets to the group’s fund raising event, which I had asked be set aside for me anyway.  Thus, I managed to attend the event with a friend and neighbor.  The second ticket had been intended for my husband, but he forgot to tell me until four days earlier that “we” were expected at a university event that he had signed us up for.  Just because I asked him for the date of the event a month earlier didn’t mean I was given it.  That’s just the way he operates–no calendar except for class schedules and meetings.  Everything else he forgets about until the last minute.  Thankfully, my friend knew the way and was willing to drive for a good time and a good meal.  Otherwise, I would not have been able to even attend a fun event because it took place on a part of the island I rarely drive to, and that I would never have been able to find on my own–with or without my husband.

So I begin to wonder if the CostULess problem had to do with the fact that I had attended the event without doing any of the work.  No, I think. That can’t be it.  But maybe I ought to take another look at that organization dinner invitation I received via email and responded with a “join” on Facebook.  I open the computer and re-read the invitation.  Hmm…  Maybe I misinterpreted it.  Looking at it again, I note that it specifies a “thank you” celebration for those who worked toward making the event a success.  I had attended, but didn’t do anything toward that evening’s preparations.  That was OK, because I had taken a leave of absence from the group until sometime during the summer, after I get myself back on my feet again.  So really, I don’t think the invitation was supposed to include me.

The next day, I shoot off an email to the group secretary asking if I had RSVP’d in error, and that I am about to change my response.  Apologetically, she responds that this event was, as I had already figured out, only for the persons who worked toward the gala.  So I immediately get into Facebook–which is excruciatingly slow for me here on the island with our poor connections to the internet–and after the forever wait before I can even post a status, I try to access the organization site only to find that I’m shut out altogether.  So I sit here writing this Dark Clouds assignment, and I am thinking, I  paid my dues for the year and am therefore a member in good standing until December when next year’s dues are in.  Is it possible that the leave-of-absence status removes me from the membership list? But we have no policy like that.  (Hell, we don’t even have by-laws or anything else in written form that discusses how the organization works.  Everything is word-of-mouth, passed down, etc.)  Or are there comments related to my RSVP that the secretary does not want me to see?  Now I’ll have to check back with her on whether she had inadvertently shut me out of the “private group” of which I am a fully paid-up member…

Bottom line: I know I should not have been included on the invitation, and that I had responded without reading it carefully.  Also, I know that Facebook can be really flaky to use at times–I even had trouble with it back in the States.  Sometimes I can’t even access my own account here!  So my shut-out may have been inadvertent.  Or was it?  Should I be upset?



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Day Eleven: Size Matters

A house!  My parents were buying a house, and we could move out of this apartment over a hardware store. Hooray!

It was time to buy a house, my parents decided, because my sister had been born recently, and the layout of our apartment made it hard to keep a baby in a quiet place when company came.  I think my bedroom used to be a pantry.  The place was so small that it didn’t allow my Mom any privacy to rest for an hour or two while I watched my sister.  So it was time to find a larger home.

After looking at what seemed to me like a hundred houses, my parents bought an old converted Victorian on the street behind the apartment, providing them some income from rentals, and keeping us in the same old neighborhood.  That was good because I didn’t have to leave my friends behind.  The bedroom I eventually shared with my sister felt like a ballroom.  Even better, the train tracks were one house over!

Now, when you’re twelve, the idea of living close enough to passing trains is pretty exciting: I would go out on the front porch and wave to the conductors as the train  passed, and count cars on a freight train.  Sometimes, an engineer would be on the platform of the caboose.  I’d get a real treat then: three short whoops of the whistle.  Other times, I would just read the container crs for the names of the companies shipping goods.  Best of all were the car haulers.  I got one of the first peeks at the new models each year.  The passenger cars added entertainment, too.  Often, I would watch the people in the window seats and try to guess what they did for a living, why they were on the train, where they were headed…

Unfortunately, trains can be a bit of a nuisance, too–like when you’re watching your favorite mystery show and, just when the detective is telling everyone who did it, the train would go by, rattling all the windows with the whoosh created by its speed.  In those days, there were no ear phones to plug into the TV set; there were no recording devices or cable companies that allowed you to back up and listen again. If you missed it, you missed it.  And the whole house really shook.  Although my mother never made them, I can guarantee the house was not in a location that allowed baking a perfect souffle.  Amazingly, it was easy to get used to the passage of trains during the night.  Within a week, they stopped waking me.   And yes, it’s true: I would wake up when a very regular train was running very late.  Silence woke me.

Years later, when I lived in California, my husband would marvel at me because I slept through earthquakes.  I’m convinced that the experience of living so near to train tracks in my youth was responsible for this.  Anything short of 5.5 on the Richter scale was only a passing train…


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If you’ve been following my Writing 101 stuff at all, and read the explanation from the last blog, you know that I’ve been a busy bee lately.  My first post from the writing class was inadvertently placed on the Commons, where we should only post a link to where our latest assignment is located.  I thought I had posted my second assignment in the blog site I named All My … Writing.  Well, the second assignment got posted there, although I could not find it, and it seemed to disappear into the stratosphere. Now I find that I really do have the other blog site.  It just suddenly showed up with that writing class post in it today!

There is no doubt in my mind that I am the one who had made a mistake, not WordPress.  Also, Google has been responding strangely here since they got hit with the legal action from the European Commons week before last.  And there have been lots of things going a little screwy since then…just about the time this class started, in fact.

Well, I’ll just post the lessons in both places so I have an actual record of what I wrote!!

Til later…


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What’s All This Writing 101 Stuff?!?

Hi, Followers and Fellow Bloggers!

If you have read posts on this site in the past, you are probably wondering what all this Day X, Assignment, Writing101 stuff is, and why it’s on this education issues site.  And the answer is: it was purely accidental that I ended up using this site to publish writing class projects from Word Press’s Bloggers U.  Once I started here, it was too much of a hassle to change to a different–or even a new–site.  Then I thought, Hmm…this is like teaching by example–bad example, but example nevertheless. So there actually is an educational connection here: how to go from novice writer (and the class truly is about writing and not blogging) to a less novice writer in 4 intense weeks of assignments.

To be honest, I find that I’m exposing various aspects of both myself and the learning process through this class and this blog site. I’m sharing a new hobby which a month ago I really and truly believed I had no talent for; what goes through my mind when I write; what and how I think about people and society, as well as education; in short, I’m baring my soul and giving you an indication of what might be happening in some students’ minds.

Self-confidence is  not part of my make-up, and it sort of unnerved me to post my first writing assignment.  But I am not perfect, have never been perfect, will never be perfect, do not aspire to be perfect; and all my imperfections help me learn about myself.  I hope they help you learn about some of the students you teach.


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Day 8: Writing 101 No Adverbs Allowed in this Descriptive Essay on Observations

I didn’t see what was going on. I was in the studio sketching with oil paints for the first time. The room is large, open, and has windows on three sides to optimize light within an old French-side building with a view of the Caribbean Sea that inspires me, even though my subject matter is not the quaint village shops across the way, or the sea beyond the rooftops.

Through the door from the studio to the shop–located in the windowless wall, as far away from the windows as possible, I hear voices and movement.  It is not what I see from my well-lit work area, but what I hear–another group of tourists debarking a tour bus outside the street-side window, and spreading out among the shops and eateries in the street below.  Potential customers, in colorful groups of two to four, climb the old-fashioned concrete steps to the shop behind which I work, complaining of the height of the European-style risers.  I hear them enter.  The shop is small.  It holds fragile ceramics placed well away from table and shelf edges, accessible yet safe; and jewelry–simple, complex–hand-created by local artisans and craftspersons, scattered across table-top sculptures and carvings or hanging from those special stands one finds in mall stores around the world.  African carvings and masks dominate the walls and higher shelves, with the intricate hand-cast ceramics, like skeletons of sea urchins, haunt nooks and crannies among the other items.

The wall that separates the shop from the much larger studio is thin, a newer separation than the building’s walls–strong concrete walls that protect against the Caribbean heat.  I hear a few tourists wander into the shop as I work, out of sight, on my project.  At 65, I have discovered that I can draw–so long as what I draw is from a picture or photo that I can measure centimeter by centimeter or align features with my pencil or brush.  Although I can draw to scale, my preference is to expand my project to fill my page–sometimes to the very edges of the paper or canvas.  I’m working on that, but I estimate the enlargement with my measuring techniques.

Trigger Fish

Trigger Fish

Tourists enter and leave, friends drop by and are “treated” to my lasted completed work–a run-of-the-mill trigger fish covered in unique spots ranging from standard shapes to tiny complex images like tattoos on a human body.  Only when familiar patterns appeared to my eyes–cat shapes, a lying dog, a high-heeled shoe, owls, a little man–did that drawing become fun and almost perfect.  I think the tutor’s photocopy of her work contained little “jokes” of shapes in her original work; but she says no–it was like finding friends in her parents’ marbled flooring when she was a child, or finding familiar figures in clouds.  She did not put in the “jokes” like those often found in complex art from the Renaissance. I chuckle, and perform my practice of sketching in oil paints,  observing how mineral spirrits and paper towels replace an eraser.  Despite the new medium, I discover that my attempts at drawing basic shapes still suck. My eyes see the correct shape; my mind says, “No, not an ellipse: a circle,” and overrides my eyes’ observation.  Result: my hand draws a circle.

www.richard-seaman.comShop distraction was welcome, and helped me relax enough to draw that ellipse, or replicate the shape of the new poisson, my current subject cycle. Trigger fish, to be exact. This one is both more simple and more complex than last week’s, for it was a queen trigger fish, identifiable mostly by the little crown-like fin leading a secondary fin along the upper spine.  The model is unclear, and I know the iPad will find me lots of queen trigger fish when I return home to my internet access (like the one pictured here).

The conversations between or among tourists (all Americans and Canadians, from the accents) are fun to listen to, and I am able to imagine exactly what is happening, such as the bracelet a daughter picks up to try on and, with much hope, begs Mom to buy for her.  There are the conversations between spouses or partners as they argue about whether an eggshell-thin hand-cast ceramic item will survive the trip home or–worse–customs.  An elderly lady picks up one of the colorful hand-made elephant cushions: How adorable! And look.  It can be used as a neck pillow on the plane home from Florida! [where most US cruises seem to originate].  I could almost hear the woman’s hand caress the stylized elephant.  Her friend thinks the price is too high for what is nothing more than a child’s toy, and the woman sighs as she supposes so, and I imagine the wistfulness in her eyes as she puts the pillow back in its basket with the rest of its mates.

Between customers, my tutor bustles into the studio, corrects a mistake here and there, explains my problem, chats about things in general.  Just before my time with her is up, a couple come into and purchase a handful of small items.  I don’t hear them come in as I clear my space and pack up.  I think it is Vivie’s first sale of the day, with the tourist “high season” winding down and shops basically low on inventory.  She comes into the studio with several coppery and wooden trinkets in one hand, grabbing purple wrapping tissue with the other.  I smile and hand her my tuition after the trinkets and paper are laid onto some clean counter space. I air-kiss her good-bye as the purchasers stumble into the studio.  They look a bit bewildered at the empty work space, so she explains to them that this is the studio part of her business and that I am a student.  I nod good afternoon to them as I turn and walk out the studio door–the one just a few steps further along the balcony from the shop entrance.

It had been a great morning for me–finding out how easy it is to work with oil (although I don’t think much of cleaning up oily paintbrushes), how proud Vivie had been of my first fish, and how much fun it is to discover new talents.


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Day 10: Writing 101–Happy [special occasion]

Growing up holds the best and the worst of life–at least as viewed from a very young age.  The good memories from childhood may make any bad memories dim by comparison. I can’t remember a birthday or other celebration when my mother would make my favorite foods or desserts–that just wasn’t her way.  I doubt that she ever even thought about cooking that special dish just for me to mark a birthday or major accomplishment.  Although I knew that my friends’ mothers would cook their favorite foods on their birthdays, it never bothered me that my mother didn’t do that.  The main reason is that, to get my favorites, all I had to do was ask–no special occasion needed.  And my mother was an excellent cook who never used a recipe in her life.  Yet, she managed to make the simplest, plainest dish a celebration of flavor and aroma.  I don’t have her cooking talent, but my son seems to have inherited it.  He’s another one who can whip up a meal from whatever he finds in the pantry or refrigerator and create a feast of flavor that tickles the tongue.

But enough of the background, and back to special foods on special occasions.  Although my mother’s cooking and baking were kept simple, and despite the fact that no special meal marked a celebration such as my birthday, the one thing I always got on my birthday was a cake from a very particular Italian bakery that sat on the boundary between my town of New Brunswick (New Jersey) and Franklin Township.  I can no longer remember the name of the bakery, and know that it no longer exists, but their cakes were amazing creations of flavor, and the birthday cake fillings were miraculous.  My favorite filling was a peaches and custard that I can still taste, forty-five years after my last bite.  I always preferred the butter icing to the whipped cream icing, although both were good.  To get my birthday cakes, my mother would drive over a week or more ahead of time (sometimes certain fillings were not available unless someone asked for it in advance), and then drove back–usually after work–on my birthday to pick it up.  It didn’t matter if we celebrated alone (my father worked the second shift and took meals with us only on weekends), or if family or friends were present.  She always bought the cake that was large enough to serve at least 12 people, and that made my birthday last a few extra days.

My mother worked hard when I was growing up.  She and my father and I arrived from Europe in 1954, several years after post-World War II accords made it impossible for my parents to ever return to either’s birth land–my mother was a German born in Russia; my father’s family had a thriving farm in Belarus.  Both families were all but destroyed by the Communist wave that took everything from middle-class families.  What remained of my mother’s family managed to seek refuge in Minsk in Belarus, where relatives were supposed to be waiting for them to escape the west-moving force of Communism.  When my grandmother arrived with five of her thirteen children in tow, she found no relatives who had fled just before their arrival.  Stuck in Minsk, my mother’s family lived through the bombing of a beautiful city by both Allied and Axis nations.  My mother went to school as long as she was able at her mother’s insistence.  She was a star student, but was traumatized by the bombings and harsh realities of fighting forces in the streets of her city.  Despite going from middle-class status to abject poverty overnight, my grandmother insisted that my mother devote all her time to her school work, and never taught my mother how to cook or sew, although she did both herself because of that part of her “finishing school” education that all middle-class girls were expected to complete.  So my mother’s prowess in the kitchen was more amazing than if she had spent time watching her mother cook.

At some point after the war ended and “displaced persons” and families, caught in the midst of having no home, were basically interred in camps until the various governments could sort out which country would become their new home.  Most of the remains of my mother’s family were returned to Germany, as they were still considered German citizens despite their expat status in Russia.  My mother, however, met my father at whatever internment camp they  occupied–neither spoke much about the war or the years following armistice.  For whatever reason, they ended up in France, where I was eventually born, following the birth and death of twin brothers born too prematurely to survive back in the late 1940s.  I came along at the Epiphany in 1950 (my mother says I was born late and have been late ever since).  I don’t know if my mother learned to cook while in the camp, or received cooking guidance as a young wife.  My father, for some reason unknown to me–possibly because of his closeness to his mother who was all but killed before his eyes by Communist soldiers over possession of her chickens, and died shortly after–was a good cook in his own right.  Maybe be gave my mother suggestions or helped her cook from the beginning.  I’ll never know because my father passed away more than twenty years ago, and my mother turned inward after his death and speaks about nothing from her past any more.

When my parents arrived in the United States, my father was able to procure work quickly in one of New Jersey’s cable mills because he had been a steel worker in France.  My mother had picked up some hand-sewing skills while working for a seamstress in France, but hand sewing was not a sought-after skill in New Brunswick, and it took her a while to find a dress factory job that was willing to train her to use a sewing machine.  She became skilled enough that she was able to leave the poor-paying dress factory and get a job at the much better paying men’s suit factory.  After an initial training period, she was given the option of “time work” or “piecework.”  The opportunity for better earnings were in the piecework category, and my mother was nothing if not a driven and hard-working woman.  For years, she would take the bus to work but often walk the two miles home to save on bus fare.  So when she came home, she was already very tired.  When she learned to drive, because my father used the car for work, she would sometimes make arrangements with him to get a lift to his job so that she could run special errands.

My birthday cakes were always special errands.  Even after my sister was born almost twelve years after me, and she had made special arrangements to begin work early and come home to care for my sister before my father had to leave for work, on my birthday she would drop him off at his job, swing around and pick up my birthday cake, and made sure it was the evening’s dessert.

To this day, I know how difficult that was for her to do–especially when she had a demanding toddler to care for, too.  Just keeping my sister from getting her fingers into the cake on the drive home must have been what I call an interesting experience.  And yet she succeeded.  If my sister did manage to grab a bit of icing or one of the roses made of wafers from the top of the cake, my mother fixed it so that I would never notice.  I did, of course, but I never bothered to tell her so; she was always so proud of the way she covered up the tell-tale traces of my sister’s little misdeed.  But I knew there were always supposed to be three such roses on the top, not two; or that a section of the edging was a bit smoother than the rest.  It was probably the only thing my little sister ever did to me that I utterly forgave because my mother–already tired after an early start to her day and probably driven to distraction by the little tyrant–had tried so hard to bring home a perfect cake from a perfect bakery that was far from our house.


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Day 9 Writing 101: Point of View

A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench.  The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater.  The man begins to cry…


Melinda stops dead in her tracks. Her hand clenches around Daniel’s. He doesn’t even feel my hand, she thinks to herself.  As his hand goes limp in hers, she loosens her grip gently and moves her hand away.  There is clearly something in his past that he hasn’t told me about.  Is it something so painful that he hasn’t been able to share it with me?  We’ve only been involved seriously for the past six months.  There’s a lot I don’t know about him yet. There’s a lot he doesn’t know about me, either.  Some of them are none of his business–ever!–and others we just haven’t gotten around to sharing.  Nothing we’ve talked about so far has given me any clue to why he would respond this way to seeing some old woman knitting.

Carefully, Melinda leads Daniel to a bench a little farther along the park path.  He sits blindly, staring straight ahead at a hedgerow of wild rose bushes that block whatever scene is behind it.  He wouldn’t see anything even if the hedge weren’t there, thinks Melinda, as Daniel’s sobs wrack his body.  How could anyone see through the storm of tears falling from his eyes like a waterfall?  She puts her arms around him and pulls him toward her, afraid to say a word, but wanting to comfort him from whatever demons are playing with his memories.

Diana, The Old Woman

Oh, the poor man! thinks Diana, knitting the Christmas sweater for her newest great-grandson without even looking at her work.  Years of practice let her count stitches in her head as the working needle picks up the next stitch from the other needle.  She comes here to knit because it’s quiet, and she loves to be among the greenery.  Such a difference from the stuffy old apartment that she can barely stand to be in since Charlie passed away two months ago.  She watches the young man thoughtfully as his young lady sits him down on the next bench down the path.  He must have just received some horrible news.  I wonder if his young lady has just told him she wants to break up, or that she has some dreadful disease.  Or that she’s pregnant.  Maybe he’s stepping out on a wife and doesn’t know how he’ll handle this.  Well, I imagine he’ll adjust or figure out what to do.  Poor man, sobbing like a child who just lost his mother at the mall


Oh my God oh my God oh my God… Where did that memory come from?  God, I miss her.  She was the only person I ever knew who understood me so well–better than I did myself, and better than my parents who had seven other kids to worry about.  I was the youngest, and an surprise birth at that.  My oldest sister was twenty-two and had just given birth two days earlier.   Granny had been knitting a Christmas sweater for my new little niece when the heart attack took her.  The sweater was red, just like the one the old woman is knitting.  And it was as tiny and cheerful. Another sob wracked his body, even though the tears had slowed to a few drops.  He felt safe with Melinda’s arms around him.  What must Melinda think of this crying jag that came out of the blue like that?  But she’s not asking any questions.  She’s waiting for me to explain.  She probably thinks I’m crazy, and will think twice  about accepting the ring I have for her in my pocket.

The convulsions that wracked his body as he cried have stopped altogether, replaced by a few hiccups.  He stares at the wild roses, just beginning to open their buds in the late spring.  They will bloom only once this year, he thinks to himself.  That’s their way–one glorious display of pink-tinged white that will fall like snow after a few days, and begin to turn brown the moment they drop, completing the color change within two days.  A groundskeeper will rake them up and cart them to the ever-present mulch pile in the part of the park no one is supposed to ever see.  Eventually, all that mulch will become part of the fertilizer for the domesticated shrubs and the perennials that pop up all over the rockery and formal gardens elsewhere in the park.

With a final sigh, Daniel slides his arm around Melinda.  “Thank you for being here for me, he begins.  “I’d like to explain…”


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