Writing 101, Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure

The possessions I treasure are a collection of items: letters and journals. Letters and letter writing have been a part of my life from childhood. I believe the first letter I received was from one of my brothers. I was a child when he wrote me for the first time; he had migrated to the U.S.A. earlier that year. I recall feeling valued as I held his letter. What I remember best about the content of his letters was the questions he asked; they indicated genuine interest in what I thought, although I was a child, a style of interacting that continues to this day.

Although my letter writing practice has waned over the years, I still enjoy writing and receiving letters and among those I hold dear are letters from my parents. The exchange of letters between my parents and I began after I left home to reside in the U.S.A. They wrote me individually. I can recall birthday and Christmas cards that came from both of them, but never a letter. It was as if each was nurturing our unique relationship and, as I reflect on their letters now, I recognize that my father and mother each focused on different matters in his or her letters. My mother spoke more of spiritual things, encouraging me to give priority to my relationship with God. She would speak of other matters but, as in face to face conversations, spiritual concerns were a staple in her letters. My father’s letters were an interesting mixture of updates about everyone I knew and about everything, from the family dog to the fruit trees in the yard. I recognize now that it was a way of sharing his life with me and helping me remain connected to the world and people I had left behind. His letters also conveyed curiosity about my experiences here, woven together by love for and pride in me. My parents have been gone from this earth for decades. “All kinds of everything,” as the song goes, remind me of them but rereading their letters connects me with them in a unique manner.

As mentioned earlier, my journals are the second of my possessions that I treasure. I had an “ah ha” moment when I recognized that both of my treasured possessions involve the written word. I have engaged in journal writing for at least two decades. I stopped briefly once when a now former intimate read several of my journals without my permission. This brief estrangement with journal writing ended when I decided to not let the unprecedented violation of my privacy rob me of the emotional, mental, and spiritual space that journal writing is for me. Initially, after I began writing again I had to fight to not censer myself; thankfully, that struggle was short.

My journals vary in color and size but most are in the vicinity of 8 ½” by 4.” Nothing existential or deep determines the size. Just my preference.

Letters from loved ones and my journals are the collection of items that I treasure. Unlike other items I own, these are irreplaceable. I would feel their loss deeply but given that I continue to live and grow after the deaths of my parents, I know I would cope with the loss of these treasured items.

Writing 101, Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop the Rocking

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

“Don’t stop the rocking.” The title of today’s assignment became a prompt.
“Don’t stop the rocking.” I recall a video message my pastor showed one Sunday. In it, a minster who I did not know was telling his story or at least part of his life story. He was stricken with a disease that was slowly freezing his body. I know there is a more elegant way to state that but, hey, this works for me. He shared how it takes him a long time to stand up and it does not help him to have others aid him in the process. Which reminds me of what I was told about the caterpillar’s process of becoming a butterfly. After the caterpillar creates a cocoon, it is transformed into a butterfly but has to complete the process unaided. The struggle to break out of the cocoon is what causes the blood to flow into its wings, giving it the strength to fly. A man told the story of watching the butterfly struggle for what seemed like hours to break out of the cocoon. Thinking he could help it by cutting the cocoon open, he did so but to his dismay, the butterfly’s body was swollen with the fluid that the struggle would have pushed into its wings. It never flew and eventually died. What a lesson.

Anyway, back to the story of the minister. He mentioned that to get up from his bed, he would first swing his legs ever so slowly over the side, sit for a bit, and then begin rocking. As he did so, the blood would flow into his legs and with continued rocking, he would eventually be able to stand up. But he had to do so by himself. Interesting that sometimes help, which we all need, can sometimes hinder or handicap us, instead of helping us, no matter how well intended.

The challenge is to determine when help is appropriate and when it is best to let the person struggle. It is not always easy to distinguish between the two.

Writing 101, Day Eighteen: Hone your point of view

“Aimee, honey, you know things do not make the person,” her mother scolded gently, her slim hands, resting on both of Aimee’s shoulders.

“I know, Mama. I know,” Aimee sighed, looking down so her mother would not see the tears in her eyes. “But I am tired of Chantel always being the first to have everything,” she mumbled.

“Look at me, Aimee,” her mother said, her tone still gentle but firm. Aimee knew better than to disobey.

Looking up into the dark brown eyes of her mother, Aimee note in surprise that her mother had a few grey hairs at her temple. “Have I caused them?” she wondered, recalling her grandmother’s comment to her mother, after Aimee had asked a series of “But why?” questions, “My grandbaby will turn your hair gray as you did mine.”

Cupping Aimee’s face in her hands, her mother said, “Your father and I understand, Baby, but we will not buy you a cell phone, and an iphone to boot, just because Chantel’s parents bought one for her.”

“But, Mama,” Aimee whined, unwilling to give up too quickly. She thought, “I still have the money from my 12th birthday last week. Perhaps if I remind Mama, she will …”

Her mother’s stern, “Do not ‘But, Mama,’ me, Aimee Grace,” interrupted her thoughts and Aimee’s heart sank, knowing she had crossed the line.

“Sorry, Mama,” Aimee whispered.

“Get ready for bed and I will come into to pray with you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Aimee replied and turned away, her head and shoulders down, her steps slow but not dragging, wanting to spare herself another lecture.

A few minutes later, dressed in white cotton pajamas, Aimee dragged into her bathroom which her parents had painted yellow and white for her 11th birthday, still feeling sorry for herself. Aimee did not pay any attention to the shower curtain with the big sunflowers, or the matching floor rugs. Looking into the mirror but not really seeing her eyes that looked so much like her Mama’s or the cheek bones that everyone said, marked her as her Daddy’s daughter, Aimee began brushing her teeth.

Her thoughts returned to Chantel. “Mama, just doesn’t understand what a show-off Chantel is.” She had felt so jealous that morning when Chantel pulled out her phone at the bus stop. Everyone had crowed around her, oohing and aahing, and saying things like, “You’re so lucky, Chantel. I wish I had an iphone.” Then, to make matters worse, when Aimee had asked to see it, Chantel had said, “No!” and returned the phone to her purse.

Aimee knew Mama would talk to her again about being thankful and also tell Daddy what had happened, when he called that night. How she wished her Daddy was home. He would tell her the same things Mama had said but he would also enfold her in a hug and whisper, “Do you know you are an apple, Baby girl?” To which, Aimee always giggled in response, “Yes, Daddy. I am the Apple of your eye.”

Suddenly, the serious face of Chantel’s father came to mind. Aimee had never seen him smile, not once.    Aimee looked at herself in the mirror, grinned, and then crowed, “I know her serious faced daddy does not hug her and say nice things to her like my Daddy says to me.” She finished preparing for bed, her dejection a thing of the past.

Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Your Personality on the Page

Assignment: We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.  Today’s twist: Write this post in a distinct style from your own.

“She is quiet most of the time.”

“Who?

“The part of me that is scared. Knuckle lightening, whole body, violin strings taut, scared.”

“That is scared. Of what?”

“That I will come to the end of my life and discover that my life had very little meaning. That I never answered the question, ‘Why am I here?’ That I squandered opportunities to make a difference out of fear, carelessness, even self-centeredness.”

“Where did you get the idea that life has meaning?”

“Did not peg you for a cynic but alright. I got the ‘idea’ from my faith. Beginning in childhood, I was told that God exists, created me for a purpose, and blessed me with gifts to use in service of that purpose.”

“Why would you still believe something you were taught as a child?”

“Because, over time, my personal spiritual quest, my own experiences validated this belief. It became my own, not just one inherited from my parents.”

“Okay.”

“Unexpectedly though, the process also give birth to an awareness that my purpose could go undiscovered or misunderstood, and ultimately not fulfilled. This scares me.”

“You said, ‘She is quiet most of the time.’”

“Uh, huh.”

“What activates her? Or maybe agitates is a better word.”

“Different things.”

“Like what?”

“Frustration when I do accomplish a goal even after long, concentrated effort.”

“I know that feeling.”

“Hearing that someone my age has accomplished so much more than I have, or worse, someone decades younger.”

“Ouch.”

“Sometimes lack of sleep.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Sleep deprivation can cause you to feel tired, even worn down or out, and it is harder to see things in a positive light when you are tired.”

“Umm. Makes sense. I am wondering though, what do you do when that fear rears up?”

“Why are you asking?”

“Ah, answering a question with a question. I did not miss that but  unlike you, I will give  a direct response. Friend, listening to you is making me think I need to do some self-evaluation. I am beginning to feel a bit anxious myself.

“Glad I am not the only one.”

 

 

Writing 101, Day Sixteen: Serial Killer III

Assignment: Today, imagine you work in a place where you manage lost or forgotten items. What might you find in the pile? For those participating in our serial challenge, reflect on the theme of “lost and found,” too.

 

The items stored in the Lost or Forgotten Property Department come from diverse locations across the country: airports; concert halls; movie theatres; bus stations; public restrooms; hotels. You name a place and we probably have an item from there.

 

Although I have been here for one year, I am considered a newbie. The reason? I remain enthralled by what I see almost daily.  I try to appear unaffected but I know I am failing because I still catch one of my colleagues with an amused grin on her lips or in his eyes, or exchanging glances with another. In that moment I realize that again, while in the process of filing a missing or forgotten item, I became motionless, completely absorbed by the description accompanying an unclaimed item or one listed in the catalog of found or claimed items.  Part  A of the description catalogs basic facts about the item: type (e.g., book, watch, ring, photograph, camera); size; make; color; estimated or stated monetary value. It is Part B of the description, however, that inadvertently grabs my attention. This component chronicles the process through which the item was lost, the impact of no longer having the item, and for the found or claimed items, what was recovered along with the item. To me, it is Part B that highlights the true value of the item, regardless of its purchase price.

 

A note which I read on my third day remains imprinted on my memory. The item was an unadorned, gold ring lost by Elizabeth Strong. This is what she wrote: “The ring was my Nana’s. She always wore it on the middle finger of her right hand. She came to live with us after grandpa died and would often touch it, with an expression on her face that suggested she was somewhere else. During my childhood, I asked her many times what she was thinking but her only response was to smile and kiss the top of my head. My Nana died the year of my fifteenth birthday and, the day after the funeral, my mother give the ring to me in an envelope, with a note from my Nana. “I love you, Elizabeth,” she had written. “May the ring remind you of me as it reminded me of my youngest brother, Samuel, the uncle you never knew. May it help you to be brave as it helped me.” Elizabeth had continued the description with the explanation that she took the ring off to apply cream to her hands and placed it in the book that was open on her lap. “I was sitting at gate 2 in Terminal B and it must have fallen out of the book when I stood up to gather my other belongings in preparation for boarding. Please. I must find it.” I swear I could hear her tears and desperation.  Another note from Elizabeth, dated two weeks later, was attached to the original description. It was shorter but just as powerful. “Thank you with all my heart. Receiving the package with Nana’s ring restored my belief that miracles can happen.”

 

I smile when I think of Elizabeth but I wonder too about the people who forgot items and never missed them. I wonder too about intangibles like lost hope, forgotten dreams and promises, and how much harder those can be to recover. Harder but not impossible.

 

Writing 101, Day Fifteen: Your Voice Will Find You

Assignment: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart – an annual fair, festival, or conference – will be cancelled forever (or taken over by an evil organization). Write about it. For your twist, read your piece aloud, multiple times. Hone that voice of yours! Additional suggestion: If some kind of event doesn’t come to mind, feel free to interpret this loosely — an unexpected change in something or someone. A previous school. A childhood best friend. A TV show you’ve watched a long time that has gone downhill. Anything.

 

“Leaving Home”

It was still dark when I left home for good that morning in July, unaware that I had taken such a momentous step. Ignorant then of the truth given voice by Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go back home to your family…”

I would have been puzzled if someone had told me, “E, this is the last time you will be home.” I may even have dismissed the words without thought. Or if I had reflected on the words, my response would have been, “Why will I not return home? My parents are here.” My response would have been rooted in the firm, deep belief that there would always be a place for me in my childhood home. In the unwavering  confidence that my parents would never turn me away. They would always welcome me with open arms.  They loved me. In addition, I had witnessed my older siblings leave home over the years to live in other countries and they always returned to a warm welcome. Of course the same would be true for me.

Time and experience would reveal the reality of this truth. I returned to 94 multiple times but the E that left that first morning and subsequent mornings was not the E that returned for each visit. Visit. The word alone says much. I was still a beloved daughter but one who was visiting, not one who lived there. I think I felt it in the hugs of my parents; they hugged me fierce but there was also the knowing that I would leave again.  They were also different. I struggled especially with their physical changes.  Those changes in my father, were the most difficult.

Although I go to 94 emotionally and mentally both in sorrow and joy, it is not the physical characteristics of the place that I reach for but the love, and security, and freedom, and sense of belonging that were mine there. It is true. I never returned home after leaving in the dark that July morning.

Writing 101, Day Fourteen: To Whom It May Concern

Assignment:  Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What jumps out at you? Start there, and try a twist: write in the form of a letter.

Dear Therapeutic,

Warmest greetings. According to the online version of the Webster Merriam Dictionary, you are an adjective and pronounced \ˌther-ə-ˈpyü-tik\.

I am sure that you are one of, if not the most, self-aware word in the dictionary and know yourself. All the same, I thought I’d also share how Webster Merriam defines you (the abbreviated version): producing good effects on your body or mind; of or relating to the treatment of illness. Even your aliases are good: curative, healing, officinal, remedial, restorative, medicinal. You go, Therapeutic!

There are some entities I have encountered that, as the saying goes, I would not wish on my worst enemy. But you, Therapeutic, I wish you on everyone. I want everyone to experience you,  especially because you can be experienced in diverse ways – as a walk or a conversation, through the process of journal writing or the practice of mindfulness, to name a few.

You are good “people” therapeutic.  I look forward to our future encounters.

Regards,

Me

Writing 101, Day Thirteen: Serial Killer II

Assignment: On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today, write about finding something. Twist: View day four’s post and today’s installments in a series.

The loss of the circular, yellow gold bracelet with the horseshoe shaped hook, my sister W’s graduation gift to me, still triggers sadness. I am still grasping the hope that I will find it one day.

But before I lost my sister’s gift, I had lost something even more precious – the courage and daring I had as a child. My poem, “Becoming Me,” written decades ago, was both a description of the loss, a resolution, and a promise I made to myself.

Becoming Me

I like the me I was as a child

Or at least the me I can remember

The one my siblings describe

Fearless, out spoken

Never backing down from a challenge or a fight

Climbing trees because I wanted to

Feeling my mother’s pride

When did I become afraid?

Earthbound, avoiding conflict?

Unsure of my place in the world?

Wanting but never asking?

I miss that little girl

I can become the woman of whom she would be proud

 

Several years passed before the process of becoming the woman my little girl self would be proud of, was initiated.  And its birthing was not an easy one. It was birthed through the womb of a betrayal, one made all the more devastating because it came at the hands of someone in my most intimate of circles.

The lesson was clear – living cautiously is and will never be an adequate shield against pain. Pain is a part of life. There is no hiding place secure enough against it. There is a place for caution and thoughtful decision making; however, being cautious in an attempt to live a risk free life, is like carrying a wooden shield into battle when the enemy has a steel tipped spear, or worse, an assault rifle. Ineffective.

Lesson learned, the wound still healing, aftershocks still being felt, I began and continue the process of rediscovering my courage and living brave. It is not a process I am engaging in alone. I am, with gratitude, doing so with the help of faith, family, and friends.

Writing 101, Day 12: (Virtual) Dark Clouds on the Horizon

Assignment: Today, write a post with roots in a real-world conversation. For a twist, include foreshadowing.

I read the assignment and it seemed as if my mind immediately emptied itself of the memories of every conversation I ever heard or in which I had engaged. In desperation, I turned on the television to a news program during which it is the norm for the host to interview guests, usually persons considered experts on an issue making headlines.  Thankfully, she did not disappoint me. A snippet of the interview I heard included the question, “What do you make of this?”

“What do you make of this?” Typically, in ordinary life, this question, or some variation of it, usually is posed to a peer. For example, in an attempt to decipher a social cue in the minefield that interactions can be in high school, a teenager may ask a friend, “What do you think it means, that he/she said or did X or Y?” Similarly an adult may also ask the question of a friend or colleague to gain clarity about a situation that is confusing or anxiety provoking.

I recognize, however, that the purpose of this question can differ based on the context in which it is asked.  For example, lawyers in a courtroom, confident that they know the answer may ask the question, not for clarity, but to expose or discredit a witness. After all, reportedly, they are taught early in their training to never ask a witness a question, to which they do not know the answer.

I am thinking, however, that this instruction, can be valuable also to those who have conversations with children. The story is told of a teacher who asked a young girl, “What are you drawing?” The child replied, “God.” The teacher responded, “No one knows what God looks like.” The child answered, “They will when I am finished.”

I smile every I hear the story, for many reasons. One reason is that often children have a different view of the world and spending time with a child can be an adventure and a learning experience.  “What do you make of this?”

Writing 101, Day Eleven: Size Matters

Assignment: Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you? Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

Ninety-four. That was the number of the house that was home to me from birth and where I lived for almost two and a half decades. I still think of it as home with a level of emotional attachment that is not connected to any other place I have lived since.

The bungalow styled, wooden, one storied house, painted cream on the outside, had three bedrooms and one bath. It was located in a mining town that was divided by a broad, dark river. Coming to the house from the town square, on the right bank of the river, 94 was the third of five houses on the left side of the street. Banana, cherry, mango, coconut, and papaya were among the many trees in the yard. A short path led from the street to the stairs and the front door.

The front door opened into a light yellow, living room with a dark wooden floor; a floor to which polish was applied by hand every Saturday. The floor where I watched several of my older sisters stop, in the midst of completing their chores some Saturday mornings, to dance the twist to songs on the radio, partnered by a long handled broom.

Two bedrooms, my parents’ and the one referred to for decades as the “boys” room, even after my brothers no longer lived at home, were on the right side of the living room. The predominant image of the living room was of shade and coolness. Quite a feat for a house in the tropics without a single air conditioning unit or central air system. The wooden, vaulted ceiling and the wooden floors, which ran throughout the house, took credit for this inviting ambience.

The combination of a wall and curtains separated the living room from the dining room. Immediately upon entering the dining room, on the internal, light green wall to the left, were built in book shelves; shelves that extended to a corner of the external wall, where they joined similar book shelves that ended at the dining room windows. It was at 94 that my life-long affair with reading began.

The two tall, wooden windows of the dining room  opened outwards in the direction of the house of my favorite male neighbor, Mr. G.  On the other side of the windows was a cabinet that served as storage for daily use dishes, cutlery, and other utensils. The domed top served as the bread bin.

In the middle of the room was a table with a brown top decorated with white, painted-on scrolls that formed a border along the edges. It was at this table that we all gathered for lunch on Sundays. All other meals were eaten there but not everyone was present at each meal during the week.

The door that marked the entrance to the pink walled “girls” bedroom, was on the right side of the dining room. A narrow corridor with character, extended from the dining room and ended at the entrance to the kitchen. On the left side of the corridor was the bathroom, comprised of two rooms. Next to the bathroom was a long window with a sink as its neighbor.  The corridor turned abruptly to the right at the single faucet sink and was bordered by two shelves that housed various knick  knacks, and the back wall of the girls’ bedroom.

Right where the corridor ended, at the entrance to the kitchen, was the back door.  The door was next to the stove and across the room from the refrigerator.  Another window, with a low bench immediately in front of it, was beside the sink with its long draining board. Above the sink was a small window that faced an identical window in the kitchen of the neighbors who were closest to us physically and emotionally. These emotional ties have held and strengthened over the years. We continue to celebrate and mourn together even though we live in separate states, separated by thousands of miles and for some, oceans.

My Dad, Mom, four of my sisters, one of my brothers, two nephews, an almost 8-months old niece, a slightly older female cousin, and my twelve year old self, shared 94. Three generations and an extended family member, at home  in house on the left side of the street, that led from the town square with the town market and the memorial to fallen soldiers.