Writing101 – Day Fifteen – Your Voice Will Find You

Writing101 – Day Fifteen – Your Voice Will Find You

Today assignment – Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your world view. Imagine you’re told it will be canceled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force. How does that make you feel?

——
“There’s been a change in plans.”
Sometimes the look on someone’s face tells the story before the words leave their mouth.  Jean’s stoic look told me nothing. I was totally unprepared for what she said next.
“I need you and Alice to go to Frankfort next week. Bill’s team needs your help writing use cases.”
Jean was my manager and she was referring to a project I was working on in Frankfort Kentucky.  There was a bit of a power struggle going on between our team, who were responsible for product  and software development, and Bill’s team, who were responsible for explaining how the current  system worked. The elusive use case was our preferred method of defining system requirements, but not Bill’s. His team was making a royal mess out of them and the developers had no clue what they were being asked to do.
“What about my class?”  Jean must have forgotten that Alice and I were attending a class next week in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Surely once she realized her mistake, she would change her mind.
“I’m pulling you and Alice out. This is more important. Lou will go.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. A few weeks ago, Jean enrolled Alice, myself, and another co-worker named Lou in a Requirements Management class. It was a great opportunity and I was excited to go. So how could she pull us out of a class that only a few weeks ago she insisted we attend?
At first I was perplexed. Alice and I were already working with Bill and his team. They struggled because the concept was entirely new but it’s not like the problem had suddenly gotten worse. Nothing warranting us changing our plans, that is. I feared that maybe Jean had some ulterior motive. Was she trying to punish me for some reason? Jean and I got along OK but our personalities did not click. Could this be personal?
Perplexity and fear was soon replaced by anger. Not because I was missing a class but because I really wanted to go to Virginia Beach.  I had never been to “The Beach” as they called it, and being a misplaced California native, any opportunity to be near the ocean was a golden opportunity indeed. I imagined walking along the sandy shore at sunset, listening to the waves crash against the shore. I could almost smell the salty air and feel the warm breeze against my skin.  Instead of the smell of salty air, however,  I would smell the sickly sweet aroma of fermentation from the nearby whiskey distillery. My hotel room would not overlook the ocean but the parking lot at the Hampton Inn. It seemed to me that use cases were a true reflection of life and mine was heading down the rainy day path.
In the end, Alice and I traveled to Frankfort, and just as I thought, Bill’s team was not the least bit interested in changing their ways. We were interlopers, and not particularity welcome. Our week in Kentucky was a dismal failure. In the mean time, Lou attended the class and had a great time. With the best of intentions, he videoed  his sunset walk on the beach and sent me a copy. It was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined.
Writing101 – Day Eleven

Writing101 – Day Eleven

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?

The year was 1969. A lot going on that year. Richard Nixon took the oath of office as the 37th President of the United States and Neil Armstrong leaves the first human footprint on the moon. A new counter-culture took shape with Woodstock and the Beatles break-up ended a musical era. It was a year of unbelievable atrocities, of Charles Manson, the Vietnam War and My Lai.

And for me, 1969 was the pivotal year between childhood and teenage. It was the year I turned twelve. Read more

Day 10 – Happy Breakfast!

Day 10 – Happy Breakfast!

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
 
Back in the day, before bad Cholesterol, good Cholesterol, and Triglycerides, there was bacon grease. Bacon grease just makes things taste better and no Southern household south of the Mason-Dixon line would be without it. People are so health-conscience today that bacon grease typically goes in the trash, if bacon is let in the kitchen at all. But when I was growing up, the grease from the frying pan went straight to an old Crisco can sitting on top of the stove and used in just about every dish where a little oil was called for.
 
My favorite breakfast using bacon grease is what Grandma called ‘egg toast’. The recipe was simple: take a couple of whole eggs (yes, you have to include the yoke) and beat them you were scrambling eggs. Then, dip  a couple of slices of Wonder White Bread (was there anything else?)  in the mix, coating both sides. Slap the bread in the sizzling pan of  bacon grease, frying on one side until golden brown, and then the other. Serve it up hot and it was the best thing in the world. Some of you might be saying, “hey, that’s nothing more than French Toast”, and you would be almost right. I didn’t realize there was anything called French Toast until I was an adult. I actually thought egg toast was some strange dish my Grandma made up. Poor Southern folks ate lots of strange meals. Granddad liked to mix cornbread in buttermilk and call it dinner. They also ate brains and eggs, which is too awful to describe. On those nights I was usually given an option of a Banquet frozen TV  dinner. Fried Chicken was the best. 
 
I don’t have any special memories tied to egg toast. It was just breakfast. Its one of those comfort foods it served my own family. I call it French toast now and my daughter puts pancake syrup on it, but the rest of the recipe is the same. It reminds me of a simpler time, of being a kid and eating this great tasting food, and wondering what the rest of the world ate for breakfast.  
Day 7 – Contrast

Day 7 – Contrast

The two brothers sat across from each other. A conference table between them. Neither looked the other in the eyes. All their lives, the brothers had disagreed as to the best way to achieve happiness. The older brother was a successful investor. He had worked hard all his life to get where he was today.

“Hard work will give you everything you want in life,” the older brother would say to anyone who would listen. “Look at me. I have a grand home, expensive cars, a beautiful wife, and accomplished children. My hard work has made all this possible.”

The younger brother, however, was a dreamer and an inventor. He worked at this or that, only long enough to make money to live on while he pursued his dreams. But his dreams had not netted him anything. He had no wife or children. He did not own his own home and the car he drove was barely street worthy. When he was not working on his numerous projects, he was hanging out with friends.

“You would think he was still in college,” said his older brother to anyone who would listen. “He has no ambition and will never amount to anything.”

The boy’s father was a wealthy man and philanthropist. He died six months earlier, leaving his fortune to his two sons. But there was a catch. In his will, he stipulated that the only way the brothers could collect the money was to agree on how to spend it. If they could not agree within six months, the money would go to a charity that the father had supported for many years. Today, the six months were up and the brothers had to decide.

The executor of the father’s estate was a long-time friend of the family who happened to be a lawyer. As he walked into the room, he saw the two brothers glaring at each other, Sadly, he thought back to the day when their father wrote his will. The friend had advised the father that he was making a big mistake. He had known the boys all his life and never once had they agreed on anything.

“Just split the money between the boys,” the friend said. “This will only drive a bigger wedge between them.”

The father was adamant that his sons should learn to get along.

“It is what I tried to teach them when I was alive,” said the father. “If they did not learn then, then maybe they will learn now that I am dead.”

The friend was not so sure. He shut the door behind him and sat at the head of the table. After a moment’s hesitation, he spoke.

“You understand the stipulations of your father’s will,” said the lawyer. His solemn look graced each boy. “You must make a decision today or you will not be able to keep the money.”

The oldest spoke first. “What my brother does not seem to understand is that this money could be invested in a new company I have found that will make us both millionaires. It will allow us to hire dedicated employees who will work hard to make sure our business is a success. In return, they will share in our good fortune, and my brother will have all the money he will ever need.”

The friend looked at the younger brother who seemed to be staring out the window. I wonder if he even heard what his brother said, he thought. But after a moment, the younger brother turned to his older brother and spoke.

“Brother, I love and respect you. I know you have worked hard all your life and you have much to show for your effort. But you do not have freedom. Your grand home is mortgaged to the hilt and your utilities and insurance add even more of burden to your budget. You may look grand driving in your fine car but does it take you any further mine? You have a beautiful wife but no time to enjoy her company because you work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. How lonely she must be. Are you not concerned with what she does during the day when you are away? As for your children, my niece and nephew are the best, but you want them to be like you. Did you know your daughter wants to be a dancer and your son a musician? Yet you prevent them from engaging in the activities they love. Do you think you can force your life style on them and they not learn to hate you?

The older brother could not believe the gall of his younger brother. His face turned the color of an overripe tomato and his voice shrilled.

“How dare you criticize the life I chose to lead? Look at where your dreams have gotten you. Tell me, what do you have that I don’t?

“Happiness, dear brother, happiness”.

The old clock on the wall ticked the seconds away. The silence hung over the room thick as fog. The friend thought he should say something, anything, but before the words could pass his lips the older brother spoke.

“I know no other way,” he said. “What can I do to be happy?”

The younger reached over, touched his older brother’s hand, and held it tight.

“If you love something you must let it go. Then you will be happy.”

“What do you mean,” said the older brother.

“Father named a wonderful charity in his will. Let us give the money to the charity and let it do good work. Helping others will make you happy.

“There must be another way.” But the oldest knew the answer. His brother would never agree to invest it and if they did not make a decision soon, the money would go to the charity anyway. He felt trapped and the clock was ticking. As he sat there thinking, his cell phone rang. He noticed the caller was his wife.

“Hello, my dear,” he said.

The wife’s words were nothing more than a mumbled buzz to the others in the room but the expression on the older brother’s face faded as she spoke. He tried to break in with “but…” and “you can’t be serious,” with an occasional “why,” but his wife was doing all the talking. He muttered the words, “I understand” and hung up.

“I will do whatever you ask,” the older said unexpectedly. “Where do I sign?”

The perplexed lawyer laid the papers in front of him and handed him a pen.
“Brother, what caused you to change your mind?”

“My wife says she is filing for divorce. You were right. She has found something to occupy herself while I am away. Or someone, I should say. Someone who has time for her. I may not be able to win her back, but I have to try. I need time. So I agree. Give the money to charity. I need to save my marriage.

And with that, both brothers, for the first time in their life, agreed.

The Lost Letter

The Lost Letter

The Sun-Val on Boulder Highway is your typical run-of-the-mill motel frequented by travelers looking for a cheap place to stay overnight and the temporary home to transient workers. I hesitated outside door #7. My trembling hand held a faded pink envelope, stamped with the words “Special Delivery.” It must have been important to spend the extra 20-cents in postage, I thought. I had found the letter stuffed in an old box, saved, but long forgotten. I have to admit that curiosity overtook any sense of privacy I might have felt, and shamefully I read it. The letter was written on pastel sheets of cheap stationary, the kind you might find at the five and dime. The sprawling red script told me a woman wrote the letter. Her signature told me her name was Rose. The address on the envelope told me I had come to the right place. Image

               “…was so happy to hear about Susie. I knew she would miss us some, “the letter began.

I derived from the letter that Rose and her husband Joey lived in the small hotel room before me, one that must have seemed ghastly big without Susie there to keep her company. Giving up Susie was only temporary and not by choice. The doctors assured her that there was only a 1 in 90 chance that she had cancer. Something she was grateful for, but not enough to prevent her nervousness over her upcoming operation. Had she had her way, Susie would have been there to keep her distracted. She must have known that was physically impossible. The pain was too much sometimes. 

I knocked on the door and waited. I had so many questions. How long did Joey’s job last? Rose wrote that she hoped they could stay for a couple of months. Enough time for her to recover her strength. Did she ever go to Hoover Dam? I hope so because there would no time later on.  

Footsteps approach the door. My breathing increases. The door opens and standing in front of me is young woman, a stranger yet so familiar. She smiles to see me, as if she knows.

I stretch out my hand, the one with the letter, and say, “Hello. I’m Susie.”

 

My Most Significant Songs

My Most Significant Songs

How does someone decide what the most important song is in their life? Is it the song playing in the background when you experienced your first kiss? Could it be song you and your partner danced to on your wedding day? Maybe it is the song playing on the radio as you start on a new life adventure. As I pondered this question,  I discovered that there is no one song that is more important or significant than any other. So many songs have touched me in a special way and left lasting impressions.

Some songs choke me up as soon as the first few barsare played.  I grew up during the Cold War, a time when the Pledge of Allegiance was said first thing every day at school and patriotic pageants were the norm. Over the years my political beliefs have changed but my throat still tightens when I hear The Star Spangled Banner. There are other songs, like Pomp and Circumstance played at graduations and The Wedding March, that invoke the same reaction. I found that it is not  the song itself that makes me weep, but the memories the song invokes.

My father died when I was 13 years old. I remember sitting in family section at the funeral parlor, waiting for the service to begin. A thin curtain protected the family’s privacy, shielding from concerned onlookers any display of emotion. I was strong for a 13 year old, that was until The Old Rugged Cross began. That song still triggers memories of how it felt to be 13 years old and losing my Daddy.

There are songs that just make me feel good, no matter how lousy a day I’ve had. I absolutely love Pharell Williams’s song, Happy. Let’s face it, how can anyone be in a bad mood after listing to that song? Once I listen to it, however,  it stays in my head for days. I guess that is the price I have to pay to be Happy.

Some songs make me want to get up and move. I admit I have two left feet but it doesn’t stop me from making a fool of myself as I join the dance line when The Electric Slide, The Macarena, and The Cha Cha Slide begin.

I feel empowered when I hear Gloria Gaynor sing  I Will Survive. It may be about getting over a lover’s rejection but her message of survival applies to any tough situation in life. Sometimes just a reminder that this too will pass is all I need. Another favorite power song is I am Woman by Helen Reddy. I grew up in the 70’s during the Women’s movement and this song taught me to be proud of being a strong and capable woman.

As you can see, there are many songs that I consider my most important. For me, song is powerful, thoughtful, happy, sad, uplifting and sometimes downright silly. As I sit outside, thinking about what I wrote, I notice small white clouds floating slowly across the sky and I think of Otis Redding, sitting by the dock in the bay. Sometimes we just need to waste a little time.

A Room with a View of the Ocean Floor

A Room with a View of the Ocean Floor

shore view

The captain yells “Hold on”, revs up the engine and we are off. The salty wind burns my face as we quickly race from shore. With each swell, the small boat violently bounces, like an old jalopy on a dirt road. I am nervous and excited all at the same time. It has been a long time since my last dive.

I watch the shore grow smaller in the distance, becoming nothing more than a speck on the horizon. After a quick ten-minute ride, the boat slows as it approaches the designated dive spot, then comes to a stop. The boat continues to bounce, making it hard to keep my balance as I assemble my gear. Another diver helps with me with my equipment and I return the favor. Before the dive begins, the master gives us some last-minute instructions, preparing us for what we will meet. I listen, but my mind drifts back to the day I received my advanced certification. It was my first deep dive, 80 feet. The dive master warned me that sometimes the change in depth has an intoxicating effect, called narcosis. We had gone down 50 or 60 feet when I started coughing. My breathing regulator was no longer in my mouth and I felt like I was drinking the entire lake. Noticing something was wrong, my instructor quickly placed the regulator back in my mouth and started our ascent to the surface. I kept thinking that I must be drowning, but at the same time I was aware that I was OK. Other than coughing up water the rest of the day, I was fine. But the fear of drowning grips me hard and I push through it.

Fish

 

The tepid water of the Caribbean warms me as I descend into the sea. My buoyancy control device, called a BCD, keeps me afloat as I clear my mask with spit and fit it to my face. Thumbs up and we are ready. I release the air from my BCD and the dive weights cause me to sink. The light dims but I look up to see the glare of bright sunlight at the surface. As I descend, the change in pressure clogs my ears. I hold my nose and blow, causing my ears to pop. The only sound I hear, however, is the rough sound of my breathing, amplified by the regulator. We do not touch bottom for fear of damaging the corals.  It’s hard to believe the reef is a living thing. I notice the life around me. Thin finger-like blades of sea grass grow through the fine white sand and dance in the gentle breeze of our passing. Vibrant colors of coral catch my eye. Rustic reds, bright yellows and pale browns cover the bottom. A lacy purple fan stands out from the rest and becomes my favorite.  Brightly colored parrot fish dart past me. I try to take a picture but they are much too quick. Reluctantly, I point and shoot, hoping that I get lucky.

 —–

Purple Sea Fan

I have never dived the Caribbean. The closest I have come to experiencing the perfect view of the ocean is snorkeling in Honduras. But that is only an appetizer, enough to wet my appetite for a grander feast.  

I don’t know why I am so fascinated with the sea. Being born under the sign of Aquarius might have something to do with. But the sea, the ocean, it is like an enchanted kingdom. There is a calmness under the water. Worries disappear and all that matters are right in front of your eyes. I hope one day to be lucky enough to experience it firsthand. 

This story was originally posted as part a writing assignment for WordPress Writing 101. 

 
Freewriting

Freewriting

This post is an assignment for Writing 101. It is a 20-minute free write. I am a little nervous about posting this as it has not been edited, except for punctuation and spelling.

Every morning I wake up and free write. I started following Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way a few weeks ago in order to develop my creativity. To “unleash it” as she says. So I write. Not about anything in particular. Maybe the weather or the silence of the house. I write about my fears and write about my dreams. But mostly mundane stuff. I don’t consider myself a very creative person.>

Dark to Light If i had to describe myself, I would say i have two left brains. I am very analytical. I can solve problems, I can view the future and find multiple scenarios that may play out and need to be accounted for. But I am not creative. I can’t do the things an artist does. I can write a good sentence, when given time to edit it, but I can’t think of anything to write about. I can start a good story but I can’t find a way to develop it or end it. I don’t think much of what I write is interesting. That is my critic talking. One of the ways to quiet the inner critic is to free write, to just let it all out. But I am afraid. I want to post this but I don’t want to look a fool. And I am afraid I will. I read a few posts before I started this and they were so good. They were so organized or so focused. This is a ramble. This is just words strung to together without meaning. I want to be creative. In The Artist Way, I identified my past monsters who stifled my creative spirit as a child. My kindergarten teacher who slapped my hand because I colored my Thanksgiving turkey wrong. My second grade teacher who punished me for poor grades by not letting me decorate my open-house folder. I felt ashamed that all of the other children in class had beautiful folders and mine was plain old gray. I was never encouraged to dance, to sing, to play a musical instrument. When I asked if I could take lessons, I was told no. Maybe that is why I am a quitter now. Maybe because I was never given much of a chance to try different things, to see what i might like. To discover. I am not creative. But I want to be. I also identified my heroes. My 9th grade creative writing teacher who encouraged me and helped me find a voice through words. My friends who like what I wrote. Why did I have to grow up because writing was not something I could make a living on. And so i descend into the abyss of not being creative. Of not being able to do creative things. I wanted to learn to play an instrument. I wanted to learn to dance, I wanted to learn to draw or paint. I want to do so much  but now as I look at my life, there is not much time. I am now trying to make up for lost time. I want so much to be creative. I take writing classes, and I sign up for courses like this one where I can develop skills. I want to be a storyteller. I want to make my stories interesting. I want.. I want.. I want. Wanting does not do anything. It is only through action that things really happen. It is only by putting yourself out there and letting others critic your work, or praise you even. It is being willing to take a chance on life on finding your dreams. On discovery. The words “I want” should be stricken from the vocabulary because we all want something. But how may people are willing to actually do. Yoda said, “Do or don’t do, there is no try.” There also is no want. Take the steps to pursue your dreams. Forget the past monsters who may have held you back. They are no longer real because the light has been turned on and all monsters disappear in the light. Keep going. Keep moving toward the goals that you have set. Affirm what you are. I am creative. I can tell stories. I can make something beautiful out of nothing. I can do anything I want in life. 

When Is Discipline a Form of Abuse?

When Is Discipline a Form of Abuse?

A few days ago, a Hawaiian father was fined $200 and one-year probation for making his son walk a mile as punishment. His young 8-year old son would not tell his father why he was in time-out at school, so the father decided to let him think about it as he walked the final mile home alone. The father dropped the boy along the side of a highway without sidewalks. He drove his other two sons home then returned five  minutes later to find his son was no where to be found. While.  the father was gone, strangers found the boy crying along side the road and took him back to the school. They called the police who arrested the father when he arrived looking for his son. The judge ruled the father’s punishment was inappropriate and “old-school”, noting in her decision the danger of the highway and the risk of child predators. Was she correct? Read more