Friday, November 30, 2018

Sexual Heritage, Silent Heritage

I know quite a lot about my heritage. I can tell you that my family all hails from the British Isles. With family names like Harvey and Mckenzie and given names like Elizabeth and Harold and Charles, that’s no surprise. I can tell you that I inherited my dad’s broad shouldered bone structure and my mom’s mousy brown hair. I inherited my mom’s fear of almost everything, but luckily that fear got balanced out by my dad’s more adventurous nature. And I got both of their fiery tempers, as my husband would tell you. The older I get the more I see my parents in me. That doesn’t always make me happy, but it does make me a little more sympathetic toward them.

Then there are the learned behaviors that are also part of my heritage. I grew up drinking iced tea no matter the weather. I still do. I grew up loving the outdoors because we spent so much time out. At the risk of sounding like a Monty Python song, my father was a lumberjack, and he was, for the most part, okay.

My parents were already well into middle age when I came along, and I grew up hearing, ‘I’m too old for that’ ad nauseum from both or them. They were of an era when being too old meant you were over thirty, which thinking back at their lives of hard physical labor, was probably more than just an excuse.

My sister and I often talk about our physical inheritance, as well as those traits we learned – both loved and hated. Since she is nearly seventeen years older than I am, there is a significant difference in our non-physical heritage. What neither of us has any idea about is our sexual heritage. I’m sure a lot of people might cringe at that thought and think TMI. Here’s what I mean. My parents were kinder to each other than many married couples I’ve observed, but when my little friends whispered and giggled and made faces out behind the woodshed about how babies were made, I swore to them they were wrong. My parents would never do anything like that. As I got older, of course, even I had to admit that they surely must have done it three times because there was me and my brother and sister. 

I understand that people didn’t show THAT kind of affection back in my parent’s day. And I understand that no one ever talked about it. Honestly I would have been mortified if my parents had even tried to give me the talk. Anyway I figured I knew more than they did. While I was rather inexperienced in my younger years, I was well versed in the biology of “doing it.” I’d done a lot of seeking out information when I accidentally discovered masturbation at the ripe old age of eleven. That discovery began my adventure of learning my own body and the pleasure it could give me, pleasure that seemed almost boundless. But I have to admit, I often wondered where I got the tremendous drive toward pleasure. There always seemed to be an underlying sense that sex was nasty, that sex was dangerous. Because no one ever talked about it and because I never knew who it was safe to talk about it with until I was in university, I couldn’t help wondering if I had inherited this crazy secret libido that drove me to want to touch and explore myself, that made me think about sex A LOT, or it I was just an anomaly. 

With the topic of inheritance on this cycle of OGaG, I wonder just how many people out there find themselves like me, feeling like a sexual orphan. What I mean by that is the information, the knowledge of love and lust and the major role it plays in all our lives and relationships seems to be as sealed and kept secret as the records in orphanages used to be. So many of us, even now, grow up with absolutely no sexual context and so much shame and fear that we have to try and secretly create a context for ourselves. 

That makes me wonder if the using of sex to sell, if the blatant sexualization of our culture, if the easy availability of every kind of porn online isn’t all an attempt to create that context. And yet we still seem to fear talking openly about what goes on “down there,” even worse about how it makes us feel, about how it connects us or doesn’t in our most intimate relationships. In spite of sex in films, books, advertising, sports, social media, sex in almost every aspect of our lives, the underlying fear, the shame, the guilt doesn’t seem to have diminished since my parent’s day. And neither has our self-doubt about our bodies, about our own sexual identities. 

That lack of sexual knowledge, that lack of understanding our bodies, leaves us open and vulnerable to all of the misinformation that’s out there, and there’s a lot! The biggest fear, the one shared over and over again, seems to be the fear that something is wrong with us. Why don’t we feel the way we’re supposed to feel? Why can’t we perform sexually like porn stars, or like in the movies? Why isn’t there fireworks, and why doesn’t the earth move? The shame, the guilt, the fear, the self doubt, it’s still all there. It’s just in nicer packaging with solutions we can discretely buy online that will make us better, that will make us feel like we’re supposed to feel. 

Looking back, perhaps the true sexual inheritance from my parents, the one that matters most, was that while they never talked about sex, while they were not overtly affectionate toward each other, neither did they ever shame me nor feel they had a right to invade my privacy. My sexual inheritance may well be the space they gave me as an angsty teenager to figure it out. They never felt they had the right or the need to raffle through my belongings, to check up on what I read, to come into my room uninvited. That meant space to explore sex in my own way. Being a bit socially awkward in my high school and university years meant I did most of that exploring alone. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that what I’d learned about my body made the transition quite nicely into sex with someone else. I don’t think my parents understood completely that I was the kind of a child who did discover things on my own if I wanted to know something bad enough. Mostly they just didn’t talk about it. No matter, it worked for me. Later, much later, my mother’s internal editor spent a lot more time off line. As an old woman, wonderfully crotchety and ever so slightly raunchy when it suited her, she grew past the age of caring what she said. She had stopped looking at me as a child to be protected and started seeing me more as a friend. By that time, in those final years of her life, I was a married woman with a rich sex life of my own, and I was far more demonstrative of my affections toward the son-in-law she adored than she’d ever been toward my dad. It was then that she let a few little spicy tidbits slip into the conversations here and there that made me believe maybe, just maybe I wasn’t an anomaly after all. Maybe I was just my mother’s daughter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

You Are What You Inherit

By Tim Smith

I’ve been reading the prior posts on this topic while deciding what I could contribute. Since we recently celebrated Thanksgiving, I’ve found myself in a reflective mood. Most people think of an inheritance as something material or monetary, but it has a different meaning for me.  

I think one of the most important things I inherited from my father was a strong work ethic, and an equally strong sense of tolerance. My dad grew up during the Great Depression, in a southern Ohio town that had a “right side” and a “wrong side” of the tracks. If you’re familiar with that era, you know what that means. He never bought into that snobbish class nonsense, though, and he always said “People are people.” I took that with me when I embarked on my own professional career.

From my mother, I inherited a sense of fair play, especially when I was younger and the other kids may not have played by the rules. She was always telling me to turn the other cheek, and look at things from the other person’s point of view. Perhaps their home life wasn’t as happy as mine, or they didn’t get to enjoy some of the things I did. That lesson stayed with me, too.

I also inherited a love of reading and literature from both of them. My mother was a movie buff, and I became one, too. Many times, we’d watch a classic film and she’d point out that it was based on a book. I’d find it at the library and after reading it, I usually sought out other titles by the same author. This introduced me to a wonderland of fantasy and imagination, and influenced my writing.   

Another thing I got from both of them was an appreciation of simple pleasures. My brother and I never wanted for much when we were growing up, but the old man made sure we didn’t let it go to our heads. Some of my fondest holiday memories are of the family coming together for a nice dinner and a lot of laughs. It’s still my favorite way to celebrate the major holidays.

A love of travel and exploration was something else I took from my childhood. Vacations may not have involved a plane trip to some exotic locale like they did when I got older, but they were still fun and educational. Summer always included at least one road trip to some part of the country where we had never been before. It exposed me to a lot of different cultures and customs.

I suppose the most important thing I inherited was understanding the true value of friends. I may not have many close friends, but I treasure the ones I do have. I learned early on that everyone can bring something to the table. The fun is in finding out what it is.

Thank you for indulging the nostalgic ramblings of someone who has seen a lot but still has trouble believing most of it.    


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Literary Inheritance

Though I'm far too young for a mid-life crisis, I do sometimes wonder about the literary inheritance I'll leave behind when my end of days comes. Like... will anyone care?

I'm not writing great literature; I don't have such delusions about myself and my writing. As we all know, good smut writing is hard to do, so I also know I'm not churning out crap.

But in a world where everyone is a writer and the process of publishing is so easy, will I stand out enough to be remembered? Does it even matter?

Why do I write? Maybe I should start there.

I write because I love to tell stories. I like to make a little money while doing it -- and let's be real, it's a little bit of money. As a few of us have said on this blog, we don't go into writing to be rich. (I'd be much more well off if I followed through with teaching, which I'm certified to do. But I wouldn't be as happy as I am now.)

I don't write for fame. I don't write for fortune. And I don't think I write to be remembered.

I love it when people tell me they enjoyed my books, but does it matter if they remember my books a year from now, five years, ten years, thirty years...?

Sometimes I wonder about those writers whose books have stood the test of time. Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo both come to mind. There's a post somewhere on Tumblr (so the veracity of this information is questionable) that said Dickens got paid per word, which is why his books are so wordy, and Hugo got paid per line, which is why there's lots of short dialogue that barely spans the page.

If it's true, it sounds like Dickens and Hugo were writing to market. They were in it for the money.

At some level, they were in it for the story, too. And I'm sure somewhere in the back of their minds they had dreams of being remembered decades or centuries later, as most writers do even if they won't admit it. But I bet they were ultimately in it for the money and the joy of writing.

Not only does that bring Dickens and Hugo down to our level -- because they did it for the same motivation -- it also makes them seem much more human. They aren't really these grand, untouchable literary figures. They're two guys who wrote books to pay the bills.

And, really, what's the point of being remembered decades or centuries later? After all, I won't be around to bask in the love of students who are forced against their will to read my books for English class. I won't even know if I was remembered a day past being put in the ground and, really, it wouldn't even matter.

So I write for me. I write stories that are stuck in my head and demanding to be let out on the page. Sometimes I write for the money. But I don't write for fame or immortality.

Besides, I'm not sure if I want to be remembered for all time for a line like:

"It’s like I’m metamorphosing from a horny slut caterpillar into a beautiful and majestic cock-hungry butterfly that has a boyfriend with a tasty dick." (Source)

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay smut. His most recent publication is the (surprisingly smut-free) gay YA romance, Gay Love And Other Fairy Tales, under his YA pen name, Dylan James.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Lost in the Forests of the Past

Sacchi Green

Sorry to be posting ate, and even sorrier to be far from entertaining, but here's what's on my mind when it comes to inheritance.

I thought I had made my way through the heaps and boxes and random envelopes of family photographs five years ago when my mother died. It was far from easy, but I’d done it to help my father, and pretty much made my peace with all the memories evoked and the second-hand memories of stories told about family members gone long before I was born. I had decided what to keep and what to discard, pruning the piles into fairly neat packets and dumping stacks and stacks of duplicates and pictures where heads were cut off, or figures were blurred, or the scenes were so dark as to be indecipherable. It helped that my mother was a terrible photographer as well as a compulsive one; it was easy for me to throw away the majority of the pictures she’d taken, and still have representations left of the people and events and objects she’d wanted to preserve.

I thought I was done with that. I was so wrong.

My father is now in an extended care facility close to me, and on his request I sold his house in October, after I’d spent the summer going back and forth and salvaging whatever contents I thought should be saved. My two brothers went with me a time or two, carrying a few things I couldn’t, but mostly it was just me. Among other things I scooped up boxes and boxes of photos from where I’d expected them to be, although he had inexplicably shifted them around and I couldn’t tell quickly which were the ones I’d sorted before, and more bags and boxes had been added from somewhere. As I dug deeper into closets and the basement I found even more, in odd places, sometimes buried under other entirely different objects. Now there’s a room in my own house where the boxes of various things I retrieved are stacked up on each other, and only the need to make room for a Christmas tree has made me buckle down and get started sorting.

It’s even harder now than it was after my mother died. The pictures of the house, and she took hundreds and hundreds through the years, feel like reminders of a departed family member, now that the house has been sold.  And the boxes from the basement are just musty enough to make me get to coughing after a while. I thought at first that those ones could all be thrown out, and most of the ones I’ve gone through so far are now in the trash, but every now and then, amidst the repetitions of blurry snow scenes and the backs of people’s heads, I find a treasure that somehow was slipped between the others, like the small, framed photo of my mother’s father when he was  young, along with a very faded one of her mother, probably just before they were married. I recognized my grandfather right away, not from when I had known him—he died when I was about four years old—but because his wide grin in the picture made him look just like my younger brother. I’d known there was a resemblance in several ways, including their enthusiasm for new things--in my grandfather’s case having the first indoor bathroom in town, and the first automobile—but it was startling to see that young, adventurous face in the photo. I wish I had known him better, but glad I had a chance to know him at all, which my brothers didn’t.

I’d already found some treasures in unlikely places, such as very old small photos in decorated folding frames tucked into a desk drawer otherwise occupied by pen, pencils, and various unclassified detritus. After some close inspection with the aid of a magnifying glass for small, faded print, I realized that they were of my father’s mother’s mother in her youth, and that great-grandmother’s father. The very best photographic treasure is a series of tiny pictures of my grandfather on my father’s side, my grandmother’s husband. I had never seen pictures of him, and he’d died of Lou Gehrig’s disease before I was born, but there he was, laughing with friends, climbing around on rocks in a park with my grandmother before they were married, and looking very much like my uncle, and somewhat less so like my father. Those were in an old leather suitcase I hadn’t known existed, but my brother, exploring the attic as a kid, had seen the suitcase more than half-buried under a rafter, and now dragged it out for us both to examine. Which brings us to the other challenge I’m facing: the mountains of letters.

People wrote letters back then, and even when I was younger. And in my family they kept them all, but being my family, they kept them in random and sometimes puzzling places. Why were there letters to my mother from her mother stuffed into an old teakettle behind some boxes in the basement, when there were also bags of her letters stored in drawers and closets upstairs? There may be a story there, but I'll never discover it. There are also letters I wrote to my mother when I lived in California in the sixties, but I may never get around to reading those either, and the letters from my parents to each other while he was in the Army during WWII just seem so intimate that I’m not sure I should read them at all. But ah, the letters in that old leather suitcase, bound up in ribbons, from my uncle and my father to my grandmother during the war! Those I should read. I’ll send the ones from my uncle, who died two years ago, to my cousin in Arizona.

Enough, enough. The past should be remembered, and the truth of our forbears lives deserves to be recognized. They were real people, as real as we are. Being responsible for all these photos and letters weighs me down, especially when I reflect that once I’m gone, it may be that no one will care about them. There’s just my one granddaughter in my immediate family. My brother’s son, adopted as a toddler from Russia, is not likely to be interested. But for now, I owe it to the people who wrote and kept these letters, and took these photographs, to keep on sorting and preserving.

And I owe it to myself and my family to get those piles of mementoes from that house sorted and stored away so we can put up a Christmas tree in its usual corner in that room. I suspect, considering that it’s almost December, there’ll be a good deal of storing without sorting first, but at least I’ll try.  

Friday, November 23, 2018

For Madame X

by Jean Roberta

[A modern writing device, since 1873]

Like everyone else here on the Grip (I assume), I loved to write from the time I was first introduced to the alphabet.

Years later, when I decided to major in English at university, I thought of the study of language and literature as a kind of green pasture full of meditative types. The English Department seemed far removed from the political conflicts I had heard about in the social sciences, or the fast pace of change in the natural sciences, where every new discovery could make the knowledge of an older faculty member completely outdated.

Being a literary scholar and a writer on the side (or vice versa) also seemed more sociable, in some sense, than being a visual artist. The exhibits I saw always looked like displays of eccentric individualism.

I thought I could earn a living in a fairly uncontroversial way by teaching young adults to understand what they read and to improve their ability to express themselves in writing. Who could disapprove of that?

The establishment of the 1700s (the “Age of Reason”) and early 1800s, that’s who.

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine how radical the demand for universal literacy was in the English-speaking world before 1837, when Queen Victoria came to the throne and brought in a compulsory public school system which would teach basic skills even to the children of domestic servants and coal miners (e.g. my ancestors).

When my mother did some digging into her family history, I saw the signature (so to speak) of my great-great-grandmother, Margaret Nichols, on the baptismal record of her newborn son. Her name was printed beside her “mark,” an X, which was the only way she could sign. No one had taught her how to read or write. I noticed that her husband, the baby’s father, could at least write his own name.

I wondered how a “signature” like could even be legal. Surely a person who couldn’t write her name couldn’t read what she was signing. If someone asked her to sign a binding promise to hand over all her worldly goods to someone else, how would she know what she was agreeing to? Of course, marriage in those days was that kind of a contract. It was a legal covenant in which the wife’s identity was “covered” by that of her husband, and all the couple’s joint property was his to dispose of as he saw fit.

Early nineteenth-century marriage was really a form of identity theft in which the wife lost her family name and the few rights she had had as an individual. And keeping women of the “servant class” illiterate was part of a deliberate strategy to keep them in their place. To a lesser extent, even literacy among lower-class men seemed threatening to their employers.

What would happen to the social order if the people at the bottom could not only read but write? What if they could negotiate contracts? What if they could pen editorials and circulate them as pamphlets? What if they could write autobiographies in their own words? What if they could debate Scripture?

I’ve come to change my mind since I believed that literacy was politically neutral. Although written language is a tool that can be used to express an almost infinite number of messages, literacy is empowering. And power is political by definition.

Modern English-speaking culture is now spread through the written word at a speed that would amaze even the most radical reformers of 1800. Almost every adult in the “civilized” world can now sign his or her name. However, we can’t afford to take this skill for granted.

Those in power have never approved of what their underlings have to say if it is based on personal experience and self-interest. If literacy could be taken away from the oppressed or marginalized, I’m sure that efforts would be made to clear the alphabet from certain minds.

George Orwell was clearly aware of the importance of language when he wrote his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948. The appendix to the novel, “The Principles of Newspeak,” is often published on its own, and is taught as a plausible theory of how a fascist state could control a whole population by limiting the language.

I’m grateful for the ability to express myself in words, both spoken and written. The concept of universal literacy as a basic precondition for democracy is surprisingly recent, in historical terms.

I’m sure I’ve inherited something from the illiterate peasant women of the past. I just wish I could offer them a gift in return, by enabling them to write letters and journals describing their world for the generations to come.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

War Stories, a post by @GiselleRenarde

Thirty years ago. November 11th. School assembly. Remembrance Day.

My school principal was a storyteller, and rarely without his guitar, but he didn't need it for the Remembrance Day assembly. Remembrance Day was a solemn occasion. In Flanders Fields always took pride of place, whether recited or sung.

At 11 AM, we had our moment of silence.

We were supposed to reflect on the war, but every year of my childhood, I remember standing in the school gymnasium attempting to manufacture emotion. I knew this was all supposed to mean something to me, but it didn't. To me, the war felt distant. Practically irrelevant.

It shouldn't have. Obviously. But, specifically, the war shouldn't have felt distant when I was standing in a room with teachers who were veterans. My Grade Four English teacher was an amputee due to war injuries. He was right there in the gym with us, and he was a truly lovely and supportive educator, but I never thought about him during our moment of silence.

I thought about my grandfathers, both of whom were veterans, both of whom had vastly different takes on their experiences overseas.

My paternal grandfather had one of those naked-lady tattoos that seem to have come back into fashion among hipsters. He got his during the war. It had the name and number of his battalion or regiment or platoon--I don't remember. I don't know the right words.

See, my paternal grandfather talked about the war all the time. War story after war story. And I tuned out every word. I thought it was all so boring, as a child. That stuff was all in the past. I just didn't care.

What I wouldn't give to go back in time and hear my grandfather's stories now. I'd be taking notes. I'd be writing it all down.

I've got tears in my eyes just writing this.

My maternal grandfather never talked about the war and, strangely, I can tell you much more about his wartime experiences. He was young when he enlisted, like so many soldiers. My grandma thought he looked just dreamy in his uniform.

He wanted to do some cooking overseas, and he did for a while, but because he was so scrawny, he was transferred to a tank battalion. This was not ideal. My grandfather was terrified of confined spaces. He was extremely claustrophobic, but what could he do? He had to go where he was told.

The only thing I specifically remember my grandfather telling me about the war was that he fought in Italy. His lungs were full of shrapnel until the day he died, and he had severe respiratory difficulties as a result, especially in his later years.

But the piece of information I found out most recently, from a family member in his 90s, is that, in Italy, my grandfather thought he'd died.

He found himself in a field somewhere, flat on his back, with his guts spread out beside him. Beyond his pile of guts, his best friend lay dead. My grandfather thought he must be dead too. Especially when the medical types came by, trying to assess who was dead, who was alive, who they could possibly save.

They took one look at my grandfather with his guts spilling out of him, and they kept on walking.

Proof positive, in my grandfather's mind, that he was as dead as his best buddy over there.

On their way back, those medics took a second look and determined all was not lost for my grandfather. It's a good thing they did, or I wouldn't be here to tell the tale.

Most of these war stories were told to me second-hand by other family members, since my maternal grandfather preferred not to talk about the war. He was clearly traumatized by his experiences, but he made a point of telling me that war is horrible. Horrible. It should never be glorified, because war is worse than any hell he could possibly imagine.

As a schoolchild, I didn't have the wherewithal to appreciate the sacrifices my grandfathers made. I still can't imagine the horrors they witnessed overseas. But you know what? Now that I'm a little older (and hopefully wiser), I think about my grandfathers every day. With all that's going on in the world, I can't help thinking they must be rolling in their graves.

I would be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Boddhisattva of the Spices

Somewhere in this wicked world
Maybe in India, yes, say, India
A man or a woman
Yes, say, a woman
Has opened the back door of her small shop
A tea room.  Maybe a spice stand.  
Yes, say, a spice stand.

She is sitting on a bucket, or a burlap bag of spices
In the instant the eternal dawn
Which is always breaking somewhere
Breaks on her understanding.
In this moment, which is always this moment
In her left hand are her sorrows
In her right hand a cup of steaming  tea
She has become a secret saint.
Her eyes opened wide
For the first time she truly sips her tea.

The urban smells of the alley
And the other shops as they open wide
She smells them truly the way -
No good smells, no bad smells –
a baby would find them.
The rising swell of urban babble streams
She discovers she truly knows
For the first time.

She will never study the Sutras.
They don’t speak of her breasts
And the desperate babies they’ve nursed
Or the secret wounds of the heart.

She has not meditated
She has lived the eternal instant
Feeding and doing, including, including all things
In the sweep of her wide arms
The Bodhisattva of the spice bins
Opens her lips in this final triumphant life
“Ah – hah!”

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Inheritance - The story of Sapper Tom

If you live in the UK you will have seen plenty of these silhouette memorials. Called the Silent Soldier, they have been installed in towns, cities, villages all over the country to commemorate the centenary of the ending of the First World War. For so many of the soldiers who died between 1914 and 1918, this is all the memorial they might have, this and their name carved into a local cenotaph somewhere.

Remembrance Sunday takes place in the UK on 11 November every year, but was especially poignant this year. My local village invested in a bugler to play The Last Post, and sales of poppies went through the roof. I’m as content as any to honour the sacrifice made by those soldiers, though I struggle to see much glory in death. I prefer the white poppies, symbolising peace. It’s telling, perhaps, to note that the first soldier to die fell just a few yards from where the final man lost his life. Such was the futility of it all.

I wanted to take this opportunity, though, under the guise of Inheritance, to tell the story of Sapper Tom. Sapper Tom – Thomas Leadbeater – was my grandfather’s brother. He would have been my great-uncle, but he died in the First World War. He did quite well, considering, managing to survive almost two years in the trenches before being killed in 2017.

The telegram that the War Office sent to his mother was curt, to say the least, coldly informing her that her son was missing. It was followed a few days later by another, conforming his death. I can barely start to imagine the torment my great-grandmother suffered in those days, wondering if, against all the odds, Tom might have survived. Later correspondence from the War Office, in response to inquiries she made, inform her that Sapper Thomas Leadbeater’s remains are interred in the vicinity of Alexandria. No grave, no certainty, even, of exactly where he was buried. Only the vicinity.

More correspondence dated 1920 confirms that the war pension my great-grandmother had claimed following her boy’s death in action was to be discontinued. This, at a time when there was no welfare state and older people relied on their children to support them in old age. I can only assume that many, many of that generation had to somehow fend for themselves. Mercifully, my great-grandmother had surviving children, including my grandfather so she wasn’t destitute.

Sapper Tom was rarely spoken of after the War, though his younger sister, Nora, did keep the letters he sent to her from the trenches in which he advises her, in the way of an older brother, not to walk through dark and lonely alley ways at night. He also asked her to take care of their mother, should the worse happen…

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Legacy of Poetry - #poetry #rhyme #music

Pen nib

By Lisabet Sarai

I’m mildly surprised my first words weren’t in rhyme. Or perhaps they were—nobody in my family has ever been able to remember a time when I wasn’t talking, so I really can’t check! I do know that my parents surrounded me with poetry from my very earliest years. Before I could read myself (prior to year four), they read to my brother and me, including nursery rhymes and poems like “The Owl and the Pussycat” (which I can still recite). 

My mother sang, mostly nineteen forties torch songs with regular meter and rhyme:

Fly the ocean in a silver plane,
See the jungle when it’s wet with rain,
Just remember till you’re home again,
You belong to me.

My dad composed his own original songs for my siblings and me:

Consimo was a talented cat.
There certainly was no doubt of that.
He’d climb on stage in his big top hat
And play the clarinet in the key of B-flat.

There were always books around, and many of them included verse. So I guess it’s not too surprising that I grew up writing poetry. I can’t recall anyone suggesting I should, or telling me how. I just picked it up, a sort of inheritance from my verbally-gifted family.

Here’s a poem I still remember (I don’t know if I have a written copy), composed when I was  nine. We’d gone out on a friend’s boat (a real thrill for me) in the Atlantic off the Massachusetts coast, on a still, cloudy summer afternoon. The moody atmosphere made a strong impression:

The sky is the gray of an eagle’s wing;
The sea has a leaden tint.
Drowsy waves gently rock the bow of our craft.
And then on the breeze comes the sound of a bell,
Telling the story and ringing the knell
For the ships and the sailors ever gone.
And under the waves of the watery deep
The brave and the noble eternally sleep
While the bell buoy rocks in the sway of the sea
Its bell ever singing, ‘leave these brave men in peace’
As it in its watch eternally keeps.

Okay, it’s a bit grandiose, but I think the structural complexity’s pretty impressive for a fourth grader.

I continued to pen poems all through high school, mostly about unrequited desire.

We’ve pro-ed and con-ed for many months, my friend
And come to no decision.
Hot and cold running dreams,
Fires and frosts of the heart.
The climate of our love has been
New England.

As I sank deeper into anorexia and temporary insanity, my poetry grew darker in mood, but I never stopped using words, rhythm and rhyme to express my emotions. Through my college years and my recovery, the poetry still flowed, with less agony and more openness to the world.

Then came graduate school and my wild, crazy “sex goddess years”. All my lust and excitement exploded into poetry. I met my master and came to understand the lure of submission:

Meditations on a Crescent Moon (to GCS)

a bright thorn lodged in my flesh,
scarlet petals crushed on my breasts;
silver hook reeling me in;
scimitar pricking my skin.

clipping of a fingernail,
charm to bind; scorpion's tail,
sweetest poison in the sting,
fever dreams; broken ring
of the ancient myth,
how I shall know
my other half.

silken curl
from some platinum plait;
comma - a pause,
saying hush, wait.
light leaking beneath the door,
beneath the blindfold --
nothing more,
in the darkened room
but a lingering kiss
and the rough caress
of the bonds
on my wrists.
Sometimes I think my best poems are the ones I dedicated to him.

There was a lull in my versifying when I began writing and publishing fiction. But the rhyme, the rhythm, the music that are my birthright were still there. You can hear the poems in my prose, if you listen. I’m always aware of the cadence, the way the words fall on the ear.

Lately, I’ve been moved to write poetry again, though less urgently than before. Meanwhile, I can come up with a rhyming ditty in a matter of minutes. I have the lyrics for hundreds of songs stored away in my head. If it rhymes, I’ll remember.

My parents have both left this earth. They didn’t leave me a lot of money or property. However, they bequeathed to me both a love of and a skill with words. For that, I’m deeply grateful.

(You can find more of my poems on the free reading page of my website.)

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Redemption Arc

Yes, I admit it openly! I’m an HEA sort of girl. I feel like I’ve been cheated if I don’t get that happy ever after or at least a happy for now at the end of a novel or a series. Yes, I expect losses, and yes I expect a journey that is fraught with chaos and nail-biting setbacks, but I do expect a pay-off for sticking with the author to the end. 

If there isn’t an HEA, well I can live with that as long as the tale is redemptive. But take away the characters’ hard-earned HEA and their redemption arc and I will throw the book in the trash, or delete it from my kindle and never read that author again. Totally not acceptable in my sight!

While I get that sometimes the cost of the tale being told is way too high for a proper HEA, while I get that people suffer and die and things go tits up and pear shaped, I cannot, CANNOT except a tale that ends with no intimation of redemption. Perhaps it makes me a sappy git, but I believe redemption is essential to the human condition. If that were not the case, I figure the human race would have died out a long time ago from the total lack of hope.

With the subject of U-turns on the agenda for this cycle of OGaG, I found myself thinking about the redemptive arcs in my own stories. Not only are they there in every single tale, but they are absolutely essential for the HEA to happen. While a redemption story does not necessarily involve an HEA, in my opinion for an HEA to be worth the read, a redemptive arc leading up to it is crucial. Without it, the story is flat and, worst of all, it becomes something with which people in the real world cannot identify. 

The sharing of stories is quite possibly the best form of escapism ever created, with reading fiction the ultimate refinement of that great escape. We read, and write stories to experience vicariously the journeys we can never make on our own, nor would we even want to if we could. And while that is true, the one thing that we do want to believe in, need to believe in, the one thing that we want to take for ourselves from each story is a sense of hope, without which there’s very little reason to journey farther.

Through the stories I’ve written, my characters have taught me several valuable lessons about redemption. 

First of all, redemption doesn’t mean forgiveness. Some things cannot be forgiven, nor can they be undone. That means one of the very fist steps to redemption is letting go of the past those characters can’t change and moving forward to the future they can.

Secondly that moving forward instead of being stuck in the past and its hopelessness is often the opening of ones eyes to see things differently, a different view of what has been and how it affects the present makes for a much different view of the future and the possibilities awaiting the character. 

Thirdly while the literal definition of redemption is the buying back of a thing, in fiction the currency is character struggle. What is purchased at a very high price is hope bought back from hopelessness. It’s not so much the hope that one might be made new again nor is it the pipe dream that what has happened can be undone, because certainly it can’t. But redemption is the moving forward on a different path that leads away from despair and toward hope, no matter how distant that hope may seem. It’s the understanding that while one can’t undo what has been done, one can move forward in hope and impact the world in a positive way, or at least not a negative one. 

Fourthly, once the U-turn into hope is made, the journey is only just beginning. The characters’ flaws don’t magically vanish, the brokenness is not suddenly mended and the journey is more than likely going to be one helluva a ride. But it’s a ride worth the effort. It’s a ride worth waking up for every morning. That sense of value, or at least that sense of not being worthless, that sense of moving toward something that matters is a key ingredient in the redemption of a character. 

Finally, sex in a story can play a major role in that redemptive arc. Sex can work as the drug that keeps hopelessness at bay and keeps a character numb or in denial. It may be nothing more than a distraction from the pain of that hopelessness, but in story it’s a powerful distraction and one that can convey to the reader the depth of the character’s hopelessness in a way that’s raw and honest, even in its dishonesty. 

But sex in the redemptive arc can also lay a character bare, render a character open and vulnerable to that U-turning, to that possibility that hope might not just be something for other people. That sense of union and oneness that can happen with sex can be a part of the guiding force that brings a character back to himself, that reconnects him with all that matters, all that has been lost. 

While we might all seek an escape from our own ordinary lives through the stories we read, while we might all live vicariously through the trials and tribulations of the characters, the need for redemption, for hope, is something not so vicarious, something we all need and long to share.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

U-Turn on Lonely Street

By Tim Smith

It was one lonely evening in Toronto, Canada. I had crossed the border to take a break from some problems, and see different scenery than what I stared at every day. I had already hit the casino, lost my limit, dined at a so-so cafe that the locals raved about, and now I was walking the city streets, seeing what else there was to this tourist mecca.

The foot traffic was light, mostly locals and a few out-of-towners like myself seeking liquid refreshment and whatever nightlife the city had to offer. It was a pleasant June evening, with a light breeze blowing in from Lake Superior to keep the temperature tolerable.

I saw her approaching from the opposite direction and froze in my tracks. I was instantly taken in by the young woman with long brown hair, wearing cute wire-rimmed glasses perched above a button nose, with a curvy figure encased in tight jeans and a stylish short-sleeved top that was just snug enough to give me ideas.

She kept her gaze focused forward, her face giving a non-committal look that seemed to radiate an air of confidence, one that was reflected in her stride. I slowly did a U-turn as she passed and watched her walk down the street. Suddenly I was on auto-pilot as I followed her, not close enough to intrude but near enough to appreciate the sway of her shapely hips.

She quickly crossed the street at the next intersection just as the light turned red. I resisted the urge to sprint after her but stood at the curb, watching her. Halfway down the block she entered a restaurant situated on the ground floor of an elegant old hotel. I had passed it on my way up that same street but decided against checking it out. Now I changed my mind.

After the traffic signal gave me permission to cross, I slowed my pace as I approached the door she had passed through and stood on the sidewalk, peering inside. The dining section of the restaurant was nearly vacant. She sat at the cherry bar, alone, sipping a glass of wine and watching the TV mounted overhead.

I went inside and took a stool four away from hers. When my drink arrived, I sipped it while stealing glances at her in the mirror behind the neatly-arranged bottles. She seemed to be absorbed in watching the wrestling match on the TV. I was intrigued. It wasn’t in my nature to approach strange women in bars, but I remembered an old saying—no guts, no glory. I moved closer, keeping one bar stool between us so she wouldn’t think I was invading her personal space. My mind tried to come up with something witty to say before deciding on a simple approach.

“Do you think it’s real?” I asked.

She looked at me in surprise, realizing she wasn’t alone. She flashed a pleasant smile. “Is what real?”

I gestured at the TV. “The wrestling. Do you think those guys are really beating each other silly, or are they just making it look good for the audience?” 

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

I took a small sip. “Completely phony. They’re just giving the customers what they want to see—senseless violence disguised as entertainment.”

She laughed. It was a soft lyrical laugh, very soothing. “That’s an interesting observation. Are you always so cynical?”

“It helps me navigate the rapids known as life.”

She turned slightly to look me full in the eye. Hers were hazel, with just a hint of eyeliner to accent their natural glow. If I wasn’t careful, I could lose myself in those eyes. We exchanged first names and she asked me what it was I did that gave me such a cryptic outlook on life. I challenged her to guess.

“Hmm. Are you a philosopher?”

I shook my head.

Her look turned playful. “A fortune teller?”

“Wrong again, but you’re getting warm. I’m a writer.”

“That’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever met an actual writer before, at least not one that owned up to it.”

That was good for a laugh from me. “We’re a rare breed. And what do you do?”

“I’m in aesthetics.”

Now I was confused. “What is that?”

“Hair styling, facials, make-overs, things like that.”

I nodded. “In the States, you’d be called a cosmetologist.”

“It’s the same thing.” Her eyes and expression took on a bit more interest. “What do you write?”

We spent the next hour exchanging life stories and shared interests, accompanied by another round of drinks. Since things had progressed from awkward introductions to sitting next to each other, sharing laughs with her hand resting on mine, I felt it was time to take the next obvious step.

“Would you like to continue this over dinner?” I asked.

She kneaded my hand and peered into my eyes. Hers communicated a hint of sadness. “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay. I just stopped in here for a drink to unwind after work.” She hesitated. “But I’m really glad I met you.”

“The pleasure was all mine.”

We exchanged e-mail addresses then she took her leave, after giving me a firm hug and a kiss to remember her by.

I was glad I made that U-turn.