Practicing your Writing Exercises
I realize I’ve been harboring a sly secret.
(a girl-child in a ruffled dress grins, gives a little skip, glances over her shoulder.
I can make meaning without even trying;
I’m just full of it, naturally.
It comes streaming out of my fingertips.
All I have to do is catch it before it dribbles down the drain.)
That spilled secret has landed me here in the corner,
all my choices evaporated, burned up by the light of day.
I end up with frozen fingers and no good avenue out of here.
Caught, my back against two walls, I wonder if being stuck might be meaningful.
I recognize this feeling: the sticky residue of embarrassment,
so thick it makes me sick,
gummed up with fury over my lack of swift skill.
It comes when I have to learn what I don’t want to learn,
Face those awkward baby steps.
What a waste.
But I have to go that way to get out of here.
(Yes, you can hear me over there in the corner!)
You have to go that way.
You have to practice so you can get from nowhere to somewhere;
you can’t just dance on the table and flash a dimple, Shirley Temple-like, to save the day.
Unless, of course, you enjoy your own dancing and dimples.
In that case, who cares? Have some fun; it’s easy.
But don’t come to me with your problems.
I’m busy trying to learn how to write.
Theme and Variation: We cannot do much for our kids.
All parenting leverage has slipped away.
Our help must now pass through a sieve small enough to strain out every because-I-said-so.
The suggestions we give our kids are left behind like umbrellas;
our advice about as welcome as an orange in a Christmas stocking.
Their ricocheting perceptions of our good intentions rip through our hearts
while all we mean to do is save them from a hard fall.
Variation: We do so much for our kids.
They wander around, lost in the forest, not realizing
we’re the ones who planted the trees, opened the gate, and ran off the predators.
Instead they act as if we’re trespassing.
We’re forced to retreat, willed invisible,
expected to keep the horn of plenty well-stocked without commenting
on how often they waste their food.
Variation: We would do anything for our kids.
We beg them to spare themselves the hurts we see coming so clearly.
We feed, pat, hug, talk, yell, and weep, with no idea what they take away
when they go speeding down night highways toward futures they cannot see.
Our desperate urge to give cannot sandbag the empty hole of hurt over their lost way.
Variation: We cannot help our kids, and it’s all our fault.
We tried to cushion every bump along their zigzag path.
Have they grown up too soft from all that care?
Should we have leaned harder or given more? Held back or pressed?
We still feel the weight of our own parents’ lectures dinning in our heads.
The guilt of our failures so heavy, we consider withdrawing from the fight;
the guilt of quitting so shameful, we always show up for one more round.
Theme (Reprise): We cannot do much for our kids.
The crackle of a fire warms a far-off future room where the sins of kids and parents have faded,
when stories have grown tattered, and memories have shrunk to pleasant sentences.
Might it be agreed, at last, that we all did our best, that our worst is only a misshapen suit abandoned in a closet.
Sitting on that far-off sofa, you and I are still somewhat stunned that our kids did not turn out like us,
But, come to think of it, we carefully raised them far differently than we were raised.
Secret winks play on our faces in the firelight. You and I have done all the parenting we can.
Our children took whatever baggage they were willing to carry and left us on our own.
Two women walk the quiet morning street.
I garden and watch them pass.
One lost her husband;
the other, her daughter.
They smile and say hello,
as if they still have more to give.
I dig in the dirt
Making gardens for them.
The Book of Stains
The residue of lost dreams
–Wet this residue with tears, scrub with brittle hopes, let dry. Repeat.
The splatter of grief
–This stain will fade over time. Many cleaning books maintain that this is a treatable stain, but there is no way to erase this stain except to wait.
A spot of yearning
–This is a stain that can best be treated by augmenting with a handsome circle pin, preferably in rhinestones.
–Wipe up with a soft cloth. Wring the liquid into a Mason jar and seal. These will keep indefinitely until you are ready to serve them up again along with a fine Chardonnay.
Ground in messages of misogyny
–This stain needs treatment with harsh chemicals. Wear rubber gloves because such stains are toxic to tender skin. The sooner this stain is treated, the better. If the stain is on paper, burn it.
The accumulations of an aching heart
–This stain has a certain paradoxical quality. It appears to be an unmendable hole, but it actually consists of nearly invisible layers of disappointment. Darning is actually the best remedy. Cover it over with a bright fabric, using attractive and fanciful stitches around the edge to distract yourself. Sing your favorite soft song while you work.
Caked on confusion.
–Happily, there are many books on cake making that contain helpful hints here. Betty Crocker herself recommends treating the confusion by mixing with the following ingredients: a dictionary, Google, a yellow tablet and pen, honesty, and the will to learn. Bake for a good six years.
Layers of dried on caution.
–Get out your scraper! Like bird doo on a car hood, dried on caution is annoying but not toxic. It yields to pressure, a strong arm, and dance music turned on loud. A good choice here is “Respect” by Aretha Franklin.
The dust of dumb decisions
–Here a light touch is best. Dust is everywhere and it tends to come back. Don’t shoot for the perfect dustless home, but rest easy. A little dust never hurt anyone. We all have this kind of dust. Feel free to sigh as needed. Breathing helps move this dust.
Squeezing More Out of Life
My head has ached for days, seven now I think. I try to do too much; I admit it. With my 50-hour work week, the constant running to pick up and drop off kids, the impromptu dinner parties that I pretend are so easy, I end up with a headache I just can’t shake off.
It’s as if an angry old troll perches on my shoulder, his eyes popping, and his mouth in a wild leer while he squeezes the big muscle up there. He always goes for the right side, my working side, the side that scribbles the notes, grabs the phone, hefts the bag, and stirs the sauce.
I picture a wizened little man, dwarf gray. His long bony fingers are brown with age, but strong and tipped with sharp talons. When he finds a good chunk of shoulder tissue, he squats, burrowing deep into my muscle with wiry fingers. He uses his feet for maximum leverage, digging in with his toes. He works his way up the muscle, hand over hand, until he reaches the base of my skull. Then he bites into me to make sure he gets my attention.
He doesn’t relax even when I sleep. He loves it when he can make me open my eyes by giving me a vicious pinch so I’m trapped in a purgatory of wakefulness. He tiptoes, grinning, up my face to deliver a head butt. On the way down, he elbows my temple.
“I’m all yours,” he whispers in my ear. “You made me.” I always grit my teeth when he says that because he’s right, I did. For some reason I made him crabby, frustrated, myopic, and stubborn. I don’t know why I did that since he treats me as if I’m a doll he’s tired of playing with and now just likes to torture.
He’s not evil, but he is obsessively preoccupied with his mission. He’s no executioner. He’s a specialist, an acupuncturist gone wrong. He rocks back on his heels, his clutches sunk deep into my aching shoulder, and grins. “How is that?”
I resent the way he relishes his task, how he fine-tunes his talent at tormenting me. I’m often tempted to beat on him with a stick, or better yet, a club, as if hitting the sore spot will make him loosen his furious grip.
“Stop!” I scream at him. Then I slow down and regain control. “That’s enough,” I purr. It’s better to approach the problem in a calm, measured way. After all, it’s just a tension headache. There is no little man.
To cope, I indulge in my favorite fantasy. I’m lying in bed, resting my sore head and tired body. I can stay there as long as I want, reading books, watching movies, taking naps. But hey, I‘ve got a desk full of work, a Saturday meeting, two conference calls coming in at noon, and I said I’d bring cookies to the 12-year-old’s soccer game. If I skip lunch….
I squint my eyes, grit my teeth, and command my body to rise. Grim determination is my best ally. The problem is that my temper often rises too. It’s that imp up there, tying my shoulder in knots.
I’ve got to relax and face this problem rationally. There must be meaning here; I prefer to believe things work that way. One has headaches for a reason. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and meditate on my pain. I see myself leafing through the pages of my life, sifting thoughts and impressions, probing my feelings. I find….
I find that I don’t really have time for this right now. So I’ve got a headache. Big deal. I’ll do what I always do: square my shoulders, put my head down, and go. It’s just that there’s this little demon on my shoulder, riding me like a bronco. I try to concentrate on the next task and forget the little devil digging his spurs into my vulnerable flesh, waving his hat with a great big grin, and hollering, “Yeehaa!” Maybe one day he’ll finally make me sick enough that I have to slow down.
On the other hand, maybe I’ll start working out with weights. I could fit in a half hour of power lifting before I collapse into bed at night. In no time at all I’ll be so lean and mean that I can beat that little man at his own game. When he squints his eyes and grits his teeth at me, I’ll be a match for him. Then we’ll see who squeezes whom.
Talking to Yourself
Talking to yourself is highly underrated
I think about all the people who
Are home alone these days
Kids grown; spouses still working
I’m pretty good company for myself.
I’m supportive in my comments,
I laugh at my jokes,
I tell myself what I need to do next,
I keep myself organized and motivated.
I know all my own lingo.
And I know when to pay attention,
And when to ignore what I’m saying.