They Found ME

Writing Challenge Digging for Roots In this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, tell us about what makes you, you.

I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.


While writing Martin of Gfenn, I became fascinated by one of the characters, the Commander. In 2005 I set out to write a prequel that would tell the story of the Commander’s life before he came to Gfenn.

Anyone who’s written a novel knows that characters have lives of their own and at certain point, a writer must allow the characters to tell their own stories. I had no idea where that would lead me when I set out to write this book. I finished a draft in 2005 and put it aside; other (rather dire) circumstances had captured my life and I had to attend to them. In 2010, when I returned to this novel, I was a different person and a different writer.

In what was going to be the “prequel” to Martin of Gfenn, the Commander was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived…where? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some interesting information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Anna and a fiancée named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in a bad dream with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancée— Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out. I sent copies to four newspapers around Zürich. Three interviewed me and published reviews of the novel. Martin of Gfenn became a big seller in a small part of Switzerland, and I got a email from a Swiss fan asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I had looked, to no avail (I looked because my grandmother’s cooking was exactly the same as a few “typical Swiss” dishes I’d eaten in Switzerland), so I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zürich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of relatively minor knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis in Canton Zürich. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower.

Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives a significant and bloody battle, while his brother is killed.Once I found all this, I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one of two important changes I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It left the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. The “real” Rudolf had also had children (and so I’m here 🙂 ). I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

Though it is impossible, it seems that my ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are two chapters posted on Rudolf’s blog.

I also Lunkhofen Coat of Armsremembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family is on that wall. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful. In Aargau there are towns that bear their name. Over time, “my” side of the family changed its name. That name was Anglicized in the 18th century when some of the members emigrated to America. The last person in my family with that name was a woman. Her daughter was my grandmother’s grandmother. All of my grandmother’s female ancestors (and most of the male) were Swiss (Amish!). That explained her cooking.

Night, Hawks and Doves

 1Siege Ends! Corregidor Falls to the Japanese!

American and Philippine Forces Surrender



“Where is he?”

“There. Third from the right. The worst is that I don’t know how he is.”

America was shocked at the newspaper photos. The siege had brought the American Army, under General Wainright, to its knees.

“Well, if the Japs have him, that’s…” said the man sitting beside her.

She gasped. “Don’t, Dad. Don’t talk about it. I know about it, but hearing it… No, please, don’t talk about it. Oh God, my little brother!” Absently, she looked at her hand as tears streamed down her cheeks. She had vowed not to cry in public, but how public was this deserted diner, anyway? Who would see? This crippled soda jerk, her dad, some guy she didn’t know?

“The Japs’ll stick to the Geneva convention,” said the one-legged soda jerk.

“When have they? Hirohito thinks treaties proscribing behavior in war are stupid. He has a point. A humane war? Wouldn’t it just last longer?” said the man sitting alone in the shadows on the other side of the curved counter.

“Fond of Hitler, are you, Joe?” asked the older man.

“Calm down, buddy, calm down,” said the soda-jerk. “We don’t fight the war in here.”

“You should be out there, pal. What are you, 20? 21? You seem able-bodied,” the old man pressed the point. “In my time, I’d be handing you a white feather.”

“I’m a Quaker.”

“Oh that’s convenient, when everyone’s brother, dad, lover, husband is out there fighting and dying and you’re in here drinking a green river, being a Quaker.” The woman’s hand shook in rage as she lifted her cigarette to her red lips.

“Lady, that goes for you, too. Just ’cause you’re a dame don’t exempt you. I’m sorry to hear about your brother, but… Until you been there yourself, you can’t, well, anyway, no war in here.” He grabbed a coffee pot and filled the woman’s cup. “Getting mad at him ain’t gonna’ do nothin’ for your brother.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry about your brother. I know you’re scared. I know what it’s like out there. I just got back from four months driving an ambulance. But for the Grace of God I’d be there now but…” He stopped. He’d resolved not to talk about it.

“You were there?” demanded the older man.

“Not the Pacific, no. London. The Blitz.” If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the screaming of women and children caught unaware in the early days, running feet on the streets of London, the downward screams of German bombs, the explosions, the falling walls. He saw his friends — fellow Quakers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York — running with stretchers, looking for wounded, surviving, people. Lifting them up and running again for an ambulance, for shelter, for a hospital.

The woman’s father looked over just as the headlights of a passing cab illuminated the Quaker’s face. It was then he noticed the left side resembled melted wax, that his left ear was gone. “Oh my boy,” he said, a sob catching in his throat. “Forgive me,” not knowing for sure whether he spoke to the Quaker or to his own son, now interred at Malaybalay.



“You teach English, eh?”

“I teached it.” Lilian smiled. “I gave up. Just three months ago, as it happens.”

“Good. I could never date an English teacher. They’re always at you about your grammar.”

“Pretty much ONLY when you’re in their class and they’re paid to do that. The goal is to help students write and think more clearly so other people can understand them should they ever wish to you know? Communicate something?”

“I’ll tell you about English teachers. They’re punctilious anal superficial hyper-critical sadists, if you want my opinion. They get off on throwing red ink around and hurting peoples’ feelings.”

“I didn’t want your opinion. But thanks. Glad I retired so we can be on this date. So, where we going?”

“I thought we’d go over to the laundromat and watch the clock.”

“I already did that on a date, back in high school. Boyfriend – Tony – had no money. I don’t know why we did that, parked his old Ford in front of the laundromat. He said it was so we could be together, which, I admit, was sweet, but it was so cold and the laundromat wasn’t even open. It had this phosphorous-green kind of light inside coming from the green neon circling the clock. I dunno if you’ve ever seen one like that.”

“Where was that?”

“Colorado Springs. It was winter, too. I was home for Christmas break.”

“I guess you didn’t go out with him long.”

“I married him.”

“Are you going to marry me?”

“Doubtful, very doubtful. In fact, I don’t see much point in your wasting the gas to drive over to the laundromat. Just let me out here, OK?”


“Yeah. I’ll call a cab.”

“Baby, c’mon. Let’s try to work this out. Sure we will have had our differences…”

“Wow, now you’re hitting me with arcane conditional verb tenses? On a first — and only — date?”

“We might have had our differences.”

“We just met!”

“I know I will have felt regret over this for a long time. Can’t we start over?”

She felt dizzy. She felt as if she’d been in a long-term dysfunctional relationship with Ralph for years. She could almost remember their breaking up and making up and starting again, repeatedly — even for the sake of the children! A whole lifetime of strange little arguments.

“We haven’t even started, Ralph. Like I just said. I just met you.” Lilian sighed. “I knew internet dating wasn’t a good idea. I wish I hadn’t let Lana push me into it. I know she had her reasons and they had NOTHING to do with my happiness.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think I’m talking to myself, Ralph. Look, please stop the car and let me out. This isn’t the way I want to spend my evening. I’d rather walk all the way home in the rain than do this. It’s not for me. I’m too old.”

“Don’t be silly. Age is just a number.”

“No it isn’t. Age is a lot of things. It’s experiences and a knowledge. It’s finally ‘getting it’ you know? Answers to questions about who you are?”

“I think you just need to get laid.”

“Let me out.”

Ralph pulled over to the side of the road. Lilian collected her purse and wrapped herself in the brightly colored blue and lavender shawl that drew attention away from her wide hips (liability) to her shining blue eyes (asset) and got out of the car.

“Can I call you?”


“We could go out again.”

Lilian closed the door and stepped up on the curb. Not much traffic here. She couldn’t expect a taxi to come zooming by looking to pick up a late evening fare. She fished around in her purse for her cell phone and then realized she’d taken it out to call a cab while she was still in Ralph’s car. “Shit,” she thought. “Wait, there’s a pay phone.” She hurried down the street where she found only the dangling remnant of a long-lost communication device. “All the quarters in the world won’t help me now,” she thought. “Oh well.”

She walked along the sodden street. The rain had stopped and reflections of the streetlights made glimmering images on the sidewalk. The  damp, fallen leaves were fragrant when she stepped on them. “I’d have missed this. Life is certainly surprising. I’d have missed this.” The moon was breaking through the dissipating rain clouds and the night took on a magical quality, like a story in a kid’s book.

A car came up behind her, slowed, passed by. Something flew onto the sidewalk in front of her. She reached down and picked it up. It was her cell phone, wrapped in a note. “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me, even when I invited you to go to the laundromat and watch the clock. I thought for sure you’d know then. I know it’s been more than forty years, but I thought there might be a little something familiar. Still love you, Tony.”

Yeah, but She SAID…

Writing Challenge The Unreliable Narrator This week, consider the unreliable narrator — a classic storytelling device — in your own work, no matter your genre.


Lying. My favorite fictional “unreliable” narrator is actually completely reliable in a way. He’s the speaker in Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart.” He insists that he is sane but all his actions illustrate the opposite. Still, he never denies any of his actions; he explains them in detail along with his motives. But his motives and actions are the motives and actions of a mad man. “Why will you say that I am mad?” he demands of the police.

If the police were allowed to speak, or the testimony given in court against the murderer were written by Poe, we might have read, “Because you’ve done a crazy thing for a crazy reason. Just because you accurately relate the facts in this matter doesn’t mean you’re not insane. You are definitely insane.”

Facts speak for themselves if we allow ourselves to “hear” what they have to say, but we are often “unreliable” witnesses to the facts of our own lives. Just as the speaker in “The Tell Tale Heart” we can assemble all the facts and derive a fallacious conclusion; it depends what we want to see.

For most of my life I have been surrounded by unreliable narrators, narrators whose actions contradicted their verbal claims. I’ve also been guilty of allowing wishful thinking to cloud my perceptions of reality; I have not asked enough questions or refrained from making decisions before I should have. I had excellent and life-long training in the embracing of illusion. The most sophisticated of all the unreliable narrators in my life was my mom.

My mom was an alcoholic. I didn’t know it even though the evidence was in plain sight. What blinded me? Her words, her stated beliefs, her accusations, her created reality in which I was given a role to play. From this role I derived part of my identity. I believed her when she told me that she didn’t drink, “Just because I have a bourbon and water doesn’t mean you get to look at me like someone from the WCTU (Womens Christian Temperance Union),” she would say. Since I didn’t look at her that way (in the first place) I then became very careful NOT to notice her actual behavior or internalize her obvious hypocrisy. During our church going years (all of them when I was growing up) as good Baptists we vowed every Sunday to “abstain from the sale and use of alcoholic beverages.” I KNEW that chances were good we’d all go home and mom would have a beer before lunch, but I didn’t notice it.

I was not the only one in the family who did not know. Her closest sisters did not know. It was not until a scan of my mother’s brain toward the end of her life, revealing physical brain changes and scars from a lifetime of alcohol abuse, that we knew. When her doctor explained this to me over the phone, I felt in my heart and mind the same feeling I’d felt standing on the edge of the ocean while the water pulled the sand out from below my feet. I had nothing to stand on.

Why didn’t I know? I lived with her for years. I visited her frequently after I moved out. I’d been there when she’d turned into a monster if I arrived home at 4:40 instead of 4:30 (at which point we started cooking supper which had to be on the table at 5:30). I’d been yelled and and manipulated after 9 pm when I didn’t want to stay up and watch Johnny Carson. I was yelled at first thing in the morning by a person I later knew was “Jonesing” for a drink. In the evening, when she fixed what I always believed to have been her first bourbon and water for the day, I always felt I could relax into a predictable few hours. Two drinks, supper, television and, if I was very lucky, bed with no drama.

It wasn’t that no one told me. When I was eleven and my mom was screaming at me after supper, my dad took me away in the car and talked to me about how there are “…some people get happy when they drink, MAK. Some people get mean. I’m afraid your mom gets mean. You have to stay out of her way when she’s drinking…” I didn’t understand it. Later on, when I was in my forties, and one of my aunts (a nurse who was married to a long-time alcoholic, then, finally, in recovery) said, “How is your mom when you get up in the morning, Martha Ann? Is she mean to you?” I didn’t get it. My aunt was trying to tell me my mom woke up with a hangover every day and my being there, visiting, kept her from getting that first (morning!) drink. I didn’t guess it when one afternoon my mom was driving and nearly ran off the road into a streetlight.

There is no one in our lives more “reliable” than our mom, right? And so, in spite of reality and concrete evidence and the testimony of reliable witnesses (my dad, my aunt Madelyn), I did not know my mom was a drunk. The lovely irony here is that my mom was always afraid I’d be fooled and hurt because of my gullible and trusting nature. “Don’t believe what people tell you, honey,” she said, often. “You need to be a little skeptical. People lie.” If I believed her when she said that, what would have happened to our relationship?

Cities and Time and Maps

  • It’s a big world out there — and in here, too!
  • I had been here before, a long time ago — Now I remember. 
  • I was uncertain, but kept going — and ultimately, I died.
  • In my dreams, I envision a place — but the world is wider – and wilder! – than my dreams.
  • Loneliness is an interesting feeling — no, it isn’t.

I like the city picture. It is not as chaotic as many of the places I’ve been… So… 

A city with busy, chaotic streets.
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

All cities are chaos until you know them, until you allow them to teach you who they are. You see, all real cities are living things. Shanghai, for example. 1983 (It’s a different city now). We had only a map of the city in Chinese, none was available in English. For us it was no problem. We had our Fodor’s and we had a year of experience navigating through the labyrinth of Guangzhou using only a map in Chinese that had bus routes. We’d used our skills to get around Beijing and Hangzhou? Small city, piece of cake. So in Shanghai, with my Chinese brother, Xiao Huang, we were fine. And we had only one day… It was our last day in China. A brand new 747 carrying only 11 passengers would take us to San Francisco the next day.

Xiao Huang had been assigned to accompany us from Guangzhou to see we would not get in any trouble and maybe because the “heads” knew we would miss each other. Our “watcher,” Xiao Huang had become our good friend. The flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai was his first plane flight, a rickety Aeroflot. I don’t think he enjoyed it.


“Where did you get that map, Ma Sa?”
“In the hotel bookstore.”  Hotel amenities were alien to Xiao Huang who had learned English from Voice of America while on “political study” in a factory in Dun Huang during the Cultural Revolution. Free soul that he was (and is!) some bourgeois artifacts nonetheless inspired his disapproval. The hotel was one of the great art deco buildings still found in Shanghai, left over from the glittering 30s.
“How can you read that?” he asked, looking at the map.
“It’s OK, Xiao Huang. I have a book, too.” I showed him my Fodor’s (I still have it.)
“Your plane leaves in the morning. I am afraid we will not have time to sight see.” I realized he was scared.
“We have all day! I may never again come to Shanghai!”
We were notorious in Guangzhou for going everywhere. It was all the PLA and the police and the Foreign Visitor’s Bureau could do to keep track of us and protect us (it had happened…). I think Xiao Huang was afraid there would be no one in Shanghai to keep us out of danger. He also thought we would get lost. Of course, we never did. We saw many things that day, especially in Old Shanghai. Yu Yuan, a pleasure garden with a moon gate.


In that old Chinese part of the city we saw men making abacus(es? ii?) with drills that had to have existed in medieval times. I bought one, wishing I could give it to my dad, the mathematician, but as he had been dead ten years already it would have to be a votive offering such as the Chinese made to their ancestors. I couldn’t burn it, so just yesterday, I packed it once more. We walked past the shopping area of Shanghai’s glamorous 20s and 30s on a street where pedestrians had one full lane, bikes another and the few trucks and cars were relegated to a narrow lane in the middle.

Xiao Huang had a great time.


Now I look at the cities I’ve visited as not only places navigable via two dimensional maps in languages other than English, but in the way I might imagine three dimensional Tic-Tac-Toe. Chinese cities and European cities are layers of time. Under the streets of Zürich (and other cities) are other cities. In one spot in Zürich you can look down on the excavated ruins of a Roman bath. 34776829

Maps from the past are a big help navigating the time warp of old cities. This map of Zürich was a great help (and a time machine!) when I was working on Martin of Gfenn.  Even though it’s a 16th century map, it’s possible to find the older Zürich and its walls.


Chaos is ignorance waiting for light. As Nietzsche said in Zarathustra, “Unless you have chaos within you, how can you give birth to a dancing star?” Navigating the superficial chaos of an unfamiliar city is one of the great things about traveling!

Intro. to Lit. 7 days left(over)


Writing Challenge Leftovers For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.

We’ve been reading The Sun Also Rises. This has been an all but impossible task. Today I learned these interesting bits of information. I learned I’m a leftover and it’s time I put myself in a nice Pyrex container (the kind that was around when I was a sprout) and hie myself hither to yon greener pastures because my day is done…

1) “I didn’t bring my book.”
“How are you going to answer the questions?”
“Did you ever hear of ‘google’?”
I shudder inwardly. This is the kid who thought Hemingway’s story “Hills Like White Elephants” was “The Hills HAVE White Elephants,” conflating Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway.
“Good luck with that,” I say. “I made up these questions. They’re not posted anywhere online.” YET, I think to myself, knowing of “Yahoo answers…”

2) “Professor, how come you didn’t tell us you changed the time for the homework to be turned in?” (It’s turned in online, usually 10 pm on Sundays. I gave them until noon today, Monday.)
“I did.”
“Well I didn’t know.”
“I told the class. I sent you an email.”
“Yeah, well I was in Mexico City.”
“That’s not my problem,” I said, actually astonished to hear myself say that.

3) Next… Dark haired, dark eyed student — other students assume he’s Mexican. But guess what? He’s this thing called “white.”
“I’m Greek,” he said.
“Where are you from?” asks another student.
“My parents are from Greece.”
“What do they speak there?”
“Greek!” I say, astonished by the question.
“Yeah, but isn’t that a dead language? What do they speak there NOW?”
“Seriously? Greek. Modern Greek.” I am flabbergasted.
“Is that true?” he asks the Greek/American student. Yeah just DON’T believe your teacher… What have past teachers done that this one — I! — have inherited so little credibility?
The Greek kid says, “Yeah, but they use symbols to write. Not letters.”
“Those are letters. It’s just a different alphabet. We have some of the same letters,” I explain.
“Yeah, but they’re like ‘sigma’ and ‘beta’ and stuff, not like ‘es’ and ‘bee’. The symbols mean something.”
I ponder my odds at spontaneous self-combustion, then, “They’re symbols to US because we USE them that way. In themselves, they are letters in an alphabet. They spell words. OK, guys, work. We have to make some sense out of this book, OK?”
The Greek kid goes to Google translate and types in “work” in English and asks for a translation to Greek. “Can you read that, Martha?”
“Yeah, εργασία – ergasia.”
“No way. Tell it to pronounce it,” demands the kid for whom Greek is a dead language, “it” being the computer which is more reliable than I am.
The Greek kid hit the speaker, “Ergasia.”
“She was right!” Utter amazement.
“It’s the word from which we get words like ‘ergonomics’. You know that word, right?” I explain, a being of surprising — but not infinite — patience.
“Yeah. How do you know this stuff?”
“I studied Greek,” I said. “When I was your age, I thought educated people should know classical languages. I studied Homeric Greek for two years and Attic, well, only a semester.”
“I just told you.”
“Yeah, but why?”
No…it’s not a goal here, simply to be well educated. It has no currency. Well, maybe it never did. Or maybe it does and these guys haven’t had the chance? I don’t know, but they’re all over 20, some are university students. For the past six weeks I’ve been shaken by the depth of their ignorance. They’re smart enough, but untaught. Yeah, I’m a teacher, but…

4) “So during prohibition, people in Spain couldn’t drink?”
“No. Only in the United States.”
“Only rich people could drink.”
“No. Anyone could buy booze at a speakeasy if they had the money to buy it. That’s what’s going on in this conversation between Jake and the ‘wine bottle Basque’.”
“Only rich people, then.”
“Or very motivated people,” I said. “You didn’t have to be rich. A lot of people made their own booze. You know Al Capone, right?”
“Yeah, like The Untouchables.”
“They made their own booze?”
“Yeah, and smuggled it, like the Mexican drug cartels. It was similar.”
“How did they make booze?
“That would be a cool thing for you to do research on, right? People have made alcohol to drink for thousands of years.”
“No way. I’m going to ‘Google’ that. That can’t be right.”

On the way home, I made a monumental and life changing decision not to live in the future nor am I going to spend any more time dragging the future back to the residue of an era rapidly fading in the cheap dazzling glitter of the  binarian dust. No way Jose or Dimitri or Κουνούπι or Yakob or whatever. I’m not going to stem the tide. 7 more days. It’s just something to get through. Gotta’ get a’hold of Stand and Deliver.


A slip of thin blue paper in my mailbox. “Voulez vous faire du ski avec moi?” I translate it over and over.
“A note. From Peter.” I hand it to my friend.
“Say no. He’s gay.”
I don’t.

So began my life’s great love, all downhill, dangerous as art.

50 some odd more:

  1. I Had A Date | Musings | The Wangsgard
  2. 50 Word Challnege: Dreaming of Ice Cream | Kosher Adobo
  3. Changed her tune | Plan-It Janet
  4. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty | The WordPress C(h)ronicle
  5. This week’s journey: First two days in 50 words | Procurrent
  6. Playing By the Rules Insults My Intelligence | Bumblepuppies
  7. Steam for Breakfast | mfourlbyhfourepoetry
  8. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty | Loin de zanzibar
  9. Fifty | April B
  10. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty | In my world
  11. Maybe in June | Artfully Aspiring
  12. Missed Connections | Fish Of Gold
  13. A 50 Words Story: Reaching The Dream | Navigate
  14. Mice | Kate Murray
  15. DPchallenge – Fifty (March 22) | Spiritual Biscuits
  16. Fifty | Mindful Digressions
  17. alternative | A beetle with earrings
  18. Weekly Writing Challenge – 50 | jwdwrites
  19. In Spring, She Had Proof! | a contract
  20. Heart | Schneider’s Lines
  21. Dreams Come True
  22. turn the page | eastelmhurst.a.go.go
  23. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty: Jubilee | Angela McCauley
  24. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty | Lost in Oz- Dorothy Kent
  25. Fifty…Just Fifty Words… | Blundering through life…
  26. The Time Machine | Eclecticfemale’s Blog
  27. Into the endless blue skies above… | thoughtsofrkh
  28. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty | imagination
  29. Fiona the Fairy | Kelly’s Wandering Mind
  30. Cosmic Orange Balls | Sangatak
  31. Five Dishes, No Soul | Vanessa Elliott
  32. My First Fifty | Love.Books.Coffee.
  33. Judgment Day | until the inkwell dries
  34. Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty (Neutral Milk Hotel Edition) – Compass & Quill
  35. Stories from aside
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  37. There’s a DJ in my Joints | Triumphant Wings
  38. My standard apology….in 50 words, no more, no less. | Getting DCK for Dummies
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  42. Fifty Challenge: She Breathe Her last breath | rayonmd


stein-picasso“‘A rose is a rose is a rose’.”
“By any other name, too?”
“Call it a Hershey bar; it’s still what it is.”
“Oh no. Here we go again.”
“I’m with Emerson on this.”
“Oh yeah?”
“What did he say?”
“In ‘Self-Reliance’ he spells it out. I agree. When I read and understood this, it changed my point of view on everything:

“Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance

Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_ca1857_retouched“And that means?”
“We call a lot of things a lot of things, but it does not affect their essential nature. They ARE what they are. Our names – labels – get between us and authentic experience, reality. Calling a rose ‘Lamont’ or ‘Thunderbird’ or ‘Binary’ doesn’t change it at all. These ‘names’ are completely abstract, they don’t even touch the surface, but we mistake them for the fact.”
“So what? We have to call stuff something.”
“Yes, but we need to remember that WE did that. Language is a tool of society to help us communicate with each other. A great gift, indeed, but there is implicit in the whole notion of language the idea of consensus. We have to agree on meanings. In doing this we often stop experiencing reality and begin to experience the idea that society agrees on.”
“Are you always like this?”
“No, well, no. But I’ve experienced this. For years my students called me ‘Martha.’ I began having problems with being disrespected.  My office mate said I should demand to be called ‘Professor Kennedy’ and so it is. The difference could be measured. Students respect the title; they expect a kind of distance and authority. My ideal of a perfect class is everyone working together as equals to solve problems and write well. This is not my students’ idea of ‘class’ at all. I don’t even think their idea has much to do with learning. It’s a room and an ambiance and certain distinct roles. If you give people what they expect, they are happier than if you constantly challenge them to ‘examine if it be goodness’. Class SHOULD be a place where people learn. It is not that. It is a room in which people sit in seats and a professor stands or sits in front and tells students things.”
“Ah. So ‘Professor’ is a gesture toward consensus?”
“It makes it easier for me to conduct a class the way I have learned actually teaches.”
“Well, professor, are you still trying to teach ‘Self-Reliance’?”
“No. Not for twenty years.”
“Why not?”
“How about those Lakers?”

Call them what you will:

  1. Weekly Writing Challege: Power of Names | Our Baby Dreams
  2. Weekly Writing Challege: Power of Names | The WordPress C(h)ronicle
  3. What’s in a name | Love your dog
  4. Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names | Under the Monkey Tree
  5. More Than A Name | snapshotsofawanderingheart
  6. Weekly Writing Challege: Power of Names | ManicMedic
  7. Melissa|The Meaning | melissuhhsmiles
  8. Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names | B.Kaotic
  9. Faithfully Named | It’s a wonderful F’N life
  10. The Power of a Name | Short & Sharp
  11. A Rose by Any Other Name… | Artfully Aspiring
  12. my name is larry | eastelmhurst.a.go.go

The Can of Sardines

Carton of Saltines, Frederick Remington painting, my office mate’s name plaque for his desk.

My office mate is a man named Max. We’ve shared our office for the last 10 years. It’s an unusual relationship because, back in the ’60’s, during the Cold War, when my dad was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base/Strategic Air Command Headquarters, writing wargames for Viet Nam, Max was stationed at the missile silos in South Dakota and flying B52’s for the Air Force. They knew each other.

12+FINALI learned this soon after we moved into our own little office. I got a Fredrick Remington painting to hang on the wall. Another prof was throwing it out and since it reminds me of Montana, I kind of wanted it in my office. I asked Max if he liked it and he said yeah, it reminded him of South Dakota. Then I remembered that I’d always wanted to ask him if in his Air Force days he’d been stationed in Omaha. I asked. He turned his Air Force pilot hawk eyes on me and said, “Why?”

“I wondered if you knew my dad.”

“Who’s your dad?”

“Bill Kennedy.”

“Bill Kennedy? That glib tongued rascal was your father?” There’s probably not a better description of my dad than that. My father died in 1972, a very long time ago. I was thrilled and by what Max said; happy and amazed he’d known my father.

It has been incredible to sit in an office where once in a while my office mate turns around and says, “Your dad and I…” and launches into a story from a time I couldn’t know. Max is 10 years younger than my dad, a Captain at the time my dad made trips up to South Dakota to discuss strategy. Max also came to Omaha to be briefed by my dad and others, but there’s more; we followed each other throughout our lives. I lived in Colorado Springs, my dad at NORAD, when Max was teaching at the Air Force Academy. We’ve eaten in the same restaurants here and there, steak houses in South Omaha (Johnny’s) and the hamburger joints in Bellevue, Nebraska.

“Do you remember than hamburger joint in Bellevue? Stellas?” He asked one day and then said, “At one time, a group of us Air Force guys from Offutt lunched there. Bill Kennedy among us.”

We also like each other. We’ve both lost important and beloved family members long before we should have. We have great respect and affection for each other, want everything good for the other.

One day years ago we had lunch together kind of spontaneously here in our office. I only had 30 minutes before my class, so Max put a can of sardines in front of me and another in front of him; shook some saltines onto the napkin he’d laid on the breadboard of his desk as a tablecloth, gave me a bottle of Fiji water and we dug in. It was wonderful.

“This is a real picnic,” he said, smashing sardines onto his cracker.

I used to eat sardines with my dad, just this way, when I was a little girl and mom was gone at lunch time on a Saturday. “C’mon, Mak,” my dad would say, “let’s open up a can of sardines.”

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  15. Him | Emily Schleiger

The Color Purple, Maybe

Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave Your Shoes at the Door

Nice idea. NOT possible. No one can walk “a mile in another’s shoes” or moccasins as I was raised to say the saying. Still, though it is not possible, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. It’s very important to try.

Back in the early ‘90’s (I was in my 40’s) I had a crush on a guy, let’s call him Ali, who didn’t return my feelings. I am not even sure now if I actually DID have a crush on him or if I thought I should. He and I hung out together a lot, but this story isn’t about him, it’s about a friend of his, Oktay.

Ali had invited me for dinner. He had learned to cook (having gotten tired of paying incredible prices for Turkish food) and was making Kefta (meatballs). It was Hallowe’en so I showed up with my face painted like a vampire. When Ali answered the door, he screamed, thinking I was bloodied from being in a car accident.

“You gave me a heart attack,” he said.

“It’s Hallowe’en,” I reminded him.

“You Americans,” was his response. Yes. As he cooked and told me about a girl he was slowly falling in love with (he never rushed into anything; he was a non-impulsive man, a kind of vampire himself, who seemed [to me] to feed off the crashes and emotional highs and lows of his friends.) We ate and talked and I fought a sense of boredom spawned of the futility of the situation. The doorbell rang. Ali answered and a long loud conversation in Turkish ensued. I sat on the sofa and imagined how great it would be to walk into the rainy night and go home, taking the arrival of Ali’s friend as a reason for me to leave. I found my coat, put it on and headed for the door.

“Don’t go!” Ali protested. “You can’t go, this is Oktay. You will like him. You will want to talk all night.”

Oktay was very thin and very tall. He wore black Levis and motorcycle boots; he carried a helmet and he wore a leather jacket. I found him extremely attractive. There was a wild energy.

It turned out that Oktay was a photo-journalist and his assignment had been photos of the border war between the Turks and the Kurds. He told me his life story. He was raised by a single mom, hated school, hardly ever went, one day saw a camera in the window of a store in Istanbul and KNEW he wanted to be a photographer. He put all his energy into learning to take pictures and worked in the shop instead of going to school. After a while he was so good that he became a professional photographer and ended up taking horror photos of the war.

“No one, not even Turks, knows what’s going on there. No one. Babies with arms blown off you cannot imagine, any way, I hope you cannot imagine. And my country? It acts like it’s not really happening. I don’t know what is worse. The war or the lies about the war. But, now I’m here and this,” he gestured wrapping in air all of American culture, “does not seem real. At least that is real.”

I have long wondered why that is. For most of my life I believed that goodness, beauty, comfort, functionality were LESS real than pain, suffering and hopelessness. I believe it was growing up in my family that did this to me, growing up with an increasingly crippled father and a mentally disturbed mom. Something switched in my mind after my brother died, and I now find myself no longer drawn to the painful and sordid, but to anything that is NOT painful or sordid (without being facile or cliché).

So, I understood Oktay. Maybe I hadn’t seen one armed babies , but the darkness of life was part of my experience in ways I didn’t then understand completely.

“Now, I’m here because I have to get off the junk.”


“Heroin. But they don’t know what I have seen. And if they do know, if they have seen, how can they see as I have seen? How do you know if I say purple it is what you see as purple?” He held up his plastic cigarette lighter.

“That’s a stupid dispute,” I said. “We reach a consensus about that and it’s sufficient for us to communicate about the color. We cannot see the world through each others eyes, but we can agree your lighter is purple.”

Oktay laughed. “You are practical person, I see. I need more practical people around me, I think. You don’t take that seriously.”

“No, not that.”

“But no one can know another’s pain, that is what I mean.”

“I can know that you have felt pain. I can know that of everyone. I assume it to be true of everyone. It is my position.”

“You are unusual, then,” he said.

I did not know then that I had been raised by an addict and trained in the service of addiction. I did not know that an addict would be attractive to me because it would be familiar; it would feel like home. But I was drawn to Oktay in a mysterious way and it was mutual.

“You are fascinating woman, you know?” he said. “You are old but you are beautiful.” He was 23.

“Thanks,” I said.

“I would still want you, you know? Even you are old.”

Soon after, I got in my car and drove home. Oktay would soon be on his way to LA to work and later he would call me, tell me he was coming by, but he didn’t. Later, a friend of ours was stopped at customs. There were packets of heroin sewn into the coat she was wearing. Back in Istanbul, Oktay had given it to her as a gift. His plan was to take the heroin out of it later when they met up sometime. He failed completely at rehab, and his paper brought him back to Turkey. He lived a year longer before dying of an overdose.

Though we met only one time, Oktay turned out to be an important person in my life. As I learned more about my own family, struggled to save my brother from his addiction, faced the reality of my mother’s addiction, and saw my role in these family dramas I understood something about myself because of my strong, seemingly mystical, connection to Oktay.

He was right, perhaps, that we cannot know anothers pain. Perhaps he knew (but I doubt it) that we cannot save them from it, either.

Lion in an Iron Cage
Nazim Hikmet

Look at the lion in the iron cage,
look deep into his eyes:
like two naked steel daggers
they sparkle with anger.
But he never loses his dignity
although his anger
comes and goes
goes and comes.

You couldn’t find a place for a collar
round his thick, furry mane.
Although the scars of a whip
still burn on his yellow back
his long legs
stretch and end
in the shape of two copper claws.
The hairs on his mane rise one by one
around his proud head.

His hatred
comes and goes
goes and comes …
The shadow of my brother on the wall of the dungeon
up and down
up and down. (1928)

Foot fetish

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