Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poetry Floaties Keep Me From Drowning

After the bombings in Boston a few days ago and the explosion in West, Texas at a nearby fertilizer plant last night, I feel as if we've been hit by a terrible double-tap of tragedy.

Miles away, folks are facing their worst nightmares and I'm here, safe and sound in my home, my biggest immediate concern being sure the kids take raincoats with them to school.

If I let myself watch and listen and think about either event too long, I will be a puddle of tears before mid-morning.

Words help. 
For me, words can help shape reality into something I can handle, a shape I can "see" in my minds eye. Then somehow, I can process the indescribable and wrap my prayers around something more concrete than the gut feelings of fear and dismay.

When I heard of the amazing marathoners who, though entirely spent, continued onward to help others and donate blood, I couldn't help but think of these lines from Rudyard Kipling's "If".

'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ...

'If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

'If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - what is more - you'll be a Man, my son!'

To be able to face the terrors in life, grit your teeth and keep on going, that is strength. We cannot do it alone. We need more than a British stiff-upper-lip. We need friends around us and moments of grieving and moments to stare into nothing. We need something to occupy our hands, so it feels like we can DO something; put our hand to the plow, fist to the punching bag, face to the wind. 
We want to FIGHT against all that darkness and evil in the world.

At least I do.

When I hear of those who've misused power or abused others, or committed acts of terror, I recall the poem, "The Man With the Hoe" by  Edwin Markham. It was written after Markham saw Millet's world-famous painting of a brutalized worker.

In the poem, Markham scolds, in ringing tones, those whose actions bring pain, numbness and all other brands of brokenness to fellow human beings.

I won't share the entire poem here, much as I love it, just the lines that I feel apply to whoever might be the dark soul behind the awful acts of terror.

"...Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies.
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?"

What of us left behind, hurting, aching for the wounded and the lost? Not sure what to do, how to help, what to even pray for. Feeling angry and hurt and violated and wanting to turn from those dark feelings, to beat our swords into something beneficial. What can we do?

We can honor those who have fallen. 
We can turn our back on human frailties and celebrate our God-given Humanity.

Just a little bit of kindness.
After the dreadful shootings in Newtown, Conn., NBC correspondent Ann Curry encouraged others to do 26 acts of kindness for those 26 victims. Now, in honor of the 26th mile of the Boston Marathon, we are again encouraged to do 26 acts of random kindness. 
If we like, we may share on Twitter under the hashtag #26Acts2.

This call to action, good, righteous action, recalls the classic poem written during World War One by  Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, "In Flander's Fields".

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders field.

"...To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

The torch is given. Pass it on. Pass it forward.
Break a sweat. Break a Twenty. Break for a pedestrian, a biker, the jerk who cut you off.
And then, just smile and wave and know that maybe they didn't see you. Maybe they were wiping a tear. Maybe their friend, their aunt or cousin is in Boston or Texas or some other Flanders field of woe. 
Give them a break, a little kindness, and go about your day with gratitude that there is good in the world. For, if enough of us act, speak and share, the light will overcome the darkness.
Every Single Time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Real Life Inspiration: The Man From Snowy River - Banjo's Poem

All of us have iconic images from our childhood or teen years that just take us back like a time machine to a certain era or place or feeling. Something, whether book, movie, scent, activity that goes right for the gut of our emotion.

Today, I'm starting a series exploring some of those things in my life. 

When I was a child, my parents went out a couple times a month for a date. But movies were always expensive (at least on our budget) so they went about four times a year as a couple. After one of these dates,  my sister and I would bug my mom about the movie. 

"What was the movie about? Did you like it? Was it exciting?" 

My mom was sooooo cool! She'd sit on her bed and we'd sprawl across the King-size quilt, close our eyes and imagine the scenes as she told us the story. I watched some of the films later, and they weren't nearly as awesome as mom made them. I mean they were good, but not as good as what Mom had described. 

Or maybe Hollywood just couldn't compete with my imagination? 

Eventually, my family got a VCR and we'd trot down to the video store (remember those dinosaurs???) on Friday night and pick out a movie. 

One of the few films that completely lived up to (and surpassed) my mental version of my mother's storytelling was the Australian movie, "The Man from Snowy River"


Did you all see that movie?
Did you fall in love with Jim Craig? 
My sister and I sure did. 

I imagined myself as Harrison's daughter Jessica soooo many times.
I wanted to be fiery and smart and beautiful just like her!

The budding romance.
Forbidden love.
Forbidden love as the hero and heroine ride horses.
Match made in heaven.

That's what I remembered as a preteen.

Then I watched it as an adult.

The music!
The plot.
The horses.
The Aussie accents.
The wry humor.
The long-lasting feud between Harrison and his twin. 
(Kirt Douglas is awesome!)

But one thing was still as powerful as when my mother told it, as when I first watched it on our grainy 18" TV:
Jim Craig's breathtaking leap over the ridge and down the near-vertical mountain slope.

I thought nothing could top that.

Then I found the original poem.
This is the essence of the movie, the story:
The stripling from Snowy River proving himself, pitting himself against the other men and against nature itself as he chases down the Brumbies. 
(The love story, as much as I swoon over it, is secondary.)

 I envy Banjo Paterson his words. 
He uses jargon and common words to deftly  illustrate characters, describe a horse outside and in, paint a vista and offer you the opportunity to ride with the stockmen on the ultimate chase. 

Go ahead. Watch, listen, and envy. I know I did.

Special thanks to my sister (fellow Man-from-Snowy-River-groupie) who found this on You-Tube and shared.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Graffiti, Tagging and other Unauthorized Behaviors

 When I first read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" at the age of ten, I immediately labeled Edmund as the bad one. I knew he was trouble before he ever entered Narnia and spoke with the White Witch. 


Sure, he was a little snarky in the opening pages,  and I suspected he was going to be a nuisance like my little brothers; the kind that stole your Barbie right off the pink plastic couch on the third story of her Townhouse and ran around the house laughing maniacally when they were bored or hyped up on red Kool-aid.  
That first day in the Professor's house, before they play hide-and-go-seek, what was Edmund doing? He was using his penknife (the ubiquitous tool of English boyhood) to carve into the underside of a chair. 

The nerve! The naughtiness! He was the Troublemaker!

My pre-adolescent moral compass was whirling with righteous indignation. 
I was such a girl!

When I watched the movie adaptation a few years ago, I was absolutely THRILLED when Edmund ducked out from under the chair and slammed his penknife onto the trunk/coffee table when the kids decide to play hide-and-go-seek. He was doing it then, during the argument! He was vandalizing the Professor's furniture! 
I was ready to high-five director, Andrew Adamson. 

He hadn't "sanitized" Edmund 's character. He let him shine in all his frustrated, sneaky, cheeky glory.

I thought it was awesome!

Then, my own son vandalized my dining room table.

Yup. A skull. With an eye patch. With another skull sketched on that.

And it wasn't on the underside like that weasel Edmund chose. 

Or in the middle where I can cover it up with a centerpiece or basket of rolls. 
Nope. Right along the curve of the oval in all it's glory.

I bought a tablecloth. A few of them.

Not too long afterward, it was time to wash said tablecloth. (Did I mention I have five sons? Lots of opportunities for laundry with five boys)
When I lifted the tablecloth away, guess what I found...This:

In case you can't tell, (I couldn't at first,) this is a smiling robot head.  

I yelled at my skull-carving boy. He was eight and had just barely unburied himself from the heap of trouble this graffiti had brought down upon his head. (No Old English or Pledge has yet to cover this baby up!) The kid should know better than to do it again! Right?

"I didn't do it." Straight face.

I yelled some more.

"I didn't do it!" Indignation.

I demanded who he thought did it.

Finger pointing at the next brother down the line. Typical.

"But Mo-ooom! I carved a skull! This is a robot. A smiling robot."

Okay. Point taken. 

The five-year-old did that.
He got in trouble too.

Its been over a year. Guess what. I hardly ever use a tablecloth anymore.

I look at those carvings and I shake my head. Then smile. 
When no one is around to see.

Each is so totally typical of the boy who drew them. The skull was the product of my sweet-but-sometimes-rebellious middle-child after I had placed a ban on all skulls in my household...not on shirts, hoodies, shoes, sheets, posters or even doodles. 
So, why was I not surprised. Sigh!

And the next son in the pecking order is curious and daring. If his brother could get away with only that much punishment, then maybe he should give that enticing naughtiness a try.

My dining table, though once a dignified piece of furniture, was third-hand when we received it...with bits of irremovable green glitter on one corner and lots of dings and scratches. The deeply-carved illustrations of my boys only adds to its character (I tell myself anyway).

Then I cringe at the motherly thought: What if they move on to other surfaces? 
So I do my darnedest to teach my kids respect (for themselves and others). 
And I pray their penchant for permanent art doesn't migrate to other people's property
...or their own skin.  
* suppress a shiver*

But having a house full of crazy boys does have its upside.

As I was writing a scene for a new Work-In-Progress the other day, I was fleshing out a character and suddenly I mischievous, thrill-seeking hero was a bit of an Edmund. He had a hefty slice of rebellion and longing for naughtiness just like a particular son of mine.
He would defintely be there with a penknife scratching away on the underside of a chair or making his mark on a table top.
He was perfect! 
In the circumstances, I needed a daring fellow who wasn't afraid to thumb his nose at authority. The heroine needed a guy who wouldn't just shut up and sit down. The story needed a hero who would make the Hail Mary pass and then take the consequences, win or fail, with equanimity.

Such a rush! 

Weaving a story and sculpting a character out of words is absolutely the best fun! 
(Revising on the other hand is a monster. But a thrill in its own way.)

Well, folks, gotta scoot. 
There are some tablecloths I need to pack in mothballs.