…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

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John Milton wrote his blank verse on the fall of man, Paradise Lost, in ten books from about 1658 to 1663. Some scholars believe that earlier passages were written in his youth, and the remainder interrupted by the English Civil War. Why? Was it a change in style from early years to a more mature perspective? I can relate to that.

In retrospect, my youthful attempts at writing made me wince. But I forgave myself for being young and unschooled in a thing that came naturally. The ability of my mother and aunts to relate detailed family lore convinced me that I, too, must be the reincarnation of our ancient Irish sennachies, ready with the Merlin of my time—the computer— to record each precious nugget of knowledge and creativity. However, I soon learned that being reborn into a new time meant, “Get with it, kid. Nobody accepts poetry or prose in ten rambling books anymore!”

With this cold water showered on my literary efforts, I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough. So, I read about writing, took creative writing classes, joined writers’ groups and associations.  What did I learn? That I still had, and have, more to learn. Albert Einstein was right: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

So, it falls to those who can learn, to find ways for the less fortunate develop to the best of their abilities. In Luke, the Bible tells us that Jesus said, “Those to whom much is given, much will be required.” This is where my soapbox on writing merges with my pulpit on social conscience.

I think back to the 1960s when an imperfect man, John F. Kennedy, made a perfectly altruistic statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a time of bright hopes for the future, and those words guided my teaching career.

Where is that bright hope today? Are we at the brink of losing paradise again? As did Charles Dickens in his time, I cannot help thinking of our time:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.   (~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First, Chapter 1)

Back on the soapbox: Is this not an intriguing hook to reel in the reader? It’s one of my favorites. It made me hang on for the ride like Captain Ahab tangled in his own harpoon line. Why did Dickens speak of his time as both wise and foolish, as one of enlightenment and mental darkness, of hope and despair? His words foreshadow how the conditions of the period affected society as revealed in his novel.

You might like to read or reread this Dickens tale. Spoiler Alert: the best of times and worst of times refers to the fact that the ruling classes of both England and France then were woefully out of touch with the common people and very mistakenly believed the status quo would glide on forever. Sound familiar?

We need to think with less selfishness and more selflessness. Not only does charity begin at home—so does a change in society’s priorities. Start with your own social interactions. Lead by example, then demand the same of all public servants from the smallest mayoralty in the nation all the way up the chain to the United States Congress and the White House.

Let us not lose Paradise again. Vigilance is the price of our freedoms, our paradise.

Keep learning. Keep writing. Make your words count for the better. Be able to say of your actions and your writing, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…” as did Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.


I’ve been scanning more old family photos, and they’ve brought memories surfacing from the depths of my mind, touching my heart. Especially now. December 15th was my dad’s birthday.

He was born in the early years of the 20th century and grew up through the Great Depression. He remembers walking the railroad tracks with his two brothers, Ben and Bill, scavenging for lost coal that fueled the trains. I’ve written before of how he and his brothers were often housed in orphanages after their mother deceased and their father was away on government ships.

The photo here was painful to see. In this depressing atmosphere, my dad worked to repair trucks at the General Electric division in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

WALTER TODD--G.E.-ELEC TRUCK REPAIR-BPT CT CIRCA 1935-1970s copy C.jpeg

I also mentioned the character of these young men who knew the value of home and family life they never had, how it bound them together for a lifetime, how their example was passed on to the children in the family. And despite their minor flaws and foibles, honesty, courage, camaraderie, and generosity, were their guiding values.

Each year, Dad played Santa Claus at the Christmas party for children of General Electric employees. In the photo below, he carefully descends the narrow stairs at the union hall as he greets the children. One year, my young cousin Gary piped up, “That ain’t Santa Claus!” When we asked why he thought that, Gary replied, “Because he’s wearing Uncle Walt’s shoes.” He was right. My dad’s big, old brogans, though always neatly polished, told the shape of his foot and many repairs.

WALTER TODD-SANTA-G.E.-BPT CT CIRCA 1950-53 2 copy.jpeg

And finally, below is my dad with wedding gifts presented by fellow employees…

WALTER TODD--G.E. WEDDING GIFTS-11-27-1937  copy.jpeg

Everything in that picture has a story to tell. My Mom used the iron in the laundry room where the clock kept perfect time until her decline and move into my sister Susan’s care. The sale of her house was traumatic for all of us. Dad, with help from his brothers, Ben and Bill, and friends, painstakingly built the house over time.

Look around you. Look through old photos. What stories do those people or objects tell?

Let it be a tale of the true values of life. Not greed and the lust for power, or the many evils mankind is capable of.

Let it be a tale of forgiveness, of honesty, love, and compassion for every fellow human being, as befits the true gift of Christmas, whatever your beliefs.


When I was a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my dad and I were Brooklyn Dodger fans to the core. We bucked the tide of Yankee fans riding along with the winners. In retrospect, I wondered if their choice of hero worship reflected a need in themselves to bask in the glow of winners: The team I align myself with is a winner, ergo, I am a winner.

Well, what did that say about my dad, my mom, and me? Were we losers because our beloved Dodgers hadn’t won a series in our lifetimes?

Slap my face for even thinking that. After their mother died, my dad and his two brothers moved from orphanage to orphanage wherever Grandpa’s work on government ships took him. What they learned was Family First, self-sufficiency, and holding out against the odds. Tenacity.

My mom and her two sisters, the youngest of ten surviving children, left school at age sixteen to join the work force, as had their brothers before them. Savings accumulated by my maternal grandfather, a feed-and-grain businessman, dwindled, requiring every able hand to take on work to keep the family together. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence.

In 1955, I was in the driveway waiting for my dad to come home from work. We spied each other, and the hullabaloo began. Me, shouting at the top of my lungs, wearing my Dodgers’ cap, waving my Dodger pennants, and my dad endlessly honking the horn and shouting back. The Boys of Summer had finally won the World Series! Tenacity. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence. It all paid off.

After my beloved Dodgers dodged Brooklyn for less-green pastures in L.A., I lost interest. They abandoned their loyal fans and their heritage as trolley dodgers for monetary gain. From then on, I watched sports in general degrade into huge money-making machines with little loyalty to their family of fans

When I heard that Chicago-Cleveland Series tickets this year went for as high as $1,500 plus, I was struck by how pervasive GREED is in our society. It pollutes everything from sports, TV, movies, theater, politics, and some unscrupulous sects of religion. Money is god in our culture.

Still, I had no hesitation in rooting for the Chicago Cubs. No World Series win in 108 years? Bring it on! That’s my kind of team! Down three-to-one in the series and they WIN the @#$%& thing! Woo-hoo! My kind of guys! Tenacity, self-sacrifice, cooperation, persistence.

“Okay,” you ask, “so what has all this got to do with writing?”

Duh! Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Stop reading this, START WRITING and DON’T GIVE UP!

 


…is a disease of the writer’s wandering mind. In August I started “Brushed Off and back in the Saddle…” with a short story called Off Day Off. I apologize to anyone stranded at his or her computer waiting for the end of the story promised for the next month. September 18th was my mom’s birthday. She would have been 96 this year had she not passed in 2014. I’d been scanning old photos and reliving memories that prompted the tribute and the tip I passed on about using these memories as memoir pieces, creative non-fiction, or short story starters given a what if… twist to the real event.

You can refer back to the August piece if you wish. The point of that blog was that a writer should NEVER toss out ideas, scenes, or a story that you can’t seem to finsh. Store it away like old-fashioned bread dough. Sooner or later it will rise and be ready to bake! For the impatient who prefer not to be amazed at my genius for writing… the short short story about the short story is: Off Day Off” finds a gal named Twyla taking a well-deserved day off from household demands. Let me take you back a bit to Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More shop where Twyla nestles into a booth to relax…

…Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.

In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath part of the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.

Act Two. The curtain rose on a blurred halo of bright red-orange surrounding an ashen oval punctuated by two fuzzy green lights. As Dolly’s face came into focus, I couldn’t help but hear her, even through the howling pain in my arm.

“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Oh, Twyla. Thank God. I called Tom. He’ll meet you at the hospital. Are you okay?”

“Sure. I’m lying on your floor trying not to scream with pain,” I growled through clenched teeth. “What the hell happened?”

Over Dolly’s nervous babble, I focused out a bit farther and realized an old Cadillac had attempted to eat half my table, and stopped within inches of consuming me as well. “Holy shit! Oh, Jesus…oh, oh, A-A-A-A-AH! Curtain down on Act Two

Act Three. Three handsome hunks are kneeling beside me. Part of my dance team. Genuflecting to the jungle goddess. Oh, hell, no! EMTs. I’m still on Dolly’s floor, but the pain isn’t as bad. Maybe my arm is numb. Maybe they shot me up with some happy juice. Curly Black Hair with sensitive blue eyes and a perfect smile is the first to speak.

“Ma’am?”

Ma’am? The infatuation is over. He’s not that cute, anyway.

“Yeah?”

“We need to get your information.”

After they scribbled down my life history, and while they stabilized my arm and patched some nasty cuts, Dolly filled me in on what I’d missed.

“We couldn’t believe it! The Caddy just crashed through the window and you were gone! Out of sight! On the floor! I called 911, people ran out to check on the driver, and I checked on you. Oh, that poor old guy.” Dolly shook her head. “I think somebody said he was ninety-two or ninety-three years old. He hit the gas instead of the brake.”

“Jeez. I hope he has insurance.”

“Yeah. I hope he had life insurance, too.”

“What?”

Dolly’s eyes shimmered. She shook her head again. “For his family’s sake. Poor old guy. He had a heart attack and died before the EMTs got here.”

“Poor old guy is right,” I said as Dolly trotted beside my stretcher to the emergency vehicle. “What a hell of a day for all of us.”

Dolly clutched my hand as they paused to load me into the rescue vehicle. “Yeah. But remember, we’re still here to gripe about our bad luck.” Before they closed the door she waved and added, “I’ll be checking up on you—a lot! Looks like between us, we’ll have quite a few ME-days off.”

***

Stay tuned. Same time, same station. You can catch me in November for another exciting ride on my train of thought!


As a writer, words are my breakfast, lunch, dinner; my air and water, my work, play, and joy. Words are my babies, my beloved. They are NOT ‘my significant other.’ They are a dear and valued part of my life.

I often wonder what, not who, coined the term ‘significant other.’ I picture some geek at a secret half-human, half-machine robot computer (you know, the secret one out in Area 51) saying to it, “You know, Half-bot, I’m living with this girl, just not sure I want to get married, but she’s a nice girl, and we’re learning to tolerate each other, and, well, maybe…”

“What is your point?”

“Uh, yeah. Well, she’s more than a friend, more than a roommate, more than just the girl I live with but…”

“What is your point?”

“Memo to self: Work on Half-bot’s sensitivity to human interaction.”

“Noted. What is your point?”

“I don’t know what to call her.”

“Significant Other.”

That’s my guess how the ghastly term came about.

I have a favorite pair of shoes that are winners. I also have ‘place’ and ‘show’ shoes. These other two pair are my ‘significant others.’ Good enough for their specific purposes, but not good enough for a lifetime relationship. Good enough for a walkabout, not good enough to put under my bed. My clothes are categorized much the same way. So are my feelings for food, animals, music, movies, sports… You get the picture?

Significant Others are nice to have around, but less important to me. Is that what a relationship partner should be called? What ever happened to sweetie, my love, boyfriend, honey, girlfriend, partner, fiancé, roommate? Is Significant Other better than roommate? Doesn’t sound it to me. Sounds like a co-bill-payer with benefits. Sleazy.

And if you split, what do you call your Ex? Insignificant Other? Now there’s a good one! That I like.

I heard a guy say, “I live with Jane,” in response to an introduction. Well, that’s ambiguous too. Ruff the dog, Finny the Fish, Mac the Macaw, and Jane’s grandmother live with her, too! Where does the guy rate, I wonder. Sounds like a sleazy co-bill-payer-with-benefits Significant Other, if you ask me.