Thursday, May 14, 2015

Week in Seven Words #255

He'll ask you a question he thinks you can't answer. As you pause to think, he'll line up the first words of his lecture. Don't disappoint him by knowing the answer.

Her voice comes at me in puffs and crackles from hundreds of miles away.

Not for a minute do I buy into his kindly Kris Kringle routine. There's a knife's edge to his smile, the glint of a blade.

They leave their office doors open so they can banter across the hallway.

As the elevator takes us down, she crouches in a corner, her arms wrapped around her knees, and watches the numbers with solemn attention.

It's a dystopian scene, the gray crowds removing shoes and belts before filing through the metal detectors.

As they give him advice, he turns his cellphone over and over on the table, his leg shuddering up and down. From time to time, he starts to say something - to defend himself or make himself look more experienced than he is - but they talk over him, and he subsides into a disgruntled silence.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Five Short Stories Featuring Mothers and Daughters

Title: Ashputtle: Or, the Mother’s Ghost
Author: Angela Carter
Where I Read It: Mothers & Daughters

Carter writes three versions of the Cinderella story, not with the 'bibbity bobbity boo' Disney godmother, but with Cinderella's dead mother helping her in some way (usually in the form of a guiding animal spirit). The three versions vary in violence, in the desperate competitiveness between the girl & her mother vs. the tormenting stepmother and her brood, and the freedom the dead mother grants her daughter.

There's only one version where the mother gives her daughter some gifts and then sets her free to embark on life, where it may take her. In others, the vision she has for her daughter is more fixed; she controls her daughter and maneuvers her into a narrow role. It's for her daughter's own good, she would say, because why take chances? But taking chances makes that third version, the freer one, so compelling. The mother trusts her daughter most in that one.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Five Short Stories Featuring Mothers and Sons

Title: Donal Webster
Author: Colm Tóibín
Where I Read It: The Book of Other People

This is a meditative and melancholy story, where the narrator shares his thoughts with someone off-screen. He reflects on the time his mother was dying. They had been distant from each other, and he wonders if he'd made the right choice to move so far from home, to a different continent. Then again, the distance between them was never only physical.

Of the three children (two boys and a girl), he's the less preferred son. It always seemed to him that way. It's possible his mother loved him, but he isn't certain of her love or its strength. Maybe, had he remained close to her side throughout his adult life, they would have enjoyed a more loving relationship, but there's no guarantee it would have made any difference. He's considering what a second chance between them might have meant, knowing it might not have changed anything important. Maybe circumstances were set against him from the start, and he was never meant to receive his mother's closeness or love.

There's much that's left unresolved in this story. The narrator shares it not because he's cleared up a mystery or made a last-minute connection to his distant mother, but because the story seemed to have been echoing in him until he needed to let it out.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Week in Seven Words #254

As I'm walking, I hear a man sing. He has a beautiful voice. He's behind me, walking and singing to himself. I don't ask him what he's singing or otherwise speak with him. But I slow down so his voice can follow me for longer.

The electric shock feels like a rubber band snapping hard against my fingers.

Though he no longer smokes, he still keeps careful track of cigarette costs. He likes to imagine himself buying cigarettes, while reminding himself of how much money he's saving by resisting the impulse.

A short, thin needle goes into the arm. The muscles flex. The monitor crackles. Muscle activity turns into a roar.

At the table, he presses his face into a book, his body radiating embarrassment.

Red flags on his cheeks, a feverish glaze on his eyes.

Behind each question is the same insistent, unspoken question: "Do you measure up exactly to my standards?" And the unspoken follow-up: "You'd better, or else."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Israel Trip Highlights (Part 2 of 7): Art

Metal work and other art in Old Akko

In the city of Akko (Acre in English), one place we stopped by was David Miro:


It's a family business (they moved to Israel from Iraq in the early 1950s). The son, who plans to lead the business one day as the next generation metal-worker, artist and craftsman, demonstrated how to make a simple copper bracelet. He then gave it to a woman in the audience.


There's much more to see at the store. (I wound up not buying anything, but I admired a lot of what I saw.)




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Israel Trip Highlights (Part 1 of 7): Fauna

Street cat


They're everywhere. And they're begging to be the main characters in stories about secret feline societies.

Roadside dog


Her name is Luna. She belongs to a food vendor who's stationed in the Judean Desert, en route to the Dead Sea, at the point on the road marked 'sea level.' (You're traveling from the heights of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on Earth - or at least on dry Earth. Reaching sea level is a milestone along the way.)

Luna is used to strangers, and walked over to everyone to get petted and photographed.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Week in Seven Words #253

She's hidden things behind her books - keys to cabinets, necklace pendants, folded letters. She says it's extra protection against casual burglars; they won't rifle through her shelves. But I also suspect it's her romantic streak. She's always wanted the kind of bookcase that would hide a secret, like a door that springs open when you pull out a volume of Donne's poetry.

The book I use as a sledgehammer, to smash obstructions in my mind.

He has always crouched behind a shield. Currently, it's his wife. As long as he's with her, he's protected. No one looks too closely at him.

Strange how the book leaves us both satisfied and empty.

He has in his speech flavors of other countries. He's brimful of anecdotes about bodyguards and bugged hotel rooms, spicy cuisine and off-the-road ruins.

A begonia in a copper-colored pot, and a cup of orange spice tea.

Two months earlier, she was fine. Now she has health problems and a career in tailspin through no fault of her own. She speaks in disbelief about her life.