Category Archives: Flash essay

What You Can’t See in The Photo

This photo was taken last Tuesday on Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills immediately after Rachael, Ray and I voted in the national election. Ray is taking the photo.

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What you don’t know looking at the photo:

  1. I had just cried when I saw Hillary Clinton’s name – a woman’s name – listed as a serious presidential contender.
  2. I thought the Democrats are going to win because that’s what all the polls said.
  3. Ray, Rachael and I were excited that we were going to get to celebrate the election of the first woman president.4
  4. .I had seen just twenty minutes before a friend of Rachael’s from her school days who I hadn’t seen in at least 10 years and she was so pleased and happy to see Ray and me that she ran across the street to hug us. I was deeply touched by her reaction to seeing us.
  5. I had struck up a conversation with the man behind me in line at the polls who was impressed with the “cheat sheet” I had brought with me so I could be sure I voted as I planned, and Ray teased me that I was going to get kicked out for electioneering.
  6. Our next-door neighbor, who works all the elections, asked if either Ray or I could help with the polls. I had to work late, but Ray volunteered to come a little later in the day after he’d finished working, which he did. (He didn’t get home until almost 10 pm.)
  7. I ended up watching all the early returns alone, texting with my daughters and nephew.
  8. I didn’t want to use this photo because I thought I looked fat.

Since last Tuesday, I have gone through a grieving process, talked to a lot of people who were/are also grieving, watched national protests of the election results, learned that Hillary won the popular vote by over a million votes, and participated in a church gathering where many of our church members who are gay or transgender discussed their deep concerns about the potential loss of their rights under Trump.

I have also cooked and baked to supply comfort food for Ray and myself, have gone up to Ojai to see the Super Moon and have met with many students to continue work on their college essays that have a November 30/December 1 deadline.

I am proceeding with the belief that life is bigger than one election and a basic trust that we Americans know how to stand up and make our voices heard when we are unhappy. I have resolved to routinely contact my governmental representatives and let them know my thoughts and I am open to the idea of volunteering with organizations that reflect my beliefs related to climate change and equality for all. In other words, I am recognizing that I need to get more politically active.

Also, I am being honest about how I felt about my photo to publicly remind myself that my views on “fat” reflect an internalized message I have carried all of my life about what constitutes real feminine beauty. I pledge right now to combat those negative, small-minded ideas that continue to plague my self-esteem and recognize them for what they are – a marketing-based lie to women to keep all of us looking for that next new product to stave off weight gain and/or the aging process. I am tired of buying wholesale into that propaganda and resolve to stay on the alert for insidious invitations to buy back in.

That, my friends, is the rest of the story. A bit more than first meets the eye.

Repost: Childhood Play as a Clue to Ideal Career

You know how sometimes you read that if you go back to what you loved doing when you were a little kid – 4, 5, or 6 – then that will tell you what your ideal occupation should be? Well, in my case, this is exactly true since when I was a little girl, my favorite thing in the world was to teach my imaginary students all about reading and writing.

When I was a little girl, I had my own schoolroom (the south porch) where I “taught” my students. I went to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and bought not only writing and phonics workbooks, but also grade books in which I kept meticulous records of my students’ attendance and grades. I made up names for all of my students and each had marks for participation, as well as homework and test grades. I stood up at the front of my imaginary class and used my little chalkboard to go over grammar concepts. I called on students, reprimanded them for talking, and praised them for trying their best. Clearly, I was a child with an active imagination and a deep love of teaching.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was getting my Master’s degree in Counseling and starting off in the field of Mental Health. Lord knows, I really wanted to teach, but counseling was a close second and paid a bit more. Then my husband came along and lured me into the world of antiques and off I went on the adventure of learning about art, antiques, history, buying and selling, and small business ownership. That was an education in itself, but I must say as much as I enjoyed all of that, I still longed to teach. I wanted my students and my classroom back in my life. I couldn’t shake the allure of chalk dust on my fingertips.

Then, I came to LA and after my brother died and we were trying to figure out a way to survive here, I answered five blind ads for teaching jobs in the LA Times, got five interviews and five job offers. I must admit that it was mid-summer and these schools were desperate for teachers, but somehow I landed a job at one of the top private elementary schools in LA, the movie industry school. I saw Jack Nicholson bringing his children to school and Jamie Lee Curtis walking through the halls. I was hired to teach 4th grade Language Arts and, of course, I was in heaven. No longer imaginary students, but real ones and they were smart and excited and loved to write.

The problem came in the form of money – or lack of it – since even though that school charged a hefty tuition, I was down at the bottom of the totem pole and my salary was hardly enough to help support our family in rural Texas, much less Los Angeles. So, after one year and a long talk with my husband, I decided to go look for a job out in the “real world,” hopefully with a higher salary attached. In the meantime, I had a few deep-pocketed parents who approached me to work with their kids during the summer while I looked for a job. Was I willing to teach writing to their kids privately? They would be happy to pay me well if I would.

That was 16 years ago. Those students turned into more students and here I am sitting in my living room where I sometimes actually pull out a chalkboard and go over grammar. I don’t have to have a grade book, but I have lots of workbooks and I get a stream of students coming in for small group lessons and one-on-one. They range from 4th grade all the way to adults. I praise them when they do well, shush them when they’re too talkative, and generally recreate my 5-year-old classroom almost every day. And I couldn’t be happier.

There clearly is wisdom in looking at what you loved when you were a kid to help you gain clarity about your career. It certainly has worked for me. I could never shake that love I felt for teaching when I was five. I hope I’ll get to continue until I’m seventy-five.

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Bad Luck and A Little Bit of Good

Well, I am not a real believer in the “Mercury in Retrograde” phenomenon, but I have had a run of bad luck over the past week or so. Not only did I manage to pull that gas nozzle right off the gas tank, but I also received a red-light notification in the mail (meaning there is a video and photos of me running a red light two weeks ago). In addition, I ended up with a bacterial infection that sent me to Urgent Care, and my computer bit the dust, I mean completely, like I had to order a brand new laptop. Hmmmm. Maybe there is something to this Mercury thing.

I will make this short tonight because I have had students for several hours today and I am tired.

The gist is this: I have been working a lot lately, which makes me tired, and this may account for everything that’s happened except for the computer. That may have everything to do with a five-year MacBook that is used constantly.

The tough part is all of this coming at once.

The good news: good luck surely is right around the corner.

I did get several pieces of good news:

I learned that one of my student’s college essays is used as the model for all potential students at Bennington College in Vermont. Yippee!

And one of my students who received a fellowship at Stanford this past summer told me that he learned while there that the admission board considered his essays to be superlative. Hooray.

That good news will sustain me for a while, I can tell you that. Particularly since I am knee-depth in college essay season once again.

I hope your luck has been good lately. If not, surely there’s a change a’comin’!

Talk to you tomorrow.

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Facebook Responses to My Gas Nozzle Story

Interestingly, admitting my foibles about my recent gas hose dissection brought forth a plethora of comments, mainly from those who were willing to admit their mistakes as well. I’m glad to see I am not alone in the realm of doing dumb things. Is this a birds of a feather thing or just the universal condition? I’d like to think my friends aren’t the only ones who are crossing over three medians to get to that road they want or else trying to drive a friend’s car from the passenger seat only to crash straight into a building.  Then again, I may have a few friends who are as foolhardy as I am. I like to think we all have these stories of bad choices, particularly in reference to cars and driving, and some of us are just better at keeping those transgressions under our hats than others.

My husband Ray has delighted in telling everyone we know my severed gas hose story. He likes to throw in a few details of his own like, “I was standing in the Del Taco line and Len comes in and says, “Ray, I drove off with the gas hose still attached to the car and now they want me to pay $250. What should I do?” Ray pauses for effort, then says, “I told her, ‘Len, I think you ought to pay them.'” What I was really doing was trying to explain there was an insurance option, but when you have a thousand dollar deductible, there’s no point in bringing in the insurance company when you can solve the problem for $250.

I will say that I have been entertained by the wide range of comparable stories that have been shared on Facebook where I always post my blog. From the sound of it, old ladyhood is not the real culprit. Distraction or just plain ole bad judgement seems to be running right up there at the top of reasons people find themselves in situations similar to me driving off with the gas nozzle still firmed placed in the opening to my gas tank.

So, take this as a cautionary tale. Focus, focus, focus. And no more cell phone texting when you are supposed to be listening. It appears trying to multitask is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Heading to bed, folks. Thanks for some entertaining stories of your misadventures. They definitely brought a smile.

We’ll be talking again tomorrow.

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Grilling Up Here in Ojai

Ray suggested last night that we break in our “new” charcoal grill that our friend had given back after using it once in fourteen years. Of course the grill had been outside all those years so it was rusted. Ray brought it up here to Ojai, scrubbed all the rust off and then painted it black.  He has been patiently waiting for a time we might use it. 

Today was the day. Never mind it was 100 degrees here. Ray poured in the charcoal and got the grill going while I headed to the store for chicken thighs. Luckily, the ocean breeze was cool and we didn’t start until the end of the afternoon.  The temperature started heading down as the sun began to set. 

The gist, we had quite a feast. The chicken was delicious and so were the grilled vegetables and corn on the cob.  I’m sure our neighbors were smelling that chicken grilling and wondering, “Who is grilling on a week day?”

That would be us. 

This is even more surprising  given that I was in my mid-fifties before I ever grilled anything, charcoal or otherwise. In my family, grilling was just too technical. My mother only cooked one dish, spaghetti with clam sauce, and my dad’s specialty was breakfast. All other food was either prepared by our housekeeper or came out of a can or box. No, I do not hail from a great culinary line. Alas, my Cousin Lee guided me through the rigors of grilling a few years back. If I say so myself, even Lee would have been proud of my chicken thighs tonight.

Ray was please to see that the grill worked so well. Much easier than grilling over the fire where we grilled our Thanksgiving  turkey, but not that super easy option of gas grilling. 

Yes, feeling proud. 

Here is a photo.  


A Few Thoughts on Flash Fiction and Nonfiction

I teach a flash fiction and nonfiction class for Story Circle Network. Right now I am teaching flash nonfiction.  Flash is usually a piece that is limited to around 1200 words maximum.

Here are some thoughts on this type of writing.

Flash fiction and flash nonfiction differ clearly in content, but many of the needs are the same given the conciseness of the form.

In an excerpt from The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Fiction, Nathan Leslie in his article, “The “V” Word,” states, “By focusing on language, scene, voice, and character, my students often find themselves writing compelling and effectively ambiguous stories rather than cloyingly serendipitous and artificial ones. By doing so they learn that in flash fiction:

• Accomplishing one clear goal is of utmost importance.

• Hemingway’s Iceberg Principle, and minimalist writing overall, can work wonders—understatement and purposeful ambiguity are vital.

• Every word bears weight.

• Imagery is of the utmost importance.

• Many works of flash fiction can employ a sudden twist, turn, or realization.

• Irony is helpful.

• Beginning in the middle saves precious time and space.

• Length restrictions can bring out great art.

For flash nonfiction, book author and editor of the journal Brevity Dinty W. Moore states in an interview at River Teeth Journal that “The imperatives are the same, but everything is dialed up in a shorter piece. You need to move in and out of scene quickly, you need to introduce language, diction, and rhythm immediately, and you need to establish place, character, and conflict right away – usually in the first sentence. The first paragraph of a brief essay has to do what the first chapter of a memoir does.”

Here’s Dinty’s full interview.

 

Dinty Moore’s full interview can be found at http://www.riverteethjournal.com/blog/2012/01/09/focusing-on-flash-nonfiction-an-interview-with-dinty-moore

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Pasadena Tonight with Our Family and Uncle Sam

Tonight our family gathered in Pasadena at the Levitt Pavilion to hear the Chambers Brothers and to have a visit with my brother Sam, who is visiting from Tennessee. This was a picnic in the park and Rachael and Ariel, Liz, Sarah, Gregorio, Luna and Nico joined Ray, Sam and me. (Ron had a prior commitment.)

Needless to say, I am happy to have my brother in town. It is quite a treat. Tomorrow, his girlfriend, Jaime, is coming so we’re planning a family dinner minus Sarah’s family. She has to begin two weeks of nights at the hospital beginning tomorrow nights.

Here are some photos of our evening:

Grandma and Nico

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Rachael, Ariel, Sam, Sarah and Nico

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Liz, Luna, Ray, Cordie, Frankie and Gregorio

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Sarah, Nico and Rachael in the background

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