Haiku Prompt: I Saw Sis Today

Today I saw Sis
Her bright smile clear in my mind
Her laugh like music

Her olive skin smooth
Her fingers slim and tapered
Her brown eyes twinkling

Her wore a plaid skirt
And an open-throated blouse
Her silver hair short

She stood not far off
And I felt happy inside
Seeing her glad face

And at that moment
I knew she was telling me
She was now happy

Writing Prompt: Novel readers: I need your help!

I have written about four chapters of a new novel, but now I’m stuck. I want to have a different kind of structure – you know like Fried Green Tomatoes, where it’s a story inside a story, or Water for Elephants where there are two stories at the same time: the old man’s current life in the nursing home and his past life in the circus before he got old – but neither of those structures are right for the novel I’m working on. So I am turning to any of you who love to read. If you could guide me to any books that have something different from the usual straight chronological structure, I’d appreciate it. My cousin, Lee, told me about a book called The 19th Wife, which tells a current murder mystery while chronicling Joseph Smith’s trek to Utah with a 19th wife who was unhappy. (Isn’t that the gist, Lee?). I will be looking at that book. But if you have one that plays with the usual “this happen, then that” for 350 pages, then please let me know. I could use some guidance.

One of my favorite novels is Snow Falling on Cedars, which tells of the Japanese Internment camps while exploring a modern-day mystery (in 1954), which involves the Japanese childhood girlfriend of a reporter who has returned crippled from combat in World War II. I love that book because it’s a great “who dun it,” but also teaches you something about history. I also love novels that flip back and forth between then and now from one chapter to the other just because they hold my interest more effectively than a straight chronology sometimes does. But I also love that straight storyline as long as it has enough twists and turns to make it interesting.

So, help me if you can. Just tell me any books that you love and why. Maybe that’s all I need. More books to look at that people genuinely love. They will have something special that will help me as I plan this novel of mine.

Just add the title of your book(s) in the Comments section. I would really appreciate any help you can give me. Thanks so much. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Writing Prompt: Secret Dreams

What to write about? It’s hard to say. My attention has been shifted to death and dying and it’s slightly tough to shake my shoulders loose of that tension. Since returning at 2 am on Monday morning, I’ve had lots of students and lots of hours of work. This is good – my business is back up after going to half last year – so I am not complaining. And yet, I haven’t had time to just sit and breathe though I did walk around the neighborhood with Cordie this evening for 35 minutes. But for the past 2 days, I literally have gotten up, come downstairs, puttered in the kitchen and spent the rest of my days walking from the living room to the front door and back. No further. A person won’t live long with that little exercise. It just isn’t healthy.

I have some secret dream of becoming a yoga master. Not that I’m doing yoga at the moment. Is that needed for my secret dream? I’d also like to learn Spanish and travel to Africa and learn how to scuba dive. I have a secret longing to learn how to sail, as well, and live by the ocean. I live 30 minutes from the ocean if traffic isn’t too bad, but that isn’t what I mean. I mean I’d love to live right on the beach so that I could hear the waves as they splash onto the shore. I’d also like to study poetry, something I know very little about, and actually write a novel that could be published and do well, and when I’m not living on the ocean, I wouldn’t mind trying a cabin in the woods next to a running stream. I love the sound of water in nature, though I would settle for one of my second favorite sounds, the wind in the trees. I would also love to ride a bike everyday – with a helmet, of course – and also learn how to ride horses and go riding often. I wouldn’t mind taking a motorcycle trip on Highway 1 and experience Big Sur with the wind in my face. I wouldn’t mind learning something completely new, like Marine Biology; something that takes me down to that ocean and forces me to get my feet in the water. I would like to go back to Italy and drive a sports car along the Amalfi coast, as well as eat blood oranges again. I wouldn’t mind seeing those pristine beaches in Indonesia or the modern art in Spain or returning to Paris for longer than a week and sitting in the sun at a sidewalk café, drinking espresso and eating some delicious pastry. And I would love to actually wear the exactly right clothes for my body along with the right shoes and know that I look put-together. In what realm will that ever happen?

I read once that if you put down on a piece of paper all those things you want to achieve or would like to do in your life and simply put that paper away for five years, after that amount of time, you’ll be surprised how many of those goals have been achieved without you even realizing you have done what you said. I did make a list about ten years ago, and it is true that many of the things I put down have come to fruition. But I must admit that my list was more emotionally-based than empirical. I wanted to feel happier in my marriage, which I do; I wanted to be a good mother, which I hope I have been; I wanted to read more literature, which I have. So, I don’t know for sure how much the “list” plays a part or just if these were things that would have happened otherwise. Still, I have now written a partial new list in that paragraph above. I will see how much has happened in that list in five years. I suspect not much unless I make a fairly concerted effort to make it happen. After all, most of those items are not naturally occurring on their own.

I think I need to add “get more sleep” on my list. This is a perennial problem for me. I don’t remember the last time I got 8 hours of sleep. Plus, eat more fruits and vegetables. Yes, that’s important for health. Oh, and if I’m making a list, I would like to resume playing the piano – and get better at it – as well as sing more. I truly love to sing and I haven’t done a lot of that lately.

I am a fairly contented person in general. If I don’t do any of the above, I expect I’ll still be happy. I’m lucky in that I tend to be happy. So, I’m not going to put any pressure on myself to achieve any of what I’ve written. Instead, I’ll just be aware that I lean in the direction of the things I mentioned and leave it at that.

All right. Now I’m going off to bed. My eyelids are closing involuntarily.

What secrets dreams do you have? I’d love to hear them. After all, I hear if you just write them down…

Prompt: My Sister’s Eulogy Complete with a Few Jokes

My Beloved Sister

Good afternoon. My name is Len Leatherwood and I am Leslie’s younger sister. On behalf of my entire family, I’d like to thank you for coming today to help us celebrate Leslie’s life. We are all here because we loved her. So, thank you.

Leslie. How do I best describe her?

First, my sister had a great sense of humor. With that in mind, let me say that according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. So, given that statistic, I suspect Leslie is having a good laugh looking down and seeing me quaking in my boots right now. So, thanks, Sis.

All right, back to business. What is the best way to describe Leslie?

I could focus on my sister’s kindness, which was great. Anyone who knew Leslie is aware that she was a kind and gentle person. Or I could talk about her strength, which sent her into an overflowing storm drain to save our brother George from drowning when we were kids. Or, her perseverance, which propelled her to finish her Ph.D., while working full-time as a single mom with two kids. Then again, there is her athleticism, which caused her to be referred to as “the toughest boy on 13th Street” when we were growing up because she loved to play tackle football with the boys. And which kept her running, skiing, golfing earlier in her life and finally walking, walking, walking up until a few days before her untimely death. These are all parts of the Leslie I know and love. All parts, which make up a bigger picture, that’s harder to define.

My sister, even with her dementia, was sensitive. She knew how to read faces and emotions and could say, “Ah, you look a little sad today,” or “Oh, how beautiful you are.” Leslie had a gift of truly seeing you when you spoke to her. And as her dementia progressed and the filters came off, she also had a way of saying exactly what she thought. In the case of my husband and his voice, which gets louder and louder when he’s happy or excited, she’d turn to me and say, “Oh boy, here we go again!”

Leslie felt no need to be the center of attention. Instead, she liked to come into any room and blend in, settling back to observe and quietly participate in whatever was happening. She was comfortable with herself, and this quality made her very good at her work as a psychotherapist. One of the most poignant moments for me during those last days of Leslie’s life at St. Joseph’s Villa was when one of the nurses said, “Oh, yes, I know Leslie. I knew her before.” I didn’t understand until Kevin told me that because Leslie had been a psychologist working with the elderly, she had worked in all of the facilities where she would later come to live. The staff knew her “before,” when she was a fully functioning professional there to aid the residents. I found myself sad and happy at the same time knowing that information. These nurses knew my sister before dementia took her, and they all spoke of her deep compassion. How wonderful that they had a fuller picture of her.

Life has a way of shifting and changing in unexpected directions and Leslie’s life had several of these twists and turns. Who knew that a concussion from a bike accident was going to take such a toll? Who knew her scoliosis would twist her back and reduce her height by 4 inches? How could any of us have predicted that this woman who exercised every day of her life would be dead at 70, when so many other people suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s live on for years? And yet, here we are, and she is free. Happy, I’m sure, since I said something about living to 100 a few years back and she said, “Oh Lord have mercy, I hope not.” She had not been free of pain in a while by that point. I expect she knew there would be more, not less as time passed.

So, what do I say about my sister? I can say without any doubt that she loved her children, grandchildren, and pets beyond measure. That she valued her family – in whatever configuration – above all else. That she was loyal, decent and kind, smart, well read, athletic and a risk-taker. She loved a good joke and she loved a big hug and she liked broccoli more than anyone else I’ve ever met. She also had a secret passion for sweets and loved to sneak them to my kids when they were little. Was she perfect? Far from it. Was she good? Absolutely. Will we miss her? Without a doubt. Is she happy now? I’d like to think so. And I can say that my life is better for her presence because of her enduring love, as well as the legacy that she has left in the form of her two fine children, Kevin and Jim, and her grandchildren, Eli and Sophie (and her beloved, Addie). I expect the rest of you feel the same way.

A minister told me once that death is healing and I can feel that here. Leslie is now whole and we are still healing as we hold her close in our hearts. Any time we hear someone happily whistling, I expect many of us will think of Leslie, who happened to be a whistler of the first order.

And since my sister loved a good laugh, it is only fitting that I include a few quips:

George Carlin liked to say, “I’m always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I’m listening to it.”

Garrison Keillor said, “They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.”

And Bob Monkhouse is quoted as saying, “I want to die like my father, peacefully in his sleep, not screaming and terrified, like his passengers.”

Hopefully, my bad jokes have made Leslie (and you) smile.

So because I know Leonard Cohen was one of Leslie’s favorite songwriters (as well as my own), I’d like to end with the chorus to his song, Anthem, which, lucky for you, I will not be singing. This is particularly fitting because the bells here at St. Mark’s Cathedral will ring 70 times in honor of Leslie’s life immediately following the service.

Ring the bells
The bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Thank you for joining us today, and thank you for loving my sister.

Driving Back to LA

It’s almost 10 pm and we’re an hour south of Las Vegas driving in the rain.  It is 37 degrees outside and we are heading home along with lots of folks who’ve been in Vegas all weekend.  Liz has law classes tomorrow and because she is in an accelerated 2 year program, she can’t miss another day of class (she took Friday off for the drive to Salt Lake City.)  Sarah is safely back in Corpus, now we just need to get safely home.  We are about 3 hours out.  We are going to rethink our plan in an hour.  Yikes.  No fun.  We might stop and get up early and drive the rest of the way in. 

An emotional, but wonderful weekend with our Utah family.  My sister’s funeral couldn’t have been more beautiful.  Now we just need to make it home.  I will post the eulogy I delivered tomorrow.  All went well even with my fears.  A few tears but that was okay.

We may have just driven out of the rain.  I hope so!

Flash Essay Prompt: Free At Free!

I am sitting with my last student of the day and we are writing for ten minutes. I’m going to use this opportunity to write for my blog since I know the rest of my evening and the next several days are going to be busy.

Let me first say all the papers are done – and done well, I might add – and my writing responsibilities are now finished until next week. And even next week, the pace will slow and get more into the normal routine I’m used to. I am very happy about this. In fact, I know it sounds dramatic, but after helping finish Rachael’s paper today, tears flowed in relief. So, hurrah.

Tomorrow we are up at 4 and on our way to Salt Lake City. My husband announced this morning that he would “take care of everything” in preparation. All I needed to do was get my clothes together for the trip. This was after Rachael and I started early on her paper and worked up until my first official students at 3:30. I must say I am a lucky woman to have this fine man in my life. I am grateful indeed for his presence.

We hope to arrive in time to pick up daughter Sarah at the airport. She is flying in from Texas and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see my oldest girl. I’ve missed her terribly over these past few months and I know she’s been homesick, as well, so our 3rd year medical student gets to be with us for 48 hours before returning for more days of her clinical rotations. Another reason I’m happy.

I am also glad our family – or at least part of it – is going to be together. There will be nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, ex-brother-in-laws, and all other configurations. Plus, close family friends there in Salt Lake. I went to the University of Utah in SLC for my undergraduate degree since Leslie was living there, and so I know more people than one might expect. I’ll look forward to seeing some old friends on Saturday.

My husband listened to the eulogy I wrote and after offering a few suggestions, which I made, deemed it ready to go. I’m relieved about that. I’m glad to know that I don’t have to worry about it before the service. He said my jokes were just fine.

So, all in all, I am breathing deep and am relieved that all is over, school-wise. It’s time to celebrate my sister’s life and I can’t wait.

Life is good. Love is better. And I have both so I’m happy.

Flash Essay Prompt: When Will This Quarter END?

I am knee-deep in a term paper with daughter Rachael on allegory in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown and Poe’s Ligeia. Dear Lord have mercy. I am ready for this quarter to END. I can’t say that I’m not being challenged intellectually by my students. I am. I am stretching and growing and learning a lot. I am just ready for a little-bitty break.

Allegory is where you can read a story on a literal level and on a deeper level, and the deeper level has a moral or political message. For example, in C.S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the story looks as if it’s just about three kids who go into another world via a wardrobe, but it’s really a story about good and evil and the power of Christ in the name of the lion, Aslan, who is willing to die for the sins of the animals of Narnia.

Now, who knows about the allegory in YGB and Ligeia? If you do, then feel free to tell me about it between now and 5 am when Rachael and I will begin writing up this 6 – 8 page paper. I have read a fair amount of what people say about these two works today, but I’m open to more information.

Come on now. Jump in. Don’t feel uncomfortable. I’d be happy to hear your interpretation.

Okay, I’m not thinking I’m going to get a lot (or any) response to this, but you never know. Let’s just say I’ll be so glad when this paper gets put to bed, which will be at the latest tomorrow night. After all, we’re leaving at 4 am Friday for Salt Lake City for my sister’s memorial service.

On that note, I’ll bid you all good night.

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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