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Slapping the Dough

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

Apparently I’m obsessed with food. Completely obsessed. I hadn’t a clue how true that statement is until I wrote my book, PERSEPHONE IN HELL. The subject of food permeates my every chapter. Good times, ugly moments, difficult relationships, innocent encounters – food is everywhere in my story.

In Chapter Nannie and Sadie, Glory visits her grandmother and aunt in Boston for school vacation week. She looks forward to this annual trip which helps her escape, if only temporarily, from her cow town out in the country. But this time, Nannie and Sadie aren’t speaking to each other. Glory hasn’t any idea why.

“I should have stayed home. Why did I even come this year? Glory wondered as she sat watching Nannie knead the dough for the challah. Nannie was a good baker. Not as good as Ma, whose cinnamon bread, served warm with melting butter, filled the house with the scent of heaven.

Maybe it was in the forcefulness of Ma’s kneading that the spirit of bread in its full Platonic sense was revealed. Ma always said that slapping and pushing the dough around the breadboard was therapeutic. The idea is to get the dough as smooth and soft as a baby’s bottom, she’d say. Nannie’s hands were old and weak compared with Ma’s. But to give Nannie credit, her bread was good too.

Today, Nannie was silent as she lifted and pushed the dough with the palm of her hand, turned it, lifted and pushed again. Her eyes were angry but she wouldn’t say a word.

…Meanwhile, the silence was deafening. Glory couldn’t hold out much more, waiting for the new world she longed to see. I am bored, so very bored. And savages, all around and deep inside were stirring, moving to reclaim their lost land.”

Glory is a troubled girl. That’s evident right from the beginning of the story. Perhaps if she had learned to slap the dough instead of holding all her anger in, she might not have cut herself. It’s unfortunate that while Ma has learned a way to release some of her stress and anger, she hasn’t taught that trick to her daughter Glory. Slap the dough ‘smooth and soft as a baby’s bottom’ – now there’s a message not so subtle! There is no handing down of sympathies in this family. Each wrapped in her own distress, no one takes notice of another’s. Glory is on her own, truly.

 

The Gray Lady

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

I have to admit to being a tad weird when I was a teen. I grew up in a pre-Civil War era house with no insulation and lots of cracks and crevices where mice, rats, squirrels, and spiders roamed. I’d often hear scurrying in the walls and the creaky groans of a cold and tired old house. Once or twice, I recall even stranger sounds, perhaps cats that got stuck in the wall joists and died there. Something sounded like human babies moaning and crying in the dark. There were enough strange sounds emanating from my old home’s walls and attic eaves over the years to permanently scar my psyche.

And then one night when I was 13 or 14, the Gray Lady appeared. I’ll let my character Glory in PERSEPHONE IN HELL describe the experience.

“Gloria woke up with a panic. She tried to calm herself. Just then, the closet door next to her bed opened, and a ghost, all in grey, appeared from the dark.

She is floating into my bedroom. No, walking – well something in between. The ghost has a sternness on her face and a pointer in her hand. But she isn’t menacing; she doesn’t seem to mean any harm.

The Gray Lady didn’t stop or look around. She didn’t appear to notice the girls in the bedroom. She walked right past Gloria, took a turn at the bedpost, and passed by Penny sleeping in the next bed. Then she floated out of the room with a whispered wind-like tune. “Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse…”

In the course of a few seconds, the ghost was on her way to someplace else. Glory was in shock. Her forehead burned. Her cuts felt razor sharp. I don’t believe it. I must be going off my rocker. In la-la land, for sure.”

I took to keeping a baseball bat next to my bed just in case I had to defend myself. And I was visited by the Gray Lady for many years, though no one else ever saw her. Was I insane? Psychotic or schizoid? Simply bursting with an imagination that couldn’t be controlled? Or, perhaps, I was in tune with an underworld I couldn’t begin to understand. Hades, messing with Persephone yet again. That old goat just can’t leave her alone.

Have you ever seen a ghost?

 

The Exhaustion Factor

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

My face in my hands, eyes blurry, gums sore, neck fatigue. Headache, upper palate itchy, front teeth aching, feeling strained. Chills. Tired, very tired.

Yawning, eyes closing, fingers typing from memory. This is not my best writing, but tonight I don’t care. Wine in my glass going down, down, disappearing. Elijah, where are you? Pass me over, find the matzoh, wish for better days.

My face in my hands, eyes blurry, gums sore, neck fatigue. Headache, upper palate itchy, front teeth aching, feeling strained. Chills. Tired, very tired.

Yawning, eyes closing, fingers typing from memory. This is not my best writing, but tonight I don’t care. Wine in my glass going down, down, disappearing. Elijah, where are you? Pass me over, find the matzo, wish for better days.

A vacation, that’s what I need. Or to go to sleep before midnight. Maybe waking up late will help. Or buying that cranberry bog and putting my old weary body to work. Get some exercise, woman! I think I need physical labor, to work the land. I need to rely only on myself with no one for miles around me. I could make cranberry wine that might put to shame the Beaujolais in my glass. Not too likely, but it is possible.

Do you like the name for my farm? Merrymeet. Merrymeet Organic Farms. Or should I invoke Cape Cod or old Plymouth? Olde Pilgrim Road Bogland Cranberries? Merrymeet Native Cranberry Bogs? Olde Plimouth Organic Farms?

I’m so tired. Must rest. Must think of things other than the real world around me. Must envision a better world, a utopian world filled with organic cranberry wine and chocolate covered cranberries. Wind power and perhaps some solar panels. Why do I get so excited thinking about the wind? A geeky wind freak, that’s me.

I think I’m coming down with a fever. My face feels hot.

 

 

Giveth, Taketh

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

I stepped into the waiting room a bit late
Sorry, I’m late, my appointment is for…
Take a seat, someone will be with you shortly.
Sat down, waited
Waited
Waited for the intake clerk to call my name
Finally

Put on this gown
Take off everything from the waist up
Store your clothes in this locker
Don’t forget to take the key
I locked my upper coverings in the locker
And sat quietly for my turn
Locked up my straining emotions

When the news came last month
That I had to go for extra tests
More views and an ultrasound
Breast cancer, an epidemic,
I didn’t panic
I traveled to Florida first
To see Atlantis, the last space shuttle lift off into space
I forced my mind to think of other things
Alligators, eagles, flying fish and rockets
To the moon or bust.
To the moon, Alice!

This bust has been nothing but trouble for me
Buttons that won’t close at the top
Though the bottom fits
Underwires are like wearing prison bars
Staring guy eyes
Mammary glands, how strange
Peculiar to mammals
None for alligators, eagles, or flying fish
How do sea turtles survive without mammary glands?
Mine refused to cooperate for their intended purpose
Suckling my young
As though they were saying,
Hey, we’re here for show
We don’t work for a living
It’s not in our contract.

So as I was saying
I took the extra required views
Actually of the right breast only
The left has been well behaved lately
A painful squeezing of the tissue up against the xray machine
Bam! Zap! Kaboom!
But with menopause, not as painful as before
When my vital tissues were young and more filled with life
The glands are emptying out now, drying up.

And then I waited some more
Longer in the waiting room in my hospital gown
Locker key on a curly chain around my wrist
And waited, waited, waited for the news from the doctor.

In time, the technician came back to see me
Good news, you don’t need an ultrasound
Here’s a paper, keep it for your records
It says you are free of cancer
It was just a shadow on the film
Nothing to be concerned about
Have we done a good job serving you today?
Have you found the waiting room comfortable?
You’ll be mailed a survey about your experience
I hope you agree that we’ve served you well today.

I dressed and returned the key to its rightful locker
And left the hospital
Strolled right out, safe for another year
Putting the whole thing to rest until the next annual scrutiny.

And on the way home,
A hawk flew
Not to the moon
But right into the car traveling in front of me
Strange, I thought hawks were smart
Smart enough to avoid cars
And never fly that low
But I was wrong
The hawk flew straight into the car
Fell under its wheels
Majestic grey and brown feathers shattered
Scattered all around
Like the foam
Falling off the space shuttle
And just like that infamous Columbia foam
That dashed the wings of the shuttle
Dooming it to disintegrate upon reentry into the world
The bird was dashed upon the pavement
Feathers ripped from its body
Quivering, lying in the street
Waiting, waiting, waiting to die.

 

 

Pandora’s Box

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

Those of you who have been following my postings know that Facebook and I have been together only a short time. I resisted Facebook because I was worried it would sap my time (it has), keep me focused on the trivial (ditto), and turn me from reality to virtual reality. Lighten up, I’ve been told quite sternly! But with so little time on this earth, why would I want to use it up staring at my laptop or my smart phone?

In this excerpt from PERSEPHONE IN HELL, set in 1968, Ancient Glory narrates the story from 40 years in the future. She’s understanding. She gets that there are exciting and sometimes compelling distractions all around. Paying attention to the important things, to what’s in your heart and mind, the content of your character, the quality of your soul, can be tough with so much competition.

“Maybe that was why a year or more had passed, and no one had noticed Gloria’s scars. No one had seen the ugly lines on her thighs or the jagged breaks against her breasts.

Not one of them had looked, really looked at Gloria. Not even Penny, who shared a bedroom and might have seen at least one of her sister’s fifteen cries for help. Not Sammy, who ignored Glory as much as possible, hoping to tune out the crass remarks he heard around the locker room. Not Dad, always annoyed and uncomfortable around his pretty daughter. And least of all Ma, the mother who might have paid attention but didn’t.

Honestly, there were so many things to think about, so much to occupy one’s mind. There was the mortgage…food for eight…sneakers and coats and shoes and pants for ever growing children…college loans and Vietnam and protests in the streets…heart surgery and a sister-in-law’s last days…taxes, paychecks, money, electricity. One couldn’t see it all.

A daughter’s cutting pain could go unnoticed with other children to tend. A sister’s torn miseries might easily remain unseen when you weren’t even talking to her. An almost grown child’s razor blade lament could be overlooked or forgotten when, after all, it was old news. And how could you pay attention to the ordinariness of life when history was in the making?”

Pandora’s box, Facebook is. Open it. All the fun and troubles and temptations in the world come flying out at you, cluttering space, leaving you staring into an empty abyss and wondering where it ends, where will it end.

 

High Expectations

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

Spring tulips and daffodils

Spring tulips and daffodils

Over the years I’ve set some high standards for myself, goals that became more like self-imposed requirements than ideals to strive for. College, graduate school, a healthy family, a beautiful home, a satisfying career. I’ve worked hard and achieved most of those goals I set out to attain.

I’m wondering though, why I think all these accomplishments aren’t enough. Maybe it’s the Chinese fortune cookie I picked out of a takeout bag that has me yearning for more. ‘Your success will astonish everyone’ it said. Perhaps I expect greatness from myself. I crave brilliance. I’m disappointed with my mere competence and above average show. It’s a personality flaw of the highest degree. One of my sisters said it well – “I’m happy with the small things in life,” she said, “while you are not. That’s the difference between us.”

In PERSEPHONE IN HELL, Glory has just named her sister Queen Penny the Good for saving their tiny brother Davey from a car fire at the dump. But somehow, Penny can’t accept the title. Fear that she is not good enough invades even her nightmares.

“Penny woke up with a start. Tears streamed down her face. Her little sister Kit was dead, in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. She couldn’t save her. She had saved Davey but she couldn’t save Kit. Penny was heartbroken. She knew she would never be good enough, not for this family with their high expectations.

But she couldn’t save everyone – how could they expect it of her? She was only a girl herself, not a queen or anyone’s mother. I’m not Penny the Good, she thought. Not good or brave or strong. She hated her family for imposing this burden. Hated herself for her inferiority, for not being able to live up to their ideals.”

Where does this burden of expectation come from? It’s a load so weighty it can rob a young girl of the very desire to live. A goal so high it becomes a dream destroyer. A demand so insidious it paralyzes with fear of failure. I do this to myself, I know I do. I couldn’t save my brother from taking his own life. A personality flaw in the highest.

Is there greatness in me? Is there greatness in me?

 

 

So Upset

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

I’m so upset because I had an entire new posting all ready to publish but then it disappeared! I’ve tried everything to recover it, but nothing works. So now I’ll have to recreate the entire thing. If you are a writer, you’ll understand how distressed I am! I’ll never get back that exact combination of words. It sounds absurd I suppose, but I love writing and my written words are very important to me. To lose them is a great sorrow. My apology, readers, I know I haven’t posted anything in awhile, but it’s already 2 a.m. so I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Cleopatra

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

The Queen of the Nile. A goddess beholden to no one. Left to float down the river on her own if she so commands, or to read sci-fi novels in bed with a pack of cigarettes. Joyce is Glory’s mother in PERSEPHONE IN HELL, my novel set in 1968. Glory has stayed up late, waiting for her mother to come home from work. It’s hard to gain Ma’s attention. And Glory’s lonely. She despises her name, hates her life, wishes for an existence she can only imagine.

“Ma?” she wondered. “Have you ever wanted to be rich and famous, like a movie star? Have you ever wanted to be someone besides yourself? If you could be a queen, Ma, who would you be?”

Glory’s mother considered the exhausting day she had just finished. “I suppose Cleopatra,” she replied. “Why? Cleopatra floated down the Nile on her own barge. She could be alone anytime she wanted. She made rules to suit herself.”

Ma took a drag on her Chesterfield and flicked the ashes into the kitchen sink. “Oh, and she drank lovely coconut milk and ate figs dipped in honey. Egypt is hot but not ungodly humid like here in summer. She had the gentle breezes of the Nile to keep her cool. Yes, I’d be Cleopatra if I had a chance.”

Joyce scraped her scrambled eggs onto a plate and took a last drag of her cigarette. She looked for an empty ashtray. Every one of them overflowed. She dropped the butt into a coffee cup left on the table from breakfast. She closed her eyes for a moment and luxuriated in the notion of being all alone.”

Joyce doesn’t mean to neglect Glory. It’s just that she, like her daughter, is broken by the circumstances of her difficult life. And don’t we all wish at times that we could be someone else, anyone else?

 

 

Monday Mornings with Robin Hood

DREAMS AND MELANCHOLY

I hate Monday mornings. I don’t suppose I’m the only one in the world who’s ever said that. But I am passionate in my hatred. First of all, to make it clear, I am not a morning person! I want to stay up late like the grownup I am, and sleep late, too. Because I do love my sleep! Second, I’ve undoubtedly lost precious hours of it on Sunday night trying to extend the weekend to the last possible moment. Third, Monday means…work, and commuting, often driving in the snow and ice, and facing another week. To be clear, I don’t hate work, just going to work. I get the shakes just thinking about it. Consider the entire scenario, and you get why I despise Monday mornings. It’s something I and my character Glory have in common in my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL.

Glory is a 15 year old beauty who hates going to school. She’s skipped so often, the principal finally calls her mother who, for the first time in seven Mondays, makes sure Glory leaves the house in time for the first bell. In many ways a typical teen, Glory is not dressed for winter.

“It was the dawn of miseries. Even the goddess Aurora herself, pulling the sun through the heavens in her chariot of gold and red, couldn’t have wished for that particular daybreak. Glory trudged down the snowy street in her mini skirt and open-toe platform shoes to school. She walked on the edge of the street in the slush. Dirty lumpy piles of it frozen everywhere. Bad enough it’s Monday. Who wouldn’t despise Mondays? Waking up at six a.m. on any day of the week is pitiless. But Mondays are downright abusive. It’s still dark out. What kind of farmer do people think I am? I need my sleep. The north wind showed no mercy.”

Glory hitchhikes her way down the frozen road. She finds a ride in the first truck to come along. In a trance, she fantasizes about Robin Hood (she’s into Robin Hood, definitely!) as the truck driver who can’t believe his good luck gets warm.

“Glory’s intense violet eyes strained to see through the foggy glass. Robin stopped hiding in Sherwood just long enough to save Maid Marion from being forced to marry the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Where is Nottingham, anyway? And where was good King Richard when you needed him? Off to fight the silly Crusades. That’s a man for you. You can’t count on good winning out. You can’t count on men being good. And you couldn’t count on any man, not even a lionhearted king, to protect you from the slime bags of the world. No man but Robin, of course, and he isn’t real. You can’t keep a real man from forcing his way on you.”