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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

WALK

WALK
 

 

Walking is good for lots of things. Getting from here to there and back again. Building up bone. Seeing the things we miss when we're driving or even bicycling. Slowing down. And it's good for writing.
 
I first read the word flâneur in Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes, a memoir of a family's netsuke collection. I had to look up the word and found that it means "a man who saunters or strolls around observing urban life." Characters in this story, particularly when in Paris, did just that. Frequently. When I ran across flâneur again, it was in the Sigrid Nunez novel, The Friend. There is a passage in which a male writer speaks about going about as a flâneur when his writing is not flowing. He speculates that women writers can't be flâneurs because they will be interrupted too often in their pensive strolling by males in pursuit of them.
 
I, however, a female writer, dispute that writer's off-putting statement with some prickliness, having often engaged in flânerie precisely when I've gotten gummed up on a page. Strolling is one of the very best ways to jiggle my thoughts loose.
 
Seized up or not, when I'm writing, I habitually set my timer for 30 minutes, go for a ten-minute walk, come back for another 30-minute composing stint, and so on, for the first seven or eight hours of the day. Aside from not letting my body turn into a pretzel, this also keeps my mind limber.
 
I often have the most trouble getting started. The beginning, we're told, must be just right, must pull the reader in; this, of course, sets us up to get stuck right off the bat. But I can get jammed anywhere along the way, feeling as if I can barely trudge on through words as thick as oatmeal. The conventional advice then is to write badly in order to write well. A professor of mine called it "writing your way there," an expression that's a bit like strolling, and I like that way of thinking better. Nevertheless, the lines may refuse to shimmer. Or the angle is somehow cockeyed.
 
Turning myself into a flâneur at that point is a little like giving up, which turns out to be the necessary surrender. I don the appropriate clothing and footwear, and step outside. Walking in a forest, a desert wilderness, or on a prairie is always lovely. But it is not necessary. In fact, part of the original definition of flaneur has to do with sauntering through an urban setting. Usually my flânerie will take place for five minutes, beginning at my front door, include a turn-around, and then take five minutes back. Amazingly enough, that's usually the right amount of time to give my mind a good wiggle.
 
At the outset, I might plan to simply stroll. I observe the available bits of nature on some commonplace street—the iridescent green, blue and black beetle clinging to a hollyhock stalk, the little white bindweed blossoms with their small heart-shaped leaves.
 
And then, without premeditation, my attention turns to that congested passage. The thoughts stroll through my mind, and, on one unremarkable step forward, I know that the passage needs to begin in an entirely different spot than I first thought. A kind of settling takes place within me, an inner smile. There might be a smile on my face, too, but I'm not aware of that. I once had a student accuse me of smiling too much. "No one's that happy," she said. I think that means I'm mostly not aware of smiling a lot of the time when I am.
 
Back at home I remove whatever outdoor wear I'd donned. I feel a level of excitement, of purpose that is now possible. Flânerie has proffered a slant entry into the piece, and that makes it fun, tantalizing. There's a spark now in place of the lackluster, the pedestrian.
 

 

The word walk has been brought to you by Catherine Robinson, coauthor of my next book, who walks far more now than she did when I first met her.
 
Comments are always appreciated! If you'd like to see YOUR WORD become a story, poem or reflection, send me one in the comments. Or send it privately, using the "Contact" tab. Or maybe you'd like to offer a guest post. Just let me know!
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FORM

FORM


A Guest Post
By
Wayne Dale Matthysse


 
I have been faced with death more than most people have… although I suppose numbers really don't matter. When someone you have loved is taken from you, there is an emptiness that is not easily filled and then there's that back-burner reminder that one day, you too must pass through that Veil of uncertainty.
 
I was always comforted by the fact that, as a Christian, I would eventually be resurrected when Jesus returned and be given a new body just like he was given… except I was a little concerned, because his new body still carried the scars of his crucifixion and, well… I had lost a finger at the age of ten, the vision in one eye from shrapnel at the age of 20, and at the age of 30 had my gallbladder removed. Plus, I have some scars from other minor surgeries and wounds that make me less than attractive, and I wondered if I would be happy throughout eternity living in the same body as I had here. The excess weight I have always tried to lose would also be a burden in Heaven, although without a Coca-Cola vending machine, perhaps I could lose some of it. Another question would also come to mind at times; of what age would my new body be and would I have a choice in deciding or would I just have to accept the body given to me?
 
These questions seem so childish now and the thought of having a resurrected body seems so utterly absurd to me. You see… I have now come to realize that death is not the end of Life, it is only the end of form. Life is formless and is Eternal and therefore cannot be destroyed. This now is my source of comfort… and knowing that there will be no period of waiting for eternity to start but rather just an awakening on the other side of the Veil, is something I can actually look forward to. The Essence of who I am, will not change… but the form I have been attached to will no longer be a burden.
 
The word FORM and the reflection on it has been brought to you by Wayne Dale Matthysse, a friend I've known longer than most. Wayne has been intimately acquainted with death as a medic in Vietnam and as the co-founder of an AIDS Hospice, now Wat Opot Children's Community in Takeo Province, Cambodia.
 

 

Comments are always appreciated! If you'd like to see YOUR WORD become a story, poem or reflection, send me one in the comments. Or send it privately, using the "Contact" tab. Or maybe you'd like to offer a guest post. Just let me know!
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HEAT

HEAT

 

Heat in the heart, and we call it love
Sometimes passion
Heat in the heart, and we call it rage
Sometimes indigestion
 
Heat scorches
Burns
Warms the cockles
 
Heat above the road
Shimmers like the color of water
Mysterious as mist
Transporting us
To a distant time and place

 

 

 

 

The word heat was brought to you by my friend Linden who challenged me to interpret her word more metaphorically, less concretely––all to the better.

 

 

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BOOKS

BOOKS


 
Books. There could hardly be a more wonderful word. Yet, what can I possibly say about books that hasn't already been said by people far more eloquent than I?
 
I give you a story about a book, a bunch of teenagers who hated to read and barely could, and a teacher who plays a small role.
 
The class was a reading class, so the going was always going to be uphill. These kids had not known success with books. They did want to graduate from high school. More or less. This was a night class, the last class of the day at 7 p.m. The students came to school from working machines in the Rose Toiletpaper Factory, from babysitting siblings, from packaging tortillas in the Sanitary Tortilla Factory, from pruning trees, and from tar-and-gravel roofing. They were tired and crabby and acted like hungry ten-year-olds, not near grown-ups. To help them get through that last hour, the teacher stocked a drawer in her desk with Slim Jims, cheese crackers with peanut butter, packages of nuts, granola bars. She did whatever she could to tame the dragons.
 
The first part of the hour the pupils read short, high-interest material, one step above their tested oral fluency level. Fluency matters to comprehension. That was the hard work of the hour.
 
At the halfway mark, the teacher arranged chairs at the front of the room, while the students put away their folders, got out their copies of Buried Onions, and came up to sit in a reading circle. It was story time, the cozy time left over from early elementary days when reading was still done in community. The teacher had marked a few words on the whiteboard behind her, words she'd identified as need-to-know for that evening's passage. Before the students opened their books, they talked over the words together. Then she asked "Will someone do a recap from last night for the ones who missed class?" It was a trick, of course, to develop their summarizing skills.
 
Buried Onions. Written by Gary Soto who grew up in a Fresno barrio and sprinkles words like chola, mi primo, carnal naturally, essentially, throughout the story of Eddie, who's trying not to end up dead like his cousin and uncles by attending community college. Eddie, who makes ends meet by painting stenciled house numbers on curbs. Eddie, whose employer's pickup gets stolen while Eddie's in charge of it. Eddie whose people are named Lupe, Juanito, Jesús. Relatable? Oh, yeah.
 
The teacher tells them the seven skills of good readers, reminding them as they go which skill they're using. This is meta learning––learning about learning. Visualizing is one of the important ones. "Now let's visualize this for a moment," she interrupts the story. "Eddie's abuela just came out onto the porch. What do you see?"
 
"She looks like my grandma. Flowered dress, a big old apron, curly gray hair, big nineties glasses." A couple of kids giggle.
 
"Anyone else?"
 
"She looks like my grandma. Long gathered skirt, white blouse, squash blossom necklace, turquoise and silver bracelets, rings. High-top Converse," a Navajo student says.
 
No one mentions that Eddie is Hispanic and she's just described a Native woman. They know it's what she saw when Eddie's grandma stepped onto the porch. They're good with that.
 
They move on. At an anticipatory point, the teacher stops them again. "Good readers make inferences. Eddie is standing there, watching his boss's truck disappear. We know something about what kind of kid Eddie is. What inferences can you draw about what he feels as he sees those taillights disappear? How would you feel? What do you think Eddie's going to do?"
 
Just before the bell rings, the teacher reminds them, "Good readers ask questions. Write me three questions about what we read tonight or something you're wondering about. We'll talk about your questions tomorrow."
 
These are the things people who love books do without thinking. Conversely, learning to do these things can grow into a love for books. Teachers plant seeds and hope.
 
The class holds a little celebration when they finish the book—cookies and punch. "We should've had onion rings, Miss," one of the girls jokes, and everyone laughs. Good feelings all around. They did it. They read this book about a guy like them––a guy like them who goes to college.
 
Then one of the boys––the one who tears down tar and gravel roofs all day, who comes to class with black dust covering his face except around his eyes––asks, "Miss, do you think I could borrow one of the books? I want my dad to read it."
 
This. This first love of a book, wanting to share it with a person you love. Thinking someone you know will enjoy what you enjoyed. Trying to sound casual and get past a lump in her throat, the teacher says, "That's great, Marcos. I think we can make that happen. Let me know how your dad likes it."
 
"I will." He grins.


 
The word BOOKS was brought to you by a friend who goes nameless here, a friend who was a member of a book group I once belonged to.
 
Comments are always appreciated! If you'd like to see YOUR WORD become a story, poem or reflection, send me one in the comments. Or send it privately, using the "Contact" tab. If you like what you see here, please consider subscribing at http://www.annaredsand.com/newsletter.htm 


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