May 2012

The challenge this week: A poem that captures the passing of sixty years in 100 words – ish.

Nineteen fifty-two.

There was a great to-do.
George cashed in his chips.
Elizabeth gathered the bits.
Rationing was still around,
But much could be bought for a pound
Churchill was PM again,
His deputy Tony Eden.

Sixty years ago
I began to grow,
In a sort of room,
That they call a womb.
That’s all you’ll want to hear
About this certain year.
I’m done with this silly rhyme
Of the queen’s accession time.

I got this idea from Mimi’s blog. (And by the way Mimi is a very talented artist.)

Dear 75 Hall Lane,

For 23 years I knew no other home. For 21 and a half years I lived in you, leaving only for nine short terms at university. Always, I returned to your cold, stone embrace – comforting but lonely.

For ten years, I had the little room, squeezing my games into the floorspace between the bed and the wardrobe, opening out the bureau desk to do my homework. After my brother married, I moved into the big room. I wallowed in the space but felt lonelier.

75 Hall Lane

Mum and Dad in front of your back door

You changed over the years. A knocked-out wall, fitted furniture, central heating. Outside, you metamorphosed from an almost country dwelling, your tranquility broken only by the occasional passing train, to a noisy, suburban house, bordered by main roads and topped by a motorway.

We’ve met twice since my parents left, but I haven’t seen inside or behind you. Your walls have been painted white. Your front garden has been concreted over, the pink hydrangeas gone. One time I saw a Christmas tree behind your front window, where my parents would have been embarrassed to light our Chanuka candles.

I can’t say I miss you. The house I live in now is bigger, has a larger and more beautiful garden and is quieter. Besides, the life I lead now is much, much better than the one I lived in and out of your confines.

I hope your current occupants are happier than I was then, and that you share their happiness. I’m far away from you now, but I haven’t forgotten you.

I just spent a few days in Berlin, which is probably what triggered my entry for the 100 word challenge. I’ll try and make next week’s lighter.

This week’s challenge is to add 100 words to:

….The flame flickered before….

The Last Candle

She opened the door of a kitchen cupboard, bare apart from one solitary candle. Only one by which to remember all those they’d taken. Her father, her mother and her two brothers. Her whole family. What would she do when this one burned out? She struck a match and lit it, fastidiously blowing out the match and throwing it in the bin. Then she sat and watched, seeing the images of those she loved inside the flame. She knew it was only a matter of time.

The single remaining candle turned out to be enough. The flame flickered before they broke down the door.

There aren’t many writers’ conferences in Israel, but there was one this week and there will be another next week. This week’s, in Bar Ilan University, was free and I decided to go along yesterday.

I attended all five sessions and they were excellent. The first, with Joseph Skibell and E. Ethelbert Miller discussed memoir writing. I loved the way their advice was interspersed with humorous asides. I think it was E. Ethelbert Miller who talked about being the baby of the family. He said, “Growing up, I thought my name was Shh.”

They gave us an exercise to sketch a floor plan of our first house and list five sensory details from it, and then discuss it with a partner. In a second exercise, we recalled a gift we’d received, reflecting on why it was valuable, what was symbolic about it and the stories behind it.

In the poetry session with Linda Zisquit and Joy Katz, they invited people to relate a memory. Then they told us to “write a poem about something that scares you.” Writing the poem was pretty scary in itself, as I don’t write poetry. Not only did I write it, but I read it out loud.

“We need a volunteer.
The finger is pointing at me.
“Stand up.
Turn round.
Tell us about a memory.”
“Just do it.”
I want to say, “You don’t understand.”
I want to say, “I can’t do this.”
I want to say, “I suffer from social anxiety.”
Ten thousand eyes are looking at me.
Ten thousand ears are waiting for me to talk.
“No – sorry.”
I sit down and rest my head on my knees.

In the fiction session with Evan Fallenberg and Joan Legant, we analysed a whole (three-paragraph) story by Etgar Keret and then wrote two paragraphs of our own story, starting with one of four prompts. The main advice from the session was: resist. Resist the obvious plot and resist obvious words.

In a fascinating concluding session, Etgar Keret himself was interviewed by Evan Fallenberg. I wrote down just two of the many interesting things he said.

  • In couple therapy, there’s an exercise in which one partner falls backwards and lets the other partner catch them. So, when you’re writing close your eyes, fall backwards and wait for the story to catch you. Sometimes it does. Other times you find yourself on the floor with a bump on your head.
  • Only when you’re writing can you do anything you want. You can be rude to your mother, make a lot of noise, anything. Etgar doesn’t want to compromise this freedom for any audience by making his stories more universal.

At the very end I took an awful picture with my phone.

Creative Writing Conference, 08 May, 2012

Keret is on the right and the screen shows his picture as it appears on the cover of his latest book: Suddenly, a Knock on the Door.

The people at A to Z Challenge posted some questions to help reflect. I’m using them as my brain has gone into hibernation following the long month of April.

How did your journey through the alphabet go? Did you meet new bloggers with similar interests? Are there any you would like to feature and share with others?

Some bloggers expressed an interest in reading about Jerusalem. Of those, J.C. Martin was the most vocal.

What were the highlights for you? (lowlights too…we want to hear it all)

The highlights were the comments. Lots of lovely comments from friendly bloggers. Lowlights? I don’t think so….

Did you enjoy posting daily? What was your biggest hurdle? What was your easiest task?

I tried to photograph every place I mentioned. Sometimes time got in the way, but mostly I succeeded. Describing the places was quite easy, as there is no lack of information out there.

Was time management an issue? (I know, silly question, when isn’t time management an issue – but, it is worth reflecting on)

Er… yes.

And what about your content – did you have a theme or did you wing it? Was it easy to come up with ideas for each letter, or were some harder?

I had a theme and plenty of choice for most of the letters. The only hard one was X. I cheated a bit there. There was one place I wrote about and scrapped at the last minute. I was afraid the stories surrounding the place would turn out to be too controversial.

How about commenting – did you stumble upon lots of sites still using word verification? Did this prevent you from leaving a comment? What worked for your blog?

Most sites were easy to comment on. My problem was finding something to say. I read a lot more posts than I commented on. I didn’t visit enough blogs – it was hard to find the time.

What will you do different next year? (Yes, you are doing this next year, you know you are, even if your brain is telling you to run for the hills – it appreciates the exercise)

I’d like to say I’ll schedule all my posts in advance so that I have more time to visit other blogs, but I doubt that will happen.

What pearls of wisdom do you want to share with the Co-Hosts of this event? (We would love to hear from you and know what you think would make this awesome event even better)

Thank you for organising it. It was fun.

I have several blog posts planned, inspired by reading other blogs. I hope I get round to writing them. This one wouldn’t wait.

Mapelba writes:

Have you heard the theory that there are countless parallel universes, that at particular moments in your life when one decision was made, another universe began with another you who lived the choice you didn’t make.

In my memory, I made the decision aged six, but really I think I always did this. At the age of six I was more able to rationalise it.

As I saw it, they picked on me. They all chose to tease me. In reality, it probably started as normal childhood behaviour. This is the way young children treat each other. But I didn’t know about that. My response was not to react – never to show that their taunts upset me, because if I did it would be worse.

In the parallel universe, I cried and they stopped teasing. They included me instead of spurning me.

In the parallel universe, this blog doesn’t exist, I don’t write and I’ve never heard of social anxiety.

But I’m married to someone else, have different children and probably still live in Britain.

My life is different in the parallel universe. I can’t say whether it’s better or worse. Where I am now, in this universe, it’s pretty good.

Mapelba says:

What moment in your childhood would change where you are now? Of course, perhaps it the small forgotten decision that made all the difference. You’re alive because you took an extra minute to tie your shoe and so you weren’t on your bike in the intersection when the truck ran the stop sign. But those moments you can never know.

This week’s prompt is “RUBY”. I found myself being influenced by some Stones. Sorry the theme is similar to my last story. I think they complement each other.

Goodbye Ruby

Monday, she’s the office executive, toiling long after the others have left.

Tuesday, she’s the doting mother, kissing away pain and remembering to listen.

Wednesday, she’s the caring daughter, running errands for those who no longer can.

Thursday, she’s the volunteer, giving to society for no financial gain.

Friday, she’s the exercise freak, working out to work off all the excess grams.

Weekend, she’s the cleaner, the cook, the hostess, the party-goer.

They’re full of praises. They say she’s wonderful. They’re amazed she manages to do so much. I know one role she’s forgotten about. Goodbye Ruby. I’ll miss you.