Tag Archive for words

The Beauty of the Hermaphroditic Snail

by Betty Scott

Surrounded by political rancor, I found myself wishing Superman would swoop in and solve global chaos. Instead I read up on Gastropods and Mollusks. One night I dreamt about … oh Hail to the Chief … Super Snail!  

Snails weigh mere grams. An average adult male moves one millimeter per second. They cannot hear. Their sense of smell is their most important organ. Touch is vital too, especially in mating. Male and female snails produce sperm and eggs. After mating … drum roll please …both give birth, excellent for survival, which began for them in the Cambrian age, 540 to 585 million years ago. (Snail-world.com)

Yet despite their accomplishments and intriguing calcium carbonate shells, snails have been mocked. They’ve been turned into a symbol of laziness. In Christian culture, of sloth. We must travel back to the Greek poet Hesiod to find snails given significance. As time keepers and metaphysical mentors. When they climb stocks, it is time to harvest. (Wikipedia)

With all our human concerns in a life-feeds-on-life world, I still find solace knowing that scientists are researching Mollusks. They’ve discovered the remarkable adaptability of Gastropods. If we listen, scientists will mentor us, too, about bio-diversity and symbiotic relationships: nature’s beautiful formulas. About snails, they tell us, despite their sexual prowess, snails are endangered. Like people, moving toward peace at a snail’s pace beneath the drum-rolling urgency of global chaos and climate change.

Snails speak softly. They don’t carry big sticks. Yet imagine Super Snail with a billboard-sized sign. It reads: Be wise. Live symbiotically by design.

On my snail days, when I wake slow and sluggish, I’m consoled by millions of common citizens world-wide who rise to their feet to march and plead for clean air, land and seas. Time is humanity’s hollow-ringed habitat, the shell on our backs. Left uncorrupted, science and nature … with symbiotic dignity, bring Earth’s needs for peace to light.

Here is the poem, written several years ago, that began my exploration into forgiveness.

Stirrings and Stews

Once betrayed
we stew. We live
a slow simmer.

So this prayer
is for
you and me.

May we remember
stirrings are good
for stews
and people.

One morning
may we wake

no longer angry
at anyone
not even ourselves.

Then on our snail days
slow and sluggish
may we know

snails are garden
pests to some
and to others, escargot.

Poetry often challenges popular uses of words. It’s one way to bring us toward accepting
greater abilities beyond personal gains and losses, likes and dislikes. I’ll conclude these thoughts
with a more recent poem which first appeared on the Cave Moon Press blog. Musician  JP
Falcon Grady often joins me to sing the italicized words.

An Earth Year Blessing

No man a salt shaker
No woman a sugar bowl

To pour, use up
Put out to pantry.

No more darting of eyes
Or senator sneers

When Mama’s Boys pilgrim
To Great Mama’s pastures.

To dance … step by step
With maternal wisdoms,

Tango and waltz
Arms and heads in precision.

Each foot-path a grace
Restoring Earth’s faith,

Mama’s troupes swaying
Singing and praying:

Single Mama, Widowed Mama
Holy sustainer of lives
May we be a blessing to you,
 
May your people tend, Dear Mama,
Your people tend to you. 

 Author’s Bio:   Betty Scott’s writing adventures as a poet and essayist began when she was employed at The Wenatchee World. She taught college students for twenty years before retiring into her daily writing life. She enjoys editing her daughter’s novels as well as poetry and essays written by colleagues. She is currently writing a third collection of poems and a book of essays. Her collection Central Heating: Poems that Celebrate Love, Loss and Planet Earth, will be published by Cave Moon Press in 2018.

When a Word Goes to War

by Jean Waight

Remember the so-called War on Christmas—just another snit by Fox News, right?

In the wake of last year’s presidential election results, we—secular and religious progressives, liberals, centrists, and presumably, a good many conservatives—have looked far and wide, and at ourselves, to explain the election. But I think we would do well to take a closer look at this old skirmish, and consider how a word can be used to steer debate and also have non-rational effects—in a long game. The so-called War on Christmas was not a controversy so much as a step in a call to arms, and it looks to me like the rest of us unwittingly aided their cause.

How? We took the bait. We took up what we thought was the issue—religious freedom—thinking we could argue it civilly. Our mistake. It was not really about whether it was better to use the greeting “Happy Holidays” rather than reflexively saying “Merry Christmas,” which actually was, as an issue, pretty easy to resolve. Our other mistake was thinking: This, Too, Shall Pass. But this was not an isolated squabble. And it only seemed to pass.

Strategic use of the word “war”

If the stated issue wasn’t the real issue, and we made a mistake discussing it, (or ignoring it) then what else could we have done?

Our big mistake was in accepting Neo-conservative terms for the discussion—accepting that this disagreement could properly be called WAR. You don’t remember accepting those terms? Me neither. But by not calling a halt to the discussion until we could clear up this meta issue, we gave them the win in that skirmish, with lasting damage.

I checked definitions. After finding in my old 1941 Webster’s a heavy emphasis on massive armed conflicts, I turned to my newer dictionary, Merriam Webster’s Collegiate, tenth edition, 1993. Almost sixty years later, usage has relaxed a bit.

1.  a. A state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations

b. A period of such armed conflict

2. a. A state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism

b. A struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end (such as a class war or war against disease.)

Although the dictionaries allow the use of the word “war” for major struggles that are below the level of armed conflict between nations, the use of the word in a simple debate or disagreement is definitely pushing the envelope. What else does it do besides push boundaries on meaning? Unacknowledged are the word’s unspoken connotations and its conjuring of awful history. In wars between nations, what comes with the territory? Jettisoned quickly are truth, ethics, honesty, fair dealings, even listening. Emotions rise to a pitch. Horror, cruelty, and an all-in mentality result. Is that basket of sadness what we want brought to a mere disagreement?

The Neocon long game

The strategy and fruits of the Neocons’ long game are clear now. First, they accused the left of waging war. Not of insensitivity or other wrong, but war. In this age of trash talk and hyperbole, we rolled our eyes and let it pass. Now look what that did for the Neocons. With our acceptance of this hyperbole, they could avoid any clear light shining on that deeply anti-democratic piece of fire-bombing. “Anti-democratic” because it paints simple disagreement as the mark of a war enemy.

To use such a loaded word in political discourse, without objection from us, allowed the war idea with all its emotions to seep into the minds of the ever-hardening supporters of the Neocons, who could conclude that they were the innocent victims of almost deadly hostility. Thereafter, the Neocons didn’t need to continue to use the word “war.” They could instead go on to dog-whistle politics on issue after issue.

Of course there was always more to this strategy than choice of a word. Anger had already been stoked and steered in other ways. But now they had a growing army and it was underground. Carefully insulated from any voices but their own. Brilliant, I have to admit. In the worst way.

My gratitude to Marian Exall for her insightful comments on an earlier draft.

Author Bio:   Jean Waight is a Bellingham memoir and essay writer. Her work has appeared in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers anthology “Memory into Memoir,” in Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim, and in Whatcom Watch. She blogs on GreenTeaSympathy.blogspot.com.

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by Judith Shantz

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. That was the childhood response to playground bullies, but it was never true. Words do hurt, far more than sticks or stones. Mindless cruelties. Retard and queer. We never outgrew it, the words just changed – redneck, welfare queen – nasty labels of otherness. Where did we learn these words?

Surely deplorables and bad hombres have always been with us.  Somewhere in our evolution we crossed a line, from the simple needs of the clan, “Og kills antelope” to the despicable rejection of otherness, “Og hates fags”.

The Ogs have become more sophisticated over the millennia but their type is universal. In America they now have perfectly ordinary, European names. They wear business suits. Some even have titles – doctor, congressman, pastor, president. Their message is often more nuanced but it is still the same brand of hate.

I belonged to a generation of believers. We were the granolas and the tree-huggers, the marchers and the protesters. It was a heady time with great music as its backdrop – music that gave us our anthems and promised “Times, they are a-changing”. We were, perhaps, naïve but our tents were big – Civil Rights, Human Rights, Women’s Rights – and our hearts were expansive.

But it wasn’t quite enough. We grew up and had babies and needed jobs. We cut our hair and put on work clothes and took out mortgages. The fierce momentum lagged and those big tents shriveled, became more exclusive, leaving the most vulnerable behind. Now, in some quarters, ‘colorism’ embraces only lighter-skinned African Americans and Feminism has been reduced to a fight for reproductive rights – certainly a critical issue but not the only one.

In greater and greater numbers, the disenfranchised have turned to the politics of identity, rising up to claim their own labels and narratives. This wasn’t caused by any single event – it cannot be laid at the feet of September 11 or Trayvon Martin or even FOX News – those were simply catalysts. “I will no longer permit you to define me; I will name my own identity.”

This has been empowering for some.  We can see that in the happy proliferation of rainbow flags. But it has also left so many others in little bubbles of aloneness, struggling to reimagine their own unique identities, standing rigid and apart, each with his or her own label. “This adjective, this pronoun, this acronym, this is my unique identity. You are Other.  You cannot know my pain.” We tiptoe through these minefields, afraid that our words will, in the parlance of the day, ‘disrespect’ those Others. And now, in these politically charged times, ‘PC’ itself has become a pejorative.

Am I an innocent in all this?  Alas, no. I am a world class ranter and have been known to broad-brush, at least privately, entire populations as anti-intellectual and bigoted. I have also indulged in creating my own identity, my label. I have let the few really nasty, anti-immigrant tirades hurled at me get under my skin and stick there, like a tick bite, festering. I have sometimes worn my alien status as a badge of honor.

Yet my particular identity is mostly invisible. I am only really affronted by the attacks on the millions of other immigrants who stand out because their skin color or language marks them as alien. I can really only imagine what the reality is for poor people standing in long lines outside the food banks, the disabled children, the men of color or the women in hijab; people who wear their ‘otherness’, their ‘lesserness’ in public every day.  We cannot fail to see and understand this pain. All those individual identities, celebrating their otherness because they have so little else – no hope of prosperity in a fabulously wealthy land, no hope for respect or admiration, no anticipation of acceptance or justice in the only home they know.

While immigrant may be part of my life experience, it doesn’t define me any more than gay or black or atheist defines anyone else. I don’t want to think of people as adjectives or acronyms. Those words do not portray any of us in our wholeness.

Ultimately, my resistance is to labels of all kinds, whether the undeserved ones or the self-selected ones.  I do not want to sanctify otherness.  Some of us are saintly, others not so admirable. But our simple humanity still makes us all eminently knowable. While it is impossible not to notice basic physical differences, I want to look you full in the face and see simply another human being. I want to listen to your story and see in you the whole person that you are.

I would return to my 1967 self and feel the upwelling energy of the fight for justice, and all those other fights, against poverty and homelessness, against corruption and greed – but never, ever against one another.

One by one, I am trying to lay down all the stick and stones.

Author’s Bio:  Judy Shantz grew up on the freezing/scorching Canadian prairie but always longed for a more gentle clime; preferably one with the scent of roses and salt sea in the air. Her first full-length novel, The Case of the Flickering Flashlight, was written at the age of nine and accepted by her loving parents with amazement and scarcely-disguised laughter. Her adult writings fill notebooks, spill out of files, cover cocktail napkins and the backs of grocery lists and her association with Red Wheelbarrow Writers is providing the inspiration to add flesh and feathers and fancy pants to all those characters waiting to be heard.

What Excites Me About Writing

by Dick Little

Words!

All those words. I love `em, list `em, hoard them. Steal them. Don’t you?

I think they’re why I write, when it comes down to it. Especially when all that plot, character, story arc stuff eludes me.

Words are the pretty candies in a story, the chocolates on the pillow* where so often I lay my brain.

Sometimes they start rolling around in my head and won’t let me fall asleep at night — “floating into my head on the wings of darkness,” as friend Nancy Adair wrote. Some mornings, when I sit down to my computer, I’m like a little kid opening his first box of crayons — the big one with all those pointy colors lined up in rows.

Phrases, figures of speech, metaphors, similes — the currants in the warm scone, the oysters in the stew — they jump unbidden onto the page, and I shake my head. How’d that happen!

“Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words!” said Eliza Doolittle to Freddy Eynsford-Hill (“Show Me,” My Fair Lady, Lerner & Lowe). Not me. Words are but playthings, possibly dating to the time in my twenties when a boss to whom I’d handed a memo for his review told me I was “quite the word merchant.” (Ahem.)

There are those fabulous opening lines — from Ishmael, to the winter of our discontent, to Aureliano Buendia facing a firing squad. (A dark and stormy night, maybe not so much.)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree….”

Wouldn’t you give your best shiny black and gold Mont Blanc knock-off to have written those lines?

Also, words set to music:

“… and it was grand just to stand with his hand holding mine…” “The Trolley Song,” Meet Me in St. Louis, Martin and Blane.

“…flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do.” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” Anything Goes, the inimitable Cole Porter.

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.” (Cue the tears.)

Prolix, verbose, articulate, loquacious, eloquent, lucid (I unabashedly confess to consulting a Thesaurus), call me what you will. But oh, the delicious fun of sorting through all those curious parts of speech, like so many jigsaw puzzle pieces spread out on the card table in the rec room. Adverbs (use sparsely), nouns (which get to name themselves), adjectives (that tell you what I want you to think of those nouns), prepositions (the salt and pepper and bouquet garni), pronouns (ho-hum), and most of all, verbs that do the heavy lifting. No, I haven’t forgotten articles and conjunctions; try writing a sentence without them!

There are words we love (frisson, porcine, saunter, quotidian, pixilated); ones we hate (it, feel, like, very, trump). We each have a list, don’t we?

There are words we have to look up (e.g., apophasis, n. — rhetorical device bringing up a subject by denying it should be brought up; e.g., “I won’t even mention so-and-so”; frequently ad hominem.) Also, pretty much one puzzler per paragraph in any David Foster Wallace piece.

I’ve been known to make up words: vape, v.t. — a portmanteau combining “vapid” and “gape, meaning to sit and stare mindlessly; c.f., stoned on a downtown street corner.

So fellow writers, when in despair in my otherwise solitary, agoraphobic, navel-gazing, wool-gathering, low self-esteem writerly pursuit, haply I think on thee, O Lexicon, or pick up my copy of Anna Karenina.

It’s gotten me past many a bad plot block.

*Note to You-Know-Who, I did cop to being a thief.

dick-little-truck-orcasAuthor’s Bio:  Dick Little is a retired attorney and government lobbyist who’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for over thirty-five years. His work has been published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, the Seattle Times, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; recently, also, in the 2016 Summer Solstice issue of Cirque, and in the upcoming issue of Clover. He has published a collection of short stories, “Postcards from the Road.” A novel, “City Haul,” is being reviewed for publication, and another collection of travel stories is in the works. Other work can be found at “The Write Stuff,” http://pepys2000.blogspot.com.

For the Love of Words

What compels me to write? Do I believe I have a story to tell or a new way to express an old feeling? Perhaps – or not. But I do know I am driven, moth to flame, lover to beloved, by a passion for my mother tongue.

I do not remember not “knowing” words. I don’t mean just recognizing spoken words – but knowing the forms words take, the shafts and curves and colors of their letters. I do not remember a time that I could not read. Yet, I doubt that I sprang fully literate from the womb. There must have been some sort of learning arc.

Somewhere on that arc, very early on, I discovered that all letters had colors. Lovely, shimmering colors – dull boring colors – colors that spoke of stillness or music or riots in the streets. In pre-school I informed my teacher, quite emphatically, that she had used the wrong color to spell the word bluebird. She was patient and kind. I was bratty and opinionated!

Obnoxious or not, I really did want to share my letters and their colors – to explain how they affected me and why I loved specific words. My grandmother, a woman whose Yorkshire-isms littered her speech, pronounced me a bit daft. However, my colors would not be denied. Every new word arrived with form and function and its own tincture:

Rambunctious – a roaring red letter of a word with its feet firmly anchored in an earthy C

Muse – a lovely rose-colored word quickly fading to its soft yellow sibilant

Opalescence – a visual onomatopoeia of pearls and early light

As a young child I longed to marry the word and its meaning to its colors. And I puzzled over foreign languages. Did the French find the rain to be more playful than the English did? The English rain evoked Norse war gods running amok. And why would the Americans want to drop the pretty little silver U from colour?   It would be many years before I found out that I was blessed with a mild, and not uncommon, crossing of the senses. I was thrilled to know that I wasn’t quite so ‘daft’ after all, that there were others like me – I was crestfallen to learn that very likely all their colors would be quite different. I had best restrict myself to form and function and sound if I wanted to write coherently.

Happily, it was the sound of words that filled our home – not just the come, go, yes, no that move the day along, but all the wonderful words that literature employs to tell our stories back to us. In the evenings, with children in bed and the house gone quiet, our parents sat in the living room and took turns – one read aloud while the other darned socks and after half an hour they traded roles. My father, in particular, read with a natural gift for expression. This was our cradle song, the muted patterns of the words and the inflections of the voices drifted up the stairs: a spoken lullaby.

It was my father who brought literature into our home and it was my father who considered le bon mot the highest form of art. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations held pride of place in the hallway bookcase, and the King James Bible was a deity unto itself. I was not often read to as a child because I was impatient to read it myself but I confess to a little twinge of envy when I sat on the bottom stair, listening as my father read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” to my six-year old sister. I wanted to be singled out for something that special – that introduction to funny, clever words.

All these years later, my romance goes on apace. I glory in my lover’s tangled Teutonic unruliness, I am beguiled by its ancient genesis on the Carpathian steppes and I’m even grateful that the odious, conquering Normans overlaid our native speech with lovely French. And still, mostly in solitude, I roll a color over my tongue. Salacious. Sulpician. Nonsensical and Lilliputian. Yellow words. Grass-green words. Delicious words that fill me up.

So far I have been more voyeuse than participant in this kindly, boisterous group of Red Wheelbarrow Writers and I’m struggling for the confidence to share what I write. I come to Happy Hour and listen to courageous writers reading from their works. Some of those writers are polished and experienced, with works already published; some are just learning their craft. All are determined and brave and inspire me to reclaim the life I envisioned as a child.

Author’s Bio:  

Judy Shantz grew up on the freezing/scorching Canadian prairie but always longed for a more gentle clime; preferably one with the scent of roses and salt sea in the air. Her first full-length novel, The Case of the Flickering Flashlight, was written at the age of nine and accepted by her loving parents with amazement and scarcely-disguised laughter. Her adult writings fill notebooks, spill out of files, cover cocktail napkins and the backs of grocery lists and her association with Red Wheelbarrow Writers is providing the inspiration to add flesh and feathers and fancy pants to all those characters waiting to be heard.