Monday, December 30, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Jingle

Here it is hot as hot, which is just how a Christmas should be.  My husband is is languishing, and complains that he can't take the season seriously, but my earliest Christmas memories are of Dad taking my sister and I swimming in a jungle creek while Mum got Christmas dinner sorted without two overexcited children underfoot.  
            And what Christmas dinners!  Christmas was a hot and stodgy English dinner (roast chicken and doughy puddings with cream sauce) eaten on a hot and sticky verandah, with ceiling fans pushing the heat around and driving rich smells into your face, and afterwards, afternoons spent on the cool grass of the lawn, and children running around with sparklers in the long summer twilight.
            Over the years we replaced the English dinner with a menu less colonial and more suited to the southern climate, but we embraced all of the other northern Christmas trimmings as a matter of course.  Our Christmas cards showed snowfalls and lantern-light, glittering with sugar frost.  Our dads Ho-Ho-Ho’d in full Santa fig – sweltering under polyester beards and sofa cushion bellies.  Our heads and ears dripped and clinked with tinkling jingle-bells – we, who had never seen a sleigh.  We cut Eucalyptus trees and planted them in plastic buckets, raised trees of plastic tinsel, and sniffed the eucalyptus and plastic scents and satisfied, and called them firs.  When I moved north, a northern Christmas was easy for me.  I’d been mentally living one all my life.
            But down here,my husband never had the pop-culture guides to tell him what to do with seafood BBQs and carols that, like Australia and Chile, are upside down –
            “The North Wind is tossing the leaves
              The red dust is over the town
              The sparrows are under the eaves –"

            “Red dust?” He shouts.  “Red dust?  It’s blizzards!  Blizzards and wooly sweaters and ice-skating and hot chocolate and fir-cones and fireplaces-”
            I try for something colder.
            “The tree-ferns in green gullies sway
              The cool stream flows silently by
              The joy bells are greeting the day
              And the chimes are adrift in the sky-”

            He stamps off into the kitchen to stuff his head into the freezer.  And sighs.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

First Word: Suzanne Roberts: Jingle


Jingle for me is a downtown Chicago recording studio. There’s C-, he’s teaching us how to make a living as musicians. It’s his cause this year. We are his cause this year. He’s made a fortune with his advertising jingles and now the world is his playground and he’s a very talented boy, preparing our orchestra for world famous conductors and trying his hand at serious modern music composition, like his ex, composer in residence at the Symphony.
            Fifteen years later, I now see that he wanted some of this glitter to rub off on us. He strung us with tinsel as we sat and played, wrote me a sparkling letter of recommendation. The trouble was that there were hundreds of us, thousands by now – each trying to make our way, hang in there with gigs and lessons, no health insurance, toothaches, few material possessions and fair weather friends.
            Today I’m reliving this situation on a smaller scale. I know what to do, how to make a living and how to let others have my back, but I’ve been away so long. I’m not sure if I am really up for repeating scenarios, repeating emotions like a record on a record player now so relegated to the past – or coming back into style?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Trigger


Trigger was the name of Roy Roger’s palomino horse and does sound like a horsey name. But the word spells out trouble. Once you press the trigger, that’s it. There’s no going back. No undoing the deed.
            Words can be as harmful and quick as a bullet. Once I open my mouth and discharge my trigger-tongue, I can’t take it back. Contrary to the refrain, I’ve never been able to eat my words. Tongues, unlike pencils, have no erasers at the end. If I try to take back a lie, my traitorous red face gives me away.
            At first glance, writing appears safer. I can always delete – except when it’s an email. I check my words and to whom they’re directed, before I click on SEND. I don’t want to send an erotic joke to my great-aunt Mabel. Carelessness can trigger an undesired response – an explosion of anger, damaged feelings, a broken heart. I read once that one should never break off with a boyfriend by email, not that I’ll ever find myself in such a situation now. There have been times when I’ve wanted to shoot you-know-who. Luckily for him, I’m not a trigger-happy Annie-Get-Your-Gun.
            Writing out my thoughts is definitely the safe way to go. Anything written in haste can be repaired, edited, tweaked or rewritten. I miss the days of lengthy letters, written on sheer stationary, the licking of the envelope and the placing of a stamp. Seldom now do I have the slow pleasure of slitting open a hand delivered letter, brought to me by Cristián, my cartero, riding his red bicycle. I have a choice of letter openers crafted in bronze, silver or wood. If the envelope bears a commemorative stamp, I cut it off and slip it into an envelope with others. I save them for grandchildren, along with my old stamp collection, combined with those of my sons and their grandfather. Stamp collecting – a by-gone, slow, thoughtful activity.
            Letters were once delivered by horse and rider. Trigger would have been an apt name for a Pony Express steed, and I’ll bet you Trigger would have been faster than our present day mail system. “Yippee-ki-yay. Git on, Trigger.” Quick as a flick of his tail, he’d be off like a bullet.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Shack


‘Shacking up’ means moving in with someone of the opposite sex with the intention of coupling without license or permission from family, friends or society.  The word ‘shack’ hints at ‘badly made, a dwelling hastily flung together’. To say Marvin and Linda are ‘living together’, or that they’ve ‘moved in together’ is one thing: but to say they’ve ‘shacked up’ is to put them in a specific place. A picture comes to mind: of dull-eyed Linda wearing a tube top. Her legs are skinny, her hair bedraggled. She leans in the doorway of a cabin, her attitude suggesting she’s holding the thing up. Marvin, who is still in bed, is unshaven. He has a course laugh and nicotine-stained fingers.
            The fact is, you can’t ‘shack up’ in the Hilton. You may take tea and request the services of a gigolo, or find the afternoon sun exhausting and go to your room to lie down, which is where your friend will find you when he comes back from buying theatre tickets. His name is Roger, she is Roxanne and they don’t plan to marry any time soon because they’re already married to people who they like well enough but who in some way have been a disappointment. Roger and Roxanne are having an affair. Can you hear the lightness in the word? An affair is a fleeting thing that lasts as long as the weather holds. Society does not condemn this pair; it merely lifts a bare shoulder and shrugs.
            ‘Having it off’ speaks of an absence of care or love; an act of no greater consequence than brushing one’s teeth or doing the washing-up.  Hugh can be ‘having it off’ with Penny or George, though not often at the same time. But here the door closes on the scene because the public doesn’t particularly want to know what goes on.  The expression may be accompanied by a raised eyebrow or a knowing leer, but that’s as far as it usually goes.
            Hugh and George and Penny live in a village on the outskirts of London or Manchester and commute to the city by train. They wear mackintoshes when the weather is dull and shoes polished to a brilliant sheen when it’s not.  It’s important that one wear well-polished shoes if one is ‘having it off’ with someone, especially if all two, or three, work in the same office. But such a shine would be totally out of place if the trio were ‘shacking up’. Just think of the noise they would make.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Tracy Grant: Water

Wrong Way

When the auto
honked its horn,
flashed its lights
water was my body’s
transformation as
I drove against
the Colon traffic.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Saint


Growing up Catholic, I was surrounded by saints – images, statues, prayers and probably quite a few living, unclaimed saints. At church we recited long litanies to the saints: St. Joseph, pray for us, St. Catherine, pray for us, St. Rita, pray for us…. Their stories fascinated and inspired me. Churches, towns, and countries invoke their patron saints. I grew up in the town named San Anselmo, and attended school and church at St. Anselm’s.
            Saints were invoked for their unique powers. As a child, in our family car a medal of St. Christopher, patron of travelers, was carefully centered in a spot above the windshield. At school the nuns had shed their worldly names to assume the name of a saint. Sister Mary Daniel. Sister Madeleine Mary. Sister Mary Joseph. When we performed well, our prize was a holy card with the image of a saint and a prayer on the back. I still have a much-handled image of St. Jude, patron of Hopeless Cases. Audrey, my friend Karen’s mother, swore by St. Anthony to find her a parking place. In Chile, once a year, fishermen honor their patron, St. Peter, with processions of flower-bedecked boats. 
            You can only be canonized an official saint after a long process, in which it is proven that you’ve performed at least one miracle. But history teems with multitudes of unsung, unrecognized saints working small miracles every day – those, who through some small act, put another before themselves. Can modern day heroes be considered saints? Or must they pass muster with an ecclesiastical committee? 
            I’d like to propose that the status of sainthood be opened to the heroes and miracle workers of our era of any creed and origin, who have worked to make this world a better place. St. Paul Farmer? St. Mahatma Gandhi? St. Bill Gates? And perhaps my neighbor across the street who cares for his infirm, aging parents, always with a cheerful attitude.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Article: Susan Siddeley's Creative Space

Susan Siddeley's Creative Space

Allyson Latta has published an interview with our own Susan Siddeley as a part of her Will Come the Words feature - an exploration of how writers find and shape their creative spaces. 

Read all about how Susan shapes HER writing life across two contients in two very different spaces! 

photo credit Allyson Latta

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Mary Judith Ress: Saint


St. Jude, help of hopeless cases.
St Ann, find me a man. 
St. Anthony, patron of grimy little boys who’ve lost their caps, their shoes or their bus money.
St. Lucy, patroness of the blind (she had her eyes gouged out),.
St. Maria Goretti, saint young girls beseech to remain chaste on that first date (Maria died of 14 knife wounds, but fought off her would-be rapist).
St Rose of Lima, another patron saint of virgins. (When admired for her beauty, she cut off her hair and smeared pepper on her face, to foil would-be suitors).
St Martin de Porres, patron of the humble black man.
Our two Chilean saints, Teresa de Los Andes and Laura Vicuña:
            Teresa entered the Carmelites at age 14, and died of typhus nine months after she took her vows.
            Laura, patroness of incest and sexual abuse victims, died at 12.  She entered the convent to flee from a situation of domestic violence.
            Both pre-pubescent saints, not unlike the “Little Flower,” St. Therese of Lisieux.
Looking with a critical eye at the women raised to sainthood, they were cloistered young things who today would be analyzed as being afraid of men and of their own ripening sexuality.

            Sexy women have always been a stumbling block for a church that raises up Mary, the immaculate mother of Jesus, and bestows sainthood on Mary Magdalene, only because she supposedly lived in a cave as a penitent after Christ’s death. (Of course, now another story is emerging, thanks to Biblical studies, showing Magdalene as Jesus’ partner and co-founder of the Jesus Movement.) 
            Male saints are almost always celibate, although there is the occasional king or pope who lays claim to the title. Most gave their lives to the poor.  Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, our own Padre Hurtado. Then there are the martyrs. They have to be raised to sainthood because of their sacrifice.  But, being headstrong, they are controversial. Bishop Romero still languishes---he’s not even been declared “Blessed”—while Jose María Belaguer, founder of Opus Dei, is a full-fledged saint.  
            But in the best of Catholic tradition, there is another side to sainthood. We, the faithful, declare our saints viva voce through sensus fidelium—our good sense.  The cryptic “odor of sanctity” supposedly surrounding would-be saints come to center stage:  do we smell that we are in the presence of holiness? 
    If so, they—you and me—pass the test. 
St Judy, presente!
St. Ellen, presente!
St. Susan, presente!  
St _______ (fill in the blank, sensus fidelium, dearie).  And there you have your saint.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Announcing Los Parronales 2014!

Your Best Writing Experience Ever!
 Jan 19th–Feb 1st 2014

A 14-day, 13-night Adventure in Santiago, Chile.

Be inspired relishing a second culture, in a village outside the city, with inspiring writer-editors Stan Dragland and Beth Follett. Stay in the home of long-time Chile residents and grape-growers Susan & Gordon Siddeley. 
Sleep, after gazing at a sky full of stars, waken to the sight of the snow-tipped Andes Mountains, and the throaty crue of owls.   

Writing Workshop Itinerary:

Sunday: Be met and welcomed at the airport and lunch on Merlot, empanadas and Chilean tomato salad. Walk through the vineyard, explore our lower hill slopes and meet our wonderful on-site family. In the evening dine on salmon and sip Chardonnay.  

Monday & Tuesday: Read, write, listen and discuss during the first Morning Session. Lunch on traditional soup and salad, relax and enjoy afternoons of free writing, consultations and possibly a trip to Chile’s famous Jumbo store.

Wednesday: Love our Day Out at the coast! Travelling down Ruta 68, past eye-burning, pink Bourgainvillea, marvel at the pristine vineyards as we head for Isla Negra, favourite museum home of Nobel, prize-winning Chilean Poet, Pablo Neruda. It’s perched on the cliff tops overlooking the rolling breakers of the South Pacific. Run your fingers along his desk, appreciate his rooms, admire his amazing collections. Then, buy arty souvenirs from local writers and craftsmen in the nearby square. Returning via Ruta del Sol, explore the village of Pomaire where people devote themselves to pottery -making and afterwards swap notes over tea in a rustic restaurant.  

Thursday & Friday: Morning sessions and free-time afternoons. Now is the time to go walking…enjoy the gardens and hillside views. In the evening join in a game of Scrabble or our hilarious Dictionary Game!

Saturday: Our 5th morning session, and after lunch, taking advantage of a quiet weekend (many Chileans go to the beach in January) we head for the City Centre for an afternoon of sightseeing. This includes the Presidential Palace-La Moneda, Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral and the Pre-Columbian museum. We sometimes manage to squeeze in a drive around Las Condes, passing the impressive Canadian & American Embassies on our way to Los Dominicos, a high-end craft market in a historic cloister - a tourist favourite for shoppers before travelling home.

Sunday The morning is free, but we have horses! Those who would like, can join us  on a ride around the neighbouring hill where the last of the real huasos (Chilean cowboys) live! After a traditional Sunday lunch of empanadas we return to Santiago to see Pablo Neruda’s main house in the bohemian Bellavista District, We usually eat out there, with your choice of restaurant – choose from chic to the popular Chop (beer) and Papas Fritas,  pub-style eateries.

Week Two: Repeats the pattern of Week One

… Except forWednesday, when we go to Valparaiso, Chile’s amazing world heritage port; a stunning semi-circle of hills, covered with pastel-coloured houses packed precariously on the ravine sides. Views are astounding, especially for those who take a deep breath and ride up in one of the creaky funiculars. Valparaiso is also the site of Pablo Neruda’s third house. High on a hill, this one so tall and narrow, tours are self-guided. We usually taxi up and walk down. Also to see are the unusual Parliament buildings, docks, Naval Headquarters and vivid street murals.

Saturday: The wrap-up session with a celebratory Despedida (good-bye) lunch and the treat we all enjoy - our own Folklore Show where the local family so kindly show us how to dance! It is always as moving as it is brilliant.

Cost: is $160 per day (single room)* inclusive of the workshop sessions, consultations, breakfast, lunch, Happy Hour, dinner with wine, tea and coffee. Plus: Free airport pick up and drop off.

Please email

For costs re: shared rooms and non-workshop participants

Does not include: Airfare, meals eaten ‘out’ or the small charge (about $20 per day-trip) to cover transport costs.
Medical insurance - a must!
to see our slide show on Shaw Guides
See more information at Spirit Level Workshop!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Saint


Someone with a heart of such dimensions that they can love the unlovely, sacrifice self and endure martyrdom, all with a smile or, more often, a saintly visage despite the blood dripping from the arrow that pierces their forehead. Who would be a saint?
            The will to deny self for the sake of others is not natural to man. He is a survivor, one who slays other beasts in order to eat, then slays a few more because he can. It is his nature to subdue and enslave lesser animals– including the weaker of his own kind. Man still has a long way to go to trample on such instincts. That a saintly person should rise from within the company of men is miraculous. But those who lead exemplary lives, showing constant kindness and concern for others, surely demonstrate that it can be done.
           In some societies we take this ‘goodness’ for granted, then turn nature on its head by insisting that saintliness is in us all, if only we could learn to stop name-calling and sword-brandishing. So we speak politely, ban words that might offend and before we know it political correctness has crept in and with it the notion that paying lip service matters more than actions.
           When preparations for the canonization of Chile’s first saint, Santa Teresa de Los Andes, were underway in 1993, I followed the story in the press with goggle-eyed wonder.  So entranced was I by the process– the billboards at every bus stop, the CDs on sale, the columns of print about the life of the young saint, the huge screens being erected up and down the country so everyone could watch the ceremony live from Rome–that a  friend bought me a book called ‘Making Saints’ by Kenneth Woodward.  It was equally fascinating, so much so that I talked about it to anyone who would listen.  “I’ve got this book,“ I’d say.  “It’s called ‘Making Saints’ “, then bore them silly with the details before offering to lend it. What finally dampened my enthusiasm was another friend who laughed and said, “Making saints?  I think it’s a bit late for you.” 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Snout

About Snouts

The African anteater’s sniffling snout scavenges and snoops inside the swarming anthill. Such versatility those snouts— snorting, snickering, snarling, snorkelling, snuffling and salivating. Wet noses of tapirs and pigs and moles and boxers secrete slimy solutions: mucous, snot and drool that drip, slide and slither. Prominent proboscises probe and poke where they don’t belong, producing panic and repellence. (Do I hear Big Bird’s endearing buddy Snuffleupegus howling in protest?) Snail snouts are less salient than those of beetles and boars, while mashed snouts are the pride of pugs.
A particularly prominent human protuberance propels its owner into the hands of a snout surgeon.

            Reshaping is required to fit society’s standards of snout beauty. Unless ugly is the objective. It’s expected for villains to bear big schnauzes: Scrooge, Captain Hook, wicked queens, nasty stepmothers and ogres under bridges. Ugly is the trademark of the villain: a hooked dripping schnauze sporting a pimple and a hair, black attire, piercing, beady eyes, bad breath, humpbacked, crooked fingers with long pointed nails.
            To be fair to snouts, pronounced proboscises were deemed regal in the lands of pharaohs and Incan princes. Can you picture the proud Native American chief, Sitting Bull, with a snub nose?
Clearly the beauty of snouts lies in the snout of the beholder.

Friday, July 5, 2013

First Word: Tracy Grant: Slapstick


A sense of humor is relative, but not necessarily reciprocal.  What makes me
laugh are my own antics, the silly day-to-day blunders that allow me to take a break from my serious attempt at adulthood.  As I break into a hearty, rib  holding chuckle, tears streaming from my eyes, I am on a roller coaster that  invigorates the ordinary  routine of the day
            That is why I have troubles with slapstick humor – I just don’t get it.  THE  THREE  STOOGES come to mind.  They would yell, eyes popping, at each other then, one would slap or hit or punch the other across the face, or over the head, repeatedly.

            As a little girl, but a big sister, I was told, time and time again, not to do the very things that Moe, Larry and Curly were doing to each other.  I must have been a  curious sight, sitting cross-legged in front of the TV, unsmiling, frowning in judgment.
            I was deeply puzzled by the conundrum between adult rules and their humor. But my husband loves slapstick.  His laughs start low in his throat, and  crescendos as the antics happen like a steady beat of a drum.  He picks up the rhythm of the comic scene, like a child at the circus watching the clowns in great anticipation.  He thinks it is so jolly to watch grown men bonk each other, look
stunned and then bonk back.  I wallow in my mud of disbelief.            

            Being entertained with slapstick humor today, in this world of conflict, wars, terrorism, child slavery, abused women is unimaginable for me.  “Lighten up!”, my husband says to me.  I crack a smile, a half smile, but he doesn’t realize that, most of all, what I am enjoying is his laughter, his escape from the invisible routines of his life, as he roars up and down on his roller coaster, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

First Word: Tessa Too-Kong: Slapstick


Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, clowns at the circus – I never found them funny. Clowns were scary, with huge red alcoholic noses, big clown clobbering little clown, bullying taken to the nth degree. It is all about status – who is positioned more strongly can dictate the terms. The learner is an idiot because he doesn’t get it right the first time round, and gets penalized accordingly with a pie in the face or a slap with a mop. There’s no forgiveness, no saving face – or maybe that’s the point, ridicule lies in knowing he’s going to make the same mistake again, no matter what. Life must be a slapstick comedy and we mortals the clowns, and the gods must all be reclining around eating grapes and sipping chalices of ambrosia and waiting for the next human to make them roar with laughter. I see it in my friends’ choices of men -  the same man, either literally or metaphorically, doing the same things to them, and their falling into the same behavioural patterns, the same codependent relationships, locked into a compelling – and at the same time repellent – cycle. Is slapstick funny because we recognise our own shortcomings? Or is it the anticipation of glee at another’s overconfidence and arrogance going awry…? Watching them strut through life like masters of the universe only to step into a bucket of paint or get slapped by a mop or fall off a ladder…? Curiously, the comforting thing about clowns is the way they bounce back, dust the sawdust off their hands, wind up their determination, and do it again.

Monday, July 1, 2013

First Word: Charmaine Pauls: Slapstick

Slap Stick

My mother had a slap stick, but it wasn’t at all funny, not like the slapstick comedy we loved. It was a wooden stick she used to slap us with when we were disobedient. I can’t remember Slap Stick’s name, but is must have been something like ‘Obedience’. The rules were simple – one smack on the palm of your hand for lightweight mischief and a slightly more impressive one on the bottom for any action that disrespected another being or his possessions, or endangered any life.
            Despite Obedience’s reinforced discipline, my brother and I climbed into the apple tree one afternoon while my mother was taking the washing from the line. White sheets reflected starchily in the sun. The cider apples were deceitfully red. Underneath all that tight-pulled peel, smooth as a Botox brow, they were floury bitter.
            A few rotten ones spilled from the branch above. They were browning, the skin wrinkling and sagging around the holes bird beaks had left. The invisible bruises rippled to the core, accumulating into a stinking pulp of raw apple puree.
            “Let’s play war,” I suggested. “The apples are the bombs. Aim for the fence,” I told my younger brother.
            – My first apple grenade hit the newly painted wall and left its mushy brown mark.
            – My brother’s apple hit a sheet.
            – My mother’s voice exploded over the yard, far worse than any bomb.
Either from fright or reflex my brother projected his second round of ammunition, which rocketed through the air and hit a bull’s eye on my mom’s unsuspecting back.
            We were both ordered to the bathroom, Obedience in tow. I was first, being the oldest. My brother had to wait his turn outside. Before Obedience hit its target, I had already started yelling, believing a better show would lighten the blow. From the other end of the door, Andrew said, “It’s my turn now.” 

            He could never stand my screaming.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Trigger


What triggers an organism to divide and replicate itself? Is it hunger, confusion, instinct? Is division involved in the process, or is it more a matter of double instead of halve? Imagine an ugly yellow and green toadstool sitting in the forest. It yearns for love. What can it do? Stick out a stubby stem in hopes of tripping up a passing toadstool?  It could wait for eternity. Worse, the ugly yellow and green toadstool might die out as a species, leaving no one to take over its duty of sitting poised and poisonous in the forest. If the toadstool had a brain– though there’s no assurance that those organisms with brains will outlast those that lack them– it might exercise its mind and devise another way of attracting a girlfriend, or a boyfriend. But wait… that takes us into a nest of social fungi, so it may be best if the toadstool remain neutral, if not neutered.             
            So there sits the toadstool, so agitated in its worry that it begins to shake. ‘Oh, look,’ it says after a moment, ‘I’ve wiggled loose a spore and it’s fallen to the forest floor and – WOW, I’ve replicated!’  Overcome by its own smell, and swollen with pride in having solved such an essential problem, it dies a happy death.
            Like the toadstool, we also need a trigger to drive us out of isolation and into social situations where things happen that eventually lead to the production of replicates. Our triggers mostly live in a cocktail of hormones whose powerful stench attracts one ‘whoever’ to another ‘whatever’ and between the two they call forth three. Sometimes we replicate indiscriminately and unadvisedly. There is no intelligent Eye shining out from a cell that says, ‘what I’m about to do may be dangerous to my health, my infant replicant or the world-at-large’. The consequences are folded into the neighborhood, whether it happens in a dark forest or in a soup kitchen in the city.
            But wait… our trigger is also located in memory. Even in the absence of replication it can jump a generation! Look at solitary Uncle Horace who never replicated anything except bad breath. We’ve all met him, and his three nephews whose halitosis is legendary.  Still, memory is fallible, which is probably why we replicate less as we get older; either we can’t remember how or our spores have all dried up.
            The idea that we might choose, or not, to replicate is a notion we wear like jewellery. In the end, the diamond bracelet or the woolen bobble tied to a cord and worn around the wrist may satisfy for a time, but if they don’t replicate they too might reach a dead end.
            Wait… better to say they might reach a cul-de-sac, a cuddly pocket humming with triggers, an ideal spot for replicating.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Tessa Too-Kong: Stonewalled


I’m stymied! Stonewalled! … to delay or obstruct, says the Oxford English Dictionary (just to make sure), but no suggestions of origin, which is why I wondered if the word derived from the game of Mah Jong… We used to play Mah Jong at home on our parents’ poker table, my sister, my mother and myself, always having to induce my cousin or some hapless friend into being the fourth. It was the ideal game for long, lazy Saturday afternoons, or rainy days, or sultry weekday nights. In a land where television did not yet hold sway, card games were a common form of entertainment and socializing. 
            My mother had her Monday afternoon Rummoli game with the Portuguese ladies in the Ladies Pavilion of the Georgetown Cricket Club, her Tuesday evening Poker “Small—referring to the size of the table stakes—School” where she played with my father, and her Wednesday morning Bridge with the British Embassy ladies, where once my little sister crawled under the table and announced that she hadn’t shaved her legs. My father disappeared on several evenings to the Chinese Chung Wah Club on Camp Street to play Fan Tan or Pai Qo, and my grandparents played Canasta with Grandpa’s longstanding crony every Friday night like clockwork. My grandmother used to raise her eyebrows at us – meaning “Disappear!” – if we got too close. As children, we played Bishka, Whist and Go In The Pack.
            Mah Jong is said to date back to 500 BC and is believed to have been played by Confucius. It’s a game of strategy, about building stone walls, and is as much about defence, blocking other players from making their hands, as about making complicated hands. Dice are thrown to move and select the tiles, small rectangular ivory blocks embossed with delicate Chinese brushwork representing balls, bamboos and characters. There are four players and four rounds, each player representing one of the Four Winds. Each round belongs to a Wind, and each player takes a turn at being the East Wind, or banker, winning or paying double. The tiles are built into a two-tier stone wall eighteen tiles long and locked tightly into a square to “keep the barbarians out.” The dice are rolled to determine which Wind’s wall is to be broken, and where, and the game progresses with tiles being drawn from the wall until it disintegrates. Each player builds up their “armies” with banners for the North, South, East and West Winds as high tiles, along with the rampant White, Red and Green Dragons, and bonus money for high “Flower” tiles. Shuffling and building the stone walls with the tiles was the most tedious part of the play, but a seasoned player could whisk the tiles into place in a few seconds.
            We four players are now scattered to the Four Winds. My cousin lives in Edmonton, my sister near Cadiz, my mother in Georgetown and I, in Santiago, Chile. I am the South Wind.
I taught my son and daughter to play Mah Jong, but we are but three. Stonewalled again.
Tessa Too-Kong

Sunday, May 26, 2013

First Word: Danette Beavers: Top


A spinning top is the perfect metaphor for my life right now. I don’t advance much:  I can run a bit further than I could two months ago, and I have two more poems to my credit; but mostly, I spin. I make beds, wash dishes, sweep the floor, cook meals, sweep meals, cook beds, make the floor … and somehow, wash more dishes. And I do all of this so that my children can advance. I do it until about 10:00 p.m., when I begin to wobble. Then, I fall over into my blessed bed. When morning comes, my children pull my string, and I do it again. All over again.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First Word: Tracy Grant: Top

Top With Troubling Bottom

I like the top of my body better than the bottom.  Such a dilemma
being “two-in-one”.
    When I was a teen, Twiggy was the model-of-the-moment.  Her figure was
one size from her shoulders down.  In my innocence, I thought that was my goal.
Sadly, I never was able to prune myself down to her image unless I imagined the
possibility of cutting myself in half.
        When the short summers of upstate New York arrived, I went shopping
for the season’s two-piece bathing suit.  Since my top was one size and my
bottom another, loose flapping material hung from my shoulders while my
bottom was tightly encased in matching material.
    Once, I purchased a two-piece bathing suit with a perfectly fitted top, but
the bottom didn’t fit at all.  I promised myself that I could get into the bottom if
I exercised enough.  But that bathing suit still languishes in the bottom of the
drawer, taunting me to try again.  I wear the top with cut-off blue jeans as I work
in the garden, far from any blonde, sandy beach.
    I was well past childbearing when department stores began to sell two-
piece suits with separate sizes – one for tops and another for bottoms.  Practical
me, I started to worry about how the merchandise was sorted out at the end of
the season.  Silly me.  I took the plunge and found two designs I admired, held
them up, and fearful of the dressing room mirrors, purchased them.
    They are in the same drawer as the taunting fantasy suit, but they are
on top.  I grab them often, put them on, sneak out in the pitch-dark night and
immerse myself in the hot tub, water up to my neck, alone in the under the
walnut tree’s umbrella branches.  On full moon nights, I wear a one-piece.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Fireworks


Bright, shining comets of crimson, azure and gold soar into the sky, swirling, whistling, crackling. Heads tilt, eyes fixed heavenward at the fiery display and spirits soar until the last booming burst. Then, silence. Darkness. Now what? The euphoria dwindles gradually, like a candle. It must. How tiresome to be in fireworks mode for long.
            A sharp, clear night sky of stars also fills me with awe. At dusk I step outside to consider the expanse above me – infinite, enveloping my world, planet earth, a tiny dot in a universe of galaxies beyond galaxies. The cosmos puts me, my individual self, into perspective. I feel fragile, vulnerable, yet strangely comforted. Is heaven there somewhere? God? My thinking is restricted by my human need for a defining space and time. I ponder but know it’s beyond my comprehension, which is what makes it so wonderful. Overpowering. Does the night sky attract little notice because it is always there? 
            As is the daytime sky. But some do take notice, contemplating the clouds, their changing shapes, colors and movements. At dusk, I’ll call my husband away from his desk to the window to view salmon-hued clouds, arranged like a series of sand dunes. To work my writer’s imagination, I attempt to find words to describe the shapes of clouds, but they resist being labeled, too ethereal to be tied down to a word. Yet, their mere presence challenges. Scarves, fish bones, shreds of chiffon, piles of sheep wool, dinosaur fossils, drifting spirits, a scattering of pebbles.
            Because the sky and space are there, with an unquenchable thirst, we send forth balloons, rockets, satellites, robots, fireworks, plumes of toxins, and, just maybe, prayers.

Friday, May 17, 2013

First Word: Danette Beavers: Thunder

Thunder:  (Thoughts on Language)

Thunder sounds like what it is. I love that in a word.
            Storm sounds like its meaning too. The “S” is full of breath, like the first gale that brings the “T” to split the air. “OR” bangs like a drum and “M” tapers and gentles and signals the end. STORM.
            I love words. I love noticing what they do for us in practical terms, what they do for us aesthetically, and what they used to do for our forebears (the historian in me leaks out).
            Consider the word “that”.  It could be argued (that) it is one of the most boring words in the English language. And I might agree if you’re talking about it as it’s used above—to introduce a clause. In fact, when it’s used in that way, it’s often not used at all; it’s eliminated. But what about “that” as a demonstrative adjective? Imagine a mother who finds her toddler with a sharp object, a bottle of bleach or, say, a condom wrapper. Now there’s a mama who’s gonna say “Give me that!”
            This morning I was thinking about how beautifully Spanish scans. It is intrinsically melodious. And you might say that all the Latin languages are, and I guess that’s true to a degree, except the Portuguese make that “ow” sound, and it puts me in mind of cats. Now, I don’t have anything against cats—I’ve known some pretty cool ones, but cats should speak cat. Humans shouldn’t.
            French is a favorite with me. I had the bad fortune of studying it in high school instead of Spanish (another incident of unknowing bliss bearing itself out in negative consequence) but the French—they put their sounds just back far enough in the mouth to make them sound reserved, like they’re not quite willing to let go—and so that lends a little mystery and may be where the snooty comes from. (I wonder what came first, the snooty or the sound of it?)
            They do it just right, though. The Germans, the Israelis or Arabs, or anyone who speaks as if he’s expectorating is off my pretty list.
            And English? Well, I think “thunder” is pretty, don’t you?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Rosebud

Rosebud lips are a winsome pout, a lowered eye, long lashes and a ‘becoming’ flush – always becoming, as if a woman were at her finest when sinking with bewilderment and confusion, all that dainty pulchritude covering up a mind that stopped, spaniel-like, at “Drrrr…. confused, me.  Vewwy hard, ‘dis 'ting.”   
            The dapper dude in his spats and lavender gloves couldn’t give a toss – all he wants is the engaging outward show. The inside is inside, lost to view.
            Fast-forward to bee-stung: brash and acid-like, vampish with black kohl smeared round her eyes for that fashionable hung-over look, and cornstarch for her green-faced, “late-night, wasn’t it?” pallor.  She might not have it all, but she’s gonna play it like she does – snapping gum and garters and that bold black eye doesn’t quiver for nobody.
           Francis Scott Fitzgerald adored women like these.  He immortalized them in carmine and lights as the brave new wave, but in a fit of enthusiasm he married one, and then his lavender gloves came out.  A man is what he was made and he was made too early for one like her.  The snap and spunk were treated to gaslights turned low, and an asylum when she didn’t bow, until the blush and confusion rose and held her, trapped in a cage of rosebuds.

Monday, May 13, 2013

First Word: Tessa Too-Kong: Rosebud


My granddaughter (Mi Mi, she calls herself) has a rosebud mouth. It was the first thing I noticed when I held her in my arms for the first time, four months after her birth. She yawned and closed her lips into a rosy bow of satisfaction and I was lost… 
            Rosebud was part of our elocution lessons – we had to pucker our lips and say the words, “petite pomme, petite pomme, petite pomme” in ladylike fashion, and then widen our mouths to say “petit poire” to demonstrate the vulgarity of displaying one’s tonsils (I had yet to come across Spanish). Being groomed in the social graces was all about performance: deportment  – gliding with a stack of books on your head, holding your shoulders down and tucking in your pelvis, stepping with the balls of your feet and not on your heels; speech – petite pommes only, mellow tones, listen, steer the conversational track, incorporate stragglers … Only then, apparently when you knew all the rules could you break them. 
            All the public school boys I know pretend a social boorishness born of privilege. My first English boyfriend – a Winchester man who had shunned Oxford and Cambridge for hotbed LSE (much to establishment horror) flung down a triangular milk carton on the refectory table across from me, straddled his chair with dusty bikers’ boots and proceeded to gulp down what was obviously his breakfast in one fell swoop. It was the equivalent of the strutting peacock displaying his wares and I recoiled in distaste at the petit poire performance. Later, he told me I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen (that was a long time ago!) and I began to have an inkling of the workings of the male psyche. No rosebuds there.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Rosebud


Nip it in the bud.  Yes.  But what should be crushed before it begins? A love affair? The temptation to shoulder your backpack and simply take off? The urge to go on a binge to soothe a broken heart? The desire to steal another woman’s husband, or that package of imported Colombian coffee at the Jumbo, or that lovely mauve sweater hanging on the bargain rack, or a peak at the code the old man in front of you uncertainly punches into the cash machine, or passing that $10,000 peso bill with the torn corner on to your empleada?  Small sins—and not so small.  Temptations that are usually, but not always, nipped in the bud. 
            I wonder, though, if our human condition isn’t somehow enhanced when we realize what we are capable of.  Confronted with our sins, our shortcomings, our shadows, don’t we learn humility? Don’t we learn that we are both Seraphim and Lucifer? Is sinning, then, really the road to redemption?
            I should definitely NOT be an ethicist. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

First Word: Charmaine Pauls: Rosebud


The rosebud in our garden is a fat pinky finger–leaves condensed, color concentrated. It unfolds, like a baby would unroll his fist. I don’t have green fingers and never pay much attention to that hidden alcove out front, but this flower catches my attention because of its color. It’s unusual for a rose and it’s my favorite. The deep violet turns, petal by uncurling petal, into a blushing lilac. It grows alone, far away from the yellow roses that stand under the spotlight by the door.
            As I follow its blooming progress, I wonder why the owner decided to plant it exactly there. Was it too rare to mix with the ordinary whites, too exquisite to push from the soil of the middle-class ferns? Or would the ordinary Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow have rejected it with a jealous envy, hurting its rosebud feelings?
            The purple rose stands alone in her glory, attracting admiring glances from titled sunflower heads and gossipy whispers from the coral tree’s green-eyed leaves. When her time is done, she drops her petals, browning around the edges like burnt paper, and once more becomes an ordinary rose bush, strangely hidden in an alcove of a garden that is not my own.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First Word: Danette Beavers: Rosebud

Sewing Seeds

The Rosebud was a little red shack of a bar on the outskirts of town, and Estelle was the owner and bartender. Her honky-tonk was just like the rest:  tear in the beer, an occasional fight, sawdust on the floor, dim light, pool table and juke box, so-n-so cheating on so-n-another.  Estelle had regulars, of course, and she got on with most of them fairly well, but she was sweet on Bobby, and every Wednesday through Sunday, at about 5 o’clock, she caught herself glancing out the window, looking for the dust billow in the parking lot that would announce his Ford pick-up. Estelle didn’t think Bobby had a problem, just a really nasty wife-- and kids who didn’t pay him any attention.  

One evening, like so many others, they were the only two in the Rosebud. 
            “Estelle,” he said, “I bet you I can kick the ceiling of this place.”
            “The ceiling’s low, but it ain’t that low. And let’s face it, Bobby; your legs ain’t that long neither.”
            “Are you calling me short, Estelle?”
            “Naw. I’m just saying I don’t think you can do it.”
            “Free beer says I can.”
            “You’re on,” she said.
Bobby slid off his stool, squatted low, and then, like someone had lit firecrackers in his boots, his legs flew out in front of him. The tip of his right boot made a white mark in the nicotine stained ceiling.

            “Ha!” Bobby said. “And you thought I couldn’t.”
            “Aw, Bob,” said Estelle. “I never doubted you a minute.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Fireworks


Surveyed from a distance, life is a series of fireworks, beginning with the pop or wow that brings each of us into the world. Tiny explosions persist during childhood – from colic to scarred knees, sneezes to bruises – but the real wallop comes with puberty as a gazillion hormones set off an unholy riot in homes and heaven. Whoosh! and there’s a splatter of blemishes, a rainbow of odors, a sky full of racing hearts, and we’re airborne or living on the street. ‘Makeup!’ we yell as the rash spreads to our loins but before the groans have settled into a known pattern we’re stricken with love and then everything blows up and we rocket about like bowling pins in the wake of a volcanic eruption

            In pursuit of the stars, for each one fizzles out – always too soon – we descend to earth in a balloon, if we’re lucky.  More often we’re brought down by a bolt of lightning bearing news of a pregnancy then oooh! Tails on fire, we tear about in a flutter of ignorance as life hurls us into the stratosphere where sleep is as rare as cruise control. Now comes a series of yelps, and cries of, not again! and time becomes a blur of fading noises then we turn forty and wonder when and how it happened.
            If we discover a measure of control or balance – which we all think we need but can seldom grasp – it’s more likely to come when it’s too late to be useful. Occasionally we spot the fireworks, watch them burst and sizzle in other people’s lives. But they never end, they never stop going off when we least expect, under lily pads, beside the boiler, above the sink. They carry the universe along, and us with them: tiny whirling bodies left over from the original Big Bang glowing red, green, red, green, leaving us wondering if we’re coming or going.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Leather

Hang it high.  And dry.

My Uncle Sandy spent his life on the water.  His leather skin was tough, baked deep by the water sun, dug deep by a lifetime's worth of voyages.  Out there, and back again, were written on his face.  For me, back here, where he started, writing even these few words about him turns my mind to wondering how, and why he did all of the things he did-
            I stop.  And hold. I don't want to disturb the fresh, fragile skin of my own equanimity, the perilous balance that I've bought and held through days now - my skin is new, and finely stretched.  It hold no elasticity as yet, knows no capacity for absorption and recoil, runs thin as a sheen of water on a glass, a skin of plastic wrap across a cup of tea - put it in the microwave if you must, and threaten it, but do not heat -
It may explode.  Like a baby it needs nursing, tender words - All births hurt.

            Sandy spent a lifetime on the ocean learning to wear himself.  Give me a week or two, a month, to grow calluses, dig grooves that will stretch and bend -

A sailor went to sea - sea - sea
And there he carried me.
In a sack made of leather strung with feathers and shells

All hanging down his back in a rattle and a clatter
Tangled up with the sound of the little silver bells
That he wore in his hair
Down his stiff and tarry neck
And the cats that came twining all around his horny feet
Did call and protest at every rattling step -
How they purred when he buttered, how they wailed when he'd call
What a clinging clanging jingling jangling howling caterwaul!

Monday, April 29, 2013

First Word: Charmaine Pauls: Leather


Leather and studs. Abs to die for under a stretch T-shirt and metal-pointed boots. The smell of his tousled jacket and the creaking sound it made under the strain of his sculptured arms when he leaned over the bar for his tequila takes me back to 1990.
            Fresh from university, trying to appear worldly with an imitation suede jacket, I walk to that shady bar – the one I know I shouldn’t enter – and see him – the one I shouldn’t notice. Long leather-clad legs swing from his Harley as his black eyes dart from my pink top to my Lady Di shoes. The dare is there in his gaze, but my fluttering heart skips away and my synthetic jacket fails me. The sound of his voice becomes some alternative band whose name I can’t remember. The smell of the smoky interior of a forbidden club becomes him. And just like that, despite everything my mother has always told me, I become addicted to leather.

            He’s a bad boy. I don’t need my mother to know that good girls don’t end up with the bad guys. They watch them from over their non-alcoholic cocktails, second-hand umbrellas twisting between their fingers as if they wished it to be fate. They eat their recycled cherries, spectators on the sideline, and go back to wearing responsible, fake leather.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

First Word: Tessa Too-Kong: Charade


I never knew what the word “charade” meant, only that it was a game for grownups, played after dinner, with brandy and cigars. It was a word that sounded so terribly sophisticated and intellectual to a shy little girl who baulked at the idea of standing up in front of strangers making a fool of herself. No, we had to be perfect, look perfect and perform perfectly before we were let loose. Some people enjoy being ridiculous to entertain the crowd so I wonder if their mothers  thrust them to the forefront, telling them how wonderful they were. 
            My three-year-old granddaughter has no inhibitions and is nothing like her mother or grandmother. She mimics the teacher and shepherds the other children, showing them how it is to be done. So, the eternal question, are we born to it, or are we the product of our mothers (lack of) (ambitions)? 
            […Oh, Billy Collins, this is not inspired, and not even a cigarette would help… this is not words flowing like a train track of glorious lines or a scroll of TV credits, it’s a meandering around my brain smashing into its toilet stalls one by one and finding them filled only with crap…! (Sorry, Writers!)] 
            Charades came into my life like a soap opera, and yes, it looked perfect, and behaved perfectly, but it was all a lie and I was the audience. Whoever said you mustn’t look back ignores the perspective of hindsight and all it has to teach you… about the meaning of charade: false, like facade, the iron mask that hid a whole other life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Charade


He donned a simple white cassock. No red shoes, just his scruffy black oxfords he wore to his office in Buenos Aires.  He asked the crowd to bless him first. He took the name ‘Francis’, after the great saint from Assisi, who called the church back to the original simplicity of its Founder. He didn’t mind being called “Papa Pancho.” On Holy Thursday he went to a local detention center and washed the feet of twelve young prisoners—two women, one Moslem, among them. On Easter Sunday, he shunned his popemovil and plunged into the streets, kissing babies, hugging children.  Was it all a charade?
            We don’t know yet.  There is such a longing for a holy man, a father figure to give us direction, to call our best sides forth, to discipline the leaders, to start anew.
            My friend from Argentina claims all this is pure marketing. Bergoglioli always wanted to be Pope. And now he is. Papa Pancho will be the best show in town until the tinsel fades.  Elena laughs. “It’s true he’s humble.  He took the name Francis. If he were a real Argentine, he would have taken the name Jesus-the-Second.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Broadside: Danette Beavers: Color Blind

Dear Santiago Writers,

Many of you know that I am only able to squeak one hour per day of writing time out of my Mon-Fri madness. Well, today I was granted three whole hours (a trip to bounty). Then my husband phoned.
            "Will you be going to the market this morning?" he asked.
            "Hadn't planned to," I said.
            "Well, Max needs an orange t-shirt for school, and the one he's wearing is red."
            "It's ORANGE."
            "It looks red to me," said my husband.
            "Right. I'll do the best I can."
            "Because, you know, it looks really red," he said.
            "Right. I'll do the best I can."
Then I hung up the phone. And what I said when the line went dead wasn’t very literary.
Write, ladies. Write like it’s saving your life. (If you’re anything like I am, it is.)

With lots of carin-yo,


Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Mask


Masking tape holds things together, or protects the edges of windows or skirting boards from paint splashes. When I travel, I wrap it around the lids of tubes to prevent their contents from seeping into my cosmetic bag. In an emergency, I’ve used it to tape up a loose hem. But what is masking tape masking? I’ve come to a dead end, asked a question that has no answer.
            A real mask, not the tape, hides our features.  Even better, it transforms our appearance. In the Phantom of the Opera, many guests at the masquerade disguise themselves as the Phantom, unaware that they’re setting the perfect scene in which the real phantom might move around undetected. 
            What about the ‘naked truth’? Is that what’s behind the mask? To get to it, must we strip away all pretense just as we’d remove makeup, wigs or balaclavas? There’s more to it than that.  There’s no end to the ways in which we hide behind the superficial, from pink hairdos to capped teeth to Rolex watches to language that says we’re cool, sexy or wealthy – or no language at all.  Silence can be an effective mask. And laughter! Below the surface stories we are spinning, we may really planning dinner or designing a bomb or surveying the room for the nearest exit. Appearance serves us all, for no matter how inept we are at keeping our masks intact, someone will be fooled, or not fooled, by our apparent indifference or concern. And guess what?  Half the time we fool ourselves along with everyone else.
            People suffering from mild depression are sometimes advised to ‘fake it ‘til they make it’. Get up in the morning, eat, go out with friends, pretend to smile, day after day until the habit brings a change in attitude and eventually in outlook. It sounds horrendous, yet in ‘taking us out of ourselves’ some part of us is altered.  This may be related to the placebo effect, seen when doctors administer sterile water, for instance, instead of a potent medicine and, believing he’s been given the latter, the patient recovers.
            Mind over matter.  That’s what’s behind the mask: the mind, the joker in the control room who shoots up stars and confetti while you’re sleeping or sends you fantasy futures and free tickets to the circus; the one that says you can do anything you want, that you’re the one with the red button, the one that has a hand on the future. He comes in many guises and speaks in many tones, one day soft and flattering, another day cajoling or rah-rah-rah-ing. He looks out from your eyes when you stand in front of a mirror trying on 6”heels or swathes of lace, tells you how fabulous you look, says ‘hold your breath a minute, there: you can get into a size 4’, then he draws your attention to a rack of leather skirts or silk ties and urges, ‘try them on’.  And just when you think he’s right you look at the price tag and come down to earth. 
            There’s no escaping it; you’ve been unmasked. You really are the real you, not a tricked up shiny version of a person wearing your features, so you laugh and pat yourself on the back for having seen through the old sinner and his wicked ways.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Pamela Yorston: Anvil

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when an anvil is introduced in the first scene of a cartoon, it must be dropped on the head of the cat by the third act, and preferably in the first and second acts as well, or the audience will feel cheated.    
            When I was a child, cartoons characters were not those round-eyed, androgynous figures whose legs sprout wheels, or who turn into rockets, which children seem to enjoy so much nowadays.  In my day they were jolly little figures, cute and amusing, and they moved like cartoons are supposed to.  There were one-legged pirates and spinach-eating sailors, or irritating canaries and ducks with nephews, and the anvil was the weapon of choice for most of them. 
            But one of the more popular cartoon casts in my day consisted of a smug, smarty-pants mouse, an elastic cat, (who could be squashed down as flat a razor blade and bounce right back, with one vigorous shake of his head), and a bad tempered bull-dog who spent his time snoozing in his kennel.  The goal of the cat was to eat the mouse and the goal of the mouse was to batter the cat, either by doing it himself, or by getting him into trouble with the dog.
            I loved the cartoons but was unhappy with all these slap-stick, anvil-wielding antics.  Of course the cat must not be allowed to swallow the mouse, but why couldn’t they just be friends?  That was before I understood about plot. 
            The anvil is such an unlikely choice.  Impossible for the mouse to handle.  Impossible for him to push off a table onto the cat’s head.  Impossible for him to it shoot across the smooth floor, like a bowling ball, straight into the sleeping cat’s mouth.  Impossible for it to go straight through the hollow cat, giving him an anvil-shaped tail.  Impossible, impossible, altogether impossible.  I hadn’t yet learned to suspend disbelief or to understand the importance of tension. 
            Being a middle child, I identified so much with the cat, even though the stories were clearly told from the point of view of the mouse.  The dog was a secondary character, off stage sleeping for much of the time, like my elder bother.  And the mouse… well, he even looked like my little sister.  However impossible, cartoons were really true to life.
            I use the same mechanisms in the book I’m working on.  Just when things are going the hero’s way, along comes fate with an anvil, and tosses into the works.  Even more effective than a spanner for moving the story forward.

Monday, April 8, 2013

First Word: Tessa Too-Kong: Rum

Guyana rum – El Dorado – is the best in the world. Naturally. In truth, it has won an international reputation and gold medals in the last hundred-odd years. According to a friend in diplomatic circles in the Caribbean, it is the rum that everyone goes for, at cocktail parties at which there is usually a whole selection of Caribbean rums from which to choose.
            Drinking rum is not to be taken lightly. There is two-year-old rum that seasoned drinkers carry in their back pockets in a “flattie” for the random swig  and which is used for cooking, 5-year-old for mixing with soda or coconut water, 12-year-old on the rocks, and 15-year-old, reverently, like a good cognac, after a satisfying meal. The proper respect is required. I always apologise to the Maker when I have to use a dash in my cooking. Rum goes into most dishes in Caribbean cooking – it’s the secret ingredient no one admits to. It’s good with chicken and ginger, in lemonade (called swank), on ribs for barbecuing, in chocolate mousse to be wicked … there’s always an excuse. The rum-making area in Guyana is around Diamond Estate on the Demerara river. You could tell what stage of the process they are at by the aroma as you drove by. The worst phase is the molasses fermenting when the air is thick with innocuous, sweetish fumes. They say the better the water, the sweeter the rum – like everything else, you get what you put into it. The bees know that. My father used to say that the worker bees get to go out in the early morning and drink nectar from the flowers. All the drones have to do is fertilize the Queen Bee’s eggs. He used to like the odd shot of rum or Bailey’s in the evening. Rum with condensed milk is called a white lady. Ambrosia for worker bees.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Thursday

The Traffic Meets its Regular Thursday, and Cannot See.

I become bubbles on Thursday afternoons; I put my foot through the door, it goes sliding and roll out in a stream of great and shining soap bubbles.  Big enough that cars would fit inside, if they were small cars - a cloud of iridescent rainbow bubbles bouncing along Isidora Goyenechea, filling up the street and causing terrible traffic snarls in front of the Hotel W, and we - I - all of me, bouncing up and out across the Plaza Peru, celestial pin-balls careering out of order and I - me - shimmering, delightful in our chortles, watching all the snarl. 
            We play more than fair. Chilean traffic, with its color blindness, its red is green and traffic-lights-are-staging-posts, all those blind turns at speed from inside lands, and all of its pedestrian-who?-Oh-was-that-you?  has finally met its comeuppance.  All at once.  Bubbles are worser drivers: anarchic and with no front end.  You cannot tell which way we might - or might not - go, and when we choke the street, piling on top of ourselves, shimmering hugely, pin-wheeling off of stopped cars, you can hear the gears gnash and snap, and engines growling, mired -              
            We laugh merrily, colors slip and twist as we go rolling over, on and up, all elastic recoil and perfect (because we are)conservation of energy - emotional and kinetic both, they barter, bouncing back and forth, and always higher, glittering in the sun, bouncing from building to building and always up- a rainbow frothing skywards, an iridescent soapy dragonfly BOILING of happiness -              
            All you drivers, sitting in your cars, cooking in the heat and looking out and around and stewing- come out and look UP at me - at us - at all of it, where  I - we are - and am, dancing above you in the sun.  Step out of your cars, let loose your arms, let out the snarls and draw the colors of the city in, and laugh-