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-