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Sally Sparrow December 14, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises, Poetry.
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Writing prompt: ‘s’ … and alliteration with at least 2 other letters. (ie write your story with as many words beginning with ‘s’ as possible.)

This was an interesting writing prompt, and I didn’t find it really lent itself to the flow of a more ‘normal’ story, so I went with just playing with the alliteration. I’m not sure I’m happy with how it ended, but the last six lines took 4 hours because of all the interruptions, and writing never flows without concentrated efforts. It’ll have to do for now, though. All up, it was fun to play with – thanks Jane!


Sally Sparrow sipped a tiny teaspoon’s worth of wonderful water from the beautiful birdbath in Billy Baxter’s backyard.

Sunshine skimmed through towering trees and wondrous, wavering notes thrilled from the throats of three thrushes nearby.

Such a sensational, seasonally-perfect summer’s day in Sally Sparrow’s psyche.

Just as Sal jumped from jacaranda to japonica, the thrilling thrush sounds sensationalised into shrilling shrieks.

Sally squeaked a sharp screech and hid herself hastily, making the most of the mass plantings providing particularly perfect protection.

What wicked wandering wildcat would intrude, illicit and invasive, to haul havoc into this heavenliness?

Sally studied the scenery, sighting a dutiful dog dozing devoid of all dignity, brazen on its back beside the back door.

A child chortled cheerfully, chucking fistfuls of flowers forth at its friends, for their amusement, approval and abundance.

Giving the garden a God-fearing glare, Sally swooped skywards to tremble in the treetops with her troops.

Three thorough thrushes nestled nervously nearby, too terrified to tell over the odious occurrence which had wasted their winsome warbling.

As amity again affected the garden, garrulous gossiping grew gradually, but Sally stayed sensitive to surrounding sights and sounds.

At last she located the exact evacuation evocation explanation: a horrible hawk high on his eagle-eyed aerie.

“The babies! The babies! The babies!” she cried, calling a cacophony credible and clear, babbling boldly from bird to bird.

The message made meaning to apt avians: alert to protect their precious progeny, they waged wild winged warfare, furiously fighting their foe.

Sally Sparrow, too small to significantly succeed at the scene, cheered the challenging champions, her chums.

Their assault was astonishing, amazing, audacious! Horrified hawk heaved his haughtiness high, away and aloft to another, less attentive assault.

Sensationally sabotaging sly slaughterer’s strategy, returned regiment rested, watered well and weighted by whopping-great worms.

Blessed bounty of Billy Baxter’s backyard settled subsequently still, soothed in societal singsong started by Sally the Sparrow.

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Casting the Spell November 2, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt: Write about casting a spell.

 

Nanny hadn’t been retired very long when I went to live with her. To be honest, I don’t really think she wanted to resume parenting at the age of 61, but both my parents were dead, and the alternative, as far as Child Services were concerned, was a family on my mum’s side of the family who lived up at Nyngan on a property, and Nanny wasn’t at all sure what they grew there. All she really wanted to do was play in her garden and grow proper plants, but as she always told me, “blood is thicker than water.”

I’m told that I was with a foster family for a couple of weeks, but I don’t remember much about that. I just remember walking off a plane holding the hand of a big woman who smelled of stale cigarettes, and into a large echo-y room that was the lounge area of our local airport. It’s long been refurbished, but the way I remember it, it was huge and terrifying.

The big woman handed me over to a kinder looking woman with grubby jeans and paint splattered shoes who smelled of freshly turned earth and gardenias, and I drove home with her to a weatherboard cottage with a brilliantly blooming garden. It was spring in the garden, and I moved from a season of winter loneliness in my heart, to one of life and vitality, freshness and sunshine.

Nanny kept me home with her for those first months. I dug in the garden with her, and climbed trees and had afternoon tea with her friends. She wasn’t much of a cook, she said, but I remember sitting down every afternoon on the verandah with a cup of ‘tea’ and either a biscuit or a piece of slice or cake that Nanny and I had made, and we’d talk. I would tell her about the things I’d seen, and she would tell me … oh, all sorts of things. I heard about my daddy when he was a little boy, or what brave reporters he and my mummy were, going into war-torn countries like they did. I heard about Pappy and how he used to have grand ideas for the garden, and sometimes I heard about when she used to go to work.

Perhaps I was hard to impress as a small child, but it only dawned on me in my mid-teens, that my Nanny had led a very adventurous life. As an archaeologist, she’d spent months in exotic locations at digs, years writing papers and giving lectures, and then, as she began to feel her age and Pappy (who was much older than her) died, she took on lecturing at one of the universities. She had published a number of books, yet somehow managed to remain quite unfazed by her own remarkableness.

What seemed to stump Nanny, however, was my education. When I started at kindergarten, it quickly became clear that school and I did not get on. I was always getting into trouble for fidgeting in class, or ducking outside to run around the building a couple of times, or talking when the teacher was talking or had commanded quiet.

“You could educate him at home, you know,” a friend of Nanny’s told her as they sat on the verandah. They didn’t think I was listening, but I was digging in the dirt, and my ears were burning hot with the tales of woe I was hearing about myself.

“Oh, I doubt they let you do that, these days,” Nanny told Gail. “They’ve got the whole system sorted; there’s no room for renegades.”

“No, my niece is teaching her kids,” Gail told Nanny. “She assures me that the government know about it, and so long as you can show that the child is progressing, it’s all fine.”

I didn’t go to school on Monday, and Nanny spent a lot of time on the phone. The next day, she sat me down at the kitchen table, and started teaching me herself. I’d like to say that it was all fine from then on, but it really wasn’t. Nanny was used to teaching university students, and I didn’t like to sit still. Most days, she’d get fed up and send me outside to play, and then after a while, she’d come out and start digging in the garden too.

One afternoon – I was about eight, I think – I came in from playing with the boys down the road after their school had finished, and Nanny was sitting at the kitchen table playing with an odd, rubbery, spiky ball.

“What’s that?” I asked, sitting down with her. It looked interesting.

“It’s called a koosh ball,” she said, looking me directly in the eyes. “You know James, I think I owe you an apology.”

“You do?” Nanny was very sweet and kind, even though she got mad at me a lot about my education.

She nodded. “I’ve been puzzling about how to help you engage with your studies,” she said. “Today, I remembered a seminar that I went to some years ago.”

“What’s a seminar?”

“It’s like a class for adults,” Nanny said. “You go to learn about things that will help you do your job better. There was a woman speaking at the seminar I went to, who had been an educator for many, many years.”

“Really?” I was puzzled that someone would want to try to educate kids for a very long time. None of the kids I knew liked learning any better than I did.

“Yes, and she was very wise. She talked about how everyone learns differently. People all take in information in their own unique way, but there are three main ways: seeing, hearing and doing.”

I stared at Nanny, who was still playing with that funny ball. “What’s that got to do with the koosh thing?” I asked.

Nanny smiled. “James, I’d like to tell you a story,” she said. “I want you to play with the koosh ball while I talk. You might feel like it’s annoying – if that’s the case, just put it down and keep listening. If you feel like playing with the ball isn’t annoying you or helping you, put it down when you realise that. If playing with the ball helps you listen, keep playing with it.”

“Okay,” I nodded, and took the ball from her when she held it out. It was rubbery and soft, and it felt interesting while she told me about a dig she’d been on in South America, and how she’d felt when she began to unearth metal implements that weren’t made out of any sort of metal that modern-day metallurgists know how to make. When she finished the story, I was still playing with the ball and although I was quite oblivious to it in that moment, the spell was cast.

She began to ask me questions about what she’d just told me, and I kept playing with the ball while we talked. Finally she said, “James, I’m really sorry. You’re what’s known as a kinesthetic learner, and I’ve been trying to make you learn as if you were an auditory or a visual learner.”

“Okay,” I said. I was eight, and I didn’t really know what she was talking about. All I knew was that in the wake of that, I did a lot of origami while Nanny talked, or I built things or drew things, and somewhere along the way, I became curious and began to entirely relish our discoveries and adventures together.

In about half an hour from now, my own son will get home from school, and I am preparing myself to have a conversation with him while he plays with a koosh ball.

After the Christmas holidays, my wife and I will job-share a role as engineers with our employer, and we will also share the home education of our son. It’s funny, but sitting here at our kitchen table, I have no doubt that as we share with Toby and enjoy him, we will capture his imagination, just as my Nanny did with me, helping me to love learning and figure out how to turn my passions into practicalities and still enjoy them.

Nanny died about ten months ago, and one of the things she specifically left me in her will was the koosh ball. She was indeed a remarkable, insightful woman.

Call Me Names October 12, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing Prompt: “Names”

 

Names? Oh, I could call you some names, let me tell you! None of them would be polite enough for mixed company, though, so I’ll maintain at least some sense of dignity and restrain myself. You might not think I’m quite up to your standard, but thankfully Your Standard isn’t the one I’m striving for.

Now your attitudes – well for them, I have names. Supercillious. Pompous. Patronising. Condescending. Oh, there are others too, but for the sake of dignity again, I won’t utter those. They would most likely cross the line between reaction against how you are and instead attack who you are. That wouldn’t be right. To my mind, there is a big difference between how a person is and who they are.

Which brings us to the real issue here, doesn’t it? What a person likes. You don’t like that I don’t like the same things you do. If you find a similarity, you praise me because I’m ‘growing’. What you mean is, that I’m becoming more like you. Not something I have as a personal goal, I’m afraid. In all those myriad areas where we are disparate, you condemn me for being wicked and wrong. In fact, I am only different. From you.

To my mind, who a person is speaks of their core being – their beliefs, their morals, their conscience. How a person is, though, is the external working of those internals. Sometimes the conveyance of our inner workings reveals truth and justice, and sometimes it reveals our confusion or presumption about life. What a person likes, however, is just personal taste – nothing more, nothing less. That side of me is no more your business than that side of you is any of mine.

‘Respect.’ Now there’s a word I like. The dictionary defines it as: esteem for, or a sense of, the worth or excellence of a person. That accurately names the attitude I think every human being longs to receive from another. The same attitude that every human kicks against the lack of. We all want our inner worth or excellence to be recognised and esteemed, and we are unfailingly hurt or angry when it is not.

All this pondering has become oppressive to me – moreso, the more I ruminate. Recognising that you really don’t have any respect for what I like or how I am, let alone who I am – well, that’s just made me angry all over again. I don’t want to be angry with you. I have considered you my friend. I have loved you – recognised our differences and rejoiced at the patchwork of diversity that weaves itself together somehow to make life into a rich and beautiful place.

I don’t like the taste of this thing, you know. It’s bitter, and I don’t want that on the inside of me.

There is a Sanctuary – a place I go when I am hurt and despised – and in that place, miracles do happen. They aren’t instant, because there are no quick fixes in life, but they do happen. In this place, this Sanctuary, I can spread my anguish, my disappointment, my devastation out to be examined. As I expose my grief, there is a flood of empathy. I am no longer alone. I am surrounded by love, acceptance and forgiveness that is powerful and real.

When I emerge, nothing is changed between you and me, but my pain has somewhat subsided. Who I am is intact and affirmed. How I am, I’m sure, will continue to bumble along, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish. What I like and what I don’t like will continue to displease many others, probably most of all you. Because I do not aspire to become like you. It wouldn’t be healthy if I did. And thereby hangs a tale.

If the name you ascribe to yourself is ‘Perfect’, then you and I will not stay friends. I am not perfect, and I know that this side of Kingdom Come at least, I won’t be. The name I choose to ascribe to myself is ‘Maturing’. Better today than I was yesterday. More tomorrow than I am today.

A friendship cannot survive if one person assumes superiority over another. The one I call my Friend is one who loves me and is at peace with who I am. Whether that is you or not is a choice only you can make. I will happily wear the name Friend for you, if you can accept me as I am. If you can’t, I will love you still, but only from a distance.

A Judgement Call September 19, 2009

Posted by Anna in Poetry.
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I came across a man* today
With whom I am acquainted,
And as we spoke of common things
The atmosphere was tainted.

The pleasantries were quickly done;
We talked more personal,
Yet as I listened for response
I felt quite criminal.

Our conversation was about
The pitfalls of the journey;
The treachery along this route
Of whom so few are worthy**.

His words did not betray his heart
Nor yet was it his silence,
Yet judgement oozed from every pore
And censure was his parlance.

Does he know more than me? I thought
When able to escape.
Perhaps he does, I must admit,
But we are not his shape.

This path we walk is ours alone,
With companions on the way.
Some help, some harm, some radiate
Turning night time into day.

The friends I treasure most are these:
The ones who respect my call**.
They love their call and honour mine:
Together we give all.

These friends allow me most of all
To be honest, real and human.
They stand beside me, hold me strong:
We are each other’s crewmen.

Those who won’t permit the smallest hint
Of human frailty,
Omit themselves from warm inclusion
Great fun and loyalty.

Please understand my dearest ones
The path might seem to be wide,
But when you sit in pious judgement
You create your own divide.

 

* “a man” is a generic term and does not apply to anyone specifically
** “the call” and “for whom so few are worthy” is about parenting parenting – not one of us would be picked on merit at the start, none of us do it like another, and our efforts can take a lifetime or more to be proven one way or another.