The Time to Write is Now

On Fridays I work a half-day at home, and every other Friday afternoon, I see my therapist. That Friday seemed like any other. I sat at my desk, sipped coffee, read student assignments, and provided written feedback using Word’s “comment” feature. I gazed intermittently at the grey skey outside the window. Taking a break between students, I checked “The Time is Now” for a writing prompt. Part of the Poets & Writers website, “The Time is Now” offers free weekly prompts for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. I felt like writing something other than “you have a modifier problem in this sentence” or “a transition between these paragraphs will create a sense of flow.” That morning, the poetry prompt I read was this:

I clicked the hyperlink to read Kien Lam’s poem (I invite you to read it here). Then without thinking too much, I opened a fresh Word document and started to type couplets. The apocryphal story of your birth incorporating a fantastical tone. This is what I wrote:

Hallowe’en Baby

Like everyone, I come from a mother.
I curled in a womb until the time of my

birth, when the veil between worlds,
like a fully ripened cervix, was thinnest.

A beldam from the other side
invaded the plexiglass cage where I

lay on my belly, helpless, hours old.
That witch, she pulled me from my

crib into the stars, shrieking with
laughter as my limbs contracted in fear. 

She claimed to be my true 
Mother, but her touch was icy 

and her tits were cold and milkless. 
I hung from her broom until

November first, when a meteor 
carried me, feverish, back to my crib. 

I recovered there, alone, sucking my 
thumb for comfort. Nobody knew.

From that time, grief has grown thick 
as a callous to shield me from assailants:

For example, my Mother might try to 
pierce me again from the other side.

I didn’t toy with the poem too much—this is pretty much as it first flowed. At 1:00 p.m., my half-day of work over, I gathered my things, including the poem, which I’d printed out, and drove to my therapist’s office. I read the poem to her. I realized as I read it that it wasn’t just the prompt and Lam’s poem that had pushed the words out—it was remembering the story my mother had told me: I’d spent my first days of life separated from my parents, lying tummy down in a crib in the hospital nursery. My mother had a fever, and they put me in isolation to “protect me.” My father was at home caring for my two older sisters. I wasn’t held in my parents’ arms for days; I didn’t hear their familiar voices that I’d heard daily in utero. I lay there alone, not knowing when somebody would come to me. A connection was broken. That was 1958; I hope this separation between baby and parent wouldn’t happen today.

Writing the poem and reading it to Nancy felt like rupturing the dam holding back feeling and understanding. A river of sadness and comprehension washed over me. Pieces fell into place. My therapist’s contribution was to help me see the link between the absence of my parents’ touch and their voices in early infancy and my difficulty trusting connection in relationships. 

For a day or two, I felt high with the transformative knowledge. It explained so much. Writing that poem had planted a seed, so I decided to change my writing practice in 2023. My memoir (Sow’s Ear), novel (Geraldine), and book of linked short stories (Deedee and Stan: Domestic Stories) languish in folders on my desktop. I don’t want to continue to stew about “getting published” in 2023, to desultorily send my work out to indie publishers. I want to write. The time is now. So, I signed up to receive weekly writing prompts, and my aspiration is to use the prompts to write, if not weekly, then often, sometimes writing poems and other times fiction and non-fiction. 

I want to focus on the practice of writing: an embodied practice, a way of touching into deep feelings, into life’s mystery. My experience of writing “Hallowe’en Baby” was profoundly moving. I don’t expect all of my writing next year to be equally therapeutic, of course. However, I believe many revelations will emerge from writing this way. 

I’ve started on this week’s poetry prompt, following the Seamus Heaney poem, “Postscript”: “think back to a natural landscape that has made a lasting impression on you and write a poem addressed to a loved one that describes this unique terrain’s lasting beauty.” I realized, with sadness, that I’ve spent most of my life indoors. I can’t remember many natural landscapes that have made a “lasting impression.” Perhaps two or three. So, that’s quite a discovery! And it makes me want to get outside to observe the trees and the ocean, to feel the wind and sun, to watch the sky. It makes me want to go different places, to travel, to soak up the transient beauty of this world.

Saxe Point, Esquimalt, British Columbia

No candy here, but you are loved

On Hallowe’en, after eating Michael’s amazing lamb curry, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood. Dusk, and the veil between the worlds was growing thin. We saw some spectacular sights: skeletons rattling from tree branches, dozens of glowing jack-o-lanterns, front-lawn cemeteries, and even fog machines blowing eerie mists over cardboard gravestones. We saw a few costumed kids, as well, and were reminded that we had no candy in our house.

On our return home, we closed the living room blinds and turned out the porch light. My husband printed a sign and taped it to the front door so there would be no confusion: “Sorry, there is  no candy available here. Please be safe and enjoy your Hallowe’en.” We are out of the habit of distributing candy to trick-or-treaters not only because our children have grown to be men, but because we rarely eat white sugar anymore.  My body suffers when I eat sweets—I experience an immediate high then a crash with aching joints and deep fatigue. So doling out mini Snickers bars or bags of M&M’s seems cruel. (Apologies to my own children for feeding them so much sugar over the years.)

We settled down to watch a movie, a documentary about Fred Rogers called “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?”  Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood made its debut on national public television in February 1968. I didn’t watch the show as a child, but it aired until 2001 so my children watched it sometimes, and I always had a fondness for the show’s slow and gentle pace and the kindness reflected in the content.

As we watched, I found tears streaming down my face.

I cried when Fred Rogers, sitting on a low stool, angled his tall, lean body toward a small boy and listened carefully to what the child had to say. I cried when children thronged around him during his public appearances, and one little girl came right up to him and said “Mr. Rogers, I want to tell you something. I like you,” and he said “I like you too, dear. Thank you for telling me that,” and touched her arm. I wept some more when I heard him say, “I like you just the way you are” to the thousands of unseen children at home and again when I heard that the simple, scruffy Daniel the Tiger puppet spoke from Fred Roger’s own childhood fears and vulnerabilities. More tears came as I witnessed the kindness Rogers showed when he spoke to children about how confused, sad, or scared they felt about divorce, death, or war.  I cried out of sadness about my own childhood when I heard him say “Children have very deep feelings, just as everyone does.” And I cried the most when I heard him say that “Love is at the root of everything. All learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”

It was my birthday present to myself, I realized, to release my sadness and joy through tears as I watched this movie. I feel happy that Fred Rogers created the show and made a difference in so many children’s lives. I suppose it was ironic that we hadn’t been neighbourly ourselves when we posted our “no candy” sign and shut out our young neighbours on Hallowe’en.

A few days later, I went to a craft fair with friends and found a man who carved wands out of wood.  A wand with a chisel design and a heart at one end caught my attention. After buying it for $10, I moved the wand through the air, imagining that as I waved it, love flowed from the tiny wooden heart and spread warmth and philia over those around me. I tested it on my two friends and a few of the craftspeople sitting at nearby tables. Feeling the immediate effects of the love wand, their smiles grew wide and shiny.  I was onto something.  So when I brought my wand and other purchases home, I thought back on Hallowe’en and imagined what might have transpired if I had in my possession that evening my magic wand. I would have cast a small yet convincing spell over all the children in the neighbourhood as they trudged house to house for treats. To the witches and zombies and superheroes—to all of them—I would have delivered a powerful message: You are loved just the way you are.IMG_3403

Michael’s Lamb Curry (the secret is in the onions)

serve with rice; 8 portions

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
6 large cloves garlic and 1.5 inch knob of ginger – both minced
7 Roma tomatoes
3-3.5 lbs. lamb shoulder (boneless) cut into small cubes
14 oz. can chick peas, rinsed and drained
3 c. green beans, washed, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
1/3 jar Patek’s Vindaloo paste
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
approx. 1/2 tsp. cayenne (to taste)
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
olive oil as needed

Sauté onions, garlic, and ginger in olive oil over medium heat until you swear they are going to burn. Just keep turning them as they turn dark brown and you have to scrape them off the bottom of the pan. This takes a while. Meanwhile, pat the lamb cubes dry and fry in another pan in olive oil until brown, then deglaze the pan with a little water to get all the brown bits off.

Blanch and peel the tomatoes.

When onions are completely brown, add curry paste and fry into the onions, blending well.  Crush the tomatoes with your hands into the onion mixture. Stir. Add the lamb, the cut beans, and the chick peas, then mix in vinegar and honey. Add the cayenne to as hot as you like. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook 40 minutes or until the lamb is tender.

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Magic love wand: $10