Hands

So much of a writer’s job is paying attention. A photograph on Melissa Noble’s Blog recently reminded me of this. She posted a photograph called Great Gandmother’s Hands. Those hands were absolutely beautiful hands. Hands that had worn life with grace.

The photograph called to my mind the dignity that we often miss in our fellow human beings. And the details of another’s life. Details that are important. Florida writer Robert Newton Peck, in his book Fiction Is Folks: How to Create Unforgettable Characters, says that you can tell a lot about a character from his hands.

It’s in the details that our characters come alive. You can tell whether a character is a worker bee or someone who does no physical work at all. A guitarist will have callouses on his fingers. What does the reader learn about a pianist with short stubby fingers or long graceful ones? Are the hands of a character manicured or are the fingernails chewed off crookedly? Chewed from worry? Is there dirt underneath the fingernails?

When I was reading Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike, he mentioned that John Updike never wore a wedding ring during his first marriage to Mary. During his second marriage to Martha, he wore a wedding ring. This told me so much, not about the writer, but about the man.

One of the things I love about the photographs of Ansel Adams and the paintings of Andrew Wyeth is how much dignity they bring to their subjects.

My Uncle Howard was a butcher. He was larger than life. He could fill a room just by walking into it. One time I asked him, “What happened to your pinkie?”

He threw his head back and laughed that big laugh of his. “I lost it years ago when I was slicing sausage. You can’t imagine the blood that poured out of that hand, enough to start a swimming pool. Anyway I got that hand all patched up. Decided I would honor that pinkie with a name. So I called it bologna.” At that, he winked at me.

“Where’s that pinkie now?” I asked.

“It’s in heaven, waiting for me. Guess I had better be good or I am going to have to spend eternity with one less pinkie, huh?”

Sleeping Beauty, the Real Story

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty. A prince kissed her to wake her up from a one-hundred-year long nap. Kind of makes Rip Van Winkle look like an amateur. There was such a sexual attraction between the two that they immediately did the deed. She did not fake her orgasm. When you’ve gone without for one hundred years, any prince will do. If not a prince, a carpenter or a woodsman, even a kitchen knave. Then came the marriage and they lived happily ever after.

That’s the story anyway. The one that the prince’s press agent put out for public consumption. When you’re a prince, you’ve got to keep up your image. But the story wasn’t true. Just look at Prince Charles. As soon as the public heard about the scrap he had with Diana, his poll numbers went down, not just in onesies and twosies but in decades.

A prince couldn’t afford to have his image tarnished like that. Especially in the olden days. Pretty soon there’d be a ruckus in the kingdom, the common folk in an uproar, and the prince hightailing it for God-knows-where. Don’t believe me? Just look at King John. In 1215, he had a Magna Carta shoved up his rump.

It is true how Beauty ended up in bed for that one hundred years. Her Mommy and her Dads gave a humungous eighteenth birthday gala for the Princess, the apple of their eye, the darling of the kingdom’s town crier society. When everybody’s back was turned, the Wicked Witch of the West, yes that witch, spiked Beauty’s chalice of Kickapoo Joy Juice with a mickey.

Why she did it, no one seems to know. Speculation is the Land of Oz had gotten boring and she had way too much time on her hands. What better way to bring excitement to her lackadaisical life than to show up in another fairy tale and mess things up royally for the fairy princess. Otherwise she had to go and tangle with Dorothy, and Dorothy was more than a handful.

Even though Beauty hated the taste of the Kick, she had manners up the wazoo. Etiquette said that a princess didn’t refuse a drink at her own birthday bash. So she sipped, then she was out like a light. Folks at the party thought she was dead. The royal doc advised the king and queen she was only asleep.

Wicked Witch didn’t want to kill the sweet young thang. She wasn’t a murderer. She just wanted to create some mischief. The potion would make Beauty sleep until a prince came along and kissed her ruby reds. I’m not talking shoes here. I’m talking lips.

Mommy and Dads Royal laid their precious child in a glass coffin for all to see and put her on an IV for nourishment. Then they sent for princes. Few showed. The few who showed weren’t about to kiss a princess in a coma no matter how lovely she was. They were afraid they would catch whatever she caught.

Time passed as it was bound to. Mommy and Dads died. The kingdom was taken over by a Regent. Regent wasn’t about to surrender his regency. He moved the coffin way out of sight. His thoughts on the matter: “Out of sight, out of mind.” An adviser suggested he do her in, but he wasn’t about to commit regicide. Regicides have consequences.

Pretty soon a hundred years passed. All that time Beauty dreamed. Being a beautiful princess, there wasn’t a nightmare among the bunch.

In her dreams, there were wonders her waking life never suspected. Paris in the springtime and walks by the Seine. Old Kyoto with its temples and cherry blossoms. Strolls by the fountains of Rome. Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And oh, the food she ate. Sushi in Tokyo. Pizza in Rome. Koushari in Cairo. Paella in Barcelona. Not once did she gain a pound. It was heaven.

One particular dream put a huge smile on her face. There was this kingdom that needed a princess. It had snow ice caps and meadows with the loveliest of flowers. The people were all dressed in their traditional garb. No suits and ties for the guys or no formal dresses for the gals like it had been in her Daddy’s kingdom. It was love at first sight when Beauty saw the place. She volunteered to be their princess.

“Now that we have a princess,” the king, with his gentle eyes, kind smile and long white beard, said, “we need a prince.”

“But, Sire, we do have a prince,” his adviser said. “Remember he was turned into a frog by that Wicked Witch of the West. If our little princess kisses him on the lips, he will snap back to his princely self. And we can have a wedding.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Last we saw him he was down at the pond with all the other frogs. We’re not exactly sure which one he is.”

“You know what that means?” the king said.

“It means the princess is going to have to kiss a lot of frogs,” the adviser said, then turned to Beauty. “You willing to do that?”

She smiled and agreed. “Sacrifices must be made.”

The local frog-caller did his thing. Pretty soon a line of frogs waited for a smooch. And smooching there was. Beauty must have kissed a thousand frogs. The final frog, a rather handsome fellow, if a frog can be considered handsome. This frog approached Beauty, bowed politely and jumped up on her lap. She leaned down to kiss him, then—

She woke up. This old guy stood over her, slobbering all over her mouth. “Son of a bitch, why the whatever did you want to do that for?” she screamed and sat up.

“I’m your Prince Charming.” The old guy was shocked. After that incident with Cindy Rella and the shoes, he had spent fifty years searching for Miss Right. Here she was and she was not happy. He’d done the right thing. He’d chanced getting whatever she had and falling into a stupor. Now she too was rejecting him. What was a Prince Charming to do?

She pushed PC away.”You’re not my prince. No wonder I woke up. What with your b.o. and halitosis. You need to see a doctor for that stuff. And have you taken a look at your face lately? Warts.”

What happened next? It’s a sad tale. Prince Charming returned home to his castle. There he lived until he was one hundred and seventy-five. He died of a broken heart.

And the fate of Princess Beauty? She went in search for that one-in-a-million frog. Every time she came across a frog she picked the creature up and kissed it. Some say she is still searching. So, if you see a lovely young lady in your part of town kissing frogs, leave her alone. It’s just Beauty trying to find her Beastie.

Looking around

They say he crawled out from under a rock.
He looked around and took him some stock.
“Maybe I’ll stay and give it a knock,”
he said and then made off in a trot
To see the sights never to be forgot:
Four seasons and time without a clock,
Snow and the green, the cold and the hot,
Rivers, mountains and all within eyeshot,
Roses, daisies and forget-me-nots,
Lions, tigers, leopards and all that lot,
Kittens, cubs and faun ready to be taught,
Robbins, sparrows and birds that mock,
Horses wild and peacocks that strut.
All in all a pleasant place to flop.
So he did.

Moonlight and midday

The sea is blue
at high tide at night,
a moon above
a great ball of light,
stars sprinkling on
a canvas of sky,
gulls cawing out,
“Come with us and fly.”

Dolphins and whales
through the seas they run,
singing their songs
under moon and sun.
Waves of water
rising and falling,
sea and the wind
hear the shore calling.

Blue and the blue
the sky and the sea
and the white clouds
and shadows of trees.
Sand brown beaches
nesting turtle eggs
till the sea calls
from the water’s edge.

The sun setting,
moon rise in the east,
stars returning,
the great and the least.
The horizon
a distance away,
sea and the sky,
moonlight and midday.

The sea is blue
at high tide at night.

Near 500 Words: Treat Yourself to a Year of Wonder in 2019

Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day By Day by Clemency Burton-Hill Published by Harper-Collins 2018

I came to “classical” music late. It was the early 1980s and I was dissatisfied with much of the music I was hearing. I’d loved rock ‘n’ roll and I’d loved folk music. There wasn’t much coming round the bend that I cared for.

In the past, I had avoided “classical” music the way I avoided Shakespeare. Like the plague. The fans of “classical” music drove me away by their devotion to this artist or that artist playing this composer or that composer. So-and-so had mastered Chopin but Such-and-such couldn’t play Shostakovich worth a hill of dirt. Only they wouldn’t say, “Hill of dirt.” What did I know about “classical” music other than I had heard it as the soundtrack of cartoons I grew up with?

Then I found myself being drawn to the Philips series “Set Your Life to Music” and CDs like “Bach for Breakfast,” “Baroque at Bathtime” and “Beethoven for Book Lovers.” They seemed to be saying, “Try this. It won’t hurt.” It was a way into the music without being scared off. The more of the CDs I listened to the more I liked the music. I ended up purchasing something like ten CDs from the series. This led me to a series of Adagio CDs put out by Decca that included “Baroque Adagios,” “Romantic Adagios,” and “Mozart’s Adagios”

During this time, I also saw Milos Forman’s film of “Amadeus.” Though it’s a fictional take on the life of Mozart, it humanizes the great man and took him out of the clouds and brought him down to earth where the rest of us mortals live. The best part of the movie was the soundtrack. The music was intertwined into the film to make the music accessible. Then I found a book that was helpful. The Vintage Guide to Classical Music: An Indispensable Guide for Understanding and Enjoying Classical Music by Jan Swafford was an excellent field guide.

This journey led me to find wonderful musicians, playing some of the most beautiful music ever produced by mortals: Joshua Bell, Carol Rosenberger and Barbara Bonney’s performance of Schubert’s Lieder. When John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls” honoring the 9/11 victims was released, I purchased it and was deeply moved by Adams’ tribute.

Recently I was in Barnes and Noble and rummaging among the books on music when my eyes stumbled upon Year of Wonder by the musician, columnist and novelist Clemency Burton-Hill. Each day of the year she gives a suggested composition. The suggestions range from the earliest compositions to the most recent. Even if you have a background in “classical” music, you might just find some surprises. If you don’t have the background, this is wonderful way to expose yourself to some great music.

If there’s one thing I learned about “classical” music, it is this. “Classical” music is like rock ‘n’ roll or country or rap or jazz or whatever music we listen to. There are those pieces of music I am going to love and there are those I won’t care for.

So dip your toes into the river we call “classical” music and try it. You  might just find some pieces you’ll like, and maybe even love. Make 2019 a year of wonder.

Here’s today’s selection: