When I was single, I had the adventure of a lifetime, at least for me at that point in my life. Sarah, a woman of perhaps 70 years of age, was heading to Colorado from North Dakota, and since I needed a ride south, she invited me along. She was such a free, loving spirit! It was fun learning to drive her small RV. The highlight of our journey was a drive through the rolling Black Hills of South Dakota and a visit to the towering monument of Mount Rushmore. As we left, I confessed to Sarah, “I’d like to come here for my honeymoon!” Sarah laughed, and said, “You don’t need a honeymoon as an excuse to come back!” She had never been married, but that didn’t stop her from doing what others might relegate to “someday”.
Most of us have a mental list of things we’d like to do… one of these days. When we find the time, we’ll drop in on some of those lonely elderly friends. Perhaps when we retire, we can volunteer to build houses for Habitat or go visit the Iguazu Falls in South America. Then there’s “Someday I’d like to write a book”. But those things are so relegated to “the land of maybe” that they never happen.
The cooking fires had been put out and only the omnipresent, acrid smell of smoke remained. Bright moonlight fell on the huts of a tiny community in southern Mexico, and filtered through the cane walls. From time to time, the mournful howl of a dog sounded, breaking the silence.
Stretched out on my rustic cot in a sleeping bag, protected by a mosquito net, I awaited, unable to sleep. At any moment I knew the peaceful scene would become, for me, one of terror. Little by little, the scurrying of feet in the rafters and the squealing of invisible creatures began to torment me.
Days beforehand, one of them had tasted the split-open, poisoned squash we had left out; the next day we found its body outside on the path. Its companions, with their surprising instinct, no longer approached the mouth-watering bait.
If I ask, “What’s your favorite food?”, some people will conjure up images of elaborate dishes that are prepared for special celebrations. Others, however, may reply with something amazingly simple.
It’s pretty hard to come up with a single answer. I used to say “lasagna”, which I occasionally make but find somewhat painstaking. Those noodles always tear apart on me, for example. At least now it’s possible to find the pre-cooked kind. The variety of cheeses, the color and texture of spinach, when included, the tomato or white sauce and its condiments, all blending in with the simplicity of pasta are a delight to the senses.
A dish from central Mexico that fascinates me is “chiles en nogada”, stuffed poblano chiles in walnut sauce. Their confection involves chopping up a variety of fruits as well as almonds. The sauce itself is a challenge to make from scratch, from soaking fresh walnuts to peeling off the skin, famously leaving one’s hands darkened. Some recipes include goat cheese and white wine. The peeling of the chiles and removing their seeds and veins is painstaking, as is beating egg whites and dipping them in batter for frying.
All the same, isn’t simple food wonderful, as well? Who can resist the smell, the taste and texture of warm bread, shortly after it is popped from the oven? With or without butter melted on it, this is the staff of life, and our whole being says, “Yes!”
In 1875, age 50 was defined as old by the Friendly Societies Act in Britain. Now, the World Health Organization has declared that 65 is still considered young. After that, until the age of 79, people are “middle-aged”. Times have changed.
Though I recently turned 65, in many ways I feel better than I did in my 20’s. Back then I struggled with my weight and seldom got much exercise. In addition to that, there were insecurities about my appearance, my timid nature, my future… and more. Now my weight has been pretty stable for years, and I’ve been getting out to jog and walk more. I’ve gotten to accept the effects of aging on my body (aka wrinkles, spots and sags), and have been fortunate not to have any major physical complications. Besides that, I have a decent network of friends, which I’m told is an important aspect of emotional health.
It’s my granddaughter’s turn to raise money for her sixth grade science camp. Her brother faced that challenge two years ago, and collected gazillions of bottles and cans to exchange for money. He even finished way before the deadline!
Let’s call my girlie “C”. She likes cooking, so has made cupcakes and sometimes jellos to offer the neighbors. The deadline is all too soon, and this time it was my privilege to give her a hand with preparing her goodies. As might be predicted in a kitchen that’s not my own, things didn’t go all that smoothly. I didn’t realize the stove went off when the timer dinged, so the second batch of cupcakes wouldn’t rise and took forever to cook… till I realized my mistake. Those guys were mostly edible, but not winners.
It was January, the middle of the school year, and my coordinator called me in. I expected it was a change in the groups I’d been assigned. To my initial dismay, it was a more drastic matter. She apologetically explained that there had been a budget cut and I was being laid off. She confessed she knew it was a bad time; we both knew universities usually hire before the fall semester. Classes were already starting at most schools.
As a part-time teacher, I had nothing to fall back on. I’d had no Christmas bonus or vacation pay. I was of an age where some schools might not want to hire me. There was no unemployment insurance to tide me over. However, for the first time ever I felt excited about such a challenge. Perhaps my faith-muscles had been strengthened over the years, much as I hardly recognized the fact. God had something different, even something better, in mind.
“Quisiera escribir un libro algún día”. “Tengo muchas ideas, pero no sé expresarlas por escrito”. Estas frases y otras se escuchan, sobre todo cuando la gente sabe que escribes. Para inspirar un poco más a los que sueñan con activar su pluma o (computadora), quisiera darte unos pocos tips que pueden guiarte.
- El “gancho”: empieza con algo que llame la atención. Algunos quieren escribir una introducción muy elegante y generalizada sobre el tema, como hacían para sus ensayos en la escuela. ¡Piensa otra vez! ¿Cómo lograrás que tus lectores sigan más allá del primer párrafo? Lo ideal es engancharlos, llamarles la atención. Esto puede ser una anécdota, por ejemplo, ya que como humanos nos fascinan las historias. Puede ser una frase contradictoria o un juego de palabras, algo que despierte la curiosidad.
- Usa vocabulario que impacta, que pega fuerte. Deben ser palabras que resuenen con tu público, no tan rebuscadas que no las conozcan. Procura que den color y vida, que describan de manera vívida lo que ves, sientes, escuchas y hueles. Evita en lo posible las palabras generales y demasiado comunes, que expresan muy poco, como: caminar, tener, ser. Echa mano de una buena variedad de sinónimos para no repetir la misma palabra o sus derivados. Confesión: Rompí esta regla en mi primer párrafo.
- Menos es más. Aclara y simplifica tu propósito. Es verdad, queremos comunicar muchas ideas y es común decir demás. Enfócate en unos pocos puntos principales y dedícate a desarrollarlos bien. Así el lector terminará muy seguro de lo que quisiste decir y será más probable que recuerde de qué se trataba. Me acuerdo de los “sermones de tres puntos” que dan algunos predicadores. Recalcan de varias maneras esos temas y terminas satisfecho; fue bastante claro el mensaje.
- Identifica a tu público. ¿Para quién escribes? Tu estilo y tu vocabulario deben ser aptos para jóvenes o adultos, profesionistas o amas de casa, por ejemplo. Explica las cosas que podrían no saber, según su experiencia y su nivel de estudios. No des tanta explicación para lectores que ya conocen muy bien el tema, o se aburrirán. Identifícate con ellos y su cultura. Para introducir un concepto nuevo, empieza con algo familiar, como cualquier buen maestro.
- Dale tiempo. Después de terminar tu primer borrador, déjalo descansar. Regresa otro día y verás con ojos frescos tu creación. Habrás pensado en un detalle te faltó. Tendrás el valor de quitar frases que no son necesarias. Notarás una falta de cohesión o un error de dedo. Muchos escritores notan que si ellos o alguien más lee en voz alta, captan mejor cómo suena y cómo podría mejorar.
Just outside the housing complex where I’m staying is the county trail. At a slow jog, my feet pound the asphalt path that rises and falls, sneaks under a bridge and past a stream, where I surprised an elegant snowy egret today. The air is cool and clean, after a couple of days of rain.
Signs warn me that rattlesnakes, mountain lions and coyotes are part of the ecosystem, so I am forewarned but not fearful. More of a concern might be the skunks that populate the underbrush. Sometimes a small rabbit skitters out of the path and into the bushes. Vegetation may include maguey cactus, chaparral, eucalyptus trees and willows.
The road takes me to a park, where no children play, this early and on a weekday. Sparkling dewdrops transform the grassy expanse. A small husky trots beside its owner. A fellow runner greets me. The occasional cyclist zooms past. Once I spied a yogi posed on a distant rock.
Rain, for many of us, is not our favorite thing. “It’s a beautiful day!” usually means it’s sunny and clear. Rain dampens the spirit, they say. We want to stay inside. and vegetate. Umbrellas, coats, wet feet, puddles, cars splashing pedestrians… ugh! Driving is a pain: misted-over windshields, visibility low, roads barely passable, and traffic down to a crawl. If you’ve just washed your car, news of expected precipitation leads to groans. Rain is annoying.
But today, it’s good. The weather’s a perfect excuse not to go jogging. I’m alone after weeks with a houseful of family. I don’t have to go anywhere, which is new for me. No access to a car at the moment, but that’s cool. Time to snuggle into my cozy cave for a while. For the time being, it doesn’t matter that I’m still in pajamas. Then I just joined a 30-day writing challenge to churn out 500 words a day, which gives me some incentive. The patter of rain and the ticking of the cuckoo clock are the only sounds to interrupt me. Rain can be peaceful.