January Haiku Contest Winner and A Valentine Challenge

First off, congratulations to Sky Vani, who is the winner of our most recent haiku contest!  Here’s her winning entry, on the theme of New Year’s resolutions:

failed resolutions
with joint forces strive to goal
~ living happily

Sky Vani, please send me an email (to forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com) with your address so I can send you your prize.

Everyone else who entered the contest but whose entries were reserved for a new contest in March, please check this blog again over the next few weeks for when that round begins.  And thank you to everyone who participated by sending in an entry (or more than one) and by voting.

And since tomorrow is Valentines’ Day, I’m going to make my annual request that, even if you aren’t part of a couple and even if you dislike the holiday on general principle, you go a little out of your way to do something nice for someone this weekend.  Kindness Day and all.

It doesn’t have to be romantic: you could just tell a friend how much the friendship you share means to you.  It doesn’t even have to be personal: just be nice to a random person you might otherwise ordinarily walk past because your eyes are locked on your smart phone screen.

Of course, if you want to write a sweet love poem to someone, well, that’s a charming gesture, too.  🙂

Happy weekend, everyone!

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Puritan Valentine Cards

Okay, I realize this is very geeky, but have you seen the Puritan Valentine Cards floating around?  They are too funny.  Click the link below for the entertainment to begin.

Puritan Valentine Cards

Don’t forget that today is also Generosity Day:  a chance for you to do something kind for anyone and everyone (as if you needed an opportunity other than waking up in the morning to get that done).

Enjoy!

 

A Valentine Story

My grandfather Joe, on my dad’s side, fought alongside his brothers and cousins for the US in WWII.  He found himself in multiple theaters: at Normandy, in Northern Africa, in Italy.  And unlike many men of that generation, he never shied away from telling us stories about the war, but he picked his tales carefully.  We heard anecdotes about the lighter side of things, such as the small black goat they bought from a man on the side of the road; they named the kid Midnight and made him their company’s mascot for a while.

My favorite story, though, was the one he and my grandmother, Rose, told us about how they met and married.  Seeing as Valentines’ Day approaches with relentless haste and this is such a sweet tale, I want to share it with you.  My grandmother isn’t alive anymore, and my grandfather is in his nineties, and now just feels like the right time to commit this story to writing.

My grandfather was on a thirty-day furlough from the army and was headed home to Houston.  It was the mid-1940s, and he’d had several tours in the war already.  He came back stateside to the northeast and then took a long train ride down to San Antonio, where he would need stay at the base for processing for three days before continuing on home.  On the train to Texas, he sat across from a man he didn’t know, but who had “the map of Lebanon on his face.”  Always happy to meet any ethnic brethren, my grandfather introduced himself, and on that journey, they became friends.

I don’t remember the other Lebanese man’s name, but he lived in San Antonio, and he invited my grandfather to come home with him for real food instead of staying at the base the whole time.  He didn’t have to ask twice.

Now, across the street from that hospitable gentleman lived the Sacres, another Lebanese family.  The Sacres had six grown children, three boys and three girls; their boys had been in the war, too, and they had a kindly habit of inviting the Lebanese GIs coming through San Antonio over for dinner.  When they found out their across-the-street neighbor was home and that he had a friend with him, the dinner invitation couldn’t come fast enough.

The Sacre daughters — Mary, Sarah, and Rose — were all beautiful as could be, and they were polite to the soldiers at dinner.  And afterward the young people all went out bowling.

(Yes, bowling.  Fun Sacre pastime that, like playing Canasta, lasted all the way to my generation.)

Over the next three days, while my grandfather was in town, they all continued to meet and go out, but it was clear that he had a particular interest in Rose.  The oldest sister, Mary, told Rose she should date him.  He was good-looking and from a well-heeled family in Houston.  My grandmother was ambivalent, largely because when the soldiers had come for dinner that first night, my grandfather had kept staring at her.

“I was admiring your dress,” he insisted when they told me this story.

“You were looking at my chest,” she scolded him.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were,” she said.  She turned to me. “I had on this white eyelet dress, and it was pretty, I guess.”

“Very pretty,” my grandfather corrected her.  She shrugged, but even more than fifty years later, she still blushed cheerfully about it.

So in those three days, the young folks managed to see each other quite a bit.  Joe told Rose he’d be back in a couple of weekends, and he hoped she’d go out with him again.

“Okay,” she responded casually, but with a very nice smile.

When she told her older sister Mary about it, Mary was very keen that Rose go out with him.  But my grandmother could be a bit stubborn and never liked being told what to do.  She acted noncommittal and advised Mary that she should go out with him instead.  Well, of course that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, Joe came back to San Antonio and took Rose to a dance.  He told her he wanted to marry her.  I’m not sure what had changed in my grandmother’s mind in those two weeks, but she agreed.  While my grandfather was on leave, the war ended, and he was discharged from the army so he could come back to Houston and make his life as a grocer.

And as a husband.  A couple of months later, Joe and Rose married.  They went to the beach for a little honeymoon.  They lived in Houston, had seven children, and — though it wasn’t any more perfect than any other marriage, and in some ways it was rockier at times — they made a pretty good life of it.

My grandmother passed away from cancer in 2001, a few weeks after they celebrated their anniversary.  It was a party around her sickbed.  She was lucid, we all managed to be cheerful, and there were so many friends and family members around we couldn’t all fit.  The cake was enormous, and my grandfather held her hand all afternoon.

***

Last year around this time, I suggested you should write a love note to someone — anyone — for Valentines’ Day.  I think this ought to be an annual tradition.  Go ahead, write a love note, write a poem if you like, write a card.  Do something wonderful for someone you care about.

Here, Dear Readers, is a valentine for you.

My daughter made this.  Pretty cool, huh?  She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend.  I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.
My daughter made this. Pretty cool, huh? She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend. I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.

Another Poetry Challenge

So here’s a little game for you, should you choose to accept it.  (I’m guessing at least one or two of you might.)  And it’s a contest.

It’s a popular technique these days to write poems which are inspired by fragments of poetry written by other people.  The idea is to build your own new poem around something you’ve seized upon, but to italicize the text you’ve borrowed so that it stands out from your own words.

I’ve done this below with some fragments of Sappho.  (The snippets I’ve chosen are italicized.)

Here’s your challenge:  You pick a poem, any poem, which has some words in it you like.  Then let your ideas grow around those pieces of verse into something else which is your own entirely.  Write in any form or style.  (The piece I’ve included below is a prose-poem.)  Then post your new poem into the comments section of this blog post.

I recognize writing a poem like this can take a while, so the contest will be open until the end of this month, midnight central time on the evening of March 31st.  Depending on how many entries there are, there may even be a readers’ choice run-off for the best poem.  The winner will win a lovely book — which book, I haven’t decided yet, because I’d like the prize to be tailored to fit the winning entry in some way.

Here’s an example for you, a prose-poem I wrote entitled (coincidentally) “Sappho’s Torque.”  (And yes, the poem was written before I began this blog.)  If you don’t know any other poems that you’d want to borrow text from, feel free to take the Sapphic snippets from mine here (or any other fragment of this poem, should you so desire).  Regardless of which poem you borrow from, be sure to acknowledge where your italicized stuff came from.

I’m looking forward to reading your entries!  Happy writing.

***

Sappho’s Torque

“It is too much to bear,” she said, “this weighing upon my mind.”

The roses in the garden burst in full floribundance, infusing the air with decadence and coloring the day and even the night with their velvet flesh.  “Beauty is as beauty does,” they told her, and she thought then that the garden must be the locus of outrageous fortune, a siren’s lair filled with killing thorns, slings and arrows.  So it is thus, she knew, that she first came to love the very idea of love, so often the gift of the image of a demi-god, tempered by the grotesquerie of real life.

“I am tired,” he intimates, while she relents for the love of him.

Eros, she thinks, melter of limbs, you who imprison me now again, are the sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in, who ignites my dependence and fuels it with my passion; you burn me.

She thinks that birds will fall into sea, that worms will climb the walls of the house, that lizards will come into the kitchen looking for food.  And only she will be awake to notice.

Generosity Day

What a neat idea that I first heard about from Brené Brown’s blog Ordinary Courage.

http://www.causes.com/causes/646624-generosity-day/actions

What will you do to make Valentines’ Day a day to share kindness with anyone and everyone?  I’m going to try really hard to be patient and as non-ogrish as possible all day…  And I will have chocolates available in my classroom all day for anyone who wants them.

Something So Simple

I had a strange conversation last summer with my daughter.  We were driving home one afternoon.  My son, then four, was napping in the sun.  My daughter was watching the scenery out her window, and we were both listening to the music playing on the radio.  We hadn’t talked for several songs, just having a mellow car ride home.  Then all of a sudden, a propos of nothing, she tells me in a dreamy voice, “Mommy, I love Ferdinand.”  This is a boy in her class.  (Please note, Ferdinand is not his real name.)

“You do?” I asked, thinking this was something to investigate, but not freak out about, not yet.

“Yeah, I do.”  She was wearing the kind of smile I could imagine the Mona Lisa wearing, if she had been struck with pleasant infatuation at the age of six and had just eaten a chocolate bar.

“That sounds nice,” I said, trying to figure out how to evaluate what she meant by “love.”  I decided to abandon subtlety.  “How do you know you love Ferdinand?” I asked, keeping my voice even, light, relaxed.

“Sometimes I just feel like he’s here with me,” she said with great contentment.  “Sitting next to me, talking to me, taking a nap with me during movie time.”  (The sleepover phenomenon had just started among the kids in her grade, but not boy-girl ones, thank you very much.)

She hadn’t seen this kid in a couple of months.  “And do you like to imagine he’s here with you?”

“Yes,” she said, that same sweet smile still gracing her lips.

“So…what about him makes you love him?”

She flashed a really big grin at me.  “He’s really funny.  He makes me laugh.”

This is a good start, I thought.  “That’s an important quality in someone you love,” I said.  “And does Ferdinand love you, too?”

“Oh, yes, he adores me,” she said with the kind of self-assurance most adults don’t have when they answer this question.

“That’s very sweet.”  I smiled at her in the rearview mirror.  “Has he said that to you?”

“No,” she said peacefully, undaunted.

“Then how can you tell he loves you?”

“Because when he sees me, he gets this really big smile on his face that he doesn’t get for anyone else.”

I was struck by the simplicity of her answer, by its grace.  I did not freak out.  She was beaming, and in this moment I was hopeful that these two children really did have such a genuine affection for each other.  I was immediately reminded of Linda from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and the instincutal affection Timmy and Linda have for each other at the age of nine, a fondness they don’t have the vocabulary to explain and yet somehow, don’t need in order to feel or express it.

“We should tell Daddy about him when we get home,” I suggested, and she nodded her head and continued smiling out the window at the scenery.

I wondered whether Daddy would freak out.  Considering he started grumbling at boys he saw walking down the street as soon as we found out I was pregnant with a daughter, I guessed he would.  But, I wondered, should he?

Something of the self-assurance my daughter exhibited in the car that day gets lost between childhood and adulthood; I think it’s probably burned away in the crucible of adolescence, and unfortunately, young adulthood doesn’t do much to replenish it for most people — or at least, most of the people I’ve known or observed.  How horrible.  And I say this without too much irony.  Even I, in my rock-solid life filled with blessings and a happy marriage, haven’t completely regained that sense of confidence, at least not 100% of the time.  Sometimes I wonder if I ever will, or if my brain just isn’t hard-wired that way.  It’s a conundrum.

I’ve been thinking lately about love and what it makes us do, how it makes us feel, and how much I desperately wish everyone in the world could experience it on a daily basis.

***

One of the most important things I learned when I had children was that one’s capacity for love only increases.  Exponentially, in fact.

I worried when I was pregnant with my son that my and my husband’s love for each other and for our daughter would be divided when our son was born.  Mostly I was worried that my husband’s affection for me would diminish down to a slice of his attention as he lavished all his emotional wherewithal on the kids.  He’s such a good father that I didn’t see how it would be possible for him to focus on all of us at once, or together.  I sat on this anxiety for too long, and when I finally, tearfully, expressed my fears to him, he smiled and put a gentle hand on my swelling, kicking belly and explained to me in the most loving terms possible that I was a hormonal, raving lunatic.

“That’s just not the way it works,” he said.  “Why on earth would it be?”  He reminded me that I didn’t love him any less just because our daughter had come along.  He asked whether I intended to reduce my affection for him once our son was born.

“Of course not!” I sputtered, indignant.

He shook his head indulgently.  “Then why are you worried?”

That, I didn’t have a good answer for, and in the absence of clarity, I just kept my stupid thoughts to myself.

***

My mother is ten years older than my father.  After he graduated from high school in 1970, he went to a business school, and she was his computer programming teacher.  She had been a programmer, working in the industry, for a while and hadn’t been teaching long.

He was smitten from the first moment he saw her.  He was young and she, beautiful and confident and in a position of respect and authority in a male-dominated industry.  In the early seventies, that was a really big deal.  He was smart enough to recognize that.

My dad comes from a produce family.  They owned a grocery store which boasted some of the best produce in this part of the country (along with pretty much everything else).  He brought her an apple every single day and repeatedly asked her to go out with him.

She was downright rude in response.  “Absolutely not,” she told him.  “Go sit down and leave me alone.”

On the last day of the term, he asked her out one more time.  He told her, “After today, I’m not your student anymore.”

I like to think my mother rolled her eyes at him, although I suspect she was too straight-laced and proper to do such a thing.  Finally she said, “If I go have coffee with you, will you get off my back about it?”

“I sure will,” he assured her.

She grudgingly agreed.  A couple-few years later, they were married.

***

Love makes us do silly things.  Wonderful things.  I think about my early twenties, when I got to witness some of these stunts firsthand.  That inner joy for humanity made Steve buy a motley collection of exotic flowers and go around on Valentines’ Day handing one out to every girl he saw.  (Mine was a bird of paradise.)  It made Jason dress up in a cloak like one of the Three Musketeers and go deliver a CD of the soundtrack to his friend’s favorite TV show, wrapped in comics and adorned with a red rose, to her while she was working the dorm security desk in the middle of the night, just to keep her company.  It made Konstantin slough off his stern demeanor long enough to let me paint his fingernails black with silver glitter.

“Look, Konnie, it’s the night sky,” my roommate Amber and I told him, laughing, while he grumbled in Bulgarian, then when that didn’t deter us, in Russian, which also failed.

And then he even let us take his picture, even though he and we all knew his students (mostly ten-year-old girls who were also math geniuses) would tease him about it the next day.

***

Lately my daughter, who is six, has been giving me folded pieces of paper on which are written, “I love you.  From:  ?” next to a cartoonish sticker of a smiling, heart-shaped cupid.  She hands these notes to me as if I were meant to believe that she has just discovered them somewhere, mysteriously, with the intuition that they must be for Mama.

Obviously she has made these love notes but wants me to believe otherwise.  Her sly grin and hopeful dark brown eyes encourage me to play along.

“Oh, I must have a secret admirer,” I say each time.

“Yep!” she always replies, as if newly discovering what those words mean.

I thank and hug and kiss her.  I tuck the love note away in a box full of special cards and letters.  It will be only a couple of days before the next one comes.

I adore love notes.  Writing them has become, sadly, a lost art, and I’m pretty sure I can blame the rise of email and other electronic communication for that.  Remember when we all wrote actual letters to each other?  I had one friend in college who slipped into formal, yet passionate, Nineteenth Century diction when he composed his.  Those letters were something to see.

You should write a love letter this year.  Go ahead.  It’s not that difficult, actually.  Just pretend you aren’t going to send it, and then it’s much easier to write.  If you’re feeling really inspired, write a poem.  You’ve got a week to do it.  Go on, get started.

Happy Valentines’ Day.