Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing is War

Imagine this turned left
As a potential housemate I had to take the Keirsey personality test, the owner and builder of the house in Austin, Texas, said. Odd, I thought, I had local references, and they were good. He explained it wasn't about whether I was cheerful and trustworthy, but whether I would fit in with the geeks who occupied the other rooms in the bee-hive-like structure he had designed and build himself.

If he had his concerns, I had mine. No AC because the house was build to funnel air from top to bottom? No heat either (it was February and cold), because he had calculated one light bulb combined with the body heat of the occupant would warm the hexagonal cells? Yes, he was a mathematician. His former fellow students, friends, and housemates were computer freaks, and I had to promise I would not share —outside the walls of the beehive— what was created inside. As though I would understand what I saw, I thought. I, who tried to grapple the MS-DOS code of my Commodore 64. That I used a laptop was a plus point in the household though, that much was clear.

The outcome of the test said I was a Field Marshall. Not bad, my future landlord said, not bad at all, as long as I would keep everybody's stuff alone and mind my own business and not try to re-organize. With that he handed me a key, no need to sign a contract or pay a deposit. It wasn't that he had no business sense —for goodness sake, the guy financed a local upstart, started by fellow students at U.T. called Whole Foods— he knew about watching his nickel.

Looking into The 4 Temperaments I can see how being an Abstract Utilitarian or Rational Field Marshall affects my way of writing. And it somewhat explains how I've been able to work on different books within one manuscript. What would drive any other person crazy comes to me naturally. Which doesn't mean it's easy.

I've been working on three projects, overseeing developments across-the-board, moving each forward. Probably makes no sense to others, but since all of the material comes from the same source, a monster manuscript, it makes sense to me.

Right now some troops are on furlough, and I'm proceeding with just one commando. Yes, there's a war-like strategy to my way of writing! I'm deepening my novel's main character's love interest's part for greater balance in the book. At the moment I'm writing the whole story from her p.o.v. instead of the previous M.C.'s. We'll see where this leads.

I have a feeling this strategic move will help me win one of my word wars not to long from now. Are you following me?

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Birthday Theme Storytelling in Seattle

Tonight, Thursday July 28 7 - 8:15 p.m., we hope to see you at Starbucks in Madison Park in Seattle

for Auntmama's Storycorner 

Come listen to Kathya Alexander, Olubayo, Judith van Praag and Auntmama aka May Anne Moorman
Spin Tales around a Birthday Theme.

4000 East Madison, Seattle, WA.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Am Who I Am Now and Then

I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self-Reliance

Think about the type of person you’d NEVER want to be 5 years from now. Write out your own personal recipe to prevent this from happening and commit to following it. “Thought is the seed of action.”

After e.e. cummings *)

In some of my worst nightmares, I am Ms. Judy, a counter help at a fast food restaurant, who has an eight hour work day, wears a polyester uniform, dishes out colorless food to tasteless people, bikes home suffocating on the exhaust of rush hour coaches, watches the crafts programs on t.v. only, whose social life is like a Tupper ware party, and who retires in a U.V. park.

In some of my best dreams, I am the Dutchess abroad, a traveling artist and writer, who works twenty-four hours a day, wears whatever she pleases, sends meaningful visions into the expectant world, passes time pleasantly while waiting for a good time to travel, discriminately stays home alone or with her love, and never retires at all.

Judith van Praag
20 November 1994

My personal recipe works miracles: Thought IS the seed of action.

*) Norman Friedman insists on capitalization: E.E. Cummings

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

End Of The Rope Determination

I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think of a time when you didn’t think you were capable of doing something, but then surprised yourself. How will you surprise yourself this week?

"If you don't want to move for yourself, do it for your daughter," my mother's physician pleaded, "She's concerned about your welfare, always writing letters and calling me." The doctor, her hands palm to palm in the fold of her skirt's fabric, seemed to pray.
"Is she really?" My mother appeared surprised, pleased even and indignant.
"Yes," the doctor looked at me, "It's difficult for her, living so far away."
"I understand, but I don't want to leave. I'm staying here. This is my home, this is where I wish to die."
The look on her face was triumphant. Earlier in the week she had fooled a geriatric psychiatrist and a psychologist who arrived by car at the crossroads between forest and fields to evaluate her capacity to live by herself in the old dilapidated farmhouse.
"As long as people do no harm to themselves or others we have to reason to deem them incapable, the psychiatrist told me. 
Same old, same old, I thought. My intelligent paranoid psychotic mother knew exactly how to play the others. The gentlemen belonged to the club of outsiders, not she.

"Go pack our suitcases," I said to my husband, trembling inside.
He got up, but hesitated, his hands on the back of his chair.
Remembering our arrival, seeing my mother's bent shape through the window, her spine broken by four spontaneous fractures, the protruding vertebrae ... I insisted, "Go pack. Please?"
"Why, where are you going?" my 79-year old mother glanced from my husband her "number one son" to me, her only child.
"We're leaving and we're not coming back, not ever. We can't stand seeing you live like this and you refuse to move. You say you want to die here, and you surely will. And we're not going to watch you do so under these circumstances. We're out of here." 
One moment of silence during which I tried not to blink. 
"All right then," she said, "I'll go."

End of my rope determination is what I need to challenge myself, to push over the hump before the finish line. I will surprise myself and receive the answer I've been waiting for, merely by continuing the way I am going, perseverance, fist on the table —with the knowledge that it's time to act.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Describe Another Person's Navel or Toenail

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self-Reliance

Prompt by Lachlan Cotter
Is fear holding you back from living your fullest life and being truly self expressed? Put yourself in the shoes of the you who’s already lived your dream and write out the answers to the following:
Is the insecurity you’re defending worth the dream you’ll never realize? 
Can you be happy being anything less than who you really are?
Now Do. The Thing. You Fear.

Waldo did well considering the awful times he describes.

As long as writing is therapeutic there is no other need than to write down memories, thoughts and convictions. A wise man said: The woman who doesn't write and publish her books will die unhappy and frustrated.

Imagine that.

All the writing in the world not maketh a biography, a novel, a memoir, a work of fiction, a work of non-fiction. The art of writing lies in action, conflict, craft, building blocks, structure, flawed characters, and an author who has something to say that goes beyond a detailed description of her own navel.

There's light at the end of the tunnel, and one, two, three, or even more books.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Accept Godliness in Yourself | The Divine You

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson | Self-Reliance

Prompt by Fabian Kruse
Write down in which areas of your life you have to overcome these suicidal tendencies of imitation, and how you can transform them into a newborn you – one that doesn’t hide its uniqueness, but thrives on it. There is a “divine idea which each of us represents” – which is yours?

Digital Writing Jolanda Nietveld
Printing a, b, c and each additional letter of the alphabet. Stay between the lines, let your pencil glide across the paper. First handwriting lessons, symbols painstakingly copied from the black board.

You and your parents visit another family. In the living room the man named Joop, uncle Sander and Papa bend over a book of artists' signatures. Used to the company of adults you feel insulted when sent outside to play with Joop's daughters. The mother hands you each a large carrot. The eldest girl insists you have to mash the carrot swallowing just the juice, and eventually you nearly choke on the pulp.

The rocket has landed on the moon and every one with access to a TV is glued to the set. Except for one other girl there's nobody on the playground, not even the guard. You and the girl leave the fenced area and scan sidewalks and stoops for coins. Money is lying in the gutter, the girl knows. Tired of looking you ask a woman for a dime.  
 "Do your mothers know you are begging for money? If you continue doing this you'll wind up in the gutter."

You have moved to the country, two hours north from the city. Whereas you were printing letters in italics before, the letters and numbers now have to stand upright. And whereas the upgrade from pencil in the city was to a ballpoint pen, the children in the village school are promoted to pen and ink, black for everyday use and colored when you make no mistakes. Your notebook is filled with green, purple and red that turns darker, nearly black as it dries.

Your mother sews your clothes from remnants a friend sends, after the latest fashion in Paris. The knee socks under your skirts are plaid, your long pants make schoolmates snicker, "That's boy's wear". Until the village catches up and everyone rolls up pant legs, showing the lighter side of denim.

Never advertise for free

Your mother turns name carrying shopping bags inside out. You learn to cut out labels, to not drop names, to know the difference between chic and ordinary.

Your father dresses you in Tartan, in tailored pants, a forest green bespoken suit in the latest Terlenka® and tries to find matching pumps and hand bag in the Godforsaken outpost. You're mother dresses in overalls, yet paints her toe nails and lips a startling fuchsia. She buys you candy striped and polka-dotted dresses in turquoise, pink and orange, but calls shocking pink vulgar, because it's favored by girls with the wrong hairdos and dialect.

You're an only child, who doesn't play much with other children until you go to Kindergarten at age five. "She loves to share," the grade-school teacher says when you move up north with your parents two years later. Girls at the village elementary school deny you a piece of candy. Your father gives you a guilder to buy all kinds of sweets and orders you —for once— not to share. A girl you don't play with, your best friend and her brother call you an i-di-Yid, the boy adds "voddejood". You're puzzled, the one thing your father doesn't deal in is rags, he buys textiles (your mother won't touch —that boring) from the Jewish pedlar who comes by on his bicycle loaded with merchandize. The men schmooze for hours, nurse their coffee, throw back a shot of jenever, and suck their cigars.Your father writes your friend's mother she should be ashamed of herself, to raise her children to call his child an idiot Jew. In her answer she says it's his fault entirely, in making his daughter stand out from the crowd, he singles her out himself. 

You are the one and only

And so it's up to you to take your unique singular self and deal with the pain of your elders; accept the godliness in every one, the divinity of life, and be, always be yourself.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spread Love - Make Tea Not War.

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prompt by Eric Handler
What is burning deep inside of you? If you could spread your personal message RIGHT NOW to 1 million people, what would you say?

Today blends with yesterday. Why dwell in the past? To tell the story of a man and a woman thrown together by fate, or of a family suffering shame over a favorite son's mistakes, one generation after the other. Are we talking history on a personal level? That can't be enough. What is it that needs to be shared? Zeitgeist? The post-war idealism that called for possibilities allowing artists to create without having to work an evil day job? How about the skeletons the couple thinks to leave behind in the city, when they move to the country? Face your demons, one way or another, sooner or later, here or there. Might as well sit down and sit back and let the good times roll.

What I really want you to know is that that telling a child stories only meant for grown-up ears ruins her childhood. That taking away everything she cares for, everything she loves, to save her the anguish of loss does not work. And isn't  all this about remembrance and forgiveness, and ultimately love? 

My message right now: 
Put the kettle on, spread love, make tea, not war —Memento Mori.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Fairytale

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them. - Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self-Reliance

Prompt by Mary Jaksch
Emerson says: “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
What is ‘too scary’ to write about? Try doing it now.

The tires of the moving truck get stuck in the mud in pretty much the same place where uncle Sander's wheels spun around without finding traction the day we came to look at the farm in the middle of the fields. Only this time throwing rags in front of the tires doesn't help. Papa and the driver light a cigarette. On the other side of the wide ditch that runs the length of the dirt path that leads toward our new home, a man in dark blue overalls, followed by a little girl, appears from the side door of a brick farmhouse that's attached to a large barn. The girl steps into her wooden clogs, the man slides his stockinged feet into dirt covered rubber boots.
"Pigs," Papa says, "You hear the oinkers Shudy?"
The man drops a plank from his side to ours across the ditch.
I wave at the little girl and she waves back.
The man is going to get his tractor and pull the van out of the mud, but he has to drive around and through the fields.
Mama and I walk all the way back to the main road and then the same way back only on the other side of the ditch to where the man and the little girl came out of the house. Mama knocks on the door of the farmhouse, she needs to go, I don't.
The little girl shows me a deep square hole in the ground, filled with water. "Our swimming pool," she says.
Mama returns and pulls me away from the hole. It's the cellar for the house the girl's parents are going to build. They will have a WC, hot and cold running water, and a shower too, the girl says.

We are going back to nature and have none of those luxuries. 

This is not picture of ours!
We have a fairytale well with a bucket on a rope and two wrought iron pumps. One is on the terrace outside the small brick house where people used to cook and do the laundry, and one inside the barn, near the door to the hallway.
(to be continued)

So what is scary about this you may wonder. Well, let's say the scary stuff is yet to come, got to start somewhere, with spinning wheels, and getting stuck in the mud, a foreshadowing of never getting out of the drowning hole...

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Learn to Let Go to Deliver

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prompt by Corbett Barr
What would you say to the person you were five years ago? 
What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

Prague 2006.

Inside the ancient shul, I go back in time 26 years to 1980.
In my search for roots and ancestors I find not Golem but an apparition of my own father at my side. The smell of his tobacco juice impregnated red farmer's handkerchief tickles my nostrils. My fingers remember circling small balls of tread in the fabric of his shirt cut from 1950s plaid. A smoker's hack brought me back.
"Excuse me," the dolled up octogenarian beside me grunted, her lips a scream of red.

Remembrance —a reminder I owe my father his story, history, my story, our mystery.   

Back in the hotel I find an email message from two gents in the the Netherlands. They've bought a portfolio of my father's work, a good 200 painted sketches, at a swap meet. They want to honor him with a book. "I can write," the typist says.
"Good for him," my husband quipped. "He won't have to, how do you say that in Dutch?"
"Get back the money he paid for school?"

I laugh with Gary, but a claw of fear grips my stomach. I've spent three years organizing data, writing my father's biography, simultaneously, side-by side on my monitor in both English and Dutch. And these dudes want me to hand over all that so they can put the information in a catalog that will raise the value of material that should have been mine in the first place?

The email says the man who demolished my parental house after I sold it, found the port-folio hidden underneath the bed box in my mother's room. I break out in sweat, I stopped my search for valuables when I reached the bottom of that bed box and noticed pink pallets of rodent poison dispersed across the boards. Did I ever know about the hiding place underneath? An ever so faint recollection of a dark hole, a scary place for a child, surfaces, nausea adds to the tightness in my chest. I know crying is the best way to release the fear, to soften the blow and the rock on my stomach. I cry in the shower, where my tears mix with the water running down the drain,

Back in Seattle I start the negotiation, and write the couple that I'm delighted they've recovered my father's art, that I'm saddened that the demolisher didn't contact me when he found the hidden treasures, and that I'll be happy to reimburse them for their expenses plus for postage and handling when (not if) they send me the goods.
"I remember the sketches my father made with colored ballpoint pens during meals at the dining room table in Amsterdam. it'll be great to see them back."

"That's not possible," the typist replies, "You cannot have seen your father create this work since you weren't even born in '35."

The nerve! And yet, it's true, I was born ten years after, not before WWII. Looking at the paintings on my wall, I can see how someone would mistake my father's painted '53 for '35. I know for sure his career as an artist did not start until the early 1950s. I ask them to send me JPGs to proof their point and to see if the work they talk about really is my father's. The couple feels insulted by what they see as my insinuation that they would not have obtained the artwork in a legal manner. However, they understand the work belongs with me, but not in exchange for reimbursed expenses! The work will need to be appraised, they state.
Before our trip to Prague and Amsterdam, I was almost ready to post my father's bio on Wikipedia, but after the correspondence I keep my writing to myself, until I know what to do about the portfolio, I tell myself.

Going back in time to 2006 I tell my younger self: 

Don't lose your momentum, you've worked so hard on your father's biography, it's time to share. Five years from now, you won't even care that you can't afford to buy back his art from these men. And you'll consider their browsing the swap meets similar to your parents bidding at auctions. 
Let them enjoy their find. You know they love his work! Don't worry about them using your father's biography for the content of their catalog. You've got something bigger in the making, not only a biography in Dutch and English, but memoirs, not one but several novels and a screenplay.
Learn from your mother's departure. Let go. Let go of your need to hold on, let go of your need to hide what you have discovered.

In 2016 I'll tell myself: BRAVA! You've delivered!

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dream Big Outside the Writer's Den

Our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self-Reliance.

The prompt by Matt Cheuvront) includes a quote by Steven Pressfield, from: Do the Work 
 “Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneurs worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. Its only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” 

Prompt by Matt Cheuvron: 
The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place – getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.

Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish(ed) but have been afraid to pursue come out of hiding with? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle. The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

Most days the challenge of this Trust30 - Self-Reliance Challenge lies in not discarding a prompt as not applicable to my situation (I am doing what I love), or worse uninteresting (been there, done that), and to instead do exactly what artists do, setting what "is" (reality) to their hand. Which turns out to be the subject of today, June 6th's prompt by Matt Cheuvront.

A writer friend commented on yesterday's blog post Finish the Project at Hand that I am a survivor and have followed my dreams.

My response: Dreams I did not have, and "dreaming" of the future was exactly what I could not do. It was only a year ago that I realized I'd never come out of my shell, would never share my personal stories (which doesn't mean they haven't already been written, they've just been stowed away) if I wouldn't dare to dream period. If I didn't project myself in a future situation that would show my accomplishment. I've got Oprah to thank for that (and I didn't even read the book Dream Big: O's Guide to Discovering Your Best Life).

This Trust30 Challenge is taking me closer to sharing my personal stories with the world. After I finish editing my novel I will send out the manuscript, same with my memoir and the film script. I'm my own worst enemy, the great obstacle on the road to publication, for I hide in bright daylight and living colors. 

Participating in the Self-Reliance Challenge forces me to come out of my shell, allows me to lift the veil of secrecy, slowly but steadily. I've got the Trust30 authors to thank for that.

Dear reader, seeing your portrait when we bloggers start a new post empowers us! To those whose portrait is already on view in the sideline gallery, and to my friends who leave comments, thank you, thank you! Your visit helps me keeps the dream I have now alive!

Steven Pressfield it the author of Do the Work

 Dream Big: O's Guide to Discovering Your Best Life

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Finish the Project at Hand

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self-Reliance.

Prompt by Jonathan Mead:
If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive. Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

Finds of the Day
This could be John Lennon's answer to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".

My answer to Jonathan Mead: Since childhood I've been living my life as though each day is my last. 

Old, physically beat and mentally tormented, my father knew he wasn't going to live long enough to see me grow from child into young adult. He  tried to prepare me for his death, telling me he would still be there for me after he was gone. 

At night, after my father and I finished watching a television movie and we had gone to bed (hours after my mother retired), I listened for his every breath, and sometimes would get up to check his breathing. If he had a quiet night without a cough, I was awake, his silence was killing me. Of all the colorful pills that filled an old cigar tin, I only remember the little green one that was for his nerves. Was that the one I handed out most, or was it his heart pill, or the one for asthma, or odema? 

I expected my mother would die soon after him, and while I didn't really express the thought that I would be next after she was gone, I lived up to that expectation by taking life one day at the time.

Programmed to make the most of each day I ask you: Stand By Me. I'll be back soon with more, today I enjoyed a day at the beach.

Some great finds: Fresh sand dollars, starfish, pipe worms, water spewing geoducks [gooey].

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Being at Home Wherever I Am

If we live truly, we shall see truly. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

Traveling is in my blood. "I've been so many places in my life and time." That's not my line, that's Leon Russell's in A Song For You. Is he fantastic or what?

My father was a wandering Jew. The eldest of four children, he was born in Antwerp, because his parents just happened to be there for business at the time, while his two sisters and brother could claim Amsterdam as their place of birth. He went to sea after his father died of the Spanish Flu, and visited many places in the world I didn't even find out he did until decades after his death.

My mother traveled for her job in advertising. The summer after my father died, she signed me up to hike from the southern tip of the Netherlands to Luxembourg. At sixteen I took the train to Skopje, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and hitchhiked the rest of the way to Athens, Greece with a 21-year-old girlfriend.
"No one will ever take away the memories you collect on your travels," she said.

In Palma, de Majorca one Spring, in my early twenties, I promised myself I'd have a profession that would take me places, and working as a designer and artist did just that. I vowed I would not move from my present home before I finish a few books in the making. And then? Then I'll work the Writers' Conferences circuit, giving lectures and readings, teaching workshops. That's how I envision I'll get around.

In my dreams I see all different hues of blue in lagoons, and ache to paint the exotic beaches I haven't taken in, but for their appearance on television or in a movie. I sing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav on that hike to Luxembourg, and whisper "next year in Jeruzalem". I hear the banter at dinner parties with friends in Istanbul, Melbourne, Christchurch, and more places I haven't been to, but I don't really need to go there before I die, I just hope I'll be home before that.

Chris Guillebeau is the author of The Art of Non-Conformity.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, June 3, 2011

We Hide under Stones or in Bright Sunlight

 That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? . . . Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prompt by Jenny Blake

Identify one of your biggest challenges at the moment (ie I don’t feel passionate about my work) and turn it into a question (ie How can I do work I’m passionate about?) Write it on a post-it and put it up on your bathroom mirror or the back of your front door. After 48-hours, journal what answers came up for you and be sure to evaluate them.

We hide under stones or in bright sunlight
What was my parents' secret?
Why did I grow up in isolation? 
Who was the culprit? 
When and how would I find out? 

By writing, by digging deep and discovering. 
That's what I do.

My biggest challenge is to share my discoveries with the world. I don't share my discoveries with the world.
How can I make myself share my discoveries with the world?

 Tell you what, I started sharing on Day 1 by taking on this Trust30 Self-Reliance Challenge. Since today was a busy day and I'm tired after yesterday's purge, I'll take the hint and take it easy, take the night off and wait and see what tomorrow's prompt will be.

 Jenny Blake is the author of

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Secrecy Creates Schisms

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Today's prompt by Buster Benson
The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

Where I grew up, your conviction had to be stronger than belief. "If" was for children and belief reserved for fairy tales, Sinterklaas and religion. Where I come from, a sentence started with "I believe..." often triggers the response, "You can do that on your own time," or "Believing you can do inside the church." In other words, you've got to know something for sure. It's about semantics, about the meaning of language. In my mother tongue I won't say "I believe" that secrecy creates problems. I will state that it does and I can without holding back do the same in my second language.

Secrecy creates a schism in families and between friends.

While my father did not communicate with his only surviving sister, her husband and two daughters, nor with his only son, the man whom I wouldn't meet until 1993, when I was 37, and he 69, just two years younger than my father when he died in 1969, my mother did not communicate with hers either. 

Dense what? Early manuscript 1980
The wife of my mother's eldest brother ignored the schism. Since they lived up north, as far removed from family and friends as we, there was nothing to lose, only to gain. They visited us once at the farmhouse in the fields near Allardsoog. The crayons and sketchbook they chose to bring for me, my aunt's inspired conversations with my father —about art and the Bible?— were good for a truce.  The next time I saw them, they fetched me at our less isolated farmhouse near the hunebed of Steenbergen for an overnight stay at their home in the peat territory of Groningen. My very first sleep-over at age eleven. Their huge house towered between the peat cutters' sod huts, the wind blew under the eves, the guest room was cold and incredibly clean, there were no other children, no toys, no children's books, no photographs of family members as far as I can remember.

After my father died, my mother's elder sister, a spinster, and the younger one with husband and child, showed up, as did another brother with his wife. The third brother was missing, his boyish figure cut out of the line-up of six children. Why? I did not know. 

At times my father had camp syndrome induced anxiety attacks. He would hold me and share his anguish. During these episodes, my mother was the enemy, and not allowed near the two of us. What happened to my father was more of less clear. He had been terrorized and was tormented by re-living moments of fear, anger and guilt. 

What was my parents' secret? Why did I grow up in isolation? Who was the culprit? When and how would I find out? By writing, by digging deep and discovering. That's what I do.

What remains is sharing his story, her story, my story; resolve the mystery. My hope is that this will close the wounds. My conviction is that it's easier to live with scars than with secrets.

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Changing Tack from Amstelodamum to Outhouse

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's prompt by Liz Danzico
If ‘the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tracks,’ then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence? 
Tell today’s sentence to one other person. Repeat each day.

Today I wake up thinking about yesterday, and how my parents and I left Amsterdam, and about the things we left behind us in that flat on the Ceintuurbaan, only a block from the Amstel where I learned how to skate on natural ice that winter of 1962 when even the river that gave Amsterdam its name —for it was the dam in the Amstel that helped create Amstelodamum— froze over and my father stood shivering in his Monty Coat, named after a general during WWII, he told me when he buttoned my own miniature version of his, and knotted my scarf under my chin and would have plugged my ears with cotton balls if only my mother would have let him, but she, the Amazon on skates, had no fear of cold, she, nineteen years younger than my Papa who was born in the Century before last, how is that possible you wonder, I have such a youthful countenance, well thank you, I'll take that as a compliment, but to get back to the flat at the Ceintuurbaan ("ceinture" is French for belt, and the Dutch "ceintuurbaan" means circular railway which in our case was a tram that stopped in front of our house,
Ours was way nicer than this rough spot!
and one time my father said there's your aunt Sophie, your mother's eldest sister, she cleans toilets at the French Consulate, and my mother said that's not true, Sophie is the secretary to the Consul General, you know that very well, and my father grumbled something about a toilet bowl and that is one of the things that we left behind when we moved up north where we had not Water Closet, just a loo in the back of the barn, not even a toilet bowl, but a wooden box with a hole in the top that was covered with a wooden lid that you took off before sitting down, and I remember how smooth the seat was as if all the bottoms that had come before mine had sanded the wood and it sometimes made me wonder whether those people's behinds were like the finest sandpaper, but my mother said I did better not to think about the people whose bottoms had touched our numero hundred as she liked to call what my father said was nothing but an outhouse inside the barn.
This #Trust30 Self-Reliance challenge makes me change tac(k)tics, zigzagging through history, coming about!

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fear of Sharing - Stow it Away

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Self Reliance Project I've embarked on requires me to respond to prompts given once a day for 30 days in a row
Today's prompt by Gwen Bell
You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.

Fifteen minutes to live? 

My first urge is to pack all my folders, all printed materials in a box, to schlep all the files and folders on the three Macs I work on to the shared Drop-box and dump. Dump everything in the file I share with my husband (is there enough space?). And then what? I'll be dead. Will he care enough, will he have the gumption to do what needs to be done to get the story out that needs to be written?

Needs to be written? Get out of here! It's all been written. I've been writing since 1980 when IDTV director Harry de Winter lend me one of the Brother typewriters that was used in his office on the Kloveniersburgwal in Amsterdam. I'd pick up the machine and a cassette at 5 p.m. on Friday and return it on Monday morning.

At the time I was working on an opera by Milhaud and Cocteau. Juri Voogd, the director introduced me to Harry in Café Frascati. Harry was curious, where did I come from, a Jewish girl in Amsterdam he had never met, that seemed impossible. So I told him I had lived in Amsterdam until age seven, when my parents and I moved out of town, back to nature.

In 1963 "up north" to Allardsoog could be likened to emigrating to Australia. Raised in isolation, in the middle of the fields, without relatives or friends, I thought we, my father and I, were the last Jews. Not unlike The Last of the Mohicans. My father's mother, after whom I was named was gassed in Auschwitz, so was my father's sister Beppie, her husband Simon, and their children. Whether these cousins were boys or girls, and how many there were, I never heard from him.

My father's brother Jacques was killed at sea, he was the cook on a Merchant Marine ship. My dad never talked about Jacques' wife and children, I gathered there were none. The times that Papa called his surviving sibling Marie on the phone, making contact just for me, he'd hang up after a few minutes. They didn't get along. My father wasn't on speaking terms with Maupie (short for Maurits) either. Maupie was my half-brother, my father's son from his first marriage to aunt Poldi. One of my dolls was a gift from her. I only knew handsome Maupie from a photograph.

The alarm just went off, I'm dead and I haven't told the story I need to write, no, that I need to share. Even the threat of death can't make me come to the point. How pathetic is that? 
For me, writing or creating something is not the problem. I've got loads of material that's already written, and believe me I did get to the point. 

Come back you hear! I'm not finished yet!

This work by by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.