Posted on

December 2019

Posted on December 22, 2019 by sydneymandt

Behooved Sinner

I’m fascinated by abstract words and how they can sometimes be linked to concrete terms.

One of my go-to examples of this is the word “worry”. We often connect worrying to mental anxiety – thinking about possible negative outcomes of a situation and experiencing the distress that imagining entails.

But worry also has a more physically evident definition that I don’t hear used as often, as mentioned in Webster’s online dictionary:

a: to harass by tearing, biting, or snapping especially at the throat
b: to shake or pull at with the teeth
c: to touch or disturb something repeatedly
d: to change the position of or adjust by repeated pushing or hauling

When I was a child, I heard someone describe “worry beads” and how people would use them to count or just touch during prayers. People would “worry the beads”.

I didn’t understand this phrase. Beads are inanimate objects. How could they be worried about something? And if beads could be worried, why does touching them do it? Is the praying person somehow transferring their worry onto the beads so that they don’t have to feel it?

Eventually I understood that in this case worry meant the physical acting of touching over and over. It has occurred to me that the word “worry” started out as a concrete verb, but at some point became a handy metaphor to describe a mental state, and thus an abstract verb.

So now I am on the lookout for abstract words that possibly began as concrete ones.

One example is the word “sin”. The Greek word for sin is “hamartia”, which is an archery term that means “to miss the mark”. I grew up thinking that sinning is synonomous with doing evil. If one is a sinner, it means that they deliberately act against God’s wishes. Maybe if I had grown up with a different religious background I would have understood that not all sin has intentionality behind it, but as a child I picked up on the distinct aura of blame around the word.

But when I was in my early 20’s, someone told me the “miss the mark” definition, and it totally changed my perception. Immediately I could see that sinners were not necessarily trying to go against God’s will. As a matter of fact, they were likely striving to hit their target, which is to please God and follow His plan. They aim, shoot, and miss. Because hitting a mark is a skill that takes practice. And since no one is perfect, we are all sinners, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed. It just means we have to keep trying.

Instead of a statement of hopelessness, I started to see the word “sin” as a commendation of effort. You will never be perfect, but you have a lifetime to keep practicing. This new perspective turns an intransitive “just-the-way-it-is” spiritual situation into a transitive “just-do-it” athletic event.

This brings me to the word of the hour: “behoove”.

It’s an old word, but it still gets used occasionally. President Obama used the word publicly, saying, “It behooves me to be brief.” The dictionary definition is “to be necessary, fit, or proper”. This seems to be a transitive verb, which has a direct object being acted upon, and also someone or something doing the action. In this case, President Obama is the direct object being acted on by “it”, where “it” is the situation in which President Obama finds himself.

When I woke up this morning, I thought of the “hoof” in behoove. Why, I do not know, but I considered the possibility that “behoove” started as “behoof” and meant being given a hoof, or being “hooved”. You could say when God created horses, He “behooved” them so that they could run, walk, and generally move from one place to another with utility and efficiency.

I am intrigued by that “be” in front of the word. I think of “bedazzled”, which means “decorated with sparkly things.

How many other verbs can I think of that start with “be” as a indicator of being “placed upon” or “bestowed with”? There’s “bestow” in that last sentence, to start with. “Stow” means to store carefully in a particular place. So if a word has been bestowed with a certain meaning, the meaning has been stored and neatly packed into that word.

Other “be-” words include: Bespeckle. Bedeck. Beknight. Befuddle. Bewilder. Bewitch. Beleaguer. Berate. I have heard all of those words used by actual speakers, but there may have been many more such words in the past, as suggested by the madeup-sounding but Scrabble-legitimate words “beglamored”, and “besprinkled”. Today we would be more likely to use the words “glamorized” and “sprinkled” to mean the same things.

All of the previous leads up to my thinking about “behooved”. Is this ever an intransitive verb? “I am behooved to act a certain way,” seems to be a sentence with no direct object (which is required to be called transitive) but is instead a (gerund?), an adjective (formed from a verb) describing the object “I” through the reflexive verb “am”. But in order to say that sentence, a prequel sentence is implied: “Something behooved me.”

Thinking about this word in the “concrete transforming into abstract” context, I now consider “behoove” not just as an obligation to do something, but as an acknowledgement of being given the tools to actually do it.

It “behooves me to do good in the world” becomes, “I have the tools and ability to do good” – just as behooving (behoofing) a horse gives it the tools and abilities to run through the fields playfully, to transport people and items, and to do other valuable things.

I love how a little shift in word connotation can dramatically change my outlook.

Posted on

October 2019

Posted on October 7, 2019

Arting and Wording

Friday was Doug’s second art show opening. The gallery where he is showing keeps a show up for two months, and October’s was the last first Friday Burien art walk of the year. November through February are cold enough to keep people more indoors, so the art walks will return, as always, in May.

There was a poetry reading in a room adjacent to the art gallery, (both rooms are in a tea shop), and I stopped in to listen and to recite some of my poetry.

I got to experience how an audience can change/enhance a poem. When I recited “Rita Hayworth’s Forehead”, and I came to the last verse, I picked up my can of Izze sparkling juice as I said, “Here’s to follicles….” Since the other four people in the room were holding glasses of wine, they held up their beverages as well, and we all clinked our drink containers together, as I continued, then finished the poem up, then drank the last glugs in the can.

Even when I’m watching the people listening to a poem I’m reciting, I can’t be sure what the full scope of their reaction is. Folks were encouraging, and one person even uttered a true and surprised laugh during my daisy poem (“The Lovely White Flowers that Smell of Poo”), but I still wonder about impact. I don’t trust positive gushing, though I surely like it better than harsh criticism. But it’s not my goal.

I would like to create a real reaction to my words. I pray that my words produce some kind of catalytic inner response that I may never know about, but which positively affects the reader or listener, changing a little something inside. Soul nutrition: I want my words to be active cultures – probiotics or enzymes, zinging up the digestive system.

And however my words transform through ingestion by another person, may they end up as fertilizer for something else to grow.

Posted on

September 2019

Posted on September 21, 2019

Headache Weekend (and a head-related poem)

My almost-a-migraine experience is happening again today. It’s one that Doug and I have noticed mostly occurs weekends, and often during those for which I’ve made no specific plans, but for which I have many expectations. Sometimes I will think to myself, “I must clean my house!”, or “I need to help Jo organize her room!” or “I have to prep for a meeting!” or “What am I going to do about finding my calling and having some kind of lucrative and soul-enriching career!?” And then, the headache comes, causing my thoughts to transform into, “I can’t think with this kind of pain, so I might as well watch TV,” or “I don’t want to throw up,” or simply, “Ow.”

Fortunately, there are medicines in the world, and I took one of them about half an hour ago. It must be kicking in, because my shoulder/neck/behind-the-left-eye pain has dissipated to the point where it’s hardly there now. What a difference! I’ve gone from feeling nauseous and achey and lethargic to actually feeling like maybe doing something. Though I also feel like taking a nap.

These headaches might be caused by stress, menstruation, a general need to take it easy – but it could be that last night’s dinner of pizza and cheesy bread contributed, too.

On to the topic of writing: my Mom requested that I put this poem on my website, and I thought that I had, but I hadn’t. So here it is.

Rita Hayworth’s Forehead

A little background to help understand the poem:

Rita Hayworth began her life with the name Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her Spanish father and Irish mother were both dancers, and she grew up dancing, too. Not too many people know that Rita’s hair was naturally black, and that her hairline was originally much lower than the one we are used to seeing on her in movies. The Hollywood machine at that time required that she make herself look more “white”.

When I first saw pictures of Margarita Cansino, I had no idea why they had come up, since I had googled “Rita Hayworth”. The transformation is significant. And it made me sad that her original form of beauty was not acceptable for successful movie-making – at least not enough for her to be a star. She obviously had the talent and the acting skills and the drive to be a leading actress. But Hollywood’s and greater society’s prejudices would not allow her to get there without changing her appearance.

I had known that I wanted to write something entitled “Rita Hayworth’s Forehead” for years, but nothing congealed in my mind until I heard an author promoting her Rita Hayworth biography on NPR. The information in that interview gave me what I needed, and Rita’s eponymous forehead poem was born.

Posted on September 19, 2019

Gibberish is fun!

I wrote two poems and one song/poem yesterday in language chosen specifically for the fun sound patterns they make.

When I read these poems to my younger daughter, who famously dislikes most of my poetry, she said, “Mom. The reason Jabberwocky works is because some of the words make sense!” I knew she wouldn’t like it. I told her she is my best audience because she’s my worst audience. If I can handle her reaction to my poetry, I can handle any critique.

Seriously, these poems make me happy to read, sing, say out loud, and think about. Please find them in the Poetry section. They are titled:



Ziggindy bo!

Posted on September 2, 2019

Restful Weekend Labor

Yesterday I didn’t feel well. I went for  a walk with hubby & daughter, and couldn’t make it all the way back up the hill to the car. My head was throbbing, nausea creeping over me, and my heart was pounding and my breathing heavy, just from walking up a set of stairs. The two of them left me to sit on the top step while they walked ahead and then picked me up with the car.

So I took it easy yesterday, despite having some pre-guest house cleanup to do. I would do a little work, rest, work, then rest again. I would fold clothes, for example, until my neck/head started hurting and I felt dizzy. Then I would sit down and play sudoku or candy crush on the computer.

I also watched the rest of the Joyce Carol Oates Master Class I’ve been going through. I’ve only done a couple of her suggested writing exercises, and I’m wondering about posting one of them here.

The exercise in question is “burn through a scene”, giving oneself 45 minutes to write a scene, preferably one with 4 characters or fewer, “in one single location over a unified period of time”.

I wrote about my 20 year class reunion, in particular one point during which I tried to join in a conversation with 3 other classmates and felt completely shut out. It’s still in it’s first draft, so maybe I’ll work on it a little before putting it up here.

In the meantime, I will post a poem that I wrote in the car on the way to work a couple of weeks ago. It actually started out as a song, which is sometimes the case with my car-written poems. I’m not sure why I’m compelled to sing-write poem-songs. The words sometimes suggest a melody, I guess, and the tune helps me remember the words. Then when I’ve made it to work, before I go inside, I write the poem in my journal, singing it to recall the words.

By the time I’m off work, I’ve completely forgotten the tune, and looking at the words in my journal does nothing to bring it back. So I’ve started recording these mini songs on my phone. It’s a lovely little surprise when I play it back. (Though I would not call them good songs. Just entertaining, I guess.)

I’ve recorded three of these little songs on my phone so far. One has the line, “I’ve got eyeballs”. Another, very incomplete, contains the chorus “You’ve got it all”. The one I will post right now under Poems starts out, “How will you be with the water?”

Posted on

August 2019

Posted on August 3, 2019

Buddy Words

The other day a coworker introduced me to a new word.

He had asked me to let him know when our boss was available, and I said I might forget. Others in the office volunteered to help me remember. And he called those folks “accountabilibuddies”.

I love that word! It’s got seven syllables, which automatically makes it awesome, plus it’s got rhythm and alliteration and a fun sound to it over all. And it’s useful!

A quick Google search shows my co-worker was likely not the first to use this term, and the word has an almost-as-fun close cousin, “responsibilibuddy”.

These words make me want to think of other words that would sound as good having “buddy” added to the end. It seems the rule to follow is to use words that end in “ible” or “able”.

So here are some examples and their definitions. Feel free to use them if they seem relevant to your situation:

Flammabilibuddy – Arson partner

Affabilibuddy – Fellow friendly person. Or “friend”.

Abilibuddy – A pal who is just as competent as you are

Stabilibuddy – Someone you can lean on (and vice versa)

Remarkabilibuddy – What a guy/gal!

Some words that end in “ble” without the “i” or “a” in front also work:

Scrambilibuddy – Someone who also likes eggs for breakfast

Preambilibuddy – A friend who likes words before other words

And what about:

Practicalibuddy – Realistic friend

Permeabilibuddy – What ameba acquaintances call each other

Ostensibilibuddy – A supposed friend

Opposabilibuddy – Friend who likes to disagree

Have you got any other interesting buddy words? If so, I’d love to hear them!

8/3/19 – addition from my daughter: gullibilibuddy, which I might define as: someone who understands how easy it is to believe unlikely things.

Posted on

July 2019

Posted on July 22, 2019

Request from Mom

My Mom has been requesting a copy of one of my poems, so I will post it here, despite my having already posted something today.  It’s one of the poems I’ve memorized for reciting at friend or family gatherings.

It’s called The Lovely White Flowers that Smell of Poo. 


Posted on July 21, 2019

Asking for Help

I’ve been stuck lately. There are different ways to describe it – hopeless, depressed, attenuated to failure.

Another way could be numb – to creativity, to possibility of change and fulfilling my potential. I go to my daily job, do what needs to be done from 8:30am to 3pm, maybe run an errand after work, go home, make dinner, and do very little the rest of the evening until I can finally put myself to bed with the justification that I have to get up for work the next day.

Somehow I manage to get the BARE minimum of my other duties accomplished. I do enough laundry to have something clean to wear, shop in little bits here and there to keep a modicum of food on hand, shower at least every other day. As far as my Baha’i responsibilities are concerned, there are assembly duties I have literally been avoiding for years, including archiving old assembly papers, calling National to ask about assembly business, updating membership and records. Guilt weighs heavy on me, but is only partially why I have so little energy to move forward.

Doug sees my struggles. He’s amazingly patient with me – more than I am with myself. He found a person online who offers life coaching and encouraged me to give her a call. (Her name is Penelope Trunk.) I have been considering it, but she charges $350 for a 1 hour phone call. And though the hour may give me some of the direction and momentum I need, there are several reasons I drag my feet.

1. $350 is about what I get paid for 3 6-hour days at work. For 18 hours I do my day gig for 1 hour of her time. I get spending anxiety as it is, and given our money situation, I don’t feel good about this ratio of input to output. Yes, due to not having insurance this year, we have some savings. But that will be spent on my dental implant, plus I would really like to replace the tub in the girls’ house, since it is gross, at best, and full of heath-damaging black mold at worst.

2. The Baha’i writings talk about asking God for help – a version of “ask and ye shall receive”. It feels like I am betraying God, like I don’t have full faith in Him if I ask someone else for help without asking God first.

Then again, I am reminded of the joke about the guy whose home is in the path of flood waters. People come to his door to warn him and offer to drive him to a safe zone. But his answer is, “God will save me.” Then, when the water enters his home, a rescuer in a boat comes by to pick him up. But the man refuses to go, saying “God will save me.” The flood is so bad that eventually the homeowner has to climb onto the roof to escape the waters. A helicopter comes to take him off the roof, but again he stays put, saying, “God will save me.” The man dies and goes to heaven, where he confronts God – “Why didn’t you save me?” God’s reply is, “What do you mean? I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter!”

So maybe Penelope Trunk is one of those versions of help that I need to accept and be grateful for.

But maybe I haven’t asked God for help in the proper way. Or maybe I haven’t listened well enough or comprehended His answer.

This is not a new issue for me, trying to figure out my destiny, my calling, and reconcile whatever that is with my need to earn money. I found a couple of undated, penciled poems on a random note pad today. The pages before them contain sketches of ideas for “Word Ferd” products. “Food for inner nourishment and outer decoration”, I have written. A knitted hat with “word ferd” on the brim. A skirt whose hem says “wordswordswords…” all the way around. A list of other products that could feature words on them: belts, t-shirts, shoelaces, earrings, etc. A list of things to purchase: “ACE 14-16 guage wire, gallon Ziplocs, Value Village – shelf- white mesh (hang on wall), baubles & pretties, Misc. tool things.”

Then there’s a poem about our old therapist who left town without explanation. (I can post that in Poems later).

And then this:

To think and feel
To see and hear,
To know, but not to judge.
The plan
Is to feel out options.
Long term plans
Depend on the time/place frame.
But if I am a frameless picture,
Then plans are plain and bold,
Unhindered by thoughts that supposedly made them.
Spontaneity is a plan
Made less-than-seconds ahead,
And a million years ago,
Like a seed that finally feels
Its time is right to grow.
I resolve to dissolve
All plans and expectations
In the ocean of True Self,
To let them wash ashore
One by one
Until maybe I see a pattern
And can fish out what really matters.
Until then,
I let myself float
In a sea of all,
And resolve.

I will post an updated version of the above under “Poems”.

And I will ask God what to do.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a difficult prospect for me. As Baha’u’llah said, “…souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me.”

Even when I want to ask God what to do with my life, I don’t know exactly how to do it. Also, how do I hear the answer with all the noisiness of my neuroses and other issues?

I feel like life is way too complicated, with too many unrelated parts to make them work together coherently.

Then again, the human body is made of many seemingly unrelated parts that all work together quite wonderfully.

I believe that a Divine Force created human beings.

And I believe that Life, as an emanation of this force, offers innumerable metaphors for humanity’s education. The human body is one of my favorite metaphors.

So, with that, I take my brain, with its current pre-migraine sensations, and my strangely tweaky left shoulder, and my skin, basking in warmth and reveling in the cooling breeze, and I ask God, the Creator, to take these disparate elements that make up this person I have been made to be, and to move them into a fully functioning, Self-actualized form.

And to please help me recognize the modes of transportation that have been divinely sent to help me.

Posted on

June 2019

Posted on June 24, 2019

3 Poems About Food

I’m back from a week of vacationing. This year we stayed in Rockaway Beach, OR, home of the Pronto Pup, which claims to have been the first and original corn dog. It was there where we ate corn dogs and fries and soda, and took pictures of each other riding the corn dog ride (think quarter-fed horsey ride, but replace the horse with a 3.5 foot-long corn dog with 2.5 foot-long stick). A white uniform-wearing employee with matching white food-service hat took pictures of all 9 of us (including Briggs, the dog) in front of the Pronto Pup sign before we went our separate ways –  Maki and family driving south, and Mandts plus Mom headed back north.

AND, this morning, for some reason, I wrote three poems about food. Two of them, though probably not complete, are ready enough for public viewing. Please find them under “Poems”: “Have Your Cake and Eat it” and “Lemons”. Enjoy!

Posted on June 6, 2019


This Sunday, the Baha’is of Burien are hosting a Race Unity picnic in Puget Sound Park. I will be in charge of the craft station, which will feature badge/button-making, coloring, and making tissue paper flowers. I will also recite some of my poetry which carries a message of unity in diversity.

I’ll introduce the first poem, “Opposable” with something like the following:

The Baha’i writings tell us that all of humanity must be united.

Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, helps us understand how diverse peoples can unite by comparing the world of humanity to the human body. Human beings, no matter how different from each other, are all connected and work toward the same goal, in the same way that all the different parts of the body, no matter how different, are all part of the same organism.

All parts of the body are united not despite their differences, but because of them. Every part of the body has a role to play, and is perfect in its own way.

I would like to recite a poem that helps illustrate this theme of unity in diversity. The title of the poem is “Opposable”

[Please find it under the Poems section above.]

Posted on June 1, 2019 by sydneymandt

Stories for Kids and Others

I’ve written a poem – “Ways to Tell a Story”. (Please find it in the “Poems” section above.)

I have what I call a “Sesame Street” mentality, in which many of my poems and songs are written. I call it that in part to soften the blow of some people’s reactions. On more than one occasion I have recited to someone one of my original (often freshly written) pieces, which I consider deep and meaningful, and the reaction has been that it’s good for kids. Not that writings for children can’t be deep and meaningful – it’s just not what I was going for.

Now, as a form of self-defense, I often silently put what I write in the category of “for kids”, though I look for the opportunity to move into into some other, more respected category, depending on how it’s received.

I don’t like that I do that, for a few reasons:

  1. It implies that children’s literature is inferior.
  2. It implies that what I write is not worthwhile if it’s for children (or simple enough for children to appreciate).
  3. It hurts my feelings.

I need to keep writing, appreciating what I create, making it the best it can be, no matter who the audience may be – even if that audience is just me.

Posted on

May 2019

Posted on May 20, 2019

Some Nerve

This weekend I accomplished little except to rest and ride out the pain of a migraine. Migraines are the in category of “headache”, but in my experience, more than the head is involved. Of  course pain anywhere in the body never affects only that body part. Being connected as one united organism, the whole body is affected, though some parts more than others. When a migraine comes upon me, it could start in the neck (left side, usually), or behind my left eyeball, and it often moves down into the shoulder blade and leaves my whole body aching. Any normal movement – pouring myself water, hugging my husband – leaves me breathing heavily, grasping for oxygen, and I yawn profusely. My vision gets blurry, and the pain makes it hard to think. When it’s at it’s worst, I break out into a full-body sweat and succumb to dry heaves.

Good times!

The title of this post comes from an old-fashioned phrase. If someone did something inappropriate, rude, too bold, it could be commented that the person had “some nerve”. “The nerve of that guy,” was another phrase used. I wonder about the origins of that. Could it be that people really thought that there was a nerve in the person’s body that was responsible for their behavior? I don’t know how migraines come about, but the pain feels like it could be following the line of a nerve – some sensitive nerve, fritzing out like a frayed cord – that reverberates its malfunction body-wide.

It seems odd that one nerve, out of the billions (I think?) nerves in the body, could cause such havoc and completely disable a person for a whole, sunny weekend.

But it also makes sense. No nerve is an island unto itself.

Posted on May 14, 2019

Truth to Power!

I have not been posting as regularly as I like, but the only way to remedy that is to post something. Funny how my mind seems to think that I should, instead of writing, feel bad about not writing, which then reinforces no writing happening, since it’s hard to write when I feel like I’m a failure at writing.

Truth to power!

That phrase doesn’t necessarily relate to the above paragraph, but it entered my mind this morning, for some reason, and eventually I wrote something inspired by it. I put it under stories. Enjoy!

Posted on

March 2019

Posted on March 28, 2019 by sydneymandt

Wednesday Post! (May this start a trend…)

Doug is dutifully and admirably working on his computer, creating visual art to post on Instagram, and I am following his creative example. We sit side by side on our couch, with blanket-filled space between us, both with laptops in our laps.

I’ve been thinking about the poem I posted most recently – Us. I’ve decided that the ending is a bit awkward, because “we”, when read aloud, could also be heard/visualized as “wee”. On one hand, it seems unlikely that a reader would hear this pronoun-heavy poem and think that I was referring to urine with that word, instead of the first person plural pronoun. But on the other hand, I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so others may notice the homophone issue as well. Also, since there’s a precedent within the poem for playing around with words, maybe readers would consider that I threw in a double meaning for fun.

However, I do mean “we”, not “wee”, and since I may read this aloud to an audience someday, I decided to experiment with a version of the poem that is less ambiguous. Here is what I came up with:


This and That loved Those and These

But always avoided Them.

They liked Them and a little of That,

But These were never Their friends.

It felt It didn’t belong with Them,

But was chummy with Hes and Shes.

Them like That and That liked Those,

But neither were fans of These.

One day They and Them met at

A stop with Hes and Shes.

Up walked Those and This and That,

Joined by It and These.

It followed the motley group as It

Boarded a local bus,

And panicked, until It recalled that We,

Together, all make Us.

Posted on March 24, 2019 by sydneymandt

Plan and Poem

Here it is, Sunday, March 24th, and I have not followed my blog posting plan. I may have been too ambitious to set a goal of posting something four times a week, at least just starting out. So I’m revamping the plan to follow that of my husband, who posts on social media twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday. He shows amazing discipline in doing this, so if I follow his example, and sit down to blog when Doug sits down to do his bi-weekly Instagram drawing, I will be more likely to get it done. I’m hoping it will be like a bicyclist drafting a large truck, going speeds way beyond his or her own leg power by letting him-or-herself be pulled along in the lead vehicle’s slip stream.

The above paragraph fertilized two thoughts in my mind.

  1. According to Wikipedia, “drafting can significantly reduce the paceline‘s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.” Wha….?! Could it be that being followed can actually make the effort of leading easier? When I put it that way, it actually makes sense. But as far as physics is concerned, I find the idea a little confounding.
  2. I’ve been thinking about pronouns lately, both in general (as evidenced by the poem I wrote and will post today, Us), and also those that are gender specific. Notice the clunky “he or she” and “him-or-herself” references above. I suppose I could have used the word “one”, saying “one’s own leg power” and “letting oneself be pulled along”. It works, but it seems a little awkward or old-fashioned to me. Doug brought to my attention that some folks are using the pronoun ze to refer to a person without referring to zeir gender. (I used “zeir” there instead of “their” or “him or her”.) But if ze replaces he and she, what form of it replaces him or her? Zim? Zer? Fertilizer for future writings.
  3. Check out my husband’s Instagram Page, Ethical Creatures. He’s a brilliant artist with a penchant for the humorously bizarre. (Or maybe bizarrely humorous?)

Today’s writing is a poem entitled Us. I’m still trying to figure out if I should put it in this blog post, just refer to it here and post it in full on the poem page, or do both.

For now, I will do both. So here’s the poem, also available for viewing under the Poems heading.


This and That loved Those and These

But always avoided Them.

They liked Them and a little of That,

But These were never their friends.

It felt It didn’t belong with Them,

But was chummy with He’s and She’s.

Them like That and That liked Those,

But neither were fans of These.

When He and She and This and That

And They met on a bus,

It saw Them and These and Those

And started to make a fuss.

Until It noticed Them and They

And Those and He and She,

Along with These and This and That

Together all make We.

Posted on March 11, 2019 by sydneymandt

2019/2020 Spring to Spring plan

“Something Old,

Something New,

Something Borrowed,

Something Blue,

And a silver sixpence in her shoe.”

The above phrase refers to the old tradition concerning lucky objects a bride must have with her when she is getting married.

The somethings old and blue were supposed to ward off the Evil Eye, which could render the bride infertile.

The something borrowed was traditionally the undergarments of a married woman with kids, encouraging the new bride’s fertility. I wonder if the bride actually wore some other woman’s underwear. (Ew.)

The new something signified optimism in the future, and the silver sixpence symbolized prosperity.

As I was thinking about restarting Word Ferd, I thought of this marriage-related phrase and was inspired. I am not getting married, but I am beginning a new phase of writing that I hope is fruitful, collaborative, and full of goodness. (Incidentally, by this metaphor, I am a Blog divorcee on my third marriage.)

My idea is to follow this writing schedule:

Monday: Something Old – This will be a place for me to post my old writings or talk about anything else that the word “old” inspires me to write.

Wednesday: Something New – This will be a poem, short story, or essay I have written during the week of the current blog post.

Saturday: Something Borrowed – Here I will share other people’s words, such as quotes that have inspired me, links to other blogs, or comments on what I am currently reading.

Sunday: Something Blue – I define this broadly as anything that reminds me of one of the many connotations associated with the word/color blue. Carl Jung saw blue as a spiritual color. Blue can also describe inappropriate language, a state of sadness, and it can be the springboard for a million other ideas.

Silver Sixpence – Although I won’t devote a specific day of writing to this lucky object, I will keep in mind that writing practice is helping me to become rich in skills and abilities, which may or may not someday lead to monetary remuneration.

Posted on

March 2016

Posted on March 24, 2016 by sydneymandt

Random Words

I’m three weeks behind in my story-writing goals, and in order to catch up, I think I will resort to “flash fiction”, very short short stories, like the one I posted yesterday, entitled Wasted. That one just came to me, as a poem might, with a beginning sentence gathering images and metaphors around it.

I might also use the three-word method I’ve used in the past. I take a random book, open to a random page, and point, without looking, at a random word. I write that word down, then repeat the process twice. With these three words I then generate a story. The chosen words don’t have to be central to the story, just included in it. Sometimes the words inspire a situation or setting, or they may just be generic, anytime words. But often they can help get the story ball rolling.

So that’s a new, temporary goal: write 3 new stories in the next week or 4 new stories in the next 2 weeks.

Posted on March 23, 2016


I have not blogged in awhile.

This is disheartening for me, but I need to rehearten myself so that I can get moving again. This period has felt like a bad-weather stretch of already depressing weather. Metaphorically speaking. Although the actual weather around here hasn’t been what I would consider inspirational, either. Lots of rain. Lots of gray and cold. Spring is still springing, however, with green popping up everywhere and promising delightful colors and patterns and textures.

I’ve been able to do a little bit of yard and garden design here and there when the sun reveals itself and I have time to go outside. I wish I could spend hours and hours outside, weeding, planting, and doing the many little things that make for a beautiful yard. But I’ll take the few minutes I get here and there, the hour or so I can squeeze out on the weekends or evenings.

As far as my writing is concerned, I’m not sure what will kick me back into regular blog and story production. An inspirational video has gone around the internet in which the speaker says if we know our “why”, the “how” becomes much more clear.

So why do I want to write regularly? Some ideas that come to mind but which may or may not be completely applicable are:

  • I want to develop writing skills. Again, though: why? Because I want to express myself? Because Baha’u’llah says we need to have some sort of craft and profession, and that seems to be one of the few potentially money-earning skills I have left in my arsenal?
  • I like having habits that help me to improve somehow, or at least not to slip downward. Writing encourages me to be conscious of my motivations and the motivations of others.
  • I need escape from a somewhat monotonous reality that doesn’t seem to lead to much forward-moving positive change.

I don’t know if those why’s helped. They don’t seem very motivating. I’d like to have a more tangible goal, such as getting a book published (novel? short stories? poems?),  getting an mfa in creative writing, becoming a teacher. But I don’t feel attached to any of those goals, especially given their seeming unlikelihood.

So i guess I need to think about that why question. Why have the goal of daily blogging and weekly story writing? Is it just for the sake of having some kind of goal?

Posted on March 16, 2016

TBT (Throwback Tuesday) – Dedication

I have posted a story I wrote in 2002 and 2003 as part of a Creative Nonfiction Writing course. Dedication is about the birth of my second daughter. Please find it in the Stories section.

Posted on March 16, 2016 by sydneymandt

Needing routine

My MIL has been home for about a week now, and I’m getting back into the groove of caregiving. I find it hard to concentrate while caring for her because of the ever-present possibility of interruption. It’s difficult to let (or make) myself write when I know that any minute I could be ripped out of my reverie. Whatever flow I may have developed up to that point becomes a drip that dries up. And my whole day is like that. My housekeeping, chauffeuring, cooking, and caring duties happen in smatterings. And that’s not so bad when I’m doing things that I don’t enjoy much. But if I’m writing (or reading) something, I prefer a long stretch of time (at least an hour) to do just that. And I’m lucky if I get time to focus for 15 minutes at a stretch.

So if I want to write regularly, I need to come up with some sort of solution. I’ve been pretty good at exercising every day – same place and time and same set of DVD’s. But writing? The when and where of that are less consistent. I need to develop a workable plan. I’m a few weeks behind on my story-writing, but I’m hopeful that I can catch up.

Posted on March 6, 2016

Lovely Sunday

Sunshine bounces off the side of the neighbor’s white-painted once-was-a-uhaul truck and into my eyes, adding brightness to a moderately (Seattle) bright morning.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table while Batman, our mostly-outdoor cat, stares at me from his post on the wood railing outside the kitchen window. Occasionally he’ll put his paw up to the window screen and open his mouth with an inaudible meow. He’s already been fed, and it’s not too cold outside, plus his eyes close in relaxation, as if he might fall asleep, so I feel no urgency to let him in.

My MIL will come home Tuesday, returning from the nursing home where she’s been rehabilitating. Doug and I have been rehabilitating, too, taking advantage of time when we can go out and do things together – even if it is just getting our taxes done or bringing one of the family cars to the mechanic for repairs.

We also got to attend a friend’s birthday gathering together. The man of the hour did a pretty good impression of Donald Trump, a major topic of the evening.

Baha’is are not supposed to get involved in partisan politics. My take on it is that we are supposed to judge people by the content of their character (borrowing a phrase from Martin Luther King) rather than their political party. I’m not encouraged by what I observe from Trump’s words and actions. Baha’is are also not supposed to backbite – it’s one of the worst things we can do. So spending an evening in which Donald Trump was the topic of conversation was a huge challenge for me. I did a lot of head shaking. And saying things, too. Darn it.

Clouds are diffusing back into the sky cover, as they are wont to do around here. But if I need an extra blast of light, I can always look outside to the white side surface of my neighbor’s ex-u-haul-truck.

Posted on March 4, 2016 by sydneymandt

Slowing down for Fast

It’s the fourth day of the Baha’i Fast: no eating or drinking during the day. I’ve modified my Fast to accommodate some of my health issues, which means I still drink water and maybe juice if I feel dizzy or faint. I think the caffeine headache may finally be over. I still drink one cup in the morning, but I might reduce even that over the course of the next 15 or so days left in the Fast.

I’d like to focus on the spiritual aspects of life, which is one of the purposes of the Fast. Mostly, though, I end up feeling sleepy and cold, wanting to nap for a large portion of the day. Keeping up morning exercises and daily garden work (in wet, cold weather) has been difficult. But it all must be done in the spirit of little by little, day by day.

It’s 8:46am, and I’m considering lying down. But it I do, there’s no telling when I’l get up again.

Posted on March 2, 2016 by sydneymandt

Back on the Writing Wagon

I’ve just posted Week 7’s story, Tuesday. I think I’m a few weeks behind on my weekly stories, but I need to get myself a calendar on which I can keep track much better.

Motivation has been difficult for me, but once i start writing, I love it, losing myself in it. I need to get back on my writing wagon instead of falling off into the muddiness of bad attitude.

So, Week 8’s story is on it’s way. Then I need to crank out a quick Week 9 story, so that I’m back on track and can write more regularly.

Posted on

February 2016

Posted on February 26, 2016

TBT – Annoying morning song

“Annoying” would be the perspective of my sister, to whom I used to sing this song when we were roommates in college in 1989 or 1990. I think it’s a refreshing ray of bird-songy sunshine! Maybe it’s more fun to sing it than to be sung at with it.

Anyway, please check it out under Songs: Maki’s Wakeup Call.

Category: Uncategorized

Posted on February 26, 2016 by sydneymandtLeave a comment

Must dig dirt

The sun has been out the last couple of days! Being a Seattlite, I have felt compelled, and even obligated, to go outside to experience the modicum of warmth and the no-rain dryness. Spring! Pre-spring! Whatever it is, I have loved being outside digging in my garden, reconfiguring the dirt to create a raised garden bed and to make pathways and spaces for rock sculptures. I will use cardboard and bark as groundcovers to keep the weeds down.

I have forgotten to blog for about a week now, partly due to the weather, and also because I’ve been distracted by my MIL’s current stay in a rehab center and upcoming Baha’i celebrations. Ayyam-i-Ha begins tomorrow with games and craft-making, continues with giving those crafts to the residents of the previously mentioned rehab center the day after that, and ends with a Sunday evening at the Family Fun Center.

I think I would get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have the distractions of responsibilities. At least I don’t have a job outside of the home. And while MIL is being cared for and rehabbed elsewhere, I do have time to choose my own activities instead of having them all preplanned and accounted for. Unfortunately, I often choose to spend my time playing Candy Crush Saga or watching TV. Housework gets in there sometimes, too.

But what about writing!?!

I didn’t finish a story for last week, so now I owe my website two stories, one for Week 7, and one for Week 8. I have both of them started, but not ready to publish. I must get them done! But with sunshine and a very busy weekend ahead, I may have to submit 3 stories next week. Gleep!

Here’s hoping I can get back into a one-story-a-week habit soon.

Posted on February 20, 2016


Week 7’s story may be late, as in sometime after Saturday, which is tomorrow. For the last few days my MIL has been in the hospital. Fortunately, we live less than 20 blocks from there, so going back and forth takes very little time, and is actually on my route to and from Jo’s school.

I haven’t done much fiction writing, though. I’m not sure how I’ll concentrate on writing a story when my insides are jittery from the stress of the unknown. My MIL is tiny and frail, yet surprisingly strong in some ways, so every hospitalization is a roller coaster of states of health. Right now, the doctors are treating an issue that seemed to be getting worse anyway, though maybe now it’s getting better. At least she is in a good mood, even enjoying the hospital experience of not having to get out of bed much – today it was only once, and she resisted greatly.

So, my mind and heart and my desire to know what’s going to happen are preoccupations I will have to overcome for the sake of writing. Tomorrow.

Posted on February 18, 2016

Good Habits

I need to develop the habit of writing a blog post every day. I’ve been reading Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, in which she writes about habits, ways to develop them, and what ways work best for specific people.

This is one of those times of the year during which I think a lot about habits. The Baha’i Fast is coming up – 19 days in the beginning of March during which Baha’is do not eat or drink while the sun is up. It is a lovely time to develop the habits of remembering and relying on God, reading sacred verses, and asking for divine assistance. But I also look forward to the Fast with some amount of anxiety.

The Fast has become very difficult for me as I get older, both mentally and physically (not surprising, since the two are related). What often starts as a sort of exhilaration and freedom from food usually becomes an obsession with food towards the end, when I start planning dinner in the early afternoon and can think of almost nothing but food until the end. I have also slipped into depression, sleeping much of the day and attending to the bare minimum of my responsibilities.

More than once, I have started a positive habit in January, gathered habit momentum by February, then had that habit derailed during the Fast, contributing to feelings of low self-worth that deepen my Fast-related depression. These are usually habits that have helped me battle depression, too, such as exercise and diet changes.

The Fast has different significance for different people. I see the Fast, theoretically, as a time to develop and strengthen habits that foster spiritual well-being. But in reality, Fast has become, for me, more of a habit disrupter, from which it can take me a month or more to recover.

Although fasting is a Baha’i Law, it is one we are not supposed to do if we are sick. Often it is up to the individual to decide if they are too ill to Fast. Depression is an illness, and I have to consider this whenever the Fast comes up.

It’s hard for me to predict how or if fasting will affect the writing habits I am trying to develop. But worrying about it has not helped. In fact, one of the main benefits of habits are that you don’t have to think or worry about them to make them happen – they are habitual, and just get done.

So my prayer/wish is that this Fast helps me break down some of my bad habits (such as playing hours of mindless, time-wasting Facebook games) and build up some positive new ones (like writing!).

Posted on February 14, 2016 by sydneymandt

Truthful and Positive

I’ve been letting winter blah keep me from blahgging, even though my goal is to post something every day.

Part of my reticence is represented by the injunction:  “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

If, in the interest on my daily goal, I manage to post something “nice”, even if I feel yukky, am I being hypocritical? I’m not a fan of hyprocrisy, and in fact I try to live according to the Baha’i writings which say, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.” Is feeling lousy and posting something non-lousy being untruthful?

I don’t think so. There is always something positive going on somewhere within an otherwise lousy experience. For example, I’m a human being. That’s a pretty miraculous place to start.

I remember my Mom told me about a time in the late 60’s, maybe early 70’s, when so-called honesty was a very popular trend. Someone once said to her, for the sake of honesty, that she hated the dress Mom was wearing.

Yeah, well. Honesty doesn’t require full disclosure.

Story-telling comes to mind. When I create a human character, I assume this character does a myriad of things that aren’t relevant to the story. This person defecates, scratches an itch once in awhile, pays bills, blinks, breathes, farts, etc. Some of these things may be important to the story I’m telling, but some won’t be.

This character I refer to as myself has been experiencing a fair amount of internal negativity of late. Some of the parts relevant to this blog include the fact that I didn’t feel like writing anything this morning, let alone something I would post on the internet. However, when I started writing, I kept going, and I enjoyed it. Hey! Positivity!

It’s a blog post!

Posted on February 11, 2016

Week 6 story is up!

Go to “Short Stories”. I haven’t been able to make the menu work yet – only Week One’s story shows up. But week’s 2 through 6 are there as well (plus a TBT).

Posted on February 11, 2016 by sydneymandt


My week 6 story is almost done – a couple days ahead of schedule!

I love getting caught up in writing a story or poem or song. I’m grateful that my life is set up for me to be able to immerse myself in story writing and rewriting for hours (though oft-interrupted hours) at a time. My MIL needs help standing up, getting her coffee and water to where she’ll be sitting, and of course I prep and serve meals, help her in the bathroom, make the bed, do laundry, wash dishes. But when she’s walking slowly but steadily to one of her comfy chairs, or sitting in said comfy chair, I have time to write. What a blessing.

ALSO – it’s Throwback Thursday (TBT). Time to dig into my physical or digital files and dredge up something that very few (or no) people have seen other than myself. I’ll put it in the story section for now, though I’m considering having TBT as a separate category (is there a more accurate word than category?) with its own pages. I’ll see.

Posted on February 8, 2016

TBT – a poem called Sunshine and Rain

Today is not a day that begins with T, but I’m going to pretend it is for the sake of sharing this throwback poem I just found on my computer. It looks like I may have written it in January of 2012.

I’m not sure if I should put this under the Poems section, or if I should make a new Throwback section. I’m open to ideas.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to see a throwback piece of writing, a search for TBT will bring it up.

So here’s a contribution for Throwback TMonday!

Sunshine and Rain

Sunshine filtered through clouds and rain,

Silence invaded by rooftop refrain,

Reminds me I’m sheltered from weather’s pain.

And in gray there is light, and I see.

Giddy from freedom yet overcome

With so much to do and to run away from

I sit cozy and thinking, a blanket bum,

My mind resting radically.

Why must I die before I awake

To wait for Heaven my soul to take,

When living and dying in unison shake

And filter our essences free?

A jay bird shrieks at me just outside.

I’m calm and crazy, eyes open wide,

Possibilities, real life, side by side.

I’m a blue, flying, blissful ennui.

If I’ve one thing to tell you, please tell me, too.

I see the truth better reflected in you.

Opposites clashing into something true,

Clouds and sky framing the trees.

Kill me now, Something of Marvelousness.

Reincarnate me apart from my mess.

Wash me down, light me up, make me confess

Blue-jay loud declarations of me.

Posted on February 8, 2016 by sydneymandt

Week 5 Story – Sylvia

It’s there on the short story page. Having a goal of one story per week is helping me shed some of my perfectionism, procrastination, and just-give-it-up-ism. It’s just a story. I’m skill-building. Even if it’s bad, it’s all good.

Posted on February 6, 2016 by sydneymandt

Week 7 Story – Tuesday

I heard my Auntie Mim as if she was far away, even though she was next to my body.

“Tuesday! Wake up! What happened?”

Her voice was strained with urgency. I knew my eyes were closed, but I could see her as if looking through a window into a dark room, her hand on a face I knew was mine, but which I couldn’t feel.

“I’m okay Auntie Mim,” I said, but she couldn’t hear me. I could sense the uneven floorboards underneath me. I could see my hand holding the hand of another about my size, and that we formed an “H” lying there, our arms the middle line.

Auntie Mim knelt between us, her body drooped and vibrating with sobs. “Cuffee,” she whispered. I felt an answering smile, like the thrumming of hummingbird wings, and then it flew away. When I turned to see where it was going, I woke up in my body, and opened my eyes.

Mimba was the sister of my mama, whose name was Bena. My mama and I both had the same name, really, because we were both born on the same day of the week.  But we were born on the opposite ends of the ocean, so mama made the names different to show it.

I don’t remember my father. Auntie Mim said he was a tall man with wide shoulders and big, strong arms. He was allotted to another man who needed someone strong on his farm.

I remember a little more of my mother, but not much. She was allotted to someone in Georgia who wanted a pretty house slave. I don’t have pictures of my mama, but I can see her face in my memory, so close to my mine, pretending to nibble on my chin and nose. “You’re so sweet, I could eat you up!” she would say. That’s mostly what I remember about my mama. She was taken away in the second year of my life.

Auntie Mim was pretty like my mama, and the master took a liking to her so much that he wouldn’t allow her to marry no one. He gave her a cabin for her own, so he could visit on some nights. He also let her keep me instead of him selling me or allotting me to someone else.

Auntie Mim and I were house slaves. I helped in the nursery, playing with the master’s children by his wife, helping change their diapers and doing the washing. Master John had children with some of the slave women, too, but he never claimed them. Mistress Abigail, his wife, looked the other way, unless she thought Master John was getting too attached to his child’s mama. Then she’d sell the child without Master John knowing. Some said she’d done worse than that, but either way, no one would see the child ever again.

When I was 6 years old, Auntie Mim got pregnant with Master John’s child. Everybody pretended that the child belonged to Big Cuffee, the cook that Auntie Mim was friendly with. But everybody knew who the father really was. Then one day, Big Cuffee was gone. Nobody knew where or why.

When Auntie had her baby, I could feel that something was wrong with him. He seemed mostly normal, all toes and fingers accounted for. Mama June, who helped with the birthing, said he was handsome. Auntie Mim saw only her own little baby, wrapped up in a cloud of love. She named him Cuffee.

Cuffee stayed in the nursery where I could hold him and keep an eye on him. Mistress June wasn’t happy about it, but Master John had made a promise to Auntie Mim that little Cuffee wouldn’t ever be sent away. But a promise from a master don’t mean much, especially with a jealous mistress standing by. But Auntie Mim and I held onto that promise like a butterfly cupped in the palm of our hands, something we wanted to appreciate, but couldn’t look at for fear it would fly away.

Cuffee had the colic real bad, and Mistress Abigail complained about the noise, so I took to wrapping him up around my body with a sheet. Mama June showed me the best way, keeping him snug on my back so I could still change the white children’s diapers, still do the washing and cleaning and play with the little ones when they was fussy. That way the mistress couldn’t complain that Cuffee needed to go because he was noisy or taking all my time – ‘cause he did neither one.

Even though Cuffee seemed better for awhile, I still felt something wrong with Li’l Cuffee something moving inside him. It made his body wiggle and squirm almost constantly, even as his hands and feet tensed up.

One day Cuffee yelled out in pain, then cried and cried, no matter what I did. Later he calmed down, but when I changed Cuffee’s diaper I found a crystalline, orange-colored rock, like a clump of hardened sugar, and little spots of blood.  I hid the diaper, washed it right away so’s no one would see. ‘Specially not Mistress Abigail, who looked for any excuse to get rid of one of Master’s slave children. I told Auntie Mim, though, and Mama June.

We tried to give Cuffee different foods to help, like mashed milk curds, sprinkled with one of Mama Junes special herb powders. But I could tell Cuffee was just getting worse. He didn’t grow as fast as other children, which made it easier to hold him, but he also didn’t walk when other children did, which made holding him necessary sometimes. All this made Mistress Abigail angry – or at least gave her an excuse to show it.

When Cuffee was almost two years old, he started biting himself. He had always had strange little hand and feet movements, jerking them here and there, or waving them around. Sometimes he banged his arms or feet on the floor or the wall. And when he got stronger, he would lift his head and bang it on the floor, so we had to put soft blankets under him. He would put his hands in his mouth, too, but that seemed like normal baby behavior until he started making himself bleed. He’d bite so hard, he’d like to bite his fingers off. Plus he chomped on his lips. He always had open wounds on his lower lip, especially. They never had time to scab up, let alone heal.

Strange, but the worse Cuffee got, the more it seemed Mistress Abigail settled down to liking him. She stopped caring about how much time I spent with him, and she would even come up to him in his crib where he could sit up in the corner and see what was going on in the room. She would bend over him, her big circle of skirt bunching up in waves on the floor, and she’d say, “Little Cuffee. You are your father’s child, aren’t you?”

At first I was confused, since everybody, including the mistress, knew who Cuffee’s real father was. But Auntie Mim explained to me that it was the mistress’ way of bad-mouthing Master John without saying it plain. Auntie Mim said it was a blessing that Cuffee was the way he was, because it meant no one would want to take him, so he would never be sent away.

I tried so hard to get Cuffee to talk. But mostly he just mumbled and blurted out sounds that made no sense. “Say Tuesday,” I would tell him. We had cut off the legs of his crib so it could hold his weight once he got bigger, and since it was on the ground, it could also hold me. I would sit across from Cuffee playing hand games to the rhythm of whatever word I tried to teach him. “Cu” –clap- “Fee” –clap-, over and over. “Tues” –clap- “Day” –clap-. And repeat.

But it wasn’t until one day when I fell asleep in his crib with him that he finally talked to me.

The master and missus were gone to visit Granny Swann, who was ailing, and they had taken their four little ones with them. That meant that I was supposed to be doing the laundry or helping clean the house. Even so, the other house slaves plus Auntie Mim decided to give me a break and let me just be Cuffee’s caretaker for one day. I hadn’t known how worn out I was until I sat in the crib singing songs to Cuffee, and I started nodding off. Normally, that would be my cue to get up and move around, do something active and keep myself going. But instead, with nothing else pressing, and no one to protest, when Cuffee lay down for his nap, I lay down, too, just to rest my bones a bit.

Then I was standing in the cotton field, where the field slaves were bent over cotton bolls, pulling at the white fluff. The new pickers always had bloody hands, where they had poked themselves with the burr that held the cotton at its base. Pickers who had been at it a long time knew how to grab at the bolls without getting stuck by the burrs. Plus, they built up callouses on their fingers. I stood next to a girl about my age at the time, around 10 years old, who crouched down next to a cotton plant. I couldn’t see her face, bein’ it was covered by a cloth wrapped around her forehead and at the base of her neck. But I could see that her fingers were bleeding as she put boll after boll of cotton into her shoulder bag.

I heard steps on the dirt behind me, so I turned to see a little boy of about four years old walking toward me. He held a stick that he dragged along the ground, making a little snake trail following him up to me. He looked up at me and smiled, looking so familiar with his tan skin and wavy black hair and his milk-chocolate-colored eyes.
“Cuffee!” I looked at him with wonder. He stood straight and tall, cute as a baby button, joy radiating from his body the way the buzz of cicadas emanated from the trees above and around us. He had no bite marks or scars of any kind, and he sparkled with something that made me cry and pick him up, hugging him and swinging him around, despite the fact of his weight, which was so much more than the Cuffee I knew.

When I set him down and looked at him, something had changed. His posture slumped a little, his spine slightly twisted. I noticed the blood running over the scars on his hands, and my tears stopped in the shock of moving so quickly from joy to concern. I took his hands in mine, inspecting them, then looked up to his face, where a smile still sparkled from his eyes.

“Why are your hands bleeding?” I asked.

His smile burst open into the warmth of unsung laughter.

“So yours don’t have to!”

I opened my eyes then, and saw that I was lying on my side in the crib, facing Cuffee. He looked at me, thumping his feet on the crib’s floor and making the blurbling sounds he often did. I got a feeling that we had both had the same dream.

When I was eleven years old, Auntie Mim got herself a sweetheart from amongst the field workers. He was an allotted slave by the name of Paul. It had been an especially big harvest that year, so Master John had hired him out from a mistress who only used him to keep her horses.

Paul was a quiet man, so Auntie Mim hardly noticed him when she brought out lunch to the workers one day. She pulled the wagon with the sandwiches while another kitchen slave pulled the wagon with the water barrels. Mim saw him there, with strong shoulders, like her first man, Cuffee, many years before, but she hardly gave him a thought. It was only the next day, when Paul offered to pull the sandwich wagon for her that she noticed him. And that was mostly because she wondered why he would offer to pull the sandwich wagon, which wasn’t that heavy, instead of the water wagon, which the other kitchen girl struggled to pull. She didn’t say anything, though. And that was the beginning of a courtship that heated up as slowly and as steadily as the Fall days were cooling down.

By the end of harvest season, Auntie Mim and Paul had promised themselves to each other, in everything but their outward actions. They had to be very careful not to reveal their true feelings for each other to Master John, or to anyone who might tell Master John. So every lunch time, Paul would make sure to pull the water wagon instead of Auntie Mim’s sandwich wagon, though anyone who looked closely would notice that the wagons were always side by side, and so were Paul and Mim.

By that time, I had been talking to Cuffee for years, mostly in dreams, though once in awhile I would catch of flash of what I knew must be one of his thoughts, or I would inexplicably know what he meant by a gesture or a gurgle that no one else could understand.

Cuffee’s pain kept getting worse, and sometimes I would ask him in dreams or altered states what I could do to help him. Sometimes he would suggest that I rub his feet, sometimes he’d say he needed to drink more water, and sometimes he would suggest that I exercise his limbs a certain way, like moving his legs in forward circles while he lay down. And usually those things would help for a bit.

Around the time of the harvest of my eleventh year and Cuffee’s fifth, Cuffee’s pain got a lot worse. In dreams, where normally he was happy and playful like a normal five-year-old, he started to cry. First they were gentle tears, as if he was sad he couldn’t find a stick he liked to play with. But more and more, Cuffee’s tears would be stronger, his body more twisted in pain.

“What can I do to help?” I would asked, hugging dream Cuffee in my arms.

“I don’t know, Tues,” he would say. More and more in dreams I would simply hold and comfort him, and then I would wake up sad that I had gotten no more information to help him in the nondream world.

Harvest passed, and Paul went back to his Mistress’ farm. Mim and Paul hardly ever saw each other, except once when Auntie Mim was borrowed there for a party that the Mistress needed extra kitchen help for, and another time when Paul was borrowed to Master John to help with one of the horses who had thrown a shoe and was particularly hard to hold down. I remember Auntie Mim finding an excuse to peek outside for a bit to watch Paul as he shooshed the shoeless horse and calmed him down so his foot could be fixed. I happened to be in the kitchen, getting sandwiches for the children up in the nursery. I walked in to see her on her tippy toes, a dreamy-eyed smile on her face as she gazed out the window above the tub sink.

That winter was rough for Cuffee, and therefore for me and Auntie Mim. Cuffee seemed to be at war with himself. He banged his head on the bars of his crib. He threw his arms and legs around like weapons striking anything solid. And hit bit his fingers so bad that some of his nails fell off, and we  feared he would bite off his fingers. There were scars up and down his arms, constantly oozing blood and puss from never getting the chance to heal. We took to putting socks on his hands, tucking them under the long sleeves of his shirts and tying them with string. But even though he could no longer break the skin, he bruised himself continually, and often reopened the few scabs that got a chance to form.

Still, he would come to me in my dreams, and sometimes he would be calm enough to talk to me, in words more advanced than his age would suggest, and he would tell me things I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

“Mama loves Mr. Paul,” he said one time. That I knew, of course. But then he said, “He’ll come work for Master John this spring.”

“He will? For how long?”

“He’ll stay here.”

That didn’t make sense to me. But sure enough, come spring, Old Lady Hutchins died and left Paul and a couple of her other slaves to Master John, since she had no children left alive of her own to leave them to. Auntie Mim was in heaven, knowing that Paul was just around some corner, only feet away from her, standing on the very same land. She would tell me this at night in our little cabin, when she and Cuffee and I lay side by side on a straw bed in our dark cabin, listening to the frogs singing and the crickets chirping along.

But it wasn’t long before Mistress Abigail noticed the spark between the two of them and at long last saw her opportunity to get rid of Auntie Mim, the pretty kitchen slave who still tempted the affections of her husband. Her husband protested, of course, and took to visiting Auntie Mim at night more regularly, to spite his jealous wife.

On Master John’s visits, Auntie Mim would carry Cuffee into the cooking room of our cabin and hang up a quilt between it and the room with the bed. Once, in my twelfth year, when the tulips first started their blooming time, I noticed the master looking at me differently than I had remembered. Auntie Mim was carrying Cuffee into the cooking room, and I was gathering up blankets to follow her, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see a strange look on Master John’s face. “You sure are growing up nice, Tuesday.”

A shiver ran down my spine and stopped my voice for a second, until I made myself say, “Thank you, Master John, sir.” Then I hurried myself into my temporary sleeping spot with Cuffee.

Cuffee and I always had conversations during those visits. They weren’t exactly dream talks, I guess, because I could see/feel the room around me, and I knew that my body was between the stove and the quilted blanket made into a temporary wall. But in that state, I couldn’t hear the sounds beyond the blanket – only the voice of Cuffee.

“You and mama and Paul need to run away,” he told me on one of those cold, uncomfortable nights behind the quilt.

“And you, too, Cuffee,” I said. I had assumed it was a child’s wishing game, and treated it as such. But Cuffee very seriously replied, the dark room surrounding us, “I can’t.”

Come harvest time, rumors started spreading like flies about Mistress Abigail having had enough of her husband’s wandering ways, and that she was going to hurt him the worst way she knew how – by selling Auntie Mim.

In dreams, Cuffee told me over and over that Paul needed to take a horse and Auntie Mim and me and ride north. He told me what town we needed to go to, what day, what time. It would be when the harvest was in full-swing, when Master John wouldn’t be able to spare any worker to come looking for us for fear of his cotton crop spoiling before it was picked.

“You can’t take me,” he would say.  “I’ll be home.”

I told Auntie Mim everything to see what she would say. She knew that I spoke with Cuffee, and she had seen enough proof to know that it wasn’t just my fantasy. When she heard the plan, she cried and held Cuffee, telling him, even though he couldn’t speak to her, that she could never leave him behind.

After that, Cuffee mentioned “going home” almost every time we spoke.

On the day that Auntie Mim found me and Cuffee on the floor, I had been fully awake when the conversation began.

It was early in the morning, but an hour or so after Auntie Mim had left for her kitchen duties. I had gotten up when she did, changed and cleaned up Cuffee, dressed him in unsoiled clothes and fed him a little of the gruel auntie had cooked up. I was just bending over to put him on my hip to carry him up to the Master’s house, when I heard, as loud as if it was right in my ear, Cuffee’s voice shouting, “No!”

I fell to my knees with the force of it, then found myself in the gnarled old angel oak tree in the front yard.  Cuffee and I sat on one of the higher branches on a green patch of moss, both of us swinging our legs in the fading light of the setting sun.

Cuffee looked at me and smiled, happier than I had seen him in a long time.

“It’s time for me to go home!”

I didn’t know, with all of me, what he really meant.  “You look so happy,” I said.

“I am happy,” he said. “Except I don’t really know where it is.”

“You don’t?” I said. “Then how do you know it’s your home?”

He laughed at me, a child’s giggle, like I was being silly. Then, more serious, he said, “Will you help me find it, Tuesday? It’s so close, but I just don’t know where to look.”

I felt sorry for him, not knowing what to say. “I want to help you,” I finally said. “Let’s get down and look.”

I made my way down the tree, carefully picking where I put my feet, and I coached Cuffee on his way down, too. As soon as we reached the ground, the sun began to light up the sky, so bright, that I held up my hand to shelter my eyes. My little cousin danced beside me, joy in his voice and in the movements I could see and feel in my heart.

“Home!”  Cuffee hugged me. “I love you, Tuesday,” he said. “You and Mama and Paul have a different place you need to be. I’ll come talk to you when I can.”

As he walked into the bright light, the world around me darkened, little by little, and I heard Auntie Mim’s voice asking me what had happened.

Paul and Mim and I made our way in the middle of cotton harvest, just like Cuffee said. It was a rough journey. But whenever I was worried or sad, Cuffee would visit me in a dream and say, “Everything will work out fine.”

And it did.

Posted on February 4, 2016 by sydneymandt

Winter Blues

Rain rain rain. It is deep winter, and my attitude reflects the cold and wet and relative gloom. Although my husband would say this is a bright day, with only one layer of cloud, I can only agree with the rational and relativistic part of my mind. The rest of me is lethargic and longing for summer and the freedom to go outside and build square foot gardening raised beds.

In the meantime, I’ve been eating poorly (high sugar, high fat, few vegetables), and I have not been keeping myself in good physical condition. I’ve gained weight, lost strength and flexibility, and blah blah blah. Where’s my gratitude? Where’s my thankfulness for being able to write, to stay at home and enjoy relative freedom and a life free of extreme physical labor?

Oh! There it is! Over there in the pile of dirty dishes! Or is that it over in the wet, weedy mud of a garden that I haven’t stepped in for months.

Seriously, I have it pretty good. I have a wonderful, supportive husband, lovely, maturing children. I am warm and sheltered from the rain. I’m a human on an amazing planet.

One day at a time. And maybe the day will need to include a nap and an early bedtime.

Posted on February 2, 2016 by sydneymandt

Cop Out

I finally wrote a short story for week 4. I call it “Cop Out” because it feels like one and because I address that feeling in the story. It’s very “meta” (a U.S. word that describes a creative work that refers to itself or to conventions of the genre; self-referential). I had been kicking around some thoroughly unsatisfying ideas, and finally decided to write a story exaggerating my experience of frustration in trying to write a story. It’s technically fiction, but it’s based on my anguish. And now it’s done so I can start thinking about next week’s assignment.

Posted on February 1, 2016 by sydneymandt

Reset in the a.m.

9pm is not the ideal time for me to be thinking of a story idea. Not tonight anyway. This 9pm finds me yawning and thinking through fog, unable to find a clear story pathway. I have missed my Saturday deadline to post a story, but I will consider Monday as my new goal. I’ve never worked well late into the night. Daylight is my friend and motivator. In the summer time, when 9pm still boasts enough sunlight to see, I often spend that time outside, working in the yard with the benefit of bug spray to protect against mosquitoes. But now, in February, it’s been dark for hours, and I think a “long winter’s nap” would be my best move. I’ll start fresh in the morning.