A Prompt Prompt Prompted Me Promptly

A Prompt Prompt Prompted Me Promptly

I’ve been working on a novel for awhile now and I’m stuck, bored, out-to-lunch, spinning in tight circles, totally ’round the bend, all of the above.  It could be that my youngest child leaves for her first year of college in a little over a week and the prep to get her ready has been taking up a good bit of time, but really, I think, it’s the sea change that her leaving will cause in our lives, my husband and I soon to be empty nesters with just the felines and the dog to boss around, none of which listen to us anyway (kind of like the kids, I guess), that is wreaking havoc on my ability to do much of anything other than wait around to be summoned.  In order to distract myself from the emotional unmooring that is likely to occur before the month is over, I’ve decided to lose myself in the art of creative writing as a result of finding the following snippet in my files.  I don’t remember why I wrote this, but if I take my own advice I’m pretty sure that I can reinvigorate the lackluster.  On my way now, and you better get along, too, as it’s getting late.  Cheerio.

Prompt.

The word is fascinating and versatile.  It’s a noun, a verb, an adjective and an adverb. Holy guacamole, how often does that happen?  It’s like winning the EGOT — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, a laudable goal shared by only 12 lucky and hardworking people.  It makes you wonder, is there anything a word like that can’t do?  (I found a blog post that listed 56 similarly situated words and prompt was no. 39 on the list.)

I wish I would have thought of prompt during one of the timed writing exercises I used to do with a friend in the now defunct Borders cafeteria.  We’d sip fancy coffees and rip small strips of paper from our notebooks, then write one word down on each slip of paper, three nouns, three verbs and three adjectives, eighteen slips of paper total, separated into three different piles. (We left out adverbs. Call us prejudiced, but we just didn’t see the need.)  We’d pull a word from each of the piles and do timed writing exercises of five, ten, and fifteen minutes.  

 

The rules were simple.  Write until your hand falls off.  Haha! No, actually, it was write using one word chosen from each of the three piles for the prescribed minutes without stopping: not to ponder a plot twist, not to reach for a word that was escaping your pen, not even to go to the bathroom.  It was invigorating and imaginative, and it shushed the internal editor more succinctly than any of the other writing exercises I’d tried.   Sometimes we’d tweak the rules, adjusting the time or using twice as many words, but the basic premise was the same.  This simple writing prompt fueled the basis for scene after scene of a novel that would eventually become Oil and Water, but it also taught me something about the craft of writing:  imagination is like every other muscle in the body; you need to flex it if you want to keep it in shape.  For me, writing prompts facilitated my workout.

So much of our day is spent elsewhere, unconsciously trolling the past or hypothesizing about the future.  Cutting through the madness of life is challenging, but the here and now is where you want to be.  If done with full awareness, the art of writing can facilitate a sacred communion with your Higher Self.  When you tune in to your Higher Self, the internal editor — the one that never really stops criticizing — is silenced, brushed aside to allow the light of clarity to shine through and the quiet little voice to finally get a few minutes of air time.  Don’t banish the internal editor because you’ll need him or her later in the rewrite stage — just tell them to shush up so the quiet little voice can speak.

 

 

You can also get that kind of unfettered access writing morning pages.    The minute you are out of bed, write down whatever comes to you, a dream, some leftover baggage from the day, any nervousness about the day to come, all of it, and when you’re done, start the day fresh. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another one.  Grab a tangerine, or an apple, the fruit doesn’t matter, or if you don’t like fruit, grab a wrench, then set a timer for fifteen minutes, more if you’re brave, and write down everything you can about the object, here the tangerine.    Notice the color, the texture, the feel of its skin against your own, the little indentation on the one side and the little nub of a branch on the other where it was plucked from its momma tree.  Notice the hexagonal star pattern surrounding the little nublet — not a word, but it describes the little wooden branch remnant on the top center of the tangerine perfectly, doesn’t it?  Describe the smell and whether this is what you thought the color orange would feel like.  Rub it against your cheek and lips and describe the almost plastic feeling of the skin and balance it on your head and talk about the weight or how easy or hard it is to balance it there and then write a sentence with a tangerine on your head (which does great things for your posture), and talk about how hard it was to keep it from falling, and on and on until your timer goes ding and THEN, eat the tangerine and describe that, so tart, so sweet, so delicate.  If you chose a wrench as your object, you’ll have to leave this last part out.  The exercise is freeing because there’s really no goal other than to train yourself to observe and describe.  Do it a hundred times and you’ll have mastered the art of observation and description which is all writing really is. 

 

Got it?  Great!  I challenge you to choose your prompt and get to work.  Your readers are waiting.  You’re going to be amazing.

pjlazos 8.12.18

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One Year Later

And now a word from my sister on her life as of late:

One Year Later… 

It has been a little over a year since I married my safari guide husband. We’ve known each other for almost 2 1/2 years, so in the grand scheme of things, we are much like other newlyweds, except, we are so not in so many ways. 

The most obvious distinction is our meeting, which took place while I was on vacation in South Africa. We had 22 in the group and three jeeps, which means even my placement in his jeep seems almost fated. The first night he drove my friends and I around at dusk, chasing a lioness on the hunt. We prayed she wouldn’t catch anything, but how thrilling to see nature in action. BTW, did you know it’s the female lions that do all the work, catching and killing, while the male lion sits around and looks handsome. After the kill, the male gets first dibs and then females can join. Needless to say, we are NOT a lion household, but take our cues more from the matriarchal elephant herds.

Our relationship was seamless almost immediately. The laughs were continuous and I felt instantly at ease in his presence (which made chasing lions and having rhinos almost enter our vehicle all the more enjoyable). So much laughter came from our jeep that the others on our tour were starting to wonder. The joke was on me however, because while it was happening, I really didn’t know. I was on vacation for christ’s sake and who doesn’t fall in love with their guide when on safari???? On my last birthday, he gave me a card which read, ‘When I saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew’. I love that card!

So yeah, that happened. And then there was the logistical mess which needed tending. We lived approximately 11,000 miles apart, so someone had to pack their crap. Living in South Africa really wasn’t an option, so my new husband agreed to adopt a new country and he was down for that adventure. Enter the Department of Homeland Security, The U.S. Department of State, The South African Embassy . . . I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. The act of immigrating is not for the faint of heart. Lots of paperwork, rules, legal jargon, fees and did I mention the paperwork? We got through it with the help of a lawyer and are currently waiting patiently for  our first interview together as husband and wife. This interview is so my government can tell me that my relationship is real and he can stay in the U.S. so we can live happily ever after. It’s all so romantic! Not to mention the fact that he couldn’t work for about 6 months when he got here (paperwork) and had to leave his previous job about 3 months before he came here because there is only one place immigration interviews are held in all of South Africa and only a few doctors that can do the physical, none of which were anywhere near the game reserve where he worked. Reading that doesn’t even make sense to me, because it begs the question, why can’t he just make an appointment the week before he wants to leave and to that I’ll just say, South Africa. Good times.

So he finally gets here and then the culture shock of moving to America from the bush and living in South Florida with the heat and humidity and dare I say some of the rudest people on earth? (Okay, that may be pushing it, but South Africans are a well-mannered bunch and he did not find the tone here at all amusing.) I’d like to say it’s been a bliss filled year because we are together and nothing else matters, but I’m not gonna lie, we struggled. Not about the being together part, but about the, now that we are together, how do we make this great again (no pun intended current admin) part. And this is where I really feel like we are NOT like other couples. Because early on I knew that no matter how much we were MFEO (made for each other), the nonsense of life would always be heckling us from the back row. I also knew that the only way to survive all the set backs and not give up 5 seconds before the miracle was to focus on us and why we dreamed up this crazy scheme in the first place. The goal has always been to be as happy as we were when we first met, some sort of living vacation experiment. 

This concept of a living vacation is not foreign to me, in fact, I could argue that it has been the backdrop to my entire life. So not surprising that when I did find the one, it was in some way his guiding principle, albeit unspoken and perhaps unconscious, as well. It used to play out in my life as a constant, wishing I was somewhere else, but now it has become a catalyst to something extraordinary. Time will tell.

staceylazos 8.8.18

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Casualties of (a trade) War

We live in a time when life has stopped making sense, when world leaders have become interchangeable talking heads, when corruption and greed seem to be getting even the best of us (because they’ve always been getting the worst of us).  Instead of trade wars, shouldn’t we be focusing on trade deals like this?

And this . . . .?

What’s an average person to do in such times?  Pay attention.  Don’t buy into the BS.  Don’t believe revisionist history.  Stick to your moral compass.  And laugh, as much as possible.  And sing.  These things always help.

pjlazos 8.4.18

 

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WATWB — Power to the People

It all started with Solar Freakin’ Roadways here in the U.S., a system of replacing asphalt and other impervious surfaces with solar panels.  If all the roadways in the U.S. were converted to solar, we’d generate three times as much energy as we need.  Reduce the carbon footprint.  Solar Freakin’ Roadways!  Check out the video here:

It’s ingenious, really, and we should be doing it all over the place.  And guess what?  It’s catching on because now there are Solar Freakin’ Roadways — in China!

It’s time again for the We Are The World Blogfest #WATWB, the last Friday of every month we spread a little good ju-ju and the world is lifted in the process.  By now, you should know the drill:  keep the posts short and the vision long.  And remember to be nice to your neighbor.  It’s the only missive that ever really mattered.

This month’s co-hosts extraordinaire are:
Peter Nena,
Inderpreet Kaur Uppal,
Shilpa Garg
Roshan Radhakrishnan
Sylvia McGrath
and
Belinda Witzenhausen

pjlazos 7.27.18

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Welcome, Grandmother

[photo of my grandmother, my mother and her siblings, circa 1940]

 

Welcome, Grandmother

My mother did not have a green thumb.  Growing up, we had maybe three houseplants, the one, a Philodendron that hung in the living room, its spindly arms hanging down in supplication — “won’t someone please love me?”, it’s leaves small and sparse.  My mother  dutifully watered the little plant once a week and when the vines got too long she would trim them and throw them away.  While not sickly, the plant never looked happy, like it was missing a crucial mineral necessary for its growth.

There’s not a lot of green, generally, in a city, and my mother grew up in South Philadelphia.  She liked things clean.  Cleaning was a requirement, like going to Mass on Sunday except, while we were growing up, she did it every day.  My childhood bestie, Stephen, called her Immaculate Rita because the house was never out-of-order.  I think genetics may be involved as decades later when I myself lived in Queen’s Village in Philadelphia (almost South Philly), the old Italian neighbor lady down the block swept her stoop and sidewalk meticulously a couple of times a day while cursing the solitary black walnut tree that grew in front of her house.  “What a mess,” she’d say, a refrain I heard my own mother cry on more than one occasion when my sister and I were young.  My neighbor would sooner cut the tree down than deal with the mess so it’s possible that this cleaning thing is a genetic trait in Italians.  I did not inherit this cleaning gene from my mother.

Contrast my grandmother who grew up on a farm in Italy and tilled the soil to grow vegetables, gathered eggs, and cut the heads off of chickens if they were lucky enough to be cooking one for dinner that night.  In Philadelphia, she had a small vegetable garden out back where she grew tomatoes for her gravy and other delectables like zucchini and peppers that young Rita refused to eat.  My mother relates that at one point growing up she ate only peanut butter and ice cream.  I don’t recall her saying how long this behavior continued, but I’m pretty sure my grandmother eventually won.  I am sure of this because once she was a mother, my mother always won, and that kind of mothering is definitely genetic.

 

I took over the care and feeding of my mother’s Philodendron when she sold the house.  Philo was old and scraggly with but a few vines to it, but also wise, and I felt an obligation to a plant that had hung in there that long under such circumstances.  I don’t have a picture of what the plant looked like hanging in my parent’s house, but today my mother’s Philodendron looks like this:

 

…leading me to believe that green thumbs skip a generation.   If you need more proof, how about these:  

This Ficus I got when I started college in 1979.  Given how slow Ficus grow, it had to be at least five years old when I bought it so it’s now likely over 50 years old.  We haul it out to the back deck in summer and back into the living room in winter.  We had to cut a least a third of it’s height last year because it was too tall to get back into the house.  Ficus can grow up to 98 feet tall!   I briefly contemplated moving to a house with 10-foot ceilings, but a trim seemed easier and more practical.

 I bought a second Ficus when I graduated from college.  They look about the same age, even by their trunks and especially after pruning.

And here’s the Norfolk Pine that my office gave me when my father died in 1994.  It, too, has been under the knife —three times, and it’s probably lost at least three feet overall — but after each trim it sprouts a new doo and continues, undeterred.  Originally, the pruning jobs for these three trees fell to my husband because I couldn’t bear it.  Ficus are notoriously fussy and temperamental and Norfolk Pines with their heads hacked off seemed destined for the trash bin.  I envisioned them all screaming with each snip as discussed in The Secret Life of Plants, and worse, dying from all the abuse.  

The first time we cut them back, the oldest Ficus dropped all its leaves. I was horrified and disconsolate, but the bare branches didn’t last but a week or so before little shoots appeared.  Adaptation despite inconvenience, I heard the Ficus say.  Better to be smaller than in the trash heap. 

Dr. Christine Northrup, a women’s health expert and visionary in the field, who combines mind, body and spirit in her approach to women’s health, talks about how women’s wisdom is passed down through the maternal line in her book Mother-Daughter Wisdom.  Even if your mother or grandmother is no longer alive, you are still getting the benefit of that wisdom, Northrup says.  You just need to be still and invite her in, an exercise she calls a matrilineal naming circle.  

You name your mother’s line as far back as you know it so for me, “I am Pam, daughter of Rita, daughter of Yolanda.”  That’s as far back as I know since my grandmother died when I was very young.  My grandmother’s siblings moved in spurts from Italy to Canada and my grandmother was the sole U.S. immigrant so growing up, there really was no one to ask.  In Dr. Northrup’s book she describes a workshop where all the women named their female ancestors and then invited them into the group.  The room was intense, filled with the energy of all the women who had gone before, and many of the women experienced a huge emotional release — tears of joy, sadness, or just the ability to dump some baggage.  Northrup believes that for a woman to understand her own body and mind, she needs to look to the past from time-to-time, to see where she has come from.  

 

My mother believed this as she continued to look for alternative/eastern medicinal cures for her still incurable scleroderma, reasoning that whatever she could fix in her own body would be fixed for her girls.  (Thanks, Mom!)  My gardening proclivities go way beyond anything Rita ever did and certainly beyond what she taught me, and, but for an offhand comment my mom made, I would have never known my grandmother was an amazing gardener.

 

 

So mystery solved.  Although I’m not yet an amazing gardener, I have potential, and my plants seem to adore me if growth rates are any indication.  Also good to know that knowledge is fluid, possibly genetic, and available for download from the ethers even when people aren’t around.  Next time I have a few moments, I’m going to ask Nana how to get my bee balm to stop overrunning my daylilies.  I’m sure she’ll have quite a lot to say.

pjlazos 7.22.18

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Plastic Free July

 

Okay, so I know the month is halfway over, but even a plastic free day is a plus, eh?  Have a look at this guest post by my sister, environmentalist, educator extraordinaire, yoga instructor, dog rescuer, and now, advocate for a plastic-free world.  Read on and remember, taking even one less plastic bag is a start!

 

Plastic Free July!

As the forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence, the unalienable rights endowed to men (and women) of this country are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Fast forward 242 years and we are seriously messing with those rights as we clamor for a faster, more convenient lifestyle, adding up to a seemingly disposable endgame for all. From our food system to our thirst to develop everything (land and products) deemed profitable, we are creating a world where the pursuit of happiness will be so much harder to attain because of the laissez-fare attitude with which we have treated the earth’s resources. A look at our everyday habits and a willingness to make some not so difficult changes can help us support mother nature in gaining some balance with her ever growing population of human tenants.

Enter Plastic Free July, a practical start to begin the healing. The initiative started humbly in 2011 by a group of office workers in Western Australia. Today they are independent non profit with a mission to build a global movement that dramatically reduces plastic use and improves recycling. Over 2 million people in 159 countries are choosing to be part of the annual Plastic Free July challenge, reducing their consumption of single use plastic in July and beyond. 

Let’s take a quick look at why it’s so important to reduce single use plastic. Below is the Earth Day Network’s fact sheet on plastic pollution: 

10 Shocking Facts About Plastic Pollution

FACT #1 8.3 BILLION Metric Tons (9.1 BILLION US Tons) of plastic has been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s. The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity.
FACT #2 Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
FACT #3 91% of plastic waste isn’t recycled. And since most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, all that plastic waste could exist for hundreds or even thousands of years.
FACT #4 500 MILLION plastic straws are used EVERY DAY in America. That’s enough to circle the Earth twice.
FACT #5 Nearly TWO MILLION single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute.
FACT #6 100 BILLION plastic bags are used by Americans every year. Tied together, they would reach around the Earth’s equator 773 times.
FACT #7 ONE MILLION plastic bottles are bought EVERY MINUTE around the world — and that number will top half a TRILLION by 2021. Less than half of those bottles end up getting recycled.
FACT #8 8 MILLION METRIC TONS of plastic winds up in our oceans each year. That’s enough trash to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic…compounding every year. 
FACT #9 There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.
FACT #10 If plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050.

Hopefully, the thought of plastic outweighing fish in the ocean by 2050 or the fact that every piece of plastic ever made still exists today, will catapult you into action. The Plastic Free July website has made it easy to start making changes in your daily routine. They’ve even made a Choose Your Challenge list and posted actions in order of ease and popularity as well as biggest impact so your plan can be well thought out. 

I would like to leave you with some final encouraging thoughts. There are many people doing amazing things to help clean up our oceans and raise awareness about single use plastics. The Plastic Pollution Coalition, The Ocean Cleanup , 4Ocean and Surfrider are just a few of the groups that have made it their business to address this issue. So let the inspiration of Independence Day propel you to take action, so that future generations can have the same inalienable rights we have been gifted by our beloved Mother Earth.

stacey lazos 7.15.18

 

 

 

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Just Mercy

JUST MERCY

Bryan Stevenson reminds me of Percy Jackson, the boy in those Rick Riordan novels, walking through life trying to fit in like a normal kid, but sensing something’s up, then discovering he’s the offspring of Poseidon and learning superhuman tricks that mere mortals don’t have the strength (or resolve, tenacity, or sense of self?) to accomplish.  Am I in awe of this guy?  Yes sir and yes, ma’am, I am.  Could I ever do what he does?  Not in a million years, but I do so appreciate the effort and understand the sacrifices it took to make that effort.  Just Mercy — once named of Time Magazine’s 10 Best Books of Nonfiction (2014) — chronicles that effort.  

In 1983, Stevenson was attending Harvard Law School and doing a brief one-month stint as an intern with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, a non-profit that assisted prisoners on death row.  It was then he met Steve Bright, his first mentor, an enthusiastic, mid-thirties trial lawyer and former Public Defender who had taken over the operation of SPDC and who told Stevenson “capital punishment means ‘them without the capital get the punishment.”  The office ran on a shoestring budget and there were never enough lawyers for all the man-hours needed; they considered themselves lucky if they maintained enough supplies.   Stevenson did his first interview with a condemned man while at SPDC and the nervousness he felt over his lack of experience accompanied him on the interview.  Turns out it went so well that it set Stevenson’s lifelong career goals in motion.

Today, Stevenson teaches law at New York University, is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, and has received 29 honorary doctoral degrees and won beaucoup awards for his work.  At EJI, lawyers represent the underrepresented, generally poor, usually of color, often wrongly condemned.  In the beginning, it was just Stevenson and another attorney.  Today, there are 50 lawyers working tirelessly (okay, they’re pretty tired, but they just keep on working) to see that justice is served for those who would otherwise have little access to it.  

Just Mercy weaves through Stevenson’s early career while detailing his relationship with Walter McMillian, a man wrongly convicted of murder, beginning with their first meeting while Walter was on death row.  Despite underwhelming evidence, an abbreviated trial, three witnesses whose credibility was strained, and not much of a defense, Walter was convicted and sentenced to death.  Once on Alabama’s death row, it was near impossible to extricate him.  Through Stevenson’s advocacy, Walter was eventually set free, but not before serving years six years for a crime he didn’t commit.  Walter’s story, and the dozens of others Stevenson recounts in this book shine a light on the problems with our current penal system and the lengths Stevenson went to ensure justice was served.

Just Mercy is not just Stevenson’s story about representing the condemned, but an exposé on the poor, disenfranchised, mostly non-white members of society who historically and presently have and are being judged by a different standard, one that includes no breaks because of heritage or parentage or caste.  If you’re black — even if you’re a business owner as Walter was — you already have a hurdle of legal standards that will be higher than your white counterparts and the tenet of innocent until proven guilty does not routinely apply.

If you want a memoir that leaves a lasting impression, gives you a glimpse into what needs fixing, and will immerse you in a story that reads like a crime thriller, then read Just Mercy.

Happy July 4th, America!  Let us not now or ever forget the final words of our pledge of allegiance — “with liberty and justice for all.”

pjlazos 7.4.18

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