Futile exercise

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They run from their problems
like Olympic sprinters going for Gold.
Powerful, determined.

They veer suddenly from difficult conversations
like gazelles avoiding a predator.
Leaping from conflict.

They pursue their insipid dreams
like marathon runners.
Deliberate, methodical.

But all roads lead to pain and suffering.
Problems catch up, difficult conversations find short-cuts
and dreams are pacemakers, always just out of reach.

Unlike broken bones, broken souls cannot be easily fixed.
The x-ray shows nothing is wrong
but they know that something needs mending.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Football Fever

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Three out of the five humans living in our house are football fans. By ‘fans’, I mean the type that choose to wake up at 4 in the morning to watch a match. Any match. Not a critical, qualifying decider or potential knock-out of former champions kind of match.

Of these three fans, two have decided they will call it ‘soccer’, as they were born in Australia where ‘football’ is – how shall I put it – a whole different ball game.

I’m not saying that I am a non-fan. I’m sometimes there on the side lines, cheering on the 7 year old and his team-mates, enjoying the determination and passion radiating from such young hearts. I ask him to explain the offside rule for fun. Not because I don’t know it (I do, honestly, as I have had it mansplained to me many times), but because I love watching his eyes sparkle as he moves salt & pepper defenders, a tomato sauce bottle striker and a wine glass goalkeeper to create a visual representation of this vital piece of football knowledge.

When the World Cup comes around, I morph into a football fan. Every 4 years I pick a team to support (usually Brazil). I suggest we put up a newspaper pull-out wallchart to dutifully enter match results and give life to the Path to the Final. I rally the kids to wear the colours of ‘their team’ (usually Brazil) for the last few matches. I also read a little bit about the players, the experts’ predictions and some post-match analysis. Like a leap year that also comes around every 4 years, The World Cup is something you just accept and embrace as a part of life, a part of the calendar.

This time however, I don’t need to do any research. I have a 7 year old Human Encyclopaedia of Football Soccer Knowledge. He rattles off players’ names like they are his best buds (‘They’re all out, Mum! James, Sanchez, Messi, Aguero, Higuain…….’ etc). He moves from hooligan to pundit in the space of a few seconds as he yells at the television when he thinks a card should be awarded and then argues his case logically and coherently to anyone who will listen. He also has strong opinions on the tactical decisions of managers: ‘He shouldn’t have taken Costa off, he would have EASILY scored a penalty.’ It’s like having a high-pitched Gary Lineker sitting on your sofa.

There is something different about this World Cup. Perhaps it is the fact that the Italian team was a non-starter. You could always count on them to wear the tightest jerseys and provide something for those who did not watch football for the football. Perhaps it is the shock of recognising managers on the side lines and realising they were players 20 years ago – like Didier Deschamps of France and Spain’s Fernando Hierro. And then watching an amazing Schmeichel in goal and noting it is Kasper, son of Peter, world’s best goalkeeper 1992.

But mostly, I think it feels different because of my next generation Super Fan. I will look to him to keep me in the know this month. The generation gap is obvious. My favourite Brazil players were Romario, Rai, Cafu and (the original) Ronaldo. My Super Fan has been known to ask for a Neymar Jr. haircut. His goal celebration is borrowed from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. He is surprised if I know anything at all about football. However, when we watch a match, the generation gap is bridged through yelling at the television together and then we’re on the same playing field.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Anchors and chocolate sprinkles

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Billy Collins, the American poet, said that “the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry.” It is never ending, he says, until “we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world.”¹

He then proceeds, with his delightfully witty style, to illustrate the use of comparison:
“Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.”

Comparisons bring the words to life. They add imagery to the emotion. Rising like a feather in the wind conjures up feelings of floating, of lightness of being and of bliss, whereas sinking like a chain flung from a bridge paints a dreary picture of desperation and hopelessness.

Poetry is filled with two key types of comparisons: similes and metaphors. I am not always 100% sure of the difference. Instead of having to Google it every time, I tried to find an easier way of remembering, and found it in my music playlists.

Simile: “My life is like an open highway” – Bon Jovi
Metaphor: “Life is a highway” – Tom Cochrane

In other words: Metaphors are the anchors of poetry that hold everything together, they are the life-blood of the poet running through the page. They are not like anything, they just are. Adding similes to a poem, however, is like adding chocolate sprinkles to a warm, milky drink.

Some of the most famous poems ever written are filled with anchors and chocolate sprinkles. Scottish poet Robert Burns declares that his love is “like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.” Shakespeare, poet of poets, in Sonnet 97 laments: “How like a winter hath my absence been from thee.” Emily Dickinson beautifully describes hope as “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words.” And what about this from Kahlil Gibran, Master of the Profound: “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness.” Wow, and Ouch.

In music, anchors and chocolate sprinkles are also abundant. I found one of my favourite pieces of imagery by accident, in Al Stewart’s The Year of the Cat: “She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running/ Like a watercolour in the rain.” Vivid, beautiful and creates a masterpiece in your head. 42 years after that song was released, Vance Joy’s Take Your Time echoes the sentiment in a subtle, less chocolate sprinkle-y way: “I’ll admit I never saw you coming/ Now I see your colours running.”

And back to Billy Collins. His poem Divorce, is the type of writing I admire – saying so much in so few words, crafting a whole story through the tightly weaved lines of a poem, calling upon the reader’s imagination to bring it (even more) to life:

“Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks
across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.”

This is poetry with depth, humour and style. Reading it is like climbing into a warm, scented bath, cold glass of champagne in hand. It is sometimes like swimming in the sea, making surprising discoveries, occasionally coming up for air and dreaming about the magic you want to create with your own chocolate sprinkles.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

¹The Trouble With Poetry, Billy Collins

Enough.

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I love the beauty of language. I love the weaving of words into sentences and paragraphs that form a literary tapestry to make you laugh out loud, shed a tear or maybe even inhale sharply, look up from your book and say, ‘Wow!’

However……there is surely something to be said for the simple phrases in life – the ones that bring a smile to your lips (or to your heart) without metaphor, comparison or any mention of tapestries of any sort.

The American writer and grammarian (now there’s a great word!) James J. Kilpatrick, who wrote a lot about writing, advised, “Use familiar words. When we feel an impulse to use a marvellously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away.”

I’m all for the exotic (and now aim to use the word marvellous wherever possible) but for writing to be understood, it needs to be simple, clear and sincere. Otherwise, all the multi-coloured jewels you use to adorn your thoughts will smother them into oblivion. In other words (that I am borrowing from an expert because I’ve just smothered my thoughts), “eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” (Hans Hofmann, abstract expressionist painter, on the ability to simplify.)

So, going back to basics – in the style of Winnie the Pooh who likes short, easy words like “What about lunch?” – here are some of my favourite phrases:

‘I’ll bring dessert’

‘How can I help?’

‘Let’s start by lying on our backs’ (I feel the need to qualify this with the context of a yoga class.)

‘Washed and ready to use’ (Again, to qualify,  I’m talking pre-washed salads. Yes, incredibly lazy. But also marvellous.)

‘I love you.’ No adornment needed. Enough.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

 

Furious Fiction

Furious Fiction is a monthly short story competition run by the Australian Writers’ Centre, with different story prompts each month. 55 hours, 500 words. This month’s challenge was launched on May the Fourth, and therefore had this criteria:
• The story had to begin with the words “A long time ago”
• The story had to include the words “star”, “war” and “force” (or a plural).
• The story had to feature something that flies.

I am delighted that my story was shortlisted and published on the AWC website!!!

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A long time ago her life had not been controlled by beeps. There were languid hours dedicated to doing absolutely nothing. There were long walks on beaches with powder-white sand and no time limit. There was the delight of getting lost in a book with no interruptions. There were nights of staring up at a sky so crowded with stars that it seemed as though a few might have to fall down to earth to make room for the brightest ones. Life was about enjoying the pauses between the moments.

Then slowly, without warning, something changed.

Her life became punctuated by noises that signified the ceasing of fun by an external force. The pauses were no longer an invitation to breathe, but an opportunity to maximise productivity.

Beep. The alarm clock set for 6am kept its promise and ruined her slumber party of one.

Beep…Beep. The phone called out to be scanned for notifications, messages and other people’s highlight reels, all of which cut into her own dressing room preparation.

She stirred her steaming coffee and inhaled its heady aroma.

Beep. The clothes in the washing machine cried out for attention or they would punish her with creases that would need to be ironed out.

Beep. Now the doorbell. She put down her coffee and signed for a parcel she couldn’t remember ordering.

Beep…Beep. Her laptop was running out of power after her late-night session browsing for paperbacks that she wanted to read but would never get around to reading. Better plug in the charger.

On her way to work, she waited for the Green Man at the traffic crossing whose sole purpose was to give permission for people to cross the road: Beep. She was envious of him for finding his calling.

She thought about how it seemed she was not enjoying her life but merely enduring it.

Then suddenly, without warning, something changed.

A doctor’s appointment that produced a new way of living. Her life became only about the beeps.

She stared out of the window. She felt like a bird that was always too afraid to soar above the clouds and now had its wings clipped.

Beep…beep…beep…she looked over at the contraption that was keeping her body functioning, with its flashing lights and synthetic noises.

The nurse strode purposefully into the room. “Are you alright, love? It’s time for your walk. We’ll bring the machine with us.”

The war would continue. She closed her eyes and decided that finally, it was time to unplug.

©2018 Seetha Dodd

The judges said….
What we liked:
A new twist on the benefits of unplugging, this story opens with a long paragraph – itself representing the freedom of being uninterrupted – before the short sharp paragraphs kick in. We loved the purposeful repetition as the story took its first, and then second turn – all tied together by the same element. A (beep)ing good story. Perhaps having no title is also significant…

How to have fun like a 4 year old

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  1. Puddles are for jumping in, not walking around. Even if you are not wearing rainboots. Or any kind of footwear.
  2. Ask for dessert first. Ask for dessert at any time of the day, including as a reward for eating breakfast.
  3. The moments between undressing for a shower and actually getting into the shower are for practising your best dance moves.
  4. You can play hide and seek with a dog.
  5. When eating oranges, it is compulsory to flash an orange slice smile.
  6. There is always enough time to stop and play in crunchy, crispy Autumn leaves.
  7. Most things can be used as a lightsaber for Jedi battles. If you can’t find anything, use an outstretched arm, preferably (but not necessarily) your own.
  8. When invited to a Superhero party, a Ninja Turtle-Superman hybrid is a perfectly valid costume choice. If a fellow Superhero doesn’t think so, it’s not you that needs to change.
  9. When you go to kiss someone on the cheek, lick them instead. If you do this only once out of every three times, you are more likely to catch them off guard.
  10. Whenever you hear a song you love, reach your hands out to the nearest person and say, Let’s dance!

©2018 Seetha Dodd

Clueless?

Colonel Mustard. In the Conservatory. With a candlestick.

Cluedo, the Classic Detective Game, provided my sisters and I with hours of fun in the days of old-fashioned, unplugged entertainment.

We must have played this game hundreds of times. I loved the thrill of solving the mystery. Who, where & what. It reminded me of all those legal battles Jimmy Smits, Jill Eikenberry and Harry Hamlin so cleverly fought in L.A. Law. It made me want to become a criminal lawyer. It made me want to stand up in a courtroom, slam my fist on the table and shout “OBJECTION!! Badgering the witness!”

In all those years of murder, suspicion and accusations around a 20”x20” board, I never once questioned why the male characters were professionals whereas only one of the three female characters had a job, and she was a housekeeper. Nothing wrong with being a housekeeper, of course, but a little bit of research revealed that Mrs White was originally supposed to be Nurse White. This was altered before the game was produced. Hmm…

Are you familiar with the Cluedo crew?

The men: Reverend Green (a reverend), Colonel Mustard (a colonel), Professor Plum (a professor).

The women: Mrs Peacock (a socialite), Miss Scarlett (a ‘femme fatale’), Mrs White (a housekeeper).

I suppose one could argue that the titles – Professor, Colonel, Reverend – are non – gender specific, and then the joke’s on you for your politically incorrect assumptions, except that there are actual illustrations of these three professionals and they are most certainly male:

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Obviously I am not the first person to realise this. Much has been written about Cluedo and feminism, especially in 2016 when Hasbro released a revised edition of the game in which they decided Mrs White was no longer required at the Mansion. She was replaced with Dr Orchid: a female, Asian biologist with a PhD in plant toxicology.

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A victory for feminism? Not in the 21st century.

Girls (and boys!) all over the world will see that women have cool jobs too. I’m all for that. More girls interested in Science, brilliant. But poor Mrs White. After years of service as a housekeeper and fellow suspect, she is kicked out by a good-looking, young scientist.

Objections!

Not everyone is happy about this ‘modernisation’. Most of the concerns seem to fall into 3 categories:
1. Why young?
Why didn’t they just turn Mrs White into a scientist? Is a 50 year old female scientist such an improbability that they had to make her young?
2. Why hot?
Are we all so superficial that we need a new character to be attractive before we can like and accept her?
3. Why Mrs White?
Why was it Mrs White that had to be replaced? She was the only female character bringing home the bacon (and cooking it). Why couldn’t they have eliminated the femme fatale or the socialite?

Oh, Mrs White. You’ve been replaced by a younger model. But you’re not the only one. Look at what they did to the rest of them:

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It is a murder mystery board game. Not an Instagram fashion parade. Have the makeovers really made them more relatable? The 2008 version also added new rooms to the game, including a theatre and a spa, as well as new ‘modern’ weapons.

Dr Orchid. In the spa. With a dumbbell. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

And then I hear Harry Styles in my head: “Just stop your crying/ It’s a sign of the times.”

©2018 Seetha Dodd