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

Down to my core

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I’ve got pretty good balance. In yoga classes, my tree pose is perfectly passable. And that’s on one foot. So you would think I should have no trouble standing in a crowded bus, two feet planted firmly on the ground, leaning nonchalantly on the handrail, headphones in, phone in hand. Right?

Oh. So. Wrong.

It’s all going so well. I even remember to look up from my phone as we cross the Harbour Bridge – a stunning view no matter how many times you look at it. Once we are across, I scroll through my playlists looking for something to follow Post Malone’s ‘I Fall Apart’, a beautifully raw and soulful song about heartbreak. And then I enter a parallel universe where his song unwittingly becomes the soundtrack to a tragic fall from grace.

The bus jerks suddenly (‘Surprised when you caught me off guard’) and I fall apart. All over the lady standing in front of me. (‘Ooh, I fall apart.’) As if in slow motion, I crash into her backpack (which is on her back) and then keep falling. I’m falling so hard (‘Harder than the liquor I pour’), and with such conviction that I push her off the step she is on. Thankfully, she has better balance than I do and steadies herself.

I try to find something to hold on to but the people closest to my awkward and unintended bus-dancing are on their phones so no one’s hands are free. I am also apologising to a backpack whilst hoping the lady attached to it is amused rather than annoyed.

Balance still eludes me. The lady with the backpack now becomes not just my victim but my cushion. (‘Ooh, I fall apart.’) I finally stop flailing about like an elephant on ice-skates and find stillness. Of body but not of mind. (‘Too many thoughts running through my brain.’)

The guy who is seated next to me – seated so comfortably that he is able to play Solitaire on his phone – looks at me pitifully and asks,
“Are you ok?”
No, I’m mortified
“Yes, thank you,” are the words that come sheepishly out of my mouth.

I’m embarrassed because I should have been holding on to the handrails. With my hand, not my hip. I should not have been scrolling through playlists and endangering the lives comfort levels of my fellow passengers, most of whom just want to get to work without anyone invading their personal space and preferably without having to make any eye contact whatsoever.

I tuck my phone under my arm and hold on to the handrails with both hands. Partly because the bus is still jerking but mostly to make a statement: I acknowledge my stupidity and am ensuring I don’t harm anyone else in the 5 minutes left of this bus journey. Good thing too because Backpack Lady subtly glances over her shoulder to check that the clumsy oaf behind her is actually holding on now. (‘I can’t let go’)

The embarrassment does not subside. (‘Try to brush it off but it keep on going.’)

I apologise to the lady again as I get off the bus. She says “No, you’re alright,” which is Aussie for “That’s alright.” After I used her as a human shield against being propelled forward into a potential human-domino situation, this is incredibly kind and I want to hug her.

But for some reason she is walking rather briskly away from me. (‘Fool me twice and it’s all my fault.’)

©2018 Seetha Dodd

The Key

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“People disappoint, so set your expectations low,”
A weary soul once told me this, many moons ago.

But I was young and hopeful, so I thought I’d take a chance
And strode down Optimism Street without a second glance.

The path was rough, uneven, not at all like I had thought;
The people, dark and jaded, seemed unhappy with their lot.

Kindness always wins. I’ll keep my expectations high.
“But people disappoint,” the world said with a wistful sigh.

The further down the path I went, the more Heartache I found
And every time I tried to rise, Truth pulled me to the ground.

What’s the point? I asked the world, of trying to be true?
The world didn’t answer, it was disappointed too.

Then I met a woman with a shawl and shining eyes;
She took me to a tiny shack that she called ‘Paradise’.

She asked me why I looked so sad; I told her of my woe
That Happiness had flown away not too long ago:

I had it once, I held it tight, so tight it could not breathe.
And then I put it in a cage and begged it not to leave.

When I was out exploring, one dark and jaded day,
Someone opened up the cage and let it fly away.

I tried so hard to lock it up, to keep it safe, you see.
“Oh, my dear,” she said, “but then you gave away the key.”

People disappoint, I said, It’s no use being kind.
Every time I look for Hope, it’s Misery I find.

With shining eyes she looked straight through my dark and jaded heart;
She took my hand and led me all the way back to the start.

“Happiness,” she said, “is waiting for you every day.
But first let me show you what’s been standing in your way.”

She handed me a mirror; I was horrified to see
The one who disappointed most, staring back at me.

©2018 Seetha Dodd