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FROM THE BUTCHER’S BLADE … and a Wednesday Writing Prompt for You

Arriving at our stop, it would spit us out … so much cattle, the regimented and the ragtagged, tired and numb.  Once dumped, the rail-car doors would close behind us and we were whirled in the wake of the train rushing to the next station. Then, a sudden silence, and we were free to plod our way home, a final few blocks in Gravesend, a new ‘s-Gravenzande*, if you will, but an old irony. I’d stop at the bakery first and go on to Paul the butcher and his merchant’s rictus. His beef, he told me, “is like butter,” perfect for my carnivore husband. Paul’s face seemed bloodless to me, as if in some moment of devotion he chose to infuse the dead. Still more child than woman, I would study the varied cuts waiting to be bought, waiting to be devoured. I’d fancy their missing eyes, bones, and very lives crying out. These offerings of body and blood from Paul’s steel blade to my tattered tin chalice fed me for two years on the futility of hope.

– Jamie Dedes

* ‘s-Gravenzande – the place in Holland that some believe gave its name to Gravesend, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York that was “settled” by the Dutch.

WRITING PROMPT

Write a poem or flash fiction piece that describes someone’s trip home from work – triumphant, grateful, used-up or bitter.

© 2013, flash fiction, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; cattle photograph courtesy of morgueFile

“The Mighty” (That would be you and me!) … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

I am disabled. Hear me roar!

I am disabled but not unable.  Thanks to medical technology, fabulous and caring physicians, family support, social support (both online and off) and computer technology, I continue with my chosen career, my chosen causes and a life that is as full and engaging as anyone could hope.

Now, I’ve discovered The Mighty (details in the video below) thanks to my Bardo Group Beguines colleague, Lana Phillips. What a great find!

A wonderful idea, essentially an online support group for people who are dealing with chronic and catastrophic illness and sharing information and resources. The people who visit The Mighty site and/or write for it, share their stories (including stories of parenting). They are women and men who are ill or disabled themselves or who are caring for others who are ill or disabled … or, perhaps both.

We are so fortune in these days that there are support groups available. My own mother lived with cancer over and over again. First breast cancer, which kept reoccurring. Then thyroid, kidney and other cancers. Ultimately she died at 76 of breast and colon cancer.  In her day, there were no support groups,  no one in her life who could understand the complications: psychological, financial or physical. There was no adult who could observe, understand and intervene. She also suffered from mental illness and was in an almost constant state of stress and trauma.

Unlike my mom, I have the benefit of a support group at the Medical Center for people with interstitial lung diseases who are in pre-transplant (me), transplant and post transplant programs. I also belong to an off-line support group of people with “life-threatening” (read ultimately fatal) illnesses, which is run by the local Buddhist meditation center. Some are – like me – lucky enough to go on for years. I was diagnosed in 1999 with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is fatal within five years of diagnosis and for which there is no cure.  I’m still here because the diagnosis was wrong. There was no way to know that until time passed and reactions to medical treatments could be observed and evaluated. These proved that the condition is actually Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis. So, as you see, I’m still hanging out. Some of the members of our Buddhist group are not. Over the last seven years we’ve lost nineteen friends. That’s the tough part.

The upside is that our offline support groups provide us safe haven to share information, to be open about our fears and frustrations, and to share our joys. So too The Mighty, where there are a rather remarkable number of conditions addressed from a personal perspective and in a manner that is informed, compassionate and uplifting. Bravo!

WRITING PROMPT

Write a poem, short story or feature article about dealing with chronic catastrophic illness or disability. Directly or indirectly, illness and disability touch all our lives. It’s just part of this package called Life!  If you write an article, you might consider submitting it to The Mighty. Submission guidelines are HERE.

© 2016, words and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved.

THE HEMINGWAY CHALLENGE: Your Wednesday Writing Prompt

Ernest Hemingway

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American journalist and author

That’s Hemingway’s shortest story according to an oft told and often disputed tale. Hemingway was allegedly challenged to write a story in six words (some accounts say ten) to win a wager. To be a story, it had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The anecdote probably is a fabrication.

At any rate, I rather like the idea. I’m no Hemingway, but what the heck. Here’s two of my tries, mystery both.  

Meticulous diary
Pages missing
No alibi

****

Moonlight sonata
Sudden pause
Lion roared

WRITING PROMPT

Your turn: write a six-word story. 

Photo credit ~ via Wikipedia Ernest Hemingway at a fishing camp in Kenya in 1954. “His hand and arms are burned from a recent bushfire; his hair burned from the recent plane crashes.”

THE EGYPTIAN ZABBALEEN, JOBS LOST AND GAINED … and therein lies a Wednesday Writing Prompt for you

A Group of Boys at Moqattam Village
A Group of Boys at Moqattam Village

It is – unfortunately – not news that in some places (including First World countries) children and adults dig through trash cans or garbage dumps looking for something to eat or for cast-off goods that might be used or sold. There is no story, however, that quite compares to that of the Egyptian Zabbaleen or “garbage people” for sheer industry and inventiveness. From the 1940s these people ran 120 micro-enterprises that collected and recycled Cairo’s garbage. This was the Zabbaleen’s creative solution to the need for jobs and income when farming ceased to be a viable for them.

There was as you might imagine a downside: social stigma, subsistence and disease. Garbage collecting did, however, offer something of a living to an estimated 60,000 – 70,000 people and what these people did was quite remarkable. In fact, it was unique in all the world. They recycled 80-85% of the garbage, which is where their income came from. Most Western countries recycle about 20-25% of garbage.

In 2005, Egypt hired private contractors from Spain and Italy to bring in huge trucks and cart garbage to landfills. This move along with others made in the name of modernization and Westernization cost the Zabbaleen dearly and, in fact, in the end all of Cairo suffered for this decision.

A Donkey at Mokattam Hill in Cairo
A Donkey at Mokattam Hill in Cairo

I first learned the story of the Zabbaleen from Mai Iskander’s award-winning feature-length film Garbage Dreams, which aired on the PBS Independent Lens program for Earth Day in 2010. While the context and culture of the story is unique, the experience of losing one’s livelihood to corporate giants, funding cuts, social or technological change or other conditions is all too commonplace. Almost all of us and our communities have been touched – if not devastated – and sometimes recreated by such experience.

Some people are remarkably resourceful and inspiring, like the Zabbaleen when they transitioned from farming to garbage collection. During The Depression, my own father’s import & export business was failing.  He got the idea to tell the furriers in the neighborhood that he would clean their offices at night. He made them an offer “they couldn’t refuse.” Then, in the same spirit as the Zabbaleen, while he handled the factory and office maintenance, he’d sort through the trash and save all the tossed away bits of fur. He made them into little bow-ties and earings and little mink teddy bears and sold them to Macy’s. Even in a depression there are people with enough money to buy useless luxury tchotchkes, so that’s the market he went after.  He eventually became a furrier.

WRITING PROMPT: Write a poem, short story or article about the impact of job loss on an individual, family or community. This might be a poem about someone’s grief over job loss or how they reinvented themselves in the face of hard times. It might be a short story about family dynamics in the aftermath of financial catastrophe. Or, it might be an article about your own community and how it survived (or not) the loss of a company or industry that was once the foundation of your town’s economy.  Is there a story in your heart or your own back yard that until now you hadn’t thought of telling?

© 2016, story and prompt, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credits: the boys by Ayoung0131 under CC BY-SA 3.0 License; the donkey by Thousandways under CC BY-SA 3.0 License.