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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Funny Word Favorites

When my son was small and fussing, I found the best way to get him out of a mood was to make him laugh. Somehow or other I came up with the word "fluff-a-duffulated" when he climbed into bed and I pulled the covers up and "fluffed them" -- so that became a well-worn word in our home. I aslso discovered that saying it in a Bugs Bunny voice could earn me extra points.

As a writer, I love words -- made up or otherwise -- that describe feelings, whether they're funny, scary, angry or anything else. Today I've decided to share some of those words and tell you the stories behind them.

Because our family is one of mixed faiths, my husband gets a kick out of some of the Yiddish words I use and has also come to use them himself. When he's mixed up or confused or generally feeling exhausted, he says he's "verklempt" or "vermisht" -- which he heard me say in the early hears of our marriage before adopting.

My guy, on the other hand, taught me to say "Oof da," the equivalent of "Oy, vey" in Norwegian (or some Scandinavian language). His mother got me to fall in love with "kittywampus" when she talked about how she'd had a dangerous fall. I was really impressed with her humor in describing what had happened, and whenever i hear "kittywampus" now, I think of her bravery.

My friend John loves when I talk about my garden, which usually starts out "in a tangle" until I get things sorted out (or pay my friend Marlene, aka know as the Garden Goddess, to fix things up for me. John also likes it when I referred to my garage as a "sugar shack" before we spruced it up.

Another one of my favorite words is dunsicle, which I made up (or at least think I did) when writing a play based on The Little Princess for Steppingstone Theatre. It just seemed like the mean character Lavinia would call other students a dunsicle when she was annoyed. I still use it quite a bit, mostly when referring to myself when I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around something.

My favorite phrase for Ruby in The Beat on Ruby's Street is "kinds-sorta" but I really have to be careful not to overuse that one. In fact, I think you have to be careful about that with all the words you love, especially when writing stories. Because words are like food or wine, I think -- you don't want to repeat them so much that readers get sick of them.

I guess that's why I'm always on the lookout for new ones. If you want to share your favorites, I'd be so happy! Just send them over to jennazark.com.












Saturday, July 8, 2017

Love Note to Summer

Summer. Just the word makes me smile (doesn't it make everyone?)

This is a crazy summer (house selling, house hunting) but I know it will go too fast so I'm determined to at least write down all the things I love about it even if I don't get to do them.

1. My son visits because school is out

2. We can swim in lakes and pools

3. We can walk every day if we want

4. We don't have to pile on boots, sweaters and coats

5. It's a great time to take time off

6. Barbecues

7. Light lasts and lasts all day

8. Nights are gentle and warm

9. Summer fruits 

10. Time seems to last longer even if it doesn't

While my birthday is in August I like July better - and always tried to make sure we had family vacations in July.

That's my summer list - what about yours?

Send me your favorite things about summer - and if you don't have any and want to make a case for winter, that's fine too! I'd love to hear it.

Here's a little more about summer and kids:






Sunday, July 2, 2017

Gravestone Story: What Will They Say About You?

I have a little thing about cemeteries, I guess. I like them. I read something once about a young woman hiding in a cemetery because she felt safe there--and when you get over the scary-movie factor, that seems to make sense to me.

I guess I married the right person because my husband likes cemeteries, too. We've sometimes joked about where we want to be buried and what we'd like our gravestones to say. He talks about saying "One Who Laughs" on his stone; I haven't really decided about mine.

Being a writer, in this case, doesn't really help because gravestones are all about brevity. I love the old style of "Beloved Husband, Wife, Mother" but I really think one or two words that describe who I am would make me happier (alive or dead).

Obituaries tell people what we did, but gravestones should tell people who we are. Or were. There are a lot of fancy words for writing and a whole mess of terms: playwright, author, novelist, etc.

I don't much like any of them and I'm not sure they really describe what I like to do.

But there is a word I do like and one that is essentially the reason I get up in the morning. It's about telling stories that share the worlds of people I know, or make up, or want to know. And it's about how those stories grow and change.

As a past performer in the Renaissance Faire, I mostly told stories to kids and adults and that was how people knew me. Now I think it was the best way to describe who I've become.

Because stories have weight, and at the same time lightness. Because they flow like rivers through our lives and can change everything in an instant--and then change it back again. Because we can live without a lot of things, but I honestly don't think most of us can live without stories that give us hope or mirror our struggles or make us see things in ways we hadn't thought about before.

So.

If we're ordering up gravestones, that's what I want on mine, just so you know. My name and one simple word:

Storyteller.

Statue by Corinna Knepper Troth
Photo: Jenna Zark


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Flirting Days

Two months shy of my 16th birthday, I was a counselor-in-training at a day camp and had met a 17-year-old junior counselor who seemed brilliant and funny. We arranged for him to come by my house one evening and I looked forward to it all week.

The night he came by, my older sister was in the kitchen, getting ready to go out. As we crossed the room to go downstairs, he looked at her and she said hello.

I could tell she had caught his eye in a way I never could, and suddenly, he and she were chatting and laughing and circling one another like they were about to go off into the sunset. Where I was tongue-tied and spent most of my time listening and laughing at this guy's jokes, she was joining him in making them up.

Within minutes, my sister and my would-be, hoped-for boyfriend were finishing each other's sentences and he was clearly admiring her. It felt like the bottom had dropped out of my world.

I didn't understand how my sister could not see the effect her actions were having on me, but when guys came around, I don't think she even noticed anyone else. For her, that may have been a coping mechanism for a difficult childhood.

To give her credit, she understood when I explained things from my point of view the next day, and apologized. Many years later, I turned the events of that night into a song about the first time I had tried to get out from under my family's shadow and failed.

More importantly, though, the experience made me more determined to be myself, rather than double over backwards to please somebody else. Because no matter how much you may want to be like your sister, friend or whoever, that will always be a battle you lose.

You may want to flirt effortlessly, but what if that just isn't who you are? And how do you explain that to your tween or teen without sounding like you're preaching?

I think most of us flirt because it can make us feel more confident, especially when you're having fun with it and when you feel good about yourself. Otherwise, it can be a disaster, like the situation I experienced.

Of course, my situation with the counselor guy ended any chance of him and me getting together. In hindsight, though, it helped me think of what I liked and didn't like about interactions with the opposite sex. I realized I had a ways to go before I could really get into something with someone else. The main thing I needed to know was who I was, and who I wanted to be.

I liked writing and acting best, and the stage felt like the safest place in the world to me. I loved to sing and make up stories about the people I knew and didn't know. But if I had a chance to talk to myself when I was say, eleven or twelve, what would I tell me about flirting and how to make it work?

I guess I would say, think more about what you want, and less about what some guy wants you to be. Think about what your dreams are and what makes you happy. Because if you care a lot about something and start to talk about it, you will definitely be interesting, since you know something others may not. Don't feel you have to rush to be the life of the party. Let the party rush to you.

All of this, of course, is easier said than done. But I think it's the only thing that will make flirting easier. And maybe, even fun.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Miscarriage of Justice

I am writing this after hearing that the policeman who shot Philando Castile has been acquitted.

There are no words. I have no words. This is beyond words.

A blind miscarriage of justice.

Because our police are trained to jump the gun, literally and figuratively, as though they are living in war zones instead of civilized societies.

In memory and in honor of Philando I am posting what I wrote last July after driving past his memorial at the place where he was shot. Because I am too upset to write anything else right now.

And because this is something we need to keep talking about.

Isn't He Behind You? Thoughts on Philando Castile

(July, 2016)

The side of the road is covered with flowers and memorials and a small half tent has been erected. A sign asks visitors and passersby: what would Philando want you to learn?

I heard about Philando Castile after driving home from an evening meeting. It was after 10 p.m. and I was looking for weather related news, but my eye fell on a headline about a shooting in Falcon Heights, which is close to my neighborhood.

I watched the video, horrified. What struck me most was the poise and composure of Diamond Reynolds, who loved Philando Castile and  was trying to save him, but whose pleas were being ignored. The other thing that struck me was the policeman who shot him sounded like a panicked soldier in a war zone. Cursing over and over, with no regard for the fact that a four-year-old child was watching him, saying in a tight, hard voice, “I thought he was reaching for his gun.”

"He was reaching for his wallet, sir," Reynolds replied, in a voice completely devoid of malice or dissimulation.

Lest you think in reading this I have any kind of vendetta against the police, I need to share a little more with you. As a child I watched close family friends lose their son, who was arguably one of the best people on the planet, because he was a policeman and was shot in the line of duty. His wife was left to raise three darling little girls without him and I will always treasure his name and the fine memories he left behind.

I understand what police are trying to do and why they are trying to do it. I have had good experiences with police in my neighborhood and truly appreciate the help they've provided. But I am afraid for them when I see videos like the one that records Philando Castile’s death.

I have watched the video several times, and am always struck by the unbridled panic in the policeman’s voice as opposed to the measured response by Reynolds to watching the man she loves  as his life ebbs away. I am astonished that no first aid was administered and 911 was not called; instead, the policeman seems to sound as though he, and not Mr. Castile, had been shot.

Much has been said about this tragedy and other tragedies have followed it, including the shootings of other police and other unarmed African American civilians. I am still unable to stop thinking of this one, because Mr. Castile was shot mere minutes from where I was, driving home; because I see those flowers and signs every day; and because of all the terrible violence in our communities lately, this one seems to vilify a man who was one of the best of us.

It seems he had been pulled over multiple times for various driving infractions and was constantly being fined. This reminds me of a young man named Jo in Dickens’ novel Bleak House, who was exceedingly poor and always being told to “move on” -- until he couldn’t move any more and died. Yet somehow, here in Minnesota where we are supposed to be progressive, this man who had a good job and paid taxes and championed children was persecuted mercilessly by a system that cannot seem to stop itself from grinding down the poor.

Philando Castile, I didn't want to learn about your life because it had been taken from you. Now I am mourning your life without knowing what to do. What is it you would want me to learn?

When I was sixteen, I saw a film by Ingmar Bergman in a park called The Seventh Seal. In it, a disillusioned knight plays chess with Death to try and defeat him during the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. One scene made a particularly strong impression: a young woman being persecuted because she is believed to be a witch. She is tied up, awaiting some awful fate, when the knight stops to talk with her.

The knight asks the woman about accusations that she has consorted with the Devil and she agrees that she has. When asked if the Devil is present, she says he is; and when asked where the Devil might be, the young woman replies, “Isn’t he behind you?”

Of course, that is the most frightening line she could say, because, as a friend once pointed out, we can never truly see what is behind us.

What was the policeman thinking when he saw Philando Castile? Why did he sound as if he was seeing the Devil himself?

But isn’t he behind you? I want to ask. Isn’t he in the rearview when you are rolling down the road? Who was it who made you see demons everywhere, who made you afraid that people were ready to hurt you at every turn? He was not in front of you and Philando was not in front of you because you were not seeing PhilandoHe was never your enemy.

We have seen news reports of a military-style training called “Bulletproof Warrior” and learned that the policeman who shot Philando Castile received numerous hours of this training. From what I have learned, the training makes it sound like enemies are around every corner, waiting to kill police.

Yet it was Reynolds' four-year-old daughter who watched the policeman kill Philando Castile, a man she loved and relied on. “Mom, the police are bad guys. They killed him and he’s not coming back.”

This is the lesson she will have burned into her brain for the rest of her life. This is the lesson people learned in Salem when they were burned for being witches. This is the lesson we are not learning, so tragedies and unnecessary killings are happening over and over and over again.

Bulletproof Warrior is doing no policeman on our streets any favors. It is teaching them to shoot first and ask questions later. It is motivating police to kill innocent men and haul their mothers into jail overnight while their children watch, terrified. 

The stones themselves should weep at the thought of it. And yet they do not.

Philando's name still  wakes me at night, graceful as the flowers lining the sidewalk where he was shot. What do we have to do to find justice for him and others who are dying on our streets?

Where is the Devil in all this? Where is the Enemy who lurks, ready to pounce?

Isn’t he behind you, the young girl asks. We must look in the mirror and answer yes today. Yes, yes, he is.

Blind Justice Photo: Nan Palmero

Monday, June 12, 2017

If Kids Don't Like Change - Do YOU?

Changes, risk, turning points -- how do you deal with them? People say it gets harder to deal wit the older you get, and I don't disagree.

On the other hand, there is something in me that wants to take the risk, even though it may be stressful or may not turn out the way I'm hoping.

I don't always know why I feel this way; sometimes it 's more about compulsion and impulse. But I've become the type of person who needs to be "85% sure" when I take a leap that I'll get to the other side intact. So I'm hoping the risk I'm thinking of taking (selling our house) turns out the way I want it to.

If it doesn't... do I have a backup plan? Kinda sorta, but not much of one. My husband is wary of making this move, but I believe in my heart it's worth trying. I hope I turn out to be right, and I will take responsibility if I'm wrong.

But still.

Change is scary, and it's scaring me. I'm trying to fight that because I believe there is a good chance of finding a better house or at least a newer one that doesn't require so much maintenance. (We live in an "It's a Wonderful Life" type house - which I love some days and which drives me crazy on others.) 
On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons to stay here. So.

Which road to take? Which is the one less traveled and why do I seem to gravitate toward that road?

I don't know, really. I think we are sometimes wired to want something better, whatever we think that means for us.

As a child there was very little change in my life, save for moving once when I was little. I changed schools in seventh grade (and hated it), though high school was better and college better still. I've heard that people with traumatic childhoods have the worst time with change, and I understand how that applies to me.

When my son was a child, he had to deal with his parents divorcing, and I still feel guilty about that. But I'm grateful to see what a wonderful young man he's become (in spite of his parents' messes). Change is scary, but it can teach us resilience in ways nothing else can.

This post was supposed to be about how to help your kids deal with change, but I don't think there really is a good way of doing that. On the other hand, maybe just learning how to deal with change yourself -- and then modeling that -- is the best way to go.

If your kids are dealing with changes, you might want to check out these articles:









Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sophisticated Lady

“It’s not sexy, it’s sophisticated.” So says the Beat girl Ruby of one of her mother’s paintings in The Beat on Rubys Street.

For a very long time, if not for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be sophisticated. When I was growing up I thought that meant wearing black a lot, having a cool job and drinking wine every night.

I also thought it meant impeccable taste in music, (somehow including the song The Lady is a Tramp) -- though the most sophisticated music of all to my mind was always jazz. (Classical music is lovely and can be very cool, but only because it’s unfashionable.)

I don’t exactly know what sophisticated is these days, but I know I don’t make the cut for it, much as I’d like to. I am just not as sharply defined as you need to be, I think, to achieve sophisticated status.

I don’t drink wine every day. I’m not emaciated, like the picture here, which was a costume sketch for a show I was in some years ago). I wear black but other colors too. My footwear is usually abominable, like the Abominable Snowman or Belle’s boat sized boots in the latest opening-song version of Beauty and the Beast.

Not that I’ve seen the latest version.

I’m not sure sophisticated people would love horror movies the way I do, either. They might like cabarets, but it would have to be certain cabarets, dedicated to certain kinds of moments on certain kinds of nights.

I suppose being sophisticated is a little like being cool. (Dressing like the woman in the Madam X painting by John Singer Sargent wouldn't hurt, either). You know because of the way people look at you or follow your lead, but I think it’s really about the things you care about, and that can’t be taught.

Can it?

No.

More importantly, is it something to aspire to--and want your kids to be? The "right" answer is probably no, but I can't always want the right answer.

So, however incorrect it may be I continue to believe that some day, some way, I really can improve my sophistication score.

Might be in another lifetime, but… I’ll still be trying.