Back to the Basics of Creative Writing

The girl sat down next to her elder in the old wicker rocking chair; wood of old mahogany, smooth to the touch and whose gentle sound mirrored a slight creaking of the floor for which it stood. ”I’m going to tell you a story and in this story I’m going to teach you something: I’m going to teach you about strength and rising above grim odds to be best you can be,” she said to her granddaughter.

”In Greek mythology, characters are often tested to see who they really are; heroes exceed the limits of average men who then become gods, lovers are often tested of their devotion and loyalty for one another in an eternal bond, and faith makes us all believe in a constant, despite the turbulent times we may live in. There are symbols too that teach us something about ourselves:

A phoenix is a magical bird who is able to transcend above all ruins. It truly is a unique creature; said to rise above the flames of a fire to its rebirth. The bird actually lays down to rest — to die above the very bed it built and sacrifices itself anew. It’s a prescious reminder that we can start over again from despair and tragedy.   

So when the new-born Phoenix first is seen

         Her feathered subjects all adore their queen,

         And while she makes her progress through the East,

         From every grove her numerous train ‘s increased;

         Each poet of the air her glory sings,

         And round him the pleased audience clap their wings.

When I first went to work for the family, before they moved into the ‘ole 1600 Penn address, I had this sort of ambivalence towards the couple who hired me. I of course looked after other children before, but never those bearing a prominent name. Granted: I was nervous.”

The old woman glanced around the room, staring at the photographs lining the mantle and down at the chest beside her. The vessel overflowed with letters printed on fainted paper, all addressed to ‘Ms. Maud Shaw.’ Their return addresses, however, beautifully transcribed and postmarked from exotic locations along the Greek Isles and the Upper East Side. She continued…

”The Mrs. treated me like any other member of the extended family — because God knows — she had a lot of brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, and nephews to keep track of. I was not the nanny of the two children, but the adopted live-in grandmother. Mrs. Kennedy showed me adoration, as I did her.

We spent quite a few afternoons sharing stories in the grand room while the boy laid asleep and the girl at piano lessons. Mrs. Kennedy told me of her travels to India, memories of the camel adventures and market shopping with Lee, and the many times she hoped to bring the children along with her to distant lands. When she left the house with young John and Caroline and into her Fifth Avenue apartment, we still kept touch. I agreed to extend my contract for two more years at her service in January ’64. But after it ended, I went back home to your mother and uncle, and husband to start my own family. I continued to receive letters from her; Christmas cards, wedding invitations, postcards from abroad and sometimes envelopes of the children’s noted classroom achievements.

I sincerely admired her. She did not become a grieving queen when the weight of the world and the death of her husband tested her true strength as a woman and as a mother. Jacqueline Kennedy rose to become a phoenix for her two children and a nation struck by the loss of their 35th president.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing” inspired this week’s post.

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