On Mitzvahs


On Mitzvahs —

A mitzvah is a blessing, freely given, and I was the recipient of many this past Sunday. I was surrounded by some of my tiny family, and by those craziest of my cat-loving friends. For we celebrated the Cat Mitzvah for our two thirteen-year-old cats, Buster and Butterscotch. One friend advised that it should have been Katz Mitzvah, but, alas, her suggestion did not reach me until invitations had been sent.

And, as so many parties that are really for the grown-ups rather than the children (or cats, in this case), it was I who was truly blessed. To share good times, good conversations, to be happy to squeeze around a table meant for a much smaller assemblage and enjoy bumping elbows and spilling barbeque sauce. To laugh when we ran out of white wine sangria and find that somehow instant lemonade appeared in the refrigerator, to be  poured by a guest so comfortable that he felt it was his own home. Well, isn’t this the best of times.

In this turbulent time in the world, in our country, in our personal lives, how wonderful to stop, to savor, to appreciate that we are surrounded by mitzvahs, if only we look.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com


On Mobs: A Cautionary Tale


On Mobs: A Cautionary Tale

Would that the mob that prompted this post was one that held placards bearing hearts. Would be that the mob that prompted this post was once that chanted “enough.” Would be that the mob that prompted this post was not a group calling themselves patriotic Americans who want to “take America back.”

I work to keep this post non-political, although the composition of the crowd (I will forswear the term “mob” here) was blatantly political, and proud of it, it appeared. But my thoughts are about what happens to ordinary individuals once they become part of, once they identify with a larger group. So, this is what I observed: middle-aged to elderly white men, mostly in short-sleeved white shirts and ties that bore some iteration of the American flag, middle-aged to elderly white women in spectacularly unbecoming straw hats banded in red, white and blue, the kind of people that you’d see in an advertisement for a 4th of July picnic in Iowa (sorry Iowans, I know it’s a stereotype) gazing upward with rapt adulation at Chris Christie (and Chris, I used to admire your chutzpah, no longer, however) exhorting them with the chant “lock her up, lock her up.” I sat spellbound – like when you see a train wreck about to happen and you can’t avert your eyes. The energy of the crowd was palpable, even through the TV screen. So much hatred, and so much glee in being able to scream a slogan in the midst of thousands who agree with, and reinforce, exactly how you feel. I could not look away, even as a wave of nausea, which has yet to leave entirely, coursed through my body.

So in my mini-research on mobs, it seems that belief, and identification with, a leader can easily transform a person’s behavior to model that of the leader, while their own, perhaps dissimilar values, become submerged. Group think, group action.

Would that a leader have emerged who would have called up higher instincts, an antidote to hatred and fear. The group I saw this week was angry. Most of the people I’ve talked with, who don’t share those views, are scared.


On Writing Rhythm, and Naps


On Writing, Rhythm and Naps —

I should be working on my novel-in-progress. That is what I tell myself as I clean the sunporch, change the cat litter, and lie on the sofa for just a twenty-minute nap, which, as everyone knows, is the renowned time for bringing those fuzzy brain cells back into focus.

I’m gradually coming back to my writing rhythm, or at least heading in that direction, as I also recognize that the same excuses for not writing lure me with an ever-stronger pull. Especially naps. And I must say that, when I lie there, allowing my brain to go where it choses, I compose (in my head, of course) some of the most lyrical prose never to be put on a page. I have completed at least three novels, poetry that is so moving that the reader (if it were written, of course) would swoon, or at least stay home from work to think about it. And that is only what I can remember. Now I should clarify that a bit: what I remember is how wonderful my words were. Unfortunately for me and the literary world, I am unable to recall the actual words.

Once or twice I have been so moved as to jump (well, that is an exaggeration – more authentically, I push back the blanket, stand up, and walk) to the computer to get those words down. Alas, in the interim between living room and office, the muse decided to dwell elsewhere. But in these weeks, in my head, I actually have completed my storyline, wept for characters who will face tragedy, and developed understanding, perhaps even compassion, for those characters who I wouldn’t want to meet for coffee.

And somehow, word-by-word, I am making progress. Shitty first drafts, but words on paper, waiting to be reviewed, rewritten, and cried over.

Now, as to the image above, that is Susan Sontag. Surely she napped, and look at how beautifully she wrote. Maybe some of her talent will rub off. At least that’s what I’m thinking as I drift off – for twenty minutes only.

Another Sunday, a novel of historic Baltimore, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

I Wish I Could Paint

watercolor poppies

I Wish I Could Paint

When I can’t find words, when our country can’t find words, to express our feelings on this past week, I wish I could paint. I wish I could put together pinks, and blues, and greens in cloudlike forms, wispy traces of white, something, anything that could help us see hope.

Hope seems to be in short supply these days. Killings just one more item before turning the page, changing the channel, though this week seemed worse than most, at least since Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or….  And who can remember the murders just last month?

When President Obama, at his Saturday press conference, was asked about gun control, he sighed. And that sigh said it all, for all of us. We can write on Facebook; we can Twitter #enough, yet in the end we sigh.

And I wish I could paint.

www.cynthiastrauff.com, Another Sunday

On Watermelon


On Watermelon

It’s the 4th of July weekend. I’ve bought (not made) hamburgers, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, and even raspberry cookies for my husband. So where is my favorite food?  It is missing-in-action.  Watermelon – and just not any watermelon – no, watermelon that actually has a taste.

Thus begins yet another year’s pursuit of what I’m sure I experienced earlier in my life. My current theory is that in breeding out the seeds, the flavor has disappeared. So, logical conclusion – find a watermelon with seeds. How hard could that be?

Take it from me – it’s hard. Don’t bother heading to your local grocer, not even Fresh Market or Whole Foods. No, there lie pristine, green-rind, beautifully and brightly pink, and, need I say it, seedless fruits. Undaunted, I head to our Farmers’ Market. Surely there I would find someone, somewhere who understands, even if it means that I have to figure out how to carry the weighty melon without the aid of a grocery cart. But wait, no. Even they, when asked, do not even blush when they tell me that their customers don’t want seeds. Too messy, they say.

Alas, they are right. It is messy, and in fact the mess kept me from watermelon binges until the ones I hungered for assumed their place in the pantheon of gone-but-not-forgotten memories.

So, today, a sing-out for watermelons, and an apology for the superabundance of dashes in this post.

Another Sunday, a novel of historic Baltimore, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com