Posts tagged ‘writing’
March 7, 2012
I found this poem while going through some old folders. It started with Emily Dickson and ended with me.
“adored with caution, as a brittle heaven” is no way to approach love.
she sees more than I
knits sweaters I wear
comfort against the bone chill of my fears
and insistent spirits
is it because I feel called to make sense of my past
that I often forget my now
wring my hands
point to the door though no one asked to leave
so easily torn in two
my own skills the finest
me the undoer
me the albatross
that’s where my head goes
until I pull back
past my past
to long days spent climbing trees
splashing through creeks
though shyly so
when I was older
Annie Dillard recommended
spending the day
as it can’t be taken with
no brittle heaven
no such thing
just open acres
rooms without doors
and a woman with better vision
February 6, 2012
First of all, applause for my fellow blog goddesses, writers, and friends Amanda, Ami, and Monica who aren’t just staying true to this post-a-day challenge, but who are also cranking out some beautiful, poignant, and hilarious tales.
Special thanks to Monica for her amazing post on overcommitment.
And for calling us all bitches in the sweetest way possible.
There is almost always something else you can do rather than write.
Let me get specific as I am one who makes her living from writing for others.
There is almost always something else you can do rather than write for yourself. Laundry. Masonry. Animal husbandry. The list goes on.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (author of Life’s Little Instruction Book, remember that?) wrote,
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
Ouch, H. Jackson. Take it easy. It’s Monday.
But I ask you.
Did Michaelangelo have to sift through 50+ emails about timeshare opportunities, male enhancement, and casual sex in my area inquiries each morning? (Oh really, it’s just me?)
Did Mother Teresa worry about being mowed down on the streets of Charleston by a college coed in an SUV who’s applying mascara while texting her BFF about some OMG LOL moment while drinking a Red Bull? Nay, I say.
Did Leonardo da Vinci ever even hear of a Kardashian? Methinks not.
This modern age is hard on the gentle soul of a writer. But the glimmer of hope is this: the angsty, I-have-no-fargin’-time-for-this slowly melts away as you write. The beginning is still uncomfortable, in a middle school first dance kind of way. But it’s well worth pushing through, because on the other side of the angst are the words, arranged by you and you alone. And as you read it, you discover that you’ve shared something, and it’s often not the thing you expected to share at all.
That’s the gift. That’s why we write. For that. And for our bitches.
December 5, 2011
I recently read Joan Didion’s new book, Blue Nights, a memoir about the death of her daughter Quintana, who died at age 39 of pneumonia and septic shock.
This is a heartbreakingly beautiful book full of grief; vivid, happy memories – and a long list of questions about what it means to be a mother, a writer, an aging woman, and the surviving member of your own family.
For a few weeks after I read Blue Nights, I found myself thinking nonstop about how old, or rather young, Quintana was when she died, mostly, I’m sure, because I am the same age. I thought of my mother and where she was at 39. It was 1976 – she was married, had three children: ages 16, 9, and 4 (me), and was making beds and dinners and building people. I cannot fathom what my life would have been like had we lost my Mom when was 39, any more than I can imagine what my Mom would do if she lost me right now.
The truth is, none of us can fathom loss, expected or sudden, until we are in the midst of it – and even then it carries a surreal quality that, at times, feels so foreign we catch ourselves watching ourselves from the outside in.
Which makes me think of what Mona Simpson, Steve Jobs’s sister, said in his eulogy: “We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.”
Even when we “have time.” Even when we “say what we need to say.” There is always the thought. It wasn’t enough time. I need more.
During an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Didion shared a conversation she and Quintana had near the end of her life about what kind of mother Didion was. “Quintana, to my surprise, said, ‘You were okay, but you were a little remote,’” said Didion. “That was a very frank thing for her to say, and I recognized myself in it.”
What are our parents to us and we to them? A collection of tics, idiosyncrasies, stories, secrets, assumptions and hyberbole? Do we ever truly know one another, or are we bound by our own definitions of parent and child?
A friend whose father has terminal cancer told me recently that her father is cleaning out dresser drawers and organizing things. “It’s almost as if he were a pregnant woman nesting,” she said. I was so struck by that – the notion that what we do to prepare for a new life could so mimic what we do to prepare for the end of life.
As our conversation continued, I spoke about my Dad, who died nearly two and a half years ago. I heard myself say, “I’ve adjusted to his death, but I don’t think I’ve accepted it.” I could not have surprised myself more.
My Dad lived a full life, 80 years, and by his last days, he was not living the way he nor anyone who loved him would have wished for him. And yet. But still. Grief is muted and morphed by time. And I still long for the sound of his laugh, his eyebrow raised in jest, his warm hand on the top of my head when I was young. As Didion writes, “Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”
So she writes. And remembers.
As I do. As I will.
June 23, 2011
Last Saturday, we lost Clarence Clemons, the dynamic saxophonist and partner in musical crime for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, far too soon.
If you haven’t yet done it, read the beautiful tribute, Bloodbrother: Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011, David Remnick wrote for The New Yorker.
“His horn gave the band its sound of highway loneliness, its magnificent heart. And his huge presence on stage was an anchor for Springsteen, especially when Bruce was younger, scrawny, and so feral, so unleashed, that you thought that he could fall down dead in a pool of sweat at any moment. At the brink of exhaustion and collapse, Springsteen could always lean on his enormous and reliable friend—an emblematic image that is the cover of “Born to Run.”
As a New Jersey native, I came to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band early in life. It’s no exaggeration to say that my early definitions and vision of what it meant to be in love, to struggle, to long, to want the hell out of my hometown, were formed listening to those haunting, heroic albums – devouring lyrics and singing to the breaking point of my voice, eyes closed, arms outstretched.
That Clarence Clemons could, through his saxophone, breathe longing, loss and triumph into a song, into people’s consciousness and souls, was his gift – and one that thankfully lives on.
To me, there was always something so heartbreakingly beautiful about the bond between “The Boss” and “The Big Man.” That their relationship broke racial barriers is an incidental, albeit important, social statement. That their musical and physical chemistry was the stuff of other legendary partnerships – Jagger/Richards, Plant/Page, Lennon/McCartney, Simon/Garfunkel – minus the breakdowns and breakups, attests to their mutual respect that withstands life and death.
It is that elusive, intangible connection between these two men that fascinates and moves me. Their “brotherhood,” a term so cliché and overwrought with emotion, it has nearly ceased having meaning. But you need only watch them together onstage – Springsteen leaning into Clemons as the sounds of his saxophone fill a stadium – Clemons with arms raised beside Bruce as he sings his disciples into ecstatic epiphany – to understand what beauty do love and friendship and music make among men.
June 15, 2011
April 6, 2011
I’ve written a number of posts about my Father. His life and death have served as my lens since that day in July, 2009. I talk and write about my Dad because it helps, because honestly I think I might go crazy if I didn’t. It’s also a way to keep him part of my life.
I worry sometimes about talking about him “too much.” Worry that friends and family will grow weary of me and my occasional tears. The other part of me thinks, why do we ever stop talking about those we’ve lost?
I’ve negotiated and endured grief the past year and eight months since he died. I’ve read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and you should too, by the way. I’ve had long conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances about people they’ve lost. I’ve even asked friends to write about their grief. Maybe there’s a book in here somewhere for all of us.
I’m always fascinated with each person’s grief, as unique as their fingerprint and just as beautifully complicated.
Here again, is some of mine, from a journal I keep. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts.
March 22, 2011
Grief is not orderly – it follows a path only it knows. Talking to a friend the other day about her Dad’s dementia, I told her about the day we left Dad at Birchhaven. I use the word “left,” because that’s what it felt like to me. I felt as if we abandoned him. I felt as if we did what he said as my Dad he would never do – leave. I wish I could forget the way he hung his head when Steve so calmly explained things. I wish he hadn’t seemed so lucid that day – that it didn’t seem like the world’s biggest mistake to leave him in someone else’s care. There’s nothing natural about leaving your Father behind like that. It was the worst day of my life. Worse than laying my head on his still-warm chest after he died. Worse than imagining him in the frozen ground. Worse because I feel like we broke him. Worse because we have to find a better way to care for each other than this.
March 29, 2011
Dad’s birthday. He would have been 82 today. A terrible night’s sleep. Up at 5 am and cried over coffee. Huge spider in the bathroom that I caught with a glass and plate and put outside. I sang my heart out to Adele on the way to work. Korean for lunch with the boys. Ate bee bim bop – rice, five kinds of veggies, spicy pork. Delicious. Tried a taste of red bean ice cream. Lovely with a slight chocolate flavor. Will tells hilarious (though alarmingly awful) story of a centipede he encountered while living in Hawaii. They are large and move as if on ball bearings. Listened to Purple Rain on the drive home. Called my brother to talk about Dad and asked him for a story.
When Steve was 13, we spent a few weeks on North Lake. One day, Steve, Dad and Grandpa Ray took out the neighbor’s aluminum fishing boat. Three quiet men; lines in the water. Grandpa Ray suddenly passes gas, and the sound reverberates so much in the aluminum boat that Dad looks up and says, “Did you say something, Ray?” Without missing a beat, Grandpa says, “I said, ppfffffftttt!” mimicking the sound of his own gas. Steve cracks up with laughter and our Puritan father who never felt comfortable acknowledging bodily functions, blushes red with embarrassment.
Later, I kill an enormous bug, obliterating it to pieces. Which reminds me of how I relied on Dad, because he was the killer of bugs. The righter of wrongs. That evening, friends send me text messages telling me they just toasted Dad with a bit of whiskey. Little by little, I find ways to celebrate him.
April 6, 2011
Yesterday, I spoke with two friends at work about the moment he died. I talked about how surprised I was at how quickly after he died that he no longer “looked” like himself, how it has assured me all the more that our bodies are vessels for the energy, spirit or soul within.
I say that, though it’s nearly impossible to parse, because it’s their flesh and blood, hair, skin, laughter, smell that we miss. In the thick of life, body and soul are hopelessly, undeniably tangled. We forget where one begins and the other ends.
As I finished the story, one of my friends began to cry – and immediately began apologizing. Then, I apologized for upsetting her. And we all struggled for a moment: she embarrassed; me apologetic; the other friend nervous. It’s easy to forget how very close to the surface we carry our pain and losses. They exist like a first sub-layer of skin, so incredibly resilient you ignore them almost entirely. And then, like finding a massive, deep bruise on your skin that you have no recall of how you obtained, there too is that flash of pain, the sub-layer penetrated, bleeding now, tear ducts springing into action, your body reacting in turn.
March 8, 2011
While drying between my toes after a bath the other night, I remembered how the four-year-old me used to stand on the closed toilet lid and hang onto the towel bar as you dried me off after my bath. “Left leg,” you’d say and I’d hold it out for you to dry. Each limb in turn.
You dried toes vigorously, and it’s that moment that strikes me. The thought of my own small toes in your large, towel-covered hand, how you meticulously dried each one, your brow slightly furrowed in concentration, how I could still feel the strength of your hand.
And I, standing tall on the toilet seat, obediently following your instructions, waiting for you to look up, pleased with yourself and me.
October 15, 2010
As you know, my brother was recently inducted into the half century society. Applause! Joyful shouts!
Our 73-year-old Mom joined my brother and sister-in-law for a weekend of birthday celebration. True to my Mom’s generous nature, she came with a gift for the birthday boy. Pardon, old codger.
Quick aside: my family reads this little blog and placed a very specific phone call to me about the aforementioned gift. In essence, they asked me to blog about the gift. Which I will now return to doing.
So this gift from Mother to Son? Upon reaching the half century mark, with its accompanying wisdom and respect? Yeah, that. My brother received this:
It’s a TITANIUM (space age technology!) nose hair and ear hair trimmer. How warm! How thoughtful! How about kicking a guy while he’s down?
I have not yet decided which is worse for this poor man: turning 50 or receiving tangible proof that hair will now begin growing in great earnest from various orifices. I mean, if it hasn’t already. Oh, and FROM YOUR MOM!
Thanks to my Mom and brother who CONFERENCE CALLED me to share this gem. I love my family.
July 30, 2010
Tomorrow a dear, sweet friend of mine leaves Charleston to its own humid devices to venture north to the land of clams, patriots and red sox. Yes friends, BOSTON.
I’ve known Courtney Jo for nearly three years now, and in that short expanse of time (a blink, really), she has become an indispensable part of my life. Might I add we have both packed in the life experiences over the course of these three years, to include:
- Job strife
- Job hilarity
- Creative inspiration
- Creative disillusionment
- Personal empowerment
- Job loss
- Job find(s)
- Break ups
- Back togethers
- New relationships
- Tears (of all varieties)
- Food & drink (of all varieties)
Through it all, I have come to adore this woman’s face, her easy laughter and tears, her hugs, greeting cards, rides to the airport and support and encouragement beyond measure. CoJo is the little sister I never knew I wanted (I’m the youngest in my family). She’s the friend you can call at 3 a.m., and she will show up. CoJo, I am a better girl/friend/writer/person, because of you. Thank you. Safe travels, my bear!
P.S. Don’t worry, we’ve already planned our fall festival road trip/beer fest/apple picking bonanza trip to Boston.
P.P.S. If you start talking with a Boston accent, I will totally break up with you. LOVE!
June 15, 2010
This is the velvet wallpaper at Lamar’s Restaurant, a must-see spot in Chattanooga. The website calls it “Chattanooga’s favorite place after dark.” I can tell you this. You must go.
Truth. It’s not much to look at from the outside. But honestly, you don’t really want it to. The slightly-dodgy-dingy thing works.
Truth. It’s still decorated for the holidays. And someone’s birthday. Which is good. Adds festive spirit.
Truth. By far the best jukebox I’ve ever encountered. Billie Holiday. Chaka Khan & Rufus. Michael Jackson. Aretha Franklin. Portishead. Marvin Gaye. Ella Fitzgerald.
Truth. Stiffest drinks ever. In fact, you’ll think it’s a joke at first. I ordered a vodka cranberry and watched Mr. Gerald, the stoic but adept bartender make it. He filled a low ball glass with ice, poured in vodka until full and then added the merest whisper of cranberry. I mean, the liquid in the glass barely had a glimmer of pink. You’ve been advised.
Truth. The fried chicken and shrimp they serve is apparently the stuff of legends. I did not have the opportunity to eat, but I can report that no less than four people stopped by for take out chicken orders and were asked “Half or whole?” upon placing their order. Seriously.
Truth. This place should be on an Esquire list of Best Bars With Stiffest Drinks & Delicious Chicken. At the very least.
Truth. If you go, I will totally come with.