Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why Yes, I WOULD Like Cheese with this Whine

Reading yet another Fannie Flagg novel. It's Welcome to the World, Baby Girl this time.

For some reason, all day I've had this fantasy of someone calling me Baby Girl and meaning it, of having someone available to shoulder some of the weight of the world, of having someone who loves me best of all.

There's nothing particularly new or different about my world this week, but I'm not handling the same old stuff very well. My shoulders are up around my ears, and no matter how many times I realize it and try to breathe them down, they bounce back the moment my attention turns to something else. Tigger shoulders, they are. Bouncy, flouncy, trouncy things. Hey--maybe I should trounce a few things and see if that helps.

The area between my shoulder blades feels as though it's badly sunburned--that tight, bright, raw feeling glows through my skin like neon on a dark, rainy night. I am not sunburned. I know this because, although I haven't been in the sun for weeks, I actually got a hand mirror and checked in the bathroom mirror. Nothing's burning back there except dull anger. Or maybe that's rage. Can't tell from the outside, and God knows my insides aren't in any shape to conduct a meaningful conversation.

Strangest of all, every once in a while, I audibly gasp like someone just sucked the oxygen from the room and I'm competing for the last breath. What's that about? Is the Big Fly Fisher in the Sky trying to reel me in?

This, too, shall pass. Or, at least that's what I've been telling myself all day.

Anyone know when this Venus Retrograde this is over?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Jess and I went to Barnes and Noble the other day, and I walked out with three or four books I couldn't live without. Or thought I couldn't, anyway.

Turns out I was right about the first one, Drinking, by Caroline Knapp.

The funny thing is, neither I nor any of my close family has troubles with alcohol. (I've been worried a bit lately about Evan's drinking, but I guess I mean the family I grew up with.) I've never watched a friend spiral, never feared my own relationship to alcohol.

It doesn't matter. Knapp's story is universal, even if her theme isn't. From the first page, she had me right where she wanted me: totally drawn into her world and fascinated with her tale.

In the early going, Knapp describes drinking wine with her father when just the two of them had dinner together in a restaurant, a first for them.

I don't remember what we talked about that night, but I do know that the discomfort was diminished, replaced by something that felt like a kind of love.

Like drinking stars. That's how Mary Karr describes it in her memoir, The Liar's Club, a line she picked up from her mother. She drank red wine and 7-Up one night from a bone-china cup when she was a kid and she felt that slow warmth, almost like a light. "Something like a big sunflower was opening at the very center of my being," she writes, and when I read that, I knew exactly what she meant. The wine just eased through me in that Greek restaurant, all the way to my bones, illuminating some calm and gentler piece of my soul.

I think that's brilliant. The way she takes lines from a book she's read, gift wraps them, and sets them into her story like a present to be opened. If I hadn't already read The Liar's Club, you can bet your sweet bippie I'd have been online ordering it when I finished that chapter. As it is, I pulled my copy down from the bookcase and put it in the pile on my nightstand.

I'm coming to understand the richness, the texture that's brought to a story through the inclusion of a sense of history, through a sense that the action isn't happening in a vacuum. Our characters' daily lives and loves are filtered through the era in which they live, the movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the books they read.

Books. Aaaahhhh, books. From the moment I learned to follow black squiggles marching across white pages, I have loved books and the places they could lead me, the trails they blazed. I rely on their presence and give thanks for the lights they shine into the dark, slippery corners of my mind and heart.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Busy, Busy

Can't believe it's been a week since I've posted. So much going on, most of it inside my own head.

Telling True Stories continues to spark my imagination, along with Fannie Flagg's books, most recently Standing in the Rainbow, and Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome.

The big thing all of these books are pointing out to me is that our personal dramas are played out against the background of the larger dramas of history, and using those larger dramas as an ingredient makes for a richer stew.

I've been obsessively researching the 60s and 70s, and some of what I've found has shocked me, even though I lived through it all. Sort of, given that I was tucked away in the hills at the time.

Anyway, Jess got here Friday and we've been hanging out, writing and talking. I read some letters she gathered in her travels this summer. Fantastic stuff. Truly cannot wait to see what she makes of it all.

More soon. Another busy day awaits.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Red Lightning

So, Deb and I were scheduled to leave between 1:00 and 2:00 yesterday afternoon. Surprisingly, we hit I70 about 5:15. This wasn't surprising because we were 3 to 4 hours behind schedule, but because we were ONLY 3 to 4 hours behind schedule. Deb is always, always late. Always. And, to add the good news, she called shortly before 1:00 to let me know how late she'd be. Ordinarily, I just hang around waiting til she shows. (She rarely answers her cell and almost never when she's late.)

So, we got off to a good start.

It takes about 5 hours to drive from KC to St. Louis. By dusk, we were watching the most fabulous lightning how I've ever seen. Hundreds and hundreds of strikes, most of it what we used to call heat lightning--waves of diffuse light rather than individual bolts. No rain and no thunder. The strikes were too far away for us to hear the thunder. As evening waned, lightning backlit the colors of the sunset so the flashes looked pink and purple and gold.

By the time darkness fell, the show got more dramatic. As we got closer, we began to see individual bolts. The biggest, brightest bolts I've ever seen, and each was of longer duration. We saw one bolt we felt sure hit something because it shimmered in the air for several seconds, trilling up and down from earth to sky. (This morning the STL news is full of the pictures of a historic church destroyed by lighting last night. ??)

We also saw red lighting. Stoplight red. Neon loosed in the sky. After the first bolt, we looked at each other in confusion and asked, "Did you see that? That red lighting?"

Later we saw a virtual starburst of red light in the distance. About 10 minutes after that burst, we began to hear thunder and 5 or 10 minutes after that drove into rain. Driving, streaming, pounding rain but hardly any lightning at that point. When we drove out of the rain about 20 minutes later, we started seeing lightning again, but the real show was over.

My bags had hardly hit the floor of the hotel room before I googled red lightning. Lots of theories, no real answers. If anyone knows anything definitive, be sure and leave a comment, would you? We did see discussions of "red sprites," those bursts of red light, so we know we didn't imagine it.

Silly me, initially I wanted to get here before dark. Thought it would be easier to find our way in an unknown area when we could see. And it would have been (especially because we were navigating construction-narrowed roads in driving rain), but we would have missed one of the most spectacular shows of our lives.

The Universe provdes, you know. It really does.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Meet Me in St. Louis

My sister and I are off to St. Louis for a couple of days. Kind of a fool's errand, if you ask me, but she would not take no for an answer, and so I'm packing.

Just finished reading Standing in the Rainbow, another Fannie Flagg novel. Fannie has reminded me of the value of simplicity. Her stories and her language are comfortable and familiar and. . .universal. Reading them is like slipping into an old hoodie sweatshirt, flannel pants, and soft socks.

All this reading lately. All these voices. Feels like I'm on the verge of something really important, something vital. Something's brewing. I'll post a piece when it's ready.

Meantime, I'm off to STL. Ya'll take care while I'm gone.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Problem Solved

Solved the porn-on-my-computer problem. Bought my college-bound boy his very own laptop. Never been happier to sign a credit card receipt.

Happy, Happy

Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy.

Evan just walked in the door. You will never, ever guess what he handed me.

Go on, try. What do you think it was?

Give up?

His completed college registration.

Evan decided to go the nearby community college and got himself registered for a Biology class. He starts next Tuesday.

I believe in MIRACLES!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Where I'll Find Him

In a wise a loving comment on my post Dreams, Grammer said:

I'm skeptical of the thing. I met every man I've loved while doing what I loved to do most: music. That's where I'm soul-bare, available, listening, and ready for anything. What do you love to do most? What puts you in that kind of space? I think that's where you're gonna find him.

I've spent a bit of time now, thinking about what I love most these days: reading, writing, watching the pond, talking books with people who love them as I do.

Not much man-meeting potential there. Not that many years ago--maybe 5--I hiked across Canada, biked across Alaska, kayaked in Puget Sound, watched the sun rise above Acadia National Park (the first place the sun touches in the US each morning) and on and on. Once I was a person who flew in hot air balloons and drove a dog sled through the forest on the night of winter solstice. Now I'm a person who surfs the internet.

Maybe that, above all, is what needs to change. Instead of thinking about life, I need to get back to living it.

Thanks, Tracy. Great comment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ribbons of Words

Reading Telling True Stories has been like holding match to a gas jet for me. Whoooooosh! Suddenly, I'm hearing the words almost non-stop. In my dreams, floating in that gulf between waking and sleeping, when I close my eyes and drift, it's like the Big Guy in the Sky is sending down dictation.

Weird, but wonderful.

TTS is a collection of essays about writing non-fiction. Much of it is slanted to narrative newspaper writing, but the information and wisdom is valid and valuable, no matter what you write. I practically forced Barb to buy it, and she called yesterday praising it to the skies, in tears while she read a piece aloud to me.

So, get yourself to a bookstore or library or bookselling web site near you and get yourself a copy. Then dive in and swim around in it for a few hours. I think you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Picked up a novel off my dad's bookshelf yesterday--Wild Orchids by Jude Deveraux. Reading this book may prove, once and for all, that I truly will read anything with words on it. Started late last night and finished this morning. It was the polar opposite of the writing I encountered in Taos. No music weaves between the lines, no "stab of actuality" in the descriptions, and the rhythm of the language is clunky at best. There are at least three plots roiling around between the covers and one of them is pretty ridiculous.

Still, I couldn't put it down. Learned something, maybe even several things by reading it.

One of the plot lines brings us to an about face by one of the protagonists, a writer, about his childhood and the people in it. He had a tough time growing up and used it as fodder for his books. He wrote about people who were ignorant, unkind, and hurtful to him. Decades later, he gets to know one of these people as an adult, and learns how life looked from the other side of the page. He then plots out a book retelling many of the same stories from that point of view. Wouldn't that be an interesting exercise?

Everyone is the hero of his/her own story, and so it should be. But other points of view deserve to be explored, too. This character never met his father, who had been in jail since before the character was born. When he learns some of his father's story, it turns out not to be as cut and dried as that sounds. This character left home, got rich writing books (!!) and used some of his money to help younger generations of his family go to college. For family members who stayed in the community, it's a mixed blessing. Turns there's more to the situation than he imagined.

Isn't that always the way? Just when we think we can safely write someone off as all wrong or all bad, they turn out to be as multi-faceted and complex as we ourselves are. Damn. I hate it when that happens.

Can't say I recommend this book, but sure can say I recommend reading a book you wouldn't ordinarily pick up. Once in awhile, anyway.

Friday, August 10, 2007

This Just In

Trying to download images from an FTP site so I can write captions for photos for my upcoming book. Having trouble--error messages and the like. Finally think I've got it and open an unknown file on my desktop that might be what I'm looking for.

What pops up? Well, let's just say it wasn't images of luxury living.

Okay. . .for some people it might be. But those people would not be me.

I'm certain I'm over-reacting, but just can't believe I raised my son to watch that kind of stuff. Yeah, I know. He's 25. No girlfriend right now. Not many friends here. But Lord, God. I hate this.

Um. . .God? Are the hormonal urges of a young man one of those things I cannot change? Or should I have taught him better than that? Any little bit of wisdom or understanding or serenity would be greatly appreciated about now. RIGHT NOW, as a matter of fact.

Lord, Grant me the serenity. . .

Edited 03.05.08 to add: If you've come to this post looking for words about serenity, welcome. I hope you'll also go to this post, which I wrote just for you.

How's it going with Evan (my 25-year-old son), you ask?

"Mom, what time does Aunt Debbie get up?"

"She's usually at Grandma's house by 8:30 or 9:00"

"What? 9:00? I can't wait until 9:00. I have to get on the road. Why doesn't she get up until 9:00? That's terrible!" [at full volume]

"Mom, can you cash my paycheck for me?"

"How big a check, Evan?"

"I need $800."

"I don't have $800 on me, Evan. Why don't you go to the bank?"

"What? You can't cash the check? What do you mean? Why would I go to the bank? They'll just hose me over again. I don't have $800 in my account, they aren't going to cash a check for me." [at full volume]

"Evan, you don't need to have $800 in your account, the person who wrote the check needs to have the $800."

"You just don't know anything, Mom. My bank isn't going to cash that check for me. [at full volume while slamming and banging around]

Mom, will I be able to drive that car home today?"

"I don't know. Maybe. But you have to have patience when you're negotiating, Evan."

"What? You say I can buy a new car and now you're telling me I won't get it. I can't have the car, can I? Why did you ever tell me I was going to be able to buy a new car? I'm never going to get it, am I?

That's my life. Someone waves something good in front of me, and as soon as I try to reach out for it, they snatch it away."
[at varying degrees of volume, ranging from yelling to muttering.]

"Evan, I'm not saying you won't get the car. I'm telling you that the key to negotiation is being willing to walk away."

"Right. I'm just going to walk away. That's the only Jeep with a sunroof in this hick town. In Minneapolis there are hundreds. . .thousands of Jeeps with sunroofs. But here in Hicksville, there's one. And now you're telling me I can't get the only car I want in this whole town."

All this before the coffee's done this morning. No wonder my poor little doggie's taken to living in my closet, under a pile of dirty clothes. I'd join her, but there's no room. I haven't done laundry in two weeks. Evan's got both machines running almost constantly.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Stories Matter

I picked up a copy of Telling True Stories this afternoon. It's a nonfiction writers' guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. So far, it's fabulous. Inspiring. Illuminating.

I skipped around in it a little before buying the book and just now finished the first essay. Talking about why stories matter, Jacqui Banaszynski concludes with these words:

Stories are our prayers. Write and edit them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent.

Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning, so each tale stands in for a larger message, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

Stories are history. Write and edit and tell yours with accuracy and understanding and context and with unwavering devotion to the truth.

Stories are music. Write and edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow. Throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting, but stay true to the core beat. Readers hear stories with their inner ear.

Stories are our soul. Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters. It matters that you do it as if that's all there is.

If we're honest with ourselves, every one of us occasionally wonders why we do this, why we keep moving our fingers across the keys, turning our selves inside out to tell stories about things that turned our lives upside down.

Banaszynski's answer is simple and true: our stories matter. They are history, they are music, they are the soul of the world.

Write on, my friends.


As many of you know by now, when I get stressed, I move through my days wrapped in a cloak of invisibility. Don't talk much, don't do a good job of answering either phone or e-mail messages. Just get through.

Until a month or so ago, it did not occur to me that my invisibility can impact others. I truly didn't realize anyone would miss me and never, ever imagined they might be hurt or wonder what went wrong.

So much for sensitivity, right?

Over the course of the last month, several situations have unfolded where I've been forced to recognize that my habit of disappearing hurts others from time to time, and I'm in the process of working through that. Making amends, trying to become more conscious.

Last Thursday I went to my favorite yoga studio for the first time in many, many months. The teacher greeted me like the prodigal daughter and the other students were incredibly warm and welcoming. Went to another class on Monday. Different teacher, different students. Same response. I couldn't have been more surprised.

The thing is, in almost every way I recognize that everything's connected, that the whole is dependent upon the parts. So it's a mystery that I have been too wrapped up in my own stuff to realize my absence would impact others, would take something away from the whole, whether it's a class, a friendship, or a circle of writers.

To the many loving friends who have held space for me during these times, thank you. And my deepest apologies to those I've hurt.

There still may be times when I need my cloak, but from now on, I'll let you know when I'm donning it. I'll make sure you know how important you are to me and that my distance is my own and has nothing to do with you. To be more accurate, I will make every effort to do these things. If you notice me messing up on this, please get my attention (a 2 x 4 works nicely) and remind me of the world outside myself.

Thank you all.

Monday, August 06, 2007


The whole match thing must be on my mind even more than I realize.

Dreamed I got married. It was a small but beautiful ceremony held in a grand ballroom. All my favorite people were there and I was happy, happy. The man I married was younger than I and extremely handsome--dark, curly hair, great smile, kind eyes. We circulated separately through the crowd, talking and laughing with people, then sat together to have dinner.

Later I walked by a table of gifts and saw that someone had made a quilt for us. I cried and cried as I looked at it and recognized all the love that had gone into it.

I danced and celebrated with friends. In a conversation it became clear that I had not yet known my new husband (in the biblical sense), and then someone mentioned that he'd left the party and gone upstairs. Everyone encouraged me to join him in the honeymoon suite.

Thank God I woke up before I had to show that gorgeous guy my cellulite.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

No Match

I did it. I joined So far, the news is not good.

In my age range, widowed men are somewhat common and I thought this might be better than the typical had-a-mid-life-crisis-and-left-my-wife crowd.

Last Wednesday I met a college professor for a glass of wine. From his dead-fish handshake to his way of assuming my agreement with everything he said rather than asking, this man was not for me. A widower for 10 years, he expressed great anger over his wife's fate and his own. Raising two kids alone, pre-teen at the time of their mother's death, was not his idea of how life would go. No one imagines such a thing, but 10 years ought to be enough to start to get a grip on it, epecially if you're in the mental health field.

Warning: I'm about to be terribly petty. Stop reading now if you don't want to harsh your mellow.

I couldn't stop staring at this guy's head. He looks like AARP's version of Charlie Brown: a completely round head. Spherical. A beach ball with ears. Mostly bald, he keeps what little ginger-colored hair he has very closely cropped and dozens of liver-colored old age spots cover his scalp. If he carried a football, people would offer to hold it for him to kick.

Saturday I met an architect for lunch. I knew it would not go well but had already committed to it by the time I recognized just what a train wreck it would be. When we talked on the phone before meeting, he described his various cars in great detail but said he'd be driving his Mercedes (the big one, the biggest one they make) to lunch. At every juncture, he took pains to leave clues that he's very, very rich.

He also left clues that he's very, very angry. His wife died a year and a half ago, and he didn't have a kind word to say about her family or anyone else who tried to help during her protracted illness.

It only got worse in person. He spent most of the lunch talking smack about his wife's family and even his wife herself. Evidently, she was not a model patient. Just wouldn't do as she was told. Oh, dear.

It didn't matter because his personality was not the least bit appealing, but he had gained the equivalent of a 5th grader since his profile photos were taken and had passed the my-hair-desperately-needs-cut stage about many weeks ago. Even so, washing it might have helped.

Maybe it looks better in the mirror of his Mercedes.

Appearance is not everything, not even the main thing. It's my experience that when people are dear to me, they look dear. But it's got to start with some spark, some kind of mental or spiritual connection, and there were no sparks. None. Nada. Sparkless.

Critically dry forests were completely safe in our midsts. You could have pumped pure oxygen into the room without a moment's concern for our safety or your own. Children could have worn pajamas without flame-retardant chemicals and not even the Consumer Products Safety Commission would have objected.

The inimitable Jennifer Calliandro once told me that at my age, I had to expect guys to have baggage. She suggested I look for someone whose baggage is more carry-on than steamer trunk.

Lord knows (and so do I) that I've got my own issues but Geesh, this was ridiculous. It would take six Sherpas each to carry this kind of baggage.

(big sigh)

Okay, I'm back to my better nature now. Feel free to shake your head and cluck your tongue over what a judgmental witch I can be.

Chasing My Tail

Read an interesting little novel by Fannie Flagg yesterday (Can't Wait to Get to Heaven) and thought I'd gotten something profound and helpful from it.

Then a former employee called and read me the riot act last night, and I can't shake the bad, sad feelings provoked by her screaming.

Flagg's book is a simple story, simply told. I think her point is that simple is not bad; complex is not better. In her vision of heaven, God says, "Just like two and two equal four, kindness and forgiveness is always right, hate and revenge is always wrong. It's a fail-proof system; if you stick to that one simple rule, why you couldn't make a mistake if you tried."

It might be exactly that simple. All the study and contemplation and convolution we seekers go through might be obscuring the fact that it's absolutely simple. We don't have to seek source--we are connected. All we have to do is accept that grace, allow ourselves to feel it. Kindness is always the right choice.

Flagg's God talks about free will and cause and effect, talks about how that system produces painful situations and unwanted results. He/She says that's regrettable, but unavoidable, there had to be cause and effect; free will is a necessary part of th whole.

So, back to this young woman. She wants to make me responsible for her problems, wants to blame us for events far out of our control. I understand her impulse--it's far easier and more attractive to be angry with someone else than to step up and be responsible for ourselves.

It's easy for me to choose kindness in this situation. What's not easy is knowing that I'm being hated and blamed for not doing more, for not having a magic wand. It's hard for me to accept that being kind does not equal being liked.

And, even though I suspect the fundamental principles of life might be exactly as simple as Flagg suggests, I have trouble doing what I know is right and accepting that she then gets to choose how to respond. Her response isn't mine to control. As Carrie says, What other people think of me is none of my damn business!

Well, I'm going to stop chasing my tail and go to the farmer's market. There's nothing quite as soothing and happy as walking among God's abundance for an hour.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Bridge Too Far

35W is the main N/S artery through Minnesota. A bridge carrying 35W across the Mississippi River collapsed last night, tossing cars into the river and lives into disarray.

A friend here in KC called shortly after the collapse to ask if I knew about it and whether I'd heard from Katie. At first I couldn't find any news, not even on the web, but then coverage popped up on CNN. Katie answered her phone on the first ring, safe at her dad's cabin in northern Minnesota, thank God. Other friends called or sent notes to say that they, too, were safe.

Some families, some friends were not so fortunate. People died last night, on that bridge and elsewhere.

When I'd watched the news for a while, I went over and bugged my mother until she agreed to go over to my sister's pool. We whined until Deb stopped cleaning her house and came out to play with us. Reluctantly, my niece and nephew and brother-in-law joined us. We swam and splashed and paddled around in the gathering darkness, enjoying one another's company and the lovely evening. Every one of us was glad we'd stepped out of our routine to play together.

Anne Lamott says that on the day she dies, she wants to have had dessert. Me, too. But even more than chocolate, I want to have had time with those I love. And the thing is, you never know. The ground could fall from beneath your feet at any moment. Hold hands, say I love you, take time to play. Do it today. Do it tomorrow. Just do it.

Odds are you'll never be on a bridge when it falls from the sky, but you will live a life rich with love and laughter. And chocolate.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


My dad got to telling stories about hill people over dinner last night, and it was fascinating.

He started out telling me about a guy who jumped a wild turkey, subdued, and killed the thing. Broke its neck, used his pocket knife to bleed it out, and threw it in the back of his pick-up to take home for supper.

This guy worked for Dad at one of the charcoal kilns he leased out in the timber. When I asked, Dad took off on stories about the man who owned those kilns. Seems a drought in Texas drove this guy and his 20,000 goats north to the Missouri countryside, where there was enough pasture to keep the goats alive. He bought 1200 acres for about $10 an acre, probably from a timber company that had logged it off and abandoned it.

The guy trucked all those goats and his family and his braceros (unskilled laborers) to southern Missouri and then found out he wasn't going to make enough money there to do more than barely survive. So, he looked around to see what he could do with what he had: scrub timber and brush and rocks. Lots and lots of rocks.

As it turned out, there was quite a market for scrub timber and brush in the 50s. It was used to make charcoal briquettes to fuel the new bbq craze. It also turned out that the rocky hillsides were perfect for constructing charcoal kilns.

So, this guy and his braceros dug eight kilns into the hillsides, tunnels 10 ft. high and 20 feet long. Then they cut wood and hauled it into the kilns to burn. Every 20 days, they filled each of those eight kilns with about 340,000 pounds of oak and hickory. Since the big trees were all gone—sold off for timber long ago—they cut small trees and brush too scrubby for any commercial purpose. They hauled the lump charcoal out and sold it to a briquette manufacturing operation about 50 miles away. Is it any wonder they packed up and went home when the drought broke in Texas?

I'm going to remember this guy any time I get to feeling put upon or overworked.