Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Mayhem: Surviving Christmas alone

(Disclaimer: I will use Christmas here as an overall reference to the late December holidays. If you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanza or anything else, that's fantastic, please do apply the thoughts and points in this blog to yourself. It's just that I celebrate - in a very loose sense of the word - Christmas, so that's the holiday I'm going with. No discrimination meant here whatsoever.)

Okay, quick: when you think of Christmas, what comes to mind?

Admit it - immediately, just for a split second, you thought of gifts, didn't you? It's okay, most all of us do, it's natural, I think, in such a materialistic society (especially if you're an American, we can't help it).

But for most people, Christmas means time with family and friends - and for lots of people (myself included, during my stint living in Florida) friends are considered family.

But there are those traditional people, millions of them, who want to be surrounded by family at Christmas: whether that is blood-related family, those belonging to your spouse, or step-families, which is prevalent in the case of myself and The Dude: my step-mother's family is vast, far-flung, and yet near and dear and has treated us (and me, in particular) just as they do the rest of the family, despite the lack of actual blood relation. That's not always the case, and I am thankful for that.

So, what do you do if you no longer have any close family - blood, non-blood or otherwise? Is Christmas a time when, if you have no one else with whom you can celebrate, you can go to the home of a friend to visit on Christmas Day, and if so, should you be there during "Santa" time, or wait until later, after lunch maybe, and if so, what do you do with yourself until the point that you think it might be comfortable enough to visit with your friends?

These questions had never even been an issue for me until last year, when my mother's father died. It was heartbreaking after her mother died, but then her death was followed by my grandfather's and then my young cousin, just months after, in 2008. Now, as far as close family is concerned, my mother is left with her sister, whom... well, I won't get into that, but suffice it to say that my aunt has her own "family" that is a priority. I'm trying hard to be a good Southern girl, and you know what they say to do if you can't say something nice... Bless Her Heart.

I've told my mother, over and over, and my stepmother has told her, over and over, that she's more than welcome to spend Christmas morning with us, at my dad's, but understandably she's not quite comfortable with that. She and and my father had a less than amicable divorce, and although they now get along okay - they speak to each other, which was a feat thought insurmountable until we saw an ultrasound with The Dude's sharp profile - they are not exactly to that point of blending families. This, as I said, is understandable.

(Okay, so it's not really like that, but I've been waiting forever for an excuse to post that picture, and this was ideal.)

In an ideal world, Mom would whisk The Dude and myself away with her to Florida for Christmas and just skip the whole she-bang, but neither she nor I would do that to my son or my family. Which leaves me in the sticky spot of what to do, how to feel, and how tall of a wall to build around myself in order to not go completely insane worrying about her.

Which leads me to another point of worry, something that weighs on me like a stone in my pocket, something I return to nearly every day and rub, anxious, achy: the man I will call John, who lives in his van in the parking lot of the Burger King next door.

We've all come in contact with homeless people, and if you haven't you should consider yourself very, very lucky. I've encountered them all over the world - from London to San Francisco - and it never gets any easier. They're all different, of course, just as all people are different: some are quiet and almost dignified, some are so aggressive and persistent you could swear they were agents or ad salesmen in their previous lives. But they all have one thing in common: at night they are cold and almost always hungry - for one thing or another - and have no stable, loving environment in which to call home.

John has lived in the parking lot next door as long as I've worked here - well over two years now, and I know he's been here longer that that. He hangs out in Burger King, and the crew over there is nice enough to let him, give him coffee and, I suspect, food in exchange for odd jobs and "security" in the parking lot.

A long time ago the company I work for owned another newspaper that covered the Madison area, and it ran a weekly coupon for McDonalds, for a free something or other - a breakfast sandwich in the morning and a Big Mac in the afternoon. John would come over every day and get seven papers - one for each day, so he was at least guaranteed two meals a day, and take them to the McDonalds just down the street. We sold that paper four months after I started here, and he was devastated. I rummaged through our old papers and clipped out a folder full of the coupons for him, and the local McDonalds honored them. It fed him for almost a year.

Christmas is about family, and friends, and honoring what we are blessed with, not weighing what we have against what we don't, or what we need, or what we want.

I want a netbook, the surprised and delighted smile on my son's face, and happiness for my family.

My mother wants her parents back, serenity, and to be surrounded with love at all times.

John wants warmth, and food, and security.

What do you want for Christmas?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Motherhood: Remembering Unk

My father and his older brother were raised by their mother, uncle, and aunt on a farm in Hartsville, Tennessee. The farm was off of Walnut Grove Road, which meanders along rising hills of green, dotted with yellow and purple flowers, sunsplashed, in the summertime. The small house sat at the end of a gravel drive, and there was a low rock fence, with a gap in the middle beside the mailbox, down by the road made of white slabs of stone most likely pulled from one of the many quarries our part of Tennessee. My father's mother, uncle, and aunt were all teachers, all unmarried: the ladies widowed and my uncle a lifelong bachelor.

My father's father died of a brain aneurysm when my father was six years old. The family, at that time, lived in Oak Ridge, where my grandfather worked at the nuclear plant. I don't know what he did there exactly, but I've always dreamed he was a top engineer or scientist with the Manhattan project, or designed bombs or made fusion more efficient. I do know that he, like my father, was exceptionally smart. My father's brother, Joe Pat, a few years older, died the same way before he was 50 years old.

My grandmother did not drive. This was in the mid 1940s, and she was a lovely lady of the flapper generation: gorgeous and sassy and spoiled.

I'm not sure who did it, but I think it was my uncle and his nephew, my great aunt's son, Doodle, (Yes, Doodle. I don't even recall his real name.)who packed up my grandmother and her little boys and moved them back home to the farm, where she lived until she passed away on February 2, 1997.

The Dude was named after my great uncle, who was legally Benjamin Brown Draper, but who I always called Unk. All my cousins - all eight of them, Joe Pat's children - called him Unk as well, and I have rarely known of a man more adored by family, friends and colleagues alike than Unk, also known as Mr. Draper.

(I wish I had a photo of him with me now to include, but they are all at home, or burned with my father's home in 2005.)

All three of them, as I mentioned, were teachers: my grandmother, or Gran (Robbie James Draper Wiley), and my great aunt (Vyda Mae Draper Thompson, and the most saintly woman who has ever graced this earth) at a tiny one-room schoolhouse just down Walnut Grove Road from the house, and Unk at the Trousdale County High School, where he was regionally renowned for his farming education and FFA leadership. Hell, even in high school I knew people involved in FFA who knew him, or at least of him, and he passed away when I was in the 6th grade.

But for me, what was special about Unk wasn't who knew him or what a superb teacher he was, but how he made me feel, which was as if I were the most special little girl in the world. Beautiful, smart, and important: and he was a man of few words.

I was lucky: my Alaska cousins as I call them - Joe Pat's children, who all grew up in Anchorage - only got to visit him sporadically, although the older ones, especially Kathy, were good about coming in the summers to visit. But I got to see "the trio," as I call my Gran, Unk, and Aunt Vyda Mae now, much more often, especially since they were much older: my father was 40 when I was born, so they were already in their late 60s and 70s when I was young - Unk especially.

I remember him leaning over, bending his tall frame almost in half, to pick buttercups along the crumbling rock sidewalk in front of the house with me, because buttercups were always my favorite when I was little. We had them at my house, at their house, and it seems now my little girl life was filled with buttercups, our first sign of spring and warmer, better things to come. I remember him making a swing for me and hanging it in the branches of a tree with no top, no matter how I stood and turned, I could never see the topmost branches of that tree, or the sky beyond it. I remember his laughter as he pushed me, skinny legs and white patent-leather shoed feet kicking, as high as he could before leaning against the tree, smiling, telling me I looked just like my daddy, whom he loved so much.

My father, mother and me at the farm

But as I get older the one aspect of that farm that keeps resurfacing for me is the tiny cabin out behind the house which, when I was little, was always locked. They told me it was a cabin for farmhands, for helpers, for storage. It wasn't until I was in high school and either broke in (most likely) or someone finally let me in (not probable) that I saw the narrow cot against one wall, the doll-sized kitchen, the homey touches like curtains, a hand-knotted rug, and cushions on the seat of the rocking chair in one corner, flattened with time and use. I wandered around the tiny cabin, the raw wood ceiling just inches over my head, touching books, notebooks, old newspapers and magazines, sneezing every now and then, wiping my eyes, awed.

Unk never married: he promised his mother on her deathbed that he would take care of his two sisters until he died, and that's exactly what he did.

For years, until I was a grown woman out of college, I held fast to his sacrifice, his unwavering selflessness, his principles and his morals. That is, until someone - and God help me, I can't remember who - let me in on the little secret: that little cabin was no farmhand retreat, no storeroom.

It was his bachelor pad.

"His what?" I recall breathing. There could be no such thing - Unk was asexual. Unk was practically a saint. He didn't have physical urges or need women like that. Selfless! Moral! Principles!

"Cathouse," I believe the term was.

And then it struck me like a slap on the ass: that book. That book on the shelf in his simple bedroom of pine and warm wood. The book with the naked people in it. I never saw it until I was tall enough to be on eye level with the bookshelf over his desk, but there it was: a book about nudists in America. "Naturalists," I believe they were called.

Turns out Unk was human. In a little girl's eyes he was a looming, smiling figure who said "Gimmie a bus" when he wanted a kiss on the cheek, who had an impressive collection of bolo ties he gave to my maternal grandfather and which I rarely saw him without. Who's sharp chin, impressive eyebrows and warm eyes I see more and more in my own father's face each time I see him.

For whom I named my son: Draper.

The saints in our lives are still people. They make mistakes and they have urges and needs and are human. It's how we choose to remember them, how they made - or if we're lucky, still make - us feel about ourselves and the world that matters.

I don't remember Unk for that cabin now, although it amuses me to think about it. I remember him as a shadow against the sun, leaning over me, tucking a snipped buttercup behind my ear, his warm, papery hand lingering on my jawline. I remember him as strong hands against my back, pushing me in a swing, my laughter and squeals rising into the leafy tops of a tree I could not see past. He is low raspy laughter and a cheek turned for a kiss. And he is leaning against a tree, arms crossed, bolo tie cords askew, smiling, saying: "Aren't you just the loveliest little girl."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Mayhem: Reconnecting

Today I went to a funeral for the mother of a very good friend of mine. Granted, I've only hung out with my friend a few times since The Dude was born, because once he happened my lifestyle changed. (Okay, admittedly I had a rocky few months that first year, but I've cleaned up my act.) The last time Mark and I got together was a few months ago, when he and I went to Sole Mio and then the Nashville Symphony together, a fantastic night I promised him I would blog about and then never did.

Mark has always, always been very good to me. He's a prosperous attorney who divorced shortly after I met him. I was bartending at Ole Neighborhood, and he was ending a 20-something year marriage. He was single, I was single, and we had the same tastes. We were quite the "couple" about town for many years: we hit all the good parties, the benefits, the black-tie fundraisers. Eventually I started writing for The Wilson Post newspaper, still bartending on the weekends, so between the two of us we were invited to basically every event worth going to in the immediate area. It was fun, and one of the reasons why I don't think I "missed out" on anything when I had my son. I had that single lifestyle, the partying, the late nights, for years. Hell, I was nearly 27 years old when I had The Dude: I'd had my fun.

But Mark was there the day The Dude was born, beaming, proud and beatific and terrified right along with me. I don't have to see the photograph taken of him holding The Dude, so tiny and hidden in the blankets and born over a month early, to remember how Mark simply glowed with the knowledge of another little me in the world.

Then, as it does, life intervenes. I became more and more absorbed with work and writing, with guiding The Dude and everything that goes along with that, and Mark retreated from the community spotlight, redecorated his house, and sent two of his boys to college. There were the random text messages, pics exchanged via cell phones, but no real contact except when both of my grandparents died, and I barely remember that, steeped in a fog of grief and fear.

So, it takes a day like today, the funeral of his mother, to bring us back together. Mark held up well: his mother had been in hospice care for months, losing her third battle with cancer, so her passing was not a surprise, but I'm sure a bit of a relief that her long struggle and pain was over, and she could join her beloved husband, who left us a few years ago as well.

But it shouldn't take an event like this to reconnect friends. I sat in the hushed funeral parlor this morning, yellow sunlight streaming through purple and cream stained-glass windows, thinking of how awful it is that Mark's mother died three days before Thanksgiving, on the cusp of the holiday season. How Thanksgiving will never be the same for anyone in his family again.

Then I watched Mark and his family file into the sanctuary, light catching in a flash in his rimless glasses, glinting off the silver hoop in his oldest son's ear. And he sat with his ex-wife, who bent her head toward him and nodded, sniffling. Just two rows back, I looked at the lines of their bodies, how the boys' faces are shaped, the curve of their jawline, just like their mother's, how they all have Mark's gorgeous dark, slightly curly, hair. They sat together, tight, holding themselves and each other together.

That's when I realized that too often we concentrate on what we don't have, what we have lost, instead of what, and especially who, is nearest to us. We watch and wait and covet and need, instead of taking stock of those so close we can literally reach out and touch them.

I'm as guilty, if not more, than anyone of this. That's why this Thanksgiving will be so difficult for me: I know I need to finish the newsletter, and write the Wilson Living article, and at least attempt to work on the novel and Jordan's workshop, and I'm so obsessive and have a tendency to be single-minded when I'm set on something, it's going to take an effort of will to actually stop, calm down, and enjoy myself tomorrow. I will be scooping dressing and ladeling gravy while working on the InDesign spread in my head or worrying about magazine-worthy pictures that I need to make sure get to who needs them, by deadline.

I will not, without consciously trying, be in touch with those around me.

So, this is why I am giving myself permission to reconnect with myself - my non-working self - and with my family. There's no reason not to and too many reason to do it.

And, on Friday, when I'm shopping and stressing and wondering how in the world I'm going to make all this work, that's when I'll worry about deadlines.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Mayhem: Playing catch up

So, if you read my last blog you'll know that I have quite a few things on my plate for this month... which is already past halfway over. I cannot believe this. This in inconceivable. (Vizzini: HE DIDN'T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE. - Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.)

I refused to prioritize the tasks set up for myself this month because they are all very important to me for different reasons, but it looks like the Tennessee Writers Alliance newsletter is pulling ahead in the lead: is it taking more time and concentration, a more intense effort. It's a lot of work but a lot of fun, and I know that the end product is going to make my fellow TWA board members, as well as our members, proud, and hopefully show some writers who are not members of the TWA what an invaluable, warm, and important organization the TWA is, and they'll join. (

And then there's NaNo - National Novel Writing Month. Ah, NaNo, how you've plagued me. I started off strong - over 7,000 words in the first two days of November. Since then... well, as I've said, other things have crowded their way in. I recently when to a marathon write-in, which helped, but I am still woefully behind. But here's the deal: I know me. I know how I write. I will be hit with a wave, an undertow urge, if you will, to write that will hold me down, suck me under, and the words will flow from me (they may not be good words, but they will be words, and they will COUNT). But the old adage about writing being a muscle you must use or it will atrophy is true: my characters are hissing now behind my back instead of talking openly to me. They're keeping something from me. Hell, one character hasn't showed up at all: I haven't written one word about her. I'll get 2,000 words AT LEAST today. (checks clock. dammit.)

Before I knew the madness that would be November, I signed up for an online workshop with the lovely and talented (and infinitely patient with me) Jordan Rosenfeld. I have not been able to dedicate myself and my time to that workshop as much as I wanted, and for that I am deeply regretful and disappointed. The fact that several of my writerly friends are also involved in the workshop and that I'm missing it, and them, and the forum discussions, irritates and irks me to no end. But I'm working on it. I'm working on it.

One bright spot is my article for Wilson Living Magazine. I'm really enjoying working on this one, since the subject matter is near and dear to my heart. I won't divulge too much information since I want our readers to be surprised and eager to pick up the next issue, but I will say it has to do with the West Wilson Arts Alliance, of which I'm a huge fan.

And speaking of the West Wilson Arts Alliance, while interviewing the head honcho for that article I brought up the idea of having a Writers Guild to go along with the Fine Arts Guild, the jazz ensemble, Cedar Creek Community Band, Encore Theatre, and Chorale Dynamics. A group that could meet to write together, critique our work, and eventually read our work at other WWAA events.

He said he'd actually been thinking about that and had me in mind to organize it. I struggled to keep my mouth from dropping open. I agreed, perhaps more enthusiastically than appropriate (which is my MO), and may have missed a bit of what he said next during my frenzied note-taking about how to organize a group of writers - or, perhaps, MORE than one group! So, now I get the fantastic opportunity of organizing writers groups... except I don't know anything about organizing writers groups. Fortunately, I learn quickly, adapt easily, and have the utmost passion for this project.

That said, if you are a writer interested in joining a new writers group - or know someone who fits that criteria - email me at

So, there I am. And all this, plus my actual day job (which I just love), and life with The Dude, the family, the... other. And the other? That's a whoooole different story.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On Motherhood: Understanding and Acceptance

If you follow my blog and/or me on Facebook or Twitter (or, God forbid, you know me in person) you know that I have a lot on my plate for November: NaNoWriMo (in which my goal is to finish a 50,000 word draft of a novel in 30 days), writing for, editing, and publishing The Tennessee Writer, the quarterly newsletter for the Tennessee Writers Alliance, due online December 1, and my article submission for Wilson Living Magazine, the gorgeous glossy published right here in Lebanon, TN, deadline by the end of November. Oh, and there's also The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, of which I am the managing editor.

So, needless to say, even though it is only (checks date) November 3, I've been rather busy lately. Between notes and prepping and emails (I'm also in charge of gathering advertisers and publicizing the newsletter and newspaper) I've been doing the only basest of chores before shutting myself into the office, staring at the computer for around six hours between 8 p.m. and whenever, trying to get work done.

My mother has helped, my family has helped (and will help - I also have a wedding next weekend in Cincinnati), but my son, tonight, made me feel not only guilty but that all the hard work I'm doing is well worth it, because I don't do it - well, not the bulk of it - for myself: I do it for him, for my family, so that they will not only be proud of me for my accomplishments but for what my work will reap (hopefully) for myself and them in the future. So that, someday, I'll be able to repay them, in some way, for supporting, loving, and helping me during these hectic, busy days.

Tonight, after I made a hurried supper of spaghetti and oil with tomatoes and herbs, The Dude curled up in my lap and, with a full tummy and a long day at school, promptly fell asleep in my lap before 8 p.m. I waited until a commercial during "So You Think You Can Dance," which we like to watch together, and ushered him to the bathroom to pee before going to bed. He's had a bit of a bed-wetting problem lately, which I refuse to blame myself and our busy schedule and instead chalk up to a "phase" of being a four year old little boy. I tried to tuck him into bed, but instead he insisted, rather vehemently, that he sleep on the couch, just outside the door to the study.

"Honey," I coaxed, "you'll be much more comfortable in the bed. Please."

"No," he pushed my hands away, toddling, weaving, up the hall to the den. "I want to sleep on the couch. Just please let me lay on the couch."

"Baby," I whispered, covering him with the softest red blanket we have, a gift from PaTom and Nana last Christmas. "Why? Just go to bed."

"No," he muttered, settling in. "You have to work tonight, and I wanna be right here on the couch close to you in case you need something. You hafta write the novel and newsletter so if you need something, like a popsicle or something, I'm here to get it. I'll be here."

I kissed him, lingering on the warm pulse of his temple. "Thank you."

He smiled, already nearly asleep. "Yeah, Mom. Go do your fing now." He tucked his hand beneath his chin, cupping his palm against itself, exactly the way that I sleep. "I love you. You're the best mommy in the whole world."

He says this to me at least ten times a day. And every single time is better than the one before.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Mayhem: November

If I make it to December I will be one accomplished, and exhausted, young woman.

Here's a list of items I have to do next month (or, if you want to be picky about it, in less than a week):

1. National Novel Writing Month which, to quote the site: "is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2008, we had over 119,000 participants. More than 21,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

Yeah. A novel. In a month. Got it. Moving on...

2. An online writing workshop for the entire month with Jordan Rosenfeld entitled Fiction's Magic Ingredient. Hopefully I can incorporate this work with the NaNoWriMo work and get double the pleasure, double the fun. Or double the insomnia and stress. As I tell The Dude: You choose!

3. Compile articles and information, edit, produce and publish The Tennessee Writer, the quarterly online newsletter for the Tennessee Writers Alliance. I am so stoked about this one. It's my first one published entirely by myself, and I cannot wait to get down to business with it. It's due to go online on December 1.

4. An Arts and Entertainment article for Wilson Living Magazine, due at the end of November. Digging the focus of this one, which you'll just have to wait and read when the December/January edition comes out!

5. Work. (Remember that, Tomi?) The Chronicle gets my number one focus, of course, and I'm working to make it ever better, week by week.

So, although I'll be slammed from every direction - I also have a wedding the weekend of November 7 in Ohio and there's always the Thanksgiving holiday tucked in there - I haven't felt this alive in a while.

It feels like life is taking off and looking up - and like 31 is going to be hell of a ride for me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Motherhood: Censorship

I know it's one of the more oft-repeated adages about parenthood, but I feel it must... well, be repeated - at least for me. A lot of the time I need to be smacked upside the face with a log (sometimes repeatedly) before advice sticks to me. And then another couple of times for good measure so I'll actually take the advice. But this is an important one, and luckily, this time, it didn't completely backfire.

I worked/enjoyed the Southern Festival of Books last weekend, and as a board member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance I had the great privilege of co-moderating a panel with two masters of Southern Gothic: Ron Rash and William Gay. They both read and answered questions, and I was impressed with the number of people in the audience: standing room only downstairs, and people in the overflow balcony of the Tennessee House of Representatives chambers, where the panel was held.

William, however, didn't look so good: he seemed to have diminished since I saw him in June. He literally looked smaller, his color was off, and he just didn't seem... stable. He worked his way through his reading and was thrilled when we bestowed upon him the TWA Writer of the Year award.

"I feel like I've won an Oscar," he said, holding the gorgeous crystal award aloft.

The next day there was a screening of the movie adapted from his short story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down." ( After the movie a panel was scheduled, with William and the director/screenplay writer Scott Teems. Scott announced at the beginning that William had fallen ill and returned home.

On Sunday I had the great pleasure of having some one-on-one time with another TWA board member, Dr. Randy Mackin, a professor at MTSU and newspaper editor, like myself. Among other topics of discussion, Randy said that William had collapsed and was taken home. Apparently William had a heart attack recently (last year?), and to my dismay Randy said that if it happened again William wouldn't go to a hospital because he didn't want any doctors poking around in there.

I explained all this to my mother in the car later, with Draper in the backseat. My son asked what was wrong with William Gay (he was familiar with the name: I talked about the writer a lot before and after our writers conference, WordFest, in June, when William held a reading of an excerpt from his upcoming novel, and I was lucky enough to talk with him, Randy, my friend and TWA board member Wes Hutcheson and J. Wes Yoder for hours during the reception at Sherlock's Books in Lebanon). I told Draper that William recently had a heart attack and was sick now, and that I'm worried about him.

Draper's on fall break from preschool this week, and tonight as we waited for my father to come pick him up to spend the night there, Draper asked me why he had to stay with my little sister tomorrow, and where would I be?

"I have to go to work," I answered, "and then go talk to some classes tomorrow."

"My class?"

"No. These are college classes."

"But I want you to talk to my class sometime," he pouted.

I smiled. "I can do that, maybe, sometime. But what would I talk about?"

He shrugged. "Maybe William Gay's heart attack?"

"I hardly think that's appropriate, but I'm impressed that you remembered it."

He nodded, his eyes far off. "How's he doing?"

"William? I don't know, honey."

He walked over and laid his head in my lap, running his hands down my legs. "I hope he's okay. I hope he's okay for you, I wouldn't want you to lose him."

I'm not sure I'll ever get used to my son's insight. I have no frame of reference - I don't know much about kids, much less little boys, so all I have to gauge them by is my own son, but this floored me. Not only did he remember that my friend is sick, but he cares about how it will affect me.

He's a little person. I keep forgetting that. And I'm not sure if I want to censor what I say in front of him so much as to shield him, or if I want him to really know what's going on in my life enough to partake in it, no matter what it is.

Where, and how, does a parent draw that line?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Motherhood: The funny things The Dude says

Just now The Dude and I were sitting at the table, each finishing up our cheese quesadillas (yes, I made cheese quesadillas at 7 a.m., I don't enjoy breakfast food) - he with his cheek in one palm, his eyes on "Fairly Oddparents," chewing slowly, me reading an article about the awesomeness that is Neil Patrick Harris in last week's Entertainment Weekly in an attempt to catch up (this week's cover features Jim and Pam from "The Office," and I have way too much to do to have to yearn to get to it any time soon). This is an early morning routine for us - while he is okay with launching straight from the bed and into a stream of conversation, I am not. I need time. He indulges me.

After chewing and lightly tossing the remainder of a crispy triangle to his plate, much like a teenage boy would discard the crust of pizza, he sighed and ran his small, pudgy hands over his eyes. I glanced up.

"You okay?"


"You sure? Feel okay?"

He nodded, his eyes still on the TV. "Yeah. I'm just complicated."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Media: The Fortunate Writer and Her Uncooperative Brain

It is normal for me to wait until very close to or the day of a writing deadline to actually write, and normally this produces my best work. I like the pressure: I thrive on it. My gears turn, my brain clicks over from the analytical (I have discovered that I am quite an analytical person, I think and overthink and rethink and consider and weigh all sides before just going ahead and doing whatever was my first choice was anyway) to the creative, and I'm able then to sit down and pound out whatever needs to be written.

Today, not so much.

I can't figure it out. I procrastinated all morning. I've had at least a dozen false starts, deleted two dozen first sentences, cursed under my breath three dozen times. I've gotten up, walked around, eaten two pounds of hard candy and lollipops (much to the cringing dismay of my co-workers), I've texted and emailed and thumbed through old "jump start" books and Tweeted. It's taken me until about a half hour ago to write the first sentence, and I hate it. I have to have this piece in today, and I don't even have the last section of information for it. I'm driving myself crazy over it. But I can't write it, and I don't know why.

But here's the rub: I love what I do. I love my job. I love that I get to do my favorite things in the world - writing and reading - and people pay me for it. And I take that for granted until instances such as one a few weekends ago when my good fortune and aligned stars are held up before me to face and humble me.

A few weekends ago I went to a writing workshop hosted by the Council for the Written Word in Franklin, TN. (I heart Franklin, by the way, and would like to just move into one of those shops just off the square. Preferably the stationary shop, because they have lots of paper and pens, and Landmark Booksellers is close by - paper, pens, and books = all I really need to survive.) While there several people approached me (people are always approaching me. I don't know why. I guess I have that sort of open face, one that invites people. And it's usually talking.) and asked me if I'm "writing anything" right now.

The first couple of times I had what I'm sure was my general blank look - glazed eyes cleared by slow blinks, drooping lower lip, and my head dropping toward my left shoulder. I've been told this is what I do when thinking of what to say. I can't imagine how anyone actually knows this, because rarely do I give myself the chance to think about what I'm going to say when asked a question like that. Apparently the look doesn't last for long.

"Sure I'm writing right now," I answered the first couple of times, with a little sniff. "I have to, if I want to eat."

This, after the first few people drifted away looking a little put out, I realized sounded a little snotty. I didn't mean for it to sound snotty, and I realized that, as opposed to the people I deal with on a daily basis, the dedicated men and women in this workshop do not automatically know that I write for a living. Nor do they have the good fortune to write for a living - to write daily, and see their work printed and published in two newspapers, online, and in a magazine. These people, here to glean and learn and soak it in, may have never seen their names in print. They may have never known that first thrill, that little shock of seeing your name in a byline, or the fluttery anticipation of reading your work in a publication as if for the first time, hearing your own voice as you read, clutching the newsprint or magazine glossy between sweaty hands, devouring your own thoughts as greedily as a starving animal.

I was aghast at their lack of fortune. And I felt ashamed at myself for taking the opportunities presented to me, the talent and sheer persistence I have squandered over the years for granted. The next couple of times I answered that question, "Are you writing anything right now?" I smiled, genuinely, and said, "Yes, I am. I get to write every day, and I am lucky to do so."

And writing this blog has served its purpose: I now feel calmer, less "frenetic," as I have been described when I get to this point. I feel able enough, competent and clear enough, to go back to that blank white page with its one long run-on and in desperate need of paring down sentence, and write. And write and write and write, knowing that it will be published in a month in the gorgeous, classy glossy Wilson Living magazine, and that I am a very lucky woman, in many respects, but primarily in that because I love what I do I haven't actually worked in a very long time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Mayhem: The Women

The Women are clamoring.

The Women are what I'm calling the three main characters of this... (sigh)... novel idea that slammed into me while on vacation in Myrtle Beach three weeks ago. And I say slammed because that's exactly - in a metaphorical way - what happened to me: The Dude and I were walking along the beach, as we did every morning, and as if a wave had blindsided me these voices crashed over me, these three women, talking and talking and talking. Instantly I knew their stories, large chunks of their backstories, their immediate issues and how they all fit together. And they haven't shut up since.

Draper became a bit annoyed, not at our frequent pauses while walking but because I was scribbling madly in my little blue book instead of looking at the sandy shells in his palm, of his kicked-up spray, of his own pause to study the edge of the world and how I should be in awe of him.

But I couldn't write fast enough, or often enough, and meanwhile entire conversations between the characters, including a tough but kind mother and an unwelcome four year-old little boy, were playing out in my head as we swam, as I showered and rested. While Mom and Draper played in the surf and the sky gathered clouds above us I huddled on my towel and wrote long, detailed notes and shorter, spasmodic ones in the stolen moments when I tried to read.

Since we returned home and the smell of saltwater and the grit of sand along my legs are not immediate The Women have quietened some but they are still here. I can't even get dressed in the morning without entire conversations and situations playing out inside my head. I feel possessed, and I haven't felt like this (as a writer) in a very long time, and I'm terrified it's going to dissipate.

So, I'm jumping in feet first. Never in my adult life have I had any inkling of interest to write a novel, but these broads won't leave me alone. I'm moving from the (somewhat cowardly but interesting and helpful) taking-notes stage and wade into actual writing scenes, craft some dialogue. I'm both excited and nervous about where it - and they - are going to take me.

As a matter of fact, it may be better if I don't wade in... for me, it'd be best if I just squinch closed my eyes, hold my nose, and jump.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Motherhood: Mastering chopsticks and manners

Editor's Note: this blog was originally posted on December 4, 2008, but it says a lot about the little Dude, who will turn 4 on Sept. 19. He's come a long way, baby.

The plan was to go grocery shopping.

As with most things in my life, that plan was discarded when I drove past the Wasabi Hibachi Grill on the way to pick up Draper from the sitter's house last night after work. Keeping one eye on the road and feeling around for a discarded purse in the floorboard of the passenger seat for my wallet (long ago abandoned for the less efficient but cuter and less bulky pouch I'm using now - don't ask, I don't know why, had something to do with the book festival, I think), I tugged out a gift card for Wasabi given to me the last time I took Draper there and he vomited all over me and we made a hasty exit.

I loaded Draper into the car and asked in a super excited tone, "Are you hungry? Do you want to go eat JAPANESE?"

"YES!" He yelled, as predicted. Use the right tone and that kid'll do damn near anything I want, like anything I want. Sooo gullible.

He was more than a little apprehensive about "that fire."

"Mommy, look, I'm scared of that fire," he said uncertainly, watching the leaping flames of a hibachi show a few tables away.

"It'll be fine," I muttered, studying the menu. "Won't touch you."

He squirmed in his seat and announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Once there he again voiced his concern about the fire, and this time there were tears standing in his eyes. In the hallway outside the bathroom I squatted to his level and explained, step by step, about the fire and why it's necessary and how it would not touch him, get near him, or hurt him in any way or Mommy would not have even come here.

What distracted him were the chopsticks.

"I want some chopsticks, too," he said loudly as the waiter handed mine over and I began rubbing them together. I made a motion with my hand and Draper had chopsticks, the kind that are held together at one end with a rubber band.

And to my surprise, my child was an agile whiz with them, and even wanted to take the rubber band off so they'd be more like my traditional ones. I plucked up his spoon and nudged it onto the side of his plate.

"Here, honey, you can use the spoon for your rice."

He looked from the spoon to me and back, then used his free hand to remove the spoon from his plate before plucking up a clump of fried rice and dropping it into his mouth. He barely gave me time to cut the rather large shrimp in halves before plucking them up, too, and devouring them.

He ate nearly all the shrimp that came with the dinner he and I shared, as well as most of his filet (medium rare) and all his veggies. I was so proud.

He also garnered compliments from the other adults at our table, all of whom were in town on business - a fact-finding trip for something, I probably should have paid more attention but hell, I was off duty as a reporter. Draper kept his voice down, was polite and concentrated on his food. There were two kids his age at the next table, and while he kept a wary eye on them as he ate, I watched them openly for signs of rising rebellion. They were loud, clamoring and climbing over the adults who appeared to only vaguely notice their existence.

All in all, Draper was so good, and I was so proud, that I went ahead and bought him the Spiderman pajamas at Target he's been asking for for Christmas. He was ecstatic, which was reason enough, but I told him it was because he acted so well and ate so much at the restaurant.

"Well Momma I'll just tell you," he said on the way home, streetlight skimming over his face as he watched the sliver of moon following us home, "if I'mma gone to get Spiderman pajamas every time I'll always be good. Cause that Spiderman? He's one cool guy."

I laughed and said, "So are you, honey. So are you."


I'm happy to say that his manners have only gotten better over time (with a lot of help from the new private preschool, I must admit). We were at a very nice, very intimate steakhouse in Myrtle Beach while on vacation two weeks ago and Dude was complimented on his manners, politeness and conduct.

"I just have to say something," remarked the lady at the next table, just an arm's reach from me in the dark little bistro. "I was just telling my husband what a polite young man you have there. Everything I've been able to hear has been yes ma'am and no ma'am and please and thank you."

Draper had excused himself from his seat, and only because he had been so good and was tired from a day at the beach I allowed him to curl up in my lap as I finished the last of my glass of cabernet. I kissed the top of his head.

"Thank you," I said.

"Thank you, ma'am," Draper echoed, shifting a little in my lap, squirming in smarm, I suppose.

I smiled. "Sometimes I think he must think I'm the meanest mom in the world, cause I stay on him so much about those things, but I think it's important. I'm a little hard on him, but I just want him to be a little gentleman and a decent man when he grows up."

The woman cocked her head, considered the sleepy, sun-tanned, literally sandy-haired little lump of a boy warm in my lap. "Well, whatever you're doing, it's working."

As a reward, he got to pick out a toy at Walgreens on the way back to the hotel.

Yes, even on vacation, in Myrtle Beach, I had to hit up a Walgreens. You never know, they may have something different.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Mayhem: Do Over

Upon reading a friend's blog just now, I started thinking about the decisions we make and how they affect the rest of our lives. In my case, most specifically, my decision to move to South Florida after I graduated college.

I made this decision with the hopes that my relationship with my then boyfriend would flourish and grow once we were in the same state. What I couldn't see at the time, having been in a long-distance relationship with him for several years by that point and therefore blind to the actual truth, was that he had built a life for himself down there, one that didn't include me. He flat-out told me not to move down there because of him.

"Don't do this for me, do it for yourself," he said, more than one time.

Why else would I move there, I always wanted to shout at him, but my single-minded infatuation had its hand around my throat, had its fingers pressed against my lips.

And so, to the expense and heartbreak of my father, I packed up everything I owned and moved 1,000 miles from my home, family and friends, none of which, might I add, had anything less than animosity for the boyfriend. Because they could see his nature, they heard the words, the insults and slurs, that he flung at me when I could not, when all I heard was the silence that stretched between us during infrequent phone conversations, the silence I would do absolutely anything to fill.

That move spiraled into a darkness that, now, I have a hard time remembering. I've even put off writing my Florida Chronicles like I said I would because, well, I don't want to face that time. I don't want to remember it. And trust me, when I don't want to remember something the only way it breaks through is in my dreams, or a sudden jolt of memory triggered by a smell, a flash of the tender underside of a leaf, the smell of salt, the grit of sand.

But as awful as those 18 months in Florida were, there were some bright spots, some good times, some new friends. And most importantly, I learned from the many, many mistakes I made down there, the uninformed and strictly heartfelt decisions I made. Bad decision number one being: Do not live above your means.

I have finally come to a place where I accept my bad decisions, I refuse to regret, because regretting anything is simply a waste of time and energy. I understand that everything happens for a reason, and while it hurt, and my entire world crumbled beneath me I am beyond fortunate to have family and friends who care about me, who support and love me despite my sometimes blind judgment and irrational, impulsive decisions. Without them, without my father and stepmother, primarily, who scooped me up from my puddle of regret and self-loathing to move me and my devil dog back to Tennessee, without them I would have surely wasted away and become someone none of them would recognize. I was well on my way to becoming that someone when they rescued me.

I'm sure I'm going to make more bad decisions in the future - hell, I'm lucky I can even spell the word "perfect," much less be it. But I'm taking the time, now, to scrutinize angles and turn over choices in my hands, examine, project and wonder. And I continue to learn. I'm learning now from a mistake I made last year which just slapped me in the face last week. It's humbling, bowing to these mistakes, but there's worse things to be than humble.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Motherhood: Let's talk about zombies

I'd like to think I'm not one of those women who, once she has a child, can only talk about her kid(s). Because I'm not. If anything I bring him up only in passing. But I do tend to tell what have been labeled as "Dude Tales," and they are almost always guaranteed a laugh or a "wow, he used that word?" And people are constantly telling me that I need to "write that down." So, here I am, writing it down. I hope it amuses you, at the very least.

The Dude and I have some of our best talks while he's in the bathtub. Granted, the bath invariably starts out with me sitting on the closed toilet seat, reading either Entertainment Weekly or whatever novel I'm plodding through at the moment. Last night was no different, with The Dude splashing and jabbering to himself as the tub filled up. Then, inevitably, came the questions:

"Mommy, what do zombies eat?"

"Hmm?" Turns page in On Beauty.

"Mom! What do zombies eat?"

"They eat human brains, honey."

"Oh. Why?"

"Because they don't have brains of their own, so they need human ones. See, they're not completely dead, but they're not all the way alive either. They're pretty empty inside, and they need to feast on the energy of other people to survive. Some people call them zombies, some call them politicians." I shrug. "Same thing."

A bit of splashing, some muttering about a shark "plunging to the deepest depths of the deep dark sea." I put my fingertip in my book and say, "Honey, you know zombies aren't real, right?"



"Yes ma'am?"

"Zombies. They're not real. They're like the people in your shows, the superheroes or whatever."

"And supervillians?"

"Yes. The same type of thing. There really aren't zombies. Just, you know, so you know."

"But they don't eat human brains?"

"Oh no, they do."

He nods slowly, cocking his head to the side and squinting, a gesture I find disturbingly familiar. "Oh. Okay."

I return to my book and am completely enthralled with Kiki and Jerome's mother/son relationship when I hear: "Mom, did I ever tell you about the time I shot the zombie?"

"Mmm-mmm," I answer, reluctant.


"Shot a zombie, right, I'm with you." I tuck my bookmark against the spine, sighing, and say, "What did you shoot him with?"

To see that round little almost four-year old face say, "With a gun," is almost as disturbing as the story that is about to spill from his imagination.

"Oh, I see. What kind of gun?"

"A laser gun, of course. It's the only kind that will stop a brain-eating zombie."

"Of course. How could I be so stupid."

"I don't know."


"You're welcome. This happened a long time ago, before you." Many things happened to The Dude before me, apparently.

"Oh? And how did you get the gun?"

"At the gun store."

"Who did you buy it from?"

"The gun man."

"He sold it to you? How'd you pay for it?"

"With money, Mom."

"Of course. And he didn't think you were a bit young for a laser gun?"

"Well," I can always tell he's about to get the story ball rolling when the hands raise, palms up, "he didn't ask me how old I was, and I didn't tell him. He just sold it to me, so I was like, whatever."

"Mm hmm. And where was I?"

"Mom, I don't know where you are all the time."

"Right. Fair enough. And where were you living again, at this point?"

"At the old house."

"With who?"

"With Baby J, of course."

"Yes, of course. So, you bought the laser gun, and then what?"

"Then I went to Burger King. But they were all out of the Transformer toys."

"That's unfortunate."

"Yes, it was. So," hands up, dripping, palms and fingertips wrinkling, "I went back to our house? And Baby J was fixing supper? And I went back downstairs and was getting ready to do the laundry and that's when I heard it."

"Oh my. Heard what?"

"Heard the scuffling sound."

"Good word."


"Then what'd you do?"

"I turned around," swirls in the bath, water sloshing up, "and there it was...."

I gasp, hands to my mouth.

He nods sagely. "The zombie." His back straightens, eyes widen. "So I jumped up!" Jumps up in the bathtub and I instinctively lean forward, one palm out, to steady him. "And that zombie turned and looked at me, and I said HEY ZOMBIE!" He stomps one little foot, water splashy soapy, spraying my hands.

"Oh! And then what happened?"

"And then? Then I shot him in the head! And he didn't have any brains, he just had dust or something. And I said HEY YOU ZOMBIE!" One tiny index finger pointing at the tiled shower ceiling. "You need to get on outta here!" He plops back down into the bathwater, picks up a plastic octopus, studies it. "And you know what that zombie did?" He trains his eyes on me, beneath lowered lashes.

I feel myself leaning forward. "What?" I whisper.

"That zombie," he drops the octopus, never breaking eye contact with me, and lowers his voice. "That zombie walked on out into the field out there and disappeared."

He smirks, sits back, smug.

I sit back as well. "Wait. Into the field?"

He nods, points toward the window on the far wall which overlooks our backyard and the 24-acre field beyond it. "Yep, right out there into that field and he's never been seen again."

"Never again?"

"Never. Again."

I nod, too, gazing out the window. "Hmm. Just one problem."


"You said this all happened before me."

"It did! It was before you, you weren't there."

"Right. At the old house."

"Yeah! And I..." I glance over at him, see his face drop. "I...Oh."

I smile. I can't help myself. "The field is here, at the new house."

He smacks the surface of the now cold, almost scummy water. "Yeah."

"You have to stay consistent with your story-telling." I toss my book down, stand, grab his impossibly soft horsey towel and move toward the bathtub. "But it was a nice try."

He stands, head down. "Thanks, Mom."

Was it wrong of me to shoot down my child's zombie story with laser-like precision? Perhaps. But if he's going to craft such stories before he is four years old, with the compelling magnetism that he has to draw in and keep the listener's interest, by God I'm going to ride his ass to make sure he tells the best stories he can right from the beginning.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Mayhem: The "What If" Factor

Ah, the "What If" Factor:

"What if I hadn't bloodied that girl's nose in the third grade? Would she still have gone on to be governor of Alaska and a Vice President candidate?"

"What if I hadn't had that burrito for lunch? Would I have still been turned down for that job?"

"What if I hadn't moved to Florida immediately after college? Where would I be now?"

Only one of those three actually pertains to me, by the way.

A "What If" hit me on the drive to work this morning - I've thought of it before but never to the extent that I did today. I have a major "What If" choice that I consciously don't think about, that I have buried, but like most major "What Ifs" it refuses to go quietly into that good night of my memory. Instead it waits until I am weak to pounce, until I am distracted or lonely or driving and at its mercy. I have seriously considered running my car off the road to get away from it, but that's just prolonging the inevitable - it would pop up over my face as I lay on the emergency room gurney, I'm sure, with a toothy grin, big innocent eyes, and pipe up, "Hi! Remember me?"

I had the opportunity to travel to India for a month back in February. I was invited to be a goodwill ambassador with the local Rotary Club (I'm not even a member) and spend the month of February in India, all expenses paid. A month of this:

And this:

When I was in college at UT, I took a core class in world religion. I became very interested in the mythologies and creation stories of different cultures, so much so that the following summer I took on the study of ancient Greek mythology (I gave myself projects to study and research during the summer months because I am a complete and utter nerd who couldn't stand the thought of not studying something during the span between my college summer classes and the beginning of fall term). Later I declared my minor as the Classics and learned more about the Etruscan social structure (and developed a glorious crush on Dr. David Tandy) than anyone should ever know.

It was during that world religion class that I fell in love with the Hindu mythology and the seemingly lush and glamorous lifestyle of the Indian people: the Saris! The red dots! The sensual methods of eating with their hands - the sheer amount of curry used! I even wrote a (rather long) short story centering on a Greek assassin and her Indian fiance as a final project for a creative writing class, which no less than half the class thought I should develop into a screenplay. (I still have the tattered envelope full of critiques of that story - as a matter of fact, just blew the dust off it on Friday, when I did my office "spring cleaning" in August.)

So, the prospect of spending a month in India was more appealing to me, perhaps, than it would be to your average person. And to travel with all expenses paid? That seemed to be the clincher.

Everyone around me gave the same emphatic "YES!" when I asked for advice. The same rounds of "It's the chance of a lifetime," and "Think of all the inspiration you'd have to write," and "My god, you know how much you love curry, you'd be a fool not to go," and "You could email dispatches back every week for the paper, expound it into material for a book" played out as I continued to poll and pester and pepper my friends and family with suggestions and advice.

All except one. My father. And he made the one point that I had overlooked - and I can't say unconsciously.

"But I don't know how you could leave Draper for a month."

I argued and made points (sometimes loudly and violently): He was so young (at the time I had to make the decision, well before the February journey, Draper had just turned three) he probably wouldn't even remember my absence. It was such an amazing opportunity for me, he'd be proud, once he was older, to tell people his mom spent a month in India. I'd bring him presents, lots of them, elephants - he loves elephants and tigers, and India's lousy with 'em!

But my father simply shook his head: he had said all there was to say on the subject and would, in his infuriatingly diplomatic way, allow me to fume and fester and consider and come to my own decision. But he would not approve of my trip nor fund me in any way - I knew that much without asking.

I knew he was right. Deep down, I knew it. I knew I could easily go on the trip, make arrangements for my son in my absence, gather up my selfishness into a ball and swallow it like a sedative. Because that is what I had always done: put myself first. And when I stopped to consider, even in the brief flash of imagination it took to illuminate my choices and solidify my decision, my son's small face wet with tears and crying for me, missing me, a month an interminable amount of time for a small child, I completely broke down. I could not do it. Something inside me snapped, broke, and scattered. That last tenuous hold of selfishness, of "me for me," let go, and I felt it ebb away like a bottle on the Indian Ocean surf.

The trip coordinator expressed his disappointment that I wouldn't join them but said he would keep me in mind for another venture, when my son was older and occupied in school, perhaps. February came, and I wish I could say I stared balefully out windows frosted with ice and snow, wishing for warm weather and a mouth stinging with too much curry. But I can't say that because I was completely happy in February. Happy and in love.

If I had gone to India I wouldn't have reconnected with a man from my past, the brother of my ex-fiance no less, and we wouldn't have fallen so quickly and devastatingly in love with each other. He wouldn't have searched for a job in Nashville, visiting me weekly, driving from Knoxville to Mt. Juliet and Nashville on job interviews, wooing me and my family and friends and colleagues. He wouldn't have accepted a job, left his family and rented a weekly hotel room. I wouldn't have built my life, and that of my son, on his smile and his honey'd words and promises.

He wouldn't have changed his mind, packed his things, quit his job and moved back home. He wouldn't have broken my heart with an email and never spoken to me again. I wouldn't have gone silent for a week, I wouldn't have had to struggle for breath, I wouldn't have let myself give in.

I wouldn't have fallen in love. With him.

I wouldn't have come out of it stronger without him.

I wonder a lot, about so many things. I'm naturally curious - I think that's part of what makes me a good writer and reporter. I always want to know why, and I always want more. So naturally I wonder what would have happened to me in India. There were natural disasters and a Valentine's Day protest that turned "nightmarish" for lovers across the country. Later someone would follow through with a suicide bombing at a hotel, killing nearly 20 people. If I had been there, would I have been involved? Would I have been caught in a field during a monsoon, trapped at the business end of a terrorist's rifle, reprimanded for mistreating a cow?

If I had gone to India, would I have a completely different life now? Published a book of essays on my experience, written blogs and articles for magazines, become a travel writer, a photographer, a local celebrity touting my trip and insight on local news channels and feature spots?

Would I have returned here at all?

Of course I'll never know, because that's the high and low of the "What If" factor: you're left forever wondering, wandering in your own mind, kicking over thoughts and possibilities, peeking beneath to see what may scurry out. I turn the choices over in my head, examine my reasoning for cracks and faults, the fatal flaw I may have missed, but I always, always come back to this:

and this:

and this:

And the "What If" Factor of not having him never even factors into the equation. Not a possibility. Instead I allow myself to wonder, and I wander onward.

Monday, August 17, 2009

On Media: Old writing made new

The following is a blog I posted on Myspace (which I have quit almost entirely except for harvesting and revisiting old blogs such as this one) almost exactly one year ago. It's fun to see what I was up to this time last year and how some interests and projects pan out and others don't - it's also a startling view of my priorities and personal advancement.

In short: I need to get back to reading that book and doing the exercises. It's on the desk in my bedroom - apparently it was important enough to me to remain out of a box and within arm's reach during and after the move to our new house. That should tell me something: it's worth enough to me, even on a subconscious level, to keep nearby, so I should get back to it. Soon.

Right after I write these three feature pieces and one hard news piece for the paper this week.

Originally posted on August 10, 2008:

I've started this new book called "Fiction Writer's Workshop," and I'm really digging it. It includes exercises to get the creative juices flowing, and they're different, more thought-provoking than the other "starters" I've read and worked on. The first one I did today: "One page: According to Henry James, one writer wrote from a glimpse of a seminary students' dinner party. Write a scene of a story from a glimpse you have had of a group of people - in a cafe, in a zoo, on a train, or anywhere. Sketch the characters in their setting and let them interact. Do you find that you find that you know too little: Can you make up enough - or import from other experiences - to fill the empty canvas?"

This is what I came up with - more than a page, but I do tend to run a little long. It's not exactly what was suggested, and I'm not sure what's going on here, exactly, but I like it, for some reason. It feels edgy and comfortable to me, sort of like spending time with someone you loved long ago, and thoroughly enjoying yourself even though you know there is no future in it.


Alice nearly tripped over the kid in the stroller as she rounded the end of the long table, crowded with people. For an instant she saw herself sprawling headfirst over the stroller, tipping from it the sleeping child, and managing to catch herself with one hand on the edge of the table only to upset a basket half full of tortilla chips, the greasy white wax paper lining it fluttering to cover someone's half eaten enchilada dinner like a raincoat tossed over a puddle.

But she didn't trip, the child remained sleeping, the stroller tipped back on its back wheels like a recliner. The child's cheeks were flushed and somewhat sunken, his face a chalky muddle, and she wondered if he had a fever.

She rounded the table and when she turned to open the bathroom door with her ass she caught a glimpse of the young man at the end of the table, his shoulder pressed up against the faux-adobe wall, who was looking at her. Glaring at her, really, with the intense focus of someone attempting to call to her through ESP.

She paused, her fingers trailing along the door, groping for the knob. They slid along the long handle and twisted. It was locked. She was trapped.

The man blinked rapidly, now possibly attempting to relay his message through Morse code. She shook her head and closed her eyes, knowing his face without looking, hearing his message in her head without him speaking, knowing the heft and cadence, the long drawled vowels of his muddy bayou speech.

Alice was feverishly jerking the handle on the bathroom door. The woman inside yelled "Just a second, gawd."

"Baylor," called the woman at the end of the table, beside the feverish sleeping child in the stroller. "Baylor, isn't that Alice?"

Alice knocked her head against the door, her eyes closed, seeing the twist of Marla's mouth, her short neck straining as she squinted all the way down the table to Baylor, his shoulder against the wall and his black hair swinging down to cover his eyes.

Someone turned in his seat, Alice felt it without seeing, without moving.

"Alice?" Uncle Bob. "Alice, is that you?"

She had always hated how Uncle Bob stressed the first syllable of her name. She opened her eyes. Baylor's temple was pressed against the prickly pink wall. Mexican chic.

"Alice, why honey it is you," Aunt Geraldine. Or Gerry, as she preferred to be called. "Why honey, aren't you a sight for sore eyes. Baylor, look honey, it's Alice."

"I saw her, Momma," his voice so low Alice couldn't hear it through the din of the Thursday night Mariachi band as they swung into the low-celinged room where Baylor's family's table fairly dominated the space, sprawling in a tangle of hardened white cheese dip and scattered orange rice.

"Alice, honey, why'ont you come join us," called Momma. Or Big Momma. "We's just finishing up, but there's half a pitcher of margarita here, come on now."

"Momma," Baylor barked. "Momma, Alice don't drink any more."

Alice blushed to her hairline, the heat making the room sparkle. Her hand went slack on the bathroom door handle. Her eyes hurt around the edges.

"Lord, she looks like a scared animal," commented Uncle Bob. "Alice, come on over sit down, honey. It's been so long, come on now."

"Well, I hate to see all this here margarita go to waste," Gerry said, reaching for the pitcher across Maude and Lindsey, the unfortunate twins joined at the hip. "Might as well drink up."

"Might as well," Uncle Bob agreed, holding out his glass.

"Alice," Baylor said suddenly, as if he had only now glimpsed her. He struggled to scoot his chair away from the table, his bare chestnut arm scraping against the raised ragged stucco of the wall, his eyes on her, all over her.

The door behind Alice opened, and she tumbled backwards, into the emerging woman. The two of them fell in a tangle of arms and legs, the woman's wet hands snagging in Alice's hair. The woman broke Alice's fall with a whoosh of breath, and the bathroom door swung shut just as Baylor appeared on the other side.

Alice scrambled to her knees, crawled to the door and twisted the lock.

"What are you doing," the woman asked from beneath the white porcelain sink hanging from the wall.

Baylor's fist pounded on the door, rattling it on its hinges. "Alice, open up."

Alice glanced around. It was an open bathroom, no stalls, one toilet and a chair squatting in one corner, an afterthought. Above the chair, a small window. Alice crawled over to the chair, climbed up. The window opened without protest, and Alice hoisted herself up, hung her head out. The ground was a mere five feet down.

"What in the world," the woman breathed from the floor.

The windowsill scraped against Alice's bare stomach as she wriggled through. She allowed herself to fall, curling up against herself, to the ground. She was up and gone before the stunned woman inside could unlock the bathroom door.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Media: Book review of "Probability Angels" by Joseph Devon

Every once in a while I start a book that, a few pages in, I feel the need to turn back to the first sentence, slow down, take my time and truly enjoy. Because I read so much for work, and there are never enough hours in the workday to see the bottom of my Inbox, I tend to scan, to skim, to let my eyes slide over words, digesting them enough to get the gist of what I’m reading without actually tasting it – more like chewing gum than enjoying a snack. Rarely do I find reading material, particularly that I’m reading for pleasure, that forces me to slow down, to cock my head and consider each sentence, each description, turn of phrase and idiosyncrasies of dialogue – Joseph Devon’s “Probability Angels” is one such book.

The concept of the novel is intriguing and original - mortals who give up their own lives to save that of a loved one and in turn spend eternity “pushing” other mortals to go as far as possible and create new ideas, art, and technological innovations: such examples in the novel are Isaac Newton, Bram Stoker, and Shakespeare. These “angels” are trained by masters, such as Epp (Epictetus), a one-time slave from Ancient Greece who has pushed mortals and trained angels for centuries. Epp is powerful and smart, tough and brave – and other elder angels think his time as a deified master has come to an end, sparking a battle between the angels and the “other things,” described as zombies, for the soul of Epp and the position of power he holds in their eternal universe.

I won’t go into the details of this novel because I think everyone should read it for themselves, but the themes of this fascinating, thought-provoking read have been tackled and tossed about through the ages: the choices we make affect more than just our lives and create a ripple affect, touching the lives of others for years to come, and making difficult choices – or choosing not to make them and allow life to just “happen” – are how people grow, change, and adapt.

The choices the angels make to forfeit their lives as mortals and spend eternity “testing” other mortals is one of immense, eternal pain and sorrow, but, as Epp tells Matthew, the reward for the excruciating decision long outweighs the temporary pain.

"The upside is that you can be greatness itself. You could be Shakespeare's broken heart, Beethoven's deaf ears, Van Gogh's madness. You could be Kellar's scarlet fever, Roebling's crushed left foot, the color of Dr. King's skin. You could be the entry for light to pass into the soul. You could be the reason everything worth doing on this rock ever gets done."

While the notion that our most difficult decisions, and their life-changing results, are “pushed” by angels who are constantly surrounding us and interacting in our lives in ways that we never realize, is not a purely novel concept, Devon’s characters and methods are original and wholly captivating. His ear for dialogue and knack for character development is to be admired, and I closed the book feeling not only as if I knew the characters but felt invested in their lives. Succinctly, I wanted more but was satisfied in the moment with a fully realized experience. And like any good meal savored slowly and carefully, relishing each moment and morsel, I can’t wait to return for a second course.

You can order "Probability Angels" by Joseph Devon at

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Motherhood: Another penis conversation

Dude: Mommy, I see your penis!

Me: I'm afraid not. I don't have a penis.

D: Everybody has a penis, Mom, it's okay. It's natural.

Me: No, everyone does not have a penis, darling. Boys have a penis, and girls have... well, only boys have a penis.

Must I have this conversation again? And before 8 a.m.? He's not even four yet - I thought all this came later?

D: Mom, you're going to grow a penis!

Me: I certainly hope not.

D: Yes you are!

Me: That would be unfortunate. I drop a handful of silverware in the slotted compartment in the dishwasher. And just weird.

D: You'll like growing a penis, Mom.

Me: Hmmm. Is it painful?

D cocks his head, lifts a spoonful of key lime yogurt to his mouth.

D: Not really. I don't remember it being... what did you say?

Me: Painful. Hurt at the time.

D: Oh, painful, that's right. Well, no, it wasn't painful. It's pretty great.

Me: I'll pass, thanks. I bump the dishwasher door closed with one hip, sit down at the table with him. Honey, I'm not going to grow a penis.

D: But James has a penis.

Me: He certainly does.

D: And Devin.

Me: I would assume as much, yes.

D: Well, I think you should grow a penis, Mom.

Me: Honey. It doesn't work like that. People don't just grow penises later in life. Sometimes people want to have one put on or taken off, but that's a whole different story and not one that I really want to get into while you're eating your yogurt.

D sets the yogurt cup down and studies my face. He considers me, then the yogurt, then picks up the cup, drops it into the trash can, walks over and tosses his spoon into the sink. He returns to the table, climbs up into his chair, settles in.

D: Okay. No yogurt.

Me: Absolutely not.

D: Bologna sandwich?

Me: It's not really a food-related sort of conversation. Plus, I'd rather you be a bit older for that one.


Me: Really, honey. I get up, pluck the spoon from the sink and put it in the dishwasher. Later.

D: You wouldn't say that if you had a penis. If you had a penis, you'd talk about it.

Me: You're probably right.

D: I am right. I have the penis. That makes me right.

Me: That's pretty much the only time you're ever going to be able to say that, you know.

D: You should grow a penis.

Me: I'll just settle for penis envy, thanks.

D: I'm going to go watch SpongeBob now. Thanks for the yogurt.

Me: You're welcome. Forehead against the fridge door. Dear God.

D: Mom! Does God have a penis?

Me: Against the fridge door. It just keeps getting worse and more complicated.

D: Mom! From the den. What's penis envy?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Mayhem: Love

Just months before it was over

he told her

she was like that one piece of hewn crystal

spilt from the jewelry box,

smothered among the pearls,

jumbled with the jade,

riddled with the rubies,

that clear piece of nothing

that suddenly the sun struck

and sent rainbows

scattering around the room.

On Mayhem: About snacks

I'm convinced
there is no
situation, problem or restlessness
that for five minutes
Wavy Lay's potato chips
can't distract you.
Try it.

On Mayhem: My mother on the net

Last night
a stranger in a chat room
called my mother "cynical and jaded."
If she wasn't before
she certainly is now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

On Motherhood: The house to myself

My mother has gone to her 40th high school reunion (and would KILL me if she knew I blogged that fact) and The Dude has been with my family all day and tonight, so after Mom (AKA: Dah) left tonight I have the whole house to myself. I've tried to distract myself with a movie my father recommended and that I've wanted to watch for a while now, "Knowing," with Nicholas Cage, and while it is very interesting during a bathroom break I was, inevitably, drawn to the computer for my hourly internet fix. And so here I am.

While I feel as if I should feel lucky - nay, blessed - to have this time to myself to do whatever I want to do, I am still not naked and dancing around the house, or causing any sort of ruckus, or calling friends or basically having "me" time. All I want is for my family to bring The Dude home so I can talk to him and hear about his day and how we're going to go to my friend Sarah's house (her son, Jacob, is The Dude's bff) tomorrow to go swimming and/or hang out, depending on the unpredictable Tennessee summer weather.

I just want him home. At any other time I would beg for alone time, for time to think and read and breathe without him underneath me, without his constant chatter and questions and climbing into my lap, but without him I feel... aimless. And I can't stand that. I'm not that Mommy - I am constantly busy and writing and networking and professional, yet when I have these moments, these stolen, golden hours, my hand twitch and my whole body leans toward him, needing him, his small hands and piping voice and constant need.

What did I need before I needed him?

On Motherhood: the TV ads are right...

Writer's Note: this is an older blog, but enjoyable. I'm posting it to jump start my blog. Look for more current updates soon!

The TV ads are right - having a baby changes everything. But I think you'd have to be an idiot or Britney Spears to not realize that having a child changes everything. And I have some examples.

This morning my cell phone wouldn't work. None of the buttons responded, except the end call button. I pushed and punched and cussed, but there was still no response. I thought perhaps it was being stubborn because it needed to be charged - my phone gets really tired there at the end of its battery cycle and simply refuses to respond sometime. By lunchtime, however, and after my Chamber of Commerce luncheon it had charged for most of the morning and still wouldn't respond. Concerned, I whipped into my friendly neighborhood cell phone/computer/pre-pay your Cricket phone store for emergency help.

"Oh Ray," I wailed upon entering. He was behind the counter and grinned. I bought my phone in his little strip-mall store, where he takes old phones and fixes them good as new, then sells them for a fraction of the price. I bought my phone, which has a iTunes and sounds phenomenal, for about a third of what it costs at the actual AT&T store. Ray has quite the following.

I looked around and blinked. "You rearranged the store."

He shrugged, "I'm always changing it up." He leaned across the glass display case, where only a few phones lay beneath hot lights, waiting for new owners. "What's up?"

"Oh Ray," I moaned again, "my phone! My phone won't respond! It needs CPR! It needs mouth to mouth." I winked. "It needs your touch!"

He shook his head. I explained my dilemma. He took my phone and opened it, poking around inside it like a grown man playing that Operation game from my youth. I watched anxiously, of course biting my nails, and fully expected to hear a great honk and my phone to light up red.

Ray returned. "It's got something in it," he said. He laid out the flat metal guts on my phone on the display case, and I cringed. I had suspected as much. "See this? This brown stuff? It's dried liquid - I'd say Coke or something."

He said he could "liquid clean" it, but he couldn't guarantee it would work, and it would cost $25. I made a face and he lowered the price, and said he wouldn't charge me if his method didn't work.

After about 20 minutes of Ray spraying and brushing and drying and doing god knows what else, and of me sitting in a quite comfy yellow chair, staring absently off into space, I heard the unmistakable jingle of that plays when my phone turns on. I snapped up. Ray grinned.

"It works?" I asked.

He shrugged. "So far."

I snatched the phone from him and checked for text messages. He said, "What, did you spill something on it, or drop it in something?"

"Nope, I would have told you," I said, sliding the phone into my coat pocket. "I have a two-year old."

Ray's assistant shook her head and sighed. "Enough said. I have one, too. God only knows what that stuff was."

Thrilled and ready to call everyone I know now that my phone worked again, I wheeled out of the parking lot - introducing another toddler-induced malaise of my life: The Toy That Plays Music But I Can't Find In The Vicinity of The Back Seat of My Car.

(Coming soon to a theater near you. Check your local listings.)

"DAMMIT!" I yelled, whipping into my office parking lot while "Do, A Deer, A Female Deer" played jauntily from some undisclosed location in my car.

I have been listening to this freaking thing for nearly a week because I'm too lazy/distracted most of the time to really search for it, instead risking my life and the life of others as I make a half-assed swipe of the back seat with one hand while driving. I've yet to find it using this method.

I jerked open the driver's side back door and glared inside. "Show yourself," I hissed.

"You okay, ma'am?" Called a male voice behind me. We technically park in the Burger King parking lot, next door to our office, to save space for customers. The little old man hobbled closer, peering at me, then past me into my back seat, which is actually clean at the moment. (I made a hasty swipe of my car last weekend in preparation for a date, when I wasn't sure I would drive or not.)

"It's the toy," I explained, leaning in and not really caring that I was pretty much literally showing my ass at the moment to him. Being old, he didn't much care, either. "This toy that starts playing music every time I turn a curve."

Not finding it and not caring to have my ass in his face any longer, I straightened. "But really, I'm fine, thank you, sir."

His face was grave. "Are you sure. I used to be a detective with the sheriff's department. I could help you find it."

I managed to keep my face straight. "Yessir, I'm sure. It'll be okay."

He nodded. "Well, you take care, now."

I smiled, "Thank you, Detective." And the glow of pride on his face made me forget all about my toy trials and tribulations.

Until I get home. Because, you see, another way a child - and in my case specifically, a 2-year old - changes your life is that your stuff is no longer your stuff. You have no stuff. It's all their stuff. And their actual stuff is mainly, in my case, books, puzzles, and toy cars. Lots of toy cars. Toy cars everywhere. Big cars, little cars, cars that talk and cars that shudder to life in the middle of the night when you get up to pee that scare you half to death. Cars between the couch cushions, cars in your panty drawer, cars in the bathroom sink, cars in the lowest bins of the refrigerator (how does he do that? he's so sneaky - it's not like he can open the fridge door himself, someone has to be looming above him as he nestles them among the bottled Diet Coke and pickles).

And, in my case specifically, there is no more sleeping late. I didn't have to be at work until 10 this morning, and I had a bit of a late night last night and wanted, desperately, to sleep in. I might as well had wanted to castrate an elephant in my backyard - I had as much of a chance and would probably have better luck.

It begins with the thud of two little feet hitting the floor at, and this is an approximate time, 5:15 a.m. Little feet padding into my bedroom, shuffling to the custom-made stairs at the foot of my bed. Despite my super-Mom hearing even in my sleep and knowing what will happen, I sigh and roll over, my back to the heavy little body crawling up the length of my body.

Now, some people have sweet children who caress them and murmur to them to wake a parent. And sometimes my son is sweet. But usually its:


I generally try to ignore this.

"Mommy. Heeey, Mommy."

"Mmmm, wha."

"Mommy, wha-wha you doing?" He does not stutter, normally, but he does when he says this one phrase.

"Sleeping. Go away."

Generally followed by either a gentle slap on my cheek or, if he's still behind me, he'll crawl over my head or place his cheek on mine, a chubby little hand slipping beneath my ear, cradling my face. "Mommy, waaake up!"

"How 'bout no?"

"How 'bout yes! Hey Mommy, I need chocolate milk in my sippy."

"So go fix it."

"Mommy, I can't do that. You know better than that." This is his newest phrase. Apparently everything I do is wrong, and I know better.

"God, so learn. Mommy is asleep. It's too early for Mommies, Draper."

"Mommy, put you glasses on." I wear contacts, glasses at night. He knows that the first sign of my getting up and out of bed is putting on my glasses, cause I'm blind as a bat. Glasses shoved at my nose. "Mommy, glasses. Put them on, please. Get up. I need chocolate milk in my sippy."

"You don't."

"Mommy. I need Jelly Bellies."

Thank you, Dad and Vanda, for the coin-operated Jelly Belly gumball-type novelty machine for Christmas. Thank you.

"No, you don't."

"Mommy. I need cracker fish." Goldfish Crackers.

"So go get them."

"Okay. I be right back." He slides off the bed backward, like a penguin slipping off an iceburg into the sea. Shuffling steps to the door, then, "Mommy?"

"God, what, Draper?" I know, I sound impatient, and I am. It is 5:20 in the morning, and I have this conversation pretty much every morning at 5:20, give or take a new phrase or obsession he has.

"Mommy, you want something? I bring something for you."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes it all worth it.

"No, baby, but thank you. Be careful with the stool, and don't get into the silverware drawer. You know better."

"I know, Mommy." The bedroom door will close, then open again almost immediately. "Mommy?"

"Yes, angel."

"Mommy, you turn on Noggin, kay, I be right back and watch with you."

I smile.

"It is Franklin?"

I crack open an eye and squint at the oversized numbers of the alarm clock. "It is."

"I be right back."

Without opening my eyes, I will reach out and grab the remote, turn on the TV. It is almost always already tuned to his favorite station. I replace the remote, roll over, and wait until his soft warm body settles beneath the sheet beside me to drift back to sleep.

For me, having a child unexpectedly absolutely changed everything about my life. And, looking back, I wonder what in the world I did with all that spare time. I wonder how I spent my money, if not on toy cars and Jelly Bellies and tiny shoes and Golden Books. I wonder if I'd miss it if I didn't have him. And I wonder how I could ever live without him.