Faith on Friday: Almost…

I’m writing this post on Thursday afternoon, because I plan to leave Memphis around 7 a.m. Friday morning to drive down to Seagrove Beach, Florida. I’ll be spending the month of February writing on the beach. I’m starting a new novel, and hope to get a first draft done. But I’ll try to keep up with my blog posts… except for today.

I was going to write about fellow Circling Faith contributor, Barbara Brown Taylor’s, wonderful memoir, Leaving Church. But I’m not quite half through with it, so I want to wait and give it a full review on another Friday. I’m really enjoying it.

Books2Leaving Church made the “short stack” of books I’m packing for my month at the beach. Other titles include:

Light in August (William Faulkner)

Help, Thanks, Wow (Anne Lamott)

The Art of Fiction (John Gardner)

Daring Greatly (Brené Brown)

The Shoemaker’s Wife (Adriana Trigiani)

I’ll be stopping in Jackson (MS) to visit my mom at the nursing home mid morning, and hoping to make it to the beach by sunset, but I’m pretty sure I’ll miss it tomorrow night…. Fortunately, there will be many more sunsets during February. Watch for photos here and on Facebook. And please send up some prayers and/or good thoughts for my new novel. Working title is The Secret Book Club….

Writing on Wednesday: Essay Revisions, Blogging, Fiction and Essays in the Age of Unbelief

Don’t let my title overwhelm you… I’m really not going to WRITE about all of those things today, but I am going to touch on them briefly… and send you to some good places to read more if you want to.

editorcatESSAY REVISIONS:  I’m really having fun working with an editor on an essay I’ve been invited to contribute to an upcoming anthology. I sent him about 5,000 words, which included lots of SCENES, from my training with the Creative Nonfiction folks. But he didn’t like most of my dialogue, saying it “takes away from the power of the story, mostly because it doesn’t read quite natural, and so is disruptive.” I went back and read the essay aloud again, and I agree with him. So, I just did another revision, removing most of the dialogue, and I hope it’s more powerful now. He says my essay is a “serious, cautionary editorial… a clarion call to women of a generation that were made to believe the status quo was acceptable, and it was just a matter of how one coped—with “clothing” in your case.” The title of my essay? “Dressing the Part: What I Wore For Love.”  I’ll be reading from it at The Shoe Burnin’ in Waterhole Branch, Alabama, on February 9.

blogging-jobsBLOGGING: Check out Nathan Bransford’s post today, “Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?” Not sure I agree that blogging is waning (I’ve been posting three times a week for 5 ½ years, so I’m doing my part!) but I agree with him that more and more people are commenting on blog posts in a thread on Faceback rather than on the blog itself. (It’s definitely happening with my blog.) Why? I think Blogger and WordPress make it more difficult to comment. Your thoughts?

FICTION AND ESSAYS in the AGE OF UNBELIEF:  Over at Patheos, David Griffith posted “Writing in the Age of Unbelief.” Doubting Thomas(Thanks to Dinty Moore for the link over at Brevity.) Griffith writes about why he thinks more and more spiritual/religious writers are turning from fiction to creative nonfiction—and especially to the essay—as a venue for their craft. He points to great Catholic writers as a thing of the past, saying, “I also agree that we’ll never again see a confluence of writers like O’Connor, Merton, and Percy having such a broad cultural impact.” This makes me sad, because they set the bar, in my opinion, for writing great fiction that isn’t “religious” but is shot through with their own spirituality, in an organic manner. This is what I’m trying to do with my own fiction—the novel I’m shopping out right now to agents, and the novel I’m going to start writing this weekend as I begin another month-long writing retreat at the beach. But I do see his point, and even my favorite memoirist—and a recent convert to Christianity—Mary Karr, has succeeded mostly in the nonfiction marketplace, although she’s also a poet. My ten published pieces are all essays, and in most of them, I write freely about spiritual things. But only because I don’t separate my spiritual life from the rest of my life. Whether I write about sexual abuse, eating disorders, addictions, art, Alzheimer’s or adoption, God is in there. Even if only in the details.

Mental Health Monday: A Smorgasbord of Wisdom

GreatnessWell, I’m thinking I had the norovirus last week. Took a full week to get over the nausea, even after getting IV fluids and meds in the ER after four days of vomiting, nausea and dehydration. So here I am, home for less than a week before taking off for my February writing retreat at the beach, and wishing I had more energy for everything I need to do. My only consolation is that I’ve been doing some reading while I’m resting up a bit. And I found a few jewels to share with you for Mental Health Monday.

First up is a blog post by my Memphis writing friend, Ellen Morris Prewitt: “My New Definition of Worthwhile.” Short post and definitely worth the read. Take home quote:

“Nothing is really worthwhile unless it is a totally extravagant, unjustifiable expression of the spirit that no one will understand except your tribe.”

Take that and apply as needed.

Moving on to another blog post another writing friend, Keetha Mosley, shared with me over the weekend: “On depression as addiction” by Adam Purple. Adam’s also a writer, and I hope to see his historical fiction novel published soon! Adam talks about how being on medication for depression causes him to experience a degree of loss of his creative edge:

“During the first years of anti-depressants, I felt remarkably better, much more stable, capable, and confident. I also felt an intense frustration, for I had lost a significant part of my emotional repertoire…. Because now, even a decade later, I miss that part of me that I can’t quite touch anymore.  And that in itself, is sad.”

Read his post for more of his gutsy wisdom.
13588356And finally, I got an email this morning from a precious Goddaughter who lives in another state. She wanted to tell me about a book her husband was reading, that she picked up and thought I might be interested in. It’s this:

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown.

Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her groundbreaking research has been featured on PBS, NPR, CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. I just ordered the book to take with me to the beach. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it eventually.

Hope some of these resources resonate with you. I always loving hearing your comments, and thanks so much for reading!

We Got Your Urine Sample Mixed Up ….

peeThat’s what the nurse told me in the emergency room on Tuesday night. I had been there for 4 hours, after 4 days of nausea and vomiting and finally dry heaving. Worst I can ever remember feeling. Even took some of my “magic nausea pills” (the kind they prescribe for people going through chemo) and they didn’t help. I was on a bed waiting for my IV fluids and nausea meds when she asked me to pee in a cup. It was close to midnight and I had arrived at the emergency room before 8 p.m.

“I did that. About 4 hours ago.”

“I know, Mrs. Cushman, and I’m so sorry, but they got your urine sample mixed up with someone else’s and we need you to give us another one.”

Probably some drug addict trying to steal my clean pee. *Sigh* So I got off the bed, held my hospital gown together to cover my ass and walked across the hall to the bathroom.

(4 hours in the emergency room with dozens of folks who probably have the flu made me regret that I haven’t gotten my flu shot yet. It’s on my list for when I get back to Memphis. At least they gave out surgical masks for some of those folks to wear while they waited.)

This is the third time I’ve gotten altitude sickness while visiting my kids and grandkids in Denver. Always in the winter, when it’s even dryer than ever, I guess. And yes I had a couple of drinks with my first class upgrade flying here last Saturday, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to this. I got sick here in Denver on Christmas day with a terrible cold and stomach bug, then I spent 8 days in the hospital with my mother down in Jackson, then flew back to Denver. I’m sure exhaustion and stress have played into this. I’ve had GI problems for over a month, so I’ll be seeing my GI doc next week and scheduling some plumbing tests. *Yech*

Fortunately the fluids, meds, and a day of resting at my son’s house on Wednesday got me back in the saddle in time to stay with Gabby Thursday and Friday while her mom was at work. She starts at a new daycare on Monday, so I took her for a Granny/Grandkid “visit” on Thursday and then dropped her off on her own for 2 hours today. Just enough time to have a light lunch (still can’t eat much) and do some quick shopping at Nordstrom’s. Of course she snowed her new teachers with her happy spirit and mad gymnastics skills.

On the news last night I saw something about being careful not to post too many “happy things” on Facebook… that it causes envy, and some people will even unfriend you because of it. (Really?) So… when I start posting about spending the month of February at Seagrove Beach for another personal writing retreat, I hope everyone will remember what a tough time I had in January and forgive me.

Granddaughters Trump Blogging

GabbyPeachDressEvery now and then I find myself with no time for blogging…. I’m in Denver with my kids and grands. So, my usual Mental Health Monday and Writing on Wednesday posts are cancelled this week.

 
Although I must say that being with my babies definitely improves my mental health. And the Denver sunshine doesn’t hurt!

 
This morning I went with my daughter to take Gabby for her nine-month check up, and a follow up on some cold/allergy issues she has. I really like her pediatrician. After the height (90 percentile) and weight (75 percentile) measurements and his routine exam, he asked Beth lots of questions about her development at this point. Clapping? check. Waving? check. Rolling over? Really? We moved right along to pulling up to standing alone and walking with assistance. She’s advanced, of course. But here’s the part I liked best. He told Beth that the best thing she can do for Gabby’s development is to READ to her. He said to read her a book before naps and bedtime. Every day. I wanted to high-five him!

AnnaRockStarGabby’s about to wake up from her nap, so I’ll close with a few photos of all three girls. Gabby (9 months) showing off her standing skills,  Anna (2 1/2) and Grace (3 1/2) playing rock star. I’ll try to download the videos to Facebook. If I don’t get a post done on Friday, you’ll understand why, right?

 

(P.S. Still having difficulties with my blog… although I can now download photos, they are too small, and when I stretch them, they’re kind of fuzzy. hmmmm always some technology to muddle through….)GraceRockStar

 

Family AND Faith on Friday: Love in the Intergenerational Ruins

SusanEffieJan17I made another 400-mile round trip yesterday, to visit my mother in the nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve been making this drive about twice a month for the past four years. The years my mother has been in a nursing home. Before that, I visited monthly during the three years she spent in assisted living. Seven years of long-distance caregiving. In all those years she has only been in the hospital twice. This last time was a two-week stay, and I was at her side for eight of those days.

Close friends and family who know a bit about the verbal abuse I suffered from my mother for most of my life—especially my adolescent and young adult years, when she was drinking heavily—marvel at my attentive care. “You’re such an amazing daughter.” Like I have a choice? She’s my mother.

The mother I could never please for almost six decades no matter what I did. I could never be skinny enough, fashionable enough, or properly enough coiffed for her approval.  And yet, here I am, angsting over every minute detail of her care, especially as the end of her life may be drawing near. I don’t want her to be anxious. Or in pain.

EffielegsWhen I found her sitting in her wheelchair in the hall yesterday, a sigh of relief escaped my lungs. One of my fears as she returned to the nursing home in such a diminished state a week ago was that she might end up bed ridden. And I know this could still be her fate if she lingers in Alzheimer’s Hell for many more weeks, months, or years. But there she was—dressed, hair brushed and braided, and her bed made up and room neat and clean. The only problem was that one of the foot holders they had added to her wheelchair was broken, and her foot wouldn’t stay on it as I wheeled her up to the lobby for a visit.

A physical therapist came by and I flagged her down and addressed the problem. She went off in search of a new piece for the chair, saying that this one was broken. Thirty minutes later I found her in physical therapy, busy with another patient, and reminded her. Another therapist promised me they would fix it soon.

“Is the speech pathologist here today? I want to talk with her about what’s going on with Mom’s oral feeding. The nurse told me they aren’t allowed to feed Mom yet due to her risk of aspirating.”

“Not today. Call her tomorrow, okay?”

It’s not perfect in this institution where Mom is spending the final years of her life. But it wasn’t perfect in the home she made for me as a child, either. Ouch. Did that sound spiteful? Would I have found a way to care for her in my home if she had been a different mother to me? I’ve asked myself that many times in recent years. There isn’t a clear answer. Life is often like that—messy, and unclear.
15737147This morning I read some more of Anne Lamott’s wonderful little book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Again, I found comfort and a bit of enlightenment in her words. Not because they are especially brilliant from a spiritual or psychological point of view (although I do believe she’s pretty smart and she’s learned a lot from what she’s been through) but I think more so because of the beauty of her words. It’s art. And it soothes and nourishes my soul. And yes, sometimes she helps me find God in the suffering.

“We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering.…. We visit those shut-ins whom a higher power seems to have entrusted to our care—various relatives, often aging and possibly annoying, or stricken friends from our church communities, people in jails or mental institutions who might be related to us…. My personal belief is that God… has a certain kind of desperate person in Her care, and assigns that person to some screwed-up soul like you or me, and makes it hard for us to ignore that person’s suffering, so we show up even when it is extremely inconvenient or just awful to be there.”

EffieJan17I know that part of Mom’s suffering is for my salvation. I hate it, but it’s true. I began to forgive her a few years ago, and I keep finding little reminders that God’s grace continues to heal me through these difficult times with her now. It seems to be too late to receive anything more from her—she can barely talk now, and doesn’t follow my image when I move even a few inches to the left or right of her vision. Only when I’m a few inches from her face does she respond, and then only with one word, “Hi.” Nothing more, no matter what words I say. After two hours of this yesterday, I found myself saying, “Mom, are you in there? If you can understand this, I just want to say that I forgive you. And I hope you forgive me. I love you.” And in the midst of this I find myself praying. Yes. I think I’ve prayed more in the past few weeks of Mom’s decline than in the past year or more. Pain seems to awaken even my messed up soul to prayer. Lamott nails it again:

“Domestic pain can be searing, and it is usually what does us in. It’s almost indigestible: death, divorce, old age, drugs; brain-damaged children, violence, senility, unfaithfulness…. But grace can be the experience of a second wind…. For us to acknowledge that we have been set free from toxic dependency, from crippling obsession or guilt, that we have been graced with the ability finally to forgive someone, is just plain astonishing.”

And so I find myself embracing Lamott’s second of the three essential prayers: Thanks.
She says that if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit:

“You say ‘Thank you’ when something scary has happened in your beloved and screwed-up family and you all came through (or most of you did), and you have found love in the intergenerational ruins (maybe a lot of love or maybe just enough). Or you can look at what was revealed in the latest mess, and you say thanks for the revelation, because it shows you some truth you needed to know, and that can be so rare in our families.”

Gabby gifts

 

Love in the intergenerational ruins. I’m headed to Denver again tomorrow, to spend a week with my daughter. And her daughter. She and her husband are moving to a new apartment and I’m going to help with Gabby and whatever else she needs from me. It fills me with hope to watch Beth with her daughter. She’s amazing—full of unselfish love and unrelenting attentiveness. And Gabby is beyond amazing. A child kissed by the angels with physical beauty and intelligence and strength and a quiet and happy spirit. I think she may be God’s gift to my daughter, who endured abandonment by her birth mother when she was just over a year old, and then suffered my overbearing ways and lots of craziness during much of her childhood in the very imperfect home into which she was adopted.

Again, Lamott’s words say what I’m feeling:

“But if you’ve been around for a while, you know that much of the time, if you are patient and are paying attention, you will see that God will restore what the locusts have taken away.”

I will be 62 in March, so maybe that counts for being around for a while. I’m definitely seeing God restore what the locusts ate. And more and more, I’m able to pray, “Thanks.”

Writing on Wednesday: Return to the Essay and Shoes to Burn

 

Joe Formichella

Joe Formichella

It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride these past few weeks, trying to decide what to write for my contribution to the Shoe Burnin’ event and anthology. The event is slated for 8 p.m. on February 9 at Waterhole Branch, just outside Fairhope, Alabama. I was thrilled when event organizer, Shari Smith, invited me to participate. Check out the Facebook Page for more info and updates. (For some terrific reading, check out Shari’s blog, “Gunpowder, Cowboy Boots and Mascara.”)

Back around Christmas, I sent out a call for names for a short story, and I had a great time considering all my readers’ wonderful suggestions, both here and on Facebook.  Last week I was still considering fiction. But yesterday it became clear that I should return to my favorite genre—the personal essay. (All my published pieces to date are essays.) The problem I have with short stories is coming up with a plot that’s complete in 5000 words or less. Everything I think of lends itself towards a book-length piece.

ClogsSo this morning I drafted the first 3000 words of the essay, which is beginning to feel like a good fit for the Shoe Burnin’. I’m so thankful to Joe Formichella, our wonderful anthology editor, for his advice and guidance so far. I’m actually using some sections of a memoir I wrote a few years ago, Dressing the Part, and crafting an essay from those ideas. Although I decided not to publish the memoir, I love that for the writer, nothing is ever wasted. (I used a revised excerpt from another memoir I didn’t publish, Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and 70s-bright-lipstick-red-cut-out-punch-hole-heels-5Nuns, for my essay for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.)

All that’s left now is to finish the essay, work with Joe on revisions, and find a pair of vintage 1970s high heels to toss into the fire. Or some clogs. eBay? Salvation Army? Time to get back to writing… and then go shopping…. (No I didn’t save anything from the ’70s.)

Mental Health Monday: He’s Back

He’s such a creep. My old enemy, acedia. And his first cousin, depression. That dark, oppressive, heaviness that comes over me unexpectedly at times. Like Sunday morning. It was cold and rainy and I didn’t want to go to church. But I hadn’t been there since December 30, and I’ll be out of town for another week starting Saturday, so I made the effort. I put on nice clothes. Even makeup and jewelry. And I showed up. Because someone once told me that showing up is half the battle.

My (almost) ten-year-old Goddaughter, Sophie, found me right away and came to sit with me during the Liturgy. Her Mom has been out of town for a week, caring for her father, who’s in the hospital in Atlanta. Sophie was needing some mother-love, and so she asked me what I was doing after church. I felt selfish when I told her that I needed to take down our Christmas decorations, pay bills and do laundry. That I had been out of town for 8 days caring for my mother, who had been in the hospital in Jackson. I could see such longing in her beautiful eyes, and I almost gave in and said, “Let’s go do lunch.” But I didn’t have the energy—emotionally or spiritually. I was empty.

I tried to pray and be joyful during the church service. I tried to find encouragement from the prayers and the music and the homily (sermon) but somehow it all felt like a drain on my energy, rather than nourishment. I was hoping to hear about God’s comfort and grace, but it seemed to be a day for hearing about repentance and laziness. Don’t get me wrong—I am a big sinner. But laziness just doesn’t happen to be one of my main vices.

Shes a WriterAfter Liturgy I went downstairs to coffee hour, but the bombardment of so many people all talking at once felt overwhelming, and I didn’t want to be there. As I slipped out the door into the rain, a friend who was also leaving caught me and said, “You’re weird.” He had seen my Facebook cover photo—where the little girls are whispering and pointing and one is saying, “She’s a writer” and the other one says, “Oh, I thought she was just weird.” I smiled and said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He smiled back. And that helped. For about five minutes. 

Driving home from church I recognized what was happening. It was depression. On top of physical and emotional exhaustion. It felt like a big monster was climbing on my back, suffocating me. Even though Mom seems to be doing “better” back at her nursing home—the speech pathologist and physical therapist are working with her—the whole situation has taken a toll on me. I just wanted to crawl in bed and sleep.

When I told my husband how I was feeling (through tears when he got home from church) he said, “Then just do it. Go to bed. Get some sleep.”

“But I don’t want to. When I wake up, all this stuff will still need to be done—the Christmas decorations and the laundry and the bills. I’ll feel better if I can get some of it done today.”

Without a word he went to the garage and started bringing in the boxes that I pack the Christmas decorations in and setting them down in the living room for me.  We warmed up leftover pizza and while we ate we talked about the coming days and weeks in our busy lives. After lunch I packed away the decorations and started the laundry while he opened mail and started working on his own “to do” stacks. I didn’t fall apart—that takes way too much energy.

I picked up my copy of Acedia and Me and opened to the bookmark to see where I left off about nine months ago. Norris’ words always seem to help. Interesting where I picked up yesterday, right where she was talking about going to church on Sunday mornings:

“Sometimes I persuade myself to go because I know I’ll receive a blessing, or because I need to listen to the words of Scripture and give them a chance to work on me. I may desire to sing hymns with others, or be cheered by the sight of children perched on their favorite ‘climbing tree’ before and after services. If I go to church feeling depressed, a congregation, by its very nature, reminds me that I am not in the struggle alone.”

All of those were thoughts I had as I went to church yesterday morning. And I’m sure it was my own sinfulness and not the failings of the community that kept me from receiving a blessing.

I read further in Norris’ book:

“When I detect acedia beginning in myself, I do well to muster my resistance, even if it is only to let John Cassian remind me where I am headed if I do not. ‘From acedia,’ he writes, [are born] idleness, somnolence, rudeness, restlessness, wandering about, instability of mind and body, chattering, [and] inquisitiveness.’ If I allow myself to reach this stage I will be a distracted tourist rather than a pilgrim, and am likely to turn away from the very things that might bring me to my senses. I have learned that nothing will erase my susceptibility to acedia, for it is a part of who I am. But this does not mean that I am helpless. I can look for the seed of hope in my despair, and pray with the psalmist: ‘Bring my soul out of this prison and I shall praise your name.” (Psalm 142:8)”

I remembered Ann Lamott’s wonderful little book, Help, Thanks, Wow, and so I prayed. Just Help. I’m hoping the Thanks and Wow will come later. Or sooner.

My daughter called from Denver and put my nine-month-old granddaughter, Gabby, on Face Time so we could make silly faces at each other. Now that helped more than anything. I’m going to need lots of energy to keep up with her when I return to Denver for a week on Saturday, so I’d better start getting ready. Time to get some exercise and eat something healthy. And to WRITE. Maybe I can’t kick depression’s ass, but I can do my part to minimize his power.

*shoots bird at invisible enemy*

Family on Little Friday (Thursday): Hi, Honey, I’m Home!

I’m about to leave Jackson for Memphis this morning, after a week of being here with Mom while she was in the hospital. She returned to Lakeland Nursing Home yesterday afternoon, and to a reception I wasn’t prepared for.

It’s not that I haven’t been pleased with the care Mom has received at Lakeland, because I have. But with her severe decline over the past few weeks—a fall, urinary tract infection, pneumonia—her Alzheimer’s seemed to have escalated. At one point I wasn’t sure whether or not to have a PEG (stomach feeding tube) put in, but that was done successfully last Friday, and she’s tolerating the feedings well. But she has forgotten how to eat, orally. I was able to feed her some soft ice cream the last couple of days, but she doesn’t hold the spoon herself. Yet. She’s pretty much been in a fog, only responding briefly when I look in her eyes, but not following me with those eyes when I step away. Sleeping a lot, with a glazed-over look.

Mom was evaluated for Hospice care on Monday, but she didn’t “pass.” The Hospice nurse said she just didn’t have a clear diagnosis of a six month or less life span. Her only option was to return to the nursing home.

My concern was that, while the ambulatory residents at Lakeland seem to get good care, the folks who are bedridden might be ignored. I was so saddened by images (in my head) of Mom lying in her bed with no one paying attention to her. The discharging physician sent recommendations (to Lakeland) that she receive physical and occupational therapy, as well as help from the speech therapist, to try to get her up and around and feeding herself again. I wondered if the folks at Lakeland would follow up.

So, yesterday afternoon after the ambulance arrived to take Mom back to Lakeland, I followed in my car. As I arrived, the EMTs were transferring her to her bed. I spent a little time cleaning out her closet, putting some new toiletries in her drawers, and chatting with various staff. Finally the EMTs left, and I was with Mom in her room. I held her hand, got right in her sight-line, and told her I loved her and that she was “home” now. She didn’t respond.

Half a minute later, Lashonda, the head nurse on Mom’s wing, was on the other side of Mom’s bed, in her face, saying, “Hi, Miss Effie! How are you today?”

The biggest smile I’ve seen from Mom in days spread across her face and in her strongest voice she boomed out, “Well, hello! I’m fine! How are you?”

Mom recognized Lashonda. In another minute three aids joined Lashonda at her bed, all fussing over her return like she was a rock star. The nurse checked her all over for skin breaks. Only a small sore on the heel of her right foot. “We’ll treat this right away.”

“So, what are your plans for helping Mom get up and around again?” I ventured.

“We’re going to have her evaluated right away—PT, OT and Speech.” Lashonda answered without a pause in the care she was giving Mom.

I backed away from the bed and watched as Mom continued to respond to these familiar caregivers, and tears filled my eyes. What a great team. She really is home.

Writing on Wednesday: Shoe Burnin’ Stories and the Writer’s Authority

Shoe BurninAs I mentioned in my post back on December 26, “Call for Names,” I’m working on a short story for an anthology to be published later this year (yes!) … and I really appreciate all the input I got from everyone. But, alas, I’ve abandoned my original story idea for another one, so I might be sending out another call for names soon. Or I might end up writing an essay instead.

In the meanwhile, please LIKE our Facebook page, The Shoe Burnin’, so we can rally more interest in the event and the book. The actual event will be February 9, 2013, at Waterhole Branch, Alabama, just outside Fairhope. Time and venue TBA.

It’s been such an emotional week for me, with my mother in the hospital (and me here with her, in Jackson, Mississippi). She will be discharged back to Lakeland Nursing Home this afternoon, and I’m staying around to be sure everyone is on board with orders for her follow up care. During my hours in the hospital room with her every day, I pulled up some of my old blog posts about Mom, and worked on combining a few for my entry in the Shoe Burnin’ anthology, but I’m not sure they’re a good fit.

I still might return to a fiction story…. Possibly set in the 50s (instead of the 70s) in the South. It will be a racially charged story involving a light-skinned, mixed-race girl who tries to enter white society. When her dark-skinned baby is born, she’s faced with unthinkable decisions.

Hoping to be back in Memphis tomorrow… and back at my writing desk.  I’ve been reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction (as a follow up to reading his book, On Becoming a Novelist) and am gleaning some pearls. Like this one:

“… the great writer’s authority consists of two elements. The first we may call, loosely, his sane humanness, that is, his trustworthiness as a judge of things, a stability rooted in the sum of those complex qualities of his character and personality (wisdom, generosity, compassion, strength of will) to which we respond, as we respond to what is best in our friends, with instant recognition and admiration, saying, ‘Yes, you’re right, that’s how it is!’ The second element, or perhaps I should say force, is the writer’s absolute trust (not blind faith) in his own aesthetic judgments and instincts, a trust grounded partly in his intelligence and sensitivity—his ability to perceive and understand the world around him—and partly in his experience as a craftsman; that is (by his own harsh standards), his knowledge, drawn from long patience, of what will work and what will not.”

I’m praying for some of that authority. That humanness, trust, and patience as I continue to be my mother’s caregiver, and to write stories. Both are labors of love, requiring all that I can give to the task. And then some.

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