Mental Health Monday: Shopping is Good For You!

soft-surrondings-catalogDon’t judge me. Having survived a life-threatening wreck on July 7, sometimes I ALMOST feel guilty when I ask my husband to drive me to the nail salon for a manicure and pedicure. Or when I spend hours shopping online and perusing catalogues for clothes. After all—aren’t those superficial activities in the light of what I suffered in the wreck and subsequent surgeries and my ongoing recovery? Shouldn’t I just be constantly reflecting on God’s goodness, and spending any leftover mental or emotional energy writing thank you notes? And yet, I shop.

One “excuse” I have is that several items of my favorite (and newest) clothing were destroyed in the car wreck, so I actually needed a few replacements. (We aren’t sure what happened, but a bunch of my clothes, which were hanging behind the driver’s seat in my car, had holes in them—like some sort of acid/fluid got on them.) And while I was still in a cast, there were only certain kinds of clothing that I could get on and off without difficulty. But now that I’m approaching a near-full recovery and I’m getting out to literary, social and church events more often, I’ve wanted some new fall clothes.

54981Looking for evidence-based research to back up my shopping activities here, I found this article in Women’s Health (okay, it’s five years old, but I think the information is timeless) on the mental health benefits of shopping. I wasn’t surprised at all by the reasoning set forth in the article:

Studies show that shopping isn’t just about materialism . . . .  it’s actually good for your mental and physical health. It releases mood-lifting endorphins, boosts your immune system, keeps your brain nimble, and even fulfills basic social needs.

Okay, maybe online shopping doesn’t fulfill basic social needs. Except when you share your purchases on Facebook and a bunch of friends comment… the cyber version of girlfriends shopping together. (And for someone who hasn’t been able to go shopping, physically, in three months, this is as good as it gets!) Two items I’m considering right now are this “Odette Top” and this “Provence Pullover,” both from Soft Surroundings. I’ve already ordered this “Bernadette Tunic and Skirt” from Acacia, which should arrive in a week or two, just in time for those cooler fall days that are on the way.

So, what about the mental health benefits of those manicures and pedicures? The Health & Style Institute (don’t you love their name?) says:

Both the physical and mental health benefits of getting a manicure and pedicure are incredible.  Your feet and hands will both look and feel great, your stress will go down, and your circulation will increase.

WomenManicuresAnd there are social benefits to be gained at the nail salon, too… visiting with the nail techs and other customers while catching up on the latest movies on their big screen TVs and sipping wine or mimosas. After weeks of spending most of my days in a hospital bed in my office, outings to the nail spa are like heaven!


What’s next? This week I have appointments with the neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon. I hope to get good news that I can (1) quit wearing the neck brace, and (2) start weight-bearing on the foot. When I’m free of the neck brace, and given permission to turn my head from side to side and up and down, I hope to schedule an appointment with my hair stylist, another mental health boost! And I know I’ll still be wearing the black boot for a while, but once it’s off, my next venture will be looking for replacements for my favorite cowboy boots, which were also destroyed in the wreck. I wish I could remember the name/brand, because they were so comfortable and light-weight. I got them at Macy’s about 2 years ago. Hmmm… looks like more shopping is in my future. Here’s to better mental health!


Faith on Friday: Inspiration from The Girl in the Picture


We’ve all seen this picture many times. But I had never read her story until it was published in this article on September 11. Please take a few minutes to read the article, and if you’re interested, get the book, The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong. It will inspire you to forgive, and to reach out to others.

Forty-one years ago, Kim Phuc‘s village was bombed in Vietnam. This Pulitzer-prize winning photo shows her and others running away from the bomb. Unfortunately, she had been badly burned.
girlNow 50, Kim lives in Canada, with her husband and two children. She has found God. She has forgiven her enemies. And she has dedicated her life to promoting peace and providing medical and psychological support to children who are victims of war.

I’m posting this after an early morning physical therapy appointment. After reading what Kin learned about being “strong in the face of pain.” My pain is so small.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Writing on Wednesday: Me and Phillip Mudd—Unlikely Bedfellows

Phillip Mudd

Phillip Mudd

Two weeks ago former FBI senior intelligence advisor, Phillip Mudd, appeared on The Colson Report, where he talked about Al Qaeda, Syria, and Colin Powel’s WMD speech. Mudd recommends intervention in Syria. When Colbert said, “The American people don’t think so,” his reply was, “I understand.” I don’t think we should intervene in Syria, but I’m looking forward to hearing Mudd speak on October 5 here in Memphis at “Bookstock 2013” at the Memphis Library and Information Center at 1:30 p.m.

Mudd moved to Memphis last fall for a position as director of global risk at SouthernSun Rick Management. He will be signing his book, Take Down: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda.



“Bookstock 2013” is an annual book fair spotlighting over 40 Memphis area authors, Last year’s keynote speaker was Kristen Iversen, author of the best-selling book, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.


Awiakta_Marilou_bodyI’ll be signing Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, along with Memphis author and Circling Faith contributor, Marilou Awiakta. Copies of Circling Faith will be available at our table for $15, a portion of which will benefit the Memphis library fund. Some of Marilou’s books may also be available, and she’s fascinating just to visit with, so please come by our table some time on Saturday between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (Except for 1:30, when I’ll be listening to Phillip Mudd’s keynote address.) Marilou was part of a book signing with Beth Ann Fennelly, Wendy Reed and me in July of 2012 at Burke’s Books. You can read more about that here.

Susan and Marilou signing Circling Faith at Burke's Books, July 2012

Susan and Marilou signing Circling Faith at Burke’s Books, July 2012

So, bring the family and come to the library on October 5. There will be something for everyone—scavenger hunts, kids’ activities, and lots of authors to meet and chat with in an informal setting. Hope to see you there!

P. S. For those who follow my blog regularly, I’m happy to report that I’m having some success kicking the TV habit… yesterday I spent about two hours working on revisions of my novel. Hope to have a repeat performance this afternoon. Thanks for your encouragement and good wishes during my ongoing recovery!

Mental Health Monday: TV Addiction

tv-addictionWhen I was five years old, in 1956, our family got our first television. I have no memory of my parents ever reading books to me, or of me reading books that weren’t required for school. It was just too easy to sit in front of that screen. But at least it was only available until midnight, when the screen went all fuzzy, remember?


“In the past, television, like bars, had a closing time.”—Petula Dvorak, in “Online TV addiction: Man, it’s hard to shake” in The Washington Post (August 29, 2013).

Dvorak goes on to explain how easy it is to stay up all night watching an entire season online. Or with Netflix. Or, in my case, simply by recording all the old re-runs and movies on cable. Even with prime time shows, we record them and watch when we want, sans commercials.

Before my accident, I NEVER watched TV during the day. It just wasn’t something I even considered. I know people who are retired or work from home who talk about watching “Oprah” or “Dr. Phil” or “The Today Show” like these are friends who keep them company while they are alone all day. And some people keep CCN on “in the background” while they are doing other things. I’ve never done that. Since I’ve been writing seriously—for about seven years now—I consider writing my “day job,” and I never even thought about watching TV “at work.” I don’t write at night, when my husband is home, so after dinner, when he gets his laptop out to do more work, I watch my shows. I’m so excited that they are just starting back this week! (Nashville, Parenthood, Scandal, The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU, Grey’s Anatomy….)

tv_addictBut since my accident, I’ve been watching TV during the day, because I haven’t had the physical or mental energy to read, much less write. When my husband leaves for work in the morning and the house is quiet and lonely, I turn on “The Today Show” and listen to my “friends” talk about the news. I eagerly watch to see what Savannah and Natalie are wearing. I fast forward to the 8:30 slot where the Toyota Concert Series artist will be performing. Keith Urban! Yes!

Later I scroll down for old movies and reruns of Law & Order SVU or Criminal Intent and watch for hours. In the comfort of my hospital bed, I can raise and lower the feet and the head when my back, neck or leg is hurting. I can relax my arms on pillows all around me, so I don’t have to strain to hold up a book to read. After spending even an hour sitting up with my laptop, trying to write, I give up and give back into the TV. This has been going on for almost three months, and I think it’s time to make a change.

Last week I got out my novel and re-read the editor’s notes and the chapters I had finished revising just before my accident. I’m anxious to get back to work on the revisions, but I need to spread out the pages on our breakfast room table and move my lap top in there so I can work on hard copy and the computer at the same time. It’s going to be a huge mental and physical feat, and I’m worried about whether or not I’m ready for it. I used to write for 3-4 hours at a time with hardly a break. Now I need to take breaks every 45 minutes or so. It’s going to be hard. And it’s going to take a lot of discipline to turn off the TV and get out of the bed.

Our gorgeous fall weather this past weekend helped. I got out to a couple of fun events, which lifted my spirits. And at home, I can wheel my chair to the door and sit with the breeze blowing on my face while I sip on a cup of coffee. This morning a friend called and came by with a cappuccino from the little coffee shop around the corner. She brought in our paper, put out my mail, and visited with me. I continue to be surprised and blessed by these gifts of friendship, but I can’t wait until I can walk out that door and down to the river to watch the sunset! And drive a car again!

Meanwhile, I know it’s going to take old-fashioned self-control to turn that TV off and get back to work. Maybe an hour today. And two hours tomorrow. Baby steps. Here goes….

Faith and Familly on Friday: The Illusion of Control

Hi, Miss Susan. This is the nurse at Lakeland Nursing Home. I’m calling about your mother.

These calls come fairly often, so I don’t usually panic, but sometimes I hold my breath for just a minute.

Miss Effie is okay, but I wanted to let you know that she has a small skin tear on her right leg, and the doctor ordered some medicine for it, so we’re treating it now.

tumblr_lyt270dVrM1qipjf5o1_500Letting my breath out, I thank the nurse for staying in touch, apologizing again that I haven’t been to visit my mother since the end of June because of my accident, etc., She reassures me that Mom is fine and she hopes my recovery is going well.

A few weeks earlier, the caller explained that Mom had an infection at the site of her stomach feeding tube, but again, the doctor prescribed meds and she was being treated. Another non-emergency. Another time to breathe in and out. And to THANK GOD that Mom is okay.

Another phone call this week from a social worker at the nursing home, this time asking me to please sign and return the DNR form that must be renewed annually. This is only the second year I have agreed to this form. Mom’s Alzheimer’s disease has progressed to the point that she doesn’t know who I am, who she is, or where she is. At 85 she has few other health issues, like heart disease or diabetes. But a sudden “event” could take her life, sparing her more years during which the Alzheimer’s will shut down her other bodily functions. She told me, back when she still had her mind, that she did not want to be kept alive on machines. She did not want treatment for cancer or any other fatal illness. Although she doesn’t remember telling me that, I remember. And I respect her wishes.

Story People (Brian Andreas)

Story People (Brian Andreas)

Every day I pray that she will not die while I’m housebound. There’s really no “emergency” that she might have where my presence would be needed. She is in a skilled nursing facility with access to a hospital, if needed. But how could I make the funeral arrangements and travel to Jackson when I can’t even walk? Hopefully I will be mobile in a few more weeks, but this has been my greatest fear since the accident. Sometimes I just worry. But sometimes I remember to pray, and my faith grows when I do that. Faith—the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1).

Now that I’m getting close to the point where I can walk, and eventually drive, I’m eager to visit her again. Maybe in October. But until then, I continue to have a great opportunity to exercise faith—to trust that God is in control. Because if there’s one thing I’m learning through all of this, it’s that I certainly am not.

Writing on Wednesday: Back in the Saddle!

back-in-the-saddleIt’s been almost three months since I worked on revisions for Cherry Bomb. I blogged about my encouraging notes from the editor I’m working with back in June (see “Potential to be Extraordinary”) and then I hunkered down and began the process. Three weeks later the process came abruptly to a stop when I was in a serious car accident. YESTERDAY I finally got back in the saddle and continued those novel revisions!

I don’t consider the three-month writing sabbatical a loss. My editor had recommended some reading to help me pump up the volume on my characters and plot, and I’m half-way through The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and have read some of Bone River by Megan Chance. Both of these writers are teaching me how to improve my character development and make some big structural adjustments. Today I plan to do a writing exercise recommended by this editor in her “final impressions” section of the notes she sent to me:

In CHERRY BOMB, you’ve posited some truly fascinating female characters in conversation with one another—and I find that intriguing The work ahead is to refine those characters into three-dimensional human beings that fulfill the promise of their potential (i.e., that live up to the vivid first glimpses of these women we get). My recommendation to you is this: consider writing at least one chapter for each main female character from that woman’s first-person POV…. To develop a much clearer vision of each of these women in your mind, and the best way to do that is to dive inside their points-of-view, get comfortable seeing the world through their eyes, and be open to whatever happens next! This is just a writing exercise but I think it will really help you step outside your narrative habits in CHERRY BOMB and think of the women you’ve created in new and more complex ways.

Woman Eating Breakfast in a HurryBefore my accident, I probably wouldn’t have considered taking the time to do this exercise. I was always in a hurry to get the revisions done and send the manuscript back to the agent. Being house-bound while recovering has taught me to slow down a bit, not only physically, but mentally. Hopefully I’ve begun to learn some much-needed patience as I return to the work. I can only work on the manuscript for an hour or so at a time without hurting my neck or needing to elevate my leg. But I’m learning to make the most of those short work-slots, take breaks, and get back to work again. It’s quite a departure from the way I usually work—three or four hours at a time without much of a break.

Accidental Memoir CoverMeanwhile, I’m enjoying sharing my writing friends’ successes this fall, including Wendy Reed’s reading and signing tomorrow night at Burke’s Books here in Memphis. Wendy will be staying with us, so I’m excited to get to spend some time with her. If you’re in the Memphis area, come to Burke’s at 5:30 to meet Wendy and get a signed copy of her new book, An Accidental Memoir: How I Killed Someone and Other Stories!

Mental Health Monday: Cultivating Self-Empathy, the Antidote to Shame

no-shame-on-you-proper-hauty-woman-chastisingAbout six months ago, I did a post called, “Shame On You.” Drawing on Brené Brown’s wonderful book, Daring Greatly, I shared an experience where I reacted in shame initially, but eventually found what Brown calls “shame resilience” to help me through the event.

This morning I re-read that post on shame because of an experience I had on Saturday. I was at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, where I had just enjoyed lunch with my friend, Jolina Petersheim, who was in Memphis for a reading and signing of her debut novel, The Outcast. Following her reading—which was in the back of the fairly large bookstore—I began my slow and difficult journey to the front of the store. I was using a walker. My right foot was in a heavy black orthopedic boot, and I’m still in the non-weight-bearing stage of healing, so with each stop I had to hop on my left foot and then scoot the walker forward. By the time I got to the front of the store I was actually sweating and breathing hard, and my wrists were hurting from bearing my weight with each hop. Just as I saw a comfy chair to sit in while I waited for my husband to pick me up, a woman I don’t know approached me, stopped and spoke.

“What happened to you?” Her tone was blunt.

“I was in a car wreck.” I could barely get the words out and was eager to sit down in the chair, but she was blocking my way.

“Well, you should be more careful next time.” She stood still after delivering those words, her lips puckered into a scowl.

I was speechless. And I immediately felt shame, because I know I have culpability in the accident, and I’ve been dealing with that emotionally and spiritually for over two months. I’ve been struggling with shame resilience—to move past the event and forward with my recovery. I even took a (wonderful) four-hour defensive driving course online last month and have resolved to make some changes in order to be a safer driver in the future. (And by the way, I highly recommend that National Safety Council’s online course, especially for folks my age who haven’t had any training since we were teenagers.)

The shamer finally walked away and I was able to sit in the chair to wait for my husband. Who knows what compelled her to make such a remark to a complete stranger! She knew nothing about my accident. I only know that I have to move past the incident to keep healing. To repeat a quote from my blog post back in March, Brown has this to say about shame resilience:

… the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it. Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy-the real antidote to shame.

Empathy is something I’ve always known I should have for other people. Now I know it’s also something I need to cultivate for myself, in order to heal.

Jolina and me having lunch at the Bistro before her reading on Saturday

Jolina and me having lunch at the Bistro before her reading on Saturday

Faith on Friday: Orthodox Bishop Prays for Obama: “May God Speak Good Things To His Heart”

I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese in this country. We trace our heritage to the first century believers, those “who were first called Christians in Antioch.” One of our Bishops gave the following homily at a parish in Wichita, Kansas this past Sunday. Please take some time to read and prayerfully consider his words.


Address given by His Grace Bishop Basil of Wichita to the parish of

St Mary Orthodox Church in Wichita, Kansas

regarding the crisis in Syria, September 8, 2013.

Bishop BASIL

Bishop BASIL

            This week will be a very important week, an historical week, one way or another–our church, our Patriarchate in particular, and this world in general. This week our elected representatives will be asked to vote either for or against supporting aggression in the Holy Land. As I said it’s important first and foremost for our church. It’s where our spiritual roots are, the roots of all Christians. Not just us, but we as Antiochian Orthodox in particular, as our Father in God (Patriarch John of Antioch) lives there along with a million and a half Orthodox Christians. That’s more than we have total in the US. The Orthodox in Syria and Lebanon is not negligible; it’s 10 percent of the population. In our country, we’re less than 1 percent, our country being the United States.

            Syria in particular but Lebanon as well, which is an integral part of greater Syria just by its geography and the majority of its history, is dotted with holy places. Holy places made holy by the presence of our Savior. Remember his conversation with the Canaanite woman, the Syro-Phoenician woman when he visited Tyre and Sidon in south Lebanon. It’s not in Disney World or Never Never Land. It’s a real place with real people with real Orthodox Christians living there. You’ve heard of Caesarea Philippi, where our Savior went and had conversation with his 12 apostles saying, “Who do men say that I am?” and then to Peter “Who do you say that I am?” Caesarea Philippi is in Golan Heights, what now is the occupied portion of the Golan Heights. It belongs to our sister archdiocese, the archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran. And the Golan Heights itself is dotted with now empty; they were depocketed by the Israelis – Christian villages, Orthodox villages, whose churches during the occupation have been totally desecrated.  Stripped!  Not only of the icons and the chandeliers, but of windows, and water faucets! Their dead in Konetra were taken out of their graves, and teeth – gold teeth – (were) taken from their mouths and wedding rings taken from the corpses’ fingers. These are holy places. Our Savior walked there, the apostles walked there. Sweida, Bosra-Hauran in south Syria is where Timon, one of the original seven deacons as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, one of the original seven deacons was the first bishop. Paul the apostle made his way from Jerusalem up to Damascus, and the road is still there, the spot where he was knocked off his horse by the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ when he was struck blind. There’s a monastery there, an Orthodox monastery. These are not just places in books, brothers and sisters. These are holy places where Christians, your spiritual ancestors, and for many of you your physical ancestors have lived the Holy Orthodoxy for the past 2,000 years. It’s why what happens this week is important. It’s important.

            barak-prayingWe ask your prayers first and foremost for our president. That God might speak as we say in the liturgy “good things to his heart.” That God might speak reasonableness and peace to the heart of our president. That he might speak peace to the heart of our elected officials, that they indeed become our representatives, that they speak the voice of the people. God speaks through his people, not through a congressman alone, or a president alone. He speaks through his people.

May God hear our prayer for our armed forces.  Men and women who sit on the edges of their seats to know whether they will be going to war or not! And don’t believe this “no boots on the ground.” It’s impossible. We’ve heard the promise many times. May God give strength to the parents. The spouses first and foremost of those soldiers, and their children, and their parents and their families, that he might grant them grace during these next coming days to prepare for the tension that must be laid upon them. And God be with the people of Syria. All of them, whether they’re Muslim, they’re Druze, Christians, Orthodox and not. May he be with our Father in God (Patriarch John of Antioch) who has already lost thousands of his people, and priests and deacons and monks and nuns in the war already. Whose monasteries and churches have been occupied and many destroyed by the so-called Free Syrian Army. Whose own brother was kidnapped and still remains kidnapped, Metropolitan Paul along with Archbishop Yohanna, since April 22 by freedom fighters. Freedom fighters – people who rape women, abduct bishops, desecrate churches, open peoples’ chests and pull their beating heart out and eat it in their presence. That’s the Free Syrian Army and their allies, Al Qaeda. 

             Two days ago I received a call from our Metropolitan Saba Esper, who you know.  He has visited here. He is the archbishop of our own Wichita diocese’s sister diocese in south Syria. He spoke by telephone, right before he called me, with Mother Belagia. Mother Belagia is the abbess of the monastery of Saint Thekla in Maalula. It’s only like a 20-30 minute drive north of Damascus. It had been occupied for 3 days (the town). The town is one of three where they still speak Aramaic–Aramaic which our Savior spoke. The only 3 towns left in the world. The majority of the people in Maaloula are Christians–Orthodox Christians. There’s a smattering of Catholics there, and there’s also some Muslims there, and they live there in peace. The beginning of this week they were occupied by the Free Syrian Army. It turned out to be Al Qaeda, and they turned out to be Chechens–the same ones who abducted our 2 bishops. The nuns took the children there, orphan girls there of St. Thekla, and they and the nuns, many who are aging, into the caves of the village to hide for 4 days. They didn’t even go out to buy bread. The villagers didn’t leave their homes for 4 days. And if you’ve never been to the Middle East, they don’t shop like we do. They go every morning to buy their bread and food for the day. So they were locked in their homes for 4 days. Those who went out were shot, so they knew to stay in their homes. Saba called me on Wednesday. Mother Belagia, and they were ringing all the bells in the town’s churches–the Syrian Army, you know the one that we’re told is so bad. The Syrian Army finally came and drove Al Qaeda out. And what did they find? They found 2 churches in the village completely destroyed. St. Thekla, which is ours, the Orthodox Church in the village, and St. Sergius, which is a Catholic church in the village–completely destroyed. On the inside, the icons, the holy books, everything had been desecrated. Not just ripped off the walls, but covered in urine. Real desecration by that wing of the Free Syrian Army!

God knows what the people of Syria, and by extension the people of Jordan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Turkey and the people of Iraq – because if there’s a war, there’s a regional war – God knows the burden they may have to carry this week. Lighten their burden as you can. And that’s by your prayers. Have a soft heart towards the people.

Wrongs were done on both sides – vicious wrongs on both sides. But as we’ve heard from some honest politicians this past week, there’s really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None! So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we’ve had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don’t know about except what they’ve shown us in this awful civil war for the past 2 and a half years.

St. Mary's Orthodox Church, Dair-Al-Zor, Syria

St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, Dair-Al-Zor, Syria

            So this week, really pray. Thank God that we live in a country that is safe. Where we can send our children to school, where you can go out and buy your groceries. But realize that that blessed country where we live can also be a disruptive force in other parts of the world, as it has been. Remember Bosnia. Remember Kosovo. Remember what happened in Belgrade, the capital of an Orthodox country, bombed by our armed forces on Pascha night, while people were going to church for the midnight service.

God bless America–but a lot of evils have been done in her name. We pray that God will restrain our leaders from being the cause for any more evil and sorrow and hurt in this world. That we might extend a healing hand, to bring enemies together like we’re supposed to.

Where we teach people to turn the other cheek, where we teach people to bless those who curse them, to love our enemies. That’s the gospel we preach, the gospel we die for. It’s the gospel which Orthodox Christians have been and I guess will continue to die for. Remember them in your prayers, and as I said, most especially our leaders, who will make the decisions. That God might pour out his Holy Spirit on them, and speak good things to their hearts.

Writing on Wednesday: Robert Khayat: The Education of a Lifetime

KhayatTheEducationOfALifetime3dFINAL(Nautilus Publishing; September 10, 2013; $24.95; ISBN: 978-936-946-17-4)

I hated to miss the launch of former Ole Miss Chancellor, Robert Khayat’s, wonderful book, The Education of a Lifetime, at Square Books in Oxford last night. I’m sure it was a terrific celebration in a town that owes so much to Khayat’s vision, courage, and dedication to excellence.

As Neil White, Creative Director and Publisher at The Nautilus Publishing Company says:


The reader relives, along with the author, the courting of eccentric donors; private conversations with presidents, governors, football coaches, and celebrities; and the struggle to find a balance between the South’s past and a promising future.

All that and more is explored between the pages of Khayat’s memoir. I was captivated by the stories of his childhood, football career, law school adventures, and finally, his years as the University of Mississippi’s 15th Chancellor. I felt I was in the classroom as he taught John Grisham (who wrote his way through a law exam with his talent for writing fiction). I enjoyed reading about people I’ve known for years—like Dr. Arthur Guyton and his daughter, Jeannie, who saved Khayat’s life when he was ill with pancreatitis, and Sarah and Coach “Wobble” Davidson, whose daughter, Deb, is one of my best friends—and learning more about their contributions to the story.

Of course Khayat’s memoir is about much more than football, but as he says:

The spectacle of college football is beautiful. The games bring friends and former classmates to the campus. The university gains widespread national and international exposure. Game-day picnics create communities of people who view those moments as sacred. The bands, cheerleaders, and athletes create magical moments for the fans….And when a team is winning, its fan base is more likely to support non-athletic endeavors at the college or university.

As a new chancellor, Khayat worked to achieve balance between the academic, athletic, social and political realms at the university.  He worked to distance the university’s image from racially charged symbols of the Old South, for which he even received death threats. His memoir gives us all a terrific behind-the-scenes look at how a university moved from mediocrity to excellence. A few of his achievements before he retired:

The University was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, into which 813 Ole Miss students have been inducted.

A nationally ranked honors college was established.

A groundbreaking institute for racial reconciliation was launched.

A permanent leadership institute was built.

A top international studies program was created.

Between 1995 and 2009, enrollment at Ole Miss increased 43.6 per cent; minority enrollment grew 78.5 per cent.

The university’s budget grew from $500 million to $1.5 billion.

Ole Miss hosted the very first presidential debate where a minority candidate took the stage.

As Oxford co-authors of The Tilted World, Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin say:

The Education of a Lifetime should be read by all who love the South, and by all who can’t conceive of such love. This is a book for everyone.


This ends my “literary hat trick.” What a joy it’s been to read these three terrific books this summer!

You can buy The Education of a Lifetime from The Nautilus Publishing Company or from lots of great bookstores.

If you missed Khayat’s reading in Oxford last night, maybe you can catch up with him at one of his future events. See the full schedule here. And since I’m a Jackson native, I’ll give a special mention to his appearance on September 24 at Lemuria Books in Jackson

Mental Health Monday: A Little Help From My Friends

I-get-by2I woke up this morning with this song on my mind.

Two months ago today I was taken by ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, following a head-on collision (with another ambulance) near Fairhope, Alabama, late the night before. I remember an incredible amount of details from that evening and my first day in the hospital. Questions asked to me by people at the wreck site and in the hospital. Kind, attentive people telling me what was happening each step of the way:

“We are taking you to x-ray now, Mrs. Cushman.”

“We are going to do an MRI now, Mrs. Cushman.”

“We are prepping you for surgery now, Mrs. Cushman.”

externalBut I was virtually alone—450 miles from home—while I was being rescued from the accident, transported to the hospital, admitted and treated by neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, nurses and technicians, for multiple broken bones in my cervical spine and right leg and ankle. My husband got there as soon as he could get a flight and a rental car from the airport. By the time he arrived, I had survived a life-threatening trauma and two surgeries. Alone. But the medical professionals who cared for me were kind and communicative, and for that I will always be thankful.

neck scarOnce we got home to Memphis (three days later) I began to experience compassionate care on a whole new level. My husband of 43 years has been at my side every minute that he can, caring for my every need and beyond. And friends have been here constantly. I know I’ve already blogged about some of this—about the flowers and cards and phone calls and emails and home-cooked meals—but I had no idea how much help I was going to need—and receive—in the coming weeks. For the first few weeks, I could not be alone, even during the day, so friends stepped up and gave up their mornings or afternoons or both to “sit” with me and help me with tasks that I had done for myself for over sixty years. Bathing. Dressing. Getting food. Taking medicines.

i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friendsBut today, two months later, I thought I would be independent. And I’m not. Not even close. Well, closer than two months ago. I can bathe myself and get food from the kitchen and even do a little simple cooking, so long as it doesn’t take long since I have to balance on one foot while standing at the stove or the sink. And I can walk to the car on crutches now, so that my husband doesn’t have to push me in a wheelchair. But I still can’t put any weight on my right foot (which is now cast-free!) and I have another month with the neck brace. The stiffness and swelling in the ankle may take months to heal. Months. But I can flex my ankle. Just a little bit, but more than I could three days ago.

When my husband was recently away overnight, I needed help from 3 friends and 2 neighbors (who are also friends) just to get through the day:

One friend brought in the morning paper and put my mail out.

Another friend came over to help me with physical therapy (she’s a P.T.).

Another friend brought me lunch.

A neighbor put our trash can out.

Another neighbor brought in my mail.

lucy-my-lifeIt occurred to me that some people live much of their lives this way—depending upon the kindness of others. It’s very humbling to ask for and receive help like this. I look forward to the day when I can be “independent” again. But I think I will forever have a different view of how we need each other. And maybe—just maybe—that’s the main lesson I’m supposed to learn from all of this.

I haven’t always believed that I was loved. By God. By others. The textbooks say that some of this is because I was sexually abused as a child. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think that needing other people is vital to receiving love. From family. And from friends.



Yesterday I got a phone call from a friend from high school whom I’ve only seen once since she was a bridesmaid in my wedding in 1970 because she moved to Ohio.  She had heard about my accident from a mutual friend and just wanted to talk. We talked for a long time, about our friendship back in the day and about our lives now. Our husbands. Our children. Our careers. Probably some of the same things we said to each other at our 40th high school reunion four years ago. But that was an evening filled with music and dancing and champagne and dressing to impress. Our phone call Sunday afternoon was  stripped bare of pretense. It was just an old friend reaching out to another old friend in her time of need. Now that’s what friends are for.

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