This post really isn’t about faith. I’m just not very inspired today. And it’s not even about Black Friday. I have never been shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s not that I’m against it. I’m happy for those businesses that are able to “get in the black” and have a successful year. But I’m just not into crowds. Unless we’re listening to some awesome concert at a terrific music venue.
But I am enjoying a “sneak peek” at Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, with a few online deals I’ve found today. Whether you get out in person (tomorrow) or just shop online (tomorrow or Monday), here are a few links you might enjoy:
The Memphis Melange Etsy Team and Memphis Style Market (which includes work by my friend, Emma Connolly)
Indie for the Holidays (which includes a link to my friend, Corey Mesler’s, new book)
12 Days of Shopping In and Around Memphis (which includes some great little shops like Burke’s Books in Cooper Young)
Flavor Mavens (owned by my friend, Jennifer Stanek)
Frantic Chocolates (owned by my friend, Fran Tylavsky)
Jonni Webb Pottery (owned by my friend, Jonni Webb)
And of course, any and all indie book stores!
River’s Edge Media is offering FREE SHIPPING on copies of The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul on Cyber Monday! This book and CD (awesome music and recorded stories) makes a fabulous Christmas gift, so you might want to get several. Use coupon code cybermonday.
That’s it for today. Have a great weekend everyone—whether or not you’re shopping!
I just missed my 9 a.m. physical therapy appointment. Somehow I was thinking it was at 9:30 and I was about to get dressed when my husband said, “But I thought your appointment was at 9.” It was. So now I’m too late. They rescheduled me for 1 p.m., but not with my regular therapist, whom I love. What was I doing that distracted me from my schedule today? Musing on what to write for this blog post!
And even after all that, I don’t have an original thought to share with you today. (I’m still grumpy about missing that appointment.) Everyone is writing about Thanksgiving, but we’re skipping it this year (more on that later). But, I’ll round up a few links on the holiday in case you’re really looking for something to read in your spare time. Like you’re not at work, at the grocery store, or in the kitchen preparing for tomorrow’s feast. Anyway, since I’m not really writing on Wednesday, here are a few offerings:
Valerie Strauss has an informative piece on the history of Thanksgiving in The Washington Post today.
And here are two nice quotes about Thankgiving by famous authors:
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” – William Faulkner
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” -Thornton Wilder
And if you’re really bored, over at Mental Floss you can read about “7 Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals.”
After all that, I suppose I should share one original thought. Today, I am thankful that I am walking, even if it hurts. And I’m thankful for physical therapy, even though I have to go to a different therapist this afternoon. And for my sweet husband, who is taking me to Ruth’s Chris and a movie on Thanksgiving day so I won’t overdo. I considered inviting some folks for a traditional Thanksgiving meal tomorrow, since our kids can’t be here, but I’m just not up to it, and there’s really no middle ground when it comes to cooking for Thanksgiving, is there?
I look forward to watching the Macy’s parade in my jammies while not cooking in the morning. There might be mimosas involved. And for those of you who think all businesses should be closed tomorrow, I just have to say that I’m thankful there are some options for those of us who just aren’t up to all the big preparations. Without their help, we really would be skipping Thanksgiving this year.
Someone posted a rant on Facebook the other day about how upsetting it was to see folks putting up Christmas trees before Thanksgiving. And of course there’s the big buzz about Black Friday creeping over into Thanksgiving day, forcing employees to work on the holiday and enticing families to leave their happy homes and enter the fray a day earlier than in the past. While I’m not sure these events are related—beginning Christmas preparations before Thanksgiving hardly seems the same as retail shopping on Thanksgiving Day—they both seem to hint at an underlying, perhaps national angst that many suffer this time of year. Which is sad, since Thanksgiving and Christmas are supposed to be times of joy, of celebrating family and for some, pious religious commemorations. So, what’s with the angst?
Last year I wrote a post on Christmas Eve (from our son’s home in Denver) called “A Winter Dialogue.” It was inspired by a poem with the same name by Joseph Robert Mills, in which Mills describes in a lovely scene the need we all have to be touched. As I read it again this morning, it struck me to endeavor to touch those around me with compassion and joy as much as possible this holiday season.
Looking at the calendar this morning, I realized that Christmas is only a month away—30 days to be exact. Those who commemorate the Nativity of Christ on December 25 are probably already counting down the days in various traditional ways in their homes and churches. I remember the fun of opening the windows on Advent calendars each day. (Here’s a cute homemade calendar.) And I loved moving Mary and Joseph one step closer to the manger in our nativity scene each day. And then moving the three wise men closer each day to Theophany.
So, where am I in this year’s Christmas preparations, as the countdown begins?
CARDS: I had a great time creating our Christmas cards again this year. And yes, all 125 of them are ready to put in the mail. It’s one of my favorite traditions, and no matter how busy I am, it’s one I will continue as long as I’m able. This year I designed our card using a Coptic icon on the front and an excerpt from a poem by my friend, the Orthodox poet, Scott Cairns, on the back. Scott’s poetry inspires me frequently, but especially during the Nativity Season. (I also used part of a Coptic icon to design the custom-made stamps I ordered online.)
GIFTS: I’ve bought about 95% of our Christmas gifts, many online purchases that could be shipped directly to Denver, where I’ll wrap them when we arrive a few days before Christmas. Others await wrapping and mailing or delivering here in Memphis over the next few weeks. I don’t have many stocking stuffers yet, but I enjoy browsing for those in stores where I can listen to Christmas music playing and enjoy the decorations. I’m a big fan of small businesses—especially bookstores—so lots of my gifting comes from such places. Please remember Small Business Saturday if you plan to shop this weekend!
DECORATIONS: Since we’re traveling to Denver for Christmas, I’m not going to put up a tree this year. I’m also still recovering from my wreck and surgeries, so I have to pace myself with physical activities. I’m going to do a few simple, holiday touches in the den—including some new pre-lit willow branches with berries for our mantle—and try to enjoy the scent and glimmer of candles frequently as we spend the next few weeks preparing our hearts for Christ to be born in them again. Maybe I’ll put out our collection of Saint Nicholas figurines on December 6.
ALMSGIVING: Oh! That reminds me, I need to pick up some toys to take to church on December 5. We celebrate Saint Nicholas Vespers and the teens put on a play, and we collect toys for MIFA’s (Memphis Inter Face Association) annual Christmas store for impoverished families. It was fun participating in our Thanksgiving baskets last week, and I hope the families we served will have more reasons to give thanks as they enjoy the turkeys and other goodies we delivered to them this weekend. We might get some sleet in Memphis today, and as I’m snuggled inside my warm house, I’m remembering the joy of giving out blankets to people on the street a couple of years ago. Maybe I’ll pick up a few blankets and put them in the back of my car, since I drive through downtown Memphis almost daily, often right past folks who are in wheelchairs, or huddled up against buildings trying to get warm. Our parish is again putting together close to 150 bags of necessity items to give to the homeless this year. I love what Trinity Methodist Church, in my old neighborhood in midtown, is doing to help give the homeless a warm place to spend the night. Read about them and other churches that are part of the Room in the Inn program. And here’s one more almsgiving opportunity I recently participated in, with a quick click of the mouse and without leaving the house. Please help Danielle Troup get a handicap van for college!
MUSIC and ART: Last year about this time I did a post called, “Fighting the Holiday Blue with Music, Art, Food, Friends and Writing.” As I read it again today, I realize that I really want to get out and hear some live music and see some good art between now and Christmas. Any suggestions, Memphians?
I hope you enjoy the next 30 days of preparation for Christmas… and aren’t too exhausted to enjoy the celebration that BEGINS on December 25 and continues for twelve days and beyond! I’d love to hear about your preparations and traditions.
I went to bed last night with a feeling of gloom. Not quite doom, but definitely gloom. Why? I had just opened yesterday’s mail and found a letter from my mother’s Medicaid case worker. The opening line—bold, in all caps, centered at the top of the letter—said:
NOTICE OF ADVERSE ACTION
And two lines down were these words:
Your eligibility will terminate 11/30/2013.
Reason? Your income exceeds the income limit.
The letter went on to say that I must request a hearing by 11/25/2013, blah blah blah. That’s Monday. And I got the letter yesterday. At the bottom of the letter, centered in bold, all caps, it said:
MESSAGE FROM YOUR CASE WORKER
Now, I’ve had a pretty good relationship with my mother’s Medicaid case worker for the past few years. It was a lengthy and labor-intensive process (with tons of paper work) to get Mom approved for Medicaid, but when it happened a few years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Mom’s social security and Dad’s small state retirement income together weren’t enough to pay for her nursing home care. Thankfully Medicaid would make up the difference, which they’ve been doing for several years now.
Every summer I receive a letter requesting more paperwork to determine her eligibility for another year, and every summer, she is approved. So, this letter really scared me.
I woke up with the letter on my mind. Before coming downstairs for coffee, I stopped by our icon corner to pray. I looked at the reading for today in our Orthodox calendar, and here’s the quote I read aloud with my prayers:
Christ is our Friend, our Brother. He is whatever is beautiful and good. He is everything. In Christ there is no gloom, melancholy or introversion, whereas man suffers from various temptations and situations that make him suffer. Christ is joy, life, light, the true light, which makes man glad, makes him fly, makes him see all things, see all people, suffer for all people, and want all people to be with him, close to him.—Elder Porphyrios the Kapsokalyvite (For more of Elder Porphyrios’ words, read Wounded by Love.)
I asked God to help me as I prepared to phone the case worker. First I gathered up my files from the past two years. I noticed the very small increase in Mom’s social security income, and couldn’t imagine that it would cause her to be ineligible. I pictured us paying the difference for the remainder of her life and wondered how that would affect our plans as we approach retirement. I wondered if I would need a lawyer for the hearing process if it came to that. And then I picked up the phone and called Medicaid.
In the past it has often taken hours or days for the case worker to return my phone calls, so I was anxious about the deadline for requesting a hearing if it came to that. But the case worker immediately picked up the phone, and I told her why I was calling. Then I held my breath again as she answered:
Oh, that was an error. You will be receiving another letter soon.
An error? So Mom is still eligible?
Yes, ma’am. You can ignore that letter.
And that was that. No explanation or apology, really. But that’s okay, so long as Mom is still eligible.
Yesterday at physical therapy, I was telling my therapist that I had been depressed earlier in the week… struggling with the pain this far into my recovery. My surgeon, whom I saw last Friday, had mentioned that some people have problems with the internal hardware, and he could go back in and remove some of it from my ankle if I’d like. But he couldn’t say for sure that was what was causing the pain. Both my massage therapist and my physical therapist encouraged me to give it a few more months, and helped me with their healing hands and positive words this week.
So, today, I’m going to try to focus on the Elder Porphryios’ words—that in Christ there is no gloom, but all light and joy. That Christ makes man fly. Yes, I want to be all light and joy. I want to fly.
I used to have (before it broke) a white coffee mug with a blue logo from Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, on one side, and a quote from Winnie the Pooh Goes Visiting on the other. Remember the scene where Pooh ate too much and got stuck in the hole in the tree, so he asked Christopher Robin to comfort him? Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness? That’s how I’ve been feeling this week. Stuck in great tightness.
Why am I stuck in great tightness? Because I’ve had several days at home alone with no interruptions and no appointments and no social events and a plan to make major progress on the novel revisions, but I have done very little. I’ve been talking with two close friends about this stuckness, and they’ve comforted me with encouragements to rest and reminders that I’m still recovering from a life-threatening car wreck. And I know they’re right, because my body and brain just aren’t functioning very well yet. And so I’ve allowed myself some time this week (after two busy road trips recently) to just rest. To read and watch TV and take naps and not leave the house for several days in a row. When I was an invalid and couldn’t leave the house, I felt trapped. But now that it’s a choice, it actually feels good to have a little self-imposed rest. To waste time and not feel guilty isn’t something that comes natural to me, but I’m working on it.
But the other thing that has helped and comforted me in my great tightness this week is to do just what Pooh asked Christopher Robin to do for him—to read a Sustaining Book.
I’m about 150 pages into such a Sustaining Book, and it is wondrously comforting on many levels. Like thousands of others, I’ve been waiting for Donna Tartt’s third novel to hit the shelves for a decade. That’s right. This award-winning Southern author (she’s from Greenwood, Mississippi) writes one awesome literary novel every ten years. I was a huge fan of her first two books— The Secret History and The Little Friend—so I couldn’t wait for her third to come out. And The Goldfinch may be her best yet. (It’s Amazon’s Book of the Year.)
Tartt told Charlie Rose (in this video):
I’ve tried to write faster, and I don’t really enjoy it.
When I heard her say that in the interview with Charlie Rose, I thought, and I’ve tried to read faster, and I don’t really enjoy it. So I’m taking my time with The Goldfinch and it is definitely sustaining. And maybe, just maybe, it’s helping me accept that I need to slow down the writing/revising process with my own novel. After all, I’ve only spent three years on it so far.
Maybe reading Tartt’s work isn’t really just me being lazy (see I’m still trying to assuage my guilt) but it’s part of the learning process for any emerging literary writer. How can I learn to write a Sustaining Book if I don’t read one every time I get the opportunity?
Today and tomorrow I’ve got several appointments, so I definitely won’t be writing. But you know I’ll have The Goldfinch with me in those waiting rooms and I won’t be able to put it down when I get back home. My next uncluttered day will be Friday, but if I decide not to work on the novel revisions, it won’t be because I’m stuck in great tightness. It will be because I’m enthralled in Tartt’s great prose.
I’ve lived in Memphis for 25 years, so I guess that makes me a Memphian. But the truth is that, unlike Mandy Chatellier, I’ve never really liked this city. I’ve wanted to leave it for a number of years. But a few things have happened recently that have given me a new appreciation for Memphis.
Having survived a life-threatening car wreck in July, I’ve been nursed back to health by friends and neighbors (and terrific medical personnel) to whom I will always be indebted. I’ve made friends and acquaintances who love the city. I’ve listened to them talk about why they love it. And I’ve opened my heart to its embrace, a little bit at a time.
When I was a student at Ole Miss 44 years ago, lots of fellow students would drive up to Memphis from Oxford on weekends for a taste of the big city—ribs at the Rendezvous, movies, concerts, clubs. But I only remember one such weekend, when Ole Miss played (then) Memphis State in football. Otherwise, I spent my weekends in Oxford, a town that I’ve come to love more and more in recent years. So when several friends who live in Oxford (and these folks are writers) have expressed how much they love Memphis, I’ve listened.
And then my friend, Corey Mesler, owner of Memphis’ oldest independent book store, published his lyrical collage about Beale Street, Diddy Wah Diddy: A Beale Street Suite, and I got a quick look at the colorful underbelly of the city. Although the book is fictional, it still reflects a love for Memphis and her diverse citizens.
So, I was working on embracing my town when I received a copy of Memphis journalist, Dan Conaway’s, new book, I’m a Memphian (The Nautilus Publishing Company, 2013) from my friend, Neil White. Dan’s weekly columns about Memphis—“Memphasis,”—appear in The Memphis Daily News and The Memphis News. And at www.wakesomebodyup.com.This book is a collection of 50 of those columns. As Conway says:
The truth of what you can see every day in Memphis is better than the fiction other cities have to come up with to make them interesting.
It was fun to read these true stories after reading Mesler’s fiction tales in Diddy Wah Diddy. The two together paint a vivid picture of this city I’m oozing my way into. Conaway brings to life the famous (and infamous) Memphians buried at historic Elmwood Cemetery. He sheds light on stories of obscure heroes who step up to save the day in crises. He commemorates school teachers, politicians, entrepreneurs, athletes, and musicians—ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And the places they gather to share stories about their daily lives, like The Little Tea Shop and The Peanut Shoppe. I learned a lot about this city in Conaway’s columns, and yes, I took a step towards, rather than away, from it as a result.
Looking for a great little Christmas gift for folks who love Memphis? Or for folks like me, who are working on that embrace? The subtitle says it well:
Character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it.
In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate numerous saints every day of the calendar year. Two of the saints who are commemorated on November 15 are the Emperor and Empress Justinian I and Theodora I.
Why did I single them out to write about for my Faith on Friday post? Because of their unlikely marriage and the effect it had on their people. You see, Theodora (like her parents) was an actress. And probably also a prostitute, since the two professions often went hand in hand in the 6th century. In order to marry Theodora, Justinian had to change a law so that actresses were allowed to marry into high society. She was 15 years younger than Justinian, but he loved her passionately.
Justinian set about to rebuild the Roman Empire by creating law schools and revamping its legal system. He also brought beautiful architecture to the Empire, the most shining example being Hagia Sophia, the crowning jewel of Byzantine architecture, in Constantinople. His love of beauty is one of the reasons I decided to write about him today. And I’m thankful that the Orthodox Church commemorates both him and his wife every year.
Last Wednesday I wrote about writing conferences and workshops because I was headed to Fairhope, Alabama, to speak to the Penster’s Writing Group on this very topic (at their request). What a delightful gathering of writers! The Pensters is a writing group that has existed for over 50 years, which speaks volumes to their love of writing. Each month they have a writing contest. It was such a joy to hear the winning entries read by the authors. And then to learn that I would be the judge for next month’s entries—both prose and poetry—which I’m looking forward to reading soon.
My “talk” became an interactive hour of sharing information about writing workshops, conferences, critique groups, querying agents and editors, and submitting your work for publication. The very next day, I got an email from a member of the group telling me she had just submitted an essay to one of the publications I recommended. Others were beginning to research conferences they might attend in 2014.
Yesterday I received my January 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest in the mail, and I turned to the Conference Guide in the back to see what meetings were already advertized. The one that caught my eye because I know a few writers who have served as faculty in the past was the San Miguel Writers Conference and Literary Festival. Next year it will be February 12-17, in San Miguel de Allende. Three of the keynote speakers are Pat Conroy, Yann Martel and Laura Esquivel. What’s not to love?
There’s much to love about Fairhope, Alabama, as well. My hostess, Ren Hinote, treated my road trip mate, NancyKay Wessman, and me to sunsets on the bay, brunch at the Fairhope Inn, lunch at Pelican Bay’s outdoor porch, and dinner at Pinzone’s Italian Village. Oh and shopping at my favorite boutique in Fairhope, The Colony Shop. And late night chats about writing as we relaxed in Ren’s lovely den, and then continued the conversations with coffee around her kitchen counter the following mornings. A perfect weekend (with weather in the 70s and breezy) with others who love the written word. And THANK YOU to the Pensters for hosting me, and for purchasing several copies of The Shoe Burnin’ Anthology: Stories of Southern Soul, and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, two books in which I am honored to have essays.
And speaking of those who love the written word, what a joy today to read this wonderful article, “Flannery O’Connor’s Portrait in Prayer.” Someone has discovered O’Connor’s prayer journal, and has shared it with the world. At first I wondered about the ethical side of publishing such a private journal, but the more I read (and listened to in this audio version of the article) the more I thought she would be happy for people to know about her desires expressed in prayer to God. Like this one:
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
In another place she asks God:
I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.”
Her words remind me of Ann Lamott’s three prayers, “Help. Thanks. Wow.” Maybe writers just know how to boil down the words to get to the heart of the matter, even when speaking to God. O’Connor is one of my heroes—because of her brilliant writing and also her faith. And so as I continue to work on revisions of my novel (which are going very slowly) I will try to remember to ask God’s help. And then to say “thanks.” And at times, “wow.”
Last weekend was my first time to visit my 85-year-old mother in four months. For the past five years or so, I’ve visited her about twice a month from Memphis. (She’s in a nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi.) I was a little anxious about going so long without seeing her, even though she has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know how long it’s been. The nurses call me frequently, about every little thing that’s going on with her, so it’s not her medical care that I was concerned about. It’s the fact that she had to go four months without seeing the only person in her family she might still have some recognition of.
My fears were confirmed when her face didn’t light up as much when I approached her and said, “Hi, Mommy!” And later, as we were sitting with her on the patio and I tried to straighten her sweater and hug on her a bit and play with her hair, she would say, “Don’t touch me!” This was a new development, and it made me sad.
This afternoon I’m stopping in for another visit before returning to Memphis from my weekend in Fairhope. I’ve brought scissors to trim her hair and a manicure kit to work on her nails, if she will let me. I haven’t had time to read up on this new aversion she has developed to be being touched. Is it just part of the process that Alzheimer’s works on her psyche? Should I ignore her protests and hug her and rub lotion on her hands, and brush her hair—all actions that I’ve thought would bring her comfort? Human touch is so important, isn’t it? Okay, here’s one article that encourages “gentle touching,” so I think I’m going to continue that when I see her this afternoon.
I’ll let you know how it goes….
Please take a moment to VOTE FOR HER HERE. You can vote once a day up until December 1.
If you’re a parent or grandparent, I know you think your own babies are the cutest, but really, isn’t she adorable?
THANKS FOR VOTING!!! And have a great weekend!