The Personal Essay at Its Best

Rumpus original art by Liam Golden

Rumpus original art by Liam Golden

In lieu of writing a post today, I’m going to share a personal essay by a friend, the excellent writer and teacher Lee Martin. “This October Sunday,” published in The Rumpus, is the personal essay at its best—filled with intimate truths and universal pathos.

I knew that Lee had a difficult childhood. I had read about it in his wonderful memoir, Such a Life. His personal struggles along with his excellent writing skills led me to ask him to write a blurb for my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, which is coming out in February. Lee’s words were encouraging and humbling:

Susan Cushman writes with clarity and grace about the gnarled pathways between her and her mother, and about the terrible disease that holds a surprising grace within its irrevocable sadness. Tangles and Plaques has the courage to see it all. This is a memoir about caretaking and taking care. It’s a book that will touch your heart.

—Lee Martin, author of From Our House and Such a Life

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lee. In your memoir. In your novels. And in such a fine personal essay.

 

 

Rumpus original art by Liam Golden.

Make Ready

CD with Orthodox Hymns of Christmas http://www.svspress.com/make-ready-o-bethlehem-orthodox-hymns-of-christmas/

CD with Orthodox Hymns of Christmas http://www.svspress.com/make-ready-o-bethlehem-orthodox-hymns-of-christmas/

One of my favorite hymns that we sing in the Orthodox Church during the Nativity Season is all about preparing… preparing to receive Christ in our hearts and to celebrate His birth:

Prepare, O Bethlehem,
For Eden has been opened to all.
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha,
For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave.
Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the fruit divine;
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ is coming to restore the image, which He made in the beginning.

 One version says “Make ready, O Bethlehem.” Make ready. Make what ready? I guess the main thing is to make our hearts ready. To be at peace with one another. To fast (if that’s your tradition) and feed and clothe the poor and hungry. To spend more time with family and doing things that bring joy to our hearts and to others.

 We don’t all make ready in the same way. Some people focus more on the spiritual activities I mentioned above. But others make their homes ready with beautiful decorations—inside and out—to remind themselves and others that something special is happening. Bright lights and colorful, shiny balls and fragrant green trees inside, or even in our yards. We are making ready as we “adorn ourselves,” as the hymn says.

christmas-shoppingSome folks get upset when people—and especially stores—start decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I don’t know why… in the Orthodox Church we begin the Nativity Fast—and thus our season of preparation—on November 15. Having the American (not church) celebration of Thanksgiving during this season just heightens the spirit of anticipation and joy for me. It’s not like the two holidays are competing for our attention.

I guess the main culture clash between the Orthodox Christian tradition and other Christmas traditions is that our church encourages fasting from November 15 to December 25—with many days of no meat, dairy, and even wine and fish. It’s difficult to keep this fast and join with our non-Orthodox neighbors and friends for holiday parties where so many of our favorite foods and beverages are served. Instead of waiting to have these parties during the “12 days of Christmas” between Christmas and Theophany, most people begin celebrating during what is for Orthodox Christians supposed to be a time of preparation. This used to be a struggle for me, but over the years I’ve gotten more comfortable joining in with those early celebrations. Who am I to judge another’s traditions? And I certainly don’t want to appear Scrooge-like, which wouldn’t seem very loving, joyful, or Christian. Yes, I’m Orthodox, but I’m also American.

christmas greeting cardsSo I’m having a wonderful time “making ready”—preparing to mail out Christmas cards with our annual Christmas letter; wrapping gifts (finished shopping!); making cookies for a neighborhood cookie swap, taking toys to contribute to the Memphis Interfaith Association’s annual Christmas store (where parents in need can find free gifts for their children); and decorating our home. I hire someone to help put up lights on our beautiful Japanese Cherry Blossom tree in our front yard, and also our lighted angel, since my husband and I are too old to be up on ladders or climbing trees! Our neighborhood’s annual Christmas parade ends right in front of our house, at “Christmas Tree Park,” this coming Sunday. Santa will be there for photo sessions with the kids, and there will be hot chocolate and cookies and golf carts decorated with blinking lights. I know it’s not Christmas yet—but what a fun way to make our hearts ready as we share in this joyful tradition with our neighbors.

Make ready, O Bethlehem!

Thanksgiving and Gluttony

gluttonyThanksgiving—a favorite American holiday—lands on the calendar every year just a week or so after the Orthodox Nativity Fast begins (November 15). While most of the world, and certainly most people in the West, are preparing to feast on their favorite recipes for turkey, dressing, casseroles, and pies, Orthodox Christians are trying to balance that tradition with a very different one that comes to us from our Church. While it’s not as strict as the fast we keep during Great Lent (before Pascha/Easter), it still involves quite a few days with no meat or dairy, and even a number of days with no seafood or alcoholic beverages. This tradition flies in the face of the festivities most people are enjoying during these weeks leading up to Christmas. I always struggle with this culture clash.

But this year, I’m a little more ready to embrace the fast—or at least to try for some moderation. Why? I’ve been overcome for several months now with an old enemy of the flesh—gluttony.

The Church Fathers have a lot to say about this vice, which St. John Climacus calls “the door of passions” in The Ladder of Divine Ascent. If marijuana is the “gateway drug” to more harmful pursuits, over-eating can open that same door to excesses in other areas of our lives. An overly full belly can lead to sloth (who doesn’t want a nap after stuffing ourselves?), depression, alcohol abuse, and to the abuse of other pleasures which aren’t in and of themselves “evil.”

A few more words from the Church Fathers:

The great attraction of gluttony is not necessarily concerned with large quantities of food, but in the temptation to have just a ‘little taste.’ But if the wish for a taste succeeds in making you a slave to gluttony, the Evil One can then give you up utterly to destruction. For, just as water that irrigates many furrows makes those furrows fertile, so also the vice of gluttony, proceeding from your heart, irrigates all of your senses, raising a whole jungle of evils within you, making your soul a lair of wild beasts. (St. Basil the Great, On Renunciation of the World)

For me gluttony isn’t so much about eating huge amounts of food—although binging is a problem at times—but mostly about craving certain foods or drinks. I can really relate to these words from Abba Dorotheus:

There are two kinds of gluttony. One is when a man seeks food that pleases him and does not always want to eat very much, but wishes to eat only what pleases his palate. Another is when a man is overcome by a tendency to eat much …. He only wants to eat and eat, nor minding what the food may be, only caring to fill his belly. (St. Abba Dorotheus, Directions on Spiritual Training)

I get “stuck” on certain foods at times, and am strongly attracted to eating at nice restaurants with white table cloths and good china… or at certain bars and drinking out of just the right glasses. This type of gluttony is known as “gourmandizing.” My recent visit to New Orleans offered many opportunities for this activity.

So I went to Confession Saturday night and talked with my priest about gluttony. It’s a complicated issue for someone like me who struggles with eating disorders, and who more often than not cares more about being skinny and looking good (and even about my health)  than being godly and doing the right thing for spiritual reasons. He was very understanding and non-judgmental. I appreciated his words of advice, but mostly I felt the spiritual power of the sacrament strengthening me for the pilgrimage ahead. I want to enter into the Nativity Fast, but also enjoy the culture’s festivities. As is often the case, it comes back to moderation.

807c3295e6d88c31570994e1b33c4147Bill and I are off to Seagrove Beach on Wednesday, where we will spend Thanksgiving alone at my favorite place on earth. We’ll walk for miles along the edge of the ocean, burning up calories and soaking in the salty spray and the sunshine—it’s supposed to be in the 70s while we’re there. And we’ll enjoy fresh gulf fish at our favorite seafood restaurants. I think it will be easier than cooking all those rich Thanksgiving dishes, although I love doing that when our children and grandchildren come for the holiday. And yes, I’ll miss the traditional celebration, but I think this venue will offer a good opportunity for a healthy mix of feasting and fasting.

If you’re entertaining family this Thanksgiving, I hope that your time together will be rich with love, laughter, and favorite foods that feed not only your appetites but also your souls.

The Muralist: Disclaimer and Author’s Note

MuralistMy book pick from Octavia Books while visiting New Orleans last week was B. A. Shapiro’s novel, The Muralist. CLICK HERE to watch the video trailer, which does a great job describing the book. It’s been out for over a year, but somehow I missed it until now. It’s wonderful. It’s the kind of book I’d like to write, and there are similar elements in my novel, Cherry Bomb:

Both books combine fictional and historic characters, scenarios, and dialogue.

Both books focus on the abstract expressionist art movement.

Both books have an element of mystery to them.

This Publisher’s Weekly review has mostly good things to say about The Muralist, but one of its criticisms is something I think lots of authors (myself included) struggle with:

Though compelling, Shapiro’s latest is bogged down in relaying well-researched material about the pre-WWII politics and developments in the art world, ultimately undermining the power of the fictional story.

 

B. A. Shapiro (photo by Lynn Wayne)

B. A. Shapiro (photo by Lynn Wayne)

Shapiro obviously did her homework, and like me, maybe she loves research so much that it’s tempting to leave too much information in the book—information that the author needs to inform the writing, but more than the reader wants to see. In working with an editor in an early revision of my novel, I ended up cutting out one of the three main characters and making her part of the backstory instead. The books works much better this way.

I’ve spent some time researching issues of fictionalizing real people in my book—emailing with two different intellectual rights attorneys for advice. The result of these discussions is that I am not going to change the name of the real person (Elaine de Kooning) in my novel, but I will write a disclaimer in the front of the book, similar to this one, in the front of The Muralist:

The Muralist is a novel in which fictional characters mingle with historical figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Minor alterations in the timing and placement of persons and events were made as the story dictated, the details of which can be found in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

In her Author’s Note, Shapiro goes into more specifics about the way she fictionalized the historical characters. And then she includes more disclaimer-type statements:

A historical novel is a work of long fiction set in a previous time period. To me, the most important word in this definition is fiction…. This mix of history and invention continues throughout the novel.

This is helpful to me as I consider how to write my disclaimer and Author’s Note for Cherry Bomb. I think I’ll get to work on that soon. But for now, I can’t wait to keep reading The Muralist!

Five Days in NOLA

SuBill Peche

I didn’t blog on Monday because I was having too much fun here in New Orleans. What a great city… especially in mid November when the highs are in the low to mid 70s and the humidity uncharacteristically low. I’m here with my husband, who is speaking at the American Heart Association’s 2016 Scientific Sessions. This is a huge meeting—Scientific Sessions attracts nearly 18,000 professional attendees, with a global presence from more than 100 countries. In addition, 2 million medical professionals participate virtually in lectures and discussions about basic, translational, clinical and population science. Bill has spoken twice during the five-day meeting. But he has found time to join me on an amazing culinary pilgrimage.

Bill, Tom, Ellen and me at Mariza

Bill, Tom, Ellen and me at Mariza

Friday night when we arrived we went to visit our friends Tom and Ellen Prewitt at their Bywater apartment in the Rice Mill Lofts for drinks on the rooftop. Then we went downstairs to Mariza – a wonderful Italian restaurant on the ground floor of their building. Fabulous atmosphere and food, and great to be with our Memphis-NOLA friends. (Tom and Ellen live around the corner from us in Memphis when they’re not at their NOLA location.)

Commanders groupCommander’s Palace is my favorite restaurant/experience in NOLA, hands down. We went for jazz brunch on Saturday with our son, Jonathan, and two of his (and our) friends, Nicole Marquez and Joe Gravier. Commander’s never fails to offer the best service, atmosphere, cocktails, and food. It didn’t hurt that we got a table on the patio and it was 72 degrees and sunny! Nicole was able to get the jazz group to play about six requests—she has that affect on people! Saturday night we ventured to Patois with Dr. Larry Fine, Bill’s friend from Washington, D.C., also in town for the AHA meeting. Another wonderful place, great atmosphere and food!

 

Galatoire’s was also great fun—on Sunday night, again with Jon. First he joined us at our hotel to watch the Saints vs. Broncos game, while Bill worked on his AHA presentations on his laptop. We cheered for the Saints since we were in town with our NOLA son, but when the Broncos won, we knew our Denver kids were celebrating. Galatoire’s was really our only visit to the French Quarter this trip, and Bourbon Street was hopping. The Saints fans didn’t seem to let their loss keep them from having a good time!

 

with Emma at Octavia Books

with Emma at Octavia Books

On Monday I had a great visit with my friend Emma Connolly, who moved to NOLA from Memphis a couple of years ago to open a shop, Uptown Needle and CraftWorks, on Magazine Street. I love Emma and Robert’s house in uptown. Emma is one of the contributors to the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (coming in March 2017).  We visited Octavia Books to introduce ourselves and leave a press release for the book, hoping to give a reading/signing there in the spring. Wonderful bookstore—and of course I had to buy something. Two things, actually. A Christmas gift that I won’t describe here in case the receiver is reading, and the novel The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro, which I’ve been wanting to read. We had delicious crepes at Toast, just down the street from the bookstore.

Susan w graff outside Ogden

Maude Schuyler Clay at Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Maude Schuyler Clay at Ogden Museum of Southern Art

 

Next I stopped at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art to see my friend Maude Schuyler Clay’s photography exhibit, Mississippi History. I already had Maude’s wonderful book, which included many of the photos on exhibit, but there was something special about seeing the prints in person at the exhibit. She captures the souls of her subjects in such a beautiful, haunting way.

Outside the museum I was happy to discover this wall of graffiti done by NOLA graf writers.

mugAnd then I stopped into the coffee/gift shop at the Contemporary Art Center, just across the street from the Ogden. There is so much art in this city! I treated myself to a new coffee mug as a reminder of my visit

Monday night Jonathan joined us again, this time for dinner at Emeril’s, which is only a block from our hotel. I had never been, and again the atmosphere, service, and food did not disappoint.

"Abstraction" by Will Henry Stevens, ca.1940

“Abstraction” by Will Henry Stevens, ca.1940

 

On Tuesday I ventured out again (it’s pretty easy to drive around New Orleans, by the way) to the Paris Parker Salon on Prytania for a shampoo and blow out (and picked up a few Christmas gifts—it’s an Aveda salon). “Andrea” did my hair when I was here back in June, and it was fun feeling like one of her “regulars.” (She also does the head chef at Comander’s Palace’s hair, which I’ve never seen, but his food is great!)  Next I drove out to City Park to stroll around the lakes and enjoy the breeze and the ducks and geese. NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) is in the Park, so I spent about an hour there, appreciating their permanent collection but loving their abstract exhibits, with works by Picasso, Modigliani, Miro, and others. I discovered New Orleans abstract artist Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949). Like Kandinsky, Stevens viewed painting as an almost spiritual experience, a way of connecting people to a universal truth.

beignetsI ended my visit to City Park at Morning Call, where I ate all three beignets covered in powdered sugar with my coffee while enjoying a nice breeze on the patio.

Next I found my way back to Magazine Street to drop by Uptown Needle and CraftWorks and browse a few more shops. (Yes, more Christmas gifts, and a couple of happies for myself.)

Streetcar Spritzer on the porch at The Columns Hotel

Streetcar Spritzer on the porch at The Columns Hotel

Then at three o’clock, when the porch opens at The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, I was there, enjoying a Streetcar Spritzer while reading a book Emma loaned me—Writers on Writing, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. I was interested in this book, published twenty-five years ago, because I’m editing a similar collection with exclusively Southern contributors (coming out in 2018). I especially enjoyed the Foreword, and essays by Richard Ford and Gail Godwin. Pack and Parini say, in the Foreword, “… the essays all

at The Columns on St. Charles

at The Columns on St. Charles

reveal an underlying commitment to writing as a craft, something that can be passed on from generation to generation of writers, and to the notion of literature as a place where values are tested, where ideas are bodied forth, where the only limits are those enforced by the limits of a writer’s own imagination: limits that, by the paradox of art, make the production possible.” Reading those words got me excited about writing an introduction for my Southern writers anthology!

Su door PecheTuesday night Bill and I had reservations at Peche, which we always enjoy when we’re in NOLA. (Peche has won at least two James Beard awards.) One of the owner/chefs, Ryan Prewitt, is Tom Prewitt’s son. (We had dinner with Tom and Ellen on Friday, remember?) I love how connected our visit has been. So, we arrive at Peche (a short walk from our hotel) just before 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night in November, and the bar crowd is flowing out into the street and every table is full. We always enjoy the whole fish, but we especially loved the oysters on the hall shell.

Bill oysters pecheWe decided to try six Louisiana oysters and six from Alabama. I liked the ‘Bama oysters the best, but they were all delicious! It was November 15… the 47th anniversary of our engagement! Why November 15? It was the night Ole Miss beat Tennessee 38-0 in Jackson, Mississippi. “Archie Who?” (Romantic, right?)

Today is our last day here. After I finish this post, I’m heading over to the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk (a few blocks from our hotel) to do a little more Christmas shopping. Tonight will be our only evening meal that we didn’t plan ahead of time. Our friends Emma and Robert recommended Mandina’s on Canal Street. They don’t take reservations, so I think we’ll show up and see what happens. Tomorrow we’ll drive home to Memphis, stopping at the cemetery in Jackson to visit Mom and Dad, my brother Mike, and my Goddaughter Mary Allison. I know they aren’t really there—but I always feel closer to them when I visit their graves. This has really been a wonderful vacation, even for Bill, who has mixed business with pleasure in his usual seamless way. Thanks for reading—I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue, and can find your way to some of these great places the next time you visit New Orleans!

A Time to Grieve: Part III

51P21tvRLRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s been almost six months since my mother’s death on May 24. I wrote about my grief process back in July initially, and then again in August. Both of those posts included reflections on the series of booklets by Kenneth C. Haugk, Journeying through Grief. This week I received the third of the four books in the series, from Mary Lewis, the Stephen Minister and Grief Ministry Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi—the church my parents helped establish in the 1950s. The church in which I was confirmed as a communing member when I was twelve. The church in which I was married in 1970.

This third booklet is titled Finding Hope and Healing. I found two sections to be especially helpful. The first is “Talking Is Healing.” Haugk encourages those of us who have lost a loved one to talk about it—to share our feelings:

Talking is healing. Talking helps you locate your pain, bring it to the surface, and let it go. And because your grief doesn’t suddenly go away, the pain recurs, and you need to talk about it again an again and again. That’s why grieving people need to talk about the same feeling or memory over and over.

I remember one night a few weeks ago when I was a bit depressed and my husband asked me what was wrong. I simply answered, “My mother died.” He smiled gently and embraced me, making himself available for my words. Talking helps. And for a writer, that often means writing. It’s almost ironic that just before my mother died I finished writing a book about my years of caregiving with her. Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s will be published in February. But this summer I read all the way through the manuscript again, not only proof-reading for errors but also letting my words into places where my heart needed healing. I read parts of it aloud, which felt like sharing those words with a friend, or maybe with the little girl inside who had lost her mother to Alzheimer’s years ago—the little girl who had always been grieving for a different kind of mother, for one who could love her unconditionally.

Another section in the booklet spoke to me—“Letting Go of Guilt.” I’m sure my feelings of guilt are shared by everyone who has ever been the caregiver for an aging parent. It’s that feeling that you can never do enough—that you could have been a better daughter. One thing that I found helpful in this section was this:

View your guilt as someone else might. It may be helpful to look at yourself as if you were a third person. You may see how unrealistic your expectations are. If you wouldn’t blame another person, why are you blaming yourself? If you’d have compassion on another person who is grieving, why wouldn’t you have compassion on yourself?

I actually experienced this from real, living “third persons”—close friends who reminded me not to blame myself. Friends and family who told me that I had been a good daughter. That what I had done was enough. Again, Haugk says:

Remember the good that you did…. Take a fresh look at your relationship with your loved one and recognize the good things you did as well. Commend yourself for those.

EFfieSusanhandsOne of my favorite memories of “good things I did with Mom” is from six years ago. I wrote about it here: “Coloring Violets With Effie.” Mother was very artistic, but I couldn’t get her to draw or paint in her latter years. So I took a coloring book and crayons to the nursing home and we colored together. At first she was shy about it—perhaps she was thinking it was childish. But once she got into it with me, she started remembering things she loved and talking about them—her favorite color (purple); how much she loved flowers and making flower arrangements. It was one of my favorite visits with my mother.

February 2010, around Mother's 82nd birthday

February 2010, around Mother’s 82nd birthday

 

So today I’m again thankful to the folks with the Stephen Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson for this gift, and I look forward to the fourth and final booklet in the series when they send it. What a blessing for my grieving heart, which is healing.

Traveling the World With Poet Jennifer Horne

Little Wanderer coverMy friend Jennifer Horne is a poet. She’s published several books of poetry, and also a collection of short stories. She’s also a traveler. The cover of her latest book, Little Wanderer, features a seventeenth century map of Iceland and the Faroe Islands surrounded by a sea of monsters. The image is mystical, like the poet whose latest words wait inside the covers of the book, poised to take the reader on journeys to Greece, Italy, Bucharest, Prague, Amsterdam, England, and back home to less exotic but no less colorful places like Arkansas and Alabama.

My personal favorites were in the section on Greece—probably because I’ve made two trips to Greece—as a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy I was on pilgrimage—and I have such vivid memories that were called to mind by Horne’s poems, especially the section called “Evil Eye.” In Meteora, she shows a woman’s grief over losing someone to a monastic call:

. . . We must sacrifice, you say, for the Lord.

Here I lie, your sacrifice, your lamb—

yet you walk ever higher up that rocky path,

never looking back, eyes set on the company of old men.

And later, in “Greece, I Love You, But You’re Making Me Crazy,” she explores issues of gender in her frustration that only men (and by the way, only male animals) are allowed on Mount Athos:

Still, you haven’t allowed me

            Onto Mount Athos

Or almost a thousand years!

            Are my female parts

So very frightening?

 

You say I’m impure

            But you throw your trash

out the window.

Horne captures another side of life in Greece in “Letter from an Athenian Wife,” in which a woman bemoans her place: “But Mother, the solitude! My servants have a better life,/meeting to chatter as they fill the water jugs, helping/one another in childbirth and sickness….”

As she turns her pen towards visits to Italy (where my husband and celebrated our fortieth anniversary—a trip all about the beauty of the land, the people, and the food) I loved her “Postscript to Paradise,” in which she takes the reader through her journey as a poet to a place of happiness:

. . . Do I say I’ve weathered the pain,

this ship of mine has reached calm harbor? I will say,

looking out my window at nothing much, I am happy just

            to love the world again.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the book for the sheer joy of its rhythm and fun of reading was “Abbastanza.” With a Dr. Seuss-type beating of her pen’s drum, she makes me want to buy that cottage in a village in Italy.

Heading East, Horne takes us to Bucharest with several poems revealing darkness and fear (“Night Watch: Bucharest, Revisited”) which transports the reader from Bucharest back to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1960. If that connection seems odd, you must get this book and read these poems in sequence to follow her emotional journey. The title poem, “Little Wanderer,” takes us vividly to Prague, as does “Sudek’s Studio.” Again, I loved this because of my own trip to Prague, where I remember with Horne, “walking down to the Old Town,/the Charles Bridge,/ clock tower, town hall….” And then there’s “Musee,” where Horne shows us how viewing nudes can help us feel more comfortable with our own bodies. (I had a similar experience in Italy once.)

Horne brings us back to the States with “Local Honey,” in which she remembers a time in her youth: “I’m always welcome . . ./soon gears shift/and I am twenty,/kissing Sam Fiasca/as we drive down Cantrell Hill/in his 1950-something/brown Ford pick-up….”

Jennifer Horne

Jennifer Horne

She switches gears with her ekphrastic piece, “Talisman,”—after a sculpture by Susan Perry and then gives us another glimpse of her soul in “Sound Over Water.”
It’s difficult to review this book without mentioning each and every poem. What a treasure. And what a joy to read it today, on the day after the presidential election, when my heart needed to take a journey away from all the craziness. Thank you for this gift, Jennifer.

Give yourself a gift—buy this book and enjoy the journeys inside. Or give it as a Christmas gift to someone who loves to travel, or just loves good poetry.

Mental Health Monday Revisited: The People in the Flying RV

It’s been a couple of months since I decided to quit using the themes I’ve used for several years here on my blog: Mental Health Monday, Writing on Wednesday, and Faith on Friday. And yet I still wake up on those days thinking about those themes. It had become such an ingrained habit that I can’t seem to shake it. But this morning I woke from a disturbing dream. I believe that how we respond to our dreams can affect our mental health, so I’m going to share a bit of it with you here. Warning: It’s Stephen King strange.

Motorhome-with-helicopter-pad

 

My husband and I were with a group of people in a cabin in the woods. Suddenly we heard a helicopter overhead. We looked out the window and it was landing right next to our cabin. But it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill helicopter. It had an RV attached to it. The chopper/RV landed with a loud thud and people from inside it started coming into our cabin. They seemed friendly enough at first, commenting on how beautiful the area was and introducing themselves (first names only). But soon I began to feel something ominous was in the air. A woman brought a little girl into the cabin, and the girl was carrying a duffle bag and a few toys, as though she was there to stay. She asked where the bathroom was—like they don’t have one on their flying RV. The adults seemed to span out quickly, going through the cabin like they were casing it out for something. A little boy about six years old came up to me and pulled his pants down to reveal an unusually large penis for a small boy. A women standing near him—his mother?—just smiled and didn’t scold him. I asked him to please pull his pants back up. I wanted to sneak off to the bathroom and call someone—the police? And say what? That a helicopter with an RV attached to it had landed by our cabin and I was afraid that we were being overrun by aliens or cannibals? My curiosity got the better of me and I walked outside and into the RV. There was a gliding couch in the first room, so I sat down on it, and shortly I was joined by a slim middle-aged woman with dark hair, wearing a bathrobe. She smiled and sat down beside me and began to speak with an eastern European accent. “Are you Russian?” I asked. “Yes.” “I know some Russian people who go to our church, we are Orthodox,” I answered, nervously. “Yes, I know,” she said, with a creepy smile. That’s when I wanted to run screaming through the woods hoping to find a place where my cell phone would work. And then I woke up.

funny-flying-rv

 

Stephen King material? Maybe. I know I won’t be writing it… just recalling it briefly here creeps me out. Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep is about a group of people in RVs called “The True Knot,” quasi-immortal beings, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. No way I could read this—it would not be good for my mental health. But on the web site for the book, I read these words:

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

Whether you interpret your dreams using Jungian techniques, run from them, or ignore them (I know people who fit into each of these categories) I believe there’s something to be said for what happens to us in that dream-state of our subconscious just before waking. But instead of trying to apply it to my life today, I wanted to get this morning’s dream out of my head, and so I hope to do so by writing about it here. I was just glad the sun was shining when I woke from what was surely about to become a full-blown nightmare. (I had lots of nightmares, and even walked in my sleep as a child.) So now it’s time to turn my thoughts to happier things—and get this dark stuff out of my head. Running errands on this beautiful morning will help.

I hope everyone has a happy week, free from nightmares, unless you’re a Stephen King fan.

Quadfecta!

Today I’m feeling incredibly blessed. Yesterday morning I signed a contract for my novel, Cherry Bomb! My publisher is Joe Lee at Dogwood Press in Brandon, Mississippi. Not only is Joe a publisher, he’s a journalist, author, and editor. He has guided me through the manuscript with great care and understanding and I’m thrilled with the book it is becoming.

beer pongSo why “quadfecta”? I was checking to be sure that’s the word I’m looking for when I came upon this hilarious definition:

A legendary beer pong shot that lands on the tops of four cups simultaneously. Considered the rarest shot in the game, topping even the trifecta 2-cup knockover-and-sink, and simultaneous 6-cup game-ending double bounce-in. Counts as 4 cups and has never happened in recorded history of the game, despite being theoretically possible.

Okay, so this isn’t about beer pong, but it’s about my publishing news, which now includes 4 book deals!

Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (eLectio Publishing, February 2017) is a collection of essays culled from sixty posts covering almost a decade of long-distance caregiving for my mother, who died from Alzheikmer’s this past May. The book will show that the tangles and plaques aren’t only in our brains, but often in our relationships.

A Second Blooming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017) is also a collection of essays, but this time I’m the editor. Twenty women authors write about second bloomings in their lives. For some it’s second marriages, or second careers. Others write about physical or mental trauma, loss of a loved one, incarceration, rape, and a difficult journey to sobriety.

Cherry Bomb (Dogwood Press, October 2017) is my novel. Cherry Bomb chronicles the lives and suffering of three women whose fates are unexpectedly intertwined: MARE, a teen graffiti artist emerging from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father and foster parents; ELAINE de KOONING, an Abstract Expressionist artist whose interactions with Mare dredge up painful memories of a shameful past; and SISTER SUSANNAH, an artist and nun whose reclusive tendencies belie her deep connection to the world around her. All three women’s lives converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). I am editing this collection of essays by Southern authors (men and women) writing about their craft. With a Foreword by Alan Lightman and previously published material by Pat Conroy and Lee Smith, the anthology will include over twenty five new essays by some of the South’s best (well-known and lesser-known) writers.

Cassandra and Susan Sq Bks Nov 2016I had a great time celebrating last night with my husband in Oxford. First we toasted my news with martinis on the balcony at the City Grocery Bar. Then we went to the Thacker Mountain Radio show at Off Square Books. It was an awesome show featuring great music and authors Cassandra King (reading from A Lowcountry Heart, a collection of Pat Conroy‘s words on Writing) and George Plasketes. Jim Dees did a great job hosting, as usual, and I was happy to get a copy of his new book, The Statue and the Fury – A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails(Nautilus Press). We had a wonderful time visiting with Cassandra and George and others at the after party, before heading over to the Inn at Ole Miss for a weeknight sleepover.

This afternoon I’m driving back to Memphis with my spirits lifted by time spent with these creative people. And of course, the news of my quadfecta. So here’s a question: If you don’t like beer, can you play with vodka or tequila?
Have a great weekend, everyone!

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