(Photo above: Ellen Morris Prewitt, Kathy Rhodes, Jennifer Horne, me, and Nina Gaby at a “Second Blooming Retreat” in Starkville, Mississippi, March 2019)
In March of 2017, an anthology I edited was published by Mercer University Press. A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. I invited twenty authors to contribute essays, and I’m still incredibly proud of this book. Just last week I heard from Robert Kostuck, letting me know that Allen Mendenhall and Donna Meredith had just sent him a copy of A Second Blooming and asked him to write a review for the Southern Literary Review. Yes. Over three years after its publication. (I’ll post a link when the review is up.) I was thrilled, of course, and immediately looked back at the book, re-reading some of the amazing essays and smiling as I thought about each of these women and wondering how they are doing. (Well, I’m actually in touch with most of them, but I wanted my readers to have a chance to hear from them.)
Checking in during the pandemic
So I sent off an email, asking if they would each take a few minutes to send me a paragraph and a photo, just to let us know what and how they are doing during the pandemic. I heard back from many of them within a few days, so I’m going to share nine of their replies here today. More are coming later, so I’ll put together a second post for next Monday.
Blooming In Place
As I looked back through the book, I remembered that I had titled one of the sections of the book “Blooming in Place.” And that’s exactly what all of these women are doing right now. They are blooming . . . in Texas, Vermont, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. Let’s see what they’ve been up to!
A Mask of Words
My sister-in-law, Kathy Conroy Harvey, spent days making hundreds of masks for healthcare workers— then she surprised me by fashioning one for me, a mask made of words. When I have to go out and put on my “mask of words,” I’m reminded of the power of story in our lives, and how this time of enforced solitude can be a valuable time of reflection on the stories that matter most. It certainly has been for me. This is a time when our universal stories of family and friendship, sacrifice and survival, love and loss, can unite us in a way nothing else can. That thought gives me strength, and keeps me going.—Cassandra King
Divine Season of Pause
The biggest change for me is that my guy is now working from home with me. It’s been delightful. We work within two feet of each other all day, every day, and we haven’t once gotten on each other’s nerves. I think that’s a good test for a healthy relationship, and I’m dreading the day he has to go back to his downtown office. (Our dog and cat enjoy the extra time with him too!) We’ve also been taking lots of long walks and spending beautiful sunny days working in the yard and making the most of this divine season of pause. At night we cook dinner together, then we read or Netflix. Unorthodox was phenomenal! And Self Made was inspiring as well. Sending prayers for everyone to stay well and to find the financial security they need until the world starts to spin again.—Julie Cantrell
The Walker Revisited
It’s ironic that my essay in A SECOND BLOOMING was about my descent into and out of a double hip replacement, and in this time of coronavirus my husband’s hip replacement left me sitting alone in the early-morning dark of a small rural hospital parking lot, my phone clutched in my hand, waiting for news on what had caused his paralyzing pain. An x-ray showed the hip had dislocated, but Tom’s surgeon did not want him returning to the hospital in New Orleans—the coronavirus eruption made it too dangerous. So, in a move right out of M*A*S*H, the surgeon talked the ER doc through a reduction over the phone. They put my love to sleep and wrestled his hip back in place. The ER doc had never done the procedure before. She has now. The reduction gave him, and me, immediate relief. Because of this, it has only been within the last week or so that I have been able to pick up my writing. Though my agent is waiting for revisions to my mystery, HARBORING EVIL, I’m having trouble imagining a time when editors will again be acquiring manuscripts and readers will again be wanting to hear about newly-released books. Yet, I am revising in faith, grateful to neighbors who have helped us through this difficult time, searching for ways to help those who depend on our support, and hoping that this, too, will pass—Ellen Morris Prewitt
Online Streaming From a Fainting Couch
When I start to slide into terror I bring forth my mantra-“Back the f**k up, Nina. Just back the f**k up. Right now, in this moment, everything is OK.” And it is OK. More or less. I can do my job as a psychiatric nurse practitioner over tele-medicine. I’m a writer, so no excuse for not writing, except I can’t seem to make any headway on the bigger work-in-progress so I jot lots of smaller things and have published three of them. I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t be spending my 70th birthday under a waterfall in Costa Rica or preparing for an upcoming art exhibit at a residency. But I refuse to stay stuck. I will be seventy four years old when I have to apply for the renewal of my nurse practitioner license. I will need to have accrued 150 “CEU’s” or qualified continuing education credits. SO here I am streaming the Advanced Psychopharmacology Conference from Harvard when the in person one was cancelled. Boston was going to be glorious, my daughter was just part of a team opening a unique restaurant just minutes away from the Fairmont Copley where the conference is held every year, I had been invited to participate in a reading at Wellesley that week and had every minute planned. Instead I cozied up on my fainting couch and attended from home. My next group of CEU’s will be an online class so I can review lab interpretations. 6.1 credits. You know how people plant trees as a way to believe in the future? Well, I’m stocking up on continuing ed and staying right here in the moment.—Nina Gaby
Walking, Legos, and Reading
You asked for an update on how we are doing during the pandemic.
These photos show my main activities. Walking, Legos, and reading. Also we are having big family dinners!—Beth Ann Fennelly
Hope Comes With the Blooming
I live alone. I’m an introvert. I thrive on isolation. Is it already three o’clock? I seem to say this every afternoon. What have I done today? New routine: start off with a cup of coffee and CNN for the latest COVID numbers. The dog jumps in my lap, sleeps, and I feel her warmth against my legs, the rise, rattle, and fall of her breathing, and I’m at peace. I close my eyes against new virus developments: people with HBP on ACE inhibitors are at high risk (that’s me!), the virus is carried on the soles of our shoes, it’s possible to breathe in the virus from someone’s slipstream, it’s a cytokine storm. It hits me: Someone in my family could die. And what will happen to my dog if it’s me? My heart pounds. My medic son says I need propranolol to ease the anxiety. I go outdoors and check for new blooms on the irises. The white William Faulkner flowers, bulbs collected from Rowan Oak during a thinning, came first. Then the pale yellows, purple and golds, peaches. With the second cup of coffee, I go to my laptop on the dining room table. Why don’t I go upstairs to my office—big desk, brand new computer, two monitors, double windows looking out at the cherry tree? I need change.
The dark yellow irises bloomed yesterday. Where are the beautiful purple and whites? Did they die? I’m someone who can stay on task, set a goal, meet it. Maybe not during a pandemic. I walk the dog, watch the woods green up with spring, admire wildflowers, listen to birdsong, and hope comes in the awakening. Novel edits are progressing, but I can’t focus enough to write a synopsis. My brain scrambles from one thing to the next, can’t complete a task. Mind wandering, fixation on threats to survival, and fear of the unknown are daily realities. I get up, walk to the kitchen, stop, and watch a clump of dog hair and dust slide across the floor from the wind of my movement. I should vacuum. My grandmother’s irises now bloom. I transplanted them years ago from Hardy Hill—land that has been in my family for one hundred seventy years . . . and eight wars producing veterans and heroes. These purple lovelies have seen five generations. They will see another. Hope comes with the blooming.—Kathy Rhodes
A Listening Phase
It’s really hard to characterize this from the inside–that will have to come after, I think, but I can tell you a few things I’ve been doing (and not doing). After two weeks of pandemic alarm on the evening news that just raised my anxiety levels, I gave that up and now read the Tuscaloosa News and the NYT and listen to NPR for news. I had been doing tai chi once or twice a week, but now I do it every day while my husband is watching the evening news. A good substitution! I’ve been disappointed at so many cancelled spring literary events and really miss seeing my friends around the state, some of whom I may only see once a year at the book festival or some other event. I’m grateful, however, to have a husband I can talk books with, walk, garden, and eat and cook with. I’m also grateful I live in a place where I can go outdoors easily and enjoy the beauty of nature, which sustains me.
I’m trying not to project myself too far into the future but learning (a little!) to focus more on what’s good in the present. I feel for the pain so many are going through, but I am trying to concentrate on what I as one person can do to help: staying home, contributing to the food bank, keeping up with friends who need contact. Having completed a major project recently, I am “lying fallow” for the moment and just doing what appeals to me, in reading, writing, art, gardening, organizing. This feels like a listening phase, rather than a talking one.—Jennifer Horne
Live in the Moment . . . and be Full of Love
In response to your question it has been over a year since I’ve been inclined or able to write anything at all. Even the pages of my journal remain blank. However, on receiving your request I went back to the pages I’d written in A Second Blooming, which I found rather pedantic, yet they still, (now in my 86th year), held the truth of what I felt/believed and still hold true. However, at this moment I feel, nay I know, that a cycle of my wonderful life is drawing to a close. Husband John’s life is diminishing. I, in the restrictions of the pandemic, am his sole caregiver and truly grateful that I am strong enough to handle this, very new to me, personal assignment. Admittedly in those secret moments of fatigue and frustration I take pause. But then I realize though I feel healthy and relatively flexible, it is—I first started to write a testing, but realized it is—a natural turn in life’s cycle to show me how important it is to live in the moment, be grateful for all that I have, and have had, and be with love —not concerned as to what comes next or the limitations of what is. If it’s the end of life, both his and mine in this dimension—let it be full of love.—Sally Palmer Thomason
Beyond the Bloom
I’m somewhere beyond the bloom, and do not know what the future holds. The past year has been full of sadness for me. Shortly after retiring to help me in our shop in New Orleans, my sweet husband was diagnosed with cancer. I closed the shop in 2018 to care for him. He died in 2019. Therapists and advisors say “make no major decisions for the first year” after a spouse dies; however, my husband died in our little shotgun-style house and I felt the world closing in on me. I packed up everything, sold the house, and moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I am glad I did. I have moved to paradise.
While hanging art in my new home, I fell off a ladder and injured my hip. During treatment for this, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After a thyroidectomy, docs found the mass was not cancer after all. Recovering from these two events forced me to slow down, be still, and know that all will be well. Then Covid 19 appeared and I’ve been feeling very alone in my isolation. The truth is, I am alone. And that’s ok. I spend my days walking on the beach, painting and creating, relishing the sweet memories that I have of my 20 year marriage to my sweetheart, enjoying my full recovery from illness, and being thankful.—Emma French Connolly
More blooming coming next week
I hope you enjoyed hearing from these amazing women. Come back next Monday for a second installment!