And now, the end is near

It is the last day of an incredibly difficult year. When I started this blog, I had no idea what this year would hold for me. I anticipated a year of challenge with work – and it has been that – and I hoped for a year of growth with my art.

When I look back on 2011, I think I will remember it as the year that I finally had to Grow Up.

My mother’s health took a serious down-turn in May. She went in for what we thought would be a straight-forward knee replacement. Four days after that surgery, she had a heart attack and nearly died.

I have been called home at least four times since then, each time sure that death was imminent.

During the crisis in May, Honey’s sister was scheduled to be married on the other side of our home state. We spent days crisscrossing that state, trying to meet the obligations of both families. Trying to remember Life even in Death’s shadow.

I spent the summer and fall calling every day for updates, and dreaded the ringing of my phone.

My poor Mother’s body has endured so much this year.

Earlier this month, I received a phone call from my aunt telling me that Mama’s kidneys are failing her, and that she is not a candidate for dialysis. The diagnosis at the time made it sound like we might be talking a matter of days. No more than a few weeks.

So I went home early for Christmas. I am so fortunate that I have a job that allows me to take work with me, and bosses who understood that I had to put my mother first. I am blessed that Honey’s bosses were equally understanding.

We spent two weeks caring for my mother, first in the hospital, and then at home. After talking with doctors and specialists, it became clear that dialysis might not be necessary, and would certainly not prolong her life either way. We elected to take her home under Hospice care. We decorated for Christmas. We counted the sodium in her food and limited her liquids. She became stronger and her spirits improved. I fell even more in love with Honey than I have been. She is a better daughter-in-law than anyone could ever imagine having, and a better spouse than I could have dreamed of. She was as tender with my mother as I was, and kept better humor. It made my heart clench in all the best ways, to hear them laughing together. I did not take that sound or that moment for granted.

I dealt with my father’s grief and denial as best I could. He is doing the best he can, which unfortunately is not always enough. I try to remind my aunt, who is carrying a great deal of the burden involved in keeping their lives going, that he is trying.

I have become the adult in my family. Roles have reversed in so many ways. My mind reels with this.

There are times when I realize that the moment I am in is a poem, and that I should write it. Sometimes, the wound is too fresh. More often than not, my hands have been too occupied with washing my mother’s skin, or her dishes, or helping her stand up.

But yes, there is so much poetry in all of this.

I dread this new year as I have never dreaded one before. It is hard for me to anticipate it as anything less than a harder year than this one has been. And yet, I have to look up and out in order to keep going. I must keep going.

So as I enter this new year, as I leave this old year, I have some very simple hopes. I hope that my Mama continues to strengthen, and will be able to have some enjoyment and happiness in the time she has left. I hope that she has more time than we fear she does. I hope that my Daddy learns to find patience and fortitude, and that he doesn’t give up. I hope that I will have the strength to do this – all of this. I hope that I can keep some of the plates of my normal life spinning. And I hope to continue to see the poetry, and to find a few moments to write it down.

May we all find the simple blessings that wait for us, and see the beauty in the pain as well as the joy.

Happy New Year.

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Gearing up for NaNo and tying up loose ends

In October 2009, I decided that I would spend the month of November writing a novel. Well, technically, a novella, but hey 50,000 is daunting whatever you call it.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so dubbed by a group of 21 people in 1999 who decided that writing a novel in a month would be a good way to impress people.* NaNo has grown a lot since then, with well over 200,000 people participating in 2010.

I decided that I was going to do this on my own. Honey is a writer, but didn’t seem to be overly interested in participating, so while I stayed up late on Halloween night in order to start writing at the stroke of midnight, she went to sleep. The next day, I went to my first write-in** alone. I didn’t expect to meet anyone or make friends. This was about FINALLY getting my novel completed so that I could move on with my life.

I had so much fun that Honey signed up and started writing within a couple of days of the start. The people we ended up writing with every Wednesday night became our best friends.

This year, I’m taking up the reins of co-ML*** for the Charleston region. We’re already planning writing workshops and presentations, write-ins and parties. While writing is certainly usually a solitary practice, it doesn’t have to be during NaNo. It can be a very social, competitive process, and we’re ready for it.

I’ve been thinking about the EVENT that is NaNo, but I haven’t given much thought to what I’m actually going to write yet. I’m STILL completing the novel I was working on in 2009. Last year, I managed to slog my way to just over 50K with another novel, but I hated the whole process. Even though I LOVED the subject matter and the concept for the 2010 novel, I wasn’t done with the first one. It was eating my brain.

So I’m going to try to complete the 2009 novel before NaNo begins. In 63 days. Now, that’s twice what I get during NaNo, and I figure I only have to write another 30,000 words. For some reason, though, this is tying me up in knots. I think it’s because I’ve carried this story around with me for years (YEARS, people), and I am not quite ready to let it go.

But go it must. The 2010 novel started a series that I want to write, that I’m passionate about writing. The series is set in 18th century America/Europe, and the 2009 novel is modern day Charleston. They don’t mix well.

So wish me luck. I’m embarking on a quest to write a measly 476 words a day, which should be a good warm-up for the 1667 a day minimum to complete this year’s NaNo.

Let the writing begin!

*Impress people = Convince people to date/sleep with them. Hey, they were young and horny.

**Write-in = A mostly informal gathering of Wrimos.**** We drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of bagels, and compete with each other to see who can write the most words during sprints that we like to call Word Wars. Games and prizes are involved. It’s a good time.

***ML=Municipal Liaison. MLs are responsible for coordinating the NaNo events in a region, and generally offering pep talks and support for other Wrimos in their area. Charleston’s region has really grown – from approximately a dozen active participants in 2008 to over 300 in 2010.

****Wrimo = A NaNo participant. There’s a LOT of lingo to learn, but it’s not hard. Really.

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A little independence and cash money are dangerous things

Happy Fifth of July, everyone. I hope you all still have your fingers and your toes attached to the appropriate appendages, and not floating in a jar of formaldehyde next to your bed.

I spent most of the holiday weekend vegetating on my sofa while watching seasons 4 and 5 of “Bones,” and playing with my new toy. It was an impulse buy – which is NOT my usual modus operandi. I normally research every purchase above $5.00, and plan for it well in advance. I’m still a bit stunned that I actually have this in my hot little hands.

I TOTALLY bought it for business.  ::nods::

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Getting on my soapbox: Marriage Equality

Right now in New York, the government is standing on the cusp of a decision on whether or not to make same-sex marriage legal in that state. Honey and I live over a thousand miles away, in a state that is so red that the color reflects off the necks of most of the natives. I can say that, because I’m from good Redneck stock. I’m a southern girl, and I still live in a part of the world where decisions in favor of same-sex marriage are likely not going to happen without some serious prodding from the national government.

I live in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. I live about 9 miles from the place where the citizens of South Carolina gave the metaphorical finger to the United States government that started the Civil War.

South Carolinians, and southerners in general, still don’t cotton to being told what to do or believe. The phrase “states’ rights” is still uttered here on a regular basis.

There is a projection to the world that South Carolinians are universally conservative, Church-going, Bible-thumping Gamecock and Clemson Tiger fans. We aren’t all cut to that image.

The local and state government are a reflection of that projection. Anyone who doesn’t fit into that mold doesn’t have much of a voice in our government.

As a person who has lived with the consequences of residence in a state that has officially defined marriage as only between one man and one woman, I can say that I am told that what I do and what I believe are wrong by the politicians who are paid with my tax dollars. I am not represented at all in my government. Gay rights are not a part of the discussion in the state house in Columbia.

I’m a sweet tea drinking, big hat wearing, southern drawl speakin’ southern girl. I say “Yes ma’am” and “No sir” automatically, because I was raised to be polite. I feel like I’m in a foreign land when I get anywhere near the Mason-Dixon line. I don’t “look gay.” I don’t generally wave the Rainbow flag in my daily life. Not because I’m ashamed, but because my sexuality is a small part of my life. Just like it is for most normal, professional adults.

But I’m a southern girl who has considered traveling to parts north of here to marry the person I love. I’ve even considered, ever so briefly, moving to areas that are more tolerant of the fact that, one day, the perfect person told me that I was loved, and I was open-minded enough to listen, and open-hearted enough to know a gift when I got it.

Here’s the thing, though – I don’t cotton to being told what I can do or believe, just like most southerners I know. I don’t want to have to move somewhere that doesn’t feel like home in order to be accepted for who I am and who I love. I don’t really want my marriage certificate to bear another state’s seal.

So I’m praying that the sparks being lit in other parts of the country and the world will carry, and that someday they might just light a fire for equality here at home. It’s happened with other “impossible” causes in this state, and throughout the south. Interracial marriage was officially illegal in South Carolina until 1998. Things may change more slowly here than they do in other places, but I know that change is possible.

Until then, I’m living my life, just as I have for the last fifteen years. Nearly twelve years ago, I stood under an ancient tree with Honey, both of us in big white dresses, and made her some promises. At that time, I thought that legal same-sex marriage in the United States couldn’t happen in our lifetimes, but I still wanted to say those words to her. I have hope, because the world has changed a lot in these twelve years. I know that change is possible. I know that hearts and minds can be changed.

Today, I’m watching the news from New York, and later this week I hope to be cheering for a victory for couples who live in that state. I hope that there will be many happy weddings celebrated there soon.

Until then, I’ll be sipping my tea and holding her hand, because this is my life, and I’m going to live it. In happiness.

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yes i said yes i will Yes

I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. ~ Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy, “Ulysees”

I have always loved Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy, the last lines from the colossus that is “Ulysees.” For me it was always poetry, the firefly moment of passion before consummation. I have felt this emotion, thought these thoughts. I have been young and full of hope and hunger. Now that I am older, I understand clearly the longing for youth’s fire and abandon expressed in the tone of some of the rest of the last eight rambling sentences of the novel.

A couple of days ago, over on the Asiagoans blog, I lamented my lack of energy and drive. I felt bereft of any creativity. My brain felt like it had melted into pea soup.

I have these goals up on my whiteboard, and I stare at them every day. I wrote them down because they are more than goals – they are my fondest hope for myself. They represent What I Want To Be When I Grow Up. Some days, they seem to be too small, and others, they seem impossible. Each day, I sit here and look at them and chew my lip, trying to gauge where I am on that spectrum.

Today – they seem do-able. Today, I can see my way. Today, I can honestly say that I had at least 7 hours of sleep last night and didn’t eat crap yesterday. Today, I’m making my stand as a writer. Today, I’m going to live the dream, rather than just talk about it.

Today, in honor of Molly Bloom and in celebration of Bloomsday, I’m saying, “Yes, I can create, yes, oh  yes I can write. Yes I am a poet and a novelist. Yes, I have something to say. Yes, I am going to live my dream, in spite of all of the rest of the crap that life throws at me. Yes, I will share my heart. Yes I said yes I WILL. Yes.”

YES.

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I promise, it’s not laziness that keeps me from you

It’s life. I’m not offering excuses.

I have managed to keep up with most of my weekly commitment to post at the Asiagoans blog, so if you’re curious about what’s been going on with me since late April, you’re welcome to check my posts out here.

Moving right along.

If you check out the Asiagoans blog, you’ll see that my last post was about some writing goals that I’ve made for myself. I wish that I could say that I’m feeling pumped up and energized now that I have some solid marks to hit. But honestly, I feel a lot like that guy to the left.

It’s been over a year since I had a vacation, or a even a long weekend away. In that time, I’ve moved through three jobs with no time off in-between. There have been family events and family crises. I feel like I’ve been trapped in one long Groundhog Day of meeting the expectations of others. Hell, I even dreamed about it all night last night. I almost never feel truly rested.

So why am I putting more pressure on myself NOW?

Because if I don’t, I won’t ever achieve what I want with this writing life. I will always be tired and I will always have other things pulling me away from the computer. If I don’t create some structure for myself, this thing that I love and that I have wanted for my whole life will never be real. It’s worth being a little more tired and a little more drained.

But damn, I could sure use a writer’s retreat in the sunshine, beside a lazy river, with a Pina Colada close by.

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Deliver me in a black-winged bird

When I think of heaven(Deliver me in a black-winged bird)
I think of flying down into a sea of pens and feathers
and all other instruments of faith and sex and God
In the belly of a black-winged bird  – Counting Crows, “Rain King”*

For many years, indeed for most of my life, I associated writing with pain. I saw it as an outlet, a method of slitting the wrists of my anger and hurt and letting all of the poison in my system out on the page. I believed that in order to be a great writer, I had to bleed words. I had no concept of writing as a joyful act.

I wrote some beautiful and lyrical poems and prose during that time in my life. When I take it out to read it, I ache. Readers would too, in all the right ways. I never had a problem with tapping the root of the Tree of Evil to get what I wanted.

The side effect of this method of writing, though, is the necessity of being in a state of anger, or hurt, and generally living on the lip of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. I don’t look emo, but I was emo way before it was cool. I believed that I couldn’t write my stories if I was happy. I struggled with a need to treat depression and anxiety in order to survive as a person, and a profound resistance to that change because I believed that I would lose my ability to write.

Mama, why am I so alone?
I can’t go outside
I’m scared I might not make it home
I’m alive but I’m sinking in
If there’s anyone at home at your place
Why don’t you invite me in
Don’t try to bleed me
I’ve been there before and I deserve a little more

I finally reached a point when I was so unhappy, so near allowing myself to hit the re-set button on life, that I decided that I was willing to give up writing if it would mean that I could keep on living, that I could get up and face every day with something other than unhappiness in my chest.

I thought that the price of my life was a sacrifice of my art.

For a while, I let myself believe that there were other dreams to pursue. But inside, there was always the little girl who loved writing stories on her mom’s IBM Selectric typewriter, and that little girl was always asking me, “When can we write again?”

Hey, I only want the same as anyone
Henderson is waiting for the sun
Oh, it seems night endlessly begins and ends
After all the dreaming I come home again…

So I tried writing in happiness. And here’s where I was surprised, because that emotion poured forth on the page, too. For the first time since I was a very small girl, I was able to write stories and poems of hope and joy. I could see that the Tree of Evil had another side after all, and I tapped into that root of happiness.

This discovery fed my WHOLE life, not just my writing life. I saw that light and shadow really could live inside one person, reside side by side, and feed my art.

When I think of heaven (Deliver me in a black-winged bird)
I think of dying Lay me down in a field of flame and heather
Render up my body into the burning heart of God in the belly of a black-winged bird
Don’t try to bleed me
I’ve been here before and I deserve a little more

I don’t have to bleed for my art, at least not most of the time. I have gone that route, learned the pitfalls of it. I can draw maps through the minefield of depression-based writing, and manage to walk through it rather than becoming mired in the emotion. The same goes for joy. I learned that I deserved more out of life, and more out of expressing myself through writing, than I was getting living in that deep well of doubt and fear. It has enabled me to write playful scenes, and scenes of trust and friendship, that I would have never been able to touch before. They balance out the scenes of terror and anger, making my characters more true to life. My characters can reflect the truth of MY experiences, in all the complexity of a real life fully lived.

*This song is one of my favorites, and reflects much of how I feel about creativity and life and death. I think Adam Duritz, the writer of this song and the lead singer of Counting Crows, has a crazy sexy, lickable brain and I bow to his ability to express so much in a few words. From most accounts of his life, it’s obvious he’s walked some dark roads too, but that he’s always looking for that light.


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