Sunday, December 10, 2023

on ghosts

Yesterday was a strange day for me. I drove to Bangor to attend my first ever book fair as a writer, sitting behind a table, talking to people about my book. I don't know what I was thinking when I signed up. Maybe that I would be a different person, one who is actually pretty okay at talking to strangers, which I am not. I've never been. I remember one of my first times in New York, my friend David threw a party at his apartment so I could meet all of his friends and what not. I think I lasted 45 minutes before I disappeared into a dark room to watch movies, spending half the time trying to will myself back into the party and the other half of the time asleep. The party lasted a long time. I have no idea what happened.

Yesterday's book fair was kind of like that, except the only room to hide in was the author's break room, and it was full of delightful writers who were wonderful at speaking to others, so it wasn't really the same as a dark room to watch movies. I spent most of my day at my table, writing in my journal. It was at the book fair that I really started working on my new writing project. I don't know if that sounds more romantic than it actually was. 

If you went to undergrad or grad school with me, you know I read books in public places to avoid talking to people. Writing in my journal was equal to that. I was on the third floor of the library, under very bright lights, next to a very kind author who gave me tips on how to do the selling part of all of this. 

I left the book fair having sold a few books and a plan on a post-it note for how to better handle the weird space of the book fair. Have you ever read Kafka's "The Hunger Artist"? It sounds dramatic, but it felt like that. Maybe I wasn't the Hunger Artist himself, but I was definitely part of the show, and I did not like it. I want to learn to like it though, or at least make friends with other writers in the area, so it isn't so much of being a stranger.

Anyway, I left the book fair with:

  • having sold a few books
  • a plan on a post-it note (I've already sent an email to my local library, ordered businesses cards with QR codes, and a large matted poster of the book cover-- I am heeding all advice)
  • and a few pages of writing about the house I grew up in
When I spent the two or so hours writing at the book fair, I stayed on topic, but my mind wandered through the space of all these old memories. I remembered Bunky and JR, Fran and Candy. The pink trailer, the burned down walls, the dog house castles around the yard. The swamp and skinned rattle snakes, the legs of my crib in bowls of water to keep away the ants. I wandered the space, paced the rooms in my mind, all while in this incredibly uncomfortable physical space of the book fair. 

At the end of the day, the roads were bad. The state police closed the interstate between Bangor and home. I drove the state roads home, which ended up being the very, very, very best part of my day. It was like driving through a silent snow globe, through all those small towns covered in snow. If you grew up in Florida and closed your eyes, imagining what Christmas in New England would look like, it was just like that. The road took me all the way to my front door, which seemed unbelievable. 

I should have know all these remarkably disparate spaces would come to something, and here it is. A dream:

I was at a baseball game with the cheerleaders. It was summertime-- everything was green and gold and humid. We were in an open-air stadium with metal bleachers and an awning. The cheerleaders were spread throughout the stands. I called for the "Hello" cheer twice, but there were so many people in the stands, munching popcorn and excited to be there, that it was too loud to hear anything. We decided to leave the stands and head down to the field. I walked down the aluminum stairs and waited at the pass to get to the field. There were a lot of people still coming into the stands. That's when I saw my dad. He was in the sunshine, about to come into the shade of the stands where I was. He was wearing one of those old Clanton Welding t-shirts that my mom made when he first took over the shop. The writing on the shirt was gold-stitched and slightly crooked. His face was turned away from me, but I knew he was smiling. He had a big belly and really long, golden brown hair. He was holding a little blonde baby. I was stunned. I reached out to touch his shoulder, but right when I did, I realized it wasn't him. It was a thin man with short, thin hair. He was wearing a black shirt. It was like right when my dad left the sunshine, he wasn't there anymore.

That was the end of the dream. When I woke up this morning, I read what I wrote yesterday. I should probably come to expect these visits in my dreams because I am now letting my mind go into rooms I've pretended weren't there. Its like the old stories of the old families who only lived in one-room of a castle. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

on writing

Ever since I was a little kid, there has been a distinct separation between the inside and the outside. And at some point the world of the inside and the world of the outside switched places. 

The outside used to be the dark parts. The outside was things that happened, most of which I did not have language for. The things on the inside were arts and crafts, my friends and pets, girl scouts, making up dances. On the inside, I was all kittens and rainbows. 

Even when i was a kid, I knew there were shadows at the edges of things, but I tried to ignore them. It's like when you were little, and you knew there was a monster in your bedroom, but you were too scared to move. So you pulled the blanket over your head and tried to be so, so still. That totally works for the monsters that aren't really there, but it never, ever works for the ones that are. Even if the inside and outside have switched places, the monster is still the same. 

Ever since first grade, the bridge between the inside and the outside was writing. When I was small and I didn't have the language for my experiences, I wrote scary stories about camp outs. I wrote about haunted houses. things like that. 

But when I got a little older, and I had the language for my experiences, everything changed. The things that happened on the outside were now on the inside. I stopped writing stories and started hiding everything in the abstract space of poetry. And the weird thing about poetry-- at least the thing I think is weird about poetry-- is that it can pull a person in and push them away at the same time. It mirrors the dichotomy of the inside and the outside. 

Writing is the expression of the outside pulled in. It is a way to name, to braid the parts that unraveled. To tell the story of what it looks like to be in those dangerous spaces when you have nothing but a blanket to pull over your head. 

This expression is safer-- for me -- in poetry. Fiction demands that a writer be brave. In poetry, you can "tell the truth but tell it slant," just like Dickinson said. But that's transparent in fiction. 

Whenever anyone talks to me about The Swallows, I instantly get weird. I don't do it on purpose, but the book itself feels like I accidentally said all of the things I'm most afraid of. 

When I wrote the book, my main goal was to get Pearl through it. To see her and Benny through to the other side, as safe as I could make that happen. It was more than I had ever done for any of the other heroines I had ever written into my stories. If you've read my other stuff, you know this. My girls never get through anything. They're always devoured by the circumstances of their poverty, of their family lines, of the things that pushed them out onto the road.

I thought Pearl was different, and in a lot of ways she is. She is probably a fuller version of who is meant to be there. 

I finished The Swallows last Thanksgiving. I remember waking up at 3 am to write and being done with it. I didn't write for a year. and even now, I don't feel like a writer. I'm in this strange place where I'm collecting ideas, but I haven't been able to put them anywhere. Part of it, of course, is the way I feel I am bulling though the happenings of my life. My best quality is my ability to recover and keep going. I'm not sure if this is a quality of youth or an actual part of my personality. I will know soon enough.

One year to the day that I stopped writing, I started journaling again. I think the journaling is helping me to put down some things I haven't wanted to write about, but none of it is creative. Not even close. 

Tim thinks I put the idea of being a writer on the mantel and look at it, like I never see it as a part of who I am. That might be true. It's that dichotomy. He says that I need to write about myself. He says I need to write about my childhood, growing up, those kinds of things. 

I don't know. He's probably right. For a while I thought he wasn't. But after avoiding writing for a year and finally coming back to it, I am seeing that I am already writing about it, and it is probably what I am supposed to do. Right now, I am reading this really wonderful book called The Playwright's Guidebook, and Spencer has this part at the start about how some playwrights he has worked with have lost their minds over working on a play they were forcing. They were writing the thing they wanted to write and avoiding the thing they needed to write.

Maybe the need comes to nothing. But you have to get through the need in order to write the want. 

I guess, in the end, Tim is probably right. I need to write it out, even if it means nothing. 

However, tonight I came up with an idea on how I am going to do this. And I think it is the structure and strangeness I need to balance out the dark parts and the beautiful ones. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


 I feel really sad tonight. its always there, it just crashes back and forth, depending if I can turn the sadness inside or not. when I have to think about other people so much, its easy to turn it inside, to feel it knocking around in my brain and heart, sinking into my belly. it's easier to focus on other people, other problems. thats always been easier for me. I don't know. my best, most full-bellied memories of my family are from when i was a kid, and we were so poor, and he was the easiest person to talk to. if I were to wish anything were different, I'd have to wish he were different and me too, and I don't wish that. If I could wish anything, I'd be in my dad's truck at the bus stop in seventh grade, and he'd be telling me how everything is going to be okay, and I'd reluctantly believe him.

DECEMBER 1, 1960 – AUGUST 14, 2022

 My dad hated rainy days. He liked to be busy and outside and rainy days ruined that. On rainy days, business was slow and it was hard to work. And even before the welding shop, he always had jobs that the rain made worse or impossible. I love rainy days. Even now, when I close my eyes and picture the rain in Florida, its always through my parent's living room windows. The big oak trees and vibrant greens. The sound of my dad's truck coming up the drive. The metal slam of the old Chevy's door. Rainy days were the best because dad came home early from work. We would watch TV and laugh, he'd tell funny stories. When I was in college, he'd come home early and we'd drink coffee and I'd try to remember the distinct way he said things. Try to catalog his phrases in my mind. No one said things in the same way he did. No one laughed like him. No one I've ever met was wholly himself like my dad was. When something strange happens, or someone is doing something bizarre, its always my dad's commentary that pops into my head. Two of the most important things I learned from dad are (1) always be yourself. My dad was never, ever like the other kids' dads, and he never tried to be anything different, and (2) you only need one good friend for life and you can get through anything. I miss him so much and remember so much, that I never know what memory is going to come next and how painful it will be. I love you dad and I miss you.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Sunday, January 10, 2021

on opinion

There are two lines of interaction that I really do not tolerate, not tolerate in as much as I do not engage and I pretty much leave the room in every way possible. These two lines are:

1. When opinion is presented as a golden rule, and

2. Attack on someone's mental abilities or rationality.

The first is easy to understand and needs no explanation. For examples of the second, I will use the names Jane and Mary. Easy examples of the second are when  Jane tells Mary that she is  crazy or stupid. A more complex example of this is when Jane tells others that Mary is crazy. Further examples of the complexity of the second is Jane telling others that Mary is crazy while also engaging with Mary, consistently hen pecking her with claims that she is crazy. 

On there own, examples of the second are a kind of abuse. If Jane has a considerable place in Mary's life, the second line of interaction can severely alter Mary's perspective of herself and how she sees the world. It can hinder Mary's ability to trust herself and how she sees her life. In day-to-day life, Mary would be told to separate herself from Jane. Mary would be told to set boundaries and limit Jane's influence. 

However, in the dynamics of our virtual world, this separation is unacceptable.

These two stated lines of interaction are at there worst when they operate in tandem. An example of this is when Jane presents her opinion as a golden rule, and then attacks Mary's mental abilities or rationality when she does not agree. Inside this example, for the most part, others would tell Mary not to engage with Jane, to separate herself. 

But for some reason, when it comes to politics or ethics, Mary is supposed to sit and hear Jane out. It's bizarre. In my actual, day-to-day life, if I find a person is toxic and unreachable, I leave the room. If I feel like there is a black hole in a part of someone that is vital to who I am as a person, I leave the room. Why should I give space to someone who I find toxic and unreachable? This should unapologetically apply to the virtual world as well. If you are going to put your political opinions and ethics in the vast ether of political opinions and ethics, and present those opinions as the golden rule, then you should accept that people are going to leave the room. You should expect that others are not going to stand around your soapbox of opinions, waiting for the opportunity to cheer or damn you.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

old year / new year


I mess up a lot. I have big time anxiety. I constantly make sure my perspective has balance and that it's true and that logic is not too far behind feelings. I'm one of those people who hope and work towards the best of times, but who are also always steeled and prepared for the worst. All this a bummer, I know, and it's definitely not who I've always been-- at least not what I've always lead with, and I probably still don't, but now it's a part of me when it wasn't before. That's what age does. I used to be way more chaotic, when it was just me and I wasn't responsible for anyone else, back when most everyone knew not to count on me and that I'd show up if I did. But being responsible for others changes all that. It makes you care in ways that keep changing and growing more immense. Is this what Salinger was writing about? Have I lost my innocence and now I'm a Catcher in the Rye? Maybe. Most likely. It's the new chasm between youth and not-youth that you don't see when you're on the youth side of things. I've probably spent too much of the last few years regretting the difference in who I was and who I am now. When I was running this morning, I was mulling all this over and realized that there is one thing that 2020 totally made the same though. 2020 made me really good at focusing on (and putting my care into) the things I can control, which seems to be one of those parts of life that kids are inherently good at. I definitely came to it from the angle of necessity instead of just not knowing any differently, but it's a kind of victory. So here's to the end of 2020. I'll be spending the evening drinking Lucky Irishmans with my beau after the babes are snug in their beds, listening to records and telling jokes and totally overwhelmed by all the love and good nature I get to experience everyday with these people I'm lucky enough to live with.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

the need for shelter

I went into 2020 with the idea that fallout was happening, and I just needed to light a candle, stack the canned goods and hug my kids; do some push ups on the concrete floor, run in place and read my kids all their best books in all the best voices I could muster. Then go to the second string and third string stories, bake the cakes and make everything as bright as possible. Turn on the golden lights and imagine they are the sun. Tell stories about that. Sing songs and wash clothes, stay underground and wait. 

Do all this and time will pass. Eventually the quiet will be consistent, the unwanted interferences will stop, there will be no feeling that the Trojan horse is on its way to my doorstep. I just had to wait, wait emphatically. And do it all, do all that waiting and living, as gracefully as possible-- be open with my kids, honest in a way that is bright and clear, but also stay out of the really dark corners, and work to stay away from absolutes-- and all would come through. I'd unlock the door, stick my head out of the shelter, and all would be well, better than I'd left it.

But, as you know, 2020 went along with all this. It leveled the ground, made all exceptions absolutes. We all ended up with the idea that fallout was happening, and all of our fallouts happened concurrently. So there we were: separate mostly, all with the need for a candle and a stack of canned goods, push ups and high knees, and the honest-to-God good work of everyday, of mustering the best face that one can possibly make when right in the middle of chaos and stasis. 

And because of all the shelters we had to build or find, my need for shelter blended right in, and that was just fine. The physical space of 2020 and the personal space of the individual in 2020 kept together, and they kept to themselves. That's how self preservation happens, I think. That small space between shelter and God forbid is where we make our most important decisions. With our chins to our chests and eyes down, we lean into that small space between chaos and stasis and choose based on the parts of ourselves that we often do not consciously understand. It is there, in that space, where it is impossible to communicate the difference between everything and nothing. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

on girls and women

It is 5 am, and a pretty good blizzard is on the way to town. I usually wake up at 5 am, which means Evelyn usually wakes up at 5 am. If I am not up, she kicks me-- slowly-- like she's stretching out her arms and legs-- testing their length and strength before she really gets moving. At 5 am, I usually read for an hour, turn the lamp on beside my bed, pull my sweater up so the full globe of my belly is in the golden light, and I imagine Evelyn inside there, looking around in soft-fuzz wonder, her awareness growing more and more every morning I turn on the golden lamp.

But today is the day after Thanksgiving, and Tim and Langston are still sleeping, Christmas trees lit in the bedrooms, so all the light is kalidoscopic against all the dark. Mornings like this, Evelyn and I usually draw a bath and read for an hour, sometimes emptying the tub half way to warm the water again, my belly a giant island where my book sits. We would usually stay in the bath until Tim wakes up and asks if I want a cup of tea, then we'd climb out and crawl back into bed, back to the golden lamp and stacks of warm blankets, and watch the sunrise through the windows. But this morning, that pretty good blizzard is on the way and will stay here until Sunday; Evelyn is due to arrive in four days, and though she doesn't strike me as a baby who'd be born in a blizzard, I wouldn't fully put it past her. It is also almost the end of the year, so I suppose this morning I thought to write here for the first time in ages, mostly about that. Mostly about Evelyn.

Langston came about like a lightning bolt. Tim and I got married and planned on waiting a few years to have a baby. And I don't know what happened really. I married Tim, and automatically, I saw Langston's face perfectly. I knew Langston was supposed to be there, and then he was. He pounded into the world immediately, all strong legs and long arms. We named him Langston, which means, tall man's town.

The bringing on of Evelyn is very different. We waited for her for years. I mean years and years. In March of this year, I remember being in a beautiful hotel room in Portland, Maine. It was raining and cold, but we could see the ocean. I remember finally giving up the ghost. After the years of waiting for Evelyn and all the medical tests, the months and months of heart-crushing disappointment, I told Tim I couldn't do it anymore. That maybe we could go back to trying after a few months, but that it couldn't be my focus anymore. We decided to stop trying for the year, and for the year, I would put all my focus into writing. That sounded real nice.

And I had no idea that when that absolute decision was finally reached, I was pregnant.

I found out I was pregnant on Good Friday. For a couple weeks, Tim had asked me to take a pregnancy test, and I said no, I said I couldn't take seeing a negative again and that there was no way I was pregnant, even though my belly was soft and I was nauseous all the time. I finally took the test on Good Friday, and it was positive. I still didn't fully believe it. So when I saw my doctor the following week, and I was lying belly-up on the sonogram table, I was scared my belly would be empty.

But there she was. All little and quiet and nine weeks hibernating, waiting for me to come to the door.

Tim will tell you that when I was pregnant with Langston, I not only knew-- weeks before the tests told-- that he was there, but I also knew he was Langston, fully and completely. I like this story. I like to believe I immediately became tapped into that perplexing, psychic aspect of motherhood, being part of the divine Mary, but I am not so sure if that's true. If you would've asked before Evelyn came to town, I would have proudly said, yes, yes, of course. I would've tousled Langston's hair, and he and I would've exchanged the same knowing look we've exchanged since the first moment, in the hospital, when he opened his eyes and looked at me.

But after this year, I think part of my divine Mary was absolute fear. I was terrified of having a little girl because I knew having a little girl would change me in ways I was not ready for.

This is probably going to be the part of all this that's difficult to write, and not just because of the meaning and point, but also because of the language needed.

The thing about being a kid is that we are still not only learning the world, but we are also learning how to translate it. The things that make us happy-- the things we see in the TV sitcoms and on cartoons, the things we read to our brothers and sisters from our Little Golden books-- are easy to understand. We see the same pictures of happiness, hear the same words of happiness, so as kids, we can easily point to those moments and call them happiness. But the dark parts of childhood are far, far more difficult to understand. And the really dark parts, the parts that are singular-- and you're too young to realize you're in an extreme exception and not a rule-- are impossible to translate. The truth is, as a kid, you feel your way through those dark parts. There are no words. There are just colors and feeling.

If those dark parts go on long enough, eventually we learn the words. We've read different books, we've watched different sitcoms, we've overheard the wrong conversations. At this point, when we finally extract the language, it isn't a eureka! moment. It has been too long. Think of how long that shift in consciousness takes. The years that shift in consciousness takes. When you're a kid who goes from color and feeling to full-fledged words, the eureka! moment is the knowledge that you are alone.

I remember the very moment I made it past the colors and feeling and was sunk straight into their meaning. It was right before Christmas. It was dark and after dinner. I was cold and outside, sitting on the wooden swing in my grandparents yard. I didn't have my windbreaker, but I didn't want to go inside. I could see the blue glow of the TV through the curtains of the picture window. I was little and quite, a small blonde mouse, a still stone, hibernating in one spot.

The thing about this, the thing about being a kid and being alone in color and feeling, then finally getting to the language of things, is that the weight was heavy in all those colors, but when the feeling makes its way to words, it is impossible to carry. The real bad part of moving through that though, is the end reasoning: I am alone. There was no one to give my words to. I was nine-years-old. It was almost Christmas. And I really, really wanted a gold necklace for Christmas. But it was the first time I knew the difference between a want and a need. There was something I really needed.

So I talked to God. Did I ever. I begged God. There were so many reasons I could come up with for what was happening.

And if I am completely truthful, I have been stuck in that moment my whole life.

All of me, since then, has still been nine-years-old and without a coat, talking to God from the perspective of a child. As a parent to Langston, I could consciously separate myself so far. I've spent all of Langston's life consciously giving space to our communication and openness, consciously working to parent him outside of my own hang ups, in a lot of ways growing past my own childhood. Before Evelyn, if you would've asked me if this is what I was doing, I am not sure what I would've said.

I think I would point to distance. I would show you the map between Florida and South Dakota, show you the miles, the days it would take to walk. I may have nodded to Tim and Langston. their thick coats and bright eyes, their lopsided smiles and ease. I may have told you the factual bullet points between here and there. Told you I went to college, attained an advanced degree. That I am a teacher, a reader, a parent. Bold nouns as buoys.

But then quiet little Evelyn came to town and everything changed. Evelyn means wished for child. It means little bird or beautiful bird.

The things I learned from being a mother to Langston are easy to define. He made me strong. He made me realize I can do exactly what I say I can do, that I can always find the path, I can love and understand deeply. The things I'm learning from Evelyn, at this point, are  more difficult to define. Evelyn has made me recognize the difference between the woman I am now and the little girl I used to be. Evelyn has brought out the colors and the feelings. She's brought out the language, she's dragged in all the good books I used to grow up.

But the big thing, the impossible-to-ignore thing that Evelyn brought me is myself. I can still see the little girl, right before Christmas, sitting outside and talking to God, but I can also see who I am now, as a woman, a mother and a teacher, walking down the path to that nine-year-old girl. Seeing how small she is, how complicated her sadness is. Who I am now would do anything to help her.

And one of the big things I've been able to do this year is see this for the first time in my life. If Langston, my tall man's town, cut the path and held my hand through it, then Evelyn, my little bird, is the one who has made me realize who I am in the story.

I don't think she is the kind of baby to be born in a blizzard, but just in case, I am happy I got to write all this out before the hour.