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Archive for February, 2010

|| February 24, 2010 || 1:53 am || Comments (1) ||

from one day to the next

The day before yesterday I made cheese toast and a boiled egg for breakfast.

The day before yesterday I did not make a mental list of all the ways I am put-upon.

Yesterday I grabbed some soup and an eggroll for lunch.

Yesterday, also, I made a list of all the places I have to be by Sunday at four o’clock and briefly sketched into my Notebook (yes, that one) the outlay of coin that all my ThursdayFridaySaturday endeavors demand.

A little while ago, in the early today, I held my sobbing daughter.

In the later of today, I will be adjusting the budget of yesterday to include flowers.

“Yeah, I’d like to send something,” Scout told me, blotchy-faced and spent, “but I can’t go to another funeral. I’m not equipped for all the dying that’s happened in the last two years.”

Meg was going to be a young bride late next year. Scout was going to be her bridesmaid, slightly dubious but eager to lend the hand in planning that Meg had requested.

How is it that the words I love so are forever circling the wagons in a clinch?

|| February 20, 2010 || 12:13 am || Comments (12) ||

kitting up

Write from the bottom, the sludge trap. Write from the place where, tendons straining and chair threatening to topple you, fingertips graze what is up on that top shelf. Discard the middle places. They are safe and trite and boring. Fuck those Middle Places.

Remember what excites you about words. Want them rapaciously, want to dominate them and wrap them around the eyes that have the lucky misfortune of tripping over them so as to dominate those orbs, as well. Pack the words hard enough so that once released, they rocket forward into the brains behind the eyes, stunning them and causing messy, bloody blooms of thought and startles of emotion.

Stand in a place. Look at that place. Now perceive that place from the perspective of another (this is not as hard as it sounds on the surface; you awake a new person altogether each day). Melding the two, speak aloud what you see, all of it. Now write that down. Edit. Replace, re-seat. Look at what you’ve written. Afford yourself the luxury of being smug if you want to be.

Find new adjectives. Throw them away. Find more again.

If (when) you are afraid to write something for fear that no one could possibly in a million-and-ten millennia believe it happened to you, slap someone else’s name into it. Even if you write it as another person’s story, it is still your fucking story. Detachment may even enable a richness that otherwise might not have stood so boldly there on the page.

The stuff of disgust and fascination and marvel? They’re YOURS. Write about semen and God and wind skimming wild grasses. Script your narrative with gusto and gristle.

Be reverent, too. Master the spaces between words. Make those spaces dead-eye the verbiage before and after them. Help them act like lunatics. Have them whisper seductively beyond the rounding-off of a period and sing the Hallelujah Chorus at a paragraph break.

Somehow, you have forgotten: Without a writing implement in hand you are keening in the darkness. You are an alphabet junkie, jonesing for the language, for the feel of the feral and messy place of wordsmithy, for the unkempt you that the letters whip into a euphoric Other. You were unequivocally made for this. Stop dithering, asshole.

Be a kamikaze, word-flinging fool.

|| February 17, 2010 || 1:38 pm || Comments (4) ||

I love Maggie, Dammit.

What compels an activist to become someone who champions a cause?

Discovery + dissatisfaction. The birth of activism rests in the finding of oneself in the place where discovery of an injustice meets up with a rage or pain (or both, usually); activism is at that cradle of epiphany where fact and emotion collide and a dissatisfaction rises up. The status quo is no longer palatable and near-suddenly there is an almost inexplicable desire to change the circumstance that stirred those initial feelings of sorrow and/or fury.

What constitutes an activist?

A voice with which to speak out and heart that gives life to the voice, pushing it outward from oneself, even if that potentially scores the activist negative or spurious societal labels.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

I have mentioned Violence Unsilenced here before. It is a place for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to gather to themselves those thoughts that they have long fed, to unleash and push out of the nest their stories, to finally let fly burdens they have long nurtured for fear of judgment and shame.

Every time I read one of the stories over there –and I have read every last one, trust me– I come away satisfied, because in the telling (and whether they know it or not) the authors become activists. This may be their only activist behavior in their entire lives, but it’s so huge because others see it and are emboldened by it.

And there are amazing feats of activism that go on continually over at VU. There is the woman who has lost her child and grandchild, the sixteen-year-old boy eloquent beyond his years, the woman left broken and bleeding in a public bathroom, the man who saw his mother battered and battered and battered. They all took the upsets of their pasts and articulated them; they let words that had been framed up by their experiences fly into the world so that eyes and hearts would be opened and awareness would be gained.

Ripping the tape labeled ’stigma’ away from your mouth is unsettling and can rattle you to the core. For weeks after I hit ’send’ on my piece I walked around with a nervous tic in my middle; my emotions stammered and couldn’t find purchase anywhere. I was baffled at this, because I am one of those infuriating people who is always so battle-ready and cocksure. In a break from my usual self-sufficiency I e-mailed Maggie, who reassured me.

Maggie has been reassuring former victims for a whole year now; Today is Violence Unsilenced’s one-year anniversary. In celebration Maggie asked us, her first-year contributors, to send a photo proclaiming we had spoken. What came of it was this gorgeous video, and I watched it this morning, marvelling. I was overtaken by surprise: “We just look like everyone else.”

We DO look like everyone else, save for two simple facts: We are survivors and we are activists. We are emboldened by and shine under Maggie’s standard.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

And here in its entirety is the post that I gave to Maggie last year, which just so happened to run at the end of October. October is, incidentally, Domestic Violence Awareness Month:


Here now is my collarbone, which still slips uncomfortably as a result of being pinned under his knee for half an hour: “We have to talk,” he said to me, his face six inches from mine, “I don’t think you’re really hearing me.”

Here is the back of my left hand, held to the table and used to extinguish a cigarette. I see the scar every day of my life but I don’t always register it. When I chance to ponder it, though, I recall the hiss of his words: “I bet you’re listening NOW.”

Here is my nose which –in concert with my stomach– suddenly and startlingly betrayed me in the middle of a grocery store a handful of years back: Bent over and retching, I realized my nose had objected to the scent memory of plumeria and pikake flowers mingling. Responding to those objections, my stomach took up arms, recalling the way that shame and frustration and hurt and profound, profound disappointment collided within it….this while I was pinned immobile to the carpet with my arms beneath me, being forcibly sodomized, the tumble of spilled flowers surrounding my face.

Here is my cheekbone, which remarkably never saw the light of day under flesh I was sure would eventually split open.

Here is the back of my neck, which grows inexplicably tight of its own volition from time to time, even on my happiest and most peaceful of days. It remembers a myriad of things, I suppose, having been the mechanism for shoving my head toward a corner or a rail or a shattered glass that my errant fingers clumsily released too soon….

Here also is the meat of my back, covered then in smooth, unblemished flesh; both had the misfortune of repeatedly meeting a nailhead that sat anchored in a wall they were slammed against again and again.

Here is my windpipe. It remembers that one sweatshirt, twisted and pressed into service as a ligature device.

Here is my ribcage. Then tense, it wanted for a tender embrace devoid of any poor resolution.

Here are my lungs, which drew ragged breaths into themselves, seeking control over the system by regulating its breathing.

Here are the tender bottoms of my feet, once aching and carrying what we here in the South call ’stone bruises’…that kind of bruise that results from sharp rock striking hard on barely-protected tendon and bone. My feet were careless in their placement that night as I fled across the frozen late November gravel toward my neighbor’s waiting porchlight, her arms extended just beneath it.

Here oh here is my heart, which slowly regained its equilibrium via the tenderness from other men of a different ilk; they were the ones that said things like, “You have the best laugh of anyone I know,” and “None of it was your fault,” and “I know it’s not mine to make right, but let me try.”

Here now is my voice, which once was only used when pressed into song as a mechanism of self-comfort but now resolves itself toward never being silenced again.

|| February 11, 2010 || 10:53 am || Comments (0) ||

pecking that great dooryard in the sky

I am sad to inform you that the great fortunetelling chicken of lore, Bob Ross, has shuffled off of the yardfowl coil and now says the sooth at festivals of saints and the host in the great performance art farm beyond.

bob ross the fortune-telling chicken
:: bob ross the fortune-telling chicken ::

Bob was a good chicken, beautiful both inside and out: I myself witnessed how ingratiating he was toward children, how deft with putting strangers at ease. He will be missed.

From North Carolina artist Phil Cheney, fellow friend of Bob:

“He was the world’s oldest chicken at 20 years old. Born 1990 in Abbyville, Alabama, he was a show chicken, a White Crested Black Polish.

“Bob was a hit at numberous art festivals around the country from New York to California. He once made 364 dollars in one day in Birmingham, a quarter per fortune, that’s 1456 fortunes told in one day!

“Bob died in his sleep February 3, 2010 in Seale, Alabama.”

Godspeed Bob Ross, you old clucker you.

UPDATE: Your words of kindness and condolence will be passed along to the loved ones of Bob Ross, and perhaps even read at Doo-Nanny this year. Please stuff the comments full of messages of sympathy and hope; you might even pass the word along so that others can come here and offer tribute, as well.

|| February 8, 2010 || 9:49 pm || Comments (0) ||

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|| February 1, 2010 || 8:07 pm || Comments (12) ||

This year for Christmas Maxim and I surprised the children with a trip to New York City. Don’t ask me how we afforded it, because I really couldn’t tell you except to say that we’ve been saving ever since about the time we moved into this house five Christmases ago: There was an oversized yellow envelope and there some dollars went. When the dollars got up to the one-kay range, I’d go invest in a Certificate of Deposit. Lather, rinse, repeat here and there, and a New York nest egg came to be. It was imperative that we go this year, Sam’s last year in high school, and I made reservations for our neat little bed and coffee in the East Village (Hiiii, Harrison, hiiii Anne!) long about last January, because the December oh-nine roster was already filling up. Back then, December two-thousand and nine seemed an eternity away.

Don’t ask me how we kept it from our children, either. It was a sheer miracle that the trip worked out to be a Christmas Eve surprise, with half the town and all of our family in the know. But they came home from Nana’s customary Christmas Eve gathering to find that Santa (*cough* Tess *cough*) had left them a set of luggage apiece and a fancy note instructing them to pack it post-haste, because they were leaving in the morning to catch a plane in Nashville.

I’m the only one in our family that’s ever been to NYC, so spirits were high and each of us had a specific way we met the town head-on. The best thing about the whole trip, when I reflect back on it, is recalling the way Sam and Scout and Mathias looked out for one another, all three jostling down the sidewalks, hyena-laughing, catcalling and being incredibly loving and respectful of each other’s feelings while doing it.

superior clowns
:: superior clowns ::

Those kids did not bicker one.single.time. while we were away, a full six days’ worth of peace and glee. If you have siblings or more than one child, you will likely realize the miracle of the non-fussing children that I have presented to you. I will pause my narrative here to allow the angels to sing on high.



Now then: There are quite a few really great anecdotes and a handful of vignette pieces I would like to open my hands and show to you, but most of them will have to wait until another time. The one that plays in the front of my mind –the one that I will tell you now– occurred on a bus (public transpo, w00t) late one evening. We tended to stay out for incredibly long days of stomping around, as we Superiors are crafted of fine and hardy stock all burrito’d up inside overgrown senses of adventure; we are rabbit-holers, to a man, and as this sort of thing often pays off we roll with it. So long days exploring Manhattan’s nooks and byways often ended with us at whatever market (hellooooo, Garden of Eden, come here and let me kiss you on the MOUTH) we found ourselves in front of just as we were about to fall out from exhaustion, then we’d hang a bus or train or bus-train-bus combo to the house, grocery-laden and ravenous.

We were waiting for a bus somewhere on fourteenth street, chatting it up and laughing when I noticed a man observing us. I liked the vibe he put out, so I didn’t think much of it and didn’t move to tighten up our circle any. He was just waiting for the bus, like us, and he was peoplewatching our family; we were the evening’s entertainment. As it happened, the only seats on the bus were six together, toward the front. He sat next to Sam and Scout, facing Maxim and Mathias and me. After a moment he asked where we were from, even picking up on the different dialects that Maxim and I carry.

It turned out that he was a physician, and he told us of trips he makes to lower Appalachia to help out the impoverished and medically wanting. He’s made these trips enough that he recognized Maxim’s accent as a softer, more educated version of the sharp mountain twang to which he has grown accustomed. We were afforded enough time to talk about the area, to discuss a couple of programs we have worked with as well, to bandy about our thoughts on need and the disgraceful presence of it in this land –one we mutually agreed that we love– so full of riches.

“You know,” he said, pointing his gaze directly at me, “I have friends that take blocks of time to go out internationally and do the same sort of work. I’ve just never been able to find it in myself to do so when we have so many places right here at home where people are virtually forgotten and receiving no medical attention whatsoever.”

Once upon a time, I felt the exact same way. Even now my feelings are quite mixed on the matter; I often feel a tug that manifests itself in frustration and anger. The U.S. has a horrible infant mortality ranking, especially when you take into account the technologies and services available to us; our elder care is pitiful to say the least. Drugs that cost pennies to make are sold at outrageous profit, causing a sizable chunk of our populace to choose groceries or heat over meds.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

Maxim is a spokesperson for Compassion International. When we decided to sponsor a child (and now our family sponsors two) it was not without some horribly jarring internal battle on my part. WE were needed right here on this mountain, OUR duty lie with kids we could lay our hands on. Right, God?? RIGHT? LISTEN TO ME WHEN I AM TALKING TO YOU, MISTER ALMIGHTY ON HIGH. I demand ANSWERS!

We were helping right here, I was reminded. There was family-done volunteer work, because I’ve never been one to just throw money at a problem. We were foster parents, because how dare I expect the next guy to take care of something were I not willing to stand the gap as well? My family and I applied ourselves, which to my way of thinking (having been raised by a Fine Southerin Momma) was far more credible than flinging money in hopes that it land somewhere and do something worthy.

Your bodies and hearts are doing what they can, said my internal voice, why not further your reach with your checkbook? So –and sullenly at first– I relented and followed my husband’s convictions and lead. He had, after all, trusted my instincts when we were asked to go through foster parent training so that Piper could be placed in our home. What he asked of me was infinitely easier: He would write a check each month and I would give him my tacit support, personal politics notwithstanding.

Now my husband travels around a bit from time to time, telling people about the work that Compassion does, about his experiences as a sponsor. Our daughter never misses one of these trips and often recruits her friends to come help work the table where she waits to assist people in selecting a child they can ‘connect’ with in order provide a chance at a better way of life. She would rather be there in those villages, hands-on herself, but as Scout has put it frankly to me, this is a good start.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

I’ve always been involved with some sort of child advocacy, as far back as I can remember. This is largely due to the fact that I was raised by a woman very reminiscent of Marmee March, who impressed upon me my good fortune and made me aware that others weren’t as well-set as I was lucky enough to be. My mother came up in the fields, one of nine children, and by the age of five was dragging a cotton sack behind her. She sometimes looked at the tips of her fingers and told me that the worst days were the cold ones: When a boll snagged and cut a fingertip it stung all the worse for its frozen state.

I don’t often talk about any charitable efforts here, because I don’t want to sound self-congratulatory or -aggrandizing. To put it succinctly, though, my heart is stomped on by a child left wanting for what many take for granted. I can’t adequately explain without sounding all solopsistic and gross how passionately my heart rallies for kids to have good books and full bellies and safe environments. So I won’t. I will just tell you that it is my desire for every kid to be okay, and I don’t want to ever turn a blind eye to a child I can help.

To my way of thinking, children are these awesome little packages of wonder and mirth and potential. Magic.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

birthday lovin'
:: birthday lovin’ ::

Two weeks ago this Thursday, my boy turned eighteen. He went from this strong little squirming thing to this steady and judicious and humorous young man before I really had a handle on what was happening. The very minute the clock rounded the marker on his eighteenth birthday, he did not register for selective service, as all males his age are required to do.

He went and joined the Army, old enough to sign the line that I have –for six months now– staunchly refused to put my name to on his behalf. Eleven Bravo, attached to the Tenth Mountain Division. A grunt, fodder for the war machine that claims its stakes on the ground. He has orders to begin basic training on 6 August 2010 and has secured a spot in jump school to follow immediately thereafter. If we are fortunate and all goes as planned, he will graduate both schools in time to spend another Christmas at home with us this year.

Fortune. Plans. They seem such abstract concepts to a mother’s heart when all she can see in the reflection of the dragon’s tooth is her frightened heart leaping out of her eye sockets. This is my boy, the one I had persistent and unruly fears about losing at an early age while he was only eight months in my belly.

I have wrestled angels over his decision. I have beat back my rage and my fear and put on a calm face. Perspective, woman, I tell myself, he isn’t riddled with tumors, he isn’t lying in a gutter with a needle hanging from his arm. He has notions of service and nobility and testing his mettle. I have to let him walk his path, no matter the aching and groaning in the middle of me. He has explained and explained himself, calmly and reasonably. I have to trust. I have to step aside and let him step into himself.

:: embarkation ::

When the earthquakes rocked Haiti, I was devastated in a familiar way, the one that awakened the ‘fixer’ in me. I have to lay hands on a problem –to assert my humanity over its largeness– in order to feel effective. This is a very masculine trait, and one I can’t ever remember not possessing. It gets me into trouble sometimes, yes, but it gets shit done.

I am not in a position to go to Haiti at present, and that BOTHERS me. It is a splinter that I can’t work out. I have able hands, an able body, these people are so close geographically.

So Sam and I were watching footage of relief efforts a couple nights ago, and he saw the 82nd Airborne in action, tending to people. Just me and him on the couch, and he said to me, “See mother? I will be doing things like that, too. That is every bit as important to me as anything else we’ve talked about.” He gestured, palm-upward, long fingers on those hands I’ve always thought so beautiful, toward the television. Man hands. When did this happen? I nodded, swallowing. “I know, son. I know this.” I had to leave the room.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

My friend Kate and a lovely artist-lady named René have paired up to help the people of Haiti. I’m lucky enough to be included in this help, because they put out a call for donations and I got to respond. Several others responded too, and now for the duration of this week there is an amazing arts and fine goods auction by the name of ‘To Haiti With Love’ going on. You can bid on and potentially win some really great stuff and all the proceeds go to a children’s-based charity (you can read more about this on the auction site). The best part, though, is the fact that these two ladies live in Canada, whose government is presently offering up matching funds for all donations made to registered charities for Haiti. Dollars! Doubled! At no extra effort to bidders!

I try to not abuse your trust, loyal Muffinasses, and I try not to go begging your kindnesses often, but I’m asking you to go over and look, maybe bid, maybe consider posting on your sites the official auction banner. I’m asking you to social media –we are the digital noisemakers! bang those facebook/twitter/voyeurnal pots and pans!– the fuck out of this auction, because there are children suffering and hurting and doing without in a place that was already miserable with violence and want. While I can’t lay hands on them directly, I can lend the hands I’ve laid to another passion –creating art that moves me– to effect some relief and hopefully some change. I would love it if you’d help me in doing so.