Monday, July 28, 2008

Goin' Home

Tomorrow I am going home. I haven't been home in many, many years. This trip feels like the first trip home I will be taking as an adult. There is no "homeplace" anymore. My aunt still owns my grandmother's house, but right now no one lives in it. My aunt and uncle don't live in the house I remember anymore. Our family's home in Charlotte has been sold many times in the twenty-seven years since we lived there. No one from the family attends Masonboro Baptist Church anymore (my dad's old church), and no one from the family attends Christ Lutheran Church anymore (my mother's church).

I understand Christ Lutheran has become a mega-church now. I remember a small chapel surrounded by cherry trees that always produced the most holy cherry blossoms every spring. I remember a kind pastor, Jacob Lackey, who only recently passed away. He helped my mother through 1979, a year I imagine was one of the most difficult ones of her life. I remember the enthusiasm my mother had for teaching Bible school classes. She loved the Bible stories, and she was a wonderful reader, so she could enthrall even the most hyperactive seven year old with her rendition of Noah's Ark. I remember the song ... "The animals, the animals, they came in by two-sy two-sies..." We'd go to Bible school in the summer, probably around this time of year, in the mornings, and then go to the pool in the afternoons in Matthews. Keith and I are staying in a hotel near that pool, and near our old house.

I wish the trip were both longer and over. I know I am going back a stranger, both to my family and to my place. I think, though we'll see when we get there, that for the first time I'm not going back hoping to find something. It feels more like going back to acknowledge something -- to acknowledge the foundation of my life. Am I capable of going back without attachment to wanting things to be different?

My dad and I went back two years after we moved to North Carolina. It was the only trip we took alone together. I remember standing in a field, all sorts of tiny bugs circling around me. I had my back to him because I didn't want him to see my crying over something as unexplainable as the earth. I felt that same reaction when I went to New York earlier this summer. Something in the dampness, the scurrying of all creatures great and small in the trees, along the creeks, within the blades of grass, still touches something primal in me. My land. My small part of the earth that my cells still recognize as being the first climate of this incarnation.

I want to go home as an adult. I want to go home without the shadow of being Glenn Jr's oldest. I want to be both a visible and invisible ghost in the places I used to know. If I see anything left of me there, I want to gather her up, wrap her carefully in a cotton blanket (because godknows it's gonna be hot), and bring her back to Prescott with me.

July 24, 1976 was the date my dad had his heart attack. This week, thirty-two years ago, was the week my sister and I were sent to Wilmington while everyone tried to figure out if dad was going to live or die. I'll be staying with my aunt, his sister, just like I did then, only I stayed in a house they owned three houses ago, and I didn't really know then what was going on. I can't claim that I know what's going on now, except this time I know I can't go home again. There is no home. There's not even a home in Phoenix. The house the four of us lived in has been sold. Everywhere I stay with family I am a guest. My "room" does not exist except in my own house in Prescott. Perhaps that's as it should be. If I'd have had a place to go back to, with a bed I remembered, posters on the walls, cassettes stacked beside an old tape player, I might never have moved forward, so attached am I to staying in one place. Better, perhaps, that there was no option for that. I'm going to see my best childhood friend in Charlotte. Our lives have taken very different paths. She's a single mother with three boys. We talked on the phone last week like I never moved away.

I went to Phoenix on Saturday for my family birthday dinner, and in the morning I stopped to see my two friends, Mike and Arvin, whom I have known since 1986. Arvin made the comment that no matter who comes into our lives at this point, no one will ever know us in the way that we know each other. It's true. I can tell people about my friendships in North Carolina, or about these two men and what we have meant to each other, but I can't go back to being 12 or 21 or anywhere in between. I am left with the idea of piecing together a home from the remnants of different homes and remnants of different people I've been.

This time, I don't feel like I'm going back looking for myself. I feel like I will walk up and down Springfield Drive with both love and detached curiosity. (A great way to approach writing, by the way!) I hope I can see the neighborhood as it is without the rose colored glasses. I hope I can see it without wanting it to be something else. I've met the ghost of my father on every trip back since he died. I'm not expecting to meet him there anymore. I don't think he needs to be there waiting for me. I think he knows now that I am OK and he can complete his arc without wondering what's going to happen to me. I don't know who I'll meet hanging in the trees or walking down the streets. Maybe the ghosts of the south are silent for me now. Maybe they'll give me permission to listen to the ghosts of the west. Or maybe not. Ghosts are quite possessive! No doubt I'll come back with stories. No doubt I'll come home with something that haunts me still. No doubt I'll come back having eaten too much pork and watermelon.

Huh. Hear what has happened? Prescott has become home. I'm planting roots here. Maybe I'll bring back a little sand from Wrightsville Beach to pack around them. Maybe I'll bring back an acorn. I am a visitor now, in a place that was once as familiar as my own body. It may well be another fifteen years before I get back to NC again. It's a long way, and the plane won't take me where I'd really like to go, so Charlotte and Wilmington become places that used to be mine. I can go back and look, but I can't touch anymore. They're not reaching back to me.

So, I'll have some sweet tea and damn fine tomatoes and corn on the cob and I'll come back to Arizona and keep working on my novel, and keep working on opening my body and my heart, and I'll try to merge my southern girl with my southwest girl and see what ghosts show up for me then. Blended families are the way of things anyway, aren't they?

Have a good week, ya'll.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This Man, This Girl, and This Boy

In 2005, I wrote this essay about Keith & his kids:

I’m in love with a man who has children. The one non-negotiable piece of my yahoo personal ad: no kids. Mounting debt, a gambling addiction, a 70-hour work week at McDonald’s, purple boils on his face – all were preferable to children.

This isn’t a new aversion. Dolls seemed like a complete waste of time to me as a girl. They weren’t real (which, now that I think about it, is a bonus), but why would you pretend they were real when you could read a book and pretend you walked through the closet door into Narnia? In high school home ec, girls carried around eggs wrapped in baby blankets for a week so they could see what motherhood would be like. I never heard of one of those eggs screaming at 3 a.m. or vomiting up the strained peas you just got down its throat all over your $75 white silk shirt. If you did drop the egg, you only broke an egg. CPS wouldn’t come. Your mother wouldn’t shame you for the next dozen years about your irresponsibility. If you forgot your egg in your locker, it would still be there in the morning, in the exact same shape as when you left it. Not like motherhood at all. At work, women would bring in their newborns and their breast pumps and expect that every female on the floor would hold the baby. I hid in the bathroom as much as possible, but if there was no escaping holding it, I held it as far away from my body as I could – this child and I staring at each other – asking each other, “Are we from the same species?”

In my mid-twenties, I stopped feeling guilty over not goo-gooing over ga-gaaing tiny people and surrendered to the inevitability that if I lived in the wild, I would be the aberration who ate her young. I would be the exception that proves the rule. I’m an English teacher, after all, so exceptions to rules are really no issue for me. I am finally old enough to where very few people expect one of those tiny creatures to come crawling out of my body. I freely admit that I don’t get it. I don’t understand the love a parent has for a child. I don’t understand why it is supposed to be superior to the love I feel for myself, my friends, my cats or my planet. I don’t think it is. But I’ve learned many clever responses over the years to the inevitable question, “When are you going to have children?” The best and most effective shut down seems to be the most honest one. I don’t like children, at which point the mother who asked the question promptly shepherds her flock of drooling sticky people out of arm’s reach, as if she thought I would devour them on the spot as a final emphasis to my comment.

It’s still true. I don’t like children. I don’t regret not experiencing childbirth, or nursing, or first days of kindergarten. But, as things go, I met this man, and he had two children, but he also had a cat, and men who prefer cats to dogs are rare enough, and Prescott is small enough that I thought he was worth talking to. We kept talking, and of course, the time came next when I had to meet the children.

I met them on a sleety Sunday in March at the Dinner Bell. They were very blonde. I had no idea what to say to them. They brought a gift of bath salts for taking care of their cat while they were away on spring break to San Diego. I’d been sick during spring break, missing this man, worrying about meeting his children. When I met the man my mother married after my father died, I was furious. How could my mother love someone else? I was 22 then. These children are 8 and 11. Maybe divorce is different. After all, they’ve still got both parents. During breakfast I watched this man with these children. I watched them hold on to him, kiss him, share their food with him. I saw them love him and I saw a side of him I hadn’t seen before.

They spit their gum out in his hands. He and the boy recited parts of Jabberwocky to each other. He and the girl worked on math problems in crayon on the children’s menu paper place mat. He wanted them to like me. I wanted them to like me. I wanted them to not be threatened by me or feel like I was going to try and be their mother.

The most intelligent thing I could think of to say was, “What was your favorite memory from San Diego?” I am a stupid adult, I thought. I suddenly realized why adults had always commented on how much I had grown or asked me what school was like – but how to explain to a grown up what middle school was like? I shuddered at the memory and swore never to let that question cross my lips. But it did, in a slightly more or less egregious way. “What is your favorite subject in school?” English for the girl. Science for the boy. Ask open ended questions. I didn’t know what to say. The girl asked if she could eat my toast. The boy asked to see my ring. The man told me they liked me. How could he tell? I knew they wanted their mom and dad back together. What kid wouldn’t? I knew I was in the way of that. I didn’t even know this man very well yet. I just knew, then, that he had something I hadn’t seen in a long time – the capacity to open his heart.

It’s been awhile now. I spent a day last summer sweating at the water park in Phoenix because the children wanted to go. I watched them wade through a creek on slippery rocks (which, had I been their mother, I’d have never let them do) until the girl found a candleholder shaped like a sunflower and brought it back to me for a gift. The girl wrote poems about me. The boy stole my sandal one night while I was in bed with the man and hid it under the sink. The boy hit me in the eye by accident with a ball he was hitting in the house. He really likes you, said the man.

So the relationship with the man became more than a relationship with him. I realized I loved his kids. One night the boy cried and told me what divorce felt like. He said it felt like the north pole became the south pole, and I didn’t know what to say, but I felt like whatever I said suddenly had infinitely more weight than anything I’d ever said before. I said his mom loved him and his dad loved him and that meeting him and the girl was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When we came out of the bedroom, the boy and I, I saw the man making nachos in the kitchen and the girl grating cheese and I saw what I never thought I’d see in my life. A family.

Last weekend all four of us crawled in bed. The boy wanted to listen to Simon & Garfunkel. His favorite was Bridge over Troubled Water. Her favorite was Scarborough Fair, although none of us could explain to her what it meant. The man and I were in the middle of the bed. The girl was holding on to me and the boy was holding on to the man.

I remembered listening to Simon & Garfunkel in high school, wearing all black with heavy kohl eyeliner and combat boots. We smoked dope and drank cheap wine coolers and lamented the decline of the intellectual. We needed an Ayn Rand for our generation. We thought the 60’s held all the answers. The 80’s were, in our words, tragic.

Two years before my father died, Simon & Garfunkel meant the end of everything, the end of my family. I sat in the circle of the other National Honor Society nerds choking on the pot smoke I never could inhale embracing embracing embracing the sorrow that was coming just around the next corner. Sorrow so close I could smell its rotten teeth.

The comfort I pretended I could have through sad folk songs worked. I didn’t forget the sorrow, but I did forget the deeper thing I was pretending until this moment. I was pretending I didn’t want a family again, pretending that when that sorrow hit that was inches inches from the door, that from that moment on it didn’t matter that I would never have a family.

The man shifted beside me, pressed his head against my neck. “I love you,” I said to the top of his head. He is the man I love in part because of these children, and I feel for the first time in my life that I can close my eyes and rest with my family: this man, this girl, and this boy.


Tonight, in July of 2008, after over three and a half years together, we told his children that we were making a commitment to each other. The girl is 14 now, starting high school in two weeks. The boy is almost 12, about to begin the adventure that is middle school. When we told them, they shrieked, leapt off the floor and hugged each other, tears forming in both kids' eyes. They went to their dad, then to me, hugging, hugging, hugging.

"I've got a new step-mom!" said the girl, (something usually not shouted with glee) and somehow everything felt much more real than it had over the weekend when Keith and I made a commitment to each other in Jerome. She immediately went to text message everybody.

"Thank you, Dad," said the boy, hugging his father. "Are you happy?"

"I am," said Keith.

I don't know what I expected. I knew they liked me. I knew I loved them. I knew I'd heard all my life it's different when you make a commitment, but I didn't really believe it -- I guess because I never have made a commitment before to anything but writing. I felt another crack separate and break off and dissolve in my heart. I would be seeing these children graduate from high school, get married (or not), go to college, have lives. I could really let myself love them.

The girl wants to make the invitations. The boy wants to play the wedding song on his new electric guitar. They want us to dance to "Jessie's Girl", the song we danced to on i-tunes on the first New Year's Eve the four of us spent together. The girl's boyfriend texts back his congratulations.

Keith and I sit outside while the girl shops for shoes on Zappos (yeah, I've been teaching her), and the boy takes a shower. We can see Jupiter from the porch. We had a bit of rain today, and the air is damp and cooler. We talk about what the ceremony will look like. We talk about what to call each other (there really is no word ... if you're not husband/wife, what are you?) We decide to be husband/wife anyway. We need to figure out what legal paperwork to draw up for power of attorney. We talk about a party. Writing things to say to each other.

When I first moved to Prescott, I went out to Goldwater Lake and walked around its edges. There's a small footbridge off to one side, and I sat there for a long time enjoying the sound of real water making noises. Phoenix had no such talking water. I sat on the bridge in January in the sun. The lake was full. Patches of snow were on the trail. And I wished for Keith. I didn't know I wished for Keith, but I told the universe that I was ready to do the work of relationship. I asked for a companion. I met Keith a few weeks later.

We think maybe we'll do the ceremony at Goldwater Lake by that footbridge. I say good-night to the boy and the girl. "We love you!" they say, and then return to their cell phones or books.

"Love you, too," I say.

And it's true. And I didn't have to go through childbirth, or diapers, or vomiting, or sleepless nights with infants. Someone else did that for me. When I met them they were already people. They could eat on their own. They could walk. They could sleep alone. Now they seem to be almost grown. They say some of the wisest things I've ever heard. I had nowhere near their depth at their age. How cool that I'm going to get to spend my life with them.

"That was weird," I say to Keith when we get to the car. I'm still working with "step-mom" in my head. I'm realizing that it's very hard to not move forward now that we've told everyone. I don't want to not move forward, but I'm realizing, yes, mom was right, it is different when you make a commitment.

"I choose you," says Keith.

"I choose you, too," I say.

And I do.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Get Up and Do It Again .... Amen

Tibetan Buddhist monks spend weeks and months creating intricate sand paintings only to brush them away at the end of their labor. The meditation is a sacred practice in non-attachment. I witnessed part of the construction of one of these mandalas at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts many years ago. Today, the images and the practice reared its multi-colored head.

Three days ago, I was working on two scenes from my novel. The writing was working. It wasn't great, but it was good draft work. Two days ago, I was working on the scene that followed those scenes when the computer froze, forcing me to do a reset, which caused (though it wasn't supposed to cause this) a loss of all my data. I had a portion of the book saved on a different computer, and though this computer freeze didn't make me jump for joy, it was only about ten hours of work and I looked at it (mostly) as an opportunity to revise and make the scenes better. I always advise my students to take their early drafts and put them in a drawer and not look at them as they move into the revision process. (Though to be clear ... I don't tell them to actually delete them). I believe, and still do, that revision is best done on a fresh piece of paper. So, I figured this was a chance for me to practice that in a little more of a boot camp fashion than I was accustomed to. I went home, wrote a quick outline of everything I'd written, taking special care to write down as many of the surprise details that came up through the process of writing. Not that big a deal.

Today, I had four hours to work this afternoon. I was able to rewrite the scenes that had been lost as well as move forward two more scenes. And yes, you guessed it, the screen froze again. What an opportunity to practice my yoga, I thought, as I wanted to throw this machine across the room. What a teacher this computer is turning out to be. What is this actually about? I've never lost data in my life, and now it's happened twice in one week. By the time I rewrite the scenes tomorrow (on a different computer), they'll be pretty darn fine scenes.

After my first thought of OH @*(#, the very next thing that popped in my head was the song lyric from The Pretender: "And when the morning light comes streaming in/ I'll get up and do it again, Amen..." which made me laugh. The next thought I had was of the Tibetan monks and their beautiful sand paintings. I remembered reading an interview about their work in which they were asked why they spent all that time making the mandalas only to destroy them. They replied, as monks are oft to do, that the making of the mandala was what mattered, not what happened to it after it was finished. But how can you work so hard to make it so beautiful knowing it will be gone in a few weeks? was the follow-up question. I'll never forget this answer.

The work is the practice. That is all there is. Everything else is an illusion. Today we make a painting. Tomorrow it is gone. This is the way of everything.

So tomorrow, when I rewrite those scenes again, and back them up on two thumb drives and e-mail them to my work e-mail, I'll approach them with that frame of mind. I can never rewrite them like I wrote them the first time. Some images are gone. The ones that matter will come back. New ones will appear. This is what always happens.

This is the way of everything. When the morning light comes streaming in, and when it doesn't.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Plea to My Students

Carole Maso: To create whole worlds through implication, suggestion, in a few bold strokes. Not to tyrranize with narrative. Allow a place for the reader to live, to dream. Poetry reveres silence. Fiction too often tries to fill it up.

Andrey Tarkovsky: The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.

I fear I am not able to return to work in the fall and teach fiction writing. It appears that I no longer believe in it as a fixed concept. I have no interest in Aristotle. In the causal relationships of plot. In the hidden motivations of characters. I have the least interest in a beginning, middle, and end. So little, in fact, that I am thinking of making my fiction students just write notes for the entire semester. Much can be learned from notes, and if they are thinking of writing a longer work of fiction, it would do them well to realize, really realize in the envelope of language, that the narrative structures they're accustomed to reading do very little to help them stretch the boundaries of what fiction can be. I try to assign stories and novels that they'd never pick up -- works that are unclassifiable, and often out of print. I want them to feel the possibility of a novel -- the way it tastes in their eyes when the plot doesn't follow the formula they've come to love.

I want to spend the whole semester on a single sentence.

A novel, like a yogi standing in tree pose, both roots and reaches. It must ground the reader somehow -- whether it be through image, sound, structure, repetition, tone, rhythm -- something must give it its footing. Then, it must reach. It must push itself out of the tangle of earth into the endless sky. Some of its branches are straight. Some are round. Some wrap around each other and some fall dead to the grass. The novel is all of it. How does one decide where a tree begins and where it ends? What part of the tree is more or less important?

A tree breathes.

What makes a novel breathe? It's the space within the words. The space between the lines and along the margins of the page. A novel breathes by what it does not say. That's the place where the reader lives, where the reader blows her memory onto the slithering snake of the sentence and makes it hiss. A novel cannot breathe if every causal relationship (but HOW did Billy get to the airport?) is addressed.

Then, there's the inevitable problem of time. Students have been so conditioned to believe that time is both linear and finite. If they begin a book in a time and place, they must proceed outward from that place, like an arrow shot from a bow. But a novel, in its grandest and most glorious potential, is not an arrow aimed at a target. It's the finger pointing to the moon. The space between the end of the finger and the moon holds the story, and within all that circular black space, anything can happen. A story, a defining moment in the life of a character, doesn't begin with the first word of the novel and end with the final one. The story we enter into can only be a story because of what has come before it, and the meaning of the story is determined by what comes after it. Why can we not play with time? Time plays with us.

I want to help my students layer their work without forgetting the primer at the base of the project. I want to help them find, organically, a structure for their work. I can't tell them how to structure their novels because their novels are not my dreams. They dream. They write. They breathe. Their novels should contain all these places. They should contain the mysterious, the random, the dreaded un-tied-up loose end that makes the rest of the dream utterly true.

Believe in stories. Believe in language. Believe in the crooked dance of breath and voice, of silence and creation. Dare to recognize the truth that is fiction, the fiction that is the essay, the poem that is the novel. Write something you have never seen before. Write something that you desire. What would your world look like if you peeled back your skin and walked through your downtown wearing blue veins, red, pumping organs, and bile. Dive into that for your fiction. Don't sculpt it into a supermodel. Don't airbrush its moles or its varicose veins. Don't make it look like every other book you've ever read. Learn standard English grammar so you can choose to subvert it. Learn the cliched Aristotelian narrative structure so you can open it up like a golf umbrella. Read the canon and the classics so you know what has been done. Read them critically so you know what is worth taking from them and what is worth discarding. Read the avant-garde literature -- the ones with no story and the ones with no characters. Read poetry -- volumes of it -- until language is always a dance. Then, let it all go and listen until the heartbeat of your novel is in your jugular. Listen until that first muddy, murky image floats like a half-filled helium balloon across your sky. What are the layers of that image? What is underneath the underneath of it?


It is OK to have a one word paragraph. It is OK to use italics. It is OK to write in second person. It is OK to make the animals talk, or to make the characters mute. It is OK to put in a jazz riff or a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Will it all work when it is finished? I don't know. But what doesn't work is trying to grow the same tree, the same height, the same distance from your house as every other author in your subdivision. Please, students, show me something more than beige. Show me something that takes my breath away -- not because you've just slaughtered a family of nine and spent ten pages on the bloody carpet -- but because you've dared to stretch the boundaries of language and this over-done, over-sold Anglo-Saxon journey story.


It is OK to write a journey story.

But show me something that makes my arm hairs quiver. Show me something that makes be believe in the future of stories. Show me that you believe, with a zealot's fervor, that stories can change everything. Show me that you believe that make-believe is real. And do it with the splatter of letters against each other. Let me hear the sound of the "Z" as it drips down the white wall and collides with the "A" of the carpet. And let me hear it from the silence you've graciously left in your text, for me, your reader, to breathe.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Not to Wear

Warning: Chick Blog

I confess. I adore the Learning Channel's show What Not to Wear. I adore Clinton and Stacy and all their New York-ishness. I love the way they move on in and throw out an unsuspecting person's lifetime of wardrobe clutter and transform them in one week. I love that they do this without surgery, without cosmetic dentistry, without ever ever ever telling anyone they need to lose weight or gain weight or get rid of their glasses. I love how they work with the person in front of them and help that person to see how beautiful they are. They may trash someone's choice of 1981's parachute pants, but they will never trash someone's height or weight or hair.

I know clothing is superficial. I also know that I've spent more on clothing in my lifetime than some countries' GNP. I not only adore What Not to Wear; I adore clothes. I could go a year and never wear the same thing twice. I know this isn't the most enlightened of blogs I've written, but we do all have to wear something, so we might as well feel fabulous. All clothes are not made for all body types. How do you know what works for you and what doesn't? How do you become aware of how your persona is affecting those around you? Do you want to attract people or keep people at a distance? Do you want to advance in your career, or are you still holding on to dorm life? Sometimes your desires are at odds with your outward expression.

It's easy to relegate clothing and appearance to the lightweight and superficial realms. Fashion magazines don't help dispel that idea, and since it's generally women who spend energy and money on fashion, we've got the gender factor at work as well. It's a "girl thing"; therefore it doesn't matter.

I've reinvented myself at least once a year through clothing for close to a decade. I can put forth any persona I choose to from my closet. I think of dressing as visual art and I am a canvas for that expression. Some days I feel like jeans and a T-shirt (but not many). Colors change my moods. Fabrics create or release tension. Combinations of colors, fabrics or accessories present a picture. Nothing I wear is by accident. Maybe it doesn't always work, but it's always planned, down to the hair clip.

I understand that beauty is far more than outward appearance. I also know how much outward appearances can help bring out or hide that beauty. It doesn't take a lot of money. It doesn't take a lot of time. It takes honest assessment of your body and your spirit and then finding outfits to match those things. Many people dress in conflict with one or both of those things. Many of us never learned how to dress properly -- how to do our hair or put on make up. Lots of the show's participants are women in transition -- going from college to their first real job; from a long marriage to newly single; from a mom to an empty-nest space; from a job in the mail room to a job in the boardroom -- and the women aren't sure how to navigate these transitions. Sometimes the people have used clothes as a buffer to keep people away from them. These are my favorite episodes because I have done this a lot.

When I moved back from Tucson some twenty years ago, I didn't want anyone coming near me. I'd shaved my head and gained weight. I used clothes (big men's shirts and baggy pants) to ensure that no one saw that I was female - that no man would ever get close enough to me again to hurt. I didn't know what to do with my chest, which never completely went away no matter how much weight I gained or lost, and I didn't really know how to walk.

When I was around thirty, my best friend took me bra shopping. It was revolutionary. My dear mother is not blessed with breasts and has no need for a bra. Suffice to say, I did not inherit her chest. My friend and I went to Robinsons-May at the Scottsdale Fashion Square and I got my first bra fit. The delightful saleswoman asked me what size I was wearing. I told her, and she got such a sad look on her face. "Oh, no, dear. Oh, no. Come with me." And I did. And I was shocked at first by the size, and then shocked again by how different clothes fit on me if I wore the right bra.

It was a mini-revolution for me. Suddenly, everything changed. I stood differently. I looked at people differently. People looked at me. It seems small and trivial, but it is anything but. We are creatures of the body. How we choose to adorn it speaks volumes. It's like anything -- the more you learn about it, the more options you have. If you've only known polyester and knee socks, then that's all you can see. But if you play around -- try putting colors you'd NEVER put together and see what comes up -- wear a piece of jewelry a bit bigger than you're comfortable with, or a bit smaller -- see how you feel. See how you move. See what changes in your perception of the world.

It is not an untrue statement to say that being properly bra fitted changed my life. It did. So, rock on Clinton and Stacy. It's not about making people look like the cover of Vogue. It's about helping people be comfortable in their own skin. Sacred work -- even in that big illusion of New York. :-)

End Chick Blog.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Closing Time Part Two

For Glenn Herring, Jr.
January 20, 1941 - September 18, 1987

I have finished a complete draft of my book, Gathering Ghosts: The Making of a Writer. I had wondered, previously, if it would feel like it feels to finish a novel -- that sudden unexpected vacuum inside the body -- that mourning for the characters whom I lived with for the course of the book. I wondered just what it would feel like to have fulfilled a promise from so many years ago. "Maybe someday you'll write my story, eh, sugar?" Dad asked.

Excerpt: (Dad's POV)

You wrote a story of your own called “The Exception” some years later. It was about a deformed boy whose parents didn’t want him or understand him. You showed it to your oldest. “Can you write this for me?”

She would. She would take her talent and bring your stories into the world. She would take your story into her body, into her shoulder, and carry it, faithfully, until she was forty. You were just two years past forty when you wrote the story. Just six years past the heart attack. You were a philosopher, but you were not a terribly good writer. You wanted someone else to know what it was like to be the deformed boy who had survived the killing disease. You wanted someone to know that your mother had betrayed you.

You place your hand now on your daughter’s right shoulder. She has dried up inside that arm. There is no water flowing. She has become burdened with your burden. You touch her shoulder and pull back on a string, as if removing a drain stopper from the tub, and flood her arm with water. She snaps and releases a crack. Her shoulder falls. She lays on the bed on her back, stretches both arms out and arches upward, feeling the freedom in her upper spine for the first time in thirty years. She did not know how much she couldn’t move. You release her from her obligation and she opens her mouth to choke in air, and when the air is full, full in her body, her belly, she tingles in every cell, and when her breathing is smooth and deep, she can write your story, and in doing so, write her story, each sentence a release, each paragraph a sigh, each chapter a liberation. Her shoulder pain drops away as if it had never been, and you know now that your last piece is done, that your fingers had not before let go of hers. You watch her fingers now, typing, typing, typing, and your always Southern heart beats its drum. Your always Southern soul sings, “Oh, child, things are gonna get easier…”

Glory, Hallelujah, you have laid your burden down.

(End excerpt)

And so I have. The mourning period was the writing of the book. I had wondered if dad would vanish like my other characters have vanished after a book was done. What vanished was my chronic shoulder pain. What vanished was my excess weight. What vanished was the final iron bar across my heart. Could dad have gone anywhere? He was never really here to begin with -- always a ghost in my world. The book is my final love letter to him, and for the first time really in my whole life, I feel I have nothing left to say about him, about his life, about my grief.

So what vanished? Everything. And nothing.

Our first monsoon storm of the season is occurring now. The cool rain is washing the last bits of debris away, the last remnants of attachment. There's the thunder drum. The lightning. And over there -- a little girl is whistling. She put her big whole self back together again through language. Her first love. Her deepest love. She put her big whole self back together again.

Daddy let go.
I let go.

Nothing but space.