Friday, February 25, 2011

A Recognizable Shape


This week’s Love Four All topic is “Love your passion.” Like many people, I have a lot of passions: my family, my friends, cooking, baking, food preservation, sewing. I have interests that I want to cultivate into passions: gardening, yoga. But aside from the precious people in my life, the abundance of love in my life, the bit of faith I have in my life, my biggest passion, my vocational passion is story, language, character. Some days those things are all I think about.

There is nothing I love more than to come across a fantastic word (ponder or cypher) or an interesting phrase (I didn’t go to school just to eat my lunch) or a peculiar habit (I once worked with a woman who scraped deep canyons in her thumb nails with her index fingernails; she was always scraping no matter what she was doing) or an odd enterprise (a woman who fakes mental illness to keep people at bay). It can be simple or intricate, doesn’t matter. It can be in a book or in life, doesn’t matter. I am always collecting, appreciating, marveling.

To be honest, I have been dreading this week’s topic a bit. I have always wanted to write, to be a writer. Most of the people in my life don’t know this. The people who are very close to me know it, but even they’ve only known it for a year or two. For years I never talked about it, at all. Since college, I’ve written stories. I’ve been working on “my little story” since I moved to the country almost seven years ago. But it has only been in about the last two years that I’ve mentioned working on a story. And only to people who are extremely close to me. And still, I’ve had to force myself to tell those people. I mostly did it because I felt I needed to start putting it out there.

I just don’t feel comfortable talking about it, and I don’t exactly know why. Most people don’t really understand the process and, to be fair, they don’t really care. And I get that. Most people don’t care about the process an engineer or social security administrator or wood yard foreman goes through when they are working. I don’t take it personally, but, still, I don’t want to talk about my writing with just anyone.

Part of not feeling comfortable talking about my passion is because it is my secret. These are my characters. Though I’ve been with them a long time, I am still getting to know them. I want to protect them from the world for as long as possible. They are always with me. At the risk of sounding like a nut, they are friends who are always with me. I spend a lot of time with them. Wondering how they would handle this situation or that predicament.

But another truth, another facet of this passion, is that I am hungry for conversation about books and language and story and characters. I don’t have that in my life. I get little tastes, but I want a feast. I love nothing better than to discuss a good book. I often hear more emotion in my voice when I am discussing The Lacuna or The Well and the Mine or Bastard out of Carolina. The thought of a story of my own becoming part of that discussion is enthralling and overwhelming.

Part of wanting to write a story that others read is that I want to be a part of that feast, that larger collective of discussion about story and literature. I want to know that this character of mine made you mad or surprised you or reminded you of someone from your past. I want to know what you felt, enjoyed, contemplated.

When I am in the car by myself, I usually don’t listen to anything. I just think. But, if I do turn anything on it is always from my collection of writing podcasts. My favorite ones, the ones I listen to over and over, are author panels from the Tennessee Williams festival, a writing festival held in New Orleans every spring. I listen to these discussions over and over again. I want Silas House to remind me that I can’t sing a proper hymn to someone without including their faults. I need Rick Bragg to reinforce for me to “hit it lightly” when it comes to dialect. I know what the authors are going to say, but I want to hear them say it again.

Like most readers and writers, I love going into bookstores. I go straight to the literature section and walk the aisles. I see what catches my attention. I touch the covers. I pick up books and feel the edges of the pages, look at the style and size of the font inside. I’ve started taking pictures of covers that I really like. All the pictures in this post are ones I’ve taken with my phone over the past year or two. As I walk the aisles, I think about things like name branding and fonts and colors and art.

One of my favorite things about literature is that the artist is manipulating the viewer, the reader, with nothing more than words. Painters get to use texture and color, size and scale. Cinematographers use spoken words, music, framing, order. The author has only words: black marks on a white page. Nothing else influences the reader. Because of this, I think the author has a more intimate relationship with her reader. That reader has to bring more of herself into the book. Still, the cover is important. Aside from word of mouth, the cover, along with the title or name of the author, brings the reader into the story.

I think the writer’s life is a great way to live—a great way for me to live. It absolutely suits me to a T. I love alone time, time for thought and introspection, but I love people too. I find people absolutely fascinating. I am so interested in how people handle their lives. My brain is very much a processor. I am a terrible arguer because I can never think of anything to say. I need time to be quiet and realize what I think or feel. (Yes, this drives H nuts.)

With all aspects of my life, I have to spend time with myself to know what I want, what I think. I completely agree with Lee Smith, "Narrative is as necessary to me as breathing, as air. I write for the reason I've always done so: simply to survive. To make sense of my life. I never know what I think until I read what I've written. And I refuse to lead an unexamined life." I, too, am much clearer when I’ve had time to write.

So, I’ll probably tuck this passion away again, like a gem in my pocket, just pulling it out every once in a while to share it with someone, but always knowing it is with me, mine. Maybe one day I will be comfortable going public, wearing it on a t-shirt, telling people I meet “Hi, I’m K. I am a writer.” I kind of doubt that though.

Whatever the future holds, whether I never show anyone anything I’ve written again or whether I get to see my books on the shelf at the bookstore, this passion will always be mine. I wouldn’t be me without it.

"In the telling of it, we discover who we are, why we exist, what we should do. It brings order and delight. Its form is inherently pleasing, and deeply satisfying to us. Because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, it gives a recognizable shape to the muddle and chaos of our lives." Lee Smith.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love You

This week's theme for the All Four Love contribution is Love Yourself.

The most important thing I have done for myself as a mother and partner is establish the routine of getting up before everyone else in the house. When you have three three-year-olds--or elderly parents or your own business or __________(fill in the blank)--it is hard to take time for yourself. There is a lot of guilt involved in overlooking everything that needs to be done in order to grab for a few minutes for yourself.

But I am very committed to my morning time. H's mom, "the Nana," sets such a good example of a person of faith committed to starting her day off in quiet meditation. For as long as I've known H, her mother has started everyday with her coffee and her reading and her prayer. I always admired her for it, saw how she benefited from it, but never tried to make it work in my own life.

At Christmas, a little over a year ago, I saw our church's little mass-published daily devotion book. I thought, "I'm going to get up each morning of this Advent season and read the passage for the day." I did it. I set my alarm. I got up each morning, started the coffee maker, and watched the sun rise. I did it every morning. And I haven't stopped.
Getting up first. Giving thanks. Drinking my coffee in solitude and stillness, before the energy of the house rises for the day. Reading from various books. Giving thanks. Writing in my journal. Working on "my little story." Reading poetry. Occasionally doing some sewing or yoga. Meditating on qualities I hope grow or diminish within me. Focusing on my day and what I hope to accomplish or improve. Giving thanks.
I have a great deal of certainty that this is a habit that will be mine for a long time to come. It does me too much good to put it down. It is worth the thirty or ninety less minutes of sleep. It is ten times worth giving up that hour of television at night to get up an hour early the next morning.
My time. My morning meditation. It makes me a better mother, a better partner. By the time the rest of my family is up, I am able to meet them from a place of contentment, gratefulness. I'm not hitting the ground running, struggling to wake up as those around me twirl around like tops and dervishes and tornadoes. I have spent time with myself; I am now able to be more present.
Depending on the time of year, I sometimes get up with the sun. These are some of my favorite mornings--the light spilling through the trees like ink. The pink overtaking the navy of the sky, the fog hovering in the troughs. Every once in a while, deer eating under the oak trees. These are my favorite mornings. The winter mornings where my coffee shields me from the cold outside. But all the mornings are worth while. Every morning makes my day clearer and more complete.
There are lots of things I don't do for myself that I need to--exercise enough, shower enough, socialize enough. But getting up before my family is one thing I can commit to, one thing I can, to a certain extent, control. I do love myself enough to give me that time.
What can you do for yourself? What gift would you give a friend, hope for a friend? Do that for yourself. You are worth it and you will be stronger for it, more grounded, more content, and probably more accepting of yourself and others. Whatever it is--make it happen. Love you.
All the photos in this post are pictures I took with my phone of a Eudora Welty Exhibit. I took an hour one day by myself and went to a museum not too far from where I was that day to see this exhibit--Eudora Welty: Exposures and Reflections. I love Southern literature and culture; I loved my time looking at the photography this great writer took during her time with the WPA in Mississippi. Strolling through this collection was a special time for me, because it was my time doing something for me. As the title of this post says, loving myself enough to take the time.

The first photo may have been my favorite of the exhibit: School Children Meeting a Visitor, 1935-36. The remainder of the photos are titled as follows:
Ruins of Windsor, post-1936.
Carrying the Ice for Sunday Dinner, prior to 1935.
Tomato Packers' Recess, 1935-36.
Hairdressing Queue, prior to 1935.
The photo just above is Untitled (Woman in Cotton Field) prior to 1935.
Finally, the one below is Home with Bottle Trees, 1936.

I took a picture, also, of a book open to a page where Ms. Welty is writing about her experience as a photographer and a writer. She writes, "I knew this, anyway: that my wish, indeed my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight." Jackson, 1971.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Loved, unexpectedly

I didn't want to move here. In fact, I was terrified to move here--to this rural county on the Mississippi-Alabama line. Conservative dry county in a town with one red light, only two red lights in the whole county. I'd lived in places like Auburn, St. Louis, Los Angeles. I was living in a place I adored--Atlanta. I loved going to the Y, to Java Monkey coffee house, taking yoga classes and cooking classes. I loved the diversity. I loved going to the Farmer's Market and hearing at least eight different languages that I couldn't identify and seeing signs in the bathroom stalls asking users not to stand on the toilets. I loved seeing couples of all kinds, happy and at home in their town. I loved feeling like I fit in, like there were lots of others just like me.
But then heartbreak took hold. As we were driving back to Atlanta after H's brother's funeral, I had a strong, clear feeling. We needed to move to her hometown. That's what we did. Within six months she was here, and I came a few months later at the end of the school year. We were coming for five years. Then we'd decide where to go next.
We've now been here almost seven years.
I still miss my yoga studios, my independent coffee shops and bookstores, seeing five different kinds of eggplant at the farmer's market, the energy and culture of a big city. Seeing what classes the Cook's Warehouse is offering and what is coming to the Fox. As soon as it is warm enough sitting outside at Raging Burrito, drinking Margaritas and dipping into guacamole. I still miss a lot. I have a lot of city in me.
But there is much I've fallen in love with here. The kindness of people, that people here take time. We had more meals that you could shake a stick at once we brought these three home from the hospital. Yesterday morning, the new dryer still on the truck, the phone rang. "Donna said y'all had to go get a new dryer yesterday. Can my son and I come help you install it?" When there is so much kindness and generosity around you, you want to participate. When Brandon and Terry came to switch out and hook up the dryer, I had my kids go downstairs and watch for a few minutes. I want them to see that kind of task, that kind of consideration.
People around here work hard; they are always working at something. They are industrious and resourceful. Gardens, woodworking, welding, sewing, canning, cooking.
I love the pace of life here. People stop and take time here. They know one another. If you have a need, someone knows about it and helps you with it.
When we moved here we knew we wanted to try to have a few children. We thought three might be a good number to aim for. Well, we hit the mark. Our three will be three and a half years old next month. The time is going by so fast sometimes it makes my chest tight. Thankfulness abounds when I ponder my own lack of control: what were once two of my biggest fears--carrying three babies at once and moving to H's hometown--are currently among our biggest and most treasured blessings.
I can think of no better place for us to be raising these youngin's. Just this morning I was reading a bit of Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. Here are just a few of the things he wrote about children being in nature: "Modern life narrows our focus until it is primarily visual...nature accentuates all of the senses, it helps us recover from the stresses of daily life and improves our capacity to pay attention...Nature invites exploration, direct contact, and experience. But it also inspires a sense of awe, a glimpse of what is still 'un-Googleable''s mystery and magnitude."

He also says "How satisfying it is for a child to know a place--and to know it deeply....Children feel more more grounded to where they live when they can learn to identify some of the common plants, birds, and animals they see in their yards and neighborhoods."

This makes me think of Lucia being excited to see the deer tracks and Elliott loving pointing out a cardinal to me. Mazie begging to go get the chicken eggs. Throwing rocks in the old cow pond. Watching the heron fly from the edge of the pond up into a tall pine.

Blue skies. Green grass. Ponds. Sandy patches in the dirt roads. Rocks to throw. Leaves that fall.
Blue Herons. Red-Winged Blackbirds. Fox squirrels. Cowhorns, yearlings, bucks, and does. Cardinals, blue jays, towhees, and mockingbirds. Wild ferns, tiny wild irises. Some springs the dogwood trees out in the pines are so plentiful, they look like snow.
Mazie was walking back up to our house from Nana's. I was waiting outside for her. When she got to me she said, "I saw a squirrel." Then she cocked her head and, thinking, said, "but it was red." I said, "Mazie, that was the fox squirrel. You saw the fox squirrel." I loved that she could tell he was different. I love that another day, the three and I saw him again and got to see where his nest is.
I love that when we go walking down the dirt road, they look for deer tracks. "Look, Mama, deer tracks," Lucia will say. She loves to find them and show them to her siblings and me. Mazie has started asking all about bugs.
Everyday we go to the chicken yard to feed them our scraps and give them corn and pellets. They love getting the eggs and bringing them back up to the house. We've picked up a feather and determined which chicken it once belonged to.
We've also gone to someone else's property in June for blueberry picking. Their blueberry bushes were the biggest I've ever seen. The three and I picked blueberries one morning, filling our buckets and bellies. I love that they are learning about where food comes from.
This year I am going to attempt a garden again. Lucia and Elliott and Mazie will each get their own little plot to tend. I think they are at a great age to start this. We are already starting to talk about what they might want to plant.
Before we moved here, when I would come with H to visit, I didn't think this place was that pretty. Just a bunch of pine trees, I thought. But, now that I live here. I think it is beautiful. It is in the details. Once I noticed the oaks and magnolias, ferns and acorns, its beauty began to grow for me. Each year I find it more and more beautiful. I am so thankful we live here right now, for this time in our lives. We are right where we are supposed to be.
When I first read the theme for this week's All Four Love, this place I am living was the first thing that came to my mind. These woods, this dirt road, this home. Unexpected, yes, but still a deep love.
I don't know how many more years we will be here. But I know wherever we go, I'd rather be living down a dirt road than on a cul-de-sac. And I know I will always have a piece of this place in my heart.