Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Teachers

Tonight was wonderful! I heard my favorite teachers (Angela Davis-Gardner and Peggy Payne) read from a collection of stories in my favorite genre, flash fiction. Well, Angela read; Peggy had to explain. You'll have to get the book to understand what I mean by that!

The event was held at Quail Ridge Books and they were reading from a collection of short short stories called, Long Story Short, edited by Mariann Gingher. I carry the book in my car, and read a story while I'm waiting in line at the bank.

There was a strong connection to my hometown too. Two of the writers, Angela and Mariann, are from Greensboro, and another is a professor at Bennett College.

The flash fiction or short short story or sudden fiction form is so fun to me. They require brevity, succinctness, and substance. Most of them are in the 1000-1500 word range. One of the writers, Carrie Knowles, who is also a very inspiring artist, said that she has her writing classes start with a 2000 word story and gradually whittle it down to 750 words. Quite a challenge for some people, I imagine.

I got inspired tonight. To the table. Writing table, that is.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Being with Family

Today I went to my hometown to spend some time with my dad and my brother and his family.

At my dad's house, we ate soup, watermelon and cornbread that I had brought for lunch. He showed me some old papers he had found: letters from my mother before they were married, programs from shows he saw when he was stationed in New York City during the war, postcards and memorabilia he had sent to his mother to keep for him. He showed me the announcement that was sent out when his father died (he was 13) and a church bulletin where his dad's name was listed in the "In Memory" section. There were single cuff links, the others lost to history. He gave me a cookbook that was from my grandmother's church, and his potato salad and pimento cheese recipes. As we talked, he made a container of the pimento cheese for me to take home.

Several weeks ago he had sent me a DVD he had made from old video tapes. It contained footage from 1989 and 1990 of my children and my nieces at the holidays and Tweetsie Railroad. The first DVD he sent me was blank so he made me another one, and we sat on his bed and watched a little of it.

Then we went to my brother's house. His father-in-law died a few weeks ago, and they were celebrating his mother-in-law's 91st birthday. Her son took videos of her blowing out the candles, and afterward of her smiling warmly into the camera. My nieces were there too, which is always a real treat.

I was reminded of a couple of things today. One is the importance of taking movies of your children and other family members. Photographs are great, but nothing can improve on seeing people in motion and capturing their voices. All you parents and grandparents should go straightaway and buy The Birthday Interview and use it with the children in your life.

And as my dad and I watched the movies, I thought of a Brian Andreas card that says, "In the end, I think that I will like that we were sitting on the bed, talking & wondering where the time had gone."

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Last night my plan for today was to go to the Nasher in Durham and see the photography exhibit, then go to Through This Lens and talk to the owner and look around. Instead this is what I did:

Three loads of laundry
Grocery shopping (x2 because I forgot some things the first time)
Went to see a friend whose husband died a month ago.
Cooked soup for my dad and another friend.
Cooked five pounds of shrimp (some for the soup and some for dinner).
Assembled 80 cards for my aunt and my sister-in-law.
Had a lengthy and somewhat contentious discussion with my husband about the division of chores at our house.

The discussion ended in a stalemate. But the rest of the day was productive. This kind of busyness brings a real sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of doing good for others. Not what I planned, but I know I'm going to make some people very happy tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The world calls Audrey

I know just how Audrey feels, sitting at the window looking longingly outside. I'm at my office now, and thinking ahead to the weekend. Just as the cat sees bees, birds, butterflies, flies, and lizards, I feel excited about the things that are calling out for my time.

If you're free tonight, head over to the LongView Center in downtown Raleigh and catch the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus performance. It is called Threads of Hope, featuring "Brave Souls & Dreamers" and includes Special Guests, The Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte.

Come on, Friday night! I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day Off/Off Day

I've taken three days off now. The first day was spent doing chores that got neglected over the workshop weekend. The second day I had a meeting that lasted three hours in the middle of the day, and did grocery shopping. Last night I went to hear the wonderful author, Jill McCorkle, read from her new book.

Today I had intentions of revising a story I wrote last year. The revision has been boiling around in my head for a few days and I feel really excited about it. But when I got up, I had no energy. None. I went down to my writing space, looked over at the desk, turned to the card-making area, and walked back upstairs without doing anything productive. I got a book, wrapped myself in a blanket and tried to read. I ended up lying down, eyes wide open, body very still for about an hour.

After dragging myself up, I could tell that no creative work was going to be coming out of me today, so I worked on organizing my photographs on the computer. I have now spent close to six hours doing this. It feels good.

My photographs, my stories, and my card papers compete for my free time. I never feel torn, though, because working on each of them raises my seratonin and gives me a boost.

It's back to work tomorrow. I'm grateful for the time off.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grand Finale

This is almost the last post about the choir and Norris Garner. I will only write about it again to give you the heads up when they are on television.

Last night, we went to WRAL to record for the gospel show, "Spiritual Awakening" and it was fun, fun, fun! Terrence Jenkins hosts the show, and we got to see him practicing his intros. He stood in front of a blank TV screen mouthing words and smiling. He interviewed Norris and that was fun too. When Terrence asked Norris for a phone number so people could call about his workshops, Norris said, "My phone number?? What do you mean? People are looking for me!"

This was a fitting end to this amazing experience. Norris Garner and the UCT choir are stars. I want Raleigh to know.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Norris Garner

Caveat: I'm no videographer, nor do I sing in public; I was purely an observer to this weekend's activities. And I only made very short recordings of Norris and the choir yesterday morning because I wanted to be sure that I could upload them. First Norris:

Being with my choir and this incredible choir director this weekend was a transformative experience. The choir worked with him from 7-9 Friday night, all day Saturday, did three performances at the church, and eight of them showed up at 7 last night to sing around the grand piano at another church. The choir's dedication and hard work brought me to tears as did Norris and his amazing ministry and inspiring voice.

The choir is recording at WRAL tonight to appear on the show "Spiritual Awakenings" next Sunday morning. Although I wish every one of you had seen them in person, tune in and watch them if you can.

Three days of pure inspiration. And a lot of lessons learned. And now the choir with Norris:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Feeling Groovy Part II

I just spent the most incredible two days with my church choir. Remember how grumpy I was on Wednesday? Well, they cured the blues.

They have worked for two days with Norris Garner. If all that happened this weekend was that we all listened to him sing, that would have been enough. If the choir had shown up and sang with him, that would have been enough. But these people have been champions. They learned ten songs in eight hours. They had already agreed to perform tomorrow at our 9 and 11 services and do a 3:00 concert; and at 4:00 today, after all that work, agreed to perform tomorrow night as well.

Here's the deal if you're in Raleigh and love gospel music. You have five opportunities to see this great group of people sing their hearts out with Norris.

1. and 2. 9:00 and 11:00 services at Unity Church of the Triangle in the Longview Center in Raleigh (corner of Hargett and Person Streets at Moore Square).
3. 3:00 concert at Unity Church of the Triangle. No admission but an offering will be taken up, profits to benefit the Raleigh Rescue Mission.
4. 7:00 night service at Fairmont UMC on the corner of Clark Avenue and Horne Streets
5. Date to be decided, recorded performance for a WRAL show, Spiritual Awakenings. Choir will record Monday night.

I cried today at the practice. It wasn't just the music, although it was so emotionally charged. It was the dedication and enthusiasm these people showed, the respect they gave Norris, the talent and voice of Norris Garner.

Sometimes things turn out so much better than one expected. That too was a gift. Bring on tomorrow. And I'm really glad I chose to stay home from the beach.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Feeling Groovy

Well, listen up: I'm not feeling groovy. I'm irritated with people who don't reply to emails in a timely fashion; I'm tired of wimpy people. Somebody recommended a blog on writing to me the other day, and I'm fed up with reading it because it's all about the fact that she can't get down to writing. I'm irritated at the same blogger because she uses punctuation incorrectly and can't spell. I am pre-irritated because she will probably get published!

I'm still irritated at the person who didn't write thank you notes for her wedding presents. I'm irritated because my husband goes out with friends after band practice every week but didn't want to go out with me after practice tonight.

The cat scratched the hell out of me. That ticked me off big time, especially since I had just changed the litter box. Which irritates me because I didn't want an indoor cat. I'm annoyed as hell because I like the little critter so much in spite of my aversion to taking her.

There has been a leak from a toilet in the part of our house that is sacred to me. I'm annoyed that the hole that was cut in the ceiling to figure out what was going on is still there, making my sacred space feel decidedly unsacred. And I'm anticipating an acceleration in my annoyance level because when the drywall guy comes to fix it there will be dust everywhere, and then I'll have to wait a few more weeks for the painter. Which leads me to the fact that I'm irritated that we're in the construction business, a business that sucks eggs right now, and that we always have to wait until the subcontractors are finished at our jobs before they come to our house.

I'm irritated at people who lie and people who act passive-aggressive.

I'm irritated that my monthly horoscope said tomorrow would be the worst day of the month and I'm already in a very bad state of mind.

Whew. My head hurts. And that irritates me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Masha Hamilton and Time to Go

I mentioned yesterday that I read Masha Hamilton's new book, 31 Hours. Tonight she came to speak at the bookstore. She was classy, brilliant, and had chosen passages from the book that were spot-on for us, the Religion and Ethics group.

The event was poorly attended. There were maybe ten people there. Discouraging to put together a program and have few people there to enjoy it.

This discussion group has been meeting for many years - more than ten. Attendance can range from three people to forty people. As the discussion leader, I choose the materials or speaker, read up and prepare the discussion questions, send out a reminder email, and show up to lead. And try not to take poor attendance personally.

The first time I led a book group at my church, I had visions of seventy-five people showing up. From the neighborhood, bookstore customers, church members. The group ended up being around ten people. After a few great discussions, I decided to let go of expectations of large numbers of people being important. But I want actively interested people who have read the material to come. Tonight, two people had read the book and I was the only one who asked a question. How disappointing that must have been for Masha. I know I felt embarrassed at the lack of involvement by the audience.

When do we decide that something has run its course? It is the longest-running discussion group at the store. But to tell you the truth, I'm tired of doing it. And that's how I know it's time for me to take a break.

Later this week, I'll be talking about a couple of things that Masha has set in place that could use some support. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nice Weekend

I am a real reader - usually read between forty and fifty books a year. But I've been through a two-month slump. I didn't read one book. Instead, I watched TV in bed until I fell asleep.

Now, granted, getting your news from Jon Stewart is important, but it had gotten to be a bad habit. So just as a year or so ago I banned talk radio from my car, I banned watching television from my nightly routine. Lo and behold, I've read three books in the past two weeks, two this weekend.

One of the books is 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton. She is the author of The Camel Bookmobile, which I haven't read. Her new book is the story of a young American, Jonas, who is in his last hours leading up to being a suicide bomber in the New York subway. I read it in a day and half - it is very engrossing - and the ending is thought-provoking. Hamilton will read from the book at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh tomorrow night at 7.

The second book I read is Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong. Huong is Vietnamese, and this is on the cover: "Banned in its own country, the first novel from Vietnam ever published in the United States." It is the story of three Vietnamese women through the viewpoint of a young girl, Hang, living under the Communist government of Vietnam. Not only is the language beautiful (it is a translation) but there is a great deal of current history of the Vietnamese people woven into the story.

Last night we anchored out. We chose a place that was very sheltered. Unfortunately, this also meant (last night at least) that the air was very still and the no-see-ums were out. Here is the view from the back of the boat:

The sunset, usually very vivid in this particular body of water, was rather subdued.

Because of the restless night, I saw the sun rise. It was a perfect start to the day.

I'm eager to start reading tonight and cozy up in my own bed. Next on my list is the new book by one of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers. My daughter, who works at Malaprops Book Store in Asheville, recommended it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My brain on health care

I'm fighting the urge to cancel the paper and turn off the television forever. I don't want to weigh the options and debate the terms. It all seems very simple to me: we have to take care of our own in the most efficient and compassionate way possible.

My friend from elementary school did some of my thinking for me, and I want to share what she said. Read it here. Thanks, Virginia.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Leaps and Bounds

How do you handle things that challenge your confidence in your abilities?

Baby steps I can handle. Take a writing class, a photography class. Show my work to friends. Enlarge a few pictures, frame them, and hang them on the dining room wall. Send in a story or photo to a contest. Okay. I'm on it. But last month, two opportunities presented themselves that push my limits. And for all the confidence I've gained in the past three or four years, I'm very nervous about stepping up, stepping way up, to proceed.

I love to feel competent. I need to remind myself that there were times when I wasn't sure about starting things that I'm good at now. I have to remember that I'm fifty-seven years old (prime o' life) and that if I'm going to exit my comfort zone now's as good a time as any.

So, one step. Well, two steps. But giant steps this time. Mother, may I?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Another Death

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight." Kahlil Gibran

A friend's father died this morning, on his birthday. A full circle.

In all the years I've know them, he and his wife have been inseparable. A very attractive elderly couple, they could be seen walking in their neighborhood and holding hands on occasion. I can't think of one without the other.

They shopped at a small grocery store in their neighborhood, and after they moved across town to the retirement center, I would run into them at the store on occasion. No matter that there was one of the stores a few blocks down from where they now lived, or that they weren't supposed to be doing much driving; they wanted to shop where they knew their way around. And when I would see them, they acted almost sheepish, like they'd been caught. But I understood the need to keep the familiars when so much change was taking place in their lives.

I thought of my father yesterday when I was taking in this latest rash of deaths. He's eighty-seven, and I can't imagine how it must be to watch death grow exponentially as part of your life. Now, for me, it's mostly the odd death of a friend and the more expected deaths of the older generation. But to see, week after week, the death of those one knew and those one loved?

So we live long and become a companion to death. Or we die young and miss all the goodbyes, but miss the living too. There's something to be said, though, for the increased awareness and sweetness of time we acquire as we watch life seep away or dash away in friends and family.

Good-bye, Mr. Hooper. And happy birthday.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Short but Sweet

For some it is a long weekend, but we took only a couple of days to scoot to the coast. The sunsets were beautiful. Two nights, two settings, so many different colors.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

He's taking the saints.

This post is for Hal Uzzell, who died yesterday after a long, dignified struggle with cancer.

The Beauty Of Death
I have passed a mountain peak and my soul is soaring in the firmament of complete and unbound freedom;
I am far, far away, my companions, and the clouds are hiding the hills from my eyes.
The valleys are becoming flooded with an ocean of silence, and the hands of oblivion are engulfing the roads and the houses;
The prairies and fields are disappearing behind a white specter that looks like the spring cloud, yellow as the candlelight and red as the twilight.
The songs of the waves and the humans of the streams are scattered, and the voices of the throngs reduced to silence;
And I can hear naught but the music of eternity in exact harmony with the spirit's desires.
I am cloaked in full whiteness;
I am in comfort;
I am in peace.

Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Many people ask why I don't sell my photograph cards. Well, I do sell them. At my local book store. But only because the owner liked them and felt bad about taking so many. So now she buys them from herself!

There's no money to be made from selling the cards, really. I might recoup my expenses, but that's all. However, this is an example of what those cards are all about to me:

The book store owner and one of her managers are going to China tomorrow. They were wondering what to take for hostess gifts and I suggested that I put together a few ten-packs of the cards. She went for it.

The thought of those cards - my photographs - going to China is the most thrilling thing I can think of. Photographs of our mountains, our wildlife, our oceans and lighthouses being used by people that I've never seen, so far away. Cards that say thank you/I'm thinking of you/happy birthday/I'm sorry/get well - what money in the world could equal the thought of that? My cards sitting on desks and under magnets on refrigerators, found in drawers years later full of sentiment. That's rich, people, and I feel as excited as I ever could about a check.

I wish my friends a safe and successful trip, and am filled with gratitude that they are taking a piece of me with them.