Thursday, December 29, 2011

Goodbye to the old year

It's always good to look back on the old year before we move forward to the new.

At the end of this year, on December 31, 2011, my father will have been dead for a year and a half. I haven't gone a day without thinking about him. My youngest sister and I cleaned out his house, we put it on the market, and now a family with children is making it home. My brother and I worked together doing estate business, and I'm grateful for the time with each of them. My other two sisters had a high school reunion this year, giving the five of us an excuse to meet in Greensboro for a bonus visit.

We realized that there were many questions we should have asked my dad, so we've gone a couple of times to see his sister in a nursing home. She has let me tape her as she told us of their childhood, the loss of their father in his late thirties, and one very disturbing revelation that she had never told anyone.

Inspired by these stories, I have come up with a very intriguing character, a young boy named Eugene. He and his cousin, George, are revealing themselves to me a little at a time, and I'm beginning to think that a novel is sneaking up on me.

I lost two very dear friends this year. The first, in April, was Catherine. I have known Catherine since our children were in preschool. She was a magnificent presence, and her death a real loss. The second was a college friend, Linda. Linda and I took two writing classes together this year where she wrote of her cancer and the loss of her husband with poignancy and, believe it or not, humor. I have her story to remember her by.

We lost a few other friends and family too.

Our business has sustained us, a miracle in this scary economic time.

I ran over our wonderful cat, Chippy, and killed him. But a photograph I took of him was chosen to hang in the new NCSU vet school building, so he lives on to those who see it.

I celebrated six years of not drinking and five of not smoking. I remember thinking when I gave each of them up that I wished it had been a long time. And now it has.

My daughters have had their ups and downs, but they're mostly happy, doing work they enjoy. They were all home for the holidays. I told one of my daughters that when they were small, I used to feel sorry for people whose children were grown. Now I rejoice in their adulthood!

At Christmas, we had three gatherings - my family, my husband's family, and one with friends and family. They went off without a hitch! I think part of that is because my husband has figured out that work is the best place to be when I'm getting ready for big events! When my family came to town, we cooked oysters, just as we used to do at my grandparents house at the beach.

And now, I've looked back. I'm ready to pluck the new year, to welcome the joy and sorrow, inspirations and insecurities, celebrations of life and death that it will bring.

Thanks for riding this one out with me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Customer Service

This image is in sharp contrast to how I feel right now.

My children can hardly count the number of times that I have embarrassed them in stores because of poor customer service. But it is really important to me, and I think that my husband exemplifies in our business the kind of customer courtesy I want from people who provide services or sell things to me.

There is a rug cleaning business in this town that we have dealt with for as long as I've been working in our business. We have used them for clients and for ourselves. I have never walked out of their store or talked to them on the phone and felt that they gave a damn about me. They have this smug superior attitude. With every interaction, I ask my husband not to use them again.

He continues to use them though because they are the best in town. Slow, but the best. And he wants the best for our clients.

Today I had a billing question for them, and the owner's wife is their accounting person. From the first question I felt put on the defensive, and it went downhill from there. After I hung up I decided to call her back and let her know how I felt.

"Every time I deal with your company," I told her, "I come away dissatisfied with the way I have been treated." At this point I would expect her to ask what did I mean? Instead she launches into an explanation of why she treated me so disrespectfully.

"That's exactly what I'm talking about," I said. "I never feel that you care about us as customers." Again, an opportunity for her to make things right, but she said, "Well, you have the right to go anywhere you want. You don't have to use us."

True, I don't have to use her. But we want to use them because they're so good in the field. So I said, "I realize that, and I would like to continue to use you if only I felt that you care about me as a customer." And she said, "We don't care if you come here or not." And then she hung up the phone.

So. There you have it. They really don't give a hoot about us.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Have you ever sacrificed good customer service in exchange for good service? Their Facebook page asks for reviews. Would it be fair to say, "Good service, bad customer service" on it?

My face is cooling off now; my feelings about not using this company again are even stronger. But I don't want to sacrifice our good customer service because of their bad customer service. What to do?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Free Weekend

I can't remember how long it has been since I had a weekend with nothing much to do.

I've been off work since Wednesday. My daughter came, we made some wedding plans, then she was off on a side trip before returning home. I did laundry, I bought a few groceries to make it through, I changed my sheets.

I also read a book, caught up on my crossword puzzles, chatted without feeling rushed, went to hear an author at the book store. I visited my mother-in-law who has just moved to a new facility and was happy to just sit and watch the people move through the lobby. I read the Sunday paper today, on Sunday.

And the oddest thing about the whole long weekend were the things I didn't do. I didn't write or edit or submit anything. I didn't plan a workshop or gallery opening. I didn't move my warm clothes up from the basement or organize anything. And most of all, I didn't feel stressed or guilty because I had nothing to do. I liked it. I felt rich with time.

On most weekends, if we're in town, it's because we have a lot going on and this weekend was the rarest of treats. I liked it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Still Looking Back, but Around and Forward Now Too

Yep, this is going to be about my dad. This week I'm feeling a little emotionally vulnerable. a song can make me cry like a baby. The inability to share some recent accomplishments leaves them incomplete. My daughter's wedding, the holidays, all loom large as they will point out his absence. I ran across a thank-you note and his writing made my chest hurt.

I had him in my life for almost sixty years. And yet there was more to share. More to celebrate. More phone calls, more visits. I wasn't finished being my father's daughter.

We're hanging a new show at the 1880 Gallery at the Long View Center tonight. The reception is tomorrow, 6-9, good food and drink and live music by Tommy Goldsmith. It will be a wonderful night with friends. And Saturday and Sunday I'll spend the day with writer friends, honing a new series of stories -- "Eugene Stories" -- based loosely on my imaginings about my dad's childhood. They're fiction, of course, and I couldn't have written them if he were alive. They're too probing and reveal my thoughts about his mother and his vulnerability as a child.

Look at him here with his sisters and mother. The first sister was full of spit and vinegar; the second had secrets to hide; their mother was tough because she had to be. Now look closely at my dad, his smile; he seems so innocent and vulnerable. A boy who lost his father at twelve or thirteen, a father who wasn't all that loving to begin with but was all he knew about being a son.

Grief is like labor: even if you've experienced it, you forget how painful it is. And like labor I'm birthing something new, these stories. It's a way to stay in touch, I guess.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Envelope Please...

This notebook represents my eager attempts to get one of my stories published. It has charts, sticky notes, submission requirements for close to one hundred publications, a list of all my stories and where they are in the revision process. I put it together in a few days, thus avoiding the more important work of writing the stories.

I've submitted thirty-five times. I've received twenty-three rejections. Not encouraging, is it?

When we applied to colleges, remember how you waited and waited for your mail? And how the small envelope meant rejection and the large one meant you had been accepted? In the manuscript submission process, it's just the opposite. The big envelope means that your story is being sent back with a form letter that mostly says, "Thanks, but no thanks. Don't despair. Keep putting yourself on the line."

This weekend I was out of town with my dear friend, Nancy Olson, from Quail Ridge Books. When I got home, one of those large envelopes was on the counter. And it was from the magazine where I most wish to see my work published.

I opened it up and there was the best of all rejection letters! A personal note, thanking me for the submission, full of compliments, stating why they couldn't publish it (I understood), and asking me to send more work! I was as thrilled by that rejection as I would have been by an acceptance letter from another magazine.

That's all it took to rev up my energy again.

Getting something published is competitive, intense, and nerve-wracking. Not to mention hard on the confidence and ego. But I've marked "no" on my chart next to that submission, and am looking for the piece that will move the manuscript reader that sent the personal note. The perfect story is listed in that notebook, I'm sure.

PS The writing workshop with Louise Hawes is full but there will be another one in November, this one focusing on character development, with the wonderful Kim Church. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing Workshop Opportunity

Workshop with Author
Louise Hawes
October 8 and 9, 2011

Place: Private Home in Raleigh NC

Time: 9-3 each day


This workshop will be for serious writers with works in progress (novel, short story, personal essay, non-fiction). Each person will submit twenty pages to Louise and the other participants. These twenty pages will form the basis for the workshop experience.

The workshop is limited to eight people. Cost is $150 which includes lunch both days, drinks and snacks. Cash or checks only.

If you are interested, please let me know by email: I will send a registration form which you will return to me via email with the twenty pages you would like to work on over the weekend. After all participants are committed, Louise will email everyone the work to be reviewed and suggestions about how to read and think about the pieces prior to October 8.

Deadline for registration is September 25, 2011. This is firm so we have time with the 160 pages or so!

Here is a link to Louise’s website if you’d like more information about her: Louise Hawes

Please email me if you have any questions.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scottsdale AZ But Our Minds Were in NC

This past weekend my friend Elizabeth and I went to see her mom and sister in Scottsdale, Arizona. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, The Scottsdale Resort. I don't believe I've ever had a finer experience with a hotel. The staff was accomodating in every way imaginable, all the amenities were either free or reasonable, and it was convenient to where we had to be.

Unfortunately, there was something going on back in North Carolina (and up the east coast): Hurricane Irene. Elizabeth and I would get up in the morning, grab our coffee and start reading or watching the television for news of the storm. I have daughters and other family at various intervals along our eastern border and I was in touch with them too. Elizabeth was talking to her husband often as they live in Pamlico County in NC.

The news was everywhere and the challenge was to separate the hype from the reality of the situation.

Meanwhile in Scottsdale, things were hot and brown. One hundred fourteen degrees all three days. My favorite expression of the weekend when we walked outside was, "Great! The heat's on!" I've never experienced heat like that. Is dry heat better, as they say? I can only say that anywhere that you are so hot the sweat dries as it pops out is too darn hot!

We tried to distract ourselves. We had drinks in the cabana where cool mist sprayed on us periodically.

We swam in swimming pools.

We had manicures and massages.

We took an early morning hike at a nearby park.

Modern communication methods were a blessing. In Elizabeth's town, there is an online news site, and she was able to follow day by day what was going on. However, it was very distressing for her to scroll down and see her house and office being flooded.

The last morning we were there, we had a wonderful brunch at the hotel. We smiled for the cameras, but I know Elizabeth was anxious to get home and see what had happened to her hometown. They are in the process of cleaning up and assessing the damages, as are thousands of others. There wasn't much she could have done while we were out of town, and I hope in some way that the trip was a diversion from what she faced on Monday morning.

On the plane going home, my IPod played Let It Rain by Luciano Pavarotti and Jon Bon Jovi. I began to cry, Pavarotti's beautiful voice the catalyst. Once I got home, I looked up the lyrics. They seemed fitting for the weekend of the storm and the time with Elizabeth's family.

Last night I had a dream; that there would be a morning after.
Long days, sunshine and peace;
Long nights of love, forgiveness, and laughter.
Maybe it was just a dream, but it could be reality.
Children are like planting seeds, you’ve got to let their flowers grow.

Fà che piova, (Let it rain)
Fà che il cielo mi lavi il dolore (Let heaven wash away my pain)
Fà che piova (Let it rain)
che sia la pace il nome d'amore (That peace would be the name of love)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Keeping Up

A few months ago, my sisters and I sorted through the things my father saved for us in a big trunk. We made piles for the five of us. Report cards, letters, articles, scrapbooks. Drawings by our children. As we piled it all up, something became ridiculously apparent: My pile was very, very tall. And from there it became less and less until my youngest sister was able to fit hers in a large baggie.

Today I was looking for a photograph to post on Facebook of my daughter's birth thirty years ago. I pulled out her baby book. There were all the details of her length and weight, every present she received at every shower, her first words. All neatly gathered in the "Baby's Book." And I know that there isn't a book like that for my other daughters. There are photographs, lots of them, but the baby book went the way of time alone with my husband when the two of them came along.

I wish I had kept up my detailed record-keeping. Some people do (my sister is one) but I just let the time slip by without documenting the firsts and the dates.

I'm sure if I were to go back and look at my pictures, I'd find that there are many years when only a few photographs were taken. Important events like graduations and recitals got noticed, birthday parties and holidays were over-photographed. And there might be a few looks and attitudes, outfits and behaviors that are better off ignored through the camera lens.

I remember the over-arching themes of their lives and I've saved lots of artwork and a few report cards. I've got their letters and application letters and essays. Newspaper articles with their picture yellow in a cabinet. A few outfits remain in their drawers--t-shirts I think they'll want though they say they don't--clothes they'll eventually have to go through and decide about. Baby quilts and cross-stitched nursery rhymes are stacked in the closet.

There will be more than enough for them to go through. I just wish there was more. Our memories are short, and we are short-sighted about what we'll want to remember.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing Here Again

I've been stymied about what to write here because I said I was finished with my dad's story, and it's still very much on my mind. Yes, a year and some weeks later, I'm still thinking about him so much, sad, physically sad that he's gone. We closed on his house on Monday, another chapter of our lives closed with the signing of the papers.

But finally I had an idea for a post that didn't have to do with him.

I wrote about randomly sending out cards and letters to people whose names you chose from the phone book or newspaper. Cards with inspirational quotes or nice sayings. And then I started thinking, "What if the letter goes to a spouse who thinks his or her partner is having an affair?" What if they don't think that but because they got the letter, they start worrying that it might be so? And on and on my brain went, turning something that I at first thought was a good idea into something I had to reject because of unintended results.

Did I defeat my ideas with misgivings? Or did I stop myself from doing something that could have serious consquences beyond my intentions?

There are a lot of things going on beyond my control right now that effect us and our future, our children's future too. I rack my brain for ways that I can empower myself and stop hopelessness in its tracks. Sending out messages of hope to people felt at first like something that might ripple and make small differences. But then it didn't seem like such a good idea.

What are you doing to give yourself some control over what is going on in the world today? How do you keep from walking in your door at night and living in your little world, protected from the chaos outside?

I need some ideas and direction here. Will you pass yours on?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Final Thoughts on Grief

July 1 marked the one year anniversary of my father's death. For many months, I've justified my sadness by saying, It's only been three months, six months, eight months. Now a year has passed and it feels like my feelings should have changed.

One of my sisters said something the other day along the lines of, Now that a year has passed, his death doesn't really mean anything to other people, or maybe it was, People might not understand that I'm still grieving now that it has been a year. I replied that for the most part, people had forgotten Dad's death the day after the funeral.

It is the dearest of friends who are compassionate about how long grief lasts. One friend called me on June 29, his birthday. Another sent a note around July 1. I am so grateful for their remembrance.

Advice for friends of those who lose loved ones: Mark the day of the birth and death of the dead person and contact your friend on those days. You may not think about it again until you see it on the calendar, but your thinking of it then will be meaningful and touching.

My brother sent me this blog post on grief yesterday. I'm excerpting a few passages; you can read the entire post from the link if you wish.

Grief is like a serious injury. A person with whom I have a bond is gone. That bond has been severed, leaving a deep and tender wound. It hurts. It is sometimes hard to find relief. I have to do what I can to relieve the pain, clean and dress the wound, protect it, and give it time to heal. I must adjust my life to allow for it, and it’s a damn inconvenience, I’ll tell you. Whether or not the person who died “is in a better place” doesn’t change any of that. Grief is not selfish, but grief is about me.

I often compare grief to losing a limb. If my leg were to be amputated or lost in an accident, my life would be irrevocably altered because of that loss. I simply could not live the way I did before. Furthermore, it would hurt. It would be hard to come to grips with my new reality mentally and emotionally. I might even think that God had treated me unfairly. I would be forced to accept new assignments from life—to heal, to rehab, to learn new habits and ways of getting around, to learn what new kinds of support I will need from those around me. Perhaps I will get an artificial limb and learn to do even more than I could before I lost my leg. Perhaps I will develop the desire to help others who have gone through the same experience. Who knows where this road will lead? All I know at the moment is that I’ve taken a turn somewhere and I’m not in Kansas anymore.

An illustration like that helps me grasp what the grieving process is like. If it’s accurate, I think you can see how much we underestimate the length, breadth, and depth of the grieving experience.

- A loved one dies and the company gives you two or three bereavement days. Then it’s back to business as usual.
- Your friends come to the funeral and call for about a week and then you don’t hear from them. The cards stop coming a few days later.
- Your family has to return to work and all their other activities, their visits become less frequent within a few weeks, and within a couple of months they can’t understand why you haven’t gone through dad’s things yet, and why you refuse to talk about selling the house. What’s the matter? Why can’t you get over it and move on?
- No one, not even your pastor, understands why you don’t want to come to church. They forget that you and your husband sat in the same seat for years and did everything in church together. Being there without him just doesn’t feel right. And if the congregation sings that song you both loved, you’ll have to leave because it hurts so much. The children’s ministry coordinator doesn’t get it when you say you’ll have to stop teaching indefinitely and pressures you to reconsider. There are few who can grasp the feeling that it will do you worse to come to church than to stay home.

Thanks for listening. It has meant the world.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Time Goes By

In June I ran over my cat and made it through Father's Day and my father's birthday without him. June 10 made twenty-eight of my mom's birthdays since she died. Today is my friend Catherine's birthday, and her family is celebrating without her too.

My youngest daughter and I shopped for wedding dresses and talked venues and caterers and guest lists.

My middle daughter's cat got run over and died.

My oldest daughter is working things through.

I attended a week-long workshop with the inimitable Zelda Lockhart where I explored some of the family lore in fiction. I visited my friends in Oriental and made a sale of some of my prints and cards to one of the local galleries. I submitted more of my stories and went to my writing groups. I hurt someone.

I went to my boat one weekend, relaxed and did some summer cleaning, had dinner with friends. They'd missed me and I was so happy to be with them.

On July 1, I had a photography exhibit entitled, "The American Experience" with four other people. I took down a photograph of my deceased cat and replaced it with a photograph of a boat in Oriental Harbor. I dedicated my photographs to my dad. Some of his last words were, "I love this country so much."

I'm putting together some amazing writing workshops and already have people signing up for October and February of 2012. The one with Jan Phillips is full and people are still calling.

I've seen some things that appeared to be signs, like this cloud (what was the earth thinking?):

and this word on my floor (which a friend said is the Sanskrit word for "fear"):

I've spent too much time on Facebook and reality TV shows and not enough time on the stacks of books and movies that stare at me every time I walk by.

I've been to my home town and put flowers on my parents' graves, met with the accountant, visited with my brother.

A red-headed woodpecker eats sunflower seeds and finches of every color fight for perch at the thistle seed. In about a week I'll have a jillion tomatoes.

Live goes on.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Writing Workshop

Some of you may remember my post about a weekend I spent in Lake Bonaparte with Jan Phillips. I'm excited to tell you that Jan is coming to Raleigh to do a writing workshop. I would love to see some of you there! Email me at if you're interested. Here are the details:

The Word, the Image, the Story: Tools of Transformation
A workshop with author/artist/activist Jan Phillips
July 8, 2011 7:00–9:00 pm & July 9, 2011 9:00 am–3:00 pm

We are on the verge of a new era, an epochal shift from the Age of Information to an Age of Transformation. Each of us is a co-creator, a carrier of the new consciousness. The future is within us, like the oak in the acorn, and it is unfolding in the creation of our lives, our stories, our writing, and all our artistic expressions.

Like caterpillars dying to the old ways, we are readying ourselves for a quantum leap in the evolutionary journey--the realization and expression of our deepest potential. In this workshop, we'll be using music, poetry, story, and video to fire up our creative imaginations, tap into our cellular wisdom and explore new avenues for expressing ourselves as writers and poets.

• Experience the alchemy of transforming your life experience into creations that heal yourself and others

• Engage in story-telling and creative exercises that liberate your thinking and expand your consciousness

• Experience the joy of surrendering your fears and allowing Spirit to be released through you

Jan is an award-winning writer, photographer, and multi-media artist. She is the author of No Ordinary Time: The Rise of Spiritual Intelligence and Evolutionary Creativity, The Art of Original Thinking, Divining the Body, God Is at Eye Level, Marry Your Muse, and Making Peace. She has taught in over 23 countries and conducts workshops in creativity, evolutionary consciousness, and spirituality. Jan’s own quest has led her into and out of a religious community, across the U.S. on a Honda motorcycle, and around the world on a one-woman peace pilgrimage. Blending east and west, art and activism, reflection and ritual, Jan’s presentations inspire visionary thinking and social action.

Sponsored by the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South

Fee: $125 ($25 goes to RCWMS) checks or cash only. Lunch, drinks, and snacks included.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I thought I told everyone to watch out for the cat.

“He sleeps under your cars, under your tires, in the middle of the driveway.”

I left bright pink notes on steering wheels, called the yard man and cleaning lady, emailed the people who come now and then. Just yesterday I made notes for my daughter and her beau: “Washer fluid, emergency brake, Chippy.”

I lured him from under the cars for a brushing, a treat, a head rub, some love. He didn’t need much and was willing to come for those measly offerings. But then he went back to his place in the shade. Under the car, underfoot, under bushes and trees. He slept so deeply; he couldn’t hear anymore.

“We’re watching out for him,” they all said. “Quit reminding us.” But still I worried each time they went out and all the time they were away, until their cars were pulled in and the cat meowed deafly and I knew they were all safe.

Then last night, I drove home. I was talking on the phone. I had done something terrible, forwarded a hurtful email, and was trying to figure out how to make that okay. I absently looked down the driveway – for once there were no cars – and then I felt the bump. For one second I rolled on talking on about the incident and thinking what was that bump then I knew. And in the rear view mirror I saw my cat rolling in pain down the drive, then he stopped.

I”VE HIT THE F***ING CAT I screamed into the phone and ran to the door beating on the glass screaming DURHAM DURHAM I’VE HIT THE CAT trying to open the door and then screaming into the house again DURHAM DURHAM I’VE HIT CHIPPY COME HERE.

And we wrapped him in a towel putting him in the car speeding to the after hours vets. In no time – twenty minutes or less – he was dead, lungs collapsed and bleeding in his chest.

This morning I looked on the driveway for some sign, some mark, some blood, something that would show me this horrible thing that happened, but there’s nothing. Just the driveway, cool and white waiting for the heat of the day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Do I Still Care?

My husband and I were having dinner last night - our third meal that involved cheddar cheese - and I sighed audibly.

"What's wrong?" he asked although I'm pretty sure he didn't want to.

"I dread putting on a bathing suit this year," I replied.

"Well," he started, but quickly stopped when he saw that look in my eye that said if you say one word about how WE can start exercising, I'm going to kill you!

Why do I care what I look like in a bathing suit anymore? If I'm on the beach with two thousand women, who are people going to look at, me or the woman in the bikini? I know I'm never going to weigh 120 pounds again, and if I do it's going to be a wrinkled saggy 120 because of the weight I've carried for the past few years. You don't lose skin any quicker than you lose fat.

There are women my age who look thin and beautiful, you say. Yes, that's true. I admit it. They work at it, make it a priority. And I could do that too, I guess.

But if I die tomorrow, are people going to look at pictures of me and say, "Whoa. She sure was fat." Or will they say, "I miss her because she meant this or that to me"? Will they fight over my exercise bike or my short stories and photographs? Will they give away my clothes after looking at the sizes or after inhaling my scent one more time?

It shouldn't matter. I know this in my head. But somehow I still dread the first glimpse of myself in the mirror, white skin and extra weight that was supposed to be gone by now (in October there seemed to be plenty of time).

At lunch today a friend and I were bemoaning the hot season. She said that one time she asked her husband if he minded that she had gained weight. He answered, "No, I don't love you for that anymore." To her that meant his love was deeper than her looks, that he saw her for the beautiful person she is and for all she had meant to him over the years. Sweet. Really sweet.

After I left her, I thought about what he said. And though it was touching the way we interpreted it, I do wish I were one of the bikini girls again. I was self-conscious then too, but it had a little pride and preening mixed in.

But I know I shouldn't care.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'm Happy the Hooplah's Over...For Now

We've missed another false deadline for the Rapture, so I guess the last horrible days will be moved forward too.

I'd like to think that this kind of prediction is nothing but fear-mongering and false confidence that we "know." But to those who really believe, this looking forward to the Rapture might also be filled with hope. Hope that they'll be taken from this place we call Earth with its bad weather and wars and cruelty, and placed soundly at the feet of God in Heaven. Seated next to our Way-Shower Jesus. Happy at last. I can't criticize that because there isn't a one of us who hasn't said, "I wish this was over" or "I'm miserable," or "I don't think I can live through another day of this pain."

But the truth is, and it's been proven over and over, that we can't predict the end. Not the end today, not the end in 2012. We have not been successful in divining what God thinks or plans to do with us mortals in the end. And to put it out there as the gospel, as the Truth, I believe does more harm than good.

It sets the true believer up as an object of ridicule. It makes some of those that don't feel sure about their goodness feel unworthy and helpless. A few might panic and think, "What can I do to be good enough by May 21?" But mainly, when it doesn't take place, we scoff and look away, forgetting the simple truth: All we have is today. And we have to live it the best way we can, Rapture or no Rapture.

I thought today of something I used to do as a child. I had learned in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School that no one could know when the end would come. And I interpreted that to mean that if anyone thought they knew, it wouldn't happen. So for a couple of years, between the ages of maybe five and six, I would go to bed every night and say, "The end of the world is tomorrow." And I would be assured in my little kid's mind that I had another day to go to school and be with my friends and family.

I joked on Facebook about the fact that I would be happy when the Rapture was over and those of us left behind could begin to concentrate on things that mattered here on earth. Peace, taking care of our children, helping our neighbors, being healthy, feeding our souls. It was said lightly, but it's the truth. That's what I'm going to do today, like I did yesterday, and like I'll do tomorrow. But just in case, let me say it here: "The world will end tomorrow."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Change My Way of Thinking

Today at church, my minister suggested something that will probably cause you to read this blog and go, "Say WHAT?"

He suggested that for the next two weeks, when we get a bill in the mail, we open the envelope with a sense of gratitude. After all, we did receive electricity, cable, telephone, a house or car, insurance, etc. so why should we resent being charged for it?

Interesting thought and I think I'll try it.

On the same but slightly different note, I've tried to change a little of my thinking about money and things too. Instead of saying, "I need ___," or even "I don't need ___," I have tried saying, "I already have everything I need to do this." In particular this week, I have an event to attend. Usually I would go right out and buy a new item of clothing or two to wear. But once I approached my closet with the attitude of adequacy, I was able to put together two or three outfits that I liked.

I'm feeling particularly optimistic right now. I went to see my dad's empty house on Friday. It was just an echoing shell of a house, void of life. I felt sad but also thankful that we've moved the precious things to our houses. When I got back, my cat, Audrey, was mopey and her foot was swollen, but she's so much better today; it was just a cut. My writing is on fire, major revisions and new ideas and positive feedback the fuel. With all this goodness going on, I'm grateful. I'll try to extend my gratitude to Progress Energy and Time-Warner Cable. The fuel bill? That'll take some time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

One year ago yesterday, my dad had a normal day. One year ago today, all that changed. Here's a story I wrote about that day.


One: The doorbell rings. Your feet hurt a little as you walk from your bedroom to the stairwell and down the top stair. It’s Friday, it has been a busy week, and though the weekends are lonely, on Saturday you will put on your favorite gray corduroy pants and the red flannel shirt we gave you for Father’s Day, watch ball games and talk to some of us on the phone. On Sunday you’ll put on a suit, go to church and sing in the choir.

Two: The second stair, like the first, is fairly easy even though you are in a hurry to get the door, to pay the man who worked in the yard today. The money you pay him is so appreciated he always says, and though he does only a so-so job it is worth it because you are helping him. So many people you’ve helped through the years: giving donations, tutoring, baking pound cakes, sending get well cards.

Three: Three times a month you deliver meals to shut-ins. You, eighty-eight years old, get in your car and knock on the doors of those too old or too tired or too sick to fix food for themselves. You feel so fortunate as you walk down their stairs and sidewalks to drive to the house you’ve lived in for sixty years. “Three,” you think as you count your way downstairs.

Four: On the fourth stair you falter, grab the rail with a veined and arthritic hand. You re-balance and move on. Four times this month you have gone to funerals of friends; you know how fragile life is and how “like that” it can all be over.

Five: On the wall beside the steps is a picture of our mom, dead now these twenty-five years, with whom you had the five of us. Five children with children of our own, lives of our own; we don’t need you that much anymore and you try not to need us either. You keep the bad news from us: questionable doctors’ reports, high blood pressure, low energy, knees and back that ache as you move to the sixth stair.

Six: The knocking at the door has urgency now that you can detect even without your hearing aids in. We talk too loud when you wear them, too quietly when you don’t, make fun of you by saying, “Huh?” to each other when we think you can’t hear us. “One minute, I’m coming,” you call out as you move one stair closer to the bottom.

Seven: Your mother just died seven years ago. Maybe you’re only now beginning to feel free, an adult without a parent to answer to. You could live to be as old as she was—a hundred and one. You move carefully to the next stair.

Eight: Eight seconds it has taken you to get to this stair, eight seconds that your life is still productive; it’s still a time when you’ve never missed a Rotary meeting and go to work every day and sit in your chair in your house, yes, lonely but gratefully self-sufficient, so glad to be alive. And then for some reason you will never understand, you’ve miscounted the stairs—was it when you stumbled on the fourth one?—and your foot hits only air and you’re falling in a twist, landing heavily, awkwardly on the worn brown carpet. The pain is engulfing you so you can’t think and groans issue from somewhere inside you and the knocking at the door is more insistent; “Mr. Lewis? Mr. Lewis?” is muffled in your ears, but you can’t reach the doorknob or even the deadbolt key, and somewhere behind the pain, as frightening as what has happened to your body, is the certainty that you have counted your last stair.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Staying Calm

Right after Hurricane Fran wreaked havoc on our neighborhood, I became a mild hoarder. My children will attest to the fact that I stocked water, batteries and canned goods until the shelves sagged. I didn't want to use any of them because I was afraid we'd need them in a crisis.

That was 1996. It has taken me many years to be able to go into a grocery store and only buy what I need for the week or the month. I can only just lately let go of my fears for my children who live in big cities and who travel freely by plane, train and car. I don't worry obsessively when I get on a plane to go somewhere. I feel safe with money in banks and a few stocks.

I don't feel glad about the death of Osama Bin Laden. As a fellow blogger said, he was a cockroach, and if you kill one, there are ten more skittering around in the background. And the weather does seem to be more volatile lately. So it is very difficult for me, with the recent devastation caused by earthquakes and tornadoes and the increasing tension in the world, to keep my former unhealthy feelings at a distance. In my most worried moments, I think of survival again: moving away to a place where I can homestead (where though?), cashing in, going off the grid.

I love the interplay of life so much though that I think I would be miserable. Even if I felt safe.

I try not to watch too much world news, I steer far away from fear mongering bloggers, I meditate and breathe deeply. I go to my yoga and writing classes and distract myself by reading novels and magazines about psychology and spirituality. I go to work, live day by day without thinking too much about the future. It's a conscious effort.

I would love to hear how some of you deal with your stress over what happens around us. Fear is one of the things that keeps this world in turmoil. I don't want to participate in that.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Easter Week

This could almost be one of my "Week in Pictures" posts, but I feel compelled to say a few words. It's been quite a few days.

Last Saturday, many tornadoes ripped through our state. For the first time since Hurricane Fran picked our street as Ground Zero, I experienced fear over the weather. I took the cats and went downstairs to an interior closet (in Fran we had to go to our dirt basement). I was so thankful I had bought a battery operated radio as we lost power an hour or so before the storm actually hit. My husband was a few blocks from this cemetery:

We were safe, thank goodness, but many others didn't fare so well. It's a reminder of our helplessness in the face of the weather.

In her usual schizo way, Mother Nature showed her beautiful side this week too. We spent a couple of days in Southport. The weather wasn't the greatest, but when you end a day looking at this, it's hard to whine.

I got up early this morning and drove to Greensboro. The choir was wearing new robes, thanks to the wonderful donations made to the church after my dad died. We had a moment of silence in his memory, and the choir members showed us after the service that each of the robes has a tag in it that says, "In memory of Ken Lewis." We were touched.

At my dad's house, everything is being readied for the estate sale. In the room where the dining room table groaned at Christmas and Easter, a card table holds dishes and silver that we didn't take. The kitchen counters are covered with pots and pans that were used to prepare his famous potato salad and pimento cheese, ham, turkey, beans. Pound cakes and pies. It's sad.

And saddest of all are the things he collected that we don't want. On this table there are newspapers announcing the end of WWII, Kennedy's death and other important events in history. He wanted us to want them, I guess, but we just can't take everything.

There's the high chair that my mother bought when my daughter was born. All of the granddaughters sat in in at one time or another. We're not taking that either.

And then there's the room that I can hardly bear to enter: his bedroom. The bed is dissembled, against a wall in another bedroom. His television and stereo lie in pieces on the floor. The books he was going to read have been shelved in the den. And the thing that is the very hardest is the sight of his clothes and shoes, neatly hung and lined up, ready for another day of delivering meals or singing in the choir or going to work.

The next time I go in the house, strangers will be looking through his things. Next will be the time when I walk in the empty house. God it's hard to say goodbye.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


(This photograph was taken at a previous exhibit.)

Friday night was the reception for the new photographs we hung in the Long View Gallery. The theme was renewal. You know how when you go grocery shopping and you're thirsty you buy a lot of drinks? And when you're hungry you buy more food than you would normally? I must be tired because three of the photographs I chose to hang were of sleeping people.

Saturday was the day I began the physical dismantling of my father's house. I brought back four or five pieces of furniture and boxes and boxes of photographs, Bibles, news articles, scrapbooks, etc. Last night, this is what my dining room looked like:

I had to get rid of a piece of furniture to bring one back. And in order to accomodate the large amount of archival materials, I had to clean out some cabinets. I got rid of bootleg tapes and old clothes and reorganized spaces to make room. The furniture looks beautiful in the new places, and I feel so happy about my choices.

It was a very emotional couple of days, made all the more so by the death of a very dear friend. In honor of her, I'm ending this post with a poem by e. e. cummings that was part of the gallery exhibit:

I Thank You

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

--- e. e. cummings

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Springing forward

Mother Nature is acting like she's in menopause: hot one minute and cold the next. But I know that spring is within sight.

I haven't posted lately, but there are good reasons.

First, it felt ridiculous to post about mundane things in the face of the disaster in Japan.

Second, I didn't have any idea what to say about Japan except that it is a tragedy of not just national but international proportion. And I feel helpless in the face of it.

Third, I've been crazy busy.

Even now, sitting here, I still can't think of anything important to write about. But I wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten my blog. Or my readers. Stay with me. I'll be back to being frivolous soon enough.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Joy and Sadness - a quote

"All joy is the same, arising from an identical Universal source; every sadness is unique, rooted in its own particular circumstance."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekend with Friends

I spent this weekend with seven friends from high school. Two of them I haven't seen since college. We caught up on our families - the deaths and births, marriages and divorces. We caught up on our jobs and retirements. We talked about rifts and repairs in our family dynamics. We played games and ate good food. We shopped. We walked dogs and rode bikes.

In high school, there was this person. Mamie. I had some characteristics that were good. I was outgoing and did well in school. I was a friend to a lot of different kinds of people. I wasn't beautiful, but I think people probably thought I was cute.

But there were some characteristics that weren't so good. And rather than go into them, let's say for the record that I've spent a lifetime working on those negative quailites. And let's say the one that arises whenever I "go back to high school" is insecurity. About a lot of things.

But these friends are friends for life. And throughout the weekend they let me know that they loved me - then and now - and that they're proud of the changes I've made. They didn't expect me to still be the person I was then. They allowed me to be the new and improved, grown up me.

I'm grateful for their friendship. It's lasted for over forty years for some, almost fifty for one of them. Their unconditional love is amazing, and I am renewed for sharing this time with them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Help Me, Fellow Writers!

Fair warning: This is not a post with pretty pictures!

For the past two Wednesdays, and several days before that, I've been working on submitting some of my stories. I had no idea how complicated it would be when I made this sweet little notebook:

Inside, I put together a neat chart that showed Date, Title of Story, Publication. I was ready to get my work published.

First I took this wonderful 4 1/2 page list of publications that my writing teacher, Angela Davis-Gardner, gave me. She was kind enough to narrow the list down to some of the more promising of them.

Then I went on the internet, visited each publication's website and printed out their submission guidelines. Easy breezin', right? WRONG! It has taken me another two days to go through a small number of them, highlighting what they require. Some allow online submissions; some don't. Some want cover letters, your name, address and serial number (!) on every page, the editor's name in the address. Some don't want any of that. Reading periods vary drastically. Out of the twenty or so I got through, I didn't find two publications with the same guidelines. So I put sticky notes on them with the key requirements like specific reading periods, online or snail mail, and if they particularly like flash fiction. I write a lot of flash fiction.

On some of them, I noted on another sticky note if I had a story that I thought would especially fit the magazine. And every time I did that, all I could think of was the manuscript sitting in my writing room, looking like this:

Yep, needing revision before I could send it out anywhere.

Finally, the revisions were calling me loudly, saying, "I can't go out looking like this!" So I went and printed out a few of them and started in with the blue pen.

And now the day is done and my brain is mush.

If any of my writer friends are reading this, please give me hope and/or advice. I'm feeling like the mother of an unruly teenage daughter with a list of demands. I need to know that this is temporary, and that at the end of it, just as with my daughters, I'll have something that is smart, beautiful, and income-producing.