Saturday, December 14, 2013

Can We Do It? Part 2

On the last day of 2012, I made a commitment in this post to do what I could about the violence in our country. I ended the blog with a wish list for the year.

Number one on the list was "a sense of safety for everyone."  

It's clear that we still don't have a sense of safety. But I did a few things to enlighten people, through the very well attended Town Meeting on Violence at Quail Ridge Books, and a blog post here and there.

Mostly, though, when I sat down to write at Can I Do It? I ended up writing about something else. I felt overwhelmed and under-equipped to address the issue. 

At the end of 2013: 

Our state has gone backward in addressing gun issues, women's issues, mental health issues, and education issues.  We in North Carolina have got a mountain to climb to get back to zero.

The news is still full of gun violence.  Children are still rescued from untenable situations (if they make it out alive). Health care is still expensive and the "non-profit" Blue Cross and Blue Shield is still hiding profit in the salaries of its executives. People are turned away as they desperately seek help for taking care of their mentally ill family members, some of whom kill themselves or commit crimes shortly thereafter. Video games and television and movies are more violent than ever.

Maybe there's a little something we can still do this year to make a difference.

Today, on Facebook, someone posted an article from the Huffington Post. It said that each of the twenty-six victims of the Newtown tragedy has left behind a legacy in the form of either a new non-profit or support for a favorite non-profit of the victim.  So I'm going to do the only thing I know to do right now: make a donation to one of them.  I'm choosing the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation because Catherine was the niece of someone I know.

I hope that each of you will choose one also. If you do, please post here or on Facebook which one. If you choose it for a special reason, tell us that too. I hope you will share this post on your Facebook page or in emails or by word of mouth and that your friends and family will donate too.

Click here to access the Huffington Post article with links to all the websites.

Thank you in advance. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Best Ones...2013 Books

One time my husband, looking at the wall of books in this photo, said, "I can't believe you've read all those books."

"Sweetie, those are the ones I haven't read," I replied. 

So my list is long.  And with a friend like Nancy Olson, former owner of Quail Ridge Books, calling me weekly with a new list of must-reads, I don't see that I'll be clearing those shelves any time soon!

That being said, although I usually read 40-50 books a year, I've only read around thirty this year. But I have read some incredible books and herewith is my list of recommendations for the year:

First of all let me say that I'm still pushing Mark Helprin's book In Sunlight and In Shadow.  It is out in paperback now. You can read about it in my October 2012 post on books here.

10.  The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  The Wall Street Journal says it best:  "Ms. Gilbert has turned out the most ambitious and purely imagined work of her twenty-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist."

9. The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  I've gone a few years without reading Erdrich although I'm a huge fan of her writing.  This book, which follows her themes of Native American culture, won the 2012 National Book Award.

8., 7. Two books of fairy tales were on my list of great reads this year: Phillip Pullman's re-telling of the classics, Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, and Angela Carter's collection which combines re-telling of old stories and her own original fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber.  We lost a great writer when Carter died in 1992, but she left an impressive body of work.

6. The author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid, wrote How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in my favorite second person POV.  Andrew Anthony says of the book,"If Hamid set out to write a satire on the globalised dream of consumer-driven economic development, he ends up being undermined by the strength of his characters. You can't help but root for them in their perilous climb out of the mire of penury, while all the time being relieved that you are not really 'you.'"

5. Stephen Kiernan's book The Curiosityisn't the most literary book I read this year, but it certainly had me thinking about the ethics of cryogenics. Scientists bring a man who has been frozen in an iceberg back to life.

4.  Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer was one of the most unusual books I've ever read.  The main character, Sunny is the bald-headed wife of an astronaut who builds space robots, the mother of an autistic son, and the daughter of a woman who is dying of cancer.  I read this book in two days; it's quirky and compelling.

3.  In Someone Alice McDermott follows the life of Marie, a young Irish-American living in Brooklyn. In typical McDermott style, the settings are as rich as the characters. The book was long-listed for the National Book Award.

2.  Runner-up is an oldie but one I had never read, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  I loved every chapter of this book that tells the coming of age story of Esperanza Cordero, a Latina girl growing up in Chicago.  As soon as I turned the last page, I wanted to start again.

1.  My number one pick of the year and the best short story collection I've read in a long time is Rebecca Lee's Bobcat and Other StoriesLike the Cisneros novel, I wanted to start these beautiful, haunting stories over immediately after finishing.  Lee is one of our own, a professor at UNC-W, and someone to keep an eye on.

I didn't mention any non-fiction because I don't read that much of it, but I have given George Packer's award-winning book, The Unwinding, for gifts and everyone has loved it.  I'm also hearing great things about Doris Kerns Goodwins new book on Theodore Roosevelt.

Many of our local writers, including Allan Gurganus, Nancy Peacock, Lee Smith, Elaine Orr, Peggy Payne, Jill McCorkle, and Wilton Barnhardt have books that came out this year. You can't go wrong with the local folks.

What's on my list for the coming months?

The Color Master by Aimee Bender (stories)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Dirty Love by Andre Dubus
Curing Time by Tim Swink (a Greensboro writer)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
and anything else Nancy Olson tells me to read!

Now go to your independent bookstore and buy some gifts!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Falling into Winter

Fall came on rather dully this year.  The trees seemed to be changing one at a time and only a few times in early October did I have any wow moments of color.

At the end of October I went to Wildacres and the fall began to come alive.

In early November my sister and I took a trip to my hometown, Greensboro.  The purpose of the trip was to go see this amazing performance put on by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina.  While there we tripped down nostalgia lane by visiting relatives, cruising my dad's old house, strolling down Elm Street to see the revitalization of our old stomping grounds. The red- and yellow-leaved trees were in full splendor, especially in the cemetery where my parents and grandparents and several other relatives are buried.

As soon as I got home, I washed all my clothes and repacked in anticipation of the birth of my first grandchild, due November 19th. Within hours of getting the call that my daughter was in labor, my husband and I were ready to leave.

As we flew over Baltimore where we would change planes, I noticed that the fall colors there were brilliant. Clusters of color were everywhere as the plane prepared to land.

In the northern town where my daughter lives, the leaves were mostly gone but the weather was balmy and beautiful for the first few days we were there. My husband and I took a drive up into the low mountain-y area of the state and enjoyed the serenity of the landscape.  Everywhere there were large piles of stacked firewood. People were definitely thinking about winter.

For the time we were there, though, the main event wasn't the weather. It was the birth of our grandson, only the third male in my side of the family in four generations. All of us--parents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles--were beside ourselves with joy at the new life in our family.  After my other daughters and my husband left to go home, I was fortunate to have two whole days with the baby and my middle daughter before having to come home. I watched him at peace, sleeping in the same wicker bassinet that had cradled my mother, me and my daughters.

The morning I was to leave, the wind turned chilly and there was frost on the car window and the ground.  I wrapped my scarf around my neck and buttoned my coat; winter would be in this area of the country very soon.

On the way home on the plane, I realized that my life too has changed from fall to winter.  When I got the call from my daughter I was still a mother of older children. With the birth of my grandchild, I can feel the press of time more keenly.  I'm a grandmother. There's a richness in being the family elder, but a poignancy too, a tartness, a sense that every moment that I'm a part of this child's life is important. A sense that I cannot waste a single bit of it.

All the color was gone except for some red here and there when we taxied into Raleigh. I welcome the coming cool-down of the seasons. It holds the promise of the holidays and time with family. Time with that beautiful little boy and my strong and beautiful daughters.  Time that I will not use unwisely.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dying Thoughts

How many of you have thought about what you'd like for your funeral? Beyond cremation and burial, what music do you want? Who do you want to speak and what do you want them to say? Once a group of friends and I wrote our obituaries and it was interesting to consider what I'd like for people to say about me when I die, what I'd like to have accomplished, who might have been born or died in my family, how old I'll be and what I'll die from, where I'd like donations to go.

When my dad was going in for surgery the last week of his life, my youngest sister told him that our sister from Orlando was coming to town. It was rare for her to come unless we were celebrating something and he asked if the doctor had told us to call her.  My sister said no, but that he had said it was serious surgery. My father began to tell her the songs he wanted sung at his funeral and who he wanted for his pall bearers.

To have been so clear at a time when he must have been scared out of his mind tells me that he had been thinking about this for a while.  My sister had the presence of mind to write it all down, and when we had his funeral a week or so later, we followed his wishes.

Over the past three and a half years since his death, I've tried to remember many times the title of one of the songs he requested. I could only remember, as the congregation sang, being very moved by the lyrics and what they might have meant to him. 

Last night I was coming home from yoga and had Pandora on my radio.  How Great Thou Art, a song often heard at funerals, came on and I tried to recall once again the song from the funeral.  And then the very next song that came on was it: Great is Thy Faithfulness (it was this version played by Chris Rice).

Because I couldn't remember the words, I thought that my dad might have chosen it because it was about a believer who had been faithful to God.  My father wasn't perfect by any means--who of us is?-- but I think the early death of my mother was a wake-up call for him and he realized then that many times there are no second chances. 

But tonight, preparing to write this post, I finally looked up the lyrics and now I realize that the song is about God's faithfulness to us. His choice of the song took on a totally different spin. He felt that God had faithfully loved and blessed him. I was touched just as strongly as the day of his funeral. 

Here are the lyrics:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

I love that the song, which I'd never heard on that station before though I listen to it every day in the car and at work, came on when I was trying to think of it. 

Feeling blessed myself....

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I just spent a week at Wildacres Retreat Center.  You might remember that I was also there back in April of this year.  This time I had seven unscheduled days to work on my writing. I took two notebooks of stories--over thirty of them--that needed revision.

I didn't expect this, but it was peak leaf week in that part of the mountains.  From every side of the property there was the most magnificent view.

The auditorium overlooks Table Rock.

I spent my days working in my room or in the library.

When I'd take a break, there were so many places to walk around. Ladybugs were everywhere, crawling on rails and decks and swarming trees.

At night there were readings by some of the writers.  I finally got up my nerve and read two stories on Friday night.  The first was a piece of flash entitled Just Before Christmas, and the second a fairy tale about a weary doctor who meets Death on the way home one night. It was perfect for All Saints Day!

As my sister-in-law and I headed down the mountain on Saturday, the serenity and fall colors we'd experienced at the center began to fade.  Traffic picked up and soon we were speeding home to normalcy.

We stopped at Stamey's Barbecue in Greensboro for lunch. I got a little teary thinking about my dad and the loss of his home as a place to stop on my way home from the mountains. Outside the restaurant though was this beautiful reminder of the fall beauty we had just been immersed in:

Finally home, I kept catching a glimpse of brightness out my den window and opened the front door to discover this brilliant tree in my own front yard.

I started unpacking and washing clothes.  Everything went right back into my suitcase so I will be ready when we get the call telling us that our daughter is in labor.

For the time of renewal at Wildacres, the new friends I made there and special time with my sister-in-law, a pile of revised stories, and the anticipation of the baby and the holidays, I feel very full right now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's All Small Right Now

It seems that every time I open the newspaper or turn on the television there's fodder for my blog.  Police shooting citizens, a mall taken over by terrorists, a mass shooting in the Navy Yard.  Rachel Maddow shares some statistics about the uptick in mass shootings over the past few years and it's alarming.  Really alarming. Starbucks comes out with a watered-down policy about gun-toting coffee drinkers, putting profits before the safety of their patrons.  To tell you the truth, right now I only want to look away.

This past weekend we spent time with family and new friends.  We were in a small Massachusetts town. There were children and babies and soon-to-be borns in the crowd and I kept thinking, "What is the world like for those six, seven and eight year old children?  What is it going to be like?" I wondered how the parents will handle the internet and the questions they are bound to have about a world blown wide apart by violence and too much openness, about access to all the information in the world at their fingertips. In one very touching moment, two of the children talked about being bullied and comforted each other.

Late one afternoon, I sat on the front porch of our rental house and watched the sun go down.  I was alone for the first time in two days and I felt this deep sadness for the turmoil that families face from within and without.

I again came back to my questions about what is causing this surge in violence in our world.  The possible answers were all the same: guns, media, lack of quality mental health care, stress over jobs andmoney, insecurity and feelings of unworthiness in our young people. One of them or all of them.  I don't know.

As I hugged my girls goodbye, I said the usual things:  Call me when you get home.  I love you.  See you soon. And today I'm unwilling to think about the violence that I see in the paper and on television, choosing instead to think only of home, my love for my family, and the anticipation of seeing them again. It's all small, and it doesn't begin to address the violence in the world in the way I first hoped when I promised you readers to talk about it, but it's all I'm capable of looking at right now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts on an Anniversary

The sun has come up on another September 11.

The despair I felt on that day and the months that followed has faded, but I still carry with me the knowledge that we're vulnerable, we Americans who have assigned ourselves the task of ruling the world, taking care of everybody else at the expense of our own children, who put money before everything else, push our dogmatic opinions about how people should believe on those perfectly happy with their own beliefs. We who look the other way at some atrocities but shine the spotlight on the ones that we will benefit from preventing. We who have a few leaders who are in some ways as corrupt and unresponsive as the mightiest dictator.

And yet, and yet, I still believe that America has the power to be important in the world in all the right ways. A belief that is based on looking around at my friends and my churches and my children, and seeing an idealism that can't be suppressed.  A belief that is reinforced when one church prays solidly for twenty-four hours for peace, another sends a group to do work for the impoverished, when I hug my daughters good-bye, when I kiss the cheek of a friend or hear another say I must write my Congressman because she believes the system still works. A belief that becomes more imperative as the old generation in my family dies away and we bring new life into a world that must be supported by hope and compassion.

This morning I stood in my kitchen thinking about this day twelve years ago.  This song came on my IPod and cornily enough a hummingbird flew through the honeysuckle on my deck. Signs of sorrow and hope to a person who constantly looks for signs.

Once when I was a child spending the night with my grandmother, I was very homesick.  I started crying, and didn't want her to see me.  She came into the room and asked me what was the matter.  I remembered hearing that people cried sometimes when they were happy, so I blurted out, "Oh Granny, I'm just so happy to be here!"

That story has become part of my legend, but it also expresses in a way how I feel today.  Homesick for the days when we hadn't experienced September 11, 2001, but at the same time happy that I have my family and friends and the belief that on a small scale--person to person--we're doing it right.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

I have now participated in two of the 21-Day Meditation challenges that you and Deepak Chopra have put together. I loved them, felt at peace at the start of each day, and learned a lot about myself and my relationships with other people.  The mantra meditation is perfect for a person like me because inevitably, two or three minutes into the music, the mantra is in the background of my ever-churning little mind. Towards the end of this 21-day session, I managed a few times to keep the mantra in the foreground of my thoughts and the busyness in the background instead of vice-versa.

According to Deepak's webside, more than 600,000 people participated in March. Six hundred thousand people!  Wow!  And according to an organization that I helped found, One Percent, there's a theory that “…if one percent of a population of more than 10,000 people practiced meditation [or contemplative prayer] it would have an impact on the collective consciousness of a society."  

I would say with the kind of numbers you and Deepak have going on, something ought to be shifting during those twenty-one days. 

But I'm really bugged by something, Oprah.  At the end of the twenty-one days (give or take some days) the only way a person can access the meditation series is by paying for it. And it's pricey - $50 for the old ones and $40 for the recent one, "Miraculous Relationships."  And darnit, Oprah, I don't believe for one minute that you and Deepak need the money from these CDs  You can afford to give them out for free. 

If one-fourth of the 600,000+ people who participated buy those CDs, you and Deepak stand to gross $6,000,000.  Six million dollars!!

I looked all over the internet to see if the profits from those CDs are maybe being used for a good cause, but I couldn't find a single word to that effect.

So Oprah, here's my request:

If you're so all-fired up about changing the world through 21-day meditations, make them available to everyone for free forever OR give the profits to something that matters.  

I just don't think you need the money. Although your numbers may be down a bit.

Fearlessly speaking my truth with love,

Mamie Potter

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Attention Diverted

Front page news today: 

Lead article: "409 acres preserved for ages"
"Health insurance costs up modestly"
"Afghans take on Pakistan--in a peaceful soccer match"
"Animal rights group sues Raleigh over bus ad"

Second page news:

Aretha cancels yet another concert or two, Dr. Oz rushes to scene of taxi that jumps curb, Presidential pets

Third page news:

A nineteen year old man slips into an elementary school with an AK-47 Watch it here..  Headline: "Gunfire exchanged at Georgia Elementary School."

{yawn} It is getting to be stale news, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Press 53 Gathering of Writers

This weekend I went to a writing event put on by Press 53 out of Winston Salem.  This wonderful small press is putting out some great poetry and short story collections.

You might enjoy hearing some of the wisdom I got from the four sessions I participated in.

From Mary Akers on what is haunting:

Violence, vulnerability, horror, yearning, things that are shocking or unexpected, death, regret, shame, grief and other losses, disgust, missed connections.  Mary asked us to think of stories that haunted us.  Larry Brown's story, "A Roadside Resurrection" and Ron Rash's story, "Speckled Trout" from his collection Chemistry and Other Stories immediately came to mind.

We chose a prompt to write hauntingly for a few minutes.  Mine was, "Write about a time when you let everyone down."

From Steve Mitchell:

We wrote while listening to Philip Glass; to the prompt write about someone you have seen this morning and what you know about them; and to the prompt write about when you saw something you shouldn't have.  At the end we had a feeling, a person, and an event that could be woven into a unified story, he said.

A few things he said that spoke to my writing style:

1.  Embrace limitation.  By this he means don't try to make your story a novel when it wants to be a short story or flash fiction.
2.  It's okay to write in spurts.  For some people writing every day feels too much like work, and who needs another job? he asked.
3.  All writing is about saving the world so it doesn't disappear. Many of you know that I keenly feel the need to preserve family stories both in fiction and non-fiction.

From Michael Kardos:

What makes a good story:

1.  High stakes
2. Character desire: There is a motivational continuum for each character.  At the center are expectations. On one side of the expectations are hopes and dreams, the other side fears and dreads. A good predicament for a character is one in which his or her dreams and dreads are pitted against each other.
3.  Active protagonist
4.  Conflict, both internal and external
5.  Compression of time
6.  Suspense
7.  Atypical day
8.  Originality in voice, setting, method

Throughout the discussion he used Tim O'Brien's story "On the Rainy River," John Updike's "A&P," and several other stories to show how authors use these to good advantage.

From Darlin' Neal (yep, that's what her parents named her!):

We took five random things suggested by the group (boxes, carpet, thunder, fireplace, bed) added a color (orange) for good luck and wrote a piece about them.  Several of us read them out loud and we talked about how each piece raised questions in our minds that created anticipation for the rest of the story. I'm always blown away by the ability of people to write beautiful polished pieces in this kind of setting.

I was happy to be in the rooms full of people learning and sharing. It was nice also to meet some of the writing crowd from the Triad.  And it was nice to go back to the Marriott at the end of the day, and think about how I could apply what I had been taught to my own writing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Family Celebration

This weekend eighteen of us got together to celebrate.  "Let's get the next generation started!" one of my nieces said when she received the invitation to the baby shower for my middle daughter. 

It's such an exciting time! May I apologize now to all my friends with grandchildren?  I had no idea how amazing it is! 

My oldest and youngest daughters planned the party, which was hosted by my sisters and sisters-in-law. The theme was Beanie Babies because we called the middle daughter Beanie when she was little.  Well, actually, we still call her Beanie on occasion. :)

I can't begin to tell you how special and detailed the decorations were. The scheming sisters made sure that everything was about the mother-to-be!  Questionnaires about her childhood brought hilarious answers and to tell you the truth I was a little dismayed to realize that I, her mother, couldn't remember some of the details. But I was busy then, you know?

We set up a "photo booth" in the alcove of our deck with a camera and a remote control. We took over 150 photos of us clowning around with Beanie Baby masks, a boa, and each other.  After everyone else had finished, my daughter and her boyfriend went out and took a few pictures of themselves. I could see their love for each other in the photos.  Then her boyfriend put the cat in one of the chairs. The end!

My favorite activity was writing  future birthday cards to the child.  The sisters had made a card for each year from one to twenty-one and those present chose one or two to write. I picked twelve and nineteen, realizing as I wrote my nineteen-year-old grandchild that I had picked the "last of childhood" and "last of teenage" years. Some of us put things in the cards (I won't mention what here because I'd like it to be a surprise for my daughter too). I cried to think that when the child is opening her nineteenth birthday card from me I will be eighty years old.

Sunday and Monday the house emptied, people getting into cars to drive east and north and to the airport. Today the roses that my youngest daughter arranged and put around the house still look beautiful. The house is back to its quiet, the cat wonders what happened to the rooms full of people, and I think about the wonderful weekend with family.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What I Remember

(Warning:  The word "remember" is used a lot in this post!)

I started thinking about this several months ago: I can't remember a single birthday party from my childhood.

I quizzed my siblings about it and they had a few memories, but most of them were things like I remember when my eyelashes caught on fire from the candles, I remember that Mr. Pennisi was missing one year (a friend who was murdered), I remember friends being mean to me. They also remembered good things, certain people who were at the parties, and that my grandmother made the cake.

From trying to remember my birthday parties, I've been really concentrating on what else I don't remember, but then of course I can't think of those things because I don't remember them!  But when I put together a list of what I do remember, it looks like this:

I remember when my grandmother pointed to a freckle on my foot and I was embarrassed.

I remember when I fell off my bike and slid down the hill on the side of my face. I remember going to school the next day, being in the cafeteria and very self-conscious of the bandage on my face.

I remember eating black construction paper in kindergarten (I was a paper addict) and the teacher jerking me off the swing, making me swish out my mouth with milk and how she called my mother to come get me.

I remember being afraid to go to the school store in first grade to buy a pencil and how my school birthday party got snowed out.

I remember being very homesick at my grandparents house and my aunt getting mad at me for it.

I remember eating cheese doodles and drawing with crayons and eating a crayon instead of a cheese doodle.

I remember the dark room where my sister and I went to Bible School at Carolina Beach.

I remember crawling on the floor looking for a needle that my mother dropped and it sticking in my wrist. I remember my mother trying to pull it out (only the thread was visible) and how I sensed her panic.

I remember standing on a stool and it tipping over.  The leg hit me in the stomach and knocked the breath out of me.  My grandfather said, "I told you not to do that."

In short, a lot of the things I remember about being a very small kid aren't the great birthday parties that my mother planned for days or the raft of toys under the Christmas tree.

I do remember a lot of freedom, especially when we were at my grandparents' house at the beach.  We could walk just about anywhere, even as young children. I remember my grandfather rocking me and singing "Red River Valley." I remember my aunt listening to records. I remember looking up to my older cousins. I remember watching the peacock's tail turn colors. But I had to pull those out of my memory, and the others came easily.

I'm not a psychiatrist, so I don't know if we tend to remember the negative and shelve the positive. How about you?  How do your good memories tally up against the bad ones?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Remembering My Father

Three years ago today my father died.  Last year this piece was published in Prime Decimal, an online journal.


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 sugar, 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.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Communion Part III

All this thinking about communion has my head in a spin and as you hopefully noticed, I didn't write Part III last week as I had promised. I'm no Biblical scholar by any means but here's the best I could come up with.

The Christian act of communion is based on the Last Supper where Jesus clearly said (or as clearly as we can determine by the witness accounts which have undergone countless re-tellings and re-writings) that the wine represented the "blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." (Matthew 14:22-24 for example). In some accounts he adds "for the remission of sins." (Matthew 25:25-28).  In the Old Testament there is also mention of the life blood given for atonement. (Leviticus 17:11).

There were several covenants in the Old Testament including those with Abraham (through which God promises to make his people God's people and to make Abraham a conduit for God's blessings), Noah (God promises never again to destroy the world [I guess he knew we could do that on our own], Moses (between God and the Israelites, includs the Ten Commandments), and David (establishes his family as heirs to the throne of the nation of Israel).

The last is the New Covenant which was made through Christ at the Last Supper Seder.The wine is drunk four times at a Seder (to represent the four promises) and it is thought that it was while drinking the third cup (redemption) that he said the words that preceded his death and establish that death as an act to save our souls.

After reading the Bible about the reason that Jesus shared the wine and his new covenant, I'm wondering if I should partake in the future.  I'm thinking that no amount of re-visioning the ritual to make it my own makes it right for me to participate. Because the very basis of the ritual--a belief that I am a sinner who cannot save myself--is contrary to my thoughts these days.

I know I'm flawed.  The divine knows I'm flawed. But I do hold a glimmer of hope that I will redeem myself in tiny ways until I'm the best ME I can be. The basic tenets of the Christian religion--Love God, Love Yourself, and Love Everybody Else (thanks, Al Green!) work for me as a simple guidepost to living. And if I use tools of the faiths like meditation, contemplative prayer, community, works, and studying to move myself along then I'm probably on the right path.

Thanks for reading along as I muddled through.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Communion Part II

(This is a photo of the way sunlight transformed the shadow of a glass.)

Before I go on with my thoughts about communion, I want to point out that all of us believers in a Truth pick and choose.  Even the most Bible-adherent people I know ignore parts of the Old Testament.  I am no different; I have chosen the parts of the Story that work for me, that make me feel I'm on the journey to being the BEST ME I can be.

That being said, here goes:

The minister said that all were welcome at the Table.  No restrictions.  So I felt encouraged to explore over the next few minutes whether I would participate and why.

I do not see myself as a worthless sinner.  I see myself as someone made in the image of the Divine, trying through all spiritual means possible to get to my truest expression of that image.  I study, I meditate, I participate in communities where I can explore my thoughts and goals.

In the past, I had come to think of communion as a way of confessing my sins and starting over. The way I could think of it now was that every time I take the bread and the wine, I make a commitment to continue in my attempts to shed the parts of me that aren't working and nourish the parts that I want to be stronger.

The bread is a symbol of the body of Christ the liturgy says.  If I eat the bread as this symbol, then I become a part of that Body.  I believe that Christ taught us how to live, and so if I take his teachings seriously, make them a part of me, then I will be on the right path. I will also be a part of a larger body of people moving in this direction.

The wine is a symbol of Christ's blood.  Again, by taking this wine, I am making His heart, his life-blood a part of me.

In its broadest sense, the word "communion" means "intimate fellowship." Specific to the church it is a "Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ's death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and the communicant" (Miriam Webster Dictionary).

"This is the body (and blood) of Christ given for you," the celebrants said as they gave me the bread and wine.  Both of them looked me in the eye and smiled. I felt renewed.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Communion Part I

Over the years I've been writing this blog, I've talked a little about my evolutionary spiritual life.  But for those who are relative newcomers, here's my church affiliation in a capsule:  Methodist for fifty-three years, member of the Unity Church for six years, not much going on for two years (although technically still a Unity member).

If I were to break down my spirituality into eras it would look like this:

Jesus Loves Me But God Can Be Really Mean Era (newborn to twelve)

Churches Have Rules and You Have to Obey Them to Get to Heaven Era (Confirmation to eighteen)

Church?  I'll Go to Chapel on Wednesdays and Only Because It's Required Era (Meredith years)

I Sure Hope God Isn't Really Watching Me All the Time Era (young adulthood)

We Need to Go for the Children Era (thirties and forties)

Hmmm.  I Might Need to Rethink This Religion Thing Era (fifty to present day)

Two things have remained important to me through all these years: the music and the community.  I love every song that is ever sung in church and I enjoy the company of fellow travelers on the path to...whatever we're on the path to.

Two things that I have wanted to leave behind are the fact that churches are by necessity businesses and there's a lot of talk and pressure about money, and the image of myself as an unworthy person who is incapable of becoming Christ-like without the 'shedding of blood.'

So now we get to the picture above.  Please try to ignore the good-looking guitar player on the right and look over to the left of the photo where you will see a table laid out for communion.

I've been going to the night service at my old Methodist church (where I was a member for twenty-five years) because I am a great admirer of the guitar player and the Fairmont Gospel Revue, a band that has been playing at that church for about fifteen years.  On this particular Sunday, I was jarred by the presence of The Table.

Next week I'll tell you about my thinking over the next thirty minutes of that service and what I did about my dilemma of whether to take communion or not. Then the week after I'll share some of the research I did about communion so I could better understand the deep roots and evolutionary meaning of it.

Stick around.  I hope it's going to be interesting!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Hope for Today

Tonight is our Town Meeting on gun violence at Quail Ridge Books and Music.  The above picture is what I'm trying to get my mind to look like:  Peaceful.

As I said at the end of last year, I want to make a difference with respect to violence in society.  One of the things I wanted to do was organize this gathering for tonight.

"You stirred it up," my husband told me the other day when I expressed misgivings about having done it, "and now you have to deal with it."

And he's right. I'm dealing with it and it hasn't been without its challenges.  There have been days--today is one of them--when I wish I hadn't gotten it going. I wish that instead of heading to the bookstore tonight that I could sit and watch the elimination show on The Voice.

I woke up nervous about the program, so I decided to do a ten-minute meditation.  The music was voices, all somewhat discordant that came together to make a very ethereal sound.  Appropriate, I thought at the end of the session.

I'm going to put forth here what I'd like to see happen in the next twelve hours:

1.  During the day, I will continue to affirm that the meeting will be productive, peaceful, and informative.

2.  When I do my introduction, I will set a tone of cooperation, expertise, and empowerment.  

3.  During the questioning of the panelists, they will give the audience food for thought and helpful information.

4.  During the question and answer period, the audience will ask questions that come from their hearts, that they will be resolute but not angry, that they will feel that their voices have been heard.

5.  As people leave the meeting, they will feel satisfied about the information they gave and received and be inspired to take action according to their beliefs.

6.  When I get home tonight, I will feel that I have done something that brought me out of my comfort zone but was very satisfactory.  I will feel confident about putting together another such town meeting that will make a difference in the lives of the people who attend.

7.  The bookstore will be satisfied with the results of the meeting and will want to support my efforts to do it again.

Please give these seven things some attention as you go through your day.  If you can attend, please do.  7:30 tonight at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Sense of Safety

I remember calling my dad one day and in the middle of the conversation he got quiet.  I heard him take in a breath and realized he was crying.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It's that child, Jessica.  The thought of her buried alive," he said between sobs.

Since the December shootings at Sandy Hook, I've shed a few tears for children I didn't know too. The tornado this week, which killed nine school children, brings back the same image of children huddling in their classrooms and hallways in fear. Also in the recent news is the child who along with her mother and two other women lived a "Room"-like existence.  And the man on trial for the rape and murder of the five-year-old child whose mother sold her to him.

Except for the times I worried about my dad's temper (and snakes and Cuban missiles), I felt safe as a child. I cannot imagine, unless they are completely sheltered from the news, how children today can feel such a sense of things being okay. And as much as I'd like it to be different, events and circumstances that are scary for children aren't going away.

So what can we do?

We can't change the weather, but we can be grateful for compassionate, quick-thinking teachers who saved many children during both the Sandy Hook shooting and the Moore tornado.  We can't be aware of every abusive situation a child finds him- or herself in but we can, as a community, provide and financially support mental health services for families in crisis.  We can thank school counselors, who talk to children and find ways to get them outside assistance and help them help themselves.  We can if at all possible shelter children from the news and violence that is in the media.  When we can't shelter them, we can educate ourselves about how to talk with them about their fears.

Several months of work are coming to fruition this Tuesday, May 28, at Quail Ridge Books and Music.  We have assembled a panel of experts - David Crabtree from WRAL-TV representing the media, Representative David Price, and Dr. Assad Meymandi who will speak for the mental health community, to address some of the causes of violence and how we the public can bring about change. I hope you will join us. Clay Stalnaker and I will moderate.

The impetus for putting this program together was the Sandy Hook incident. But I also want to help re-create a time and place when children felt safe in their schools, in their communities, in their homes.  They deserve this, and those of us with power - the adults - owe it to them to find ways to provide it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Where I'm From

As I mentioned in an earlier post,  Carol Henderson did a workshop a few weeks ago on "Those Who Shape Us."   We wrote for ten minutes using as a prompt a poem by George Ella Lyon entitled, "Where I'm From."  

I'd like to share what I wrote and invite you to write a few lines in the comment section about where you're from.

            I am from the neighborhood that had the bomb shelter.  It was concrete with shelves full of cardboard pictures of food.  It was a place where the family who bought it would go when the rest of us got nuked by the Cubans and their missiles.  Our crisis.
            I am from the warehouse family where there were cardboard figures—the Jolly Green Giant and Tony the Tiger—figures that we would beg to take home when my dad took us to his office on Saturdays so my mom wouldn’t end up in “Dix Hill.” 
            I am from wood: wooden boats that my great-grandfather gave his fingers for; frames with dogwoods carved by my grandfather; the woods too—way back in the filtered sunlight where we crossed over dead wood, careful of snakes.  Stepped on the log not over it. I still do that today.
            I am from women, three generations of women with only a man or two thrown in for good measure.  I am from mother and aunts and sisters and daughters. Weak women who died early and strong women who could take me out with a look.  Granny.  That look.
            I am from cities with an innate longing for country, for woods and for food not in cardboard boxes and for porches that overlook ponds black as ink where frogs belch into the night and birds make their morning song. I am from a time when I lived in the country and missed the city conveniences.
            I am from walking to school with friends, riding the bus with sixteen-year-old bus drivers, drinking and smoking on the country club golf course, home-made prom dresses, and the Sears Employee Store.
            I am from Christmases with five children who woke up at dawn, from tiny bedrooms and a big basement, from 6:00 dinner and 11:00 curfews. Our house was “Grand Central Station” my mom would say, which meant nothing to me then.
            I am from a time when we all felt safe except from Cubans and their missiles and snakes.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Long Weekend in the Mountains

 Last Wednesday, a friend and I headed up to the NC mountains to do some writing.  On the first day, I used my Gaia IPhone app to choose a card to set the tone for the next few days. Here is the one I drew:

As soon as I saw the symbols, I knew it was the right card.  I would be attending a workshop put on by The Sun Magazine.  The ankh between the trees represents eternal life and plays a role in the fairy tale I would be working on the first part of the week.  And then there was the eye.  Eyes have been showing up for me.  This one signifies healing and protection.  The text on the card identified the background as an "enchanted forest."

We started out on Wednesday and Thursday at the Celo Inn, a B&B halfway between Spruce Pine and Burnsville. 

My room was a north facing room without much light, but it had a desk and a window chair. We had no cell phone or internet service.  It took me a while to get used to not checking my phone. It was nice though, because it allowed me to have uninterrupted writing time in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Right across the street was a dirt road that went beside a beautiful clear stream.  Each morning, after breakfast at the inn, my friend and I took a walk. Here are some of the things we saw on those walks.

On Friday, the weather continued to be sunny and warm and we started driving toward Wildacres Retreat Center where we were to participate in The Sun Magazine's "Into the Fire" writing weekend. Wildacres sits on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest and is so peaceful and serene.

Saturday morning, the fog rolled in. 

The retreat center's buildings are all made to blend in with the natural surroundings.  This is one of the dorm buildings that also houses the offices.  The rooms were similar to hotel rooms except without television or phones.

The food was served family style and every meal was creative and delicious.  Fish, chicken, interesting salads plus the regular salad bar - everything was fresh and obviously prepared with thought.


There were three sessions of classes on Saturday.  I was fortunate to work with our Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti.  He told us to identify our threshold in telling stories that involve friends and family, deciding what would be too hurtful or harmful to others and what is the writer's story that has to be told.  I also took classes with Krista Bremer, a Sun Magazine writer who has a book coming out in a few months, and the very crazy Doug Crandell.  Doug, in contrast to Joseph, told us to tell our stories no matter what, but to try to involve hostile family members through an interview process too complicated to go into here. (I'm linking to their Sun page so you can read some of their essays if you want.)

There were many impromptu moments of grace, including this one when a woman from the workshop went up to the piano and began playing.  That is Sy Safransky, the editor and publisher of The Sun Magazine listening to her.  I enjoyed learning more about him through his interactions with the participants and from his reading from his "Notebook," a regular part of each issue.

The last thing, at the end of the closing session, Angela Winter sang a travel blessing a capella in her haunting voice, then we all got up to drive down the mountain in the fog and rain, to resume our normal lives.