December 30, 2009

Fear & Forgiveness

There was a man whose ambition in life was the Study of Forgiveness. For ten years, he studied forgiveness as therapy. For six years after that, he studied forgiveness as a science.

Then, one New Year's Eve, the man's aging mother was beaten to death with a crowbar in her own home after surprising a burglar who had broken in through her window. Though a suspect confessed to the crime and was brought to trial, he was released without ever being indicted on account of an "issue with the evidence."

Years later, the man who lost his mother continues to write, speak, and teach on the "Power of Forgiveness." In a 2007 interview, the man says,
I don't see how a person could walk into a situation where their mom was brutally murdered and be able to forgive. But I was given such an incredible gift to be able to study forgiveness -- scientifically, for six or seven years before this occurred, therapeutically for ten to twelve years before that -- and then when the moment came, you know, where I needed to put that into practice, the gift was already there.
Any person who pursues an understanding of forgiveness has her own reasons and motivations for doing so, whether they be academic, vocational, spiritual, or therapeutic. I, too, have my own personal reasons for seeking so fervently after this knowledge, and the peace and compassion I've gained from my research are unprecedented in my life thus far.

I believe everything that happens under the sun -- good and bad, momentous and trivial -- happens for a purpose. Maybe God saw fit to impart to me this drive for understanding in order to help me overcome the past, or to perfect my sad, flawed character. Or...

...like He did for the man who lost his mother, maybe God is equipping me for something far worse than I've ever experienced in my thirty-something years on this earth. Maybe my "moment" hasn't yet come to pass, and these months of reading and reflecting and putting into practice are all preparatory.

The reflexive part of me panics and cowers, and fixes her fearful eyes on the next curve in the road. Why is this shield in my hands?

The faithful part of me sets aside the terror and accepts the worst I can imagine, because human love and compassion not only outlive pain -- they conquer it.

But I find with each passing day, it becomes more and more urgent, and more and more difficult to renew that faithful part of me. Like stepping closer and closer to the edge of a cliff. In moments of weakness, I ask myself, "Do I have what it takes to survive what the rest of my life holds?" I look around at the blessings in my life, the things I value more than life itself, and I ask, "Could I continue empty-handed?"

Yet I keep reading and reflecting and putting into practice, because I realize my pursuit of forgiveness is not a compulsion -- it's as necessary to me as air and water.

---
Further Reading

the man: Everett Worthington, Ph.D.
the mission: A Campaign for Forgiveness
the film: The Power of Forgiveness (also available to Netflix members to Watch Instantly online )
the outreach website: http://www.thepowerofforgiveness.com/

December 1, 2009

A List

  1. I haven't written for almost a month. Haven't written anything at all.
  2. I haven't taken my medicine.
  3. The only thing I feel like doing is sitting still in one place for the rest of my life.
  4. I want to keep my word.
  5. I want to be infinitely forgiving.
  6. I want to be infinitely compassionate.
  7. These are the only things I can think about.

November 9, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 9

Chapter 9

A week later, Rachelle stood next to the refridgerator in the kitchen, twisting the hem of her dress with two hands. It was her dress she wore this time, and not one Mama made. In the center of the washed-out orange bodice was a ridiculous picture of Big Bird in a pair of swimming trunks, playing on the beach. It was the ugliest dress I'd ever seen, but I was happy as a clam to see it on her.

"Your mama said you might be feelin' better today and maybe you'll wanna play," she said.

"I'm eatin' lunch right now," I said, poking at the top slice of bread on my ham sandwich.

"I can wait for you. I don't mind."

Twenty or thirty mean things I could've said to her just then crossed my mind and would've sent her out of my life forever, and that's just where I wanted her to be. Somehow, though, I couldn't bring myself to say one of them. A part of me felt at ease having Rachelle there, standing in our clean kitchen on our shining floor she was marking up with her dusty footprints.

"We could play on your tire swing," she offered. "I could push you the whole time. We wouldn't have to take turns."

Such an offer would've been readily received at any other time. Who could ask for more. But right then, the swing held no appeal to me whatsoever. What did appeal to me was another afternoon in bed, laying there with my eyes closed in a soft half-sleep, maybe listening to my sisters play with their Barbies or Mama bumping dishes against the walls of the sink.

Laying down was just about all I had the energy to do. I didn't even have it in me to persist against Rachelle.

"We could sit on the porch swing for a while," I said, resting my head on the back of the chair.

Rachelle brightened immediately. "Okay. But aren't you gonna eat your lunch first?"

"Not hungry," I said and pushed my plate away.

Outside, an afternoon breeze swept across the porch and circled through Mama's gardens, shaking the feathery heads of pampas grass and rustling among the families of ferns and azaleas. The smoky clouds overhead skirted the treetops and pushed the zesty fragrance of coming rain through the air.

Rachelle gently nudged her toes on the wood floor, rocking the porch swing back and forth beneath us. I let my legs dangle off the seat, slowing our momentum.

We sat that way for a long time, swinging and listening to the mockingbirds chatter in the bends of the rafters. It was the first time I'd been outside since the last trip to Miss Lou's, and our tiny plot of land just off the highway seemed like a place I'd never been before. I decided I'd be perfectly content to stay here for the rest of my life and never step foot off the porch again.

"I wish I lived here," Rachelle said.

I knew that, but I asked why anyway.

"It's just so pleasant. Your mama's pleasant, your sisters and your baby brother…your house and your room, and your garden. I know you must miss your daddy. I miss my daddy all the time. But you seem happy anyways."

The corner of my mouth tightened. "You hadn't seen my sisters slap at each other. Or my Mama yell, you hadn't heard that."

"Your mama doesn't yell," she sneered, as if I'd just told her I had a magic carpet that would take us all the way to China.

"She doesn't yell at _you_," I said.

Rachelle shook her head, unconvinced. Her messy braids whipped around her shoulders.

I realized it was the first time Rachelle ever disagreed with me, but I wasn't surprised. I wasn't all that mad about it either. As a matter of fact, sitting with Rachelle on the porch and not doing or talking about much of anything was not a bother at all. It was actually even more restful than sleep.

The screen door on the side of the house banged shut, and Mama came around with a handful of envelopes. "Goin' to the mailbox, girls. I'll be right back."

When Mama was halfway down the drive and out of earshot, I asked Rachelle, "Who was that man at your house last week?"

"That was Ron," she shrugged. "Somebody Mama knows from Shreveport."

"Is he her boyfriend?"

Rachelle brought her thumb to her mouth and bit at the side of her fingernail. "I guess. I don't know." She kicked her feet out from under the swing, and the whole structure jarred. "I guess I wouldn't mind if he was her boyfriend. He's sure a lot nicer than the last one."

"The last one?"

She spit, and a sliver of her thumbnail launched out of her mouth and into her lap. She hopped out of the swing and bounded down the stairs.

"I'll be back in a minute, Madge," she called as she took off toward the mailbox. "I'm goin' with your mama."

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Long after everyone else had fallen asleep, I lay awake in bed with the covers tucked under my sides and pulled up over my chin. Faye and Winnie slept together on the trundle, backs to me and curled together like spoons.

Ripples of moonlight waved on the ceiling, reflecting off the surface of the bucket water right outside our window. I concentrated on the rhythm of the movements and tried to find order in the patterns.

I pretended I were a mermaid, deep underwater, and the lights were rays from a summer sun, guiding me up from the dark, cavernous depths. If I swam long enough and hard enough, I'd finally reach the surface and catch my first breath of fresh, sea-misted air.

A new kind of pain ate away at my insides. I'd never hurt down there so badly. Not even when Curtis Gilbreth kicked me square in the crotch with the sharp toe of his cowboy boot because I whipped him at keepsies and took his steelie shooter. When that happened, Mama said I needed stitches but I cried so hard she couldn't get me out of the house and into the car to go see Dr. Shaw.

This was worse. There was so much blood. So much I thought I might not wake up if I went to sleep. The only pair of panties that fit me right were now soaked and stained with blood and pee and stuffed up into a tear in the bottom of the boxspring, like Rachelle's butterfly.

I couldn't seem to get dry, either. I came home sweating and nauseated.

"What on God's green earth took you so long?" Mama fixed a hard, heavy eye on me.

I drifted through the door, dragging my feet across the rug. "I needa lay down," I said.

The pinch between her eyes relaxed a little; she bent over me and touched my forehead. "What's wrong, Madge, are you feelin' all right? You look flushed…you don't have a fever, though. Where are you hurtin'?"

I shook my head. "I'm not hurtin', I'm just tired, and I feel sick to my stomach."

"Well let's get you in the bathtub."

I lingered in the hall outside the bathroom while Mama drew my bath water. She paused and stared at me, probably trying to decide whether or not she should call Dr. Shaw.

"You gonna get undressed and get in?" she asked.

"Mm-hmm," I said. I tried to sound convincing. "I have to go Number Two first." She seemed satisfied.

It took me an eternity to peel off my clothes, like trying to pull off a BandAid from a bad, scabby scrape. Every muscle in my body ached, my bones wanted to fold the way they were when I was born.

It took even longer to get up the courage to sit down in the bath water, and when I finally did, it hurt as bad as I thought it would. Once I was in, though, I wanted to stay in, and I would have if Mama hadn't come to get me after everyone else was done with supper.

There in bed, the damp sheets clung to me under my quilt. Every now and then, when a sharp pain stabbed through me like a skewer through a shrimp, my spine went straight as a rod. The sheets shifted, and an fresh edge of wet cloth stuck to my skin.

I grit my teeth to keep from crying out. So far, I'd done well to keep my distance from the rest of the family, but if Mama worried too much and took me to Dr. Shaw after all…. I couldn't think about that.

So I watched the water on the ceiling and tried to find where I was at the beginning of the day. Then I'd sew together two edges of time where a stained piece of its fabric had been torn away.

November 7, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

The cat swatted her paw at me through the space at the bottom of the door. I pressed my cheek into the floor to see as much as I could of what was on the other side, which wasn't much. The light from downstairs was weak and diffused against the far wall like a last breath.

My head still throbbed. I wiggled my fingertips along my scalp feeling for blood; I found a big goose egg the size of my fist. I didn't remember how it got there.

"Mar-gie!"

I scrambled away from the door back into the dark.

Uncle Buck's steps fell hard and slow up the stairs. The cat whined as a shadow divided the bar of light under the door.

I clamped my teeth together and waited.

"Margie," he said. "You ready to come out now?"

"Yes," I tried to say, but my voice got stuck and only air came out.

"We got an understanding?" he said.

I thought of Faye and Winnie. I thought of little Raymond and how scared he'd be if he were the one in the attic instead of me.

I thought of Goldie Beaumont and what awful things she might say to me now, what terrible things she might say to everyone else.

I thought of Mama and what she'd do if she lost her job at the alteration shop, and what it would be like if she sent me for a switch but didn't love me.

And I thought of Daddy. If he ever found out about me and Uncle Buck, he'd be glad he left. There'd be no more cards on my birthday or phone calls on Christmas. He'd never again tell me he missed me or that I was the apple of his eye. He'd finally be able to give all of his love to his new family, and he'd never look back.

"I'm ready," I said. This time, my voice was clear as a bell.

The lock unlatched, and the door creaked open. Uncle Buck's silhouette hung in the door frame. He stood aside and opened his arm toward the stairs.

I swayed to my feet. The blood rushed to my brain, and my legs almost crumpled beneath me. As I shuffled toward the light, warm fluid leaked down my legs. Every step sent pain raking through me from the inside out.

At the threshhold, Uncle Buck stopped me, poking a finger at my chest. "We understand one another?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Tell me, Margie."

I swallowed back a gag and cleared my throat. "Con-fi…con-fi…"

"Confi-denchee-ality," Uncle Buck said. "You keep your word, and I'll keep mine."

I nodded again.

Uncle Buck grinned and stuck out his hand. I flinched.

"We gotta shake on it, friend. Then it's official."

I put my fingertips against his, and he closed his hand around them. The same long, narrow hand that kept me from tumbling over on the lane had a lot more strength in it than anyone could ever imagine.

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

As soon as I came around the bend and the road home stretched out straight and reassuring, the angry cry I'd been holding burst out of me. I ran a few paces, but the pain shooting through my jarred bladder put an end to that. I wasn't going to make it home.

Sobbing and nowhere near a toilet, I made a desperate dash for the trees at the back of Granddaddy's fields. I could already feel hot trickles of urine, and I fought mightily against the stream.

Crying like a baby, I thought. Peein' my pants like a baby.

I squatted in the first protected cluster of foliage I found and let the bitter tears and the urine flow as they willed. It was superficial relief to an ache that had been filling me since before I could remember.

I pressed my face into my knees and wrapped my arms around my head, ignoring the mosquitoes that buzzed in my ears and lit on my exposed skin. My bladder emptied, but a fresh dread settled into my bowels when I acknowledged the trouble I'd probably meet when Mama saw me shuffle inside in such a mess.

No use puttin' it off, I thought. I smeared my nose on the back of my hand and stood, pulling my drawers up from around my ankles.

A twig snapped behind me. I wheeled around to see Uncle Buck leaning against a young pear tree, arms crossed over his chest and hands tucked into his stained armpits. "Tinkle got the best o' ya?" he said, smiling.

I froze; the rancid taste of shame, shock, and something else swirled on the back of my tongue.

Before I could reply, Uncle Buck had me at the wrist, dragging me along the way Rachelle had less than an hour ago.

"How 'bout you come with me for a bit, Margie?"

I stopped and tugged against him, but he tightened his grip.

"I can't, Uncle Buck," I said. "Mama told me to be home before dark. I gotta go." He marched on as if I hadn't said anything.

"You know, me an' your daddy was good friends before he took off. Real good friends." Uncle Buck easily trampled weeds and ankle-high saplings under his shoes.

I kept getting caught in thick cords of St. Augustine grass, and I could feel stickers collecting on the soles of my feet. That high-pitched tone returned to my ears, but there would be no clearing my throat this time to keep the word away.

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

A question in the form of a knot tightened up right under my heart. I couldn't get away from Rachelle fast enough, and I couldn't begin to understand my dislike for her. Had she been a snotty, selfish brat -- like that pageant princess Goldie Beaumont, whose family owned the alteration shop where Mama worked -- there would be no question at all. I disliked Goldie with just about all the self-righteous indignation I possessed, and rightly so, because Goldie was a stuck-up, two-faced liar who said things about my Mama and Daddy that just were not true.

But Rachelle never said one ugly word about Mama or Daddy or me. On the contrary, she talked as if she wished she were their daughter instead of Miss Lou's. I should've been flattered to be thought of so highly by someone, but instead, Rachelle's admiration just made me ill.

I pouted, taking long strides away from Miss Lou's and watching the powdery dust kick up around my stomping feet. When I watched the ground, the pebbles and ruts slid by, making it seem like I was moving much faster than I actually was. The walk back home from Miss Lou's always seemed to take much longer.

I hopped over a bare corn cob and stepped around a rusty Tab soda can. I curled my toes back to kick a paper bag out of the way when I noticed a person crouching right in front of me. If I hadn't thrown my momentum aside and tripped on my own feet, I would've run right into him.

"Careful there!" A long, narrow hand grabbed onto my arm and pulled me upright, ripping a bigger hole in my torn shirt sleeve.

I yanked away, wide-eyed and gasping.

Uncle Buck stood and squinted at me through his long, black, greasy bangs. An amused grin pulled his lips back on one side of his mouth revealing two gaps on top and one on bottom between cakey yellow teeth that didn't quite meet. I smelled beer on him from four feet away. "You all right?" he said.

I nodded and rubbed my hands down my sides as if I'd really fallen and were wiping dirt off of my palms. I jerked my head toward Aunt Nell's hoping she was still at her gate, and back toward Rachelle's hoping she'd stayed at the roadside to watch me turn the curb, but neither was there.

"Marjoram Eppinette…well aren't you a sight for sore eyes." His sore eyes didn't blink or flutter a bit as he spoke to me. He raised his arm straight out toward me, pointing all five of his fingers toward my stomach. "Last time I saw you, you was this tall. How old 're you now, Margie?"

"Nobody calls me Margie," I said.

Uncle Buck snorted. "Oh, that's right. Madge, id-nit?"

"Mm-hmm. And I'm ten."

"Yes, you're ten," he said, as if I were the one asking my age, and he were the one answering. "And I'm ten-plus-ten-plus-ten. You know how much that is?"

I did know, but suddenly, I had to pee really bad. I didn't want to tell him that, and I didn't want to run off and be rude. Mama tolerated my attitude most of the time around the house, but she never, ever tolerated me being rude to anyone, particularly adults. I crossed one foot over the other and tried not to be obvious.

Uncle Buck blinked and lowered his gaze from my face to my collar. He lingered there until I began to wonder if maybe a spider were crawling on my neck, or if my buttons weren't buttoned right. I brought my fingers up and tugged the fabric together, just in case.

"So how's your ma?" he asked. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets so his shoulders scrunched up and his elbows locked.

I noticed his blue jeans were way too big for him, and the frayed, mud-coated hems folded over his shoes. His yellow-used-to-be-white t-shirt was too small, and the front of it pulled up just over the snap of his pants so the skin of his belly showed. Under his armpits were large, half-moon-shaped stains made darker by the sweat there now.

"She's fine," I said, twisting my fingers together behind my back. I really had to go. "I really gotta go."

Uncle Buck showed the gaps in his mouth again. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. "I gotta toilet in the house if you needa go that bad."

I shook my head. "No, thanks. Mama wants me home before dark or--"

"--Or she'll send you out back to get a switch and whoop that little tail o' yers?" At that, Uncle Buck threw his head back, and a loud, scratchy laugh shook him all over. He wagged his head back and forth and stomped the ground.

If I didn't hate Uncle Buck before, I hated him now. "No! I wasn't gonna say that! I--"

"I know, I know," he said, lowering his voice but still chuckling. "Your mama wouldn't harm a hair on your head, would she."

I glared at Uncle Buck. I imagined poking my finger in his eye. The truth was, Mama would take a switch to me, and she had before, but I knew she loved me, and I didn't like it at all that Uncle Buck made it sound like she didn't. "No, she wouldn't," I said.

Uncle Buck's grin widened until I thought his face might split. "But your daddy would, wouldn't he."

Now it was my turn to blink. I blinked and blinked, willing the tears to stay in my eyes where they belonged, and willing the sting in my bladder to go away long enough for me to get home.

"I gotta go!" I yelled, and I turned and ran, leaving Uncle Buck shaking and laughing in the middle of the lane.

November 6, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Miss Lou glanced at me when Rachelle and I stepped through the front door into the kitchen, but she didn't speak to me. Her thin red hair hung in her face, and I didn't think she brushed it anymore than she brushed her daughters' hair.

Rachelle's mama wasn't very pretty, even though she was much younger than my mama. The lady was too skinny, and she stood with her shoulders hunched over and her back humped like an old lady, as if her chest hurt.

Next to me, Rachelle stood with the burlap bag in her arms. She was strong for a girl the same age as me, or she was just over-excited to have another load of dresses to share with her sister.

"Look, Mama! Madge brought me some more clothes!" she said, dropping the bag on the dirty linoleum with a loud thud. "And some blackberries, and some shoes for you, too!" She shoved the tan heels against her mother's stomach.

Embarrassed, I said what Mama told me to say. "Mama says you can have 'em if they fit ya."

Miss Lou dropped the shoes onto the floor one at a time, turning the left one from its side with her dirty toes. She waivered on one foot as she brought the other off the floor.

"Come 'ere, Rachelle," she mumbled. Her voice was low and husky, like a man's. Or like somebody who either smoked too much, yelled too much, or both.

She grabbed onto Rachelle's shoulder for balance and slipped her feet into Mama's town shoes. They fit perfectly.

Rachelle sucked in an awe-filled breath. "Those are so pretty on you, Mama," she said. "Keep 'em on."

The shoes weren't pretty on Miss Lou. They were pretty on my Mama, and they should've been on my Mama's feet.

Miss Lou yanked the shoes off and shoved them back at Rachelle. "Go put 'em under my bed," she said. She didn't even say thank you, but I'd tell Mama she did.

Rachelle grabbed me by the arm and dragged me toward the back of the house. I did not want to go there with her, but staying alone in the room with Miss Lou would've been worse, so I let Rachelle pull me in one hand and the burlap bag in the other. I didn't offer to help.

Through the fading light in Miss Lou's room, I traced the sleeping form of a man on the bed. I had no idea who it could be. I never saw anyone around Rachelle's house, much less a man. But Rachelle seemed to know who he was. She tiptoed into the room, slipped the tan heels under the bed, and tiptoed out, shutting the door behind her.

"I got something to show you," she whispered, padding off toward the room she shared with her sister.

"Where is Beverly?" I asked, realizing I hadn't seen her yet. Rachelle shrugged her shoulders.

In the bedroom, I stood in the middle of the floor with my arms wrapped around me, careful not to touch anything.

"You can sit down," Rachelle said as she layed on the floor and scooted on her back beneath the bed. As she fumbled with something in the boxspring, I glimpsed under her dress the pair of bloomers with the rose at the waist. I winced.

Rachelle crawled out from under the bed with a large book in her hands. "I have something for you."

I sniffed. "I don't read much."

"No," she said. She opened the pages and pulled out a folded piece of wax paper. "Here. The edges of the paper are stuck together, so you gotta be careful opening it."

I gently peeled the corners apart, and there, pressed between the folded sheet was a large monarch butterfly, perfectly intact. The black on the wings was as soft and fine as velvet, and the colorful markings were so bright, they looked handpainted.

Despite myself, I was delighted. I couldn't have found a more perfect butterfly, and I wondered how Rachelle could've caught it and pressed it with such expertise, not one part of the creature was bent or broken.

"Where did you find it? Did you catch it yourself? Did you kill it?"

"Oh, no," Rachelle said. "I tried to save it. I found it on the car outside and I was watching it and waiting for it to fly away, but it never did. And when I finally went to touch it, it didn't move. I think it died like that."

I peered at Rachelle out of the corner of my eye, unconvinced.

"It's true," she said. "And I wanted to save for you, but I didn't want to stick a needle through it like they do in school, so I put it inside a book instead. Do you like it?"

I did like it. And I didn't like how much I liked it. So I lied.

"I don't like dead bugs," I said.

I expected for Rachelle to pout or cry, or snatch the butterfly away and keep it for herself. But she laughed. "It's not a bug, Madge. It's a monarch. Take it home and put it in one of your books. You'll get used to it."

Rachelle walked with me back to the lane, pushing the wheelbarrow and chattering about the blackberries and how she wished her mother would bake some time. The sun was already setting, but I still had time to make it home before it was too dark to see.

"Maybe we can play tomorrow?" she asked.

"I'm gonna be busy tomorrow," I said, which was the God-honest truth, but it felt just like a lie.

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 3 (continued)

Chapter 3 (continued)

As I rounded the bend, the late sun fell away behind the treetops, and I pushed the bulky wheelbarrow into shadow. It was a difference of two steps between daylight and evening, between a deep, energetic appreciation for the lit hours of movement and doing things, and the dusky drowsiness of endings, when it was time to finish up chores, eat our last meal, wash away the day's dirt, give in to sleep I didn't want to take. The thought of evening coming on took the edge off my anger and replaced it with a sad dread, but I forgot about my feelings altogether when Aunt Nell called to me from behind her front gate.

"Headed to see Rachelle?" she asked. She steadied her frail, listing bones with a garden-gloved hand on the gate post. A gentle smile stretched the silky wrinkles all across her face, like a breeze breathing through a spiderweb.

Aunt Nell was old enough to be my daddy's mother, even though she was his sister. She had my Daddy's eyes -- blue glass beads, clear and unchipped -- except hers were shaded under the wide, dropping brim of her garden hat.

The wheelbarrow creaked to a halt in front of Aunt Nell's gate. I scratched a fresh fireant bite on my heel and waved at the mosquitoes circling my head. "Yes, ma'am, Mama's sending over more of my dresses and some blackberries I picked today." I was sure to emphasize they were my dresses.

Aunt Nell peered over the gate. "Got quite a bit today, huh, Madge?"

For the second time that day, I frowned
into the blackberry bucket. "Not much, really. Maybe enough for a cobbler."

"I think Rachelle will be happy just eatin' 'em straight outta the bucket, don't you think?" she smiled. "And I'm sure she'll want to share with you."

I squirmed. I knew what Aunt Nell was doing, but I didn't feel any better about it. I twisted my hands on the wheelbarrow handles and leaned back toward the road.

"You better get along then," she said. "It'll be dark before long, and you shouldn't be walkin' on this lane so late, especially with those Miller boys runnin' the roads."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Tell your mama I said hello; we'll see y'all on Sunday."

"I will," I promised, lurching forward again.

Aunt Nell's mailbox stood directly across the lane from her brother-in-law's. The house and the property were both wasting and unkempt. Half the roof had fallen in shortly after a fire two Christmases ago, but the man still lived in the "good" half, from what I understood.

I didn't see "Uncle Buck" often, if I ever saw him to begin with. The only reason I knew there was an Uncle Buck at all is because Aunt Nell mentioned him around holidays. It was the only time she saw him either. He wasn't a "people person," she said.

And he wasn't really my uncle either, nor related to me in any way other than by being Aunt Nell's dead husband's brother. For politeness's sake, however, I was told to call him "uncle" to make him feel more connected to the family, since we were the only family he had.

Uncle Buck might've been more of a mystery to me if I'd been intrigued by his absence from everyday life, but to my ten-year-old perception, his absence was just the way things were, like Mama's tan shoes for town, or the fact me and Rachelle didn't have our daddies anymore. I wondered about a lot of things, like why persimmons tasted best when they were about to rot, and why I could never blow all the seeds off a dandelion with one breath. But I never wondered about Uncle Buck. His ugly house sat opposite Aunt Nell's mailbox; that was enough for me.

Suddenly, a large, black rat darted out of a ditch bordering Uncle Buck's yard, startling me so I almost tipped the wheelbarrow again. Right behind the rat, a small, slim calico kitten chased through the dust, ears peeled back.

Both creatures ran in esses, crazed and vicious. I hopped back and forth from one foot to the other, hoping neither animal would try to crawl up my leg or attack me in the confusion.

In the middle of the lane, the rat could find no place to hide. Each time he took off in a new direction, there was the kitten blocking the escape.

Just when I thought the calico might snap up the rat in its jaws, the rodent made a sharp retreat toward Aunt Nell's side of the road. Both animals disappeared in the hedges, branches thick and shuddering behind them.

Uncle Buck's house must have been infested with rats. I wondered if they might multiply and take over someday, maybe eat up Uncle Buck in his sleep, and we'd never know what happened to him.

I shivered, but not because of an image of rats chewing on Uncle Buck. As I came to the end of his yard, I thought I heard someone spit at the edge of his overgrown property.

Maybe it was the cat hissing, or maybe a bough broke from one of the pine trees overhead. Maybe something shifted in my wheelbarrow without my seeing it. Maybe it wasn't a person.

But I did hear something, and now my thoughts went to how small I felt. I didn't feel like the eldest girl in my family. I didn't feel like a young lady. I felt like a little kid alone and away from home with no sweater and no shoes on my feet. The wheelbarrow was heavier than it had ever been before, and I wished Daddy was here to help me push it.

The side of my neck facing Uncle Buck's house stung and itched the way my armpits sometimes did when I had to read something in front of the class. I was afraid to swallow or look around, afraid to do anything that might bring the word "scared" to my mind, because once I thought the word, I'd become the word, and there was no stuffing it back down after that.

I wasn't afraid of the dark, but sometimes, on some nights when I had to go to the toilet while everyone else was asleep, I stepped more lightly than usual, tried harder to be silent, avoided looking into the shadows and corners and mirrors, lest I disrupt that precariously balanced something in the air that was holding terror at bay.

Back in bed, I realized there was nothing at all to be afraid of, but the high-pitched tone in my ears, the throbbing blood in my head, the pounding in my ribcage outlasted my analysis, and I dug myself deep, deep under the blankets, safe from that word until I thought I might suffocate.

The itch moved from my neck to a sharp point between my shoulderblades. The temptation to turn toward the ditch just to see -- to know without a doubt if I did indeed have something to fear -- was almost too strong. To break the spell, I cleared my throat and made myself cough, for the reassurance of noise, company, even if it was only me with me.

"Hey, Madge!"

I heard Rachelle's voice before I saw her, hands waving high above her head as she came running down the lane toward me in the faded navy-blue sailor dress Mama made me the year Daddy left.

November 5, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

The lane to Miss Lou's stretched out long and straight alongside my granddaddy's cotton field. Just past the barbedwire fence marking the end of our land, the road curved to the left behind a hip of trees.

I squinted at the curve in the lane. This first two-thirds of the way were an eternity of dust and gravel potholes. The trees far ahead seemed to slip farther away the closer I thought I was, but it was just the weight of the sack in the wheelbarrow that made my steps slower and slower.

The lane wasn't unpleasant. I liked seeing the other side of the fence, behind the blackberry bushes. It never snowed in Louisiana, but if it ever would, I thought I knew exactly what the fields would look like. When Granddaddy's cotton was grown and ready to pick, the full tufts blanketed the ground in a soft, clean sheet of white that reminded me of Heaven. I imagined rolling through the rows would be like rolling through clouds. I knew better, though. Far fewer things were more painful than blackberry thorns, but cotton burrs were one of them.

Now, Granddaddy's fields were not much to look at. Since Daddy left, Mama didn't bother with the cotton anymore. She couldn't do it herself, even with my help, and she didn't want to hire anyone on to take care of it.

On Sundays after church, sometimes visitors came by the house for chicken and pies, but mostly to ask Mama if she'd lease the land to them. I thought it was a good idea. I didn't know what "lease" meant, but the men promised to take care of the cotton "as well as your husband ever did," and I thought that sounded good.

But Mama didn't think it sounded good. I could tell by the wrinkle at the corner of her smile, she was angry, but I suspected the visitors had no clue. "No, thank you," she'd say. "We'll manage as we manage."

Finally, I reached the curve in the lane. I had trouble keeping the wheelbarrow steady and almost lost my load on a brand new rut one of the Miller boys probably dug out in their new hot rod. My arms felt like noodles, and I wasn't sure I'd make it all the way to Miss Lou's porch. I still had a third of the way to go past my Aunt Nell's trailer, her brother-in-law's creepy old, half-burned house, and the field where the Miller's kept their horses. Just beyond was Rachelle's sad little shack.

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

"Madge!" Mama stood on the back porch, wiping her hands and forearms on her apron. All I could see from the back fence was her flailing apron and the large 'O' of her mouth hollering at me.

"I'm comin', Mama!" I cried. I turned to run, but thorns from the blackberry bush I was picking from grabbed onto my shirt and wouldn't let me go. I tugged to free myself, but instead, I lost my balance and pushed over the bucket on the ground. It was more than half full when Mama called me, but half of that rolled out into the dirt.

The time I would've spent collecting the spilled berries got eaten up by me trying to pull free from the berry bush. In the end, I came away with a hole in my sleeve too big to hide and berry juice smooshed between my toes where I trampled them on my way back.

"What is it, Mama?" I hoisted the bucket onto the top stair and prayed she wouldn't peek at my shirt sleeve.

"That all you got, Madge? Whatcha been doin' down there all afternoon?" Mama frowned at the berries and wiped her forehead on her shoulder, but she didn't look at my sleeve.

I frowned at the berries, too, burying my chin in my chest. "I had more but…I…kicked 'em over."

Mama's shoulders slumped. "Well, I guess one cobbler 'll have to do. You're outta time, daughter. I need you to run some things over to Miss Lou for me."

"Yes, ma'am." She changed the subject faster than I thought she would. On the one hand, a great weight lifted off of me that Mama hadn't noticed the tear in my clothes. She had more than enough to do without having to stop her work for mending, especially when the fault lay with me and my clumsiness. I already felt bad enough she was alone with me and my two sisters and our little brother. No matter how hard I tried to make things easier for her, the frown never left her eyes, she never stopped sweating. She never rested, even in the evening when supper was over, the kitchen was clean, and all the lights in the house were out except for the lamp in the parlor.

If I could get by without Mama having to stitch my sleeve, that would be one less task for her, and one less lecture for me.

On the other hand, I loathed taking things to Miss Lou. Our neighbor lived a half a mile away down the dirt lane past our house, and I had to walk it two ways -- there and back -- hauling sacks of pecans or satsumas, or bags filled to the brim with clothes and shoes my sisters and I couldn't wear anymore.

I hated the walk, and I resented I had to be the one to carry away my favorite dresses Mama made me. It was painful enough having to hand them down, first to Faye, who nearly destroyed everything she wore because she played so hard, and then to Winnie, who had a nervous habit of pulling threads from the worn hems and sucking on the buttons. I was the only one who truly loved those dresses, and even though I couldn't squeeze my ten-year-old body into them anymore, I would've kept them safely put away always, simply because Mama made them, and I felt pretty in anything she gave me.

The injustice was almost unbearable, and once, I told Mama so. "Why can't I keep them?" I asked. "You made them for me!"

"I did not make them for you, Madge," Mama explained, calmly folding my very favorite pair of lace-trimmed bloomers with a large pink rose at the waist and putting them into the deep stomach of that awful burlap bag. "I made them for the family -- for you, then Faye, then Winnie. Never just for you, Madge. You know we have to be frugal in this family. We will share everything we have."

I was near tears by then. I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn't have to see Mama stuff into that bag the Easter dress she made when I was seven. That was the year I lost a tooth on Easter Eve, so I got fifty-cents from the tooth fairy, and another fifty-cents in a plastic egg at the church egg hunt the next day.

"But if you made all that for the family, why are we giving it all away to someone else?" Squeezing my eyes shut apparently would not keep me from crying.

Mama dropped her hands in her lap and sighed. She turned her head to me, but she seemed to be studying the floor as she spoke, as if what she were speaking to the wooden planks beneath my feet.

"Madge…," she began. "You know since we've been without your daddy, we just don't have much. I can't afford store-bought clothes for all of you, but thank God He saw fit that I learn early on how to sew. Just because we don't have much doesn't mean you and your brother and sisters have to look like it.

"Now Miss Lou…." Mama raised her head and looked me sternly in the eyes. "She has even less than we do, and she's got fewer mouths to feed. You think it's hard here without your daddy? Miss Lou's children don't have their daddy either, and they have much, much less than we do."

I understood what Mama was saying. Endless times she sent me over to fetch Miss Lou's eldest daughter, Rachelle, to come play in our garden and swing on the tire Daddy hung for me before he left. Rachelle didn't have a garden.

As a matter of fact, Rachelle didn't have much of anything. She, her mother, and her older sister lived in an old, faded house that looked more like a miniature barn than a house. The grass was overgrown and full of stickers and weeds. A rusty station wagon sat under a makeshift lean-to, and it reminded me of a dead horse. I didn't know why they kept it if it didn't run anymore.

All Rachelle had was a bed she shared with her older sister and a box of hand-me-down toys from our family. No pictures or paintings hanging on her wall, no lamp, no pretty blanket with her name spelled out in rick-rack. No daddy. And no tire swing.

I should've been happy to have a playmate other than my sisters and little brother, but the truth was, I hated playing with Rachelle. Her dark hair was never brushed, she always had sticky dirt on her upper-lip, and there was always black stuff caked under her fingernails. And of course, she was always wearing one of my dresses, now stained with mud and Kool-Aid and whatever else she got on it. Playing with her was a constant reminder of sanctity lost, precious things that were taken from me before I was ready to part with them.

On the porch with the tear in my sleeve, I wondered if Rachelle would ever wear the dress I had on that very moment. Though I hated the imperfection of the rip, I secretly rejoiced and hoped Mama would never, ever discover it. Then, maybe Rachelle would find the tear herself and refuse to wear it. Or maybe she wouldn't find it; her mama would, and then Rachelle would get the whipping of her life.

I knew it wasn't fair or right, but I was tired of Rachelle ending up with everything I loved, and she didn't do a thing to deserve it but be poorer than we were.


#

Mama dragged the burlap bag across the porch to me. "It's too heavy, today. You're gonna have to take the wheelbarrow."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Oh, one more thing." Mama ran back into the house and emerged with a pair of tan high heels she usually wore to town. "I don't know what size Miss Lou wears, but tell her if she can fit 'em, she can have 'em. They're good shoes, I only wear them to town. Tell her they aren't even scuffed." She placed the shoes on the stair by the blackberry bucket.

"But Mama," I said. "What're you gonna wear to town now?"

"Nevermind that," she said. "Get going so you can get back before dark. And take those blackberries to her, too."

I opened my mouth to protest, but the screen door slammed shut behind her before I could utter a word.

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 1


NaNoWriMo Novel 2009
Queens of the Cattails


Chapter 1

When I woke, I thought a monster had swallowed me, and I was trapped in his throat. It was so dark and hot and black. And the smell that filled my lungs was hot and sickening, the way meat sometimes smelled when Granddaddy boiled it in a big iron pot in Mama's kitchen.

Terror was a tiny spark in my gut. The back of my head hurt so bad, I really didn't care much where I was. I wanted Mama to put a chunk of ice in a rag and hold me in her lap while she nursed the pain away.

My mouth opened to call her, but the fear flashed inside, and I remembered I wasn't in a monster's throat. The monster was gone, somewhere else in the house. He'd put me in an attic and locked the door behind him.

In the dark, I patted my hand on the floor around me, reaching out for something, though I didn't know what. The palm of my hand caught on the head of a nail sticking up out of the wood. Dust curled into balls under my fingertips. Little living things scurried around me, and I knotted my hand into a fist, afraid whatever they were might take the skin off my bones if they managed to get their teeth into me.

I shifted my weight just a bit, and my left foot brushed something soft. It was a rotting blanket.

Just then, a cat meowed from behind the door. His small, pitiful wail barely masked the sound of a man's singing. The song was a hymn I knew well, one Mama sang in the church choir at least once a month. But the man's voice was flat, the notes sour like the stink of the attic. Suddenly, I remembered where the spark came from and why I was scared.

September 9, 2009

Missing Dad

Missing Dad in an awful, awful way.

Finally got to spend some quality time with Littlest Sister after more than 10 years separation. The last time we saw each other prior to this year was at our father's funeral. She was only six. Now, she's seventeen.

Looking through old photographs of the Dad I knew, the Dad she knew, and the Dad we both knew for a brief time. All at once the most uplifting -- and the most heartwrenching -- experience I've had in years.

In the earlier photos, a healthy man with color in his cheeks, confident stature, wide smile.

In later photos...his deteriorating health was agonizingly evident. Severe edema, bruises from the daily insulin shots, and his expression...tired as if he'd lived ten lifetimes.

And then he wasn't in the photos anymore.

I'm unnerved and affected. I don't allow myself to miss him -- really, really, really MISS him -- except on rare occasions when I'm led to recall certain painful memories I try so hard to let be.

Tonight is one of those nights when I miss him so much, I can feel him sitting right next to me in the room. I can hear his voice, his breathing that did not come easy in the last days.

He would be 69 this year. Eleven years I've been without my father.

September 7, 2009

Notes from Prolificacy

I've lost my command of time.

For the past week (or more), writing sessions have been constant, consistent, and intense. I gave up trying to fight against the daily creative rhythm and have given over to it entirely.

Writing and editing twelve hours at a time, a couple hours of sleep here, more writing and editing, a couple more hours of sleep there.... I'm a nasty mess, but the material is getting onto the page, and it's getting reworked right away.

Oh, the kids have done such a fantastic job coping with me this time around. Sometimes, I feel guilty they're somewhat forced to self-sufficiency. But the guilt is softened by the kids' pride in their new accomplishments.

Bunny fried up hash browns for the first time, all by herself. She learned the hazards of popping vegetable oil, but she didn't mind. She was too satisfied with the meal and the fact SHE was responsible for feeding everyone.

And Priss has taken such good care of me. Another briar hooked in the heart, considering she shouldn't be seeing to me, that instead I should be seeing to her. But she gains a sense of satisfaction, too, knowing she has a small, adult-like power to nurture. When the alarm goes off for me to take my meds (and I ignore it), she brings me a glass of ice water and the little pills in the palm of her hand. She stands there until I take them.

I do what I can to convey the amount of work I'm getting done -- and the importance of it. They ask to read what I've written, but I tell them it's an "adult story. I promise you can read it when you're older."

Still in the umpteenth revision of Chapter 2, but I have a clear conscience about "progress" insofar as the big picture goes. I'm confident I'm making quality changes and creating quality material, rather than bleeding out superficial, sentimental drivel.

I keep pushing and keep pushing. Far enough into the book, I know "The End" will come.

August 16, 2009

One More Time

At a place where giving up looks like a viable option. I get so tired of striving.

The voice of Joyce Meyers comes to mind, words she offered in a sermon about defeat: "You get up in the morning and you tell yourself, 'I can do this. One more time. One more time.'"

One more time.

Parenting is worthwhile. Writing and learning are worthwhile. Intellectually, there is no doubt. But when the ground opens up right under my feet where I need to stand, and the flat face of a mountainside plunges up into the sky right in front of me where I'm supposed to pass...that feeling of defeat is really, really hard to deal with. One more time. Hell, I can't even make the first yard.

Josie (best friend) talks about being "put together." It's something of an obsession. Our temperaments are so alike, I know exactly what she's talking about. And I know exactly how far away from that I really am.

I feel it most at that moment just before reality leaves my fingertips, that last grasping second before my fist closes around empty air. Rationale falls away from me, and I'm left scrambling around the floor of a dark cell of impossibilities, with no clue what it is I should be searching for.

It's at these times I take a long look in the mirror and fail to recognize myself. I lose confidence in my identity and question whether or not what I think I should be doing is really what I should be doing.

I really must write. And not just to make the deadlines. I've got to return to the book and pour off some of this anguish.

August 3, 2009

Turn the Page

Up late/early, on the cusp of yet another transition. Or, collection of transitions, as is always the case when July gives way to August.

Launching into another fourteen days of monoparenting. Beginning the 2009-2010 homeschooling year (insofar as the state of Louisiana is concerned. The past couple years haven't been divided that way, since we've schooled year-round, but really, the state's happy as long as we put in a minimum of 235 days per year).

New year means new lessons for all. Had to pull all the kids from extracurriculars in the name of financial adjustments, but will be compensating with a return to Hawaiian studies. The girls have been pressing me about that for so long. Now is the perfect time to step up and oblige them.

And prepping Rocky for college. It's shakedown time. I don't think the kid's aware how intense his studies will be now that we're kicking it up a notch. Only 1.5-2 years left before he'll begin work on a degree. He's got the necessary critical thinking skills. Now, we've just got to get him to stick to some kind of study ethic and make sure he's got a strong arsenal of study skills.

And me? Begun serious coursework on writing short stories. Free curriculum through MIT OpenCourseWare. So far, readings from various American short story writers, including Sherwood Anderson, whom I've discovered I love. His treatment of his fictitious rural town of Winesburg, Ohio (also the title of his most popular anthology) reminds me of Ernest Gaines and his Bayonne, Louisiana. Also brings new context to my "Roe, Louisiana," and I'm inspired to explore the possibilities.

Ua pa'ahana loa i kēia mau lā, akā...'a'ole pilikia. Maika'i kēlā. Ua maika'i ka hana i ka na'au.

Loosely..."These days are so busy, but...no problem. That's good. Work is good for the soul."

July 15, 2009

Me Keeping up with Me

July is, tsunami, pushing me face-first into the shore, then dragging me back out again before I can surface for a half-breath of air.

Since vacation, I've crashed into bed every single night like a fallen sequoia. Then daylight yells me up to the next task.

Sleep is more a pause than it is sleep. I guess I could say it's "suspended animation" in a different sense of the word, because I'm "animated" all damn day, and activity is only suspended for a few short hours (that really feel like seconds to me).

Trying my very best to recuperate from traveling highs. Trying to jam myself back into routine -- square peg into a round hole.

But I don't feel sorry for myself. Littlest Brother's wedding was a dream, followed by a beach vacation dream I wasn't expecting. Miner and I truly reconnected after (what seems like) years of dormancy.

Now if we can only make it to Tuesday.... Romantic evening for two planned. But Rocky may be facing a bout of strep throat, in which case all we can do is remain vigilant and hope he pulls through before his coveted character convention Thursday. Poor kid will probably be sick for his own birthday. (Not to mention sick on the very night of said escapade.)

Tomorrow demands a clear head for homeschooling and lots of motherly nurturing for the infirm. Lucky for me there are no outside obligations, or I'd have to turn in my badge.

June 22, 2009

On Character Intimacy

My book has been calling to me. MC is frozen in the third chapter, despairing and anticipating.

I'm stuck at a major intersection; don't know which way to go. The obvious seems cliche and taboo, but it's real.

I'm not accustomed to changing the face of things so dramatically they are unrecognizable to me. I know I have the power to feel the pulse of truth beneath the superficial, but the superficial so often seems integral and necessary.

It's like I must learn another language, in order to communicate in the country I'll be visiting. They recognize hand signals, may be accurate judges of character, but there is a point when disguise becomes fabrication, and then it sounds like a lie.

I've discovered fairly recently, creating characters is like forming new relationships in real life. It's like visiting in the flesh places I've never been before. I not only have to know who/what I'm creating, I have to feel them. It's the only way to tell the truth.

It's digging deep. It won't suffice to simply imagine and draw a picture. I have to feel the pain and the passion, feel the burn of high-noon, shiver in the rain.

The pseudo-vicarious experience takes time. Days. Weeks. Years even, as has been the case thus far.

And this may be why it's taking me so long to choose a direction. I can never get in enough thought-time to dig any deeper than, "Whatcha been up to?" Small talk.

Driving long stretches of highway is ideal. I may have an opportunity soon. Ten-to-thirteen-hour trips, one-way. Then another between seven and ten. I pray the AC in the van is fixed by then so I won't be distracted by sweat and nausea.

June 16, 2009

Thoughts in Traffic

. At traffic light: In the car behind me, a young couple kissing while waiting for the light to change. Recalled when Miner and I used to kiss at traffic lights. Now, that kind of behavior would be met with words like "Ew!" and "Gross!" and "Daddy, keep your eyes on the road!"

. In huge pick-up that rushed to cross the highway in front of me and cleared less than five seconds: Driver in a cowboy hat waved "thanks," as if to acknowledge it was a risky move, but "thanks for understanding." And I did understand, and it didn't bother me a bit. A tiny courtesy goes a long, long way.

. In little red compact car in front of me: Asian guy with the coolest "Asian haircut." Spiky bangs stuck straight up, sunglasses. Fleetingly wondered why I've never gotten an "Asian haircut" myself. Considered the cultural gap between me and "Asian" -- even though I'm half-Asian -- and for a moment, felt lonely and out-of-place.

. On yet-another family van: Little cartoon character "family" stickers, with pets included. Wondered if I'd seen that same van before, and if I hadn't, wondered how many vans in Lafayette have those same stickers, in some other combination and order. Briefly considered whether or not stickers like that on the back of our van would get me pulled over for obstruction of view.

. In the CD player: Journey. "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" - repeat. repeat. repeat.

June 14, 2009

Plain Vanilla

Felt my age in more ways than one today. Comes at the moments when I recognize the world is moving around me at a much faster pace than I am.

I'm just not that interested in progress anymore. Progress seems irrelevant. Maybe on some level, futile.

There's no hypocrisy in how I feel about it; I appreciate progress, I need progress just like everybody else. But a part of me knows I could live without it, and thinks I'd be much happier in life without it.

Seriously...I could be happy waking up every morning to not much more than family, earth, and sky.

I think it's because the filter of life that is me is mostly outgoing. I feel most at me when processing what the senses sense, then recreating those things in a different form. Too much stimulation, too much static, too much to process overloads me, and then I shut down.

This is why city life would never suit me. This is why I prefer silence. solid colors. plain text. brown paper packaging tied up with string.

I'm serious about having a longing to live with the Amish. A life of simplicity of purpose, a life of satisfying work and work expression. A life in which conflicts are intimate and earthy, where a nature contrary to the world is assumed.

June 12, 2009

The 4-Seam Dress

Dress shopping today for Lil' Bro's wedding was monumentally depressing.

I don't think there's anything I hate more than fitting rooms. Maybe it's the lighting, or the grungy floor, or that the stalls feel like bathrooms with no toilets. Dressing rooms make me feel icky and vulnerable and soft like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Unfittingly, nothing ever "fits" in fitting rooms. The dresses I picked out today were wrong, wrong, wrong. All spaghetti strapped, gathered bodice, empire waistline, falling at the knee. All were awful on me. Bold colors (orange, gold, brown) are supposed to look good on me, but in the fitting room, they just made me look green and washed out, like a sick alien.

So I left the mall empty-handed.

On the way home, my brain kicked into self-preservation mode: Can't not go to the wedding. Don't have anything in the closet. Guess I'll have to MAKE something.

So I did. Took less than 30 minutes. Already had the fabric, which I bought for gouchos I intended to sew two years ago.

The design I had in mind was inspired by Le Sac, which is actually the very same design used for pillowcase dresses, which I've made before for the girls. It didn't require a pattern. And with the non-raveling jersey knit fabric I had, it didn't require hems.

Four seams in all. That's it.
  • 2 side seams, leaving adequate length unsewn at the top of each side, for the arm holes (I left 9").
  • 2 seams, one across each top panel to form a casing for the ribbon, string, elastic, whatever.
To start, I cut the fabric to maxi-dress length, just to see how it looked. I didn't like it long, so I took off 6" from the bottom so it hit right below the knee. (I didn't throw that extra fabric away. I planned to use it as a belt later.)

Threaded a couple lengths of cord through the top casings, and Voila! Instant gathered neckline!

I experimented tying the belt just under the bust to form an empire waistline, and I tried it at the natural waist. For my body type, the natural waist looked best, so that's where I'll wear it.

I think I'm going to make more of these dresses. It was just too easy, and it's more comfortable than anything I tried on in the store today.

I really needed to feel good about something after the shopping fiasco. This wouldn't be the first time failure at the mall has sent me home to my sewing machine. It won't be the last.

Friday 5 for June 12: Eat and Drink

I did not realize I was such a picky person. Thank you, Friday5, for the new addition to my growing collection of neuroses.

1. What’s something you will not eat unless you also have ketchup? Sonic tater tots.

2. What’s something you will not drink unless it is served on ice cubes? A salty dog. -- Actually, any mixed drink. Warm / "cool" = icky, rumbling feeling in my gut that says, "Better stay close to a bathroom."

3. What’s something you will not eat unless it is served between slices of bread? Baloney. (I know, I know..."bologna.") And pimento cheese.

4. What’s something you will not drink unless you have a straw? Ice water with lemon juice.

5. What’s something else you will not eat except under very specific circumstances? Saimin. Must be hot. Must be fresh. Must have the proper ratio of veggies to noodles, and noodles to broth. Must have shoyu. As such, I don't eat saimin often. Can't get good saimin in Louisiana.

(To participate, visit Friday5.org.)

The Mason

It was not an easy night. 4 A.M. had me in tears on the phone because I imagined life without Miner.

What was worse? My imagination? or the self-awareness, the feel of the grimy black bottom of the barrel?

It comes in unexpected waves and threatens to take your feet right out from under you. This is why they say in Hawai'i, Don't ever turn your back to the sea.

---

And inspiration is wall of miniature bricks. They look so nice, one atop the other. They feel solid, settled, and secure. They belong in this just-so pattern, higher and higher in perfect form.

And then I feel the weight of them bearing down on the bones. Still so much more to build.

---

I need to write the way I need to cry, and at-times-scream. But putting the words together one after another is like mortaring brick upon brick, with raw, bleeding fingertips.

June 11, 2009

The Nature of the Beast

Today's doctor's appointment was much like being told,
"All right, 'Ailina. You're going into labor now. The contractions are going to come, and they're going to be unbearable, but I'm afraid we don't have anything to offer you to make the experience any less agonizing.

Oh, and you'll be in labor until December, so...maybe some reading and research will point you to some ways to manage the pain for now."
Really, I'm not afraid of the pain. I'm afraid of going through all this time not knowing the nature of the beast. If I were fighting a lion, and I knew I were fighting a lion, I could fight with confidence.

I don't know what the hell I'm fighting, but it feels like I'm fighting me.

June 8, 2009

Holey Bread (Updated)

*Updated*

Dear Nature's Own:

For the past two months or more, I've noticed Nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat bread has consistent flaws of large holes in the slices. This often makes sandwich preparation and butter spreading difficult.

Our latest loaf contained slices with almost 1/4 of the slice missing.

We have five children in our family, and we opt to pay more for Nature's Own bread because of the nutritional value and quality taste and texture. However, the holes in the bread slices lead us to consume more, and thus spend more than budgeted to purchase your bread. I'm afraid on account of a cost-versus-quality issue, we may have to discontinue buying Nature's Own if the slices are not whole.

Thank you for your time...
L. 'Ailina Laranang
Lafayette, LA

----

June 9, 2009
Control ID: *****


Dear Ailina:

Thank you for writing to us about the problem you have been experiencing recently with our Nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat bread. Quality is one of our top priorities and we have high quality standards, so when a product does not meet a consumer's expectations, we appreciate knowing about it.

I am forwarding your comments to the Flowers bakery that serves your market and someone will be in touch with you soon.

Thanks again for bringing this to our attention and for purchasing our products. We appreciate you!

Sincerely,

L***** M******
Flowers Consumer Relations Associate

June 6, 2009

Expanding Options



...as moving to the country is all about expanding: horizons, options, opportunities, lungs.

No longer looking only in Lafayette and the surrounding areas, but now considering Pennsylvania. Yeah, I typed it out-loud.

I'll type it again: Pennsylvania.

Believe it or not, we can get 50% more house for the $$, and 10x more land! And good grief, I swear those houses look like they were peeled off of a movie screen. Rolling hills, sweet green grasses, tumbling thunderheads over the lip of the horizon.... "Apple trees for pies, cider, and cobblers. And peach trees, too."

That's five states away from family, from Miner's job, but who in the family wouldn't want to fly up to a place with four bona fide seasons and white Christmases every year???

And Amish country! Practically in our own back yard!

Pipe dreams, perhaps. But talk about a piece of Americana. Yeah, I figure Pennsylvania isn't all it's cracked up to be, but neither is the burning Southern coast. Pros and cons to everything.

But to my mind, if you're gonna write a book, either do it in the Louisiana heat or in the Pennsylvanian hills.

June 4, 2009

Godspeed, e Ku'u Hoa Aloha...

Kumu 'Anela...

God has a timing and purpose for all things, for those He loves, and when He calls them home. I know this; I have always known this, but that doesn't make it any easier when that time comes.

I sit here three years after our meeting, and you are gone.

You've kept such a deep part of me -- Ka 'Ōlelo Hawai'i -- the language of my heart. You were so kind and generous, dedicating your time and effort to students like me. You could've spent your time with students there in the islands with you. You didn't have to struggle through learning new software, bridging the wide gaps in culture, in time zones.... But you did, and it was a labor of love for you. How could I ever thank you enough for that?

You gave me the confidence to keep learning, to keep digging into ka 'ōlelo Hawai'i, even when I felt like I'd never, ever get it. And when I had the chance to meet you in Hilo, you didn't write me off like a stranger. You treated me like a friend. You took the time to travel where I was, to meet face to face.

I couldn't express then, and I can't express now what an honor it was to meet you. I felt accepted, encouraged, valuable. I felt that my learning mattered to someone, that I wasn't alone in my passion.

E ke kumu, now, it's possible for you to know how much love I put into your lei. It may have seemed like a silly thing to anyone else, but you know the importance of it. I have always cherished the lei you made for me, and I've understood the gift you gave along with it.

I regret I never had the chance to spend more time with you. But I have the lei. I have this photo. I have the memories of our lessons; our conversations; your warm, genuine smile. I recall exactly how it felt to be on that stage knowing you were there watching me and supporting me. How can I thank you for sharing in such an important moment in my life?

I have nothing to offer except my prayers for you and your 'ohana. Their pain is my pain, e ke kumu.

I do know we'll meet again. When, God only knows. But I'm looking forward to being able to thank you in person again.

Till then...Mahalo nui loa, e ku'u hoa aloha. Me ke aloha pau'ole...

Nā 'Ailina

Landing This Thing

Energy spark is sputtering out. A few deep fluctuations between charged restlessness and blank brain. (Strange recollections of an old Atari game..."Vanguard"? Had to land the craft with little boosts of power, and if you weren't careful, you'd crash it?)

Wasted three hours on TLC reality shows (which I sorely despise), but finally pulled it out after it was too late to make more coffee. Went to take a garage break, and started typing out ideas. Turned into parenting article first-draft.

I was productive.

June 3, 2009

Failure...

...has broken my heart again.

Why am I such a flake? How can I be so passionate about something one day, and terrified of it another? Where in the process do I break down?

I blame it on my "vision" and my self-expectations. Like seeing a huge, glorious mountain summit, imagining myself at the top, bathed in light, shouting victory across the broad-faced earth...and after a week of frenzied planning, organizing, and sprint climbing, I collapse somewhere in the lower-half, wishing the ground would swallow me up, and almost admitting I've grown to hate mountains.

Interpretation, please.

June 2, 2009

I Swear: Revisiting "Profanity in Fiction"

Writing exercise opened an idea box, and I ran with it. Short-short about 550 words. Not "Christian Fiction," but certainly written in the context of faith. A CF market would never buy it, because of the language.

So, I revisit the question of profanity in fiction. Found some great articles addressing this same issue:
Some of these authors feel profanity has no place in Christian Fiction; there are other ways to express expletives. Some authors refuse to compromise authenticity for publication, even if it means foregoing a "Christian Fiction" categorization.

For me, my "spiritual/inspirational" writings are "spiritual/inspirational" because that's how the story came out; not because I set out to write it that way.

I have not written a categorically "Christian" story, and I suspect I never will aim to write a categorically "Christian" story. Call me a purist, but when there are stories I must write, I write them, and I don't write them for a particular market. (Yes, this may doom these particular stories to self-publication, but at times, my goal is less to have a wide readership than it is to express myself. Even if my kids will be the only audience for these works (a la posthumous), then so be it.) I don't look at these stories and think, "Where will this fit in?" I look at them and ask, "Does this say what I need to say?"

When God puts a story on my heart, He doesn't say, "Okay. This one's going to be Christian Fiction." He puts a character in my head, connects me with his/her pain, shows me The Way, and burdens me with the responsibility to express in words his/her experience, and all the nasty things that entails. So it is with the new short-short.

Not all my stories are God-inspired. (This is a personal issue and irrelevant to the immediate topic.) But for the ones that do contain a spiritual/inspirational theme...I write them as I feel they should be written; some contain profanity, others don't.

So who IS my audience for these stories? Perhaps that's the big question. Perhaps Christians who came to the Lord from a very, very rough, socially unacceptable place. Perhaps readers who are in a very rough, socially unacceptable place. Maybe readers who are neither, but rather, spectators --

-- like the person who pays to watch a movie she really knows nothing about. She sits down to a black screen with little more than a title. She has no idea where the movie's going, what the characters are all about, who's the good guy, who's the bad guy, who will "win." She holds to her seat to watch a pseudo-life unfold and is patient to see where it leads. She draws her conclusion long after the lights come up.

That's my ideal audience. Meeting the reader where she's at. She trusts me enough to allow me to take her on a journey, and I trust her to take it all in without telling me ahead of time how we should get there or where we should end up.

Perhaps this is an ideal audience for most writers, Christian or not.

Honestly, I would never scorn the Christian market. We need the Christian market. I need the Christian market, as a consumer.

But the Christian market isn't my place. If given one choice, I wouldn't choose to go before a congregation to give testimony, and I wouldn't choose to go into a bar to give testimony. I'd walk around in all the usual places I go and tell my testimony to whoever would like to hear it.

June 1, 2009

Land & a Modular Home?

Move to the country is a year out, give or take a few months. Plenty of time to find a place that will meet all three criteria: Lafayette access, desirable home, private acreage.

Went to look at a house in New Iberia today. Another gorgeous home, to look at the photos. All the bells & whistles -- crown molding, tray ceiling, granite countertops, beautiful yard...but all less than 100 feet from a busy industrial road. Doesn't quite meet the "private" criteria.

So far, nothing has met all three criteria. But land sure is abundant. Plenty of forested lots, many with some water source...and no house.

We may not find the complete package, so the "modular home" option has come up in conversation. I have to confess, I have a hard time seeing a double-wide in our future, but honestly, some of the manufactured homes out there are unbelievable for the price. Definitely not what I envisioned when I thought of "manufactured."

We couldn't find such a great open floor plan in an onsite construction. Really, a layout like this is just what this family needs, since we spend so much time together learning, playing, doing.... And the difference in price....

Of course, there are cons to consider: appreciation issues, lender issues, zoning issues, etc. I'm confident we could overcome them if we found just what we wanted.

Found a log cabin a little further Northwest than I'd like, but it sits on about six acres, gorgeous wood accents throughout, fishing deck on a placid little lake. Every room says "Writer."

I can't help but wax dramatic about it all. "Is this the room I will stand in and declare, 'This is where I shall write my novel'?"

There's more than our domestic future in the cards here. Everything must align perfectly for the sake of inspiration. The older I get, the more I think I have only one crack at the book. (I know this isn't true, but that's the fatalist talking.)

I know in the end, God's going to throw exactly what we're supposed to have in our path, so I'm not at all worried. Anticipating, antsy, anxious...yes. Ready to get on with it. But it's His timing, and I have patience when it comes to that (most of the time).

We'll keep looking, keep throwing ideas back and forth. And in the meantime, I'll keep writing, hoping I can gain momentum that will stick through to The End.

May 29, 2009

Friday 5 for May 29: Longs and Shorts, Again

1. What is the longest you’ve gone between haircuts? Seven years.

2. What is the shortest hour of the day? The first one. I think it has something to do with that first cup of coffee and not wanting the day to start rolling.

3. What is the longest line you’ve ever stood in? Waterpark, for "the big slide."

4. Who’s your shortest adult friend? Define "short." If it means "shorter than me," that would be my cousin -- 5' tall, and she wears a size 5 shoe.

5. Who among your current friends have you known the longest? Emily the Eldest Cactus. We met on the first day of 4th grade. I was fascinated with her long blonde hair and the fact she'd been "homeschooled" (What's that???) and traveled the country with her family in an RV.

(To participate in Friday5, visit the blog here.)

On Painting "Hula Holokū"


It's 2:30 A.M. It took me 3.5 hours to complete Hula Holokū.

I'm surprised by that, because a drawing takes no less than 9 hours. This is only the second acrylic painting I've done; I expected it to be a multi-evening project.

I feel better after painting, though. Way too strange that I departed from writing, but whatever it was I needed to express is indeed expressed.

Not sure what I'll do with this one. A photo submission is in order, but the original.... If I don't find a place for it here at home, there are plenty of family members who would want it. Or, I could save it for that exhibit I've been meaning to have for -- what -- ten years? Yeah, that'll happen.

I just hope I can fall asleep. Revved up like nobody's business.



May 26, 2009

Personal Market Targets & Publication Stats 2008-2009

Writing & art opportunities are really kicking up. I've got to be extremely careful about over-committing in other areas. I could sabotage it all before I even really get started.

I've really enjoyed writing the column for AcadianaMoms magazine. That's a monthly commitment I truly look forward to, even if I've had trouble keeping to a solid deadline. I never fail to find inspiration when it comes down to the wire. Never a dull moment in this family, and I like to think I'm highly teachable. That makes for a constant influx of ideas.

Now, Lafayette has a new pet magazine: Animal Lovers Guide of Acadiana. I've been aching to write for an animal interest publication. How lucky was that to stumble across the premiere issue on dog-park day? First sub for that one is fired off.

Also received an invitation to sub to Kumu Keli'i Chang's Houston hālau newsletter. Format is completely flexible, so it could be an article, art, fiction, and/or poetry. I have a mind to sub it all, though not all at once.

And, Dr. Billy Fontenot of Louisiana State University at Eunice recently sent out a call for submissions for next year's issue of The Louisiana Review. Formats are art, fiction, and/or poetry. I think I'll go for three out of three there, too.

Reviewed and updated my submissions log tonight: All-time publication rate of 50%.

2008 - 2009 Publication Stats (so far):
  • 40% of lifetime submissions were published 2008-2009.
  • 70% were published locally.
  • 85% offered compensation.
  • 75% nonfiction works, 25% fiction & poetry.
Surprisingly, the bulk of sold works were local nonfiction. I've always thought I'd break into print through fiction. I'm not discouraged, though. Writing professionally, no matter what the content and format, is writing professionally. Once one is accustomed to the process, she has a substantial headstart in placing more ambitious works.

I think I'll have a nice, solid foundation by the time we get our property and I get my little writing studio built. I have 100% faith I'll be right where I need to be to start on that larger work. I have patience, and I'm committed to THAT.

May 24, 2009

People We Don't "Get"

Thinking about those things I "get," and those things I "don't get." Getting or not getting is often the line drawn between indifference and judgment.

We "get" someone we know. They're good in our book. Immediate respect, if not acceptance.

We don't get someone we know. They're underdeveloped, undereducated, psycho, or a whole 'nother pie in the Venn Diagram. Whatever the case, they're still beneath Us.

...or...

Perhaps they're saved from immediate rejection because we're intrigued. Intrigue postpones judgment until we know enough to make a judgment call. Then, they're either 1) chaff for the chaff pile, 2) so out-there, they're cool (and we're even cooler because we "get" them), or 3) the same as you and me, but aware of elements of existence we may have never heard of.

Nothing is stupid.

Some people train all year to take the title of the next Anyfood-Eating Contest. Well, why would someone take competitive eating so seriously?

Could we at all imagine a "good" reason? For just a moment? Could we bet it all that no competitive eater has a good reason for choosing her aspiration?

I believe there is at least one "good" reason, one reason that would serve as a tiny artery, carrying empathy from one polarized creature to another. If we knew that answer, we might be so much slower to judge competitive eaters. We might "get" them.

Some folks I don't "get," but suspect there may be at least one story with which I could sympathize, which would shatter any preconceived notions I have and perhaps strengthen my character:
  • strippers
  • (pseudo-religious) Elvis fans
  • nudist families
  • mail-order brides
  • gangsters over 35
  • serious (and successful) artists who have no time for humor in life
  • defense lawyers
  • priests who are ordained very, very young
  • professional boxers
My question is, "I don't get it. WHY?"

And now that I think of it, any one of these individuals would make a great protagonist for a book.

May 23, 2009

The Louisiana Review - Seeking art & literary submissions

The Louisiana Review, an annual art and literary journal of Louisiana State University at Eunice, is now accepting submissions of art, fiction, and poetry for inclusion in the Spring 2010 volume.

From The Louisiana Review website:
The Louisiana Review publishes fiction, poetry, and art. While we gladly consider publishing quality work from any source, first attention is given to Louisiana artists and Louisiana/Southern United States-themed pieces.

Submissions are accepted year round. No previously published fiction, poetry, or art.

Include a cover letter with name, address, phone, and email (if available). Please include a short biography and association with Louisiana, if any.
For additional submission guidelines and details, visit The Louisiana Review website, or browse the journal MySpace page.

The Louisiana Review - http://www.lsue.edu/la-review/index.html
The Louisiana Review (MySpace) - http://blogs.myspace.com/louisianareview

She didn't flinch.

Sometimes, we wonder what we'll do if we ever "go There." If we're lucky, we can hold to our own boundaries if we decide we will never go there.

But what if "There" comes "Here"?

I'm an Avoidant. I think I was probably born an Avoidant. Big Sis clarified at one of those There junctures many miles back. The truth of it stung, but that was a side effect of immaturity.

I must be some measure of mature now, so I don't think those kinds of truths really sting all that much anymore. Not that I'm cynical, but not much surprises me these days. If Big Sis were to tell me I'm delusional, I'd "Hmm...," do a quick retrospective survey, see that she's right, and then hit the drawing board to draft ways of dealing with it.

There it is. And it's okay. I'm not fazed a bit. As a matter of fact, and oddly, I'm sort of welcoming the challenge. The psyche builds up callouses after a while; I think I'm ready to test mine a little.

-- Not that that's an invitation to the universe to start dumping on me. Be kind, please.

No, I can handle it today. I don't know much, and I don't know many, but the ones I do know are beautiful in their imperfection. I wouldn't change them a bit. And I wouldn't want any, anyone else in the world.

I lied. There are a few things left in the world that surprise me -- one being I find myself speaking from a position of strength and self-authority. Awlbee Dam.

Exploring Hypomania

3:17 AM. I did very well trying the melatonin for sleep; it's an effective supplement, but I think the present set of symptoms are too great to penetrate.

Dropped off to sleep at 12:55. I did reach R.E.M., but the last (guessing) third of the sleep session was thin enough I was mildly coherent and remember it. If I do the math, I probably slept for two hours.

Now, I'm awake and feeling refreshed. It's the middle of the night, for Pete's sake. I shouldn't be awake and feeling refreshed. But rather than waste the time playing Scrabble or feeding my face, I continued research on my symptoms, since they're fairly pronounced at the moment, and I'm acutely aware of them.

Research led me to Hypomania, or "A mild form of mania, characterized by hyperactivity and euphoria."

Says Wikipedia:
According to the DSM-IV-TR, a hypomanic episode includes, over the course of at least 4 days, elevated mood plus three of the following symptoms OR irritable mood plus four of the following symptoms:
  • pressured speech; rapid talking
  • inflated self-esteem or grandiosity;
  • decreased need for sleep;
  • flight of ideas or the subjective experience that thoughts are racing;
  • easy distractibility and attention-deficit (superficially similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder);
  • increase in psychomotor agitation; and
  • steep involvement in pleasurable activities that may have a high potential for negative psycho-social or physical consequences (e.g., the person engages in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).
In the hypomanic state, people may feel like they can't slow their mind down, and that the speeding thoughts are crafted exceptionally well. Some examples are speaking or writing in rhyme or alliteration without planning it first; quick responses to people talking; or the ability to improvise easily on the spot.
Six out of seven -- four symptoms of which first grabbed my attention and led to the research in the first place.

---

I'm not seeking a label (although on many levels, a label would help me feel a lot better about it all), because accepting a label may mean committing to a specific treatment plan, which may not be necessary or entirely effective.

What I want is a definite, established coping strategy. Thankfully, I think I've already crafted a strategy quite similar to the ones below.

From Hypomania Part VI: Coping...
Jodie, who has been free of serious episodes for three years, has learned to take her pills without resentment, has limited her social activities and involvement in various projects, and has established a regular sleep schedule and other routines. Especially important, Jodie has developed "the capacity and insight to see episodes coming on." For example, when she finds herself talking very quickly and craving excitement, she implements her "action plan."

...

Susie, for instance, knows her main triggers are family stress and caffeine. When she finds herself buying more than one lotto ticket, visiting adult bookshops and writing late at night, she goes to battle stations. This includes limiting her coffee, restricting her access to cash, turning off her computer after 6 pm, and not going to night clubs on her own.
Recently, 'Ailina recognized a pattern in her proclivity to commit to more projects and activities than are humanly possible to manage. Periods of intense planning and optimism are extreme, recurring, and in time, predictable. The end result, however, is always misery when her plans inevitably fail.

Having recognized the changes in her thought patterns, behavior, and consequences of action, 'Ailina is learning to limit her involvement in activities and projects and to allow for a "cooling-off period" before committing to a new opportunity when it arises.

Like Jodie, 'Ailina understands the importance of monitoring her own body and mind, so when symptoms flare --
  • talking rapidly and excitedly
  • compulsive rhymes, puns, and witty turns of phrase
  • rampant inspirations coupled with a sense of self-limitlessness
  • surging activity
  • social bravery (clearly uncharacteristic, as aggravated social anxiety is her "norm")
  • low requirement of sleep
  • friskiness
-- she can take appropriate actions to control the ensuing damage.

---

Awareness and acknowledgment are the first steps.