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June 30, 2006

The Black Feather

featherzoom2.jpgOn the same day my father was in a car accident that eventually led to his death, my sister, Tricia, had a grand mal seizure. Family members were in the hospital supporting her when my father was wheeled in on a stretcher. His vital signs were fine. He was talking and joking, coherent enough to tell the nurses that his daughter had just been admitted that morning. Although we were shocked by the turn of events and amazed by the synchronistic line-up, the phone calls and emails spanning the seven-hundred miles between my family in Massachusetts and my home in Virginia were encouraging. We thought my father was being kept overnight for routine observation.

When I called Tricia’s house the day after her seizure, I choked up when I asked her husband how she was. I was stunned when he said, “I’m more concerned about your father.” My eighty-one year old father had a broken vertebrae in his neck. He would have to be put in a brace and would likely be bed-ridden for some time.

The screen door slammed behind me as I headed out to the mailbox. Walking our long gravel driveway with woods on either side, I was absorbed in thinking about my father when I was startled by a SWOOSH, and then the loud flapping of wings. A brazen vulture had swooped down close to my head, and then, as quickly as it had appeared, disappeared into the woods.

I don’t remember what mail came that day, but I was midway in my walk back to the house with a stack of it in my hand when I looked down and noticed a large black feather in my path. A white feather had appeared in a similar manner just after my brother Jim died, four years before. Another white feather turned up a month later, before the death of a second brother. A part of me knew the instant I picked up the black feather that my father’s journey out of this world had begun.

He endured six weeks of hospital interventions and complications before he passed away. It was a heavy loss with layers of grief that took time for me to process. Six months after he died, I wrote a poem after waking up in the morning with a sense that he had kissed me on the cheek. I called the poem “My Father’s Kisses.”

From the creased and fading underlining
of the mind’s lived-out stories
I summon them up
to soothe a new hurt

Although my father was sober in the last two decades of his life (except for an outbreak following the deaths of his sons), he struggled with alcoholism all his adult life. He was nineteen when he joined the army as an artillery soldier in WWII. Combat was almost more than he could bear, but it was witnessing first-hand the inhumanity at Buchenwald Concentration Camp that he always claimed broke him. Later, as a father of nine children, providing for a family of eleven took a further toll.

After the last kiss goodbye I mourned
the part of him that was always absent
compelled to purse his lips for a kiss of death
against the slippery edge of a glass or bottle

My father was a playful, loving man who expressed his affection as easily as he did his anger. I both loved and feared him when I was a child. I struggled writing the poem. It was like a lid on a Pandora’s Box of emotion that needed to be lifted slowly.

If actions speak louder than words
then his kisses should drown out my hurts
the sting of his words harshly spoken
under the influence of post traumatic stress

Stupid little shit
and other figures of speech
that leave indelible marks on young children

Can you make it all better, daddy?
I’m afraid when you yell like that

I don’t normally post long personal poems on the online journal that I keep, but I impulsively posted “My Father’s Kisses” on Father’s Day, the first since my father’s death. The discomfort that followed was unexpected and dramatic. I felt as if I was “in trouble” for sharing such a personal poem. I worried that my words would disturb others and wondered how my family would receive it. As my distress intensified, I couldn’t sort out what was rational or irrational about my fear. I not only thought about deleting the poem, but I worked myself up to the point where I considered not writing on my weblog anymore.

In response to my anxiety, my husband, Joe, suggested we go for a walk. By this time I was aware that the poem had unearthed a dark childhood fear. I knew I had done nothing wrong; but I still felt threatened. Walking on the dirt road paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway, we were immersed in conversation, reviewing the roots of my feelings, when Joe stopped abruptly in the middle of the road.

“Why are you making us stop?” I demanded. “I need to either keep moving or go curl up in the fetal position somewhere.”

He just stood looking at me until I gave in and let out a big sigh.
“That’s why,” he said.

I took his hand and we began walking again until something in the periphery of my vision caught my attention. It was another black feather, about eighteen inches long. I wanted to believe it meant nothing, but I knew it was mine to pick up.

Turning it over in my hand, I reminded Joe about the first black feather that appeared the day after my father’s car accident. “Did you know he was the only one who knew I put a white feather in Jim’s coffin? He was nearby and saw me do it,” I explained. “He asked like a curious little kid what it was for. I told him – purity, journey, freedom – and he smiled like he was learning something new.”

Joe and I walked in silence after that. With my hands clasped together behind my back, holding the feather in one of them, I shifted into a timeless place. With my head down, I watched my feet move, feeling the reverberating cadence of each step. The dirt road became the sandy shoreline of my childhood home; the dusty gray gravel was beach pebbles. I felt small like a little girl again, and the feather quill I was holding onto was like holding my father’s hand.

With that realization, a feeling of peace floated over me. I knew my father was pleased that my poem told the truth of his story. I felt his presence bearing a message: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to use your voice.

Post Notes: You can read "The White Feather" from my book "The Jim and Dan Stories HERE and the poem "My Father's Kisses" HERE.

June 29, 2006

13 Thursday: The Flip Side

13copy2.jpg 1. I once had a bumper sticker on my car that I hung upside down. It read “Why Be Normal?”

2. I also had a recycling bumper sticker that I stuck on my car twice. It said “Once is Not Enough.”

3. Speaking of normal and not being so, my sister Kathy recently had a lot of trouble with her blog; first with posting and then with accepting comments. I empathize with her because I know when my blog isn’t working right I don’t feel right. It’s as if my car is broke down, and I can’t go anywhere.

4. One of my close women friends is 20 years younger than me (Mara). Another is 20 years older (Alwyn).

5. Alwyn has had a rich life, living in Greece, Italy, England, and even Floyd at one time. She’s a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher and environmental activist who, in the past, was an assistant editor of Mademoiselle and interviewed Margaret Meade (before she was well known) for a book. We were having lunch together last week, and my husband, Joe joined us. Joe and I were both asking her questions and after a while she noticed I was writing everything down. “This is an Interview; isn’t it!?” she, who is leery about self-promotion, asked. “I think it’s about time I get the details and timeline of your story down,” I told her. (To be continued…)

6. It’s amazing to me how much background information you have to collect to be able to write 2 sentences.

7. I’m attracted to clothes, but I’m also fickle about them. I’m always looking for a few good mix and match pieces that I can have a long term relationship, but once I wear them a few times, I get bored with them.

8. My husband once covered himself in bubble wrap for a Halloween Costume. “Oh, it’s just a ploy to get all the women to touch you,” I told him.

9. Popping bubble wrap is a weakness of mine. You can pop some virtual bubble wrap HERE.

8. My stove is old. Sometimes one of the burners hums and sounds like a faraway foghorn, making me homesick for Hull, Massachusetts, the small peninsula beach town I grew up in.

10. Look what happened to Terri’s house in Cedar Keys when she went to Boston for a week.

11. I recently watched the movie “Broken Flowers” because Bill Murray was in it. It was so slow (long driving scenes with jazz playing in the back ground) that I literally watched it in fast forward.

12. I spent more than a couple of hours over the weekend deleting nasty spam comments that had infested some of my old posts. Doing so made me feel like I was killing the cockroaches that came out at night in an old trailer I once lived in near Houston.

13. While going back to each post to see if they were infected or not, I re-read all the comments I got after my father had died in a post called “The Last Sunset.” 46 of you offered your condolences. Thank you. It meant a lot.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

June 28, 2006

Once in a Blue Moon

weddingcloseupa.jpg So the girl who never wanted … the gown and veil … who blushes and deflects “congratulations” … becomes the “bride” … not the opposite of groom … but “the tie that connects a pattern of work” … and the “groom” is the care that we give it … Colleen

Every wedding anniversary my husband, Joe, and I threaten to do something fun like throw ourselves a party to celebrate. The truth is that there are years when both of us forget to even notice the date. weddingcloseup2a.jpg In part, it’s because our wedding took place on a blue moon in June. The actual date of that June full moon was less important than the fact that it was the second one that month.

I think we also forget our wedding anniversary because we lived together for 9 years before we were married. During that time we exchanged vows informally in a yearly ceremony we dubbed “United Untied.” weddingroup2.jpg
Our actual wedding took place on the Blue Ridge Parkway in a grove of trees by a rolling overlook view. The idea was to exchange our vows when the setting sun and the rising blue full moon were in the sky together, opposite each other and representative of a great celestial romance.

It was a folk ceremony. There was a Native American Flutist and a South American Machi drummer. Poetry was read. A chalice of elixir was involved, as well as the ceremonial eating of an apple. bluemoon3aa.jpg

Tomorrow is our 10 year wedding anniversary.

“Ten years! We’ve got to do something to celebrate,” Joe insisted.

“Alright,” I conceded. “I’ll post some pictures of our wedding on my blog.”

Happy Anniversary to the love of my life.

June 27, 2006

Come Down Off Your Throne

heels.jpg There’s a mad rush in June to get married, graduate, go to a prom, or on a summer vacation. In my own life, I attended my son’s fiancé’s graduation from nursing school in June. It was a large class in a big auditorium. To keep my mind busy during the hour and a half of pomp and circumstance, I found myself studying women’s footwear.

As a girl, it was a rite of passage to go from flats to pumps. We knew we were finally women when we were old enough to wear real high heels. Although most of us wore some sort of raised heel when we wanted to look particularly alluring, only a few dared to go on to spikes and stilettos. I wore platform shoes as teenager, partly because it was stylish but mostly because I wanted to be taller. Even so, I’ve never been comfortable in high heels. (In fact, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’re probably aware that I’m most comfortable barefoot.)

Here’s what I learned from my informal study: The higher the heel, the more waddling, teeter tottering, and flip flopping the women graduates did across the stage to get their diplomas. Not all that much has changed since I was a young woman. As a woman, I want other women to stand firmly on their own two feet and go forth confidently into their futures. But at this particular graduation, only a few wore the kind of shoes that made that seem possible.

On the ride home from the event, I revealed my findings to my husband, Joe, who responded by telling me about a Body Awareness Class he recently attended. Studied in the martial art of Aikido, the teacher stated that the goal of the class was to develop skills that would lead to personal empowerment.

This is what Joe learned: High heels are not empowering for women. You could knock over a woman wearing high heels with one finger.

A pushover? An easy target? Do high heels really make women look more attractive or are we just conditioned to think that? Imagine the impediment if life was a sport and women starting playing in high heels? If women want to be on an equal footing with men, maybe they should stick with a sensible shoe.

June 26, 2006

Be All You Can Be

joshworldcupsm.jpg “Sports are important,” my Asheville potter son, Josh, in town for his brother’s bachelor party, said to me as I was trying to get a non-sports word in edgewise. “It has stopped wars ... and has started some too.” He continued.

He, Floyd County Soccer MVP in the year 1997, went on to tell me about a group of Senegalese in Asheville who rejoiced to the point of crying when their soccer team claimed victory over France, their country’s former colonial power, in a World Cup series match.

I was thinking about how when the Red Sox won the World Series after an 80 year slump; it was more than a game to everyone in my family, including Josh who has rooted for them as the underdog since he was a little boy. “How do you know these people from Senegal?” I asked him.

“They all worked at the gas station near my house then,” he answered without looking at me because his eyes were on the TV.

This year Angola rose from the ruins of civil war and poverty to play in the World Cup, bringing a boost of hope and confidence to their entire country, I learned from Josh.
“Yes, sports can be a good way to express nationalism without violence,” I said, and we both agreed.

It also brings men together, I thought as I snapped a picture of Josh and my husband, Joe, watching the game together.

Post Notes: For some further reading, check out “Significant Moments in Sports and War.” “Sports Metaphors Trivialize War,” is also interesting.

June 25, 2006

Dance Free

dancefree3.jpg Dance is my sport. Either that or my art. When I go to the monthly “Dance Free” in Floyd, it’s a cross between going to the gym and a rave party. Endorphins are released. Contagious smiles get exchanged. Some dancers spin like dervishes waving brightly colored scarves, while others sway, stomp, rock, or weave in and out of each other.

Dance Free is usually held on a Friday night, the same night as Floyd’s famous Friday Night Jamboree at The Country Store. Some of the Jamboree goers wander down the sidewalk and peek in to see what all the fun is about. Some join in.

From the window someone spots the moon and points it out. One by one, dancers glide over to take a look. Soon, a loud applause erupts.

Maria, the DJ, occasionally comes down from the stage and turns up the vibrational volume by dancing with us. At Dance Free, I don’t have to know anything, or make conversation. We are all speaking the same language. Body language, that is.

Post Note: That's my friend Lora, one of Floyd's Dance Free organizers. To learn more about it go here. David at Ripples has captured some great Jamboree shots as well.

June 24, 2006

It’s Summer!

blueberry2.jpgSlipping under the black netting nailed to a wooden frame that protects my blueberry plants from birds, I picked berries for the first time this year. It was dusk and a firefly was in there with me. A slight sultry breeze offered a momentary break from the day’s oppressive heat. As I strained my eyes to see and reached for the ripest and bluest ones, I noticed that my arms were tired from swimming earlier that day.

Even though I know it’s an illusion that pool water is Caribbean blue, every year when I take my first plunge, I’m transformed into a butterfly surfing the waves in a tropical paradise. And every year when I pick my first blueberries, I remember one summer day 15 years ago. We were a handful of women skinny dipping in a neighbor’s private pond, when our hostess appeared from the house bearing two freshly baked blueberry pies. She set them on the pond’s bank with a spoon for each one. Dripping wet and taking turns with the passed around spoons, we ate to our heart’s content.

Will I have enough blueberries this year to make my son Josh’s traditional birthday pie? I wondered as I continued picking.

In the hush of the evening, plump blueberries plunked into my empty tub like exclamation points. “It’s summer! It’s summer! It’s summer!” they seemed to say.

June 23, 2006

From June's Photo Album

1. Wise Women: Girlfriends at Zephyr Farm attending one's twin daughters' high school graduation party.
2. Green Eggs and Ham (not): Eggs from Ed and Randye’s farm. There really are some green ones.
3. My Favorite Most Photographic June Flower: A peony from the garden at The Harvest Moon Health Food Store.
4. All that Jazz: She writes in her journal, ‘What would our dog Jazzy write if she could?’
5. Stairway to Heaven: The road to Floyd town in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
6. Stairway to Heaven II: AKA My feet are my only carriage (words by Led Zepplin and Bob Marley respectively).
7. The Class of 2006: My great nephew, Dom, graduates from pre-school.

June 22, 2006

13 Laps: The Write Way

handpool.jpg1. Trying to write in a café is like trying to sleep on a bus. I sleep better at home in my own bed and write better at home too.

2. Remember back in elementary school how relevant your last name was because it determined who you would sit next to? By that logic, if bloggers were in school, I (Loose Leaf Notes) would be sitting next to Lisa at (L)amb.

3. Sometimes while writing I get stuck in the traffic of words. When that happens nothing moves for hours.

4. You can’t try too hard to write a poem. If you do it comes out contrived. You can’t try too little either. If you do that the poem won’t be any good.

5. Writing a poem is like raising a child. If you give it good attention and love it for what it is, it will mostly do what it’s supposed to.

6. One of my favorite blogs is Simply Wait. The author, Patry, is a waitress writer who is about to have her first book published. Her recent post, “The Time Tested Waitress Method of Finding a Literary Agent” was especially good. Read it here.

7. It almost feels by design that my calling to write and to publicly share it continues to trigger my lack of confidence so that I can get over it.

8. And the fact that my hairdresser cut my bangs even shorter than she did the last time I complained about it is probably just another lesson from the universe for me to get over myself. Nobody really cares how short my bangs are.

9. My definition of a writer is a person who is compelled to write, and if there is no payment involved, it only further confirms that they are one. A person who will work for hours or days to find the just right word and the right order of every written line without the incentive of compensation is either a writer or not completely sane. When I say “I’m a writer,” I’m not necessarily claiming to be a “good writer.” I am saying that writing is what I’m interested in and what I do, more than anything else

10. For 10 years I taught creative writing once a week to all classes at the Blue Mountain School, a parent-run cooperative in Floyd, in trade for a break in tuition for my sons who went there.

11. At the pool with my husband this past weekend, I realized that I am relaxed by the voices of children playing. The sound of children at play outdoors is as natural as the sound of birdsong.

12. Every time I swim in the pool I think about the poem I encouraged my niece to write a few years back when she was at the pool with me, and I soak up the confidence it exudes: Big and blue … Shimmering pool … I can swim like an angel … Soar across it … I can see myself … I duck down and look … I look pretty … I like what I see.

13. Sometimes when writing a poem and looking for the right turn of phrase, I squint my eyes as though reading something off a screen of my mind.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

June 21, 2006

Many Hands Make a Good Scrabble Stew

letters.jpg It was Kathleen’s birthday. Mara brought cherries to share. We met at the Café Del Sol where there were 3 Scrabble boards to choose from and a few bags of mismatched letters, some of which had been purchased at yard sales for parts.

The last time we played together, it was Mara’s birthday, and we had to un-scramble all the various Scrabble tiles for a complete set of letters. We didn’t expect to have to do it again.

“I don’t think we’re the only ones who play Scrabble here,” I said, admiring Rosemary’s power of concentration as she sorted and counted the letters, looking like a wise woman at a cauldron creating a magic stew. Mara stood over her in an effort to be supportive.

“Maybe we should tape a sign to this bag, “DO NOT TOUCH,” Mara suggested.

“I don’t think the people who are mixing up the letters can read,” Rosemary added. In other words it was probably kids using the games as toys while their mothers were downing their lattes.

“Who wants to keep score?” Mara, who was looking at me, asked after the letters were sorted.
Wants to?” I said sarcastically, knowing that my powers of concentration and math skills were questionable. “I will if you make me, but you’d be risking your Scrabble life in my hands,” I threatened.

Mara decided to keep score. Kathleen (on the left in the photo) drew an A (appropriate for her birthday status) and went first.

Even though I had overslept that morning and woke up feeling like my head was an overripe melon with seeds sloshing about, I managed to get my brain working enough to be in the lead for the whole first half of the game. But, just after making a particularly high score, I was stopped in my Scrabble tracks.

“My Catholic guilt must be kicking in for that last high score against you all,” I said, “because I just picked all one point vowels.”

“Do you think you can control what you pick?” Kathleen asked.
“I don’t know how it works, but, yes.” I answered while flashing my rack of pathetic letters to Rosemary in an effort to get some sympathy. Rosemary just laughed and called me 4 eyes (I’s).

From that point on, my letter picks only got worse, and I became an underachieving slacker with no plans for the future. I wandered around the café when it wasn’t my turn. “I like that music poster on the wall in the bathroom. “The not too proud to advertise in the bathroom tour,” I said, coming back to the table to take my turn.

“Hey, no saving spots on the board with the cherries!” someone shouted.
Kathleen, who struggled for the first part of the game and initially denied that the special birthday chair we suggested she sit in was lucky (remembering what happened to Mara when she sat in it for her birthday game) was now in the lead.

“After I acknowledged that the chair was unlucky, it lost its power over me,” she announced, and then she proceeded to win the game. Happy Birthday, Kathleen!

Post note: Check out that Za Zin Zany play!

June 20, 2006

The Father’s Day Essay

“I heard your Mother’s Day essay on the radio! Good job!” Rob, the owner of Oddfella’s Cantina said to me as I was coming through the Cantina door on my way to meet my husband for lunch.

“It all started with you, Rob,” I surprised him by saying. He looked confused, so I explained.
Two summers ago, our local newspaper announced a Father’s Day Essay contest. Fellow blogger, Fred from Fragments, was appointed to organize the contest and asked me to be a judge. As it turned out, only a handful of people submitted essays, but we did have readings of those and others at the Winter Sun Hall during our town’s “Spring into Summer” weekend event.

During this period of time, Rob had been hosting Spoken Word events at the Cantina featuring members of the Writers’ Circle I belong to. On one such evening, he took to the stage himself and read an excerpt from a book he was working on. We all knew Rob was a talented musician and actor, but a writer too? He blew us away.

At the Father’s Day Essay readings, Rob read an essay about his father teaching him to dive. I was so impressed and struck by the way he was able to communicate a tender love for his father, mixed with the regret of what his father wasn’t able to give him that I vowed then to write about my own father.

The essay I ended up writing, titled “Let Me Clue You in about My Father,” became a turning point in my life. I had written “The Jim and Dan Stories,” a book about losing two brothers a month apart two years before. I was still immersed in missing my brothers and trying to penetrate the mystery of death. Writing my father’s story and honoring his service as a WWII vet got me excited about writing again. There are other things to write about besides Jim and Dan, I remember thinking. How cool to write about someone I love before they die.

I didn’t know when I watched my dad from my mom’s kitchen window reading the essay with tears in his eyes last summer that 4 months later he would be gone. Knowing he had read the tribute and was touched by it was the fulfillment of the highest purpose writing it had served. But the words I wrote about my dad rippled out further than that.

“Let Me Clue You in about My Father” was my first essay submission to WTVT Public Radio, and it was accepted. I was invited by WVTF Morning Edition host into the radio station to read it, and it aired last Memorial Day. But there’s more… madadme.jpg

The affect the essay had on my mother caused her to wonder out loud if I would write one for her. After a few false starts, I did write a tribute to my mother, which aired on WVTF this past Mother’s Day. During the year I was working on telling my mother’s story, my father passed away, and the Father’s Day essay came into play again when I read to a church full of people who loved my dad as part of a shared family eulogy.

My Father’s Day essay, initially inspired by Rob, seems to have a life of its own. It was recently purchased, along with photographs of my dad, by The Hull Times, the newspaper in the town where I grew up and my mother still lives (for what I call a “Boston price”). The Times published it last week for Father’s Day, the first one that my siblings and I have experienced without a father. Although it was emotional day for all of us, it’s good to know that my father’s story is being told and that his memory lives on.

Post Notes:
1. The first photo was taken in Oddfella’s Cantina of my husband, Joe (left), my sister Sherry and her husband, Nelson, when Sherry and Nelson were visiting in the fall of 2004. Rob is on the far left, playing music on stage. 2. The second photo is of my father, mother, and me at The Pine Tavern on their last visit to Virginia in May of 2002. 3. My sister, Kathy, has written a Father’s Day piece called “Who Put the Honey in Your Heart?” You can read it on her blog here.

June 19, 2006

Open Mic: A Home Game

sally2xjpg.jpg Sometimes I worry that my bad poetry…like a nude photograph…will come back to expose me. ~ Colleen

Sally, Café Del Sol owner and our gracious MC for the evening welcomed everyone to the June Spoken Word Open Mic wearing a purple horned headdress. “A variation of the purple poet’s beret some of us wore last month,” I said to my friend Mara when I saw Sally approaching the stage.

The sign-up sheet of performers read like a “Who’s Who” of our Floyd Writers’ Circle. Five of us, all women, read pieces that we had work-shopped together just 3 nights before. And didn’t our final work sound so much improved? “We did our homework,” I said to fellow circle member, Kathleen, at the end of the evening. But Writers’ Circle members weren’t the only ones who read.

We initiated Jack, a painter and poet from Norfolk, by fire by making him go first. “Getting it over with” was the line I used to spin the idea to him. In town to visit Writers’ Circle member, Jayn, Jack was a good sport. His poem about meeting women (or not) in cafés was appropriate considering our venue, and his poems about snakes having sex, and painting in a dream, while wondering if Paul Simon writes poetry, kept the audience intrigued and engaged.
Mara’s girlfriend, Leigh, had been to several of our previous Spoken Word events, but had never read her own work before. She pleasantly surprised us with her rap inspired poem with a “take your metaphor and shove it” theme, and then with a tender tribute to her mother.

Attach the end to the beginning … The life of flowers is finite … once gathered … expect no more than eight to twelve hours before wilting…
After her poetic recipe for making a daisy chain necklace, Mara read an essay about a Hollins College writing assignment she once had, titled “What Have you Learned?” She was failing miserably at the task when a giant sequoia pine cone fell from her shelf in a Newtonian sort of moment and caused her to bleed. Maybe we don’t learn without a little discomfort, Mara wondered out loud.

The crowd turnout was good. Seats were filled with some regulars and some new supporters cheering us on. Several couples found their way to the event by way of the Floyd Press and Museletter ads, I learned at the end of the evening.

I sat in my regular front row seat, the big comfy couch, and bantered (not heckled) with the readers, sort of the way sports players psych each up other with encouraging cross talk. When it was my turn to read, I was thrilled to discover that my powers to ad-lib had returned. Last month, on stage I couldn’t seem to form a coherent unscripted sentence, probably due to the fact that the event was rescheduled and took place at 4pm, the time of day I’m usually napping, rather than our regular 7 pm.
“Maybe poetry isn’t meant for broad daylight. I like to read in dimmed lighting that casts reflections on my amber filled glass of beer,” I told my husband when I figured out what went wrong last month. Of course, as one who has been healing from public speaking trauma for most of my life, I don’t need a reason to be nervous. But I wasn’t on this evening, at least not abnormally so.

From the creased and fading underlining …of the mind’s lived-out stories … I summon them up … to soothe a new hurt … I touch my own cheek … to feel his phantom kisses … Even though earlier in the day I experienced an emotional breakdown related to posting the poem about my father kisses on my blog (more on that in a future post), I got through the reading of it without choking up. I did enough bawling while writing the piece, after all.

My reading (which Joe made a mini-movie of, but I don’t know how to post those) was followed by the rest of my Writers’ Circle fellow-members. The sharp beaked, sweet talking, opportunistic malingerer cowbird, bullying for food and out-competing the young thrush reflected the human world as a ferment of human malevolence in Jayn’s poem, titled “Face-off.”poetryreading2a.jpg

Rosemary reminded us that Mother’s Day was not originally intended as a day for women to pat themselves on the back and receive flowers. It was meant to inspire women to get out and change the world. If anyone could stop the loss of innocent lives in man made wars, it would be women, she stated in a piece about raising bi-gender children, which at its conclusion brought on rousing whoops and applause.

Kathleen, a historian and archivist, is known for her descriptive poetic prose. She wove a story about a large quartz rock to the beat of a repetive line … And India told me this story… years ago … Too big to dig up, on the property she now lives on, it had to be buried. And India told me this story … years ago... When a large rock stopped her while mowing, she asked ‘could it be the one?’

The June Spoken Word Open Mic night was like a home game that everyone who participated in won. When it was over, some of us stayed to dance to the music of the Winged Heart Band in the back part of the building.

Post Notes: You can read about more Floyd Spoken Word events here. Photos: Sally, Jack, crowd, and Colleen.

June 17, 2006

My Father’s Kisses

I opened my eyes
to a tangible memory
of my father’s kisses

Hanging in the air
like an overcoat with pockets
forgotten in the summer
taking up space in the closet

As I shake off the sleep
a question takes shape
If I added them up over the course of my life
would my father’s kisses cover me?

On my cheeks and lips
in the crook of my neck
of love

My father loved to kiss each one of his nine children
his grandchildren and great-grandchildren
referred to by him as his “population”

“There are only two kinds of people,” he told us
“Givers and takers”
He gave his kisses freely and we knew
those who give receive the most

Even in the last fevered weeks of his life
with a hospital machine breathing for him
he puckered his lips and waited for us…
to do what we were taught

After the last kiss goodbye I mourned
the part of him that was always absent
compelled to purse his lips for a deadly kiss
against the slippery edge of a glass or bottle
a “disease of the soul” he called it

“An alcoholic is either thinking about drinking
thinking about not drinking
or he’s drinking,” he confessed

And when he wasn’t thinking about that
he was remembering other battlefields
killing men before they killed him
blown up buddies
digging mass graves for the murdered bodies
discarded by Nazis like household trash

If actions speak louder than words
then his kisses should drown out my hurts
the sting of his words harshly spoken
under the influence of post traumatic stress

Stupid little shit
and other figures of speech
that leave indelible marks on young children

Can you make it all better, daddy?
I’m afraid when you yell like that

I’m also marked by his kisses
How many will it take?

From the creased and fading underlining
of my mind’s lived-out stories
I summon them up
to soothe a new hurt

I touch my own cheek
to feel his phantom kisses
like a leg blown off

still feels real
almost warm
lighter than tissue

His lips
kept in shape by his habit of whistling
but with age it wasn’t enough
“I used to be able to kiss for hours,” he told me
“but now my lips get tired”

That’s okay, daddy
I know you love me


Post Notes:
My dad passed away this past November. I call the above photo of him “I’ll Be Seeing You in Apple Blossom Time.” The poem is one I’ll be reading tonight at the Café Del Sol Spoken Word Open Mic, and I’d like to thank the members of my writer’s workshop for their helpful suggestions.

June 16, 2006

Floyd Bloggers Who Write Books


I was in the Café Del Sol posting flyers for our Spoken Word Open Mic this Saturday night when I witnessed an actual impromptu purchase of Fred’s new book, Slow Road Home,” at the Café counter.

As a friend of Fred’s, an author with a book myself, and a roving blogger who likes to record what interests me, my curiosity was piqued.

“I’m a friend of Fred’s,” I said as I approached the petite blonde woman who was buying the book.

“You are?!” she responded enthusiastically.

“I thought you’d like to know that I just snapped a picture of you for Fred,” I went on.

Her name is Katherine and she lives in upstate New York. In town for a wedding, she had just come from camping at Rocky Knob.

“We love this area,” she gushed and explained that she was in the Café earlier when she had first seen Fred’s book.

“Tell Fred that the back cover description sold me. We’ve been thinking about moving to a place like this,” she went on.cafebooks2.jpg

At that point, I handed her my card, the one with my blog address on it that says ‘The Blogkeeper is in,’ and let her know that Fred and I both have blogs and frequently write about Floyd.

“Do you know what a blog is?” I asked. She did. Not only that, she is a writer and has had a blog in the past.

“Look!” I said, pointing to the locally published books by me, David, and Fred (in that order) on a shelf below the counter. “And we’re all bloggers!” cafebookbuyersmilesm.jpg

I explained how supportive the café has been to local writers, showing her the open mic flyer in my hand. She offered to get her dog out of her car to pose for the next photo, but I had a date with the grocery store. We promised to stay in touch.

As I headed out the Café door feeling like got a scoop for Fred, I was thinking, ‘That’s the cool thing about the small press. You often get to meet and hear the stories of the everyday people who read your book, even if it comes to you by way of your neighbor.’

June 15, 2006

13 for Dads

13dad2.jpg 1. This is my first Father’s Day since my father left this world.

2. Here is my “13 Things about My Father,” written just after he died. And this is the WVTF Public Radio essay tribute that I wrote about his WWII military service, which he read with tears in his eyes just 4 months before his death.

3. I just watched the movie “Elizabethtown” and loved it. I didn’t know what it was about when I started watching. One of the themes is about a son dealing with his father’s death. I seem to have radar for movies like this.

4. I loved the soundtrack. It made me want to get music back into my life, but I feel so out of the loop. I don’t know how to download music or use an IPOD, and I miss my brother Danny who died in 2001 and used to introduce me to new groups and make me mixed tapes.

5. The last time my mother and father visited me in Virginia (2004), I took them to the Friday Night Jamboree at The Country Store in Floyd. The Jamboree, which has been frequently written about in the Washington Post, is like an immersion into mountain culture. There are even (joke) cans of possum you can buy. Musicians playing old time music and flat footing dancers spill out onto the street and people buy ice cream cones. I tried to get my (thoroughly Irish) father up on the dance floor to try some flat footing by reminding him that it’s a derivative of Irish step dancing, but he only likes to dance the jitterbug.

6. Notice that I haven’t gotten the hang of using the past tense when talking about my father.

7. I’m scheduled to give a presentation to talk about my book “The Jim and Dan Stories” at the Rocky Mount book faire this August. The name of my talk will be “Mining the Gold of a Story,” which comes from this excerpt from the book: In this physical world, we have to mine for treasure. Gold and silver are precious gems are not usually found lying around on the surface of the earth. It’s the same with us; we have to excavate our own treasure, down through the door of our childhood, through the pain of what hurts, into the grief of our losses. Life nudges us to go deeper because to live on the surface is superficial. There is so much more.

8. In last Thursday’s 13 I asked for some father’s day quotes. Janet from Fondofsnape offered this: My dad to me: It doesn't matter to me what we do on Father's Day, as long as we're all together.

9. Here’s the father’s day quote I put in the June issue of the Museletter: The most important thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother. ~Theodore M. Hesburgh

10. I collect answering machine messages. I keep a small tape player next to the phone and when the messages fill up, I tape them before deleting them. This quirk came about after losing my brothers. Since then I have resisted deleting emails and phone messages of family and friends, thinking I want to retain every one in case they die. I also like the time capsule collage that the mix of voices and messages makes.

11. I collect old mountain names from newspaper obituaries. They’re like poetry to me. Here are some newly found ones…
Men: Byrd, Esker Wave, Dossie, Gratton, Oakley, Kline, Garver, and Harman. Women: Nobie, Chacey, Velvia, Ossie, Almeda, and Effie.

12. The last time I played Scrabble with Mara, we were setting up the board when she pulled out two scorecards from past games handed them to me and said, “Here. You won these games.” “What do you want me to do frame them?” I asked her, and then added, “No, put them in my coffin when I die.” Few people besides me and Mara talk like that to each other. The reason why is here.

13. Robert Frost said, "You don't have to deserve your mother's love, but you have to earn your father's love."

Post Notes: Thirteen Thursday Headquarters is here. My other 13 Thursdays are here. You can read about The Jamboree here.

June 14, 2006

A Quiet Revolution

acupuncture2.jpg If this was my husband’s blog, he’d probably have lots of entries about Ba gua, the martial art he’s been practicing for a number years. Like him, many of our friend’s study Ba gua, mostly because they recognize the mastery of the man who teaches it, and they understand what an opportunity it is to learn from him.

The teacher, who came to Floyd 5 years ago via Blacksburg and the Southwest before that, is also a Chinese Medicine Practitioner. Like his Ba gua students, his patients also recognize the beneficial opportunity to be treated by him. I know because I am one such patient (and not a Ba gua student). For more than a year I drove twice a month to the rented home he works out of to receive traditional Chinese Medicine treatments, which could include acupuncture, cranial sacrum work, tuina (deep body work), bone setting, and the use of herbal infusions.

This past weekend my husband and I attended an open house to celebrate a newly built Floyd clinic for Chinese Medicine. You probably won’t find the clinic in the phone book, at least not yet. I’m not using names for a reason. The building was largely manifested by way of community support. The teacher and the teacher’s teacher, who was also in attendance, both shy away from special attention and shun promotion. Yet, their popularity has created a word-of-mouth culture. A quiet revolution.

Looking around at the population of patients and Ba gua students (some of which are one in the same) that has been generated by a tradition and one teacher’s sharing of it, I was amazed. The beauty of the building reflected the healing energy cultivated and shared amongst the people who were gathered in it. centercrowd.jpg

Apparently, the large room where Ba gua is practiced has great acoustics. Listening to my friend Dorian sing made me look to see if she was wearing a mic. Sweet music filled the air as children spun and people snapped pictures.

In the kitchen, the loud hum of talking could be heard as people filled their red picnic plates with organic chicken, sushi rolls, and all manner of in-season fruit and vegetables from the potluck table. There were vases full of roses in every room. I know because I made it a point to admire and smell them all. tamra2.jpg

With a waiting list of a hundred that he has no choice but to turn away, Floyd’s Chinese Medicine Practitioner is training apprentices as fast as he can, he told me. His current 2 apprentices can do about 75% of various techniques he uses, he said.

I think I spoke for most everybody when I responded, “That’s great, but when I come for treatments I want that 25% that only you can do.”

Photo: Tamra is a gymnast. Photo #3 was taken from behind a glass window.

June 13, 2006

Garden Nerd

produce.jpgWhat do you want for supper, honey? Kale or Swiss chard?

In another life, I’m a research scientist (the one in which I’m not an interviewer). In this life, my garden is my research project. Every morning, even before I’m dressed, I can’t wait to go out and inspect. I visually measure every nano-inch the corn stalks have grown. I carefully watch what plants volunteer, and decide which ones to let go to seed so that I can collect their seed for next year. I notice every subtle change in my garden and who’s been there that isn’t supposed to be by the dog’s footprint on a cucumber mound or a rabbit’s droppings under the straw hay mulch. I don’t wait for the squash bugs to arrive; I look for their eggs under the large leafy growth of summer squash and squish them. gardenview3.jpg

I calculate where the sun will fall longest. Will the tomatoes cast too much of a shadow on my peppers? I experiment by planting the same seeds in different parts of the garden to see where they’ll grow best. While weeding the garden after a rain, I ponder the theory of chaos and watch for signs to pick the onion seed pods off or mound up the potatoes.

Like any other garden nerd, I like to look at seed catalogs. I always forget to wear the slip-on garden boots that I bought at The Farmer’s Supply store or the garden gloves that my husband bought me.

My garden is my biology lab of life, and I am a well-fed barefoot scientist with dirt under my fingernails.


Post note: Come out to spout or hear others out! Look at the poster art (by Kathleen Ingoldsby) that has sprung up in Floyd announcing our next Spoken Word Open mic.

June 12, 2006

Word Nerd

wordnerd2.jpg I’m a weekend writer because a writer’s work is never done. While my husband’s off to a work-day, helping a neighbor put a roof on his house, I’m at home trying to decide the difference between the word “fathom” and “summon.”

While he’s at the golf course driving and putting with buddies, I’m trying to write a poem about memory but not use the word memory in the poem (or at least not more than once).

While he’s in the yard practicing his martial arts, I’m still in the house trying to summon the meaning of memory, trying to fathom what memory actually is and how it works.

June 11, 2006

Baby You Can Drive My Car

On Friday morning, I drove two hours to have an unlikely picnic with my husband, Joe. We drove past Grayson Highland State Park where we had hiked and picnicked before, past the Creeper Trail in Damascus, Virginia, where camped and biked two years ago.

I’m not big on driving. He usually does it. But this morning was different.

At the picnic table on the lawn of the Higher Education Center in Abington, where a Radford University psychology conference was being held, I opened a Tupperware container full of roast chicken, carrots and potatoes and said to my husband about the drive, “That was my version of you driving me to Boston last summer.”

Last summer I had planned a 13 hour solo trip to Massachusetts in our truck camper to visit my family and to camp on my own. The morning I was set to embark I was stricken with anxiety at the thought of driving and was preparing to cancel my plans when Joe stepped forward and offered to drive me. He drove the 13 hours, attended a family 4th of July picnic and left the next day on a plane, leaving me with the truck camper. Three weeks later, he flew back and drove me home! joecar.jpg

Now it was my turn to do something for Joe. Time was short. He had a rough week at work, was tired, and scheduled to present an “Introduction into Meditation” class at the conference. I escorted him to the conference so that he could prepare his presentation as we drove, and so that he could practice some of his own mindfulness medicine, so as to be in the right frame of mind to teach such a class.

After we ate, he went on to teach his class. I set up my computer in the Conference lounge to do some writing and try to get comfortable. Two hours later, when we met up again, he asked me how it went.

“Writing in a lounge is like trying to sleep on a bus. I sleep better in my own bed in my own house. I write better at home too,” I answered.

Even so, I was thrilled to help Joe for a change. But I’m realistic. Because of my driving anxiety and my limited energy stores, I’m never going to be able top Joe’s driving me to back and forth to Boston.

“This is probably the best you’re going to get,” I told him. He smiled and graciously accepted the gift.

After his presentation, Joe’s energy returned. So guess who drove home?

June 10, 2006

The 5 Theme Meme

This via Vanx:

5 items in my fridge

1. Bubble and Squeak
2. A New Castle beer
3. Sunscreen
4. Venison
5. A small package of Philadelphia cream cheese with the expiration date 2/06, bought in case my son, Josh, came to visit. I guess I can throw it out now.

5 items in my closet

1. A picture of John and Yoko taped to the back wall, the one taken by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone of John, who is naked, wrapped around Yoko, who is not.
2. A green plastic milk crate with the words “Scrumpy Cider Mill, Bell Mead NJ” on it.
3. The book, “Scrabble Freak.” (One of the items in the crate.)
4. A black and white Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.
5. A cream-colored lace dress from wedding #1.

5 items in my car

1. All variety of new and old issues of The New River Free Press, a Blacksburg newspaper that I distribute in Floyd.
2. A kaliedescope
3. A dictionary
4. A harvest corn necklace, hanging from my review mirror, strung by a child (who is now grown up), tied together with a purple ribbon with a white seagull feather pinned on it.
5. A Dave Matthews tape in the tape player.

5 items in my pocket/purse

1. A teabag
2. A vial of Bach Flower rescue remedy
3. A toy about the size of a quarter that makes a bird sound when you press it.
4. A photo of my brothers, Jim and Dan
5. My “Republic of Floyd” card, which gives me a discount at The Harvest Moon health food store.

What’s in your wallet?

June 9, 2006

Just another Day at the Café

bloggers3a.jpgThe fact that the attendance of our 4th monthly regional Blogger Meet-up at the Café Del Sol was less than normal turned out to work in my favor. I came to the meeting equipped with a pen, a notebook, and a list of blogging questions, and for over an hour I had an audience with Doug and David, two local bloggers who are more experienced at the technical side of blogging than I am.

We didn’t just talk and the guys didn’t just answer my questions. We turned my laptop on and Doug showed me step-by-step how to delete over 13,000 spam comments stored in my blog’s junk mail file. I only knew how to delete junk emails one-by-one and because I get hundreds of them each day, they had piled up like debt I couldn’t pay.

Did you know that bloggers should export their blog data to their hard drive on a daily or regular basis? I sort of knew, but I didn’t know how. Doug showed me that too. At the end of each month, I had been saving that month’s archive page to my desktop and to a CD, but that’s just blog pages and not the data. Pages won’t help to restore my blog if for some unforeseeable reason it gets lost in cyber space.

Although it was an especially productive meeting for me, and I came away feeling like I had just been to a doctor’s appointment and received a clean bill of health, not everything went right. I sat next to Doug at the meeting table because he has a reputation of uttering quotable comments that I like to record. Unfortunately, he came up with a good one, and I wrote it down, but later discovered that my writing was illegible. tips.jpg Not only that, the picture I thought I took of Doug and David (and Jamie when he showed up), I actually hadn’t, and the one I did take I mistakenly deleted. (The one posted above is from a previous meet-up).

Meanwhile, on the same day a deer crashed into the café’s front door and thrashed about, wrecking the place before it found its way out, Ann’s brother, Tuffy, was in a terrible car accident. Ann (pictured here in a photo I did manage to take that morning) is a familiar face, one of the women who work in the café. She was selling raffle tickets as a fundraiser to help her brother’s family stay afloat while her brother is in the hospital facing a long road home to recovery. Having lost 2 brothers and my dad recently, I was particularly touched by her dedication, love, and concern for her brother. Stationed under the hanging art exhibit of The Floyd Figure’s Art Group, she told me about a family member’s recent sighting of a white deer, as her brother – a hunter – lie in his hospital bed fighting for his life. We both agreed the white deer was a good sign.

Besides selling raffle tickets, Ann was engaged in a little farm activism. She handed me a flyer with a headline that read “Protect Traditional Rights to Farm. Just Say No to NAIS.” NAIS stands for the National Animal Identification System, and is the USDA’s government plan to track births, deaths, sales, breeding, and all movements of all livestock in the United States. Originally, proposed as a way to open up foreign meat markets to benefit bit Agri-business exporters, NAIS now says the program is justified to prevent disease. Activists believe that small farms shouldn’t be burdened with such an invasive program that does not benefit them. floydfigures.jpg

It was a good morning and a good meeting. I learned something new…and came away with some homework. I’m deleting junk mail as we speak.

Post Notes:
1. Thanks to David for hosting our monthly blogger meetings. 2. Floydians, if you want to buy a raffle ticket for a TV or camera and help a family out, go to the Café and ask about purchasing one or making a donation to “Tuffy’s Tips.” 3. Learn what you can do to stop the USDA’s proposed animal tracking system by going to NONAIS.ORG.

June 8, 2006

The 13 Thursday Exit

13 exit2.jpg1. Most people like to ride shotgun in a car, but I like to sit in the backseat because it’s more like a couch that I can stretch out and rest on and spread all my stuff out.

2. Number 40 of my 100 Things About Me says: I’d rather be stuck in traffic than drive on the Autobahn in Germany.

3. I don’t like speed. I ride my bike downhill with the breaks on. Speaking of bikes, here is a 2001 Roanoke Times story about biking through Floyd that still applies.

4. I once used a bike for my only form of transportation for over a year because my then boyfriend/roommate bought a little blue karmann ghia with a stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive it. I learn best by doing and not by being taught, so once I got tired enough of not having a car to use, I arranged to get dropped of with the car in an empty parking lot and taught myself to drive it. I only drive stick shifts now.

5. My friend Juniper once got 2 tickets in one day. She was able to get one thrown out on a technicality because her license plate reads SACRED but the cop wrote SCARED in the report.

6. The first time I fully understood the term being “floored” was when I saw whales off the coast of Provincetown for the first time. I was so amazed by the sight of them that I screamed and dropped to the floor. whale tail.png

7. Recently, I reached for a glue stick, and my hand thought it was a chap stick. I was inches away from putting it on my lips when I realized what I was doing.

8. It reminded me of the time, years ago, when my grandmother sprayed RAID on her hair, thinking it was hairspray. And once my dad put grapefruit seed extract in his eyes because the bottle looked a lot like his real eye drops.

9. I’ve never run out of things to blog, but I frequently run out of the energy to write and type them up.

10. Is anyone else getting tired of clicking “ignore rule” when the spell check doesn’t recognize “blog” as a real word?

11. I once lost 5 years of my life driving Interstate 95 from Massachusetts to Washington DC, through NewYork and New Jersey, with 2 little kids in the back seat.

12. Last summer, I planned a solo road trip to Massachusetts to visit my family via our truck camper, but on the morning I was set to go, I had an anxiety attack and couldn’t do it. How did I manage to get myself to Massachusetts that summer? You can read about it here in a post called “The Runaway Bride.” This post also includes a noteworthy quote from my sister, Tricia, by way of a comment, in which she says, “I'd just as soon pluck every single one of my toe nails out - one by one - than make that trip alone!”

13. This space for rent. If you have a good father’s day quote, leave it as a comment and I’ll pick my favorite one to use in next Thursday’s 13.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

June 7, 2006

This is What Happens When Your Son is an Artist

envelope2.jpg“I’m always picking stuff up to use in my journals, scraps of garbage that other people don’t even notice.” ~ My son, Josh.

When my husband, Joe, and I were in Asheville this past April, visiting my potter son, Josh, Joe scribbled some phone numbers on a piece of mail that he found in my car and then left it by mistake in Josh’s studio. It was a Red Cross CPR card, reflecting my most recent training, something I need for respite foster care work I do, and something I wouldn’t look too kindly on doing over. I asked Josh to look for it and to please mail it back.

Getting mail from Josh can be memorable event. The last time he sent me something in the mail I wanted to savor his handmade envelope art and was hesitant to rip it open. “It’s like getting a greeting card that you don’t even have to open. You could just send out envelopes like that with nothing inside them,” I told him.

Not only does it appear that Josh’s collage art is spilling over into postcards, by the looks of his most recent mailing to me, he has taken my advice to keep making envelope art to heart.

Inside the decorated envelope, fashioned from a page of art history notes, was a photo of an egg in a frying pan. Next to it a notebook was opened to a message that read: Hey Josh, I was in your class this fall and I was wondering if you have any (pottery) seconds for sale. On the back of the collaged photo, in Josh’s handwriting, the note to me said: Just letting you know that breakfast is still my favorite meal.

The CPR card was also enclosed, but it seemed dwarfed and insignificant amongst the rest.

Is art a luxury or a necessity? The mother of invention?

“I don’t even have any regular envelopes,” Josh later told me.

June 6, 2006

A Cottage Industry

jewelry.jpgWhen I first moved to Floyd, 21 years ago, it didn’t take me long to look around and say to myself, “I have to learn to make something.” Here in Floyd, what one can make with their hands becomes a currency, whether it be wooden bowls, clothes, flutes, pots, or stained glass. Back then, it was especially true, as many of us were raising children full-time and living on very low incomes. We had a yearly Barter Faire for showcasing our wares and selling or trading them. For a time, some of us used the Lets System (Local Economic Transfer System), a way to exchange goods and services using local Lets credits.

As a newcomer, I admired the translucent and iridescent hanging beaded earrings that several alter-native women in Floyd were making and wanted to learn to make some of my own. Those women became my first teachers. I was amazed at how freely they shared what they knew. There were no classes to take or book instructions to struggle with. We met informally around someone’s kitchen table or by a neighborhood pond in summer and beaded together.

My friend Juniper took me under wing. She actually paid me to string necklaces for her craft business, first in a little studio shed on her property and later in one of her two bead shops. While working part time for her, my beaded jewelry evolved into gemstone and sterling wire-wrapped pieces. I developed my own line of jewelry, and for a while I lived the life of a craftsperson. In between raising my sons, I stocked stores, went to craft shows, and sometimes traded my jewelry for other things I needed.booksigning.jpg

When I began doing full time foster care for adults with developmental disabilities in the mid 90s, my income improved, and I no longer had the time or inclination to make jewelry. But the lifestyle of working at home, making my own hours, and having something concrete to use as currency stuck with me.

After retiring from nine years of providing full-time foster care in my home, I now work no more than one week a month at it. The rest of the time, I write. Writing is my new cottage industry. It’s a natural extension of who I am and how I live. There are even some in-house published books involved. I stock them in stores, have sold some at shows, and have been hosted to do a few book-signings or talk to local book club groups. I even have a storefront, where I put in a few hours of work each day. It’s called Loose Leaf Notes, and you are there.

June 5, 2006

Self Potrait in Feet

first pedicure2.png
First pedicure, given to me by my sister Tricia.
Inspected by her fireman son.

This is what I do on my birthday.

Walk a mile in my massage sandals.

The work week begins. Someone works at home
and someone doesn't.

What do your feet do?

June 3, 2006

Pillow Talk

pillotyalk.jpg AKA: Morning Conversations

My husband, Joe, and I were lounging around in bed this morning. He, who has much more morning energy than I do, had just taken 3 phone calls, was in the middle of enthusiastically recounting the Chinese Medicine workshop he attended the day before, and giving me a foot rub all at the same time. In the middle of the bed, on his knees, he gave the bed a bounce with the weight of his body as he hung up from the last call. In between sips of my tea, I said, jokingly, “Oh, you’re so much more popular than I am. The phone never rings this much when you’re not home.”

“Look, (I was on a roll) you’re like a ball bouncing around that I’m watching,” I added.

“I’m not wearing you out am I?” he asked.

“No, because I’ve decided to enjoy watching you,” I answered.

He continued his dissertation on Chinese Medicine, this time from the foot of the bed with his back towards me, as he made a new attempt to massage my feet.

After a few seconds, he broke away from his story and said, “I just lost you; didn’t I?"

"How did you know!?"

“I could just feel you picking up your notebook,” he revealed.

Yes, an overload of language can send me right into the world of notebooks and words that don’t talk out loud from the page.

I didn’t get much of a foot rub, after all.

"Let’s break for breakfast," I said.


Joe: He picks up a book, “The Undiscovered Country: Exploring the Promise of Death,” and asks, “Where did you get this?" pillowtalk3.jpg

Me: “Dorian gave it to me, a couple of years after Jim and Dan died."

Joe: "Are you attached to it?"

Me: "Why? Are you planning to give it away? If that’s the case, than, yes, I’m attached to it."

Me: "I really do plan to read all the books I have around here, someday. You know, when I retire from my retirement."

June 2, 2006

13 on Friday

free13.jpg 1. I’ve always been fascinated by the group mind that humans share, which causes us to agree about certain things like what day of the week it is, or to stay in our own lane on the right side of the road while driving down a highway. What would happen if we completely dropped out and forgot these collective agreements?

2. Being out of sync with the rest of the world is a little like one of those dreams where your back in high school and don’t know what room your class is in or what your locker number is. In a really bad high school dream you have forgotten to wear a shirt.

3. I thought yesterday was Wednesday, which would make today Thursday, but of course it’s really Friday. Everybody says so. This reminds me of when Day Light Saving Time comes along and the clocks get set forward or behind. For weeks after, when I look at the clock I have to process 2 times, and if someone asks me what time it is I say something like: It’s 10:00 but it’s really 9:00. STOPDAY.jpg

4. When someone says “What time is it?” I never fail to hear Van Morrison’s voice in my head singing the line from “The Back Room,“Baby what time is it, what time is it. Tell me, what time is it? It’s 4:30.” Four thirty was the time of day when Van and his mates would watch the school girls go by the window of their hangout.

5. A clock is a man-made orbit that paces it’s own cage…Round like a planet…made in that image…A mechanical nightingale of gilded numbers…Alarm sounding…Money counting…Score keeping…Beeping blinking…Meter ticking…Rat racing…Fast pacing…Yo yo yanking…Bomb. In every single home…It’s ticking.

6. The above is part of a poem I wrote as a performance piece that The Women of the 7th Veil poetry troupe performed with music and improve movement during the build-up to the Y2K computer scare.

7. Why can’t we just look at the sky when we want to know what time it is? It’s either morning, noon, afternoon, evening, or night. And when someone asks how old we are, why can't we say either early, mid, or late 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s etc?

8. Besides getting my days mixed up, this was the most recent good laugh I had at myself: Joe told me one night that he was going to use my car to go to work the next morning and that our neighbor Rowan was going to borrow his truck to move a bed. The next morning, I woke up, made tea, and took it out to the garden, which was when I noticed that Joe’s truck was still the driveway. I didn’t see him around, but sometimes he meditates before going to work, so I thought that’s what he was doing. By 8:30 I was at the computer blogging and thinking to myself, “Joe’s going a little overboard on this morning mediation thing. Doesn’t he care that he’s going to be so late for work?” Soon after that, I heard the truck pull out. Glad he had finally got going, but irritated that he didn’t say goodbye or even hello, I was miffed. A few minutes later I remembered…”Hmmm, isn’t this the morning that Rowan is coming over. I better get out of my bathrobe and dressed.” That’s when it dawned on me what had really happened, that Joe had left the house early with my car and it was Rowan who just pulled out in the truck.

9. Do you know about the human clock? It’s continuous, very cool, and here.13sleep.jpg

10. Here is the story of the DREAMSPELL as it relates to time and the Mayan prophecies by Dr. Jose Arguelles.

11. Jose Arguelles came to Floyd once. One Floyd artist, was so inspired by his galactic message that her art now completely revolves around it. Her name is Star root and this is her take on the Cow who jumped over the moon.

12. Doug has a funny photo loosely related to 13.

13. The Washington Post wrote an interesting article about Floyd’s Jacksonville Center, which I first learned of via Ripples.

Note: Photos are from the linkukoto banner generator, except for the stop sign which is from Image Chef. The 13 Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

June 1, 2006

Floyd’s Jacksonville Center Has a New Director

david.jpgMeet David St. Lawrence, author, blogger, woodworker, husband of Loose Leaf reader Gretchen, and one of the most upbeat people I know.

The St. Lawrence’s are new to Floyd, but because they have been connected to Floyd for so long via blogging they don’t feel like newcomers to most of us. I see them regularly at our monthly Spoken Word Open Mic and at our monthly blogger meet-ups, which David spearheaded and which are likely to draw as many as a dozen regional bloggers. It’s also not uncommon to run into David and Gretchen at the Café Del sol, where David can be seen sipping latte and plugging away on his laptop.

But the St. Lawrence’s are out and about for more than those occasions. I know because David is a roving reporter who posts regularly about Floyd happenings on his blog, Ripples. I check it out daily so as not to miss anything.

David, who has a woodworking business called “Box-Carts” and a book about surviving corporate life called “Danger Quicksand Have a Nice Day,” now has a new incarnation to add to his resume. He was recently offered and accepted the newly created position of Executive Director at the Jacksonville Center for the Arts. Located just south of downtown Floyd in a restored 1940’s dairy barn, the Jacksonville Center is a manifestation of a grassroots effort to support the arts and local culture and promote them as viable economic boosts to our rural county. jax2.jpg

Over the past 10 years, the Center has transformed from the dark and dusty place I remember to a bustling hub of activity. Incorporated as a non-profit entity in 1995, the barn and adjoining buildings are home to an art business incubator, an art gallery, artist’s studios, a retail shop, lodging for weekend and weeklong classes, and a folk school that is currently offering classes in blacksmithing, pottery, and glassworks. There is even a windmill on the property and a straw bale building under construction, both projects of The Sustainable Living Education Center.

Now David has been enlisted to help put all this on the map. He was kind enough to answer my questions about his new position, which are as follows:

1. David, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Center is a newly created position. How and why did it come about?

I have had an interest in the Center ever since we first visited Floyd two years ago and wanted to do something to support the mission of helping local artisans become more viable. I was asked to do a study of the current situation at the Jacksonville Center and to make recommendations which might lead to greater viability for the center and the artisan community it serves. windmill.jpg

The study uncovered that the lack of an Executive Director placed an undue burden on the staff and the Board of Directors because everyone had to spend extra time trying to handle the traffic that an ED would normally handle.

I made a series of recommendations with the first one being that they should find and hire an Executive Director. They asked if I could fill that position and the rest was history.

2. What kind of changes do you envision happening under your direction?

We have incredible assets for a local non-profit group, highly dedicated staff members and volunteers, internationally known artists and artists who teach the courses, and a physical plant that offers plenty of scope for expansion. My job is to see that these assets are used effectively and are promoted in such a way that expansion of the Center and its offerings is made possible.

Non-profit art centers like Jacksonville depend on grants and donations in addition to paid services. All of these sources of income depend on providing excellent customer experiences and achieving goals that are real to the community and students.

My job is to provide the necessary support to the staff that will enable them to provide consistently excellent customer experiences. That means realignment of effort in some cases, rather than visible organizational change.

3. Where will you start? What will you zero in on first?

I have already started and our first priority is to get the word out about the new course offerings. You can see the latest 2006 Class Schedule online at floydcounty.com

4. Will blogging play a role? And with this new position, will you still have time to blog daily and come to our monthly blogger meet-ups?

Blogging is one way to spread the word rapidly and at very low cost. I will be starting a weblog at the Jacksonville Center which will have frequent stories featuring events, courses, and artisans of the Jacksonville Center. When the weblog goes live later this week, it will be called Jacksonville Center Online and the URL will be: http://jacksonvillecenteronline.info (This weblog is up and running now)

5. I’ve been very impressed with the range of arts and folk skills showcased at the Jacksonville Center. Do you think there will eventually be room to integrate the literary arts into the plans? I would love to see a small press available to the community.

There is room for that kind of expansion and I would certainly support any proposal which would lead to the establishment of such a program. The things you might want to include in such a proposal would include the size of the target audience, the cost of such a program, sources of instruction, and some idea of how contributions or grants might be obtained. In short, all programs require financing and a justification for their existence. Programs which are well thought out will get favorable attention.

6. How will your experience in the corporate world enhance your work at the Jacksonville Center and how might it hamper it, considering the Center’s small town roots?

Fifty years in the corporate trenches has convinced me that the make-break of any enterprise, including non-profits is whether the products and services are effectively marketed. You can have the best courses and products in the world, but if no one knows about them you will not succeed.

The Jacksonville Center has some amazing offerings. Not enough people know about them in a timely fashion.

I grew up in a small-town environment and I place great value on the culture that Floyd currently enjoys. Making Floyd, the Jacksonville Center, and local artists better known needs to be done skillfully and tastefully. The culture that built the Jacksonville center is one of its greatest strengths. Any changes to the center's operation will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. An artist who evolves from selling at craft fairs to selling in international galleries learns to market more effectively, not to debase their work to meet a more commercial standard.

7. As a blogger, I can’t help but wonder and ask: Don’t you think the Jacksonville Center will make a good site for a future blogger convention?

I sure do!

Post Note: I got so involved in my interview with David that I forgot it was 13 Thursday! I guess I'll be posting 13 on Friday this week. See you tomorrow.