Birthday the Next

Two weeks from today is the next birthday. The youngest Young Giant turns twenty-two. Apparently, this is going to be Funny Hat Day ... the guests (all young people, and all extremely goofy, as far as I can tell) are supposed to wear hats. I have been assured by one of these people that pictures will be taken. Look for them here. I've found a spy who'll smuggle them out.


After South of Broad

I've finished reading it. Pat Conroy's latest - South of Broad. It's vintage Pat Conroy in one way (the achingly beautiful prose, invoking place and scent and the way the air in the south near the coast feels on your skin right before the sun rises in the morning) ... but when I closed the book, I actually said to myself, "Yeah ... but ..."

The conclusion is right. True. Real. But there is a closing scene with a secret villain, and it left me deeply dissatisfied. That guy would not have talked like that. He just wouldn't have. I've known that guy in real life - that guy doesn't say, "You can't touch me because I am about to die." That guy says, "No one will believe you," and "What would be the point of revenge," and "You'll hurt more people than I ever did if you go public with this after I'm gone." That guy does not say, "Oh, well - I'm outa here anyway."

Aside from that disturbingly dissatisfying scene, Conroy did what he set out to do. He wrote, at last, about a kind father. Conroy's own father has died - and now Conroy's novels need not contain a leading man who fathers children only for the purposes of his own cruelty. (That guy's been relegated to the sidelines. Notably, he didn't go away.)

This book has me thinking about an author's own true voice - a topic at the front of my mind since this past spring's Creative Nonfiction Seminar. I have been thinking about true voice and learned voice - almost as if it's the difference between real conversation and cocktail-party conversation or standing-in-line-at-the-store conversation or even family-reunion conversation. South of Broad is not the same kind of conversation Conroy usually has with his reader.

Usually, Conroy's novels feel like shockingly honest conversation at a table near the back, where the lighting isn't very good, and the speaker has had enough beer for relaxation and not so much that the edge of clarity is gone. Half hidden in the shadowy borders of the room, with a highly accomplished and attentive waiter we never see or hear, Conroy leans back and lets his words flow over his listener, and the listener forgets his own plate and with only an occasional sip from his own glass, the listener listens - completely - absorbed - enclosed by the story. Usually, that's a Conroy novel.

He tried to tell South of Broad in the light of day at the park. He's not used to talking like that. The end of the novel (and a few other scenes) sounds like what happens when the teller of a story realizes someone is eavesdropping - the intensity drops out - all at once - the speaker seems to suspect that the story sound ludicrous in the ears of strangers in the middle of the morning in the park.

This past spring - for a few fleeting moments - I told a story with my own voice, a story written for a Creative Nonfiction assignment - a story that surprised me with the way it bubbled and popped and sang. It's hard for me to talk like that - to be that naked and honest. I can see why Conroy's stories are told from a table in the back of the room where no one can see his face. And my own intensely sad stories (we all have them) sound as absurd and adolescent as tales told in the weird illumination of a flashlight, under the covers or inside a tent - a tent set up in your parents' back yard, just in case anyone needs to go to the bathroom. I'm no Pat Conroy, that's for sure. I have to learn to tell my stories where people can see my face.


A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann


Okay ... I can do that ...

Do you ever make these?

This isn't the recipe I use - mine calls for cocoa, and the quality of the cocoa makes a huge difference. So does the quality of the vanilla, added right at the end of the cookery part.

Well, anyway, on August the twenty-second, our youngest child will be twenty-two years old. Today, when I saw him, he said that what he wants for his birthday is a huge plate of these. A mound. An enormous amount. And he wants them all for himself and intends to share absolutely none of them.

So I'll be making them for him. But what I'm wondering in the meantime is this. The memory of amazing deliciousness, associated with home and mom and all of that ... that's gotta be a good thing. But that "all for me" thing? Yeah. What's up with that?


A will, a way, and a wondrous story (especially for unconventional parents and educators)

Imagine the back seat of a big rig as your high school classroom. For Kerry Anderson, who was home-schooled as her truck-driver mom made deliveries across the country, that was reality. Anderson eventually got through community college and received a full scholarship to Harvard University. Michele Norris talks to Anderson, now 26, about her unconventional education.


Chapter 3: Yacht Club

Chapter three of the Pat Conroy novel, South of Broad, is an achingly beautiful passage of pages that could stand alone as a short story. Race in the early age of desegregation - the tension, lies, and honesty between the men and women in the south - class consciousness - and the sweat of high school seniors getting ready for football ... all in the most evocative prose ... I love this novel.

(Just thought I'd say that)

South of Broad

Not sure why I resisted for so long ... maybe because I heard Conroy himself talking about the fact that this one is not like his other novels, and I really love his other novels. But I'm reading it now. And it's breathtaking. I've barely started, but I know I'll buy this one so I can keep a copy here to re-read every once in awhile.

Nobody - absolutely nobody - tells a story as lyrically and immediately as Pat Conroy. When I read the first bit, I thought I was reading something about Conroy, not about the narrator of the novel! I've lost count of how many times I've read Beach Music, but now it looks like South of Broad will be next to it on the shelf, and I'll be deciding, when I'm in a Conroy mood, Beach Music, or South of Broad ... Beach Music, or South of Broad ...


Afraid that this will happen

The author of this poem, Rachel Wetzsteon, died on Christmas Day of this past year. She has a new volume of poems being released soon, and I will buy it. (And I will notice that my collection of poetry is starting to grow, and I will wonder again at a young man who knew - decades ago - that I had a poet's soul, and I will be amazed that I am just now discovering this about myself.)

This is what I am beginning to worry about. This is what I am starting to do. If I don't start to pay attention - be more full of intention with my writing - I may one day ask the very pines to opine, hoping to command the Muse. And I know it doesn't work that way. Life does not work that way. (I wonder why she called it "MacDowell"?)

by Rachel Wetzsteon

For once I fought back,
answering Oh yes, someday
when a restless muse asserted
This golden age needs treatment on the page.
It was the strangest lesson—
all that ink to make me think
shadows were real, this silence
when one true heart so manifestly was.
Time passed. Themes amassed;
I scoffed at amber, basked in oxygen.
Now in this little cabin
where no sightings slake my cravings
and my pen gets back its need to conjure,
on the ingots I have stored, oh pine, opine.


Allofasudden and outoftheblue

Some stuff just makes me happy. I'm not looking for it, either. It just shows up. Outa nowhere. All of a sudden. Like just now, when I talked to my daughter, a soldier returned from Afghanistan, an athlete by nature and one of the fiercest people I know in the defense of the helpless. It's always good to talk to her, of course. But today I found out that,

  • she saw a deer yawn - yes, really. A deer. Yawn. She figures that the two deer who came into her yard and actually took a nap (on her raised beds where she's starting a garden - as if they thought that's what such "beds" would be for) were a little boyfriend and girlfriend. They were young. And he had small, furry horns starting. He was the one that yawned.
  • and her freezer jam turned out really well. She made it with a wild variety of strawberries, purchased from a local merchant at a fruit stand, and it turned out perfectly. She's branched out now to raspberries and blueberries. My soldier's making freezer jam.

These things make me happy.


His shirt, my boots, bought for a broken foot.
My sweat, everyone's air
and shade and sun and

And shade and sun and breeze.
And breeze.

Birds call and sing, I breathe.
A dog barks
a few houses over, through the woods
and when a car comes
I put away my pen
and keep walking


This side of the block that is no block
is all uphill.

I could never escape
over the Alps
with a captain and seven children,
and certainly not
while singing.

"Good morning."
Is the man digging in the new yard
at the new house
digging because he is afraid
of loss or bills or
the slowly warming day that brings some
heat inside the slowly shifting shadow
and sun and shade and sun?

Or does he dig because he likes to dig,
I wonder.

The people at the corner house
where the street goes around have fenced
their yard
and provided a small pasture
for their young, black, still slightly furry

He looks at me -
or tries to -
and inclines his overlarge ears toward my feet.

And he is not afraid.
And sun
and shade
and sun
and shade.

The kids up here have made a ramp
across the ditch
and they are taking turns
and shouting instructions
and hurtling themselves into the road
and I cannot help myself.
I have to tell them to be careful
of the cars
that never come.
I have not seen any up here as I walked
through this morning's sun
and shade.

Up the hill to get the mail
from the box by the road,
and down the hill to our driveway, checking
for spiders
before I pull the paper from its garish tube
and walk up again.

The driveway at the end of a walk is uphill
and I decide to walk up the newly mown
hayfield instead.
It's all sun out here.
I walk between the rows of hay
because I should not trample
next winter's bales
before they get picked up.

And I decide to walk again tomorrow
and leave more of this fear
and caution
and warning
and distance from my life
and pass through sun and shade in the cool of the morning
on the other side of the woods.


By the Book(marks)

I've just noticed something.

When the kids were little, we moved several times, and I notice the pictures had variants of the same plank & cinderblock bookshelves, with the books changing or changing order or placement, and that was how I could tell where the picture had been taken. As our interests changed, or our relationships to grad schools or employment changed, as the kids grew and changed, so changed the books on the shelves. Our photos showed the growth patterns.

(If your bookshelf fetish is as strong as mine, check out these pictures from apartmenttherapy - be prepared to swoon)

Since home computers and internet access have become ordinary for people, there has been another way to keep track of life's morphs. (Can I use the verb morph as a noun, I wonder?)

Bookmarks! I've just noticed something about my electronic bookmarks! It used to be cookery, craft sites, and education, education, education (for my kids, who were doing their educations from home for their younger years). But now it's cookery, an occasional craft site, some saints and liturgy stuff (for the parish newsletter and bulletin inserts), education, education, education (mine this time! yay!), and ... and ... (TA! dada Daaaaaaah!) a whole section for Writers and Writing. My Bloglines web crawler, and my other bookmarks as well - evidence - I have evidence - I'm finally shifting over my life, and being much more conscious and deliberate and interested and attentive to Writers and Writing.

It's a bit like admitting to being a woman. A Caucasian woman with pale skin and slowing graying hair. Who's just turned fifty. The writerly part of me is as true and real as the teacherly part and the pale skin part and the years since birth part. The bookmarks - they're evidence of my morphs.

What are YOUR bookmarks telling you? Leave me a comment! I'd love to know.


What he says

Although the speaker says we must, else we are doomed, and I believe that we will because that is what we are and what we do, I still see what he sees. I want what he wants. I work for what he is working for. And I think human beings are stunningly amazing creations.


The time HAS come

This might be my favorite poem - or, perhaps it is the prophecy I heard sometime in my forties, and now it has come true. If I assembled a little volume of favorites, this one would be the first in a section, and the section would be titled: "The Time Will Come ~ I Promise." This poem has become my Birthday Poem.

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.


Notes on the fifth of July

A first last night. Darkness descended, no one clamoring to light sparkling or explosive things. Only two pyromaniacs in residence, and they two eventually expended the latter half of last year's purchases. When, from where I was already in bed, I heard the last one pop, fizz, sparkle, light up the darkness, I fell immediately and utterly to sleep.

We slept in.

While watching the latest recording of musicians on Austin City Limits today in the odd calm of a Monday off, and discussing the repairable-ness of the dilapidated cello in our possession, I realized that we have more musical instruments here at this residence than we do passenger vehicles. This statistic makes me happy. (I believe we have nearly the same number of heavy machine/working vehicles as we do musical instruments. I am more ambivalent about this statistic.)

There is talk about our second-born following his college graduation with a stint in the Peace Corps. I think this would suit us. One kid to the army, one kid to the Peace Corps, and one to the world of professional musicians. Yeah ... that sounds about right.

In two days, I turn fifty. I feel very much as if I have found myself boarding a cruise ship I didn't know I had tickets for. Readying my stateroom for a voyage on a ship I don't know the itinerary for. Checking luggage I didn't pack, and yet these are all my own things in the trunks. This is the side of the ship I like to be on. And I love the ocean. Okay then. Let's go.



The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

In the summer of two thousand and ten

A deeply soaking rain falls all around, as if the sky gardener wanted to be sure to water everything well, first thing this morning, before the day heats up. There are no more dry patches under the trees that cover the driveway's gravel - and there is no more dust. The Great Husband put the goats (Rocco, Louie, and Tony) into the barn last night because the rain was on its way, and goats don't like to stand in the rain.

The older Young Giant still sleeps, and I wonder if the other one is awake yet, in his apartment in town, and if he will have to ride his bike to work in such a downpour today. The Girl Giant will come today, to spend the weekend, groom her dog, be here for fireworks. And the Uncle too, bearing tractor parts. It's a good thing we needed the tractor parts. The Great Husband was getting ready to lay hay down in the field, and if it were all cut today, it would be all ruined today. Cut hay + rain = mulch (not feed).

Four years ago on the fourth of July, a high school boy got into a scuffle that turned into a shattered wrist and surgery and months of recovery. That was the summer of some medical marvels for more than one of us. I am not in the medical marvels fan club. I visit when I have to, and that summer I had to. The next summer, my daughter was in the army. The summer after that, more medical marvel fan club meetings (better than ovarian cancer - that's the impetus for attendance - it's better than cancer), and the summer after that, deployment.

This summer, no one is living out of the country, and no one has to attend modern medical marvel club meetings (at least, not yet). I'm turning fifty. So ... what I want for my birthday is boredom. A lack of surprise. No trauma or breath-pounding adjustments. What I want for my birthday is a deeply soaking rain of calm. This year I want normal to be the sweet, good, happiness of everyone near, everyone safe, and everyone laughing at the same jokes. This year, I will know it when I see it - the good stuff will not be missed. My Appreciation Faculties are sharpened and alive like never before. This year, I will say thank you.