Sunday, October 30, 2011

Story Books

Four books. 

This is impossible.  So I will give you four stories about books.


Book Story One.  Baptist Hymnal. 

Today, Kyndall gave us a sermon at Covenant with the topic of All Saints Day.  As a part of the service, we could go up and light a candle in honor of someone who has died that embodied Christ's presence for us.  For Baptists, this is pretty unfamiliar territory.  We aren't the standard brand of Baptists. 

Just before and during the candle lighting, we sang a capella "Be Still My Soul."  This is one of the old traditional high church hymns that I find particularly meaningful.  I love the melody and hearing the congregation sing the various parts.  Singing it makes my mouth, my heart, and my head feel in right relationship. 

After lighting my candle for Granddaddy, I went to the back door to look out at the green growing things.  All I know about the land and animals I learned from Jim Thompson, Sr.  While the rest of the congregation sang the last verses, I just listened.

It occurred to me that I was hearing the song I want the ones I love to hear when I am remembered after I die.  That is very appropriate for the day.

 Book Story Two.  Bible.

Specifically, 1 John 3:1-3.  "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are." 

And that is what we are.  My granddaddy was a loving man.  He would allow me to give him a manicure on his gnarled arthritic fingers. I could brush his lush white hair and put a bow in it.  He could run a farm and keep everyone fed.  He never made me afraid.  Jim Thompson, Sr. is the reason that I can hear the word Father in connection with God without throwing up. Jimmy Junior did not ever give me one minute of the calm, ordered presence that Jim Senior did.  That, my friends, is the embodied presence of God in a work shirt. 


Book Story Three.  The Book of My Life.

People show up in the scenes of my life for a while.  I have lived a long time and moved a lot, living all over the world.  Marriage to a military man has made my book of life one of short chapters, with characters popping up for too brief appearances.

Liz and Jason, and now little Sarah Rose, are two of those people.  They came here because Liz was stationed with the Air Force as a Psychiatrist at Wilford Hall at Lackland Air Force Base.  Liz is a Christian.  Jason is Jewish.  Sarah Rose has the religion of preciousness, and I hope she learns more of that as her life's story progresses.  Covenant is one of the places that the family lived out their respective faith traditions while here in San Antonio.

Liz has completed her active duty.  They are moving to Virginia to work and grow in that place.  It is a great move for them, but it means that they are no longer going to be available for cameo appearances in my life.  I was sad about that today.  We all were.

We sang the song we always sing for them, putting hands on their shoulders, standing very close. 

Traveling Mercies --

...take bread for the journey and strength for the fight

comfort to sleep through the night

the wisdom to choose at the fork in the road

and a heart that knows the way home

And for the faithful, and for the weary, and for the hopeless, here is our prayer:

go in peace live in grace

trust in the arms that will hold you

go in peace live in grace

trust God’s love.


Book Four. A Thousand Wonders.

I am writing a book.  It has become something more than just the words I use to create sentences and move plot.  It is becoming one of those things that defines a life.  I don't have enough time to work on it and keep up with my work for grad school.  I manage to combine the two in a fiction writing workshop this semester. 

I am learning things from myself as I write the stories that make up the larger work.  It is doing things for me that I am grateful to experience.  I want to write in support of this work all the time. 

You might wonder why I am writing about four books for a blog meme when I have papers to write and the book is calling me. 

I wonder too.  My only answer is that I promised I would do this every week.  I have already fallen one week behind once in the ten assignments. I don't often miss a deadline.  Hardly ever.  And I find something in this writing too.  It has opened me up to write publicly since 2007.  It is part of the way I spend my life.

This is my Sunday.  Remembering Saints.  Singing songs for my own funeral.  Saying farewell.  Writing.  Always writing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Food Moves Me

I'm late for dinner.  I should have posted this last Monday.  It's past time to blog about five foods.  I have read some of my other friends' work.  They make me hungry and make me think.  I think I will refer you to my other blog, A Thousand Wonders, for this week.  A Thousand Wonders is the place where I am blogging my writing process as I craft some stories into a novel.  This week's prompt here goes well with my last post about going home while thinking about the food of that place. 

Here's a bit, with way more than five foods:

Pecan and chess pie for holidays. Homecoming meant pimento-cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, potato salad, and deviled eggs. Every time someone set down a platter or dish, the wood would sag a bit. I always worried for the food. Brunswick stew cooked up in a big iron cauldron over a wood fire under my tree. Grandy stroking and stirring and scraping with a boat paddle he used just for stew. People would come from all around on a Brunswick stew day, bringing Mason jars and appetites. Nobody ever went hungry at Grandy and Memma’s house. Bourne, back then, saw too many hungry people though.

To read more you can visit A Thousand Wonders - Food Takes You Back.  To start at the beginning of my writing process, go here instead and read up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Places of Me

Six Places of Me

back of my neck - your mouth
left ring finger - Lyngby, Denmark
tummy stretch marks - Sacramento, California
nerve fiber network - The Web
amygdala - Keeling, Tennessee
feet - here, here, here

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Good Breakfast - a documentary poem

I am studying documentary poetry as written by Muriel Rukeyser, Richard Wright, and Charles Reznikoff.  I remembered a documentary poem I wrote two years ago.  Here is a second look.

A Good Breakfast

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Turkey Bacon
Chunky Cinnamon Applesauce
Fat-Free or Low-Fat Milk

I remember their faces
eyebrows raised
eyes a little sunk-in
they took the milk cartons
and went to a table

they ate lunch
we all do
except those who don't have any
and this is so large a thing
that the tray could not contain
the sheer weight of the fact that
this would be their only meal

for so many, that was true
and you could smell it on them
as you could smell the wood smoke
from the fire that was their only warmth

Scrambled Eggs with Whole Wheat Toast
Pineapple Tidbits
Fat-Free or Low-Fat Milk

it would have been Brownsville Tennessee 1972 when I
passed out the milk cartons to those little ones
big girl of thirteen, who had seen her own share
of unhealthy circumstances but I always had a meal

I looked at them in the mornings as they floated
onto the bus like the wood smoke from those fires
and later as they hovered over their chairs like
dead little angel children waiting for that first meal

most of the hands that took those milk cartons
were brown or black, but not all, some were like me
the hungriest among them did not refuse the milk
could not imagine doing so, just give it to someone
who wants it, someone wants it, I would say

Yoghurt and Granola
Assorted Whole Grain Cereal
Fat-Free or Low-Fat Milk

there was no free breakfast in my day
and 11:30 can come too late for some
not able to grasp the intricasies of math
or english, too busy with the studies of their own
social problems, like the ache in the stomach
or the hair that is falling out, not to mention
the loose teeth

I made a point to go to Ariane's school
Montgomery Alabama in 1995
and watch the children eat breakfast
tears fall down my face now as they did that day
as I watched impish brown boys and bouncing blonde girls
tease each other with orange peels in their mouths
bright orange smiles hiding solid teeth
and they spit them out quickly and slurped up the milk
and went off to memorize poems or study the rainforest

so my vote for the best invention of my lifetime is not
the computer that kids use to investigate life in Kenya
or the microwave or the cell phone
it is free school lunch and breakfast
a little grain,
a little protein,
some fruit and milk
in a full belly

The menus are from a USDA website

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Ups to the Blue Hole

Today is supposed to be the day I write about Seven Wants with my online writing group--Write, Eat, Post, Bathe, named for our priorities as writers.  I had a lot of time this past weekend at Laity Lodge for the High Calling Writer's Retreat to think about desires and to reconsider what I want.  I always have had a kind of running bucket list  in my head. Get a degree.  I add them, check them off, and add more. Get two degrees.  Some have stayed on the list a long time.  Hike the Grand Canyon.  I thought I might do that when I was older but still fit enough.  It seemed like a good activity for my fifties.  I'm 51.  Strength and the ability to push through to a goal have always defined how I saw myself.  

2010 knocked me for a loop.  I was cut down with an acute onset of Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease.  My joints were badly affected.  From February, where I had a few unexplained pains in my legs, to March, where I was in constant pain all over my body, unable to walk without a cane, howling into my pillow at night on the couch so I wouldn't wake Adrian. It wasn't pretty.  My normally strong body had become this bag of glass shards, gouging holes in itself, tearing out my strength, sapping my will, leaving me vulnerable. I had to have help to the toilet.  I had to turn to classmates to tie my shoes.  

Classmates.  I was in college trying to finish that degree on my bucket list.  It was the last semester of my senior year. I was looking so forward to walking that stage with all my young classmates for my diploma.  All of a sudden, it appeared that I wouldn't walk, and I might not even be able to finish the required classes.  Suddenly, keeping a 4.0 didn't seem so important.

There were low points.  I had to borrow a wheelchair one weekend in order to get around the house to finish a paper.

I spent our 28th anniversary in the hospital bed writing more papers.  

But I did graduate--summa cum laude with that 4.0-- from Texas Lutheran University and went on to grad school at U. Texas at San Antonio. 

And I got my diagnosis, which led to medications that make me able to walk without the cane.  With intense physical therapy this summer, I got my range of motion back and started rebuilding my strength. I have been walking for exercise, trying to shed the prednisone pounds and get myself back to some kind of new normal.

I haven't hiked the Grand Canyon yet.  But I did make it to the Blue Hole this weekend.

Laity Lodge is a wonderful retreat center provided by the Foundation for Laity Renewal of the H. E. Butt Foundation.  It's in the Frio Canyon on some gorgeous acreage.  It's a magical place where each ringing of a bell means something wonderful is about to happen.  You can hear great speakers like Madeleine L'Engle, Eugene Peterson, and Frederick Dale Bruner talk in a great hall overlooking the river. Food, delicious food like you dream of, just appears without any work or thought on your  part.  A concert might be held down in the Cody Center.  Talk with the newest members of your extended family. You invariably adopt other retreatants. Or it might be time to relax in one of the hammocks and dream of your best years ahead. 
I have long been a retreatant at Laity Lodge and have held many poetry workshops for the participants.  During the dark times of my illness, I didn't get up there, but I did hold a workshop in April of 2011, on our 29th wedding anniversary.  It was a strange year since that hospital anniversary.  I still used my cane some in April, so I didn't hike any. In past years, I didn't often get to go out for a hike since leisure time is when I teach workshops.  I had always intended to go to the Blue Hole, a pristine clear deep swimming hole.  It's only 20 minutes away.  In April 2011, I looked out from the Great Hall balcony over the river toward blue hole and wondered if I would every be strong enough to get there. 

I hiked to the Blue Hole this weekend.

It wasn't a pretty thing to behold, my walking.  Only my wonderful husband Adrian was there to see the worst of it.  After crossing under the dam and a short flat walk by the river, you round the bend  near where the road goes up around a new Family Camp that is under construction. 

And it goes up.

And up.

And up.

And even more ups that don't show up in a picture.  I had to concentrate on walking, not snapping pictures.

But I got there--we got there--and climbed down the stone steps into the river area of Blue Hole.

We got back the same way we came.  Only it was mostly downhill, which sounds like a better deal.  It isn't.  The pressure on my legs is even greater going downhill than up.  New goal.  Not to have to ask Adrian to go get the car and come back for me. 

We made it back and crossed under the dam and climbed more steps and enjoyed more of our weekend.  I did some homework.  We all ate a great deal.  There was a concert.  I didn't write much at the Writer's Retreat.  But I rested and considered my life.

Here are seven things I want:

1.  Keep walking.

2.  Keep walking with Adrian.

3.  Finish graduate school.

4.  Help more people to walk the stage to graduate from college.

5.  Finish the book of short stories I am writing.

6.  Return often to Laity Lodge.

7.  Write a story about how I hiked the Grand Canyon.