Monday, November 07, 2011

Three Films

The Wizard of Oz (1939), Victor Fleming, director

This film speaks volumes about my upbringing. I don't mean the theme of valuing home and family.  I am not referring to the parallel of a little girl out wandering the countryside with animals for her only companions.  It's not even Dorothy's fears, although there is certainly something there. 

The Wizard of Oz points out how integral church was in my life.  Yep.  Church.

I lived right behind Keeling Baptist Church.  I could roll out my front door and wind up at the bottom of the hill up against the church's back wall.  We were church-going peeople...well, my mother and siblings and I were. My father wasn't a churchgoer.  His membership was recorded at the Cypress Hut, a beer joint down in the Hatchie bottoms.  But we kids went to church.  Oh, yes.  Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday prayer meeting.  And we didn't miss for anything.

Well, there was one thing.  Sometimes.  Every once in a while there was The Wizard of Oz.

Once a year, the local tv station would show Dorothy and her pals on a Sunday night.  As soon as we heard the promo, we would beg to be allowed to stay home to watch.  Julie got the privelige way before I did.  My mother felt I was too little to tolerate the Wicked Witch without nightmares.  When I was old enough to stay, Julie still poked fun at me about hiding my eyes during the scary parts. 

Who killed my sister?   It terrified me.  I inevitably had trouble sleeping.  And yet, I couldn't wait to watch it again the next year.

Funny how the real life terrors never got that much attention. 

My father was a terror.  He delighted especially in scaring Julie on the way back from the outhouse.  Our little house on the hill wasn't equipped with a flush toilet.  We used the outhouse at the back of the church property until I was in second grade.  She used to ask me to go with her.  I wasn't as afraid of the dark as she was, even though I was four years younger.  With Daddy out there to torment her, who can blame her?  He was tall, well over 6 feet and Ichabod Crane thin back then. 

He would alternately pound on the walls of the stinking shithole or lay in wait for her on the way back. Sometimes he would say, "Something is gonna get you out there," with a gleeful grin on his gaunt face.  And then, he wouldn't do a thing.  The trip to the toilet would be full of anticipatory fear and nothing would happen.  He was clever about his terror tactics.

Dorothy walked a scary road with her companions too.  The witch was always there in their minds, with her threats hanging in the air like fog.  I'll get you, Pretty, and your little dog too.

Sometimes the wait for the Wicked Witch to pop up was worse than the reality of her appearance in a cloud of hellish smoke.  Same for Daddy.

Dorothy left Oz.  I left Tennessee.   

There ends the parallel, though.  When Dorothy went back to Kansas she found her truth: There's no place like home.  When I left Tennessee, I prayed there would never be.


All three of my films are The Wizard of Oz.  I first viewed Dorothy's story as a way to learn to take my eyes down from my face and see my fears without letting terror control me.  This was a handy skill to have.  I wasn't done facing the dangers of the road when Daddy left my life.  It's a lot easier to fight a witch when you can see where she is and find a big pot of water. 

Next, The Wizard of Oz became something else for me, as I focused on Oz, the Great and Powerful.  Oz, it turns out, is just a man and not even a very accomplished or erudite one.  He did what he could with the Emerald City and they benefitted from it, even after he flew away on a balloon.  I have tried to do that along the way...leave a little something behind.

Finally, TheWizard of Oz is for me a story of home and how to make home with those you find along the way.  It's embracing the misfits of life and finding that they have your back and will go right into the witch's castle to rescue you. It's looking back on that life later and saying it was a good one.  It's appreciating how a life's story can turn out.

All those other Sunday morning and nights were filled with stories.  They provided a kind of map of the road.  Turns out all that church attendance was useful.  I would hide out there and the other local church to escape from what was at home.  Church saved me, and not just in the usual sense of the word.  It was a place of sanctuary for me.  It modeled a safe haven that I used later to create family. My road would have been much longer without it. 

Thanks for meeting me at this place on the road.

And you were there.  And you, and you...

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.


Monday, September 26, 2011

A Poem for Today's Mood

South Bound Poet
For David Ray Vance

I want to be a Penguin poet,
name on list, followed by several titles:

.............CYN HUDDLESTON
.............The Domicile of the Guardian
.............Prepare Yourself for Rape Poems

Workshop tonight, but I long to write.
I jot poems on bits of paper
and large green sticky notes,
perfect for plastering the poem on my back
to see if it can drum up a following.

I am regimented, organized, habitual, and yet—
tonight I want to blow off workshop,
toss my poems in a knapsack
and head south.

Write Post Eat Bathe: High Anxiety..

First Secrets, now Fears
Fears?  So this Monday is gonna be one of those Mondays...

8 Fears, in no particular order, with commentary in some instances and not in others, for no particular reason:

  • I fear being in large public venues with lots of people.  Or small public venues with a moderate amount of strangers.  I am not afraid of public speaking in these places--do it all the time.  And I get along remarkably well for someone with this fear. 
  • Going down.  I found this out when I was at the top of a tower in Darmstadt, Germany and had to go back down the stone steps.  I had climbed them without noticing anything other than the view.  Now, going down, I saw that they were circular, narrow at the central point, heavily worn down from all the feet that had climbed over the centuries, and that there were People in front of and behind me, touching me.  This fear now extends to all down staircases and water slides.  However, I am not afraid of heights. 
  • Running out of food.
  • I used to be afraid of Tennessee.  It was recent enought that I still get sick sometimes when I go there.  I go there. 
  • Leaving my house.  Driving.  I do both. 
  • I used to be afraid of spiders.  Screamy afraid.  And I am not a screamer.  Then in therapy, I figured out I was displacing fears onto spiders.  Poor little mites.  Turns out they are not a bad bunch.  I kinda have a soft spot for them now since I stepped on so many.
  • Anyone who would hurt my child.  No. Scratch that.  I am afraid FOR them if I catch them.  Different thing.
  • Turns out I am not very afraid after all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Makes My Dress Fly Up...

Nine loves.  Easy.

9.  I love being able to walk again without crouching down like a crone or holding onto a cane.  I love being able to sleep.  I love being able to attend to the important things in life without worrying if I can stand up without help or get off the toilet.  There are still issues.  But these things are pretty nice. (Update:  Hiked for the first time since getting sick.)

8.  I love having a daughter.  I wouldn't have minded a son.  I just have no experience.  But a daughter.  It's so good I have no words for it.  I don't want to jinx perfection.

7.  I love being married to someone who does not give me reason to worry that he will drink up my earnings, bring sluts into my yard, beat me with a bone-in ham, shoot at my children in a thunderstorm, take my daughter to beer joints and a) take her into the place so that drunks can paw her or b) leave her in the car to worry that someone will see her and paw her, talk one way to strangers and a whole other way his family so that strangers think his family got a real smart guy for a daddy when he was a bum who couldn't keep a job, or, and this is key, make me lose a minutes sleep worrying that he would do something heinous to my daughter. You don't, in my experience, often find a man who is that "lacking" and Adrian deserves my loyalty and undying gratitude.

6.  I love that I am weird and yet still have people who are willing to be in my life. 

5.  I love cats. 

4.  I love my brain.

3.  I love being 51. (I have loved all my years since around 30, but not so much before that.)

2.  I love psychotherapy and good friends.

1.  And lastly, I love writing.  How else would you know all these keen things about me?

Monday, September 12, 2011

If you tell someone...

Each Monday some of us at Write, Eat, Post, Bathe writing group are going to post one of these little lists.  Ten secrets.  Am I writing down ten secrets?  Huh.  Your government trusted me with secrets. I never told them and don't intend to. 

I have three secrets I never tell a soul.  I don't even say them out loud.  The nature of a secret is this: if you tell one person, it is no longer a secret.  And I can, as we have established, keep a secret.  So the best you can hope for is 10 little-known facts.  Here they are:

10. I love purses.  I have way more than you can imagine.  I also hate cleaning them out.  Too time-consuming.  So I have little bags of stuff that I can grab and put into the new purse.  Presto chango.

9.  You were hoping for some real dish.  Sorry.  I told you I am good at keeping secrets.  Let's see...  Number Nine.... I used to really hate the look of my big toes.  I don't now.  The toes still look the same as before, so I think something inside my head changed.

8.  I have Asperger's Syndrome.  Not a secret.  I just might not have told you.  I have it in a very mild form.  Don't let that make you think I don't have problems with it.  I am 51 and have great coping skills.  What you don't know is that I like having it despite the problems.  There are things, not the least of which is the ability to hold gigantic amounts of stuff in my head at the same time and manipulate all that to my benefit, that are downright cool.  The wanting to run away and hide in most public situations is not so much cool.  I work on that.

7.  I used to spend a lot of time up in trees when I was a kid.  I would take a bag of non-perishable food and books and stay and stay. 

6.  I like to look at small things, like the pattern that some bees and wasps make in the dirt or a drop of water on the tip of a leaf, stuff like that.  I like to hide in small places.  I wish I was very small sometimes so that I could secret myself into a nook and stay and stay.

5.  I was a virgin way longer than you would believe, so I won't bother telling you.  No, really.  I don't care what you heard.

4.  I actually say the things that people say they wish they had said or would have said to people who are abusing children in public.  I have called the law on one occasion too. 

3.  I count how many times I talk out loud during a class session so that I won't talk too much.  You will not, if you are in class with me, believe this since I still talk a lot.  You can ask my early college professors before I adopted this tactic. I wouldn't shut up.  See 8 above for an clue to this phenomenon.

2.  I am racked by guilt.

1.  I want to write a reasonably-well-received book of stories.

Now, I have 2 secrets that I have never told a soul.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Psalm 911

A Psalm for New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania

I cry out to you with a sound torn from my soul;
a sound of metal tearing;
a sound of innocence dying.
How terrible is this thing which has been thrust into the heart of the many.

Evil has risen up from its nursery and arrived full grown to destroy us;
those who pervert your very name;
who bow to false gods of hate;
who breed in the desperate a desire for destruction.

Their instrument of death is a cruel one;
they have used our own selves as a kind of cancer.
My body has been hurled against my body;
sister torn from the sky to rain destruction on brother.

And hell erupted in the sky;
And hell erupted in the sky;
And hell was thrown against the five sides of our strength;
And, yet, hell was cheated the fourth time.

Our words rained down on us like an evil snow;
like a parade held in honor of our enemy's victories.

Humans fell from the sky; Humanity fell from grace.

High places were made low;
crushed to dust that blows at our feet.
Our mighty have been struck a cleaving blow;
warriors defeated without a battle cry.

Images of horror enter my every waking moment;
burning into my eyes.
I sleep and dream, not in pictures, but in tears that do not wash,
tears that do not cool.
I awake and the sun is blocked by the smoke of a fire which burns my soul.

I have looked to the heavens and seen a terror.
I have cried to the hills and heard no relief.
I have called to the warrior and he is quiet.
I have screamed to my Lord.
I have screamed to my Lord.
I have screamed for relief.
I have screamed for vengeance.

"Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what He has done. For He who avenges blood remembers;
He does not ignore the cry of the afflicted."
Psalm 9:11.12 NIV

I cry out to you with a sound tom from my soul;
a whimper;
a sob;
a groan originating in the earth.

I cried out to the Lord
and I have seen him.

The Lord is with us in the rubble.
God has come to us in the body of the man who lifts a stone and clears a path.

The Lord is with us in the fires.
God has come to us in the hands of those who spray a healing, cooling stream.

The Lord is with us in the places of healing.
God has come to us in the mind of she who closes the wounds.

The Lord is with us in the streets.
God has come to us on the feet of the child who brings food to the grief-stricken.

The Lord is with us in the houses of worship.
God has come to us in the arms that gather us up.

The Lord is with us in our homes.
God has come to us in the lips of our loved ones who kiss us through our pain.

The Lord is with us in the places of power.
God has come to us in those whose hearts bum for justice
tempered with judgment.

I cried out to the Lord and the Lord joined me in my cry.

Cyn Huddleston 09/12/2001


I wrote this on the day after the attacks, when watching the images had burned them into my retinas.  I needed some way to think about it.  I started to write like the old psalms, in the cadence of those poets.  About halfway through, at the place where you see it, I decided to see what the Psalm was at 9:11.  It says those words in the version I read.  My psalm had to change.  It was now a psalm of 9/12.  Any more violence done would cause there to be more afflicted.  I looked around to see how we were coping.  I saw response to violence with help and comfort.  I prayed we would have more of that and less of violence. 

I still am praying. 

In 2001, I read this in church to a group of battered folks and one state trooper who just walked in late and stood in the back, ready to go. 

This Sunday, we will have our New Beginnings Sunday.  It's what we have always called our first day of the new sunday school year.  It's Kyndall Rothaus Renfro's first day to preach to us as our pastor.

Here's to new beginnings for us all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I need some time at Laity Lodge to remember the important things

You've heard me talk about holding the poetry workshops in a Texas Hill Country retreat center. 

It's called Laity Lodge.


Adrian and I have been going there for a while. 
It's a great place to be inspired, relax...

reconnect with yourself or your lover or your God.

You hear great speakers, like Dale Bruner.

But you can catch a little personal time.

The Frio River Canyon is the perfect setting
for being in nature on a grand scale...

or a tiny one.

Most of the time when I go there, I am part of the weekend staff. 
The poetry workshops are a way to share with others what I love
about writing in a place that calms and nourishes me.

I give and fill up at the same time.  It's a good balance. 

I want to go back soon to Laity Lodge. 

After starting my last year of grad school--with papers to write, the endless reading, and the business of getting prepared to pass exams and graduate so that I can teach my own college classes--I don't want to forget
the important things.

I have a chance to win a free retreat for writers at the
 Laity Lodge Writers Retreat 29 September to 2 October.

I'd like to work on my thesis book of short stories, but who am I kidding? It will be mid-term around that time, and I will probably be researching Chaucer or T. S. Eliot. Mostly, I want to breathe fresh air, talk writing, eat delicious food, and catch my husband staring at me adoringly.
It's one of the perks of the place.

If you are a writer, why not join us. Make a reservation here. Or choose another date. Any time is a good time for a break at Laity Lodge.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Name is Cyn, and I am a Cleanaholic

I have a tiny mop-wielding monkey on my back. 

This morning, with grad school starting next week, and having no appointments, I decided to give my back a rest and not do any chores. 

I didn't make it past my shower.  First, I tidied all the towels that were hanging in the bathroom.  And of course, I squeegee the shower walls and glass every day.  Hard water spots are deadly here in San Antonio.  Not too bad.  Just a taste.  Then, I made my bed.  Well, that's just polite.  My husband has to get into that bed tonight and the covers will be all straight.  But then, I fluffed and placed the decorative pillows.  I know. Decorative pillows are a gateway chore.  You straighten up those pillows and give them the nice HGTV touch and pretty soon, you are wiping down the mirrors in the bathroom.  God help me.

I'm a clean freak.  It's true.  I've been called the local Martha Stewart, and not in a good way. 

After the pillow situation, I decided to get dressed and just keep my hands busy.  Problem there.  This house is known far and wide as the place that young missionaries with tracts and quotas can always find the lady home, so I can't just put on a pair of fresh pajamas.  Of course that also means a bra. (Have you seen me? Seriously, me without a bra could cause an embarrassing situation amongst the white-shirt-wearing priesthood holders on my porch.)  So, I put on a pair of jean shorts and a sleeveless top, with matching jewelry.  I'm not a hobo!  Then, I put the jammies from last night into the hamper.  That's the last thing I remember before I found myself in the laundry room, Stain Sticking a pair of shorts with one hand while rubbing a little Vivid into a shirt with the other.  I stared down at my sticky fingers and knew I needed help.

I admit I am powerless over the idea that if I have mildew on  the inside of my overflow drain in one bathroom sink then some child will die of cholera in a third world nation.   Yes, I clean those overflow thingies that most people don't even see.  If you don't know what an overflow thingie is, see here.

I heard on a commercial the other day that if you want a clean commode you should use their product or you could clean after every flush, some 380,000 times a year.  They asked, "Who does that?" -- like it was a bad thing to clean your toilet every time you flush.  Heck, I even toilet trained my cat so that I would have a tidier house.  If I could train her to run a dust mop, I'd be in heaven.

I have pretty much always been this way.  If it's hereditary, it's recessive.  My grandmother Tommie was no housekeeper. She had maids for many years and never got the knack.  Then she got me and didn't need a maid.  I think I learned to clean as a response to her lack of housekeeping, that and the way she cooed over my ability to clean a bathroom.

"Oooh.  Cindy's so smart.  She can clean a bathroom better than I can."  Lord, she was such a mess that the chicken coop was neater.  Of course I could clean better.  And dust, and vaccuum, and run an Old English oil cloth over the hardwood floors.  She taught me how to clean out of necessity and for quarters.  I do love a good payday, too.

My other grandmother Callie was a bit of a germophobe.  You couldn't touch her food or her spoon or pretty much anything to do with food unless it was safely on your own plate.  I don't think that's wrong at all. My mom was a normal cleaner.  You couldn't catch a disease at her house, but she was ok with the magazines being haphazardly piled on the coffee table.  (Shudder.)

I will now stop to say that I will not discuss my daughter's cleaning habits in a public forum.  She is beautiful, kind, witty, talented, and has a genius-level IQ.  She is also a bit devious, a thing she inherits from me, so I don't want to be on her bad side.  Hey, Sweetie.

I don't want to make people dislike me.  But if you are a cleaner, you hear it. 

"She is just so....tidy." 

"Yeah, it's pathetic the way she recaulks her shower three times a year.  I mean, who does that?" 

"She even has a toothbrush just for cleaning the parts of the toilet that no one can see.  I mean there is a limit to what I'm willing to tolerate.  I think she needs an intervention."

"Or an exorcist."

"Or a good kick in the ass."

But there are no 12-step groups for the likes of me.  And if there were, we'd just all run around wiping up coffee drips from the refreshment table or fight over who gets to descale the pot this week.  It's hopeless, really.

So, yes.  I am Cyn, and I am an over-cleaner.  I accept myself for what I am, and I promise not to clean your house when I visit.  I take medication for that now, and I hardly ever do it any more.

Unretouched photo of my Junk Drawer.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How Cyn Got Her Move Back

I can walk.

Sure, it sounds simple.  But last year around Valentine's Day, I started having weird bouts of pain and disability that would pop up in different parts of my body.  By St. Patrick's Day, I was hobbling and in near constant pain.  Doctors were stumped.  My family practice doc checked my blood for everything.  I gave more blood in the lab in one week than you do in a blood drive.  The list of results takes up pages.  I had none of the things she tested me for.  She sent me to a rheumatologist, who sent me to a neurologist.  He sent me to another neurologist who, I kid you not, put needles deep into my muscles and ran current through them.  I was told I had some symptoms for several things but not enough symptoms for any one thing.  I wasn't sick enough to diagnose, but I couldn't walk. 

I won't go through the emotional details of this whole thing or talk at length about how I still graduated  summa cum laude with a BA in English from Texas Lutheran University that spring around Mother's Day.  You could ask the folks who saw me grimace how that looked.  Don't ask my husband.  Watching all this took a toll on him that I wouldn't like to repeat.

There have been medication scares and adjustments and additions.  I finally got a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which some of you right now are confusing with the arthritis your grandma has in her left forefinger.  It's not like that.  You could look it up.  I have some other stuff going on with my spine, but I am not going to be paralyzed like my neurologist feared the day he called me andtold me to have my husband very safely and carefully drive me to the ER and not leave until the neurosurgeon confirmed I was not about to become a quadraplegic.  I spent our 28th anniversary on April 29, 2010 in the hospital in order to confirm that I will have control of all four of my limbs to some degree for the foreseeable future. 

Good times.

The meds are working pretty good.  I am not using the cane that was my constant companion for a year and a half.  Do you know how hard it is to negotiate the halls of a large university to get your master's degree with a cane in one hand, a bag of books and a computer on the other shoulder, and a cup of coffee to shove in there somewhere?  That cane is not going to be missed.

I am not getting rid of it.  It folds, and I keep it in my car.  I will always have Rheumatoid Arithritis, and I will have flare ups that will temporarily send me back to the cane.  Hopefully, not to the one that has four little tips on it for the really bad days or the wheelchair that I used for one weekend last April. 

Just before my military rheumatologist was reassigned, I asked her to send me to physical therapy to regain my range of motion and my strength.  I used to be the person last standing in any physical endeavor.  Now, I cheer when I can climb stairs. 

And I can climb them.  I am working my way around the room at PT, kicking ass on the equipment, although leg lifts holding a ball between my knees is not a fun thing.  Trust me.  Yesterday, the PT was especially hard, but I still rocked that room even though I was crying like a baby.

So, I can walk.  I am not running, but I never ran before the RA.  I can paint my own toenails.  Yesterday, I even replaced the faucet in my kitchen, to include all the climbing under the sink and everything.  It was grand.  My muscles ached last night.  It wasn't from joint damage but rather the PT and the plumbing.  Today, I am taking a holiday from everything but writing.  I am grateful. 

I can walk. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Poem of Natures: Write, Eat, Post, Bathe writing group

god of my yard

garden kitty, not mine, but adoring of my deck
for cover and comfy cushions

I filled a feeder for cardinals but attracted also
mourning doves, too portly for the perches

kitty skulks under the deck
dove gleans dropped black sunflower seeds

a sunflower sprung from some lost seed
will mark her end  that and a bit of wing

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Write, Eat, Post, Bathe writing group Prompt: Things That Delight Me

When my daughter Ariane was small, she studied gymnastics.  One of the positions she learned on the balance beam was the scale--on one foot, the other leg back out behind, arms like wings of an airplane.  She had such balance. 

Ariane is 26.  She can still do a very nice scale, and she can stand in the statue of liberty pose like she used to do at the top of the pyramid as a cheerleader.  I wouldn't like to see her up there now, mind you.  She takes her chances these days on children with tough home situations and at love.  It all balances out.

Ariane delights me.  Sassy, bold, generous, messy, many wonderful things, that Ari.

Today, after a barbecued chicken lunch with Ariane, Adam and Adrian, we discussed siblings and childhood shenanigans.  We all had the latter; Ariane was the only one without the former.  We also watched as she demonstrated her ability to still perform a perfect scale and a liberty with her feet on the ground.  I love to see that and remember her fearlessness up in the air.  

This was supposed to be about how I can balance on one foot in physical therapy, about how I can do all the exercises, seeking to exceed expectations.  This essay was to be about how I went from being unable to walk last spring to being able to run a bit this summer.  But I got lost watching as Ariane demonstrated her scale, duplicating with precision my clumsy one, making it impossible not to write about the most delightful part of my life.  Walking is nice, but momming is better.  On balance, Ari wins. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stepping on Graves

I painted my toenails acid green for summer.

After slogging through the the 19th Century American Literature in June, I couldn't wait for a little rest, a little fun.  And what could be more fun than acid green toenails?

And they did cheer me up.  Every time I looked at them, I giggled a bit.  My neurologist joked that I must be doing better if I could reach my toes to paint them green.  He said he knew I had painted them because no one else would have done it to me.  I don't know.  They looked kind of spiffy.  I was intending to take a picture to show you and write about that. 

I didn't get the picture taken and now they are really needing to be redone. 

See, I went home to Tennessee for a few days to see the old home place that got out of my family for a few years, something like 30 years, really.  My sister bought it last month, and we were all tickled to see the place back in the family.  So I went home to inspect it and to bring my mom back here in San Antonio for a visit.  She's here now.  It wasn't her home place but the other side of the family--my paternal grandmother's home.  Lots of history there in that old ramshackle house by the pond.  I lived many years across the road from the farmland part of that piece of land.  Not such good memories for me there.  I have exercised demons from some other family land on previous trips home and by signing some of it over to a church for land for the kids to play.  I hoped for a positive experience last week.

Sherry couldn't wait to show me the place, so we went there on the way back from the airport.  I was wearing my brown flip flops and sporting my green toenails.  Not exactly good farm shoes.  A good neighbor farmer had cleared us a place to drive right up to the pond.  Getting out, we took some pictures and walked the place.  The old home where my grandmother was born had been moved by a previous owner to the back of the property for use as a shed for hay and feed for cows.  It was surrounded by a little woods that was thick with poison ivy.  Sherry is allergic; I'm not.  I blazed the trail, so I spent a lot of time looking at the ground and at my feet picking their way through to find a safe path for her.  Payback for many times when my big sister did the same for me with people much more nefarious (although just as toxic) as poison ivy.  I learned early to watch my step.  Snakes, rotten boards, sharp sapling stumps, bad relatives--pretty much the same.  Our Uncle Tuck killled himself in the room that had been turned into a shed for the cows to escape a storm.  No floor, three walls down, just a shed.  The 80-some-year-old man who bought the farm once fell through the roof putting up tin and was laid out with broken bones for hours until he finally crawled to the road for help.  Sometimes, it can be a long road.

My mom did come home with me for a visit to San Antonio.  She is 82 and has whipped lymphoma but has weakened considerably.  She has a bad back with more metal than bone holding it all together.  All this meant she needed a wheelchair assist through the airport.  You'd think with all the security complications that a wheelchair would add to the headaches of air travel.  Surprisingly, the skycaps, the fast lane for wheelchairs, and the early boarding made it easier to travel with a wheelchair-bound mommy than without one.  Sometimes, it all evens out. 

So here we are in San Antonio.  I am a little later than I had hoped writing from my "Write, Eat, Post, Bathe" group's prompt about feet. 

I thought about feet all week--in the airport, with green toenails, dusty with ancestor dirt, up on the footrests of a wheelchair in the Memphis airport.  I also thought about some other feet.  One other day when we were in Tennessee, I did some research for a book of short stories I am writing and for some genealogy I am doing.  My flip-flop-shod feet walked over the bones of the Thompson family members who came in a group from Alamance County, North Carolina to Dancyville, Tennessee around 1850.  They spread out and married and had children.  One of the grandchildren of that bunch, James Rawlin Thompson, married the woman who was born in that house up by a pond, Emma Sue Bourne.  They had my daddy, who, with a little help from Mom, had me.  He held on to me in more ways than one for many years after I had crossed an ocean to make a new life for myself.  My feet have carried me all the way and walked the floor with a daughter of my own.  It's almost too much to take in for a little posting on a blog.

Now, I am listening to my husband and my mother talk about the TV program they are watching on the Hallmark Channel about pioneers.  I just want to hit the "publish post" button and go change my toenail color to shocking blue.  I am having fun this summer.  And I am getting somewhere.

I hope your feet take you to interesting places as well.