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Monday, June 27, 2016

Simple Gifts

My husband has been offered summer Fridays at work and now gets out at noon.  I leave work at noon every Friday, but now, he joins me, a few hours later since he travels sixty miles, still early enough for the two of us to get a jump on the weekend. 
This past Friday, I had time to do a bit of writing before he arrived home, and then we packed up a bag and headed toward the twelve-foot dinghy we keep in the harbor.  Nothing miraculous, just a tour around moored boats and up what is called “the creek,” a meandering tributary feeding through the marshes leading toward the next town.  But, there’s everything to be said about how the afternoon light gained texture as the sun made it slow descent, the glint of a fishing line like a spider’s strand as a man cast from his stance on a barrier beach.  Perhaps the best part of the trip was the knowledge that for the rest of the afternoon, there was nothing that had to be done.  We settled ourselves on our moored sailboat and chatted, the simple gift of conversation reinforcing our gratitude for time.

Monday, June 20, 2016


A woman who volunteers at my work is taking a class called Your Personal Legacy, and yesterday, I asked her how it was going.  “It makes you ask yourself hard questions,” she said.  Curious, I asked her what kind.  “Well, for example, it asks you to list your favorite things to do.”

Not so hard, right? But here’s the thing.  Ten years ago, I would have had trouble with that answer, too.  I would have analyzed my responses.  I would have tried to decide what sounded better, and I would have struggled, really, to identify what made me happy.  At that point, I was slogging through full-time employment, full-time motherhood, and full-time disappointment in myself.

Notwithstanding marrying my husband and my raising our daughter, the two most important things, I hadn’t accomplished anything that mattered to me. I didn't love the job I'd been at for twenty-three years, but those golden-type handcuffs had me stuck.  When weekends arrived, I resented anyone who took hours away from my home and family.  I wasn’t writing regularly and had buried the desire to do so, so deep I didn't understand it would save me. That changed all because, alone at home, eighteen hours after a sudden layoff, I had no idea what to do, so I plopped myself in front of the computer to document my feelings. Then, with zero forethought, I cut and pasted them into a blog. The first time I pressed “publish" defined me and altered everything.

Over the seven years since, I’ve written perhaps millions of words.  The poems help with current hurts and the novels have given me confidence that I can set goals and achieve them.  But best of all, the personal essays that have appeared here have healed me and taught me about myself.   All the words that have spilled out since the morning I wrote that first post have eliminated brain clutter and helped to clarify the thoughts within.  Sometimes lately, I think I’ve done it, that I’ve cleaned out all the detritus that resides in me.  But then, a churning begins again and I end up in front of the computer, focused in a way most pure, in a zone where I am totally in tune with myself, writing, writing, writing.  I’ve poured so much out here, when someone asked me a question about myself, instead of having to sift through all the junk in my proverbial attic,  I identify my feelings and unpack them rather quickly, as it were.

For the record, I rattled off my favorite things to do without hesitating during that recent conversation.  My answer went like this: Writing, reading, and going out with my husband.
But my personal legacy?  That one’s easy.  I don’t have to take a class for that one.  My legacy is Middle Passages.  It’s this.

What's your personal legacy?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fun with Fact and Fiction

I’ve mentioned before that I am an inveterate re-reader.  For our trip to visit our daughter who is spending six months working in the Charleston area, I brought along the novel Islands, by southern author Ann Rivers Siddons that I still keep on my shelf.  While I didn’t connect the dots until I started it on the plane, re-reading it brought new meaning because the tale takes place exactly where we visited.  Over the week, images that had already seemed to clear to me through the lens of Siddons' writing, became real in the experiencing.

For this trip, I’d created a list of places to visit that I’d learned about through reading Siddons and other southern authors, and sightseers that we were, we crossed almost everything off.  We walked the Battery and White Point Gardens.  We ogled the colorful houses on Tradd Street, toured plantations and waterfront homes.  We walked a pier in Mount Pleasant, waded in pre-tropical-storm-waves on Isle of Palms, and ate at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island.  We took sunset pictures on Shem Creek and burned ourselves silly while playing bocce on Folly Beach.  At each location, a shiver of familiarity hit as I remembered fictional scenes that occurred in the same places. 

This especially hit home early in our visit, the evening after we drove from West Ashley to John’s Island via Main Road, cross the Maybank Highway, and down Bohicket.  That night, I read a chapter in Islands before I went to sleep, and wouldn’t you know, the main character took the exact same trip to get to her creek house.
We drove some variation of that car trip several times over our visit, and for the rest of the week, each time we crossed the bridge over the Stono River, I tried to see the area from the MC’s eyes.  As we descended from its great height, I looked to the left and right, over the marshes, thinking if I just knew the right road to turn onto I might actually find the banks where the MC harvested oysters, or the long dock where she tied up her boat.  If only the GPS could have told me the location of the marsh banks where dolphins herded schools of fish, or where the MC sat silently in her whaler while a beady-eyed alligator floated log-like down the creek.  

I know.  The novel is fiction.  But, without a doubt, we toured roads and byways the author knows by heart. I’ve always loved stories that take place in familiar terrains. This time, I traveled a thousand miles and felt as if I’d become part of the action. 

 Sunset from a moving car, over the Stono Bridge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

There's Writing, and then There's Writing...IWSG June

It's a blog hop, folks, led by Captain Alex Cavanaugh and his minions.  To find links to more writers talking about writing, click here

The last time I wrote an IWSG post, I talked about struggling with my writing project, and the muse that yanked me off in a different direction.  That direction was a 550 word essay that I wrote in under two hours and sent on spec to the Boston Globe. Less than a week later they informed me they wanted to publish it, and it will appear this weekend. Working on that snippet was fun, and the acceptance, complete with pay, gave me little confidence boost. 

That same week, I finally tracked down a copy of a spring issue of a boating magazine where I have a fifteen hundred word feature about my hometown harbor (guess my complimentary copy got lost in the mail).  A few days later, the mail delivered another regional magazine where I have a center spread on eight seafood restaurants.  The two magazines sit on my coffee table, taunting me in a way, reminding me it’s been over a  month since I focused (or tried to focus) on the novel. 

I belong to a local writers group, and the last two times I’ve read pieces of my current project the feedback was tough, critical in ways that are correct, but for some reason, also damaging.  I’m reading from an early draft, I know the writing needs to be tightened, but I have to get through the story first, and I’m finding it difficult to have the thing torn to pieces before I’m done.  After the last critique session, I re-read the draft and realized in addition to the accurate comments from my group, the whole thing lacks complexity and conflict.  I have a million miles to go and right now, I’m straining to take a step.

Perhaps that’s why every once in a while, I open the two magazines on the coffee table and rifle to my articles.  Perhaps that’s why I look forward to getting Sunday’s paper and seeing my byline.  Maybe that’s what led me to write another, 650-word essay that I’m planning on submitting soon.  These days, I’m really not sure I'm ever going to publish a novel.  But this less, tear-my-hair-out kind of work convinces me at least I can still write.