4 P.M. Play Gin Rummy

I wish I could help you. I wish I had all of the answers. Why do writers write?
I write because my brain hurts if I don’t. I write because I want to inspire.
I write because I want to help. I write because I want to entertain you.
I write because when I was a young girl and I began writing poetry,  essays, and funny little ditties my mother told me, “you are such a good writer, Cookie, please keep writing.”

In Stephen King’s “On Writing,” he gives his top thirteen writing tips. One tip is to write every day.  I subscribe to the notion that like teaching a child to read anything daily, writing needs the same devotion even if it is just a list. A list I can expand and develop into a story or essay.  He has twelve other tips, but I don’t much follow them because I am not a good student.  Well, I really am a good student, but writing is an outlet for me and I don’t much like to follow the rules when I am writing.  I just used “much” as a modifier, so you get my point.

My mother and my grandmother wrote poetry, songs, essays,
and letters. Come to think of it most everyone on both sides of my family is
creative with storytelling or writing. Even the most reserved like my father
can put pen to paper and write an interesting piece.  I recently realized this about my dad when I read an essay he wrote about his childhood.  It was laugh out loud funny.  My dad is not a gregarious guy.  He is a numbers guy with that quiet dry humor.  When I read what he wrote, I realized he had a way of expressing himself on paper that I did not know he possessed.  Before Google he would call me long distance to get my opinion of how a sentence sounded.  He would even seek spelling advice if he didn’t have a dictionary handy.  I wonder if anyone ever encouraged him to write?  If not, I think I will be the one to encourage him.

I write every day. Sometimes it’s just a list, but my lists are detailed and colorful.  They are very telling.  You can get a snapshot of what kind of a day I am having by the tone and handwriting of my list.  Clear legible writing means I am having an even keel day. Maniacal writing that looks like three different people wrote it means I am all over the place. Yes, if you know me you think that most of my lists are like this. Could be. One thing about my lists, they are always thorough and my time is very well-managed. There is always a method to my madness.

When my son was in elementary school he saw one of my daily list which detailed- 2:45 pm pick Ben up from school.  3:00 pm pick Camille up from school. He looked at me and incredulously asked, “You have to PUT US ON YOUR list?!!” My response, “I have never forgotten one of you, have I?”

Yes, writers write for many reasons. Today I am writing because writing each day is on my list of things to do and because my mother told me I should.

Grief and Community in the Time of Corona

Am I going to laugh or am I going to cry?  I know what to do.  Sit back.  Breathe.  Be still.  I purse my lips together.  You know how you do that when you are thinking.  Trying to discern what is happening with your emotions.  Do you give into them or do you take a deep breath and forge on?

When you read this and look at the date, 30th March 2020, you will be reminded of the era find ourselves.  The days of the Coronavirus Pandemic.  COVID-19.  The common ground of vocabulary.  Stay at home.  Quarantine.  Work from home.  We all know the symptoms.  We have even had some of them on a daily basis.  Oh good.  I can smell now.  I don’t think I have it.  Do I feel hot?  Do you think I have a fever?  Some of our responses are even comical.  Are you short of breath?  Of course I am, but is it a panic attack or is it the Corona?  By the way,  I gave in.  I cried.

Social media is full of memes that make us laugh at ourselves and society as we face this together.  Are we really in this together?  The answer is, yes we are, whether we like it or not.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this virus.  People across the board are getting sick and some are even dying.  Of course, we hear the narrative on different survivors or those who have succumbed to this virus.  We feel somewhat comforted that maybe that person who died was not as healthy as we are or as healthy as we think we are.  That’s what we don’t genuinely know.  We actually don’t know how it will affect each of us physically.  So, maybe in that regard we aren’t in this together.  But, I will tell you how we are in this together.  We are all scared in our own way.  Be it bravado or acceptance.  There is an unknown for all of us.  For each of us.  How are we all going to make it?

I ventured out to the grocery yesterday for a few items.  I sanitized. I wore protective gloves. I took an extra pair for after I finished my shopping.  I kept my distance.  It was Sunday about 6:45 p.m., usually a busy time at our local Kroger.  At first, I felt some relief that there were not many people around so I could zoom through and get home.  1. Because I never enjoy grocery shopping when I have to do it.  2. I did not want to be around a lot of people.

Then, the contradiction came through tears right there in the dairy aisle of the Kroger.  Grief.  I felt grief.  There were no people at all.  A meeting place in this small town where for as long as I’ve been shopping, I always see at least 3 or 4 people I know.  “Hi there! How are you? How are the children?  How is your family?  Are the children home from school?  What you cooking tonight?”  Nothing.  There was none of that and it grieved me.  The very task that I would have normally rushed so I could get home on a Sunday night, now took a sorrowful turn.  I went in with an attitude of get in and get out so we all stay safe.  We were all guarded.  There was no sense of community.  There was a sense of respectfully distancing six feet apart as well as let’s stay the hell away from each other.  I paid for my groceries.  Discarded my gloves in the trash. I sanitized again.  The few people, store employees and customers, were mindful of what we could not see.

As I approached my car I heard, “Well, hello!  It is nice to see you again!”  And there he was stopping and standing six feet away from me, a new friend I met in the grocery last week when we kept trying to do a dance six feet apart on several of the same aisles.  A young man about my children’s age named Marvin who is a flight attendant with American Airlines.  We talked for a moment about how things have changed since last week when we first met in a much more crowded Kroger.  We talked of how concerning and distressing each day brings new information and deaths.  We talked about how we are both healthy and will probably be ok, but that this will most likely be our last trip inside the store instead we both agreed the curbside service is a wise choice until the curve is flattened.  We laughed that every time we cough we automatically think we are sick.  The last thing we said to each other was that we were meant to be friends and maybe when this is all over we will see each other on a flight to somewhere fun or perhaps we will just see each other in the produce aisle and say, “There is my friend. Part of my community.  Here we all are again.  Packed in this Kroger together buying food for a gathering of friends or for a party.  For a wedding shower.  For an office luncheon.” For all of those things we miss. Those things we are now grieving.  Our community in the time of Corona.

My Five Year and Eight Month Old Self

“We will never find it, Baby; it’s gone.”  After looking through the pile of gravel for hours on a spring afternoon in Whistler, Alabama in 1968, I figured my Paw Paw was right.  It was gone.  My special birthstone ring with the green gem and gold band was lost in a pile of roofing gravel.  The ring that signified that I was born in August. My first big girl ring.  The ring I graduated to after my baby ring.  The ring that represented the characteristics of someone who does not give up. 

My cousins and I were playing outside at my Grandnana and Paw Paw’s home. I have no memory of how the ring came not to be on my hand.  All of my memories are the searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I remember sifting for the entire afternoon trying to find my ring.  

My Paw Paw owned a roofing company and my cousins, and I were playing on the pile of gravel.  I know it must have been spring because the gravel was not hot.  The gravel was a mixture of hues.  Browns. Tans. Yellows. My gold ring was lost in the chaotic mix of fun.  

I remember being sad.  I wasn’t afraid of getting into trouble for losing it.  I remember the determination I had to find my ring.  The ring that represented my August birthday.  The stone that had the most beautiful and confusing name.  Peridot.  I remember knowing I was not going to give up until I found it.  

Leos are known for being strong-willed and confident.  I can only concur that this is why I kept looking.  I was not going to give up.  I knew my ring was in that pile.  I just had to be patient, determined, and I would eventually find it.  My Paw Paw promised me he would not let anyone disturb the pile.  I think he knew his first-born granddaughter would find her ring. Every day I would go outside and sift through the gravel pile.  I would make up games as I searched for my ring.  My cousins would join me as we set out to conquer this kingdom of rocks hiding my treasure.  

I don’t remember how many days it took.  But, I still have the memory of my cousins and one of my Paw Paw’s employees standing around the pile with me holding up my ring.  We did it!  We didn’t give up. We found my simple, beautiful birthstone ring. My five year and eight month old self understood life better than my adult self.  Be patient.  Don’t give up.  It’s there.  You will eventually find it. 

“This One Is Very Good”

I LOVE Flannery O’Connor.  When my husband and I recently traveled to Savannah, I was thrilled to tour the childhood home of one of my favorite writers.  I loved listening to the docent who is part of the Flannery O’Connor Foundation. She gave a passionate and animated presentation of this prolific southern writer.  As usual, I got chills thinking that the formative years of Mary Flannery O’Connor were spent in the very home I was touring.  Her childhood fantasies and role play began at 207 E. Charlton Street, Savannah.  I could feel her presence.  I hung onto every word of the guide, and I was even asked to participate by reading aloud Miss O’s own words she had written in a childhood book.  “This one is not very good.” She was referring to one of her childhood books. She made notes to herself or to the next reader of this particular publication.  Flannery was quite the critic even as a six-year-old.  She knew what was good and what was not.   

As I searched my memory, I tried to remember what was my favorite Flannery O’Connor writing.  Last year I read, “Conversations with Flannery O’Connor,” though I had not read any of her short stories in years.  She only wrote two books, novels, and I have not read either of them. Most of her work is essays and short stories.  I remember reading some of these in a Southern Literature class in college.  However, as is my pattern with most writers, I became enamored with Flannery and researched everything I could on her.  What struck me as a college student about the descriptions of her was that she wrote with such confidence and was a straightforward and fiercely independent Southern woman who conveyed this through her stories.  This intrigued me.  As a young writer, I didn’t have the courage to write all the thoughts I had.  It is said that she disliked unoriginal or writing that was used to impress. 

This is why I love Flannery.  She didn’t write to please others.  She used her writing style to shock her audience because she wasn’t sure they held the same beliefs she did.  “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”  In other words, her style was to get your attention even if you don’t agree with her.  Over the years I have written many human interest stories, written interviews.  I have written many short non-fiction humorist essays.  My quirky look at life.  I usually write for an audience who agrees with me and is touched or humored by my writing.  As a college student, I remember thinking of her a headstrong formidable presence.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, her friends spoke of her “merciless attacks on affectation and triviality.”  She didn’t put up with much.  This surfaces in her work.  I remember reading “Geranium” and feeling anxious at the tone of the story.  The story about a flower.  There was shouting and arguments.  I felt like a voyeur to a confrontation that I just wanted to leave, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to see the outcome.  That’s what Flannery O’Connor does.  She touches the mercenary part of your soul that wants to see the bizarre patina of her narrative.  She doesn’t give you a charming story tied up with a pretty bow and obligatory ending. 

Yes, I love Flannery O’Connor.  She is everything I am not.  She makes me want to grow.  Once again, I am picking up her completed works and reading each story.  I continue to read about her strong-willed shit-stirring approach to writing.  That’s my shocking explanation of how I perceive her.  I am no Flannery O’Connor expert, nor can I say I have read everything she has written.  I haven’t even read half of it.  But, I love Flannery because she inspires me to reach a new level in my writing.  She gives me the courage to write.  Period.