you seem restless


Sometimes being a disorganized word-scribbler has its benefits — like when I’m cleaning up and find some random scrap of paper or flip through a long forgotten half filled notebook and land on treasure. Here are a few: the record of toddler C saying he ‘had to pee like ABCD’ (because he may have heard his mother saying she ‘had to pee like you read about’); the quote of him yelling out to the goats at Drumlin Farm: “Hey you gumdrops!” and toddler D’s announcement as his father walked in the door: “Mom got dead fish today!” (trout was on the menu). Whether these scrawled messages point to a place and time I’d forgotten about or inform anew, there’s usually a sense of delight and discovery, and sometimes, synchronicity.

Last week I found this movie quote: “You seem restless but in a permanent kind of way.” I had to google the movie title (“Take This Waltz“) because I’d forgotten it, but I remembered the characters well enough.

“You seem restless but in a permanent kind of way” keeps echoing. I hear it even as I am relaxing on the shores of Rock Pond in New Hampshire. A pretty spot. Quiet. Lots of reading. Some sun. Tasty food, including the first delectably fresh corn of the summer.

But there’s no getting away from any of it. There just isn’t.

In spite of long walks in the woods with “my guys” and swimming two or three times a day, I feel restless and I wonder: is it in a permanent kind of way?


The other quote came from Representative John Lewis and it was simply: “Pray with your feet.”

Newsweek photo of Boston

In that regard, I am so proud of the friends, peers, and other progressives who showed up at Boston Common to counter-protest a “free speech” rally today. They prayed with their feet. This could have gone another way and not just because a huge percentage of Republicans in Massachusetts voted for Trump, but because hate dwells everywhere and has been energized by the monsters at the helm. More than 40,000 counter protesters of all ages and colors showed up.

I’m also proud of the amazing work that the ACLU does.

Off to make dinner. I’ll be back after the eclipse. I hope you all have proper eye protection!

PS. Finished this novel yesterday. Wow did it turn out to be relevant! About a white nationalist and an African American nurse. He has a baby. Baby dies. Nurse is charged with murder. Nurse’s white lawyer comes to grips with her own racism. It goes from there.

Shelter


Maybe I should say, “swelter”. It’s pretty hot again. I found this little photo-transferred word in a pile of papers. Last night, I stitched up the little star house while watching Game of Thrones (we’re SEASONS behind), which I’ve decided is worth stomaching all the blood shed for the well-realized worlds and interesting characters.

Off to an appointment.

This week, an email with five exclamation points kinda rocked my world. Not much more to say about it except this: white makers crafting black stories can find plenty of newsworthy, interesting, combative discussions out there.  The critiques can amplify doubt and make a (white) person wanna crawl away in silence. I’d avoid the discussions altogether (my doubt mechanism is already perfectly amped-up), except that doing so would mean missing some of the most vibrant and compelling conversations about race transpiring these days. Why would I do that?

But, even though the adage about ‘writing what you know’ is severely limiting, I think the next novel (if there is one) should be about a spoiled white adolescent making bad choices in an affluent suburb. I’ve already got a compelling news story in mind, and just so you know: not about my kids.

 

 

In the cool deep

“Let the breath take you deeper:” a reminder.

I can’t believe how much I enjoy being down in the cool sanctuary of the basement right now — whether machine piecing a village quilt, pawing through bins, or vacuuming up cobwebs. It’s a great complement to writing upstairs.

The process of piecing up house patterns keeps me going, but something is missing. A theme? A selected recipient? An internal challenge? Something. And, do I care?

Here are some pictures from today: paper collage, unearthed fabric WIPS, and in-progress shots of current work.

Here I went w/theme. Too heavy handed

Still damp from spritzing

An unearthed sampler from one of Jude’s classes

This old cut out from Newsweek will go upstairs

SoulCollage card composed a while ago but this week seems about the draft envt’l report

a pile up of questions

img_5118

  1. Why does my fridge stink AGAIN?
  2. Why do multiple requests to “Unsubscribe” so frequently fail?
  3. How did I manage to change my browser home page last weekend?
  4. Why does it take X so long to return my calls or texts, when she promptly takes every call and text when we’re together?
  5. And, how not to take personally?
  6. Who am I letting down by not calling or texting back promptly?
  7. Why does Finn greet dogs socially when with his walkers but not with us?
  8. Why are Republicans so determined to screw the American people?
  9. Why don’t I own a pair of shorts?
  10. How is it possible that the obscene and hateful desire to undo a black president’s legacy has turned so many Republicans into immoral toads?
  11. Just how guilty should I feel buying incidentals with Amazon Prime (even with batch shipping)?
  12. How can the GOP dress up any of what they’re doing in conservative ideology?
  13. How can Finn shed so much and still have fur on his body?
  14. How can the GOP NOT CARE about Russia (possible treason) or constitutional violations (provable without an investigation) when it’s now clear they won’t be able to slip through their monstrous agenda under cover of DJT’s chaos?
  15. Did I really give all my shorts away?
  16. Is there a conservative ideology any more?
  17. How did we manage to break three wine glasses this weekend?
  18. Where did my pruning sheers go?
  19. Is there a word for ‘bigger and better hypocrisy’  — because ‘hypocrisy’ alone doesn’t get at the epic, malevolent version practiced by Mitch McConnell.
  20. Why doesn’t clicking “Remember me” and “Update Password” work? (i.e. Typepad)?
  21. Why do I click “Remember me” and “Update Password” anyway?
  22. Given the astonishing willingness of the Trump base to believe unsubstantiated propaganda and wild conspiracies, how will we ever move forward?
  23. Now that leaf-blowers are banned, can we outlaw beeping truck alarms?
  24. How can anyone pin their hopes on mid-term elections when no one’s even trying to prevent further Russian interference?
  25. What does Naomi Klein mean: ‘we have to SWERVE’?
  26. What would my father think of my boys?
  27. Why is inverting the truth so popular with the Republicans?
  28. When that ice chunk the size of Delaware melts, what next?
  29. Remember when all we were bracing ourselves for was a kleptocractic moron with mental issues and damning conflicts of interest?
  30. Doesn’t that seem almost quaint now?
  31. Why are the original Klondike bars so tasty and the variations so meh?
  32. Why didn’t I send a comment to the FCC (this was the final week)?
  33. Why are the hollies dying?
  34. How can Jeff Sessions say the words, “war on drugs” with a straight face?
  35. Does Jeff Sessions own stock in private prison corporations?
  36. Do we?
  37. Is vacuuming the garage related to a generalized sense of powerlessness?
  38. Is there a bottom to the contempt and loathing I feel these days?
  39. Is America over?
  40. Why did the Gerber Daisies go crazy this year?
  41. If we were to cash out on this house, where would we go?
  42. What should I do with all the family photos?
  43. Given how much my joints hurt, why am I still eating sugar?
  44. If we don’t cash out on the house soon, will we regret it?
  45. Is America over?
  46. If hope is a radical act, how do I radicalize my outlook?

 

Flash fiction found cleaning up today


Crossing the parking lot closest to the barber’s, Marianne walked through walls of smell. Non-natural. What was it – Desitin? So definite and remembered, nothing comparable — a chalky scent with overtones of cherry life saver. Couldn’t be, could it?

The heat of the three previous days had subsided but not the mugginess. A mass of grey cloud signaled rain, but so far, it held off. The traffic at the corner was obscene — a re-vamped right of way gone amuck. People were up in arms, zinging emails through neighborhoods and sponsoring data collection after the fact. The mayor was gonna have his head handed to him.

In the crosswalk, Marianne looked up to see the clouds spreading out. Or were they gathering other clouds into their mass? Church bells pealed. There was a sense of drama.

Was it just 24 hours earlier — her face crumpled in grief, the vet kneeling in sympathy — that she’d received the news about Ursula’s cancer? Even overwhelmed with the kind of unmitigated sorrow we can only feel for our animals, Marianne recalled her sister’s aggressive question from the day before, “What makes YOU cry?”

Marianne had been tightly unresponsive knowing that any answer would’ve been employed in the undeserved campaign to prove her failings. But she’d also been unable to recall a single instance of recent tears.

“Probably Stage IV,” the vet was saying.

“THIS makes me cry,” Marianne thought, “this.”

Just a few minutes into the wave of uncensored grief came the discomforting certainty that, to put it simply, cost would be a factor.

After hearing the price for chemo, Marianne wailed, “We have two kids to put through college!” The two vehicles in need of repair were not mentioned. The vet continued to kneel and nodded without judgment while Ursula sat between them in a quiet sphinx-like pose. Was the dog merely relieved the muzzle was off and the prodding over or did that posture now include a dignified toleration of pain?

The next day Marianne headed back to the van and wondered how long Sam’s haircut would take. Some days they took you in five minutes. Other days, thirty. That was the summer she coached the boys to say, “I want to wait for Sal.” No one should get a terrible haircut out of polite deferral to the random order in a barber shop.

The rain started its slow pelting after Marianne reached the mini-van. The heat being what it was, she sat with the windows open, letting the splatting drops moisten her shoulder and the window berm.

“What makes YOU cry?”

School had ended, finally, last week. Sam took himself to the barber routinely now, so why was Marianne offering rides and waiting, as if he were twelve? “The spiral of development,” her psychologist friend, Winnie, would chuckle. “Not just the kids regressing before transitions.”

Marianne rejiggered the bounds of dependence in both directions. ‘Here’s a credit card.’ ‘Let me pick you up.’ There was a haunting finality to those weeks between high school and college.

White clouds billowed above maple trees to the east, their curves almost precisely replicating the scalloped canopy below. Then the rain came down in sheets.

What would it be, then, this summer? The sad and inexorable cancer vigil, each night wondering if Ursula would still be breathing come morning? Indulging in trips to the beach, determined to make the summer worthwhile, unsettled by the knowledge that the dog was at home trying to breathe? What comfort could the crashing surf offer when the decision about euthanasia hung above the beach like a scythe and flashed in the summer glare?

They went to the White Mountains in July. Ursula’s last outing. The guys all hiked, while Marianne read a Franzen novel at the picnic table and fed Ursula chips of bacon. If it had been any other year, they would have boarded the dog. Now such a decision struck her as incomprehensible, just as how, at this distance, preschool seemed so radically unnecessary.

It killed Marianne that all those white haired women at the supermarket had proved to be right in the end. How she’d gritted her teeth hearing advice that was as predictable as it was intrusive: “Enjoy it while you can! It’s over before you know it!” Yeah, lady. I’m just trying to get through the next hour, she remembered thinking.

The next hour and the next hour adding up to an entire childhood. The penultimate haircut before college.

What makes you cry?

“The dog will let you know when it’s time,” the vet was saying. Marianne doubted her, but it turned out she was right. Ursula did let them know. The medication helped for six weeks and then it didn’t. Just like that.

During Ursula’s final moments, Marianne fed her nearly a pound of bacon. Her husband choked back tears. The sweet-faced Corgi was lying on a towel the vet had given them in case the dog emptied her bowels at death. Ursula was eager for pork one second and gone the next. Just like that. They wrapped her and the towel in a large swath of red silk. Then the vet showed them a private exit through the lab as a courtesy.

Her husband buried Ursula under the pin cherry out back. They used half of a broken paver stone Marianne and the boys had made ages ago for a marker. The shards of crockery and marbles had been stuck into concrete not quite mixed to last.

And here came Sam at last, looking dapper and ready to meet the world, impervious to the rain.

* * * * * * *

 Note: This is a little too long to be flash fiction.

On another note, I consolidated the plot map into one board. Turns out, it was hard to read over two panels and too much light was being blocked.
And, I did finally manage to download a countdown app. The home screen icon (lower right) gets a red number, as noticeable as the number for unread emails.

If I click on the icon, I see this:

(Those are slave cabins at McCloud Plantation). I still can’t really tell if this is a do-able amount of time to finish. Truly. But it seems to be helping me stay focused, so I won’t dicker with it.

After being called into service to help my sister supply the Salem housing authority with a bunch of documentation on Monday, I worried I might have to move the deadline. Fortunately, the task was a lot easier than expected. When and if she gets subsidized housing, I’ll let my brother pay for movers.

Next up. I plan to break the sections on the board into four chunks. Each will then get roughly twenty five days.

Dogged effort 

I tried to download a Countdown Clock to help me focus on an arbitrary deadline (to finish a first draft). But it’s too complicated, so I’ll just tell you. An October 30, 2017 deadline means I have 109 days left.

That’s pretty sobering and I guess that’s the idea.

A quick check in on progress —

— revising an early chapter when Eliza’s father and his newly purchased Barbadian slave sail back to Antigua, where the Lucas family lives.

“How long would that take?” was a question that suddenly needed answering.

Ugh, I spent an impossible amount of time trying to find out. First, determined the distance between islands was 492 kilometers. Then converted kilometers to nautical miles (a nautical mile = 1.8 km). Then learned that American nautical miles and British nautical miles are not the same and decided not to worry about that. Also decided not to worry about wind speed or direction, in part because I can never remember what ‘a northerly wind’ means — as in, does it blow IN from the north, or TOWARDS the north? (I’m pretty sure it’s the former).

My rough calculation: three days. For some reason, I’d been operating under the assumption that it was an afternoon’s sail.

So, now I need to think about: What else would have been on that schooner? Would a newly purchased slave be allowed to wander about at will? Where would she have slept? If there was human cargo on board, what would it’ve been like for her to see them, chained in irons in the dark hold below? And, if she was unable to see them, would she have been able to hear them? Would she have had any conversations with her new owner and if so, what about?

My character is musing about the power and variety of lies (in part because she understands that the stated reason for her purchase is a lie), but something needs to happen since pure musing gets boring.

Yesterday, I revised a chapter where skunk bones figure heavily. An enslaved man recently arrived on the Lucas plantation in South Carolina, is a trained priest (babalawo) from Ife and grieving a brother who died during the Middle Passage. He wishes to remain apart, hidden, even. But when he finds an entire skunk skeleton, he takes it as a sign that he cannot walk away from his power.