You and Me Together

Clouds spread like spilled cream and filled the little valley of Rice Cove, North Carolina in early October of 2003. Two weeks earlier, I had transmitted a first tentative electronic hello to the world: a blog post using dial-up and flying blind.
Clouds spread like spilled cream and filled the little valley of Rice Cove, North Carolina in early October of 2003. Two weeks earlier, I had transmitted a first tentative electronic hello to the world: a blog post using dial-up and flying blind.

IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO, (nearly a decade), on a mountain top in Rice Cove, near Asheville, North Carolina, when I first heard the word “blog.” Such an ugly little word to have become the source of so much joy, learning, sharing, revelation, satisfaction, and friendship. Blogging uncorked an artesian bubbling up in me that has been seeking the air ever since. Ten years from that first quavery “is anybody out there” post, whatever else I might do with the rest of my life, a passion for writing every day has become the sustaining, joyful core.

Almost everyone who reads this has a similar story to tell about their own blogging journey. We are a small cohort within the blogosphere that’s  unconcerned, unaware, or disdainful of the concept of search engine optimization. We’re high touch bloggers in a high tech medium. Together, we learned how to fly.

Strangely, writing online has given me a practice which has now become the backbone of writing WBOIF (without benefit of instant feedback). If I had a platform to continue blogging, whether a passionate advocacy, or something to share or teach about writing, or nature, or travel, then I wouldn’t quit for anything. Hear me, Elizabeth, Richard, Dave, Wally, Mira, Deanna, Denny, Kathleen, Dick, Gully, Susan, Meg, Loretta, Charlotte, Verna, Cheryl, Whiskey, and Kate? But I believe the next decade for me is on the page; in my scribbles, not the screen.

And so, this is my last post. Sure, you say. You do this at least once a year. Not this time. It’s like molting or morphing; I don’t know what exactly, only that something fundamental has changed,  a natural, organic process, and very comfortable.

I appreciate and salute you. Let’s celebrate ourselves. 

You and I, we’re not tied to the ground

Not falling but rising like rolling around

Eyes closed above the rooftops

With eyes closed we’re gonna spin through the stars

All the way to the end of the world

To the end of the world.

Dave Matthews, from You and Me, the Dave Matthews Band

Turn the music up way loud, feel it, and smile.

All my love.

Article of Faith in a Season of Storm

The last hanging plant I bought was a sensuous, carnelian-colored Bougainvillea. Long tendrils draped and scattered tender petals all summer long. It hung on a wooden contraption lovingly made by my late step-son that, I swear, looked like a huge crucifix built from 4×4 treated wood. Darryl had drilled into the hard wood and installed strong hooks for plants and bird feeders. A tough Christmas cactus hung there, too, along with various bird feeders.

That was 2004, the year Hurricane Ivan made landfall at our near neighbor,  Gulf Shores, Alabama. From our gate, up in the mid-to-north section of Escambia County, it is 43 miles to Gulf Shores. From downtown Pensacola, the distance is only 33 miles; about the same from vulnerable Santa Rosa Island.  That skinny little necklace of land is the gorgeous piece of real estate known as Pensacola Beach.  Any time I drive over the bridge from Gulf Breeze to the beach, a bolus of fear forms in my belly at the sight. That thin barrier island so crowded with high-rise hotels, restaurants, jet-ski rentals, bikini shops, bars, condos, private homes, a school, churches and people everywhere is sandwiched between the placid sound and the unstoppable Gulf of Mexico.

When Ivan hit, Buck and I were in Scotland on the tiny Isle of Arran. My spotty blog archives from September and October of 2004 describe that time. I’ve unearthed an Internet Archive copy of the Pensacola News Journal’s special Hurricane Ivan report here. I never did find the lovely Bougainvillea. The crucifix-looking wood pieces were twisted and partly smashed. Weeks later I found the Christmas cactus container, but no plant. We did find a small, but potentially lethal coral snake in the garage. Lots of things were misplaced, displaced, or replaced.

The middle of hurricane season is upon us. The rest of the country has seen terrible wildfires, floods, and odd land storms that have taken out power for millions of people for days.  So far, our little patch of ground has remained calm. We’re grateful for the almost daily brief thunderstorms that bring just the right amount of rain and ease the high summer temperatures.

A few days ago, I bought another hanging plant. Its true name is  Zebrina Tradescantia, but that ubiquitous purple-striped plant that will grow for even the most black of thumb is commonly known as Wandering Jew. I always liked them. I respect their hardiness and inclination to grab hold with a rootling and call a place home.

For a person who has eschewed gardening for the past 9 years,  I went a little crazy at Publix the other day. I came home with an instant herb garden: Italian parsley, thyme, basil, dill and oregano. There is a space under open wood steps that connects the second floor deck to a ground-floor concrete patio. Grass sends runners into the soil there. Weeds flourish, but the lawn mower can’t quite reach in to mow. It is only a small space, maybe two feet by four feet, maybe a little bigger. It wasn’t much of a commitment to stick those little herb plants in there. But they looked optimistic, and inexplicably made me so happy, that I went to Home Depot the next day, and bought two “Sunpatiens” — a sun tolerant variety of New Guinea Impatiens. They are loaded with pretty white blooms. I also bought two tiny pots of Asian Jasmine, and a great big hanging Wandering Jew.

Yesterday, I went outside in the hottest part of the afternoon, got out the post hole diggers and made a space to move the black iron bird feeder/plant hanger from its place too far away for me to see well from inside the house to a new home inside the fence close to a back window. The ground was harder than I anticipated. Isn’t that always the way? An hour later, sweat dripping off my nose in a steady stream, my hair a frizzy dark cloud, the feeders were cleaned, filled and moved and the Wandering Jew became a housewarming gift for the birds.

When I eventually staggered back inside and got a look at myself in the foyer mirror, I had to laugh. My mother’s voice was clear as a bell in my head: “Mary Beth, you’re as dirty as a pot!” I dove into the pool, my body temp instantly reverted to its mean. I was cleansed and revivified.

The space under the stairs looks nice now. I went out this morning and said a few words to the herbs and flowers. The five-lined skink Buck recently rescued from the house is living there. He spent so much time evading us indoors, I really think he knows me and my habits better than most people. He knows that I may be half a bubble off, but am not mean or dangerous.

Storms come. One may come this season. It may break my sweet Wandering Jew into a hundred pieces and spread it all around the woods. If it does, I know that one day I will walk and find bits of purple pushing their way up from the forest floor. After Hurricane Ivan hit, and we cried over the loss of more than 300 old Longleaf pine trees here, we planted several thousand container-grown seedlings. They were randomly hand-planted to look natural, not like a commercial plantation. These days, those trees are twice my height; some three times.

That Wandering Jew hanging plant is an article of faith in a season of storm.  Despair can take root, but so can hope; so can resilience.

Woman at the Counter, Versions 2 and 1

Note: Version #2 is first.

2. There was only one customer, a woman,  at the counter in the post office when I walked in today to mail a couple of books to a friend in California. I never did see her face, but judging from her jeans, t-shirt and dishwater blond hair pulled back into a pony tail, and other physical clues, I am guessing she was somewhere between 28 and 35.

The main thing I noticed at first was that her voice was soft, quavery. She seemed to be asking the clerk, (a calm, straight-arrow, professional but friendly guy who has been there a long time), how she could rent a post office box and how much they cost. I zoned out while he gave her all the fine print details.  I thought of my virtual friend, a new blogging buddy, a fine young writer who is just about to give birth to her second child. I thought about the serendipity of how birds of like feather seem to find one another to give and receive encouragement and to meet each other wherever we are on the pilgrim path of writing.

Sometimes I think everyone on the planet is a writer, that we are all celebrating the joy of the struggle of expressing ourselves with pen, ink, paper, keyboard, and voice. Tells you what a lovely bubble I live in, no?

The woman’s voice penetrated the vapor barrier of my thoughts. She had come to a decision. “I’ll take the year — no, if I do he’ll get on me — I’ll take six months.”

If I do he’ll get on me.

My spine straightened. I felt a miniature electric drill twisting its way up into the base of my skull.

Note: Version 1 is what showed up as type on the page when I used the Plantronics Calisto Bluetooth headset to speak this post for Dragon to turn into words. It’s painfully obvious that I have a lot of work to do to learn how to frame my thoughts into type-ready speech, and clearly, Dragon and I are at the beginning of the learning curve. The gibberish that resulted is somewhat amusing and undeniably weird.

1. There was only one person in the post office when I walked in today to mail a package for a friend. She was a petite woman somewhere between 28 and 35 years old I never did see her face. I was there to mail the book to a friend that California does not have the baby at night I wanted to share with her what my favorite children’s that had for children of all ages.

She wore a pair of jeans and T-shirts, had newtons medium length blondish sort of hair and the main thing I noticed that her voice had kind of a quaver to it she was she was asking Kerry about the cost of opening a PO Box. In his usual gentle friendly way he was explaining the options. Space it seemed that she was looking at the possibility of six months or a year the cost for the year as it is. Pointed out was more reasonable the risk of the discount at least I think that’s what I heard , and she was weighing whether to buy open a box and pay the fee for six months or to pay for a full year. I could hear the tension in her voice and I could see it in her body language she kind of shifted from one site to the next. FnallyR she said well I think I’ll take the year and no he’ll get on the inside. Let’s make the 669. I felt the kind of an electric Jerrell feeling up my spine a tiny little electric drill, she’s this is that this is really bad for women she went off to the side to fill out paperwork I came to Canada sent a letter to indicate and actually two books and I thought how lucky KVS how lucky I am to be in loving relationships relationships with our partners and and also am reason you are comfortable comfortable financially to the extent that we can could make that decision of whether to rent the box for a year or rectify for six months and certainly not fear going home and having someone get FACT that some mountain biking I talked about this and he he thinks it probably had more to do with justify family finances and her her thanks anxiety about that O

Gleaning

Gleaning — a word that evokes images of fields ripe unto harvest, Talmudic law, feeding the poor, intellectual dumpster diving and a great word for how it is we find what we need to sustain us. I’ve been a gleaner of ideas almost my whole life, never more so than now. I am a gleaner of words.

I saw a guy in Las Vegas who scoured city-provided trash receptacles along the Strip for the mega-ounce grain alcohol, fruit, sugar and ice drinks that come in huge souvenir plastic containers. He gleaned a real score: a more than half-full hundred-ounce container. Judging from his reptilian roar of pleasure after turning up his head and downing a big slug, there must have been a lot of booze in the bottom. Gleaning is a prettier word for this than scavenging.

I’m glad to know gleaning is alive and well out in the bounteous food bowl of California, where volunteers gather to glean the fields after ht harvest and fill up the food banks with lettuce, tomatoes, artichokes and other beautiful food. Urban community gardens have brought gleaning for food to the cities and the suburbs, a lovely sharing.

We’re all a mosaic of bits and pieces we have borrowed from others. Bits of dark; bits of light; reflective bits that help us see the whole.

Shape Shifting

Leafy Shadows move on the scored concrete floor

Dark butterflies find their way

Steel birds rumble the valley

The hawk is always hungry.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?  (from Landslide, written by songwriter Stevie Nicks)

When the Writing Prompt is “Objects”

“Huntsman” - Victorinox Swiss army knife with ...
“Huntsman” – Victorinox Swiss army knife with knife chain and belt clip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rory is a Swiss Army knife created by a drunken evil genius. He is a whirligig of moving parts and a thrower of dice. He corkscrews into the hard crust of the world. He uses the digging tool to scoop out the warm heart of the earth. He is a blunt instrument: loud by temperament, silky smooth by devious intent. It costs him to put a lid on it. Rory is a human screwdriver, violently opening people in places far from where he sleeps, then filing his teeth, cleaning his nails and folding himself up into a shiny package for the corporate board room.  He slips himself back into a well-tailored pocket, ready at a moment’s notice.

When the Writing Prompt is “Trepidation”

It takes W.D. 45 minutes to an hour to get around to what is really bothering him. He brings me vegetables from his garden as a good trade for my listening ear and several cups of coffee. He wears pointy-toed boots if he’s going to town or to the bank after we visit. Otherwise, he wears beat-up old hunting boots and sits down on a porch chair to take them off before he crosses the threshold. Buck says he likes to come as early as I’ll let him so he can have me all to himself while he talks. Then when Buck strolls out from the bedroom, they can have a little visit, too.

W.D. comes in all bluster and hey miss beth, our newspaper in one hand and several plastic sacks of just-picked vegetables from his garden in the other.

He talks about his garden, about stories in the day’s paper and what’s wrong with the guv’mint and all them durn crooks we got in Washington. He talks about his beautician wife, Betty Lou, and the few old ladies left to come to the beauty shop, and who broke their hip, who’s in the hospital, and whose funeral he just went to.

He talks about taking Betty Lou fishing for brim and shellcracker that are bedding and how it did him good to see her catch a few.  I refill his cup. He swivels around on the kitchen bar stool, goes to pee, comes back and sits down again, says “I got to go,” but I know he hasn’t quite had his say.

I’ve learned to just be still and listen as he winds down and gets to it. If he’s brought some purple hull or shell peas, I’ll snap or shell them into a pan while he watches my fingers.

I see what’s on his mind building in the fine tremor of his wide, stubby old fingers. Worn denim sings when he slaps the palms of his hands on his thighs. The sclerae of his brown eyes are red with spidery veins. I notice this as I see his eyes fill with water. We exchange a long look.

“It ain’t good, Miss Beth. I don’t have no energy. I ain’t worth a damn. I think the cancer’s coming back on me.”

He has a knack for timing it just right. Just when he is about to break down, Buck comes into the kitchen from the back of the house, opens the refrigerator and pours himself a glass of cherry Koolaid.

“Morning, W.D. You get some of Beth’s good coffee?”

W.D. makes a quick swipe of his face with his shirt sleeve, gives me a hard look, and just like that, he is all shaped up, full of shit as a swamp owl.

“Sure did, Buck. I brought her some purdy young squash, too, but you cain’t have any, ain’t that right, Miss Beth?”

I reach over and give his hand a quick squeeze. “That’s right, W. D. I’m going to eat every one all by myself. Hey, sweetie, look here what W.D. brought me.”

Buck oohs and ahhs over the vegetables. His wise eyes see it all, but he wouldn’t hurt his friend’s pride for anything.

Man of Mine (a travel trailer saga)

It’s been one of those days where it’s only Friday but feels like Saturday because it’s Good Friday: no stock market to watch, just writing, wandering by the stream in the soft breeze, watching the young hawks watch me back, and now the time out of time evening with ear buds delivering a mix of vintage Van Morrison, Patti Griffin, Jackson Browne, U-2, Santana, and my old buddy Bob Dylan. There’s a small circle of light in the dark study. It’s illuminating my hands. I love the click of keyboard as words appear. Sometimes the love of words is so overpowering I lose control of conscious thought. That’s when the magic happens. You know it. If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely been there.

I haven’t told you about our travel trailer saga. That Santana song stops me cold, but I’ll try anyway. It’s kind of a mundane tale with an interesting ending. Buck is two rooms away working on his book. I can almost see the black ink filling yellow legal pad pages, and it’s a sensual trail vastly more enticing than bread crumbs.

I think this waiting game with the county and the road and feeling like we’ve always been in control and now we’re not quite, led us to a certain impulsiveness, a feeling  of damn, let’s just haul off and do something, even if it’s off-kilter and outside the circle.  Who knows why? We took a big flying vicarious leap into the recreational vehicle sub-culture. We learned about the gargantuan Class A motorcoach, the Class B dolled-up camper van, Class C campers/mini-motorhomes, daunting 5th wheelers with cherry wood cabinets fitted with washers and dryers, and travel trailers of all sizes, descriptions and personalities.

We made the rounds of local dealers and even ventured to a Camping World across the state line in Robertsdale, Alabama. Ran into a super finance and sales guy there named Jim Richards who gave us a tour of their units. He rode us around in a golf cart. Jim’s a good guy, knows his product, and is smart as a tree full of owls. We both agreed. If we were to ever buy one, it would be from him.

We came close, we sure did. Buck did his research, even drew out a floorplan for his idea of the perfect travel trailer. I lurked on a couple of owner forums, joined the Good Sam RV club, and bought a Woodall’s Campground Directory. We had this idea of trailing our own Residence Inn room all over the country. What made it tempting is that we have a 2004 conversion van, 4-wheel drive with a V-8 engine and a towing package. We bought it back when we thought we needed such a contraption to go back and forth from Pensacola to our place in Western North Carolina. That was a few months before the coyotes attacked and killed our pup and we put the mountain house up for sale and high-tailed it back to the flatlands where there are plenty of coyotes but the ground is level and we can see them coming.

Anyway. We have this great silver gas hog with navy blue leather captain’s chairs that seemed to have been born to drag a portable Residence Inn room around.

We researched ourselves blind. We narrowed the field to three models. We learned all the lingo. We got pretty heated up over the whole deal.

And then, Sunday morning two weeks ago, Buck and I walked down to the gate to get the morning paper. We started talking about campgrounds, how it would probably be really nice, to pull in, unhook, plug in, engage the automatic awning, put out a couple of folding chairs, pour a drink, sit down, relax, and “Hi, folks! I’m Stan! Nice to meet you. Where are you from? I’ll go get Barb. The potluck’s tonight. Newcomers don’t have to bring anything. Come on over. Barb? I’m over here!  Yeah, bring my drink over. You come, too.”

I stopped my running imaginary monologue. Buck stopped in the middle of the path and stared at me. I stared back.

“Huh,” he said.

Then we broke into grins, shook our heads, and moved off toward the gate in a slow jog.

So, we don’t know yet what our next act will be. Whatever it is, we’ll have a good time, I can tell you that. When Buck Westmark gets up to something, a girl can have some fun.

low-brow mind candy

Okay, I’ve cleaned the pantry, mopped the kitchen floor, and gotten my head screwed back on halfway straight. Time to pull ye old manuscript out of the drawer and dive back in. Buck has shown me up big time in the completing a manuscript department. He completed the first draft of his novel on Christmas Day, and we’re talking words, baby, somewhere around 225,000. I ought to know, ’cause my classically trained fingers typed every one of them. The boy’s already talking sequel, oh my Lord. But first, there’s the not-fun of editing. Heh — that should keep him busy in his own corner for a few days.

Meanwhile, I’m back on the beach with my characters: Bree Morgan, Jess Harper and a two-legged pond scum named Bo Perlis. Just read this excerpt  and you’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my book aspires to be low-brow mind candy.

Excerpt from Eye of the Storm

Longleaf Shores, Florida

Well, now ain’t love grand. When Bo Perlis chuckled, a nasty sound came out of his mouth, gritty like old coffee grounds. He didn’t sound amused. He leaned against a post, right leg cocked at the knee so that his boot heel rested against the wood piling. Perlis lit one cigarette from the butt of another, and occasionally lifted a small pair of Leica bird-watching binoculars in Bree’s direction for a closer look. He had caught her and the Mayor’s conversation thanks to a small deer hunter’s “bionic ear.” He continued to observe Bree until she got up from the table and walked back toward the parking lot.

Shit. I hate the damned beach. Perlis left the pier and stepped as lightly as he could from the beach back to the asphalt parking area, trying to avoid getting sand in his pointy-toed boots.

He pulled in a few cars behind Bree’s red pick-up truck and followed her back across the bridge. He broke off when she turned in to the gated entrance at Balconies on the Bay, punched the key pad and disappeared from sight.

Perlis drove on a few blocks, and then pulled into the busy parking lot at Sam’s Seafood. He found an open space at the back of the lot beside a scraggly looking scrub oak. His nondescript rental car looked like half the other vehicles in the lot. By now, it was fully dark and right in the middle of the restaurant’s dinner hour. Perlis lowered his window, turned off the ignition and flicked a cigarette butt onto the pavement. Then he pulled out his cell phone and punched in the one number he had on speed dial.

“Report.” The voice creeped Bo out the first time he heard it. It was sultry and breathy like a Marilyn Monroe clone. The client used some kind of voice changer software. Bo suspected the client was actually male, but there was no way he could know for sure.

“I found the girl.”

“And?”

Damn, that come-hither voice was distracting. “Nothing suspicious. Acts like any young kid on their first job. Spent the day at the beach participating in a community hurricane drill; then made out on the beach with the Mayor, got into an argument with him; he left; she drove back to her condo. End of story.”

“Did you say ‘mayor’?”

“Yeah. He looks like a kid, too. Must be the youngest mayor in America.”

“And the argument?”

“Don’t know for sure. Something about her job. It’s real windy out on the beach and I didn’t catch every word.”

“Her phones?” The voice had a slight southern accent, but Perlis couldn’t place the region.

“Got her land line at the condo. No luck yet with her cell.”

“Not a matter of luck, Mr. Perlis. Skill. The cell phone is critical. Nobody under thirty uses a land line anymore. I was told you could do this. Do not disappoint me. Get it done and report back tomorrow.”

That was the longest speech Bo had heard from his client so far, not that he was crazy about the content. “Will do,” he said, and disconnected.

Goodnight, Marilyn. Jeez, that’s weird. Bo put the phone back in his shirt pocket and reached under the seat for the pint-sized flask he kept filled with Early Times. He took a long pull, recapped it, lit up another smoke and drove away from Sam’s Seafood in search of a drive-through double cheeseburger and fries. Bo hated any type of seafood: fried, stewed or nude.

 The End (of the excerpt) — thanks for killing a few brain cells to help a struggling wanna-be novelist.

Word Whittling

The exercise? Write for several minutes without stopping to edit. Pretty basic stuff, yeah?

Write Writing for several minutes without stopping to edit myself.  would be easier if I didn’t have to  Shut up the editor.  (Mother, is that you?) who lives in my head. Tell the truth. Don’t be I am afraid because somebody’s feelings might get hurt. If I die crossing the street suddenly and all of this stuff that I’ve written comes to light, I won’t care because I’ll be dead. Truth is, there’s very little I write about or think about that people close to me would be surprised by. The only negative things I might think or say and only then to myself relate to one person I know, a fundamentalist Christian who treats me like I have already been condemned forever to Hell and why bother speaking to me. If the milk of human kind is in her somewhere, it is not evident. I hold a grudge against her because of the execrable way she treat my late step-son. Yes. He was an alcoholic (recovering by his hardest efforts at the time he died.) Yes. He smoked. She was vicious to him.  I am trying to carve out Carve out a place to write, forcing myself away from the easy distractions of blogging and all the attendant cool techobabble communications gadgets that are out there. All I have now is a pile of unattached the disjointed, shiny bits. I want to Make it whole.

Edited version:  Write without stopping to edit myself. Shut up the editor. Tell the truth. Don’t be afraid because somebody’s feelings might get hurt. I am carving out a place to write away from distractions. Attach the disjointed, shiny bits. Make it whole.