Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday's Ponder - "How do you pick up the threads of an old life?"

Tolkien, through Frodo asked, "How do you pick up the threads of an old life?"  My question is, "Should you?"  Should you pick up the threads of an old life or should you discard the tatters and begin fresh and new and weave not with an eye to what was but to what can be. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Perfect End to My Perfect Day

View from My Writing Desk
I left Demetri's and headed to Southside to do the trifecta (drop of books at library, cross street to check mail at post office, cross again to pick up a few things at Golden Temple.  Then, with nowhere in particular to be, I decided to go to the Books-a-Million at Brookwood Mall.  I love to go there and camp out at a table by the window, sip coffee or tea, read several magazines and maybe buy a few.  Content has gotten so shallow and even repetitive, I can't spend 5 or 6 dollars unless there is serious content that I can use in my life or writing.

I got to Brookwood too early, so I sat at the tables in the food court closest to the the floor to ceiling windows that give a panoramic view of the small street below.  I like what they've done at Brookwood.  Its like a toy town main street, clean and verdant.  I hope the planned Target doesn't destroy the ambient feel of it all.

I sat there watching a large contingent of elderly folks walking in 2's and 3's getting in their morning laps.  I  pulled a bottle of water from my bag and called my sister, Barbara, in Atlanta to catch up on her weekend - I love cell phones.

At 10, I make my way into Joe Muggs and stake out my favorite table with my bag, bought an iced tea and a raisin bagel, read 5 or 6 magazines, read the last back page essay in Victoria (excellent as usual). One of my essays once graced that back page as did Joyce Carol Oates - not bad company.

Before I knew it, it was noon.  I took the new Writer's Digest and Sage Woman to the front register, but no one was there.  I waited and looked around then decided to save my $12 and leave.  It was noon and a cold Peroni at Brio's was calling my name - good food, excellent service and a view - oh yes.

I left the magazines at the register and crossed the street.  I sat at the bar in my usual place with a view of the fountain, the walk and the street just outside.  I love windows with a view of lives on parade - people passing by wrapped in their own worlds - worlds I can only imagine.

A cold Peroni, bread and olive oil and a steaming bowl of Minestrone later, I order a second beer, pull 4 chapters of my manuscript out of my bag and begin to read and edit with a red pen.

Around 3, I packed it in.  I didn't want to end a perfect day by getting caught in rush hour traffic - it was a Monday after all.

I stopped at Wilson's market to pick up some dos Equis and stopped a moment in front of the straw-strewn empty lot that once boasted a modest 4-plex that was my home.  I continued on to my new home - another #4, albeit a much larger #4 in another Southside 4-plex.

As I reach the top step, I see propped against my door what could only be my 2012 Writer's Market.  It's only 3:30.  I start some soup for dinner and put it to simmer, open a beer and head to the balcony with my Writer's Market, a pad and lots of post it flags.

At 7 I'll eat my soup with fresh buttered cornbread, then retire to the couch accompanied by Jazmine (cat) and the latest episode of Terra Nova.  This was a perfect day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Perfect Beginning to a Perfect Day

A perfect day, yesterday.  My morning pages had fallen by the wayside along with everything else in the 6 months at Mom's since the fire.  I wrote a few blogs about the fire, but I've so much more in me that could not be committed to public view.

I finally decided that the only way to get reacquainted with the pages was to leave the apartment and camp out like I used to do at the old Mill in the 5-points - back when they opened at 6 for breakfast.

This Monday, I chose Demetri's in Homewood.  I got there a little before 7 for breakfast, and didn't leave my little table by the window until somewhere after 9.

Wonderful waitress, Judy.  Good food that would have been perfect had there been 'real' butter for my grits and toast.  The over-egg was perfectly turned w/o a crispy edge in sight, the bacon was delightfully aromatic and crisp enough to crumble into the grits and egg yolk, and the piece d' resistance - a bottomless cup of steaming hot coffee.  But, no real butter, sigh.  There's no such thing as 'better than butter'.  Give me the real thing, or no thing.

But I was there to write and write I did, accompanied by a bottomless cup of coffee and the swirl of amiable conversation around me.  People who all seemed to know each other and talked from table across to table.  The two women in the booth by the front windows who loved my hat and told me so, the elegantly dressed 95 year-old couple who held hands coming and going...

I'll probably go back to Demetri's , but I'll bring a dab of my own butter.  It's not always the food that draws me, but a level of comfort.  Judy was not concerned with turning tables, but giving good service - how refreshing.

Tomorrow - Perfect Day Part 2

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Nine Inheritors

[image]Clare Datnow’s novel, The Nine Inheritors, reads very much like a biography of ten generations as told by a keen-eyed on-the-scene observer. I enjoyed her omniscient point-of-view because I could journey with the characters as they each moved through their part of history.

Readers enter the story in 1790 Lithuania in the small village or shtetl of Valinsk. It is a place long-steeped in a caste system, where the clergy and the learned are considered superior to the tradespeople. Schmuel Rosen is a tradesman. For all his wealth, he is not high on the pecking order of the shtetl and it rankles, for he is a prideful, driven man.

Wanting desperately to rise above his station, Rosen arrives at the idea of commissioning a new Torah to loan, not give, the village synagogue or shul. For Rosen, the new Torah is not a pious act; it is a means of raising his station and that of his family. Datnow waxes very Michener-esque in her descriptions of all things Jewish, particularly the ritual involved in making a true Sefer Torah scroll—fascinating. In death, Rosen achieves his goal. He is buried in “the most prestigious part of the cemetery, on the higher ground of rabbis and scholars.” Thus begins the journey of the Rosen Torah as it passes from one generation to the next, surviving immigration across stormy seas, theft, fire, and more.

Datnow subtly but persistently uses questions in the telling of each generation’s story. The questions are asked and answered variously by each character as they inherit or come in contact with the Torah: If one does a good thing expecting personal gain, does this diminish the good thing, or is the good inherent in the good thing one did? What is the price of inheritance? When is inheritance a boon, when a burden? What is the value of holy writ in faith?

Here, the Rosen Torah is the good thing, that one holy of holies revered by the Jews and believed to be the original words spoken by God to Moses. Here we have ordinary people encountering the Torah. It is bartered, coveted, rejected, revered, and reviled as each person brings his or her own personal history to bear on the encounter.

The snake handler cannot read the Torah, but imagines it has magical powers. The KKK threatens its existence. One man’s interpretation of the Torah’s words causes him to disown his only son. The disowned son rejects any holy writ that causes his father to disown him.

Datnow asks questions to which there are no pat answers, as there are no pat answers in life. The readers may judge, or perhaps ask questions of their own. How could anyone do that? How could anyone think that? What place does faith have in life?

I enjoyed visiting the lives in The Nine Inheritors, while learning more than I ever knew about the evolution of Jewish life and thought.

 Previously published in the First Draft Magazine of Alabama Writers Forum

Friday, August 5, 2011

Roses - a Memory of Mark Roberts

Roses - 4/14/11 Journal - PepperPlace Market
I got teary when I saw the pewter rose at Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Shop this morning. I bought it.  Now I just need to replace my Robert Taylor Rose.

I remember when I paired the plain $14 gray metal rose with the much more expensive, one-of-a-kind handcrafted copper rose that Robert Taylor made. 

Mark came over from across the hall beer in hand - one for me, one for him - for critique and conversation (a ritual we shared for his art and mine).  He took a sip then cocked his head and nodded his approval of the arrangement.  The green vase full of Mardi Gras beads, the two roses, some black Christmas floral from Z Gallery and 2 of my magic wands.

Roses - 4/30/11 - Journal - Magic City Art Connection

I knew Robert Taylor would be at the Magic City Art Connection.  He was, and he had one rose left.  We chatted.  He had heard about the fire, and I told him the rose was stolen from the wreckage before I could rescue it and I was here to replace it.

Roses - 7/30/11 Journal - 10th Place Aerie

Saturday night and I'm in the new apartment. I've driven Mother home after a long day of waiting for movers, moving, and unpacking.  The living room was in place before I left to drive her home except for the most important part - the roses. I no longer have the green vase - stolen like the first pair of roses- during that day just after the fire when I could not bear to climb those stairs one more time.  So, the dollar vase from the Salvation Army will have to do - I've placed the roses in the center and filled it with  to the brim with Mardi Gras beads.

So, I've replaced the roses. At Christmas I’ll see if the black ornaments are restocked, the wands I don't know, the peripherals don't  matter much.  

It is the roses that take me back to that day.  It is the roses that jar memory of one of the sweetest friends I've ever had. I only wish Mark were here to share a beer and critique my new arrangement of roses and my new digs - I think he'd approve.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Museum Throws the Best Parties in Town.

One of the best parties in town was at the Birmingham Museum of Art last night – world class show and a venue that appeals to all ages.  Last night the ages ranged from the very young to the very old – all there for “Who Shot Rock and Roll”. 
The author, Gail Buckland, was somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd in the Steiner Auditorium for her book talk – seats all taken, the crowd stood all around and filled the steps in the aisles.  She started off a little like she was reading from a script, but soon hit her stride, and it was like listening to someone who knew someone you wish you knew.  All the little insider stories she told us that went on behind the photo shoots of some of the most famous icons of rock and roll gave the actual photographs greater context.

As she was wrapping up, I heard the band crank up upstairs on the mezzanine level and slipped out – hopefully unnoticed.  I always sit at the back so chances are no perceived insult to the author there. 
The tables were laden with food and no line, same at the bar.  Fortified with a glass of wine, a bite of fried okra (omg), and a BBQ slider, I climbed to the next level for the show.  There's was no way to appreciate it all.  I’ll have to go back a few times to absorb it all.  These photos are not paparazzi invasions of privacy, these are photos taken with the artists permission.  No deer in the headlights here.  Is it art – yes and more.  I’ve always loved the still photograph and particularly the black and white ones.  These frozen moments of time tell small stories, without having to compete with color. 

Back downstairs to the food and drink, I mingled with people I knew and people I didn’t except to share a table with or sit a moment the white couches of Elvis Lane.  I ended up at a table by the bandstand 5 steps away from the bar with an occasional foray onto the dance floor – I so hope no one got a picture of that.

Without a doubt, my museum membership gives me the most bang for my buck.  They throw the best parties in town:  Art, lecture, food, wine, music - it doesn't get any better than that. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Worldly Goods

Mom cleans my jewelry
What of all your worldly goods do you pull from the charred and soggy embers of your home if given the chance? At that moment, it was just a drawer full of jewelry: some bought at estate sales, some gifted by people special to me. They're not quite diamonds, or even almost diamonds, but they’re diamonds to me.

The Coroner had come and gone, and the young fireman preceded me up the stairs. My door and Marks stood wide open (mine white, his charred black). The entire roof had caved in on both our homes, and we carefully walked back towards the bedroom. I handed him a shopping bag and pointed to the chest of drawers. While he did that, I upended the trunk full of family pictures hoping they would survive, until I could get help to rescue it. I noticed the laundry I’d been sorting and put 4 pair of jeans over my arm.

As we passed the kitchen, I grabbed another ecco-grocery bag hanging on the pantry door. I stepped across the soggy kitchen floor and took the bottle of Tito’s vodka my sister had brought me from Atlanta, back out in the hallway, I took the sparkly ruby slipper shining from the bookcase shelf full of soggy books and put it in the bag.

Nothing else caught my eye, except the tall black statue that was a gift from Mark a year back. The fireman and I descended the stairs, and I was instantly engulfed in hugs. Patti and Ree were there. I turned to respond to a woman frantically asking, “where’s Mark?” My shaking head and face said it all and as she burst into tears, I realized too late, it was Mark’s mother. I felt bad; I felt insensitive, but there are no right words to say that unsayable truth. I still didn’t believe it myself. We hugged; she cried; I cried.  Her husband came, and then more family. They took her home.

I just wanted to get in the car and drive away, too. I still stood with the myriad things that must be done. Give names and details to the fire chief and the police and formally request copies of their reports. They would not be ready for well over a week. Pick up Jazmine from the Parcak's house.

Patti and Ree walked with me to the car I’d re-parked in front of Greg and Sarah’s house. We put everything in the trunk and said goodbyes. I was still on automatic pilot; go to the store for cat food and litter for Jaz, beer, toothbrush, toothpaste for me, pick up Jaz.  They say you can't go home again, but where do you go when you've lost all your worldly goods and the roof over your head.  Of all the offers of sanctuary I had, there was only one real choice.  I poured me a go cup, strapped Jaz's carrier in the passenger seat and headed home to Mom's house in Hoover.

Next: Back to the Scene

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blue Skies & The Kindness of Strangers

As I stood watching the building smolder, the sky lightened and against an incongruously azure sky, the full horror of it all came into focus. The air was cold and crisp and clear and tainted with an unclean smoke. 

Tommy took Jackie, Ms. Louise, her son and granddaughters across the back alley to his house to get warm, and be comforted.

The kind neighbors who live on the street behind us and all around us reached out. The archaeology professors from UAB, offered me coffee and a warm haven for Jazmine, who was now meowing piteously every time I opened the car door to comfort her. She’d been in her carrier for over 2 hours now. I accepted for her. Sarah put their cat in an upstairs bedroom then started coffee, while Greg set up an impromptu litter box, food and water for Jazmine. She was beyond comfort, and simply sat in a warm corner and watched us all with fixed golden eyes.

I sat and drank coffee in their warm kitchen, as we made small talk and watched out their back window to the still smoking embers of my home.

I went back across the alley to get an update from the fire chief. It was 7 a.m. - time to make a few difficult phone calls. As I paced back and forth in the parking lot of Wilson’s Market, I pulled out the cell phone. I didn’t want the family or my friends to see this on the morning news and panic. First I called Mom and began, “first, I’m okay. There was a fire; Mark is gone. You have to call Barbara, Billy, Rick, George and let them know, I’m okay before they see the fire on the news.” She was dumbstruck, but recovered and I hung up knowing she would follow through.

Next, I called my friend Ree. “Ree, you’re the only one I know who knows everybody I know and then some. I don’t want people seeing this on the news first. The apartment burned down this morning. I’m sorry to just dump this on you like this, but yours is the only number I know by heart, and I’m in no shape mentally to make the calls. Mark didn’t make it out.” She lost it for a bit, but then she took charge of herself and said she’d start making calls.

So many unlikely angels: Louie drove up and offered the key to his place in case I needed somewhere to stay. The Parcak’s had offered their spare bedroom indefinitely if I needed it. I had two other offers of safe haven, but I knew when all was said and done, I was going home to Mom’s house in Hoover. 

I couldn’t be still and the firemen were not letting any of us in the building yet. I went back across the alley to Tommy’s to check on Ms. Louise and her kids. I walked back across the alley to ask the fireman again, hoping against hope, if they had gotten Mark out when I wasn’t looking – they had not. “We can’t let anyone in until the coroner comes and goes.”

With those words, words that belong in a CSI episode, echoing in my head, I walked back to Greg and Sarah’s kitchen to hold vigil. 

Next: Worldly Goods

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Smoke Detector Woke Me at 4:15 a.m.

I bought a new rug yesterday – a small charcoal 5x7 to go under my new writing desk.  It was $19.99 at Aldi’s, and I love it.  My old rugs, considerably more expensive rugs, lie buried beneath the charred remains of my once roof in my once home. It’s been over a month now, and I can finally cull all the rambling journal posts from just after the fire.  They were written in late night with a little too much wine racing through my veins or early mornings - I still wake at 4:15. 

On February 12, 2011, a Saturday, at 4:15 a.m.  I wakened to the screech of the smoke detector.  “Damn, did I leave a candle burning?” ran through my mind as I raced down the hall to the living room.  No.  The smoke was coming over and around my front door to the landing I shared with my friend and neighbor, Mark.  I could barely see across the room, as I rushed to get the phone and dialed 911 I tucked my nearby laptop under that arm and reached out to touch the doorIt wasn’t  hot, so I peekedthe front stairs were not an option. 
I quickly pulled it to, and as I passed into the next room closing the living room door behind me, the operator finally answered, “911 what’s your emergency?”   

I shouted my address first followed by we’re on fire, as I slipped on my shoes, pulled on my coat and stuffed  the laptop and purse into a handy Publix ecco-grocery bag hanging nearby.  I couldn’t believe, the operator said, “hold please, I’ll transfer you to the fire department.”  Then the phone went dead - not good, have to hurry.  I was still in motion, shoved my cat, Jazmine, unceremoniously into her carry cage,  and with the bag over my left shoulder and her cage in my left hand, I dug the cell phone out from its resting place next to one of the girls.  I dialed 911 again, as I headed toward the back door. 

We’re on fire I shouted and you just put me on hold. I blurted the address again and as she apologized saying they were on the way, I could hear the sirens coming.  I hung up on her and banged on Mark’s back door, but thick smoke was already pouring out his back door, too.   

Keep moving was all I could think to do - down to the next landing.  I was grateful that the doors were so close together.  I set Jazmine’s carrier down, and banged and screamed fire at each door at the same time.  It seemed forever before either door opened, but they did.  Half awake, Jackie on the left was first.  She ran back to get something, but came back quickly.  Then Ms. Louise, an elderly lady in a panic yelling 'my babies, my babies', ran back into her place to wake her granddaughters and her son who were staying with her. 

Assured, that they were coming out, I took the cat carrier and my bag to my car at the bottom of the stairs to free myself up to help where needed.  The firemen started coming, and I pointed to Mark’s place and told them he was still in there.  The fireman told me to keep back and get to a safer place. They ran up the stairs to get Ms. Louise and the children down more quickly than they were coming and prevented Jackie from returning for whatever it was she wanted to go back for.  

I got in my car and pulled it around by Wilsons Market, to get it out of the way and keep my Jazmine nearby – she was really upset and incessantly meowling piteously. 

Jackie, Ms. Louise, her grandkids, and son were soon there.  While we stood on that parking lot corner by my car, several neighbors came with blankets for everyone. We stood and watched as 3 engines fought the fire. It would take over 2 hours to put it out.  We couldn’t look away; we knew Mark had not made it out.   

Next: The kindness of strangers. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Georgia Bottoms Makes Scarlet Seem Tame

In his latest novel, Georgia Bottoms, Mark Childress introduces readers to a southern belle who makes Scarlet O’Hara seem tame by comparison.

Georgia is the sole support of her family, and she tries always to put her best foot forward to maintain the family image of genteel wealth. That’s hard to do with a no-account brother who’s rarely employed in anything legal and an elderly mother who is losing touch with reality and who daily rails against that “evil Rosa Parks” whom she blames for everything wrong with this new South of 2001.

To maintain her image, Georgia sweats it out every Sunday in a sweltering hot church. She sits elegantly dressed and shod in her family’s pew because she must. Church is de rigueur in a small southern town, but showing face doesn’t mean she has to listen. She considers her manicure and contemplates whether a rebellious Jesus was a Tide fan to spite his Father, whom the preacher assures the congregation is an Auburn fan, as are most of the men in the church. She studies those around her and wonders if they, like she, are just there to show face, when suddenly the preacher catches her attention.

He’s about to repent his sins, and she is one of them. Her mind races; he can’t do this to her. What can she do? What would any southern belle do? She makes it to the church aisle and very convincingly faints dead away.

Thus begins Georgia’s personal hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is epic, but it’s not always huge and larger than life. Some are just like you and me and sweet Georgia Bottoms. She’s facing change against her will, trying desperately to hang onto the status quo, making difficult choices at every turn in a comedy of personal and serious world events that conspire against her and turn her world upside down.

Georgia is making it on her own terms. She’s not exactly Louise Wooster, nor the fictional Belle Watley, but she is a woman with a heart of gold making her way the only way she knows how for herself and her own.

This is a delicious Southern novel full of colorful language. No political correctness here. Stories about real people are rarely PC.

This is a story about endings that lead to beginnings, the face we show the world, and the face that’s true. It’s about knowing when the price of saving face is too high.  Georgia faces that ultimate choice and she shines.

Previously published in First Draft Magazine a publication of The Alabama Writer's Forum.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


old and gray – tired and worn
many died – more were born
much was said – so little done
with the rising and setting of each sun.

farewell to thee with tears we say
and greet the new with laughter gay
so much could, should, would have done
alas, the year was gone and I’d just begun.
and so, I make firm resolution
to do much more by this new year’s conclusion.

© Perle Champion