Eulogy

This is the eulogy I wrote for my Papaw, Tom Lovingood, who passed away on 10/08/2012.  I wanted to share it with my writing world, because he is so much the reason I am who I am.  I ache for the day I can see him again ~

The dictionary definition of a strong person is, “one of great moral power, being especially able, competent, and courageous.”

These attributes were visible on Tom Lovingood as plainly as the Carolina hat, that always doted the American flag, sat on his head. His strength was so present, I could almost smell it float into the room alongside his Old Spice aftershave. He wore it everyday, and couldn’t help but to spill it onto others.

The Lovingood’s believe in strength because we were bred to do so. We believe in honesty, patriotism, and guts. We believe in grit, imperfection, and hard work. We believe in “I love you” at the end of phone calls, and remembering people’s birthdays. We believe in visiting elderly people who have no one else, picking the runt of litters, and telling the truth even when it’s as ugly as the darkest part of the night.

We do not believe in laughing at others, taking the path of least resistance, or letting people go hungry. We do not believe in humoring people, keeping quiet when we should speak, or speaking when we should remain quiet. We do not believe in strangers, or holding grudges. We do not believe in the word, “hate”.

Of all the things we believe, or do not believe, above all, we believe the things Tom, Dad, Papaw, or Friend taught us. He taught us how to love the way he did, but cautioned us to keep our tempers milder than his. He taught us he wasn’t perfect, but that he told it like it was. He taught us how to be real, and how to remember to check our own actions before someone else’s. He taught us to be people here for other people. He taught us how to live, because he knew how to love.

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Seasons

I woke up this morning to my dog, Scarlet O’Hara, trotting about back and forth in front of the bedroom door, whimpering until she saw me open my eyes, at which time she began frantically barking in that way that lets me know I’ve overslept.  I scrambled to get myself up before ambling down the stairs to get her leash as fast as possible so the humiliating canine scolding would not commence.

When I got outside the air smelled a little differently than it had all summer.  The breeze was still sweet, and the leaves were still hanging onto their green hue; yet the whisper in the air warned of fall.  I could tell summer was about to pack its bags and head to the Caribbean until next April. My mind flashed forward to next month, that by the end will have rendered the first cool day.  Instead of feeling glum like I normally do at this time each year when I realize summer is on its death-bed, I smiled a little and took a deeper breath in.  I was ready to let go of summer…but why?

I started to think about my writing.  A novel is structured with rising actions, leading to a climax, with  eventual falling actions, and a conclusion…clarity of some sort.  I realized I’ve reached the pinnacle of a lot of chaos and change lately.  Like nature, I realized I had reached the height of the heat, suffered through the dog days, and was ready for the transition that would lead to some peace.  Seasons in our lives are structured like the chapters of a novel, and the pages have been turning so fast.

When coming off a season where everything is moving so quickly, sometimes its nice to remember, the season will change.  The leaves will dry up and fall off the trees.  On their way out they will shine in brilliant colors, celebrating, not mourning the end of the season.  The trees know they finally get to shed the heavy leaves from tired branches they’ve carried for months, and find some solace in the cool weather.  When spring rolls back around the limbs will be ready to produce life again, and it will be new life, full of promise for a thriving future.  So this year I’m not going to grieve for summer.  I’m going to bid it farewell and let the autumn foliage have its much deserved limelight for a while.  I will let the tan fade from my skin that maybe got a little too burnt this season.  I will let myself end a chapter, to begin a fresh one in another season.

 

The Nature of Belle Isle

I was poking around on the computer at my mother’s house when I noticed a file with my name on it.  At first I didn’t know what it was, but when I opened it, remembered it immediately.  The top of it said Belle Isle, 1949.  That’s the name of a poem I did an explication on one of the 428 times I went back to school.  I remembered the poem well, and smiled when I looked back at my analysis of it.  I had done a good job because I liked the subject.  The poem was a coming-of-age, carpe` diem themed piece about a high schooler who skinny-dipped with a foreign stranger on a hot summer night in the late 40s.

This poem in particular stuck out to me because it highlighted the uncooked human soul at it’s finest.  It is my favorite kind of tale. It is the kind where two ships pass in the night, yet it makes all the difference in years to come.  It was about a memory, a raw memory…the kind I love writing about.

Two teenagers, from different cultures, who spoke different languages somehow communicated through hyper-sensitive teenage pheromones to come to an agreement that they would seize the moment, get naked, and just maybe have a night neither of them would be able to forget.  They wouldn’t exchange names or numbers…after all how could they?  They would only hang onto the burning rope that was the summer night, then go their separate ways.  I recall the poem was written without punctuation or end-stopped sentences.  Overflowing with enjambment, I could feel the rushed, passionate pace, and my heart quickened a little.  I could feel the energy between these kids. They are soul mates for a moment, the kind of soul mates we all find floating about us once in a blue moon before the real lifetime kind show up, and it’s enough.  Their flesh was enough, their humanism was enough, and their circumstance was enough.

We’ve all had a Belle Isle sometime…that place where we let our nature take over, before the adolescence wore off, and age and time told us to change.  There’s some place in the corner of our minds where the nonsense still exists, and still calls me to write about it.  I love learning about what makes us thrive in that way we do when we’re naive, because that’s who we really are. I love to strip away the bullshit and just look at bare naked nature. That’s where that juice that tastes so sweet to a writer’s tongue lives.  That’s the place that doesn’t know language, though I try to use language to describe it.  It’s the place where a warm body made of flesh and bones simply wants another just like it nearby.  It isn’t about forever, or the other things that have to be present for a lifetime mate.  This is that in between place when we first know we have a pulse, and it pulses for someone else, leading us to them.  Here is to gravity.  Here is to nature.  Here is to Belle Isle.

Swinging from the Brush

I have written about, on several occasions, the special brand of joy I get from watching people’s dreams come true.  Somehow when I see others taking their dreams by the hand for the first time, I think if I get close enough to them, that some of the energy will splash onto me.  It’s like getting close to a waterfall…You know you can’t stand underneath it, but as you near it, the mist finds you for a little taste.

The Masters is my favorite sporting event of the year to watch, partly because of its homage to southern tradition, and partly because it is a breeding ground for impossible dreams coming true.  With 150 some odd contenders, anything could happen.  There’s always some guy out there, in that sea of plaid-wearing men, hoping for his first time to wear that green jacket beside the greats to come.  He knows it’s about as likely as seeing a shooting star, but that the right number of swings will put that shooting star in his lap, and that jacket around his shoulders.

This year’s winner was Bubba Watson, and he let his dream do a victory lap down his cheeks when that last little putt sealed the deal.  However, when he hit the ball off the tee in the second round of his sudden death match, it wasn’t looking good.  He swung that self-expressive pink driver with incredible speed as usual, but it landed him deep in the woods, without that coveted short grass in sight.  At some point or another, in the ninth hour, every human has taken that shot in some way.  To twist the knife, though his opponent didn’t hit a perfect shot, his position was much better.  Some people thought Bubba might have just kissed his victory goodbye.  He was, for that moment, the underdog.

However, the man who had never even taken a golf lesson or watched himself swing on camera, waded into that thick brush with a steady hand, and catapulted that ball out of the heavily staggered trees that were begging to keep his ball away from the green.  He was unmoved.  With an emotionless expression, he shot his dream living in that little white ball all the way to the place the waving flag beckoned him.  Two putts later he was a champion.  He pursed his lips together and looked into the sky, for a moment too spiritual to recount.  Then the tears flowed, paying respect to his dream for clawing its way out of that thicket, and riding the force from his club out of the gates of hell to freedom again.

I can only thank Bubba Watson.  I tip my hat to dreamers who still pursue their dreams when they wake up, when it hurts to fail, and when real eyes are watching all around.  It was beyond inspiring, and was like catnip to me.  I craved what he was feeling, and the writer in me grew thirsty. If he can hit a wild shot from the bowels of Augusta National, I can surely keep throwing my words at literary agents in New York City.  One of those wild swings will, against all odds, land on the right desk.  If I keep knockin’ the hell out of it, with my unique driver and rugged swing, I WILL wear my jacket too one day.  It will just wrap itself around my words instead of my body.  It will have my name on front, under the title of my novel, and it will sit on a shelf next to the ones who have already earned their jackets. It will be my moment of greatness that teases me now from afar.  I just have to remember, I’ve gotten far enough to stand in the hazard.  I’ve written the novel.  I swung the club from the brush.  Now its up to me to sink that putt.

We weren’t meant to live in the brush…we don’t belong there.  We are fashioned by nature to inevitably find the hazard, but we are equally fashioned to rise from it.  We have arms made to keep swinging.  However, we are mortals, not magicians.  We have to organically, with sweat, blood, and tears continue to swing.  Whatever we do, no matter how deeply in the woods our balls are buried we MUST swing over and over.  We were built with a driver inside begging and battling with us, to make it to the green.

What if?

Last week, when the Mega Millions Lottery reached the largest amount in history, I bought a few tickets.  I’d never bought a lottery ticket before, but this time I had to.  First of all, I liked the camaraderie.  There was a general buzz of excitement all around.  This was probably nation wide, but I assume was even more scintillating in The South.  When the idea of “what if”” infiltrates a small southern town people start scrambling around like ants after a single drop of honey…and frankly, it’s damned enjoyable.

There was an energy floating around in its purest form.  It was salt of the Earth, fundamental hope.  Somebody was going to win the pot, and for at least a day, that idea reminded people,vastly diverse people, that we’re all human.  We like the idea of hope.  We like the idea of maybe.  We like the idea of dreams coming true.  It is practically written into the human genome, but it’s one of those factors that doesn’t show up on the scientific map.

At first glance, winning the lottery doesn’t exactly appeal to deep thinkers as a vessel leading to some kind of universal truth about the human condition, but my single day of studying this matter proved the contrary.  It doesn’t matter how seemingly superficial, not to mention unlikely, winning the lottery is.  It was a reason to feed that place in the pit of our stomachs that whispers to us all the time.  It gave us a reason for a “What if.”  We need that…if we knew there was no possibility of an unknown greatness, slumbering somewhere in our lifelines begging to be woken up, why would we care to keep living?  Hope, no matter how big or small, serious or playful takes up at least half of the substance flowing through our veins.  Maybe it’s what makes our blood turn red when it meets oxygen, when it is released from our bodies into the world.  It’s a red-hot excitement for what’s next.  Even people who wallow in their own methods self-preservation, proclaiming hopelessness really have it deep down.  They are just the ones who don’t tell anyone.  It is innate to hope, wired in us to ask, with unrivaled yearning, “What if?”

The Someone I Am

I found a box in my father’s basement.  I was looking for a Christmas card of mine he’d accidentally packed up with the decorations.  I was darting my eyes around the musty dark crannies of the room when I caught a familiar smell.  It was a smell that hadn’t graced my nose in close to ten years…it was nothing fancy, only a candle in a broken glass holder.  However, the smell triggered so many memories that I couldn’t help but follow it just to see what archives it might unearth.  Suddenly I time-warped to 16 years old, listening to something like Audiovent or Finch (which no one would recognize today), pining over whichever boy I was denying I liked, but couldn’t get out of my head.  With the scent of the candle came the fantom smell of a spring breeze infiltrating the porous lace sheers that covered my two bedroom windows.  I was in another place…a young, raw place with many of my beginnings.

I followed the smell all the way to a dusty old box I found filled with general cheerleading paraphernalia, academic awards, school newspapers, posters the underclassmen had made me when I cheered my last game, and assorted flower petals and gummy bear wrappers from a boyfriend I had for about two months that I haven’t seen since then.  Of all the junk, that if put in a blender would produce a live teenager, I found only one thing that really made me think.  All of the things made me smile, but one thing reminded me that under all the superficial things I have always been the same person I am right now.  I was a writer then too.

It was a circular wheel-like construction divided into four parts.  When I saw it I remembered the project.  We were to make a visual representation of who we are.  In one corner were pictures of sunsets, beaches, and misty mountain mornings.  In another corner was a collage of words, written in a whimsical fashion, that I felt described me.  They were words like passion, dreamer, hunger, and dissatisfaction.  In the third corner I had a drawing, which is a little strange, because I’m a horrible artist.  However, if I ever drew one good thing, it was this.  It was a face–mine I suppose, with a hand halfway over my mouth, and only one eye showing…maybe because then I only let a little of me show to everyone else, but I was on my way to exposure and a revelation.  In the last section I only had one central phrase, “I’m a writer.”

I’m so glad the smell led me to that box.  It helped to remind me that I’ve always known what I am.  It’s been with me all along.  Now on days I have trouble finding encouragement, or consider not writing another page because I’m truly scared to pull the trigger all the way on my dream, I have something to pull out of the cobwebs of my past.  I can remind myself that a writer is not something I want to become, but is the someone I already am. It was resting comfortably in a box, but I’ve let it out.  That box called to me, with nothing but a smell connecting us.  I’m so glad I followed that smell of a cheap candle right back to myself…the someone I was, the someone I want to be, and the someone I am.

Observations about Music and Moments

I’ve always loved music.  I don’t sing it, write it, or play it; I just love it.  From the time I was a little girl, one of my most beloved things in life has been hearing an amazing song for the very first time. It incites feelings of newness and nostalgia all at once.  Sometimes a revelation follows, or maybe just a chuckle at the “once upon a time” it reminds me of.

Songs are so, so powerful…they are pieces of poetry, but with tangible rhythms.  Our bodies can actually move to the words coming out. Langston Hughes once said, “Poetry is the human soul, entire, squeezed drop by drop like a lemon or lime into atomic words.”  Now drop a beat behind it…it’s actually a phenomenon the music makes with us.  Sometimes the song is so good it hurts…maybe it sparks feelings of love or longing, or maybe it’s something else.  Sometimes the song is good because of the circumstance, and sometimes it’s good because the rhythm conveys something that leaves us writers a loss for words…the things that are only felt.  Songs are the things that happen when poetry and sound make love.

Most of my favorite songs have a sense of fleeting moments, or “carpe diem” themes about them (listen to about any Bob Seger song for an example).  I think this is because that’s the way I like it; the way I handle my life.  Everyone takes their coffee a little differently…different amounts of cream or sugar or what not.  Life is the same way.  I don’t take it black.  Though I like to see and analyze everything in the raw, I sugar it up with big dreams and the idea that I can only catch them if all the planets line up.  I want my dreams to be like drifters wandering into town.  I want them to be hard to catch, so that not everyone can have them.  I want them to be hard to keep so I stay on my toes.  Most of all, I want a whirlwind love affair with them before they choose to float out of my reach, and mosey on out-of-town again.

That’s just how life is.  Not only my dreams, but my best memories are of fleeting moments.  It is because they are rare, and if we were exposed to the emotion they bring all the time we would crash from some sort of euphoric overload.  The greatest moments have to be fleeting. I’ve heard songs that have time-warped me to instances like watching a sunset in Italy at 17 years old, riding in my first car with my girlfriends, or flirting with a boy on a sticky summer night behind the Chick Fila I worked at as a teenager.  Somewhere in those small moments I found the adult I would become…dreams were born.  The songs remember better than I do.

Maybe that’s why the really great music captures my dreams so well, and stirs up old memories so clearly.  The songs themselves are so quick to pass, but are just like the things they tell the stories of.  They are these small vessels of dynamite.  They happen fast, and render an espresso shot straight to the meat of us…no passing go nor collecting 200 dollars.  They shoot hard and fast, and I’m a sucker for the jolt.  Those little bursts of energy are the fleeting rhythms of life.  It’s the very design of life…grabbing at all the pretty things that swarm around us while we can.  Every moment leaves as quickly as it arrives, and the music knows it.

Writing about Writing

     Lately I’ve been pondering a lot about what made me the writer I’ve both grown to be and am still becoming.  I haven’t been so much as intrigued with the craft itself lately, as how all the planets lined up for me specifically to become one of its pawns.  My wheels had already been turning on this matter when a friend asked me what my blog was about.  My response was that it was just about me in my element, and my journey as a writer. I shocked myself that I answered this way, because I really hadn’t thought of it in exactly that way before. When I began this I didn’t know it would be about that, but I realized everything around me depicts my journey as a writer, and I find it scintillating that as I write this very moment, the voyage floats in the making around me.  That is exactly what this blog is about, and what my life is about.  If my blog is about my life, then it’s about my writing.

      Being aware of one’s element is key in the writer’s we become.  Meditating on the components of those elements and mapping them out is crucial in the growth of a writer.  I think that’s what I’ve been doing all along.  My reflections are just as important in my process as are the actual pieces of fiction I produce.  The reflections give me a bit of a compass to guide my way.  I haven’t realized until lately that instances from my entire life that have seemed miniscule at times have proven to be major landmarks on my road trip as an aspiring author.

    I recently started reading On Writing by Stephen King.  When I asked my husband to get the book for me as a Christmas gift, I was expecting it to be more about King’s process, how he develops characters, what inspires him, and what literary devices he likes to incorporate into his stories.  However, it was more a compilation of jumbled and not so poignant memories of his childhood (so far).  At first I was puzzled by this.  It was very entertaining and rendered me a nice insight to this man’s beginnings, but why was the book called On Writing? It should have been titled, On Stephen King’s Random Childhood.  I really was totally missing the boat…until I was thinking about my own writing in an unrelated instance.  Somehow I quickly moved from thinking about the art of writing to my childhood, and eventually events currently surrounding me.  I realized that this is the process.  The idiosyncrasies we use, the literary tools we lean towards, the subjects we know, and the nature of our characters are all really built in our atmospheres.  Much like dreams, stories are born out of putting all we know, where we are, and where we have been, into a blender and pressing the button.  Out comes our tendencies and our “x” factors that make us unique.  From that blend, made up of a smorgasbord of now inseparable elements, is the writing process.  Reflections are our attempts to sift through the mixture, analyze its contents, and learn more about its origins. From there we are enlightened.  From there we start writing about writing.  From there we begin to know where we’ve come from, and from there we fantasize about the enchantment of where we may go.  Stories are born, new things go into the blender, and we’ve fed that never-ending hunger that keeps our craft alive, and therefore keeps our hearts beating.

Yearning

     The definition of Yearning is, “a deep longing, especially accompanied by tenderness or sadness.”  It is a thing beyond wanting, and even hope.  Think of the crying voice of Bill Medley in “Unchained Melody,” or Martin Luther King Junior’s pleading voice when he begged America to realize his dream…it’s a desire, a knowing, and a far away dream that the one who longs for it will never fully convey to anything outside his own skin.  It is relentless, and cannot be created,and often exists in pure spite of logic.

     I’ve been working on my latest writing project for about four months now, and today I started pondering where these characters come from; a question I’m often asked in regards to my writing.  Even though I’ve always had answers to this question, that usually pertain more to the development of the characters as to the origin, I never actually stopped to consider where the actually come from.  The real answer…they are just there.  I never sit down with a pen in hand with the goal of brainstorming new ideas.  I blushingly admit this, because I probably should do writing exercises more to grow ideas.  The truth is, I promise with all pretensions aside, that these characters have always been with me to some degree.  Many of them, first appeared in glimpses in childhood.  They are almost manifestations of different facets of my own personality.  The common thread?  They yearn.

     At first glimpse it doesn’t seem like I have all that much in common with my protagonists.  The main character in my first novel is a meek, 6-year-old, 19th century southern aristocrat from Brunswick, Georgia.  The lead in my latest book-in- the-works is a poor, 12-year-old white boy growing in the black blues bars of Charleston.  What do I, besides living in the south, have in common with these characters.  The truth is I’m a typical suburban-grown, chain store-shopping, prissy once-upon-a- time cheerleader, technological-age product of modern America.  I’m not a damaged soul trapped in a world of tyranny I can’t escape from (though I tried my damndest to be when I was younger).  However, the thing I have in common with these characters is that we are all yearners.  Emmaline Randall, from my first book, yearns to find her autistic sister who has been whisked away to a sanitarium. Unbeknownst to her, the person she really finds on her journey is the person she is destined to become.  Grant Tilley, from my current project, yearns to become a legendary blues musician, battling all the greats around the era in America that gave birth to rock n’ roll.  Both characters not only want, but need the thing they hurt for.  They yearn, just like anyone who knows passion has experienced.  When I write their journeys I yearn, and what comes out of me becomes them.  They have been with me always.  The details of their lives are different, but with those details stripped away, are souls drawn in the same likeness…mine.

      I’ve said it a thousand times.  I wish I knew the feeling of contentment a lot of times.  However, I don’t know if I could handle not being able to squirm.  I’m never happier than when the hook is looped crudely through the middle of my stomach.  That feeling reminds me that even if I never publish, and only write to an audience of crickets I have known a thrilling hunger that keeps my heart pounding.  The adrenaline alone is worth it. 

     I write what I know…and I write about hungry, bat shit crazy southerners that are half a step from letting the ordinary take them over from simple mental exhaustion.  The only things that keep them alive are the things they can’t sling off their bodies if they try…the things they cannot help but to yearn for.  They, like me, wear them like a bright scarlet “A” front and center, proudly, yearning everlong for the source that distributed them.

The Unbreakable

     This one was a strange Christmas…it came and went more quickly than the others.  People often say age is to blame for the sudden acceleration of time, which is probably true, but not the reason this time.  This year there was a sort of climate shift going on around me.  For once my life wasn’t changing…my husband and I weren’t in the process of moving or changing jobs, or fighting our way out of some sort of chaos like years past.  It was just everyone around us.  There’s been divorce, sickness, death…all the biggies.  There were new faces appearing, and old faces missing everywhere I turned.  I found parts of my traditions scrambled around and torn apart, as if some sinister holiday tornado came through to tease me, leaving just enough reminisces of yesteryear to torture me.  I found myself sifting through the debris as quickly as I could, praying for December 26th to come. I should have focused more on the reason for the season, and the true meaning of Christmas instead of fleeing the day in search of my past, but I didn’t.  Hine sight’s 20/20 as always. 

     However, if I hadn’t been sulking at the end of the night I would have missed out on having my husband comfort me, which is one of the sweetest feelings in the world.  I unplugged the Christmas tree and curled up next to him on the couch.  He put his arms around me and told me it is enough that I’m his…and that got me thinking.  Time will march on…viciously and unmercifully march on, and it will take many traditions with it.  Things will happen.  There will be surroundings I can’t control.  It’s inevitable…and I won’t be able to turn back time or force those around me to change.  That’s why my husband and my God will remain my tradition. I will always belong to them, and it’s enough. I will do my best not to ever resent Christmas again the way I did yesterday…that wasn’t what Jesus wanted for his birthday from me, but that was the gift I brought.  I let the outside forces harden my heart a little yesterday, and today I’m choosing to let it go.

     One other thing sticks out in my mind from yesterday.  In the madness, besides my husband, one other constant remained.  My father got me a beautiful antique book of 19th century British poetry from an estate sale, and a charming pen box with an Ernest Hemingway quote on it.  It read, “The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.”  This gift in particular made me feel so good, because my father saw me in this quote…he sees me as a writer.  My mind reeled other gifts I’ve gotten through the years from people: an early publication of Lorna Doone, an orginal print book of Robert Frost poems, various kinds of journals and notebooks….I’ve always been a writer…I was born with a pen in my heart before I could hold one in my hand…a gift I thank God for giving me.  There’s a tradition no one can take.  So, I am going to keep writing my way through everything.  I will keep a pen in one hand, and my husband’s hand in the other, while I let Jesus keep his hand on me.  Those are the things that stick, and the traditions that don’t break are the only one’s that matter in the end.  There are some things too strong for this world to tear apart or take away, and I know exactly what they are  now.  Maybe I had a Christmas miracle…realizing what’s unbreakable in my life, and knowing which traditions will stand the test of time.  As long as I keep writing and keep loving I will be okay.  Madness may brush me again, but if I return to those things, they will carry me home every single time.  These things aren’t the reminiscences left to tease me afterall; they were the one’s that stayed behind to claim me…the unbreakable.