Friday, May 28, 2010

Rain and other random thoughts

I had been irritated this morning to find that we were expecting (yet more) rain in Middle Tennessee today. Yesterday was hot and sticky, over ninety degrees, and I'd been looking forward to my apartment complex opening their pool today.

Today, the weather is cool, and the sky is a pearly grey, and the rain is falling. It's not a heavy rain--the kind of gentle rain that you must think plants look forward to, the kind that you could go out and dance in.

I have...not been reading. I did get (most) of my schoolbooks for summer in the mail yesterday, which was nice, but I haven't opened them yet. Instead, I moved some furniture around into what I hope is going to be a more work and writing friendly setup (it involved putting the computer in such a spot that I have my back to the television). Then I spent some time last night competing with a friend on Write or Die (she won with 597 words in ten minutes to my ~460). Still, I put 900 words down last night, which is not too shabby, and I have a few more scenes sketched out in my head to hopefully keep suspense going a little better.

My plans for the afternoon involve eating lunch, watching Firefly, and sewing. It's only May and the Christmas presents are far from done (this would be last Christmas), but my friends are fortunately not only very cognizant of the semester I had, but also my ability to procrastinate and don't mind. I would ideally like to be able to finish the binding on one quilt today--hand stitching it, and then to machine stitch the binding on the other one tomorrow. Then if that gives me time to actually quilt on one I'm making today, that suits me just fine.

I'd also like to do some more laundry and dishes, neatening up the house before I leave for St. Augustine on Thursday. I always remember cleaning house being an important part of pre-vacation plans--that way you came back, happy and exhausted, to a clean house.

In other good news, my impatiens survived a week with me gone and being thirsty and are bouncing back quite nicely.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


We went to an auction today in Richmond, and I'm not sure I've ever really seen quite such a dichotomy--perhaps quite so many dichotomies--in action at one time.

This particular auction was an estate sale for a woman named Anna Marcum. She was elderly, of course, and from some of the items in the sale, one could tell she'd been in poor health (they sold a hospital bed for about $12.50, I think). The first thing I thought going into the auction was how very sad it was, seeing all of this poor woman's life laid out for public consumption.

Perhaps I shouldn't say that she was a poor woman. My great-grandmother wanted everything of hers to be sold an estate sale, and most of it was. But I still couldn't feel quite right sitting there and watching everything be sold to whomever came in.

A good number of the potential buyers were junk dealers, and there was quite a bit of junk, probably accumulated from the garage. There was also quite a bit of very nice furniture, most of it cherry, a collection of amber Depression glass, and some beautifully handmade quilts.

The woman herself was dead, but there was a flurry of activity around. The auctioneer's voice seemed to never stop, going on and on and on, amplified by the speaker system, and his assistants yelled out to alert him to each bid. People milled about, young and old. One child, still unsteadily walking, toddled around, taking in the noise and the sights.

Part of what struck me was also the dichotomy between rich and poor. This woman had lived during the Depression; that was obvious. Part of this was from the Depression glass; her quilts also showed their age. Though they'd been well taken care of, they were made of the printed fabric that came in feed sacks, and then had been painstakingly hand stitched--stitches so close together than the fabric was puckering in places the way that those old quilts did. Of all the things that I saw there, the only one that I would have bid on was a double wedding ring quilt, but it very quickly rose to $225, which was well out of my price range.

Despite this display of Anna's own economical ways, I could also see that by the end of her life, she was comfortably well off. Some of her furniture was dated; it resembled the furniture that belonged to my father's mother that my great-grandmother kept until she died, veneered stuff that had a curved upper edge to it. Most of her furniture, however, was good quality cherry, the kind that had been bought and made to last and be passed down and used by generations to come. Her sofa and chairs were upholstered in a fabric print that went out of style in the early 80's, but you never would have known that it had ever seen anything more than slight use--my guess is that it was her good living room furniture, the kind that never got used except for company.

There was also a collection of sports memorabilia, UK basketball related. There were two or three scrapbooks, filled to the brim with pages and pages of painstakingly clipped articles about UK basketball stars from the 1940's. I don't know if these were scrapbooks kept by Anna or her late husband, but whoever it was would have been voting for Richie Farmer in the gubernatorial election (if he runs), simply on UK nostalgia alone. The handwritten scores didn't look written in a particularly feminine hand. Still, they were important enough for Anna--who didn't seem to be particularly pack-rattish--to keep for sixty years.

In the midst of this, my fiance came to see me for a brief moment before he had to run off to other things. He picked me up and took me to lunch, and we sat in the Richmond Mall parking lot, sitting on the tailgate of the truck and ate.

It was strange to see all of these things put out, laid out on tables. My mother came away with two small drop-leaf cherry end tables and one of the quilts. It's a quilt I'm not sure I'm going to ever want to use, though. I have no doubt that it was stitched together with as much love as any of the quilts my great-grandmother made, probably pieced on the treadle Singer sewing machine that was in the auction (much like the one we have from my great-grandmother's house). But that love was not for me, and I don't begrudge it, because there is plenty of love in the ones we have.

I have other thoughts, but they are probably best unwritten right now. They are too close and too personal to display for the public, much like some of my things. Though I realize that my belongings are just things, I do not know that I could handle them going elsewhere--though most of those are things that belonged to my old people. Mamaw Retta's hope chest, Mamaw Ree's dresser and the glass dish that holds the marbles from our house, the books that belonged to my dad's mother that I got from Mamaw Fannie's house. I have two small figurines from my Mamaw Puzzle, and I have the cup and spoon that my Papaw Doug would take his coffee in. Mom let me take two framed prints that Mamaw Ree had given her. I suppose the one quilt I have finished, or some of the paintings I have created, or the Willow Tree figurines my parents and fiance have given me are the few items I would not want someone else--outside of my family and friends--to own, the few items I truly care about that are solely mine, have only ever been mine. (And my guitar.)

Perhaps Anna had it right. Perhaps she saw clearly what I cannot--a transient life and things that are not as important as memories.


On one final note, my word count is up to over 11k. Despite the reflective mood I've been in, I've been getting a lot done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nostalgia bites.

And as one of my students so eloquently stated on Facebook earlier today--so do bugs.

The last couple of days have bothered me a bit. Part of it is related to some writing I've been doing, which is only tangentially related. In creating a memory for a character, I pulled out a memory of my own:

Summer evening, the air just barely cool as the sun goes down. My brothers are about seven and three respectively. My father is out on the porch, standing over a grill--probably charcoal, which brings its own distinctive smell. Mom is inside, finishing up corn on the cob. The window in the family room is open, letting the cool air and the sounds of the crickets and the cicadas into the house. Outside, I can hear a dog bark, Mittens, our adorable mutt who loved Steven to distraction. The house smells like cake and icing from the birthday cake Mom decorated earlier in the day. She shooed Steven and I outside to play, but I took a glass of ice water and a book and sat up in the fort and read while Steven ran around the back yard.

If it's close to the Fourth of July, we sit on the front porch instead of the back porch. Dad pops some popcorn in the big pot on top of the stove and and dumps it in the top of the big cake keeper, which serves as a family style bowl for us. Mom pours on the season salt, and the boys and I chase lightning bugs around the front yard while Mom and Dad sit on the porch and rock. The same cool air gives us a shiver as we watch the fireworks, and I am filled with excitement, not just because of the holiday, but because the next day is my birthday, and Mom says, "do you know what I was doing ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen--twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four years ago right now?"

Somewhere, somehow, I feel the cool air and hear the Reds on the radio. I think it is perhaps because my father's old truck had no air conditioning, and he rode around with the windows down and the game on, and I would go with him. Still, somewhere in the background of the crickets and cicadas, I hear the crackle of AM radio and the laughing voices of Marty Brennamen and Joe Nuxhall, and I hear my mother tease my father about the fact that if Dave Concepcion hadn't hit a home run, he would have missed my birth entirely.

These are the days when Steven's best friends are the hordes of imaginary Tiny Guys, when Sam's main mode of locomotion is a stick horse. These are the days when I ride my bike over into Stonybrook to spend time with Paige and Katy, and we make cards on the front porch, and enjoy our American Girl club in the bonus room over their garage. My father works in Winchester and comes home for lunch every day, we visit my Mamaw Fannie after church on Sunday (my father loses his tie the moment we get in the car), our house smells like cake all the time, and I can sit at the bar and watch my mother turn globs of icing into roses. My curfew is not ten or eleven or midnight or whenever I decide to get home, but I must be home by dusk so I am not riding my bike home in the dark.

These are the days before depression and medication and lupus.

Still, the days are not bad. Steven and I drive to Eastern every day--I am eighteen and he is fourteen and we are both sophomores in college. I make the twenty minute drive listening to my own music, while he sits in the passenger seat with his headphones in. Eastern is a place of friends and books and fun times. It smells of that unique dorm mold and mildew that you can only quite detect outside in the spring time, and the fourth floor of the library smells of old musty books.

Last night, I stood out on my porch in Murfreesboro. The air was cool, but I did not hear the crickets sing, or smell charcoal, or hear the comforting crackle of the radio.

Today, I drove the same path home from Richmond to Winchester, but even Eastern is changing. The new science building is a badly needed behemoth.

This afternoon, I drove downtown and found that another bastion of my childhood had disappeared. It was bad enough when the Corner Drug was forced to move out of the building where my Papaw Doug would take me to eat; now it has disappeared altogether. It hurt, deep inside.

This evening, I sat and talked to my youngest brother. He has started a new job, has a girlfriend, has bought a car. Somehow, in the last two weeks since I've seen him, he stopped being a boy and started being a man. But he has been home alone, taking care of Mom, for quite a while now, and he's probably been a man for quite some time. It just took me until today to recognize it.

This has turned into a more lengthy post than I intended, and it's completely un-book-related, which was not my intention when I started writing this blog. But perhaps I needed the catharsis of letting go of some of these memories. Perhaps I needed the catharsis to hold on to them.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I had my wisdom teeth taken out last week, which naturally was an adventure. I'm going back Wednesday for a followup, but until then, I've been recuperating around my house, generally pretty well medicated. Standing up requires a little more effort than I'm used to. As long as I stay sitting, my vertigo isn't too bad.

So during the less psychedelic moments I had Friday, I managed to move my computer over to the couch, one piece at a time, very slowly. That way, if I feel like I need to fall over, I can, right on to the couch, and the cats can get up on the couch with me and take care of me.

I should also send out a huge kudos and thank you to my favorite snarky fantasy writer, who not only drove me to and from the oral surgeon's office, but who also babysat me all day Thursday (and cleaned up cat puke at one point that day too). On top of this, when my oldest cat started having seizures Saturday morning, my friend came and got her and took her to the vet for me, as there was no way I could drive. (The cat seems to be just fine, however. Not real sure what was up--waiting on bloodwork to come back from the vet).

But while I've been recuperating, I've been thinking about storytelling. Part of this is because I have a paper to give at Slayage the first weekend in June on Firefly. My particular topic is how Malcolm Reynolds is a Campbellian hero. Secondly, I've played a lot of Star Trek Online this week, and I've been rather impressed with the way that story lines that were not quite resolved in certain series are being woven into the game. In some ways, the game is retconning a lot of fan explanations for plotholes into the greater franchise universe.

I've also been brainstorming ideas for the other Star Trek game I play, Kepler Station. We've got some interesting plot lines coming up, full of intrigue. I've also been plotting out a book of my own. Not quite ready to give details on that yet, but I'm hoping to actually start putting words down on the page today, beyond the detailed synopsis I have in my notebook.

I wish I could say that I had some grand insight into storytelling, fueled by pain medication and jello, but I honestly don't. The best that I have is a statement about how much fun I have brainstorming plots. It truly is my favorite part of writing fiction--deciding where a story is going to go, how some actions have consequences, how characters will react. I tend to write scenes in my mind well before putting them down on paper, almost envisioning them as a movie in my head. I like it so well, in fact, that I almost hate actually sitting down to write, because I'm having so much fun otherwise.

But every time I read an article by writers about their craft, they always stress discipline. I suppose that means I should quit procrastinating and get to writing. Looks like it's time to break out the Write or Die program.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Book Stack Grows Ever Taller

Because of the torrential rainfall and extensive flooding in the metro Nashville area, I have spent much of my weekend (and today) reading various and sundry things rather than spending time in the library where I should have been to focus on schoolwork. I also need to return a stack of books that seems to be growing exponentially.

But over this (long) weekend, I've read quite a bit, not least of which the aforementioned Being Abbas el Abd. I also re-read Joanna Russ' The Female Man with my post-it note flags by my side, marking relevant passages so I could find them easily later. I did the same thing with Stephen Toulmin's The Return to Cosmology: Postmodern Science and Natural Theology, which was a very interesting book about how the specialization/fragmentation of science during the Enlightenment separated science from theological concerns. Adding that to Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, which outlines the quest of string theory to combine Einsteinian physics and quantum mechanics, and I'm starting to put together an interesting view of postmodern cosmology--something that has been fragmented into many, many pieces, but over which humanity still tries to force an overarching theory of everything.

Somewhere in that paragraph lies the thesis for my postmodernism paper. Somewhere.

In the meantime, I did find time to read Laurie King's newest Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novel, The God of the Hive. It follows almost immediately The Language of Bees, but doesn't have quite the ratiocination (to use Poe's term) that the previous novels have used--it's more in the style of an adventure novel than previous installments and moves much further away from Conan Doyle's Sherlock.

I also read Nora Roberts' newest, Savor the Moment. Yes, it's brain candy (tasty, tasty brain candy), but everyone needs fluff now and then, especially fluff that doesn't require you to parse complex literary machinations. I might have paid a little too much attention to the cake decorating descriptions, having watched my mother decorate cakes for years, but overall, it was satisfying enough. It did make me long for my wedding to get here a little faster.

I've also been trying to put together a list of things I want to read during my copious amounts of spare time over the summer. I know I've got to read Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces again, as I'm writing a paper on Campbellian heroes in Firefly
for Slayage in June. Also on the list is Charlotte Bronte's Villette, as my friend Shiloh gave me a copy of it--it's on my preliminary exam reading list. I'd also like to have time to read Catherine Coulter's Knock Out, which I've had for months and haven't opened; the same goes for Elizabeth Peters' newest, The River in the Sky, which I just bought a few weeks ago. A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book is sitting on my bookshelf looking lonely as well.

I've also had an urge to open up some of my old Nancy Drew mysteries. Most of them actually belonged to my mother, the gray volumes with two books bound into one. They've started to get that wonderful smell that old books get, a musty smell of comfort. I guess the older that I get, the more I want to sit back and remember my childhood and so many, many hours sitting back and engrossing myself in the adventures of Nancy, Bess and George. I always, always had my nose in a book.

Still do.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I'm always surprised when I read a book and it has some incredible relevance on my life. For example, after a visit from Gloria Steinem to my university and a rather upsetting argument with one of my colleagues, I read Joanna Russ' The Female Man for my class in Reading Postmodernism. It's a tale of four women--who might all be aspects of the same woman--moving through life, discovering and deciding what it means to be female.

The last book for my Postmodernism class has been an Egyptian novel, Being Abbas el Abd. Moving past the (postmodern) fact that it has been translated from Arabic into English, it is a book that I found primarily about fear and mental illness.

I should point out that I read Being Abbas el Abd in my bathtub. No, it was not with a lit candle and a glass of wine, as I might have preferred. Instead, I was hunkered down with pillows and a blanket, riding out three separate tornado warnings for the county. (I decided that if I was going to be spending that much time in the tub, I might as well be comfortable, and there is little as comforting as the heaviness of a quilt.) I have a deep fear of tornadoes, a fear known as lilapsophobia, a word unknown to me until today, a fear stemming from a traumatic childhood experience in a tornado.

Being Abbas el Abd is not necessarily a comforting book when it comes to fear--if you want a book that gives you strength in the face of fear, try Dune instead (fear is the mindkiller). But it does present an accurate picture of the cognitive process of someone with a mental disorder that heightens fear. As someone who has experienced that, I appreciated the depiction. It's something that I think postmodern literature does very well, something I also noticed in Chester's The Exquisite Corpse this semester. The fragmentation in the novels mirrors the fragmentation in the mind, and I cannot help but hope that novels like these will continue to help maintain the acceptance we are starting to exhibit for mental illnesses--both the severe and mild.

In the meantime, you'll have to excuse me. I may be spending the night in the bathtub.