Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Waiting Game

While waiting to hear from Herself re Miss Birdie's book, a scene from Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (one of my favorite listens of all times) comes to mind.

"Do you have any brandy, French cigarettes, or worry beads?" Dirk asks and, on being told no, says, "Ah, then I shall have to fret unaided."

I am fretting unaided.
Only fair, as Herself had to wait six months, past deadline, for me to get Miss Birdie to her.

Here's a little something to pass the time. I talked a while back about Maira Kalman and her book The Principles of Uncertainty. This is her charming take on the Inauguration.

Possibly better than worry beads.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The World Made Straight

Yesterday, after a necessary trip to the recycling center, the P.O., and the grocery, I came home and frivoled. I lay on the sofa by the fire and read Ron Rash's The World Made Straight -- a book that's been awaiting me for months.

It's beautifully written, as are all of RR's books, but, for me, the bonus is that it's set right here in Madison County -- and the names and the settings and the people are oh so familiar.

So familiar that I'm very glad I finished Birdie's book already. Rash's Travis and Dena bear a whole lot of similarity to my Calven and Prin. But then, we are writing about the same place, even if I call it Marshall County.

Possibly my favorite supporting character is the cold-bloodedly vicious Carlton Toomey -- the marijuana grower and drug dealer who puts on an ignorant hillbilly act when talking with the big-city drug dealers, but can actually speak Standard English and enjoys doing crossword puzzles. Oh, and he sings gospel with an angel's voice.

Toomey is a pretty horrible person but he's a fine example of the fact that few people are completely good or completely bad.

The historical fact of the Shelton Laurel Massacre plays a major part in this story. Our county gained the title Bloody Madison during the Civil War mainly because people's sympathies were divided. The mountain folk, for the most part, were not slave holders and, seeing the war as a rich man's war, wanted no part of it. No matter -- when NC declared for the South, many were conscripted, others hid out, thus setting the stage for a neighbor against neighbor, even brother against brother struggle.

And as Rash's book points out, memory lingers.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bare Ruin'd Choirs

. . . yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73

Shakespeare's comparing himself, as an aged man, to a winter-bare tree. It's a pleasant metaphor but a little unkind, in my opinion, to the trees. Personally, when I look at trees in winter, I'm aware of the latent strength, just waiting to burst forth in buds and leaves.

Even the old black willow that leans across the road in front of the barn, in spite of its requiring support to remain upright, is just marshaling its reserves to add another foot of crooked growth this year.

The three river birches below our house, finger-diameter whips when I planted them (fortuitously below our septic tank) over thirty years ago, are beginning to show a reddish tinge -- and if you put your hands to their trunks, you can sense the cool, damp sap within, ready to rise and start the riot of Spring.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

La Montagne des Secrets


Oh, my word! This is almost unbearably cool! Quelle hoot, in fact.

I received my copies of the translation of Signs in the Blood in the mail today and have had so much fun, with my (very) limited French, trying to see what Sophie (the translator) has done.

Somehow, I take a childish delight in seeing the snake handlers transformed into manipulateurs de serpents, the hippies on Hog Run into les hippies du ravin des Sangliers; Little Sylvie (Petite Sylvie) 's chamber pot into un pot de chambre en faience decore des fleurs rose . . .

And when they use strong language! Phillip says, at the beginning of Chapter 12, "Nom de Dieu! and "quelle blague!" He seems so . . . so French!

I am loving this -- thank goodness Miss Birdie is out of the way for the moment and I can amuse myself.

They did a great job with the cover, I thought. I had to look twice to make sure the photo wasn't one of mine -- there's a very similar old building down at the bridge.

"une riche monsieur du Tennessee"

What fun! Thank you, Sophie!!!
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Doulas

It's been a long road (to shift from the birth metaphor) and we're not there yet but I want to thank the folks who have served as doulas (to shift back to the birthing image) during the labor and delivery of Miss Birdie's book.

Doula is from the ancient Greek and means 'woman who serves.' Nowadays, doula refers to one (often a professional ) who provides support -- physical and/or emotional -- to a mother before, during, and after delivery.

I am blessed in my many doulas . . .

My husband has endured night after night of my creeping to bed and often waking him long after he's fallen asleep; he has taken over the chicken chores and most of the vacuuming; he's made popcorn and pizza, and has seen to so many other odds and ends that I have left undone. He has been very patient with this prolonged labor of mine.

Justin and Claui have pitched in by cooking dinner at crucial moments and by taking up the slack in untold other ways.

All my family and friends have kindly overlooked the perpetual faraway look in my eyes that tells them I'm thinking about the book rather than listening to what they're saying.

Ann, my agent, and Kate, my editor, have been encouraging when they had every right to be impatient.

And no one has said what I'm sure they were thinking "Are you ever going to finish that wretched book?"

And you all -- my constant commenters -- have been the best cheering section imaginable! Now that the baby is delivered, I'm eager to get it cleaned up and presentable so that you all can meet it.

Consider yourselves godparents.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Miss Birdie Flies the Coop

I feel like putting on a fancy hat and singing -- Miss Birdie is in New York in the capable hands of Herself, my redoubtable editor!!!!

I spent all day, checking over the pages, removing typos , fixing this and that, and correcting formattting and at 5:30, through the miracle of email, Miss Birdie flew from my messy workroom to Herself -- and I got a confirming email to say that she was there!

It seems like time for a celebratory adult beverage.
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Back Soon

Still proofreading -- PLUS there's a birthday dinner to fix tonight for Justin and Claui. Posts may be sketchy for a day or two.
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fun with Picasa

Driving into Asheville yesterday evening for dinner with a friend, I was reveling in the joy of being away from the laptop and my messy work room. I took a few sunset pictures from the highway but none came out exceptionally well so I've had a little fun altering them with the Picasa program.
This below is taken from the moving car and then tweaked for color saturation and sharpness.

More fooling around. Picasa is a free program for managing your pictures that also provides some fun options for messing with your photos, cropping, altering color, changing focus and texture -- all kinds of artsy effects.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

At Last!!!

The past two days have been hellish, for me and my family, as I struggle to finish The Day of Small Things aka Miss Birdie's book. John cooked dinner (pizza)Wednesday night and Justin made minestrone last night so that I could really concentrate on the closing chapters and the tricksy part of tying a bunch of different stuff together,

My room is a total disaster area as I haven't allowed myself to stop even to pick up paper that misses the recycling basket.


Between 9 am Thursday morning and 3:30 am Friday morning, I have written 6, 306 words. The book is 117,125 words long. I think I like it but what do I know -- it's four am and I may be delusional.

I am at the end. I have finished the book. I will spend a little time proofing those 6,306 words and on Monday morning will email it to my wonderful, long-suffering editor.

Then I will begin to clean the house.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Maya Angelou

Here's Maya, speaking on Obama.

With thanks to Jon for the link.
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A meme was going around recently asking what makes you cry and I replied, not much. But yesterday's inauguration provided image after image image that made the tears well up --


-- from the massive jubilant throngs of people
celebrating in the icy weather . . .

to Aretha Franklin belting out 'My Country 'tis of Thee' . . . to a stellar quartet that included Yo Yo Ma and Itzack Perlman performing the old Shaker tune 'Simple Gifts' . . . to the Rev.Joseph Lowery's stirring benediction . . . to shots of people celebrating, not just around the country but around the world . . .

to this picture a friend sent me, that seems to sum up the hope and the promise of this new beginning . . . I spent the middle of the day with tears of happiness in my eyes.

Some folks said they just weren't much into watching all the carrying-on -- even though they'd voted for Obama. Just swear him in and let him get to work, they said. And that's the way I've always felt -- before this. I've never been remotely excited by an inauguration -- even Kennedy's when so many of my peers in college were wild with joy.

But this -- this election is this is the first time EVER I've gone so far as to send money and put a bumper sticker on my car.

It began merely as a fervent desire for change in the White House -- but the more I paid attention to this guy, the more I liked him. None of this Messiah stuff, just a pleasure in listening to someone who was intelligent and seemed rational.

It was only after his election that the magnificent historical implications of his heritage really began to sink in. You see, I remember the separate water fountains, the bitter racism of George Wallace,Orval Faubus, and their ilk, as well as the more polite racism of almost everyone I'd ever known.

I remember the separate plate and silverware my grandmother kept for the use of the black woman who cleaned her house and cooked many of the meals.

So, yeah, I was touched and amazed and joyful yesterday, seeing it all play out against such a backdrop of joyful folks of all shades. I kept thinking things like . . . Wow! . . Mine eyes have seen the glory . . . Nunc dimittis . . . that I have lived to see this day.

It's not the man, though I like him and hope he'll prevail. What had me on the verge of tears at so many times yesterday was the magnificent spectacle of our land beginning to live up to itself.

We're not there yet -- but it's a fine start.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From Every Mountainside . . .

A few days after the terrible events of 9/11, a neighbor down the branch painted this flag on his barn. Since then it's been a long, sad time for our country.

Our new president embodies so many hopes, so many dreams -- and he faces as dire as mess as any president has yet had to deal with. So many giddy expectations -- so many naysayers poised and eager to find fault.

That's me over there with the giddy ones -- delighted to see this day. I wish I could believe that Obama had a magic wand to deal with all the problems facing our country but I know that one man didn't get us in this mess and one man can't get us out.

It'll take all of us.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Day

How perfect that this Martin Luther King Day finds the first African-American President-Elect waiting in the wings for tomorrow's inaugural! As one who remembers clearly the days of separate and unequal, I am so happy to be here to see at least part of King's dream coming true.

No doubt you'll hear and read King's "I Have a Dream" speech many other places today. But, oh my goodness, what a speech that was! For soul-stirring rhetoric, I believe it's right up there with The Declaration of Independence -- and like the Declaration, well worth reading aloud, just for the pleasure of hearing the words roll like thunder.

This below is the often quoted conclusion.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!3

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