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The Proverbial Camel

Never let a camel into your home. Give an inch, and it’ll take a mile.
Mary Bob, the Bywater camel, sticking her nose into what isn’t her business ’cause that’s what camels do.

 

Bob Mary, the Marigny camel, trying to worm his way into a bar ’cause that’s what camels do.

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Bob smiles at arriving home

 

 

 

Bob Mary loves on his chicken pal, Fluff Bunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So ends the very short story of the now-famous Marigny Bywater finger puppet camel.

BOOK CLUBS!

BOOK CLUBS!

I’ll be joining several book clubs in the Memphis area during December. TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE makes a great book club selection. Memorable characters. Intriguing plot. Life wisdom. All leads to a lively discussion.

If you’re in the general Southeastern United States, and you’d like Lucinda and me to visit your book club in 2019, use the contact form to give me a holler. We’ll jump on the train and be there. 😉

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

 

Gripper Gloves & Dorky Shoes

So it’s cold in New Orleans, or at least cold for New Orleans. We got a cold weather alert from the weather alert service that usually concerns itself with hurricanes. But this time it was a “it’s gonna be cold-as-hell, y’all” warning. The Citywide Freeze protocols are being activated. When I get such warnings, I have to respond that, yes, I received the warning. It’s gonna by 29 with wind chill tonight. I responded: got it.

Last year when I was in New Orleans during a cold snap, I looked all over the place for gloves. Couldn’t find any. So yesterday when I saw a pair of gloves in Walgreens, I snapped those suckers up. They seemed kind of stylish to me, in a post-modern, chainmail weaponish sort of way. (A little voice in my head told me this might not be correct, but I forged ahead, certain my fashion sense could carry it off.) I wore them over to the kids’ house last night. I showed them off to my daughter-in-law. She immediately said, “I think you have them on backwards.”

Evangeline checking out the new gloves, which, from this angle, look kind of like octopus tentacles

It took me a while to confirm that she was right—they could be worn the other way around—because my sense of direction knows no test it can’t fail. “See?” she said. “They’re gripper gloves.”

I wanted them to be avant-garde textured gloves.

I’m sticking with my approach. Paired them today with the dorky shoes I bought right before my hip surgeries because during that time I needed something I wouldn’t trip in. I fell in love with the shoes. Now I wear them even when I don’t have to.

Yes, I still double-knot my laces

Orthopedic shoes and gripper gloves.

Tom says, “You make your own style.”

 

Here’s a better shot of the gloves. There is no better shot of the shoes.

Evangeline is not as judgmental of my fashion sense as Lucy Gardenia was, but she has her limits

Wait until I show y’all my gold chainmail earrings and post-modern go-go boots, the beginnings of this year’s Mardi Gras costume. You’re gonna love it, I just know.

(Title Censored)

Over the years, my work has been in the grandfathers and godmothers of journals (Brevity, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Image, etc). Then I took a hiatus (I stepped into that quicksand known as “writing a novel.”) A couple of months ago, I decided to jump back into short stories, and—ha!—I got a story accepted for publication. I am giddily happy with my story appearing in this month’s issue of Crack the Spine.

The story is called, “A Nun and a Baller Walk into a Bar.”

It’s the first story in the issue. It’s illustrated with a graveyard. The journal cover is beautiful.

The story is about grief (well, that’s familiar.)

It has a lot of profanity in it. Grief does that to you.

Please click on the link for the story and give it a read.

The Day the Magic Girls Left Town

It was a sad day when the Magic girls left town. The three—a brunette, blonde, and redhead—brightened every party, enlivened every boring Sunday afternoon, skipped every brunch, and danced on every unoccupied table. They were fun girls, the Magics. Each born within twelve months of the other—brunette first, blonde second, redhead bringing up the rear like the bright caboose—they were distinguishable only by their hair.

Plus, the redhead wore less clothes.

She showed her midriff, a no-no in a small Southern town.

The aunt commented on it, the bare tummy. The Magic girls were orphans, you see. No papa and no mama. The aunt fulfilled the mama’s roll, lax as she was, only surfacing every so often to lazily comment on her wards’ inability to comply with social mores. The blonde, arriving at the aunt’s house to request a recipe for cheesy popcorn, heard the aunt’s midriff complaint uttered to the librarian who’d come to reclaim an overdue book. The blonde did not defend her sister. She did not object at all. She pondered and, as the complaint marinated in her brain, it led to a competition. After all, the relationship among the sisters was built on nothing if not extravagance.

The blonde created an excuse to appear in public in a very low-cut ball gown. The redhead, suddenly aware that a contest was afoot, entered a karaoke contest in a sleeveless, backless romper. The brunette, worried where this was headed, began wearing ruffled granny blouses, trying to derail the vibe. It didn’t work. When the local Memorial Day parade rolled around, the blonde appeared perched on the backseat of a Mustang convertible, waving her pale hand, nothing on but a swimsuit. When she smiled, she channeled the ghost of her dead mother, whose head had been bald as an egg.

I forgot to mention. The Magic girls all had the same smile. Imprinted since birth, identical. And, on each one, a crooked left incisor.

One was a pharmacist (the men said “You wear fewer clothes than any pharmacist I know”) and one was a farmer (she grew prize-winning sweet potatoes) and one was a driver long before there was anything known as Lyft or Uber. An entrepreneur in a small town where everyone drank excessively and the local police made the budget off DUI arrests. The tipsy town folks loved the redhead. When their annual festival rolled around, they named her the muse who married Poseidon (the town spread along the Gulf Coast) and crowned her with a seaweed crown. Which she wore with a nude body suit. She looked like a wild naked mermaid.

The blonde seethed with jealousy. The brunette, mourning the closeness that had been, began wearing black funeral attire. A tight black suit with a satin jacket. Black pumps. Half veil. She looked really sexy.

The worm turned.

The blonde and the redhead realized they’d been left behind. Mystery had reemerged. There is nothing worse than being caught without enough clothes on.

The two ignobles decided there was nothing left for them in the small seaside town. They packed their bags. The aunt made arrangements to send postcards. The brunette, so newly enthralled with her ascendency, could not imagine life without a foil, or two. She stuffed black lingerie into an overnight bag and hightailed it to the airport, driving her own car because the town’s only faux-Lyft driver was already at the airport. The three bought tickets to Memphis. New territory to conquer. Bigger but not too big. Land of Cotton Carnival. And a pig festival.

When the plane’s wheels lost contact with the runway’s asphalt, the town shuddered in abandonment. The jet engines roared, and sucked all that had been glamorous right out of their lives.

Not quite all.

For back in town, in a park hosting the world’s largest live oak, on a green-slatted bench, sat a girl with legs as long as that elusive ribbon of highway. The fourth Magic sister. A sleeper.  Ready to dominate. She could tap dance the varnish right off a stage. She rose and walked toward the center of town, her raven hair swishing like fireflies. When she smiled, her crooked incisor glittered.

A fancy illustration to a fanciful story

So, men and women showed up to my book signing with chickens on their heads. They sat in the audience while we conducted the heart of the signing, a “True or Fiction” poll. I read excerpts from TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and the listening audience voted: Fact or Fiction. If the excerpt was actually true, my DJ husband let loose a train whistle (for ‘You’re on the right track’).

My infinitely supportive husband DJ

If the excerpt was a pure product of my imagination, the expert DJ let loose a chicken clucking (for ‘You’re clucked.’)

One of the excerpts I selected was a sex scene. Yep. I went there. I read it, then the audience had to vote if it was true. The scene had to do with taking off your silver lame britches before climbing a ladder into a treehouse. As I read, the room got quieter. A collective sigh of relief rippled through the audience when the scene turned comic.

(ps It was Fiction, though as an audience member pointed out, the bit about the silver lame pants was true.)

Chickens had it going on at the book signing.

Also, an audience member asked me during the Q&A, given how totally funny and hysterical the book was, had I been the class clown growing up? Y’all. I was quiet as a mouse. Totally shy. Extremely self-conscious. I told the woman in the audience I am very introverted…as I clowned around on stage. It gave me pause. When had I gone into comedy? So, right there in front of a room of people (half of whom I didn’t know), I worked it out. I told her I got divorced. I’d been uncomfortably repressed in that marriage. After the divorce, I sprung up like a Jack-in-the-box.

Good Lord. Doing public therapy at a book signing.

I got a question about train travel—woo, woo!

Then the audience members in chicken hats did a mysterious chicken dance and an improv on a chicken’s reaction to reading the book, which ended with a reference to chicken’s singing during sex.

Early, early in my writing career, I attended a writers’ conference in Oxford, Mississippi. It was full of writer panels. The writers were serious, full of themselves, dare I say pompous?  I thought, get over yourself. You haven’t cured cancer. You wrote a damn book. After an accompanying cocktail party, I was walking back to the hotel with my ever-supportive husband and I said, “Please, if I am ever lucky enough to get a book published, dear God, don’t let me turn into a turd.”

Who knew my friends would turn into chickens?

For Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints, go to Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write podcast.

The Dark Spots

I have a wonderful life. My loves, my cities, my writing, those who support me through all my tumbling around. Oh, and hedgehogs—I got to pet a hedgehog at Boo at the Zoo last weekend. Honestly, I could not ask for more. And I also have periods of runaway anxiety and fear.

Me, booing at the zoo

It’s not Mental Health Awareness month that I know of. Nor have I ever been diagnosed with a condition. I have no reason for posting this and telling y’all about my difficulties, except a need to say it.

Partly, it often feels as if social media insists on unrelenting happiness and beauty. (I know this is an old thought, but it’s a continuing issue). Maybe our public mirrors are so upbeat because when joy hits our world, our human reaction is to share it. We are social creatures, more so than we give ourselves credit for. Sharing joy with another person exponentially increases it, almost as if we get to re-live it each time someone joins in. For joy, for ineffable joy.

But sharing sorrow? Fear? Despondency? Where is the joy in that?

As a result, we can get the message that we are the only ones who struggle. The only ones who have no reason to complain—and don’t—but who lie awake at night fearing the crumbling of our world. (Right here I feel the need to tell my mother that I’m okay; it’s just the way it is; you don’t need to worry about my worry.)

The dark spots hiding the light

A new friend was telling me recently about her eye condition that left dark spots in her vision. She began taking eye vitamins and—lo and behold—the spots disappeared. Similarly, the dark spots in my life are purely a product of the way I see the world. They float into my consciousness and, before I realize it, they are blotting out all the goodness. I understand this, and yet at times I can’t evict the dark spot from my brain.

These times pass. I return to the land of light. If you follow the Enneagram, I am a six. Sixes are fear-based people. Richard Rohr thinks there are more sixes than any other type. Fear is verrrrrry common. So, in a way, rather than viewing my dark troughs as failures, I could view my default position of happiness as an ongoing, uncelebrated victory.

In closing (how formal is that?), if you have moments, afternoons, days of overwhelming fear, you are not alone. And, to paraphrase a church I visited once upon a time, “The Universe loves you, and so do I.” Let love prevail.

 

 

Practice makes perfect. Okay, not perfect. But better.

Second time around, the formatting and uploading and approval of the novel went SO MUCH SMOOTHER! A proof copy of MODEL FOR DECEPTION  is winging its way to me as we speak. That’s the print version. I’ll take a look at it, and hopefully it will be as expected. Then I’ll send it out to review services to see what they think about it. If they like it, you’ll hear about it. If they don’t, I’ll bury the reviews, and we shall never speak of them gain.

The BIG PLAN is to release MODEL FOR DECEPTION Valentine’s Day 2019.

MODEL FOR DECEPTION is a cozy mystery. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Vangie Street is older—thirty-two to be exact—when she takes up modeling in the “big city” of Memphis. She loves showing the fabulous clothes almost as much as she loves her pound-puppy Retro, her cute if slightly decrepit Midtown cottage, and her hunky new boyfriend Nash. Life is perfect—until an expensive earring shown by Vangie’s modeling partner Heather Jackson disappears at the Memphis spring fashion season kickoff. When Heather herself disappears, Vangie must use her “clothes whisperer” intuition to puzzle out the truth of what’s going on….and keep her own self out of trouble.

Model for Deception is a cozy mystery featuring fashion model Vangie Street who reads people by their clothing choices. Vangie’s sleuthing insights leave us wondering: what exactly do our fashion choices reveal about us?

I’ll do a cover reveal later. The cover was drawn by Roy DeLeon, a fellow  Paraclete Press author. Paraclete published Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God. Roy wrote Praying with the Body. In addition to being a writer and oblate, Roy’s an artist. He’s very talented. I think the cover for MODEL FOR DECEPTION  is going to be my favorite cover I’ve ever had. I know you can’t wait to see it. <3

Me at Ocean Isle Beach

More to come!

 

Dog Musings, Updated

I fed the plants with fish food today,
and my hands smell like fish gunk.
I turned my back for one second,
and the dog who won’t eat her expensive food
was lapping up the gunk.
I read on the internet she wouldn’t die.
I wrote a novel and gave the hero my
dereliction of housekeeping duties
(my sister once said, “Marcee keeps a cleaner house than you,”
and I silently huffed, she’s a full-time homemaker, I practice law.
But that was the hit dog hollering.)
An old friend told me this week
she remembered my husband from when we stood in the front of the church
and I recited “Ode to Puppy Tongues” while he held my 3 Yorkies.
It was a talent show.
I am so proud of my crazy younger self.
Who needs housekeeping skills
anyway?

the fish food gobbler

In the last five days, I’ve: 

Approved the final back cover for MODEL FOR DECEPTION, my next and second novel I’ll be releasing, and worked with the graphics person on formatting its content and taming a Table of Contents that, when properly formatted, ran on for 5 pages….sheesh.

Finished the final manuscript revisions to THE HART WOMEN, the third novel I’ll be releasing, which I pared down to 127 pages.

Researched how a novel is actually supposed to be formatted (then re-formatted THE HART WOMEN to meet those standards) and began a conversation with the extremely talented artist who will be transforming this story into a book.

I’m not above using my Homeless Champion Award when trying to pitch HARBORING EVIL, which features a formerly homeless man as the protagonist

Visited with a bookseller to see if my THE HART WOMEN idea is crazy or brilliant (and exactly how much does a bar code from Bowker cost?).

Filed HARBORING EVIL: A COOT LONG MYSTERY with a small press, after tackling the thankless job of revising its synopsis.

Touched base with another small press that was considering HARBORING EVIL to see if they’ve made a decision (no response yet).

Me after going to 2 Walgreen’s and a post office and still not finding a usable mailer

Filed THE BONE TRENCH with a small press, this being the novel that was agented until my agent dropped me to join the Foreign Legion (actually, to sell foreign rights) which, incredibly, required 4 trips to 4 different stores/post offices just to find a damn envelope.

Reviewed my Bio for Crack the Spine Journal that will be publishing a short story (which I didn’t know would be used as my contributor’s note so the bio contains NONE of my publishing credits and makes me sound like a dork), only to realize how OLD I am compared to the other contributors.

Revised and filed 5 short stories with literary journals, which includes cross-checking to make sure I haven’t already sent these stories to these particular journals and researching to make sure none of them have bitten the dust since I last submitted on a regular basis about 4 years ago (some had).

Revised 2 outtakes from JAZZY AND THE PIRATES (that became orphaned after I deleted the Jean Laffite narrator from that story) and filed them with 5 literary journals that hopefully will not die before they can read my work.

Set up 2 additional book club appearances for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE—yay! You can listen to the TRACKING HAPPINESS AUDIBLE sample here.

Mailed 2 copies of TRACKING HAPPINESS  to a review service (which, I know, is wayyyyyy late, but I decided to see what they had to say about it and maybe I can use it to the good) and submitted it for an award, I’ve forgotten which.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

Worked with ACX to get the right distribution on TRACKING HAPPINESS so the podcast can go forward (because even if you’re using ACX as the exclusive audiobook distributor, if you’re using the audio content in your podcast, that’s a non-exclusive distribution—okay?)

Worked with the podcast producer of ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE to get a promotional video going.

Fluffy chicks for book signing

Drafted an email to send to my friends begging them to come to the TRACKING HAPPINESS book signing at Novel Memphis in 3 weeks so I won’t be mortified when 4 people show up, but if 4 people show up, they’re gonna get to take home punch and nuts.

Researched audio capabilities at said signing and food/punch at said signing and created a vignette for said signing that will physically represent the theme music from the podcast, “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” (I have a sick, sick sense of humor). 

Arranged to go to a book event this week with the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Gulf, which inspired my next novel on which I am currently reading and researching, MOSES IN THE GULF (which spellcheck, for some reason, thinks should be MOUSE IN THE GULF).

Reading for Moses in the Gulf, which will be set in Mississippi

Began planning for a talk at a creative retreat in March of 2019 that I want to participate in to be around other writers.

The above is in addition to the endless IG, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads postings that seem to be necessary to keep TRACKING HAPPINESS alive. 

All of this is to say that being a writer is so much damn work. And I know I’ve made my job that much harder by deciding to release these novels myself (and in ebook, print, audio, and podcast). And I feel like I’m involved in a marathon, one I set for myself and, of all things, it has an end, which is called MOSES IN THE GULF. I will write this final novel and get it out there one way or another. Then that will be that. 

At least that’s how I feel now. Get the 4 old novels out there (TRACKING HAPPINESS, MODEL FOR DECEPTION, THE HART WOMEN, and HARBORING EVIL). Then get the 3 new ones published one way or another (THE BONE TRENCH, JAZZY AND THE PIRATES, and MOSES IN THE GULF). Then call it quits. 

Or maybe return to short stories. 

But there will be a stop, maybe a soft one, but definitely a stop. 

As if any of us are truly able to plan our futures. <3

 

Adolescence

It is the beginning of time when we were green and transparent as tadpoles. Water moves through our bodies like sand in the hands of the wave. Tendrils of hair—delicate as the feathery gills of fish—flutter in the swaying sea while our legs, the muscles small and tight as pearls, stretch behind us. Plants open and close in the waves.

Alone in the quiet world of shadow and light, we glide, glancing to ripples above. If in play we break the surface, our bodies mix with foam, shining white in the air. Linger in the churning spray and the skin pales, just for a moment, before we dive back into the green. Our hearts beat with tiny clumps of blood. The sun wavers overhead and is worshipped.

In time, you see the child forming in your womb. Born clear, the baby swims on its own. Watch carefully, for the transparent child is easily lost. Air lurks above, waiting to dry out the little one, leave it floating on the swell. Flat, like a painted-on surface without a soul.

The men fight, bored. They play war games, breaking through the glass mirror to encounter the danger of air. Their bodies harden, and our babies are born whiter, firmer, their genes knowing sun and heat.

Our world begins to change. The sea feels heavy, a weight on our arms. The small tail kept since birth disappears. We breathe, deep and labored. The slow, languid turns through the water are a dream of another time, slipping in and out of memory like smoke.

We move onto the earth, dragging babies by their arms. Afraid of the air, we curl on the sand and learn to burn fire in the night. Slowly, we move from the shore to escape the haunting call of the sea. We sleep in fields where tin noises play in the dark. The cool, soft, water life is remembered only when we cry out in love and salt water once again runs through our bodies.

Away in time, the ocean pounds the shore. Dark waves forever lift silt from the ocean bed and pour on shore while earth’s plates crack and ooze. The land lives, but our babies remember the sea, floating in the midnight ocean of our wombs. 

Jesus was an Ally

I’m sitting in church this morning, and I’m getting madder and madder. How much longer am I going to have to listen to that secondary, pitiful account of creation (“poor ol’ Adam—wah, wah, wah—all by his lonesome needed a helper”) and ignore the primary story of creation: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number…” (Genesis 1:26-28).

Why would my modern Episcopal church choose the wah-wah Adam story over the story of God’s creation of “them” “in our likeness”? The church has a choice, and by choosing the wah-wah story over the “in the image of God, male and female” story, we refuse to proclaim from the pulpit that women were created in the image of God exactly like, at the same time as, and with the same blessing as men. Instead, we validate and continue a story where women were only created because of some man’s needs.

I thought of walking out. I truly did. I felt complicit sitting there. (Was this life-long reaction to male-dominated storytelling exacerbated by the recent stamp of legitimacy on devaluing women as evidenced by the Kavanaugh hearing? You tell me.) But I didn’t want to leave my husband’s side, a man I love dearly who would fear I wasn’t feeling well. So I sat in the pew, and, finally, Jesus entered the scene.

The Gospel reading was the admonition against divorce found in Mark 10 where Jesus does the extraordinary thing of extending the right to divorce to women as well as men (“and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”) This was a radical departure from the belief at the time that women were property to be treated as men decided. Then, whoa, along comes Jesus and says, guess what? Women can divorce too. As a woman who divorced a rotten husband, I don’t like the admonition, but Jesus recognized I had the same right (and same responsibility) to divorce as my rotten husband did. How did Jesus get there? Well, he started with the primary creation story: “But at the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” He had to start there because you can’t get to equality starting with the wah-wah Adam story.

Now, I am fully aware that those who are against same-sex marriage and even same-sex love quote this “male and female” language to say, see: it’s only supposed to be male and female. But Jesus wasn’t asked, can same-sex couples marry? He was asked, can men divorce women? And Jesus said, yes, with consequences. And guess what? Women can too.

This is why Jesus was an ally of women. He found every opportunity to say, you blind men, quit judging it only from your point of view. If you want to divorce, understand women can too. If you’re without sin, throw your stone at this woman (this John 8:3-11 story isn’t the generic “don’t be a hypocrite” story it’s been turned into—it’s a specific story about men wanting to control and judge the sexuality of women while letting their own sexual behavior go unchecked.)

Further more, Jesus says, by the way, you women who have co-opted yourselves into the patriarchy? You open your eyes too. Quit telling other women they have to follow traditional homemaker roles (how many specific stories about women’s equality like Luke’s Mary/Martha story have we turned generic so we don’t have to hear the message?). And don’t call my mother blessed because she was a baby-maker; she was blessed because she followed God (Luke 11:27).

Jesus heard the devaluation of women in the question, in the comment, in the action. And, when he heard it, he called it out. That’s what an ally does. He stood up for the equality of women. The church has spent hundreds of years running from and piling dirt on top of this truth about Jesus, and it needs to stop.

As I said to my husband as we exited the church, “The only reason I’m a Christian is because of Jesus.” Literally, thank you Jesus for that.

An Inspiring Cafe

I didn’t use my clothes dryer for two years because of Kristin Fox-Trautman. At the time, I was actively taking Memphis School of Servant Leadership courses. Though much younger, Kristin was further along than I, the leader of classes where I was a student. Kristin did things I so admired, like tracking her carbon emissions and making deposits into a carbon bank when her family took trips. Because of her leadership, I strung drying racks down my hallway in Harbor Town for years, letting my clothes dry naturally, because the clothes dryer is an energy hog.

Back then, Kristin had a dream (don’t we all?) of creating a new commercial venture that upended capitalism. Unlike most of us, she kept at it. She began with a food truck before moving to her long-term goal of a bricks-and-mortar site (a Rhodes College grad who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, Kristin is going to do anything the smart way.) In a few months, Inspire Community Cafe will open at Binghampton Gateway Shopping Center (510 Tillman Suite 110 at Tillman and Sam Cooper) in Memphis, TN. I asked Kristin to tell us more about it.

Opening soon in Memphis, TN

Can you describe Inspire Cafe in a nut shell?
Kristin: Our mission is to provide living wage jobs, hearty and healthy foods, and inspiration for a more just and compassionate community.

And what types of food will the cafe be offering?
Kristin: We’ll do breakfast, lunch, and dinner with an eclectic mix of fresh, healthy, and hardy food. We’re specializing in gourmet gluten-free pancakes at breakfast and quesadillas, fresh salads, and homemade soups at lunch. We’ll have a full coffee bar and fresh fruit smoothies. Homemade pineapple salsa on the quesadillas.
We’ll be working with Carpenter Art Garden to offer a variety fresh ingredients. The garden is a local community garden around the corner in Binghampton with 20 teenagers and local residents managing it. Lettuce, kale, tomatoes, herbs, that type of thing.

Excitement over the coming opening of Inspire Community Cafe

And how does the Cafe meet your mission of inspiring a just and compassionate community?
Kristin: We’ll have opportunities to collaborate for economic and racial justice: shared learning, regular panel discussions, book discussions, and community meetings. We’re focusing on hiring those who have struggled to find jobs. We’ll split about 20 percent of the restaurant’s net profits. 10% to neighborhood-based, goal-aligned organizations that we build relationships with over time and 10% into an employee profit-sharing model.

To return to how we met, how does your Christian faith guide what you’re doing?
Kristin: It is so core. As a person who strives to follow in the way of Jesus and other wise teachers (Gandhi and other great leaders of faith), I think it’s essential to my faith to be a part of creating a community where every person can experience their belovedness and their value. For employees and guests, it’s about creating a space where people feel valued. I connect with God though all these people I interact with.

How did you move from concept to actually doing something, when so many of us don’t do? What was the impetus for that?
Kristin: Seeing people I love dearly being devalued, especially in the economic sphere. They weren’t appropriately compensated for their gifts.

What else can we look forward to?
Kristin: We’ll be offering fresh family meals to go. Our location is a good place for folks headed home from work to stop and get meals for their families. We’ll also have “Pancakes and PJs” on Saturday mornings as an intentional family gathering with kids in their pajamas and live music.

Kristin says she’s learned so much about what it means to be an entrepreneur

How can people help you in this wonderful venture?
Kristin: Patronize the cafe. Tell friends/spread the word. If you have a business meeting or lunch with friend, come eat and be with us.
But also, I really consider the Cafe a learning lab in many ways. So I want people to come and have questions and curiosities—“What if you tried this?” Whether that’s a food item or working with a nutritionist, for example. I’m open to and passionate about people finding their own sense of call and gifts and feeling free and open to come and share those in our space. How might their own gifts and passions intersect with the Cafe? We want to be an employee-friendly company. Do you have opportunities for employees to grow in wellness and financial literacy—come lead workshops for our staff. Pitch your own idea for a panel or book discussion in our space.

Years ago, Kristin said she wanted pallet furniture and dang if she isn’t doing it!

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share?
Kristin: I have a new appreciation for what it takes for any entrepreneur to create a business. Finding the cafe space. Exterior signage. Now when I see the signs, whether hand-painted or whatever, the passion and audacity it took to get that sign up, I think, “That was a lot of work!” And to know how many are so quickly boarded up, it pains me. I can just feel the energy that went into opening their doors, hanging that sign, and I know the failure rates. It has led to a passion: as I figure out how to do this, I want to be an advocate for what persons of color and women entrepreneurs need to get open and stay open. With this massive learning curve, I’m working to cultivate a spirit of gratitude to not be so down on my self for not knowing what I’m doing.

(N. B. When I expressed my great admiration for what she is doing, Kristin demurred.)
Kristin: I want to name my own economic privilege that has given me the privilege and space to pursue this project with room for error and taking risks that most people don’t have the privilege to make. As part of a two adult household with potential for earning good wages, I have the space to take on a venture like this, fail, pick myself up, and try again. There are plenty people with a vision, but through no fault of their own, can’t pull that off.

If Kristin’s story is inspiring you to consider your own food venture, check out an upcoming seminar on food entrepreneur training offered by Co. Starters.  Kristin will be a guest speaker at this 9 week course for food entrepreneurs.

Ps When I told Kristin so many of my followers were from out of the country, she said, “That’s great! They can come to Memphis to see Elvis and visit the Cafe!” (You know you love this woman 🙂 )

Inspire Community Cafe Days and Hours of operation
Monday-Friday 7am-7pm
Saturday 9am-2pm
Closed Sunday

Breakfast
Lunch
Dinner

Opening December 2018

Come check it out and get inspired!

When I decided to be my own narrator on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE, I had no idea what I was getting into. The process has about worn me out. I thought I’d let you, my loyal followers, know what’s going on.

TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is now available for sale on Audible! That’s the good news. Really good news. And, if you’re not a current Audible listener, you can listen for free with a 30 day trial. (That sounds like an Audible commercial, but I like my work to be available to everyone, even those who can’t pay).

The bad news is that, at some point along the way, I chose exclusive distribution with ACX. I can’t have exclusive distribution with ACX because I’m using the audio content as Season 1 on the podcast ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

I confirmed that this use—even though it’s not an audiobook—requires non-exclusive distribution. Fortunately, I realized this mistake within 45 seconds of the book being approved for sale on ACX. (Yes, 45 seconds; the ACX rep, Jessica, said, “I see where it’s just gone up today…right now.”) So, as we speak, sweet, kind Jessica is switching the distribution to non-exclusive, and we will delay the launch of the podcast for a week or two until I get a confirming email from Jessica that all is back to where it should be.

So.

Despite the hype, no podcast launched on Friday. 🙁

Despite the lack of hype, an audiobook launched on Audible. 🙂 Annnnnnnd. It’s free with a 30 day trial.

TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is also still available on Amazon in regular ol’ print book or ebook. You can also get to the audiobook using this link (because ACX/Audible is an Amazon product).

I feel like I have learned soooooo much with this venture. And it is cool to see that audiobook button next to the ebook and paperback buttons on Amazon. But I will be glad when I can go back to writing. 🙂

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

 

I alternate between super excited and terrified. That’s because it’s both hilarious and super embarrassing, this new podcast I’m about to release. 

I mean, a print or e-book is one thing. The reader is safely tucked away in the privacy of their own home, curled in an overstuffed chair, giggling as they read.

Logo for the new Podcast

 With an audiobook, I’m talking to them. My voice is saying things out loud. I am present as they experience my words. They know how I sound. They know ME. It is so personal. That is the mortifying part. 

At the same time, the podcast makes me giggle, and I already know the joke.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

 Season 1 of Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write launches Friday September . Season 1 features Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Each episode has 3-5 minutes of deep background on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. The actual chapter follows. So: me introducing a chapter, followed by the chapter itself. Like an audio book with benefits. Some writer talk. Some truth or fiction? talk. Some random outtakes. Lots of Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints.

And, most amazingly, the podcast features an original musical theme written and sung by the incredibly talented Corinne Alexander Sampson. “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” If you can’t stand my writing, if humor in a book makes you wanna barf, if you’ve hated me since you first laid eyes on me in the 5th grade, you need to listen to the podcast to hear this theme music.

Season 1: Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Join single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins as she takes off on a wild—if slightly ribald—cross-country train ride to clear her dead daddy’s name from a drug scandal erupting at the local fried chicken joint. Hopefully along the way, she’ll discover the secret to happiness. Spiced with Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints. It’s all good. 

See, hilarious and also I might die of mortification (which is kind of redundant, since mortification is death).

Find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places.

But there’s no stopping it. We’re gonna do this thing. Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write will be found on the Oam Network, iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places. I’ll share the URL Friday.

Prayers against Extinction

A storm is churning toward the North Carolina coast and Ocean Isle Beach in particular where I have gone every summer since I was in the 11th grade, and the hurricane is threatening to tear it to pieces. And then I open my emails to read an article about male sperm decreasing in fertility by 50% since 1973 and warning us that the entire human race is on the path to extinction, and now I’m so sad I can’t lift my head.

I’m weeping at the nail salon because the man doing my nails is kind, and he and his are going extent. On the way home, I almost swerve into the Waffle House, and then I know I’m falling into despair because the Waffle House calls to me to cheer me up when hope blackens. I need a donut and coffee or at least some coffee if I can’t take the time to wander the aisles of a secondhand store, which soothes my tattered soul almost as much as the Waffle House.

Back home, I’m weeping on the phone with the woman who was to board Evangeline had we made it to our vacation this week, our conversation filling me with fear for her 2 horses and many cats and rescue dogs and “three dogs of my own.” Unable to evacuate, she will ride out the storm in her cement building and pray for the roof. Unless, as the warnings grow more dire, she changes her mind and some kind soul creates a caravan for the living things she has in her care.

I tell my husband about the sperm destabilization, and he asks, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?” and later I ask him to stop watching the news because there is nothing we can do about the coming destruction or protect my daddy’s beloved state from a predicted “Mike Tyson punch,” and we cannot will away the inland path that may arc upwards to Raleigh where my sister waits with her candles and water or southwards to Charlotte where my sister protects my mother in the retirement home, and, lord, I can’t even write this without tearing up.

So maybe the winds will stop spinning entirely, just give it up, decide we don’t need a wall of water spreading like a plague 50 miles into the Tarheel state, and the bastard storm will go home, reverse its winds and back its rotten self out to sea, satisfied with the electrifying fear it has created and not need to deliver the final blow. And maybe the epidemiologists are wrong about plastics and chemicals genetically altering the maleness of the human race to the point of extinction and whatever has caused our fertility worldwide to dramatically decrease will resolve, and I can quit acting so dramatic, my sorrow bleeding onto the page.

Maybe, in the long run, all will be well. Well today, well tomorrow, well next week. Well forever and ever, amen.

The Intracoastal Waterway at Ocean Isle Beach where we’ve vacationed since I was in the 11th grade

Baby Groot, et al.

As I was talking to my grandsons about my crush on Baby Groot (and sharing a video to prove how cute he was), it occurred to me that this is not an aberration. The boys will remember that I love the bug band (officially known as the Fiesta Trio) in Dora the Explorer (“Gogi! Come quick, it’s the band!) and correctly conclude that I have an affinity for small adorable critters.

So here’s a list to prove my life-long attraction to adorable non-human bitties that began with the bug child from the Pogo comic books, which I so loved in the sixth grade I sewed it into being with leftover fabric and stuffing. (Surely that gives me extra credit on the aptitude test for commitment.) In fairly chronological order:

  • Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh Dough Boy. My dad who was in the grocery business actually got me a vinyl Poppin’ Fresh doll exactly like this one; if nothing else, I have family who loves me.

    Poke him in the stomach, and he giggles
  • Chilly Willy, the penguin who cries ice cube tears in Bugs Bunny cartoons. My sister gave me a sweatshirt with little Chilly Willy embroidered all over it; I wear it every Christmastime. (see above re: family who loves me)

    He’s sooooo cute
  • Potbelly pigs. I never got one, stuffed or otherwise.
  • Hedgehogs. I once adopted a hedgehog at the Jackson Zoo. His name was Reggie. As his adopted parent, I got to pet his tummy. I’m not gonna tell you the rest of the story ’cause its sad, and this is an upbeat post.
  • Mothra’s fairies. These cutie-pie twins who summon Mothra with Mothra’s Song are my all time favorite movie characters, other than Godzilla of course, and excepting my current crush on Baby Groot.
  • And, as the one outlier to “non-human,” I include the E-Trade baby, remember him? He was the cutest thing, though connoisseur that I am, I only liked the original baby.

Baby Groot is actually a refinement of my “small adorable” attraction in which I’m particularly taken with “small adorable and odd.” Here’s a photo of my Halloween collection. You’ll see the level of my devotion.

Those green monkeys are erasers. The pumpkin is a snow globe. This is but a small sampling.

Similarly, my unconventional Nativity scene is full of odd but adorable critters.

What my crèche looks like. Note the hedgehog. And put-out duck.

My cousin the psychologist once walked through my house and asked what my extensive collection of odd critters said about me. I have no idea. But here’s a National Geographic article that says while the attraction to baby-like creatures relates to nurturing and protecting, the odd factor morphs it into simple joy. I can go with that. 🙂

Happy Sunday!

Early on in my writing career when my mom read something I’d written, and she didn’t know quite what to make of it, she would graciously say, “You are sooooooo creative.”

Well, now it’s official.

I’ve been included in Sandie O’Neill’s conversation on creative women. You can read the interview on Sandie’s Licence to Create website here. The website’s tag is “weaving together the threads of a creative life.” Which I love because she’s a weaver. 🙂

Wander around while you’re there. Her fibre sculpture is amazing. Check out the other conversations too. You’ll be inspired. Reading how others navigate creativity reminds us that the way we do things is, in fact, unique.

Oh, all this cyber talking is taking place clear across the world in Australia. So, yeah—if you follow the link, you can read “spruik” in a sentence,

peace in creativity, y’all

Sandie and I “met” when she read my book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God

Crack in Time

In the fall, in the South, time stands still. In the South, in what we call fall, dust settles on the roads, climbs onto forgotten porch swings, drifts through open windows to curl on tabletops. In the evenings, the cicadas thrum the air and in the mornings the shelled bugs kick, flat on their backs, dying. The lazy days bleed yellow while the last of the tomatoes slowly rots on the vine. Stepped-on grass bends double and cannot raise its tired head.  

We gather ourselves from our inertia and hit the malls. Feet that ran bare all summer squirm into penny loafers and Sunday patent leathers and tennis shoes with red flashing lights. Parents study the flimsy tops that don’t cover the bellybutton and remember when “Back To School” meant $10 dresses from Sears. In our day, notebooks were black and white, speckled and sensible, not fluorescent pink. Back then, when learning was a serious business, plastic change purses squeezed to show lunch money’s nickels and dimes, and paper towels weren’t considered a school supply. In those days, all the world lay ahead of us, burrowed inside a new school year.

Back in the quietness of our houses, we deflate beach balls, stow away rafts. We tell ourselves we’ll clean everything good on Saturday so it won’t mold in the basement dark. But by Saturday we’re checking football schedules, ready for the boys to enter the field. Ready, too, for picnic baskets that tote deviled eggs and ham biscuits and chilled white wine and sterling silver forks because who wants to eat with cheap plastic? 

But Saturday is a ways away and in the meantime, we’re left restless. Too early to plant the mums, too late to do anything about the curling leaves of the Vinca. We wander the house, and in that crack in time that opens in the fall in the South, we long for clean coloring books that allowed our imagination to dream an orange bird with a sky blue beak and a red tree with polka-dotted leaves. We long for fresh notebook paper that smelled as delicious as the wrapper of an ice cream sandwich. For sidewalks that safely guided us, and plaid dresses that billowed in the morning breeze, and fallen leaves that rotted and reminded us that even though summer had been snatched from our grasp, Halloween would arrive and oh, lord, what creature would we be this year? 

When we’ve gotten old and rickety in our ways, we ache for the time when life began anew just because a page had been ripped from the calendar and now the date said September. We can as our days have added upon themselves no longer see the easy way to winter, and we tumble through the hiatus in time that opens in the Southern fall, and there we spin, free-falling into the past. 

(This essay first aired on WKNO-FM in Memphis, and I believe I’ve posted it here before. But each fall rolls around, and I want to read it again. It may become an annual thing. 🙂 )

an uprooted tree on the banks of the Mississippi River

Step Down, Facebook

Facebook, I don’t like your tone. You’ve taken to sending me messages declaring, “The (insert current number here) people who like Ellen Morris Prewitt: My Very Southern Voice haven’t heard from you in a while. Write a post.”

Note the arrogance. Not “Perhaps it’s time to write a post” or “Are you interested in connecting with your followers today?” but an imperative order: “Write a post.”

The very idea.

I don’t need this kind of bullying from an inanimate program.

What, one might ask, is it to Facebook if I post or not? Well, when I do write a post, they bombard me with suggestions that I boost the post. How do you boost a post? Buy a paid ad. $. Yep, that’s the root of this intrusive, commanding nonsense.

If I don’t immediately buy an ad, the FOMO psychological tactic is released. “OTHER people are boosting posts like this,” Facebook whispers. “Why don’t you try it?”

When I ignore the enticement, FB turns its back and saunters away. “Oh, well. Don’t blame me when every other author on FB has millions of sales and your poor literary baby lies neglected, crying and starving for attention.”

FB is tough, tough.

Though at times it can choose flattery. “Nice work!” it chirps, reminding me of my response to the grandson’s pooping. “Your post is performing well.” Then the veil of sincere congratulation is ripped away, and the knife of cold, crass profit is thrust into my soft flesh: “Boost it to reach more people.”

To repeat: Boosts are ads. They cost $. They make FB $. It’s all about the $.

FB bullies me about “Likes” on my page too. “So-and-so reacted to your link but doesn’t like your page yet. Send him an invite.”

Send him your own damn invite.

Plus, I don’t think they know what the hell they’re talking about. I guaran-damn-tee you some of the folks they’re telling me to invite already like my page. But I can’t actually tell you because they provide me aggravated data, not names. (If you know this to be incorrect, please tell me, ’cause then I’ll find out who really likes my page and harass the hell out of those lollygaggers to get with the program. Kidding.)

Oops, erase that last rant. Sooner or later, FB is sure to do exactly what I’ve said: automatically send an invite to anyone who reacts to a post but hasn’t liked the page yet. Unaware it’s an automated program harassing them, the recipient will assume I’m a needy, grasping person, and then I’ll blame FB, and then they’ll think I’m not only needy and grasping, I’m a whiner person who shirks responsibility too.

So, yeah, I’ve spent the last two days drafting a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Model for Deception: A Vangie Street Mystery, the next novel I’ll be releasing, and it’s an exhausting task that demands you jump from details to big theme analysis, and I’m taking out my frustration on Facebook.

Sniff. Might not do it if they were nicer to me.

Enjoy this great chicken swag a friend sent me in response to TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

In Mississippi, We Pull Over

For all its fun and foolishness, TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is a story of a young woman coping with grief. Lucinda Mae’s dad died two years before the novel opens. Losing her dad threw Lucinda’s life off track, as it were, and the cross-country train trip hopefully will set it to rights. As I’ve shared on this blog, grief is a recurring topic of mine. My dad died when I was three; grief comes up a lot in my writing (even my first book, Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, arose in response to the grief of the tragedy of 9/11). I’ve also mentioned I’ve been reviewing old writings and sharing them here with you. Those two rivers converge with this short essay I wrote during the 19 years I lived in Mississippi: In Mississippi, We Pull Over

In Mississippi, when a funeral passes, we pull over. Even if you’re only going on down the road a piece – I’m turning right there, at the BP station – when you see the daytime headlights and the hearse, you ease to the side of the road and wait.

The reaction is more uniform in rural Mississippi. There, everyone remembers: it’s rude to pass a funeral. To keep going like it makes you no never mind. To act as if death is unimportant, as though the passing of one of us doesn’t matter. That’s just not the way it’s done.

While you’re stopped by the side of the road, you count the cars as they pass. If it’s a long procession, you may, deep inside yourself, marvel at how many folks this fellow got to come out for his going-away party. If the line is only three or four cars, rattletraps full of rust and tired looking folks, still: you pull over.

When I was a teenager, away from Mississippi and living in North Carolina, I rebelled. I wanted – fervently desired – for funerals to be held only at night. I did not want to be sucked into the grief of strangers, did not want it flung in my face: this person is dead. Ambulances, too. I wished they would stop screeching their death-and-destruction news, shattering the sunlight with tragedy, interrupting the lives of those of us who had no choice but to listen. I was, shall we say, sensitive to death.

Now, where I live in Memphis, people sometimes give me angry glances when I slow down and pull to the side of the road. Like I’m a nut case. I do it anyway. And sitting there, as the last ride on earth passes by, I’ve been known to tear up. Because all of us pulled over, we anonymous people in our anonymous cars and anonymous trucks, we are stopping our busy modern-day lives to honor the dead. Not because we knew him nor because we admired her. But because they are gone and will never pass this way again.

The special way New Orleans honors its dead

 

Given Where I Started From

Kind folks keep congratulating me on the release of my novel TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and inside myself I think, I self-published it—where is the congratulations in that? I did successfully get an agent for the novel (a long time ago), but he wasn’t able to sell that half-baked version. Later I had another agent extremely interested in it (“you have the makings of a literary star”), but I wasn’t able to revise it the way she wanted. Finally, I gave up and revised it myself and published it myself. The novel is the making of lemonade out of multiple failed lemons.

Then I remember.

I remember the first time I was able to add a second sentence after the first, and it made sense.

And I remember the first time I strung two paragraphs together, rather than writing a series of images bumped up against each other that asked the reader to narrate the white space between.

And the first time I wrote a whole page that flowed—a whole page!

And the first time someone (my sister—I’m telling you, I vividly recall these moments) referred to my work as a “story” rather than a “piece,” because I —finally—had learned to write a narrative arc. Which means “this happened, which caused this to happen, then this happened.” A beginning, middle, and end. A plot.

From my earliest scratchings, I had description out the wazoo; my characters were unique; dialogue was a breeze. But plot? Message? The “why are we here?” of it seemed so self-evident to me, I couldn’t understand why the reader didn’t see it too. But I came to accept they didn’t; I had to write it. So I sloooooooowly learned how.

This was the trajectory for me, a college-educated, well-read lawyer who wrote big, fat applications for a living. But my creative writing began with the creation of descriptive images that had to grow tendons of narration before they accomplished more than leaving folks scratching their heads (which I must admit, they sometimes still do: people ask, where do you come up with these things? The only answer I can give you is, that’s my brain.)

And now I’ve published a 300-page novel, which is the word we use for a long story that starts and moves forward and ends (I hope) satisfactorily. So, okay. Given where I started from, I’ve come a long way. Truth is, my having published a cohesive, entertaining novel is sort of a minor miracle.

So thank you for your congratulations. I much appreciate it.

Not content to simply exonerate her dad, Lucinda wants to reinstate his “Be Kind to Chickens” philosophy of chicken management.

 

All the Way From Canada!

Please enjoy this kicking review of Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure found on Susanne Fletcher’s Wuthering Bites blog. I am thrilled Susanne compared the comic dialogue to P.G. Woodhouse, whose Jeeves collection I long ago fell in love with and read in its entirety (how one gets so lucky as to be compared to a beloved writer, I don’t know.) It’s an extra special bonus when a review quotes some of your very own favorite lines from your book (“…a woman who represented everything I was not: sophisticated, voluptuous, and a really good speller.”) A well-written review is surely a gem unto itself.

If you haven’t discovered Susanne’s Wuthering Bites blog, take some time to look around. She is a great creative nonfiction writer, a true wordsmith who combines spectacular turns of phrase with insights that make you nod in recognition. I have followed her for years and thoroughly enjoy her work.

As an extra special super bonus, if you follow the link below, you can enjoy a haunting rendition of Gordon Lightfoot singing “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which, yes, is relevant to the review. Happy reading!

“Tracking Happiness”

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi.

Uncultured Smells

MEMPHIS AS BABYLON

Traveling North Parkway with the windows open, I drive through a scent, and my head jerks in memory: a cracked sidewalk with weeds springing tall; a blossoming hedge that smelled so sweet. That’s all I remember, but it’s enough to keep me searching for the bushes all spring. Along roadways, on vacant lots, in other untended places, the hanging Ligustrum drapes the city like weedy Babylon. With the nonchalance of a woman tossing her hair to course water before wrapping a towel, the May branches weep cream, almost colorless blossoms. 

“Noxious” the garden manuals call the smell and advise us to await its departure in June. My nose has never been compliant. 

MALATHION MARATHON

Mississippi summer nights in the 1960s, dusk descending on our block, we run behind the fog machine. The orange truck, spraying for mosquitoes, idles down the street, hitting every yard, and my sisters and I are right up underneath it, breathing in, holding the burning in our lungs, breathing out—the heavenly smell!

The dense smoke plumes white, the motor chugs. The evening descends around us, the thrall of summer stretches just beyond our reach. We weave inside the fairyland down our block, then—Mother said just our block—turn and trudge back home.

Behind us, mosquitoes drop dead in droves.

PLANTED LINSEED

On Sunday afternoons, on our drive to Mamo’s farm, we cut through the poorer section of town. The linseed plant rises full of steel tubes and open-air wires. We kids tumble to the car window, roll the glass, gasp in the oily smell. 

A thing I loved: leaning out of the car as Mother slowed for the linseed plant. But sometimes when we drove and rolled, the linseed plant was shut down, and there was no smell. Disappointed, we wrapped our fists around the crank and slowly closed the dividing window.

TEARS FROM HEAVEN

A rainy day descends on the farm. Restless, we run outside as soon as the rain slacks off and discover the tarp over the tractor. The onslaught has filled the green tarp with water, wetting the mud below. We slosh our hands through the warm water, pat the fat belly of the tarp as if it were a beloved water baby. We squat and shape the slick mud into doll plates and saucers, our noses full of the clean mud smell. The caramel clay curves and molds; the tiny dishes sit sweet. The scent of the canvas tarp is as strong as an animal hide.

When we return the next day, the water has soured. Dirty moss furs the belly of the drained tarp. The dishes are no more. We don’t go near the tractor again.

ROSE-STAINED GLASSES

All grown up, visiting a tony Memphis flower shop, I walk the dampish aisles. Expressing leaves reach from pots and kettles and man-made bird’s nests. As I venture deeper, the musty earth and growing smells close rank as if the floor itself might crumble to dirt. I bend to smell the red roses. 

“Now, roses aren’t going to smell,” the clerk says.  

Excuse me? Rose hand cream and rose body powder and rose eau-de-toilette, all thick in the outer vestibule of Mamo’s country Methodist church? The old lady smell that wafted the sanctuary, burrowed into the oaken pews, colored the rose light streaming through the cheap stained-glass windows? 

Since when are you telling me roses don’t smell?

MADISON STREET AT THE RIGHT TIME OF DAY

Hit Madison Street at the right time of day and you’ll slam into the yeasty hotness of the Wonder Bread factory. The scent billows like a cloud through downtown Memphis, spreading to Monroe, Adams, Jefferson Streets. I inhale and recollect: one time at Mamo’s Sunday dinner I ate seven Brown-N-Serve rolls. In this new, adult city where smells give way to concrete, the white bread factory provides an unencumbered memory.

Or maybe not. Turns out, the wages paid by the bread factory are crumbs. The workers picket. The smell stops. For weeks, the streets run blank while we hunch along, cobbling life together best as we can in an arid world.

FINALLY AT THE RIPE STAGE

“Those puppies stink,” my husband says, so I take the dogs—finally at the ripe stage where I can bury my nose in their fur and sniff deeply—and reluctantly hand them over to the groomer. No, do not perfume them, I recoil. Bows, that’s okay. 

Outside my wintertime house, the Mississippi River sinks low, the thick river smell rises high, and I step into the brushy bank to get close. You have to be near and stilled to smell it. I use the dog as my excuse. She sniffs the tips of leaves, and I peer down the slope through the angled tree trunks, searching for the moldering scent of narrow, matted pecan leaves and a play house that never lost its raw lumber smell and knit hats tight on heads. Only once every seven years did it snow and bring out the sleds that crunched on ice that slicked because it melted fast. More normally, it was a cold too wimpy to scare a soul and bare fields of swinging vines with the cool rot of lake mud and the slick part of the branch exposed when bark the color of coffee peeled away, and the bark stuck to your gloves and the vine’s nasty thorns must be slowly carefully plucked from your sweater or the vine would grab again, loathe to let you go. 

Like a woman stepping into the hidden current of the river, I move through my days, desperately seeking my known world of uncultured smells. Yet, you cannot hold on to scent. I must wait until the end when I am embedded in the coughing aroma of incense, the bitter scent of a chrysanthemum blanket, the wormy aroma of turned earth. And, finally, when all is over, I’ll sleep in the thin, clean aroma of Ligustrum, weeping over my grave.

The weedy bank of the harbor by my old house on Mud Island in Memphis

(This essay is another of the old essays I wrote a while back and dutifully sent off for publication and received warm gushes of praise in return but no offer of publication. I’ve decided life is too short to keep them sequestered in my computer. If one person enjoys the words or grasps at their own flickering memories, I’ve succeeded in doing a good thing. – ellen)

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