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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 HAPPINESSto 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.
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.
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).
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
On the flight to Jerusalem, I watched my Israeli seat mate, a seasoned traveler, do a nifty trick with her contacts, using no water. I followed suit, and two days later I couldn’t see out of my right eye. Of all things, one of the priests on our trip had been an ophthalmologist before taking his orders. “The human eye,” he said, “is the fastest healing organ in the body. But it needs to be covered up.”
Again, in a tumble of coincidence, one of the other priests in our group was blind, the result of a high school accident that severed his optic nerve. He produced a black eye patch. I put it on. Moshe Dyan was reborn.
Of all the sights in Jerusalem—a city filled with extreme costumers—apparently nothing was as odd as a white woman wearing an eye patch. Crowds parted at my approach. Staring abounded, as did laughter. At age forty-eight, I learned what it felt like to be made fun of for a physical difference. A schoolboy spied me in the window of the tour bus and pointed, doubling over with laughter. Then he poked his friends so they, too, could howl. “You look like a model,” one of the women in my group said, because I had cut my hair so very short for the trip. Not to the little boys, I didn’t.
Most surprising, though, was the effect the patch produced on the notorious groupings that make up Jerusalem’s Old City. The city is visually divided into tribes. You can tell who belongs to which tribe immediately based on their clothing. The Palestinian women wore monochromatic pantsuits. Orthodox Jewish men were draped in black with their distinctive beards. Armenians tended toward traditional dress that complemented their blue eyes. We Americans were well-recognizable in our typical tourist attire. My black eye patch acted as a talisman of acceptance, or at least tolerance.
When I misstepped (literally) and bumped into someone, the automatic gesture of annoyance interrupted itself mid-expression and became a hand blessing. Jew, Muslim, Armenian concentrated to figure me out. Who was I? Why was I wearing a patch? I was no longer a Christian, American, Westerner. I was a chick in an eye patch. I will not forget the bright eyes of the Muslim boy who wanted to sit beside me on the stone steps to find out who I was, discover what this new and strange thing might be.
Within my own group, I shunned the obligatory souvenir photographs. Why did I want a reminder of this? But my friends clamored, “We need you in the picture!” and I relented. Now I have a photo of myself in a limestone café at the top of a hill in the Old City. A pensive look bathes my face, as if I were listening to the far-off call of the city. In the background, the Dome of the Rock gleams in the sun. It is, for me, the image of Jerusalem: a place where God was rendered human.
I have lived in shock for a year. I could not believe that a man who put himself at the center of the universe and tore down everyone around him in the ugliest manner possible had been elevated to the presidency. The vote of my fellow and sister Americans sanctioning his behavior felt like gaslighting, an attempt to convince me that all I saw in him was not so. I have spent the last twelve months searching for, and latching on to, evidence that I was not, in fact, deluded but was right about him, which evidence has poured forth like the proverbial floodwaters.
I’m done with that. I was right. And I’m moving on.
I have my own little red God wagon to take care of. By which I mean, my most important duty is to try to discern the actions God wants me to take, and take them. Every second I spend confirming and reconfirming and confirming yet again that the president is a bigoted bully is time spent away from my work.
The year wasn’t wasted. It’s made me struggle with my own reactions. To parse my very personal anger at a man I don’t even know. To understand how hate-filled public policy gets adopted. To identify exactly who I want to support in the political process. To put the onus back where it belongs: on me.
And what is the next step for me? I have a voice, and I intend to use it in the way I have been given. I will publish work about grief and homelessness and racism and God’s love for the world, the categories I use on this blog to describe who I am. I guarantee you, not a one of them will align with the president’s beliefs. That won’t matter. What’s important is that they will align with mine.
One winter day, I was walking through the parking lot at Laurelwood Shopping Center. Laurelwood is a safe, comfortable place. I was in my late 40s. A woman stopped me. She was gray-headed, probably mid-60s. She grasped my arm and, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, fixed me with her gaze and said, “Young men are going to jump out of the bushes and rape you young women, the way you dress.”
My dress was a black turtleneck sweater dress. I had on black opaque hose. The sweater dress had long sleeves. I wore suede pumps. The pumps were complemented by a suede pocketbook. I probably had on dark sunglasses, but maybe not.
I’ve been trying this new boro sewing, which is a form of reverse patching. Unlike normal patching, the patch is on the inside of the tear and the stitching on the outside. This exposure of the repair job really appeals to me. Here are my ripped jeans repaired when I decided the rips were getting out of hand.
Never one to let an opportunity slip by unappreciated, I next turned to a vintage burlap sack I bought from France when we first moved to New Orleans. I had stuffed the sack with an ordinary bed pillow—large—and used it as a bolster pillow on our sofa. It didn’t last long. The burlap began to shred. I was forced to give it up, though I loved the look of it. Now I saw a chance to save the sack.
Here are my supplies. I chose indigo thread because I liked the indigo with the burlap, and it matched the cut up old jeans I was using as patching. Plus, the indigo seemed kind of French to me, an appropriate companion to the French sack. The boro thread requires a large needle, not pictured. Turned out, the white thread wasn’t needed at all. A boro thimble is optional.You can see the small leather thimble in between the scissors and indigo thread. The thimble is worn on the inside of the middle finger. I love the leather thimble.
Here’s a close up of the thimble
Here’s the stitching up close
Here’s the first patch underway
The sack turned out to have more rips than I remembered. And it was more wrinkled from being packed away. But, what the heck—I needed a project, so I persevered.
I love the look of the contrast stitches
The project took longer than I thought. I sewed for a while. Here’s the final product.
Was it worth it? The sack can’t be actually used; the rips would continue to appear. But I can arrange it high atop a wooden chest in the new beach house. The floors of the house will be blue. And the accent color will be indigo. And I’m kind of into faux French things these days. Here’s my new hair do, which a friend described as a French journalist look.
So, I’m glad I did it. My sack will be usable until it isn’t. That, to me, is a success.
Our five days of babysitting duties completed, we restarted our day with “second breakfast.” It being Carnival season and all, we chose this as our sumptuous second breakfast treat.
Then we hit the road to Bay St. Louis, a small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast forty-five minutes from New Orleans where we are building a beach house (have I told you that?). We pinned down the paint palette for the outside of the house (for joy, for joy!)
and we toted home wood samples for the kitchen island and kitchen table—don’t you love physical objects? There’ll be no cabinets in the house, except lower cabinets around the stove. We’ll be using a simply designed island and a table by the refrigerator, both wood.
On our way to and from Bay St. Louis, we took Chef Menteur Highway/90 East. This route is slightly longer than the I-10 route we usually follow, but it passes Lake St. Catherine (the shallow lake between Lake Ponchartrain to the north and Lake Borgne to the south) and the Rigolets (the strait connecting Lake St. Catherine to Lake Borgne), all of which eventually open to the Gulf. These water routes into New Orleans have shaped the city’s history, including its age of pirates and the devastating surge from Hurricane Katrina. As a result, they figure prominently in the novel I’m working on, Jazzy and the Pirate, so I was all-out, nerd-alert, goober-head excited about what I was seeing. Here’s just a taste:
As if this weren’t cool enough, I’m reading aloud about Fort Pike, the turn off for which we had just passed, and I’m making up stories that would convince the powers-that-be to let me into the by-appontment-only attraction (“I’m a famous writer working on a novel about Fort Pike” (the honey) or “I’m a blogger and I’ll talk bad about you if you don’t let me in” (the vinegar)) when I mentioned to my husband that Fort Pike might be the actual local of Carcosa from the final scene of the first season of True Detective.
If you didn’t watch True Detective, it’s gonna be hard for me to describe the eerily disturbing, grass-covered, tunnel-riddled, brick ruin used in the finale. The show’s first season was set in New Orleans, and I knew they’d used an old fort for the deranged killer’s hangout, and I was thinking it might be Fort Pike.
So I’m thumbing the phone, researching, and I correct myself, “No, that was Fort Macomb, and it’s closed to tourists because it was badly damaged by Katrina.” I relay this information at the same time my husband points left.
Yep. Fort Macomb.
My brilliant husband took a radical turn, and I ran from the car, passing along the way the dramatic evidence of why the fort was closed to the viewing public
I would’ve given anything to get to the other side where the arches and tunnels are revealed, but not being Matthew McConaughey (un, huh, I’m including a link to Matthew McConaughey for the two of you who don’t know who he is), I had to be grateful for what I could get
and I was
We left this riveting landscape
and continued on home. Oh, and on this amazing adventure? I was wearing the jeans I mended using the Japanese Boro mending technique I’m only learning to do but am wildly excited about.
I’m carrying my Ryan Prewitt pocketbook today.
Several years ago, I made the tote for Ryan and Cammie’s wedding brunch. Of all things, I noticed my wedding day pocketbook was made by a designer whose first name was Inge. That’s Cammie’s dad’s name. When I mentioned this to Cammie, she said yes, and not only that, a Cammie Hill also designs pocketbooks. I bought one of her creations for the rehearsal dinner. That left Ryan and the brunch.
I couldn’t find a Ryan Prewitt pocketbook anywhere—imagine that. Undaunted, I made one.
I outlined Ryan’s hand prints on canvas. I sewed the hands onto an aqua tote. I designated a “Before” and “After” side.
The Before side is whimsical with one naked ring finger. Wild colors and other pretty things for Ryan’s love, Cammie.
The “After” side has wedding bands on the ring fingers. Also a man’s vest from my childhood Ken doll. A woman’s leather skirt from Ken’s love, Barbie.
Beads for Mardi Gras in what would be their new home of New Orleans.
And one hopeful chick.
When I was finished, Ryan signed the extravaganza for me, because Ryan is and always has been a good sport.
My “Ryan Prewitt” pocketbook. Which today I’m carrying with my mother’s gorgeous vintage jacket.
And wearing with my torn-up jeans.
Because every day in every way, you need to create the person you might be.
I attended a class today to learn what to expect when having hip surgery. It was okay information, stuff like what drugs to quit taking, when to arrive on the day, how long to wait before driving after surgery, that type of thing. The nurse was very helpful and patient with all my questions (“Can I ride home in my husband’s Camero?” Answer: No), but I found it incomplete. Here’s my more essential list:
#1 Get a pedicure. Your legs are going to be the focus of attention for at least the next six weeks. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and strangers wondering what is wrong with you—they’re all gonna be staring at your legs. At the bottom of your legs will be your feet. Often, your bare feet. Make sure your toes look pretty.
#2 Buy a new bra. You will be removing your clothes, stripping down to your essentials. You don’t want to be laying a janky bra on top of your heap of clothing. Take the time to get a nice, pretty bra. Or two. If anything’s worth doing, it’s worth doing twice.
#3 Make a list of people who need to be called with updates on your progress. The nurse recommended such a list, but what she didn’t say was to limit the information to three words: “It went well.” In this age of TMI, don’t add to the onslaught.
#4 As long as you’re making lists, make one for the chores your husband will need to perform the first two weeks following surgery. Most of what you do around the house is invisible to him. If you don’t write down, for example, “Get More Toilet Paper from the Closet,” he could find himself in a delicate situation.
#5 Do NOT review your living will. This will freak you out. Be prepared for Admissions to ask about a living will, but don’t dwell on it.
#6 Make up a cover story. In fact, make up several. Every time someone asks what’s wrong with you, use a different story. Your story can be extravagant (“I knew I wasn’t ready to do a half-pipe but, man, the snow!”) or simple (My favorite: “I fell on my ass.”). Just make it sound more interesting than arthritis eating away your joint and birthing bone spurs that hammer into your leg like railroad spikes.
#7 Buy sexy new panties. It’s bad enough you’re getting a hip replacement at your young age. The least you can do is not arrive at the hospital wearing granny panties. Do whatever you can to keep from feeling any older than necessary. (see #6 above)
#8 As you quit taking any type of pain relief prior to surgery (required), also quit drinking alcohol and caffeine and quit eating refined sugar and fatty foods (suggested by my very own internet search). While you’re sitting around chewing shoe leather, dream about a post-op banquet at Cafe Du Monde of beignets and chicory coffee (a fried doughnut covered in powdered sugar, paired with the strongest coffee known to woman).
#9 Gather unto yourself as many paperback mysteries as you can afford. Stack them beside your bed. Use them as an incentive: do one more set of exercises and you can read the next chapter. (p.s. I stole this idea from my mother who used her chapters to make herself write her wedding present thank-you notes)
#10 Take this opportunity to buy new shoes (odd how so many of my preparations have to do with buying new clothes . . .) The guidelines require flat shoes with a back, but I don’t want to tie laces, either. Currently, I don’t own a pair of solid non-skid shoes with no laces. I think I have a right to be picky about my shoes—after all, I’m going under the knife.
#11 This is purely optional, but light a candle. As you light it, whisper your deepest fears (don’t let a UTI occur and travel to the joint, crippling me for life; please let them find a hip to properly fit my small self; don’t let them leave my legs different lengths; please let my insurance pay for this). Then blow out the candle and watch your fears drift away with the smoke.
#12 This one’s hard to handle retroactively but try to have lived your life well enough over the past two years that you’ve acquired a friend who will make you a set of one-of-a-kind prayer beads featuring precious stones and antique silver and olive wood from the Holy Land and Buddhist treasures and African trade beads and then add puns to the gift tag. When you’ve got this kind of mojo working on you, you’re prepared for anything.