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Month: July 2015

Lucky Seven

It began on the veranda of the Gibson Inn in Apalachicola, Florida, the town locals call Apalach, where oysters once reigned and the river whispers of pirate ships disappearing in the streaky dawn.

Boats on ol' Apalach
Boats on ol’ Apalach

In the waning heat of a summer afternoon in 2008, I joined my husband on the second floor porch of the hotel whose bar would make Hemingway weep and there, beneath the widow’s walk and cupola, I read aloud.

For two weeks, we lolled in this charming town, rooting out the public library, taking lazy trips to St. George Island. Riding bikes past shop windows where sponges and scuba suits reminded us of an era when diving beneath the waves required great courage.

Mound of oyster shells
Mound of oyster shells

When the heat built up to boiling, Tom returned to his Adirondack on the veranda with a book. I wrote. And when I’d rolled down for the day, I scooted my own Adirondack close and read what I’d written that day on a new work I called the Mother Mary novel.

That was 2008.

Over the intervening years, we returned to Apalachicola many times, introducing the kids to the Gibson Inn







and the streaky dawndawn

but the work on the Mother Mary novel transferred to Memphis, where the novel is set. There inside my treehouse home

My own veranda on Mud Island
My own veranda on Mud Island

I wrote through the blizzard of 2010

OK, it's a blizzard for Memphis
OK, it’s a blizzard for Memphis

and the flood of 2011

The flood outside of my front door
The flood outside my front door

and, after we took an apartment in New Orleans, the Zombie apocalypse.

Outside our apartment in New Olreans
Outside our apartment in New Orleans

I wrote as I welcomed a new dog to the family


and two other new members of the family

The Mythical Jackalope
The Mythical Jackalope


The Myth of the Jackalope continues
The Myth of the Jackalope continues








and lost my dad




Finally, in the spring of this my seventh year of work, I finished the novel, read it out loud, and sent it to an editor so I could begin querying agents: will you represent me, I asked, and try to sell my book for me? The opening sentence of the query letter acknowledged the oddness of the book: THE BONE TRENCH is a literary fantasy of 103,000 words that uses religion and humor to explore mass incarceration and the private prison industry—I know, religion, humor and prisons; you’re either going to love this or hate it.

Guess what? An agent loved it! He literally said, “I love it,” and offered me representation. William Reeve of the Virginia Kidd Agency. The agency is the grandmother of all Science Fiction/Fantasy agencies and, because Mother Mary and Jesus aren’t real people (not to mention the Demonittes), The Bone Trench is Fantasy. I’m joining a stellar list of “repped by” authors. And—extra good news here—he required no extensive revisions, so maybe all that writing was worthwhile. 🙂

Many of y’all have been with me on this journey. Acting as Beta readers, offering feedback. Kind enough not to ask, whatever happened to that novel you were working on? Others have followed at least snatches of this journey. So I wanted to share my happiness with y’all. (I sound so calm, don’t I? I’m not.)

Just to be clear: I’ll let you know what comes next. 

the mantle of companionship
Mother Mary and Tall Jesus continue the journey

It’s Loopy, What Can I Say?

You wanna laugh? Come to the website and listen to the new Front Porch Moment Audiovine. Click on my picture where it says “Click on Ellen” (yes, I tried to make this easy). It’s short (4 seconds?) and it loops—duh, it’s a vine, in audio.  That’s what makes it funny. The repetition. Again. And again. And . . .

Kinda loopy, you might say. But we all know I have an odd sense of humor. It’s why you love me so. 😉

When you’re done laughing, click a second time on my picture. It’ll quit. And you’ll be inspired for the day. Over and over again.

Fewer Words, More Links

What Can I Do—the Bree Model

She had a crisis of faith. But so much went before that. Her work, her reading, her awareness. Her travel, her commitment, her participation. Her use of her talent. Her love of God. In her statement following her direct nonviolent action of removing the Confederate flag from where it flew on the grounds of the South Carolina capitol, Ms. Brittany “Bree” Newsome gives us an outline of what we can do.

In her statement, Ms. Newsome, who is from Charlotte, North Carolina, pegs the start of her activism two years ago with Moral Mondays, the movement led by Rev. William Barber in Raleigh, NC. The Moral Mondays movement was birthed after the North Carolina legislature moved to cut early voting, end same-day voter registration, and require ID at the polls. The movement has spread to other Southern states, maybe one you live in.

As the killing of Trayvon Martin and the tear-gassing in Ferguson and the police lockdown in West Baltimore unfolded, Ms. Newsome linked these incidents with Emmett Till,  Klan activity witnessed by her grandmother, and freedom papers required by slave-catchers. She put the events in historical context, using both personal family history and national history. Histories she knew well enough to provide needed context. Maybe you, too, know such a personal and national history.

Ms. Newsome is a community organizer—”I organize alongside other community members striving to create greater self-sufficiency and political empowerment in low-income neighborhoods”—whose background is in the  arts. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she’s done incredible work in film and music, won prestigious awards and recognition, sent amazing creativity into the world. You, too, might have an artistic expression that motivates you to engage with your part of the world.

The night of the Charleston Massacre, Ms. Newsome suffered “a crisis of faith.” She saw the members of Emmanuel AME Church doing simply what Christians are supposed to do: invite others to join their Bible Study. For that, they were murdered. Yet, Ms. Newsome refused to be ruled by fear. “How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?” You, too, might have experienced a spiritual crisis, followed by a resolve that even surprises you.

Her reaction was to meet with her community.  She had in place a small group of concerned citizens, both black and white, who represented various walks of life, spiritual beliefs, gender identities and sexual orientations” to whom she could turn to discuss and discern the next step. As you, too, perhaps have such a diverse, thoughtful, supportive community.

Together, this group charted a course of action. The action would require people to take different roles. One—a black woman—to scale the pole at the South Carolina capitol. One—a white man—to stand in solidarity with her (and actively help her over the fence). Other roles, too. Including roles that you might find fit your comfort level.

While part of a group discernment, Ms. Newsome knew why she, personally, was taking action. Her reasons were not simple or limited. Her concerns might not have been shared by everyone in her community. But they were hers, and she knew them as clearly as the sun shining in the blue sky. Same way you might have concerns that motivate your life.

As Ms. Newsome climbed the pole, James Tyson helped her across the fence then stood guard as she climbed. He accepted the flag when she brought it down. This was entirely thought out. As Mr. Tyson has said, because white supremacy was created by white people, white people must step up and take a role in dismantling it. Ms. Newsome credited Mr. Tyson with “moral courage” as a white ally. Never, she said, should this be viewed as being about one woman. Maybe you also lean on and expect the support of others when you act.

At the bedrock of Ms. Newsome’s actions was her Christian faith. As she acted, she recited from the Bible. She recognizes not everyone comes at this fight from a faith perspective, but she does “100%.” Just as you might find that your concern, courage, and caring originates with your faith.

Lastly, Ms. Newsome explicitly encourages others. “I encourage everyone to understand the history, recognize the problems of the present and take action to show the world that the status quo is not acceptable.” National issue or local issue, she wants us to do what we know is right. She wants us to be “one of many.” To participate in this “multi-leader movement.” Same as the national or local issue you feel compelled to act on.

Did I say lastly? No. Lastly, she holds true to herself. “All honor and praise to God.” When I think of the symmetry of this—a white man murders nine African-Americans in church and an African-American woman takes down his symbol of hatred as she recites Psalm 27 (“‘The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?'”), I want to weep. She exhibited what the Huffington Post called “staggering faith.” Can you imagine how exposed she felt high on that pole? And yet she climbed.

As Denise Oliver Velez at Daily Kos says, “Activism is a process. We need to learn from those people who make a decision to fight for change and justice and follow their examples.”

If so, Ms. Newsome’s teaching example is 1) know your history 2) use your passion/talent to act 3) stay in tune with your spiritual life 4) be part of a community you trust 5) discern your role 6) know your personal motivations 7) recognize your support team 8) encourage others to act in ways right for them 9) stay true to yourself.

So there. That’s what we can do. Easy, right?

What Can I Do?

I’m starting a new series here. I’m announcing this new series so you can skip over my followup posts if you want, ’cause I’m a polite Southern woman, and I sure don’t want to impose. But some of you want these posts. I know you do because I’ve been reading your comments and the question you’ve been asking as a result of the terrible murder of nine people in Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC. is, “What can I do?”

I don’t know what you can do. Well, that’s a confidence-inspiring beginning, isn’t it? But hang in there. What I do know is that some of the best news of the Good News is that we aren’t all feet. Or heads. Or ears. We each get to discern our own role in being God’s body on earth. I’m not gonna cite the Bible because, Lord, that gives me the willies, but it’s in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. (Sr. Simone Campbell on Krista Tippett‘s show On Being revealed herself to be stomach acid.) Paul’s “body of God” analogy is worth finding because—of all things—it has Paul, the king of interminable yadda, yadda, yadda, being funny.

So. You will need to figure out what you can do. But, if you’re like me and you love nothing more than being in community, MORE GOOD NEWS! You don’t have to figure it out alone. Nor, if you’re like me, do you have to discern correctly right out of the box. In fact, who’s to say I ever discern correctly? I may never know the true value of what I do. That’s okay. I do the best I can, and I trust others are doing the best they can. I duck my head and focus on my own little God wagon. And when I look up, I see the community that is supporting me in my trying. There’s a lot of comfort in that.

In this series, I’m gonna share names of groups, speakers, essays, events, columns, memoirs, paintings, classes, tweeters, pages, and other opportunities that have in function helped me answer the question: what can I do to fight racism?

I say “in function” because I did not begin this journey wondering how I could help combat racism. My feet first hit this path when I left my Mississippi home and moved to Memphis and, like Lot’s wife, I paused and looked over my shoulder. I, too, turned to salt. I stood transfixed by my ignorance. Ignorance of my state’s history. Of the country’s history. Of racial history. I read and read and read and read. Then, in one of those evolutionary dog-legs where sudden change occurs, my husband asked Evelyn Baker, what is this Memphis School of Servant Leadership I hear you speak of? He and I began taking classes, one of which was Racism to Reconciliation. I began facilitating the Door of Hope Writing Group, a group whose members have experienced homelessness and who published its first book last year, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness. And I kept reading.

Major disclaimer here: I’m still not sure I’m doing anything to end racism. If this confuses you, refer to paragraph 3 above.

With that out of the way, here’s my kick-off organization. Drum roll, please: the Memphis School of Servant Leadership!!! I know. If you were paying attention, you already guessed. It’s a dynamic organization. Things are happening all the time. Follow them on the FaceBook page. Or if you prefer a group, you can join here. The current inspiration asks us to create and post signs with the hashtag DontBurnOurBlackChurches. Here’s how MSSL arrived at that action:

Today we met at the table to discuss Racism to Reconciliation.
We met Black, White, young, old, weary, fresh, seeking and knowing—- all Beloved.
In the tension and in the tender moments we listened to each other, shared thoughts and frustrations and then we strategized.
We’re not finished but we ask you to join us.
White Brothers and Sisters please post a picture of yourself with a sign saying {{{Don’t Burn Our Black Churches}}} using the hashtag #DontBurnOurBlackChurches. OUR STATEMENT: 
Seven Black Churches have burned since Charleston. We, white people, stand in solidarity with the Black Christian community. Arsons are intended to intimidate, silence and disembody Black people.Not in our name, Community Friends of The Memphis School of Servant Leadership

Obviously, you can join this movement even if you’re not in Memphis. Or—this is so very important—this activity might not be for you. I’m making a big commitment here, but I truly promise to keep going and post about other avenues I’ve used in my path of discerning. Maybe a later post will strike a chord with you. Until then, I’ll throw out a few more options:

Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow, David M. Oshinsky. Because one day at Square Books in Oxford, during the time of my life when I automatically went first to the African American section of bookstores, I spied this book, unaware it would send me on a journey of discovery about my family’s racist past.

Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer. Because listening is a vital skill to bring with you on this path and, while I’m not altogether certain this is the best Parker Palmer book to learn his listening techniques, it will have to do.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh. Because when I read on the list in this foundational essay the fact that “flesh tone” bandages match my skin, I mused, hunh–I already thought of that, and it always makes me feel smart to have my own observations confirmed.

Wendi C. Thomas‘s Facebook page. She’s a journalist who this fall will be a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Better jump on her bandwagon now. Seriously, she does so much of the work for you; all you have to do is read.

The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman. Because he spoke to me so completely, and he might to you too. Besides, I need something of beauty on this list.


© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt |