Today, in Memphis, we met a fun new couple who have been leaders in Memphis for decades and live in our downtown neighborhood. How? We went to a coffee shop, in Memphis.
Today, in Memphis, I had lunch where one of the most accomplished, energetic, enthusiastic women I’ve ever met, and we plotted to end homelessness and world domination in general. How? She found me on the internet and we talked on the phone and we had lunch, in Memphis.
Today, in Memphis, I heard a roomful of people praise, weep for, and sing (literally) the praises of a man who introduced himself as “schizophrenic, nonviolent.” Because everyone loved him, in Memphis.
Today, in Memphis, I went to a neighborhood dry cleaners where a man asked me how I was doing, and I said, “I’m well, and you?” And he said, You don’t talk like you’re from the South. And I laughed, in Memphis.
Today, in Memphis, I bought a pair of earrings by an artist whose work is “a modernization of my family’s heritage through a colorful and bold interpretation.” And I will be wearing these fantastic earrings, in Memphis.
Today, in Memphis, I donated to the Black Lives Matter Bail Fund to help those who can’t pay bail get the hell out of jail and back into the swirl of life, in Memphis.
Today, in Memphis, I met a dog named Kobe and proselytized about Makeda’s Butter Cookies until I got converts and was agog that it is snowing where I’ll be going next week and lit candles for those I love and opened doors that were closed and lived my life, in Memphis.
So, in searching for photos for a recent blog posts, I was taken with how many of my photos have me in hats.
I’m talking about the hats that were NOT costume hats.
Even to me, some of these hats are odd.
Not to mention this beauty, which I was wearing just this last Christmas.
When my husband and I first met, he wasn’t a fan of hats. He has, however, always been a very tolerant man.
And, wearing my hats, I’ve worn him down. He now loves my hats. Good thing.
So, as we roll toward the end of Lent, you can absolutely count on my wearing an Easter hat.
You can also count on my sharing it with you!
(If you’ve enjoyed the hat parade, you might enjoy MODEL FOR DECEPTION, my novel featuring Vangie Street, fashion model detective. )
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 ourselves?
There I was, stepping into the gala for the graduating seminarians. The seminarians wore black shirts with white clerical collars. I wore a minidress from Billy Bob’s Chinese Laundry in New Orleans. It was leopard-printed. And flocked.
I can’t help it.
I have an Inappropriate Dress Gene.
My mistakes are not fashion faux pas. I know exactly how one ought to dress. I was raised by a grandmother who traced her lineage to the banks of Deer Creek in the town of Leland in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. My Bigmama taught me the black dress you wore to a cocktail party Friday night is not the same black dress you don for the funeral Saturday morning. I fully understand the seriousness of dressing appropriately. I just tend to miscalculate.
My years practicing law in Jackson, Mississippi were, for the most part, benign—the social pressure squeezing a female lawyer into dressing compliance in the 1980s was fierce. So when I married and moved to Memphis, my dressing kind of spurted free like a spasming tube of toothpaste. At the same time, the sartorial stakes skyrocketed. My then-new husband owns a shopping center wherein is located the swankiest women’s clothing store east of the Mississippi River. One evening we attended a dinner party hosted by the store owners. Determined to put my best fashion foot forward, I arrived at her dinner party wearing a black lace see-through shirt and black bra with a fringed scarf strategically draped across the front. I thought I was so sophisticated. The woman cocked her head at me. “Look at you,” she said, smiling. “Memphis doesn’t dress like that.”
I took it as a compliment.
Not so the Cotton Carnival partygoers. When I attended their Mardi Gras party wearing a tiger-printed catsuit, no one would make eye contact. Or maybe it was the wig with its multi-colored, clacking beads. I was Cleopatra—Memphis, capitol of ancient Egypt, get it? No one else got it, either, not one of those sedately-dressed women in long black dresses who considered a feathered mask on a slender stick a costume. Only Preston Shannon, the famous Beale Street singer, appreciated the look.
I am perfectly familiar with the Backwards Compliment (“Only you could get away with those Python pants”). The Veiled Suggestion (“Now, I would’ve worn that red dress to a Christmas party.”) Not to mention my favorite: the Exaggeration. A friend once reported I’d been seen wearing black leather hot pants to a party. Sure, I had on black leather skirt with a fringed vest. But black leather hot pants? Who even knows what hot pants are these days?
Southerners as a group are not tolerant of those who dress inappropriately. If you think they are, you’ve never worn a floor-length silky beige dress to the Orpheum Theatre only to have a woman standing outside ask, “Is that your nightgown?” In fact, Southerners go to extraordinary lengths to ensure every person at a party is wearing the exact same thing. If you go off-script, women will glance at their pink-flowered Lilly Pulitzer dresses then deliberately rake their gaze across your silky pink halter top and thread-bare jeans. “Rock-star chic” is not a Southern term.
Of course, I could forestall such comments by aiming for the median. Instead, I stand in my closet, hands lifted, and feel the call. If it’s the orange curve-enhancing dress that makes me look like a shrunken version of Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, so be it. Only when I find myself in a roomful of knee-brushing Sunday school dresses, do I think, hmmmm.
And don’t get me started on parties with a theme. The invitation arrives in the mail. I rip it open. “La Moulin Rouge,” it proclaims, a gay Paris scene splashed across the front. Excitement wells, common sense jumps out the window. Surely I should foresee the slim cocktail dresses with pink boas draped around the neck as garnishment. Instead, I deck myself out as a Toulaouse Lautrec painting—chunky boots, ripped petticoat, peek-a-boo bra. The women at the party flip their boas at me. At home, I kneel in my flouncy skirt and pray: “Lead us not into costumed temptation, deliver us from social evils.”
I don’t want to leave the impression everyone judges my dressing a sin. I have those who encourage me in my choices…. you could call them accessories after the dressing fact. From them I get free clothes. I’ve been given a pair of black and white snakeskin boots, a 1920s antique silk blouse, a great-aunt’s mink-collared sweater, and a $25 mermaid-tailed chartreuse gown. Of course, these treasures came to me because the owners won’t wear them.
Now that I’ve worn out my sartorial welcome in Memphis, I’ve taken on New Orleans. For the most part, New Orleans is extremely tolerant of odd dress. But we’ve rented an apartment in the Bywater. It’s a chic apartment. Everyone going to and from wears black. The apartment’s tag line is: ”You Are Beautiful.” I fear the lease has a clause (written in invisible ink) allowing the management to kick you out of your loft if you don’t comply. When management signs off emails with, “Stay Beautiful,” I read it as a threat.
Oh, and the seminarian’s fundraiser with me in the leopard dress? I listened when I asked my husband what type of party it was, and he said, “I don’t know. Just some type of fundraiser.” I now request copies of every invitation we receive. If I’m going to misstep, it’s gonna be all on my own.
I have been a fashion maverick ever since my three-year-old self tugged on her ruffled panties, backwards.
“Your panties are on backwards,” my mother said, pointing at my britches as I examined the cascading layers of beautiful white ruffles. “The ruffles go in the back.”
“I can’t see them in the back,” I responded and marched confidently into the fashion world, ruffles forward.
Not everyone appreciates my unique sartorial presentation. Some do. Like the man who walked up after church to tell me that he’d noticed me earlier. “I don’t know what it is,” he mused, “but you stand out.”
It was the gloves. And the vintage clutch clasped demurely in my hand. And the fire-engine red, needle-toed, patent leather pumps.
“Costuming,” a friend once called it. “You come close to costuming.”
She’s right. I like a theme when I dress, even if others don’t immediately recognize the tune I’m playing. My dressing remains, as it was with the ruffles forward, purely for my own entertainment.
What I don’t do is dress according to someone else’s theory of correctness. I’m referring to the standards that leave you with all that stuff in your closet that you never wear but bought because someone said, “Well, with your shape, you should wear bright colors on top and dark colors on bottom, not the other way around.” As a result, unloved clothes hang dispirited in the closet, and every morning as you swipe dark skirts and billowy tunics down the rod you wonder why is it that you never seem to have anything to wear.
My dressing standards are simple: I buy what I love.
I admit that my way of shopping does not necessarily lead me to dress in what is currently accepted in my world as “good taste.”
“You’re not from Memphis, are you?” That’s what people ask when they’re trying to say basically, you wouldn’t dress like that if you knew better.
Some are more direct, like the waitress at a restaurant where I eat lunch. “You wear the oddest, most interesting clothes,” she said. Then added, “That skirt looks like something I’d wear.”
Of course it does. She always wears the cutest things.
I must admit: it makes me happy when someone likes what I have on. “I love the way you dress,” my conservative-dressing friend says, even though she’s quick to add that she’d never do it herself. I am her dressing alter ego—she looks, she enjoys, she moves on. I am inordinately pleased when someone much younger than I am compliments my dress.
So, as I roll through life, I will continue to wear my rings and bracelets with their emblems facing me. I will be the only one in church sporting a flowery hat. I will forever be the one who zips on a floor-length skirt, then tugs a short skinny dress over the skirt and voila! an outfit that people say, “That dress is beautiful,” never knowing it is something I cobbled together that very morning. As long as I am able, I will continue to wear clothes the way I want to wear them, which is not always the way they were intended to be worn.
Ruffles in the back?
Let’s wear them in the front, see how it goes.
If you enjoyed this essay, take a look at MODEL FOR DECEPTION. This Southern mystery features a fashion model as an amateur sleuth. It’s a fun, fashion-forward, rollicky good read. Hope you enjoy it!
I am a plate juggler. (Or, as my former senior law partner called it, a chainsaw juggler. ) I have a lot of projects going at once. Right now, I’m running as hard as I can after my goal of “getting my work out there.” This gives me five projects in various stages of completion. Here they are. (I don’t expect you to remember this, but some folks are like, wait, what? For them, I give you the big picture.)
Model for Deception: a Vangie Street Mystery STATUS: published last week; for sale on Amazon in paperback and ebook 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. “Vangie…is a smart, sarcastic, fashion-obsessed 30-something who has a large metal cutout of Elvis Presley gracing her front lawn. It is just fun spending time with her…A well-paced, offbeat mystery with a healthy dose of snark; fashion statements abound.”— Kirkus Reviews
The Hart Women STATUS: a handbound novel that will Launch April 27 at Central Bistro in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi BLURB: The house at 1011 St. Lawrence Street once rang with joy. Now, the porch sags, the window panes run with cracks. In one generation, the home that nurtured the wealthy Mississippi Hart family sits abandoned. Did tragedy undo the family, or did the family create its own misfortune? The story begins in 1968 Fairview, Mississippi, when Poppa Sam Hart dies…. Told through the eyes of favorite grandchild Emily Hart Fielding, The Hart Women explores the corrupting influences that entangle the human heart. Emily’s discovery of the forgiveness she seeks will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.
We R Righting Group: A Pocket Guide to Writing in Groups…and Righting the World STATUS: Finishing up reader feedback; tweaking cover; release early summer 2019 BLURB: “We R RIGHT*ING GROUP” /wee ar ritiNG groop /noun 1. A one-hour period when people gather to receive a topic, quietly write for 20-30 minutes, and, if they want, share with the group what they’ve written. 2. A force to change the world. A vital new way to make connections, We R Righting Group: A Pocket Guide to Writing in Groups…and Righting the World is the perfect “how to” for those seeking community in today’s difficult world. With humor, directness, and a passionate belief in the sideways magic of writing in groups, the editor of Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness offers a simple guide for anyone who wants to better understand themselves and others.
Harboring Evil, a Coot Long Mystery STATUS: Got a GREAT editorial review via Black Lawrence Press; final tweaking to follow; I’ll be looking for an agent on this BLURB: Coot Long would rather throw himself in the river than get tangled up in a murder investigation. Lord knows, twenty years of living on the Memphis streets have taught him that much. But here he is, midnight on the Wolf River Harbor, examining a bag of the murdered man’s clothes. Coot can’t stand to think about how the man died: naked in his car, hands barb-wired to the steering wheel, the Jeep slowly rolling down the ramp into the black water. Coot would never get involved in such mess, but he’s hoping to clear the name of kind Mrs. Manuez whose faith in him led him to get off the streets, get housed, get stable. He’s risking all his hard work to prove she didn’t kill her husband, but what if she’s not as innocent as he believes? HARBORING EVIL is a 76, 000 word dark mystery featuring a formerly homeless man as an amateur sleuth.
The Bone Trench STATUS: had an agent; lost an agent; submitting to small presses; being read by a possible new agent BLURB: THE BONE TRENCH is a literary dark fantasy of 103,000 words that uses religion and humor to explore mass incarceration and the private prison industry. THE BONE TRENCH was a Short-List Finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Novel-in-Progress contest. You’ll never find this 2nd Coming in anyone’s Bible. For one thing, Jesus can’t remember why he returned to earth, much less why he came to poor-as-hell Memphis, Tennessee. For another, Mother Mary is crashing the party—frantic to protect her son, she hot-foots it after Jesus without authorization. Much to the consternation of her snarky guardian angel, Mary decides bones rattling up during construction of a devilish new private prison hold the key to protecting Jesus, and she inserts herself into the prison uproar. Meanwhile Jesus, lacking divine insight, gets entangled with the beautiful leader of the anti-prison campaign. Is she part of his plan, or does the boy badly need the advice of his mother?
Jazzy and the Pirates STATUS: 40 pages from finishing a major overhaul; omniscient narrator changed to 1st person; telling pegged more firmly to the kids’ story; agent search to follow BLURB: Jazzy Chandler’s ancestors were pirates, Jazzy just knows it. She and her dad spent every Saturday morning combing the French Quarter or paddling the Barataria swamps for clues her great-great-forever-great grandfather fought alongside Jean Laffite the pirate king to win the Battle of New Orleans. But her dad died—drowned in the midnight waters of Bayou St. John—and now the scaredy-cats at City Hall have told them they have to leave the city before Hurricane Katrina hits. Jazzy’s not afraid of hurricanes—she’s survived two already this summer—but she and her mama evacuate to her dad’s Mississippi home where Chandlers have lived since God was a toddler. There, on the banks of the Pearl River where her dad played pirates as a kid, she learns the New Orleans levees might breach, the pumps fail, and her city flood. Bound and determined to do something, she ropes in her new friend Chukwa Humes, and together they magically call forth Jean Laffite from an old ship-in-a-bottle.
Moses in the Gulf STATUS: haven’t started writing the sucker yet, but that’s the next thing!
The good news: I requested a Kirkus Reviews of Model for Deception: A Vangie Street Mystery. This is what I call my “fashion model detective novel.” Here’s the book jacket on the novel:
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 Southern 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?
Kirkus reviewed the mystery. They liked it. Because Kirkus is known for being persnickety, I was glad about that. Here’s my favorite part of the review:
“What raises the novel a cut above the standard mystery is Vangie, the story’s narrator. She is a smart, sarcastic, fashion-obsessed 30-something who has a large metal cutout of Elvis Presley gracing her front lawn. It is just fun spending time with her. Dialogue is fast and edgy…A well-paced, offbeat mystery with a healthy dose of snark; fashion statements abound.”—Kirkus Reviews
I thought to myself, when I’m ready to release the book, I’ll certainly use this review. (You can read the full review here.)
Fast forward to yesterday: I got an email from Kirkus telling my the review of Model for Deception had been selected to be featured in the Kirkus Reviews’ monthly magazine. Less than 10% of indie novels get selected. (Because I’ve gotten more than one faux award— “Congratulations, we’ve selected you for the grand opportunity to pay us money!”—I was glad when research revealed no hidden charges and a grand group of authors who have been featured in the past.)
So what’s the bad news? I wasn’t quite ready to release the novel (y’all know how much I’ve got going on). But to get the punch from the exposure, I need to do it.
Sooooooooo—here’s the cover reveal!!!!
Model for Deception is available for purchase in print on Amazon and coming soon in ebook.
When the feature appears in Kirkus Reviews in March, I’ll share that with y’all as well.
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.